Tuesday, January 17, 2017


This morning Trooper leaped up against me and led me to the apartment front door. Someone knocking, I thought, and my shaggy little service dog's just doing his job.

But when I peeked through the spyhole, nobody was there. Instead, the condo building's fire alarm strobes were flashing up and down the hallway. (The system was being tested today and there was nothing to worry about.)

But Trooper's act impressed me. He hadn't forgotten the early training in alerting to fire alarms that Laura Burke had given him at Dogs for the Deaf in Central Point, Oregon. I had not continued that training, but had occasionally thought about refreshing it with some kind of device that mimicked the sound of such alarms. I hadn't got around to it yet.

Somehow Trooper has kept it together in his little doggy mind for more than a year without practicing: If there's an alarm in the hall, his job is to let me know about it.

Good boy.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Dog with Four Red Shoes

Evanston in winter can be very hard on a small dog's paws. The city—and our condo building's maintenance people—slather more salt on the sidewalks than can be mined from the Bonneville flats, and that and ice tend to get between a dog's toes painfully.

We've used Musher's Wax, which does seem to help with the salt, but it doesn't protect from the cold. Dogs hate heavy boots. What to do? We've tried carrying Trooper's 17 pounds from our front door to the nearest pee spot, but both Debby and I have bad backs and that isn't a good idea.

Yesterday we tried a product called Protek PawZ, little fat thickish rubber balloons that come in varying sizes. They're billed as being both disposable and biodegradable. And they're cheap—the Small size packs contain a dozen booties for $13. They're available at pet stores and Amazon.com, and even Bed, Bath & Beyond.

It does take two people to put the booties on—one to hold the dog and the other to stretch their openings and slip them over the paws—but the rubber is limber enough to make the job fairly easy.

To our surprise, Trooper took to the booties quickly. Initially he tried to shake them off, but after a few seconds of stalking indignantly around the living room, he began walking normally. Outside, he ambulated as if he wasn't wearing anything.

Nice solution to a vexing problem.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Six weeks since surgery

Yesterday the surgical vet removed the splint on Trooper's left hind leg, broken by a bite from a much larger dog a few days before Thanksgiving. The X-rays show that it's healing, the vet said, but it'll take four more weeks of limited activity before he's allowed to resume a normal life. Trooper will need to come back Feb. 4 for another X-ray.

If he doesn't put the surgical leg down and walk on it within four days, the vet said, call him.

Fortunately, as soon as we got home Trooper started walking on all fours—so long as it is at a slow march. His normal terrier gait is a fast trot, and when he hustles into one—we have to minimize that for a while—he canters on three legs, favoring the fourth.

We're confident that he'll soon gain strength and ambulate normally.

Unfortunately, he's still in the Cone of Shame. He wants to lick the leg, itchy from all that time in a covered splint, and his saliva would make the itch worse as well as the skin raw over the steel pins holding the bone together.

As soon as he stops trying to get at the leg, I think we'll be able to remove the cone—and he'll look more like his normal shaggy Wookiee self. We'll then be able to take him to the groomer for a long-needed bath and haircut.

Soon after that he ought to be able to resume his service-dog duties. He doesn't seem to have forgotten them, at least the phone alert. Whenever the phone rings he trots to me and puts his paws on my person. And whenever Debby comes in from outside, he lets me know in the same fashion. I think the retraining will not be difficult.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Five weeks since the attack

It is now five weeks since Trooper's surgery for a broken leg at the jaws of a big dog, and everything seems to be going well. We've just returned to Evanston from Christmas in Arlington, Va., with our elder son and his posse.

Trooper behaved like a pro on the train (Amtrak's Capitol Limited), sleeping quietly on his mat and detraining for familiar pit stops at South Bend (Ind.) and Pittsburgh (Pa.) on the way out, Cumberland (Md.) and Toledo (O.) on the way back. He now seems to have absorbed the idea that when we get off the train, his first job is to find—and quickly—a good place to transact his business.

His startle reflex at perceived threats was fortunately at a minimum, except in the first class lounge at Washington Union Station. There a pretty young redcap zoomed around a blind corner and dashed up to drive us in her cart to the train, and Trooper took her sudden appearance as a violation of his territorial integrity. He issued a loud keep-away warning, causing the station boss to bark in turn, "Control your dog!" I swear she scared the onlookers more than Trooper did.

Of course, service dogs should be calm and laid-back, but no working dog is perfect. Trooper always barks when startled, like the terrier he is. We're working on the problem, however, attempting to minimize potentially dicey situations. Next time we're at that first-class lounge, we'll choose seats where he can watch everything that goes on instead of hiding ourselves in an alcove. No more surprises.

Trooper's nimble on his paws despite carrying his left hind leg in a wrapped splint. He'll walk normally on all fours and run on three legs, holding the splinted limb behind him out of the way.

Next Tuesday he goes back to the surgical vet for an X-ray and, if the bone has knitted sufficiently, permanent removal of the splint. He's expected to limp and favor the surgical leg for a while until it has regained muscle strength.

It'll be another two months, however, before he's able to resume his official duties as a hearing service dog. The vet says four months of recovery after surgery is required for that.

Right now we also have to minimize the jobs he tries to do. If he's in the room, he'll jump up and paw me to let me know when the phone's ringing. He'll also run to my office to let me know that Debby has come home.

Debby of course isn't doing the name call, but if she lets "Henry" slip out while talking to me, Trooper will react.

All this suggests he won't lose much of his training, and if he does forget some, we'll be able to get it back quickly.

One more thing about that Christmas visit. We could not take Trooper to my son Colin's home. They have two rambunctious dogs, and Trooper reacts with unbridled joy in their presence. Their play together is just too vigorous for Trooper to be entrusted to it until a few healing months have passed.

So on Christmas Eve either Debby or I had to stay at our hotel in Shirlington with Trooper while the other visited Colin and Melody and our grandchildren Will and Ellie at their home.

But we had dinner together Christmas Day. Melody prepared turkey and all the trimmings, and she and Colin put everything together in paper plates and brought the sumptuous meal to the hotel, where we dined in style at a table in an alcove off the lobby.

All in all, a good holiday for us—and for Trooper.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Good news

Trooper still must wear splint and cone, but things are a lot better than before.
Today, two weeks after Trooper was attacked by a shepherd mix whose bite broke his left hind leg, the vet removed the stitches, replaced his splint and cleared him to travel by train to Washington, D.C., to spend the holidays with our elder son and his posse.

And Amtrak has changed our sleeper tickets from upstairs bedrooms to downstairs family and handicapped rooms. No way we could have carried Trooper up and down those narrow winding stairs on the bilevel Superliner sleeping cars.

We still need to keep my fuzzy little service dog sedate and quiet so that his leg can knit properly. To see him today, you’d never believe that it has been just 14 days since his leg was set surgically. He wants to run and gambol like the terrier he is, and we just can’t let him.

We are giving him the next couple of months off from his hearing-dog duties. No jumping up on me to alert me to the door, the phone, or the call of my name. But I’m confident he’ll remember his tasks when the time comes. If there’s a problem Laura, his trainer, will come out from Dogs for the Deaf in Oregon to give us a refresher course.

What's more, thanks to the Evanston animal warden and a few good friends, we seem to be making progress regarding the owner of the aggressive dog.

There seems to be a rosy light at the end of this once very dark tunnel.

Friday, December 2, 2016

'Billy Gibbs' now on sale

The sixth Steve Martinez novel, The Riddle of Billy Gibbs, is now available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com as both a $12.95 paperback and a $3.99 ebook. It's also available on my website
for $15.50 postpaid if you want a personalized autographed copy.

Here's the cover description:

When the mutilated body of a black man is found hanging from a tree in Mackinac County 275 miles away across the wild Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Porcupine County Sheriff Steve Martinez is dismayed.

His bailiwick is ninety-nine per cent white, and the victim, an army veteran, had just been acquitted by an all-white jury in the rape of a white woman. Steve had feared racial repercussions after the verdict and suspects bigotry led to the violent death of Billy Gibbs.

But a mystery surrounds the victim himself. How could an ordinary truck mechanic possess such a large bankroll? Why was he so concerned about the well-being of his brand-new, tricked-out pickup truck?

Steve is severely shorthanded, but to shine light on Gibbs and to find his killer—or killers—Steve and Sheriff Selena Novikovich, his counterpart in Mackinac County, dig deep into the case. With the help of their deputies, several state troopers, a retired FBI agent who must fend off a hostile CIA, and a military police colonel willing to put his career on the line for the comrade who saved his life in Iraq, the two sheriffs doggedly track the clues across five states. 

The cops turn up another murder as well as a clutch of fervent neo-Nazis, one of whom is a gorgeous but vicious woman whose sexual proclivities rival those in Fifty Shades of Grey.

The Riddle of Billy Gibbs, the sixth in Henry Kisor's Steve Martinez series, vividly explores a troubling side of American life.