Monday, December 29, 2008

Merry Otis?

Well, the old dog is hanging in there. He gave us one more Christmas. A white one, in fact. The tumor seems to be growing again, and Otis seems to have slowed a bit, but I'm hoping it's simply the snow and cold temps that have him a bit...disinterested, shall we say. I'm reminded of a funny story my friend Seamus told me the other day about his dog, Jack. Jack is a West Highland Terrier who spent his long life in the comforts of Santa Monica, CA before recently moving with Seamus and his family to Minneapolis, MN. Seamus is married to one of Dustin Hoffman's daughters, and on Dustin's way east to do press for his upcoming movie he stopped for a visit. Seamus and his wife usually give Dustin a few funny stories about the grandkids so he has something to talk about other than the same ol' responses about the movie. This time Seamus told him how Jack is so offended by the sub freezing temps that when he or his wife open the front door to let him go pee, instead of going out, Jack walks up to the threshold, lifts his leg and pees on the door jam. I laughed so hard. And then, just like that, there's Dustin on Regis and Kelly relaying the story.  I just wonder where Jack goes poo.

Back to's a video and some snaps. Oh, yeah, one upside to the snow covered ground is that Otis has had no desire to trudge down the street and ransack his favorite dumpster. Well, it's an upside for me. It's more likely the reason he's seemingly down.

Ok, take the picture already and let me back in.

I'm not one for dressing a dog up or down, but you have to admit that Otis looks pretty damn good in a scarf.

So this is what they mean!

Cat, this is BS.

A coke and a smile, my ass.

Friday, December 19, 2008

My Little Dumpster Diver

I know Otis has the Big C now and I'm supposed to be spoiling him rotten, but my goodness, the little guy sure can get on my nerves. I just don't think I can let him out on his own anymore. The coyote is one deterrent, but minor compared to his current obsession with the 3/4-full dumpster at the home construction site on the end of the block. Otis will walk to our front door and give me his "I gotta pee" look he's given me a million times, but I'm convinced now it's just a front for an opportunity to high-tail it down the street to harvest for gold. Two early evenings in a row now I've had to trudge down there in the slushy snow to spook him out of that damn collection of filth. Believe me, it ain't gold.

He crawls under the temporary barbed-wire fence that surrounds the property and he leaps up into the opened end of the dumpster. It's filled with lath and plaster, rusty nails, dry rot, wires and cables, all sorts of other debris, and discarded scraps from the workers lunches, which is what Otis is actually digging for. I literally found him burrowed beneath the lath and plaster chowing down on something buried underneath. And to make matters worse - and I don't know if I've mentioned this or not - he's gone completely deaf over the past three months! He never listened before, but now he has a built in excuse when he doesn't acknowledge my call. So imagine me there attempting to get his attention from the other side of the barbed wire fence. It's dark, he's buried, and I'm so steaming mad that I'm melting the snow beneath my feet. To boot, I'm standing in a neighbors garden which allows me the slope I need to get high enough to look down into the dumpster positioned in the driveway next door. I have to reach down with my hand to roll a snowball solid enough to throw towards Otis to get his attention, but not hard enough that it would mame him should I accidentally strike the bugger with it.

Fortunately, my toss hit in front of him and splattered debris and snow into his face. He looked up and spotted me and knew immediately he was in deep doo-doo. He climbed his way out of the hole, licked his chops, jumped out of the dumpster, ducked under the fence, and scampered away from me just in time to allude my right foot to his butt. He runs all the way home, barks at the front door hoping Nicole or Sam will open it up before I get there myself, then goes and takes refuge behind them. This does not delay his detention for long, and it's off to his bed in the kitchen where he must stay until I deem whatever he scavenged in the dumpster digested. I don't want it coming up on the shag rug in the living room, after all.

It just chaps me that he knows what he's doing is wrong. And he knows there are consequences, yet he does it every chance he gets, and sometimes, like today, he's even creating those chances. Man, if he hangs in here long enough that Stella starts crawling on the same floors he's walking on I don't know what I'm gonna do. After romps like in his video and what I've witnessed tonight, well, it's disgusting. Maybe I'll get him a pair of booties for Christmas.

What also chaps me is that I've been feeding Otis like a damn King for the past six years and he still feels a need to go hunt for cat poop in flower beds and lunch scraps in dumpsters. I began feeding Otis raw meat and organic vegetables over six years ago. It was the after the first bout with cancer that Dr. Judkins suggested I get Otis off of processed dog food and start him on raw meat. When I asked if he'd be able to handle it, he pointed out to me that dogs are carnivores and they've only been eating crappy dog food for 60 years. His point was that their system could more than handle it. And on top of that, Otis would be a lot more satisfied. Dr. J's feeling was that there's something that's causing all of these unexplained cancers and illnesses in dogs and cats, and he figured a lot of it probably had to do with processed pet foods. So, I bought into it. I figured it could only help. I also figured it wasn't going to be a long-term commitment. We'd already removed twelve little tumors for Otis and I figured there were more to come. But here we are six years and gobs of money and effort later and only now has the cancer returned.

I remember the first time I fed him the raw meat and veggies. He absolutely devoured it. Just like a carnivore, in fact. And when he was finished he looked up at me and I swear it was as if to say, "Geez, what the hell have you been feeding me all these years?"

Otis' coat took on an immediate shine. He's eyes literally sparkled. He suddenly had a ton more energy. And his poops were so perfect and firm that you could have played football with them. Ok, that's gross, but it's true. He was a whole new dog. And what was best was that he didn't grow a single new tumor.

So what I'm going to do now is take you through the process by posting some pictures of the lengths I go to keep this puppy alive and kicking. And by the end hopefully you too will feel my pain when it comes to his little scavenger hunts.

The preparation begins with a trip to New Seasons grocery store. When I first put Otis on the raw meat diet I used to have to go to the meat department in the back of the store and ask if they had any of their pet food in the freezer. Usually they did. It wasn't a mainstream item of day but they tried to keep stock in the back for the few like me who desired the carnivore route. Instead of tossing the meat scraps into the trash, someone had the bright idea of using them for profit, and believe me, I've contributed a lot of profit! My good money is paying for chicken gizzards, hearts, livers, backs and necks. Yeah, not many humans would want to eat this over a thigh or a breast, but dogs don't discriminate when it comes to raw meat, which is why cat and squirrel would be on most of their menus, too! Anyway, this meat has become so popular with owners that New Seasons built a cooler in the pets aisle and they've been stocking it for a couple of years now.

Carrots, yum. Maybe it's true what they say about carrots and eyesight. Otis can spot a table scrap from three houses away. Too bad they don't make a veggie for hearing.

I switch back and forth between green and red cabbage. Green is cheaper by the pound, but red seems to be more dense and last longer, both in shelf life and in the fridge itself. I suppose it's a wash. Either way, Otis eats both. He'll even eat cabbage by a la carte! One funny thing I like to do is feed Otis a piece of cabbage then take a picture of him while he's chewing it. Makes it look like he's talking. Hilarious.

I don't often feed him beets, I more just got them for this photo-op because they're pretty. He eats them too, though. There's not much he won't eat.

Again, the radish were more for the pretty picture. I don't often use "wet" veggies in his food because they tend to make the end result a bit too, well...wet. But again, Otis love a radish. He'll eat these a la carte as well.

Broccoli is a HUGE favorite of Otis'. Unlike President Bush(41), he LOVES broccoli.

I stick about a week supply of veggies into the Cuisinart and chop them all up. The photo above is not a weeks supply, I just thought it was pretty so I took the photo.

This is almost a weeks supply of veggies. I find that a weeks supply is about the distance the veggies can go in the fridge without getting a little too stinky by the time they're gone. So basically, I go through the shopping and Cuisinart process about once a week. You add that up over six years and perhaps you will appreciate my disdain for Otis when I find him rifling through a dumpster.

Green Alternative is the bomb. It provides all the vitamin and mineral goodness the meat and veggies might not. This includes Organic Flax Seed Meal, Spirulina(grown without chemicals), Organic Pumpkin Seed and Organic Garlic - as if Otis needs any help making his breath any worse.

This is what it looks like when it's ready to serve. And as you can see, Otis is always ready to go.

And go.

And go.

And this is what I mean by licking his chops.

You'll never believe this, but Otis just barked at the front door. He wants out. Damn him.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Whose Territory Is It Anyway?

Tonight I let Otis out to relieve himself. Normally I go back to doing my thing and wait for Otis to bark once to alert me he wants back in. But this time I stayed at the front door and waited. I figured he'd be quick since there's still snow on the ground and it's so cold outside. He's a fair weather dog. But tonight he took a little longer than I expected. He sniffed around a bit. Peed. Pooped. Then for some reason he continued to loiter about. So I decided I better go out and check on him. And thank goodness I did because right there in my front yard stood Otis and a freaking coyote. A coyote! Right here in Northeast Portland! Sent chills right up my spine. I have no idea what his intentions were, and neither did Otis, obviously because he just stood there and looked at the coyote as indifferently as every other dog he's ever met. I think it kind of caught the coyote off guard. The whole scene caught me off guard. I shouted "Arrghhh" like some sort of drunk pirate, which startled the coyote and set him to moving on. I tried to get a shot of it with my iphone, but the coyote was too quick and disappeared into the night.  

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Herbal Otis

Time for a long awaited Otis update. The old guy has made an unrivaled comeback. We went to spend some more money at the vet this week and were told that the way Otis is responding to treatment, he might just hang around for years to come. There is still no sense in doing surgery on the primary tumor since we have conclusive evidence that the cancer has spread about his body, but there's no telling how long his body will continue to function properly as long as the herbs keep doing the trick. And also, as I was lectured in a very nice way, the power of positive thinking goes a very long way. Doc told me that there's a huge difference in the health of the pets of people with a positive outlook versus the crabapples who whine, moan, worry and complain. His point to me was to stop fretting over whether Otis had two days, two weeks or two years and just be happy with the time we got. I told you Dr. J was a straight shooter.  Then he brought out his camera and took our picture for a case study! 

Anywho, here are some snaps and a breakdown of what all these herbs are all about. I'm no doctor, and I don't even play one on TV, so don't hold me to the facts, but I believe what I'm about to explain to be true. 

NATURAL HYDROCORTISONE aka, Steroids. Natural steroids, not anabolic, which means Otis won't be gunning for the Tour De France this year, after all. I think this particular steroid comes from the adrenal glands of cows. There is nothing synthetic, which means Otis' head won't grow even bigger than it already is, and he won't be prone to temper tantrums and questionings on Capitol Hill. Natural Hydrocortisone is credited with stabilizing and breaking down the Mast Cell Tumor, and preventing the histamines from having their way with poor Otis. Without this miracle pill, Otis would already be marking territory in dog heaven.

Neoplasene combats swelling and histamines, which were the cause of all the swelling in the first place. It wasn't the tumor itself that caused Otis' 3am visit to the emergency room, it was the histamines that were being fired out of the tumor that caused it. Most likely, it was the needle biopsy of the tumor that angered it and caused it to react. For Otis, it was akin to having an allergic reaction to a bee sting. In hindsight, it would have been wise to start Otis on the steroids immediately after the biopsy, just in case the histamines went on a tear, which they did, and is why Otie woke me up in the middle of the night as if to say, "Uh, WTF, daddio?"

Also, Neoplasene slows growth of cancer. As it was explained to me, normal cells die off and are replaced by new ones. A tumor is basically a cell that won't die. That's a bad thing. So Neoplasene works to break the tumor down and possibly die.

Lotus is like newly fallen snow on a mountain the night before the skiers arrive - it's fresh powdery goodness. It's also the Chinese herb formula that Dr. Judkins concocted about six years ago after Otis' first go 'round with these pesky Mast Cell Tumors. We had Otis on Lotus for about a year before we decided he could survive without. Now that the cancer is back, he's back on and will stay on for the duration. This particular concoction is derived from old Chinese formulas,  and prepared specific for Otis' pattern of symptoms, so says the good doctor. Again, tumors are stagnant, and this formula is meant to create energy in the tumor in order to treat the stagnation and possibly break it down, even. 

This one is no fun but very important. It's no fun because twice a day I have to stick two dropperfuls into Otis' mouth completely against his will. It was easier when he had no energy to object, but now that he does I usually end up squirting it on the floor, my pants, the back of my hand, the wall, or in his eye. Anywhere but his mouth, it seems. The tincture is detox in case the tumor is actually breaking down. It cleans out toxins and makes him feel better. Of course, that's just my side of the story. Based on the whole experience of injecting it, he might tell you otherwise.

Next post we will cover Otis' diet and how he eats like a freaking king.

Woof. Out.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Meow Kitty

Update on Otis. At this moment he is resting comfortably at my feet. I'm sitting at my desk and heard some purring and rustling behind me. I turned around to see Olav the cat using Otis' melon as a rubbing post. I grabbed my handy little Flip Mino and shot the scene. Here it is. (P.S. - I'll be posting later today to give a more detailed update on Otis' remarkable recovery. Gotta love the Chinese and their herbal ways!)

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Secret Life Of Otis

I probably don't pray enough in my life. I'm not a church going guy, but I do believe in the power of prayer. I'm not sure who answers them, but I think somebody is listening. How else could you explain Otis' remarkable comeback? I guess you could also explain it as the power of steroids and mysterious Chinese herbs, but I suspect it's a combination of all of it. 

So, when Otis got so sick, I was disappointed in myself that I never went through with my plan to rig my video camera onto him so that I could see where the hell he goes and what the hell he does when I let him roam free. All I know is that he disappears into the neighborhood and reappears sometime later. I've had a sneaky suspicion that he hits the usual dumping grounds of the neighborhood cats, and I know he loves sneaking into the construction site down the street on the corner where all the workers set their lunches down in pinchable positions. The construction has been going on for the entire summer and now into winter. It's a haven for Otis, and it's a miracle that a backhoe or a rusty nail hasn't already claimed him. 

Anyway, Otis has somehow gone from deathbed to marching to the beat of his own drum in a matter of 48 hours. I woulda bet a healthy sum of money that Otis wasn't going to wake up on Tuesday morning based on his condition on Monday night. He wasn't eating, drinking or able to walk. I couldn't even touch him because he was in too much pain. And now, as you'll see in the video, he's back to being Otis - the most famous and lovable dog in the hood, with nary a sign that cancer is on it's own march.

I don't want to give too much away in the video, but I will say that the 11 or so minutes pretty much sums up who he is. As I suspected, he looks into a couple hot spots in the neighbor's yards, but he also finds people to approach, some are strangers, and some are longtime fans. The first group he encounters are four Comcast workers who were just standing around outside their vans, which is why, I suspect, we are all waiting for them from anytime between 8 and noon. Then there are some old girlfriends who spot him and their dog barks at him. Otis, of course, pays no mind. Then he heads for the construction site where you see they're obviously familiar with him, and he is obviously familiar with their surroundings. Then I think he finally finds some kitty roca. Then he discovers something under plastic but I'm not sure what, and I'm not sure he knows either.

Then, as always, he makes his way home. 

And now, when the prayers and herbs stop working, I can always take this walk with him.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It's A Matter Of Life And Death

I was talking to my friend Peter today about the experience of life and death and how one begets the other. When Otis got sick I couldn't help but remember when my Mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor. We found out only weeks after it was learned Alice was pregnant and I was going to be a dad for the first time. My mom was given 3 to 18 months to live. Our goal was to get Sam born before she passed on. Thankfully, we made it and my mom was able to hold Sam in her arms for the first couple months of his life. I remember it feeling like a sort of hand off, as if my mom was saying, "your turn." Peter's point to me was that one life replaces another. Now, I realize Otis isn't a human. Yes, he's a dog. But he is a life. An extremely important life. He is family. In fact, in these past heavy days, Sam has referred to Otis as his only brother. So I find it not so surprising that Otis is getting ready to say goodbye now that Stella has arrived. And it's probably pretty obvious to him that it's "Stella's turn." 

A little story about Monday night when we thought Otis was leaving us. He was lying in his spot at the end of Sam's bed. He was laboring to breath. His eyes were heavy and rolling back in his head. Sam was certain Otis was dying and gave him permission to "let go." He was distraught. Then, alarmingly, he said to me, "Daddy who's that? Who's that?!" He was pointing toward the wall to the right of his bed. 

"Where," I asked from my position to his left.

"Right there," he pointed, "Who is that sparkly man? Is he coming to take Otis?"

I saw nothing before he disappeared from Sam's sight too. But Sam quickly grabbed his drawing pad and feverishly drew the figure pictured above. It was truly amazing to watch it take shape. It was almost as if it drew itself. The man was holding a staff which turned out to be a harp. And then there was the leash that wrapped it's way up his arm. The man's eyes were closed. 

Now hear me out. I actually think Sam saw something. Just before my mom passed away I saw something very similar. She was lying in her bed at the hospice house. It was 6am and my dad was sleeping in a reclining chair next to her. One of my brother's was asleep on the floor, and I was lying in the window sill on top of an air conditioning vent. We'd been at my mom's bedside for two or three days. We'd all given her permission to leave but she held on a little longer than they thought she might. Suddenly, I shot up out of my sleep and looked across the dark room towards the open door to where I saw a beautiful flowing feminine figure floating in the hallway looking toward me. After a beat, she gracefully floated away. I jumped down from my position and raced to the door. I looked down the long, dimly lit corridor to see absolutely nothing. As I stood there wondering what I saw, my dad softly spoke the words, "She's leaving us."

My dad and brother got up and we all gathered around her bedside. She took three more breaths and stopped. At once, there was this palpable presence hovering above us. It was one of the coolest things I've ever experienced. And to this day I 100% believe that the figure I saw was either my mom giving us one last look, or some type of angel coming to take her away. You'll never convince me otherwise. 

And so when Sam saw this sparkly man, I couldn't doubt that what he saw was true. All signs pointed to Otis leaving in that moment, but Sam prayed hard for "just one more day." I think both that angel and Otis(and maybe the steroid) conspired to answer Sam's prayer. 

Otis has given Sam two days now and he's seeming to gain more and more strength. When I got home from work tonight he even wagged his tail. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

You Can Take The Dog Out Of The Fight, But...

I took Otis to see the good doctor this morning. Dr. Judkins is the greatest. He has my full endorsement. He's a straight-shooter, puts the animals health and well-being first, and always seems to have an optimistic outlook and mindful game plan.

I was certain that Otis wasn't going to make it through the night. Once he did, I felt a little more hope. Still, when I left for the vet's office, I wasn't sure he'd be coming home with me. But then I watched him put his nose to the door(see photo above) and I realized he still had some fight. That door is the only way out.  

Dr. J didn't sugarcoat it when he told me Otis could shut down anytime because the cancer has spread. Furthermore, the main tumor is firing off histamines at will. As I understand it, the histamines are what are causing most of Otis' discomfort. So he came up with an assortment of Chinese herbs and tinctures to fight against the histamines and ease his pain. And the steroids he prescribed yesterday have obviously already done wonders in getting him back on his feet. I'm thinking next stop, Tour De France.

I kid. But I would relish the opportunity for one more Christmas. That would be the greatest gift. Dr. Judkins thinks it's totally possible. For now, we take it day by day. Otis will let me know when it's time, but in the meantime, we'll try to get back to a sense of normalcy, although I do plan to spoil him rotten in the process. Maybe that is all the incentive he needs. 

Prayers Answered

It was another long one, but Otis made it through the night. He even got to his feet this morning and accepted the leftover turkey in which I hid his meds. Now we're off to the vet to see if we can't buy some more time and comfort. Now that we got him through the night, all we're asking for is one more Christmas. Then we'll take it from there. 

Monday, December 1, 2008

"Livin' on Borrowed Time" - John Lennon

As I feared, last night was not without drama. Otis woke us up in great distress and I found myself at the Dove Lewis Pet Hospital at 3:45 in the morning. They stabilized poor Otis before an ultrasound revealed the cancer has spread to Otis' spleen and beyond. Surgery would not even be an option. My next step, if we make it through this night, is to take Otis to see Dr. Judkins and determine if steroids might buy our boy some comfort and time. Presently, Otis is resting peacefully at the foot of Sam's bed, where he has rested countless nights before. Only this night it's different. Sam and I tearfully said our goodbyes to Otis, just in case he needs to move on. Sam, bless his heart, told Otis all on his own that it is ok for him to let go. I can guarantee that it was the single most difficult thing he has ever done. But it didn't stop us from saying a night time prayer where we asked for at least one more day. Is there anything more gut-wrenching than losing a longtime pet? Where does this emotion come from? As I said in the previous post, I thought I'd been preparing myself for this. Trust me, you can't prepare. Throw in a distraught ten-year-old son who speaks to his dog some of the most honest and poignant words you'll ever hear and you see the injustice of the brief lifespan placed on such a wonderful creature. 

Anyway... is one of my favorite poems:

by Billy Collins

The way the dog trots out the front door
every morning
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to his doghouse
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart with milky admiration.

Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance--
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Gandhi with his staff and his holy diapers?

Off he goes into the material world
with nothing but his brown coat
and his modest black collar,
following his wet nose,
the twin portals of his steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of his tail.

If only he did not shove the cat aside
every morning
and eat all her food
what a model of self-containment he
would be,
what a paragon of earthly detachment.
If only he were not so eager
for a rub behind the ears,
so acrobatic in his welcomes,
if only I were not his god.