Thursday, February 25, 2010

Starting Over

Top to bottom: Daphne, Zephyr, Portia, Bingley and Magic

The dog attack in Emerald Heights serves as another reminder that the entire body of laws and their enforcement in San Diego County need to be re-examined and reformulated to fit the current situation which includes:

1. Much denser population than existed when current laws and policies were made.

2. A rise in two career families, leading to dogs being left on their own for long stretches of time.

3. Severe dog overpopulation.

4. No-kill shelters (good), leading to re-homing of rescued dogs with "issues". (Good, but challenging).

This is probably not a complete list of changes that have occurred regarding dogs and people, but these are all factors contributing to the current problem of unsocialized, unrestrained dogs on North County streets and parks who present threats to the safety and lives of people and leashed dogs.

Since April, 2001, five rescued dogs have been a part of my life. Two of the five are currently members of my household. John and I would not have wanted to miss knowing any of them. However. Each one of them came to us with their own quirks and issues that were their individual adjustments to their genetic predispositions and their unique--sometimes cruel--life experiences.

We have not brought one of these dogs into our home that did not make me initially ask myself: "What have I done? Am I really able to meet the challenges that this dog presents?"

Sometimes it has taken weeks. Sometimes it has taken months. But, eventually, we form our methods of two way communication. The dog learns that John and I can be trusted for basic needs, acceptance and love. A new equilibrium is established in our household, and we watch our new doggie begin to share their "true selves" with us.

However: Each one of these dogs has enduring traits that are reflections of their previous life.

Daphne never could overcome her terror of motorcycles and loud trucks. Nor could she learn to modify her aggressive reaction to them. The puppy abandoned and alone on the streets of L.A. was a permanent part of her make up.

Zephyr never was able to overcome her fear of anything that sounded like a gunshot. Whenever she heard an engine backfire, she turned and ran for home. We suspect that during her long racing career, she witnessed the shooting of her less successful competitors.

Portia had night terrors. She was apparently re-living some early trauma--perhaps the race when she broke her ankle.

Bingley is very high prey. A model citizen in the home, he becomes The Mighty Hunter once we hook up collar, harness and leashes and open the door. We are resigned to his never being able to unlearn the early training that his job, indeed his life, depended on his being able to chase down fuzzy creatures.

Magic is still settling in. But the years of confinement in a cage, having no nurturing contact with a human have clearly made her anxious in new situations. Unsure of her safety, she is poised to bolt.

Now. Think about it. Do these dogs deserve a chance to live out their lives in a loving home? I think they do. Do these dogs deserve to enjoy daily walks on a leash? I think they do.

I work with my dogs. I teach them "no", "let's go", "down". But I am not sanguine about being able to overcome early learning and trauma. I depend on collars, leashes and harnesses to enable me to restrain them from being nuisances or even menaces to other dogs.

I also depend on other dog owners to keep their dogs restrained. Their dogs might be models of canine good citizens. But all dogs are unpredictable. Even highly trained dogs. I do not take my dogs into situations that I have reason to believe are beyond their tolerance. I rely on other dog owners to obey the laws so that my dogs can live a reasonable doggie life.

Rethinking dog-human laws and their enforcement is necessary at this time for many reasons. But an important reason is that people are becoming more and more aware of the challenges of homeless dogs and are adopting rescued dogs. This is a Really Good Thing. But it makes realistic dog related laws and enforcement all the more critical.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Consequences, But No Solution

A Reliable Source has informed me that the two dogs involved in the attack in Emerald Heights have been euthanized at the request of their owner.

While this action eases the pervasive fear in the Emerald Heights neighborhood, it does little to address the rampant problem of loose dogs roaming the streets and running around parks in North San Diego County.

Underlining this fact, yesterday, a bicyclist was attacked and bitten by a loose dog in Encinitas.

We now have two more active North County residents who are just beginning to deal with the physical damages caused by dog bites. My husband, who was bitten the evening of June 30, 2009, is still experiencing pain and restricted movement as the result of a "simple" puncture bite to his hand. I wish these two most recent victims a swift and complete recovery.

But the impact of a dog attack lasts a long, long time.

When dogs are euthanized because they are menaces to their community, no one really wins. The system has failed. It has failed to protect innocent citizens. It has failed to educate dog owners about the privileges and responsibilities of dog ownership. And it has failed to truly protect the creatures that it is supposed to protect: the dogs themselves.

We need to take a good, long, sensible look at the laws and the enforcement of laws related to dogs and people. The law now used by the Escondido Humane Society to deal with situations like the Emerald Heights attack is an old California State Agriculture Law! Its enforcement offers NOTHING in the way of a deterrent.

We need a system of graduated fines charged to people whose dogs are loose--for whatever reason. We need to provide mandatory classes in dog ownership for offenders--paid for by the offenders. California got serious about reducing deaths caused by drunken drivers. When we get serious about reducing the threat of dog attacks on our streets, we can do something about that, too. And save lives--human as well as canine--in the process.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dog Attack

Emerald Heights is a lovely, gated community not too far from where I live. But no community is safe from loose, unsocialized dogs:

(Scroll down to "Loose Dogs Attack Man")

One is reluctant to criticize a humane society which is devoted to the well being of pets. But the response to this attack, as the response to the attacks on Zephyr, Portia, Bingley and John, is totally inadequate.

San Diego County has not had a case of rabies in a domestic dog for more than 50 years. But the official response to a dog bite--at least in Escondido and San Marcos--is restricted to quarantining the dog and testing for rabies 10 days later. Of course, this action should be taken. But it is meaningless as a deterrent to future attacks.

We need to institute a series of graduated fines for each incident of a loose dog biting a human or another dog. Loose dogs who bite humans should NOT be left in the custody of their neglectful owners during the quarantine period.

Owner education classes should be required of owners of such dogs--paid for my the offending owners.

My sympathies go out to the victim of this attack, his friend, and the leashed dog who was being walked. The fear engendered by such an incident never quite goes away. One can only be grateful that a child was not in the vicinity.

Further Thoughts:

I just received an email from a dear friend telling me that the attack occurred one block from her home. She walks her aging Dalmatian mix every day around her neighborhood. I pray for her safety.

If you have never witnessed a dog attack, you can have no idea how sudden and terrifying they are. After our Toy Poodle, Mame, was attacked, I walked with a cane, believing that I could fend off any aggressive dog. I had a cane in my hand when Champers, our Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, was attacked. It was useless. The attack happened so fast and the dogs' positions changed so rapidly while Champers was fighting for his life, all I could do was stand by helplessly and scream. John had a cane in his hand when he, Portia and Bingley were attacked. He, too, discovered that a cane is useless when trying to protect a leashed dog--or oneself--from a loose, vicious dog.

I now walk with pepper spray. I have promised myself that I will spray any loose dog who approaches my dogs while I am walking them. Can I act quickly enough to prevent tragedy? I hope I never have to find out.

We must redouble our efforts to strengthen both the laws related to loose dogs and the enforcement of those laws. Dog walking, jogging, and biking should not be dangerous activities.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Happy Gottcha Day, Bingley!

February 16, 2008, we brought Bingley home to be our dog and Portia's companion. The first four months he was with us are a blur of EVENTS: difficult house training; constant, exuberant play; a sudden hemorrhage when Bingley "worked" on a small abrasion; escape from his Martingale collar to chase two Chihuahuas; AND repeated episodes of frightening hemorrhagic gastro-enteritis.

But we never considered returning him to Greyhound Adoption Center. He is, quite simply, the sweetest tempered dog we've ever had.

During this past week, he has shone during visits from family. At first, those who aren't accustomed to large dogs are a little taken aback by his enthusiastic greetings and his efforts to "cuddle" with them on a sofa. But, before long, his sweet, guileless nature charms them and he has a new fan.

When we adopted Portia, we didn't intend to adopt a second dog. But her intense, assertive personality led us to believe that both she and we would be happier if she could focus some of her energy on another dog rather than exclusively on us. Bingley served this function to perfection. His willingness to play on Portia's terms and always be "second banana" to the neighborhood beauty endeared him to us.

And when Portia and John were brutally attacked by a loose dog, it was Bingley, in spite of being bitten himself, who helped our neighbor chase the attacking dog back to his yard.

In the painful months following Portia's death, Bingley was a constant comfort during our mourning. What would we have done without him?

Bingley's new companion, Magic, is very different from Portia. Coming from severe neglect, missing a normal puppyhood, Magic doesn't understand Bingley's invitations to play. He is patiently trying to instruct her. But, when she or I tell him to back off, he does.

Most evenings, Bingley runs a race around the living room. I cheer him and tell him he's a winner, a real champ. That's the absolute truth.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


There is a world of difference between what can be expected of a dog who is raised from puppyhood in a loving home that provides it with structure and training and what can be expected of a dog who through misadventure, greed, neglect, or even cruelty, becomes homeless and is adopted.

We acquired our first three dogs as puppies. We knew all of their medical and social history. We house trained them, taught them "sit" and "down". They never had to fend for themselves. Never missed a meal. Were never struck or kicked. They received routine medical care and inoculations. They knew what they could expect from us; we knew what we could expect from them.

We have recently adopted Magic, our fifth Rescue Dog. Clearly, we find rescuing rewarding. However. Bringing a rescue into your home is an entirely different experience from raising a carefully bred dog from puppyhood.

When we adopted our first rescue, our Wheaten/Whippet, Daphne, I had NO IDEA of what we were tackling. I shudder at my naivete. But I could never, for one moment, regret adopting Daphne. In a sense, she taught me everything I would ever need to know about loving and caring for a dog who carries the scars--emotionally, if not physically--of the neglect and abuse of humans.

I first saw Daphne's picture on the internet. Soft brown eyes. Big black nose. A halo of blonde hair that was really too fine for a well-bred Wheaten. Call me crazy, but I felt her begging me to come get her and bring her home.

I called the kind people at Pet Orphans in Van Nuys, where Daphne was living.

Was Daphne a pure-bred Wheaten?

No, she was a mixed breed.

We had never had a mixed breed. What would that be like?

Did Daphne have a full tail?

Yes, indeed. Daphne had a long tail.

We had never had a dog with an undocked tail. What would that be like?

All that seems so silly and irrelevant to me now. But in April of 2001, they were important considerations. (Do I hear anyone say, "You've come a long way, baby"?)

But, all the while, I carried the picture of Daphne's face in my mind. She haunted my waking moments and I dreamed about her.

Within a few days, on a very hot April Sunday, John and I drove up from San Diego County to Van Nuys to bring Daphne home.

The people at Pet Orphans were very honest with us. Daphne had been with them for two years. Much, much longer than most of their canine adoptees. Daphne was a "bounce-back"--not once, but twice.

As a year old puppy--or perhaps even younger--Daphne had been picked up on the streets of Los Angeles. Her first, and most important Big Break came when she was rescued from Los Angeles Animal Control by Pet Orphans of Southern California, an exceptionally well run private rescue organization.

As is evident from her picture, Daphne breaks the top of the Doggie Adorableness Scale, so it is not surprising that shortly after her arrival at Pet Orphans, she was adopted. Her adoptive parents had a really cute male dog, whom they thought of as their Prince. They wanted Daphne to be their Princess.

But the streets of L.A., where Daphne had survived for heaven knows how long, do not provide training for Princess behavior. Rumor has it that Daphne snarled and snapped at the Prince. Probably stole all his yummies, too, I'm guessing.

So back to Pet Orphans she went.

A few months later, she was adopted to be the companion of a 4 year old boy. Mother and Father had Busy Careers. The nanny didn't speak English. The little boy wanted a dog. What better way to teach the child a good lesson in being kind to the less fortunate than by adopting a dog from an Orphanage? And as luck would have it, here was a dog who looked like she had just stepped out of a Disney Movie.

Well. It turned out that the Nanny wasn't too thrilled about dogs. The gardener Really Didn't like dogs. Daphne learned that she didn't like Nannies and Gardeners.

She was returned to Pet Orphans. A two time loser.

When a girl gets that sort of reputation, even adorableness is not enough. Months, then years went by, without anyone wanting to take a chance on Daphne.

It's probably just as well that I was so naive. I just wanted to take her home.

Daphne slept all the way from the San Fernando Valley to San Marcos. Smart girl. That was the ONLY time we ever had peace and quiet when Miss Daphne was in the car.

She was clearly nervous, clearly eager to figure out what was expected of her, but unable to calm her anxiety. Before bringing her into the house, I took her for a looong walk. After such a long trip, she had to have needed to relieve herself. Nothing. No sniffing. No squatting. No peeing. No pooping.

Of course she had an "accident" as soon as I brought her into the house. But my sympathetic dismay was sufficient. That was her last "accident." She was a very smart girl.

She attached to John immediately. When he left for work on Monday morning, she was bereft. She lay facing the front door all day--except for walks--which became more and more frequent. Poor Daphne had diarrhea, which turned into bloody diarrhea. I called Pet Orphans. They were very sympathetic. They explained that severe, even bloody diarrhea is common with newly adopted dogs. The stress. The confusion.

We didn't have long to celebrate when the diarrhea cleared up. Daphne had "issues". She didn't like men in work boots. REALLY didn't like men in work boots. She was terrified of motor cycles. If one went by while we were walking, she would go into paroxysms of barking and snarling. She was "choosy" about dogs. We learned that we absolutely could not have her around another dog if any food-dog or people food--was present. Car trips with her were endurance contests. She sat on alert in the back seat, ready to notify us loudly if any truck, motor cycle, or other vehicle not to her likely was approaching.

But Daphne more than made up for her "issues" by the pure joy that she brought to every day she lived with us. She woke us every morning with smiles and tail wags. EVERY day was a beautiful day by Daphne's reckoning. She loved her toys, licking them like puppies and carrying them to her "special" places.

Daphne had lived with us for only five months when that dreadful Tuesday, September 11, 2001 dawned. I sat watching television, crying in horror and disbelief. I felt a nudge. There was Daphne, offering me her favorite toy, a well licked pink dolphin that she had selected for herself on a trip to a pet supply store.

"Here, Judith, take Dolphin. He'll make you feel better."

Daphne lived with us for a little over four years. One year more than she had lived before we met her. Her last day began like every other. On her early morning walk, she took notice of every butterfly, every bird, and was on the lookout for a stray tennis ball to take home. Just before her afternoon nap, she barked at the two Maltese from next door who had strayed onto "her" front yard.

Forty minutes later, John called her and picked up her leash. Daphne didn't stir from the love seat. That had never happened before. Slowly, with growing trepidation, John and I walked to where Daphne was "napping." Rigor had already set in.

We'll never know what took Daphne. A heart attack? A stroke? An aneurysm?

We do know that Daphne opened us up to Rescue Dogs. She introduced us to the funny and elegant ways of sight hounds. She blazed the path for Zephyr and Portia and Bingley and Magic. She changed, and enriched our live forever.

Sleep well, Sweet Daphne

Friday, February 5, 2010

Veterinary Hospital IV

Greyhounds are dogs. But Greyhounds are not "just dogs." They--and their sight hound cousins--are in a class by themselves. They are works of art in muscle and bone, with a very thin layer of skin. It's a joy to see them draped across a cushion or a sofa. The sight of a Greyhound in full stride lifts the heart.

But there is a price to be paid for all that lean beauty. Their streamlined design leaves very little margin for error, and for the Greyhound's guardian, that fact becomes all too real during trips to the vet. In a Greyhound, wounds that would heal by themselves in some breeds require stitches and, sometimes, drains.

And general anesthesia that most dogs tolerate with no problem would kill a Greyhound.

Obviously, one chooses a veterinarian for a Greyhound with care.

Yesterday I had reason to be grateful not just for the professional skill, but particularly, for the quality of insight of our veterinarian, Dr. Dorota Pearson.

Magic needed to have her teeth cleaned. A simple, routine procedure for most dogs. However. Teeth cleaning requires general anesthesia, and general anesthesia is never "routine" for a sight hound. Add to that, the fact that Magic is emotionally reactive--even for a breed that is on the high end of emotional reactivity, and you have potential for serious complications.

Dr. Pearson recognized all of this without needing any prompting from me. She minimized the time that Magic had to be in the treatment area before anesthesia, and exercised extraordinary precaution to minimize Magic's distress during recovery.

Today, Magic is not as peppy as she usually is, but she is making an excellent recovery.

Thank you, Dr. Pearson!