Archive for April, 2011

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.

TREATMENT

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.

RECOVERY

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.

VET BILLS!

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. 

http://www.e-rescue-houston.org/donations.html

And while you’re there, Phoebe and her friends all have detailed adoption listings at www.e-rescue-houston.org .

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!

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.

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.

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.

Meet Blanca. Blanca was seized by police in a drug raid.  At the time, she was a tiny three month old puppy, sick, wormy, and lame.  She went to Animal Control.

This particular Animal Control has a bad reputation. They euthanize by gas chamber (don’t get me started), and apparently one of the Animal Control officers passes bully breeds like Blanca to a hog hunting friend.  If they don’t shape up to be good hunting dogs, he kills them. Given Blanca’s condition, she wouldn’t have had a chance. 

Amy Lewing, with Italian Greyhound rescue, knew how bad Blanca’s odds were and pulled her out of the shelter to save her life.  Blanca was wormed, vaccinated, and fed, but the lameness persisted.  X-rays showed a break to one of the bones of her left front leg.  It can be fixed, but it will require major orthopedic surgery and the bone will have to be pinned into place.

Amy primarily rescues tiny, fragile Italian greyhounds, so Blanca cannot stay with Amy for too long, as her heavier bone structure, playful nature, and larger size are intimidating to the little dogs in residence.  Amy has found Blanca a place in the Brazoria County Humane Society’s adoption program, once her leg is repaired and she is healthy enough to go up for adoption. But first that leg has to be fixed.

Unfortunately, orthopedic surgery is expensive, and the only other option is amputation. 

The discounted rescue price for Blanca’s surgery and associated care will be about $1600.  If they were forced to amputate, the cost would only be about $600.  This is NOT an acceptable option.  The leg in question is a weight bearing front leg, which can be harder on the dog, and it would make her correspondingly less adoptable, too.    

Amy still needs another $850 to pay for this little girl’s only chance for a normal life.  Less than $1000 stands between this little dog’s rough start in life and her future as a healthy, happy puppy who can go to a loving forever home. 

Sadly, Blanca’s case is all too common.  Shelters and rescues have to make financial decisions about animals like Blanca every day.  Sometimes they choose amputation because it really is the only choice.  Other times, the financial realities of caring for many animals in need set in, and an animal like Blanca ends up with three legs.  Sometimes – many times – animals like Blanca are simply euthanized to make room for the several healthy animals that could be helped for the same amount of money.  This is especially true if, like Blanca, they come from certain “less adoptable” breeds. 

A rescuer’s job is to help the specific animals in his or her care. Blanca was lucky to fall into Amy’s hands, where she is safe and cared for.  She’s lucky that someone is willing to put in the time and money to get her leg fixed so that she can live a normal life without any unnecessary handicaps.

Readers, please chip in to help Blanca. 

This blog takes about 275 hits per day.  If even thirty percent of you will donate ten dollars apiece to Blanca, the remaining cost of her orthopedic surgery will be covered.  (If you can’t do ten, please, do what you can.) Ten dollars is the cost of going to a movie and getting a small drink (not even popcorn).  Ten dollars is the cost of a quick visit to Starbuck’s for coffee and a pastry. 

Blanca really is depending on the kindness of strangers to repair the damage done to her by cruel humans so early in her life.  And I’m counting on the kindness of my animal loving readers to step forward and help her.

Can you spare ten dollars to help save Blanca’s leg?  

Click here to donate:

http://iggiesr4me.chipin.com/blanca

Lizzie, my recently adopted Peke baby, is a beautiful dog.  Her long Pekingese coat is a gleaming black with white tips on her toes and a streak on her chest. 

I didn’t think twice about adopting a black dog.

Apparently many people do.  Black Dog Syndrome is a documented phenomenon in which people do not want to adopt black pets due to a variety of stupid myths and misconceptions.

 Obstacles and other foolishness faced by black dogs:

  •  “Black dogs are mean.” 

No, they’re not.  Color has NO bearing on behavior or temperament.  I’ve lost count of how many black dogs have been part of my family or of my friends’ families over the years, and all of them have been happy, loving dogs.  Some of them have survived terrible abuse, and STILL turned out sweet and affectionate.  Fancy, the one who had been shot in the face and left to die, has one of the best personalities I’ve ever seen.

Some of the “mean” stereotype comes from the association that guard dogs are big, muscular, black, and intimidating.  Some of it comes from folklore that has hung on into the 21st century – people have unconscious negative reactions to black animals because Grandma thought they were potentially evil, for example.  Not logical, but powerful nonetheless.

  • “Black dogs aren’t pretty enough.”

People often think of black dogs as ordinary.  Basic.  Everybody has one.  Around here, we tend to call them East County Road Dogs – those dogs of uncertain lineage whose primary identifying trait is color.

Let me clarify this one.  Dogs, just like people, are individuals.  Color does not affect personality.  And your black dog is different from everyone else’s black dog because he is YOUR black dog.  In a very short amount of time, you will develop an eye for the nuances of your black dog’s body language, stride, and posture that will make you able to identify him in a herd of virtually identical black dogs just by the way he moves or stands.

  •  Black dogs are harder to photograph and thus less noticeable in pictures.

This one actually has some truth to it.  My own little black dog is a bit tricky to photograph, and we discovered at Easter Paws last weekend that a couple of really jet black dogs didn’t photograph as well as I would have liked them to.  They’re so dark that it is hard to see the details of their faces in the pictures.

I view this one not as a stupid excuse offered by an uneducated public, but instead as a genuine obstacle.  It’s hard enough to get the photogenic dogs adopted.  It’s even harder to convince people to come look at what appears to be a dog shaped black spot on your computer screen. 

Black Dog Adoption Specials

Many shelters go to extreme lengths to encourage the adoption of black dogs and cats throughout the year.  They have special weeks focused on black pets, they offer discounted adoption rates, or they offer incentives such a free training classes or reduced cost spay or neuter.  They try to showcase good pictures of the black pets on websites and social media sights to encourage people to consider them. In many shelters, they try to put the black dogs in the most well-lit kennels or in the ones most visible to the public, as a way to make them more attractive and noticeable to shelter visitors.

Pets deserve to be chosen and loved for who they are, not rejected based on something as silly as their color. 

A few suggestions… 

Do you run a shelter or rescue?  Showcase your black pets this week.

Do you network for animal welfare online?  Share every picture of a black dog in need of a home that comes your way.

Looking for a new pet?  Please, consider adopting a black pet. 

Please, let’s make sure these dogs don’t die in shelters over something as absurd as their color.

At 3:00 a.m. last night, I woke to horrible screaming coming from the kitchen. 

I’m so conditioned to it now that I was out of bed and halfway to the kitchen before my conscious mind even articulated its first thought: “Here we go again. I knew it!”

Bumble sleeps in the kitchen because he needs a night light.  As he has gotten older and the vision in his one good eye has diminished, he panics if he wakes up in total darkness.  So at least I could see where I was going.

When I hit the kitchen, Bumble’s tiny twelve pound body was arched back in a full grand mal seizure.  His head was pulled back hard against his shoulders, his mouth was open and screaming, and his eyes were open but staring blindly.  His little feet and short legs were rigidly extended.

From three and a half years of experience, the first thing I did was grab an old towel.  When Bumble had a serious grand mal, especially in the middle of the night, there are excellent odds that he will lose control of his bladder. 

The screaming stopped after 15 to 30 seconds, when the initial spasm let go of his vocal cords.  It took another 45 second or so for the rest of his body to stop jerking and twitching, during which time he did indeed soak that towel.  But it’s much easier to throw a towel in the washer than to scrub the floor.

Once the screaming stops, his mouth tends to stay open.  It may work as though he’s chewing, or it may just sort of hang there in a half open grimace. In last night’s episode, his little tongue was hanging slack and he was drooling.  The good news was that his tongue and gums never turned blue or white, so he was never deprived of oxygen.  A period of apnea (not breathing) is common in seizures, but that’s the part that always scares me.

Sometimes as the first rigid attack wears off, Bumble will flop like a landed trout, his head and hips flipping up and down against the ground.  Because I have seen Bumble have many seizures, I know that it’s safe for me to steady his head and prevent him from hitting it against the tile floor.  I also try to keep his head aligned in a way that keeps his airway open so that he’s less likely to go into apnea.  Even more important, I hope that steadying his head will keep him from wrenching his spine.  A couple of Decembers ago, he seized so violently that he seriously displaced three vertebra and temporarily crippled himself (thank God for the chiropractor).

Last night’s seizure lasted for maybe 75 seconds – but it seemed like an hour.  I was grateful when he finally went limp and his open eyes closed.  It meant the seizure was over and he was limp with exhaustion.  But it also meant that he was inhabiting his body again, so to speak.

After about five minutes, my little boy sat up and looked around, calm but puzzled.  My other dog, Lizzie, was draped over my arm, sniffing anxiously at her older brother.  She gets very agitated when Bumble has an episode.

Since Lizzie and I were wide awake and feeling the effects of a world class adrenaline burst, we sat up for a while to make sure Bumble was okay.  Bumble got up, arranged himself back into a comfortable position, curled up and went to sleep, like nothing had ever happened. 

I had been expecting a seizure.  For about 36 hours before the seizure, he had been fussy and uncomfortable.  He paced around the house, laid down, got up, whined, and generally acted unhappy.  And his appetite was a little off.  After three and a half years, I know the signs.  A sudden change in the barometric pressure can bring it on, and we were expecting a front to come in.  In fact, he often has a seizure within 24 hours of my having a weather-induced headache.

And this morning, Bumble is just fine.  A little tired, but relaxed and content.  For the moment, all the excess electrical impulses have been discharged and his little brain is firing normally again.  Until the next time.