Monthly Archives: January 2012

Bred in the Bone

There were some folk that thought being the only source of law in a small town was light work.  But Prosper Vance knew better.  He’d been Sheriff in Holbert Valley for going on twenty years and deputy for fifteen before that.  If there was anything that confirmed your worst suspicions about human nature, Prosper reckoned, lawing was sure to do it.  Generally, it was the little pieces of meanness that stuck most with you.  Unchecked those petty hatreds and slights tended to grow like weeds and often ended up with someone’s body found in an unmarked grave. 

As Prosper stared down at Keefe McCalister’s body, he thought it a small miracle that ole Keefe hadn’t ended up in a hole sooner.  Keefe wasn’t, or more properly, hadn’t been a bad man, but he hadn’t been a good one either.  It was common knowledge that it was Keefe who had done for Roan Everett only a month before.  Keefe and Roan had a case of hate at first sight since grade school and had fought over whiskey, women, and cards since that time.  There was seldom a weekend since the two had hit puberty that one hadn’t ended up hauled down to the jail or given a good talking to.  Since Roan was shot, by accident it would seem – if drunkenness and Russian roulette could be considered accidents – the town had been a whole heap quieter.  And with Keefe lying six feet under it was likely to be quieter still.

It was, Prosper thought, a strange killing – though the victim was not unexpected.  Keefe’s face was unmarked, but his body was bashed and bludgeoned – caved in near flat in places as if someone had been at him with a sledge hammer.  Whoever had done for Keefe had a passionate hate going.  And yet, the body, when it was found hidden high in the hills was cared for as if by kin.  Wrapped in linen and laid reverently in the ground, there was even a rough cross on Keefe’s breast.  Almost as if two men and not one had a hand in it.  True, Prosper knew, some murderers took to remorse after a killing, but those were most likely to confess and often killed with a heated heart. 

Lovers done wrong often wept over their murders and begged forgiveness as they were hauled off to their fates.  But in his long career, Prosper had yet to see a murder of this violence paired with such a respectful burying.  It was perplexing and filled him with a strange dread.  Any man who could behave in such a way and then turn civilized over a burial was touched by some sort of devil.  There were, in this wide world, Prosper knew, such folk about – yet he had hoped never to encounter one in his jurisdiction.

It came to his mind, unbidden, that most folk would suspect Roan Everett’s father – seeing as Keefe had killed his only son a month earlier.  But Prosper had known Old Man Everett – as well as the man could be known – since he was himself a boy.  And though it could not be argued that the Old Man was uncanny, he was not the type to turn to vengeance.  Keefe had other enemies and friends that fought him of occasion who may’ve had cause to come at him with gun or knife.  But this work was more than a moment of recklessness. 

It was on these matters that Prosper was ruminating, sitting on his haunches and looking into the grave, when the County Examiner, Will Scott, pulled up in a battered ole Jeep that looked like an Army surplus repainted – which was what it was.  “Had a hell of a time getting up here, Prosper,” Will yelled up from the Jeep.

“Well, I don’t think our killer was thinking of your convenience,” Prosper said as he stood to full height.

Will walked over and peered down into the hole, “Son of a bitch!” he said, “What the hell did that?”

“Reckon that’s the County Examiner’s job to ascertain,” Prosper said.

“Well,” Will said, “I think my official first opinion will have to be ‘damned if I know.’ That’s a piece of work, that is.  Some sort of hammer or shovel, do you think?”

“Those strikes look bigger,” Prosper said, “And rounder and deeper than a man could make with a hammer or spade.”

Will began to open his bag and called back to his assistant still waiting by the Jeep.  “He’s a little jumpy,” he said to Prosper, gesturing to the boy walking up the path, “Straight out of school and a murder his first week.”

“Run of bad luck,” Prosper said.

Will looked back down at the body, “For everyone concerned,” he agreed.

Two days later, a second body turned up.  This one laying at the edge of town crushed near flat.  It took dental records and a good deal of cussing by Will Scott to identify the man as John Willum – a lay-about that came into town for a weekly game of dice.  The killer took no pain to hide this kill or the next two that showed up.  One a known moonshiner, named Michaels, who folk generally liked and the other a girl named Ann that lived down by the river with her grandmother.  The dead had nothing in common but their fate and Prosper was hard pressed to think of a reason – other than pure malice – that anyone would’ve had to harm these particular three souls.  Any man who knew Willum wasn’t likely to be familiar with Ann – other than from a distance.  She had been a pretty girl and was in training to be a teacher.  It was known that Roan Everett had dated her while they were both back in school.  But she had little to do with him in the year before his death.  Besides, Roan was in the ground himself.  The friends he had left behind – easily counted on one hand – were little likely to take revenge on an old love of his.  That left only Roan’s father – and there was no doubt that the man had been acting odd as of late.

Old Man Everett had asked that his son be buried up near his house – instead of in the local bone yard.  That hadn’t been taken as strange, at the time, since folk had family cemeteries all over the Valley.  But there was word that the Old Man had the boy dug up and moved elsewhere – though no one could say for sure.  And folk that had seen Everett since Roan’s death said he was strange-eyed and wild acting – not his usual self.  But losing a son – especially an only son – can change a man, Prosper knew.  Still, he thought it best if he spoke to the man, for it might be that he knew of some friend of Roan’s that had taken the dead boy’s scores upon himself.

Old Man Everett’s house was big by Valley standards and sat high in the hills.  A long elm-shaded path led to it and a fellow sitting on the house’s long, low porch could see visitors coming from a mile or more away.  When Prosper rounded the curve and caught his first glimpse of the dark-wooded structure, he could see that the Old Man was waiting on the porch and that another fellow was standing under the trees shading his eyes with his hand.  But when he pulled up to the gravel lot and parked his car, the shaded man was gone and the Old Man was sitting by himself rocking.

“Mind if I come up for a while,” Prosper called as walked up the path and when the Old Man nodded he climbed the porch stairs and sat.”

“Thought you might be up,” the Old Man said, “I heard about poor little Ann.”

“She was friends with your son,” Prosper said.

The Old Man laughed then, but there was no joy in it, “Not many was friends with my son,” he said, “Ann was a girl with good sense and got shut of him quick enough.”

“All men have their faults,” Prosper said, “And I’d be the last to speak ill of the dead.”

The Old Man nodded, “So would I.  They say the dead listen to living folk from where they are.  But some don’t hold with such things. I haven’t had much cause to speak to you, Sheriff Vance, but I wonder what you think about such matters.”

“I think I saw a fellow there under those trees when I pulled up,” Prosper said.

“Maybe there was,” the Old Man said, “Or maybe it was just them elms casting a shadow. In these hills you can’t always tell what you see.”

“Maybe that’s so,” Prosper said, “And maybe some friend of your son’s believes that he has reason to feel wronged.”

“I doubt,” the Old Man said sadly, “That there are two or three even in this world that shed a tear for Roan.”  He turned and looked at Prosper dead on then and said, “I may’ve been his father, but I wasn’t blind.  You hope and you pray, but sometimes there’s no changing things – least of all the heart of a man.”

“If you knew something,” Prosper said, “Something that would help me find the man that killed Ann and the others, you’d tell me.”

The Old Man sighed and then began to rock, “If I knew something to be told, I’d tell you.” He said, “But there are some things that walk in this world that your law has no hold over.”

“Well,” Prosper said, “I’d still like you to send me word if you hear of something – one way or the other.”

The Old Man nodded and after a while, Prosper got up and left.  As he drove down the hill, he could see the Old Man rocking still in his rear-view mirror and something dark and reddish that flirted through the shadows along the path.  A deer, maybe, but a big one.  Or maybe something else that he didn’t want to imagine.

When Prosper got back to the jail, there was a message waiting for him from the County Examiner.  There were pieces of clay embedded in the bodies, some lanced into their shattered bones.  Will reckoned it might’ve been that the murder instrument – maybe some kind of farm tool – was dirt encrusted at the time that it was used.  But the clay was the same in all instances and seemed to come from one source.

Another message asked him to stop by Hollister Hardware – there had been a break-in last night though nothing seemed taken – only a few windows shattered.  The Hollister place was right on the edge of town and well-known for its weekly card game.  It was also the place that Roan Everett had met his maker a month or more ago – bleeding out before an ambulance could make its way from the County Hospital.  There was still a blood patch on the wood floor in the back room. 

Folk said that the blood of a murdered man would never be washed off.  But Prosper knew for a fact that blood soaked into wood would not be washed whether it came from a man or a critter.  It was enzymes that kept the shadow of blood on the Hardware Store floor and not a vengeful haint. Still, Billy Hollister was in a near fit by the time Prosper pulled up to the Hardware Store and took Prosper to the backroom where the blood still looked new on the oak.  He pointed, finger shaking in rage, at four broken windows and an unhinged door.

“Son of a bitch busted up the whole back of the store,” Billy said.

“Don’t reckon you saw who did this?” Prosper said.

“Sure I did,” Billy said, “I was in the front closing up when the big heavy-footed bastard clean knocked the back off the store.”

“You might’ve called last night,” Prosper said.

“What good would it have done?” Billy said, “I had that twitchy little insurance fellow to deal with all morning.  Reckon you could wait til after.”

Prosper sighed, “Did you get a look at his face?” Prosper asked, “Did he look like any fellow you knew?”

“Oh, I knew him alright,” Billy said, “Though I wouldn’t rightly say you could call him a man.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Prosper asked, “Either it was a man or it wasn’t.”

“Wasn’t then,” Billy said, “Wasn’t anything that I ever saw before – but it was like a man and I can name the one.”

Prosper tapped the table, “I know what you’re going to say, Billy, for you’ve been saying it all about town this morning.  And you know well as I do that Roan Everett is dead and buried.”

Billy snorted, “I don’t suppose that being either would stop him much.”

“Well,” Prosper said, “That puts me in a fine pickle – there’s no law governing dead folk I reckon.”

Billy nodded, “True enough. And doesn’t that just put everything on his side.”

Prosper just nodded, which was usually best to do when Billy was taken with a conviction.  “There’s not a man in the Valley that don’t know what Everett is or what Roan was,” Billy said, “And you know that’s God’s truth!” 

“Well, if you see anything again or anyone,” Prosper said, “You be sure to let me know.”

“I will,” Billy said, “And if I see that bastard Roan Everett I’m going to put a hole in him – dead or not.”

There were times that Prosper thought he had made a bad career decision the day he took up lawing.  This was one of them and, of late, there had been quite a few.  Folk were dead and it was easy enough to see who was behind the killings.  The only problem being that the most likely suspect was dead himself.  Folk were talking.  They took to locking their doors and kept the curtains drawn by night.  Though no one mentioned by name what they all knew to be true, they kept away from dark places and fortified themselves with crosses and charms and comforts against the darkness.  Prosper was not a believer in such comforts, though he wasn’t opposed to a stiff drink on a cold night – which was a comfort of its own. 

Prosper considered himself a simple man – though, in truth, he was deep minded and though slow to speak, he said a lot.  He had seen just about all the wickedness man had to offer, as well as a surprising amount of good.  Roan Everett, by his recollection, was one of the worst human beings that the earth had ever spat up – despite the goodness of his father’s heart.  Prosper didn’t believe much in God or the Devil, but he did believe in good and evil and he knew that evil men walked among us – many with faces like angels.  Roan had been just such a man.  And the day that Keefe McCalister had put a bullet through Roan’s throat only one man had wept. 

Now, McCalister was dead, along with a good number of other folk that Roan had disliked or liked too much.  And Prosper figured that being dead was not likely to stop a man such as Roan from his desires.  There were some, Prosper knew, that believed only in the light of day and in what could be proven and seen.  Scientific folks, he imagined, lived a comforted life knowing so little about what really was.  The electric light, when it had come up and down the Valley, had shut out the shadows and put men’s hearts to rest.  But just because the dark was pushed back a bit didn’t mean it was gone or that the things that lurked in the dark of night or in the dark of men’s hearts were any less hungry. 

It was plain to see the cause behind the slew of dead and disappeared that had come upon the Valley.   The fact that most folk didn’t want to own what they already knew seemed a mystery to him.  He had, in his sixty years, known dead folk to walk more than once.  He had seen a crow speak with the voice of a girl and a river run red with blood.  He had heard, in the high hills, the sultry sweet voice of the Wampus Cat and found prints left behind that matched no creature he could name.  So when Alice Caldwell’s mother came crying to his door in the dusk, saying her daughter had took missing, he knew what had to be done.  Over the years, Vance had learned that truths, even the hardest ones to digest, had a certain taste to them.  And despite the illogic of it, he could taste this truth clear down to the bone.

So, for the second time in that long week, he drove to the Everett Place.  Though this time the drive seemed longer, knowing what he might face at its end.  Grief for certain lay ahead of him and perhaps something worse.  As he walked the lonely path that led to the house, Prosper could see even through the growing gloom the Old Man waiting in his rocker on the covered porch.  He climbed the stairs and when the Old Man did not move and he sat down at his right hand.

Old Man Everett sat staring out into the night for the longest time and then he began to rock again.  “You know.” he said simply to Prosper and then he sighed.  “I used to think,” he said, “That there was some right and wrong in this world.  And that if a man did good, good would follow after.”

“You ought to know better than that,” Prosper said. 

The Old Man nodded, “I do and yet I don’t believe it.  Don’t want to.  He was my son, and I knew him for what he was, but he was my son just the same.”

“I never knew you to be a man that didn’t stand by his principles,” Prosper said, “None could say you didn’t.”

“You know what I am, I wager, and what I done for him.” the Old Man said, “His death hit me hard.  I come close to losing him as a boy more than once and it seemed some sort of mercy that he lived.  With his mother gone, he was all I had.  I wasn’t there when he was shot. It could be that there was something that I could’ve done – even if it was only to make my peace with him.”

“He lived his own life,” Prosper said, “He was a man grown when he took that bullet.  And though maybe you might’ve kept him from that bullet, there would’ve just been another on some other day.”

“All our death’s are waiting for us one day or the other,” the Old Man said, “Even mine.”

“Still,” Prosper said, “You did the best you could with that boy.”

“It’s a kindness for you to say it,” the Old Man said, “But a boy follows after his father.  He had, you see, his mother’s heart.  She was a wild thing, but I knew from the first time I clapped eyes on her that she was all I wanted.” He chuckled and for a minute sounded almost young to Prosper, but then the moon passed by and he saw just how old the Old Man was – ancient – almost as if he was cut from the earth and stones himself. “I might was well have loved a wild cat or a bear,” he continued, “She wasn’t something to be kept. And when the boy came and she died I turned all that love in on him and maybe it was too much for him to bear.  Maybe it was too much for anyone to bear – to be so much to any other.” 

“I don’t conjure it was your fault,” Prosper said, “Every man comes up in this world one way or another and some are good and others aren’t.  A man has to take responsibility for what he does in this life.”

“Yes,” the Old Man said, “No truer words were spoken this day or any other.  And that’s what I mean to do.”

“I wouldn’t ask it of you,” Prosper said, “For whatever’s he’s done or is, he is your son.”

“I brung him into this world twice,” the Old Man said, “It lays on me to take him out of it.” He smiled then and laid his hand over Prosper’s own, “You’re a young man yet, so you might not know. But all men are called up out of the dirt – some stay in it a good while longer than others – but, in the end, all of them return to it.  Nothing’s to be done about it and sometimes it’s a comfort to return to what we are.  Dirt.  Good and clean.”

They sat in the dark, the Old Man rocking for a very long time.  And softly, Prosper heard the Old Man say, “I, of all people, should’ve known better.”

Hours passed before they heard the shuffling, heavy gait of stony dirt against the gravel path.  Roan was coming home as he did each night.  Under the full moon, Prosper could see that there was something dark smeared about his face and hands.  He reeked of sorrow and sin and the Old Man rose to meet him.  He walked down the path alone to meet his son and greeted him with a kiss.  And softly, almost lip to lip, he whispered a word turned back on itself, almost too low for Prosper to hear – almost.

The change, from life to death, is not a quick one even it is lasts only a few seconds.  And for the rest of his very long life Prosper would remember the Old Man on his knees in the dirt holding on to the rapidly dissolving form of his son.  He would see, each night in his dreams, the slow silting of the clay and the rising piles of dust around the broken form of the Old Man until he was left holding only gleaming white bones tattered with linen.  And even in his sleep, Prosper would weep.


Give Your Dog Something to Smile About – Pet Dental Health

I brush my dog’s teeth everyday and she’s actually come to enjoy it.  True, it might have something to do with the chicken-flavored toothpaste, but regardless she opens her mouth whenever she sees me reach for her toothbrush.  For many years, doggy dental hygiene was a matter of snickers.  If my friends caught me brushing my dog’s teeth ten years ago, they’d laugh into their hands.  Now, they all have toothbrushes for their own dogs and most of them bring Fido in for more professional cleaning once or twice a year.

 The truth is that even with today’s greater awareness of the need for doggy dental care, veterinarians estimate that up to 85% of dogs older than four years suffer from some sort of periodontal disease.  Dogs can develop cavities, but they occur much more rarely than they do in humans since dogs consume less of the high-starch foods that cause tooth decay.  After all, you hardly ever see a dog munching a candy bar!  Gum disease, however, effects dogs frequently. 

 Dogs, just like humans, develop plaque.  Plaque, untreated, becomes tartar that irritates the gums.  Plaque can be removed by daily brushing, but tartar (that yellowy brown muck that settles on the teeth) must be removed by a veterinarian while your dog is anesthetized.  Untreated tartar eventually develops into gum disease and often results in tooth loss.  Symptoms of oral problems include bad breath, bleeding and/or discolored gums, and tooth loss. 

 Dogs with dental problems may drool or run fevers.  A gum infection is, after all, an infection.  Severe gum disease can significantly shorten your dog’s life.  If bacteria from gum disease invades the bloodstream, it can attack the heart, liver, and, kidneys.  Dogs accumulate tartar at different rates depending on breed, diet, and the acidity of their saliva.  Some dogs, just like some people, just have better teeth than others.

 There are plenty of things you can do to help your dog maintain healthy teeth.  Brushing your dog’s teeth daily is vital to preventing plaque buildup.  Most dogs enjoy you brushing their teeth—providing that you find a toothpaste that suits their taste.  Lady, my cocker spaniel, won’t tolerate peanutbutter or minty toothpaste.  But, if you offer her beef or chicken flavor, she opens wide.  My cats, on the other hand, only like malty flavors.  If you have multiple pets, it may take some time to find the toothpastes that they all enjoy.  Luckily, the market is full of choices. 

 Toothbrushes also come in a wide variety of sizes and styles.  My cats use a thumb-brush (Imagine a cross between a thimble and your toothbrush), but Lady uses a child-sized toothbrush.  There are many great dog and cat brushes on the market, but for larger dogs a child’s toothbrush with an angled head sometimes works best.  There are also dental wipes for cats and dogs that absolutely refuse to have a brush in their mouths, as well as dental chews.  I’ve found over the years that the earlier in life that you introduce your pet to a dental care routine, the easier daily dental care becomes.  But, even an older dog can learn new tricks—Lady had her first tooth brushing when I adopted her at the age of three and she’s had no problem adjusting.

 Many dog food companies have started making tartar-removing treats and foods that aid in dental hygiene.  Generally, these crunchy treats act as an abrasive, scraping off tartar.  While they aren’t enough to remove tartar and plaque alone, they definitely will aid in your dog’s dental health.  Dogs who consume hard food as their primary food source, instead of canned foods, generally have cleaner teeth.  Again, the abrasive action of hard foods helps remove plaque and tartar from your dog’s teeth.  The same rule applies to cats or any other small animal.  Even hard chew toys can help dislodge bacteria and plaque. 

 Most importantly, your dog should have regular dental check-ups starting from a young age.  Prevention is always the best course of action.  Most adult dogs need a professional cleaning once per year.  However, some dogs and cats may need cleanings as often as twice per year.  My cat Peppermint had habitually bad teeth and needed a professional tartar removal twice per year.  Her sibling, Licorice, needed a cleaning only once every year and a half.  After your pet’s first professional cleaning, watch for tartar and plaque accumulation.  You’ll be able to assess your pet’s need for professional tartar control.  Usually, your veterinarian will assess your pet’s dental health during their yearly check-up.

 Dental health in pets is a very serious matter.  Good dental health can prolong your pet’s life and general health.  You love your dog (or cat)—give them something to smile about!  Good dental health is the right thing to do and given time, your pet will even enjoy it.

Don’t be a Fraidy Cat! – Dealing with Pet Fears

Ailurophobia is the fear of cats.  As strange as it may seem, some people are actually afraid of those sweet, cuddly little fur-balls.  Napoleon, who conquered half of Europe, couldn’t bear to be in the room with one and Julius Caesar was said to shy from a whiskered face as well.  I’ve known people who believed having a black cat cross your path was unlucky (or a white one depending on which part of the world from which you hale).  And, my Grandmother always told me that finding a cat’s whisker was good luck. 

 I’ve always been fascinated by what my cats fear as well.  Of course, there are the typical primal fears that many cats and dogs have of loud noises, storms, water, or larger animals.  But, my cats have a set of phobias that would set Sigmund Freud to task.  Lothario (Lo for short), my big yellow tabby, is afraid of vacuum cleaners and loud noises—indeed, what cat isn’t?  But, he also shrinks from all metals, hats with brims, and the color white.  His greatest nightmare is someone carrying metal while wearing a white hat.  White hats will send him scurrying under the bed for many an hour.  Lo may have learned this fear in association with my Father who often comes to my house to repair things (i.e. loud noises), but I’ve never seen my Father wearing a white hat.  Lo’s fear of metal is frankly a mystery.  The size of the metal is meaningless.  Lo will run from a toy soldier as quickly as he will from a piece of sheet metal. 

 Nonny, our wild-eyed Siamese, fears thunder quite understandably.  But, she also fears brooms.  No one has ever shaken a broom at Nonny.  She’s never seen the broom do anything more sinister than sweep dead leaves off the deck.  But, she fears them with a passion.  Nonny has actually been known to stage attacks on the broom, her ancient enemy, only to veer off in a panic at the last moment.  Nonny also likes to chew on sweaters and hide toy mice in visitors’ shoes, so perhaps, for a quirky little Siamese cat, fear of brooms is not so strange. 

 Tig, our fluffy Maine Coon princess, fears only one thing—Harry Potter Acid Pops.  Her fear is actually not that odd since she had the unfortunate experience of licking an Acid Pop.  Like many Maine Coons, Tig will raid any food left unguarded.  Spying an unprotected Acid Pop, she leapt to the ready only to discover that Acid Pops are named “Acid Pops” for a reason.  Now the sight of an Acid Pop (or an Acid Pop wrapper) will cause Tig to cringe and shut her eyes.  As a kitten, Lo used to have the same reaction to the plant mister when he was sprayed accidentally while lurking in a clump of lemon balm.  He grew out of his mister-phobia, but I’m hoping Tig’s fear of Acid Pops will last for a while since holding an Acid Pop out to her is the only way to keep her off the counters.

 Now, Mooshie, our little black cat, fears nothing.  She is a dog-friend.  She will move if you nudge her with the vacuum cleaner, but only grudgingly, and she’s fascinated by storms.  Perhaps, as a black cat and the object of so many human superstitions and fears, she feels she needs to set a certain image. 

 None of my cats’ fears are debilitating to them.  Generally, when confronted with the object of their fear (metal, Acid Pops, or brooms), they flee under my bed or into their cat-beds.  Fear, in itself, is actually a good thing.  It’s a primal protective mechanism.  Cats and dogs fear storms, fire, larger animals, and loud noises because these things tend to be dangerous to them.  Animals learn to fear things over time as well.  Many cats are reluctant to enter their carriers since they associate them with trips to the vet.  My dog was afraid of the vet for sometime after she was treated for ACL tears, since he had to manipulate her injured leg on a weekly basis.  Likewise, many cats learn to fear particular people or objects (such as Lo’s fear for the plant mister) due to bad personal experiences. 

 For fears that are unreasonable or manifest themselves in unhealthy ways, there are several remedies.  Pheromonal treatments (such as Comfort Zone or Feliway) are useful to calm cats and dogs with extreme anxieties.  Cats and dogs who are moved to a new house or confronted with a new person or pet sometimes manifest their fears in unpleasant ways, such as inappropriate elimination, spraying, digging, chewing, scratching, and hostility towards other people and pets. 

 Over the counter herbal remedies are also available for cats and dogs.  Of course, as always, you need to check with your veterinarian before giving your pet any medication, even an all-natural one.  Most of these powders (and sometimes sprays) contain lavender and lemon balm—which both act in a calming way on animals and people.  Heating pads sometimes calm cats as well.  My Siamese cat, Pepper, was always ready to face the world after a half-hour on her kitty heating pad.  For severe cases of anxiety, your veterinarian can prescribe anti-depressants—but as with many long-term medications there are side effects to consider.

 You can also try to desenthesize your pet to the object(s) of his fear.  If your cat fears a person or another pet, you can introduce them to each other slowly and in neutral circumstances.  It often helps to place the new pet in a carrier and allow the frightened pet to view him on his own time.  You can allay your pet’s fears by showing him that brooms and Acid Pops aren’t really dangerous to him.  By presenting these objects in a passive state (broom lying on its side or Acid Pop in their wrapper), your pet may come to realize over time that these things can’t harm him.  Desenthesizing your pets to objects they fear often takes a long time and a lot of patience.  My dog, Lady, has been afraid of storms all her life, and, although she is less afraid now due to my constant reassurance and the big pile of blankets she retreats to when it’s lightening, she is still unwilling to venture out in the mildest of rains for a walk.

 We all are afraid of something—whether we want to admit it or not.  And, I’m sure that many of our fears must seem silly to our pets.  Fear is a part of humans and animals, and, on the whole, it is a useful thing.  Fear keeps us from sticking our hands in fire or diving recklessly off cliffs.  A little fear is a good thing.  Tig’s fear of Acid Pops is proving very handy, and Lo’s fear of metal doesn’t really cause him any problems.  Remember, your pets have little foibles just like you!  Since Lo doesn’t laugh at my fear of spiders, I guess I shouldn’t make fun of his fear of the color white.

Trimming Down Your Pet

I’m at the dog park with my dog, Lady. We’re watching a puppy being trained to sit. “Sit,” the owner commands. The puppy sits. Immediately, his little mouth flies open like a baby bird’s and the owner tosses in a tiny marrow filled treat. The puppy chews and stands. “Sit,” the owner says. The puppy’s mouth opens again.

 Now, Lady isn’t exactly a slender pooch, but she is well within her weight limit. Although she is older (thirteen in August), her cocker spaniel/retriever heritage has allowed her to keep off those extra age-related pounds. She still likes a good squirrel chase and enjoys her walks. My cat is another story. Lothario likes to sit on a cushion. He likes to move off the cushion to eat his high-protein kibble and then he likes to move onto another cushion. Lo doesn’t like exercise. He does like lying in the sun, eating treats, and mewing loudly when I try to move him off the comforter. It’s no wonder than he has packed on extra pounds over the years and now he is being forced to lose them. Our veterinarian recently put Lo on a high-protein diet. He was also prescribed laser-pointer runs twice per day. Lo was not pleased.

 It is estimated that between 25-40% of America’s pets are overweight. Obesity contributes to a decreased lifespan, digestive disorders, skin maladies, increased surgical risks, arthritic and joint problems, heart and liver failure, diabetes, heat stroke, and myriad other problems. Obesity is especially dangerous for older pets who already have increased health risks. Lowering you pet’s weight is one of the easiest ways to prolong your pet’s life and overall health. Weight loss and dietary changes, even after years of obesity, have tremendous health benefits.

 Pets, like people, are prone to weight gain for a variety of reasons. Aging, breed, and inherited low metabolisms all contribute to obesity. However, the underlying reason for overweight pets, regardless of the contributing factors, is too much food and not enough exercise. When your pet consumes more calories than he can burn from his daily exercise, he grows plumper. But, there is good news! Unlike you and me who can open the refrigerator and choose a sugary treat whenever our heart desires, your cat or dog is reliant upon your feeding schedule. Reducing your pet’s caloric intact and increasing his exercise is relatively easy to do and has long lasting benefits for you and your pet.

Be warned, your pet will not be pleased. If your pet is anything like Lothario, he will eye you suspiciously when you switch his regular food over to a high-protein variety. Don’t be fooled by the reduced cal and lite varieties of pet food. Often they contain grain or corn as the primary ingredient, which means more carbohydrates. Some pets who begin a “lite” diet actually gain weight! Switch to a high protein diet and cut out those treats! It is hard to say no when your dog or cat is staring wistfully at the treat jar and nudging at your leg, but treats are the enemy. No treats and no “people food”.

 During the first few days following your switch to a new food, you may find that there doesn’t appear to be a very large dent in the food dish. Be assured that your pet will adjust to his new food and that a healthy dog or cat can easily go a day or two without feeding. Make sure your pet has plenty of fresh, clean water and his new food. Don’t fill the food dish to the top. You will want to measure out the appropriate amount of food for your pet (usually defined on the side or back of the food bag). If your pet is a nibbler, he may be eating much more than you realize. Grazing throughout the day, he’s packing in the calories even though it looks like he is eating very little.

Your pet will also need more exercise. If you have an older pet, this may be a problem. Older animals, some with arthritis and joint conditions, have difficulty exercising. You may want to add 10 minutes per day to your overall walking routine. It seems like a very small increase, but you’ll see the cumulative effect of this exercise within a few weeks. As pets shed pounds and exercise more, they gain more energy and are happier. Older pets who lighten their load, have an easier time with joint problems. Your pet will be more playful and will start to look to the door (or laser pointer) rather than his treat jar.

 Of course, before you begin any weight loss program, your pet should be examined by your veterinarian to rule out any health-reasons for his weight gain. Diabetes and thyroid conditions, among other diseases, can cause weight gains. It is important to test any pet with unexplained weight gain to rule out serious complications. But, if your vet determines that your pooch is pudgy or your cat is chubby, then he can advise you on a weight loss routine. There are plenty of great high protein pet foods on the market. Your vet probably has his favorites. He may prescribed pet supplements while your pet is dieting as well, especially if your pet is older.

 It is possible to trim down your cat or dog even if he has been overweight for years. This is a slow process, but the results are rewarding and lifelong. Eventually, you should be able to feel your pet’s ribs (without pressing down) when you run your hands along his side. Your pet should have an hour-glass shape, unless another shape is specific to his breed. We have all become so used to looking at round and block-shaped pets that when we see a healthy cat or dog, we label it as too thin. Most veterinary offices have a chart showing the correct shape of dogs and cats (as well as overweight and obese figures). Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the correct size for your cat or dog. Much like people, it is not the weight on the scale that indicates the right size for your pet, but rather his overall shape and muscularity. A muscular dog or cat may weigh much more on the scale, but will look more fit and trim.

It is so easy to overfeed our pets and to give them too many treats. But, it is important to break the cycle of overfeeding and treat-giving. A few treats are fine for a healthy pet, but try to find other ways to show your love. A game of catch or laser-pointer or a brisk walk will be enjoyed more by your pet and will increase his life-span. Show your love for your pet by giving him a little tough-love today. Lo is already starting to look more healthy after only a month of dieting. He’s more frisky and wants to play rather than lay. He still looks longingly at the treat jar, but now he gets excited when he sees the laser-pointer on the table as well.

Hitting the Road this Summer with Your Furry Friend

As the days grow warmer, many of us start daydreaming about summer trips—weekend trips, day trips, and, of course, that long and elusive summer vacation.  Hitting the road for a couple of weeks during those dog days of summer is the ideal break from our work-a-day lives.  But, why not give your dog a break too?  Many dogs love to travel.  My dog has been a road-dog since her puppy days and there’s nothing she likes better than a ride on the open highway and a few nights camping in the great outdoors or cuddled up in front of a strange fireplace.  Unlike humans with our limited senses of smell, dogs experience whole new vistas with every sniff.  A musty cabin or a woody campsite is a doggy diorama and a history lesson all in one for your furry pal.  So, why leave your dog behind when you set out this summer—grab your doggy seatbelt or carrier, your lease, and your dog’s favorite toys and you both can be on your way to new adventures!

 Luckily, more and more hotels, public transportation systems, beaches, and campsites are welcoming canines and other pets.  Several online websites such as,, and, provide information on dog-friendly lodgings, restaurants, transportation (public and air), and tourist sites.  DogFriendly even posts a list of the most dog friendly cities in North America each year.  And, many cities are now allowing small pets on public transport—and a few now allow pets of all sizes.  Some airlines will allow small pets to ride in the passenger area, provided their carriers meet the “carry-on luggage size” requirements.  But, of course, if you are travelling in your own car, then you won’t have to worry about travel restrictions.  All you’ll need is a dog crate or doggy seat-belt and a time allowance for several rest stops in transit.

 If you’re planning a long road trip, there are certain things you’ll need to do before you hit the highway.  First, make sure your dog likes to travel.  Some dogs don’t like strange new places.  I’m lucky that my dog actually gets excited when she sees me throwing things in a backpack.  My cats have the opposite reaction—when they see a cat carrier come out of the closet, they run for the nearest bed.  But, if your pet does enjoy the open roads (or friendly skies), then you’ll need to plan ahead to make sure that your chosen summer spot accepts pets.  Most city guides (online and paper) will list pet-friendly lodgings. 

 You’ll also need to check into local veterinarians, in case an emergency should arise.  You may want to ask your own vet if he has any old chums in your city of choice.  If you and your pet are venturing to a remote locale, you’ll need to call the nearest good-sized city and map out the location of a veterinary clinic or emergency care center.  You’ll also need to pack a first aid kit—for those doggy cuts and scrapes.  Keep in mind that your dog may encounter insect stings, sunburns, and all the other problems that beset the average human on holiday. 

 You’ll want to make sure that all your pet’s vaccinations are up to date—often proof of vaccinations for rabies, Kennel Cough, and the like are required by pet-friendly lodgings—and you’ll want to bring along your pet’s medical records in case you do need to see a vet.  If you’re planning an excursion that involves hiking, camping, or much time in wooded areas, you’ll also want to add a Lyme Vaccine to your dog’s check list, if you haven’t already.  Ticks and fleas can be a particular hazard when you’re camping—especially if your dog is napping one sleeping bag over.  Make sure your dog is well protected against fleas and ticks before your sharing a tent.  I usually find that my dog weathers our camping trips tick-free.  While, I, on the other hand, am not so lucky. 

 During the trip, your dog will need lots of fresh water.  Doggy energy drinks can provide a nice change of pace if you’re taking a longer trip, but, in the end, there’s no substitution for good ol’ H2O.  You’ll also need to pack your dog’s favorite foods, dishes, blankets, and toys.  You may also want to have an extra collar with identification on hand, just in case your dog’s collar gets lost in the underbrush.  My dog has an uncanny ability to wiggle out of a collar—usually when I’m miles from anywhere.  It helps to have another one stowed somewhere complete with your furry friend’s name and address.  And, don’t forget your leash.  While your dog may be fine walking beside you at a campsite, many beaches and most all cities require dogs to be on-leash.  You can usually check beforehand (online or using a City Guide) to see what restrictions your vacation spot has regarding pets and leashes.  Your dog should always be leashed in a new place where he encounter other dogs or strangers, regardless of what the leash laws are.  If you frequent the same stops every summer, you furry pal may be more accustomed to people and places, and, if the leash law allows it, you may feel free to let him run a bit.

 Summer is a time for fun in the sun!  Don’t let your best friend miss out on those long walks on the beach, strolls through the woods, or runs in the park.  Take a few precautions and then take your pet along.  He’ll certainly thank you for the adventure and the memories will last you both a lifetime.






The Call of the Wild – Lady’s Great Summer Adventure

Your dog is one step from the wild.  Sure, it may be hard for you to believe that your bouncing, pampered pooch—the one that eats dog bones like there’s no tomorrow and sleeps on a checkered cushion—is close kin to the fox and the wolf.  The very essence of the wilderness runs in your dog’s veins.  You may’ve forgotten it—he may’ve even forgotten it lying there watching his “Dogsitter” video–but it’s still there.  All it takes is one squirrel, one scent of the woods, and the feel of pine needles under his furry feet to awaken his primal nature. 

I know.  My dog, Lady, is as much a house-dog as any.  She likes treats, her bed with the built-in orthopedic cushion and chasing my greedy cats away from her food dish.  She does like to bounce madly at the neighbor’s fat cat, Ryder—he never seems to mind or notice.  And, she’s been known to chase (but not catch) the odd rabbit that wanders into my herb garden searching for a little lemon balm to nibble.  But, she’s a city dog through and through.  Looking at her now lying on her cushion and quietly gnawing a greenie, you’d never imagine that she could be anything else than a fluffy cockerspaniel waiting for her next walk.  This is a dog that wears doggie-boots on cold days and has two matching winter jackets.  I find this hard to reconcile with the wild-eyed menace that accompanied me on my camping trip last week.

            For several years now, my sister and I have taken a summer vacation together.  We usually go somewhere warm and well-inhabited, which Lady likes just fine.  Lady is a social dog and there’s nothing she likes better than strolling down a beach and meeting other dogs and people.  She even likes cats and children with sticky ice-cream fingers—which seems to be the main occupants of most summer beaches.  But, this year, we all decided to go camping.  Now, I have to say that even though I grew up in the country, camping is not something that I am used to doing.  My camping experiences have been limited mainly to my excursions as a Girl Scout twenty-something years ago, and Lady has never seen a camp-site, unless the blanket tents that my niece Sarah sets up in my living room count.

            So, here we were, two women, a small girl, and two small-to-medium sized dogs, out in the great outdoors.  Okay, maybe not too, great outdoors—we did rent a cabin so we weren’t exactly “roughing it” in the traditional sense.  But, the cabin did have an assortment of bugs, including very large spiders, and some really, pushy squirrels that didn’t want to give up their roost in the chimney.  Even after we had swept the place out and presumably chased the squirrels away for good, Lady and Francie (my sister’s Lasu-Apsu) continued to sit on the stone hearth and stare up into the chimney.  Francie periodically would emit a loud, shrill yip—the kind only the smallest of dogs seem to be able to produce.  Lady, despite her size, has a big-dog bark.  The squirrels that skittered up and down the defunct chimney and chittered from the roof didn’t seem impressed with either of the canine interlopers.  Clearly, the squirrels were not used to tourists.

            Lady and I didn’t fare any better on our first day.  My sister, Sarah, and Francie opted to take a stroll down by the lake, but Lady and I decided that we would have an old-fashioned hiking adventure.  Lady and I are avid hikers, but we’re used to hiking across the bluffs and valleys of our own property.  It’s one thing to get a little side-tracked in your own Hundred Acre Woods where there are always recognizable trees, fences, and the odd shaped rock here and there, and another thing to wander aimlessly (off the trail) in a forest that you’ve never visited before.  Trees can exude their own particular brand of menace in that half-hour right before dark.  And, you certainly know you’ve made a mistake when your “guard dog” is huddled against your leg looking up at your with big, brown eyes that seem to say, “Hey!  YOU know the way back, right?”  I, of course, did not know the way back and the $10.00 compass that I had just bought because my old one was kind of ratty had a strange way of registering north—since its needle kept a constant northwest alignment no matter which direction you were facing.  I was beginning to think the needle was actually painted on when we ran into Them.

            Lady and I popped over a little rise in the woods and into a hollow and I guess that the lay of the land had hidden our noise (which was considerable) and our scent (which I have to say must’ve also been pretty considerable given the heat of the day) because right in front of us was a herd of deer.  I do mean a herd.  Lots and lots of deer—at least twenty—not that I had much of a chance to count.  Not petting zoo deer.  Big, threatening-looking deer with sharp antlers and tiny, vicious hooves.  They looked pretty vicious to me.  I think Lady agreed because instead of bouncing madly in their direction—her M.O. with cows, other dogs, and birds of any sort—stood completely still at a sort of high-alert, her little black nose pointed up in the air like she was scenting some new sort of dog-treat.  The deer looked just about as surprised as Lady and me.  But, a couple pawed and snorted at us.  And, I can tell you that is not a sweet and endearing gesture.  Then, quicker than a breath, they turned and ran.  At that moment, Lady decided that deer must be good to chase and bounded after them with all the barking fury a thirty-pound dog can muster.  I, for my part, ran after Lady yelling her name and whistling until me and my Timberlands tumbled over a fallen branch and sort of skid-slid down the other side of the hill.  Seeing me lying nose down in a pile of wet leaves, Lady stopped.  She gave me the same look she usually does when I exhibit any human lack-of-grace—a mixture of pity and increduality that seem to say, “And, you guys are in charge around here?  Go figure!” 

            It was full dark at this point and I did not have a flashlight.  If you’ve never been in the country at night then maybe you don’t have any idea just how dark, dark can be.  The stars were clearly outlined, and, thank goodness, there was a near-full moon.  But, the woods, the trail (whereever it was), and the rest of the landscape were a dark blur.  The woods are noisy at night—as noisy as a crowded street.  There were bugs (that were eating me alive), owls, other unidentified birds, yipping foxes, coyotes, and something that I hoped wasn’t a bear.  I particularly didn’t like the “sound of something large moving this way” that I heard several times.  I hoped it was a deer.  I really, really hoped it was a deer.

            Eventually, Lady and I found our way back to the cabin.  Susan and Sarah were eating S’mores and Francie was trying to catch some sort of flying thing unsuccessfully.  Lady and I staggered in dirty, damp, and ready for bed.  The woods are a nice place to visit, but I think both Lady and I have decided that we don’t want to live there. 

By the next day, Lady was ready for more adventure and kept pulling me toward the woods—but this time we didn’t leave the trail.  Her adventures with deer had emboldened her to chase turkey—who really don’t like to be chased by small, hopping dogs, as well as ducks, squirrels, and rabbits.  I’m not sure that the ducks actually realized Lady was trying to catch them since she was swimming after them and Lady is not a quick swimmer.  Plus, I’m sure that they’re not used to being chased by dogs wearing bright pink life-preserver vests.  If ducks could speak, I’m pretty sure that they would’ve just looked at each other and said, “Tourists!” 

            Summer is, of course, the perfect time for adventures for man and dog alike.  There’s nothing like the great outdoors and a bright day to spark your adventurous side.  But, it is always good to get back home and after four days, Lady and I were more than ready to pack our gear and ourselves back in the car for the long trip home.  As we left the lake, Lady stretched her doggy seat-belt to full capacity so that she watch the cabin recede as we drove away.  Ducks were flying over the lake and the squirrels were running amok in the trees (as always).  I promised to buy another squirrel feeder when we got home so that Lady would have plenty of furry things to chase.  And, there’s always next year—that’s more than enough time to recover before starting a new adventure.

Ear Infections and Your Pet

I sit here watching my cat, Lothario.  He looks at me with his big brown eyes.  He tilts his head comically.  It’s cute, really, but he’s not doing it for fun or the adorability-factor.  My poor cat has an ear infection.  He was fine three weeks ago.  He was scratching his carpet post and jumping on the bed with abandon.  Then, he just fell over.  He looked as surprised as I was.  I rushed him to the vet and he was diagnosed with both outer and middle ear infections (Otis externa and Otis media). The veterinarian flushed Lo’s ears after giving him a sedative—if a sixteen pound cat doesn’t want his ears flushed, he can put up a real fight.  And, Lo was prescribed Prednisone and Clavamox for two weeks.  The vet told me to isolate Lo to prevent him from injuring himself—a real possibility since he was so unbalanced. 

 I set Lo up a kingdom of his own in my bedroom.  The other cats, much to their chagrin, were locked out.  Lo was given his own litter box, food, water, and toys.  He seemed happy enough and after a few days of medication, he started to regain his balance.  He was much less tottery and started jumping on the bed again.  His many falls had made him a bit gun-shy about leaping onto high places, but he regained his confidence after a week.  But, he was still tilting his head to the left, shaking his ears, and scratching.  I cleaned his ears daily and they still were filled with a waxy black goo that reminded me of earmites.  After ten days, I took Lo back to the vet for reassessment.

 The vet prescribed daily ear cleanings and gave me a new bottle of non-alcoholic solution (MalAcetic Otis Cleaner), as well as eardrops (MalAcetic Mixture) to be used twice daily.  Giving Lo pills, even using Pill Pockets (the best invention since the wheel), is no easy job.  Administering eardrops is near to impossible.  Lo can spot a bottle of medication at 50 paces.  He can tell if you’re hiding a pill or eardrop bottle up your sleeve.  He knows the sound of a childproof lock being twisted open.  Dutifully, I cleaned and administered eardrops daily.  Despite claw hazards and loss of skin, Lo needed his medications and I knew that if he didn’t improve after this course of treatment, the vet would move to more aggressive steps, such as piercing Lo’s ear drum to get a culture sample.  Lucky for me and Lo, after ten days of eardrops and ear cleanings, he was much improved.  His head tilt and ear shaking had stopped.  The vet recommended that I continue cleaning Lo’s ears daily for another two weeks and he was prescribed Prednisone for his seasonal allergies, which had contributed to his ear infection.

 I had been lucky up to Lo.  I’ve had pets for years and none of them had developed an ear infection.  Lady, my cocker spaniel, is prone to dirty ears, and has had to have her floppy golden ears professionally cleaned since I couldn’t remove all the grim to my satisfaction.  But, she never had an ear infection.  Ear infections are, actually, relatively common in dogs and not rare in cats.  Certain breeds are more susceptible (dogs with floppy ears and dogs/cats with especially hairy ears), as are animals with allergies or respiratory problems, such as asthma.   Lo has seasonal allergies.  When the leaf mold hits the air in early and late fall, Lo starts sneezing.  He’s been treated for his allergies, but the best remedy is to keep him away from open windows and moldy air.  Ear infections can be caused by bacteria or yeast, wax, matted hair in the ears, foreign bodies, tumors, poor drainage, ear mites, or hematomas.  Allergies and asthma lead to poor drainage and are contributing factors in ear infections.  Ear infections although common (2-6.6% of all pets brought to the vet were brought in due to ear infections) can cause serious problems—such as hearing loss.  They often take several weeks to dissipate and sometimes return.

 Symptoms of ear infections include shaking of the head or ears, scratching ears, tilted head, wax or odor in the ears, ear redness or discharge, and incoordination.  Ear infections can be prevented by frequent ear cleanings (once every one to two weeks depending on your pet’s ear type), as well as trimming the hair in the ears which can become matted (especially in dogs like cocker spaniels) and lead to ear problems.  Allergies, which break down immunity and act as contributors to infections, should be dealt with immediately.  Skin allergies that cause itching can lead to self-inflected trauma that can contribute to outer ear infections.  Outer ear infections if not treated, often progress to inner and middle ear infections. 

 There are several courses of treatment for both external and inner ear infections.  Of course, the best treatment is always prevention.  Anti-biotics and anti-fungals (depending on the type of infection), glucocorticoids (to cut inflammation), antihistamines, and ear cleanings are all common treatments used by veterinarians for dogs and cats suffering from Otis externa and Otis media.   When cleaning your pet’s ears at home, its important to fill up the outer ear with cleaner and then massage the ear for 20-30 seconds.  You can then wipe the loose debris from the outer ear with a cotton ball.  Never use Q-tips to clean your cat or dog’s ear.  Most pets don’t like ear cleanings and will suddenly jump (or in Lo’s case try to escape), which could lead to ear injuries. 

 Pets with allergies, such as Lo, need more frequent ear cleanings (once per week).  Introducing Vitamin C into your pet’s diet, avoiding preservatives in food, and trimming ear hair often help reduce allergies and the instance of ear infection.  From now on, Lo and I will have to be more careful.  A cat or dog who has experienced an ear infection, is usually more prone to them in the future.  With regular ear cleanings and an eye to Lo’s allergy problems, my vet and I hope that we can keep Lo from having to experience another bout of dizziness and medication.  Ear infections are a serious problem and often go undiagnosed until severe symptoms (incoordination, dizziness) become present.  Watch for the signs of these infections!  If your pet develops any of the signs of ear infection, take him or her to the vet immediately.  Your pet with thank you for your vigilance!