Humane Communities

On Tuesday afternoons, my husband and I walk dogs at our local SPCA. Due to the SPCA’s long-standing efforts on spaying and neutering programs, as well as our community’s responsible dog ownership, there are often no dogs for us to walk. This is a very good problem to have!

Earlier this week, we attended a reception for SPCA volunteers. The guest speaker was Geoff Urton from our Regional SPCA Office. His topic was ‘Humane Communities.’ The broad goal of Humane Communities is to nurture empathy and compassion for both people and animals in community members of all ages. Often the word ‘people’ is left out of the above definition which is ironic as humanity lies at the center of this body of work and is key to its success. If we do not have understanding and compassion for humanity, how can we genuinely have empathy for other members of the animal kingdom? Renowned for their passionate work for animals, the SPCA has also adopted such people-centered programs as ‘Not Myself Today.’ This initiative aims to reduce the stigma of mental heath and foster safe and supportive environments. It is programs like these that help make the SPCA an incredibly well-rounded organization.

Being a long-time believer in the importance of animal welfare, I was excited to hear what our speaker had to say about the topic at hand. While the BC SPCA has been taking a number of steps to ensure Humane Communities (progressive animal control bylaws, farm certification, low-cost microchip programs, grant funding, wildlife preservation programs, animal shelter and services, etc., etc.), this was not the focus of Geoff’s address. Instead, he turned the microphone over to those of us sitting in the audience.

Many of us, including me, shifted uncomfortably. It became clear that the keynote’s message was that it is YOU and ME, not our local animal shelters or SPCA, who create and sustain Humane Communities. While government, animal organizations, law enforcement, veterinarians, schools, etc. all play a key role, the ultimate responsibility is for the citizens of communities to envision, aspire, speak up and create a better, more humane world.

Through his collaborative presentation, our speaker left us with two challenges. What kind of world do you want to live in? And, how are you going to make this happen? His first question was the easy part. The hard part is having the courage and the confidence to know that I can make a difference…and the gumption to jump in and make a start. For me, what is needed is the resolution to make the transition from a ‘long-time believer’ to a ‘passionate and committed’ one.

What about you? What is your vision of a Humane Community? What is one small thing that you could do that would help bring your surrounding environment closer to that vision?

You can read more about Human Communities here and here.

Not Ready to Say Goodbye

His photos have been featured on numerous of my previous blog posts. His presence can be felt between the lines of most things that I have written. For so long, he has been intricately woven into my husband’s and my lives, and the lives of our family. Less than six weeks ago, when I could not possibly foresee the dark shadows heading our way, I became lost in nostalgia looking at his baby photos. That nostalgia inspired a post where I mentioned how much he has added to our lives. Countless adventures, endless stories, and unparalleled laughter topped the list. I quoted research on how he, and his kin, can “heal our pain, help us cope and improve our well-being.” Source: Bjerklie, David (Ed.). (July 2016). Animals & Your Health.

For my husband and me, he has long been our sage counselor, among other roles. He’s been there through so much and has provided calm when we have needed it the most. Last week, in Ties that Bind, I spoke around a devastating tragedy that recently took place in our family. I have not been able to give details publicly on social media in respect of the privacy of my loved ones. Just over a week has gone by since that painful loss, and we are now back at our home on Vancouver Island. Normally he would be snuggled up beside us easing our pain, but sorrowfully, he is not here.

Unexpectedly, barely a week before our family tragedy struck, our beloved Husky, Cody, became ill. We were at the vet’s instantly. Despite test after test, nothing was conclusive. We tried everything. The vets tried everything. But Cody became weaker. Something was malignantly growing in his lungs and just would not be stopped.

My husband and I have spent the past few days taking Cody to his favorite places, trying to feed him some of his favorite foods and desperately wanting to return the love that he has given to us so freely. When his lungs simply could not take any more, and I was saying goodbye, all that I could manage to say was ‘thank you,’ over and over again. I wanted him to know how immensely grateful I am for how deeply he has enriched our lives. I wanted to thank him for his unconditional love and for always being there. Selfishly I wanted to tell him that we still needed him, that our home would not be the same without him, that we weren’t ready to say goodbye and that now was not the right time. But thank you was all that came out.

Rest in peace beloved Cody. We love and miss you more than mere words can express.

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What Has Your Dog or Cat Done for You Lately?

When I was cleaning up some of my digital photos this past week, I ran across the above baby picture of our dog, Cody. He is such a handsome dog (truly, see below) that I had forgotten what an incredibly adorable pup he was as well.  I stared fondly at the photo, lost in nostalgia.  Afterwards, my mood was noticeably uplifted for quite some time. Coincidence? Probably not.

Kate, at Views and Mews, often refers to herself as “waitstaff” for her four cats. I can totally relate. In fact, I often banter with my husband that in Cody’s eyes, my husband’s primary purpose in life is to provide exercise, entertainment and transportation, and mine is to provide food and drink. “What have you done for me lately?” I will often tease Cody, as he hangs out, rather impatiently, near his supper dish.

According to Time Magazine’s Special Edition “Animals and Your Health” (July 2016), Cody definitely pulls his weight. Research has repeatedly concluded that owning a pet reduces blood pressure in stressful situations and pet owners tend to have lower heart rates than their non-pet-owning counterparts. In one of a myriad of examples, heart patients who left the hospital after treatment were much more likely to survive if they owned a pet.  (Animals & Your Health, p 20)

More and more, pets have been used to help comfort survivors of terrible tragedies, revive long-forgotten memories for Alzheimer’s patients, sniff out cancer and detect harmful bacteria in water. They have also been found to lower the incidence of cardiovascular disease, help combat post-traumatic stress disorder, reduce loneliness, provide overall emotional support and ease the aging process…to list only some proven benefits of human interaction with their pets. (Animals & Your Health, p. 6)

In fact, “simply petting a dog generally decreases both blood pressure and heart rate and appears to raise levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of happiness and well-being.” (Animals & Your Health, p. 10) In addition to this, ‘Emotional Support Animals’ are now common alternatives to traditional medicines. (Animals & Your Health, p. 8)

In the US and Canada, more households have pets than have children. (Animals & Your Health, p. 6) In fact, 57 percent of Canadian households have pets which equates to 7.5 million homes. (Source) While the figures of what many people spend on their pets can be staggering (in 2015, it was estimated that pet owners in the US spent over 60 billion dollars caring for their animals), the benefits of pet ownership may be incalculable. (Source)

As for Cody…he doesn’t chase balls, doesn’t fetch sticks, does not reliably sit on command (see last post) and is an absolutely lousy watchdog. Regardless, throughout the last eleven years, he has been intricately woven into the fabric of our family’s pack. He has provided countless adventures, endless stories, and unparalleled laughter. Daily, he has ensured that we have gotten off of the couch, out of the house and into the fresh air. When we moved back to Canada and into our new home, he quickly introduced us to more neighbors than we would have met on our own.  Yes, Cody has definitely found his way into our hearts. Our lives have been forever enriched because of it.

What about you? If you have a four-legged critter in your life (or own a bird, or fish or reptile….) what has your pet done for you lately?

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Print Source:

Bjerklie, David (Ed.). (July, 2016). Animals & Your Health: The Power of Pets to Heal Our Pain, Help Us Cope, and Improve our Well-Being. Time Magazine Special Edition.

 

An Unforgettable Evening

It had been a perfect evening on the beach. The campfire was intoxicating and the s’mores (with their melt-in-your-mouth chocolate, and gooey marshmallows, precisely smushed between two crispy graham crackers) had never tasted so good. While we savored our meticulously roasted treats, marvelled at the majestic skyline, laughed and reminisced, our dog fervently dug a hole in the sand. Did I mention that it had been a perfect evening? We truly thought that it had been.

The next morning, when we went to take our dog, Cody, for his walk, he could barely move. His eyes revealed a horrifying and unmistakable pain. We immediately drove to a nearby animal clinic. A blood sample revealed a higher than normal reading for Cody’s liver. The vet sent us home with some medicine for Cody to take with his food. After hours of patiently trying to coax Cody to take even the smallest sip of water, it was painfully clear that Cody would not, or could not, eat or drink.

We drove back to the vet. An x-ray was taken. The result: Cody’s intestine was fully impacted with sand. How was that even possible? Cody has a (very well-deserved) reputation for being the most finicky dog around –almost always sniffing his food with extreme caution — and then refusing anything not to his liking. Why would he eat sand?

Apparently, dogs digest sand more often than we would think. Sometimes, the sand is simply consumed by dogs picking up sticks, rocks and tennis balls on the shore. At other times, dogs find a piece of discarded food on the beach that they gobble down–sand and all.  And, most likely in Cody’s case, when dogs are digging with their paws and snout, dirt or sand is inevitably swallowed.  It can all happen in the blink of an eye. If the sand accumulation is not diagnosed correctly and quickly, the results can be costly—and worse—they can be fatal.

Sand impaction is caused by sand entering the intestines, aggravating the lining and creating a blockage. Symptoms of sand accumulation in dogs include: refusing food, lethargy, nausea, diarrhea, dehydration, and pain. As the sand impaction does not allow food to pass through the intestine, vomiting is commonly associated with this condition.  A mineral oil solution was given to Cody to help loosen the sand and get it moving.  This treatment should only be administered by a veterinarian as mineral oils can lead to aspiration phenomena if the dog then begins to vomit. Other treatments may include: IV fluid therapy, stomach pumping, medications to break up the sand, and surgery. It can take days for the sand to pass through completely. For Cody, the oil concoction began noticeably working within seven hours. Twenty-four hours after that, the sand had all passed, and Cody was back to his old antics. Insert immense gratitude and relief here!

What did we learn? All of the above. We had no knowledge of this condition previously. However, our biggest takeaway was not new learning; rather it was an invaluable reminder.  In less than an instant, the most ordinary, or even blissful time, can go horribly wrong. In our retirement, Richard and I have been extremely grateful for our time together and our time with friends and family and with Cody (who turns eleven in June). This incident made us more mindful of slowing down to appreciate all that we have.

As for Cody, are his beach days now numbered? Absolutely not. He loves the beach and has been there countless times before. But, going forward, we will be much more vigilant. And, Cody will be totally busted from digging on the beach from this point on!

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On Leaving Fido

 

So, you know the carefree, happy-go-lucky, come-and-go-as-you-please image that the word ‘retirement’ often conjures up? Enter Fido (or Spot, or Fluffy…or in this case, Cody) and that rose-coloured vision is instantly smashed to bits!

Living in the land of retirees, we are completely surrounded by snowbirds, and other vacationers, heading off to California, Arizona, Hawaii, Mexico, Panama, and other cheerful, sunny destinations, seemingly at whim. Trying to fit in, and be ‘good retirees’ we started dreaming of our own trip. Perhaps a leisurely drive to Nevada, followed by a rendezvous or two with friends in California, then with family in Arizona. We could take our time, try out some of our new camping gear along the way, and come back when we pleased.

Wait! What were we thinking?? Temporary insanity must have made us  forget that we had a dog–a very large one! Now, before you begin rhyming off some simple solutions, here are some of the hurdles:

Hurdle #1: Cody has never stayed in a kennel before. His only experience being in a crate was his eleven-hour flight from Beijing to Vancouver…and it took him literally weeks (and a couple of vet visits) to recover. Did we really want to put him anywhere near a crate, or even a small penned in area, again?

Hurdle # 2: Being new to Vancouver Island, we do not know anyone close by well enough, at least not anyone who is not already away themselves, for such a big imposition.

Hurdle #3: Have I mentioned that Cody is a Siberian husky and a cat-hater? Actually, he thinks he quite likes cats…with salt and pepper perhaps! Cody is a hunter (and we have many long stories as to why we know this). Suffice it to say that it is best to keep him away from anything feline. Strike off all potential caregivers who have cats.

Hurdle #4: As for immediate family members (i.e. our four grown sons): one has a new baby (and dog allergies), one owns cats, one lives in England, and when I suggested our remaining son, my husband was quick to remind me that this son and his girlfriend worked long hours and lived in a small apartment so Cody would be alone for a very long time each day.

Hurdle #5: My husband has heard horror stories about dogs being held at border crossings and not being allowed to return home. And did I mention that we were driving to the desert…a very long drive to the desert?

Reviewing our list, we have now struck off kennels, neigbours, friends, family, anyone with cats and bringing Cody with us. What was left?

We went through many (many) stages in our decision-making. At first, we believed that we would hire a local caregiver to come into our home. We even met a really nice lady willing to do this. But then when we slept on it–three whole weeks seemed way too long to have a stranger in our home (regardless of how kindly she seemed). Wouldn’t it be better to trial this on a much shorter trip?

We then decided that we would modify our trip slightly. Our original vision of driving blissfully into the sunshine, golf clubs in tow, sadly morphed into one-week away via a budget airline–sans golf clubs (and sans check-in luggage of any kind). We were sure that we could trial a local (albeit, unfamiliar) live-in pet-sitter for a week. But then the rumour mill struck again.  Other (quite random) pet-owners shared some of their worst experiences.  Some even suggested that a pet-sitter would probably be fine for us…. but that they would never leave their dog with anyone but family. Insert guilt and separations anxiety here…and strike off local pet-sitter.

Next we did what we usually do when we cannot solve a problem on our own. We called in the experts! Fortunately, my walking group is made up not only of people who like a good hike, but they are also experienced pet owners and extreme dog lovers. I laid out the problems and challenges and then listened to their experiences and expert advice. “Take Cody with you”, they unanimously declared. They each had gone back and forth across the Canada/US border several times with their dogs happily by their sides. One of them even goes to an annual Golden Retriever picnic in Portland, Oregon!

Right then and there we decided to take Cody with us. We had already pictured him–car top down and his brightly coloured ascot billowing in the breeze (well actually, we don’t have a convertible, and Cody does not have an ascot…but you have to admit, it struck a nice image)!

Then the reality of driving three days there and three days back, with a large dog, set in. We really did want this to be a carefree adventure, for us…. and for Cody too. Nothing about a very long, hot drive with a dog spelled c-a-r-e-f-r-e-e…absolutely nothing!

So, weeks later, with countless hours spent worrying, planning, revising our plans, and planning some more…here we are packed and ready to make the drive. The car’s air conditioning has been double checked, and our passports, medical cards, and updated vaccination booklets are in our bags. Cody is sitting smugly in the back seat looking very pleased…. he is not going to Vegas but to Uncle Shaun’s (the son who we had not wanted to impose upon due to his long work hours and small space). When we finally broached the topic with Shaun, he and his girlfriend were thrilled to take Cody and had solutions to all of the barriers which had prevented us from asking them in the first place. They also reminded us of their fenced- in patio that Cody loves. Shaun immediately posted Cody’s photo on his Facebook page and instantly got offers from all around Vancouver (and even the Okanagan) to have Cody over for a play date! Also, at the last minute, we had friends (with dog allergies) ask to stay in our home while we were away, as they were in the process of moving. Dog and home were now accounted for!

Moral of the story: Don’t overlook the obvious, don’t be afraid to ask…. and pet-owner guilt can be a very powerful thing!

In a future post, I will let you know how the travels, both for us, and for Cody, turned out!