Your Cold, Cold Heart

No one deserves to freeze to death

An untold number of dogs and cats have frozen to death during this brutal winter. Not just strays or ferals, but pets, those four-legged friends many of us consider family. When we hear these stories in the news we shake our heads and ask: what kind of person does that?

There is a concerted effort on the part of animal welfare advocates to raise awareness about the plight of dogs tied to chains for life. They’re the new slave of the modern world — poor, helpless, voiceless creatures at their master’s mercy. Chained behind the house in sub-zero weather with inadequate shelter, frozen water bowls, no companionship or hope, they look so lonely they break our hearts.

How would you like to sleep like this?

These dogs are also at the mercy of lax animal welfare laws, ones that state that if a dog is fed and watered daily and has some kind of shelter, no matter how bad it looks — it’s all right. Some laws are being re-reviewed to prevent the kind of wanton neglect pictured above, but animal advocates are struggling to get them changed.

Unlike Malamutes and Newfoundlands, dogs bred for working and living in winter conditions, the majority of dogs and cats aren’t so lucky — they don’t have triple thick, waterproof coats. Like us, they are prone to frostbite and hypothermia. Ferals and strays are especially prone to dehydration during long cold snaps, which leave them without even drips of melting snow to quench their thirst.

Cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothernmia

I’ve heard so many stories this winter of animals dying of neglect I’ve become increasingly angry and depressed. Sometimes I hate mankind. Researching animal abusers is probably the hardest part about writing The Patron Saint of Dogs. At times I couldn’t bear to even write a scene about them and I just couldn’t understand it – how does someone let their pet freeze to death? Or leave them behind when they move? Why don’t they care? How do they sleep at night?

The answer is sad but true. There are people on this earth with little to no conscience for the welfare of others. Whether they are sociopaths, alcoholics, drug addicts or have personality disorders, many people on this earth have zero empathy or concern for anything but themselves.

Some see their pets as objects and care no more for them than for the bush behind the house buckling under the weight of the snow. Others see their pets as extensions of themselves, and if they are self-destructive people, they don’t care about that poor creature locked outside in a blizzard, either.

Sociopaths, and those with certain personality disorders like narcissists, exist without the kind of consciences that keep good people up at night. They don’t care how their actions affect others, heck, they don’t even have the brain chemistry to plague them with such thoughts.

In a support group for abused women, I’ve heard too many stories about pets that had to be left behind when the victims fled. The animals, who were also abused during the relationship, took their place. I know of two sets of house pets that were abandoned outdoors this winter — one of whom froze to death — and of another, caged up in a garage in sub-zero weather, who succumbed to hypothermia.

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Another woman, newly separated, posted pictures on Facebook of her first night out on the town with her friends since she left her abusive husband, who was stalking her. The next morning her horse was found dead, his head beaten in.

I got sick when I heard another story about a woman who jumped out of bed one Sunday morning upon hearing the screams of her young daughters and the howls of her dog. She ran downstairs to discover her husband with the control to their dog’s shock collar in his hand. He was pressing it, over and over again, as the dog cried and the girls watched in horror.

What kind of person does that? One who is all about power and control. There are people among us with charm and personality who you’d never in a million years think badly of. They seem so kind, so generous, so loving in public. But behind closed doors? Their masks fall off, and it is only their families and pets who know the evil that lurks within them.

We can’t change these people, heck, we can’t even convict most of them. But there are things that people of good conscience can do:

Every stray cat is a homeless cat

We can reach out to victims of domestic violence and help ensure their pets are not left behind to bear the brunt of the abuse.

We can be vigilant by caring enough to stop for an animal in need, and report suspected cases of neglect and abuse to our local animal welfare authorities.

We can speak up about lax animal welfare laws, too. Animal advocates need all the support they can get from the public.

We can step in when we see an animal being abused or neglected.

We can educate those around us who seem oblivious to the basics of properly caring for their pets.

We can support local rescue groups, those who take in animals in crisis or help tend feral cat colonies.

Cold weather safety

Or we can do something utterly unconventional I advocate in my tweets all the time:

If you see an animal in distress, please knock on their human’s door and ask them to grow a heart.

“Compassion for animals is intimately associated with goodness of character, and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man.” –Arthur Schopenhauer

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Boxer’s Runaway Boxing Day

Boxer and his big stick

Boxer and his big stick

When I heard the news that Boxer had run away on Boxing Day his life flashed before my eyes.

Here’s a dog that has the best of two worlds: two homes, two parents who love him, multiple walks a day, great food and a plethora of friends in the neighbourhood.

But brains? Nope, he’s in short supply of those. He’s lovable, but not the sharpest stick in his collection.

I imagined him hit by a car and laying dead beneath a bush where he’d crawled to breathe his last without the love of his humans by his side…

I imagined him scooped up by a dog fighting ring and torn to shreds as bait…

I imagined him dumped at a shelter far, far away and euthanized before we located him…

Shelter Pic

And I imagined myself pummeling his other human for not getting him microchipped or ordering a tag with Boxer’s name and number on it so he could phone home…

We tend to think the worst when a crisis strikes, but in this case, I tried hard to keep the faith. His other human had taken him to the creek for a run and Boxer had taken off, no doubt in pursuit of an elusive duck, and never found his way back home.

I tried to picture him showing up at some family’s back door as they were serving their Christmas duck á l’orange and him scratching on the glass, wondering if that was his bird they’d had the nerve to catch and cook.

Or maybe some children saw him, and he bounded over in that dopey way he has and followed the scent of their Boxing Day dinner. Kids love him, so they might have lured him home and begged their parents to keep him as a belated Christmas present. Being a holiday, the shelter was closed. Maybe he crashed beside their little beds overnight and then took up position beside the breakfast table the next morning with that hopeful look on his face.

Wherever he was, for over 24 hours, Boxer was on the lam.

I got the call from Animal Services late afternoon on December 27th that I had to come bail him out before they closed for the night. I raced over in a taxi, the driver refusing to wait until I emerged with the jailbird because he didn’t like big dogs (growl!).

After paying the convict’s fines I tried hard not to look around. Being in the pound is a nightmare for its inhabitants — and this author. All those homeless animals on the verge of being killed for want of a family. All those rejected pets, missing their families and wondering what they did wrong. They are surrounded by the cries of other terrified animals, sensing death all around them, confused and alone. This is my — and the heroine of The Patron Saint of Dogs’ — downfall: Death Row isn’t a place we can bear to work, no matter how much we want to help.

Shelter death

When Boxer burst through the jailhouse doors, straining on his leash, he looked happier for a bathroom break than by the sight of a saviour. We ran outside and he did his business in seconds flat. (Maybe he’s fastidious and didn’t want to soil his dog run.)

But then he did something I would never, ever have predicted… Boxer wanted to return to the pound!

He strained on his leash and pulled and pulled, trying to go back inside. It was the damnedest thing. Was it almost dinner time and he didn’t want to miss out? Had he made friends he wanted to save? Or was there a hot blond inside whose number he forgot to get?

Whatever it was, he tried, again and again, to return to the jaws of death while we waited an eternity for a taxi that would transport a large dog.

Yes, the ladies at the pound are sweethearts and scratched his ears good bye. No, the pound wasn’t quite as depressing as I’d imagined. It was actually quite an upbeat place — if you disregard the fact that they euthanize approximately 50% of the animals that pass through their doors.

Shelter worker

It’ll remain a mystery where Boxer was and what he did during his Boxing Day adventure. When we got home, he curled up on his bed and took a nap, no worse for wear. Even when his other human arrived, he didn’t give us so much as a single guilty look.

Maybe Boxer had heard us talking about enjoying some time off over the holidays and he decided that, because it was Boxing Day, it was his day to do whatever he wanted.

Or maybe he was helping me research the novel and wanted me to see the pound, and its staff, differently, illuminated by the spirit of the season so I could bring you this message…

Shelter dogs

Please help them in any way you can.

All the best for 2015,

Colleen, Boxer and (Psycho) Kitty

 

If you enjoyed this blog post, here are more of Boxer’s adventures:

 

The Most Phobic Dog in the World: https://thepatronsaintofdogs.com/2014/03/14/the-most-phobic-dog-in-the-world/

The Happy Birthday Stick: https://thepatronsaintofdogs.com/2014/04/09/the-happy-birthday-stick/

The Adventures of a Wet Retriever: https://thepatronsaintofdogs.com/2014/07/21/the-adventures-of-a-wet-retriever/

Dog Sharing: https://thepatronsaintofdogs.com/2014/08/14/dog-sharing/

 

Why People Love Dogs So Much

Recently a friend expressed exasperation on their Facebook page:

“I can’t believe how much attention and time and money people give to their dogs. They are DOGS for crying out loud.”

I think my friend is referring to people like this…

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There are those of us afraid to trust humans anymore because we’ve been betrayed..

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Some of us have been hurt by someone we love and are afraid to love again…

Dog loves you more

And we know that dogs think we are the most important people in their world..

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Dogs bring caring and compassion to lonely, elderly people…

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And comfort to the sick and injured…

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They’re always happy to see us come home…

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And they rely on us completely…

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No matter how bad our lives get…

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Or how empty they may seem to others…

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They bring joy and fun and happiness to everything we do together…

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They always love our cooking…

Cooking bacon

Are grateful for everything we give them…

(which most people can’t say about their children)

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They’re patient and teach children compassion…

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And watch out for our safety…

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They protect our soldiers…

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And are free of the ugly aspects of humanity…

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So we can’t help hoping…

Youll meet me in the light

In our technological world, where we spend more time online talking to strangers than with our friends and family…

as we are bombarded by bad news, crime, poverty, cruelty and heartbreak…

I believe people turn to their dogs because they are pure, simple, and love us unconditionally…

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If our purpose in life is to love and be loved…

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…count me in as one of the people who find their purpose in loving dogs

Colleen xoxo

It’s A Miracle! The Taming of the Psycho Kitty

Psycho is based on my Kitty - a friend saved her from abusive neighbours

Psycho is based on my Kitty – a friend saved her from abusive neighbours

When I adopted Kitty she was nine months old. She was a sweet cat, affectionate and even-tempered. Considering the abusive situation she was rescued from, this is surprising in hindsight. (You can read more about her true story in Chapter 4 of my novel The Patron Saint of Dogs.)

Kitty wasn’t spayed, which we learned when she went into heat. It was sometime after the spaying, and around the time I broke up with my partner, that her personality changed.

She began attacking me and my guests. She’d wander around the house howling, like she was in distress or pain. And her habit of using my bed as a litter box increased dramatically.

Over the next few years, repeated trips to the vet didn’t uncover any underlying health issues. She had a touch of crystals in her bladder, but not enough to be causing her the kind of pain or discomfort that explained her behaviour.

When all of my options seemed to be exhausted, the vet I was seeing – Dr. W — told me my options were to either live with it, give her up or euthanize her.

I chose to live with it, but I was also choosing misery. As far as roommates go, Kitty was a nightmare. Rarely did a day go by that she didn’t scratch or bite me. Cuddling was out of the question. And when I was in need of a little animal therapy, petting her was impossible, because she’d lash out suddenly. She was demanding, insisting on attention when she wanted it, and if she didn’t get it, she’d have a hissy fit. I had to keep a shower curtain across my bed to protect it from its daily defiling. At times, I dreaded going home.

When I changed vets, Dr. C suggested I start using Feliway. It resembles a plug-in air freshener, only it mimics a cat’s pheromones to make them feel safe and secure. Boxer had just moved in, so the vet said it would take a bit more time to work on Kitty in her heightened state of anxiety with a dog in the house.

After the first month, the change in her started to show. Seven months later, she’s a changed cat. My bed has lost its shower curtain. My cat is sweet and cuddly – most of the time – and when she does have a hissy fit, it’s milder. I can’t remember the last time she attacked me and drew blood.

She’s even warmed up to Boxer – I caught Kitty touching her nose to his as she passed him in the hall one day and almost fell over in shock.

I’ve never been one to get on my soapbox and tout a product to others, but in this case, Feliway has been a lifesaver.

Sometimes, it takes a change of vet or a simple solution to solve a problem with your furry friend. Don’t give up. Kitty’s story shows that harsh alternatives weren’t the answer, and something as basic as a happy cat hormone can mean the difference between misery and blissful cohabitation.

The Most Phobic Dog in the World

Boxer, the most phobic dog in the world, needed a home & moved as I started the book

Boxer, the most phobic dog in the world, needed a home & moved as I started the book

 

Back in August, when a friend called to ask if I could give his dog a home, I was thrilled to become Boxer’s foster mom. I’d met him a few times, but had no idea my new roommate is in the running to be the most phobic dog in the world.

To say that walking Boxer was a challenge is an understatement. He’ll only walk familiar routes and is terrified of anyplace new. If an object appears that wasn’t there the day before, it’s trouble. Maybe it’s an orange pylon or a car parked where it shouldn’t be — he’ll go no further. If he hears a Harley, he runs for cover. I don’t even bother trying to walk him downtown – it’s way too noisy. And when trains passed through town, we’d have to stop for ten minutes while he was frozen in fear. We couldn’t even walk towards the train tracks the first few months, even if the coast was clear. You never know, he seemed to say, one might be coming!

The day I assembled my new Ikea sofa was traumatizing — all that banging and moving and cursing left him quaking. Now, anytime I move anything, he runs. Open the closet where the broom hides – he runs. My floors are scratched by his scrambling escapes from unexpected sounds, noisy trucks, and the rowdies upstairs.

One of his funniest phobias is getting his picture taken. I have no idea why. I tried for months to snap his picture, but he’d run every time. This became hilarious at my birthday party. Every time someone would take out their camera, he’d flee. The only reason I even have the photo of him above was because he was playing monkey-in-the-middle at the park and I snapped this when he wasn’t looking.

When I was a dogwalker and pet sitter, phobic animals were part of the job, so I thought I’d seen it all. Cleo, one of my favourite furry friends, was a collie-cross. She developed agoraphobia as she matured and couldn’t be coaxed out for a walk. My dearly departed dog Jules developed a fear of thunder late in life, and hid in the bathtub during storms. (She also barked at jello – I have no idea why.)

Then there was Willow, a Siamese cat with behavioural issues. She peed on everything and hid whenever her owners were away. I’d read The Dog Who Loved Too Much by Nicholas Dodman, so I was familiar with his theory that Prozac could help animals, but I was skeptical. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at Willow’s one day and started reading a note her human had left. It said I might notice a change in her  — Willow was now on Prozac. I looked down, and there was phobia cat, weaving around my ankles and purring.

I’d just started writing The Patron Saint of Dogs when Boxer arrived. He’s been an inspiration for the novel and has helped me heal – and come to terms with my grief and guilt over Jules’ agonizing death. We all have our scars, and I suspect Boxer had a traumatic experience during his imprint stage.

As Boxer has settled in, he’s eased up – a bit — and I’ve found a few bizarre solutions. If he poops after we’ve left the park, we can only get to the garbage bin behind my building via detour. He will not approach the bin from the east – he’ll plant his feet and nothing can drag his eighty pounds an inch closer to the brown monstrosity. But walk around the building and approach that same bin from the west? No problem!

He’s adapted to certain sounds, too. If a train passes by, he’s cool. Take a new route to the park? It doesn’t faze him anymore. Dogs, like people, have their hang ups, and Boxer certainly does. With a bit of acclimatization and patience, he’s settled down and we’ve both learned to adjust.

But move the coffee table an inch? He still bolts.

Dog Cull Casts Shame on The Games at the Sochi Olympics

Biological trash

I always put my life on hold to watch the Olympics. It is the greatest show on earth, one that has moved me, inspired me, and made me proud to be a Canadian — and a citizen of the world.

The Olympics represent so much of our global hopes: peace, brotherhood, cooperation, tolerance, honour and dedication. I cheer on every athlete, especially the underdogs, and am electrified by seeing their dreams coming true before my eyes.

Do you remember the minute of silence we had at the opening ceremonies in Lillehammer for the citizens of Sarajevo during the Bosnian war? I’ve never forgotten it. Spiritually, it was one of the most electrifying moments of my life. When Juan Antonia Samaranch asked a live, global audience to rise and bow our heads in their honour for one minute I rose – and felt one billion people standing up with me.

The Olympics makes me feel like a citizen of the world – but this year they are making me feel ashamed of the Games.

You see, they’re killing stray dogs in Sochi in preparation for the Olympics.

Amidst the cries of inconvenience by journalists and tourists that their rooms aren’t ready, pest control firms are creeping around at night, poisoning and shooting the thousands of dogs the city of Sochi has neglected to date.

At this time of world peace — when nations come together and lay down their petty squabbles and trade disputes, when countries struggling under brutal rulers and oppressive economic policies send a young, hopeful athlete to represent their country — they’re killing man’s best friend to spruce up for the occasion.

I’m not an animal rights activist or a member of an advocacy group, but I do speak up for those who can’t. And there is something so wrong about this dog cull that it’s searing me inside.

Mankind domesticated dogs to help us – and now we’ve turned our back on many of them. They’ve helped us survive and evolve and hunt and track and protect ourselves for tens of thousands of years. Now their function in society ranges from being a luxury in rich nations to a food source in poor ones. No matter which nation they live in, millions of dogs there are homeless and hungry and abandoned and abused.

When they become a subject of mass extermination to prepare for the greatest show on earth, it’s time for this citizen of the world to stand up and say:

This Is Wrong. Stop killing dogs – you are bring shame to the Games.

Please, stand up and speak out as a citizen of the world and tell Sochi to stop the cull. Tell Sochi this is wrong. Dead wrong.

Man’s best friend deserves at least that much from us. Sign a petition. Tweet. Post your feelings on social media. Don’t just sit there and swallow your sentiments.

I know we can’t save every dog in the world, but there are times when people of good conscience can’t stand idly by and watch a grave injustice done. Won’t you help?

*gets down off soapbox*

I’m writing a novel called The Patron Saint of Dogs — and if I don’t speak up for the dogs of Sochi, I’m not worthy of that noble cause.

Colleen MacDougall
Brampton, Ontario, Canada
@PatronSaintDogs
#SochiDogs #Sochi2014 #Olympics #Sochi #Dogs

NOTE: petitions are posted on change.org and thepetitionsite.com and there is an email campaign at the link on the photo above

The Adventures of an Author writing about Rescuing Dogs

During my years as a dog walker, I rescued many animals that crossed my path when they were in need of help. Some incidents have made it into the novel. This past Tuesday, I encountered another dog in need.

I was working on The Patron Saint of Dogs when I heard a woman outside calling for help. She was yelling, “Get this dog away from me!”

I looked out the window and saw a stray black dog beside our busy road. He was only trying to say hello to her dog, but she was trying to kick him away. I grabbed my leash, a quick-lock choke chain, and a handful of dog biscuits, then ran down three flights of stairs.

One of the county’s trucks had stopped to assist her but had scared the dog away. He ran farther when he saw me approaching, then was about to cross the street…

I almost panicked but knew I had to calm down so he would calm down. Then I bent over — a half downward-dog — and talked to him sweetly. Once he gave his tail a tentative wag I tossed a cookie near him and kept cooing. He came to me on his own and I put the leash on him – victory!

He gobbled his treat but had no collar or tags.

I brought him up to my apartment, grabbed my phone and coat, then we headed back outside. Was on hold for Animal Services when his owner drove by, looking for the runaway.

They were thrilled to see each other. Once I got Molson into his Dad’s car he covered my face in puppy kisses. It is one of the most rewarding things an animal lover can do — help reunite a lost pet with his owner.

The man told me that Molson, a young Black Lab/Husky cross, had dug his way out of the back yard. I explained that once a dog has successfully escaped, he’ll be eager to do it again because his adventures were a great reward for boredom.

I took the opportunity to give his Dad a lecture about ensuring Molson was wearing a collar and tag at all times. I also explained the importance of getting him microchipped, so he can phone home when lost.

It is vital that when a pet goes astray the Animal Shelter is immediately notified. That way, if he gets sighted, the shelter can provide people calling to report seeing him with his parent’s phone number. Then they’ll get the call to search the last area where he was seen, and hopefully pick up the dog themselves when he’s found. That can save a dog a traumatizing trip to the shelter and its parents the hefty fine.

Molson was a sweet dog who was no harm to the woman screaming for help. Had he been a white fluffy dog, she probably wouldn’t have been as alarmed. But because he was big and black and had no identification, he was treated as a threat.

People are not the only ones who suffer discrimination – dogs do too.

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