My best friend is getting old. It’s been coming on for a while, but this cold weather is confirming this reality like never before. In my heart he’s still a puppy… despite the pills he takes for a heart murmur, and the extra hours he now requires for resting. There are times when I can forget…. when he still goes nuts in the backyard; chases rabbits; catching the occasional bird. A few months back while we were down in the basement, he dragged a garbage bag of insulation from a crawl space. Working on something with my back to him, I didn’t notice right away. I was alerted to the danger when I heard the sound of a beagle rump repeatedly smacking into the dryer. My horror was a living and breathing thing as I turned to see him joyfully shredding the dangerous material….. happily flinging it into the air. (I got it all out of his mouth… freaked out…. called the vet…. but in the end, everything was OK.) I’d thought one of the advantages to having an older dog is that we wouldn’t have to worry about these puppy-antics-inspired dangers anymore. But with Ichabod? Not so.
Over the last few weeks it’s gotten very cold outside, and I’ve been cautious in allowing Ichabod’s favorite activity…going outside 15,000 times per day. I’ve thought of how he’s nearly 12 years old now and wondered whether his stamina was enough to allow for extended backyard adventures. And while I wonder…. I remember…..
Ichabod was born in the spring of 2004. I was in my mid-twenties at the time, but found myself having to move back in with my parents. Luckily they allowed me to bring my new puppy without raising a single objection, though to be sure, he was a handful…. Like that time he started a fire, and that other time that he ate part of the couch, or how he regularly ate my sister’s possessions, which I constantly had to replace, even though i was trying to save money. I could go on and on…. (sigh!)
The winter of 2004-2005 was particularly harsh, and right before Christmas, a winter storm dropped a couple of feet of snow on us. This was Ichabod’s first winter, and to say he was delighted by the white fluffy stuff would be an understatement. My parents had an entire pack of pomeranians, the oldest of which, Missy, was nearly 14. She was frail, nearly deaf and blind, and couldn’t stay outside for more than a few minutes at a stretch. Late one night during this painfully-snowy period, Ichabod wanted to go outside. The temperature was well below freezing, and the wind was ferocious. Resignedly, I opened the door for him, and grimaced as Missy hopped up from her dog bed and trotted out the door. Understanding I’d have to carefully monitor the situation, I closed the door against the swirling cold, and watched from the window.
By the floodlight illuminating the yard, I watched Ichabod prance happily back and forth. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Missy, however, did something confounding. She didn’t pause just beyond the porch to do her business and return to the house, as I’d been hoping. Instead, she marched determinedly to the very end of the yard, and just stopped, staring into the white oblivion. When she didn’t move, I think I uttered an expletive to myself just before I yanked the door open, feeling the stab of cold on my face and screamed, “MISSY!!!!!” before slamming the door closed, once again, and returning to the window.
No movement. No acknowledgement that she’d heard me at all. After a few more unsuccessful attempts, I couldn’t put it off any longer: I’d have to go after her.
I pulled on my winter coat and boots, (a nice complement to my shorts) and steeled myself for the frosty rescue mission. The moment my feet hit the frozen snow, Ichabod was ecstatic. Thinking I’d come outside to play with him, he tried to get his favorite game going: Chase. He feinted left, he feinted right and crouched down, tail wagging, eying me over his paws.
“Ichabod, I didn’t come out to play,” I said, smiling at his cuteness.
His eyes seemed to say, “I don’t believe you!” as he looked around the yard for something, anything to grab hold of. (This was his favorite game… grab something, take off running, and have me chase after him.) Unfortunately for him, all of his toys were frozen under two feet of snow, but he improvised. As his gaze landed on something, I could see the light of triumph on his face. “Surely not,” I thought in horror, even as he lunged for it. Yes, the title was a spoiler alert…. the object he settled on, believing that I would chase him and try to take it from him was, in fact, frozen dog poo!
“ICHABOD!” I shouted in disbelief as he happily threw the thing in the air, caught it in his teeth, and trotted around with an air of intense pride. “DROP IT! YUCK!”
A moment later, he realized I had no intention of playing a game of poop-catch with him, and he began looking sad. As much as I hated feeling responsible for his sadness, I just couldn’t indulge him. All this time, Missy had not moved from her perch at the edge of the yard, staring into the bleak night for reasons only she knew. I rushed to her and pulled her shivering body into my coat, asking, her, “What the heck, Missy?”
She didn’t answer.
The three of us returned to the house, and it was at least three days before I would accept beagle kisses.
All of that was just over 11 years ago. Missy is long gone, and Ichabod’s once brown face has turned snowy white. Though more than a decade has passed, and marriage (for me, not Ichabod), another dog, and the birth of a human little brother (for Ichabod, not me) separate that time from now, it seems to have sped by in a relentless dizzying blur.
Today is a cold and snowy day. I peaked out to check on Ichabod, and saw him sitting on the cold hard ground, staring at nothing. And I thought back to that night. All too soon that carefree pup became the old man. Though it all seems to go by too fast, I’m grateful for the time that I have.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
1 Corinthians 13:1
Planned Parenthood. Cecil the Lion. Two of the most explosive revelations to hit the news this past July. And, for good reason, we’re still talking about them. People need to know what is happening to our discarded babies; not only are they denied the love and protection of their mothers….they are regarded as little more than frogs dissected in biology labs, (although truth be told…. I have a problem with that, too.)
And then there’s Cecil the Lion. I admit I’m biased. I’m an animal lover, and the concept of killing a creature simply for the thrill of it offends me, deeply. I remain haunted by photos I’ve seen…. a woman smiling next to the bloody giraffe she’d just slaughtered…
Any snake photos are from the internet… We didn’t take the time to photograph our visitor….
Steve and I have lived in our house for eight years. I’ve made references before to the odd nature of our neighborhood; what with our suburban subdivision butting up against the country, and some of our adventures that stemmed from these two worlds colliding. But yesterday…. things got a little too real.
On this fateful evening, I had plans to go out with some girlfriends while Steve and Carter worked in the yard. Though Carter loves ‘working’ in the yard, and has an entire array of his own toy implements, he was a little upset that I was going somewhere without him and kept asking if he could come. In an effort to distract him, I reminded him that we’d not checked on our pumpkins, (we’d planted seeds nearly a week ago and have been searching for sprouts every day since) and suggested we head out to the front garden. Agreeing, he headed out the garage door with Steve while I poured some water and headed out behind them.
Less than 30 seconds after Steve and Carter were out the door, I had joined them. My eyes told me right away that we had a problem, but it seemed that the two were oblivious; Steve stood staring into the garden while Carter pretended to weed eat….. LESS THAN 10 FEET AWAY FROM A LARGE SNAKE!
I had trouble processing it. Though Steve is not known for practical jokes, my first instinct was that he’d found a rubber snake somewhere and thrown it in the yard to scare me… nothing else made sense… they were so close to it, I couldn’t understand how they’d not seen it. Joke or not, I couldn’t stop the sharp intake of breath. When Steve looked at me curiously, I merely pointed to the snake. When he jumped five feet, I had confirmation that it was no joke. The snake began slithering and hissing.
I shouted for Carter just as Steve asked me to get Carter away and to bring him the shovel. Scooping Carter into my arms, I ran to the garage and retrieved the shovel, quickly passing it to Steve. He stood there, shovel in hand, watching the snake. We were both at a loss for what to do next. At that moment one of our neighbors and his teenage son arrived home, and Steve shouted for them to come over. When the dad learned that we had a large snake (my estimate was 4 feet; Steve’s is 3…. to be fair, he got much closer to the creature than I did) he said he wasn’t coming over, but his son enthusiastically joined us.
“It’s a rat snake,” he said. “Don’t hurt it! It’s not going to hurt you, it’s probably just passing through… he’s scared.”
Even as the boy talked, the snake inched closer and closer to our house, climbing the garden pavers and slithering through our would-be pumpkin patch. Once again he said, “Don’t hurt him, he’s more scared of you than you are of him. If I had an aquarium, I’d take him home.” At this, his dad began shouting protests…. from a safe distance, of course.
As the snake squeezed through a gap in the pavers leading to the side of our house, Steve had a brain wave. As he followed the snake, he asked me to go get our next door neighbor, a police officer who’d told us many stories of responding to 911 calls and removing snakes and other unwanted reptiles from houses. Recalling that they’d jackhammered their front walkway that morning, I returned to the garage to shove my bare feet into shoes before rushing next door, wading through the rubble, climbing their (currently) stepless porch and ringing the bell.
I returned to find the snake heading for our backyard with Steve right behind it. The snake stopped, raised it’s head, turning to look at Steve.
“There was no answer….” I began, letting my words hang in the air.
Nodding, Steve asked, “Should I kill it?”
I was torn. On one hand I don’t like the thought of killing animals, even a snake, (though it would be different if it were poisonous or if it were threatening us in some way.) On the other hand, IT WAS A SNAKE! “I don’t know,” I responded.
Lowering it’s head, the snake continued determinedly towards our backyard. “If it goes into the backyard, I’ll have to kill it. I don’t want it getting into that stuff under the porch.” Steve was saying these words as the snake passed through the fence into the yard. We keep our fence locked, and Steve searched his pockets for his keys, coming up with nothing and finally leaping the fence. With Carter still on my hip, I ran for the garage. We have a door with a window looking into our backyard, and I believed this would be a safe place to see what came next. Seeing nothing, I ran back to the fence. “What’s going on?” I shouted.
“He’s heading past the burn pit,” he called back.
I had no idea snakes could move so fast, but knowing I could see the burn pit from the garage, we headed back. By this time Steve and the snake were on the other side of the yard. Once again I ran from the garage, this time appearing on the side of the house closest to where they now stood. Once again Steve asked me, “Should I kill it?”
Again, I couldn’t commit to an answer. “I don’t know.”
As we had this conversation, the choice was taken from our hands as the snake disappeared under the privacy fence. I ran to the neighbor’s fence and watched for the snake to appear on the other side. He didn’t. I returned to Steve. We decided it was time to unleash the secret weapon to scare the snake away once and for all… the wild….the crazy…the one-and-only ICHABOD!
I rushed into the house, shouting, “ICHABOD!!! SNAKE!!! GO!!!” as I wrenched open the backdoor releasing him into the yard. Mildly interested he took to the back porch, casually sniffed the air, then stopped for a cold drink from his water bowl on the back steps. Shaking my head in disbelief I recalled the times Ichabod would lose his mind over hearing the siding rustling in the wind; and now I wanted him to unleash the crazy to scare a snake and he couldn’t be bothered.
Refusing to give up, I jogged down the steps and stood by Steve at the fenceline. Ichabod trotted behind me, before making a sudden turn and heading towards the bird feeder. Exasperated, I once again shouted, “Ichabod!”
Seeming mildly annoyed, he reluctantly joined us, giving the air a few half-hearted sniffs.
“Did you touch the snake with the shovel?” I asked. When Steve nodded I added, “Hold it out to him.” Sniffing the shovel, Ichabod must have found something compelling enough to lead him to also sniff the fence where the snake had disappeared…. but that was it. No howling, bellowing or crying…. no frenzied digging away at the fence…. after a few placating snuffles, he simply walked away and returned to the bird feeder.
What in the world?
Things calmed down after that. I ran inside to grab my phone and ask google some questions about rat snakes. I learned that though they aren’t generally considered a threat to people, they will bite if they feel cornered. Also, they are great climbers and frequently get into houses. (Ick!) When I read that farmers love them because they keep rodent populations under control  I experienced a pang. I stopped reading and said, “You know I’ve always wanted to live in the country and have goats and donkeys…. this makes me think I’m not cut out for it.”
“We’d have to get you a pistol,” Steve said. I didn’t respond, but the situation would have to be pretty dire before I’d try to shoot a snake.
Soon the neighbor we’d tried to get for help appeared outside. It seems he’d been asleep when I knocked (he sometimes works nights) and hadn’t heard. He was very matter-of-fact about the whole thing, having removed so many snakes from houses while at work. “Rat snakes are no big deal…. now pythons on the other hand…..” he went on, telling us of an emergency call he’d received after someone had released their pet into the wild…. or so they thought.
Believing our snake adventure to be over, Steve and Carter returned to working on the lawn as I headed inside to get ready to meet my friends. A few minutes later, as I stood trying to decide what to wear, I heard the garage door yanked open followed by “NIC!!!!” then a slam.
“Yeah?” I hollered back…
The sound of the door being pulled open came again, also with “NIC!!! GET DOWN HERE!!!”
I started to panic, fearing that Carter had been hurt somehow. I was in the process of getting dressed when the call came, and was suddenly frozen with horror.
“WHAT’S GOING ON?” I shouted back.
“NIC, GET DOWN HERE!!!”
Finally I came clean: “I’M NOT DRESSED…. WHAT IS IT?”
“GET DOWN HERE!!!”
Finally understanding that was all I would be getting in the way of an explanation, I grabbed for the first pair of shorts I could lay hands to…. but they weren’t the best choice. They are over a decade old and coming apart… but they are my favorites and I can’t part with them…. but as I ran down the steps while trying to put on the shorts at the same time, my foot got caught in one of the holes and I nearly toppled down the steps. It was a miracle I managed to avoid a front roll!
“WHAT?” I shouted, as I entered the kitchen.
Still standing in the garage, Steve shoved Carter in towards me while saying, “The snake is back.”
Relief flooded me as I registered that Carter was fine. “OK.” I said, pulling Carter towards me.
“Go out the front door and get (here Steve said our policeman neighbor’s name. For his privacy, I’m leaving it out.)
Nodding, I pulled Carter up into my arms and headed for the front door. Once on our front path, I remembered the busted up walkway. I turned towards the garage to grab a pair of shoes…. if I’d been thinking clearly, I would have registered that it was odd for Steve to ask me to go out the front door, we almost never open it and exclusively use the garage… but I wasn’t thinking. As I entered the garage, Steve began shouting at me to leave the garage. Startled, I froze as he continued yelling, GET OUT!!! GET OUT!!!” Then he pointed to my left, and I looked over to see the snake under Carter’s wagon…. about a yard away from my bare feet!
Screaming at the top of my lungs I ran from the garage, just as another neighbor, the one with the teenage son, came to investigate the screams. “CAN YOU RING THEIR DOORBELL?” I asked, pointing to the police officer’s house. “Their walkway is all torn up and my shoes are in the garage with the snake.”
He didn’t say anything. He stood, frozen, staring at me as I stared at him. Steve, standing right next to the snake shouted, “SOMEBODY GET HIM OR I’LL HAVE TO KILL THE SNAKE!”
Since this man was still frozen to the spot, I kept heading towards the neighbor’s house, deciding to go into their open garage and knock on the door leading into the house. Behind me, I heard the neighbor shouting, “I’LL SHOOT THE SNAKE FOR YOU, BUT I DON’T WANT TO GET NEAR IT!”
Rushing into the garage, I pounded on the door, before my neighbor glanced out.
“I’m sorry to come into your garage, but the snake is in ours, and Steve wanted me to see if you could come help him.”
“Oh, sure,” he said casually, grabbing a pair of gloves before heading past me towards our house.
Keeping my distance, I watched as he reached down, picking up the snake, all while the other neighbor kept repeating, “I’ll shoot the snake… but I don’t want to get near it.”
Straightening with the serpent clutched in both gloved hands, he said, “This guy is strong.” Then he headed between our houses and towards the woods, with Steve walking with him.
When they’d disappeared behind the house, I returned to the garage to look out the back window, watching as they headed into the woods to release the snake. As though in a stupor, the other neighbor continued to repeat, “I’ll shoot it for you…. but I don’t want to touch it.”
“What are you talking about?” I quipped. “Your boy said he wanted this thing for his room…. you’ve had time to make it to PetSmart and back with an aquarium by now!”
“Yeah, right,” he said. Apparently the spell had been broken.
In a moment Steve and our neighbor returned. We both thanked him for getting rid of it for us because neither of us wanted Steve to kill the snake. And now everything is back to normal…. or is it? I know it will be a long time before I go anywhere around here, either the garage or the yard, without my radar on.
I still can’t explain Ichabod’s lack of outrage. For a while now he’s been behaving a bit strangely in the backyard; walking and sniffing the fence around the bird feeder and the privacy fence…. seeming interested, but not crazed, though he’s wanted to go out more and more frequently. The other day I posted a picture of him on facebook with the question: “Do you ever look at your dog and think ‘this guy has secrets?’” I’m starting to wonder if Ichabod’s secret is that he has a snake-friend. That would be so very un-beagle-like…..
It’s not as simple as I would have believed to transition to a cruelty-free household. There are just so many companies and so many products that conduct animal testing…. things you’d never think about….such as garbage bags and ink pens. When I first resolved to stop supporting products tested on animals, then looked at the seemingly endless changes we would have to make, I quickly became overwhelmed. I’m going to begin sharing my journey with some practical tips I learned:
Buyer-Beware…. Do your homework before you buy…. (I’ve messed this up a few times.) There are some famous brands out there touted as ‘cruelty-free’ that are actually owned by larger non-cruelty free companies, such as Tom’s of Maine or Burt’s Bees, or Bare Minerals. There are a couple different schools of thought on this. Here is a quote from the popular beauty and fashion blog mybeautybunny.com:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping things that creeps on the earth.”
Genesis 1:26 ESV
“Good people are good to their animals; the ‘good hearted’ bad people kick and abuse them.”
Proverbs 12:10 MSG
Sometimes when you are a writer, there comes a day when you pour yourself into a writing project; and when you are finished, you read through it hoping that the passion you feel comes across in the words you’ve crafted…. but you have to be honest with yourself…. what you’ve just put hours into creating is just utter crap. That is where this story is born…. in the ashes of one that came before it (but one you will never see). The problem is that I tried to articulate way too much in one small space, and what I was saying was heavy on emotion and light on facts. I am a person who feels things deeply, but I don’t believe everything I’m told. When I hear something or read something across my Facebook newsfeed that tugs at my heartstrings, my first thought is, “Is this actually true?” Then I find out. Though I’d read and cross-checked facts and knew what I’d written to be true, I’d not put any of the concrete information into the text, and the result was the exact type of sappy-sentiment that I find easy to doubt when I read it elsewhere….and since this is important to me, I knew I had to do something about it. I had to go “old-school-research-paper” style. I haven’t bothered with sources and footnotes in over a decade now, so it’s sort of a novelty.
I love animals….. I always have. As I write this, my beagle Ichabod is 11, and he’s been my constant companion and best friend since he was six weeks old. One day while he was still a teeny-tiny pup, I recall jabbering on about him to a co-worker; I couldn’t help myself…. to me, everything he did was sheer puppy-magic. I’m sure my co-worker meant well and all, (or perhaps he was trying to shut me up,) but as I gushed about my sweet baby beagle, he sort of flatlined the conversation by saying, “You know they primarily use beagles in lab testing, right? It’s sad.”
I made some sort of “Oh, no, I didn’t know that” type of response, and changed the subject. I didn’t want to think about it. That was the way I handled the unpleasant side of life while in my twenties…. if it felt as though the problem was too big, or that it would be impossible for me to make any sort of impact… I chose not to think about it. Though I made a conscious effort to learn as little about it as possible about animal testing, deep down, I never forgot what that guy said to me that day.
The years passed. I grew up. I changed. I began to see that ignoring things I believed to be wrong simply because they made me sad, or I couldn’t envision making an impact was both childish and selfish….not to mention soul-crushing. This inner-shift in me coincided with the dawn of the age of Facebook, and suddenly, the cold hard realities of life became harder to ignore. (If you’ve ever had your day ruined because you were innocently scrolling through your phone when, without warning, you find yourself looking at a photo of someone strangling a Pitbull or electrocuting puppies to make coats, you know what I mean.) It was inevitable that it would happen. One day as I scrolled I came across a suggested post for an organization called “The Beagle Freedom Project”. As I gazed at the photo of a hound dog, (not so different from my old hound dog snoring on the couch) next to the words, “I shouldn’t have to die for your laundry detergent”, I realized the age of denial had come to an end. It was time to learn what this was all about….. and what I could do about it.
Because I feel things so deeply, and have a soft spot for animals, researching this topic was extremely difficult. I began by looking into the suggested post organization, “The Beagle Freedom Project.” Though I quickly became overwhelmed by the plight of the lab animals, I gained an immense respect for the work done by the rescue; they were everywhere trying to make lasting changes… introducing legislation, educating the public, asking for the release of animals once companies are done testing on them (usually they are killed), and placing the rescues with fosters before finding forever homes for them, as well as promoting cruelty-free products.
After reading the facts, and considering my own pampered hound dogs, I couldn’t justify my mindless consumerism… How could I love and protect these dogs while thoughtlessly supporting companies that kept similar animals caged up; subjecting them to torturous experiments, clipping their vocal cords if they found their cries annoying, denying them fresh air, love, or even the dignity of a name (their ears are tattooed with numbers)…. all for the sake of making money.
Here some of you are probably thinking, “It’s not just about making money…. these experiments keep us safe.” But are they really? Would it surprise you to know that 106,000 people die every year from drugs tested safe on animals? 
I don’t pretend to be a scientist….but I like to believe that I have some common sense. As I was researching this project, one evening I felt sickened while looking at a photograph of a lab monkey…. the poor creature had the top of his skull removed and had wires attached to what was left. I decided I’d seen enough for one evening and went to talk to Steve. With that thought still fresh in my mind I said, “I don’t know how people can do that. How they can be so barbaric to animals…. then simply go home and go about their lives.”
“I guess it takes all kinds,” he began. Until he went on, I didn’t understand that he was disagreeing with me. “I guess they figure for all the good they do that it’s worth it.”
Unsure what good could come from a monkey with part of it’s head removed, but not wanting to be closed-minded, I invited him to go on. But he didn’t really have a point…. just assuming that since it was a common practice that there must be a good reason he said, “They do learn stuff that helps us.”
“So you believe that what is safe for them is safe for us?” I asked.
“Yeah, there must be a reason they do it.”
“OK,” I began. “We’ve seen what Ichabod gets up to in the backyard…. so I’m assuming that it is safe for a beagle to eat dog poop. From what you are saying, that means you believe it must be safe for us as well…. would you like to do a little ‘human testing’ on that theory?”
This was a low blow, and I knew it. Steve has a vivid imagination and a sensitive gag reflex. He stared at me, betrayal shining in his eyes and said, “On taco night? How could you?” But I’d made my point. I include this story not to make my husband sound bad… or to make myself sound like a know-it-all, (though to be honest, I believe I would have been fabulous if I’d done debate team in high school) but I mention it in order to clarify something: Steve is a smart guy…. but when we don’t use our intelligence to investigate troubling realities…. those realities remain troubling… and unchanged.
I think my admission to my dog poop argument confirms what I said earlier…. I’m not a scientist. But I can read (and sort of understand) science written by those much smarter than me. When I began delving into this world, I was mostly concerned with the consumer-products side of animal testing. I was surprised to learn that even in relation to medical research, animal testing is largely antiquated and irrelevant. Here are a few credible arguments I’ve found against the necessity of animal testing:
“While the public supports the idea of animal testing because they believe it necessary to find cures for human diseases, about two thirds or higher of all animal research has little or nothing to do with curing human diseases or advancing human medicine. The majority of animal testing is done on cosmetics and household cleaners for the purpose of protecting corporations from liability.
Even research that purports to advance human treatment of diseases has been shown to be irrelevant to human health. Animals behave differently than humans, so much of the results end up being inaccurate, inconclusive, or unreliable. The Food & Drug Administration recently reported that of all the drugs that tested safe and effective in animal testing, 92 percent are found to be either unsafe or ineffective in humans.” 
“The public often consider it [self-evident] that animal research has contributed to the treatment of human disease, yet little evidence is available to support this view… Despite the lack of systematic evidence for its effectiveness, basic animal research in the United Kingdom receives much more funding than clinical research.” 
As I’ve said, I am an emotional person, and now that I’ve presented some hard facts, I’m going to hit the ‘heart’ side of animal testing. I was especially moved by Barney’s story found on the Beagle Freedom Project’s website:
I’m sad to say that Barney didn’t make it. After a lifetime of being used and discarded by people, he made it to his forever home; a home filled with love…. but sadly, the ‘forever’ didn’t last very long.
Looking into animal testing has raised so many questions for me concerning our ‘legitimate’ economy. I’ve come to question everything from the food we eat, to the clothes we wear and even the toys my son plays with…. but those are stories for another day. I will add, however, that I’ve come to the conclusion that we ‘look the other way’ a lot when it comes to morals and money, but at what ultimate cost?
I’ve had well-meaning Christians tell me to my face that they didn’t think this animal stuff was all that important…. that there were other things to be more concerned about. In a way they are right… there are many things wrong in our society, and it’s not just limited to the way we exploit animals. But I disagree in that I DO believe that God cares about the plight of these animals. He’s made it clear through His word that we people are responsible for the animals he so lovingly created, and we are meant to treat them with kindness. Further, He’s put it on my heart to speak up for them, and to live what I believe. (Next I plan to write about my journey towards cruelty-free living. Our household is not totally cruelty-free yet, but we are in process. I would like to throw special shout outs here to my husband Steve, for converting without complaint to recycled toilet paper, and my sister Amanda who was with me on two separate hot and sweaty days when my cruelty-free deodorant failed me completely.)
The way we treat animals matters. As I come to the close (for now) I ask that you watch this video. As you watch this, ask yourself…. “Is there anything that I buy…. make-up, cleaning products… anything that is worth this price?”
If you answered “Yes,” then I have another question. Do you honestly believe that a company who is willing to do this in order to make money is all that concerned with your health and safety, and that of your family?
“…many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.”
When Rowling spoke of imagining our way into….. and therefore sympathizing with…..the suffering of others, she was speaking of human suffering…. but her words are quite apt here as well. Whatever we may turn out to be…. let’s not be as those she so wisely warns us about.
Pandora Pound, Shah Ebrahim, Peter Sandercock, Michael B Bracken, Ian Roberts; “Where is the evidence that animal research benefits humans?” British Medical Journal, 2004; 328:514-517, http://www.bmj.com/content/328/7438/514
During the autumn of 2009, right before Lucy came to live with us, I took 5 years old Ichabod to the vet for his annual visit. After the exam had been completed, I asked the vet whether it was time to schedule Ichabod for a dental cleaning. In response to my query, Dr. Rich pulled Ichabod’s lips apart and surveyed his teeth before pronouncing the surgery unnecessary.
“These are dirty teeth, but not bad teeth,” he explained. I was more than happy to go along with his recommendation.
Four months later we adopted Lucy – a formerly homeless basset hound. Though the rescue organization assured us that Lucy was a maximum of two years old, it was clear that those two years had been hard ones. She’d come to the rescue as a stray….terribly sick with kennel cough, painfully skinny with the look of a mother whose milk had recently dried up. In addition to these challenges, Lucy had horrible teeth. As the rescue worker pulled back her mouth to show us, she explained that it was rare for such a young dog to have so much tartar and damage.
“You’re going to need to have her checked out by your vet right away, and schedule a dental cleaning,” she ordered.
Though we promptly followed the first recommendation, making an appointment to visit our family’s vet, we put off the cleaning for a few months. By the time I scheduled the procedure for Lucy, nearly 7 months had passed since I originally inquired about Ichabod’s teeth, and I decided to go ahead and have both animals taken care of at the same time.
In April, 2010 on the morning of the surgery, I couldn’t help but fret. In the short months that Lucy had been part of our family, she’d suffered extreme anxiety at any separation. I dreaded taking her to the vet and dropping her off; fearing she would see this as just another abandonment. But for her own good, it had to be done.
As it turns out, I wasn’t wrong to be concerned about Lucy. By all accounts, she was a maniac the entire time. I was told that once she regained consciousness, she barked incessantly. Eventually the vet techs took their breaks so they could hold her and keep her somewhat appeased. I wasn’t surprised by this. Early in the afternoon, however, I received a shocking and upsetting phone call. There’d been a serious problem with Ichabod. It seems he hadn’t responded well to the anesthesia and they’d had trouble waking him.
With my thoughts focused on Lucy, I’d never considered there being a problem with Ichabod. Five years before he’d been neutered and there’d been no indication that he’d had any trouble. Though by the time I was informed, he’d already been revived and the danger had passed, I couldn’t help but feel the squeeze of panic in my chest. What was more.. Ichabod had required several extractions. I was informed that two were so bad they simply fell out during the initial polishing. So much for Dr. Rich’s assessment that his teeth were in good condition. (I would like to note that although I was told that two of the teeth fell out on their own… I was still charged the extraction fee.)
As soon as they were through their observation period, I rushed to collect the dogs, only feeling relief when I could see for myself that they were fine. I loaded them into the car and headed home for a difficult few days.
Lucy recovered immediately, but Ichabod struggled. He was out of sorts and temporarily lost control of his bowels, especially while asleep. When he finally recovered, I resolved to take good care of his teeth so that this would need never happen again. I would like to say that I made good on my vow, but that isn’t true. As it turns out, it’s harder than you may think to brush a wild beagle’s teeth… and before we knew it, Carter came along. With all of my tasks as a mother to a little one, doggie-dental-hygiene fell to the bottom of my mental to-do list.
For years I told myself that we could get by without cleaning his teeth again. The denial held until an unwelcome development with Lucy. One day as I was sat on the edge of the bed putting on socks, Lucy approached me for some attention. As I absently stroked her head, I noticed a bulge in her cheek. Lucy is an enthusiastic eater, and in her haste, she routinely gets food stuck in her cheeks. With years of experience, she’s learned that when this happens she can come to me and I will set her to rights. As I attempted to force the trapped food from her face, I had no reason to think this was different than any other time…. until her squeal of anguish, that is. Turns out, there was no food lodged in her face…. she was very swollen!
My initial thought as I surveyed her was ‘insect sing’. Turning to the internet, I learned that this type of facial swelling is common with a tooth abscess. Interestingly, this occurred the day before Lucy’s annual vet appointment. The following morning when the vet examined her, (a different office from the one mentioned before…. we decided to find a new vet after the events described in ‘The Tale of the Headless Rabbit’ ) he discovered an abscessed molar. Prescribing a round of antibiotics to clear the infection, he explained we would need to give them time to do their work and then schedule her for a cleaning and extraction.
Driving home that day with Lucy, my thoughts turned to Ichabod. It suddenly dawned on me that I was kidding myself if I believed he wouldn’t wind up with something similar one day. That night I talked to Steve, and he agreed that we should have Ichabod’s teeth cleaned… and though I believed it to be necessary, I couldn’t shake the memory of what had happened before. I reasoned that If Ichabod had trouble when he was six and extremely healthy, I was concerned what over what may happen now that he was 11 and overweight withh a heart murmur. I decided to make a regular appointment for him prior to scheduling the cleaning…. just so they could check on his heart and I could thoroughly explain my concerns about the anesthesia.
When we arrived for our appointment, we saw a vet we’d never met before. She looked through Ichabod’s records stored on her computer and expressed concern because the previous vet had recommended heart meds, but she saw no record that I had a prescription. I assured her that I did have a prescription that was being filled through a local store. She was dubious since it wasn’t in her records, but I assured her that he was taking his pills every day. (Interestingly, when the doctor wrote the script, he didn’t indicate that it was for a dog. This led the pharmacy staff to believe that I had a 10 year old child named Ichabod who suffered from heart problems.) Almost as though she didn’t believe me, she began pounding away at the keyboard, telling me she was updating the record to reflect that Ichabod was taking his medicine.
After she listened to his heart, I explained my concerns about the surgery. She downplayed my concerns and said they would run some blood tests that would indicate if he was healthy enough for anesthesia. She further stating that without knowing the specific drugs the other vet used she couldn’t say for sure what the problem could have been, but she assured me they had other drugs to use for dogs who’d shown previous reactions to anesthesia. Somewhat relieved, I gathered Ichabod and took him home. The following morning I received a phone call assuring me that his blood work came back fine and that he was cleared for surgery. Forcing down my misgivings, I scheduled the appointment.
Two weeks passed quickly and suddenly it was the night before the surgery. I had such a bad feeling about it, but kept trying to reassure myself that everything would be fine…. In the meantime I’d obtained the record from his old vet, detailing the medicine they’d used on him last time. When the office called to confirm the appointment, I explained that I had some information about Ichabod’s medical history that I would be bringing with me. I asked my small group to pray for him. (I’m not sure whether or not they believed this to be over-the-top, but they were nice about it.) I had trouble sleeping, and suddenly, it was morning.
As I corralled Ichabod and Carter for the trip to the vet, I had no time to linger on forebodings. On the rare occasion that we take Ichabod somewhere while leaving Lucy at home, trickery and cunning are required. We once made the mistake of blatantly leaving the house with him, and it was an incident I’ll never forget. When she realized what was happening, a sound that I don’t have the words to properly explain, burst from Lucy. I’ve never heard such a sound from any dog or human. It was as though she somehow managed to channel all the pain of a thousand lost souls and verbalize it. Frightening stuff. But this morning we managed to fool her, and, sneaking Ichabod into the garage, we were soon on our way.
Due to his wild nature, taking Ichabod to the vet is always stressful. Due to his 3 year old nature, taking Carter places where he needs to be quiet and behave is always stressful. Taking Ichabod and Carter to the vet together is sort of beyond words. While I checked Ichabod in and reminded the receptionist that I had a paper for the doctor, Ichabod tried to break free so as to attack a cat in a carrier while Carter laughed maniacally and jumped up and down on the scale as I tried to talk business and get the two of them under control. Soon it was our turn with the doctor. When we were ushered into the exam room, things quickly took an upsetting turn.
(I’m going to detail this conversation simply with the words that passed between the doctor and me. This doesn’t adequately paint the picture, however. As this conversation took place, Ichabod was howling and trying to escape. Carter, delighted with Ichabod’s loud noises and frenzied movements egged him on by squealing, jumping up and down, and trying to open the door to release him, and the conversation was frequently halted by my ineffectual attempts to bring order to my wayward children. Please bear all that in mind as you read the following words.)
“I see a note here that there is some concern about anesthesia,” the doctor began. This is the vet we usually saw, not the lady from a couple weeks before.
“Yes,” I began. “That’s why I made the appointment a few weeks ago. I wanted to make sure this was understood and also to check on his heart murmur. I have an e-mail from the other vet which explains the meds used on him last time.”
Without looking at it, he took the paper from me and went on. “Before we get into that, I see that we recommended heart pills back in September, but I see no record that we ever wrote a prescription. I’m really concerned that he hasn’t been taking this medicine.”
I was shocked. What kind of a scattered place was this? “When we were here two weeks ago I had the same conversation with the other vet. I assured her that I do have a prescription and he’s been taking his meds. He took them this morning. She said she was going to update his file to indicate this.”
“Well, she didn’t. It’s upsetting to me that we seemed to have dropped the ball here. If you think about it, maybe check the label and call to let us know which doctor prescribed the medicine. It should have been noted in this chart but wasn’t. (When i arrived home, out of curiosity I checked the medicine label. THE SAME DOCTOR WHO MADE THESE HEAVY-HANDED STATEMENTS WAS THE ONE LISTED ON THE LABEL. I never called back.)
Finally he turned his attention to the e-mail I’d given him. “This is pretty standard; this is what we use.” Glancing up from his paper; looking me in the eye he said, “I didn’t know until this morning that there was a previous reaction to anesthesia. If that happened five years ago when he was younger, thinner and healthier…to be honest, I’m not sure he would survive being put under as he is today.”
Shock and anger raged through me. Finding my voice I said, “I had the same concerns. This is exactly why I made the appointment two weeks ago, and on that day, my concerns were belittled as trivial. And now you’re telling me that if I’d not arrived with this paper this and called your attention to this AGAIN……or if someone else had checked us in that Ichabod wouldn’t have survived the operation?!”
Sidestepping the concerns I’d raised over the competency of his clinic, he got down on his haunches and inspected Ichabod’s teeth, confirming that the cleaning was necessary. He prescribed a dental enzyme cleaner, suggested Ichabod lose 20 pounds (which would make him thinner than he’s been since his days as a puppy) before scheduling the surgery at the end of summer at an office with more sophisticated surgical methods. All the while, Ichabod was crying piteously and trying to burrow out of the room. Glancing down at him I said, “Ichabod, you’re getting your wish. You’re coming home with us.”
I was so angry. I walked to the desk to pick up the medicine and the receptionist began to ask for payment for the consultation. I gave myself a moment to ensure I wasn’t about to lose my temper. As I stood collecting myself to politely inform her that I’d paid for a useless consultation visit two weeks ago and had no intention of paying for one today, the vet rushed over and whispered that there would be no charge. That was for the best because I’m fairly certain that situation was headed for an ugly turn.
The three of us left the office, and I buckled Carter into his seat before settling behind the wheel with Ichabod at my side. In the privacy of my car, looking over at the dog who’d been my best friend for more than a decade, the realization of what I’d almost lost hit me like a punch to the gut. Sometimes I think I focus too much on details, but the truth was, that if I’d simply taken the vet at her word, and not taken it upon myself to keep digging into this, I would have most likely lost him that morning.
Tears; tears of anger, frustration, and relief burst from me. I leaned over and hugged my old friend. Then, together, we headed for home.
Ichabod did not know what to make of us leaving the vet’s office with this new dog. He made a pest of himself the entire ride home, circling the cage, sniffing inside, and howling intermittently. At one point, I glanced over my shoulder to see him standing on top of the cage, trying to bite his way through the plastic. From the inside of the cage, Lucy barked constantly, with a shockingly deep, booming bark. It was a loooong ride!
An eternity later we arrived home, and the first order of business was to take Lucy straight to the backyard. To my relief, she seemed to understand, quickly finding a spot to do her business. She must be housebroken after all. With that out of the way, we opened the door, and allowed her to explore her new home. She ran around, sniffing everything, with Ichabod hot on her heels. After a short time, she leapt onto the armchair, cozying herself in for a nap. Before falling asleep, she raised her head, and her eyes seemed to warn us: “This is my chair, now!”
Steve and I both laughed at her antics. It was just unreal that she’d been a stray. She’d obviously had a home; she was familiar with the way everything worked. Again we wondered to each other…. What happened?
After a brief nap, Lucy was ready to explore, once again. While searching through Ichabod’s toy box she seemed delighted to find an assortment of rawhides buried in the depths. Though I’d gotten him many different bones through the years, he’d never shown much interest.
Chuckling as Lucy methodically removed the rawhides from the box before hiding them in some pretty obvious places, I briefly touched on Nanci’s warning; but quickly brushed it aside. “Lucy isn’t a bassety-basset,” I told myself. Actually, it was doubtful that she was even full-basset hound. Reasoning, it must be because of the thick, trunk-y necks of the basset hounds that they weren’t allowed to have rawhides, and gazing at Lucy with her slender, long neck, I discounted the warning. I hated to spoil her fun, so I told myself all was well.
As the day wore on, Lucy became my shadow. During the afternoon, I decided to take advantage of the mild temperatures and scoop some dog poop from the backyard. She walked every step with me as I combed through the grass in quadrants so as to not miss anything. It was like I’d predicted: This was a Mama’s girl.
I finished up and we headed back inside, where Lucy continued to hide rawhides. Eventually, Ichabod got close to one of her hiding places, and she bared her teeth and growled at him. Caught off-guard by her reaction, and suddenly sensing the danger, Steve and I walked around the house, gathering up all the rawhides and getting rid of them.
Because of all the fun and excitement with our new girl, I’d put off a necessary errand. Though I’d thought we already had everything we needed, there were a few things I wanted from the pet store. Gathering up an unopened bag of dog food I wished to exchange, I left Steve in charge of the two content dogs The last sight I saw before shutting the door leading to the garage was Lucy, trying to follow me and wagging her tail.
I felt very happy as I drove to Petsmart. We’d saved a life! Lucy was wonderful! It was a great day.
When I arrived at the store, I parked, walked to the back of my SUV, and hefted out the large bag of dog food. As I prepared to walk through the door, still precariously balancing the bulky bag, my phone began to ring. Awkwardly, I retrieved it from my pocket and saw that Steve was calling. In light of the burden I held, I was a bit annoyed as I snapped the phone open. (This was back in the days when phones still snapped open.) Steve sounded panicky. “This dog… I don’t know what we’re going to do about this dog….” He said, trailing off.
I felt the first stabs of panic in my gut. “What happened?” I asked.
“That dog” (he wasn’t calling her Lucy, he’d demoted her to ‘that dog’) bit Ichabod! When we threw away the rawhides, we must have missed one. Ichabod got too close to it, and she ran over and grabbed his ear in her teeth. Blood sprayed out and got all over the wall. And Ichabod cried. He didn’t do anything!”
My heart sank, and all the happy pleasure I’d felt only moments before evaporated. I’d thought we’d done a good thing here, and now this! “I’ll be right home,” I promised, snapping the phone shut.
Already inside the store, I hefted the bag of food to the counter. Not wanting to take the time to make the exchange, I just asked for my money back. As I waited, I thought of Ichabod’s bite. I decided to see if there was some sort of doggie-antibiotic cream I could get. I found the first aid section, spotted what I was looking for, paid for it and headed towards the car.
Feeling helpless, I called Nanci. As basset hounds sang their usual songs in the background, I explained the little bit I knew about what happened, and, very upset, she said, “I TOLD YOU THAT BASSETS WEREN’T ALLOWED TO HAVE RAWHIDES.”
I gave her my weak justification; how I’d thought that since Lucy wasn’t a bassety-basset that there wouldn’t be any danger. She cut me off: “That’s not why they can’t have rawhides. It’s because they can get mean defending them!” I suddenly remembered the rumbling freight-train noises from the morning I’d talked to her while she fried bacon. Things were starting to make sense.
With an edge in her voice she said, “Call me when you get home and have seen for yourself what is going on.” Feeling defeated, I snapped the phone closed.
I arrived home expecting mayhem. I parked the car, and took a deep breath as I opened the door leading from the garage to the house. Instead of mayhem, I walked into a brightly lit kitchen. Lucy, who’d been standing at the food bowl, ambled towards me, tail wagging, with a “Mommy’s home!” swagger to her steps. Ichabod was also in the kitchen, and he wagged his tail as well, making his way towards me. All appeared normal. There was no visible animosity between the dogs. “Steve?” I called out.
Steve appeared in the doorway. I couldn’t even form my question. I suppose my face contorted as though I was asking a question, and perhaps there were some questioning hand gestures, but I couldn’t find the words. What in the world was going on here? ‘Cause it seemed that the answer was “nothing”.
“Look at Ichabod’s right ear,” he instructed.
I sat down on the floor in front of Ichabod and began examining his ear. I saw nothing. I squinted and looked very close. Under intense scrutiny, I saw a slight, pink puncture. “You mean this?” I asked, indicating the miniscule abrasion.
“Yeah,” Steve said, and also pointed at a loose flap of skin running along the edge of the ear. I took Ichabod’s left ear in my hand; indicating an identical flap, showing Steve that this was not a cut… it was the way a beagle’s ears are formed.
“Seriously?” I asked. My facial expressions continued to ask silent questions.
Steve became agitated. “You weren’t here. It bled! Blood sprayed out all over the wall,” he added, pointing at the wall.
No blood spatter was present on the wall.
“I wiped it up,” he said.
“It doesn’t seem like this was that big of a deal. She shouldn’t have nipped him, but I don’t think she was really trying to get him. She must have hit a vein,” I surmised.
Suddenly, I remembered with embarrassment that I’d called Nanci. I really didn’t want to call her back now that I’d assessed the situation. Opting for the cop-out, I told Steve that I’d called Nanci, that we were supposed to call back, and that I was going to have him explain all of this to her. He tried to argue, but I was already dialing, and shoving the phone into his hands.
As he awkwardly explained what happened, I could hear Nanci haranguing him in the background, bassets growling in apparent agreement. After allowing him to flail for a few minutes, I took the phone back from him. “It doesn’t sound like it’s that bad…. Why don’t you see how it goes for the rest of the night… try to keep them separated, and then call me in the morning to let me know how it went?” she asked.
This entire time, Lucy had been watching me carefully, her tail slowly waving back and forth. I bent down to pet her. “What are we going to do with you, Lucy?” I asked. She head-butted my hand; her method of asking for more petting.
Steve and I headed upstairs, discussing the sleeping arrangements. As we talked, Lucy jumped onto the bed, made herself at home, and was quickly snoring. Loudly. I couldn’t help but be charmed. Despite the hiccup with Ichabod, she was taking to her new life with gusto. Steve was a bit more reserved, but I reasoned with him. “Look at her, I don’t think she’s really much of a danger.”
And she wasn’t.
The next morning I called Nanci, letting her know that all was well. She wheezed out relief as bassets snarled out their endless arguments on her end. “Oh, thank God! Last night, I was afraid you were going to give her back.”
Were we thinking of that? I wondered. I recalled Lucy, laying in the bed, peacefully snoring, seeming very secure for a dog who’d been through what she’d just endured. I supposed that for a moment… just a moment, I’d thought of that. But it had been wrong of me, so very wrong. This dog needed my love. “No, we’re not giving her back,” I said, finally.
And that was the end of my contact with Nanci and her wacky basset entourage. I wish them the best.
And so our new life as a family of four began. It wasn’t entirely smooth, there were actually many problems and frustrations as we moved forward. But also, there was love, and learning. As we would soon discover, Lucy was action-packed with issues. I believe God sent her into our lives with a purpose. I have no doubt I am the one meant to love and care for her, but in her brokenness, she’s also been a mirror to my own. She’s taught me that love = patience. In that, she’s been one of my greatest teachers. I’ll never know what happened in Lucy’s life leading up to her stint of homelessness, and my heart breaks for that poor, abandoned dog. But I’ll forever be grateful that she came to us. I hope the feeling is mutual.
(In time, there will be more of Lucy’s story to share. I promise, it’s a good one.)