Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Year Ago

For months I have been dreading June 30, 2010. That's because shortly before 8pm on June 30, 2009, I heard the painful yelp of a dog half a block away. A few minutes later, I received a phone call from a neighbor with the news: John, Portia and Bingley had been attacked by the very same dog who had ravaged Zephyr less than three years earlier.

We rushed both dogs to the emergency vet's. Bingley was able to come home that night with multiple stitches, some holding the skin of his knee together that looked more like raw hamburger than skin. The vet wasn't sure that those stitches would hold. But with careful supervision of Bingley's every move, they did. And his rapid healing potential took over.

Portia was not so lucky. She was transferred to a veterinary hospital for specialty care for her massive wound. We visited her regularly and she seemed to be improving. But the ordeal was too much for her heart. It stopped beating on the morning of July 7, a needless loss that inspired this blog.

So we enter a week of remembering Portia. Her beauty. Her deviousness. Her love of play. Her perfect deportment on walks. Her mischievousness in the house.

We miss you, Portia. And we promise to do all we can to make our neighborhood safer for dogs on leash.

Monday, June 21, 2010


When we first moved into our house eighteen years ago, we were at the northern edge of development in our little city and very much in coyote territory. Shortly after we unpacked, our beautiful silver tabby, Sterling, went missing. I was distraught. And when I began to question people about possible sightings of her, I was assured that "the coyotes got her." I could barely contain my grief and guilt. It turns out that Sterling was angry about our move and was hiding in a nearby storm drain. After most of a week, she sauntered home in the elegant, nonchalant way of cats and deigned to re-enter our home and nibble at a bowl of cat food.

For several years, our nights were filled with the excited cries of hunting coyotes and the anguished cries of their victims. Driving home late at night, it was nothing to see a coyote or several coyotes trotting down the four lane street close to our home. We were aware that we were living in their territory.

When my beloved Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, Champers, became disabled as the result of a dog attack, I had to take him out on the deck to relieve himself and then wash him off. One early morning as I was doing this, I looked up the hill that constitutes most of our back yard, and there was a very sleek looking coyote assessing Champers. I felt no fear. I like to think that my glare was what made the coyote ramble on down the coyote trail at the top of the hill. He clearly had enjoyed easy pickings from among small domestic animals in our neighborhood who were left outdoors unsupervised.

After that, I became less aware of coyote activity.

When I began walking Daphne, our first rescued dog, I saw plenty of neighborhood cats. Daphne did too. So I assumed that coyote days had passed. Even during Zephyr's time with us, the cats were still in evidence. She had her--literal--bete noir, a neighbor's black cat who waited until Zephyr and I made our way toward her house, and then the cat would walk very slowly across the street. Zephyr was perpetually frustrated with my refusal to drop her leash and let her show the cat who was boss.

I assumed that the stable cat population was an indication that coyotes had retreated. Which made sense, because our subdivision had been built out up the slopes of the surrounding hills.

Then, about two years ago, as I was walking Portia and Bingley in the early morning, both dogs went on alert, and there, directly across the street from us was a coyote. For a heart stopping moment one large coyote assessed my two ex-racing Greyhounds. Neither coyote nor Greyhounds uttered a sound. But the Greyhounds won. I swear, the coyote shrugged ever so slightly and turned down a well-worn coyote trail away from us.

What was stunning was the fact that both dogs were calmer in the face of a coyote than they were when we encountered a loose dog.

It wasn't long after wards that signs appeared asking help in finding missing cats and dogs. Zephyr's old nemesis, whom Portia and Bingley also wanted to chase, disappeared.

Coyotes had returned.

I cannot count how many coyote sighting and encounters John, the dogs and I have had the past few months--not just on morning walks, but also just beyond our back fence in broad daylight.

A few days ago two little boys came to my door hoping that I had seen their orange cat. I had seen the cat frequently--weeks and weeks ago. But not recently. This is no neighborhood for indoor/outdoor cats, I fear.

A lady who recently moved in across the street has acquired a cute black cat. I let her know about our coyote sightings. But she seems to think her cat is safe. I see it balancing on the edge of my north fence. Sometimes it invades our back garden, sending Bingley and Magic into paroxysms of barking. I shush them and let the cat go about its business. I figure it won't be around much longer to upset my dogs.

Poor cat.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Animal Control 2010

About four years ago, my suburban--or exurban, I've never been able to figure out which--city in North San Diego County switched its contract for animal law enforcement from County Animal Control to a neighboring city's non-profit humane society.

The reason for the change was dramatically escalating charges by County Animal Control accompanied by what was perceived as a deterioration of service.

The humane society contracted to provide the same services for considerably less money.

Flash forward four years. Four years in which three of my dogs and my husband were attacked by by the same neighbor's dog on two separate occasions. The attacking dog was euthanized after the second attack and my beautiful Portia died while being treated for a massive wound. The deaths of both dogs, in my opinion, were the result of an overwhelmed agency selectively enforcing laws pertaining to dogs and people.

The humane society which originally quoted a comparatively low price for leash law enforcement is now requesting well over a half million dollars for the next fiscal year. They are now contracted to provide enforcement for a total of four jurisdictions and apparently have not increased their thinly spread staff to cover hundreds of square miles of urban, suburban and rural territory.

Something has to change.

On my way to share my experiences of attacks by unleashed dogs with the City Council, I stopped by my polling place to vote in the California Primary Election. During the brief time I was voting, TWO unleashed dogs approached the garage where I was voting and had altercations with a leashed dog who was in a voting booth with its owner.

San Marcos, we have a problem.

Two friends from my block and I made short statements to the City Council about our experiences with unleashed dogs and interactions with our current enforcement agency. Members of the Council listened and seemed to be engaged with the problems we presented.

The Council is reluctant to spend over half million dollars for what is clearly inadequate enforcement. And, while our city has been out of County Animal Control's enforcement area, their charges have continued to rise while enforcement has become problematic. Returning to their jurisdiction is not a viable option.

Things look bleak for those of us who say a prayer for safety every time we leash up our dogs and take them out for a walk.

But there is some hope. Our city is in discussion with two other North County cities about setting up an enforcement entity among the cities.

I'm really, really trying not to be too optimistic. But I must say, I love this concept. The current system of laws covering humans and their responsibilities toward their dogs, and the enforcement of those laws, is broken, broken, broken.

San Diego County, like most highly populated counties which cover a very large geographical area containing urban, suburban and rural areas, is just too much for one or even two animal control entities. I understand that it a major break in precedent, but the time has come to bring these services closer to the population served. And that means cities and municipalities MUST take over the responsibility for keeping dog walkers and pedestrians safe from unleashed dogs.

AND, if our local councils can be persuaded to take a fresh look at the laws from a perspective of consequences, deterrence and education, I believe a structure can be put in place that will defray a large amount of the costs of enforcement.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Doodles etc.

It's time to talk about it again: so called "Designer Dogs."

I have a friend whose beloved Lab is aging and will not be around for many more years. What does she want for her next dog? A Lab that doesn't shed. I wish her well. That's almost like wanting a Lab with a delicate appetite.

It's not surprising that my friend is beginning to think about a "Labradoodle."
"Doodles" are all the rage.

Since she is a reasonable person, I was able to talk to her about the randomness of mixed breeding outcomes. I think that at the very least, when it comes to choosing a new canine companion, if she still wants a Labrador/Poodle mix, she will choose an older dog whose coat is mature, so she will definitely know if it's a "shedder" or not. The fact is, if the mix is not a shedder, it will probably look a whole lot more like a Poodle than a Lab. Regardless, she will be able to find the dog of her choice if she visits a poodle rescue.
A wide variety of Poodle mixes are constantly available for adoption from rescues. If you want to pay a couple of thousand for a mixed breed dog, it's a free country. But if you are reading this post, you can no longer do it innocently. The fact is, if you buy a "Designer Dog", there is no redeeming counterbalance to the fact that you are directly contributing to the misery and euthanasia of shelter dogs. If you really, really need to pay a high price for a dog, go to dog shows. Study the various breeds. Make an intelligent decision about which breed will best fit into your life. Get acquainted with the breeders who show that breed. Make a judgment about who is most trustworthy and buy a puppy or an adult dog from them. In my opinion, that is the only defensible option to either formally or informally giving a home to a dog in need. (BTW, Brody, an adorable PURE BRED Pekingese, STILL needs a forever home!)

I remember years and years ago when Poodle/Cocker Spaniel mixes were all the rage: so called "Cockapoos". That fad lasted long enough for other mixes to come into popularity: "Schnoodles", particularly. It also lasted long enough for such mixes to become a permanent part of the homeless dog problem.

But the Labradoodle/Goldendoodle phenomenon is of more recent vintage. How did it start? Innocently, even altruistically, as it turns out.

A man in Australia who bred Labs for seeing eye dogs, had a client with severe allergies. He purposely crossed a Lab with a Poodle in a controlled breeding to produce a dog who could be less allergenic than a full bred Lab. When word got out, other blind allergy sufferers asked for similar dogs. The breeder knew he was breeding mixed breeds, but he was so pleased with being able to help some very needy people, he coined the name "Labradoodle". Now, advanced in years, he regrets that the name he made up has served to popularize not only the breed mix he was breeding, but a whole host of mixes.

Today I stopped by my local humane society to donate a small kennel that is of no use to us. In the short time I was there, I observed four pure bred dogs being walked by volunteers, including one of the cutest Cairn Terriers imaginable.

Do you want a mixed breed? Check out your local humane society, animal control or private/breed rescue. You want to brag about how much you paid for your dog? Make a generous contribution to the rescue. In these difficult financial times, they can really use it.