Archive for the ‘Life with pets’ Category

Like most evenings, my cat Boomer wanted to be let out. Only during rain or cold did he opt to stay inside.

The next morning, he failedBoomer to show up for breakfast.

Boomer was obsessed by food, so this was alarming. He first showed up on my doorstep (literally) six years ago as a skinny stray. Cat food, dog food, people food – he ate it all. He’d tear through plastic wrapping to gnaw on a loaf of bread. He’d jump on a counter or the table to steal bacon or a piece of pizza or a slice of meat if I turned away from it for more than five seconds. He’d hunch in the sink over unwashed cooking pots to lick up any chocolate frosting, mashed potatoes or hot cereal that might still have been left in them.

I ate like a convict, guarding my plate from attack.

After two days, alarm turned to certainty. He’d never missed one meal, much less four in a row. Boomer must be dead.

Maybe coyotes got him. He will be missed for a long time.





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My first visit with Sugar to a dog park was like approaching a playground with a bomb in hand.

At age 3, my adopted Lab/Beagle mix exhibited extreme territorial possessiveness. I had to quit boarding dogs for my pet-sitting customers. Sugar attacked them all, from a miniature Poodle to a Rottweiler/Mastiff mix three times her size. The last straw was when my 90-year-old father ended up on my kitchen floor after diving to rescue his little Bichon/Cavalier mix, Heidi, from a snarling, snapping Sugar. Heidi’s crime? She had walked past Sugar’s empty food bowl, which I had forgotten to pick up before Heidi’s arrival.

Leashes, owners and home ground can all trigger this canine behavior. So the only way to give them playtime with other dogs is off-leash on neutral territory.

That first time, we stood at the gate, wondering whether to go to the big-dog side or the small-dog side. Sugar weighs 30 pounds, but given her out-sized attitude at home, I opted for the big dogs. In we went.

She avoided them all. She got scared whenever any approached for a friendly, introductory butt-sniff, tucking her tail and dashing away. When a couple of Saint Bernards entered, we decamped to the small-dog side.

To my huge relief, this went well. Sugar progressed from fearful avoidance to mere social awkwardness. She enjoyed being approached, but didn’t know how to initiate an encounter. She was like the geeky kid watching the others play, hoping to be included but too shy to join in.

Over the next couple of weekends, she progressed to chasing and being chased, jumping on and being jumped on. She began issuing tail wagging, butt-in-the-air play invitations. She also charmed the other owners by eagerly soliciting their friendly attention and by not snapping at their dogs.

Twenty to 30 minutes is her limit for socializing. Then she needs to go home, flop out and nap. Me too.


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About a month ago, a neighbor from the cul-de-sac next door began walking her Chihuahua, Sweet Pea, in the cul-de-sac where Sugar and I live.

Sugar and I had walked past Sweet Pea’s house a few times. We stopped using that route because of the commotion it caused.

Sweet Pea, lounging on her front porch step while tethered to a long tie-out, would streak across the yard like a missile when she saw Sugar, barking ferociously. Sugar would return the barking, accompanied by bucking and lunging on the end of her leash. It made dragging her away a challenge.

When Sweet Pea reached the end of her tether while running at full speed, she’d go airborne, all four paws briefly leaving the ground and her body whirling by the neck. It looked hazardous. So we changed our route to avoid that house.

That’s about the same time Sweet Pea’s owner started walking her down our street. I always knew when because it drove Sugar berserk. She’d run from window to window, room to room, frantic, barking obsessively. It was like a series of bombs going off.

At the end of my own tether (so to speak), I finally approached the neighbor as she walked by with Sweet Pea. I described the commotion and the disruption it caused, told her how I’d been avoiding her house to keep from triggering said commotion and asked if she’d be willing, at least once a day, to please use a route that didn’t take her and Sweet Pea past my house. I had hired a trainer to work with me and Sugar and hoped to see results soon.

She seemed so nice about it,  so understanding. I felt relieved and grateful. And I knew from my own experience that she had other routes easily available. In fact, coming over to my cul-de-sac actually was a bit out of her way.

The next day, she walked Sweet Pea by my house six times. She has every day since. Slowly.

It has taken every bit of will power to keep from just opening the door and letting Sugar run them down. The trainer had a better idea.

After we master the basics, she said, we’ll train on the sidewalk in front of Sweet Pea’s house.








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My latest boarder is a goldendoodle named Rosie. She’s at least twice as big as my own dog, a mystery breed named Sugar.  They got into a spat within 60 seconds of Rosie coming into the house.

Her owner and I had introduced the two in neutral territory, a park. We walked them for 20 minutes or so, close enough to see each other but not interact beyond a bit of sniffing. When Rosie arrived at my house a few days later, I put her in the back yard. Sugar already was there. It’s big, so dogs have plenty of room to avoid each other if they want.

All this went well, but I knew that Sugar’s possessiveness over the house, me and the cat could trigger trouble. Anxiety from owners and caretakers can aggravate these situations. So I waited until Rosie’s owners drove off, took a couple of deep breaths and then let the two dogs inside.

Rosie immediately found a tennis ball I hadn’t seen under a piece of furniture. She let me take it from her, but as I was putting it up out of reach, she and Sugar turned into a snarling, grappling, teeth-bared bundle of canine chaos right at my feet.

Standing over them and yelling would likely have no effect or just get them even more worked up. So I walked out of the room. Within seconds, they broke off to run after me, probably wondering the same thing: Where is she going? What is she doing?

They got into it again the next morning, when both crowded up to the door I was coming through after running errands. Again, I walked away. They broke it up.

They didn’t hurt each other, but they seriously unnerved me. Their fights were mostly for show, a way of communicating with each other and letting off some steam. But I didn’t want it to ratchet up into a fight.

Sugar and rosie

Sugar (left) and Rosie

Internet research on how to stop a dog fight reveals advice ranging from impractical to dangerous. Slide or drop a piece of plywood between them. Grab one dog by the hind legs and “wheelbarrow” her away from the other. In really serious fights, jam a hammer handle into a dog’s mouth to break its hold on the other (try not to break any teeth), or loop a leash around its neck and twist to cut off its breathing until it lets go.

The best advice was to know what might trigger conflict and arrange to avoid those situations. So I keep all toys and food bowls out of reach. They’re fed in separate rooms. At night, Sugar is kept behind the shut bedroom door with me, while Rosie can roam the house. During the day, I remain calm but watchful around them. Quickly removing myself, my attention and my anxiousness might have kept their spats from escalating into serious fights.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that will work with other dogs, or even work another time with these two. When it comes to dog behavior, there are no guarantees at all.

Within an hour of that first spat, Sugar invited Rosie to play. Rosie didn’t respond then, but the next day she invited Sugar to play. When they start play tussling, I watch for signs they might be getting too worked up. If the play growling gets too loud or the nipping too vigorous, I  interrupt them with an invitation to go out, or call from another room to come get a treat. They have to sit calmly first.

Then I take another few deep breaths, take them for a walk and visualize them flopped out afterwards, peacefully snoozing.









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My latest dog brought with her a nasty surprise called whipworms.

Whipworms are intestinal parasites. They lay eggs inside the dog which are then expelled in feces. Dogs (and coyotes) get infected if they ingest the eggs. This can happen if a dog steps in or sniffs an area where infected feces have lain and then licks its paws or nose. Diarrhea, weight loss, anemia and dehydration can result.

The big problem with whipworms is that their eggs can survive outdoors for years. Long after the infected pile is gone, the eggs still are there. There’s no way to know what spots in a park, at a beach or along a trail to avoid.

Sugar probably had whipworms before she arrived in the shelter where I found her. More than 14 percent of shelter dogs are estimated to be infected with whipworms.

Yet no shelter or vet had ever mentioned them to me. I didn’t learn Sugar had them until four weeks after I brought her home. By then, she had turned my big back yard into a contaminated zone.

I’ve had to stop boarding dogs that aren’t protected from whipworms by a monthly preventative. Between medical costs, cancellations and a new fence confining Sugar to dumping on a small, easily cleaned patio, this has cost me $2,700 so far. There’s no telling how much more revenue will be sacrificed from customers who didn’t already have reservations and now are looking elsewhere for boarding.

Monthly medicines that prevent whipworm infections include Interceptor, Interceptor Plus, Sentinel, Advantage Multi and Trifexis. Some of these also include heartworm preventative.

Sugar should be free of infection in four to six weeks. The back yard has been marked with little red flags – 33 of them – wherever dog droppings were found among the dense ground cover of vines and ivy. I’ll be chopping through the vines, digging up dirt under and around each flag, dumping diatomaceous earth and clean soil in the holes, then covering them with black plastic landscape fabric.

Even after all that, there’s no telling if I’ve found every spot. The chances of infection might be small, but I won’t be able to guarantee that an unprotected dog can’t get infected.

This is a serious inconvenience for my boarding customers. They wouldn’t make plane or hotel reservations until after they’d secured dates for their dogs with me, where their pets enjoyed the run of the house, furniture privileges and romping in my big back yard. The dogs loved coming here. I booked them from only one customer at a time to lessen the chances of conflict and exposure to diseases.

I’m hoping over time that customers will get their pets onto one of these medicines and begin trickling back. Until then, I’ve lost at least 25 percent of my pet-sitting revenues to a microscopic pest.


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Shelter dogs come as surprise packages. Just as you can’t be certain what mix of breeds may be in your mutt, so you also can’t tell what her quirks are until you get her home.sugar2

The beagle/lab mix I chose was described as “a little timid” with people. She warmed up to me quickly enough and was eagerly affectionate with the kennel attendants.

But the moment we left the familiar confines of the shelter, she was in a state of high anxiety. It showed up on our first walk. Any person within sight, even at a distance of 100 feet, provoked frantic barking, cringing, raised hackles, digging in her paws to keep from getting closer and hiding behind me.

Could this be why someone had tagged her with the name “Drama?”

She wasn’t even two years old and already on her third home. She had qualities important to me: a moderate energy level, a smallish size of 25 pounds, a short-haired coat and friendly playfulness with dogs. She was house-trained and well past the chewing stage. On our first night, she jumped in my lap and rolled belly up for a tummy rub.

So I’ll hire a trainer to teach me how to bolster her confidence around people. My hope is that soon others will be able to see the sweet nature that prompted me to rename her as Sugar. Because Drama I can do without.


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TeddySamson, the dog in the picture, seemed to have the qualities I wanted in a dog. When his kennel attendant brought him to a visiting room to meet me, all he wanted was to climb into her lap and smother her face with sloppy dog kisses. He was calm, friendly, submissive and affectionate. He’d done well with other dogs in play groups.

That was critical, because I board dogs for my pet-sitting customers in my home, cage-free. They have the run of the house and the back yard. I book dogs from only one customer at a time, which generally means only one dog, although one customer does board two dogs here.

I was set to bring Samson home. I’d even picked out a new name for him, since the name Samson didn’t fit his smallish size and eager-to-please demeanor. He would be called Teddy because, like a teddy bear, he was a cuddler. But the night before, I did some research on pit bulls, and was sorry I did.

Many of the websites about them are rife with hysteria and fear. Having known half a dozen pit bulls belonging to friends, neighbors and customers, I knew they were not the demon dogs they’d been made out to be.

But even the reliable sources of information issued a caution about leaving a pit bull unsupervised with another dog. A friendly pit bull might not start a fight, but that wouldn’t matter. Once started, the pit bull would not back down or stop.

There was no way to justify taking even a remotely small risk with my customers’ pets. Reluctantly, I had to pass on Samson or any other pit bull.

Samson is a terrific dog who’s been at the Humane Society Calumet in Munster, Indiana since June 2015. He arrived as a skinny stray. Now he’s a neutered male, 2 years old, about 35 pounds. Someone will be very lucky to get him.




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My mom, 86, has been writing poetry all her life. One of her most memorable (to me) was for my 16th birthday. She managed to work in the title of every song listed in January 1968 as among the top 50. These included “Hey Jude,” “Light My Fire,” “Born To Be Wild,” “Those Were The Days,” “Dance To The Music” and “I Wish It Would Rain.” Quite a feat!

Her latest is about Brownie, my dog who died recently at age 16. It’s called, “Brownie’s Song.”

Brownie went to Heaven
Though we begged her not to go –
Linda tried and Grandma cried
Because we love her so…
People say our dead stay near,
In mind and soul and heart –
But words don’t help you very much
When it comes time to part.

We’ll dream of all the good times
She gave to us so sweetly
To let us know just how it feels
When we are loved – completely.

Her big brown eyes and
Wide, wide smiles
Would greet us at the door –
To show how much she loved us –
Overjoyed to wait no more…

Her tail was always wagging –
Sometimes her body too –
Brownie’s way to say “I love you”
Clearly meant for only you.

We knew from the beginning
Brownie was a friend so rare,
Now evermore we’ll miss her
No other “friend” will ever compare.


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The end came like a guillotine.DSCN0001a

In January, the vet said Brownie, 16, was in the final stage of congestive heart failure. This was in addition to a heart murmur, arthritis and serious losses of sight and hearing. A matter of months now, the vet told me.

Nine pills daily of five different kinds eased her pain and slowed her decline to a very gradual descent. We kept making new normals out of incremental adjustments: shorter walks, then none; no more steep stairs. I disguised the bitter taste of her pain pills with liver sausage, peanut butter or hot dog pieces.

She still enjoyed her life. She ate with gusto, played with the cat and pestered visitors for attention. By June, I began daring to hope that Brownie might enjoy one more summer.

I watched closely for signs of impending heart failure. At night, I counted her respirations during 60 seconds of deep sleep. Twelve a minute, fifteen a minute – when that number spiked, accompanied by coughing fits, it would be a matter of hours.

But it wasn’t heart failure that killed her.

One morning, she collapsed after her back legs gave out. She got up on her feet, but could barely move, and listed a bit to one side. She managed to get to the back yard for a potty break, but lost her balance and fell over while shaking away a gnat that had started buzzing around her head. She had to be carried up the stairs.

I called the vet. She said Brownie’s weakened heart would be even more stressed by the failure of her back legs. I decided it was time. The vet said she’d come over at noon.

For the next few hours, I tried to distract myself or petted Brownie. I didn’t want to hover or brood enough to arouse anxiety in her. I swept and vacuumed dog hair from the floors and rugs, realizing that for once this chore wasn’t annoying. I told her she was going to a place with a huge back yard bordered by a big lake, how there’d be lots of dogs and cats to play with, that she’d get to eat peanut butter smeared on everything and never have to have her nails trimmed. I thought about how she used to love rolling in the sand at the beach or grabbing one end of a four- or five-foot-long branch during a walk and trot proudly along with the other end dragging on the ground. No weeny sticks for her.

BrownieWhen the vet and an assistant arrived, Brownie got to her feet and followed me to the front door. They spread a white blanket on the living room floor and I guided her to it. The assistant enveloped her in a firm hug and I stroked her ears while the vet inserted a needle into a front leg. Brownie’s heart stopped after 15 quiet seconds. They gently wrapped her in the blanket. I helped carry her body out to their SUV. Then, just hours after she’d collapsed, I went back inside the house for the first time without Brownie there waiting for me.

This new reality will keep smacking me in the face for a while. Time to feed Brownie – nope. She needs her next round of pills – nope. She should go out once more before bed – nope.

On my first morning without her, I woke up thinking I’d heard her give a single bark. It was her time-for-my-breakfast signal.

The trickiest part of loving a pet is giving them as much good time as possible, but not waiting too long when they’re merely surviving. What comforts me is the relief of knowing Brownie was spared last moments full of pain and panic while in the throes of a final crisis. Instead, she enjoyed a chicken bratwurst I fed her piece by piece, followed by respectful attention from her last two visitors.

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DSCN0001aIt’s been four months since Brownie, now almost 14 years old, started laser therapy for torn ligaments in her back right knee and pain from arthritis. The results have been excellent.

When we started, she could barely touch that paw to the ground, much less put any weight on it. Now she’s running around the yard, chasing the cats through the house (don’t worry, they all enjoy it), jumping up on the couch and bed and clambering up and down stairs unless I can head her off first.

It took longer than surgery would have and cost even more. It also required a demanding regimen of three visits a week for the first month, then two a week for the second month, then once a week. We’re now down to one visit about every three weeks. She’s also able to skip the twice-weekly injections of pain medicine prescribed initially, and needs a Rimadyl only occasionally.

Her first sessions were difficult. She was lifted onto a waist-high table and made to lay down while the technician moved the laser wand over her spine, knees, hips and shoulders. Being up on the table terrified her; she trembled the whole time and had to be held down. It was not fun for anybody.

Another technician discovered Brownie would cooperate happily if allowed to stretch out on a comforter laid on the floor (and bribed with lots of liver treats). After that, she was relaxed and content during each 40- to 50-minute session.

It’s not easy to find a vet who offers laser therapy. Brownie gets hers at Vale Park Animal Hospital in Valparaiso, Ind. They’ve also used it a couple of times on some slow-healing wounds acquired by one of my cats during a nighttime encounter with something hostile. The wounds shrank drastically and healed quickly after that.

If your pet is too old or not healthy enough for surgery, or if you simply prefer a gentler, non-invasive treatment, I highly recommend it. I started as a doubter, worrying that it was just some New-Agey alternative that had been marketed before its effectiveness was known. Watching Brownie trotting along on her walks, even pulling on the leash in her enthusiasm, has settled those doubts.



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