The bionic dog

This summer was an expensive but fun one for us. Kitchen remodel. Month at the beach. New right knee for our yellow lab.

At the dog beach.

Adios, home equity. It was nice knowing you.

But as I said to my wife the other day, “Money, you can’t eat it when you’re dead.”

She said, “that doesn’t make sense.” And she was correct. It doesn’t. Sometimes, the stuff just comes out of my mouth.

Earlier this year, our yellow lab tore her ACL in one knee, and had a partial tear in the other. The vet told us it’s common for the second knee to tear 100 percent after the first surgery. And he was correct. It did. We had hoped it wouldn’t, but last week we noticed Luna limping and keeping it off the ground, a bad sign.

Off to the vet my wife went. Second tear confirmed.

It was less of a decision of whether to do the second surgery – another 5K burned – as it was of when to do the surgery. After a day of discussion, we decided to do it right away. We can’t stand to watch Luna limp around, not to mention that it must hurt. So, in she goes this week for the second bionic knee filled with screws (pretty much what holds my brain together). After that there is a three-month recovery period (the first month is the hardest, because we have to restrict her to the dog bed, except for going out to fertilize the lawn). In four months, she’ll be pulling a sled again. Or should be to earn back the cost of the two surgeries.

To pay for the operation, we’ll be cutting back in 2013. We placed a vase on the dining table and scraps of paper in the mouth of a nutcracker. Each time we save money, we write it down and drop it in. Last night, I lowered our DirecTV subscription. Goodbye, Laker’s games. Hello, $300 saved over the next 12 months.

Oh, that wet dog smell.

My daughter also gave up Little Pony episodes, which she wasn’t thrilled about. She almost got a late-night ass-chewing from my wife when she said: “you aren’t giving up anything, Mama,” not comprehending the money going out the door was also earned by her mother.

We’ll be thinking up other ways to cut out spending in 2013. I gave up Christmas presents from my wife and daughter. And the landline phone may be going – why do we have it and two cell phones?

And, as Luna’s picture made two 2013 dog calendars, we’re thinking of letting people take their pictures with her for 5 bucks a pop. I can tell you exactly how much this plan will make – $15. Five from my wife, my daughter and me.

All of this for the love of a dog we raised from a pup alongside our daughter. What choice did we have?

How I spent (and didn’t spend) my summer vacation

I didn’t spend summer in the hospital. [Fox applauds, then passes out.]

I feel like I won the lottery by not going in, though the pattern for me has long been one without summer hospital stays. With falling leaves, colds and other viruses on the way, you can bet that I’ll soon be returning to hell.

Ebony and Ivory, living in perfect harmony on the beach

I didn’t spend June, July or August coughing up blood, though summer hasn’t officially ended.

And if you’re a betting man or woman, I’d bet on the blood thanks to the blood thinning shots I’m stabbing into my McGriddle-fattened six-pack twice a day. And I’ve just tempted fate by mentioning it on the blog, which means I’ll probably be in the hospital coughing up blood within the next two or three days.

I did spend June working on what the Donald would call a “super-big, important, super-large” project at work. It was a success and once again I proved it’s better to be lucky than good, and assembling a talented team always makes one look better than they truly are. Go Team Unknown.

We did spend the summer with a new puppy – a goofy, mischievous, shower-squeegee stealing, whining, scared of her own shadow, mystery of a black lab that I wanted to give away, but was outvoted by my wife and daughter, who are both attached to the black shadow-thief. (That’s all I can write about the dog, otherwise my friend @onlyz tunes out at this point and starts to read the back of the vegan muffin package.)

I didn’t spend this summer blogging or watching TV, but I did spend it reading. I read over 8,000 pages and enjoyed every minute, staying up late and making the most of when time takes its mandated-by-law break.

Malibu coastline on a nice summer day.

I did spend the hot months milking every bit of fun I could. I filled every weekend with an activity and dragged my wife and daughter to all kinds of places. From the American Idol concert, to the beach, the circus, a dog agility trial and canyon roads we’d never driven. We didn’t take a summer trip this year thanks to the blood-thinner shots, but we still had a great time and spoiled ourselves by eating dinner at restaurants more often.

The end of a great concert at Theatricum in Topanga. Check out a play here if you're in Los Angeles.

Monday, Labor Day, we ended the “holiday to holiday” summer with the annual benefit concert at Theatricum in Topanga. What an amazing afternoon filled with talented singers singing Burt Bacharach songs. A great way to finish my favorite season of the year watching some of Los Angeles’s most talented musicians, like Inara George and Sara Melson, play music for two hours.

So, I’m happy with the job I did having fun this summer. I cannot guarantee I’ll see another one. I hope I do, but it’s not written in stone that I will.

Now it’s time to focus on autumn and the Denver Broncos winning and me staying out of hell and not catching colds or the flu or coughing up blood. I’m optimistic, but know sometimes there is nothing I can do but ride out ill-timed surprises.

Here’s to a healthy fall and winter to all.

Some weekends are different than others

Last weekend started with the American Idol concert and ended with a 1 a.m. Sunday night visit to the emergency vet. That’s the beginning to the end without a middle. Oh, and there were police and fire trucks, too. Not an average weekend.

The American Idol concert was my daughter’s first large-scale concert. It wasn’t The Who or Springsteen or anyone great, but it wasn’t bad for karaoke.  It did convince me that America doesn’t vote for the best singers. And the show manipulates the results and finds ways to push favored singers to the end.

Oh, and Pia was robbed. How did she get voted off so early? She sounded better, looked better, and was more poised than second-place Lauren Alaina, who danced like a Disney Animatronic bear.

Being in a large crowd at the Nokia Theater also reinforced my theory that people are getting angrier these days. Two knuckleheads sitting on the isle seats next to us got bent every time someone had to leave to get food or use the restroom. Then, they didn’t want to move to let my wife and daughter back to our seats. It’s an American Idol concert you twits, not a play where if you miss one word the meaning is lost. You’re at the end of the aisle, what did you expect when you bought the seats?

I’m not good in crowds anymore.

Saturday and Sunday were filled with me spending a lot of time reading the Game of Thrones books, dinner with friends, watching Team USA lose (heartbreaking), and a faux ABBA concert Sunday night. Nothing like Swedish pop to put a smile on your face and at the same time create the contradictory feeling of queasiness that you’re about to bring up your tri-tip sandwich to the opening bars of “Dancing Queen.”

But then there was late Sunday night.

At around 10:30 p.m., I noticed four police cars outside, which made me think that shredding my jury notices for the last 20 years wasn’t such a great idea. But they didn’t come for me – yet – instead they were after one of my neighbors.

So, of course I had to watch a bunch of police officers standing around – it takes 7 to arrest one person – throwing their gum wrappers on my lawn. Then, two fire trucks showed up and the fire department ambulance. That led to my neighbor being taken away screaming, handcuffed and strapped down to the gurney.

All of that took almost two hours.

Stick an electrode on her head and activists would be breaking her out of my house.

Then I went outside with the dogs and noticed our yellow lab had a lumpy head, gross, and a swollen muzzle. A dime of blood blossomed on her head. Executive decision: Trip to the emergency vet where they gave her a steroid and Benadryl cocktail for the mystery insect bite and me a $200 enema for owning the mutt who stuck her head in the wrong plant.

My dog also received the make-over bonus of a 4-inch square shaved on her head for the oh so 70’s look of a laboratory research animal. My daughter broke into tears when she saw her in the morning, having slept through the fun during the night.

So, that was the weekend. Thanks to Game of Thrones, it’s taken me three days to finish this post. I can’t wait to finish the last book and get back to my life and blogging.

Happy summer.

The marshmallow thief and other snippets from life

I was standing in the living room this week when Cali ran out of the kitchen with a large bag of marshmallows in her mouth. My wife had left a cabinet open and opportunity presented itself. I felt like a shortstop fielding a 37-pound ground ball. I saved the run from scoring.

The innocent face of the thief

It turns out she’s quite the puppy thief, this one. Anything she can put in her mouth goes in her mouth. But there’s some mischief mixed in.

My daughter was on the floor drawing and Cali ran into the kitchen, grabbed the bag of markers and ran out, which irritated my daughter, who didn’t see the humor in it. Especially after the 5th time Cali tried it.

Cali has become quite the fun pup, and our “Socialize California” mission is paying off. (Does that make us Socialists?) She’s much more confident now and sounds and barking dogs don’t phase her as much. She’s doing great in puppy classes. We feel proud of the work we’ve done with her. Now we just have to cure her of her thieving ways.

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Cali got sick this week. Diarrhea sick. I got sick at the same time – my own stomach issues. Coincidence? After a chicken and rice diet (Cali), and Pop Tarts and Popsicles (me), I got better but Cali didn’t. So it was to the vet for a sample from her back end, which the vet staff gave us some hell about, as they wondered why were testing her if she was not showing any other signs of illness, and she had had the stool test a month ago.

Ah, summer

Because we’ve owned dogs our entire lives and something is not right, okay? Shut up and take our money.

The vet’s office called the next day to tell us the test was negative. What?

We were happy it was, but confused. So, I called the vet just to see what else it might be. When he called me back, he said the second test was positive for giardia. Vindication for us, antibiotics for Cali.

****

I had a clinic appointment this week. My PFTs were up, but not back to the pre “flu from hell” levels. I felt happy and sad. Happy they’re better, but sad I may not get back that lung function. I also need sinus surgery. We’ll plan it the next time I go into the hospital. It’s like having your car repaired – making a trip in just to fix the door handle is a pain. I’ll wait until I’m due for a major service to repair everything.

****

Work has been nuts lately. So, I’ve felt like reading more than writing. I just finished Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen, which took me a while to get into but was excellent in the end. But I like Franzen’s other book The Corrections better. I have three or four unread books on my Kindle left to go this summer, though “summer” may be too kind of a word to describe this season, as it’s been warmer in Alaska than here in L.A. I’m writing this while wearing a parka and using icicles and flavoring to make homemade Popsicles.

Stay warm.

Work: The enemy of blogging

I traveled locally on business this week. Most days were over 12 hours of work, with one topping 15. Today, I’m feeling groggy and if I didn’t know a Red Bull would send me to the ER thinking I’m having a heart attack, I’d try one. A little “pick me up” to make it through the day.

Puppy life in black and white

And my sincere thanks to Cali California for waking me up at 5:30 this morning. Adios, REM sleep.

Usually, I can knock out a blog post on the road, but not this week. I’d get back to the hotel, do my treatments and watch TV, something I don’t do during the week unless it’s sports. But I find it enjoyable when I’m tired and sitting in a hotel room. Maybe it’s the florescent lighting? It’s the best time to watch all the wacky crap I’d never watch at home. When did MTV become a soft-core porn channel?

I missed the puppy while I was gone, and my wife and daughter. A friend of my mine used to tell me that if he traveled and missed his girlfriend at the time, he knew he liked her. If not, it was time to break up. After 25 years with my wife, I still miss her when I travel. That has to be a good sign.

Later today, I’ll be at a puppy training class with my daughter. I’m the legal guardian so she can attend the class. This should be interesting. The trainer we used told us they’re “treat crazy.” I’m not. I’ve never really had to use treats to get my dogs to do things, except complicated tricks. But this is a new world with our shy puppy. I’m sure she’ll be the size of a hog by the end of the classes. Maybe we can teach her to “oink.” Will I get kicked out for suggesting this? Or for being “treat adverse”? Probably.

What time is too early to start eating M&Ms? Can I suck the caffeine-like chemical from them to wake up? It’s almost time for my treat – my McGriddle and hot chocolate. That will help my mood. Thank you, McDonald’s for inventing the perfect breakfast treat for humans. I’d sit and beg for one, but luckily I have the cash.

Stay healthy and awake.

Bad owner. Bad owner.

After 13 days of living in our house, Cali is doing better. She’s still shy in certain situations, like the gardeners making noise, but in other situations, she is more confident. We can walk her around the block now without burning through a pack of dog treats, and she’s less fearful of barking dogs and other outside noises. Or, at least she can walk away from them, tail down, instead of planting herself.

Best of friends

Clearly, the only thing separating Cali from Labrador greatness and more confidence is me.

Example: We walked her to the pet store tonight to socialize her. All went well and she was doing great. Then, as we stood there debating whether to buy the $5 or $3 clicker, a man with a large Malamute came up to us.

“He’s half wolf,” he said.

“Is he friendly?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

My wife held our yellow lab and she let her sniff the Malamute. The man made some comment about the dog not being trained. Cali put her nose over Luna’s body to sniff the dog. Bold little pup. Good sign. I noticed the owner held the leash tight, transmitting tension to the dog.

Now here’s why I should wear a t-shirt with “I’m an idiot” on it when I’m out in public.

Giant wolf dog. Strike one. Untrained giant wolf dog. Strike two. Man holding leash of giant wolf dog tightly. Strike three.

A full moon moved from behind the clouds at that moment or the wolf dog became jealous of the Disney-happiness of our two labs because it growled and snapped. Wolf-dog’s owner must have expected this because he reeled him in with both hands, fast, like a swordfish on the line.

He apologized and I ignored him, as I was irritated.

Friendly, my ass.

I have no doubt the man will wake up one morning with one leg missing and wolf dog grinding away on his femur.

So, Cali freaked, of course. And I felt like an idiot, a common feeling. But a she seemed to recover quickly. We won’t know how much impact it had until the next time she meets a new dog. We signed her up for puppy classes with my daughter, which will help socialize her with other dogs, as long as they’re not part werewolf.

So, as of today, the dream of owning two Labradors has been realized and is as fantastic as I thought it would be. It feels good to be lucky some days, even when it’s accompanied by stupidity.

Cali throws us a bone

Friday night, with our daughter at her first slumber party, my wife and I  sat on opposite ends of the kitchen floor and discussed the skittish pup. We were tired from a stressful workweek and at wit’s end with Cali California. Though we’d once trained a headstrong dog, and built up the confidence of our late fearful, unpredictable chow mix, and considered ourselves knowledgeable about training dogs, Cali had us stumped.

We questioned our ability to train and pick pups, as we didn’t see the skittish tendencies when we chose her. And we wondered if we kept working hard with her, and put the time in, would she improve – could she improve?

Despite both of us staying home the entire week, we’d made no progress, and, one might observe, gone backwards. And we sat there defeated, disheartened by the 32-pound sleeping pup.

Cali is more relaxed now and less spooked if you approach her

How are we going to fix her? Us?

Rule #1: Never blame the dog.

Cystic fibrosis and hospitalizations entered the conversation, of course. What if this happens? What if that happens? How can we get through these situations with this pup?

How did the dream go south from a week ago? What did we do wrong?

And then Saturday came. And with it a transformation. Using treats, we got Cali around the block twice. And after spending an hour in the backyard with her, she calmed down and didn’t bolt at the sound of a car door shutting or a distant bark.

I hung out with her at night on the patio.

Calm, everyone’s calm, Cali. You can be calm, too. It’s all good. We’re just hanging. You’re safe. 

Then Cali gained some confidence playing with our other dog. And her tail wagged more. And she blossomed into a happier, playful member of our pack. And our stress melted a bit.

We have a trainer coming tonight to give us some tips about shy dogs. We are not taking any chances with Cali. We don’t want to make any training mistakes and have her regress or keep her fearful ways. The progress she made was the thin sliver of sunshine we needed to regain hope that better days are ahead, and the black dog we thought we’d discovered at the breeder was the one sleeping on our kitchen floor.

Now we just have to be patient and let Cali come to us.