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Monday, February 1, 2016

Pets and bvFTD - Choosing the Right One is Important.

Gracie!
Dogs Rule! Cats ...not so much.

It has been nearly a year since my last update, so this post is a little long. I am not even going to try to cover all that happened the past year. Instead I plan to go into a lot of detail about a dog or two. Pets are very important for people with bvFTD.

There is no particular reason why I have not written. It seems that every time I was going to write something I found something else to do instead. The first part of last year I was busy gardening, and just doing everyday stuff. We went on a nice little vacation at a cabin in Ohio's Amish Country. Of course we took Gracie with us. She has been my Service Dog for the past 2 years, and has gone everywhere with us. It wasn't long after that when the computer that I use to write for this blog suffered a catastrophic hard drive crash. I don't think it really suffered much because it was quick. I couldn't afford to replace it for a few months, so that gave me another excuse not to update the blog. I won't bother to do it on my phone. I keep in touch regularly with my close friends on both Facebook and Twitter, so it isn't like I was a complete hermit. Then it was time for the holidays, and things got really busy.

Gracie loved playing in the snow.
In early November Gracie had a major stroke. She had always been deaf, and knew sign language very well. Gracie knew around 70 or so signs, and would learn a new one quickly as needed, or just figure out what you wanted. She understood signed sentences. Her stroke left her not only deaf, but also totally blind. She recovered well from the stroke, and within a couple weeks was getting around the house very well.

At the end of November we had a 10 day vacation planned. The vacation was a Christmas present from my boys. Gracie was doing well enough that with a team of skilled caregivers she would be fine until our return. She was given wonderful and loving care while we were away. The day before our return from New Orleans Gracie had another stroke. When we returned the next day Gracie did not recognize us. She didn't respond to much of anything for a couple of days. Then she bounded up to us and said “Hello!” Once again she had made a remarkable recovery from a stroke. She was a little wobbly, but still doing very well considering she had recently had two strokes.
This is one of my favorite pictures of Gracie. She had a sense of humor!

We got a new computer for Christmas, so here I am writing again. Around Christmas Gracie had a series of about 3 severe strokes, and several smaller ones a few days apart. Each time she would recover after a couple days, but was a little weaker and more wobbly. She did not appear to be in any pain, but was sometimes very confused. She still loved her scoobie-snacks, and had learned a bunch of new signs by touch since she couldn't see. She even played with Cindy when she was feeling better. Every time we thought it was going to be time for her last visit to the vet, she would recover, and let us know that it wasn't her time just yet.

Since early November when she went blind we had been leading her to the back steps outside so she would not accidentally fall off the edge of the deck. She still managed to go outside as long as she was able to walk.
Gracie loved silk scarves,
and would choose the one she wanted to wear.

On New Years Day Gracie was on the floor next to the couch between Cindy and I having a good time. She reviewed all her new touch-signs (sit, stay, down, hug, scoobie-snack, etc.). She was her fat dumb and happy self. Then about 3 PM she tilted her head way up pointing her nose at the ceiling. She had another huge stroke. It came on very suddenly. She had a seizure that lasted a few minutes, and then woke up for a while. She wanted to be held. She couldn't stand up, but she did manage to crawl over to Cindy when she sat on the floor next to her. Around 7 PM she had another seizure which only lasted maybe a minute, but seemed to be more severe than the first one. Poor Gracie never woke up after that. She died around 2 AM on January 2nd, 2016 surrounded by her loving family.

Wherever Gracie went she was the center of attention, and loved it.
Gracie was more than a pet, or a Service Dog. She was a full member of our family, and truly “My best girl.” Gracie will always own a piece of our hearts.

With my bvFTD my emotions are blunted. I do not feel things the way I remember I used to feel. If emotions were colors, all of those bright vibrant hues I used to experience have now turned to washed-out pastels. Well, I can tell you that I definitely felt the loss of my best friend and companion and caretaker. The loss of Gracie was the most intense feelings I have felt in years.


Gracie owns a place in our hearts.
It was rough for both Cindy and I with Gracie gone. There was a emptiness in our house, and in our hearts. After some long discussion we decided not to wait a long time to get another dog. We both wanted a large dog, and we definitely wanted to have a rescue. We really did not want a puppy, and were expecting to have to put in some work and training. We both feel that there are so many wonderful animals out there in need of a loving home it is shameful not to help them. We were not in any rush. Finding the exact right fur-baby can take some time.

Cindy started looking online at rescue organizations within a couple hundred miles of Swanton. After a few days of seeing what she was finding, I also started looking. Did you know that about 80% of the animals in shelters are pit bulls? I have nothing against the breed except that I personally think they are butt-ugly! We were looking into a couple of Great Pyrenees, and even a Bernese Mountain Dog. They all seemed to be older dogs that had some behavioral issues from severe abuse that we did not want to deal with. After a couple weeks we went to look at a Shar-Pei. The poor dog was unresponsive, and seemed dumb as a rock. Definitely not for us!

Then Cindy saw an ad on Craigslist or somewhere in Michigan for a 3 year old Cane Corso Mastiff named Maggie that needed to be re-homed. Her family had moved, and expanded from her owner and 2 children to include a fiance and another 2 children. With parents working, school, and 4 children doing all the usual activities the owner felt she was spending way too much time in her crate. For some reason Cindy had a good feeling about it, and convinced me to take a look. We made an appointment for Saturday January 16th to meet and greet.

I have always owned rather large dogs, mostly German Shepherds. Of course Gracie was 110 pounds of silky coated Akita. I had always wanted a Mastiff, but had shied away from the breed because they tend to drool, and are not the brightest crayon in the box. I had never even heard of a Cane Corso Mastiff. I did some research, and was very impressed with what I found out. Like all Mastiffs they are guard dogs. They were also bred to hunt large game independently such as wild boar or bear. (Just like Akitas!) Compared to other Mastiff breeds the Cane Corso is reported to be more intelligent, more adaptable, and more athletic and agile. They are a large breed weighing about a hundred pounds or so. Many have cropped ears a practice that I am not very fond of.

Saturday finally arrived, and we were excited to go see her. We had no expectations, and really both felt it was a little too soon for another dog. We also knew that when looking for a rescue, or in this case a re-home, you had to be flexible with the timing when the right animal comes along. We got a late start, but made the 3 hour drive up into Michigan only getting lost once. I drove, and used the
GPS in the Jeep as always. I did not take my pills because I was driving. Sometimes they make me a little sleepy a few hours after I take them. I felt good, and was having a good day. We found the house easily.

This is Maggie. She is a Cane Corso Italian Mastiff.
When we got there , Maggie, and her owner, Kate, were just going back inside from a walk. We pulled in while they were in their attached garage. We got out of the Jeep to the sound of a large dog barking a serious warning to stay away. She was doing her job as a watch dog, and a guard dog. We approached, and she seemed to calm down a little as we spoke to both her and Kate. Every time we moved to get within about 5 feet of them she would lunge and snap, trying to bite. Even after I fed her a treat, which she accepted, she tried to bite. I finally realized that we were standing right outside of the garage entrance, and both Kate and Maggie were inside. She was guarding the entrance, and wouldn't allow us in. I suggested we go inside the house, and see how she acted.

Once inside, Maggie plastered herself up against Kate, and lunged and snapped every time either Cindy or I came near. After observing her for a few minutes, I realized that we were not seeing overt aggression, but rather very aggressive protective behavior. Maggie kept herself between us and Kate, and would not let us approach. She would sit, stare aggressively, then lunge, growl, and snap. She was putting on a very impressive show of doggie intimidation. Unbeknownst to poor Maggie I once had a 120 pound white German Shepherd that was too vicious to be a junk-yard dog. I recognized her aggression as different, more of a warning.

I also have bvFTD, so of course I asked Kate for her leash so I could just take her away from Kate and her protective stance. I figured I would probably get bitten in the process, but if we were ever going to get anywhere we needed to get Maggie away from her owner.

I took her leash, and was met by a snarling, growling, snapping, lunging Mastiff. She grabbed my hand, and I instantly knew she was controlling her bite. It was just hard enough to hold me. I knew from my shepherds not to pull away, but rather to push. I pushed my hand into her mouth, and smacked her on the head, and yelled “NO!” She dropped my hand, and I jerked her leash, said “Come!” and started to walk her across the room. She grabbed my hand again with a lunging snarl, and I smacked her again, and said “No!” I continued to walk her around the room. No more growls or snarls. She walked. She sat. She came when I called her. She was very wary, but fine. I scratched the back of my hand on her back teeth when I shoved it into her mouth, so my hand was bleeding a little. Had I not done that she would never have broken the skin because she was trying to be careful not to hurt me in spit of all the lunging-snarling-growling intimidation display.

She calmed right down, I walked her back over to Kate, and then away again. She sat next to me as we talked. She was still very wary, but attentive, and aware of everything that was going on. She was still very wary of Cindy, and still wanted to protect Kate from her. After a few lunges, and snaps, and smacks, Cindy was able to walk her around the room. Maggie actually seemed to be a little afraid of Cindy. Maggie was sitting by Kate again, and suddenly decided Cindy had come too close to her owner. She gave her a stare, then lunged. She caught us all by surprise, and pinched Cindy a good one on her hip. Cindy was a little shaken up, but soon recovered

(Now before you small dog owners get your panties all in a twist I want to clarify. Sometimes for a dog over 60 pounds or so it is necessary to smack them in the head to get their attention. When excited they will often ignore treats, and commands, and everything else. A smack, not hard enough to hurt them, and not as a punishment, but enough so it makes them pay attention to you, works wonders. For the rest of the time a scolding, or jerk on a leash or collar is plenty of correction. Oh! And for the record, your family is NOT a dog pack, and you do not need to be some weird alpha-dog. That's just dumb, but is making somebody lots of money.)

At this point I was pretty sure that this dog was too attached to its owner to be re-homed. She was overly protective, and obviously had some severe aggression issues. We sat talking, and Kate and I made Maggie sit next to me instead of her. Cindy took her for a few walks around the room, and then when she came back she sat leaning against me instead of Kate. What? None of us expected that.

Cindy took control of her, and walked her around a few times without incident. Cindy spent some time with Maggie having her walk, and sit, and stay, and come. Maggie was still wary, but doing whatever Cindy requested. While Cindy and Maggie were doing that we were also talking with Kate. We learned that Maggie had been very aggressive to Kate's ex-husband, and would not allow him to come within a few feet of her. She was fine with the rest of the family, and did well with children. That explained a lot to me about her behavior. She had learned that she was allowed to be aggressive to some people sometimes especially when she thought she was protecting Kate.

Maggie on the ride home with her head on the center console.
After a while, I looked at Cindy, and said, “What do you think?” I fully expected Cindy to say no because Maggie had bitten both of us at first meeting. This was a dog with some serious aggression issues, and would need some remedial socialization. To my surprise, Cindy said yes. Arrangements were made, goodbyes were said, and I took Maggie out to the Jeep. Maggie jumped right in. Kate hardly cried at all. It was obvious that Maggie had a very loving family.

The ride home was long, and uneventful. Maggie spent most of the ride with her head right between us looking out the front window. She kept nuzzling, and kissing our ears. She finally laid down with her head on the console. She is so big that when she is in the back of the Jeep her front end is still in the front seats.

When we got home, we let her into the house. We let her loose to sniff around, and explore. She went everywhere, and stuck her nose in everything. There was lots to explore. She was very excited, and seemed happy. We relaxed, and watched some TV. Maggie was very well behaved. Many scoobie-snacks were involved to make her feel welcome. We did all the normal new-dog things like showing her her food dish, and water, and where to go outside. When it was time for bed, Maggie came upstairs with us. She slept on her bed on the floor next to us. She snored almost as loud as my friend Walter.

Maggie was a little excited at first.
Over the next few days Cindy and I worked on developing Maggie's trust. It came quickly. Within a couple days her favorite spot became the end of the couch cuddled up to Cindy. Her other favorite spot is on the other couch cuddled up to me. Even as I write this her head is in my lap. Maggie is wonderfully affectionate, and wants very much to please. She is doing very well, and adjusting better than I ever would have expected.

After the first week, we had some company over for dinner. In preparation I purchased a soft muzzle for her. I had read in her Vet's notes that she used one for her doctor's visits, and tolerated it well. I tried it on her a few times to get her used to it before our company arrived. She did not seem to mind it at all. When they got here we were ready with her leashed and muzzled. She ran to meet them. She was of course barking, but her tail was also wagging in greeting. At various times within the first 20 minutes or so she did lunge a few times, but was quickly corrected. I had our guests tell her, “No!”, and scold her. She listened, and learned. She is learning that is not appropriate behavior.

By the time we sat down to dinner, Maggie just laid on the floor behind my chair. She wanted to be close to us, but was no longer wary of out house-guests. Overall she did much better than we expected. I think she has realized that she does not need to be so protective. We kept the muzzle on her for her safety, but after the first half hour she didn't need it. That said, she is still an alert watch dog. She investigates any strange sounds, and barks to warn off any would-be
Hard to believe that 2 weeks ago
Maggie was chomping on my hand.
intruders – especially cats!

It has been exactly 2 weeks today, and Maggie has filled the emptiness in our house. She has already become a part of our family. By the way she whines whenever either one of us leaves the house, and greets us both with much butt-wagging and slobbery kisses when we return, I guess we have become a part of hers, too.

I don't know if Maggie will be able to be socialized well enough to become my service dog, but she is already my companion dog ...that is when I can pry her away from Cindy.
Maggie! Welcome to our family.

Some days are better than others, and right now most days are still pretty good.

(Please click on an ad before you leave, and help buy Maggie a scoobie-snack.)







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I said all that, so I could say this:
For the person with dementia, a pet:
  • Offer affection and “unconditional love.” It’s amazing how a cat on the lap or a friendly dog with a wagging tail evokes a smile and positive response.
  • Provide an opportunity for meaningful chores. Having a daily “job” gives you a sense of purpose and a sense of accomplishment when the chore is accomplished.

  • Introduce fun into your life.
  • Provide sensory stimulation. Having an animal in your lap to pet, or to be by your side provides comfort and may even reduce agitation and anxiety.
  • Support opportunities for socialization. People like to talk about their pets. Most of us talk to our pets.
  • Offer an excuse to get outside. People with dementia spend too much of their time indoors. Walking the dog provides for an excuse to get outside.
While having a pet provides for many benefits, use common sense to assess whether you or yours are able to care for the pet. You may find a “lower maintenance” pet more appropriate like a fish aquarium or birds. Har! Worst advice ever! Just try petting your fish, or having it sit in your lap. I suggest pets that are warm and furry!



7 comments:

  1. You were so lucky to have Gracie in your life, and she was lucky to have someone who cared so much. I know Maggie will be, if not the same as Gracie, just as big a part of your world.

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  2. Thanks, Janet. Cindy says that Maggie is already helping me to concentrate, and stay in the moment because I am so involved with her. I am getting more exercise because she comes and asks me to take her for a walk. From everything I can tell so far she is a good fit. We just need to modify her protective-aggressive behavior a little. She has already improved, but needs to learn to dial it down a little. She has not learned to control her basic instincts yet, but she is very smart, and eager to learn.

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  3. Lee told you all about our new girl after the loss of our dear Gracie. It was a very difficult time and is still a little tuff. We are in the hardest time of the year for Lee and he is doing ok. Better than a couple years ago. He will be writing again soon. He wants to write this week he said. I love him dearly and am looking forward to many more years of happiness and excitment. Cindy

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  4. I discovered your blog today while doing some research, and have been enjoying it very much! I just had to comment when I read this post because I am sorry to hear about Gracie. I'm sure you gave her a great life and that can be some comfort. It's also wonderful that you experienced such a strong emotion in regards to her passing- that really speaks to the bond that you must have had with her. Perhaps you believe you will be with her again someday or have some kind of spiritual practice that connects you to Gracie. Anyway, just wanted to say that I am glad I found your blog. Thank you for bringing awareness, honesty and most importantly, positivity to the subject of bvftd! It must take a good deal of courage and strength to write about.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your kind thoughts. Gracie was a very special part of our lives.
      -Lee

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    2. I am sorry you lost your Gracie. On another note you did not have to buy another computer. You could have replaced the hard drive with another and formatted it and reinstalled the operating system. Good luck!

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    3. Considered replacing the HD, but since the computer was very old, and was someone else's cast-off, we decided to upgrade. Then, we liked the Lenovo laptop so much, I got one for Cindy, too. Though Gracie is still missed, we now have a little Boxer. Maggie did not work out, and had to be rehomed. I plan to write about all of this Summer's adventures, but can't seem to get motivated.
      -Lee

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