Sometimes, pets find their own way to talk to us

We’ve all wished our pets could talk to us. Well, sometimes they can. I became convinced of that last week after an incident involving my dad’s recently adopted Jack Russell terrier, Otto.

Otto, back at our house the day after surgery. (Mary Ullmer photo)

Otto, back at our house the day after surgery.

I talked Dad into adopting Otto, an adorable 10-year-old, from the Muskegon Humane Society. Dad already has a 12-year-old JRT, so he knows the breed. He wouldn’t have to go through usual trials and tribulations of raising a puppy: biting, chewing, “accidents.”

And Otto needed saving. He had been pulled from one of the few shelters in Michigan that still uses a gas chamber to euthanize dogs. He was rescued the day before he was scheduled to meet this horrible fate.

Otto also needed extensive dental work. We knew that going into the adoption, so I scheduled an appointment with Dr. James Moore at Harborfront Hospital for Animals in Spring Lake, who specializes in oral procedures for pets.

Otto’s surgery went well. Dr. Moore’s work included extracting several bad teeth, saving Otto’s one remaining canine tooth, reparation to areas of his gums and roots and, well, too much more to go into detail (since I can’t pronounce half of the words anyway). Dr. Moore himself was amazed that little Otto lived in such pain for so long.

We said our thank-yous and goodbyes, and Dad brought Otto home. All was well in Otto’s (and Dad’s world) until last week, when Dad left for his annual 10-day “trout camp.” No one brings rods, and no one fishes, but the trip is a good excuse for Dad and his friends to get together and camp up north. I had agreed to watch Otto at our home, since adopting him was my idea.  Pup, his other JRT, was headed to my cousin’s house.

Otto met Gabbana Huffington, during his first visit to Harborfront, when he required oral surgery.

Otto met Gabbana Huffington during his first visit to Harborfront, when he required oral surgery.

The morning after Dad left, Otto appeared quite sad and a bit nervous. I was sure he was just missing Dad, who is retired and spends almost every second with his dogs.

Otto told me differently. He had an “accident” on our hardwood floors, just seconds after coming in from outside to do his business. When I went to clean it up, I noticed blood in the stool. I called Dr. Moore’s office, since it was nearby and they knew Otto’s brief medical history (there were no previous records, since Otto had been picked up as a stray).

They got me in within an hour and ran the stool sample to start eliminating what it might be. No intestinal parasites or typical problems related to blood in the stool appeared. Temperature was normal, heart and lungs sounded fine. But when Dr. Moore examined him further, pressing gently on areas of his body, it was clear Otto was in pain in the lower areas of his belly.

Dr. Moore instructed me to leave Otto … this would take X-rays and time. When he called an hour later, he said X-rays revealed a mass, likely on the spleen. He hoped it was the spleen, he said,  because it’s an organ dogs really don’t need. If it was the liver or kidneys, we’d be in bigger trouble. Either way, surgery was required.

Dr. James Moore and his greyhound, Gabbi, at home. (Patti Eddington photo)

Dr. James Moore and his greyhound, Gabbi, at home.
(Patti Eddington photo)

Dad couldn’t be reached. He’s 75 years old, doesn’t have — or want — a cell phone, and doesn’t know how to use a computer. He trusts me to make the right decisions whenever I’m watching his dog or home.  I, of course, told Dr. Moore to do whatever was necessary.

Otto, it turns out, had all sorts of issues. He was anemic. His red blood cell count was very low, his gums were beyond pale. He needed blood, pronto. Without it, he wouldn’t survive.

As fate would have it, Dr. Moore and his wife, Patti Eddington, happen to own a rescued greyhound, Gabbana Huffington, who hangs out at Harborfront every day. Greyhounds, I learned, are universal blood donors. That’s not why Dr. Moore and his wife got her, but I’m incredibly thankful they did.

Gabbi gave her blood, and Otto stabilized. Dr. Moore was able to remove the spleen, which was twice its normal size because of the massive tumor on it. I still don’t know whether the tumor is cancerous or benign, but I’m not concerned with that right now. The spleen, and the tumor, are gone.

Had he not been brought in that morning, Otto’s spleen would have ruptured by the end of the day and he would have died from internal bleeding, Dr. Moore said. Had Gabbi not donated her blood, Otto wouldn’t have made it through surgery.

When Gabbi's not being a heroine, she's a couch potato. (Patti Eddington photo)

When Gabbi’s not being a heroine, she’s a couch potato.
(Patti Eddington photo)

Otto is recovering at our home now, three days removed from surgery, and doing incredibly well. He clearly is in some pain from the surgery and whines a bit, but his color is great (his gums are nice and pink) and he prances around the yard as if nothing happened.

Dad will be shocked and amazed at the ordeal his little dog went through. By the time he returns from camp, Otto should be mostly recovered and have his stitches removed. Finally, little Otto can live out his years (hopefully he has a lot left) the way he should — in a loving home on 10 acres of woods, running and exploring things like a true terrier.

And, in my book, Dr. Moore and his beautiful greyhound Gabbi are heroes. I’m convinced that had they not done what they did, little Otto wouldn’t be sitting on the couch next to me right now. I am forever indebted to them.

And had Otto not “spoken” to me by doing his business in our dining room instead of outside, Thursday surely would have been a very dark day. Sometimes, instead of scolding, we just need to listen and pay attention.



A (Corgi) Nation mourns beloved Barney Boots

There literally are thousands of people mourning today over the loss of a little corgi farmer from Wisconsin.

I am one of those people.

RIP, Barney Boots

Barney Boots, a 4-year-old “farmer” who delighted more than 4,500 of his Facebook friends (many of whom were other corgis, or other breeds of dogs) with his many posts daily, crossed over the Rainbow Bridge this morning. His unexpected death is a shock to us all.

He had followers from every state and all over the world, and it seems he had the time to reply to everyone’s comments, even if it was a simple BOL (Bark Out Loud)! Barney Boots went out of his way to make everyone feel special.

Already, hundreds have posted on a Rest in Peace Barney Boots page (Barney’s own page was down much of the day but has since returned), many through tears. Hearts are breaking over a little dog none of us ever met, but who made us smile every morning with “I am now up!” posts (those simple posts generated more comments every day than I’ve ever had on one of my Facebook entries).

Barney would post often about his activities (“I’m inside now!” “I’m outside now!”), his family of baby steers, his hard work in the garden and his vacuum cleaners (pigs) that he had to keep an eye on every day. He had to run three miles to the mailbox and run 3.5 miles back from the mailbox.

Math and measurements were not Barney’s strengths, but exaggerations were. Green Bay  temps soared to 500 degrees numerous times this summer, and 200 below — with 20 feet of snow — last winter.

It was winter a few years ago when, according to Barney, he was thrown into a snowbank out of a truck going 80 miles an hour in front of his house. His mom and dad rescued him, and that’s how he came to live with Deb and Paul. At least, that’s how Barney told it.

He posted videos no more than 15 seconds in length. Often, they were of him walking, but mainly they were of his baby steers (he worked for Brandenburg Beef, after all). A simple little 15-second film of steers standing around would have us in stitches.

He would fain starvation if he didn’t eat his five meals a day, which included his favorites, gravy and ice cream, and just about anything else he wanted. He loved cheese curds and sloppy joes, he loved his Packers, and he loved his farm and his mom and dad. His “Daddy’s home!” and “Mommy’s home!” posts meant yet another meal, but also meant spending time with his favorite people in the world.

That little corgi brought so much joy to so many people, the entire Corgi Nation (which includes people and honorary corgis of all breeds) mourns today. And what he brought to corgis in need is what made Barney so special.

When his Uncle Ronnie (his dad’s brother) passed last winter, Barney started a fund-raiser to help CorgiAid, Inc. Barney’s efforts raised thousands of dollars for corgis-in-need organizations, including more than $4,000 with the “Coins for Corgis: In Memory of Uncle Ron Brandenburg” fund-raiser.

He was in the midst of another fund-raiser, one that suggested a “clutter-free Christmas,” to help a corgi organization. People posted ideas and others voted for their favorites, contributing $1 for each vote. At last count, last week, it had raised about $1,500. It was to conclude in October, Barney’s birthday month. Already, donations are headed to CorgiAid in honor of Barney Boots.

We all offer our condolences to Barney’s parents, Deb and Paul Brandenburg. As devastated and saddened as Corgi Nation is by this news, the pain Deb and Paul are feeling right now is unimaginable. Our pets bring so much joy to our lives that when they leave us, especially so suddenly, our hearts break.

To Deb and Paul, our deepest sympathies. To Barney Boots, thank you for all you did to bring so much laughter, so much joy, and so much help, to so many people and dogs.

Rest in Peace, Bubbles.


A lesson learned, the hard way, about restraint when it comes to traveling with pets

I debated for a good week on whether or not to write about this. What convinced me? A couple of things:

1. A good friend told the Facebook world of a pretty silly thing she had done — basically trying to get into a car after stopping traffic and realizing it wasn’t her husband who had come to pick her up but a complete stranger. If she’ll admit to nearly carjacking someone by mistake, how bad can my little incident be?

2. This morning, one of the many websites regarding pets to which I subscribe took on the topic of travel and restraining your pets (dogs) in the car. It’s a rather long blog post on Life With Dogs by Dr. Jason Nicholas, but well worth reading.

Stuart's days of roaming unrestrained in the car are over (but I had to shoot his picture to prove a point).

After checking out the blog post, I figured it’s as good a time as any to share my rather embarrassing episode.

We do not often travel with our pets, except to the vet or perhaps to my dad’s land in Montague, where they can exhaust themselves in his 10 acres of woods. On the rare occasions the dogs do travel with us, we have not used restraints.

Such was the case last week, when I was taking our Jack Russell terrier, Stuart, to a photo shoot at Kendra Stanley-Mills‘ studio. She was photographing some products for an upcoming publication, and Stuart was going to model one of the items.

You must understand that, in our household, getting one dog into the car is a bit tricky when the others want to come along. This day, I lured the dogs into the garage and opened the car door. Stuart hopped in and I shut the door. I was then able to lure the others back into our “mud room” connecting the garage to the house, rather easily, I might add. In fact, I commented out loud to myself, “Wow. That was easier than I thought.”

Lo and behold, when I returned to the garage to get in the car, Stuart, unrestrained, had hit the automatic locks on the car doors. With the keys in the car. I panicked. I didn’t know where the extra set of keys were. But I did notice the driver’s side window was cracked a bit. My arm is skinny enough, I figured, so I squeezed it in, struggling at the elbow, and managed to reach down to the door handle. To my amazement, I was able to open the door.

Unfortunately, may maneuver triggered the car alarm, which sent Stuart bounding from the back seat to the front, against the windows and every which way. The blaring high-pitched alarm also sent the dogs waiting in the mud room into a tizzy. I panicked again.

To make matters worse, my arm was now stuck in the window and I couldn’t get to the keys. I struggled, dangling from outside the car, to free my arm. After about 30 seconds, which seemed like 30 minutes, I began to weigh my options. Cutting off my arm like the hiker in “127 Hours” wasn’t one of them. Nor was breaking the window, since I had only one arm free and couldn’t reach anything. Finally, I gritted my teeth and yanked my arm with all my might, freeing it from the window and door. I leaped into the car and grabbed my keys, hitting the button to silence the alarm.

My arm, not to mention my ego, sported a nice bruise after the incident.

Stuart jumped from the car and into the garage. Going for a “ride” suddenly didn’t seem like much fun to him. I managed to swoop him up and put him back in the car, and we were on our way. After the big adventure, Stuart sat perfectly still in the car and was well-behaved during the photo shoot, the first he’d ever done.

Me? My ego, and my arm, were bruised from my stupidity. As someone who writes about pets, I should know better.

I made a couple of notes to self: A. Do not ever put the dog into the car when the keys are in it and B. Get restraints to buckle the dogs in our vehicles and avoid the many mishaps, which could be far worse than my silly little alarm incident,  that can occur. I only hope others will take note of this as well.

A salute to a champion, and member of the family, Upcountry Lighthouse Amos

I don’t ever recall my oldest brother crying. He always has been the strong big brother, a cynical sort who tries to hide his pain with laughter.

Archie Hendrick and his English springer spaniel, Upcountry Lighthouse Amos, at the 2005 National Amateur Championships.

He couldn’t help himself today, breaking down when we spoke on the phone about his champion English springer spaniel, Upcountry Lighthouse Amos. My brother, Archie Hendrick, learned this week that Amos has prostate cancer. The cancer is spreading rapidly and a large tumor has developed near Amos’ lungs.

The veterinarian prescribed Prednisone and said my brother and his wife, Carol, should keep Amos as comfortable as possible until it becomes clear their beloved dog is in pain, at which point they will end his suffering. The vet estimated that time will come in the next couple of weeks

Amos has been my brother’s hunting and training partner for more than 13 years. They have competed in hundreds of field trials and training sessions. Archie raises pigeons and pheasants for training and, on many a Saturday morning, hosts several field springer spaniel enthusiasts who wish to work their dogs on his 350-plus acres of land near Marquette, Mich.

We had the honor of observing such a session a few years back, and marveled at the dogs’ ability to flush, and then retrieve, the birds. Watching them work their way back and forth, tails in motion with excitement and stirring up the scent, was a thing of beauty. We were even more impressed at watching the dogs retrieve the birds and hold them gently in their “soft” mouths, dropping them at their owners’ feet.

Amos is a champion, having won the 2005 National Amateur Championship in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Amos and Archie also were recipients of the Gun Award at those national trials. It’s a rare feat to win both, and my brother couldn’t have been more proud.

From that point on, the champion dog was known to us as “Famous Amos,” even when he was sprawled on my brother’s lap and looking anything like a champion gun dog. He has sired 74 puppies, including Rosie, a tiny little spitfire whom Archie and Carol have kept.

Archie told me today that several people are coming by to pay their respects to Amos.  Many of those people are my brother’s training partners who, as Archie put it to me, “knew Amos before he was Famous Amos.”

Aside from letting Amos eat bacon and probably anything else he wants in his last days, my brother is planning a special treat. He’ll go fetch a pigeon from the barn and place it in the field where they train.

While he’s still able, Amos will get to do what he loves most in this world (aside from my brother). He’ll get to flush and retrieve a bird one last time.

Editor’s note: My brother read this post and made a comment (which can be difficult to locate on my site, it seems) and correction. Here’s what he had to say: Amos never dropped a bird at my feet in his life (heh, heh).  He always raced back in with his retrieve, sat down (“hupped” in Spaniel-ese), held his head up and gently placed the bird in my hand.  His beautiful bird delivery was one of the things Field Trial judges always commented on.

"Famous" Amos. (Photo/Kim Kuhlman Photography)

When it comes to pets, fate sometimes intervenes

While trolling the Internet this morning, I discovered an interesting story about newspapers struggling with digital revenue. On the same site,, I found an even more interesting post from Roy Peter Clark, an author, blogger and instructor at Poynter Institute.

Clark was making a point about journalists, that a reporter should inquire enough to “get the name of the dog.” If a reporter cares enough to get the name of the dog for the story, he or she likely will have asked all the pertinent questions a story requires.

Ella, a Jack Russell terrier, was my first dog and went everywhere with me.

Clark’s post was more about journalism than about the name of his dog (Rex, by the way) or any other dog name, but it reminded me of how one of our dogs came to be.

Our Jack Russell terrier (Clark’s dog also happens to be a JRT and recently celebrated his 18th birthday) came about his name purely by coincidence. Or, as I prefer to label it, fate.

It was a Sunday in March six years ago when I had managed to drag myself out of bed. I had been inconsolable the previous couple of weeks after the death of my first dog, Ella, also a Jack Russell. She had been hit by a car in front of our home.

I had Ella for 13 years, and she moved with me from South Florida to Chicago and back home to Michigan. She had hiked mountains in Colorado and New Mexico, climbed trees in Florida, played soccer with the children at the park in Chicago. Her picture had been in the Chicago Tribune and the Grand Rapids Press. She went everywhere with me.

When she died, I grieved to the point that I didn’t know what to do with myself. I cried myself to sleep every night and struggled to get out of bed in the morning, especially on weekends when I didn’t have to work.

I had been checking out Jack Russells online on the odd chance I one day would overcome my grief and get a new dog. Friends told me to “get back on the horse.” I knew they were right, but the guilt of “replacing” Ella was weighed heavily on me. Then, I saw him. This Jack Russell terrier, 13 weeks old, was available. His adorable face filled my entire computer screen. I’d look elsewhere, but kept coming back to him. It was just too bad I wasn’t ready to stop grieving and get another dog, I told myself, because he could be The One.

When it came to naming our new Jack Russell, "Stuart" was the obvious choice.

A few days later, on that Sunday that I managed to get out of bed mid-morning, I was staring at our back yard and talking to myself, as usual. “What if we did get another Jack Russell?” I asked myself. “It would be a boy, for sure. What if it was that dog whose cute big face was on my computer screen? What would we name him?

“Hmmmm. Stuart. That’s a fine English name, and Jack Russells are from England. Yeah, I like the name Stuart.”

That night, I went to bed at 5 p.m. because I couldn’t stop crying over Ella. It had been “only” a few weeks. My partner began yelling from our home office for me to get out of bed and get in there at once. I wiped the tears from my eyes, sighed heavily and stumbled into the office.

There, on the computer screen, was that same Jack Russell I had discovered earlier that week, his face filling up the entire screen. Uh-oh. She found him, too.

“This is our next dog,” Yvonne said to me.

“I’m not ready yet,” I responded.

“Yes, you are. You need to make a call about this dog,” she said.

Then, as if she had been reading my mind from that morning, she asked me: “What do you think of the name Stuart for this dog?”

Whether I thought I was ready or not, I no longer had a choice in the matter. Fate. Kismet. Coincidence. Whatever it was, it was bigger than my grief. Stuart joined our family the next weekend.




If you’re passionate about pets, you have found a home

Stuart, AKA Mr. Misunderstood, is our Jack Russell terrier.

Why am I here?

I’m here because of people like Lisa Medendorp, who gave me my start in journalism in 32 years ago, hiring me as a sports clerk at the Muskegon Chronicle. Despite not having spoken for years as our careers took different paths, we met up recently at a reunion of sorts for former Chronicle employees. We found that we have much in common these days, even though our interests have shifted through the years. What we had most in common, and what we couldn’t seem to quit talking about that night, was our love of dogs.

I’m here because of Rob Kirkbride, a former co-worker at the Grand Rapids Press who now writes a blog, Walk Two Hours. Rob’s young dog was killed on one of their recent walks when she was hit by a truck. Yes, the dog was on a leash, which made it that much more hard to bear. The outpouring of condolences from Rob’s friends, whether close friends or Facebook acquaintances, was overwhelming. Rob had no idea how much people cared about him, and about his dog, whom many had never met.

I’m here because of my brother, who has a former national field trial champion among his three English springer spaniels. Every time we speak on the phone, the conversation eventually turns to dogs.

I’m here because of Susan Harrison-Wolffis, another dear friend from my Chronicle days, who insists I need to tell more cat stories.

Barney Boots

I’m here because of a little Pembroke Welsh corgi named Barney Boots, who works on a steer farm near Green Bay, Wis., and has 3,007 Facebook friends at last count, most of them dogs. He delights his friends with is daily antics, from his daily “I am now up” proclamation to his dinner menu, which usually includes gravy. Barney’s “Uncle Ronnie” (a human) passed away on Christmas eve just as Barney’s “Coins for Corgis” fund drive was getting started. It became “Coins for Corgis in memory of Ronald Brandenberg” and raised more than $4,000 for CorgiAid, Inc.

The Cone of Shame

I’m here because of Barney’s friend Spark Plug, who was neutered (or, as he put it, “nebulized”) back in November and auctioned off his post-op “Cone of Shame.”  What started as a joke among Corgi Nation members on Facebook turned into a donation of $1,300 to CorgiAid, raised in two days. Spark Plug, who lives in Florida, even “pawtographed” the cone before shipping it to the winner.

I’m here because our dogs wake us up every morning and nuzzle next to us every night. In between, they teach us about patience, humility, joy, restraint, obedience, responsibility, curiosity and humor.

I’m here because events that benefit animals and their owners are happening all around us, and people need to be made aware of them. I’m here because of pet food recalls, animal abusers, animal rescuers, lost pets, found pets and pets in need of homes. I’m here because new pet products I write about might benefit someone who happens to be checking out the site. I’m here because lawmakers who make the rules regarding pets need to be held accountable. I’m here because I love pets, and I know there are thousands of stories to be told every day.

I’m here to tell you some of those stories, to promote causes and organizations that benefit animals, to discuss responsible pet ownership, to share ideas and to be a voice for pets who so desperately need one.

That’s why I’m here. I’m not sure why you’re here, but I hope you’ll be back.