Clinic Stories

Did You Forget Something?

Pets are sometimes left without care for days or weeks. A few are left intentionally, including Hiram, our office turtle who was left in a foreclosed home. Miss Muffit, the subject of another story was locked in a basement for seven weeks when the owners moved and thought she had run outside. One dog, a Chihuahua, was sealed alive in a wall when the owners moved out of their apartment. Sometimes pets are simply turned loose or tied somewhere. In one case an aged Saint Bernard that was unable to walk was left by the side of the road with a bag of food. Leaving a cat in a carrier at the front door of a veterinary hospital or a dog tied to a fence at a shelter are common occurrences. Many people are surprised when they learn they have been recorded on a security camera.

More often owners are unable to get to or to care for their pets. They are left behind due to flooding or other disaster or because the owner died. One owner left five dogs behind when his house flooded but did not return after the flood. Neighbors who came back realized that the dogs were in the house unattended and called Animal Control. By that time one of the dogs was dead, either from lack of care or killed by the other dogs, and had been eaten. The owner was charged with animal cruelty. I took care of two parakeets that were trapped in an apartment for weeks near the World Trade Center following the September 11 terror attack. One survived but the other eventually died from respiratory disease, likely the only terror victims I ever cared for. Another dog was rescued from a flooded house after five days. He was found floating on a water logged mattress and had a severe skin infection from the constant moisture. The owners, unable to move back, did not have a place to keep or care for the dog and surrendered him to the shelter.

Among the saddest cases are where the owner dies and is not discovered for several days. The dogs often stay with the owner, maintaining a vigil. Often the owners have been ill so the pets were not in good condition prior to the owner's death. I was asked to do a post-mortem examination on a dog who had died in his crate. The owner was an alcoholic and was not caring for himself or his home. The police were called and when they told him the dog was dead he was inconsolable. He claimed the dog had been eating the day before. On examination the dog, a young Cairn Terrier, weighed three pounds, had clearly starved to death and had been dead for over a week. Another dog in the home was well fed and in good health.

These instances show how dependent our pets are on us.

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