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Saturday, July 08, 2006

Wise and Touching Words from a Man Grieving a Pet's Death

Several weeks ago, Bonnie and Malcolm Arnold went on a short vacation, leaving their beloved Sheltie in the care of their teenage son.

None of them ever could have imagined what happened in the days they were gone, but it devastated and changed the whole family.

Bonnie is the marketing chief for the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority/Tri-Rail; Malcolm is cantorial soloist at a Parkland temple. He wrote an essay for his temple bulletin, and has allowed me to share it. I hope it offers some comfort to others who have lost an adored pet.

The season had finally come to an end. “VACATION” in colorful capital letters dominated my calendar. We were headed out to sea for a four-night relaxing cruise of the Western Caribbean. Remarkably, this would be only the second vacation in 19 years that my wife, Bonnie, and I had taken without our son, Andrew. Andrew was attending summer classes locally at college and couldn’t get away. We left him at home in charge of the house and our nine year-old Sheltie.

We were able to reach home by cellphone from our first port of call and were comforted to hear that all was quiet and normal at home. The remaining days, communication was limited to e-mail. In our second e-mail exchange, Andrew intimated that something had gone wrong at home, but refused to reveal it until our return. Although I found this quite perturbing, I kept it in the back of my mind and never discussed it with Bonnie. Bonnie had to go directly to work when we returned. You can assume I broke more than one traffic law in my rush home after dropping her off at her office.

Every conceivable scenario raced through my mind as I raced through traffic. I was convinced that he had wrecked the car, and I was OK with that since I knew he was all right. When I reached home, Andrew hadn’t yet returned from his morning classes. Once I pulled into the garage, I knew what was wrong. It was silent. The barking that had greeted me daily was replaced by silence. I ran into the house searching for my dog and finally came upon a letter from Andrew – our dog had died from heart failure.

Less than a half-hour later, Andrew returned from his classes and explained the details of exactly what had occurred and how he had taken the dog to the animal hospital, consented to providing all means of saving her and how, despite every effort, she died. It was all so surreal; it didn’t make any sense how she had been there four days earlier in perfect health and now she was just gone. Our grief was real and profound; we were mourning. But how could I justify this? How could I, who have comforted congregants after the loss of a parent or spouse, justify my behavior at the loss of an animal?

They say that every human experience is included in Torah, so I decided to search for answers in Torah – perhaps I’d find something about pets or animals and to my surprise, I found more than I had hoped for. The Torah fortified me with words of consolation and wisdom. First of all, Torah places great value on the life of an animal classifying it with mankind as having a nefesh chaya, a living soul. Care and compassion for animals is considered a great virtue. Moses was chosen by God to lead the Israelites partially based on his skill in caring for animals. Compassion for animals, according to the Torah, reveals a special quality in people. In fact, our Matriarch Rebecca was deemed a suitable wife for Isaac by the kindness she exhibited by watering Abraham’s servant’s camels. These passages and the proverb, “The righteous person regards the life of his beast” convinced me that my feelings were justified and that my feelings of loss placed me in very good company.

The greatest lesson, though, came from of all places – the Book of Job: “Ask the animals and they shall teach you.” Job’s words couldn’t have been for compelling and true - for because of an animal, I witnessed my son evolve into a man in the matter of four days. His response, the tough decisions he made with little time for reflection, his compassion for the animal, his sensitivity in withholding the information from us until our return in order to allow us to enjoy our vacation while shouldering the news himself, and the role reversal as he consoled Bonnie and I all demonstrated that the teen-ager we had left at home had become a man – a mensch. Was it fate that this should occur in the only four days all year that we weren’t home? Was it fate that Andrew couldn’t join us as usual? We’ll never know, but it raises the hair on the back of my neck…

Postscript: Bonnie seriously thought she would go mad from grief, and couldn't stand not having a dog in the house, so the Arnolds contacted a breeder and quickly got a ''new little girl:'' another Sheltie, who is warming their broken hearts.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Animal Services Responds to Outrage About a Euthanized Dog

Anguish and anger beset the South Florida rescue community in the past few days concerning a dog named Highway at the county shelter. Than anger quickly spread to rescuers across the country, who bombarded Miami-Dade Animal Services and the media with e-mails, at first pleading to spare the dog's life, then lamenting and lambasting the decision to euthanize her, despite offers of behavioral evaulation and rescue.

Typical messages - I got a couple of dozen - were like the following, from Danny Reid in Dallas, TX:

I just read of the plan to euthanize the dog Highway, who was found alongside I-95 with another dog named Liberty, because she has been deemed “aggressive” and, therefore, unadoptable.

Has anyone considered that the dog’s “aggressive” behavior is actually protective behavior? It sounds to me like Highway was protecting the other dog because the dog had a deformed foot and couldn’t get around as easily as she did. Pretty heroic behavior in humans, and it should be recognized as such in animals as well.

Yes, the behavior is challenging for animal control workers, but it’s not unusual behavior. The dog was simply acting like a dog. At the very least, even if she wasn’t being protective, she may have just been reacting out of fear. Who wouldn’t be afraid if they had someone strange trying to wrangle them into a cage and carted off to some unknown place?

Please don’t use normal animal behavior as an excuse to euthanize an animal that might require just a little more effort than the average animal. Please don’t euthanize Highway.

And this, from Lynn Westlake of Pensacola, FL:

I am writing to ask you to spare the life of Highway. I understand there are many legal reasons the dog cannot be adopted out to "just anyone", but if there is someone who is willing to work with her and waive any legal action, I just don't understand why you won't accomodate that and give this animal a chance at a good life.

Highway and a dog now called Liberty were picked up on I-95 by Animal Services officers, and brought to the shelter. According to several e-mails, Highway had been protecting the disabled Liberty and should have been treated like a hero.

Five days later, ASU director, Dr. Sara Pizano - after consulting with vet techs and other shelter workers who'd handled the dog - decided Highway was too aggressive to be adopted out, and Highway was euthanized. Liberty was sent to a vet to have a paw-less leg amputated.

Earlier today, ASU issued the following statement to all those who had e-mailed about the case. (Assistant director Robert Santos said shelter administrators also were calling many of those who'd complained).

Thank you for inquiring about the dogs recently rescued from Interstate 95, named “Liberty” and “Highway”. Unfortunately, neither animal had any signs of ownership such as microchip, tags, or collars.

“Liberty” is in good physical health despite needing her rear leg amputated. "Liberty” has a good temperament and is available for adoption at Imperial Point Animal Hospital. If you are interested in adopting "Liberty" or assisting with her medical care, please contact Imperial at 954-771-0156.

Unfortunately, “Highway” displayed signs of aggression. Upon further evaluation and several periodic checks by various clinical staff members, including the Department Director who is a Shelter Veterinarian with more than 10 years of experience, “Highway” continued displaying outward signs of aggression. For this reason, "Highway" was considered a public safety risk.

Miami-Dade’s Animal Services has a strict policy against allowing adoption of aggressive animals as the public’s safety is our priority. For this reason, “Highway” was euthanized.

Sadly each year, more than 30,000 animals are brought to Miami-Dade County’s Animal Services. The majority are strays or have been abandoned by their owners. It is incredibly heartbreaking that almost two-thirds of these animals must be euthanized because nobody wants them and shelters lack the space to keep so many stray and abandoned animals.

It’s important to note that according to the American Humane Society: People-aggressive dogs are a liability both morally and legally. In most cases these dogs must be euthanized. If adopted, aggressive dogs, many times, end up in situations that are a danger to the public.

According to the Humane Society, millions of stray and unwanted animals that must be euthanized each year deserve a peaceful death, and shelter workers deserve access to a means to end animals’ lives compassionately and with dignity.

We thank the public for its interest in these two dogs. Every day, the staff at Animal Services must make difficult decisions. Animals brought to the shelter are claimed by their owners, adopted by the public or rescue groups, and many are euthanized because nobody wants them.

For information about adopting or spaying/neutering pets, please visit us at or (305) 884-1101.

I spoke to Dr. Pizano, who said that the shelter always needs caring people - the kind who feel so deeply for a stray like Highway - to volunteer at the shelter.

"Please come and help," she said.


Wendy Doscher-Smith, South Florida's quirky and creative pet photographer, has a new exhibit called PAWS on the Mile opening at the Miracle Theater in Coral Gables, 280 Miracle Mile, today through July 29.

There's a reception from 7-9 p.m. this evening featuring doggy-themed petit furs courtesy of Cakes by Edda, wine, and giant, 5 ft. x 5 ft. PAWS images (and regular framed 16 x 20 in). To check out Wendy's website, click here.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Moose Needs a Home

Three weeks ago, my photograher colleague, Donna Planas, got a call from her husband, Carlos, who'd spotted a black dog under a van in the parking lot of the Miami church where he works. Donna grabbed me and we went to check him out.

Poor little guy was obviously sick, scared, starving, and hurt. He looked at us with sad, velvety-brown eyes as Carlos reached for him and gently pulled him from under the van. I kid you not that when he realized he was safe, he let out an audible sigh of relief. His left rear leg had a terrible scar, probably from being hit. We believe he's been on the street most of his life.

We drove him right to a neighborhood vet, where tests revealed he had a belly full of worms (no surprise) and was heartworm positive. Our hearts sank, but we resolved then and there to save his life. After all, he's probably only 18 months old.

Two days later, I drove him up to my longtime vet, Dr. Ron Tapper, at Emerald Hills Animal Hospital in Hollywood. There he stayed for two weeks, emerging last week in tip-top shape, and neutered. Ron - bless him - worked with me on the cost of the heartworm treatment, which can run into the mid-hundreds.

For a couple of days, I had him at my house by himself, parking the other guys with my boyfriend, so he could get used to being inside. At first he was wary and tentative, but quickly grew more comfortable.

By this past weekend when he met all the other dogs, he was transformed. He acquired the name Moose, and integrated seamlessly into the pack. He figured out the dog door in less than an hour, and hasn't had a single accident in the house.

So here's the hard part: With five dogs between us, my boyfriend and I can't manage another (and Donna and Carlos have five cats!) Under any other circumstances, we'd keep him in a heartbeat. This dog was BORN obedient. He's cheerful, kissy, and lots of fun. He's 44 pounds now and probably will top out around 48-50. He'll probably always limp a little, but that doesn't stop him from playing and chasing around the yard.

He needs a wonderful home with someone who will love and cherish him as we do. If you're interested, please e-mail me at I thank you, and Moose thanks you.

Lost Dog; Keep an Eye Out

This is Barney, who escaped from a shelter at 3440 NW 191 St., Miami, on June 28th. He's been spotted at NW 37 Ave. and 211 Street. If you've seen him, e-mail

Hi-Tech Feline Vet Comes to South Florida

Got this press release yeterday:

Miami, FL – Dr. Erick Mears of I-CAT Feline Thyroid Treatment Centers has established a brand new I-CAT facility at Miami Veterinary Specialists in Miami. Dr. Mears is one of only two doctors who travel around the country to treat cats for hyperthyroidism (one of the most common and deadly diseases for older cats). He is the only such doctor, who is board certified in Internal Medicine.

For eligible hyperthyroid patients, treatment through I-CAT is done, using a procedure known as Radioiodine I-131. This method can completely cure hyperthyroidism by destroying only the affected tumor. Dr. Mears has treated more than 2,000 patients with I-131 and has been treating hyperthyroid cats since 1993. Patients need a referral for treatment, from their primary Veterinarian.

About Dr. Erick Mears:
Dr. Mears received his Bachelors of Science from Stanford University in 1988. He received his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1992. He completed his post-DVM education at the University of Tennessee with small animal internship, internal medicine residency and Associate Professor in 1997. Dr. Mears is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. He is also a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

About Miami Veterinary Specialists:
Miami Veterinary Specialists is a regional referral, emergency and critical care center. They are located at 8601 Sunset Drive in Miami. Public contact: 305-665-2820.

About I-CAT Feline Thyroid Treatment Centers:
I-CAT Feline Thyroid Treatment Centers are also located in Tampa (Florida Veterinary Specialists), Cincinnati (CARE Center), Sacramento (VCA Highlands Animal Hospital) and coming soon to New York City (NYC Veterinary Specialists). Public contact for
I-CAT: 1-866-497-3784

About Feline Hyperthyroidism:
Hyperthyroidism occurs when a cat’s thyroid gland develops a tumor that causes an overproduction of thyroid hormone. This condition over-stimulates many organ systems and can cause changes in behavior, eating habits, fever, rapid heartbeat, shedding, diarrhea and even death. For more about Feline Hyperthyroidism and Radioiodine I-131, click here.

Loretta Takes a Break

This was up for awhile yesterday - it was up in two separate postings, in fact, because the blog was possessed by evil spirits - then they both disappeared, so let's try it again.

Meet Loretta, supermodel, age 2. Her human, Marsha, says she's taking a break here to get a little reading done.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

This Should Be Common Sense, But...

People still need to be reminded that a hot car is no place to leave pets (or children). Even with the windows open, it's a bad idea whenever the temperature tops 70 degrees.

If you have no choice about leaving a pet in the car, make sure it's only for a few minutes, that you park in the shade, that all windows are open a few inches, and if possible, there's a water bowl in the vehicle.

Click here to read a story in yesterday's Herald about the dreadful heat-stroke deaths that have resulted from ignoring this common-sense advice.

Must Love Dogs (and other critters)

When I was online dating - yes indeed, I met my boyfriend through an online service - my profile made it abundantly clear that anyone I dated had to be not just dog-friendly, but unquestioningly understanding of my dogs' central place in my life.

There probably were services specifically for pet people at the time but I didn't know about them. If I had, I definitely would have participated.

So, having recently become aware of such things, I'll pass on some links. Click here for a site that features new members' pet photos on the opening page, rather than the humans'.

Click here for a site with an adorable opening-page photo. May you find the critter of your dreams!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Safeguard Your Pet Over the 4th

Every year around July 4, animal shelters get overloaded with critters who bolt from their yards because fireworks freak them out. One of mine goes so nuts that she needs sedation, which is a better alternative than hysteria and stress.

It's also not a great idea to take your dog to parks, beaches, and other venues for noisy celebrations packed with strangers. A frightened dog can rip the leash out of your hand and take off.

Better to leave them home in an interior room, if possible, with the radio or tv on to help mask the noise, and plenty of toys. If they're outside, make sure the gates are locked and the fence is secure.

And now, to mark Independence Day: a patriotic pet photo, courtesy of Mila in Miami. Jack the cat shows his true colors!

Have a safe and happy 4th.

Birds Find Sanctuary

Rats with wings?

That's how many urban Americans think of pigeons. As a native New Yorker, even one predisposed to affection for all living creatures, I can sometimes fail to see the charm in the ubiquitous feathered presence of these rather unkempt and scatalogically proficient birds.

But elsewhere, they are beloved pets, treated as lovingly as we treat our domesticated critters. In India, a hospital ministers to injured pet pigeons then sets them free. Click here to read the story.

By the way, the phrase "rats with wings" originated in Woody Allen's 1980 film, Stardust Memories. Here's the snippet of dialogue wherein it is contained (Allen is Sandy; Charlotte Rampling is Dorrie):

DORRIE "What are you thinking about when you look out there?"
SANDY "Just, you know, all those people and, you know, how unhappy most of them are, and how...those terrible things they do to each other and, you know. How everything is...over so quickly and you don't have any idea...was it worth it or not."
. . . .
SANDY "What was that? What was that?"
DORRIE "Hey, that's so pretty. A pigeon!"
SANDY ", it's not pretty at all. They're...they're...they're rats with wings."
DORRIE "They're wonderful. No! It's probably a good omen. It'll bring us good luck."
SANDY ", get it out of here. It's probably one of those killer pigeons."
DORRIE "No, get something for it to eat. We can coax it down! What are you doing? Hey, wait!"
SANDY "You see, it's got a swastika under its wings."
DORRIE "It's wonderful. Not that.
SANDY "I just...I just want to guide it out of the apartment. Geez. I don't want a winged thing in my house."

Letter Writer Agrees on Cat Gun Death

The other day I said I was incredulous about a jury's not-guilty verdict in a grotesque case involving a man who blew his cat's head off; he said she was sick but a vet said her conditions were totally treatable.

A letter to the editor in today's Herald echos my view:

Gullible jury

Re the June 29 story Cat's end violent, but not illegal: I can't believe that a jury would accept a medical diagnosis of a defense attorney over that of a veterinarian, who said a 13-year-old cat suffered from mange and a treatable heart condition. Where was the medical proof that the cat was ''near death'' or couldn't be cured?

A critter suffering from mange has been neglected. How did Michael Stueve, his neighbors and jury not recognize that a pet's health is a responsibility? It's possible that Stueve, who didn't show respect enough to take Mama Kitty to a vet for a diagnosis before killing her, wanted to save the cost and emotional effort this would involve.

Whatever led to Stueve's acquittal, his story sends a disturbing message that it's OK to kill pets when they get to be too much trouble.


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Touching Essay on a Pet's Impending Demise

Click here to read a really tender essay on the poignancy of watching a pet near the end of life. Having recently been through it, I know how sad it is. There's a sweet picture of old Scoop the pug as well.

FVMA Hall of Fame

Every year, the Florida Veterinary Medical Association inducts honorees into its Hall of Fame. Applications for 2006 are due by Aug. 15.

There are three categories: Hero, for pets who have gone the extra mile to save a human; Companion, for pets who have contributed notably to a human or community's quality of life; and Professional, for animals who aid the disabled or work in law enforcement.

Winners get a Disney World vacation, and attend the awards ceremony.

Click here for more application details.