And other thoughts and advice from a witchy veterinarian
Last month I published the first half of an interview I did with my old friend, veterinarian Jeni Goedken. Here’s the second half of our interview, which continues to cover some of the ethical dilemmas of pet ownership. Last time we discussed euthanasia, and this week it is about what happens when you must rehome a pet. Rehoming pets should never be taken lightly and without due diligence, but, at the same time, it is a thing that happens for various reasons, and not all approaches are the same. (Comments for this post are off.)
She and I also go on to talk about much lighter stuff like whether COVID pets are messes, natural pet food, uncontrollable cat peeing, requests for COVID treatment, and how often your vet really thinks you should brush your pet’s teeth.
Sometimes people need to re-home a pet for reasons like aggression, or a death in the family and it’s not possible to adopt the animal/s, or there is an emergency at home. I know it depends on where you live, but what options from your perspective are the best mix of reputable and humane?
That’s a loaded question and I wish there was a perfect answer. I did shelter work for five years combined in my career, so I’m well versed in being in the pit of shelters. I personally—and most veterinarians that are moms—have basically a zero-tolerance for aggression, even if it’s provoked aggression.
The thing is, if you’re trying to re-home an animal that you don’t trust in your home, don’t do it, period, because that animal still has that issue. It’s one thing if it’s going to a no-kids home and the adults clearly know that are getting this dog or cat knows the issue that triggered it. Like, “I have a one year old and he’s never snapped at me, but he snapped at a one year old,” and the adults don’t have kids and are willing to take it on maybe, directly. But trying to put that pet into the shelter system, I would not do that. Honestly, from this angle, I would consider euthanasia before putting that pet into a shelter system. I worked at a no-kill shelter. Trying to re-home an animal with known aggression triggers is an ethical dilemma for shelters. I stand on the line of, “I’m not going to re-home an animal if I don’t trust it in my home with my family.” The reason I say that is that animal is taking up a cage as you’re trying to match it to that sweet spot 30-year-old, dual-income, no-kids perfect couple that is willing to take on an animal that has a known aggression issue.
Even if you’re like, “Well, why don’t you save it until that couple comes by,” well, it’s taking up a cage. The reality is how many animals are we going to have to turn down? The biggest issue with no-kill is the reality is, if I can’t adopt some of these animals out because we are no-kill by our credence and our donations, that animal’s going to live in that kennel or cage until he dies, and for me, that was a huge issue.
If it’s a non-aggression issue, the best thing to do is make calls, call your vet, call in a few shelters, put out that message. The thing is, trying to get a call back and a match, in reality, is very hard. So I am not against using NextDoor and Facebook and other resources like that. But the major thing is being honest about the reason because there is possibly liability if you try to pass off an animal that has known aggression and something happens in that house and it wasn’t disclosed.
The fact of the matter is once you lose trust in that animal in your home, I think that’s a quality of life issue for you as well as your pet. And yes, you can go through trainers and behaviorists, but sometimes there are just dogs that are born with mental issues that no amount of drugs or training would ever make me feel comfortable with that pet in my home. Reaching out across the internet is a good thing if your other option is setting him free or even trying to euthanize him. Just because, for example, you have to move, that has nothing to do with aggression. And as much as us vets hate it, it happens. Let your vet know because you wouldn’t believe how many people we know who are willing to take it.
Now, that becomes an issue and you have people who are animals hoarders that are like, “I’ll take it!” And you’re like, “Now I’m relegating this cat to cat hell.” So if you reach out on the internet and are like, “Can I come meet you?” I think it would be the next prudent step if you have someone saying I’m willing to take him, to know who that person is, know what the situation is beforehand handing him off. But that’s a tough one because in reality, as a vet, I’m like, “Oh, just go to a shelter.” I’m saying by the book, that’s what you say. But really, in reality, it’s way harder than that. Trying your best is what you can do. And that’s all you can do, right?
How messed-up, behavior-wise, are the pets that people adopted during COVID, or is it not that bad?
It’s actually not as bad as we all thought it was going to be. When all these shelters were empty, everyone’s like, “Great!” But the realist vet in me thought when everyone goes back to work, they’re going to be filled to capacity. Believe it or not, that’s not happening as much. We actually saw more behavioral changes in cats with people being home more. A lot of cats were starting to go off and peeing all over the place. And the only difference was people were home more. But right now, we’re not having an influx of people giving up. Now, as far as the biggest thing of course is separation anxiety. I haven’t been back to general medicine since [this conversation], but just talking to other friends, it’s not as bad as we anticipated.
People want to know about going back to work when their new dog knew nothing but everyone at home. The main things to remember are just kind of like dropping your kids off at preschool for the first day. You’ve got a high needs kid so you have to practice the routine and go around the school and say, “This is your new school. What are you going to do?” If that’s the case with your dog and it’s a high-needs dog, then you’re going to have to practice by small periods away from home. And if you don’t trust your dog, make sure they’re in a confined space. So a lot of people that didn’t crate train might have to start crate training now. Make the floor a small bathroom or something that you can trust your pet in. Trying to associate good things with you leaving is also key too.
Find a high reward system that they only get when you leave the house such as a Kong with peanut butter and blueberries in it, but then freeze it. Then when you leave, drop that for the dog (the frozenness will keep it occupied for longer and it won’t glop up all over your rugs.) But they should only get that when you leave. It has to be something to focus on a long time. If you’re trying to crate train or train your dog to be in a smaller area while you figure this out, doing high reward like that, or just feeding them in that area like, “Okay, now you’re getting fed in this crate.” With my dog, he was pre-COVID, but he was fresh off the plane from China so had a completely unknown history. I honestly took a week off of work and he was attached to me the whole time. And I hand fed him kibble as his reward for sitting and going to the crate and stuff.
I formed that bond with, “You listen to me and you get a piece of kibble.” So I went all in originally. But it’s easier said than done. There are some training methods that I recommend for restructuring your dog. One author’s name is Dr. Sophia Yin. She is a veterinarian that’s also a behaviorist, and she’s phenomenal. I trained my dog based on her methods. But you’re going to have to invest some time in it. If your dogs know nothing but this for a year and a half, expecting him to shift within two days, it’s not going to happen.
As far as medicating, because a lot of people are like, “Oh, can we medicate him?” just for general anxiety, medications aren’t great for dogs and cats for just general anxiety. Most of our anxiety drugs are just to knock the dog out and aren’t actually taking away the anxiety: he’s just too tired. So the actual effectiveness of putting the dog on Prozac or something like that to try to train him usually hasn’t worked very well at all in my book. Realizing this is going to take time, I think is one of the things people just need to hear. This ain’t going to happen overnight.
Speaking of COVID, how often do you get asked for ivermectin or whatever it’s called and other COVID drugs?
Yeah, I got asked about five times. Three from clients, old clients, and two from Facebook people. one of them asked how many Heartgards they had to eat to get a dose of ivermectin.
No. Are you serious?
I know. I know. I was also getting asked about hydroxychloroquine, and a bunch of other stuff before the vaccine came out. But yeah, people are crazy.
We let our wheaten terrier on the couch and on the chair and all over us even though he picks up all the dirt from the outside. Do you do disgusting things like let the animals go where they shouldn’t? Tell me something gross that you let your pet do to make me feel better.
Oh my God. I’m such a bad pet owner. Here’s the thing: vets are some of the worst because we say all that stuff, just like pediatricians do, but in reality, it’s like, ask your pediatrician, right? “So how much screen time does your kid really get?” The pediatrician is like, “Well, he’s in front of a screen right now, to be honest with you.” So when we go for walks and stuff and he’s off-leash in a field with me (which is also supposed to be a no-no, but whatever) if he smells a dead animal or feces, he will roll in it. And I did not realize this for a long time until I finally looked and said, “Oh, my God, he’s rolling on a dead squirrel.” And then, of course, I freaked out and gave him a bath. And now, it’s like every other day he does it. And I’m like, “Eh.” Sometimes I don’t even, I’ll like take a wet cloth and I’ll be like, “It’s good enough.”
Also, I am very bad and I give him a little bit of whatever we eat at dinner.
Well, you’re not a trainer, you’re a vet. He’s a happy dog.
He’s happy. And that goes along with the fact that I’m going to lose him one day. Like, “He’s going to die anyway. Let him have some steak.”
How much do you really expect people to brush their pets’ teeth?
Ideally, you would brush them every day, ideally twice a day. Let’s be honest. I tell people, “Hey, if you do it once a week, more power to you.” How many times have I brushed my dog’s teeth? Zero times. How many times have I even tried to brush my cat’s teeth? I’ve never tried with a cat. So do not feel bad whatsoever if you don’t brush your dogs or cat’s teeth. They are going to need regular dental cleanings anyways, just like you do, and you brush your teeth twice a day, hopefully.
I know it depends a lot on the animal and the situation, but most of the time, what do you tell folks when they tell you that their cat is peeing everywhere?
First, it needs an exam and at least a urinalysis, if not blood work just to double-check that’s not kidney disease, UTI, anything like that. And then the rule of thumb is a litter box for every cat, plus one. So if you have two cats, you should at least have three litter boxes. Make sure you haven’t changed the litter type or covered it. Some cats actually prefer an uncovered litterbox; some cats prefer covered litter. Make sure you’re cleaning with a pet enzymatic cleaner to make sure that you’re getting the smells out. Plugging in pheromone diffusers can help. It certainly won’t hurt. And honestly, there’s usually a reason, but I would say over half the time, we don’t find the reason. So not knowing the reason is more common than you think.
Medications don’t help the majority of the time. I wish they did. So a lot of it is how much you’re willing to tolerate. Because if someone comes to me with a 13-year-old cat and has tried everything and is peeing around the house and they’re in tears and they’re like, “We can’t take it anymore,” I’ve been on that side of the table that you’re like, what am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to tell them to keep going, even though I don’t have an answer for them? Am I willing to take the cat? So I will tell you this, your veterinarian is just as frustrated with those cases as you are.
What do you feed your dog? And what do you say about natural pet food?
That’s going to depend on what vet you ask, just like what pediatrician you ask about any controversial topic. There are some dogs that I have looked at who were 16, and I was like “Wow, he looks like he’s seven. What have you done with this dog?” And it’s usually with those people yes, they might feed raw or natural, but they’re also taking them for like two-mile runs as well. Most of the time, the lifestyle of that dog combined with some really fancy food that’s better than the crap I put on the table for my kids is probably the answer.
Just feeding natural or fresh food, I personally am not in the camp. I feed my dog Purina. But again, if it makes you feel better, if it makes you feel like that gold star mom, do it. But if you ask your vet what they feed their pet, the vast majority of us will say some sort of big brand.
I hope you enjoyed today’s issue of Evil Witches, a newsletter for people who happen to be mothers. Forward it to someone who could maybe use this. If you haven’t yet I hope you consider becoming a paid subscriber, which supports the time it takes to conduct, edit and publish the interviews for issues like these and this gets you extra subscriber-only content like this issue I did last year on teacher gift ideas.
Tomorrow I am doing a Thanksgiving hotline thread for paid subscribers only that is not guaranteed to provide any actual help but you never know! Bring your Thanksgiving knowledge and complaints. If you read this far and are still on the fence here’s a 20% discount for one year but it expires by tomorrow.
I hope, if you celebrate American Thanksgiving, you can reserve a bit of time and space for your own sanity and calm, and if Thanksgiving is complicated this year for you, you do what you need to do to get through the day and longggg weekend in one piece.