Friday, September 25, 2009

To whoever gets my dog

Transcript from today's episode of The Web-DVM:

We have a change in our usual program format today, which is the fault of my Brother-In-Law, John. A couple of days ago, John sent me an e-mail of a short story written in the first person by a young man who had just adopted a dog from a local shelter. The story moved me in such a profound way, that I decided to share it with you in lieu of the news, my personal comment, and even our pet joke of the week.

The author of the story is unknown, and I have been unable to verify whether this story is true or not, but that is not really what is important about this tale.

What is important is this story's ever so real message of the powerful bond between people and dogs, of undying love, compassion, and courage.

I hope I can get through sharing it with you without getting choked up, as I did the first time I read it.

To Whoever Gets My Dog

They told me the big black Lab's name was Reggie as I looked at him lying in his pen. The shelter was clean, and the people really friendly.

I'd only been in the area for six months, but everywhere I went in the small college town, people were welcoming and open. Everyone waves when you pass them on the street.

But something was still missing as I attempted to settle in to my new life here, and I thought a dog couldn't hurt. Give me someone to talk to.

And I had just seen Reggie's advertisement on the local news. The shelter said they had received numerous calls right after, but they said the people who had come down to see him just didn't look like "Lab people," whatever that meant. They must've thought I did.

But at first, I thought the shelter had misjudged me in giving me Reggie and his things, which consisted of a dog pad, bag of toys almost all of which were brand new tennis balls, his dishes, and a sealed letter from his previous owner. See, Reggie and I didn't really hit it off when we got home. We struggled for two weeks (which is how long the shelter told me to give him to adjust to his new home). Maybe it was the fact that I was trying to adjust, too. Maybe we were too much alike.

For some reason, his stuff (except for the tennis balls - he wouldn't go anywhere without two stuffed in his mouth) got tossed in with all of my other unpacked boxes. I guess I didn't really think he'd need all his old stuff, that I'd get him new things once he settled in. But it became pretty clear pretty soon that he wasn't going to.

I tried the normal commands the shelter told me he knew, ones like "sit" and "stay" and "come" and "heel," and he'd follow them - when he felt like it. He never really seemed to listen when I called his name - sure, he'd look in my direction after the fourth or fifth time I said it, but then he'd just go back to doing whatever. When I'd ask again, you could almost see him sigh and then grudgingly obey.

This just wasn't going to work. He chewed a couple shoes and some unpacked boxes. I was a little too stern with him and he resented it, I could tell.

The friction got so bad that I couldn't wait for the two weeks to be up, and when it was, I was in full-on search mode for my cellphone amid all of my unpacked stuff. I remembered leaving it on the stack of boxes for the guest room, but I also mumbled, rather cynically, that the "damn dog probably hid it on me."

Finally I found it, but before I could punch up the shelter's number, I also found his pad and other toys from the shelter. I tossed the pad in Reggie's direction and he snuffed it and wagged, some of the most enthusiasm I'd seen since bringing him home. But then I called, "Hey, Reggie, you like that? Come here and I'll give you a treat." Instead, he sort of glanced in my direction - maybe "glared" is more accurate - and then gave a discontented sigh and flopped down. With his back to me.

Well, that's not going to do it either, I thought. And I punched the shelter phone number.

But I hung up when I saw the sealed envelope. I had completely forgotten about that, too.

"Okay, Reggie," I said out loud, "let's see if your previous owner has any advice."...........

The letter read;

To Whoever Gets My Dog:

Well, I can't say that I'm happy you're reading this, a letter I told the shelter could only be opened by Reggie's new owner.

I'm not even happy writing it. If you're reading this, it means I just got back from my last car ride with my Lab after dropping him off at the shelter. He knew something was different. I have packed up his pad and toys before and set them by the back door before a trip, but this time... it's like he knew something was wrong. And something is wrong... which is why I have to go to try to make it right.

So let me tell you about my Lab in the hopes that it will help you bond with him and he with you.

First, he loves tennis balls... the more the merrier.

Sometimes I think he's part squirrel, the way he hordes them.

He usually always has two in his mouth, and he tries to get a third in there. Hasn't done it yet.

Doesn't matter where you throw them, he'll bound after it, so be careful - really don't do it by any roads. I made that mistake once, and it almost cost him dearly..

Next, commands. Maybe the shelter staff already told you, but I'll go over them again: Reggie knows the obvious ones - "sit," "stay," "come," "heel" He knows hand signals:

"back" to turn around and go back when you put your hand straight up; and "over" if you put your hand out right or left. "Shake" for shaking water off, and "paw" for a high-five. He does "down" when he feels like lying down - I bet you could work on that with him some more. He knows "ball" and "food" and "bone" and "treat" like nobody's business.

I trained Reggie with small food treats.
Nothing opens his ears like little pieces of hot dog.

Feeding schedule: twice a day, once about seven in the morning, and again at six in the evening.

Regular store-bought stuff; the shelter has the brand.

He's up on his shots.

Call the clinic on 9th Street and update his info with yours; they'll make sure to send you reminders for when he's due. Be forewarned: Reggie hates the vet.

Good luck getting him in the car - I don't know how he knows when it's time to go to the vet, but he knows.

Finally, give him some time.

I've never been married, so it's only been Reggie and me for his whole life. He's gone everywhere with me, so please include him on your daily car rides if you can. He sits well in the backseat, and he doesn't bark or complain. He just loves to be around people, and me most especially.

Which means that this transition is going to be hard, with him going to live with someone new. And that's why I need to share one more bit of info with you.....

His name's not Reggie.

I don't know what made me do it, but when I dropped him off at the shelter, I told them his name was Reggie. He's a smart dog, he'll get used to it and will respond to it, of that I have no doubt. But I just couldn't bear to give them his real name. For me to do that, it seemed so final, that handing him over to the shelter was as good as me admitting that I'd never see him again. And if I end up coming back, getting him, and tearing up this letter, it means everything's fine. But if someone else is reading it, well... well it means that his new owner should know his real name.. It'll help you bond with him. Who knows, maybe you'll even notice a change in his demeanor if he's been giving you problems.

His real name is Tank. Because that is what I drive.

Again, if you're reading this and you're from the area, maybe my name has been on the news. I told the shelter that they couldn't make "Reggie" available for adoption until they received word from my company commander. See, my parents are gone, I have no siblings, no one I could've left Tank with... and it was my only real request of the Army upon my deployment to Iraq, that they make one phone call to the shelter in the "event"... to tell them that Tank could be put up for adoption. Luckily, my colonel is a dog guy, too, and he knew where my platoon was headed. He said he'd do it personally. And if you're reading this, then he made good on his word.

Well, this letter is getting to downright depressing, even though, frankly, I'm just writing it for my dog. I couldn't imagine if I was writing it for a wife and kids and family. But still, Tank has been my family for the last six years, almost as long as the Army has been my family.

And now I hope and pray that you make him part of your family and that he will adjust and come to love you the same way he loved me.

That unconditional love from a dog is what I took with me to Iraq as an inspiration to do something selfless, to protect innocent people from those who would do terrible things... and to keep those terrible people from coming over here. If I had to give up Tank in order to do it, I am glad to have done so. He was my example of service and of love. I hope I honored him by my service to my country and comrades.

All right, that's enough.

I deploy this evening and have to drop this letter off at the shelter.

I don't think I'll say another good-bye to Tank, though. I cried too much the first time. Maybe I'll peek in on him and see if he finally got that third tennis ball in his mouth.

Good luck with Tank.

Give him a good home, and give him an extra kiss goodnight - every night - from me."

Thank you, Paul Mallory

I folded the letter and slipped it back in the envelope. Sure I had heard of Paul Mallory, everyone in town knew him, even new people like me. Local kid, killed in Iraq a few months ago and posthumously earning the Silver Star when he gave his life to save three buddies. Flags had been at half-mast all summer.

I leaned forward in my chair and rested my elbows on my knees, staring at the dog.

"Hey, Tank," I said quietly.

The dog's head whipped up, his ears cocked and his eyes bright. "C'mere boy."

He was instantly on his feet, his nails clicking on the hardwood floor. He sat in front of me, his head tilted, searching for the name he hadn't heard in months..

"Tank," I whispered. His tail swished.

I kept whispering his name, over and over, and each time, his ears lowered, his eyes softened, and his posture relaxed as a wave of contentment just seemed to flood him. I stroked his ears, rubbed his shoulders, buried my face into his scruff and hugged him.

"It's me now, Tank, just you and me. Your old pal gave you to me." Tank reached up and licked my cheek. "So what daya say we play some ball. His ears perked again.

"Yeah Ball You like that Ball."

Tank tore from my hands and disappeared in the next room. And when he came back......he had three tennis balls in his mouth.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pit Bull ban punishes dogs and people for the crimes of bad owners

Personal comment transcript from this episode of The Web-DVM:

My personal comment this week has to do with the results of our most recent web poll about what the future fate of pit bulls should be in this country, posted in the wake of several counties across the nation imposing bans on ownership of pit bulls. The choices regarding their fate were 1.) Pit Bulls Are inherently dangerous dogs that should be banned, 2.) Pits can be as gentle as any other breed when raised in a loving, caring environment, but made dangerous by bad people that raise them to be that way - and therefore should not be banned, and finally, 3.) Pits are not inherently dangerous dogs, but because they can be trained to be very dangerous when raised by the wrong people, special permits should be required for ownership. The results were as follows: 25% agreed that as inherently dangerous dogs pits should be banned, 25% agreed that they are no more inherently dangerous any other dog breed when raised in the right environment and therefore should not be banned, and the remaining 50% of participants felt that they should not be banned, but because they can be trained in such a manner that they can be very dangerous, special permits should be required for pit bull ownership.

I personally do not agree with any of these web poll choices in their entirety. Pit Bulls are not inherently dangerous dogs as evidenced by the countless numbers of Pits I see as patients that are as gentle and loving as the sweetest of any family dogs in the hands of loving and caring owners. It is true that a higher percentage of these dogs seem to have a greater potential to exhibit aggression toward other dogs, probably due to this trait having been favored in many of their breeding lines, but they still do not even approximate the dog aggressive potential of Jack Russell Terriers, Chihuahuas, Chow Chows, German Shepherds, and many other breeds known for their propensity to not play well with their own kind. Yet no one is calling for the banning of all of these other breeds.

This issue is not really about a particular breed of dog, as any dog raised with torment and cruelty has the potential to be raised to be dangerous. It just so happens that due to the extraordinary strength of pit bulls, more so than most other breeds, they are raised in this fashion for fighting in a ring for profit, or to be kept for intimidation to protect homes or businesses. This issue really then is more about holding dog owners accountable for the fate of their dogs, regardless of breed, period.

I did a report on the city of Calgary, Canada on the old radio show some time ago, that highlighted the progressive nature of their animal control program, and how it starts with holding the pet owner primarily accountable for what becomes of their pets. In Calgary, every dog must have a license and microchip so that if it is found repeatedly loose in a neighborhood, having bitten someone, having attacked another dog, eliminated on public or others' private property, abused or abandoned, the owner is held accountable in the court of law.

If a dog is found to not have both a license and microchip, stiff fines are imposed. When they are found to not be responsible pet owners, they are fined and even jailed. To decrease unwanted animals and the tragedy of overcrowded shelters and euthanasia due to overpopulation, licenses for unaltered animals costs a great deal more than licenses for those spayed and neutered.

The result of their program? It works. They absolutely put any single US city to shame with regard to having dramatically lower rates of homeless dogs, dog bites, unwanted dogs, and euthanasia due to overcrowded shelters. Law enforcement in Calgary has the tools to trace dogs raised to be aggressive and left loose to terrorize neighborhoods back to the owners, to place the punishment where it belongs - the irresponsible human idiots that put dogs in these circumstances.

To try to make the country safer from the consequences of irresponsible and even sadistic dog ownership is asinine! A ban on a breed of dog punishes the thousands of responsible and caring Pit Bull owners that have well adjusted, sweet family dogs, whose loss from an absurd ban would be devastating and tragic. The source of this problem is not a breed, it is a species, the human species. It is time to follow Calgary's lead and start holding them accountable.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Complete Singles Guide To Being A Dog Owner

Personal comment transcript from this episode of The Web-DVM:

In my personal comment today, I have just recently finished reading a lovely little book titled, The Complete Singles Guide To Being A Dog Owner. As a former single dog owner myself, I found this book tremendously helpful in preparing for the responsibility of dog ownership for single people - I certainly wish I'd had a copy of this book when I adopted my first dog as a 22 year old single young man. As singles increasingly are sharing their homes with dogs, they face unique challenges, and this guide answers all the questions you should ask before and after bringing home a new dog. Whether you have adopted an adult dog or are raising a puppy, Ms. Rosenfeld offers practical, reassuring advice based on her own extensive experience. A single herself, Ms. Rosenfeld reveals all you need to know to live happily ever after with the furry companion of you choice.

Having published a non-fiction how to book, myself, what I found most difficult was trying to keep the writing from devolving into sounding like some dry instruction manual. What I really enjoyed about this book is that, while the content is accurate, extremely helpful and relevant, Ms. Rosenfeld presents it in a light, almost conversational fashion. She includes interesting and funny tales to illustrate her points, and frequently places illustration tables that conveniently summarize all the points of a given chapter.

Author Betsy Rosenfeld is the go-to girl in Los Angeles when it comes to all things dog. She has dedicated her life to rescuing dogs, working with both local L.A.–based rescues as well as international animal aid organizations. She is the official Los Angeles representative for, as well as a regional council member of, IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare), and she personally raised more than $35,000 for the group’s post–Hurricane Katrina efforts. She has recently launched www. lovethydog .com, a vibrant online community where dog lovers can connect and share stories and photos of their dogs as well as learn to care for their precious pooches. Betsy lives in Beverly Hills with her favorite dog, Bella, whom she found once upon a time running in traffic.

You can purchase her book by following the book link from, or keyword search her name on any of the online book sellers, such as

Friday, September 4, 2009

Web-DVM TV takes the place of Pet Chat Radio; first episode discusses new insights on canine and feline intelligence

In place of Pet Chat Radio, Web-DVM decided to go in another direction with an Internet television show, called "The Web-DVM," which like Pet Chat Radio is hosted by me. The format remains the same with some news, anecdotes, and commentary, only the new visual media provides visual aides to augment the content (and viewers will now have to actually look at me as I deliver the show), and each episode will be a bit more brief, kept under 11 minutes.

In our first broadcast earlier today, I discussed two separate stories, one pertaining to dogs and one to cats, where researchers made stunning observations of remarkable abilities that reflect a much higher intellect within these two species than previously suspected. If you have not yet had the chance to see the show, I would suggest you do so, as these stories are both fascinating, as well as the basis for my personal comment this week, which is that we should not make the tragic mistake of thinking that our pets are as primitive mentally as have and continue to assume. If they are intelligent and intuitive enough to perform the tasks that these reports describe, then it naturally follows that they also experience a complex range of emotions and awareness that accompanies this kind of higher intelligence. This includes elation at an owner’s return after being absent, contentment enjoying a pet, cuddle, or favorite treat, grieving from loss of a family member whether human or furry, stress from the loneliness of isolation, and fear of unfamiliar places or circumstances.

When taking on the responsibility of a pet, we need to understand that we take on responsibility for an intelligent, emotionally complex individual for years to come, with their only source of shelter, food, companionshipnad exercise primarily being us, the ones that chose to take the animals home, not the other way around.

It is not necessarily only people who are inherently dismissive of animals who adopt them on a whim and easily discard them when they deem them too expensive for inconvenient, who can these sensitive creatures harm by underestimating their intelligence and emotional awareness. Some well intentioned individuals that adopt a pet for the right reasons, do love animals, and consider them a responsibility, too foten end up having life circumstances, such as long hours at work, a difficult relationship or tough break up, or the addition of children, allow them to rationalize not taking the time to walk the dog, brush the kitty, or spend any real quality time with the animals. They use their changed life circumstances to rationalize that it is enough to provide food shelter, and water for their pets, losing sight of the fact that these are the basic necessities to be sure, but only one small part of pet welfare.

I am not suggesting that anyone neglect their children or careers so that the pet needs not sacrifice any Mommy or Daddy time, but I am suggesting that a pet owner should remain ever cognoscente of the fact that our pets are emotionally complex, intelligent creatures that yearn for stimulation, affection, companionship, and exercise, and as such, to make your best effort to give them whatever time you can spare to engage in these pursuits.

If they are smart enough to count to 5, learn hundreds of spoken words, and can learn to manipulate people and other animals to do their bidding, they can certainly feel, understand, and suffer from emotional neglect.

So fit in a pet or cuddle whenever you can, take a short walk, offer a yummy treat, or engage in a quick game of fetch. You don't have to sacrifice other important life pursuits to just make it a priority to regularly take a little time to give them the attention they live for. For in their eyes, you are all that matters, the sun rises and sets with you, and they are utterly grateful for any little bit of light you shine their way.