From My WindowIssue Date: October 24, 2019
Jane Thibodeau Martin
Last weekend we hosted two old friends from Oklahoma. We got to chatting about stray dogs.
One friend lives close to my old home in Oklahoma, and she experiences the same endless stream of homeless cats and dogs I did. When I informed her that we've now been home in Wisconsin for an entire year and have yet to encounter a stray dog, she was amazed. "Why aren't there stray dogs here?" she asked.
I don't have a complete answer. It is true that the deep south and southwestern states have much worse unwanted pet problems than most northern states. Part of it is cultural " in the south, fewer spay/neuter their animals. Part of it is that more people there let animals roam; but here there is usually an expectation of accountability. If you let your animals roam in Wisconsin and they create issues for your neighbors, you will likely hear about it. And our municipalities have the resources and assets to pick up straying animals. Some Wisconsin communities still resort to euthanizing after hold periods, but many have aggressive adoption and foster programs, unlike our neighbors to the south.
These are generalizations, of course, and Wisconsin still has horrific cases of neglect, abuse, hoarding and puppy mills. But in general, things are much better for animals here. Thanks Wisconsinites, for being pretty responsible in caring for your dogs and cats.
So it is ironic that just days after my guests departed, I was driving home and encountered a big hound, running down the center of a highway chasing a pickup and barking his head off.
My first fear was that the dog had just been dropped off. I pulled off the highway and called it over with my car door open, and to my relief he hopped right in, allowing me to close the door before the next wave of traffic began whizzing by us. I was afraid if I left him he'd get hit or cause an accident. The huge dog had two collars on and he totally filled my backseat. In just a minute or two he laid down and panted the rest of the way home. He had the long legs of a distance hunter; long soft ears and a voice like a foghorn.
I always keep incoming strays separate from my own pets. You can't be sure they'd get along; or that the newcomer doesn't have a communicable illness/disease or parasites like fleas or worms. So he was tucked into our big dog's crate in our barn with food and water, thanks to my husband's helpful assistance. His booming voice carried easily into the house; our dogs were completely obsessed with the racket. Unfortunately he had no tags; and we didn't know if the electronic device on one collar was a tracking device or a shock collar. The good news is he was clean and well-fed; obviously someone's bear or raccoon hunting dog, very likely a purebred Plott hound. Someone would be looking for him, I just had to find his people.
First I turned to our local humane society. I sent them a picture and information to post on their web site. Next was Lost Dogs of Wisconsin, with similar information; and my own Facebook page.
Next I made up some flyers, and drove back to the town nearest my pickup point to post them at the grocery store, on some posts near where I found him and at the two most popular local bars.
When I went into the country bar closest to where I found him it was early Thursday afternoon, and about ten men were at the bar. I asked the bartender if I could post my flyer and got her permission, but when I uttered the words "hunting dog," most of the bar patrons, who were previously ignoring me, got quite interested. My guess is if I had said, "picked up a lost Malti-poo," there would have been a studied lack of engagement, but a hunting dog is a different thing entirely. A couple of them snapped pictures of the flyer to send to friends who hunt, and one young man studied the dog's picture and said "This is a hard-core hunter's dog. He'll have a microchip."
Now my paradigm would have been that hunting dogs are kept outside in kennels, are not really pets, and therefore would not have microchips; so this bit of education was helpful. I had plans to take him for a microchip scan the next morning; but now I went back home and got the dog, who was baying up a storm in the barn, and drove him to my vet's office. He howled with excitement in my little car, especially when he saw pickup trucks, the entire 22 minute trip, with his big snout mere inches from my ear. Pedestrians turned in wonder when I paused at stop lights in town, with this huge black beast almost shaking my windows with his ruckus. I love animals, but after the first ten minutes I was praying the dog was chipped because I was afraid I'd have hearing damage if we had to keep him very long.
Luckily I had put a sturdy training chain collar on him, because in the crowded tiny vet's waiting room, crammed with people and other dogs, it was like all-star wrestling for me to keep the big, powerful dog in containment. I felt compelled to announce "he's not my dog," several times, as people edged away. The office staff was quick to get the scan done, probably to get me out of there as quickly as possible.
A "beep" announced the glad tidings that the dog was chipped " and when the chip was read, the receptionist said "Oh, my, that's one of our client's dogs! That's Captain America!" Several people clapped at this good news, but no one was happier than me. And I have to say that I found his name totally charming. He may not be a pet; but if your dog is just a tool for hunting, you probably call him Joe or Frank, not "Captain America."
Captain America went from running on the highway at 11:30 a.m. several miles from his home, to back home again by 4:30 p.m., because he had a microchip. Perhaps it would have been sooner if he had a tag, but he got where he needed to be safely because his owner could be identified. The owners were deeply grateful, and I told them the only thanks I needed were for them to "pay it forward" if they ever saw an animal that needed help. I was only doing for them what I'd want someone to do for me if it were my cat, dog or horse that needed help.
So while I finally encountered my first Wisconsin stray dog, this story has a happy ending because Captain America's owners did the responsible thing and chipped him. The average cost for a chip is $45; but some animal organizations and big pet supply retailers have events where I have seen prices as low as $10 per animal. There are no ongoing fees; you just need to keep the address and phone number current in the company's database. The chip is tiny, inserted with a syringe, and complications are nearly unheard of. Collars can be lost, not on the dog when it strays, or be removed by a finder who chooses to keep a pet; a chip is permanent identification. Nearly any shelter or vet can check for a chip if you find a pet; there is no charge for this service.
Captain America, for his thank you, gave me a big, slobbery kiss when I hugged him goodbye. Now all I have to do is clean up the mess in my back seat and wash my car windows.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.
Recent stories, opinions and photos