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Teaching this dog owner new tricks

A query on how to get the columnist's adopted husky mix to take medication brings hundreds of responses from others with canine companions.

January 18, 2011|Hector Tobar

How many ways are there to give a dog a pill?

Many more than I ever imagined.

Earlier this month, I recounted my adventures in adopting a beautiful husky mix from the San Gabriel Valley Humane Society days after the shelter's roof collapsed.

My new dog was very sick. So I asked for advice on how to get her to swallow pills.

I didn't know it then, but by asking that question I was inviting myself into the great family of dog owners.

"Have you tried peanut butter?" asked Cathy Weselby, the proud owner of an Australian shepherd-lab mix. "Or really smelly cheese like blue cheese that can overpower the smell of the pills?"

Hers was one of the 700 responses I got — via e-mail, telephone and the U.S. mail. Never before had anything I'd written in these pages provoked such an outpouring — not my columns on the peccadilloes of politicos, the hidden history of L.A., or illegal immigration.

Some gave me very specific instructions to use Greenies Pill Pockets, Velveeta cheese, liverwurst, Trader Joe's Meatless Meatballs. Many told me about their dogs' ailments — epilepsy, cancer, herniated discs — and about nursing their companions back to health or saying goodbye to them.

"It seemed a moment of serendipity that I came across your column today," wrote James Westdorp of South Pasadena. "Today, I laid to rest a pal that I met at the same shelter more than 11 years ago."

Westdorp's dog was Kiko, a Dalmatian who'd suffered from a herniated disc. "She was the young mom left behind after the litter she had in the pound were all adopted out," he wrote.

From Westdorp and other readers, I learned one reason why so many dogs are getting such good treatment in Southern California homes. They're loyal and happy to work their tails off for their owners, for whom they possess an inexhaustible reserve of love.

"They have a tougher time not being around people," Westdorp later told me on the phone. "It's in their genetic code. They're pack animals, and they recognize the family as being the pack."

Kiko was more attached to him than any dog he'd ever owned, Westdorp said. When he wasn't home, she camped out on his bed, waiting for him.

Other readers gave me a sense of the cruelty some dogs suffer on our city's streets.

Greg White of Laguna Beach rescued Dillon, a cocker spaniel mix who'd been left for three days tied to a stop sign in the San Fernando Valley. His second rescue, Okie, a shepherd mix, began to cry uncontrollably on the way home, as if he couldn't quite believe he'd found a family after being rescued from the grim-looking L.A. shelter where he'd been dropped off as a puppy.

"I finally put the classic music station on the radio and he was asleep in five minutes," White wrote. "To make a long story a little shorter, Okie is the best doggie any one family could wish for."

As for the pill problem, White had this suggestion: "Simply take a small amount of butter — not margarine — and wrap the pill inside. Your dog will love taking pills from that day on."

Not so, unfortunately, for Madame Josie. We tried butter, cream cheese, peanut butter, the famous Greenies Pill Pockets. Josie worked all those squishy things into her mouth, quickly located the pill and spit it out.

What finally did work was suggested by a blind San Diego resident who has owned four guide dogs over 26 years.

"All you do is place the pill toward the back of her tongue, firmly hold her mouth closed and rub her throat in a clockwise rotation motion with your other hand," he wrote. "Very quickly, you will feel her swallow as the pill goes down."

My kids saw me holding our dog's mouth open to put the pill in and thought I was being barbaric: "You see, she's afraid of you now!" said one of my sons. But after the second or third time, Josie didn't seem to mind.

She quickly got better, her fever disappeared and she isn't coughing as much now. In general, she seems exceedingly grateful to have become a member of our family. When I'm in the backyard, she circles around me. She's part Siberian husky, and I like to think it's an instinct honed in herding animals in the Arctic.

Unfortunately, she also has the troubling habit of going crazy at the sight of small dogs.

"I could be wrong, but you sound like you might be a new dog owner," wrote Roxanne Burg of Orange County. (Yes, Roxanne.) "Huskies are an energetic breed and need lots of exercise. If you don't provide it, they may provide it themselves, in the house."

So now I'm out taking very long walks while trying to keep Josie from attacking the neighborhood Chihuahuas and dachshunds.

My wife and I are joking that we should have T-shirts made that read, "We don't know anything about dogs," or "Dog training in progress — please bear with us."

hector.tobar@latimes.com

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