Sunday, December 25, 2011

Gratitude ... and embracing uncertainty with curiosity

As 2011 comes to a close I find myself reflecting back on the year … healthwise, so much has happened.

January, 2011 – I bought and closed on my house here in Bloomington, MN. Together with my beloved pups (Ahnung, Missy and Mister) we began a new start.

March, 2011 – While going in for an MRI guided breast biopsy they discover electrical problems in my heart. The breast biopsy is postponed till I get clearance from a cardiologist. I soon learn my heart is beating from the ‘wrong’ place 25% of the time and am referred to the Heart Institute to meet with a cardiologist and electrophysiologist.

April, 2011 – I have clearance from my cardiologist and have my MRI guided breast biopsy done. Fortunately the lesions are benign. The electrical problems in my heart worsen and I am scheduled for a heart ablation. I also learn I have a rare heart condition called Left Ventricular Non-Compaction (LVNC) where I am at “high risk of developing cardiomyopathy and also at high risk of sudden cardiac death.”

May, 2011 – I undergo a heart ablation at the Heart Institute and my electrical problems in the right ventricle are resolved.

June, 2011 – Heart rhythm problems begin again and a heart holter indicates my heart is beating irregularly again 10% of the time. I am asked to return in 3 months for another holter monitor test.
Ahnung trying out a tank top
for her to wear post

July, 2011 – I discover a lump in my dog (and soul mate) Ahnung’s 4th left mammary gland. She undergoes a lumpectomy and is diagnosed with breast cancer. We see an oncologist who is hopeful that the cancer was removed and like myself, she is now on the close surveillance path as we monitor the return of tumors.

August, 2011 -  A new lump is discovered in my left breast. I undergo another lumpectomy (my third in two years). Pathology report indicates the cells in my breast are continuing to go awry … more atypical ductal hyperplasia, bordering on DCIS. I continue to opt for close surveillance.

October, 2011 – Heart holter test indicates the electrical problems in my heart are minimal (~ 1%). My cardiologist is cautiously optimistic that we have taken care of the electrical problems but says it’s unusual for them to return like they did in June and then go away with no explanation. He asks me to return in 6 months for another holter (to monitor the electrical problems in my heart) and an echocardiogram to monitor the structural functioning of my heart.

It’s December now and I’m not officially due to see my cardiologist till April, 2012. I’m due in February for another breast MRI.  I have continued to monitor Ahnung’s mammary glands and so far am beyond grateful there have been no more growths. I pray she remains cancer free. Meanwhile I am grateful to be feeling good a majority of the time. I have decided to live my life as fully as I can. I have decided to not focus on my health and to do what makes me feel alive, which is animal rescue work. The truth is, we all don’t know how much longer we have on this precious planet. I am confronted with words one dreads coming from a doctor’s mouth .. that yes, I have a  serious heart condition where there is a thickening of the walls in my heart muscles. It will cause my heart to get weaker and eventually fail. So when I asked him after my heart ablation how long I had, he said “it could be a year, two years, maybe even 10!”  Well, as far as I’m concerned that’s a pretty wide range and to dwell on it will do me absolutely no good. In fact, I consider it a gift .... It’s amazing how one’s perspective can shift when you are faced with a serious health condition. I would be lying if I said I never thought about it especially when my heart starts doing cart wheels and I can tell there’s something just not right.  But most of the time, it passes.

So this year, when my health took a nose dive I did what most people would say is insane, I plunged even deeper into my volunteer world of animal rescue, and began fostering homeless dogs/puppies and in September, 2011 adopted one of my foster puppies, Legacy. This sweet little bundle of joy has been such a gift and one of the best medicines for both Ahnung and me. Ironically, I walk a parallel path with Ahnung as we are monitored closely …. Many would say that with all this uncertainty in our lives, and not so pleasant health diagnoses, that we should be waiting for the other shoe to drop. I don’t know … instead, I’d like to think that we were given a gift of facing the fragileness of our own mortality, and through that gift, were given the gift of choosing to live, and I mean, really, truly LIVE. As Julian Boyd (a basketball player with the same heart condition I have) said in an interview with New York Times ("Star's Heart Condition keeps L.I.U on Edge")  ... "“Every game, I play like it’s my last because I’ve been shown that it really could be,” he said. “If anything were to happen ever again, I want to be able to say the last game I played was with everything." So my motto, is to live each day as if it were my last!

My wish for 2012 is that I will continue to fill my heart with gratitude and that I will embrace any and all uncertainty that comes my way with childlike curiosity and wonder.  And may I continue to fill my heart with the innocence and playfulness I am blessed to witness every day in a house full of puppies … both those who have permanent residence here (Ahnung, Missy, Mister, Legacy) and those who land temporarily (Yukon, Willy, Rez, Lenny, ZuZu and others) until they find their own forever homes.

And I close my 2011 blog with one of my favorite poems by Mary Oliver .... because when it's over, I don't want to end up simply having visited this world ... I want to say that I have lived my life with passion, purpose, and playfulness.


When Death Comes
By Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

And Legacy reminds both Ahnung and myself of the importance of play ... I just love how he has brought out the puppy in Ahnung!! :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Prayers for Jovie and Buddy

Jovie in ICU being treated
for parvo. 
I'm at a loss for words. Tonight, one puppy, Jovie, fights for her life. The other puppy, Buddy, is getting better but not out of the woods.

On Monday, the rescue I volunteer and foster with, Act V Rescue & Rehabilitation, took in two very sick parvo puppies into their foster program. Not many rescues or shelters would do that. They did that with another gorgeous black puppy several months ago. For that sweet girl, she turned the corner pretty quickly and was adopted out within a month. I was hoping the same would be true for Jovie and Buddy. Unfortunately, Jovie and Buddy were taken to ICU after Dr. Vicki of Act V Rescue checked them out at intake. Jovie was extremely dehydrated and both had significant intestinal disease. They had a plasma transfusion this morning and later this afternoon a fellow rescue dog, Ricky, a parvo survivor, donated blood for Jovie and Buddy. Thank you Ricky! The hope is that the antibodies in his blood will help the pups. They were given the serum treatment tonight.

Buddy in ICU. He is doing
better today.
I went to see the pups tonight. They were in isolation and because of the risk of spreading parvo, or having them catch anything, I could only watch them through the glass, unable to hold or touch them, at least not physically.  I watched the tech in scrubs cleaning out their kennels; i watched her give them love, take their temperature, pet them .... so I could take some photos of Buddy, she let Buddy out of his kennel. He went up to her and rubbed his body against her. Jovie, on the other hand, is extremely sick and was completely listless and lethargic .. she no longer has any white blood cells; Buddy has minimal white blood cells. Losing white blood cells is apparently not a good sign. I looked at Jovie in her kennel and it broke my heart. There's this incredible sense of helplessness yet at the same time my heart is full of gratitude for what Dr. Vicki and Act V Rescue have and continue to do. Dr. Vicki is doing everything she possibly can to save Jovie and Buddy's lives. I also know that there's a good possibility that Jovie (and even Buddy) may not make it. We hold out a LOT of hope for Buddy as he appears to be getting stronger. For Jovie, there's a flicker of hope in my heart for that sweet girl. We aren't giving up yet ... I ask for your prayers for Jovie and Buddy. Please send them loving, healing thoughts.

Dear Jovie and Buddy, know that you are not alone ... know that you are loved and that you are surrounded by light, love and healing energy and prayers. We will continue to hold you in our hearts.

Please also consider making a donation to help Act V Rescue in covering the high costs of treating parvo puppies. Any amount you are able to donate would be greatly appreciated. You can make a donation online.

Ricky, a parvo survivor donates blood
for Jovie and Buddy.
Thank you Ricky!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Working Together ...

Edwina, scared and timid, arrives
on transport and is greeted by
AHS staff, Melissa, with love,
patience and reassurance.

I continue to hold in my heart a dream and a vision that for those of us passionate about animal rescue and welfare, that we can work together in a positive, collaborative and respectful manner … that we can suspend judgment of others, seeking first to understand than to be understood; that when challenged with viewpoints, values and perspectives different from our own that we rise above walls of divisiveness that can rise fast and furiously, and make a conscious choice to reach out in kindness, compassion and understanding; that we reach, yes, for the stars, for the highest possible layer of what brings all of us together, focusing on the good and on the potential of what can emerge from collaborating, and the sharing of resources and ideas; that we set aside our own egos, our own agendas and we work together for a higher common good; that we all collectively take ownership of causes near and dear to our heart, and eliminate any Us versus Them thinking; that we honor, respect and value the diversity we all bring which in the end strengthens us as a community.

Over the years as I have immersed myself deeper into the world of animal rescue and animal welfare, I have learned how little I know; how there is no black and white – just a lot of grey; how it’s far more important for me to ask questions in my quest to deepen my understanding than to spout off what I believe are my truths and answers to problems; and how important it is for us to work together.

I have chosen my cause to focus on right now to be animal welfare ... regardless of what your cause or passion is there will be someone or some group that will have a different view point, different approach and a different set of values. We must reach beyond our differences and find common ground, and in the process we must reach out our hands, open our hearts, and learn to listen, truly listen, without judgment. We must, in my humble opinion, be more like the beloved animals we work tirelessly to rescue and re-home. Ironically, in our efforts to help these beautiful beings, in the end, we are the ones receiving even greater gifts.

"I do not go to a meeting merely to give my own ideas. If that were all, I might write my fellow members a letter. But neither do I go simply to learn other people's ideas. If that were all, I might ask each to write me a letter. I go to a meeting in order that all together we may create a group idea, an idea which will be better than all of our ideas added together. For this group idea will not be produced by any process of addition, but by the interpenetration of us all." - Mary Parker Follett.

"Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free." ~ Eugene V. Debs

Leech Lake Legacy is just one example of a collaborative effort of individuals, rescues, shelters, and businesses coming together to help the animals of Leech Lake Reservation.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Leech Lake Legacy

Legacy in his pirate outfit for Halloween
I continue to celebrate a lot of firsts with my sweet Legacy. He is now 4 months old. When he first arrived he was a mere 4.5 lbs. A few days ago at the vet he weighed in at 21.4 lbs! He touched my heart when he first arrived, and he continues to wiggle deeper into my heart as I witness how he brings out the puppy in Ahnung, how he has been an incredible foster brother (we are now fostering a 10 week old puppy, Zuzu, who was a rescue from Red Lake Reservation, and is up for adoption through Act V Rescue), and how incredibly wise and smart he is for a 4 month old puppy. There was this knowing I felt in my gut when I first met Ahnung. Even though I hadn't planned on adding a third dog to my family, it happened and it was the best decision I ever made. Not long ago, I went through a similar process where my head kept telling me adopting Legacy and having 4 dogs was too much, yet something in my gut and heart kept telling me that Legacy was meant to be a part of my life, and that he was going to play a critical role in my volunteer work in the animal rescue/welfare world. I am now able to see how he is going to follow in Ahnung's footsteps ... these two rez dogs are bonded and are an incredible role models for dogs/puppies needing rescue, re-homing and ambassadors for the importance of spaying/neutering.

I don't think it was a 'coincidence' that Legacy was the puppy (out of the 13 that temporarily found their way to my home at the end of August) who ended being a permanent member of my family. The collaborative effort to help the animals up at Leech Lake Reservation began in early May, and the effort at that time was named Leech Lake Legacy. Suffice to say, that my sweet Legacy is destined to be the spokesdog for the efforts to help his friends up at the Reservation. As of 11/20 we have been able to give 165 dogs/cats a second chance .... I created a video to celebrate this incredible collaborative effort ...

To learn more about our efforts, check out the Leech Lake Legacy blog at

Legacy's first snow ...
loving it!!!

Legacy 'working' with our foster pup Zuzu --
teaching her how to play! He loves his job :)

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Legacy - Sept 2, 2011
I had planned to write a blog post yesterday about the latest addition to my family ... a sweet pup named Legacy who arrived on August 27, 2011 with 12 other puppies from Leech Lake Indian Reservation. I posted a video of the 13 puppies who took temporary residence in my home for 5 days until I was able to bring 10 of them to the Animal Humane Society (through MnPAW, Minnesota Partnership for Animal Welfare) so that they could be placed up for adoption. The day before I was scheduled to bring all the pups to AHS there was one pup I was particularly concerned about -- the pup we had named Legacy. Since early May we have been transporting dogs from the impound up at Leech Lake Reservation. Over 140 dogs have been rescued and given a second chance since then ... proof to me of how much can be done when we work together. Almost every week a transport arrives in the cities .... in an effort to stay organized and to keep track of the dogs arriving and when they arrived, my friend Jenny decided early in the process that all unnamed dogs in a given transport would be named with the same letter. The first transport began with the letter "A". By August 27th, we were at the "L" transport. At the beginning of this effort, in conversations with Karen Good (founder of Red Lake Rosie's Rescue) we were discussing what we could name our efforts to rescue the dogs of Leech Lake. Somehow, through our conversations, the name Leech Lake Legacy emerged. She said that at some point we could come up with a really cool logo using 3 L's and the word "Legacy" ... yes, it has so much meaning. In early July the name Leech Lake Legacy was born along with the Leech Lake Legacy blog. We knew that at some point we would hit the "L" transports and there would be one dog who would get the special name of Legacy. We didn't realize that the "L" transport was going to be one of our larger transports (you can read more about it here) ... on that transport we brought back 18 dogs/puppies and 1 kitten. 13 weak, frail puppies arrived in the "L" transport. The day after the puppies arrived at my house and we were feeding them I noticed one puppy (a cute shepherd mix) shaking, wobbling and walking around like a drunk. He would fall over and would shake uncontrollably then look at me with glazed eyes. He stumbled around but yet, there was something special about this little boy. I feared he had some neurological disorder or that he had epilepsy. As we were photographing each puppy and putting tags on them to identify them we began the naming process. There would only be one dog who would get the name 'Legacy' ... a name that represents the heart of our efforts to save the dogs up at the Reservation. I picked up the shaking, wobbly shepherd mix puppy and said, "I want this boy to be named Legacy."
Missy and Legacy

Along with two other very weak and frail puppies (Lenny and Lazarus), I ended up keeping Legacy and fostering all 3 puppies through Act V Rescue. I had every intention of just fostering him and adopting him out. Both Lenny and Lazarus have new adoptive homes. Lazarus went to his new home this past Monday and Lenny goes to his new home on Saturday. Legacy ... well, this boy kept wiggling his way into my heart. Dr. Vicki of Act V Rescue checked him out and treated him for coccidia -- turns out his symptoms were from either the coccidia or malnutrition/hypoglycemia or both. She immediately started treating him for coccidia and his wobbling and shaking began to dissipate.

The city I live in allows me to have a maximum of 4 animals. I wasn't planning on keeping Legacy. As the weeks went on I noticed how even my dog Missy (who is not good with other dogs) was welcoming him into the pack. And most amazing of all was witnessing my dog Ahnung (who is often regal and does not play with other dogs) respond to Legacy. Legacy began following her around the back yard and then one morning, as I looked out the window, I saw Legacy initiate play with a play bow and Ahnung break into puppy behavior playing like a puppy with Legacy. They played for an incredibly long time. Not only was Legacy learning from my dogs (Mister, Missy and Ahnung) ... they too were learning from him and I was being reminded, again, of the importance of play.

Ahnung and Legacy
Yesterday I was going to blog about Legacy, about how the word Legacy has been coming up in my vocabulary in the past few months (even before adopting Legacy). I've had health issues and I continue to have health issues. I simply have chosen not to focus on them and to live my life. I've shared with friends how I know that my heart problems are very real ... a couple months ago (just 3 weeks after my heart procedure) I learn that my heart is having electrical problems again. I also live with a diagnosis of a rare heart disease (left ventricular non compaction) which will eventually lead to weakening of my heart and eventual heart failure. Doctors can't tell me how much time ... it could be a year or two, or it could be 10 years or more. Yesterday, I got a call from Abbott Northwestern ... a reminder to pre-register for my appointment on Monday to go in to get my heart holter monitor which I will have to wear for 48 hours. I'll know soon if the electrical problems in my heart have gotten worse and if I'll have to have another heart procedure. My health issues haven't gone away .... i have told friends that i'm just grateful to be feeling good most of the time. The reality of knowing that my heart could give out any time can be a scary thought ... for some reason it isn't for me. If anything, it has taught me to really appreciate every day that I have and to recognize that our time on earth is limited. It has given me the opportunity to realize what matters to me, to follow my heart and to give all of me to what I believe in ... and for me, it's about making a difference for abandoned, abused and neglected animals. With health issues, I have found myself asking the questions ... If my time is limited, how can I make a difference on a larger scale? What's the legacy I want to leave behind? I have given my heart and soul to helping animals over the past years (in return, they have given me so much more) ... I believe at the core of everyone is good; I also believe we must think creatively, ask more questions of ourselves, challenge ourselves, and be willing to really listen to each other .... I watch my pup Legacy explore with curiosity his surroundings. I watch him learn different lessons from my dogs Mister, Missy and Ahnung. I watch him test the boundaries. In many ways he's fearless ... I love that. Somehow, I don't think it was a coincidence that he ended up with that name .... that of all the dogs we have rescued off of Leech Lake Reservation that he was the one who got the special name of Legacy, and for me, represents our efforts up at Leech Lake Reservation ... he is, for me ... Leech Lake Legacy.

Yesterday was a sad day for the world as we lost a true visionary, Steve Jobs. He shared  the following in his commencement speech in 2005 to Stanford MBA graduates ... a beautiful reminder to follow our heart .....

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

We all have something that matters to us ... when we face death it changes our perspective. To me, it's been a gift to have these health issues because it has been a reminder to me, to live my life as fully as I can. And like Steve Jobs shared with graduates in his speech, "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am going to do today?" I am blessed to be working for the most incredible company (for my paying job) and I am blessed to be able to contribute and volunteer my time to the cause of animal welfare/rescue on such a large scale in the community of Minnesota. If today were the last day of my life, I am doing exactly what I want to be doing. I wish the same for everyone.

And just as my pups Missy, Mister, Ahnung and Legacy learn from each other, may I continue to learn from them ... and may I continue to be reminded of the importance of play as I watch Legacy bring out the puppy in Ahnung ...

and may we all follow our hearts, and live our legacies.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Ruby .... post surgery

Ruby ... she thinks she looks pretty
hot in that pink cast!!
We got an update on Ruby (formerly Smiley) .... my most recent post shared more about Ruby's story ( ... Ruby is just one of many stories of how, by working together, we can save more animals. Thank you Barb (Ruby's new mom) for loving this girl so much ... thank you Vicki for stopping that rainy day to save this girl's life :)

"Ruby is doing good. She has to be leashed for a couple of weeks when she goes outside so she doesn't run.  Her weight was 83 lbs which was good because when I got her she weighed 97 lbs.  She seems very happy and I am sure that she will do well once the bone heals.  They had to put a plate and screws in her leg.  She is such a good girl and we just love her."

Ruby with her new sibling
showing off her new fashionable cast!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Update on Smiley (now Ruby)

On June 6, 2011 I posted the following on my blog "A Reason to Smile Today" .... [and at the bottom of this post is an update on Ruby. She's heading into surgery tomorrow so please say a prayer for this sweet girl]

It never ceases to amaze me how we can help more animals if we can simply work together ....

Two days before I went to the hospital for my heart procedure I received the following email on my Pet Haven email account from some kind stranger who stopped to help a dog: "Hi Marilou, a couple folks suggested I contact you about a dog I found May 12.  This was during one of our big rainstorms.  My husband and I were heading up to Cambridge when we saw a dog laying in the dirt on the side of the road about 1/2 mile from my house.  I made my husband stop to see if she was OK.  She got to her feet but wasn't bearing weight on one of her hind feet.  She was soaked.  She wouldn't fit in our truck and my husband had an appt. to keep, so he continued on his way and left me standing there in the rain with the dog.  The poor thing followed me home in the pouring rain, on a sore foot, 1/2 mile with just encouragement - no leash, no collar.  Once I got her home I dried her off as well as possible with some towels, gave her a bowl of water and a piece of cheese.  Then I called my vet.

Because she may have been injured my vet (East Central Veterinary in Cambridge) said I could bring her in and they'd scan her for ID and hold her a little while.  I opened the door on my van and she calmly climbed in and settled right down on the back bench seat.  This girl is incredibly mellow and cooperative.  When I got to the vet's I just looped a leash around her neck and she quietly followed me into the clinic and laid down on their floor. 

The dog is large and very overweight.  A cute little face on a polish sausage shaped body.  Maybe 70 pounds or so.  She's mostly black with a white muzzle and some white socks.  She has a long tail and short drop ears.  Maybe a lab mix with border collie or springer spaniel?  Maybe some shepherd?  You know, your average country mixed dog.  She has sad soulful brown eyes and seems very trusting.  The whole long walk to my home she kept turning to watch every car that went by, as if looking for her owner.

East Central Veterinary Clinic kept her for a day, then turned her over to Marlene at Animal Control in Isanti.  The dog's legal holding period is up but Marlene is going to keep her 2 or 3 days longer as the phone number listed in the local newspaper's Found ad was incorrect. 

The same day I found the dog I put flyers about her in about 50 mailboxes within a 2 mile area where I found her.  I put ads for her online at Animal Humane Society's lost and found page,'s classifieds (lost and found) and's site.  The Isanti County News and Cambridge Star ran Found ads for her.  I notified all the veterinary clinics in the area.  We also put 4 signs up along the routes leading to were I found her.  If the owner is looking for this dog, I can't imagine how they would have missed all of my notices.  I have been checking lost dog ads and haven't seen anything close to her description listed.
I talked with Marlene at Animal Control yesterday.  Nobody has contacted her claiming to be this dog's owner.  Marlene said she is doing well and is very sweet.  She smiles and gives kisses.  Marlene also thought the dog was very sweet and named her 'Smiley' because she smiles and gives kisses. 
I put an email out regarding this dog's plight to some folks I know involved in various types of animal welfare/rescue and 2 of them referred me to you.

If this poor dog needs help, can you help her?  Can you take her in?  Thank you for your time and attention."

How could I not respond to this heartfelt email by a woman advocating for this sweet dog. I emailed "V" back. Unfortunately at Pet Haven (the rescue I am involved in) we had no open fosters. Fortunately Pet Haven is a part of an animal welfare coalition in Minnesota ( and I spoke with my contact at the Animal Humane Society (AHS) and we agreed to bring this dog into AHS through the MnPAW partnership ... essentially it means that if AHS is unable to place the dog up for adoption that the rescues/shelters within the coalition will be contacted to work on placing the dog.
I emailed "V" that I was heading into the hospital for a heart procedure and wasn't sure how reachable I would be. I found myself thinking about this sweet dog the day after my procedure while I was in my hospital room and communicating with "V" and the animal control officer. I couldn't bear the thought of such a sweet girl being euthanized.

So after multiple emails and phone conversations we made arrangements to meet at the Golden Valley Animal Humane Society over lunch today. When I walked into the AHS intake area lobby I was greeted by Smiley and a huge warm hug from "V". I remember the phone conversation I had with "V" where I told her that I would find a way to help Smiley through the network of rescues and shelters that are a part of the coalition. She cried ... tears of joy. Smiley was blessed to have crossed "V"s path that rainy day and to have a beautiful spirit advocate for her. Smiley truly has the most soulful eyes. I got down to the ground and hugged her. She immediately wanted to show me that she knows how to shake ... and yes, she can shake with both her right front paw and her left front paw. As we are discussing the logistics of a dog coming into AHS through the coalition (MnPAW - Minnesota Partnership for Animal Welfare) a woman in the lobby stops by ... she falls instantly in love with Smiley. She had just dropped a bird off that was injured to AHS. She's been thinking about adopting another dog and Smiley reminds her of a dog she once had. Five minutes later she's calling her husband who says it's up to her if she wants to adopt Smiley. She returns to the lobby and tells us she is adopting Smiley.
Twenty minutes after I arrive at AHS and being greeted by this dog who was once on death row at an Isanti animal control simply due to space issues (saved first by "V", then by a kind-hearted animal control officer who simply could not euthanize a sweet, loving girl and kept her beyond the legal holding period) .... I am now saying goodbye to Smiley, giving her a hug and watching her walk out the door with her new mom. She's off to live on 20 acres with two other siblings. 
"V" had left AHS before the adoption was final. I called her to let her know that the woman she met wanted to take Smiley home. She shared the following email with me ... I am reminded today of why I am so involved in animal rescue and in the power of working together ...

"OMG!!!!!!!  This really went through?!  My little Smiley has a home already!  I am so happy and so excited and so relieved.  You might remember I told you it just gets me how the life and future of these animals hangs by little threads of fate they have no control over.  Well, today those threads of fate worked to Smiley's advantage.  Who would have thought the person that really wanted her would walk through AHS doors while we were all there?  What a great story.
I really liked "B".  She seems like a person that takes pet ownership seriously and forever.
My sister and I both felt she could offer Smiley a terrific home.  Thank you so much Marilou for making this happen.  And thank you so much for letting me be a part of the happy ending.

I am touched by the animals we rescue (who in turn rescue us) ... and I am also touched by the incredible  human beings like "V" who cross my path and who advocate on behalf of these beloved beings.
Thank you Smiley for giving me a reason to smile today.

Update from Smiley's new mom: "She is doing really good. She follows me everywhere. The other dogs are fine with her. She is so sweet. I even brought her in the shower and bathed her. I feel very lucky to have her."

Well today, September 21st, I got the following update on Smiley (who is now Ruby) ... Vicki who originally rescued Ruby has been keeping in contact with Barb (Ruby's new mom). A couple weeks ago Ruby's mom Barb took her to see the vet for limp that was getting worse ... turns out that Ruby has a torn ACL. This is a pricey surgery but Ruby lucked out that warm summer day in June when she spent 20 minutes in the intake area of the Animal Humane Society ... in those 20 minutes, fate made it possible for her to meet up with her new adoptive mom Barb who was there to drop off a couple orphaned birds. Ruby is having surgery tomorrow and healing and recovery will take about 2 months ... please say a prayer for Ruby. Ruby looks so great ... she also looks like she's lost a lot of that excess weight ... thank you Barb, Vicki, MnPAW and AHS for helping connect loving caring people so that the Smileys (now Ruby) can have the second chance they so deserve for a life filled with love, joy and pampering.

Ruby (formerly Smiley)
September, 2011 ... what a pretty girl :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Thoughtfully rehoming the most unwanted and neglected animals ...

Yoda ... arriving from Red Lake reservation
on July 31, 2011.
A severe case of mange, dehydration,
coccidia, giardia and an eye infection
A couple weeks ago I started fostering with Act V Rescue, an organization dedicated to taking in and re-homing the most unwanted and neglected animals. Act V is unique in that they specifically take in the animals with serious injuries and/or illnesses.

Karen Good of Red Lake Rosie's Rescue says "In 2010 Act V took in 36 dogs and 2 cats from Red Lake Rosie's Rescue of which all had severe orthopedic and other major medical needs including broken legs, heartworm, parvo, intestinal blockage, neonatal pups, puppy strangles, and others suffering advanced malnutrition and digestive problems. 

We relied on Act V and contacted them whenever sick and injured animals arrive at the shelter. They always responded ad never turned us down."

I transported Yoda (photo above) on July 31st when he first arrived into the cities to Dr. Vicki's clinic. My heart broke to see this fragile puppy ... his skin warm to the touch. I had never seen a dog with such a severe case of mange yet I could feel the life and spirit inside of him. I was grateful he was going to Act V Rescue and would be under the care of Dr. Vicki and placed into a loving foster home.

Yoda giving Smiley a kiss ...
Smiley was taken into Pet Haven's foster program
and has since been adopted.

Yoda ... six weeks later!!
A very handsome boy!!
And then today, I had the opportunity to experience first hand again how incredible Act V Rescue is and how dedicated and committed they are to truly helping the most unwanted and neglected animals. An older dog, Orson, was scheduled to arrive on transport today from up north. In our efforts to help the dogs up at Leech Lake Reservation we have also been helping dogs from the Bemidji impound. Volunteer extraordinaire Nancy O has been, and continues to be, an advocate for the dogs that land in the Bemidji impound and pulls them out before they are euthanized. She reached out to Jenny Fitzer to see if Orson could be taken in by MnPAW and into the Animal Humane Society. Jenny arranges for Orson to be taken in by AHS. Meanwhile, she forwards to me an email sent by Nancy O:
Orson arrives at the clinic
"Hope you received the photo of Orson that Tom sent from his phone. Orson is a cutie, an older dog, and he needs a lot of work. He is loaded with mats and needs a good grooming and bath. But it looks like he needs a lot of dental care as well and am hoping that this is something MnPAW/AHS offers. He really does have a nice sweet personality, but is plenty stinky and a lot of that is coming from his mouth. Poor guy ... I am betting he cannot eat hard morsels of food and am betting that is all that was served in the impound. Perhaps he will need some tooth extractions and then soft foods the remainder of his days. For all the goodness his former family did not offer him, I hope he find it at AHS and can get the medical attention he needs. Even the officer at the impound is pulling for Orson. I held him when we picked him up as he was shaking so much, and now he is riding with Nancy B on her front seat. Please keep me posted on the assessment results from AHS. And thank you for accepting him into the program too."
Orson ... filled with mats and maggots
After receiving this email from my friend Jenny I forwarded it to the founders of Act V Rescue. At the end of the day Dr. Vicki sends me an email and tells me to have Jenny swing by her clinic so she can take a look at Orson so she can check him out. I meet Jenny and Orson at Dr. Vicki's clinic. The horrible condition of this sweet boy is beyond words. He was shaking and shivering. His teeth were all rotted and packed with tartar. Most of them will probably have to be extracted. His body was filled with mats and as Dr. Vicki started to shave him we discovered his poor, weak body was infested with maggots. As he was shaved down we saw a swarm of maggots nesting in Orson's body. Maggots were wiggling out of his fur and dropping onto the table. There was an odor and stench from maggots and other critters that had found a home in his poor body that was beyond anything I had ever experienced. All the while Orson is being so patient and gentle and quietly crying. As Dr. Vicki and her staff work to make Orson better and to remove the mats and the maggots, I am rubbing his head and trying to comfort him. Jenny is holding the trash bag to collect the squirming maggots. 
Just some of what is shaved off of poor Orson
It was Orson's lucky day today! He ended up at Dr. Vicki's clinic and into the arms of Act V Rescue ... over and over I have heard stories and witnessed how they take in the most beaten down animal, both physically and emotionally. They did it when they took in the 3 puppies i'm fostering (Legacy, Lenny and Lazarus) .... they did it again today with Orson. There wasn't even a question in Dr. Vicki's mind of whether or not she was going to help Orson ... this was one of the worse cases she has seen and in the true spirit of Act V Rescue & Rehabilitation, they took this poor boy into their foster program. Dr. Vicki doesn't have a foster lined up for the sweet boy right now so after his bath he got to ride in style next to Dr. Vicki and will spend some time at her home till a foster home opens up. 
Orson after his bath ...
Thank you Act V Rescue for your selfless acts and for all you truly do for the most unwanted and neglected animals. 

Because Act V works with animals in the most desperate situations, they are always in need of money to provide medication, surgery, medical care and/or rehabilitation. All of their funding comes from donations and 100% of each dollar goes to caring for animals. If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to Act V Rescue please click on 'Donate to caring for animals' on their website,

For more photos of Orson click here.

Friday, September 9, 2011

13 Puppies Rescued ...

The tiniest of the 13 puppies that arrived:
Lenny, Lazarus, Lancelot, Lulu and Loretta
On Saturday August 27th I went up to Leech Lake reservation (3 hours north of the Twin Cities) to help with a transport ... a group of volunteers are working with the Minnesota Partnership for Animal Welfare coalition (MnPAW, to help rescue dogs from the reservation. On this particular transport 13 tiny, vulnerable puppies came down with us. Because they had just been vaccinated the prior Thursday they needed to be observed and monitored for a week prior to being taken into the Animal Humane Society where they would be checked out, vetted, and placed up for adoption. All 13 landed in my home. Yes, 13 adorable puppies. Quite a few were sick and extremely weak. A few were so young they were still trying to nurse ... they were aching for their mama. The 6 days they spent at my house was an experience I wasn't quite prepared for ... but it's amazing how we find it in ourselves to step up to the occasion. With my friend Jenny we did what needed to be done to care for these puppies. A couple we had to bottle feed. Then.... there was the poop, the diarrhea, the precautions taken in case they have parvo ... the lovely de-worming experience :) Legacy was one who caught my eye early on. He was shaky and wobbly. On a couple occasions he would shake and fall over. I feared he had some neurological issues. Lenny, Lancelot and Lazarus (3 from the smallest litter of black and white puppies) were extremely tiny, young and weak (1.6 lbs upon arrival). There were mornings where Lazarus and/or Lenny would simply stand over the food bowl, motionless and hang their heads.
Legacy - thriving!!
No more shaking or wobbling!

I feared we couldn't save them all. But we kept on going day and after day while balancing all of life's other responsibilities the best that we could ... Thursday morning 10 were transported to the Animal Humane Society where they were then placed into foster homes where they will stay until they are old enough and healthy enough to be spay/neutered and placed up for adoption. I kept 3 back (Legacy, Lenny and Lazarus) because they were the ones I worried most about. I took a bunch of photos and threw them into a video .... all are thriving now and on the road to recovery. For a few days we thought we would lose Lazarus. He had to be tube fed and given fluids. Thanks to Dr. Vicki of ActV Rescue for nursing this little guy back to health.

If you would like to meet Lenny, Lazarus and Legacy they will be at the Eden Prairie PetsMart tomorrow, Saturday, 9/10 from 11 am till around 5 pm. We are accepting applications for them but they will not be placed into an adoptive home till early October.

and here's a video of them playing in their 'bin' :)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Jake ... a happy ending and a new beginning

One week ago today I went through quite the emotional roller coaster. I did everything I could to prepare myself for another heart break, another dog we were unable to save .... yes, I know we can't save them all and I remember how my heart broke the day I was with Pepper as she was euthanized, and that Friday morning on July 1st when I held Cass in my arms as he crossed over the bridge. Something in my gut though felt like it was the right decision ... Jake is a 1 year old lab/shepherd mix who was also rescued from Leech Lake reservation ... for Jake, my gut just screamed, it's not his time! To read his story check out the Pet Haven blog:

Suffice to say ... Jake's story has a happy ending. Many thanks to a new doggie daycare partner, Lucky Dog Pet Lodge, we were able to give Jake yet another chance. This boy will soon be up for adoption through Pet Haven Inc of Minnesota. This boy has touched my heart and my soul and he has clearly demonstrated to me what is possible when a community comes together ..  he represents how powerful and healing animals can be and how they can bring connect humans together. Tomorrow I head back up to Leech Lake reservation to transport dogs back to the cities to give them a second chance .... 13 beagle/basset puppies will take temporary residence in my home till next Thursday when I will then take them to the Animal Humane Society as a part of the animal welfare coalition, Minnesota Partnership for Animal Welfare,, where they will be vetted, spayed/neutered and placed up for adoption. Our efforts to save the dogs up at Leech Lake reservation has been an incredibly successful collaborative effort and one that I am truly proud to be a part of .... To learn more about these efforts check out the Leech Lake Legacy blog:

I have been visiting Jake just about every day at Lucky Dog Pet Lodge and taking him on outings. He is the perfect boy in the car and when we go and hang out wherever ... including listening to jazz music in downtown Minneapolis over the lunch hour. He now has two more foster buddies who will be taking turns in hanging out with him and taking him for outings. The staff at Lucky Dog have been pampering him and loving him. We are so fortunate and blessed to have this partnership and that they have been so willing to give Jake all the personal attention and love he so deserves ...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The best birthday gift of all ...

Ahnung, Missy and Mister
Exactly one month ago (9:35 PM on Thursday, July 7th) I discovered a lump next to one of Ahnung's mammary glands. The next two weeks were one of the hardest in my life as I waited, worried and then learned my precious girl had breast cancer. A month ago I didn't even know if I would have my sweet girl with me to celebrate my birthday. After meeting with the vet oncologist I was given the greatest gift of all ... the gift of hope and more time with Ahnung. I do my best to celebrate and appreciate every day I have on earth ... my own health issues have taught me not to take life for granted. Ahnung's recent cancer scare has taught me to be even more grateful when I wake up in the mornings and look over to see three big black beautiful dogs, sleeping soundly. I hear Ahnung snoring and breathing in a deep, meditative and calming way; i see Mister sprawled on his back; and i see Missy looking earnestly at me with those deep, soulful eyes.

There is no gift greater for me than the gift of my three big black beautiful babies ....

Thank you Ahnung, Missy and Mister for being in my life .... and for all the life lessons you teach me on a daily basis. You are, and will continue to be, my best medicine ....

Breaking in the new couch
when we moved into our new home in January

Ahnung ... my co-pilot

Thursday, August 4, 2011

When will the fog lift?

Photo from Flickr
My surgeon called me yesterday afternoon with the results of the pathology report. "Good news and not so good news," she says. The good news, she says, is that the report is benign and that there is no mention this time of DCIS or borderline DCIS. The not so good news is that we have more of the atypia, the pre cancer cells. She says we have multiple foci and this time we are moving outward in your breast. Previous surgeries removed lumps/tissue from central in my left breast. This past surgery removed a lump/tissue at the outer edges of your breast. My surgeon says these abnormal cells are near the margins ... they are close to the lateral and superior edges ... "we can only infer that it is everywhere." I ask her, "since i've been dealing with atypical ductal hyperplasia now for a little over two years and they haven't become cancer is it possible that my body is just predisposed to having these abnormal cells and they won't become cancer?" She responds, "No, you can't take comfort in that." She goes on to say that there is something going on with the cells in my body, that I am extremely high risk and that she strongly recommends I meet with an oncologist. There are no guarantees, she says. She mentions tamoxifen and bilateral mastectomy. My surgeon, my internal medicine doctor and even the team of doctors I've worked with at Mayo tell me there are no guarantees and that my case is a unique case. There are changes going on in my body at a cellular level; they can't monitor these changes with any of the screening mechanisms available (mammogram, ultrasound, even MRI). Interestingly, it's been me telling my doctors that I feel a lump in my breast; it feels different and it needs to come out. Previously, my doctors challenged me saying that it felt like normal fibrous tissue. They now tell me, 'you know your body best.'

All we know is that the cells in my breast are changing .. they are in essence taking on a life of their own; they are spreading. They don't know how far it's spread. The reality is that there are a lot of unknowns. So this foggy health journey continues. I meet with an oncologist on August 16th. My surgeon, whom I love, knows me so well. She recommends an oncologist whose philosophy is: "I strive to provide hope, encouragement and holistic care to both my patients and their families. I am a strong believer in the power of the human spirit and positive thinking...."  I am looking forward to meeting my oncologist and to exploring what my options are.  I hold in my heart what my primary doctor told me just recently, "You are being diligent about your health. Some times life just isn't fair and there are a lot of things we don't understand in medicine. There are no guarantees. Whatever path you choose is the right path."

To be honest, my bigger issue right now is my heart. I've been having trouble sleeping again. It's not as bad as it used to be, but i'm waking up at night again from the palpitations and my heart feeling like it's going to pop out of my chest. I'm going to give it a little more time as I remain hopeful that it will pass. If it doesn't then I know I need to call my cardiologist. I know that everything in life happens for a reason. There are moments, however, when I just want a little relief, some clarity .... I would be grateful for a week, or two, of not having to deal with health issues or worry about my dog Ahnung. Well ... hope ... sometimes that's all we have to hold onto. I sometimes just have to remind myself when the fog lifts there's an amazing sun that will be shining brightly ...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Post surgery - resting when i'd rather be running like Mister!

Mister at the dog park!!
So yesterday I went in for surgery ... my fourth left breast excisional biopsy in the past 2+ years: the first was in 5/2009, then 12/2009, then 10/2010 and  finally 8/1/2011. The first 3 surgeries involved removing a lump in the same area of my left breast. A couple weeks ago I noticed a new lump had formed in my left breast again ...  I noticed it shortly after discovering my dog Ahnung's lump in her fourth left mammary gland (which was then diagnosed as breast cancer) ... guess we are more connected than I ever imagined.

The surgery yesterday was to remove this new lump. All went well yesterday and my surgeon said that I could possibly have the results of the pathology report on Wednesday, but definitely by the end of the week. She asked me to followup with her office Wednesday afternoon if I haven't heard from her and she will track it down. She's off on Friday but said she would have them fax it to her house on Friday if it's not ready till then so that I don't have to go through the weekend wondering ... i just love my surgeon. I also recently discovered her shared passion for dogs!! Right before surgery she's showing photos of her new puppy ... and her face is beaming .. a new mom. She said she took 2 weeks off from work when she first got him ... she called it 'maternity leave." :)

For some reason I wasn't nervous at all about this surgery ... maybe because I've gone through this particular surgery so many times and have never had a problem with it. Somehow, the surgical biopsies are much easier for me and I don't have complications like I did with the 2 MRI-guided breast biopsies and my recent heart ablation. So far (knock on wood!) no bleeding episodes. I was given pain pills to take if I needed it but like previous surgeries have never had to take any. Last night what woke me up in the middle of the night wasn't the pain from the surgery but my heart doing the crazy flip-flopping again. I'm just hoping and praying that my electrical heart problems aren't going to become symptomatic already ... i know it's bound to happen but would like for at least a few more weeks of restful sleep!!

So this weekend was a busy weekend in animal rescue as I 'prepared' (actually, distracted myself) for surgery. In early May I became involved in helping the dogs up at Leech Lake reservation (an American Indian reservation about 3 hours north of the Twin Cities). To learn more about efforts to help a very dire situation check out the Leech Lake Legacy blog. On Saturday, I had the good fortune of meeting dogs transported down from Leech Lake reservation to be given a second chance ... a chance all of them so deserve. One of the pups, Hickory, reminded me of my boy Mister when he was a pup.... he was also just as vocal as Mister (who at 4 years of age is still pretty vocal). My boy Mister is such a wonderful reminder to me on a daily basis to live life to the fullest extent and to play hard!!!


For photos of all the pups that arrived on Saturday from Leech Lake reservation check out my flickr site

Then on Sunday I got to welcome Smiley and Brill who came in from Red Lake reservation (about 6 hours north of here). My sweet girl Ahnung was originally rescued by Karen Good up at Red Lake reservation. I had the good fortune of meeting Smiley when I went up to Red Lake in early July and just fell in love with this boy. Ahnung and Smiley got along really well ... there's a very sweet and gentle soul in Smiley. Smiley is being taken into Pet Haven's foster program so i will be able to keep very close tabs on this sweet boy!!! :) Smiley arrived with the pup Brill who has a serious case of mange (probably among other things). He was rescued at a dump in Ponemah (a part of Red Lake reservation) and he has ended up at another rescue, Act V Rescue and Rehabilitation, where my good friend Vicki is a vet and is a part of the rescue. Brill is in wonderful hands now ....

Brill giving Smiley
a kiss :)
Smiley -- will be up for adoption
soon through Pet Haven

Brill ... will be up for adoption through
Act V Rescue & Rehab.

For more photos of Smiley and Brill check out my flickr site.

So these beautiful, innocent creatures who need for us humans to be a voice and an advocate for them will continue to keep my heart full and my mind busy over the next few days .... which in turn, will hopefully take my mind off of waiting for that call back from my surgeon with the pathology report results. I will keep everyone posted ... I have received so much love, support and prayers with all of my health issues (and Ahnung's) ... for that I am extremely grateful.

Have a beautiful Tuesday!!

with love and gratitude,
Marilou, Ahnung, Missy, Mister ... and all the animals rescued and needing rescue up at Leech Lake Reservation, Red Lake reservation, Pet Haven Inc of Minnesota, People for Pets and all other rescues and shelters ....