DEAR DR. FOX: I am 74 years old; I live alone and have a chronic disease. I have had pets all my life.
About two years ago, I lost my wonderful cat companion of 17 years. I had been unable to pay for veterinary care since I had to retire. The cost of care, food and other related expenses is beyond my reach now.
I have been extremely sad and lonely since I lost my cat. Is there any service out there that can help me? I am physically unable to care for a cat or dog, so I am now considering budgies (parakeets) when I can save up enough money. --E.B., Norman, Oklahoma
DEAR E.B.: I urge you to call your local animal shelter or humane society; if you are mobile, ask them if you can come and be a "socializer" for the animals. Many facilities realize the benefits of having volunteers come and pet, groom and play with amenable animals.
I wonder if any have the funds and staff to take a dog or cat to spend a day or more with people in situations like yours. I would be a win-win for all.
In Tokyo, a Japanese friend tells me there is a dog-for-a-day rental service that he uses for his son, since his apartment is in a "no pets" high-rise!
DEAR DR. FOX: My question is about a dog we had several years ago. She was a private adoption from some friends who could not keep her. She would not stay in any type of confinement -- no kennel of any type. If they tried to confine her, she would escape and always ended up in "doggie jail." Our friends would bail her out, bring her home and do it all over again. They asked us to take her because we lived in a very rural area where she could be free. We provided her with a nice doghouse that she refused to even enter. She preferred to sleep under a bush in our yard.
Is it possible that, like some humans, she couldn't tolerate confined spaces? -- L.W., High Point, North Carolina
DEAR L.W.: This condition of claustrophobia, in my experience, is more prevalent in cats than in dogs. Its origins are surely complex, with genetics, temperament and early socialization (or lack thereof), and traumatic experience all being contributing factors.
I have seen the reverse many years ago in a colony of research beagles used in a government study of long-term effects of radiation exposure. I was called in as a veterinary behavioral consultant to help these poor dogs who had been kept confined in small cages their entire lives. Many of them simply froze into catatonic immobility when given larger indoor-outdoor living quarters.
So the fear factor can work in different ways, depending on an animal's early life experiences. I was able to help most of these research dogs with a resocialization and gradual environmental exposure and enrichment program. Your dog found her own solution and preferred to be semi-feral, possibly feeling more secure under the bush than in an enclosed space wherein she could not flee if alarmed. Most dogs prefer a kennel, crate or cage with the door always open, using the enclosure as a secure "den" in the home or yard.
DEAR DR. FOX: Thank you very much. I doubt that our dog had much socialization before we got her -- her previous family was too busy. We tried, but I guess the damage had been done. Our current dog loves her kennel or our den. She just wants to be where her people pack is, and that's exactly where we want her. -- L.W.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)