The Ever-Present Audience

It’s been a while since we’ve had a dog in the house, so spending a few days with Russell and his pooch Betty means getting reacquainted with notions of, well, doggedness around the house. Like having the feeling that you’re being watched and turning around to find that, sure enough, two dogs eyes are gazing fixedly at you like what you’re doing is the most fascinating thing in the world. It’s unnerving until you get used to it.

I forgot about dogs being an ever-present audience. When I finished washing the dishes and saw that Betty was still there, staring, I felt like giving her the old soft shoe and a quick bow.

Advertisements

Nights Without Snoring

The other night we were driving home when Kish turned to me and said, with a real note of sadness in her voice:  “I miss Kasey.”

img_6225I knew exactly what she meant.  It’s been a month since our little beagle mix has crossed the Rainbow Bridge, and it’s an ongoing adjustment.

We still regularly encounter little signs of our departed friend.  Take, for example, the nights without snoring.  Kasey was a big-time snorer who could saw logs with the best of them.  For a small dog, she produced considerable volume.  It took a while to get used to it when she first joined the family, but after we adjusted to Kasey’s sleep sounds they just became part of the expected background noise.  These days, the nights in our household seem awfully quiet.

There are other reminders, too.  We’ve kept one of Kasey’s dog bowls, so Russell’s dog Betty can use it when they visit.  Kasey’s winter coat still rests on one of the shelves of the pantry.  It’s too small for Betty, but it doesn’t feel quite right, yet, to throw it out or give it away.  When we go out into our tiny back yard, we still reflexively look before we step, even though we’ve long since removed every last one of Kasey’s tootsie rolls.  And, from time to time, we’ll still expect to hear that hoarse bark and thumping tail when we open the front door.

After Kasey’s passing, we’ve decided not to get a new dog for a lot of different reasons. I’m glad, though, that there are still these little, bittersweet reminders of our friend, which seem to be easing our transition into a pooch-free household.

A Mutually Beneficial Arrangement

Many health care facilities employ “therapy dogs” to help treat people with conditions ranging from cancer to mental illness to post traumatic stress disorder.  The proponents of therapy dogs swear that the presence of the pooches has measurable therapeutic benefits for the patients, and the sheer number of therapy dogs — by some estimates, there are more than 50,000 therapy dogs working in the United States alone — suggests that a lot of people agree with that conclusion.

dog_5_head_injuryBut, how do the dogs feel about their job?  Is working with sick people a stressor?  A recent study tried to find out.

The study looked at 26 therapy dogs that worked in five different pediatric cancer wards and interacted with more than 100 patients.  It focused on generation of cortisol, a hormone that is associated with stress in canines, which can be measured by taking swabs of canine saliva.  (If you’ve ever had a dog, you know they produce plenty of that.)  And, because cortisol occurs when dogs experience both good stress and bad stress, researchers matched the cortisol levels with canine behaviors associated with “bad” stress, such as shaking and whimpering, to determine whether therapy dogs found their work to be stressful.

I’m happy to report that the study concluded that therapy dogs are not stressed by their work, and instead seem to really like it.  Moreover, the study was able to rank the activities that are more enjoyable for the dogs.  Activities in which the patient and dog directly interact, such as a patient talking to the dog or playing with the dog and its toy, are more enjoyable for the pooch than activities in which the dog is more passive, such as when a patient brushes the dog’s coat or draws it.  The findings will allow facilities to shape their programs to make them more enjoyable for the hard-working dogs.

These results won’t come as a surprise to dog lovers, who know that their four-legged pals love to be around the friendly human members of the pack.  I’m confident that therapy dogs really like to interact with patients and that they sense, intuitively, that the patients reciprocate those feelings.  I’m also confident that therapy dogs provide real benefits to the patients, although there are skeptics out there.  The bond between dogs and human beings is real, and runs deep.  If you’re sick, being around a dog may not be a cure, but it is bound to make you feel better.

 

Patchwork

Dogs have many good qualities, but they aren’t easy on yards. Especially in a tiny backyard like ours, the combination of accumulated canine answers to the call of nature, unfettered grass nibbling, and gleeful dog romping will leave the lawn looking barren and diseased.

Now that we’re dogless for the first time in years, it’s time to get out the latest scientically developed patch mix and tackle those bare spots.

A Big Hole In The Household

IMG_0575We lost our little pal Kasey today.  For six years, she has been a huge part of our family.  Now she is gone, leaving a big hole in our household, and an even bigger hole in our hearts.

We inherited Kasey from Kish’s Mom.  Kasey was a rescue dog that Kish and her siblings found at the Erie County Humane Society to serve as a companion for Kish’s Mom, who had just lost her dog and was dealing with her final illness.  It was a match made in heaven.  Kasey was perfectly suited for that role, and Kish’s Mom delighted in her company.  When Kish’s Mom passed, we added Kasey to our household.

Kasey immediately made an impact.  Even though she was much smaller than our other dog, Penny, who was a large, lumbering lab, Kasey immediately assumed the position of lead dog in the Webner pack.  And yet, her small size and big eyes inevitably caused Kish to pick her up, deposit her in Kish’s lap, and manipulate her paws to wave goodbye or do some hand jive or engage in other antics that made us laugh.  Kasey endured this terrible indignity with good humor and a perfectly deadpan expression that made us laugh even more.  From time to time she would puff out her cheeks in what we interpreted as a clear sign that her patience was wearing thin.  It was just one tiny, but memorable, example of her very distinctive personality.

When Kasey left the lap and got to be a real dog again, as when we took her on walks, she fearlessly strutted through the neighborhood as if she owned the place, barking at dogs 10 times her size with a raspy woof that one dog-sitter called a smoker’s bark.  She wasn’t a biter, but she wasn’t afraid to mix it up with any other member of the canine species, either.  When she first joined the family, as shown in the picture above, the brown in her coat was dark, and she was full of spunk and energy.  She stayed that way for years, as if she was somehow immune to the ravages of time.

Because she was a rescue dog, we never knew precisely how old Kasey was, although we think she reached the ripe age of 17 — which is pretty darned old in “dog years.” Gradually her coat got whiter and whiter.  It became too painful for her to put weight on her back leg, cancerous growths broke out on her face, and her eyes got rheumy and her hearing failed.  Her sleeping increased until she was dozing 23 hours a day, and she was losing all semblance of bowel control, besides.  As the end neared, she was more like a stuffed animal than a living creature.  Her appetite declined, and when it got to the point when she wouldn’t even bark for a piece of meat I was having for a meal, we knew the time had come.

If you have a dog in the family, you’ll know how difficult the decision is, and what a mixture of emotions it provokes — sadness at losing a great friend and companion, relief that their period of suffering is finally over, and hope that, somewhere, your dog is out romping on a grassy field, running without pain under a sunny, bright blue sky.  That’s what we’re feeling about Kasey.  We’ll never forget her.

Much Ado ‘Bout Betty Boo

Russell’s dog Betty has been staying with us for a few weeks while Russell gets some work done on his builling.  Betty — who is known to Kish and me as Betty Boop or, in abbreviated form, Betty Boo — is making herself at home, as dogs always do, and there couldn’t be more of a contrast between the youthful Betty and the aging Kasey, who likes nothing so much as good morning, afternoon, and evening naps.  Betty is pretty much the exact opposite, and the difference between the two moved me to write some bad verse:

Much Ado ‘Bout Betty Boo

Damp tennis balls found in the halls,

A tattered sock and battered shoe.

These all, we know, are telltale signs

of Betty, Betty Boo.

Kasey wants to sleep so deep.

But things to rip, or tear, or chew

Are the very favorite things

Of Betty, Betty Boo.

She’s still a pup, and not grown up

With more energy than me or you;

A whirlwind of devilish play

Is Betty, Betty Boo.

It’s time to walk, no time to talk,

Then we’ll play fetch anew.

But she’ll never tire, no matter what

Will Betty, Betty Boo.