Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Problem

It's been a while since I have addressed the Hydra, Medusa--choose your metaphor--of dog overpopulation, irresponsible or naive dog owners, archaic laws, over burdened, underfunded agencies and burned out humane and rescue workers in San Diego County.

It is always the case that the most dependent in a society are the first to suffer the impact of any disruption or emergency. The financial difficulties which the entire country is experiencing are even more severe in California. People are still losing their jobs and homes. Basic veterinary care is a serious financial burden for too many pet owners. Naive or unscrupulous people decide to earn money by breeding "designer dogs." People acquire a darling puppy on impulse and discover that shots, neutering, flea and heartworm control cost more than they ever dreamed.

Public and private rescue organizations are filled to the max with animals who wait and wait and wait for homes, acquiring "issues" if they are not lucky enough to have been rescued by an organization with adequate facilities and care. The most unlucky are euthanized.

Too many people fail to educate themselves on the inbred characteristics of the breed of dog they choose. Chihuahuas are small dogs, but they are NOT eager to please their humans. Labs and Goldens become ideal family pets, IF they do not destroy the family home before they outgrow puppyhood. Some breeds are suitable as "first dogs." Bichons, Miniature Poodles, Pugs, for example. Some breeds are suitable only for people with "dog experience."

All of the dog training shows on television are riveting. BUT, few people have the time and patience to train their dogs to the high level of probability of obedience that television trainers receive from their students. "My dog always obeys me," are words that are not worth the breath it takes to say them.

Many people--many with dogs--have lifestyles that are essentially incompatible with responsible dog ownership.

Dog over-population, a broken system of dog law enforcement, crowded shelters, burned out professional and volunteer rescuers, lead to lives of pain and misery for too many of Man's Best Friends.

The sad, danger-filled lives of hundreds of thousands of dogs is a national disgrace. Localized factors represent unique variations of the problem.

San Diego is a large county, both in terms of people and square miles. It includes cities, towns, suburbs, ranch land, desert, mountains, beaches. It is home to the super rich, middle class, and poor. We have a mind-boggling number of nationalities and languages which represent widely differing cultures and customs.

San Diego County population tripled between 1960 and 2009.

But we still expect San Diego Animal Control to monitor dog/human laws and provide for the general welfare of the majority of domestic animals in the county.

In 2007, it became apparent in San Marcos that this system was not working, when the City Council decided to contract with Escondido Humane Society for services that San Diego County Animal Control had previously provided.

The reasons for this decision were understandable. Animal Control costs were skyrocketing. Quality of service was deteriorating. It seemed that any change would be an improvement.

It wasn't.

Systems theory predicts that a "solution" to a problem that does not address the salient causes of the problem, creates five new problems, each worse than the initial problem.

It has taken less than four years to see this prediction played out for dog law enforcement in San Marcos--indeed, in much of North San Diego County.

Costs of enforcement have continued to skyrocket. Enforcement has continued to deteriorate. And now, Escondido Humane Society--a non-profit, whose original purpose was to educate the public about domestic animals' needs, rescue unwanted and neglected animals and place them in loving homes--has become dependent upon contracts with cities and other jurisdictions for law enforcement: a task for which they are clearly unsuited. Furthermore, San Diego County Animal Control is so overwhelmed that San Marcos cannot look to it for any improvement in leash law enforcement.

Meanwhile, walking a dog on-leash in San Marcos is not an activity for the unwary or the faint at heart.

As an old friend of mine used to say when confronted with a mess, "Something has GOT to be DONE!"

To be continued.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Five years ago today, John and I adopted our first Greyhound: Zephyr. I really want to tell her story, but this is going to be difficult, because tears are running down my face and the screen is getting blurry.

I have loved all my dogs and have mourned the passing of all the dogs I have lost. Every dog is unique. Every dog has brought particular graces into my life.

But Zephyr was an Incomparable.

Mame was a Grande Duchess. Champers was a Good Soldier. Daphne was a Free Spirit. Britches, Portia were Princesses--as is Magic. Bingley is a Good Old Cowboy.

Zephyr was a Queen.

But when we were introduced to Zephyr at Greyhound Adoption Center, we had no idea that we were meeting Royalty. Her eyes were bloodshot. Her coat was dull. She did not look us in the eye. She wasn't even close to my idea of a Greyhound. She was BIG. She was dark--almost black--brindle. She didn't even let her ears flop sideways in the adorable way of most Greyhounds.

The first dog presented to us, she was totally lacking in animation, but leaned against me as other dogs were brought out for our consideration. While the other dogs romped and played, Zephyr just stood there, leaning.

I felt no connection, no attraction to her. But John and I looked at each other and said, "This must be the dog. The others are ignoring us."

We began to fill out the adoption papers when one of the other dogs came over and tried to tell us that we should forget the dull, over-sized girl and adopt him. But by that time, we couldn't reject the quiet, detached, but dignified creature we had named Zephyr.

This is her story.

Her racing name was Bella Rita Pita. She raced in Tuscon and was a winner. She was accustomed to beating the boys and coming in first. But time took its toll, and the first place finishings became less frequent. She was shipped to The End of the Line for American racing Greyhounds: Caliente in Tijuana.

Many rescue organizations do not bother with older, dark dogs, because they are the most difficult to place in adoptive homes. Fortunately, Greyhound Adoption Center gives these dogs a chance, and in October of 2004, Zephyr was rescued.

In January, 2005, Zephyr was adopted and became the companion of an older gentleman, who was in failing health. She spent her days by his side, watching television.

In early February the man's family became concerned when they had not heard from him for a few days. When they opened his apartment door, they discovered that he had been dead for at least two days. Zephyr was lying beside him, still keeping him company.

An experienced Greyhound adopter wanted to adopt Zephyr, but she had a cat, and Zephyr was absolutely NOT cat safe. So she went back to the rescue kennel and waited until June, when she was adopted again.

She became the third Greyhound in a household with two male Greyhounds. By mid-July, it was clear that no house was big enough for Zephyr and two other Greyhounds. Back she went to the rescue kennel, where she stayed until September 17, 2005, when we brought her home.

As we had been instructed, we took her on a tour of our house. She inspected the rooms, apparently looking for something. Finally, when she came to my study, she saw the television. She relaxed a little and hopped up on the love seat. She had found her spot and knew her "job". Whenever one of us watched television, we had a silent companion.

For six months, Zephyr was a quiet presence in our home. She let us know when she was hungry. She let us know when she needed a walk. She suffered raging diarrhea, but never had an accident in the house. She patiently ate the food we fed her until we finally discovered something that cleared up the diarrhea.

She was due for dental and blood work. She had to have eight teeth extracted, the result of years of being fed lowest grade beef--sometimes through a racing muzzle. We discovered that her thyroid function was almost non-existent. She was placed on heavy thyroid replacement. She began to shed, and shed and shed.

Meanwhile, she made friends during her walks. Neighborhood children ran out to greet her and she stood patiently as they petted her.

Then, one day, after she had lived with us for six months, she looked me in the eye for the first time. I realized that I had passed a test. From that day on, she let John and me know that we were her people. We were among the honored.

The shedding stopped. Her new coat was unique among Greyhounds, not only lustrous, but soft as duck down. The white of her tuxedo markings sparkled. Her eyes were clear and bright and her ears were always pricked and alert.

She walked with new confidence, treating each walk as a victory lap, accepting the admiration and praise of her fans. If we passed a house where some of her admirers lived and they failed to come out to greet her, she slowed and looked for them, not wanting to deprive anyone the treat of meeting her.

If she spied a friend walking toward her, she pranced and shook her head flirtatiously. Sometimes she did that with strangers who didn't know what to do about a VERY big, black dog accosting them in such a strange way. I would explain as best I could and encourage them to give her a pat or two. A Queen expects homage from her subjects.

I expected to grow old with Zephyr. She would have been a Grand Aging Monarch.

But it was not to be. Shorty after her second anniversary of living with us, she was struck with osteo sarcoma. She died as she had lived: with courage, dignity and style. That story deserves to be told. But I cannot bear to tell it right now.

Today, September 17 is a day for happy memories. The anniversary of the day Zephyr honored us by deciding to take a chance on us to be her humans.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Memories, 9-11-01

Shortly after 6am, Pacific Time, I was awakened by a phone call from my daughter, who lives in Mountain Time. I could scarcely absorb what she was telling me. New York City and Washington, D.C. were under attack. "Turn on the T.V., Mother!"

Not until I have walked the dog. I'll deal with it after I have walked the dog.

The dog was Daphne, our first rescue. The charming outcome of a mix of a Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier and a sight hound--Whippet or Greyhound, I was never sure. We had adopted her in April, 2001 and were quite unprepared for the "issues" of a dog who had been abandoned on the streets of L.A. as a puppy, who had been adopted and rejected by two families, and had spent two years in a rescue kennel. She wasn't eager to share anything, space or food. I had never before had a dog who was so possessive of toys, gathering them together, noticing if one was missing, guarding them as treasures.

In numb disbelief, I threw on some clothes, leashed Daphne, took her for an extended walk and reluctantly returned home.

I really didn't want to turn on the T.V. I really didn't want to know for sure what was happening on the other side of the country. But denial was too hard to maintain. I settled in for what turned out to be hours of unbelieving monitoring of horror. As I watched, tears blurring my vision, I felt a damp nudge on my leg. I looked down into Daphne's face. She was holding her most prized toy in her mouth, a well-licked peachy pink Dolphin that she had picked off a display the first time I took her to a pet supply store.

"Here. Take this. It always makes me feel better. It will make you feel better, too."

Daphne stayed right by me during that terrible day. And each time I gave way to tears, she brought another one of her treasures to me. She had given me her entire collection by the end of the day.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Happy Birthday, Bingley!

Today, Bingley is seven years old! He joined our family on February 16, 2008. We hadn't planned to get a second dog after acquiring Portia, but we quickly realized that a dog of Portia's energy, intelligence and deviousness needed a canine companion. Bingley was her perfect foil. Always ready to play. Always good natured about having toys stolen from him. Always ready to forgive and forget and start over.

Bingley survived the vicious attack that took Portia's life on July 7, 2009. His mourning for his lost playmate was heart breaking.

On November 20 of last year, Magic came to live with us. Poor Bingley was truly puzzled by her at first. He kept expecting Magic to act like Portia. But Magic is very different from Portia--every bit as feminine, every bit as devious, but lower energy and far more subtle.

She didn't know how to play with toys when she arrived. Slowly, Bingley taught her how. She has been an apt pupil. Just this morning, she stole Harvey, Bingley's rabbit, away from him and draped an elegant paw over Clyde the bear, just to let Bingley know who was boss. Good Old Boy Bingley let Magic have Harvey, but he did persist in pulling Clyde out from under Magic's paw. When Magic tired of Harvey, Bingley reclaimed him. No harm. No foul. That's our boy Bingley.

We hope and pray Bingley lives to a very ripe old age. If sweet temper is the key to longevity, he'll be around a very long time.

Happy, Happy Birthday, Bingley!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Welcome September

I think the Jews are on to something, celebrating the New Year in September. September always has the feel of a fresh start: the beginning of the school year--at least for those few remaining school systems that wait to take up classes until after Labor Day--and slightly shorter days, which give promise to the end of summer heat. Although this summer in San Diego County was wonderfully temperate, we remain vigilant for heat and winds. Our worst Santa Anas--and, Heaven Help Us, fires--usually come in late September or October.

John is on the mend, using a cane only for difficult maneuvers. He is accompanying Bingley, Magic and me on our nightly walks, although he isn't quite up to taking one of the leashes. Soon, though, I think he will.

Last week, Magic had her annual shots and complete physical with blood work. Her lab results were "perfect." She can put on an impressive display of anxiety, but she is a healthy doggie. For which we are very, very grateful. She continues to explore her inner princess. Who would believe that our opinionated little lady who insists on being first spent four years in an outdoor cage, exposed to summer heat and winter cold with no loving care? I'm beginning to think that her proper name is Lady Me Me.

Bingley continues to be Bingley. Sweet tempered but always ready to give chase. Our street has been occupied by a family of rabbits. It is one of the true sadnesses of Bingley's life that he cannot be permitted to fulfill his inborn destiny and pursue them all. But he is enjoying new super-tough toys: Harvey the Rabbit and Clyde the Bear. So far, both are living up to the claims made by the catalog, In the Company of Dogs. Magic occasionally pays Harvey and Clyde a little bit of attention by tucking them under her chin. Adorable.

Meanwhile the needs of our canine companions continue to challenge all of their human care givers and well wishers. Too many dogs are being bred. Too many humans acquire dogs without consideration for the basic responsibilities that come with dog ownership. Too many people thoughtlessly permit their dogs to roam off leash, risking the safety of their dogs, other people's dogs, and the humans that might happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Friends of Portia is back from summer vacation, ready once more to be a voice for sanity and responsibility in the care of that great gift to human beings: our sweet, funny, knowing, mysterious, courageous, forgiving, trusting, irreplaceable and sadly vulnerable dogs.