Pet Appreciation Week in June

This past week was pet appreciation week. I was wondering what to write about and it occurred to me that the animals in my life have shaped me into the veterinarian I am today. Growing up in northern Iowa on a hog-grain farm was the perfect place to start experiencing animals and their affect on my life. We had dogs, cats, a shetland pony, and hogs very early in my life. Each of them played a different role in my upbringing.

As a hog farmer’s daughter, I got involved in the early care of baby pigs. Once the piglets were born it was my brother and I’s job to help hold the pigs for their early iron shots and teeth trimming to protect the sows. Once we were old enough to do the processing ourselves it became our responsibility. My brother was 2 years younger than myself and we were the main caretakers of the piglets once they were born. We kept accurate records of how many live pigs each sow had and recorded the weight and medical data for the litters. If there were any “runts” in the litters we took them to a separate area and raised them on milk replacer. Any of those runts that survived we got the money for our own bank accounts when they were sold. I paid for a majority of my undergraduate education with those hog funds. I realized that I loved watching a runt grow and thrive because of my Tender Loving Care(TLC). I joined FFA and 4-H.  My brother and I raised hogs to show. We did well in those circles and enjoyed being one another’s competition. I was part of the FFA meat judging team in high school and spent time in packing plants grading carcasses. Still enjoy selecting my meat at Fareway using the knowledge learned 40 years ago. As the County and District Pork Queen (Ambassador as they are now called), I traveled to California and promoted pork in grocery stores.  FFA, 4-H, and being a Pork Ambassador really allowed me to be comfortable speaking in front of people.  I realized that there is no such thing as a stranger…. just a friend you have not met yet.

My first pony was named Lars. My parents named their kids, Linda, Lori, Lonna, and Lee. My parents came up with a Norwegian name for our pony that started with “L” since we are 100% Norwegian. Lars was a stubborn shetland pony but extremely tolerant of us jumping on and off, sliding down his neck, or doing leap frog onto his back. We would stand on him. Lay on him. Dress him up with blankets and put flowers in his mane and tail. As long as he could eat grass he was happy. When I was older and wanted to ride him he attempted to find a low branch on a tree and run right under it. Being little I would just lay down on him and under the branch I would go. Often I would walk him down the lane and ride him back up since he would gallop on the way home. We got a few other horses by the time I was in Junior High. Lars was still with us but had retired to pasture pony.  One day I came out to the pasture and found Lars had punctured his eye. I do not know to this day how he did it, but a call to the vet indicated he was blind in that eye.  He would need to be treated with ointment and pain meds until healed. I took on that responsibility and marveled at the quick healing process. I realized that the pony did not care that he was blind in one eye. In his perspective he could still do everything he had been doing with 2 good eyes. He eventually moved to a home with younger children and lived out his final years there. I raised 2 foals before graduating from high school and realized that early intervention is important in the training of animals. I was able to deworm and vaccinate the horses and learn important facts about nutrition.

Cats and kittens were plenty on the farm. Growing up in the 70’s the profession of Veterinary Medicine was mostly focused on livestock. The spay/neuter programs were nonexistent in rural Iowa. We had kittens at least twice a year and I learned a lot about treating snotty nose and crusty eyed kittens. I was giving penicillin shots and treating eyes in an attempt to save my babies.  I was attached to all of them and they all had names. I had my favorite mommas and they would hide the kittens in our large haymow. I was the only one that could find the kittens. I would go into the loft and meow like a cat and the mommas would come out from their hiding spots. I would then keep it a secret so only I knew where they were. As the kittens grew I would spend hours playing with them and watching them play. I remember a time my mom was frantically looking for me and eventually found me sleeping in the barn with cats and kittens laying all around me and on top of me. It is from these precious souls that I learned about the circle of life. With as many cats as we had, death was always a possibility. With the large farm equipment and trucks driving around the property, accidents were bound to happen. Every time I lost a cat or kitten I would bury them in a “pet cemetery.”  My brother and I would make wooden crosses out of sticks or scraps of wood to place on the grave. We put rocks over the soil to reduce the opportunity of them being dug up by other critters. I loved them and they taught me that in life every soul has a time to live and a time to die. 

We had dogs growing up on the farm. They were usually large dogs. Most were females and you guessed it…we got to experience puppies. We would find homes for most of the puppies rather quickly. The puppies got attention and affection so became great family farm dogs. Some of our dogs were working dogs but most were just happy friendly pets. We knew that if they roamed there was the possibility of them not coming home. Dogs off their own farm were a hazard to livestock and neighbors property. This gave me an education about the large responsibility of having a dog. The importance of training and caring for them. The need to groom them. I grew to love the happy spirit and unconditional love they had for every member of the family. I learned that when they got older and even doing the normal daily routines were difficult for them it was time to say goodbye. Watching them struggle was not in their best interest. I had the intelligence to know when to let them leave this earth and be at peace. Yes, there were tears. Yes, there was a realization that the one thing I could not do was make them young again. Yes, their only fault, they did not live long enough.

I have deeply loved my animals through the years. They have given me great joy and love. I appreciate all that they have taught me. They gave me a career that has served me and my family well for the last 32 years. They have raised my children and taught them to cherish their time with furry friends. These critters deserve our love and devotion because all they ever want is ours. I do so appreciate my pets.

National Pet Week & Service Dog Eye Exams

Here we are another month and we are still social distancing. This month was designed to recognize our furry friends and the contributions they make to our daily lives. With the pandemic we are restricted in what we can do within our communities and that includes where we can go with our pets. Winterset Veterinary Center did post staff members with their pets last week on Facebook. We were thrilled with the comments and likes that were made. It was interesting to note that many of us have gotten our furry friends either from a shelter, rescue, or strays that just wandered in one day. We all love our furry friends but know that they are just ordinary pets that give us great joy and unconditional love each day.

This is Sonny, a Winterset Veterinary Center shelter dog that Dr. Jim and his wife gave a forever home about two years ago. He is the perfect gentleman and loves to be the center of attention. See more photos of our staff and their pets on our Facebook page.

Service dogs are a different class of canine citizen. They are working dogs. They are given privileges to enter places that ordinary dogs do not get to go. They have devoted at least 2 years of their lives to training to do the tasks set before them. It is critical that their hearing and vision stay sharp. During this month of May we encourage you to set an appointment to have the eyes examined by a licensed ophthalmologist. The eyes can have changes to the lens and pressure changes to the globe causing cataracts or glaucoma. Both conditions can be treated but early intervention is critical to avoid long term blindness. Blindness would affect your service dog’s ability to do his/her job. There are ophthalmologists that travel to different cities to do exams. If you have an interest in having your dog’s eyes checked, please contact us during regular business hours to find out how to make an appointment with a specialist.

We still get lots of questions about someone wanting their pet to be a therapy dog or service dog. Therapy dogs are trained to go to schools, hospitals, nursing homes, airports, libraries, etc. to help calm those in the building. There are training facilities that can assist you in determining if your dog could be in those locations and remain calm. A Good Canine Citizen Test is a good place to start. If a dog can pass that exam, they may have potential to be used in a therapy setting. If they struggle with the basic concepts in that Canine Citizen Test, they will probably not pass the tests required to be a certified therapy dog.

We also have many people that want their pet to be a service dog. A service dog is trained from 8 weeks to 2 years of age by professionals to prepare them to assist someone with disabilities. There are many dogs that fail these programs for different reasons and are then trained for other services that fit their skill sets. Attempting to train your pet to be a service dog is a huge mistake. Attempting to pass your pet off as a service dog is a huge error in judgement. Attempting to buy a vest online indicating your dog is a service dog is morally wrong. These pets are interfering with the true service dog’s role. Businesses are questioning even those who have legally trained service dogs because we have people attempting to pass their pets off as service animals. If you would like your pet to be an emotional support pet speak with your personal doctor or therapist. An emotional support pet can offer you personal encouragement within your home but is not allowed into public spaces where dogs are not allowed.  Only service dogs can access those buildings. It is important to recognize the difference between service, therapy, and emotional support dogs.

Pets have become increasingly important during the Covid-19 pandemic. They have given us distractions when boredom has set in with social distancing. They have gotten us off the couch and into the fresh air for walks. Many families have decided it was a good time to get a pet since they have been stuck at home and have more time to potty train. Be cautious though since we are seeing challenges socializing our puppies because we are not allowed to gather at farmers markets, little league games, parks, etc. Those were the perfect places to socialize our pets with other pets and people that we do not have within our homes. I fear that we will have new pets fearful of other dogs and people because of social distancing. When the pandemic restrictions are lifted, we will have young dogs showing separation anxiety when owners go back to work. Please speak with trainers on how to socialize and prepare your dogs and or puppies for future experiences they are missing out on.  Some trainers are offering online courses to assist new pet owners with situations just like this. Take the time to seek professional help to train your new pet. It will prevent issues in the future if you start early.

National Pet week is usually the first full week in May. If you missed it this year put it on your calendar for next year. It would be fun to see people post photos of themselves with their furry friends. Our pets do contribute to our happiness and sanity in many ways. I am hoping that by this time in June we will be getting back to more normal activities as summer will be in full swing. Bring on the warm weather and sunny days of summer. Have a wonderful Memorial Day.

April is Animal Cruelty Awareness Month

In this unprecedented time of social distancing we find ourselves under a lot of stress and uncertainty about how this pandemic is affecting our mental, financial, and physical selves. It has also affected our furry friends but they may see it as a positive. Maybe we need to look at it from their perspective. They are thrilled to have more opportunity to spend time with those they love. They get more cuddles and walks then in months past. They are not left to wander aimlessly around the house and instead get to be involved in daily activities of fun and fellowship with family. Our pets can be a source of calm and distraction at the same time. It is amazing to me the number of new pets being bought during this time of social distancing. People are realizing they now have the time to invest in a furry new friend and are taking that step as a pet owner.

Those that handle abuse situations indicate these trying times can bring about more cases of abuse due to the uncertainty of our daily lives as well. Statistics indicate that homes suspected of child abuse had an 88% history of animal abuse also. We know that abuse happens more often in relationship to mental and financial stress. Our nation is truly in a state of mental and financial distress. If you or someone you love appears to be struggling with the current situation, please reach out to someone for help before any abuse whether animal or human can occur. There are professionals waiting to help during these difficult times. Many have programs to help with the financial barriers encountered when seeking out professional help.

Animal cruelty and abuse can come in many forms. A large percentage of the animal abuse cases involve dogs. Animal hoarding is the #1 animal cruelty crisis. Often a person does not start out hoarding animals but instead has a deep compassion for their struggles. As they take on more mouths to feed, they are no longer able to do basic care such as spay and neutering. The population explodes within their environment as new puppies and kittens arrive. Before they realize it, they are behind in basic health and nutritional needs. They have more waste then they ever thought possible. The almighty dollar does not stretch far enough so buying food for the masses becomes the priority and everything else is left behind. Disease and behavioral issues develop and the hoarding is in full swing.

Other forms of animal cruelty are dog and bull fighting, neglect, puppy mills, animals used in the entertainment industry for financial gain. Some would classify big game hunting or agricultural practices within the realm of animal cruelty also. It is easy for us to point fingers at some group or organization that does not hold the same convictions as ourselves when evaluating animal cruelty. In the last few years, my husband and I attended classes relating to foster and adoptive children. In those classes we were made aware that the standards around raising children can be acceptable at many levels. Just because we may not consider it normal does not make it abuse. I think this needs to be considered in relationship to animals as well. When clients visit Winterset Veterinary Center, it is our job to treat these patients and provide the best standard of care. Now whether that person chooses to agree to that standard is their decision. We do not judge them for their decision. We accept what they are willing and able to do. They may have a different normal in their minds.  We will discuss the different options available at each level of care. Always keeping in mind that this patient shall be comfortable and not suffering. People appreciate our approach to care and our nonjudgemental platform. There is no way we can know what each family is going through as they present this patient. These decisions can be agonizing for the owners and we do not want to add any additional burdens to their situation. Our standard may be different but that does not make it the norm.

As we continue during our time of social distancing please remember to stay safe and look out for one another. Whether that is your neighbor or your furry friend. Keep a close watch on the needs of others. We can get through this. Hopefully, we can be a much kinder and gentler nation of the other side of Covid-19!

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