Watching Dogs Grow Old

On February 3, 2010, in Pets, by Jody Ewing


It’s hard watching dogs grow old. Watching as their eyesight slowly starts to fade. Knowing their hearing isn’t quite so sharp. Seeing them struggle a little more than usual as they strain to get up after a long, peaceful nap.

It’s really hard. Especially when you can’t ever remember when they weren’t around.

My dog Cocoa — the oldest of our three — will be 14 years old in June. Monday I took him to the vet for a medical procedure on his “back end,” and it wasn’t a pleasant experience for either of us — least of all him.

I discovered Cocoa’s “problem” in the hours before the sun came up Saturday. Housebroken almost from the day he was born, he was crossing through the front foyer on his way into my office when suddenly he froze midway and began urinating on the hardwood floor. I’d just sat down at my desk and quickly went back to him, but he only stared up at me with eyes that said he didn’t quite understand what was happening.

“Come on, boy. It’s okay. Let’s go outside,” I said, but his eyes never left mine and deep inside I knew everything was not okay; in less than two weeks, it wasn’t the first — nor the second — time he’d had an indoor accident after 13 and one-half years of never having gone inside the house before. And even on recent days when I’d sat in the kitchen sipping coffee, he’d lain on the floor three feet away but hadn’t rested his muzzle between his paws like he normally did. Instead, he lay there with his head up and alert, not moving a muscle as he fixed his eyes directly on my face and stared minute after motionless minute.

So just after 2 a.m. on Saturday, once I’d wiped up his latest accident and let him out and then back in, we went back to my office and I sat down beside him on the big folded comforter I keep beside my desk for the dogs when I’m working. He put his head in my lap as I stroked his back, and I unfastened his blue collar to better scratch his neck.

“You going to be okay today, Cocoa Bug?” I asked. “Rhett’s going to stay with you while we’re gone.”

Rhett and Cocoa

My youngest son Rhett with Cocoa

Dennis and I were scheduled to leave at 5:30 a.m. for Des Moines, where I’d attend a Democratic State Central Committee meeting before we headed over to Governor Culver’s home for his annual holiday party. My son Rhett — who’d planned to leave Friday to spend the week with his father — had stayed over for the weekend so he’d be there to care for Cocoa and the other two, Bear and Hagan, while we were gone.

I looked down at the moose and trees and leaves populating the fall-colored comforter and wished for warmer days with no ice and snow where we could take the dogs out to play and for long walks in sunshine.

At 3 a.m., Cocoa and I stood up and parts of his still shedding winter coat floated off my pajamas as we made our way to the kitchen for a snack. Once he’d finished his Milk Bone and waited while I puttered around tidying up the kitchen, I put my hands on either side of him and moved them back and downward towards his tail, feeling for anything unusual like I often saw the vet do during the dogs’ check-ups.

That’s when I felt it. Something hard and dry. On both sides of his backside just below his tail. How had I missed it earlier while on the floor petting him?

“Cocoa Bug, what do you have there? Some dried poopie on your butt?” I asked, and then, turning him around so his tail faced toward the light, I bent down and tried to lift his tail to have a look. He slipped from my hands and ran into the living room, and I coaxed him back only after bribing with another treat. This time I’d be ready. He tried to get away again but I held his chest with my left arm and carefully lifted his tail with my right as I bent around for a quick peek. The instant I gasped he bolted.

I stood in the middle of the kitchen, dazed, still bent over, wondering what on earth I’d just seen and asking myself what possibly could have happened. Had he been attacked? No. He couldn’t have been. With the freezing temperatures, he’d seldom been outside except to relieve himself. And it had been months since anyone left a gate open and they’d gotten out.

The dogs didn’t fight, and hadn’t since years before when Hagan first came to live with us in ’06 and Cocoa showed him, in short order, that there simply wasn’t room in this big house for two alpha males. And deep down inside, I think I already knew the dried and fresh blood I’d just seen — along with something else I knew didn’t belong on the outside — had not been caused by another dog nor anyone else.

Bear smiling and sunning himself


By the time I got upstairs to awaken Dennis and tell him what I’d discovered, Cocoa was already in the bedroom, hunkered down safely between Bear and Hagan and glaring at me as if I’d somehow betrayed him. It was just before 4 a.m. — the time I’d originally planned to get up and shower. I’d never even gone to bed.

We did not go to Des Moines, and Dr. Sulsberger answered the veterinary clinic’s phone later when I called. He said from what I described, it sounded like an abscessed anal gland.

His assessment was correct — despite my insistence that Cocoa hadn’t shown any symptoms and hadn’t even been “scooting” across the floor (“Aren’t they supposed to scoot if there’s a problem with their anal glands? Now Bear, he’s a scooter!” I’d told him) — and he scheduled Cocoa’s “procedure” for Monday morning.

Hagan smiling


Sunday night when Cocoa started up the steps for bed and turned around to wait for me, I stood at the bottom and told him I’d be up soon and it was okay to go ahead without me. Still, he waited. “Go ahead, boy,” I said. “It’s all right. You can keep Dad and Bear and Hagan company.” His tail swished back and forth just a little, and then he turned and started upward, his back legs stretching out stiff  and his body moving awkwardly like a toddler with a soiled diaper as he climbed the stairs one by one.

Not so very long ago, he’d scaled the staircase quickly and silently — graceful like a gazelle — leaping upward two and three steps at a time. And he’d never had trouble jumping to the bed where he slept most nights. In one seamless movement, he’d go from floor to bed and then drop to his stomach before slinking his way up the bedspread until his head fit comfortably on my shoulder or was nestled in the crook of my arm. Lately, though, he’d begun to fall. He’d make the jump but not quite make it all the way, and he’d cling to the bed with his front paws for a brief moment before toppling over backwards.

I’d get out of bed and wrap my arms around his front and back side to lift him to the bed, and though he’d assert an objectionable low growl — after all, who was I to imply he might need any help? — once I set him on the bed he’d sigh with content as he plopped down in that very spot. Later in the night, I’d feel him jump from the bed and hear him drinking from the water bowl before settling in on one of the two large foam-filled camping mattresses covered in quilts that easily accommodated the three of them.

Bear, fast approaching his 11th birthday in April, had given up on our bed two years earlier. He used to sleep next to Dennis with his head on my pillow until I came to bed, and on occasion, if there was room and I found him sleeping soundly, I’d inch into bed and sleep along the very edge until Bear woke up some time later and decided he’d join Hagan. The queen-size bed wasn’t big enough for two adults and Cocoa and a Chocolate Labrador and Chesapeake Retriever.

Hagan and Bear make a heart between them

As Hagan and Bear napped together one day, I couldn't help but note the "heart" between their bodies.

The sound of Bear’s feet on the steps changed within those two years, too. It’s now a clumpity clump, clumpity clump, clumpity clump, all the way up. His hearing is all but gone but he still has a keen sense of time and knows exactly when the neighborhood kids will be walking home from school so he can go out to greet them or watch as they pass by and he’s already waiting expectantly when Dennis pulls into the driveway after work.

Bear is also the healer of the three and the first to alert me if Hagan’s ears are acting up again. Had I paid better attention I would have known a few days earlier that his nose butting up next to Cocoa’s tail in the morning as we headed from the bedroom to go downstairs was something more than him trying to hurry Cocoa along.

And so it was that on Monday morning when I reached for Cocoa’s leash, none of them reacted. On any other given day they’d be dancing in circles knowing they were going on a fun walk or ride. But they all knew. There was no running around the coffee table knocking off books and papers. No crashing and bouncing into one another in anticipation. No charging toward the leash in my hands with a Me First! attitude. Only blank stares.

They’d seen me fasten Cocoa’s collar but not so much as reach for theirs. They knew Cocoa hadn’t been himself; early Saturday morning Hagan had sniffed at the spot in the front entry and flashed his eyes up at me as if to say “Did you know about this!?” And, how could we be going anywhere when I hadn’t yet fed them? I’d told Rhett to wait to feed the others until after Cocoa and I were gone; I wasn’t sure if general anesthesia would be used and didn’t want to take any chances.

Cocoa didn’t protest my hooking his leash to his collar, but he looked back forlornly at Bear and Hagan, who’d quietly stepped a few paces backward. I fully understood their silent language. Sorry, Cocoa, we’re not coming with you. You’re on your own, old boy.

Dogs, I am certain, know more than how to say hello. They know how to say goodbye.

On the 18-mile ride over to Mapleton, Cocoa would not sit down in the passenger seat. He looked from the outside snow-covered fields back to me, uncertain and disheartened, and every two or three minutes approached the driver’s seat to lick my cheek. But as much as I tried to soothe him and cheerfully reassure him everything was going to be okay, he knew things were never okay any time Dennis or I left the house with only one of them. And without breakfast.

Misfortune had fallen. And in a stroke of purely bad luck, he knew it had befallen him.

General anesthesia wasn’t used, and with his head planted firmly on my shoulder and my arms snugly wrapped around his neck and shoulders, Cocoa grudgingly endured what Dr. Sulsberger and his technician were doing behind him. When they’d finished, Dr. Sulsberger turned Cocoa’s back side around until it was between us and then opened a tube of ointment capped with an elongated, slender tip.

“Now watch what I’m doing here,” he said. “You’ll have to do this twice a day for the next two weeks. You see that little hole ….”

Me? Did he say me? And twice a day for two weeks?

But as he further explained how it needed done just right and I indeed paid meticulous attention, I didn’t let on I already knew Cocoa would never let me get anywhere close to his behind once he made it off that stainless steel table and got back home on his own turf, let alone get close while armed with intent.

When it was time to leave, Cocoa jumped up straight into the truck’s passenger seat without any help and sat there grinning like a cheshire cat. All the way through the hills and down the winding road, he never stopping grinning. I’d never seen so many of his teeth all at once. He knew he was going home.

Bear and Hagan greeted us as if we’d been gone a week, and the three of them ran around the table to celebrate Cocoa’s homecoming. By the time I went up to bed that night, he was already there sleeping soundly on the bed.

Tuesday was the day; the dastardly deed needed done. Dennis closed the door between the kitchen and living room so Cocoa couldn’t escape while I warmed a washcloth. “You’ll have to hold his head, and don’t let him see what I’m doing,” I said. When I put the washcloth against his bottom, Cocoa promptly sat down on both the washcloth and my hand but it didn’t affect my ability to get at least that job done. Then, the pivotal moment arrived.

“You better do it fast and get it right the first time because you probably won’t get a second chance,” Dennis said as I uncapped the ointment and he called for Cocoa to come back to him. He took Cocoa’s head and held tight while I straddled Cocoa’s back and lifted his tail.

I couldn’t find the little hole. Cocoa began to thrash about and wrested his way out from between both of us. We tried a second time. “I see it!” I said, but the instant my arm brushed against Cocoa’s left back leg he launched into another struggle and wrenched his way out from between us again. Dennis sighed loudly while Cocoa stood across the room, his tail swishing back and forth again the dishwasher’s door as he grinned.

Finally, I approached him on my own. After all, how fair could it be — two against one. “It’s okay,” I said, and I kept repeating the words as he came to me and I tucked his head loosely between my legs. I don’t know if he remembered how many times I’d spoken those words while sitting that night on the moose comforter or during the ride over to Mapleton, but suddenly he stopped trying to run.

I lifted his tail. He stood perfectly still. I crouched over and got down to business. He didn’t even flinch.

Only when I rose and announced “All done! Good boy!” did he finally move. His entire body wagged as he pranced around the room in delight. And that grin and those teeth! One would have thought I held in my hands not a tube of ointment but three collars and three long leashes.

Dennis opened the kitchen door and Bear and Hagan rushed in to see what all the excitement was about and find out what they’d missed. Cocoa sprang forward to greet them and then with great joy darted over to stand directly beneath the counter where we kept the dog treats. The others quickly joined him and once I’d washed and dried my hands I forged through three swinging tails to deliver a well deserved reward.

Hagan, Cocoa and Bear

Hagan and Cocoa (front) and Bear

On any other given day they’d have sat before I said sit or offered up a paw before I could say shake, but today they somehow knew and I asked them to do neither.

“I think I’ll do just fine on my own next time,” I told Dennis as I put the tube of ointment back into its box. Yes. I was confident. I — like these aging but happy three brown dogs — hadn’t been too old to learn a new trick.

We headed from the kitchen to the living room as a chorus of lively feet pattered close behind. They knew, indeed; everything was going to be okay.

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A Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) follow-up investigation has found that Petland stores are still supporting puppy mills, including some of the largest and most notorious in the country.

The new intensive study analyzed thousands of pages of public interstate health documents in multiple states, revealing that almost every Petland store in the country is buying from puppy mills, either directly from commercial breeding facilities or indirectly through middleman brokers.

Two of the worst offenders included “Perfect Puppies” in Iowa and the Hunte Corporation in Missouri. More than 80 stores were linked directly to the Hunte Corporation alone, a massive Missouri broker that resells about 80,000 puppies a year and has documented Animal Welfare Act violations.

The new investigation of Petland’s puppy sources also traced shipments of puppies from out of state brokers to more than 95 percent of Petland’s domestic stores, revealing once again the chain supports puppy mills.

The HSUS also found that several Petland stores continued to buy from some of the facilities the HSUS clearly named and exposed as part of their initial Petland investigation in November, including MAM (Mike and Melanie Moore’s) Kennels in Missouri and Charlene Koster’s kennel in Kansas—puppy mills where more than 100 dogs were filmed running back and forth in small wire cages. Read one family’s story: Heartbreak at Petland

Supporting Cruelty

A woman convicted of animal tortureAs implausible as it might seem, the HSUS investigation found at least two Petland stores in Florida still buying puppies from the facility associated with Kathy Bauck in New York Mills, Minn. Bauck was convicted of three counts of animal torture and one count of animal abuse in March 2009, the same month the East Orlando Petland store purchased several puppies from her facility. Health certificate documents show that the Largo Florida Petland store also purchased at least one puppy from Bauck’s kennel in February 2009. See where your local Petland gets its puppies

“Petland claims again and again that they deal only with a special selection of breeders,” said Stephanie Shain, senior director for the HSUS puppy mills campaign. “Our new investigation proves that the vast majority of their stores are buying either directly or indirectly from puppy mills and brokers—large-scale commercial facilities where puppies are treated like nothing more than a cash crop.”??

In addition, the investigation also found two Petland stores buying from a convicted animal abuser, others buying from individuals with long histories of Animal Welfare Act violations, and some who held no USDA license at all. (Even licensed and legal commercial kennels can still be puppy mills, where 100 or more breeding dogs have been found confined for life to small wire cages.)

Since the original Petland investigation was released in November, a consumer lawsuit has been filed against Petland and more than 600 former Petland customers have contacted the HSUS to tell their heartbreaking stories. HSUS has also led three nationwide demonstrations this year at Petland stores across the country to tell the chain to stop selling puppies and start supporting pet adoptions instead.

Please speak out against Petland’s illegal and inhumane practices. Tell Your Story Here or Put Your Pet on the HSUS’s “Pets Against Puppy Mills” page.

Your best friend will thank you.

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Sire, the 5-month-old American Bulldog killed by his owner, Bobby Loggins


His name was “Sire.”

The 5-month-old American Bulldog’s short life came to an abrupt end on June 9 when he urinated on a carpet while his owner, Bobby Loggins of Sioux City, Iowa, entertained friends.

Despite three witnesses who say otherwise, Loggins pleaded “not guilty” today to having inflicted 30 blows to Sire’s head, causing the puppy’s death. Even had Loggins pled guilty, Iowa’s current animal cruelty/torture laws would have allowed no more than aggravated misdemeanor charges being filed in his case.

The horrific puppy-killing case has drawn both statewide and national attention to animal abuse and animal torture legislation, and websites and bloggers across the U.S. are demanding change. Several focus on one key plea: those outraged with Iowa’s law should write Sioux City’s County Attorney Patrick Jennings asking that charges against Loggins be amended to reflect a crime far more serious than a simple traffic violation.

Dog Killer Bobby Loggins

Bobby Loggins

For many, Loggins’ “not guilty” plea to the misdemeanor charge only added insult to injury.

Sioux City’s KMEG 14 — who had the only crew inside the courtroom Thursday morning when Loggins pleaded not guilty — said Loggins plans to hire his own attorney before the July 21 pre-trial hearing.

Regarding the aggravated misdemeanor charge — which carries a sentence of up to two years in prison and a $6,000 fine — Siouxland Humane Society Executive Director Jerry Dominicak said, “We’re hoping for the maximum, but we would like to see the animal laws in Iowa be stronger.”

Dominicak and his staff have given out thousands of flyers asking people to flood the Woodbury County Attorney’s office with letters. “The citizens in Sioux City and the Siouxland area need their voices to be heard,” he said.

Those voices are sounding off — loud and clear.

At Monday night’s Sioux City Council meeting, local animal lovers spoke about the dog’s beating death, and the Iowa Voters for Companion Animals talked with the city council about changing city ordinance to keep convicted dog abusers from owning animals in the future.

Under “Education for Responsible Pet Ownership,” Pit Bulls for Justice began an article with “One word for Bobby: MURDERER” before reporting the crime and offering the quote: “We can tell a lot about a society by the way it treats animals, children and the elderly.”

In Lincoln, Neb., one concerned citizen called the Woodbury County Attorney’s office only to be told they would not take phone calls expressing outrage over the incident but would accept “letters for their files.” Undeterred, the Nebraska caller not only wrote and sent the letter, but posted a copy of it — along with the Woodbury County Attorney’s mailing address — to Pet Enthusiast Magazine, imploring others to write letters, too.

The Daily Hobbit’s “Beyond the Shire” also has noted the pup’s merciless killing. The article invites reader comments and prominently displays the Woodbury County Attorney address.

RunningForaPaws posted what they called a “Simple but Very Important Request” asking readers to contact Jennings and ask their letter be added to the file.

KTIV-TV reported Wednesday on the Siouxland Humane Society’s letter-writing campaign encouraging the Woodbury County Attorney to seek the toughest penalties possible.

The blog “For the Love of the Dog” — which also listed the county attorney’s address — didn’t bother mincing words. “Please, please, please…post and crosspost. Let’s get the word out and the letters and calls in!” the site reported, concluding with the final directive, “Don’t let this heartless bastard walk with just a little fine after brutally beating this defenesless little puppy!!”

Under the forum “Dog Laws & Legislation,” there are pleas to read about “Sire’s” death and “do something!”

The Woodbury County Attorney’s address — along with, not surprisingly, more comments — shows up on the care2 make a difference site as well.

KCAU-TV in Sioux City reported today that, if convicted, Loggins could spend 2-years in prison and pay a $6250 fine. His trial is set for August.

PiddleTails took time to weigh in on what Sioux City Police Chief Doug Young called “a heinous crime.”

In addition, KPTH FOX News re-emphasized today the Humane Society’s push for stronger animal laws in Iowa and, of course, director Dominicak’s letter-writing campaign.

And, the Sioux City Journal’s June 11 article on the dog-beating death now leads the site’s “Most Commented” upon news story, with 104 angry comments — and still counting.

There are more. In fact, far more accounts of outrage than I can possibly include in this post. But, my hope is that some of the above links will provide a glimpse into a nation’s response to a particularly senseless, cruel and brutal act, and (in this case) a defendant who clearly has shown no remorse by pleading “not guilty” to a crime already defined well below the scope of its severity.

While I find the county attorney letter-writing campaign absolutely worthwhile and certainly worth pursuing, there’s still another Iowa address conspicuously missing from these appeals; it’s the one for your state legislator.

Sharpen your pencils. It’s time for change in Iowa.

Feb. 18, 2010 update: Read Jody’s latest post on this case

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HSUS Felony Cruelty Map

Don’t let the map fool you.

While the Humane Society of the United States has made enormous strides state by state in animal cruelty legislation over the past several years (due largely, in my honest opinion, to current HSUS President & CEO Wayne Pacelle’s tireless dedication and ongoing efforts), we as a civilized country still have a long way to go.

As of May 28, 2009, only four states remain without felony animal cruelty provisions, but don’t let all the others lull you into believing they don’t tolerate unspeakable crimes; many states hiding beneath the red-colored designation (meaning they have “felony legislation in place”) won’t bring about felony charges until a second or third offense. See where your state stands.

Another crime? Seeing the word “misdemeanor” in the same news article that details how a defenseless dog was beaten to death by its master for urinating on the floor.

First, though, let’s head to New York. There’s someone there you need to know.

Meet Cheyenne Cherry — sociopath-in-training

Cheyenne Cherry, a 17-year-old New York teen, was arrested June 3 after admitting she threw her former roommate’s two-month-old female kitten, Tiger Lily, into an oven and roasted the animal to death. The reason she gave for torturing Tiger Lily to death: “I hate cats.”

According to ASPCA officials, Cherry brushed the incident off as “a practical joke.”

ASPCA official Joe Pentangelo says the animal suffered “an agonizing death.” Cherry and an accomplice left the apartment as the kitten cried and scratched at the oven door, Pentangelo said.

The tragedy was discovered by neighbors who noticed smoke and a foul odor coming from the apartment. When firefighters arrived, they found Tiger Lily’s smoldered remains. Investigators say the kitten was burned so badly, a necropsy had to be performed to determine the kitten’s sex.

It wasn’t the first time the kitty-killing Cherry had used the term “practical joke” when it came to abusing or killing other people’s pets. Cherry was charged in the armed robbery dog-napping of a teacup Yorkie in a Bronx park last June, police said. And, Cherry said it was also “just a joke” after her arrest for robbing a man of his iPod at gunpoint. She’d pleaded guilty to robbery and got five years probation.

Despite Cherry’s June 2008 arrest for larceny and extortion — along with two other busts — Cherry was released into her mother’s custody without bail; this after she was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, burglary, arson, reckless endangerment and criminal mischief for burning alive her friend’s kitten.

Cherry’s community, outraged by her latest gruesome act and her dismissive attitude towards the crime, is asking that the 17-year-old be charged as an adult. An online petition has been set up requesting a modification of the charges, with petition signatures and comments being forwarded to the judge by month’s end. Though the site’s initial goal was 2,500 signatures, more than 13,000 incensed citizens already have signed — a vast majority also taking time to comment on Cherry’s barbaric crime. Sign the Petition Here.

Fast forward to Sioux City, Iowa

Meet Bobby Loggins: Prefers Killing Own Dog vs. Someone else’s Pet (also prefers house guests who will lie — albeit conflicting stories — about dog’s death)

Bobby Loggins, 35 and intoxicated, was upset. His young American bulldog, whom he obviously hadn’t taken the time to fully train, had just urinated on the carpet during Bobby’s house party at 1611 23rd Street in Sioux City. Instead of leading the dog outside as any responsible pet owner would do, Loggins punched his own loyal dog in the face approximately 30 times — in front of several witnesses, no less. Police reports confirmed the dog was bleeding from the facial area, and animal control officers said the dog died before help could arrive.

If that weren’t bad enough, Loggins, as well as one of his “guests,” lied about what happened.

Loggins told police he “accidentally” slammed the dog’s head in the door. And, according to Sioux City Police Sgt. Mike Post, an unnamed witness told police the dog had been hit by a car.

One witness, however, had a conscience; Post said 34-year-old Chad Peterson was one of the witnesses and reported the incident to police.

On the other hand, the man-without-a-conscience-dog-killing Loggins has been charged with animal torture and filing a false police report, both of which (do-I-really-really-really-have-to-use-this-word?) are misdemeanors. Loggins will likely be ordered to get some psychological counseling. Perhaps even do some community service. Meanwhile, a young unschooled dog met a horrendous death at the very hands of the man he trusted most.

Loggins was released from jail on bond about two hours after being taken into custody.

Misdemeanors? But what about That Map?

Are you asking yourself the same question I’ve asked myself a thousand times? “How can this animal torture/cruelty crime be a misdemeanor when the map clearly shows Iowa has statutes in place to make this crime a felony?”

The answer, my friend, is in the fine print. You’ll find it in Iowa Code 717B.3A under Animal Torture. What it means is that the Bobby Loggins of Iowa can relentlessly beat and kill a family pet with 30 hard punches to the face and still answer to no more than misdemeanor charges — until their second offense, that is, when that animal’s death matters and it becomes a Class D Felony.

It could be worse. In Alaska, one has three opportunities to torture or kill the family pet before being charged with a felony. Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota and North Dakota have no felony provisions at all.

Shame on those state legislators.

One need not be a dog lover or cat lover or animal lover of any kind to possess the simple knowledge that animals experience pain no differently than human beings. But does placing the value of a human life over that of an animal preclude legislators from understanding the parallels in violent behavior exhibited by those who would inflict such pain and/or death on either?

It isn’t enough to just ask questions; we must demand answers, action and accountability. Our lives — and the animals with whom we so lovingly share those lives — depend on it.

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I was just six years old when “The FBI” starring Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., first premiered on television in 1965, but I vividly remember watching nearly every episode over the next nine years because of the things I associate with the program; it was broadcast on Sunday nights and my family spent nearly every Sunday having dinner at my Grandma Ewing’s home.

FBI Director Robert Mueller and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

FBI Director Robert Mueller and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

When I think of the show, the vision that springs to mind is my dad sitting upright in Grandma’s recliner with a TV tray in front of him, spooning hot chili into his mouth (while never taking his eyes off the TV), Mom sitting on the corner of Aunt Mabel’s old worn chair, and the five of us kids sitting cross-legged on the floor adding oyster crackers to our own bowls of chili and hanging on “Agent Lewis Erskine’s” every word while Grandma kept poking her head into the living room long enough to ask if everyone was getting enough to eat.

Each week’s episode closed with the same voice announcing, “This has been a Quinn Martin Production.”

In the years following the series run, I never gave much thought to whatever happened to Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., and certainly had no idea that once his “fictional” show ended he’d continued his relationship with the FBI, participating in charity events and helping raise money for families of agents killed in the line of duty.

Today’s FBI Press Release showed me just how busy Mr. Zimbalist has been. During yesterday’s ceremony at the Los Angeles Field Office, FBI Director Robert Mueller presented Zimbalist with an honorary special agent badge for embodying the qualities in the FBI’s motto: fidelity, bravery, and integrity.

The FBI says Zimbalist inspired a generation of real-life FBI special agents, and I don’t doubt it for a moment. That’s not counting the number of other FBI-inspired television series over the past four decades.

I’m thinkin’ J. Edgar Hoover would’ve been proud.

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Stories like this just make my heart sink. Six dachshunds — likely rejects from a puppy mill — were dropped off at a Bainbridge Island rescue facility with all kinds of serious health issues.

Rescue manager Suzannah Sloan said the dogs had been “bred and bred and bred and bred.” They had mammary tumors, ovarian tumors, and all showed signs of neglect.

There’s a short video featuring the dogs here:
Abused, Sick Dogs Left At Bainbridge Island Animal Rescue – Seattle News Story – KIRO Seattle

One thought provides a little comfort; the ones who may not make it will at least get to spend their final days in loving hands instead of dying alone in a small cramped cage.

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A Man, His Dog, and a Neighborhood’s Loss

On May 10, 2009, in Pets, by Jody Ewing

On a typical block in a small town neighborhood, houses form two rows, back to back, their front doors facing outward and in opposite directions from the homes behind them.

This doesn’t mean one doesn’t come to know his or her neighbors. Especially if the neighbor has a dog, and particularly if that neighbor walks his dog once, twice, and often three times a day down one sidewalk and across a block’s end and up yet another narrow concrete path on the circular route toward back home, stopping to visit with whomever might happen to be outside at any given time, regardless of whether a warm sunny summer morning or frigid cold afternoon with snow flurries swirling overhead.

Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson was that kind of neighbor. Luther was his small terrier and constant companion.

Jim loved to stop and talk politics. Or tell us about our 100-year-old home’s fascinating history and the people who’d once lived here. Or ask us if we’d read the latest book he’d just finished. He never stopped smiling. Everything in life, it seemed, always had a happy ending.

And while we’d chat and catch up on daily and neighborhood news, Luther always inched them both closer to our chain link fence’s south gate, sniffing the grass while pretending not to notice our two big brown dogs on the fence’s other side, or even that small brown feisty one everyone called “Oh Cocoa!” Luther would wait patiently for the walk to resume, knowing the instant his master rounded the corner that those three brown dogs would retreat inside. He’d show those brown dogs. Tomorrow. Today, though, he and Jim still had stops to make. Other neighbors to visit.

In the nearly five years I’ve lived on this block, I’m quite certain Jim and Luther circled my home thousands of time. A few short days ago, they made their last trip. Mid-morning. A beautiful day. A brief conversation…”See! Cocoa’s not so tough after all!”

The next day the sidewalk lay quiet. Empty. One small rain cloud rumbled discontent, dropped down a bucket of tears in our yard, and then retreated just as quickly as it arrived. For the next two days, the sun fought hard to shine.

Today I learned the news. Jim will not walk our block again. He was 61. And we are less of a neighborhood because of his passing.

Then there’s Luther.

I am saddened beyond words to learn of Jim’s death, but can only imagine that small dog’s sorrow. Jim wasn’t just his neighbor or friend. He’d been his lifetime companion. They’d spent all those quiet nights together. Taken a thousand walks in the rain and snow and sunshine.

Surely, he must be waiting, even now, to walk with Jim again.

We’ll keep walking. We have to. But we’ll see you again, Jim. We’ll pick up where we left off. We’ll meet you near the fence, the south gate. You know the one. Cocoa won’t even pretend to growl, so you may have to look close. But he’ll be sitting there, right between the two big brown dogs and your Luther.

And on that tomorrow, we’ll all go for a walk. You can show us around the new neighborhood.

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Christian the Lion headed for the big screen

On April 6, 2009, in Entertainment, Pets, by Jody Ewing

Okay, I confess — I’m one of those millions who just can’t get enough of this almost 40-year-old true story about Christian the Lion and the YouTube video that helped bring about its resurrection.

My obsession, however, was further fed last night when the Animal Planet channel aired its hour-long television special A Lion Called Christian featuring clips and narrative (and oh-so-much-more) from the original Christian the Lion documentary film, Christian the Lion (The Lion Who Thought He Was People) made by Bill Travers.

But, the Animal Planet channel didn’t stop there.

Recognizing one hungry audience, they served up the best hors d’oeuvres fit for a king’s pride: Christian the Lion Videos from the documentary; Christian the Lion Pictures, Christian the Lion Puzzles, the first chapter from the Christian the Lion book, and, in what I expect will draw even more interest, a Christian the Lion Movie Site where fans can cast votes on the upcoming feature film’s preferred theme song, who’s going to play Ace Bourke and John Rendall, who will direct, and even marketing campaigns for the film’s trailer. (Sony Pictures has begun the process of acquiring rights to the book, and though negotiations are in the early stages, we all know they know a good thing when they see it.)

Sure, I’ll admit I’d hoped for a feature film and had even given thought to who might portray Bourke and Rendall, but in this day of numerous Facebook quizzes where users cite top television series and films and recording artists, I still found the Animal Planet survey worthy of each and every click. After all, I’m already vested in this story; Christian has laid claim to a big part of my heart.

Of the five categories where visitors may vote (Theme Song, Casting John Rendall, Casting Ace Bourke, Director, and Marketing Campaign), I differed in the majority choice in all but one — the marketing campaign for the film’s trailer — but then, that one is/was pretty much a given. Its most popular answer lies in those numbers on the YouTube videos…millions of universal hearts gathered there, indeed.

If you missed the not-to-miss Animal Planet documentary on Christian and Ace and John, take heed: it will air again on Thursday, April 9, at 6 pm CST and on April 10 at 1 a.m. CST. Be sure to check your own local listings — this you don’t want to miss.

The Christian the Lion Phenomena

On March 20, 2009, in Videos, by Jody Ewing

I’d just turned off my computer last night and sat down to watch a movie when my sister Lori called. “I just sent you a link to a YouTube video you absolutely have to watch,” she said. I told her I’d just shut down my computer, but there was such urgency and excitement in her voice I agreed to boot up again.

“I didn’t even get halfway through and just burst into tears,” she said as my Mac whirred back to life. Her voice quivered a little, and I feared she’d burst again before the video even loaded. I doubted any YouTube clip could get me that choked up; it took all of 35 seconds to prove me wrong.

The video — one of several with varying lengths of footage and background music — depicts the 1972 reunion between “Christian the Lion” and two Australians, John Rendall and Anthony “Ace” Bourke, who’d purchased the young 35-pound cub in 1969 and raised him until 1971, at which time George Adamson helped them rehabilitate the then 185-pound lion into the wild African plains of Kenya. Christian had been in Africa for a year when Rendall and Bourke, who’d been informed of Christian’s successful transition, decided to pay him a visit.

By then, Christian had become the head of the pride, and Adamson warned Rendall and Bourke that Christian may not remember them. The video — an excerpt from the documentary Christian: The Lion at World’s End — tells what happened.

In July 2008, the Today show caught up with Bourke and Rendall, who spoke with host Meredith Vieira about their days with Christian and their ongoing commitment to preserving wildlife. It’s a heartwarming article with links to slideshow photos of Christian’s early life and a link to Meredith’s interview with Bourke and Rendall.

The video Lori sent me — shown below — has been viewed more than 10 million times and has a solid five-star rating. No wonder; almost four decades after the documentary was shot, it’s still a five-star story.

Another worth seeing: watch the last 6 minutes of the documentary with original soundtrack and commentary by Virginia McKenna.

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Where for art thou Nick Nolte?

On March 11, 2009, in Miscellany, by Jody Ewing

Okay. So I’ve been safeguarding this 1956 Benson High School (Omaha, NE) yearbook for some time for Bill Bowley, a close family friend. Bill attended Benson High with Nick Nolte, who (as most of you know) went on to become one helluva actor. (One of my favorites, in fact.) Bill, on the other hand, went on to own and manage a very successful roofing company — until Parkinson’s Disease forced him into early retirement several years ago.

Nick Nolte signature in yearbookIn 1956, both Bill and Nick were high school sophomores. Nick was the kicker for Benson’s football team (according to Bill, Nick was “the starring quarterback”) and they also shared some good-ol’-boy times in gym class and on the basketball court.

Nick signed Bill’s ’56 Benson High School annual, and though they both graduated in 1959 and will celebrate their 50-year high school class reunion(s) this year, here is where the road gets muddy.

Bill swears both he and Nick graduated from Benson High in ’59, and Benson’s Wikipedia page indeed lists Nick under notable alumni. Further research, however, indicates Nolte was kicked out of Benson High for “digging a hole and hiding beer before practice and then getting caught drinking it during a practice session.” After Nolte’s expulsion from Benson High, according to the actor’s Wikipedia page, he attended Westside High School in Omaha, and that alumni roster also shows Nolte as one of their graduates.

Additional online research produced these same details, over and over again.

Nick Nolte

Nick Nolte

So why does it matter, 50 years after the fact, which of these two high schools is Nolte’s true alma mater? Simple. Because his former friend and Benson High classmate, Bill Bowley — who recently underwent a brain implant to help control some of his advanced Parkinson’s disease symptoms — wants to attend his 50th high school reunion this June 5-6, and he’s got his heart set on linking up and visiting with his old friend Nick.

I’ve promised Bill I’ll do my best to track down Nolte and ask if his summer plans include a Midwestern high school reunion, even though I suspect Westside High School (whose 50th class reunion is Aug. 28-30) most likely lays the bigger claim to one of Omaha’s most popular and successful sons.

But, who knows. Despite the actor’s current shooting schedule (“King Shot” in production) perhaps he’ll work in a two-day break to catch up with friends who-knew-him-when. Based on the Nolte movie trivia questions Bill often poses to me, I suspect some of Nick’s old friends may indeed include some of his greatest fans.

Nick wrote the words in the yearbook, but now it’s time for Bill to say them. “Hope to see you in the summer.”