Of Agility Champions, Bone Marrow Transplants and Puppies

Wow. You know it’s been a long time between updates when you have to check back on your blog to remember what you last wrote about. Things have been busy I must admit.

So trialling update first:

Saturday April 27th was the Southern River Dog Club Trial – Spryte did three cracking good runs, going well in Open Jumping apart from redoing the weavers (NFC), and did two very nice runs in Novice Agility and Jumping, all still NFC with a couple of small errors in each. Raven had a bar knocking day I believe, taking a bar down in each run apart from one where I think I may have pushed her over a wrong bar. Cypher had a couple of clears and a couple of bars down. Highlight of the trial was WA finally has another Agility Champion – in the form of a tri coloured Border Collie named Terra, owned by Kriszty Cumming. Terra also turned 4 this day as well as acquiring an addition to her name Agility Champion Bellview Foxy Lady.


May 11th – this was the Thankyou Trial, put on by the CAWA Agility Committee which involved two trials, you entered the morning one and then had your entries mirrored for free in the afternoon one. I asked Kriszty if she would handle Raven for me in Masters Agility. I had been feeling a little frustrated with our lack of success which I felt was mostly due to my inadequate handling. At Southern River Raven seemed like she’d had a shot of caffeine prior to our Masters Agility run and I felt like I was about 10 steps behind her in everything. So Kriszty ran Raven in Open Jumping to warm up first and ran a respectably clear 3rd place although we both noticed Raven was being very polite and not going at her usual speed. We were not sure if this was gonna work because if Raven runs clear in Masters she does need to do it at her usual frenetic speed if we were going to finish off those passes needed for Agility Champion. Kriszty then took her in for Masters and Raven suddenly broke her start and I *knew* then and there she was back to her usual speed, they made it around half way before Rave had an off course and took a couple of bars down. I had pulled Raven out for bars down in Masters Jumping and Open Agility that morning too. In the afternoon trial we’d decided to try again since her speed had picked up with Kriszty. She ran her in Open Jumping first and pulled her out when she dropped a bar. We then walked Masters Agility and decided that because it was a fairly free and flowing course of the simpler variety which usually meant a lot of clears in the class that I would run her since if we were going to try for first place we would need her at her maximum speed and she does run the fastest when I handle her. The course was going great till the fourth last jump from home when she knocked a bar. I pulled her out, frustrated but quite pleased with how I was handling her better. Spryte had some cracking good runs today, she did have one bar down in each of the Novice Jumping but was posting the fastest times which I was very happy about, at one point she did a 136m 16 obstacle course in 14.77 seconds so I was quite pleased with the confidence that showed. She’d gone clear in the morning too in Open Jumping, just about equalling Raven’s time which was great as the distance challenge wasn’t easy (big brother Cypher couldn’t do it!). Cypher managed two clears in Masters Jumping, one clear in Masters Agility and a clear in Open Agility. AGAIN the highlight of the trial? Raven’s SP partner Nifty picking up his final leg for Agility Champion – Sue Hogben and Nifty finished it in fine style with a 1st place in Masters Agility in the morning: Another tri coloured Border whose name now reads: Agility Champion Guirmere Nifty Lad.

May 17th and May 18th – Geraldton trials. On the Saturday both the older dogs ran well in the final run of the day Masters Jumping, both Cy and Raven going clear in it, however I handled Raven quite conservatively and she was quite tired I think, it had been a long day so we picked up 6th. Raven had knocked one bar in each of her other runs (I withdrew her each time) and Cypher knocked bars in two and went off course in another. Spryte was in the competition Novice Agility class and she ran very nicely but missed the weaver entry, it wasn’t an easy angle for the baby dogs so I was still happy with her run. She had one bar down in Novice Jumping and in Open Jumping we got a little mixed up on course. Sunday went better for us. First up was Open Agility. I had made the decision that day that I was getting kinda tired of Cypher’s slow arse contacts in trials, aware that I had very nicely caused these to happen. Cypher’s contacts in training are near perfect four on the floor contacts. His times are all low and within the times for top level trialling dogs. There is no hesitation, he just drives straight into the spot and holds it until I say the release word. In trials I have released him early, as in I say ‘Ok’ as he gets his paws into the contact area. This has caused him to change his behaviour performance in the trial ring, he doesn’t drive, his body is a lot more upright, he doesn’t get down low, he slows down, he puts extra strides in, and I have had a few missed contacts. I released early with a view to getting his times on course quicker. What it has achieved is the opposite, I now have a dog who is not quite sure what he is doing in the trial ring on contacts, he’s wondering if I’m going to say ‘ok’ or if he has to lie down or maybe something else might happen. His confusion about what I am going to expect has led to slower contact performance at trials. So this day (Sunday) I’ve made a decision. For the next 6 months I am not going to care about his times on Agility courses I am going to insist on the four on the floor position before moving on in any of the contact courses. I started it today. The results were amusing initially. His first contact was the A Frame…I gave the command ‘Contact’ and as he was feeling fairly fired up he ran through the colour straight at me growling, barking and carrying on like he wanted to play tug with me. I stopped dead, he realised I’d said ‘Contact’ and promptly lay down facing the opposite way to the direction we were going. Heh. I moved off sent him into the weavers with an ‘Ok’ and kept running. He ran straight into four on the floor with the dogwalk and in Masters Agility his contacts were noticeably faster and all straight into four on the floor position. I’m hoping for the same thing tomorrow at GSDA. What I hope to achieve by doing this is having faster contact performance which will only rarely get released early at big events. We’ll see how it goes. In Masters Agility I found out that tugging with him as we walk up to the start line is probably a little too much stimulation for him, he took off like a bat out of hell and was so revved up felt the need to come in and bark at me close, like he wanted to herd me or something causing a refusal on a very simple bar, the fourth obstacle in. He did go clear in Masters Jumping and Open Agility though.

I’d made the decision with Raven that I was really going to try and focus more on my handling, making sure I was not distracted, that I had a concrete plan that I was going to try and execute without any regard for her bar knocking issues. It had been noted that perhaps I wasn’t treating course walking seriously enough leading to sloppy handling which then led to no clear passes. So…with that in mind I did my best to try and run the course exactly how I’d planned it. Raven was holding her start lines nicely today, she’d kept all her bars up in Open Agility I had front crossed in the wrong place though and caused an off course but I was still happy with her run. We went out and ran Masters Agility and it ran perfectly apart from the seesaw collapsing under her as she left it and a slight wobble on the last obstacle. But these weren’t enough to slow her down too much and we finished with a 1st place. One less Agility Champion pass to go. In Open Jumping there was a diagonal line of jumps down the centre of the course which had a very fast approach to them, too fast for Raven and she took a couple of them so we withdrew. Masters Jumping was our last run and again I walked it purposefully and set out to run it the exact same way. It worked beautifully and we finished with 2nd place to Sue’s Nifty, not by much so that was pleasing as Nifty is an awesome dog in Jumping, very efficient. Spryte had weaver woes in Novice Agility again unfortunately, just popping the last pole in what was otherwise a cracking good run. We scratched Novice Jumping preferring to be home before 9pm that night.

So all in all a good weekend, and worth the trek to Geraldton. We’ll be back in July for their triple header.

On the chemo front things are ticking along smoothly, Raven had her hopefully last ever dose of Doxorubicin on the 13th of May and she did experience a touch of colitis a few days later but nothing she couldn’t handle. We went and saw Ken Monday afternoon and he explained about the drug I was to inject her with for the next seven days so that her white blood cell count is elevated. I have to give her injections morning and night of HGFSH, Human Granulocyte Follicle Stimulating Hormone which is a synthetic hormone that tells the stems cells to reproduce at several times their normal rate. I was given four syringes of 0.5ml each and they obviously contain synthetic ingredients which can only be found in the bowels of some massively volatile volcano or perhaps on the moon because each 0.5 ml syringe is worth around $424 Australian. I kid you not. This stuff is more expensive than gold and probably high quality heroin truth be told. I panicked a little when told that i had to give her four doses from one 0.5ml syringe ARGH!! What if I slipped and gave the whole thing? Ken assured me that it would not have any affect on Raven’s health just that I may have lessened the effectiveness of the drug by not spreading it out as much. Which is also something I’d like to avoid given how much this stuff costs! But it’s all good, the injections have been going smoothly, I have been giving the right dose each time without any dramas and Raven is a very patient patient with me.

Theoretically her neutrophil count should go through the roof, normally for her it’s around 1, after seven days of this it should be up around 70 Ken said. So this Tuesday coming (the 27th of May) she goes in for the big procedure. Ken and another vet will work on her for around 2 hours, shave off a considerable amount of fur from her shoulder and extract around 160ml of marrow from her shoulder blade. This is of course done under a gaseous general anaesthetic, after that several tests will be commenced on the marrow extracted whilst Raven who is still under is given her usual does of Vincristine (hopefully the last one ever…this is the drug that has whacked her around the most). She goes home at 3.30 apparently as if nothing ever happened, just like a usual chemo day. She does have pain meds though because whilst dogs don’t tend to reveal it, in humans we know it is quite a painful operation so Ken automatically administers pain meds regardless of whether the dog demonstrates any signs of pain. Knowing Raven and how stoic she is she’d never tell anyone if she was in pain! This day will cost around $2,500. My credit card will need pain meds too I imagine.

The following Tuesday (June 3rd) is when I will probably start to freak out a little. This day she goes in and has double the dose of Cyclophosphamide than usual, At this point in won’t matter if her WBC is very low again. It is the dose that effectively wipes out all her marrow, every single cell and pretty much destroys any immune system she has left. I will be taking this day and the following Wednesday and Thursday off from work. The day for her goes exactly the same as any other chemo day. I drop her off in the morning and pick her up in the afternoon. After I drop her off in the morning I will head round to Robyn’s and drop Cypher and Spryte in for boarding for a few days. Then I will head home and, with a view to completely trying to distract myself from thinking about the possible complications that could arise, I will be cleaning the house from top to bottom, disinfecting, sterilising, trying to rid the house of as many kinds of bugs and germs as possible all in the hope that she doesn’t come down with anything whilst she’s got nothing to fight it with. I then go and pick her up, they give me a 2 week course of antibiotics to give her to help fight any infection. This day will cost around $600.

The risks are as below:

Risks:

  1. Immune mediated thrombocytopenia (the immune system attacking platelets that help your blood clot) – 15%. This is rarely problematic other than requiring treatment to control it. It typically resolves after months. It typically occurs weeks or months after treatment.
  2. Sterile cystitis – 15%. This leads to irritation and pain in the bladder. There is no treatment other than pain management. It typically resolves by itself in days, weeks, or months, and occurs soon after the double dose treatment.
  3. Sepsis – 10%. Infection without an immune system is a serious complication and may require hospitalization. Theoretically a potentially fatal problem, most dogs recover quickly with antibiotics and intravenous fluids. It occurs approximately 1-2 weeks after the double dose treatment.
  4. Mild to moderate nausea
    1. 10% following the double dose treatment
    2. 40% following the marrow transplant
  5. Allergic reactions during marrow transplant – 5%. We will monitor and treat these as they occur. They are rarely serious.
  6. Others

Benefits:

Approximately 40% of the dogs appear to be cured by this technique.

Fingers crossed Raven is in that 40%.

So that is all rather daunting and could be cause for some worry and concern but I’m taking a positive approach and believing that it will all go smoothly, Raven is one tough cookie who has heart enough to see her through this. I have sent off her Nationals entries this week, confirming my faith in her propensity to overcome adversity and will be so thrilled to be there in Melbourne at the end of August stepping up to the start line with her. It will mean more to me than just a competition, the mere fact that we just made it there will be so significant.

Cypher’s babies are now going on 6 weeks old and you can see them here at this page;

http://www.winpara.com/lexiecypher_5weeks.html

Girl #4 is staying with Robyn, the rest all have homes and I really hope their owners appreciate their puppies naturally inbuilt desire to play! I had a visit with them this week and even at not quite 6 weeks they were all mad keen tuggers and chasers and picking things up in their mouths. Girl #4 is quite the little madam and I think Robyn is a little concerned about the prevalence of little monster-like behaviour! I may have to have a play with her when she’s older *g*


Spryte came into season that Monday after Geraldton which was great because she really is like clock work. That is her 3rd season so far and pretty much 12 months to the day of her first season, so she is 6 monthly on the dot! Make planning things so much easier. I told Robyn she now has a year to decide who she wants to breed her to as she will be having a litter for Winpara next year after the Border Collie National. It will take her out of competition for the last half of 2009 but apart from possibly missing a Royal it’s no big deal.

On the more non-dog related front went and saw Ironman the other week….thoroughly recommend it to anyone for some entertainment. I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it was and yet it thoroughly impressed. Off to Indy 4 tonight…we shall see – I don’t have huge expectations I must admit.


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