Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Danger of Water Intoxication
Swimming dogs are at risk of ingesting too much water

Last week a friend’s dog had a close call with water intoxication. Her crew was playing in a local river when one of her Border Collies emerged staggering and vomiting liquid.

Symptoms quickly worsened on the way to the vet, but after a few harrowing days, the dog was fortunate to make a full recovery.

Apparently the poor pup ingested too much water while repeatedly diving into the river, mouth open, trying to catch a ball. Drinking too much causes electrolyte levels to drop, thinning blood plasma and leading to swelling of the brain and other organs.

Before I learned about water intoxication, I thought that playing in the lake was safe if your dog was a strong swimmer. But now I know to be mindful of how my guys interact with the water and to force them to take ample breaks. Dogs can even drink too much water from playing with a lawn sprinkler.

Unfortunately water intoxication progresses quickly. Now that summer is officially here, it’s important to review the signs so you can get an affected dog to the vet as soon as possible.

Symptoms include lack of coordination, lethargy, nausea, bloating, vomiting, dilated pupils, glazed eyes, light gum color, and excessive salivation. Advanced symptoms include difficulty breathing, collapsing, loss of consciousness, and seizures.

As the weather gets warmer, stay safe. Water intoxication can affect both people and our pups.     

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
National Dog Bite Prevention Week
Organizations come together to teach safety around pets

A controversial home video of a baby taking away a toy from a Golden Retriever has been making the rounds on Facebook.  While the child had been raised from birth alongside the family pup, any dog can bite when they are caught off guard.

Nearly five million dog bites happen each year in the United States.  This month a diverse group of people and organizations are coming together for National Dog Bite Prevention Week, including ‘It’s Me or the Dog’ trainer Victoria Stillwell, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the United States Postal Service (USPS), pediatricians, plastic surgeons, and representatives of the insurance industry.

It’s interesting because they’re all on board for different reasons.

Victoria Stillwell is getting the word out that outdated dominance training methods, like rolling dogs onto their backs, can lead to fear and anxiety, which is a common cause of aggression.  

Pediatricians are in on the day because dog bites are highest among children between the ages of five and nine years old.   And these injuries aren’t coming from strange animals.  In victims younger than 18, the family dog inflicts 30 percent of the bites and a neighbor’s dog is responsible for another 50 percent.

Insurance companies are motivated to prevent canine altercations because they pay out millions of dollars each year on dog bite claims.  State Farm Insurance paid out more than $109 million dollars on nearly 4,000 claims last year.

I was surprised to see the USPS on the list, but apparently dogs attack 5,669 postal workers each year.  Unfortunately not everyone is responsible and keeps their pets contained inside the house or in a fenced yard.

So it’s important to take advantage of National Dog Bite Prevention Week to learn how to avoid injury, particularly for kids who are at the highest risk.

Check out the AVMA web site for dog bite prevention resources, including coloring sheets for children

News: Guest Posts
Protesting Animal Abuse
Convicted Chicago area animal abuser faces sentencing May 31
German shepherd Lab mix breed dog

While the national media is focused on anti-NATO demonstrators in Chicago, there's another kind of protest going on in one of its suburbs. Convicted animal abuser Phillip Rinn, of Aurora, IL, recently plead guilty to beating his one-year-old Lab/shepherd mix, Magda, with a broom and breaking five of her teeth. He had previously served jail time in 1993 for chaining his German shepherd to his car, dragging him, then detaching the horribly injured dog so he could run over him and kill him. For that heinous crime, he only received 30 days in jail and 200 hours community service. Nearly 20 years later, the man is still abusing his pets and faces relatively stiffer penalties - up to three years in jail. Animal lovers have gathered outside the courthouse at each of his hearings to encourage the judge to give him the maximum punishment possible at his sentencing on May 31. If you're in the Chicago area and would like to participate, please contact On Angel's Wings executive director Jeanette Schulz through the nonprofit rescue's adoption center at (815) 356-8170.       

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Love for Visiting Dogs
Good-byes are hard

Whether a dog who stays with you for just a short while is a foster, a stray or a friend’s dog, it’s easy to become attached to a temporary visitor. We are about to say good-bye to Schultzie, who is spending about 2.5 weeks with us while her family is in Italy, and I’m beginning to feel upset about her impending departure.

I know her family will be ecstatic to see her, and that Schultzie will be just as thrilled, and I’m happy for all of them. It’s just that I am sad to see her go. It has been such a pleasure to share a few weeks of our lives together. She is delightful company and easy to be with.

She is the sort of family dog that I wish were more common. She’s friendly and peppy, but is easily satisfied by a couple of 20-30 minute walks a day. She likes to work and is food-motivated, but not at all pushy for food. She hasn’t chewed on anything in our house that she’s not supposed to. On the one occasion that she took a tissue in her mouth, I simply walked toward her with the idea of trading it for a treat and she backed away at my approach and went over to one of her own toys. She doesn’t pull on the leash or bark to excess, and she sleeps in a bit in the morning—bonus! Although she’s not crazy about the car, she rides in it quite amiably.

Of course, all of these good qualities don’t really explain in full why we’re going to miss her so much. Beyond this list explaining her best traits, there’s that indefinable magic that happens when you grow to love a dog, and that’s what happened with Schultzie. I’ve grown very fond of many dogs who have spent time with us for a short time, but it will be especially hard to say good-bye to this one.

I’m grateful that she lives nearby and that we will still see her from time to time, and we’d definitely be open to dogsitting for her in the future.

As my 7-year son said last night, “When you dogsit a dog, it feels like the dog is yours.” Obviously we fall in love with our own dogs, but sometimes we feel that way about other dogs, too. I’d love to hear your stories of dogs who have just been passing through but took a little piece of your heart anyway.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Custody Battles
NY man spends $60,000 trying to get his Puggle back

We consider our dogs full members of the family, so it probably comes as no surprise that canine custody battles are becoming more common.  Lawyers are reporting as much as a 15 percent increase in these cases.  Figuring out who gets to keep the pets is stressful for both humans and canines and can get expensive quickly.

In New York, Craig Dershowitz is fighting to be reunited with his Puggle, Knux.  He had been sharing custody with his ex-girlfriend, regularly traveling ten hours round trip to drop off and pick up the pup, when his ex took off to California with the dog.  

Craig has already spent upwards of $60,000 in legal fees and is headed to court again.  He received two orders in the state of New York giving him custody, but he must argue his case in front of a California judge since his ex now resides in Los Angeles.

The battle to get Knux back has been financially difficult and Craig is appealing to fellow pet lovers to help his cause.  Many talented friends have donated artwork and other creative gifts in exchange for donations.

I can’t imagine if my pets were taken away from me, but I know I would do everything in my power to get them back.  Hopefully Craig and Knux will be reunited soon. 

News: Guest Posts
My Dog Is Heartworm Positive
If it happened to me, it can happen to you
heartworm test preventative dalmatian

My vet can't remember the last time she had a heartworm positive case. Until now. My 8-year-old Dalmatian, Jolie, tested positive for heartworms at her annual check up last week. We retested the blood in hopes that it was a false positive. But there was no need to send the sample back to the lab. Through a microscope, my vet could see microfilaria swimming in her blood sample.


I’m shocked and upset. My husband and I take excellent care of our dogs. How could this have happened? Apparently, despite living in the Chicago area, we needed to give her heartworm preventative through the winter, not just the warmer months. When we lived in New Orleans’ subtropical climate, it was a given that the dogs received heartworm preventative year round.


What seems particularly unfair is that Jolie has already been through a lot. We adopted her through a Dalmatian rescue when she was 10 months old. She had been abandoned by her family, left in a backyard without food, water or shelter. She was emaciated, infested with fleas, and hung her head, too sad to lift her eyes to meet ours. She didn’t know how to play. Our older Dalmatian, Darby, helped her come out of her shell.  We helped her get well.


Last August,  she underwent back surgery for a bulging disc. The surgery alone cost $4,000.  Post surgical rehab, chiropractic and supplements have added up to another $2,000.  Although that was a financial strain, it was much harder keeping her quiet and pain free during her months long recovery.  But we did it. We helped her get well.


To think that for less than $50, we could’ve given her a few more doses of Heartgard, and kept her free of heartworms and the risky, expensive  treatment required to kill them. On top of that, she has a grade 4 heart murmur, so we need to do a heart ultrasound to ensure she can tolerate the treatment. It all makes me sick to my stomach.  My poor girl has been through enough, and now this.


Despite the growing trend to keep toxins to a minimum in our dogs (and for good reason), please give your dog monthly heartworm preventative  year round.  The risk is not worth it.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Underwater Dogs
Photos that amaze and amuse

Dogs provide a pick-me-up, and they are able to do it in so many different ways. Yesterday, I found myself immensely cheery after watching this video of incredible dog photographs three times in a row.

We know that many dogs plunge into the water to chase toys with enthusiasm, but to see what they actually look like—lips pulled back, teeth showing, eyes wide open, hair all over the place—is extraordinary.

Photographer Seth Casteel creates images of dogs underwater (and above water, too!) that are charming in the extreme, and he has a book coming out later this year called Underwater Dogs. As a great lover of all things marine, two of my favorite images in this video are the one at 10 seconds, in which the dogs’ legs look like sea cucumbers, and the one at 37 seconds, which I adore because the dog displays the essence of its close relative, the sea lion.

I can’t imagine anyone not being charmed by the photo of the dog with what looks like a crooked smile (2:36) and the one in which a dog is licking another dog who looks thoroughly disgusted by the action (2:55). I can literally feel my heart connecting with these dogs.

Please let me know that you’ve watched this video and whether it made you as happy as it made me!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Social Network Finds Lost Dog
A new website connects neighbors online

Years ago, it took a runaway cat for me to befriend several of my neighbors who lived down the street. Eventually Izzy was found and I gained some new friends in the process. Unfortunately, it often takes an emergency to get communities to rally together.

As we become more and more dependent on technology, our isolation has only become worse. A recent study found that over 65 percent of adults are on a social networking site, yet 33 percent of Americans don’t know any of their neighbors by name.

Nextdoor.com aims to change all that by connecting neighbors in a secure online forum. This new social networking website lets users log on and start conversations on everything from finding a ladder to borrow to sending an alert about local road construction.  

Naturally, many users have started sharing pet related recommendations, like preferred veterinarians and dog walkers.

Nextdoor.com has also been credited with helping reunite a family in Washington with their lost puppy, Willie. When the small dog ran away last winter, the family posted an alert to their local Nextdoor.com site. Neighbors started reporting sightings and Willie was soon found.

It feels a little artificial to have an online neighborhood, but I can see how communities have to evolve the way they interact to keep up in this age of technology. However, as much as I rely on my smartphone and internet connection, I probably meet the most people in my neighborhood the good old fashioned way—while walking the dogs!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Custody
Who gets the dog when a couple splits?

Divorcing couples may fight over anything and everything—the house, retirement funds, electronic equipment, cars, music collections, kitchen appliances, baseball cards, furniture, season tickets to sporting events and, of course, custody of dependents. Custody battles used to be over human children only, but that’s not the case anymore. Dogs and other pets are now regularly the subject of many contentious fights among couples who are separating, and shared custody is even an option.

Though most people consider them family members, in legal terms, dogs are viewed as property. A few states now have laws that view dogs as more than mere property in cases in which domestic abuse has occurred.  For the most part, though, they are considered no different than cars and TVs—just part of what must be divided up between people going through a divorce.

Mediators and lawyers are often involved in sorting out canine custody. Though many understand the seriousness of the decision, not all of them seem to grasp the importance of the issue to the people involved.

Attorney Cathy Gorlin notes that, "People will cede $20,000 to a spouse, plus attorney fees, for a pet that could have been replaced for $500." Doesn’t that seem like she missed the point—that no matter how they are viewed by the law, a dog that is loved is priceless, and cannot be replaced? Hopefully understanding will continue to spread both in and out of the legal profession.

Have you had an experience with canine custody?

News: Guest Posts
The Primal Howl

The diagnosis came in June: old dog, new limp, X-ray, bad news. Bert had bone cancer, a lump growing in his left foreleg. We could amputate, the vet said, but that probably wouldn’t stop the spread. And did it make sense for a 12-year-old Bulldog anyway? Molly and I knew that pet owners can talk themselves into almost anything, and we didn’t want that for Bert. So we opted for pain meds and no heroic measures. We’d know when it was time to put him down, the vet assured us.
“It could be five days,” he said when we asked how long. “It could be a few weeks.”
This prognosis proved errant. The thing on Bert’s foreleg grew bigger, but still he played, wagged, ate with gusto. The new puppy we’d promised our four-year-old daughter, Larkin, arrived on the scene, injecting a large dose of puppy joy. The Old Man loved it. Summer passed, and he seemed to thrive — cancer or no cancer.
He’s the Lance Armstrong of dogs, we joked.
In truth, his disease was getting bad. But, like most changes in life, the badness deepened incrementally and its progress was hard to see. Bert got up a little less, limped a little more. At some point during the fall, he became incontinent at night, so we covered the mudroom floor with newspapers and moved his bed to the doorway. That became the new normal. At least he wasn’t pooping in his bed, Molly and I told ourselves. The mudroom, that’s sorta, kinda like doing it outside, right?
Basic fact of human nature: for better or worse, we adjust.
A few days before Thanksgiving, however, something happened. From then on, the bad leg was useless, flapping and splaying at weird angles. Gamely, Bert persisted, hobbling like John Cleese in the Ministry of Funny Walks. We carried him outside now. Sixty-three pounds of Bulldog, six times a day — that was hard. But the strain wasn’t really on our backs; hauling him around like a sack of potatoes violated the dignity we accord creatures in our care, these companionate animals. One day, I left Bert outside to pee and came out minutes later to find him lying in the garden, sunk down in the dead leaves like a garden ornament, looking up at me.
It was time.
We had hoped that when it came, Bert would be semi-comatose — “ready,” as the vet had said, not looking up with alert brown eyes. But we can’t fine-tune the exit from life, not even for our pets.
There remained the question of how to tell Larkin. What do you say to a four-year- old about the imponderable mystery of life and death? Of course, calling something “imponderable” is mostly a way of saying “I don’t want to.” The truth is that death is eminently ponderable (and if you think your four-yearold isn’t already pondering it, you’re kidding yourself.) At my computer, I googled, “How do I tell my four-yearold we’re putting our dog down?” Click, an instant panoply of reassurances. The angels want him. He’s chewing a bone in Doggie Heaven. He’ll be with Grandma/ Grandpa/our cat Tuffy. There was the Rainbow Bridge poem (“Inspired by a Norse Legend”), its couplets describing an eternal romp in pet paradise. On this golden land, they wait and they play/Till the Rainbow Bridge they cross over one day.
Such sentimentality in the face of a child’s capacity for honesty struck me as craven, even as I wondered whether my aversion to well-intended bromides was really a form of arrogance that would leave me empty-handed in the crunch, and our daughter unconsoled. Well, you build with the tools you have. No rainbow bridges from me, or from Molly either. Instead, we brought Larkin home from preschool on the appointed day, sat down with her in the kitchen and spoke to her as calmly as we could. Did she remember back in June, we asked her, when we’d found out Bert had cancer and we thought he was going to die soon?
She looked up warily.
“Well,” I continued, “we got really lucky. Bert hung on so much longer than we expected. We thought it might be five days, and it’s been five months. But now — ”
Her face reddened, and she interrupted. “I don’t want Bert to die.”
“It’s his time, honey. He can’t walk. A dog needs to walk.”
“No! I don’t want him to die!”
Molly put her arm around Larkin.
“Honey, he’s had a really wonderful life with us, and we really, really love him. But his body hurts him. He’s in pain, and it’s time for him to die. So let’s spend an hour with him, and then I’m going to take him to the vet.”
We all got down on the floor with Bert. “It’s okay to be sad,” Molly said. “We’re all going to miss him a lot.”
For parents, there’s something dreadful about the prospect of your child and her dying dog. Desperately, you want to avoid Total Family Meltdown — a chain reaction, your child’s grief amplifying your own until the three of you become a throbbing, shaking tag-team of sorrow (though, as your therapist would ask, what do you think would happen if this did occur?). I had a fallback for this scenario, a diversionary crutch. Recently, I’d taken Larkin to a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. She’d fallen hard for the play, and I’d put the film version in our Netflix queue; fortunately, it had arrived hours earlier. Did she want me to put it on? I asked.
“Yes! I want to watch Joseph!”
And so the three of us sat in the family room, petting Bert and taking refuge in a silly Andrew Lloyd Webber musical based on a Biblical tale of fealty, betrayal and dreams, and starring, it turned out, a grown-up Donny Osmond, toothy child star of my youth. We sang along, Larkin shouting her favorite line, “And when Joseph made the scene, the brothers turned a SHADE OF GREEN!” Outside, a storm had begun to blow, gusts of wind and sheets of rain. It was December 1, and a two-day warm spell was fighting a rearguard battle against the first blast of winter. In the kitchen, an exhaustfan vent banged in the wind, lending a strange syncopation to the music.
When it was time to go, Molly looked at me, tapping her watch, and I paused the video. “We have to take Bert in now,” Molly said to Larkin. “Let’s all give him a hug.”
Larkin knelt and hugged Bert, crying, and I pushed my own grief down and jammed a lid on it. After a minute, Larkin returned to the movie; I picked up Bert and carried him outside.
The storm was whipping as I lugged him down the steps, cold rain splattering my face. I wondered why the gods so often seem to grace life’s dramas with the showy objective correlative of weather: in our case, on the exalted mid-January day our daughter was born, it had been freakishly sunny and 60 degrees; and now this Shakespearean tempest, elemental and unruly, as though betokening a loss so strong it rattled nature itself.
Molly went to the car and opened the hatchback, where she spread out a blanket. I stood on the patio, holding Bert. “It’s okay, buddy,” I said. “It’s okay.”
He’d been stone-deaf for years, but we’d never kicked the habit of talking to him. Doing so now popped that lid I’d shut inside myself, and out it all came. You’re our guy, I sobbed, you’re the best. I didn’t know how to say what I needed to. That morning, I’d fried a steak and fed it to Bert, sitting with him on the kitchen floor as he took one greedy, disbelieving gobble after the next. It was a condemned dog’s last meal. Now, holding him in the pelting rain, I truly did sense his life, or rather, his life in our lives, flashing before me. Bought 12 years earlier on a calculated whim, chosen for jollity at a time when Molly and I— not yet married and uncertain we ever would be — badly needed some, Bert had been the harbinger of a hope we had for our future, which had since come to pass. What a chunk of time and experience he had witnessed! The lifespan of pets is, in many ways, a neat miniaturization of our own, letting us reckon the 10 or 12 dog lives we ourselves are granted: another one down, so that in grieving my dog I grieve, inevitably, my wife, my daughter, myself.
Crossing the patio, wailing the whole way, I placed Bert in the back of the car, the cramped space where for years he had passengered along, uncomplaining, on our family trips. Many had been to a lake in Maine, where he blundered his way into the water — surely nature’s least gifted swimmer, yet frantically eager to try, summoning the hilarity under pressure that had been his contribution, again and again, to our lives.
I shut the door, and Molly drove off.
Back inside, Larkin sat entranced before the television screen. I put her on my lap, grateful that the division of tasks between Molly and me — of talents, really — would spare me the final session with our hippie vet, Gus, and the last sight of Bert, dead on the steel table. My far less taxing job was to stay with our daughter and help steer her through the moment.
I thought about what a four-year-old does and doesn’t understand. Larkin’s birth had been bookended by two hard deaths — Molly’s brother, six months before Larkin was born, and my mother, six months after. We told Larkin about these events, and she learned early on to say things like, “Uncle Wes died, Mom, and you were sad,” or “Don’t worry, Dad, you’ll see your mom again. You’ll see her in your heart.”
Such utterances are mostly lexical; a toddler says them, says the words, without necessarily grasping their implications. But they create a vessel, a concept begun in the act of saying, which gradually fills with comprehension. As we watched the rest of Joseph, I studied Larkin. When a song would end, I thought I could see an awareness of something badly amiss creep back onto her face, only to be erased by the next song. Thank God for music. Finally, though, the movie was over. Larkin turned to me. She frowned, and her face reddened again and crumpled in on itself.
“I want Bert!” she said.
“I know, honey. I know.”
“I want Bert! I want Bert! I want Bert!” Over and over she wailed it, a dozen times at least. I want Bert!
And there it was. The most primal declaration, more so even than “I love.” It was what I’d struggled and failed to say before, out on the patio. I want, I want, I want. The words come from the deepest place in us, where emotion is appetite, and “missing” someone cries out a painful incompleteness: something lacking, something ripped out or torn away; a ghost limb; a desperate craving. Put it back. Make me whole. I want.
I hugged Larkin. Later, Molly and I would make it through night number one of Life After Bert — cooking up a storm in the kitchen, listening to old pop tunes, drinking plenty of wine and paging through our Bert photo album. But for now, my mission was to hold on tight to my sobbing daughter, accompanying her as she discovered the wildness of grief. Let the old dog go, I thought. Let the inner animal howl.