I Think Barnum Is Allergic to the Pond

Or, Remind Me Again Why I Do This?

(Raise and train and partner with service dogs, I mean.)

When Barnum was a puppy, and I was spending most of one of my parents’ visits attending to him, my mother referred to him (with some sarcasm, I believe), as “the little prince.” Spoil my dog? Moi?

But, actually, the name kind of stuck, for me. It reminded me of the book I read in French so long ago, Le Petit Prince, which is a very sweet children’s book. At night, I kiss Barnum and say, “Goodnight, sweet prince,” before I go to sleep. (I guess this is the first-annual After Gadget literary-allusions post, eh?)

But all is not well in the kingdom. No. And We are not amused.

I am in so much pain tonight. (It’s Sunday night. I don’t know when this will post.) And what I want to know is this: Do they make wet suits for dogs?

Here’s the sitch. A couple of months ago, Barnum started to itch — he’d scratch his armpit or flea-bite his arm or his butt or lick his thigh. Mostly though, he just scratched here and there — his head, his ribs, his butt, etc.

This has not been like any problem I’ve had before. When Gadget got a skin problem, it was severe and specific. When I first got him, he had diarrhea all the time and was licking and biting himself constantly. Once I eliminated foods he was allergic to, all those symptoms went away. Then, after vaccines or anesthesia or other medicines or chemicals, he would suddenly have a flare, and I’d have to muzzle him to keep himself from licking himself raw.

But, he always chewed the same locations, and it was always clear that something had set it off — very dramatically. That made it easier to figure out what the precursor had been.

Barnum’s itchiness, on the other paw, has been all over the map. It’s sporadic and non-specific, and it ranges from occasional to moderately frequent. Over time, it seemed to be getting worse, although his skin and coat look gorgeous. If I didn’t spend all day with him, I might not have realized so soon that there was a problem.

My first fear was fleas. I had found some strange little bugs on me at night sometimes that I was afraid were fleas. We gave him a bath. We vacuumed. I gave him a Program pill (which I prefer not to use except in situations like this, because they caused seizures in Gadget). None of that made any difference. We also found no flea bites on him or us, no flea dirt, and no fleas. I finally identified the little bugs, and they turned out to be a harmless sort of beetle. I ruled out fleas. That was a relief.

The next step was that I altered Barnum’s diet. I have stopped giving him anything but a few essentials, and eliminated the huge variety he used to get. This has made training more complicated, difficult, and expensive, because I can no longer rely on cheese or hotdogs as training treats. I’m mostly using raw beef and chicken, with cooked chicken breast for those occasions when raw is just not practical.

We have been trying to do more frequent baths, and I noticed that with more baths and the simpler diet, he has definitely been scratching less. My friend Karyn, who has also gone through a lot of health challenges with her assistance dogs, suggested that perhaps the pond was a culprit. I had never thought of this before, but due to Hurricane Irene, the bacteria count in a lot of local ponds, streams, lakes, etc., has been elevated. Thus, when the scratching got worse after a pond trip, Betsy and I bathed him.

He seemed to be doing better with the more frequent baths, so when he got his legs wet wading into the pond a few days ago with another helper (who had tried to keep him out, but when he’s hot and off-leash, if he decides he’s taking a dip, there it is), Betsy helped me wash off his legs. I wasn’t sure if all this was necessary or not, and since I’ve been so sick lately, and since exertion makes me much worse, I really hoped it was something else.

Yesterday, Barnum had his weekly long run around the pond with his dog walker. This is his super-duper most favorite time of the week. He loooooves going with Deb to the pond. She, too, tried to keep him out, but he came home caked in mud.

I was too sick and exhausted to bathe him yesterday, and I didn’t have anyone to help me. I hoped it would be okay.

It was not okay. From the time he got home yesterday, and all day today, he scratched more and more. I called my assistant and asked her to come in early to help me bathe him.

All this extra bathing has really thrown a wrench into the monkey ointment in terms of my efforts to make bathing totally fun and at-liberty, which had been going so well before. They are not at liberty anymore. He is not whining or moaning, and he doesn’t make much effort to get out, but he is not a happy camper. And we both know that if he has the opportunity to jump out, he will!

Thus, I say unto you, my dear readers: ARGH!

I was too tired, and Barnum was too displeased, for me to do training in the tub with him tonight while we bathed, which usually makes baths much easier and more fun for all, and which contributes to future baths being easier and more fun. Instead, I just kept him occupied with a steady stream of roasted chicken bits. (That’s fun to clean out of the drain trap, especially when entwined with dog and human hair.)

The good news is that he has barely scratched at all since the bath. He is all soft and shiny and happy and clean. And not itchy.

The bad news is that usually at least three or four of his walks per week — most of them, in other words — are unleashed runs at the pond. He loves the pond. I love the pond. My most favorite thing to do is to go with Betsy and Barnum to the pond and have him run around on the beach and in the water, retrieve the wonderful new squeaky ball Deb bought for him, and practice the Come Game from Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels.

I am not physically able to take him on walks on leash often enough for him to get enough exercise and recreation. I only have one dog walker whose legs and backs can withstand long, on-leash walks. Playing fetch in the yard (which he will only do for so long — he’s a bouvier, not a border collie or a Lab!) only offers so much.

We. Are. Not. Amused.

– Sharon (service human), the muse of Gadget (the first king of the castle), and Barnum, SDiT et le petit prince

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5 Responses to “I Think Barnum Is Allergic to the Pond”


  1. 1 Cyndy Otty September 19, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    I wish I had a suggestion to help you out, but to answer your wetsuit question. Yes, they do. They aren’t full body type things a la surfing attire. They just cover the torso and back, so the dog can move its legs freely. (At least, I’ve never seen a full body one.) I don’t know how helpful it would be since Barnum has a pretty full coat and so it would be hard to find one that fit him well.

  2. 2 Sharon Wachsler September 21, 2011 at 12:12 am

    OMD. How funny. I wasn’t even thinking of that. The main parts we need to cover, though, are his legs and the lower half of his body. Once you mentioned it, I forgot that I have seen surfing dogs in those. But getting a big furry monster into a wet suit, OMD, the mere idea . . . well, just stick me in bed and hook me up to the oxygen right now!
    I am considering trying to do a consult with Gadget’s vet, who is very far away, but who is wonderful and thinks “outside the box.”

  3. 3 brilliantmindbrokenbody September 23, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    Oof. You may be stuck with no-pond until it gets cold enough to slow bacterial growth…that would suck. I mean sure, it’s only a couple months away, but it sounds like that’s going to be a big problem for you guys.

    Anywhere else he can be taken for off-leash walks/runs? I’m guessing not since you haven’t said there are any…

    ~Kali

  4. 4 Sharon Wachsler September 23, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Sometimes lately he goes for runs in the woods behind my house. I think we will just do the weekly pond and a bath after till it freezes over. Not looking forward to all those gunky baths!

  5. 5 brilliantmindbrokenbody September 24, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    One of the things we do to help with the crud level for cleaning the bath after bathing Hudson is we took one of the sieve-style sink strainers (like this guy http://www.sears.com/shc/s/p_10153_12605_SPM2674514302P?sid=IDx20070921x00003a&ci_src=14110944&ci_sku=SPM161767052) at a hardware store. We put it upside down over the drain, and it catches the majority of the crud in an easy-to-remove-and-clean way. Once all the water is out of the tub, just pick it up and the stuff comes with it. Bang it against the side of the trashcan a couple of times and it’s basically clean.


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