Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Turning Leaves

Fall has always been my favorite time of year--the riot of color, the smell of leaves on the ground or raked into piles, the crispness in the air. Maybe I like fall so much because I've never seen it as a harbinger of winter, but rather as a time of beautiful changes. And speaking of beautiful things, the photo below of Willow was taken at my request by Dan King when I realized that I don't have many good recent photos of her. As the seasons turn and the year's end approaches I've been facing the fact that my dear, sweet Willow is perhaps racing toward her own end. I owe Willow so much in my life. It was she who got me started in sheepdog trialing, and it was she who led me to start raising sheep of my own. She taught me how to teach a dog to trust a human. In her younger years she was an amazing frisbee dog, and she was my jogging and rollerblading partner for years. As time as passed, she has slowed down in some ways, though not in others. She is still queen of the household and the fun police. She still works the chickens on occasion and enjoys watching the younger dogs work the sheep. Her greatest pleasure is to stand in the creek and wrestle with the roots of a tree that overhangs the bank. The only way to entice her from this endeavor is with a strategically aimed pinecone. She has mellowed to the point where I don't have to warn folks at the vet's office to be careful around her, and that's a good thing, since it seems we'll be spending a good deal of time at the vet's in at least the near future.

Her lovely russet points have all gone white, but she's still beautiful to behold.

Tuesday a week ago, I took Willow to the Veterinary Specialty Hospital in Cary, hoping to enroll her in a clinical trial for a new mast cell tumor medicine. Unfortunately, the trial was closed to new dogs the afternoon before our appointment. But there's another new drug available, called Palladia, and it's still in the post-clinical-trial stage of testing, so Willow is now being treated with it. She had her first CBC yesterday, and all looks well, which means so far she's tolerating the treatment. Next week, we'll go back to VSH for a more extensive work up, to also check kidney and liver function. As for her mast cell tumors, they have changed in appearance in the week she's been on the Palladia, but apparently the early changes aren't predictive of her long-term response to treatment. (As an aside, Willow's initial pathology report concluded that hers was a grade II tumor. Additional classification involves looking for cells undergoing mitosis, and there were none. However, Willow's tumor(s) have recurred twice now, which is rather bizarre, given the pathology report. Apparently Willow is one of the rare grade II tumors that acts more like a grade III, even though nothing in the pathological exam of the original tumor would have suggested this to be a possibility.)

The oncologist, Dr. Kozicki, did say that for having a murmur as bad as Willow's, that her heart looked amazingly good. So at this point it doesn't look like her heart failure is going to be what ultimately takes her, unless Palladia really is a wonder drug that can cure the mast cell cancer.

And while we're on the subject of medicine, I had what I thought might be a revelation about Phoebe's seizures. Last month I was five days late dosing the dogs with their ivermectin, and Phoebe was five days late with her seizure. I thought maybe I had my trigger (smoking gun?). This month I didn't give her any ivermectin. We made it to the 26th (a month and a day after the last seizure) and I started to breathe a small sigh of relief. Then on the afternoon of the 26th, I think she had a seizure. I don't know for sure because we were on our walk and the dogs run ahead, but there was something about the way she looked when I caught up to them that said to me that she had indeed suffered a seizure. Since I didn't see it with my own eyes, I will go another month without heartworm preventive and see what happens. After that, I'll discuss with my vet putting her on phenobarbital.

Photo by Dan King
This is Twist at Edgeworth, watching from the exhaust after her run. She reminds me very much of her sire Bud in this picture--it would be very easy to mistake one for the other. Twist didn't have great luck at either the Edgeworth or Lexington trials. On the marked shed at Edgeworth, the two sheep we needed to take were on the front, and I have never actually taken sheep off the front on a shed, so when I called Twist through this time, she turned onto the heads of the back sheep, and even though I got her turned on the correct sheep, the judge didn't call the shed and we timed out while trying to regather them.

Photo by Dan King
Here's Pip at Edgeworth. This was his second open trial and normally I wouldn't have thrown him in so way over his head as this trial, but Kat had injured her foot and couldn't run, so Pip was called off the bench. He pleasantly surprised me by making it all the way to the top (600 yards) the first go round. He got stuck on the set out, but I eventually got him back on his sheep and he brought them down the field. The turn was around a post about 100 yards down the field from the handler's post, and we negotiated that and the drive away, but on the cross drive he started looking hesitant, so I retired him. I've worked hard on his confidence driving and didn't need to blow it here, in his second open trial. On the second go, he took several redirects to get him to the top. He was never in danger of crossing over, but just seemed a little confused, even though he had just run up that same field the day before. This time around he did a beautiful job, and we even got our shed, but then timed out at the pen. I couldn't have been happier with him.

I was hired to set sheep for Jan Thompson's Watercress SDT in Limestone, TN, last weekend, so I didn't run any dogs. Pip and Twist were my set out dogs, and I must say they did a great job. At 3, Pip still needs to learn to conserve his energy, but it's nice to be able to seamlessly switch off dogs halfway through the day and not have anyone notice any difference in the quality of the set out.

Photo by Dan King

One thing I am blessed with is friends who will help out with Ranger and my other dogs at trials, especially when I'm busy setting sheep. It's tough keeping a puppy entertained sometimes, and so thanks to people like Dan (at Edgeworth below) and Christine Henry (the next two photos) at Watercress for keeping Ranger from going stir crazy. Robin also did some puppy sitting, with Ranger visiting his siblings, and Laura and Dan made sure the rest of my dogs got out for walks while I was setting sheep for two full days in Tennessee.

Photo by Sue Rayburn

Photos by Laurie Schultz

These are just gratuitous shots of Ranger-the-Pig at Edgeworth. We discovered he can swim (by accident) in the Edgeworth pond, though dabbling in the mud or chewing on bottles was really more to his liking. (For comparison, the photos below were taken when Ranger was 10 weeks old, and the photos with Christine, above, were taken at 12 weeks old.)

Photos by Dan King's a good thing I have friends who will take photos of my dogs; otherwise y'all would be out of luck!

Back here on the farm, I have pulled the tunis ewes up and am hoping they are bred. It was pretty warm this spring when I put GlenGrant in with them, so it's possible he didn't get them settled, though he definitely bred them. As they're mostly first timers, there aren't any obvious signs to go by, so I'm just keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for some tunis mule lambs to come along soon.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Time Flies

Wow, I can't believe I haven't managed to post on more than a month. I'll try to catch everyone up without going on forever (famous last words).

At Home

Lark still has a passion for working poultry and loves her new ducks. Sorry there's no pictures of the ducks, but here she is working a set of chicks back in early August.

My OEG hens keep pumping out chicks like this cute little specimen.

In other farm news, the dorset ram Archie has been in with the mule ewes all of September. I picked up three Scotch mules out of West Virginia at the end of August, so my mule flock is now up to seven ewes. I'm hoping for lambs starting the end of January. These will all be market lambs and should be ready to go in time for Easter. In the photo below the Scotch mules are the three on the left, the Clun Forest mules are the two in the middle (facing the camera) and the North Country Cheviot mules are the two on the right. By the way, the Clun I call Nosey Nellie healed completely from her accident with the cattle panel. It took a while, but she's fine now.

Additionally, the tunis ewes I bred to the BFL ram should be due at the end of this month. Their ewe lambs will go into my mule flock, and any ram lambs will be market lambs. I am really looking forward to seeing what my tunis mules look like!


This is a little out of order, but while at a trial in the middle of September, my dogs picked up kennel cough. Not a big deal really, other than the inconvenience. I don't vaccinate against it as a rule (and I've never had a problem in the 15 years I've had dogs), so of course it went through my entire pack. And that leads me to Willow. It hit Willow harder than the others. We automatically put her on antibiotics because of her heart, but still she coughed like a foghorn for nearly two weeks. When the torbutrol the vet gave me last week didn't seem to be helping, I took her in this past Monday for an exam. Dr. Scott was fairly certain the cough was indeed an artifact of the kennel cough and not due to her heart, but since it had been a little over a year since her last chest X-ray, we decided to do another. In the meantime, while Dr. Scott was checking Willow's pulse in various locations, we discovered that her mast cell tumor(s) was back. This time it had that same river delta pattern as before, but whereas before the tumor itself was a ropelike configuration, this time there are actual lumps. Sigh.

The side view radiograph showed no obvious additional enlargement of Willow's heart, and the heart did not appear to be impinging on her trachea, so definitely not contributing to her coughing. The ventral view did, however, show slight enlargement compared to 15 months ago. There still doesn't seem to be any fluid build-up around her heart, but Dr. Scott increased her furosemid dose slightly and suggested that we might add Vetmedin to see if we can reduce any strain on her heart a bit more and hopefully buy her even more time.

We discussed the recurrence of the mast cell tumor so soon after the high-dose prednisone we used just this summer to knock it back. I told Dr. Scott that I really didn't think I wanted to try the prednisone again because (a) it worked only briefly, (b) it made both Willow and me miserable (her more so than me, I'm sure) by seriously compounding her incontinence issues, and (c) the immunosuppressant effects over the long term would leave her susceptible to other illnesses. It turns out that Dr. Scott had just received some literature about a study being done on a potential drug treatment for mast cell tumors in dogs. She contacted the principle investigator, who said that Willow could be a candidate for the study, but they couldn't say for sure until they had given her an initial exam to be sure she didn't have any issues that might cause her death before the end of the study. That exam will cost me up front, but after that, all bloodwork, radiographs, meds, etc., are free. The downside is that this is being done at VSH in Cary, which is a good hour away, but if Willow is accepted, I intend to go ahead and have her participate. Given her heart condition and the mast cell tumor (which most certainly is also affecting her internally) I have to face the fact that she might not have very much longer with me. If before I have to let her go she can help advance knowledge of treatment for mast cell tumors, then I think it's a fair trade. Keep us in your prayers.


The fall trialing season is in full swing, though I haven't actually trialed my own dogs much. In the middle of September, we went to Donald McCaig's Yucatec Farm in Highland County, VA, where I had been hired to set sheep for the trial. I was hoping to have a picture of the trial, but didn't get one downloaded from a friend's website when I should have and now don't know how to find it. The field was a newly opened up area and the set out was 450-500 yards up the field. Debbie Crowder worked the pens, and I set the sheep, keeping a wary eye so as not to slip into any of the numerous groundhog holes at the top end of the field.

The sheep were very lightly dogged polypays and they proved a real challenge for all of us. I pretty much wore Twist out setting for the open class on Saturday. Kat was coming in heat, and I knew folks wouldn't appreciate me using her at the top, so I grabbed Pip out to set for nursery and ranch to give Twist a much-needed break. He did a wonderful job. He's very much like his mother Twist in the ways that are important, but he also isn't quite so wide flanking, which meant we were able to deal with the sets that wanted to bolt downfield much more quickly. This was a case of a young dog stepping up to the plate when asked and doing a masterful job.

For novice-novice and pro-novice, we had to ferry the sheep about 350+ yards down the field to where Donald was holding. I used Pip to do this until we got a third person to break up the ferrying into more manageable pieces. Pip was beginning to tire and his tiredness manifested itself in hesitation while driving over a long distance. This was a problem I worked hard to overcome with him last winter, so I was a bit worried that I had pushed him too far with all the set out work. Once we got an extra person up top to stand midway and ferry sheep, I put Pip up and pulled out Phoebe to drive the sheep from the set out pens to the ferry person midway down the field. Phoebe can be a freight train and she pushes my buttons to be sure, but no sheep challenged her, and she did her job admirably. On Sunday we had sent a lot out and I was talking to Debbie when Donald came on the radio talking about some unknown dog with"one giant ear on top of its head" that was trying to take the sheep. Debbie and I looked at each other and commented something like "What's he talking about now?" Then I looked around for Phoebe, who was nowhere to be seen. I'm a little slow, but it dawned on me that when Phoebe stands both ears up, she looks like she has one giant ear in the middle of her head. Oh no! Phoebe had run out 350 yards and was trying to bring back the sheep we had just sent down there. Fortunately she has a good recall and for once decided to listen....

Who me? (Notice that she's cleverly hiding the fact that she can make one big ear on top of her head.)

Last weekend was the Whistle for a Cure SDT at Robin French's Shoofly Farm in Oxford, NC. This was our second annual WFAC trial, held as a benefit for Joan Stout-Knight's team in the Gail Parkins Memorial Ovarian Cancer Research Walk/Run, to raise money for ovarian cancer research. Joan is a two-year survivor of ovarian cancer, and the trial is our way of doing what we love for someone we love with the ultimate goal of helping find earlier detection and better treatment for ovarian cancer.

Saturday was an open trial, and on Sunday we ran all classes. I had planned to run both Twist and Kat on Saturday, but since my friend Barbara has been taking lessons with Kat, she had planned to run her in P/N on Sunday, leaving me with just one open dog for that day. So, given how well Pip had handled the sheep at Don's trial, I decided to just go ahead and move him up to open as my third dog. We ended up retiring on Saturday as he left the post and went to the exhaust and I had to leave to help him find his sheep (actually, I really just needed to get him headed in the right direction, and he did the rest). Since we had plenty of time, Christine let me go ahead and finish our run unjudged. Once he got his sheep, Pip did a beautiful job with them around the course. It probably would have been a placing run if not for the whole outrun mishap!

Twist, old faithful (I can't believe she'll be 8 at the end of next month), went out and laid down a lovely run. We ended up tied for first with Denise Wall and her nice young dog May, and despite a very mediocre run for a tie breaker, I still managed to hold on to win by one point. I don't knwo why I seem to fall apart with respect to my handling when it comes to run offs, but it's definitely something I need to improve on.

Kat's run was a bit rough, and I'm not sure where we ended up, maybe 6th or 7th. I haven't been working Kat much and it showed, but overall it wasn't too bad.

On Sunday, I set sheep for the first part of open with Kat and then came down to run Twist and Pip. Twist went first and had a winning run going until I had a brain fart and allowed her to flank too far at the cross drive panels, causing a pull through. We were short on time by the time we got to the pen, and I could tell she was running out of steam, so I got the sheep out of the pen and called Twist through on the shed pretty much as soon as we got in the shedding ring, knowing that if we did much fiddling around in there she was going to slow way down on me and make things impossible. Even with the pull through, we were sitting in second behind Peggy Wilkinson and Sis when Pip and I went to the post as the last run of the class.

Pip laid down a beautiful run, but we were a bit slow. On the return leg of the drive we had about a minute and a half to get the sheep to the pen, penned, to the shedding ring, and split. We got the pen, and I pushed the sheep out and toward the shedding ring with just 10-15 seconds to go. As they entered the ring, they walked out in a line and I called Pip through. As he turned on the two sheep I indicated, the judge called "okay" at the same time the timer went off. Talk about a nail biter! The run was good enough for a score of 88 and a tie for first place.

After a lunch break, we had the run off. Peggy ran first and unfortunately ran out of time without getting her shed. Pip went out and laid down a nearly identical run to his first go, though we had a few extra seconds to spare in the shedding ring (not much though) to win the run off. I was mighty proud of Pip as this was his open debut.

Twist ended up overall open champion for the weekend with a first on Saturday and a third on Sunday. My big, goofy boy Pip has his first ever open qualifying points for the national finals.

Pip has a goofy grin here. This pretty much captures his personality to a tee. I think maybe Pip will end up doing his mama proud by the time all is said and done (i.e, when he finally matures).

I ran both Lark and Phoebe in ranch. Neither run was anything to write home about--they haven't been worked and it showed, glaringly. I think they ended up 4th and 5th in the class (or maybe 5th and 6th)--I didn't stick around to look at scores as I needed to head back up top and take over set out duties from Laura so she could come down and run Linc in P/N.

I toyed with the idea of adding Pip as my third dog at Edgeworth, but then decided that it may be expecting too much for him to do a 600-yard outrun in his second open trial, so instead I entered him at Lexington, where he ran well on the nursery course last year.

Of course I haven't forgotten Ranger. He turned 9 weeks old Friday and weighed in last week at a whopping 11.5 pounds. He's growing like a weed and is just way too fluffy. I was feeling the peer pressure from other folks with puppies around here and so spent five minutes yesterday teaching him to sit. I promised Laura a trick this afternoon so I better think something up and go out and teach it before she gets here this afternoon!

He's bold and fearless and gets into lots of stuff he shouldn't. He chases chickens for fun (need to put a stop to that), pesters the snot out of JellyBean, who is being amazingly tolerant, lucky for Ranger's eyes and nose, and is generally a little hell-raiser. Fortunately for me, Lark will play with him some, though I don't think she appreciates being the babysitter as often as I press her into service!

Ranger comes by his love of mud and water naturally. There's a reason his grandma is nicknamed Spottie-the-pig, and he was following in the footsteps of his mom Chris this morning by putting his head underwater all the way up to his ears! Fluffy and piggy--sure to be a very nice, clean combination.

I wish I could say I've found a job, but I haven't. I've been unemployed for nearly six months now and don't even have any good prospects. I'm applying to jobs, but it seems as if my resumes just disappear into a black hole somewhere. I did get a freelance project from my old employer, but the occasional freelance job isn't making a living.

Other than job hunting, I've been doing a lot of reading. Too many books to review here, but I will admit that I got sucked into Dan Brown's latest, The Lost Symbol and it was pretty entertaining. Two others I recently read and enjoyed were The Bride Will Keep Her Name, a cute mystery with a twist, and Home Safe, which was the story of a writer coming to terms with the death of her husband. Sorry I don't have authors for you--they were library books that have already been returned.