Zombie flies beat biker butt

I’m failing as a parent.

I know, I know…every parent thinks that, but this time it’s for real!

So how, exactly, am I failing. Drugs? Porn? Grades in the tank? Nope.

My son won’t bike with me. *gasp*little mac bike path

His resistance started two years ago when he and his sister were 11 and 13. It was spring break and I’d loaded up the bikes and headed to the Duck Creek Bike Path in Bettendorf. We had a history, us three, of rolling along on the Clinton and Fulton-Thompson bike paths. I wanted to increase our two-wheeled sojourns and introduce them to new views.

It was the first ride of the year so I knew it’d be short, but around 2 miles, KidBoy started to derail. His butt hurt. Despite several breaks, we eventually had tears…and a very brief ride. It pretty much set the tone for the year.Mo on trainer

So last year, saddled with new bikes and high hopes, the butt pain and tears continued. Not with his sister, though. Except for a literal run-in with a fence, KidGirl’s a natural, even on the trainer.

The kids wear all the proper gear, we’ve adjusted saddle height, tilt, even added one of those BS cushioned seat covers. But it’s clear, KidBoy doesn’t want to ride and is holding on to any excuse. While Marty and I both believe it’s a “time in the saddle” issue, our son is unwilling to put in the time to get his duff toughened up.

Today was their last day of spring break and since KidGirl was hitting the links with Marty, I offered KidBoy the following: an hour of relaxed cruising or sweeping the attic and ShopVac’ing a winter’s worth of nasty-ass dead and undead flies.

He chose the flies. FLIES!!! An afternoon in a gross, web-filled attic with a bazillion zombie flies vs. a glorious spring day in the fresh country air…20160329_131814

Last winter he made the comment, “Just because you like fitness doesn’t mean I like fitness.” Was he pushing my buttons? Of course. But was there a nugget of truth? A glimpse into his personal teenage angst? Probably. So what do I do???

Pup sparks recall of baby’s 1st year


It was just a week ago when I first saw a picture of “Champ.” Two-toned black and white coat. Two tiny bottom teeth mere buds in his gum line. His pink nose and top lip split in two, the result of a common birth defect in Boxers and other dogs with “smushed” faces. Champ was born with a cleft lip and palate, and the memories flooded back.

Solo Champ 1Marty and my first child, daughter Moira, was born with a cleft lip and palate. I didn’t know it happened in other species. And yet, why wouldn’t it?

In the two weeks before Moira was born, we learned as much as we could about clefts: how they developed, how they’re corrected, what else was wrong, what we could do.

Whether human or puppy, the head grows in such a fascinating way. The face basically starts at the base of the skull with two mirror-like sections on each side growing up and forward. Each section reflecting the other as it grows, the flesh wraps around the top and sides of the skull before finally coming together at the nose and mouth.

Our septums and that indent in the middle of our top lips? They’re like biological seams, evidence in flesh of our fetal experience. This basic blueprint for the face, as explained to Marty and I, was usually in place before most people even learn they’re pregnant, about midway through the first trimester.

~But clefts can be startling and scary. Startling simply because they look unnatural, a wee little face unfinished. And that’s basically what they are, as cells divide and flesh meets and grows together, a cell gets dropped or lost, leaving the lip or the palate or both, open. All the material is there, but at the very end of the process, it just didn’t come together.

The scary part is in the survival. Kids (and puppies) with clefts have a terrible time eating. Robbed of the ability to suck, nursing is often unsuccessful. Moira was fed with a soft-side bottle that we’d squeeze to the rhythm of her gnawing. I had reams of yellow legal pads documenting her nourishment by the ounce, by the hour. We kept a hospital-grade baby scale handy, measuring her losses and gains.

~I don’t like thinking back on this. It was a heart wrenching time. All I wanted was to comfort and cuddle my child and yet every feeding was choked by the worried thought, “How much would she eat this time?”

At death’s door, Champ is given a chance

~When I met with Champ’s foster mom, Tara Hansen of Miles who is also a vet technician at DeWitt Veterinary Clinic, she exhibited many of the same emotions I did nearly 15 years ago. Almost steely, I could feel her push aside the fear that comes with caring for a child with a cleft and focus on the task at hand, Champ’s survival.

Champ was two days old when he arrived at the vet clinic. Tara has a friend who breeds German Boxers and when his latest litter was born Jan. 18, one had a severe cleft palate. Two days later, unable to nurse, the pup was brought to Tara at the clinic to be euthanized.

Tara is not your average animal lover. She and her family have fostered countless animals in the past, but it’s the Boxer breed of dogs that is her calling. She and her family have two at home, six-month-old Lola and six-year-old Lucy. Just last fall, her eight-year-old Boxer Layla died from cancer of the blood vessels. “Now that she’s gone, I feel like I have to carry on caring for the breed.”

That’s what drove her to ask Champ’s owner if she could try to save him. “I knew the survival rate was low,” she said, “but I had to give it a whirl.”

~A brief attempt was made at bottle feeding Champ, but the cleft in his palate is so wide, the risk of aspiration was too high. “He’s turned blue on me. Several times,” she said.

So began the process of tube feedings every two hours in which Tara passes a feeding tube down Champ’s throat and into his stomach . . . every two hours. That means where ever Tara goes, Champ goes, too.

But it’s not all bad, with a four-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter, Tara’s kids have relished the tiny baby. And the furry kids, how have they reacted? While the older Lucy doesn’t pay much attention, six-month-old Lucy may be a puppy herself, but has taken to mothering Champ like a pro. Even the family’s 15-year-old cat has proved vital, filling in on nap and cuddle duties when Lucy or the kids need a break.

~As she would with any other puppy, Tara started Champ on regular puppy formula, but after the first several days of slow, but steady gains he reached a point in which the formula wasn’t enough, “he was just stuck at 22 ounces. He wasn’t gaining and he wasn’t losing.”

After searching various website dedicated to the care of puppies with clefts, she learned goat’s milk could help boost a pup’s growth. And it has. For the past week, she’s been feeding Champ a half and half mix of puppy formula and goat’s milk. When I met him, Champ’s eyes had just opened and he was learning how to use his legs under that large, heavy head of his, bobbing all around.

While Tara loves to see him doing so well, she admits the feedings are growing increasingly more difficult: Champ can no see the tube coming and wants to fight it and chew on it.

~Monday Tara and Champ head to Ames and the veterinary college at Iowa State University for a surgery consultation in which she hopes a feeding port can be put in Champ’s stomach until he’s healed from the oral surgeries.

Tara was told medical costs could run as high as $3,000 so she set up a Go Fund Me account to collect donations.

Many people have asked Tara if she’s keeping Champ or, more commonly, can they adopt him. More than Champ’s foster mom, Tara sees herself as his protector. While there are many who’d love to adopt him, she has found Champ’s forever home in the arms of a local couple. After he heals from his surgeries, Champ’s new family will train him as a therapy dog for their chiropractic clinic!


Originally published 7 February 2015 in The Observer.

Champ loses battle for life


Last Saturday I told you about Tara Hansen, a veterinary technician at the DeWitt Veterinary Clinic who had taken on the role of foster mom and caregiver for a Boxer puppy born with a cleft lip and palate.

Monday night, sitting on the couch with my husband who was looking at his phone, I heard him groan, “Oh no…”

~Tara & Champ 2Looking at his Facebook feed, he merely turned his phone to me, showing me the following message posted to the Boxer Champ community page:

“It is with a very heavy heart to have to type this update . . . (definitely) not an update I ever thought of writing. Champ passed away in my arms tonight. I fought for him until the very end attempting CPR, but it was too late. His little body couldn’t fight any more.”

Marty was stunned. I was in disbelief. And when I told daughter Moira, she bent her head to hide her tears.

Neither Marty nor Moira had the pleasure of meeting Champ. In fact, most of his fans never got the opportunity to stroke his sweet little cheeks or shake one of his cute, tiny paws. But he had a huge fan club to be sure.

None of us would’ve learned of this sweet little puppy had Tara not answered the call of her heart, a call that whispered, “Give him a chance. Try,” when he was brought to the clinic to be euthanized.

Tara is the quintessential animal lover, truly going to any lengths necessary to help an animal in need. Whether it’s to bottle-feed an abandoned litter of newborn kittens, find a new “forever family” to adopt a homeless dog, or, as she did with Champ, devote herself morning and night to the survival of a struggling animal who needed a shot at life.

I know plenty of people who roll their eyes at those of us who connect with other beings covered in fur (or scales or feathers). They mutter thoughtless things like, “It’s just a dog.” So I’m sure there are a few readers wondering why I give so much attention to animals. Simple, each animal, each creature (yes, even spiders) are a living, breathing being that has purpose. Often times, we’ll never know their purpose.

When I talked with Tara the day after Champ passed, she admitted she wasn’t completely shocked that he died because he was exhibiting a few troubling symptoms indicating he was struggling.

“But at the same time, I was upset. I still am.”

Tara reviewed the symptoms with me, saying that at 7 a.m. Sunday, after Champ’s morning tube feeding, she saw him start to gag and struggle. He was open-mouth breathing and turning white. Taking an infant bulb syringe, she did an emergency suction on Champ and discovered copious amount of mucus had coagulated in the back of his throat.

Hearing this took me back nearly 15 years to Moira’s first five months, before any surgeries started to correct her cleft, when her breathing would rattle when mucus clogged the back of her throat. Marty and I grew quite adept with the bulb syringe. Fortunately for us, that usually relieved Moira’s woes and she’d return to easy breathing.

With Champ, however, Tara could tell things weren’t right and she feared pneumonia could be setting in. After clearing the mucus from Champ’s throat, she then took him to the bathroom and started a hot shower so the steam could enter his lungs and loosen any remaining mucus. While it seemed to help, later that day she gave him a nebulizing treatment for safe measure.

The following morning, Monday Feb. 9, Tara woke to give Champ his breakfast and found him in his kennel. “He wouldn’t stand up and he had blood all over the side of his face.”

After Tara cleaned and then fed him, “he perked right up,” she said.

Once he was stable, she and a friend loaded him in the car and made the three-hour drive to Ames where they met with doctors at Iowa State University’s veterinary college.

Tara explained what had been happening over the last 24-hours and while doctors initially guessed the blood may have been caused by irritation to the throat from the tube feedings or sneezing that may have caused Champ to bite his lip, chest films were taken.

“I was sure he had pneumonia,” Tara said. While the films didn’t indicate pneumonia there were a few small spots doctors couldn’t explain. “I wonder if it was some blood clots,” she said.

While in Ames, doctors mapped out a progression of surgeries and had tabled the idea of a feeding port due to Champ’s fast growth rate. His first surgery was slated for next month.

Returning home, Champ was tired and Monday evening, after a feeding “he fell asleep,” Tara recalled. “Then all of a sudden he woke up and threw his head back.”

Tara immediately suctioned Champ, “I ended up getting a whole bunch of blood out of there.” Then his heart stopped. “I started doing chest compressions and by then he was doing agonal (spastic, labored) breathing.”

Despite her efforts, Champ died.

Having raised nearly $2,000 in donations for Champ’s medical costs, Tara wants all the money returned. Many of her donors, in thanking Tara for her compassion and hard work, wanted her to keep the money as compensation. She refused, “It was something I never wanted to pocket the money from or be paid for.”

Instead, Tara is suggesting donating in Champ’s memory, either to an animal shelter or the “Care for Cleo” fund at the DeWitt Veterinary Clinic, which covers costs associated with helping stray and unwanted animals.

Writing on the Boxer Champ Facebook page Wednesday, Tara wrote that despite the heartbreak of losing Champ, she will continue her work.

“In three short weeks I was able to watch this little guy open his eyes, struggle to take his first steps and see him find his little voice. In three short weeks my heart was wrapped up in his pudgy little Boxer body. I will continue on and do whatever I can for animals, this will not detour me from doing what I feel is right. . .

“. . . If (we) humans could take a few lessons from animals, our world would be a much happier and loving place to be!”

RIP Champ. . .


Originally published 14 February 2015 in The Observer.