Some Scoop news and a new article up

As I write, Scoop is here on the floor next to me. He’s breathing normally, but there is a kind of labor to it. The blood tests came back and this time, platelets are OK, on account of the prednisone we’ve been giving him. However, his red cell count is way down and that constitutes anemia, though from what cause it’s not entirely clear. Could be the drugs have caused some gastrointestinal bleeding, could be an infection or a bug of some kind, could be cancer–there’s no way to know right now.

So, another 80 bucks (we’re coming up on $1500 since October) for a new medication and on Monday next, he’ll need another blood test. If that one reveals low red cells, then it’s time to fish or cut bait: Literally, do we spend money on an ultrasound or some other expensive test to get a definitive diagnosis, or do we simply use palliative care and keep him comfortable and alive as long as we can. We’re not sure what we’ll do–so far, the only success we’ve had is by simply praying and taking one day at a time, trying to limit our expenses and allowing the doc to see what’s happening with his blood tests. We’re trying hard to simply let it be what it is and make choices accordingly while being optimistic.

Meanwhile, I have had my second piece published with Decanter wine magazine. It is a 200 word piece, so it is the soul of wit, as Shakespeare said. It’s also a lot of fun to be able to write for such a prestigious publication.

A bit of Fun–and a challenge

What a unique opportunity I had this evening. My principal was called by the Reagan Library and Museum which is not far from where I live and where our school is. I don’t think he was interested in having a big contest and as the journalism teacher and such, he asked me if I would serve on an educational advisory committee that the library was forming. I agreed.
Well, we met tonight. The most unique feature of the Reagan library is that in 2005, it was bequeathed the Boeing 707, tail number 27000 that served as Air Force One for seven different Presidents ending with President Bush (43). It was the main aircraft used by Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan. After that, it was largely mothballed, but occasionally the succeeding Presidents have had use for it such as in the 1994 L.A. earthquake when President Clinton came to survey the damage. LAX was closed to inbound traffic and a 747 could not land at Burbank, so they brought 27000 out with the President and his staff.

Anyway, the library has a very impressive learning and education center that is an interactive role playing game in which students may come and role play as the President, Cabinet members, military officials, members of the press, etc. The game they play deals with the invasion of Greneda known in 1983 as Operation Urgent Fury. They’re given scenarios (most of these are 5th through 8th graders who know nothing whatever about that military action) and they have to make choices. In the Oval office, for example, I played President Reagan. We were told what was happening and then I asked for counsel from each of my advisers played by the other teachers. Robert played Cap Weinberger and Jason played Jim Baker–it was a lot of fun and we all saw the potential in this unique and technologically advanced critical thinking game.

Then, we ate a boxed dinner, and discussed at length the ways in which the scenario could be made to work for high school students. We had good vigorous discussion about how things would work, for example, in a historically accurate scenario of the attempt on President Reagan’s life. It was fairly obvious that the library would like to do that scenario, but there are other possibilities to deal with as well and one of my colleagues, a teacher at Thousand Oaks High School and an old college buddy of mine, brought up the very interesting idea of making the scenario about Reagan’s assumption of office and then the subsequent attempt on his life, etc.

We ran through all of the open ended scenarios which high school kids, a little (though not much) more nuanced in their thinking, could run through a role play and make critical decisions about both domestic and foreign policy and even some discussion about the Constitutional succession of the President.

As a group, we will be continuing to meet to discuss more possibilities for the learning center. Most of the teachers are history and government folks, but I represented the journalism group and there was a teacher from Ventura who was a speech and debate teacher as well. It was a well-rounded group and I have to say, a smart, savvy, quick thinking and intelligent group as well. It was an honor to be a part of the whole thing.

No, Virginia-the Antarctic is not warming up…

So, since it’s Sunday and I actually had not planned to post this evening on account of a LOT of homework I need to do, I was merely planning to peruse the net just now and get some news for my addictive fix.

In so doing, I came across this piece in London’s Telegraph once again confirming that the knuckleheads are in control of the media and now that America has “unified” its voice behind President Obama, he too is calling for radical policy changes (read: raising taxes, taking more of your money) to thwart the specter of global warming.

Trouble is this, though, as the article explains and even a scientific illiterate like me can understand it: The methods being used to “prove” warming are hack at best. They rely on models and from data gathered by guess work and innuendo. Absurd, sad and truly astonishing that our political leaders, universities and schools would use these theories to tout the “truth.” But then, these are the same people that say global warming is more important a threat than Al-qaeda. Interesting, though-that President Obama’s National Security team is a serious, sober minded group of individuals of whom even conservatives approve, and he chose them after he started receiving the threat assessments every day.


A short post-worthy of your time…

That’s what this is. Link here, my good friends. Go and read–and then do what you must, I suppose. We’ve started down the Obama path. But know this–those of us who believe we’ve had foisted upon us the myth and absurdity of “global warming” are not buying it any more. And now, it’s the sane people who are aware that the idea that human beings are “causing global warming” is the most insane thing there is.


An extraordinarily productive day in which I filed two pieces, both wine related, and worked extensively on a couple of others for the newspaper. School was out today for the kids and I had a meeting with the journalism advisers from the other schools in our district this morning. It was a great meeting and these are all great guys (yes, for some reason, it’s an all male staff of advisers in our district). We got a lot accomplished including an upcoming “write-off” for the kids which should be a lot of fun.

Speaking of writing, it’s often said that writing a book is the hardest thing to do. I don’t know that I’m convinced, though. I was assigned to write a piece on the new Illinois Wine Consumer Coalition and it had to be 200 words. 200 words worth of useful news brief, while a gift to many who don’t want to read the pontifications of verbose writers, is rather a difficult task. But I did it–200 exactly. And I was proud.

But, the best news of all, aside from the movie that I made with Peanut and her two good friends, was that right before I sat down to write this, Scoop came downstairs looking for his night-time treat. This is a tradition that goes a long way back and abated with his illness. While he was sick, I didn’t see him come downstairs at all once the sun went down unless it was to get sick or go outside with a bout of….well…the unmentionables.

But his eyes are bright again and his tail is wagging and his personality is returning to the old Scoop, the one I know that stares at you while you’re eating and follows you around in the kitchen. The one that barks at the gardener when he comes around and charges the front door when it’s opened.

I don’t know if it means we’ll keep him alive for a few more years and the illness is past. I don’t know if it means the drugs are helping only temporarily–I’ve no clue. I do know that he’s healthy and well–in good shape and feeling like himself again. And that alone is reason to be optimistic.

The Whole Point Pt. II

Life and death decisions are, by their nature, not easy. The past few weeks of dealing with the mortality of our dog, Scoop, have taken their toll. From short tempers, to tears, to general melancholy and moodiness, the whole family has watched as Scoop’s decline continued unabated and sank to a tempo so low, it could hardly be measured.

Since last Friday especially, Scoop has hardly been seen in the house. He is generally on his bed, in our bedroom, or on the warm days before the rains showed up today, he lay outside on his mat soaking up the sun, quietly awaiting whatever doom appeared to be in store for him.

This unbroken quiet from a normally boisterous dog never did settle in quite. Scoop is a hound-dog and in his blood is the desire to bark at things he doesn’t understand and to bark more at things that he understands and hates, which is most things. Scoop likes his food, his food dish, his leash, a good sleep, his family and the occasional playtime with his cousin, Lucy. That’s about it. When anyone makes food in the kitchen, Scoop is there staring hopefully, gently prodding his nose into the scene. He knows there are limits to this, but he hopes for a morsel, a crumb to be offered, or perhaps, dropped.

During the past week, though, this was not the case. Even when opening his own food, prying open a can, zipping open a pouch or spinning the lid on the kibble container, it didn’t matter: No Scoop. Largely, his infirmity which, as near as we can tell, has been painful as well as draining, had him laid up in a corner of the house, outside on his mat or his bed or the couch in the playroom….

Until tonight.

Sue noticed it last night. A slight jauntiness to the step. A desire to be in the room with the family and an appetite that reminded us of when we first got him.

The past 24 hours have seen a kind of improvement in him. It is baby steps, of course, and there is no magic that has occurred. We have noticed a desire to eat and a return to behaviors we used to be annoyed by. Scoop is back in the kitchen with us, waiting for the crumbs to fall. He walks with me to the door hoping maybe to have his leash put on and to feel the wind in his fur again. His sleeping periods during the day have shortened somewhat, from the extraordinary depths of sleeping nearly 20 hours in a day back to his usual 12 or 13.

We are certainly not over this thing, he’s by no means back to the old Scoop altogether. But, he is no longer on the bottom rung, as it were. He is climbing and shows a desire to continue climbing and maybe even get back to where he was.

6 different medications and continuing blood tests should tell us whether we’re making progress. If we measure merely by the change in behavior, however, we are definitely making strides.

Good dog, Scoop. Good dog.

The Whole Point

Scoop is now in our hands. This is indeed the post I didn’t want to write, for as I do, Scoop has come downstairs, unwilling to eat and therefore to get his medication properly, limping badly and looking forlorn and lost. In other words, right now, his quality of life is next to nothing. In constant pain, he barely wants to do anything.

He gathered a short burst this morning and ate a can of food and this afternoon, for the first time in five days, he barked at something. It was one bark, a quick sort of “woof..” because Lucy, the other dog, was out back barking. He got up and went out–but soon was back in, lying down.

Now, sore, feeling poorly and moving for all the world like a dog with three legs, he is miserable. I don’t know what to do for him. The doctor wants to put him on prednisone and we’ll do that. It should help his blood platelets and that’s a good thing.

But she also wants to run an ultrasound and the cost for that is around $500.00. This is it–that financial line has been crossed. We’ve already spent well over a thousand dollars, all of it on credit–and we simply don’t have it. It’s a terrible thing to be in this position, but the fact is the money isn’t there right now and…..well.

(note: Please remember that this blog is based on my life, professional and personal. I am not soliciting anything from anyone. And I mean it).

So, we’ll start the meds and see how they do–but things are not good for Scoop. His quality of life is very bad and in the end, that will have to be the deciding factor about how we proceed.

My brother said tonight that this was “one more thing a man must do…” and he’s quite correct about that. Everything that happens from now on to Scoop will be a direct result of what my family and I choose for him. It’s a humbling place to be and, in the end, I think that may be the whole point.


I fear that if I keep writing on this meme, it will turn people away. Life is going on, you understand–we went today to the Reagan Library, met my brother there and spent the morning touring–looking at Air Force One and then Doug had to leave, so we ate lunch together, the four of us, at the Reagan Country Cafeteria which has pretty solidly good food.

I have been doing some interviews and writing for both the paper and for the Central Coast Farm and Ranch magazine and that has kept me pretty busy as well. Sue has been working, Peanut has been playing–all is going along as usual.


Scoop is sick. We don’t fully have a clear picture yet of how sick he is. The blood test taken today to see if he had a tic borne illness came back negative and now we simply wait. Tomorrow, we may have the opportunity to have the vet aspirate one of his lymph glands. They’re swollen and if we can get serum out of one, we may be able to see whether or not they have cancerous cells. Meanwhile, he started eating today for the first time in two days. The vet sent home an appetite stimulant as well as a highly digestible and taste driven food by Science Diet. He’s also on anti-biotics in case there is some type of infection that is causing this. On Tuesday or Wednesday, the doc will put him on Prednisone.

All that seems like it might do something–but the end result is this: As I write this, he came down the stairs like an old man, hacking along the way, and then went outside where he began to throw up. His tummy is upset, he doesn’t feel good and he gets worse with each passing day.

I’m looking to find out some things soon. We cannot keep going on this way, guessing what will work–doing that, and then not getting results.

And so, while life is going on–Scoop’s is in a kind of limbo. He’s not getting better, but he’s hanging on and fighting to survive for now.

And I’d like very much to write about other things and I suppose soon that I will. For now, it’s Scoop that occupies my time and my thoughts. All else, in terms of what I’m prepared to write about, is secondary…

Scoop Dog Update

I tried this earlier, but lost the post and I’ll be less inclined to be as verbose now as I am pretty tired. I spent the day up in Santa Ynez and Lompoc visiting with my friend Doug Braun of Presidio Vineyards. I recently finished a piece for a local magazine that featured Doug and his vineyard in it and the editor wanted pictures. As it happens, I have a good friend, Larry, who is a fine photographer and so we trekked up to Doug’s place to take some shots and then tour around the vineyard. It was a grand day–80 plus degrees, blue sky and no real wind. It couldn’t be beat.

But, it didn’t sink in like it normally does.

Scoop’s blood work came back today and it isn’t good. There’s still some unknowns, but the platelet levels are down and they’re down drastically. This event is triggered by a couple of different things, the most common of which is a tic borne illness. So-we’re awaiting another blood test (luckily, they took enough blood yesterday and it was viable) to see if it is that. If it’s not–well, there really aren’t many alternatives. Most likely, we’re looking at cancer at that point.

But there are hurdles to jump before we get there and it’s not worth it to spend our time thinking the worst. Still, it begins the process, or at least reminds us that we will at some point, begin the process of the long goodbye.

Scoop isn’t himself. He’s lethargic, he’s slow and he’s not eating nearly as much as he normally does. I fear that bringing him back from that will be hard to do, but there is hope, too. Without that-there isn’t much, I suppose.

He’s a good boy, Scoop is. He’s not really complaining much and he’s not really changed his affection level–it’s still fairly aloof. But, it’s hard to see him at this level–it’s hard to be optimistic when you see this in him and it’s even harder to figure out how to treat him. So, we simply love him as we have always done and we try to get him to love us back.

I’m out of words for tonight. The combination of sun, wine, some short travel and–the ups and downs of the last two days–are ultimately a lot of weight and I simply would like to go to sleep.


A long night's journey into day…

…began last night when Scoop, after having been to the vet’s office in October and then again on Monday of this week, had trouble breathing. He seemed labored, tired and lethargic and his breaths were shallow. He whined and seemed to wince with the pain in his leg–the diagnosis for which so far has been arthritis. He’s 9 and a larger dog and it’s not uncommon.

But last night was a different story and I didn’t sleep as much as I would have liked. Today dawned and he was a bit better, so Sue watched him go through his paces. Dr. Locke, the vet called to give us the results of blood tests drawn on Monday–his platelet levels were down and this is an indicator, apparently, of internal bleeding. But from what? She wanted to see him again.

And I’m not insensitive, far from it. The dog is my friend, my companion and I love him like a family member. But I also know he’s a dog–and they’re not people. Since October, he’s cost us close to a thousand dollars. And I shouldn’t even be writing that, but it enters into the thinking, you know?

Still–off to the vet where Dr. Locke finds bruising or lesions on his left ear and on his gums. “It’s indicative of a clotting problem,” says she. “It can be caused by a number of things, but I think we need a chest x-ray to rule out fluid or blood in his lungs. If it’s present, we could be looking at a crisis,” she adds.

Oy. Dr. Locke kept him at the office for two hours and asked me to pick him up at 5:30 this evening. “I’ll know more, then.” I asked for the worst case scenario as my imagination can be far worse than any reality. “Let’s not go there, yet,” she said.

“No, I have to go there, Doc. I’m pretty bad at this stuff and I need to prepare myself a bit.”

“Well, if he has fluid or blood in his lungs, it’s life threatening, of course. And curing it isn’t easy, nor is it cheap. It’s a point at which you consider putting the animal down.”

“Oh. OK-I appreciate the honesty. I’ll be back at 5:30.”

“I’ll take chest x-rays and that will tell us immediately what we need to know and I’ll draw blood and by tomorrow, that’ll give us more information….”

I drove home for the two hours and waited–impatiently. We were scheduled to go out to dinner and that got bumped a bit and so, I sat in here–in the house, stared at the TV and waited. I told Peanut Scoop wasn’t feeling good and that it might not end well. I was straight-forward, didn’t hide anything. She’s tired after a full day of gymnastics yesterday and she wasn’t really processing much. But, I told her.

I went back to the vet’s office at 5:30 and the drive over, all of 5 or 6 minutes, seemed endless. I braced myself for what might happen–what might take place–what might I have to come home and tell the family. And I considered all of it: What if it’s the worst? What if nothing is wrong at all? What if it’s the unknown and we cannot figure it out? All of those thoughts took moments in my head and I sat in the waiting room mulling them over while visiting with the other patrons and their pets. A golden lab, Scoop’s age, with a skin condition. A golden retriever, 12 years old and in perfect health with the sweetest disposition in the world. A Chinese speaking mother and daughter with their large Akita who cried a great deal more than any dog I’ve seen and they tried to calm him in Chinese which, as it turns out, isn’t a language that sounds very calm–at least to me.

And then I was called to the back room where I stood alone for less than 30 seconds and Dr. Locke came in to show me Scoop’s x-rays. “His lungs are clear. His heart is normal. His insides look fine, so far.” Relief, a bit of joy. “But…”

There’s always something…

“Well, those bruises and splotches on his ear, in his gums. The platelet count and the limping–those aren’t the best signs. We’ve drawn blood for a really precise analysis called a coagulation count. It’ll help us determine if he’s able to clot blood or if he’s having any issues. There’s a lot of unknowns, now–and this will help clear some of that up.”

“Worst case?–”

“I knew you’d ask that. Well, OK look. Scoop’s a big dog and he’s 9 years old. His complaints aren’t unusual and we see them a lot. If the blood test tomorrow comes back normal, then I think we’re out of the woods. But if there’s some more issues in it–then we may be looking at cancer. And honestly, in 95% of the cases where we get these non-specific symptoms where we cannot figure it out, but there’s pain and there’s blood counts that are off, that’s what’s going on.”

“Cancer. Non-specific?”

“We can do tests, but they’re expensive and in the end, the choices are the same as humans, chemo, surgery–all expensive choices.” I gathered that most people choose to simply let the dog live as long as they can, and then when the pain or the discomfort become too much, the dog is put down.

Scoop is 9. He followed me home on a walk one day while Sue and I lived in Ventura. He became mine after Sue demanded we keep him and I grew more and more attached to him. He lived–still lives–for taking walks, for hiking and for play. He likes a good sleep and he loves Snausages. He enjoys when all of us are home and he’s grown used to–and now enjoys–having Lucy, his cousin, come over and romp around the yard. She’s younger, of course, than he. But he’s kept up well with her. Until recently.

Tonight, after a roller coaster week in which his lethargy, his limp and his breathing caused us to assume the worst-then to be assuaged, then back to the worst and then back up again–and finally to accept a couple of radically different alternative outcomes, we’re wiped out. Sue’s been sick with an infection all week, I was ending the semester with my students while finishing up some articles and a client’s web page–and now, we’re trying to get a grip on Scoop. We won’t know any more until the blood tests come back and we pray for them to be normal-for Scoop to simply age with grace and live happily with us…

But we’ll take what we get–and we’ll thank God for the opportunity. Scoop’s life–and even his ill health–are reminders that all is temporary, all is finite and that in the end, we have to give over to God those things we cannot control.

And knowing that is a small comfort and a relief of some kind.