Tag Archives: St. Thomas Dog Blog

Druggie Pets

First posted on my St. Thomas Dog Blog, 3 Nov. 2010.

Filmmaker Patrick Reed was on CBC Radio’s Q, talking about his new film, Pet Pharm. (It is no longer online, but Hye’s Musings has a good post about the film.) It is about the booming business in pharmaceuticals – for pets.

The pharmaceuticals for people industry is already huge, and increasingly so for pets. Michael Schaffer, in his book One Nation Under Dog, has a chapter on it (see Fur Babies post.)

Drugs are possibly a big part of the $47 billion that Americans will spend on their pets in the next year (that figure comes from a trivia question on freekibble.com). Maybe it is money that would be better spent on starving children in the world, as Patrick Reid obliquely suggests.

And maybe that’s a comparison that is really beside the point. Maybe the money spent each year on psychoactive drugs, big screen tvs, Xboxes, running shoes and high-end jeans for North American adults and children would also be better used feeding and healing malnourished children.

Cat Drugs

cat stress-licking photo d stewartI have had a bit of experience with psychoactive drugs for cats lately. One cat has been picked on by another ever since she was a tiny kitten. As a result, she developed obsessive-compulsive licking to the point of open, bleeding wounds. Her veterinarian thought at first it was mites or allergies so she had some tests and strict diet control. We tried a drug for allergies that worked a bit. Then more open sores. I became convinced it was stress, maybe compounded by skin sensitivity. We then tried a dog and cat “tricyclic antidepressant” called Clomicalm. It worked for a while. Made her very sleepy, but when she was sleeping she couldn’t lick herself. Then the calming effect of it started to wear off. She needed more and more of it. There’s only so much you can safely give.

Cat's belly photo d stewartI saw no cure short of a change of home for one or other of them. But that didn’t seem a likely option. Finding a home for any adult cat is difficult. But a ten year old not awfully pleasant one? Or a formerly feral cat scared of anyone except us? Euthanasia for one or other of them? I considered it. Life for the young one was not good, but another home likely wouldn’t be an improvement for her. The old one had less life ahead of her, but did she deserve to die because she doesn’t like other cats? No. But the stress of one cat licking herself raw and the other hissing, spitting and attacking was making me want to stress-lick or tranquilize myself.

Bottled Happy Cat

In desperation, I called my vet. “Give me drugs – the strongest you’ve got. Some for me while you’re at it. I don’t care if we’re all comatose as long as this stops.”  “Well, there is something new we’ve got,” she said. “It’s called Feliway and it’s like a room air-freshener.” “I’m on my way.” She said it’s essentially the pheromone that cats exude when they’re happy, put in a bottle. There’s also a dog version, D.A.P., advertised in Pets Magazine, a good Canadian magazine you can get free at vet clinics.

Cat reaching up for a treat, not drugsFor a year now, I’ve kept a Feliway diffuser in the hallway. It works. The fights haven’t stopped, the stress-licking still happens. But, overall, there’s peace in the valley. There are tricks to using the Feliway effectively, and when things go wrong, they go very wrong very quickly.  (For example, don’t put it close to their water or food.)

Happier Cat

When the little cat went for her shots this year, the vet was distressed to see the raw welts on her belly. She’d forgotten how bad she looked before. I told her I wasn’t worried because her belly and her attitude were so much better than before. Both the cat and I could live with some sores. She probably will have them for as long as the old cat is alive. And knowing that cat, I imagine it will be a good few years more.

So do I think giving psychoactive drugs to pets is bad, wasteful or the lazy way out of behavioural problems? No, not if that is the only solution aside from euthanasia and if a better home for the animal isn’t a viable option. It shouldn’t be the first method tried and it shouldn’t be seen as “normal”, any more than having every kid hopped up on Ritalin should be seen as a normal response to over-exuberance.

Cat Show

Tomorrow, Oct. 22, is the London Cat Show at Western Fairgrounds (Canada Building 9-4:30). I went to it in 2011 and wrote the following in my St. Thomas Dog Blog.

close up of cat being judged at western fairgroundsThe good news for me with last Sunday’s STDOA meeting being cancelled was I got to go to the PAWSitive PAWS Cat Show at London’s Western Fairgrounds.

Many years ago, I went to a cat show.  I found it very funny, mainly because no one else – exhibitors, judges or cats – did.  Long slinky Siamese held, stretched out like a skein of yarn, glowering at the crowd like a supermodel.  No one noticing the face of disdain, just the markings and body shape.

At Sunday’s show, cats were held up, stretched full length.  They also were played with, ears ruffled, and talked to by the judges.  A long feather teaser acted as an intelligence test, and sure enough while most cats saw it flick behind the judge’s shoulders, some looked around like “where’d it go?”  It was funny, and fun.judge holding up Cornish Rex

Nice things that I don’t remember from the show years ago (but might have been there) are the competition category for household pets and the presence of cat rescue groups.

Categories of competition

There are four categories of competition and four “best of” winners.  Cat breeders compete in the Championship Class for unneutered pedigreed adult cats.  The Premiership Class is for neutered and spayed (“altered”) pedigreed cats.  Obviously, wins by these cats will not increase the monetary value of their progeny, but the prestige is Bengal cat nappingstill there.  There’s the Kitten Class for registered breeds 4 to 8 months.  And there’s the Household Pet Class.  Your old moggie can compete with the best of them, mixed breed and purebred, here.

What’s nice about the Household Pet Class, I think, is that cats must be neutered or spayed and must have their claws.  The cats I saw competing ranged from a very pretty little silver and white “girly” cat to a big old cat with lopsided black and white markings and wonderful tomcat head.  There was a grey tabby who looked just like my Yeti.  But while I was thinking maybe I should enter her, the judge Cornish Rex on lapexplained that part of what he’s looking for is temperament – “it’s not good if they try to bite me.”  Rules out Yeti, I thought.

Exhibitors lined half the Special Events Building, with nylon mesh carriers housing their cats between appearances in one of the five rings. They were happy to let visitors look, even pet their cats.  But it’s serious business, so you have to make sure you’re not in the way or bothering an animal gearing up for the show ring.

Cat Rescue and Cat Merch

On the other side of the hall were booths with pet food, grooming supplies, cat toys, cat beds and litter boxes.  Scattered among them were cat rescue groups.  Our local Animal Aide was there, along with Animalert and Cats R Us from London.  The rescue groups can’t bring cats with them, but they had poster boards with photos of their cats.

Somali kittenA rescue woman said it was odd being there with cat breeders.  Kind of cross-purposes, she said.  Yes and no, I thought.  Good cat breeders love cats, and a particular breed is their hobby or life’s work.  But they want their – and all – cats treated properly.  And that’s the same objective as rescue groups.

It was a good chance to learn a lot about breeds of cats.  It was informative and informal and fun.

Redemption: Shelter Plan B

Nathan Winograd with cat Shelter Plan BMy impression after reading about Nathan Winograd is that it’s animal shelters that need redemption. He is Director of the No Kill Advocacy Center in the US and is giving a lecture and workshop at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre Apr. 14th [2012] . I don’t get star-struck that often, but this sounds like one very impressive man.

In 1993-94, he turned the San Francisco SPCA from a kill processing plant to a shelter where animals got homes. Killing healthy animals “declined 100 percent” and for sick or injured animals “it declined by about 50 percent” (Redemption). He did the same at the Tompkins County SPCA in upstate New York.

Are these places with less of an ‘animal problem’? Not likely. If you can do that in San Francisco, heart of ‘disposable land’, or upstate NY amid wilderness that people would see as perfect for dumping Fluffy, you can do it anywhere! Here is how Mr. Winograd looks at shelter management, from a 2007 article by Christie Keith.

“If … motherless kittens are killed because the shelter doesn’t have a comprehensive foster care program, that’s not pet overpopulation. That’s the lack of a foster care program.

Amazon link for Redemption
Buy on Amazon

“If adoptions are low because people are getting those dogs and cats from other places because the shelter isn’t doing outside adoptions (adoptions done off the shelter premises), that’s a failure to do outside adoptions, not pet overpopulation.

“…If animals are killed because working with rescue groups is discouraged, again, that’s not pet overpopulation. If dogs are going cage-crazy because volunteers and staff aren’t allowed to socialize them, and then those dogs are killed because they’re quote-unquote “cage crazy,” because the shelter doesn’t have a behavior rehabilitation program in place, once again, that’s not pet overpopulation; that’s the lack of programs and services that save lives.”

Animal Shelter Plan B

Commonsense, when you approach it from the shelter side of the equation. “If a community is still killing the majority of shelter animals, it is because the local SPCA, humane society, or animal control shelter has fundamentally failed in its mission… And this failure is nothing more than a failure of leadership. The buck stops with the shelter’s director.”

Lab looking out from shelter pen, Wikimedia Commons, NhandlerHe describes his second day at the Tompkins Co. SPCA. “’My staff informed me that our dog kennels were full and since a litter of six puppies had come in, I needed to decide who was going to be killed in order to make space. I asked for ‘Plan B’; there was none. I asked for suggestions; there were none.’

“He spoke directly to his staff, saying, ‘Volunteers who work with animals do so out of sheer love. They don’t bring home a paycheck. So if a volunteer says, ‘I can’t do it,’ I can accept that from her. But staff members are paid to save lives. If a paid member of staff throws up her hands and says, ‘There’s nothing that can be done,’ I may as well eliminate her position and use the money that goes for her salary in a more constructive manner. So what are we going to do with the puppies that doesn’t involve killing?’”  Wow.

Nathan Winograd’s publications:

Welcome Home: An animal rights perspective on living with dogs & cats

Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America

Irreconcilable Differences: The battle for the heart and soul of America’s animal shelters

All American Vegan: Veganism for the Rest of Us

Friendly Fire

Reforming Animal Control/Building a No Kill Community Resource CD.

1 day body count of dog and cat corpses in 50 gal drums at pound
1 day body count at pound – click image to go to Imagine blog

First posted on my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Aug. 5, 2012. See comments below.

Wilma the Cat

In honour of Wilma, cat colony princess, who died yesterday in St. Thomas ON. Reposted from St. Thomas Dog Blog, March 29, 2012.Wilma and other cats 2016

Wilma was a homeless cat who was instrumental in the creation of the Charity Cat Project. That initiative has provided food, shelter and neutering to innumerable feral and stray St. Thomas cats. Charity Cat and other rescue groups worked with St. Thomas City Council in establishing animal welfare programmes. Among these are low-cost pet neutering and maintenance of feral cat colonies. So, Wilma, thank you.

Wilma's broken front tooth - formerly feral catsWilma had surgery to remove her damaged teeth and a hernia in her abdomen. She’s recovering nicely. She has domesticated herself and it seems she would love to live indoors. But in her present home, there are dogs who really wouldn’t do well with her presence inside. So a foster or, ideally, a permanent home for her would be wonderful. Contact ABCR or me if you have a place in your home or barn for a lovely cat.*

Turns out she was already spayed, so she had been lost or abandoned. I don’t know which, but there are a lot of Wilmas in our city. They need help. There are also a lot of truly feral cats who Wilma 2012 likely will never allow themselves to be tamed. They too need help.

It’s not just helping the cats. It’s helping people. Having feral cats around their houses distresses cat lovers. Cat haters certainly don’t like cats hanging around. And unneutered cats produce kittens, usually twice a year. So that one cat who’s taken up residence in your back yard is going to produce more, and those kittens will also reproduce. You start out with one stray moggie and, before you know it, you’re in Cat City.

TNR for feral cats

Trapping wild cats and having them fixed is a time-consuming and Drowsy Wilma sitting in suncostly business. I know, I’ve done it. And if you do remove those cats, in all likelihood, more will simply come and occupy the territory. That will happen whether you feed them or not. Homeless cats need somewhere to settle and your backyard might seem as good as anywhere to them. So better to keep those you know, and are neutered, than constantly have new ones moving in and establishing their claim.

St. Thomas needs a TNR programme – trap, neuter, return – for wild cats. Other cities have such programmes or services in place and we have just as many feral cats as anywhere else. Wilma’s person Wilma eating on porch - cats dining areacounted the cats in the gully near their house a month ago: 103 that she saw. That’s before this spring’s litters of kittens are born.

St. Thomas also needs a programme to subsidize spay and neuter costs for dogs and cats of people who cannot afford the full price. Again, many other cities have such subsidy programmes or low-cost clinics offered so many times a year.

Spay/Neuter – please!

It seems cheaper to just have the kittens or puppies than to have your pet neutered. It’s not; it just spreads the costs over a longer period of time – once or twice a year for as long as the animal lives. Neutering is cheaper for all of us just in costs to municipalities of caring for, or killing, unwanted pets.

Abcess on Wilma's gumsPeople have contributed to Wilma’s medical costs, but her rescuers are still footing over half the bill themselves. So if you can help, please contact ABCR or me. And let’s start helping all the Wilmas by setting up a spay/neuter subsidy fund. We’ve seen over the past year, with STDOA’s Caring Pet Cupboard, that our community will help people feed their pets.  Now let’s move on to the big task: preventing unwanted puppies and kittens.

*Wilma stayed where she was, for which everyone she knew is thankful. She will be greatly missed by her people and her cats. You can see her legacy on the Charity Cat Facebook page.

Training at the Dog Park

This week in May 2010, we in the St. Thomas Dog Owners Association were doing a final spit and polish on our new Lions Club Dog Park.

The Lions Club Dog Park had its grand opening on the May 24th weekend – one day of rain, one day of beautiful sunshine. A pretty good time though, I thought.

Recall Training

I picked up some pointers on dog training from Anne MacDonald of K-9 Concepts Saturday afternoon. She gave a workshop on recall training, one of the hardest and most important things to teach.recall training by Anne MacDonald St. Thomas dog park

My two are pretty good about coming when called, if they feel like it. And that, of course, is the problem. If they don’t feel like coming when called, it’s because they’re doing something way more interesting like chasing a rabbit or, in Leo’s case, eating poop – things I don’t want them doing. So your objective is to make coming to you a better option for them, and make them believe you have the power to make them come even if they don’t to.

The ‘carrot’ part of this is lots of good treats. Don’t be stingy, Anne said. Give them lots of the really yummy treats for a good recall. Many people, she said, give just the same amount of treat for a sit, a shake paw or a recall. With the recall, because it’s so important, give more and make a huge fuss over them for doing it well. I make a big fuss, but I just give the same small amount of treat that I do for anything else.

I worry about them gaining weight from too much “junk food” so only give them a teensy bit of dried liver or whatever as a treat. But I hadn’t thought about it from their perspective – why should I interrupt this interesting thing I’m doing for the sliver of treat she’s got. So now, lots of treats, different kinds of treats, lots of hugs and fuss. We’ll see how it works.

Be a slot machine

Anne MacDonald at Lions Club Dog Park“Be a slot machine, not a vending machine,” Anne said about training. Sometimes they get a lot, sometimes they get a little, sometimes they get nothing – they never know for sure. So like people sitting for hours feeding coins into a slot machine, hoping against hope that it will give the big payoff, a dog will be more inclined to keep coming back in hopes of hitting a mother lode of treats.*

But don’t do it every time. If the dog knows you’re going to give a treat every time, after the first time you don’t, the dog might treat you like a broken vending machine. If it doesn’t produce, you don’t go back to it. When Leo knows I’ve run out of treats (which he seems to have a sixth sense about), he thinks about whether he’s going to come back or not. If he feels like it, he might but not with as much alacrity as when he knows there’s a treat waiting. If he doesn’t feel like it, well, he doesn’t until he’s ready.

The long leash

When they don’t feel like coming back, that’s when you need the “I am all-powerful” tool. Anne uses a long lead, a soft rope much longer than a regular leash. Just let the dog drag it (obviously not in brush areas where the dog can get caught up). Give the recall command, if dog doesn’t react, say it again and step on the leash. Don’t go to the dog, pull the leash back to you.

Keep the treats in your pocket, not your hand. But act fast when the dog comes back. “Good dog”, pats and hugs then quick-quick into your pocket and treat to dog. That reinforces the connection between the dog’s action and the reward, but lessens the chance of the treat being a bribe instead of a reward. That’s where my training with Leo fell down.

Leo saw the treat in my hand often enough that he started looking for it before he’d decide whether or not to do what I asked. With him, it’s not even a case of bribery, it’s more like negotiation. With Charlie too, it’s negotiation. If he knows I’ve got treats he really likes, he’s more likely to do what I ask. If he doesn’t like them, he just sniffs the treat and walks on past. So for recall especially, have ones they like a lot.

Competitiveness

Sometimes they get into competition to see who can get to me faster. Anne says you can use that competitiveness in training, and reward only the winner. The dog who does it right gets the treats and the big fuss. The other gets nothing. I have a hard time doing that, the other one looks so pitiful that I end up giving him a treat Charlie doing recalland pat too. She says be tough so they see that if they don’t do the work, they don’t get the prize.

So I learned a lot, mainly how much I’ve let “pretty good” be good enough for me. As a result of my back-sliding, my very willing-to-learn poodle is only about halfway to well-trained. My smart but obstinate terrier pays attention and then does what he wants. Both of them like playing “the training game” as they see it. And both have learned a lot since we’ve had them. Now I’m going to do my part to help them learn more. Thank you, Anne, for some helpful tips and reminders.

First posted May 25, 2010 on the St. Thomas Dog Blog.

* On CBC’s The Current, Mon. May 15/17, Adam Alter, author of Irresistible: The rise of addictive technology and the business of keeping us hooked, said about social media likes: “This idea that a reward is just within reach but it’s never guaranteed. Paradoxically when you guarantee someone a reward, they get bored and they stop doing something quite quickly, whereas when you build in just a small dose of uncertainty… is very hard for humans to resist.”

Pittie Myths

Muzzled Pittie wikicommonsI don’t often agree with Peter Worthington, but I did with what he wrote (March 14, 2012) about Pit Bulls and Ontario’s Breed Specific Legislation. He calls BSL a “Ku Klux Klan law”, “akin to deciding guilt based on appearance, not behaviour.”  Like him, I applaud Cons. Randy Hillier, NDP Cheri DiNova and Lib. Kim Craitor for bringing forward a private members’ bill to rescind it. No law should apply to a specific breed and dogs who look “substantially similar” to that breed.

Fashion of fear

A lot of dogs have been in fashion as “feared” dogs.  German Shepherds had their time. Someone I know found his beautiful Shepherd poisoned, most likely by a neighbour who disliked “that German police dog”. Then came Doberman Pinschers as the “feared” breed. There is reason to be fearful of them and most dogs– if you’re not on the side of the fence you belong on, as I heard the owner of an auto wrecker business once say.

But I don’t remember Shepherds or Dobes being the fashion Pit Bulls on album cover Alexis & Fido The Pitbulls 2005accessory for young men that Rottweilers and Pitties became in the past two decades. Now, it seems to me, Mastiffs and Cane Corsos have supplanted them.

These are all very powerful breeds used for herding and protecting. They are intelligent and strong-willed. You have to be their match in order for the relationship to work out well, and just wanting to be isn’t enough. I would never have a Rottie or Pit Bull. Dog trainers have told me that I don’t make myself the dog’s boss.  “You’re more a litter mate than alpha dog,” one said.

Fashion of image-making

These powerful breeds of fashion can scare me. But it’s not the dogs, it’s the owners. I don’t mean huge, tattooed drug dealers or nasty pimps. I mean teenagers who cannot have had much experience handling any dog except the family pet because they are just not old enough. The caution the Westminster dog show announcer gives about some breeds, “not for first-time dog owners”? Shep, who let you pull his ears when you were two, does not qualify you as an experienced dog owner.

Happy young Pit Bull sitting WikicommonsI also have concerns for these dogs of youthful fashion: are they being fed right, exercised enough, socialized and trained properly? You might well be concerned about the same things for their owners. However, if either of them wig out, the owner won’t be sentenced to death but the dog will.

Myth-making and Pit Bulls

A well looked after, happy Pit Bull is a joy. A neglected or abused, frightened or aggressive one is not. Just like any other dog. The reality is that there have been vicious attacks by Pit Bulls that have killed and seriously maimed people and animals. But presuming therefore that Pit Bulls are all crazed killers is itself, well, crazy.

ca 1900 photo of child with Nanny dog Pit BullLovers of the breed have tried to counteract the “fighting dog” label by pointing out the breed’s protector instincts. However, the “Nanny dog” image may be equally damaging to the poor Pittie. The photo at left has circulated the internet, and it’s lovely. And maybe back then, the Pit Bull was your first choice of baby minder. But there’s been a hundred years of selective breeding, good and bad, since then and that has an effect on all aspects of a creature.

Gross generalizations on either side are neither accurate nor fair to Pit Bulls. They deserve to be treated like other dogs without bearing the burden of vilification or sainthood. To paraphrase Tammy Wynette “after all, he’s just a dog.” So stand by him and be proud of him – for what he is, not the angel or ogre you want him to be.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog Mar. 22, 2012. 4 comments below.

Titanic: No greater love

Among the bodies found after Titanic sank was that of a woman, clinging to the body of a Great Dane. Ann Elizabeth Isham had a seat in a lifeboat but was told dogs on Titanic deck, including a Great Dane typeher dog was too big to come with her. So she jumped back on board the ship. They drowned together.

This is one of the stories told in a current exhibit about the people and dogs of Titanic at the Widener University Art Gallery in Chester PA. There were at least twelve dogs on board. Three survived. Small dogs, they were carried in bags or wrapped in blankets and, held on laps, they didn’t take extra space. Astonishingly, a Pomeranian was refused entry on the rescue ship Carpathia. That, after he and his mistress had survived the night on a lifeboat. Mrs. Martin Rothschild raised such a fuss that her little dog was allowed to board.

Dogs were 1st class passengers while cats were crew, on mousing detail. There is a story that one cat saved a man as well as herself and her kittens. She was on board from Belfast to Southampton where she disembarked, carrying her kittens off one by one. A man, debating whether to seek continued work on the ship’s journey, saw the cat leave and decided he too should stay ashore.

Happenstance, loyalty and sacrifice

The tale of the Titanic is filled with happenstance, loyalty and sacrifice. Ida Straus was in a lifeboat when she realized her octogenarian husband wasn’t allowed on. “Where he goes, I go” she said and stepped back on the ship. They died together.

Quigg Baxter rowingQuebec Shamrock hockey player Quigg Baxter was on board with his mother and sister and, without their knowledge, so was his girlfriend Berthe Mayné, a Belgian cabaret singer. He introduced Berthe to his mother and sister as he put her in the lifeboat with them. He drowned.  Berthe later returned to Belgium and told stories of her doomed Canadian beau but nobody in her family believed her. After her death, they found a small box filled with photos of Quigg and his love letters to her.

A Canadian businessman, Capt. Arthur Peuchen, survived but later wished he hadn’t. A yachtsman, he got on a lifeboat with women and children to safely row it away. Back in Toronto, he was scorned for having survived. He retreated to a logging camp and horse farm in Alberta, haunted by survivor guilt. He died in 1929, a double survivor I think; of Titanic, then of societal opprobrium.

Titanic 100 years later

painting by Willy Stower sinking of TitanicThe Titanic specials for the 100th anniversary taught me a lot about the ship and our folklore about her. The hubris believed to be shown by the claim that she was unsinkable: the Captain and ship designers never said that, only the media did. The image of frivolity we see in the band playing as the ship listed and sunk: those musicians willingly gave their lives, knowing the value of music to keep others calm and provide solace for those facing death. Engineers accepted death to stay below trying to save the ship, then just to delay the sinking to save as many other lives as possible. The Captain hadn’t run her at full speed. He knew the danger of icebergs. On his final voyage before retirement, he went down with his ship.

Unfortunate timing of events coupled with miscommunication led to the disaster. The errors were not having Titanic ship in a bottleenough lifeboats and not enough practice at loading those they had. But, faced with disaster, people did the best they could. I hope Titanic is protected effectively now and left as the burial ground she is. Let her remain a testament to the power of the sea and the sacrifice of so many.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog Apr. 19, 2012 (2 comments below) 

Bear

“A sad Goodbye to Bear, the dog who you may remember that was abandoned at Dalewood, that became a ABCR rescue dog. Bear was Bear-2015-FBadopted by a young man who dearly cherished this sweet boy and lived the rest of his life well fed and very much loved until cancer took his breath from him today. RIP Bear.” Mar. 15/16 ABCR Facebook

St. Thomas people and pets have a lot to thank Bear for. He caused a pet food bank to be set up, and major policy and procedure changes to be made in Animal Control. Below is a post from my St. Thomas Dog Blog that tells his story and, after it, a bit of what happened next. My condolences to Bear’s family.

Dumped and Found (Oct. 2, 2010)

The Dalewood dog is found and at the City animal shelter. His name is Bear. His is a story more of sadness and desperation than thoughtless cruelty. It sounds like a desperate man took what he thought were his only options. For whatever reason, he had to be ‘dogless’ by the next morning (moving? an apartment? I don’t know). But he didn’t have the $50 for the pound surrender fee. So he fed Bear a good meal, and took him to Dalewood and left him. Then he called All Breed Canine Rescue and told them what he’d done. People went looking for Bear, and they found him.

I can’t be angry at this man anymore. I’m saddened and frustrated. I wish he’d phoned ABCR first. But maybe he feared he’d be refused (Bear) pound #233 Sept 29again unless he could pay. Maybe he figured desperate action would get him the result he wanted – a good home for his dog. It’s still Bear who paid the biggest price. He still wandered around alone, looking for his person, wondering how he’d lost him. Bear is a Lab/Shepherd cross. I don’t know much about Labs, but I do know Shepherds will not lose you easily. No matter what they’re doing, they will always do their best to also keep track of you.

Shelter Fails

There has to be a better way of dealing with unwanted and stray animals without making the animals pay the price of abandonment. People are discussing ways of reorganizing the management and operation of the City shelter. The idea, in essence, is to involve the city’s animal rescue groups in the administration of the pound along with the City. What’s needed is a focus on education and actions to reduce the number of animals needing the services of the pound and finding homes instead of euthanasia or refusal to accept animals.

This type of thing is being talked about in City shelters across the country. Calgary has a very good model which has been very successful. I wrote in an earlier post (Giving Shelter) about the manager of the St. John’s Animal Control Shelter who had created a pound environment very different from the usual cages of dogs and cats left essentially alone. Change must be made in our Animal Shelter. It is doable and it’s urgent. With job losses, the number of animals needing the help of the pound and rescue groups will increase. That is on top of the normal levels of strayed and abandoned pets.

Changes Bear made

In early October 2010 a committee was struck to assess and improve operations of the St. Thomas Animal Shelter. Shelter employees, City staff and rescue group members have worked to better reunite lost pets with Charity-Cat-TNRtheir people, started a spay/neuter programme, and held micro-chipping clinics.

After thinking about pets like Bear – dumped maybe only because of lack of money, we in the STDOA decided to try to make a change. We started a pet food bank.

With the Caring Cupboard, the local human food bank, and other businesses in town, pet food was collected and distributed to those in need. In the first 10 weeks, over 1,000 pounds of kibble went through our hands. The programme is still going, and tons of kibble, canned food, litter, leashes and dog beds have been collected and distributed in St. Thomas and Aylmer in those six years. I think it’s helped a lot of people keep their pets during times of financial difficulty. And it’s all thanks to Bear.

Heaven

When my dog Jack died, I believed in heaven. After his burial, my mother-in-law gave me a card with a little story in it. It’s about a Heaven - Doug with Jack in Outer Battery, St. John's 1998man and his dog walking along the afterlife road looking for heaven’s gates. At the beautiful golden and pearl gates with a sign saying Heaven, they’re told “sorry, no dogs allowed.” They continue walking. At a rickety gate in front of a small farm, a sign also says Heaven. The man asks if his dog can come in and is told “Of course he can.” So in they went.

It made me feel better to think of Jack in that heaven, met at the gate by my dog Jamie and cat Cedric who died before he came to me.  I knew they would recognize him as one of the family.  Doug, the German Shepherd who had ‘mothered’ him when he was a pup, would be there too.

They would take him to Heaven’s Porch, where my dad would be George Anger and Jamie dog 1991sitting with his brother and brothers-in-law.  Dad would pat his side and say, “well hello Jack, so you’ve come to join us.”  Dad’s brother would say “so you’re the sonovabitch she named after me, are you?”  Jamie would run around in front of the porch, barking and tail wagging, legs dancing.  No trace of the arthritis that had crippled him up.

That’s what I pictured the night Jack died, thanks to that story in a sympathy card.  It comforted me.

No sin means no heaven or hell

I had read the story aloud to Jack’s mourners and, of course, I cried. My mother looked askance, and said “dogs don’t have souls.” I put the card away. That was a debate I wasn’t taking on right then. Neither was my mother-in-law. Like my mother, she was a church-going woman of strong faith. But a different church.

Mom’s thesis, I knew, is that animals cannot sin and do not have immortal souls. They are innocent beings, so do not have consequences in the afterlife. Heaven and hell do not apply to them.

It has famously been said that there are no atheists in a foxhole.  Of course there aren’t!  Why, when you are in danger or great despair, would you not cling to anything that gave you hope or solace?  Part of that solace is that you can make it anything you want or need.

You can picture your enemy burning in hellfire, screaming and clawing at the walls of the pit.  You can even picture it before he dies, and enjoy the anticipation.  If you reconciled yourself with him by the time of his death, perhaps you’d see him being welcomed into the arms of Jesus.  Jack at Man o' War's grave, Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington KYEven if his sins hadn’t changed, you can see what you want his afterlife to be, and believe it to be reality.  You can maybe see yourself going beyond the white light to “a better place”.  If you picture yourself in the pit of hellfire, you might find yourself looking for a way to avoid that place.

Heaven needs Hell

The afterlife, being something we can’t know about, is pretty much whatever you believe it to be.  Different faiths have different pictures of it, some more detailed than others.  In the fundamentalist Christian belief system in which I was raised, one of the truths is that animals have no souls and therefore are incapable of sin.  Their death is final with no afterlife, either good or bad.  Heaven cannot be an option if Hell is not also a possibility.  If my dog Jack cannot go to hell, he also cannot go to heaven. Thinking of him in heaven is misinterpretation or blasphemy.  It’s nothing personal toward the dog; it’s just the “reality” of the world we don’t yet know.

I don’t like thinking about a heaven without dogs. So I’d rather stick with my fuzzy and situational spirituality and comfort myself with the Jack beside Kettle Creek, St. Thomas winterpicture of Jack on the Porch of Heaven with my other animals and my dad and Uncle Jack and other family and friends.  That gives me comfort.  If I were in a foxhole, I’d be praying non-stop to God to keep me alive or at least ensure that I go to the Heaven where I can sit on the porch with Jack.

James Herriot wrote a lovely story about dogs’ afterlife. “Prince and the Card Above the Bed” is in a small, beautifully illustrated volume entitled James Herriot’s Favorite Dog Stories, New York:  St. Martin’s Press 1996.

If you haven’t seen this, Church Wars is a concise little debate on the question of dogs’ souls.

This was first posted July 31, 2010 in Stories on my St. Thomas Dog Blog. This Saturday, Jan. 30th, marks the eighth anniversary of Jack’s death.

Watch Dog

watch dog Bing with Dad at Esso station grand openingBing was a small German Shepherd or Alsatian as Mom called her.  She was a watch dog. My dad got her from another service station when he opened his.  She was very good at her job – the perfect Walmart greeter during the day and to those who had legitimate business, a holy horror of snapping teeth and bristled fur at night or to those without good reason to be on the property.

Bing-in-WindowWhen Dad sold the business, Bing came home with us.  She quickly adapted to house living, but she kept her principal loyalty to Dad.  Mom was second on her list and we kids, well, she liked us all right but didn’t pay much attention to us.

One summer evening my parents were out and only my older sister and I were home.  My sister was talking on the phone and I had nothing to do.  So I decided to teach Bing to walk on a leash.  Well, Bing had never been on a leash in her life and had no intention of starting now!  But, out in the driveway, she humoured me or figured the bits of hotdog I was using as bait were worth her putting up with my foolishness. Dusk started to fall.  I noticed a car pull up and stop in front of the house.  I didn’t recognize it, so went on with the “training”.  Bing noticed it too, and kept one eye on the car and the other on the hotdogs.

After quite a while, the driver opened the car door and started to get out.  A rumble started deep in Bing’s throat.  She took off, ripping the leash out of my hands.  She flew towards the car, roaring.  The man jumped back in, jammed the car in gear and took off, door still open.  I stood in the driveway crying and screaming for Bing to come back, which she did, of course, as soon as she realized she couldn’t catch the car.

My sister came out to see what the noise was about.  When my parents got home, we told Bing at homethem.  My dad’s face went ashen, lips white.  He asked for a description of the car.  It was light blue – that’s all I knew.  My sister had seen it through the window and knew a bit more, it was a sedan and I think she knew the make.  Turns out, the police had put out a notice that there was a man trying to abduct little girls in our area.  The car they had seen him in fit the description of the one in front of our house.

I don’t know what would have happened to me, a little girl playing in her own driveway, if there hadn’t been a dog there too.  Bing had been alert to his presence the whole time, but had been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until he opened the car door.  I have no doubt he was the child molester.  She did not react that way to strangers simply stopping to ask directions.  Bing saved me that night – perhaps my life, certainly at least my innocence.  She got extra pats that night from my dad, I remember. Bing may have retired, but she was still a watch dog.

Many dogs have watched over me, guarded and protected meBing on home watch.  In childhood and teenage years, my dogs always helped me solve my problems or at least comforted me so that I could cope with them.  I guess I never had problems so big that a dog couldn’t deal with them.  For that I’m thankful. I’m thankful too for those dogs who shared their brave, big hearts with me.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, July 4, 2010