Dogs join the family

January marked a year since we said goodbye to our Black Lab, Rocket. The house has been clean but quiet since then but facing the prospect of an emptier nest this fall, Kelly and I began kicking around the idea of another dog.

In February, a friend who is a volunteer dog rescuer brought over a dog she was trying to home. While this female dog seemed okay, she was unusually focused on tracking down our porch cat and seemed to pay us little attention. It would have been nice to help our friend out by taking in this dog but that spark I expected to feel just wasn’t there with this particular dog. Our search resumed.

One of Kelly’s friends mentioned to her that there were two dogs needing a home. These dogs had been abandoned at a neighbor’s boarding service ad were part of a trio of dogs, one of which found a home with another neighborhood friend. We arranged for them to visit us so that we could decide which one we would adopt.

Our boarding service friend Laura brought the dogs, Abbot and Tobin, over March 1st and gave us their long backstory. Both are hounds who had been in the kennel for the best part of a year. One was a stray and the other was part of some kind of dog-hoarding situation. They’d been together for months.
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Let me tell you about Rocket

I’ve mentioned the sad ending of my dog, Rocket. Now let me tell you some cool things about him. Many of these I’ve blogged about over the years so some of these may be familiar to you.

Rocket was absolutely the chillest dog you would ever meet. He rarely got excited, wasn’t nervous except around thunderstorms or fireworks, and pretty much got along well with anyone, man or beast. Strangers came and went all throughout our recent home renovation and many times Rocket wouldn’t bother to lift his head.

If you could imagine a low maintenance pet, Rocket was it. I can think of only one time in the entire eleven years he lived with us that he peed in the house – and that was my fault for not reading his signals. Some of that is his fault, though, because his signal for needing to go outside was always to stand quietly in front of the door. If you weren’t paying attention you would miss it!

We brought Rocket home from the Lab Rescue of North Carolina group after seeing his photo on their website. A rescue volunteer brought him over on Travis’s fourth birthday (October 2008) so we could see how he fit into the family. Rocket immediately made himself at home, winning our hearts. It was clearly a good match.
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Saying goodbye to Rocket

Rocket in 2014. One of my favorite pictures of him.

I’ve been dreading this day but now it’s here. It’s the day we say goodbye to our beloved dog, Rocket. Today we say goodbye to a dog who has been part of our family for over ten years. Yet sometimes the right thing to do is not the easy thing to do.

He’s been in decline over the past few months and took a sharp turn for the worse over the last two days. A few months ago we noticed an occasional drop of blood in his saliva. A trip to the vet found a large mass on the back of his tongue – possibly cancer. Yet while he was bleeding all over the veterinary exam room he was bounding all around, quite happily begging for more treats. Upon hearing the tumor was inoperable, Kelly and I realized we were looking at an indefinite amount of time where we would be essentially providing Rocket hospice care, cleaning up his bloody drips and making him as comfortable as we can. So, we covered our den floor with old towels, set up his dog crate in the middle of the room, and did the best we could.

Things seemed manageable until yesterday morning when Rocket struggled to lift himself off the floor. When Kelly took him out front for a bathroom break he staggered around, not knowing where he was or what he should be doing. He spent the rest of the day sleeping in the exact same spot on the floor, never budging for anything.
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Rocket has cancer

Our family dog, Rocket, has been a part of the Turner crew for ten years now. We’ve taken him on family vacations around the region, sailing at Lake Gaston, and on countless walks around the neighborhood.

We’d noticed recently that he was slowing down but some of that is to be expected for a dog that’s around 13 years old. He used to bound up and down stairs but now took his time. His hind legs appeared much weaker than his front legs. He sometimes stumbled, dragging his rear paw. We chalked that up to old age.

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My dog’s walk memory

On the weekends, Kelly and I are sometimes slack at getting Rocket out for his daily walk. Whenever we neglect to walk him, he will spend the rest of the day nagging us about it. It never fails.

I’ve noted that the dog can forget many things. He can forget where he left his bone, he can forget that he hasn’t been fed, but he never ever seems to forget that he hasn’t been out for a walk.

It makes me wonder just how developed his sense of smell is. I’m guessing it probably takes up half of his brain.

Keeping dogs calm during thunderstorms


The N&O wrote about a new product to calm dogs during thunderstorms. Called the “Thundershirt,” it professes to soothe a jumpy pooch during thunderstorms and such. My neighbor bought one for her Labrador and swears by it.

This got me thinking about other proposed solutions. Kelly said she had heard people express success by rubbing a sheet of fabric softener on the dog, the idea apparently being that this would remove the storm’s static electricity from the dog’s coat. So, during the next storm I thought I would give it a try.

The other night a storm approached. The dog got nervous again, panting heavily and pacing around. I fetched a sheet of fabric softener and dutifully rubbed it on the dog. Sure enough, he seemed to calm down. But was that from the fabric softener or was it because the storm had come and gone? I can’t really say. After a second storm came by I tried it again. This time I didn’t see much of a difference.

The verdict? Sheets of fabric softener will indeed help keep your dog calm during storms, but only if you stuff them into your dog’s ears!

Doggie arms race

The suspect

I’m locked in a doggie arms race when it comes to the garden. Once the plants were in the ground, I surrounded the garden with a two-foot-high wire fence, thinking that that would be enough disincentive for Rocket, our boneheaded Labrador, from wandering in and grazing.

I should’ve known better. At first I surrounded the garden on all sides but one, leaving a three-foot-wide opening to walk in. I was anticipating Rocket would be too lazy to walk all the way around. Needless to say, it didn’t take long to see that this wasn’t working. A few days later, I put up more wire fence to block it all the way around.

Then I saw the fence next to my new fence was dented outwards, as if a big, clumsy, lazy dog had not quite cleared it on his way out. I didn’t do much about that, preferring to keep an eye on it. Turns out I never saw that happen again: it seems the height was enough to keep him from jumping it.
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Needle Dog

Rocket's needle

We’ve been spending the Thanksgiving weekend at Kelly’s parents’ home in Virginia. Yesterday, the kids were helping string popcorn in the kitchen. Rocket took advantage of an opportunity to eat a piece of popcorn and swallowed the needle that was threaded through it. Everyone watched helplessly as the thread disappeared down our dumb dog’s throat.

We loaded him up in the car and headed to the Swansons’ vet in Haymarket. After Rocket got an x-ray, we were told that there were two options to remove the needle: surgery or an endoscopy. Estimated cost was $3000. Ouch! We couldn’t get the endoscopy done there; it could only be done in Leesburg at The LifeCenter. So, I loaded the dog in the car, said goodbye to Kelly and Linda, and drove 30 miles to Leesburg.

The vet there gave me positive news. There was a good chance the needle would pass without surgery. If we chose to proceed with an endoscopy, it might run from $1200 to $1800. After talking it over with Kelly we decided to try the endoscopy.
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Making sense of a dog and scents

Speaking of brain activity and addictions, my morning walks with my dog never cease to fascinate me. My Labrador, Rocket, goes berserk when he catches a whiff of something on the ground along the way. These smells are like crack to my dog. He is totally focused on inhaling these smells, and if you know Labradors you know that focusing is typically not their strong suit!

I would love to know what goes on in his doggy brain while he’s lost in this scent-induced rapture. What are those scents telling him? What parts of his brain are active? How do dogs really use these scents, and is there much more to this than simply marking territory?

All I can find online about doggy brain activity is an episode of NOVA that looks good, an interesting post about how dog’s dream, and a hilarious YouTube video of Bizkit, the sleepwalking dog, running into a wall. I would hope there would be more research on this. Anyone have anything else?

Cheap thoughts: dog park

I wonder if taking my dog to the dog park causes me to lose face with my dog. As the owner, I’m supposed to be the “pack leader,” as the Dog Whisperer would say. If Rocket is getting bullied by the other dogs at the dog park and I don’t do anything about it it may cause me to lose standing as a pack leader in his doggy head.

Still I guess the benefits of the dog park outweigh the drawbacks.