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Tag: costs

Who’s the fairest of them all?

bestinshow

Here’s an “infographic” (more graphic than informative, we’d say) that’s popping up a lot on the Internet these days.

It’s from “Knowledge is Beautiful,” a new book by British data-journalist David McCandless.

In it, he crunches data to explain the world, or at least random bits of the world, through graphics that — though they might intimidate those of us who prefer a good old fashioned story — are intended to be entertaining, artful and easy to absorb.

“Every day, every hour, every minute we are bombarded with information, from television, from newspapers, from the Internet, we’re steeped in it. We need a way to relate to it,” his publisher, Harper Collins, writes. The author’s visual presentations ”blend the facts with their connections, contexts, and relationships, making information meaningful, entertaining, and beautiful.”

kibWe’ll withhold comment on the book, because we haven’t read it (if reading is even part of experiencing it.)

But we’ve got problems and questions with this particular chart — a ranking of the 87 “best” dog breeds.

(To see a full size version, click here.)

For starters, why — when there are about 180 recognized breeds now — did he limit himself to only the 87 most popular breeds?

Is that a more algorithm-friendly number? Is that the most that could fit on a page before it became so cluttered as to be reader unfriendly, or leave us feeling dog bombarded?

The infographic contrasts the popularity of the breeds with what (according to the formula used by McCandless) are the “best” breeds. The best breed, according to the chart, is the border collie. It concludes the bulldog the most “inexplicably overrated” dog breed.

McCandless ranks the 87 dog breeds based on these factors — intelligence, lifespan or longevity, ailments, grooming, appetite and costs.

In a way, at least four of those factors are cost-related, aren’t they?

How much a dog eats and how much grooming he requires both can make him a more expensive proposition, which we can only assume McCandless attaches negative points to.

The Newfoundland, for example, falls into the “inexplicably overrated” quadrant of the the chart — well, most of him does, a little bit of his big head seems to stick outside that border.

We’d hope McCandless considers a longer life span for a dog to be a good thing, worth positive points, but wouldn’t a dog gaining points in that category be losing them in the appetite, grooming and costs categories?

Of course, our biggest is complaint — on top of the sheer stupidity of picking a best dog breed — is that the chart ignores the “best” (and most popular) dog of all, the mutt.

That would complicate matters though, and infographics are all about over-simplifying. And stereotyping, and quanitfying the unquantifiable, and smugly considering yourself an expert based on what your computer has churned out, which infographic perusers should bear in mind, is only as reliable as the data it was fed in the first place.

(Photos: “Knowledge is Beautiful”)

Who knows what’s best for Jack?

jack

Dog blogger and broadcaster Steve Friess says he’s not going to spend $5,000 to put his dog though chemotherapy that could extend his life a year or more — and he’s going to try not to feel bad about it.

Even when he says his final goodbye to Jack in what could be less than a month.

In late October, Friess noticed the dog he’d adopted nine years ago was getting lethargic, and that his weight had dropped from his usual 11 pounds to around eight.

A vet diagnosed that Jack had an aggressive form  of lymphoma that was spreading quickly through his body.

Friess did some research, checking with friends, and vets, and friends who were vets: One of the latter urged him to “do the full chemo protocol ASAP!” It could send Jack into remission for nine months, or 12 months, or even longer.

Friess and his partner researched, debated and decided against chemotherapy — not because it would be all that rough on the dog physically (they handle it much better than we do). The main reason, he admits, is the money, which, he also admits, they just doesn’t have.

There will likely be those who second guess Freiss, or maybe try to lay a guilt trip on him: Take out a loan, hit up your friends, get a second (or third) job, launch an online fundraising campaign, let me be the first to donate.

We’ve become a nation of such overflowing compassion for dogs, with such promising new medical technologies, and such handy online fundraising tools at our beck and call, that it’s easy to lose sight that decisions about life and death — both ours and our dogs — are still our own, and that throwing in the towel, for financial reasons, or others, isn’t always a shameful choice.

We suspect Friess will receive some support for his decision, but will hear from many more questioning it. His decision to write about it, as he did in a post for Time.com, is brave, but also an open invitation to second-guessers. In any case, the decision on what’s best for Jack should be (and has been) made by the person who knows him best, and deserves to be respected

Friess, a freelance writer and co-host of The Petcast, said neither his advisers nor his vet seemed to be trying to make him feel guilty about his choice. But, as is the way with guilt trips, we often don’t need a tour guide.  Feelings of shame can start as soon as we ask our vet the question Friess did:

“How much will it cost?”

For Friess, the estimate was a minimum of $5,000 — more than he and his partner had.

“(It) means we have about 30 days. The end will probably come in time for holidays … ”We’ve received a lot of advice, both solicited and unwelcome, through social media. Nobody comes right out to say it, but the disappointment some express at our decision shows that they question our love for Jack. In an era when people spend big on animal clothes, artisanal foods and medical intervention, and when medical science makes it possible to spend $5,000 so Jack dies slightly later than sooner, there is pressure to go as far as we can.”

There’s one more twist. Friess and his partner are trying to adopt a human baby, and they’re working on saving the $15,000 fee for that.

“If that $5,000 could cure the cancer and restore Jack’s full life expectancy, maybe we’d do it,” he wrote. “Maybe. It certainly would be a tougher choice. But to buy a year during which we’d be waiting for his lymph nodes to resume their swell? We could endure the end stages either now or later.”

(Photo of Jack by Steve Friess)

“Harley” (and owners) get second chance

ottoThe elderly couple that abandoned their dog at a Los Angeles County shelter, asking that the sickly 13-year-old dachshund be put down because they couldn’t afford his medical care, has been identified.

But only loosely.

Apparently they are down-on-their-luck traveling ministers, currently out of town, and they say that they’d gladly reclaim  their dog — once they get enough money to buy new tires for their car and get back home to California.

The dachshund was left tied to a basket at the Baldwin Park Animal Shelter on March 6, along with a note asking he be put to sleep because his anonymous elderly owners could no longer afford to care for him.

Before euthanizing the dog as requested, the shelter called Leave No Paws Behind, a rescue organization. It took the dog in, named him Harley, and got him the veterinary care he needed — primarily treatment for mange.

The organization’s founder and CEO, Toby Wisneski, sought to track down the owners to reunite them with the dog, and she offered to pay for Harley’s medical care and dog food for the rest of his life.

This week she made contact with the couple and learned Harley’s real name — Otto Wolfgang Maximus. A reunion is tentatively scheduled after the couple returns to California around March 28.

“We thought he was dead, but he lives,” the dog’s owner told a KTLA reporter. “He’s being well taken care of and, boy, we’re just so extremely grateful.”

“We just are living week to week,” one of the owners said in the phone interview. “We can’t even go to the hospital to get our treatment.”

The dog was left at the shelter with a hand-written note that said he had recently gotten sick, was vomiting and had bloody stools.

“We are both seniors, sick with no money,” the note said. “We cannot pay for vet bills, or to put him to sleep. He has never been away from us in all those years, he cannot function without us, please put him to sleep.”

The poodle who pays for my Obama Care

lily 086

Oftentimes, when to pursue your own dreams and interests you stop working for “THE Man” — as I did six years ago — you end up, unfortunately, without “THE Salary” and without “THE Benefits.”

That — the no more health insurance part — is why I haven’t seen a doctor in six years.

That — the no more salary part — is why, in addition to being an author, freelance writer, photographer and blogger, I recently became a bartender and, even more recently, a dog walker.

lily 047And that brings us to Lily, the poodle who pays for my Obama Care.

I suppose I should be thanking our President for finally being able to get myself some health insurance. He’s the one who made it possible. But Lily, sweet Lily, made it doable.

If being paid to spend time with Lily makes me a gigolo, then call me a gigolo. True, I come calling on her twice a day, three times a week. I knock on her door, give her a hug when it opens, and then wrap her coat snugly around her, making sure her fluffy white ears don’t get caught inside.

We ride the elevator down to the first floor of the assisted living center in which she and her owner live and go outside for a 20-minute stroll — during most of which she walks daintily along the top of the curb, like a tightrope walker. She fastidiously poops in the same spot each time, in the woods on a vacant lot. She stops when I stop, goes when I go, and has never once caused the slightest tug on her retractable leash.

After the walk — and I’ve never met a dog who’s easier to walk — we go back inside. Then we sit in the lounge area and snuggle for maybe five minutes. That is my favorite part and, though it may be vain of me to think so, her’s too.

My other favorite part is seeing the reaction of residents when a dog comes into the room, the smiles that instantly appear and the hands that reach out. It’s amazing the change in atmosphere one dog’s presence can produce.

lily 094I’ve often thought it would be great to run some kind of program that not only brought dogs into facilities for the elderly, but found them homes there, and provided support and help to residents who wanted dogs of their own, but had concerns about whether they could manage it.

That would be fun, and noble, and help homeless dogs, and assist in bringing immeasurable joy to people.

But it wouldn’t pay my bills — much less provide health insurance for me.

I charge Lily $6.50 for  each session.

In  a month, that earns me enough to pay my $137.67 monthly health insurance premium, as determined by the Affordable Health Care Act, based on my income.

That income pales in comparison to what I made as a newspaper reporter, back when I worked for THE Man. I left my last newspaper job in 2008 to write a book, but also because, amid continued shrinkage and cutbacks, it had become nearly impossible to do a story justice and give it the attention it deserved. After that my dog and I traveled the country, and I tinkered with another book, while continuing to write this blog.

We ended up in North Carolina, and last year moved to the little town of Bethania.

A few months ago I started working the bar and grill at a golf course down the street from my rented house. Not to bore you with my finances, but that two-day-a-week job, coupled with my newspaper reporter pension, makes it possible to pay my rent, bills and other debts. I wasn’t bringing in enough for health insurance, though, and — after countless hours wandering around healthcare.gov — I had pretty much decided I would continue do without, pay the penalty fee, and treat any diseases or disorders that arose with chicken soup and ibuprofen.

One afternoon, at the golf course, the aunt of another employee visited and told me about her dog-walking business — business maybe not being the right word. It’s sort of more in between a business and volunteering. She helps residents of an assisted living center with chores, ranging from shopping trips to dog walking, charging a rate that does little more than pay for her gas.

lily 066She, like me, feels strongly that dogs can improve the lives of elderly people, especially those who live alone. I told her if she was ever in a pinch, and in need of a fill-in dog walker, I’d be glad to help out.

A few weeks later she called, and I began walking Miss Lily — at first temporarily, then regularly.

The insurance plan Lily has enabled me to get is not the kind that pays for everything.

It’s more, as I understand it, the type that, after I spend $3,000 or so I don’t have on doctors, will kick in and pay 60 percent or so of my qualifying medical expenses. Even with it, one good medical crisis will probably still send me into financial ruin. But at least it’s something, and I’m abiding by the law, and it might make me more likely to visit a doctor.

And even if I don’t, I’ll still be reaping some health benefits – between all the dog cuddling, which is good for the heart, and all the dog walking, which is good for the heart.

I’m sure there will be much confusion, red tape and arguing ahead when it comes to my health insurance. There always is. And with my income being of the fluctuating variety — depending on the stories I sell, the dogs I walk, the beers I serve — I don’t understand how we will determine the premium I should pay in the future. Is it  based on last year’s income? Or this year’s income, which I won’t know until the year is finished?

Just last month, two more dogs showed up at the assisted living facility.  First came a Boston terrier named Punkin. I take him for three walks a day, three days a week. Then came Gretel, a miniature schnauzer who is 13, and the fastest walker of the bunch.

lily 064That means more income, which means the amount I have to pay for my Obama Care will go up.

For the record, Republican leaders, that doesn’t sap me of any incentive. I still want to have as much money as you. I’d still like to have the kind of health insurance you have.

But at least I can take a rebellious sort of pride in the fact that I’m not working for THE Man.

No. Not me. I’m working for a kind and gentle, polite and refined, sweet and loving curbwalker. I’m working for THE Poodle.

(Story and photos by John Woestendiek)

Dog calls falling to deputies in Wicomico

Budget cuts at the local humane society have forced sheriff’s deputies in Wicomico County, Maryland to take on dog-related duties, and some animals may be dying as a result.

Reports of aggressive animals — once the domain of animal control officers — are now falling to deputies, who often don’t have much training in dealing with them.

Sheriff Mike Lewis says deputies have been forced to kill aggressive animals that in the past might have been subdued.

“We have to shoot it with a .45 – nobody wants to do that,” Lewis said.

In addition to lacking training, deputies don’t have the proper equipment, such as tranquilizer guns, Lewis told the Daily Times.

A year ago, the Wicomico County Humane Society had three full-time animal control officers. It now has one who works four hours a day. Under next year’s budget, the Humane Society will receive $248,000 from the county, compared to the $327,000 budgeted last year.

Executive Director Linda Lugo said the Humane Society took in 2,030 stray animals from the county from July 2009 through May of this year. The animals are held for at least six days, under law, before being put down or transfered elsewhere — at a cost of about  $122,000, Lugo said.

Funding from the county pays for three-fifths of the Humane Society’s operating budget. The city and independent fundraising by the Humane Society help cover the rest.

California man seeks vet insurance — for self

You can’t blame Hal Ziegler for trying — what was good enough for his golden doodle, he figured, would be good enough for him.

Facing exorbitant increases in his health insurance payments, Zeigler, a self-employed consultant, called up the pet insurance company that covers his dog Charlie — for $37 a month — and asked if he could get a policy for himself.

“They laughed,” Ziegler, 47, of Mission Viejo., told the Orange County Register. “I knew what the answer would be but in reality I wasn’t joking.”

Ziegler noted that his dog, Charlie, has seen his claims paid promptly and without dispute by Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) , including those for vaccinations and a trip to the veterinary emergency room.

Ziegler’s dealings with Anthem Blue Cross haven’t been nearly as simple and swift, and the price of his coverage keeps going up — a 34 percent jump this year alone.

And even then, it sounds like he lacks coverage for a major medical event. “One one of our greatest fears is to be in a catastrophic medical emergency,” he said.

Being without health insurance myself I can relate to the problem faced by Ziegler and so many others who have been priced out of the health market. So I’ll share my secret plan, if a major medical problem comes my way: I’m going to go to the vet, get him to give me a bacon-flavored treat, scratch me behind the ears and gently put me down.

New dog park planned in Bucks County

County commissioners in Bucks County, Pa., are unanimously in favor of  establishing a dog park at Core Creek Park in Middletown — but  not in agreement over how much it should cost.

While all county commissioners support the concept, one is concerned by the estimated cost, set at $350,000 by county Parks and Recreation director Bill Mitchell.

“That’s way too much money,” said Commissioner Diane Marseglia. “I hope in the future we can have talks about scaling it back. I am completely confused about that cost estimate because the last price I thought I heard was about $100,000 and I thought that was too much.”

The 2.6-acre dog park is planned for near the Tollgate Road entrance of Core Creek Park, next to the 24-hour fishing spot on Lake Luxembourg, according to Phillyburbs.com.

Mitchell said the commissioners could vote to send the project out for bids by mid-September and that it could be finished by the end of the year.

Mitchell said dog park users will have to register and pay a yearly membership fee. The park will include a 2-acre fenced-in area for larger dogs (more than 25 pounds) and a 0.6-acre area for smaller dogs (25 pounds or less).

“When I was young, you could take a dog to an open field and let it run, but with all the development, those open fields are less and less,” said Newtown Township resident Patrick Flanigan, who has helped collect about 1,000 signatures on petitions in support of the dog park.