Archive for the ‘Life with pets’ Category

Good news about the miniature pinscher (like the one pictured at right) who spent all day tied to a tree in his owner’s front yard: He’s not there anymore.

Not coincidentally, I haven’t seen any sign of the coyote who kept appearing in that yard to sniff around the tree and rope. Just sheer luck kept that dog from becoming a meal.

The neighbors and I don’t know where the dog went, but we hope it’s in a better home. We also hope no other dog replaces it. We’re enjoying quiet relief from the minpin’s frequent barking and yowling, as well as peace of mind from not having to worry about his exposure to coyotes, thunderstorms, the coming winter weather and an angry owner swatting at him with a rolled-up newspaper (for barking) while he cowered at the end of his rope.


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Sadie, pictured at right, needs a new home. She lives with Doug and Michelle, two caring, experienced dog owners who brought her home from a shelter as a puppy about eight months ago. 

They wanted their two young children to know the pleasures of a canine companion, and Doug hoped for a jogging partner. The shelter told them Sadie is a labrador retriever/blue heeler mix. Doug and Michelle used to have a lab and know people with blue heelers. They thought they knew what to expect.

Sadie, however, has an energy level that is off the charts and the attention span of a gnat. A five-mile jog doesn’t even wind her. After a 12-mile jaunt, she did lie down for a bit afterwards, but seemed fully recharged again all too soon. Their route takes them past a construction site, where Sadie enjoys choosing a chunk of concrete almost as big as her head to hold in her mouth while she runs. The extra weight doesn’t slow her down.

At home, she is a nonstop whirlwind, chewing on every item and surface and nipping at anyone who moves. She didn’t make it through puppy class; the instructor had to banish her for uncontrollable barking at her fellow puppies. She played happily with them during free time, but could not sit still or be quiet long enough for instruction.

Doug and Michelle are exhausted, their kids are wary of the dog and Sadie no doubt is frustrated. They’ve started putting the word out with friends, family and vet that Sadie needs a different home, probably one with fenced acreage, other dogs and people who have the time, knowledge and patience to cope with her high-energy challenges.

Sadie lives in Northwest Indiana near Lake Michigan. She’s a good swimmer and loves the beach. If you know of a good home for Sadie, please email me at lgibson150@gmail.com. I’ll pass your info to Doug and Michelle.


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This is the fourth week of Brownie’s three-times-a-week laser therapy treatments for arthritis and a torn ligament. Just last week, unable to see improvement, I began to wonder if the expense and inconvenience were worth it.

This week, she started to put weight on her injured back leg, which had been dangling uselessly since she tore the ligaments in her back-right knee. We’ve started going for short walks, and she’s felt good enough to repeatedly initiate play sessions with a 90-pound doberman who was boarding with us for a few days. I hated to have to put a stop to that, but couldn’t risk letting her chase or be chased on a bum leg.

The picture above, taken off the Internet, shows what a session is like with a dog about Brownie’s size. The vet tech puts a comforter on the floor for Brownie, who gets very anxious and antsy if lifted onto a table. Brownie can stand, sit or lie down, as she likes, while the vet tech gets down on the floor with her and maneuvers herself around to reach whatever spot is being treated. My mother and I sit right there in a couple of chairs, petting Brownie and gently holding her in place if she gets restless. The vet tech simply moves the head of the laser back and forth and around whatever area is being targeted for five minutes, close enough to ruffle Brownie’s fur but without any pressure. In Brownie’s case, the tech treats her back knees, hips, one shoulder and part of her spine.

It’s likely that a combination of laser treatments, bi-weekly pain shots and special joint-boosting treats have led to this improvement as their effects accumulated over the past month. The techs say most dogs grow to enjoy and look forward to their laser treatments, but Brownie isn’t one of them. She cooperates, but remains very anxious about car travel and vet visits. We’ve added a Busy Bone treat to her car trips, in addition to a tranquilizer and a personal transportation aide (Mom) to hold her steady and pet her while I drive.

Laser treatments aren’t easy to find around here, as not many vets want to invest $40,000 in one machine. We go to Vale Park Animal Hospital in Valparaiso, Indiana, and patients come from all over Northwest Indiana for laser treatments there. At our next session, we’ll meet with the vet to map out what’s next for Brownie.

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You might remember reading about Louie, the sickly Doberman who boarded with me all of last November (“With a little help from his friends,” Dec. 1, 2011).

He started his stay then as a 59-pound weakling who couldn’t have kicked sand in his own face. He left a month later about 20 pounds heavier and without the diarrhea that had plagued him.

Louie, pictured here, was back recently for a brief stay, and he has blossomed. He probably weighs about 90 pounds – sleek, not skinny. His coat gleams. The hair has grown back on his ears, which previously were leathery and dotted with scabs from scratching.

As before, Louie still has devoted owners, good vet care and high-quality food. So what has changed?

We’ll never know for sure, but it might be that his household has settled into a less stressful, more predictable routine. His family had been coping with a loved one who had a fatal illness. Louie thrives on attention and affection, and now that circumstances allow his family to relax, he’s probably getting more. He’s happy, handsome and healthy.

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Three times a week, my 83-year-old mother drives from a north Chicago neighborhood to Gary, Indiana so she can help me get my dog, Brownie, to the vet.

Brownie (with Mom, on the right) must go to a vet in Valparaiso for laser treatments on the torn ligaments of her back right knee. She’s an extremely nervous car passenger, insisting on standing the whole way no matter how long the trip. This is accompanied by panting and drooling on my shoulder.

With a bum leg, that’s a hazardous arrangement. The Thunder Shirt, touted for its calming ability, had no effect. She foiled attempts to secure her with a leash and halter, getting so twisted up in them I feared she’d lose a limb to constricted blood flow.

So Mom sits in the back seat with Brownie and holds her steady if she wants to stand, or soothes her with petting when Brownie deigns to sit or lie down. That she sits or lies at all is because of the tranquilizer she must take well before the trip.

It was Mom’s idea to lodge an enormous velvet-covered pillow back there, behind the gap between the two front seats, which gives Brownie a little more support when she insists on standing to drool on me.

All the way to Valpo and back I hear her alternating between cooing words of comfort at the dog and little exclamations of “Ouch” whenever Brownie manages to step on Mom’s leg or lap. At the end of each trip, Mom is covered in dog hair and wants immediately to wash her hands.

She doesn’t seem to want me to thank her, although I do. She likes being needed, and she certainly is. I couldn’t do this without such devoted, caring help – the kind often given by a mother, if you’re lucky.

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When Brownie tore ligaments in her back left knee two years ago, the vet warned me that there was a 50 percent chance the same thing would happen in her back right knee.

It happened a month ago as she was going up the front steps after a walk.

At 13 (that’s 91 in people years), Brownie isn’t a good candidate for surgery, as we did the last time. She has arthritis and a heart murmur. Surgery, however, was the only option my vet offered, although he didn’t want to do it himself this time. He recommended I take her to Purdue University’s Small Animal Hospital – 98 miles away! The cost would be about $3,500, instead of the $1,000 it had cost at the local vet.

It looked like Brownie’s only options were a dangerous operation or being euthanized. She wouldn’t even touch her back right paw to the floor, much less put any weight on that leg. It simply dangled, probably causing her constant pain. Yet she gave no other sign of distress, remaining cheerful, eating well and even trying to continue chasing my two cats. (Don’t worry, it’s just a game; they pretend to be scared while they all enjoy the chase.)

An Internet search for alternatives turned up Vale Park Animal Hospital in Valparaiso, Ind. One of its vets specializes in nontraditional treatments. She recommended laser therapy, joint boosters, twice weekly pain shots and a session with a rehabilitation specialist who would show me how to massage and exercise Brownie’s bum knee. It would cost more than the first surgery, but possibly less than the second recommended one, depending on how well it worked and how fast.

So three times a week, we make the half-hour drive to Valpo for a laser treatment. In my next post, I’ll let you know how that’s going.



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Usually, people choose their pets. But my latest pet is a cat who showed up and insisted on joining our household. He behaved as if there were no question that he would live here and proceeded to make himself at home.

The first time I saw him, he sat on the porch step outside the kitchen door, calmly regarding my dog, Brownie, as she barked wildly just inches from his face on the other side of the glass.

Next, I heard terrific commotions late at night as my cat, Taffy, screeched warnings from the back porch to an intruder she wanted to scare away.

Then, whenever I pulled into my driveway, I’d hear him meowing as I stepped out of the car. He’d trot across the cul-de-sac and walk alongside me up the steps to the front door as if it were a foregone conclusion that he’d come inside. When I’d shut the door on him, he’d sit out there for a few minutes and vocalize his protest. His message was clear: “There’s been a mistake, you don’t understand, I’m supposed to live here.”

After he found the hole in the screen door out back, he’d appear on the back porch and jump into my lap, purring and rolling belly up, a request for affection that was irresistible. I’d scratch under his chin, smooth back his whiskers and gently rub his ears despite knowing this was no way to get rid of him.

I wasn’t interested in adding another pet. But he patiently continued to woo me while keeping an eye open for opportunity. He finally found the window I keep cracked open so Taffy (who refuses to use the cat door) can let herself in and out at will.

The day I saw him strolling through the living room, I knew he’d won.

He’s been examined, vaccinated and neutered. The vet said he’s about one year old, a big, healthy dark gray tabby who charmed her as easily as he did me. “He has such an expressive face,” she marveled.

I named him Boomer. It’s short for Boomerang, because he just kept coming back.

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After reading the post about pepper spray,  a woman who owns several dogs described her technique for keeping away aggressive strays. She carries a poop scooper with her and makes sure there always is at least a little material in it. If an unknown dog approaches while she’s walking with her dogs, she instructs her dogs to sit and stay, then steps between them and the stray while holding the poop scoop out in front of her for the stray to sniff. She says the strays sniff, then turn away, satisfied.

My dog is not well-enough trained to sit and stay in the presence of anything that interests her (an embarrassing admission for a pet sitter!). But this sounds like it’s worth a try. Even so, I’d keep the pepper spray in a handy pocket as Plan B.

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My sister has fought  a constant and mostly losing battle against the destructive urges of her husband’s dog, Buddy.

He happily tore chunks out of their expensive, leather-covered massaging chair soon after it appeared in the living room. After the Christmas tree went up, he attacked the wrapped gifts underneath it. Some escaped with only teeth marks, but a box with flashlights in it didn’t survive. Fortunately for Buddy, he didn’t get around to the box containing a set of silk pajamas.

The only solution they’ve found so far is to keep Buddy crated while they’re at work. For another problem, however, my sister stumbled on a technique that works without confining Buddy.

Naturally, he loves lounging on the couch. When his people are home and Buddy is let out of his crate, he likes to jump up on the couch whenever someone isn’t in the room to stop him. My sister got tired of covering the couch with old throws or sheets, of having to quickly strip them off and hide them when company came, to say nothing of the extra laundry chores.

Finally, in a moment of I’ll-try-anything desperation, she laid a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil across the seat cushions of the couch.

Buddy hasn’t been up there since.  Who knows, it might even discourage cats from clawing furniture if tin foil is taped or pinned over the favored scratching site. If anyone tries this, please let me know whether it worked.

It’s easy to fold up and stash under a cushion and never needs laundering. Next Christmas, she just might try wrapping all the gifts in it.

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When Louie first came to day-board with me, he looked like a refugee.

 A skinny, 5-year-old Doberman, he had been suffering from chronic diarrhea for reasons nobody could determine. His ribs, backbone and hip bones stuck out so far, it looked like even petting him would hurt him.

 Louie had loving owners, regular vet care and a special, high-priced food. So what was the problem?

 While his owners were at work, he’d been spending weekdays at the home of one of Chicago’s most popular pet sitters. But she often was busy downstairs at her day-boarding facility, so Louie spent a lot of time alone upstairs.

 That seems to have been the problem.

 His desperate owners decided to try leaving him with me during weekdays, where he would enjoy the company of my friendly dog, Brownie, my very dog-experienced cat, Taffy, and of course me.

 Brownie and Taffy took to Louie right away. Brownie shares her toys with him, and he likes to curl up next to her on one of the big dog beds lying around the house. Taffy likes to let Louie sniff her all over with his great big snout, which is attached to a head almost as big as the cat. It must feel like getting lightly vacuumed, just enough to pleasantly ruffle her fur.

 So even when I’m out running errands or tending to other pets, Louie has company.

 After one week, his owners could see a difference. After four weeks, he’d gained enough weight to look normal. His coat regained its sheen and there was almost no sign of the diarrhea that had plagued him.

 Louie seems to be one of those dogs who thrives only when he has steady companionship. His owners might want to consider adding another pet to their household. The result would be one more pet with a good home, and a very happy, healthy Doberman who would welcome the company.

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