Archive for the ‘Rescue Horses, Rescue Dogs’ Category

Dogs Doing Drugs.
September 7, 2008

 A few times in my blog entries, I’ve mentioned toads — poisonous toads — specifically, the Sonoran Desert toad, commonly known as the Colorado River toad.


Bufo alvarius

(photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

When I was a girl, being a tomboy through and through, ants and toads and frogs and salamanders, even crayfish, were fascinating to me. Where I grew up, though, ants were black and didn’t bite, rattle snakes weren’t around every corner, and toads were cute and harmless. 

I knew you didn’t catch warts from touching toads or frogs. I always put them back where I’d found them after taking a closer look, and even when they peed on me (in what I now know to be a fear and stress-induced reaction) it was no big deal (the pee, that is).

(Which makes me shudder, because boy would I feel differently about it, today!)

With the continuous (and heavenly) monsoon rains still upon us, the Colorado River toads have been coming out in earnest on the ranch. On the one hand, they’re great to have around; eating bugs, including scorpions, they make it safer outside for my terriers. On the other hand, the larger rescue dogs are obsessed with everything that moves — butterflies, birds, rabbits, toads — and would like nothing more than to catch them all.   

Essentially, the male toad finds a puddle (left from misters, rain water, or even your dog’s water bowl) and uses it like a hot tub, serenading the females with his best mating call.

Even when you can’t see them, you can hear them singing. Their arrival on our porch is heralded by the sound of rattling chain-link fence as they (astonishingly) squeeze themselves in and out of small spaces. In the photo below, this big, squat toad is making its way out of our dog kennels after finding the water bowls dumped and turned over.

A toad soaking in a dog’s water bowl can leave behind enough poison to kill a dog.  

The toads’ weapon is a milky venom housed in glands on their neck and thighs secreted when threatened, but even their skin is poisonous. It’s very clever, actually, as the toads parade around without fear under the visage of owl, hawk, coyote, bobcat and javelina. 

Some people actually “lick” these psychoactive toads for the high, although this method can be lethal to the person doing the licking. More so, the toads are milked (illegally) and their venom dried into “chips” which are then smoked.

The most likely scenario, however, is your dog being poisoned from either catching a toad in its mouth and absorbing the venom, or eating the toad, along with the poison glands.

Such was the nightmare last weekend when two of our rescue dogs, Clementine and Blue, caught a toad that hopped fearlessly into their midst, and, like a game of hot potato, passed it back and forth. I ran after them in a frenzy, yelling and slipping in the kennel until my legs were bruised and bleeding. My husband, hearing the ruckus, tore out of the house and between the two of us, pried the toad out of Clementine’s mouth.

Blue and Clementine

I was soon to see the symptoms I’d been telling my husband about only the day before, coincidentally having come across a local toad avoidance class advertised online and reading about the treatment for poisoning. It saved the dogs’ lives that night.

First of all, don’t panic. (I know — easier said than done.) If your dog has eaten all or part of the toad, bring the dog to the vet IMMEDIATELY. Many sources cite a thirty minute window before the poisoning can prove deadly, acting upon the heart and causing cardiac arrhythmias and arrest. 

If your dog had the toad in its mouth only, remove the toad and immediately rinse your dog’s mouth with water, from the corners of the mouth outward to avoid the dog swallowing the poison. Use your fingers to swish water between the gums and cheeks where poison could pocket. Rinse for fifteen minutes with a hose.

Signs of poisoning include:

— “Saw horse”, stiff-legged gait

— Dilated pupils (alarmingly so)

— Bright red gums

— Hallucinations, with the dog seeing things not there, whining, pacing, scratching

— Frothy mouth

The signs indicating the worst cases of poisoning:

— Convulsions

— Whining and crying in extreme pain

— Loss of bowel and bladder control

— Cardiac arrhythmias and arrest

— Paralysis

After rinsing our dogs’ mouths, the saw-horse gait, dilated pupils and hallucinations stopped, and the dogs were back to normal after fifteen minutes. We called our vet, who told us to keep an eye on the dogs for the next hour, during which no symptoms reappeared.

The best treatment, of course, is avoiding these toads altogether, with supervised outings at dawn and dusk during monsoon season, (the toads hibernate the rest of the year), along with bringing any outside dogs inside at dusk and keeping your dogs inside until sun-up.

What surprises me the most about these toads is their fearlessness — going where other small animals fear to tread. Unfortunately, prior poisoning doesn’t usually keep dogs away from the toads; our vet spoke of seeing the same dogs multiple times for toad poisoning.

Other things you can do?

— Rid the area of whatever pools of water you can (which will also discourage the breeding of mosquitos)

— Dump out and turn over dogs’ water bowls when not in use.


Bufo alvarius United States range map (the toad also lives in northwest Mexico).

Bufo alvarius United States range map (the toad also lives in northwest Mexico).

Coutesy of Wikipedia.

Having lost my beloved cat, dog and horse last summer, my greatest wish this summer was for all the animals to come through it alive and intact, including the toads. So far, so good. 


Christmas In July.
July 11, 2008

“All is for the best in the best of possible worlds.”


In December of 2006, we took in a heavily pregnant female dog, a Labrador-Malamute mix (Clementine) and the most likely culprit for her condition, a male Boxer-mix we named Lucky. Both dogs were desperate, thirsty, panicked and thin. Lying in the only shade they could find, in the wash behind the corral (wash? think sandy river with no water) under a Palo Verde tree choked with mistletoe, the two dogs were panting heavily in the sun. Watching my every move with distrustful, guarded eyes, Clementine half-heartedly barked at me, protecting Lucky, but it was too hot to bark.

Easily bribed with food, water and shelter, a few hours later their ordeal was over. Later, neighbors would report seeing the dogs being pushed out of a white truck. The driver was angry and cursing at the dogs because they kept trying to jump back in.

Right from the start, I could feel the puppies squirming inside Clementine, and even glimpse an occasional puppy foot pushing on her taut, pink belly. Calling around, I learned that many places will abort litters up until the last minute due to the sheer number of unwanted dogs in the world.

But I just couldn’t do it.

Armed with internet research, and having discussed the process with our vet, Clem went into labor on December 18th, 2006 at 9:12 pm. Watching in amazement as life came to life in my hands, I rubbed fat bellies to stimulate the breathing process, cut umbilical cords and tied them off with dental floss, handed puppies over to Clemmy to clean, or, cleaned the puppy myself as she cleaned another. I was amazed at how well life knows what it’s doing.

During the nursing stage, the puppies were almost frightening; their thrust toward life transformed them into little hunger-demons, blind to all but the nipple. Clementine quickly became overwhelmed by so many demanding, unrelenting mouths, so I supplemented the puppies’ meals with goat’s milk, sucked one-by-one from a tiny bottle.

One of my fondest memories is weaning the puppies onto solid food. At that stage, we prepared a blender slurry of wet puppy food and goat’s milk and poured the concoction into a muffin pan, filling up eight slots. It made for a perfect, puppy-sized meal. The idea for the muffin pan had flashed into my head one bleary-eyed night at four in the morning, when the puppies were screaming to be fed and I despaired of ever having enough hands. How could I juggle eight bowls? Then I thought of the muffin pan.

Last month, we noticed that one of the puppies, Christmas, (a puppy given sanctuary at our ranch when she didn’t find a home), was limping. Cordoned off in a puppy play-pen in the kitchen to limit her movement, we made an appointment with a veterinary specialist at the recommendation of our regular vet.

(It brought back a torrent of emotions for me, since the last time we’d seen the specialist, our 16 year old terrier had gone into multiple organ failure. He was helped over the Rainbow Bridge that night. I miss him terribly. )

At Christmas’ appointment this morning, this time the news was good: Christmas doesn’t have a hip issue, but a knee injury, likened to a football injury, involving her tendon. It’s one hundred percent fixable. The relief in the house is palpable.

I’ve had the first lines of an Emily Dickinson poem in my head all morning: “Because I would not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me …” But this morning death kept going. We got a break.

Who knew hamburger with cheese on top could make such a fitting victory cake? Happy ranch dogs in Arizona, with hamburger bellies that remind me of the puppy days. Even my husband, recently complaining about Christmas waking us up early on weekends to go outside and play, had tears in his eyes at the good news. Summer feels like plain old summer again, with the worry lifted.

I only wish I had a big pin to pop the sky and bring down the rain so I could dance in it. Instead, I dance in the hallway with the terriers, who, on the command “dance”, stand on their hind legs and hop up and down with me.

Fireworks In Horse Country.
July 5, 2008

“If any one attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.”

John A. Dix

Who doesn’t love the 4th of July? Horses, for one. Many, many horses. Dogs, too. Many, many dogs.

I also love the thrill of fireworks, and the excitement of recreating “… the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air …” We were brought up as kids in America, on fireworks for the 4th.

Illegal fireworks in horse country are what bother me.

Perched atop the seventh rail of the corral at our ranch, each 4th I have a front row seat to at least three different (legal) fireworks displays as they circle the horizon before me. The lights mushroom up over the mountains from the towns below, and a horse or two usually keeps me company, love-nibbling my boots as I watch.

Surrounded by the peace of the summer desert at night, with toads chirping like crickets and crickets croaking like toads, hawks imitating creaky doors and the night sky punched with stars, if God goes somewhere for the 4th of July, I know it’s here. The cooler air rising after a monsoon rain is like nature’s air-conditioning, perfect for a holiday.

This year, around fireworks time, it begins to rain. Maybe it’s that, or maybe it’s that more people have secured illegal fireworks this year. But the personal displays begin, first in the park-land across the main road. I can hear children squealing with delight.

Out flaking horses, all of a sudden, fireworks light up the corral. As the first big blast shakes the ground, the horses and donkey freeze for a split second before galloping off to the four winds, too surprised to herd up.

I cringe when I see my Mustang and Draft almost collide, each darting in opposite directions at the last second. But Cloud, my Arab, in a blind panic, gallops into the round pen, at which point I jump from the rail and gate him off.

After the initial fright, the other horses meander around eating grass and enjoying the aftermath of the rain, which means, for them, a big cooling off and the accompanying friskiness.

But Cloud is inconsolable. Another stick of dynamite rocks the world, and Cloud, after taking off and turning from a dead stop, goes down. I feel the earth take his unexpected weight, and see the confused look as he slips on his hay, then his wild eyes as he hits the ground. My heart stops.

With a bleeding rub on his right stifle, easily tended to and superficial, and limping on his right front leg, my heart breaks for him, but it could have been a much bigger disaster. With Cloud up again and pawing the ground obsessively, I spend the next three hours watching for signs of colic, on a vigil until three in the morning.

I dread the coming of the night, again, and perhaps more fireworks. This time Cloud is already sectioned off and I’ll hold back the evening feed so there’s no grass to slip on.

Who knew something as innocuous as grass could mix with fireworks to bring down a horse? Cloudy knows, but it will all be forgotten once the booms start up again. Many dogs are also lost this time of year, bolting in terror from the noise. On high-alert, I carefully walk the terriers in the walled-in garden, sadly hearing our neighbor whistling for his own lost dog and making a mental note to keep an eye out for it.

Nirvana hides in a cardboard box.
June 26, 2008

 “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.”

Louis L’Amour

Recently, I joined a wonderful writer’s group and as part of my profile, I had to put down where I’m located. My husband, looking over my shoulder and gifted at quick quips, and taking advantage of aol allowing us to be online at the same time, sent me an email (which was much more romantic when we lived on opposite ends of the country).

Hey Em – put down, “If there’s dog poop, horse manure, kibbles and hay, I’m there.”

Very funny, especially because it’s true: if there are horses or dogs in need I’m there, and yes, cleaning up and feeding is part of it. Presently, our kitchen is overrun by yet another puppy play-pen, and another dog in need; this one healing from a fight with a coyote, having dug out of her kennel in record speed and running off even faster. In the desert, (which is more like a zoo), the clash between domesticated and wild almost always results in some sort of trouble.

Where we live, which is rural ranch and horse country, people push dogs out of moving vehicles with the hope that someone in the community will take in the dog. “How do they know you so well?” my husband asks, rolling his eyes and sighing. I can’t blame him — the man’s a saint. Not only is he the world’s best supporter of my writing endeavors, he also understands my penchant for the underdog, including the two now in my kitchen.

It never ceases to amaze me just how grateful an abused horse or dog is for food and attention. Their capacity for forgiveness is difficult to comprehend, and especially so when considering the fact that they’re better at it than most human beings.

This hot afternoon, two stray dogs believe I am the star of their air-conditioned universe, each having been given an empty box — one a Ritz cracker box, and the other a box of Reese’s Puffs. In their eyes, happiness is free and easy; the best times are had with boxes, toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, and Dixie cups — due to the wonderful sound they make hitting a tile floor, and because of the way they crunch — while fitting perfectly in a medium-sized dog’s mouth. Each paper object is sturdy enough to be thrown in the air and caught many times, and the future can always be counted on for more.

I work hard to be a grateful person in this twisty-turny, nothing-for-certain life; I am grateful for so many things. But Nirvana is made out of cardboard, today, and I’m humbled by the saying these two dogs know so well: one man’s garbage is another dog’s treasure. As the dogs mimic each other, taking my fearless arm into their gentle mouths, who knew it would be so easy to find Nirvana in the kitchen, next to the apple sauce and flour?