Animal Welfare groups showcase the month of April as Pet First Aid Awareness month. Most responsible pet caregivers are prepared to handle minor problems with their dogs, but, according to Dr. Debra Primovac, many do not handle emergencies well. The three keys to managing a dog related crisis are:
- Don’t panic!
- Protect yourself from injury
- Prepare in advance
When faced with a severely ill or injured dog, the first thing to do is take a deep breath and assess the situation, to determine the best option for both you and the animal. Understanding how to approach an injured pet safely is vital, because even animals that know you well, and are docile and well behaved, may respond to pain and fear instinctively. Preventing a bite to yourself and any assistant should be your first objective, but in many situations, having done advance planning means the difference between life and death for your dog. Every pet caregiver should have a pet first aid-kit, kept in an accessible location….we actually suggest two kits: one for the home, and one for the car. Kits should include:
- Phone numbers of your veterinarian and poison-control center or hotline.
- A good pet first-aid book –Pet First Aid, a book developed through the combined effort of The American Red Cross and the HSUS, is an excellent book of emergency care procedures.
- Bandage materials (do not use human adhesive bandages such as Band-Aids on pets) Include sterile gauze pads and rolls, and tape for securing wraps or bandages, cotton balls, and swabs. Roll gauze can be used for wrapping wounds or muzzling an injured animal. An ordinary ruler can be used if a splint is needed. Towels or strips of clean cloth can be used to control bleeding or protect wounds.
- A blanket should be available: a compact thermal blanket is best, but a regular blanket is better than none.
- Digital rectal thermometer—a dog’s temperature should be between 100 and 103 degrees.
- Plastic eye dropper (or large syringe without needle) to give oral treatments or flush wounds;
- Small scissors,
- Nail clippers
- A leash to use if the dog is capable of walking without further injury.
- Hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting, but contact your vet or poison control center BEFORE inducing vomiting or treating for poison. Hydrogen peroxide can also be used for cleaning minor wounds.
- Antibiotic ointment for minor scrapes or cuts; betadine (iodine) and antiseptic lotion or spray.
- Eye wipes, sterile eye wash to flush eyes, and a sterile eye ointment
- Ear wipes and ear cleaning solution
Paper towels, a flashlight, and heavy gloves are often helpful. It is important to check your kits periodically, and update anything that needs replacement. Being prepared is important because your dog’s health is your responsibility, but sick, wounded, or otherwise stressed animals are unpredictable, so it is important to be cautious when treating pet injuries. Prevention is always the best medicine. Pet proof your home, keeping all cleaners, medications, and other hazardous items out of reach. Take your pet to the vet regularly, and in between visits, do regular home checks to find any health changes. When thinking of pet first aid, BE PREPARED, and contact your veterinarian before administering questionable treatment. Emergencies and accidents can’t always be prevented, but you can often positively influence the outcome by being prepared, and calmly reacting quickly, decisively, and correctly when misfortune strikes.
It’s spring, and both two-legs and four-legs are spending more time outdoors, enjoying the pleasant weather, and the four-legs are usually the attention getters, whether at the park, the pet store, or on daily walks. When someone appears with a dog it is almost mandatory for other dog lovers to fawn all over him, get right in his face, and talk to him in exited voices while reaching out to pet him, which sounds great, except for the fact that not all dogs are in love with every stranger they meet. Most dogs need time to process a stranger, and determine whether or not the new person meets with approval, but most people just gleefully dive right into the dog, kneeling, reaching, patting on the head, talking baby talk, staring… Actions that put many dogs into one of three states: fight, flight, or avoidance: All invitations to get nipped or even bitten.
The correct way to greet a strange dog is not at all…just ignore the dog. Yup… just ignore him completely, and greet the caregiver. As Cesar Milan stresses, “No touch, no talk, no eye contact is the advice I give for meeting a strange dog. Let him come to you to get to know your scent and sense your energy. Do not offer the dog affection until he shows calm, submissive energy. Once he decides that you are okay, you will notice the dog’s body posture relax, and maybe even a nudge into you for a scratch on the back. Don’t go overboard, even if the dog seems interested. No roughhousing, or loud vocalization. Push an insecure dog too fast, and he will act defensively. Stay calm and cool.”
If you see a lone, tethered dog, just leave him alone. If you feel he is being neglected, report him to the authorities, but don’t try to be Doctor Doolittle. More important, teach your children to do the same. Of the millions of reported dog bites in the U.S. every year, the majority of them involve children under the age of twelve, and are often due to adults encouraging them to greet the dog by touching him.
Lili Chin offers these specifics as how NOT to greet a dog:
- Don’t lean over a dog and stick your hand in his face.
- Don’t lean over the dog and stick your hand on top of his head
- Don’t grab or hug him
- Don’t stare him in the eye (dogs perceive this as an adversarial gesture)
- Don’t squeal or shout in his face
- Don’t grab his head and kiss him (this is an invasion of space).
Doing these things to a dog who doesn’t know you is like a perfect stranger rushing up to you to give you a great big hug and kiss…Wouldn’t that creep you out? And wouldn’t you have the right to defend yourself?
The correct way to greet a dog is to allow the dog to approach you in his own time, keeping either your side or back toward the dog. This will be perceived by the dog as a non-threatening posture.
When he approves you, stroke him on the side of his face or body, or on his back, not on the top of the head. (And if you have a treat in your pocket, now is the time to offer it!)
Think twice about letting your leashed dog greet unfamiliar dogs during walks, or in other public places, even if their caregivers assure you that their dog is friendly. Unless you are positive that the dogs interact well with other leashed dogs, don’t encourage contact. Aggression is usually triggered by inappropriate behavior of humans rather than the canines, but the dogs somehow always get the blame.
Respect your dog, and she will respect you. “I did what I knew how to do. When I knew better, I did better”—Maya Angelou
We recently found some awesome **FREE** dog posters online (also created by Lili Chin). These would make great handouts for those who serve schools or other educational events. Find more on her website: http://www.doggiedrawings.net/#!freeposters/ckm8
Mark Twain said, “It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” The rising temperatures, sunshine, and warm breezes make us all feel good —we truly do have spring fever. However, the warm weather brings more than just flowers. It signals the beginning of parasite season for our pets, and these parasites can rob your pets of needed nutrition and cause serious organ disease. Biting insects become more active, and they do know what they want…warm bodies, so it is important to take precautions to prevent and treat and protect your pets from parasites.
Heartworm disease is a life-threatening disease that is spread by mosquito bites, and spring brings a resurgence of these disease carrying insects. Mosquito bites cause more than itchy bumps; they can actually threaten your pet’s life by transmitting a very serious infectious illness caused by parasites named Dirofilaria immitis, which, in their immature stage, are carried by mosquitoes. They are injected into your pet while the mosquito is feeding, and these immature worms migrate through the body, eventually reaching the heart and lungs, where, in about six months, can grow as long as a foot in length. Every time your pet is bitten by a mosquito, there is the possibility that the animal is exposed to heartworms.
Dogs with heartworm disease may cough, lose weight, be weak, have trouble breathing, collapse and die. A simple blood test can identify heartworm disease, and treatment is expensive and potentially risky, so It is much easier and safer to keep your pets on effective preventatives that are available from your veterinarian. Do not use over-the-counter products, as some are not safe.
At the same time as your dog is tested for heartworm, he should also be screened for intestinal parasites including tapeworms, hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms, and protozoan parasites such as giardia. These parasites rob your dog of nutrition and can cause diarrhea and gastrointestinal bleeding. Testing is simple and cheap…just take a fecal sample in to be checked. A little prevention will go a long way to keeping your pets healthy and happy.
Fleas and ticks can be present year-round, but their populations tend to increase drastically in the spring time, and carry various diseases including Lyme disease, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Fleas can also transmit diseases such as tapeworms, and by the time you see one flea, you can be sure that you are faced with an invasion!. Again prevention is better than cure!
Now back to spring fever, and, as Twain said, maybe you don’t quite know what you do want, but you can be sure your dog knows what she wants… your love, and maybe a homemade treat. Your dog’s “heart will ache” for these Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits:
- 2 cups flour, preferably whole wheat, but white is okay
- 1 cup oatmeal
- 1 ¼ cups peanut butter
- ¾ cup water (may need a little more)
- 3 Tablespoons honey
- Mix all ingredients together until they form a ball… using your hands is messy, but is the easiest method. If dough is too crumbly, add a bit more water.
- Break off small hunks and place on lightly greased baking sheet.
- Flatten with a fork (or your thumb) and bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes.
- It may take a few minutes longer, but watch that bottoms do not burn.
The calendar declares that spring has arrived, and although some of us question whether or not it’s really here, we are hopeful. It has been a record breaker winter in many parts of the country but with the worst behind us, we feel the urge to get moving. Most of us paid the price for the bitter cold winter. We gained a couple of extra pounds, but rationalized that is only natural to put on a little layer of fat, and now that decent weather is here, it is time for both two-legs and four-legs to get out there and shape up. If you’ve packed on some extra weight during the winter, there’s a good chance your dog has too, so if he seems a little too padded, it is important to start some safe slimming strategies now, before a pleasantly plump pooch turns into a sausage dog.
According to the Veterinary Medical Association, obesity is the fourth leading cause of death among canines, and dogs carrying too much weight means extra stress on the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and other body organs, so overweight animals (and humans) are more likely to suffer from cardiac disease, respiratory problems, digestive disorders, and high blood pressure . Joints, ligaments, tendons, and bones suffer from excess wear and tear, so they endure arthritis, joint injuries, leg problems, and back ailments. Overheating, skin disease and reproductive problems are common complaints, and there is always a greater risk during anesthesia and surgery. An extra seven pounds on a dog that should weigh 35 pounds is equivalent to an extra 30 pounds on a human weighing 150.
Exercise needs be a part of both a human’s and a dog’s weight loss program, and a great way to shape up is to plan activities that combine a workout for both canine and human. Any weight loss program should include walking, but after a sedentary winter, start slowly and increase the frequency and intensity of exercise. Begin with just short walks around the block and then work toward a game of fetch, and maybe a walk through the woods or park, taking different routes to make the trip more enjoyable for both of you. Set aside time each day to exercise with your dog, so it becomes part of your routine, and not just something you do when you think of it or have the time.
Gradually work up to longer, more active sessions as your tolerance and your dog’s tolerance increases. Playing ball or hide and seek are options, and another great way to boost weight loss is to get involved with a canine sport such as agility which offers a variety of physical and mental activity, both for dog and caregiver.
You don’t have to shell out a lot of money to train your dog in agility. Backyard obstacle courses are a great way to provide exercise, build trust with your dog, and prevent boredom. Three common types of obstacles used in agility programs—jumps, tunnels, and weave poles, can be set up in your own yard. Jump obstacles can be built entirely out of inexpensive PVC pipes, and a flexible children’s play tunnel makes a great tunnel…they are usually lightweight, but also heavy enough so that they won’t move when your dog runs through them. . As for weave poles, avoid hard and immovable materials that could injure your dog if he misjudges the distance between poles. Orange traffic cones are bulkier than the weave poles used in agility competitions, but if you are just casually training your dog, they will work fine. Wherever you set up your agility course, ensure that there are no hidden dangers around the course, and that there is enough room for her to run around. As long as you put safety first, you can easily put together an obstacle course that is good for both of you.
Whatever weight loss program you choose, be consistent and persistent! With patience and a positive attitude, both you and your dog will have fun as the pounds drop away.
The first thing most of us think about St. Patrick’s Day is people dressed in green and celebrating their Irish heritage (or becoming “Irish” for a day.) Legends and stories about Patrick abound, making it difficult to separate myth from fact, and according to Philip Freeman of Luther College in Iowa, the modern celebration of St. Patrick’s Day really has almost nothing to do with the real man. One of the best known legends concerns his banishing snakes from Ireland… there are no snakes on the island today, and the fact that there probably never really were, doesn’t alter the fact that it makes a good story!,
Ironically, for almost its entire history, this day has been celebrated with greater fanfare in the United States than in Ireland, with marching bands, parades, and of course the wearing of green. In Ireland, the day was celebrated as a religious feast day, but the truth is that both the religious world and the secular world share a love of St. Patrick.
American Catholic Organization reminds us that Catholic saints are human people who lived extraordinary lives, honoring God’s invitation to use his or her unique gifts. “Legends about Patrick abound, but the truth is best served by recognizing two solid qualities in him: he was humble and he was courageous. The determination to accept both suffering and success with indifference guided his mission to win most of Ireland for Christ. What distinguishes him is the durability of his efforts. He was a humble, pious, gentle man, with total love and trust in God “
If you are interested in a factual account of St. Patrick, check out the book “The Confession of St. Patrick”, translated from Latin by John Skinner, which emphasizes his total commitment to God and compassion for others .
Sometimes we need a reminder that one of the most powerful things anyone can do is spread compassion …for humans and for animals. This is a “happy ending” story (we don’t know whether it’s factual or just an inspiring story, and the author was the elusive “anonymous”), and we hope it will bring joy to your heart, and maybe inspire you to get involved when you see injustices.
When our neighbors got a puppy at Christmas, we were surprised… they just didn’t seem to be the responsible type… didn’t mow the lawn, left junk lying all over, always yelling at someone. They didn’t socialize much with any of the neighbors, and we just felt that it was best to keep our distance from them. We didn’t see much of them or the puppy, until the school vacation was over and the kids went back to school.
We could hear hollering and the puppy barking, but “it was none of our business.” Then one day, the puppy was chained outside. When he scratched at the door, someone would come out with a broom. Sometimes he would get so tangled in the chain that he was unable to move… he would sit in his own excrement all day with no protection from the bitter cold. When they came out, they would kick him out of the way, but we “looked the other way.”
On the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, we attended special church service where the priest talked about St. Patrick’s dedicated compassion and concern for others. We were given a sheet of notes with highlights of his life, with quotes credited to him, including these: “I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favors and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me” and “Let anyone laugh and taunt if he so wishes. I am not keeping silent.” Father stressed that although St. Patrick suffered much opposition and mistreatment and was often criticized, he was a man of action, with a rock-like determination to do what he knew was right.
It was unusually cold with harsh north winds, and we were chilled to the bone by the time we got home from church. We noticed that it was dark and quiet at the neighbor’s house… but we could see the puppy huddled by the door. We called, but the dog didn’t move. We could no longer look the other way. Armed with blankets and left over chicken nuggets, we trespassed, and as we worked to untangle him, we realized how pitifully thin he was. We gathered him up and carried him home. He hardly moved and we were afraid he wouldn’t live through the night. We didn’t sleep much but by morning, he was able to stand and eat a little food. His body was covered with scabs and his eyes were so matted that he could hardly see, so we took him to the vet hospital where they recommended that he stay for a few days.
Our next stop at the neighbor’s house was not pleasant. Obscene threats of legal action were promised, but we had a rock-like determination, and we were not keeping silent. We would not return the dog, and would press animal cruelty charges if they tried to reclaim him. Their final response was “Good Riddance” and as they turned to go into the house, they tripped over the tangled chain and landed in dog poop. We never heard from them again, and it wasn’t long before they moved… we pray that they didn’t get another dog. OUR dog has both physical and emotional scars, but he realizes that no one will ever hurt him again… he is young and he doesn’t seem to hold grudges. He will spend the rest of his life completely adored by us. We named him Patrick and sometimes, because he is the best, most amazing dog ever, we call him St. Patrick.
Apparently there is an abundance of skunks right now…..and inquisitive canines can become overzealous in a search for a playmate, and have a close encounter of the worst kind! There are few smells that are as unpleasant and long lasting as skunk spray!
February through March is mating season for skunks, and that translates into more activity and more “skunk smell.” Skunks are gentle, non-aggressive creatures who have earned a bad reputation because of the pungent odor; their diet of grubs, insects, mice and baby rats is actually beneficial, but they are definitely unappreciated!
As for a person being sprayed by a skunk, it is unlikely. When alarmed, they are actually more afraid of you than you are of them, so if you know you have some on your property, make some noise when you go outside to let them know you are coming and they generally run away. …they also give off a warning by stamping their front feet. They usually come out at dawn and dusk to feed on grasses, roots, insects, or small rodents, and around homes, they may check the garbage cans. Skunks are nearsighted but they have a keen sense of smell so they follow their noses: a garbage can is an attraction, and if a door is open, a skunk may amble in. If the skunk enters the garage, the HSUS recommends leaving the garage door open at night and sprinkling flour along the bottom of it so that you can see the existing tracks. Cornering them is not a wise option, because spraying is their main defense! Dogs running free in a fenced-in back yard may share their space with them because skunks can get through very small openings to find any uncovered garbage or left over bits of pet food, and dogs don’t heed any warnings, so they are often victims of these nighttime prowlers.
There are many commercial “de-skunkers” on the market… some are effective; others are worthless. (Do NOT use tomato juice…it just makes a bad situation, worse!) The first thing to do is to check a sprayed dog’s eyes. If they are red and appear irritated, wash them out immediately with cool water. Since skunk musk is made up of chemical compounds called thiols, the answer to skunk odor is to change the thiols into other compounds that don’t smell, and regular shampoo won’t do that, but there is a homemade chemistry cure which is simple to make and will successfully “de-skunk” your smelly pet, eliminating the odor rather than masking it.
Mix the following in a large bucket (you need a large container because it will fizz):
- 1 quart of 3-percent hydrogen peroxide
- ¼ cup baking soda
- 1 teaspoon of liquid dish washing soap or pet shampoo
Soak your dog’s fur, being careful to not get the solution in her eyes, nose, ears or mouth. These ingredients are natural, but they have acidic properties and can cause irritation. (We suggest putting a protective eye ointment into her eyes and a couple cotton balls in the ears before you begin soaping) Knead the solution into the fur, covering every part of the body, soaking it well. Use a sponge or cloth to clean around eyes and head. Rinse thoroughly, and if there is still an odor, soak down again, and rinse, and rinse, and rinse again!
If there is any solution left in the container, don’t try to store it. The chemical reaction from being closed up will just explode the lid off. Just toss whatever is left over, and hope there won’t be another stinky encounter for a long time!
Most people care about companion animals and want to protect them from cruelty and exploitation, and with the explosion of mobile technology and online social media, advocating for stronger animal-protection laws has never been easier. The ASPCA stresses the importance of not being shy about making your views known. Your legislators are on social media, and you can be sure that they pay attention to what the voters are saying, but personal messages– a phone call, an e-mail, or snail-mail message—is more likely to make them sit up and take notice. First impressions count, so when writing to legislators and government officials, be professional, and do your homework BEFORE you write. Know which political body handles which areas: for example, don’t ask a state legislator to introduce federal legislation, or a civilian member of a government advisory board to file a bill. Another effective avenue to share your views is to submit a letter-to-the-editor of your local newspaper. Whatever method you choose, don’t forget…
- Be specific
- Persuade with logic, not emotion…be sure your facts are accurate.
- Be brief…don’t ramble or get sidetracked…focus on your message
- Check your spelling and grammar!
- Be polite and respectful
- Thank the recipient for his/her consideration of your views
Animal welfare issues are important concerns in every state, and it is important to keep current on any legislation that may improve the lives of companion animals. If you live in Iowa, we suggest you join Iowa Voters for Companion Animals, an all-volunteer group working to address issues associated with Iowa’s large-scale commercial breeding facilities known as puppy mills.
Iowa still has the second largest number of puppy mills in the country, with the state being home to more than 200 of these commercial dog-breeding mills. Ranked among the top 4 dog-breeding states in the nation, Iowa is the ONLY one without state-level oversight of those facilities, which means that animal cruelty laws aren’t applied to these facilities. Thousands of dogs are currently suffering in horrific conditions without medical care or social interaction, in small, cramped, wire-bottom cages…many without adequate protection from the winter’s bitter cold. (If you are unfamiliar with puppy mills, google Puppy Mills/ASPCA).
Legislation is moving through Iowa’s Capitol right now that could provide additional protections for the 15,000 adult dogs in Iowa’s USDA kennels. This legislation is aimed at protecting dogs in puppy mills, and will not affect hobby breeders. Iowa residents are urged to contact state legislators to support this important, commonsense legislation. Please visit www.iafriends.org to get more information and to sign up to help Iowa dogs. (And a note from animal lovers in other states wouldn’t hurt either.)
Regardless of where you live, it is important to become better educated about the plight of animals in your state. The more you learn, the more you will become an advocate for the companion animals who have no voice, no choice. Some problems are due to apathy or ignorance; for others it is unabashed cruelty, but as you become more aware of what is going on, hopefully you will think carefully about the choices you make. You choose your friends, your doctors, your churches. You choose how you spend your money. You choose your legislators, and perhaps you need to let them know that mistreatment and abuse of animals matters to you, and that you expect these issues to be addressed. Companion animals deserve compassionate care and respect, and it is not up to “someone else” to be an advocate for them. If it’s to be, it’s up to you and me, not someone else.
We pray for our friends the animals, especially for animals who are suffering; for animals that are overworked, underfed and cruelly treated… for any that are hunted or lost or deserted or frightened or hungry; for all that must be put death. We entreat for them all Thy mercy and pity, and for those who deal with them, we ask a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words. Make us to be true friends to animals—Albert Schweitzer
The weather is truly miserable right now in most areas of the country, and even the dogs are not thrilled about taking a lengthy walk, but we all know that dogs that are not regularly exercised are likely to develop behavioral problems such as chewing, excessive barking and separation anxiety. So what is the responsible pet caregiver to do?? When it is too cold to spend much time outdoors, there are indoor activities that can stimulate your dog’s body and mind. Because of their keen sense of smell, dogs love nose games… actually they love almost any activity that involves interacting with their humans.
- Hide and seek: Simple and fun. Tell your dog to stay while you go to a different area of the house and hide…once you are hidden, call her to come and stay perfectly still until she finds you. Offer a treat and lots of praise and she will think she is an amazing search and rescue dog!
- Laser pointer capture: Shining a laser pointer on the floor and wall and letting your dog go wild chasing the red dot looks like fun, and it can be IF it is not overused, but most animal behaviorists claim that it can have unintended consequences. Dr. Nicolas Dodman from Tufts School of Veterinary medicine explains that a dog instinctively chases laser beams because, well, the dots move, and they stimulate dogs’ predatory systems so much that they cannot NOT chase it. They can’t help themselves. They are obliged to chase it, and never actually catching it can drive a dog to get so obsessed with chasing the light that he develops behavior problems. Dodman suggests that you keep laser chasing sessions very short and hide a few dog treats around the room, and then occasionally let the laser dot point out a treat that your dog is able to actually “catch.” If you notice the dog becoming obsessed about chasing the laser beams, replace the laser toy with a game of “fetch” where he can actually catch the toy.
- Indoor fetch: Fetch is an all-round great activity that is usually played outdoors, but it can be adapted for indoors. Fetch can be played down a long hallway or in the basement. Playing fetch up and down stairs is another option and provides a good workout, but keep it to a limited number of throws. It is best to throw the toy up the stairs, not down. That way he’ll be putting less pressure on his shoulder joints.
- Retrieve it: Many indoor games can help build your dog’s obedience skill, so if you are having difficulty teaching her to retrieve, put all her toys into a box, and then dump them in a pile on the floor. Sit across the room from her and point to the toys, asking her to bring you one. When you dog goes to pick one up, offer praise and when she brings it to you, offer more praise and maybe give her a treat. Repeat until all the toys are in your lap, and then offer BIG praise. You can practice other obedience exercises in the house too. For example, heel up and down a hallway with a ball or toy in your hand, and occasionally throw the ball to the end of the hallway and play a few rounds of retrieve.
- Tread-milling: If you have a treadmill gathering dust in a closet or basement, now is the time to dust it off. Training a dog to use a motorized treadmill requires patience and persistence, but most dogs will adapt quickly if you don’t spook them so that they develop a fear to the machine right away. Get him used to getting on the machine with the motor turned OFF. Repeat the on and off practice until he is interested in the machine and is comfortable on it. Let her watch you get on and off it with the motor on several times BEFORE inviting her to join you. Proceed slowly and offer praise (and treats if necessary). Never leave her unsupervised!
With a little imagination, neither you nor your dog needs to sit around on the couch all day yearning for better weather. Who knows—winter might even become your favorite season!
A VALENTINE FOR MOM
–thanks to Ann for sharing this uplifting story by Cathy Moore
My mom was a quiet, gentle soul and when Dad died unexpectedly, she was devastated but kept busy with her many friends and activities; however, four days after her sixty-sixth birthday (the week before Valentine’s Day), she had a stroke. An ambulance rushed her to the hospital, and the next month was tough, and although she survived, something inside her died. Suggestions and offers of help were turned aside with anger and sarcasm. Her number of visitors thinned, and gradually stopped altogether. She was left alone.
Since my husband and I were now empty nesters, we invited her to come live with us on our small farm, hoping the fresh air and casual atmosphere would help her adjust. We soon regretted the decision…she was moody and critical and had frequent outbursts of anger. She criticized everything, even the birthday gifts that she had received. Feeling frustrated, I desperately wanted to get her a Valentine that would brighten her spirits (and mine!). I browsed through everything at the local gift shop and was ready to give up when the store owner suddenly exclaimed. “I just read something that might help you. Let me go get the article.”
The article described a remarkable study done on stroke victims. It offered many ideas that we had tried without success, but there was quite a commentary on how attitudes often improved dramatically when stroke survivors were given the responsibility of caring for a dog.
I drove to the animal shelter that afternoon, filled out a questionnaire, and explained my reason for being there. The attendant showed me row after row of pens with dogs. As I neared the last pen, a sheltie in the far corner struggled to her feet, looked at me, and then lay back down. Years had etched her face and muzzle with shades of gray, her hip bones jutted out…she certainly was not a show dog, but there was something about the sadness in her eyes that held my attention.
The attendant noticed. “She’s a funny one. Appeared out of nowhere and just sat at the door. That was three weeks ago. Her time is up tomorrow.”
As the words sank in, I turned to the guy in horror. “You mean you are going to kill her?”
“Ma’am,” he said gently, “We don’t have room for every unclaimed dog. It certainly not what we would choose to do, but dogs seem to be throw-away property, and we are left with the sad responsibility to do what has to be done.”
I looked at the sheltie again. “I’ll take her,” I said.
I drove home with the dog on the front seat beside me. When I reached the house, I honked the horn twice, and Mom came out onto the front porch. “I want you to meet your Valentine.”
Mom looked, then wrinkled her face in disgust.” If I had wanted a dog, I would have gotten one. And I would have picked out a better specimen than that bag of bones. Take it back. I don’t want it.”
Anger rose inside me, and as we glared at each other, the sheltie pulled free from my grasp, stumbled toward Mom, and sat down directly in front of her. Then slowly, hesitantly, she raised her paw. Mom’s face softened. The dog just sat there, staring at her with those sad eyes. Mom dropped to her knees, sobbing as she hugged the dog.
We can’t explain what happened, but in that moment, Mom’s peace of mind was restored, and it was the beginning of a warm and intimate friendship. She named her Lucy, and together they explored the community, making new friends. They were inseparable. Mom was once again a gentle, lovable person, and the sadness disappeared from Lucy’s eyes.
Then last year, late on the eve of Valentine’s Day, I was wakened to feel Lucy’s cold nose frantically pawing at our bed. I rushed to Mom’s room, where she lay, hands folded across her chest, face serene. Her spirit had left quietly sometime earlier in the night. The next day my grief deepened when I discovered that Lucy had pulled Mom’s blanket from her bed, made herself a nest, and curled up for a permanent sleep..
The morning of Mom’s funeral dawned overcast and dreary. This day looks the way I feel, I thought, as we entered the sanctuary, surprised to see the church overflowing with the many friends Mom and Lucy had made through the years.. As the pastor paid tribute to both my mother and the dog who had changed her life, I noticed that sunlight was streaming through the window. The heaviness in my heart lifted, as I realized what a blessing the Valentine for Mom was to all of our lives.
According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, more than $800 MILLION will be spent on pets this Valentine’s Day, one of the biggest holidays for advertisers out there. Wow! And I thought our economy was tight…not that I am opposed to giving your dog a Valentine.
There are some very practical items, but for the caregiver who really wants to go all out, there is a plethora of extravagant (and ridiculous) gift options, including real mink coats that are farm raised and custom made in Canada…a Canadian Golden Sable. Lined in colored matched flannel backed satin, is on sale for half price for a mere $747.00. Then there is the 3.2 MILLION dollar diamond dog collar which is featured on www.ilovedogs.com . Dubbed the “Bugatti of dog collars”, this 52-carat diamond dog collar, designed by Forbes Senior Editor Matt Miller, is truly the “world’s most expensive. ” Beyond the Crate offers dream house mansions….the Hacienda Celebrity Dog Mansion was custom made for a Hollywood personality. This “dog house” is designed by a “world renowned artist and designer” who creates some of the most upscale dog houses in the world . The Hacienda Mansion sells for about $30,000, depending on the number of extra amenities requested. For exact pricing and a free consultation, contact firstname.lastname@example.org . I love dogs, but I cannot believe that anyone would even consider purchasing some of the outrageous gifts that are available. Just proves that some people definitely have more money than common sense.
For most animal lovers who don’t have the time, money, or inclination to spend big bucks on their pets, there are no worries. The reality is that our pets don’t know it’s Valentine’s Day, and they won’t feel slighted if they don’t get any grand gift. An extra walk, a few quality minutes of your time…and maybe a home made treat or two will mean more than a million dollar collar.
And here’s a valentine from your favorite pooch:
I love dog biscuits, stuff in the garbage can, smelling spots in the back yard, my squeaky toys, and long walks, but what makes my tail wag more than anything is you, my best friend. I love having you as my person, and I try every day to take good care of you. My very favorite thing is being close to you. You fill my days with joy, and I hope that nothing ever comes between your being my person and my being your dog. You have my unconditional love and loyalty, no matter what your life brings. I would run miles to be with you, risk any danger to protect you, and kiss away your tears to comfort you. You are my true love, and I want to always be the one who makes you smile. I wear my heart on my wagging tail, and I will always love you more than anything…even biscuits. Every day is Valentine’s Day when I am with you.
Your faithful dog
If you feel the urge to bake, here’s a simple recipe for cheesy dog treats that your dog is sure to love.
- 2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
- 2 cups whole wheat flour (or white will work if you don’t have wheat)
- ½ cup oil
- ½ cup milk
- Mix together and drop by spoonfuls on lightly greased baking sheet. Flatten slightly with a glass.
- Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.