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Love your pets, love yourself, love your home. October 5, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, pets.
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Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders, your three bloggers here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, are all history buffs. Silence is especially interested in the domestic history of past times. When the three of us get together, it’s a topic we often talk about. As in, how did the royals and nobility in earlier times, who clearly loved their lapdogs, manage to survive living with their fleas and with their unspayed, unneutered pets?

When our friend Ben and Silence first moved here to Hawk’s Haven with our two cats, we didn’t realize that the cat of the previous owners had left fleas everywhere. We’d never experienced fleas at all, nor had our poor cats. The experience left us with bloody, itchy bites all over our lower legs, and nearly killed our cats from blood loss before we realized what was happening. Fortunately, there are now flea sprays that stop larval development in your home, breaking the vicious cycle. We’ve never had a flea problem again.

Every month, we feed our dog Shiloh a chewy treat that also happens to prevent heartworm disease. We used to dose her with a poisonous flea-and-tick preventive on her neck at the same time, but now they’ve developed a chewable. She loves her “treats,” and it’s such a relief to be able to feed her something she loves once a month rather than rubbing something she hates onto her neck.

This is easy, but it’s not cheap. It’s still better than dosing your house, your family, and your pets with God-alone-knows-what, though. And it’s far better than being bitten alive by those fleas (or, shudder, ticks). I still wonder about royals like King Charles I and his queen holding their beloved spaniels in all those portraits. Were their legs bleeding and itching the whole time? Don’t let it happen to you. Give your pets their meds.

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Pet your dog, don’t praise him. September 7, 2014

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One of our friend Ben’s favorite cartoons is a “Far Side” classic that shows what we say and what our dog hears. Basically, the man is saying “Ginger! Bad dog, Ginger! Why did you do that when you know I’ve told you not to, Ginger? What a bad, bad dog, Ginger! Shame on you, Ginger!” Then it shows what she hears: “Ginger… Ginger… Ginger…”

Apparently, the same is true in real life, according to recent research. The scientists compared the reactions of shelter dogs and strangers and pet dogs and their owners when the dogs were praised or petted. Then the process was repeated with dogs being praised, petted, or ignored. In all cases, the dogs responded strongly to being petted, but their response to verbal praise was the same as being completely ignored.

Good grief! Then what is that rush of attention, the brightening of the eyes, the licking of your hands and arms and biting of your clothes, trying to get as close to you as possible, when you speak to her? They say the brightest dogs can recognize 250 words. Our beautiful and beloved black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special (that’s just Shiloh to you), certainly understands what we’re saying to her, whether we’re talking about treats, toys, or going outside, or about leaving her in charge while we’re out and how long we expect to be gone, or pretty much anything else, including “thank you.”

Of course, Shiloh loves to be petted, too. And we love to pet her. But it’s combining action (giving her a piece of bell pepper or a green bean or a dog treat or a toy) with words, or even special songs we’ve made up for her, that gets that tail going windmill-style and the happy tongue hanging out. We think she loves interacting with us on many levels, not just one. Do you think that about your dog? In any case, don’t forget to pet him!

Please love your dog. March 10, 2014

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This morning, a friend e-mailed our friend Ben a poster for a dog that had gone missing in our area over the weekend. The dog, a young male named Flynn, was a breed I’d never heard of, a Maremma sheepdog, fluffy and white with caramel-colored ears. He apparently got loose in his training collar. His owners had him microchipped (so vets can identify him) and have contacted all the appropriate authorities, and he’s only been gone two full days, so hopefully he’s already been reunited with them.

Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are dog lovers, so of course we’ll keep our eyes peeled for Flynn in case he’s wandering lost, thirsty, hungry, and sad. But I was appalled by the language used on the poster asking for his return. Flynn’s owners made the poor youngster sound like a monster: If you see him, do not approach him, chase him, make eye contact, try to grab him, or otherwise interact with him in any way. Just call our number (they did not reveal their names) and tell us where you saw him.

This makes poor Flynn, who is probably still an adolescent pup since he was in a training collar, sound like an attack dog. But their training program has a different goal: to alienate the poor dog from human companionship so that he identifies with and guards his flock of sheep. I have seen this with Great Pyrenees, the giant white dogs who also herd sheep, barking and snarling nonstop as they guard their flocks, completely unacclimated to humans, even those who’re just walking up the road, in Virginia. The dogs live outside with the flock and never experience the richness of human companionship. To me, this is the greatest disservice to an intelligent dog that there could be.

We own a sheepdog, a German shepherd. We don’t have sheep, but we appreciate our shepherd Shiloh’s keenly honed herding instincts as she tries to collect us, our cats, and her numerous toys all in the same room. She may not always succeed, but her herding instinct is very evident, and she’s never happier than when she can keep an eye on us (her flock) while reclining in our midst. In Scotland, the prized Border collies, perhaps the ultimate herding dogs, are allowed back in the house at the end of their workday, allowed to take their place among their human families. Like them, they deserve some R&R for a day’s work well done.

To isolate a dog from human contact so that it may serve a “purpose” seems to me to be a sin. The purpose of the dog-human bond is to work together, to rest together, to play together. Not to banish the dog to the outer reaches, away from human contact, even eye contact with strangers. Maybe Flynn realized that when he ran away.

Sochi’s strays steal the spotlight. February 19, 2014

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have never understood why the Olympics, or any sports for that matter, exercise such a fascination for the general public. If you’re not playing, what’s the big deal? (Admittedly, we feel the same way about watching musicians sawing away for hours at a symphony performance; why not just listen to the CD, unless you play yourself and are trying to pick up technique?)

But we’ve been watching with bated breath ever since we learned of the 2,000 stray dogs in Sochi that were going to be killed before the Olympics to make everything nice and tidy. As dog lovers, we were horrified by their casual disposal—just another trash pickup—and were delighted to read of the international outrage once the news got out, and of the stray who joined the opening ceremony and became an immediate viral celebrity.

While not even Sochi’s strays could make us actually watch the Olympics, we’ve been following their plight closely: How the construction workers who spruced up the city for the Games fed them. How Olympians like Gus Kenworthy are trying to adopt them. How Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska funds and has expanded PovoDog, a Sochi pet shelter. How others are trying to import Sochi dogs to the U.S. to place in shelters here, believing that they’ll have a better chance at adoption.

Ultimately, the fate of Sochi’s dogs remains unclear, and for most, as for most shelter dogs, not too bright. But their presence at the Winter Olympics has done more to showcase the plight of homeless animals, and the lovable nature and attractive appearance of mixed-breed dogs (“mutts”), than any campaign launched by the Humane Society, PETA, and all other animal-welfare organizations combined. Let’s hope more people start visiting their local shelters and really seeing the dogs instead of dismissing them if they’re not purebred. And let’s hope adoptions skyrocket.

This year’s Winter Olympics produced 2,000 stars.

Threatening the dog. October 21, 2013

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have a big, bad, black German shepherd named Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special. (I wanted another golden retriever, but Silence found Shiloh online and informed me that she was going to be our next dog and her name was going to be Shiloh. Well, alrighty then. And when we found out that her grandfather’s name was actually Lucas von Shiloh Special, we just couldn’t resist adding it onto her name.)

But to get back to our by now very big, very bad dog. When she does something bad—deafening us with her barking, chasing the cats or putting them through the “catwash” (her tongue is as big as the rest of her), pulling on her leash, or just generally being annoying—we threaten her. Not, mind you, with physical harm. Being wordsmiths, we threaten her with a fast flight to Asia.

Silence once read a story about Koreans’ fondness for dog meat. The proprietor of Mr. Moon’s Dog Stew Emporium, which apparently was doing a booming business when the reporter visited, served up a delicious bowl of hot dog stew. His may have been the most celebrated, but was far from the only, dog stew emporium in the city.

After Silence read this, and of course shared it with our friend Ben with an appropriate amount of outraged commentary, we began threatening Shiloh at every instance of bad behavior with instantaneous exportation and being sold by the pound to Mr. Moon.

Since Shiloh weighs more than 90 pounds, we figured we could get a decent return on investment, especially if Mr. Moon was willing to pay shipping costs. Loud barking and destroying our rugs while rushing through the house brought pointed comments about how meaty Shiloh’s thighs were, and how succulent they would be in a stew.

Admittedly, these comments appeared to be completely lost on Shiloh, but they sure made us feel better about her outrageous behavior. Recently, though, we’ve had a change of tone in our threats. Silence read that the Vietnamese, who also love dog meat and believe that eating it brings good luck, have apparently recently begun to also embrace dogs as pets. Or, at least, high-end dogs; the rest are still consigned to the pot, and apparently the devoted pet-dog owners enjoy their lucky dog-meat dishes as much as everybody else.

Silence, a devout vegetarian, practically beat our friend Ben over the head with the offending article while ranting on (and on, and on) about how perverse people could be when deciding which animals could be sacrificed for meat and which were considered cherished family members. But she didn’t show me the article because of that, but rather, because it said that a pet German shepherd could bring as much as $40,000 (U.S. dollars) in Vietnam.

Okay, we’re not Einsteins, but we don’t think we could get that much from Mr. Moon, no matter how hefty Shiloh is or how much he’s paying per pound. So we’ve changed our threat to benefit our bottom line. Now, when Shiloh misbehaves, we inform her that we’re buying her a one-way ticket to Vietnam, and that we hope she’ll appreciate the contribution she’ll be making to our bank account.

Mind you, she pays no more attention to the latest threat than she did to our promises to sell her to Mr. Moon. But we don’t care. Every time we mention her future fate, we can sit back, relax, and imagine what we’d do with $40,000. And, once we feel totally cheered up, we can rub Shiloh’s belly and smooth her ears and enjoy the company of the best bad dog that ever was without having to shell out another cent. That would be the loving, happy dog with the huge smile and lolling tongue and bright eyes and waggily tail.

Not that she wouldn’t sell us in a heartbeat for $40,000 or even $40 worth of dog treats, or pizza and white Zinfandel for that matter. But that’s another story. (Don’t even think about giving her tequila; she’d sell you to Mr. Moon ASAP and claim you were a massive Bassett hound or something. One taste of spilled tequila on the floor, and the hilarious, horrifed expression and wrinkled muzzle, put Margaritaville forever on the back burner as far as Shiloh was concerned.)

Anyway, we encourage you to threaten your dog in the most inventive ways you can come up with. Even if the dog is oblivious, we promise, you’ll feel much better.

Checking in on Shiloh. July 15, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I have been blessed to have our beloved black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special (that’s just Shiloh to you), for four years now. Shiloh’s name is “von Shiloh Special” because she’s the granddaughter of Lucas von Shiloh Special, so who could resist? But she is very special to us: beautiful, funny, smart, loving, big, bad (in a comical way), and above all, happy. Seeing her huge smile and lolling tongue is enough to bring someone back from the dead.

Our friend Ben and I had lost two beloved golden retrievers to cancer when I started the search for Shiloh. Just this morning, I read that one in three goldens now loses their life to cancer, and the numbers are expected to rise. OFB has been hoping that one day, we’ll have another of these beautiful, laid-back, joyful dogs. But having seen our two beloved friends suffer, I told him that there’s no way we’re getting another golden unless researchers can break the cancer conundrum; I can’t face that heartbreak again.

Of course, we got Shiloh four years previous to this morning’s revelation. OFB wanted another golden retriever pup then, too. But I was on a mission from God. I loved my goldens, but I’d always wanted a German shepherd. I’d tried to rescue one from a shelter as my first on-my-own dog, but the shelter refused to give her to me because I was single and worked. Better to euthanize the dog than send her to a home where she’d be cherished, apparently! I was and remain incensed about this, but I never forgot my dream of owning a German shepherd.

After our beloved golden Mollycule (that would be the gigantic Hawk’s Haven Molly, aka “the little Mollycule”) died, I went online and searched “German shepherds PA.” I knew the time had come for a female German shepherd; I knew her name would be Shiloh. The question was, where was she?

A few clicks later, I found her. Pioneer German Shepherds, a small family operation near Gettysburg, offered large, calm, family dogs. “Calm” was, of course, a necessary trait, and “family” implied that they would get along with everybody, including our cats and birds. But “large” was also important to me. I like big dogs and, despite their fearsome reputation, most German shepherds are medium-sized dogs. They were originally bred to herd sheep, not cattle, after all. They’re bigger than spaniels, but most are way smaller than rottweilers, sort of the size of Lassie.

Not so for Pioneer’s shepherds. Shiloh’s father weighed in at 135 pounds and looked like a lion; her mother was a respectable 90-something. (And in both cases, this was size, not fat. These are big dogs.) As it happened, Pioneer had two pups left from their latest litter, and had posted photos. I saw the photo of the adorable little black female pup and was lost. I knew she was my Shiloh.

But there was a problem: We couldn’t go down to get her right away, and another couple was coming to look at the two pups first. What if they chose my Shiloh over the other pup? Fortunately, they took the other pup. Shiloh was ours.

I still remember how quiet and calm she was in her carrier all the way back from the Gettysburg area to the Lehigh Valley, a two-hour trip. Her breeder called her a “thinking” pup, enjoying life while discovering everything she could about it. She instantly took to us, to the cats, to the birds, to her toys, to everything. She has given us four years of unmitigated joy.

Shiloh is the greatest. But so are her breeders. Just this morning, Shiloh’s breeders e-mailed to ask how she was. They remembered everything about her while she was with them, the way she loved to swing on the puppy gate, how smart she was. They asked if we could send an update and some photos. And this is four years after we brought her home! How often do you think that happens?!

I’d have said never, and I’d have been wrong. Dog lovers, if you choose a breeder rather than adoption, please choose responsibly. Do your research, trust your instincts, and don’t patronize puppy mills. How wonderful to find a breeder who loves—and continues to love—your dog as much as you do.

‘Til next time,

Silence

How do they know themselves? March 7, 2013

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It’s so easy for humans to recognize themselves as human. We see our families, our fellow humans, every day. We see our own human faces in the mirror. But what about dogs who have never seen a mirror, have been separated from their parents and siblings at 8 weeks old, have been sent to live in a home without other dogs?

This fascinates our friend Ben, especially watching the identification of our current beloved dog, our black German shepherd, Shiloh. It’s not like Shiloh is looking in a mirror or being told “I’m a German shepherd.” Instead, we adopted her as a puppy and she’s grown up with our neighbors’ dogs and the dogs she met in puppy playschool and her training classes. There was not a single other German shepherd in the bunch.

Shiloh loves all the other dogs, though let’s just say that her love isn’t always reciprocated. But apparently, she understood that the other dogs were playmates but ultimately had nothing to do with her. When she met a senior German shepherd, and only then, she became completely submissive.

This wasn’t limited to her, as I saw when we took Shiloh to the vet’s for a checkup. A German shepherd puppy was there for his or her checkup as well. The puppy barked up a storm and attempted to dominate every other dog in the waiting room, despite his diminutive size compared to theirs. But when we brought Shiloh in, this behavior stopped immediately, and the puppy kowtowed to Shiloh, acknowledging her as top dog. We’d seen Shiloh do this herself when, and only when, she encountered a mature German shepherd.

How on earth do they know? Separated from their families two months after their birth, with no mirrors or other aids to show what they look like and what their fellow breed members look like, how can they immediately understand that this dog, out of the millions of dogs, is like them, is connected to them?

Could we humans really recognize each other under similar circumstances? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Interview with the dog. September 16, 2012

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Yesterday, we realized that dogs were being shortchanged on WordPress. (See our post “WordPress: What’s hot” for details.) So today, our friend Ben is interviewing our beloved black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special (that’s just Shiloh to you) to give a little equal time.

Our friend Ben: So, Shiloh, what do dogs really want?

Shiloh: All you need is love. But lots of treats and toys don’t hurt.

OFB: Democrat or Republican?

Shiloh: Hey, think I want to be strapped to the top of somebody’s car? No way! But what I really like is the idea of riding in the back of a pickup truck with the wind in my fur. Libertarian all the way for me, baby. Don’t tread on me!

OFB: I keep reading that dogs can be vegetarian. Is that true?

Shiloh: Technically, yes. But, like humans, we’re actually omnivores. And since nobody’s asking our opinion on the matter, I’d appreciate it if you kept giving me dogfood that has some meat in it, please. Not to mention that I love actual food like green beans, cheese, bread, radishes, chips, pistachios, sweet potato fries, pizza, and the other stuff you people eat. (Not too big on tomatoes, though.) Would it be too much to ask that you share it with me?!

OFB: If you could be a human, who would you be?

Shiloh: Who’d want to be a human, forced to work like a dog simply to survive? But if I absolutely had to choose a human alter-ego, it would be the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hahn, since they both seem so happy all the time. Happy is definitely the way to be!

Hmmm, there you have it, straight from the dog’s mouth. Shiloh also notes that any treats contributed by readers would be most appreciated!

Let’s be kind to dogs. August 30, 2012

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This past Sunday, August 26, was National Dog Day. Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were up in the Catskills and had a good friend watching over our beloved black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special. But oh, we were so happy to see Shiloh when we returned home, and she was so happy to see us!

Shiloh isn’t like our two previous dogs, who were both golden retrievers. We adored our goldens, and they adored us. But they both thought they were people, and had no dog instincts at all. Shiloh has every shepherding instinct there ever was. She is only happy when everyone she’s watching over is together in a space she can oversee. If it happens that our friend Ben, Silence, any guests who happen to be here, and our cats are all within Shiloh’s view, she’s ecstatic. But if, say, OFB is in the living room watching a mystery on TV and Silence is in her office working on the computer, Shiloh will position herself exactly between us so she can keep an eye on us and make sure we’re both okay. Exactly between us. And she’ll hold that position until we come together.

Unlike most of us, Shiloh knows exactly what her job in life is, and she knows how to do it. OFB and I understand that our job is to make sure she’s able to carry out her job without hindrance from us. We love you, Shiloh!!!

Do you know what your dog’s job is? Do you know how to help him or her achieve it? Do you know how to show your dog how much you love him or her, in a way s/he understands? Please, please try.

        ‘Til next time,

                     Silence

What can we do to save our dogs? May 2, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. I just received an e-mail update from our local paper, the Allentown PA Morning Call, with the pitiful headline “Bone cancer claims Allentown police dog ‘Sem’.” The first sentence: “[The] Allentown Police Department hoped its police dog Sem would officially retire during its annual commendations ceremony on May 16, but the German Shepherd’s health quickly deteriorated after being diagnosed last week with with bone cancer…” Sem was ten years old.

In an unrelated story, I read just this morning that cancer is the #1 disease-related killer of dogs. Our friend Ben and I don’t need convincing. Our first golden retriever, Annie, died a slow, agonizing death of bone cancer at just 2 1/2; our second, our beloved Molly, died of liver cancer, like Sem at age ten. Not a day goes by that I don’t look at our adored black German shepherd, Shiloh, just turned three, and pray that she isn’t also a victim of this dreadful fate. No dog—no person, no creature—should have to suffer as our Annie and Molly suffered.

Cancer is the terror of our times. Preeminent oncologist Dr. David Agus in his groundbreaking book The End of Illness points out that, of all major diseases, the only one whose death rate has held steady over the past 50 years is cancer. His graph shows precipitous drops in death from heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and every other major illness; the death rate from cancer is a straight line.

Dr. Agus’s prediction about how many of us will be stricken with cancer at some point during our lives is terrifying. I know that, as a woman, I live in constant terror of developing breast cancer. Relatives have been diagnosed with stomach, liver, colon, lung, and pancreatic cancer, melanoma, leukemia, and lymphoma.

As far as I can tell, treatments are barbaric, debilitating, and ineffective, only postponing death (often for a very short time) at the price of all quality of life. (This is not true in the case of a contained tumor that can simply be surgically removed without radiation or chemo. These lucky folks quickly regain vitality and quality of life, and often, like my Grandma, live full, long lives after their surgery.) 

I constantly read reports of how this is all our fault: Our horrific diets and sedentary but high-stress lifestyles are responsible for our cancer. Sorry, but I’m not buying it. As far as I can see, in dogs as in people, cancer turns a blind eye toward lifestyle, exercise, personality, and diet. Our Molly was a happy-go-lucky, stress-free dog with an active lifestyle and zero junk in her diet. Annie was a quiet, mellow dog who’d been given the best high-quality care all her life. I put the blame for cancer squarely where it belongs: on the corporations and agribusinesses who are spewing toxic chemicals all over us and our world.

It’s not us, but the good folks who’ve polluted our air, food, homes, and water that are killing us and our pets. The folks who build nuclear plants, cellphone towers, and electric lines near our homes. The folks who spend millions to put chemical “air fresheners” and industrial-strength chemical cleaners in our cars, schools, and houses. The folks who spray their fields (and our food) with tons of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, and convince us with beaucoup publicity dollars to do the same to our lawns and gardens. The folks who successfully market atrocities like Lucky Charms snack bars, Pop-Tarts, and KooKies cereal.

The ultimate horror is that, whatever we do, we can’t escape our toxic environment, and neither can our dogs. We can eat the most wholesome organic diet, drink the most pure spring water, and live the healthiest lifestyle possible, but we cannot avoid the toxic pollution that we breathe and bathe in and that surrounds us at work and, too often, at home, thanks to our modern building materials. (And not just modern, either: Remember lead paint, asbestos shingles, lead pipes, and coal stoves.) 

At least we can try to minimize our exposure, to live healthy lives, to eat healthy diets. And at least we can read up on the risks and make our own choices about how to counter them, giving us some sense of empowerment. Our poor dogs simply get sick. We try to give them good, healthy, loving lives. We try to do everything we can for them once they’re diagnosed. On their part, they try to hide their suffering from us as best they can to spare our suffering. (This is doubtless why a highly disciplined police dog like Sem was able to hide his bone cancer until a week before he died.) 

I have read that doctors, given a choice, overwhelmingly choose quality of life over radiation and chemotherapy when they themselves are diagnosed with cancer. They know how pointless the suffering caused by both treatments ultimately is. They opt for living however much life is left to them to the fullest rather than suffering endless, and ultimately pointless, agony. I honor them for that choice and wish they’d pass it on to the public rather than continuing to dose everyone with ineffective poisons because we’ve come to expect that doctors can cure us of everything, statistics to the contrary. 

It takes great bravery to face up to a cancer diagnosis. I’m a coward, and can’t even imagine how I’d react. But I’ve never seen such bravery, selflessness, and courage as I did when our Annie and Molly faced their final battles. All their thoughts were on us, on shielding us from their suffering, on sparing us from suffering. I have never before or since encountered such greatness of mind and heart.

I’m no activist, but I would rip my own heart out and eat it if it meant that not one other animal ever died of cancer. That not one pet, not one person, was attacked by cancer, the ultimate betrayal: the body turning against itself, literally consuming itself.

And believe me, I would love to see the executives of the Monsantos and the factory-farm-friendly McDonalds and the nuclear plants of this world be forced to consume the deadly products they create, to breathe them, to drink them, in memory of my Molly, my Annie, my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles and cousins and nieces and nephews. In memory of Sem.

What can we do to save our dogs?

             ‘Til next time,

                            Silence