Toy Box or stuff that doesn’t fit neatly elsewhere
I have posted blogs on various toys, books, foods, and management and training aids that I like, but I decided that this week I would write about things I have encountered lately, or that I have re-discovered, that I would recommend.
I have mentioned The Education of Will, by Patricia McConnell previously, but I wanted to recommend it to anyone who has experienced trauma, or has a dog who was traumatized. Her compelling memoir sheds realistic light on how pervasive trauma can be and how challenging it is to overcome. But, mostly it is a tale of hope and compassion and well worth the read.
The book I am currently reading is The Dawn of the Dog, The Genesis of a Natural Species, by Janice Koler-Matznick. It is a well researched look at the origin of dogs. She takes on the status quo ideas of domestication and challenges them with reasons why dogs are not just sub-species of wolves. I have not finished the book, but I am impressed by her extensive research and, I am becoming increasingly convinced that man did not create dog, but, as one reviewer put it: “dog existed as a unique, naturally evolved species distinct from today’s wolves long before any association with humans.”* For anyone curious about the origin of dog, and who wants an eminently readable book, I highly recommend it.
Dean Koonz is a prolific author and often includes dogs in his books. I found an old copy of Dragon Tears and really enjoyed the role of the golden retriever mix in this book. He has delightful insight into the mind of dogs and how they see/smell and interpret the world. He also wrote an endearing (tissue alert!) book about his dog Trixie called A Big Little Life that I loved and find myself reflecting on years after I read it.
For those interested in the world of dog shows, I found tucked in the back of one of my shelves, Dog Eat Dog, by Jane and Michael Stern. Published in 1997, it is a bit dated, but the essence of dog shows and what it takes to have a champion remains true. It’s a quick read and has a good index of dog show terms. For a really entertaining look at the world of dog shows, nothing beats Best in Show, directed by Christopher Guest and starring a delightful potpourri of Hollywood actors.
Uncommon Goods has a wonderful line of “Bad Dog” products. My favorites are the tumblers, especially the Bad Dog Tumblers, and the Bad Dog Best in Show Tumblers. They also have free, downloadable Bad Dog Birthday cards. The images are a fun and are an all too real portrayal of our canine companions at their best…or worse!
The current treat of choice for my dogs is lamb lung. High in protein, low in fat, they are easy to break into small pieces and are a great addition to any Kong! I buy them in the 12-oz, headed-out-on-the-Oregon-trail size, though they are also available in a more reasonable 5-oz size. They are not wet or gooey (I think they are dehydrated), but they since they break into small pieces they are great for training treats and I have yet to find a dog that doesn’t adore them.
And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our podcast, Your Family Dog, featuring Colleen Pelar and me talking about all things canine. Our goal is to help families love living with dogs. Colleen’s gentle humor, compassion, and deep knowledge of dogs makes every episode a learning experience for me, and I hope for you as well. We cover a broad range of topics, from behavior problems, to dog sports, caring for your elderly dog, making happy dogs happier, managing vet visits, literary dogs, and so much more! With over 40 episodes, there is a topic of interest for every dog lover. Find us on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher. If you like us, please leave us a review. And, if you have a question or comment, please let us know by emailing us at email@example.com or call and leave a message at 614-349-1661.
*Dr. Michael Fox, from the back cover of the book.
Yesterday marked a year since my most beloved dog, Mr. Bingley, passed away. He had soft tissue histiocytic sarcoma, a nasty, aggressive cancer unfortunately associated with Flat-coated Retrievers, and the time had come for me to make sure he didn’t suffer.* He had been officially diagnosed 9 months earlier and had responded well to treatment, but this cancer is relentless. When the chemo no longer worked, I was determined to make the most of his time left with me. For three months we played, swam, tossed a
million tennis balls, and had a wonderful photo session with Gary Chisolm. Despite his illness, Bingley seemed invincible.
But finally, over the course of about 5 days, Bing began slowing down and detaching from the world. He had raging fevers for three nights. When he stopped eating completely and would take just a small amount of water (this was a dog who use to put his entire head into the water bowl to drink with great gusto), I knew the time was imminent. Our wonderful oncology vet, Dr. Erin Malone, gently confirmed that he just wasn’t the same dog they all remembered and his cancer was getting the best of him. They prepped him and then allowed me to spend some time with him outside. He laid down on the cool concrete and rested his head in my hand for the last time. I felt as if my living heart was being ripped from my chest.
Now, I am fully aware that this was my dog, and not my child or my husband, but there is something unique about the human-dog bond that elevates it to something more than pet ownership. Bingley was my best buddy, my faithful, fun, and loving companion for over 10 years. I lost more than my dog on July 6, 2016, I lost a best friend, and the sting of that loss is pervasive. I still reach for the soft fur on his ears, listen for his breathing next to my bed, wait for the feel of a wet tennis ball dropped by my feet (or next to my head to wake me up…), and search for the soft and sweet look on his face that said, “All is well Mom. Let’s go play.”
I have Zuzu now, and I adore her. She is sweet, earnest, and special. She has qualities that Bingley didn’t have (such as not barking at the door), and I wouldn’t trade her for anything. This eases my grief for Bingley, but it doesn’t repair it, nor does she replace him. My husband told me recently of a study of people who remarried and had a family after the death of a spouse. Though happy in their new lives, most said there wasn’t a day that went by that they didn’t think about and intensely miss their first spouse. That is not to say that they weren’t happy, it’s just that when you lose someone that significant, there is a lasting residual effect. For anyone who has loved and lost a dog, you know there is no reason that this cannot apply, in a similar way, to your canine buddy. Every dog can hold a special place in your heart, but if you are lucky, there will be a dog that is your champion, your all-star, your unbeatable best friend who not only loves you unconditionally, but lights up your world like a lighthouse on a stormy night, pointing you towards a safe harbor and a warm place to rest your heart.
*If you have to consider euthanasia for your pet, it might be helpful for you to listen to Colleen Pelar’s and my podcast with Dr. Alicia Karas: Knowing When It’s Time to Say Goodbye
My new dog Zuzu is a special individual. She can be a bit nervous, insecure and unfocused, but always sweet and very loving. In an attempt to increase her focus, boost her confidence and strengthen our bond, I enrolled us in Beginning Agility 1 at Agility and Rally for Fun (A.R.F).* We learned table, tunnel, tire, jumps, the dog walk, the incline, and we began weave poles and teeter.
The instruction was very good, clear and positive, as well as offering a lot of suggestions about how you can practice at home. One suggestion was to get a bunch of cheap plungers and line them up 2 feet apart from one another as an intro to weave poles. I put them in a hallway with hula hoops along the wall to keep her going through the gauntlet rather than around it. Then I stood at one end of the hallway and tossed a toy down the hall. She would go through the plungers get the toy and then I called her back to me. She trotted happily through the plungers to restart the game.
I also used the hula hoops as practice for the tire. I would place them in doorways for her to go through or I would hold them 2 to 8 inches off the ground. Then I would interest her in a treat or a toy and toss it through the hoop for her to follow.
Dogs, believe it or not, are rather oblivious to the existence of their hindquarters. But it is imperative, for safety reasons, that your dog be aware of the position of all body parts and know how to place each paw where it’s suppose to be.** One way to get your dog to be aware of his rear end is to have him walk slowly through a ladder on the ground so that he places each paw between the rungs of the ladder. Keep a treat right at his nose, close to the ladder so that he is looking at the ladder and moving deliberately through it. I will also toss the hula hoops in a random pattern (overlapping) in the lawn and lure her carefully through those, keeping the treat near her nose and close to the ground.
To teach Zuzu to keep all four paws on a 12″ wide surface (mimicking the dog walk) I found a 12″ x 10′ x 1″ piece of wood and placed it on the extension ladder I’d used to teach Zuzu she has a rear end. The plank fits nicely on the ladder as it is about 3-4 inches narrower than the ladder. Zuzu had to step up about 4 inches to walk on the plank and the sides of the ladder (along with the ~2″ gap on each side of the plank) helped to keep her on the board. I could also move it to different spots along the ladder so that she was walking partway between the rungs and partway on the board, thus working two skills and keeping her thinking about where she was going and what she needed to do.
Zuzu, being the deliberate soul that she is, is unlikely to win any agility titles, and it is also unlikely that we will even enter any competitions (but I never say never anymore!). We are taking Beginning Agility 2 so that we can improve our basic skills, learn to work together better, and increase Zuzu’s confidence and focus. But, mostly we are doing it because life is short, and it’s fun to play with your dog.
*To learn more about Agility (and lure coursing), be sure to check out our podcast with Dr. Suzanne Terrant, airing May 5, 2017. Go to: Your Family Dog, episode 31.
**The dog walk is only 12 inches wide. If the dog is unaware of where his back legs are (or even that he possesses such a thing as a rear end), then he is more likely to mis-step and fall off the dog walk, risking injury. He may also be unaware of how to move himself up the incline if he doesn’t have awareness of his rear end and that can also result in him falling off the equipment.
Reviews.com, a company that reviews all sorts of things, from deodorant, to mattresses, to yoga mats, to dog food, recently contacted me about their review of dog foods. I initially did not pay any attention to the email as I get a lot of people wanting me (or, more specifically, “the person in charge of …”) to include their products/opinions/ideas/thoughts-on-aliens on my website. Besides, I thought, The Whole Dog Journal has it’s yearly review of dog foods that I think is the best of the best, so why bother?
But, they contacted me a second time, actually addressing me by name in the email! So I thought, “Why not? If it’s worthless I will have wasted 10-15 minutes of my life, but gained a brief respite from vacuuming. If it’s any good, I have yet another resource to share that will help people to better provide for their dog.”
So, I have to say that I was impressed by the thoroughness of their research and the standards they used to include foods in their recommended list. They had ten people working full-time (over 1400 hours) to produce this report. Here is how they conducted the research:
— We built a list of over 11,00 people with connections to the dog food industry and narrowed it down to the best.
— Over 20 experts contributed their valuable time to our work, including veterinarians, dog trainers, animal behaviorists, university researchers, and authors.
— We surveyed 300 dog owners and asked them if they knew what was in their dog’s food.
— We gathered a list of over 8,000 search queries to find out what matters most to dog owners.
— We read and analyzed 72 of the most popular articles and studies on dog food.
— We compiled a list of 2,223 formulas from 115 brands and reviewed their ingredients.
Their research led them to the absolutely inescapable conclusion that safe, quality ingredients are the key to good food and good health (physically and mentally) for your favorite canine. The use of inferior food products can lead to obesity, ear infections, liver or kidney issues, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and perhaps much worse.
Dogs need the right combination of protein, fat, moisture, fiber, and nutrients to live healthy, happy lives. The wrong ingredients in the wrong combinations can lead to a host of health problems, both physical and mental.
Digestive problems, including bloat and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), are symptomatic of poor ingredients that don’t contain enough whole, unprocessed foods. Food allergies can also lead to digestive issues — many of the experts we reached out to have seen evidence that dogs are sensitive to wheat and corn, both popular fillers.
Obesity is on the rise in dogs. One main reason for this is overfeeding, but many of the experts we talked to were quick to point out that poor grain-based ingredients are also to blame.
Physical problems are only half of it. There was a unanimous consensus among trainers and behaviorists we talked to that poor diet causes mental health issues in dogs, including poor temperament and lack of focus. Marc Abraham elaborates: “Certain popular pet food brands on the market contain extra colorings, additives, and E numbers that, in my opinion, can affect behavior, leading to hyperactivity and difficulty with training.”
I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Abraham that poor diet can lead to poor behavior and training issues. A dog who doesn’t feel well cannot perform well. Ask any parent of a child the day after Halloween if their child is cranky, unable to focus, distracted, amped up, or lethargic…
Included in the review are two handy charts: A Quick Guide to Dog Food Ingredients and A Quick Dog Food Type Comparison. Both give a handy overview of their subject matter with pros and cons. I especially liked the Food Type Comparison chart as it is hard to find information about the various types of food (dry, wet, dehydrated, raw and homemade) in one place.
And their conclusions?
After putting in 1,400 hours of research and analyzing over 2,223 formulas, we discovered even some of the most popular brands still make food with unhealthy or unsafe ingredients. Of the 2,223 formulas we looked at, only 134 met our standard of approval — about 6 percent overall.
Why so few? They eliminated 2,089 foods because of the following reasons*:
1) We removed products where the first ingredient is not a meat of any kind. 194 disqualified
2) We removed products containing corn, soy, wheat, grain, or flour. 578 disqualified.
3) We removed products containing beet pulp or sugar. 146 disqualified.
4) We removed products that contained by-products or sauces. 44 disqualified.
5) We removed brands for recalls, ingredient sources, history, and customer satisfaction. 956 disqualified.
6) We reviewed the remaining formulas based on the best ratio of protein, fat, and carbs, as well as the source of protein. 171 disqualified.
Near the end of the article is the complete list of approved dry dog foods as well as links to their lists of preferred canned, puppy, and grain free foods. It is well worth your time to peruse the review and the list of acceptable foods. It was a definite eye opener for me! I had already decided to switch my dogs from Taste of the Wild and Blue Wilderness Puppy to Origen and Origen Large Breed Puppy before I read this article. After reading it, not only was I glad I switched, but I went to the local pet store to get some Origen to tide us over until my auto-ship arrives.**
The Blue Buffalo Company established The Blue Buffalo Foundation for Cancer Research in 2003, “as part of our ongoing mission to raise awareness about pet cancer and money to help support various universities and clinics conducting research on the causes of, prevention and treatment of dogs and cats with the disease.”
Here is their list:
Swollen Lymph Nodes
These “glands” are located throughout the body but are most easily detected behind the jaw or behind the knee. When these lymph nodes are enlarged they can suggest a common form of cancer called lymphoma. A biopsy or cytology of these enlarged lymph nodes can aid in the diagnosis.
An Enlarging or Changing Lump
Any lump on a pet that is rapidly growing or changing in texture or shape should have a biopsy. Lumps belong in biopsy jars, not on pets.
When the “stomach” or belly becomes rapidly enlarged, this may suggest a mass or tumor in the abdomen or it may indicate some bleeding that is occurring in this area. A radiograph or an ultrasound of the abdomen can be very useful.
Chronic Weight Loss
When a pet is losing weight and you have not put your pet on a diet, you should have your pet checked. This sign is not diagnostic for cancer, but can indicate that something is wrong. Many cancer patients have weight loss.
Chronic Vomiting or Diarrhea
Unexplained vomiting or diarrhea should prompt further investigation. Often tumors of the gastrointestinal tract can cause chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea. Radiographs, ultrasound examinations and endoscopy are useful diagnostic tools when this occurs.
Bleeding from the mouth, nose, penis, vagina or gums that is not due to trauma should be examined. Although bleeding disorders do occur in pets, they usually are discovered while pets are young. If unexplained bleeding starts when a pet is old, a thorough search should be undertaken.
A dry, non-productive cough in an older pet should prompt chest radiographs to be taken. This type of cough is the most common sign of lung cancer. Please remember there are many causes of cough in dogs and cats.
Unexplained lameness especially in large or giant breed dogs is a very common sign of bone cancer. Radiographs of the affected area are useful for detecting cancer of the bone.
Straining to Urinate
Straining to urinate and blood in the urine usually indicate a common urinary tract infection; if the straining and bleeding are not rapidly controlled with antibiotics or are recurrent, cancer of the bladder may be the underlying cause. Cystoscopy or other techniques that allow a veterinarian to take a biopsy of the bladder are useful and sometimes necessary to establish a definitive diagnosis in these cases.
Oral tumors do occur in pets and can cause a pet to change its food preference (i.e. from hard to soft foods) or cause a pet to change the manner in which it chews its food. Many times a foul odor can be detected in pets with oral tumors. A thorough oral examination with radiographs or CT scan, necessitating sedation, is often necessary to determine the cause of the problem.
Cancer is a frightening and, too often, devastating diagnosis for pet owners. Being aware of the warning signs will give you a better chance of giving your dog the long and happy life he deserves.
*While these may be some of the more common signs of cancer in dogs and cats, there are cancers that do not have early warning signs. This is why it is important to have your dog regularly examined by your vet, especially as he ages, so that changes in your dog’s health can be noticed sooner rather than later. Our vet’s technician was the first to notice Buckley’s pale gums and alert us to his anemia, which was the telltale sign of his cancer (see: The Big “C“). For more information on caring for your elderly dog, check out our podcast: Giving Older Dogs the Good Life.
I am sure that it is possible to own a dog and not spend a small fortune on food, toys, treats, equipment, beds, vets, etc., but that doesn’t seem to be the way of the world in our house. I am always on the prowl for interesting, useful, or entertaining things that will improve the quality of life not only for my dogs, but for my clients by helping their dogs to be more successful members of their families. I get a fair number of dog-related catalogs and recently In The Company of Dogs arrived with some interesting items I had not noticed before.
The first thing that caught my eye was the Piddle Place Potty System. Small dogs can be very difficult to house train and I will recommend that owners consider training their petite canines to use a litter box. This potty system claims to be:
Ideal for puppy training, urban pets and older dogs, this compact, all-in-one system is a mess-free, eco-friendly alternative to disposable pads. The innovative portable potty features a super-porous, machine-washable grass mat and fully enclosed base reservoir with innovative quick-drain spout for easy emptying. Includes odor-neutralizing bio-enzyme treatment…
Moreover, this system is apparently not just for the tiniest members of the canine community as it is “for dogs up to 100 lbs.” And, it’s portable, all for $159.00
For those desiring a less expensive potty solution, they also offer the Bark Potty: the all-natural dog potty solution. This is an:
Eco-friendly “dog park in a box” features shredded tree bark that naturally absorbs urine and neutralizes odors. Perfect for urbanites, busy households and travelers, it’s convenient, easy to use, recyclable—and a cost-effective alternative to disposable pee pads. Includes a 24″-sq. waxed cardboard tray packed with bark under fine netting, pheromone spray for training, and bag dispenser with roll of bags for solid waste.
It can be used either inside or out, but the downside to this system is that it lasts only 2-4 weeks, and I don’t think it is as portable as the Piddle place. Price: $26.95.
Please note that I have not used either system so I don’t know how easy or convenient either of them are. I just thought they were intriguing products for house training. If you do try one of these systems, let me know how they work.
The catalog also has a huge assortment of dog beds in a variety of sizes, shapes, covers, and styles from nests to bolster beds to loungers to orthopedic beds. No matter how your dog prefers to sleep, they have a bed for him. A couple that caught my eye were the Bear Hug Mod Fur Bed whose “Shaggy faux fur gives this uniquely shaped bed a contemporary vibe. The ultimate in ‘creature comfort.’” Sign me up! It ranges in size from small to large and in price from $129 to $239. The Mod Fur also comes in a Nest bed that looks like a giant furry donut and is perfect for the dog who likes to curl up into a ball. (x-small to X-large, $179-$289)
There is also an entire collection of orthopedic beds (at least 8) that offer “joint relief for dogs with special needs.” Some are rectangular, some have bolsters, but all are pictured with joint challenged dogs happily lounging on their bed of choice. Sizes range from small to X-large and prices from $99.95 to $279.
Gates are another specialty item and they have some lovely ways to contain your pet. A couple of my favorites are the Wood Swirl Pet Gate and the Arched Gate with door.* Both are solid wood, fold flat and are really attractive. Each comes in two heights (24″ and 32″ for the Swirl, 24″ or 36″ in the Arched) and vary in the number of panels (2-5) so you can get just the right height and width for your home and dog. If you have a dog that pushes against the gate, they also sell support feet for the Arched gate.** Beauty is not cheap however, so be prepared to spend $99.95 up to $329 to artfully cordon off your beast.
In addition to In the Company of Dogs, I have other favorite dog sites/catalogs. If you are looking for good prices, great customer service, and the convenience of autoship for food, treats, whatever, check out Chewy.com. I get both raw and dry food from them; treats for training; and calming aids such as D.A.P. collars, spray, and diffusers.*** They always let me know a week or more before my autoship so I can modify or reschedule as needed. I have never had a shipment take more than 2 days to reach me, nor have I had to return anything. When you call, the people who answer the phone are cheerful and helpful. It is customer service the way it ought to be.
Of course, here in Granville, we are very lucky to have the Village Pet Market (222 S. Main St.) as well as Bath and Biscuits (1616 Columbus Rd). Both of these boutiques offer excellent choices in food, treats, equipment and service.
*See also Cats are not small dogs, part 2 for another gate option. Not as attractive, but functional and sturdy.
**These gates do not attach to the wall, so if your dog charges gates these might not work for you, as I am not sure how steady the feet make the gate.
***DAP (or Dog Appeasing Pheromone) aids in helping a dog to relax and be more comfortable with situations that cause anxiety. This pheromone imitates the smell of a lactating female dog and is very comforting to most dogs. For situational anxiety, I recommend you spray it on a bandana 10 minutes or so before the stressful event. It should last about an hour, and you can re-spritz the bandana as needed. It is very important that you get either the Adaptil or Comfort Zone spray (same company, different name for the same product) as this is the only one with the patented pheromone. It also comes in a diffuser and a collar.
On October 15th Reisner Veterinary Behavior Services addressed an issue that has been of concern to me for a long time: dogs who really shouldn’t be therapy dogs. Not every dog can be molded into a dog who relishes visits with children, Alzheimer’s patients, or nursing home residents. As much as I admire someone’s desire to give light and joy to those individuals, very few dogs really have the right temperament to do this work, and those that do may well have institutions they do not like, types of people who make them uncomfortable, or days they just don’t feel like doing the job.
Or, it could be that your therapy dog is ready to retire. Our Golden Retriever, Hudson, was the dog I used for Bite Prevention workshops in schools. When he was about 7, I was invited to a first grade class to talk about dog safety. One of the things I did in these visits, was have the kids hide a stuffed Kong in the classroom and then let Huddy find it. He never failed to retrieve it and then settle down amongst the children to clean out the Kong. On this day, the kids hid the Kong, Hudson got it, and promptly walked away from the kids to settle under a desk to eat his treat. I knew right then that it was Hudson’s last day as a classroom dog because he was telling me quite clearly that he no longer enjoyed the situation, but was only tolerating it. Therapy dogs need to love their work, not just put up with it.
As Reisner puts it so very well:
Many of us see therapy work as a desirable goal, where we and our dogs can work as partners to help others less fortunate than we are. But it’s not typically our dogs’ choice to do this work; some of them just aren’t meant to do so.
Socialization, training and even ‘testing’ don’t guarantee that a particular dog will do well in an institutional or hospital setting, and with children or elderly people. Very elderly people may be stiff and fragile, or may not be able to follow instructions. Children can be impulsive, loud, and can crowd dogs. Any institution is crowded with equipment, noises, staff and smells that can intimidate dogs.
My beloved red Aussie, Zev, was Therapy Dog International certified, well socialized to a variety of human sizes, shapes and abilities and very easy-going. Neither of us was prepared when, in a nursing home, a woman with Alzheimer’s approached him very slowly, and with a direct stare, while he was in a small room visiting with someone else. Understandably, he growled; I almost growled myself. That was the day he retired from therapy work, much to his relief. And there have been dogs presented for behavior consultations because of fearful behavior in such environments.
Every therapy setting is unique, as are the temperaments of individual dogs. It pays to think twice before putting a dog in a setting that neither you nor the dog can control. Consider your dog’s temperament and, most important, his attitude and posturing in the therapy setting. Protect him from situations that might trigger fear and, if needed, be willing to walk out for his sake.
If your dog is sketchy or the setting is challenging, remember that you can choose to spend weekend afternoons visiting a nursing home and enriching the lives of its residents without your dog, while he stays home working on a frozen food-filled Kong.
Finding the right dog to do therapy work is a major challenge, especially with rescue dogs whose backgrounds and socialization maybe murky at best. That might lead you to think that purebred dogs are the answer. Not necessarily. Even well-socialized pure bred dogs, raised from puppyhood to be comfortable with a variety of people, may not have the temperament for this line of work. Challenging situations might trigger discomfort and reactivity that would put him and others at risk. This is why it is imperative to pay close attention to the signals your dog is giving you that may indicate that he is unhappy and would prefer to be doing something else. If your dog does rise to the challenge of being a therapy dog, congratulations! But, don’t feel bad if he doesn’t, just allow him to spread joy in his particular fashion.
It’s been awhile since I posted some of my favorite stories, comics, etc about dogs and other animals. So I think the time has come for a bit of fun!
Here are some comics that I have enjoyed of late:
These two are by Eric Decetis:
And, I found this on Reisner Veterinary Behavior Services Facebook page:
A favorite comic strip of mine is Rhymes with Orange, by Hillary Price. She has wonderful insights into the canine world which rarely fail to make me laugh and love dogs all the more. (Her other comics are equally amusing to me but, sadly, this is not a blog about pirates, literary mix ups, or astronauts). Here are links to a few of my favorite dog comics:
“The Practice”: http://rhymeswithorange.com/comics/september-18-2015/
“Holistic Medicine”: http://rhymeswithorange.com/comics/march-31-2016/
“The Stage Name”: http://rhymeswithorange.com/comics/september-13-2015/
“The Swab”: http://rhymeswithorange.com/comics/june-30-2015/
I’ve heard a lot about the Hungarian Family Dog Project and the interesting work they are doing, but teaching family dogs to lie still in an MRI is a truly amazing testament to the power of positive dog training, being creative with reinforcements, and using what we know about the importance of social interactions to teach dogs specific behaviors. Click here for a link to the Washington Post article.
And just to round off the post, here are some of the dogs who have crossed my path the last few years. Some are strays, some are clients, some are just my buddies, enjoy!
And lastly, the sign at my desk:
“I’m not sure I should be missing Max this much. He was just a dog after all,” is something I hear, fairly often, from people who have lost a beloved companion.
Having recently lost a dog myself, I have thought about this a lot. Dogs have a unique relationship with people that supersedes our relationships with any other animal. As I mentioned in an earlier post, archeological evidence hints at the special relationship that man has had with dogs for thousands of years, even in death. Dogs, unlike other domesticated animals, have consistently been given special burial status among humans, as early as 15-17,000 years ago. Dogs have been buried with bones placed in their mouths, or with their humans. It appears that dogs have been man’s best friend for nearly as long as they have been dogs.
Dogs are the epitome of a best friend: giving all of themselves and asking no more than to be included in the rhythm of our everyday lives. Having to let the dog out, clean up the yard, clip his nails, brush out tangles, wash out a skunk encounter, de-worm him, etc., seem a small price to pay for the companionship of someone who is willing to do whatever you have in mind as long as he can come, stay by your side when you’re lonely or sick, and exuberantly greet your very presence. Indeed, dogs weave their existence into the length and breath of our days so seamlessly that we may not realize how intertwined our lives have become until they are gone.
Though all dogs connect to people in a unique way, every dog person has had that special dog that defies description, who fused directly to your soul, and elevated the relationship to something nearly mystical. For us, Buckley, our Bernese Mountain Dog, was one of those dogs. We got him with the idea that he would be Brad’s dog** and they bonded instantaneously. In the evenings, Buckley loved to lay on the couch with his head on Brad’s lap. Brad would read or work on the computer and brush Buckley’s side. Hence his left side was always a bit tidier than the right. When we went hiking, the retrievers would tear through the woods, but Buckley was always content to be at our side. He put himself to bed every night around 9 pm, and would come into the study to say goodnight if he wasn’t already with us. He slept next to the bed on Brad’s side and when Brad came to bed, he was greeted by a steady thumping of his Berner’s tail. In the morning, Buck would launch himself onto the bed to snuggle with Brad. His world revolved around his Dad, but I don’t think there was a person or animal that Buckley wasn’t delighted to meet, and who didn’t love him in return. When he was first diagnosed with cancer and we were afraid we were going to lose him that very weekend, he had a parade of visitors who wanted to say goodbye to him. I can only hope that I have half so many people pay me respect when I die.
We were able to keep Buck with us, happy and comfortable for just three months from the date he was diagnosed. When going upstairs was no longer an option for Buck, Brad slept downstairs in the library with a fire going and his hand on Buckley’s side to give him solace and comfort. Lying next to Brad and having his constant reassuring touch kept Buckley calm and peaceful that last long night. Our hearts were breaking at the thought of him leaving us, but the cancer was now unstoppable and comfort and release were all we could offer. The unbelievable grief that we were experiencing was poignantly and accurately described in a Field and Stream article by Tom Davis about his dog Butch:
I’d spread blankets on the kitchen floor, next to the food he’d stopped eating and the water he’d stopped drinking, so I could lie next to him in the night. To be able to reach out with a comforting hand was all I could think of to do; my only palliative for his terrible pain…
The cancer had eaten away at the base of his spine… There wasn’t a thing that anyone could do. The disease, far advanced, took Butch down with appalling swiftness…When he looked at me in pleading incomprehension, unable to understand what was happening to him and why I wasn’t making it better, the sense of helplessness overwhelmed me. I felt bludgeoned.
It wasn’t a hard decision; it was the only decision. His suffering needed to stop. The arrangements for the following morning had been made. And so I found myself on the kitchen floor next to my trembling dog, trying to calm his ragged breathing and keep the terror at bay. When my wife saw us lying side by side, she burst into tears.
Buckley died at home with us by his side. We miss him everyday and sometimes the grief physically hurts. As a result, I have come to see that you really, truly need to grieve the loss of your dog, just as you would grieve one of your closest friends. How long that process takes is a very personal thing, and I am not sure you can put an “appropriate” time frame on it. I have also found, however, that even though each dog’s passing leaves a gaping hole in my heart that no other pet can fill, over time the hole will be filled with all the wonderful memories of our time together. And somehow, each time this happens, my heart expands enough to allow another pet in.
So, we will get another dog… just not quite yet.
*A respectful nod to C. S. Lewis and his book, A Grief Observed.
**In essence, all our dogs have been family dogs and are happily bonded to all of us, But, we also have our “own” dogs. Hudson, was Emma’s dog, Rebel was Brad’s and Ellie’s, and Bingley is mine. We manage to do this by having everyone participate in caring for the dogs, but having one person be the dog’s primary caregiver when a puppy or first joining us as an adult. Thus, the middle of the night potty trips, feeding, walking, playing, etc., are the domain of the primary person with all of us aiding and abetting his efforts.
This fall we had the misfortune to have both of our dogs diagnosed with cancer within two weeks of one another. Buckley, our 6 year old Bernese Mountain Dog was the first. Diagnosed with systemic histocytic sarcoma (HS), we were devastated, but not terribly surprised, as five of his littermates and his mother had previously succumbed to this virulent, aggressive cancer. Buckley was diagnosed with the most aggressive type of HS (it attacks the red blood cells), after routine blood work revealed his acute anemia which led to the final diagnosis. The day we discovered his anemia, we took him to Medvet Columbus where he spent several days getting treatment that included blood transfusions and his first round of chemotherapy. We were told the average survival rate for dogs with this variety of HS was thirty days. We brought him home on a Thursday with the hopes of keeping him comfortable for what we feared would be his last few days. In fact, the oncologist, Dr. Erin Malone*, told us later she did not expect Buckley to make it to his recheck the following Tuesday.
However, over the course of the weekend he began to eat again (he’d lost nine pounds) and to show interest in the world around him (including a Golden Retriever who walked by the house looking like our dog Hudson, who we lost the year before. In a strange twist of fate, this Golden was also named Hudson!). His fever dropped, his gums were pinker, and he asked to do things like walk down the block. We launched into a regimen of alternating chemo drugs every two weeks and he began to bounce back, gaining fifteen pounds and showing interest in the things he loves: walks, ice cream at Whit’s, hanging out with Brad, and spending his days on the front porch. Buckley has now survived 10 weeks and we are hopeful that he will see his seventh birthday on the 30th of December.** Dr. Malone told me that she has never had a dog with this cancer do this well.
Histiocytic sarcoma, though rare in the general canine population is common in four breeds: Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Flat Coated Retrievers (Flatties). It is due to this very cancer that the average life span of Flatties is 7.5 years. Thus, it was with a heavy heart that two weeks after Buckley’s cancer diagnosis, we were informed that Bingley, age ten, also has HS. His variety, common with Flat Coated Retrievers, is soft tissue histocytic sarcoma. He’d had a lump on his left front elbow for over a year that, in all probability was HS, but was misdiagnosed. At a chiropractic appointment, his holistic vet found an enlarged lymph node, took a sample from it and when we got the ambiguous results, it was off to Medvet that day. When the diagnosis came in, I was crushed, but not terribly surprised. Bingley started the same chemo regimen as Buckley, and has responded well, though with a few more side effects than Buckley experienced. The lymph nodes are undetectable, the lump on his leg has reduced significantly and in general he remains my energetic, goofy retriever self. Given how quickly this cancer can progress, we are grateful for each day we have with Buck and Bing.
Knowing that cancer is endemic to Berners, we purchased pet insurance for Buckley. Just one ACL surgery, or cancer treatment more than makes up for the monthly premiums. They have paid 90% of the cost of Buckley’s treatment. Without this financial infusion, we would have been hard pressed to pay for one, much less two courses of cancer treatment. To date, Buckley’s treatment has cost well over $6000.00, Bingley’s over $3000.00.
This is not the first time in 34 years of marriage we have had to face expensive medical bills for one of our dogs. We have not always chosen to pursue extensive care. Making the decision to not treat a condition is not easy, but we tried to weigh in all pertinent factors, including such things as age and general health of the dog, likelihood the treatment would be successful, cost of the procedure, other treatment options, and our current financial situation. For example, when Brad was in law school, our small dog ruptured his ACL. Bandit was only 5 years old and to not repair it would mean he would not have full use of his leg and be in constant pain. He was a healthy dog with many years ahead of him, so we opted for the surgery we could ill afford, and called it our Christmas present to one another.
Twelve years ago, one of our dogs, Rebel, had a neck injury and the cost of having an MRI and surgery was over $3000.00. The alternative treatment, steroids, was $20.00. We opted for the steroids as $3000.00 was not in the budget. Lucky for us, the steroids worked, but if they hadn’t I don’t think we would have pursued the more expensive treatment as we had a daughter heading to college the next year. Another dog, Bilbo, developed an anal cyst that could have been operated on ($1000+), but he was 11 years old and the surgery would not guarantee that the tumor would not return within 6 months. Given his age and general health, we elected to keep him comfortable for the remainder of his time with us.
We have had the distinct pleasure to have had 8 dogs share their lives with us and each one has given us great love, as well as medical challenges. There is no one right way to deal with the medical issues our canines face, and the decision to treat or not treat has several factors, each of which must be weighed according to your individual situation. Do not feel bad if you choose at one point in your life to pursue treatment, while at another time you do not. Each dog, each stage of our lives, is different and will require a decision based on the pertinent factors at the time. These decisions do not reflect on how much you love your dog, but only that you love your dog and will, to the best of your ability, do what is best for all involved.
*We have nothing but high praise and gratitude for Dr. Malone and the entire staff at Medvet. The oncology unit has gone out of their way to care for Buckley and Bingley, as well as us. We are also grateful to the internists and ER doctors who have also cared for Buck and Bing during their cancer diagnosis and treatment. They have made a very difficult time as easy as possible. And of course, our family vet, Dr. Chad Herrick and his staff at Northtowne. They have loved and cared for our canines for many years, and without them, Buckley would not have been sent to Medvet that first day.
**1/11/16 Update: Buckley did indeed make it to his 7th Birthday. He had a blood transfusion the day before and was feeling well enough to go for a walk, engage with people and dogs, and eat ice cream. The transfusion kept him comfortable for a time, but he finally succumbed to his cancer on January 8, 2016, dying peacefully at home with Brad and me. He was a sweet, goofy, loving, giant of a dog and will be forever loved and missed.