Animals: Thoughts and Considerations

So, I’ve been thinking about something (those who know me know it’s time to groan). What follows is long and rambling, but, there are questions at the end.

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about dogs, cats, companion animals, and farm animals, and how our society expects different behavior from the owner of a companion animal versus the owner of a farm animal.

Kasha!

What provoked this line of thought? That would be Kasha, the amazing Kleenex & cat litter eating dog. Kasha has recently developed a very bad habit, of raiding whatever she can find to raid when we aren’t home. She never used to do this, but then, until a year ago, she was never the only dog left home alone, because we had Shunka, who passed two years ago this June, and Dart, who passed a year and a few days ago.

I’m thinking that since Kasha’s naughty habits only occur when we’re gone, that it’s caused by separation anxiety – dogs are pack animals, after all, being descended from wolves. Wolves are rarely alone, preferring a pack, and that whole “lone wolf” idea is really an invention – wolves very rarely leave their pack.

So Kasha, feeling abandoned by her pack, has taken to relieving her natural anxiety by raiding a.) Rhiannon’s trash can full of Kleenex & paper towels (which hold up amazingly well after passage through a dog’s digestive tract); b.) the litter box (let’s just say Rhiannon hadn’t cleaned it in a while & leave it at that); then c.) the empty Kleenex box that Rhiannon was using  as a trash can since she couldn’t use her actual trash can, and had buried it under other stuff, but that Kasha found, ripped part, and then devoured the contents of (more Kleenex & paper towels). The vet did say Kasha needed to lose weight, but I don’t think this is quite the method she had in mind!

Incident c.)  is what has sparked today’s train of thought in me, as I posted the “Oddest Question Ever Asked On Facebook: Has anyone ever given an enema to a dog?” yesterday.  I was surprised at all the helpful answers I got – apparently their are a lot of constipated dogs (& cats) in America!

But a part of me felt guilty for even asking the question. In our culture, if your dog is sick, you don’t try to fix the problem yourself, you trundle off to the vet’s office for x-rays & IV’s & let the poor vet techs give your dog an enema. And then you fork over $500 (or way more) for something you could probably have dealt with at home.

Now, if Kasha had been a constipated sheep, there would have been no question – the farmer (or shepherdess as I preferred to be called back in the Before Times) drenches (stuffs a bottle of medicine) down the sheep’s throat, and does whatever else is necessary. Farm profit margins are very slim – you don’t call the vet unless the animal is really valuable (like a horse).

Part of farming is learning how to be your own vet most of the time. I have done nearly every conceivable thing to a farm animal, starting with the first baby goats I cleaned off & set to nursing, to pulling stuck lambs (sometimes inserting way more of me than was comfortable to turn a recalcitrant lamb into a better position), vaccinating, treating infections (including fly-strike – takes a very strong stomach), cleaning & bandaging wounds, catheterizing a horse recovering from neurological illness who couldn’t pee, starting IV’s, the list goes on & on & on.

So it seems only natural to me to try to treat the dog’s issue at home.

Dart, One Spring

Still, there was this sense of guilt. And then I realized there was also a very deep sense of guilt about Dart’s passing. Dart was very old – 15. She had some kind of intestinal cancer, I’m pretty sure. She eventually stopped eating, despite my attempts at tempting her. And I wrestled with what to do, oh, how I wrestled. It had been less than a year since I’d had Shunka put to sleep, because of a brain tumor. I just couldn’t face that again. So I decided to let Dart die naturally, at home.

Society would say that my decision was selfish & even abusive; that I should have had her put to sleep. If I’d known how long it was going to take, I probably would have. But I didn’t know. And she wasn’t in any obvious pain. She was just dying, as is only natural for a 15 year old dog.

If she had been a sheep, it wouldn’t have even crossed my mind to take her to the vet to have her put down – she would have been allowed to live out her days in peace, and if I thought she was suffering, I would have shot her (or had someone shoot her for me – I’ve never killed, personally, one of my own animals before).

Wow, that thought trips the memories of Cherokee the horse’s death. She had gone through multiple medical problems, including cataracts (causing blindness) in her final year. She was 16 (pretty old for a horse) when I found her down & shivering in a snowstorm, and had my second husband shoot her while I sobbed incoherently into the phone to my mother. For Cherokee, as for any animal in my keeping, the time to take action to end their life didn’t come until or unless they were in pain or distress, excepting the lambs and cows I sent to slaughter (a painful part of farming – for the farmer no less than the animal).

Why is it okay in our society to let a newbie farmer learn all about vet care through trial and error and lots of reading, and yet, if a companion animal, a dog or cat, is even possibly getting sick (as in Kasha’s case) or dying naturally (as in Dart’s case), we expect the owner to take them immediately to the vet? For some of us, this is a question not only of consideration for the animal, but a big financial consideration – something we really can’t afford, living on very limited income.

Is it really fair, to value the life of a dog over the life of a goat? Goats are highly intelligent, inquisitive animals, with their own distinctive personalities.

Shouldn’t compassion for animals be equal for all animals? And yet it isn’t.

I know there are many arguments to be made for dogs and cats, that they are more intelligent, that they are companions, and part of the family, whereas a sheep is not. But it’s not like that in all cultures – some cultures value dogs more for their protein content then their ability to be trained, and cats more for their beautiful fur than for their mouse-hunting, purring, affectionate, cat-ness.

Should I feel guilty for letting Dart die naturally at home of old age, even though she wasn’t in pain or visible distress?

Should I really feel guilty for giving the dog an enema myself instead of rushing her off to the vet?

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts below!

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6 thoughts on “Animals: Thoughts and Considerations

  1. As you know, I grew up on a farm long long ago. People had a whole different way of life then they do now. People didn’t take people to the Dr. very often. Most of the time the Dr. was miles away and sometimes there was no car to take them in.
    One of these times was the day before my sixth birthday. I was on a horse that suddenly ran away with me. I was riding bareback and there was nothing to hold on to—so I fell off on the hard clay dirt that is like stone, if no sand has blown upon it.My left arm was broken at the Elbow. Our car was not working at the time. My Dad was at the Gin. I lay on the bed while my Mom tried to make me feel better while we waited for my Dad to return. The Dr was around ten miles away. Finally Daddy got back with a wagon load of cotton seed. They put a quilt on the seed and laid me on it and we started our ten mile trip to a Dr. About half way there a neighbor came by in a car and took me the rest of the way. If it had been a dog or some other animal they would just bandaged it up, that would have been it. No Vets anywhere to be found. We didn’t have time to agonize over these things. We just did what ever we were capable of doing. We had far less money, food, or clothes. Most of us survived in better condition then we do these days.
    As for feeling guilty about giving the dog an enema. I am sure Kasha would rather you give it to her then the Vet.
    She knows you and wouldn’t be scared. As for Dart, she had a nice long life and wasn’t suffering and I am sure you did everything you could to help her through that time. If it was an older person, they are put in a nursing with no family around until they finally go to Hospice to die. Life is not easy and can be very complicated.

    Things have changed a lot since those days. From where I see it people take better care of animals then people. Think about it. The pets in their home with people, don’t have to work for their food or for their home. They live in Air conditioned and central heating and who pays the bill–not the pets.

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    • You make lots of good points! I have really wondered at how our society is increasing the “value” of pets, and the amounts of money some people spend on them. Many pets now have full wardrobes of clothing (whether they like to wear it or not) and people spend ridiculous amounts of money on designer bags so they can carry their pampered pets with them in style. Along with that comes seat belts for dogs and elevated seats for the car so they can see out, etc. It’s my personal opinion that a dog is not a dog if it can’t walk beside you without getting tired!
      Our vets office has raised all their rates so they can afford their giant new building & MRI machine for animals & all their new equipment. Some people put their pets thru chemotherapy when they get cancer (and more & more pets are getting cancer) at a cost of thousands of dollars. That’s well beyond the point at which I would go.
      It seems to me that perhaps one reason dogs & cats live such short lives is so we can use the experience of their passing as a lesson in death & letting go. I know I learned a lot from both Shunka & Dart’s passing. Most people today are so isolated from the natural cycles of life & death that they have no clue. As you mentioned, old people & the ill are hidden away in hospitals & hospice, and the family often has little time with them. Kids have no real idea of where their hamburger comes from – what was once a living, breathing cow.
      Perhaps the current fashion in small dog obsession & pet pampering luxuries is directly in relation to how far from understanding the natural cycles of life we’ve become as a society. It’s interesting to consider.
      You have seen so many changes in society thru your long life, and offer a perspective that few can. Thank you for sharing it. Love you.

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    • You know, I just remembered an incident that happened when I was working at Hocking College’s historical village, Robbin’s Crossing. We would get classes of school kids in to visit & as part of our training in Living History, we had to work as pioneers in the village & teach & demonstrate how the early settlers lived.
      I was demonstrating tanning deer hides, and had the hide from a roadkilled deer stretched out on a frame & was scraping it.
      A bunch of kids came by, maybe 6th grade or so, and there were many expressions of “Ooo, gross!” and similar comments.
      One boy thought it was absolutely terrible that I was tanning this fresh hide. I pointed out that this was the only way to make leather back then, and that the deer had been eaten. He said he & his family were vegetarians, and that there was no need for people to ever kill an animal & eat it’s meat. He was outraged that I had this deerskin.
      I asked him what he thought about leather, since leather comes from the skin of an animal. He said we didn’t need leather anymore, that there are other things we can use.
      I then complimented him on his sneakers. He was clearly unsure of why I was doing that. They were the latest hot brand, and likely cost $75 or more. He got to bragging about how great they were.
      I then pointed out that his sneakers were actually made of leather, from a dead cow. This stopped him in his tracks (pun intended). He had clearly never made the connection.
      I then pointed out that his nice jacket was also made of leather. More shock.
      He tried to make excuses, but I gave him no wiggle room – he could not criticize me for tanning the deer’s hide as being cruel while wearing leather items himself.
      I might have been a little hard on him, but he was being a “big shot” by mouthing off to me in front of his friends about how much better his family were than anybody else’s because they were vegetarians. I forced him to see the reality that is life. I think he needed a wake-up call, and he left quite subdued & clearly considering the things I had to say.
      It was a good lesson for all the kids – not just him, but all his friends listening to the discussion. Very few of them had ever given a second’s thought to where leather really comes from.
      It was a good lesson for me as well, as it showed me how isolated from the realities of life & death in the animal world all these kids were.
      Hamburger doesn’t come from Burger King.
      It comes from a dead cow.

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  2. Ash, I admire you for being able to care for your dog. I have to take mine to the vet tomorrow just to get his nails trimmed. He nearly bites the vet. He’ll have to put a muzzle on him this time. I’m making him. But I don’t know how to cut those nails. I have to pay almost twenty dollars. Same deal when their anal glands get stopped up. Twenty if I’m lucky and they don’t charge another thirty plus for a visit!

    It is crazy. I think you did right by all your dogs. I wish you were my neighbor. I’d pay you to cut my dog’s nails if you’d give me a discount. But then if we were neighbors, perhaps down the road I’d do something to help you. I don’t live in a place where neighbors help each other. I only know one neighbor by name and she is a child.

    Good for you for taking such good care of your animals and listening to your gut. If everyone had to pay thousands only the rich could have dogs, which is how some vets think it ought to be.

    Hugs and blessings to you and yours,
    dogkisses.

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    • Hi Michelle!
      You might be surprised to learn that I grew up in an affluent suburb of Washington, DC. But all I ever wanted was land in the mountains & lots of animals – like Mother Earth News homesteading.
      Everything I learned about taking care of animals was pretty much lots of reading & trial & error.
      I wish I was your neighbor, too, and we could trade dog tips & help each other out all the time!
      I have great confidence that you can learn to trim the bad boy’s nails yourself – it’s not really that hard, and it’s best to do them very frequently but just a little bit at a time – if you cut off too much at once you can cause it to bleed. Most nail trimmers come with a handy build in guide so you can only insert a short amount of toenail at a time for cutting, and if you use the guide, you don’t have to worry about nipping the vein.
      I would suggest starting with just getting him used to having you handle his feet. I know how much you love your dogs, and imagine you give lots of affection. Just slowly start working on him, teaching him that having you handle his feet while you stroke his tummy or ears or whatever is a pleasureable activity. He might be much more receptive to you trimming his nails than the vet, since vet offices can be scary.
      If you involve your son (this is officially his dog, right?), have him pet the pup while you handle his feet. Once he’s comfortable with that, start with just trimming one toenail per foot at a time, but do it often, maybe once a week.
      Pretty soon you’ll be trimming like a pro! (and saving money!)
      I’d also suggest getting a good quality pair of clippers instead of the cheap ones. He’s a pretty big dog & will have really hard toenails.
      Kasha has had extremely fast growing, super hard & huge nails since we brought her home from the ASPCA. It’s hard for me to remember to work on them often enough. I sometimes use the Dremel tool on hers to sand them down instead of clip them. You can find a basic Dremel at wal-mart for $20. I like sanding them better, since there’s no sharp edges, but she’s not as fond of that so usually have to enlist Rhiannon’s help to distract her with ear rubs while I work them.
      Thankfully Kasha likes being brushed – otherwise I’d be up to my ears in shed fur!
      Many blessings & wishes for lots of dogkisses!

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  3. Hi Ash,

    I’m not surprised about you growing up in the suburbs. I feel you in a way. We have similar ways.

    I remember when I became interested in small farming and homesteading, mostly as a result of learning about our the origins of our food supply and corporate agriculture and deciding I’d rather support small and local. I was in college and my son in high-school. Not long after that everything changed, but… I was writing about the subject and made friends in two young farmers. Volunteering on their farm, reading some books my professor approved and writing about it all was great fun.

    I grew up in a cotton mill town. My grandpa had worked there before I came along, but was a horse trader while I knew him. My dad had to retire due to disability and became a car trader. Not too different. We had a barn and a horse. It never stayed long. Papa would sell the horses too fast, but I loved every single one of them!

    My grandma had a great huge garden and I spent many summers there with her. She taught me about nature. I never learned how to can foods, due to my intolerance of the heat. I sure enjoyed stringing beans on the back porch with her.

    My dad also raised dogs; cute little hounds for hunting rabbits, but mostly so that he could hear their sounds, while he sat by a tree in the woods enjoying a beer.

    About the bad boy! After yesterday, I don’t know that I would want to ever try to cut his nails. We did have to muzzle him. He was fine until the vet got to his front paws. He growled the entire time. He is such a big strong guy and has seizures. I feel he is a bit unpredictable. He has had a life worth telling about, that is for sure.

    Some things some people just ought not do. I don’t think I’m good with sharp objects. I have a tremor and get so anxious I think dogs feel this about me.

    As to this big bad boy being “officially” my son’s dog, boy did that give me a laugh. You are correct. I guess. His papers say I own him, which took some creative meanderings on my part, but in every way, he remains loyal to my son. He is the happiest around my son. He greets no person like he does my son. He protects him. He loves him dearly. He will jump out of a car, no matter where we are!, if he sees my son. Actually, he can smell him from pretty far away, so I have to keep the windows rolled up in the car if he rides with me.

    Plus, if he sees other dogs he tries to break the windows. He lives an antisocial life because of his aggression. He loves my girl Ruthie Mae. He has always had a girl friend and he used to like boy dogs too, but many things happened to him when my son was ill. These things had long lasting effects. I’m very glad he has a peaceful life now. He deserves it. He helped me out for several years when my son was ill. He found him all the time for me. Most times he stayed with my son. The dog learned to protect him during that time.

    For now, I pay the vet. I didn’t even look at the bill! I also had a tick head in my belly button. That had me stressed out! The vet’s assistant got it out for me. That’s the third tick in the past two weeks I’ve found on me.

    I enjoyed writing to you on your blog today. I can’t find my voice on my blog at the moment. Maybe I have blogger’s block, but I’m doing alright in the comment department huh?

    Thanks for your wonderful reply. I hope you have a good day. Also, I forgot where the good doctor list is.

    Peace,
    doggy kisses…

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