readers write
Culture: Readers Write
How I Found My Dog
Bear in the backyard

One June day in 2006, I opened the door to our back deck to take my marvelous mutt, Furio, for a walk. As soon as his paws hit the wooden slats, his hair raised and his body froze in fear. Then I saw what Furio was looking at: a big black bear underneath the deck. I rushed Furio into the house and came back outside to make sure my eyes weren’t fooling me. Sure enough, there was something very large and black hiding out under our house. Living in Asheville, N.C., it isn’t unusual to see a bear crossing through your yard, but I certainly didn’t want this one hiding under my deck. Just as I was opening the door to go back inside, I caught a glimpse of the big brown eyes looking up at me and realized I wasn’t dealing with a bear at all. Just a very large Rottweiler!

  After chasing him for two hours, my boyfriend and I managed to put him in a crate and called Animal Control. They informed me that a Rottweiler would be highly unadoptable and would probably be euthanized upon arrival. I didn’t have to think about what I would do with this big “bear,” I knew that he had found us for a reason and he would be spending the rest of his life with us. He had an embedded collar, he was severely emaciated (80 pounds) had roundworms and a staph infection. After a few visits to our vet, he was in great shape and weighed in at 120 pounds. We named him Rocco and he became a member of the family. Everywhere we went with Rocco, he touched people’s hearts by showing them how much love a big dog could give.   In February of 2009, we took Rocco to the vet to check up on a cough he had recently developed. We weren’t prepared for what the vet had to say, “Rocco has lymphoma.” The treatment would run close to $10,000. Without treatment, he would be lucky to live for four weeks. With treatment, the average time would be six months. We didn’t have the money but we began fundraising and were able to put Rocco through chemotherapy. He loved going to chemo, and even cried in the office if he wasn’t the first one to receive treatment. We took him hiking at least twice a week, and he continued to live his life as a normal dog.   In August, we realized our time with Rocco was running out. He came out of remission and stopped responding to chemo. We felt blessed for the six months we had been given to enjoy with him, but we weren’t prepared for losing him. On August 30, I was informed about a Rottweiler on death row in North Carolina, scheduled to be euthanized on September 2. Although we wanted to rescue him, we knew Rocco needed us throughout his final days. Later that evening, I kissed Rocco goodnight, told him how much I loved him, and went to bed, while he slept with Furio. I prayed that he wasn’t in pain and that he would pass quietly and quickly when the time came. When I awoke the next morning, I knew something was wrong. Before leaving the bedroom, I turned to my boyfriend and said, “Rocco is gone.” And he was. He had passed peacefully in the night, next to his best friend, Furio.   Although we were devastated over the loss of our sweet Rocco, we felt that by some miracle he had left us just in time to save another dog. On September 2, we drove to pick up the Rottweiler about whom we knew nothing. We didn’t feel prepared for another dog, but we knew he deserved a chance at life. When we arrived at the shelter, we were led to the back room and introduced to a beautiful, big Rottweiler. “His name is Bear.” I couldn’t help smile and look toward the sky, thanking Rocco. Our bear in the backyard couldn’t stay with us forever, but he made sure to lead us to the next one.
News: Guest Posts
A Change of Heart
Adopting a dog, Belize-style

We were afraid it was a heart attack. My husband Bruce felt pressure on his chest, stiffness in his neck and on his left side, and struggled to breathe. So we drove our beat-up SUV 3 hours over rough bush roads to the hospital in Belize City. It was this frightening incident, and waiting for the doctor’s results, that landed us at the new Belize Humane Society.

  Let me take a step back to the weeks before Bruce’s health scare. After 15 years living in remote areas of Belize, we’d recently acquired a television and were catching up on American culture, including Animal Planet. One of our favorite programs, “Breed All About It,” matched humans with dogs that fit their lifestyle—a totally new concept so far as we were concerned. I was impressed that people might select a dog based on predetermined requirements. After a few months of everything from Aussies to Yorkies, we pretty much decided it was time to have a dog in our lives again.   So we let our friend Karina know that maybe—well, it was still early but perhaps—we might like a dog, if it was exactly the right sort of dog. Karina had founded the fledgling Belize Humane Society after years of feeding and finding homes for the thin, feral animals roaming the mean streets of Belize City. Delighted with our interest, she called us from time to time.   “A nice big dog was just turned in, we might want to look at it? Puppies found under a porch, take a look? Beautiful litter of Husky/Shepherd pups?”   “No… no… and no thanks.” Our beautiful Suki had been part Husky and came to Belize with us when she was 10. She lived to be 15 but her long, heavy coat and northern preferences made her susceptible to hot spots and other skin irritations. I didn’t want to go there again. No long-haired dogs for us.   Thanks to the helpful people behind “Breed All About It,” we had narrowed down exactly what sort of dog was right for us, with requirements I didn’t think were too stringent given our circumstances. We’d decided on a medium to large dog, nothing small or yappy. I was adamant about short hair—no more treating hot spots on an overheated dog for me. A young adult dog would be fine, no need to go through puppyhood. A male or female, either way, we would be sure to have it neutered not wanting to add to the feral dog population in Belize via unplanned progeny. And, of course, we wanted our new dog to be healthy and well adjusted, friendly and outgoing. And a good barker since part of his or her duties would be to sound the alarm near our house. I didn’t think we were being overly picky either.   Finally, Karina called us about a female “Weimaraner type” dog, about a year old, short gray hair with a white patch on her chest. Very pretty, very nice. I was skeptical about the breed designation as the vast majority of dogs here in Belize are mixes eventually evolving into the tan “potlicka” found on every street corner and roaming every village.   Feeling vulnerable after hours with the doctor, we decided to “just have a look” at the Karina’s “Weimaraner.” Although it was sort of a whim—after all, we could more productively run some errands—my heart was in my throat because I was pretty certain that if we saw the dog, we would take her. It seemed a big step for a long-time dogless, peripatetic couple.   Bruce navigated the narrow winding streets of Belize City, deftly dodging pedestrians, bicyclists, garbage and feral dogs. Finally, he wedged our old 4WD into a narrow space next to a two-story cement building with an “Animals Hospital” sign. We entered a small lobby area, still, damp and quiet with burglar bars bolted over the windows, like any establishment in Belize City. Narrow wooden benches lined the walls for patients but the place was deserted. I introduced myself to the pleasant looking woman sitting behind the desk, the receptionist I guessed, and inquired about the female Weimaraner-type dog up for adoption.   She was puzzled. “This is the temporary location for the new Belize Humane Society, no true?” I mentioned Karina’s name. She thought a moment and allowed as it was. I dropped Weimaraner from my description, instead said we were here to see the gray female dog that was up for adoption. The woman’s face cleared.   “Dat dog foun’ who she b’long to.” Her delightful Caribbean lilt was typical of Belize.   “Oh, well that’s good then.” It sounded like a happy outcome to me. Bruce and I exchanged a glance. “Do you have anything else?” I inquired. I imagined being led to some enclosures to consider other dogs. Big, sleek, healthy ones of a type that seemed right for us. Animal Planet dogs. Her brow knit again. “You want an inside or outside dog?”   “Well inside, I guess.”   “Only wan we have is dis.” She jerked her head back over her shoulder.   “What?”   “We have dis wan.” She pushed back her chair and nudged a small, miserable-looking creature curled up on a towel behind her chair, wedged next to the wall. The dog reluctantly got to its feet, tail curved between its legs and slunk off the towel. The receptionist—Felicia, by her name tag—nudged the dog into the light and picked her up. “Someone foun’ her on d’streets las’ week and tun her in.”   This was so not what we had envisioned. After a dozen episodes of “Breed All About It,” some viewed more than once, big and healthy was what we wanted, that was the right dog for us. Small and dejected, the dog hung its head. I couldn’t imagine a little dog like this surviving Belize City streets for long. There were rats just about its size and scrappy wild-eyed cats and cocky streetwise feral dogs. Not to mention boa constrictors. I thought about the Snake Man who stood on the street corner with boa constrictors looped around his torso. How did this dog dodge the cars and bicycles careening down the narrow winding streets?   Felicia thrust the lump of skin and bones at me. I regarded it at arm’s length. Female. Very small, with badly barbered white fur sticking out in short wiry tufts and patches of bare skin. Her backside was naked and pink, like a baboon’s bottom or an upside-down heart. She smelled to high heaven—of chemicals. Felicia explained, the dog had been badly matted so they’d hacked her hair off and then flea dipped her. Her bare backside was due to flea allergy dermatitis. She was very thin and no doubt suffering from heartworm as do most Belize strays.   I glanced at Bruce. He shrugged. Felicia said tactfully, “We leave you ’lone for a few moments” and pulled him out the door.   Please don’t, I thought, this is so not what we want. The dog was dead weight in my arms, almost lifeless. This country, I thought, you can never get what you want. After 15 years, I knew that was petulant and spoiled of me but I was tired of settling for what was available. I struggled to come to terms with big, sleek and healthy versus small, scruffy and miserable.   I focused back on the dog. What was her history? What unfortunate circumstances brought her here? And what kind of dog was she? A terrier maybe. Or poodle? We regarded each other. Inexplicably, the little dog’s eyes brightened. Weird eyes. One was blue and the other brown. I tried to harden my heart.   Big. Sleek. Healthy. Remember that.   Her floppy ears went back—in some mysterious way, her expression had changed. Was her plumed tail beginning a tentative wave? The trim wasn’t as bad as I first thought. She was actually, sort of, well, appealing.   And just like that, it was all over. She’d grabbed my heart with a gap-toothed grin. Missing teeth, both top and bottom. But, that didn’t matter. Didn’t matter at all.   “OK, that’s it,” I announced to Bruce as he rejoined us. “We’re bonded!” He smiled happily; he’d liked her all along. We made arrangements for the little dog, our little dog, to get her inoculations and picked out a red collar for her. Then we returned to get the doctor’s results—good news, just a bad reaction to a medication. Bruce’s heart was fine. And so was mine. And when we returned to pick up our scruffy little dog, she was wagging her tail to greet us. Somehow, I felt the “Breed All About It” people would be OK with that.  


Culture: Readers Write
The Cur
The tale of an Upper Peninsula cow dog

[A note about this story: The Cur is based Kathleen Livingston’s memories of her grandparents, Laura Osier and Jerry Russell, and their two cow dogs, Rex and Rex II.  True pioneer people who homesteaded in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at Topaz, a small, farming community south of Ontonagon, where her family still resides. The story is told from the dog’s perspective after he has passed away and imagining what might have been. All of the memories are from Livingston’s childhood spent helping with the farming chores in the summer months. Laura Osier’s remaining sister, Irene Osier Hokens, will celebrate her 100th birthday this year.]

He wasn’t certain when his spirit left his body… after the pain and darkness subsided and only the light remained…. but he nimbly rose from beside the man’s feet where he had been curled. The man was snoring softly in his chair, the woman asleep in the front bedroom. It was their usual routine in the heat of the late afternoon to rest before beginning their evening chores. His nails clicked on the worn linoleum as he trotted across the floor, past the round oak dining room table where the man fed him scraps from his dinner plate, through the kitchen, gliding past the wood cook stove where he had spent many a cold winter night pressed into its warmth. He nudged the back screen door open and slid silently outside into the late afternoon sun. He must hurry before they awakened, so he crossed the clay hardened drive and took the shortcut. He hadn’t been able to slide beneath the bottom of the barbed wire fence separating the yard from the field since he had been a gangly pup 15 years past but now he did so effortlessly. Soon, he was eyebrow deep in golden Timothy, his amber coat blending seamlessly with the grasses. Only his black nose lifted high and the tip of his white Collie tail showed as he raced through the sweetly scented field. He was on a mission. Across the field in the back forty he knew the twelve dairy cows would be grazing. And this time he would get it right.


It had been many seasons since the man had taken him out to bring the herd in. He had replaced the old dog, the one they spoke of constantly, the best darn cow dog they ever had. Now, they had to make do with the pup. The man would bring him along, encouraging him to gather the cows in. Nip and duck, nip and duck. Just enough nip to encourage them forward, then duck when they kicked back. He had to be quick to avoid being injured by their hard hooves. But the excitement of the chase made him crazy, and the more the man yelled at him the faster he raced until the cows were scattered in every direction.

“You cur dog,” he had heard it so often he thought it was his name, and the louder the man yelled it the more the Collie waved his tail. Finally, the man would storm away in frustration.

The Collie would have been all right if he hadn’t wanted to please the man and woman so. But one morning, before they had arisen, he slipped out the door to gather the herd in. They were in the back forty and he raced wildly across the pasture toward the far woods.  He saw them scattered here and there, quietly grazing. He charged into the field, nip and duck, nip and duck. They were running everywhere, finally breaking through the barbed wire fence and disappearing into the forest. He could smell blood and stopped short in the center of the field, dazed. He heard the man yelling, “You cur dog,” and saw him running across the field. He knew something was wrong as he slunk along the fence line, making his way back to barn.

Much later, in the deepening shadows of evening, he lay alongside the barn wall listening to the man and woman talking in hushed voices with another man with a black bag. The cattle were in their stanchions, some with jagged tears along their legs and chests and udders. The man with the bag was speaking slowly, “you should get rid of that cur dog; you could have lost your whole herd.” After he left, the woman was crying softly and the man put his arm around her, speaking gently to her.

The man ignored him for many days, and he did not share his food under the table where the Collie waited patiently. Worse, the man’s voice never rose as before; he never uttered those words the Collie had become so familiar with. When they were ready for the morning and evening chores, the man would lock the screen door, leaving the Collie inside, pawing and whining. The woman would pull him into the kitchen and stroke his head and try to soothe him with tidbits of food.

And so it was for many, many years.

But, while he was no longer welcome in the barn, the woman would take him with her to the woods and streams. She would check her trap line for beaver and otter and, if she was lucky, mink. She seemed happy and sad at the same time when she would find an animal in the trap. She took little pleasure in the killing but the money from the hides fed her family and her cattle, repaired the equipment and warmed their hearth.

In the summer, he would happily follow her down the trail through the east woods until they came into the clearing where the berries grew thick and juicy. He could always smell the bears that had been feasting on the bounty earlier and he sensed the woman feared them so he made sure they felt his presence—scouting the perimeter of the field, scattering his scent on the brush. She would hurriedly gather the fruit and they would be off again.

Sometimes, the man and the woman would return to the woods to fell the big trees. He watched from a safe distance when the big pines came thundering down, shaking the ground beneath him. They would pause for lunch and rest and share their food with him. The man would stroke his muzzle with the back of his hand, muttering quietly, you old cur dog. The Collie would thump his tail.

When they would return from the woods, the man would call the Collie to him and gently comb his hair looking for ticks. In the winter, the man would pull the ice balls that clung to the long hairs between his toes. They bathed him after he would chase skunks into the woodshed and he would stand quietly when they pulled the porcupine quills from his muzzle. Life was good.

But still the cattle were off bounds—not part of his life—not part of what he was born and bred to do.

The seasons came and went. The man and woman slowed down. The Collie could no longer lift his own weight from the floor and the man would gently put his arms beneath his belly and lift him up so he could walk outside to relieve himself. It became a routine, like the rest of their lives.

He didn’t know when the pain began—deep inside his chest—different than the pain in his hindquarters. He would crowd closely to the man for comfort and whine in his sleep when it became unbearable. And then there came today, as he lay by the man’s feet, the pain was suddenly gone.


Now, he stood at the edge of the field, the back forty, looking at the herd. They had not seen him yet or sensed his presence. His body was strong. He slipped silently into the woods and worked his way around the field, so they would not catch his scent. As he stepped into the clearing, the cows lifted their heads in unison and bawled. Slowly, slowly he worked his way left to right, gathering them together, crouching, nip and duck, nip and duck. It seemed so easy now. The one with the bell around its neck that always led the others began moving, across the forty and down the lane, and the rest followed. His tail tucked low, he moved gracefully behind them—nip and duck, nip and duck.

They finally entered the safety of the barnyard, crowding around the water trough, quenching their thirst with long, noisy draws. They would be content now, drinking their fill then lining up at the closed barn doors waiting on the man and woman. Six to the right door and six to the left; they would file into the barn in that precise order to their respective stanchions, as they had day in and day out for years, the routine ingrained in their slow minds.

The Collie would have a few minutes to rest before the man and woman would come. He trotted to the grassy knoll not far from the herd and within site of the farmhouse. Here, he dropped to his haunches, then to his belly, resting his muzzle on his front legs, ears pricked forward in anticipation. Soon, he heard the screen door open and saw them step out. The woman was adjusting her cap, tucking the stray ends of her dark hair underneath its brim. The man matched her stride for stride. The Collie could hear their faint voices and his pulse quickened.

As they crossed the drive and began the walk up the hard-packed trail to the barn, he rose to his feet, head high, tail curled over his back. The breeze slipping through the aspens ruffled the white apron on his chest. He wanted to yip a greeting to them but held back. He lifted his chin slightly higher. He knew he had gotten it right this time.  

The woman saw him first and a smile creased her worn cheeks and lit up her eyes. The man look startled, took his cap off and shaded his eyes against the afternoon sun with his hand, and saw the cattle crowding the doors to the barn. Realization crossed his face and he slowly dropped to one knee and clapped twice, commanding, “Rex, come.” The Collie hesitated at first, and then the man commanded again, “Rex, come.”  He saw the man open his arms wide, and heard his name. As he bounded toward this man and this woman, he finally knew in his Collie heart that he was a good dog.

News: Guest Posts
Inspiration on Three Legs
An artist immortalizes his tripod in clay—and video

Several years ago, clay artist Barry Gregg’s wonderful dog Parker was diagnosed with bone cancer, and she had to have her leg amputated. “Parker embraced her new life almost immediately,” Gregg says. She was an inspiration, which he celebrates in this art. (When Gregg shared his video tribute with us, he explained that after Parker’s surgery a friend gave him a copy of Bark, featuring three-legged dogs (Jul/Aug 2006), which he said was a “a great help in my healing process.”) We’re paying it forward. Perhaps the Decatur, Ga., artist’s tribute will be a source of support for others. Enjoy.

Culture: Readers Write
Fostering Charlie
Letter from Connecticut

I was in upstate New York, visiting my daughter and went to a local grocery store where I saw your magazine. I had it in my hands but then put it back stating, “No, I really don’t need it and I won’t read it.” There was a phrase on the cover that made me pick it up, “Hey Charlie, welcome home.” It made me smile because I rescued a severely abused Bichon Frise named Charlie. When I got back to the house that day, I thought why didn’t I get the magazine. The next day I went back and picked it up. Am I glad I did. I absolutely LOVE the magazine, so much that I ordered a subscription. My first issue arrived and it happened to be the one I already had so I gave it to a coworker. Today, she subscribed.

My husband and I never had dogs growing up. When my youngest asked for a dog because our older daughter was going to college and my mother-in-law had just passed away, we said yes. After much research, we decided on the Bichon as our older daughter had asthma. We purchased him from a breeder or so she said. We brought him home at 3 pounds, 12 weeks old. My younger daughter and I cried all weekend; we didn’t want him. I did not want my house smelling like a dog. She didn’t want him because she was too nervous around him. That was almost six years ago and he truly is the love of my life. I loved him so much I went on the internet to find out everything I could on Bichons. I came across a Bichon rescue group. So I signed up to foster, transport, etc. Every time they called me to foster, I had an excuse of why it was not a good time. The last time they called me, I didn’t have time to think. They had two Bichons who were being fostered in New Hampshire and the foster family already had nine dogs and couldn’t keep these two Bichons. I said OK but you need to find him a home as soon as possible. I picked up Charlie, who was so filthy dirty, had a hot pink collar on and had the biggest brown eyes you ever saw. All he did was shake uncontrollably. He smelled terrible. He trusted NO ONE especially men. His legs were deformed from being a puppy mill dog and living in a cage all his life. The next day I brought him to the groomer to get a bath.

Eventually he was put on Petfinder. Months and months went by and I never received one phone call inquiring about him. Nobody wanted him. About two years into fostering, he learned to trust me and to love me as much as he could. What a feeling!

One day, I got the dreaded phone call. Somebody in California wanted him, sight unseen. She had just lost her Bichon of 13, and lost her husband a few years earlier. She wanted Charlie. I spoke with her and had to report back to the rescue group on what I felt about her.... I could not say one negative thing. She was perfect. Well, I didn’t sleep all night and neither did my younger daughter or my husband. How could I give him up? How could I put him on an airplane all the way from Connecticut to California? What would he think when he looked for me and I wasn’t there? I was the only mother he ever knew. You know what happens next. We adopted him. I could not imagine my life without him.

Fostering a dog is one of the greatest feelings in the world although I flunked. By fostering, I showed him how to trust again. It just doesn’t get better than that. Although I love my “purchased” dog Bailey more than life, Charlie has shown me what unconditional love is, that all it takes is patience and one day at a time. I will never “buy” another dog from a breeder. I will always take in a foster, which, of course, will lead to an adoption on my part! They so deserve a second chance at life.

I’m sorry this is so long... When I talk about my dogs, I just can’t help bragging...

Thank you for your wonderful magazine. Your stories are real and heartwarming, some sad, some real tearjerkers. Just wanted to share. Thank you again!

News: Guest Posts
Double Standard
Smaller v. larger breeds

My neighbor stands in his driveway, his tiny Papillon barking furiously at my dog, Sophie. “Your dog is not socialized, eh?” he says. I point out that it is his dog that is behaving aggressively toward Sophie. “But that’s because she growled at him,” he says.

I have met him several times in the morning while walking my two-year-old Shar-Pei. Each time, his little dog has rushed furiously at Sophie, barking his little head off. Each time, he has done nothing to restrain or otherwise correct his dog. In fact, he often just stops and stares, allowing his dog to continue with his aggressive behavior while doing nothing. Meanwhile, a few doors down, the owner of a Cocker Spaniel yells at his dog, who is also barking furiously at Sophie, to return home. He routinely allows his dog off the leash in his unfenced back yard, and the dog, upon seeing Sophie, immediately reacted to defend its territory.

This is standard behavior for the small dog owners in my neighborhood, I have learned. Next door to the Cocker Spaniel owner lives an older man who walks his small Maltese every morning. Whenever this dog sees Sophie, she charges at her, barking and lunging. He does nothing.

In the small, two- or three-block area where I walk Sophie, there are approximately a half-dozen owners of small or toy dogs. Almost without exception, these owners allow—and sometimes even seem to encourage—their small dogs to behave aggressively towards my dog.

When I first got Sophie, she was very friendly to other dogs she met on her walks, regardless of their size. Now, whenever she sees a small dog, she becomes agitated and starts to growl. It breaks my heart.

These small dog owners are behaving extremely irresponsibly. Not only are they allowing their own dogs to behave inappropriately, but they have now conditioned my dog to react defensively whenever she sees a small dog.

I have a theory that small-dog owners find their pets’ aggressive behavior cute, endearing and funny. They believe that because their dog is small and could never be a threat to any other dog, therefore it’s OK to allow it to growl, bark, snap and charge at my dog.

But it’s not OK.

It seems a double standard exists in the dog world between owners of small-breed dogs and owners of larger breeds. Medium-sized and large-breed owners must make sure their dog is never aggressive to other dogs, but owners of small breeds may give their dogs free rein.

Culture: Readers Write
Gigi Spies A Green Tomato
A tragicomedy in five parts

The stage: A small wooden deck with sturdy balusters, overlooking a vegetable garden in late season.

Enter Gigi. The six-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel saunters across the deck, untroubled. It’s hard to tell by looking at her, but Gigi is a former rescue dog, and a traveled one, too: She’s lived in Singapore and Manhattan and (for the past two years) this Boston suburb.

Gigi takes all that in stride, though. If her past has taught her anything, it’s to relish what’s really important. Her portly figure implies a dog who has that much straight. Suddenly, Gigi notices something that piques her stomach.

Scene 1: Gigi spies a green tomato that has fallen from its vine in the garden. From the glint in her eye and quickening of her step, it’s clear she considers the green tomato a tasty prize -- a lucky harvest her enterprising belly has stumbled upon.

Scene 2: Hazy in her working knowledge of spatial relevance, Gigi attempts to reach the tomato by squeezing her ample physique through the (blasted!) unforgiving deck rails. In an instant, she regrets the enthusiasm with which she enjoyed last night’s second helping of chicken pot pie, delivering in response to her successful (if pitiful) whining. She wonders whether she might have managed the evening just as well with less, and whether that might have made all the difference right now.


Scene 3: She is so close to the object of her affection, yet so far. Whether she sings like a Siren to entice the tomato to her, or whether she cries in agony for the tragedy of it all ... is hard to say. Whatever the case, the tomato remains unrelenting, and silent as stone.





Scene 4: Gigi is nothing if not patient. In the life of a dog, “waiting” is an occupation to which is devoted significant resources. A dog, after all, is always waiting for something: the sound of kibble in the bowl, a car engine in the driveway, a key in the door lock. What else can Gigi do ... but wait, wait, wait?






Scene 5: Suddenly, it’s clear: Here’s the true tragicomedy of Gigi’s predicament: The audience sees that the deck railing extends only a few feet beyond her current spot on the deck. If you were there, you’d want to urge her to walk around the railing, hop into the garden from its short end, and seize the green orb as her own. You might wave your arms about like an air traffic controller on the runway, signaling a clear path. To resolution ... to victory! But even if you did, she wouldn’t respond.

Otherwise, this wouldn’t be much of a story at all. It wouldn’t tell a tale that’s fuller than an unripe tomato: A tale about want. And desire. And how -- in the end -- the shortest path isn’t always the most successful route to what your heart seeks most.

News: Guest Posts
Click on Firefox
Her sight may be failing, but her spirits are high

I am currently fostering a young Border Collie, Firefox, who has been diagnosed with retinal degeneration. She is completely blind in her right eye and has very limited vision in her left, which will continue to diminish until she is completely blind. So far, there have been no inquries about her but I am hopeful that the perfect family will come forward soon.


She truly is a "dog like any other" and then some! She leaps to catch toys, chases the other dogs as they play fetch and, above all, loves to spend time with people, frequently hopping the 4-foot fence to join us if we forget and try to leave the fenced area without her. See her adoption listing here (follow the link under Adopting a Border Collie to view available dogs, then click on Firefox).


Culture: Readers Write
Lessons from Prunella
Advice for stress-free coping with an aged, beloved yet incontinent dog.

A few years ago, my dog Prunella was diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, a disease of the nervous system that results in paralysis. At that time, my vet said that except for not being able to walk, Prunella would be just fine. And for a while, that was true. Eventually, she needed a wheelchair, but she was still the same happy dog—ask anyone who saw her rolling around San Francisco.

The vet also hinted that how long Prunella lived might not be determined by her health, but by how long I could stand the incontinence that accompanied her rear-end paralysis.

I soon learned what she meant. The incontinence became the most stressful aspect of my dog’s disease. Although I saw how some people could be driven to make the difficult decision to euthanize, I couldn’t consider that while she was still such a vibrant dog. My fiancé and I struggled with her incontinence, and taught ourselves how to deal with it.

I searched online for tips, but didn’t find a lot. I discovered several forums where people asked for advice, and the discussion turned into a debate over whether or not to put the dog down. Ugh. I read several pages where people simply accepted the mess that came with caring for their aged, beloved, yet incontinent dogs. Ugh. Just because I didn’t want to give up my dog did not mean I would accept living in squalor.

Since there doesn’t seem to be a lot of available information, I want to share some things we found to be helpful.


Many online pet stores have lists of gear for incontinent dogs. Here are the things we found most useful.

Supportive bed with a waterproof cover. Ours was from Drs. Foster and Smith. It was key because most of Prunella’s accidents happened on her bed at night. To clean up, I simply wiped off the liner.

Puppy training pads.  We started out with diapers and disposable liners, but found that the diapers leaked, spread the mess everywhere she went, and pressed it into her fur. We switched to puppy training pads. The mess stayed in one place—on the pad—and not on our dog, who was smart enough to move away. Cleaning up became as easy as throwing away the pad.

Medications. Take your dog to the vet, and make sure there isn’t a medical problem that is causing incontinence. Prunella’s vet prescribed Phenylpropanolamine (PPA), which helped a lot.

Floor protection. Some people recommend covering floors with plastic sheeting or the plastic mats that go under computer chairs, but I think those look depressing. I bought a bunch of carpets from the Crate and Barrel Outlet Store. They look okay, can be cleaned, and are cheap enough to be semi-disposable.


Gearing up is only the first step. Here’s the really hard-won knowledge.

Don't freak out! Prunella knew she was not supposed to relieve herself inside. However, she could not control herself, and in the end, did not even know when it was happening. When she had accidents, I could tell she was afraid I’d be mad, so I tried not to make her feel worse by punishing her or raising my voice. Staying calm will keep you from being stressed, sad, and looking at your dog like maybe she’s had a good, full life after all.

Learn to express the urine from your dog’s bladder. Prunella could not generate enough pressure to empty her bladder. She would have accidents, even after a long walk. Helping her urinate prevented accidents and reduced the risk of urinary tract infections. It takes a little practice, but I promise that she only peed on my shoes once. Ask your vet for a lesson, and check YouTube.com for instructional videos.

Consider supplementing your dog’s diet with high-fiber foods. We fed Prunella lots of brown rice and vegetables. I won’t specify the reasons why this is helpful, but let me just say that I cannot be more firm about this recommendation. The diet also made it easy for her to move her bowels and kept her regular. It was a relief to know she had taken care of business before I left for work.

Establish a quick and easy clean-up system. We relied on the following tools and strategies so our response to a mess was simple and decisive.

  • We created a cleaning station for gear and dog. Ours was in the backyard, near the hose. It consisted of a bucket, detergent, dog shampoo and brush, a place to air-dry everything, and towels. Having everything right there made cleaning so easy. The bucket neatly held everything when not in use.
  • Invested in a carpet-cleaning machine. Prunella could no longer walk on slick surfaces like wood or tile, so we needed to have carpet everywhere. Owning my own carpet cleaner was the difference between thinking, “Boo hoo, I have a semi-continent crippled dog and I live in a dump” and being too embarrassed by dog hair and weird smells to have guests over. Sure, we may have served tea and homemade lemon bars to my future in-laws while our dog took a big pee in the middle of the room, but at least it didn’t look or smell like that happened all the time. Even if it did.
  • Stocked up on stain and odor remover. Since her behavior was involuntary, we didn’t bother with formulas with enzymes that keep pets from peeing indoors. We pulled out the big guns—our choice was Resolve.
  • Repurposed bar towels, lots of them, for drying Prunella, wiping floors and blotting the carpet.
  • Isolated the laundry. It’s depressing if smelly dog stuff is scattered all over the house. It’s much nicer to have one small bin to hold gear and towels until it’s time to do laundry, which we did often, with lots of hot water and bleach.

To anyone who is just beginning to deal with this, please know that it gets better. Once you have developed your own system, your stress level will go way down. You will remember why you love your dog again. You will wonder how anyone could even consider putting their dog down, merely for being incontinent. It is a lot of work but it can be done.

Almost two years after she first started exhibiting signs of degenerative myelopathy, Prunella became unable to walk in her wheelchair, or even move a few inches for a bowl of steak. When she no longer seemed happy, we felt it was time to let her go. We still miss her terribly.

Culture: Readers Write
Pixie, The Story of a Mill Auction Dog
One of the stories behind Wisconsin Act 90

A New Morning
For dog number 0695885-001, the morning of March 11, 2009, is different than any she’s known before. Her life until now consisted of a small cage, food, water, a breeding mate and a litter of pups twice a year. Oh yes, and her universe was the cold, dark barn where she and her fellow inmates were kept. They weren’t sure what lay beyond the barn. Glimpses of sunlight, new smells and the occasional open door didn’t provide much of a clue as to what the outside world was really like.

On this morning the miller comes through “the door” with an empty cage and sets it next to hers.  The four-year-old female Poodle had seen others placed in cages and go out that door. She becomes nervous at the thought. She also remembers her previous litters leaving forever in a cage, too soon for her to finish her important behavioral teachings. This time she thinks, “Is it my turn to go? I don’t have pups to surrender today, so it must be for me!” 

Her question is soon answered. The miller grabs her, puts her into the wire poultry cage and heads for the door. She doesn’t like this situation and looks back at the only home and dogs she’s known.

A cold blast of air is her first taste of the outside world, even colder than her barn. She starts shaking. She has trouble keeping her eyes open due to the sun she has seldom seen, and a sub-zero wind chill causes the squinting to continue. She has just a glimpse of the “outside world” before she is loaded in the van with other cages and dogs. She clenches the wire floor as the van starts the trip that will take her to the dog auction. 0695885-001’s journey is underway.

The Rescuers, Protestors and Dogs
Even by Wisconsin standards the morning of March 11 is frigid. That doesn’t deter the hopes and emotions of rescuers and protestors who start their trips from all over Wisconsin. Their destination is the dog auction at Horst Stables*, south of Thorp. For Milwaukee-area travelers, that means getting on the road before 5 am. For others, it will be a much shorter trip. For the dogs, it will be something new. The day will produce a bevy of emotions: anger, shock, sadness, hope. However, fear will define their day.

Dogs are now arriving via van, truck and buggy—including 0695885-001, still shaking, curled in cage, unsure of what this is all about. She is brought into the auction barn and quickly processed. Dogs are checked in, given an auction number, a USDA Inspector does a visual inspection and cages are stacked in line awaiting “show time.” She is now #80. Dogs auctioned here have three possibilities facing them: 1) Being purchased by a rescue group who will foster them until adoptable; 2) Being purchased by an individual looking for a pet; 3) The worst scenario, purchased by another breeder sentencing the dog to a return to hell.

Outside the Horst Auction in 2007.

Now comes #80’s turn. She is carried to the auction table and held up like some inanimate object at a household auction. Most dogs are not allowed to stand because their legs, shaky from months or years of confinement in small cages, won’t bring as high a price. Of course, others cannot stand. The bidding starts and after a short period, the auctioneer points to someone in the crowd and yells, “$400 SOLD.” #80’s fate is now sealed.

She is lucky. She has won the lottery. She has escaped hell. Even though she is a Toy Poodle, she has been purchased by a nice lady from Racine, who specializes in Maltese rescue. #80 is going to have a real home, with kind hands and her own name. #80, formerly 0695885-001, formerly a puppy mill captive, is now Pixie! She is given the chance to be what her maker meant her to be, a companion for life.

The Trip To A Real Home
The first leg of Pixie’s journey to a new life began as soon as the auction was over. Again, she was lucky to be headed south, away from Clark County, “the Puppy Mill Capital of Wisconsin.” Her luck was not totally grasped because all this kindness, petting and soft words were very foreign to her. Still, she started looking around with a little less fear and nervousness, and did enjoy the comfort of a clean and soft blanket.

The trip was long and allowed her to finally fall asleep next to some treats that she was unsure of. Her first night of freedom was spent in Mukwonago, and the next day she was taken to Racine. Pixie’s next new experience was a complete grooming, a bath to wash away the stink from her former life, a haircut to make her look like the Poodle she was meant to be. On March 16, 2009, she was given complete veterinary care. She received a dental cleaning and all of her shots and was spayed. She left the hospital on March 18 to go to her foster home in New Berlin, Wisc. This was a big adjustment for Pixie. A change from nearly four years in a cold barn to being pampered and loved is not an easy undertaking for such a small being.

Pixie’s Final Journey
Pixie’s new life and surroundings were very puzzling to her and when the chance presented itself she darted from her foster home and was reported lost on Thursday evening, March 18, 2009. Fliers with Pixie’s picture were immediately printed and distributed throughout the area. Automatic “area blanket” calls were placed to 500 homes. Volunteers and neighbors continued the search for four days and nights. The Elmbrook Wisconsin Humane Society provided a cage trap, which was set near an earlier Pixie sighting.

At dusk on the evening of Sunday, March 22, Pixie’s body was found a few feet from a busy New Berlin walking path, only a block or two from her foster home. Her eyes were still open although her body was still. I happened to be in the area, when I saw one of the fellow searchers walking towards the road with Pixie wrapped in her jacket. My immediate reaction was joy and celebration. But I could tell by the look in the rescuer’s face that the news was bad; my stomach sank like it never had before and the tears couldn’t be held back. Pixie was rushed to an emergency facility but the effort was in vain.

Pixie, #80, #0695885-001, who had won the lottery by not having to return to a puppy mill, left us for a journey to her final resting place.

The emotional imprinting the life in a puppy mill gave Pixie cost her life. Pixie died only an arm’s length from a busy walking path, used by many local dog walkers. All Pixie needed to do was say hi and she would have immediately been ushered to safety. Instead, Pixie’s lack of understanding about friendly hands, soft voices and love, prevented her from being rescued.

Mary Palmer, Pixie’s auction rescuer put it best: “She will never be forgotten, although only with us for a very short period of time, she was loved. Those blackberry eyes will remain forever embedded in our hearts.” 

Amen to that.

A Lesson From Pixie
The message left for us in Pixie’s story is that of the emotional damage puppy mills imprint on their captives. It’s a triple jeopardy scenario for the puppy mill populations. 1) Dogs that stay there never get socialized and for that reason are difficult to “save.” 2) The pups that are born there leave their mothers at too young an age and miss their moms’ finishing school lessons and in turn become behavior problems for their adopters. And, of course, 3) puppy mill dogs are treated inhumanely. Again, further testimony as to why Wisconsin needed a law in place to monitor and control this cancerous industry. Wisconsin Act 90 is doing that, and is now being used as a benchmark piece of legislation in neighboring states’ dog advocates who are striving to free their “prisoners of greed.”