Kirby has been with us for 9 months (give or take a day.) I found him wandering Main Street in Columbus on November 9th of last year.
My good friend Erin once gave me some valuable advice about dogs: she said to give them at least 6 months in your life to adjust. She's right about this in so many ways. Many dogs are surrendered to shelters before they've really been given a chance to become their own natural selves in their new homes. With Kirby, it's taken 9 months and we're still not there yet.
He has his little lapses. Lately, he and Dozer have developed quite a growly little adversarial relationship -- Dozer 'protecting' LeeAnn from Kirby and Kirby seems to be protecting the kitchen in general, but it's probably his food-stash (yes, he has his own -- more on this in a minute.) They both get all low and guttural, sounding quite like beasts! Sometimes Polly gets in on the act, too. (Don't worry for her -- pound for pound, she is by far the scariest dog in the house.)
Did you know that a common reason that dogs are surrendered to animal shelters is that they "don't get along with the other dogs in the house?" I'm not here to judge, but I think that this is quite natural, and no reason at all to turn in a dog.
Our dogs love each other, but they only just kinda tolerate each other. Usually it's a lot of pack-oriented jostling and posturing. Occasionally it flares into a fight (quickly over with apology-licks and sniffs soon to follow.) Mostly they keep their distance from each other, and respect each others' space.
If you've been closely following Kirby's saga here and on Flickr, you know that the dog has a taste for the other dogs' stool. Polly's in particular. We really wish he'd lose this particular vice. For a while we thought maybe it was some dietary thing. It took him months to gain the ~20 lbs that life on the street had taken off of him. But now he's at a pretty healthy weight. (It's been a while since his last weighing, so I'm not sure what he's up to, but he's gone from 59 lbs to somewhere north of 75.) Now we just think that he's a filthy pig with a nasty habit. (LeeAnn at least gives him the benefit of the doubt -- she thinks that he's an old "country dog" and just doesn't know any better. Feh, I say.)
His last lingering health concern from his time on the street is still that infernal ear infection. For the past two months, Kirby's been seeing a very capable specialist over at the Ohio State University. We've learned alot about dog dermatology -- like, for instance, that most ear infections are caused by allergic reactions, and Kirby's problems probably didn't come from any one specific incident from his time as a stray. (In my simplistic mind, he had 'gotten into something nasty' and developed an ear infection as a result. Ah, if it were only that simple.)
So our family vet and our OSU doctor have tag-teamed Kirby for awhile now. But the primary care regimen that he's following now comes from the specialist. Human-grade (and expensive!) antibiotics to kill off the 2 (or possibly 3 -- jury's still out on that) different kinds of bacteria that have taken up residence in there. And twice-daily ear washes, then drops. And an anti-inflammatory, to keep the irritation and itching down. Poor Kirby, he's such a trooper. He's put up with these daily indignities all summer long with nary a complaint.
But by all outward signs, his ear is doing much better. I'm inclined to say that we've got the problem beat, but -- I've learned! -- that is my old, naive self thinking. The dermatologist assures us that if we don't find the underlying cause of the infections (the allergen) then it will always come back, sooner or later. (Of course, it coming back at all is a bad thing, because it will inevitably come back stronger and more antibiotic resistant each time.)
Kirby's medical history is a problem. He has none. He basically didn't exist until 9 months ago (10+ years of age on his bones to the contrary.) So the doctor has no way of knowing whether his infection is indeed chronic, or just an acute episode that grew out of control. So we have to proceed as if it's chronic and now we're trying to isolate the cause.
The first "suspect" is his diet. He eats the same food that our other dogs do: "Wellness" brand, lamb-and-whatever. Dry. (We've tried all the Wellness flavors, and it's the only one that all three can agree on. They all hate the Fish-flavor, too.) But for the next 10 weeks, Kirby is off the lamb, and onto a veterinary formula composed of 'novel' protein sources. (In Kirby's case, venison and potatoes.) The idea is to feed Kirby stuff that he normally wouldn't get, and keep him away from any food that he might have had in his diet the past year. (And might be allergic to.)
The tricky part, for us, is that we have to be super-vigilant about breaking his strict diet. So no dog-biscuits ('cookies' as our dogs know them -- thanks K-lo!) And he can't even lick the other dogs' bowls. Which, of course, he loves to do. (Country-dog, remember?) But all in all, it'll be worth it if we can send that infernal ear infection back where it belongs. Which, of course, is anywhere except our poor dog's ear.
The best part about seeing Kirby get well, and (finally, almost!) lose that ear infection? It's seeing him act more and more like a dog. Easy-going, loving. Chewing things! (I think his ear and jaw were too tender from the infection for chewing before. He's only started doing it in the last 2 months or so.)
I don't know who on Earth would read this whole meandering blog entry. But I sure do love writing about Kirby. He's an ongoing project, and a real piece of work.