Some Scary Statistics

Some dogs don’t let go.

On this, the day before Halloween, I wanted to write something scary. A ghost story. A campfire story that would give all the kiddies a shiver. Fun scary, not scary scary. You get the idea.

But the very moment I had that thought, an article popped up on my computer screen entitled, 2 Children Killed, Mother Hospitalized After Family Pit Bulls Attack Them Outside Tennessee Home. And I realized that this was a topic that is scary/important.

I know this post will ruffle feathers, so I wanted to start off by saying that I love dogs. I really do. I always have. But love brings with it a certain responsibility, and in order to make responsible decisions, one must have information. And all the information I’m providing below can be found if you read all of the links I provide. So here goes.

There are an estimated 90 million pet dogs in America, and they gift us with 4.5 million bites per year. While it’s true that “only” 40-50 Americans die each year from dog attacks, 26% of those fatalities fall in the 0 to 2-year old age range. These children never had a say in what dangers they would be exposed to. And it’s noteworthy that 77% of all maulings come from the family dog or a dog known to the victim.

Between 1982 and 2021, 931 people have been killed by dogs in the U.S. and Canada.

Still, when you consider that we’re talking 90 million dogs in America today, the odds of getting killed by one are startlingly small, almost to the point of insignificance. Unless, of course, you are a victim.

A responsible pet owner makes sure that her/his/their dog, regardless of its temperament, is not put in a position where harming someone is even a possibility. Dogs should be adequately trained, not allowed to roam free, not neglected or abused, and, whenever possible, kept away from situations that might trigger aggression or any type of startle response.

Now, here’s where I get controversial. Let’s delve into pit bulls specifically. I know several people who absolutely love pit bulls, and swear that their dogs are gentle and loving companions that wouldn’t hurt a fly. Yes, the odds are in their favor that this will remain the case. Statistically, it’s true that we humans are 21 times more likely to be killed by a mosquito than we are to be killed by a dog of any breed.

But.

Choosing a pet should be more than just an emotional decision. Yes, I’m willing to concede that pit bull puppies are about as cute as they come. But you are about to allow a creature into your world who, once large enough, is physically capable of killing you or someone you love. (And bear in mind, two 6-month-old pit bull puppies once killed a 7-year-old boy.) Fortunately, most dogs would never make that choice. But it’s something to think about, especially if you have children or other pets.

When choosing a dog, you should consider the disposition of the breed in question. Pit bulls were not bred to be “nanny dogs” as some would have you believe. This article explains the long and complicated history of pit bulls, but the bottom line is that they were originally bred for bull baiting. When that became illegal, they were used in illegal dog fighting. Aggression is what people were seeking when they bred these dogs, and I guarantee that as you read this, pit bulls are fighting in rings all over the world.

A horrific side effect of the history of the aggressive manipulation of this breed is that pit bulls are still the most abused dogs on earth. That certainly doesn’t do anything to improve their disposition, and given that one survey indicates that 41% percent of animal rescue staff would lie about a pit bull’s personal aggressive history in order to find him or her a home, in this instance I would actively discourage dog rescue with regard to pit bulls. There are so many other rescue dogs out there who need your love and attention. I hope you’ll turn your eyes to them.

Pit bulls have a bite force of 235 PSI (pounds of force per square inch). That is similar to a lot of industrial machines that most parents would never let their children play around. There are actually many breeds with a stronger bite force, but pit bulls combine their bite force with an extreme level of tenacity. Some dogs just don’t let go.

Contrary to the persistent myth, a pit bull’s jaws don’t lock. It isn’t that they can’t let go, it’s that they won’t let go once they’re in frenzied attack mode. And to me, that’s even scarier.

When getting a pet, one’s first concern should be public safety, which, of course, includes the safety of you, your loved ones, your friends, and your neighbors. This is why the vast majority of us don’t have lions or tigers or bears curled up on our living room couches. It’s just a bad idea.

So, set aside emotions when making your choice. Look at cold, hard, statistics. They don’t lie. They don’t have an opinion. And below is some pit bull information that I found extremely easy to obtain. I’ll start with the most incontrovertible truth, and the statistic that would be all I’d need to know, personally, in order to give a pit bull a pass:

In the past 16 years, from 2005 to 2020, pit bulls have been responsible for 67%, or 380 dog bite fatalities, in America.

The next most deadly breed is the rottweiler, and they are responsible for 9%, or 51 bite fatalities. All other breeds pale in comparison to those two.

That, to me, is scary. But I hope it doesn’t scare you off dogs in general. The truth is, you have a 1 in 73 chance of getting bit by a dog in the US, and your odds of dying from a dog bite are 1 in 118,776. That’s not bad at all, actually. But from a logical standpoint, you might want to avoid the possibility of greatly improving your chances of being bitten or killed by avoiding the breed that does most of that biting and killing.

Even the Pitbull Federation of South Africa, an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the American Pit Bull Terrier in South Africa, an organization that always wishes to portray the breed in a positive light, is realistic about these dogs. They strongly encourage sterilization, and in a public statement, they stressed that they feel that, unfortunately, “99% of pit bull terrier owners should not own a pit bull and that these dogs are owned not because the breed is loved by their owners but because of the standing owning this breed gives the owners in society.”

If you want to read a very detailed statistical breakdown of North America’s scariest encounters with man’s best friend, which includes 9 pages of horrific descriptions of some of the more unusual encounters, I urge you to download this report. Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada, September 1982 to December 31, 2021.

In an effort to give you balanced information on this subject, I spent hours looking at several sources, but I tend to rely more on those that provide actual statistical evidence. One such source, which spells out the rarity of dog bite fatalities, but also makes clear the risk factors involved, is the National Canine Research Association of America. They also put out a simple flyer that spells out the most salient points: 15 Year U.S. Dog Bite Fatality Chart – 2005 to 2019

If, after reading all the statistics, you’re still on the fence about pit bulls, then I strongly encourage you to read the many articles listed on a page entitled Voices of pit bull experience. And then, if that isn’t gut-wrenching enough for you, check out this article, entitled Pit bull “nanny dogs” kill three children, two adults, in nine days.

You’re probably wondering if I’m saying you should have your pit bull euthanized if you already own one. I know what it’s like to love a dog. I’ve thought long and hard about this, and my answer would be no, but with a few caveats.

If your dog has displayed worrying signs of aggression, then, sorry, yes, it should be put down. If you have small children, even if your dog has displayed no aggression, your dog should not be allowed around those children unless it is completely under your physical control and supervision. If you are unwilling or unable to provide a pit bull with the continual training and socialization it requires, or if you are not doing everything possible to ensure that your dog isn’t running the streets unsupervised, or if you are neglecting or abusing that dog in any way, then at a bare minimum, your dog should be taken in by someone who is willing to step up to the increased responsibilities that this breed demands.

Keeping your pit bull is potentially a life and death decision. I encourage you to check your emotions at the door and ask yourself if you are doing everything you need to do to ensure the safety of those around you. If you can say yes to that without hesitation, then go for it, but please reassess frequently to make sure you are not becoming complacent.

The biggest takeaway from this post, I suppose, it that, when it comes time to adopt your next dog, I hope you’ll consider all the other breeds out there who need your love and care, and choose one of those. Why throw the potential kill factor into the mix? Pit bulls just aren’t worth the risk.

In the interests of full disclosure, I currently have two dogs. Nelly is a mixed breed old couch potato who leaves the room when anyone approaches. Quagmire, the dachshund, can be aggressive. I discovered that when he bit a neighbor. (And I did the right thing and paid her doctors bills. I also make sure that my pets have all the necessary inoculations to prevent the spread of disease.)

Quagmire has also bitten me and Dear Husband more than once. Usually blood isn’t involved, but not always. I’m not going to lie. It does hurt.

Some people have encouraged me to euthanize Quagmire because of this. Instead, I choose to take the occasional risk, knowing that dachshunds have one of the weakest bite forces of any breed. In addition, Quagmire is an old, 15-pound dog who is missing more than half his teeth, and is therefore not capable of killing us.

However, it’s my responsibility to make sure he can never bite a visitor again. We keep him in our house. We don’t take him to public places. Our back yard is completely and utterly dog-proofed. And if we do have visitors, we have a soft muzzle on hand that we can put on him, which basically causes him to stand still and stare balefully at us.

Quagmire will never kill anyone. And he’ll never hurt anyone who hasn’t volunteered for such treatment (and that’s a short list). I feel we’ve done our due diligence.

In contrast, in the course of my life, I’ve been lunged at by several pit bulls whose owners were walking them on leash on busy urban sidewalks, and I’m sure those owners think that their dogs wouldn’t hurt a fly. That’s not responsible pet ownership.

But one pit bull encounter, in particular, stands out for me. I was in a convenience store, prepaying for gas. There was a van parked right at the front door, and I had to walk past it to get to the pump. I wasn’t paying much attention. I certainly didn’t hear any barking. There was no one in the driver’s seat, and the window was wide open. As I walked past, a pit bull came through that window and lunged at my face. I saw it all in slow motion. I felt his hot breath on my eyelashes. I was able to jump out of the way in time, but it was a near thing. I could have been disfigured for life.

And here’s the kicker: the pit bull owner came running out of the store and started yelling at me.

Are you wondering what to bring to Thanksgiving dinner? How about my book, Notes on Gratitude? Place your orders now! (Or any other time, since we’re on the subject.) And… thanks!

January 24th: Change a Pet’s Life Day

Every pet I’ve had has changed my life. One of my dogs sports a collar that says “Who rescued who?” When I manage to get past my overwhelming desire to instruct the manufacturers of said collar on the proper use of “whom,” I can then focus on the fact that that’s a very good question, indeed. My pets mean the world to me. It’s only fair that there’s one day a year that helps to bring awareness to the fact that we can change our pet’s lives, too. And you don’t need to restrict your actions to just this day.

Naturally, the best way to change an animal’s life is to rescue or foster one. Because so many people don’t spay or neuter their pets, we have created a stray animal problem that’s overwhelming. Those poor dogs and cats that are left out on the streets suffer an existence that is miserable, violent and short. We can prevent that, one pet at a time. And please consider adopting older pets. They need love, too.

You can also volunteer at a pet shelter, or donate food or money to one. Shelters are even thrilled to get your extra towels. (Don’t we all have too many towels?) They go through a lot of those. If you can’t give them your time, they also appreciate toys.

If you know of a pet that’s being abused, report it to the local authorities. That’s a fantastic way to make a difference. Every pet deserves to have room to move, access to water and decent food, and shelter from the heat or cold. Also, get your pets examined by a vet on a periodic basis. They can often identify health issues and head them off at the pass before they become chronic.

Feed your pet healthy food, not that Walmart Ol’ Roy stuff, or anything similar that. There’s no nutritional value in that product. You don’t have to buy the high end, hard to obtain, super expensive stuff, but read the labels and compare ingredients. Also, keep people food to a minimum. Most pets only get fat because their owners don’t give them proper portions or the right kind of food. Overfeeding is abuse, even if you mean well.

Make your pet’s life a little less boring. Get your cat a new toy. Give your dog more attention. Take him on a walk to somewhere he has never been. The animals under your care deserve quality of life just as much as you do.

If you have rescued pets, tell their stories far and wide. Here are mine.

My dachshund, Quagmire, was found roaming the streets of Olympia, starving and terrified. He was also not neutered, and showing obvious signs of neglect. The notches in his ears, shown below, are evidence of a poor diet with not enough fish oil or water. That caused the edges of his ears to dry out and crack off. We suspect he was in a puppy mill, outlived his usefulness, and was dumped on the street like so much garbage. Now he’s my best friend and biggest supporter. He can get really worked up around strangers, and he hates it when people make big gestures with their hands. Only he knows what he’s been through. But for the most part, he sticks to us like glue and is the best cuddler on the planet.

We call our other dog Nelly for good reason. She is very nervous. She was horribly abused. It took a long time to gain her trust, and we still work to earn it every day. She is scared of loud noises and sudden movements. She often goes to another room to sleep by herself, and will leave if you enter. But when she is in the mood to be loved on, she soaks it up like a thirsty traveler who has found an oasis in the desert. She is by far the sweetest dog I have ever known. I wish she could be convinced that it’s okay to play with toys. We let her do her thing and define her own comfort zone. When she invites me into that zone, I feel like I’ve won the lottery.

Sharing your rescue stories often encourages others to do the same. Also, let people know that mixed breeds can often be healthier because they don’t have the issues that come with inbreeding, and they are just as loving as purebreds. Educate friends and family about the horrors of puppy mills. That cute purebred that you purchased from Romania could very well have been the product of a very abused mother who has spent her entire existence in a small cage, up to her chest in feces. And the long travel to get to your country was probably extremely traumatic for the puppy. Please adopt from a local shelter, folks. There are plenty of dogs to go around.

So today’s the day to remind yourself (as if you need to be reminded) that it’s important to give your pet all the love you have to give, and then some. My babies, pictured below, say “Woof!”

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Anthropomorphize Much?

You have got to be kidding me.

Just when I thought I’d seen the most ridiculous product to waste money on, another one crosses my path. I can’t even… Just… Sigh.

Neuticles, y’all. Neuticles.

According to their website, these prosthetic nuts for pets “allow your precious pet to retain his natural look, self-esteem, and aid the pet and pet’s owner with trauma associated with altering.”

As they say in the South, Jesus, take the wheel.

I mean… I’m struggling to find the words to adequately express how… (the enormously long pause while I gather myself has been deleted in the interest of space) nonplussed, stupefied and generally flipped out I am by this product.

Oh, where to begin. I can’t even…

Okay. First of all, do you honestly believe that your dog’s self-esteem is shattered when you get him neutered? Really? I mean, I’ve had a lot of dogs fixed in my lifetime, people, and not one of them has appeared to have sunk down into a bottomless pit of depression afterward. Granted, I don’t know what they’re thinking when they wake up, all alone and nutless, at three a.m. on a random Friday night, when all the other dogs are all nutfull and partying, but whatever it is, they seem perfectly willing to play fetch the next day. Life goes on.

Trauma for the pet? Well, yeah, I’m sure it doesn’t tickle, but they seem to recover quickly, and their health and life expectancy vastly improve, all while reducing the stray dog population. (Talk about trauma. Try being a homeless dog for five minutes.)

I’ve often said that I wish my veterinarian had done my hysterectomy. It would have only cost about 75 bucks, and I would have been up and running the next day, rather than flat on my back for 6 weeks. And I think my self-esteem would have been just fine.

And trauma for the owner? For heaven’s sake, get a freakin’ life. If that’s the most traumatic experience you’ve ever had, then you must be living in a plastic bubble. I certainly wouldn’t recommend that you be subjected to the average Seattle commute or, heaven forfend, a Brazilian wax. You wouldn’t survive.

But hey, Kim Kardashian’s dog Rocky has neuticles, so we should all rush out and get some, in order to keep up. Visit the website to find a participating vet near you. (I truly hope my vet isn’t on this list.)

Oh, and while you’re there, you can also order PermaStay! Those are ear implants for dogs, “to correct broken, bent or floppy ears that should otherwise stand up straight.” Because the world can’t abide dogs who don’t have perky ears.

Give me strength.

Dog
This dog fears for your sanity.

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Coyotes Killing Cats

Keep your cat inside and coyotes won’t be an issue.

I know what it’s like to lose a pet. It’s heartbreaking. They are a part of your family, and the loss is felt keenly.

But.

Pets are also your responsibility. If your Pitt Bull is running around loose and bites a someone, that’s on you. If your boa constrictor gets loose and swallows the neighbor’s poodle, that’s on you. If your cat is allowed to roam free and gets killed by a coyote, that’s also on you. That coyote is only doing what coyotes do. (And your cat was probably killing songbirds anyway. It’s a cat.) Keep your cat inside and coyotes won’t be an issue.

I get so frustrated when people complain about coyotes. “Coyotes Killing Cats” is a frequent topic on my local Nextdoor.com page. It’s the coyotes’ territory as much as it is ours. They have every bit as much right to survive as we do. It would be great if they could live far away from people and feed on things that we are not emotionally attached to, but we’ve made it all but impossible for them to do that.

When people’s pets start disappearing, there’s always a call to kill the coyotes. It makes me sick. If you allow your pets to roam free, you need to be willing to live with the consequences.

I can hear the coyotes howling in the park behind my house on many nights. I think it’s a lovely sound. And I never let my dachshund outside from dusk to dawn without supervision, even if our yard is fenced, and I’ve never seen a coyote inside that fence. Because that’s what a responsible pet owner should do.

Coyote

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On Being Someone’s Person

My dog Quagmire is hysterically clingy. That’s partly due to his breeding—Dachshunds can be that way. But it’s also partly due to all that he’s been through in his life. He was found dirty and starving and wandering the streets. He spent a lot of time in dog rescue facilities, which, despite their best intentions, probably felt a lot like puppy prison to him. It’s got to be traumatic to be jailed when you’re innocent.

And then I adopted him. I became his person. Now, when I’m home, he sticks to me like glue. If I’m sitting, he’s on my lap or nestled under my arm pit. He even accompanies me to the bathroom. He sleeps curled beside me. If I roll over, he repositions himself for maximum body contact.

Mostly I love it. Sometimes it drives me nuts. It’s like I suddenly gained 18 pounds of furry fat.

But when you adopt a pet, you make a commitment. You are responsible for the health and safety of another living thing. You don’t get to take a day off. It’s like being a parent. If you cannot provide a child with constant love and security, then maybe you should not take on this lifelong task.

Once you tell someone or something that you will provide a forever home, you need to keep that promise. Ideally, you will do so happily. It’s okay to have your moments. We all do. But don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep. The damage you cause will ripple outward.

And it will also say something extremely ugly about you.

i-will-love-forever

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Oh, the Humanity!

My dogs are no longer speaking to me.

Quagmire is full of righteous indignation because I sprung a surprise bath on him the other night. Apparently while I was at work, he took every opportunity to stick his head under Devo’s urine stream and then he rolled on dead things for added fragrance. When I got home, I smelled him before I saw him. He was so proud.

Now he smells all flowery. And he’s a boy. The least I could have done was use Axe shampoo for men. Or, I don’t know, canned gravy or something. But nooooo.

But his outrage pales in comparison to Devo’s. (And I have to confess that if someone did this to me, I’d be rather furious, too.) I took him to the vet. And not just for the Annual Charming of the Entire Staff, either. This time it was so that I could learn how to express his anal glands. The indignity of it all!

To say he was not amused was putting it mildly. But then, neither was I. And I still can’t imagine how I’ll pull off this caper alone with him at home. I suspect that will be fodder for a future blog entry. At a bare minimum, he’s going to have a PTSD flashback whenever I break out the rubber gloves. (My apologies in advance if your habit is to read this blog over breakfast.)

The things you do for your pets. Next time someone in authority says, “This is for your own good,” I’m going to try really hard to cut them a tiny bit of slack.

Now, please excuse me while I go bribe myself back into my dogs’ good graces with Greenies. Yeah. They have their price.

I wrote this post about a week ago, when everything was fine. Then Devo, my best friend, had a sudden, completely unexpected health crisis that caused me to have to make the horrible decision to put him to sleep. Rest in peace, my beloved friend. I’ll miss you.

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Quagmire and Devo, conspiring my overthrow.

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Pragmatism

I was just reading a book about clutter reduction which actually had some extremely helpful advice. But then the author advocated a certain way of folding one’s clothes because she says that when clothes are in a drawer, they are resting, and it’s impossible to rest if you’re all wadded up. Also, if you don’t show your clothes that you respect them, it hurts their feelings.

Oh, please. I refuse to live my life in fear of offending inanimate objects. It’s not going to happen.

Practicality and pragmatism are my watchwords.

While I consider myself a spiritual person, and I’ve seen many things that can’t easily be explained, I genuinely believe that I need to take care of myself, first and foremost, rather than expecting some higher power to step in on my behalf.

Even though I do seem to have a lot of friends whose birthdays fall within range of certain astrological signs and not others, and I enjoy reading the horoscopes on occasion, I refuse to believe that every person on the planet needs to rigidly adhere to one of twelve possible predictions every day. Humans are way too complex to be pigeonholed like that.

My dogs are my best friends, but they’re still dogs. I once told a dog sitter the times they are accustomed to being fed, and she became very concerned because she couldn’t guarantee that she’d be able to make the 3 pm feeding. She thought I’d be upset if she fed them at 5 instead. But I said, “They’re dogs. They’ll have to get over it, won’t they?”

Speaking of dogs, a friend of mine has to go way out of his way to obtain a rare brand of dog food, as it is the only thing his poodle will eat. Oh, really? I bet that dog’s stubborn resolve would only last a day or two. You’ll eat what I give you, Pookie.

I have another friend who irons her underwear. Why is this important in life? Why?

And don’t even get me started about bureaucracies. The stupidity that abounds in them is enough to make me want to pull my hair out by the roots. “Because that’s how it has always been done” is not a valid response to my inquiries.

I enjoy flights of fancy as much as the next person, but I only allow things to influence the way I live my life if they make sense. So my undies will just have to suffer from wounded egos and remain wadded up in my drawer. Life’s just too freakin’ short.

cluttered_lingerie_drawer

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Finding a Lost Pet

Anyone who owns pets knows that they quickly become part of the family. The unconditional love that they provide is priceless. The companionship is irreplaceable.

So if one runs away or is otherwise lost, you will naturally be very upset. This happened to me recently, and I thought I’d lose my mind. Not only was I frantic and in tears, but I also quickly realized that I was totally unprepared for this contingency.

Fortunately, in this digital age you have quite a few options. And after my experience I realized that there’s a lot one can do in advance of a pet loss to prepare for it. (Fortunately my beloved dog was returned to me after 48 of the longest hours of my life.) So what follows is what I learned.

First and foremost, have your vet microchip your pet, and keep your contact information with them up to date. This may seem like an unnecessary expense, but believe me, if you don’t do it, there may come a time when you desperately wish that you had. When shelters receive new animals, the first thing they do is scan them for microchips. If a responsible person finds your pet, they will most likely bring them to a shelter or a vet, and vets can scan for chips as well. You may think that the ID on your pet’s collar is sufficient, but my dog dug out under the backyard fence, and left his collar behind (the doofus).

Next, as soon as you discover that your pet is gone, walk the neighborhood. You may get lucky and Rover is just exploring the trash cans next door or sniffing another person’s pet through the screen door. If, like me, you have amazing friends and neighbors, recruit their help in this as well. Also, and I hate to say this, but if you live near any busy highways, you will need to look on the side of the road and in ditches as well.

If that doesn’t work, the next step is to spread the word in as many ways as you can. The best way is to post a notice on the Lost and Found section of Craig’s List for your area. That is ultimately how the man who found my dog was able to contact me. It’s often one of the first places people will look.

Next, post the information on your Facebook page so all your friends, especially the local ones, will know. It’s important that you make this post PUBLIC so they can share it with their local friends, and so on. You’d be amazed at how quickly the word spreads. (Six degrees of separation ROCKS!)

Also, search Facebook for groups related to your neighborhood. You’ll find that they mostly will allow you to make this post, even if it’s not exactly their subject matter. I got a lot of feedback from a local Buy/Sell/Trade page, and a Farmer’s Market page. There was even a Lost Dogs Facebook page for my county. Keep track of what Facebook pages you post on, because people will get emotionally invested in your story, and they’ll want an update if your pet is found.

Next, it is important to contact the area pet shelters. Many of these have entered the 21st century, and have ways for you to post reports and pictures on their website. They also may post pictures of found pets on their websites. Others have hotlines where you can hear descriptions of the animals they’ve taken in in the past few days. Don’t count on their descriptions being accurate, though, especially if you have a mixed breed. What they think of as a terrier mix may be your half beagle, half Chihuahua. You never know. It’s best to pay them a visit and have a look and touch base with them.

Remember that there may be more than one shelter in your area. I live on the border of two cities, so if my dog ran south, he’d wind up in one jurisdiction, and if he ran north, he could have been in any of three different facilities. The first shelter you contact will be well aware of others in the area and can give you a list. But think city and county Animal Control, neighboring cities, no-kill shelters, breed rescues, and Humane Societies

There are also all sorts of pet finder websites on line. You can register with any or all of them, but be aware that they’re often trying to get money out of you or spam you within an inch of your life, so choose carefully. Some sites will fax a flyer to all your area vets, often free of charge, which is very helpful. But if you have a good relationship with your vet’s office, contact them as well, because they’ll often do the same thing for you. Failing that, you can always google all veterinarians in your zip code and e-mail them a flyer yourself.

A note about flyers. It is important to include the following information:

  • Lost Dog (or cat or boa constrictor or whatever) in very large font so it can be seen from a distance.
  • The breed of your pet and its weight and coloring.
  • The gender, and in the case of males, whether it has been neutered.
  • Any unique and distinguishing features such as moles. (And note the location of those features NOW. In my agitated state, I couldn’t remember if my dog’s cyst was on his right or left side.)
  • Whether or not your pet was wearing a collar.
  • The date your pet went missing, to avoid getting calls about pets that were recovered before yours disappeared.
  • A recent picture of your pet. (Do you have a recent one? If not, take one now.)
  • Also, include your CELL phone number rather than a land line, because someone might call while you’re out searching.

These unique descriptions help to eliminate many calls about animals that look like yours but aren’t. There’s nothing more upsetting than getting those. Also keep one of your pet’s unique features to yourself, so that if you do get a call and the person says, “How do I know he belongs to you?” You can respond, for example, “He has a white Nike swoosh pattern on his left flank.”

Here’s my flyer for example:

Devo Flyer

Now, print out multiple copies of your flyer, stick each one in a plastic sheet protector to protect them from the rain and weather, and then, armed with a staple gun, post them on telephone poles all over your neighborhood. Also hand flyers to your postman, your local police officers, the fire department, and area churches. Does your grocery store have a community bulletin board? Post one there, too. (You may need to bring your own tacks.)

Here’s something I wish I had done: make a note of every place you’ve posted a flyer so if you do recover your pet, you can take them all back down again. No need having your personal info out there if it’s no longer necessary. Plus, it’s the responsible thing to do from an environmental/good citizen standpoint. It doesn’t do to piss off the neighbors. You might lose your pet again one day and need their help.

Once you have done all that, you’ll be reduced to canvassing the neighborhood, old-school style. Knocking on neighbors’ doors. For that, I suggest you produce a mini-flyer, three per page, that you can hand them so they have your contact information, like this one:

Devo Neighbor

It’s important to appeal to their emotional side. The worst case scenario (aside from the final, unspeakable one) is that your pet may have been stolen, or a kid brought it home and whined, “Ma, can we keep him? Pleeeeeeease?” and the selfish parent doesn’t have the heart to say no. If that’s the case, public pressure is your friend. Your neighbors will keep an eye out. Your internet friends will, too.

Now, if you’re an organized person and want to give a gift to your future, frazzled self, you might want to reread this again, and make a list of all the contacts mentioned above. Then compile the names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mails and websites of the agencies in question for your area. Also keep all needed supplies in a central location (it’s a pain in the behind to have to go buy sheet protectors when you’re hysterical). Even start the bare bones of a flyer in advance and leave it on your computer.

Believe me, I wish I had done all of these things in advance. I also hope that if you have other ideas, you’ll post them in the comments below.

If you’ve lost your pet, I’m very sorry. All you can do is your very best, and hope, like me, that a kind, responsible person has taken him or her in and will contact you. Best of luck.

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Home sweet home and totally unrepentant.

 

Feeling Blue

For the past month, my dog has been desperately ill. He had Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia, which basically means his immune system was attacking his red blood cells. It killed me to think there was a war going on inside his little body. Some dogs get past this disease, with the help of steroids and blood thinners. Many do not.

Blue fought hard to stay with me. He knew how much I needed him. He and my other dog are the only family I have here in Seattle, and they’ve been through quite a lot with me. They saw me through the death of my boyfriend, a few failed attempts to change my life, a couple of nightmare landlords, and a relocation all the way across the country to a place where I knew no one.

My dogs have been my stability. My sources of unconditional love. My sense that things would turn out okay. My support system.

IMHA is a confusing disease. It’s not painful. But if your dog doesn’t respond to the medication as mine did not, you watch him slowly weaken as he gets thinner and thinner. It’s heartbreaking.

In the end you are left with a big decision. Is it the end? How do you know if it’s too soon to put your dog to sleep? There were days when Blue wouldn’t eat and I’d think he was ready to cash in his chips. But then the next morning he’d gobble down two bowls of food and wag his tail.

I tried everything to get his weight back on. Special soft dog food. Baby food. Cottage cheese. Baked chicken. Rice. Pasta. Hard boiled eggs. Gravy. Some days he’d like one or more of these things. Some days he’d reject them all outright. I never knew if I would come home from work to find him dead, or if he’d greet me at the door, happy to see me as he always was in the past.

I fed him a tiny bit every hour or so, 24 hours a day, for weeks on end. I began to deteriorate myself. I started seeing things out of the corner of my eye that weren’t there. Often I would forget to eat. But as long as he was trying, I’d be there to try with him.

But finally the other day he made it clear that he was done. He hadn’t voluntarily eaten in two days, and when I’d put food in his mouth, instead of swallowing it like he had been, he spit it out. He fought me. His fragile little body was worn out. And I thought, “What am I doing to this dog? He doesn’t want this. This is not quality of life.”

That’s when I decided to take him to the vet to have him put down. It was the hardest decision I have ever had to make. I knew it was going to break my heart and that I’d never be the same without him. But I looked at it as me taking away his suffering and putting it on my much stronger shoulders instead. In the end, what loving parent wouldn’t do the same thing?

And I have to say that there are angels here on earth, because as I was taking him out to the car to go to the vet, my neighbors pulled up. Once I told them what was going on, Paula offered to drive us there and back. I’ve always liked my neighbors quite a bit, but we’ve never socialized, so this was really over the top generous of her, and exactly what I needed. A miracle, actually.

At the vet’s office, we were in tears. The receptionist was in tears. The assistants were in tears. The vet himself was in tears. As my baby drifted off, I said to him, “I love you. I’ll miss you so much. You are such a good dog. Thank you so much for all you’ve given me.” The staff helped me let Blue go with dignity and compassion. I knew I had done the right thing.

I had the foresight to dig the hole before I left for the vet, as I knew I’d be a basket case afterward. I also had some lime on hand, to help Blue return to the earth more quickly. And some chicken wire to put over the hole, so Devo wouldn’t disinter Blue in a misguided attempt to try to help me. (I’ve had dogs make that attempt in the past, and all I can say is ick.) I did all these things as a gift to my future, shattered self, and believe me, now that I am that shattered self, I am grateful for the gesture.

My other dog, Devo, is a little confused. He helped me bury Blue, so he knows where he is. But he’s never been alone before. I may have to get him some company, once the bitter rawness wears off. Time will tell.

As for me, right now I feel as if I have been dragged behind a horse and wagon. Face first. Through a patch of prickly pear cactus. Naked. And I know that I will never be quite the same again.

But I also know that Blue was a gift. Even knowing the pain I am in now, I’d do it all over again. And someday soon, I’ll be able to focus on all the good times, all the love, and all the joy he brought to my life, and revel in the fact that I was really lucky to have him for as long as I did.

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Rest in peace, Blue, my little snuggle bug.

 

Accepting the Things I Cannot Change

I think my dog is dying. I feel so helpless. All I can do is fidget and pace, and that changes nothing. This morning I cuddled him and said, “There are tears in my future.” I take him to the vet this afternoon. I suspect it won’t go well.

One of the downsides to owning a pet is the difference in life spans. Even if, by some miracle, there’s an easy fix for my dog’s situation, there will be tears in my future. Unless I get hit by a crosstown bus, I’m going to outlive him, and there’s not a thing I can do about it.

Discussing this with a friend, she reminded me of the Serenity Prayer.

Serenity

This is sage advice. There really is no point in getting worked up about the things I cannot change. But dammit, no, I don’t accept this. I just don’t. So I guess I have the “courage” and “wisdom” parts down, but Serenity… ah, Serenity… she eludes me.