I forgot! My friend Leanne had her camera and took some really cute shots of Luna and Lola (in the background above) at the fabulous Stratford Dog Park. I just love the flying ears in this shot. Thanks Leanne!
Things have been quiet on the blog-front, and I do apologize. I’ve been living in a hay field, in a hammock, with no running water, no plumbing and a couple of horses and dogs for company. Okay well more like 70 horses and at least a dozen dogs. Oh, and some people. I spent my week off on the 5-Day Ride, put on by the Chesley Saddle Club.
This is a ride I haven’t done before, and I’d say over all I enjoyed it, although there were many wrenches thrown into the plan. My friend Leanne has a young horse, Ellie, pictured below, so her older horse, King, is available for me to ride (I don’t own my own so I borrow whenever possible). We’ve planned this for a number of months, with my parents and another friend who also rides. I met up with Leanne in New Hamburg on Monday, and on Tuesday we packed up the nags and our gear and drove up to the camp, just north east of Wiarton, Ontario, on the Bruce Peninsula.
The ride is probably the biggest I’ve been on, not so much for the number of riders necessarily, but rather for the length and set up. The Club arranges for everyone’s food — three squares a day — and puts together a camper for preparing meals, a grill for cooking and a dish pit, as well as a big tent to sit under and entertainment on the Friday night. They provide hay for your horses, so all you have to do is bring your nags, and your sleeping arrangements. Most of the folks on the ride have pretty fantastic trailers, with living quarters built right in. My parents put a camper in the box of their truck which works really well. Leanne and I are still working on making our millions, so she had her tent and I had my sleeping hammock (see the image near the bottom).
My parents were expected to arrive early Wednesday, in time to join us for that day’s ride, but I got a voice mail just after breakfast that Dad had fallen the night before and injured himself pretty badly. It was the first of a few rough moments on the trip. I was pretty upset that a.) my Dad had hurt himself (again) and by doing something totally unnecessary (use a ladder next time!!) and that b.) they wouldn’t be coming. Leanne and I had a really good ride that day. As usual, King was a dream. Leanne had her hands full with Ellie, who is only four and gets pretty excited, but King is a gentleman and it’s such a treat to ride him, since I usually have either my Mom’s horse Chiachi or occasionally Rainman, my Dad’s horse (once upon a time he was mine). Both of them can be full of spunk.
But later that afternoon I got another call that my Dad was doing better (he’d been carted off to the hospital by an ambulance the evening before) and that they were going to come anyway. They had called up my 15 year old cousin Ann, who is totally horse crazy and has been getting some experience under her belt lately with some riding, to come with them. Dad couldn’t ride, but if Ann came, we could still go out with all four horses, it just meant I had to switch and ride Rainman instead. I was both happy they were coming but a bit bummed to have to give up my cushy hayburner King and instead take on a more challenging mount for the week, since Ann would need the easiest horse we had available (King).
Thursday’s ride was pretty great; Ann had a really good day out with King, which was a relief since we weren’t quite sure how she would fare. It was her first time doing a trail, and in such a large group, not to mention a 5+ hour ride with only one real break. I did alright too, although there was some fighting for control between Rainman and I towards the end, as always. He’s a leader, not a follower, and he can’t stand being slowed down by anyone. I have two choices with him when he’s in a mind set to move; either hold him back and make him angry with me, or let him have his head, at which point he’ll crowd the horse in front and make someone else angry. I chose the former.
Friday however, was another story all together. We were preparing to saddle up and Ann came running down to our spot in the field to tell me Mom had been hurt, and that she couldn’t ride. We were quite a way apart in our camp sites, so I hoped into Leanne’s truck and went to see what had happened. Chiachi, the brute that she is, had reared while tied and snapped her halter in three places, slipped, and came down on my Mom. She was pretty badly scraped down the back of her calf and her thigh. We think it was the saddle that got her, since Chiachi already had it on. Now I had two injured parents.
We debated which horse I’d take out on the ride but in the end I decided against going at all, since stable mates don’t separate well, and we knew if we had to separate them at all, Rainman would fare better being left alone in camp than Chiachi, and I was in such a foul mood by then that I decided against taking her, since she can be so difficult to handle and she had shown us the day before that she was in a seriously strong heat. That horse can be fun to ride but she is just as much a one-track minded brute of a beast with no respect for her handler.
It took me some time to calm down after all that. Perhaps it was the stress of having another near miss with one of my parents. I was also feeling a bit gypped on my long-anticipated holiday, as things were not working out as I’d planned. I was having a “poor me” moment, big time. I had to find a way to make the day useful and to get myself out of my funk, so I took Mom into Wiarton with Leanne’s truck and we ran a few errands, got some good drugs and some bandages, and found me some better gloves so I could avoid getting blistered hands from holding Rainman back, if we decided to go out again on Saturday. I also did some of the “chores” for Leanne and I, like pumping water out of the creek and cleaning up the manure. I also went and put gas in Leanne’s truck. By the time Leanne and Ann got back from their day out on the trail, I was feeling positive about things again.
Mom got her courage to try going out again on Saturday, but we chose to do the short ride, since we didn’t know how her leg would feel. The short ride is about 3 hours as opposed to 5. I think quite a few people were getting tired by Saturday, since the short ride group usually only had about 5 to 10 riders on it, while that day there were about 22.
We had to cross a few cattle pastures on this particular ride, and for whatever reason, the cattle were extremely interested in the horses and came running up as a herd to the group. This caused a few horses to panic and one young girl fell off her horse. We got her picked up and remounted and out of the pasture, when another woman’s horse started acting up along the highway, and she fell off. No serious injuries but it had us stopping and starting a few times.
In the last stretch however, we had a pretty major fall happen, in another cow pasture with cattle who were very curious about the horses. This time it was an older man riding a horse that had been acting up the whole ride, towards the back of the group. We’d had a discussion the night before about how the club should be more responsible about injuries, and how we could better identify First Aid trained individuals on rides and so on. So, doing my due duty as a First Aid trained person, I hoped off Rainman and ran to the back to see if there was anything I could do. The man’s wife however was a nurse so she was already helping him. I instead took her horse from her, which she was still holding while also tending to her injured husband. The trail leaders got the group off and going to get out of the pasture and to call the ambulance, because we were just about a kilometre away from cell phone range. I opted to take her and her husband’s horse out of there, since there was little else I could do, and my Mom and I walked our two horses and their two out of the pasture. It was a scary situation, and there were some fears that he’d cracked a couple of ribs, but as it turned out, thankfully he was just badly bruised, and he was back at camp by that night. In the end, it was a model reaction for the members of the club, and will hopefully serve as a an example of how we can all respond to situations like it in the future.
All in all it was a good vacation. Oh, except for the man from Pakistan who insisted on calling my cell about 30 times on Friday, starting at 6 a.m. I had to get him blocked; he just would not stop calling and leaving voice mails that said nothing and using up my limited battery life (not to mention costing me long distance charges). I had answered his call the first time which is why I knew he was calling from Pakistan but I told him he had the wrong number. Apparently he can’t take no for an answer. Now we have to pay $5 a month to block him. Yay Rogers.
So now it’s back to work tomorrow. My boy is away in Baltimore for a conference so it will be a few more days until I catch up with him. Only two more weeks (and one of them is a short week!) until our two-week road trip to the East Coast. Can’t wait!! This working for a living is for the birds! Why can’t I always be on vacation??
Okay, so I mentioned a few posts back that Zeus has had some of his own health problems, which started a couple weeks before Spud, one of our two cats, had to be put down. Zeus is a Saint Bernard over 11 years old (miraculous in and of itself), so of course whenever something significant happens with his health it becomes a bit of a guessing game as to how he’ll do, or if this is “it”. I’ve been through years of this kind of stress. I’m not one to “hang on” unnecessarily, but it’s pretty hard to make a decision when you have a dog who, for all intents and purposes, still has a good frame of mind and is generally a pretty happy guy. I don’t ever want him to suffer, and would never dream of putting him through some kind of crazy procedure to keep him going for my own benefit. With Spud, there was absolutely nothing to be done to save him – so the decision was made for us, really. With Zeus, his health issues never seem to be so bad that it’s obvious that it’s time for a decision.
So, the latest “thing” is really just a worsening of an ongoing problem. Anyone considering getting a giant breed dog, HEAR THIS. They get hygromas on the elbows and they are a HUGE pain in the ass. Hygromas are callous-like build ups of tissue and fluid at the elbows that develop from lying on hard surfaces. They are the dog’s body’s response to extraordinary pressure, and giant breeds like Saints and Great Danes are prone to them. I can’t recall exactly at what age they started with Zeus but probably around 3 or 4 he started getting them in a small way. It doesn’t matter how many cushy beds he has to lay in, he often prefers a nice cool floor. For years now I’ve had to deal with his elbows periodically getting swollen with infection. They usually open on their own and drain (ew!) and then they heal and the process starts all over again. Sometimes I have to help them along by finding where the softest spot is and lance them open (remember folks, I’m a farm girl, this isn’t for everyone, or for the faint of heart). Sometimes they get so bad though, they need emergency vet attention.
As was the case with this latest swelling. It was really deep and his elbow just kept getting bigger, and harder, and by the second day it just hadn’t ‘surfaced.’ I came home early from work one day and noticed his leg was beginning to get secondary swelling, so off we went to the vet. He was put on antibiotics for a week and the vet attempted to drain off some of the purulent fluid that was causing so much pressure, with a needle and syringe. The next day he was in quite a bit of pain and the swelling had spread to his full leg and paw, and he could not get up without assistance (as much because he’s an old man as it was because his leg hurt like a bitch). I hung out with him and tried to keep him happy. Finally by that night the infection and found its way out and started to effectively drain. Everywhere. And yes, it’s disgusting. It stinks. But it needs to come out, and what do you do?
So thankfully things started looking much better for the big guy and by the end of the week the swelling had really come down back to normal. But the side effect was that the hygroma had opened up really big, maybe 2 1/2 inches or so wide. I decided to check in with the vet again about it and she said there was really not much to be done, that these types of wounds are very difficult to get healed because of where they are, and that there may be a tumor in there (not really surprising). The only way to be sure was to do a biopsy (and that ain’t cheap and so I’ve put that off for now, because really, what is that going to tell me that I don’t already know? He’s old and he’s well beyond his life expectancy). She fashioned a tube dressing into a bit of a “shrug” and gave us a spray that is to help encourage skin to grow in the area and deter further infection. The dressing was to help keep some gauze in there and keep him from licking at it, but after about a day and a half it was already looking pretty sorry.
We got the idea to try out making something out of a pair of kids’ spandex leggings. You can see them up above (the purple ones) and Chris had the brilliant idea to use maxi pads inside over the wound, which has been working quite well to absorb any weeping and to help keep it relatively clean. I searched online and found a company that makes DogLeggs, a product much like my knitted ones above but probably made of much more appropriate materials, like neoprene or something. They’re about $100 USD and at Zeus’s age I kind of don’t really think it’s worth sending away for (if he was a couple year’s old, definitely – I’m convinced they would help prevent hygromas from getting so bad – nothing like this seemed to exist when he first got the problem). ***UPDATE (Oct. 30, 2009): I have just come across an Ontario-based pet supplier called Two Tuttle’s, Four Paws, who now carries DogLeggs***
So… the purple leggings looked quite ridiculous and were getting pretty nasty pretty fast. But every time I take them off to say wash them, he gets licking at the wound and opens it up again. So I thought I could knit something that would be more custom. Above is my attempt, but the sleeves were just not elastic enough to keep his pad inside. I was also concerned about his circulation because the yarn only gives to a certain point. So those were a bust.
Today we went out to try to find some more leggings similar to the purple ones. We found these junior-ladies leggings for $5 at Giant Tiger and I bought three pairs. By now I had a new design in mind and this is definitely the solution. The chest strap is key to keeping the leggings from sliding back across his back.
DIY Doggy Lederhosen
So here’s the design for anyone looking for something to protect a dog’s elbows, or forelegs for that matter, for instance if there’s a hot spot or anything that’s hard to bandage. Take a pair of nylon/spandex leggings (cotton won’t do – they’ll stretch out too much and if they get wet while the dog is out in the rain or snow, they’ll stay wet forever). Make a slit along the inside leg and crotch seam (I just followed along one side of the stitching) from about mid-thigh to mid-thigh, right along the crotch area. This may be all you need to do depending on the size of the dog.
To put them on, put the dog’s head through both the hole you just made and the waistband, and carefully put the paws through the legs of the tights. Take care to avoid catching dewclaws. In Zeus’s case, I had to make a vertical slit through the bum of the leggings and then cut the heavier elastic waistband of the leggings to help give him more neck room (Saint Bernards have a lot of floppy neck skin). Check to ensure that there’s lots of room to move and nothing is “cutting” too tight on the dog, especially when they’re lying down, in the arm pit area (you don’t want anything to pinch and cut off circulation). Depending on the size of the leggings, you may need to cut off some length of the legs so that they don’t drag over the dog’s paw. Watch for the first 12 hours or so to see if the leggings have overly stretched, and make adjustments as needed. This design is pretty forgiving that way, because the main point is to protect the elbows from exposure and to keep the dog from licking, and in our case, to keep a maxi pad up over the wound (the sticky backing on the pad seems to hold pretty good to the nylon).
Since my mama is taking care of the big guy while we’re off to Portland/Seattle for a week, I wanted to be sure she had a change of leggings for him if he needs them, and has something that will work really well while we’re gone. I think we’ve finally found the solution. And he looks much better in black than purple, don’t you think? Mum says he just needs a bow tie and he’ll be all set for the ball.
Apologies for the length of this post, but I wanted to offer this up as a bit of a DIY solution for anyone else in the same boat. Years ago, I searched the Interweb high and low for even some mention of the hygroma problem, but found little or nothing. Now at least you can find explanations for them, but finding solutions for dealing with the wounds was pretty tough. I highly urge anyone with a dog just developing these problems to try out those DogLeggs. I bet they work really well. And, I highly urge anyone considering a giant breed dog to do your homework. I love my big guy, but he is a TON of work. Later I’ll try to put something together that outlines the things people might not know or realize in advance of getting a giant dog. I can’t tell you how many people who see Zeus say “ooooooo that’s the kind of dog I want!!!” and I think to myself “do you really have any idea what you’re talking about?”