The Secret Inner Life Of Dogs

We boarded Kasey while we were on our recent trip to Maine.  

We put her up in a really nice place, staffed by bubbly, outgoing  young women, where Kasey and the other canine guests all have their own reasonably roomy spaces with their own chairs, beds, and water and dog food bowls.  The spaces aren’t crates, but are more like little individual rooms that are open to the ceiling.  Kasey gets walked and fed regularly, the young dog-loving employees enthusiastically track her bowel movements in a daily report, and we even pay extra for special TLC time.  As dog boarding options go, it’s a nice one.

And yet when we return home after one of these trips to pick up Kasey, inevitably her bark has turned into more of a squeak and she seems utterly exhausted.  We should all wish to be able to experience the deep, total slumber that Kasey immediately falls into the instant we get home and she finds a sunny spot in the yard.  Either Kasey and her canine comrades are out partying until late at night, adopting the “what happens at the boarder stays at the boarder” mentality, or she just hasn’t slept much because she misses her special warm spot in the sun — and perhaps also misses Kish and me and the sense of security and routine that Kasey associates with us.

Most people tend to think of dogs as simple creatures, lacking much in the way of emotional complexity.  I think the reality is a lot more nuanced.  Outwardly, dogs might come across as panting, napping, pooping, bright-eyed simpletons, but down deep they may be a rich stew of angst whenever they’re taken from their comfort zones.  And when a pooch is a rescue dog, as Kasey was, you wonder if every boarding experience calls up unpleasant memories of the past.

Perhaps we’re projecting and feeling unnecessary guilt about our trips, and Kasey’s outward hoarseness and apparent fatigue are simply due to a stay in a place where dogs are barking a lot and it’s hard to sleep because there are lots of strange dogs, and strange dog smells, in every direction.  But what pet owner doesn’t like to think there’s a reservoir of deeper feelings lurking behind that doggy exterior?

On The Value Of Real And Imagined Pet Insurance

When I saw a headline stating that one of the hottest new benefits some of America’s largest companies are offering to employees is pet insurance, I thought it was a great idea.

IMG_3790Of course, initially I thought it was casualty insurance.  How appropriate, I thought, to finally recognize the obvious catastrophic loss potential found in every otherwise innocent looking dog.  Whether it’s chewing through an expensive handbag and countless pairs of shoes, or knocking over a bottle of dye that leaves an indelible stain on brand-new Berber carpeting, or experiencing gastric or intestinal incidents that permanently ruin fancy throw rugs after eating an entire wheel of brie or trying to consume an “action figure,” the misadventures of our pooches can have a profound impact on the pocketbook.  Why not offer insurance that properly recognizes that dogs are an awesomely destructive natural force, like hurricanes or tornadoes?

But the insurance that’s being offered is pet health insurance — and that’s an even better idea.  Under the options offered by the plans, the cost per pet ranges between $10 and $57 a month, depending on the coverage and deductible.

Having such coverage surely would help when pet owners have to make decisions about costly medical care for their companions.  It’s an awful, wracking process when a family on a budget has to decide whether to to spend thousands of dollars on surgery and medication on a beloved family pet whose remaining life expectancy would be short under even ideal conditions.  No one wants to try to put a dollar value on the life of a pet that has become a member of the family, and having some help in paying the bills that would allow that life to continue would make the decision so much easier.

Let A Pig Be A Pet

In Houston, a Texas district court judge has declared that Wilbur, a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, is a “household pet” who can remain in his owners’ home. The case addressed whether Wilbur violated the local homeowners association rules.

Wilbur was a Christmas gift from Alex Sardo to his wife, Missy, and he quickly became a member of the family.  A few months later, a neighbor brought the pig to the attention of “The Thicket at Cypresswood Community Improvement Association,” which concluded that Wilbur was not the kind of “common” and “traditional” pet permitted by association rules and sent the Sardos a letter saying Wilbur had to go.

The Sardos went to court, and on Monday Judge Mike Engelhart ruled that a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig is a household pet not bred for commercial purposes.  He also noted that “Homeowner’s associations are there, on one hand, to maintain a neighborhood in a particular way, but they also have responsibilities not to infringe too much on homeowner’s use of their land the way they see fit.”

Hear, hear!  The ruling is a victory not only for pot-bellied pigs, but also for people who yearn to be free from the nosy intrusions of busybody neighbors who want to control how other people live.  This isn’t a case of people raising hogs in their backyard or having a lion for a pet.  Wilbur was a well-mannered pig who was kept in the home, didn’t cause trouble, and brought some joy to the lives of the Sardos.  Why should neighbors raise a stink, rather than doing the neighborly thing and keeping their opinions to themselves?  If Wilbur’s story causes even one homeowner’s association to back off, he’s served the interests of mankind.

Somewhere, a spider named Charlotte and a rat named Templeton are happy that Wilbur was judicially recognized as “some pig” — and no doubt “humble” as well.

The Things We Do For Our Dogs

You wake up and feel pretty good.  You walk downstairs, look outside, and see that it’s windy and raining, fat raindrops blowing sideways.  Ugh.

Penny is up and alert in her crate, famished and aching to be fed.  You put out food, and she bolts it down with gusto.  In the meantime you conclude that raincoat, ball cap, and umbrella are the best defenses against the crappy weather given what you must do when you are outside.  Already, you are dreading it.

You put on Penny’s leash, open the door, and head out into the elements.  Boy, this weather blows!  Penny, who doesn’t relish the rain, takes care of her first chore straightaway — but there is a cadence and a rhythm to a dog’s life, and the principal outdoor responsibility can’t be rushed.  So she noses around for a seeming eternity, zig-zagging here and there, until canine sensibilities tell her that the right moment and right spot have arrived.

You fish the little plastic bag out of your back pocket, turn it inside out over your hand, and perform pick-up duty with one hand while you are trying, ineffectively, to hold the leash and the umbrella in the other.  My God, what did she eat yesterday?  The familiar, disgusting odor is overpowering.  Then you reverse out the bag and tie it off, rain coating your face and glasses.  While you are performing this delicate task Penny circles around with renewed, lighter than air energy, helpfully binding your legs with the leash.

After you are back inside, one final job remains — toweling off Penny so that you can add that eau de wet dog odor to the fine symphony of scents you’ve endured already this morning.  To add a final element of insult, Penny does the wet dog shake and splatter as you are down in the wipe-off zone.

She trots off, happy and contented, and you stand there, water-coated and nostrils still befouled, and realize that people without dogs are still happily abed.

The Death Of A Dog

Yesterday Effie died.  She was a 13-year-old black Labrador Retriever who was the boon companion of Kish’s mother.  Faith has had Effie since she was a puppy, and she loved that dog as truly and absolutely as any living being can love another.  As you would expect, Faith is devastated by her loss.

Since the dawn of human history, people and dogs have formed close bonds.  In such cases, the dogs become a part of the family in every sense of the word.  They provide company, and attention, and humorous moments, and a kind of adoration.  In return, you feed them, walk them, pick up their droppings, and care for them to the point of paying hundreds and even thousands of dollars for medical treatment without a second thought.  But a dog’s life is all-too-short — 13 is ripe old age for a Lab — and inevitably the human members of the family must deal with decline and death of the beloved pet.  The death always leaves an ache that people who don’t have pets perhaps can’t fully appreciate, but that fellow dog lovers know all too well.

Effie ate from the table, was too fat, and had an annoying whimper.  Her black fur was a constant presence on the chairs and carpets in her house.  But those were small things, really, compared to the good company, happiness, and devotion that she provided.  Her very presence made a widow’s life more purposeful and less lonely. My guess is that Effie would consider her life to have been a fulfilling one.

Effie is buried in a spot that Faith picked out in advance, next to her predecessor pets, on the edge of a field where she will hear the breeze ruffling the leaves of the cornstalks.