This year was my 20th year of taking in cats and dogs that have been dumped and abandoned near me. It’s hard to believe how fast those 20 years have gone by and the number of cats and dogs I’ve saved, just as one person in one little spot in the great big world. While in those twenty years I have learned a lot, I’ve also learned you should never stop trying to learn.
The two dogs that started it all and taught me the most
When two puppies showed up at my nearby work twenty years ago, as naive as I was, I drove around trying to find out where they’d wandered off from. Of course, it was to no avail, as I’d learn repeatedly in the coming years. To this day, the idea of people just driving out to a remote country road and dumping out puppies or kittens, no more than 8-10 weeks old, just seems so cruel. Unfortunately, cruelty, in the many forms it comes in, isn’t out of the realm of possibility, no matter where you live or how easy nowadays it is to find any other option than that one.
Those first two puppies, who I named Sadie and Justin, were a learning experience that I have taken with me through the years. Sadie was as sweet a dog as you could ever hope to have while Justin was a more determined fellow, less interested in being a best friend than doing whatever he wanted to do on his terms. Their personalities were completely different, and not just by a little, by a lot. That harsh fact taught me that even though you can have a pair of puppies from the same litter, raised the same way, you can definitely get two totally different dogs, which can be challenging.
When I bought a wireless containment fence to try to keep Justin from chasing the cattle next door before taking the next drastic step of tying him up, I was surprised to find that what I expected was wrong. While the fence worked great on him, the stubborn dog, it didn’t bother the mild-mannered Sadie, who seemed unfazed by getting shocked for leaving the boundary.
And finally, Sadie was my hardest lesson ever about being too trusting of vets and the dangers of prescription medications. After being prescribed the NSAID Previcox for arthritis without any warning about the awful side effects it could cause, including death, Sadie turned into a statistic. Her story is one of the main reasons I started this blog.
Sadie’s slow, painful death was absolutely avoidable. The nightmare that was that entire experience is why to this day, I refuse to give any of my pets an NSAID (also referred to as anti-inflammatory) of any kind ever again. If you missed it, here is that story.
A hard lesson about parvo
My first three rescues were all puppies, and having remembered how sad and devastated I was as a child when my Dad’s new bird dog puppy got sick and died from what everyone said was parvo, I vowed to make sure all my own puppies were protected from that. When my fourth dog, a pup around three to four months old came along in 2003, because he wasn’t a young puppy, I’d kind of assumed maybe he’d had his puppy shots already and didn’t get in a hurry to take him to the vet. I was busy with work and just didn’t make it a priority. Unfortunately, that proved to be my first fateful lesson in those twenty years and so many animals I saved.
I’d gone to my parents and taken my dogs, including Buddy, with me. While there, it was decided that I’d take in three pups my sister had recently found on the side of the road that had worn out their welcome by chasing chickens. I brought everyone home, and Buddy and the little female of the three siblings soon were sick with parvo. Both subsequently died from something a puppy shot probably would have prevented. I was completely and utterly heartbroken.
While I know the vaccine movement has changed a lot in twenty years and with the internet being so vital in helping us make better choices with alternative treatment options, I still personally feel like puppy shots or at least nosodes are a good idea. I think anyone who has ever been devastated by such a deadly disease feels that way, too.
Less is better
That was in 2003 and now that the internet is much more advanced than it was back then and I know so much more about other treatments, I would have done everything differently. I often wonder if I would have been able to save those pups’ lives knowing what I know now, who both consequently died at the vet’s office.
With minimum vaccines given, usually to a several week old pup, I’ve never had a rescue with any health issues until they were seniors over the age of 10. That includes no type of food or environmental allergies, no lumps, no IBS, nothing. That’s also true while on a diet of mostly kibble most of their life, and not even the highest quality kind.
On the other hand, my only non-rescue, an AKC purebred Labrador, which got her shots very young from the breeder, has struggled with hot spots, environmental allergies, and lipomas, starting at age two. Maybe that’s purely a coincidence, but it’s enough proof for me that waiting until puppies are a bit older and only just getting those first shots has proven to be a good plan.
In addition to minimal vaccines, I’m also a minimalist when it comes to treating for parasites. Despite being country cats and dogs, I’ve never had a flea problem and ticks are usually minimal. Occasionally, I did put a collar or administer some spot treatment for the ticks on a couple of the dogs during the peak tick season, but overall, I just checked my dogs daily and removed any ticks by hand. They’ve also never gotten any heartworm preventative medications and I only give de-worming medication to my animals when I see proof of worms.
Before I ever knew that all those collars, pills, and spot treatments were so toxic, and in some cases deadly, I just felt it mostly wasn’t necessary. I’ve since learned that healthy pets are less likely to have parasites. By unknowingly keeping my pets’ bodies free from toxins, they were healthy and that’s probably why they have always been mostly parasite-free.
The lessons I’ve learned about vets
In total over the years, I’ve probably been to around 10 vets. I’ve definitely had to learn, mostly from bad experiences starting with the loss of Sadie, that I have to be a critical thinker and dedicated researcher when it comes to anything health-related with my pets. I also had to find my voice to refuse to follow the vet’s recommendation on more than one occasion.
I’ve said this before in previous posts and I’ll probably say it until I die: LISTEN TO YOUR GUT. I can honestly say that if I’d done this a couple of times over the years, outcomes would have been better for some of my pets. Instead, I didn’t have confidence in my theory about the situation or what I’d read online to go against what I mistakenly thought at the time was the vet’s excellent education, training, and years of experience.
I’ve watched over the years as vets, like people doctors, have become heavily influenced by the pharmaceutical companies. What they learn about nutrition in vet school is laughable. You know their education, and possibly common sense is lacking when they think a diet of “prescription” kibble is better than a fresh food diet.
Last year, my vet lost a ton of credibility when she told me that chewing kibble helps clean dogs’ teeth. Of course, I knew that wasn’t true and smiled as I whispered “That’s not true.”. That moment made me sad for all the uneducated pet parents out there that actually believe that kind of nonsense. Like I used to be, they are disillusioned about how smart and well educated these people we trust our pets’ lives with, actually are.
Over the years, I’ve found vet care has gotten extremely expensive, very secretive, with vets now routinely taking my pets into the back to treat them, and I leave almost every single visit much poorer and disappointed with the whole experience and treatment proposal. This combination has only served to motivate me even more to continuously look outside the box for treating my pets. From tweaking my lipoma-laden Labrador, Abby’s raw diet, to using flower remedies, and including more homeopathic remedies to my arsenal, I have been determined the last few years to exhaust all other options before taking the vet visit or pharmaceutical route in non-emergency situations.
The trajectory that animal medicine is in will continue on this negative path unless more of us choose to stop being so willing to tolerate how vets do business. Instead of treating symptoms, vets need to change their focus to healing the animal. Learning proper nutrition facts and standing up against their leaders and the barrage of unnecessary vaccines and preventatives they are constantly trying to push down pet owners’ throats would also be a huge step in the right direction.
My lessons learned having senior dogs
I’ve found over the years that as the young puppies and pups I’ve taken in as well as that one middle-aged dog who wandered in, quickly morph what feels like overnight into seniors, I’m suddenly busier than ever. I spend countless hours researching to find the perfect balance of food, beds, and supplements for them. Couple that with closer monitoring and accommodations to make their final years with me as easy for them as possible, and it’s hard. I’d go so far as to say that having a senior or seniors is definitely the hardest part of having so many animals.
The stress of always worrying about all the possible awful things that could be afflicting them when you suddenly notice them not being themselves one day is excruciating. After learning too late with one of my 13-year-old rescues a few years ago that 50% of dogs over age 10 get cancer, and reading so many sad stories online of dogs suffering from it, that worry is now always constantly in the back of my mind.
While on the topic of seniors, there’s one thing that I have learned over the years that I want to share. If I were just a normal everyday dog owner, I’d never intentionally get two dogs within a year or two apart. Why? Because in my case at least, it seems that once they get around 12 to 13 years old, they start needing much more time and care. Sadly, they can also go downhill quickly.
Whether it’s due to mobility issues, incontinence, lack of hearing or vision, pickier eating habits, or all of the above, having a senior can be trying if you are someone with a lot going on. Honestly, it can be trying even if you don’t.
Fortunately, I work from home and am not socially busy, so I’m able to accommodate cleaning extra messes, more baths, and extra researching, but if I was still working my full-time job and having to take care of the house, yard, and other animals/family members, it would be tough. Actually, even with my very flexible schedule, I’ve been flat out physically and emotionally exhausted from caring for a senior in their last weeks and days.
That stress and exhaustion is only amplified when you have more than one dog that is more needy or time-consuming. Obviously, this experience doesn’t apply to everyone, but I feel like it’s worth mentioning, as it’s easy to forget when you are picking out puppies or young dogs that are close in age. One can easily forget that they will both be seniors around the same time and will likely be much more time-consuming to care for.
The larger the dog, the more mess they make with incontinence and the more difficult it is to help lift them up from a lying down position too when they begin having trouble. Maybe just take all that into consideration before you decide at age 80 to get a Great Dane puppy or a whole pack of new puppies after you just put in expensive new wall to wall carpet.
Every senior I’ve ever had has been incontinent to some extent and unable to get up on their own at the end. It’s both heartbreaking and frustrating that that is almost a guarantee of how the final days of their magnificent life will end. While losing a young animal with so much life left is always very, very hard, it is somehow made a bit easier to bear as I’ve watched my most independent dogs need nearly 24-hour care at the end. The worst part is the guilt at being relieved that the long days and nights of caring for them are over.
After the past 20 years, my top advice tips for anyone reading this post or following my blog includes not to go into pet ownership without plenty of thought about the short-term and long-term commitment. The collage of animals pictured at the top of this post doesn’t even include all the animals I’ve taken in over the last 20 years. Between pictures I lost from computer crashes and not even taking pictures at all since I didn’t know in 2005 that I’d still be taking in so many animals years later and have a blog about them, a few faces are missing.
To most people, I’m sure it’s hard to believe that so many people could be so cruel to such innocent creatures as to just dump them out or let them wander/run off and never go looking for them. The saddest part for me is that it hasn’t just been a few people over the years that have done it, but MANY. Whether it was on a whim to get a new puppy that turned out to be more than they bargained for or people that for whatever reason don’t spay or neuter their pets and end up with animals they don’t want or can’t give away, abandoning pets is a problem. That includes abandoning pets at shelters. Please, please don’t ever be one of those people.
My other piece of advice is to get and stay educated on various treatments. Whether it’s discovering the miracle of using colloidal silver against bacteria, viruses, or funguses to keeping some apple cider vinegar and a couple of homeopathic remedies in the cabinet, not only will they help you treat your pets safely and affordably, but also yourself and your family.
Also, never underestimate the power of massage, chiropractic care, acupuncture, or water therapy. Your vet may never suggest those things over the option of selling you some pills to help your pet’s pain, but there are a lot of people out there that swear by them for various injuries and ailments.
As I mentioned, I’m currently experimenting with a new diet for my Labrador, Abby. My hope is that it will get rid of her lipomas and shrink a recently diagnosed enlarged adrenal gland, by using her body’s ability to heal itself. It’s too soon to know if it’s working, but I feel like I’ve tried everything else to get rid of her lipomas and prevent new ones to no avail, so I decided to try a different route. This was after recent bloodwork and a subsequent ultrasound revealed she wasn’t a good candidate for surgery to remove the most mobility restricting lipoma she has. The vet wanted her on two prescription meds, one of which caused an ulcer in another dog I had that she prescribed it for. I chose a new diet for Abby instead.
During my research of how to naturally treat Abby’s enlarged adrenal gland, which is possibly the cause of her high liver numbers, I just happened to stumble across this somewhat radical diet. While it isn’t conventional and goes against a lot of what we have all learned about feeding our pets species-appropriate food, I’m not too closed-minded to consider that it might actually work.
Abby wasn’t showing any symptoms, so all I have to go by to determine if it is working is what I observe. Once Abby has been on this new diet for a while and I have more time to evaluate how it’s going, I’ll pass my thoughts and possible recommendation along.
Like everyone else out there with pets, I want the best life possible for my animals. I definitely wish I knew 20 years ago what I know now and absolutely would have done a few things differently, but at the end of the day, I’m satisfied. Over these past 20 years, I’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars, shed gallons of tears, lost hours of sleep, and sacrificed so much so that I can make the lives of animals that got dealt a really crummy hand, the best ever.
I never dreamed those two little black and white puppies I took in back in 2000 would turn into 20 years of taking in an animal or two every year or so from then on. Despite as hard as it has been at times, I wouldn’t change it for anything. I believe animals find us for a reason and we shouldn’t ignore that, nor should we ever stop trying to better educate ourselves about how we care for them.
Interested in reading my article on colloidal silver and why I’ll never be without it? Here it is: http://savingcatsdogsandcash.com/colloidal-silver/
For my list of favorite things I (mostly) own and/or recommend to fellow pet parents and occasionally random strangers, you can visit my Amazon store page here, https://www.amazon.com/shop/savingscatsanddogswhilesavingcash. I’ve included little notes about the products also.
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