June 6th, 2018
I found myself doing something that was never part of my dog ownership vision. Like many wannabe dog owners, I thought of what having a Newfoundland dog would mean for our family. It meant providing medical care, nutritional meals, regular exercise, grooming, training and lots of attention to name a few. What I didn’t expect was to be trail blazing on a Tuesday morning at 6:35 am. And yet, there I was with a pair of clippers in hand, trimming back brush. Bailey enjoys early morning walks on the trail system located across the street from my house. It is not a trail maintained by our Town. With spring thrust upon us, the snow has almost melted. Happily, we ditched our street walking and returned to the solitude of nature. The trails are still wet in places but, can usually be circumvented by detouring through the bush lining the sides. One particular spot near the start of the trail is covered in deep mud for about 7 feet. We avoid the mess by taking a slightly worn moss path to the right. The weedy shrubs as I like to call them have become more overgrown than they were last year. As much as my friend and I try to prevent them from swatting the dog or person behind, our attempts often end in failure.
Our main concern was that one of the dogs would get a sharp end in the eye. The sting of a springy twig and the possibility of ripping our outerwear added to this concern. We had complained about the situation to one another throughout the previous summer. However, I never could remember to bring the cutters to trim the bushes. The presence of black flies provided further discouragement. In addition, I had ripped my expensive waterproof pants last year within a week of getting them. The situation was aggravating to say the least. It was time for action. Black fly season would be in full swing by the weekend with warmer temperatures and wet weather on the way.
Although my pants had two patches on them, I decided not to add a third one. I wrapped the cutters in one of Bailey’s drool rags before packing it in my waist bag filled with treats and poop bags. We were ready to meet our friends. The four of us hiked until we reached the detour. The dogs patiently waited with my friend. It was a remarkable feat given the number of rabbits, squirrels and birds that lived in the area. I began to tackle the offending twigs. Bit by bit, our single file path over the cushy moss became more open. It was hard work for me to be performing with only a cup of coffee for energy. The dogs seemed to know that the trail was being improved for them. The work was finally done. The four of us resumed hiking under blue skies and the warmth of the sun. The way back was more pleasant as we were no longer bothered by pesky twigs impeding our movement. I look forward to a summer of forging ahead with Bailey at my side.
May 30th, 2018
I finally have a retriever. No, the family didn’t get another dog. For the past week, Bailey has indulged her need to fetch a stuffed toy over and over again. It’s a need that has only recently surfaced after almost 3 ½ years of living with us. Bailey is good for about five throws before she “tires” of the activity – sticks, balls and stuffed animals. Other dogs eagerly chased down balls at the dog park while Bailey was content to watch them and hang out with their people. I came to accept that fetching wasn’t Bailey’s thing.
Out of the blue, our girl suddenly looked forward to marathon fetching sessions with a certain plush toy. The toy was originally given to Bailey by the owner of her pal, Cas. Early last year, they were going away for a couple of weeks and knew Bailey would miss her daily adventures with him. The toy smelt of Cas and we hoped it would offer some comfort to her while he was gone. Although she never played with it, Bailey would stare at her toy basket until one of us got it out and tossed it beside her. The same scenario played out each day until Cas came home. Then, she no longer had any interest in it. I washed it and placed it back in the basket. There the toy stayed. I considered getting rid of it but, never took action. The toy remained buried and neglected until last Thursday.
Bailey went to her basket as was her usual practice after the nightly grooming. Even though she can get her own toy, she prefers that one of us grab Stuffie. Her stuffed bear was lying top of the heap and I gave it to her. Bailey loves to suck on her Stuffie before falling asleep. She ignored that Stuffie and continued to focus on the basket. I was too slow. So, she took it upon herself to take the other stuffed animal out. Bailey brought it over to me and nudged me with it. I threw it into the entry and Bailey charged madly after it. She returned quickly and waited for the next throw. I kept thinking that each throw would be the last. Bailey just kept scrambling to get it and brought the toy back to me. It was getting wetter by the minute. I was getting sloppy with my throws. In fact, I hit the light switch and turned the living room lights on. Granted, I was lying out on the couch which restricted my arm movements. I kept wondering how much longer she was going to last. That first night, Bailey fetched twenty-three times. She reached thirty on the following night and I have stopped counting since then. Is it a phase or has my Newfoundland dog discovered the joy of retrieving? I’m not sure. But, thanks to our girl, my arm muscles will be firmer by summer.
May 23rd, 2018
At last, a beautiful spring day had arrived. I had been hoping to spend part of the afternoon with Bailey practicing our carting technique. The appearance of the harness elicited a tail wag from her. She was excited. That was good, I thought. Slightly above zero, Bailey would not be too hot as we meandered around the yard. I placed the harness on her and began to cinch up the belt under her chest. The fourth notch was going to be difficult to reach. It appeared that someone had either grown a bit more in her chest or her longer fur was taking up more space. My husband, Adam, lengthened the belt on the other side. Bailey and I completed a couple of circuits around the yard with positive results. She had responded perfectly to my commands of Haw (right turn), Gee (left turn), Whoa and Stand. We were off to a good start. Next, Bailey was then strapped to the whiffle bar which was attached by rope to a 4 litre plastic jug filled with sidewalk salt. WWe were ready to haul. Twice, one of the side straps got caught under Bailey’s leg. It did not take long for her to become more accustom to the straps touching her on the outside of her legs. Adam placed her water bucket by the garage so Bailey could replenish herself after finishing a round of the yard.
As we returned to the back yard, Adam offered to take Bailey for a spin. After all, he had trained with her at the South Eastern Ontario Regional Newfoundland Club’s beginner carting seminar. Bailey found her strength renewed with the new trainer. Behind the garden shed, the two of them disappeared only to reappear on the other side. Adam directed Bailey to go in between the raised bed and the garden shed. She did. Unfortunately, the opening was not enough for the jug to make the turn. Her left strap snagged the corner cement block. As Bailey plodded forward, the cement block tumbled out of place. I could see that our girl was far from hauling her maximum load. The leisurely time that Adam had been enjoying with Bailey was over. He cursed himself for not remembering to consider the straps’ clearance requirements. Bailey just looked at the overturn cement block. She seemed to be saying, “Did I do that?” Perhaps, a refresher carting course was needed. I took over carting duties while Adam grabbed a shovel and began to repair the shed’s retaining wall. Bailey was not the only one who had worked hard. The three of us called it quits and headed in for refreshments. Bailey had earned one of her special biscuits and a well-deserved rest.
May 8th, 2018
Monday afternoon was perfect for setting up a Rally-O training course. My husband had cut 10 stakes to attach the laminated commands onto them. The stakes had to be sturdy enough to withstand high winds and a Newf’s sweeping tail. He painstakingly applied two Velcro strips to each command card and their corresponding strips to the stakes. Each one was measured to perfection – a testament to his engineering skills. I decided that a course of 8 commands plus the start and finish cards were enough to begin. Altogether, I have 36 novice command cards to choose from. The course can be changed quite easily. As a result, I can customize the course to suit Bailey’s learning aptitude. I selected 8 commands to practice. The ground in the backyard is still frozen up here in Labrador. So, I placed the stakes in the snowbanks thereby creating a course that would take us down one side of the house, across the yard and back up the other side. A few adjustments had to be made once I realized that doing a 360 degree turn wouldn’t be possible in the space available between the garden shed and snowbank or that turning right would mean walking into the side of the house. I was ready to get my girl.
Now, Bailey always naps in the afternoon to help recover from her noon hour walk. I aroused her from a sleepy slumber of only one hour. I made up for the enthusiasm that she was lacking. My girl perked up when she saw the start sign. I showed her the reward, dried sweet potato. We were off with my command of “Okay, heel”. The first station required a stop then sit. Bailey pulled that one off without too much effort. Praise was her reward and we were off to the next card. We proceeded around the yard until finally the end of the course was reached. Bailey gobbled her treat for a well-done effort.
It was a bright sunny day even though it was -1 degrees Celsius (-10 if you factor in the windchill). I was bundled up to ward off getting chilled. The furnace, our black beastie, was warm. We detoured into the garage for a quick pit stop. Bailey drained down the water bucket by a third. Another treat convinced her to try the course again. I made the mistake this time by turning the wrong way. Had we been in a sanctioned Rally-O competition, I would have lost points for the team. I guess that I am the one who needs more practice. We finished the round and Bailey freshened up with another trip to the water bucket. I still thought my girl was up for one more round. Bailey’s speed was much slower as she waddled from station to station. By the time that we reached the sit followed by down command, Bailey lingered a bit longer on the ground before responding to my “Okay, heel” command. Obviously, she was ready to call it quits. Her reward was a fetching a ball tossed into the snowbank. It only took a couple of throws before my girl was ready to continue her siesta.
May 2nd, 2018
Two weeks ago, I was wondering where spring was. Mother Nature must have heard me and sent an answer. Not quite the one that I was expecting. I was thinking about the positive signs that spring had finally arrived in our part of Northern Canada. Things like warmer temperatures, blue skies and evidence of life such as the return of birds from wintering in the south and plants starting to peak through the soil. What I got was a cruel joke! A rainy downpour greeted Bailey and I as we exited the garage last Wednesday. I had already peeked out the windows at 5:30 am and realized that snow wear was not going to do. I rooted through the hall closet in search of the rain gear that had not been worn since last October. The task was made more difficult when I realized that my splash pants were buried at the bottom of a container. The container had other ones stacked on it and all of them were stored on the top shelf of the closet. I tried my best not to wake the household as I carefully removed each heavy container. Where was the muscle when you needed it? I removed the insulated insert from my waterproof jacket as it was no longer required for plus temperatures. I exchanged the snow boots with waterproof hikers but, decided to keep the winter gloves on. After months of multiply layers, I felt almost naked. I was ready.
It was time to get my girl and head outside. Bailey took notice of my new attire. She sniffed my rain pants – leaving a trail of goo on them. I wasn’t bothered as the rain would soon be streaming down the pant legs to wash all of her drool marks away. Once the door was open, Bailey stood there, looking out in disbelief at the sudden disappearance of snow. Brown grass was visible as the snow bank in the front yard had shrunk back. I nudged her forward into the pouring rain. It was not a warm rain. I was soon chilled to the bone and wishing for that extra layer of insulation. The rain clung to Bailey’s fur which soaked it up like a giant sponge. She had gone through several puddles on our early morning business excursion. We returned home in desperate need of towels. I simply climbed out of my dripping outerwear and was ready to hunt down another cup of coffee. Bailey was another story. She received her first towel dry in the garage followed by a second one in the entry area. I had long ago given up using regular towels. The extra large bath sheet that seemed adequate last year was now looking a bit small for the job. Despite my efforts, Bailey was still quite wet. She would have to spend some time drying out at the front door. Soon her wet dog smell had permeated the main living area. As each family member came out of their bedrooms, they were greeted with the scent. It drew them to her. Wet dog or not, Bailey still got her rubs. Spring rains are here to stay and they linger in the fur of our “water” dog.
April 18th, 2018
Yesterday, our area was hit with another snowstorm. It was crippling enough to shut down the schools for the day. The boys rejoiced until they realized that snow shovelling was the main activity for them. My plans were also derailed as snow removal became the central activity of the day. Mother Nature has a cruel sense of humour. She teases us with glimpses of grass exposed as the snow melts. Then, in just a few hours, any signs of spring are erased by newly formed blankets of falling snow. Don’t get me wrong, I love our long winters to enjoy skiing, snowshoeing and trail hiking. Even shovelling the white stuff is fine if it comes 5 cm at a time. A couple of big dumps depositing over 25 cm can make one long for the spring weather enjoyed by southerners. From the look of things outside, we will be waiting for a while. Bailey loves her snowy wonderland. As we shovel and haul the snow away, Bailey gleefully charges up the snow bank to retrieve her ball that one of us has thrown. After several of these climbs, she is quite content to lie down and watch us work. Bailey may belong to the working dog breed family but, her four humans are the “working dogs” today. The exhausted troops were rewarded with homemade sourdough bread and tomato soup. Evening plans to attend a volunteer appreciation function were cancelled. I wasn’t fit to stay awake. Bailey quite willingly joined me for a nap to regain our strength for the next snowstorm to roll in.
April 10th, 2018
Like being on a roller coaster ride that had delivered too many dips and turns, Bailey and I were ready to get off. What began in January as a bad case of infected ears soon spread to inflammation on the skin between her paw pads. Her ailments were most likely to be caused by food intolerances. Treatment should have been simple or so one would have thought. One of the challenges of living in Northern Canada is that often services are offered by only one provider. Shopping the specials is limited with only one grocery store in Labrador West. The same is true for veterinary services – just one. In January, the local vet left. The Veterinary College has been sending replacement vets every three weeks until a permanent one can be found to fill the position. You see, our clinic is not owned by a vet but, rather an accounting firm (or so I have been told). Bailey saw a total of three vets. Each one had a different treatment plan to get our girl healthy. They meant well. The first vet suggested a duck-based kibble. The next one told us to give a fowl and grain-free kibble. Ironically, the one that she ordered in for us had grain in it. We refused to buy it. The last one actually suggested putting Bailey on a black bean and sweet potato diet. Really, I can’t imagine Bailey eating beans and sweet potato for 6 to 8 weeks. Just thinking about the amount of gas that she would produce meant a greater willingness on my part to spring the extra money needed to buy the fish-based, grain-free kibble. Bailey has come around to accepting her new kibble, although she longs for a return of turkey roaster licks – not a chance. The kibble seems to be working for her after several weeks of being on it.
The ears have been slow to respond to the various treatments prescribed. The second vet ordered a culture to be taken and sent away. I was surprised because last year, I had asked for a culture of her ear to be taken and was told transporting cultures in winter temperatures was not done. The culture sample would likely not survive the trip. My husband, not knowing this information, agreed to the culture being taken as I was instructing at ski school. The single type of bacteria present in the ear had become multiple bacteria. No cleaning or medication in the ears could be given for 4 days prior to the culture being taken. The results came back stating no growth according to the animal technician. No antibiotics would be prescribed even though the second vet felt they were necessary after 4 weeks on steroids. I questioned the result’s accuracy given that transportation could have killed the sample. The clinic was between vets. Bailey was to go back on a medication that had not worked earlier and to which she had reacted badly. I made another vet appointment with the next one who was expected to arrive in a couple of days. In the meantime, my husband and I brainstormed for other options. How far would we go to get treatment for our sweetness?
Well, 3,400 km to be exact! My husband and the boys were leaving to spend Spring Break in Quebec City with relatives while I stayed home to care for Bailey. We decided to make an appointment with Bailey’s vet in Peterborough, Ontario who she sees while attending courses with the Southeastern Ontario Newfoundland Dog Club. The extra days of driving combined with the hotel costs meant something would have to be given up. We agreed to cancel our 25th anniversary trip to Nova Scotia planned in July if necessary. Bailey was more important to us than spending our first holiday alone since our teenagers were born. I made the vet appointment in Peterborough for 1 ½ weeks later.
Bailey saw the third vet who examined and swabbed her ear. I brought every bottle that had been prescribed by the previous vets – all ten of them. The vet could not detect the presence of any yeast or bacteria. She wanted to reduce the swelling and inflammation quickly so Bailey was given a high dose of steroids for 5 days. The ears were to be kept dry and if possible, the ear flaps needed to be pinned up to increase airflow. I was to only clean her ears twice a week. Apparently, my daily cleaning sessions endorsed by the first two vets had aggravated the inflammation in her ears. I followed the prescribed treatment and saw improvement within a few days. Bailey wasn’t thrilled with the clothes peg holding up her ear flaps. We compromised with me laying her flaps back every time she was lying down. A day before Spring Break, I cancelled the vet appointment in Ontario and gave a sigh of relief that I would be staying home with my girl. Bailey was on the mend and as of last night, she is back to her old self. Our roller coaster ride has come to an end.