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.



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.

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.

My newest, don’t-leave-home-without-it, dog-walking equipment consists of a small, pocket-sized weapon of great strength – a little canister of pepper spray.

I acquired it after a stray pit bull attacked my own dog while we walked through a nearby neighborhood (“Neighborhood heroes save the day,” Sept. 2011). It was purchased at a flea market in a booth that also stocked more exotic wares like throwing stars, daggers and swords.

This little gizmo has a safety catch that can be unlatched in a nanosecond, and it fits into any pocket. Fortunately, I haven’t had to use it, so can’t testify to its effectiveness. Some of them come disguised as lipsticks, some come on keychains and some come with pouches to carry them in.

It certainly has a positive impact on my confidence. I carry it whenever I take a walk through the national park and when I enter a client’s house. It’s reassuring to feel my hand gripped around that tiny but mighty weapon, waiting in a pocket, when I return to an empty house with a dog that might be too shy or too small to fend off an intruder.

The clerk who sold it to me offered one piece of good advice, although it might be hard to follow in a moment of panic: Make sure you aren’t downwind when you spray.

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.

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.

Just after Brownie and I left the Indiana Dunes nature trail at Montgomery Avenue in Miller, a female pit bull running loose across the street began barking at us.

She was several houses away, but coming on fast.  A man just pulling out of his driveway saw this and intercepted the dog, trying to keep his car between her and us. This worked for a minute.

But when she ran around the car and lunged at Brownie, I thought we were in trouble. At age 12, Brownie was no match for this dog.

As I tried to pull Brownie away from the circling, barking and lunging dog, a man driving by got out of his pickup truck and came over. He yelled at the dog, trying to scare it away. It must have been frightening for his wife, waiting in the truck with their baby, to see him take that risk.

A couple in another car pulled over and threw open the door to the back seat. Brownie and I jumped in and they drove us to safety. We got away with no more than a nip on Brownie, and it didn’t draw blood.

I’ve known a few pit bulls (including a neighbor’s) and don’t believe they deserve the condemnation heaped on the breed. Like people, dogs need to be judged as individuals. This experience won’t change my mind about that.

I wish those who still hold bigoted views about African-Americans could have seen how these strangers came to my aid, a white woman they didn’t know. They didn’t stop to judge me by the insults they’ve no doubt suffered from other whites. They saw a person in need and acted to help.

It would be nice to think witnessing this would have changed a few minds.

Officer Brian Moore and his partner, Jack. Photo courtesy of Faus K-9 Specialities.

Two officers with the Gary Police Department are raising money to buy three dogs for a K-9 unit, and they could use help.

 The Gary PD doesn’t have any K-9s. Officer Irving Givens says each of the three dogs acquired would accompany an officer on patrol. They’ll be able to track fleeing suspects or missing persons, and detect drugs or bombs.

You might have seen a copy of a fundraising letter from Givens and John Artibey posted around town, like at the Great Lakes Café at 201 Mississippi Street. Givens and Artibey created the Gary Canine Association to raise the money and handle the funds for training and equipping the dogs and their handlers. They’ve already raised $7,500, not quite one-third of the money needed for three trained police dogs.

Their plan is to obtain dogs and training from Shannon Dog Training in Rockville or from Faus K-9 in Elkhart. The photo, from Faus K-9, shows Seymour Police Officer Brian Moore and his partner, Jack.

To donate, send a check to the association at P.O. Box 64409, Gary, IN 46401. Its phone number is 219-649-0103 and the email address is garycanine@yahoo.com.


One of the hardest things to do as a pet sitter is turn down business. Until recently, I had never said no to a potential customer unless he or she told me their dog had bitten someone.

That’s an obvious, easy call. No second-guessing there. But this month there’ve been three occasions when alarm bells went off, once with a dog and twice with owners.

My boarding service is a little different. It’s in my home. No cages are used, and I take dogs from only one customer at a time. The customer’s dog (or in one case, pig!) stays with me, my dog and my cat as if he lives here. That means the run of the house and backyard, getting up on the furniture if the owner allows that at home and an extra dog rushing to the front door when someone arrives.

On that basis, my pets and I have hosted dogs of all sizes and age without any problem – until we met Jube.

She’s a female shepherd mix with issues regarding other dogs. She hadn’t bitten, so her owner brought her to the house for the meet-and-greet with me and my dog, Brownie, that every new customer does before any boarding is scheduled.

The first five minutes went fine. Then Jube’s owner bent down to pat Brownie. Jube erupted in a fit of jealousy and attacked Brownie. After a long and scary 10 seconds, we managed to get the snarling animals away from each other before anybody got hurt. No boarding for Jube!

The next situation involved a woman who called and said she had lost her apartment (through circumstances that sounded odd and vague), was living with her boyfriend’s mother, that her dog was kept in the garage and she needed a place for him until she could get settled elsewhere.

This sounded like a situation where I might end up with a dog dumped on me after the owner failed to come back for it. Her life wasn’t stable right then and her explanations raised more questions than reassurance.

I’m pretty booked up, I told her. It will be a long while (never) before there’s an opening.

Then a man called wanting a one-week stay for his 95-pound dog. That’s more than twice Brownie’s size. I didn’t consider it a problem until I asked him whether his dog got along with other dogs.

She’s very dominant, he said, but she’s never actually bitten another dog. The alarm bells started to go off.

Has she gotten into fights with any dogs, I asked. “Nothing terribly violent,” he answered.

That did it. I pictured myself explaining to Brownie’s vet that the dog who injured her hadn’t been terribly violent. It didn’t sound good.

So we passed on that job, too. The customer understood.

It might have cost us much-needed income, but the peace of mind is priceless.

After seven years of pet sitting, it finally happened – a dog nipped me.

He’s a border collie, like the dog in the picture, named Jack.  He and his owner participate in agility contests, and the owner trains dogs in this sport, as well.

Border collies, according to websites devoted to them, are among the most difficult dogs to keep as pets. Their energy level is off the chart. They’ve been bred to work hard as sheepherders, which involves a lot of running around and occasional nipping at slow moving or wandering sheep.

Unfortunately for Jack, he spends most of the weekday in a crate while his owner is at work. When I arrive, it’s not to walk him, but to let him and the owner’s four other dogs into their back yard for a bathroom break.

Jack already had a habit that expressed his discontent. Whenever I entered or left the room where he and another border collie were crated, he’d attack his dog bed in a frenzy of biting, ripping, shaking and snarling. When the crate door was opened, he’d explode out of it like a missile.

Our routine included a treat after he had returned to his crate. This time, after dashing into the crate, he immediately ran back out, turned to nip me on the knee and then dashed back in. He left one shallow puncture and several raw scrapes. Bruises appeared the next day.

Websites I looked at for insight into border collies suggested that nipping is hard-wired into them, as is their need for a tremendous amount of exercise daily. Jack’s owner has decided to find him another home. Since he now has a history of nipping, this will be a challenge. Here are some of the websites I consulted:




I still visit his home almost daily to let out the other four dogs. He remains in his crate, without even that brief mid-day break. His dog bed has been eviscerated, its stuffing strewn all around the outside of the crate. It’s very hard to leave him in there while he watches the other dogs go out. I don’t blame him (or his owner) for taking out his frustration on me, but can’t risk letting him do it again. Next time might be a bite instead of a nip.

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