Sunday, February 27, 2011

Day in the Dirt

Today was our first attempt at trialing indoors, at the most popular indoor venue near me (if you count 90 miles away 'near'..), Dream Park.

The whole thing went so quick, that it's honestly hard to write about it effectively.  We got there just before 1.  We went right in and found our friends, Spirit and her mom, and went on a long walk around the huge property (and snuck in some time on a children's playground - Marge loved the slide!).  Marge was extremely happy to see her Golden friend and I am glad that they spent some time together so shortly after we arrived to keep the pressure way off.

Marge was totally cool with going indoors.  She really had no issue with it... not even the noise.

I went into the main part of the building to see what they were up to in the ring I was scheduled to run in.  I went in at just the right time.. the briefing was just starting.  I handed Marge to Louie and walked the course.

The only time Marge got nervous is when the judge blew the whistle for the course to be cleared.  She recovered fairly quickly, though.  I now know that she'll be better off waiting outside or in a separate part of the building while I walk to avoid the whistle.

I did a bit of warm up at the practice jump.  Marge was very attentive, reading my cues well.  She hung out like a good girl near the start line before her run with all of the other dogs with absolutely no problem.

Our turn in the ring came up rather quickly, like it usually does in Jumpers.

Of COURSE, we got stuck waiting on the start line for about 20 seconds while they re-set a bar, which was frustrating.  But Marge was really calm and actually plopped in to a sit.  I told her to "stand" and asked for a kiss (a nose bop) before walking off in my very, very short leadout.

I thought the run was great, and really believe that the missed jump after the tunnel was my fault.  I neither cued her to go "out" nor kept my arm out/pushed my body in that direction to get her to take that jump.  Since she didn't come out of the tunnel as far away as I anticipated her to, she simply didn't see it. If not for the off course, we still could have qualified with a refusal, but that's OK.  This was a lovely run and I got exactly what I wanted - a nice, connected run, Marge reading me and not too stressed out.

After our run, I jackpotted Marge with hamburger and chicken sausage and took her right back to the warm-up jump, where I also rewarded her.

The only bad news of the day is that I realized that they are using the automatic table count rather than the judge counting down.  This was partially responsible for Marge's demise at Princeton's trial in September (our worst trialing weekend yet).  I don't think it'll be as big of an issue here, since the surrounding noise of the trial kind of drowns it out.  However, I had specifically e-mailed the trial chairwoman before entering to ask about this, and she ensured that they would not be using it.  So, I'm a little upset, because I spent money on an entry for this coming Friday (the same club is having back-to-back weekends of trials) that I'm not sure if I want to use.  It may seem silly to drive 90 minutes in the car for one 30 second run, like we did today.. but I'm not sure if I want to attempt Standard yet and might skip it.  I might be better off running her in Jumpers only and then doing Standard outdoors at a park very familiar to us, East Freehold Park.  Going to sleep on it a couple of nights and then decide.

My little girl had a fun, but short day.  I actually think the stress of not having to wait around or be crated greatly helped her focus and her attitude.  She was pooped on the way home!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tuesday Training 44

Agility - And Lots of It
Our performance training has almost solely focused on agility for the past month or two.  Marge has improved in leaps and bounds.  I am still seeing start line stress, which I'm not happy about, but she's dynamite when she's on course.  More attentive than she ever has been.

For my next two trials, the plan will remain the same - very short lead outs.  If I don't lead out at all, it tends to make the run less structured for her because she doesn't understand the whole unclip-and-go start to a course.

Our first trial of the year is this Saturday - we're doing one run, JWW only.  This is because I really did not want the stress of running her in Standard for her first time at a trial in about 4 months (and at a brand new place on a brand new surface, to boot!).  The trial site is also quieter towards the end of the day, which I think will be good for her.  Our friend Spirit, the Golden Retriever, will be there, which I hope will make Marge happy.  This trial is a BIG deal for her.. and I really hope she likes the trial site.

A Bit of Barkiness
One thing that has cropped up to a very small degree is Marge's dog reactivity.  It's a bit different than it used to be and I'm not quite sure that it's really rooted in fear.

She has been getting barky at agility class watching certain dogs run.  Now that we're in an Excellent level class, the courses are harder and the dogs are more driven.  I think she's feeding off of their speed and energy level.  Once they come back to the sidelines to sit with us, she is paying them no mind (whereas in the past this would, at minimum, lead to raised hackles and general worry on Marge's part).

Time to go back to Look at That, I think.  Quite frankly, it's so mild that I am not worried about it at all, especially since I know how to combat it.  It might actually be a GOOD thing for trials - I mean, I won't be that girl with the annoying barking dog standing right at the ring exit, but perhaps the fact that she is more amped up in an agility setting will detract some from the worry and stress that she sometimes feels. I'll experiment.

New Folks, New Exeriences
I had a couple of friends over  on Sunday.  I put Marge in her crate while they came in and settled on the couch (which is not far from her crate).  She let out one "WOOOO!" while in her crate because she knew that there were people nearby.  I waited until she calmed down (10 minutes or so), and then let her out.

Not a hackle raised.  Just what I want to see!

She was not very privvy to being petted, especially by my male friend, but took treats from them both, investigated them thoroughly, and then sprawled out on the floor just a few feet away.  Very, very successful, especially since it's been a LONG time since she's interacted with strangers in my basement.

We also made a quick trip to PetCo for Layla's food on Saturday.  Marge did pretty well in the store - she was a bit uneasy, but was responsive to me, took treats, and searched for yummy stuff on the floor.  She interacted a little bit with two store employees, whose hands she targeted with her nose.

She got a Natural Balance food roll and a bag of biscuits out of the trip.  Unfortunately, she heard some loud noises on the way back to the car and panicked, but took treats once she had climbed in.

And that's Marge's current training, in summary.  I'd write more, but on top of everything else, I'm getting sick again.  Sinus infection and pink eye.  Lovely!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tummy Ache

half-winking for the camera.  she hates the flash...

We got Layla's bloodwork back on Thursday.  It showed an extremely low level of Vitamin B12, but not much else.

This means that Layla's problem lies in her intestines, not in any of her other abdominal organs.  The question now: what is the problem?

Both vets (my main vet and the specialist) keep saying it's pretty much either Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) or Lymphoma.  However, the only way to distinguish between the two is through performing an endoscopy and taking a biopsy of her intestines.  The outward symptoms for each disease are very similar.

This would cost a hefty sum of money and will require anesthesia, as well as an overnight stay at the hospital.  Both vets think she can handle it, as long as we get her heart checked beforehand.

The other option is starting her on Prednisolone and waiting about a month to see if there are any changes.  If she has IBD, Pred will help tremendously.  My vet said she likely wouldn't be significantly worse after a month, even if the Pred does no good, since whatever she has is a "slow developing" kind of thing, but I really have trouble letting that much time go by with a "wait and see" approach.

Right now, Layla's getting B12 injections.  She got her first one yesterday, and I'll give her another next weekend.  We're going to wait about another week (after she has another injection) and then my vet and I will discuss what the next step is.  She may respond favorably to the B12 alone.

I've been really upset about the whole thing - my cat is pretty happy, eating like a champ and acting normal for the most part (except for being wobbly whenever she shakes her head - she's on antibiotics but unfortunately not responding as quickly as she did the last time she had an ear infection), but the thought of her having lymphoma is really hanging over my head.

Not looking for advice, just needed a place to write all of my thoughts down.. just think good thoughts for us over these next couple of weeks.  In the mean time, I'm going to try to not think about it so much.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My Good Girl

It's times like these that I thank my lucky stars for having such a good dog.

Marge has truly been angelic through all of the stress and busyness I've been up against the past few weeks.  She's really matured a lot lately, it seems. I've been doing my best to keep up with her walks, training sessions, etc., but I know that I am skipping some here and there.  Yet, she's being a good girl, sleeping at night and and staying quiet throughout the day save for an occasional poke on the nose to remind me that I need to do some fun things with her.

She's actually had a fair bit of new and exciting things going on.. I just haven't had the time to write about them because of my cat, and class, and pigeon lab research, and and and.

She has been a demo dog two weeks in a row now in the Agility For Fun class I teach.  She demonstrated "roll over" to the students with no reservation - a big deal, considering that meant lying down and flipping on her belly while surrounded by many strange dogs and people.  She also made fast friends with a disabled boy (to my absolute surprise and delight - we all know Marge is a bit sensitive to those who walk, talk or act differently than she is immediately used to). He called her "really cool," petted her and asked her to perform some tricks, and said he wanted to try running agility with her. She got a little barky during one class when some dogs got the zoomies, but nothing unbearable.  And, she stuck right next to me while off leash at the end of class, despite the other dogs/people milling around.

She has also made quite a few new dog friends... the newest being a young Cairn Terrier I am walking and feeding while his owner is away this week. She's gone walking with him two days in a row now, and I'm hoping that I might be able to let them have a little playdate together soon.

We've been doing a bit of agility as well.  We had class Sunday night, as well as a practice session out in New Jersey that same morning.  Really don't have any complaints.. the biggest things that stick out in my mind are our good but not great contacts (simply haven't practiced them enough) and a bit of start line stress. I'm trying my hardest to prepare her for our big day at Dream Park next weekend - our 2011 agility debut.

I'm not quite sure when this grueling pace is going to let up.  In the meantime, I'm doing my best to split myself in as many ways as I can.  Some would probably say I should give up the blog for now - but I am proud of what MargeBlog has become and know that putting it on hold would likely bring it to an end.  So,  I'm continuing to update, despite the chaos! Please forgive me if my visits continue to be on the erratic/sporadic side.  Once I get my kitty better, I think I'll be able to devote more time to reading.

Monday, February 14, 2011

New Friends, Old Memories

2002 (*sigh*...)

"How old were you when you started taking care of Taco?"

"Oh God.. let's see.. eleven.  I'm now twenty."

I finally went out to lunch with Taco's owner and his wife.  The whole thing materialized quickly over this weekend - I simply did not want to let any more time go by, so I called them up and said "let's go out!".  We enjoyed a few hours together at a local Panera Bread restaurant.

I had only met his owner a few times before, and I'd never met his wife.  Yet, because of all of the corresponding that we had done over the phone, it was like going out with old friends.  No awkwardness whatsoever.

They did share a few gems of information with me.. some of it I knew already and just was further clarified:

- They bought Taco in '77, when their daughter was 12, from a man in Brooklyn who rode like a cowboy.  The self-appointed cowboy used to make Taco rear up and all kinds of crazy stuff.  He was supposedly 3 years old then, which would have made him 33 or 34 when he died (I think he was older than that - something seems wrong about those numbers, but who knows).

- The first time their daughter took Taco out on the trails, he immediately went running down them.

- They used to walk him up the road to church, where the church kids would fuss over him.  This just boggled my mind; picturing a time when my horse was so young and the roads were so quiet is almost too hard to do.  They had to stop doing this when the church started worrying about liability issues.

- His daughter entered him in a show at the stable where Taco was boarded (the place I took care of him at for 6 years).  But, because he always was turned out in the arena that they used for the show, he took off running as soon as he entered the gate, which embarrassed her (she had a friend with a fancy show horse, and here was Taco, acting like a goof.. sounds just like the horse I knew).

- He hated water to the point that he could be trotting along and would literally side-step to get away from a puddle (again, sounds a hell of a lot like the Taco I knew!).

- They once let their other, younger daughter ride him, but he took off running as soon as she got on his back (seeing a theme here?).

- Their daughter used to jump him.  But, he had a bad front leg, and it often needed to be wrapped and liniment applied.

- Their daughter stopped riding him around 1992, which left a full decade between then and the time I started taking care of him.

They were shocked when I told them I had never even sat on his back.  After hearing these stories, though, I'm not so sure I would have wanted to!

I showed them the photo album I had of all of the pictures that I took of him, and they said they have some at home that they need to show me.  (They've been saying this for years, but maybe now that I actually saw them in person, that'll get the ball rolling.)

The things I forgot to ask about were where his name came from and whether or not they knew what breed he was.

My hope is to go to lunch with them again sometime.  I don't think there's any way to accurately express how much I miss that horse... so just clinging on to those little memories means a whole lot to me.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Several Hundred Dollars Later...

I took this picture last night.
Layla posed this way by herself, perhaps as a
foreshadowing of today's expenses ($805!!!)..

Today was our big appointment at Garden State Veterinary Specialists with an Internal Medicine vet.

Thankfully, the process was a bit less painful than I had anticipated.  The hospital was empty when we arrived, so I didn't have to see any sick animals or distraught owners like I did last time.  I waited in the car until about 5 minutes before our appointment time, then whisked Layla inside.  We were only in the waiting room for about an additional 5 minutes.

The vet was very nice.. coincidentally, he was the vet who treated Layla the last time we took her out there, in 2006.  He seemed to have some recollection of her case (and I don't know if he was making it up, but he said he remembered my mom).

The consultation and testing probably took less than 45 minutes altogether.  They did an ultrasound and bloodwork.  The ultrasound came back clear; he said that all of her abdominal organs look good, but her colon was filled with tons of stool and gas.

He agreed with me that Layla has some sort of malabsorption problem.  He repeatedly said it could be due to a pancreatic deficiency.  The bloodwork will determine whether that is the case or not.  It would not be hard to manage, according to him.

If the bloodwork shows that her pancreas is fine, we're going to have to take the next step and think about endoscopy/biopsy of her intestine.  This is kind of scary, as I said that I really didn't want to put Layla under anesthesia.  He said that there was very little risk.. the only thing he would recommend before anesthesia is a chest X-Ray, because she does have what he called a "loud" heart murmur.  (I knew she had a heart murmur, but did/do not know the severity of it.) I guess we'll cross that bridge if/when we get there.

Biopsy of the intestine would search for possible inflammatory bowel disease or intestinal lymphoma.  He said that both of these can be managed well.. that this type of lymphoma in cats is not "terrible" the way it is in people.

So, we don't have an answer right now, because everything is contingent upon the results of the bloodwork, which we will have within the week.  Over all, I think the news is pretty good, because he doesn't seem to think that she has anything that can't be treated or managed.  I'm glad that the ultrasound was good.. it's comforting to know she's not riddled with masses or anything like that.  It's frustrating to still not have a diagnosis, though, especially when it's obvious that Layla is not getting the nutrients that she needs.

Thank you so much for your continued thoughts for my little girl.  She sure is happy to be home (and not so happy to be sporting a new bald spot on her belly!).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What I Do

Several of you have asked about the research I've been a part of at school.

As many of you know, I took a laboratory course this past fall in which I got to work with a pigeon and an operant chamber.

#77, my "Learning & Behavior" class bird.

I absolutely loved the experience.  The class was a dream come true - I already knew so much about learning theory and behaviorism, and this class only posed more questions for me and broadened my horizons. My bird was a hard worker and I enjoyed seeing how he responded inside the chamber.  Suffice to say, I got an A on all but one assignment, and an A over all for the course.  I was thrilled when my professor called me a "really good student" and set me up so that I could start working in the lab for real.. with the goal of an eventual Honors experiment/thesis in mind (which I must do to graduate).

Since December, I have been in the lab several mornings out of the week, coding experiments, making new stimuli for the birds to peck at, among many other things.  One of my favorite experiences was "hopper training" four brand new birds, who had never seen the operant chamber before and didn't know how to peck at the key to receive the food reinforcer.  It was all taught by shaping, just as you'd do when trying to get a dog to interact with a novel object.

Finally, this morning, I discretely got some footage to show you all of one of the birds in action.  This bird is slightly more experienced than the "baby" birds I worked with earlier in the year, but he is still not very experienced and needs to work a bit in the chamber before he can run in an experiment.  

The video is 2 1/2 minutes long.  Feel free to skip around a bit.. I was going to shorten it, but wanted to show you the entire session.

I accidentally cut it off the screen, but, in this training session, the bird is pecking at a 2.7 cm white circle (you can see the faint outline of it, I think). After each peck, he receives access to food for 3 seconds.  This is a continuous reinforcement schedule - meaning, the bird is reinforced every time he pecks.

Also, disregard the banging sound that occurs after each peck.  The camera was vibrating against the plexiglass of the chamber and did not actually make that sound.

We should be starting the actual experiment soon, with this bird and an additional 7 birds.  I don't have the details in place yet, but we're going to be looking at how various experiences AFTER receiving training impact future recollection of that training - something that is scientifically called "retroactive interference."

This project is sort of a baseline for what will be my own Honors experiment.  It's rather simple, but will allow us to secure an experimental design so that we can explore more complex phenomena.

DISCLAIMER: Animal studies are a touchy subject.  I want to mention that this laboratory is completely appetitive - meaning, we do not use punishment or aversive events like shocks and fear on the birds.  I also want to point out that most of these birds are ex-breeder birds that would have otherwise been destroyed.  No bird's life is sacrificed in this lab - in fact, a large percentage of the birds are living well past their expected lifespan!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Time For A Specialist

Layla went back to the vet (finally) on Friday night.  I stalled quite a few extra weeks because, in all honesty, she was happy and eating well, and I didn't want to stress her or her body out with another blood draw so quickly after the last one.

As it turns out, she lost more weight - about a pound since her previous vet visit 6 or 7 weeks ago.  She's down to 6.1 pounds.  Due to this, my vet opted to not take blood, and, he, instead, filled out the dreaded referral form for what is arguably my least favorite place in the entire world - Garden State Veterinary Specialists. No reason to draw blood now, he said, if they will repeat everything when she goes there.

I've been to GSVS once before and although I have no complaints about the way they cared for Layla through her battle with allergies, it's so depressing there.  I get way too emotional over seeing very sick animals (one of the main reasons I did not go through with being Pre-Vet in undergrad).  I might just have to strike up a deal with my mom, so that she sits in the waiting room until our name is called, so I can just whisk my way in quickly from the car.  I simply CANNOT deal with it.

Because she's eating well and still losing weight, there is obviously some sort of malabsorption issue going on.  She's producing a LOT of poop (much of which is formed, but quite soft), and therefore might not be retaining nutrients as well as she should be. It may be something as benign as an intolerance to the food she's on (all of these problems seem to have started right after the whole food switching debacle).  It could be Irritable Bowel Disorder (definitely not farfetched for a cat with a lifespan's worth of digestive issues).  It could also be something more serious, like gastrointestinal lymphoma.

My vet did say that IBD is consistent with her voracious appetite, gurgly stomach, and stool output.  He did, however, say that IBD and lymphoma present very similarly in the early stages.

I'm hopeful that what ever she has is something that can be fixed or managed, but the fact that the dreaded C word has come up twice in the past few months is a bit unsettling.

Either way, we're scheduled for an appointment with an Internal Medicine veterinarian on Saturday at 2 PM.

It may not even give us a definitive answer, as I am pretty set on NOT putting Layla through any invasive procedures.  X-Rays? Fine. Ultrasound? Fine.  Bloodwork with all sorts of fancy panels? Fine.  But I'm really not comfortable putting her under general anesthesia at her age (12-13).

I'm just trying to stay positive and take things as they come.  I hope that Saturday will be the end of our vet visits and worries for a while.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow, Spring and the Semester

Early Spring? I think not!

It's going to have to get pretty darn warm to melt all of this stuff (plus the nice layer of ice that coated everything this morning).

The sad part is that it's not even "useable" snow anymore.  It's now dirty and crusty, which is uncomfortable for dog paws and human feet alike.  I wish there was a magic RESET button that I could press to get a batch of fresh snow for Marge to run around in.  I'd prefer 2 or 3 inches instead of 23 this time, though.

I haven't done a darn thing with Marge this week.  We've gone on a few walks around the block and that's about it.  There's literally no where to walk!

 She did accompany me to the non-competitive agility class which I've begun teaching again on Monday.  She played with the other instructor's dog, a male Standard Poodle.  She snarked him a few times more than I would have preferred, but he seemed to have great manners and read her well, and she did offer him a couple of play bows and zoomed through tunnels with him.  I anticipate that with more play sessions, she'll continue to get more comfortable with him.

I've just gone back to school for the semester and am trying to prepare myself for a wicked semester of Anatomy and Physiology.  I'm taking only two classes, but that's in addition to my lab research (yes, pigeons!), which is proving to be extremely time intensive.  I'm still at my counseling internship, but, quite honestly, am no longer enjoying it and looking to leave soon.  I'm going to be starting volunteer work at a physical therapist's office as well. On top of that, I really need to start studying for the GRE, which I'm planning on taking in a matter of months.  As such, blog updates and visits are going to be all over the place for a while until I settle into my new routine.

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