… into the wild — back yard?!

I grew up in a neighborhood on the far south side of Chicago in the 1960s; a neighborhood that imploded at the end of that decade because of white flight, redlining, and panic-peddling.  But until those forces combined with social change to destroy Roseland, it was a terrific place – and the 1960s a terrific decade – in which to be a kid.  We had enormous amounts of freedom; our parents didn’t think they had to schedule our days or even know exactly where we were every minute of those days.  Very often we were off playing in the vacant lots that dotted the neighborhood of single-family homes.  Vacant lots that were overgrown with tall grasses and vegetation like nettles, thistles, Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod, and shrubs we never bothered to identify.  We called these vacant lots ‘prairies’ and we caught bugs and snakes there, played games of our imagination, and pretended we were in another century.  Funny, because now *that* was in another century!

Today I looked at my back yard and realized that I’ve recreated a Roseland ‘prairie’ of my childhood!  And the thought pleases me greatly.

I bought a tiny house on a very large lot, and the previous owner had used quite a bit of the 250’ back yard for a vegetable garden, and kept most of the rest as lawn.  I’m not a fan of lawn.  I have grown vegetables, but if you don’t put some secure fencing up, between the rabbits and your dogs, you won’t get much – the cucumber you reach for intending to add to your dinner salad will turn out to be a 2” stub on the vine, with teeth-marks on the end.

So over time, I’ve let my yard revert to … what it will.  This year it’s particularly dramatic in appearance because we’ve had record rainfall in the past couple of months, and because I’ve declined to present even a pretense of keeping order there.  I’ve had a lot going on with dogs this spring, and anyway, the older I get, the less I enjoy fighting the weed battle with Ma Nature.  She’s going to win, we both know it.  As she has here:

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That’s where the barn used to be.  It was torn down 14 months ago, and since then, vegetation has flourished, to say the least!  Dee hunts mice and other critters in there.

Even in the area of the yard right off the deck, behind the house, the weeds are having a field day:

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Those flagstone walkways are supposed to be weed-free.  Hahahahaha, right?  And when you go past the fence in the back of that photo, to the really wild part of the yard – yikes, you could lose a dog in there!  I may have to put bells on the collars of Dee and the Boyz pretty soon!

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And you know what – I love it.  I have a recliner lawn chair out here and I spend hours reading, with the dogs poking around or napping in the shade, and the bird-song back here is fabulous.  Robins, cardinals, blackbirds, and some I can’t identify.  The occasional hawk floats by, and at night I can hear an owl hooting softly.

The reason for this is the quirk of our block that gave us enormously deep back yards but no working alley at the back end of those yards, so if residents have garages (our housing stock dates from the 1920s and before), they’re off the street and not in the back yards.  I don’t know that I have any competition for the Weed Wonderland 2018 title, but most people don’t use the bottom third of their lots on this block, and that means ample space for urban wildlife and birdlife.  It’s just great.

This year because of the cold spring and then the month of rain, I haven’t been able to get down the very bottom – the last 75’ or so – of my lot to cut the grass, and I haven’t hired anyone to do it because I am not concerned about it:  I have an electric mower now, and finally got long enough extension cords to take it back there, and once this heat wave passes, I’ll get down there and mow.  Until then, the dog yard is being enjoyed by dogs.

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Yep, they get to dig holes back there, too.  Alex has one underneath an old pause table that is almost a bunker; he’s been working on it all spring.  It’s a dog’s life, after all!  And really, so long as it’s green, I am not bothered by the fact that it’s overgrown.  I even regard it as a pushback against the lawn fascists of suburbia, a cosmic equaling-out.

Enjoy your summer!  Take time to sit in the shade, listen to running water, hang out with dogs, and don’t even think about dumping chemicals or mowing anything.  We’re with you in spirit!

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Taking it easy, Border Collie style

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In heartworm treatment, the Immiticide shots kill the adult worms that are present; microfilarae is killed by giving Heartgard.  Once dead, the adult worms break down and are reabsorbed by the body, generally in the lungs.  Not quite as gross as worms living in my dog’s heart, but pretty yucky.  The problem waiting to happen is that if there are quite a few worm corpses, and they break down into large-ish pieces, those pieces can be forced into the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism if the dog’s heart or respiration rate increases significantly.  To call that a problem is putting it mildly:  a pulmonary embolism can kill the dog.  So to prevent this, the owner is told to keep the dog quiet for several weeks after the administration of the Immiticide shot.

I’ve known plenty of dogs in rescue that were treated for heartworm.  My own Lapphund Mikey was treated after he was pulled from the shelter and before he came to me.  Mikey and the other rescue dogs I’ve known who were treated were all in pretty rough shape from long-term neglect.  I don’t think any of them were Level One infections, and I don’t think any of them were in as good physical shape as Rowley is.  I knew that those dogs were crated for most of the day, every day for the weeks after the shot.  That version of the ‘keep them quiet’ protocol is a given in heartworm treatment.  But — I also know that Christie Keith’s dog Raven, who was crated and only taken out on a leash to a potty area in the yard, almost died due to pulmonary embolism a week or so after her Immiticide shot.  So even stringent confinement is no guarantee that a dead worm won’t try to kill your dog.

Aaaarrgghhhh!  What to do?!

Rowley is 9 years old.  He hasn’t been in a crate since he was 1 year old, and truly, if I were to suddenly crate him – especially for long periods of time – it would stress him A LOT.  Rowley is enormously biddable and has been reliable in the house almost since he was a puppy.  People who see his excitable, energetic side – in agility class, at the park – might think that he’s a bundle of energy, but trust me:  at home, he’s a bundle of relaxation.  I’ve worked from home for several years now, and my dogs know that most hours of their day are not spent in activity.  And none of them are in their puppy years anymore, so they are Masters of Chill.

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But if Rowley isn’t a crazy wild puppy or a hyperactive adult dog, he certainly is a dog who’s used to regular exercise, and more than just a walk around the block on a leash.  He’s done agility since the day I got him, when he was not even a year old; he goes to two agility classes every week, and sometimes we trial.  With my other dogs, he goes to the nature preserve about four times a week, where we spend about an hour on the hiking trails and he’s off-leash to explore as he will.  We do walk around the neighborhood on leash walks, but even on leash, he espouses the manifest “FURTHUR”, like the Pranksters’ bus.  Stop to smell the flowers?  Bah!  “I, a Border Collie, am charged with finding you MORE FLOWERS and they are OUT THERE, so LET’S GO!” – that’s Rowley’s view of things.

So even though crating isn’t going to happen, what does ‘keep him quiet’ mean for this dog?!

Well, in the week after his Immiticide shot, he seemed a little less energetic than usual.  I put that down to having had a big shot of arsenic compound, and his body needing some recovery time.  So taking it easy was pretty simple for that short time, and he did 10-minute on-leash walks a couple of times a day and not much else.  But after that, he returned to his normal demeanor fairly rapidly.  I needed to get him more exercise while still not letting him run around; I also needed to return the other dogs to something like their normal routine.  So I split the group into two and I took Alex and Dee for a longer, brisk walk, and after that I took Rowley and Beau for a shorter walk.  Alex objected to this, and on listening to his logic, Dee objected also.  The two of them were fine with the Alex & Dee walk but they went bark-nuts when left behind for the Rowley & Beau walk.  This led to the creation of the Bark Room.

My house was built in the late 1860s.  It’s small and it’s got a lot of windows.  I like it!  It’s also got a full, unfinished cellar, which holds my washer and dryer and all my dog crates and a bunch of other stuff typically found in basements.  The floor is concrete and has drains.  There are big soapstone laundry tubs that are great for washing dogs.  The windows are 5’ above the floor, and half the cellar is below ground level – pretty standard for a house of this age.  And the walls, my poured concrete foundation, are more than a foot thick.  Aha!  So I set up some lawn furniture, dusted off several of the crates and moved them out into the main basement area, and put a couple of Coolaroo dog cots there, along with a water bowl and a radio set to a classical music station.  And hey presto:  it is now The Bark Room!  And this is the routine now:  Alex & Dee walk takes place; Rowley and Beau stay home with kibble toys.  Return from A&D walk, all dogs and I have breakfast, I do a few work chores.  Then the Rowley & Beau walk takes place; Alex and Dee stay home with kibble toys in the Bark Room.

This is working wonderfully.  Since it’s been less than a week of doing this, Alex is not entirely on board and will bark his objection to being left behind, but wow, you can barely hear anything from the Bark Room!  And he’s got all the creature comforts he needs to survive 20 minutes of abandonment.  I don’t think PETA is going to consider his complaint, which he assures me he will be filing.  (There is no mail service from the Bark Room, but I won’t mention that to him yet.)  And it’s a good thing to have my crates more accessible and ready for use:  I’ve always kept them set up in case I need them in an emergency, but cleaning them out and having the dogs actually use them before an emergency occurs is a good move.

Aside from the walks, Rowley now has almost normal yard activity privileges, with the exception of running, which he can’t do.  He can wander around in the yard, and in this nice weather we spend a lot of time out there, but he can’t race after a squirrel sighting or the like.  Always a good idea to be able to call your dog off in those situations, you might need that ability at some point …

This still isn’t the amount of activity he’s used to, but he’s handling it with good grace.  Once he gets the second Immiticide shot on June 15, he will have a few more weeks of ‘take it easy’ and then we can start returning to our normal routine – but I think there will be some changes in that routine.  I certainly look forward to getting the group back to the nature preserve, but I don’t think I will leash-walk four dogs at a time again, other than for our short before-bed stroll around the block.  I like the A&D walks and the R&B walks, and the Bark Room makes it possible for me to not worry that my neighbors are being regaled with the grievances of the dogs that stay at home.  That’s one change we’ll keep.

We’ve adjusted pretty well to what was a very unwelcome change.  Yesterday evening I stopped to chat with some of my neighbors who asked how Rowley is doing, and during that break in the walk, Rowley – as usual – stood facing away from us, his gaze on the middle distance, pulling on the leash, tail between his legs in ‘working’ demeanor, all his body language saying ‘come on, COME ON, COME ON ALREADY!’  My neighbor looked at him and said ‘Well, he seems to bearing the burden of taking it easy quite heroically.’  That’s my Rowley Dog.

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Insecure? Moi?! (Bark bark bark, mark mark mark)

Life with a bunch of dogs is many things:  mostly it’s rewarding and wonderful.  Sometimes it’s frustrating and stressful.  And sometimes it’s really interesting, which is what I call something when I have to take action, acquire new training tools, and make changes to improve a situation.

Like when a dog marks in the house.

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Rowley, my BC, is the Big Dog around here.  He’s 9+ years old, he works in dog sports, he is a benign and friendly figure to other dogs, and he’s very attached to me and I to him.  He’s a Border Collie, I mean to say!

Beau joined us when Rowley was 3 and Beau was 4.  Beau’s a Sheltie from rescue, a dog who lost his original home when his elderly owner went into assisted living.  Beau attached himself to me and even more, to Rowley, immediately.  Rowley is driving the bike, Beau’s in the sidecar.  Rowley is the earth, Beau is his moon.  It’s a relationship that has worked well.  Beau’s job, if you will, is to be the Adjunct Dog here.

Alex, my Lapphund, came along when Rowley was 4 and Alex was a young puppy.  Alex also has dog-sport work (nosework, for him) and Alex is not an Adjunct Dog.

Dee, who joined us when Rowley was 6 and Alex was 2, is a law unto herself, as befits the female in the (main) group.  I think Dee actually has a great deal of misplaced confidence in her own ability to handle anything and everything, which is why Dee will never be allowed off-leash — ‘Of COURSE I can find my way home from here, see you in a couple of days!’ she would say.  Um, no.

So with those dynamics, I was not happy at all when Alex started marking in the house.  He was neutered later than any of my rescue dogs were – although not as late as some past Shelties were; I remember several that got the big snip when they were seniors! – and for a while I put it down to that, and to the fact that there are some senior rescue Sheltie girls here who are intact.  But I was sick of the marking almost immediately, and finally I also got sick of making excuses for it, so I found myself in a Really Interesting situation.  And I set out to figure out what I could do, because I will not make my dog live in a belly band.

You know who marks?  Unconfident dogs mark!  They don’t mark from any ‘dominance’ thing (which is complete BS and always has been), and marking in the house is not necessarily about ‘territory’ (Alex never wants to take Rowley’s bed, but he has marked in it) – no, they are likely to try to bury their own scent (urine is the essence of their scent) in the scent of another dog or even the scent of the owner.  How interesting is that!  So Alex’s marking on Rowley’s bed was … that!  Alex marking on MY bed was … that!  Neither Rowley nor I were happy about it, so Steps Were Taken.

Let me say here that what I mean by an ‘unconfident’ or ‘insecure’ dog is NOT a timid, shy, spooky, anxious dog, although I suppose such a dog would also be unconfident/insecure.  I mean a dog who simply hasn’t mustered the emotional maturity, often through experience, to be at ease with his (or her) ability to handle things that come at him – not big stressful things like storms or traumas, but small things in daily life that resonate with them and won’t resonate with a more confident dog.  An unconfident dog, meeting a new person, will mark.  Not submissive urination, but marking.  Interesting, eh?  Keep that thought in mind, we’ll get back to it.

Alex didn’t become an unconfident dog through any temperamental deficiency; rather, I think he probably didn’t get a full measure of confidence because he grew up, like an under-shade tree, right next to the Big Tree that is Rowley.  And this is one of those things about having a group of dogs that just shapes itself and turns out the way it does, and you then work around it and with it for the good of all the dogs.  I usually do take all four dogs on outings together.  They’re mostly only separated for ‘dog school’:  Rowley goes to agility class, Alex to nosework class, Dee to manners/tricks class.  That’s their one on one time with me and away from the group.  But most of the rest of the time, it’s a group thing.

With Rowley now recovering from heartworm treatment, he has to take it easy and so the outings to the nature preserve are on hold; Rowley and Beau go for short leash walks in the neighborhood, and I take Alex and Dee on longer, faster leash walks.  This has been an interesting opportunity to look at Alex’s behavior through the lens of confidence.  This morning, for instance, I had Alex and Dee on a walk and we were about a mile into it, heading home, in the neighborhood, when man in a tracksuit passed about 20 feet from us and said ‘good morning’; I returned the greeting, and the walking man said ‘you enjoy your day now!’ and I made a comment about the weather, and we went on our separate ways.  And Alex immediately pulled on the leash to go over and mark on a bank of hostas.  No, I don’t think it was coincidence:  I think it was Alex reacting to a new, unknown person that suddenly appeared and then disappeared.  How about that!  Of course I didn’t let him mark the hostas – a big part of the New Order is that no dogs get to mark on walks, I discourage it and in fact do not allow it.  I stop for potty breaks, but marking?  Nope.  Dee doesn’t get to pick up crap from the street and eat it; Alex doesn’t get to lift his leg on anything.  Too bad, so sad.  So I brought Alex back to my side by saying ‘let’s go home for breakfast now!’ to him, and we continued on.

So here’s what I’ve done to remedy this situation that was not tolerable for me:

  1. No dogs in my bedroom during the day.   I *may* occasionally let Rowley nap in his bed in there, since he is recovering from heartworm treatment, but my bedroom is now off-limits to dogs, admission allowed only by me, gate is closed at all times.  At night, the dogs occupy their beds in my bedroom and I occupy mine.  During the day, they have the rest of the house.  This was not a hit with Alex, who – get this – liked to spend hours every day lying on my bed and barking out the bedroom window at my neighbors.  Seriously!  I allowed that!  Ack, what can I say, sometimes we just are distracted by life its own self.
  2. No marking on walks. Sniffing is fine, sniff away!  But don’t tell me you have to drag me over to that bank of day-lilies to sniff them; your nose works from outside of leg-lifting range.  Walks are now 2 dogs at a time, and walks are with a purpose, which is set by me; walks are on a schedule, which is set by me.  Think that sounds mean?  LOL!  I could spell the words ‘enriched life to the max’ in dollar bills on a billboard with all the money I have spent on activities, pastimes, and benefits for these dogs.  Walks with a purpose and a schedule are not the Bataan Death March, I assure you.
  3. Any evidence of unconfident behavior will be addressed with training routines. The way I used to do two minutes of obedience on the sidewalk with Miss Pip (miss her!) when she would act reactively on a walk, I will do a minute or two of obedience (pushups are nice for this, the sit-down-sit-down flow that keeps the dog moving and thinking) with the dog – usually Alex, but not always!
  4. There is a modified NILIF program in place that requires an offering of work or attention from the dog in order to get attention or benefits from me. I think that builds confidence, since I show appreciation for accomplishments then.

I am hopeful that this will benefit all the dogs, and in particular will benefit Alex.  When he failed to get his NW3 (Nosework) title recently, it was not because he gave a good effort but didn’t find all the hides – no, it was because on several occasions in the day-long trial, he played the fool.  He did his dive and roll behavior that elicits laughs from people nearby and gets him attention FOR NOTHING.  In short, he acted out his unconfidence.  In the Vehicle hide, the judge even wrote on our sheet (– we failed the element and Alex alerted on NO hides) that Alex sometimes didn’t even engage or search.  For a dog who has been working at Nosework for 4+ years, that’s not cool.  That’s a sign that he isn’t comfortable, he isn’t confident.  NW3 is hard, it’s really hard.  I want us to get a NW3 title, but Alex needs to be more mature in order for that to happen.  This ‘remedy for unconfidence’ program is one step in that direction.  Wish us luck!

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Goodbye, Posey.

On this hot, sunny Memorial Day 2018, Posey collapsed, and her life came to an end shortly thereafter.  I knew when I picked her up from her bed in the dog room that whatever it was, wasn’t good; and I was pretty sure, as I drove to the emergency vet clinic with her, that I would be returning home without her.

Posey, as I mentioned in another post, came to me with her sister Peekaboo in the summer of 2015.  They came from a hoarder in New York State who turned over some of her dogs to a NY Sheltie rescue; they were said to be littermates, and probably were.  Both girls were 12 years old in 2015, and the birth date given for them was July 25, 2003.  The veterinary hospital that examined Posey when the rescue took her in was pretty sure that Posey had mammary cancer:  at any rate, she had quite a few encapsulated tumors in her mammary chain.  She was not spayed, and apparently had been bred by her previous owner, we don’t know how many times.  So when I took her and Peeks in June 2015, I thought Posey was a short-timer, as cancer would end her life.

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And maybe it did, but her life didn’t end until May 28, 2018.  Between June 2015 and May 28, 2018, Posey had a good time here, and she became part of our household and family.  She was a friendly, easy-going dog who liked interacting with people and other dogs (in marked contrast to her sister, who is jumpy and anxious and downright paranoid!), and she liked her meals, her bed, and the back yard where she wandered around in the overgrown middle area and visited the pond (and fell in a few times, as recently as last week).  After a year or so here, she had surgery to clean her teeth and remove quite a few that were broken or infected, and after that she seemed to feel much better and more alert in general.  She and Peeks had the ‘dog room’ to themselves most of the time:  the second bedroom in my 2-bedroom house is impossibly small for a bedroom, but nicely sized to hold a crate for Peeks, my bookshelves and cedar chest, and some dog beds for the Girls.  The dog room is right off the living room, so the Girls were able to keep an eye on things without being underfoot.

For the last few days Posey had been much slower than usual.  I thought she wasn’t feeling great, but she was almost 15 years old, and it’s been 95 degrees here – none of my dogs want to do much except come back inside and nap in the a/c.  This morning Peeks and Posey had their breakfast, as usual, in the dog room, and went outside to visit their favorite spots in the yard.  Posey finished off with a 10-minute sun-bath on the deck; it was about 9 a.m. so not broiling hot yet, but getting there.  When she came back inside, she had a hard time walking back through the house to the dog room, and when she made it there, she stood with her head down, and seemed really out of it.  I didn’t like that look, but it was even worse when she managed to lie down:  she pretty much collapsed, and couldn’t even raise her head.  She also had that fixed, blank look that I’ve seen on dogs in extreme conditions.  When I scooped her up to carry her out to the car, she was a dead weight and unresponsive.

At the e-vet, which was busy at 9.30 on this holiday morning, I explained to the intake tech that I had a senior Sheltie who might be in end-of-life; they immediately took Posey back into an exam room while they left me to fill out paperwork.  Then they came and got me, and a very nice vet asked me if I was ruling out treatment of Posey.  “Because she’s a very sick dog,” the vet said, “She’s shocky, tachycardic, she will need a lot of treatment and I’m not sure what the outcome will be.”  I explained Posey’s history and said that she would, if she were a human, have a DNR order on her.  The vet understood.  She started the EOL process and Posey was brought in to the exam room so I could spend some final time with her.  She was still out of it, and her breathing was very fast and shallow.  I have seen enough dogs before death that I knew the look when I saw it on Posey.  After maybe a quarter of an hour, the vet came back in and asked if I wanted to stay with Posey during the euthanasia; I did, and it was very peaceful.  She was so ready to go … she had burned through her reserve tank and like so many senior Shelties I’ve known, she was running on sheer will and heart at the end.  I’m happy that she’s done with the body that was so worn-out.  I like to think that my other Shelties, and Mikey my Lappy, are welcoming her to whatever dimension is on the other side of the door from this one.

If I had to guess, my guess would be that Posey did have cancer, and that it was quiet until recently but ultimately fatal.  If not cancer, it might have been organ failure.  At any rate, it was Posey’s time, and I’m glad I was there to make sure she was comfortable at the end.

Goodbye, Posey.  You were a good dog, and you will be missed.

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Here are the Merle Girls last week, heading back to the house after a stroll in the yard.  Posey is in front of Peeks.

Some thoughts on rabies vaccinations.

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Two things brought the topic of rabies vaccinations for dogs – and for people – to my mind recently: one was the fact that Rowley, being heartworm positive, has received from our county Department of Public Health a medical exemption from the requirement for any more rabies vaccinations; the other was coming across a reference, for the first time in years, to an article by a holistic vet, Dr. John Fudens, titled “The Big Scam: Rabies Vaccination.” This piece, which I am not going to link here, was posted in many forums and on many websites when Fudens authored it in 2008. It was reprinted in Dogs Naturally Magazine, and in the Whole Dog Journal. It’s still referenced today. Read now, it seems almost quaint, but it seems also dangerous.

Fudens starts out by asserting that “There are two basic forms of law. One is the legal Constitutional and Common law that this country was founded on, and the other is “colorable” law passed by Administrative agencies/bureaucrats who have been given so called authority to pass laws. Black’s Law Dictionary 5th Edition defines colorable law as “That which is in appearance only, and not in reality, what purports to be, hence counterfeit, feigned, having the appearance of truth.” Yes, I study the law, am a paralegal, and have an extensive law library.

He goes on from there, confident that readers who oppose the requirement for repeated rabies vaccinations won’t pick up on the fact that that paragraph is complete gibberish.

Know what administrative law is? It’s the body of rules, orders, and decisions issued by administrative agencies, such as the federal Securities and Exchange Commission or a state’s public utilities commission.  Laws requiring rabies vaccinations are passed by state legislatures or by county boards in the US, not voted on in the US Congress. This doesn’t make them any less binding, or any less enforceable. Next time a cop pulls you over for speeding, try telling him that Congress didn’t pass that law so he can’t ticket you under that law. It’ll give him a good laugh before he hands you the ticket. Fudens puts the legal requirements for rabies vaccinations over to one side and then for good measure, he pulls out a definition of ‘colorable law’ that has nothing to do with anything and adds it to that side. We’re left with the notion that somehow, laws that require rabies vaccinations are not ‘real’ laws and may even be un-Constitutional. Nice! Of course he has “an extensive law library”!

Then he says: “So any and all mandatory rabies vaccination programs are colorable law, in that they have been passed and mandated upon the pet owning public by certain vested interest groups. Who are these groups? First and foremost are veterinarians, in general, and veterinarian medical organizations. Second are the local animal control personnel, bureaucrats and politicians. What are their reasons? GREED, POWER AND CONTROL. Both these large powerful interest groups stand to benefit greatly by having rabies mandated by colorable law.”

Oh boy. Here’s the part that should set you off, I guess: bureaucrats and politicians are causing harm to your dogs (as he goes on to assure us) simply for greed, power, and control – but all capitalized (emphasis his, not mine). Cue the outrage! But don’t bother to look at the article to see if anywhere, even once, he mentions these things, because he doesn’t:

  1. Rabies is a fatal disease. There is no treatment for it, there is no cure for it. Your dog gets rabies, your dog is done like dinner, dead as the proverbial doornail. YOU get rabies, you are done like dinner, dead as the proverbial doornail. Curtains. I don’t know about you, but I tend to have some respect for diseases that have no cure and no treatment and result in death.
  2. Rabies can jump species. It can be transmitted by a rabid animal to an animal of another species, or to a human being. Once it’s transmitted, see #1.

For those reasons, which IMO are pretty simple to understand, rabies is a public health issue. While greed may impel many bureaucrats, politicians, and even veterinarians, the desire to not have rabies spreading through any populations, either animal or human, generally trumps that greed. There are laws in place in all 50 states that require vaccinations against rabies because, should anyone contract rabies, see #1 and #2 above.

Fudens doesn’t address that. Instead, he blusters that “Veterinarians receive a large percentage of both their gross income and profit from vaccines given in the office. On average vaccines cost 60 to 95 cents per dose and are charged to the client at $15 to $25 per injection and substantially more in the large cities. Therefore, if veterinarians lobby to have a colorable law passed to give rabies vaccine every year that enhances their financial picture.

Now, there’s where it sounds almost quaint. First of all, any veterinarian who relies solely or even in large part on rabies vaccinations for income is going to be a veterinarian who has a pretty low standard of living. Thanks in large part to Dr. Jean Dodds and the Rabies Challenge Fund (– about which, more later), 3-year rabies vaccines are now acceptable in all fifty states in the US. Second, many people have access to rabies vaccinations at lower costs than in their veterinary clinics: my county provides a mobile vaccination and microchip clinic every summer, and when Dee was due for a rabies vaccine, I took her to the county mobile clinic and paid $21 for the 3-year rabies shot she received. And finally, expecting to pay little more than what a vaccine cost, to receive it in a veterinary clinic, is just dumb. How is that different from confronting the manager of your favorite burger joint and telling him (or her) that you KNOW the ingredients for your double bacon cheeseburger and large fries cost no more than $3.85, and the bill they handed you for $10.50 is simply outrageous! The manager will be able to tell immediately that you are a clueless nitwit who knows nothing about how a business is run. So will the owner of your veterinary clinic when you protest that a rabies vaccination should not be marked up simply because the clinic has salaries and benefits to pay, utility bills and insurance premiums to meet.

The rest of Fudens’s article is equally silly, but this paragraph takes my breath away: “Is there rabies in this Country? You bet. Are there areas of this Country that have rabies in their wildlife population and do some dogs/cats become infected? You bet. But let’s be realistic. Rabies has been on this earth long before man walked here and will be here long after we are gone. The only way to get rid of rabies is to remove mankind and the upper animals susceptible to the virus. Then maybe the virus will die off. It is a self limiting disease in the wild as it is fatal. So the virus has an extremely hard time spreading far and wide.

0310-news_rabies_vaccine

Check me on this, but I think the reason the virus has had “an extremely hard time spreading far and wide” in the canine world is because of vaccinations. That passage ought to be a reason to provide vaccinations wherever we can; instead, it reads as if the author is saying “Let’s not bother to immunize, let’s not stop the spread of a fatal, untreatable disease with a vaccine that IS ENTIRELY EFFECTIVE, let’s just take the long view and say ‘Too bad about Fido and Fluffy, but rabies has been on this earth long before man walked here.’” Wow. Has this guy actually read the Veterinarian’s Oath that he took?

“Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.”

Not seeing anything in there about a laissez-faire attitude towards rabies. And it probably wouldn’t promote public health to go with Fudens’s suggestion that we “educate the pet owner to the risks and dangers and let them decide whether the immune system damage from rabies vaccination is greater or lesser than contracting the disease.” Good grief.

As I said, this article was silly in 2008 and it’s more silly today. Not the concept and practice of vaccination against rabies: that’s not silly at all. But the notion that because the requirement was for unwarrantedly frequent vaccinations, we should eschew vaccinations altogether – that’s silly.

The real work here has been done, of course, by Dr. Jean Dodds. I encourage everyone reading this to support The Rabies Challenge Fund in any way you can, and they do accept donations.

https://www.rabieschallengefund.org/

Thanks to the work of the Fund and others, 18 of 50 states now offer medical exemptions for dogs whose health would be compromised by further rabies vaccinations.  A list of those states is here.  If your state doesn’t offer a medical exemption, perhaps there is a campaign to get one that you could support.

https://www.rabieschallengefund.org/states-with-medical-exemptions

Thanks to the work of the Fund, we probably WILL have a rabies vaccine, in the years to come, that has a 7-year Duration of Immunity study behind it. This will mean that many dogs can receive no more than three rabies vaccinations in their lifetimes, and be protected from a fatal and untreatable disease. The vaccine companies have dropped the ball on this because frankly, where’s their incentive to expand the DOI studies for rabies vaccines? Costs money, takes time, they consider the subject closed and the status quo sufficient. Consider, though, that veterinary workers are required to be immunized against rabies, since they may come into contact with the disease in their work; and they are not required to renew those vaccinations annually, or every three years. They can submit blood for titers, and those titers will be evaluated by The Rabies Lab at Kansas State and come back with either ‘protective’ or ‘not protective’ assessments. The veterinary worker would renew his or her vaccination only when titers were deemed ‘not protective’ in that test. So if titers are already being accepted as adequate substitutes for vaccines for humans, they can and should be accepted as adequate substitutes for vaccines for dogs. We need to push for that, and to support The Rabies Challenge Fund. The requirements of 20 years ago that mandated annual rabies vaccinations are gone now, because of the public attention paid to this issue and because of the work by committed pet owners and members of the veterinary community. No thanks to Dr. John Fudens, none at all.

 

Holistic? Hmmmmm …

When Sander lived for seven years with a malignant oral tumor that the vets thought would kill him in less than seven months, and when his care and health support during those seven years consisted entirely of alternative, non-traditional methods and relied heavily on nutrition and nutritional supplements, it seemed that I had become ‘holistic’ in my orientation and practices for my dogs. I stopped giving annual (or any) vaccinations, I went to a mostly raw diet, and for the many years that I did not use chemical heartworm preventive, but relied on an herbal protocol, I gave a cursory nod to the possibility of a positive heartworm diagnosis with the mention of ‘holistic’ treatments for heartworm. I wouldn’t have to subject my dog(s) to those awful Immiticide shots, I thought; I could use the ‘slow-kill’ or herbal treatments if it were ever necessary.

Then it became necessary, and I looked closely at those protocols, and I rejected them as ineffective, and I realized that I’m about as holistic as a bag of Jay’s potato chips. Wait, how’d that happen?

Western medicine, as we know, is terrifically good at dealing with acute illness and injury, and terrifically bad at dealing with chronic illness. In fact, Western medicine often causes chronic illness in its over-enthusiastic approach to preventing acute illnesses. This is true for dogs as well as for humans. When I was researching Sander’s cancer treatment, twenty years ago, there was a growing awareness of this fact in the online communities of dog owners that I visited. People were declaring that annual vaccinations were not only unnecessary but actually harmful; that dog food was not the greasy stuff found in bags put out by Colgate-Palmolive and Proctor & Gamble; that spaying/neutering a dog at six months of age often had some pretty adverse consequences later on; and that maybe smothering one’s dog in pesticide powder wasn’t the best way to deter fleas and ticks and the consequences of those pests. The Wellpet List was flourishing and information was being exchanged in the many online dog communities that I came across, and addressing a dog’s ailments and conditions through a ‘holistic’ approach meant that one would consider the whole dog, and would take into account every aspect of the dog’s health and care in determining how best to cure an illness or solve a problem. It meant that an owner wouldn’t just treat the symptoms, as conventional veterinary medicine did; and an owner certainly wouldn’t just suppress the symptoms and call that a cure.

But I also saw the term ‘holistic’ become pretty loaded, and often seemed to be a judgement on the dog owner. I still considered myself to be of the holistic persuasion, but IMO there really ought to be a distinction made between ‘holistic’ and ‘alternative.’ When Marina Zacharias set up a protocol to treat Sander’s cancer, in 1998, I spent hours on the internet reading about every substance she included in her plan. Some of them, like Cantron, I dismissed as being simply preposterous, and if you do a search for Cantron today, you will find articles like the one linked below that explain why. I never told Marina, but I never gave Cantron to Sander. (As I said, Marina and I were not on the same page 100% of the time, but I wasn’t going to throw out her entire protocol because of a few items.) https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/a-tale-of-false-hope-for-cancer/

Other supplements, such as organic germanium, made more sense to me: germanium is a naturally occurring element found in foods such as shiitake mushrooms and garlic. It acts as an antioxidant, neutralizing free radicals that can damage DNA and cells. I found references to a study in Japan in which germanium was shown to inhibit replication in some cancer cells. This is a substance that can help my dog, I thought, and I gave Sander organic germanium every day for seven years. I also gave him curcuma, because it had been shown to help fight infections and some cancers, and unlike Cantron, had been in use for thousands of years in various cultures. I know that’s not the same as scientific studies, but it does carry some weight – nobody is going to be using the Cantron concoction a thousand years from now, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has more to offer than we in the West have yet comprehended.

So holistic remedies and treatments were all over the place, ranging from absurd (–remember the ‘sharks don’t get cancer’ shtick?) to definitely helpful (–modified citrus pectin may, in fact, inhibit metastasis of certain cancers). What they all had in common, twenty years ago, was that they were shunned by the conventional veterinary community, which led to the appearance of the holistic veterinarian. This was someone who would offer treatments beyond annual vaccinations and a suppressive drug for every ailment, we were told; this was someone who would consider canine health as more than a collection of symptoms. Sounded great, sign me up!

Unfortunately, I found as much Cantron as Curcuma in this new modality.

Holistic veterinary medicine says that a healthy animal is impervious to disease. Yeah, it really says that. Quite a claim, eh? While it’s true that a good immune system is an excellent defense against all kinds of things, including infection, it’s also true that simply being in good health is not going to keep a dog from ever becoming ill or being the target of pests. Take the whole issue of being attractive to fleas, for example. That was one of the first claims I heard: a healthy dog won’t get fleas. Fleas prefer unhealthy, weaker animals. People would say, virtuously, that their raw-fed, unvaccinated, uber-healthy dogs never had a single flea! Never! Now, it is true – and I’ve seen it in my own household – that if a weaker, less healthy dog is living in the same house as a stronger, very healthy dog, the weaker dog will be more attractive to fleas. But that doesn’t mean that the fleas make a U-turn at the healthy dog and refuse to bite that dog. The healthier dog will generally not have a flea infestation, but the healthier dog is not immune to fleas and flea-bites. It’s absurd to say otherwise. If you live in an area where fleas are not common, good for you! I don’t, and for years, I felt like it was some sort of moral failing on my part when I saw a flea or two on one of my dogs, when I was doing everything I could to promote excellent health in those dogs. I really fell for the holistic line there. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that the holistic line so often ended in a baited hook, and I was expected to part with money to rectify my moral failing and elevate my dog to TRUE glowing health – money to a holistic vet, or money for a particular ‘remedy’ or supplement. There was always, always something to buy. In this respect it differed not at all from conventional veterinary medicine.

The holistic vets I knew were more of the same. I took Sander to a holistic vet in 1999; she now is quite famous in dog circles and a major presence on a website with a holistic orientation. You can buy her instructions on natural feeding for more than $100. Back then, she had never fed raw food, and told me that Abady feeds (preserved with ethoxyquin) were fine for Sander; she had never treated canine cancer with anything but the usual surgery/radiation/ chemo; and she encouraged me to find a vet who would do cryosurgery on Sander’s oral tumor and shrink it. I got absolutely nothing out of my visits to her, but each visit was quite pricey. And no, cryosurgery wasn’t in our plans. Sander couldn’t have any kind of surgery, the procedure itself would probably have overwhelmed his liver and caused his death sooner rather than later. The very suggestion was, well, silly.

Several years later, I took Sander to another holistic vet, driving to Wisconsin for this appointment. I brought with me the list of supplements that Marina Zacharias had Sander taking, and a description of his raw/natural diet. The holistic vet was impressed, and had nothing to add. Apparently he felt that he should give me something, though, so he told me I must never be in a bad mood around my cancer dog. Yikes. I was actually embarrassed for the guy – that’s holistic veterinary medicine? Okay, thanks, bye.

Today I was looking at the website of a holistic vet who claims that a ‘vital animal’ won’t get heartworms. As you can imagine, now that I’m treating heartworm in my beloved Border Collie, this touched a nerve in me. Apparently, Rowley is not a ‘vital animal’, in spite of being raw-fed, having no vaccines since 7 months of age, and living in a pesticide-free environment, where he gets plenty of outdoor exercise, regular chiropractic adjustments, and lots of mental stimulation, too. Go figure. I don’t know what a ‘vital animal’ is and I probably couldn’t comprehend it if I were to be told.

This vet has a ‘drug-free heartworm prevention program that works’, his site says. On the webpage, there are three separate invitations to purchase that program, and those invitations dominate the page. The cheapest version of the ‘drug-free heartworm prevention program that works’ costs $47 for the PDF document that details the program. This rubs me the wrong way, bigly. There are countless websites and internet boards that offer information about what tick repellents work for some dog owners; what the most effective herbal sprays are that keep mosquitoes away; and similar things. Dog owners discuss things like black walnut hull extract, hawthorne, CoQ10, and even wormwood as they search for alternatives to chemical heartworm preventives. This vet won’t utter a peep unless you send him money. How familiar. And by the way, I’ll bet anyone $47 that his drug-free prevention program consists of heartworm nosodes and Paratox.

Here’s the thing: if you want to stop feeding processed crap-in-a-bag to your dog, and if you want to stop bombarding your dog with unnecessary vaccinations, and if you want to rely more on natural (herbal or floral) pest repellents than on Monsanto’s latest – just do it! You don’t have to exchange one dependency for another! Most of good health consists in NOT doing things to your dog — you don’t need to add fourteen supplements to the food, you don’t need a cabinet full of remedies – don’t over-think it! When I started feeding a raw diet, I put together meals from a very simple recipe I found: one-half protein, one-quarter cooked grains, one-quarter pureed vegetables. I made sure the calcium/phosphorus ratio was okay, I added some fish oil, and that was it. After a few months, I sent my diet to someone (on the Wellpet list) who had some chops in canine nutrition, and she tweaked it for me; I spent several weeks putting it all on an Excel spreadsheet and putting in nutrient values from the USDA Nutrient Database website. It was worth the time I spent on it: 19 years later, I’m still feeding pretty much that same diet. My dogs, in those 19 years, have lived much longer than my first Sheltie did, and I do think their nutrition is the big reason for that.

When I quit jabbing vaccine needles into my dogs, I didn’t titer them annually – I parsed the whole subject of titers, immunity, and what diseases could prove fatal, and I made my choices accordingly. Until rabies titers are accepted by health departments in lieu of vaccinations, I won’t titer any of my dogs for anything. Not saying anyone else should or shouldn’t, I’m just saying that establishing good health in our dogs is not complicated and does not require a special veterinarian to guide anyone through it or explain things to you at $225 an hour.

banjo

The vet who sees my dogs now isn’t particularly holistic, and his first choice of treatment is sometimes one that I won’t use. He’s suggested Science Diet prescription foods a few times, and I’ve reminded him that I won’t feed that. It doesn’t affect our vet/client relationship, or if it does, we’re polite enough to overlook it. When Banjo, one of my senior rescue Shelties, collapsed and died a few years ago, my vet was worried that the cause might have been leptospirosis – I will never give any dog a lepto vaccine, for many reasons – and he gave my other dogs antibiotics for ten days while we sent a blood sample to the lab for a lepto titer on Banjo, after his death. I gave the antibiotics; I was certain that Banjo did not have lepto, and the titer test confirmed my certainty. I don’t fault the vet for having that concern, and I think he was thinking logically. (I think Banjo died from an undetected cancer that was already well-established when the rescue pulled him from the shelter in New York.) But what I know my vet will never do is to refuse to use antibiotics on a bite wound on one of my dogs, smear on some calendula ointment, and send the dog home so that three days later, the wound is suppurating and the dog has a heart murmur and a fever of 103. My vet will stick the dog with a needle full of antibiotics and send oral antibiotics home with me, if necessary. That calendula thing? A holistic vet did that to my Sheltie Sundance.

Yep, I’m about as holistic as a bag of Jay’s potato chips. Mmmmmm, potato chips!

chips

 

 

The Worms Crawl In, the Worms Crawl Out …

row row.jpg

In the course of reading up on heartworm and heartworm treatment, which I did when the test result was positive in mid-April, I considered the ‘alternative’ methods of treatment, and it took me remarkably little time to reject them. First I looked at Paratox, which is a homeopathic preparation that is given in conjunction with heartworm nosodes; I read about claims of successful treatment of heartworm-positive dogs with it, but I was skeptical. I don’t believe that homeopathy is anything other than a placebo effect, and sometimes not even that. I’ve never had success with homeopathic remedies given to my dogs for anything, and I wasn’t going to go into a life-or-death situation like this one and pin my hopes on homeopathy.

Next I read about the ‘slow kill’ method, which consists of giving ivermectin (Heartgard) monthly to kill microfilarae and at the same time, just waiting for the adult worms present to die over time. This boggled my mind. If I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown over one month of living with worms in my dog’s heart, how could I do that for several YEARS? And the more time the worms live in the dog’s body, the more damage they do, to the heart and the lungs and other organs. No, slow-kill wasn’t an option. The more I read about it, too, the more I found reports of slow-kill methods taking as long as five years to eradicate all the worms – five years before my dog would be heartworm negative? Seriously? No.

So I ended up back where I started: at the American Heartworm Society protocol, which we followed and are following, step by step.

False positives do happen, so the first step was to verify the test result. The same blood sample that had produced the positive on the IDEXX antigen test was run through a microfilarae test, to see if there were any immature heartworms in his blood: the antigen test had indicated the presence of the hormone of adult female heartworm(s). If the microfilarae test were to show immature worms, the positive result would be confirmed. But it didn’t. No microfilarae in Rowley’s sample. “Yay, it’s a false positive!” I said hopefully to our vet; he had already drawn another blood sample from Rowley and was running it through another antigen test even as I spoke. This one also came back positive, dashing my hope of a false positive on the original test.

So we had adult heartworms but no immature heartworms. That’s good! (Well, ‘good’ may be overstating it … how about just ‘less awful.’) The next step was a physical exam to see if any irregularities were noted in Rowley’s heart sounds, and a chest x-ray to see how his lungs looked; we also did bloodwork to make sure everything was in order. Without microfilarae we hoped for good results from both those things, and we got them. He showed no signs of his heart or lungs being compromised – yet – by the worms. His bloodwork was excellent. Rowley’s was a Stage One infection, and we could have every expectation of an entirely successful treatment. Okay, so let’s kill the bleeping things! — Not so fast. A step in the treatment of heartworm, added a few years ago, is to administer doxycycline for one month before the Immiticide treatment, in order to destroy the wolbachia bacteria that accompany the heartworms and facilitate their survival in the dog’s body. I read that antibiotic therapy directed against Wolbachia leads to decreases in all stages of immature heartworms and might decrease numbers of adult heartworms as well. And because the presence of wolbachia often contributes to a significant, and often dangerous, inflammatory response seen in some dogs, treating with doxycycline can decrease complications associated with heartworm disease both pre- and post-treatment. It wasn’t a step we would skip, so Rowley started taking 10 mg of Doxy per pound of body weight per day. Even though I offset this whopping dose with daily probiotics and saccharomyces boulardii, by week two I was having to trick him to get the Doxy into him – it’s not a pleasant substance. In week four he stopped eating kefir, which was one of my most frequent hiding places for the antibiotic, and it’s only now, several weeks later, that he’ll accept kefir in his food dish again. And in addition to the doxycycline, Rowley started on a monthly course of Heartgard, to kill any microfilarae that might find their way into his body.

That was a really long month. There were worms living in my dog’s heart, and every single day I was conscious of that fact. I had started to reduce his exercise, pulling him from his twice-weekly agility classes and substituting leash walks for some of our trips to the nature preserve where he always bounded about off-leash. Neither of us liked the change to our routine, and I wanted those worms DEAD. I was actually relieved when the day came for his first shot of Immiticide. Of course, my relief alternated with a terror that the Immiticide shot would kill him, but what options did we have? To anyone who has never gone through the process of heartworm treatment in one of your dogs, I can say only: you never want to repeat it. You don’t even want to be doing it at all!

I dropped Rowley at our vet clinic in the morning and returned to collect him late that afternoon. He received the shot at about 9 a.m. and our vet called to tell me that all had gone well, there had been no problems and indeed, Rowley had been very cooperative. This is pretty amazing because that shot’s a nasty one: it’s a deep IM injection given in the lumbar (back) muscles. It’s a lovely compound that features arsenic, and it’s a carcinogen. Wow, could this get any better?! When I picked up my dog that evening, he had a square shaved patch on his back at the injection site. It looked like someone had stuck a Post-It on him. He’d been given Benadryl before the shot and generic Rimadyl after, and he had some more generic Rimadyl to take home, since we assumed his back would be sore. It probably was – and boy, was he tired! If I know Rowley, and I do, he didn’t sleep in the kennel at the clinic at all. And judging by the ten-minute leg-lift in the back yard at home, he didn’t relieve himself there at all either. There’s no place like home! He went right to his bed and zonked out. An hour or so later, he showed up in the kitchen when I was putting the dogs’ dinner together; he ate every bite – no doxycycline in it for a change! – and went out again to relieve himself and then went back to bed.

The relief I felt that a killing blow had been struck against the worms was enormous, and it was magnified by the fact that Rowley seemed to have handled the whole thing remarkably well. Whew! And in a perversely positive note, I requested and received an exemption from the requirement for any more rabies vaccinations for Rowley. Illinois is one of many states that now allows medical exemptions from rabies vax requirements if a veterinarian will state in writing that the administration of that vaccine would be harmful to the health of the dog. I felt, quite reasonably, that if I had to have my dog injected with a carcinogen in order to kill his heartworms, I sure shouldn’t have to have him injected later with a rabies vaccine that might have the effect of dropping a lit match into a pool of gasoline. So the request was made and granted, a short time later, by the County Department of Public Health.

 

Then came the lesser challenge of the treatment: keeping him quiet. More about that in the next post.