Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fourth Of July. Your Pets Idea Of The Apocolypse

We all like happy endings. Unfortunately, life doesn't always hand them to us.

It was a quiet catch up day at home. It is early summer and we have a few monumental projects underway on our old house. Most of our weekends get one weekend day dedicated to renovations. Today was "gut the old kitchen" day. Eight years I have waited to take a sledge hammer to the red grouted hideous horror that was our postage stamp kitchen. The doors were open, the dust, debris, and busted up interior circa 1970 kitchen was headed to its final resting place when around noontime an  unknown truck drove slowly, almost tentatively, down our long drive.

I went out to meet a 'more formal than from around here' guy who cordially asked "if I had seen a dog?"

My heart went out to him immediately.

He was apologizing for interrupting my day and trespassing our demo-zone.

We live in the country down a long forgotten looking drive to keep the Amish gawking tourists out. He, like every other motorist who has driven our drive, thought we were just a farm trail. I walked to his truck to try to ease his concerns and to slow him down so I could gather the information fast enough to be able to help. His stress, fear, and worry were palpable. I have seen this parental worry for an in-danger pet more times than I can count. I have been there, and I empathized completely!.

The celebration of the Fourth of July is the mid-summer kick off marked by loud noises, incredible fireworks displays, heat, humidity, and food. For our pets, and those of us veterinarians who serve them it, symbolizes heat exhaustion, heat stroke, death due to hyperthermia and dehydration, hit by car emergencies, pancreatitis from over indulgence, gastric/intestinal obstructions from ingestion of inappropriate foods and lost pets due to running away from the fear of those loud noises.

The next few blogs are going to focus on these Fourth of July fiasco's that I hope you and your family can avoid by learning from other peoples pet emergency stories.

After a few awkward moments of trying to convince our visitor that we were not upset about his visit, or taking up our time, I was able to collect a few details about his plight.

He introduced himself as Chris and told me that he was visiting his brother with his dog.

"My dog ran away from my brother's house. He lives at the end of the road that is off of your drive. I think that his property is adjacent to yours over the cornfields." Chris said.

"Oh, yes, I know the house." I said, as the crow flies it is about a mile away. "When did he run away?" I asked.

"At about ten a.m. He is an 8 year old male Golden Retriever, he has a collar and tags, and he is micro-chipped." It was a little after noon now.

Thank-god, I thought! A micro-chip is such a relief to have when your pet gets lost. If your pet is found and if that someone tries to find you the microchip is the best way to do this. (Important point, if your pet is micro-chipped have your vet scan for it, check that the number the scanner reads matches the number you have on their records, and call the micro-ship provider to make sure that the information they have is up to date and correct. A micro-chip is only useful if it can find you).

"What is his name?"


I introduced myself and told him that I would call the local emergency and veterinary clinics to notify them, in case anyone brought in his dog (run-away's do get hit and some people think, erroneously, that if they hit a pet that they will be held financially responsible for this..YOU WILL NOT..but please never leave an injured pet behind)..see my blog on Emergency Kit and Emergency Procedures. Please call for help, or bring an injured pet (if you can do so safely and without further injuring the pet AND without injuring your self), to the nearest emergency clinic. I also told Chris that I would post Teddy on our clinic's Facebook page.

Chris thanked us and drove away saying he was going to keep driving around looking for Teddy.

I made my calls to all of the local clinics and left my number as the contact person.

There are a few big advantages to living in a rural country setting. One is that I know everyone in the small veterinary world around me..I asked every clinic to spread the word and told them I was posting an Amber Alert on our clinics Facebook page, and I asked that they all share it.

Then I hit social media. One of the key factors in catching the Boston Marathon bombers was social media, it is by far the quickest way to spread the word and join massive numbers of people on a common mission.

A few minutes later Teddy's story was being shared by friends, family, clients, and neighbors.

My husband and I got in the Gator and headed into the corn fields, a leash and phone in hand. We traipsed in 4WD through the mud, the brush, the streams, and the fields searching for any sign of a red dog running. We tracked what I imagined to be about a 70 pound dogs' recent foot prints captured in the mud from the just rained on little dirt road that runs between the corn fields, but after two hours and a thousand lashes from the pricker bushes came home empty-leashed.

I texted Chris to see if  he had any luck, but only heard the torment in his down-trodden voice when he said, "Nope, still no sign of him."

At 6 pm I got a text from a good friend who was once our clinics groomer but was now stay at home mom, that another mutual friend of ours, and another old JVC employee now turned Animal Control Officer of our county, saying that she had received a call that someone who had picked up a dog running on Rte 851. State route 851 is our nearest big road..and I say big because people routinely travel this road at 60 plus mph. I immediately called her and got the name and number of the good Samaritan who had picked up the dog to hunt down the first and only lead we had so far on Teddy.

A minute later I was on the phone with Mary. She and her son were traveling in our neck of the woods and saw a red dog running west on 851. They stopped when no one else did, pulled up to him and opened their car door. Teddy jumped right in and they all headed home. Not having a dog of their own at home they stopped at the grocery store to pick up dog food. Mary told me that Teddy was now comfortable on the couch with her husband, and that although they had had plans for the evening she had decided to stay home with him to keep him company. Mary had alerted animal control, but they told her it would be Monday before they could do anything about him. So with a few days ahead of them they had all settled in together.

Mary was so kind, and generous, and she even offered to drive Teddy home. I thanked her and told her that she had likely saved his life. She said that no one else was stopping and that people were speeding around him..she knew she had certainly spared him from being hit.

I called Chris and gave him Mary's information, hoping that her stray was his.

What were the chances of a Golden Retriever on 851 and it not being the same dog? Hopefully, very slim.

Mary called me a few minutes later to say that Teddy was back with his dad. I once again thanked her.

Chris came by our house again to introduce Teddy and to say "Thanks."

We shared Teddy's story over a beer. I offered him a Loose Cannon, (ironically of course), and he offered me a bottle of wine.

It wasn't until now that Chris had the time or valor to admit the whole story to me.

He said that Teddy was at his brother and sister in-laws because his wife and kids were at State college for the day and she didn't trust him with Teddy alone. (Sorry, honey, but all wives who love their pets like kids feel this way). When he and Teddy had gotten to his brothers house he let Teddy out of the car to go down to the pond. A short time later off in the distance someone started firing off a rifle? or cannon? (I had heard it too, I think cannon), and it scared Teddy enough to set him running off into the corn fields.

Once a dog is spooked, and it can be from any abnormal, or loud, or different noise, they will run. Without a leash or a fence big enough to contain them they will go. They will not listen to a command and they will not think through their fear. It is a primal unstoppable fear based response.

The best way to protect your pet from the dangers of the noises that drive pets to run away is to:

  1. Keep your pet with you, leashed to you, or in your house, at all times when loud noisy activities are going on.
  2. Use a reflective collar to alert motorists should your pet be out at night. 
  3. Have your pets information on their collar. I like to embroider my phone number on their collar, so that if a tag falls off the information is still there, but there are also metal plates that can be mounted on a pets collar.
  4. Have a tag on the collar with your pet's name, your phone number and "MICROCHIPPED" written on it, if your pet is micro-chipped.
  5. Have your pet micro-chipped.
  6. Assume your pet will over react to loud noises and be prepared for it. Any gunfire, fireworks, or even overhead airplanes can cause a pet to run. if you hear any loud noises look at your pet. If they are looking scared, perplexed, or anxious get them inside or on a leash immediately.
  7. If you are inside and your pet is looking fearful place them in a safe, enclosed, secure space. The smaller the better (most pets feel safer in a small contained area like a cage versus a room). 
  8. If they are still feeling overwhelmed by the noises, try to dampen them by placing a blanket over the cage to block out the noise.
  9. If your pet is calmer with you then keep them next to you. Don't intensify their fear by baby-talking to them. This will often reinforce their fear. If they think that you are afraid too it will just  compound their insecurity. Be kind and gentle but not afraid.
  10. Keep pets away from windows. I have seen dogs jump through a window to run.
  11. For any pet that has had an issue with thunderstorms, or fireworks, etc. in the past, once they have a fear then they will likely have it forever. Expect this and prepare for it. Ask your vet for help with dealing with fear based anxiety issues. Most behavioral issues worsen and intensify with time. Expect this and prepare for it on the first occasion.
  12. Even with training to try to ease their fears (we call it conditioning) the chance of them over reacting to a threatening stimuli is present. There are things to try that might help. I would encourage you to try them. They include:
  • Thundershirt. The Thundershirt is designed to snuggly around your pet like a shirt. These can calm a pet without drugs or training and they are very affordable. I am now using it on my 17 year old dog Savannah. It is helping her anxiety issues.

  • Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a behaviorist to help in calming your pets anxiety by getting them more comfortable with it so they do not over react to it. 
  • Ask your vet about anxiety medications. If your pet has a growing or worsening list of anxiety issues, or you are having issues with their behavioral changes, please talk to a veterinarian about long term medical therapies. There are many good, affordable, and effective treatments out there. take a leap of faith and try them. For many pets and their families it has made a world of difference. 
  • Tagg. A GPS guided pet tracking device that mounts to your dogs collar. You can now follow your dog as they travel. Big brother is watching, and it can find your pet. Although I do not have this device, when Joe and I were trekking around the blackberry bushes getting slashed I was wishing that Teddy had Tagg. 

If you lose your pet start canvasing the area. Knock on every door, ask for help, call the local veterinarians, shelters, animal control, and hit social media. Leave information on your pet including, their age, breed, size, distinguishing marks, collar info, whether micro-chipped and if possible use a recent picture. Everyone may not help, but a few will, and a few can move mountains and make miracles.

If you find a dog that is injured help. You can seek local rescues, veterinarians, and public animal control. Be an advocate. Ask questions, and stay involved. In many cases an injured pet will be taken to an emergency clinic but if no one steps forward on their behalf their fate will be decided by others based on economics and accessibility. How would you feel if your pets fate was in someone else's hands?

If you find a pet that is not injured start asking everyone around the area that you found the pet if they know who's it is? Often a pet has not wandered far from its home. Try to find a safe place to stay with the pet for a few minutes. Their family is hopefully looking for them too, and they will be looking close to where the pet was lost.

If you can house the pet in the interim it takes to find their family you will keep that pet out of a shelter where chance of communicable disease and being lost in the system is appreciably diminished.

Any pet that has been running will likely be hot, tired, and thirsty. Here are some signs of heat exhaustion and intolerance. Signs of heat intolerance

A dog that has been outside in the heat for any amount of time, especially if they are running or fearful, can be at risk of hyperthermia.Death from hyperthermia

Teddy had been in the best hands possible. He was lucky and Chris was so relieved to have him back.

Teddy was reunited by the efforts of many caring people. From the Facebook post I made he was seen by over 6000 people. Many people shared his post, and many people were out looking for him. I am so grateful for their help, and I will work to find a way to have a national Amber Alert system in place to help other people find their missing pets. Until then please keep your pet with you and be proactive. They react with fear and this is the most dangerous time of year for lost pets.

Wishing you and your family a happy and safe Fourth of July!

Teddy and his very relieved dad.
If you have any pet questions, or would like to add anything to this blog please find me @Pawbly, or Pawbly.

I will be writing on intestinal obstruction next,..stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! I see so many lost dog posts on facebook and it is heartbreaking. I even "rescued" a couple of Australian Shepherds running down 624 last year. Beautiful friendly girls having a nice time out and about. I took them to your clinic and had them checked for a micro chip with no luck. With 3 dogs of my own, I had no way to keep them until I could find their owners. I was left to take them to the Humane Society. I still have no idea what became of them because the HS refused to offer me any further information. I keep hope that they were eventually return to their rightful home where, hopefully, they've learned how to keep their wanders home.