Sunday, May 30, 2010


Sunday morning at the Emergency Vet office is never a fun experience.  People filled the waiting room, with animals needing assistance for things ranging from high fever to broken legs.  I came to the Conroe Emergency Vet Clinic to be with Arabella, our little distemper dog, in her last moments.

On Saturday, I took the little Chihuahua from a Vet clinic in the Woodlands to the Emergency Clinic since The Woodlands Clinic would be closed for the Memorial Day weekend holiday.  The dog's sponsor was willing to keep trying to bring Arabella around.  But after receiving an estimate that began at $1,400 with a high of $2,500, and no guarantees or end to the critical care (the estimate was good through Tuesday morning, when the EC Vet would close), the sponsor was forced into making that tough but familiar decision.

"Every time I started thinking about that bill, I'd get a cold knot in my stomach," she told me on the phone this morning.  "I'd spent so much already, and the dog wasn't improving."  I agreed:  it was time to stop, and do the best thing for Arabella.  I had already made it clear to the sponsor that  I would go and be with Arabella at the end since the sponsor was out of town and was handling the dog's treatment via phone and email.

So Sunday morning, instead of going to church, I went to a service of a different kind.  I took a little red collar that Arabella had worn, a pink squeaky toy that she had enjoyed and the softest fleece blanket I own.  At the  EC clinic, the staff was awesome.  Unfortunately, I don't have anyone's names, but every staff person, from the presiding Vet to the Techs and Desk Staff treated Arabella and I with the greatest compassion and respect.

I was ushered into an exam room.  I couldn't take Arabella outside (she was still shedding the distemper virus and would put other clients' animals at risk) but I spread the fleece blanket on the exam table, and when she was brought to me, I removed her Elizabethan collar and slipped a red dog collar around her skinny neck, because in my house, we never have "nekkid dogs"--every foster gets a collar.

She perked up and wagged her tail as I cuddled her.  I showed her   the small pink squeaky toy I'd brought her, and made it squeak.  She reached for it and took it into her mouth.  She didn't have the strength to squeak it, so when she dropped it, I squeaked it and gave it to her again.  She seemed happy and held it contentedly in her mouth (at my house she had walked around with that toy in her mouth, just squeaking and squeaking).  After about 10 minutes, the Doctor and Tech came in with the syringe of pink fluid.

One month ago, I had to put my own dog down.  It was chaotic and hard because my daughter panicked when the dog jerked as the needle went in.  This Vet didn't do a pre-sedate, but she was good at this procedure.  Arabella did tense and jerk once, but I was ready when her head flopped limply into the crook of my arm.  She went easily and fast.

Both the Doctor and Vet Tech were attentive and gentle.  They talked to Arabella through the entire procedure, calling her a good, good dog.  She was a good dog. A very good dog.

Friday, May 28, 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different

This YouTube video was on BoingBoing, A Directory of Wonderful Things, where you can find all things geeky, wonky, and wild and weird.  The post's author wonders whether the dog "actually enjoys dancing in that frilly skirt."

The comments made by Boing-Boing's readers reflect the site's core audience--some are perturbed because the hind-leg hopping might be hard on the dog's joints. Others are impressed by the partnership between the dog and its handler:  "Smoobly" writes, "The dog enjoys having a job to do, doing it well, pleasing hir human, and being rewarded. That the job entails dancing around in a frilly skirt is purely incidental. Good dog!"

"Libraryboi" is worried about other issues:  "Dogs aren't supposed to stand on their hind legs. It's not difficult to imagine the damage that is inflicted on their joints and subsequent pain from doing this repeatedly over years. Simply because we can train dogs to do this doesn't mean we should for mere human amusement."  I suppose fly-ball is bad, too, because the dogs jump high and land hard.

Others noticed only the pretty hostess, or made flip comments about skirts.  I'm convinced that since the dog is a Golden Lab, it doesn't give a hoot what it wears while dancing, just as long as there are treats or tennis balls afterwards.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Cost of Compassion

"Arabella" (aka "Princess"), the little Distemper Dog, is back at the Vet's, on IVs since yesterday.  She has had the three serum injections that might defeat the distemper, but her physical state was sliding.  Her sponsor opted to pay out of her own pocket for this final effort.  Arabella has a lot of heart and hasn't given up, but the money spent so far to fight her illness is more than $1,000, and that's at steeply discounted (thanks to two very generous Veterinary practices, and two non-profits) rescue rates.  If she is not significantly improved after three days, then we need to face the fact that euthanization is necessary.  I don't want Arabella to die.  Nor does her sponsor and others who have met her.  Yet, money may not save her life.

Which brings up the question:  How much should be spent trying to save a Shelter dog?

Vast amounts of money, much from non-profit fund-raising, much from individuals' own pockets, is spent on individual Shelter dogs whose plights spur people into last-ditch, major efforts.  Many of these cases involve unique situations that arouse fierce sympathy.  Just recently at our Shelter, major effort and expense has been spent treating a dog hit by a car (the dog is recovering) and a mature Chocolate lab whose owner dumped him with an old badly healed broken leg, which has now been amputated (this guy is recovering as well).

The latest extreme example is a GSD mix dog found along the I-45 and brought into the Shelter with bowed front legs, due to carpal flexural deformity, along with severely atrophied back legs.  This dog appears otherwise healthy in spite of his condition, and he has learned to "scoot" along using his belly.  Currently, the Shelter Director (who is a notoriously soft-hearted person) is investigating treatment options.  Most likely, appeals will be made for outside donations.  Plans include high-lighting this dog in the paper to arouse public interest.  Not to suggest that it is wrong to consider treating this dog, but I still wonder if the thousands of dollars that corrective surgery will require could be better spent elsewhere within the Shelter.

Dogs tug at peoples' heartstrings and consequently their wallets--Arabella's sponsor has spent close to $800 of her own money.  The sponsor has a huge emotional (not to mention financial) investment in this dog.  Yet Arabella is property of Montgomery County, Texas.  Without the volunteers (and I count myself in this group because I've put $150 or so toward her treatment), Arabella would already be dead.

Still, with 40 percent of all incoming dogs testing positive for heartworms, and the fact that the Shelter opts to treat these dogs at the rate of about 8 animals per week and a cost of $25,000 per year (much donated), we need to ponder the difficult issue of resource allocation.  It's tough to choose.  People will be upset.  Some dogs will not get treated.  But perhaps it would be better to affect the outcome for the greatest number of dogs.

We're not only faced with choices regarding the extreme cases, we need to develop a better approach to handling distemper cases.

Many distemper dogs are given treatments, and most, especially the puppies, die.  The preventive vaccine series costs about $40-$160, depending on where the owner takes the puppy.  In our area, many people don't vaccinate their puppies.  Whether it is out of ignorance or lack of money is unknown.  But the $1,000 spent so far on Arabella would buy a lot of distemper vaccine.

It's a thorny issue with no easy answers.  What do you think?  What is the best way to compassionately spend limited funds?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Doin' the Distemper Dance

Distemper is a horror--it is highly contagious, and almost always lethal.  Plus, it's dicey to diagnose since the early symptoms mimic other common ailments, including bordetella (kennel cough), upper respiratory infections and the early stages of parvo.

My little foster Chihuahua, Arabella, who we're calling Princess, probably has it.  It's tentative because obtaining a distemper diagnosis is not easy.  We've got fever (highs up to 104.9 degrees F, currently averaging about 103.4 degrees F), lethargy, despondency, weight loss, loss of appetite, nausea, excessive salivation, dehydration and gummy eyes with red rims.  The kitchen-sink approach (described two posts earlier in this blog) didn't work.  Four days of IVs and antibiotics worked only as long as the catheter was in place. 

So now we're trying something new and controversial--the Dr. Sears treatment, which is based on the "Newcastle" vaccine.  One of our area Vets who has treated animals from the Shelter is offering the three-day series of serum vaccines (taken from healthy donor dogs).   Today, our little Chihuahua received the first of the vaccines, along with an injection of Baytril.

Her sponsor has taken her home tonight because she wants to oversee the dog's treatment.  The sponsor is convinced she can do a better job getting the dog to eat (good luck with that).  Plus, she doesn't have kids.  I'll get the dog back on Thursday, which provides me with a chance to catch my breath.  I have another foster dog, plus my own dog.  Taking care of this dog has been a challenge because my family is still grieving the loss of our dog, and her symptoms have caused her to look a lot like he did (although he didn't have distemper), which pains my 16-year-old to tears.  I don't know if the Newcastle approach will work.  All we can do is try.

According to an ABC news report in March, "Spring is considered to be distemper season. But what's happening now is believed to be more than that. Harris County Animal Control is seeing about 20 percent more distemper cases than normal. Then there's the wildlife population. Raccoons are susceptible to distemper. Since January more have been brought into Houston's Wildlife Rehabilitation Center."  Distemper outbreaks are also reported in Autstin, and are affecting other states as well as Texas--California and Florida are experiencing upticks in cases.  In Toronto, Canada, there is an outbreak of distemper in raccoons that is spreading to dogs.

What galls me is that distemper is one of the most preventable diseases that afflicts dogs.  Years ago, of course, it was a rampant killer, but vaccinations for puppies have put a huge dent in the disease's power.  However, many people don't vaccinate their puppies--and almost all the puppies from unwanted litters arrive at the Shelter vulnerable to the disease.  They are sentenced to death because they are exposed before the vaccines have a chance to take effect.

We can't do much about wild-animal transmission of distemper to dogs, but we can save lives, not mention tons of money, by vaccinating.  As for Arabella, only time will tell.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Melodies of Canis lupus

Interesting.  From "Boing Boing:  A Directory of Wonderful Things"

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Shelter Crash and the Kitchen Sink

This is "Princess" (what my daughter is calling her), aka "Aribella," a Chi Mix foster.  She is I have a foster dog that is suffering from "Shelter Crash" as I call the decline that begins shortly after pulling the dog from the Shelter.  The "Crash" includes an array of symptoms that range from loss of appetite to loose stools, lethargy and fever.  Princess arrived Mother's Day with the "zoomies" and a very active kissy-tongue, but a week later, she lost her pep and zip.

Princess has lost weight she couldn't afford to lose, won't eat much but hand-fed boiled chicken, and won't drink, so we've done sub-cus twice and I'm giving her watered down Royal Canin Recovery by syringe.  She still wags her tail and trots a bit outside, but retreats to her crate or the blankets by the recliner.  Two days ago, she spiked a fairly high fever.  She had a cursory exam by a Vet on Sunday, and has seen another Vet (better--i.e., more attuned to Shelter dog issues) on Monday.  We're heading back this afternoon because she hasn't perked up the way she needs too, although at least she isn't declining horrifically fast.

Meanwhile, we're doing the Kitchen Sink treatment--she's been wormed, and has the bordetella booster, and isn't a puppy, so we're pretty sure it's not parvo.  She's taking an Albon-Metroniadazaole combo in liquid, plus a docycline tablet, plus she's had three days of penicillin injections with B12 added along with some other anti-biotic.  I have given her some Purina foriflora powder and have an anti-diarrhea tablet but haven't given her that since she hasn't had a bowel movement. 

So...what's the deal?  This has happened before with my fosters.  They come home chipper, then crash and burn.  So we try a little of everything because under most circumstances we don't do any diagnostics via blood tests.  This little girl's coughing, discharging snot or wheezing, but it still could be disptemper.  Or giardia, or some other parasite.  Of course, there's one other unknown--she's not been tested for heartworms.  I don't think her symptoms point to heartworms, but then, I'm no Vet.  Plus I think she's coming into heat.

I hope we can get this dog back into shape--she's a little character and will make someone an awesome pet.  

Monday, May 17, 2010

Weekend Shelter Snapshots

 My dog Cross

Snapshot 1: Kitten season is in full swing at the Shelter.  Tiny, mewling felines are arriving by the basket-load.  People find kittens and don't see the mom (who is probably hiding nearby), so assume the babies have been abandoned and bring them in.  We're out of kitten fosters (I am not one of those special people who can deal with tiny kittens).  The kittens have no defenses, so they get sick. On Saturday, I saw staff people cradling three different dead or dying kittens. I asked one of the Shelter staffers on Sunday how her day was going.  She smiled wanly and said, "Well, at least I haven't had any dead kittens today."

 Snapshot 2:  A five-and-one-half black shepherd mix puppy is tied with a slip-leash to a door-jamb.  He bats at passersby with his paws and twinkles happily.  He was adopted on Saturday afternoon and brought on Sunday at noon. Supposedly he has diarrhea (what young dog in the Shelter doesn't have loose stools?).  But the client told the intake staffer at the front desk, "The dog is going to be too big for my house."  This begs the question:  Why the hell didn't she think about size BEFORE adopting a young dog?  Geez, people put more thought and planning into selecting the right computer than they do in choosing to take home a pet.

Snapshot 3:  I was at the Shelter loading dogs for an off-site.  I have never been able to develop the steely resolve to simply not make eye contact with any client who might have a question.  Our customer-service is so bad that I can't keep from trying to answer questions.  So the guy asks, "Do you have any English Bulldogs?"  English Bulldogs are the big status dog around town and the breeders charge outrageous prices for them, and puppies are scarcer than quick solutions to the Gulf Oil Spill.  We rarely get English Bulldogs.  I had to bite my tongue to keep from asking the guy if he had researched the breed.  He really needs to be asking, "Do you have any cute, squishy-faced dogs who can't breathe, suffer from countless joint and intestinal problems, and who get all sorts of challenging skin infections, many of which will be made much worse by the humidity of a Houston summer?  I've got a raft-load of money I don't know how to spend so I think I'll get an English Bulldog."

Snapshot 4:  We can only take strays from our own county.  But our client base comes from three counties.  It's always fun to explain to the man with the mange-ridden box of feral puppies that we can't take them because he found them in Harris County and not Montgomery County.

Snapshot 5:  Please, please be honest with your children.  Bringing that little kitten you found to the Shelter does not guarantee that it will live happily ever after.  Especially when its eyes and nose are cemented with gunk and it's already limp in your hands. Don't tell them that the nice Shelter people will give it the loving care it needs--neatly avoiding the obvious fact that the kitten is nearly dead.   At least inform your kids (and no, I don't think nine or ten is too young to be upfront about death and the irresponsibility that encourages it) that the kitten will be put out of its suffering and misery, and will be going over the Rainbow Bridge.

Snapshot 6:  I have two fosters, including a cute Chihuahua mix who crashed on Sunday morning, one week after I got her.  We finagled a Vet exam paid for by a donor, but that was cursory.  I have meds from the Shelter, so my BFF who is a Vet Tech and I spent almost two hours trying to get sub-cu fluids into the dog to combat a 104.5 degree fever.  Last night, the dog's temperature was down and she ate a bit this morning.  It could be distemper (although she is an adult dog) or giardia or coccidia.  Time will tell.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Making the Call

Today, I delivered an old, ill, befuddled male chihuahua into the arms of the Shelter Vet Tech for euthanization.  I made the decision on an animal that people had been fretting about for two days.

One volunteer thought the dog was just "despondent."  Another admitted that the animal was near its end, but felt that someone should take the dog home and let it "pass away" on its own.  A staff person desperately wanted the dog to have time "outside the Shelter" before it died.

The dog in question was a stray-hold dog whose time was up today.  He was a tiny, old, cinnamon-colored male chihuahua, coated in flea dander, gummy-eyed, disoriented, shaking, and hacking with advanced heartworms.  The poor old man couldn't even stand--when I set him on the grass outside, his hindquarters quivered and he staggered once, then collapsed.  His ears were at half mast and his head was as jiggly as a bobble-head toy.

I have two foster dogs.  My own dog just died (and this little guy's staggers looked suspiciously similar to what I saw in my own dog during his last hours).  A staffer gave the old dog a Capstar with a bit of wet cat food.  Cat food works wonders with ailing dogs--he perked up and ate a few more bites.  I gave him a bath to wash off the bulk of the flea crap and rubbed him warm with a clean towl, then wrapped him in a piece of fleece.

I took him outside and set him down on the grass.  He staggered, then collapsed.  He didn't whine or complain.  He just worked himself into a down position and lay there, blinking blearily in the warm sun.  I watched him, tears filling my eyes.  I couldn't take him home.  No one else had volunteered.  We had no way to diagnose what was wrong with him.  After about twenty minutes, I bundled the old dog up and took him back into the Shelter.  I showed him to the Shelter Director, who is a Vet.  She watched him wobble and sag.  She told me to go to see the Vet Tech, neatly avoiding pronouncing the death sentence.

I admire our Vet Tech immensely.  Some of the volunteers think she is harsh and curt with people, but she is focused on doing what she can with exceedingly limited resources.  I unwrapped the little guy, set him on the floor.  He listed, then fell.  The Vet Tech looked at me and said, "There are two options for this dog.  Take him out of here, make him comfortable, and let him die.  Or put him down now."

"I can't take him home," I said, which was not an excuse.  "I want to put him down." The Vet Tech nodded. I carried the dog and we walked out of the receiving area, up the hall to a door marked "Private."  The Vet Tech unlocked the door, took the dog and his paperwork and turned.  Just before she closed the door, I said, "Wait. Let me say goodbye."  I kissed his little head and rubbed his flea-scarred ears.  "You were someone's good Chihuahua," I said, "You are a good boy.  It will be better now."  She turned away with the dog.  The door shut with a click.

I have a message on my phone from a volunteer praising me for "taking that poor dog home."  She won't be happy to know that I made the decision to have the dog put down.   He had as good an end as I could give him--he was cleaner, warm, fed and stroked.  He went to the Euthanization room wrapped in a clean fleece blanket.

Some people will consider me the villain.  But I hate the way we throw energy and resources at dogs that come to us in such horrible shape.   The person at fault is that dog's owner.  If that dog was abandoned or turned in as a stray, it was because his owner was too cowardly to make the difficult decision I made this afternoon.  That dog's suffering is over.  I sent him off with as much dignity as I could muster.

I didn't have my camera with me today or I would have taken a dozen photos of that old Chihuahua.  This photo has been altered from an Internet image.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Old-School Labs

I found a copy of “The Golden Stamp Book of Dogs” at a thrift store this week and while flipping through the pages, I was struck by the way breed standards have changed over the years.  The edition I have was printed in 1966, but bears a 1953 copyright, indicating when the photos used in the stamps were taken.  What caught my eye was the page about Labrador Retrievers.

The stamp featured a glossy coated Black Lab, which was interesting, since Yellow Labs are by far the more popular of the two main coat colors.  I did a Google search for “black Labrador retriever,” and about one-third of the photos showed Yellow or Golden Labs.  Chocolate and even “Silver” Labs also came up in the search results.

More significantly, what I noticed about the Lab in the Golden Book stamp was how different the body types are today.  Labs are extremely popular in Texas, both as pets and hunting dogs.  The purebreds I see at the dog parks are huge—with wide, blocky heads, deep jowls, broad chests, with thick barrels, fuller, longer-haired tails, and plushy coats.  The photos below are from breeders’ Internet sites and are typical of the purebred Labs in my area.

I don’t have any hard data to support this, but the “Labs” that arrive at my Shelter every day tend to resemble the dog in the stamp photo.  They are lighter-boned, with higher tucks in the flank, leaner barrels, more tapered heads, less conspicuous dewlaps and jowls, and generally have shorter, sleeker coats.  Mind you, many of our animals are what horse people would call “grade” level, even if they are purebred.  And a large number of our Labs are mixed breed, primarily Pit Bull, but also Vizla, Catahoula, or Rhodesian Ridgeback. 

Still, many of our Shelter Labs are dead-ringers for the old-school Labs shown on the stamp.  It’s amazing to look back to see how standards have affected an individual breed.

Check out this video from a breeder of German Shepherd dogs to see how the standards of the “German” and “American” lines have altered the profile of the “champion” GSD. The video begins with photos from the 1940s and ends in the 2000s, and the images dramatize the extreme effects of breeding for specific conformation types.  You can compare the GSD on the Golden Stamp Cover with today's show ring GSD and immediately tell the difference

However, if you’re in Texas and are looking for a Lab, come check out our Old-School Labs at MCAS!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

My Newest Foster

Meet Tucker, my newest foster.  He's been on my "project dog" list at the Shelter for more than a week, and on Tuesday, I brought him home.  He's a sweet, young dog with a toffee-colored coat, the biggest brown eyes and soft, floppy ears.  We think he's a Beagle-Chihuahua mix.  He's a little bigger than my dog Taco was, but far too skinny, so he's getting extra meals for now.

He had worms and kennel cough, and I got him put into the Iso Ward so he could get medication.  I couldn't bring him home because of Taco's illness, but now he's here.  Tonight we went on our first walk--he was skittish but settled into the rhythm pretty well.  Cross, my little Rat Terrier is ignoring him.  Tucker is so happy to be out of the Shelter.  And my daughter perked up the moment I brought him home.  When he has gained some weight, he'll go to Off-Sites.  He will make someone a wonderful pet.  And for us, he's soothing our sadness.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Think Before You Get a Dog

You may have seen this video--I found it on Stumpy's blog here.  I plan to forward it to some of my Shelter friends.  While actors are reading the voiceovers, the excuses are the ones I hear every day at the shelter.  Watch it.  Share it.  And thank you, Stumpy!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Go Buy Shelter Pet Stamps

Maybe I need to send less email and write more letters so I can use these awesome animal rescue stamps that debuted at U.S. Post Offices on April 30, 2010. 

The 10 different 44-cent stamps commemorate the USPS Animal Rescue: Adopt a Shelter Pet program.  The stamps are designed by Derry Noyes of Washington, D.C., and photographed by Sally Anderson-Bruce of New Milford, Connecticut.  If you go the USPS web-site, you can roll your mouse over the images and find out more about each of these special animals.  Not only can you buy the stamps to use or to add to your philatelic collection, you can order a cool certificate for your dog or cat that includes a post-marked first-day cover stamp and the spaces for you to record your own furry friend’s adoption data.

As an animal rescue volunteer, I worked on Friday, April 30th for my local Shelter to help with a major off-site event held at the Conroe, TX, Post Office.  Although it was rainy, we had a sharp looking set up with tents and a couple dozen adoptable pets from the Montgomery County Animal Shelter in what was an unique tie-in to the rescue stamp debut. We didn't place that many animals, but we made a good impression and talked to a lot of people about the Shelter's goals for the future.