He had no teeth.
As with many shelter residents, the little white dog had a skimpy known past that could only be imagined. The woman surrendering him said he belonged to her boyfriend, who abandoned them both. Not the dog’s fault he’d become an unwanted furry reminder.
Somebody once spent several hundred dollars to have his rotting teeth removed. But someone else let them get that way. He’d been abandoned for unknown reasons to several shelters, awaiting his furever family. I had yet to realize I was to become his future, the last six years of it anyway.
Shelter volunteers see a lot of wince-able stories – puppies abandoned in a roadside orchard. Dumped on a busy Interstate or in a roadside puddle during a downpour. Others carry scars from cigarette burns or worse.
Such cruelty ignites fury and wishes for a karma visit. But each sad case is also a living opportunity to begin fixing that sadness in one creature at a time from that day forward. For several years I was a TLC volunteer at a wonderful private California shelter.
Hundreds of such dog and cat shelters are scattered across the country caring for thousands upon thousands of homeless dogs and cats. Consider adoption over buying a pet.
All shelters desperately need donations of food, money, and volunteers for chores as simple as bathing a new guest or walking one for 20 minutes of socializing. Just Google “pet shelter” with your Zipcode for the closest.
Of course, I knew that all volunteers were doing a good deed for little critters. I did not realize at first the wondrous impact these lost souls would also have on me.
My job was to help calm newcomers, many terrified, skittish, hiding under beds, even snarling. Who wouldn’t be fearful after abuse by other humans and/or life on the run through streets or woods?
Those shy or hiding ones are the last to be adopted, if ever. The first are the friendly, confident ones who bounce over to greet a visitor.
One very patient volunteer sat on the hot pavement of a motel parking lot for two hours, scooting closer to a wary, wayward stray. She finally coaxed the hungry critter into her arms and car.
It took many months for him to emerge from his shell in the corner and for a kind couple to spot him bouncing about the playground with pals. He now resides in a grand house on the ocean with a monogrammed lifejacket to wear on their motorboat cruises.
I would sit in the pen on a little stool looking away from the doggie. No eye contact, talking softly, proffering my hand to smell, dropping treats to lure him or her closer. The goal was to cuddle and scratch their floppy ears and for them to approach me the next time.
For some, it took several visits. I had two sibling dachshunds once who were shaking uncontrollably. In 15 minutes, they were wrestling each other on the couch. In 40, they were stretched across my lap, snoring in unison.
It doesn’t always happen that way. That little white dog with no teeth didn’t hide when we met. He just sat there, frightened into a frozen pose to not be noticed. He leaned away as my hand neared. But started to melt with ear scratches.
Floppy ears are my weakness. This little guy had a pair of furry ones and the habit of raising only one at times that gave him an askance look. And made me smile. On succeeding visits he’d recognize me opening the door and bounce over.
I described him to my wife that first day as looking like the white Westie on Cesar’s dog food. To my surprise, she immediately said, “You should put a hold on him.” We already had one dog, an eccentric Border Collie.
When I called the shelter to do just that, I could hear cheering in the background. Friendly little Lucky, his shelter name, had become a favorite.
A week later, a 14-pound Westie-looking mutt with one ear up came to his new and final home, renamed Jamie. Not even in high school was I ever more completely smitten.
I had always been around large dogs. My first rescue at age 6 was a St. Bernard. Then came a Great Dane. Later, a disobedient Siberian Husky, who as sled dogs do, liked to run and run, as in away.
She’d spot an open gate or leap a fence and run through the forest or countryside until after several miles she was exhausted. By then, it was meal time. But — News Flash – her family kitchen and familiar dish were now far away.
That prompted mooching from a pizza parlor or kind family. Each time her name tag and microchip brought her home.
Jamie was not a runner. He had the funniest gait, more like a baby lamb bounding here and there across a meadow. After eight or so years bouncing around various homes and shelters, not always friendly ones, why run from the best life he’d ever know?
We became quite close. He’d snooze on my desk while I worked. One afternoon this laptop screen began filling up with plplplplplplplplplplplpl WTH? Jamie had quietly sneaked over to peer at the screen I was always looking at. He was standing on the keyboard.
Another time after he had a long drink, his whiskers dripped a few drops on the keys. That was expensive.
Jamie was also a total klutz. If there was anything nearby to knock over, step in, or fall off, Jamie was on it. Or off it. My exclamations didn’t faze him. He’d just aim those beady little black eyes at me and don the innocent look. And all was instantly forgiven.
I’d take him on errands and he’d stand on the passenger seat with his front feet on the window, no doubt scouting for chicks.
Jamie did not like to be alone for long. I think I understand why. If I was out of the office for too long or he’d wake up at night and not sense me, he’d bark. It wasn’t always welcome.
Most nights, very late, I’d set Jamie up on my desk. And I’d tell him nose-to-nose how safe and loved he was forever. How handsome he looked. And how much I wanted to scratch his ears, especially the flopped one. Treats may have been dispensed.
I know you can’t fill all voids from childhood that late in life. Apparently, for instance, no one had ever played with him. A nearby bouncing ball drew only blank stares. But it didn’t hurt to try, and I hoped the intense one-on-one chats helped him feel safe and loved now. OK, they were monologues. But he was attentive to the attention.
Anyone who’s ever had a pet knows that they understand more than we realize. There’s a vocabulary of sounds, looks, motions, touches that say volumes. At times with no warning, Jamie would lean over and simply lick my hand on the computer mouse. A treasured link.
Most days ended in the wee hours of a new one in my arms with classical music playing.
Maybe a year ago, Jamie developed an unsteady walk with trouble controlling his back legs. The bounding was gone. He developed a spinal problem. And then last May out of the blue one morning he just went limp like a wet noodle.
We feared a stroke. But tests determined he had an exotic inner-ear infection that would take months of antibiotics to combat. He’d start to lose his balance, over-correct, and flop over the other way with a hard landing. We laid soft things wherever he might land.
The balance seemed to improve this fall, but his back legs no longer worked properly. One vet gently suggested it might be time to let him go, which really meant help him go.
Intellectually, I know all the arguments about ending a pet’s suffering. That is a form of love. We’ve done that before in a cancer fight, as painful as it was for both of us. But emotionally, with Jamie, I couldn’t do it then. So many people had given up on him before. His appetite was ravenous. To my admittedly hopeful eyes, that was no death wish.
We knew Jamie was not going to recover, and I have to say, carrying him outside at 3 a.m. was no pleasure. But we wanted to make him as comfortable and loved as possible, as in a hospice.
In recent days, however, his appetite faded. He lost control of some body functions.
I held the little guy in my arms most of the last day, as I had together in that shelter pen six very short years ago and late so many nights since.
As we walked into the exam room where the kindly family vet waited, he said, “It’s time, you know.” I did know, but did not want to.
Jamie could not stand up. He pooped a little on the table. I took his little head in my hands, spoke directly in his ear. I thanked him for sharing these years with us. And I told him how much we loved him. Over and over. And over.
Then, came the worst feeling I’ve ever experienced. His head in my hands, my thumbs massaging his ears, I literally felt the life go out of him. Completely. And forever. That finality was terrifying.
Jamie’s in another place now with no more suffering. He’s probably bounding again. I wish I could see that.
Meanwhile, we’re left with some treasured photos, lives enriched by Jamie’s life and love, and the deeply embedded memory of a little white shelter dog who had no teeth.
Most pet owners have not only heard of distemper but also know that it's high mortality rate makes it especially dangerous. Until last week I never realized that canine distemper can also infect a wide range of wild carnivores, most commonly foxes, raccoons and skunks - all of which live in my rural area of California.
Last week the Department of Fish & Wildlife reported an unusually high number of canine distemper virus (CDV) cases in wildlife populations throughout the entire state of California.
The report warns that unvaccinated domestic dogs can potentially contract the disease through contact with food bowls and water sources that are "shared" with infected wild carnivores.
In the report Senior Wildlife Veterinarian Deana Clifford says that distemper is the most common disease cause-o-death in California's carnivores. Transmission of the distemper virus typically occurs similar to the common cold, via inhalation of infected respiratory droplets or direct contact with saliva, nasal discharge and tears.
As in domestic canines there is no treatment for sick animals except supportive care. Infected animals may or may not survive the illness. Signs include (but are not limited to) depression, fever, labored breathing, diarrhea, anorexia, incoordination, moving in small circles, yellow to clear discharge from the nose and eyes, and crusting on the nose, eyes, mouth or footpads. Animals with the virus may not show clinical signs but can still spread the virus for up to 90 days.
In addition to removing food and water dishes, the department of Fish & Wildlife urges the public to keep both themselves and their pets a safe distance from sick or injured wild animals, as animals that are ill or feel threatened may act aggressively.
One hot summer day in Chicago in the 1940s when I was just a wee lass we fried an egg on the sidewalk in front of 5419 Fairfield Avenue in Chicago. Thirty years later in the midst Time Magazine's dire predictions of the "New Ice Age" and that we would all be dead in our beds of frostbite by Y2K, my neighbor's children did a summer science experiment and fried an egg on the sidewalk at 1042 Windsor street in San Jose. The summer after we survived the supposed collapse of computers worldwide unable to make the transition from 1999 to 2000, we celebrated by frying an egg on my patio in Sunnyvale. And now it's 20 years later and summers haven't changed - they still get hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk - and also to fry your dog's paws.
The problem is the asphalt temperature and the outdoor temperature are two very different things. When the air temperature is 77 degrees asphalt in the sun is 125 degrees. When the air temperature is 86 degrees the asphalt temperature is 135 degrees. Since you can fry an egg at 131 degrees just imagine how your dog feels as you drag him along to the farmers market or an outdoor festival being held on asphalt.
Fortunately there's a couple of easy ways to tell if the pavement is too hot for your pups bare paws - the most direct way is walking on it in your own bare feet. Dogs paw skin is not any thicker than the skin on your own feet. Or you can place the back of your hand against the pavement and hold it there for 7-10 seconds. if it's too uncomfortable for you to leave your skin there, then you shouldn't make your dog do it.
Also, think about the time of day. It takes hours for the pavement to cool off after the outdoor temperature goes down. Asphalt soaks up the heat all day and can only cool down after sunset so pavement that was deemed safe for a walk at 9 am may still be too hot in late afternoon. Much better to head to your outdoor event in the morning when the pavement is cool.
As a basic "rule of paw" - if the surface is too uncomfortable for your own bare hands or feet for at least 7-8 seconds then could seriously injure your dog's paws.
And always remember if you want to take an outing with your dog in the summer think water! It's good for drinking and it's also good for cooling hot tootsies, both yours and your dogs!
Candace Huskey, President
Many residents of the hill have experience bears in their yards, on their streets and even entering their homes in August. We asked Los Padres Bear Aware if we could use their checklist. We recommend looking at their Facebook page as well. If you are having trouble with bears please contact them. Thank you to Charlotte Deese for the photo of the mom bear and two cubs in her Pinon Pines yard.