Thursday, January 30, 2014

Separation Anxiety

Na'ilah and I face our second dog obedience class today.

Things go much better than last week: we aren't the last to arrive, and there is no squirrel distracting Na'ilah.  She performs "Touch" and "Sit" pretty well even though I have skimped on the "daily" practice.

After class we go on two errands while driving home.

As we pay for the four calibrachoa flowers in 4" pots--also called Million Bells--the cashier at Armstrong's Nursery offers Na'ilah dog treats... fun.

But Trader Joe's is more challenging.  I have before never left Na'ilah alone in the car for even five minutes.

When I come out with two small bags of groceries, I see that she has vomited the entire contents of her stomach in a neat pile on a dog rug in the back of the car.

There it is, all completely undigested.  Kibble from breakfast, chunks of hot dog from training in the morning, and various treats used during the class: bits of sliced turkey, little squares of jerkey, broken up salmon cookies.

I realize that dogs don't chew; they just (yes) wolf it down. Then their stomach holds food for a long time before digestion happens.

Clearly Na'ilah had a panic attack over me disappearing and leaving her alone in the car.  Her whole system must have gone into adrenaline alert until her stomach started heaving and...

"She was abandoned in the desert," says Roz.  "Of course she has separation anxiety."

She can overcome this problem with training, however, Roz assures me.

After all, in the first few days with us she would panic alone in the back yard and jump over the fence, but she doesn't do that any more.  She panicked when left alone in a wire crate and broke out several times but no longer does.  She sleeps in her crate with the door wide open and doesn't walk out.

On the other hand, she still panics when left alone in the bedroom and chews a hole through the door to get out. 

Yes, this is definitely a dog with PTSD.

Monday, January 27, 2014


I'm back from driving to my credit union with the amazing, miraculous check from State Farm.

"I deposited the check this morning," I tell John as he's getting dressed.  It's 10 am.

"Good," he says, pulling on his socks.  

Then, after some reflection on the attack and the owner of the cat, he adds, "I guess I won't email her.  Let sleeping dogs lie."

"Thank you," I say.  

Sunday, January 26, 2014


How can I feel so loving toward this dog one evening and then so frustrated with her the next morning?

We set out at 7 am for our morning walk, Na'ilah, Stormy, and I. 

Of course, Na'ilah regards this event as a hunt.  She heels pretty well until she gets a whiff of a cat or squirrel, which today happens only a block from home.  

I let her pull me a few feet off the sidewalk as she sniffs at thick foliage in the yard of a house on Pacific Street.

Suddenly she's pointing and staring aggressively.

We hear the deep, mournful growl of a cat that must be hiding three feet from her nose in the bushes.

I reach for the salmon strips I'm carrying in my treat bag for this type of emergency and hold one near her saying, "Na'ilah! Heel!"

She could care less.  

It's like rock, paper, scissors.  Cat definitely wins over salmon strips.

I tug on the leash, but the Gentle Leader head harness is not designed for dragging a dog in the direction you want it to go.  I know I'm supposed to use voice commands and treats, and in fact I have no other choice.

For five or six minutes--it seems longer--Na'ilah holds us hostage, the cat growls, and I grip the collar around Na'ilah's neck trying to drag her away.

The vision of a cat attack resulting in death or expensive surgery--again--makes me desperate.

I tug and pull and treat in vain as Stormy stands by, occasionally performing a sit and getting a bit of the salmon cookie.

I'm sure State Farm would not be as generous with Round 2 of a cat attack.

I feel completely estranged from this beast.  Why did I pick up a strange dog in the desert?  I wouldn't pick up a hitchhiker.  (Well, usually not.)

Why such a big dog?  (Note to self: confine your charity to lap dogs.)

Finally she allows herself to be pulled away and continues hopefully down the block, plied with the last of the salmon strips.

The rest of the walk is uneventful, though delayed by a pause at each tree and house where she has previously encountered a cat or squirrel.

Na'ilah & the Ancient Cancer

Na'ilah's new life: rescued and cured of CTVT
Dr. Kenneth Jones, my vet, calls me today to tell me that Na'ilah's cancer--CTVT--is in the news.

It's on the BBC News, the National Geographic News, the Huffington Post, YouTube, etc.

Dr. Jones's office is where Na'ilah was diagnosed with Canine Transmissible Venereal Tumor last August when I took her in to be spayed.

It's been quite a journey since then--an expensive one--but Na'ilah is fully recovered today.

Her cancer is apparently the oldest living cancer cell.  It has nearly two million mutations, giving it an age of about 9,000 BCE.  

It's one of two cancer cells in the world known to jump from one living being to another.  

Read about it on one of many websites or listen on YouTube.

How awful to rescue a dog only to discover that she is sick.

But there are now two bright spots in Na'ilah's story, aside from being rescued:

* Her cancer has been cured.

* It turned out to be an interesting illness with an ancient genome now being studied as part of the effort to cure cancer.

The research done at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Great Britain was published in the journal Science and released on January 23 by ScienceDaily:

E.P. Murchison et alia. "Transmissible Dog Cancer Genome Reveals the Origin and History of an Ancient Cell Lineage."  Science, 2014; 343 (6169); 437 DOI: 10.1126/science. 1247167

Saturday, January 25, 2014


We both need love.  We've both been lonely.

I lie on the rug next to this big dog for my own comfort.  I wanted to go to my room and close the door and light a candle and cry, but I invited Na'ilah in with me and then found myself lying next to her on the floor, kneading the fur around her neck, crying, and dodging her mouth as she tries to lick me.

I don't like being licked by a dog.  I'm not a dog lover, but I realize tonight that I love this dog.

Talking to Marie on Thanksgiving, I had explained that I don't love Na'ilah; I like her and feel responsible for her.

Tonight I realize that by now I do love this strange creature that I coaxed into my car last August out of pity.   We've been through so much together.

Things started earlier this evening when I proudly showed John the check from State Farm.

He was amazed and happy, as I am, but then reading the accompanying letter that cited the name of "the claimant"--the cat's owner--he recognized her name.  They both worked for the Los Angeles Times a few years back.

"Would she recognize your name?" I asked.  

"Yes, of course," he said.  "I guess I should email her or something."

There are these occasional ex-LATer events and an email group list.

Somehow the prospect of adding John to my complex, traumatic relationship with the cat owner felt upsetting to me.

"You called us both stupid," I said.  

The news also highlights my loss of her as a potential friend.  We had talked a few times as I walked my dogs past her house and as she emerged with her dog.  

I had joked with her about Na'ilah's need for "Vitamin C"--an opportunity to sniff or chase a cat during her daily walks.  

This neighbor a block away had seemed so intelligent and kind, a potential friend, but then the disaster of Na'ilah attacking her cat changed all that.  The relationship is over, except for an exchange of text messages over the health of Kali and now polite cooperation over filing a claim with State Farm.

I've promised never to walk past her house with my dogs again.

But now she and John know each other, in a remote way?  I may be talking with her about something other than our pets?  Though the attack will always be a subtext...

Sheesh.  I have to think about that.

I drove to the corner market and found myself wanting to cry.  

When I got home, I retreated to my room to sort out my feelings.

Then it occurred to me that if Gracie Giselle, the chihuahua, can be Roz's service dog and provide comfort to her when needed, maybe hugging Na'ilah would help me.  

Thus I lie on the carpet curled up next to her seventy-five pounds and feeling comforted.

We are both mothers.  We have both been through a lot.  She was abandoned, left to forage or die, and I usually feel alone when I have strong feelings to deal with.  John is often fun and entertaining as a companion but not a "come cry on my shoulder" type of person--or at least I haven't asked for that type of support from him.  

Emotional support is what I get from other women--and now from a dog, a lion hunter.  

I do feel a kinship with this beast, as surprising to me as love for a woman late in life was to C.S. Lewis.

Perhaps I am a lion hunter too--running long distances, impulsive and lunging for the gut when my instinct prompts me, quiet until that one big yelp.


I can't believe it.  

I'm holding a check for $4200, reimbursement from State Farm Insurance for costs incurred when my dog bit a cat.  It arrived today.

The main thing is that Kali, the cat, survived--after surgery.

On Thanksgiving Day when Na'ilah bit the cat, I offered to pay for x-rays and any medical care needed.  I had no idea how much that could actually cost.

Repair of four hernias--four holes in Kali's intestinal lining caused by Na'ilah biting her twice (two big incisors grabbing her each time)--requires expert training.

Now that cost can be removed from my credit card, where it landed.

Today I am wiser about Rhodesian ridgebacks--I know they are trained to hunt down lions.  

I know that my dog staring intently at a cat or any other living creature, even while wagging its tail, is preliminary to an attack.  It's an aggressive stare.

Today Na'ilah is in a dog obedience class, where she and I are learning how to handle any situation where her instincts threaten to take over.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Hooray for Home Insurance!

I got a call from a State Farm claims agent today, and she had great news.

My dog injuring a cat, even a block from my home, is probably covered by our home insurance.

"Your dog is part of your property," she explained.  "This event is considered to be property damage."

Yes, Na'ilah is my property.  She's not damaged, but it still counts as property damage.  Maybe it's like someone falling on my front steps and getting injured; I understand why that is covered, but this didn't happen on my property.

That is, I walk my property twice a day, and somehow a bubble of insurance coverage moves with us.  Hey, I'm not questioning this--I'm just grateful.

"I feel pretty confident that we'll be able to accept liability on your behalf," she said.

Her name is Sarah Hernandez, and she was calling from Bakersfield.  She asked me to send a copy of the cat's medical bill to Phoenix.

She took notes as I recounted the whole story, and she said she would also have to speak with the cat's owner.

At that point, I was hesitant.

"You aren't going to contact her insurance and decide which insurance will cover it?" I asked.  If it was going to be like that, the way a car accident is handled, I would not be willing to bother my neighbor.  She's already suffered enough with her cat being attacked and nearly killed.

"No, there's no need to contact her insurance," Sarah assured me.  "We just need to hear from her and ask her to sign a release from any further liability, such as a lawsuit."

By the end of the conversation, I felt as if Sarah was my best friend.  She told me that she has a dog and she understood how something like this could happen.  We agreed that letting Na'ilah sniff and stare at a cat was a big mistake, not to be repeated.

She even said that there's no $500 deductible--the whole amount will be covered.

"You have a great day--a great week!" Sarah said as she hung up.

I sat there stunned with the good news.  Yes--a great day.  A great week.