My Pet Memorial Garden

A pet memorial garden sits among the trees in my yard.  A sculpture of three happy old women on a wooden fence overlooks the gravestones of pets who have lived with me over the last thirty years.  The “Grandmothers” were created by Kirsten Engstrom, an artist from Hawthorne, Florida. She also made the monk that guards one of the graves.  I made polymer clay flowers and a Shambhala flag for the other memorial stones.

Prounce, a Siamese cat who came with me to Gainesville thirty years ago, got the first memorial in the garden. She’d been a birthday gift for my 6-year-old daughter Amy when we lived in Rochester, Minnesota.   When I started living alone in 1981, she became my shadow, seldom leaving my side. If I worked after eleven at night in my office, she complained in the doorway.   I turned off the lights and followed her to the bedroom.

Rosie, a Corgi mix, was my heart.  My daughter Amy rescued Rosie in Stillwater, Oklahoma, where she was a senior at Oklahoma State vet school.  Knowing Rosie and I were probably a good match, she sent her to Gainesville by airplane. I had a cat, Charlie, at the time.  The minute Rosie walked in the back door, they were friends—taking turns chasing each other around the house.  Rosie went everywhere with me—on camping trips, on errands in town, and to meetings.  When she died unexpectedly at age fourteen, I felt as though the fabric of my life had been torn and I didn’t know how to put it back together.

My cat Charlie was one of a litter of six-week-old kittens offered for adoption by Gainesville Pet Rescue.  A vet friend suggested I get a yellow male tabby.  They were the best, she said.  Charlie did turn out to be the best.  He liked to watch nature specials on TV, especially documentaries about birds.  He sat at the foot of my bed with his full attention to the screen.  When birds flew out of camera range, he ran behind the TV looking for them.  Charlie taught himself to ring the front doorbell when he wanted to be let in.  He sat on the kitchen counter and pressed the lever on the electric can opener to tell me he was hungry. Once Rosie escaped from the yard and wandered off.  I panicked and stood in the drive yelling “Rosie! Rosie!”  In the distance I heard Charlie’s loud call.  He’d found her two blocks from home and was telling where to find her.

Tiny was a Boston Terrier I inherited from my daughter Julie who’d just had a baby and couldn’t handle the dog’s frenetic energy.  Julie’s husband didn’t like dogs anyhow, so Tiny moved in with Rosie and me. Soon she calmed down and assigned herself the role of protector.  Any unfamiliar men who entered the house or yard were at risk.  Over the three years I had her, she bit seven men who came to make household repairs or do landscaping.  Her preferred target was the butt (sneak attack), but she would settle for a thigh, arm, or hand.  At each incident, I apologized profusely and stuffed a twenty-dollar bill into the victim’s pocket.  I was never sued.

Tiny got a brain tumor when she was five.  A veterinary neurosurgeon in Jacksonville implanted a stent in her brain to drain off fluid that was collecting and causing symptoms.  The operation gave her five more months of normal life. At the end, she went quickly.

Savannah, an Australian shepherd, was ten when I adopted her from Gainesville Pet Rescue.  She had a genetic problem with her eyes that made her appear blind and unattractive to adopters.  She also had early signs of progressive arthritis.  Every time I visited Pet Rescue, there she was in a cage, waiting for a home.  I worried that no one would adopt her, so I did.

Savannah was a headstrong alpha dog—not mean, but clear about what she wanted.  As her arthritis got worse, I became her servant.  When she could no longer walk, she barked to summon me.  It was my job to figure out what she wanted.  Near the end, I had to carry her outdoors to relieve herself.  When her joint pain flared up badly, I lay next to her on the floor and massaged her back and hips—sometimes over an hour.  Finally, when she was fourteen, I took her to the vet to be euthanized.  I held her through the procedure, and she was brave and gracious as always.

Now I have a 9-year-old Chihuahua-Beagle mix, Trudy.  I’m 80 years old.  I don’t want to add a gravestone for her to the memorial garden.  It would please me to think we could both pass to the next level of existence at the same time.

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When Dogs Go Blind

The good life isn’t over for dogs who go blind.  If they don’t have eye pain—which most don’t—and the disease that caused the blindness is treatable, they can lead happy lives.  For example, my blind dog Trudy has underlying Cushing’s disease, which can be controlled with drugs, although she’ll never get her sight back.  She lost her vision over a period of weeks from SARDS (sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome). Like most owners, I suffered from her rapid loss of eyesight more than she did.

Dogs don’t rely on their vision as much as we do. Even healthy dogs’ eyes don’t focus well on close objects. They’re color-blind compared with humans.  They don’t see details as well.  The one thing they do better is detect moving objects in dim light.  Nature gave them this ability to help them hunt at night.

The people who think it’s humane to put a blind dog to sleep don’t know much about dogs.  If you watch sightless dogs who have gotten used to their loss, you see happy, functional pets. They still have their wonderful noses and ears, which become their main sense organs. However, the adjustment may take a little while. Some dogs get depressed when they first lose their vision, acting listless and droopy.  They carry their heads low and seldom wag their tails. If this is true of your pet, resist sharing your sadness. Indulge in it  only when your dog’s not around.  When you’re together, stay upbeat. Find things to do that you both enjoy.

Other dogs get irritable.  They growl easily and may snap.  While you should discourage this behavior, stay calm when you correct the dog.  There’s no point in getting everyone more upset. Approach the dog gently and stroke his or her neck and back. You’ll both feel better when you enjoy close, loving contact.

Above all, don’t overdo the help you give. Avoid taking over your dog’s life. People with blind dogs agree that coddling is the worst thing an owner can do.  Instead of carrying a dog upstairs, for example, help the dog learn to do it alone.  He or she will take pride in the new skill.

When my dog Trudy recently lost her vision, I was devastated.  I worried that she’d no longer enjoy life.  Little did I know. Trudy still barks at the UPS man and tries to chase his truck down the street, her hackles raised.  She gets around the house without trouble as long as furniture hasn’t been moved or large objects aren’t left in her path.  She still delights in jumping up on kitchen counters when I’m not around and and running off with any tasty items she finds.  How she does it, I don’t know. Recently she started playing with her toys again, grabbing her hemp rope in her mouth and thrashing it around—going for the kill.

A friend has a blind dog named Radar—a Chinese crested.  Radar is a good name for him.  He’s so talented that, even without eyesight, he can jump up and catch a fly in his mouth.  Like Trudy, Radar is a happy camper.

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Dogs with SARDS & Cushing’s Disease

Sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS) is a disease that causes rapid blindness in dogs–usually, within a few days to a couple of months. For some unexplained reason, the cells in the dog’s retina start breaking down.

The disease can be diagnosed with electroretinography—a test similar to an EKG. While the dog is under anesthesia, electrodes are placed on the cornea to detect activity in the retina.  A normal eye produces tracings with peaks and valleys. In dogs with SARDS, the tracings are flat.

Adding to the mystery is the fact that about 75% of the dogs with SARDS also have Cushing’s disease.  The symptoms include increased thirst, accidents in the house, an unusually big appetite, pot-bellied appearance, and excess panting. The condition is due to excess production of the hormone cortisol by the dog’s adrenal glands, two small organs that sit on top of the kidneys. While brain or adrenal gland tumors are the most common cause of canine Cushing’s disease, dogs with SARDS don’t have them.

Veterinarians use blood tests to diagnose Cushing’s disease.  The most common, the dexamethasone suppression test, takes a full day.  First, a blood sample as taken as a baseline measure.  Then a synthetic cortisone drug—dexamethasone–is injected and follow-up samples are taken throughout the day.  If the dog has normal adrenal function, cortisol production drops.  A dog with Cushing’s disease continues to make high levels of the hormone.

Drug treatment can regulate a dog’s cortisol production, keeping the hormone at normal levels. However, it’s important that a veterinarian follow the dog closely because it’s easy to over- or underdose an animal, causing added health problems.  Serious side effects are possible, too, and require careful monitoring. The drugs must be given daily and can be costly.

The good news for owners of dogs with SARDS and Cushing’s disease is that treatment of the adrenal problem can offer a dog a longer life of higher quality.

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My Friend Kari

Kari Bagnall began her whirlwind career as a primary sanctuary director when she opened Jungle Friends on 12 acres of land north of Gainesville, Florida, in 1999. Until her early forties, she was a successful interior designer in Las Vegas.

Kari’s love of monkeys began when her live-in boyfriend brought home a baby capuchin in 1993. Kari took little Samantha everywhere with her.  Unfortunately, her enthusiasm wasn’t shared by the managers of the grocery stores, movie theatres, and shops she visited. Before long, she was no longer welcome at their places of business.  With Samantha riding on her shoulder, Kari was also escorted out of the design showrooms where she made a living.

Putting one misguided foot in front of the other, Kari tried to solve the problem by getting a baby sister for Samantha. Charlotte only doubled Kari’s problems.

Kari turned her home upside down for the girls.  She installed monkey-friendly landscaping, including misting devices and an elephant fountain.  Indoors she built runways near the ceilings that extended into the yard. The monkeys’ room had a TV, rainforest wallpaper, matching curtains, and a four-poster bed draped with mosquito netting.

First, Samantha threw the TV across the room.  Then Charlotte tore down the wallpaper.  Together they ripped up the curtains, dismantled the bed, and nearly hung themselves on the mosquito netting. Outdoors they stuffed pebbles in the elephant’s trunk, blocking the fountain.  They also attacked Kari’s guests, requiring trips to the emergency room for monkey bites.

The result was that Kari gave up her lucrative career as a designer and bought land in Florida where the climate was better for monkeys. On rural acreage, she built spacious, escape-proof habitats, installed water and electric lines, and repaired an old house that came with the land.  That’s where she lived. By the time Kari opened the gates of Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, she was almost broke.

Samantha, Charlotte and eleven other monkeys were the first residents at the sanctuary. As the word spread, more monkeys came and more construction was needed.  Within 10 years, Jungle Friends housed 120 capuchins, spider monkeys, marmosets, tamarinds, and squirrel monkeys. They came from unhappy lives in research laboratories, pet stores, and the entertainment industry. Many were brought to Kari by disenchanted owners who learned from painful experience that monkeys were born to be wild.

Now in her fifties, Kari works 16-hour days tending her huge complex and raising money to stay afloat.  Each morning, she and her volunteer staff chop fresh fruits and vegetables into bite-sized pieces and fill each of 120 personal bowls for the monkeys.  Food processors won’t do because they turn the food to mush, and monkeys like to inspect each morsel they eat.  Kari maintains a sanctuary clinic where she cares for sick monkeys. Sometimes she drives them to the University of Florida vet school. After sundown, she works on the Jungle Friends website, plans fund-raising projects, and corresponds with monkey sponsors.

For Kari Bagnall, nothing is impossible.  Once affluent, she now lives on a poverty-level income.  She is buoyant, beautiful, charismatic, and has a heart of gold.

Hats off to you, Kari.

To learn more about Jungle Friends, go to

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Pig– A True Animal Escape Story

As a truckload of pigs was being unloaded at a slaughterhouse in England, two pigs escaped and ran away.  They disappeared into a cornfield as fast as their legs could carry them. Slaughterhouse workers pursued the pigs but lost sight of them.  The police were called and joined the chase.  Finally, reporters showed up.

These clever, spry pigs became media stars.  The British, a nation of animal lovers, named them Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Pig.  The fugitives won the hearts of the British public.  The slaughterhouse wasn’t so popular.

The getaway tactics of Butch and Sundance included squeezing under a fence that was supposed to be pig-proof. Then they swam a cold, wide river in their bid for freedom. Six days later the pigs were discovered in a family’s back yard. They’d been living on leftover food thrown in the garbage.  The family and neighbors kept the refugees’ hideout a secret so they wouldn’t be returned to the slaughterhouse.  They told reporters they would turn the pigs over to authorities only when an animal sanctuary agreed to give them a permanent home.

The owners of a British newspaper offered to buy Butch and Sundance at a handsome price.  They also found a sanctuary where the pigs were welcome. The adventures of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Pig ended there.  They were driven to a spacious sanctuary where they lived a life of ease and comfort. Because they captured so much media attention around the world, the BBC produced a 60-minute TV dramatization of their adventures.

Got Coyotes?

Got coyotes in your neighborhood?  

Don’t laugh.  Coyotes now live in almost every state in the U.S. Not just in the countryside, either. Many have found their way into cities.  According to a recent wildlife study, Chicago now has over 2000 resident coyotes. These feral dogs, once found only in the West, have slowly migrated east over the last 100 years.

Coyotes have learned that the living is much easier near human settlements.  They sneak into suburban areas late at night to raid dumpsters, tip over garbage bins, and steal seeds from bird feeders. They break into farmers’ chicken coops and leave dead poultry behind. Unfortunately, they also prey on small dogs and cats.  The coyote life is tougher in the wild, where the dogs must spend long hours searching for food.

Coyotes are smart.  Their intelligence is apparent in the strategies they devise for big-game hunting.  Working as a team, each dog has an assigned role in the chase and take-down.  They’ve also developed creative tactics for escaping wolves—their main enemy.  In hilly country, coyotes take advantage of their lighter weight, agility, and skills at darting and dodging. More often than not, the coyote vanishes in the distance, leaving the wolf behind–frustrated and panting. On flat terrain, wolves have the advantage and it takes several coyotes to chase off the enemy (click here).

Coyotes sometimes pair up with badgers to hunt cooperatively.  The coyote, a fast runner, chases a rodent along the ground as the badger watches. When the prey reaches its burrow and dives in, the badger claws away the dirt.  Then dinner is served!

Why aren’t coyotes sighted more often?  These smart canines know that people are hazardous to their health.  They take great pains to stay hidden and save their criminal activity for the middle of the night.  As a result, they’re rarely seen.  People seldom suspect coyotes when trash barrels are tipped over or cats start disappearing in the neighborhood.

Farmers whose chicken coups are raided generally  blame foxes, raccoons, or domestic dogs. In most cases, it doesn’t occur to them that coyotes are the perpetrators. The angry farmer sets traps or sits up all night with a shotgun. Usually, the coyotes are too smart to get caught, but they know the jig is up. So they move on to safer locales.

Paste this link into your browser to see and hear a coyote barking and howling

Guidelines for house cats

When a human is paying bills or doing other paper work, sit in the middle of it. When dislodged, watch sadly.  Then roll around on the papers, scattering them to the best of your ability.  After being removed the second time, push pencils, erasers, and other small objects off the table one at a time.

Allow no closed doors in the house. To get door opened, stand on hind legs and hammer with forepaws.  When the door has been opened, it is not necessary to use it.  If it is an outside door, stand in the doorway and think about several things.  This is particularly important during very cold weather, a rainstorm, or mosquito season.

At night, sleep on top of a human or on a body part. Position yourself in a way that prevents the person from moving. If the person tries to push you off gently, meow as though you are in pain.

Accompany guests to the bathroom. It is not necessary to do anything.  Just sit and stare.

When jumping into the lap of a book reader, sit directly under her chin. It’s important to get between the reader’s eyes and the book, unless you can lie across the book itself.

When a human is knitting or mending, lie on the work to obscure as much of it as possible. Pretend to doze, but every so often reach out and slap the knitting needles or other implements.  The worker may try to distract you.  Ignore this.

If you have to throw up, get to an upholstered chair quickly. If you cannot manage this in time, find an Oriental rug.  If no Oriental rug is available, a shag rug is good.  When throwing up on the carpet, make sure you back up during the process so that your deposit is as long as the human’s bare foot.

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Dam Beavers

This is an actual letter sent to a man named Ryan DeVries by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Quality, State of Pennsylvania . Mr. Devries’s response is hilarious, but read the State’s letter first, before you get to his response letter.

SUBJECT: DEQ File No.97-59-0023; T11N; R10W, Sec. 20; Lycoming County

Dear Mr. DeVries:

It has come to the attention of the Department of Environmental Quality that there has been recent unauthorized activity on the above referenced parcel of property. You have been certified as the legal landowner and/or contractor who did the following unauthorized activity: Construction and maintenance of two wood debris dams across  the outlet stream of Spring Pond.

A permit must be issued prior to the start of this type of activity. A review of the Department’s files shows that no permits have been issued.  Therefore, the Department has determined that this activity is in violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Pennsylvania Compiled Laws, annotated.

The Department has been informed that one or both of the dams partially failed during a recent rain event, causing debris and flooding at downstream locations. We find that dams of this nature are inherently hazardous and cannot be permitted. The Department therefore orders you to cease and desist all activities at this location, and to restore the stream to a free-flow condition by removing all wood and brush forming the dams from the stream channel.

All restoration work shall be completed no later than January 31, 2006. Please notify this office when the restoration has been completed so that a follow-up site inspection may be scheduled by our staff. Failure to comply with this request or any further unauthorized activity on the site may result in this case being referred for elevated enforcement action.

We anticipate and would appreciate your full cooperation in this matter. Please feel free to contact me at this office if you have any questions.


David L. Price
District Representative and Water Management Division

Here is the actual response sent back by Mr. DeVries:

Re: DEQ File No. 97-59-0023; T11N; R10W, Sec. 20; Lycoming County

Dear Mr. Price,

Your certified letter dated 12/17/02 has been handed to me for my response. I am the legal landowner but not the Contractor at 2088 Dagget Lane, Trout Run, Pennsylvania.

A couple of beavers are in the (State unauthorized) process of constructing and maintaining two wood “debris” dams across the outlet stream of my Spring Pond. While I did not pay for, authorize, or supervise their dam project, I think they would be highly offended that you call their skillful use of nature’s building materials “debris.”
I would like to challenge your department to emulate their dam project any time an/or any place you choose.  I believe I can safely state there is no way you could ever match their dam skills,  their dam resourcefulness, their dam ingenuity, their dam persistence, their dam determination and/or their dam work ethic.

As to your request, I do not think the beavers are aware that they must first fill out a dam permit prior to the start of this type of dam activity.

My first dam question to you is: (1) Are you trying to discriminate against my Spring Pond Beavers, or (2) Do you require all beavers throughout this State to conform to said dam request?

If you are not discriminating against these particular beavers, through the Freedom of Information Act, I request completed copies of all those other applicable beaver dam permits that have been issued. Perhaps we will see if there really is a dam violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Pennsylvania Compiled Laws, annotated.

I have several concerns. My first concern is, aren’t the beavers entitled to legal representation? The Spring Pond Beavers are financially destitute and are unable to pay for said representation — so the State will have to provide them with a dam lawyer.

The Department’s dam concern that either one or both of the dams failed during a recent rain event, causing flooding, is proof that this is a natural occurrence, which the Department is required to protect. In other words, we should leave the Spring Pond Beavers alone rather than harassing them and calling their dam names.

If you want the stream “restored” to a dam free-flow condition please contact the beavers — but if you are going to arrest them, they obviously did not pay any attention to your dam letter, they being unable to read English.

In my humble opinion, the Spring Pond Beavers have a right to build their unauthorized dams as long as the sky is blue, the grass is green and water flows downstream. They have more dam rights than I do to live and enjoy Spring Pond.

If the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection lives up to its name, it should protect the natural resources (Beavers) and the environment (Beavers’ Dams). So, as far as the beavers and I are concerned, this dam case can be referred for more elevated enforcement action right now. Why wait until 1/31/2006? The Spring Pond Beavers may be under the dam ice then and there will be no way for you or your dam staff to contact/harass them at that time.

In conclusion, I would like to bring to your attention to a real environmental quality and health problem in the area. It is the bears! Bears are actually defecating in our woods. I definitely believe you should be persecuting and prosecuting the defecating bears and leaving the beavers alone. If you are going to investigate the beaver dam, watch your step! The bears are not careful where they dump! Being unable to comply with your dam request, and being unable to contact you on your dam answering machine, I am sending this response to your dam office.