We’ve already had several days of 100-degree temperatures (38°C for you civilized countries) here this season, even though “summer” doesn’t start for a month. Yet every year I see dogs chained in yards with no shade or water, or left in cars (even if the windows are “cracked,” i.e. rolled down an inch or two, it can get lethal in there). Some cities, like Austin, Texas, have banned outdoor chaining altogether, which is great except that if you don’t have a fenced-in yard, that’s a problem. Putting up a fence is expensive, too, and dogs can dig under them unless you install them right. But I’ve heard of dogs digging holes in the yard to lay in just to try to stay cooler. St. Louis, Missouri, where I live, enacted a new ordinance last year that says that if a dog is to be tied out in the yard, the lead has to be at least fifteen feet long and there has to be fresh water within reach. Some people in low-income neighborhoods around here just let their unaltered dogs roam loose, which is possibly even worse in terms of feral population explosions.
An ex-housemate of mine has a very nice dog who has a reasonably large fenced-in yard, but the dog is obese because he never gets any exercise. He lays on the back porch all day with no toys or human interaction, he never gets walked, and he sleeps in his “master’s” room at night. Other dogs are chained to a tree with no swivels on the ends of the chain, and sometimes the chain is way too heavy for the animal, who has to drag it around. Even with swivels, the dog can wrap itself around the tree or post, or jump over a low-lying branch or fence and choke to death. No food, no water, no shelter, hot weather or cold, sometimes outside all day and all night, and the dog whines and barks for attention, causing neighbors to complain or yell from next door. It’s not the dog’s damn fault. It’s the people who should have to have a license.
Others put their dog in one of those wire crates outside, just big enough to turn around in and maybe for a bowl. Not nearly good enough. I’ve seen large prefabricated wire or chain-link shelters, maybe ten by twenty feet, that give a dog room, with a partial floor and room to walk on grass. There are “dogloos,” insulated plastic igloos with a heavy plastic entry flap, for outdoor shelter in wintertime. I suggested to a friend the other day that a dog she’s concerned about, tied outdoors, belonging to a priest, of all people, that the guy at least fill up a plastic “kiddie pool” with water and erect a cheap awning for shade, the kind you might use for a picnic. I don’t think I’ve ever read that idea before, I just came up with it, but it’s sure better than nothing. There are all kinds of solutions if you’re creative.
We domesticated each other, doggies and humanoids. We owe it to our best friends to be nice to them, and realize that they aren’t just “props,” they’re family members who need attention, care, comfort, and love. A pat on the head once in a while is not nearly enough. Abuse by neglect can even be worse than active abuse. A lot of these people have kids, too, and I have to wonder what their lives are like. And as far as “care” goes, that includes veterinary, including spay/neuter, checkups, and most importantly for dogs, heartworm medication. It appalls me how many people don’t bother with it. I adopted a stray many years ago that I found on the street: he had frostbitten feet with permanent damage, his underside was perforated all over from jumping over a barbed-wire fence to escape whatever hellhole he’d been stuck in, and he had such an advanced case of heartworms that after months of trying to get him back into shape, I had to put him on the “magic elevator.” RIP, Carnahan, you were a great friend who never complained about the pain you were in that unfeeling idiots inflicted on you.
And it’s so simple to deal with the heartworm issue! When I rescued my later dog Jake, as a puppy, from some gang members, I did what one is supposed to. You must NEVER just start giving a dog the pills, it is IMPERATIVE that you have a blood test done first. It’s cheap and you get the results while you wait. If the doggie is positive, they have to treat it themselves over a certain period. If it’s negative, you just get a prescription for a preventative and administer it yourself. I got Heartgard, which is basically just a medicated chewy treat you give your dog once a month. It came with little red heart-shaped stickers, so that every calendar month, when I gave Jake his treat, I’d put the sticker in the box for that month. Easy, right? And it was cheap enough.
Some fools think that since heartworms are spread by mosquito bites, they can take their dogs off the meds during the winter. Wrong. Skeeters can live all year in certain warm moist environments like septic or water tanks, and still spread the disease. Do you love your doggie? Are you willing to walk it to keep it exercised? Are you willing to keep it healthy, well-fed and watered, warm in winter and cool in summer? If not, don’t get one in the first place, because you don’t deserve him or her, and those of us who give a damn will do our best to rescue it from you.
It’s Memorial Day, and let’s also honor all the K-9 military dogs and search-and-rescue dogs and the dogs that sniff out hazardous chemicals or fire accelerants for us, since their noses are better than any electronic “sniffers” that we can invent so far. Many of the dogs who found victims after the World Trade Center disaster died from exposure to asbestos, silica, and various toxins in the dust. They deserve our recognition and lots more appreciation than we’re used to giving. Woof!