September 20, 2013

Valley Fever

Beautiful Gin.
Not all has been roses and sunshine since we moved to the hot Sonoran desert. The first real setback came a couple weeks ago when Gin got suddenly sick. That Friday morning I took them on my regular morning walk, that's a couple miles long and goes by a nice little river where the girls can go for a swim! Everything seemed normal and it was a wonderful morning and seemed just a little cooler than usual so I was fully enjoying my, for once, sweatless walk! Later in the afternoon I wanted to take the girls out again on the yard but Gin got up really slowly, almost like she didn't hear me calling her. Finally she got up and we went out. I didn't think much of it until that evening when she all of a sudden couldn't walk straight! That's when I got worried and we headed down to the vet. She was wobbly, and couldn't even jump into the car. The vet asked about all her symptoms, and we really couldn't tell her much. Yes, she had coughed a couple times during the past days, like once a day maybe. And one time she sort of coughed some slime out but that was over a week ago. Nothing I would ever had worried about. No appetite loss or sneezing. I was wondering about these questions, they seemed a little odd since I was thinking maybe she had meningitis or some neurological problem. Until the doctor said there is a disease called valley fever in the area. After getting blood work done and realizing she had fever we agreed to take the valley fever test which is pretty expensive (at least compared to veterinary costs in Finland), even though the doctor said she didn't have the typical symptoms of that disease either. They gave us antibiotics and anti-inflammatories to start with and a painful 5 days of waiting started.

And she got worse. By the time the test results for valley fever came, she was hardly moving. She couldn't get up, she would fall when trying to go to the bathroom and literally looked so miserable that we were sure she was dying. She slept between us on the bed and I was hoping that she would still be alive when I wake up the next morning. And of course we found all these possible diseases she could have from the internet and everything seemed hopeless. Cancers, autoimmune diseases... the list looked bad. The test results finally came and it was positive for valley fever. The teeter count was the highest possible. It was bad. We felt relieved to know what was causing her pain but at the same time everything we read about valley fever wasn't all that positive. Some dogs did die of it. Some dogs needed to be on medication for the rest of their lives. Some maybe JUST a year. Human's can get it too! This was shocking. How did I not know about this?

After doing countless searches on valley fever on the internet, talking with the vet, reading their info on it, I felt I finally got used to the idea, that first, it exists and second, my dog has it and third, it's not the end of the world. It is caused by a fungus that lives in the soil (as a soil scientist I should know right?), but it's only present in a small area of the world. Mainly the Sonoran Desert (which makes it common in large parts of Arizona), some desert areas in Southern California, New Mexico and some parts of Texas. You get it by inhaling the dirt where the fungus grows, so if you live in a area where it's common you're more than likely to get it. The thing is that most people or dogs don't get sick. In dogs about 30 % can't fight it off with their own immune system. Sometimes they get sick but it's not bad. Sometimes, and its a very small chance, they get really sick and sadly Gin was one of them. Normally the symptoms include coughing and sneezing and fever that gradually gets worse and later on if the infection spreads from the lungs it can go into the bones and the nerve system and cause pain (limps) and a variety of other symptoms. The doctor said that most likely both of our dogs got exposed at the same time and Vanilla seems fine, so I'm hoping this will be the end of it. Luckily it's not contagious.

Now we are taking everything one day at a time. Gin has been on antifungal medication for a couple weeks and is already doing a lot better! According to the vet we'll need to keep her on meds for over a year, since the infection got so bad, but at least she's alive and happy again! She's back to her normal behavior minus a couple set backs here and there. I suppose it's normal to have ups and downs in her recovery but we can already see the light at the end of the tunnel! I'm trying to keep her hole-digging to a minimum but it's hard when all you have around is dirt and ground squirrel holes that smell so yummy! I would love to let her be the dog she is and do her thing but valley fever definitely looms in my subconscious. Maybe I'll have to keep my yard-work to a minimum too, hmm.

The irony of the whole issue is that we just spent almost a year sailing around Southern U.S and Central America. Tropical countries with thousands of diseases and stray dogs running amongst our dogs and nothing happened. They didn't even get a common cold. And the minute we settle into a nice new home and are back to "normal" a thing like Valley Fever hits. Never would have guessed.

Girls enjoying the sunset in Patagonia, AZ.

July 19, 2013

Land of Saguaros

"The saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) is a large, tree-sized cactus species, which can grow to be over 20 meters (~70 ft) tall. It's native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Mexican state of Sonora, and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California." -Wikipedia.

I never thought life would bring me here. To the land of Saguaros, endless heat, epic dust stroms and unique wildlife that is fully adapted to the hard desert life. I'm not sure how Tucson originally became a town but as Rango, in one of my all-time favorite animated movies, puts it: "As long as we got water, we got ourselves a town". I'm sure the dogs are as surprised as I am to leave the leisurely lifestyle of boating and end up in a totally new environment and totally new routines once again. Just when we had two fully adapted boat dogs they need to do it again and now get used to the dangers of the desert. Instead of cool morning swims it's a morning walk at dawn, just before the blazing sun makes you sweat, being wary of the rattle snakes, coyotes, tarantulas, scorpions. You name it! And it's not just the animals and insects you need to worry about, it's the plants too. We've only been here a little while and there has been many a days when I have to pull out the tweezers after our walk to pull out cactus spikes from the dogs paws or muzzles. I hope that with time they'll learn to be more careful. It's just that the little lizards, ground squirrels and road runners are SO very interesting. Of course you need to put your nose into the hole and sniff everything, and if getting to the hole means going through a prickly pear cactus, so be it!!

Some things have gone more smoothly than others I suppose. So far our biggest issues are definitely outdoors! But what comes to being house dogs again, it seems to have gone naturally! I thought they would miss the boat and being outside all day long, but here they have actually seemed to enjoy the cooler indoor temperatures to the very hot outdoors. Maybe winter time they'd want to spend more time on the yard. Since we do have that. A yard. Not that it's exactly the kind of yard that I always dreamed of with green grass and apple trees but it's a yard nevertheless! The amount of wildlife we're able to follow is mindblowing! Many different bird species include road runners, gambel's quails, mourning doves and northern cardinals for example and we have many little critters like round taled ground squirrels and desert cottontails but we've also seen a tarantula, rattle snake, a coyote and many lizards in our very own back yard! So life is definitely not boring for me or for the dogs who spend most of they wake hours in front of the windows following the animals around :).

As fascinating as it is having all these animals around, it's also terrifying. I worry about the dogs getting bitten or myself getting stung when putting my feet into my shoes for example (scorpions like to hide in your shoes!). I heard that there is a little fence thing called snake fence which you can put below your actual fence to prevent snakes from coming. We might consider something like that if we fence an area for the dogs. As it is now, I'm outside at all times with the dogs watching them. It's very far from being in the somewhat safe landscapes of Finland where moss and peat covered forests surround beautiful little lakes and yards grow grass and trees and the biggest thing you usually need to worry about is ticks! And even the amount of ticks can be somewhat non-excistent, just depends where you're at. It's also very different from the urban setting and the rolling oak woodland hills at the Bay area or our life on the boat or the many beaches and coastal towns we visited underway.

I guess I could say me and my dogs have seen many places by now, and I honestly think Vanilla and Gin have both benefited from seeing the world. They are easy to travel with, they have learned many things and are very confident dogs. The experience shines from their eyes and I think there's many dogs out there in the world who could learn a thing or two from these guys.

Sonoran Desert. From Wikimedia.

June 29, 2013

"Pups on the go" -photo collection!

Here's a small collection of photos taken on our 8 month long cruise down the California coast, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua! It was a wonderful time for both us and our pups! Thank you Maria Järvinen for taking some of these lovely photos!

June 16, 2013


Last summer when we were planning our cruise one of the planning points was to figure out what to do with Gin. Until last summer Gin had spent most of her life living on the boat but for some reason had never liked the boat very much. She got random nervous attacks, sometimes triggered by gun shots but most of the time we couldn’t figure out what was wrong or why she did it. Maybe she heard something, maybe not. When we went sailing, she would be panting somewhere along the side or try to hide under the sailbags in the front. She wasn’t very responsive. Obviously this was not a dog to take on a year-long sailing expedition. Vanilla was coming with us, I couldn’t bear the thought of being away from her and she seemed to have adjusted to the boat fairly well considering her non-boating background. So we went on and asked a few trusted friends and family members if they could look after Gin in the coming year. Cody’s sister Carrie was willing to help us out. We had planned on building Gin a dog house on Carries yard (all her dogs live outdoors) and bying a whole bunch of dogfood and leaving her to enjoy the company of several herding dogs that Carrie and Levi have on their ranch. However, just in case anything would go wrong, I went on and prepared all the dog paperwork, vaccines and Gin’s microshipping for identification purposes if we needed to bring her along.

Fall came and we were almost ready to set sail. We did a couple weekend trips with the boat to find out if everything was working correctly and happily found out that not only did the boat work well but Gin wasn’t freaking out. She seemed more relaxed than normal and came to be petted (which is rare, she’s one of those loner type dogs). I remember saying to Cody that I’m going to miss Gin and Cody was silent for a while and said he would miss her too. We looked at each other and we both knew that Gin was coming with us too. The idea of our pampered ”little mutt” being tied up on a chain outdoors through the cold Wallowa winter (and having lived in California with no bits of winterfur growing on her) seemed crazy. Not that she wouldn’t survive but would she be as happy? We were her family afterall.

We were happy with the decision. The very first day of sailing we said several times to each other how nice it was to have the whole family on-board. What was amazing though, was how fast Gin started to change. It was something neither one of us expected so at first we thought she was just experiencing better days mixed in with the normal ones. How wrong we were! She started by getting excited about the sea lions. Every time she heard them bark on one of those buoys she would run to the front of the boat and bark back. Soon after that she saw some dolphins jumping out of the water at a distance and barked at them. She figured pretty quickly that they were not sea lions and settled down. After a week of sailing (which in Gin’s mind had to be a bunch of very boring days with nothing happening) she started getting excited about the dolphins as well. Then about any form of sea life or non-life, including huge cargo ships and tankers. Now she would go in the front of the boat after eating her own meal and begging our breakfast and stay there all day long. Most of the time she was sleeping but occasionally she would wake up and stare out at the horizon. We were so pleased! I couldn’t have hoped for anything better. She wasn’t nervous anymore and seemed to even enjoy bits and pieces of the sailing days. We had obviously worried in vain. 

But little did we know what lay ahead. After a couple of months of sailing Gin had transformed into a sharp dolphin watcher! She would lie on the front deck and endlessly scan the horizon. Now she would hardly sleep during the day: she had a mission. We had learned to grab our camera’s the minute she started whining, it meant something was coming. And something always did. Dolphins, whales, huge fish jumping out of the water. . . You name it! She was the best possible dolphin alarm system and fish finder. Not only once did we get a fish after Gin started keeping her noise. We were often trolling a fishing line in the water but started paying much more attention to it when the dog showed signs of excitement! Once in a while it paid off and we all got to enjoy some fresh made sushi! Gin would take a special interest in the fishing business and carefully watched every hand movement that Cody did fileeing the fish. Afterwards she would be more than happy to lick the blood off the deck if we weren’t fast enough with our cleaning!

It seemed that Gin had undertaken a full transformation from a land lover to a salty sea dog. She now liked the boating more than all the rest of the crew put together. And that’s not very little considering Cody’s passion, my enthusiasm and Vanilla’s relaxed and happy “pat me all day long and I’ll give you kisses”-zone. I thought everything was good and well and our world now had order. Everyone knew what to do and had their place. But I was in for a surprise. It didn’t end there.

A couple of days ago we were anchored at a beautiful picturesque cove of Coyote Island in Bahia Concepcion and were walking along the beach in the shallow water. The water was absolutely clear. Cody had found a couple round sting-rays and I was trying to get to him to take a look. I knew Vanilla was behind me on the beach chewing on a big fish bone and Gin was ahead of me, standing in a pool of water between two big rocks. As I was approaching him I saw one of the sting rays swim towards me and quickly dodge as it saw me standing in the water. It was wonderful! How odd looking creatures, flat and round and wobbly on the side and when it moves the edges of its body flicker and flap in the water. At the same time they move so gracefully and fast and the minute they stop they become hard to spot. What a crazy camouflage! As I lifted my eyes up I saw Gin attacking into the water and pulling her head out with a small fish between her teeth and before I even realized what’s happening the fish had already disappeared down her throat! Goodness! I wasn’t quite sure what to think but Gin seemed to be so pleased with herself that I couldn’t be mad. And why would I? Couldn’t hurt anybody if she ate a couple little fresh fish in addition to her fairly fishy diet already (I had switched from cooking most of their meals from ground beef to fish.)! 

The next day came and we let the dogs on the beach by themselves for a little while before joining them, and while drinking our morning coffee, we watched Gin swimming laps close to the beach constantly looking at the water and trying to bite into it. She was hunting again. I couldn’t help but smile. Our lovely domesticated house dog had turned into a wild fish hunting beast! Is this what adaptation means? At least this is what I would like to think it means. Given the chance it seems that dogs like humans can adapt to almost any conditions they find themselves in. I already knew that they could do a lot based on what Vanilla went through a couple years ago and this year but I have to say that I cannot help but be surprised and mesmerized by the change that Gin has undertaken. I can’t even remember the last time she had a nervous attach, was it back in Benicia? Possibly. For me the worry of Gin being sad and depressed this whole year is long gone but replaced by another, smaller worry. Maybe she will get sick from one of the fish she catches? Maybe she’ll jump off the dinghy in the middle of the ride if she sees something in the water?  She has definitely started to ride even more in the front with her head as close to the water as possible tail wagging the whole time! But whatever these worries may be I’m perfectly happy to have these instead of the original and I feel lucky to have witnessed unbelievable adaptation in process!