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It’s been one of those days. First, the dogs awakened us at 6 a.m. (on this Sunday morning when we’d been planning to sleep in) to alert us to the approach of a thunderstorm. I myself love a good thunderstorm, and this was a great one, an all-day storm with all the trimmings: thunder, lightning, high winds, general darkness, and torrential rain.

Which was all great, until I had to run to the grocery store for something at about 3:00 this afternoon and discovered that I’d left both my front car windows down yesterday. Not only was the front seat pretty much sodden, but this meant I had to eat a good helping of crow because I’m the one who always brags that I NEVER forget to roll up my car windows.  Ahem . . .

Then there was some difficulty at the grocery store, because just as I swiped my ATM card, the storm knocked out power at the store, causing some small difficulty in paying for my purchases.

Then we discovered this in the family room:

Yes, indeed, that would be a vine climbing up the side of our house. The inside.

Finally (you know that where there is entropy there is bound to be a dog or two, right?), I took two perfect berry cobblers (one for home, one for me to take to my book group) out of a 400 degree oven and turned my back for a second. That turned out to be just long enough for Crispin to jump up, stick his nose into one and overturn it. I know this looks like a still from a Tarantino film, but believe me when I say that only an instant beforehand it was a blackberry/blueberry/raspberry/peach cobbler, and a very nice one, too:

Don’t worry, Crispin was mostly only shaken up, and he’s fine. Some ice water compresses took the burn away and a little bit of scrubbing took care of the berry stains (on him and the floor and the oven and the cupboards and my jeans). And maybe he’ll think twice next time about counter-surfing.

Nah.

Meanwhile, Dinah made it calmly through the whole day (in between thunder-claps) by nursing one of her babies. No, we didn’t forget to announce a litter of puppies, it’s just that lately she has taken to adopting various household objects, babying them, and keeping them very close to her. This week’s choice of lovey is a large can of stewed tomatoes.

She becomes very protective of these objects, and that might not be such a terrible idea. You never know When a piping hot cobbler is suddenly going to fall out of the sky.

On the heels of my mentioning yesterday the Boston Globe and NPR stories on how far to take medical treatment (with all of its associated costs) for our pets, NPR did another long bit on this today, on Neil Conan’s afternoon program, Talk of the Nation. You can read it (or, after 6 p.m. eastern time today, listen to it) here. Today’s discussion included several animal experts and advocates, including Jon Katz, whose work and writing I enjoy and admire.

Four or 5 years ago Dinah went down. I mean, one minute she was fine and the next minute she was Seriously Not. Slumped in the floor, silent, not eating or even really responding to us. Given the unnatural stoicism of airedales, we were alarmed, and within the hour we were on our way to the vet.

Not just the vet, of course, but the Emergency Vet. Near midnight. On a Sunday night. That may go without saying, since in our experience and that of many of our friends, veterinary (and for that matter, pediatric) emergencies occur only Late At Night and when the vet (or pediatrician) is Very Far Away. The other tenet, of course, is that the emergency vet is Very Expensive–$200 just to walk in the door and start the real tab running. At least the pediatrician takes our insurance. The vet–not so much. For many of us, that’s a lot of money, and in our case it led to much more money, though we didn’t know that on that scary Sunday night.

She was a very sick dog, and while I won’t go into detail, the basics are that she had a lot of peculiar symptoms (none of which seemed to explain her condition), she needed round the clock care, IV fluids, and a menu of services that prevented us from transferring her to our nice Neighborhood Vet the following morning. Three days and many, many dollars (and tears) later, she was fine. And–whew!–home. They never did figure out what was wrong with her, but she’d either gotten over whatever it was under the tremendous healing power of airedale vigor and hardheadedness, or something they’d done–and they freely admitted they could not themselves make the connection–had pulled her through.

In retrospect, I think it’s just as well that I didn’t know on Sunday night how much money we’d end up spending. Looking back, I’m glad she got the treatment she needed and is still with us. Since then, we’ve made the hard call to refuse intensive emergency medical care for a beloved cat who had a stroke, and for another, who had been part of our family for 17 years, with cancer. Since then we pulled Dinah through another Emergency Vet adventure (also on a Sunday night–see?) for something that would quickly have become life threatening if not addressed immediately. Small procedure, big bucks.

Tough decisions. Listen to the program.

One thing Dinah and Crispin can both agree on is that it’s been bloody hot here for the past couple of weeks. With temps in the 90s they’re a little more low-key than usual (which means Dinah’s been camped out on the cellar trapdoor in the pantry hallway floor, because it’s coooool there and Crispin has been a wee bit less bouncy than usual). They’ve agreed that this is a good week to cool both tempers and wooly pelts with a summer dog treat.

We’ve been making these for so long that I can’t remember the exact recipe or even where we originally got it, but these are a nice alternative to the Frosty Paws you can get in the supermarket. Maybe Leona Helmsley’s Trouble has his own freezer full of those, but Dinah and Crispin have . . .

Peanut butter banana dog pops

1 cup of creamy peanut butter

1/4 cup honey

1 large mashed ripe banana (or one large or two small jars of banana baby food)

1 large carton plain yogurt

Blend the peanut butter, honey, and bananas well in a large bowl. Stir in the yogurt pretty well, but not so thoroughly that you can’t still see nice streaks of the peanut butter mixture in the yogurt.

Pour into little kid-sized paper cups, set the cups in a baking pan for stability, then freeze until the mixture is firm. Peel off the cups and feed to hot dogs.

Actually, a hot person might like one of these, too.

Whoo! Been away too long. Last week, when it began, looked like this:

The week itself was a busy one, dog-news-wise. Leona Helmsley’s dog got rich . . .

. . . and then not so rich when a judge decreased little Trouble’s inheritance by much more than I will see in my financial lifetime. In between times he received death threats and his caretaker had to spirit him off to some place “in a nice warm climate” to protect him against kidnapping.

The New York Times reported on the rise in the use of made-for-human-type medicines for canine mental health problems.

The Boston Globe ran a story (and National Public Radio’s All Things Considered discussed it) about people who spend controversial amounts of money on health care for severely ill pets, including a goose whose cancer care has–so far–cost in the neighborhood of $20,000 (the goose, whose name is Boswell, has his own blog).

Please note that I’m not taking sides on any of these issues. Discuss among yourselves.

On the home front here, the big news was yet another swing in the dominant-dog pendulum. Dinah was already 5 when her nephew Crispin came to live with us, and immediately he assumed that she was Boss. She’s kind of dour in temperament–she’s low-key, solid, loving, loyal, and she loves a nice romp in the yard once in a while, but in truth she can be a little grumpy. A little Eyore in there, you know? And she’d much rather snooze under the picnic table than run circles around it. In spite of (or because of?) her charming personality, she is my darling.

Onto the scene pops Crispin, who is the happiest creature on the planet, no matter what–one of his nicknames is “Crispin, the happy trotting elf” (yes, we are Coupling fans).  You can’t help but love Crispin. He’s the velcro dog, our little black and tan satellite, always in our orbit whether we’re going for a walk in the woods or just down the hall to the kitchen. If Dinah likes to mosey gently through her day, his favorite modes of getting from one place to another (and back again and there again and back again and there again and back again, before you can blink) are sprinting, springing, speeding, and scurrying. If we all go out together, she’s ambling and he’s and scrambling.

Lately, he’s decided he’s in charge of several things. Like biscuits, even if they’re given to her first. In fact, a few days ago they had one of those snarling, snapping fights that I’d illustrate for you except that I can’t find an image of one of those cartoon scuffles in which arms and legs and fists sticking out of a little spiky, whirling cloud. Only in this case it would be paws and jaws and short skinny tails and big white tusks teeth.

OOF! POW! SNAP! JAB!

In the end, Dinah got her biscuit back, but she bears the scars from a nasty little nip her nephew gave her. Things are largely copacetic now, but they’re still miffed enough at one another that I could not get them to pose together in a recreation of the portrait with which I began this post–you know, an After to match up with the Before. So here they are in all their (separate) summer glory, transformed from wooly beasts to pretty good looking airedales. That would be Crispin on the porch, looking over his territory for something to chase, and Dinah happily rustling around in the foliage, looking for a cool place to nap:

Here’s hoping that everyone and their dog made it through the 4th festivities without getting lost (I mean you or your dog). Dinah did, as predicted, spend part of the evening under the knees that were under the desk in the office, but damp weather here meant that there were fewer thunderous explosions than there are in some years. A few miles north, I had a quiet evening with my friends’ dog, who, except for a few scary moments when some little squibs going off next door turned her into my very best, ear scratching, pat-giving friend for ten minutes, was fine. Our biggest dilemma was deciding whether Shanghai Noon or That Mitchell and Webb Look made the best distracting viewing.

It occurred to me this morning, though, that it always helps to know what you would do in a crisis before the crisis hits, so I’ve been Googling around for a good lost dog game plan. There’s good advice to be had here, here, and here, but most of them boil down to:

  • getting the word out, not just to neighbors, the local police, your local animal control officer, and all the neighborhood kids.*
  • Making and distributing eye-catching posters with a recent photo of your lost dog (I am rather proud of the one in yesterday’s post that I made for Dinah, and it occurs to me that it’s probably a good idea for you to make one up right NOW and put it on your computer in case you ever need it).
  • One of the best pieces of advice, I think, is to give posters to your mail carrier and to any UPS or FedEx delivery folks that work your neighborhood.

This reminds me that my friend Stephen has a lovely little border collie mix who likes to ride shotgun with the FedEx man, who has several times discovered–sometimes hours later–that the dog hopped into his truck while he was delivering a package at Stephen’s house, and now he and the dog are buddies and Stephen is no longer taken aback when the delivery guy makes a second stop at his home to bring the dog back after they’ve had a nice ride together. Small town life, you know?

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* The writer of one of these advice lists is apparently unaware that most of “the neighborhood kids” now spend their daylight hours in darkened rooms playing with their Game Boys until repetitive motion injuries make them stop, playing Guitar Hero until their parents make them stop, sending catty IMs to each other, and taking meticulous care of virtual pets, unaware that some real pets out there might need their help, and that they are not out building forts and climbing trees and practicing double-dutch and playing kick-the-can.

This seems an appropriate day to tell Dinah’s 4th of July story. Dinah has always been a very brave animal–warning away all the dangerous deer and bunnies in our yard, doing battle with a hand-held orbital floor sander (while we were taking a break from forcing it to work on our floor, she slipped into the living room, grabbed it in her teeth, and repeatedly smashed it against the floor until she subdued it), protecting us from postal carriers and UPS and FedEx delivery folks, barking anytime she noticed there was excess oxygen. She was fearless–afraid of nothing.

Two years ago on July 4 we decided we’d slip out for a quick dinner at our favorite shrimp place. First Child was at a fireworks-watching party, Second Child was at sleep-away camp for the week, and we were all alone for the night. It was a beautiful evening and we knew we’d be back soon, so we left Dinah in the yard, of which roughly an acre is enclosed by invisible fencing. This is her paradise–a huge, grassy expanse with a covered porch, both sunny and shady places, squirrels and chipmunks to bully, and an elevated deck from which she loves to survey her kingdom.

The fencing is also her protection–though we have a very large back yard, the house is 200+ years old, and as is often the case with old houses, it sits very close to the road (the road being considerably wider than it was in 1790), and the road is a heavily traveled state highway, especially busy in the summer as it leads to a popular state beach about 3 miles south of here.

As it happened, though, it was such a lovely evening that we decided to leave the car downtown (downtown, you understand, is all of 2 blocks long where I live) and walk down to the beach to see a bit of the fireworks display that the town sponsors–they shoot the rockets from an offshore barge and we (and scores of other people) know just which beach to visit for the best viewing. We got home at about 10, relaxed, full of shrimp and with sandy feet.

Our surprise at not being met at the end of the path (the edge of her invisibly fenced territory) by Dinah when we got home quickly turned to concern, then to fear, then to horror. Dinah was gone. Not on or under the porch, not snoozing by the cedar tree, not surveying her kingdom from the deck. Not responding to our calls, nor to the rattle of the biscuit box.

Gone.

The pack leader got in the car and drove all over the neighborhood, looking and calling. First Child, when he returned from his own fireworks viewing, joined in the hunt. So did the local police, who cruised through our part of town looking for her, too. At 2 a.m., sick with dread, we went to bed, but not to sleep. I kept wondering how we’d tell Second Child that her dog had run away and been hit by a car.

At 6:30 we were up and making Lost Dog signs on the computer. We figured we could start calling neighbors at around 8 a.m., and made a list of folks to call. We called the pound, but no one was there yet. I was heartsick. How could she be gone? She had never challenged the invisible fence–had someone taken her? And she was completely clueless about roads, and ours was so busy.

At 7:40, the phone rang. “I hate to call so early,” a woman said, “But I think I have your dog. She’s with me and she’s fine.” Dinah was okay (fine, even)! And found. The Pack Leader had his car keys out before I was even off the phone. No more than 10 minutes later Dinah bounded into the house. I was just limp with relief, and I think she was, too. I sat down in the kitchen floor (still in my bathrobe) and Dinah threw herself down, put her head in my lap, and simply howled. And I burst into tears and said furiously to my husband, “Someday she’ll REALLY be gone or she’ll die and break my heart because I love this dog and IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT.”

“Yup,” he said, and smiled. My dog person gene had suddenly activated.

Our heroine had refused David’s offer of a cash reward for her kindness, but later in the afternoon I made a loaf of homemade bread and took it up to the house where Dinah had been found. The house was about a mile up the road from us, but on the same street and–mercifully–the same side of the road. Slowly we began to piece together what we had suspected the night before. People in the neighborhood had also been putting on their own fireworks shows. And Dinah got scared, and, panicking, ran across her fence line, then, not wanting to get zapped again by running back through it, ran away from the yard through the woods. As the crow flies (or the terrified airedale scampers), she could have reached her rescuer’s house without ever going near the road. The woman who found her said she’d gone out early to put her trash cans out for collection, and found Dinah sitting in her garage. Dinah was tired and dirty and scared, but she let the woman pet her and check her collar tags, including the one with our name and phone number on it. When the Pack Leader pulled up in their driveway, she was sitting on the porch enjoying being petted by the woman’s two small kids, but when she saw the PL she bolted for his car and hopped in over him as soon as he opened the door to get out. “Home, Dad,” she said.

Ever since that night, though, she’s been terrified of fireworks, and of thunder. So tonight while the kids are roasting marshmallows, we’ll slip her one with a Benadryl tablet inside (vet’s suggestion), and as the bombs are bursting in air, Dinah will be under the Pack Leader’s desk, her head tucked between his knees, waiting for the ruckus to subside. And I’ll be up the street babysitting Tris, the dog of friends of ours who will be away this evening, protecting her from the scary fireworks and keeping her from pulling the baseboard heaters off their walls, her personal fear response. In the next town over, my friend Sandi will be calming her noise-phobic dog Jordie, who has been known to eat through the drywall when it storms.

It’s a tough job. But a dog person’s gotta do it.