January 28, 2011 § Leave a comment
It is tempting to pretend nothing unexpected or unfortunate ever occurs with my dogs. I proclaim now, with no little modesty or humility, this is not the actual fact: if I have any expertise, or at least some small familiarity, with the care, feeding, and training of dogs, it has led me to understand unexpected (even disastrous) events do occur, and the proficiency of the caregiver should be measured not in our imaginary ability to avoid them altogether, but by how we address these events when they inevitably occur.
Taking satisfaction in the misfortune of others is a shameful, if ubiquitous, vice. I am chagrined to admit I find a regrettable relief in the discovery of dog professionals whose canine companions do not behave perfectly. I have no less positive an opinion of the people involved – I just feel less embarrassed by my own pets’ shortcomings. I used to cringe when my bullmastiff Iggy behaved poorly in public, but now I laugh, and use it as an illustration of behavior issues we need to modify. I invite you, dear readers, to revel in my tale of embarrassment, and use it as an antidote to whatever face-palming disaster befalls you thanks to your misbehaving dog.
Iggy was four years old when I adopted him, and had lived with two different families. Immediately before I took him home, he spent ten days at the Everett Animal Shelter, and then a day at the Northwest Organization for Animal Help. It was not surprising that Iggy came with a full complement of special personality traits, and the ones that did not involve the risk of injury or lawsuits I endured with joviality bordering on broadminded parental charity. I set very high standards for Iggy’s behavior and training, but I let his personality be. I let Iggy be Iggy.
Iggy doesn’t poop in his own yard. He has lived with us two years, now, and has pooped in our yard only twice, both times when he was sick. He poops twice a day, under normal circumstances, once in the morning and once at night, at least a few blocks from his own house. Iggy was not so regular when we first brought him home. Skinny, stressed out, and finicky, he didn’t eat enough, and didn’t like to eat at regular times. I fed him high quality food, made a game out of meal times, and put him on a strict schedule. I also added a tablespoon of pumpkin to each of his meals, which helps him poop at regular times (and also causes his farts to smell a little like Thanksgiving, albeit a disgusting dog poop-tinged version of Thanksgiving).
Iggy has powerful dreams. He yaps in his sleep, and sometimes his legs move like he is running. On occasion he growls or makes sounds like a child crying. My vet was concerned he might be having seizures, but after seeing him do it (Iggy sleeps at the vet’s office when giving blood), the vet agreed it is just dreams, albeit very active ones. Sometimes when the dreams are really extreme, I wake him, but usually I let him dream, reasoning that he has things to work out in his subconscious.
It had been raining for days, and I had been working long hours. It seemed like every night when I got home to walk Iggy it was pouring rain, and Iggy despises the rain only slightly less than he despises pooping in his own yard. I am the Human, and I am in charge, of course, so I walk him anyway, whether he likes it or not. But Iggy doesn’t poop in the rain. That is another one of his things. It rains here all the time, and Iggy does this pretty often. He has a good poop in the morning, then refuses to poop in the rain on our walk, then refuses to poop in his own yard, and so he holds it all night until morning when he we walk again. Bullmastiffs are usually counted among the giant-sized breeds, and their bodily functions are correspondingly giant-sized. Iggy gets very high quality food, which is relatively low volume, but he is a huge dog, and with the added bulk of the pumpkin, and waiting all night after skipping his evening poop, his morning absolution can be so big it requires two bags to collect completely.
One evening, after a walk in the rain during which Iggy did not bless the world with a night-soil deposit, I was working at my desk in the bedroom. Iggy came in to check on me. He sat, shook my hand with his paw and accepted a scratch behind his ears. Then, at my invitation, he hopped onto the bed to wait until I was done doing my work. He quickly fell asleep, which I could tell by his enthusiastic snoring. After a few minutes, he began dreaming. First came the yipping, then his legs moved a bit, and then some light growling. I smiled to myself and continued my work. After a few minutes, I heard him stir; when I looked over at him, he was looking back at me with an expression that suggested confusion mixed with embarrassment. He got up, shook himself, and jumped off the bed. Then I smelled it: dog poop mixed with Thanksgiving, and not in the normal, nearly lethal dose of flatulence that was his wont. Iggy had pooped in my bed while sound asleep. I didn’t yell, didn’t curse, just looked at the steaming train of slightly pumpkin-colored poop (as he had been lying on his side, it was not piled up like the normal result of a crouching dog – this was more like a poop snake) and asked him, “What the hell?”
Iggy did his best impression of the Mad Magazine mascot Alfred E. Neuman, offering up a doggy version of a shrug that seemed to say, “What? Me Worry?” and then left the room, his embarrassment passed in classic canine-timeline fashion. After cleaning up and changing the sheets, I went and found the Iggster sleeping noisily in the living room, not at all impacted by the odd occurrence of a few minutes past. The next day we visited the veterinarian, just to confirm what I already knew: The Poop Incident of 2010 was not an indicator of any physical health issue.
Poop happens, and I take some small satisfaction that Iggy’s only accident with us occurred while he was asleep, and not responsible for his actions. This was not some kind of active rebellion, just a sub-conscious reaction to… what? I do not know. I still try to get him to poop in the rain, and still try to get him to get him to poop in his own yard, and am still flummoxed by his intestinal and attitudinal fortitude. Iggy is Iggy, and I love him when he is perfect, so I love him when he poops in my bed.
January 21, 2011 § 3 Comments
Chris Larson has been my friend for over twenty years, and while I do not see him often, it is always interesting to hear what he is doing. Chris has a special excitement about life. In preparing this article, and reflecting on my friendship with Chris, I realized that I have never known him to be in a bad mood. This is one of the many qualities that make him such a special dog person. Chris grew up on Capitol Hill in Seattle, and still lives there today. When Chris is not hanging out with his dog, Strummer, or girlfriend, Stephanie, he coaches high school soccer, and is the owner of Chris Larson Construction.
Tell us about your dog. Strummer is a 4.75 yr. old female chocolate lab. She weighs 43 lbs. (Can you say runt?) Whatever, we never wanted a show dog, just a friend! She came from a farm in Enumclaw, WA. We specifically looked at litters with small parents, with the idea that we’d get a small dog!
What is the source of her name? She is named after Joe Strummer, from The Clash. Love of The Clash has been a theme in my relationship with Stephanie, my girlfriend of almost 10 yrs.
Tell us about your ride; it is very unusual. It’s a 1970 Chang Jiang 750. They were produced by the Chinese military until the late ’90’s. Originally designed by BMW in 1938, then the factory tooling was stolen by the Russians during WWII. The Russians gave the design and factory parts to the Chinese. It was used extensively by the People’s Liberation Army.
How did you train Strummer to ride with you? I started training her for the sidecar about a month before I picked it up. I started by putting my ski goggles on her and not allowing her to take them off. When I got the bike home I brought her out to the garage while I worked on it. When she was comfortable with the sound of the motor and vibration I turned the bike off and put her in the sidecar. I continued to work on the bike with the engine off making sure to jostle the rig as much as possible. Once I felt she was ready I fired the motor and she jumped out. I lead her back into the sidecar and continued doing other things and left the motor running. I then revved the motor and she jumped out again. I led her back into the sidecar and held her collar while I made her watch me operate the throttle then she figured it was me causing all the racket and chilled out.
Do you use any special equipment to keep her safe? We bought a harness, and I made a 3 point restraint system for the sidecar. She can’t be bounced out of the chair! After all that I had a motorcycle jacket elbow pad sewn into a child size aviator hat, and the rest is history. She never fusses with the safety gear. There are inherent dangers with motorcycling, so I never allowed it to become an excitement or game.
Where all have you travelled with Strummer? Our longest motorcycle trip was an overnight camping trip to Orcas Island, We took her to Vashon Island, but mostly it is just around town or day trip/picnics with Mama Stephanie. We have taken her to Mexico twice and Whbistler, but not on the bike. Commuting to the job sites with her on the bike is a blast!
Can you tell if she likes riding in the sidecar? She’s pretty used to it, and sometimes just goes to sleep! She’s had her picture taken so many times she just ignores it now. It doesn’t matter what we do, as long as are all together, Strummer is having a blast! She stays in the sidecar when we go in restaurants and stores and such. I unhook her and take off her gear a she just chills. I’ll also toss my coat down for her outside just about anywhere and she’ll use it as a bed.
Does Strummer have other training? As far as training is concerned, she does all the command stuff and is rarely on a leash. I have Steph to thank for that; she’s a natural dog trainer. The only actual trick Strummer does is high five.
What other activities do you enjoy with Strummer? We run (w/ Mama almost every day, and me less so), hike, fetch (she can’t get enough of the tennis ball. She has them stashed all over Capitol Hill), swim (webbed toes you know), swim and fetch together… and she loves traveling to Whistler and Mexico with us. I can’t imagine my life without my girls: Stephanie, Strummer and Chloe (the cat). I am richer because of them!
January 9, 2011 § 2 Comments
Guinefort was a French greyhound who lived in the 12th century. By the 13th century, The Inquisitor Etienne de Bourbon discovered a sort of cult that had grown up around the dog’s legend. Inquisitor Etienne died in 1268. This is from a modern translation of Anecdotes historiques…d’Étienne de Bourbon:
“…I made inquiries and at last heard that he was a certain greyhound killed in the following way. In the diocese of Lyons, close to the vill of the nuns called Villeneuve, on the land belonging to the lord of Villars-en-Dombe, there was a certain castle whose lord had a baby son from his wife. But when the lord and lady and the nurse too had left the house, leaving the child alone in his cradle, a very large snake entered the house and made for the child’s cradle. The greyhound, who had remained there, saw this, dashed swiftly under the cradle in pursuit, knocking it over, and attacked the snake with its fangs and answering bite with bite. In the end the dog killed it and threw it far away from the child’s cradle which he left all bloodied as was his mouth and head, with the snake’s blood, and stood there by the cradle all beaten about by the snake. When the nurse came back and saw this, she thought the child had been killed and eaten by the dog and so gave out an almighty scream. The child’s mother heard this, rushed in, saw and thought the same and she too screamed. Then the knight similarly once he got there believed the same, and drawing his sword killed the dog. Only then did they approach the child and find him unharmed, sleeping sweetly in fact. On further investigation, they discovered the snake torn up by the dog’s bites and dead. Now that they had learned the truth of the matter, they were embarrassed (dolentes) that they had so unjustly killed a dog so useful to them and threw his body into a well in front of the castle gate, and placing over it a very large heap of stones they planted trees nearby as a memorial of the deed…
“But the peasants, hearing of the dog’s conduct and of how it had been killed, although innocent, and for a deed for which it might have expected praise, visited the place, honoured the dog as a martyr, prayed to it when they were sick or in need of something, and many there fell victim to the enticements and illusions of the devil, who in this way used to lead men into error…
“We had the dead dog disinterred, and the sacred wood cut down and burnt, along with the remains of the dog. And I had an edict passed by the lords of the estate, warning that anyone going thenceforth to that place for any such reason would be liable to have his possessions seized and then sold.”
Note from Michael: This story has appeared in dozens of versions over thousands of years. Sometimes, the snake is a wolf, and sometimes the basic facts remain the same but it takes place in Ireland or Scotland, and the inquisitor is a bishop. Aesop told a similar tale about a Greek farmer. The earliest version is probably “The Brahmin and the Mongoose”, an Indian folktale. The basic theme of this story is also present in Mark Twain’s classic A Dog’s Tale, in which the dog makes it very clear he is a Presbyterian. Whatever the facts were behind the dog Guinefort and the inquisitor Entienne, worshippers of St. Guinefort remained active until the early 20th century, and they celebrated St. Guinefort Day on August 22nd.
January 8, 2011 § 4 Comments
Zoonoses are diseases which are transferrable between humans and other kinds of animals. Though there are many zoonoses, some of which are fairly common amongst humans, the actual occurrence of inter-species transference to people from pets is quite rare. When one narrows the question a little further, and asks the likelihood of catching a deadly disease from a dog, it is discovered that one is more likely to be struck by lightning.
This essay is not meant to suggest there is no danger at all. In undeveloped nations, or in any human/canine population which does not take advantage of modern hygiene and vaccinations, there is a risk of disease transference between dogs and people. Even in developed nations, fungal infections such as ringworm can be passed back and forth between humans and dogs, but it is much more common for humans to catch it from other humans than from dogs. There are many diseases which humans can catch from dogs and among them are giardia, salmonella, bordatella, roundworm, and listeriosis.
Dogs are so closely related to wolves that it is very difficult to tell them apart genetically. Chihuahua DNA looks more like timber wolf DNA than human DNA looks like chimpanzee DNA. While some of the dog’s biological functions have been changed by human interference (particularly their reproductive biology; dogs are breeding machines, compared to wolves), dogs still possess much of the same gastro-intestinal fortitude that wolves do. The canine gastro-intestinal system is physiologically similar to the human system, but chemically much more extreme. We both have teeth, an esophagus, intestines, and only one stomach. We have the ability to vomit but don’t always do so, and our digestion process begins with saliva. In both canine and human milk, tears, and saliva, there is an enzyme called lysozome. Lysozome is a powerful enzyme which naturally attacks bacteria and kills it by separating its water molecules nearly instantly upon contact. Lysozome is a natural and effective way to combat salmonella, e. coli, giardia and other diseases; it is one of the chemicals in a mother’s milk which inherently protect newborn infants and puppies. Dog saliva contains about 12 times more Lysozome than human saliva does. If both a dog and a human eat the same things, a dog’s mouth actually is much cleaner than a human’s.
Both humans and dogs digest food in the stomach through an immersion in gastric fluid, which in both species is a combination of water, hydrochloric acid, potassium chloride, and sodium chloride. The concentration of these acids in dogs, however, is about four times as strong as it is in humans, and because wild canines are gorgers (often eating once every few days), most breeds of dog have stomachs twice the relative size of people. This means twice the amount of gastric fluid, which we already established is four times as strong. Wolves and dogs both have the ability to eat all kinds of horrible things and not only survive, but thrive. Their digestive systems are so alkaline and caustic that they can live on garbage and scraps. An interesting experiment with a dog is to give them a marrow bone approximately four times longer than their tongue. An experienced dog will eat the marrow out of each end, then mouth one end at a time, letting its saliva gather on top of the marrow. The saliva is so alkaline it melts the marrow, letting the dog drink it from the end of the bone. In a dog’s mouth, most bacteria and disease never have a chance.
The environment of the dog’s mouth is only as clean is what is currently in it, of course; it is easy to understand why some folks are squeamish about kissing dogs, or letting them lick us. Dogs eat things that we see as disgusting and even dangerous, and many of them are. Once the offending morsel has cleared the dog’s esophagus, however, it only takes a few minutes for the dog’s mouth to be clean again.
Statistically, hard data is difficult to find. The few cases of zoonotic transmissions from pet dogs to humans that are well documented occurred when people were careless with their own hygiene, and ingested dog feces off their own hands after carrying their pets. A chart is included here that shows frequency of zoonotic infections for 2007 in the European Union. It does not break out the frequency by species, but with the exception of three rabies cases, these are all diseases contracted by eating infected meat or processed vegetables. During that same year in the United States, 278 people were struck by lightning, 47 of who died. For those folks who practice normal daily hygiene rituals, and whose dogs are on a standard prescribed vaccination schedule, we are literally more likely to be struck by lightning than we are to catch a deadly disease from kissing a dog, or letting a dog lick us.
December 31, 2010 § Leave a comment
Stumpy, described as either an Old Boston bulldog or a pitbull/Boston Terrier cross, was smuggled aboard a troop transport by his owner, John Robert Conroy. While in Europe, Stumpy lived and fought with the 102nd Infantry as one of the soldiers. Stumpy distinguished himself as a brave and stalwart companion: tenacious in battle, and loving in rest. While convalescing at a military hospital from grenade wounds, Stumpy was said to have brought “comfort to the wounded and peace to the dying.” Stumpy learned to recognize the high-pitched sound of incoming artillery and, on several occasions, warned his unit of danger in time to save them from injury or death. During his time of service, Stubby fought in 17 battles, was wounded twice, and individually captured a German infiltrator. For his valor in combat, Stumpy was presented the Humane Education Society’s Hero Dog Medal by General John Joseph “Blackjack” Pershing, Supreme Commander of American Forces in Europe. Stumpy became quite famous when he returned to the US, where he received lifetime memberships to the Red Cross, YMCA, American Legion, and VFW, and was mascot of the Georgetown Hoyas.