Fuzzy, furry friends are filling our homes since the lockdowns due to cornoravirus began in early March.
Over the last two months, the numbers of people fostering cats and dogs have risen dramatically over the same period last year.
“About 40% of all of the shelter population in the country are in foster homes right now, and that represents a current reality of about 60 to 90,000 animals, which is huge,” said Julie Castle, chief executive officer for Best Friends Animal Society, which helped launch the no kill movement in the United States.
Those numbers are based on data gathered by 24PetWatch, a pet insurance company that provides a weekly snapshot of over 1,100 animal welfare organizations around the country.
Adoptions, while down due to the closing of shelters, may be starting to rise as well, Castle said, perhaps a result of people falling in love with their foster pets and giving them forever homes.
In the Best Friends no-kill shelter in Salt Lake City, 46% of foster applicants said they were interested in potentially adopting. If they follow through — and that attitude is replicated across the US and other countries where there’s been an uptick in fostering — it could be a huge win for homeless animals everywhere.
But if that doesn’t happen and people begin returning foster pets as they return to work, the impact on shelters already strapped by a lack of funds could be devastating.
“It’s going to put a lot of pressure on animal welfare groups and shelters, and they’re going to have to reach out to the community for support,” said Michelle Cole, who is the chief marketing and sales officer at Pethealth Inc., the parent company of 24PetWatch.
“This is also the typical fundraising period, and they haven’t been able to do that due to coronavirus,” she added. “So already a lot of them are experiencing more financial strain.”
Adoption agencies are sounding the alarm, trying to encourage people to understand the ramifications of returning fostered or adopted pets who may be undergoing some behavior change or separation anxiety as their owners return to work.
In the United Kingdom, one of the largest welfare charities, called Dogs Trust, has changed its 30-year-old slogan from “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas” to “A dog is for life, not just for lockdown.”
“Most of the shelter organizations are asking, ‘Why do you need to relinquish that pet? Can we give you support so that won’t ever be necessary?’ ” Montgomery said.
“Animal welfare organizations can be super creative and helpful in trying to solve those problems. We want to keep pets at home.”
If you find yourself in need of help with food or medicine for your pet, experts suggested calling a number of animal welfare groups and shelters in your area, as some may be more able to assist than others.
To also make sure that pet lovers continue to love and keep their pets, animal welfare organizations offer the following advice.
If you’ve already fostered a pet, you have likely taken into account the extra money you’ll need. If not, experts said, please stop and do so.
Vaccines, supplies like crates and litter boxes, vet appointments, heartworm and flea prevention, toys, food and pet-sitting costs can add up quickly to thousands of dollars each year, depending on the pet’s age and health status. Additional expenses, depending on the pet, include training and grooming.
There are ways to cut expenses, such as buying in bulk from pet supply or large warehouse stores, and many vets and shelters offer free or reduced spay and neuter surgeries.
You can reduce the need for vet and grooming costs if you brush your pet’s hair and teeth daily. Start very young, especially with cats.
Training and preventative supplies
If you’ve adopted a puppy, prepare to be calm and patient during potty training, and be sure to provide alternatives for teething so Fido doesn’t destroy your shoes and socks.
Obedience and behavioral training is well worth the investment in time and money, experts said. From potty training to teaching your pup to sit, stay, heel and behave, a well-trained dog is less likely to develop bad habits that irritate pet owners.
One of the biggest — potty accidents.
“Inappropriate elimination in dogs and cats can cause issues with the human-animal bond, and unfortunately it can sometimes end up in relinquishment of animals, either rehoming or return to shelters,” said veterinarian Dr. Meredith Montgomery, a clinical assistant professor of shelter medicine at the University of Florida.
“You should always check with your vet to make sure it’s not due to illness or infection,” she added. “If it keeps up, your vet can help with behavioral modification, potentially paired with pharmaceuticals, to help decrease anxiety.”
For their own safety — and that of our bird population — cats should be kept indoors, experts said.
Having an indoors-only feline companion also cuts down on vet expenses from fights and accidents.
That means having the right number of litter boxes — one more than the number of cats in the home. You must also clean them daily to keep your cat from urinating or defecating outside of the box.
Providing proper scratching posts and high perches can keep your cat from ruining furniture or climbing curtains, and experts have pointed to the success of clicker training to mold a cat’s behavior while young.
“Always praise them when they’re doing something right,” said Dr. John Howe, the president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
“It doesn’t do any good to get mad at the cat after the fact,” he said. “They have no idea what you’re mad about. So it’s always better in training to do positive feedback when they’re doing something right, and ignore them when doing something wrong.”
During Covid-19 social isolation, training has moved online. Be sure to look for videos and other tutorials which may also help with finances, too.
Exercise body and mind
Dog walking is excellent for our cardiovascular system, but those multiple walks are good for your pup’s health, too. Different breeds need different levels of exercise, so be sure to do your research.
Thankfully, it’s still possible to get outside during the age of coronavirus, but be sure to practice social distancing.
Just like dogs, cats need playtime too. A good “hunt” that ends in the catch and “kill” of a dangling feather or mouse right before feeding mimics behavior in the wild and will keep your house cat both physically and mentally stimulated.
A great way to exercise your dog or cat’s mind is to provide food or non-fattening treats in a puzzle or other interactive toy. The fun of figuring out how to get to that morsel can be quite mentally stimulating and satisfying. Just watch them “paw” themselves on the back once they’ve solved the mystery.
It can be hard to properly socialize a dog or cat during isolation from Covid-19, and this may well be one of the toughest areas of raising a pet during this time. Both species need to see and be around people other than you to lose their fear of strangers.
“Socialization is probably the most important thing, in my view, for getting a dog or a cat used to a new household and surroundings,” Howe said.
“It can still be done when they’re older, but really six to 12 weeks is really a critical time for making sure they get used to so many different activities,” Howe said, “such as walking, playing, petting, grooming, seeing other people, seeing other dogs and not being afraid of the vacuum cleaner.”
If you’ve been sheltering in a “bubble,” or a small group of friends and family, try to get each person to handle, pet and walk your pup to broaden his social circle. But it may not be a good idea to allow your dog to run up to others while out on a walk. If a fight were to break out, you may have to break the 6-foot social distancing rule to solve the issue.
Set up your kitty for success by making sure everyone in the family — especially children — handles your furry friend gently. No yelling or screaming, no eye poking or yanking of tails.
Instead, hug and snuggle your cat as much as possible, as young as possible. It’s even OK to pick them up and cuddle them like a baby — cats don’t have to be stuck-up by nature, especially if they are always petted and brushed when near their special people.
“If you can get your cat used to being groomed, combed, brushed, play with their feet a little bit, that’s really important, especially when they’re going to go to the veterinarian,” Howe said.”You don’t want cats that are fearful and don’t want to be touched, so grooming helps. That’s very soothing to cats.”
Use treats to get your kitty to come when called by name. And if at all possible, try to introduce a cat-friendly dog into their lives, as long as it can be done while observing proper social distancing.
Avoiding back-to-work separation anxiety
Imagine now the worst of the pandemic is over. You’re finally going back to work, and you’re thrilled. Your foster or adopted dog or cat may not be. Just imagine what it must be like for your pet to have you there all day and night and then suddenly, you’re gone!
To avoid any issues with separation anxiety, it’s best to prepare your dog or cat for your departure as soon as you first bring them home — by setting the same routine you will use when you go back to work. Just like little kids, animals thrive on routine.
“Getting up at the same time, eating at the same time, playing at the same time. That’s the key,” Howe said.
Using pet gates and crates is another suggestion, Howe added. If a dog is crate trained, it can be very soothing for them to go back to their own special place, he said. Again, start when your dog first comes home.
“They’re safe, they’re comfortable and it’s an opportunity for them to practice independence in their own space,” Howe said. The use of baby and pet gates or barriers can also help keep pets and children separated, he added.
Try playing species-specific music for your pet before you go back to work and if they like it, keep it on while you’re gone. A study published in 2015 found that cats preferred such feline-favorite sounds such as chirping, purring and the sucking sound of nursing kittens, mixed in with some classical music strains. You and your cat can listen here, while Spotify and other websites provide playlists for dogs.
And keep up your quality playtime, just as you would with a child, Montgomery said.
“What may this look like? Ten to 30 minutes of play with a favorite wand toy, special brushing session, — if liked by your pet — a walk with your leashed dog or time spent with a favorite toy playing fetch or tug-of-war,” she said.
And if all else fails, don’t hesitate to reach out to your local animal welfare group or shelter or veterinarian, experts said.
“The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, ACVB, has a great website to find a veterinary behavioral expert that can do a consult with you,” said Dr. Dana Varble, the chief veterinary officer for the North American Veterinary Community.
“And some of those behaviorists are already set up to do via the phone or video.”
BAKERSFIELD, CA. (KGET)- Businesses are suffering, people are being laid off and it’s becoming even harder to put food on the table.
But, it’s not just humans suffering, our pets are being affected.
Stories across our county of those unable to provide for their pets, so Marley’s Mutts decided to step in and help make sure no pet is left behind.
Through fundraising efforts, they’ve been able to raise over two pallets of food.
But, their generosity can only go so far, so now they need your help.
If you have food you would like to donate, you can drop it off at 3720 Easton Drive.
If you would like to donate monetarily to the cause, follow the link: https://www.marleysmutts.org/donate/
Alabama no longer has a venue for live greyhound racing.
The Birmingham Race Course is discontinuing the sport and will rely on simulcasting when it eventually reopens.
Kip Keefer, executive director of the Birmingham Racing Commission, said the decision was made Friday by Lewis Benefield, COO of the Race Course. Receipts in recent years from live greyhound racing have become “embarrassingly low,” Keefer said, with most of the track revenue coming from simulcasting to other tracks.
“It was mostly a financial decision,” Keefer said. “Revenues have lagged. It’s not a product that was supporting itself.”
The Race Course shut down live racing in March as part of the coronavirus pandemic measures that have brought large portions of commercial activity to a halt. But Keefer said track management believes that while the course is not in a financial position to continue in the near term, it eventually wants to bring live dog racing back – and even horse racing.
“What they’re talking about is not a permanent cessation of racing,” he said. “It will be a considerable task to get everything back up and running, but they hope to do so.”
Dog racing has been declining in popularity nationally as a sport in recent years. While it remains legal in 10 states, it now takes place live in only five. West Virginia has two dog tracks, Iowa and Texas have one each. Florida has active tracks but a constitutional amendment is set to phase out commercial greyhound racing by 2021. The Arkansas Greyhound Kennel Association looks to phase out racing by 2023.
Animal Wellness Action, an animal rights organization, hailed the decision. The group’s executive director, Marty Irby, a native Alabamian, said he was “elated to see this archaic and abusive enterprise cross the finish line in my home state for good.”
“Most tracks don’t make money, but gambling interests that own the tracks are being obligated by the states to subsidize the operations and to require that the tracks run dogs even when it’s a money-loser,” Irby said.
In the short term, the Birmingham Race Course will be seeing to the disposition of around 400 to 450 greyhounds. Approximately 150 dogs have already left the Race Course’s kennels for other tracks. The Birmingham Race Course has an adoption program with connections around the nation, Keefer said. The operation placed about 450 dogs in new homes last year; now, it has that same goal in a short period of time. Many dogs are placed with convalescent homes, service organizations, and other destinations.
“It’s a little bit of a daunting task, but they’ve got the staff and resources to do it,” he said. “There’s a lot of demand in Canada and New England.”
Birmingham Race Course looks to reopen in May if coronavirus directives lift with the end of Alabama’s Stay at Home order April 30.
The track opened in March 1987 as the Birmingham Turf Club, an $85 million facility on 7,000 acres for thoroughbred horse racing. The city and the region had high hopes for the Turf Club, with eventual designs on an entertainment complex. But the large crowds envisioned by its backers didn’t materialize, and within a year, the operators filed for bankruptcy. The course was eventually bought by Milton McGregor in 1992, and his family has continued to operate it after his death in 2018.
In 1992, a referendum allowed greyhound races at the track. Horse racing ended at the venue in June 1995.
Last year, the course began offering machines that allow users to place wagers on horse races that have already taken place. More than 300 historical pari-mutuel betting machines were added in October.
Keefer said the end of live racing, whether temporary or permanent, is a sad time.
“It’s sad to think that in October 1992 when we ran the first-ever greyhound racing there, there were 14,000 people on hand,” he said. “I don’t like it for the loyal fans. Right to the end just before the shutdown, you could walk onto the racing floor up in the clubhouse and see the same couple of hundred die-hards. They wouldn’t have missed a race for the world.”
In a newly published list of animals categorized as livestock in China, the country’s agriculture ministry made a surprising announcement tucked away at the bottom of the policy document: dogs are no longer to be treated as mere livestock, but as loyal companions.
“Alongside the development of human civilization and the public’s care toward protecting animals, dogs have now evolved from being traditional livestock to companion animals,” the notice dated April 8 read (link in Chinese), adding that dogs aren’t typically regarded as livestock worldwide.
The official announcement follows on the heels of February’s nationwide ban on the trade and consumption of wildlife in China. The country’s top legislature fast-tracked the enactment of the ban in large part due to widespread suspicions that the Covid-19 outbreak stemmed from a novel coronavirus being transmitted from wild animals to humans. Those suspicions arose because some of the early confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Wuhan, the central Chinese city at the epicentre of the country’s outbreak, had exposure to the Huanan seafood wholesale market, where live animals were on sale. In fact, initial diagnostic guidelines (pdf) established by China’s national health commission stipulated that Covid-19 patients needed to have an epidemiological link to Wuhan or a wet market in the city.
Included on the latest list of livestock animals are 13 types of “traditional livestock” such as pigs, cows, chickens, and turkeys, and 18 types of “special livestock” such as various kinds of deer, all of which could be raised for the purpose of eating, according to the ministry. The list is “dynamic” and could be widened to include other animals, according to the February decision banning eating of wild animals in China. The ministry is gathering public opinions on the draft document until May 8.
Although Beijing has said that the consumption of wild land animals not included in this list will be banned (link in Chinese), it is unclear whether dogs, which traditionally are not counted as wild animals, would also be protected from this fate after the “upgrade” of its status by the ministry. Calls to the ministry went unanswered, while it did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
However, given the clear classification of dogs as companion animals by the ministry, local governments in China could follow suit to set up regulations banning the consumption of not only wild life, but also pets. Shenzhen, the southern Chinese city bordering Hong Kong, became the first city in the country to ban the eating of cats and dogs, as well as state-protected and other terrestrial wild animals, days before the ministry’s announcement.
Around 10 million dogs and four million cats are estimated to be slaughtered and eaten in China every year, according to Hong Kong-based animal welfare group Animals Asia, but the practice is coming under increasing criticism from the country’s growing ranks of pet lovers. In 2016, a group of dog lovers tried to stop a truck that was carrying 320 dogs headed for a slaughterhouse on a highway in Hebei province. They ended up getting into a fight with the truck driver and causing a massive traffic jam.
For those who think that only human beings happen to face the difficulties and hardships of a distressing time like such, this veterinary student from Mumbai will help you shift your focus to just how bad animals have it.
COVID-19 has also had an equally scarring impact on the lives of stray animals across the nation and unfortunately like us they don’t have a voice. In a bid to help the suffering of these animals, Sagun Bhatjiwale is feeding these animals along with the help of some other good samaritans like himself.
Sagun is a part of he Nature’s Ally Foundation: an NGO dedicated to the welfare of birds, animals and trees, and his good deeds got him noticed on Instagram by account ‘nobordersshop’. The account shared his story, where he talks about how disheartening it is for him to see animals in such anguish
By MARGERY A. BECK and SCOTT McFETRIDGE (AP)
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The Simeon family was heading home to Omaha from a Smoky Mountains vacation when Kim Simeon spotted a social media post from the Nebraska Humane Society, pleading with people to consider fostering a pet amid concerns about how the coronavirus would affect operations.
A day later, a 1 1/2-year-old black lab mix named Nala was nestling in at her home. Nala is one of 35 dogs and cats that have been placed with Omaha-area families as part of an emergency foster care program.
“I just felt like, with all the virus stuff going on, it just seemed like a need we could help with,” Simeon said. “We’re all quarantined anyway. I mean, what a perfect opportunity to do something good.”
Amid an avalanche of bad news, Simeon’s story and thousands like it across the country are prompting smiles as suddenly isolated people rush to care for animals, easing a burden on shelters and providing homes — even if just temporarily — for homeless dogs, cats and other pets.
Shelters from California to New York have put out the call for people to temporarily foster pets. Thanks to an overwhelming response from people who suddenly found themselves stuck at home, shelters say they have placed record numbers of dogs, cats and other animals. If past trends hold, many of those who agree to temporarily care for a pet will ultimately decide they want the animal to stay for good.
“We have a waiting list of 2,000 people wanting to foster,” said Dr. Apryl Steele, president and CEO of Dumb Friends League shelter in Denver. It’s the largest animal shelter in the Rocky Mountain region, caring for an average of 22,000 animals a year.
Steele said the initial push there to foster animals came not from the shelter, but the community.
“We had people reaching out to us all of a sudden,” she said. “People just wanted to do something to help. We realized pretty quickly that we could soon be facing a shutdown of our adoptions and got on board.”
Shelters have several reasons for pushing to foster out animals, Steele said, including the fear that they might have to stop adopting out animals if people can’t visit them or that they might see an influx of people surrendering animals amid economic woes. But the overriding factor, she said, was concern for workers’ health.
“We need to get to a skeleton staff, stat. We can’t do that if the shelter is full,” she said.
Stephanie Filer, spokeswoman for Animal Rescue League of Iowa also noted that shelters are seeing a drop in donations — a normal occurrence during an economic downturn. The Des Moines-based organization and others have also had to cancel fundraising events because of virus containment efforts.
The good news is that when Filer’s group put out a call for temporary homes for at least 80 cats in their care, it received some 160 applications within 12 hours. She noted that 60% to 70% of people who foster an animal opt to keep the animal permanently.
“A crisis brings out the worst in people and the best in people, so we are thrilled to see some exciting things come from this awful situation,” she said.
Since mid-March, the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has seen 1,600 people volunteer to foster, and the Oregon Humane Society in Portland has seen 1,000 new foster volunteers.
The outpouring comes at a critical time because animals produce lots of litters in the spring, said Dr. Jennifer Scarlett, president of the San Francisco SPCA.
“You have shelter leaders around the country who are just looking at this tidal wave that is coming our way,” Scarlett said.
In Washington, D.C., the Humane Rescue Alliance said more than 1,000 people signed up to foster in a 10-day period this month.
One of those was first-time foster volunteer Katie Lee, who is now caring for Calvin, a 2-year-old terrier mix. A move to working from home during the coronavirus scare prompted her decision, because “at least I’m home a lot.”
Ina Offret, of Anchorage, Alaska, agreed to foster 10-year-old Kelsey after a local shelter called saying it had no room for more animals and was desperate to clear space. Kelsey, a poodle mix, joined Offret’s poodle Suzie.
If she had been asked a month ago if she was ready to take in another dog, Offret said, she would have politely declined, noting she had had three dogs under her roof until last year, when old age took the other two.
“I had reached a point in my life when I decided I don’t want multiple dogs,” Offret said. “Then the coronavirus hit.”
Offret said she hasn’t changed her mind about wanting to be a single-dog family, but said Kelsey has a home until another family can be found.
“I’m going to keep her until whenever that is,” Offret said.
McFetridge reported from Des Moines, Iowa.
Shenzhen has become the first Chinese city to ban the sale and consumption of dog and cat meat.
It comes after the coronavirus outbreak was linked to wildlife meat, prompting Chinese authorities to ban the trade and consumption of wild animals.
Shenzhen went a step further, extending the ban to dogs and cats. The new law will come into force on 1 May.
Thirty million dogs a year are killed across Asia for meat, says Humane Society International (HSI).
However, the practice of eating dog meat in China is not that common – the majority of Chinese people have never done so and say they don’t want to.
“Dogs and cats as pets have established a much closer relationship with humans than all other animals, and banning the consumption of dogs and cats and other pets is a common practice in developed countries and in Hong Kong and Taiwan,” the Shenzhen city government said, according to a Reuters report.
“This ban also responds to the demand and spirit of human civilization.”
The race to find the source of coronavirus in wildlife
Animal advocacy organisation HSI praised the move.
“This really could be a watershed moment in efforts to end this brutal trade that kills an estimated 10 million dogs and 4 million cats in China every year,” said Dr Peter Li, China policy specialist for HSI.
However, at the same time as this ruling, China approved the use of bear bile to treat coronavirus patients.
Bear bile – a digestive fluid drained from living captive bears – has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine.
The active ingredient, ursodeoxycholic acid, is used to dissolve gallstones and treat liver disease. But there is no proof that it is effective against the coronavirus and the process is painful and distressing for the animals
Brian Daly, a spokesman for the Animals Asia Foundation, told AFP: “We shouldn’t be relying on wildlife products like bear bile as the solution to combat a deadly virus that appears to have originated from wildlife.”
In empathy, gratitude, loyalty, the sweetness of life, and all the good that comes from the love of a fellow creature
Every family has its own private calendar of commemorative dates, recalled for events good or ill. For my family, long ago On This Day in History — March 28, 1960 — something wonderful happened when a young stray dog found our door in Casper, Wyo. He was destined to leave so sweet a mark that no incident in our lives back then quite compares with his arrival. And since he happened to come along just before I turned a year old, I like to claim him as my perfect first birthday gift.
He was golden brown with a distinctive white stripe between the eyes, and white muzzle, chest, and socks to go with it. On a snowy, cold night, he came into the house on the heels of my father, who had just returned from a business trip. The reward for this daring move was a round of patting, a chorus of “Can we keep him?” from the children, food and water from my mother, and refuge in our garage. In the days afterward, various “Found Dog” notices went unanswered, though some months later, as I recall the story, a local waitress overheard my parents describing the mutt and recognized him as her long-gone “Yogi,” who had been constantly wandering off, chasing cars and the milk truck, and running into other trouble — which perhaps explained why custody went unchallenged. He never lost the independent streak, but in short order he had left his garage quarters behind him and settled into our home. He stayed with us 16 years, with a name that captured our change in circumstance as well as his, inscribed on a tag in case he ever disappeared on us: “lucky. please return me to . . .”
My brothers, sisters, parents, and aunts would all attest that no finer companion could have followed us through those years. To the serendipity of one stray chancing upon one open door, I owe boyhood experiences I would not exchange for any others, and some lasting lessons I might otherwise have missed. Other blessings, since then, have come my way, but something about this one has refused any command of time to fade away, pulling, well, doggedly at my memory. One of my brothers, who also was especially attached to Lucky and who took care of him most of his life, told me decades later that in some ways Lucky was my most formative influence, leading even to a book in 2002 on the theme of animal welfare — Dominion — that I dedicated to him. And I’ll take that compliment, at risk of reproach for misplaced affections or for unseemly excess in tribute to an animal. A guy could do a lot worse than making a dog his inspiration, especially this dog.
Having been just a toddler when Lucky appeared, I don’t recall much of his colorful prime that followed in Wyoming and then Colorado, Ohio, and New York (the dog wasn’t the only restless one in our family). It happened that charge over him fell to me in his later years, after four of five siblings had departed for college in the early 1970s, leaving just me and my youngest sister. My most enduring impressions of Lucky begin then. I suppose I came to see him with new eyes, now that the house was quieter and he was suddenly my regular pal and first serious responsibility. The wisdom, therefore, was what a young teenager stood to acquire from an elderly dog, at a time that found us in New Rochelle, outside New York City. As I think about him now, 44 years since we parted on the trail, it comes down to four canine lessons that have shaped my outlook and enriched my life, offered here as just another entry in the vast literature exploring all that can be learned in the company of a dog.
One lesson I credit to Lucky (“Lucky Silver,” if we’re being formal) is an awakening to a profound reality — a heavy lift for a dog, but he did this by simply drawing me outside myself into an appreciation of other creatures, as interesting, worthy, and important in their own right. When you’ve watched a dog (perhaps especially a senior dog) dreaming — stirring, whimpering, playing out memories or scenes of things feared or hoped for — it alerts you to the fact that you’re not the only one in the room with an emotional life going on. I’ve long thought that domesticated animals have, from this angle, even more to tell us than wild ones do, being relieved of the relentless pressures and blind instincts of the wild (much as we have been, after all) in a way that reveals their latent capacities and distinct personalities. With a dog even more than with a wolf, you get to see what’s really there, who that creature is.
For me, from the age of about 13 to 17, this meant the presence, day and night, of an animal who could be sensitive, proud, sad, elated, content, uneasy, concerned, lonely, curious, apprehensive, depressed, insulted, forgiving, devoted, brave, and loving — while, outside our family, being in his senior years somewhat reserved but generally benevolent, unless you happened to be a rival dog or a squirrel presuming to come too close. Put whatever qualifiers you want on these words and attributes, but for a dog it is the same emotional landscape as it is for us. And that’s a big truth for a kid to figure out.
As an adult, I read a few of the more noted books by behavioral researchers, cognition experts, and the like who attempted to demonstrate that the appearance of animal emotions, or even of consciousness, is just that — merely an appearance. Sure, with good old Lucky the jubilant tail-wagging might start when I came within sight or scent from 200 yards off on the way home from school every afternoon, but I shouldn’t read too much into that: All such displays by dogs, we are informed, are just pack instinct, “hardwired,” and their love for us just a projection of our imagination. The faithfulness and self-giving of war dogs, police and rescue dogs, guide dogs, comfort dogs in hospital wards and hospices are all likewise explained away and trivialized by theories that would deny these and other creatures their due.
Enough to say that some people, while giving every appearance of rationality, must be hardwired to deny the obvious. (And by the way, the behavioral theories about what makes us tick usually aren’t so flattering either.) I knew as a teenager that this was no slavering, stimulus–response machine passing the days with me, or some being merely placed there for my benefit and enjoyment, with no story or feelings of his own that really mattered. Mature dogs, in particular, acquire an emotional depth that behaviorist doctrine can only strain to account for. Sometimes in his final half year or so, as Lucky and I sat outside in tranquil moments — or else went to some wondrous new place like the shore in Larchmont, N.Y. — he took it all in with that same kind of contemplative, last-glance air I have seen in very old people surveying their favorite sights, a dog of stiff, slowing gait feeling and pondering things even if I couldn’t always say exactly what they were.
Aging dogs surely sense that they have many more yesterdays than tomorrows, which might explain as well those looks I used to get late at night, when Lucky was sore and weary and maybe a little afraid, and seemed to need assurance that I was near and everything was all right — as at other times, in his own manner, he offered assurance in return. Once, I noticed an expression so sad (and with a touch of rebuke, as I recall it now) that it made for a kind of revelation. Early one night I was frantically throwing on a change of clothes, about to race off to a high-school friend’s party I had just heard about. Seeing Lucky sitting across the room staring at me, clearly understanding that our evening plans were off, I suddenly realized that no party could possibly be more important than being with that 15-year-old dog. I belonged with only one friend just then, and so stayed, that night and others thereafter. I guess I wasn’t one for half-measures back then: To maximize my Lucky time, I soon vanished altogether from high school, at no loss to the school or to me.
Such impressions, hitting me at an age when they could really sink in, help explain why, when people referred to me as Lucky’s “owner,” I insisted on correcting them. How could this thinking, feeling creature and venerable friend of mine be anyone’s property? He might belong with me, yes; to me, no. And this awareness of one animal’s standing, as more than just some congenial yet ultimately incidental and replaceable extra in my own story, grew over time into a general respect for all animals as having a place and dignity of their own. Any time other creatures, wild or domesticated, can open our eyes to the reality that they belong here too, that they have pretty exceptional abilities and qualities themselves — that it’s a big world, and we humans aren’t the whole show — they do us a favor. Discerning their goodness, as our companions in creation who share in life’s happiness and travail alike, makes the world better and more beautiful, if also, at times, less convenient to our own wishes. The religious-minded might call this the reality of every creature revealing its Maker’s touch, all dear to Him for their own sake, and we’re lucky ourselves if we discover it early on.
That leads to empathy — a second timely lesson for a teenager, though for some, of course, it never takes. Lucky was about twelve when the leash was passed to me, beginning his health slide a little past the age of 14. No longer the speed title-holder who once chased our own car and was still gaining on us at close to 30 mph; or the ferocious family hero who one night had scared off burglars in Littleton, Colo.; or the gritty survivor of weeks on the streets after going astray again in ’63 or ‘64; or the twice-a-day regular with the graceful trot around Beechmont Lake in New Rochelle, he was getting frail, unsteady, and in need of help and reassurance that I felt privileged to give. It was just a repaying of debts for all the times he had come to me and to others in our family to guard, cheer, or comfort — never failing, though there were times when I scarcely deserved it.
One day on our walk, I faked a fall from a tree, just to observe Lucky’s reaction because he always growled uncharacteristically when I began to climb one. Perhaps he still thought of me as the baby of the family, needing extra protective attention, but in any case I had only to reach up and grab hold of a tree branch and, whatever he was doing on our walks — sniffing around, wading into a stream — the moment he noticed me climbing, those ears went up and he’d trot over to intervene, growling and a few times taking matters into his own mouth by pulling me down by the pant leg. On this occasion, as I pretended to fall with a yelp and lay limp on the ground, he ran to me, as fast as a guileless senior dog could, nudging me, looking nervously around, whimpering as he tried to figure out how to handle the crisis. Across the lake, in view, was our house at 92 Pinebrook Road. He looked in that direction, then down at me, then over to the house, then at me, and so on for a few more seconds, before bolting to run back around the lake toward our house. Then, just as abruptly, he doubled back and returned for more pacing and nudging, having clearly decided “No, I have to stay with him!” Reciprocal loyalty, when you’ve got a dog like that, doesn’t get any easier.
Or I think of one night later on when he was distressed by tensions in the house — ever attuned to his emotional surroundings — and knew what to do. Despite arthritic pain and other infirmities, he pulled himself alone up a staircase — steps he hadn’t ascended for months without me carrying him — just to be with me at a lonely moment. I missed what must have been the harrowing sight of that climb, realizing he was upstairs only when I heard the familiar claw sounds as he reached the top landing, and saw that white muzzle push open my door as he entered and came over to press his head against me. Evidence, as if any were needed, that the empathy ran both ways.
Those months especially, of looking after Lucky in his twilight, I wouldn’t trade for other memories. Years later, in Los Angeles, my wife Emmanuelle and I had an uncannily similar experience with an Australian shepherd–type dog named Herbie, who was 13 or so and dumped at a shelter by someone who, we surmised, thought he was done for and didn’t want to deal with the long goodbye. Whoever that person was missed out on the chance — lasting, as it turned out, more than two years — to see how grand, deeply endearing, and loving a senior dog can be in that final stretch of life.
Both experiences brought home for me the vulnerability of all animals who are left to depend on human sympathy and to trust in our good will, their well-being and fate entirely in our hands; and also their innocence in suffering, and the connections that come with the destiny we share. I marvel sometimes at the callousness and arrogance of those who routinely harm animals — shooting, trapping, poisoning, prodding, slaughtering, or experimenting on them with no thought of how it feels on the receiving end, or else even relishing the experience of absolute domination. To see such people so freely dispatching death in every direction, you’d think that death has no plan for them. With all of us bound as we are toward the same horizon, there ought to be a little more humility, self-restraint, and sense of solidarity than that.
To connections of a different kind, I trace a third canine lesson that has steered me right, from sentiment to moral conviction. Not everyone draws this lesson the same way from their own experiences; I’ve known plenty of people better and smarter than I am who disagree, as to both specific conclusions and the importance of the matter itself. But where humanity’s general policy of leniency to dogs is concerned (and there are some grim exceptions), I’ve never seen a way around one basic problem.
Here, as I got to thinking in those days with Lucky, was this one animal I knew and cared for. What about other, comparable creatures and my attitude toward them? In the normal process of reasoning from particular to general, I realized that while compassion for one animal is admirable and meaningful, what’s it really worth if not part of a consistent way of life?
Dogs are intelligent creatures, capable of suffering and of boundless joy. Everyone with a dog knows the crazed raptures that can follow the mention of going for a walk — or, in Lucky’s case, even a hushed invitation to go “‘round the lake?” But even if more pronounced in dogs, or more vividly expressed, these capacities of mind and emotion are hardly unique among animals. So do other creatures inhabit that world of awareness, happiness, and grief, including the ones we humans subject to such harsher lives — to serve, if we’re being candid, unnecessary ends justified by not much more than habit and profit. Why is causing one to suffer not the same as causing the other to suffer? Why love the one and ignore the misery of many others — simply putting them out of mind — given that as creatures of conscience we alone have a choice in such matters? Follow that line of thought and there’s no going back. You’ll no more want to eat an animal from a factory farm than make a meal of the one you just walked around the block.
Such was my youthful thinking, and in 46 years as a vegetarian, the last 23 or so as a vegan, I have never heard a remotely persuasive argument as to why any animal product could be more important than my duty to spare other creatures from needless affliction. All the more these days, as the market brings forth one substitute after another for goods extracted by animal exploitation — new products equal or superior in quality and, as for meat, invariably healthier — what reason is left not to switch to them?
Sometimes it takes a dog to help us think straight. In this case, the lesson was moral coherence. With that came a lifelong loathing of cruelty to animals, in any form or under cover of any excuse, as the abuse of power and betrayal of trust that it is. So many vicious, squalid enterprises profit from animal suffering, employing practices that long ago lost any defensible rationale, on such a fathomless scale that — to take just the meat industry — about 60 percent of all the earth’s mammals today are pigs, cows, and other animals in factory farms. In a given year, some 70 billion creatures altogether must endure that wretched existence, knowing nothing of life in this world except confinement, pain, and fear. In places carefully hidden from view, these institutional cruelties are permitted in law and encouraged by demand, all because of vague and often arbitrary distinctions bearing little relation to actual need or to objective reality. They are rationalizations for doing the ruthless, easy thing, or for passively allowing others to do it for us. Two kinds of moral logic protect dogs while leaving their animal equals to merciless abuse. Two versions of ourselves allow the contradiction. None of it squares or adds up to anything we could call a set of civilized standards. But a nicer, happier way of stating this lesson is that for humanity, dogs show us the way. We can learn to treat all animals by standards that are more consistent, more honorable, more gentle and peaceful.
The last lesson I owe to Lucky calls to mind a moment that, whenever things haven’t broken my way in life, has always served to keep the scale in balance, one afternoon when we discovered he was missing. On foot, I searched for miles along our usual paths and beyond. My father just then arrived home from out of town and we continued the pursuit by car. Lucky was old and arthritic, it was winter, starting to snow, and getting dark. At the last glow of daylight, as our dog faced his doom alone, we had to decide where else to look. I urged one way but my dad’s better instincts said let’s try another, on a street where we had lived a few years before. When we came around that curve on Elk Avenue and spotted that limping, wet dog in the distance — and when he turned his head and saw us — it was pure happiness, all around, followed by all the further euphoria of bringing home the wanderer and wrapping him in blankets.
Not so long afterward, I took out the blankets again, on a winter afternoon in February 1976 that must have set a Westchester County record because it felt like spring. On a mattress I had dragged into our backyard for Lucky to lie on — the squirrels darting about, no longer alarmed by his presence — we had one more day to feel the breeze and the warmth of the sun together. That was the first time I heard the expression “savor the moment,” from my mother, and I’ve never heard or read it since without recalling the scene.
I put those memories down, along with others like them, as a general lesson in the sweetness of life, in gratitude, and in all the good that comes from the love of a fellow creature. Not a bad legacy to leave a friend. Not a bad showing for one hound to make.
He died in our house, and when my dad and I carried Lucky in for cremation of his remains — dust to dust, courtesy of Miller and Clark Animal Hospital — I told the vet to leave the collar and tag on, so he might go forth into the unknown with proper ID. Not for us to say what becomes of a beautiful, brave, and noble dog at journey’s end. But if he has turned up at some other door, I trust they’ll note the name of the family and the request for return
Brie Stimson | Fox News
Published on March 28, 2020
A 4-year-old Alabama girl was found safe with her dog Friday afternoon — a mile from her rural home after she went missing for two days.
“I’m so happy and grateful to God for watching over my beautiful granddaughter and bringing her safely back to us,” Evelyn “Vadie” Sides’ grandmother, Harriet Sides, said.
Vadie was walking her dog under the supervision of a caretaker Wednesday afternoon when the caretaker said she turned her head for a second and the girl “essentially disappeared.”
Alabama girl Evelyn Vadie Sides, age 4, missing; search underway
Authorities deployed helicopters and drones Thursday to help find her.
“The dog was with her protecting her the whole time,” Lee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Andrew Peacock, said, The Birmingham News reported.
Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said Vadie was in good shape: responsive, alert and talking.
“No words are capable of describing everyone’s relief,” Jones said after the girl was reunited with her parents, according to FOX 6 in Birmingham. “We are just, ecstatic might be a good word… and the best part is she is with her mama.”
Around 300 volunteers had joined in the search through the wooded area.
“Our thanks just don’t seem like enough, but they have our sincere and heartfelt thanks for the sacrifices they made — all the volunteers that came with one goal in mind and that was finding this little girl and getting her back to her mom and dad, which just happened a few minutes ago,” Jones added.