Thursday, November 13, 2008

Farewell To A Friend

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)

It’s always hard to lose a precious pet. It’s pretty much part of the deal we make with ourselves when we get them, and we spend their lives not thinking about the day they’ll be gone. I had to go through that (again) myself just two days ago.

My 15-year-old golden retriever, Sprocket, went to the proverbial Rainbow Bridge on Tuesday. He was my first foster dog for Retrieve A Golden of Minnesota in 1997. He was 4 years old at the time. When the family I’d chosen for him changed their minds at the last minute, I knew he was meant to stay with us, and he did, for 11 years.

Sprocket was a sweet, willing boy. He took the blue ribbon in his obedience class, and worked with me and his golden-brother, Ripley, as a Therapy Dog for several years. He loved our annual trip up north to a lakeside cabin, where he could ride in a boat, swim, fetch, and roll in the pine needles. He was a very agreeable dog, never wanted to make trouble or be in the way, and enjoyed the occasional sip from my wine glass. He was the tug-of-war champion of the world, and liked to sneak up on the other dogs when they were busy and “stealth sniff” them.

15 is really old for golden retrievers. Sprocket had always been a very healthy dog, aside from all the times he’d “accidentally” swallow bits of a toy, or a sock, or a wash cloth, get lots of x-rays and narrowly avoid exploratory surgery. His problem the last several years had been progressive loss of nerve and muscle function to his hind quarters.

I know that we were able to keep him for at least a couple of years longer than might have been expected, thanks to feeding him raw food, and providing him with great Standard Process whole food supplements, joint support, and herbal pain treatments. He benefitted from chiropractic care, acupuncture, and Healing Touch for Animals ™. But, ultimately, the progression of his condition could no longer be managed.

It was only in the past month or two that I had to resort to giving him prescription pain medications. I’m adamant about not giving any of my dogs unnecessary prescription drugs, and this includes antibiotics, steroids, and NSAIDs. While they might suppress a symptom, making the dog appear better, they can cause just as many problems as they alleviate.

He’d been just chugging along, declining slowly but hanging in there. Then, on Monday, I arrived home and found him sprawled spread-eagle on the kitchen floor, urine and stool around him, a sopping mess. He couldn’t get up on the slate floor. I got him up, and managed to get all 80 pounds of him into the tub to clean him up. (And then I broke down a bit.) When my husband got home, we spent a nice evening with him, baby-gated in the bedroom to keep the other dogs from disturbing us. He fed Sprocket pizza and M&Ms (not good, but at that point it hardly mattered). We knew that in the next several days we would have to make a very tough decision.

Never wanting to be a problem, Sprocket made the decision for us. The next morning, he couldn’t stand up at all. I hoisted him upright, but he didn’t have enough control of his rear legs to stay that way. So, it was time.

Afterwards, I was so grateful that I still have Brody (3 year old Great Pyrenees), Ozark (9 year old Pyr/Golden mix) and Darwin (4 year old golden). All the years I’ve worked in the veterinary business, I’ve worried about people with only one dog. How awful it must be to go home to an empty house, after saying goodbye to your only dog.

I even worry about the people with just two dogs. I feel sad for the “only dog” who is left. I’m definitely a “pack animal,” and insist that I’ll always have at least three dogs, though my husband thinks two might be better. We have three now, of course, and that’s a tiny pack for us. In the 12 ½ years we’ve been in this house, we’ve been “over the limit” of three dogs for all but March-November of 2007. We’ve had as many as seven at one time. I don’t think I could do that anymore, but I do love my three-dog pack. I just wish we were still “four.”

I’ve counseled people for years about how to know when it is time to say farewell to their pets. I know all the answers. I tell people to think of two or three things the pet loved more than anything, and whether they can still do/enjoy those things. Do the bad days outnumber the good ones? Is there any realistic expectation that he or she will see improvement in their condition? Finally, look deep into your heart and ask yourself if you’re keeping the pet alive for the pet’s sake, or your own.

Yes, I know the answers… except when I’m the one who has to answer them. Then, I struggle as much as any of you do.

Please keep my Sprocket in your thoughts, as he adjusts to his new existence, where all good dogs go. I’m sure he’s with my Ripley, who went ahead two years ago this month. Ripley took care of him in life, and will do so now. He’s also getting reacquainted with former pack-mates Porsche, Cricket, Flash, Gulliver, Seko and Ruxpin.

Friends keep telling me that Sprocket was lucky to have found us, and maybe that is true. But I know for sure that we were truly, truly fortunate to have found him, and to have had him for 11 wonderful years.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Talking the Talk

(Contributed by Dr. Jessica Levy)

These drug ads on TV just crack me up. The latest insane ad I’ve noticed is for some Rheumatoid Arthritis drug, where a woman exclaims: “I knew Rheumatoid Arthritis could be painful, but I didn’t know it could affect my joints!” What are you, a moron? What did you think “arthritis” meant? When you were diagnosed, did your doctor fail to explain what RA means? Did you fail to ask? It’s a pretty significant disease. I would think any doctor would mention the joint thing. But, you never know. And some people don’t ask.

I spend probably more time than I should bemoaning the state of health education in modern schools. People are either undereducated about health, or self-educated. Granted, how you teach a room full of teenagers anything, I’ll never know. I paid a lot of attention in high school and worked really hard, but only because I knew I wanted to go to vet school. In any case, it didn’t really work for me, and in spite of all my efforts I was a B or C student at best. Some stuff I was good at, like history and languages and reading, and some stuff like math and sciences just failed to make an impression on me.

Of course, the school system was a little wacky, too (aren’t they all). In 11th or 12th grade all the teachers went on strike for 3 months. What a deal! It was awesome! And the school year still wrapped up right on time. Oh, yeah, at first there was some whining about “how are we going to fit all this important information into the short time we have left”, but apparently they figured it out.

That’s almost as good as my nephew’s school burning down 2 weeks before summer break. My sister said it was every kid’s dream come true. Apparently a forest fire got a little too close. Luckily it was a weekend, so no one was in class, and in Israel all the buildings are made of stone, so the school wasn’t razed to the ground or anything, but the windows blew out and the walls were blackened. And school was closed for the year.

I’m sure we had some sort of health education in high school, but I can’t remember any of it. We had biology class, and I remember dissecting frozen fish. A gym teacher once told us we knew nothing about our bodies, but then wasn’t inclined to explain it herself.

After vet school, it took me a couple of years to realize that I no longer spoke English. Instead I spoke “medicalese”, and I had to relearn a lost language in order to communicate with my clients. Medicalese was easy for me, because my dad was a doctor and Mom was an English major, and people who visited us used to comment on how my parents spoke “like something out of a book”. Even today, my dad speaks the most grammatically correct Hebrew you’d ever want to hear. No slang in our house!

I try to make medicine as simple and easy to understand as possible. But it’s like trying to speak Spanish to someone whose vocabulary consists of “Una mas cervesa, por favor!” What I need is a cartoon textbook of physiology, a graphic novel of basic health and healing. Anybody out there got one?

(Return to the Whole Health Veterinary Website)

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Seminar Worth Every Penny

(Contributed by Dr. Jessica Levy)

About three weeks ago, I went to a weekend seminar that was hosted by Standard Process and taught by Dr. Stuart White, a nutritionist and chiropractor from Houston, Texas. I had never been to a Standard Process seminar before. It's hard to drag veterinarians to non-veterinary lectures. We don't have time, we're too busy, and we don't get any continuing education credits for our money, so why go?

I went because I was getting a little burned out at work, and really needed to sit in a hotel room all day and have someone lecture at me. Also, I needed knitting time (it's baby blanket season in my world). And as a kinesthetic learner, knitting really helps me focus on what is being said and taught.

As recent events in my hospital have turned out, my business partner's departure quashed my plans to attend the American Veterinary Medical Association meeting, as well as a course in Fundamentals of Small Animal Osteopathy, and the Veterinary Chiropractic course had to be put on hold, too. So, desperate for education, there I was at the Bloomington Hilton, in a room full of chiropractors, nutritionists, and - surprise! - a veterinarian from Bemidji.

What a day! I learned a ton about nutrition and about Standard Process products, and got a lot more information than I've ever had about how to apply them in practice to really make a difference in my patients' lives. The best part was that Dr. White passed around bottles of supplements and had us take them on the spot, and the immediate changes were dramatic!

Since then, I've started myself on a regimen of Standard Process supplements, which I've been taking twice a day - lots of them. I feel better, my mind is sharper, I can get more stuff done, and I sleep better at night. I've been applying my new understanding to my own pets as well as my patients, and getting better results with my treatments. This seminar was well worth the money!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Living a Healthy Life

(Contributed by Dr. Jessica Levy)

The other day I was talking to my oldest sister. The topic was people we knew who were getting older and sicker. She discussed the health status of her in-laws, who are in their 80’s and suffer from diabetes, heart disease, and asthma; I brought up my husband’s only surviving grandparent, also in her 80’s, who has diverticulitis and is in an assisted living facility because she is too weak to walk.

My sister, who is 11 years older than I, was concerned that this is the way of the world, as you get older you get sicker, and it somehow seems unavoidable. I reminded her that our father is going to be 81 this year, and is in robust health, thanks to good genetic material and his wife, who monitors his diet a little closer than is comfortable. (Sometimes my siblings and I have to sneak Dad away to his favorite steakhouse, where he is not officially “allowed” to eat by the powers that be.)

On the other hand, he’s always interested in something new, spends summers in Israel and winters in Florida, and periodically sends me emails along the lines of: “We’re on our way to Vienna (or Frankfurt or Aruba), here’s our hotel contact information, etc.”

My lesson from this is that taking care of your own health really does pay off. Good old diet and exercise, as well as maintaining an active and interested mind, will keep us alive and healthy. We are lucky to have Dad as an example of how to do it right. Plus, we hope we got the good genes, too.

So there we were being all self-righteous, when we remembered that Mom’s been dead for 15 years. She died of myelofibrosis, which is one of those rare weird things that people die of. Not hereditary, as far as I know, and she lived several years with a disease that has a dire prognosis. She also quit smoking, watched her weight, read like a maniac, knitted like crazy, traveled the world, and never cooked the same thing twice.

Better clean up my act, before it’s too late.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Your Dog Doesn't Fear Raw Food, So You Shouldn't Either!

(Contributed by Dr. Jessica Levy)

Just recently I’ve read a couple of books which, while decrying the pet food industry and the health impact of feeding processed pet foods, then go on to say, “But I certainly don’t recommend a raw food diet!” Then the discussion begins of what makes a high quality dog food, etc, etc. Which is certainly an important discussion to have, yet why the avoidance of feeding raw food?

There’s always some discussion of whether dogs have evolved past the point of being wolf-like, and are no longer able to tolerate the raw diet of wild carnivores. Let’s be clear: Evolution takes a long, long time. Like tens of thousands of years. Processed pet food has been around for less than 100 years. No, dogs have not evolved into processed-food-eaters. It just ain’t so.

Dogs in the wild, while adept at catching mice and birds, are largely scavengers. The lions, hyenas, cheetahs, etc, do the bulk of the large-game hunting, and the dogs clean up the left-overs, often days later. Yes, dogs are made (or have evolved) to eat road kill.

This is what I love about dogs! They’re so adaptable, so opportunistic, so varied in their repertoire of things they can eat/pass through their intestines/digest. This is why they’re man’s best friend! Man trashes the planet, and dogs eat the trash!

When dogs are fed unnatural (processed) diets, disease results. Dogs do not naturally have delicate digestive systems, inflammatory bowel disease, food allergies, etc. These problems are induced by human actions upon the planet, which leaves us stuck in this 1950’s white bread, white rice, better-living-through-chemistry mindset.

People, of course, should not eat all processed foods, either. It induces disease in us, too. People should not suffer from delicate digestion, inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, stomach cancer, diverticulitis, heartburn, gastric reflux, etc.

I encourage my clients to have courage, learn about feeding raw foods, and dive in! It's not nearly as hard as most people think! There is a ton of information available these days, both online and in books, about how to do it. The plethora of premixed raw foods on the market make it even easier to do right by our dogs.

Don’t be afraid to try it! You and your dogs will love the results!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

News and Updates

Since you’re reading this blog, you are aware that there are big changes taking place! Central Bird & Animal Hospital is now Whole Health Veterinary, which we feel better reflects our focus on holistic care for your pets. We had been planning this name change for some time, but it came about a little sooner than expected when our avian/reptile veterinarian left the practice. Since we are no longer seeing birds, having “Bird” in the name of the clinic was no longer accurate.

Changing the name of a business sounds fairly simple. You just fill out the correct paperwork and send the fee to the state, and voila! But then you realize that there are countless details that must be addressed. New business cards, magnets and brochures. New signs and awnings. New website. Mass-mailings and phone calls to clients. Notifying our vendors. New email addresses. New on-hold recordings and voice mail messages. It was even a big procedure to change the clinic name in our practice management software.

Over the past month, all of that has fallen into place or is coming along, and we’re getting used to our new identity. As if that weren’t enough, we have other exciting things happening at Whole Health Veterinary as well!

Today, we are getting a new state-of-the-art digital x-ray system installed! Our antique x-ray machine had been on its last leg for a long time, but the process of selecting a system and making all the arrangements for purchase, installation and training kept the project on the back burner. This new system will provide much higher quality images in a shorter amount of time, and we’ll be able to copy images onto CD or email them to other veterinarians if needed.

Also, this week Dr. Cara White will be attending the 5th International Symposium on Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy in Veterinary Medicine. As a certified Veterinary Chiropractor, the information being presented at this conference with be extremely relevant and applicable in the care she provides our patients.

Later this month, Shari, one of our Veterinary Assistants, will be attending the two-day animal communication workshop presented by Carol Gurney, the creator of the HeartTalk ® program. Shari is already a Level II Healing Touch for Animals ™ practitioner, with amazing sensitivity to the physical and emotional state of animals. We know she will get a lot out of this training, enabling her to use her skills and intuition to an even greater extent in the treatment of your pets.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Dangers of Modern Drugs

(Contributed by Dr. Jessica Levy)

This past week I had an eye-opener, and not a friendly one. A commonly used drug in veterinary medicine, one that I had dispensed thousands of times over my 11-year career (so far), caused an unusual, life-threatening reaction in one of my patients.

This happens periodically in the practice of medicine. Not often, but when it does happen, it sure makes me sit up and take notice.

Now, granted, out of all the animals I've treated with this drug, one of them having a bad reaction is a very, very small fraction of a percentage. But it serves as a reminder to me that drugs, on the whole, are not safe.

This is the kind of thing that prompts me to continue to pursue natural alternatives to pharmaceuticals. Of course, I am aware that not everything labeled "natural" is safe, either.

What to do, in this dilemma, but to help my adversely affected patient as best I can, and proceed with extreme caution? This is not the only bad reaction I've seen recently, and certainly every day in practice I am called upon to treat a myriad of conditions that are the result of bad reactions to diet, vaccines, and conventional medical treatments.

For myself, it's a good thing I have an autodidactic nature, as there's nowhere to learn what to do or what can happen sometimes - except in the school of real life.

But what a way to learn, through the suffering of others. It is easy to forget that with all conventional drugs a certain amount of risk is considered "acceptable". What a bummer for my patients.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Over vaccination (why less is more)

(by Dr. Cara White)
I have not written a blog before so as they say ' there's never a good time like the present.' I was giving a talk to the Miniature Schnauzer Club last evening and when I brought up the topic of vaccines there seemed to be a lot of questions regarding what protocol is right for their pet. I know when clients come to see us they get a lot of information and handouts regarding diet and nutrition but we haven't put one together as of yet regarding the problems of over-vaccinating your pet.
By now most people are aware of the acute vaccine reactions that can occur in their pets such as swelling at the site of injection, loss of appetite, vomiting, lethargy or even anaphylaxis but there are many more reactions that can occur 1,2,3 or more months after getting a 'shot'.
In a study done by the Vaccine Research Group at Purdue University in 1997 they found that vaccines might trigger dogs immune systems to attack their own bodies potentially causing a number of diseases such as Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia or Thrombocytopenia (destruction of red blood cells or platelets), chronic active hepatitis (inflammation of liver), Systemic Lupus Erythamatosus (inflammation and destruction of tissues), thyroiditis and other organ destruction.
Vaccines also cause inflammation, not only at the injection site but throughout the body.This can lead to arthritis, exacerbation of allergies or potential inflammation of the nervous system and can lead to nerve paralysis.
So how do we avoid these side effects? Another study published by Purdue in 2005 did find a correlation between vaccine reactions and other variables such as age , size and number of vaccines given.

  • Smaller dogs are more prone to vaccine reactions than larger dogs
  • Risk of reactions increased by 27% per each additional vaccine given per office visit in dogs under 22 lbs, and by 12% in dogs over 22 lbs.
  • Risk increased for dogs up to 2 years old then declined after.
  • Risk increased for pregnant dogs or dogs in heat.
  • Also more reactions were found in small dogs given Leptospirosis vaccine.

In a 2007 Vaccine Forum presented by Dr. Alice Wolf and Dr. Richard Ford they included updated duration of immunity information for the most common vaccines which reads minimum duration of immunity for Distemper/ Parvovirus and Adenovirus (modified live vaccine) is 5-7+ years. Also the Rabies vaccines have a duration of immunity of 3+ years. There is absolutely NO BENEFIT to immunize an animal that already has immunity to a virus. This will not add extra protection to your pet, in fact this may compound the bad effects of vaccines.

In looking out for the overall health of your animal you should advocate for fewer vaccines over the life of your pet with decreasing or eliminating certain vaccines as your pet ages.

  • Puppies should ONLY receive 1 vaccine at each visit and monitored for any reactions afterwards.
  • DO NOT re-vaccinate any dog that has had a serious life threatening vaccine reaction.
  • Vaccinate ONLY when your dog is healthy and free of skin/ ear infections, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, fever, has had or is currently being treated for ANY immune mediated disease or cancer.
  • Talk to your vet about what vaccines are necessary and do ONLY the vaccines that are absolutely needed.
  • DO NOT patronize any boarding facility, groomer or training facility that requires you to vaccinate your pet more than it needs.
  • We recommend not giving dogs under 22lbs any more than 1 vaccine per visit.

Don't get me wrong, there are benefits to having your dog vaccinated against common viruses and Rabies, it is just not necessary to give these vaccines on a yearly basis. We as humans get our childhood immunizations then are essentially good for life, the same should be said for our dogs.

So I hope this helps make sense as to why we as holistic veterinarians wish to minimize the sad effects of over vaccination in our pets and to educate you in order to be an advocate for your own pets health.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

My Dogs Are Great. Please Help Me!

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)

On the upside, Brody and Darwin seem to have reached a truce, or at least a cease-fire, and I haven't had to check either of them for bloody puncture wounds in about three weeks. I'm still not sure if this is their doing, or if I'm just getting better at managing it. Either way, no Tasmanian-Devil-style go-rounds and lack of impending bodily harm equals "good."

Brody used to be my "problem barker." He's a Great Pyrenees, which is a livestock guardian breed, and in fact his parents are working livestock guardians on an Arabian horse farm in Illinois. His job, as he sees it, is to patrol the yard for extended periods of time, and bark at any person, dog, squirrel, cat, leaf, cloud, shadow, or invisible ninja he sees (or imagines). The good part, inasmuch as there is one, is that there are long periods of patrol and observation in between barking jags. He is selectively deaf when outside, and at this moment has been outside since 6:30 AM (and it is now 10:53 AM) and is currently barking in the general direction of a tree which may or may not contain a squirrel.

Amazingly, he is no longer the reigning Bark King of the immediate neighborhood. That honor now belongs to Darwin, the three year old rescued golden who joined our family on November 21. I've had six goldens, and none of them have been dedicated barkers. Sure, they'd bark once in a while (actually, Seko's bark was more like a whinny, which was comical coming from such a regal senior male golden), but none of them seemed to make a hobby of it.

I should have had a clue when, while visiting Darwin at his foster home, he barked for thirty solid minutes at the German Shepherd who was there with Foster Mom's brother. But hey, he was excited and really wanted to play. He did that when he came to our family, too, barking at Brody to get him to play... which was a big part of Brody's animosity toward him in the beginning. Apparently Darwin the Golden doesn't know how to bark in "Pyrish." He may have inadvertently barked something offensive, but I'm not sure because Ozark, who is a Pyr/Lab mix and presumably fluent in Pyrish and probably at least conversant in Goldenese, refuses to translate.

Outside, when Brody and Ozark were wrestling, Darwin would bounce and bark in an effort to get into the game. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. Which, I think, is when the problem began. We have a large yard, two acres in a subdivision that used to be in the middle of a corn field but is now bordering on Strip Mall Central. We are two houses off a two-lane county road with moderate traffic. The chain link fence between our yard and the neighbor between us and the road is now Darwin's personal racetrack. He has discovered the cars that pass by every couple of seconds, and has decided that if Brody and Ozark are too busy to play, the cars are an acceptable alternative. He runs the fence, barking maniacally at his new "friends," (or maybe they're enemies... he's not been forthcoming on the subject) and chases them away. But wait! There's another one! "BARKBARKBARKBARKBARK!!!!!!!!!! Ha! Chicken! Run away! Next!!! Coming from the other direction, huh? Thought you could sneak up on me? BARKBARKBARKBARKBARKBARK!" He's run the fence so much that the snow there is now compacted into a narrow, Darwin-width glacier, and in the spring I'm sure it will turn into a muddy trench.

I'm nearly immune to barking. At least big-dog barking. Little yappy-dog barking still gets on my nerves, but I don't have any little dogs, so that's not a big problem in my world. My stress and irritation come because I have always gone out of my way not to impose my dogs on others in the immediate vicinity who may not be as devoted to dogs as I am. So when he starts barking, my tension level begins to rise, worrying that someone in the house next door might be sleeping, nursing a hangover headache, or trying to do some other domestic task that would best be accomplished with some QUIET.

One option would be to shut the gate in the fence that surrounds our back door, deck, patio and pool, thus denying him (and out of necessity the other dogs) access to the rest of the big back yard. That puts another tall wooden privacy fence between him and his view of the road. The downside to this is that he would soon begin to make frequent trips (and potty stops) on the top of the snow-and-ice-covered in-ground pool cover. This is not a big issue right now, but much more problematic as it begins to thaw. Hauling a soaking, freezing dog out after he falls through slushy ice is Not Fun. And yes, I do know this first-hand. Plus, when spring arrives, much poop would have to be scooped and/or pumped off the pool cover turned canine septic tank. Also Not Fun. Even if it's not on the actual pool cover, a winter's worth of large dog droppings in the mulchy area around the pool is also undesirable (or so says my husband, who is the designated poop-scooper, mainly because it bothers him way more than it does me).

Let me be clear about two things. I will not, under any circumstances either de-bark my dog, or use a shock collar. I'd move us all to a remote Canadian outpost first.

Which still leaves me searching for a solution. Trekking down the Killer Steps of Death (currently covered in three inches of ice) in my floppy boots, dog-hair-covered sweat suit, and parka is something I don't tend to do a lot of in the depths of a Minnesota winter. This makes in-person corrections, rewards or distractions difficult.

So far, I'm considering duct tape, a moat (wait, he's a golden, he'd like that... plus it would be frozen, and therefore not a moat but a slippery road running parallel to the highway, so maybe
I should just get him ice skates), super glue, a paintball gun (that was my husband Tom's idea), a helper monkey (also Tom's idea, but he really just wants a monkey), or perhaps a scud missile. We talked about those ultrasonic things you mount on the fence, that make an "unpleasant to dogs" sound when something loud happens near them, but he'd never hear the "unpleasant to dogs" sound over his own bark. A citronella collar sounds like a good possibility. At least he'd smell all herbally. The helper monkey would probably enjoy that. Wonder what frozen citronella is like around a dog's neck/chin, though.

I've always been a dog-person, managing multi-dog packs successfully. Given time, I usually work out any behavior issues we encounter, but this one has me stumped at the moment. Every time I yell at Darwin, Ozark (all 110 pounds of him) gets nervous and flings himself under the end table, where he really does not fit, considering all the junk I have stuffed under there. 14-year-old Sprocket is kind of deaf, making him the luckiest one here, as he is largely immune to both the barking and the yelling.

If any of you have suggestions, I'd love to hear them! Provided I haven't been barked deaf. So you'd better hurry. In the meantime, I will be learning to read lips so I can communicate with the Realtor who will sell me my remote Canadian outpost.

Monday, January 7, 2008

I Cry At Dog Shows

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)

I admit it. I cry at dog shows.

Part of this is me just being sappy. I so totally and deeply adore dogs, and seeing so many wonderful, cheerful, well cared-for dogs makes me happy right to the center of my being.

While I might be sentimental when it comes to dogs, I’m not completely na├»ve. I know that there are some dogs at these events that are of more financial than emotional concern to their owners. I know some of these dogs travel extensively with their professional handlers and may seldom see their actual “owners.” (Not that the handlers don’t love and take great care of these dogs… they do, or they wouldn’t be making a successful living as a handler) These are, thankfully, the exceptions. In general, there are caring owners present handling, or at least cheering on, their much-loved canine companions.

We don’t advocate prolific breeding of purebred dogs, but the majority of the owners at big shows like the Land O’Lakes Kennel Club Dog Show that we attended over the weekend are at least trying to do things responsibly. This means doing something with their dogs to make sure they are good, healthy representatives of their breed, including comparing them to other dogs, doing appropriate health testing, and following a carefully planned (and not too frequent) breeding program. They are careful where they place their “pet quality” dogs, and follow up often with the families who have their dogs. The people who regularly show their dogs pay close attention to diet, exercise, grooming and socialization. These dogs work with their people every single day, which is the most important thing to the dogs. Many “show” dogs are anything but spoiled, pampered, foo-foo pseudo-dogs. They often have obedience, agility, field, tracking or other work-related accomplishments.

My favorite part of these large shows, however, is the obedience competition. Back in 1995-1996, I competed in AKC Obedience with my first golden retriever, Ripley. From the time he was four months old, we trained every single day (except when he had to take a break at six months old for hip surgery) and never missed our weekly training class. Ripley and I had an incredible unspoken bond. I was a rookie handler, he was an untitled dog, and while we never took high score, we did qualify every time we competed, and earned his Companion Dog title. He would have gone on for more advanced titles… if I’d asked him to. But I knew my boy, and he was doing it because it was important to me; he didn’t really enjoy it that much, so we “retired.” You can tell, watching the more advanced Open and Utility level obedience that those dogs love what they’re doing, and the working relationship between dog and handler is amazing.

I watched a woman and her red golden retriever in Novice A, which is the rookie/rookie level that I was in with my Ripley. I sat there with tears in my eyes the whole time they were in the ring. The handler was so nervous, and I could completely relate! Before they entered the ring, he sat by her side and she was fondling his ears in exactly the same way I used to with Ripley. The dog was happy, and trying hard, but they were both too inexperienced to give a perfect performance. He lagged when he should be heeling, his “sit” was slow and crooked, and he often got distracted. Still, the joy they got from working this way together was obvious, and I was reminded of the fun I had with Ripley. Now I am thinking I need to get back into obedience with one of my dogs. Three year old Darwin? He’s a golden, and bright, and would likely take to it very well. 2 ½ year old Brody is a smart boy, too, but he’s a Great Pyrenees, and might have other things he’d rather do! 8 year old Ozark is a mixed breed, but I bet he’d still enjoy going to classes and training with me at home, even if he can’t go to competitions.

So that’s something for me to think about as spring (hopefully) approaches. My dogs are with me constantly when I’m at home, all four of them following me from room to room and setting up camp wherever I am, but actually doing something with them again would only enhance our bond.

The other part about dog shows is… shopping! I always buy way, way too much stuff that I simply can’t live without! This weekend I bought a denim jacket (with golden retrievers embroidered on it), a dog tapestry purse, a silver paw print necklace, and a tiara. Don’t ask about the tiara!