Thursday, June 26, 2014

 Our usual morning inspection of the outside dog pens revealed an injured bird right in the middle of the big dog play area.  Now, I am an animal lover, but I am not big on birds (or snakes, for that matter).  Birds are either little and fragile or big and nasty (they can peck your eyes out!).  In either case, I usually steer clear of them.  This is the second time in two years we have had an injured bird end up in our backyard, so we knew to call the SPCA and ask one of their wildlife specialists to come and take our feathered friend back to wherever injured birds go.  The SPCA prefers that you put the bird in a box to protect it until their arrival.  So I found a box and approached with caution (the last time I did this, mama bird was close by and repeatedly dived bombed me as I attempted to rescue her baby, thus reinforcing my irrational fear of birds!).  I stared at the little guy, wondering exactly how you were supposed to pick up a tiny injured bird. When I turned to seek some advice from my employee, I noticed her backing away slowly with a wary look on her face.  Now this girl has worked for me for over five years, and we both have wrestled the biggest and scariest of dogs into submission without breaking a sweat, yet here we both stood, afraid to touch a tiny bird.  After a brief discussion with the SPCA, we were informed that we only had to place the box over the bird.  So I summoned what little courage I had, looked around again for an angry mama bird poised to strike, and quickly placed the box over the baby.  I am not ashamed to admit that once the bird was secure, I ran away as if a swarm of hornets was chasing me!  After the dramatic bird rescue, the rest of the day was uneventful.

I am making great progress on my second book, but I have all kinds of small detail type questions that I would like authentic answers to.  I find that my progress can quickly come to a halt when I get hung up on these little details.  Because Buffalo grew so quickly during the early nineteenth century (after the completion of the Erie Canal) some details that were not important, say in the 1830’s, might become important in the 1840’s. My first concern is Christmas.  In the early nineteenth century, Christmas was not yet a big holiday, so I am wondering if gifts were typically exchanged outside of the family.  For example, if a wealthy family wanted to give their domestic staff gifts around Christmas, what would they typically be?  Also, where in the city would a school teacher live?  Currently, said teacher lives in Mrs. Cornish’s Boarding House at the corner of Beak and Exchange Streets (an authentic location).  However, if this lad wanted to marry, could he afford a house on a teacher’s salary?  If so, where would he live?  Finally, I am interested to know just how severe the winters would have been in Buffalo during the early nineteenth century.  Would they have been as bad as they typically are now?  How would individuals and the city at large handle snow removal?  I am hoping to find answers to these questions over the next few weeks so that I can continue moving forward and meet my late November release date.  Suggestions welcome!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

As summer rolls on writing and research are taking a back seat to gardening and home repair.  The back porch project is almost done and the gardens are looking nothing short of spectacular (note to self: wear jeans and turtleneck when gardening in the front yard to avoid exposing various parts of my 47 year old body to oncoming traffic and neighborhood children!).

We will be unable to meet our deadline of the end of June for the book chapter in the historical volume on anatomy and dissection. No surprise there.  The best laid plans of anthropologists often go astray (actually, that is a direct quote from our project leader to the book editor when she told him we could not meet the deadline!!).  For scholars this time of year is actually busier than the school year as teaching and administrative responsibilities give way to personal, property, family and (finally) research obligations.

The most recent addition to my already full plate is marketing.  I really need a marketing strategy to boost the on-line sales of Orphans and Inmates.  I had a great idea to hold a contest, but was told that it is illegal in New York to hold a contest in which a person has to make a purchase to be entered to win.  Ugh! Through Amazon and Barnes and Noble, the book is available to readers all over the world.  The question is how do we get the world to take notice?  Suggestions welcome!  The good news is local sales are going well and overall the book is selling better than expected.  However, considering most self published books don't sell at all, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

I am still trying to figure out the source of the chorea symptoms of a particular poorhouse inmate and almost the entire maternal side of her family.  Huntington's Disease doesn't fit because it is a genetic disorder and even if her children were older, they are still too young for a late-onset disorder like that.  Syndenham's Chorea can occur in children as a complication of rheumatic fever, but there appears not to be any evidence of such an outbreak in Buffalo during 1854.  Also, the deaths of the inmate's mother and aunt don't fit the age profile for this disease.  I am still thinking it is a febrile disease of some kind.  I am wondering if this maternal extended family (inmate, her children, her mother, her aunt and her nieces/nephews) all lived together and thus were all exposed to an infectious febrile disease.  I am still searching the Buffalo Medical Journal and the Poorhouse Hospital records in search of such a disease.  A potential candidate is intermittent fever.  It is often listed in the hospital records and can refer to a variety of illnesses, including malaria.  So when the dogs are settled, the weeds are pulled and the painting is finished, I will be learning more about intermittent fever!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Okay, how do I put this…I freakin hate dogs!!!  Not your dog, of course, the other bad dogs.  I mentioned at the start that this blog would be about my attempt to juggle my day job (doggy daycare), my scholarly research and my writing.  There’s no sense is contributing to the image of the perfect working woman, effortlessly managing each curveball thrown her way.  We all know that’s the stuff of television (well, ‘70’s television).  The truth is that managing a pack of 20+ dogs for 11 hours a day six days a week is no easy task.  As a general rule, well behaved dogs seldom come to daycare (although we have our share).  It is usually the naughty ones or the anxious ones that need our services.  It is our job to manage the pack and make sure they don’t kill each other or chew the place out from underneath us.  For most dogs a few training sessions in the early days of their arrival are all it takes to mend their mischievous ways.  However, there are always a few who require drastic measures (I have been known to wrestle a dog to the ground and bite back!) and still others, although few in number, who simply are not candidates for daycare.  It is a tough decision to expel a dog, and not one I take lightly.  The few times I have had to do so, the dog required more training than is manageable at doggy daycare.  We deal with a large pack of dogs every day and reasonably can’t provide intense training for behaviors like aggression and severe anxiety without sacrificing the quality of care for the rest of the pack. 

So, the reason I hate dogs (today) is that I have a dog whose anxiety is too severe to manage in a large pack of playful pups.  It manifests itself as incessant barking, sometimes for hours on end.  This is a problem for several reasons. First, the dog is obviously uncomfortable with the situation and is unhappy (we like the dogs to be comfortable and happy and all of our usual training methods have not improved this particular pooch’s disposition).  Second, that level of anxiety puts the dog at risk of aggression from other dogs.  Dogs, unlike people (or is it like people?), tend to be intolerant of such behavior.  Finally, that anxious whining, barking and howling for hours on end disturbs the staff and the neighbors (the neighbors also tend to be intolerant of such behavior).  By the end of the day, we are all on edge and in need of a drink!!  Most of my writing or research occurs either during my two hour break during the day or after work.  Some days there is no two hour break during the day because the dogs won’t settle down enough for me to sneak into my office and let the very capable staff handle things (our anxious friend heightens the energy level in the pack, which increases the activity level as the other dogs find it difficult to settle down).   Much like a group of over excited children, the energy can take a turn for the worse if not carefully managed.  After work I am only capable only of sitting in front of the television, whiskey in hand, watching re-runs of the Big Bang Theory.  Several days like this is a row leave me frustrated as the amount of work I have to do grows and the time I have to do it in decreases.  I once read an article in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal in 1843 which listed “Decrepitude and Exhaustion” as a cause of death.  At the end of days like these, it seems reasonable to assume those three words will someday be written on my death certificate, with the secondary cause listed as “Killed in dog stampede”.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Well we survived Friday the 13th and a full moon in Dogdom (although I think every Friday feels like Friday the 13th with a full moon!).  The big event of the week was the addition of an HDD (Huge Dumb Dog) to the daycare pack.  HDD's differ from BDD's (Big Dumb Dogs) by about 20 to 30 pounds.  The story is similar almost every time we take in an HDD.  Someone adopts or purchases an adorable little pup.  By six months of age, said adorable pup weighs over 80 pounds and has become completely unmanageable.  By eight months of age the not so gentle giant is in the animal shelter waiting for a human with more experience and considerably more tolerance (the previous humans having given up after many successful escapes from kitchens, crates and kennels, which in turn resulted in several furniture, carpet and garden casualties).  By one year of age (or so) the new human companion of said beast has dropped in or called to inquire about our facility (particularly the size and strength of our fencing) and if we accept giant breed dogs.  For the new human companion, taking on an HDD is a bit like buying a used car that has been equally neglected or mistreated.  In this case, the hidden costs (beyond the usual veterinary bills and furniture replacement associated with rescuing any dog) include extensive and serious training (none of this treat based nonsense) and doggy daycare.  I am always impressed with the dedication of these folks as they seek to undo the damage of a year or more of neglect/abuse in a dog that often weighs upwards of 120 pounds.  Our new Baby Huey weighs in at about 125 lbs. with the enthusiasm and energy of kid in a candy store (after having eaten the candy!).  He came in the play area like he was shot out of a cannon!  The wind was immediately taken out of his sails as he was greeted by our resident alpha dog, a 40 lb. poodle named Yoda (we can refer to him by his real name, as he is my dog and practically perfect in every way!).  Although skinny and cripple (he had surgery a few years ago in which the femoral head, the ball that fits into the socket of the hip joint, was removed) there has yet to be a dog who will challenge Yoda.  So, when Baby Huey came thundering in, Yoda sauntered over, curled his lip, snapped his teeth, and sauntered away.  A now bewildered Baby Huey took a few minutes to re-evaluate the scene and chose to make friends with a large breed pup who is destined to be a BDD is a few more months!  All in all, Baby Huey is a fine fellow with dedicated humans and I am confident (with Yoda's help) we can teach him manners and help him as he continues to grow (the HDD's usually are done growing around three years of age) to respect the boundaries (fences, furniture, etc.) that his human companions establish.

As I am writing this on an unseasonably cold Saturday (57 degrees in the middle of June, seriously?) I am avoiding the work still to be done on our upper back porch project.  I would rather work in 90 degree heat than in this miserably damp cold.  Global Warming, my ass!  However, the ever disciplined husband is high up on a ladder working diligently, so as soon as I am done I will reluctantly join him.  Ugh.

The end of the second book in the Orphans and Inmates series is well established in my head, but not yet on my hard drive.  There is too much going on between home renovation/repair, research projects and dogs to find time to sit down and just write until it is finished.  My plan is to wrap up all projects (manual labor and scholarly) by the end of June, finish the second book by the end of July, make edits in response to beta reader comments by September, final copy edit and revisions by November and release by Christmas.  So, I'd better stop blogging and start stripping (wood, remember?) if I am to keep to my schedule!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Did I mention that in the past two years I have become quite the good stripper?  Of wood, that is.  My laptop and notebooks were traded in for a scraper and heat gun as we added exterior building maintenance to the weekend routine (back story: we sold our house a few years ago and have been renovating/remodeling the apartment and third floor of the doggy daycare).  Saturday and Sunday were spent dividing my time between an unusual mix of canine guests and stripping the back porch and door on the second floor.  As a city dweller, the upper back porch is my only outside space not accessible to my canine clients.  Right now the space is very small, not allowing for the humans and the family dogs to fit out there comfortably.  We also have no space for our grill, as my husband fears that I will burn the house down if we use it in such a confined space.  Extending the deck on to the remainder of the flat roof will give us plenty of room for people, pets, plants and patio furniture, thus creating a fine outdoor space to be enjoyed with family and friends.  My husband, and builder of this new sanctuary, is reluctant to take on such a large project, so for now we are painting and repairing, while I carefully drop comments here and there about how much fun we used to have entertaining outside at the old house and how nice it will be to sip gin and tonics outside after a long day at work.

I spent my break this afternoon going through the Keepers Reports for the Erie County Poorhouse so that I could summarize the living conditions throughout the institution's history (1829-1926) for our book chapter.  I am beginning to realize that an entire book could be written on the subject, although we are limited to a few paragraphs in a single chapter.  There is a tendency in both the scholarly literature and in the fictional literature to paint a bleak picture of life at the poorhouse (any poorhouse).  However, the issue of quality of life is considerably more complicated than one might think.  The driving forces in many almshouses were cost cutting and deterrence.  All able bodied inmates were expected to help in maintaining the facility to keep costs down.  Men did repairs and farm labor and women did domestic chores, tended the sick and cared for the children.Children were often separated from their parents in an effort to shield them from destructive habits like idleness, and drinking, which most certainly (so policy makers thought) lead to a life of dependency.  The possibility of being separated from one's children often made families think twice about seeking relief at the poorhouse.

The Erie County Poorhouse was not without its problems.  The institution experienced several fires over the years and dealt with issues of over crowding (particularly in the insane asylum), drainage and clean water availability.  However, for an individual or family whose only other choice was begging on the street, the almshouse was seldom a horrible place.  It was a working farm, so with the exception of drought years, fresh food was available.  It had an associated hospital that evolved over the years to meet the needs of its patients (a consumptive ward and maternity ward were added, and accommodations were made in later years to separate out those suffering from acute infections diseases).

So on the one hand, a pauper seeking institutional relief would have better access to food, medical care, and a relatively clean and safe place to live compared to life on the street.  On the other hand, families were often separated and children were bound out as cheap labor.  I am now wondering how I am supposed to objectively evaluate the quality of life at the Erie County Poorhouse one hundred and seventy years later, having never been without a roof over my head or a full plate at my table? Clearly this is going to be harder than I thought!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Happy Monday Friends!  It is an usually busy day in Dogdom for a Monday.  This morning there was a very large funeral going on at the church across the street and the neighbor on the other side is having his roof done.  The pooches seemed unconcerned with the chaos outdoors and enjoyed their pool time as usual.  Things began to deteriorate when we moved indoors, as one of our furry friends has the worst gas EVER!!  Lest you think I exaggerate, I'll have you know that I am no stranger to bad smells.  In addition to working with dogs for the past 11 years, I have also worked with horses, marine mammals and human cadavers.  Each of these experiences left me with a more detailed olfactory knowledge of gastrointestinal diseases!  So when I say one of the dogs here has the worst gas EVER, I mean it!  The pooches are pooped from their morning outside, so they are snoozing, unperturbed by the noxious fumes.  However, my eyes are watering as I type this!!

The book signing went very well last Friday.  I didn't belch while speaking to people or spell anyone's name wrong.  As a group, Buffalonians are very knowledgeable about their history and I really enjoyed chatting about various parts of my book research with my new friends.  We sold out all of the books and took orders for a few more.  I am eagerly waiting for the next shipment to arrive.

If you are reading the blogs regularly, then you already know that we have identified several individuals from the Erie County Poorhouse Hospital Records who have peaked our interest.  One is a women who appears to have suffered from a disorder like Hunting's Disease.  This is a late onset abnormal involuntary movement disorder.  What is interesting is that the poorhouse physician reported a very detailed family history in 1854 for a disease that was not well defined until 1872.  Her condition apparently afflicted women more than men, as the woman's mother, grandmother and aunt had it as well.  It is also interesting that the woman had lost 4 of her five children and several cousins to the disease (the age and sex of these individuals was not recorded).  I went through the records very carefully and found that she had been first admitted in December of 1854, which was where she was listed as suffering from "chorea" and her detailed family history was recorded.  At this time the records indicate that she was 43 years old.  She was transferred several times from the poorhouse to the hospital ward between the years 1854-1858 for various infections, including two eye infections, severe diarrhea and several mouth infections.  In these entries, the age recorded for her ranged between 39-49 years old.  Sadly, she died without comment in November of 1858.  I now suspect that the disease referred to as "chorea" was not Huntington's Disease.  Assuming she was in her early to mid forties in 1854, her oldest child could have been in his or her late twenties (it would not have been unusual for her to be married, or at the very least bearing children as young as 15 years old).  Typically Huntington's Disease is a late onset genetic disease, with symptoms emerging in the third, fourth or fifth decade of life.  It seems unlikely that our patient's children could have died from HD, as they were likely too young.  Syndenham's Disease can occur in children and adolescents as a complication of rheumatic fever.  It occurs as an autoimmune reaction to the bacterium that, in turn, affects the part of the brain that controls motor function (hence the abnormal/involuntary body movements). SD typically affects children between 5-15 years old and affects girls more than boys. While SD makes more sense than HD given our patients age and the likely ages of her children it brings to light more questions, like what was the prevalence of rheumatic fever in the mid nineteenth century?  Did adults experience Syndenham's chorea? Did the extended members of this family live together?  Were their deaths clustered around a single outbreak of the fever?  If not what are the chances of these individuals independently contracting rheumatic fever?  This evening's task will be to learn more about rheumatic fever in Buffalo.  Stay tuned...