Shifting sands and disc

Just a few days before our return to Agua Caliente County Park earlier this month where we encountered 5-inch deep loose sand in our campsite due to a flash flood here in August, we noticed that our tricolor Corgi, Tasha, was coming up the back deck stairs slower than usual.  I first thought that maybe it was a pulled muscle, because she seemed better after I gave her aspirin (following cautions such a these).  But while walking our Corgis at Agua Caliente, we could see that Tasha could not keep up with Mac, so on the last day we made an appointment with our local veterinarian, Dr. Helen Green, DVM, and promptly brought her in to the Mission Valley Pet Clinic upon returning to San Diego.  Her wobbly rear legs suggested a back problem and she was started on Tramadol and Methocarbamol for the weekend and was to return for further tests.  Over the weekend she lost control of her bladder and was not using her rear legs to support her weight.

We read about intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) and knew we were about to face a very difficult decision when we brought Tasha back to the vet on Monday.  Dr. Green tested Tasha and found that she still had deep pain sensation in her rear legs and could benefit from surgery, but that window of opportunity was closing with every passing hour.* While we were in the exam room, Dr. Green called Dr. Robbin Levitski-Osgood,* Veterinary Neurologist and Neurosurgeon, at Veterinary Specialty Hospital, and conveyed to us the good news that there was a 95% chance of successful surgery if we acted now.  Even though we were originally leaning toward a conservative, medical approach, we were persuaded by the good prospects of our 6-year old Corgi walking again.  We immediately drove Tasha up to the Veterinary Specialty Hospital.

DSC_0157 Veterinary Specialty Hospital

“The Veterinary Specialty Hospital is a multi-specialty, state of the art, full service hospital.  We truly are the Mayo Clinic of veterinary medicine,”* says Dr. Steve Hill.  This 3-story hospital has 18 exam rooms, 6 operating rooms, specialty rooms, ICU, neurosurgery suite, radiography suites, a full service laboratory and much more, including a complete Oncology Center.

A caring and attentive staff quickly admitted Tasha.  Dr. Levitski examined Tahsa and ordered a MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)* that demonstrated a T13-L1 disc herniation.  That same evening, a left T13-L1 hemilaminectomy* was performed with fenestrations from T12-T13 to L2-L3 to remove large amounts of herniated disc material.  Immediately after the surgery, Dr. Levitsky called and said that the surgery went well and called again in the morning with the good news that Tasha was moving her legs!  She continued to do well and was discharged home on Wednesday where her activities are restricted as she continues her healing process and recovery.

DSC_0171 Tasha Post-Op Day 3

To facilitate the healing process, the detailed Discharge Instructions specified that she should remain in a crate or small area for the first two weeks, except when she is carried outside for short toileting breaks.  Howdy Doody came by to cheer her while showing off his new makeover done by Larry.

DSC_0199 Howdy Doody visits Tasha

Larry made a corset-like sling to help support her back while on potty breaks.

DSC_0217 Tasha in homemade sling

DSC_0233 Homemade sling materials

Mini drip irrigation tubing was used as boning in the medial part of the towel sling and bamboo sticks were used in the ends of both slings (an old blood pressure cuff was later adapted as a backup sling).  Boning prevented gathering of the fabric, allowing for even weight distribution.  On Post-op Day 3, Tasha was able to briefly and independently bear weight on all four legs.

A makeshift gate made from parts of a metal crate ensures that our Corgis only use the side dog ramp versus stairs when going outside.

DSC_0208 Mac using ramp

DSC_0276 Post-op Day 12

Tasha is now walking and taking time to appreciate the garden.  We are thankful for the wonderful doctors and staff, who have helped her on her way to recovery!  We are happy that she is able to walk again because something in the way she moves, moves us.*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Shifting sands at Agua Caliente

We had just finished celebrating Día de los Muertos* and brought along Larry’s homemade anise pan de muerto for our return to Agua Caliente County Park for five nights of camping in the sunny Anza-Borrego Desert.

DSC_0029 Larry's Anise pan de muerto

DSC_0114 Desert bound

It was not so sunny here in late August when a weekend of heavy rains unleashed flash floods, rock slides, shifting sand and mud, causing damage to roads, parks, and homes.  When we made our November reservations for this park at the County of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation Administrative Office in September, an administrator there told us that about $10,000 worth of damage had occurred and that the park was closed for repairs,* but would be expected to be open at least by November.  When we checked in, Supervising Park Ranger, James Stowers, said that a lot of sand had washed down onto our reserved site, but we should be able to go in and out OK.  But as I backed the trailer up into this site, the trailer tires sank into and pushed against dry, very loose, uncompacted sand (about 5″ deep), while the rear truck tires spun.

DSC_0039 Too much loose sand

Since I got the trailer far enough into the site to be workable, I unhitched, and the next morning I reported my concerns to James about the large amounts of loose sand that might make it difficult for our 2-wheel drive truck to pull our trailer out on departure day.  I was pleased that he personally got on a tractor with a front-end loader* and scooped up buckets full* of sand and placed them in eroded areas in the sites above us.  This made us smile.*

DSC_0093 Ranger removed excess sand

Beautiful sunny weather with day temperatures in the 70s also brought smiles to our faces and even my rescued childhood doll, Howdy Doody*, seemed happy as Larry worked on Howdy’s major cosmetic and clothing makeover.

DSC_0144 Desert smiles and vistas

I again hiked the Moonlight Canyon Trail, and although I did not see the bighorn sheep that I had seen in January, 2011, I did see interesting plants… and peculiar rocks.

DSC_0129 Interesting plants & rocks

I also spotted a large black widow spider on the fleece lining of our trailer tire covers!  (I always carefully inspect the covers during their removal since previously finding various spiders, a scorpion, and a field mouse!)

DSC_0149_2 Black widow spider

The spider had found a comfortable, albeit temporary home, while we were at home in the trailer.  We were cozy and content and had no idea that the sands would continue to shift for us when we got home, but at least wherever we are, home is where the heart is.*

DSC_0101 home is where the heart is

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Celebrating life on Cedar Trail

After updating our trip notes in my See More, Do More, Live More – The Airstream Travel Journal notebook, we hiked the Cedar Trail and noticed that there are new signs, including one that alerted us that we were “Entering Mountain Lion Country”.  Cedar Trail is a one-mile loop trail that mostly stays under a canopy of oak, pine, and cedar trees representative of William Heise County Park, in San Diego, California.

DSC_0065 New signs for Cedar Trail

“Better to have campers take their dogs on the trails with a leash, than leave them alone at the campsite,” said the ranger.   We were thrilled with this new and progressive policy and took our Corgis, Mac and Tasha, on their first hike on a county trail.

DSC_0165 Larry & Corgis on Cedar Trail

Keeping an eye out for mountain lions, we rested on a bench near Cedar Creek and marveled at the magnificent trees and chorus of bird sounds.

DSC_0144 Resting along Cedar Creek

Continuing on the trail, we saw dead oak trees killed by the goldspotted oak borer beetle, which has killed 80,000 oak trees in San Diego County over the past ten years.*  The 2003 Cedar Fire has also taken a toll here, but we celebrated the re-growth of trees, such as the California incense cedar, Calocedrus decurrens, coming up through holes in the oak canopy.

DSC_0055 Dead oak & live Cedar

We also spotted wild turkeys in this park and noticed that they did not seem as plentiful compared to when we first camped here six years ago.  Wild turkeys are considered a good “indicator species” and may reflect the health of an entire ecosystem.

DSC_0122 Heise Park wild turkeys

One of the trails from the Cedar Trail back to the campground passes by the cabin area.  These new William Heise Park cabins* are aesthetically pleasing, blend in well with the environment, and do not block views or replace RV campsites.

DSC_0105 Heise County Park Cabin

We returned to our favorite Airstream Safari campsite in this park and, even though we were tired, we smiled while we rested and cherished the memories of celebrating life* on Cedar Trail.

DSC_0058 A tired and happy Corgi!

*This is a YouTube video.

Summertime illuminations in the Cuyamacas

After cooling off at the beach, and rinsing off the salt deposits, our Airstream Safari was ready to get high again in the Cuyamaca Mountain Range that we visited just two months ago.  Last April, after a three year absence, we were curious to see how William Heise County Park fared after trees were damaged by wind and wet snow, and oak trees were killed by the Goldspotted Oak Borer.  We were pleased to see that there were plenty of oak trees still surviving and many improvements have been made, including new picnic tables, beautiful cabins, and the surprise that dogs are now allowed on park trails.  So on the eve of summer before temperatures peak, we returned for five days of camping in this beautiful forest setting surrounded by pine, oak, and cedar trees.

DSC_0041 Cedar fire damage to Cuyamacas

Ten years ago the devastating 2003 Cedar Fire* burned approximately 70% of William Heise Park, which is now a showcase of a forest in various stages of re-growth.  Chaparral is rapidly recovering, even though bleached white skeletons of black oaks and manzanitas are still seen on surrounding hillsides.  With rainfall just 65% of normal, San Diego County firefighters are preparing for yet another potentially dangerous wildfire season.

DSC_0032 Our Wm

We positioned our Safari in our favorite non-hookup campsite for optimal sunbathing, which enabled our two factory installed solar panels to recharge our two Lifeline AGM batteries to 100% by mid-morning each day.  We had full sun all five days and the solar panels delivered a total of 193 amp-hours by the fifth day.

Each day began by walking our Corgis, Mac and Tasha.  The ranger explained that the recent decision to allow dogs on trails in this park is based on the premise that it is better to have people enjoying hiking on trails with their dogs on a leash, than having dogs left alone at campsites.

DSC_0135 Larry walks Mac & Tasha

While our trailer soaked in the rays, we enjoyed relaxing in the shade of the nearby Coulter Pine and Canyon Live Oak trees as cool breezes flowed up the forest hillside.  This was an excellent location for reading, bird watching and listening to relaxing bird sounds.*  Our peace was only interrupted by biting flies that Tasha snapped at before retreating under the truck. (Larry killed 18 flies in one afternoon.)

DSC_0025 Relaxing in shade

DSC_0018 Bird watching at Heise

Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana

My summer reading included Illumination in the Flatwoods – A Season Living Among the Wild Turkey, by Joe Hutto. (Appropriate reading in a park known for its turkeys!)

DSC_0011 My summer reading

Our summer eve feasting included hamburgers, corn on the cob, and Mexican Zucchini steamed in a cast iron Japanese nabe.  It’s summertime, and the livin’ is easy!*

DSC_0036 Summertime feasting

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

San Diego on the feral side

We took a walk on the wild side last week during an interlude at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, once called the Wild Animal Park, and this week we discovered a wild animal den in our own back yard.  While Larry was relocating and grooming our bromeliads, our corgi, Tasha, approached a plant bed where she was greeted and frightened by a loud hiss. After securing our dogs, he removed a potted plant exposing an open area under our outdoor white birdcage, which is situated against an ivy hedge.  An orange tabby feral mother cat with her two nursing kittens, about 4 weeks old, had made this dark and secluded lair their home.

DSC_0333 Feral cat den

A feral cat is a descendant of a domestic cat that has returned to the wild, and most neighborhoods have them, including ours.  We’ve grown accustomed to them and believe they help control rats, but in this case, a den in our enclosed back yard is disruptive for our dogs, and we felt a responsibility for the kittens and mother.  So I rounded up our live animal cage trap (our local County Animal Shelter also loans traps for a $50 deposit) and Larry prepared a larger cage for temporary housing.  The trap was baited and placed by the den.

DSC_0348 Feral cat cage trap

Early the next morning, we found the mother in the trap.  There was no time to take pictures, as we worked quickly to retrieve the nearby kittens with a reacher grabber and place them in the prepared larger cage.  We moved this cage to a secluded side yard and transferred the mother in to rejoin her kittens.

DSC_0339 Feral cat & her 2 kittens

Our plan was to transfer them to the San Diego County Animal Shelter, but since the cats were caught on a Monday (the shelter is closed on Mondays) and I work Mondays and Tuesdays, we provided them with food, water, a litter box, and comfortable foam bedding and shelter for the next two nights.  The cage was partially covered with towels during the day and completely at night.  They adjusted well and each morning we could see that the mother was caring for and nursing her kittens with blue eyes.  We learned that kittens’ eyes are blue until about 6-7 weeks old. They need to be with their mother for 8 weeks before being separated. Frequent handling by people is needed from now up to 7 weeks to ensure that they do not become feral.  If we had not caught the mother, the foster kittens would have been taken to the Humane Society and fed by volunteers.

DSC_0344 Cage prepared for night

Yesterday, we loaded this cage into our F-250 truck and delivered the cats to the Animal Shelter, which will determine the health of the kittens and when to separate them from their mother.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, there is a severe feral cat overpopulation crisis in the United States today.  Josh Hirschmiller says in the KPBS These Days interview, “What Can Be Done To Reduce Feral Cat Population?“, that there is an estimated million or more feral cats in San Diego County.  The Humane Society suggests, “The best approach involves sterilizing cats, conducting robust TNR programs [Trap-Neuter-Return], support for innovative cat programs through shelters and rescues, and educating owners on how keeping cats indoors is valuable for both cats and wildlife.”  The Feral Cat Coalition in San Diego has a free TNR program.  See how TNR programs improve the lives of feral cats, while reducing their numbers in this Humane Society YouTube video: “Life On The Streets: The feral Cat Crisis“.

Our veterinary care clinic, San Diego Pet Hospital says, “All animals deserve a loving home.”

DSC_0054 Our own cat, Tigger

“I’m Tigger, and I approve this post and message,” says my neutered (and once feral) cat!