Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The high cost of veterinary school, and why it matters

Eamon and Maggie cats sleeping in the same bed
Maggie and Eamon have done their part to support our local vets this year
(or I suppose I have).
Ever wondered why your average veterinarian doesn't stroll into appointments decked out in $100 shoes, rings sparkling on every finger? The messy nature of the job might have something to do with it, but according to an article in the Sunday edition of the New York Times, sheer economics may play a bigger role. This article suggests that out-of-state tuition for veterinary school has risen by 35 percent during the last decade, landing at about $63,000 per year. At the same time, the average salary of a veterinarian has dipped by 13 percent, landing just above the $45,000-per-year mark.

These numbers should give pet owners pause.

We depend on our veterinarians to provide our animals with life-saving care, and we need them to have excellent educational backgrounds in order to reach that goal. In fact, I might argue that vets need to know more now than they ever did before, as we demand specialized care for our little creatures, including pacemaker placement, hip replacement and cataract surgeries. These aren't the sorts of things people can learn on the fly, and the better education a vet has, the more likely that professional will be able to handle these tasks and help a little creature to achieve robust health.

But, vets who go to school to get the education we demand might be under such huge debt loads that they'll never be able to pay that money back. They have years and years of schooling, and they're making salaries similar comparable to the salary I made as a receptionist 10 years ago. It doesn't seem fair.

Open discussions about salary make a lot of people uncomfortable, and I know I can squirm when people want to talk with me about things pertaining to dollars and cents. But, given what I know about the debt load many of my vets are taking on, I might change tactics just a little. I might look for opportunities to buy food and merchandise from vet clinics instead of pet stores, for example, so I can bring a little more money into the clinic. I might try to buy flea meds in the office instead of online. I might keep all of those wellness exams on the calendar, even when I don't really think they're needed.

These might be small steps, but I want veterinarians to stay in business. I need them.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Book review: Dog Body Language Phrasebook by Trevor Warner

Liam yawning in front of a book
Everyone's a critic.
I got this little book ("Dog Body Language Phrasebook: 100 Ways to Read Their Signals" by Trevor Warner) as a Christmas gift, and I've been chipping away at it ever since. It's a tiny book, with a big picture and a small nugget of information on each page, so it works well as a quick diversion when the words won't come or I otherwise need to reset my brain so I can shift from one task to another.

Much of the information presented here will be familiar to people who have raised dogs or lived with dogs. By now, I would hope that most of us know what dogs mean when they wag their tails or play bow or bark excitedly. However, there's a significant amount of detail here that's useful for almost all dog owners. Much of this information concerns dog/dog communication.

When dogs are meeting up with one another for the first time, they're sending and receiving a tremendous number of signals regarding playfulness, excitement level, health and overall friendliness. This book breaks down those signals, and it uses photos so it's easy to see just what the author is describing. More than once, I've been at the dog park in the presence of a dog giving intensely aggressive signals, while the person in the background is screaming, "He's friendly!" It would be handy to thrust this book at those dog owners, and point to the specific body signals I've seen and they haven't. Perhaps if more people were educated about what dog aggression actually looks like, there would be fewer "accidental" dog fights.

I also noticed a few things about my own dog. For example, Liam often stands around with one front paw hiked up off the ground. I had no idea that this was considered a submissive gesture, but apparently, it is! So even know-it-alls like me can benefit from a book like this.

Plus the pictures are cute. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Thoughts on Mark Buehrle's pit bull

Liam the pug looking adorable
I wouldn't leave this guy behind, either.
I've written about breed bans before (here and here and here), and I've developed a pretty deep and abiding hatred of this kind of legislation. Most of the time, when I've been tempted to write about breed bans, I'm discuss specific cases in which a dog was ripped away from a family or I'm talking about dog bite statistics. In other words, the prompts are about the need for/no need for a law or the consequences of the enforcement of a law. The Mark Buehrle case gives me yet another prompt. This is a situation in which a man, in the hopes of following the law, is forced to make a terrible decision, and he's facing widespread ridicule as a result.

For those of you who don't know, Mark Buehrle is a baseball player, and he was traded from Orlando to Ontario. He has a pit bull-type dog at home, and Ontario doesn't allow these dogs within the city limits. He could have placed the dog with friends, placed the dog in a kennel or just broken the laws and brought the dog with him when he moved. Instead, he's splitting up his family. His wife will stay with the dog and the children, and he'll visit them on a regular basis, although he'll be living somewhere else on a full-time basis.

Clever writers are using headlines like "Mark Buehrle Will Leave His Family Behind..." and "Rather Than Leave His Dog Behind, Mark Buehrle Will Leave His Family Behind" when they discuss this case. Comments on the Huffington Post are similarly damning, including: "Hmm, kids or dogs, kids or dogs? Sorry kids, let the dog watch you grow up." In other words, this player is facing some serious attacks from those who don't agree with his choice.

 In my opinion, the sarcasm is misplaced. This man didn't choose to move to Ontario. He's being forced to move there for work, and it's likely he'll be bumped to another location and then another during the course of his career. Why in the world should he make a permanent decision regarding his dog when his move might not be permanent? Why should he be criticized at all, since he's not moving of his own free will?

It seems like it might be more constructive to discuss the nature of breed bans. Laws like this punish respectable dog owners. This man has money, he's invested in training, he loves his dog. Isn't this the kind of person who is likely to raise a balanced and healthy dog, no matter its breed? He's also a law-abiding citizen, unwilling to break the rules just so he can live under the same roof with his family. Again, doesn't that make him a great dog owner? How does keeping this dog and these dog owners out of Ontario make the community safer? The answer: It doesn't.

I feel for Mark Buehrle's family, but I am thankful that their plight is getting such widespread attention. Hopefully, it'll force a discussion on just how baffling these laws really are, and how they simply don't work to reduce dog-related community problems.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Barfing cats can break your heart (and ruin your crafts)

Lucy the cat relaxing on the couch
Relaxing, post-barf.
The lovely, feathering fur on a long-haired cat takes time to clean, and Lucy's perfectly barbed tongue allows her to get into little cracks and crevices and keep herself silky and shiny. She even has extra tongue to share, and she grooms her little housemates quite happily. She'll even groom me, if I'll let her. Anyway, all of this hair has to go somewhere, and often, it ends up in a pile on the carpet in a cold, gooey mess covered in cat food.

Even though Lucy is blind, she has a knack for knowing right where things are inside the house. Often, she uses this sixth sense to when she's preparing to hurl, and she staggers right over to the one thing in the middle of the room so she can put her vomit in the place where it will do the most good. Shoes, rugs, clothes on the floor, the dog bed... these are all great places to let fly.

Last night, though, she took this ability to a whole new level.

When I'm not writing or dealing with the animals, I like to work on crafting projects. Right now, I'm working on a very complicated project from Ehrman Tapestry, involving multiple shades of purple and a very complicated color chart. Last night, Lucy knocked that color chart off the coffee table and onto the floor, and then she let fly right on the patterned paper.

That's right. She barfed on my project.

It's hard to get mad at Lucy, as she's just doing what cats are designed to do. I'm also thankful that she only threw up on the paper, instead of throwing up on the sewing I've managed to complete thus far. But it does make me a little sad. Why not throw up on the New Yorker? Why not stick with the tile floor? Why hurl at all? She's not talking.

In the interim, my husband has asked the company to send me a new color chart. Crossing my fingers that they'll send it soon.

My craft project is covered in cat barf
Thanks, Lucy!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Feline heart murmurs: When cat hearts make weird noises

Cats sitting on scratchers outside
Both of these old dudes have heart murmurs.
Jasper and Beorn are a little older than 12, and while they're not littermates, they do seem to share one genetic similarity: They both have heart murmurs. Neither show any signs of discomfort, but at the same time, it's something worth a bit of attention.

Veterinarians like to code their diagnoses by severity, providing their clients with a little more information about how serious a problem might be. Heart murmurs, for example, are graded on a scale of 1 to 6, with 1 at the low end.

At the moment, Beorn has a Grade 3 murmur and Jasper has a Grade 2-3 murmur. This puts them smack in the middle of the severity level, meaning it's something we might need to watch, but perhaps not something we'll need to stay up nights worrying about.

Neither of these cats show any signs of discomfort at all, and they both run and play just as vibrantly as do our cats who don't have heart murmurs. But, since I know that their hearts are under stress, I use a little caution when I whip them into the vet. I don't like the idea of putting them under anesthesia if I don't have to, as this could tax their hearts, and I watch them closely for distress when they are at the vet as stress can also make the heart go a little wild. A slow, relaxed, at-home life seems best, since this issue is in play.

In addition to having heart murmurs, these guys are also a little fat. They love their food, and they are also a little less likely to move around in the wintertime when the air is cold and damp. In the last year, they've both added a pound or two, and that weight needs to come off ASAP. Starting today, they'll be going on a little kitty diet so I can shave off some pounds and reduce the amount of work their hearts need to perform.

Reading about heart murmurs can be a little scary, especially since some articles seem to suggest that heart murmurs are a sign of very serious medical problems that could lead to death, but there are a few good sources for further research including this one and this one and this one. Happy reading!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Let the stampede begin! 45 Marion County dogs need homes

Eamon the cat curled up in a ball
Eamon is clearly thrilled by the news.*
Earlier this month, I wrote this blog entry about a huge animal rescue operation the Oregon Humane Society conducted in Marion County. At the time, I was desperately looking for some sort of silver lining, hoping that this kind of animal abuse might never take place in the future. Today, OHS gave me something to cheer about.

Apparently, 45 of the dogs that were rescued are doing well enough that they're ready to transition into new homes. The adoption process will begin on Wednesday, and it's expected that people will come from all across the state for the opportunity to take these little guys home.

When these major crises happen, it's common for Oregonians to wait in line for hours for the chance to adopt and the abused dogs tend to leave the facility pretty quickly. That's great, but I encourage everyone to look at all of the dogs that OHS has up for adoption. There are critters in OHS cages that have been waiting for a long time to go to a great home, and while their little faces might never have appeared on news reports, they're just as cute and deserving of a home as is a wee guy who spent time in that Salem warehouse. Abused animals need a second chance, but other dogs in that facility also deserve to sleep in warm beds at night and nap in pools of sunshine during the day.

I hope these 45 dogs fly out of OHS on their adoption day, and I also hope that they take some of their canine counterparts out the door with them, and perhaps a kitty or two. That would be the best possible spin on this terrible story of abuse.

* Ever wonder why I don't just pull photos from public websites in order to illustrate these stories? Read this article.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Your cat needs a scratching post

Jasper the cat on his cat scratching post
Jasper pauses for his moment in the spotlight.
Our outdoor cats spend about 90 percent of their lives sitting on top of the hot tub. The 104 degree water in the tub kicks up steam that heats the cover, and the motor that moves the water creates a nice vibrating motion that the cats seem to find hypnotic. It's not unusual for me to look out the window and see all three cats lying on their backs, basking in the sun while the hot tub does its work.

Unfortunately, I've also looked out the window and have seen our cats sharpening their claws on the cover of the hot tub. The vinyl makes a great sticking noise when claws go in and out, and nothing completes an afternoon nap like a good stretch and scratch.

Just as indoor cats will use your furniture or the stairs if no scratching posts are nearby, outdoor cats will use your deck, your plants or your appliances to keep their claws sharp. Scratching is just a natural part of cat behavior, and it's not something any cat would choose to leave behind, just because you want that cat to behave.

Scratching posts are a perfect solution because they're fun to scratch, they're inexpensive and they often have little pockets made for catnip or treats. Sprinkle a little catnip or cat kibble on these things, and cats would rather scratch here than almost anywhere else. I also find that most cats like to sleep on their scratching posts, so these little cardboard scraps tend to turn into impromptu beds. I love to see my cats comfortable, so this is an added bonus for me.

So go ahead: Pick up some posts for your cats. You'll be glad you did.