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 https://rainbowsbridge.com/Poem.htm.

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: http://www.pawtucketanimalshelter.org.  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 hweissri@aol.com.