JD Allinder

Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

The Doctor is In

In Posts on September 18, 2009 at 1:14 pm

Jane had her annual physical today at Ypsilanti Animal Clinic. Though she’s been to the clinic a few times in the past – a quick check-up when I first brought her home, a stitched wound in the winter – this was her first annual. (Last year’s was performed at Broken Road Rescue by Dr. Laura Chamberlain of Mid-Michigan Equine Services.) She was surprised to be going for a car ride so early in the morning (we usually don’t go out until lunch), but she gladly accepted what she thought was her good fortune.

She recognized the clinic when we arrived and showed no signs of distress as some dogs do. We walked around the building so she could sniff the markings of others and add her own to the mix. When we went inside, she waited patiently with me while I stroked her and periodically rewarded her with oatmeal treats. (I always bring along lots of treats to try to make visiting the doctor a more positive experience.) When the male vet tech came out to weigh her, though, she became visibly afraid. She was terrified of his hands and wouldn’t go near the scale. I coaxed her on to the scale and held her while the tech got a reading (64 pounds). When he led us into the examination room, Jane was still nervous and wanted nothing to do with him. He talked to us briefly, and then Dr. Kunoff arrived. MSU-trained, Dr. Kunoff is a wonderful veterinarian: calm, sensitive, patient, and a real dog lover (with a sweet spot for hounds). Dr. Kunoff has been at the clinic since 2001, and I hope he stays around forever. I’ve been visiting Ypsilanti Animal Clinic for years, but they’ve never been able to keep good doctors. My favorite, Dr. Muns – she performed a wonderful fatty tumor removal on Georgia – left years ago to join a large animal practice, and I haven’t connected with any of the other doctors since. It felt like a revolving door for a few years until Dr. Kunoff arrived. He’s such a good fit. He’s part of our community, and, most important, Jane trusts him.

Dr. Kunoff and Jane

Dr. Kunoff said Jane’s heart is in great shape (exercise!), her teeth are awesome (B.A.R.F!), and that, overall, she “looks great.” She received vaccines for kennel cough, distemper, and rabies, and then had blood drawn for her heartworm test.

Heartworm Test

I fed her oatmeal treats throughout the ordeal, and she really was a trooper. She even gave up and allowed the vet tech to handle her. (He was also very gentle.) I was actually surprised by her reaction to the vet tech. She was frequently afraid of me when I first adopted her, but she so completely trusts me now – including all the choices I make for her – that I forget sometimes about her fear. Despite her confidence with me, dogs, and people she knows, she can still be spooked by strangers, especially males.

I recently read two books about canine fear Scaredy Dog! Understanding and Rehabilitating Your Reactive Dog by Ali Brown and Help for Your Fearful Dog by Nicole Wilde. Brown’s book is awful. Devoid of research, it’s all anecdotal and poorly written. (My elementary-aged students communicate more effectively.) Wilde’s book, while still imperfect (top-notch dog books are extremely rare), is the less emotional of the two, and I was able to cull a couple of tidbits out of its 400-plus pages of definitions and exercises. One thing I definitely learned is that Jane is not what both authors call a “reactive” dog. While she’s certainly got fears and quirks, she would not be labeled a fearful dog. I also learned that Jane’s mistrust of people is not necessarily indicative of abuse in her past. It could also be the result of not being socialized. Rather than paraphrase, I’m going to simply transcribe Wilde:

“Lack of Socialization: When a dog displays fearful behavior around people, it is often assumed that the dog was abused, especially if her history is unknown. But in fact, a lack of early socialization is the more likely culprit. Many behaviorists believe that this early deficit is the primary reason dogs develop fear issues, especially toward strangers, other dogs, or new environments. Remember that dogs have a genetically programmed fear of the unfamiliar, an instinct designed to keep them safe. The engagement of that response is almost wholly avoidable by making most things dogs will encounter – dogs, people, places, sounds, touch, and movement – familiar through early and frequent exposure.” (9)

Of course I don’t know if this is Jane’s case or not, but I have been told that some people who keep hunting dogs do not treat them properly. They’re often considered things and not sentient beings and certainly not members of the family (which is all they really want). I have no idea what Jane’s first 20 months were like. I do know that the past 12 have been pretty good, and I hope and pray that, in time, she’ll have no memory of life before me.


Saginaw Forest

In Posts on September 16, 2009 at 6:46 pm


Jane and I took our lunch break today at Saginaw Forest, one of Ann Arbor’s best-kept secrets. Located on Liberty Road about half a mile south of Wagner, Saginaw is 80 acres of woods, wetlands, and prairies, and it’s adjacent to another 20-30 acres of private property (where we hike as well). Though the forest is a private research and teaching facility owned by the University of Michigan and managed by the School of Natural Resources, it’s open to the public and features several miles of established trails, deer paths, and deep-woods walking for the adventurous. It is a gorgeous, pristine property, and very few people seem to know about it or use it.

The property was given as a gift to the UofM in 1903 by Regent Arthur Hill and his wife, Louise, both of Saginaw. The gift of the property coincided with the inaugural year of the School of Natural Resources, and the faculty and students began long-term forest planting that continued until 1937. The result is 55 acres of native and exotic species and home to a vast array of wildlife including, believe it or not, wild boar, some of whom carry the pseudorabies virus which, while not deadly to humans, has been known to kill dogs and cats. (Thankfully Jane and I weren’t attacked by wild rabid boars today. Wouldn’t that have been an adventure?)

Today was an absolutely perfect day for a visit to the forest. While still summer, there was definitely a hint of fall in the air. It was crisp and breezy and just enough of summer’s oppressive edge was taken off so as to put quite a zing in Jane’s step.

She’s not the only one. When we came upon a field of wild flowers blowing in the wind, I couldn’t contain myself: I took off running. The sun was high overhead, but the shadows were long and full of promise. Jane ran along beside me, thrilling in the now, and I know she understood. I know this might sound dramatic, but I almost started crying – truly. My heart was so filled with the joy of fall. It’s my season of rebirth.

Saginaw Forest Pond

Despite the nip in the air, it was still warm and sunny enough to work up quite a sweat. We walked long and hard, and I ended up running a couple of miles, too. About halfway through our romp we stopped at Third Sister Lake where Jane refreshed herself.

Third Sister Lake

We were both exhausted after a two-hour plus outing. The weather and the overwhelming feeling of optimism that it engendered turned Jane into a wild banshee (really) and made me push myself just a little bit harder.

If you decide to visit Saginaw Forest (and if you live in the area, you definitely should), there are several points of entry. Though the easiest is the gated entry on Liberty, there’s no parking at the gate or on Liberty. There are also no sidewalks on Liberty, and the traffic moves pretty swiftly, so, in other words, if you want to access the woods, you have to work for it. (Which is probably one of the reasons why no one’s ever there. It’s not a park, and it’s not convenient, but that makes it more special. Going there always feels like an adventure.) I drive about 500 meters south of  the entrance to Westview Way and turn left. It’s an upper middle class subdivision, and it feels kind of awkward parking there, but I do it anyway. Streets are public. From the car I walk in the grassy ditch along Liberty until I reach the entrance to the woods and then run across the street. (Cars really fly through there. Easy does it!)

Jane on the trail


In Posts on September 9, 2009 at 9:01 pm

GA in the Garden

Georgia died a year ago today. She was my first dog as a grown-up and my best friend for almost thirteen years. The full spectrum of Georgia’s effect on my life is difficult to measure. She was my constant companion for all those years, through thick and thin. She was the most reliable and important thing in my life. No matter how difficult a day was – and I had a few rotten ones over the years – Georgia was always waiting for me at the end of it. Nothing else really mattered when Georgia was around. She instantly put everything into perspective. I’ve never loved anyone like I loved Georgia. She was an angel from Heaven, and I like to believe that she’s returned home and is waiting for me.

I met Georgia in March 1996. I was at the Humane Society looking for my first grown-up, on-my-own dog. I took most of the dogs out for short walks to get a feel for their temperaments. I skipped over Georgia’s kennel several times. She was skinny and had dirty, stick-up hair. I was focusing my attention on the dogs I found aesthetically pleasing, but they weren’t interested in me. Each enjoyed going out for a walk, but there was no connection. After exhausting all the dogs, I sighed and took Georgia – her name was something else, I can’t remember what they called her – for my final walk. I found her so unappealing. I thought she looked like a junkyard dog – so undignified. As soon as we got outside, Georgia dragged me across the parking lot to a grassy knoll, jumped on me with all four paws, and knocked me to the ground. As I laid in the wet grass, covering my face, laughing, she was jumping all over and around me like a crazy nut. If she could speak English she would have been saying, “Let’s go!” Her message was unmistakable. I just kept laughing and telling her, “Okay, okay.” When I went in and told them I wanted to adopt her, I found out she couldn’t come home with me straightaway. She’d have to stay at the shelter another 72 hours for spaying. I thought I’d die. I didn’t want to be without her. I’d spent my whole life without her, and suddenly I couldn’t imagine being separated from her for those three days. I vividly remember those three days felt like a year. I never thought she’d be mine.

She died in my arms. She’d been having seizures for several months. They were most likely from a brain tumor that I decided not to test or treat. She was 13 – an old, old, lady – but she was still in good spirits. In fact, we even took a short walk the day before she died. (In 12 and a half years, we only skipped our daily walks three times.) During one of her seizures I couldn’t contain myself. I got on the floor with her and held her in my arms, crying. She licked my hand. I’ll never forget that. She was in the midst of suffering, and yet she was concerned about me. Her final seizure was violent. I thought she was dying. She lived through it, but the damage was irreversible. I let her rest all day. She didn’t eat anything. In the evening I took her to the hospital to have her euthanized. I helped her into the back seat of the car. It was warm out, and I drove with all the windows open. In the rearview mirror I could see her sitting up, enjoying the full rush of air on her face. She was smiling.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Georgia. Her pictures are all over the house. Sometimes I dream about her. I mostly think about her life and not her death, and I think that’s a good thing. Sometimes I do think about her death, though. I had never seen death until she died in my arms. One second she was alive, and the next she was gone. Life is so fleeting, so impermanent. I thank God for allowing our paths to cross. She was my teacher in life, and she’s my teacher in death. She’s still with me. I know that sounds cliche, but it’s true.