Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Confessions of Storm's Human By: C.P. Stringham

My oldest had a few of her senior photos taken with our dogs; Hannibal the Cannibal in the first and then Stormy giving smooches. And, in the last photo, Hanni wearing one of his many doggy coats--he's very dapper!
First, let me just say, I am one of those animal people. I love my pets; each one of them for their very different personalities and quirks. Our extended fur family includes two dogs, Storm, a German Shepherd/Australian Blue Heeler cross, Hannibal, a Jack Russell Terrior/Chihuahua cross, and three cats, Skimpleshanks, Tinkerbell, and Helena Bonham Kitty (AKA Kitten Face). I am proud to say that each of them are a rescue animal of some form. Although my family has never set out to adopt a “mine” or “yours” animal, each one has a human they have taken to more than the rest. It just happens. Animal people will understand. Out of our brood, Storm and Skimble have claimed me as their human. Hanni and Helena have claimed Sydney and Tink has claimed Kenzie. My husband pays attention to each of them in his own way and isn’t offended in the least that he hasn’t been “claimed.” Storm still greets him with great zeal when he comes home and Hanni likes nothing more than to take a nice afternoon nap with his Grandpa.
Our kitties!!! My boy, Skimby, is our senior citizens. I'm afraid a sad day is coming with him.

This week’s blog post is about my girl Storm who has been with us since July 2007—three days after our dog, Star, an Australian Blue Heeler/Labrador cross left us after a sudden illness. Heartbroken and hurting from her death, I told my husband I didn’t want another dog because the pain from losing her was too much. I couldn’t put myself through it again. And then I gave in because the loneliness was worse. Star fit in so well with our family and I had been her chosen human. She was the smartest dog we’d ever been around. How many can say their puppy housebroke in just three days at nine week’s old? Star did and she was quick to learn so many other things. She also had a wonderful demeanor with children. She was a mother hen. For that reason, we hoped to find another Blue Heeler mix. My husband, not one to let us down, called all the regional shelters and struck gold on his last call. He’d gotten the number to Four Paws (a no-kill shelter) from the Elmira SPCA. They had three pups left from a litter of ten week-old Blue Heeler/German Shepherd puppies; a male and two females. I told him I couldn’t go with them to pick a puppy out, telling him I’d want them all. Analyzing it, I think it boils down to me feeling as if I wasn’t honoring Star’s memory long enough and that, by picking out a new puppy, I wasn’t mourning her in a timely tribute. I don’t know what it was. At any rate, my husband shrugged it off and took both of our daughters and my mother with him. My mom adored Star. Since she babysat our girls after work and school until my husband or I got home, she spent a lot of time with her. I guess you could say my mom was one of Star’s humans, too. She went crazy when my mom visited. Would tear up the living room in this celebratory dance when my mom walked in the door. Seriously. Back to my story, the four of them returned home to tell me they had a female on hold for a few hours and they wanted me to see her before the adoption was completed. We knew we wanted a female so I asked them how they decided between the two sisters. It was all rather scientific. Sydney, who was eleven at the time, said she took a seat on the ground as the pups ran around them. One of the two females kept coming up to her and licking her face. Star wasn’t a licker. Syd wanted puppy kisses and so a pup was picked out. I still declined to return with them, but agreed that puppy kisses would be nice.
Marvel Comics' Storm/Aurora Monroe. Photo from
Storm got her name from the Marvel Comics character because Sydney was into the X-Men movies. To my oldest, Storm was pretty kick-ass. Little did we know, her name would suit the turbulent beginning she had in our home. Just three days after coming to live with us, she developed horrible diarrhea and refused to eat or drink. She was listless and uninterested. We called our vet and they made an emergency appointment. Testing revealed she had the dreaded Canine Parvovirus. And she had it bad. Even though she had been vaccinated, our vet figures she’d gotten her vaccine two to three days too late. It can affect them that quickly. She was in desperate need of IV fluids and electrolytes so she was hospitalized and quarantined due to the high risk of contagiousness. The vet and vet techs even had to wear sterile gowns while working with her so as not to spread the virus to their other patients. They had her for a week. Our vet knew we were still hurting over our recent loss and told my husband he was going to do everything he could to save Storm—even though he told us to prepare for the worst since she was categorized as critical condition. On the last day, he said she showed signs of improvement, but they were still unsuccessful getting her to eat and it was imperative to get her digestive tract working again so she could recover. His call to my husband came with a warning, “If we can’t get her to eat within the next 24 to 48 hours, I’m afraid we will lose her.” What he recommended next was a last ditch effort on his behalf. He explained that with her quarantine, it was difficult for them to have quality contact with her. That he felt she was depressed and had lost her will to live. Dr. Wilcox knew what he was going to ask us to do would be hard on our family in the event it didn’t work, but he asked anyway. He felt that, if we brought her home to her family and she got some one-on-one attention, she may come around. We agreed to give it a try even though, just ten days prior, Star had passed away at home. When I picked her up, I had to meet the vet tech around back because they didn’t want to risk contamination by using the front of the office. Storm was wrapped in a blanket and barely lifted her head when I took her. The vet tech went over the instructions with getting her to eat as the top priority. She said Dr. Wilcox said he didn’t care what we gave her as long as it was just a small amount to get it going.

Once we were home, I uncovered her and was shocked that this skin and bones puppy was still alive. A patch of fur had been shaved off to allow for her IV. Probably against all sorts of health rules, I held her against me, tucking her under my chin and kissing her, talking to her about how much we wanted her to get better. I was a blubbering mess. I boiled boneless skinless chicken breast and made plain rice for her. Mixed it together in a small portion. She wouldn’t even take the time to give it a cursory sniff. Two hours later, still nothing. Not even a drink of water. That’s when I decided to fry some hamburger for her. Once it was done, I rinsed it off in the sink using a strainer. I added it to her food dish before taking a pinch of it and opened her jowls to put it on her tongue. She squirmed and lolled her tongue back and forth. I wouldn’t let her spit it out. Finally, she swallowed it. I gave her a moment and then did it again. And again. I sat her down in front of her dish and watched her take to her wobbly legs to sniff the hamburger. And then, she started eating it. I wasn’t quick to get my hopes up. I knew they said the true test would be to see if she could keep it down and then the next would be to see if her stool had changed from watery to solid. As the day went on, I gave her a tablespoon of hamburger every few hours with no bouts of vomiting. By the next day, she was more alert and active as her coordination and strength seemed to be returning. All signs of diarrhea seemed to be gone as well. By the third day, she had rounded the corner into recovery. Storm survived Parvovirus!! Within two weeks, she gained weight and grew taller. She was a happy puppy in love with her home and her family.
On the morning of my youngest daughter’s eighth birthday, tragedy hit. While Kenzie was carrying her, like a baby, Storm had playfully bit at her face and Kenzie dropped her on our concrete walkway. The sound was loud and distinct. It was obvious to all in the vicinity that her front leg was broken. My husband called our vet’s answering service. Dr. Wilcox was interrupted during his Sunday morning at church and returned our call. He was distraught over hearing about the latest turn of events for Storm and told my husband to bring her in and they would open the office for her. His son, Dr. Andy, examined her and consulted x-rays. The fall had, indeed, broken both ulna and radius bones in her front left leg. My husband called home with the news. I was worried they would want to put her down and was insistent that we do everything we could for her. She’d been through so much already. Dr. Andy reassured us that he was determined not to let that happen. He felt they were clean breaks and set them. She came home in a paw to elbow cast that weighed more than she did. A week later, we took her back for a new cast. Puppies grow quickly and putting on new casts would accommodate growth spirts. We did this one other time and, within four weeks, she was x-rayed and her bones were perfectly healed. Thank you, Dr. Andy!!!
Even with her shaky start, Storm can run like the wind. She turns up the dust in our fenced in backyard as she completes her “guard duty” tours as protector of our family. Despite having a collar with clanking tags hanging from it, she has managed to catch and kill nine birds—she’s THAT fast. At seven, almost eight years old, she has slowed down quite a bit. She’ll get stiff at night after a particularly active day running around with Hannibal and playing chase. All in all, our middle-aged girl still has it.
Storm, in various stages, catching up on
her sleep at home after her surgery and
Hannibal observing. 
This past July, we noticed a small lump on her lower abdomen. Our vet checked it out and said it was hard to tell if it was the start of a cyst or a tumor. Dr. Fedderman told us to keep an eye on it for any changes. This past January, within weeks, it quadrupled in size and color. In fact, it looked like Storm had grown a testicle. We had her in last week and Dr. Warner expressed her concerns over the progression of it. She consulted with Dr. Andy, their clinic surgeon, and he agreed that it needed to be removed as soon as possible. Storm is reasonably young and still full of energy. Overall, she’s a wonderful dog. She is well-disciplined, wonderful around young children, other pets, and would protect my family with her very last breath—of this, I have no doubt. While we knew the surgery would set us back financially, we opted to do what we could to help prolong her life. I dropped her off yesterday for a lumpectomy for her apparent mammary cancer. While having her under, they also removed a fatty tumor from the base of her sternum. It was excruciatingly hard as we waited on an update call from the clinic. When it finally came, we were at Kenzie’s pediatric neurology appointment and the call couldn’t come through on my husband’s cell phone. It wasn’t until we were on our way home from Ithaca that my husband noticed he had a voicemail. Dr. Andy reported that Storm went under and came out of anesthesia with no trouble. He found the tumor still encapsulated and fairly easy to remove. He’s confident it didn’t spread and he was able to get everything. The second, much smaller lump, appeared to be a fatty mass and is most likely benign material. He said he removed it as a precaution. The prognosis is for a full recovery and he said she could come home the next day.
My husband and I made the 25 minute commute to pick her up. It was difficult keeping tears from falling as the vet tech brought her out to us. I hate how emotional I get! Storm was soooo ready to go home. The first thing she did when she greeted me? Yup. Her tongue swiped my cheek. I love those puppy kisses! The vet tech told us that Storm refused to eat her soft dog food this morning and it was important she got it since her pain medication and antibiotic were mixed in with it. She put it in a doggy bag to send home with us. I wasn’t surprised to hear she wouldn’t eat for them. My hunger strike girl. Once we arrived home, I took her for a walk on the leash so she could piddle. I have a feeling she had been holding it for a long time. Probably didn’t want to have an “accident” in her kennel at the clinic since she never messes in the house. I brought her inside and Hanni went ballistic over being reunited with his aunt. I put her doggy bag of food on a paper plate, showed it to her, and she ate it right up—pills and all. Just as I’d told the vet tech, she wanted her human mommy.
L to R: The dreaded Cone of Shame, her mammary tumor scar, her sternum scar. Lots of boo-boos. 

She goes back in fourteen days to have her sutures removed. We chose to have samples sent out for histology testing. It will take seven to ten days for results. My husband and I want to know what type of cancer cell we’re dealing with. It will help us make decisions down the road. While we will do what we can to give our girl a full life, we are of the mindset that, at a certain point, you have to consider quality of life. We wouldn’t want to do anything to her that would make her suffer just to give us more time with her. That would be selfish. For now, x-rays reveal she has no troubling spots near her major organs and she is full of energy. Let’s hope we have many more years together!


  1. Our one dog, Baby, is gone now but when she was born her back legs wouldn't work. She literally drug them behind her as she trailed after her siblings. In fact, we didn't think she was going to survive so we never named her, just called her Baby. We took extra care of her, helping her eat and potty and washing her. And one day, her legs started working! And then keeping track of her was another story! She 'ran away' at least twice, and we thought for sure we'd lost her the second time cuz she'd been gone for over a week. But a neighbor called and I fetched her...after playing a round of 'you can't catch me' she ran right to me and got in the car.

  2. Robin, what a lucky girl Baby was. Not many would have given her the chance to come around. Syd will have to tell you the story about her hen, Gimpy, someday. :-) (CPS)