Don’t kill the dog … or cat, or horse

In a blog post called Don’t Kill the Dog, crime writer Tess Gerritsen describes her fans’ outrage over the killing of animals in her fiction. The death of a cat in a novel about the Holocaust, and the death of a dog in a horror movie that also featured mutilated human bodies, provoked a tirade of anger and distress. The suffering of the people portrayed in these works did not arouse protest. She advises “…you must never, ever kill a pet in your novel. You can torture and mutilate any number of human beings. You can slice and dice women, massacre men on a battlefield, and readers will keep turning the pages. But harm one little chihuahua and you’ve gone too far. The readers will let you have it.”

Why do so many of us get upset about animals being hurt in books and films, while caring much less about the people? Although this response may seem difficult to justify, I can empathise with it. seldom feel distressed about the fate of the human characters in the crime novels I read, though I do dislike anything too graphic or violent, preferring “cosier” murder mysteries and psychological thrillers. But I cannot tolerate the idea animals being abused or killed. I have perhaps become more sensitised to animal cruelty in recent years through voluntary work at the SPCA, having seen some of the appalling things that people can do to their so-called pets, whether as a result of ignorance or through deliberate sadism.

Animal abuse in the media is bad enough when it is fictional. Far worse is the suffering of real animals involved in the film industry. For example, countless horses died during the making of Western movies during the 20th century. The situation is better today, with some modern films using CGI animals rather than live ones, and in some countries with monitoring by organisations such as the Humane Society of America. Such monitoring cannot always prevent accidents, or control what may happen off set. The disclaimer “No animals were harmed in the making of this film” can be difficult to believe.

Depiction of animal cruelty in the media is not only unpleasant, but can convey the message that this is a trivial issue, and a valid topic for entertainment. I will not knowingly go to see any film that contains scenes of animal cruelty. If such a scene unexpectedly turns up while I am watching I close my eyes, then sometimes leave the cinema. If I come across animal cruelty in the middle of a book I stop reading it, as recently happened with an Icelandic thriller I had been enjoying up to that point. These individual protests make me feel better but probably have little wider effect.

Having said all this, I have to admit that the plots of two of the novels that I wrote some years ago involved the accidental poisoning of a cat and a dog respectively. Even though both animals had made a full recovery by the end of the stories, I rather regret it. There is no animal cruelty in my latest novel You Yet Shall Die, but the plot does feature a rescue kitten modelled on my own pet Magic.

Magic jumping

       

Dogsharing

From today’s Telegraph newspaper:

Dog owners have lower blood pressure, are less likely to be obese and are on average 2.2lbs lighter than people without canine companions, scientists have discovered. 

A study by the Mayo Clinic and Italian researchers showed that people with dogs are far healthier than those with either no pets, or those who own a different animal.

Dog owners also earned more, exercised more, were more likely to be women and were less likely to have diabetes.

Overall, all pet owners had a better lifestyle than those who did not own an animal, but those with dogs were found to be the healthiest. 

I don’t have a dog of my own, but for over a year now I have enjoyed a part-time relationship with a young black Labrador dog called Ireland. He was registered with The Dogshare Collective  when one of his human family suffered an injury and was temporarily unable to walk him. I started taking him out in the afternoons, and have continued doing so although his owner’s injury is now recovered.

Ireland was bred to become a guide dog for the blind, but due to a minor defect in his own vision he was withdrawn from training and made available for adoption as a family pet. Large, friendly and exuberant, he loves playing with other dogs and like most Labradors he has an insatiable appetite. We go to the local beach, and once a week to the “playdate” in the park, where he spends an hour rushing round with all his friends of guide dog stock.

There are many people who, for various reasons, cannot have a dog of their own but would like to help to look after someone else’s. And there are many dogs who, often because their owners are out at work all day, could benefit from some additional exercise and company. Organisations such as The Dogshare Collective offer the valuable service of putting these two groups in contact with one another.

    Ireland labyrinth edited

There are no dogs in my latest novel You Yet Shall Die, but the story does feature some cats. Please have a look on Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk or Smashwords.com.

Daisy rest in peace

Daisy with flowersToday we had to say goodbye to our eldest cat, Daisy, who has died at the age of about seventeen years. Her coat was dark tortoiseshell, and she had a distinctive ginger stripe on her forehead.

Daisy came to us for foster care when she was a young mother with three tiny kittens. Her previous owners had dumped them all at the vet clinic. As always happens with our foster cats, we ended up adopting her after the kittens were old enough to be rehomed and she had been desexed.

Daisy was a strong character, who liked human company but barely tolerated our other cats, and would attack any dog who visited the property. Her greatest enthusiasms were playing the piano, especially the bass keys, and licking the cream from our breakfast porridge bowls.

Her health had been gradually failing in recent months. Her kidney function was poor, so she was on a special renal diet and needed to drink a great deal of water, but still appeared to enjoy life. Yesterday evening she suddenly went downhill, dragging her back legs and hardly able to walk. We made the harrowing decision to book her in for euthanasia next day, and I did my best to keep her comfortable in a quiet room overnight. By morning she was semiconscious, and died peacefully at home a few hours later. It was a mercifully quick and natural death.

Now Daisy is buried in our garden along with the other cats who have shared our lives since we came to New Zealand – Cindy, Floella, Felix and Homer. We will miss Daisy very much but still have our two lovely four-year-olds, Magic and Leo.

Update one month later:  I was very touched to receive, from our friends at Auckland SPCA, this photo of a new kitten with similar tortoiseshell colouring who has been named after Daisy and is now up for adoption.

Daisy Jnr

The joy of dogs

For three years after the death of Khymer I was without a regular canine companion to walk, but am now having daily adventures on the beach with Ireland – a big black bouncy Labrador.

There is plenty of evidence that dogs are good for the wellbeing of humans. They provide loving companionship, a stimulus to take exercise, and opportunities for social interaction. Dog owners tend to have better physical and mental health than those without a dog, for example lower rates of cardiovascular disease and depression. These benefits as reported in many research studies are undoubtedly real, although they may be over-estimated to some extent because less healthy people are less likely to get a dog in the first place. Dogs have an established role as therapists: guiding the blind, visiting residents in care homes, supporting disabled children and adults, predicting the onset of epileptic fits or hypoglycaemic episodes, even sniffing out the presence of early-stage cancers.

Dogs can also present hazards. Falls are one danger, as I know to my cost: on one occasion when Khymer was forging ahead along an uneven pavement I tripped and broke my arm. Over-enthusiastic dogs often want to run up to strange people, or other dogs, and can easily knock them down. Constant vigilance is required during off lead walks.

Dog ownership is a significant responsibility. Leaving aside the dreadful cases of neglect and cruelty I have seen at the SPCA, many otherwise well-meaning owners leave their dogs alone at home while they are out at work all day, never realising how much they suffer from the lack of company and exercise. An ideal solution, as promoted through charities such as the the Dog Share Collective through which I met Ireland, is linking up such owners with people like myself who would love a relationship with a dog but for various reasons cannot have one of their own.

 

Ireland digging on beach

Walking for the animals

Following on from Zumba Gold and cold water swimming, my exercise challenge for today was a brisk walk in the Auckland suburb of Hobsonville. I did this partly for health benefits but more importantly to raise awareness for my favourite charity, the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or SPCA. A group of supporters, many with their dogs, gathered at the site where a new centre serving the North Shore area is to be built next year. Brian came too.

Although there are plenty of animal lovers in New Zealand, there are also many cases of cruelty and neglect. I know from my years of volunteering with the SPCA that the organisation does wonderful work in rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming animals, educating school children about animal welfare, running low-cost desexing programs to prevent litters of unwanted kittens, seeking justice in cases of animal abuse, and more.

Until now the SPCA has operated from the Animal Village in Mangere in South Auckland, close to the airport. As the city’s population has grown, not only are these premises too small, but traffic congestion is making it very difficult to service the area efficiently. The new centre in Hobsonville will make it possible to help many more animals such as my own beautiful Magic (pictured), who was brought into the SPCA as the only survivor of a litter of kittens left to die under a hedge. More funds are still needed to build the centre and donations can be made through https://www.spcaauckland.org.nz.

Magic on cyclamen bed

 

 

 

Homer: rest in peace

clare & homer

Sad news for the many friends of Homer the cat.  He had developed an untreatable abdominal lymphoma, and yesterday the heartbreaking decision to euthanise him was made.

Being officially my cat, he has been buried in our back garden, though he never really regarded our property as his home.  After many wanderings he settled with my mother Clare (pictured) and they spent several happy years together until she died in 2015. After that he chose to live in turn with two younger couples, both of whom cared for him lovingly and are devastated by his loss.

To read more about Homer’s remarkable life, search for his name on this blog.

Daisy’s renal function

I took Daisy, our 15-year-old cat, to the vet to have her long sharp front claws trimmed. She had taken to jumping up on the bed every morning, expressing her desire for food and attention by scratching my forearms hard enough to make them bleed. The vet recommended a geriatric health screen. Daisy was kept in the clinic all day for blood and urine tests, and the results showed that her renal function was somewhat impaired. I agreed to another blood test to assess the extent of the problem.

Renal (kidney) failure is very common in older cats. The many possible causes include urinary infections and ingestion of poisons. In many cases no specific cause can be found, though I wonder if processed food is implicated, for example cats fed on dry biscuits may get too much salt and not enough water. Our own cats certainly love dry biscuits, but I have always limited their intake, and fed a mixed diet with moist canned food and fresh meat, poultry or fish. The symptoms of renal failure can include increased thirst, increased urine volume, loss of appetite and weight, vomiting, diarrhoea, and general weakness. It is sometimes associated with other conditions such as anaemia, hypertension and hyperthyroidism.

Although diet is an important aspect of management, according to my reading there is some controversy around this. The standard prescription foods are low in protein, but some experts recommend feeding plenty of protein from fresh high-grade animal sources. Medication may delay progression of the condition. Adequate fluid intake is important, and severe acute cases may need parenteral fluids. Some specialised centres even offer renal dialysis and kidney transplantation.

Daisy’s second blood test showed that her renal function was “borderline”. She appears very well and has none of the symptoms listed above. After a long discussion with the vet we agreed not to initiate drug treatment or a special diet at this time.

I was about to leave the clinic when I checked on her claws and found that they had forgotten to trim them, so she was taken back to have that done. It had turned out a very expensive manicure; I could have tried to do it myself at home, though I am sure she would have scratched me.

Whether investigation of Daisy’s renal function has been worthwhile, only time will tell. Both in veterinary and in human medicine, screening for disease has pros and cons. Sometimes it does pick up a serious condition for which early treatment is desirable and even life saving. But modern tests are so sensitive that they often detect very minor abnormalities, prompting further investigations which can involve a great deal of discomfort, anxiety and expense and usually prove to have been unnecessary. On several occasions I myself have had blood results, X-Rays or biopsies reported as “borderline” or “suspicious” that eventually turned out to have been false alarms.

Daisy lying back