We moved to rural North Carolina in August 2009. A visit with the realtor to the property that July foreshadowed our tenure here: We found a stray dog while viewing the property and the realtor adopted it. Since then we have handled approximately 25 abandoned animals of various breeds who made it onto our property or were found near it. We found homes for most of these animals. Spay/neuter is such a simple concept to me, but evidently not around here, and people continue to abandon their animals on or near my property. Although I have done my best and achieved successful placements for many of them, I made a series of fatal errors with one dog. I am writing this in the hope that others will learn from my mistakes. SK
I am an avid animal lover and have always thought of myself as a good animal care-giver. But yesterday I had to put a dog to sleep who suffered because of my errors in thinking and judgment. I am writing this in the hope that I can atone for this dog’s premature death by preventing someone from making the same mistakes I have made in her care.
This was the dog. Her name was Blue. She was a blue heeler I rescued as a six week old puppy less than a year after moving to North Carolina.
Blue died on the floor of a veterinary clinic as I petted and her apologized for causing her death. What follows is a list of the mistakes I made during her five years of life.
1. Know the Common Behaviors of Your Breed. When I rescued Blue I knew little about heelers. Heelers are working dogs and as such they need a lot of attention, activity and exercise – preferably involving herding animals such as sheep, cows or goats. They tend to being solitary and do not integrate well into a larger pack unless they are dominant.
Blue came into a situation with large, older dog who would dominate all the others including Blue. Blue never integrated into the hierarchy and was always challenging her place, picking fights with beta dogs, some of which would escalate into full-blown free-for-alls. Since she had nothing to herd, she often ran down and nipped at the little dogs who often would fight back, causing a crisis. My mistake here was not recognizing Blue’s nature and finding a more suitable home for her right away. Instead I tried medicating her with drugs and hoped she would calm down, another mistake. Medication cannot mask traits that have been selectively bred into the dog’s breed.
2. Do Not Attribute Human Emotions or Feelings To The Dog. When I found a Pit Bull/Boxer mix starving on my property and took her in to foster her, her presence caused one of the worst dog fights I have ever had to break up. Several of the dogs were injured including one seriously, and I received several deep punctures on my hands and arms that took weeks to scar over and heal. I mistook Blue’s change in behavior, of hiding under the deck or refusing to go out on walks with the rest of the dogs as jealousy or anger towards the new addition.
Dogs can’t talk to us, and one of the few ways of communicating they have with us to change their pattern of behavior. Blue liked the walks through the woods, and she didn’t usually hide under the deck. These were clues that I should have picked up on but didn’t because I thought Blue was acting petulant towards the new dog.
As you no doubt understand dogs are not 13 year old girls. They cannot act petulantly. What I missed was that Blue was sick, seriously ill with canine diabetes. Canine diabetes does not manifest itself the way human diabetes does. Although Blue was slightly overweight dogs do not get diabetes from being overweight the way humans do. I’m still trying to learn about this disease although it is rare (1 out of 200 dogs) and too late for Blue. But the see-sawing blood sugars would explain why Blue would feel fine one day and not the next. This wasn’t her being temperamental; it was her manifesting the signs of her disease.
So please, resist the temptation to look upon your dog as a little human. They aren’t, and my failure to realize that caused me to miss the signs of canine diabetes.
3. Have Yearly Wellness Checks. I have no idea why I let these slip. About two years ago my old vet left his practice and I was forced to find another vet. Although I kept up with their rabies shots and brought the dogs in whenever I was sure they were sick, I got out of the habit of bringing them in every year even when they were well. Blue had just been to the vet in early May to get her rabies updated and stay in the kennel while we were away. A simple blood panel would have found Blue’s canine diabetes much earlier, and there is no doubt that had I done a wellness check Blue would not only be with us today, but much of the suffering my animals have gone through because of her behavior would have been avoided.
4. Protect Against Rare But Devastating Diseases. It is better to protect against extremely rare but devastating events than commonly occurring but non-life threatening ones. Take for example cell phone insurance. Many people pay $10/month plus a $200 deductible to insure against the loss or destruction of their $600 iPhone. For many people $10/month will get you term life insurance that will protect your family financially should you die yet few do so figuring the odds are against them dying. This is true; the odds favor healthy young Americans living to their late 70s. But the odds of Blue developing canine diabetes was 1/200, and the odds of me dying within the next five years are 1/100. If the outcome of these events are so terrible, then we should work hard to mitigate the damage or perhaps even prevent them from happening as best as we can.
In the case of animals this means getting vaccines beyond the mandated rabies vaccine. If you can get a jab to prevent your dog or cat from getting sick then do so. Same thing with heartworm preventative meds. For about $5/month you can protect them from heartworms, parasites that can seriously shorten their lives and run up huge vet and drug bills should your pet come down with them. If you are willing to spend $10/month to save a few hundred bucks on a smart phone that will be obsolete in two years, how can you not justify spending the same on your pet who will share your life for the next five, ten or maybe even fifteen years? It’s a small price to pay to avoid the heartbreak of a chronically ill dog.
And speaking of vaccines this also applies to human beings. I have never turned down a jab for my son or myself, but recommend you discuss vaccines with your doctor and avoid the Internet if you have concerns about them.
5. Animals Need More Than Love. Although caring for her wasn’t easy, and she often made me angry, I loved Blue. She was a devoted companion and would follow me or the Wife anywhere, sticking close by instead of running off like the others. In the morning at the same time everyday she would wake us up with her “tap dance routine,” her little excited dance telling us that it was time for us to wake up and let her outside. Occasionally I would sing to her, taking Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” and changing the lyrics to “Blueberry Beret.” I had hoped that by working extra hard to find homes for the Pit Bull/Boxer mix and a beagle she always fought with that we would make her life here more comfortable and happier here. Unfortunately she died a day after placement of my last foster dog.
Those actions were motivated by love for the dog, but had nothing to do with reality. It wasn’t a psychological issue she was suffering from but a physical ailment, canine diabetes, that by the time we recognized the symptoms it was too late to do anything about. Proper animal care requires using one’s mind to see the situation clearly, not relying upon ones heart to explain reality. We did the latter, and the dog is dead.
I have no excuses and can only hope that by sharing my experience others may avoid my mistakes and be spared the grief and self-loathing that comes with failing a beloved pet.