|Here I am with "Heidi" at Noonan Park.|
The precise term for dogs and cats today is "companion animals." When I was a kid we just called them "dogs and cats." The rules were more lax. It wasn't essential to clean up after your dog if he was off your property. We didn't hear about "pooper scoopers" until the 1980s, as I recall. We might be mildly annoyed by signs of dog excrement in that bygone time. But there were no hard and fast rules or laws. People might just shrug and clean up this stuff - no big deal, really. Since it's biodegradable, we really just have to wait for rain to do the job.
I remember reading an op-ed once that suggested maybe the old way was better. The writer expressed annoyance at how some people would put dog excrement in a plastic bag, as per the rules, but then just "leave it under a tree" somewhere. It would be preferable to just do nothing and let the stuff degrade naturally.
Of course, we never wanted any of our dogs to do their "business" in a way that would annoy anyone. When Heidi got old, we took her to places to get a change of scenery and get some healthy exercise. We were prepared with the bags which of course we'd dispose of properly. We took her to the park in Starbuck and Noonan Park in Alexandria. Heidi was the reason we installed air conditioning in our home in the early 1990s. We didn't mind the discomfort of heat ourselves, but Heidi needed that tender loving care.
Isn't it amazing, the lengths to which we go for our "companion animals." We pay vet bills that can get pretty substantial. We hope the bills don't reach the point where people would have less desire to keep their pets.
At this point I have to insert a little story from this past summer. We had the quite bittersweet experience of trying to adopt a stray cat. This cat really picked out our house to hang around. He burrowed a little hole under our portico. It was not what you'd call a "feral" cat. It was obvious that this was a typical domestic shorthair. The vet confirmed that. This feline wanderer was estimated to be one and a half years old.
We had many ups and downs trying to live with this cat. It was irresistible to try to offer him some food. I have read that according to the law, an animal is "yours" when you start feeding it. At first I couldn't get ahold of it. Still, he didn't seem totally apprehensive about us, because he would get up on an outside window sill and look in at us. I'd get down on all fours, on the other side of the window, and return the stare, inches from his eyes. But if I went outside he'd run.
I'll never forget the time when, finally, he walked up to me when I extended a bowl with some cat food in it. We took him inside and eventually took him to the vet. I never felt 100 percent comfortable having the cat, but I developed a real affection. Our family had never been "cat people." Dogs were old hat for us - cats were alien. This cat was young, male, strong and hyperactive. But he never resisted me picking him up. He used a litter box from the get-go.
There were some very real positives, but the negatives kept weighing on us. Finally the stresses were wearing me down. I inquired with the so-called Stevens County Humane Society and was turned away - "our kennels are full." Finally I took him to the Lakes Area Humane Society, Alexandria, where I dealt with a very friendly and professional person. I cried, continually, so bad she needed to advise me to drive carefully when I left. I gave them a generous donation. I was so sad but we had to put this experience behind us.
It would be fun to "borrow" this cat for a week each month, but that's just not in the cards. We are fortunate to have such a competent humane society so close to us. What would we do without it? I suspect that back in the 19th Century, a great many unwanted, wild or semi-wild dogs and cats were out and about. People just accepted it. Today you feel nervous if your animal simply goes on someone else's property.
Getting back to the matter of the vet: I'm a little concerned about the cost. People who might want to just "experiment" with taking in a stray animal might be deterred by the vet expense.
It was clear re. our cat, who I named "Toby," that he was going to have to be taken to the vet if he was going to "hang around" for a considerable time. Someone had to do it. This male cat had to be neutered - no doubt about it. We did it and I'm glad. But the cost seems a little steep to me, perhaps from my perspective of being a 59-year-old person (and remembering lower prices for everything). I shudder when I visit the dentist today. I think the government might have to start helping people take care of their teeth.
We didn't buy Heidi at a pet store, nor did we get her from a shelter - it was from a family farm close to where we live. Today, pet stores seem rather frowned-upon. Everyone recommends you get your animal from a shelter. I'm sure many fine animals can be gotten from a shelter, but it seems rather restrictive if you're looking for a particular breed or a purebred.
No matter how the system is set up, there will always be more companion animals around, than the people willing to take care of them. It's the way God made our world.
Our Lhasa Apso "Heidi" was the perfect house dog. We learn that the Lhasa has a "keen sense of hearing and a rich, sonorous bark that belies their size." My father said of our Heidi that she had a "cookie bark" when she wanted to "share" some cookies we were snacking on. It was indeed a penetrating but charming bark.
The Lhasa originated in Tibet over 4000 years ago as a small breed of mountain wolf! We were aware of that Tibetan background when we had Heidi. We would tease her about having "come from Tibet." That sounded so exotic, when in fact our dear dog simply came from "the farm down the road." We'd remind her of that.
The Lhasa was domesticated and actively bred perhaps as long ago as 800 B.C. So, it's one of the oldest recognized breeds in the world.
Lhasas in Tibet were never sold - the only way a person could get one was as a gift. Today it's deemed necessary to breed some of the original Tibetan Lhasa Apsos into the Western-bred line, to maintain the Tibetan authenticity of the breed. Our dog Heidi never liked to be out in a strong wind. We joked with her that back in Tibet, the dogs could get on the other side of the mountain, away from the wind!
It's interesting to research the estimated lifespan for various dog breeds. There can be so much variance in these estimates. A lot depends on the particular dog, I guess. Whatever estimate you use, our "Heidi" lived beyond it. She was over age 16 when the very sad day arrived when we had to bring her to the vet for euthanasia. My dad handled that. It was my responsibility when our next dog, our beloved "Sandy," had to be put down. The biggest problem with dogs is that "that day finally comes."
The last year in the life of a very old dog can be very arduous. Heidi and Sandy had their problems. We did everything we could to ease the aging process, like getting air conditioning installed in our house for Heidi.
We could have joked that Heidi was named for a football game. Remember the famous "Heidi game" in football in the late 1960s? When the TV network cut out too early? I have written a blog post about that. Below is the permalink. The network left the football game for an airing of the movie "Heidi."
The Lhasa is known as an "intelligent and lively" dog. It responds to motivational training. They can develop separation anxiety. They can get "snappish" if surprised or peeved. They really benefit from a nice daily walk, which I did often. Toward the end of her life I took Heidi to the Starbuck park, walked her over behind The Water's Edge and then onto a road that had lake cabins. I got to know a very nice older woman who had a Sheltie (Shetland Sheepdog) that would befriend us.
"Lhasa" is the capital of Tibet. "Apso" is a word in the Tibetan language meaning "bearded." DNA analysis has identified the Lhasa Apso as one of the 14 most ancient dog breeds.
No, our Heidi didn't come from the mountains of Tibet, though we teased her about this, rather she was quite acclimated to our prairie. She is buried on our property.
Today it's not quite as easy for our family to handle a companion animal. My mom is 90 years old. But oh, what memories! I hope there can be a reunion in heaven. If there can't be, then maybe I don't want to go.