Archive for October, 2010

Today is Halloween. They’re coming. As the sun goes down, hordes of princesses, aliens, vampires, werewolves, and ghosts will be ringing your doorbell in search of bags of candy.

It’s like the perfect storm of factors to drive a pet insane. Think about – ringing doorbells, little fists pounding on doors, dozens of oddly dressed strangers traipsing across your property, lots of shouting and giggling, flashlight beams, cars pulling in and out of the driveway, you hopping up to open the door every few minutes. And that’s in addition to the decorations, bowls of candy, and other assorted hazards.

Even the friendliest pets can get overwrought in these circumstances. And overwrought pets don’t behave like they usually do. A normally calm and obedient pet may growl, lunge, or bite, or even slip past you and dash off into the darkness.

Your best bet is to confine pets away from the front door. Lock them in the bedroom for the evening for their own safety. I don’t recommend putting them out in the back yard, because they’ll still hear all the extra people roaming the neighborhood, and still see all the waving flashlights. Shelters will tell you that the morning after any major holiday finds extra animals coming in, and lots of distraught owners searching for escaped pets that got out of “safe” back yards.

If you have an “unconfinable” pet who gets distraught when locked up, then keep the pet with you – on a leash. If there are two people in the house, have one hold the pet and one answer the door. Remember that dogs are naturally inclined to defend their homes from invaders, and shrieking, giggling, masked people waving bags of candy and shouting “Trick or Treat!” would certainly strike any self-respecting dog as exceptionally weird intruders to be dealt with.

Make it a Happy Halloween…protect your pets. Don’t expose them to all the excessive stimuli of Halloween, both for the safety of the kids and the safety of your pet.

People food is not the only hazard to our pets at Halloween. Decorations, costumes, and related gadgets are another potential source of problems.

Take fake spiderwebs, for example. Really. Take them far, far away, because I don’t like them. And a curious puppy or a nosy cat could ingest spider webbing, which could block up their intestines with catastrophic results. Such a blockage almost always requires major surgery to fix.

Other hazardous decorations are those with wires, such as the figures with wire-stiffened flexible limbs or wings. Candles, of course, are a fire hazard, especially in the presence of a wagging tail. Many pets end up with burned paws or whiskers from candles or even from playing with battery-operated or plug-in decorations that got too hot. Moving or noise-making decorations – like the ever-popular hand that emits a scream and grabs your hand when you reach into the bowl – are an invitation for pets to pounce.

Costumes are another source of danger. Potential problems are the elastic straps on masks, an excess of sequins or glitter, glued on decorations, fishnet tights. Elastic or tights can entangle a pet or block up an intestinal tract. Sequins or glitter can have sharp edges to damage or at least seriously irritate a dog’s digestive system, while glue may or may not be toxic.

Another potential toxic hazard involves anything that lights up, especially by chemical rather than mechanical means. Think glowsticks, luminescent paint, those annoying bracelets and necklaces that glow in the dark. They contain chemical gels that produce the luminescence. If an animal bites into or chews on them, he can get that toxic gel into his mouth or eyes.

And then there are the pet costumes. Seriously? While pet costumes produce some hilarious photos, I stand with the contingent that believes most pets are mortified by being decked out as a walking pumpkin or short furry superhero.

Aside from the embarrassment of pets forced to parade around in Batman and Robin suits, the actual costume can be dangerous to your pet. If your pet gets loose while wearing the costume, he could catch it on a fence or branch and become stuck, even to the point of losing circulation in a limb. He could hang the collar of his miniature cape on a branch and injure his neck or even strangle himself. Tight elastic can also constrict blood flow, which at the very least is uncomfortable. Chewing on the costume could cause illness, vomiting, intestinal blockage, or injury to the pet’s mouth. If you simply must dress your pet, don’t leave him unsupervised.

Please take the time to “child-proof” your home so that your pet will be safe this holiday weekend. Stay tuned for Part 3…coming to you on Sunday!

Halloween is not my favorite holiday. Okay, I love the candy. But I don’t love the trick or treaters…especially the ones that are clearly over 30. And I don’t love all the hazards to our pets, or the accompanying superstitious nonsense that makes this holiday especially dangerous to certain pets.

Did you know that many shelters refuse to allow anyone to adopt a black animal, especially a black cat, for a week or so before Halloween? It’s hard enough to find homes for black animals, because many people feel that black cats are unlucky and black dogs are aggressive or just unattractive. In fact, at other times of the year, shelters run incentive programs to encourage the adoption of black animals because their rate of successful placement is generally lower than that of other animals. But at Halloween, black animals are even more out of luck than usual. Adoptions are often prohibited, because animal welfare workers are afraid that that black animals might be used to some kind of ritual sacrifice or for some other perverted purpose.

And then there are the hazards to our personal pets. Candy and other Halloween treats can be extremely hazardous to our pets.

For most of us, Halloween equals candy. For homes with younger children, it equals large quantities of candy. First, candy in general is bad for pets. As we all know, chocolate is toxic to dogs, due to the presence of theobromide. A theobromide reaction can damage the heart, lungs, kidneys, and even the dog’s central nervous system. The darker the chocolate (meaning the higher the cocoa content), the more toxic the reaction can be. Milk chocolate is much less dangerous than gourmet dark chocolate. But plenty of other candy components are dangerous, as well.

Raisins (and any other products made from grapes, including wine) can produce a terrible toxic reaction in dogs resulting in kidney failure. For those of you who prefer your grapes in the form of adult beverages, alcohol of any kind is toxic to dogs. It can drop the dog’s body temperature to the point of hypothermia, and it also depresses the dog’s respiratory system, in addition to all the symptoms of drunkenness in humans.

Macadamia nuts cause a severe reaction. Symptoms include drunken behavior, joint paint and swelling, and severe vomiting. It only takes a small amount to make a dog terribly sick. Veterinarians have not been able to isolate the chemical cause of the reaction, but its existence is well-documented.

Xylitol is a particularly nasty hazard for those of you who try to make Halloween healthier by handing out sugar-free treats. (And frankly, you sugar-free types shouldn’t wonder why your homes are more likely to get egged on Halloween.) Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that is often found in sugar-free gum or candy. If, for example, your dog eats a pack of sugar-free gum, your dog can end up with permanent liver damage. Xylitol is absorbed very quickly, and can cause seizures, drunken behavior, and acute hypoglycemia due to extreme insulin production. It requires IMMEDIATE treatment.

Many, many people foods are extremely toxic to pets. These are just a few of the ones more likely to pop up in your home on a holiday.

Do your pet a favor. Even the seasonings we use when we cook meat for humans can make a pet sick. Make it a general rule to keep the people food for the people, unless it’s something definitively safe like small amounts of plain chicken, beef, turkey, maybe a plain scrambled egg, or a little cheese.

My mom just sent me one of those internet gems about how dogs are better than kids (duh!) because they cost less, require less effort, don’t need expensive clothes and cars, don’t want to go to college, and so forth.

I started thinking…

My dog has: a chiropractor, prescription food, his own personal crock pot for the chicken that goes in his prescription food, a car seat, a personalized blankie, a set of combs and brushes, at least one bed in every room of the house, a babysitter, and his own medicine cabinet. His picture is on my wall, my Facebook profile, and my phone.

Mom’s dogs have: a dermatologist, special food, medication, an elevated car seat, a playpen, a babysitter, more toys than I can count, and a wardrobe most Barbies would envy (including a number of matching outfits). Their artist-drawn portrait hangs on the wall in the living room.

Then I started laughing…and I have to admit it. My dog is spoiled. (But Mom’s dogs are more spoiled. Really. They are.)

We plan our schedules around the dogs. Vacation times are chosen based on the availability of dogsitters. Our homes are childproofed – for the safety of the dogs. People who visit our homes are expected to accommodate the peculiarities of the dogs…and they damn well better think the dogs are as cute and adorable as we think they are.

I figure that all dogs deserve to be loved and spoiled, and Bumble more so than most, since he was rescued from abuse and abandonment. And now I have to go…Bumble just woke up and wants his breakfast.

Confession time, dear readers. How spoiled is your dog?

People usually look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them I’m taking Bumble to the chiropractor.

Let me explain a little bit about Bumble’s condition; it is treatable, but not curable. His hip sockets are too large for the ball of the bones that should sit snugly in them, so his hips are weak and easily misaligned. He has one vertebra less than he should, and he has elbow dysplasia. He’s blind in one eye due to an injury before he came to live with me; he is also epileptic, quite possibly due to that same injury.

When Bumble suffered a serious seizure that instantly crippled him, we went for x-rays; Dr. Romero showed me the out of place vertebra compressing his spinal nerves on the x-rays and sent us straight to the chiropractor. Two adjustments later, he was fully functional and free of pain. (I would say he was back to normal, but certain family members would say that Bumble is never normal.)

Bumble’s skeletal issues cause him to overuse his neck and shoulders to take the strain off of his weak hips. This has probably made the elbow dysplasia worse, as he stresses his front end to compensate for the weaker back end. Sometimes seizures throw him out of alignment, but more often, if he gets too far out of alignment, it strains his system enough to bring on seizures. This is, of course, our observation; there is no hard scientific proof to connect the seizures to the bodily alignment issues. But there’s no getting around the fact that regular adjustments drastically reduce the number and severity of his seizures.

So which dogs need chiropractic treatment?

Dogs with arthritis or degenerative joint conditions
Dogs with chronic pain
Epileptic dogs
Dogs who display signs of injury
– maybe they jumped off the couch and twisted something, or wrenched something playing too hard.

Basically, any dog that shows signs of musculoskeletal pain or discomfort can probably benefit from chiropractic treatment. For those of you with long-bodied dogs like dachshunds or bassets, or dogs with chronic pain of any kind, I strongly recommend seeking out a good veterinary chiropractor. It can dramatically improve your pet’s quality of life, and in some cases, you may even see behavioral improvement as your pet feels better.

If your vet can’t refer you to a good chiropractor, you can look for one on www.avma.org, or for Texas residents, on www.tvma.org . Sometimes human chiropractors will also work on animals; ask your animal loving friends for referrals, too.

Wondering if your pet will appreciate chiropractic? I can’t speak for every animal, but Bumble, who notoriously resists being handled by most people, loves his chiropractor. His chiropractor can pick him up, pet him, and carry him around, liberties that most people will never be allowed by my cranky little guy. Most animals I’ve seen undergo chiropractic clearly understand that the person snapping and popping their joints immediately makes them feel better.

Twice in the last week I have encountered people who “don’t like dogs”. In both cases, it was very obvious that what they meant was that they are at least a little bit afraid of dogs.

The first was a teenager who was invited by a friend to come meet a very friendly Australian Shepherd. The kid backed away flapping his arms, shaking his head, and proclaiming that he was uncomfortable with dogs.

The second was a coworker who walked into a friend’s classroom to find it inhabited by her two very happy dogs, neither of whom ever met a stranger, and both of whom were delighted to meet the new arrival. Our coworker was less than thrilled.

Both parties denied that they were afraid, and both parties insisted that they just “don’t really like animals”.

In both cases, they instinctively recoiled. The same way I do when faced with a snake. That’s fear. Controlled, perhaps, but fear nonetheless.

I don’t understand how anyone can be afraid of dogs in general, but I do know that animals often sense fear and react poorly to it. Fear, for some animals, incites the prey drive. And that increases the likelihood of someone who already fears dogs getting growled at, or even bitten. As I live with a special needs dog with behavioral issues, I have to be very aware of this, because my little guy would be the first one to zero in on a nervous person. And he would not resist the urge to go mess with that person.

If you’re around someone who is less than comfortable with pets, please make sure your pets are restrained so that they can’t get into trouble. The last thing you want to do is allow your exuberant pet to scare the daylights out of someone who is already afraid. A scared person often behaves stupidly – squealing, shrieking, flapping arms, even striking out at or running from the animal – and that stupid behavior can cause a normally gentle animal to snap at someone. Aside from making someone’s animal phobia worse, the result for your pet could be tragic.

Current laws in many places allow local authorities to declare animals “vicious” or “aggressive” (the terminology varies according to the jurisdiction) based on very little evidence. If your pet scents fear and growls, barks aggressively, lunges, or even bites someone, you may find yourself paying additional homeowners insurance premiums, building a fence of a court-mandated design, posting “vicious dog” signs, putting your pet in quarantine, or worse, being forced to re-home or even euthanize your pet.

Let’s be honest. We don’t get why people fear dogs. We think it’s weird. But as responsible pet owners, we have to protect our pets. And sometimes that means keeping them away from people who don’t understand them.

As I sit here typing, I’m listening to a neighborhood dog whining, crying, and barking, and I’m debating calling the cops AGAIN.

I refer to this animal as Dog From Hell. We all know that I love dogs, but this poor animal has become a problem to the entire neighborhood, partially due to his innate character, but more so due to the morons who own him. Dog From Hell is very large – well over 100 pounds, I estimate – very badly behaved, aggressive, and prone to escaping. When he escapes, not even his owners can catch him, because he knows that when they do, they will stuff him back into a crate that is a tight fit for his enormous size.

If anyone else tries to catch him, he is quite willing to bite. He chases cats, squirrels, and anything else that will run, including smaller dogs. I have heard that the owners were fined by animal control a year or so ago, when enough people in the neighborhood complained about his Houdini tendencies. Dog From Hell once squared off on me in my own front yard while his imbecilic humans were chasing him round the neighborhood.

After the genius owners were fined, strangely, the escapes stopped. That might be because the poor dog – and I really do feel sorry for him – now spends most of his time confined to a crate, which would be why he is whining now. And I know that the morons are home, because their lights are on, and people can be seen walking around in the house. It amazes me that they can just ignore his crying.

Periodically, when it goes on for too long, I call the Sheriff’s Department, or one of the other neighbors does, and they come by and tell the idiots that all the whining, crying, and barking is disturbing the peace. That buys temporary silence, and forces them to actually pay attention to the poor dog.

This unfortunate situation is a prime example of what happens when people get animals that they are not equipped to care for. He is twice the size they thought he would be, because they know nothing about dogs and believed what the person giving him away said. He is aggressive and hard to handle, because they do not know how to manage or train him. He is dangerous, because they allowed his behavior to get so out of control. And so he spends his life locked in a box, when what he has needed all along to is live somewhere with a large yard, a couple of other dogs to play with, and humans capable of caring for him properly.

The people created the situation. The dog is paying for it. And because their mismanagement has made him both aggressive and escape-prone, he is a time bomb waiting to blow.

Many of you already know that I caused a scene in the post office last week by taking Bumble in with me.

First, you should know that I am completely unrepentant.

So here’s what happened. Friday afternoon, I took off early to get to the post office before it closes at the ridiculous hour of 4pm. I went home to get the package I was mailing, and while I was there, decided to bring Bumble along, so we could stop off at the vet’s office and at the chiropractor’s office while we were out. Bumble, as many of you know, is a special needs child, and he generally doesn’t bother to wake up until 5pm, in preparation for dinner at 5:15.

At the post office, I draped Bumble (still snoring) over my shoulder and went in to stand in line. I have taken Bumble into the Montgomery post office many, many times. The ladies at the post office know him, and have never told me not to bring him. They think he’s beautiful. After a couple of minutes in line, another postal employee (whom I now know to be the new postmistress) came out of the back. When she saw Bumble, she freaked.

Ms. Postmistress went into a hostile, foot-stamping tirade about “No dogs in post office!” She was rude, she was belligerent, and she was one of those people who apparently believes that if you repeat yourself loudly and continuously, the other party will give in.

So I firmly, clearly, and politely (which was an effort) explained that I had been bringing him in for years, he wasn’t touching anyone or anything except me, I had left work early to be able to mail the package, and we weren’t leaving until the package was mailed.

Her tantrum got louder and ruder. So I asked all the other people in line if any of them objected to Bumble’s presence. They all said no. Ms. Postmistress kept squawking about rules. I finally told her that I understood what she was saying. I just had no intention of complying. It was too hot to leave him in the car, he was asleep and not bothering anyone, and if she wanted to change the rules, I would not bring him again, but that we were already there and not leaving until my business was concluded. Finally she stormed off to the back. Problem solved. The package got mailed, and Bumble slept through the whole thing.

But it begs the questions…when and where is it okay to bring your pets? Under what circumstances? Especially now that many people have pet purses, pet strollers, and even pet body slings. In Europe, people routinely bring pets everywhere, even into some restaurants. A recent article in the Houston Chronicle addressed the same issue, as many cafes in Houston are becoming pet-friendly. Personally, I don’t mind people bringing their pets out in public, as long as the pets are leashed or otherwise confined and not behaving disruptively. (Bear in mind that I feel the same way about small children…)

What do you think?

Recently I have heard some of the usual complaints about dealing with rescue groups.

“Why do they charge so much for adoption fees?”
“Who do they think they are, to ask all these personal questions?”
“How dare they presume to tell me how to take care of a dog I adopt!”
“I’ll go BUY a dog before I tolerate all this nonsense! Rescues should be more accommodating. I’m doing them a favor by adopting.”

Let me address these issues. First, there is nothing wrong with purchasing a puppy from a reputable breeder. But fair warning – a really good breeder will ask all the same questions! How do you know if the breeder you select is reputable? First, they will ask you a lot of questions about your pet-keeping habits. Second, they will be happy to show you the mother dog and any other animals on the property. They’ll show you the housing conditions – which should be clean, comfortable, and not crowded. The animals should be clean and well-socialized, and should generally look happy.

Here’s the catch. Puppies from a good breeder cost anywhere from $300 to $3000 dollars, and you still have to pay for vaccinations and spay/neuter. And while puppies are gorgeous, adorable, tons of fun, and utterly charming, they have to be housebroken, trained, and constantly supervised. And all breeder guarantees aside, you have no way to know what interesting health problems or personality quirks the puppy may develop.

If, on the other hand, you adopt a dog from a rescue, you know what you’re getting. The animal is spayed or neutered, fully vaccinated, and you know exactly what health or behavioral issues may be present. Usually, the animal is already housebroken and reasonably trained. (Remember, we’re talking about dogs from a rescue, not from a shelter, where they don’t have time to train.)

Dogs adopted from rescues generally cost between $250 and $400, depending on age, health, and what breed the animal is. But they come with all their veterinary expenses for vaccination and alteration already met, which makes rescue by far the more cost effective option.

Why do rescues charge that much? In most cases, the adoption fee does not even come close to meeting the animal’s expenses. Rescues rely completely on donations and adoption fees to pay the expenses of incoming animals in need of housing and veterinary care.

I understand that some rescues are over the top. Many potential adopters object to the in-depth questions asked by rescues, refuse to allow rescues to do home visits, and are outraged that rescues place requirements on the situation into which an animal can be adopted.

Reality check. In many cases, these rules are necessary, and rescuers have a legal and moral obligation to ensure the safety of the animals in their care. Pekingese Rescue, for example, requires that the animal be kept indoors; that’s because their heavy haircoat and flat faces make them extremely sensitive to the heat. If left outside, they can die. Beagle Rescue also requires that the animals be kept indoors; with beagles, it’s their propensity to dig and escape, as well as their propensity to make a lot of noise and bother the neighbors, that make keeping them indoors highly recommended.

However, another rescue I know of will not adopt a male dog to a home with a female dog already in it, and vice versa. I find this a stupid requirement. Another rescue I heard about will not adopt to homes with residents under age 15. That’s foolishly extreme.

So here’s the bottom line. Yes, I strongly favor rescue. And I encourage you to look hard at rescue before you go to a breeder. If you don’t like the rules of one rescue, try a different one. Don’t write off all rescues because one annoys you. Go to Petfinder and look for the breed that interests you…you’ll be amazed how many are available in shelters and rescues.