Sunday, April 29, 2012

Can You Feel the Love?

When reading the newspaper, the first part I toss is the Sports section. Why? I don't follow sports. And when perusing the Food & Wine section, I skip meat recipes. Why? Take a wild guess. "Uh, you don't eat meat?"

Very good, class!

And so, when I hear from a reader who obviously doesn't like animals, yet reads my Pet Tales and Ask the Vet columns in the San Francisco Chronicle, I'm a bit befuddled.

Case in point, the lovely email I received this week from an obviously lovely man. He was responding to an Ask the Vet question in which the writer said he had carried his dog after realizing their trail was blanketed with those nasty thorny seed pods. Hurt like hell, those things. I stepped on one once and could feel the spikes through the sole of my thin Keds. I know it's said that God doesn't make mistakes, but these things? Not one of His better calls. Anyway, the reader wrote,

"Carrying a Dalmatian because of some rough vegetation???" he pounded from his iTouch. "Damn coddled dogs and their besotted fool owners. Dog owners are morons!"

Since the theme of each column is clearly stated through two pretty obvious words, "pet" and "vet," why would someone who is indifferent toward animals bother reading either one?

See what I mean? Befuddled.

This morning, I thought of that reader's email when I read the article on the front page of the Sunday Chronicle. Titled, "Foie Gras Chefs Hungry For Fight Against Ban" the piece addressed the more than 100 renowned chefs who are joining forces to fight a pending law that will ban the sale of foie gras. In case you aren't aware, foie gras is a French delicacy made from the liver of a duck or goose. The problem lies in the fact that producing the tasty dish entails the cruel and torturous force-feeding of the birds in which their liver is fattened up to 10 to 12 times its normal size.

All for an outrageously expensive spread for crackers and croutons.

The chefs who are pro foie gras are using a "humane" angle to fight the pending ban. They're proposing that farmers be required to raise their geese and ducks in a cage-free environment with minimized stress.

"By repealing the ban and enacting strict new standards, we will send the message to the world that California is the leader in the humane and ethical treatment of animals," says Rob Black, the restaurant's association's executive director.

But no matter how you spin, slice, or spread it, foie gras cannot be produced without forced feeding. This new proposed form of cruelty just happens to be cage free, is all. Isn't that swell?

At least my reader was forthcoming in his email. He doesn't care about "damn coddled dogs" and makes no bones about it. The chefs, however, are more covert. Just look at their group name, the "Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards."

How about they nix the activist buzz words and call their group for what it really is: Like, the "Coalition for Damned Coddled Birds."

I may not agree with them, but, like my reader, at least they'd be honest.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Tired Dog = Happy Dog

After adopting Elvis in 2002, I wanted to make sure that my boy, an "only dog," wasn't lacking for canine companionship. And so, twice a week, en-route to work, I dropped him off at my retired mom's house so he could spend the day romping around with her two dogs. On weekends, if I had a full day planned, I'd take him to hang with Ellen, my friend with two greyhounds, BJ and Champ, and a backyard the size of a Walmart parking lot that I dubbed "Doggie Disneyland." Elvis enjoyed quite the canine social life.

ut then I lost my beloved Mom in 2009, and last year Ellen left costly California for a more affordable retirement in South Carolina. And I suddenly found myself without any dog sitters for my new greyhound, Olivia. Oh, I know there are many excellent doggie day-camps and sitting services out there, but I'm not comfortable leaving my girl just anywhere or with just anyone.

Yeah, I'm paranoid. Sue me.

But I am comfortable with fellow-greyhound guardians since they've been already been carefully screened by Golden State Greyhound Adoption (GSGA), not to mention one other simple fact: greyhounds love being with other greyhounds. From the time they're pups at the track greyhounds are packed together in tight proximity with dozens of other hounds. Greyhounds are the only breed they're ever exposed to. The only breed they know. Dogs are pack animals by nature and greyhounds, in particular love being with other greyhounds. All I want is for Olivia to enjoy the same canine companionship that Elvis once did.

his is why I was thrilled when Dean responded to my GSGA listserve email requesting an occasional dog-sitter. Not only does he have a huge backyard and two hounds of his own, but he's minutes from my own home. On Saturday, I had a reunion luncheon planned with former co-workers, so I crossed my fingers and asked Dean if we could do a trial run? Sure, he replied. Yippee!

And so, this morning I took Olivia to his house. Of course, I first had to rattle off reminders to her new sitter, such as, be careful opening the front door! Don't feed her people food! Hide the rat poison! Like the guy has never been around a dog and isn't a designated foster for GSGA. He just smiled and nodded, humoring my "new-mom" paranoia.

he's a good dog, I assured him, listing her attributes like that gal hawking her clients on Millionare MatchMaker. I wanted Dean to like us. I wanted Dean to invite us back. Olivia loves to give kisses, I carried on, plus she's totally house trained and knows how to use the doggie door.

And I swear, the molecules from those very words were still drifting out my mouth and dissipating in the air when Olivia chose that precise moment to urinate on his dog's pillow. Immediately, I saw future invitations evaporating as quickly as my credibility.

But Dean was unfazed. She's just nervous, he said. Happens all the time. And without batting an eye, he unzipped the pillow cover and threw it in the wash. Piece of cake.

When I went to pick up Olivia four hours later, Dean assured me she'd been a good girl and there hadn't been any more accidents (whew). All three hounds got along beautifully and had spent much of the unseasonably hot day using each other as chin-rests and pillows. Then came the music to my ears, the words that any proud mama longs to hear about her child, be they two-legged or four:

She's welcome back anytime.

Tonight Olivia is conked out on her pillow, snoring like an exhausted kid after spending The Best Day Ever at Disneyland. In a way, that's just what she did.

And alleluia, she's welcome back! Because hey, Dean said so.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Tiger Mom, Porkchop Dog

Throughout my years with Elvis, his diet consisted of a low-residue dog food that seemed to be the only kibble to agree with his sensitive stomach. A kibble that, unfortunately, was just slightly cheaper than a car payment.

And let me tell you, that boy could eat. He chowed down five cups a day and never gained an ounce. Occasionally, I tried gradually switching him to well-reputed, less expensive foods, but within hours his diarrhea and gas would return. After a few failed attempts, I realized I had no choice. I had to keep paying the big bucks to keep him healthy.

livia, however, appears to have a sturdier stomach than her predecessor. In our five months together, she's never had a single bout of diarrhea, gas or vomiting. Which is why I wondered if I could switch her from the pricey stuff she shared with Elvis to one of the other foods I'd previously researched. Like that inviting salmon and lamb-flavored one?

So I made the switch, following the usual instructions to introduce a new food gradually over the course of two weeks. Olivia polished off her five cups a day with an enthusiasm that told me she liked the new stuff and I was encouraged. However, my delight was short-lived when I noticed her "output" had increased from two to up to five stools a day, dotting my patio like a minefield in Bosnia. Then...oh no... I became aware of a lingering aroma that would waft through the air shortly after each meal:

The dreaded eau de gas.

Fine. I knew defeat when I smelled it. And so, on Saturday, I swung by Dr. Arnott's office to purchase a bag of the "slightly cheaper than a car-payment" food, and brought Olivia with me. Dr. Arnott took one look at her and raised an eyebrow. "She's gained weight," he observed. Nah, I said.

Or had she?

Last November, when I brought Olivia home, she was a skeletal 58 pounds, not surprising since most racers are kept underweight. Her skin was streeeetched across her rippling spine and ribcage, and brushing her felt like raking bones. I knew she needed to gain weight, but with Dr. Arnott's words, it occurred to me that lately, when brushing her I hadn't felt any bones. Far from it, in fact.

Uh oh.

Still, I wasn't quite prepared to see those numbers when we put Olivia on the scale. My little tiger, so nicknamed for her brindle coat, was now, it appeared, my little porkchop at a generous 71 pounds! As someone who has always been very careful about what I feed my dogs, shunning people food and carefully doling out healthy treats, I was stunned. I know the health repercussions of extra weight on a dog.

"Is she f..f..f.." I could barely utter the word. "Is she...(gulp) fat?"

Dr. Arnott assured me that she wasn't...yet. "But it won't hurt her to drop a pound or two," he advised. When he learned of her new diet, he blamed that as the culprit. Turned out the tasty salmon-lamb stuff was more caloric than the "slightly cheaper than a car payment" food, yet I had continued giving her five cups a day when three would have sufficed. Oops.

So Olivia is back on the old food and I'm back to paying the big bucks. Anything to keep my girl healthy. And hey, the house smells a lot nicer, too.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Missing Loved Ones

"Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy."

~Eskimo proverb

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

When a Cigar is Just a Cigar

This one got me thinking, a comment posted online in response to today's Pet Tales column.

The essay was a nostalgic look at the writer's first pet 54 years ago, a wild blue belly lizard caught by her father. The person who posted the comment noted their disappointment that the lack of editorializing made it appear as if, by using this essay, I had condoned this act of "animal cruelty." She/he wrote:

"The immoral removal of an animal from the wild ....and keeping it in a tiny box with a string around its neck...not wholesome good values to imbue in a child or to share in print. Very sad."

Here's the thing: I had the identical reaction when I first read the essay. I was saddened to think of little Charlie the lizard confined to a cigar box with a string around his neck. But my secondary response was to recognize the story for what it was: a fond recollection of a child's first pet framed by the zeitgeist of the 50s.

Because in 1958 animals were treated differently. Dogs slept outside, cats roamed the neighborhood, and words like "spay and neuter, guardian, adoption" and "animal rescue" were foreign concepts. Not that people didn't love their pets, but back then most weren't as educated as guardians are today.

Were I to write about my first pet, I'd have to reveal that Torty, a tortoise, was buried alive because Mom didn't have the Internet to inform her that his lack of response was due to hibernation. And if I mentioned my childhood German Shepard, Lisa, I'd probably let it slip that my parents purchased her from a breeder, she ate table scraps, shared my Hershey Bars, and loved sneaking licks from Dad's vodka tonic.

In the process, would I be wrong to not encourage adoption versus breeders? Endorse healthy diets versus table scraps or mention that chocolate and alcohol are toxic to dogs? Does the 1960s-based "Mad Men" accompany each episode with a disclaimer that pregnant women shouldn't drink and people shouldn't smoke?

Pet Tale readers are passionate animal lovers who know that the column promotes education, rescue and welfare. And I get that reader's concern, really I do. But occasionally, I think the context of a story might negate the need for a lecture only because, in the light of day, we're smart enough to recognize the erroneous act.

Aren't we?

And so, right or wrong, that was my reason for not editorializing this memory from 1958; a time when nobody wore seat belts, everybody smoked, and lizards lived in cigar boxes.
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