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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.

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

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.

 

 

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.

 

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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