On Father’s Day the weather was beautiful and we took the dogs to the beach. We knew that Annie had gone swimming before when she was with her foster family but so far we had not seen her go in the water. She loved walking along the beach with me when we went, and she would stay right at my hip as we walked back and forth along the water line. Maisie loved charging into the water. She would chase other dogs, run through the waves, swim on her own and venture in when she needed a drink. Annie would never follow her, she never left my side but I had the feeling she would go in if we went in.
The amazing thing about Lake Michigan is that some days there might be huge waves and other days the lake is as smooth as glass. On this day the lake was calm and clear. We could walk a long way from shore and it was still very shallow. It was a perfect day to try to get Annie to follow us into the water. We had the beach to ourselves so there was no distraction with other dogs or owners. Chris went out pretty far, Maisie followed him and then I started wading out. I could see the indecision in Annie’s eyes as she stood and barked at me for a couple seconds before she started walking out. We took it slowly and even though she was still unsure, she started walking toward Chris when he called her. Maisie was overcome with excitement. Annie was finally coming in! She ran between Annie and Chris until the gap was closed and then she showed Annie when to start swimming. They both stayed close to Chris, swimming circles around him and then they would come toward me. I know it’s their rescue instinct kicking in when they both start circling and try to stay as close as possible. Annie went between Chris and I and when she was near me she would push up against me to make sure I was still safe. I wasn’t going out as far, I had my phone in my hand because of course I was trying to document this special event!
I’ve always said Annie walks with purpose. She has huge feet and she plants them firmly in front of her with each step. She stomps up and down the stairs and I can easily tell which dog is walking through the house because Annie is so much more heavy footed. Well, she swims with purpose as well. Each stroke she took was slow and powerful and she slid through the water like she had been doing it all of her life. Instinct is an amazing thing and it was incredible to see it come so naturally. It was such a wonderful way to start the day!
I work part-time so my days off usually involve some errands or appointments during the day. On one particular day in June I left the house and decided not to close the doors on the dog crates. I didn’t plan on being out very long and both of my children were home from college for the summer, it was possible that one of them would be coming down for breakfast shortly after I left. Maisie is the one that gets into trouble when we are out, she just gets so lonely, but with Annie around I was hoping I could begin to trust her to not get into things when they were left on their own. So far, Annie had not proven to be an explorer; she would just stay in her crate and sleep until we returned.
I finished what I needed much more quickly than I thought and I returned home about 45 minutes after I left. Maisie greeted me with her usual exuberance, jumping up on the storm door and pawing at it until either she or I got it open. I received a huge surprise when I opened the door and saw not only Maisie but Annie waiting for me with a wagging tail as well! This is such normal behavior for most dogs but for Annie it was another sign that she was overcoming her fears. We keep the two crates side by side and Annie’s crate door is almost never closed. She will stay in her crate when Maisie is contained. Whenever someone comes in the house, Annie always waits to come out until we go into the room and open up Maisie’s door. If they both happen to be loose, Annie has always stayed in or near her crate, looking around the door to see who has just come in and it takes her a few moments to muster the desire to come and greet us.
Annie always has to measure the situation before she makes a move. She had learned that it was best to keep a wide berth with humans and even run away when she could, so hearing my footsteps and choosing to come towards me and wait for my arrival, my goodness! By stepping out of the comfort of her crate and waiting for me by the door, she was showing me so much more than just her happiness to see me. The next time I came in the house I was hoping that she would greet me again, but that did not happen, she stood in the doorway and looked down the hallway for a few minutes before she decided to go the long way around the house and find me in the kitchen. It only took a couple more weeks and now she greets us at the door, shoves Maisie out of the way, step all over our toes and eagerly insists on receiving as much attention as possible. She’s a very different dog from the one we brought home in January!
About 3 weeks before her birthday I found a lump on Annie’s left flank. I was immediately concerned and we went to the vet to have it evaluated. The pathology from the tissue sample was inconclusive but I noticed Maisie sniffing it so we made the decision to remove it along with another lump that was notated on her first visit. The waiting is the hardest part, and sure enough the lump on her hip was cancer but the other lump was not. Shit. Cancer. After everything else, now cancer! The diagnosis was so disheartening but the analysis showed that all of the cancer had been removed with no sign of spreading at this time, so we had caught it early. What a relief! We would need to continue to monitor her very carefully but the vet was optimistic about her prognosis. But then there was another concern. While she was in surgery she developed an irregular heartbeat. Occasionally this happens because of the anesthesia but considering Annie’s age, this was probably a sign that she was developing heart disease. We scheduled an EKG at the same time as her suture removal and hoped for the best. It seemed so unfair that this should come up after all that she had been through .
Her appointment happened to be on her birthday and I was planning on having a celebration for her that night. I went to the party store and got party hats and a big feather boa. I have never dressed up my dogs before, but it seemed perfectly appropriate for this occasion. I was going to buy a birthday cake from the doggie bakery in town but then decided that I would make her one. I had always made cakes for my kids on their birthdays and Annie deserved to have her own homemade cake as well.
When we got to the vet, Annie was completely relaxed. We walked in and she sat next to me while we waited. A young male tech came out to take her back and she got visibly upset. Up until now I had always requested female techs but I had forgotten to confirm that with this appointment. She did not want to go with him and climbed up next to me on the bench to get away from him. She was reminding me that although she was making great progress, she still had fears that needed to be soothed. I sat with her for a minute and calmed her and then I took the leash and walked her part of the way and then he took over and she was better. I heard her doctor greet her when she went around the corner so I knew she was in good hands. About 15 minutes later I went into the exam room and Annie was rubbing up next to her doctor. She immediately gave me the best news possible, Annie’s EKG was normal! She also did not hear any sign of a murmur so we decided to continue to monitor her very closely but I was very optimistic about her future. I know she’s at the twilight of her life, but I want her final months (or dare I hope, years) to be pain-free with minimal complications so that we can just enjoy our time together, however long that may be.
We had the party that night after dinner. I cut the cake into four pieces and placed it on a low table in front of her. She grabbed the first piece and loved it. Maisie took a piece for herself and they both took their time with their second pieces. These two have never had any food problems and once again, they shared with each other and watched each other enjoy their treats. I took lots of pictures and we had so much fun giving Annie her very first birthday party.
Memorial Day Weekend 2016, Annie had been with us for 4 months and she was continuing to show so much progress. She now walked comfortably back and forth through the short-cut hallway between the kitchen and the family room and would immediately come to watch us when we were cooking or preparing food bowls. She went through every door in the house, got in and out of the car without hesitation, spent more time out of her crate than in and came when we called her, usually on the first try.
There were times when she would still tag up a few times before she would come to me completely but she tried so hard and wanted to please. She was doing so well I thought she was ready to come with us to the graduation party our daughter was having with 3 of her cousins. It would be outdoors and there would be plenty of room for me to sit with her away from the crowd. We had been to this house on Mother’s Day so when we arrived she knew where she was and followed me into the backyard and immediately lay down and watched all of the activity.
Everywhere we go with Annie she attracts attention and everyone is very respectful of her need to keep her distance until she is comfortable with the people around us. She is more open to meeting new people although she is still very guarded around men. She did quite well that day. There was a 4-year-old girl that was terrified of Maisie but was completely happy sitting next to Annie to pet her head. Annie showed no anxiety about receiving this attention and seemed to enjoy it. When I got up to play one of the yard games she followed me and stuck close to my hip with my every movement. When my husband walked around she would get up and follow him. She seemed to be telling us that as long as she was close to one of us, she trusted that we would not lead her into a bad situation and we would take care of her. She had put so much trust in us that we had to take her cue that she was ready to go home. The party was still going but when she had had enough, she looked at me, hopped up and trotted off to our car. Time to go home!