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Friday, October 1, 2010

The Glue That Binds

Buzz Man

As a long time pet owner and veterinarian, thinking about the relationships humans have with animals is still fascinating and for me, difficult to put into words.  The most common descriptor used to describe this phenomenon is the human-animal bond.  It is a long used term but one I've never been terribly fond of for some reason.  I'm not sure why but maybe  it isn't personal or descriptive enough to describe this powerful union that humans have with animals.   There are many synonyms one could use such as relationship, chain, liaison, connection, alliance and so on.  Call it what you want, a force of some kind exists that connects us with our four legged counterparts.  And for every bond or relationship that has existed and will, they will all be viewed differently from the humans perspective. There are those that consider their pets their children.  There are those that consider them a companion/friend and sadly there are still those that consider them "just an animal". Regardless of how they are viewed by humans, there will always exist an association of some sort. 

I've thought long and hard on how I view the connection I have with my animals.  I do not consider them children like many people do.  Not that there is anything wrong with this way of thinking, as this is very common theme when talking to pet owners about their animals.  It is based on the individual relationship and how the humans choose to describe it. Today, this is probably the most common answer one would get if they were to poll a group of pet owners on this topic.   Now, that doesn't mean my animals don't have everything and more to lead a happy, enriched, safe and healthy life in our home.  The amount of money and the amount of time spent with my animals is crazy but I can't imagine doing anything but.  They are  companions who enrich our lives and make us happier and healthier, therefore they deserve everything offered to them.  For me the connection is complex and difficult to describe. They enter our lives and the fibers of our being become intertwined and the connection is born. Having them in my life is like having all  my appendages, life goes on unnoticed.  But without one, you wouldn't function the same.  Life would forever be changed.  Not having these beings in my life, would be like not having my right hand.  My life would not be the same.  There are many days I would rather spend time with animals than most people.  They are forgiving, don't talk back and are non-judgemental.  My cats helped me survive graduating vet school and moving to a new city where I knew no one.  They were there when I needed them and provided me never ending companionship during some lonely days. Aside from everyday companionship, there have been several research studies completed to show that animals improve health. In particular stress reduction.  Anecdotally speaking, it works for me.  The first thing I do when coming home from a day's work is to spend some time with the cats.  In ten minutes time I have  peeled off several layers of stress that  I accumulated during the work day. 

I don't believe that animals replace the relationships we have with other people.  Rather, they greatly enhance our lives and create synergy in our interpersonal relationships.  Animals are an integral part of our lives and for most of us, they are deeply embedded. To non-animal people reading this, it probably sounds hokey.  Maybe, this will inspire you to get a pet and experience it for yourselves.  It might change your life and without a doubt, for the better.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sand Raking and Sea Turtles

I am spending some time in St. Augustine on vacation and learning a lot about sea turtles. An amazing thing happens here on the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean during the months of May through October. This is egg laying season for sea turtles. There are 5 species of sea turtles that make their way onto the beaches to lay their eggs in the soft white sand. Sadly, all of them are either endangered or threatened. The Loggerhead, Leatherback, Green, Kemp's Ridley, and Hawksbill turtles are all found in Florida and all desperately need our help.

During our time here, we haven't seen any turtles on the beach but we did experience something incredible last night. We were taking a late evening stroll on the beach and it was getting to be quite dark. We saw a vehicle driving down the beach which we thought was a bit strange at that hour. The beach is very wide so vehicles can drive and park on it during the day but must be gone by 7:30 pm (or risk being swept away by the tide). This vehicle came closer and stopped not too far from us. Two women got out of the truck and started raking the sand. It would seem a bit strange if you weren't familiar with sea turtles and their hatchlings. Sea turtle hatchlings are smaller that the palm of your hand making it very easy for them to get stuck in holes or ruts in the beach. If the beach is not smooth, the hatchlings may not be able to make it to the ocean to begin their lives. Every night during the season, turtle conservationists drive the beaches and rake the sand smooth in front of the nests  giving hatchling turtles every opportunity to make it to the ocean. This is important since only about 1 in 1000 turtles will actually make it to the breeding age of 30 years. Because they are imperiled, they need every chance they can get to survive. The nests must first be found before this late night raking begins. Early every morning, crews drive the beach and look for the tracks in the sand where a female turtle has come up on the beach to lay her eggs. When a newly laid nest is found, the nest is marked and roped off so it is not disturbed. The turtle people know when the nest was laid therefore they know about when it will hatch based on the average incubation time of 45-70 days. These dedicated people then start raking the sand ~15 days prior to the projected due date. The nests are raked every night until the nest hatches. We learned most of this from the rakers who took time from their important work to talk to us before moving onto the next nest in need. One gal worked for the county while the other was a volunteer who was an elementary school teacher by day and turtle saver by night.

Aside from turtles being hunted for their meat and shells, human influence has also led to their demise. Light pollution plays a big factor in hatchlings not making it to the sea. It is a hatchling's natural instinct to go toward light. The sky reflecting off the ocean is the light they normally aim toward but in popular tourist areas this has been a problem over the years. Hatchlings can easily get misoriented and head in directions other than the ocean and easily perish. The state now has laws in place to limit beach lighting which could include shielding the light on the beach side of the lamp or using yellow bug lights. Garbage also kills turtles. A turtle does not know that eating a plastic bag or getting taggled in fishing line could lead to her death.

I will not get on my soapbox for too long but I must say it is disheartening and disgusting that the actions of the human race have led to the demise of so many noble creatures on this planet. Please make it important in your life to help save the planet by living green (recycle, recycle, recycle) and support organizations that are trying to save them from extinction to never walk this planet again. When traveling, take time to learn about the conservation efforts in that area and support them in every way you can. Be a responsible tourist. This might be as simple as filling in the hole you dug in the sand that day or throwing your broken fishing line into the trash and not the ocean. The creatures are innocent bystanders who deserve way more respect and care than humans often give them.

For more information on Florida sea turtles:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Super People and Extraordinary Dogs-CCI puppy raisers

I am awe inspired every day I go to work. Not because I have the pleasure to work with pet passionate people every day, but because I work with several people that take pet passion to the next level. These individuals not only have pet passion but also people passion. They are special individuals who take time in their busy lives to be puppy raisers for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). Individuals who have selflessly brought a rotten, untrained, peeing and pooping machine into their homes for 14-18 months who later return to CCI as a well mannered super dog to fulfill its mission in life- "transform the life of a disabled individual." It is not a job for the faint of heart. It would be an impossible task for most. After months of caring for the well being of this living creature and with whom they have developed a deep bond, the dog must be returned to fulfill its purpose in life.

Employees at my workplace have the privilege to bring personal pets to work with them, therefore I have had the opportunity to meet several of these puppies and follow their journey along with their puppy raisers. A journey that is hardly a cake walk. Anyone who has raised a puppy knows it is challenging to say the least. Aside from the obvious basics of housetraining and "sit", the CCI dog must learn many commands (up to 40) beyond what the average dog would learn. They must be focused and resistant to distractions. After all, one day they may be pulling a wheelchair bound person across a busy intersection or alerting a hearing impaired person of a fire alarm. The puppy is returned to CCI at 14-18 months of age and then undergoes further training. This training weeds out those who aren't cut out for the job. These dogs must be strong and be able to perform flawlessly to move into the program and ultimately be partenered with a disabled individual. If a dog is removed from the program, the puppy raiser has first dibs to adopt. I imagine for the puppy raisers it is a bittersweet moment when those dogs don't graduate the program. Who wouldn't want to see a disabled individivual become independent with a dog you raised? Yet, who wouldn't want the dog back to be your own pet? But what a feeling of pride that must be to see your puppy graduate.....

I truly admire those that volunteer their hearts to raise these dogs. Despite the relationships the rest of us develop with the dogs, we all are pulling for them and want to see them succeed and graduate. It is truly an amazing opportunity to see how animals can improve the lives of people not only with their companionship but also giving disabled individuals the independence that most of us take for granted.

To read learn more about CCI:

To read about the puppy raising experience:
Photo: borrowed from puppy raiser's blog-Super Dog Inga

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Baking Beagles

Having been in the animal care business for over 20 years, I have seen many situations that one would consider animal neglect as the root cause of a sick or injured animal. Many times these situations are not intentional but still the animal's welfare and life may be at risk. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get justice for an animal in a neglect/cruelty case as the laws are not very strong in many states. Often times if there is an animal being treated cruelly in a home, child abuse and domestic violence are present too.

Last weekend it was a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon and the temperature was about 85 degrees. While returning to my car after making a stop, I heard a dog bark. I looked around and saw dogs in a pickup truck with the windows rolled down about 2 inches. Immediately my hackles go up as this is a situation that makes my blood boil instantly. I still find it unbelievable that people believe this is not a danger to the animal. Temperatures inside a car climb very quickly and are easily over 100 degrees within a few minutes on an 85 degree day. Every summer the media covers this story either as a public service announcement or because some poor animal died due to a neglectful owner. The analogy that keeps going through my head: Would you leave your baby or child in the car under the same situation and think it was ok?

I walked over to the vehicle to check the dogs. They were panting very hard and were a bit upset but did not appear to be in distress, yet. With the help of a couple of other people, we tried to locate the owner without success. I called the police and requested an officer to the location. As soon as the police arrived, so did the owner of the truck. The owner, of course, had many excuses such as " I was only gone a few minutes" to " They are my boys and they go with me everyday." The owner obviously had trouble telling time as I had been there at least 20 minutes. I was very pleased as the officer took the situation seriously and told the guy this borders on animal cruelty. I don't know how it ended as the officer wanted to speak with the guy privately so I dismissed myself. Fortunately, the dogs were not harmed despite the guys stupidity.

If you ever see this situation, be vigilant and call the authorities as this is animal cruelty. Be an advocate for the neglected animal and help save his life.

For more information:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bruce's Blue Ribbon

So cat #6 arrived in late May. I lost all will power when I went to the local pet superstore to purchase an item for work. It was to be a quick in and out trip but then I made my usual stop to see the cats in the back of the store. The local humane organization always has cats in the store available for adoption. I usually admire them, comment how cute they are and move on with a hopeful heart that they will all find a good home. So this time, there is this unbelievably handsome tuxedo cat trying to get my attention. Usually the cats look at you and yawn but this guy was working it. He knew the secret to get adopted: put on a show and impress the humans on the other side of the glass. Aside from his playful antics, he must have seen "sucker for black and whites" written across my forehead. His personality and his tuxedo got the best of me and the rest is history. Bruce became part of the clan.

Historically, the average age for cats in our house is high. I like old cats so I to gravitate to the elderly cats when adopting. Having a young cat who is a bit less than a year old, is a whole different story. Things you wouldn't normally worry about are suddenly on the radar which leads me to the point of my story. I went shopping about a week prior to our recent vacation for which I was already starting to have some travel anxiety (see previous post). I bought some clothes in a store that for whatever reason, decorates your shopping bags with ribbons. Three ribbons to be exact, all different colors and each about 18 inches long. I came home and threw the bags on the floor and I headed off to do some cleaning around the house. A few hours later, I took my purchases upstairs and noticed that a ribbon was missing. I knew for a fact there were 3 to begin with and now there were 2. I went looking for the ribbon and much to my dismay found a chewed up piece with only about 6 inches remaining. Holy crap, I'm a veterinarian and I let my cat have access to all those tempting ribbons.

Hopefully most cat owners know that ribbons/strings can be deadly to cats. Veterinarians refer to them as "linear foreign bodies." They swallow them and then the ribbon bunches up inside their intestines and causes them to become obstructed. If the animal is showing signs of obstruction they stop eating, start vomiting and will require surgical removal of the object. So, I had a dilemma on my hands. I didn't want to perform unnecessary surgery but I was pretty certain that Bruce ate the ribbon because never before have I had any issues with the other cats eating stringy stuff. I attempted to induce vomiting by giving him hydrogen peroxide which by the way, is not at all fun for the cat or the person. He didn't vomit so I decided to play the waiting game and hope that he would either vomit or poop it out. Now remember, I am going on vacation in less than 7 days so this was bad timing! So for 2 days I religiously watched him for signs of illness and the litter box. He ate great and felt good the whole time which was a good sign. On day 3 after the incident, he presented a nice stool sample in the litter box. So I put on the gloves and started digging....much to my relief there was a wadded up piece of blue ribbon buried in the poop. The great news was that Bruce would not need intestinal surgery 4 days before I left on vacation. The bad news was he didn't get a blue ribbon for having the best tuxedo.

So the moral of the story, even the professionals make mistakes and don't let your cat eat strings. Fortunately Bruce is doing great despite his close call. He continues to be a young curious cat but he gets in much less trouble now that the house is secure!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Helen's Vision

During a recent visit to southern California, we spent some time at Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe just north of San Diego. HWAC is a not for profit animal adoption center that was started in 1972 by a woman (Helen) who had a vision. This is not your typical animal shelter in the low rent district, euthanizing animals, and a depressing place to visit. Quite the opposite actually. The center is located in the most expensive community in the United States, has a pet boarding facility, an equine and small animal veterinary clinic, educational programs, children's summer camp, a therapeutic riding program and does 3000 adoptions a year. Wow! Of course, none of that is possible without its committed volunteers and staff who run the center like a well oiled machine.

The success of the center stems from its involvement in the community and how it is managed verses a typical animal control facility. President Mike Arms has been in the shelter business for over 30 years. Notice, I said business. He runs the center and makes decisions using successful business and marketing principles, not emotion which is often how these types of organizations are managed. Of course the emotion is there wanting to save animals and keep them from being killed but he has proven time and again that shrewd decisions based on business is how it is done. Mr. Arms shares these principles and teaches them to shelter organizations around the world with the goal of saving the lives of animals and adopting them into their forever family.

The center is located on 12 acres surrounded by Jenny Craig's horse ranch and multi million dollar homes. The buildings are older and serve the purpose but currently the center is undergoing construction. They are building a new veterinary hospital and administration offices which will later be followed by new adoption and boarding facilities. Once completed, the center will be a state of the art facility continuing to serve and improve the lives and welfare of animals in the community. We talked to several employees during our visit and it is obvious that they all serve the vision of founder Helen Woodward to "make the world a better place for people and animals".

Be sure when you adopt an animal visit your local shelter and save a life. If you have extra time, volunteer and make the difference in the lives of orphaned animals-help save lives and find them their families. To learn more about Helen Woodward Animal Center visit

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Travel Anxiety

For me, one of the most stressful times about owning pets is leaving for vacation. I don't worry about them being alone as they have each other to keep themselves company, but I worry about health issues especially in the older cats we have. We do not put them in a boarding kennel for a multitude of reasons. First of all, taking 6 cats in carriers all in the same car is laughable! Second, cats are generally unhappy and stressed in any environment outside their normal routine. For those reasons and others, I have always hired a pet sitter to come to the house daily to care for them and keep an eye on the house. Fortunately, my pet sitters are usually good friends so I don't have the extra worry of having a stranger in my house. Despite this luxury, I still have anxiety.

Several years ago I had planned a trip to Florida with my brother. I had asked a friend to check on the cats and thought I had all the details in place. A word of advice, always confirm your dates with your pet sitter! When I arrived home, I was immediately worried when the paper was on the front door step as she always brought in the paper and the mail while I was gone. I got inside and the cats were unusually happy to see me. I went into the room where their food was kept and their bowls were completely empty. I had recently been to a veterinary meeting so there were bags on the floor that had bisquits and food samples all of which had been ripped open and eaten. I kept their food in a metal tin of which they somehow managed to get the lid off. They still had water since I had put an extra bowl of water down before I left. I called my pet sitter and it was obvious we hadn't confirmed as she had other dates in mind. It was a horrible feeling knowing that their welfare was compromised and something much worse could have resulted.

Fortunately, cats are clever creatures and survivors. To this day, cats continue to amaze me with their abilities to survive in this world. There are many cat stories of survival that sometimes are beyond belief. I have seen some of those cats in practice and continue to be stunned at what they can survive. Cats deserve way more credit than people give them. For now, I need to call my pet sitter and confirm dates for my upcoming vacation. Hoping for happy, well fed cats when we return!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The path

It probably all started when I was about 3 years old, that is my addiction to animals. In particular cats. There is an old home movie of me playing with a litter of kittens and appearing to be enjoying every minute of it. Now of course at that age it was more fun to pick them up by their tails rather than cuddle them but it is cute and fun to watch at this point in my life. Regardless of what encouraged the addiction, it inspired me my to spend my career helping animals as a veterinarian. It really wasn't a decision wrought with a lot of deliberation and I guess I never considered any other options. I have never regretted this path although it has come with many challenges and stressful times.

So, many of my friends do call me a crazy cat lady. I admit that I am probably certifiable at this point in my life. I recently adopted my 6th cat. I don't fit the exact image of that "person" as I am in a relationship, I have a clean house and I'm not old with dementia. As I was going through vet school and the first part of my career it wasn't obvious. I always had pets but they were usually cats and I have always treated both dogs and cats as patients in the clinic. They were somewhat equal in my mind but something started to change. Cats always seem to be the low guy on the totem pole. They often don't get the same respect their counterpart the dog does. This ranges from veterinary care to daily life sustaining care and everything in between. They need advocates so I have become one to speak up for the cat. Aside from that the are loving little creatures who are independent and individually unique.

My goals for this blog are to educate, inform and tell stories that relate to the animal world. In this day and age, where globally there are many issues that affect the relationship people have with animals. Whether it is livestock care issues, animal abuse or the human animal bond. I would like to add my perspective and hopefully the reader will be more thoughtful and understanding when these issues are facing them in their own lives or communities.

As for now, I need to go clean a litter box somewhere and feed the beasts. Cats do rule the household but I wouldn't have it any other way. Until next time...