October 20, 2015
Some days I find myself spending most of my waking day with other people and their pets rather than my own family. I think that’s why I enjoy a homey feel at work, books on the shelves, paintings on the walls. And I love getting to know our clients, learning their stories as their lives intertwine with mine. Sometimes the pet stands out, sometimes the people.
One young woman showed up two years ago with her much loved but very old dog. When a pet has been with you since childhood the attachment goes deep. In this case, cancer was involved. Although we were able to ameliorate many of the side effects of the disease, eventually her dog passed away. I did not know if I would ever see her again.
Six months had passed when I noticed her name on the day’s calendar with the annotation “new pet”. And that is how I came to meet “Sadie”. Sadie was a Rescue, a Shephard mix that seemed a poor choice for adoption. I would not have selected this timid animal cowering between her new owners knees, none too certain she’d found a safe haven. The dog looked like she wanted to bite someone, and I was the most handy! Sadie was not a young puppy, either, making these temperament problems even less susceptible to change. I kept my distance across the room, asking questions and studying this unlikely pair, letting the dog get used to hearing my voice. Hopefully, time to collect her wits about her.
I abandoned the usual approaches and carefully took a seat in the other chair, next to Sadie’s new owner. We continued talking and eventually I was able to touch Sadie and perform an exam, though lightly. I did my best to avoid anything that might startle Sadie or make her snap at me as fear and bad behavior during one visit will build into more problems at the next. Amazingly, over the course of the next eight months, I saw Sadie several times and each visit she was visibly more relaxed and much easier to work with. There was no longer any question of her biting. (Having said that, let me impress upon you the maxim “all dogs bite”, given enough pain, fear or whatever!)
Sadie came with a few problems. She had a bit of a runny nose and her paws turned beet red and swelled up. Perhaps as a reaction to meadow grass on one of her walks? Each time the problems responded well to medication and her owner is documenting general events in Sadie’s life to differentiate whether contact irritants or an allergen might have caused these reactions. As examples, cigarette smoke is an irritant; heavy pollens in the Valley air may cause hay fever, an allergic reaction. Sometimes the way the body reacts looks the same. Through documentation of her activities we hoped to be able to avoid Sadie’s “triggers”.
Sadie dropped in for a visit today because her ears were bothering her again. She greeted me as I came into the room and allowed a full examination, though I admit this was still from the chair next to her owner. (It works!). After we’d discussed her medical condition I admired the incredible progress her owner had made in socializing this dog. Many people rescue an especially “sad” case but few have the knack to turn them into happy socialized pets that interact with and enjoy the world around them. Then both pet and people are miserable for years to come. It was tremendously uplifting to see the change in this dog. I asked her owner how Sadie was doing in the home environment.
“Great!” she said. “My Mom says I’ve gone too far, that I’ve spoiled her. She’s (Sadie) doing well with men, too. Well, except my ex-husband. My Mom had him over to her house last Sunday for a recipe. I haven’t seen him in 10 years. Sadie did NOT like him!” She laughed happily. “She’s a good judge of character.”
I said, “Wait a minute, what’s this about a recipe? Why did your mom have him over?”
“Oh, she replied, “his banana cream pie. She’s been using his recipe all these years and she thought hers was missing something, so she asked him to come over and make it with her. She kept saying, you didn’t write that down before!” Sadie’s owner scowled briefly. “I think hers is better anyway.” We were both laughing by now. “Yes!” I said, “That pie sounds amazing! You must name it “Darlene’s Ex-Husbands’ Banana Cream Pie Greatly Improved!”
Christine B. McFadden, DVM