Sunday, November 25, 2012


At left, Ieuan vom hohlen Huegel, AD, BH, IPO 1, 'a'

He's home!

Ella (V Elatha vom hohlen Huegel, SchH 2, Kkl 1 'a') has been my almost-exclusive hiking partner for the past year and a half, and during that time has become nearly as necessary to me as oxygen. But prior to that time my usual partner was Ieuan. So why was he not there by my side, as was Ella, during the walkabout last year and indeed every other trail mile I've been logging? Ieuan was with trainers, working on his titles. That is, until six weeks ago when I picked him up as Jess (my daughter) and I were on our way to the Monongahela wilderness area of West Virginia for a long weekend of backpacking.

Ieuan had just gone High in Trial and High Scoring Tracking Dog while earning his IPO 1 under Nikki Banfield, and it was time for him to come home. Perfect timing for him to take some well-deserved R&R, so for once Ella stayed home to make room in the car to pick up Ieuan as we drove south to the mountains.

The necessity of titling my dogs, in combination with the fact that being a breeder means there is always a steady stream of young dogs growing up and moving into adulthood, has dictated that for the past fifteen years or so I've raised my pups to a certain age, brought them to a base level of training, and shipped them off to Germany to achieve the titles that the German system requires for a breeding program. I was fortunate enough to work with friends and trainers in Germany who ensured that the dogs have come home just as happy as when they left, and it was a system I'd hoped to follow throughout my breeding career. Unfortunately, post-divorce financial realities have instilled hurdles that I haven't yet found a way to overcome, but one step towards reducing the cost of titling has been to work with trainers in this country (eliminating the shipping expenses). Tim & Carol Karchnak of Muddy River K-9 have been marvelous to work with and their methods ensure that the dogs work because they love it, not because they're forced to.

So, Ieuan achieved his titles, had a lovely vacation, and is home and has been logging many a mile as my hiking buddy alongside Ella. They make quite an impressive team, red coats flashing bright against the bronze and brown landscapes of late-fall woodlands. I relish the wildness that lights their eyes as develop pack hunting strategies, feeding off each others' instinctive reactions to musky deer scent of the autumn rut. I'm never more blissful than when spending days in their company, their unadulterated joy calling forth my own Paleolithic inheritance as our trail-hardened muscles carry us tirelessly, mile after mile. Indeed, it sometimes seems that the further we go, the stronger and fiercer I feel. I wonder if they feel that, too.

Where once I felt my responsibility as dog owner was to control and modify my dogs' natural behaviors, I now see myself as more of a supervisor, a witness, providing opportunities for them to discover their own capacities while maintaining some degree of boundaries for their own protection. There really is nothing I can teach them, other than to try to establish a mutually-understood language that allows us to function as a team. They are complete and more than sufficient unto themselves, yet they chose to partner with me, and that fact gives me more than enough to ponder on our rambles. The choosing to share a life with an Other, the struggle to understand and to be understood, to communicate and to share...isn't that what all relationships are about?

As the years have gone by, my idea of a "long walk" has evolved numerically and then geometrically (four miles became six became ten became thirty), dissolving boundaries both physical and mental. As these once solid-seeming barriers were surmounted, the very idea of limitations has nearly evaporated.

Though I've always been athletic and outdoorsy, without these canine companions I know I would never have ventured into the wilderness as extensively as I have, nor grappled with the barriers that hemmed me in. Granted, I'd warrant that most of those barriers were self-constructed. Nonetheless, the experiences I've shared with these dogs never fail to remind me of the limitless possibilities of a life lived unleashed.

And isn't that a Homecoming of the best sort?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Healing Machine

"A Healing Machine"

That's what the surgeon called her at her first checkup. A Healing Machine. I know it was a generic comment, directed at the natural capacity for baby puppies to heal quickly, rather than being an assessment of her specific capacity for preternatural deposition of new bone. Still, it was reassuring to hear it. I'd taken her back to the ER for an evaluation just eight days post-surgery because she was turning her leg oddly, walking with a twist and roll to her step that I thought was indicative of trouble. She placed her weight on the inside edge of her paw, turning her knee outward and rolling off the inside toe rather than the middle toe.

The surgeon took her in for additional X-rays, and confirmed that her external fixator apparatus needed to be adjusted. A few twists and tweaks to the screws and pins later, and the surgeon reported that Purple Girl's tibia and fibula were lined up nicely. She came home groggy but was soon wide awake and back to being bored and frustrated. The first week had been tough for both of us...she wasn't allowed any freedom whatsoever, just potty breaks on a short leash, and otherwise crated. To help her tolerate the enforced confinement, she'd been on Acepromazine and pain killers, but now, ten days later, she'd been weaned off the pain meds, and I hated keeping her medicated. She had now earned some freedom in a small enclosure, but had to have careful supervision of her time outside the crate, and she wore a "cone" at all times.

For anyone who's ever had a dog in a cone, you know that they just don't "get" that their head takes up more space than usual, and they seem to revel in one of the only games available in their restricted state - how many objects (or people) they can wipe out with each move they make. Purple Girl really only wanted attention, wanted entertainment, wanted above all to have that itchy spot just under the edge of the cone to be scratched and scratched and scratched!

In the days following the adjustment to her apparatus, the pup has used the leg far more normally, her limp is hardly noticeable, and she's becoming a dynamo impossible to keep quiet. The crate is too confining, the leash too restrictive, the play area too bland and austere. She explodes out of the crate, blasts full-bore into my shins with the sharp edge of that cone, and ricochets around like a flea in a can until I can grab her and tuck her under my arm, where she squirms and writhes and groans in protest. She can't wait to get back to living a normal puppy existence, which, thankfully, the surgeon assures me won't be too much longer. The Healing Machine will go for her next X-ray on Tuesday, and I'm hoping we'll have more good news to report.

Friday, November 9, 2012


Purple Girl a couple of weeks before her accident.

Just a quick update in the saga of Ember's Purple Girl. The outpouring of support from friends, clients, and complete strangers has been phenomenal and utterly humbling. I'm overwhelmed by the selflessness and generosity of the compassionate people who helped make it possible for "Purple Girl" to have the orthopedic surgery her injury required.

The response to my plea for help was immediate, so I felt confident that giving the go-ahead for surgery was the right thing to do, and Purple Girl (she needs a name - this is the "J" litter so suggestions are welcome) was quickly scheduled for emergency surgery on Sunday. The staff at the Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center (Clarks Summit, PA) are compassionate, caring, and above all, talented professionals who assessed the extent of the puppy's injuries and gave me the straight-scoop on the options. The fractures of her tibia and fibula weren't the nice clean type that could potentially heal with a splint, they ran lengthwise and spiral in such a way that only pinning would hold the leg together. As a result, only external fixation would give her bones the stability they need to heal. And thus, the reason for my unusual request.

The surgeon was more encouraging than the ER doctor who had taken the initial X-rays. She felt confident there's no damage to the growth plates and that there should be no complications, and that in short order Purple Girl will be out there playing with her siblings. "Short order" being defined as a month or two...which is no short order for an exuberant, intelligent, curious, energetic pup.

The good news is that her very young age should allow her to heal very quickly; the bad news is that her very young age makes it extremely difficult to keep her quiet enough to allow those bones to heal! Poor baby is confined to a crate for the first two weeks and only allowed potty breaks on-leash. After that she can begin to build up her strength again with very carefully controlled short walks. It's astonishing to me how this little girl shows no signs of pain and would have wanted to romp and rough house the day after her surgery if allowed to follow her own inclinations. Why are humans such wimps? This kid is an inspiration!

Special thanks to the surgeon, Dr. Rachael Currao, who is an accomplished surgical specialist and whose professional skills have given this puppy a bright future. Additional appreciation to the administrative staff at VREC for working with me to keep the costs to a minimum. And most especially, undying gratitude to those donors who have pledged contributions to the "give Purple Girl a chance" fund!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Emergency Surgery

The litter I so recently welcomed to this world and blogged about, the litter where every single pup has exquisite conformation, gorgeous pigmentation, and the most marvelous waggy tails and outgoing personalities, is now nine weeks old. Today I let them into the backyard to play while I cleaned up their poopy papers. I heard a yip. Didn't think much of it, figured one had taken swipe at another, and went on about my chores. Only when I went to bring them back in did I realize that only five had answered my call. After a frantic search I located a hole in the fence leading into the paddock where my horse had been running up and down the fence line, teasing the dogs. My heart sank.

Two laps around the paddock didn't reveal what I dreaded, allowing hope to rise. When I found her, at first I thought the worst, for she was plastered flat and unmoving into a crevice beside the barn, trying her best to be unseeable and unreachable. Cradling her, kissing her head, I promised never to be inattentive, never to leave anything to chance, never to ignore a cry of pain. Then she cried out in earnest, flailing and even biting. As I'd cuddled her to my face for kisses, I'd shifted my grip, obviously causing her distress; it occurred to me I hadn't done a once-over for injuries. A quick glance down showed me what in my relief I'd missed. One foot dangled at an unnatural angle, proclaiming a complete fracture. Thankfully it wasn't compound, but I cradled the foot carefully to avoid further damage, loaded her into the car and made for the emergency clinic.

The wait was interminable and the news grim. Both the tibia and fibula are broken, and in such a way that a cast or splint won't suffice. Only surgery will restore her leg, and the type of surgery (external fixation) is hideously expensive. Obscenely expensive. Way beyond my pathetic budget. She's young, the bones would heal quickly, but as it stands I could only pay for splinting and making her comfortable overnight. This pup deserves a life, deserves a chance to achieve her potential, but is going to need surgery ASAP. She's been stabilized with a splint and pain meds for now, and the surgeon will review her case in the morning, but without a lottery win or the sudden appearance of a money tree in my yard, I'm looking for miracles. I know people are strapped, and lots of us here in the northeast have just struggled through the effects of Hurricane Sandy (power was restored here at Hollow Hills just 48 hours ago), but if enough folks could find even a small amount, it could make the difference between euthanasia and a chance at a full recovery.

So I'm stepping outside my comfort zone, to do what goes utterly against my character, and that's to ask for assistance. I'm blatantly requesting contributions of any amount to help defray the costs of the surgery. Contact me privately of course. My email is

You have my eternal gratitude.