09 January 2010

The Case of the Vanishing Inner Ear


Every day - well, at least twice a week - I tell myself I must update 'Postcards' but there's so much to tell that it becomes overwhelming...and so I do nothing. There's the Irish wolfhound who refused to come into the house, the dachshund that drove me insane with his barking, the labrador pup who is staying for 5 months and I don't take puppies... There's never time to sit and tell it all and so I don't write anything.

Of course there's always time - let's say I'm disorganised. But caring for other people's dogs takes time (although I do take less dogs than I used to) and there are my three photo blogs (two are updated daily) and now, as some of you know, I work as photographer and one of several journalists for a great new Monaco and Côte d'Azur website, providing articles and photographs. Take a look CITYOUTCotedAzur - it's currently in Beta and goes into full mode in March.

So, a new year and time to wish you a very happy one and to update you on my own dogs, Beau and Mia. Beau has been incredible sick - let me tell you.

Beau is the Bruno de Jura who came to live here about 4 years ago. He was living, at the time, in a dirty caravan at a refuge in the Var and was in a sorry state. Enormous abscesses under each ear and it was obvious nothing was ever going to be done for him. After three weeks of antibiotic treatment he underwent massive surgery - four and a half hours on the table - where he had both eardrums removed. The idea being it would remove the source of infection and it helped a little. Even so for the next two years a massive abscess appeared, every four months, on one or other side, below the closed ear cavities. We must have kept the pharmaceutical companies in jam with the amount antibiotics he consumed. Eventually after two years one side healed but the other side got worse in that the abscess became an 'open abscess' that is to say it never healed and 'ran' pus all the time. The vet said this was no bad thing as it would eventually drain. It never did and it stank. Poor Beau.

The vet agreed to open him up and see what he could do. By this time he'd been operated on twice. When I went to collect him my vet told me he'd opened him up, taken one look at the mass of scar tissues with nerves wrapped around it and realised he could do nothing as he only had to damage a nerve and Beau wouldn't shut his eyes again or be able to swallow. So that was that.

By now, he was totally unresponsive to all antibiotics and so I tried the homeopathic way. Changed his food, gave him all sorts of weird and wonderful homeopathic remedies. Nothing helped. And then about 3 months ago it was obvious he was in pain. I'm told that hounds have the highest pain threshold of any dog. Did you know that? I didn't. This meant poor Beau really was in pain.

The vet said the only way we'd discover the depth of the problem was to give him an ultra-sound which he had a few days later. That showed a large fistula running from the ear towards the throat but it didn't show a clear enough picture of what was going on deeper into his neck and head, so a few days later he went to Cagnes-sur-Mer, just along the coast from Nice, for an MRI - the nearest place on the Côte d'Azur with such a machine for animals. The next one is at Marseilles.

Meanwhile Beau was on morphine and quite happy in la la land. I wonder what visions he had and how many sangliers (wild boars) he chased.

Beau after the operation

The news wasn't good. His inner/middle ear was full of pus - an abscess - and the vet said it would be a massively invasive operation that had its dangers - again, the risk of his not closing his eyes for instance but it was that or put him to sleep and I knew he wasn't ready for that, despite the pain. It seemed to me that this poor dog had been in pain - less or more or at least discomfort - for most of the four years he'd lived here. Maybe this operation would finally give him a pain-free and comfortable end to his life. Beau is a wonderful dog, takes such a joy in life, is patient and kind and he's so funny he has me in fits of laughter at times. Would it work?

So off we went to Nice early one morning. I brought him home that evening, one very poorly dog - so poorly, he scoffed his dinner in five seconds. The next day most of the stitches broke open even tho he was wearing one of those protective collars. He'd not scratched the wound, it had simply not held because the flesh was so rotten from the years of abscesses. There was nothing to do - it couldn't be re-stitched. I had to clean the wound four times each day. I can tell you I did this with my eyes half closed. The wound was enormous and I seemed to look into his brain (I exaggerate of course but it wasn't much fun and far less for him, I'm sure).

Apart from wearing the protective Victorian collar, he also had one of his beautiful long ears fixed up over his head to allow air to get to the wound. This bothered him as it needed plaster on the inside of the ear flap to keep him up. Put a dressing there first and the ear immediately fell down. However, apart from a little discomfort from this plaster pulling a bit, he was - even from the day of the operation - so much better because the pressure inside his head was gone. The vet had removed the whole of the inner ear.

It took a long time to heal and it was a month before the vet removed the remaining few stitches.

Now, he's a new dog. There is no guarantee the infection won't return as Beau is riddled with staph and strep infections and always has been - at least since he came here - but for the moment it's pretty much healed, occasionally weeps a little fluid but not the dreadful pus we had before, so he's a happy camper and so am I. People assume he is totally deaf but if the other dogs bark, he is up with them. If I call him in a high voice, he doesn't hear. In a lower voice, he does. Perhaps to do with vibration but he hears and amazingly (!) he knows when the biscuit tin gets opened. Aren't dogs clever?

And what of Mia, I hear you say. Time flies. It is exactly a year since she and Mistral arrived. Mistral had to be put to sleep after three months as you know, leaving Mia behind. You can read about Mia's trials and tribulations and the dreadful Hell Hole she came from, by going back on this website. But just to tell you - and you can see it on the photos on this page, she is in amazing condition now, no physical problems at all. Of course she is still terrified of people and when I have a visitor she rushes outside, past the dreaded intruder and down the steps. Then she comes back to the French windows and barks endlessly. I leave the door open and she puts her head in but isn't brave enough to enter the house. This isn't fun in winter when it's cold and the door should be closed. But if I close it the barking starts again. Have you heard a hound bark? Huh! The solution - there is always a solution - is to go outside with a lead and the second it's on her, she pulls to get into the house. Go figure. Then she hides in a corner and occasionally, when she knows someone well, will come up to them, sniff and then lick their hand but then she runs back to her corner again.

When we are here alone she is the most contented adorable dog. Snuggles up to me on the sofa and when I come home, unlike most dogs here who just rush out into the garden, she always puts her big wet nose in my hand and wants me to fuss her.

It used to be I couldn't leave her in the house as she wrecked the place but lately I've tried it a few times and it's working. She's a terrible thief tho, but at least she isn't wrecking the place anymore. Oh happy day. Her thievery goes back to the days she was starved so I need to remember to put any food away. The first time I left her in the house with the others she got hold of a large pot of powder that a kind client had given me - something to help cleanse Beau's system. The dosage was a teaspoon a day. Mia ate the lot and worse once it got wet, it stuck to her ears, her legs, the sofa...great fun!

Mia is very attached to Beau but Beau could live without Mia. No matter - it works fine - two wonderful dogs.

Anyone who thinks it's not worth taking a rescue dog, she's an example of how wonderfully worthwhile it is. They both are. And whilst it may seem I've done a lot for these two dogs, believe me, they've done far far more for me.

Mia, showing off her double chins

22 August 2009

Gator, the Service Dog...+ Mia Update

Pension Milou welcomed two American 'allergy' dogs this week. One to visit and she'll stay here shortly. The other - Gator - he arrived yesterday. Both are Goldendoodles. Labradoodles and Goldendoodles - and other mixes - are dogs specially bred for people with allergies. How it is that the Poodle manifests itself in the coat and not the Golden Retriever (which is the allergic bit) I'm not clear.

And then I learned that one of them - Gator, the beautiful two and a half year old dog you see in these photos, is also a registered Service Dog.

Gator is trained to visit sick people in hospital and retirement homes - in other words, a therapy dog. He also does rescue work. His owners hoped he'd also be trainable as a water rescue dog but unlike poodles and golden retrievers (of which he's both) he's not crazy about water!

One of the massive side benefits of owning a service dog in America is that the dog is permitted to go everywhere with the owner - this means restaurants, hotels, shops, all places normally forbidden to a dog in that country. And airplanes. So when Gator flew first class with his owner from Florida to Nice, he flew in the cabin, lying at the feet of his owner. Now you know why he's called Gator...he comes from Florida.

Today, his family are taking a cruise from Monaco to Corsica and were really surprised Gator wasn't allowed on board. France and Monaco doesn't recognise the American Service Dog badge - or at least the owner of this cruise ship didn't. Apparently a small dog would have been allowed (Gator is a BIG boy) and perhaps a Guide Dog for the Blind (not sure about that tho) - so that's why he arrived at Pension Milou yesterday and he's a pleasure to have around. He's so good, so obedient - as you gather, I'm all for Service Dogs staying here...he's one beautifully behaved dog, yet he's having great fun playing with a little Westie pup who is staying here. As you can see from these photos, he settled in immediately.

Update on Mia: Mia has now been here for 8 months and you'd not recognise her. She is in great physical condition - adores playing with the other dogs. Sometimes I think she's a puppy, she so loves playing. She's still scared of strangers who call, but is getting better and better - rarely barks at them and 'wants' to come into the house when they are here but isn't quite brave enough. But still there is a vast improvement. And now, when I go out, I can leave via the front gate, rather than lugging up the back garden and out the back way. Such progress. And best of all, she is the most loving adorable dog when we are all here together - just the dogs and me - finally, she's happy. Again, thank you so much for all the comments and support during the last months with Mia and earlier with Mistral.

29 May 2009

The Solution

As I mentioned in the last post, things got pretty difficult for Mia. When I went out I couldn't leave her shut in the house as she wrecked it, suffering as she does (since Mistral's death) from chronic separation anxiety. I couldn't leave her downstairs because she was so fraught that she passed blood - and lots of it (I even took a photograph but don't worry I'm not showing it to you!) and I couldn't leave her in a cage upstairs because she cut herself to pieces trying to get out.

I tried her again downstairs, with even more medication to calm her, but it was even worse than before. Not only did she pass blood but when I got home and let her out she walked around the garden, stomach in spasm, passing blood every five minutes.

What to do? I couldn't leave her and yet I 'have' to go out. Around three weeks ago I was ready to put her to sleep. In fact I'd spoken to the vet about it. Sounds awful I know, but she was so fraught, so sick when I left, it was no life. A dog sitter wasn't an option. I'd be wary of leaving other people's dogs with a dog sitter - it's such a responsibility - and anyway, I never go out for very long and often it's at short notice, depending on the weather, for instance - when I want to take photographs.

Then my American friend, Candy, suggested I try leaving her outside in the garden/terrace area. I couldn't imagine that this would work. Had visions of Mia fighting to get out of the gate, howling (believe me, she has a real hound's howl) and upsetting the neighbours with the noise, perhaps even hurting herself even more than she already had trying to get out. However I had noticed that when I walk up the track to get the newspaper and mail, she didn't seem to bother if I went up the back way and out the top gate. If I left by the main gate, she went bananas. So one day I walked up the back way, drove the car to the top of the track ready for my escape. I came back down, shut all the dogs in the house except Mia and Beau - it seemed she would do better with company. Then I walked back up, as if I was simply going to the mailbox. My wonderful neighbour, Agnès, was on full alert, listening for crying, barking, scratching. I sat in the car up the top of the track for a while but all seemed well. Eventually off I went and when I got back - miracle - Mia and Beau were fast asleep on the terrace chairs.

Mia is saved!

Since then I've been out endless times - always walking up the back way to the top gate (great fun if you are a dressed up and it's raining) but now, instead of having to come back down the same way, I can drive down the track and enter by the main gate. I can also drive away from the parking area (no need to take the car up in advance) - she knows I'm leaving (I presume?) and if I go out the back way, no problem. Don't ask me the logic of it. I don't ask, I'm just happy. If I ever go out the main gate though - even for five minutes - she goes berserk.

She's in super condition now, skin healed, eyes clear, ears clean, she's put on weight and she's even stopped eating the Jade plant. She's terrified of people as I said but has no fear of the vacuum cleaner yet hates brooms. And she has started playing, particularly with little Choupette, the pug, who is a new client. They just love playing together.

Choupette had a tough start in life - she had to be operated for kidney stones at 8 weeks and also had demodectic mange (fortunately not contagious) which is now cured. She's put up with a lot in her young life but like all pugs, is so brave and such fun and has no idea she is a little dog. She started the games with Mia and Mia just loves her. When Mia plays with Choupette, she's like a puppy.

And now that we've solved the problem of my going out, I do believe she is a happy dog. What happens in winter, when it's cold, I don't know. I'm not addressing that problem yet. One step at a time...

Thanks so much to everyone for their support with Mistral and Mia. It's really been so helpful - you have no idea. Certainly Mia has had the most problems of any dog I've ever adopted but happily it seems to be working out for her at last.

24 April 2009

The Melodramas of Mia

We've had a lot of rain lately - grumble, grumble - but now the sun is shining and summer appears to be on its way. Soon I'll be complaining about the heat! Dogs love to eat young fresh grass and we've got than enough of that. Sometimes I think I'm looking after a herd of cows rather than a bunch of dogs. I've heard people say there must be something wrong with a dog if it needs to eat grass. I've never found this. In the wild a dog would first eat the stomach contents of their 'kill' and that would include grasses. My late lamented Milou ate grass once a month and then vomited bile. His way of getting rid of it. Far better than buying medication at the veterinarians.

Mia, not only eats grass, she chomps happily on my Jade plant - a succulent, often called a 'money tree.' There is a Chinese tradition that you place a Jade plant outside your front door to encourage the money to come in and another outside your back door to stop it leaving. Thanks to Mia my Jade plant is getting smaller and smaller. Perhaps a bad omen for my bank account. Maybe the world is in such a bad financial state because all our dogs are eating the Jade plants. Now that would be something new to blame, wouldn't it?

Mia has problems though. When Mistral died, she seemed not to bother at all - didn't look for her, didn't seem to miss her and then I realised she was becoming more and more attached to me. I had become 'her Mistral' and so when I went out, she suffered massive separation anxiety and then went berserk. It started small and got bigger until one day, returning from a trip to the market, I found curtains pulled down, curtain rail down too - bent screws, no less. Paintings off the wall, books all over the place, chewed this, chewed that. A nightmare.

I called the vet who told me there are two medications for 'separation anxiety.' One I was familiar with. Bosun, a dog I used to look after was given it but it made him very dopey, almost depressed and his owner eventually stopped using it. Sadly Bosun is no longer with us but you can read about that wonderful dog by clicking on the link.

The other drug is called Zylkene and is apparently made of a product that resembles the chemical in mother's milk and so, in theory, calms the dog. I started Mia on this and the next time I went out left her downstairs in a spare room. This room has an internal kennel - something I installed years ago in case I ever had a difficult or a sick dog needing isolation. It's not been used in years, in fact, it was full of my old suitcases. I cleared it out and made it comfortable for Mia. I left her down there for short periods to begin, got her used to it. When I went out though, it didn't work - she'd poop and pee and make a dreadful mess and the poop had blood in it. The vet told me this is because she is so upset, the poop gets bloody.The next time she'd poop - in the garden - perfect.

So then I hauled a very large cage upstairs into the living room so that she could be confined but would be with the other dogs. En principe, I don't like cages but I know they have their uses as a training device and some dogs see them as a secure sanctuary. My hope was Mia would do this. I started feeding her in the cage and she's quite happy with that but wants to come out immediately. I practiced with her during the day. 15 minutes at a time and eventually left her in the cage when I went out. For a couple of short periods, it worked, but then one day I came home from visiting friends for lunch - I was out 3 hours - blood everywhere. Not from her rear end but from her nose where she'd bloodied it try to get thru the bars. Her front feet were swollen too, where she'd gone crazy trying to get out . She had difficulty walking that evening and she was in one hell of a state about it all.

Since then I've not been out.

But obviously we have to solve this problem. I have to go out at times. We need food, I love my photography, I like to see friends. I've already cancelled a four-day trip to Italy and have declined several social invitations locally. That's all OK but we have to solve the problem. Indeed, five blogger friends are coming to visit in a couple of weeks - two will stay here, three in an hotel in Menton and I will be 'tour guide' and so will be out a lot of the time. I'm really looking forward to their visit. So, the problem of Mia has to be solved. Mia hates the cage and hurts herself. She's not happy downstairs but at least she doesn't hurt herself. But then she is alone. She can't be left upstairs, free, with the other dogs, because she goes bananas and wrecks the place. Oh dear.

I called the vet. We've doubled the dose of medication. Friends suggest a Kong toy filled with some interesting food to occupy her. Another suggested a hollow bone. I happened to have one of these and tried her in the cage yesterday (I didn't go out) but her concern at being shut in the cage was far greater than her greed for food.

On the other hand, there are improvements. When strangers come to the house, she doesn't stand outside barking non-stop. Yes, she stands outside but at least she doesn't bark. When she dares to enter the house, she'll sneak past the dreaded visitor and go sit in an armchair. This happened last night when a friend came to dinner. After dinner, he went up to her, gently - but she jumped off the chair, over the coffee table, onto the sofa. She is capable of relaxing tho - remember how she was with Mister Brian?

She is also in much better condition physically, she's put on weight, her skin is better although still quite dry but she has Omega oils for this. And when we are all here alone, she's content - even plays with other dogs on occasion but rarely takes her eyes off me.

This afternoon I have to go out as I need more of her medication. I'll put her downstairs where she can't hurt herself and with that hollow bone stuffed with soft cheese which I know she likes.

Let's hope it works.
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