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Quintina and the Foxtail

By: Gary Wynn Kelly

This story is of one dog’s encounter with a foxtail. It ends happily, but it illustrates how sad such encounters can be. This occurred when I was Director of the Central Coast Northern Dog Rescue in Salinas, CA. Foxtails are found throughout many western states, and hopefully this article will help to educate the public about the dangers of dogs encountering them. January 31, 2002 - Today dawned clear and cold. The Salinas temperature this morning was 29 degrees! It has been this way for several days now, and the forecast is for a week of similar weather.It became sunny, and the temperatures did rise to near 60 by the afternoon, so it turned out to be a nice day, when Michael Berkeley and I drove up to the Hollister Animal Shelter to check out a new dog that is likely to need rescue in a week.Michael is one of my reliable volunteers, who often helps me by providing his expertise as a driver when I need to visit local shelters to rescue a dog. Michael and Amanda have two lovely Samoyeds that are friends of my pack, and excellent examples of the breed.

We arrived at the small shelter on the southern city limits along the river, and went inside to talk to Dina, who often calls me about new dogs that arrive in the shelter. Dina is always a warm and friendly presence in the shelter, and a strong supporter of Rescue. I was there because Dina had called about the new arrival.

Dina went outside, and brought the new girl in to see us. She returned with a small Siberian female that was eager to display a friendly nature through her affectionate greeting. I knelt down to her level, and she licked me politely, though she never jumped on me or pawed me.

I felt her over, and found her coat to be full of the worst stickers, brambles, and burrs. Her tail, which should have been a lovely plume, was so dense with packed burrs that it was a wonder she could carry it over her back! It must have been a lovely full tail, before it became a groomer’s nightmare.

This girl has sweetness radiating from her. She was subdued, but many dogs in the shelter are, and she was clearly eager to enjoy human companionship, which is again consistent with being on her own too long.

This dog was picked up in an area where dogs are too often abandoned. The Animal Control officer felt she was yet another dog abandoned for unknown reasons by an owner.

It was clear that she had the potential to be a lovely dog–her clear blue eyes and well proportioned stature were not hidden. Her personality was precisely what I like to see on evaluating a new dog. She was friendly, easily handled, with evidence of good training at some time in her past.

So why was she in the shelter? If we could only know…

I made the commitment to rescue this girl once she served her shelter time. The staff thought it unlikely that she would be claimed by any owner. I have learned to respect such opinions, as these people are doing their job every day, and have been there for years. They are intelligent and observant people, who notice patterns, and care about the dogs, and what becomes of them.

We returned to Salinas, and several days went by. On Monday of the following week, I checked on the girl. She was unclaimed. Dina offered to get a local groomer to work on her and see if she could be cleaned up before spaying her. This is always helpful, as once the dog is altered, there can be no bathing or serious cleaning up for nearly 2 weeks. That would be nearly cruel in this case, as this girl had to be miserable.

Dina was as good as her word, and got the local groomer to do a good job of cleaning up this dog before her scheduled spay on Wednesday. Michael volunteered once again to be driver, and we left at lunch time to go get our new rescue.

As luck would have it, this girl was already spayed! The vet had already done the preparation for the surgery when they discovered the spay scar. Spay scars can be hard to detect sometimes. I had felt her over, but could not find any obvious ridge that indicated a scar. Once she was shaved, a scar was evident, so no actual surgery was necessary.

We arrived and got her loaded into the Explorer. She was a little sleepy, but she had only been sedated, so was in good shape.

She looked *much* better! She is a lovely gray and white, and obviously was feeling better even sedated. Her tail had been trimmed to get the worst of the debris from it, so it looked skinny, but I knew it would grow out by spring to once again, be that lovely plume I imagine it was before she was dumped. She has nice markings, that when combined with those blue eyes make her a striking Siberian.

When we took her out to the car, and opened up the rear and the crate, she jumped in instantly with no command! She settled down in the crate and rode nicely, as though she is used to doing so.

At home, she went into a crate willingly, and stayed quiet for much of the afternoon. I put her out a couple of times to get drinks of water, and sniff about. I had her out with Machiko and Tahvi, and later the eskies. She has excellent social skills with other dogs.

We now had the challenge of finding her a new name.We were on the letter “q”, which makes the choices more difficult.

We name the dogs in sequence. We go through the alphabet, and choose a name for each letter. We often use unusual and international names, as many people know who keep up with our rescue activities.

Anita and I settled on the name Quintina, as the right name for this girl. It is a feminization of the male Quinton, and has a nice sound to it. It only took a day or two for Quintina to recognize and respond to her new name.

The following is from my training notes:

Quintina is great to walk on leash! What a treat! She apparently had little leash training, but was most likely on a chain in the back yard. She hardly pulls at all, and walks along nicely at my side. She is at a loss as to what to do at crossings, but is willing to sit with some encouragement. She does not know how to handle turning, or repositioning. Her being so awkward about it is an indication that her not pulling is a product of training on a line or chain, and not on leash.

I enjoyed my walk with Quintina, as she is a willing learner. She has not had the human handling she might have had, but is a sweet and calm girl. We weighed her and found her weight to be only 37 pounds. She needs to gain about 5 pounds, but will always be a very small siberian.

From my notes for Friday, February 8:

Akamai guided for the final walk. We brought along Quintina, and it was a nice walk. Quintina was much better about sitting today, and is already starting to sit automatically at many crossings. She is well socialized to other dogs and people, so she does not react when they pass. She is slightly aloof, so her socialization is more a matter of preferring to not draw attention than being overly familiar with people.

Quintina has been having incidents where she urinates in her crate. This is an indication that she is not house broken. It seems that she cannot anticipate when she will be indoors as yet, and does not always relieve herself before confinement. She did make it through the night last night, but did wet her crate during the morning hours when I was on my second walk. This is usually self correcting, so I am not concerned. Quintina will quickly decide that she does not desire a wet crate, and will empty before coming into the house. I have had Machiko run the other way many times when I call her so she can go to the rocks and empty before running to me. She knows that if she comes indoors, she had best plan to stay a while. Quintina is a smart girl, and will soon learn to do the same.

Anita thinks that Quintina may possibly have a bladder infection. She will observe more, and decide if we should medicate.

After another day of observation, Anita was convinced that Quintina had an infection. We started antibiotics, and watched for improvements. By Monday, Quintina was not sufficiently better. We made an appointment for her to see our vet, Dr. Rick Clark. After examining her, Dr. Clark decided to continue the antibiotics, and see if she improves. During the days that followed, we were back and forth to the vet with Quintina. She was starting to have blood in her urine, and a further exam was planned under anesthetic. Quintina spent one night at the animal hospital, as she was knocked out thoroughly by the anesthetic. She had blood work done to be sure there was no organ damage, and X-rays of her bladder were taken. The physical exam could tell us little, as her tissues were too severely inflamed to permit a scope to be inserted into the bladder.

The blood work showed normal blood chemistry, so we were hopeful of a good recovery. The X-rays were not as definitive as they might have been. Quintina was now on an additional antibiotic, and we had hopes of this clearing soon.

By February 22, we were growing concerned at the slow progress. Here are my notes from that date:

We took Quintina in for her recheck today. Rick Clark examined her, and says she has indeed improved remarkably, but he is concerned that she is still experiencing pain and apparent cystitis-like symptoms. He wants her to have an additional procedure in Capitola to check on bladder stones, or a possible tumor in the bladder. Hopefully, this will resolve any remaining issues with Quintina’s health.

Quintina is one of those special fosters. She has an extremely sweet and attractive personality. She gets along with all other dogs–from eskies to all Siberians, and displays excellent manners and training with people. She rides well when we take her out, and tolerates invasive examinations patiently. I am quite certain she is house broken, and she is now leash trained.

We decided that this dog has enough assets to invest more than the usual limit on a foster. It will require some additional fund raising on her behalf, but I have been successful in the past in doing this. We found out while at the vet’s that Quintina apparently is also cat tolerant. It is not like she required one more asset, but she appears to have it! The only liability I can imagine in this dog is that she is very hard when it gets to giving her pills. She is so smart that she figures out every disguise, and spits out the pills. We keep having to come up with new efforts. The most successful is mixing the ground up antibiotics into cheese, and getting her to eat that.

My notes continue on Saturday, February 23:

Akamai guided for my final walk. We brought along Quintina, who is definitely more interested in walks these days. She was animated and brisk. She pulled moderately, but not excessively.

I found she is well socialized to people playing. We went through the park, which was very busy today. 4 kids on skate boards passed us within a foot of Quintina. She never broke stride. I phased her not at all. It is unlikely that this was a first encounter with children on skate boards, so she probably is not a country dog. I have suspected she grew up in a city environment, and was either dumped, or placed in a rural setting, and later abandoned. This tends to confirm that belief.

Monday, February 25, 2002:

We got good news from the specialist at Pacific Veterinary Specialist in Capitola. Quintina has a large bladder stone, which will be removed on Wednesday by our local vet, Dr. Rick Clark. We are relieved that it is not a tumor!

The bladder stone will have to be processed by a lab to determine why she has one. There are 6 kinds of bladder stones, and they grow for different reasons. It could be anything from the result of a metabolic deficiency, to an infection that started the process of formation.

It is most likely that this stone has been growing for a year or more. It is also probable that the previously well house broken Quintina was becoming incontinent, and her ignorant owner dumped her as a misbehaving Siberian. They missed the fact that she was doing this because she could not help it. It is always good to eliminate a medical cause for a behavior change before assuming that a behavior is entirely the result of a Siberian’s will.

Quintina had her bladder surgery, and the stone was removed. It is the size of a pigeon egg. It was sent to a laboratory for analysis. This analysis can help determine the cause, and aid in planning any medical options necessary for prevention of future stones.

Quintina spent a couple of weeks recovering. She had to be kept quiet during this time, to give her bladder chance to heal properly. We also kept her on antibiotics, to ensure that there was no infection.

Quintina recovered quickly, and remarkably. She expressed her appreciation every day, and I continued her training. She is a well trained and sweet girl. She handles extremely well on leash, and obeys commands promptly. She will always be a small Siberian–probably not more than 40 pounds, but that simply adds to her attractiveness.

After recovery, Quintina began playing with the other dogs, and proving that she indeed can hold her own in a pack, and also fit in so well as to be almost unnoticed.

The analysis came back from the laboratory on the bladder stone. The report was quite definitive–the cause was due 100% to a foxtail that migrated from outside the body into the bladder. For those in California who are familiar with foxtails, this is not necessarily a surprise, but it should be a warning. Foxtails are prickly triangular shaped seeds of a particular weed that may range from a fraction of an inch in size, to a couple of inches in size. I have seen the larger ones migrate into the coat of a dog, and literally migrate through the skin and enter the body through their own opening.

The foxtail is not alive. It does its worst damage when it is dead, and dried. This happens between late May and mid October. They become dry, and readily drop off the main plant when brushed lightly, or picked up from the ground, or from any place where they have managed to drop. They “borrow” their mobility by cleverly utilizing the motion of the unwilling host to which they have fastened. As the body moves, the foxtail seems to wriggle and writhe along the path of the motion. They can work their way into an ear, a nostril, or into the spaces in a pad, and cause considerable discomfort and damage.

Smaller foxtails will enter any orifice of a body, and they can do terrible damage, as well as be almost unimaginably painful. Consider if you dare, the experience of having one migrate from outside the body through the urethra, into the bladder. I hope that visualization is so excruciating that no reader will ever permit it to happen to a dog they own.

Quintina had precisely this happen. The foxtail entered her bladder, and her body responded by protecting her in the only way it could–it coated the foxtail to prevent it from causing further damage. As that coating grew, her body tried to expel the foreign object, but it was much too large to ever pass from the bladder. The body kept trying, and the walls of the bladder thickened under the constant irritation of the stone. The bladder lost its usual pliancy and resilience. The bladder became less able to hold normal amounts of urine, and the stone kept blocking the opening whenever Quintina would attempt to void. The result was that her bladder never could be fully emptied, and had a small volume available for urine. Poor Quintina became incontinent.

The condition led to an infection, and the infection spread. This is when we got Quintina, and almost immediately noticed her problem. We treated the infection first, then moved to a more careful examination of her condition as related here. The sole and total cause of this expensive misery experienced by Quintina was the negligence and ignorance of an owner.

The natural world may be one in which the Siberian and northern dogs evolved, but we have moved them from their natural habitat in northern climates to wherever we go, and the result is not always beneficial to the health and well being of our dogs. We must take the responsibility of learning about the dangers of the physical world, and taking precautions to guarantee the protection of our companions. In California, foxtails are a reality. Poison oak is another reality that is not so terrible for the Siberian, but that wonderful coat can spread it among human family members all too easily.

Burrs and briars can be picked up in a pad, and cause significant injury to your dog. Take care when hiking or camping with your dog, and even in the comparative safety of your own back yard, be vigilant for the growth of physical and toxic hazards to your dog. The Poisonous Plant guide in this library is one good source of information that may protect your dog from the worst that may be in your own garden.

As for Quintina? She has been adopted to a wonderful home quite knowledgeable in Siberian behavior. This family has 2 other Siberians, and a house full of humans who appreciate any Siberian every day.

Thanks to our dedicated volunteers, CCNDR was able to pay the medical costs of Quintina. Volunteers donated nearly 78% of her medical costs when the word went out about her need. It is this level of caring that sustains the work we do at CCNDR. Thank you!

We moved from California in the fall of 2006. We now live in Albuquerque, NM, and operate the Arctic Dog Rescue and Training Center.

Copyright© 2002, 2007, by Gary Wynn Kelly. Please respect the copyright, and make any request for redistribution through ADRTC.ORG.