Life on crutches

Spoiler alert: It sucks. Actually, that’s probably not much of a spoiler alert since it seems as though most people I talk to have been on them at some point in their life already. I guess it’s a testament to my luck that this is the first time I’ve broken a bone. (We’re not counting the toe I likely broke when I drunkenly slammed it into a table leg several years ago.)

I’m extremely lucky that I work from home, so my day-to-day hasn’t been inconvenienced in a way that affects my job performance or ability to get to and from work.

But everything else has been affected, and a lot of things I used to barely think about doing are now incredibly inconvenient. I can’t get into or out of the shower on my own, I have to use a chair once I’m in there, and it takes forever to get dressed. I shower at night now because I don’t want to have to get up a couple hours earlier in the morning—and I don’t even dry my hair anymore. Since I broke my ankle four weeks ago, I think I’ve put product in and dried my hair twice.

Things like forgetting a piece of clothing in another room turn into a logistical nightmare. There is no more quickly getting up and grabbing something I forgot somewhere. I’m fairly quick on the crutches now, but I can’t carry anything unless it can be held in my hand along with the crutch grip. I drink all of my water out of Nalgene bottles that have a loop attached to their caps. My snacking has been cut down considerably because if I can’t fit it in my pocket, I’m not able to carry it back to my desk. I plan out my trips to the bathroom to maximize my time being upright—I’m constantly scanning rooms and making mental notes of things I need to move or bring back with me before I sit down again.

I’m incredibly lucky that Ian has been able to help me with literally everything, though. Since this happened, he’s been cooking every meal and bringing it to me on the couch. He comes home at lunch to let the dogs out/in (I can do this now, but if it’s wet outside I’m unable to wipe their feet down), fix me lunch and carry it over to my desk for me to eat it. He’s been walking the dogs, cleaning the house (I did manage to clean the kitchen and the bathrooms at one point, but I paid for it with foot swelling and ankle pain later), carrying my foot-elevating pillows from the bed to the couch and back again every day, and moving stuff around the house that I can’t carry, which is almost everything.

When I do have to leave the house, he has to help me down our steep staircase in front of the house. He takes my right crutch and I hold onto him and the left crutch as I try to put the least amount of weight on my right foot for each step down. We repeat the process for getting back into the house.

My insurance finally approved a monthly rental of a knee scooter, but it’s not as big of a help as I thought it would be. It’s got a basket on the front, which helps me carry small things to and fro, but it’s cumbersome to move in small spaces and I keep running over my left foot when I try to back it up to navigate around things.

I tried putting some weight on my foot while in the boot this weekend and it was slightly liberating—but now my ankle hurts worse than it has for a week or two. So now I’m back to taking it easy and not pushing things. The pain isn’t always terrible, but I’m not a huge fan of pain killers and have been trying to not take them unless I think I won’t be able to sleep because it hurts too much. (For reference, I just finished the bottle of 20 that I was prescribed in the ER the night I broke my ankle. It was meant to last three or four days.) I really hope when everything is healed I don’t have lasting issues from this, but the more people I talk to the more worried about that I get.

I’ve never been good at waiting, but that’s all I can do now. I feel a little relief that this happened in the middle of winter and not right as the weather was changing to lovely spring days, because I’d likely be spending most of my time indoors anyway. It’s been chilly and rainy most days, and the dogs have been mostly content to sit on the couch and chill. We did start sending Stella to camp twice a week instead of once so that she doesn’t get too bored (or fat) from not leaving the house as much as she’s used to, but Star Fox has been more than happy to stay inside with me so I don’t feel too guilty.

I miss being able to do a lot of things, but most of all I’ll be glad when I can walk the dogs again. That’s probably what I miss the most.

It's a wild Saturday night at my house.

The DNA results are in!

A couple weeks ago, we did a Wisdom Panel DNA test on Stella to find out what the hell she is since we had no idea and everywhere we go with her people ask us. We’d been telling people she was definitely a herding breed since she herds everything around her (people, cats, other dogs, groundhogs…) and is likely mixed with Chow. We assumed the herding breed was Border Collie (or just regular Collie) or Australian Shepherd, mainly because of her smaller size (she’s 35 lbs, though the vet wants her to be around 30. Hey, my girl likes to eat.).

Today we got the results in and she’s…

Mostly mixed breed (38 percent), with herding breed as the most likely group. (This means that her lineage was mixed farther back than the three generations they can test for.) I was kind of afraid this would happen, since we figured she had to be mixed with a lot of stuff to not have a prominent look of any recognizable breed.

Stella!

Boston Terrier my ass. She’s way too cute.

After this, she’s 25 percent Chow, which I can’t see in her face but definitely in her fluffiness. Then she’s equal parts Golden Retriever (she’s got the ears), Irish Setter (I can see this in her fringe fur) and Boston Terrier—ew, gross. Those dogs are seriously butt ugly. However, I think the Boston Terrier part would explain her size, since all of those other breeds she’s supposedly mixed with are much larger than she is. Boston Terriers generally weigh around 10-20 pounds and are much shorter than she is, so I could see how mixing a small dog like that with the other larger breeds would yield a medium-sized beast like Stella.

It’s pretty funny to learn about her Chow-ness, though, since when we set out looking to adopt a dog I was adamant about avoiding dogs with Chow in them because they are known for being aggressive assholes. She must have only gotten the fluffiness and coloring from her Chow ancestors—she is a very sweet pup and not aggressive toward people, dogs or cats at all.

This was super-fun, but it also makes me want to do a different DNA test on her to compare! I might wait until there’s one available that can go back farther, though, since she’s apparently a serious, serious mutt. But she’s my mutt, and she’s unique, and I wouldn’t change her for anything.

Stella's DNA ancestry

Stella’s ancestry

We’re getting there

Happy dogStella is the first dog I’ve ever had, so I’m not sure if she’s more or less protective than most. But she is a great watch-dog. I feel safer when she’s in the house with me, especially at night. She does this thing where she’s sitting on the floor by the couch with us and she thinks she hears something, but instead of a full-on bark she kind of puffs. Like “buff, buff!” It starts out strong but gets quieter, until she’s sure the danger has passed.

She’s getting good at recognizing Ian’s car and footsteps, and she rarely barks anymore when he comes home at night unless his arrival wakes her up from a nap.

I’ve been working on training her to walk on a loose leash, with varying degrees of success. She still pulls, but I’ve found that tying a half-hitch around her waist just above her legs—so that when she pulls it puts some pressure there—helps tone it down some. Wednesday night it snowed, though, and all bets were off. She wanted to plow her way through untouched snow all over the neighborhood yesterday morning, and who was I to stop her? I wanted to do the same thing.

UntitledIt’s funny how having a dog suddenly makes all outdoors adventures much more fun. I loved hiking before, but now that we have Stella it’s all I want to do on the weekends. And I’d never dream of going without her. Last year we got about the same amount of snow (8 inches) and we were all “Let’s throw the cats outside for a few minutes. Ok, back inside!” But this year? I woke up Thursday morning and the first thing I did was take Stella outside so we could explore our neighborhood covered in a puffy white blanket. Ian ran around in the backyard with her. The cats were still unimpressed.

Having a dog is still challenging at times, especially when all I want to do is lay around or play a video game and she wants me to watch her sit outside and eat sticks. Or let her inside, and then outside, and then inside again. And then outside. But for the most part, we’re past the “developing routines” stage and into a good rhythm. We’re at the beginning of the fun part, I think. Somewhere among house-breaking and obedience classes and hikes and bar-hopping I acquired this little sidekick, and I rarely want to go anywhere without her now.

Dogs are pretty cool

I had this whole blog post written up comparing the way I relate to my cats vs. Stella, but I just re-read it and I sound like I’ve really gone off the deep end. Maybe I have. Maybe I was never sane to begin with. That’s probably more like it.

Anyway, things are good. The house is starting to feel more harmonious; BK has been spending time out of her cat tree, down on the couch with us and sleeping in the bed every night. She ignores Stella for the most part, and will hiss and smack her if she gets too rowdy when she’s nearby, but I’ve seen them sleeping on the couch next to each other a few times so I know she’s not scared or too irritated by her.

We’ve enrolled Stella in a dog day camp once a week to help her expend all of that puppy energy, and let me tell you: It’s not cheap but it’s worth every penny. She comes home completely exhausted and is calm for at least the next day, sometimes two days. She also comes home completely covered in dog spit and dirt, so we’ve had to start bathing her after each visit. She’s pretty good in the tub, but I need to get one of those hand-held sprayers or shower heads that hooks onto a tub faucet. She’s got so much fur, especially now that she has her winter coat, that it takes forever to rinse the shampoo out of her.

I’ve also hired a trainer to come to the house and help me train her with leash walking. We met Julie at Play Dog Excellent when she was the teacher for Stella’s most recent obedience class, Manners Matter. She came out to the house on Tuesday and showed me some exercises I can do outside to help Stella learn where she should walk in relation to me on our walk, and then more importantly, what I can do to teach her not to pull. She’s preparing a full assessment on Stella (which I can’t wait to read), but the main thing is that while Stella wants to please, she also gets ridiculously excited when she goes outside. I need to learn to break through that excitement and get her to focus on me. Hoo boy.

One of the things we learned in that Manners Matter class is that with a “toddler-aged” dog (10 months to two years), you’re going to have a lot of good and a lot of bad days. This is one of the truest things I think I’ve ever heard. We’ll have days where I think Stella is growing up, where she seems like the smartest and best-behaved dog. And then we’ll have days where she scratches to go outside and wants back in 20 times in an hour. Where she won’t stop pacing when I’m trying to work. Where I’ll try to walk her and she’ll go in all different directions and bark at anything that moves.

But man, the good days are so good. She’s getting more affectionate, and sometimes Ian will put her up in the bed with me in the morning and she’ll lay against me and go back to sleep. When we’re driving somewhere she’ll get up on the center console for a bit so she can see out the front window, and she’s started doing this thing where she will lean against me. At first I thought it was for balance, but I’ve noticed her doing it when we’re driving straight ahead. And more and more often I catch her leaning up against Ian as she sleeps on the couch.

Our bed is too high for her to get up and down safely on her own, so we’re looking for some dog stairs that are tall and deep enough to use. She’s a bit nervous around stairs in general, so it might take some practice, but hopefully she’ll get used to them and in the mornings she can join the animal pile that our bed becomes.

As long as BK doesn’t mind, that is. That cat rules the bed and even we have to move to accommodate her.

That’s the last time I let Stella pick the trail

She started down the path with such authority that I figured she knew where she was going. Never mind that she was a newly turned one-year-old puppy who’d never been on the trail before. She was so insistent that I, attached at the back of her leash, followed her blindly.

We’d hiked two other trails at the north end of Stringer’s Ridge before, but never the Hill City trail. I didn’t know where it would lead us, but we had water and were fed and ready for a workout. We should’ve taken the trail’s name as a warning, but dogs can’t read and I was foolishly optimistic. As we ascended the mountain ahead of us, my legs started to burn and there were a couple hills that required Stella to get a running start. I used her momentum to propel myself up those hills, too. She pulled me along more often than not, and for once I was appreciative of her energy and tendency to pull on her leash. Going downhill was another story, but her excitement kept me going as my Fitbit ticked off flights of stairs climbed.

A mile and a half in, I started to get nervous. We were both getting worn out from the extreme hills and valleys we’d climbed up and over, and there was no connection point in sight. I wasn’t necessarily worried for myself, but I know Stella and I know she’s not an endurance dog. She’s a sprinter, and she’d blown through all of her puppy energy. I couldn’t pull up a map of the trail system on my phone, so I texted Ian and asked him how long the Hill City trail was.

10 miles total, he texted back. See you in six hours.

I wasn’t concerned about getting myself to the next connection point, even if it was 10 miles away, but the thought of having to carry a 32-lb dog out of the woods made that back part of my mind start to panic a bit.

This beast led me down the most difficult trail at Stringer's Ridge today, where we climbed the equivalent of 38 flights of stairs over 3.25 miles. That's the last time I let her pick the trail.

We moved off to the side of the trail so we wouldn’t meet the business end of any cyclists flying by and had some water. I gave her some of the treats I’d packed and we listened to the wind slowly lilting through the leaves that were falling around us.

We were on a directional trail, so we couldn’t turn around and go back the way we came. I knew that the trail connected with three other trails at some point, but there was no map nearby and the one that Ian consulted didn’t include mileage. We trucked on, and I was glad I packed a liter of water. We passed a blaze and I figured a connection would appear soon.

After walking a while longer, a slow-moving cyclist approached us and I asked him how far to the next trail connection point. My relief was audible as he said “Just up the hill a ways, you’ll see the big parking lot.” We walked another half mile or so and came upon a connection point and a map, where I dejectedly realized the parking lot he was talking about wasn’t the trailhead we’d parked at but some other lot that wasn’t officially part of the park.

We’d started up at the very north end of the park and now were at the very south end. We’d only gone a little more than two miles, but it was the most strenuous two miles in the trail system. A man and three old women, along with their dogs, came out of a clearing and I swallowed my pride and asked them if they knew the fastest and easiest way to get back to the Spears Ave trailhead. They were nice and pointed out a good route on the map, one that had a gradual elevation change and not the thigh-burning ridiculousness we’d just encountered.

What a gorgeous city I live in.

I gave Stella some more water and we headed out, up the Cherokee trail, and then cut over to the Strut, a trail I’ve hiked many times. She perked up when we hit the final passage of the trail, and pulled me down the hill and back to the car. I texted Ian that we made it out, turned the air conditioning on full-blast, and hauled our happy asses back to the house.

In total, we’d climbed the equivalent of 38 flights of stairs over 3.25 miles. That’s really not anything crazy, but I’d prepared to only go about a mile and a half. Luckily I always over-prepare with water, and luckily Stella is always game for a walk. She never once tried to quit. When I’d slow down she’d look behind me and smile, tongue hanging out, urging me on. She pulled me up countless hills. When she’d slow down I’d let her rest, but then encourage her to keep going. We were in sync, marveling at nature, getting our second and third winds at the same time.

And when we got home, we both resolved to do nothing else physical for the rest of the day.

Stella turns one

Last Friday we celebrated Stella’s one-year birthday, since that’s the date listed on her shelter paperwork and we really didn’t have anything else to go on. October 17 seemed like as good a day as any, so that afternoon I went to the dog bakery and got her a bunch of treats and a big cookie that said “Happy Birthday!” on it.

We decided to spoil her for the day (like she’s not spoiled every other day of her life), so all afternoon I gave her treats and then that night after she ate her dinner (I can’t believe she still ate “real” food after all the bakery treats) we went outside and gave her the gigantic cookie.

Stella is having the best night ever.

She LOVED it.

She took it over into the grass where we couldn’t steal it from her and ate the whole damn thing in about five minutes. She was so excited.

She had a pretty big Saturday, too—some friends of ours were in town and they brought their Shih Tzu, Chloe. She’s eight and wasn’t a big fan of crazy Stella jumping all over her, but eventually they played a bit and Stella was just glad to have another dog around in this house full of cats. Even if it was just for a day.

We used to call her a shark because it seemed like she thought if she stopped moving for more than 30 seconds she would die, but she has been calming down some lately and there are many nights she’ll just chill on the couch with us. Luckily, Sunday was one of those times and she hung out pretty much all day either on the floor or on the couch. I was sick with a stupid cold that won’t go away, and Ian and I were both pretty hungover, so it was the best possible time for Stella to start acting like an older dog instead of the crazy puppy she’s been for the past six months.

Don’t get me wrong—she still has a ton of energy and zooms around the yard (and the house) on a regular basis. We’re enrolling her in a once-a-week day camp program this week to try to help her expend some of that energy and to continue her socialization since we don’t have too many local friends with dogs she can play with regularly. Her spunky personality is one of the things I love most about her, and I don’t want it to go to waste sitting around all day with a bunch of lazy cats and me while I work.

But seriously, you guys. The fact that she’s starting to calm down a bit has me almost as excited as I was when she finally stopped peeing in the house.

Stella totally pwned the first night of her new obedience class

Stella is back in obedience class, this time taking one for dogs 10-24 months old called Manners Matter. It builds on the skills we learned in STAR Puppy and teaches different ways to get our dogs to focus on us and to stop pulling on their leashes, barking, jumping, etc.

The first class was Tuesday, and after the introduction we were told to make a large circle with our dogs and get ready to practice having them focus only on us for 10 seconds. I immediately got nervous and expected Stella to make a fool out of me, since in past classes most of the other dogs completed their tasks effortlessly while Stella’s tried to run around the room like a crazy asshole.

But I’ll be damned, I got her attention and said “Watch me!” and that little turd looked me dead in the eyes for 10 seconds! So I gave her the treat, and we did it again. I was afraid the first time was a fluke, but no—she focused on me again! We tried a few more times and occasionally another dog would bark and break her gaze, but for the most part she focused on me for as long as I’d ask her to (as long as it wasn’t more than 10 seconds or so).

The second skill we practiced was teaching our dogs that patience rewards you and demanding what you want means you get nothing (so basically the opposite of real life). I had to hold a treat in my hand and let her smell it, but she couldn’t have it until she moved her head back away from my hand and the treat. She could nudge and lick my hand, but as soon as she tried to use her teeth or if she touched my hand with her paw I had to put my hand behind my back and say “Nope!”

Knowing how impatient Stella is I figured she would not be on board with this patience exercise, but she surprised me again. She put her paw on my hand twice, but that’s it—the third time, and every subsequent time, she moved her head back after only a few seconds and waited for me to give her the treat.

I was so excited I yelled “Holy shit, Stella, you are so smart!” and the couple with two young kids and a German Shepherd glared at me. Their dog was whining and barking the whole time and had to have a barrier between it and the other dogs so I think they were already in a bad mood. Sorry guys, I was just celebrating how smart my shelter dog is.

No joke, after nine weeks of classes where Stella was always one of the worst-behaved dogs, this time she was the best. She got a little restless in the last five minutes of class, but otherwise she was completely on-point. If I could have high-fived her furry little paw and yelled “SUCK IT HATERS!” I totally would have. Actually, that might be a trick I try to teach her.

Joy

There’s this thing Stella does when she gets really excited. She jumps in the air, all four paws coming off the ground, and spins. She runs in front of me to do it, and looks back to make sure I’m watching. To make sure I see how happy she is.

When we first got her she used to do this at mealtime. But I guess now she’s figured out that she’s going to get fed twice a day no matter what, so it’s not that exciting anymore. At least not enough to warrant a goat jump.

But she does it for walks. She knows now in the morning that when I walk past her crate to grab my glasses, it’s almost time. She knows when I’ve put my glasses on and let her out of her crate we’re about to go for a walk. She’ll wiggle her butt when I ask her to sit before leaving the crate; it’s almost too much for her to handle. And then she’ll goat-hop out of the bedroom in front of me, looking back and smiling, making sure I see how excited and happy she is.

She’ll lead me to her leash, in case I forget where it is, and if I walk past it into the kitchen she’ll follow me, hopping some more. She smiles so much that we’ve started calling her Smiley Cyrus. With her tongue hanging out of the side of her mouth, the nickname fits. I hope the butt-wiggling isn’t her version of twerking, though.

She’s such a happy dog. I ask Ian a lot if he thinks that she loves me, since I’m always the one enforcing the rules and laying down the law. But every morning when it’s time for a walk and she looks at me with pure joy in her eyes, hopping and spinning and smiling at me, I’m pretty sure she does.

This dog, I swear

We’re getting to the point where we have more good days than bad with Stella, but she still tries my patience more often than not. She had been eating both meals a day consistently for a while, but then this morning she decided she didn’t want to eat breakfast. Granted, we got home late last night and it was around 11 p.m. when she ate dinner, so it was probably our fault.

But then she was a complete chore to walk this morning and I had to cut our walk short after only a block and a half. She lept so forcefully after a car driving by that I thought my arm was going to come out of its socket, and she whined and pulled in every direction down the block, so after she did her business I turned around and took her right back home. I tried stopping and saying “No pull,” changing direction, making her sit and calm down each time she pulled really hard, but none of it worked today so I just gave up. Hopefully she’ll be better tonight.

Everyone keeps telling me to enjoy her puppyhood, but I’ll be honest: I can’t wait for her to grow out of it and calm the hell down. I’d love to be able to start reading/playing video games/sitting still again.

Currently

This weekend Ian’s uncle came to visit, and since it rained for almost three days straight we spent much of our time eating and drinking our way around town—indoors, of course.

In what turned out to be a grave a miscalculation of value due to the weather, I had rented two lenses from LensRentals.com to try out on the new 70d I just got last month. Despite all the rain I still needed to get out and see what they could do, but Ian and his uncle were good sports and let me drag them around whenever we had a break in the rain. (Stopping at several bars along the way probably helped my cause, I’m sure.)

Ian’s uncle is a cool dude—a former prison guard at a medium security prison, he’s now retired and stopped here on his way to Cherokee, N.C., where he was going to gamble on the house for a few days. He regaled us with stories of his time in the Air Force and as a lieutenant in a correctional facility, and as a boy growing up in very, very rural West Virginia, and we introduced him to more craft beer than he knew could exist in one town. I figured out early on that in order to not spend the entire next week hung over I needed to act as the designated driver while we were out on the town, and I think that was probably the smartest decision I could have made. Those boys can really drink.

Stella gets some scratchin'

The upside to the rain, though, was that when it cleared for a bit yesterday we had some nice afternoon weather for back porch-sitting. I used the opportunity to conduct a little photoshoot with Stella, who was happy to finally be able to spend some time outdoors without getting soaked.

But now it’s Monday and it’s about to rain again. Last year when we moved to Chattanooga in July, it rained almost every day for a month. Everyone kept telling us that it was so strange for this time of year, but it looks as though the strange might have become the norm and the non-stop July rain is repeating itself.