Monday, April 13, 2009

City Dogs, City Cats

Spring is here, and dogs and cats are everywhere. Responsible pet guardians make good neighbors. Those with and without pets can co-exist peacefully. Let’s review some guidelines for keeping dogs and cats safe in the city.

Identification on pets is essential, and licensing is required by law. Dogs are generally safe off leash in an enclosed area on their own property. In Portland, there are parks with designated dog areas. The safest are fenced. (How many lost pet signs have you seen?)

Each dog park has its own rules and hours. Once your dog is off leash, more than ever, you are responsible. It’s tempting to chat with other dog people and forget to keep an eye out for your dog. That may make it too late to break up a potential fight. (Maybe you can predict your dog’s behavior, but you can't predict the manners of other dogs.) With a focus on socialization, dog guardians are often unaware when their dog has left what needs to be picked up. Carry extra plastic bags, and be a good neighbor by being a responsible guardian. Keep an eye on your dog.

Those with or without dogs can be good neighbors by demonstrating etiquette when encountering an unknown dog on leash. Always ask permission to pet the dog, no matter how friendly the dog appears. It’s not only good manners, it’s a safety measure. A fearful dog can be as dangerous as an aggressive dog. Safety can’t be predicted by breed; animals are individuals, too.

Outdoor pet cats exercise their wanderlust and hunting skills, even when well fed. Keep identification and a bell on your cat’s collar. Remember, cats are born hunters, and experts at stealth. Some know how to stalk prey (frequently birds) without making a sound. Outdoor felines are subject to dangers that can shorten their lifespan to a mere two years or less.

Whether or not you are a pet guardian, you can also demonstrate good citizenship by keeping an eye out for what is happening in your neighborhood. Abuse and neglect of animals does happen. Just like children, they need responsible others looking out for them. If you witness an animal being neglected or abused, phone the investigators at the Oregon Humane Society (503-285-7722.) Or go to, click on Services, then Investigations. Use your best judgment deciding whether to personally confront someone. If you see your neighbor’s dog leashed up on the front lawn with an empty water bowl on a hot day, maybe you can fill it yourself. Most pet guardians are responsible, and have good intentions. Assume the best of others, and they will often rise to the occasion.

Spaying and neutering. It’s probably the most critical issue in animal welfare. There simply are not enough homes for all of the cats and dogs born. The statistics are astounding. For every person in the US, 15 dogs are born and 45 cats. According to the Humane Society of the US, more than 3 million cats & dogs are euthanized in shelters annually. Not only is a spayed or neutered pet a healthier, happier pet, it is the most important choice you can make as a pet guardian. If you or your children want to see the miracle of birth, borrow or rent a nature movie.

Rescue groups abound, and before you decide to go to a breeder for your next pet, do an internet search to see if the breed you want has a rescue group. There are many great rescue groups in town, beginning with our very own Oregon Humane Society.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Puppy

It already sounds like a sad story, doesn't it? My last day with Zora, who I had known since her adoption day when she was just eight weeks of age, was bittersweet. Ironically, that morning together turned out to be our best.

Zora had no idea what was ahead when she left her 12th floor condo, and jumped into the back seat of my car. At 14 weeks of age, she was still skittish walking in the Pearl. It was simply too noisy, too busy, and she was a comical sight as I sometimes dragged her along. Little did Zora know that we were headed over the Broadway Bridge, to the much quieter environs of residential Irvington.

I was on a house sit for Molly, adopted from Golden Bond, a rescue group for Golden Retrievers. Clearly, Molly had been abused, and she was skittish in her own way. But Molly was making great progress, and there were some dogs who didn't set her to barking. Zora and Molly both needed socialization with other dogs, and I saw this as a potential win-win.

Zora and I entered Molly's home from the back. They sniffed each others scent, and then I opened a door. Molly was surprised, and I assured her that Zora was only visiting. Fortunately, there was a lot of tail wagging, on both sides.

The highlight of the morning was extended play time in a huge, enclosed back yard. It was the first time I was able to let Zora off leash, and watch her romp on grass with another dog. Molly's favorite activity is ball playing. Molly chased the ball, and Zora barked with glee as she chased Molly. I savored the moment, witnessing Zora and Molly playfully running freely on a beautiful day. One of those completely perfect moments in time.

Zora's Mom was able to pack, while her dog was enjoying a play date. She had been laid off the prior week, and was now getting ready to move to New Hampshire, where she and her husband had a farm. Daily city noise would be replaced by the sounds of nature. That morning Zora had a taste of the good life to come.

When we returned to the Pearl, I wasn't successful finding street parking, so Zora's Mom came down to retrieve her. It was not the lingering goodbye I had anticipated. Zora was quickly leashed, Ann and I gave each other a quick hug, and then, they were gone. The rushed goodbye did make it a bit easier to leave a puppy I had grown to love, and will never forget. I fought back tears as I headed back over the Broadway Bridge, and comforted myself thinking about Zora in the countryside, running freely, reveling in life, unleashed.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Adoption Challenges

The woman who phoned was new to Portland. She had found a dog she wanted to adopt at the Oregon Humane Society, and she needed pet taxi service to his new home. Adopting an animal is exciting, and there is usually hopeful anticipation that he or she is going to a loving, forever home.

I met "Julie" and then her adoptee, "Shadow." He is a young, healthy Shepherd mix who now had another chance after his last family returned him after only four days. There weren't too many details, but Julie did learn that Shadow didn't like cars. That was a sign of the adventure to unfold.

The OHS staff leashed up Shadow and walked him to my car. Fortunately, he bounced into the back seat, without too much hesitation. Julie sat next to him, and we were on our way. We then learned about Shadow's barking. Of course, he had no idea what was ahead for him. He couldn't know he wouldn't be competing for attention again with two dogs already established in a household. He was now to be an only child, which would possibly suit him perfectly. But how was he to know that? The last time people took him out of a kennel, they returned him. How could he trust anything? So the barking continued, as we headed over the bridge to his new home. My heart went out to him and his obvious anxiety, as I tried to ignore the piercing pitch of his barks.

When we arrived at Julie's one bedroom apartment, Shadow explored every corner of the minimally furnished two rooms he was allowed in: the living room and bedroom. Walking him around the neighborhood revealed more sides of his anxious personality. He gets manic not only in a car, but around cars. Car headlights. Cars moving. Unexpected noises. He jumps in the air, barking wildly. He pulls right to left on the lead. He startles easily. He is clearly having a difficult time adjusting to city life.

Now it's a few days later. The vet who made a house call recommended small doses of Prozac. Julie is a nurse and has learned that Prozac sometimes has the opposite of the intended effect in dogs,so she is hesitant about trying it. She is now wondering if Shadow would be better off in a house in a quieter neighborhood, with an enclosed back yard to run around in.

In child welfare there is sometimes the tragedy known as "adoption disruption." It sometimes occurs when the new parents are unable to bond to the child they adopted. The child is returned to foster care. You can imagine the impact on a child. Animals can experience something similar. They know when they've been in a home, and then returned to a shelter. If it happens several times, the animal may withdraw and become so despondent that the only humane option is to gently put the animal to sleep.

Julie has a heart filled with love. But what if Shadow needs more than that? What would be best for Shadow, I wonder? Adoption disruption, in his case, could give him another chance at finding a home that may be a better match. A trainer may be able to bring him around, though it's possible that his fears are so imbedded that no amount of Prozac will do the trick. However it turns out, I pray that it works in Shadow's favor. He deserves that chance.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Puppy Love

Her name is Zora. I met her on her first day in her new city home. She was in her travel crate, laying on a blanket, surrounded by toys. At only eight weeks old, all these new sights and sounds were pretty scary. She stuck her head, then a foot, outside her crate, and then backed in again. She did this several times, whimpering her puppy anxiety. I got down on my knees and talked to her. She was one of the cutest pups I've ever seen, with huge feet and floppy ears, which she will one day grow into. The consultation with my new client, Zora's Mom, was longer than usual, since I was captivated by Zora. After all, what's more fun than being around a baby animal?

Two days later, I returned for my first visit to walk and play with Zora. She was simply tuckered out from the adjustment, and the first day without her Mom. She snuggled into my lap and napped. I served as a human heating pad, I suppose. It gave her comfort, and I was glad to provide it. Over the next several days, she was slowly introduced to the busy streets outside her 12th floor apartment. She's reluctant to venture beyond her own home, and it's a comical sight as she is half coaxed, half dragged outdoors. At first, we ventured only as far as the nearest tree. The next day, another tree, another block.

Now it is week two, and Zora is nine weeks old. She is still fearful of being outside, with all the city noises of the Pearl. Today we actually got a half mile walk in, and on the way we found trees without metal grills covering the soil. So Zora got to stand on the earth, as she sniffed. Her puppy cuteness draws attention everywhere we go.

In the coming weeks, surely her courage will emerge, for she is a Great Dane. She will grow into those floppy ears (which will remain uncropped, thank goodness) and big feet. She will stand tall, and people will still stop and stare. She will evolve into an elegant, canine beauty.

I feel blessed to watch her grow, and to get paid to do what I love. Zora is one of those special animals who has already wiggled her way into my heart. She gets my vote for Cutest Puppy in the Pearl.