Coffee heat rising

Dogs: Like Another Hole in the Head…


Want another dog? The corgi rescue has a black-and-red male they’re trying to adopt out. This little dog doesn’t show at their site, but the Rescue Lady has been back and forth over the e-mail for the past week or so, figuring she’s found a soft touch. 😉

She tried to get me to take a pair—a female with her teats full of milk and her presumed mate, found wandering loose in the streets. But there’s a limit.

The limit may be one: Cassie the Corgi. Few people need more than one dog, and I’m definitely not among the elect.

Cassie might benefit from a doggy companion. Even though I’m not working and my social life is minuscule, I’m busy most of the time with writing, editing copy, and the daily survival chores. Most of the time she’s content to loaf around. But there are some signs she’s developing a few neuroses.

She’s become obsessive about balls. Every waking moment is spent petitioning the human to throw the ball for her to chase after. This can be quite a nuisance. Once in a while a ball game is great fun. But every time you turn around?

More ominously, because I live in almost perfect solitude, she’s becoming desocialized. Two walks a day are not enough to keep up her human skills, even though we often meet people who burble over her cuteness and we often meet children who come over to pet her. Last weekend we went to a party at M’hijito’s house. All his friends are spawning just now, and so three infants and a toddler were part of the mix.

Cassie normally dotes on children. But when the toddler, a little girl, tried to pet her, she acted as though she were being tortured. Each time the child touched her or even reached out toward her, Cassie shrieked like someone was beating her. The kid was not hurting her, not pulling her hair, not grabbing her ears, not yelling or squealing. The dog didn’t make any move to snap at the child, but she behaved like she was in pain.

It was strange behavior, especially for a dog that’s normally friendly and happy around children.

So I’m thinking maybe another dog to play with would benefit her. Doggy mentally, that is.


Experience shows, however, that getting another dog does little or nothing to quell the first dog’s quirks and neuroses. Anna H. Banana was bananas, all right; M’hijito has called her “bat-shit crazy.” She was just as wacky about balls and rope toys as Cassie has become, and she also believed she could speak English. She would often try to carry on conversations, ooking and whistling at the humans.

Bringing Walt the Greyhound onto the scene really made no difference. Though she seemed to like Walt (surprisingly: she plotted the assassination of every other dog on the planet), she became no less toy-obsessed, no less inclined to yak at the humans, and no less focused on the human as the center of all existence. And sometimes getting a second dog, especially if both are the same gender, can create all sorts of problems, from overdependency to fighting.

What bringing in Walt did at my house was double the dog-care workload and double the extraordinary cost of pet ownership. The vet bills for those two animals were breathtaking, and the cost of food was enough to put you in the poorhouse.

Cassie, because she’s so small, costs a great deal less to maintain and is nowhere near as much work. Her health has been excellent, and so she hasn’t run up any new bills since she shook off the kennel cough she picked up at the dog pound. But that is sooo atypical!

One recent study by the American Pet Foods Manufacturers Association showed that owning a dog costs an average $1,571 a year, or $15,710 for ten years. It’s easy to run that up, given the the abundance of toys, doggy beds, dog gates, dog crates, dog shampoos, dog toothbrushes, dog collars, dog blankets, dog harnesses, dog jackets, dog booties, and mugs emblazoned with a picture of your dog’s breed. If, as a 2009 survey showed, 62% of Americans own a pet, the profitability of the pet industry is HUGE. That’s 71.4 million households!

In 2009 we spent $45.5 billion on house pets. That figure is expected to go up to $47.7 billion in 2010. We spend as much on our animals as the GDP of Luxembourg and Bulgaria; more than twice the GDP of Bolivia.

Think of that. People are going hungry while we spend the equivalent of an entire country’s production on pet food and doodads.

Plenty of Americans, however, find that they can’t afford the upkeep of a dog or cat, or that they can’t handle the behavior and the mess. The Pet Guardian Angels of America, a pet rescue trade group, has a listing of U.S. animal rescue groups by state. Click on your state and cruise the “adoptable pets” at each group’s site. The sheer number of lost and rejected animals will drop your jaw.

Most distressing is the number of dogs above the age of seven that have been handed to rescue groups, dumped in dog pounds, or dropped onto the streets. This is about the time a dog starts to run up big vet bills: an elderly dog is an expensive dog.

Well, the Rescue Lady put me on to a beginning class in agility training. Cassie is an athletic little dog, and this activity not only would keep me amused, it would run off some of her energy and resocialize her with other dogs and people. So I’m thinking I may enroll us.

That might be a smarter move than getting another dog!

DIY Veterinary: The dog-proof hot-spot bandage

Come the warm weather, dog-shedding season is upon us. Whenever Cassie blows her coat, she starts licking her favorite hot-spot site on her foreleg. After various veterinary consultations for various licking dogs, I’ve learned that the best way to deal with this problem is to cover the irritated spot until whatever it is that compels the dog to lick—whether it’s habit, instinct, or itch—passes.

If you’ve ever tried to bandage a dog, you know it’s easier said than done. No creature on this earth can unwrap a wound dressing faster than a dog can. This is a challenge that requires great persistence and ingenuity on the part of the human.

Recently I made a little discovery: the stretchy stick-to-itself bandaging, sold at Walgreen’s as Tender Tape and available online in various permutations, will hold a Bandaid or a piece of gauze in place without sticking to the dog’s hair. You’ll still  need to secure it with a little sticky tape, but with this strategy, you can minimize the amount of hard-to-remove, hair-pulling gummed tape needed to keep the dog from pulling off the bandage.

The scheme proceeds along these lines…


You need:

• a roll of gauze (a gauze patch or even a Bandaid can be substituted)
• a roll of stretchy tape
• a roll of waterproof bandage tape
• a gentle cleanser to clean the hot spot
• optional: antibiotic ointment or cortisone cream

To start out, here are a few important caveats:

1. Until  you know for sure that the dog can’t get this off, do not apply topical cortisone or antibiotics. Your dog should not be eating that stuff! Try the bandaging scheme first; when you confirm that the pooch can’t remove it for a day or more, then you can try a little medical goop.

2. Be very careful not to get the bandage on too tight! Apply the stretch bandage gently so that it lays on the dog’s leg about like a smooth-fitting cotton sock. Do not pull it tight! If it’s too tight, this stuff can cut off circulation, and since the animal can’t tell you how it feels, you must take care not to wrap the limb tightly.

3. Remove and replace the bandage every 24 to 36 hours.

4. Remove it immediately and replace if it gets wet.

Okay. First step is to wrestle the dog into position, on the ground or, if the critter is small enough, on a bed or table. If you have the dog up on a piece of furniture, you should have someone help to hold the animal so it does not fall off.

Saturate a cotton ball with a wound cleanser and gently wipe the inflamed area. I’ve been using Band-Aid Hurt-Free Antiseptic Wash. I’ve also tried hot spot itch relief spray but found it less than satisfactory: it doesn’t seem to ease the dog’s discomfort, and when you’re squirting it on a foreleg, it’s way too easy to accidentally get it in the dog’s face. That’s highly undesirable.

Remember: it’s not clear that hot spots actually itch. No one knows why dogs lick themselves raw—it may be a nervous tic or just a bad habit. For that reason, the fewer meds applied, the better.

Now that you’ve given the spot a token cleansing, apply some topical antibiotic or cortisone if you’re sure the dog can’t get the bandage off for a number of hours. Then cover this with a length of gauze bandage, gently and neatly wrapped around the dog’s leg. Hold onto the dog so it can’t squirm away while you grab the stretch bandage.

Wrap a length of stretch bandage neatly over the gauze, so that no gauze is sticking out. A two-inch wide bandage works easiest for this purpose, unless your dog is tiny. Remember not to wrap stretch bandaging too tight!

Take a small strip of waterproof tape and secure the seam closed. Now take another strip of waterproof tape and wrap it around your bandage along the top edge, so that a narrow strip of it attaches to the dog’s fur. This does not have to be very wide—for most dogs a fairly modest band will hold the bandage down. Depending on your dog’s determination, you may or may not have to run another strip around the bottom edge. For a really dogged dog, you may have to apply a sturdier glue-on strip by circling the leg several times with the waterproof tape.

Once I had a German shepherd who enjoyed licking holes in the pads of her feet. She was very skilled at removing barriers to this activity. In her case, I would build a little bootie out of waterproof first-aid tape over a gauze layer, wrapping and wrapping and WRAPPING until she couldn’t get through it and she couldn’t pull it off her foot. This worked pretty well—but sometimes it takes some real persistence to win out over a stubborn pooch.

Cassie gives up easily, thank goodness. So she doesn’t need to have some sort of iron maiden applied to her leg. I’ve found that if you can keep a hot spot covered for a week or so, it usually will heal up enough that the dog will quit licking it. For a while.

While you’re waiting for recovery, give the dog some salmon. It’s full of omega-3 fatty acids, said to ease hot spots.

Dog Adoption: A near miss

So M’hijito and his buddy drove to the wealthy northside suburbs halfway to Alaska, there to view the golden retriever said Buddy had heard about. They were pretty excited about the possibility of M’hijito finding the Dawg of His Dreams. He has wanted a dog for a long time but was waiting until the muddy back yard was desert-landscaped and his life was in order so he could care properly for a pet.

What they found was a harassed and weepy woman with a pair of four-year-old twins, a fourteen-year-old daughter, a McMansion way too big for one freshly impoverished divorcée to keep up when she’s not practicing medicine, and two large out-of-control dogs, one the alleged golden and the other something that looked like an American bulldog.

At the outset, M’hijito suspected the “golden” was a mix, probably containing some pit bull. The woman said she had the dog’s papers in a file but couldn’t find them (aren’t you glad she’s not your doctor!). Asked if she had vaccination records, she repeated the story and then said the reason she didn’t have a county rabies tag for the dog was that the dog ate its collar.

Ah. A new variant on “the dog ate my homework.” Good, very good.

Both dogs had been kept outdoors. Period. Neither was house-trained or even allowed inside the house. Neither was obedience-trained. The bulldog, M’hijito said, was completely berserk and hopelessly out of control. The retriever would not come to call, did not heel, and, though friendly and affable, clearly was not socialized to live with humans.

You understand what “never allowed to come inside” means… This summer we had day after day after searing day of 116-degree-plus heat. I would go outside at 10 o’clock at night and find the thermometer on the back porch resting at 100 degrees. Temperatures rarely dropped below 90 at any hour of the day or night between early June and the end of August.

Leaving a domestic dog, particularly one bred to swim in icy lakes, outside in that kind of extreme heat comes under the heading of “abuse.” And then…

Yes. And then the woman admitted that the 14-year-old whose pet this dog was supposed to be sat around the house all summer while her parents put in 12- to 14-hour workdays. The mother would come home in the evening to find the dogs outside with no water, because the kid couldn’t get off her duff long enough to turn on the hose and fill up a dog dish.

Considering that this child was 12 at the time Daddy brought the retriever home for her, I believe we’ve arrived at “criminal neglect.”

M’hijito is convinced that the dog is no purebred golden retriever. He thinks she has some pit bull in her. From the picture, it’s hard to tell. I’d say she’s a golden, but maybe an individual that a breeder would label “pet” quality. She may be the product of a puppy mill.

Something’s not quite right, that’s for sure…  She looks too thin for a two-year-old dog—at 18 months, a golden starts to fill out. Her coat’s not great, though some goldens are less furry than others. And that slight crustiness around the eyes doesn’t bode well. Likely she’s showing the stress from two years of neglect that rises to the level of abuse. There’s also the possibility that, having been left outdoors in our dust storms, she’s picked up valley fever. Compare this dog with the ones on the rescue site, and she looks like one of the “before” photos.

At any rate, M’hijito decided to decline the opportunity, and so Buddy took the dog home. Mrs. Buddy was none too thrilled, she being heavily gravid with her own twins and already responsible for two other large dogs. So the dog ended up at M’hijito’s house overnight, while Mr. Buddy worked on Mrs. Buddy. By the following morning she had caved, and so they came by his house to retrieve the retriever.


Adopting a Dog from a Private Party: 20 questions to ask

M’hijito called the other evening to report that a friend of a friend wants to find a new home for a two-year-old golden retriever. M’hijito himself has craved to get a dog for a long time, and in particular he pines for a golden, the breed of his beloved childhood companion.

The story is that the pup’s family consists of a pair of divorcing doctors. The dog belongs to their fifteen-year-old daughter. Mom and Dad, in their unholy wisdom, have decided that in addition to depriving their child of a stable pair of parents (chances are she hasn’t had one of those in a long time), they’re also going to deprive her of her pet, neither parent wishing to take care of it in singlehood. To be fair, there’s a second pet dog, possibly one that’s more manageable in an apartment (read “doesn’t eat the furniture”). But there it is: the element of cruelty gives M’hijito pause. It has a whiff of coldness about it that makes one wonder what exactly is being offered and why.


Since my familiars have always been dogs (preferably large ones) rather than the tediously conventional black cats, he wanted to know what questions I would ask about this animal and  its background, by way of guessing what he was getting into. So, late at night while Cassie the Corgi took the broom for a spin beneath the new moon in the old moon’s arms, I came up with a few things a person might want to know. If you’re interested in adopting an adult dog, especially one that comes from a private home (as opposed to a shelter), you might consider a few of these, too:

1. Where did they get the dog? If it came from a breeder, what breeder? Where? Do they have the dog’s pedigree? Will they let you see it?

2. If you do examine the pedigree, look for forebears that were bred back to a prior generation (for example, the dam to an “uncle.”) This is difficult to figure out, because some degree of inbreeding is considered OK and all breeders do it. But too much? Bad sign.

3. Is the dog OFA-certified? If not, why not? Were both parents OFA-certified? Can the seller prove it? OFA-certified means the dog’s hips were X-rayed at around 18 months and found to be free of hip dysplasia, a painful and crippling inherited defect. Large dogs, in particular, should not be bred without OFA certification. OFA stands for “Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.”

4. Is the dog house-trained?

5. Is it accustomed to using a dog door?

6. Is it crate-trained? If so, do they have a crate they will give you or sell to you?

7. Does the dog like to ride in a car?

8. Has the dog been obedience trained? When, where, and by whom?

9. Will the seller let you take the dog for a walk on a leash, to see how well it heels?

A dog should walk on your left side without pulling on the lead or trying to drag you. Do not pull or drag on the lead yourself. Communicate with the dog with a quick, short jerk on the lead, not by trying to haul the dog in. The best word to tell the dog to walk beside you is “HUP!”

The dog should track beside you as you are walking forward and as you make a U-turn to your right. Do this, walk a ways, do another rightwise U-turn, walk a ways, and then with the dog at your side make a U-turn to your left, so the dog effectively has to pivot or nearly pivot to follow. Walk a ways. Stop. A fully trained obedience dog will sit when you come to a full stop.

If the dog does not sit, quietly tell it to sit. If it doesn’t know to do this, you’ll need to work with it. Gently guide the dog into the “sit” position by holding the lead firmly but gently vertical and pushing the hindquarters to ease the dog into “sit.”

Once you get here, put the lead down (assuming you’re in an enclosed space), tell the dog to “stay”—do not raise your voice but try to sound convincing—and accompany this command with a gesture that places your palm toward the dog’s face. The classic “stop” gesture usually will do it. Step away from the dog, repeating the gesture. Stop. Wait a second. Then call the dog to you.

If the dog will do all these things, then it is respectably trained. Some dogs will not do these things for strangers, especially if they sense any inexperience or unsureness.

10. Are its vaccinations up to date? Do they have a vaccination record that you can take to your vet?

11. Will they let you have the dog examined by your vet before making a final decision? Be prepared to tell a concerned owner your veterinarian’s name and telephone number.

12. Has the dog experienced any health problems? Does it have any known allergies? Ear infections? Digestive issues? Skin problems? How are its teeth?

13. What do they feed the dog? If it’s anything unusual (such as the BARF diet of raw meat and bones), ask them why.

14. How often is the dog used to eating, and how much?

15. How does the dog behave around other dogs? Around small dogs?

16. Is the dog nervous in storms or frightened of lightning and thunder?

17. Does the dog dig in the yard?

18. Does it try to break out of gates or dig under fences, or jump fences?

19. Does it bark, cry, or get into mischief when left alone for a few hours?

20. Observe the dog and see if it appears to be over- or underweight, if it limps, if it’s nervous or jumpy, etc. You might also consider asking if it still chews the furniture.

How is this a money story? How can we count the ways that it isn’t? A full-grown dog that is poorly trained, unsocialized, or psychologically damaged can and will destroy your home, all the furniture and carpets in it, and all the clothing it can get its teeth on. It will excavate your back yard, leaving you with an open-pit mine where your garden was. It will drive your neighbors to the police with complaints about barking and other nuisances. If its health is unsound, the veterinary bills will quickly outstrip the house, furniture, and landscaping repair bills. And if its breeding is faulty, its personality may curdle without warning, leading it to bite you, your children, and your neighbors’ kids.

All of these things are very, very expensive.

Update: Dog Adoption: A Near Miss

Other people’s pets

How much do you figure your neighbor’s dog (cat, parrot, boa constrictor, tame alligator) costs you? LOL! I have to say, I expect my own pets to be destructive and figure the repair bills to be part of the cost of doing business. But one thing we tend not to budget for is the depredations of other people’s critters.

While M’hijito’s roommate was in Singapore visiting his relatives and hustling for a job, he left his brand-new Infiniti parked in the driveway (Roommate is the scion of a ridiculously wealthy family).

Quick backstory: Some time back, Roommate became enamored of a cat belonging to the old guy who lives in the house behind M’hijito’s place. He took to feeding and watering the beast, much to M’hijito’s disgust (it uses the vegetable garden as its litterbox), and he has thought of it as “his” cat. In his absence, the cat has taken up residence on top of the Infiniti, where it sleeps at night, out of reach of hunting coyotes and stray pit bulls.

So the other day as M’hijito was headed out to work, he noticed a couple of brown mounds on top of the Infiniti. On closer inspection…oops! Cat mounds!

The cat had deposited two large piles of cat poop on the brand-new silver Infiniti’s roof. Unknown how long they’d been there, but in 115-degree heat, it doesn’t take long for such a substance to bake to perfection. With Roommate due to surface yesterday, M’hijito drove the car to a commercial car wash. This removed the mound, but…well, the paint beneath it was etched and permanently stained.

So, that brand-new car is going to need a paint job. Hope Roommate’s insurance will cover it. Meow!

As I write this, Inez and Carlos the Knife‘s demented dog is running loose in their front yard, once again threatening to eviscerate all comers. I see their new next-door neighbors, the present and blessed occupants of the former Dave’s Used Car Lot, Marina, and Weed Arboretum, managed to dodge inside the house before the dog could catch them between their car and their front door.

Carlos, who is coming onto 90, has a little senility problem. Whenever Inez, who still has all her marbles, turns her back, Carlos sneaks over to the front door and lets the dog out. Once free, it lurks around their front yard but refuses to be caught—reasonably so, since Carlos is given to whacking it with his belt. From the front yard, it chases young children, bicyclists, and postal carriers up and down the street. Fortunately, the mail came before this afternoon’s fugue.

This antic, too, has its expenses. In addition to the potential for medical bills and lawsuits, the last time the hound got out, the post office declared our entire block terra incognita. They refused to deliver the mail to anyone until the dog was locked up or hauled off to the pound (whence it came). And they challenged us all to call the county animal control officers. It took about a week to get our mail delivery restarted, by which time my AMEX bill was running late. I had to pay American Express for the privilege of paying my bill electronically, something that made me stabby, very stabby.

But maybe I have no sense of humor.

One of my students suffered permanent injuries when an idiot’s dog, allowed to run free by the idiot, attacked her as she was jogging down the street in front of her house. She managed to fight it off with several hard, well-aimed kicks (she was a tall, athletic young woman), but it ripped a tendon in her leg and damaged a nerve, which never healed properly.  And neighbor Al carries a shillelagh around with him when he walks his little dog, after the moron 125-pound lady who owns three pit bulls and a retrieveroid had one of her “pets” dig out from under her fence and attack him and his little pooch. She paid the vet bill occasioned by sewing the small dog’s throat back together. Generous of her, eh? Same cur gives Cassie the evil eye every time we encounter the woman and her Iditarod team dragging her down the road.

Sometimes I wonder what possesses people who think their animals are their kiddies, and who imagine the rest of us don’t mind dodging their free-roaming dogs and having their cats defecate and urinate all over our homes (and cars!).

How much has your neighbor’s pet cost you? Can you beat a new automotive paint job?

Annoyed cat, Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez, Wikipedia Commons
Trained attack dog in action, US Air Force, public domain,
Wikipedia Commons

The DIY Dog Food Chef: Should you feed bones to your dog?

As regular readers know, I feed Cassie the Corgi real food: a carefully calibrated combination of starch, vegetables, and cooked meat plus canine vitamins. Easy to fix and unlikely to be contaminated with adulterants such as melamine.

It being summer, we’re both developing cabin fever: when it’s 105-degrees plus, the pavement is too hot for her feet after dawn and before sunset. In her doggy boredom, she’s been working on creating a fine lick granuloma on one leg. Because she doesn’t pull off bandaids (what kind of a dog is she, anyway?), it’s pretty easy to block her from chewing the incipient wound she’s already built, but all that means is she finds another spot to lick.

No one really knows what leads a dog to lick itself raw, but some veterinarians speculate that one cause is boredom. So I decided she needs something to keep her busy with chewing: let her chew an object instead of her foot.

I never feed my dogs bones, mostly because they’re messy indoors and attract ants and other insects outdoors. Smaller bones, as we all know, are very dangerous to domestic dogs: the risk for intestinal impaction and perforation is high. Some people, however, think you can get away with large knuckle bones, those round heavy things that are pretty hard for a dog to break apart. And many folks figure a dog, being a direct descendant of the wolf and genetically barely discernible from the wolf, should have at any raw bones you care to give it.

A dog, however, is not a wolf. Over tens of thousands of years, Canis lupus familiaris has adapted to live with humans, and it’s a rare domestic pooch that brings down dinner on the range. I did a little research and found this interesting e-mail discussion between a small-animal veterinarian and biologists and caretakers who  manage captive wolves. The wolf experts point out that wild canids eat more than just a bone: when they ingest bones, they’re also eating skin and fur. The fur, in particular, tends to wrap itself around hard objects in the digestive tract, padding sharp bones and protecting the intestine.

Huh. Well, I don’t think I’ll be inviting Bugs Bunny to Cassie’s tea-time while she’s chewing some cow’s knuckles. So…hold the raw bones, waiter.

So what can I do to amuse this animal?

One reasonably safe strategy is to take a Kong-style toy and fill it with peanut butter or dog treats, so that the pooch has to fiddle with it for quite some time to extract the yummy stuff. Peanut butter, while probably harmless unless the dog is allergic to it, is fattening. You can substitute any number of fillers, including raw vegetables if your dog will eat them. Yogurt and cottage cheese can also be used. Ordinary dog treats work well. When using gooey or runny fillings, you can minimize leakage by freezing the filled Kong before giving it to the dog.

The other thing I’ll be trying is adding some omega-3 fatty acids to her food, lest she have a deficiency that’s giving her itchy skin. Easiest way to accomplish this is to include salmon in the diet. She likes salmon, but lately I’ve fallen into the habit of feeding hamburger most of the time. Dogs need a variety of protein sources. In addition to adding fish a couple times a week, I’ll dig some chicken out of the freezer for her, and also pick up some ground lamb the next time I see it on sale at Sprouts.

And finally, even though Cassie is pretty laid-back (she got over her apparent separation anxiety within a few weeks of taking over my house), to forestall any further neurotic behavior I’m going to have to get off  my duff at 5:30 in the morning and take her for a walk, instead of plopping in front of the computer and spending an hour or two blogging. She already polices the neighborhood every evening; in the mornings it will be safe for us to invade the park (we don’t go there after dark). So that should give her (and me) a little more exercise.

So, as to the answer to the question of whether you should feed bones to your dog: in a word, nope.

Dog food at Funny:

Doggie treats
General recommendations
Costs & benefits
Doggie chicken soup