Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Maybe Now Happy Can Truly Be Happy

An article in today's Washington Post's metro section details the move of Happy the Hippo from the National Zoo in D.C. to the Milwaukee County Zoo in Minnesota. The National Zoo is making room for an expanded elephant exhibit. Lucky for Happy. Happy, who was born in 1981, has lived his entire life alone. In the wild hippos, who live an average of 40 years, live in social groups of 10 to 30 animals or more. In Milwaukee Happy will be introduced to and live with two other hippos. Three is a definite improvement over one, but still along way from 30.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

If Only They Could Talk

If our companion animal friends spoke the same language we speak, they might ask why we are always patting them on the head, telling them to shake, and screaming "NO". They might also ask us to spend more time with them and give them more treats. If our companion animal friends spoke the same language that we speak they could tell us important things like when the TV is turned up so loud it hurts their ears or when their stomach hurts or when something is stuck in their paw.

Actually, our animal friends DO communicate with us -- especially when something is wrong. If the TV is too loud a dog might howl, a cat might run into another room; if their stomach hurts cats and dogs usually won't eat; and if something is stuck in their paw oftentimes they limp, hold their paw off the ground or lick the sore spot. It's important for us to watch our animals so when something is wrong we notice. If your cat skips dinner one day it may be that he is not hungry, but if he skips dinner a second day he may be telling you something hurts and should be examined by the veterinarian . If your dog won't put his foot down something may be stuck in his pad, he may pulled a muscle in his leg or he may have hurt his toe. But he can't tell you which of those things is wrong, so it's best to have your veterinarian look at your dog as soon as possible.

This is Briscoe. Doesn't he look happy? You can even see his tail wagging in this picture. Briscoewas not feeling so happy this morning. He was limping; he wouldn't put any weight on his leg. His guardian noticed that Briscoe was walking on three legs instead of four. When she brought him to the Washington Animal Rescue League's Medical Center this morning, the veterinarian discovered a long, sharp splinter stuck in Briscoe's pad. The veterinarian removed the splinter, and within minutes Briscoe was back to walking on all four feet.

Our animals many not speak our language, but they are great communicators. It's important that we, as their care-givers, pay attention to what they are saying.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Max won his elementary school's presidential election last year
with this picture of him and Gladys

Gladys came to live with me in 1992. She was a young adult black cat with a scarred eye who was only going to stay until a permanent home could be found. She moved in and immediately told the five other cats that she was in charge, she let Ruth -- my old dog-- know the same. Gladys found her forever home -- mine. She lived in three different houses with me, and welcomed two kids into the family by sleeping with each one. She out lived Ruth and the other cats, and tolerated the cats who came to live with us after her. She totally ignored Nigel four years ago when we brought him home.

A couple of years ago arthritis set in, and Gladys couldn't jump on the counter any longer to get to her food bowl. It didn't matter -- she was still able to eat when she wanted. She yowled to be lifted up, which someone always did, and then she climbed down a scratching post positioned nearby. If she absolutely had to, she could climb up the scratching post to get to the counter, but she preferred the faster human lift-me-up NOW method. She liked to sleep on Max's bed, so he left his saxophone case next to the bed, Gladys used it as a step stool.
This past year Gladys' kidneys began to fail -- she was put on a special diet, which she hated, and she started drinking a lot more water. She stopped bathing herself and her hair matted. She lost a lot of weight and almost all muscle tone. Sometimes when we petted her, her skin jumped like she was uncomfortable. Last week I made the decision that Gladys' quality of life had deteriorated to the point where there was more bad than good. I decided that after more than 17 years of being a part of my family, it was time to let go.
Gladys was humanely euthanized yesterday morning. We woke up early, fed Gladys kitten food, and took her outside. Gladys was an indoor-only cat who spent many of her younger years trying to run out the front door. We walked with her in the backyard, she sniffed several blades of grass, contemplated sneaking under the shed, and then Gladys did something quite unusual for her -- she turned and asked to be let in the house. It was time.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tragic Story with a Happy Ending

I often save newspaper articles so I can read them later. That's what happened in July, while on vacation; I got a copy of USA Today, and noticed the headline Blinded by Nazis, guided by dog by Sharon Peters. I tore the page from the rest of the paper and stuck it in my suitcase. I am really glad that I did; it is an inspiring story about survival, courage, friendship and unconditional love.

Max Edelman, now 86, was only 17-years-old when he was sent to a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. Max survived five years of torture, including horrible beatings, starvation and watching others die including a man who was killed when the commandant ordered a large German Shepherd dog to attack. From that day forward Max was deathly afraid of dogs. Who could blame him?

Conquering fear is never easy. But, when he was nearly 70-years-old, Max was determined to overcome his fear of dogs because he wanted a dog's help. Max is blind, and has been so for decades since he was viciously beaten by guards in the camp. Max knew that a seeing eye dog could help him become far more independent. So, he summoned up all of his courage and contacted Guiding Eyes (
http://www.guiding-eyes.org/), a seeing-eye dog training and placement organization.

He did it! Or, so he thought. Max completed a 26-day Guiding Eyes training, but that wasn't enough to allow him to bond -- really bond -- with Calvin, Max's assigned dog. Calvin, a very smart and social chocolate Labrador retriever, who successfully completed two years of intense training knew that something was not right between him and Max. They were not a team. No matter how hard he worked, Calvin had not won Max's trust. Calvin began to lose weight. The veterinarian could find nothing physically wrong with him. Calvin was depressed.

Then everything changed -- tragedy nearly struck. The two were waiting at a crosswalk when Max heard the traffic stop. He gave Calvin the "forward" command. According to the article, "A driver made a sudden, sharp right turn and was upon the two without warning. Watchful Calvin stopped instantly, and the two returned to the sidewalk. 'He had saves both of us from serious injury,' [Max] hugged Calvin, and the barrier dissolved." Best friends, Calvin and Max, were together for nine years.

Earlier this summer Max was paired with Tobin, his third dog. To see a picture of Max and Tobin check out the USA Today article at
http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2009-07-28-guide-dog-holocaust_N.htm. Max and Tobin are still getting to know each other. But one thing is for certain, as far as Tobin is concerned, Max is not afraid of dogs!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Dr. Dog to the Rescue!

You've heard about dogs rushing into burning buildings to save people trapped inside or barking incessantly to alert their sleeping companions that a fire is near, but have you ever heard of a dog performing a heroic rescue by detecting cancer? In the August 24th issue of People magazine three different dogs found their human companions' cancer before any of the people or their doctors. Two of the dogs sniffed the area nonstop while the third indicated his diagnosis through licking the area repeatedly. All three people were treated and are alive today because of their dogs!

Michael McCulloch, the director of research conducted in San Anselmo California's Pine Street Foundation, has enlisted the help of several dogs to use their powerful sense of smell to detect cancer. The dogs, all pets volunteered by their guardians are "detecting a metabolic waste from the tumor cells, which is chemically different from the normal cells," says McCulloch.

Animals do amazing things that help people. Sometimes, they do some not so amazing things but are helpful all the same. Send me your examples of animals who have assisted people.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Well, kind of.

The Washington Animal Rescue League's re-designed, greatly improved cat room provides cats waiting for their forever homes with multi-level perches and a winding cat walk close to the ceiling. Sure, the cats would much rather be snoozing on beds and cuddling on couches during tv time, but until they are adopted, the cats at the League are having fun in the new play area. Stop by and visit.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Oh, Deer!

Bow Hunt for Deer Debated in Leesburg screamed the headline on the Metro section of today's Washington Post. The article described how the deer population is "exploding" and that "the vast majority of Beacon Hill homeowners [neighborhood in question] support bow hunting of deer." A couple of years ago we rarely saw a deer; today they wander our neighborhood on a regular basis. Deer ate my neighbor's tomato plants. Three deer were hanging out in another neighbor's front yard, my son, Max, and I marveled at them from our window. If there's a deer standing on the side of the road, I slow down and watch it until it has moved on. There are a lot more deer these days, and it seems like folks throughout the DC Metro region want them gone.

Two hours after reading that the people in a Leesburg neighborhood have "have long complained of deer trampling manicured lawns, eating flowers and ruining community landscaping," I heard a radio report regarding the best way to control the deer population in Rock Creek Park. The spokesperson mentioned four possible means of control including doing nothing, fencing particular plants, adopting birth control measures and killing by sharp-shooting and/or trapping and humanely euthanizing them.

As a means of deer population control In Defense of Animals (IDA) suggests--
  • Remove vegetation from roadsides to reduce the attractiveness of roadside areas to deer.
  • Prevent deer from eating yard plants and trees by installing fencing.
  • Protect individual trees with mesh and netting.
  • Contact a nursery to find out what types of netting are effective.P
  • Plant native plants tolerant of deer browsing.
  • Plant plants that repel deer through smell and taste.
  • Use flashing lights or loud noises to startle deer away.

These seem like good ideas to me. Killing the deer, especially in a cruel, barbaric manner like bow-hunting, is not a long-term solution, in fact, it's not even a temporary solution. IDA points out that:

allowing hunters to kill more does, however, does not resolve population problems. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the open hunting of does left fawns without mothers, and removed too many females from the breeding population. Sport hunting decimated deer populations in many states. As a result, states passed laws restricting the hunting of does. These policies have contributed to the overpopulation of deer.

Hunting does remove some animals from the population, but it does not keep deer populations at a continually reduced level. Immediately after a hunt, the remaining animals flourish because less competition for food exists, allowing the remaining animals to live healthier lives, and resulting in a higher reproductive rate.

Fact is, there are a lot of people and a lot of deer. Somehow, the people must figure out how to live with the deer. We might lose a few plants in the process, but we will lose deer -- and much more -- if our way of dealing with the problem depends on bows, arrows and guns.