Category Archives: St. Thomas Dog Blog

St. Thomas Dog Blog, 2010 to 2014, by Dorothy Stewart.  Originally part of the St. Thomas Dog Owners Association ( website. Dogs and dog welfare, in general and in St. Thomas ON. Also cats, horses and chickens. Book and movie reviews and news about local animal-related events.

Fur Babies

I’m reading Michael Schaffer’s very interesting book  One Nation Under Dog. He talks about the term “pet parent.”  When I first encountered this phrase, I saw it as, yes, a bit ‘politically correct’, as in it’s bad to think of yourself as an authority figure over another being.  It’s like trying to be ‘friends’ with your kids, discussing why they shouldn’t do something, instead of being ‘mom’ explaining only with “because I said so”.

Amazon link for One Nation Under Dog
click for Amazon link

However, I thought it was good to frame the pet/human relationship in terms other than ownership or mastery.  “Ownership” means complete control over and ability to acquire or dispose of at will.  “Mastery” implies the same plus some innate superiority which justifies that control.  So dog owner and dog master are terms fraught with the history of dominance and hierarchical power.

I liked the use of “pet parent” in shelter and rescue writings, seeing it as a way of reminding people that getting a dog or cat is not the same as getting a new dress or car.  When you’re tired of the dress or the car doesn’t fit your lifestyle any more, it’s not going to distress the car or dress if you sell it or give it to the Goodwill.

Relationship of responsibility

But giving your dog away because you’re moving into a new apartment and “they don’t allow dogs”???  If you have a dog, why are you even looking at apartments where dogs aren’t allowed?  If you have children, do you look at an adults-only building and then give the kids away if you really really like the apartment?  Taking on a living, breathing creature makes that creature part of your life and its well-being your responsibility.  The word parent stresses the relationship of responsibility and caretaking instead of the notion of possession.  It also gets away from the nastier connotations of ‘mastery’.

Yes, you have to be the dog’s master in the sense that you ought to be the pack leader.  But are you the master in the sense of having the right to abuse the dog?  No, but it can get muddled in people’s minds.  Spike getting a slap or kick every time he doesn’t sit or heel exactly right is not good ‘mastery’ of the techniques of dog training, but the right to kick or slap is implicit in the notion of being the master (i.e. owner) of something or someone.

However, ‘parent’ requires ‘child’, and so the next term circulating in the pet world was fur babies.  Oh dear.  Granted, some dogs it’s easy Jack & Dot on porch swing Fur Babiesto think of that way, to coo at and cuddle.  The little fuzzy ones.  But a great big German Shepherd – fur baby?   I did babytalk with my late Shepherd and he liked it. In my defense, I raised him from a puppy so he was always my baby.  However, he quickly outgrew any possibility of being thought of as a “furbaby” in his looks and demeanor.  Other dogs in the past, I never thought of as being their ‘mommy’.  We were friends.

Fur Babies or Friends

My present two?  They were adult when we got them, but I use ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy’ with them.  Yes, one is little and fuzzy and likes to be carried and cuddled.  But the other isn’t.  I have no excuse, other than the parent/child terminology with pets has so permeated our society that I have internalized it.  I catch myself calling myself ‘mommy’ to my old cat.  She’s been with me since before the days of pet-parenting.  I feel silly when I say it to her, we always had the relationship of friends and roommates. Something that now comes naturally with the dogs seems cloying and demeaning with her.

Does framing our relationship with pets as one of pet parent and fur babies lead us to infantilize our animals?  Does it cause us to forget their natural traits?   Most dogs have strong protective and hunting instincts.  Your dog, or cat, can save your life.  They can also take life.  Do we run the risk of not respecting both those traits when we think of them as kids in fur coats?

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Mar. 15/10

Death and Repose

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Apr. 13 2010 – in memory of Jack who died 7 years ago today

Today is the 13th anniversary of the death of my old Collie-mix Jamie and tortoiseshell cat Cedric.  They were put to sleep together, due to cancer and crippling arthritis, and they’re repose at Sandy Ridge Pet Cemetery Eden ONburied together behind a house I used to live in.  The present occupants of the house know they’re there, but in future no one will know the significance of that small bed of orange and white dahlias and tiger lilies. Now my animals have plots at Sandy Ridge Pet Cemetery just south of Eden. The first time I went there, I was in the area with a bit of time to kill.  I was driving around Calton, Richmond and Eden, looking at the places that were home to my parents’ families a century ago.  On the Plank Road (#19 Hwy), I saw a sign for the pet cemetery.

So in I went. I quickly used up all the tissues in my pockets and was using old napkins from Tim graves at Sandy Ridge Pet Cemetery photo Jim StewartHortons that I found in the car, then my sleeves to wipe my eyes and nose. It’s the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever seen.  And active!  Seasonal flowers, small toys, photographs, solar lights and notes left on beloved pets’ gravestones.  It’s lovely and gut-wrenching. There are people’s graves too, with their pets.

I looked up the website and contacted the owners, the Cowans.  I broached the subject with my husband.  He thought it was a good idea for the pets.  Then I moved on to the subject of us.  Expecting his response to discussion of our own mortality to be Jack at Sandy-Ridge- photo Dorothy Stewart “lalalala my fingers are in my ears I can’t hear you”, I was surprised that he heard me out and thought about the options. His family is from Kentucky, so the family plots are there.  My family plots are in London, Tillsonburg and Dorchester – not places with any real connection for me or him.  The scattering of ashes over a waterfall or lake is a romantic idea, but leaves no mark of your existence.  He realized that some ‘I was here’ marker mattered to him, at least for the sake of his sons.  I realized it was important to me because I do genealogical research and gravestones are a solid connection with the past.  They tell you something about individuals and families.

So we bought a family plot for us and pets.  Too soon we had to use it.  January 30th 2008, our German Shepherd Jack died.  He was buried the charlie and me at pet gravesnext day.  We, our mothers, my sister and the Cowans were in attendance.  A month later, Henry, the oldest cat, joined him.  It was a bad, sad winter.  Eventually, we’ll all be there in this plot demarcated with granite ‘S’s at the corners.*  And it feels ok, knowing that others like me will walk along the path and read names and dates and reconstruct bits of family history.  And cry.

*In 2012, the Ontario government demanded the removal of the human graves.  Human ashes only were there, but they and the gravestones had to be moved away from the spots the people had chosen for their final repose.

The Wolf in the Parlor

It took me a few months to read The Wolf in the Parlor: How the dog came to share your brain by Jon Franklin. It was my ‘morning coffee’ book.  Those always are read slowly.  But I had trouble with this one.  I considered not finishing it, but I’m glad I did.

Amazon link for Wolf in the Parlor by Jon Franklin
Click for Amazon link

Franklin’s premise is that humans and dogs evolved together and, in fact, became parts of each other in terms of brain function. ‘Tame wolves’, he says, began to develop about 50,000 years ago when some wolves became essentially camp followers of humans.  They realized putting up with human contact was an easy way of getting food.  The humans realized that putting up with these less aggressive wolves was an easy way to have protection from wilder animals and to have a constant food supply if needed (wolf meat).  Wolves evolved into dogs, humans evolved to a form more like us, and the interconnectedness between wolf/dog and human grew.

Complementary brains

12,000 years ago, he says, human and dog brains got smaller.  His argument is that the rational, thinking part of dogs’ brains decreased as did simultaneously the emotional and sensory part of humans’ brains.  The dog handed the thinking over to humans and the humans handed emotional and sensory intuition over to dogs.  Together, they have the full spectrum of intelligence and perception.  Apart, they do not.

I know nothing about evolution or neurology, so I can’t comment on his scientific accuracy.  However, like religion, his thesis seems as good a framework as any for thinking.  It ‘feels’ right to me and, in thinking about my history with dogs, I can ‘see’ it.

My persistence in reading paid off in the final chapters.  He discusses how humans too often now have forgotten the mutuality of the bond with dogs.  There’s a horrible tale of a day he spent with an animal control officer.  That story introduces his argument in favour of purebred dogs.  In essence, he says that if you expect the dog to fit into your lifestyle and match your needs, get one where you can be pretty sure that the innate traits and needs of the dog will be that match.  The best way is get a purebred from a breeder who knows his or her dogs and their lineage.

Persistence needed

Why I say my “persistence” is that I had some problems with the writing.  First, the beginning of the first four chapters all read like introductions.  It felt like he had several good openings and couldn’t decide on one so used them all.  Second, no references.  I was shocked.  I’d seen he had no foot- or endnote numbers, but I thought he must be using chapter-by-chapter summary citation at the end.  Then I read about Standard Poodles in the Iditarod and wanted to know more.  I flipped to the back – nothing, not even a bibliography.  Yes, I can google it but I think that, within a book, I should be able to find out where a fact came from.  Isn’t lack of citation plagiarism?

So the scientific bases of his evolutionary, neurological and paleontology arguments are only sporadically backed up with sources in in-text form.  This particularly surprised me because he’s a science journalist.  Reference, reference, reference.

Anyway, you can read a Q & A with him about the book on his website. He says you’ll have to read it to find out how the story ends. For me, the ending did make reading it all worthwhile.

Here is a review of The Wolf in the Parlor’s first 60 pages in The Other End of the Leash, an interesting dog blog. I think the leash should have extended to the end of the book. (From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, May 20, 2011)

Lab Mysteries

Click for Amazon link for Randolph A Dog About Town
Click for Amazon link

If you like dogs and mystery novels, or even just one or the other, have a look at J. F. Englert’s Bull Moose Dog Run series.  There are three so far; A Dog About Town (2007), A Dog Among Diplomats (2008) and A Dog At Sea (2009). The ‘sleuth’ who tells the story is Randolph, a middle-aged black Labrador Retriever.

A sucker for animal stories, I’ve read some of the other dog- and cat-perspective mystery series.  I’ve liked them, found them kind of cute, kind of funny. One of the Midnight Louie books by Carole Nelson Douglas made me think about feral cat life and TNR (trap, neuter, release) from the cats’ point of view.  Not as straightforwardly beneficial as people may think it to be. While I’ve enjoyed the animal-detective books I’ve read, I haven’t felt a pressing need to immediately get the next one.

Randolph, a literate Lab

As soon as I finished A Dog About Town, I went back to the library and took out the second, A Dog Among Diplomats.  Now I want to read the third.  I want to know what happens next. Randolph’s take on being an intelligent dog in a human world made me think about many dog behaviours, and people’s behaviour in relating to dogs.  You learn a lot (Randolph is a very literate dog), you are given lots of little doggy asides to think about, and the mysteries at the heart of the books are interesting and well-presented.

As with all novels featuring non-human protagonists, disbelief has to be suspended.  But it wasn’t a lot of work doing that with Randolph.  This is despite him being able to read (a skill learned while being papertrained in puppyhood), and not just reading the cereal box.  He reads Dante’s Inferno, Proust, Kierkegaard and, for light reading, Dickens.  He teaches himself how to use the internet and succeeds in setting up a hotmail account for himself faster than I’ve ever been able to do. But these improbabilities do not get in the way  – I found myself quickly accepting Randolph’s extraordinary skills and just got on with the story.

Dog park behaviour

Randolph’s observations on human-dog interaction are shrewd, even cringe-making sometimes when you recognize yourself.  He also observes the child-dog relationship in a refreshing way, especially coming from a Lab, the perceived ‘kids’ dog’. Randolph takes you into his Manhattan – the streets, Central Park and the dog parks.  He gives you the dog perspective on dog park politics of dogs and people.  He notes the types of dog behaviours in meeting each other and even in their toilet habits.  After you read his descriptions of dog habits, you find yourself watching dogs to see if they fit Randolph’s classification system.  By and large, they do.

Englert is an astute observer of dogs and people, or he has been taught a lot by his own Lab.  I’ve never been a big Lab person – they’re too boisterous and single-minded (usually involving a tennis ball) for me.  But I look at them a bit differently now, after ‘meeting’ Randolph.  He reminds me of Labs I have known and liked, nice old sensible ones.  I also look at my dogs a bit differently, wondering if there’s more going on in their heads than what I have thought.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Apr. 24, 2010.

Cat People

“A Cat Digression” from my St. Thomas Dog Blog Mar. 23, 2010

There are unsung heroes among us. Almost everyone knows one or two, or at least hasRene Chartrand Parliament Hill feral cat colony encountered them. They’re usually not thought of as heroic or civic-minded. Instead they’re a code word for loneliness with a bit of looniness thrown in. In cautionary tales of self-help articles and advice from well-intentioned relatives, you might hear something like, “and if you keep on acting like this, you’ll end up being one of those cat ladies”.

Almost every community has at least one – the person who quietly feeds and shelters stray and feral cats. They use their own resources, even paying for neutering and medical treatment out of their own pocket. If you want to get a cat, they’re often your closest resource. They’re happy to find homes for the cats that want homes. They may be your most relied upon resource if you want to solve your problem with an unwanted cat or a stray that’s hanging around your house. But to people neither acquiring nor getting rid of cats, they’re probably just seen as eccentric at best, a hoarder or crazy person at worst.

Years ago, I was seen as the cat lady of the village I then lived in. I suppose it all fit. I lived alone in an old ramshackle house, I wasn’t from there, I had no visible means of support and kept odd hours. Also I kept chickens and had three cats. I realized this one fall when children began coming to my door with kittens or adult cats.

It seemed there had been a lot of cats dumped off in our town that summer. So kids, looking scared out of their minds, would hold up a tiny kitten or bedraggled old moggy and say “Mam said you’d be able to help with this cat. We can’t keep her and Mam said you’d know what to do.” I tried taking the cats in, at least until I could figure out what to do with them.

But my cats wouldn’t let me become a real cat lady. My mother and son cats loathed other cats. The third cat was a stray that had simply refused to leave despite their best efforts to drive him off. When new cats began coming in the house, the three bonded and became a tag team of terror toward any new arrival. After fearing for the lives of the new strays until I could get them safely to the SPCA shelter, I had to refuse to take any more. And so ended my career as a cat lady.

René Chartrand, Parliamentary Cat Carer

One of the best known “cat ladies” in Canada is a man. For 21 years, René Chartrand looked after the feral cat colony at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. If you go behind the Parliamentary Library and walk along the river, you’ll see a wrought iron fence. Inside there, on the hill, is the cats’ headquarters. Mr. Chartrand built a condominium of shelter boxes for them. The roofs are of the same style as the Parliament Buildings. There are verandahs running along the sides with food and water bowls. There are donation boxes on the fence to help with the costs.

It’s a long-standing colony of cats, from long-ago Parliamentary mousers, cats from vessels on the Ottawa River and ones that have been dumped or strays that found their way there. For many years they have been helped by the kindness of strangers. The first long-term caretaker was Irene Desormeaux in the 1970s. She fed them, got veterinary care for them and began neuter and release efforts. Mr. Chartrand took over responsibility for them after her death in 1987. He retired in 2008 and a small group of his helpers continues to care for the cats. You can read about the cats and see pictures of them on their blog. There’s also lots of articles and information on them on the web.

Buy an extra can of cat food

Most feral cat colonies and cat ladies aren’t as well known as Ottawa’s. But every city and village has them. Without the efforts of the cat ladies, the feral cat population would be a much greater problem than it is. So, if you notice someone buying cat food by the case, try to find out why. If they’re feeding strays, buy a couple more cans of food or treats and put them in their shopping bag. They’ll appreciate the help.

Mr. Chartrand died Dec. 7, 2014 at the age of 92. After the last Parliament Hill cat, Bugsy, was adopted in January 2013, the cat colony was officially closed and the Cat Parliament Buildings demolished. Thank you, Mr. Chartrand.

Pawlooza: Rescue me!

Pawlooza last Saturday in London Ont was great.  So many people and dogs!  Other pug having a rest at STDOA booth on rescue rowthan a bit of a walk-around, I hardly saw anything of it other than our St. Thomas Dog Owners booth in Rescue Row.  But the world comes by one’s booth, I found.

We didn’t take Leo and Charlie.  Charlie likes a party, but gets bored and cranky quickly.  Leo gets very enthusiastic at parties!  While I felt a bit ‘odd man out’ without dogs, I found our booth provided a haven for dogs who wanted a little quiet time.

Next to us was the Chinese Crested Rescue.  They had several of these dogs with hairless bodies and long plumes on head and tail.  I Chinese Crested from Crest Care rescueoverheard them telling stories of their dogs to people flipping through photo albums.  Horrific stories.  One dog was left in the house, locked in, after the people moved away.  Fortunately, someone suspected that she was in there, and she was saved.

Why, I thought, would someone leave a dog like that?  Any dog, but one of these?  These aren’t dogs you see notices tacked up for, saying “free puppies.”  You have to go to a lot of trouble and expense to get one.  So why would you then just walk away?

A magnificent black Standard Poodle across the aisle.  A St. John’s Ambulance therapy dog now, he’d been taken from what sounds like an unbalanced hoarder.  The man who rescued him had been looking for a Giant Schnauzer.  He’d had them for years, but this Poodles at Pawloozatime he wound up with a giant Poodle.

He said Giant Schnauzers end up in rescue care because people get them as puppies and then are surprised at how big they get, how much care their coats take and don’t want to be bothered.  How can that happen?  Doesn’t the “Giant” in their name give you the tip off that this is going to be a big dog?  They too are expensive pups.  He said it’s easy to pay $4000 for one.  You would lay out money like that and not realize that it’s going to be a big dog and that rough beautiful coat requires a lot of brushing and clipping?

I passed by Friendly Giants Rescue on my one tour.  A St. Bernard was lolling around, hoping for a home I guess.  Sure, there are legitimate, even heartbreaking, stories of why someone has to give up their dog.  But so many of them?

Do people get them as status symbols?  Be the first on your block to have a hairless dog.  Then you realize there is upkeep and expense particular to that breed and it’s too much bother?  Or you saw the movie Beethoven and thought how much fun it would be having him living with you? And you forgot you’re already cramped in your tiny apartment?

Yorkies trying on coats at STDOA boothI am so glad the rescue people are around, both for specific breeds and just for regular old dogs.  Without them, I don’t know what would happen to these poor creatures.  A woman at Boston Terrier Rescue told me a lady had made an 8-hour drive to Pawlooza, just to look for a dog at their booth.  I hope she found one.


Dear Cat Dumper

To the person who dumped a grey tiger and white male neutered cat at Waterworks Parks on or before July 4, 2011:

cat dumper - Poster for found catHe’s doing well, considering.  He misses you and his own bed and routine.  He spends a lot of time in the garage.  It’s where he feels safest, I guess.  It was where he stayed that first night with us, a place to let him adjust.

At the time, I thought it would be only a day or two of strangeness for him.  I thought you’d contact us as soon as you saw the ads and posters.  A well-looked-after cat like him must have people missing him, I thought.  A couple people did call, hoping he was their lost cat.  But he wasn’t.

He’s been dewormed and vaccinated.  He probably already was, but we couldn’t risk it.  His vet bill is $191 and he needs booster shots.  Thank heavens you had him neutered.

Wally on chair in kitchenHe’s a funny cat, loves to bat cat toys around.  Loves catnip. He has no fear of dogs or of people he doesn’t know. He’s very well adjusted, pretty much the perfect cat.

He prefers canned food.  When we found him at the park, he happily chowed down the cat kibble we had with us.  Then, belly full, he went “mmpff” to kibble and demanded canned food.  So that’s what he gets.

The vet thinks he lost a lot of weight fast.  His skin is loose, as if it used to cover a larger body.  And he’s terrified of the sound of rain.  Those things make me think he was wandering on his own for longer than I’d thought.

Wally lying on stairsHis name is Wally now and he answers to it.  Maybe you or your kids called him Tigger or Sox for his white feet.  He loves to sprawl across laps and hug up close in your arms – but I guess you already know that.

So he’s ours now.  Just one request:  please don’t replace him with another kitten or puppy until you’re prepared to make a commitment that lasts as long as that animal’s life.  I can’t take another of your pets when you don’t want them anymore.

The next one I find will make a quick trip to the vet to be euthanized if I can’t find another home quickly.  I won’t take him or her to the pound or shelters.  Why?  There aren’t enough homes for all the cats Wally on couch in front of laptopand kittens, dogs and puppies dumped and produced by irresponsible people.

Caring for your pet in the pound costs a lot of money.  City employees get good wages and benefits to scoop litter boxes and put out kibble.  Rescue volunteers do it for free.  But how much labour and money are they expected to give to look after pets that people like you can’t be bothered with anymore?

I too do it for free.  But I’ve reached my limit so, remember, the next dumped animal I find gets a one-way trip to the vet.  It’s a kinder death than the starvation you consigned Wally to.

If you think he is your missing cat, please accept my apologies and contact me!

(From my St. Thomas Dog Blog. See Waterworks Cat for his backstory.)