Years ago when I started to realize that all living beings have a time to live and a time to die, I started to process the loss of my pet cats, pet dogs, and the runty baby pigs that I so desperately tried to save. I would shed tears as I laid them into my pet cemetery behind the old garage. I would fashion a cross out of a few sticks that I could tie together with some twine. I collected large rocks to place around the location the body lay so not to disturb this ground the next time I had an informal burial. During all of my years I never had to say a forever good bye to any of my horses for one reason or another. That changed today.

In 2004 we moved to the Winterset area after over 20 years of marriage. During this time we were never able to live where we could have horses so after our 4 children were well on their way of becoming able to care for horses, we bought Junior. Junior was a 12 year old gelding that had belonged to a young lady going off to college and in need of a car. We met him in a pasture along I80 at the Menlo exit. Our oldest daughter, Jaclyn, had decided she wanted to have a horse that she could learn to barrel race on. We had already purchased one other horse named Morgan, that was hers for trail riding and he needed a companion. Since it is never fun to trail ride by oneself, Junior was the perfect fit. Both of these boys, I considered gentle giants. I never had to be concerned about the safety of our kids while spending time with them in the pasture or riding. Junior was never out of control when entering the arena to start his race. He was a proven pole and barrel horse that always took care of his rider. Jaclyn’s first year in 4-H she won both the barrels and poles in her intermediate age group. We spent many hours riding these two boys on our property through the years and he became a member of the family just like any dog or cat we had ever brought home. I know over the years he had heard more secrets and stories than he will ever let on as our kids grew into teenagers and young adults. He was always willing to be ridden with or without a saddle. He never showed any ounce of aggression or anger no matter what was going on around him. As with all good barrel and pole horses the years of racing took a toll on his legs. We retired him from racing and he became a second trail horse and a loving member of the Nielsen family. With “natural” hoof trimming he has done extremely well through his senior years. We always allowed him to run free when moving them between pastures over the years and were amazed at how he would kick up his hooves and run like the wind with his tail held high and mane blowing in the wind. It was always one of my favorite things to watch and will be the way I remember our Junior.

I reminisce about all that our kids have learned by having horses. The following link has been special to me since I have daughters that have shared my love for horses.

Because My Daughter Grew Up With Horses – Breyer Horse

We have so many wonderful memories of time spent with Junior that will give us great joy in this time of sorrow. It is never easy saying good-bye but when the suffering was great, and the twinkle was gone, it was time.

As a veterinarian, I am so accustomed to saving our furry friends that when it comes to my own family from 4 legged to 2 legged and I cannot stop the pain and suffering it takes on a whole new meaning. These moments tug and pull at my heart and mind and the tears come flooding through. Age is just something that I cannot turn back the clock on. Medical conditions start to deteriorate the body and sometimes, our pets show no response to treatment. When this happens there is no hope for quality of life. I want to protect my children from feeling this loss but I know that is not possible. If we have pets, there will be pain when these decisions must be made. There is such a mix of emotions surrounding this decision, from the peace that I know has come to Junior as he took his final breath, to the tears of sadness from my myself and my family as we said goodbye to Junior, to the joy of having him in our lives for the last 13 years, for the loss that Morgan has as he searches the hillside for his companion of 13 years. Death is difficult no matter what the circumstances are. In that circle of life as every living soul lives and dies we must find the peace within ourselves to be grateful for the years, days, hours, and minutes that we have shared together. Rest in peace Junior. You are forever in our hearts and minds.

By the edge of a woods, at the foot of a hill

is a lush, green meadow where time stands still.

For here, between this world and the next

is a place where heavenly horses find rest.

And on this beautiful green land JUNIOR will play.

He will have no pain, God takes it all away.

Junior will trot through the grass, without a care,

until one day he will stop, whinny, and sniff the air.

Suddenly he will see you, as you run to your old friend

One person and one horse, together once again.

And the sadness that you felt while you were apart

has turned to joy once more in both of your hearts.

Spring Has Come…

With springtime comes many outdoor activities. We are seeing people snap photos of their morel mushrooms, play outdoors sports, do yard work, and of course, head out into the great outdoors to spend time with their pets.   Along with all of these outdoor activities we need to be aware and attentive to the danger of wood ticks during the springtime. Numerous people and pets are being diagnosed with tick borne diseases. My focus this month will be on some important information about ticks and how to protect yourself and your pets.

Growing up on an Iowa farm, our dog had more ticks than I could count on any given day. It was a job to check the dog over daily and remove any ticks that were found. The number of products available back in the 70’s to use as prevention was limited and so every pet and person got a good tick check at the end of the day. We never heard about Lyme Disease or Erlichiosis in those days. We just knew that one large tick leads to many baby ticks and did not want that to happen so we flushed the ticks or squashed them. Today between social media, television, friendly conversations, etc., it is rare not to find some new information about tick diseases or hear about another person diagnosed with a tick borne disease. These diseases are in every state except Hawaii. It is important to educate yourself on the best way to protect your family and your pets.

I first want to discuss Lyme disease in dogs. Most people are familiar with Lyme disease and know that a very small deer tick transmits this disease to its host. What is not talked about is that mice, turkeys, birds are also hosts for the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi that deer tick transmit. Therefore any person could be at risk for contacting Lyme disease no matter where they live or play.   Deer ticks also have a very active stage in the fall. This is not common knowledge and therefore people that hunt and hike in the fall are not protecting themselves.

Dogs have some great advantages over humans when it comes to protecting themselves against Lyme disease.   There are vaccines that can protect our canine friends from Lyme disease and if vaccinated prior to exposure they have greater than 95% success. The first time it is given there is a series of 2 vaccinations and then it is an annual shot after that. Puppies can be vaccinated as young as 12 weeks of age. Discuss the risk your pet may have to Lyme disease with your veterinarian and see if you should start this immunization today.

We have had flea and tick products for many years that when applied topically would prevent many ticks from attaching and taking a blood meal.   Then about 3 years ago some oral products came to the market that gave 100% body coverage but do require a bite for a blood meal. So the debate still continues, bite or no bite, which is better. I believe that both products when used properly and used 9-10 months out of the year, can do a great job at preventing tick infestations. Now you will notice that I suggested 9-10 months out of the year. In Madison County, we have seen some extremely mild winters where we get minimal snow and often have days during December – February where we are above freezing. It has been discovered that ticks will still be out “questing” for their host even at freezing temperatures if the ground is not covered with snow.   For that reason, you must consider protecting your pet longer and/or consider year round prevention.   Many infections of Lyme Disease will not be discovered until 4-6 months after the tick bite. This is related to the Borrelia life cycle once it is injected into the host.   Dogs do not get a bullseye skin rash so the first indication your dog has been infected may be fever, extreme joint pain, lethargy, and no appetite. Exposure to Lyme disease can be diagnosed with a simple laboratory test done in the clinic. These tests can also indicate exposure to Erlichiosis and Anaplasmosis which are two other tick borne diseases. We have been seeing many positive test results with Erlichiosis and last month I had my first positive Anaplasmosis in a dog that moved here from Wisconsin. The owner indicated 4 years ago the dog was ill and treated for Anaplasmosis. It was still positive when it presented to Winterset Veterinary Center for a routine screening. The dog is no longer clinically ill but may always be positive on the screening test. Anaplasmosis has often been considered a disease of the South, but this dog had never left Wisconsin.

Erlichiosis and Anaplasmosis both cause similar symptoms to Lyme’s disease. We do not have any vaccines to protect against these two diseases, so your best protection would be tick control and checking for ticks at the end of the day.   We do not know how long a tick must be attached to transmit these organisms. For Borrelia that transmits Lyme Disease we know it is more then 24 hours, but the research is still ongoing for the other two diseases. Researchers know it is quicker than Borrelia but is it 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, etc hours we still do not know. We are also aware that once positive for any one of these tick borne diseases, treatment or no treatment, they will most likely remain positive for the rest of their life. There is concern now that some of our joint disease issues may stem from a chronic (long term) infection of tick borne diseases. These organisms can also infect the kidney which can be detrimental as the pet ages. It has been shown that infection with Erlichiosis can produce clinical symptoms much faster than Lyme Disease. Therefore it is important to remove ticks quickly to prevent transmission of the bacteria.

Lyme Disease was first diagnosed in Lyme, Connecticut in the mid 1970’s and a scientist, Willy Burgdorfer, in 1981 made the connection between deer tick and the disease. The first dog case of Lyme disease in Madison County was diagnosed by Dr. Jim at Winterset Veterinary Center in 1989. Since that time cases have been increasing in humans and animals.   This link gives information about Lyme Disease: History of Lyme Disease | Bay Area Lyme Foundation

The following link indicates that Erlichiosis has now been discovered in Minnesota and Wisconsin in humans and will only be a matter of time before Iowa is on the map. We are finding Erlichiosis in Iowa dogs so I am certain it will be diagnosed in humans very soon.


If we know a dog has any one of these tick borne diseases the use of antibiotics can knock down the clinical symptoms. The problem is knowing how long to treat and if the bacteria will actually be cleared from the body. Studies have shown that even with treatment the organism may remain in the body and surface at times of stress such as pregnancy or treatment with immunosuppressive medications. This is what makes these diseases such a mystery to treat. We are still learning new information daily on the life cycle of these tick borne diseases.

So if you are headed out to enjoy the great outdoors, please take precautions not only for your pet but yourself as well. This is the time of year when ticks are out in full force and it only takes one tick to start a long illness that may always plague you or your pet.

Do not take a chance on this because it is a life changing disease and anyone who has contacted it will tell you……I wish I would have known then what I know now about these tick borne diseases. Their lives will never be the same. Learn from their words of wisdom and take all the precautions you can and protect your pets with vaccinations, flea and tick products, and regular tick checks.

Is This a Service Animal, Therapy Animal, or Pet?

It has become apparent that pet owners are interested in taking their pets with them everywhere they go. Some hotel chains are making exceptions for pets. There are pets in businesses and public venues that I have not seen before. I believe that we are going to see more opportunities for pets in public places in the future. Yet we must be cautious not to infringe on the rights of those working dogs that are essential for the disabled and/or handicapped to carry out their day to day routines.

We are seeing an increase number of people indicating their “pet” is a therapy animal, service animal, or emotional support animal. Yet there is much confusion and misunderstandings about what the differences are. I am going to share some basic information and then encourage you to ask more questions and find out more details if there are situations that you are finding yourself or someone you love in. A service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. A disability can include a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. An emotional support animal is a companion animal that a medical professional (licensed mental health professional) has determined provides benefit for an individual with a disability. A therapy animal has been obedience trained and screened for its ability to interact favorably with humans. Their primary purpose is to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, etc. At Winterset Veterinary Center we have been asked to write letters indicating a pet is an emotional support or therapy animal. We are not licensed to make that decision so we cannot write such a letter. There are trainers that offer many different levels of training. One must educate themselves on what are the needs of the person desiring the animal. How do you select the animal and is that even possible? What are the expenses necessary to train the animal? If we train this animal, where are we allowed to take the it at the end of the program? The following link has an excellent chart describing the differences between service, emotional support, and therapy animals. The article is associated with a news team that realized how easy it was to turn a family pet into a service dog just through an online purchase. Of course that is not legal and is punishable by law if someone is caught passing their dog off as a service dog.


I reprinted the chart below so if you are interested in learning the comparison’s between service dogs, emotional support dogs, and therapy dogs it is there for your information. I found this chart at orvis.com titled, “Is that a real service dog?”

There are very high standards and guidelines that must be followed with service animals. These requirements take a large number of hours in training and gaining experiences that can often times only be accomplished through programs like Paws and Effect, Puppy Jake, Guide Dogs of America, etc.   Even in these programs sometimes up to 50% of the puppies that begin training never complete the training or retire early. The cost to train a dog in one of these programs can range from $10,000-$20,000 or more. The training can span more than 2 years depending on what tasks the animal is being taught. Attempting to adopt a dog or purchase a dog and start the training process yourself can be a great expense and at the end a dog may not have the skills or mental capacity to be a service dog. Often times a trainer agrees to help you train your dog but there is no guarantee that you will have a dog that can truly be a service dog for you or your loved one. Take time to look at this link and recognize the great challenges that lie before you and your pet. The investment in time and money will be substantial. The following link lists requirements of service dogs in public and will be a good source of information.


If after reading this you are still interested in training your dog to be a service dog, emotional support dog, or therapy dog. A good place to start is working toward a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) award. A CGC award is for dogs that pass basic social and behavioral classes. There are 10 basic steps to this award. It is a noncompetitive test for all dogs and can be used as a prerequisite for therapy dogs. Some homeowner insurance companies and apartment complexes are looking to use these tests to encourage good manners in the dogs and teach responsible pet ownership to their owners. The following link gives you more information on what this CGC test is all about and what the test items are. This is a great place to start with any dog and if it receives this award then you are able to move forward with additional training and tasks. If it fails this CGC test then you need to realize this dog will never be anything but a very special pet that can give you great joy and happiness.


This last link just points out the great injustice to those people who do have service dogs and how it affects them in their daily lives when others try to pass their pets off as service dogs. Please consider the danger of “Imposter Service Animals” to the general public. We need to protect the true service animals and their owners by keeping our companion animals only in public places that allow all pets.

Easy-to-Obtain Vests Can Make an Untrained Pet Look Like an …

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