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Well, Emmy’s been back since January 31. When she arrived she had well-furred ears (!) and looked great. She, naturally, was a bit shaky on her cues, but we finally got those pretty straightened out.

Now, after 2 1/2 months, and the onset of deep Atlanta spring, Emmy is back to itching, licking, gnawing, and scratching. I’ve started wiping her off, especially her feet and legs, when she comes in from being outside. I have tried a wet washrag, dog wipes, and baby wipes. The baby wipes work as well as the other two, leave a slight fragrance that doesn’t seem to bother Emmy, and are easier than the wet washrag. They help some, but not enough. Emmy has also had her first yeast infection (R ear) of the season – despite cleaning and drying ears daily – sometimes twice daily. So, I’ve added Posatex to the grooming routine – again. She is taking Hydroxyzine Pamoate (one of the older antihistamines) and it works better than the (cheaper) benadryl. She is less groggy, doesn’t sleep as much, and can function fairly well despite it. But she still has some problems with paying attention while under it’s influence. I give her a cue, and she stares me (or off into space) as if to say, “I’ve heard that before, I know I should know it, but I can’t get it together.”

We have talked with my liaison at PAALS, and we are looking at a “re-career” move for Emmy – to being a pet with my youngest son and his family. As for me, we have a lot of thinking to do. A smaller Lab from this year’s class, or wait for a Golden Retriever from next year’s class. We have decided to not go for this year’s class because I really need a larger dog, so that will make it next summer before I can be partnered again.

Another option our liaison mentioned is to apply with another service dog provider who might have a larger breed. Well, that’s certainly an option, BUT – we are very strongly attached to PAALS, it’s programs, what they stand for, and the people who are there and who train the dogs. Our liaison said PAALS will understand whatever decision we make because we know what I need and how soon it will be critical.

So, here we are. Already grieving about losing Emmy as my partner – after only 4 1/2 years together. But she’ll be with our youngest son and we’ll be able to see her from time to time.

SIGH! It’s a big decision any way we look at it.

Three-and-a-Half Weeks And Counting

Colorado Meadows

Colorado Meadows (Photo credit: QualityFrog)

Well, Emmy has been out in Colorado for 3 1/2 weeks, now. Seems longer, somehow. But that’s what the calendar shows. So far, the wonderful family she is staying with, reports when she’s off the diphenhydramine, she still demonstrates serious itching by scratching herself, licking and gnawing at her feet and legs, and “burrowing” behavior to scratch around her eyes. It really distressed me when she was doing that here, and I was hoping she wouldn’t still be doing it at this point. The family she is staying with has put her back on the diphenhydramine (25 mg in the morning and 50 mg at bedtime). It only works for a few hours, then she is back to all the allergic behaviors she has had for the last 4 years, and which have grown in intensity over time.

US AIRWAYS CENTER

US AIRWAYS CENTER (Photo credit: abrunete)

I’m hoping another week or two will make the difference. At any rate, she will return sometime in January – as soon as the flight can be arranged through US Airways’ Pups-in-Flight volunteer program. All flights are blocked out over the holidays, so the soonest I can expect her to return is the 2nd or 3rd week in January.

In the meantime, Himself is performing most Emmy’s tasks. He uses the reachers I have problems using (because of finger and hand weakness and pain) to pick up the small and medium-sized items I drop. He helps me dress and undress, and helps me with the laundry. But it is taking a toll on him and his heart and lung problems. So, cured or not, we NEED Emmy back in January!

Allergies Spawn Visit to Colorado!

Mast cells are involved in allergy. Allergies ...

Mast cells are involved in allergy. Allergies such as pollen allergy are related to the antibody known as IgE. Like other antibodies, each IgE antibody is specific; one acts against oak pollen, another against ragweed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I haven’t been writing here much recently. We’ve been trying to deal with Emmy’s allergies. [Sigh!] We discovered her food allergies include: Barley, peanuts, soy beans, and sweet potato top the list, with borderline allergies to beets, corn, rice (!) and yeast. Now, just try to find a dog food, moist or dry, that does not have corn, rice or soy in it! She was put on a special – expensive – diet food: Royal Kanin potato and duck (dry food). So, while we eat our chicken, she eats her – duck!

But there was more bad news: She is also allergic to: Alder, Ash, Bayberry, Beech, Box Elder, Maple, Juniper, Elm, Pecan, Hickory, Pine, Walnut, and Willow! Have you ever seen a southern neighborhood that did not have pine trees in it? Or maple trees? We have 18 pine trees on our property alone. Even if we had the $4000 to have them all taken down, all the years of pine needles on the ground – ground into dust – would still cause Emmy problems. There are maple, pecan, walnut and willow trees all over the neighborhood, too.

English: Baby pine trees under snow in Boreal,...

English: Baby pine trees under snow in Boreal, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But wait! There’s more! She’s allergic to grass: blue grass, Bermuda (!), and timothy. What yard in the southeast does not have at least some Bermuda grass in it? She’s allergic to weeds: cocklebur, daisy, dog fennel, English plantain, goldenrod (!), nettle, and pigweed. We can tell the change of seasons by ragweed here in the southeast. Seems goldenrod has the same cycle.

But Wait!! There is still more! She’s allergic to three very common molds (that are in our house despite attempts at mold abatement), mildly allergic to cats (I can’t get rid of the cats!) and dust mites (our house is dusty despite all attempts to keep it vacuumed and dusted), and highly allergic to FLEAS! The flea problem is under control. Emmy is on Advantage Multi, which covers fleas, ticks, and heart-worm. If there are fleas in the backyard, a flea jumping on her will go ERK! and die. But a bite before it dies leaves her itchy for days!

We keep her on the diet. We tried allergy shots (saw no difference after a year), and Atopica (cyclosporin) – a drug that changes the dog’s immune system, reducing it some to curb response to allergens – without success. When she went on diphenhydramine (Benadryl) she would scratch a little less, but would sleep all the time. She would get so groggy that she would be unable to respond to her cues appropriately.

After fighting with it for 3 years, a number of vets that PAALS consulted about it suggested a 2 month “break” in an arid climate. One of the “star” dog foster families recently moved to Colorado Springs (military transfer) and was willing to take Emmy in for a while. So, off to Colorado she went, thanks to US Airways Puppies-in-Flight program! She even flew first class! WOW!

She had a bit of a problem adjusting at first, but seems to be settling in. She has a new friend (6 month old puppy, Hope) to play with, and a cat to annoy. She is in dog heaven!

The only real hitch from our end (aside from her not being here) is that she still needs all the diphenhydramine she was taking (probably because of the cat). We are cautiously optimistic because she isn’t scratching and licking and gnawing herself while on the diphenhydramine [which she does here], but she does if the diphenhydramine dose is reduced. It’s only been 19 days, so I don’t want to get discouraged, yet.

If she is still allergic after 2 months out in Colorado, we may need to put her on prednisone when she gets back. In the past, I have asked the vet to put her on a prednisone taper just before recertification weekend each year – but no more than that. [A prednisone taper involves starting with a large dose one day, and cutting it back slightly each day for about 10 days, then off the medication.]

Prednisone is a wonderful drug – a miracle drug – for people with autoimmune diseases or with allergy problems. It reduces the response of the immune system down to a more “normal” level. Like all drugs, however, it has side effects – in dogs as well as in people [http://www.vetinfo.com/prednisone-side-effects-dogs.html]:

  • suppression of the immune system which makes the dog more susceptible to infections; [the immune system cannot protect the dog, so his health must be carefully monitored and secondary diseases must be treated as soon as they occur]
  • Increased appetite, that leads to weight gain
  • Increased thirst and more frequent urination
  • Water retention, caused by the sodium in the salt, in case the dog has a diet rich in salts
  • Fluid in the stomach
  • Myocardial arrest
  • Oily skin, which may be due to hormonal imbalance
  • Coarse hair, unhealthy looking coat
  • Sudden aggressiveness
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Nausea
  • Kidney problems
  • Ulcers, stomach problems
  • Colitis
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)

Many of those are similar to the side effects of prednisone in humans. Because of the side effects, prednisone on a daily basis is discouraged – especially in a working dog. It will decrease both the dog’s life-span, and working life-span. I’m not happy about that, obviously. But even worse, if the allergies cannot be controlled, Emmy will have to be “re-careered” into a pet. That is very hard on working dog. Working dogs are not pets. They work for a living. Emmy is used to being with me 24-7 – going to the hair-dresser, going to the grocery, going to visit people, going to Red Hat meetings, going out to eat with me, even going to doctors’ offices and to hospitals. She has been left at home, perhaps twice or 3 times since we were partnered, and then only for 1-2 hours at a time, max. On days her allergies were bad, and she had taken full-dose of diphenhydramine, I would change my plans to be home with her. A working dog and her partner are simply inseparable. Working dogs not only want to work, they need to work. Being made into a pet will be very hard for poor little Emmy – not to mention me! So I keep hoping and praying that the visit to Colorado will work.

Please pray with me on this!

Allergies – Again – Still!

Emmy has been on generic Atopica (cyclosporin) for over a month, now. I thought we were starting to win our battle against her allergies, but the last two days she has been utterly miserable – scratching, gnawing her paws, “snarfing” in her tummy, or curled up in a ball of misery.

So I thought I’d check the pollen count – just to see if there is a correlation. Oh Boy!!

Monday: Pollen count was {GASP!} 1633
Tuesday: Pollen count was {CHOKE!} 2967
Wednesday (today): Pollen count was {OMG!} 5733!!!
An “extremely high” count is 120+!!

Pollens out today are Birch, Oak, Pine, and Sweetgum. All this info is from the Atlanta Allergy Clinic’s Pollen Count page.

Since their clinics are not located in our area, and the types of trees vary from place to place, I suspect we have a slightly different “mix” here, but I KNOW we have Oak, Pine and Sweetgum – in our yard!

I knew the pine pollen was getting going when I noticed the back porch taking on a slightly greenish yellow tinge yesterday. But pine pollen is a large particle pollen, and does not cause “true” allergies – where your immune system reacts and you try to reject your nose, eyes and throat! Pine pollen is irritating rather than a true allergen.

Poor Emmy – obviously she is allergic to one or more of the Oak, Sweetgum and Birch. She has “eye-boogers” all the time. I keep wiping her eyes with an eye wipe that’s supposed to be soothing, but 20 minutes later, they are back. She is snorting and sneezing and licking and gnawing her legs and feet and tummy. Then she drops and scratches her head and neck and ears.

I’m cleaning her ears out 2 – 3 times a day to try to avoid yeast infections. So far, so good – cross fingers! It’s just a hard time of year for our little girl!

Suggestions are always welcome. Don’t necessarily expect me to follow them – I’ve probably tried them already, some of them twice! In the meantime, we suffer and wait. And she still works!

Emmy pulls blouse from washer

The Allergies March On!

We’ve spent the month of June and first part of July working on abating Emmy’s allergies. There are no “magic bullets” either for a person or for a dog with inhalant allergies. The best we can do is reduce the symptoms. If we had thousands of $$$$$, I suppose we could have her allergy tested, and then get allergy shots for her. But that is too major an expense. We already are having a major problem with medical expenses for the Ol’ Curmudgeon and for me, not to mention the increased costs of living. Food goes up and up. Gasoline is hovering between $2.25 and $2.75 a gallon at the moment, with no hopes of it going lower anytime soon.

So, with the vet’s direction, I’m “experimenting” with various combinations of antihistamines. Looks like the best combo so far is Atarax at night (it’s fairly heavy duty, so she sleeps really well!) and Claritin in the morning. I also spray the areas that seem to itch with Lanacaine. For areas on her face, I spray it in my hand and rub it in really well. This combination seems to be helping.

We got the backyard cleared out – finally – and she can go out with no worries. I send her out in the AMs before it gets too hot, then again in the late afternoon or early evening after the worst heat of the day is over. She’s finally gotten so she’ll stay out there without me for more than 15 minutes! Such a “velcro dog!” She wants me to sit on the back patio while she wanders around. But the heat and humidity makes me feel awful, and if I am in the sun too long, even early or late in the day, I can get pretty sick for days afterward. So I mainly stay out only on cloudy days.

Emmy’s latest behavior is to push the medicine cabinet (one of those little Iris Cabinets on wheels) over to me so I can dole out the medications we are all on. Then she pushes it back into the general area where it is supposed to live. I can’t begin to tell y’all what a great help this is! In addition, she has practically taught herself to “flip” up the door to the new dishwasher (much lower than the other one) and close it! She can get her feeding pan out of the dishwasher in the mornings, and would probably try to get the plates, too, if I would allow her to.

IRS116063 – Mini Chest Office, 4 Drawer, 12-1/16×16-1/8×26-3/4, Black

Looks like we will be doing some demonstrations for some of the public schools in our county. Met up with a teacher the other day, and we talked about it for her school, and she’s passing out Emmy’s cards to other teachers she knows. I really hope it works out!

Firehouse Subs and Allergies

Yesterday was a looooooong day for us. We started out with GS coming over for reading practice. We’ve found a subject he really likes, and we’ll use it as unit study. It will certainly increase his vocabulary! Emmy lay nearby and avidly gnawed at her feet. As her ear infection has come back, I called and made an appointment with the vet for that afternoon.

Then, it was off to do grocery shopping. As GS likes to go to new places to eat with me, we decided to try Firehouse Subs. Not only did they welcome us, they helped us by pushing two tables together, offered to get water for Emmy, and asked if she needed any food!! The sub was very tasty, well prepared. The floor was clean – so clean Emmy wasn’t interested in sniffing around – until GS spilled a little bit of cheese from his sub!

Then we went across the street to Publix. As usual, nearly everything stopped at the cashiers’ stands as all the cashiers and baggers heard someone (not I!) call out – “Emmy’s here!” They all looked around and smiled at her and said things like “Hi Emmy!” It was very friendly and very nice.

We did our shopping with an eye on my watch. Golly, groceries have gone up!!! I notice a difference each time we shop. Good thing the Ol’ Curmudgeon is once again gainfully employed! Emmy picked up my cane several times. I handed out her “business card” to some people who were interested in her.

As we were checking out, the lady behind me was chatting about Emmy – how beautiful she is, how quiet she is, how she watches me all the time, how happy she seems to be. Of course, I thanked her, and we continued to chat as GS unloaded our groceries, and I made out my check. As I moved out of the check-out stand, I was able to see the woman. She, too, was in an electric cart and had a cane. She said she was losing the ability to walk due to a spinal injury that was progressing. She anticipated not being able to walk in a few months. I gave her a card for PAALS as well as Emmy’s “business card,” and told her to call me – that I’d be delighted to come to her home and show her how a mobility service dog could help her. I hope she calls me!

I couldn’t help thinking that I’m moving into the same situation – my back is getting worse, and I have more numbness and tingling in my legs as time goes on. Some functions that are controlled by the lower spine are starting to deteriorate. Once we get the insurance stuff straightened out, I’ll have to go to the neurosurgeon the rheumatologist recommended. Hope I don’t need surgery, but if I do, these guys use the microendoscopic kind of surgery that is less traumatic, less invasive and more likely to be successful over time. We’ll see.

Then to the vet. He carefully went over Emmy and quizzed me about her symptoms. Emmy lay down and proceeded to gnaw her back foot when the exam was over – so I could point to her behavior right there. He agreed with my assessment – she has allergies. Most likely these are seasonal allergies, but he is carefully testing out everything. First, he suggested Omega-3 Fatty acids to help reduce the inflammation that makes her itch. Then some antihistamines. First we’ll try Benadryl. It that doesn’t work well, we will work through Claritin-D and Tavist and a few others. He also suggested a trying a hypoallergenic diet for 6 weeks in case her responses are due to food allergies. I’ll try anything to help Emmy, so she started on her fatty acids and the Benadryl last night. Although her lamb and rice diet is about as hypoallergenic as it can be, other ingredients that may work their way in could be a problem. We’ll try that for a while. Her treats will be those kibbles. I’ll stop using the Pet Wipes for 3 weeks after she has her quarterly bath next week. They will use a hypo-allergenic shampoo with an extra soothing and moisturizing hypoallergenic conditioner. After that, for 3 weeks I won’t use the Pet Wipes. Once she’s feeling better, I’ll add each of the old products one at a time with 1-2 weeks between to be sure she isn’t reacting to them. Baseline, however, the vet thinks pollen and dust. I’m going to get the GSs in to vacuum thoroughly (more carefully than usual!), and I’ll re-wash all her bedding and her woobies. I’ll use the hypoallergenic stuff on Magnus (the Magnifi-cat) – maybe that will reduce his dander a bit. Hope Emmy isn’t allergic to cats!!

I’ll do anything I possibly can to make Emmy more comfortable.

The yard people are supposed to come by sometime in the next week or so (that’s what they’ve said for 3 weeks now, but all the rain has prevented them doing the work needed) and will use industrial Round-Up in the back yard. A week after that, they will come in and clean off all the dead stuff – should take it down to the dirt. That will certainly reduce the pollen in the back yard (won’t help the trees, but taking all them out would be prohibitively expensive, and would be a bit of overkill when all the neighbors have the same trees in their yards). At least the poison ivy will be gone, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to let Emmy play in the backyard again. I’ve had to keep her on a flexi-line for the last 3 months – both because of poison ivy and because of her penchant for eating cat skat. But the cats will be moving soon, so that should stop that!

Today Emmy is doing a LOT of sleeping from the Benadryl. When she’s sleeping, she isn’t gnawing her feet! Right now she is sleeping with her head on my feet. She is doing less scratching already! Yeaaa! Benadryl and Omega-3 Fatty Acids are certainly low cost! I hope this will work for the long term. I can deal with a sleepy service dog better than an itchy one who drops down to scratch uncontrollably before she can execute a cue!

Getting Clothes Out of the Washer

Getting Clothes Out of the Washer


Onward and Upward!

We (Emmy and I) are trotting on. This morning I was amazed and pleased to watch Emmy trot on the treadmill for 25 minutes, going 1 1/2 miles. She didn’t even start panting until the 19 minute mark! Her stamina is picking up, and her muscles are strong and well-developed. I’m proud of her! She isn’t enthusiastic about our rather boring runs in the library area, but she does it because she loves me – and she wants those treats!!

It is interesting to watch her on these wet days – she HATES to go out in the backyard – and even in the front yard! It is wet and muddy – grass won’t grow under the heavy canopy of the trees around our house – and the soil isn’t so great, either. She would really prefer thick, heavy grass. But we can’t make that happen, so she needs to “adapt, improvise and overcome.” But my dainty little Emmy just HATES getting her feet dirty. So she stands on the steps leading from the back patio into the backyard and looks. And looks. And looks. She shifts from one foot to the other – because she really does have to “do business,” but just really HATES going into the wet weeds and yucky-mucky dirt.

The Vet says she has allergies – that’s why she gets the yeast ear infections. She has had 3 in the last year. I managed to catch and treat one of them before it got bad, but this third one really sneaked up on me. I wiped out her ears one day and they were clean – no brown flecks. The next day her right ear yielded MUCH dark brown gunk. So, off to the Vet. Yep, ear infection. Yep, yeast. Most likely allergy-related. OK, what do we do about allergies? Well, we treat the ear infections as she gets them, and if the paw-licking and nail-biting get bad, get steroid shots. Poor little Emmy! Itchy feet and itchy ears! But we’ll take care of it. Emmy and I are a team and we’ll deal with it as a team!

Today we go down toward Hotlanna to have lunch with my younger son and his wife. She is an HR expert, and I hope will be able to give us some guidance about our insurance problems. Hopefully we will be able to find something that resembles being affordable. Emmy will go with me, of course!

I’ve ordered some cards (from Vistaprints.com) that I’ll be sending out to people about doing demonstrations with Emmy. These are Emmy’s cards [redacted here to remove some personal info], and they look to be a great way to let people know about Emmy and what she does for me! In addition, I want to let people know what a good mobility service dog can do to help someone who is disabled.

Emmys Business Card - redacted

Emmys Business Card - redacted

Have a happy!

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