The Wedding

I thought about titling this blog entry “AJ the Ring Bearer.” But as you’re about to find out, he was so much more.

In December 2019, while we were all vacation in Hawaii, my stepson proposed to his girlfriend. The wedding planning started the day we got home.

The plan all along, even before we got hit by a global pandemic, was to have an outdoor wedding in the summer of 2021. When I heard it would be an outdoor wedding I jokingly said “Hey, A.J. can be your ring bearer!” Being an animal lover, and one of A.J.’s many devoted fans, our future daughter-in-law took the idea seriously and was very excited.

Months went by, plans changed, and the big outdoor wedding turned into a small backyard wedding. (And eventually turned into a medium-sized backyard wedding.) The venue was now the backyard of the bride’s parents’ home. At which point I realized we had a problem: there was a cat in the house.

I wasn’t completely sure everyone was really onboard with my dog being at the wedding, let alone being a ring bearer. And now with a cat on the premises, I was starting to think of boarding options for A.J. for that weekend.

A few weeks before the wedding I mentioned this to the bride and I was told that she still absolutely wanted A.J. there (have I mentioned how happy I am with my stepson’s choice for his life-long partner?), and that it was the cat who was going to be boarded for the weekend. It turns out this indoor cat is an escape artist, and with people coming in and out all weekend they didn’t want to have to worry about him running off.

So we were all set for A.J. to attend the wedding. But I still wasn’t sure about the whole ring bearer idea. I knew A.J. could do it, I just wasn’t sure everyone really wanted that. But, about 10 days before the wedding, we decided to start training.

It took all of five minutes for A.J. to figure out that if he came running when someone said “Ring!” he would get a treat, and when they said “OK!” he could come running back to me to get another one. Given the fact that we’d be sitting right up front, it seemed pretty easy to get him to bring the rings over to the bride and groom and come right back to me.

One week before the wedding we went to the bride’s parents’ house to help with some preparations. It was also the perfect opportunity to practice with A.J. at the actual venue. After asking the bride one last time “do you really want to do this?” and receiving a resounding “Yes!” we set up a practice run. The groom wasn’t there, so the bride’s father stood in. I asked where I’d be sitting and put a chair in that spot on the lawn, made sure everyone had their treats, and we all got in place. The father of the bride said “Ring!” and A.J. ran right to him. The bride reached under his chin and grabbed the ring (we practiced with her engagement ring), the father of the bride said “OK!” and A.J. came right back to me.

I was very happy with this. But the father of the bride, being a bit of a showman (and another A.J. fan), had other ideas.

“What if we have A.J. come all the way down the aisle? If he just walks over from the front row no one’s really going to see him. It will be much better if he comes all the way down the aisle.”

I believe in my boy, and didn’t hesitate to say “Sure!”

So I took A.J. to the other end of the yard, and we did it again.

“Ring!”

A.J. ran up with the ring.

“OK!”

A.J. ran all the way back to me.

We did this a couple more times and we were all really happy with this new plan.

Throughout the next week we practiced a few times. I realized we couldn’t do it too many times because A.J. was getting kind of bored with this trick. Every time we practiced we’d do the rings a couple of times, then A.J. would run and grab a toy. “This is boring, let’s do something fun!” He’s just way too smart.

The day before the wedding we brought A.J. to the rehearsal. This is the first time we’d be working with a lot of people around, and the first time doing this with the groom (who A.J. adores). We ran through it twice, and A.J. ran down and back flawlessly. We were ready.

Wedding Day. I took A.J. for a long walk in the morning. In the afternoon we went to a local park for wedding pictures. I had been so focused on A.J. being the ring bearer I completely forgot to prepare for the family pictures. We should have arrived early so he had time to explore (he’d never been to this park) and calm down a little. I should have brought treats or a toy and had someone stand next to the photographer to make sure they had A.J.’s attention. I should have put him in place, taken the leash off, and had the rest of us position ourselves around him.

But I didn’t.

Instead, A.J. was all excited and ready to explore this new place. We were told “Okay, groom’s family” and I felt like we had to just get up there and take our turn. I stood next to the bride and A.J. sat down with his back to the camera. I tried to move him over, but he didn’t know what was happening and wasn’t interested in whatever we were doing. So I told him to “Heel,” which got him between me and the bride; I’m pretty sure I was barely in a couple of the pictures. When I finally got him moved up front his leash was hanging across everyone. The photographer had to keep calling to him and trying to get his attention. I’m not terribly optimistic about how these pictures are going to turn out.

After pictures we had two hours before the wedding started. We went to the venue and sat around. I fed A.J. his dinner. I took him for a short walk. Eventually guests started arriving. And finally it was time to start the wedding.

I had A.J. on leash as we walked down the aisle. This is when I realized we had one issue we didn’t plan on. As we walked by, people started reaching out to pet him. I couldn’t exactly stop at every row, so I had to kind of drag him along.

I sat at the end of the row on the outside, and partway through the ceremony I got up and walked with A.J. to the very back. I knelt down behind the last row, trying to stay unobtrusive as the groom recited his vows.

By this point it had already been a long day, everyone was sitting, it was quiet, and A.J. decided it was time to rest. He laid down right at the end of the aisle, facing away from the bride and groom. I started to get a little nervous he wouldn’t notice when the rings were called for. Suddenly the nightmare scenario for me (which of course I didn’t think of when we were planning this out) was looking possible: I might have to walk the rings all the way down the aisle.

But I should have known not to worry. The groom turned towards us and said “Rings!” and A.J. got right up and started down the aisle. Unlike during practice and rehearsals, he didn’t run down the aisle: He made his way leisurely down, stopping briefly to be petted when someone reached out for him. He reached the bride and groom, sat nicely while the bride got the rings, and when the groom said “OK!” – he went over to the best man and sat down right next to him.

In the meantime, I’m still at the end of the aisle thinking “He was supposed to come back.” But honestly, the way he did it was so much better! So I went back over to the far end to go back to my seat. But by that time Greg had brought him over to the side where I was, and then he came running to me to get his treat.

I gave him his treat and walked back up front with him, where he laid down quietly until the ceremony was over and we all walked back up the aisle.

That’s all pretty impressive, right? But the night had just begun.

After the ceremony, I took A.J.’s leash off and didn’t put it on again for the rest of the night. A.J. spent some time glued to my side, but then he’d wander off for a little while and go visiting with the guests. When the best man started his toast, A.J. walked up to stand with the bride and groom. We did have a close call when he came into the house with me when I had to refill his water bowl. I didn’t realize the caterers had food down on boxes and coolers right at nose level. We narrowly averted having dog slobber in the food. But throughout the night A.J. was the most wonderful wedding guest, and a big hit with everyone!

I couldn’t possibly have been happier or more proud of my very, very special boy.

Mortal Enemies

On April 29, 2020, AJ got into his first serious dog fight. Although, to be honest, it wasn’t much of a fight. We had just arrived at the park, AJ was still on leash, and another dog ran over and attacked him. AJ wound up with stitches over his eye and a few puncture wounds.

The owner of the other dog was incredibly nice. He gave us his phone number, offered to pay the vet bills, and assured us he was working with a trainer on his dog’s aggression issues.

Fast forward to April 29, 2021, exactly one year later. AJ was at the same park. He was at the water faucet drinking out of one of the dog bowls that’s always available at the park, when a group of playful dogs came by. I was watching carefully, but didn’t realize another dog, outside the group that was playing, had entered the area. It was the dog that had attacked AJ last year.

Unfortunately, that dog still carries the same dislike for AJ he did a year ago. Suddenly a fight broke out between the two of them. It stopped briefly while AJ ran away, but before I could get to him the other dog was on him again. AJ got away again and this time I was able to get in front of the other dog and yell at him.

The other dog sat and didn’t move until his owner ran over and leashed him. AJ came over to me and I could see there was blood on him. It was coming from his ear.

AJ didn’t appear to be in immediate danger, so we talked to the other owner a little bit. He, of course, felt terrible. He insisted his dog hadn’t had trouble with any other dogs in the past year. He always kept an eye out for AJ to make sure they stayed away, but with all the dogs gathered around the water fountain he hadn’t seen him in time.

We took AJ home and checked him over. I gathered towels, soap, a bucket of warm water, and bandages and tried to fix up his ear. I was pretty proud of myself for knowing how to bandage a dog’s ear, having attended a dog first aid class. I thought I did a pretty good job.

Bandaged ears

The difference between first aid class and real life is, of course, the patient. In class you bandage a stuffed dog. In real life, you bandage a wriggly, hurt dog who doesn’t want a bandage on his head. One good shake and AJ’s ears came right out of the bandage. So I tried again. The second time it took two good shakes. I gave up after that.

The next day we got up in the morning and saw a little circle of blood on AJ’s blanket, but not where his head had been. I realized he also had a small wound on his back leg. Then later I found one more on his hip. So I decided to take him to the vet to make sure I wasn’t missing any more, and to get the puncture wounds properly flushed out and get AJ on antibiotics.

Puncture wounds on the leg

He’s now resting comfortably at home, hoping we’ll head for the park again soon.

The other dog’s owner checked in to see how AJ was doing. He also let us know he wouldn’t be taking his dog to the park anymore. I really feel badly for him, I know he’s been trying. But for some reason his dog just really hates AJ. (I know what you’re thinking. I don’t know how anyone could hate AJ either.)

But maybe on April 29, 2022, we’ll stay away from the park.

AJ 2020

It’s been quite a year, hasn’t it?

One thing we’ve heard throughout this year is how lucky the dogs have it. All of a sudden their people are home with them: All. The. Time. This is a great thing for dogs. People are also spending more time outside, which means more dog walks. And pet adoptions are way up.

But for A.J., 2020 had been … 2020.

On January 1 I noticed A.J. had a bump on one side of his head, just above his left eye. On January 2 it was bigger, so I called the vet. His regular vet couldn’t see him for a while, so I found another in the area who could see him on Monday, January 6. By Sunday the lump was huge, and on Monday it was still huge but had broken open and was a little oozy.

It turned out to be an abscess. The vet drained it and cleaned it out, and sent A.J. home in a cone of shame.

Two weeks later the cone was off but the bump was back. We went back to the vet where they cleaned out the abscess again. This time they sent him home with a drain tube in his head.

After a few days we went back to get the tube out. But most of January was spent in a cone and was pretty unpleasant.

February goes by, and is mostly uneventful. Then comes March.

We’re halfway through March, and everyone has just started working from home full time. No more going into the office for the foreseeable future. One day, shortly into the stay-at-home order, we’d taken A.J. for his morning walk and then settled in to work. I had a few video conference meetings during the day. When my last meeting was over I looked down at A.J., and saw one side of his face twitch. I watched him for a minute, and his face kept twitching.

“Why are you twitching?”

Twitch.

Time to call the vet again.

“My dog has some sort of tic on his face.”

“He has a tick on his face?”

“Oh, no, not that kind of tick, a facial tic. His face it twitching. Should I bring him in?”

“Hang on, let me ask someone.”

“You should take him to the emergency vet downtown.”

Uh oh, this is not good.

So we all got in the car and headed downtown. At this point we discovered the one plus side to the recent lockdown: there was absolutely no traffic on a Friday afternoon. We made it downtown in no time at all. We also then quickly discovered the big downside: When we got emergency, we had to call in, explain over the phone why we were there, then wait for someone to come get A.J. and lead him away while we waited in the car. And waited. And waited. (This would become an all-too-familiar process over the coming months.)

Eventually the vet called us. They weren’t able to find anything wrong with A.J., but they could clearly see the twitching. Apparently there’s not really any such thing as a standard tox screen for dogs, but they ran some bloodwork and everything looked fine. That was the good news. The bad news was that they were afraid he was having small seizures. With his bloodwork looking fine, the next possible cause would be something wrong in his brain. (They carefully avoided the words “tumor” and “cancer.”) This vet hospital didn’t have a neurologist on staff, but had called and consulted with one at another hospital. They recommended we make an appointment with the neurologist.

So we took A.J. home and I made the appointment.

A couple of days later, A.J. was still twitching and we took him in to see the neurologist. While we sat in our car she evaluated him, then called us and explained the various issues that could be causing the twitching. She recommended an MRI, and we were fortunate they had an opening that day. So we agreed to the MRI and went home to wait.

When the vet called later she said his MRI came out clear, and outlined our options. She recommended we put him on anti-seizure medication. She also said with a clear MRI, there was no way to know if he really was having seizures or if it was some sort of nerve problem. The only way to know for sure would be to take him to the nearest veterinary hospital with the facilities to monitor dogs for seizures. That would be UC Davis, which is almost 600 miles away, and at the time wasn’t even open for non-emergencies due to the recent lockdowns.

So we took A.J. home with his new medication and hoped for the best.

A week later we talked to the vet again. There’d been no change, but we were advised to continue on the medication for a while longer.

In the meantime, A.J. was still being A.J. He was eating as much as we’d allow (and sometimes more) and still as energetic as ever. So energetic, in fact, that he managed to tear a toenail again while he was at the park chasing squirrels. Back to the vet.

Fortunately he’d only partially torn the nail, so he didn’t need a cone this time, but he had to stay on leash for a few days.

After several more days, it was decided that A.J. was not having seizures. His twitching still hadn’t changed at all, and the vet said if it had been seizures he’d have been dead by then. (That was the first I’d heard that prognosis.) So we slowly weened him off the anti-seizure medication.

His first day back to the park after is nail healed and we were going to let him off leash, we had just walked into the park when another dog suddenly came charging straight at him. I tried to head off the other dog, but that just resulted in me being taken out at the knees. Suddenly there I was with hurt knees, temporarily unable to move, and I look over to see A.J.’s head in that dog’s jaws.

The other dog’s owners ran over and one of them tackled his dog. The other put the leash on and led the dog away while the tackling owner stayed to see if A.J. was okay. As soon as I thought I could move I took a close look at A.J. I could see right away he had a bite right between the eyes and another above his left eye (right about the place his abscess had been). We later discovered another by his ear. I was sure at the very least the one above his eye would need stitches.

The other dog’s owner gave us his number and offered to pay any medical expenses. As soon as I thought I could walk we headed home. I was pretty hobbled, but A.J. was just kind of annoyed he didn’t get to run in the park. We went home, got in the car, and headed to the emergency vet.

He did need stitches above his eye. The other bites were cleaned out and left to heal on their own. We took him home, once again in a cone, and brought him back a week later to get the stitches removed.

The emergency hospital we took him to for the bites was the same hospital where his neurologist was, and she happened to be there when he came in. When she heard he was there she went in to take a look at him and evaluate his twitching while he was there. She confirmed that there was nothing more that could be done for the twitching. The final verdict was that he has some sort of nerve problem. It could have happened when they drained his abscess, but it’s hard to know for sure since the twitching didn’t start for a few weeks after that. We were told it would either get better on it’s own, stay the same, or get worse to the point where that whole side of his face would freeze up and give him a permanent lopsided grin. If it got bad enough to interfere with his eating or swallowing, they’d give him Botox, which would make that whole side of his face sag.

The dog attack happened at the end of April. We then had a quiet couple of months. In July A.J. had to go in for scheduled vaccinations. Two weeks later we were back at the vet again because he managed to get some nasty dry grass stuck in his paw. The vet had to dig it out, and yes, that’s right, he came home wearing a cone.

It’s been eight months since the twitching started, and it hasn’t changed. One side of his mouth is a little higher than the other, but I think I’m the only one who’s noticed that, it’s very subtle. He sometimes rests that side of his head against my leg, so I think it gets tired sometimes, but otherwise he doesn’t seem to notice. He has a few little white hairs stick out among the black fur on his face where the bite left a scar.

We’ve finally reached the end of this year. Thankfully our only trip to the vet in the past few months has been to get A.J.’s nails clipped. He’s actually had a pretty good second half of the year.

In August we spent a day at the beach. A.J. chased seagulls, ran through the waves, and rolled around in the sand.

Cannon Beach

He continues to make people smile wherever he goes. And late in December, he even managed to treat himself to half a cake.

Happy New Year to all of A.J.’s friends and family, may 2021 be much better for all of us!

That’s Dinner?

I’ve been traveling a lot lately. It’s not unusual for me to go on a couple of business trips every year, but I’ve been on three trips in the past five months. When I’m away Greg takes care of A.J., shuttling him back and forth to daycare, walking him, and feeding him.

While they both miss me, to a certain extent Greg and A.J. enjoy my time away. Greg makes dinners that he doesn’t make when I’m home, and he shares them with A.J. They’re both pretty happy with this arrangement.

I got home from my latest trip yesterday. Tonight, after A.J. spent 30 minutes staring at me to tell me it was dinner time (starting 30 minutes before his dinner time), I gave him his usual dinner: a bowl of dog food. It was the same dog food he’s been eating for years. After I set his bowl down he walked over and looked at his food. He looked up at me, then back down at his bowl. I went and sat down, and he walked over to me and set his chin on my leg.

“What? Go eat your food.”

Chin on my leg, big brown eyes looking up at me.

“What?” I stood up. A.J. got all happy and wiggly. I walked over to his food bowl. He looked at his food, looked at me, looked at his food, looked at me.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

I went to the refrigerator, pulled out some leftover sausage, and put a few small pieces on his food.

A.J. immediately ate the sausage and the entire bowl of food.

I think somebody has been getting a little too spoiled while I’ve been away.

 

AJ Goes to Work

Last week people on my team at work flew in from around the country. While everyone was here we decided to take a little time out from work and get outside to see some of the beautiful outdoor sights around Portland. We chose Multnomah Falls as our destination. The Falls are about a half hour drive outside of Portland. In exchange for being one of the drivers to get our team out there, I was told A.J. could come along.

Continue reading “AJ Goes to Work”

A.J. Goes Kayaking

We got a kayak last week. And, wanting to include A.J. in our outdoor activities, we got a three-person kayak to make sure we had plenty of room for him to ride along. The only concern we had was – A.J.

A.J. loves water. He gets near water and all he wants to do is swim out and retrieve something. We’ve had some pretty serious training sessions at the shoreline because he gets so excited that his brain doesn’t always work very well. We weren’t sure how this excitement would mesh with sitting in a kayak.

We bought him a life jacket. (Safety first!) I put the life jacket on him at home and let him wear it around the house to get used to it. The kayak we bought is inflatable, so before we took it out we inflated it at home to make sure everything was working right and we knew what we were doing. After it was inflated I sat down inside and called A.J. in to join me. We spent some time sitting in the kayak, rocking it back and forth, and getting in and out. We bounced a tennis ball to get him excited, and told him he had to stay in the boat until I told him he could get out. We did everything we could to prepare without being in the water.

We’d decided for our first outing that we’d launch from a park alongside a very lazy river. We got up early in the morning; we wanted to get out before the park got crowded. We found the perfect spot to set up, inflate the kayak, and put it in the water.

As we were getting ready, I kept A.J. on the leash. He was doing really well. He was excited, but he was behaving well and being very patient while we inflated the kayak and got organized. I put A.J.’s life jacket on him, we got the kayak into the water, and I let A.J. off the leash. He immediately jumped into the water and started swimming after whatever he could see floating on the water.

We called A.J. back to shore and I got into the kayak while Greg held it close to shore. I called A.J. over to the kayak and he jumped right in.

Then he jumped right out.

I got him to jump in again just as another dog jumped into the water nearby chasing something its owner had thrown in. A.J. started crying. We tried moving the kayak and distracting him, but I finally told him he could go, and he jumped back into the water and started swimming over to where the other dog was.

Greg stayed on shore while I pushed off and paddled out into the river, seeing if A.J. would want to come with me if I started moving away. We called him back and he swam to shore, and immediately started running around looking for me. I was about 20 feet from shore, and when I called to him and he realized where I was he ran down, leapt into the water, and swam to me.

Now for the tricky part – can we get A.J. into the kayak once we’re away from shore? The answer is: No. He swam to the boat, I grabbed the handle on top of his life jacket, and as I pulled he scrambled at the side. It didn’t work.

A.J. quickly gave up, and with me still holding onto his jacket he simply turned around and pulled me to shore.

We tried a few other things. I thought that if we could get him into the boat from the water, he could just swim along with us until he wanted a break, then we’d haul him in. Greg got in the kayak to see if he could get A.J. in, but that didn’t work either. We wound up just paddling along the shore while A.J. alternated between swimming alongside and running along the shore. We didn’t go very far because A.J. quickly ran out of shoreline.

It looked like kayaking with A.J. was just not going to happen.

After we got home I was looking online to see if anyone had hints on how to get a dog into an inflatable kayak away from shore. I couldn’t find any. But what I did find was a video of another dog who was doing exactly what A.J. had done. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INB2rUzmM7w)

So maybe it’s not completely hopeless after all. We just need to let A.J. be A.J.

A.J. goes kayaking
The end of a short kayaking trip.

 

The Happiness Dog

When the weather cooperates, on Saturday mornings we go for a long walk, stop for coffee and donuts, then let A.J. run loose in the park. It’s always an enjoyable way to start the weekend.

In the two years we’ve lived here and been engaging in this Saturday ritual, we’ve come to know some of the other dogs and their owners who regularly visit the park. Today a woman we see and speak to often arrived while we were there. As usual, A.J. was running around frantically searching for squirrels. This woman spotted us and came over to visit.

She’s an older woman who needs the aid of a walker to make her way around the park, but she brings her adorable little dog there regularly. While I sat and gave her dog a scratch under the chin, she proceeded to tell us about the start of her weekend. And it wasn’t going well.

She had managed to bump into another car while backing out of her driveway. Her grandson, who she is very proud of and says is very smart, had failed the test to get his driver’s license. She’d been having political disagreements with her family. The minor incident with the car had happened that very morning as she was leaving to come to the dog park.

As she was telling us all of this, she looked over at A.J., still as busy as ever with his squirrel hunt. She said “I’m so glad A.J. is here. It makes me happy to watch him running around. He’s so focused and determined!”

From airports to daycare to dog parks and just about everywhere we go, A.J. brings happiness along with him.