Monthly Archives: December 2013

A Merry, Furry Christmas

We have had a very merry Christmas season! It started in November, when the dogs had a professional Christmas photo shoot by Gotcha! Photo Studio. Here are a few of the great pictures we got that day:
Gotcha! Christmas pic3
Gotcha! Christmas pic4

Gotcha! Christmas pic









(In the picture on the right, the dogs are all wearing something I knit: Cora’s scarf, Hogan’s elf hat, and Dusty’s bow tie.)

After the Christmas photo shoot, things quieted down for Cora, Dusty, and Hogan. In mid-December, my mom’s dog, Misha, came to stay for a couple of days, which was fun, and then on Christmas Day, our three visited Misha’s house, where we celebrated Christmas!

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Hogan and Dusty were all dressed up for Christmas

Hogan and Dusty were all dressed up for Christmas

Pretty Misha (she has such crooked ears!)

Pretty Misha (she has such adorable crooked ears!)

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Cora loved her rawhide candy cane!

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Dusty loved his rawhide candy cane too!

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Surprisingly, Hogan didn’t care much for the rawhide this year. He enjoyed napping, and then on Boxing Day, he enjoyed destroying Mr. Penguin with Dusty. :)


















Then, on Dec. 27, the boys’ pretty girlfriends, Chelsea and Mocha, came for a visit! Unfortunately, I didn’t get any great pictures of them all together, but here are a few from that evening:

Dusty and Chelsea seemed to think it was time to check out what was happening outside while Mocha wanted to see her mama.

Dusty and Chelsea seemed to think it was time to check out what was happening outside while Mocha wanted to see her mama.

This is the sweater I'm knitting for Mocha (almost done)!

This is the sweater I’m knitting for Mocha (almost done)!

Pretty Mocha

Pretty Mocha

The cuddly hound dogs <3

The cuddly hound dogs <3

Finally, on Dec. 28-29, we had Mumford the Great Dane and his mom and dad over for a near 24-hour Christmas celebration. Every time Mumford comes over, Dusty wags his tail nearly nonstop and climbs on every piece of furniture and person he can in an effort to see Mumford face to face. It’s quite adorable.

Mumford liked his stuffed turkey from Cora, Dusty, and Hogan.

Mumford liked his stuffed turkey from Cora, Dusty, and Hogan.

When Dusty's not trying to reach Mumford's face, he's rolling over and spreading his legs for Mumford. :)

When Dusty’s not trying to reach Mumford’s face, he’s rolling over and spreading his legs for Mumford. :)

Not sure what they're communicating to each other here.

Not sure what they’re communicating to each other here.

Cuddle time!

Cuddle time!














Despite all the activity, the visiting and the visitors, Cora has done amazingly well. On Christmas Day, she barely hid at all at my mom’s house, and during both evenings with visitors in our home, she came out of her “safe place” to say hello around dinnertime and stayed with us from then on. Our scaredy-dog has come such a long way this year!

All in all, we have had a wonderful, merry, and very furry Christmas—and I wouldn’t want it any other way!

A Cuban Rescue, Part Two

Read Part One of Coco the Cuban street dog’s story by clicking here.

Coco had had her first adventure when she was taken in a taxi to see a vet, likely for the first time in her life. Her next big adventure was a flight all the way from Cuba to Canada.

Once on Canadian soil, the border services folks seemed to imply that I had stolen this dog: “You mean you just took her?” The point was, I suggested gently, that she had no value in Cuba—no owner, no hope for a healthy life, and no worth to anyone. They waved us through, and we were finally on our way home.

Coco loved the other dogs--and the snow!

Coco loved the other dogs–and the snow!

Once home, Coco loved the other dogs, the cat, and the snow! It didn’t take her long to find the couch and soft dog beds, either!

My vet gave her boosters and, after more tests, determined that she had lice and also had parasites of a type that hadn’t been treated at their clinic before, called anaplasmosis. More medicine. Her milk dried up, her skin healed, she started to gain a little weight, and her coat started to fill in. But her bloodwork was still abnormal, and her stools were loose. Another couple of tests later, it was clear she had hookworms. Lots of them. More medicine.

Overall, her health seemed to be improving, although I noticed that she still had some vaginal bleeding. The vet thought it was a false heat, common after having pups. Then, Coco had a bona fide heat cycle. Okay, I thought, all normal. Other foster dogs came in and got adopted. And still, Coco continued to drip. In April, I said goodbye to Buttons, after 16 years together. In May, Coco’s bloodwork had improved enough to spay her: she needed to have the whole lot out, a complete hysterectomy. We sent Coco’s kennel plus five more down to Ingrid in Cuba. (APAC is always in need of kennels and other pet supplies!)IMG_0056

Following Coco’s recovery, we enrolled in training classes at Dogs on Campus. She loved the classes: happy to work, happy to learn new things, and oh so very happy to meet new people. After graduation, we enrolled in agility class.

Coco’s drip continued, though, and I worried she would become anemic. Back we went to the vet: more bloodwork (maybe hookworms again?), swabs, urinalysis, cystoscopy, a gynecological exam, and a tissue sample that went to the lab for analysis.

By now she had weaselled her way onto my bed at night….

Then the bomb: she has a cancerous tumour,  one that can be spread by direct contact: canine transmissible venereal tumour. Treatment involves chemotherapy and maybe surgery. APAC has rescued and treated dogs with venereal tumours that have done well with treatment, so this gives me hope for Coco. It’s (again) the first case the clinic here has treated.

IMG_0016The tumour is usually spread by sexual contact but can also be spread by licking, although the risk of transmission by that route is considered low. I’m nevertheless worried since many dogs have stayed here over the months: foster dogs, dogs overnighting on transport, neighbours’ dogs. My most recent fosters, Sammy (who was with TAGS) and Reggie (who was with Gentle Jake’s), were just fine, thank goodness, and have since been adopted (yay!).

Coco has had three chemo treatments at Millbrook Valley Vet Clinic (and her bloodwork is done at Taunton Road Animal Clinic). In true Cuban spirit, she has been resilient through the ordeal, remaining her usual happy, seemingly healthy self. And, fortunately, with the third treatment, the tumour has begun to shrink.

But Coco isn’t going anywhere: I have adopted her. Please keep your paws crossed for her. I will share an update (and maybe one of Cathy’s famous DNA contests?) soon!

A Cuban Rescue, Part One

This is Part One of a two-part story about the rescue of a Cuban street dog by Julie, who was Hogan’s foster mom. Click here or the link at the bottom of the article for Part Two of the story.)

Last February, my Mom and I visited a resort south of Varadero. It was only my second trip to Cuba, and I chose the location for its snorkelling, which was fantastic. The resort was small, quiet, no-frills, and all of two stars.  There were stray dogs and cats around that our tour operator sternly warned us not to feed (of course, however, everyone did).

Dogs on the resort property

Dogs on the resort property

Outside of the resorts, skinny, overworked horses, bony cattle, and free-roaming cats and dogs are commonplace.  While Cubans do keep dogs as working animals and pets, there is really no general understanding of routine vaccinations, sterilization, or preventative medicine. Hotels have an interest in ensuring their properties are free from curious, hungry, or diseased strays, which are perceived as a nuisance.

We watched a bonded male and female wander the periphery, the male predictably showing up at the dining hall looking for handouts, although the female wouldn’t approach. We heard that the pair once had puppies under the gardener’s shed. No one knew what happened to them. The staff spoke of tourists who sometimes befriended dogs, lamenting that it’s easier for a dog to leave Cuba than for a person to.

IMG_1756There were multiple sightings of an injured dog. Someone reported seeing puppies on the road leading to the resort. All just chatter among concerned tourists powerless to help. Toward the end of the two weeks, a black dog turned up one evening around the dining hall.  She looked like my dog Buttons who, at 17, was in failing health at home.  Maybe that’s why I took an interest.

The dog approached us the next day, tail and body wiggling.  She so wanted the attention of the tourists, but she was crawling with fleas and had open, infected sores from scratching,  visible through her thin fur. Although people didn’t really want to touch her, her persistence and happy demeanour earned her food scraps and fresh water, which was a good thing since she was producing milk and had obviously nursed puppies recently.  A security guard said some Cuban people had taken her pups, leaving her, and that he had watched her come from the ravine (pictured) between two resorts. We combed the garbage-strewn brush looking for the puppies but didn’t find any. She actually led us to a hole under a bridge at the top of the ravine, which we think may have been her den.

A couple of days remained before we were due to return home.  I thought maybe I could catch, vaccinate, and release the little black dog, not that I had any idea how. Discreet enquiries led me to two sympathetic staff members. One knew what to do, but I would have to meet him off-site since he could lose his job if the hotel management found out. Hotel jobs are among the most competitive and sought-after in the country.  I knew that this was no joke.  Another tourist provided a clothesline for use as a leash. Later that evening, I “caught” the dog (it wasn’t hard) and wrapped her in a towel. The staff member met me after his shift and agreed to take her to his home—in a gymbag on a public bus—for the night. He would  bring her back in the morning and meet me on his day off. He would arrange for a friend who drives a cab to take us to a veterinary clinic in the nearest city, 30 minutes away.

She had such itchy skin.

She had such itchy skin.

Leaving my Mom on the beach the next morning, I tucked all of the pesos I had left into my pocket and met the two men as planned. Both were clear: no pictures and no posting their names or faces on the Internet.

They showed me pictures of St. Francis of Assisi (known as the patron saint of animals) in their wallets. We drove to Matanzas, the nearest town, where the veterinary clinic was located. As we drove through the winding neighbourhoods, it was hard not to notice the many loose dogs, seemingly invisible to people, just existing on the streets. At the clinic, people were lined up outside. The cab driver explained our situation, and the vet took us in right away. He gave the dog a series of shots—rabies and other vaccinations. I later learned that the strength of one of them was 5 times more potent than the product we use here in Canada. He gave me medicine that was to be mixed with water and poured on the dog’s skin later in the evening to kill the fleas and dry up her sores.  Total cost: 15CUC, about $15.

Then, I asked about bringing her home. In rescue-speak, this friendly little dog was “highly adoptable.” I was certain I could find her a good home! Problem was, there are no stores in which to buy a collar, commercial dog food, or a crate, and there was no kennel  to be had at the vet. The veterinarian, though, said he knew a lady who could find us one. The two Cuban guys I was with looked at each other and shrugged. I think they knew they were in for a long day. The clinic phoned her. Yes, she had a kennel; yes, she could meet us, but she lived in another city an hour away. Decision made.

At her first vet appointment

At her first vet appointment

Next stop: we had to visit the Ministry of Agriculture to have the dog inspected and arrange for more paperwork. Luckily, this was also in Matanzas, near the clinic. The veterinarian came with us and spoke with the government workers. There was a fee for them to complete the necessary papers, in triplicate, on a typewriter. They would call the airport, where there would be another veterinarian inspection before boarding.

Duly signed and stamped paperwork in hand, we set off in search of a kennel in the city of Cardenas. It was here that I met Ingrid, the Cuban coordinator of APAC Varadero. APAC, a registered charity in Edmonton and an amazing organization, works with Cuban and Canadian veterinarians to run anti-parasite and spay/neuter campaigns to help Cuba’s street animals and try to make a dent in the animal overpopulation.

Ingrid welcomed us into her home (even the flea-ridden dog) and told us about APAC’s work. I remember feeling annoyed that I could have brought so many medical supplies down for her, had I only known.  The group relies on donations of money and veterinary supplies , primarily brought down by tourists, to carry out its work. It’s hard to believe that in Cuba,  just $5 will spay/neuter and feed a street dog or cat! Imagine if all the Canadian tourists simply donated their leftover convertible pesos!

Back at the resort, I paid the cab driver his fare and gave the other guy all I had left: 10CUC and some makeup for his girlfriend. Then I snuck the dog back onto the resort and into the shower to give her a flea bath and the medicinal dip.

My mom wasn’t entirely surprised at Plan B. We called the dog Coconut, or “Coco” for short.  The tour operator representative (who wasn’t so stern, after all) called Air Transat to make her reservation and confirm I could take Coco home.

Between her first car ride, all of the drugs and her first bath, Coco was completely exhausted! It was probably the first time in her young life that she had a good night’s sleep without scratching (the meal  of chicken and rice stealthfully swiped from the dining hall also probably helped).

The next morning, it was time to head home.  I walked Coco on the clothesline-leash,  receiving mixed responses from hotel guests:  supportive tourists wanting to hear how she did and how she liked the snow gave me their email addresses. Others clearly thought I was nuts! At the Varadero  airport, another veterinarian inspected her and stamped her paperwork. She would fly in the cargo hold.

Click here to find out what happened next for Coco.