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.



West Michigan happenings: Humane society up for ‘Grand’ prize via ArtPrize

ArtPrize isn’t the only thing going on in West Michigan these days, but there’s no question it’s the biggest event in town. Aside from the animal-related art (there are some cool exhibits for animal lovers to check out), one area animal advocacy group, the Humane Society of West Michigan, has its paws in the prize as well.

HSWM was selected as one of three non-profit organizations (Kids’ Food Basket and Friends of Grand Rapids Parks are the others) competing for proceeds netted from a $25,000 necklace, “The Grand,” entered as an ArtPrize exhibit.

The non-profit receiving the most online votes will receive 80 percent of the proceeds from the eBay auction of the necklace. The other two organizations will split the other 20 percent.

So far, HSWM is off to a spectacular start with 57 percent of the vote! To vote for HSWM or one of the other non-profits, go to and click … yes, it’s that easy! You can vote once per day until Oct. 8, so tell your friends.

For those who want to see the necklace in person, it’s on display at ArtPrize venue Craft Revival. Photos of the necklace, which include icons of the city of Grand Rapids, also accompany a story on

There are a few other events happening around west Michigan, so be sure to check them out, too.


Harborfront Dog Wash: From 1 to 4 p.m. at the Harborfront Hospital for Animals parking lot, 807 W. Savidge, Spring Lake. In the event of inclement weather, the dog wash will move indoors! Also includes a bake sale. A suggested $10 donation will benefit Love Inc. and HHFA friends Jim and Pam Koop and Brenda Blahnik. All dogs get a bandana and a treat once they ‘re spiffed up!


The Dushanes benefit concert: Next Friday, the popular local alternative country band is putting on a show to benefit the Bellwether Harbor animal shelter and training facility in Fremont. The event is from 5:30 to 10 p.m. at Bellwether, 7645 West 48th St. in Fremont. Tickets are $35 in advance or $40 at the gate. Food provided by Smokin’ Good Time BBQ. For tickets, call 231-924-9230. Please note Bellwether’s hours on their website,


ASPCA/Rachael Ray $100K Challenge: Kent County Animal Shelter director Carly Luttmann reported a problem with their drive to “save” 300 more animals during the three-month Challenge than last year: KCAS keeps running out of adoptable kittens! It’s a great problem to have. Luttmann’s organization has adopted out 181 dogs and cats so far in the Challenge, which began Aug. 1 and runs through Oct. 31. That’s a 235 percent increase over the same period last year. They’ve “saved” a total of 377, including animals from KCAS transported to other facilities and adopted out as well as found animals returned to their owners via animal control officers. To check their progress and see pictures of all of the pets who found forever homes through the event, go to the official site, or visit the IC Pawz Facebook page. Please note that IC Pawz is the official site of KCAS on Facebook. A Kent County Animal Shelter page has been created but is not part of the organization.

ArtPrize: There are a few exhibits that feature animals, including one I recently wrote about, Kent Ambler’s Running Dogs. Another exhibit worth checking out is Aimee Brumleve’s “Steps Toward Independence.” Brumleve used puppies from Paws with a Cause, the national organization headquartered here in Michigan that trains assistance dogs nationally for people with disabilities, to create the painting. Brumleve is the national breeding coordinator for PAWS, which encourages independence for people with disabilities by providing a lifetime of support with PAWS dogs.