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Posts Tagged ‘dogs’

The Animal Poison Control Center was started prior to my arrival as Head of the then named Veterinary Biosciences department in the College of veterinary medicine at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. After I took office the Center was taken over by the ASPCA and has grown and become more effective as a result. The service answered more than 167,000 calls in 2014 all involving exposure of animals to possible toxicants. Nearly 16% of those calls were about pets getting into medicines intended for human use, the seventh year in a row that this type of exposure was the most common.

Here are the most common pet toxins of 2014 as reported by the ASPCA:

  1. Human prescription medications. Especially dangerous are ADD/ADHD drugs.
  2. Over-the-counter medications including herbal and natural supplements as well as cough, cold and allergy medications. Many of these contain acetaminophen and/or pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine. All are highly toxic to pets. Glucosamine joint supplements are often flavored and will appeal to some animals, particularly dogs. Overdose can result in diarrhea and occasionally in liver failure.
  3. Insecticides particularly insect bait stations can result in bowel obstructions from ingesting the plastic shell containing the bait.
  4. Household items including paints and cleaning products.
  5. Human foods. Dogs were usually the culprits getting into serious trouble by ingesting large quantities of onions, garlic, grapes, raisins and particularly a sugar substitute xylitol found in sugar-free gum and other products.
  6. Veterinary medications, particularly chewable medications are particularly attractive to some pets.
  7. Chocolate, discussed in a previous blog.
  8. Plants, a long list of plant poisons have been covered in this blog.
  9. Rodenticides, haven’t discussed these but toxicity is obvious.
  10. Lawn and garden products, these include fertilizers as well as weed killers, etc.

Other potential hazards include:

  1. Oxygen absorbers and silica gel packs often found in packages of pet treats, jerky and other edibles. These can result in iron poisoning.
  2. Toxic lily plants including the Tiger, Asiatic, Stargazer, Casablanca, Rubrum, Day, Japanese Show and Easter lilies. Some cats are attracted to these plants and a small amount can result in kidney failure. The Calla, Peace and Peruvian lilies are relatively non-toxic but can result in GI inflammation and upset. These were also described in a previous blog.
  3. For reasons unknown some cats are attracted to antidepressants such as Cymbalta and Effexor. Ingestion can result in severe neurological and cardiac toxicities.
  4. Cats are also more sensitive to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen. Don’t be tempted to treat your cat or dog with these agents.
  5. Glow sticks and glow jewelry contain dibutyl phthalate. If your cat’s mouth and/or skin are exposed from chewing on these objects it can result in a chemical burn.
  6. The leaves, fruit, seeds and bark of avocado trees, particularly those from Guatemala, commonly found in our supermarkets, can be toxic to birds, rabbits and horses resulting in respiratory distress, pulmonary congestion, pericarditis (inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart) and death from large doses. Dogs and cats seem to be much less sensitive to avocado toxicity.
  7. Raw bread dough made with live yeast when ingested, usually by dogs, can expand in the stomach resulting in gastric dilatation that can be life threatening.
  8. Ethanol poisoning, inebriation, was recently discussed along with hops poisoning.
  9. Grape and raisin poisoning has also been covered previously.
  10. Macadamia nuts are attractive to some dogs but are not usually fatal. After ingesting a sufficient quantity dogs may show weakness of the hind legs, demonstrate pain behavior, may show muscle tremors and/or develop a low-grade fever.
  11. Moldy foods can produce tremor genic mycotoxins. Since it’s not possible to determine whether a particular mold is producing these toxins the safest thing is not to empty that container from the back of the refrigerator into your dog’s dish. Cats will just turn up their nose and walk away. Also be on the lookout for garbage, road-kill, fallen fruit or nuts that could be moldy. Don’t let your dog get to them.

As always if your pet is showing any kind of suspected toxicosis get it to your veterinarian as soon as possible.

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Ingesting hops can be highly toxic to susceptible dogs. Hops can act as an inciting cause or trigger for malignant hyperthermia but it seems the animal must have a genetic pre-disposition for this to occur.

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Scientific Name: Humulus lupulus, Family: Cannabidaceae

Malignant hyperthermia, an uncontrolled increase in body temperature, is a rare life-threatening condition usually triggered by exposure to general anesthetic agents, most commonly volatile anesthetics, in certain genetically susceptible humans, pigs and horses. Caffeine can also act as a “trigger”. Hops have been shown to trigger the reaction in susceptible dogs and cats. The triggers can induce a drastic and uncontrolled increase in oxidative metabolism, the utilization of oxygen, in skeletal muscle. This overwhelms the body’s ability to regulate body temperature. The result is high fever leading to circulatory collapse and death if not immediately treated.

The susceptibility to malignant hyperthermia is often inherited as an autosomal dominant disorder, for which there are at least 6 genetic sites of interest. In 50–70% of cases, the propensity for malignant hyperthermia is due to a mutation of the ryanodine receptor located on the sarcoplasmic reticulum of skeletal muscle cells where calcium ions are stored. The ryanodine receptor acts to open calcium ion channels that allows the ion to enter the skeletal muscle cells and initiate contraction. Malignant hyperthermia results when the normal processes of entry and subsequent removal of calcium ions from the muscle cells are interfered with. The process of sequestering excess calcium ion within the cell consumes large amounts of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the main cellular energy carrier, and results in the generation of the excessive heat (hyperthermia) that is the hallmark of the disease. The muscle cell is damaged by the depletion of ATP and possibly the high temperatures and cellular constituents “leak” into the circulation.

The other major known causative gene for malignant hyperthermia is the protein encoding a different type of calcium channel. There are two known mutations in this protein. When these mutant channels are expressed in human embryonic kidney cells, the resulting channels are five times more sensitive to activation by caffeine (and presumably volatile anesthetic agents and hops). Other mutations causing malignant hyperthermia have been discovered but. in most cases. the relevant genes remain to be identified.

Research into malignant hyperthermia was limited until the discovery of “porcine stress syndrome” in Danish Landrace and other breeds of pigs. This “awake triggering” was not observed in humans and cast doubt on the value of the animal model. However susceptible humans were discovered to develop malignant hyperthermia the “awake trigger” in stressful situations. This supported the use of the pig model for research.

Pig farmers began to expose piglets to halothane. Those that died were malignant hyperthermia-susceptible, thus saving the farmer the expense of raising a pig whose meat was not marketable. This also reduced the use of breeding stock with the genes. The condition in swine was also found to be due to a defect in ryanodine receptors. The causative mutation in humans was only discovered after similar mutations had been described in pigs. Another argument for the use of animal models in research. Sorry, that was my career for thirty-six years and I still have to climb onto the soap box from time to time.

A causative mutated ryanodine receptor gene has been identified in Quarter Horses and other breeds and is inherited as an autosomal dominant. It can be triggered by overwork, anesthesia, or stress. In dogs the susceptibility seems to be autosomal recessive.

A malignant hyperthermia mouse model has been developed using molecular biology techniques. These mice display signs similar to those in susceptible animals when exposed to halothane as a trigger. This model was used to demonstrate that the injection of dantrolene, a muscle relaxant, reversed the response to the halothane in these mice and in humans. The current treatment of choice is the intravenous administration of dantrolene, discontinuation of triggering agents, and supportive therapy directed at correcting hyperthermia, acidosis, and organ dysfunction. Treatment must be instituted rapidly on clinical suspicion of the onset of malignant hyperthermia. After the widespread introduction of treatment with dantrolene, the mortality of malignant hyperthermia fell from 80% in the 1960s to less than 5%. However, the clinical use of dantrolene has been limited by its low solubility in water. This means it must be dissolved in large volumes of fluids complicating clinical management. Azumolene is 30 times more water-soluble than dantrolene and also works to decrease the release of intracellular calcium by its action on the ryanodine receptor. In susceptible pigs it was just as potent as dantrolene. However it has not yet been approved for use in humans. Hopefully those clinical trials are in progress. Research in mouse models continues in efforts to more completely describe the genetic mechanisms that trigger this condition.

So we know that hops can be poisonous to at least some breeds of dogs and also sometimes to cats. The cones are the culprit when enough of them are eaten. The initial symptoms are restlessness, panting, abdominal pain and vomiting. In serious cases, symptoms progress into seizures, rapid heart rate and life-threatening high body temperature. Greyhounds seem to be the most susceptible breed but also susceptible are golden retrievers, St. Bernards, Dobermans, border collies and English springer spaniels. Hops grown by aficionados pose a threat when the mature cones are low enough for the animal to reach or drop to the ground. With home-brewing becoming more popular we could see an increase in hops poisoning. A potentially bigger threat than hops plants is dogs getting into bags of stored hops or spent, dumped hops sediment.

Dogs are far more sensitive to ethanol than humans. Even ingesting a small amount of a product containing alcohol can cause significant intoxication. No matter how popular beer drinking dogs are on U-Tube hops poisoning is probably not a threat but intoxication from the alcohol is. Alcohol intoxication results in vomiting, loss of coordination, disorientation and stupor. Sound familiar? In severe cases, coma, seizures and death may occur. Dogs showing mild signs of alcohol intoxication should be closely monitored, and dogs that are so inebriated that they can’t stand up must be taken to your veterinarian.

 

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“I want to go to Marfa,” Alexis said, “ it’s on my bucket list.”

“What and where is Marfa?” I responded.

“Marfa, Texas, it’s an artists’ colony and has a hotel from the 50’s completely retro but renovated. That’s where I want to stay. There is also an art installation outside of town, a fake Prada store. I want a photo of me in front of that. Marfa was written up in Dwell magazine and it was also on Sixty Minutes. It’s supposed to be like Taos was for artists in the 50’s. If you Google Prada Marfa you’ll see the art installation.”

So I said: “Sure why not, I’m into art and artists and I’ve never been to Marfa.”

Marfa is not someplace you go to on the way to someplace. South and east of El Paso, sixty miles north of the border, not too far, by Texas standards, to the Big Bend National Wilderness area where my sons and I went backpacking back in the day.

So we drove to Las Cruces and stayed overnight, not much to comment on. Have you ever been to Las Cruces? The next day on to Marfa with the fake Prada store about 35 miles from town. We went past it at 75 mph. Two carloads of people were stopped to take photos. Alexis said; “Let’s go on and come back tomorrow, I want to clean up before the photo and there is a crowd now. We don’t want strangers in the photo.”

Today we went back. The big Prada-Marfa signs above the door on either side were gone. Ripped off during the night? The online photos of the installation show it with the signs in place. The displays of shoes and purses inside were still intact but the magic was gone. It’s all about the sign!

Here is Alexis, being held up by the sign thieves. IMG_0020

Charlize with her friends Alexis, Mimi and Zsa Zsa near the pool at the Thunderbird Hotel.

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I left a copy of Travels With Charlize at the local bookstore and during lunch had a nice conversation with Ken Whitley, another writer, retired from Shell Oil and a Marfa resident for the last seventeen years. He stopped by our table while we were eating lunch to compliment Alexis on her jewelry and her shoes. Not an uncommon event.

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Historically dogs are most commonly associated with biting humans and transmitting rabies. It is now clear that in the U.S. cats are more often diagnosed with rabies than dogs. The number of verified cases of rabies in cats has increased and now there are three times as many cat cases reported compared to the diagnosis in dogs.

The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) says that approximately 34-37 percent of families or individuals with pet cats do not take those animals to a veterinarian. The likelihood of those animals being vaccinated to prevent rabies is low to nonexistent. At least a third of all cats not vaccinated? That is a troubling statistic made even more so by cat owners who do take their animals to a veterinarian but have failed to have them vaccinated against rabies.

This is not a rare disease. In 2010 fewer cases of rabies were reported compared to previous years in the U.S. but there were 6,153 cases in animals from 48 states and Puerto Rico verified. Raccoons were most commonly diagnosed (36.5%), skunks (23.5%), bats (25.2%), foxes (7.0%) and the rest in other species including some rodents. Domestic animals accounted for 8% of all verified cases and we still have 2 or 3 cases in humans every year. Last year a woman in Maryland died following a kidney transplant from a donor who was apparently incubating the disease. Other patients that received organs from that donor received preventive care and are, apparently, not affected. Rabid animals can and do come into contact with our pets, especially cats allowed outside. Imagine the response of your cat to a rabid bat, not able to fly, flopping around on your lawn.

The rabies virus is a member of the Lyssavirus genus of the Rhabdoviridae family and survives in both wild and domestic species including farm animals. When I was in veterinary school we were often reminded that exposure for veterinarians was most commonly due to suspecting “choke”, an object lodged in the esophagus of a bovine that prevents the animal from swallowing, when the animal actually has rabies. When I worked for the U.N. for a year in the veterinary school at the Autonomous University of Mexico I almost fell victim to this. Students were handling a cow that was profusely salivating, even putting their hands in its mouth. I almost did the same before remembering what had been drummed into us. We isolated the cow that developed other signs of rabies within hours, died and rabies was confirmed on necropsy. Most veterinarians today have received preventive vaccination for rabies, at least I hope they have.

New oral vaccines for rabies have recently been developed and distributed in bait. This program has successfully reduced the incidence of rabies in rural areas of the U.S., Canada, France and other environments. A serious outbreak of rabies in raccoons in the Mount Royal park area of Montreal, Canada was brought under control using this resource.

So, … get your cat vaccinated. With Halloween soon upon us a bat could fly into your house, your cat pounces on it, gets bit and then you get exposed when your cat bites you.

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We were gone on vacation and left our dog in a very nice pet hotel where she was allowed to play with the other dogs. Three days after we brought her home she developed a very persistent dry hacking cough. I’ve given her some cough medicine and it helps for a short while but then she is right back coughing. She doesn’t seem ill since she eats and plays but the cough seems to be getting worse. What’s going on?

With the history and signs you provided my best guess, without examining the animal thoroughly, would be kennel cough (trachea-bronchitis, i.e. inflammation of the trachea and bronchi sometimes also called Bordetella). You need to get your dog to your veterinarian as soon as you can for a complete exam and workup. If she does have trachea-bronchitis and it is left untreated it could result in pneumonia and be life-threatening. There are other conditions that can cause this kind of cough and those need to be eliminated from the diagnosis.

Kennel cough is highly contagious, spread from dog to dog via airborne droplets breathed in a confined spaced, such as a kennel, or from direct contact with another animal that is infected, play dates, or even from contact with the causative agents on contaminated surfaces such as a communal water dish at the dog park. The etiology (cause) can be a variety of organisms viral, bacterial and most commonly a combination. Viral infections with the canine parainfluenza virus, canine coronavirus, canine distemper virus, canine herpes virus or canine reovirus make the animal more susceptible to infection with the most common bacterial villain; Bordetella bronchisptica (hence the other name Bordetella). This bacteria has been isolated in more than 75% of cases of this disease and is frequently found along with other opportunistic bacteria.

Most boarding kennels will not accept an animal without an up-to-date vaccination history and the vaccinations provided by your veterinarian will prevent this disease in most cases. However, like the flu vaccine for humans, vaccinations are not one hundred percent effective and some infections are a result of Bordetella alone. There are a few vaccines that are effective, long term, for bacteria but Bordetella does not seem to be one of them.

Treatment is with supportive care if necessary for dehydration, rest (pulling against a collar or heavy exercise will exacerbate the coughing) and cough suppressants. Antibiotics effective against the secondary or primary bacterial agent may be prescribed. Since Bordetella is by far the most common culprit your veterinarian may not bother with trying to culture and do an antibiotic sensitivity test to identify the best antibiotic to use, although this might be indicated in a persistent case. Most veterinarians will treat with the antibiotic or combination of antibiotics that have been most successful in their practice. Make certain you follow the directions and give the entire dose since we do not need more antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria around.

The good news is that this disease, if properly treated, is usually not life threatening. You can expect the distress inducing (in you) coughing to decrease and go away within 3-6 weeks.

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Organisms, cyanobacteria, known as blue-green algae, can be found in freshwater lakes, streams, ponds, estuaries, hot springs and water from wastewater treatment plants. Concentrations of these organisms can be found at any time but are almost always associated with hot weather and nutrient-rich water. Most blue-green algae blooms are not toxic but sometimes they produce microcystins and/or anatoxins that can kill birds, wild animals, aquatic animals, livestock, people or pets that ingest contaminated water. Unfortunately it is not possible to know if toxins are present when the characteristic “pea soup” scum is present without testing for them. If anatoxins are present a few mouthfuls of contaminated water can be fatal. Dogs that swim in such water and lick themselves when they come out have been poisoned.

 

Signs of poisoning by microcystins are vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stools, weakness, pale mucous membranes, jaundice, seizures, disorientation, coma, shock and death from liver failure, usually within days. The diagnosis is based upon the history of exposure to the algae and blood work indicating elevated liver enzymes, low blood sugar, low protein and sometimes abnormal clotting.

 

The anatoxins produce neurotoxicity with signs of muscle tremors, muscle rigidity, and paralysis, along with dyspnea, difficult breathing, and signs of low blood oxygenation. Death can occur very quickly, minutes to hours after exposure, usually from respiratory muscle paralysis.

 

An article published by George Francis in the journal NATURE in 1878 described animals dying rapidly after drinking water from the Murray River estuary that contained “a thick scum like green oil paint”.

 

There is no known antidote for these toxins. Immediate supportive treatment, based upon the signs the animal is showing, by your veterinarian is imperative.

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On Sunday, Feb. 9 the family and I ended the official mourning period, according to our traditional upbringing, with the service for the unveiling of Rosalie’s headstone. During the process I learned something new. The Rabbi told us that Abraham started this tradition when he put up a monument to mark the grave of his beloved Sarah.

Charlize sensed my mood, as always and, along with my two sons and their families we survived the day and celebrated Rosalie’s life at her favorite Chinese restaurant. If you are interested let me know and I’ll give you the name of the place. She was, after all, a gourmet cook and foodie with high standards.

Two days later my new vehicle, “Whitey”, I’m finding it harder to be original with vehicle names, was packed and loaded. Charlize and I worked our way through early morning Seattle traffic on our way to Enumclaw. We had never been that way before and I am all about never travelled roads and new experiences. I intended to cross the Cascades via Crystal Pass. My new GPS directed us around a traffic jam on I-5 and before too long we were headed east across the plateau, filled with hobby farms, towards Enumclaw. We passed small acreages with horses and an occasional small herd of cattle. I spotted an obviously old, large, barn sticking out of the mist, probably part of the original large farm that occupied the location. I presume that original place supported a family prior to being subdivided into plots much too small to serve that function.

The GPS was programmed to take us across the mountains to Yakima. Charlize’s new habit is to keep me awake and focused on my driving by resting her head on my shoulder as I drive. The GPS warned us of traffic difficulties, directed us through Enumclaw but there was no mention of the Pass being either open or closed. There was traffic heading west and I concentrated on the dry pavement now winding and climbing west through a rain forest. Moss climbed tree trunks, engulfed downed logs, grasping at young trees forcing their way toward the light from nurse stumps. We passed a few clear-cut openings as we went up and out of the dense forest into more typical mixes of evergreens and deciduous. We continued to encounter the occasional vehicle coming from the east. We stopped in the Village of Greenwater for coffee but I didn’t think to ask if Crystal Pass was open. Surely the GPS would warn me if it was not and all those vehicles were heading west from someplace.

You guessed correctly. We found snow, then more snow, but Whitey is an all-wheel drive vehicle, no problem, until we arrived at the barricades across the highway and signs informing that the Pass was closed. I suffered minimal frustration since time was not an issue on this trip. So back we drove to Enumclaw, north to I-90 and the now not so interesting drive over Snoqualmie Pass. I ate a lunch of Mexican food in Cle Elem and filled the gas tank. The sun was out but lots of snow and slush on the ground.

After Yakima we headed south, finally back to the plan. Now we were seeing new views and vistas of country not previously travelled. The western slope of the Cascades was covered with snow from the most recent storms but the road was clear and dry. When evening caught us we stopped in Goldendale and found a motel that would allow Charlize to stay in the room with me. Two hundred and fifty dollars tacked to the credit card bill if she made a mess but my girl would never do such a thing, too much of a lady.

The owner of the motel was an Asian lady and very pleasant. I brought Charlize in with me to show how well behaved she is. I related how Charlize was helping me get through a day at a time as a new widower. The motel owner told me that her husband of forty years died three years ago, leaving her to operate the place, we were soon friends of shared experience. When I checked in there was one other guest and the next morning there were only myself and two other guests in the place. I hope she gets more business when the weather is not so ugly. The rain all night turned a foot of snow into slush in the parking lot.

Charlize’s cold nose on my cheek got me up and moving at six AM and at 6:59, Charlize fed and walked, my travelling cup filled with a two Splenda® latte, we were on the road traveling south by southeast through forested lands. Clouds hung on the road in the distance ahead of us, turning to mist as we embraced them, the heavy sky overhead. Then there was an opening, a donut hole in the dark cover and blue-gray light reflecting off puddles on the pavement rushing past.

There is something about driving back roads and empty highways early in the morning that makes me feel free and righteous, a lightness in the chest akin to watching your offspring win at something you know is important to him or her. Anyone who has experienced that feeling knows what I am talking about. If you don’t I have sympathy for you.

We arrived at the Columbia River and Charlize asked to get out to check out the view, she loves the snow.

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We stopped for lunch in Bend, Oregon, at the Big Belly Grill House. Who could possibly pass up a place with that name? I let Charlize out of Whitey for a quick walkabout then put her back in.

“That’s a beautiful dog, is she friendly”” asked the waitress.

“She’s very friendly,” I responded, “especially to good looking women.” Dating seems to have sharpened my repartee’.

“Can I pet her then? My name is Lise,” she held out her hand.

I took her hand.

“Lise, not Lisa or Alicia,” I asked.

“No, L E E C E, pronounced the way it is spelled. It used to be Lisa, but I changed it.”

“OK,” I said and let go of her hand but not before she gave mine a squeeze.

“I’m Dave.”

“Please to meet you Dave.”

“Likewise.” Again note the sharp repartee’.

It was about one-thirty in the afternoon and the place was empty except for one customer. Leece asked him if he needed anything else and he responded in the negative. She told the cook she would be back in a moment. We went out to Whitey and I opened the hatch back, telling Charlize to wait. Leece petted Charlize after asking her name. Charlize leaned into her and absorbed the attention. When both had their fill of petting, leaning, touching, licking I told Charlize to get back in and closed the hatch.

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“I was afraid of dogs for a very long time,” Leece told me.

“That so, why was that? Did something bad happen to you?”

“When I was about seven years old I watched as a Rottweiler attacked my cousin and practically chewed his arm off above the elbow. His mother was a Christian Scientist and refused to take him to a doctor and he eventually lost the arm.”

“That’s a horrific story, I can understand why you were afraid of dogs. What happened to change that?”

“Well my second husband had two Golden Retrievers and they were very sweet dogs. They were much sweeter than the oaf turned out to be. Leaving those two dogs was much harder than leaving the oaf. Anyhow I’m now a dog person.”

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Four weeks ago Charlize and I embarked on a new, a different kind of trip. This trip requires new and different skills. Both of us need to learn to be patient and to find ways to control the way we handle day-to-day emotions and frustrations.

Over three years ago the arthritis in my left ankle started to limit my physical activity and ability to get around pain free. Rosalie and I investigated what could be done. The options, after consulting experts, were to either replace the ankle joint with a prosthetic or fuse the joint. The advice from the surgeon was to continue to use the ankle brace I had been using for over a year at that point and a cane. We were told that when the pain became unbearable I would know it was time to do something.

About a year later, we started thinking surgery was a reasonable option. Then Rosalie was diagnosed with stage four-lung cancer and everything else was put on hold. After she passed, exactly to the day, one year after the diagnosis, I was incapable of making almost any kind of decision regarding my own health.

Six months or so later l I was no longer able to walk Charlize for more than four or five blocks without intense pain. After our morning walk I had to ice the ankle and rest it for more than an hour to be able to take her for another walk. She was good about it though, somehow sensing about how long I could manage, turning back toward home after a couple of blocks. She even took care of her business early in the process so as not to prolong my discomfort.

So back to the surgeon and re-evaluation of the ankle.  New radiographs and a CT scan showed significant progression with loss of almost all cartilage and bone loss of the distal end of the tibia, the long bone of the leg that forms the first portion of the ankle joint. After more research and discussion with the surgeon we decided the best option was to fuse the joint and not rely on a mechanical device that doesn’t have the same level of success, as do the artificial knee and hip joints.

Four weeks ago almost three hours of surgery was completed to the satisfaction of the surgeon. After two nights in the hospital I was home with a cast and facing twelve weeks of recovery with no weight bearing on my left leg. So this is the new journey Charlize and I share. We are coping and I will share with you the new challenges, the new friends, new helpers and new strengths we discover on this continuing journey through life. 

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Wednesday was not a good day. It was time to do something about arrangements for a headstone for Rosalie. It seems nothing about losing a loved one is easy or simple. It has been eight months and I finally felt capable of dealing with this last, I hope, detail. I made some phone calls and found out what needed to be done.

First, the name of a reliable place to purchase the stone. I made a choice from two suggested and drove to the store to pick out a stone that will serve for both of us. My resting place will be on the same side of her as the way we slept for close to fifty-three years.

The first hitch in the process was that the place that sells the stones and carves the inscription doesn’t sell stones directly for people buried in the cemetery where Rosalie rests. I had to transact the purchase through the cemetery.

Another phone call and I arranged to meet the manager of the cemetery. After I arrived at his office he handed me two books. One full of various designs and fonts for the inscription and another with various symbols to adorn the stone with.  There were way too many choices. Eventually I just made them, Rosalie won’t know and I don’t really care.

But I wasn’t done. I had to make decisions about how I wanted our names inscribed. Should I have them put on Rosalie’s full middle name or just the initial, should I use her given name, Rose, or use the name she always used, should I use her maiden name?

The cemetery manager could see I was struggling and getting more upset. I imagine I wasn’t the first person he had shepherded through this process.

“Don’t worry”, he assured me, “just put it in they way you are most happy with today. I’ll send you a draft of what it will all look like and you can discuss it with your family and make changes anytime before they actually carve it.”

Next we went to the gravesite to make certain the manager would place the stone correctly and to make yet another decision; I had to choose between a concrete base and a granite base for the stone to be set on. He showed me an older grave where the concrete base was starting to disintegrate and one of about the same age where the granite was still pristine. Another several hundred dollars for the granite base.

I only visited her grave three times prior to this, all in the weeks shortly after her death. During those visits the replaced turf had not taken hold and her gravesite was clearly visible. After a wet spring and mild summer I was not prepared to see the struggling, brown-tinged turf that still clearly delineated her grave. I apologized to Rosalie, silently, and communicated my disappointment and displeasure to the manager, aloud.

During all of this Charlize was in the back of Old Blue. When we finally got home she knew I was upset and stayed very close, trying to let me know she was there for me and that everything would work out.

Rosalie often complained that I didn’t talk to her enough. Now I find myself talking to her presence in the house while Charlize cocks her head and listens intently, without judgment.  I feel Rosalie is more of a presence in the house than she is in that small plot of ground so I apologized again for the state of her grave. I promised to make certain that situation is rectified.

I’m still searching for a shred of humor in all of this.

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Recently the Gross family gathered at the Chevy Chase Cabins overlooking Discovery Bay for a week. My brother and his family including his son and family who live in Germany along with my two sons and their families. It was great fun and Charlize played well with the granddaughters and grandnieces.

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