Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Rise Up

How an abandoned pit bull went from desertion and starvation to a forever home

Dr. Marty Becker

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Last August, my wife, Teresa, and I were in Louisiana, volunteering at a shelter animal clinic. Before heading there, Teresa and I agreed not to adopt any pets that day. We even shook on it.

You probably know where this is going.

Along with a team of veterinarians and veterinary nurses and a scrum of veterinary and pre-vet students, we methodically but tenderly examined 300 dogs, drawing blood for heartworm checks, giving dewormer for internal parasites and products for external parasites, and implanting microchips. Throughout, we focused on each dog’s physical and emotional well-being, guided by our Fear Free philosophy.

Then Relic staggered in. The adult male pit bull was the thinnest dog I’ve ever seen in 39 years of practice. He was covered in fleas, ticks and lice, and inhabited internally by roundworms, whipworms, hookworms, tapeworms and heartworms.

Then he did something special. I had drawn a smiley face with aerosol cheese on the palm of my left hand. Relic walked over slowly and started licking it out of my hand. His tail wagged so hard, it made him unstable. I’d never seen a dog fall over from being happy.

I looked down at Relic and up at Teresa. In unison, we said, “We’ll adopt him.”

Relic had been abandoned in a decrepit house. When the landlord found him, he thought the fly-covered unresponsive dog was dead and called animal control to come get the body. When they discovered Relic was still alive, they rushed him to Bellevue Veterinary Clinic in Opelousas, Louisiana. The dog weighed only 19 pounds and was near death, but Dr. Kevin Fuselier gave him a chance, and he slowly began to recover.

When we spoke with him, Dr. Fuselier said Relic (now called Lazaruff for his rise from the dead) had only a 33% chance of survival.

Lazaruff made it. But we weren’t able to adopt him. The veterinary behaviorists who evaluated him recommended that he go to a home where he would be the only dog and where someone would be home with him most of the time. Lazaruff had separation anxiety, and he was happiest lying next to somebody with his big “meat head” on their lap.

The right home hadn’t come along, so last month, when Teresa and I were in New Orleans for Animal Care Expo, we decided to drive him back home with us to see if the right family was in northern Idaho, where we live.

During that weeklong road trip, his light shone bright. He never got carsick, never barked, never soiled his crate. He went from having to be lifted into his crate to jumping into it in the back of the SUV. We made “pit stops” at shelters along the way, spreading our message of emotional well-being and enrichment.

Then the miracle happened: Our friends at Panhandle Animal Shelter in Sandpoint, Idaho, connected us with Breanna Franck and her husband, Terry, who owned their own home, had no other pets, worked opposite schedules so somebody would be home most of the time and, most important, loved dogs.

Lazaruff walked over to Breanna, she knelt down and he washed her face with one lick of his dishrag-size tongue. He went into their arms, into their vehicle and into their hearts.

Teresa and I have stayed in close contact with them, and Lazaruff continues to fall over from being happy. But now it’s not because he’s too weak to stand. It’s because he’s waiting to get his belly rubbed.


Prevent early-morning

feline food demands

Q: We took in a neighborhood cat. We love him, but he wakes us up at 3 a.m. every day wanting to be fed. Help! We need our sleep.

A: Cats are wonderful, but they have some innate body clock differences that can sometimes make them a challenge as housemates.

Cats are what we call crepuscular, a fancy way of saying that they’re most likely to be active at dawn and dusk. It sounds like your cat doesn’t even wait until dawn to do his hunting -- i.e., demand that you feed him. And you’re not alone; this is a common problem for many cat lovers.

The good news is that pet experts and manufacturers are making great efforts to provide cats with toys and other ways to get food that don’t involve waking up their people at the crack of dawn, let alone earlier.

A cat’s normal hunting behavior involves multiple forays for prey daily, not all of which are successful. Simply setting down a bowl of food twice a day doesn’t present a cat with any challenge to brain or body. But puzzle feeders allow you to mimic a cat’s natural feeding behavior, from the hunt to the satisfaction of eating.

Whether you feed canned or dry food, you can find a puzzle toy that works with it. Experts at recommend buying or making an assortment of food puzzles so you can continually challenge your cat’s hunting skills. Fill them with your cat’s normal amount of food for the day, and hide them around the house so your cat can use his nose and other senses to find food without gobbling it all up at once and then demanding more from you at 0-dark-30.

For more information about food puzzles, both homemade and commercial, check out -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to or visit


Tennessee names

bluetick state dog

-- The bluetick coonhound, the University of Tennessee’s mascot, is now the state dog, thanks to unanimous votes in Tennessee’s House and Senate and Gov. Bill Lee’s signature making it official. The personable hounds take their name from their blotchy dark blue coat with black spots on the back, ears and sides. The people-loving dogs are often seen riding shotgun in pickup trucks and can be good friends for kids old enough to stand up to rambunctious play. Expect to give the medium-size (45 to 80 pounds) bluetick long walks and hikes and plenty of sniffing time. Drawbacks: The coat has a distinctive musty scent, and the bluetick is famous for a “big bawl mouth” -- in other words, he’s loud.

-- More than a dozen authors will be signing their books on animal care and health, breeds, science and mystery fiction, adventure, fantasy, memoirs and more at the 2019 Cat Writers’ Association 25th anniversary conference. The book signing and fundraising event, open to the public, benefits the Humane Society of Missouri (HSMO) and takes place at Drury Plaza Hotel at the Arch, St. Louis on Friday, May 17, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the West ballroom, located on the lobby level.

-- Sometimes it seems as if certain dogs ought to be able to put the initials M.D. after their names. Besides the ability to sniff out certain types of cancer or recognize the odor indicating that a person’s blood sugar is too high, dogs have now been trained to indicate the presence of malaria infections. Tested in an area of West Africa where malaria is endemic, the dogs successfully identified the distinctive odor of the disease 70% of the time by sniffing clothing worn by people with malaria infections. They recognized uninfected people 90% of the time. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.