Tuesday, December 27, 2011


  1. Such a shame  I see so many people out there training religiously.  Practicing day after day.  Practicing all the wrong things.  Conscientiously teaching the dog how to screw up in competition.  Wonderful work ethics misdirected.

  1. Great read  In the summer of 1972, Barbara and I spent a week in Nassau, Bahamas.  It rained every day.  I didn’t care because I was reading The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn.  The book is about the members of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s, one of the most exciting professional baseball teams ever fielded, and what became of those men after their glory years had passed.  Maybe it was because I had grown up in Crosley Field, then the home of the Cincinnati Reds, and I was so familiar with all those old Dodgers.  Or maybe it was because Roger Kahn is such a marvelous writer – just the inspiration I needed at the outset of my fledgling writing career.  Kahn and The Boys of Summer were to my writing efforts as Karen Price and Flash were to my obedience career.

Today, 40 years later, The Boys of Summer remains the best book I’ve ever read.  So what’s number two?  Recently a friend encouraged me to read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.  Boy, can that guy write!  A bit slow to begin, but ultimately can’t-put-it-down gripping, it’s a powerful story told with depth and compassion through the eyes of a dog.  Which is why my strong recommendation finds its way into this blog.

  1. Demythifying rally  You may get the idea from what follows that I’m anti-rally.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  As you read this, I’m prepping Bravo! to begin his rally career late in January.  As those who follow this blog are aware, Bravo! has recently been retired from pursuit of his OTCH because an arthritic hip limits his ability to jump the heights required in Open and Utility.  But I want to keep him active, keep him working at my side, which he loves.  So we now move on to rally because it’s wonderfully appropriate.

What follows here is a little unsolicited dissertation on what’s inappropriate, at least in my opinion.  Which I’m fully aware is, as Helen Phillips has said for 40 years, decidedly a minority point of view.

There is a strong, almost overpowering myth about in Dogsports Land that rally is a wonderful place to start a dog on an obedience career.  Or just the place to help a newbie handler dip her toe in the sport of competition obedience.

I wouldn’t be caught dead taking my beginning dog into rally obedience.  Or encouraging a newbie handler to get off on what I regard as decidedly the wrong foot.  Not if the goal is to do well in the competition obedience ring later on.

It’s a given in rally that the judging, by design, is much looser.  Fronts can be almost straight, or maybe not even almost.  Heel position is OK if it’s in the same area code.  A team can be quite sloppy and still get a high score.  They can be a crying disaster and still qualify.

The whole thing is loose, loose, loose.  Is that how I want to imprint my little competition obedience dog?  Oh God no!  Of course there’s nothing that says you can’t do rally courses with discipline, even precision.  But how many handlers – especially newbies – can sustain the self-discipline to not gravitate toward the lowest common denominator?  I don’t believe there are many.  Certainly not I, I’m learning.  When Bravo! and I were hell-bent for our OTCH I struggled mightily (and not all that successfully) to get perfect fronts and finishes.  But not so much now that we’re rally-bound.  And I’m not nearly as demanding about head position as we heel those few steps involved in the rally exercises.

Then there’s all that hand-luring and all those chiropractor-friendly body gyrations and all the coaxing that’s permitted in rally.  I sure don’t want my young dog to be brought up that way.  Nor my newbie competitor to develop all those bad habits.  There are far too many sloppy teams in the obedience rings now; why create more?

Even some of  the rally exercises are designed to send your training due south.

Last weekend a member of my training group – a person with 30+ years of experience and enough obedience and agility titles to sink a battleship – was commenting on the new rally exercises, due to go into effect in April.  Specifically, she was expressing concern about exercise #210, Send to Jump.  In that new exercise (as opposed to existing exercise # 34 where the dog and handler run toward the jump, the dog jumps as the handler runs past the jump, then they meet on the other side in heel position and continue on to the next station) the handler stops short of the jump, the dog jumps, immediately turns and returns to heel position before they continue past the jump.

“I sure don’t want to teach my beginning dog to go over the jump and immediately turn and come back,” my friend was saying.  Amen!  Teaching a young dog to do that is just asking for trouble.  I see plenty of dogs – in training as well as in the competition ring – going over the jump, looking bewildered, then turning and coming back . . . while the dumbbell lies untouched in the grass.  This exercise is fine for a veteran dog, but just one more reason why I don’t want my young, fledgling dog anywhere near rally.

By the way, what’s wrong with Beginner Novice for getting Fluffy started?  Answer:  Absolutely nothing.

Just sayin’.



Wednesday, December 21, 2011


I regard myself as an authority on corporate arrogance.

After all, I grew up in Cincinnati, the corporate headquarters of Procter & Gamble.  Cincinnati is the world’s largest company town.  Procter & Gamble dominates that city with an iron fist . . . in a Charmin glove of course..  They’re on every board, involved in every municipal decision.  They support every worthwhile charity in the city, so long as that charity doesn’t get out of heel position.

At the same time, they add breadth and depth to the words smug and high-handed.  You don’t challenge P&G.

P&G’s headquarters tower is right in the center of downtown Cincinnati.  Years ago the company wanted to expand its campus to some adjacent land.  Only problem was, an historic old church stood in the way.  Undeterred, the boys on the 11th floor (the corporate poobahs) announced plans to raze the church and bulldoze ahead.  The local preservationists went ballistic.  They went to court and obtained an injunction preventing P&G from touching that church.  P&G fought the order and – to no one’s surprise – the court ruled in the company’s favor

The injunction was to be lifted at the stroke of midnight on a certain date.  P&G had everything in place.  At exactly 12:01 a.m., under cover of darkness, the wrecking ball slammed into the church.  The next morning when Cincinnatians arrived downtown for work the church was only a pile of rubble.

Which brings us to the American Kennel Club and the same “we walk on water attitude.”

Across the years, the now-defunct AKC Gazette carried, near the front of the magazine, a staple called the president’s letter.  The copy was always accompanied by a photo of President Dennis Sprung.  The available photos were rotated from issue to issue.  One showed Sprung seated stiffly in a chair with a large dog – a greyhound, if I remember correctly – seated by his side.  Every time I saw that picture the words that came to my mind were: imperious, regal, pompous.  The photo was appropriately representative of  a high-and-mighty organization.

For the two-plus decades that I’ve been in dog sports that’s the public face the AKC has put on.  Not just for me but for many others. From time to time someone has asked me, “Willard, have you ever sent a letter to the AKC and gotten no answer?”  At which point I’d chuckle.  “Oh yes,” I’d reply, “several times.”

And then there have been the disgruntled alums of various AKC advisory committees.  Mind you, the grumbling comes from credible, well-regarded leaders in the competition obedience world – because (and this is the way it should be) that’s who’s invited to serve on advisory committees – experienced people who know what’s going on.

I hadn’t been in the sport two years – scarcely long enough to figure out which end of the leash attaches to the dog – when I heard from a friend who had been on multiple obedience advisory committees.  A person who later would be honored by the AKC with a lifetime achievement award.  “It’s very disappointing, “ she told me.  “They send us a ton of stuff to study, all of the suggestions that have been submitted.  We read each one, evaluate it, work our tails off before and at the committee meeting.  Then when our suggestions reach the board, they ignore most of them.  Oh, they may throw us a bone or two, but largely our hard work goes for naught.  Advisory committees are only window dressing.

More recently another advisory committee member said, “We all work very hard to prepare for the meeting.  But every time they listen only to a couple of members of the group.”  And she named two names which screamed, “old, old guard!”

Most recently the AKC convened a rally advisory committee.  And, oh boy!  What a firestorm that one ignited.  A few weeks ago the new rally regulations draft was posted.  Here are excerpts from the comments of one prominent member of the group.

“We took our jobs very seriously and spent hours working on it.  We were shocked and dismayed when we discovered that what was being sent to the board of directors for consideration had very little resemblance (if any) to what we had proposed.  There are things in the document that we never/ever/ever discussed or even considered – (things that) didn’t cross our minds.

This blog post started out to talk about arrogance, and there’s a whole boatload of that here.  As well as a generous measure of stupidity.

Folks, this is Public Relations 101.  You don’t ask your public for advice, then blow them off.  If you don’t seek advice in the first place, you generally have a neutral situation.  But select a group of highly credible, highly visible opinion leaders, ask them to advise you, then flip a bird at their suggestions and you’ve created a bunch of well respected people bad-mouthing you . . . and being listened to and believed.  That’s what the AKC does each time they hold a “window dressing” advisory committee.

Recently I featured a series of posts on the subject of poop.  Nothing’s changed here.  This post is about the same thing.  About how the AKC keeps stepping in it.



ard myself as an authority on corporate arrogance.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


When I prepare these posts, I first write them out on a yellow pad, do some rewriting and finally enter them on the computer.  So there's a lag.

When last I communicated, Bravo! was on a regimen of 40mg. of prednisone each day, 20mg. of omeprazole twice a day and 37.5 mg. of azathioprine daily.  And of course the special diet.

All of which had zero impact.  The soft poops, punctuated periodically by old-fashioned diarrhea, continued.  After a few weeks, Dr. Matz said, "That's not working," and he made some changes.  Bravo! stayed on the prednisone, but the dose was dropped from 40 to 30mg. a day.  Which did nothing to reduce his insatiable need for water and the resulting pee,pee,pee, 24/7.

Dr. Matz eliminated the azathioprine, much to my relief, and added 100mg. of cyclosporine each day.  Ah, now we had graduated to the solid gold stuff -- $6 a day.  And he added three 250mg. capsules of tylosin each day.  "It acts pretty much the same as metronidazole," he told me, "but it's less toxic."  That was music to my ears.  Bravo!'s one bout with metronidazole toxicity was enough to last a lifetime.  He added that there were studies indicating that metronidazole, taken in sufficient quantities, is a carcinogen.  Wonderful.

And he again changed Bravo!'s diet -- at which point I threw away a nearly full bag ($80) of the previous diet.

So we set sail under the new regimen, and for a few days Bravo!'s stool improved dramatically -- I was picking up 8s (on my previously described 10-point scale) in the backyard.  His stool hadn't been that good since the poop wars started on May 16.

Then, on a Wednesday morning, things started downhill.  By late Saturday we were down to ones and twos -- diarrhea by any other name.  By Monday he was running like a faucet.  Curiously, only when it was a normal time for a bowel movement.  Not once since this siege began in mid-May has he asked to go outside for that purpose. And not one accident in the house.  Diarrhea, but no urgency.

I talked to Dr. Matz on Tuesday.  He was convinced that the current regimen is the right one.  But he said, "Try giving Bravo! a little Imodium AD.  It comes in 1mg. tablets.  Two-thirds of one of those three times a day should be right for him."

If you've ever taken Imodium AD, you'll understand this:  I defy you to come up with two-thirds of one of those tiny tablets.  So I bailed and gave him 1mg. in the morning, one in the evening and one-half at noon.

His stool began to improve immediately and sustained a level of 7 or 8.  Most recently I'm seeing more and more 9s.

The Imodium AD was added in, pretty much as an emergency measure, only a few days after we started the new drugs, tylosin and cyclosporin.  Which begs the question:  Is the improvement due to adding the Imodium AD or due to the new drug combination?  Seeking the answer, four days ago I began slowly withdrawing the Imodium AD while holding the rest of the regimen constant.  So far the quality of Bravo!'s stool has held -- in fact, I'm seeing more 9s.

And that's where this series of posts ends.  Bravo! isn't going to to be cured of the lymphangiectasia.  Perhaps if we're lucky we can keep it down to a dull roar.  In any case, lymphangiectasia is staggeringly expensive.  I have a friend who refers to her lymphangiectasia-deceased border collie as "my $10K dog."  Right now we're approaching $6,000 in vet bills.  Most who have followed this series had never heard of lymphangiectasia, certainly never encountered it.  Just hope you never do.

P.S.  It Never Rains But What It Pours Department:  To look at Bravo! you'd never know he has a problem.  And his desire to train and compete has not diminished.  Several weeks ago he competed in the Phoenix Field & Obedience Club trials.  And while they weren't his all-time best runs, he did place in Utility B.

A few days later he began refusing jumps.  I had his hips x-rayed.  His right hip, which showed no sign of a problem when he was x-rayed at one year of age, is now badly arthritic.  I retired him from obedience competition on the spot.  He'll do a little rally just to keep him active.  Rally novice at first, then we'll see if he's comfortable with the 16-inch jump.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011


I called Dr. Matz on Monday morning and told him about our Saturday siege with metronidazole toxicity.  “We’d better give him another day,” the Tucson internist said.  “Let’s move him from Tuesday to Wednesday.”  The endoscopy schedule was already full for Wednesday, “but we’ll work him in,”  Dr. Matz said.  “Have him here by 9 o’clock.”

So here we went again.  Up several hours before dawn. . . . same drill.  Only this time around Dr. Matz wanted him to start fasting after his breakfast on Tuesday morning.

“Working in” an endoscopy turned out to require a scheduling shoehorn. We arrived at 8:30; they finally took Bravo! in for his procedure at 4:30 that afternoon.

I had brought a lunch, which I ate in my van.  Early in the afternoon a person at the reception desk gave me directions to a gelato place a few miles away.  There I had not one but two large chocolate malts . . . made with chocolate chip ice cream.  Who ever heard of making a malt with chocolate chip ice cream?  And why is that important enough to chronicle here?

 Baby, you sit in a veterinary hospital waiting room for ten straight hours and a chocolate malt made with chocolate chip ice cream becomes the major adventure of your day.

Bravo! was out of the recovery room and we were pulling out of the parking lot at 6:30 that evening – 12 hours after we had left home and 37 hours since Bravo! had eaten his most recent meal.  I had brought a light meal for him, and my little guy wolfed it down in the back seat.

But we had a diagnosis.

Yes, Bravo had inflammatory bowel disease.  He also had a duodenal ulcer – bacterially caused, Dr. Matz presumed.  But the biggie, a condition secondary to the inflammatory bowel disease, was lymphangiectasia.  Until early that Wednesday evening in Tucson, I had never heard the word – and oh! do I wish that were still the case!

Lymphangiectasia can be caused by a host of things.  In Bravo!’s case, the inflammatory bowel disease seems to have led to inflammation of the lymph vessels in his small intestine.  That inflammation and the resultant swelling have caused reduced lymph flow, which, in turn, has created a malabsorption problem.  Hence the near-diarrhea and weight loss.

Treatment of the disease involves rigidly controlled diet and medication.  Lymphangiectasia is rarely cured but can remain in remission for a long time. It can be fatal if the dog is unresponsive to treatment, and many dogs are.  Since it became known that Bravo! and I are battling this disease, I’ve heard from several people who have gone through this nightmare.  I have yet to hear about one happy outcome. (If you have been there and have a story with a happy ending, please share it with the readers of this blog.)

And what is Bravo!’s treatment?  Oh Lord!  (What follows here is the regimen we started in mid-October.  There have been some significant recent modifications which  I’ll discuss later.)

Following the endoscopy, Dr. Matz started Bravo! on:

n      20mg. of prednisone twice a day.  I have never before had an animal on such high doses of prednisone, and the immediate effects have been an eye-opener.  Literally.  His intake and output of fluid are keeping us hopping 24/7.  His urination schedule is at least every two hours.  And if we’re smart – that is, if we want to avoid an accident in the house – we better get him out in the backyard at 90-minute intervals.  Which means someone has to be here.

“Why don’t you put in a doggie door?” I’ve been asked ad nauseam.  We live at the base of a mountain . . .  and there are critters.  No doggie door!

Three or four times overnight one of us gets up and sends Bravo! out.  It’s what happens when he gets out there that astonishes me.  How can a dog pee that long?  How can he hold so much urine to begin with – and not let fly in the house?  (So far, so good.)  Talk about a good dog!

I couldn’t resist.  Finally I took a stopwatch out there with us.  Picture this:  It’s 2:30a.m.  Bravo! and I are out in the backyard, illuminated by the floodlights.  I’m in my pajamas, holding a stopwatch on the dog while he pees.  1 minute and 43 seconds!  That’s a long time to hold your leg up and pee.  Try it.

Then there are the possible long-term effects of the prednisone.  Not the least of which is possible shortening of the dog’s lifespan.  Add to that increased susceptibility to viral, fungal or bacterial diseases enhanced by the immunosuppressive properties of prednisone.  To say nothing of possible pancreatitis.  And at least some amount of muscular weakness.

n      37.5mg. of azathioprine each day.  It’s an immunosuppressant – another one! Known by its brand name of Imuran, it’s often used to suppress kidney transplants in humans.  The side effects of azathioprine can be nasty and can include damage to red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.  To say nothing of the long-term effects of its role in suppression of bone marrow.
      The possible ravages of prednisone and azathioprine certainly warrant vigilance, in the form of frequent blood tests.

n      He’s also getting 20mg. of omeprazole twice a day.  Initially that was prescribed to treat the duodenal ulcer, but it also protects the stomach from possible damage inflicted by the prednisone.  We get the omeprazole at Costco, over the counter.  And you wouldn’t believe the packaging.  If you didn’t see the name splashed all over the multi-hued box or didn’t know what it meant, you’d think you were purchasing a box of cheap Easter candy.

* * *

What about the possible long-term ravages of some of these drugs?  In a word, scary!  But it comes down to choosing the lesser of two evils.  You can sit back and watch the progression of the disease wipe him out, or you can administer powerful (albeit risky) drugs that give him the best chance to recover – or in this case the best chance at remission.

The decision here is to stand and fight.

To be continued.



Friday, December 2, 2011


The hydrolyzed, hypoallergenic diet didn't work.  On to Plan B.  We rescheduled the endoscopy for Tuesday, October 11.

But nothing in this endless saga has been simple or has run true to form.  Since May 16 it had been a relentless daily battle just to keep Bravo!'s bowel movements from degenerating into runny (life-threatening?) diarrhea.  As I said earlier, none of the standard treatments even fazed the problem.

At the end of August we had put Bravo! on 500mg. of metronidazole twice a day.  That's 1000 mg. a day, a high dose.  But, as Dr. Toben put it, "not crazy high."  It fell well short of solving the problem but, as I told him, "It's keeping it down to a dull roar." 

I was made acutely aware of the risks.  High doses of metronidazole can have neurologic side effects -- one of which might be ataxia, inability of the dog to control certain muscles, usually resulting in loss of control of the legs.

None of that was happening with Bravo!  From time to time I told Dr. Toben, "So far so good."

The day Dr. Matz put Bravo! on the hydrolyzed diet he said, "Take him off the metronidazole and prednisone; they're not doing him any good anyway."  We did.  But not only did the diet not help Bravo!, by the third day after he was off the metronidazole he had yellow, runny diarrhea.  Back on the metronidazole he went.

Then, on Saturday, October 8, three days before Bravo! was due for his endoscopy, all hell broke loose.  When we got up that morning, he stumbled slightly as he went out the door into the backyard.  And his back end seemed a little wobbly.  After breakfast I set up a 20-inch high jump.  I wanted to test, to find out what I had there.  He jumped without difficulty.

But by 9 o'clock that morning he was staggering noticeably.  And around 10 o'clock he tried to get up from lying on the rug, only to roll over on his side.

Metronidazole toxicity, I thought.  Dr. Toben was about 20 miles away, at his kids' volleyball tournament.  I talked to him on the phone twice that day and voiced my fears about metronidazole toxicity.  Dr. Toben was unwilling to immediately jump to that conclusion.  "If he can't control his hind legs it could be a spinal column problem," he said. "If this persists I want to see him first thing tomorrow (Sunday) morning."

But as darkness fell that evening, it became clear to me that we shouldn't let things drift overnight.  We talked again at 8 o'clock.  Dr. Toben was on his way home from the tournament. When I told him Bravo! now could hardly stand up, he said, "Meet me at the hospital a little after nine."

When I got there he was waiting in the parking lot.  I carried Bravo! in my arms while Dr. Toben unlocked the door, turned the light on  and disarmed the alarm.

I set Bravo! down on the floor and he collapsed. "Oh!" Dr. Toben said, and he went to work.  Various neurologic tests showed a definite nervous system problem. Then he shined a light in Bravo!'s eyes.  That's when he saw the involuntary rapid eye movements, calle nystagmus.  And that's when he bought into my diagnosis, metronidazole toxicity.

Just to cover all the bases, he first gave Bravo! an intravenous injection of cortisone.  Then he added an intradermal injection of Valium, the treatment of choice for metronidazole toxicity.

"If he isn't a lot better by morning," the veterinarian said, "have him here by 7:30.  I'll call in a technician and we'll do an X-ray."

By the time we got home that evening at 10:30, Bravo! was able to move around on his own.  By Sunday morning his symptoms had disappeared.

So much for metronidazole.

To be continued.