Archive for September, 2010

A couple of years ago, my boss wanted to send me on a last minute trip to New Orleans. Never mind that I hate New Orleans (I have my reasons…), what was I supposed to do with my animals on such short notice?

Not being a pet person, my boss innocently offered to pay for boarding. (Which, admittedly, was nice of him). However…

So I had to explain to him that boarding special needs pets is not a good plan, and in the case of my emotionally fragile, epileptic, one-eyed, behaviorally challenged little biter, boarding is flat impossible, due to his habit of going completely berserk in a cage.

At the time, I was between sitters, because I had two medically high maintenance dogs, one of whom also had major behavioral issues due to trauma in his previous life. It was hard enough to find a sitter who was willing to handle the responsibility of their assorted medical issues; finding one who could handle Bumble’s behavioral issues was a much bigger challenge. He was profoundly territorial, terrified of leaving the house without me, protective of his medically fragile sister, and generally hell on four short little furry legs when dealing with anyone but me. And if he got too upset, odds were good that he would have an epileptic seizure.

I went through several people before I found Stacy. Stacy took his peculiarities in stride, was amused by his tantrums, and completely unfazed by his cranky attitude. She put in the time to learn how to manage him, worked at earning his trust, and now can even pick him up and carry him – a privilege few can claim. Stacy didn’t flinch from their assorted medical problems, learned to compound their medications, and was more help than I can explain when Bunny was terminally ill. And I also have the comfort of knowing my animals are safely at home, in their own environment.

Need a petsitter? First, ask your friends who they use. Ask your vet for suggestions – most vets know the best petsitters in their neighborhoods. Then check online – Petsitter International is where I found Stacy. Ask for references, and then check them. Have your petsitter come over a couple of times while you’re home to see how your animals respond, and how she responds to them.

Remember that whomever you hire to take care of your pets will have keys to your home, the codes to your alarm system, and most importantly, the responsibility for keeping your furry family safe and happy. A good petsitter is truly priceless.

As we discussed last time, most animal people think No Kill is the way to go, and consequently are more likely to donate money and time to those shelters claiming no kill status. I hope that I’ve shed a little light on the weaknesses of the no kill ideology. So now, let’s talk about what the average animal lover can do to help any program.

DONATE MONEY. Choose an animal shelter or rescue group whose mission meets with your approval, and support it regularly. Many groups have monthly subscription programs that will automatically charge the amount of your choice to your credit card or bank account. This type of donation is vitally important, because steady repeat contributions make it easier for organizations to plan their budgets.

DONATE TIME. Shelters and rescues depend heavily on volunteers. To do what? Clean cages, wash and groom dogs, walk and play with dogs, help potential adopters fill out paperwork, transport animals, attend adoption events, raise funds, take pictures for the paper and internet, collect donations of food and supplies, deal with the media…the list is endless, and every volunteer can find something that is a good fit for your talents.

EDUCATE. Talk to people about animal welfare. Encourage people to adopt their pets instead of buying from pet stores or off the side of the road. Promote spay and neuter programs. Know where to tell people to take that puppy they found on their way to work. And know the facts to back up the information you share.

RAISE AWARENESS…and funds…and stuff. Does your workplace have a charity program? Does your child’s school support the local shelter? Can you do something as simple as putting a donation jar in the break room at work? Many companies have matching donation programs, so that if the employees raise $1000, the company will donate another $1000. Other options include food drives, collecting supplies like bedding and leashes, sponsoring vet care for a special needs dog in rescue, asking local pet supply stores to donate food nearing its expiration to shelters…the options are endless.

So if you’re ready to help, find what works for you, and get creative.

“No Kill” is the supposed Holy Grail of the shelter world. Certain people in the animal welfare world claim that if shelter employees work harder, publicize more, and make a real commitment to the concept, it is truly possible to find homes for every adoptable animal that comes through the shelter doors.

I wish.

First, No Kill advocates promise homes to every “adoptable” animal. But how do they define adoptable? I’d like to know that too. Many ostensibly No Kill shelters skew their numbers drastically by reducing the population of “adoptable” animals through unreasonable “tests” based on behavioral evaluation, appearance, and health of the animal. If an animal can be deemed unadoptable, then it can be euthanized without jeopardizing the shelter’s claim to No Kill status.

And that is just one of the ways in which the No Kill premise fails.

Let’s look at what else can go wrong. Many shelters genuinely believe that it is possible to achieve true No Kill status, but eventually the inevitable happens. They run out of room. At this point, a No Kill shelter can do one of three things.

1. Admit the experiment failed, and euthanize for space.
2. Refuse to accept new animals until cage space opens through adoption of existing animals.
3. Accept new animals and consequently create a serious overcrowding problem.

Most No Kill shelters will not go with the first choice, either because they are true believers in No Kill, or because euthanizing for space would be career suicide for the shelter’s director. The second route is more ethically congruent with what No Kill advocates purport to believe, but then what happens to the animals turned away? They may end up at the nearest kill shelter, or dumped on the side of the road, or worse. It’s passing the buck. The third option can have catastrophic consequences; one such case in Las Vegas in 2007 resulted in the mass euthanasia of roughly 1000 animals. They were all ill from contagious diseases proliferated by the hoarder-quality overcrowding in the shelter, and a judge ordered the mass kill.

No Kill, sadly, is just not a viable option for most high intake municipal or county shelters. It will only work consistently in limited populations where it is possible to control intake and support high levels of adoption.

I don’t like it any more than you do. I would love for No Kill to truly work. And certainly the No Kill theories on increasing adoptions and educating communities are solid. But the hard truth remains: until we reduce the population of unwanted pets through adoptions, spay/neuter initiatives, and community education, there will continue to be more pets than homes.

Are you doing your part to help?

(We’ll talk about ways to help next time…)

Yesterday evening, I was sitting in my living room when I heard someone calling a dog. Honestly, it sounded like he was standing under my window, so I went outside to see what was going on. A guy from a couple of blocks over was walking up and down calling his dog while his wife put up flyers.

The story went like this: their purebred shar-pei, a housedog who rarely goes outside, had disappeared sometime yesterday morning. They had put her outside in a fenced yard with a locked gate while they were getting ready for work. When they went to bring her in, she was gone. The kids waiting for the schoolbus had seen her, but being kids, they didn’t know where she went after that. So her people had both called in to work and had spent the day visiting the local shelters and driving around trying to find her.

Now they were taping flyers to every stop sign in the subdivision with the dog’s name, picture, and their phone number.

Me: “Is she microchipped?”
Them: “No, but she will be as soon as we find her.”
Me: “Is she wearing a collar or tags?”
Them: “No, she never goes outside.”
Me: (SIGH.)

So I gave them directions to the four closest vet’s offices, as people often bring found dogs in, and I also suggested a couple of nearby neighborhoods to check. One lost dog I found was actually ten miles from home when I picked him up, so they needed to expand their search area.

Accidents do happen, and they are not always avoidable. But most lost dogs happen due to owner error.

A few reminders about how to keep this from happening to your pet:

1. Microchip all pets. If your vet charges high fees, most local shelters will do it very inexpensively.
2. Keep identification on your pet at all times. I don’t like jingle tags, so Bumble wears a Boomerang tag, which clips flat to a harness or collar. Bumble’s information includes his name, my number, the vet’s name and number, and the fact that he has seizures.
3. Make sure fences are secure and gates are locked. This is a deterrent to keep meter readers, children, and other trespassers from “accidentally” letting pets escape.
4. Never let pets wander unconfined and unsupervised, even for a few minutes.

When I left the house early this morning, all the flyers were gone. I’m really hoping that means that they found Sasha, not that the neighborhood curmudgeon had taken them down as he made his morning rounds in his golfcart.

Dog parks seem to be growing in popularity all over the place lately. People take their pets for play dates at the park the way people used to take their children. And just like children, not all dogs know how to behave in the park.

Before anyone who knows me points it out, yes, Bumble is one of those animals that does not know how to behave in the park. It would be too stressful for him, and honestly, he would probably have an epileptic seizure right there in the middle of the park. So he stays home.

However, if you are going to the park with your dog, I have a few suggestions.

The dogs are off leash. This sounds wonderful – all that freedom and fun – but it can be a bit overwhelming for some dogs, especially small or timid dogs. Big dogs may find themselves bullied by tiny yapping poodles, or your little dog may be harassed by someone’s ill-mannered Great Dane. It’s your job to protect your dog from the other dogs and people, and it is also your job to make sure your pet doesn’t hurt or provoke anyone else.

Don’t be THAT owner – the one whose dog doesn’t mind, who doesn’t clean up after the dog, who laughs when your dog picks on someone else’s pet.

Don’t feed your dog at the park. Training treats are fine, but don’t whip out a bowl of food or a rawhide chew. Most parks prohibit feeding, and it can so easily provoke the other animals.

Make sure that your dog comes when called in a variety of situations before you take him to join the party at the park. You have to have good voice control of your pet.

Don’t bring young puppies, unvaccinated dogs, injured dogs, or dogs in heat to the park. (Your dog should generally be spayed or neutered anyway, but that’s an issue for another day.)

Keep a leash in hand, in case you need to remove your dog quickly, either because of his behavior or that of another dog.

Above all, trust your instincts, as well as those of your pet. If your pet dislikes another animal, separate them. If you see that an owner is not in good control of his pet, keep yours away. If there is something in the park – fencing, water hazard, litter – that you view as a potential danger, avoid it.

It’s just like taking a kid to the park. Be vigilant, make your “kid” follow the rules, watch for hazards, and sit back and laugh while your pet has fun with his buddies.

If you read this blog, then odds are that you’re an animal person. And we animal people are notoriously soft-hearted – we’ll stop traffic to pick up a stray dog, adopt our pets instead of buying them, and we tend to give money and time to support animal welfare. (Thank you for that, by the way…)

So the question often arises: How do I know that I’m donating to a good charity?

It’s an unfortunate fact that some charities misuse the money, don’t keep the animals they “help” in conditions that meet our standards, or even have closet agendas that we wouldn’t like if we knew about them. So it seems to me that before we donate money, we need to know where it’s going.

In terms of animal welfare charities, my first suggestion is to donate locally, where you can see if the group is continuing to do work you approve of. People often make donations to umbrella groups like HSUS (Humane Society of the United States), assuming that their money will go to help the nation-wide cause of animal welfare. The simple truth is that HSUS, first of all, has basically no control of or monetary connection to your local Humane Society. And they have an agenda that most pet owners would disagree with if they looked more closely; Wayne Pacelle, their president, has been quoted more than once as saying that ideally there would be no pets, because animals shouldn’t be domesticated or owned. Huh?!

Another group that people mistakenly consider an umbrella group is the ASPCA. They’re a great organization, but they are NOT a nationwide group. They serve New York. They just were smart enough to grab a universal-sounding name, which increases their donations from the public tremendously.

So look to your local shelters and rescues when you start thinking about where to spend money. Municipal and county budgets do not usually keep up with the growth of the local population, which means that organizations who depend on money from a governmental organization are constantly short on cash. Rescue groups depend entirely on adoption fees and donations – and the adoption fees rarely even cover our costs. In the current economy, the number of pets in need of homes is rising continuously; if we’re going to help them, income from donations has to rise too.

Check out your local area. Visit a shelter or two, or choose a reputable rescue group that handles a breed or mix of breeds that you favor. Smaller groups should be willing to provide references to confirm the quality of their work. Shelters should be willing to let you walk through the kennels and see if they are clean and well-kept, with active adoption programs. Make an informed choice, and support the group that most appeals to you.

You could make a one-time donation, or a small monthly contribution. You could donate food and supplies, or ask your employer to allow you to collect contributions to help the cause of your choice. However you choose to help, it’s needed and appreciated.

*Commenters, if you would like to suggest a worthy animal charity for the readers of this blog, please feel free!

When Bumble came to live with me three years ago, I had no idea that he was epileptic. He was straight out of a shelter, and clearly had other special needs. But you can’t diagnose epilepsy until the seizures start.

He had been with me for a few days when I woke in the middle of the night to the sound of him screaming. I couldn’t wake him, and I couldn’t find any injuries. After a minute or two, he stopped, and within seconds seemed perfectly normal. A few nights later, it happened again. Dr. Romero diagnosed epilepsy.

Idiopathic epilepsy is veterinary terminology for “we don’t know why he has seizures.” It is almost impossible to pinpoint a specific cause for epilepsy.

Many dogs will have seizures in their lifetime without being epileptic. Seizures can be caused by a multitude of triggers: allergic reactions to food or plants, exposure to toxins, vaccine reactions, head injury, systemic toxicity from kidney or liver disease, high fever, just to name a few of the possibilities. In these cases, you and your vet can usually figure out what caused the seizure and prevent a recurrence.

Bumble, however, is truly epileptic. He generally has grand mal seizures a couple of times each month, which usually last between 45 and 90 seconds, with a few minutes of “hangover”(called the post-ichtal phase) afterwards. A grand mal seizure is one in which the dog’s entire body is involved. Every muscle goes rigid, the feet may kick wildly, eyes may be open or closed. The body may thrash violently, or arch, with limbs extended, or contract, with limbs pulled in tight. The screaming I mentioned is the result of the vocal cords going through the same spasms as the rest of the body. The good news is that the dog’s brain more or less leaves the body, metaphorically speaking, during the active seizure. In most cases, the dog is unaware of what’s happening.

Traditionally, epilepsy is treated with heavy narcotic sedatives like Phenobarbitol, many of which can cause long term liver damage. Bumble is extremely sensitive to medication, and we agreed that homeopathy offered a better choice for his system. He is on an experimental homeopathic treatment. Anecdotally, epileptic dogs apparently are prone to an extreme deficiency of an amino acid called L-Carnitine (readily available in human health food stores). It is not known whether the deficiency is the cause or the result of the seizures, but we know that remediating the deficiency reduces the frequency of the seizures. Bumble, on low doses of L-Carnitine or off of it altogether, has seizures daily. On high doses, the frequency drops to once a month, sometimes less. He averages about 24 days between seizures. A two minute seizure once or twice a month is a much better choice for him than narcotics.

Please note that homeopathy may not work for every dog. Epilepsy is very difficult to treat, and many protocols exist. The more frequent and profound the seizures, the more likely it is that you will need to use narcotics or other prescription medications.

What triggers his seizures? We don’t always know. Sometimes, it has simply been several weeks since a seizure, and it seems that the electrical impulses in the brain have built up to a point that they have to release by means of a seizure. In other cases, sudden changes in barometric pressure, especially by means of thunderstorms, can set him off. There have been occasions when he has gotten mad because he didn’t want to be combed, or have blood drawn, or have his nails cut, and the stress of getting mad can make him seize. Stress seems to be the key word. Epileptic dogs need to live a stress-free life with people (and a good vet) who understand how to manage the condition in the way that works best for them.

Just remember – the seizures are exhausting for them, but in many ways harder on us. If you have an epileptic pet, don’t give up on him.

Lately my friends have taken up calling me to ask whether they should rush a dog to the vet. Without exception, the answer has been YES, GO NOW.

Here’s the thing. A child can tell you what hurts, how badly, and sometimes why. An animal can’t. And dogs tend to be remarkably stoic in the face of pain, so often by the time you figure out that the animal is suffering, it may have gotten serious.

So when should you go directly to the vet?

If your pet has eaten something potentially harmful
Pet owners tend to underestimate the seriousness of ingesting foreign materials, whether the object in question is potentially toxic or might cause a blockage. Both situations can be rapidly and horribly fatal. In the last couple of weeks, two different people I know have found their dogs eating potential toxins. One dog ate ant bait, the other some old potpourri. Which dog was in more trouble?

Most people would assume the ant bait was more harmful. However, because it was old and expired, a call to the manufacturer’s hotline revealed it to be harmless. The potpourri, on the other hand, was infused with perfume, preservatives, dye, and other harmful chemicals, not to mention the potential toxicity of the actual plants used to make the base mixture. The potpourri eater spent several days on iv fluids and medication in the veterinary hospital, after extensive testing to be sure there was no intestinal blockage or perforation. Had his owner waited even a few more hours, the dog could easily have died.

Heat stroke or exhaustion
In the vicious heat of late summer, animals can be very susceptible to dehydration, overheating, and even heat stroke. Another friend called last week, worried about an elderly dog she was watching for owners on vacation. She followed their instructions to the letter, but one exceptionally hot day, the old dog got overheated. The dog didn’t want to stand, showed signs of disorientation, had an elevated body temperature – all classic signs of heat prostration.

My friend administered the correct emergency first aid by putting the dog in the shower, turning on cool water, and letting the dog stay there until her temperature returned to normal. She also gave Pedialyte and ice chips to combat the dehydration and resulting electrolytic imbalance. But the fragile old dog still needed to be seen by a veterinarian, to make sure that iv fluids were not needed, that her heart function was normal, and that there was no other damage.

Other Times to GO TO THE VET

Seizures in a dog without a history of seizure activity
Excessive vomiting or diarrhea, especially if blood is present
Refusal to eat or drink lasting more than 24 hours
Disorientation
Gasping, altered breathing, or unexplained rapid heartbeat
Pale or dry gums

These are all the sort of things to which pet owners tend to say, “Let’s wait and see how they are tomorrow.”

Don’t wait. All of these symptoms can be indications of potentially fatal conditions, and in every case, the longer you wait to start treatment, the more expensive and difficult the treatment will be.

Some years ago, I was driving on I-45 a few cars behind some kid in a pickup with a Rottweiler riding in the back. The kid swerved; the dog fell out. On the freeway. At 65 miles per hour. You don’t need to know the rest, and I wish I didn’t. It made me an absolute believer that dogs don’t belong in the back of a truck. It’s just too dangerous.

But did you know it can be just as dangerous to have an unrestrained pet INSIDE your vehicle?

Let me begin by saying I’m guilty of this too, especially if I’m only going a few blocks. But the fact is that every pet should be secured inside the vehicle, for his safety and yours. According to pet safety website www.barkbuckleup.com, 98% of all people travel with their pets unrestrained inside the vehicle. That same website goes on to tell us that a 60 pound dog can become a 2700 pound flying projectile if the driver wrecks at a speed of only 35 mph. How often do we really drive 35 mph?

Some of the risks of having your pet loose in the vehicle are as follows:

1. That flying projectile can kill or seriously injure the people in the vehicle. Insurance companies say that small pets often become airborne in a wreck and hit someone riding in the front seat in the back of the head, with catastrophic consequences.
2. It drastically increases the likelihood of injury or death for the animal, just as going without a seatbelt does for humans.
3. An unrestrained pet can escape from a wrecked vehicle and either disappear or run into traffic.
4. An upset or injured pet may behave aggressively toward first responders, either to protect his people or because he himself is hurt and confused. Any delay in first response aid can be seriously dangerous to both the animal and the people.
5. Even without an actual wreck, an unrestrained pet can fall off the seat, accidentally fall out an open window, accidentally lock or unlock doors, raise or lower windows, get underfoot, and in general cause havoc. The last time I picked my cousin’s boxer up from the vet, I had to pull over twice to explain that she did not have a driver’s license and therefore was to keep her hyperactive ninety pound self in the backseat. It would have been much safer to have her restrained.

What is the best choice for restraint? Small dogs do well in canine car seats, which often elevate a small dog so that he can see out, which makes him less likely to get carsick. Canine seatbelts are another good option; it’s a harness, usually made of seatbelt material, that buckles to a seatbelt through a loop on the harness. The wide straps are safer than the narrow straps of a traditional harness, because they distribute the force of the dog’s weight in the event of a crash or sudden stop. These are usually very inexpensive and readily available at pet retailers like Petsmart or Petco. Crates are always a safe choice, and make the dog easier to handle if you need to get him out of the vehicle quickly.

After review these statistics, Bumble’s going back into his car harness. Even for short trips.