Volume 5 â€˘ Number 1
The Dog & Hound
The Dog & Hound
P.O. Box 332 • Montmorenci, SC 29839-0332 • 803.643.9960 •
www.TheDogAndHound.com • Editor@TheDogAndHound.com
Time Dated Material • Periodicals • Volume 5 • Number 1
his is the third time I have sat down to write this piece. The first two times, I was interrupted by Nitro Nick, our 2-year-old foster dog. The first time, he was barking at the door to come into the office. The second time, he was insisting on putting his front paws on my lap so that I could pet him. This would not have been such a big deal if those paws weren’t covered with mud and he wasn’t soaking wet. Nitro is a 48-pound English Pointer that we are fostering for Pointer Rescue Organization, a national group based in New Jersey. He came into rescue as a sad skinny cruelty case: today, a month later, he is happy, enthusiastic, and enjoying life on the farm. You know that saying, there is nothing friendlier than a wet muddy dog? That’s Nitro Nick! He’s looking for a fantastic forever home and he really is a great dog, if you know of anyone who needs him. . . We don’t do a lot of fostering, but there are some people who do, and those people are among the most important people in rescue. Foster families open their homes for a few days or a few months, providing animals in need with a critical bridge to a permanent home. Foster homes are becoming increasingly important in the animal welfare world as more rescues turn to fostering rather than putting animals into traditional shelters. How much do you know about fostering, and do you want to get involved? Read our article starting on page 12 to learn about some of the programs here in Aiken, and some of the people who share their homes with animals in need.
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For this issue, we also had the chance to meet some of the followers of the Aiken Dog Lovers group on Facebook when they took their dogs for a pack walk through downtown Aiken. We thought that this would be a great introduction to our article on dog-friendly places in town, which you will find on page 6. Our pages also have tips for pet photographers, another great essay from Mike Ford, and our new feature, Silver Paws, about a senior dog in Aiken. This time we got to meet Pelle, a wonderful 15-year-old terrier from England. You can meet her, too, on page 20. Do you have an old dog whose story should be told? Let us know! As ever, we hope you enjoy this paper. Our winter issue covers a lot of months: the spring issue doesn’t come out until April, by which time we will be in a new season and a new year. We hope everyone enjoys their holidays and is looking forward to 2016 as much as we are. I have to go now: Nitro Nick wants to go for a walk, and it’s hard to resist that happy, hopeful face. Enjoy your dogs and we will see you in the spring. (See Nitro Nick’s rescue video on YouTube here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4N02DIvWfw)
The Dog and Hound EDITOR & PUBLISHER Pam Gleason ART DIRECTOR Gary Knoll ASSOCIATE EDITOR Jean Berko Gleason LAYOUT & DESIGN Gary Knoll ADVERTISING 803.643.9960 firstname.lastname@example.org PHOTOGRAPHERS Pam Gleason Gary Knoll
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About the Cover
Pam Gleason Editor & Publisher
Our Cover shows Caroline Wolcott with foster puppies Biscotti and Chocolate Chip and foster mama Ginger Snap. This family was fostered through FOTAS. Learn more about local dog fosters in our article on page 12. Photography by Pam Gleason
The Dog and Hound Policies: The opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the publishers, editors, or the policies of The Aiken Horse, LLC. The Dog and Hound is owned by The Aiken Horse, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
All contents Copyright 2015 The Dog and Hound
Table of Contents 6
Dog Friendly Aiken
12 Loving & Letting Go: Fostering 19 Dog Photography Tips 20 Silver Paws: Pelle 22 Thankful
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Dog Friendly Aiken
Where Your Best Friend is Welcome by Pam Gleason
iken is a city that is known for being welcoming, friendly and open to people and animals alike. Take a stroll downtown, and you are likely to see at least a few people walking their dogs on the street. The city also has a number of businesses and attractions specifically geared to dogs. There is a nice dog park on Willow Run Road and a popular dog training club, the Palmetto Dog Club, on Banks Mill Road. Laurens Street downtown features not one, but two dog stores that include both a boutique and a bakery.
had a tent and table set up outside the store to raise awareness of their organization. The appointed hour arrived and the walkers and their dogs set off at a leisurely pace. Nonetheless, they did look a bit like a dog lover’s army as they made their way down one side of Laurens Street and back up the other. It was Small Business Saturday, and Aiken was in a festive, preChristmas mood, the streets dotted with happy shoppers. Returning to the area where they started, some went on their own way, while a group of about nine sauntered over to the patio of the Mellow Mushroom in the Alley for lunch. While the people ate and talked, the dogs mostly slept under the tables. “It went very well,” said Denise. “Everyone had a good time, and all the dogs were really well behaved. I was surprised by how many people there were, considering it was our first walk.” For their next meet-up, the Downtown Dog Walkers are planning to join the Aiken Christmas parade on December 16. After that, they expect to establish a regular schedule, meeting at least once a month if not more frequently. Aside from providing Aiken’s dog lovers with an enjoyable way to exercise and socialize their dogs, the dog walks will also give dogs and dog people more visibility in the city. With luck (and good behavior) this may make Aiken an even more dog friendly place. Where can you take your dog now? Read on for a few suggestions, and consult Aiken Dog Lovers on Facebook for a more complete and updated list, or to join the dog walk yourself.
Parks and Events
Just how dog friendly is Aiken and where is Fido welcome? Denise Parmentier, who is one of the people who runs the Facebook group Aiken Dog Lovers, recently compiled a list of places in Aiken that allow dogs, which is posted on that group’s page. In the process of doing this, she had the idea of getting some of her dog loving friends and associates together for regular group walks with their canine companions through downtown Aiken. After receiving an enthusiastic response for the project from members of the group, she scheduled the inaugural walk for Saturday, November 28. It was billed as “Aiken’s first public dog walk and dog meet-up group.” “I hope, since it is the first walk, that we won’t have too many people,” she said beforehand. As it turned out, about 20 people and their dogs showed up – it was impossible to get an exact head count because some people and dogs joined the group midway through the walk, and some drifted off before the walk was officially over. The core of the group met at Downtown Dog, the bakery and boutique on Laurens Street. This made the dogs pretty happy, especially when Sheri Scarborough, one of the owners of the store, came out with dog cookies as everyone waited for things to begin. Downtown Dog is one of the most dog-friendly shops anywhere. Not only does the store carry all kinds of treats, foods and gear for your dog, it also allows canine customers to come in and shop along with their humans. The store is also an enthusiastic supporter of rescue: on the day of the walk, Team Stinkykiss, a local foster-based rescue,
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The Aiken Dog Park on Willow Run Road was created as a partnership between the City of Aiken and the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. The dog park is the city’s only designated off-leash area. It covers about two acres and is divided into a section for smaller dogs (under 30 pounds) and one for dogs of all sizes. The larger section has a splash pool and a fountain. There are pavilions for shelter if it rains or if the sun gets too hot. The Aiken Dog Park requires a yearly membership and all dogs must be altered and up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations. The fee is $40 per dog for an individual, with a limit of two dogs, and $100 for a family membership with a limit of three dogs. Download a membership application from the SPCA website, or stop by the lobby to join. (199 Willow Run Road, Aiken. www.letlovelive.org) The SPCA Albrecht Center also holds a monthly dog-friendly gathering and cocktail Yappy Hour party on its patio on the first Wednesday of the month, April through September. There is generally live music along with food and drink, often with a festive theme. Yappy Hour gives dog lovers a chance to meet and mingle along with their dogs while supporting a good cause. The dog park, adjacent to the center, is open to well-behaved vaccinated and altered dogs during the event. There is no admission fee: proceeds from the cash bar and sale of snacks benefit the organization, which is dedicated to improving animal welfare throughout the area, providing affordable spay, neuter and veterinary services and helping homeless animals find new families. Both the SPCA and the Friends of the Animal Shelter Aiken (FOTAS) have annual dog festivals at which dogs are welcome. FOTAS holds its Woofstock Dogs and Music Festival at the Aiken County Animal
Shelter on Wire Road each fall. In 2016, it is scheduled for November 5. The event will include games and contests for dogs, as well as the second annual Doxie Derby, a series of races for Dachshunds. The SPCA has Barkaritaville in the fall, an evening that features booths with food and drink provided by local businesses and organizations, as well as live music and dancing. (October 22, 2016) In the past, Barkaritaville was combined with the Twilight Walk for the Animals, but this year, the walk has been moved to April 17, which will kick off the year’s Yappy Hour events. Stay tuned to the SPCA and FOTAS websites and Facebook pages for updates. Want to get out in the wilderness? The Hitchcock Woods is one of the largest urban forests in America, encompassing 2,200 acres of managed pine woods, all traversed by miles of well-maintained trails. The park is privately owned by the Hitchcock Woods Foundation, which allows walkers and their dogs to enjoy it free of charge during daylight hours. Dog walkers should expect to encounter horseback riders while they are out on the trails. Dogs are not required to be on a leash, but they must be under their owner’s immediate control at all times, and under no circumstances may they be out of their owner’s sight. Walking dogs in the Hitchcock Woods is considered to be a privilege and not a right. Although it is open every day of the year, there are some times when dogs are not welcome. One of the primary users of the Hitchcock Woods is the Aiken Hounds, a traditional mounted hunt with foxhounds that goes out twice a week from October through March. The hunt normally has outings every Tuesday at 2 p.m. and every Saturday at 9. The hunts usually last no more than two hours, though there may be exceptions. If you want to make sure of the schedule, call the Aiken Hounds hotline: 803.643.3724. If you enjoy the Woods, be sure to become a Friend of the Woods for a $50 per year membership. This will show you are a good citizen and will help support one of Aiken’s most treasured resources. (www. hitchcockwoods.org) Other places where you can walk your dog include properties owned by the Aiken Land Conservancy, such as Winthrop Field on Mead Avenue downtown. The ALC also maintains Boyd Pond Park on the Southside, which is a 92acre recreation facility with miles of walking and mountain biking trails. There are many properties owned by the city where dog walkers are welcome, such as Hopeland Gardens on Whiskey Road and Virginia Acres Park, which surrounds the Odell Weeks Center, also on Whiskey Road. In addition, dogs may accompany their owners on a stroll around the Carolina Bay Nature Reserve between Whiskey and Two Notch. On all of these properties, dogs must be on a leash and they are not allowed in any of the water features. Be sure to carry a dog poop bag and to use it as necessary.
Aiken’s hotels are quite accustomed to people with dogs, and many of them have liberal pet policies. These include the Carriage House Inn in downtown and the Inn at Houndslake, “Aiken’s best kept secret.” Many hotels do, of course, charge for your pet, or may require a pet deposit. For instance, Hotel Aiken downtown allows dogs in all its courtyard rooms, and charges $45 per stay. The Willcox is pet friendly and allows well-trained dogs of all sizes, though you are limited to two dogs per room, and if you leave your dog alone in your room, it must be in a crate. Dogs are also allowed to accompany their owners who are eating or having a drink on the patio or the front porch. The Willcox is a historic inn that is regularly ranked as one of the top hotels in the nation, so this is a pretty elegant place to hang out with your dog. There
is an extra charge of $75 per stay. Rose Hill Estate on Greenville Street has several pet friendly rooms with no extra charge. Rose Hill is another gracious and historic inn, and it has a distinguished canine history. It was built in 1902 for the Phelps family from New Jersey, who came down to Aiken for the winter months. Claudia Lee Phelps, the second daughter in the family, grew up to be a dog enthusiast of the first order. She bred and hunted her champion English Pointers and was the first woman to be inducted into the American Field Trial Hall of Fame. She was also a prominent importer and breeder of West Highland White Terriers; she served as president of America’s Westie club and became known as the American sponsor of the breed.
Drinking and Dining
In America you are almost never allowed to take your dog into an establishment where they are serving food. Rules against this are usually state or local health codes rather than federal laws, although the codes are often following federal recommendations. Sometimes, however, your dog can accompany you to a bar or a
restaurant if you are sitting outside. This is most likely to happen if the restaurant has outdoor seating that is on the sidewalk. Don’t just assume that dogs are welcome in these places. Even if you have been told that dogs are welcome somewhere, it is always a good idea to ask before you and your dog sit down, since policies can change. Aside from the patios at the Mellow Mushroom and at the Willcox, some of the dog friendly restaurants in Aiken include the outdoor seating at Betsy’s on the Corner and the outdoor seats at the New Moon Café and the new Starbucks on Whiskey Road. The Stables at Rose Hill, a restaurant in the courtyard of the estate, is also dog friendly. Leashed dogs may accompany their owners on the patio, where food and drink is served March through December. Well-behaved, leashed dogs are also permitted on the screened porch of the Stables.
Dog Friendly Shops
Many of Aiken’s downtown shops welcome dogs; many do not. Some don’t mind if you come in with your dog, but might get nervous if a whole group of dog walkers were to show up. Even if you are pretty sure
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Sheri Scarborough from Downtown Dog was generous with the dog coookies
a place is dog friendly, always ask permission before entering. Obviously, if you bring your dog into a store, be sure he is leashed, well-behaved and doesn’t do any of his own unauthorized shopping. Places where dogs are generally welcome include pet stores, some feed stores, and big box stores such as Home Depot, Lowes and Tractor Supply. In downtown Aiken, your dog is welcome in Downtown Dog, Bone-i-fied Bakery, and HIC Warehouse, the skateboard shop – this shop often has a resident adoptable dog, so be sure to ask if it is O.K. before coming in. PetSmart on Whiskey Road also welcomes your pet. Aiken Saddlery on Pine Log Road features a wonderful selection of dog food and supplies. Space is limited inside the store, however, so the owner, Amy Hebert, asks that dog owners restrict their dog’s visits to times when they are being fitted for collars or blankets.
angel is, well, a little angel. Unless you are in a designated leash free area, keep him on a leash. This should be your rule even if your dog doesn’t need a leash, first because you should follow the rules, second because it might make people who are not dog lovers more comfortable, and third because you will be setting a good example for other people whose dogs might not be as well-behaved, but who might feel inclined to let their dogs off the leash because you do. Other things to remember: A dog that you take out in public should be clean or relatively clean – your dirty dog might not smell bad to you, but he probably does have an odor that might be offensive. He should have good leash manners and be controllable. If he is not immediately friendly to people and dogs he doesn’t know, he should at least be unlikely to be aggressive toward them. Sometimes, of course, you are taking a dog out in public specifically to socialize him. In this case, it is usually best to warn people of that before they come up to pat him. It should go without saying that whenever you are walking your dog in a public place, especially a city, you should carry, and use, dog poop bags. Wherever you go with your dog, remember that you are an ambassador for dogs and their people everywhere. What you do can make the difference between dogs continuing to be allowed in an establishment, and having them banned. For instance, at one local restaurant, dogs were once allowed to sit with their owners at an outdoor table. Then, one day, there was “an incident involving a plate.” A dog owner allowed his dog to lick the plate after he was done eating. Your dogs may clean the plates at home if you are comfortable with that, but at a restaurant this is a no-no, and is, in fact, against the health code in South Carolina unless the plates are disposable. From that day forward, it was strictly “no dogs allowed” at that restaurant, all from the actions of one unthinking pet owner. It was not the dog’s fault, of course. It usually isn’t. In fact, the owners of some local dog-friendly businesses agree that, while they may not have problems with dogs, they do sometimes have problems with their owners. “Some people do take advantage,” said Shannon Ellis, who, along with her husband Geoff owns and runs The Willcox. The Willcox is dog friendly, but there are limits. “People can be very arrogant about their dogs. There was one person who was letting his dog up on the couch in the lobby, which you really can’t do. And there was one lady once who let her dog loose in the lobby. There was another lady who was trying
Be a Good Ambassador
Let’s face it. Everyone does not love your dog. To you, he made be sweet and cute and adorable, but everyone does not share your point of view. There are some people who are as wild about dogs as you could possibly be. Then there are some people who think dogs shouldn’t be in public places where other people are trying to enjoy a dog-free life. There are people who are deathly afraid of dogs, for whom the mere presence of your furry little friend is a terrifying experience. There are many other categories of people who might not be happy to see dogs intruding into their lives, especially if those dogs are boisterous or unruly. These include people whose upbringing tells them that dogs are dirty, and even people who rely on service dogs – your dog might be a distraction to a working dog, especially if he is not under perfect control. So even if you are in a place that allows dogs, be sure that your little
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to come into the lobby in her wheelchair, and she couldn’t get past the dog because it was standing in front of her and wouldn’t move. We love dogs, but you have to be respectful. There are some basic rules you just have to follow.” And then, according to Geoff Ellis, there are some things that just go too far. “Once, I had to tell a man that he couldn’t bring in his pig,” said Geoff. “He said, ‘Those people have their dogs, and those are their pets. This pig is my pet. Why can’t I have my pet with me?’ And I just said, “I’m sorry. You can’t have a pig in The Willcox.”
The Dog Lover Army advances through the Alley
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Reasons to Foster a Dog from the Aiken County Animal Shelter • Because the dogs need your love and care before they take that journey to their new homes • Because a dog makes you happy, particularly a grateful dog (which they will be!) • Because caring for dogs is an enriching, learning experience for children • Because you are thinking about a ﬁrst dog or another dog and this is a good way to test the waters • Because the joy of helping them for a short time is so much greater than the tiny bit of sadness of sending them on • Because when you are done, you will have made a difference
in their lives, and that makes you feel good
• Because the Aiken County Animal Shelter is the only open admission shelter in Aiken County taking in over 5000 animals per year, the highest in the area, and needs your help
Please join the FOTAS foster team .. their lives are in our hands
call FOTAS 803.514.4313 or the Shelter 803.642.1537
Aiken County Animal Shelter 333 Wire Road Aiken, SC 803.642.1537 Mon-Fri 9:00-12:00 and 1:00 4:30 Sat. 10:00-12:30
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P.O. Box 2207 Aiken, SC 29802 www.FOTASAiken.org 803.514.4313 Ò LIKEÓ us on Facebook
FOSTER *VOLUNTEER *DONATE
4568 Whiskey Road ● Aiken, S.C. 908-273-7350 ● 908-598-8212
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Loving and Letting Go Life of a Dog Foster
Story and Photography by Pam Gleason
“Sometimes, we go over for dinner, and I say, oh that smells so good,” says Caroline. “And she tells me it’s not for us; it’s for the dogs!” Courtney and the Wolcott family live in adjacent homes in Aiken’s historic district. The Wolcotts have six dogs of their own, while Courtney has two. The mother dogs and their puppies live in a climatecontrolled kennel with outdoor access in Courtney’s house. The house is where Girl grew up, and when she was young, she remembers her family using the same kennel when they bred an occasional litter of Labrador Retrievers. The Congers and Wolcotts are one of several of families that Friends of the Animal Shelter (FOTAS) relies upon when they get pregnant dogs, mother dogs, or puppies at the Aiken County Animal Shelter. Animal shelters are not good places for puppies for many reasons, the primary one being that puppies are extremely vulnerable to disease and infection. Because of this, FOTAS tries to get puppies into foster homes as quickly as possible, and to have pregnant dogs placed in foster homes before they give birth. “The puppies are definitely a lot healthier if they are born here than if they are born at the shelter,” says Caroline. Girl says that members of her family have always been animal lovers, and her childhood was filled with dogs and cats that her mother rescued from one place or the other. Her family became puppy fosters for the shelter when Mary Lou Welch, the president of FOTAS, asked Courtney if she would take a mother dog with a litter of puppies. Courtney said yes, and Girl and Caroline pledged to help. After the first litter got adopted and moved on, they took on another, and another. The Aiken County Shelter is open admission and high volume. There is a seemingly unending supply of dogs, always including young litters, expectant mothers, and sometimes orphans. “We wanted to do it partly because we thought it would be good for Caroline,” says Girl. “I remembered watching puppies getting born, and raising them when I was young, and I wanted her to have that experience. I wouldn’t breed dogs now, so we thought this would be a good way to do it.” Their typical fostering experience goes like this: an expectant mother arrives at the shelter. Someone from FOTAS calls Girl, and she and Caroline go down to pick up the dog. They install her in their birthing kennel, whelp her, and then care for the Caroline Wolcott with Girl Wolcott and fosters Ginger Snap, Chocolate Chip and Biscotti family as if it were their own. They handle the puppies every day, regularly exposing them to new things, new people I can handle it. Doing this has really taught me to grow up emotionally. and especially to children. FOTAS pays for the dogs’ medical care, It’s a lot of responsibility.” and the Wolcotts bring the puppies back to the shelter vet, or use their Caroline’s mother, Georgianna Conger Wolcott, (known to her own vet, for shots and other necessities. When the puppies reach eight friends as Girl) and Girl’s mother Courtney Conger, work together to weeks, they are available for adoption. care for the mother dogs and their puppies. Caroline’s father, Randy In the early days, Caroline and her family would help get the puppies Wolcott, is also involved. Girl jokes that they use him as a barometer adopted locally, and they had a lot of success, although eventually, all of to see if a mother dog has a problem with men “because some of them their friends had enough dogs and didn’t need any more. Now, FOTAS do.” The Congers and the Wolcotts give the mothers and puppies love, has a much more active transfer program, and the puppies usually go on attention, socialization and good food – Courtney even cooks them a a transport to a rescue in a Northern state as soon as they are weaned special chicken dinner twice a week. and have had their second set of shots. “Fostering has really made me grow as a person,” says Caroline Wolcott. At 17, Caroline is already an expert at whelping puppies. She is also someone who has a deep and personal understanding of the joys and challenges inherent in animal rescue. Caroline’s family has been fostering mother dogs and litters of puppies from the Aiken County Animal Shelter since she was 11 years old. “When we started I was in the sixth grade,” she says. “The first time I visited the shelter, I was just bawling. I was devastated. I wanted to take every one of them home. Now, it’s different. I take the puppies to the shelter myself sometimes when they need to go back for something, and
Although it is hard to fathom this if you live in the South, many Northern states have shortages of shelter dogs, and especially of highly adoptable puppies. The rescues that accept the Southern puppy transfers frequently have long lists filled with people who are waiting for one. In any case, the puppies that come from the Conger-Wolcott program are especially desirable since they are healthy, friendly, well-socialized, wellcared for and ready to go directly into a home. The mothers often go to the same rescue as their litters – the best rescues have policies against taking puppies and leaving their mothers behind. But sometimes there are extenuating circumstances. This was the case with Ginger Snap and her puppies Biscotti and Chocolate Chip, the most recent litter the Wolcotts fostered. The puppies found a rescue right away. But Ginger Snap, a gentle and loving red and white pit bull, was heartworm positive, and her puppies were going to a state that has restrictions on importing heartworm positive dogs. She had to wait for her rescue. (It came through.) There are other challenges, too. Mothers and expectant mothers at the shelter are rarely in the peak of health, and they are often underfed and have compromised immune systems from stress and other factors. Puppies that are born at the shelter can be exposed to all manner of viruses and bacteria that can be deadly. Even puppies born in Courtney’s kennel can suffer from things their mother was exposed to before she left the shelter. Occasionally the puppies get sick, and sometimes they die. “We haven’t really kept count,” says Girl. “But we think we’ve had about 250 mothers and puppies. Of all the litters we’ve had, we’ve had just three that had major problems. That is the worst, because you try so hard, but sometimes you just can’t save them.” Girl has high praise for FOTAS and for the staff at the shelter, all of whom have gone above and beyond to help them when they needed something for the puppies, especially Sandy Larsen, who is the shelter’s vet tech. “Sandy has met us at the shelter at 9 p.m. when we needed to get treatment for a puppy or something else. And I can’t say enough about the job that FOTAS does to make all of this possible.” And what about when the puppies leave? Isn’t that hard? “When I was little I wanted to keep them all,” says Caroline. “That’s what I think the biggest reason is that people don’t foster: they think they’ll have to keep them. In the beginning it’s hard – you have your favorites. But it gets easier because you realize that there’s always going to be another litter, and they’re going to good homes.” “It can be harder letting go of the mamas,” adds Girl. “Sometimes they have never had good treatment in their lives and they are just so grateful. You feel bad not letting them stay, but we promise them they are getting good homes, and we make sure of it.” What is the best thing about being a puppy foster? “Everything!” declares Caroline. “I especially love the variety of dogs we get. Our family loves Jack Russells and Labs, but I also love getting all sorts of quirky mutt dogs.” “There are times when it’s a lot of work, and times when it’s not so much. But you get a never-ending supply of puppies. Is there anything better?” says Girl. “There is such a need for fostering, it’s so important. And your heart grows exponentially with every litter.
There is so much love. “I think the lessons that it can teach to kids are invaluable,” she continues. “It really teaches them how to think beyond themselves. People should know that it is doable. If anyone would have had trouble with it, we would, because we just get so attached to them. But it’s so important to get dogs out of the shelter and get them socialized. If you can’t foster, then go to the shelter and walk the dogs. They really need it and they appreciate it so much.”
Making a Difference
When the local actor and skateboarding personality Bo Mitchell’s skateboard shop opened on Laurens Street in September 2015, it included a dedicated area to showcase and promote adoptable dogs. There is a space in the storefront window with a wire kennel and a portfolio of pictures of available dogs, along with adoption and volunteer applications. There are signs in the window encouraging people who are interested in dogs to come in. The owners of HIC Warehouse Skate Shop are determined to be part of the solution. “From the very beginning, we planned to have a space for an adoptable dog here. It wasn’t an afterthought at all,” says Robin Mitchell, who is Bo’s mother and who helps with the shop downtown as well as with her son’s other local skateboarding venture, the HIC Warehouse Indoor Skateboard Park on Edgefield Highway. “If you have a foster dog, it’s so important to get them out, walk them downtown, have them around other people. It makes such a difference in that dog’s life, in its future. That’s why we have the place here, so that our personal foster dogs can have that opportunity.” The kennel at HIC Warehouse is also available to other rescues that want to get exposure for their dogs. A dog can come and hang out in the crate where he can be seen: his rescue just needs to provide a volunteer
Robin Mitchell at the Hic Warehouse Skateshop with her therapy dog in training and foster dog Victoria
to walk him and make sure he is comfortable. Robin grew up in Aiken County and has been an animal lover all her life. Her father trained German Shepherds for the City of Aiken Department of Public Safety when she was a child, and the family always had dogs, many of them rescued off the street. “We always just took everything in,” she says. Once, when she was about 12, a group of people was riding horses past her family’s farm and one of the riders got off and tied his horse to their fence, explaining that the horse was old and wouldn’t go any more and he didn’t want it. “He took his saddle, and we took the horse. We rode him – old Pokey lived for five or six more years.” As an adult, Robin’s interest in rescue led her to start paying attention to posts about needy dogs on social media. She had rescued plenty of dogs herself, but had never fostered before and didn’t know how foster programs worked. But one day she came across a picture of an older female German Shepherd at a shelter that needed help. The dog’s picture spoke to her, and so she reached out to offer assistance. At first, she didn’t hear anything, but a while later, when the dog became “Code Red” and had less than an hour to find rescue, someone got in touch with her. “Her picture had really tugged at my heart. And so I said, it’s now or never. If I can make a difference for that one dog, and that’s all I ever do, I’ll have the fulfillment in my heart and my life that I did that one great thing for one dog.” She was only a few miles from the shelter, and so she drove over. The shelter staff brought her the Shepherd, and Robin took the dog home. “She was so skinny,” says Robin. “One of the worst I’d ever seen, and she had almost no hair on her back.” But Robin knows how to put weight on a dog and soon had nursed her back to health. Although, in the end, Robin ended up being a “foster failure” and keeping this particular dog, it was a first taste of fostering, and Robin knew it was right for her. That was a little over a year ago. Today, Robin has fostered over 25 dogs for local organizations. She is a long term foster, usually keeping a dog for a few weeks or a few months until it can be transitioned into a forever home. Although she says she never had much contact with pit bulls before, now they have become her specialty. Many of the out-of-state rescues that are so eager to take Southern retriever or collie mixes won’t take pit bulls, so it became important to find a local place for them to go where they might have a chance at being adopted. Robin and her husband live out in the country on 70 acres. She can foster a dog or two in her home with her five personal dogs, and she also has a complex of outdoor kennels where she can house several more. Those dogs get attention from her and her husband, as well as exercise and socialization from the next-door neighbors. “They’ve got 10 kids,” says Robin. “We pulled in the ones that are athletic and we hired them to run the dogs on leashes. That really helps. We worked with the kids and trained them, so they’re really good about putting the dogs on a leash and hanging onto them. The kids take them out twice a day. The dogs learn to come in and out of the kennels quietly, sit, and walk on a leash properly. My husband and I work with them ourselves every day, too. We spend a lot of time evaluating their temperaments, making sure they’re okay. Their temperaments have usually been tested a few times before we get them, but we want to know they’re sound before we send them
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out. We try not to send people a wild dog. We want to send them a dog that has some manners.” What advice would she give to someone interested in being a longterm foster? “First of all, be prepared for it to be a four to six week program. And then I would say, give it a try. Give it a try on a dog that is calm, maybe an older dog, because doing it is the only way you are going to figure it out. After that one, you’ll know if you are going to want to do it again, and you’ll know what kind of a dog you’ll want to take. “It gets addictive,” she continues “You’re saving them when you get them. And then you make a difference in just a matter of a couple of weeks. Most of the ones you get are so appreciative. The joy of seeing their life change is just amazing. Knowing some of their background and what they went through, it makes you want to foster more. The ending when they leave is sometimes pretty hard. But you know what they are going to, you know it’s a good home, and you know it’s so much better that what they had.”
Bridge to a Better Life
Karen Peck and her husband Don Moniak live in Aiken County with their four dogs. For the past two and half years, they have also been acting as short term fosters for dogs pulled out of the Aiken County Animal Shelter. In that time, they have fostered 72 dogs, all of whom have gone on to their forever homes, mostly in Northern states. “I had heard about fostering before, but it was long term fostering,”
Two fosters can be easier than one. Karen Peck and Don Moniak with their fosters
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says Karen. “That didn’t appeal to me. We don’t need any more dogs, that have gotten lost or been abandoned.” and I thought if we fostered, what if the dog didn’t get adopted? We’d Karen and Don spend a lot of time socializing their fosters and getting have to keep it. So that wasn’t something we wanted to get into.” to know them. This helps make the dogs more adoptable and also makes But Karen did volunteer as a dog walker at the Aiken County Shelter. it easier for them the find the right home when they go North. While there, she heard about short term fostering. Short term fosters “They always want to know, is the dog good with kids, is he good with are used to take dogs after they have been claimed by a Northern rescue other dogs, is he good with cats. We can tell them all those things,” says partner, but before they actually leave. Foster families pick up their dogs Karen. at the shelter, give them a place to stay for one to two weeks, and then The couple lives on a small pond where they can go kayaking. They deliver them back to the shelter parking lot when it is time to “put them have often taken their foster dogs out with them, to see how they react. on the bus.” They had one foster who loved it, perching on the front of the kayak There are two main reasons why short term fostering is critical. First, and enjoying her ride. Karen got a picture of the dog on the kayak and once a rescue has agreed to take a dog, that dog is no longer available for sent it to the humane society where the dog was going. The humane adoption. If he is on the adoption floor in the shelter, he is taking up a society happened to be in Conway, New Hampshire, which is on the kennel that another dog could use. The faster he leaves the shelter, the banks of the Saco River and a big canoeing and kayaking area. The dog sooner another dog can take his place and have a chance at adoption. was adopted immediately by a man who wanted a dog that would go out Second, the interstate transport of shelter dogs, once a little known with him on the river. phenomenon with no regulations, is becoming a common thing. It is Why do they foster? First it is to save a life. But there are other also getting some rules. Several states have enacted laws that stipulate reasons, too. that dogs coming directly out of shelters cannot be brought across state “It’s fun,” says Karen. “You get a new dog every two weeks or so. There lines. Instead, those dogs need to be coming out of what is, in effect, a quarantine period in a home or a veterinary office. The fact that this kind of fostering has a specific end date gave Karen and her husband a sense of security. So, several months after she heard of the program, Karen decided to give it a try. “You know the dogs are spoken for and you can’t be a foster failure,” she says. “This makes it easier, because you know that the rescue owns the dog and you can’t have it. You’re just babysitting.” Karen and Don foster for several different organizations. In addition to doing short term fosters for dogs that have already been rescued, they also occasionally might do a medical foster for a dog that has a minor medical condition. One common reason to take a dog as a medical foster is if he has Demodex, a type of mange that is not contagious, but is unsightly. It can be cured easily with a few weeks of daily medication, especially if the dog is in a stress-free environment. Karen and Don normally integrate dogs they are fostering into their pack, only shutting them in crates at night to sleep. As long as they choose the dogs they will foster carefully (the right size, the right temperament to fit into the household) Moufasa left for New Hampshire on Tuesday and was adopted on Friday. they have found that everyone gets along fine. Although some of the dogs they have gotten may never have are some you really love, that you would like to keep, and others that been in a house before, Karen says they have not had a problem with maybe don’t fit in as well. But it’s fun to get to know them and to know housebreaking or any other major issues. you’re helping them.” “We recently started taking two dogs at once, and that is actually Although they rarely have much contact with the homes that adopt easier,” says Karen. “They bond right away and become good friends. their dogs, social media does make this possible. The Northern rescues And they look to the other dogs for how to act. I think taking in these that take the dogs often post pictures of happy dogs and even happier fosters has been good for our dogs too, because it socializes them. If adopters on social media. Karen often reaches out to congratulate the we run into a dog we don’t know when we are out on a walk in the dog’s new owner. Hitchcock Woods, our dogs are really friendly now, whereas before they “The most rewarding aspect of fostering is seeing the joy on the faces might not have been.” of adopters, especially children, and knowing the dogs are in good “All the dogs we have gotten have been good dogs,” adds Don. “Very hands,” says Don. few of them have shown any sign of abuse, or anything like that. I think And is it sad to see them go? that’s something that scares people about fostering, too, the idea they “Of course,” says Karen. “But some of us joke around that if you don’t might get a dog that has major problems. But mostly these are just pets cry when they go on their transport, you haven’t done a good job.”
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FOTAS: The biggest need is short term fosters for dogs on the way to a rescue partner out of state. Also experienced puppy fosters and medical fosters. Animals are from the Aiken County Animal Shelter. Call FOTAS: 803-514-4313 or the shelter: 803-642-1537. HOME FOR GOOD DOG RESCUE: Home for Good is a fosterbased rescue in New Jersey that has a Southern arm and home base in Aiken. HFGD needs Aiken-area foster homes for dogs and puppies for a few days to a few weeks before sending them North. Dogs and puppies come from all over the area. HFGD provides all food, leashes, crates and medical supplies. Contact the Susan Strell: (908) 263-7358. PAWS: Palmetto Animal Welfare Services has a new program, Bully 4 You and Other Paws Too that pulls last chance and at risk dogs and puppies from shelters, or rescues them from anywhere. Contact Toni King: firstname.lastname@example.org. 706-495-0638 or visit the website: wwwpaws4nokill.org SHELTER ANIMAL ADVOCATES: Shelter Animal Advocates runs the Heartbeat Program, which networks heartworm positive dogs at the Aiken County Animal Shelter, treats them, and sends them to rescue. They also pull last chance dogs from the county shelter. They provide one to two week short term fosters for partner rescues and long term fosters for their own adoptable dogs. Fosters receive all food and supplies. Contact Mary Lou at 803-334-1219 or onlywayout@outlook. com for information on how to apply to be a foster. SPCA ALBRECHT CENTER FOR ANIMAL WELFARE: the SPCA does not have a set foster program and fostering is handled on a case-by-case basis. If you would like to know more, contact the SPCA: 803-648-6863.
So you want to foster a dog?
First, decide what kind of fostering you would like to do. Short term? Long term? Do you have the experience, facilities, expertise and time to foster puppies? Or would you be better off with an older dog? Do you want to help a dog with a medical condition or one who needs to gain weight? Or do you want a dog that is pretty much ready for adoption? How about taking a dog home just for the holidays? Once you have a decent idea about what you want to do, contact an organization you would like to work with and ask some questions. Be sure that you understand what is expected of you, and what you can expect from the rescue or shelter. Will they contact you regularly to check up on the animal? Is there someone you can talk to for support or call if you have a question? What kind of training and socialization are you expected to provide? Will you be expected take the dog to adoption events, or handle meet-and-greets, or even be an “adoption ambassador” who takes an active role in finding the dog a good home? If you fall head over heels in love, does the organization allow you to foster-fail and keep the dog? If the dog does not work out in your home for whatever reason, what arrangements will they make to move it? How long might you expect to keep the dog? Most rescues will pay for all medicines or veterinary procedures your foster dog might need, although if you have to take an animal to the vet you should always make sure that the expense has been approved first. Some rescues will also pay for your foster’s food, and even provide him with toys or bedding. When you do pay for some aspect of fostering, whether it is food or collars and leashes, be sure to keep track of what you have spent, because the good news is that fostering is tax deductible. Keep your receipts. Here are a few local organizations that have foster programs. If you are interested in animal welfare, fostering is one of the most helpful things you can do. Not only does it save lives, it is also very rewarding, especially when you see an animal that you have cared for go on to a wonderful forever home where he is treasured. Then, you can go back, get another foster, and do it again.
Want to find another group? Check your local listings for animal rescue groups. Many, of not most, have foster programs. Have an affinity for a particular breed? Look for a local or national breed specific rescue – a search on the Internet can work, or go to your breed’s national organization and ask for a referral. Breed rescues are frequently in search of more foster homes, especially ones that have experience with the particular qualities of their dogs.
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The Dog & Hound
Take Good Pictures of your Dog by Pam Gleason
our have the cutest dog in the whole world. Why can’t everyone see that? Could it be your pictures? If you think this might be the case, here are some pro tips from various photographers to get you on the right track. 1) Your camera doesn’t matter. If you want to take awesome shots at low light, or your subject is moving quickly, you will not be happy with your images unless you have a high end camera. But in most cases, you don’t need an expensive camera to take good pictures of your dog. Your cell phone, or an inexpensive digital camera should do the trick. Don’t worry about megapixels, either. Any camera on the market today and even any modern cell phone has enough megapixels to take perfectly acceptable photos – more megapixels really just means a larger file size, which will fill up your computer’s hard drive in a hurry. 2) Choose your location. If you want a great picture of your dog, you’re going to want to take it in a place without anything distracting or ugly in the background. Make sure that everything in your picture is attractive. 3) Let there be light. We’ve all seen (and taken!) grainy, blurry, dimlooking dog pictures. You could blame your camera. But the most likely reason is that you are trying to take pictures when there is not enough light. When you are using an automatic camera or your cell phone, the software in the camera will try to compensate for this by raising its sensitivity (this makes your picture grainy) and/or lowering the shutter speed (this makes your picture blurry). Try moving your dog somewhere brighter. 4) Not too much light. Pictures taken in the bright sunlight can be fantastic. But they can also have harsh shadows that obscure your dog’s features, or give his fur reflections that look odd. Generally speaking, if you are taking pictures in the sunlight, you do better if you are shooting in the morning or evening when the sun’s rays are not directly overhead. On a bright sunny day, it is often best to take shots in filtered sunlight, such as under the shade of a tree. Pictures taken on bright, but overcast days are also good. Look for soft light that does not cast hard shadows. Be wary of your flash. An on-camera flash is pretty much guaranteed to give your dog “devil eyes” in a picture. Dogs have a special reflective layer in the back of their eyes called a tapetum, which helps them see in dim light. When you shoot a flash into their eyes, you will be bouncing that light off the tapetum, and your camera will capture an eerie glow. This effect is similar to the red eye effect you see in humans, but in dogs, you might see blue, green or yellow instead of red, since the color of the tapetum varies. Unless you can adjust the direction of your flash so that you are bouncing light off the ceiling or a wall rather than directly off your dog’s eyes, you should probably avoid using it. It isn’t that a flash can’t be useful; it’s just that it can be tricky. 5) Learn about your camera. Unless you are already taking good pictures, your camera probably has features you aren’t aware of. For instance, many cell phone cameras will adjust their focus and their light meter if you tap on the screen in the area you want to concentrate on. If you are using a digital camera with both automatic and programmable settings, don’t just use the auto setting all the time. Get a manual on photography and learn about or review the basics of aperture, ISO and shutter speed. Take a class, or watch some free video lessons on YouTube. 6) Get some help. Ready to take your picture? You might need some help posing your dog, or keeping him from coming over to lick the lens. So ask a friend for assistance. 7) Change your perspective. It’s not that you can’t take a good picture of your dog from above. It’s just that you are more likely to get a good picture if you get down on the floor and take the picture from his level. Have a puppy or a Chihuahua? Get down lower!
8) Make him look. You can take beautiful pictures of dogs that are staring off into the distance, but the most arresting pictures are usually the ones in which the dog is gazing into the camera lens. How to get a dog to look at you? That depends on the dog and what he is interested in. Make a noise, squeak a toy, throw a ball into the air, show him a treat – you just have to experiment. Want to capture an adorable had tilt? Make a noise he doesn’t expect. You can even download sound effects for your cell phone and play those. Cats meowing, puppies crying and wolves howling are pretty sure attention-getters. 9) Focus on the Eyes. Be sure that your camera is focused as sharply as possible on your dog’s eyes. If the rest of your dog isn’t in the absolute sharpest focus, that can be overlooked (he is fuzzy, after all, isn’t he?), but if the eyes are not in focus, the picture will not be compelling. So if your camera has a focus point, put it directly on the eye. 10) Be Patient. You’re probably not going to get your best image on the
first snap of the shutter. Take your time, expect some pictures you are going to throw away, and consider it practice. Eventually, your dog will relax and you will get the image you want. 11) Edit your shots. You might get perfectly lit shots right out of your camera, but you also might not. Use any photo editing software to lighten up a picture that is too dark, or add some depth and definition to one that is to light. Don’t go overboard, and don’t get carried away with the filters that come with the editing programs unless you don’t want your image to look like a real picture of a real dog. If your pictures aren’t in focus, going crazy with a sharpening tool is probably not going to help either. 12) Break the rules. One of the great things about digital photography is that you can see your pictures right away and the only thing you have to pay for if you take more shots is wear and tear on your camera. So break some rules and experiment. What do you have to lose?
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Silver Paws Pelle the Terrier
Story and photography by Pam Gleason
f Pelle could talk, she would probably say that age is just a number. At 15 and a half, she is still active and playful, and she still wants to go out with her owner, Ria Burton, when Ria rides and trains horses for foxhunting. She’s not as fast as she used to be, perhaps, but she can still keep up pretty well. The only trouble is that she has gone deaf, so Ria is afraid she might get lost or hurt. “I’m always riding young horses,” she says. “And now that Pelle can’t hear, she sometimes gets right in front of them, and I am afraid they might step on her. When we go out riding in the Hitchcock Woods, if I go a little too fast and I lose her, she can’t hear me calling her anymore. She knows the woods very well and knows how to get back to the stable, but I don’t risk it, so for the last year she has stayed home.” Pelle and Ria are both from England. Ria is an equestrian professional who was working in polo when she decided she wanted to get a small dog as a companion. She answered an ad in the newspaper and went out to see a group of six-weekold terrier puppies in Sussex. Half of the puppies were purebred black and white Jack Russell Terriers. The other half had a Jack Russell father, but the mother was a Patterdale Terrier, a fairly common breed in Great Britain that is not well known in the United States. Pelle was one of the mixed breed puppies, born on July 4, 2000. “I wanted to get the runt of the litter, but I knew I also needed something feisty enough to deal with the horses,” says Ria. “She was the smallest, a little seal colored dog, but she was hanging off my trouser leg, so I picked her. She was always feisty, but in a good way – she was never aggressive or snappy.” When Ria got her puppy, she had recently returned from six years of working in Italy. Pelle (which means leather in Italian) got her name because of a white patch on her chest that is in the shape of a cowhide. It looks exactly like the “real leather” logo that is stamped inside Italian leather goods along with the words “Vera Pelle” (“Real Leather.”) Pelle proved an excellent companion from the beginning. At the start, she got knocked over by the horses a few times, but soon learned to follow them when Ria took them out on exercise. She also knew that Ria would always go back to her house on a 4-wheeler, and so learned to go sit on the seat and wait, to be sure not be left behind. She was always faithful, but she could be mischievous, too. When Ria ran a boarding facility in London, Pelle developed a taste for carrots and Polo mints, both common treats for horses in Britain. She used to trot down the aisles, stealing carrots and Polos from all the grooming boxes. She also got into trouble another way. Ria had always intended to have her spayed, but when Pelle went into heat at 9 months old, she managed to meet up with an interested Jack Russell suitor at the stables. As a result, she had a litter of three puppies, all of which found good homes in England. Ria came to work in America a couple of times in the early 2000s, but always left Pelle back in England. At that time, there were strict laws in England, and you couldn’t bring a dog back into the country
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from overseas without submitting that dog to a six-month rabies quarantine. During one working trip, Ria decided to stay on in America permanently, so she sent for Pelle. “I went to pick her up at the airport in Atlanta, and I couldn’t believe it,” says Ria. “She was so little, but she was in a crate that was big enough for a Boxer. You could hardly see her—just her little black ears sticking up on her tiny head.” It would have been funnier if it weren’t for the fact that the airlines charged by volume, which meant that flying Pelle to America was very expensive indeed. In some ways Pelle is a typical working terrier. When she was younger, she liked hunting for rabbits and would go to ground in a rabbit hole or a foxhole and could be difficult to get out. She was, and is, very playful, enjoying her toys and displaying a great love for polo balls. When Ria was present, she was always very good about not pursuing these balls when they were being used in a game. Once, however, when Ria went on a trip and left her behind, she did run out into the middle of the game in pursuit of her favorite ball. One of the players used his mallet to pick her up by the collar and carry her back to the safety of the sidelines. For Ria, Pelle has been a constant companion, and the perfect little dog for her lifestyle. Now that there are two other dogs in the family (a foxhound and a hound mix that came from the shelter) Pelle
normally stays at home when Ria goes out, but in the old days they went everywhere together. “You can be very accepted with a small terrier,” says Ria. “When I used to go to a friend’s house for dinner, she would always come with me. I call her “Toodles” because she’s always toodling along behind me. If I am working late in the barn, she’ll find a soft place to lie down and go to sleep. I never have to worry about where she is, because she’s always there.” Pelle is very healthy and has had almost no health problems in her long life. Still, she is old and slowing down. She sleeps more than she used to, though she still runs and plays, and has her own typical habits and behaviors – coming to bark at Ria to let her know if there is no food in the food bowl, or if the water dish needs to be refilled. She still loves her squeaky toys, even if she can’t hear them anymore, and she still loves polo balls, Polo mints and carrots. She still gets excited when she sees a leash, even though she has no reason to associate leashes with walks – she has been leash-free her whole life. Her ID tag says “Pelle: I am microchipped and deaf.” “She’s just always been there and it’s hard to imagine life without her,” says Ria. “She’s been around so long she has her own little fan base here and in England. We had dogs at home when I was growing up, but she was my first real dog, my first personal dog, and she’s a pretty cool first dog. I got lucky.”
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Aiken. Hours of operation: MonSat. 11 am - 5 pm., Sat 10 am- 3 pm; Sun 1:30 pm - 6:30 pm. www. LetLoveLive.org 803.643.0564 Adopt a Shelter Dog or Cat from the Aiken County Animal Shelter. Many beautiful, healthy, friendly animals to choose from. 333 Wire Road, Aiken. See the pets at www. fotasaiken.org. 803.642.1537. Pointers! Many beautiful purebred Pointers of all ages available for pets or hunting. www.pointerrescue.org.
Horses And Hounds Aiken. Pet & Horse-Sitting. Reasonable Rates, Bonded and Insured, Vet Assistant. 803-643-9972/803-443-8303. horsesandhoundsaiken@gmail. com. www.horsesandhoundsaiken. com Pet sitting, farm sitting, expert horse care. References available. Mary Jane Howell. 802.295.8294 Thereâ€™s No Place Like Home: In home pet sitting service.
Exceptional care in their own home. References; Insured. 419378-1126 TRAINING Palmetto Dog Club. Training classes, puppy socialization, obedience, rally & agility. Check out the website for class schedules and more information. Join us! 803-262-9686. www. palmettodogclub.org.
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by Michael Thomas Ford Portrait by Sarah Higdon
’m just about to find out whether or not I’ve won the National Book Award for Fiction when I feel the tapping on my face. Joyce Carol Oates, who is opening the envelope containing a card that might have my name written on it, vanishes like a startled ghost, and I open my eyes to see George the Chihuahua sitting beside my head. One tiny paw is resting on my chin. “Ruff,” George says in his peculiar little grunt-bark that is the source
of his nickname, the Cinnamon Piglet. Translation: It’s time to go out I guess that it’s sometime between two and three in the morning. I squint at the clock on the bedside table. 1:53. He’s a little early. After a year of these nightly outings, the routine has become, well, routine. George wakes me up. I attempt to get out of bed without rousing the other three dogs, who are curled in little snoring balls around me. Then I try to open the bedroom door, sneak past the three larger dogs sleeping on the landing, and get down the stairs without incident. After that it’s a slow creep to the back door, which inconveniently takes us past the room where my aging mother is usually tossing fitfully. Occasionally, I manage to navigate this gauntlet without waking anyone else. More often, between two and five additional dogs end up joining George and me on the midnight adventure. I try to keep track of them all as they scatter across the yard, but usually I’m barely awake enough to remember to put my glasses on and locate my shoes. Mostly, I manage to get them all back inside again. The reason for these nightly escapades is the diuretic George takes to combat congestive heart failure. He was diagnosed a year ago this week. Having just recently moved into my sister’s house to help care for our mother, who has Alzheimer’s and was then undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer, I was concerned when George developed breath that was even worse than usual. Like many tiny dogs, he has terrible teeth. Most of them had to be removed five years ago, leaving him with six working ones. I was concerned that now these too were also in peril. They were. A dental was scheduled. But before that, the vet suggested we should make sure his heart was strong enough to withstand the procedure. It wasn’t. “Listen to this,” the vet said, handing me the stethoscope. I did.
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George’s little heart drummed a peculiar thumpity-thump in my ears. “That’s about a four on the scale,” the vet said. “Out of how many?” I asked. Six. Four out of six, six being the worst. Not terrible, but not good, either. This was two days before Thanksgiving. Because I am conditioned to assume the worst in any given situation, I imagined that George would be gone by Christmas. But when I asked the vet how long I might have left with him, he couldn’t answer. Naturally, I assumed this meant that George would be dead before the Turkey Day leftovers were polished off. I might have started crying, but in my defense, life was pretty stressful right around then. George did not die. He made it through Christmas and the New Year. He made it through Valentine’s Day and Easter. When his birthday arrived (on Cinco de Mayo, appropriately enough, he turned 10) we celebrated. And as summer came and the world warmed up, I began to breathe a little more easily. Speaking of breathing, that’s one of the things I monitor closely. CHF constricts the trachea, which causes the coughing common in dogs with the condition. George tends to make a lot of odd sounds to begin with, but now I listen to see if he breathes heavily following exercise, or coughs in his sleep. Occasionally, he does, and every time it makes me wonder anew how much time we have left together. As summer came to a close, we went in for a check-up. This time, George was a “definite five” on the CHF scale. “But he has an unusually strong pulse,” the vet assured me. Again, he wouldn’t tell me how much longer we might have. Again, I might have cried a little. I blamed it on the fields riotous with hay waiting to be cut. In 1920, Edith Wharton published her “Lyrical Epigrams” in The Yale Review. The first is arguably the loveliest thing ever written about dogs: My little old dog: A heart-beat At my feet. In my case, the little old dog is not at my feet, but beside my head. George sleeps in a nest of blankets on the pillow beside mine. Sometimes at night, I reach over and place my hand on his tiny body. His imperfect heart beats beneath my fingers, the irregular thumpity-thump a reminder that he is not quite well. “Please,” I wish, “Keep going for another year.” Another Christmas. Another Cinco de Mayo. Another summer. Another 365 midnight outings. I wish this for all my dogs, of course. And I know that sooner or later, my wish will not be granted. There will come a night when I tuck only three dogs beneath their fleece blankets, then two, then one, until one night I’ll go to sleep alone. Hopefully, not soon, but eventually. But for now, our little family is still together. And as we sit down to give thanks a few days from now, high on my list will be that every night I get to stand bleary-eyed and yawning in the cold while my little old dog searches for just the right place to pee. Michael Thomas Ford lives with seven dogs, nine horses, and four cats in rural Maryland. Sometimes he writes about it.
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