Friday, April 30, 2010

On the Loss of a Good Dog

Taco, December 15, 2001 to April 29, 2010.

On Thursday, April 29, 2010, at 6:15 p.m. I had to hold my 10-year-old Miniature Pinscher, Taco, as he was put down. My husband, Reggie, my 16-year-old daughter, Ruth, and my dear friend, Shirley, were with Taco at the end.  Dr. Ruth Ainsworth at Village Vet in Sterling Ridge administered the pink injection.  We will have him cremated.

We thought we had licked the liver infection and had him on the road to recovery, but yesterday he began to suffer neurological distress--weakness in the hindquarters, which progressed to staggering and falling, along with impaired vision and vertigo.  The Vet determined it was hepatic encephalopathy--the neurological decline that comes from cirrhosis of the liver.  Essentially, toxic chemicals were building in his brain, causing muscle control loss and eyesight stress.  Taco must have been light-sensitive because two days before, he was barking at the little light on the ADT alarm pad and the red-light in the anti-pest plug-in device.

In spite of his staggers, Taco had a good last day--he ate his breakfast with fairly good vigor, he got to snuggle with me under a blanket in the mid-morning and patrolled his yard (lurching), and he sat calmly at in Ruth's lap and let us all love on him before it was time.

We had Taco since December 2001, and got him at a PetsMart Adoption event in Louisiana.  He was a quirky little dog, but a very good dog.  He killed rats and moles, could jump five feet straight into the air, always had to work for treats, and once stood up to a husky (and lost).  He loved to jingle his collar tags for attention, and if that wasn't enough, he was a loud barker.  He was nippy and ugly with toys, especially his favorite "uggee bone."  He tore up all the blinds he could reach whenever he saw something he wanted to attack on the other side of the window.  He was bossy toward other dogs and only tolerated Cross, our little Rat Terrier Mix, although this last month, we could tell he was really quite bonded with her.  In short, Taco generally swaggered around like a buff stud-muffin in a 14-inch high,17-pound stag red Min-Pin body.  He was a brave little guy.

His six-week battle began on March 12, triggered perhaps by his nom-ing on a squirrel carcass, and cost over $5,000. However, he had improved and was eating on his own again after having to have force-fed slurry and sub-cu fluids.  We thought he was recovering.  I have never worked so hard to take care of a dog. Plus, I never dreamed I would do what I did for this particular dog (he was VERY quirky--a bite-first, ask questions later little terrier-killing machine).

Taco will be much on my mind over this weekend and in the near future as I do my part with dog adoption off-sites.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What We Learn from Shelter Dogs

Here’s a story about two shelter dogs.  In early February, an elderly woman surrendered two dogs to the Shelter.  She had had the dogs since each was a puppy, but was caring for her husband (who had terminal cancer) and he was becoming anxious when the dogs came to him for attention.  The woman wrote a one-page, single-spaced bio for each dog, including everything about how much food they ate, what toys they liked and so on. She attached their original adoption paperwork, health records and microchip information.

I did not witness this intake, but after reading the dogs’ bios, I didn’t get the feeling that this was a casual or easy decision.  It is easy to make a snap judgment and claim that we’d never do such a thing, but I prefer to err on the side of mercy.  I don’t know if this woman would have made a different decision if we could have offered her options—say if we could have found a temporary foster for her dogs. We all know that more needs to be done to help older people prepare for the time when they can’t care for their pets without help. 

I met “Hapa” (a Hawaiian word meaning half-breed), a fluffy Keeshound mix, and “Bear” (a black German Shepherd mix) on a Monday, the day after their intake while selecting dogs for a week-long PetsMart adoption event.  I immediately put them on my Off-Site list.  They clean, healthy, and extremely despondent.  Bear was particularly attached to Hapa.  Both dogs had impeccable manners—they walked at a heel, sat on command, and could sit up for a treat.

At the end of the Off-Site, I convinced a brand-new Off-Site helper, Jeff, to take these two dogs home so they didn’t have to go back into the chaos of the Shelter.  He had dogs of his own (don’t we all?) and could only keep them crated in his garage.  The weather was cool, so that was fine.

It took about a month to find a new home for Hapa and Bear.  Extremely bonded dogs can be adopted separately, but it was clear that these dogs –who were about six years old—would do best if placed together, so that that was the game plan.  Jeff was an awesome foster.  He spent his own money to have some Vet work done on one of the dog’s teeth (there was some rot) and did other things to keep the dogs healthy.  Several people wrote up ads and placed them on the local on-line sources and told our friends and acquaintances about these dogs.  The dogs eventually found a home.

When I heard the complete tale, I felt a bit guilty about encouraging Jeff—who a brand-new volunteer!—to take on these dogs, but it was his choice. I saw Jeff this weekend.  He has had other fosters since Hapa and Bear.  He is a great volunteer and is focused on what’s best for the dogs.  Here’s what he wrote me about his experience with Hapa and Bear: 

“I really did mean it when I said I wanted to thank you for getting me involved the first night.  To repeat myself, I learned a lot from Bear and Hapa in terms of what is really important in life-- in terms of what a person spends time on.  I gained some personal intestinal fortitude from the attitude of those two very strong dogs.

“They accepted their current circumstances and handled them very bravely and showed such gratitude with their unadulterated affection every morning when I went out to feed them. They were very brave and courageous dogs and deserve the loving environment in which they now live. I think of them every so often and will never forget their attentive look to me when I would say from 30 feet away – “Where are those two good girls?”

I hear stories like this from other volunteers.  We may be helping the dogs, but in so many cases, it is the dogs who help us the most. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

Drive-By Drop-Offs

Puppy season is in full swing—which means that unplanned, unwanted, and often uncared-for, litters of puppies are being brought to the Shelter.  Puppies arrive in clothes baskets, kennels, and cardboard boxes.  Technically, the person surrendering puppies, even strays, should go inside the shelter and fill out paperwork.  Most of the time, there is a fee for surrendering a litter, along with some paperwork that is meant to deter multiple drop-offs from owners who neglect to spay or neuter their animals.
However, not all surrenders are done the right way.  Puppies are often dropped off at night, left behind the plastic picket fence of the play area where where potential adopters and Shelter dogs get to know each other.  Sometimes they are left in old dog crates or big boxes by the front door.  About a month, a volunteer found two tiny puppies huddled on top of a trash can full of soda cans and fast-food cartons.  Amazingly, the puppies were alive and managed to survive.

Brazen drop-offs occur in the parking lot.  On April 12th, according to Dr. Patricia Ryan, the MCAS Shelter director, a pick-up truck pulled up and a young man leaped out and tossed a large cardboard box in front of the door, with many little furry heads and ears sticking out of the top, cruelty jolted when it hit the pavement.  The head officer of Animal Control witnessed the event from inside the shelter.  He rushed out the door--but the truck had alreay spun out and was fish-tailing down the driveway at an amazing speed!

The box contained 15 beautiful brown and black pups were in that box, their little faces serious, eyes wide and innocent.  The officer did get the license plate number, so if the culprit gets pulled over for some other violation, maybe we’ll see some justice.  As Dr. Ryan noted, “When this happens, we all look at each other and say, ‘ could have been worse.’  The guy could have dumped them in the water or by the road.”  Dr. Ryan added that on that day more than 30 puppies (including the 15 abandoned pups) plus several litters of kittens arrived at the Shelter.

Photo found on Flickr; altered in Photoshop

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Swallow. The. Pill.

We normally don't have this much trouble giving the monthly heartworm prevention tablet, but I have kept this pinned on the bulletin board for the duration of my dog's illness.

Taco is still taking meds 3 times daily--we give him 3 syringes worth of vitamins and antibiotics/pepcids twice a day, plus I have two other tablets that I try to sneak down with pill pockets.  I hold him in the Vet Tech Hug and my daughter (who has become quite skilled at this) handles the syringes.  The pill pockets are tricky.  He can work the tablet out with his tongue, and yet he gets snappy if I try to approach him while he's guarding the slobbery pill pocket.  If we lucky, he bolts down the pill and the pill pocket mess before I can intervene.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Adoption Updates!

Most of the dog adoptions I complete are done at off-site locations such as PetsMart or at local community festivals. Consequently, I don't normally get to see my dogs with their new families except by chance.  Even with my foster placements, I don't have a way to do much beyond a follow-up by phone--I represent the County and and have no legal claim to the dogs I place.

However, two of my fosters have been placed with friends and one adopter--"Peaches," the puppy mill Chihuahua--has sent me several emails.

"Felicity," a little grey-and-black dog is now named "Chloe" and has a home with a friend of mine who lives near Cut-and-Shoot, Texas. Chloe has a best buddy, Dexter (a mini-schnauzer) and loves to run out to greet the Great Pyrenees that guard my friends' goats.  My friend says she thinks that Chloe may be part Papillan and part Terrier.  I plan to go out and visit Chloe soon.

"Peaches" found a wonderful home with a semi-retired couple who live in Missouri.  They spent the winter months here in Texas and first met Peaches at a PetsMart event in mid-February.  They came with their rescue dog (a sweet little Japanese Chin named "Chappie") and spent the afternoon with me.  Peaches fell in love with the husband and very quickly adjusted to being the Queen of the Motorhome, with Chappie as her loyal subject.  She is now at her new home in Missouri and loves her yard and likes to chase one of the housecats.  Peaches' family sends me emails on a regular basis, which is great because we still miss Peaches.

I wish I could see how "Rusty," my little heartworm-positive Miniature Pinscher, is doing.  I called his people twice, but would just like to know if he's still with them.  The staff knows that if one of my foster dogs ever comes back to the Shelter they are to call me ASAP.  I also always tell the adopters that if things should change, they can call me and I'll make arrangements to get the dog.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Shameless Self-Promotion

As those who are my dedicated readers know, I enjoy making art--whether with paper, glue and scissors or my scanner and Photoshop.  I like using my artwork in my blog posts, but I don't want to mix my artsy life with my animal rescue blogging.  So, to that end, I invite those of you who might be interested to visit my new creative blog, "El Rancho Not So Grande" by clicking on the longhorn steer link in the sidebar.

I am not planning to slack off on "We Don't Rent Puppies."  In fact, now that my own dog, Taco, is over the crisis of his illness, I plan to do off-site adoptions again.  I can't have a foster dog until I get the all-clear from Taco's Vet, but I have some news about some of my adoptions, so I'll be posting some updates.

I began "We Don't Rent Puppies" a year ago last March, and I now have about 45 followers.  I'm nearly at 100 posts, too, which is a good milestone to reach in Blogland.

I appreciate all my readers' comments.  Together, we're making a difference in the lives of animals.  If you have an blog that I should add to my Blogroll list, leave a comment with the link.  Again, thanks for your support!

If you like what you see over at "El Rancho Not So Grande," let me know!

Artwork:  My new dog-related business cards from Moo!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Lucky Dog

My Miniature Pinscher, Taco, is one lucky, lucky dog—after more than a month of battling a liver ailment, he appears to be fully on the road to recovery. Yesterday, he began eating out of his bowl, and not just sniffing disdainfully at the food. He’s more likely to follow me around in his normal nosey way. He’s had a couple barking spells. And today, the effusion (swelling) in his lower abdomen is clearly diminished.

He still requires meds, including some pills I’ve not been able to get down him. Yesterday he actually took a pill in a pill pocket! Now I have a regimen of meds to improve his liver and guard against ulcer formation. Plus, he’ll stay on antibiotics for another couple weeks.

I’ve not had a foster dog since his illness began and I’ve been too worn out from working with him to do off-site adoptions for the Shelter. My Adoption Team Coordinator has about given up on me. But I just couldn’t focus on the Shelter dogs while my own pet’s illness was so severe.

Here’s what I’ve learned from my experience with Taco:
  1. Be aware that animal treatments are as comprehensive today as human treatments. It should go without saying, but it still threw me for a loop. Taco’s illness would have resulted in certain death perhaps only five or ten years ago. The Vets who cared for the beloved dogs of our childhoods didn’t have sophisticated blood testing, portable sonogram equipment and specially trained personnel to read the results. Plasma transfusions for companion animals were a rarity. All these procedures are readily available, for a price, to most Vets today.
  2. Decide before your dog gets sick what you will do when presented with expensive (and often escalating) treatment options. One of my friends had some lipomas removed from her 7-year-old Cattle Dog’s torso. When her Vet asked if she wanted to have the tissue sent out to analyzed for cancer, she declined. “I didn’t want to know if the tissue was malignant or not. If it came back cancerous, we’d feel too guilty to not treat it,” she explained. “We decided we’d do the removal of the lipomas for the dog’s comfort, but we weren’t going to go further.” To some people, this may sound harsh, but it’s reasonable—my friend is committed to providing palliative care, but not treatment that may or may not work.
  3.  Ask about euthanization costs before the need arises. Some Vets charge an additional cost to euthanize a client’s pet, and others don’t charge faithful clients for the actual injections. There are often other charges that are mandated—disposal fees, etc. Ask so you know ahead of time.
  4. Decide what you want to do with your pet’s remains. If you plan to bury your pet’s remains on your property, you need to make sure local ordinances permit this. Cremation is a popular way to handle a pet’s remains, but procedures and costs vary. The April 2010 print copy of “Houston Pet Talk” has an extremely good article about pet loss, and includes suggestions on how to evaluate the services offered by pet cremation companies
  5. Consider Pet Health Insurance. I don’t have insurance on my pets. My Mom used to carry pet insurance on her pets, but doesn’t now. I asked my Vet for a brochure from the company honored by my doctor’s practice (I use VCA, a corporate Vet, with franchises nationwide—the reasons why are better left for a post in the future). I’m not purchasing insurance, but I did review the brochure. I might consider it in the future. I need more information.
What do you think about pet cremation or pet health insurance? Leave me a comment!

Friday, April 16, 2010

We Are Nearly Out of the Woods

Originally uploaded by Calsidyrose
Finally, I think we're on the road to recover with Taco, my Miniture Pinscher (left in the photo) who has been battling a liver issue since March 12th, when he got ahold of a dead squirrel. It's taken $5,000 (yup, you read that right, not that I'm thrilled about it) and round-the-clock effort but he's starting to act like his old self again.

We're still having to force-feed him 2 times daily (a high-protein, low-fat slurry fed through a big syringe) just to keep his protein intake up, but his energy and attitude have vastly improved. This week he has finally begun showing interest in his toys again--he got the "ugee bone" ( a bone-on-a-rope thing) and guarded it vigorously. Yesterday, he "stole" one of Cross's squeaky toys and pushed it at my hands, trying to get me to tug it. He worked at making the squeaker peep for several minutes. He is also starting to lurk under the table again when we eat. We're so relieved.

Would I have spent this much money and effort if I'd known up front what the costs would be? I don't know--we love this dog, but he's always been a challenge-dog. He is mouthy, pushy and doesn't always play well with others. I've owned a muzzle to use when I handle him for medical purposes for years. Our female, Cross, is far more people-oriented and sweet-tempered than this guy.

But we spent the money because he's our dog and we're responsible for him. The potential for prolonged treatment and vet bills is just part of dog ownership, and it is something people need to think about before adding a dog to their lives.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Animal Control Officer Accused of Shooting Puppy

A German Shepherd puppy belonging to a family in Galena Park, Texas (a Houston suburb) was apparently killed in February by a gunshot wound and found in a trash bin. Juan Enrique Hernandez, 40, an animal control officer for the city of Galena Park, has been accused of shooting the dog, rather than taking it to the pound.  Hernandaz is free on $2,000 bond after being arraigned on April 7, 2010, charged with animal cruelty.  Read the Houston Chronicle article here.

Events such as this one inflict incredible psychic damage on all animal-control divisions, even the responsible ones.  I know that the administration in our Shelter continues to deal with misconceptions from the public, as well questionable tactics from its employees.  Things are much, much better at our Shelter than they were, but nowhere close to perfect.  The problem with abusive behavior is that it can overt, like the report above, or subversive and hard to see.

No matter what actually prompted the Galena Park incident, an animal control officer surely didn’t need to use such excessive force in order to subdue a two-month old puppy.  It will be interesting to learn why this was allowed to happen.

Shooting a puppy brings to mind the horrific abuses after Hurricane Katrina when parish officers may have involved in the wholesale slaughter of pets that had been left by their desperate owners at a local school in Saint Bernard parish when their owners were evacuated.  Not even scrawled notes on classroom doors pleading for help and vouching that the animals inside were “good dogs” prevented those pets from dying.

Certainly, an animal control officer’s job isn’t easy or even enviable.  I also know that abuses of power occur and are often brushed aside as simply a downside of the job.  Even when an animal control officer is doing the right thing—using a restraint pole to control a large, feral dog—it is often a distressing, even violent, sight.  Outright stupidity, slip-shod cruelty and wanton abuse have no place in today’s shelter world.

I hope that the officer involved in the Galena Park case receives justice. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

There's No Free Lunch--or Free Dog

One of my Dad’s favorite sayings is there’s “no free lunch.” When working with clients who are considering one of our Shelter’s dogs, I echo my Dad’s assessment, adjusting it to, “There are no free dogs.”

Recently, our Shelter altered its fee structure, reducing the cost to adopt a dog or cat from $100 to $75. We also offer lower fees for senior animals, multiple adoptions and long-term Shelter animals. The current fee includes the animal’s spay/neuter, rabies shot, bordetella preventive, yearly vaccination, microchip and a heartworm test (but not treatment, if needed). This is quite a deal—the spay or neuter alone can run around $300 at a local Vet’s office, once meds and other costs are added.

However, many of our clients feel that even $75 is too much for a Shelter dog. True, many of our dogs will need additional Vet attention to combat Shelter-induced infections such as kennel cough, worms, mange, mites, fleas, coccidia and other ailments, but no matter how you look at it, the point-of-purchase (and let’s face it, legally, this is a sale, not an adoption) cost is the least expensive part of owning a dog.

If you get your dog from Craigslist, you can get a “free dog” but most of the ads I see list a “re-homing” fee (which is really a price) ranging from $25 to $800. Of course, the Craigslist flaggers get busy when the “re-homing fee” for a dog is more than $100, but their vigilance has more to do with the stated rules of Craigslist than anything else. In our local paper, some breeds of puppies are marketed at $1,800 or more.

No matter the take-home cost, dogs are not “maintenance-free.”

Regular basic care for a year (including heartworm prevention, regular shots, one Wellness Vet visit with routine shots & fecal/blood tests, decent food and purchases such as bedding, leashes and a few toys) in our area runs about $300 to $600, depending on the size of the dog.

And that’s assuming your dog doesn’t get sick, hit by a car, attacked by another dog or otherwise suffer a serious illness or contract a chronic condition.

For most folks, the costs of a caring for a healthy dog are not problematic. The joy of having a companion animal is well worth it. But when an animal is ill, all bets are off.

So far, I’ve spent about $5,000 treating my dog, Taco, for a severe liver infection due to his dog-natural tendency to nom on dead squirrels. He is about 9 or 10 years old, and was very healthy before this illness. When I opted to start treatment, I was prepared for $2,000 but not double that and more. At each step, I asked my Vet, “Am I throwing money at a dying dog?” And each time, it was clear I was dealing with a critically sick dog, but not one that was at death’s door—unless I simply decided to stop treatment entirely. Of course, the outcome electing not to do IV fluids and one plasma treatment (which were pricey) would have meant death for the dog.

I’ve halted treatments on my own dogs before (both personal pets and foster animals). I have even selected euthanasia when the Vet recommended it. In short, I don’t think I’ve plunged blindly into trying to heroically save a dog’s life when I should have simply “let him die.”

I have sacrificed my summer vacation and a computer upgrade to treat this dog. I haven’t been able to do off-site work or take on a new foster dog. I have learned how to do all sorts of things I never dreamed I’d need to know how to do—how to muzzle and force meds down a dog, how to administer sub-cu fluids, and how to give a dog an enema. I am out of money and worn out. And it’s not over yet. My dog is still not fully recovered. He’s a lot better, and he’s one lucky dog, but he sure as heck ain’t a “free dog.”

When I’m back doing off-sites and my clients start fretting about the cost, I may have to remind them that the cheapest part of dog ownership may well be the point of purchase.