You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

In many cases, that’s a good thing. Sometimes it works out well to be semi-oblivious when embarking on something new, unknown, different, etc. If I let the unknown hold me back, I would not be where I am in life right now and while life is up and down, I’m largely in a good spot.

This morning, one of my Facebook memories was of my first foster, Nellie (fka Cindy) from four years ago.

I look back on that experience and realize I had absolutely no freaking clue what I was getting myself into. It’s not a secret that when I started volunteering with SNORT, I had no intentions of fostering. Lucy was still a puppy – probably around seven months old or so. Our apartment had space but it wasn’t huge. My job hours were nuts (and remained nuts for the next four-plus years). ­

I’m not even sure what prompted me to change my mind about fostering. Because Nellie was a puppy mill dog, there were no photos of her (the Amish don’t allow people on their property to take photos of dogs they are surrendering). There was zero information about her besides she was a puppy mill mama who was being given up because she could no longer have litters.

But something in me just had to take her in, so we did. I picked her up sight unseen on a super cold, cloudy, depressing January morning, took one look at her, thought to myself “what have I gotten myself into?!” And promptly fell head over heels in love.

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Meeting Nellie for the first time. Love at first sight.

Now with seven fosters under my belt (and hopefully more in the near future), I’ve come to realize there’s a whole list of things I didn’t know I didn’t know before I embarked on this adventure. I was clueless about a lot.

I Didn’t Know:
1. I had such high levels of empathy and patience.
Patience has never been my strong suit. It’s why I’ve remained up in the air about wanting to have kids. But my level of empathy and patience has been practically unlimited with each foster. I don’t even have that much patience with Lucy. But with the fosters? Sure, I got upset when they crapped on the carpet or flipped the heck out during thunderstorms and kept me up for hours. But the amount of poop I cleaned up or the time I spent in the bathroom with a certain foster (Isaac!) during thunderstorms rarely fazed me. I’m not saying I’ve become Mother Teresa, but I’ve learned I have a higher capacity for patience and empathy than I previously thought.

 

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This handsome boy was petrified of thunderstorms.

2. There was so much medical lingo to learn
Entropian. Cherry eye (which I actually learned about with Lucy). Interdigital cyst. Pyometra. Thyroid levels. Seasonal alopecia. Unexplained alopecia. Spina bifida. There isn’t a single foster I’ve had that hasn’t underdone surgery or had a major medical issue. Nellie – heartworm, lyme. Violet (fka Snowy) – spay, entropian, dry eye, bladder cancer scare. Buddy – neuter, dental. Isaac – puppy Prozac, alopecia. Novalee – spina bifida. Blossom – spay, dental (I think). Lady – spay, dental.

I don’t know everything, but I’ve sure learned a lot.

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Novalee had spina bifida but you never would have known it.

3. I’d have to learn to not be squeamish
No sooner had I laid eyes on Nellie than I realized she was leaking…down there. And not pee. It was a…thick goo. Leftover from an infection or a recent litter, probably. But that poor girl just left a trail of gunk everywhere she went for a few days/weeks.

Many fosters have not been housetrained so there’s been countless pee puddles and piles of poo to clean up. So much laundry. Wiping of all bodily areas. I’ve seen tons of incisions, ears filled with wax and countless eye boogers. And let’s not talk about post-surgery poo…

Novalee once ate an entire bag of raw almonds. Let’s just say it became quickly apparent she hadn’t chewed said almonds when she spent three days walking around inside our apartment like a giant pez dispenser of almonds.

I’ve developed a stronger stomach over the past few years.

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Buddy the Pug may have peed on me (and Lucy) a time or two. #maledogproblems

4. That I would handle adoptions better than I expected
Don’t get me wrong, I was a disaster when Nellie was adopted. And tears have been shed every single time a foster has been adopted. I miss them all. But I absolutely love the experience of fostering. It gives me a sense of purpose, something to keep me busy and selfishly, it feels so good be a part of saving a dog. If I had an unlimited budget and a bigger home, at least a few of these fosters would have probably wound up as “foster failures.” But I know going into each foster that I really can’t have two dogs – not enough money, not enough space – and that reality helps when it comes time to find a forever home for each foster. Now, there hasn’t been a foster in which I haven’t uttered the words, “I think I’ll keep him/her,” but deep down I’m fully aware it’s not the ideal option for either party involved.

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Lady, my first foster all on my own.

5. It’s a total team effort
Six of my seven fosters came when I was living with Marty. While the interest in fostering was 100% me, actually fostering was a different matter. When more than one person is impacted by taking on a foster, it becomes a team effort. Maybe not with the equal distribution of work and time, but each person in the home has some added responsibility and stress.

It also takes help from my employers – days I may need to leave early for a vet appointment or even take an entire day off to shuttle a dog to a vet appointment or surgery.

And travel impacts everyone – most holidays I’ve had a foster so that impacts every family we visit over the holidays. Each foster is different and because each was not my own nor raised as my own, their quirks don’t necessarily make them ideal houseguests. So it does indeed take a village.

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Backseat roadtrip buddies.

6. It’s stressful
I believe I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but it is stressful to bring a foster home. The days leading up bringing home a foster are anxiety-ridden. What will he/she be like? Will they like Lucy? Will Lucy like them (probably not). Are they housetrained (probably not)? Will they eat (probably not)? Where will they sleep? Are they super sick? And then once I get them home? What does that bark mean? Are they scared? Why don’t they lie down and sleep? Is that cough normal?

I’m an anxious person by nature so the early days surrounding a foster are really stressful for me. Everyone’s different but stress is one of the overriding emotions for me when I’m fostering.

I’ll never forget one of the biggest sources of anxiety with Nellie – she refused to eat. I tried everything. Dry food. Wet food. Chicken and rice. Wet and dry food mixed. Straight bouillon. Nothing worked. Until it was suggested from a fellow foster mom that she probably had no clue what a bowl was or how to eat out of it. So, I scooped some food into a super shallow frisbee and voila! She was eating like a champ. But I was just so stressed out during those first few days when I could not get her to eat.

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Making a mess; we soon progressed to a frisbee. Baby steps.

7. I would have a hard time saying “no”
I’m kind of a selfish person. Hence the reason I’m not sure I want kids. I like setting my own schedule (when work allows), taking naps on the weekends and essentially doing what I want to do when I want to do it. Fostering puts a crimp in that. Having a foster is double the work, often triple the work. After Nellie was adopted, we were going to take a break and reassess whether we wanted to foster again and how quickly. We’d had Nellie for about six months, I think, which is a pretty substantial amount of time. But roughly six weeks after her adoption, I got a phone call about Violet, saying she needed a new foster home and wondering if I was interested. “Yes” may have slipped out before I could give serious thought to it. Oops.

So despite being a self-proclaimed “selfish” person, I’ve found myself saying “yes” a lot more when it comes to fosters.

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I’m not quite sure how you say “no” to that face.

All of this is to say that fostering is a big (and important) commitment. But there isn’t a single foster experience I regret. Each dog has meant so much to me and I can’t emphasize how much the benefits outweigh the stressors.

Summer So Far

It has been a wonderfully unremarkable summer. We do not currently have a foster, Lucy is active and healthy and up until this past week and a half, we spent the majority of our weekends at home relaxing.

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Ok, a CrossFit competition isn’t relaxing but it was fun!

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One of the summer’s highlights? Visiting this handsome devil and his dad!

Yesterday, we got back from an 11-day, 1550-mile roadtrip/vacation. We started out by dropping Lucy off at my parents’, driving to Lake Placid for Marty’s Ironman race, then down to Western Maryland for Marty’s family vacation, then back to NJ to pick up Lucy and then back home to Pennsylvania. Phew.

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Ironman Finisher

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Lake Placid

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Deep Creek Lake, Md.

It was an exhausting 11 days, not helped by the fact that I got food poisoning midway during our Maryland vacation. Still feeling some mild effects from that, to be honest, but I’m mostly back to normal. And it was worth it – everyone had a wonderful vacation.

It’s unfortunate that tomorrow is Aug. 1 – it means almost back to reality for me at work. The summer months are largely 9-5 with free weekends and it’s so easy to fall into that relaxed routine. Sadly 10 months out of the year are the polar opposite of that so I thoroughly enjoy relaxing summers like we’ve had so far. It’s nice to not be on the go and not being required to be anywhere for the most part. I got to see friends and family but still had lots of time to read, relax and – most importantly – nap on the weekends.

While late August marks the real start of the fall athletic season, it’s always this time of year that I start to really want to foster. That sounds like a backwards way to think but I know it’s because fostering gives me a distraction from work with which I am less than satisfied. I honestly do not know if Lucy is ready for another foster but if I think what appears to be a good fit comes along, we will foster again and sooner rather than later.

I’m sure we’ll have a few more highlights as the summer winds down and hopefully I’ll be checking back in soon with a new foster!

A Few Days Late, But…

Sunday marked Lucy’s fourth “Gotcha Day!” with us. On May 8, 2012, my mom and I drove to Philly to bring Lucy back to Selinsgrove.

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Bringing Lucy home

That year, Marty was at a track meet and gone until very late at night. My mom was spending a few days with us, so that night we put Lucy in her cage and went to bed before Marty got back. He tried to be quiet when he got back but I was so excited to see his reaction to Lucy that I raced downstairs to show her off.

Since that day, the four years have flown by. I so desperately miss Puppy Lucy. She was just the absolute cutest puppy ever. And I’m superficial – there is nothing better than having a cute puppy that’s all yours. But she’s still super cute and housetrained now, so things have evened out, I guess.

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She’s still cute but man, I miss having a puppy.

I honestly did not know how much I would benefit from having a dog. I love her entirely too much, more than is healthy, but she makes me unbelievably happy. There has never been one second that I’ve regretted my decision to bring Lucy home. Literally – I have never once wished I did not have Lucy in my life. I can find the negative in anything so for me to have zero doubts is huge.

These four years have gone by way too fast but there is not one day that I don’t appreciate having a healthy and happy Lucy.

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Car ride buddy

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The Best Week Ever

Just a few hours ago, Marty and I returned from what I deem the best week ever. My parents take semi-frequent vacations to various U.S. Virgin Islands and on their most recent booking to St. Croix, they offered to let myself and Marty come with them. They were renting a two bedroom house and they obviously only needed one of those bedrooms so when they posed the question of whether we were interested in occupying the other bedroom, the answer was a very emphatic YES!
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For the past 9-10 days, I have been completely disconnected. I did not bring my laptop, only sporadically turned my phone on and pretty much avoided any talk of work 99% of the time.

Because it was such a perfect week, I wanted to document it so that I could remember it for a very, very long time:

We flew out of Newark early Saturday morning and had a brief layover in Puerto Rico before flying into St. Croix late Saturday afternoon.

Saturday night after we got settled in, we went to a local brewpub for dinner. I just had wine so I can’t speak to the beer, but the food was shockingly good. And the view (we were right on the boardwalk) was spectacular.

Beginning Sunday morning, Marty and I began each day around 6 a.m. For the first few days I was awake at 5 or 5:30 a.m. but there’s something about laying in bed with a fabulous view, strong breeze and warm air that makes it impossible to actually get out of bed at that time. Eventually Marty would brew coffee and we’d have a cup on our own personal deck prior to getting our day started.
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Most mornings we picked a place to run; I say most mornings because before leaving on vacation, I tweaked my back during deadlifts and gave myself permission to take days off to make sure my back didn’t bother me too much. And with nothing but hills and mountains around, my back wasn’t exactly keen on running each morning.

After our (or just Marty’s run), everyone would spend the rest of the morning having breakfast, drinking coffee, reading books and floating in the pool.
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Lunch was around noon and usually eaten at home; cold cut sandwiches just taste better on vacation. 🙂

After lunch we’d decide how to spend our afternoons.

On Sunday, we went to Point Udall for some photos and then spent two or so hours at a beach (Shoy Beach) which was my one and only requirement for the trip – multiple trips to a beach. It has been a very, very long time since I’ve been that relaxed. The water was calm, warm and clear. I could have spent all day in the water – it was perfection. I haven’t been truly happy in years but I was pretty darn close on Sunday. My dad cooked some delicious chicken thighs that night and we spent the rest of the night relaxing.

Point Udall

Point Udall

Shoy Beach.

Shoy Beach.

Monday afternoon was spent walking around Chistiansted, the “biggest” city/town on the island. We stopped in tons of little shops, picked up some trinkets and I found the perfect ring – a gift from some of the early birthday money Marty’s family was kind enough to give me before leaving.

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Fort Christiansted

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That night I treated my parents (and Marty) to dinner out along the coastline at eat @ cane bay. I normally stick to wine but my mom and I both decided to order one (ok, two) “Sex in the Champagne Room” – vanilla run, cranberry juice, maybe pineapple juice and champagne. Beyond good.

Tuesday we started the day with another run and then spent the afternoon playing tourist. We had lunch in Frederiksted and then toured the Cruzan Rum Factory and the St. Croix Botanical Garden. Both were worth the visit but the rum factory was the definite highlight.

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RUM

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Botanical gardens

Wednesday we went to Chanay Bay for another beach day; this time we broke out the snorkels and it was awesome. Starfish, fish, sea urchins. Wednesday night dinner was at Off the Wall – casual dining with the sand literally between our toes.

My more than generous parents.

My more than generous parents.

Thursday we visited Cane Bay – my least favorite of the three beaches we visited. The water was rougher and the water not deep enough for my liking. We also got sandblasted and I think I stepped on a sea urchin. But any beach in St. Croix is still fabulous.

Our final full day was Friday. We went back to Christiansted that morning to pick up some final gifts and mementos and then headed back to Shoy Beach for the afternoon. I spent a ton of time snorkeling and relaxing in the water, soaking it all up. It was definitely my favorite of the three beaches and the weather, while hot, was gorgeous. We capped off the night at Cheeseburgers in American Paradise – another perfect atmosphere with great food (and company!).
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Again, I could not have asked for a better week. I was beyond relaxed and exploring an entirely new place was utterly fascinating. From driving on the “wrong” side of the road to asking if we wanted rum in our morning smoothies from the local coffee place, it was more than I could have hoped for. I know this isn’t a trip we’ll be repeating for a very long time so I more than soaked up everything we experienced the past week.

Odds and Ends from the Week:

The poverty on the island is depressing. Nothing I didn’t expect but still sad.

In relation to the above point, the number of homeless/stray dogs and their conditions hit home the most. We saw one dog outside one of the grocery stores we visited with a severe limp and a massive tumor growing near her front right armpit. She was just sitting outside the grocery store watching people come in and out. My heart just about broke. And she was just one of the many strays we saw.

The wild life here is different. Very different. Horses that don’t appear to actually belong to anyone. Goats, chickens, roosters and baby chicks everywhere. Teeny, tiny lizards. Big iguanas. Crabs. Birds unlike those in the States.

Just a random horse hanging out right by the road.

Just a random horse hanging out right by the road.

Island time is real. We went to a parking lot that was supposed to open at 8:30 a.m. It definitely opened no earlier than 8:35.

The prices. Oh. My. God. $7 for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s? $6.99 for a regular-sized box of cereal? I genuinely have no idea how people afford to eat on this island and we weren’t exactly suffering from the impoverished conditions in which many of the locals live.

Obviously a big “thank you” to our dogsitters. Without them there’s obviously no way we make this trip.

And an even bigger thank you to my parents for taking us along. Seriously more than we deserved and I appreciate it.

Happy (?) Ten Months

Two days ago marked 10 months of fostering Isaac.

"Ten months already? Time is flying by!"

“Ten months already? Time is flying by!”

When we first got Isaac I never imagined we’d have him for 10 months but I was also unaware of the myriad of behavior problems we were taking on. Once I realized we had some issues to deal with, I knew we were in for the long haul. I didn’t think the long haul would be 10 months but here we are.

When I really sit down and think about it, I feel horrendous that 10 months (and still going…) of Lucy’s life have been spent with a dog that she not only dislikes, but is semi-fearful of. For the 10 days Isaac was adopted Lucy was a different, i.e. happier, dog.

"Woe is me."

“Woe is me.”

We’ve definitely got a new “normal” with Isaac around and Lucy is coping just fine. But I do desperately want her to be as happy as she was B.I. (Before Isaac). Unfortunately, Isaac is going to be very difficult to find an adopter as he’ll be nine in August. A nine-year-old bulldog isn’t exactly in high demand. Especially one who needs to be an only dog and has, um, aggression issues toward other dogs.

How can anyone not want this handsome face?

How can anyone not want this handsome face?

But that’s the negative stuff. And I don’t want that to overshadow the fact that I freaking love this dog. He’s funny, healthy, active, handsome. His eyes kill me – they’re just so sweet. They’re so sweet I don’t mind when he comes over to my side of the bed at 5:30 on a Saturday morning, rests his head on the bed and stares at me (all while breathing heavily) until I wake up. Somehow it’s not as endearing when Marty does that.

I love our walks, just the two of us. Granted, they’re sometimes stressful when we run into other dogs, but for the most part it’s a great way to relax and I swear it kept me sane this past year.

I love how his nubbin shakes so hard when we come home, when we talk to him, even when we just look at him. He’s one happy dog with us.

I love how he stares at me while I’m using my computer; I don’t quite know what he wants, but it’s adorable.

"I'm always watching."

“I’m always watching.”

The unfortunate part of the whole thing is that Isaac would make an absolutely perfect only dog. He’s house trained, is fine being on his own during the day (although obviously he loves it better when we’re home), is HEALTHY, active and quite simply, adores his people. Once he realizes he’s “yours,” you could not ask for a better dog.

Well, here’s to hoping that for Isaac’s sake (and Lucy’s!), I’m not writing a post in 10 more months celebrating 20 months of life with Isaac.

Proud Mama

Alternate title: We’re Alive.

Quite a gap between posts but a lot of relaxing has been going on over here. The athletic year is done as of tonight when the final track & field athletes compete at Nationals. Once I post those recaps, I am officially done with the year! Despite tonight’s events, life has gradually been slowing down for a few weeks which is glorious. Last weekend Lucy and I traveled to New Jersey to visit my parents for a belated Mother’s Day celebration. Lucy had a blast away from Isaac and she was the perfect guest.

Because I wasn’t around last weekend, Isaac wasn’t able to get back to the free dog walk. Why couldn’t Marty take him, you ask? You’d have to ask Marty. But I digress. These walks are super important for Isaac to try and get him almost desensitized to other dogs, in a way.

Today we made our way there and Isaac was awesome. Truly. He did not snap at a single dog and even walked right by several dogs that were snapping at him!

"I know how to pretend to look good."

“I know how to pretend to look good.”

He’s not “cured” by any means. When it’s just the two of us on walks he’s still hit or miss but it’s obvious he can be around other dogs. And the other benefit to the walks? This is what he looks like for the majority of the afternoon:

Melting.

Melting.

Seriously, I was ecstatic and so proud of him. He has no idea why I was happy but hopefully the more positive experiences we have the more progress we’ll continue to make. A well-behaved dog is in there, we just have to keep working at it.

And because I don’t want Lucy to feel left out, here’s a cute picture to end today’s post!
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Putting a Plan in Place

Yesterday Isaac and I (and Lucy) met with a new trainer who is more than equipped to deal with Isaac’s behavioral problems. See, obedience training with Isaac wasn’t (and still isn’t) my top concern – he’s learned sit, down, touch, etc. I needed a trainer who could work with Isaac’s behavioral issues and we found a great one!

For three-and-a-half hours yesterday, we did a lot of talking – some training, sure – but a lot of talking about what might have caused Isaac’s behavioral problems, what I can do myself to help things, what I can do with Isaac to help things, what Marty and I can do with both dogs to help the situation, etc. So, so informative.

To backtrack a bit, I had two main concerns going into yesterday – getting Isaac to stop humping Lucy and getting him to be less dog-aggressive on our walks.

“But I love humping Lucy.”

Hang with me for a minute on this analogy: you know how when you have a computer issue, call IT, they come down and all of a sudden your computer is functioning perfectly fine? Well, that was Isaac yesterday. The trainer took Isaac out for a walk without me; they saw other people and other dogs and apparently Isaac was a perfect gentleman. Of course he was.

Despite Isaac’s good behavior outside the home, he still spent the majority of the three-plus hours intermittently humping Lucy so at least the trainer got to see him in action on that level. 😛

For the next few days I’ll start incorporating the tips I learned yesterday and then on Saturday, Isaac and I will go to the trainer’s dog-walking class a few towns over. Gulp. Isaac around a bunch of dogs?! It’s a nerve-wracking thought but it honestly is going to be great in the long run; the trainer will get a glimpse at Isaac with me around other dogs (and a lot of them!).

I don’t want to say I’m the problem but I think I’m the trigger when it comes to Isaac’s aggression; he tends to flip out at other dogs only when I’m walking him. Marty said Isaac will sometimes growl at other dogs when he walks him but none of the lunging, snarling and snapping when I’m walking him. So our main goal is to get Isaac to the point where he’s non-reactive no matter who is walking him. Oh, and to stop humping Lucy, of course.

Oh, Isaac. What a project. Totally worth it, though.

How can you NOT want to help this face?

How can you NOT want to help this face?

Isaac’s Early Easter

One thing I love about volunteering with SNORT – they do so many special things for their fosters. One of which is gifts at holiday times and that includes Easter!

Which is a roundabout way of saying that Isaac got a package from his Secret Bunny! He got every single thing on his wish list – treats, coconut oil and, most importantly, a new Nylabone!

The most important gift...

The most important gift…

Isaac (and Lucy) will love the treats and Isaac loves his coconut oil rubs but let’s face it – the highlight of the package was his Nylabone!

Clearly I was starting to annoy him.

Clearly I was starting to annoy him.

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This has been a rough week for me (and yes, it’s only Wednesday). For the past three nights I haven’t been home before 6:30/7 and/or not able to make it home at lunch (don’t worry, Marty let the dogs out for me!). I haven’t had a car since Thursday night (in the body shop because someone hit my bumper) and I’ll be working roughly 10 hour days straight through the weekend. But it’s little things like tonight – giving the dogs new toys and treats – that get me through weeks like this!

Operation Adoption

The best way to get a dog adopted is to get his (or her) face out in public. Luckily SNORT has a great website and very active social media accounts. Therefore, it’s my responsibility as foster mom to get lots and lots of great photos of Isaac, ship them off to SNORT and cross my fingers for the applications to roll in!

The weather hasn’t exactly been conducive to beautiful outdoor shots but today after work, the sun was still out, it was relatively warm and some of the snow had melted (as evidenced by the mud that came home with Isaac) so I dragged Marty on my daily after-dinner walk with Isaac so I could snap away!
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What a Week…and an Adorable Picture

For the better part of the last week, I’ve been battling a sickness that just won’t go away. It started last Tuesday as the viral version of strep throat and then morphed into a double ear infection and perpetually swollen glands in my throat. Two sick days at work and one trip to urgent care on Saturday and I’m on the mend (thanks in large part to the four different medications I was given). I feel way better than I sound although I still can’t hear out of my right ear which is far more annoying than it sounds (no pun intended).

Long story short – I have nothing dog related to share. No stories, no updates, etc. I will say, though, that no matter how crappy I felt Isaac was not to be denied his walks. Three times a day, every day, even if I felt like death. I’m sure I looked like hell walking through the neighborhood while Isaac happily ate cat poop every chance he got because I just didn’t have the energy to pull him away quickly enough.

Anyway, until I have a dog-related event worthy of an update, here’s a cute photo I snapped last night of Isaac and Marty. Too sweet for words.

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