Saturday, February 13, 2010

Great Backyard Bird Count 2010

If you haven't heard already, this weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count. It is a citizen scientist project that anyone can participate in. Simply watch the birds in your backyard for a few minutes, a few hours, or all weekend, and submit your list to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's web site at the link above. With luck, you might see birds like these:

American Tree Sparrow
Can you see the bicolored bill?
Song SparrowWhite-throated SparrowCompare the American Tree Sparrow (left)
with the White-throated Sparrow (right)

Eastern Towhee, male
See his red eye?
from left to right: White-throated Sparrow,
Carolina Wren, Eastern Towhee

Red-bellied Woodpecker, male
And you can even see his red belly!
Downy Woodpecker, male
male House Finch (left) eating safflower seeds
female Downy Woodpecker (right) on peanut feeder

All photos enlarge with a click.

There's still plenty of time - the Count runs through Monday, Feb. 15. Fill up your feeders and start counting birds!
the ultimate winter bird,
a male Northern Cardinal

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Grace: April, 1999 - Feb., 2010

She entered my life on a dark October night in 1999. Picked up by the Cincinnati police, found roaming the city
without tags and dragging a broken chain from her worn collar, they left her with those of us working the overnight shift of the emergency veterinary hospital, to await pick-up by the Humane Society in the morning. She was suspicious of people and growled when we approached too closely. My first thought was, "Get her out of the building."

It was a slow night, and I found myself drawn to this lost soul, who had the look of a purebred Rottweiler, but the manners of a
street urchin. We had recently retired our hospital blood donor, another Rott, and I thought she might make a suitable replacement, if we could break through her defenses. Food and quiet, undemanding companionship allowed her to relax and start the bonding process.

I estimated her to be about 6 months old. Since blood donors have to be at least one year old, I offered to foster her until she was old enough to return to the clinic.

I named her "Grace," thinking she needed a name with positive connotations, and introduced her to my outgoing, energetic 8 month old Lab mix, Holly. The two quickly became friends, and were good influences on each other. Holly's open enthusiasm countered Grace's fears, and her calmer nature helped Holly find some self-control. Six months of training classes and life with Hol and me were good for Grace, overcoming her early experiences, and the sweet side of her nature shone through.

Needless to say, when the day came to return her, I was heartbroken, but a deal was a deal, and I was determined to stick to it. Luckily, when it came to a vote on whether I should turn Grace over or not, the other three staff vets over-ruled me. I was stuck with her, for life.

Over the years, we did a lot together. Grace helped me raise a kitten, taken from his mother too soon. She allowed him to "nurse" on the hairs of her belly, bemusedly watching him suckle for comfort, until he was 8 months old and she decided it was time he was weaned.

Grace and Manny

She taught me first hand what it is like to live through radiation therapy and ACL surgery. I think every vet should have to be the client once in her or his career, to see how it feels. Grace made sure I learned empathy for my clients who have dogs recovering from major surgery and cancer therapy.

Grace's "badge of courage"
and her ACL incision

She loved tennis balls
and kids with balls,
her best friend, Holly

and men. Here she is schmoozing with her orthopedic surgeon, just before her ACL repair.
One time, at a dog park, I couldn't find her. Turns out, she was making up to a strange man. She loved my farrier, also a Rott fan, and my ex-boyfriend, who doesn't care for dogs at all. Poor guy - to see a large "dangerous" Rottweiler running up to him, mouth open, and then laying her head in his lap. All she wanted was a a little love, but he was terrified.

One of her favorite spots was the place under my computer desk, where your feet are supposed to go. Trust me, there is no room for feet with 85 pounds of Rottweiler squeezed into the cubbyhole. There was barely room for her, but she always insisted on waiting here for me to finish my tasks.

While she loved basking in the sunand in front of the fireplace,she also enjoyed playing in the snow.

I could never get her to swim. though. She preferred to wade in the edge of the pond, waiting for Holly to retrieve a stick so she could steal it.

She loved the sport of Agility. We took an introductory class at the end of our initial obedience training courses, but then I didn't follow up. After she had fully recovered from her radiation therapy, we went back to class. I sent the radiation oncology team at MedVet these photos from her "graduation," to show people who were considering treatment that there was life after cancer.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. The first week of last August, she limped on her left front leg. I took an X-ray, and saw a very subtle sclerosis (hardening or thickening) of the cortical bone of the ulna. She got better. The first week of September, she did the same thing. She skipped the first week of October, and I thought we had broken the jinx, but then she limped for the next two weeks. A repeat X-ray showed my "subtle" lesion was worsening, and I knew in my heart what was happening.

As the lameness increased throughout November, I considered my options and rejected amputation as too aggressive in a 10 year old dog with a history of one cruciate ligament rupture and the potential for the other rear leg to go. Cancer surgery and radiation, orthopedic surgery, and miscellaneous other minor procedures .... she had been through enough. I promised her two things - no more surgery, and a release from pain when it became too bad.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, my birthday - I kept increasing her pain medication and trying to ignore the huge mass in her elbow that rendered her joint completely unusable. She carried that leg all the time, and it got harder and harder for her to get up and down or to walk too far, Still, she ate all her food and tried to play in the snow, so I was in denial. Finally, the day has come. The day all dog lovers dread. The day she looked me in the eyes and said, "I'm ready." That day is today, the day I say good-bye to my heart.

Rest in peace, my sweet Gracie.