Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Shared Life of Adventure

I took this picture a few days after I got Harry. It is one of my favorite pictures of him. It captures so much of his spirit and joy that I was able to share for the next 16 years: tail alert, ears at the ready, head slightly down but eyes tilted up, poised to spring into action!

Like any legendary hero, Harry has his own creation myths. But they are more than myths. I got Harry when he was 4 months old from a backyard breeder in Provo, Utah. Perhaps a better description would be microhobby breeder--these folks didn't churn out litter after litter for the money. They planned their matings and litters. Harry was too tall according to the breed standards, although, as it turns out, he was better shaped for flyball than if he had been the perfect smooth fox terrier specimen. He remained lean and fit to nearly the end of his days.

Harry Houdini earned his name just a few days after I got him. I didn't know about dog crates back then, so when I went to work, I left him in a room. To prevent him from roaming the house, I closed the door. But the house was old and the door didn't latch. So I tied a string from the knob to a nail and put up a puppy gate in the doorway for good measure. He was waiting for me on my bed when I got home from work, string and puppy gate still in place in the door. The choice of his name was perfectly obvious.

Taken the day I brought Iz home in early June, 1999.

Even though I was a novice dog owner, it was clear that Harry wasn't happy on his own, so the following year, I returned to the same family in Provo and got his half-sister Iz. She took charge from the moment she arrived, a real queen bee, and he was incredibly relieved.

Sharing the joys of a nap in the sun with puppy Azza in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

He lived his entire life surrounded by tough, feisty female fox terriers. After Iz died, Mimi and her sister Gracie alternately ran the pack. Sweet little Dyna was a constant presence. And of course when I went to Saudi Arabia, it was just Harry and Mimi for two years.

Iz and Harry running along the beach south of San Francisco.

Enjoying the Oregon coast.

He managed to put up with a litter of fox terrier puppies with some grace. By the time the next puppy showed up (Azza), Harry was getting older and was far less concerned about puppy discipline. He was willing to ignore as long as he was ignored in turn.

Taken in southern Utah around 2001 or so. We had just crossed a stream and Harry is drying off.

Harry successfully hunted mice, gophers, and rabbits. He also broke the jaw of a one-eyed kitten I had at the time (Lola) who dared to step on him in the middle of the night. Happily, she didn't repeat the mistake. 

Conquering a jebel in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

Like any beloved companion, Harry had a host of nicknames: Boo, Harry Belly, Mr. Crankypants, and later in life, Old Man.

Harry swam in the Pacific Ocean and the Arabian Gulf. He went white-water rafting and canyoneering in southern Utah. He went along when we hiked and snowshoed in the mountains outside of Salt Lake City. He survived an attack by a pack of coyotes (that story will make a good future post). He hiked in the deserts of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.

Iz in the foreground, Harry behind her. Rafting the Green River in Utah.

He lived in Utah, Texas, Saudi Arabia, and Oregon. He traveled by plane more than once. He stayed in hotels and tents and friends' homes. He went on cross-country road trips with me.

Running along the beach in Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia.

When he was around 4 or 5 years old, he developed this odd habit, a subvocal moaning or groaning sound that resembled some modes of Tuvan throat singing. He would make this noise whenever he was contemplative or poised for the next exciting thing to happen. It was a characteristic that was uniquely his that continued to the end of his life; none of my other dogs ever did anything like that.

This photo was inspiration for the design of the UTB logo.

And of course, there was the flyball. I was so incredibly lucky to have him as my partner in that game for nine years. He was a founding member of the Utah Tail Blazers (sadly no longer running). Harry and I finished off his career with the great folks of DogzRule! from Austin, Texas. His last tournament at which he squeaked by with enough points to earn his ONYX title was incredible--it is one of the memories that I relive often and cherish.

Harry with the Utah Tail Blazers.

Harry loved his tennis ball but he also loved plush squeaky toys. He most often selected quadruped-shaped ones that he could carry around by the crotch or the head, limbs dangling, ready for a good shake. Partly as a result of his flyball training, he was also a tugging fiend. He was fairly relentless in initiating play for the past few years. It tugs at my heart to take a break and check on the dogs and not see Harry standing with a toy in his mouth, waiting for me with that expectant gleam in his eyes.

Harry always lay with his legs out behind him when he was happy and relaxed.

Rest in peace, my friend. We had a long run together, a shared life of adventure and fun and hardship and sadness. You were the perfect companion: tough, loyal, ready for anything. The end came far too quickly for both of us but I knew that you were ready to go at last. I hope to see you again.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Harry Houdini

I had to let Harry go last week. He was the type of dog companion about whom poems and novels are written--loyal, loving, and tough as nails. Stubborn to the end, as a good terrier should be. He lived an incredible life for a little dog, traveling more and seeing more in his 16 years than most people. I am so lucky that he was by my side for so many adventures, and I'm sad that he won't be with me for the next one. I made the last choice for him, and his pain and confusion are now gone.

Rest in peace, old man. You were loved and you will be sorely missed.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Clients and Pets In Front of Us

I spent another morning in Eugene vet-teching for Pro-Bone-O. Last time, I assisted the vet. This time, I and another woman, a third-year vet student at OSU, ran the "wellness" room. We took care of dogs and cats that needed routine things like nail trims and vaccinations. Sometimes people get misdirected, or they may not have described their pet's condition completely to the guy up front who organizes everyone, and we end up having to call the vet in for a quick consult. For example, we had a cat with ear mites. We decided that it was better to have a vet make the call on the preferred treatment in case it involved a prescription of some sort. Easily diagnosed, easily treated, the vet was in and out in just a few minutes and the owner was sent home with the next set of treatments to be given in three weeks.

Then in came two dogs with brittle coats, dry, flaky skin with scattered scabs from scratching, and patchy hair loss around the butt area. Could be flea dermatitis (both had live fleas on them). Could be food allergies. Could be some sort of incipient skin infection. We definitely needed a vet to take a look. She came in, spent less than a minute examining the dog on the table, then launched into a rapid and prolonged harangue on, of all things, raw diets.

She's a holistic vet, you see--she announced this right off the bat--and she feeds her dogs raw bones and raw meat along with lightly cooked, no, better make that steamed kale and winter squash and potatoes, only uses low-fat, preferably grass-fed ground meat like bison or beef...she went on and on. The two owners were gob-smacked to say the least. The vet didn't pause for breath. She didn't even stop when the guy mumbled something about food stamps. She said, if you can't feed raw, then you have to feed grain-free, of course. Because the dogs are suffering from allergies caused by the corn in their diets. And NO hotdogs or lunchmeat. NO bread or pasta. There was more, much more, but I was getting so angry that I could only focus on not throttling the vet then and there.

My fucking god, we saw a woman and her dog today who live in a fucking tent. A fucking tent! We vaccinated a lovely cat owned by another woman--they live in her car. And this crazed vet is going on and on about fucking steamed kale to two people who are at a free clinic for the homeless and indigent, who themselves are probably nutritionally deficient and may sometimes not even eat at all if they don't have the money. They are feeding their dogs the donated food they get for free from Pro-Bone-O.

This vet may feel quite proud of herself for feeding raw. But despite the lack of evidence, real, clinical-trial-based evidence for the benefits of raw diets and positive, clinical-trial-based evidence for risks associated with them (see all the posts here to get you started; click through to all the posts and make sure you read the comments and replies; lots of confirmation bias and outright delusion out there), she is really achieving nothing more than making herself feel good. Raw diets have just about as much woo in them as homeopathy. Oh, evil dog food companies! Oh, evil pharmaceutical companies! Go live under a fucking bridge, wear organic hemp sacking instead of clothes, and grow turnips already.

On top of that, she is wrong about the allergies. It is in fact the protein source that causes the allergies most of the time, not the grain. I learned this when I spent a month shadowing with a dermatologist, a vet who specializes in matters of diet and disease. Feeding grain-free may remove irritants and some non-digestible or poorly digestible components but the absence of grain won't solve the allergy problem on its own. 

After she left, I took a deep breath, then talked to them a bit about how they could buy one bag of grain-free and mix it with the food they are getting from the free clinic, how it would help improve the dogs' diet while reducing their cost. I told them about some lower-cost, single-protein source brands of food they could get at the feed supply or the grocery store. I got them to admit that they feed the dogs table scraps (hotdogs and white bread) so I suggested they try to cut back on that. Okay as treats but they make a nutritionally deficient diet. But I said this knowing full well that when they ran out of the donated dog food, the dogs probably ate what they did. I didn't give them an imperative, I made a suggestion.

Sure, you could argue that if these two people can't feed their dogs properly, they shouldn't have dogs in the first place. But I reject that from the start. Our goal as veterinarians should be to assist our clients and their pets in ways that will be most successful for them. In other words, we must work with the actual clients and pets that are in front of us, not some fucking idealized, steamed-kale-raw-bone-eating dream. We should not shame them, confuse them, or dazzle them with bullshit. That vet made a mistake today. She was not treating the dogs and clients that were there in the room with us. 

And I learned a very valuable lesson.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Chickens Have Outies

I've plowed through 69 pages of a nearly 400-page dissertation, dug up half a dozen cool papers on the role of the gut microbiome in such diverse things as mammalian radiation into diverse habitats and development of metabolic diseases (obesity, diabetes), and started building an enormous spreadsheet listing all of the published poultry flaxseed feeding trials since the mid 1980's along with a brief summary of their outcomes. I also spent half an hour at the barn and five hours in the lab this morning. Time for a break!

I thought I would share an amazing discovery with you: chickens have outies. Okay, I know, birds aren't placental mammals so technically they don't have belly buttons, innie, outie, or otherwise. But they most certainly have the functional equivalent to a structure associated with the belly button.

What is a belly button? The scientific word is omphalos, Greek for navel or center. I love the word omphalos. The navel marks the spot where the placenta attaches to the embryo during gestation. In mammals, the navel is an external feature, an embryological scar if you want to think of it that way. Birds don't have a placenta but they do have a structure that links what eventually becomes the GI tract of the embryo to the yolk, its energy source during development in the egg.

Just before birds hatch, they absorb the remaining bit of yolk into their intestinal cavity. They use the lipids in the yolk remnant for the energy that they need to break the shell then begin their search for food and water. If you've ever cut up day-old chicks (they are fed to snakes, raptors, etc) you might have noticed the runny yellow yolk remnant inside its belly.

As the birds age, they use up the yolk but the small bit that connected their GI tract to the yolk remains. It is called the Meckel's diverticulum and it specifically marks the start of the lower part of the small intestine in birds (the ileum). Meckel's diverticulum resembles a tiny outie belly button hanging off the outside of the chicken's gut. We have a Meckel's diverticulum that hangs off our lower small intestine too; originally it attaches to the placenta but once we are born, it shrivels up a bit, detaches from our belly wall, and becomes vestigial.

Photos after the break. Don't click if guts bother you.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Summer Reading

I don't feel like working on my thesis this afternoon so I thought I'd share brief reviews of some of the books that I've picked up over the past few months. I borrowed all of these title as Kindle books from my local library.

Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig. A modern horror/detective novel, I originally selected this for the welcome absence of vampires and werewolves. The main character can see, or rather, mentally lives out in full detail, the last moments of the life of any person that she touches. She also has regular visions that may or may not be conversations with Death himself. An accidental touch reveals that a serial killer will begin stalking girls at risk so the main character decides that she needs to stop him before he starts. Three problems with this book made me put it down well before the halfway point. First, the main character is so unbalanced, violent, and psychotic in her own behavior that no normal person would even stay on the same side of the street that she is on, yet she improbably manages to convince people to help her, let her stay in their apartments, and so forth. Second, the violence is unspeakably graphic and I don't like reading that kind of thing. And third, her sometimes-boyfriend began to have similar visions, a weak plot device that could be smelled like a rotten fish from a mile away. I later learned this is the second book in a set (I hesitate to call this mess a series) of three. Ghastly writing, ghastly characters.

The Republic of Wine by Mo Yan. I picked this book up as an antidote to the spartan, tense writing style and pacing of Wendig's novel. This book is also a sort of modern horror/detective novel. It was originally written in Chinese and is a hefty tome. The translation must have been quite a labor of love. However, after the millionth use of fruit to describe color or serve as a metaphor for something, all before the 30th page or so, I gave up. Who cares about the plot. There was hardly any narrative, just a bunch of description, mostly involving fruit colors. This book is too existential for my current state of mind and I might return to it later but I think I'd have to be pretty desperate.

The Epicure's Lament by Kate Christensen. The narrator is an odd curmudgeon who lives as a hermit and is deliberately trying to smoke and drink himself to death. The book is written as a series of journals kept by him over a period of a few months. Of course, messy, noisy life intrudes and changes his plans. That plot is a bit trite but the events are absurd enough and the narrator is just spiteful and cynical enough to be funny most of the time. The narrator is supposed to be some sort of erudite, knowing far more about literature and fine cuisine than the philistines he is surrounded by. However, a true epicure would know that there is no such thing as "cooking wine." If you wouldn't drink it, you shouldn't cook with it. I was not sure if the author was poking fun at the narrator by exposing him as a bit of a fraud at these instances or if she herself doesn't know the difference. And that is in fact part of the fun of the book. Recommended.

The Purchase by Linda Spalding. The book takes place on the midwestern frontier in the decades before the Civil War. A Quaker man is ejected from his community for daring to keep a young female maid in his home after his wife dies to help look after his children. He ultimately takes her as his wife although it wasn't clear if he legally marries her. In the dead of winter, they travel to a remote location, losing food, clothing, horses, and other goods along the way. He leaves this young girl and his children under a tarp in the snow and heads into the nearest town to buy implements such as an axe and plow so he can build a house and establish a homestead. Instead, this man inexplicably raises his hand at a slave auction and spends all of his money on a slave, a young black boy. And that is where I stopped reading. There was nothing in the prior 30 pages or so to give any clue as to why the man would do any of this. I simply couldn't suspend disbelief and just go along with it. It was too improbable. The beginning was too weak to serve as a foundation for anything further. This book should never had made it past an editor.

After the Quake: Stories by Haruki Murakami. I also read Kafka on the Shore by this author. He reminds me a little of Gabriel Garcia Marquez with an odd, stream-of-consciousness pacing and commonplace "magical realism". I think his short stories are far more accessible than his novels because his style works well with the shorter form. These stories can be perplexing but there are bits and pieces of wondrous prose scattered through them. Recommended, especially if you want an introduction to this author.

The Kept by James Scott. Another midwestern frontier novel that takes place in the last century. A mother with secrets and an odd, withdrawn son with secrets of his own, who were not close before, are thrown together on a long quest by an act of terrible violence. I haven't read enough to say how the quest will end. The prose is a bit flowery for the somewhat grim sequence of events so far but I'm pretending it's similar to the world that Charles Portis envisioned for True Grit. I really like science fiction and this book reminds me of "world building" books from that genre. It presents us with interesting characters in a complex world that doesn't feel at all like our own.

The Dinner by Herman Koch. One of the best books I've read in many months. Written in Dutch and translated into English. The story unfolds as two couples meet for dinner, ostensibly to discuss what to do about their sons. Details of the relationships between these people, their sons, and the specific events that precipitated the dinner are exposed in alternating flashbacks and events at the dinner itself as if the story is being told in separate courses like a fancy meal. There is something nasty and black at the heart of this story but it is so masterfully told that you never see the rotten core until the very end. Horrifying and mesmerizing at the same time. Highly recommended.