a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: November 2006

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Yesterday Was the Honeymoon

SUMMARY: Today, miserable pain.

Woke up a couple of times in the night with the leg aching some, took my Vicodin, lost a few short hours of sleep. By the time I got up, absolute misery. Every movement hurt tremendously.

I made it through the morning, managed to sleep after my midmorning Vicodin, despite ongoing feelings of nausea as well (pain-induced, I believe--if I'd lie completely still for a while, pain would die back to a mere constant ache and nausea would subside), then called the doctor's office to say that this didn't seem right.

The simple changes of removing the thick dressing a day early so I could get icing closer to my skin and adding megadoses of ibuprofen seem to be helping; nausea's been completely gone, pain is somewhat reduced although still have to walk (with crutches) very slowly and methodically. I am hopeful that I'm on the right track now.

All kinds of people are offering aid and sympathy; it's wonderful to know that I've got a support group if I need it. I've turned everyone down, though--I hadn't felt up to socializing, and my needs are really so simple at the moment that it makes no sense to have anyone hanging around waiting for me to need, say, a drink (can get it myself every couple of hours, just slowly and carefully) or, say, a trip to the restroom--rather a solitary kind of activity, really, at least in my experience. And my renter/housemate comes home after work and plays with the dogs and does the half a dozen collected things I need doing and then I'm fine again.

And--tomorrow's another day!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Knee Surgery Is Done

SUMMARY: The last 24 hours--or less--

Tuesday evening, 7:00: Meet with my friend Karey, who is quite the knee-surgery veteran, to borrow her automated knee-icing machine (some inventions are truly mahvelous--and simple--and I'd have never imagined such a thing if she hadn't mentioned it earlier and offered to let me borrow it). She throws in a dinner of Thanksgiving "leftovers", which turn out to be a really lovely casserole made with layers of turkey and broccoli and potatos, smothered in cheese and baked. VERY tasty. Would never have known they were leftovers (which are supposed to be eaten out of tupperware containers and barely warmed over). Karey and Dan have lots of helpful hints.

My three dogs mingle with their three dogs with various levels of enthusiasm or antipathy. Inyo the retired Terv (well,OK, he hasn't retired from Tervhood) mostly hung out in the background, except when he came by periodically to show that he still remembers how to do the Shake and High 5 that I started teaching him while waiting for agility class Lo those many years ago. I just happen to have treats in my pocket for just such dog-behavior emergencies. He's not entirely convinced at first that a piece of puppy kibble is really what one would call a treat, but he eventually accepts it and periodically comes back for more.

The other dogs think this is a good idea and pretty soon I have thousands of dogs doing rights and lefts upon various commands (mostly rights and lefts but not guaranteed to match with what action the dogs actually take).

I am very stressed about the surgery although I know that there's no real reason to be. My knee, contrarily, is feeling absolutely wonderful and isn't swollen at all. Except for that catching thing that it started last week, which is happening more and more and more, to the point where I think that I don't even really want to walk, to avoid the chance that I might have to endure another of those sharp sudden spikes of pain. I will be very happy if the doctor can fix that. And whatever else needs fixing.

I head home after 10:00, picking up tons of ice for the ice machine on the way home. I decide that I'm too tired to start getting everything prepped for Surgery Day and crawl into bed with my security electric mattress pad (like a security blanket, only warmer) and then read for a while--everyone dies, makes me feel particularly encouraged), then fall asleep sometime after midnight.

Wednesday, 6:00 a.m.: I'm awake. Why why why? I lie in bed quietly for a while, checking to see whether maybe I have some sleep molecules left to take me away again. No such luck. Get up around 6:30.

I've had Boost back in her crate the last 2 nights, after not bothering most of the time for a few weeks. Of course she likes being on the bed because the other dogs are there, but she has to take the middle position to avoid the other 2 dogs, who hold down the two far corners of the bed. Which means that, as she adjusts her position or rolls over during the night, she always rolls over in my direction rather than towards the other dogs, which means that when *I* roll over, suddenly there's a dog where I want to be. So I jab my knees into where I want to put them, which makes Boost jump up, and then usually she jumps off the bed and wanders aimlessly around the room, which makes me nervous, so then I have to insist that she come back onto the bed and get her settled into position again in the middle of the bed. Repeat a couple of hours later.

So two nights ago I was just too tired and stressy to deal with that, so I suggested that she get into her crate (where she has slept most of the previous 18 months) and zipped her in. I think we both slept much better that way.

Wednesday, 7:00 a.m.: Boost fetches the newspaper for me from the end of the driveway. But--dang--I'm not allowed to have any food or drink, not even sips of water or mints or anything--after midnight before the surgery, so no reading the paper with breakfast! What ever shall I do?

I shall go through my to-do list to prep for my anticipated restrictions after surgery:
  • Finish laundry and haul most of it back upstairs to my bedroom.
  • Clear the boxes of xmas ornaments out of the hallway and off to one side in the living room. At least the tree is set up and has lights on it.
  • Put away all the random stuff sitting around in the kitchen and various other places that might be in the way.
  • Set up a "nest" in the living room, which is on the same level as the kitchen (bathroom & office are down 5 steps; bedroom is up 12), with laptop computer, books, crossword puzzles, lightweight down comforter, extra pillow, stuff like that.
  • Make sure I've moved plenty of cold drinks from the garage (down 5 steps) into the fridge.
Also assembled everything I need to take with me, or imagine I might need, if I end up having to wait a long time ahead of time in the waiting room or a long time afterwards in the recovery room. Plus I want to be prepared for blogging!
  • Notepad and paper, pens, digital snapshot camera.
  • Novel I'm in the process of reading; crossword puzzle book.
  • Kaiser card and photo ID, and $20 just in case--I don't know, but just in case anyway.
  • Glasses case for my glasses and inhaler for my occasional lightweight asthma, requested by Kaiser that I bring with me.
  • Crutches.
  • Icing machine.

Mom and Dad's Chauffeur Service dropping me off in the morning.
I'm now fully IDed.
Self-portrait with cute little surgical cap and gown.
9:15 a.m.: I am showered, packed, dressed "in loose-fitting, comfortable clothing, no jewelery", and parents are here to pick me up right on the dot. My check-in time is 9:45 and it's only a 15 minute drive there, usually.

9:30 a.m.: Mom and I go in while Dad parks the car. No line at the check-in, so I register and sit down. They call me in to get started before Dad has even reappeared from the parking lot. They go over a lot of the same questions that they asked me in pre-Op (hearing aid? diabetes? allergies to meds? screaming panic attacks at the sight of doctors in cute little surgical caps? etc.).

10:00 a.m. (est; I'm not wearing my watch): I'm on a bed in the pre-op area, dressed only in my undies, one of those nice cloth gowns that tie in back, a cute little surgical cap for my hair, two disposable surgical booties, and one sock. They bring in all my stuff and send my parents home. They guess that I'll be done and ready to go home probably before 1:00.

Nurse has trouble getting the vein in the back of my hand to straighten out for the IV connector. She explains kindly what she's doing and why, apologizing repeatedly for the pain. I ask her whether most patients eventually give in to the torture and tell where the treasure is buried. She laughs and says she's never heard that line before. Maybe she's just being polite.

My doctor, Mr. Automata in our intial meeting, breezes in with a cheery and human-looking smile. We converse briefly about the right knee being the right knee, or the correct knee being the correct knee. He sent me email yesterday in response to a question of mine, saying "I'm looking forward to tomorrow." All of this is confirming that people go to medical school primarily for the joy of being able to legally poke other people repeatedly with sharp objects. When I mention his message, he says he always looks forward to the chance to make people's pain go away. It's a good line. Would probably hold up in court.

The nurse finishes pinning both the back and the front of my left handage and brisks herself away in search of substances to inject into the tubes and thereby into my circulatory system.

The anaesthesiologist, a very nice man, comes by and we have a brief discussion about the right leg being the right leg, etc., and then progress to a longer discussion about epidural (spinal) numbing or general anaesthesia. I really don't want to do the latter. It's scary, because you lose control of your body and your ability to respond to what it's telling you and so on. The doctor tells me that he has the same reaction, hates losing that mental control, but when he's had surgery, he had general, and he strongly recommends that for a variety of reasons. Epidural has small but slight risk of damaging nerves. More painful before and after. Recovery can take hours. More side effects likely. Sure, it's a commonly used procedure where they want the patient to be aware, as in birth deliveries, but they don't often use it there for knee surgery. General has its risks, too, but I'm a very low risk patient and he has no reservations at all about recommending the general for me. He gradually convinces me. He says that it's a bit of a phobia, wanting to avoid that general anaesthesia, and he'll give me something nice IV (valium-equivalent) to help me feel better about the decision. And about the surgery. And about life, the universe, and everything.

They are kind enough to have me read and sign all the various releases and disclaimers BEFORE they give me the "what-the-heck-life-is-beautiful" drug. I've had no time at all in which I needed to have novels or crossword puzzle books, although I do manage to snap a couple of photos (and nurse takes photo of me in the bed).

10:30 a.m., more or less: I feel great! A little distanced from the world, but just hunky-dory happy, calm, and peaceful. Everything's going to be just fine, yessirree. They wheel me into the operating room and I wiggle myself from the card onto the table with a little guidance. Dozens of people are bustling around doing whatever it is that people bustle around doing in operating rooms. Maybe if I ever watched TV (ER?) I'd know.
In the recovery room. With cap off.
Recovery room. Is it me or the camera that's a little wee bit skewed at the moment?
Apparently one of the things they do while bustling around is wrap my leg in surgical gauze and ace bandages, because I'm now lying there in the recovery room, opening my eyes (when did they close?), with my knee all bundled up. I suppose that some of the bustling also involved surgery, but you couldn't tell by me. I feel just the same as I did 30 subjective seconds ago while I was moving onto the table in the operating room--awake, comfortable, calm. The clock says, I think--

Blood-oxygen monitor. No sharp pointy things involved.

Post-surgery meal: Bread and water.
Noon-ish? Various very nice people ask how I'm doing, feed me some Vicodin, water, and graham crackers, call my parents, check my various status indicators, read me my instructions for the next few days, have me sign a release stating that I acknowledge still being alive after the surgery, and so on. Dad is there before they're even done with all that, and I get into my clothing and take a couple of steps into the wheelchair (so I didn't need the snacks I packed, the novel, the crutches, or the ice machine--I'll put that on at home). They wheel me out to the curb, dad drives me home and settles me in.

At home now--my view from my sofa nest. Finished putting lights on yesterday. Decorations are still in boxes.
You can see my three loving guard dogs hanging around my sofa nest (Jake left, Tika bottom, Boost by tree), and some boxes of tree decor, just waiting.
The icing machine. Looks like a cooler--well, I guess it is, with a motor and a hose and a thing that wraps around my leg and conveys ice-cold water automagically.
My sofa nest.

1:45ish Dad is gone, I'm here in my couch nest, the ice machine running. The surgical dressing is so thick that I can barely feel any coolness, but I'll just leave it on, letting it do its job. Leg feels fine, but the instruction sheet says "marcaine (a type of pain medication) was placed in your knee after the surgery, which will significantly reduce your discomfort during he first night. When this wears off, you may feel increased discomfort." Something to look forward to. And to discover whether "increased discomfort" is a euphemism for "bring on the morphine now, by the truckload please."

I feel no nausea, maybe a teeny bit of light headedness when standing (but that could've been from lack of food, too), and right now I'm feeling a teeny bit headachey (could be from lack of food, lack of sleep, aftereffects of anaesthesia, or just random headachability.

I think I'll have more food, see whether I can xfer this to my real computer to post on my blog, and maybe take a nap.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Out of Condition

SUMMARY: Many muscles sore from fun match.

Dang, why do I never think of taking photos until after I'm home?

The fun match was at Workin' Paws in Hollister. This is Susan Paulson's back yard, but not a back yard like you find in most of Silicon Valley. All of the houses in the neighborhood are on their own giant lots--I'm guessing at least 2 acres each, maybe more like 3 to 5. Many people have horses. Workin' Paws has a duck coop (what do you call a building in which you keep ducks? Chicken coop, dove cote, turkey trot--or something--), a huge fenced area for pottying and running dogs that's larger than my back yard, a pretty-close-to-full-sized agility ring in grass, and another ring under construction, plus their house and personal yard. And I have no idea whether the neigbhoring pastures with sheep and llamas were theirs or other neighbors'. Pretty cool. But a long commute from most jobs up here (just under an hour from my place in south san jose, so estimate at least one and a quarter hours--in good traffic (ha!)--to Sunnyvale or Santa Clara).

I ran Jake in 3 Jumpers runs and he seemed pretty happy to be there. I believe that I did 4 Jumpers runs each with Tika and Boost, and two or three Standard runs each. But they weren't straight through--they were most like practices, and we were allowed up to 90 seconds each in the ring, so I redid sections that I felt would be productive.

So I did quite a bit of running with my knee brace on, and my right knee got to feeling pretty tired by noon. Today, all the muscles in all of my legs (at least 2 of them) are bone-tired. This is bad. This means that I'm really very much out of condition. That's really not a lot of being on my feet for me normally, but apparently it is a lot for me NOW. I realize that I haven't been going for my daily mile walks for quite a while now, and I'm doing less and less with the dogs overall, but boy, I'm going to have to be careful after the surgery to remember that I'm not going from peak condition to surgery to peak condition.

Boost and Tika both didn't want to carry on to the end in the Jumpers courses with 4 or 5 straight jumps in a row. Bother! Something I worked on with both of them a lot and just assumed that they'd do. So we worked on that a bit. Worked with Boost on going over jumps and not going around them when she's trying to catch up to me. Worked with Tika on the start line stay. And worked. And worked. She got up and ran only once, but boy, she skootched and skootched and SKOOTCHED and skootched--

I've toyed with the idea of putting her in a down, since that's what she seems to want to do as an alternative to taking off early. Seemed to keep her in place better, but in fact she went into full relaxed position with one front leg tucked under, which isn't what I want, either.

So much to do--

Friday, November 24, 2006

All's Quiet on the Western Front

SUMMARY: Laid Back

I played with the dogs a bit before spending most of the day Thursday driving to & from and eating in Richmond at my cousin's place with most of the rest of my family. They have a yellow Lab (well--mostly--claimed to have registered parents), beautiful girl, VERY well-behaved, puts me and my dogs to shame. My cousin is basically new to dog ownership but her husband has had dogs (a dog?) before, in Morocco where he grew up. Jamela (the dog) was basically a rescue who was 20 lbs overweight and barely trained to do anything when they got her 7 years ago at 2 years old. Now she's sleek and athletic-looking and very happy and pays attention when she's told to stay on her bed or stay out in the yard, and doesn't jump up on people.

Huh. Must be a defective dog.

Tomorrow I'm taking the whole lot of Taj MuttHall Dogs down to Gilroy for a fun match. We'll see whether I can really do any running 4 days before my scheduled knee surgery. Actually I can move around pretty good, except for those painful catches that started last week, and it is generally sore & puffy, and I can't kneel (or stand up therefrom) without the most amazing gyrations and strenuous complainings. But that's a whole different knee usage from running in a fun match. It's only about 45 minutes away, so I can leave when I want, and wasn't too expensive to enter, so I won't feel badly about leaving money on the table if I really can't do anything. But it'll be good practice for Boost to be in yet another location; it should be fun for Tika just to be active and working; and I hope that Jake will want to do a run or two for handfuls of treats at the end (he's 15, I'm inclined to indulge him immensely).

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Knee Surgery Will Occur

SUMMARY: Surgery's a go but it might not solve all my problems.

I'm discouraged. Met with the surgeon today.

The problem is that my knee issues aren't all consistent with meniscal damage. In part, the most-currently-aggravated pain moves around; sometimes it seems to on the upper side of the kneecap, sometimes to the right, sometimes below--very occasionally, to the left. That's not consistent with meniscus damage, apparently, which usually stays very unambiguously put.

Probably the most-commonly aggravated is the right side, which also happens to be where I've been experiencing the very painful catch/pop syndrome for the last week. That IS consistent with meniscus damage...but it's only been doing that for a week; where has it been for the last year while the pain has gradually grown?

When the doc held my knee in such a way as to try to isolate the problem, the greatest pain was when he pressed straight on the kneecap--jumping out of my seat pain--which is also not consistent with meniscal damage. And there was some pressure-related pain on the top/right side of the kneecap and the below side of the kneecap, ALSO not meniscal related.

But some of my symptoms ARE consistent with meniscal damage, and the MRI report is very clear that there are notable tears.

So I have at least three issues with my knee, he says:
  • Cartilage "abnormality" behind the kneecap (chondromalacia). Nothing can be done about that (well, maybe full knee replacement, but I'm nowhere near there yet.)
  • Some arthritis/calcium buildup, aka degenerative joint disease (DJD), aka arthritis (despite the other orthopedist saying there's really not enough there to call it arthritis yet); also can't do anything about that.
  • Meniscal tears and possibly folding and pieces floating around--can definitely do something about that.

    He feels that there's a very good chance that he can fix most or maybe even all of my pain. But not a complete guarantee because of the other known issues from the MRI and my various symptoms. In fact, maybe he's just being conservative, but it seems that the odds are worse than normal that he will, in fact, be able to make all the pain go away. So I don't know what I'll be dealing with until we do the surgery and see whether the pain goes away. That sucks.

    On the other hand, with Kaiser, it's an outpatient procedure and (they told me) should cost me only $5. I hope they're right.

    This doctor won't do arthroscopy with local anaesthesia, but either spinal (where I stay conscious) or general anaesthesia (where I don't) are OK. He defers to the anaesthesiogist for that, whom I won't see until the day of the surgery.

    I'm really tired of being in pain all the time and in being so limited in what I can physically do at the moment, I just want to do it and hope that things are much better then.

    On the other hand, he says that (depending on many factors, including what he actually does when he goes in), I could be up and running in anywhere from 2 weeks to--well--4 months, but on average, he says about 4 weeks. That's promising. It sounds a bit ambitious, but we'll see.
  • Sunday, November 19, 2006

    Normal and Colorblind

    SUMMARY: Tika seems fine. Discussion on dog vision.

    At dinnertime Friday evening, when Tika would normally crouch to the ground and then spring straight up into the air while I'm walking into the kitchen with her food bowl, she merely crouched partway and then simply stood partially upright on her back legs. That along with a few more yelps had me convinced that it was time to take her to the vet Saturday morning. But, come Saturday morning, she seemed fine. So she hasn't been to the vet, and she's been springing straight into the air as normal at feeding time. So much for whatever it was.

    There's been a discussion on The Bay Team mailing list about what dogs see. Dogs have a much wider arc of vision than we do--those predatory beasts--although their color vision is much more restricted.

    Here are a couple of articles on the subject passed along by the other Bay Team Ellen:

    This led to a question of whether a dog couldn't tell the difference between the red and yellow portions of dog agility equipment (when someone chooses those colors). Using this nifty site's tools, I could posit that it has as much to do with the saturation or shade of the various colors; here's how a dog might see a couple of pieces of red/yellow equipment (Aframe and tire):

    And here's why it might be harder for my dogs to find an obvious hot-pink squeaky on the bright green lawn than it is for me:

    Friday, November 17, 2006

    Assorted Little Things

    SUMMARY: Dog life goes on.

    Twice yesterday (once morning, once evening), when Tika jumped off my bed, she yelped. Just a small yelp, not a screech. But. This is not normal. This is so not normal that I wanted to panic immediately. I checked her pads and toenails, looked for swelling in her ankles, massaged and pressed all over--nothing, except that she looked more worried by the minute. When I finally stopped examining and started playing, she perked right up and was her normal self. She played enthusiastically in the yard morning and afternoon, and did all the agility obstacles with no apparent change. Just something to keep an eye on. I suppose, if she's going to ever have an owie, now is the time to do it, while I'm contemplating weeks to months off for knee recovery.

    Jake seems to be doing so much better now that he's willing to play fetch endlessly again. I still have to convince him to come outside. I still have to convince him to fetch his tug'n'treat the first time or two. But now sometimes he's actually coming along and asking to play, just like he always did. If the merle girls aren't tied up when I try to start him up, though, he's not likely to do it. So it is them that was bothering him. However, once he's stoked up and going, I can release the other two. Then Tika waits for Jake to move or me to throw, and Boost waits for Tika to move. Then Tika takes off down the line of where she thinks the throw or Jake will go, barks at the end of it (because I'm deliberatedly holding the throw for a second so I can put it right in front of Jake and not in front of Tika, who will run off and drop it in some obscure place if she gets it), and comes back for more; while Boost shoots straight out along the side of the yard, getting an end run on both dogs, always way far ahead of them, then shoots back behind Tika so she's right there for the next toss.

    Boost did weaves very well in class yesterday, except that we started with the longer-gapped AKC poles, and she made all her entrances and flew threw them. Talking to another student, I said I wasn't happy about doing those in class while her weaves are so recently precarious as far as skipping--she's still getting the rhythm, and that's all I need, is for her to loosen up and get into a 22" or 24" rhythm when all she'll ever encounter in USDAA is 20-21". Wendy (also an instructor on her own) said that one argument for doing it would be to help the dog generalize--she should be able to do any weird set of poles for our best performance in any circumstances. While I agree with that, I don't want her doing it NOW. And, in fact, when we moved to the part of the field with the narrower poles--admittedly, it was a sharp turn that we're not really up to yet--she not only often missed the entry but also often then skipped a pole or two. Instructor said it's because I was rushing up on her, but since she's been doing so well on weaves the last 2-3 weeks at the narrower spacing, I am just suspicious of having done quite a few weaves with the wider gaps first.

    Live and learn. I should also remember to measure the gaps next time I'm up there to see whether there's really that much difference that I should be concerned. (Don't know when that'll be--next week is Thanksgiving, then presumably my arthoscopy, then who knows how long I won't be able to do anything.)

    Mr. Knee has gone full circle--from feeling better and better all through Nationals and through last week's classes and through the weekend, to Monday afternoon, when it started feeling sensitive, then started doing this catching kind of thing that's not pleasant, to be achey enough that I didn't put in a full class with either Tika or Boost, to being so miserable last night that it woke me every time I moved during the night. I think it's a little more swollen today again. I don't get it. I guess it needs fixing.

    Wednesday, November 15, 2006

    The Old Guy Keeps On Ticking

    SUMMARY: Jake's 15th Birthday was November 1

    We were in Scottsdale for Jake's 15th birthday, poor guy. He really wanted a party and a cake, but it just didn't seem practical (or, OK, easy) at the time, so I just mentioned it to a bunch of people and made sure that he got plenty of extra noncrate time that day.

    So, tonight, for class, I'm taking a cake. Got nonchocolate so that, if anyone wants their dogs to splurge (it is a 15th birthday, after all, not just any old bday), they can have some.

    I found some toy traffic cones and put numbers on them just like you'd have on an agility course, and numbered a path through the decorations on the cake from 1 to 15 with the #15 right on the "15th" of the message; there's even a start line and finish line. I'm sure Jake will appreciate the subtle wit.

    I'm going to take all 3 dogs to class tonight so they can all have a piece of cake, and probably run Jake a run or two at 12"--mostly he's been retired from class since February, so we'll see how he likes it. Every time I've tried him since then, it has made me wonder why I retired him. Doesn't he look great for a (purported) 15-year-old? Wish I could backtrack his history; it just doesn't seem possible for him to be that old.

    We know he has to be at least 11 based on when he earned his first agility leg, but that would assume that he earned it at exactly 18 months of age after being put into rescue and then being placed in a few homes and finally adopted out and eventually trained...

    Tuesday, November 14, 2006

    Pondering Qualifying for USDAA Nationals

    SUMMARY: How the sport has changed; where we fall.

    When I first started agility, USDAA tournament events (events that qualify for Nationals--the Grand Prix, the Steeplechase, and the Dog Agility Masters (DAM) Team) were much harder to come by than they are now.

    Team Event

    Getting to Nationals: Your team has always needed to Q only once (per year) to go to Nationals; I hope that doesn't change! Because ONE Q requires that, at a team event, all three dogs do well in four individual competitions followed by a team relay that's pretty heavily weighted. Even though you "only" need to be in the top 50% of teams at the event with your cumulative scores over those 5 classes, it's sure expensive and time-consuming and stressful to earn that qualifying score.

    Something that is changing, however, is the nonqualified-dog exemption: In 2004, 2005, and 2006, a team with two Team-qualified dogs could invite a 3rd nonqualified dog for the nationals. I've made use of that exemption every year: In 2004, Tika didn't Q in Team and got on a team with 2 qualified friends; In 2005, one of those friends didn't qualify and joined Tika and another qualified dog; in 2006, two qualified people allowed Boost to join their team (since Boost hadn't started competing soon enough to even try to qualify for the '06 nationals). Starting in 2007, I understand that the exemption will go away. Bummer.

    Availability of Team qualifying events: We're actually in one of the hotbeds of dog agility here in central/northern California--we might have more USDAA events, including tournament events, within a couple of hours from home, than anywhere in the country. It started out slowly, though.

    In my first full year of competition, I entered only 2 USDAA trials with Remington, and one of them had a DAM (Dog Agility Masters) Team qualifying event. In Remington's 6 years of agility, he entered Team only 3 times, and qualified only once; Jake entered only 3 Team events ever and didn't qualify ever, I don't believe. By comparison, in this last competition year alone, Tika entered four Team qualifying events, with her team qualifying for the nationals twice.

    How we've done: Interestingly, in Remington's first Team event, we teamed with (now) long-time friend Karey and her Tervuren, Inyo (now retired), and my obedience instructor, Pam, with her cute little mixed-breed dog, Jake--whom you all now know as MY cute little mixed-breed dog, Jake. I don't really know how it all turned out because, not being as obsessive as I soon came to be about writing down scores, I wrote nothing about the final results after the Relay, nor about what my teammates did. Remington's scores in the 4 individual Team events look pretty good, particularly for a novice dog and handler who couldn't do anything worth beans in the Starters classes(!), but who knows how the cumulative scores from all three dogs plus our relay run ended up.

    I do have a cryptic note, "7/11", which I think means that we placed 7th out of 11 teams entered. Even back then, to qualify for the nationals in Team, your team had to place in the top 50%, so clearly we didn't Q in that one.

    By comparison, in the last two years, there have typically been more than 60 teams entered in the qualifying events locally.

    Grand Prix

    Getting to Nationals: When we started, to get to Nationals, you had to complete one Grand Prix during the year with 10 or fewer faults. For Remington's 10 attempts from 1997 to 2001, he succeeded exactly twice--conveniently, once for the 2000 San Diego nationals, and again for the 2001 San Diego event.

    Sometime after that, the requirement changed to seven or fewer faults--which would have eliminated one of Remington's two Qs, which had 7.03 faults. Later, somewhere between 2001 and 2005, the requirement changed again to two runs with 7 or fewer faults. USDAA's way, I suppose, of trying to reduce the huge numbers of entrants at the National competitions, which were starting to look a little unmanageable.

    For the upcoming 2007 Nationals year, once again a change: now you must earn two GPs with five or fewer faults.

    I dread every year that they'll change the requirement to zero faults, because of Tika's running style (dropped bars, missed dogwalk up contact): In her 15 qualifying GP runs over the last 4 years, she has run clean only twice. At 5 faults, we can do it--but not if they ever change it.

    Availability of Grand Prix Qualifying events: Remington and Jake got to enter one Grand Prix qualifier in each of 1977, 1978, and 1979. In 2000 and 2001, when the Nationals were held in San Diego, we were able to enter two Grand Prixs each year. After that, with the sports' growing popularity, there were two GPs for us again in 2002, four GPs in 2003, seven in 2004, a full ten in 2005, and about the same number available in 2006, although Tika and I didn't run in all of them as my knee deteriorated--

    How we've done: For Jake's 19 attempts from 1997 to 2004, he succeeded in Qualifying 12 times, 7 times with no faults at all. What a good little guy.

    Fortunately, in 2004, Jake Qed in 4 of his 6 attempts at the Performance level, so we went to Nationals in Performance Grand Prix. In 2005, I didn't enter him in any GPs, instead running him at the nationals in the Veterans category for dogs who had previously made it to at least the semifinals at previous National GPs.

    That is something that I've never managed with Tika (so far); with 6 attempts behind us to get to the semis (which you can do by earning a bye at a regional or by doing well at the quarterfinals at the Nationals), we have missed every bloody time. I want that semis polo shirt! And the eventual Veterans designator! Of course, it would be very cool to get to the finals, but I don't think that Tika and I are the team to do it in this competitive environment. I have fantasies about Boost, though--


    Getting to the Nationals: Steeplechase is hard to qualify in--at least, it always seems that way to me, because you have to be in the top some-percentage of dogs in your height class at a qualifying event.

    In looking at my old records, Remington and Jake each qualified only once in their careers (out of 7 and 6 tries, respectively), and it must've been something like the "top 30%", because both of their Qs were barely under the 30% line.

    Sometime before Tika started competing (between 2000 and 2004), it changed to the top 15% of those competing.

    Last year, they changed it to something that could in theory allow all dogs to qualify, although practically, it never happens--in fact, given a couple of dogs of much greater speed than most dogs, even fewer could qualify. What they do now is average the score of the top 3 dogs and then qualify all dogs within 125% of their score.

    Until this year, you've been able to go to the Nationals with one Steeplechase qualifying score--but in 2007, you'll need two Qs.

    Availability of Steeplechase qualifying events: I didn't get a chance to enter Steeplechase in 1996 or 1997, and only once in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003. Then it exploded in California, most likely because of the Nationals moving to Scottsdale for 2004 and beyond: In 2004, we entered 4; in 2005, seven; in 2006, again seven but I had to withdraw from (I think) two additional ones because of my knee.

    How we've done: Even fast Tika has problems with qualifying, because the Steeplechase score ADDS faults to your time, which for example adds 5 seconds if you knock a bar. She didn't qualify in 2 tries in 2003, qualified 1 of 4 in 2004 and 1 of 7 in 2005--which was all she needed in both cases to get to Scottsdale. This year, she actually managed 3 Qs out of 7 tries, which is a good proof that we can do it before the pressure's on next year for the new two-Q requirement. Gulp.

    The line just gets higher, and higher, and higher...

    Monday, November 13, 2006

    The Knee Puzzles

    SUMMARY: It's so much better. Why?

    My knee is now not swollen even worth mentioning. I think there's just a little puffiness in one place, but this is the first time in two full months that it hasn't been so obviously large that one could tell even through my jeans. And the pain level is absolutely minimal; I said a "3" on 1 to 10 scale last Tuesday, but mostly now it's probably around a 1. Except when I try to kneel. Then I know it's not a normal knee.

    But I haven't been doing ANYthing with it--almost no work with the dogs in the yard, virtually no walking, not even ANY of the exercises from physical therapy--which I need to get back to.

    This is amazing. Just as I remain baffled as to why it got suddenly worse in April (and then quickly better) and then suddenly worse again mid-September, I am baffled as to why a week at Scottsdale should spur a rapid recovery.

    And NOW I have surgery tentatively scheduled for the Wednesday after Thanksgiving. Still have to meet with the doc who'll do the work and also go in for a pre-op physical exam. I'm of many minds about this:
    • "If it's better now, maybe I don't need the surgery."
    • "If it's going to act up every few months and make it impossible for me to walk, I definitely need the surgery."
    • "If the 'unusual appearing linear vague signal abnormality in the distal femoral metadisaphysis region, without a typical appearance for a fracture' (read: "some abnormality to bones in knee") also revealed by the MRI is what's really causing the problem, meniscus surgery won't fix the problem. But there might be no way to know without doing it."

    Sunday, November 12, 2006

    Nationals Photo Highlights

    SUMMARY: Photos of most-direct Taj MuttHall interest, plus link for more.

    I uploaded photos of my friends and teammates (200+ photos) on my smugmug site, including the following. But I have winnowed them down to these that are of most direct interest to Taj MuttHall.

    Boost's sister Bette and her "mom," Mary, waiting in line for dock-dog diving. This was a popular activity (well--the diving, not the waiting in line) but I wasn't prepared to wait in line for half an hour for a couple of quick immersions.
    Diana, who shared my car and hotel room, with one of her two Border Collies.
    Bette demonstrates dock-dog style.
    Bette removes all that heavy dock-dog water after her dive.
    Jake hanging out with me, hoping for goodies.
    Boost's sister Beck and her "mom," Linda.
    Me at Scottsdale and, behind me, one of the agility fields and the impressive McDowell mountains. They rise dramatically above Scottsdale, formed from Precambrian basaltic rocks dating back about 2 billion years. The tallest, McDowell Peak, is about 1230 meters (4023 feet) above sea level; I'm standing at about 1500 feet at Westworld. Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West is at the foot of the McDowell Mountains.
    Boost's "Uncle Greg," owner of her parents (Tala and Coty).
    Boost's "Aunt Tammy," cobreeder with Greg, running one of her other dogs.
    Boost's sister Beck and Linda again.
    Boost's sister Gina, from L.A., with her "dad," Tim.
    Boost's sister Gina, from L.A., with her "dad," Tim.
    Boost's sister Gina showing an impressive teeter-totter.
    Boost flying through the weave poles. (Photo by Dynamic Dog Photos. Ordering prints.)
    Tika propelling herself out of the weaves without a moment to lose. (Photo by Dynamic Dog Photos. Ordering prints.)
    Uncle Greg running Boost's dad, Coty.
    My Booster baby! (not so baby any more--21 months and competing.)
    Just one of many spectacular sunsets and sunrises during our stay in Scottsdale. Every night and every morning was like this! How do they do it? It's probably paid for by property taxes in this upscale tourist town.
    Dang herding border collies! This is a game of "frisbee"--at least, it is for Brenn, who watches intently and waits for Carlene to toss the frisbee--and Bette who watches intently and waits for Brenn to move--and Boost, who watches intently and waits for Bette to move. They line up like this, all motionless and poised, every time.
    Wednesday night was the annual awards banquet. Last year, Jake was in one of the Top Ten categories, but nothing for us this year, although several of our friends earned awards. Food was served buffet style, and the chocolate cake layout seemed appealing.
    Sunrise the next morning. See what I mean?
    Our crating area, between the two posts. Carlene and Mary and their 3 dogs were supposed to crate with us but set up somewhere else for most of the time. And my borrowed bicycle.
    "Free" goodies from USDAA at check-in: Hat, t-shirt, pin, frisbee.
    Here's Tika's team, "Three's a Charm." Ellen, Mary, Carlene.
    The backs of our shirts, made by WendyWear.
    Detail of shirts
    In the hotel room, Boost loved wrestling with Diana's 8-month-old Border Collie, Cassidy. Aren't they just soooo cute?
    Isn't-um snuggums wuggums cuteums puppywoodles?
    Boost decided she wasn't willing to sleep in her crate. After struggling with getting her to settle all night the first night, after that I decided that if she'd settle quietly in the chair next to the bed and let me get my few measly hours of sleep, I wouldn't fight it. It worked out fine.
    Dogs take over the sleeping area. Fortunately, there was still room for me, although I was so (pardonthe expression) dog-tired every night that I could've slept on a rock surrounded by 50 hyperactive wire-haired terriers. Seldom got to bed before midnight; almost always up before 6 a.m. Zzzzzzzzzz.
    My teammates, Mary and Carlene, conspiring again. These guys always seemed to have plans. Fortunately they always worked out well for me, so I'm not complaining.
    The competitors' hospitality tent had two large computer displays showing up-to-the-moment standings. Except for the finals, all the other events had so many entries that they ran all day. You could watch the detailed results scroll down the left side, but you could see who was currently in the lead in placements on the right. This was about 10:30 one morning, with Tika sitting in 3rd place in the 26" dogs in Team Gamblers, something I knew we wouldn't be able to maintain for 6 or 7 more hours, but it was so cool to see our name on the leader board for several hours. We endd up 12th of 130 dogs in this event, dropping below the 8 ribbon placements on the leader board. But then I got to watch Tika's name on the leader board again on Sunday for the Power and Speed, and that time we stayed 10th for an actual ribbon.
    More leader-board fun. About 3pm on Saturday, with all of our team's runs done, we show up as 9th(!) of 208 teams, with only 1 to 2 hours of competition left. We're pretty sure at this point that we're going to make the top 30 and go to the finals, although I'm betting that we'll be in 22-23rd place. Actually end up seeded 26th at the end of the day, going into the next day's finals.
    Boost's breeders, Tammy and Greg.
    Here's "Three's a Charm" after our 22nd-place finish in the Team Finals. Wooohooo! Ellen and Tika, Mary and Skeeter (Cattle Dog), Carlene and Brenn (Border Collie).