Shadow’s Adventure

We picked Shadow up the day we moved into our house in Knoxville, he was a golden puppy of unknown breeding though he was found with a pure bred Golden Retriever that the rescue group assumed was his mother. He is the most active, energetic dog I have ever known. About three years ago, he was drinking a lot of water and peeing in the house. He would get crabby and nippy with the other dogs and his appetite would come and go. We run blood work on all of our dogs and cats at least once yearly and were not surprised but we were disappointed when we saw his liver enzymes increasing. Several procedures, visits to specialist facilities, consults with leading veterinarians in certain fields and of course thousands of dollars later we learned that Shadow has a very rare liver defect. The lining of the blood vessels within his liver never developed properly and as a result, his liver doesn’t receive an appropriate blood supply. It is very likely that this problem will be his undoing but for now, he loves life. He is also the best dog our children could have hoped for at this point in their lives. Below is one of my favorite photos of him. He does this all the time. Needless to say, we consider him a very special dog to our family.


This was the scariest thing that ever happened to Shadow.

Brockton, Massachusetts is a small city about 30 minutes South of Boston. It has a population of just under 100,000 people and much like the rest of New England, this past Winter set some records for snowfall.

It also happens to be the home of my younger brother and his two children. We visited them on Valentine’s Day this past year to take all of the children to see Disney’s Frozen on ice. The snow on the ground was incredible and there were blizzard warnings on the Saturday night into Sunday morning. Our dogs Shadow and Angus had been fighting a bit over the Winter so we brought Shadow with us to Brockton as he tends to be the easier of the two to manage. We arrived at my brother’s home late Friday evening.

When my brother bought his house a few years ago, it was a two family. Split into an upstairs unit and a downstairs unit. If you enter from the driveway, there is a heavy wooden door that self closes. This door opens int a hallway with a set of stairs leading to the upstairs unit directly to your left. Both the upstairs and downstairs units have heavy wooden front doors that serve to separate the building into two separate homes. My brother, his daughter and his son live in the entire house.

We woke Saturday morning to get ready to go. We had breakfast and then we locked Shadow in a bed room in the upstairs portion of my brother’s home. We figured he would sleep on the bed until we returned home that afternoon. Then we began the complicated commute into the city. Normally, it would be commuter rail to the T with one line change. This time it was buses and trains and it took twice as long as usual. The snow this year was incredible. The show was great, the experience was excellent and the ride home was actually a little bit easier.

We returned home from the show around four in the afternoon. I was embarrassed and annoyed to see that Shadow had rummaged the garbage in the downstairs and had an accident on the floor. My annoyance turned to dismay when I realized that Shadow wasn’t in the house. He had opened the bedroom door, then the heavy wooden exterior door to the upstairs unit. He had gone downstairs, opened the exterior door to the downstairs unit and rummaged the trash. He then opened the exterior door to the downstairs unit a second time, opened the exterior door to the building, pushed open the storm door and ran out into the Winter Wonderland that was Brockton, Massachusetts in February, 2015.

We followed his tracks as best we could, calling and searching but got nowhere. Sun was beginning to set, the children were upset, there was a blizzard coming and we had to be back in Vermont for work on Monday morning. There was no way we could stop looking. We called every animal control in the surrounding 6 towns, checked in with every emergency veterinary facility and hit up social media. After all of that was done, we went back out in the streets looking for our dog. Within a few hours there was a huge network of people who had seen our posts on social media, they went out looking for a dog they didn’t know who belonged to people they had never met. People are awesome like that.

At 8 pm my brother and I jumped in his truck and were going to increase the radius of our search. We turned off his road and there was Shadow in the the middle of the road, dodging slow moving traffic. I hopped out of the truck and ran over towards him, calling his name but he was scared and ran off into a neighborhood. We followed his tracks, he actually ran right past my brother’s house, for a few blocks but eventually lost them due to heavy traffic.

We returned to searching the neighborhoods on foot. Hoping we could call him over, we set food out hoping to draw him back in and we opened all the doors to our family minivan hoping he would smell the familiar smell of his family and climb in to get out of the weather. And we walked and walked and walked. Then it began to snow.

We set the food in the minivan leaving all the doors open and my wife tried to go to sleep. I told myself I could sit on the couch for an hour but would have to get back up and go out looking before the snow started piling up. The couch was full so I stretched out on the floor. I fell asleep before I realized how tired I was. I woke to my brother gently kicking me. When my eyes opened and I started to rise, he told me that Shadow was back. My brother had been climbing into his bed and heard something at the front door. I went outside and closed up the minivan so it wouldn’t be full of snow in the morning. Then I went up to welcome our dog home. He was scared, cold but otherwise unscathed from his adventure. His paw pads would take some time to heal and his joints would ache for a few days but he was going to be alright.

I think we all slept well that night, even if I did sleep on the floor while Shadow slept in the bed. I took the picture below the next morning, he seemed very happy to have found his family. The one below that is from when we had our first daughter, Emily. He really is an awesome dog.


Shadow 3


Please Annoy Your Dogs and Cats

Please, please, please annoy your pets.

Pull their ears, play with their feet, hold them too tight and then reward them for being good. Don’t make them growl or make them scared of you but if they want to sit on the couch with you while you watch television, the payment should be that they endure you pulling at their paw pads. There are a few specific spots you want to get your dog and cat used to being handled.

Feet. Almost all dogs and cats hate having their feet touched. But feet are the among the first areas to break out during an allergy flare up. Feet get injured by hot pavement, snow and ice and even sharp rocks and sticks. And of course, nails. Nails need to be trimmed back. I like to pull at my pets feet when they are doing something I normally wouldn’t allow them to do. Sleeping with me in the bed or laying on the couch? I’m going to pull at the webbing between their toes until they pull the foot away. Then when they settle back down, I’m going to do it again. It’s such a habit of mine that I unconsciously do it to dogs waking up from anesthesia if I’m sitting with them and writing in their charts at the same time. So tug on your dog and cat’s feet, it might help us find a small issue before it becomes a big problem someday. It will at least help with nail trimming.

Ears. Ears are deep, dark places that like to hide inflammation and infection among other things. They need to be examined but they are also sensitive and very close to the pointy things. The thing is, when your dog or cat has an ear problem, I need to focus on looking down the canal and at what I’m seeing and sometimes smelling in order to get an idea of what is going to make them more comfortable. If I might suddenly have to jump out of the way of tooth or claw, it’s hard for me to focus. Playing with your dog or cat’s ears is easy. Flop them around, stick your fingers in them and scratch. Cats and pointy ear dogs look hilarious if you flip their ears inside out. Just include the ears when your scratching their heads. It goes a long way and will make a difference if your pet ever has an ear problem.

Teeth. Speaking of those pointy things. The number one disease in cats and dogs over the age of three is periodontal or dental disease. Almost 80% of them have it! That means if you have two pets over three, one of them has some level of periodontal disease. The number on reason it’s not addressed is because veterinarians don’t recommend it. The number one reason veterinarians don’t recommend it is because they don’t look for it during the exam. And the number one reason they don’t look for it during the exam is because they don’t want to be bit. Getting bit can ruin an entire career. It almost always ruins a day. Getting up in your dog or cat’s mouth can be scary. My own dogs lick at my hands, a lot. I bet your dogs do too. I like to grab their tongues, grab the lower jaw or just stick my hand in their mouth to distract them while they do this. It’s just dog saliva, it washes off I promise. Cats are a little trickier but it can be accomplished. I look at my cats’ teeth when they’re rubbing their faces against my hands waiting for treats or when they are harassing me while I read or am on the phone. Or right now, while I type this.

If you annoyed your dogs and cats in just those three areas a few times a day, they would receive better physical exams, you would pick up on things a little earlier and it might just make the difference between having a small issue and a big problem someday.