Saturday, February 14, 2009

The hidden costs of dogs (Part 2)....

Actually, this post would more properly be called "The hidden costs of rescuing dogs...".

Thinking about the costs of my dryer and vent repairs got me started thinking about other large outlays of cash I've had to make because of my dogs. I didn't have to go back very far in my memory bank, since the last $850 outlay was just this fall in October. In that case, it was actually a rescue dog that caused the expense.

Back in August, the local animal shelter called. They had taken in seven Bassets in a neglect case, and one of the bitches was pregnant. She gave birth at the shelter, and they called to ask if I could take her and her puppies and raise the litter. A shelter can be a deadly environment for a litter of pups - it's too cold, there are always upper respiratory tract and other infections that pups are susceptible to making the rounds, and there's no way to keep mama dog from getting stressed. The puppies were born overnight, and they were at my house, toasty-warm, by about 3 PM.

Millie, the dam, was an excellent mom. The puppies grew and thrived.

As the puppies matured, Millie started to back off her mothering duties. She showed more interest in playing with my dogs, exploring the back yard, and climbing onto the dining room table. Let me be clear here that I don't mean just putting her feet up on the edge and checking out the action. She would climb up onto the table, I think hoping that if she could get there, she could hop over to the kitchen counter a bit more easily.

It was at this point that I started to think that perhaps there is some Beagle in Millie back not too many generations. My friend Rosemary had suggested this fairly early on. Millie was smaller than most Bassets. She also had a bark that was sharper than a typical Basset bark. I had defended Millie's "Bassetness", saying that her size was probably due to poor nutrition and early pregnancies. Now, as Millie's activity level returned to normal, and she demonstrated her climbing prowess, the Beagle-in-the-woodpile theory was starting to make more sense to me.

Outdoors, she was also more active. My backyard is a little over a third of an acre fenced, so there is a fair amount of fence line. The fencing is about 20 years old. There haven't been any big holes - I walk the fence to make sure of that pretty frequently - but over time, in a couple of places, the ground has fallen away a bit from the bottom of the chain link fence.

The fence as installed does not have a bottom rail. It turns out that in order to put in a proper bottom rail on an existing fence, the entire fence has to be removed from the supports, and essentially rebuilt - a job that would run about $3,800 for my yard. So last winter, after one of my girls pushed up the bottom of the fence and went for a walk in the field, I jerry-rigged a bottom rail by lashing electrical conduit pipe along the bottom of the fence to make a solid bar. This cost me about $140, a significant savings over the true bottom-rail job. In all, it was an effective barrier for Bassets, who are not committed diggers, and I was pretty pleased with my thrifty handiwork.

That lasted until Millie's assault on the fence line. She was smaller than my dogs - half the size of my eldest and largest Luna, and probably a good 15 pounds smaller than my youngest Aretha. She was also much more determined, in a distinctly Beagle kind of way. If you'd like to see what I mean by this determination, there's a great video of a Beagle name Sofia that demonstrates what I'm talking about. You can find it here:

Millie began spending her free time casing the fence line for weaknesses. Since my dogs have in and out access through the dog door, the puppies were now firmly on their own, and the weather was mild, she had a lot of free time. I was walking the fence line one day and saw evidence that she had been digging a bit, so I hauled in some cinder blocks and blocked the area.

The next day, the dog spent the morning sleeping off breakfast while I worked in my office. In early afternoon, I heard them go out the dog door for a little romp in the yard. And then, a few minutes later, I heard nothing. For owners of dogs and parents of toddlers, "nothing" is not a good sound. I headed to my back deck, looked out over the yard, and saw Millie out in the field beyond the fence. My own dogs were not in sight.

I grabbed up leads and car keys and ran out to the field to catch Millie. With her in the car, I ran out to the road, which in front of my house runs 50 miles an hour, and saw three of my dogs headed down the side of the street. In the moments it took me to get into my car to follow them, other cars coming saw them and - thank you, good neighbors - stopped, effectively protecting my girls from oncoming traffic.

I know the whole scene lasted only 2 minutes or so, but I felt like I was running through sand to get my dogs home safely.

I closed the dog door before I brought anyone into the house and went off to the hardware store for more cinder blocks. My quick fix that afternoon that afternoon only set me back about $40, but it was clear that Millie would breach any barrier I could throw up quickly. At this point, with her pups headed to their own new homes within a week, I sent her off to Rosemary's, who has REALLY solid fencing.

But my own dogs, now, had learned from Millie that the fence could be pushed up in places, and I didn't trust them in the yard anymore. For the next two weeks, no one went out unsupervised in the back yard. I bought two pallets of landscaping blocks, called Labor Ready and hired a crew, and in a very efficient morning, they laid landscaping blocks against the outside of the fence. Since each block weighs 26 pounds, I think they are a good match for Basset noses.

Millie was eventually adopted by a long-time Basset rescue volunteer. Her adoption fee nicely covered her post-whelp care and her spay. The fencing's on me.

1 comment:

  1. Hey we have one of those Millie i know why Lexie acts like a basset JRT mix!!