Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Flying Mo and his TPLO

The Flying Mo

Moses has been a hard charging dog all his life. When he was seven weeks old we brought him home to live with us at Jolico Farm. We took him to the top of the highest hill on the farm and told him that the entire world that he could see from that lofty vantage point belonged to him. He took us literally, as German Shepherds do, and he took charge of his world. Every hill, every valley and all that the farm contained, he became master thereof.

And so he came to know every rock, every blade of grass, every smell, every bush and tree, every groundhog hole, all the geese who stopped by on their yearly migrations, all the muskrats and fish in the lake, as well as the mail lady, the UPS and Fed Ex drivers and the neighbor farmers who work our fields.

Mo has put a lot of miles on his body in his 8-1/2 years at Jolico Farm. Most of those miles were racked up at warp speed and many of the distances he traversed were taken in great leaps and bounds while patrolling his territory. 

When he was seven weeks old he obsessively picked up bits of gravel in his mouth. We retrained him to carry sticks in order to keep him away from the gravel, so he developed an obsession with carrying around wooden sticks. At eight months of age Mo lost a tooth when he ran through a tight space between the barn wall and the post and rail fence while carrying a long stick in his mouth. The stick got jammed between the barn and the fence as he was charging through and out popped a molar which never grew back.

Mo the corn-dog!
At three years of age, while galloping through a snow-covered, harvested cornfield, Mo came down on a sharp piece of corn stubble which sliced into his carpal pad and led to a bloody ride to the vet to be repaired.

At five years of age Mo broke his left rear 5th toenail and wrenched his right knee hurtling himself off a high bank and across a small stream. This time he required surgery to extract the broken nail. His knee was never the same after this happenstance and has caused him painful episodes of lameness over the past three years.

This year in early November we came to that place where the rubber meets the road. After a painful summer, Mo's right knee was frequently limiting his activities of daily living and we knew we had to do something to help him. Our local veterinarians knocked him out and got some stress x-rays of his knees, confirming what we already suspected. Mo had torn his right cruciate ligament and he needed major surgery.

We were referred to Dr. Jon Anderson, a specialist orthopedic veterinarian at Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center, who recommended a TPLO procedure. The description of a tibial plateau leveling osteotomy would make you squirm if you heard all the tortuous details about how they cut the dog’s lower leg bone in half and re-angle it, securing it with a plate and six screws in order to eliminate the dog’s need for the stabilizing cranial cruciate ligament, and about how they remove the torn knee cartilage. They told us the new angle of the tibia would stabilize the knee joint and in several months, when recovery was complete, Moses could return to full athletic ability.

We were of mixed minds -- obsessively sick with worry over the consequences and ramifications of a major leg procedure. Would it work? Would there be complications? What about infection? What about him surviving the operation? But life was not joyful for him in his present condition so we knew we had to take the chance. Three weeks later, on Nov. 19th,  we delivered up our precious Moses for surgery.

Moses at home after surgery with Louie the cat keeping him company.
Dr. Anderson's initial impression was that Mo had a partial tear of his cruciate ligament. But post-operatively, he told us that when he got into the knee, he found that, unbelievably, Moses' cruciate ligament had been completely torn, and it had already been re-absorbed by his body.There was no sign that there had ever been a ligament present. Moses had been doing a great job of hiding his pain and disability from us. We knew then that we had made the right decision for him. Without this surgery, he would have developed progressively painful degenerative arthritis in the knee joint and decreasing ability to use his leg. He would eventually have been reduced to living his life as a 3-legged dog.

Our world has drastically changed over the intervening month since Mo had his surgery. He has had many restrictions placed on his days, as have we. No running, no stairs, no outdoors except for potty trips, no walking, no slippery floors, confinement to a 10 x 10 space or locked in a crate when not supervised. For a month we could not leave him alone lest he chew at his incision and create a deadly wound infection. We moved downstairs to the living room to sleep on our two couches so that he would not be alone. The cats, not to be left out, moved to the living room with us. We could not leave the house together for the first month; always ensuring that at least one of us was present for our boy. 

His first week or two were spent in a pain-killer haze, but slowly his incision began to heal and the hair has begun to grow back on his shaved leg. He has become perky again, even wanting to chase the cats. It's now difficult to keep his exuberance for life in check.

We are now in the middle of week #5. At this point and until he gets his 8-week x-rays in mid-January, he is allowed to walk slowly on a leash the length of one to two blocks a day. We all still sleep in the living room but we are breathing a bit easier knowing that the leg is healing and gaining strength, and he continues to make small daily improvements.

Now, if we can just keep it all together until we get our collective freedom back, we'll be home free. We'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Weed on the water ...

We have a weed problem on our lake ... a growing problem.

Due to an early spring and recurrent heat waves resulting in warmer water temperatures this year, there are weeds growing up from the bottom of our lake, overspreading the surface. In a matter of a couple of weeks' time the problem grew (no pun intended) out of control.

Art's fertile and inventive brain came up with the idea of raking the lake surface with a tool of his own invention ... a rake that we could pull across the water that would collect the green tendrils and draw them to the shore where we could pull them out with hand tools. It's always best to start with a simple plan and ramp up from there. That's how we roll.

The prototype rake was constructed of lightweight PVC pipe that would float on the water surface, with fiberglass pointed 'tines' driven through it that could snag the ropey weeds. This worked to some extent but it also revealed the evil lurking below ... these weeds were not just floating. They were arising from roots anchored in primordial depths.

Wow, how did this happen? Google says that overly warm water plus lots of  fish poop will grow all sorts of weeds. Who knew?

Rake #1 quickly fell apart under the weight of the weed matting. Disappointed but undeterred, we headed back to the drawing board. Obviously the situation called for a second generation rake constructed with more oomph!

Version #2 is the original rake reinforced with steel pipe and stranded aircraft cable. Our motto has always been, 'What's worth building is worth overbuilding.' We thought, "Boy, this baby will pull up anything that isn't nailed down." When launched, it immediately sank under the surface of the water but when we hauled it out at the other end of the lake, the rake and cable both were covered with a mother lode of weed, waaaay too heavy for a couple of mere old mortals to manage handling.

Then the secret weapon arrived -- our brother Hank. He quite literally got right into the project, tackling the weeds with energy, strength, imagination and originality.

I'll let the pictures tell the story from here:

Hank hauls on the rope to help the tractor haul out the submerged rake. But the load is too heavy and the rake snaps, breaking in several places and dumping the load into the water near the shore.

 This requires a push from behind to assist in the removal process ... 

 ... Art rakes more and more of the gelatinous strands out of the water ...

 ... but there seems to be a never-ending supply ...

 ... and soon the Green Monster of the Lake emerges ...

 ... and even Maximus is enveloped in weedy slime ...

 Playtime is over. It's time to get out the serious equipment
 and clean up this mess!

 Finally, our energy spent, we head for home. We'll have to rebuild the rake and try again. 

Tomorrow is another day ...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Day Trippin'

Our good friend Jack invited us to attend the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy's 2012 member's day and annual meeting last Saturday. It was held at the barn on the conservancy's grounds at Fallingwater, the landmark vacation house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935 for the Edgar J. Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh.

The meeting was interesting with info sessions held in the upper barn every 20 minutes or so on various ecological subjects with reports on stream health, local species, trees, butterflies, flora and fauna. We listened for a while to the presentations but we soon grew restless. The outdoors was calling and we were anxious to stretch our legs and get out there in nature.

We found a trail map, got our bearings and set off from the barn, crossing Route 381 and entering the beautiful woods on Tissue Trail. Downhill through the towering hardwood forest, the trail ultimately opened out into the valley at a wooden bridge over tumbling Bear Run on the grounds of what had once been the gardener's cottage. As advised by our trail map, we stopped to listen to Bear Run and feel its breeze. Native brook trout thrive in the cool, clear and aerated stream. Acid mine drainage from small coal mines once threatened this watershed. Once hunting grounds, this land later supported the village of Bear Run, producing timber for railroad ties and mine posts. As resources were used up, the community declined. Today, Bear Run is an Exceptional Value stream, Pennsylvania's highest designation for healthy waterways.

Bear Run later became a summer camp for Kaufmann's Department Store, with a clubhouse, dance hall, rustic cottages, and a streamside pool. It was a two-hour train ride from Pittsburgh. In 1933 the camp became the Kaufmann family's private country retreat. Their greenhouse once stood between the apple orchard and the gardener's cottage.

We stopped at a rock outcrop that began 600 million years ago as sand at the bottom of a vast inland sea. The compressed sand became hard sedimentary sandstone. Rain and flowing water slowly washed away the softer layers and exposed the hardest stone. These earth patterns inspired Frank Lloyd Wright. Bear Run cascades swiftly west from Laurel Ridge to the Youghiogheny River along a rocky path begun millions of years ago. Its waters carved out this valley, forming a moist microclimate where native rhododendron thrives. Their white blossoms dot the landscape in midsummer.

We felt lost in time. The air was cool and humid and the mid-morning light was misty due to the persistent cloud cover. We could feel droplets of water at times and thought it might be threatening to rain, but it was only the dew falling from the newly-leafed tree canopy. As we walked along to the accompaniment of birdsong and the rush of the great stream, we were both energized and nourished by the fresh, oxygenated air. All at once we emerged from the green forest to view, across a driveway bridge that spans Bear Run, the spectacular house where water and building unite.

Our map tells us that Fallingwater is a house dedicated to outdoor living - a retreat from the hectic lifestyle that the Kaufmanns led in Pittsburgh. Local laborers built the main and guest houses between 1936 and 1939 under the direction of a self-taught builder and three of Wright's apprentices. Immediately hailed as a modern masterpiece, its reinforced concrete cantilevers extending out from a masonry core expressed a new freedom in structure. The family used Fallingwater until 1963, when Edgar Kaufmann Jr. entrusted it to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

We had come to the end of the trail and enjoyed the spectacular scenery from the overlook where my pictures were taken. Our trail map tells us that in 1952, Frank Lloyd Wright commented, "If you look at the design, you can hear the waterfall." Can you?

We made our way back from fairyland toward civilization, passing through the pavilion that houses the gift shop, cafe and restrooms. We paused to hug a couple of trees along the trail ... after all, we're tree-huggers, aren't we? We arrived back at the barn just in time for lunch, our first outdoor picnic of the year, complete with fried chicken, hot dogs, potato salad, baked beans, veggie wraps and trays of homemade cookies for dessert.

While dining alfresco, we met some of the other conservancy members, exchanging pleasantries about the surroundings, concerns over issues impacting the work of the conservancy and its accomplishments over the past year, as well as the value of each member's support of such a worthy organization. A grand time was had by us all.