Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Are You Ready for Your Next Pet Emergency?

Emergency situations with animals are easier to deal with if you have taken some time to plan ahead. If you own a pet—dog, cat, horse or other domestic animal—you’ll probably experience at least one emergency first aid situation during your pet’s lifetime. The Pet First Aid & Disaster Response Guide by G. Elaine Acker (2007; Texas A&M Press for Pets America, Austin) is a slim book that should be every pet owner’s pet-specific first aid kit.

What? You don’t have a pet-specific first-aid kit? Check out the list provided in this booklet and modify a human-specific kit or create one of your own.

Divided into two parts, the book covers basic animal first aid—how to put on a muzzle (the time to practice this on a dog is BEFORE an emergency), how to assess and stabilize an injured animal, and how to transport or move an injured animal. This is not a book designed to replace a veterinarian or other animal care-provider, nor is it a fully comprehensive first aid manual. Instead, the book alerts pet owners to the types of situations that can trigger animal emergencies—at home, at the dog park, on vacation, or during an evacuation.

The second part focuses on disaster tips learned from events such as Hurricane Katrina (which was a wake-up call to thousands of pet owners across the United States). This is the most helpful part of the book in my opinion—pet owners need to consider what they will do if life gets “lifey” and stuff happens.

The book has room to record vital pet information, but on the down-side, the pages are printed on that slick, non-tear paper that doesn’t take ink without smearing. You could photocopy the pages or use them as a guide to create your own forms.

Order direct from Pets (a group dedicated to informing the public about pet first aid issues and working with agencies to develop pet-friendly emergency response procedures for use during disasters). You can also order from The cost is $14.95, and proceeds go to the group’s efforts to support disaster efforts.

With Hurricane Season around the corner, this book should be in your go-kit.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Corn Cobs & Dogs Don't Mix

A week ago, my Mom’s dog, Bella, a Jack Russell mix, got hold of a piece of corn on the cob and scarfed it down.

My mom said she saw the kernels in Bella’s poop, but couldn’t find any cob. Meanwhile, Bella seemed fine—eating, playing and pooping normally until the Sunday before Memorial Day, when she began to vomit. The vomiting was unproductive, although a small nub of corn cob came up. But worse was that the dog was struggling so hard to purge her gut that her vomit was streaked with blood.

A trip to an emergency vet clinic in downtown San Antonio (south of where my folks live) along with Xrays and fluids showed an obstruction. Today, Bella underwent a surgery at my Mom’s regular vet clinic to open her gut. The surgeon removed two large pieces of corncob from her stomach. Fortunately, the cobs hadn’t entered the intestinal tract, or the surgery would have been far more dicey. As it is, Bella should be home from the animal clinic by Thursday, and is expected to make a full recovery.

The vet told my Mom that corn cobs are one of the most common obstruction items removed from dog guts—dogs love ‘em but corn cobs won’t split up or digest. And as a breed, Jack Russell Terriers like Bella often show little loss of appetite, which is an early symptom of blockage.

So, during this summer’s grill fests, keep a sharp eye on those corn cobs—the bill for this unplanned snack stands at $2,500.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Dog Lady Van

This is my 2001 Town & Country Chrysler mini-van. I’ve clocked 124,400-plus miles on the odometer. While the vehicle has provided faithful service as Band Mom car (I have hauled in one trip a full set of tympanis, one concert tuba in a hard case, two trombones and three full-size music stands), as our primary travel vehicle (including one trip from Southeast Louisiana to Green Bay, Wisconsin and back), and as a college student-hauler (four trips from Houston to Lubbock, TX, and back), this road-seasoned red minivan is primarily the Dog Lady Van.
•Most animals transported in one trip: 17 (cats, dogs, puppies and kittens—all crated).
•Average number of dogs transported per week: 8 animals.
•Number of crates I can fit inside with third row seats removed: 2 medium-large wire crates; 2 small wire crates, two small plastic crates.
•Number of bags of 50 pound kitty litter I’ve hauled in one trip: 25 bags.
•Number of times a dog has hurled or pooped in a crate while being transported: 6 times.
•Amount of dog hair accumulated over the course of one year: Ummm…a lot, according to my husband.
•The service provided for abandoned animals since 2002: Immeasurable!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

An Old Dog Finds a Safe Haven

Snowy, a 10 year old rough-coated Jack Russell Terrier was surrendered by his owners on April 29, 2009. His owners claimed that a few days earlier he had become terrified during a severe thunderstorm and dashed wildly around, knocking a television off its stand. Here in Houston, thunderstorms are a regular occurrence, so those of us at the Shelter wondered why now?

His owners surrendered him with his gear—pillow, toys, food and such. Snowy ended up in the Blue Room with the “Stray Hold” animals wearing a faded red collar with his rabies tag and a metal “Spiderman” tag embossed with his name and the owners’ phone number.

A family dog, Snowy is fully housebroken, knows sit, come, and shake, and carries himself with calm and quiet dignity. His puppy days are long behind him, and while he has the short-legged blocky body of the classic JRT, he has settled into maturity.

He can still chase a cat and fiercely guard his rawhide chew, but he is happiest sprawled quietly on a rug near your feet. His teeth are ground down from years of hard chewing, but otherwise he appears to be in good health. He’s even heartworm negative—a sign that his owners had given him regular preventive tablets.

But the chaos of the Shelter nearly defeated this stalwart little dog’s JRT spirit—he wouldn’t eat, and he moped. At Off-Site events, he seemed resigned to the fact that his family had thrown him away, but the grief of betrayal had robbed the life from his eyes. Older dogs face longer wait times for adoption, and Snowy had lost his spirit, so he was nearly invisible to prospecticve adopters. However, all the volunteers fell for him, and we made sure he went Off-Site, and pampered him with canned food and baths. It looked like Snowy would be in the Shelter a long, long time.

But Snowy’s fortunes shifted on May 16th when he went home with one of our dedicated volunteers, a woman who (like most volunteers at the Shelter is “dog poor”) but who was willing to see if Snowy could fit in with her pack. She took him home, fed him and made him a comfy bed. That evening, we had a severe thunderstorm—the booming thunder-cracks set my dogs to barking. But the volunteer called with interesting news, “Guess what,” she said, “Snowy isn’t afraid of thunderstorms at all.”

Now, almost a week later, Snowy has settled in to his new home. His foster mom reports that the life-gleam is back in his eye and he even chased one of her cats. He’s reliably housebroken and gets on well with her other dogs. He doesn’t like to be crated (what JRT does?) but he’s doing fine in her “dog room.” I’m happy to report that Snowy doesn’t need to leave his new home to go to Off-Sites. In fact, he’ll probably end up a “permanent foster.” Snowy is indeed a fortunate little Jack Russell Terrier.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


More precise than the Magic Eight Ball! Less confrontational than Rock-Paper-Scissors! Get the answers you need--just ask yourself, "What would the dog do?" Spin the spinner! Take action--Eat! Sleep! Poop! Or, the ever-popular: Bark!

But wait, there's more! Act now--operators are standing by--and we'll include two WWDD Decision-Maker tools for the same low, low price! That's right--two tools! Now you and a friend can have a bark-off, or launch a sleep-a-thon. The possibilities are endless! Ask any dog--don't wait until somebody bites you!

Must be 18 or older to order. Offer void in some jurisdictions. Prices higher in the State of Texas. Not available in Louisiana. Not recommended for use around cats.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Queeny's Story

This is a long post, but this story is what prompted me to launch a blog. I hope you’ll read through it for Queeny’s sake.

I haven’t written about “Queeny” in this blog because she crept through my life before I launched. But Fred’s post today on “One Bark at a Time” struck me and I want to make sure Queeny is never forgotten.

The Queensland Heelers and Australian Cattle Dogs who arrive at our Shelter rarely fare well. Bred as Thinkers, these dogs seem to sense the horrific end that could be theirs. Many react to the chaos of the Shelter by withdrawing into themselves—slumping in the back of the kennel, their ears at half-cock, their eyes full of reproach.

Queeny (our Shelter lacks imagination when assigning dogs a name, but at least a name is generally bestowed), a little Queensland Heeler mix, was like that. I didn’t see her at first—she was nearly invisible in her grief. When I took her out of the kennel, she slouched toward the door, quietly desperate. Already in the Shelter for three weeks, she came into my view too late. This was right before Valentine’s Day in 2009.

Not that I didn’t try to save her. I took her to an Off-Site event, which, when I am in charge is like a Day Out for the Dogs—with brushings, collars and kerchiefs, a spritz of doggie perfume, good treats, and walks and head pats and time to sit between my knees while I ruffle ears and massage shoulders. But Queen didn’t care. She looked at me with eyes that asked one question: “Who betrayed me?” And I couldn’t give her an answer.

So I tried to tempt her, but nothing worked. She was thin and coughing—I figured it was Kennel Cough, which vexed the Shelter animals all winter. I opened a can of dog food (bought inside the PetsMart where we had set up). She sniffed, licked, and then gave up on it. By the end of the afternoon, she was sliding downhill and I was determined.

Back at the Shelter, it was too late to find a staff member to give her medicine. It would have to wait until Friday morning. So Queeny came home with me, along with another foster (Sweetheart, the hound mix I’ve written about several times). I made them scrambled eggs, mixed it with kibble. She ate the offering and her mood picked up, but only a little.

I kept Queeny and Sweetheart at my house after the Off-Sites through the weekend. I gave her meds for Upper Respiratory Infection and good food. But my husband didn’t want me fostering—he was cranky about the dog hair, the size of the dogs, the crates in the main room, the occasional bark. Plus, he said he didn’t want stinky Shelter dogs in his vehicle, and my old Soccer-Mom van had to go the shop Monday for transmission work.

So I had to take both dogs back on Sunday night. It was 9:00 p.m. at the Shelter. There is nothing worse than the Shelter after hours. When we unlock the dark kennels, and flip on the lights, the dogs wake up and bark in confusion. The barking sounds harsher at night. Shadows pool, even with the lights on. The Shelter is Hell after hours.

Queeny gave me a stoic look—“You, too, have betrayed me.” Exhausted from four-days straight of Off-Sites (it was a special promotion), I wept. I wept all the way home because I knew Queeny was right. I didn’t stand up to my husband. I wasn’t willing to take responsibility for the relationship I’d started with Queeny. I told myself: “The Staff will continue her meds. It’s just a mild URI. She’s eating again. She’ll be fine.”

By the time I had my car back, it was Thursday. I went straight to the Shelter. The Vet Tech told me she was glad I was finally here because “your dog, the Heeler” hasn’t eaten since Monday.” Queeny was in the Surgery kennel because she had faded too much to remain in the chaos of the Adoption Room kennel. She didn’t stand, but lifted her head when she saw me.

I went into the kennel, crouched and cried in her fur. A Staff person brought me a can of dog food and asked me to see if I could get her to eat. She ate for me, then slowly rose, wobbled forward, drank water, then peed by the door of her kennel. I put on her harness and led her out. She wasn’t coming back. I didn’t care what my husband said.

The Shelter Director gave her injections of meds, gave me syringes and tablets, and a tube of Nutra-Cal. I put Queeny in my van and took her home, prepared a soft bed and put the crate in the main room of our house. Queeny stayed with me from February 19th until February 25th.

You know the story—injections (my husband, who was shamed into helping gave the injections while I held Queeny), liquids, tablets, a dozen combinations of taste-tempting tidbits, hand-feeding, finger-feeding, cajoling, slow walks in the grass, stroking and petting, begging and pleading, calling in favors from my best friend who is a Vet Tech, and even a donation from her employer who came out to the Van in front of her office to administer a power punch of injections: “It might work.”

I couldn’t save Queeny. On Ash Wednesday, February 25th, when I crouched by her crate, I could tell she had given up the fight. She was done. I lifted her in my arms and made her a bed on our couch. Weeping, I called a girlfriend, who came over and drove us in my van to the Shelter. I held Queeny on my lap. She wasn’t a big dog, but she had lost so much weight. Her eyes were smoky with Death but she was still breathing.

At the Shelter, there was the normal chaos. We arranged Queeny in the back of my van and my girlfriend stayed with her while I waded through the bureaucratic mud. No, I didn’t want to leave Queeny in a kennel where someone “would take care of it.” Yes, I could wait for the Shelter Director to finish a call. I had to break another promise I had made to Queeny: I had told her she would never go inside the Shelter again. But it is against the rules to perform the final deed in the parking lot.

My girlfriend waited with Queeny until things were ready, then I carried Queeny inside the Shelter to do the final thing. The Shelter Director had a cubbie for an office. We closed the door, and laid Queeny on a clean towel. The pads of her feet were thick: Distemper. We stroked Queeny. I told her how sorry I was.

They left me with Queeny, who I had planned to keep if she had lived, who I had renamed Sasha. She didn’t help or resist when I pulled her into my lap and wept into the brittle fur on her neck. I kissed her between her fox ears. The Vet Tech came for her.

Our Shelter doesn’t use the two-injection method for euthanization. Too expensive is the excuse. The Vet Tech did what she could, including holding Queeny (which is against the policy for some asinine reason) while the injection was made. On Ash Wednesday, February 25th, Queeny’s suffering ended.

I went to church afterwards, at noon. I needed to hear about ashes, dust and bones as brittle as potsherds. I needed to know my part in Queeny’s downfall would be absolved, and that through repentance (which is to turn around) I could do better. Queeny is not the first Shelter dog I’ve lost to death, as there have been others over the years, but she is the one who shouldn’t have died.

I will always remember Queeny, who is now Sasha.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Foster Mother's Day!

Spike, a young pit bull mix currently available at the Montgomery County Animal Shelter in Conroe, TX (, is counting to three in hopes that he will find a foster-mom, or even better yet, a forever-mom who will teach him how to be the dog that he can be!

Happy Mother's Day to all the women who volunteer to help make the world a better place for animals--the Puppy Holders, the Kitten Cuddlers, the Dog Transporters, the Kennel Cleaners, the Towel Washers, the Chief Poop Inspectors, the Paper Filers, the Blog Writers, the Dog Walkers, the Dog Bathers, the Photographers, the Advocates and the Legal Watchdogs!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Photo: Catahoula-Australian Shepherd mix puppy; Montgomery County Animal Shelter, Conroe, Texas.

My early Mother’s Day gift was a new digital camera. The long-running joke in my family is that my husband rarely buys me jewelry, but instead gives me awesome hardware. I’ve been writing fiction since my teens and started as a technical writer in 1985. I got my first computer as a gift in 1985—an Atari ST. The most romantic Valentine’s Day gift I’ve ever received was a Mac Powerbook 65 (at the time it was cutting edge with 40 megabytes of hard disk space!) with all my files already downloaded. Over the years, my husband has upgraded my computers, given me printers, scanners, cameras and lenses as tokens of his love.

I’m currently shooting with an EOS Rebel XSi, an upgrade from a Canon Rebel XTi digital camera. The XTi is a superb camera, however, my 15-year-old daughter is a videographer who is taking a summer class at Texas A&M Galveston for SLR Digital Cameras and needed an outfit. My husband decided we would give my daughter my 2-year-old XTi and I could upgrade to the newer STi. This way we can swap lens (but not batteries, alas).

I’m an amateur photographer. I see so many wonderful photos of dogs on the various blogs, which has inspired me to try for more creative approaches with my camera. The problem is that I often shoot quick snapshots because I have other duties when I’m with my Shelter dogs. My current goal is to retrain my artist’s eye so that I can better utilize the technology of the Canon EOS Rebel. To that end, I am taking a bit more time to set up the shots whenever possible.

I am also pushing myself to experiment more with Photoshop, learning to use more than the crop tool and auto-enhancement. I’ve been on Flickr for a year (I just passed the 6,000 view-mark) and I’m posting photos, post-processed digital artwork, plus scans of items from my vast collection of ephemera. Feel free to check out my Flickr Photostream.

This blog forces me to carry the camera and get it out more often. And that’s a good thing.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Heartbreaking News

According to those in charge--and it depends on who I ask--we don’t provide preventive heartworm treatment at the Shelter because: 1)Heartguard and other preventive tablets are too expensive. 2) The dogs aren’t in the Shelter long enough to warrant the expense. 3) If a Shelter animal tests positive for heartworm, the Shelter will provide treatment.

One of the dogs on my advocacy list, Sweetheart, a beagle-hound mix, is heartworm positive. Sweetheart has been the subject of two previous posts (see March 15th and April 20th). Sweetheart had been in foster-care during early April, but is back at the Shelter. I continue to take her to off-sites, but people don’t even pause to look at her if we have puppies. She is a happy, kid- and dog-friendly girl who just happens to be an ordinary, medium-sized black dog.

Currently, we’re working on placing her in rescue. To further that goal, I had the vet tech run the snap blood test on her on Thursday, April 30th. The results came back positive. Depending on who is reading the test, Sweetheart is low- to medium-positive for heartworms.

If she was my dog, the next step would be to take a radiograph of the chest and heart to determine how “heavy” her heartworm “load” is. This information would dictate the treatment medications, and could make a difference in how severe the side-effects of the treatment might be.

But Sweetheart is a Shelter dog who has been at the facility since January 15, 2009. Her kennel record shows that a heartworm test was administered and that the results were within the normal range. Although the January blood test alone could not guarantee that Sweetheart was completely heartworm free, she has now gone more than 3 months without a preventative heartworm tablet.

Here in the Houston area, where mosquitoes are a year-round issue, that’s too long. Sweetheart will not get a radiograph—we don’t have the equipment at the Shelter or the money to spend.

So now, this medium-sized black dog has yet another strike against her—she’s heartworm positive. Right now, she doesn’t show any apparent signs of the disease. We’re looking for a foster who can provide a quiet home and a large crate for the forced-rest period she needs so as not to stress her system. The Shelter generally administers the two-shot treatment (one shot, followed by another shot a month later). Sweetheart can have this treatment this Thursday morning, between 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m., when the vet who does the treatments is on duty.

It made my heart crack when that second turquoise dot appeared on the test bed. I know that three months of Heartguard tablets as preventative would have made it far less likely to put Sweetheart through the rigors of treatment. So much heartbreak, and it shouldn’t happen.