Phoebe: A True Survivor

This precious little girl is Phoebe.  She is a five month old dachshund (mix?) with an absolutely darling personality. 

Phoebe has had an unusually rough start in her short little life.  First, some subhuman jerk threw her out of a car in front of a gas station.  Mercifully, someone scooped her up before she could get hit by a car.

Her next stop was the Montgomery County Animal Shelter, who immediately found her a place with E-Rescue of Houston.  Phoebe was delighted to go home with her new foster family – in fact, her first action upon arrival was to throw herself into their pool and go for a swim.

Unfortunately, Phoebe promptly became very ill.  They rushed her to the vet, where she was diagnosed with parvovirus.  Parvo is a highly contagious disease most often seen in very young dogs – Phoebe, at five months old, is in a highly susceptible category. 

Each year when you have your dog vaccinated, one of the vaccines normally given is a combination injection to prevent distemper and parvovirus.  Phoebe would have been exposed before vaccination, as the incubation period for parvo is roughly seven to fourteen days, and Phoebe had been in rescue less than a week when she got sick.

Phoebe was lucky.  Parvo has a very high mortality rate.  Young puppies and debilitated dogs (very young or very old) only have about a 50% chance of survival historically.  Parvo causes massive loss of body fluids from vomiting and diarrhea, and death generally results from the body shutting down to acute dehydration.  Some dogs survive parvo only to succumb to a secondary infection that their weakened immune system can’t fight off.


The good news is that vets are seeing considerable success in treating Parvo with the human influenza drug Tamiflu.  Phoebe was very, very lucky.  She had excellent and immediate veterinary care, and she was treated with Tamiflu, anti-nausea medication, and intravenous fluids.  She was also given prophylactic antibiotics to prevent any other opportunistic bacterial or viral conditions from attacking her weakened system.


Phoebe has made a full recovery!  She is once again happy, healthy, and playing like a very small whirlwind.  And she needs a forever home, too. 

This little girl is a survivor.


The bad news is that Phoebe’s treatment was quite expensive.  She spent six days in the hospital, and her total veterinary bills amounted to a staggering $1285.

Even worse, E-Rescue cannot accept any new animals into their program until they manage to pay off Phoebe’s bills.  Even dogs who come into rescue perfectly healthy have vet bills, and E-Rescue cannot take on any more financial obligations with Phoebe’s medical bills outstanding.

So, dear readers, please, please, reach into your pockets and help E-Rescue.  They do amazing work.  Let’s help them, so that they can go on to help dozens more like happy little Phoebe.  I’m going to donate, because Phoebe just got to me, and because E-Rescue is a great organization.  This group is vital to the animal welfare system of Texas.

Please click on this link to make your tax deductible donation to E-Rescue of Houston.

And while you’re there, Phoebe and her friends all have detailed adoption listings at .

Do Dogs Have Souls?

On Easter Sunday, it seems like an appropriate occasion to visit the age old question of whether dogs have souls. 

I am always blown away by the number of “religious authorities” and followers thereof who insist that only humans have souls.  To which I can only reply that anyone so foolish and egocentric as to actually believe that dogs don’t have souls has never spent any real quality time with one.  If anything, dogs have far purer souls than humans.

It was once believed that “dumb animals” did not have the capacity for emotion.  Yet anyone who has ever loved a dog knows that a dog feels joy, sadness, pain, anxiety, loneliness, anger.  In fact, veterinarians accept these emotions in pets so readily and completely that there is now a wide variety of anti-anxiety medications available for dogs.  Some of them are literally human medications re-applied to the veterinary market.

A dog has moods: relaxed, tense, friendly, cranky, playful.  Behaviorists and veterinarians (and good pet owners) can read a dog’s body language very adeptly to tell you what a particular animal’s mood is.

A dog has intelligence. Dogs can be highly trained to perform very complex tasks, from running agility courses to sniffing bombs to helping the disabled.  Dogs can also reason their way through situations that we would not expect.  Ever seen a dog assess a situation and visibly arrive at a decision about what to do next?  Give your dog one of those complex puzzle toys and watch him work his way through the puzzle to arrive at the treat inside.

A dog loves and forgives, much more freely than humans.  Anyone who has ever worked with a rescued pet who suffered from neglect, abuse, or abandonment knows this.  How often have rescuers seen a terribly damaged animal recover to become a healthy, loving pet?  We really couldn’t blame these animals who have suffered so much at human hands if they were irreparably hostile or fearful of humans.  Yet time and again, these animals demonstrate a capacity for love and forgiveness that should be a lesson to us all.

My church (along with many others) holds a Blessing of the Animals every year.  The number of people who show up for these services serves as confirmation that the vast majority of Americans treat their pets as beings with souls. 

I think I speak for most of us in the rescue world when I say that it wouldn’t be Heaven without dogs, but regardless of what some so-called authorities think, I have no doubt at all that dogs go straight there.

Happy Easter to you and all your furry friends!

Foster Homes Needed. Everywhere.

A few days ago, The Montgomery County Animal Shelter took in 85 animals in one day.  Even for them, 85 in one day is a lot.  Normal for them seems to run between 40 and 70 in a day.  So let’s pick a middle number.  If they average an intake of 55 dogs and cats per day, seven days a week, 52 weeks per year, that brings us to a hideous total intake number of around 20000 animals per year.  And that is a conservative estimate.

Imagine 20 thousand animals per year coming through your doors, in need of help and homes.  Now multiply that by the thousands and thousands of municipal, county, and privately run shelters in the United States, and you suddenly understand how statisticians conclude that this country euthanizes upwards of FOUR MILLION dogs and cats each year.

This time of year, puppy and kitten season is in full swing.  In fact, the first person to arrive at MCAS this morning found a rubber storage tub full of puppies on the shelter doorstep.  With the lid taped shut.  Fortunately, she found them in time, and the puppies are okay.  But now they need somewhere safe to go.

This time of year, the need for more foster homes goes from urgent to critical.

Foster parents take dogs or cats home, get them physically and psychologically healthy, and then help to find them permanent homes.  They are a vital and indispensible part of the animal welfare system.  They make it possible to save thousands of animals that otherwise would die in shelters due to treatable illness, behavioral issues, or even simple malnutrition – these are some of the most common reasons that land animals in shelters. 

I have the privilege of knowing dozens of successful pet foster parents.  These people take sick, injured, abandoned, elderly, behaviorally challenged animals home, rehabilitate them, house them and love them until the perfect forever home comes along.  Foster parenting, they say, is both joy and sadness, satisfaction and frustration, and both the easiest and hardest thing they’ve ever done.

Remember Hope? Gabby? Mandy? Lucille? Elliott? Kiah? Zoe?

Not one of these dogs would have survived the shelter system without the intervention of foster parents willing to take them home and help them. 

Hope and Elliott were deathly ill.  Gabby was elderly, frail, and badly injured.  Mandy and Kiah are both considered special needs dogs because they have hearing loss.  Lucille was elderly, a little arthritic, and had a few other age related issues.  Zoe was paralyzed.  Without foster parents, they would probably all be dead.

Instead, because a group of dedicated rescuers were willing to take them home and get them the help they needed, Elliott, Gabby, Kiah, Zoe, and Lucille all have been adopted.  Hope is fully recovered, gorgeous, and looking for her forever home.  Adorable Mandy (the little white terrier) is still in foster care, and waiting for a home that can manage her high energy and deafness.

This is what I call success.

Please, consider fostering for your local shelter or a rescue organization of your choice.  Some people choose to specialize in fostering tiny orphaned baby animals requiring specialized care.  Other fosters prefer the geriatric pets.  Some take the desperately sick or injured ones, for the joy of helping them recover their health.  Whatever your preference, there is a need.

And when you go to the shelter to sign up, bring a friend.  Or several.

Life With Bumble: He Had a Migraine?

As most of you know, my little Peke boy, Bumble, has many physical problems, not least of which are epileptic seizures.  Last week, he had a particularly nasty round of seizures.  When he went in for his cold laser and Alpha Stim treatment (the first is for joint inflammation, the other for pain management), Dr. Buchanan and I were talking about his symptoms.

I made the comment that Bumble had been acting basically like he had a migraine.  I was just trying to put his distress behavior into anthropomorphic terms.  I was really kind of astonished when Dr. B nodded and said, “He probably did.”

Apparently animals, just like people, can get headaches.  It makes sense, when you think about it.  The problem is that we just don’t think about it!  A dog can’t really tell you his head hurts.  So I asked about symptoms.  The two primary symptoms Dr. B offered were a perfect fit for Bumble – sensitivity to light and reluctance to open the mouth to eat.  

I had been assuming Bumble was reluctant to eat because he was so exhausted and off his game after three seizures in 36 hours. But he would happily drink liquefied food or pedialyte with chicken broth; it took less effort and didn’t require him to chew.  Dr. B confirmed that dogs with headaches are often reluctant to chew.  The thought is that it may be painful to the dog when he works the jaw to chew.

I also noticed that Bumble would not lower his head to eat or drink.  If I brought the bowl up to him, he would slurp up what was within easy reach. But he would not extend his head and neck downward, even for his favorite stewed chicken.  His chiropractor (Uncle Scott) adjusted his head and neck, which helped, but even so, he still obviously felt bad.

Unusual lethargy or crankiness can also be considered symptomatic.  Another indicator for Bumble – whether cause or symptom, I’m not sure – is that his body temperature rises sharply when he has seizures. That sudden opening of all his blood vessels and corresponding blood pressure spike can definitely be associated with a serious headache.  Headaches are basically the result of the blood vessels either constricting or over-expanding. 

Think about your own headaches – what makes you feel better?  Ice?  Or a heating pad?  If ice helps more, then your headaches are probably the result of over-dilated blood vessels.  If heat helps more, then your blood vessels are constricted and the heat helps open them up.

In Bumble’s case, there are several probable causes for his headaches.  First, he is sensitive to seasonal allergies.  Second, the extreme muscle contractions that accompany seizures can cause headaches.  (And much like the infamous chicken-egg debate, muscle tension resulting from a headache can cause seizures.)  Third, he is extremely sensitive to barometric pressure changes.  In fact, I have noticed that he consistently has seizures within 12 hours before or after I have a pressure-related headache.

So what can we do for a dog we suspect has a headache?  If the dog is trying to avoid light, let him.  If his skin, especially his head, feel unusually hot to the touch, keeping him cool can help.  Bumble has a Cool Bed, which transfers heat from his skin and cools him gently.  When he feels extremely hot, I also use a small ice pack between his shoulder blades.  One caveat – you don’t want to cool the dog too abruptly, because a sudden constriction of the vessels is just as painful.  Bumble has very dense hair to protect him from being shocked by the cold, so the small ice pack lowers his body temp at a reasonable pace.  A cool (not cold) damp cloth to the belly or neck can do the trick too.

Bumble also takes antihistamines to help with allergy symptoms and lessen the effect of the barometric pressure changes.  They do make NSAID pain relievers for dogs; talk to your vet to see what the best choice for your pet is, and to make sure that the medication will not react badly with whatever other medications your pet might be on.  If you’re thinking of using “over the counter” pet pain relievers, clear it with your vet first.

It can be challenging to learn to recognize symptoms of pain in many dogs, as they hide them well and can’t complain the way humans do.  But the better you know your pet, the easier it is to notice small behavioral changes that may indicate pain.  And pain can be managed, so that your pet can be comfortable.

The Dog I Can’t Help

Every rescuer knows rule one: We can’t save them all.

We don’t like it, but we know it.  We also know rule two: Save every one that you can. 

So what happens when rules one and two collide? 

Big Red

For several years now, I have seen the same feral dog, several mornings a week, in the same place.  An experienced dog handler would recognize this dog as wild from a hundred yards away – because that’s as close as anyone will be able to get. 

Over the years, I learned a lot about this dog.  I learned that at least three mornings a week, he sits in the same field, on a little rise, surveying his imaginary kingdom.  Through repeated long distance observation, I determined that he was about 70 pounds of intact male.  I decided – from his body type and bone structure – that he has some shepherd blood, mixed with who knows what to produce a lean, rangy body and a deep red coat.  I’ve watch him mature from a wary young dog into a truly feral adult.

I’ve never tried to catch him.

Why not? 

Well, let’s think about this.  

Where would he go?  He would not fare well in the shelter system; a feral dog of his size, physical strength, and age could be really risky to handle, and he would almost certainly be deemed unadoptable.  Most rescues – which would be his only chance – are not equipped to handle a feral dog in his weight class.

And then a more immediate matter: How the heck would we catch him?  A live trap would be the only way – if he were careless enough to walk into it.  And I’m really not sure they make live traps his size anyway.  And if we DID catch him, then what?

Against my better instincts, I had never tried to feed him either.  He was always in good body condition, and seemed very at ease and in charge of his surroundings.  He was obviously eating somewhere.  I made myself think of him as a wild animal – feeding him could have done more harm than good, by making him careless and less able to fend for himself.

This dog has bothered me for years.  I worry when he’s not at his place in the field in the mornings, and I always am relieved when I do see him.  I feel responsible for him somehow, even though our only connection is in my mind.

One morning last week, my feral friend broke pattern.  Instead of lying majestically in the middle of “his” field, he was sitting under a tree beside the driveway into the shopping center parking lot.  It was the first time I had seen him at such close range.  He was thinner.  A little scuffed up.  And his position by the driveway made it seem as though he wanted help.

Since I was headed to Chick Fil A to pick up breakfast, I picked him up a chicken biscuit too.  I didn’t know how he would react to human presence, but I figured I could at least leave the food out for him.

This big dog had no reaction at all to the vehicles blowing by, but the minute my truck door opened, he was on his feet, tail tucked, backing away.  I usually have really good luck approaching wild dogs, but Big Red never let me get within 100 feet.  He didn’t show any hostility, just the wariness of a wild animal faced with a human.  I left his sandwich under his tree and hoped the smell would draw him back for it once I left.

A chicken sandwich isn’t much, but if there is anything else I can do for this dog, I don’t know what it is.  It’s sad and frustrating to know that I can’t help him.  So do me a favor, readers – tonight, say a prayer for Big Red.  It’s really all we can do for him.