“…Active Rattlesnake Incident…”

I was just finishing up my hike when I heard a woman scream. As a good citizen, I went back to check that everything was okay (or not). The woman was standing on the concrete path, with her two dogs. Five feet further on, a rattlesnake was stretched halfway across the concrete. The woman and her dogs were fine, but startled — she had almost stepped on the rattlesnake.

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We stayed a good distance back from the snake. The sidewalk here is probably 10 feet wide, to accommodate bicyclists passing each other.

The woman told me that she often sees snakes on the trails. There are a lot of rattlesnakes along the foothills west of Denver. (Don’t Kill the Snake!) She just didn’t think about a snake on the concrete sidewalk.

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Don’t be alarmed — I have a really awesome zoom lens on my camera. I am actually standing in about the same place as the first photo was taken. You can see the rattles at the end of the snake’s tail, and the distinctive pattern that helps it hide in the grass.

While we were discussing the event, two other women came up. We told them about the snake, and they became very agitated — both of them were terrified of snakes. They discussed going back the way they had come, but that would have been a long way to go back.

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A really awesome zoom. I was surprised at how big the scales were on the snake — they kinda stick up from it’s body.

The woman with the dogs had us hold one while she picked up the other dog and carefully walked along the far edge of the sidewalk six feet away from the snake. She came back for the other dog, picked it up and carried it past the snake (I was impressed — these were border collie sized dogs).

The two frightened women decided to follow the dog owner past the snake. They passed safely, and were shaken, but fine. I admired them for facing their fears.

After everybody went by, the snake retreated to under a trash can. Despite what the snake thought, this was not actually a good place to hide if somebody decided to be a good citizen and toss their trash.

I called the incident in to Jefferson County Open Space dispatch to get somebody to move the snake. They told me to call Jeffco Sheriff’s Department because this “was an active rattlesnake incident”. I called JSD, who switched me to Animal Control. Animal Control wondered if the snake’s exact location might be in the City of Golden. They advised me to “spray some water on the snake to encourage it to move along.” REALLY???

By the time everybody had finished passing the buck, the snake had wisely decided enough was enough, and moved on without any further interaction from people.
At no time did the snake do anything more threatening than flick out it’s tongue — no coiling, no rattling, just prudent retreat.

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This was probably the scariest photo because although I was still ten feet away from the snake, suddenly I couldn’t see it in the grass. I took this shot blind.

This incident points up a couple of things:

1. We often get so absorbed in our lives that we don’t see threats even when we are literally about to step on them. The woman who first found the snake had seen them before, and had a healthy respect for them, but had tuned that threat out of her head because she was on a concrete path, rather than on the trail. The snake was there anyway. So stay alert! This goes double if you like to put in the ear buds and zone out.

2. Snakes really don’t want to be around people. I mean, they can’t eat us, but they can be hurt by us. So what’s the point of being around us? This guy was sunning itself when we blundered onto it. Through the entire encounter, it stayed really still to see if we would just continue not seeing it. At the first possible moment, it slithered away.

3. We handled the situation reasonably well. We didn’t poke at it. We didn’t try to kill it. We kept the dogs away from it. We gave it plenty of space, and it left by itself. What could we have done better? Stayed alert and recognized it long before we got close. Backed off even more after we first encountered it and let it escape more quickly.

Here are some good websites that talk about how to avoid snakes, and what to do if you get bitten anyway. WikiHow: Avoid a Rattlesnake Attack https://runnerclick.com/how-to-handle-a-snake-encounter-on-the-run/

Enjoy the outdoors, but stay alert! It’s the critter’s home, we’re just visiting.

The Gift Of the Dying Dog

Hemingway said that all true stories end in death. This, then, is a true story…

Autumn, 2011

My son wanted a dog of his own. We said no.  We already had two dogs. He only had two years before he went off to college. There was no point in getting him a dog that he was going to leave. I didn’t need to take care of three dogs.  The question was settled. We weren’t getting my son a dog.
Then my daughter started talking about a puppy at veterinary clinic where she worked. It was adorable, she said, a little corgi with big ears and inquisitive eyes.  And then she mentioned that it had been relinquished to the veterinary clinic because it had an incurable heart problem.  The clinic was trying to find somebody to take it so that its last days wouldn’t be spent in a kennel at the back of the clinic.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The prognosis was not good.  The puppy had patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) with reverse flow. Translated, patent ductus arteriosus means that a valve in his heart didn’t shut properly when he was born.  This open valve allows oxygen-poor blood from his body to mix with oxygen-rich blood from his lungs, diluting it.  Without treatment, dogs with this heart problem typically live just weeks to months.
By itself, PDA is fixable with surgery; the veterinarian would just operate and sew the valve shut. The problem is in the reverse flow.  In a small percentage of PDA cases, the blood vessels in the lungs thicken and narrow, causing the flow of blood to reverse from left to right, hence the name “reverse flow.” Once the blood vessels thicken, the veterinarians can’t shut the valve without forcing too much blood through the narrowed vessels. It would be like trying to force the flow from a garden hose through a straw – the extra blood would blow out the narrowed vessels.
But my family agreed that we couldn’t let the puppy live out its life without at least being able to lie in the grass, and watch the squirrels, even if he couldn’t chase them. And so we brought the puppy home. A Welsh corgi (are there any other kinds of corgi?) needed a Welsh name.  My son named him Darwin. It means “dear friend.”
A few days before we adopted Darwin, the veterinarian tried him on a new medication – Viagra, of all things.  Viagra was originally designed to treat pulmonary hypertension (“high blood pressure in the lungs” –  the problem causing the reverse flow).  Viagra just happened to have other, more profitable, side-effects. For Darwin, the drug changed his life from one of lying on his bed watching the world, to one of being out chasing those squirrels.  But we have no idea how long the improvement would last.
Darwin, of course, doesn’t know that he is dying. He’s a cheerful, active,
busybody. Every morning starts with him bouncing stiff-legged down the stairs, his ears flopping on each step. Then it’s time for a game of tug, or a ball-throwing session.  If you try to ignore him, he pops his short front legs up on your lap, drops the toy-of-the-day in it, cocks his head at you and let out an insistent Yarp! This is corgi for Hey! Play with me!
Once the game is over, he supervises getting everybody out the door to school or work, and then makes sure that the birds don’t get too comfortable on the bird feeder. After that, he rootles around in the garden, or barks at the neighbor’s dogs, flaunting his toys.
And he does flaunt his goodies.  He takes them to the back fence to show to the dogs in the yard behind us.  Once they are nicely frenzied, he tosses the bones in the air. La la lah la la!  What do I have here?  A bone!  Would you look at that?  Don’t you wish you had one?Darwin holding Kuramas leash ed 2
As everybody settles down for the evening, Darwin makes little piles of his toys, sorted by type: balls go in our room at the foot of the bed.  Bones go in my son’s room by his computer, where he can step on them when he walks around in bare feet. Prized chewy things go at the top of the stairs, where Darwin can keep tabs on the other two dogs.
He’s had a busy day.My Ball
Darwin has enemies, though. Cleaning utensils are a constant threat. He has reduced the kitchen broom to a fringe of bristles sticking out at every direction.  The vacuum sweeper is an angry menace, to be attacked on sight. The snow shovel has teeth marks on it where he has wrestled it away from us, saving us from some horrible fate.Darwin in the snow-09
Our feeling is that if Darwin has a short life span, we are going to give him every opportunity to experience the world. We take him on walks, to the dog park and on errands around town. As if trying to make up for time he won’t have, Darwin dashes toward everyone he meets, ears back and a smile on his face.  He proceeds to charm people as only a puppy can. The biggest proof of this is that the grandparents no longer ask about their grandchildren.  They want to know how Darwin is doing.Darwin in dog food bag-6_edited-1
But in the back of everybody’s mind lurks the knowledge that he won’t last.
Grasping at straws to cure Darwin, we took him to the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The canine cardiologist there listened and looked and took blood. But in the end, she shook her head.  She could adjust Darwin’s medications so that he had more energy. But she couldn’t cure him.  He might live three to five years, seven at the most, but in the end, his body will become adapted to the Viagra, and the drug won’t work any more.  And he’ll die.
The knowledge of his shortened life makes our time with Darwin more precious.  And to make sure that they aren’t left out, we pay more attention to the other two dogs than we did before, too. In fact, the constant nearness of death makes us pay more attention to everything about life.
But it’s hard to stay glum about Darwin’s future when a twenty-five-pound fur ball jumps on your chest in the morning, gently placing a ball in your sleeping hand. You’re wasting the day! he yips. Toss the ball!
My son says Darwin has given him a gift. Darwin has taught my son that “Every day may be my last day.  But every day may be my best day.”
Don’t worry about tomorrow.  Just throw the ball!  

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September 2017
Darwin lasted six years longer than anybody expected, living a full and happy life. Finally, though, his body adapted to the medication and his great heart gave out.
But Darwin had one last lesson to teach us: how to die with dignity. So on a cold grey September evening, we said good-bye to our dear friend.
Godspeed, Darwin. We hope there are balls to chase, where ever you are.Darwin on Apex-4_edited-1

What Friends Do, Puppy Play

Dogs and Raccoons Battle to 1-1 Draw

My dogs got me up at 3:00 this morning to tell me that the raccoon we have visiting the backyard was back. I stumbled downstairs in a waking-up-from-deep-sleep daze to let them out. I always turn the light on before I let them out, to give the raccoon fair warning that it is time to move on. But this time, when I flipped on the lights, there were four sets of eyes reflected back at me — a mama raccoon and three babies, or kits.
The lights were on, but the raccoons weren’t moving. The bird feeders were too much of an enticement. I banged on the window to tell them that we were here, and we were getting impatient. Mama raccoon finally began to amble over towards the fence. Her kits followed, darting here and there to investigate the yard as only curious youngsters can.
Finally, though, all four were perched on the top rail of the fence.  I knew that they would jump into the next yard as soon as I let the dogs out, so I opened the door.
The dogs raced out to defend their territory. To my horror and confusion, though, mama raccoon launched herself back into our yard. The kits followed. Now the backyard was seething with six snarling snapping animals. I watched, helpless to do anything.
My corgi, Darwin, was the first to throw in the towel. He came back inside, casting resentful looks over his shoulder. Mom! Those guys didn’t play nice! They hurt me!
As I shooed Dawin back inside, I discovered why mama raccoon had come back and started a fight: clinging to one of the screen doors around the sun room was a fourth kit. Mama came back to protect her young.
This information didn’t immediately help, but it crystallized for me what had to happen next — I needed to break up the fight and get my 12-year-old Chow-Golden Retriever mix, Kurama, under control so that I could drag her back inside. The problem, of course, remained how. There was no way that I was going anywhere near those flashing teeth. I had just decided to get the hose out when I heard a yelp from mama raccoon, and she shot back over the fence. I think she finally got hurt. I grabbed Kurama, who had been having a great time and didn’t want to stop playing with the raccoons, dragged her back inside, and closed the door. As soon as we were inside, the last kit shot over the fence to mama. The whole fight probably lasted two to three minutes.
I cleaned up the dogs, both of whom were covered in slobber, and Darwin had a cut on his muzzle. Then I went to bed.
This morning, I gave both dogs baths and took them to the vet. He said a number of interesting things.
First of all, Darwin’s cut was minimal and didn’t need stitches. He was far more concerned with Kurama, who like most elderly who over-do it, was really stiff and sore this morning. She hurt.
Next he said that I was very clever to wash the dogs. Not only did it minimize the transmission of any saliva-borne diseases and fleas, it allowed me to check them over for cuts better. Thankfully, there were none besides Darwin’s lip. He also said that washing out the wound with plain water or saline solution (he recommended contact-lens solution) is now considered the best way to deal with cuts. Back in the day, we had been told to disinfect with hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol, but they have discovered that those two liquids kill the white blood cells that flood the area around the cut, taking away a secondary line of defense. Saline doesn’t do that.
Other than recommending extra arthritis pain pills for Kurama, he didn’t do anything more. If the dogs hadn’t been up on their vaccinations, he would have vaccinated them for rabies and leptospirosis, a bacteria that is common in my neighborhood, although not necessarily everywhere in the Denver metro area. But they were good.
Finally, he said that the dogs had been lucky. Raccoons have teeth as long as a dog’s and as sharp as a cat’s. One small cut was nothing. He agreed with me that, although it sounded and looked terrible, the fight was mostly just a way to get the dogs to back off so the kit could rejoin it’s family.

As a precaution, we are now taking down our bird-feeders every night. This is a major undertaking, but we would really like to discourage the raccoons from making us a regular stop.

How to Shoot Your Dog…With a Camera

It is that time of year again.  Lyn is looking for photos of your dog for the Pet Therapy Calendar.  Having had less than total success with professional photographers lately, many of you are considering taking the pictures yourselves.
And yet, you hesitate. How can you take a shot that will make it to the coveted centerfold?
As I got ready to take pictures of my dogs, I went to that fount of all knowledge worth knowing and much that isn’t – the Internet.  There I found lots of sites by professional photographers giving hints on how to shot your dog.  They all said the same things:
1. Look at your pet’s personality.  That’s what you want to capture. If they are couch potatoes, you’ll want to shoot them lounging on the couch.  If they are active, take them to the dog park and snap away.

Where she likes to be.

2. Setting. Photograph them where they are comfortable. This is less of an issue with Pet Therapy dogs, because they tend to be comfortable in a wide variety of settings – that’s why they’re Therapy dogs. If there is a place where that has special meaning to you or your dog, try shooting there. But be aware of the background.  If your dog’s special place is the dumpster, that may not make the best background.  You don’t want the background to detract from your amazing dog. Try for something simple and/or colorful.
3. Get in close. Use the zoom setting, if your camera has one.

Needs to be closer.

4. Get on their level. This may mean getting on your knees, or even on your belly. Or you can put them on a chair or bench. This will give people a glimpse of their perspective.
5. Change it up. So long as you’re set up and they are willing, shoot from different positions and angles, and with them doing different things. With digital cameras, it is easy to take lots pictures, which increases your chances of getting a good one.  But remember, save ONLY the VERY BEST.  Otherwise, you end up with thousands (and I mean thousands) of mediocre pictures that you have to wade through every time you want to find the good ones. Be brutal when deleting.
6. Lighting and Settings.  No, no – don’t turn off your brain!  This is easy!
Animals move, so you need lots of light to catch the action.  Sunlight is better. Use a flash inside.

Animals move so you need plenty of light for photos.

But what setting do you use on your camera?! When in doubt, use Auto. It seems like every camera maker uses different symbols, but that Auto is usually a green something, either a rectangle or the word “Auto”.
As you experiment, try some different camera settings. Outside in a lot of light, use the “Kids and Pets” or “Sports” or other action-sounding setting. Then you can get multiple photos by holding down the button.
Inside, you’ll need a flash.  “Portrait” or “Night snapshot” will do the job. Don’t worry about red-eye –it can be edited out.

Used flash.

That’s all you need to know about camera settings and lighting.
7. One more thing that none of the websites talked about. Some dogs get very nervous with that big camera lens staring at them. Alternatively, when I take pictures of my dogs, they want to come to me instead of posing for the camera. To fix both of these problems, I try to have somebody else actually take the picture and for me to be the one getting the dog to react.  Then I have lots of treats handy, and make it fun for them, me and the person working the camera.
Remember these are guidelines – lots of great pictures have broken these “rules”. But they will help you get started with your canine photographic adventures.