Tag Archives: dogs

The dangers of leaving your dog in the car – it’s hotter than you think

My dogs Scout and Bandit, who loved to ride in the car. But it’s important not to leave your dogs in the car while you’re running errand – it’s hotter than you think! Photo (c ) 2010 Joanne Brokaw

This post was originally published at Patheos.com in May 2014. But I thought it was worth republishing again here.

Here in Western NY, the weather has finally warmed up and it looks like the s-n-o-w is gone until winter. That means it’s time for a reminder about leaving your dog in a hot car.

In July 2011, I wrote a post for my blog in which I explained how heat affects your dog, and then did some experiments measuring the temperature in the car compared with the temperature outside the car. It’s worth reposting here, since it’s such an important issue – and because I think we have a moral responsibility to put our pets’ needs before our own desires. Sure, it’s fun to take the dog with you while you run errands. But it’s not always what’s best for Fido.

As you watch the temperatures rise inside the Jeep in the following photos, remember that the heat affects your dogs the same way whether they’re inside a car or outside in the heat. So keep that in mind when you’re thinking about taking the dog for a walk in the heat, or with you when you jog, or even for just a round of catch in the park. And it doesn’t have to be summer; it’s the temperature that’s important, and it can reach dangerous levels even in the spring, fall or winter.

First, let’s look at how a dog stays cool.

Dogs can’t sweat to cool themselves down, the way humans can. The only way they can cool off is to sweat through their paws or to pant. As the website Weather.com explains:

“Air moves through the nasal passages, which picks up excess heat from the body. As it is expelled through the mouth, the extra heat leaves along with it. Although this is a very efficient way to control body heat, it is severely limited in areas of high humidity or when the animal is in close quarters.”

In close quarters like a car (or even a kennel), a dog can overheat very, very quickly and in minutes can suffer brain damage or death.

But panting means taking in air as well as breathing it out. So for a dog like a pug – or other breed with a genetically shortened snout – the inability to breathe seriously hampers their abilty to cool themselves down. (That wheezing sound a pug makes is actually the dog desperately trying to breathe. It’s not cute; it’s dangerous.)

In their book, “Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution“, Lorna and Raymond Coppinger talk at great length about the science of how dogs regulate their body temperature. They draw a couple of conclusions worth mentioning:

1) Dogs are great at storing heat but not so great at getting rid of it. The balance point between storing and getting rid of heat for a dog is 60 degrees Fahrenheit for a smooth-coated sled dog. (That balance is 70 degrees for a human, who also has the ability to sweat to cool, something dogs can’t do.) Coppinger, who races sled dogs, says, “I wouldn’t train if the ambient temperature was over 60 degrees because the dogs would be at risk.”

2) As their weight rises to over forty-five pounds, dogs have increasing problems getting rid of heat. And that’s when the dog is at rest.

3) “Since dogs don’t have sweaty, bare skins to radiate heat [the way humans do when they sweat], evaporative cooling is not an option for them. Panting hard cools the lungs and brain, but the only place a dog sweats is through the pads of its feet. The pads just don’t have enough surface area to make them effective radiators.” Add to that the fact that their bodies are covered in fur, and you’ll understand why heat effects dogs much differently than humans.

And you can see why it’s not easy for a human to determine how hot a dog really is.

So here’s the experiment. Continue reading

Life lessons from a Border Collie

This post was originally published at Patheos.com in June 2011.

Scout after an afternoon playing in the sprinkler and rolling in the dirt. (photo © 2011 Joanne Brokaw)

I was sitting on the floor in the lobby of the veterinarian’s office, blowing soap bubbles for my five-year-old Border Collie, Scout, while we waited for our medications after our consultation with a holistic veterinarian.

A woman sitting near us was watching as Scout happily pounced on the bubbles and then stared intently into my eyes as he waited for the next wave of the bubble wand. Chasing soap bubbles is one of Scout’s favorite things to do in life. (In fact, I just typed the word and he must have read it, because he popped up from his nap and he’s staring at me, waiting to see if we’re headed outside.) Continue reading

My dog eats a live bird (musings on animals doing what animals do)

(This originally appeared on my blog at Patheos.com in May 2016.)

Photo by Pixabay

Photo by Pixabay

My dog Bailey was just outside, just hanging out in the grass, enjoying the evening air. She’d been outside maybe ten minutes when I went out to bring her in and saw that she had something pinned to the ground…it was a bird. I called to her, she moved towards me, and the bird jumped away. Bailey went after the bird, pinned it, and let it go. It hopped, she pinned it again. When it flew up about a foot, Bailey leaped up and caught it midair.

And the race was on. I told her to drop the bird, trying not to freak out. The bird was alive, squeaking and flapping its wings. I threw Bailey’s favorite ball in the hope I could distract her long enough to throw the leash on her and get her away, but all she did was run around with the bird, periodically dropping it to yank out feathers and then grabbing it again and taking off, bird bones crunching audibly as she chewed on the run.

My god, the poor bird! I tried to chase Bailey (bad idea). She’d drop the bird, I’d call cheerily and throw the ball again, and she’d start running. I used every attention-getting trick she’d trained with, to no avail, the bird getting smaller and smaller and me getting more and more panicked as the seconds ticked by. Could the bird even be saved now? There was no blood, just feathers flying. Maybe there was still a chance.

Eventually I ran into the house, reached into the fridge, grabbed a handful of mashed potatoes, and ran outside to throw them to the dog. She came running gleefully, but only because she’d already eaten the bird.

THE WHOLE BIRD. The head, the beak, the feet, and most of the feathers. I’d love to tell you what kind of bird it was, but the only thing she didn’t eat were a few feathers and the entrails, which oddly enough were left intact in the grass.

The entire scenario, from the moment I spotted her with the live bird until the time she finally came to me? Maybe two minutes, max. Probably considerably less, although it felt like an eternity.

I called the vet. We’ve just finished more than three weeks of dogs with stomach viruses and diarrhea and antibiotics, and I have no idea what’s going to happen to all of that bird that Bailey just ingested. The vet receptionist told me that dogs usually digest that kind of stuff really well, implying that this was a common thing, dogs eating entire birds. When I asked about the head, the beak, the feet, she simply said, “Yes.” When I pressed her – my dog ate a whole bird – she offered to have the vet call me to reassure me everything would be fine.

Will it be fine? To say that I’m traumatized is an understatement. I watched a bird go from hopping and flapping one minute to feathers and entrails the next, its life taken before my eyes by the animal that I cherish. There wasn’t even any blood; just feathers and that little string of bird guts. My dog did that.

I’m horrified that Bailey didn’t listen to me. She knows these commands cold and I tempted her with her favorite things. She should have listened to me. Then again, I had nothing to offer that could match a live bird. In her mouth.

Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised. A few summers ago, she and Bandit made quick work of the three tiny baby bunnies that had been living in the back yard, bunnies who made the bad choice of hopping around right under the dogs’ noses and flaunting their frailty. It took me weeks to get over the fact that my dogs killed bunnies.

Of course, I understand that this is real life, it’s nature, it’s animals doing what animals do. We have a hawk that often visits our yard; I’ve come outside to find more than one headless sparrow who couldn’t escape the clutches of a bigger, stronger predator.

But at this moment, a few pin feathers still fluttering across the grass, this is too much nature for me. When I came inside after inspecting the yard for any body parts (there were none), Bailey was guzzling down a bowl of water and panting, her tail wagging, she clearly joyful for the hunt and capture she’d just executed. I looked her in the eye and, my voice shaking, whispered, “I can’t believe you just did that.” She stopped wagging and lowered her head a bit, and as our eyes met we both realized that, despite our mutual love and deep emotional connection, she will always be a dog and I a human. She will always eat birds and I will always be traumatized by it.

I reached out to hug her. She nuzzled my neck. I stroked her head and cried.

Bailey is sound asleep at my feet as I write, but I can hear her stomach gurgling, the bird likely making it’s way through her intestines. I’m praying she doesn’t throw up, at least not before darling husband gets home. The last thing I need now is a dog barfing up a bird’s head.

To kill or not to kill spiders

A spider nest in the blackberry patch

Out in the yard this morning, I was watering plants and feeding the birds when I noticed a nest of spider eggs in my blackberry patch.

My first thought was to get the diatomaceous earth so I could get rid of the nest. It’s right by where I walk, right where the dogs cut through the bushes to come into the house. The likelihood was very high that someone, probably Bailey or Bandit, would brush up against the nest and dozens of spiders would get a free ride into the house on dog fur.

Diatomaceous earth – or D-earth, for short – is a naturally occurring material that consists of fossilized remains of diatoms. Essentially, silica from dead marine sediments. It kills insects by drying them up. It’s safe, natural, and my go-to product to kill insects.

But just as quickly as I’d decided to get rid of the spider nest, the reality hit me that these were living creatures, and living in nature. The spider hadn’t built the nest in my kitchen or in my car (which happened last summer).

My general rule of thumb is that if bugs are inside the house (or my car), they should be prepared to meet their maker. But outside, I generally leave them alone. Who am I to kill the spiders in their own home, just because they give me the willies?

That’s when I saw the nest was moving. The spiders were hatching, right in front of my eyes. Life coming forth into the world. Good grief, so many spiders! And crawling in every direction! And so fast! I could feel my skin start to crawl.

Spiders with the right to live, but also the potential to make my life decidedly difficult. As in, webs all over the yard, dogs crawling with insects, spiders in my hair.

So do I dust with the insecticide or not?

It feels hypocritical. I swat flies and mosquitoes. I step on ants in the kitchen. I kill mites in the chicken coop. I kill fleas and ticks to keep my dogs healthy and comfortable. (I hate using chemicals on the dogs and cat. I’ve tried dozens of natural remedies over the years to repel the insects, but after a major flea infestation that took months to clear up and left one dog and the cat with major skin sores due to flea allergies, I now treat with chemicals. The lesser of two evils and all that.)

My point is that I kill stuff all the time and never feel bad about it. Why did I even hesitate this morning?

I wonder if it’s simply the fact that more and more I’ve begun to feel like a part of a bigger picture, less “man controls the world” and more “man is one particle of the intertwined universe”. What if this nest was like Horton’s dust ball, filled with an entire world I can’t see or hear?

I stood there with the D-earth and pondered the spider nest, baby arachnids hatching and scurrying to the four corners of the blackberry patch. I’ll leave my decision about what I actually did a mystery. But tell me: what would you have done?

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Going for gold in my sleep

My dog Bailey, demonstrating an advanced napping position.

My dog Bailey, demonstrating an advanced napping position.

Today is National Napping Day, and to celebrate, here’s a column that ran in Refreshed Magazine in February 2014, and was adapted from a piece in my book, “What The Dog Said.” I would have posted this earlier today but I was, yes, napping.

I’ve never been known for my athletic abilities, but after watching the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, I went into training with the hope that my favorite sport would be added in time for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Known as extreme napping, this highly technical event mixes skill and determination to honor the competitor with the ability to sleep the longest and most soundly amidst the greatest number of distractions.

Alas, my pleas to the Olympic Committee have gone unanswered. I don’t know why. Extreme napping is as thrilling a sport as, say, golf. In fact, from 1912 to 1948, Olympics medals were awarded in the fields of architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture. If you could watercolor your way to a gold medal, why not nap?

Think you’ve got what it takes to be an extreme napper? Then start training! Here are some things you’ll need to ensure success: Continue reading

The Story of Christmas, by Bandit

Bandit, helping Mommy with her column.

Bandit, helping Mommy with her column.

Once upon a time, in a December long ago, I was on a deadline with no idea what I wanted to write when Bandit, my Border Collie, offered to write my column for me. I took him up on the offer. With Christmas just a week away, I thought it might fun to share Bandit’s story of Christmas.

The Story of Christmas
by Bandit*

It is almost Christmas time and pretty soon we will have parties and Santa will come and leave lots of presents.

Do you know why? You don’t? Then I will tell you the story of Christmas!

Once upon a time a man named Joseph and his wife Mary were traveling across the country to a family reunion. On the way, they stopped at a hotel. Mary wasn’t feeling so good. I guess riding on a donkey for eleventeen hundred miles can make you feel pretty barfy.

This was not a hotel like the one me and Mommy stayed at when we went to visit my Grandpa. That time, I got scared when Mommy left me alone in the room and I chewed a big hole in the door. That was a nice hotel with very nice people who did not put me in jail for being a Bad Dog.

Joseph and Mary stopped at hotel with people who were not so nice. It was very busy and everyone was cranky because there were so many people on their way to their own family reunions. So when Joseph and Mary went inside, the check-in guy said, “Sorry, buster. You don’t have a reservation and we don’t have any rooms.”

Joseph said to the check-in guy, “Can’t you see my wife Mary has a really bad belly ache from riding on a donkey for eleventeen hundred miles? Don’t you have any place we can sleep?”

The check-in guy, who it turns out wasn’t so mean after all, said, “Gee, Mister. I am very sorry your wife feels barfy. But I really don’t have any rooms. I guess you could stay out in the barn.” Continue reading

The first true test of my new Honda Fit: hauling shrubs

Old jeep new honda 016 resized

So there’s been quite a bit of news here at the Funny Farm the last few weeks. I’ve been on the hunt for a new car, since the Jeep dogmobile was in need of repairs and it was looking like it might be a case of throwing good money after bad. To make a long story short, after much shopping around, crunching numbers and test driving cars, we traded in the dogmobile for a 2015 Honda Fit.

There was much weeping as I handed over the keys to the Jeep. Saying goodbye was also a little like saying goodbye to a period of five years in my life I’d just rather not revisit. But there are some good things; there was probably a lot of Scout’s dog hair in there. But I just kept reminding myself that I was trading 13 mpg for 35 mpg, and gaining the ability to get on the road and take a trip without having to rent a car.

I opted for the Fit because 1) it’s a Honda and it’ll last me 200,000 miles; 2) the price and terms fit our monthly budget, including the savings I’ll get in gas and insurance; and 3) it’s super fun to drive.

Old jeep new honda 021 resized

I like it. Darling husband likes it. And the dogs, who have only had a short ride in it, seem to like it. Bailey can bark out the back window more easily. Bandit seems to like his new ride in the front seat.

What I didn’t plan on was what would happen when I had to haul stuff around. Today was the first challenge.

I stopped into Wegmans and saw these amazing peony plants, along with blueberry bushes for just $5 each.We planted two blueberry bushes last year, very small plants, but with the winter cold, and probably mostly because Bandit peed on them, they didn’t make it. These blueberry plants at Wegmans were big and lovely, and would surely survive even my inability to grow anything. Since you need to have at least two varieties of blueberries to get fruit, and since they were only $5, I grabbed three varieties and one peony, just for fun.

Feeling quite pleased with myself, I headed to the car only to realize … crap, I don’t know how I’m going to get these plants into that tiny car.

0526151254 Continue reading