With the grooming room being only moderately heated, and the air for drying being ambient, I watch for weather opportunities for bathing.  In addition, our washer drain freezes in extreme weather, so laundry must be done ahead of an expected major storm, including throw rugs and washable dog items.

Yesterday, we were fortunate to have a small break in the weather.  After several days of 20 to 0, the snow from the last storm began melting.  Did I say fortunate?  There was mud to go along with the temperature improvement, but since the temperature reached the high 40s, it was fortunate to have a good opportunity to give Parker a bath.

I left Banner in the exercise pen, and Jade hung out between us and Banner.   Jade was next, for a limited clean-up, so a little mud wouldn’t be a problem.

However, “someone” had failed to close the grooming room door well, and it was partially open.  Three of the water connections had frozen.  I had to rearrange, so that the only water went through the water heater.  GE is designing their tanks much more efficiently these days, so running some of the water out and letting the tank sit for a few minutes didn’t allow the temperature to moderate quickly.  The grooming room tank is small, 40 gallons, but the tank had to be nearly emptied to be able to use the water.  I ran three one gallon water bottles full of hot water and left those sitting while I brought the water temperature in the tank down.  One of those became the shampoo bottle, with the other two being backups, out of instinct.  This time I used a new shampoo product, working it in directly before wetting Parker.  When it was time to rinse, the water was warm, but the temperature cooled as he was rinsed.  He has been doing well, except for a new issue with bumps, and he hasn’t been getting chilled from a bath to the point that he shivers.  This is one of the visible signs of aging.  Today, he was shivering after his bath.  I finished rinsing with the now warm water from the backup bottles.

He hasn’t been spending much time when he goes outside in the snow, and he prefers lying on the rug in front of the insert, which has been running since the first round of cold weather arrived.  Aging is inevitable, but attitude is at least partially a matter of choice and awareness.  Since he has such a good attitude, it is easy to be optimistic about his aging.

The itchy phase has arrived with the change in season, and with each thaw, so he is wearing his PPE (personal protective equipment).  He wears custom made “britches”, made from old jeans, over his front legs, to reduce damage from scratching his elbows.  In addition, when he isn’t supervised, he wears a “tutu” (donut collar around his chest) and a soft e-collar.  In a matter of minutes or seconds, when he isn’t supervised, he can do damage by licking, chewing or scratching.  At some point, with close supervision, he licked the bottom of the foot that took months to heal last year, and it now has a minor sore and a small hole again.  In addition, a couple of weeks ago, he had an itch episode, and found an  opportunity to scratch the back of his elbow, the one that was nearly healed.  It is now badly damaged again.  It is no easy task to prevent this; a minor lapse in attention can lead to bad consequences, and the makeshift devices (PPE) are not by themselves fully protective when his itching is severe.  Boots aren’t helpful now either, as he can remove those in an instant or rip the cover when you take the e-collar off for a moment, such as to go outside.  It is no easy task for the dermatologist, either, to sort out allergy from another underlying issue.  For Parker, there is a behavioral factor.  He can tolerate a lot of pain, but he doesn’t tolerate itching.  And a little satisfaction from scratching an itch isn’t enough.  In addition, any stress makes his itch tolerance lower.  When he needs to go outside, for example, he will bark, then stand up and start scratching.  When he is ready to be fed, and he is ahead of schedule these days, he will bark, then immediately begin scratching.  When he “goes on a bender” (dramatic increase in itching), we give him Benadryl.  This lets him sleep through the night, and the episodes usually decrease within 24 – 48 hours.  [We plan to try a new allergy medication that will be released later this month which is not supposed to decrease tumor suppression.]

The next consequence of having done damage to his skin after an itch episode is that the wound becomes a target of focus.  Without the e-collar, any initial wound can go from minor to unbelievable in a short time.  And now that he has protection from certain areas, he has begun to scratch his sides so that there are nearly bare areas.  I used to say that we needed a Michelin man suit for him, when he was younger because of the regular ortho damage he created in some exuberant, hi-tilt acrobatics.  Now we need a Kevlar suit to keep him from doing damage to his skin.  With all PPE, one thing leads to another, so less is usually more, combined with close supervision.  Most days aren’t challenging, but there are always some unavoidable (weather) or unanticipated itch episodes.  Frequent bathing helps, but that has gone from every two weeks to weekly to now every 3-4 days, which aren’t an option in winter.

And now there is a progression of bumps, scheduled for biopsy on Jan. 9.  Aging is not for the faint of heart, but the courage to face those challenges is not optional, either for the dog (or person) aging, or the caregiver.

Greg and a friend had spent the morning cutting and splitting wood.  We have a lot of down trees from storms in the past two years, and the friend has a log-splitter, so a lot is accomplished in a short time, providing ample wood for both of our homes.

The thaw in the snow had been the source of another itch episode, so Parker was in dire need of a bath.  Timing was good for Greg to take a break and stay in the living room with Parker after his bath, near the fire, to supervise.  Meanwhile, I did a shortcut bath for Jade and blew the water out of her coat, then went to the ex pen.

Did I mention that the snow had thawed?  My muddy little Pigpen had made great progress on her archaeological dig.  The ex pen had a deep bed of gravel, but she had found the mud underneath, as evidenced by a deep hole with muddy gravel in the bottom, and a little girl so well covered with mud that a dry cleanup was no longer an option.  After a short bath followed by blowing the water out of her coat, Greg was in charge of all Newfs while I did yard pickup.  Then it was my turn to sit (and do laundry, clean floors and start dinner) while Greg moved hay for the cattle for the coming week.  The bath had calmed Parker, once he was dry and warm, so that he didn’t require as much supervision, although he couldn’t wear the PPE because it was being laundered.  He eventually took a nap, and everyone was quiet for a while.

During the night, Parker asked to go outside.  This began with Banner but has become a nightly routine.  At 2 a.m., the snow was falling.  Banner and Parker came back inside covered with fresh snow, while this time Jade slept through the night.

The next morning, WOW!  There was a deep, fresh blanket of snow.  Jade was so excited she could hardly contain herself.  She went back into puppy mode.  She wanted to be outside, she wanted to play when she was inside, and she was bursting at the seams with happiness.  Parker was also exuberant about the snow.  After their morning relief, they came back inside, but Parker asked to go outside again shortly afterward and another time later.  He couldn’t handle the cold as well, but still wanted to enjoy the snow.  Greg put on his winter gear and shoveled the steps and back sidewalk before foot traffic could pack the snow, then he took Jade out for a while.  Parker wanted to go also.  The temperature was a little over 14 at that point.  Banner, who is still full-tilt adolescent, wants to play too roughly and doesn’t receive feedback well, so the big dogs were given time in the snow to themselves, then it was Banner’s turn.  Excitement escalated!  WOW!  Such fun stuff!  You can eat it, you can play in it, you can race through it and spin circles in it, you can wallow in it – what a wonderful day!  Everybody but Corky (Boston Terrier) was happy about the snow.

Once everybody was back inside,  Parker began playing with a Giggle toy, except that Banner had removed all of the giggle boxes from those toys.  I found two of the giggle boxes, but neither worked.  I couldn’t find the third one.  Then I realized that she had inadvertently turned the switch off.  Greg produced the third one.  She has developed a talent for quickly opening the Velcro closure and taking the box out.  Then she bats it around or chews on it, so there is the sound of incessant giggling.  She must think the toy has “expired” when it stops giggling, so she looks for another.  [She has also begun trying to bat the Boston Terrier around – enjoying the ability that comes with her her ever increasing size.  <g>]  I turned the switch back on and put the box back in Parker’s toy.  The giggle toys were part of their Christmas presents, and his giggle toy was selected for the number of small attachments that he could “work on” or remove.  Sometimes he likes to play with or nurse the attachments, but when the itching is bad, he likes to focus on removing tags, etc.

We turned the television to CBS Sunday Morning to enjoy what Charles Osborne was presenting.  He turned to a story about people who were faced with terminal illness.  One of the subjects was a guy with two young daughters, who had been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).  This guy had looked at his time remaining and, wanting to do something that would make people see the joy in life, he applied for a position at Krispy Kreme.  He wasn’t surprised to be turned down for the job, but began planning a heist, watching the delivery drivers, to hijack a Krispy Kreme truck, with the plan of giving the donuts away.  Instead, the company became aware of his plan and sent a bus full of donuts to him.  He realized his plan by giving donuts away to people at parks, children at schools and patients at cancer centers.  See “Krispy Kreme Caper“.

As we were listening to the story, I was sitting on the floor with Parker, rubbing his muscles and trying not to notice the loss of muscle or the bumps.  Jade was lying nearby snoring pleasantly, and Banner was taking an upside down nap in her crate.  Yesterday, both big dogs got a morning massage on the bed.  Jade enjoys the softness of cuddling on top of the bed, while Parker enjoys his massage more.  Aging muscles sincerely appreciate this.

Parker would easily understand this guy’s story, and he would collaborate to share the donuts with the world, and eat a few himself.  His favorite treat, before yeast bread was banned as a suspect cause of itching, was the pull-apart donuts at Casey’s.  Whenever we stopped there, he would jump up and stand as close to us as possible with great urgency, to make sure we didn’t forget.

I’ve had the benefit of his company for 12 years, and his dad’s before that.  For 32 years, I’ve enjoyed the company, the entertainment and the mentorship that comes from living with Newfoundlands.  There is always something new to learn, and there have always been renewing character examples.  Parker has had more than one lesson to share, but an important one was this:  share your joy, and focus on the good you’re doing.  Don’t be distracted by the imperfections.  When you touch life, it is filled with imperfections, and those imperfections can be hard to deliberately not notice.  There are always problems to solve, and this requires awareness of the cause, but if we allow ourselves to be distracted by the imperfections, it may cause others to focus on those imperfections, and take away from the good that we are trying to do.

Aging isn’t for the faint of heart, and it is its own terminal condition, but there are opportunities for joy for all of us, at any age.  Share the joy!

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