Remembering Abby

Published in Woonsocket Call on September 4, 2016

In March 2009, we formally adopted an impaired chocolate Labrador with a host of medical problems. With the signing of legal papers, four-year-old Abby met Murray, her elder adoptive canine sibling, who was also a chocolate Labrador.

Four months earlier Abby had arrived at the Pawtucket Animal Shelter, weak, malnourished and showing signs of abuse. She appeared to suffer from blindness and a host of other medical ailments. Animal Control Officer John Holmes had sought veterinary care for her, but the medical testing came back inconclusive. It could be a brain tumor or lead poisoning affecting her vision, he would tell us, which for many potential families seeking adoption may be unappealing.

Officially Adopting Abby

According to Holmes, Abby’s Labrador Retriever breed made her a very popular candidate for adoption, but when people learned about her medical issues they had second thoughts. Abby might just be a good younger companion for our 11-year-old chocolate lab, Murray. We had good luck with this breed and were looking to adopt another chocolate lab.

Six months prior to Abby’s “official adoption” we made an unusual request from the Pawtucket Animal Shelter asking if a “foster care” arrangement could be made to see how well Abby got along with Murray. Having nothing to lose and everything to gain – they agreed.

When Abby came home our first priority was to try to make her gain some weight, which she eventually did. She adjusted well to Murray and her new surroundings, but during the first week she would have a seizure. We watched helplessly as this four year old canine shook all over, with her tongue lolling, her mouth foaming and her eyes rolling back into their head. It was not pleasant to watch, and we initially thought she was dying. Ultimately, with anti-seizure medication her seizures were under control and Abby thrived by gaining weight and becoming increasingly playful to the aging Murray.

We were extremely happy with the new addition to the family, even though we were now taking care of two medically needy pets instead of just one. Abby was given her daily pill in peanut butter to control seizures and Murray, a diabetic, was given insulin shots twice a day.
Health issues would force us to put Murray down in 2010. It would take months for Abby to adjust to his passing. She just knew her companion was gone. But, over the years she adjusted to being the only pet in our household.

Getting Into the Household Routine

A new regiment took over, and every morning, like clock-work, Abby would carefully walk up the stairs, ending up at my bedroom door. The routine shaking of her head, her dog tags would jingle, sending the message to me that it was time to start the day. She was telling me to get up, serve her breakfast and let her outside. As the years began to pass and she grew older, her medical issues became more prominent and it was difficult for her to walk those stairs.

Abby’s internal clock would also place her at the front door at 9:00 p.m. for her nightly walk, too. She had now become a visible fixture in my neighborhood of Oakhill. Neighbors would see us taking our daily nightly walk, but when I began walking by myself they hesitated before asking me “is Abby ok.” No, I say, she is not.

The Moment of Truth

It happened quickly the day before we were to take her on vacation with us. We came home to find her with legs spread out on the floor with no ability to stand up. Her once healthy appetite suddenly diminished. After almost a week of veterinary care my wife, Patty and I came to a decision to end the suffering of Abby, our 11-year-old chocolate Labrador. Looking to ease her pain and reduced quality of life, we made the hard and painful decision to put her down. After all, Abby was an integral part of our family.

Pet owners will share the trauma of putting their furry friend to sleep. Many may even tell you they relive their decision for decades, while some vow never to get another pet for fear of reliving the moment.

So as I pen this weekly commentary in a very quiet house. Abby’s water and food bowls are put away. Her cremated ashes and collar will be placed next to Murray’s wooden box containing his ashes, which sits on the mantle of our fireplace in the living room.

We think about her daily, may be more than once. But, perhaps there will be a time when we will bring another shelter animal into our house, hopefully a female chocolate Labrador. Maybe even two.

To cope with the loss of your pet go to

Keep Fido and Fluffy Safe When the Weather Turns Cold

Published in Pawtucket Times, January 10, 2015

According to ABC 6 News, early New Years Day, Toni Liberatore, a Burrillville resident walking her dog in the extremely cold weather, called the Town’s animal control officer after she discovered an elderly Italian Greyhound lying almost unconscious under a truck parked near her home, freezing from the frigid weather.

During the news story, Liberatore  told reporter Samantha Lavien that the severely neglected dog was in bad shape.  She described the female Greyhound as being very thin, having extremely long nails, and diseased teeth.

An emotional distraught Liberatore described the condition of the dog after finding it under the truck.  “She was like holding an ice-cube to my body.  She was frozen.  She was pretty much in and out, said Liberatore. “She couldn’t hold her own head up she was extremely emaciated, I could feel every bone in her body,” she observed

ABC News exclusive story went viral, being placed on Facebook and tweeted throughout the internet, sending the story to all corners of the world.

Burrillville animal control officials moved quickly to save the elderly animal, in need of veterinary care, states Police Lt. John Connors, who oversees the town’s animal control division.  The small Greyhound, showing signs of hypothermia, was immediately transported to an emergency animal clinic for treatment. After emergency care, using heating pads and fluids to increase the animal’s body temperature, the dog, now dubbed Elsa, was than transferred to Northern Rhode Island Animal Hospital for further medical care.

After the first day of medical treatments, the dog’s temperature became normal, noted Lt. Connors.  Elsa was released two days ago.

No Intent of Abuse

Lt. Connors stated that the owner of the dog contacted his department after photos began appearing on Face book on New Years Day.  The dog had accidently escaped from his house on New Years Eve without his knowledge, the owner reported. After a through Burrillville Police investigation, with interviews of family members, friends, and neighbors, no “intent of abuse,” was found, says Lt. Connors. The veterinarian’s report did not indicate or substantiate a criminal charge for abuse or neglect, he says.  As a result, no charges were filed against the animal’s owner.

With latest blast of arctic air approaching Rhode Island, weather reporters noted that yesterday was to be the coldest day of the winter.  Throughout the day temperatures plunged to near zero, with gusts of wind lowering the thermometers to 15 degrees to 25 degrees below zero.

Neglect, abuse or mistakenly believing your pet is inside the  house, like what occurred to the elderly Greyhound in Burrillville, will put animals in severe danger if they are left out in extremely frigid weather.

Keeping Your Pet Safe

There is no excuse to leave animals outside when you go to work especially when the media gives you advanced notice that temperatures are going to plunge below zero, says John Holmes, Pawtucket’s animal control supervisor.

Holmes was prepared to handle dozens of medical emergencies resulting from the frigid weather at the Pawtucket Animal Shelter. “We were staffed, had adequate supplies and equipped to treat animals,” he says.

Although he was prepared, Holmes, a 40-year City employee who oversees two animal control officers, was relieved that only one call came in as the temperatures dropped below zero.  He attributes the lack of calls by the warning of media not to leave pets unattended outside.  “People seem to be paying attention,” he says.

Common sense will tell you when you should not leave your pet outside, says Holmes.  “Put on a warm coat.  Wear heavily gloves and a hat.  If you are cold, it is the same for your pet,” notes Holmes, stressing that people easily think that animals are not cold in frigid weather because of their thick coats of fur.

“This is just not true,” says Holmes.

Frigid Weather and Hypothermia

According to Holmes, frigid weather can result in hypothermia, when an animal’s body is no longer able to maintain normal temperature.  Severe hypothermia can result in coma and ultimately death.  Smaller breeds, very young animals, and older pets are more susceptible to rapid surface loss of body heat, putting them at a higher risk to get hypothermia.

Holmes notes that the symptoms of hypothermia depend on the severity.  These can include shivering, a slow shallow breathing, and weakness in mild cases. Muscle stiffness, low blood pressure, a blank stare, slow and shallow breathing are symptoms in the moderate state and fixed and dilated pupils, a heartbeat that’s hard to find, difficulty in breathing or coma are seen in severe cases of hypothermia.

If hypothermia occurs, Holmes recommends that the animal be wrapped in a warm blanket and quickly transported to a veterinary emergency clinic where treatment can be provided.

It is easy to protecting your pets from the cold weather, adds Holmes. Don’t take elderly, young or sick pets, especially small short haired breeds outdoors unprotected in below zero weather, for long periods of time. Just let them go out in the back yard for a few minutes if necessary. “A short walk around the block won’t hurt your animal,” he says.

Holmes asks that all concerned neighbors who notice dogs being left outside in inclement weather to call his office at the City of Pawtucket’s Animal Shelter.  We would rather be safe than sorry. . “Each and every call is taken very seriously and checked out,” he warns. After an investigation, if it is found that someone knowingly abused or neglected an animal, that person will be prosecuted and held accountable for their actions

Frigid weather is hazardous to your animal’s health. With winter’s temperatures now dipping into single digits, even below zero, make sure you keep your pet safe and warm in your home.  Be responsible.

To report a complaint about alleged animal cruelty: City of Pawtucket, contact John Holmes, Animal Control Supervisor, at 401 722-4243. Or write Animal Control Division, 121 Roosevelt Avenue, Pawtucket, RI 0286. Web site:  Or call 401-722-4243.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer that covers medical, aging and health care issues. He can be reached at

Keeping Your Pet Safe in Frigid Weather

Published January 11, 2013, Pawtucket Times

Regardless of the hot temperatures in summer, or the frigid weather in winter, dog owners take those daily walks outdoors with their beloved pets. At press time, New Englanders will see unprecedented warmth this winter with temperatures rising into the 40’s, but don’t get complacent – this year’s Farmer’s Almanac predicts that “Old Man Winter will return with a vengeance.” This annually published periodical, famous for its long-range weather predictions, wagers that the eastern half on the nation will see plenty of cold weather and snow before Spring approaches.

While those chilly air temperatures and blustery winds may make you shiver and bring on chills, it has the same effect on your pets, and in some cases, becomes deadly, cautions E.J. Finocchio, D.V.M, President of the East Providence-based Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RISPCA). This 141 year old nonprofit society that advocates for the welfare of all animals also promotes being responsible pet owners, as well as advocating pet overpopulation control.

Location, Location, Location

With Rhode Island being located in the nation’s “cold zone,” Dr. Finocchio says that the occurrence of hypothermia is not unusual, with the state’s below zero temperatures in winter. When the core temperature of the animal’s body begins to lose heat faster than it can produce it, that is when hypothermia can set in. “Dogs that are especially prone to hypothermia are puppies under 6 months old, elderly dogs, short hair breeds, small sized dogs, dogs with health issues (arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, etc.) and pets that are obese or underweight,” he says.

“Symptoms of hypothermia in animals is similar to that found in humans, as well as in all warm blooded animals,” notes Dr. Finocchio.

According to Dr. Finocchio, mild cases in dogs might include shivering, whining and the animal begins to act lethargic or tired. For moderate cases, he adds, the animal loses its ability to shiver and loses coordination and appears to be clumsy. At this point the dog may lose consciousness. If it gets to this point, the dog’s life is in serious jeopardy. Finally, he notes that for severe cases, at this point the animal will have collapsed, it will have difficulty in breathing, its pupils will become dilated. The dog will become unresponsive. If hypothermia gets to this point it is critical that the animal be warmed quickly and taken to an emergency vet center.
A rectal thermometer will enable you to gauge the temperature of the animal’s internal organs to confirm hypothermia, notes Dr. Finocchio. A normal temperature falls between 101 degrees to 102 degrees. If the temperature falls between 96 – 99 degrees it is considered a mild case; moderate falls between 90-95 degrees F and a body temperature of under 90 degrees F, is a sure sign of severe hypothermia.

Going to Court for Animal Cruelty

Finocchio says that if a pet’s death is determined to be caused by hypothermia, through a necropsy (autopsy performed on an animal) and a history of exposure, the pet’s owner would be charged with a misdemeanor for animal cruelty. If the city’s prosecuting officer determines that the investigative report submitted constitutes a valid case, the compliant is filed with District Court. If the defendant pleads nolo or is found guilty by the court, the judge can order that the defendant not be allowed to live with any animal for up to five years if charged with a misdemeanor or up to 15 years for a felony conviction, says Finocchio.

Last year, John Holmes, Pawtucket’s Animal Control Officer, notes that his office responded to 44 calls to investigate alleged cases of animal cruelty, some resulting from a person leaving a pet outside in frigid weather. Although a few of the cases were unfounded, Holmes and his staff found in other instances that the pet owners needed to be educated about responsible pet ownership practices, along with state laws and city ordinances involving animals.

Holmes asks that all concerned neighbors who notice dogs being left outside in inclement weather to call his office at the City of Pawtucket’s Animal Shelter. “Each and every call is taken very seriously and checked out,” he warns. After an investigation, if it is found that someone knowingly abused or neglected an animal, that person will be prosecuted and held accountable for their actions

“We don’t in general see hypothermia in stray or feral cats,” notes Finocchio, stating that that these animals can usually seek out small places to stay warm, specifically under cars, sheds or porches or under the hoods of vehicles. .“They can usually get themselves out of harms way.”

Livestock animals with thick fur, including cows, horses, sheep, goats, and pigs, are able to withstand severe frigid temperatures, especially if they are healthy. “We often times get complaints from concerned people about livestock, especially horses standing in a pasture with an inch of snow on its back,” Finocchio says, noting that the caller fears that the animal is going to freeze to death. “But larger animals can handle the cold environment more than our small domestic pets.”

Just Use a Little Common Sense

Finocchio advises pet owners to just use common sense when it comes to protecting their pets from the cold weather. Don’t take elderly, young or sick pets, especially small short haired breeds outdoors unprotected in below zero weather. Just let them go out in the back yard for a few minutes if necessary.

If hypothermia does occur, Finocchio one of the state’s most visible animal advocates, recommends that the pet be brought inside. Do not submerge the pet in hot water. To warm up a pet, wrap the ailing animal in a thermal blanket [warm by placing in a dryer for a couple of minutes], use a heating pad, or wrap a towel with a hot bottle, around areas with less hair, specifically in the groin or belly areas, or arm pits, Consider placing the animal by a radiant heat appliance or roaring fire place. You can even take your pet and place in the footwall of the car and turn on the vehicle’s heater.

If the dog will drink, give it warm water.

However, if the animal’s internal temperature falls into the severe hypothermia range, go immediately to a veterinary emergency clinic where emergency treatment will be provided, he urges.
For dog owners who own large breed dogs (especially those with thick fur that can protect the animal from frigid weather), you can get permission from your veterinarian or animal control officer to keep the animal outside for over 10 hours and not violate state law.

So, why keep a small pet outside in extremely frigid temperatures that would result in hypothermia and lead to death? “It only takes common sense to protect your animal from hypothermia and keep it safe, nothing else,” say Finocchio.

If the weather is uncomfortable for you to be outside even when you are wearing layers of clothing, gloves and a hat, it becomes obvious that putting your pet outside as the temperature dips well into the teens, will be detrimental to the health and well-being of your pet.

For more information about hypothermia, contact the RISPCA call, Dr, E.J. Finocchio, D.V.M, at 401 438-8150. Or write 186 Amaral Street, East Providence, RI 02915. Web site:

To report a complaint about alleged animal cruelty:

City of Pawtucket, contact John Holmes, Animal Control Supervisor, at 401 722-4243. Or write Animal Control Division, 121 Roosevelt Avenue, Pawtucket, RI 0286. Web site:

City of Woonsocket, contact Animal Control Officer Glen Thuot, at 401 766-6571. Or write: Woonsocket Animal Shelter, 242 Clinton Street, Woonsocket, RI 02895. Website:

The RISPCA and the two City’s Animal Shelter gratefully accept donations.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer that covers medical, aging and health care issues. He can be reached at