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Tag: insurance

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)

Alabama town bans pit bulls after sheriff shoots what he thinks might have been one

claycouncil

Citywide pit bull bans are often knee jerk reactions — maybe even more so when a county sheriff”s knees are involved.

One week after Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale was approached in his yard by four dogs “acting aggressive and looking like pit bull breeds” — and fired a shotgun at them, grazing one — the Alabama city of Clay passed a “vicious dog” ordinance banning pit bulls and pit bull mixes.

sheriffhaleThe sheriff, according to a spokesman, fired a warning shot into the ground, then another round of ”bird shot” in the direction of the dogs, leading them to turn away. Animal control arrived to round up the dogs, and their owner was charged with letting them run at large. The dog hit by Hale’s shot survived, AL.com reported.

That incident prompted the city council in Clay, with a speed seldom seen in government affairs, to pass an ordinance banning pit bulls and other “vicious” or “dangerous” dogs. 

The ordinance bans new pit bulls and mixes that include pit bull. Such dogs already kept in the city limits are grandfathered in but must be registered with the city in the next 60 days. The ordinance requires they be kept indoors and mandates owners post a prominently displayed ”beware of dog” sign. Owners are also required to have $50,000 in liability insurance. Violations can be punished with a fine of up to $500 and up to 30 days in jail.

Having sought little public input before passing the law on June 3, the city council has gotten some since, AL.com reports.

A standing room only crowd filled Monday night’s meeting of the Clay City Council, with most citizens arguing the breed is not “inherently dangerous” and criticizing the law for unfairly penalizing responsible owners. Many, including a representative from the Birmingham Humane Society, urged the council to consider a non-breed specific dangerous dog law instead.

One speaker continued to voice his concerns after his turn to speak was over. When told he was interrupting, he continued his comments, leading Mayor Charles Webster — perhaps deeming him to be inherently dangerous — to ban him from the room.

“You are turning us all into criminals,” the man, identified as Mark Lawson, said as a deputy led him outside.

City Attorney Alan Summers said he would try to have a new or modified ordinance for the council to consider at its next meeting on July 1.

(Top photo by Jeremy Gray / AL.com)

Health insurer get stinky response to advertisements mailed to family dog

sdTired of junk mail they were receiving from a health insurance company — all of it addressed to their pet — a family in Indianapolis struck back by sending along a little something from the dog.

The mailed feces was sent along with this note: “Your bulk mailer has purchased a bogus name. Our dog does not need Medicare insurance and has never written a letter nor called Anthem requesting such trash … When are these solicitations going to stop arriving? Well, let’s see if you like your trash back. What comes around, goes around!”

The family, pointing out they were tired of the insurance company’s “crap,” addressed the package to “Expert A–holes” and ended the letter by saying, “Bon appetite.”

Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield told police it was the second time in two months they’ve received dog feces in the mail at their Virginia Avenue office. A similar delivery came in March.

Police have passed the complaint onto the postal inspector, according to Fox 59 in Indianapolis.

Anthem employees sealed the latest shipment in a plastic bag to hand over to inspectors, according to RTV 6.

The most recent letter had a return address, but police were unsure if it was authentic.

Adventures in househunting, Craigslist style

Where I’d like to live and what I can afford are two different realms, two very different realms – a fact I bring up not because I’m the first person to experience that phenomenon, but because it is one of the reasons Ace and I are having difficulty settling down, even temporarily.

All I want is a small cabin or cottage — they being much more romantic than something called a house – away from the hubbub, with heat and electricity, perhaps on the water, with a view of said water, and maybe a porch, possibly a fireplace, and washer and dryer, either near a park or with a big backyard that Ace can romp in, for, say $700 a month.

I’m not set on that. I’d also settle for a huge artist’s loft, utilities included, under $800 a month, where I could spread out and tape notes to the walls and write brilliantly when I’m not at the neighboring dog park, or enjoying the downtown skyline of (insert city here) from my deck, or taking part in the thriving social scene and cultural activities within easy walking distance.

Am I asking too much?

Of course I am.

For those of you who haven’t been following the recent adventures of me and my dog Ace,  allow me to summarize. Eight months ago, we hit the road to see some America — freeloading off friends and strangers, staying at cheap motels, spending a week on a boat, a month in a camper, a few nights in the car and in my tent. Part of the reason was to find ourselves, and find home. Part of it was to see if we could be vagabonds, roaming the country for the same amount we’d previously spent on rent and utilities at our rowhouse in Baltimore.

The trip gave me a deeper appreciation of my dog and my country; a better understanding of its faults (the country’s, Ace has none); and it confirmed my suspicion that most of the great places to live, scenic-beauty wise, have been co-opted by the rich. It also instilled in me — if it wasn’t already there — a thriftiness that, while mandated by my economic situation, borders on obsession.

I just can’t stand spending money on overpriced things, like gas, fancy restaurants, hotels, electricity and rent.

Arriving back in Baltimore, still unsure where home was, we were lucky enough to land in an empty house near the Inner Harbor that’s awaiting its new tenants — three soldiers returning from Afghanistan, expected to be back at end of February. It more than meets my needs and my budget, as it’s a friend’s house that’s costing me nothing. I, essentially, am squatting, with permission. But the clock is ticking.

So everyday, I visit Craigslist, most often “housing, sublets and temporary,” looking for a place to live for March, maybe April and May, maybe longer. I’m not limiting myself to the Baltimore area. I’ve also searched, on the Internet, the Eastern Shore, North Carolina, Delaware, Philadelphia and, on really cold days, Arizona.

My options are limited because I’m hesitant to sign up for a year’s lease and, of course, by my  dog — but also by my cheapness. I will probably move to wherever I find the best deal.

For awhile, I thought I’d found it, in Wilmington, N.C. — a pet-friendly, two-bedroom home overlooking the woods on a quiet cul-de-sac close to Wrightsville Beach. At $695 a month.

I emailed about what sort of pet fees and restrictions might apply, and got a speedy response. The house was still available, and they allowed all dogs — except for for Rottweilers, Akitas, chows and pit bulls.

Ace — as some of you may know, and in answer to the question many of you have asked — is  a mix of Rottweiler, Akita, chow and pit bull.

The next day I found affordable paradise again –  a “cottage” in Ellicott City, Md., one that, from the pictures, looked just like what I was looking for. It was secluded, wooded, with two bedrooms and a porch, for only $700.

Again my inquiry was quickly answered:

“Thanks for your email and interest in renting my house..I am Banke Jur, the owner of the house you are making inquiry of. Actually I resided in the house with my family, my wife and my only daughter before and presently we have moved out due to my transfer from my work now in Warsaw,Poland. Presently my house is still available for rent for $700USD (rent already includes utilities). More so Now, i’m currently in the (West African) for an international Christian follower’s crusade …

“Await your urgent reply … please we are giving you all this based on trust and again i will want you to stick to your words, you know that we have not seen yet and only putting everything into Gods hands, so please do not let us down in this our property and God bless you more as you do this …

“The house is available for rent at the moment so you are free to move in as soon as you wish to. A Deposit of $500 (which happens to be the security deposit) is required before moving in. Arrangements on how to get the keys and other necessary documents delivered to you.”

Problem was, the same house was listed at $1,650 on a dozen other rental websites, including the Re/Max website, its official listing agency.

My findings thus far? What appears to be a dandy deal is often a sleazy scam. What appears too good to be true, generally is. And what I can afford seems to be a “sleeping room,” a roomate situation, or in a neighborhood that, while the house has been “rehabbed,” the neighbors, unfortunately, have not.

Searching Craigslist has given me some new pet peeves: ads that don’t include a price, address, or even neighborhood; ads for places that proclaim dog-friendliness, but limit that to dogs under 25 pounds; ads proclaiming dog-friendliness that turn out to charge an extra $100 a month for it (Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t “friendliness” you have to pay for generally called prostitution?); ads repeated so often as to make you scream; ads pretending to be offering a property that just funnel you into some other website, sucking up your time.

Not to mention they get no editing. There was one house whose owner boasted it was ”recently remolded.” Apparently the original mold wasn’t good enough.

Another ad on Baltimore’s Craigslist offered free rent for 2 months — on a farm, with pets and horses allowed —  in exchange for “painting services that equal 40 hours/week.”  I could do that. What I could not do, though, was pay the $3000 cash deposit they asked for.

I also came across this ”bachelor or bachelorette pad” at $875 a month, which features a built in bar, stripper pole, and, at least in the photos, what appear to be tools of restraint. I exercised some and didn’t seek more information.

There are plenty of ads for roomates. But at 57, I just can’t see moving in with a roomate, or two, or three. I thought some about this one in Canton, a shared rowhouse, for under $700 — three female roomates looking for a fourth of any gender. There were already some “mellow dogs” living there, according to the ad. Ace and I both fit into that category. While it did set me to humming the theme from “Three’s Company,” I didn’t make an inquiry — mainly because, as much as I’d try to be Jack Tripper, I’d come across as the token old coot. I am, come to think of it, a lot like Don Knotts/Mr. Furley on the inside, masked beneath the cool/sleepy exterior of Norman Fell/Mr. Roper. (Not that I actually watched that show.)

What all this is telling me is that humans, at least those on Craigslist, are not to be automatically trusted — that maybe newspaper classified ads, because people had to pay for them, were at least a bit more reliable, not to mention spam free.

It’s telling me too that that there should be a blacklist of landlords and insurers that unfairly blacklist entire breeds.

And, when I read between the lines, it’s telling me that maybe we’re not meant to settle down. Ace, I’m mostly convinced, wants to. Part of me does, too. But another part is saying that, if I invest in anything, it should be a home with wheels.

Maybe we should continue traveling the country, this time in an RV, Ace and me, perhaps with another zany sidekick – not Fran Drescher – simultaneously filming it for use as either reality show or sitcom.

You better hope I find a home, or you might have to watch it.

And this year’s “Hambone” goes to …

A Labrador retriever who ate a beehive – bees included – has been named winner of this year’s “Hambone Award” an insurance company’s annual tribute to the pet with the most unusual insurance claim.

Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI), the nation’s oldest and largest provider of pet health insurance, chose 12 nominees for the honor – all selected from claims filed by clients. More than 3,000 people voted online to pick the winner.

Ellie lives in Santee, California, and the beehive was just the latest in a long line of items she has consumed in her young life – from wooden toy train tracks to laptop computer keys.

On top of the hive, and its thousands of inhabitants, Ellie also consumed pesticide – for the hive had recently been sprayed. On the plus side, that meant the bees she consumed were already dead. On the down side, the pesticide made her upset stomach even worse. She made a full recovery.

Ellie’s owners, Robert and Sandra Coe, will receive a bronze trophy in the shape of a ham as well as a gift basket full of doggie toys and treats, VPI announced this week.

The VPI Hambone Award is named in honor of a VPI-insured dog that got stuck in a refrigerator and ate an entire Thanksgiving ham before someone opened the door and found the dog inside, with a mild case of hypothermia.

This year’s second place honors went to Aubie, a border collie from Birmingham, Alabama, who wanted to meet (or eat) the mailman so badly he leapt through a closed living room window. The leap shattered the glass and left Aubie with a cut front leg that required 40 stitches.

“Aubie’s never been enamored with the mailman,” said owner, Sharman Martin.

Third place went to a West Highland white terrier named Darci, who attacked her owner’s running chainsaw. The chainsaw cut two small holes into Darci’s muzzle and she underwent five hours of surgery.

Additional nominees for the 2010 VPI Hambone Award included a boxer that chased and caught a moving delivery van by biting into one of its tires, a standard poodle with a taste for dirty diapers, and a Jack Russell terrier that suffered injuries from wrestling with a lizard.

All pets considered for the award made full recoveries and received insurance reimbursements for their medical care.

(Photo: Courtesy of VPI)

In the case of terrier versus chainsaw

A West Highland terrier who attacked a buzzing chainsaw has recovered from her injuries and is now in the running for the Hambone Award, presented annually by Veterinary Pet Insurance.

Darci, a 2-year-old terrier, had a history of lunging at the vacuum cleaner and lawnmower, according to her owner, Barbara Abell, of Belleville, Ill. “She never actually touched them, but she would lunge at them,” Abell says.

Last month, though, Abell’s husband was using a chainsaw to cut up a fallen branch in the family’s backyard when Darci lunged and bit the running saw. Abell rushed Darci to an emergency clinic, where she received four stitches and was sent home.

“By the next day, she was back to her feisty self,” said Abell, who advised pet owners not to assume their pets will keep their distance from dangerous equipment — even if they always have.

Darci’s onwers filed a claim with VPI, their insurer. Of more than 8,000 claims received in June by VPI, Darci’s was judged the most unusual of the bunch. As a result, Darci’s in the running for the  2010 VPI Hambone Award.

Each month, VPI employees nominate the most interesting claim submitted. In August, the public will vote on line for the winner of the Hambone Award, named after a dog  that got stuck in a refrigerator and ate an entire Thanksgiving ham while waiting for someone to find him.

The dog was eventually found, with a licked-clean hambone and a mild case of hypothermia. Like all dogs nominated, he recovered fully.

Why just 1 day to take dog to work?

Every day should be “Take Your Dog to Work Day.”

At least that’s my thinking — and it’s the view of the Humane Society of the United States, as well.

HSUS is encouraging dogs in the workplace programs, and this year it has teamed up with Petplan, which describes itself as America’s top-rated pet insurance provider, to ask busineses to consider adopting programs permitting employees to bring dogs to work.

Such policies, they say, can be beneficial to employees, dogs and the company bottom line. Studies have shown that employees who bring their dogs to work tend to be more efficient, happier and healthier.

“We share everything with our four-legged family members – our joys, our sorrows, sometimes even our lunch,” says Natasha Ashton, co-founder of Petplan. “It seems only natural that we also share our work lives with our pets.”

To assist employers in implementing a dogs at work program, Humane Society Press, the publishing division of HSUS, published “Dogs at Work: A Practical Guide to Creating Dog-Friendly Workplaces,” a guide to creating a business environment where employees’ dogs are welcome.

Authors Liz Palika and Jennifer Fearing present the tangible benefits of dog-friendly policies and provide step-by-step advice on obtaining management buy-in, setting fair procedures and protocols and dealing with any concerns about dog-friendly policies in the workplace. Dogs at Work also includes detailed advice about how to prepare dogs for the office environment, provides sample policies and handouts and provides two comprehensive case studies describing successful dog-friendly workplaces.

“Our canine companions make excellent colleagues, even at big companies,” said Fearing, chief economist for The Humane Society of the United States. “In the midst of tough times, employers can improve morale and support the human-animal bond by relying on Dogs at Work to develop and implement a workable – and free – program that works for everyone.”

The HSUS implemented a dogs at work program in 2007, and about 50 dogs come to work at the organization’s three offices in the Washington, D.C. area.

(Photo: Soco, HSUS staffer Cary Smith’s dog, at work; by Cary Smith, courtesy of HSUS)