February 7, 2023

About Rita and Fred and their dog Rex

A few days ago I got a sad email from Rita, a long-time friend. And it got me a-thinking.

Dear John,

Our dog Rex had surgery on his paw a few weeks ago to remove a growth the size of a quarter, and we had to return to the veterinarian for another post-surgery check-up.

What we thought was just “a big wart” ended up being much more complicated as it rapidly grew.

The initial diagnosis was that it was a cancerous growth and required amputation of toe and removal of lymph nodes!!!

Immediately we sought a second opinion from a more specialized veterinary group and they took biopsies and found it was not malignant! And so were able to remove it with a less aggressive procedure.

However, Rex has had to remain very quiet for the past three weeks to allow the incision to heal. It’s in a difficult place. Not easy for a Lab used to walking miles each day.

We’re saying a prayer. I’ll keep you posted.

Our warm regards to you, John.

Well, I’m hoping to get good news from Rita. She and her husband Fred live in Massachusetts where I lived. So I’ve never gotten to see Rex. Not sure how old or how big he is.

What I want you to know is I’ve changed all names here to protect privacy.

Getting back to Rita’s message, I believe Rex is one of the most fortunate dogs I’ve ever heard of. Especially when Medicare doesn’t cover pets yet.

Hey, don’t laugh. Pets might have gotten covered if Bernie Sanders had not lost to Joe Biden and Bernie had managed to kick Trump to Kingdom Come this coming November. Let’s hope!

Now you see the kind of Democratic candidates I’d love to be able to vote for.

Oh, plus pets’ health care can’t be written off on our income taxes, as you know.

But Bernie would have found a way to fix that, too, I’m sure.

I’m having fun joking here a bit.

But as I told you, Rita’s letter got me thinking. I even did some research.

It turns out pet health care insurance does exist. Uncle Sam doesn’t provide it but many companies do. Companies that offer only pet care insurance. Lots of competition out there.

If you have a precious pet, check Google. You’ll find a variety of policies. You might even find some offering a death benefit.

Yes, I’ll bet you would.

Rita and Fred’s vets’ bill must have been huge. She didn’t mention that. I wondered about it but I didn’t feel I should bring it up. Didn’t want to be nosey.

Way back when I was five or six, I had a little dog, Spotty. I loved Spotty. One day he disappeared. I asked but the answer they gave me was vague. Maybe he got hit by a car or something. A big loss for me.

After Pauline and I married, soon she got a pet. A cat, Snow White. Thirteen years she had Snow White.

Also a cockatiel. A puppy named Bijou. Some unusual pets. One night I found her up very late treating a little injured squirrel she had come across. Other pets. Never without a pet. One after another.

Our kids loved them, too.

They sensed rightly these pets were their Mom’s. Not hers and mine.

One day I spotted a dog that was just meant to be mine. And it wasn’t a little dog like hers.

His name was Barry and he was a full-grown St. Bernard. I’m sure you know St. Bernard’s are BIG dogs. I fell for him not because he was so big but because he looked and seemed so loveable.

But when I brought Barry home, it became obvious he didn’t like having become mine.

Or coming to live in an environment very different.

I was a journalist at a big newspaper a 20-minute drive in from the big city nearby. But we lived on a country road with few neighbors.

We weren’t just two adults. We had two little kids. Arthur, then Monique, then in due time, Mark.

Taking care of him was my responsibility. Not Pauline’s, too.

I’d take him on a walk every day. I’d have him on a leash.

One nice warm summer day, I was walking by the Posts. Don and Sylvia were our closest neighbors, about a thousand feet down the road to the left of us.

Our brand-new house, built for us, stood right next to their big dairy farm. They had 50 beautiful Guernsey cows.

I had bought our lot from her dad. He had immediately set up barbed wire on three sides of our lot. Their blue-ribbon Guernseys grazed on three sides of us.

Most times I didn’t stop by. Don was usually at work.

But his car was in the driveway. He’d be home for sure. It would be nice to say hello.

They had a beautiful collie. Nice, friendly dog. I spotted her in the kitchen behind their screen door. She was watching us approach. Wagging her tail.

I was walking up until Barry had his nose practically touching the screen. He just wanted to say Hi to the collie. This would be their first encounter.

Well, Barry reached up with his right paw. He wasn’t being mean or aggressive. Just friendly.

But that big paw of his tore right through that screen. Wow!

Don Post, who’s a very nice guy, appeared at the door in half a minute.

Saw the damage. He was pushing their collie off to one side. Out of reach of Barry.

I didn’t give him time to say anything. I just said, “Sorry, Don. So sorry! Barry was just trying to be friendly. He’s not a mean dog. Really isn’t.

“Hey, please have the door fixed and just send me the bill, will you.”

“No, no, John. It’s not a big deal. No problem.”

“Please, Bob. It won’t amount to much. Please do that”

But he never gave me the bill.

I was so happy Barry’s behavior didn’t spoil our friendship. It could have.

Well, on another nice summer day I was in our front yard with Barry. No leash. About 50 feet from the road.

Our neighbors on the right, some 250 yards away, were the Normans. Nice family.

Mrs. Norman, about 50, came sauntering past our house with her aunt, a Catholic nun dressed the way nuns did back then. She was visiting. I didn’t know her.

My oh my! Barry sprang up and went dashing toward them. They thought he was attacking them. Whew!

I thought they’d have a heart attack!

At the last minute, Barry put on the brakes. Stopped. Dropped to all fours and started wagging and wagging his tail.

Mrs. Norman gave me a really nasty look. Didn’t say a word. Didn’t have to. Her look said it all.

I rushed over and grabbed Barry by the collar. I had a hard time restraining him.

All I could do was give her a feeble smile and try to explain.

Mrs. Norman just nodded solemnly. Her aunt the nun gathered her long gown around her and gave me a weak smile. They continued their walk past our house. Keeping an eye on Barry and a big distance from him. I was still holding him tight by the collar.

Later I told Pauline all about it. She just shook her head sadly. She really didn’t approve of Barry.

She had no such worries with her little poodle

It was clear Barry had to go. I sold him cheap to a farmer who had a big spread. Had a few beef cattle. Was looking for a replacement dog.

I never saw Barry again.

Anyway, our kids grew up with pets in the house.

One birthday, Arthur, our first born, asked for a pet. Not a puppy or a kitty. He was just six years old.

We lived not far from a farmer who raised sheep. We’d stop by and admire them. Arthur decided he wanted one of the little lambs. He chose one and I paid the farmer. Who thought I’d have it slaughtered, I believed.

Hah! We called it Lambchop.

We had that big yard with a big lawn now.

Lambchop was Arthur’s pet and he had to learn to take care of it.

I tied a 15-foot rope to Lambchop’s collar with a gallon jug of water tied at the other end. In the morning, using the rope and jug, Arthur would set Lambchop up on a patch of nice green grass.

And after school he’d move Lambchop to a fresh patch of nice green grass. Perfect.

Well, at one end of our house we had a grape arbor. Nice grass there. One morning Arthur shifted Lambchop there. After school he checked and found Lambchop dead.

What?! Imagine the shock of that.

Lambchop had been munching and had eaten its way around one of the arbor posts. Had circled the post a couple of times and kept pulling and pulling to free itself. But had strangled itself. Sob!

End of that story.

Anyway, this neighbor friend the farmer also had a few horses. One day in visiting him with my teen daughter Monique, she found one she fell in love with. A big pony.

A spontaneous decision on her part.

I had no idea she was interested in owning a pony.

What to do? I had no barn. No easy water supply. No hay. But I bought it for her. She named it Dolly.

We arranged it so she could keep it at the Posts’. Yes, where Barry had smashed the screen door.

Don and Sylvia had a teen-age daughter, Cindy. Monique and Cindy were good friends. Cindy had a pony. And everything needed for it.

Cindy fed and watered her pony. She knew what she was doing. She tutored Monique. She learned quickly.

Dolly turned out to be wild and frisky. So much so that Monique wore a football helmet when she rode her.

Oh, Dolly also turned out to be blind in one eye. Poor Dolly.

I think that the work of caring for Dolly beat the fun Monique got out of her. She didn’t keep Dolly very long. I don’t remember what happened to her eventually.

Our youngest, Mark, loved animals of all kinds. I repeat, all kinds.

He loved snakes. Water snakes. After school he and his school friend Brian would go and try to catch them, then toss them back in.

He had one that he kept as a pet. He took it to bed with him. True story.

Mark, who is now a professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, once thought of becoming a vet. Yes, he really did.

His son Lincoln,11, now has a snake in his bedroom. He wanted it. He’s totally responsible for it. Has to treat it kindly. Has to clean its glass box. Has to feed it regularly. One live mouse a week. Mark buys the mice at a pet supply store.

Well, I hate snakes. Even harmless garter snakes.

Mark takes after his Mom. Pauline taught him. Not that she was fond of snakes.

Our home in the country had a big deck in the back. We had big sliding glass doors to the deck. Next to it was a huge oak tree in plain sight.

One day Mark spotted a baby raccoon up there in the tree. No mother raccoon taking care of it.

He put on heavy gloves and clambered up. Then he saw a second baby raccoon. Managed to bring one down, then the other. Showed them to his mom. She was excited. Then to me. They were cute. I thought they’d be released.

She loved them. Adopted them. She scooped them up. Watered them. Fed them.

We’d sit on a couch looking out those big doors. The two little raccoons would sit up there behind us. On top of the back of the couch. Their favorite place.

Pauline would pick one up and hold it for awhile Then the other. She gave them lots of attention.

We’d keep the doors’ screens closed to keep the two little coons from escaping. After all, they were precious pets now.

They were growing fast.

I had done some research. Raccoons can be dangerous. Very. I mentioned this to Pauline.

No problem. Not these cute little two.

I was worried. These weren’t pets. They were wild animals.

We were planning a weekend away.

Pauline arranged for a neighboring teen-ager to come every day. Gave her a key. She’d come and check a few things. And water and feed our coons.

Off we went. When we returned, our coons were gone!

The teen-ager had opened the deck doors for a few minutes. Our coons had bolted. She was distressed.

So was Pauline. I was relieved. I believed what the book said about raccoons becoming dangerous. Good riddance!

I have stories aplenty to tell about pets.

Our Arthur, who loved Lambchop, and his wife, Marita, bought a nice young dog after they settled into their marriage.They named him Dakota.

He is now a lawyer with a national law practice out of Florida.

Dakota became very big. Had him for more than a dozen years.Their three kids grew up with Dakota. He was part of the family. Became very old. Decrepit, sad to say.

Arthur and Marita recently had to make the painful decision to have Dakota euthanized. That was a bad day.

Their three kids had grown up and become independent, two of them living hundreds of miles away.

A pet animal, whatever it is, can become important to our emotional well-being. Especially when kids have grown up and gone. Pets fill a great big void.

And this is what has made pet veterinary medicine such a lucrative specialty. Specialize in pet health care and become rich!

Monique, who loved her frisky pony for a while, has never had a pet of any kind. Excuse me. Now she has David, her hubby of 30 years. It’s remarkable what a wonderful marriage they have. They don’t need a dog or cat or lamb or pony or snake or anything else. They have one another.

Which is also true now for Arthur and Mark and their spouses also.

Mark, who loves animals so much that he seriously thought of becoming a vet, no longer considers having a pet dog, say. He and his wife Stacie are both professors. Very busy. Travel a lot. Have to face reality.

I have thought of having a dog for myself. A cute, little dog. I live alone. It can get lonely.

But I have a hard time taking care of myself. How could I walk the dog? Really, really take care of it? Not a smart idea.

So I’m hoping that my friend Rita’s prayer for Rex has been answered. And she and Fred will have Rex for another long while.

But now, how do you, dear readers, feel about this?

Do you have a pet? Have you had one, or more! What kind? Good experience? Bad one? Details, please.

If enough of you respond, I’ll write it up. Might be very interesting.



    Great story John. I know someone who recently spent $6,000 on her cat’s stomach surgery.

  2. John Aschieris says

    I like this blog and agree with you that a pet can add much to a persons life. But also lots of responsibility. I too would like to have a small dog for a companion but that’s only part of the time. The balance of the time I don’t want to be responsible for it. My suggestion for you is to find someone in your mobile home park and offer to do dog sitting, visits, walking when possible or just keep it while the owner goes shopping, errands, etc. The perfect answer. Some time off for the dogs owner, some occasional companionship for you and a change of environment for the pup. Best wishes. John

  3. Leonard Poulin says

    Hi John,

    Nice pet stories. Here’s mine. Our family had a dog when we were growing up. My youngest brother, Norman, was playing in the neighborhood and a stray puppy, about 4 months old, followed him home. We asked everyone we could if they knew who owned it. No one came forward, so we kept it. Rusty was his color, and so that became his name. Best dog ever. Super friendly, never a nuisance or a problem. Never leashed. I think a welcome home and a big family created the best mannered dog naturally. No training required. Most of us kids shared a little in taking care of it, feeding or brushing out the Burdock seed burrs, but my mother took responsibility for it, making sure there was always dog food in the house. One day the dog mysteriously disappeared.

    About the health care expense of owning a pet? A vet, maybe, for injuries. I like my father’s attitude, which was that nature provides for them, not doctors. And, as they did back on the farm, when it’s the pet or farm animal’s time, let nature take them. If the animal was suffering, my father had no problem with putting it down out of kindness.

    I didn’t keep pets as an adult because I wasn’t interested in the care and responsibility. There was one exception. I got a cat when I bought the old farmhouse and saw the rodent problem. At a nearby run down old country house, the was a sign that said, “Free Kittens”. So I got one. It was a feral barn cat. There were about 30 of them living in a falling down small barn. Jasmine was her name. The “owner” was happy to give it away, Jasmine was already spayed under a state grant program to control the feral cat population.

    I needed a farm cat for a mouser. A farm cat lives and stays outside with a shed, open garage or barn for shelter. It gets dry food only, not always regularly. If it wants fresh meat, it has hunt for it. Jasmine, mostly feral, warmed up to human affection fairly quickly. But she still was not allowed inside the house. I’d take vacations and Jasmine would be fine on her own. There were plenty of rodents and birds to eat, along with the occasional rabbit or squirrel. Water was available at the stream year round. Several years passed and Jasmine quit hunting. She became lazy. She often wouldn’t leave the garage to pee or poop. I am not someone who will tend a litter box. I love animals, but I’m not “in love” with animals. I found a perfect “retirement” home for Jasmine. An adult household, mother and daughter, had three cats, but one passed, and they wanted a replacement. Jasmine is now loved, pampered, she gets canned wet food, and always has companions. Jasmine never has to go out, no longer has to hunt or evade being hunted, and has a litter box! A perfect retirement home.

    That’s my pet story.

  4. evelyn maron says

    We had a dog, Bingo, while my kids were growing up. He lived to be 11 years old. My kids loved him so much that I knew if we had a fire, they would save him before each other.
    Once my daughter took him for a walk to the park, He got grazed by a car, broke the leash, and ran away. We looked for him everywhere but could not find him. Five days later, around 3 AM we heard his bark outside of the front door. Everyone woke up and ran downstairs. What Joy! We had no idea where he had been all this time. He seemed to be fine.
    When he was 11, he was not himself. I took him to the vet, who said he had cancer. It seemed the best thing to do was to have him put to sleep. I had to come home and tell my children. It was one of the worst moments of my life. We all cried for Bingo, whom we would miss for a long time.

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