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Must vent about today’s “Practically the Worst Day in Our Dogs’ [Westies Oliver, Blanche, Keely and Ambrose] History.”

We had our friend, Mitch Gonzales (the Christopher R. Mihm B-movie mask-maker guy), over to watch a Hammer Suspense film from the ’50s with us called “The Snorkel.” Terrible name, REALLY good movie.

Anyway, moments before Mitch arrived, Oliver got into some frozen foods my husband Anthony had put out on the porch so we could finally defrost our basement freezer. The naughty mutt stole a frozen 1/3-pound boneless pork filet. Pork is way too rich for dogs in general in that kind of quantity, and especially for his delicate digestion. We struggled, chase, cajoled, bribed and basically did everything we could to get that thing away from him for nearly an hour. I even offered him other kibble, a chicken wing, a walk and even a ride in the car, but he wouldn’t come out from under a shrub for anything—and that little sucker is FAST on his getaways.

Well, he finally finished devouring his pig dinner and came back in the house, only to start uncontrollably shivering, whining and finally howling for several minutes on end (he’s the only Westie I’ve EVER heard howl like that in my life). All of this was because his tummy was hurting. It was rather heart-breaking, but the doofus dog did it to himself. We put him out again and hoped he’d barf it all up.

Eventually, he must have because I later saw Ambrose eagerly eating something in the snow. Hot lunch, on ice!

All the while this is happening, I’m apologizing to Mitch for the awfulness of it all.

Then, we all sat down to a light lunch, and as we began the movie, Blanche proceeded to steal Anthony’s ham sandwich and start eating it on the couch. Luckily, Mitch alerted me in time to have me put most of it back together.

When Oliver came back in, the tummy-ache-based howling started up again, so Anthony put on a loop leash to guide out the dog again, and Mitch got to see the insane snarling and snapping Oliver is known for when he resisted being led. Score another point for good dog behavior around company. At least now Mitch knows I was never exaggerating when I said Oliver’s behavior could be downright dangerous when he loses it.

THEN, about halfway through the movie, Keely jumped up on the couch with me and Mitch and I smelled something I “hoped” was just her typical fart. But, no such luck. She had apparently had the runs outside and was toting a bunch of smeary pooh, as well as a rock-hard poop-hole plug, both of which I worked on for 15 minutes and used fully half a roll of toilet paper to thoroughly remove from her butt. Anthony got to scrub a spot of stinkiness off the sofa, too.

I’m sure Mitch was having the time of his life with this kind of Martha Stewart-esque hospitality! I was mortified to say the least. Fortunately, he loves dogs and understood. He’s even made plans to come back sometime and watch a few more such flicks. Glutton for punishment.

So how the heck was your day, honey?

New humane society policies boost pet placement

By Jessica Fleming
Updated: 08/09/2011 11:52:48 PM CDT

Success at the Animal Humane Society can be measured in empty cages.

Since the organization began requiring an appointment to surrender a pet at the beginning of the year, placement rates for animals have improved from 67 percent to 81 percent.

Additionally, the society has reduced the rate of euthanasia by 41 percent.

Animal Humane Society CEO Janelle Dixon said interviewing people who are seeking to surrender a pet provides information about the animal that helps it get adopted more quickly.

“We now know who is coming and why they’re coming, and that helps us prepare,” Dixon said. “Sometimes animals get placed the very same day, which is great.”

Knowing such simple things as a pet’s age, any health or behavior problems and why the owner is surrendering the pet was not a given eight months ago. Owners could simply drop off the animals – even after hours – and they were placed in cages to await a visit with the vet.

When pet owners call to surrender an animal, they speak with a counselor who can help them find resources or make an appointment for the surrender. Animal trainers are available to speak with callers, and many behaviors are relatively easy to fix, Dixon said.

So when the owners enter the exam room with their pets, a vet examines the animal and interviews the owner. Staff members can provide resources to keep the animals from being surrendered in the first place.

The surrender-by-appointment policy is part of a $3.1 million


initiative called Bound for Home, the aim of which is to increase the number of animals placed with a new family and reduce the length of stay for surrendered or stray pets.The independent, local nonprofit has raised about two-thirds of the cost of the initiative, major gifts officer Deanna Kramer said. All the money has come from individual donors and foundations as gifts, she said.

A behavior helpline is staffed seven days a week as part of the initiative. It includes a decrease in the adoption fee for cats older than a year to $50 and a low-cost spay/neuter clinic for the pets of low-income people.

Dixon said the organization, which has locations in five cities in the metro area, hired 28 new employees to help meet their goals.

On Tuesday, as volunteers walked dogs and prepared for the adoption floor to open, many cages were empty, awaiting arrivals from a downstairs holding area. Strays that used to wait in the holding area for a required five-day period to expire are often placed on the adoption floor, where customers can claim an animal before it’s even available to take home.

“It’s really encouraging for everyone here to see the animals going home faster,” Kramer said.

Last year, the shelter’s Golden Valley location still had pet “drop boxes” where pet owners could shut an animal in a cage in the shelter’s entryway 24 hours a day. Once the door was shut, it locked. Cages contained food, water and litter for cats.

The practice was discontinued as part of the new policies, Kramer said, and has contributed to a decrease in the number of “stray” animals the shelter takes in. State law dictates that strays have to be held for five days – in case an owner comes to reclaim them – before being spayed, neutered or adopted.

“The community has responded to and understands what we are doing,” Kramer said. “We all want what’s best for the animals in the end.”

The biggest improvements in statistics have been with cats. A year ago, cats stayed at the humane society an average of 32 days. Now, the average stay is down to eight days.

Dixon and Kramer both said they were surprised by how quickly the new policies paid off.

“I think none of us expected it to happen in six months,” Dixon said. “I think we expected it in a year, year and a half. Needless to say, we’re thrilled.”

Jessica Fleming can be reached at 651-228-5435.

Book Review Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss, by Sid Korpi

by Therese Kopiwoda on July 7, 2011

in Book Reviews,Cats,Dogs,Pets

Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss: Personal and Professional Insights on the Animal Lover's Unique Grieving Process Losing a pet is the toughest part about loving a pet, and something we just can’t get around. The fact that they aren’t human doesn’t mean it won’t hurt. So, for many of us, me included, it can be an extremely depressing and difficult time.

Personally one of the best ways I’ve found to deal with the grief is to distance myself from people who don’t understand. And, when I need it, surround myself with those people who do get it. There have been several instances when I was told “get another one” after losing one of my pets. I tend to distance myself from those people very quickly. Fortunately though, I have people in my life who I can turn to because they totally understand the grief. (That includes many of you reading this post, who were there when I lost my cat, Tequila.)

In her book, Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss: Personal and Professional Insights on the Animal Lover’s Unique Grieving Process, Sid Korpi writes about this, and a lot of other ways to work through our grief. She shows us how to:

  • Emotionally prepare for a pet’s euthanasia and understand when it’s time
  • View death not as an ending, but (as animals see it) a natural transition
  • Cope with being around insensitive people
  • Memorialize and celebrate the pet’s life
  • Move on after loss and love again

Good Grief isn’t like other pet loss books I’ve read. Rather than the clinical, “here are the 5 stages of death” and “seek professional help if needed” Sid writes about different ways to deal with the grief and doesn’t judge anyone because of their needs or beliefs. She totally gets that we all grieve differently and need to deal with it in the way that makes most sense for us, as individuals. She takes a very gentle, understanding approach to pet loss and grief, and urges us to be kind to ourselves and find what works best.

It’s been a year and a half since I lost Tequila but there are times when I miss her terribly. So, even though it’s been a while, I felt comforted as I read Good Grief.

Saturday, June 25, 2011
I’ll be performing animal blessings once an hour from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the
Pet-a-Palooza at the State Fair Grounds. Join the fun in this free event with dozens of animal rescue organizations and pet-related vendors, food, music and entertainment. Sponsored by The Urban Dog. Pets are welcome!

I was discussing the importance of the human-animal bond today with my PetPAC colleague, pet photographer Patrick Nau. We noted the current expansion plans for the business Chuck & Don’s Pet Food Outlet, where Nau’s beautiful pet portraits are on display and for whom he does newsletter and advertising photography.

I wondered what might allow Chuck & Don’s to achieve success like this in the midst of the Great Recession, then I answered my own question. Studies have shown that pet-related businesses are one of the few recession-resistant ventures. Many people, myself included, will sacrifice their own comforts to provide for their animal companions. Why is this, when so many of us are losing sleep at night over our climbing levels of debt and dwindling incomes? It’s certainly not “rational.”

What I decided must be a motivating factor is the fact that our companion animals are our “anchors to sanity.” (Patrick really liked that phrase.) With them we find a relationship wherein we get out of it much more than we give, no matter how much we give. What work or interpersonal relationship can consistently boast that? Being around our animals lowers our blood pressure, reduces our stress, makes us feel unconditionally loved and accepted, gives us a sense of being necessary to another living being, etc. Is it any wonder we place such a high value on this relationship?

When the rest of our lives may appear to be spinning out of our control, we know we can still go for a walk with or play fetch with our dog, sit quietly in a rocking chair with our cat, talk to our birds, and so on. We are reminded by our animal companions of the simple pleasures, of the joy to be found in living in the moment. We may not be able just now to shell out money for expensive trips to Cancun, all the latest in techno-gadgetry, or visits to a high-priced psychiatrist to diminish our stress, but as long as we have our dearest four-legged (two-winged, etc.) friends with us, we just may not have as great a need for any of those things. —Sid

My husband, Anthony, with Blanche and Oliver

Recently, my hubby and I had a couple stop by for a dance lesson through our in-home business, Two Right Feet Dance. They were both personable and funny at first, but then something changed. Our four Westies came to greet them at the door, as is their custom, and I perceived a subtle shift in the energy around the guy. He made some scoffing remarks about the dogs, supposedly in jest but not quite making it. Then he actually growled at them! (When scheduling them, I asked specifically if they had allergies or just didn’t like dogs so we could be sure and have them outside when the people arrived. I was told they were fine around dogs.)

Ambrose, Blanche and Keely pretty much ignored this, but our newest adoptee, Oliver, looked traumatized. He hung his head and looked like if he could have sunk into the floor, he would have. The guy then boasted about his effect on Oliver, “Look, he’s demoralized!”

The couple had come on a gift certificate, so their lesson was paid for already and I couldn’t boot his butt out of our house. But it made me slightly sick inside. I comforted poor Oliver and just said to the young man, “I can see you’re not much of an animal lover.”

His girlfriend said to me, “He hates my kitty, too.”

I couldn’t help thinking, “Swell. Yeah, lady, build your life with this guy! That’s a great idea.”

During the lesson, when he was just around us humans, the guy was all right if a tad bit sarcastic with his humor. But when he and his date were about to leave, again, he took on the “tone” with my dogs who were being nothing but friendly, not even jumping up on him.

I took my cues from Oliver’s response and bid him a hasty farewell. I know we did a good job on the lesson, but this is one person from whom I don’t seek repeat business.

Oliver is by far the most sensitive among our Westies, so it came as no surprise he’d pick up on the man’s animosity most intensely. It broke my heart to see him shrivel under that creepy human’s derisive remarks and growling. I really wanted to go alpha bitch on the nasty man, but, again, the business person in me had to bite my tongue, as he and his girlfriend would only be around the dogs for a couple of moments before going to our studio upstairs.

Nevertheless, I would never seek to have a friendship with someone with that kind of energy and who would be stinky enough to treat someone’s pets that way upon our first meeting. Talk about lacking social skills.

Don’t worry, Oliver. Mama won’t let that man back in to be mean to you ever again.

Oliver kisses his daddy

I’m having trouble concentrating because a new “very old” squeaky toy was just rediscovered by my Westies. The sound it makes and the rhythm of their chewing makes a sound identical to a baby crying. It’s freaking me out!! But they love it so much!

My sister shared this article in Dr. Michael Fox’s column. (Dr. Fox wrote a wonderful endorsement for my book Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss.) This touching story reinforces the point of my own tale of a dog’s need to say goodbye (scroll down to read this). Please apply this to the passing of another pet, too. Animal’s need to understand what has happened when their playmate suddenly is gone. Letting them visit the body or sniff a blanket the deceased pet was wrapped in can help them process what’s going on.—Sid

My story:

Recently, I had the true pleasure of reacquainting myself with a dear friend I had not seen since high school, nearly 30 years ago! Don Rinderknecht and I had been in choir and plays together. Most notably, he was Nathan Detroit to my Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls” in 1980. He remains one of my all-time favorite costars.

As we sat and blabbed the night away, the topic of our shared love of animals came up. He and his wife, Penney, own five acres in Oklahoma, on which they have five horses (three of them minis), a dog and a cat named Mr. Data (from “Star Trek”). This is a household after my own heart!

We started discussing the publication of my book and he said, “I have the topic for your next book already—how other animals grieve when one of them dies.” He shared how his cat was after affected by his fellow feline housemate’s passing.

Of their one remaining cat, Mr. Data, he said, “His mood, dare I say even personality, changed when Mr Spock died. He even took to licking my hair which Spocky did, but Data never did until Spock left us! He also seemed to be a bit more aggressive about things like he tended to bite (not terribly hard) when we were petting him… he still does this stuff today.”

That led to my sharing some stories from the book itself and, in particular, this one about my mother’s passing and Mr. Moto, her precious pug’s, response to losing her.

When my mother was dying of lung cancer in 1998, we somehow all failed to recognize that we needed to help Mr. Moto through the process as well. When she left home to go to hospice, Mr. Moto had no idea where she’d gone and became utterly despondent. I was pet-sitting him one day for my sister, Diane, who would be inheriting him, when I noticed him sitting, slumped down in the middle of my backyard. He wouldn’t come when I called. He couldn’t seem to respond in any way because he was so depressed over being separated from his human mama.

I’ll never forget the other dogs’ response to his anguish: They urinated on him as if he were a tree stump.! We knew we had to do something fast for this poor little boy or he’d lose all will to live.

Fortunately, North Memorial Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota, had the good sense to allow pets into their hospice unit. We brought along Mr. Moto to see his mama one more time, and he was over the moon with happiness and relief!
Please note, he had always licked people in greeting…everyone except my mom. For some reason, he never would give her face a kiss in the eight or so years she’d had him. So, you can imagine the heart-wrenching scene we witnessed as Mr. Moto jumped onto her hospital bed and incessantly, frantically licked her face for at least five full minutes! I was afraid he might wear a hole in her!

It was quite difficult to see her impassive, almost mechanical response to his love-drenching, but I understood she was having to detach from life on this side of the veil in order to cross over soon, so she couldn’t allow herself to respond as she normally would have, i.e., with tears and laughter. She looked tired and numb, merely passively accepting Moto’s kisses and devotion. My heart broke doubly at the sight and the cross purposes of these two beings who had loved each other so very much.

After that visit, though, Mr. Moto was a changed dog. He was happy and light-hearted again because he’d communicated to us dense-as-lead

humans in the only way he knew how that he simply had to be allowed to say goodbye to his dearest mama and send her off with all his love, via wet tracks on her sunken, dehydrated cheeks. His relief was palpable. I still thank those hospital administrators who had the compassion and forethought to allow companion animals to be present for both their terminally ill patients’ and their pets’ comfort and so-very-necessary closure.

Back to the present—who thought I’d be seeing someone I hadn’t seen in more than half my life and connecting over such a profound memory? We were at that moment closer than we’d probably ever been while in high school. I’m grateful to have made that connection again with a true friend. I stifled the urge to lick his face, however.

Recognizing a dog lover, Blanche planted herself at Don's feet.Recognizing a dog lover, Blanche planted herself at Don’s feet.

My brother, Dave, and sister-in-law, Diana, have some unusual pets these days. There are the African underwater frogs in the aquarium, the two Russian tortoises who hibernate/live in their San Diego garden, and, most recently, Sammy the rat who resides in a Habitrail when not enjoying the company of humans. In these photos, Diana demonstrates the chubby rodent’s ingenuity as she steals ice from Diana’s beverage. Beloved companion animals come in more shapes and sizes than simply dogs and cats. Why can’t I get that Michael Jackson song, “Ben,” out of my head just now…?—Sid

Diana and Sammy

















Boxer and Little Girl

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