The new year is nearly a week old now, the Christmas season ends tonight (except for those following the Orthodox church calendar, in which case, it’s just beginning!), and many of us have had at least a few days back to work or school already. So, welcome to 2013. To all of you and to all the companion animals in your lives, I send wishes for a safe, happy and prosperous year.
My own companion animal quota changed radically during 2012. In the first few months of the past year, I lost half of our ferrets when my two elderly ferrets succumbed to various old-age ills. This left us with only a pair of middle-aged Greco-ferret wrestlers instead of the previous cirque du ferret. Then, in mid-September, we lost Crystal, our mixed-breed-of-unknown-age-but-boundless-loyalty. We got her as an adult dog, maybe 3 years old, maybe more. She had to have been at least 14 when she died because she companioned us for 11 years, but she could have been as old as 17. I couldn’t begrudge any of them their leaving, as they’d all had good lives with us including (in each case) a last year of unexpected vitality despite their progressing health issues.
But their going left the inevitable holes in our lives and our Warrenville household. For many reasons, this did not seem the year to restock the ferret circus: my remaining two ferrets are content with each other. Nor did I want to take on a second permanent dog right away. Seiki, the shiba inu, is plenty of dog all by her 20-lb self. But as Crystal slowed progressively more each day toward summer’s end, I got the opportunity to house two extra, temporary dogs through Chicagoland Dog Rescue.
If you've followed my posts over the past 4 months, you've already met our succession of foster dogs so far: first Barnaby the Samoyed and Rodney the part-rottie, then Duncan and Angus the black-and-tan hound-mix pups, and now our current batch, Pearl the beagle and her puppies Peregrin Pipsqueak, Lady Perdita, and Percival the large. I've written about some of the challenges involved and the very real joys of fostering.
With Barnaby and Rodney, the main challenge was re-civilizing them. Both had lived as strays before being picked up and turned over to a shelter, and both had been kenneled at the shelter for months. In Rodney’s case, I’m not sure he had ever been trained, even to the basics of ‘sit’ and ‘down.’ But both also needed reminders about curbing barbarian behaviors like scent-marking indoors and rummaging through trash cans.
Duncan and Angus, being 3-month-old pups, needed the beginnings of doggy training: frequent trips outdoors to reinforce toilet-is-outside, walks on leashes to get them used to restraint, and praise with treats whenever they would sit or lie down on command. These boys also came complete with worms, so I was glad to find my peanut-butter-and-pill minisandwich medication technique worked well on them.
The current beagle family has had the most medical issues. Pearl spent so much of her time and energy on her puppies that, with the added strain of interstate transport when said pups were a mere few days old, she got herself dehydrated. She also had fleas, at least 3 different kinds of intestinal worms, and mange. We got rid of the fleas easily. The worms took 2 rounds of meds—including the now-older puppies the second time round. And we’re still working on clearing the mange, with daily baths and twice-daily medication for secondary bacterial and yeast infections, as well as trips to the vet for ivermectin shots to fight the mange mites.
So fostering is not for the faint of heart, perhaps especially not if you take on puppies—but watching adult dogs regain their confidence or puppies thrive and grow provides generous reward for effort. Because we've handled them daily since they were barely bigger than hamster-sized, Pearl’s pups have accepted us as pack leaders along with their mum. And nothing warms the heart like being swarmed by a packlet of three eager ankle-high puppies whenever you enter their space!
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