The Work That Dogs Are

The definition of ‘work’ is:  ‘activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.’

The very best kinds of work, of course, are activities that you would do as often as you could, and would do without compensation because the activities themselves are compensation.  The worst kinds of work are the Sisyphean rolling of a boulder up a hill:  tedious, onerous, and exhausting, and something you would avoid at all costs.

So ‘work’ can be any number of things in our lives.  Work most certainly is energy:  it requires energy, and in the actualization of it, it produces energy in return.  Any time I’ve read a biography of a famous artist or inventor, that aspect has been prominent:  the energy they derived from their activity in the medium they loved was a central feature of their lives.

Dogs are work.

This thought occurred to me recently as I was talking to a friend who was considering adding a second dog to her household.  I realized that when I hear that, I immediately think of the work that will be involved, and the reward that will be a result of that work.  Sometimes the work is so enjoyable as to render the effort negligible:  in an imaginary world where I did not already have six dogs, if you told me tomorrow that you were giving me a well-bred Sheltie puppy to raise and keep, I would not care one bit about the effort involved in getting that puppy through the less-enjoyable puppy stages like potty-training, safeguarding my house from puppy teeth, and the like, because I would have so much fun and get so much enjoyment from the companionship of the Sheltie puppy and the processes by which it learned all the things that would enrich its life.  I know quite a few people who, when they acquired a dog, were over the moon happy about it and couldn’t wait to get to the work that would allow them to enjoy dog sports or the like with that dog.  Work?  No, fun!

But that’s not to say that everyone would greet such an offer with enthusiasm, and there’s where things go badly wrong in too many dog-human relationships, I think.

My friend who was considering adding a second dog to her household decided against it, and for very good reasons.  Her resident dog is a rescued Dachshund mix, and to say that the dog, M., can be a tough customer is putting it politely.  M has some baggage:  reactivity, anxiety, lack of confidence.  But in her current home with my friend and her husband, M is very happy and as relaxed as she can be.  Her angst doesn’t collide with the angst of any other dog, in the normal course of her day.  Yes, meetings between her and other dogs have to be managed, and they are.  But her living space isn’t shared with another dog, and at the age she is (estimated to be 12), she would not welcome that sharing.  She particularly wouldn’t welcome a 2-year old Pittie, which is the dog that captured my friend’s fancy in a rescue group that posted her for adoption.  The dynamic between those two would almost certainly be – well, let’s just say ‘not good’ and let it go at that.  Two female dogs in the same household will generally produce more expressions of animosity than will a female and male dog, or two male dogs.  I don’t know the reasons for this, and I’m sure there are as many theories as there are voices on the internet, but I do know that it’s been proven time and again in my experience.  And with the unwillingness, in general, of a female to back down from a confrontation – and in particular, the ‘bring it!’ attitude that Dachshunds and Pits almost always have – my friend looked into the future and saw a lot of work she didn’t want to do.  So very wisely, she decided to stay a one-dog household for a while.

It’s not that my friend couldn’t have managed the household to the benefit of both dogs – of course she could have.  She’s owned dogs for more than 25 years.  She knows training, and she knows where to find resources when she needs them.  But for this pair of dogs, she didn’t relish the work that would be required.  The opposite of me and the imaginary Sheltie puppy.

Another instance of this is ongoing in my neighborhood:  a couple in their 50s who live around the corner from me have had dogs for many years.  I recall a Weim, and a Westie, and I think there were one or two others.  They now have a young, beautiful, female Pit that their daughter gave them when the dog was a puppy.  Are there alarm bells going off as you read that?  There ought to be.  Any time someone GIVES a dog to someone else, it’s virtually guaranteed that the person receiving the dog has expressed no interest in or willingness to undertake the work that is involved.  And this couple has done precisely nothing to train this dog.  They also can’t contain the dog, which is how this has become my problem.

The husband and wife like to sit on their screened-in front porch, on pleasant afternoons and evenings, with their dog keeping them company.  I walk my four dogs, on leash, up and down that block.  In years past, we would be greeted by the barks of the Weim or the Westie, and I would call a greeting to the owners.  With the energetic young Pit in residence, we are now greeted by – HER.  She bursts out of the front porch, tearing the latch from the doorframe, and arrives in the midst of my group of dogs with a bang.  Literally.  In baseball terms, her exit velocity is about 20 mph, which has a major impact on my dogs.  She’s not aggressive, but she’s way, way over threshold and so wound up that the effect is almost the same.  In particular, her behavior to my own bitch, Dee, scares the crap out of me.  Dee doesn’t do well with other females and if she and this Pit ever got into it, Dee would probably get killed.

So I wasn’t thrilled when this first happened, earlier this year.  And having worked on the trading floors at the CBOT for 20+ years, I have pretty good lung power behind my shouts.  That always gets one of the Pit’s owners on the scene; but even then, they can’t corral their dog.  They have no recall on her.  They never walk her, so when she finds herself free from the yard and porch, she’s not anxious to be re-incarcerated.  This makes things rather tense for me and my dogs, as you can imagine.  The second time it happened, the woman who owns the dog apologized to me, nearly in tears; she said that her husband had nixed the idea of training classes as ‘unnecessary’, but the dog is now too big for the woman to control (she’s probably 65 pounds or so), and she is having all kinds of problems with the dog.  I gave her the name of an excellent trainer who makes house calls, since I didn’t think the owners would be able right off to take the dog to group classes.  When they called the trainer and signed up for four home-visit lessons, I was encouraged.

I was overly optimistic.  They completed two lessons, put the remaining two on hold, and appeared to have changed nothing about the way they keep the dog:  she’s allowed out in her yard to chase squirrels, which gets her all amped up, and allowed to remain out there on her own to bark endlessly.  Not a good sign.  Two weeks ago she again burst out of the front porch and bombed into my group of dogs, and this time I really let loose, not only with volume but with profanity.  In my view, the owners are damn lucky I don’t call the police on them.  I don’t care to be told by the husband that the Pit ‘isn’t going to hurt’ my dogs, and I mentioned that to him.  He finally got the dog by her collar and dragged her back into the house.  Two days later he contacted the trainer and canceled the two remaining lessons, saying that her methods “don’t work.”  (Her methods, for the record, are a mix of Sophia Yin, Susan Garrett, and Sue Ailsby, with Karen Pryor’s ‘300 peck’ method of increasing duration/distance thrown in.  They work.)  The owners also told the trainer that they are considering a shock collar for the dog.

Anyone else think that’s not going to end well?  I wish they would re-home the dog right now, before she bites a dog or a person – and I can almost guarantee that she will, at some point – but I’m sure they won’t, because their daughter gave the dog to them.  And they cannot say to their daughter, ‘Thank you, but we in no way wanted this work at this point in our lives.  This dog needs an owner that will and can do the work.’  Because that’s what it is, really!

When someone takes on work that they don’t want and aren’t going to do well, that bad decision has a ripple effect, and makes MORE work for everyone else.  I am not sanguine about the situation with the Pit.  I have stopped walking my dogs past their house.  If I am approaching the house with my dogs and I hear the Pit bark, I will reverse course and add a block to our walk to avoid passing their house.  (Being the rather petty person I am, I often add choice comments about the situation as I do so.)  A good neighbor relationship has been ruined, and I fear that may be only the first casualty.

Here’s my Alex with his friends Biscuit and Lizzie, who are both rather reactive; all three attend class every week with the trainer I mentioned and all three have just completed the AKC’s Novice Tricks title and are now working on the Intermediate Tricks title.  Just because work is necessary doesn’t mean it can’t be fun!

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Is it a ‘Dog Meet Dog’ World?

 

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Some 25 years ago, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas published her book, “The Hidden Life of Dogs.”  In it, she posed the question:  What do dogs want, when left to their own devices and not constrained by human beings?  And she answered that question, “They want each other.”
https://www.nytimes.com/1993/07/26/books/books-of-the-times-answering-the-question-what-do-dogs-want.html

Reading Thomas’s book made me itch with anxiety, since her studies for the book consisted of following a friend’s unconfined, unleashed, unaccompanied dog around the town of Cambridge, MA for a number of weeks.  If you, like me, live in an urban environment, you’re probably not okay with just opening the door and the gate to the yard and telling your dogs to be back whenever.

However, the answer she proposed, that dogs always seek the company of other dogs, somehow found its way into our popular collective consciousness, and whether or not they know why they think it, a lot of pet owners now believe that their dogs want to meet other dogs, say hi to other dogs, hang out with other dogs, and play with other dogs.  At every chance they get.  All the time.  (They stop short of thinking, apparently, that all dogs want to LIVE with other dogs, because quite a few of those owners aren’t going to put up with the inconvenience to themselves of having a multiple-dog household.  But they sure will hand you and me the inconvenience of turning their rude dog loose to bother ours!  However, I’m getting ahead of myself here.  Deep breath.)

For this reason, we now have ‘doggie day-care’ and dog parks and pack walks and any number of dog-oriented social venues that did not exist in the early 1990s or any time before that.  Dogs want to be with other dogs, we aver.  And as someone who has had from four to seven dogs at all times in my household for the past 20 years, I agree that they do – for the most part, most of the time, and for most dogs.  But do they want to come face-to-face with every other dog who happens to be in the immediate neighborhood?  Now there, I think the answer is – not so much.

One of my dogs, Dee (the Sheltie/SharPei mix, as I like to call her), recently certified as an Animal Assisted Therapy dog for a Chicago-based AAT group that sends its teams of dogs and their handlers into schools, hospitals, and other venues where the dogs can interact with people in the context of education or comfort.  I got Dee into this program a year ago, because the training was near our home and because I thought it would be good for Dee, who almost certainly met some pretty rotten human beings in the first couple of years of her life before coming to me, to have positive experiences with people.  I didn’t do it to have Dee meet any other dogs; she knows plenty of dogs.  She is the boss of my three Busy Boyz and she also shares the house with my Poor Things (senior rescue dogs who are in a retirement home here).

Dee isn’t much on other dogs in general, although I’m sure she would like many of them if she met them in unstressful settings.  She loves Alex, my Lapphund, and does her approximation of play with him.  He’s her social outlet, from what I can tell.  When she first arrived in my house, in September 2014, she was hugely reactive to all dogs she saw on the street or in yards when we went for walks.  She would bark and sometimes lunge and was clearly very nervous.  Two years of attending Manners classes at Canis Sapiens in Hyde Park, with Alex, helped her leave that reactivity on the shelf most of the time and not resort to it as default behavior.

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But no behavior disappears completely and permanently – a trainer I know says ‘if something happens once, you must think that it will happen again’ in dog behavior – and Dee still does not like being approached or stared at by dogs she doesn’t know, and if that approach or stare happens, she will meet it with a very hard stare of her own, and a very snarky, angry bark.  I think she’s probably snapped at a dog or two, but she’s never made contact; trust me, she does not want to mix it up with any dog.  She wants them to back the hell off and leave her alone.  This is an understandable posture from a dog that weighs 24 pounds.

So, in short:  Dee will ignore Dog X if Dog X will ignore her.  If Dog X fails to ignore her, Dee goes into her ‘Bring it!  Come on, bring it, I’ll rip your face off!’ tirade to that dog.  She actually has no face-ripping ability in her, I’d have spotted it by now.

In the AAT training sessions, we learned the greeting protocol that all the AAT teams perform at the outset of every AT session.  It’s the AKC CGC ‘Reaction to Another Dog’ exercise by another name:

Two handlers and their dogs approach each other from a distance of about 20 feet, stop, shake hands and exchange pleasantries, and continue on for about 10 feet. The dogs should show no more than casual interest in each other. Neither dog should go to the other dog or its handler.

Dee’s done that exercise many, many times in Manners class and she’s done it during AAT sessions, too.  Unfortunately, she’s been lunged at during the ‘greeting’ by several AAT dogs – all of whom were much larger than she is – and I’m wary of doing it now unless it’s properly staged by an AAT group leader.  But more on that later.

This morning I took the Boyz and Dee to the fields by the Ag High School:  several city blocks of open fields, some of which is a Prairie Grass Restoration Project and some of which is mowed grass that abuts the school’s football practice area.  Neighborhood residents use the fields, at certain times of the day, as an off-leash exercise area for their dogs.  People are good about picking up dog waste, and I’ve never seen any altercations among dogs (or people!) in the fields.  This morning the Boyz were not on leash; Dee was on her long line, hunting mice in the grass.  About twenty yards from us, a couple with a Golden Retriever was on another walking path.  Alex and the Golden spotted each other, and decided they needed to check each other out.  I watched as they did:

After the initial spotting by both dogs, Alex bounded in the direction of the Golden, with his ‘I’m big!’ Lappie leaps; but his launch angle was about 20 degrees off the ‘target’ of the other dog.  He wasn’t going directly at the Golden.

The Golden responded by trotting towards Alex, with lots of tail-swishes, and both dogs stopped every few seconds and each looked in the direction of the other dog, then resumed the posturing.

When the distance between them had closed, they were not face to face.  They were about two feet apart and were sideways to each other.  They paused here for a moment.  Alex then was permitted a butt-sniff by the Golden (I don’t know if the Golden was a male or female).  After that, they ran around each other in a small circle.  Then the Golden flung itself down into the grass and rolled around for a few seconds.  It sprang to its feet and the two dogs ran a short distance together in the long grass.

After that, they stopped, each glanced back at its human beings, and Alex turned and trotted back to me and the Golden returned to its people.

That was a successful dog/dog meeting, pretty textbook.  My other dogs didn’t involve themselves; they had no interest, and Alex never signaled that he needed his dog compadres for any reason.  I’m sure Alex and the Golden made eye contact at some point, but never were they nose-to-nose or head-to-head.  There was no growling.  No hackles were raised.  There was no backing away defensively.  Their movements were loose and expressive and happy, in the warm morning air.

Contrast that with what Dee experienced recently, and an outdoor AAT event at a church in a nearby suburb:

Unlike the fields at the Ag school, the location for the AAT event was not a place Dee had ever been before.  It was a double lot, about 150 feet by 100 feet, next to the church hosting the event.  There were 40 or 50 people there when we arrived, including many small children:  lots of activity.  We stood and watched, on the sidelines.

After a few minutes, a woman and a dog approached us.  Both wore the vests of the AAT organization.  The dog, a Wheaten Terrier, was young and energetic, and was well out in front of his owner, on his leash.  The protocol for the AAT ‘greeting’ is that each dog be in heel position at the side of its handler, and preferably with its attention on its handler.  The Wheaten hadn’t gotten the memo, obviously.  He headed straight for Dee, looking at her instead of his handler.  When he was about five feet from Dee, I moved to insert myself between the two dogs; at the same time, Dee decided the dog represented a threat, and she gave him a snark-bark warning him away.  She had been sitting next to me, but as the Wheaten neared, she stood, and her body posture was stiff.  Her tail was not wagging, and not relaxed.  Her stare was hard and her lip started to curl.

Does that sound like fun for Dee?  Does it sound like she wanted to meet that dog?  Like she wanted to ‘say hi’ to him?  Oh, I guarantee that what she said wasn’t ‘hi.’  How could the owner of the Wheaten fail to see that the dog she was closing in on with her dog was exhibiting NO signs of relaxation and friendliness?  (Let’s not even ask how the owner of the Wheaten could allow her dog to use its leash as a tow line and direct HER course with it.  Good grief!)

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I know, I know – the owner of the Wheaten was clueless.  It’s a common condition, unfortunately, and even having done the training required by this AAT organization didn’t help remedy it for this person.   It later turned out that she thought there was something wrong with Dee, that she hadn’t been comfortable with the ‘friendly’ approach of her dog.  I’m currently in discussions with the AAT group regarding whether or not Dee and I want to continue in their program.

(The ironic note to this was that the dogs and handlers were there to bring a message to kids about the safe way to approach and greet a dog.  Ask first:  ask the handler if you can say hi to the dog.  Put out your closed fist for the dog to sniff.  If the dog accepts you, pet the dog but not on its head, pet the flanks or maybe the neck.  Never go face-to-face with the dog.  Never put your head or face near the dog’s face.  Good precepts!  Do they apply only to children?  I think not.)

In the past ten years, there has been SO MUCH information put out in so many outlets – social media, training websites, training classes, veterinary clinics, grooming and daycare centers – about dog/dog interaction and the dos and don’t of that for the owners, that I really think it takes an effort to be unaware of the basics, which the owner of the Wheaten clearly was.  Dog body language?  Nope, she’d say, I got nothing.  But she knew, by gosh, that all dogs want to say hi to other dogs, yes they do!  And because her dog is probably an affectionate and friendly dog in the context of his household and daily life, she absolutely did not see what he looked like to my dog – oncoming high-beam headlights in her windshield, causing her to panic and try to pull over on the road, so to speak.  That’s clueless, for sure.

The Yellow Ribbon Project, started by DINOS (Dogs In Need Of Space), has been great in getting the message out through graphics like this one:

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The thing is, almost *every* dog is a DINOS.  Reactivity is not a trait that is confined to just some dogs, based on their experiences in life or even their genetic inheritance; reactivity is the response of a dog to a perceived threat when the dog feels it can’t evade that threat!  We really need to not put pressure on our dogs as much as we do, demanding that they behave ‘nicely’ in the face of things they see as posing an existential threat to their well-being.  No, your dog should not meet every other dog it encounters; and if your dog is the one pulling you over to the other dog, while my dog is the one resisting the meeting, that does NOT mean you have a ‘friendly’ dog.  It means you have a rude dog who quite possibly is anxious and unsure of itself and cannot exercise self-control in moments of high emotional intensity.  That’s friendliness?  Sheesh, with friends like that …

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Some people think their dogs aren’t reactive to any degree; that their dogs are what they call ‘bomb-proof.’  I think those dogs just have a longer fuse and give fewer warning signs before they lose it — but they do lose it.  My BC, Rowley, is ‘bomb-proof’ and will tolerate behavior from other dogs that would have Alex or Dee absolutely screeching with outrage.  And yet Rowley’s the dog of mine who has gone bitey-face on another dog when that dog got up in his grille and didn’t back off.  He was fine, fine, fine, fine — and then he wasn’t.  No dog can be pushed past their limit.  Knowing what the limit is, and seeing that it’s not reached, is the job of the dog’s owner.

Dee probably had a hard time as a puppy.  She has behavioral mannerisms now that make me think she was out of the litter too early; either because she was taken away from her mother, or because her mother was not available.  It is what it is.  She’s an awesome, smart, sweet dog, and her issues are entirely manageable.  Alex, in contrast, had a very stable puppyhood, with an environment about as good as it gets for a dog.  I guarantee he never had to fight for food.  His mama was with him all the way, and his littermates and household dogs were congenial and welcoming to him.  And yet, he is no more a fan of the ‘INCOMING, BOMBS AWAY!’ approach by another dog than Dee is.  Is Dee reactive, but not Alex?  No, they both will react negatively to behavior by another dog that is perceived to be threatening or an imposition of personal space.  I just call the behavior rude.

We live in a society that tolerates more rudeness than ever before.  It feels like this is part of that general trend:  people seeing only what their dog wants to do and not seeing the effect it has on another dog or even people who are nearby.  I can do two things:  I can protect my dogs from the rude behavior of other dogs; and I can call their owners on it.  I do both and I’ll continue to do both.  Whether Dee and I will continue to do AAT work with this outfit remains to be seen.  But all my dogs agree that they certainly do enjoy the company of other dogs … in the proper setting and context.

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Walking the Dog!

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From the day I got my first dog, in 1989, I’ve been walking dogs.  Every day.  Several times a day.  This wasn’t a big lifestyle adjustment for me:  I was raised in a walking household.  We didn’t have pets, but we also lived in Chicago without a car, so we walked.  Sometimes we walked to bus stops or train stations; and when I was about seven and got my older sister’s hand-me-down bicycle, I was elated, because I could take big stacks of books to and from the library with greater ease.  But mostly we walked: to school, to the local grocery, to the dry-cleaner, over to ‘the Avenue’ to cruise the big department store in Roseland and drink cokes at the lunch counter at Kresge’s.  Add in a leash and a dog, and it’s same old, same old!

One of the first dog trainers I paid attention to, when I got my first dogs, was Barbara Woodhouse.  Remember her?  “Walkies!” she would trill, and it was said that dogs all over Britain would lift their ears and often themselves when they heard that over the radio airwaves.  Ever met a dog who doesn’t like to go for a walk?  They’re rare.  That said, I have two elderly rescue dogs that I do not walk, for a number of reasons.  But the Busy Boyz and Dee and I, we walk.

I read somewhere, years ago, that every dog should leave its property once a day, and that has always seemed very sound advice to me.  The most logical way to get a dog to leave its property is to put a leash on it and walk!  No, car rides aren’t the same, either for the owner or the dog.  Car rides are okay when it’s pouring rain and you can’t walk, so you go to Starbucks for a pup cup, but car rides don’t burn any calories at either end of the leash and don’t really let you or the dog see your surroundings.  Local walks are a wonderful way to socialize a dog, too.  I wince when I read about people taking young puppies to places like big-box stores – even if they do allow dogs, how is that an interesting or comfortable environment for a puppy?  Walk the dog around the block, I say!  It will be less overwhelming and the dog will learn that his world is more than the car and the yard and some odd places that are big and noisy and filled with strangers.

You need to become a part of your neighborhood, and dog walks are a great way to do that.  Recently, one of the mayoral candidates in Chicago mentioned dogs in the context of safe neighborhoods:  he said that having a dog and walking the dog is a way of strengthening the community and making it inhospitable to bad elements.  He didn’t mean getting a big mean dog and chaining it outside, he meant living with dogs in a household and community setting.   And he’s not wrong.  When you walk your dogs, you meet your neighbors.  When you walk your dogs, you note things that happened in your neighborhood.  When you walk your dogs, people see you and they see your dogs and they know a couple of things immediately:  you’re a person who is responsible for your animals, and you’re a person who goes out into the community and doesn’t sit inside staring at a screen while life happens.  (They should also know that you’re a person who has baggies stuffed in your pockets and who never leaves a dog’s deposit on a lawn, but that should go without saying!)

Friends of mine who live in a suburban subdivision had a neighbor, for a while, who kept a young Husky on a tie-out in the unfenced yard (the homeowner’s association didn’t allow fences, FFS) and the owners were in the house all the time, in the TV room, while the dog howled and became more neurotic by the day.  Can you even picture a more bleak scenario, outside of a Russian novel?!  I ask you!

When I started working at the CME in 1995, one of my co-workers said, on meeting me, ‘Oh, you’re the lady with the dogs!’  He lives near a park that my dogs and I have frequented for years.  He already knew me.  And I’ve never found that kind of recognition to be anything but positive.

Things are often idyllic in retrospect, and I look back on the time when I had four or five Shelties at the end of the leashes and I think ‘ah, they were such good walkers …’  They probably weren’t, but I loved them and so my memories are tinged with that glow of missing them.  The current crew don’t fit into that idyllic meme.

Rowley:  MUST GET SERUM TO NOME, ALASKA NOW!  COME ALONG!  NOW!
Alex:  Must pee on this!  Must pee on that!  Must pee on everything!
Dee:  What’s that, can I eat it?  What’s that, can I eat it?  What’s that, can I eat it?
Beau:  La la la la, going for a walk, such a nice day, la la la la …

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Rowley’s a puller.  He’s a confirmed, bred in the bone puller.  Oh, he CAN walk on a slack leash, and if put on command, he will, but his default is to forge ahead.  When I first got him, I put a pinch collar on him to curb the forging, and he forged right into the pinch collar, so I discarded that option.  I tried a front-hook harness; he forged down the street bent into the shape of a pretzel.  I have a Weiss Walkie, which loops the line around the ribcage and up to the collar; it is better than anything else, but I wouldn’t say it stops his pulling.  Rowley’s pulling is going to stop when he stops, and I hope that’s not for many years.  It’s who he is.  When I stop to talk to neighbors, Rowley is at the end of a taut leash, gazing away from us, tail tucked in ‘work’ position, waiting to GET THE SERUM TO NOME, ALASKA NOW!  Walks are a mission for him.  Relaxation comes later.  Border Collies are whack jobs.

Alex is a marker.  He’s a sniffer, and a fabulous nosework dog, but on walks the sniffing is a prelude to marking.  ‘Ah, in 2016 a small poodle mix was here, well, THAT’S FOR YOU, BUDDY!’ and he marks some apparently inoffensive shrub or grass.  Dogs, I have learned, are markers or not, and they generally don’t change in that regard.  Alex marks.  It’s a mode of communication for him.  Having forbidden it in the house, I can’t bring myself to stop it on our walks, so we lurch along from one social media spot to the next.  Sometimes I tell him ‘Alex, if you don’t pace yourself, you’ll dehydrate, mark my words!’  He doesn’t think puns are funny.

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Dee is a scavenger.  Every time I read something about how you should let your dog to take time to sniff, on walks, I picture following that routine for Dee, and I wonder how much I would have to shell out at the emergency vet every week when she followed up her sniffing with ingesting whatever it was.  Yeah, no thanks.  When Dee stops to investigate something on the ground with great focus and attention, I do *not* stop.  I realized early on how it was going to be, so Dee wears a harness rather than a collar, because to say that she doesn’t always want to be separated from her find is putting it politely.  However, she hasn’t been on Metronidazole for months now, so my way is better than hers.

Beau is a Sheltie.  Darling Beau, he trots along on walks, keeping about half a step behind my right heel, and he only stops when he has to answer a call of nature.  Never pulls on the leash, never shocks my arthritic hands with sudden stops or lunges, he’s a dream of a walking dog.  He’s a Sheltie!  I hope Beau is walking with me for many more years.

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Every day, rain or shine, the crew gets leashed up and we go for a walk, or walks.  Even if we’ve had an off-leash expedition, a leash walk is in order at some point in the day.  Sometimes we drive to an interesting location and do a leash walk there:  the lakefront trails in the Hyde Park neighborhood are great for that.  Oddly, I do not find the paved walking trails in the local forest preserves interesting at all; they’re like walking in a parking lot with trees around it.  But the lakefront, that’s worth the trip.  Otherwise we’ll walk along Longwood Drive and I’ll look at the big houses on the hill and reflect on how lovely they are and how much I wouldn’t like to have to maintain one of those …

Dog-walkers are like sharks:  we just have to keep moving, it’s how we breathe.

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Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends …

I’ll be the first to admit that when I took in Peekaboo and Posey, in the summer of 2015, I took on more than I could comfortably handle.  Too many dogs, too many expenses, and too many unknowns.  All those things have come back to bite me, so to speak; but I’ve also had a chance to reflect on the factors that were and were not beyond control in this picture.

I started taking in old Shelties in 2000, and not really intentionally.  A guy in my neighborhood, whose Sheltie I knew from seeing him in the local park, showed up at my door one day with that Sheltie in tow, and told me he’d lost his apartment and couldn’t find one that would let him keep Angus, the Sheltie.  Dennis had adopted Angus from the Animal Welfare League shelter a few years previously; Angus was about 10 at the time Dennis brought him to me.  Dennis, who had some problems with substance abuse and probably-untreated depression, asked me to keep Angus until he found a place to live that would allow dogs.  What was I going to say?  Angus shouldn’t go back to the shelter; and at the time, I had three Shelties:  Sander, Pippi, and Sundance.  I said okay.  Dennis unpacked Angus’s food bowl, leash, and a bag of truly crummy dog food, and vanished.  I never saw him again.  I knew I wouldn’t, and once I saw the condition Angus was in, I knew I would never return him to Dennis even if he had come back.

No question Dennis loved Angus, but he hadn’t cared for him very well.  And no question Angus loved Dennis, because for three nights he slept by the front door, apparently waiting for his return.  It was sad.  But after a while, Angus’s spirits lifted and after a bath and some good food, his physical condition improved too.  Angus proved to be a chipper, bossy little Sheltie, and my dogs didn’t mind him at all.  He went with us on walks, he got more healthy by the day, and he loved the raw diet and raw bones that cleaned his teeth and spared him the need for a dental.  When Angus was 15, in mid-2005, he was found to have advanced, inoperable bladder cancer.  He’d been asymptomatic until the incidents of uncontrollable and frequent urination sent us to the vet; he’d also, when Dennis owned him, had a retained testicle removed surgically, and it was malignant – that predisposes a dog to later bladder cancer, my vet observed.  And so, having enjoyed five years in my household, Angus departed peacefully.  I hope he met up with Dennis, if indeed he was still hoping to be reunited.

Angus was the thin end of the wedge.  The next year, I adopted Rudy, who was found stray in central Illinois and was dangerously close to dying of starvation and exposure when the good Samaritan brought him to rescue.  Rudy was over 10 years of age, and when my vet neutered him after I adopted him, she estimated his age at 12 or 13.  Before I adopted him, Rudy was too frail for surgery.  He weighed 29 pounds on intake, and when healthy a few months later, he had filled out to 44 pounds – that’s how bad his condition had been!  (Rudy was a big Sheltie, over 18” at the shoulder.  At 44 pounds, he was not fat.)  Rudy also fit wonderfully into my household:  Sander told me to take him in, and the two of them hung out together, a pair of sweet old Sheltie gentlemen, for a year before Sander passed away in early 2006.  Rudy kept on keepin’ on until October 2010, and was easily 16 years old when he died.

After that, it was a given that I would have an old Sheltie in the family.  Good Guy showed up, 14 years old on adoption, and enjoyed four years of old age – napping, puttering about the yard, and barking at the upstart youngsters – until he departed to join Angus and Rudy.  Banjo came in from New York, from Julie Canzoneri’s rescue:  he’d had a nasty, enormous nerve-sheath tumor removed from his back before he came to live with me, and when he collapsed a couple of years later, I was mindful of that medical history and surmised that some cancer had been lurking, undetected, in his body until it finally manifested and finished him off.  But like the oldsters before him, Banjo had a great time in my house!

Irwin was over 10, another Sheltie; he loved to run around the dog yard with his squeaky ball in his mouth, making the most annoying noise.  He too accompanied us on walks, and was a full participant in the dog family until the day he collapsed, apparently of heart failure, and made his exit, peacefully and with that family around him.

Around and through all these lives, I had my own non-senior dogs:  Shelties all, until I adopted a rescue Finnish Lapphund in 2009 (a senior) and a rescue Border Collie in 2010 (a puppy).  The seniors I adopted became part of the family, until Charlie Bear in 2015 … Well, Charlie’s got his own blog post.

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The rescue Finnish Lapphund, Heikki Takkinen, brought with him a chronic case of ehrlichia, and taught me a whole lot about tick-borne diseases.  He also instilled in me a great affection for the Lapphund breed, which reminded me in quite a few ways of the Shetland Sheepdog breed:  opinionated, companionable, up for adventures, willing to work and never shy about making their presence known.  Once the ehrlichia had the last word on Heikki/Mikey, I eagerly accepted into my home a Lapphund puppy from the same breeder who had pulled Heikki from the shelter almost five years earlier.

So in the summer of 2015, I was full up with dogs.  I had the obligatory senior ‘poor thing’ – Charlie Bear – and I had my crew of Rowley, Beau, Dee and Alex.  But I hadn’t yet learned my lesson, and I still thought I could help the pathetic Shelties I saw in Facebook posts.  That’s where the Merle Girls ambushed me.

As I understood it, they came from a hoarder, although she wanted to be called a breeder.  (And I’d like to be called the Queen of England, kthx.)  An east-coast rescue had been talking to her for quite some time, working on getting her to reduce her dog inventory – er, population.  She surrendered six Shelties in the late spring of 2015.  Four of them went into foster immediately, but the Merle Girls had nowhere to go, and wound up in temporary housing in a pen in a wildlife refuge.  Oh, so sad!  I didn’t hear Charlie’s evil chuckle as I posted that I could take them.  And I took them.  Transport was arranged.  They arrived in July, close to their birthday – it seems they were littermates, or that’s what the hoarder gave the rescue to believe.  She might have been accurate about that.  They were both 12 years old in 2015.

Before they got to me, they were examined by a vet for the rescue.  Posey, the vet opined, almost certainly had mammary cancer.  She was still intact, but with that condition, she wasn’t a candidate for the surgery to spay her and remove the tumors; the vet didn’t even feel comfortable giving her a rabies vaccination.  Posey had a little note on her card that read ‘short-timer’, figuratively speaking.

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Peekaboo, her sister, had an exam and a rabies vaccination.  The hoarder told the rescue that Peeks had been spayed long ago, so the only thing I was looking at for her was a dental, sooner or later.  Gotcha.  Posey:  end of life.  Peeks:  get her crummy Sheltie teeth cleaned.  I can handle this!

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Except Posey’s mammary cancer was either nonexistent or set a record for the time it took to do her in.  She went to the vet in the fall of 2016 and had an exam, bloodwork, a heartworm test – and the vet said that although she did indeed have quite a few encapsulated tumors in her mammary chain and might have cancer, she also had a broken tooth and some other dental distress that meant she would need dental surgery.  We did x-rays of her lungs and they looked fine.  So in November she had 9 teeth extracted, which left her feeling noticeably better and improved her breath odor by about 100%.  At that point, I started questioning the cancer diagnosis, but she still was an old dog, and I wasn’t about to try another surgery on her.  She seemed to go into heat more than twice a year, which was hugely annoying, because it triggered one of my male dogs to go about marking everything.  He also paid her assiduous court, which she welcomed, and which also annoyed me.  (Did you know that a neutered male can achieve a tie with an intact female in season?  I know that!  Don’t ask me how I know it!)

Meanwhile, the summer after that, Peekaboo announced that she had Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD), a fact which was entirely news to me and presumably to the rescue too.  The hoarder hadn’t mentioned that Peeks has a blown disc in her back.  One evening when she had stood in one spot, panting and trembling, for nearly an hour, I took her to the emergency vet and they quickly ascertained her condition.  Some painkillers and Prednisone worked wonders, but I had to keep an eye on her for future flares, and I decided to take her in for chiropractic adjustments ever few months as a preventive measure.

So in early 2018, I was acknowledging the fact that the Merle Girls were more than I should have taken on.  Charlie’s vet bills had already exceeded $3,000 since his arrival; now the Girls were closing in on the $2,000 mark.  I don’t have that kind of ‘extra’ money.  But I also can’t deny or skip veterinary care, so I felt like I was in a bind and I would have to trust to time to sort things out.

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Then Rowley’s heartworm diagnosis turned my world, and my finances, upside down.  Do you know it costs more than $1500 to treat heartworm?  HOLY BUCKETS!  I had not known that!  In April 2018, I had the cost of annual wellness visits for all my dogs, and was staring down the barrel of the heartworm treatment cost for Rowley.  Major, major damage was inflicted on my bank account!

That’s when I found that Peekaboo was intact.

I had a meltdown.  No other way to describe it.  I was entitled and I had a meltdown.  The rescue had told me she was spayed, the drops of blood on her vulva and the cytology smear performed by my vet told me otherwise.  I had never seen signs of a heat cycle from her before, but as shut down as she is by nature, that was something I could easily have missed.  If I’d known she was intact, I absolutely would not have accepted her, since there was no reason – no possible mammary cancer, no tumors – that she couldn’t have surgery to remove her reproductive bits, and to clean up her awful teeth at the same time.  The rescue should have done that.  I believed that then and I believe it now.  To take the word of a hoarder about the repro status of a surrendered dog is just not a sensible course of action.  There are ways to determine with relative certainty whether a bitch has been spayed.

So I messaged the person who was my contact in the rescue, and I said ‘I’ve had enough; in fact, I’ve had too much.  This needs to be addressed or you need to take the Girls back.’  The contact presented the situation to the rescue.  I heard nothing, for more than a week.  I had another meltdown.  (It was a rough month.)  I was giving Rowley doxycycline every day and waiting until he could have Immiticide shots.  On top of the nightmare of Rowley’s heartworm, a Lyme Disease diagnosis for Beau, and a mountain of vet bills for all dogs, I had to somehow come up with more than a thousand dollars to get Peekaboo’s surgery done, which would allow her to come home with a clean mouth and no more reproductive system.  It might as well have been ten thousand dollars, the way I felt right then.  The rescue was ‘discussing’ it but eight days had passed and they had in no way indicated that they would provide ANYTHING in the way of help.

Someone suggested I do an internet fundraiser.  I’ve never done that, although I’ve donated to plenty of them.  But if it raised even a portion of the amount of the surgery estimate, it would help.  And it would make me feel like I wasn’t forced to do everything myself, with no help anywhere – and about then, that was even more important than the money.

So I went to GoFundMe and put up a fundraiser for Peeks.

https://www.gofundme.com/peekaboo039s-surgery

And immediately, the money started coming in.  I was absolutely astounded.  I don’t know why I was surprised; my cyber-community is that of dog owners and dog rescuers.  They stepped up, and I blessed every one of them then and I bless them today.  And even friends who didn’t have dogs, but who know that my dogs are my life and rescue dogs are part of that, sent money to help.

I sent the GoFundMe link to my contact at the rescue.  I don’t think they were thrilled, but I also don’t care.  They should have come back to me in less than eight days.  If they looked bad, it was their doing.  I will say, once I talked to the head of the rescue, that I don’t think they ever intended to do anything other than assist me financially with the surgery.  She went to the GoFundMe link and donated a significant chunk of money, bringing the fundraiser to goal.

Because I’d also received funds from friends who chose to send it privately and not through GoFundMe, I actually raised enough from friends to pay the entire cost of Peekaboo’s surgery, her preliminary vet exam, and her subsequent chiro adjustment.  The funds from the rescue were available to cover the vet exam cost for Posey’s annual exam, and to cover the cost of Posey’s euthanasia when she passed away, suddenly, on Memorial Day.  It was the most enormous relief to get the Girls the veterinary care they needed – even up to and including Posey’s last day – and not have to dig out of debt afterwards.  It was like being able to take a deep breath instead of going under for the third time.  What price sanity!

I learned a number of things from the entire sequence of events.

I learned that my resources – emotional as well as financial – are finite and that I cannot take on as much as I once did.  I won’t repeat my actions and decisions that led up to this, although I also do not regret one bit that I over-reached and took the Merle Girls.  Posey had a wonderful time here for the 34 months she lived with me.  I can’t imagine a better place for her, given her limitations.  Peekaboo, who had her surgery on June 25 and is now spayed and minus nine crummy teeth, has a new lease on life.  She misses her sister, I’m sure, but she’s engaged more with my dogs now, and she has peace and quiet and good food and a comfy bed, which is what every old Sheltie should have.  For whatever time she has left, she’s welcome here.

I learned that although it’s easy to feel like the world is a harsh, rude place, people are still thinking and feeling like human beings, and they do respond to an animal in need.  I think they are glad to be able to make a difference and to see that they can have a positive effect.  The fundraiser wasn’t about giving me money, it was about giving Peekaboo a fair shake, which she seemed not to have had much of in her life up to now.  Every old dog deserves to be comfortable and as healthy as they can be.  And the great friends who responded to my request for help for Peekaboo share that view.  It gives me hope for humanity, and a great affection and regard for my friends.   Thanks, you guys, for having my back when the going got tough.  Peeks thanks you and I thank you.

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No Good Deed …

In February 2013, I adopted a senior Sheltie from an east-coast Sheltie Rescue, Tri-State Shetland Sheepdog Rescue.  The dog was Banjo, and I had spent a lot of time talking to the TSSSR person, Julie Canzoneri, about adopting a special-needs Sheltie named Petunia, who was a senior girl living with cancer; but it turned out that Petunia’s foster home had fallen in love with her, and she wasn’t going anywhere.  Julie suggested I consider Banjo, who had arrived in rescue in pretty dreadful condition, led into a shelter in NYC by a woman who claimed to have found him but whom the shelter staff believed to actually be his owner.  Banjo had an enormous nerve-sheath tumor on his back, and underwent surgery to remove it – when I say enormous, I mean over two pounds.  Thankfully, a biopsy indicated it was benign.  But Banjo needed some good care, to make up for years of apparent neglect.  I took him, and Julie arranged a transport that brought him from New York state to Indiana, where I collected him.

Banjo was such a sweetheart – I will always smile, thinking of him.  He lived with me for about 18 months, and then in August 2014, he collapsed and died.  I think he probably did have some unidentified malignancy, but for the time he was here, he was a happy dog.

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But this isn’t about Banjo, it’s about CharlieBear!

So having gotten to know Julie over discussions of Petunia and Banjo, I followed her and her Sheltie rescue on Facebook, and in early 2014, she pulled a little “Sheltie mix” from a shelter in Brooklyn and put his photo on Facebook, saying he would need a home and was blind, senior and kind of a mess.  I posted that I could take him, if he had nowhere to go … Julie said ‘Let’s see if anyone out here steps up, but thank you!’ and I was rather relieved, since I wasn’t looking for another dog just then.

But circumstances beyond my control intervened, in the heartbreaking form of Julie’s death.  She was only in her forties, but she had battled kidney disease for years – decades, I think – and a host of other health problems as well.  Her death was sudden, and it shocked the rescue community.  A huge outpouring of grief on social media began the day we learned of her passing, February 28, 2014.  I had never met her in person but had spoken to her on the phone and messaged and e-mailed her so often that I felt I knew her, and it was easy to feel the love she had for Shelties and the determination she had to help them, all of them, every one.  Julie was tough.  A Capricorn, I think she had all the determination associated with that sign and she channeled it all into the breed she loved.  She is still missed by many, including me.  This news story from 2012 tells you everything about Julie:

http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/23-shetland-sheepdogs-saved-brooklyn-hoarders-freed-article-1.1134176

And a week or so after her death, TSSSR contacted me and asked if I still was interested in taking CharlieBear.  Um.  Well.  Hmmm.  Gee – I guess so!  Come on, I told myself:  one little old dog, how much trouble can he be?  I said ‘Well, if you can get him out here to Chicago …’ and I probably thought that I would hear back that he’d gone to another rescue in NY.  I didn’t.  I heard back that there were people willing to transport him, and if I could meet the last leg of the transport in north central Indiana, she would deliver Charlie to me.  Alrighty then!  In March, the transport volunteers moved Charlie from New York to Indiana, and I brought him home to Chicago.

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He was kind of a mess.  He’d been shaved down in the shelter because he was so matted; he was blind, probably from untreated KCS (keratoconjunctivitis sicca), a ‘dry-eye’ condition that’s not uncommon in Pomeranians, and Charlie appeared to be a Sheltie/Pomeranian mix.  His teeth were awful – still are!  My vet examined him and tactfully inquired if I had meant to adopt such a train-wreck of a dog.  I said I had, that Charlie would be given a good end to his life in my household.  ‘Well,’ the vet said, ‘He’s got grade 4 dental disease, but he’s certainly not a candidate for surgery – elevated liver values, a heart murmur – no, I wouldn’t do surgery on him unless it were needed to save his life.  The condition he’s in, he could go another year; I think six months is more likely.’

That was in March 2014.

Charlie wasn’t much trouble in most regards:  he learned his way around the house and the yard remarkably quickly, for an old blind dog who had never been within 500 miles of the place before.  He did, however, urinate constantly.  I mean this dog peed LAKES.  I started to research the symptoms and treatment for Cushing’s Disease, and in May I took him back to my vet to see if we should start him on Lysodren.  It’s really difficult to get a conclusive diagnosis of Cushing’s, and the vet felt we should start with something more basic:  an ultrasound of Charlie’s urinary tract.  And there they were:  bladder stones.  Bad ones.  Size and location were both bad.  Now I was looking at that ‘life or death’ surgery!  Trouble was, the cost of the surgery wasn’t in my budget.  Rescue resources were consulted and rescue favors called in.  Charlie re-entered rescue for one day, had the surgery performed by a vet who treated rescue Shelties near me, and was re-adopted by me, for which I paid an adoption fee that covered the cost of the surgery.  Incredibly, not only did Charlie survive the surgery, he bounced back even more feisty than ever!  And he no longer urinated every ten minutes!  I was thrilled.  Mind you, I still thought I had a short-timer on my hands, but he was happy and eating well and not soiling in my house, so life was good.

Time went on, and Charlie went on.  Julie thought he was probably 12 when she pulled him from the shelter, and my vet concurred with that; and as one year rolled into the next, Charlie got older but not much changed.  His eyes changed, though:  he developed glaucoma, or an existing condition worsened.  He was supposed to have drops in both eyes daily, but even with the drops, he kept getting eye infections and was clearly uncomfortable or in pain when that happened.  My vet performed a grid keratotomy in late 2014, and that helped – for a while.  By late 2015, though, he was miserable due to the condition of his eyes.  Now the glaucoma was so extreme that my vet said he worried about one of the globes rupturing.  Yikes!  ‘So what I propose we do –‘ my vet began, and I finished the sentence for him:  ‘— is take his eyes out.  Yes.  Do it.’

For some reason, people get squeamish when they hear that.  And yet, if the dog hasn’t has the use of his eyes for years, why not perform an enucleation and remove the globe, nictating membrane, and conjunctiva?  Charlie went into surgery in December 2015 for a double enucleation.  The dog who wasn’t a candidate for surgery had now been under the knife twice in two years for life-threatening conditions, and again, as with the bladder-stone removal, he recovered from the enucleation surgery with remarkable rapidity and no complications.  It gave me a hell of a start to see him, when I went to collect him after the surgery:  they’d shaved his face, and that and the eyelids sewn closed gave his head a distressing similarity to a horror mask.  ‘Oh, Charlie, NOT a good look!’ I said when the vet carried him into the exam room.  But once the hair grew back on his face, I got used to seeing him with his eyes permanently closed.

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I got used to seeing him, period, because Charlie wasn’t going anywhere!  As I write this in July of 2018, Charlie’s asleep on his bed in the kitchen next to the refrigerator.  From that spot, it’s a walk of about 12 feet to the deck door, and once outside, he navigates the deck stairs expertly,  and uses the ornamental fencing and wooden walkways in the back yard to tell him where he is, and to guide him back into the house.  This summer, in the jungle-like overgrowth that is my back yard, he’s gotten lost a couple of times, but when I go look for him, I find him battling the shrubbery or the vines and making for the walkway and the house.  This dog is made up almost entirely of determination.  If he was 12 when I got him, he’s 16 now.  His teeth are still vile – cleaning them up a bit when he was under for the enucleation surgery didn’t help much.  I’m sure his liver values are still elevated.  He’s got a big lipoma on one side over his rib cage.  I notice he refuses to put weight on his right back leg some days, but when I check him he declines to tell me where it hurts, or if it hurts.  So I let him do it his way, because that’s always been Charlie.

He’s not a sweet dog, or a cuddly dog.  If you pick him up, he’ll struggle to be put down.  He doesn’t care for petting.  He likes food, but once that’s been delivered, he’s lost interest in interacting with the human being.  He’s the most cat-like dog I’ve ever known!  He doesn’t have much use, either, for my other dogs; he likes Rowley, and will show this by trying to mount him sometimes, but the other dogs seem to be beneath his notice.  He will walk into one of them and neither change his course nor back away; the dog walked into will leap up and either snarl, or simply flatten Charlie (who had it coming, frankly), at which point Charlie will let out a series of yowls that sound like cats being horribly abused.  (Please note, Charlie is absolutely fine, no dog or person has ever harmed him while he has been here.)  This seems to be a Pomeranian trait.  A few years ago I was at an agility trial with Rowley and I heard a version of Charlie’s scalded-cat shrieks, and I called out ‘Who’s got the Pomeranian?’ and from two aisles over, a woman replied ‘Right here!’

I don’t know that I’d consider Charlie a pet, actually.  He’s a law unto himself, and he’s either taking care of business that only he knows about, or he’s avoiding dealing with things that only he knows about.  In any case, he’s my houseguest for the duration of his life, and it amuses me to consider reasons for his longevity and his refusal to pack it in:  Julie’s not ready to take him on yet (and can you blame her?).  Or, he’s the reincarnation of my very unpleasant grandmother, who lived to be 99 and was about as irascible and rude as Charlie.  Or, as one friend suggested, he’s become a zombie.  Whatever the reason, heeeeeeeere’s Charlie!

And that’s just fine with me.

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Update:  Vaya Con Dios, Charlie! — October 4, 2018

As the summer began to fade and fall weather showed up in Chicago, Charlie also started to fade.  He had a harder time doing anything that involved physical exertion:  his back end, which was never strong, was now so weak he couldn’t stand for long, and he stopped puttering around in the back yard and spent almost all his time in his bed in the kitchen.  His digestion also turned problematic, and he was incontinent quite often.  It was apparent that quality of life had declined past a point where I believed he was happy.

On the first of October, we went to the vet to see what the next step should be.  Charlie had lost two pounds in the year since his last visit, and that weight loss seemed to be muscle mass from his back end.  He never really had any hips to speak of — I’d bet he was severely dysplastic — and now his front end was doing all the work, all the time.  In general, he was just winding down and wearing out, as very old dogs do.  The vet gave him some pain meds, Carprophen and Gabapentin, and suggested we re-check him in a week, but noted that Charlie was definitely in end-of-life care now and that we could make the choice to let him go if the pain meds didn’t make his life easier and restore some quality.

There was an improvement in his mobility once he started the pain meds, but his digestion issues got worse.  He had either diarrhea or vomiting each day, and by Thursday, I had decided that at the re-check the following Monday, we would be stopping any more palliative care and letting him go.  Charlie pushed that schedule a bit when he was hit by an episode of vomiting/diarrhea that was now bloody.  It was time to let CharlieBear stop dealing with all the issues of his aged body.

So that afternoon, Charlie and I went back to the vet clinic, where the very nice techs and veterinarian set up the ‘goodbye room’ for us, made Charlie comfortable and fussed over him a bit, and then administered the drugs that stopped his hard-working little heart.  He had a very peaceful passing:  I was with him as he headed off to find Julie, who had saved his life in 2014.  I like to think they’re together now and that Charlie has no more discomfort.  He was a tough little fella who brought an amazing determination to a life that certainly had more downs than ups.  I will not forget him.  Vaya con Dios, CharlieBear.  Be well now.

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Why ‘Adopt, Don’t Shop’ Sets My Teeth on Edge

Don’t talk to me about rescue.  Don’t even try.  Want to know the dogs I have adopted from rescue since 2000?  Here’s the list:  Angus, Rudy, Good Guy, Irwin, Mikey, Banjo, Rowley, Charlie, Dee, Beau, Peekaboo, and Posey.  Which ones were senior ‘poor thing’ adoptions, dogs who had many years on them, nowhere to go, and serious health issues?  That’d be Angus, Rudy, Guy, Irwin, Mikey, Banjo, Charlie, Peeks, and Posey.

But aside from the seniors:  my competition agility dog (Rowley) is a rescue.

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My Animal Assisted Therapy dog (Dee) is a rescue.

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I DO rescue, people.  I donate, I transport, I screen applications for a local breed rescue, I adopt.  Rescues R Us, FFS.

I also do not-rescue.  My Finnish Lapphund is not a rescue, although my first Lapphund was – and such is the Lappy community in the US, thankfully, that my rescue Lappy remains one of the very, very few of his breed to be documented as a rescue.  (Never mind all the northern-breed mixes that their owners say ‘act like’ or ‘might be’ Lapphunds, let’s stick with what’s verifiable.  Heikki, later Mikey, was a Finnish Lapphund who landed in a shelter in 2009 and was bailed out by the then-head of the breed club, and I adopted him from her.)  I have owned Shelties that came from pet stores (Briar Rose, Sander, Pippi) and Shetland Sheepdogs who came from breeders (Lynnlea’s Sundance Kid, Shofar’s Summer Song).  I haven’t bought a dog from a pet store since 1997, and certainly I never will again, but yeah, I did it in my early years of dog ownership.

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I traced the stories behind those pet-store dogs:  Briar was from a sweet, clueless little old lady on the south side of Chicago who wanted to breed her Sheltie bitch just once, and kept a puppy from the litter before turning the other pups over to Majestic Pets (“Love on a Leash”) in Evergreen Park.  That sweet little old lady was heartbroken when her bitch AND her bitch’s daughter died of dermatomyositis.  What Ida Holt didn’t know about diseases that lurk In the genes of dogs would have filled a lot of books.  My puppy from that breeding died of the same disease, at the age of 9.

Sander came from Park Pets and he was the best dog ever.  The best.  He was a singleton puppy from some backyard breeders in northern Minnesota.  He got cancer when he was 7, and not entirely because I didn’t know enough about over-vaccination and nutrition back then.  He had lumbar spondylosis, hip dysplasia, and all kinds of joint problems.  It’s safe to assume that no health tests were run on any of his parents, grandparents, and so on back up the line.  He was also an amazing dog with the heart of a champion, and he was born to be my dog.  He lived for seven years with cancer.  Know any other dogs who have managed that?  Nope, me either.

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Pippi came from the same pet store that Sander did, but she was mill-bred.  Her paper trail stopped at a ‘broker’ in Iowa, so let’s not look any further, because we know what’s there.  Pip had the most regrettable temperament of any of my intentionally-chosen dogs.  Dogs like Miss Pip gave rise to the notion that “Shelties are hyper.”  It was abundantly clear that the first months of her life had not been spent in anything like an ‘enriched’ environment.  Gah.  Poor girl!  She was also very smart, and later loved rally obedience classes.  And the genetic dice, when tossed, came up aces for her:  she never had any injuries or illnesses, never even required a veterinary dental, and was two months shy of her 17th birthday when she keeled over in the back yard, as her heart gave out.  Of course, Pip was such a pip that she keeled over *into the pond*, where I found her body a few minutes later, and I think my neighbors can hear my screams still.  Pip would not exit unobtrusively.

As is true of anyone who lives with dogs and most definitely true of anyone who does work or sports with dogs, I have requirements for what must be and not be present in a dog I own.  The seniors are one thing, they only have to be down on their luck and fairly appealing – and often not even that, eh, Charlie? – to make me say ‘Oh, he/she can come live with me!’  But when I set out to acquire a dog that will share an active lifestyle with me, I care mightily about the structure, the temperament, and the organic health of the dog and its forebears.  I care more now than I did in my early days of dog ownership, because I know more about those things now, and I know more about the strains that dog sports put on a dog’s body.  To anyone who thinks that structure doesn’t matter and that ‘any dog can do agility,’ unless you’re just puttering around a course, you’re setting your dog up for a wicked injury, and I’ve seen that happen more than once or twice.  To anyone who pooh-poohs veterinary chiropractic care for a sport dog, I think my chiro-adjusted dogs are going to have an easier time with the aging process, but whatever …

When I had to retire Shiri from agility in 2009, I knew I wouldn’t find a Sheltie in rescue that I could run in agility for the next ten years.  I’ve been involved in Sheltie rescue for enough years to know that most of what comes in is pet-store Shelties, and that means BYB or mill dogs.  Rarely, a well-built Sheltie from a good breeder finds itself in rescue, but the demand for this lovely breed is such that those dogs are rehomed faster than immediately.  I wanted a young dog or a puppy, and the very few Sheltie breeders in my area that had dogs I liked had nothing available.  So I went to a Border Collie rescue and came home with my first – and to date only – Border Collie:  Rowley, about 10 months at adoption.  At that age, his structure was not a matter of conjecture, and his temperament was evident.  I know nothing about his pedigree, but he’s been doing agility for nine years now, and the only thing to slow him down was a positive heartworm diagnosis this past spring.

The point is, there are all kinds of reasons why I got my dogs.  I got Rudy because I felt sorry for him and because Sander told me that Rudy needed us – and he did!

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Yes, that is the same dog.

I got Rowley because I needed an agility dog, and that encompasses more than just agility training, it means a level of companionship that I don’t get from my ‘poor thing’ seniors.  But each and every one of my dogs, past and present, was acquired deliberately and through conscious choice.  Either I wanted a particular dog, or I wanted to help a particular dog, or I wanted to discover something new in dogs – as I did when I moved from Shelties to Lapphunds and Border Collies.

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(I’m happy to say I’ve never had to re-home a dog.  Even if they annoy the bejesus out of me — talking to you again, Charlie! — they are here for life.  It’s not difficult to manage that when you stick with the softer herding breeds; I don’t think my track record would be impeccable if I were a hound person, or a bully-breed person.  But I go for the yappers and herders, and I don’t mix in too many bitches, and we make it work.)

But because each one of my dogs was a purposeful choice, things like this (from a senior dog rescue group’s Facebook page) grate on me:

Friends, the pet overpopulation problem is real. And as much as we feel strongly about spay, neuter and adoption…we also don’t believe in specialty dog breeding and buying puppies today. Not in 2018. It’s about a dog’s heart, personality, and soul. ALL of which shelter dogs have. A breeder puppy is not better than a shelter dog. They’re not. And our culture’s desire and obsession and mindset towards owning certain breeds IS just as much of the problem as lack of spay and neuter. Because if more people saw the value in shelter pets then more of these dogs would have homes.

Oh boy.

Well, first of all, I’m the most pro-spay/neuter person you’ll ever meet.  I’ve never bred dogs and I never will.  I don’t know enough, I have no interest, and as a single and childless woman in her 60s who really bought into the ZPG movement, I think this planet is way too crowded already, with both humans and some species of animals, including dogs.  I own a t-shirt that says ‘My pet’s a member of the Nooters Club!’ with a design similar to the Hooters logo.  Unless a person is one of those rare people who have a purpose in breeding dogs, have the knowledge, time, and money to do it properly, and will stand behind every puppy they produce for the life of that dog, no pets should be bred.  And if someone can’t be relied on to make sure an intact dog they own isn’t bred, even by accident, then no pets should be intact.  The issue of when to spay/neuter is not one I’m going into here.  Just do it.

And second, I’m bothered by the post’s assumption that everyone who bought a puppy from a breeder last year would, if no puppies had been produced, have adopted a dog from a shelter.  Really?  REALLY?  — No.  Of course not.  That’s BS.

Consider:  who gets a puppy from a breeder?  Well, first we have to clarify a bit:  what’s a breeder?  Is it someone who allows dogs to mate, and who homes/sells the resultant puppies?  No, not any more than humans who indiscriminately produce babies and can’t support, educate, or care for them properly, are parents.  This is about more than biology.  A breeder produces dogs to continue and improve a given breed, using the best genetic material they can find, and carefully shapes their breeding programs over time as the outcome of that genetic material evidences itself.

As for the others, let’s call them what they are:  retailers of puppies.  And that includes every Doodle breeder everywhere.  (Sorry, pet peeve of mine.)

So yes, it would be GREAT if people would stop going to retailers of puppies and giving them money in exchange for puppies.  It would be wonderful.  It would make a dent in the pet overpopulation problem, I have no doubt.  And since we can include pet stores that sell puppies in this category, It might even be a death knell for puppymills!

But to the people who go to breeders, and acquire a puppy that has a pedigree behind it that displays generations of working ability, structural health, sound temperament, and conformation to the breed standard:  good for you!  I hope you are asking those breeders hard questions, and not accepting evasive answers; I know you are spending a lot of money to acquire that puppy, and I bet you will spend even more in time, energy, and emotional commitment, not just to your dog but to the breed and its well-being.  Hey, know what you should do now?  Adopt a senior rescue dog to keep your puppy company!

The problem isn’t demand, it’s supply.  Here’s a fact:  in the southern states in the US, there is a pathetically low rate of spay/neuter among pet owners.  I’ve heard estimates that as many as 70% of pet dogs in the South are intact.  This is where the war should be fought, folks:  we need mobile spay/neuter clinics deployed everywhere in the South, like now!  Already, many shelters in the North are doing great work bringing up dogs that would be routinely euthanized in shelters in the South, for lack of space, and vetting and adopting them in towns and cities where there is a demand for them.  This piece from the NYT in 2014 talks about such a program:

https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/26/opinion/adopt-a-dog-with-a-southern-drawl.html

But I really think that the problem is dog overproduction in specific regions of the country.  That’s what needs to be addressed, and addressed aggressively.  Until that’s done, we are allowing one segment of pet-owning society to create a huge, ugly mess and we are expecting all the other segments of pet-owning society to clean up that mess.  To which I, for one, say ‘screw that.’  If I want a Border Collie puppy from a certain line of Border Collies, and I’ve waited several years for the breeding that produces that puppy, and I’m prepared to pay up for that puppy because I know the work the breeders and owners of the parent dogs have done – don’t you dare tell me I should forget about my BC puppy and go adopt a hound mix that is nothing like what I want and can work with.  Don’t you dare tell me I should clean up the shit-storm that uncaring, uninformed pet owners elsewhere in the country have created, at the cost of my own canine household.  About time they stopped making the mess, isn’t it?

And having said that, I also think that everyone should have at least one rescue dog, if you have the room.  Get a senior, they have so little chance of a good life!  My senior rescue dogs have brought enormous joy to my life (– yes, even you, Charlie) and it is a deeply satisfying feeling to know, as you watch a dog prepare to pass from this world, that you have made that dog’s last years absolutely wonderful, with good food, excellent veterinary care, comfortable lodgings, and the community of other dogs in your house.  It’s a relatively easy way to do good in this world, and that’s no small thing.

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For anyone who wants a pet dog and isn’t going to be doing work, or sports, with that dog:  a lovely alterative to spending years on the wait list of a breeder is to drop by some of the shelters in your area that are helping rehome dogs from the South, or peruse the websites of rescue groups that are engaged in that same task.  Last month I drove a small part of a transport for a Border Collie who came out of a shelter in Texas and will now find a home in Indiana or Illinois, and wowza, if I weren’t full up, Trapper would be living with me now!  Two years old, sharp as a tack, the crime that nearly cost him his life was chasing horses, and I could certainly offer him a horseless environment.  Look at this boy!

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There are some wonderful ways to acquire a dog that don’t involve handing gobs of money to some heartless person who retails puppies.  Avoid those people, always.

Since I’ve gotten a bit wordy here, I’ll throw in a nice graphic that outlines the way I would like things to be:

If the person wanting a dog is: Then that person should:
Someone who wants a pet/companion dog of a specific breed, and is happy to miss out on mess and destruction of the puppy stage Find a breed rescue and submit an adoption application; once approved, watch the rescue’s intake and ask to meet dogs that might be The One; OR
Find the national breed club for that breed, contact breeders in your area and introduce yourself, then ask if they are placing any dogs soon and if you might be considered; OR
Check local shelters to see if any dogs of that breed are available.
Someone who wants a pet/companion dog of a specific breed and wants a puppy Find the national breed club for the breed, contact breeders in your area, ask about upcoming litters and get yourself on a waiting list; OR
Contact local shelters to see if they ever have young dogs or puppies of that breed, perhaps as part of their program to adopt out dogs imported from non-local shelters.
Someone who wants a pet/companion dog of no specific breed, or wants a mixed-breed, and has preferences but not requirements as to age You’ve got so many choices!  Start online, look at local rescues and shelters, go from there.  But don’t, please don’t, buy a dog online, either from a retailer of puppies, or a sales site like CraigsList.  If you feel sorry for the dog you see posted for sale on CL, contact a rescue and tell them about it.
Someone who wants a working or sport dog of a specific breed or skill-set Locate breeders who whose dogs are what you’d love to own; contact them, discuss their breeding program and plans.  Get on the waiting list for a puppy, or if you’ll take a young adult dog, ask if any are being ‘grown out’ and available to performance homes.  But you already know this, you’re not the person who’s buying from pet stores or from the local BYB who loves the fact that she can sell her Cocker’s puppies for $500 apiece.  You’ll also look at rescues, depending on the breed.
Someone who wants a hypoallergenic dog, or a Doodle of any variety Get real.  The only non-allergenic dog is a stuffed animal, and Doodles are mutts that retail for $2K, which makes you a prize chump.

You see?  Shelters, rescues, real breeders – those are all sources of wonderful dogs.  Nobody ever needs to do business with a retailer of puppies!

Of course, everyone should support rescues/shelters in some way.  Even if you can’t add a dog to your household, you can donate, transport, fundraise, perform administrative tasks, or in some other way help a group that is helping save canine lives.  (No, sharing posts on Facebook doesn’t count.  Get off your lazy ass and drive a transport, or swing by the local shelter with fifty pounds of food once a month.)

But don’t put the onus of halting the problem of pet overpopulation on the people who do their homework and acquire dogs from breeders who are helping to maintain and improve their breeds.  Even if no breeder had a litter on the ground for the next three years, would that really stem the tide of dogs that comes at a flood out of shelters in the South?  You know it wouldn’t.  FIX THAT PROBLEM, don’t point fingers away from it.

 

 

More Musings on Heartworm

Rowley is now finished with the ‘adulticide’ heartworm treatment protocol:  he had two shots of Immiticide on successive days on June 14 and 15.  This is to kill the adult heartworms that were not dispatched by the first Immiticide shot that he received on May 15.  Meanwhile, any microfilariae that might find its way into his bloodstream is killed by the monthly dose of Heartgard that he receives and will receive until the weather no longer supports mosquitoes or microfilariae.

I’m pretty happy that we’ve gotten to this point, but there’s still so much I don’t know and can’t know, and my frustration really hasn’t abated much.  Any notion I had of a return to ‘normal’ life this month – resuming agility classes, going to the nature preserve for off-leash hikes – was banished when my vet, who is a cautious soul, said he wouldn’t okay any of that until we get a negative heartworm test on Rowley, and that would be October at the earliest.  WHAT?!?!  I just gave you two months of our best weather, now you tell me it’s still boring old leash walks and nothing else until the fall?!

Yeah.  And that’s because we are still living in fear of the real monster in this horror flick:  the pulmonary embolism caused by the corpse of a worm.  Disgusting?  Oh yeah.  A real possibility?  Yep, that too.

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I can’t count the number of people who have thought that Rowley can somehow excrete the dead worms, as he would tapeworms or whipworms.  No.  Not possible.  These worms have been living in his pulmonary artery, which is not connected to his gut and digestive system; when they are killed off by the Immiticide shots, the bodies decompose and get reabsorbed by his body, mostly by his lungs.  So in order to accurately gauge the risk of a pulmonary embolism, I have to know how many worms there were, and how big the pieces of dead worms are that now float around in my dog’s body.  I can’t get that information anywhere!  I sent a questionnaire to “WORMS C/O ROWLEY” but got no response.  Worms don’t answer surveys.  Someone suggested that an x-ray might show the worm population in the pulmonary artery:  it won’t.  There is simply no way to know what is going on, so we have to proceed with the greatest amount of caution possible.

A negative heartworm test will tell us that not only are there no more live heartworms in residence, but there aren’t any worm corpses, either.  That’s because the antigen test for heartworm looks for a hormone that’s found in the skin of female heartworms, alive OR dead.  (There is no test that detects male heartworms.  Isn’t that odd?)  And that’s why, although the Immiticide shots killed the worms pretty expeditiously, it might take up to six months to get a negative heartworm test, as bits and pieces of dead worms could be decomposing slowly in there.  I’d be inclined to think that the longer time periods are due to a heaver load of heartworms, but who the hell knows?!

So as I put on Rowley’s leash for another walk and miss another agility class, I reflect again on the idiocy that kept me from giving heartworm preventive.  And let me just say that if I read the asinine quibble that “it’s not preventative”, I will go nuts.  Like this utter nonsense from Dogs Naturally Magazine:

Heartworm meds do not, by the way, prevent heartworms. They are poisons that kill heartworm larvae (called microfilariae) contracted during the previous 30-45 days.

Yes, you fool, and by killing the microfilariae it PREVENTS THAT MICROFILARIAE from migrating to the pulmonary artery and maturing into a heartworm!

From the VCA website:

The life cycle begins when a female mosquito bites an infected dog and ingests the microfilariae during a blood meal. The microfilariae develop further for 10 – 30 days in the mosquito’s gut and then enter its mouthparts. At this stage, they are infective larvae and can complete their maturation when they enter a dog. The infective larvae enter the dog’s body when the mosquito bites the dog. They migrate into the bloodstream and move to the heart and adjacent blood vessels, maturing to adults, mating and reproducing microfilariae within 6 – 7 months.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that killing microfilariae IS preventing heartworm.

So here’s the thing:  if you’re buying (literally or figuratively) any of the BS on the internet or elsewhere about how your dog doesn’t need heartworm preventive, and if you live in an area where you have warm weather and mosquitoes at least part of the year, then you’re deluding yourself.  And if you’re saying to yourself ‘well, if my dog tests positive, I can treat it with herbs’, then you’re completely batshit crazy.  Your friends might not tell you that, but I will.  If your dog tests positive, your dog HAS WORMS LIVING IN HIS PULMONARY ARTERY.

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How, pray tell, do you plan to get rid of those worms?  And how do you plan to dispose of the bodies?  Hmmmmm?  If you tell me you would let the worms die naturally, in the ‘slow kill’ method, then someone ought to confiscate all your dogs for their own safety.  You’re really going to let your dog live with worms in his heart?  Have any idea what that does to his organs?  Think about it.

If you’re going to tell me, as one friend did, that you hate to give your dog pesticides on a regular basis on the off-chance that they might need those pesticides at one time, then I understand that, and I say to you:  You have to think of it as insurance.  I pay homeowners’ insurance premiums faithfully every year.  I may never need to make a claim on that policy – I sure hope I don’t!  But the day that 150-year old oak tree comes crashing through my porch roof and demolishes half of my living room, I’m sooooo thankful that I didn’t ‘save’ money by canceling that insurance policy!  And so it is with heartworm preventives:  the one time your dog gets chomped by a mosquito carrying heartworm microfilariae, it will be the smartest decision you ever made to give him Interceptor every 6 weeks for 8 months of the year.  Unlike the oak tree that announces its presence in your house, you may never know that your heartworm insurance paid off.  But as climate change brings more and more weather aberrations to all parts of the country and more parasites establish themselves in areas that never hosted them before, I can tell you that your insurance is more likely than not to be needed, and sooner than you think.

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