Monday, May 24, 2010

Hairballs- not just a cat thing

When an animal grooms himself with his tongue it is inevitable that some hair will be ingested. Cats groom themselves and so do dogs.

Hairballs occur because hair acts a bit differently than most fiber that slides through the digestion process along with the food. Hair sometimes gets stuck along the way. Typically, the hair remains in the stomach and forms a ball after repeated contractions of the stomach coil it up. Then it gets just big enough for the body to decide it is a foreign object and has to go. The animal vomits it out.

Then sometimes the hair gets through the stomach and to the intestines clumping along the way. The hair lodges and blocks the intestine. So the animal gets "bound up" and may develop what appears to be diarrhea. What is really going on is the liquid waste is strained through the wad of hair, leaving a chunk of wrung out waste behind the hair plug. Usually the body is able to eventually move the hair out along with the rest of the waste material. But that can take a day or more, meanwhile the poor animal is uncomfortable and his owner becomes worried that he may be ill.

Many dogs with "chronic diarrhea" might be full of hair! What's to be done? So far there are no hairball remedies widely available for dogs. But we can do a few things to lessen the likelihood of doggy hairballs.

To start, there are common sense things like keeping plenty of water available for the dog to drink and offering food and treats that contain non hair style fiber. Examples of good doggy fiber are: most vegetables, whole grains, some fruits and nuts. Another common sense idea is exercise. Exercise keeps things moving.

Alas, there is only so much we can do.

Case in point. A dog of my acquaintance is of a breed in the herding group. Now, we all know that herders can be intense. And with intensity comes quirks. In short, this herder sometimes gets antsy. Even with exercise, water, fibrous food and a job to do, this dog sometimes feels the need to take comfort in chewing her foot. Hair ingestion occurs and the hairball cycle begins again.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Suburban Hawks

The hawk is a beautiful example of how capable wild critters are. When I was a kid living in suburban Detroit, I never saw a hawk in my own back yard. You had to go "up north" to see a hawk. Now as empty spaces become fewer the hawk has adapted. The hawk has embraced the subdivision.

Somehow wild animals manage without human intervention. Prey critters like pigeons and rabbits multiply and thrive. The mighty hawk is just fine, thank you.

No, we don't need to "save the hawk". The hawk has it under control. Until somebody puts up more wind turbines to save the world from the imaginary threat of man made climate change, of course. Then winged critters like birds and bats will be cut to ribbons.

Sadly, a bloody lapel ribbon just may be in the hawk's future.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

It takes a village to water a dog

Over the years, my dog walking duties have taken me to many many suburban neighborhoods. Some are filled with modest homes and big old trees shading the streets and some feature McMansions with uppity copper trim on the windows. One thing all the locales have in common: lawns.

Lawns are as varied as the people who own them. There's the putting green style lawn and the fairway style lawn. Then there's the family lawn, a study in sturdy survival under swing sets and games of catch. The lazy or environmentally fanatical go for the weird succulents xeroscape or the hardy ground covers separated by brick pathways.

Dogs and lawns are not always an amiable match. (The lawns themselves are almost always civil, it's just some lawn owners who are hostile.) Having walked dogs since childhood and professionally for about fifteen years, I think I have studied a large enough sample to say with certainty that most dogs go potty, number one and/or number two, while on a walk. Naturally, I carry poop bags with me for the eventuality of number twos. Number one is another matter. Let's just say the lawn will have to absorb that occurrence.

This elimination stuff is where things can get unpleasant on the lawn front. Once I was walking a very large black mutt named Jed. Jed lived with five or six cats and was an affable lug. He didn't look it to the casual observer, he looked big and strong and serious. Still, as Jed defecated and I was pulling a poop bag out of my back pocket a man ran screaming towards us and didn't stop until he was standing toe to toe with me. He yelled in my face, "you let your dog take a shit on people's lawns?"

"Yes," I said. "Then I pick it up."

Meanwhile, Jed was still going.

The man shrieked, "but you let him shit on people's lawns!"

"Yes," I repeated. "Then I pick it up."

By now Jed was done and stood there uninterested in our conversation. The man backed up a step and sputtered. "You're an asshole!" he said.

I said, "no sir. You are an asshole."

His lips moved but he made no sound. He grimaced and balled his hands into fists. Still, he was too flummoxed to speak. Suddenly he turned and fled, then vanished through the front door of his house. I bent down and picked up Jed's effort.

Then one day I was walking an old customer in his new neighborhood. This is another big easy going dog, though with Roger it is more obvious. Roger is a Golden Retriever. He is a little unusual in that he squats to urinate. Apparently he never learned how to lift his leg. Then he was neutered and it became unnecessary to go through all that strenuous marking. So when he tinkled on this guy's lawn he emptied his bladder. The guy came flying out of his front door, almost as though he had been lying in wait for just such a crime to be committed.

"Hey!" He was yelling at me, not Roger. Indeed, Roger appeared to be invisible to him. "That's a new lawn!"

You know how sometimes you just don't have a response? This was one of those times.

The man moved closer, even though Roger had finished and had moved between us.

"What am I gonna do about my lawn?" the man demanded. He put his hands on his hips. It was probably a pose more prissy than he intended.

I pointed to a loosely coiled hose mere feet away. Roger and I walked on.

The man shook his fist at me and yelled, "screw you, lady!"

Still at a loss for words, I blew him a kiss.

Winston's neighborhood does not have sidewalks. It still has lawns, of course. It was a brisk day, I remember I was wearing gloves and carrying a loaded poop bag. A man stood in his driveway holding a long handled garden tool. He waved at me and said pleasantly, "hello neighbor."

I responded in kind. The man walked down his driveway to the street. He informed me that he was the president of the neighborhood watch group. The garden tool in his hand was one of those fork things. The points of the three tines looked sharp. The man rubbed the tines with a rag. The gesture was vaguely threatening yet oddly comical.

He said, "I don't think dogs should be allowed to relieve themselves on people's lawns." He jerked his head at the bag in my hand. "Even if you pick it up."

I said, "well, there's probably lots of things about neighbors that can be annoying. For instance, I don't like the sound of a bouncing basketball after ten pm. " I smiled at the man with the garden tool.

Winston the Wheaten Terrier stood beside me, calmly watching us.

Still moving the rag on his tool the president of the neighborhood watch group questioned me- where did I live, did I always take the same route when I walked, etc. When he learned I was working, that Winston was my client and I was his dog walker, he suggested that it wasn't legal. I assured him it was. He repeated his belief that dogs should not be allowed to walk and mess on lawns. Punctuating with his garden fork, he told me he didn't like the fact that I was doing it for money.

I suggested he take it up with his vice president.

He said, "what do you mean?"

"The vice president of your neighborhood group," I said pleasantly.

Finally he stopped rubbing his tool and pointed at Winston. "This is Fran's dog?"

"Yes," I said and walked toward Winston's and Fran's house.

Now it is mid spring. The lawns are so lush this time of year.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Census Takers

How many census takers does it take to fill out a census form? Four, apparently.

It happened in a Southfield neighborhood last week. Only the dog was at home. The guys mowing the lawn report that four census takers stood at the door for ten minutes. The lawn crew told them nobody was home but the dog. The four census takers stood at the door for ten minutes anyway, knocking and ringing the bell.

How much do census takers get paid per hour? Eleven dollars? Seventeen? In either case, it is a pretty good hourly rate that we the tax payers are paying for four census takers to torment the family dog for ten minutes at a time.