By Bill Stork, DVM
I called In Herriot’s Shadow “a two-hundred sixty-four-page assault on the notion that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Which is not to say that we don’t make them; it’s human nature.
In the process of getting to know new clients, I’ll glance at the parking lot. For a young mother being dragged by a new Lab puppy, hooking a car seat in the crook of her right arm, with wet wipes and a Cheerio’s dispenser falling out the sliding door of the Grand Caravan, I’ll pick up the pace of the conversation. We’ll save the recommendation of purple, glittery Soft Paws for the second visit with a good ol’ boy in an F-250 and a gun rack, with an eight-week-old kitten nestled in the breast pocket of his bib overalls.
We ask place of employment or profession on our registration form. It helps us make better conversation during tough blood draws, tenacious anal gland expressions, and waiting for lab results. Not to mention, people do fascinating things. We’ve met folks who help orchestrate the extraction of core ice samples from a hundred-fifty miles below Antarctica, and actuarial scientists. It also helps us relate. I felt like a circus clown at a Catholic funeral when I launched the rock-in-the-stream analogy to explain a brand-new heart murmur in Tom Kreje’s eleven year old retriever. Tom raised his hand just above the table, creased his brow, and winced. He is a Professor of Anesthesiology at Northwestern University School of Medicine.
In 2017, we avoid the most subtle hint of profiling. But in an effort to deliver the most appropriate information to our clients, we’ll take a look at their cars, clothes, family configuration, and the make and model of their pets.
Still, there are conversations that you simply do not expect to have with certain clients.
Before walking into Exam Room One with Ilene Isthmus and her daughter Abby, you tuck in your shirt and lint roll your khakis. You’d as likely expect her Volvo hybrid SUV to be parked at Whole Foods or Dragonfly Hot Yoga studio in Madison. The tone is set when six year-old Abby asks if I prefer the low dose dexamethasone suppression test or urine cortisol to creatinine as a screening test for Cushing’s disease. I feared they had been waiting too long: she’d been skimming from the January edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association she’d picked up off the counter. Her eight month-old Anatolian Shepherd, Bernie, looked as if he’d just been called out at Westminster. His paws never left the floor when I slid open the pocket door. He promptly parked his hinder on the linoleum at my thought of “sit.”
The chances of finding an abnormality during my physical exam of this magnificent animal in the hands of the Isthmus’ seemed as likely as Rob Larson with a Bud Light. Maybe I could find a fleck of pigment in his iris, or a spot of dirt in the vertical canal of his ear. I asked anyway, “So Ilene, any lumps, bumps, lameness, coughing, vomiting, head shaking, or accidents in the house?”
I checked the boxes on our physical exam sheet ahead of her answers.
I’d have to go back and circle abnormal, at system 6: gastrointestinal.
“Oh no, none of that,” she responded. “His only abnormality is he will not stop eating his poop.”
I take pride in my ability to not respond. I may have let the team down.
My pat response when faced with a coprophagic puppy is to try and lighten things up with a response to the effect, “Well, Ilene, this starts a most absurd conversation on how to make your dog’s poop less appealing.”
Ilene’s body position and conspicuous lack of expression suggested I save the attempts at the corn-ball comedy and throw the full resources of the Lake Mills Veterinary Clinic at this situation.
In order to address the topic of coprophagy in a comprehensive fashion requires a tectonic paradigm shift.
Dog poop is on the receiving end of more jokes than a hundred-dollar lawyer in a polyester suit. It is the standard metaphor for underachievement: “We played like ___, the high-school cafeteria’s tuna casserole tastes like ___, when I had the flu I felt like ___, he looks like ___…”
Bernie Isthmus, my dog Tugger, and at least sixteen percent of all dogs think differently. To our dogs, a steaming pile (yes, they prefer fresh) is better than unlimited trips to the Sunday Buffet at Ponderosa.
A skilled sommelier can describe the most intricate nuances of a 1999 Chateauneuf de Pape, “While produced in a diverse array of styles, the rebound reds share the common characteristics of fresh red and black cherries, strawberries, kirsch, black pepper, black raspberry, spice, earth and herb. Literally translated, Castle of the Pope, this French masterpiece is heavy in the nose, with a silky mouth-feel and a most satiating finish.” (whatever kirsch is)
A dog’s olfactory sense is at least a hundred times more sensitive than our six senses combined. Howling like Big Momma Thornton, a Beagle or a Bloodhound can follow a week-old rabbit or coyote track through the snow, while running twenty miles an hour. One whiff of a steaming pile of yesterday’s Fromm’s and they can tell you the breed and birthday of the chicken, and what state the wheat was grown in.
We know this from Chewy. In a recent visit I was stopped short by a hyper-polite client as I offered his dog a freeze-dried turkey heart. “Please don’t,” he asked. As it turns out, twelve hours after Sampson eats freeze-dried treats, his other dog, Chewy, gets obsessed like hungover college students after chicken Kiev.
The onset of coprophagy in an adult dog is serious medicine. It can be a sign of Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome, hypo-thyroidism, intestinal parasites, Vitamin B-12 deficiency, mal-absorption syndrome, and mal-nutrition. Best medicine is to perform a CBC, chemistry panel, TLI, PLI, folate, cobalamin, intestinal biopsies, and an MRI.
In young, healthy dogs in excellent body condition, on good diets, with normal stools, poop is a delicacy. Theories vary as to how the behavior starts. Some speculate it is an attempt at cleanliness, an imitation of their mother at birth, or territorial behavior. Like many behaviors, it can be inadvertently perpetuated by appropriately-dramatic owners: “GOOD GOD GUS PUT DOWN THAT PILE OF POOP!”
So, what is a dog-owner to do?
The “absurd conversation” alluded to above is the “aversion approach.” It makes for lively exam room conversation, we’re obligated to include it, and it almost never works. First, you have to identify the dog who’s producing the doo-doo that is being dined on by your dog. Then you have to feed that dog a substrate that will render their stool less appetizing to your dog.
“Hello, Mrs. Nelson, sorry to interrupt In the middle of your book club, but I was wondering if you might feed this bag of peppermints to your dog Roger over the next couple of weeks, as Tugger has developed a taste for his poop.”
Other popular recommendations include pineapple, and a grey, commercially available powder called Forbid.
Then, there is the “topical treatment approach.”
Fearing that she was losing her tenuous grip on sanity, Ilene did not want her neighbors to become suspicious of her yard activity. After dark, she donned her PETZL LED headlamp and went on a scavenger hunt with an industrial-sized can of Red Pepper Flakes.
A continuation of the aversion by fire approach is to treat the piles with hot sauce. Deep in the bowels of The Veterinary Information Network database there may be considerably more detailed, breed-specific recommendations, e.g., Cholula for the Chihuahuas, Tabasco for the Catahoulas, and Sriracha for the Chows and Chins.
Desperate clients call on old-school wisdom: “Put it in a bag and tie it around their neck for a few days, that’ll fix ‘em.” (It won’t, it’s gross, and you could create severe behavior issues, so, just don’t.)
At the Lake Mills Veterinary Clinic, puppy visits are scheduled for forty to sixty minutes. The first part of the conversation usually revolves around crate and house training, and then we discuss socialization in detail. From our side of the table, we hear well-intentioned clients opine as to why their adult dogs are so shy: “I think he was beaten… by a man.”
While I don’t believe there are a lot of men going out on Saturdays abusing dogs, there are many puppies who just don’t get to meet a lot of people early on. In order to avoid such under-socialization we (I) advise folks to invite over your biggest, loudest, hairiest, scariest, most obnoxious friend, and have them feed your dog treats. The camo crew with pointer puppies will start shooting pellet guns and .22s so their hunting dogs aren’t afraid of shotguns and thunderstorms.
Research says that around sixteen percent of puppies eat poop. Club Coprophagy is a fraternity no owner wants to join. We have every reason to assume this statistic is under-reported. Anonymous support groups come to mind: “Hello, my name is Fletcher, I’ve been eating poop since I was a pup.”
Should we add coprophagy counter-conditioning to the initial puppy visit? In doing so, we’d surely have to push every puppy visit to at least seventy minutes, a day-and-a-half if Mittsy is involved. If it is in the best interest of our clents and patients, we’re happy to do that, but business is business. We’d have to find a way to market that service. Since her arrival nine years ago, our staff behaviourist, Mittsy Voiles, has been helping to guide us in making veterinary visits as stress-free as possible. The industry is now catching up. Fear Free has now become an official designation for veterinary clinics, complete with a governing body to insure compliance. Not unlike the Chili Appreciation Society International which oversees global quality control over Texas Chili.
After an exhaustive literature search (I Googled it), I was unable to find any such governing body to ensure proper dissemination of information having to do with Canine Coprophagy Aversion.
Should the Lake Mills Veterinary Clinic blaze the trail?
There will be questions. How will this be embraced by social media? We’ve always enjoyed a collegial relationship with our neighboring practices. Will being designated the county’s only CCA clinic create an unfair competitive advantage, or would we absorb the hard-core addiction cases others would be happy to turf? Would we need to bring more trained staff on board and expand our facility? After all, we do not wish to compromise our mission to provide comprehensive and complete care.
You gotta look before you leap, lest we risk the fate of Harley Jackson and Bill VanAlstine. In The Jesus Cow by Michael Perry, Harley had a calf born on Christmas Eve with the likeness of the savior on his side. In an attempt to fend off developers and debtors, and market his fortune, he nearly burned down his home town.
Highlighting the ludicrousness of a decade when bell bottoms and disco were in fashion, pet skunks were popular in the ‘70s. In order to discourage the business, my mentor Doc V charged $750 to de-scent a client’s Pepe Le Pew. In doing so, he instantly became the de-facto skunk guru of Macon County, Illinois.
We’ve established that (excepting mal-nourished and adult dogs with serious GI issues), CC seldom has a medical basis, and the antiquated, inhumane, and worthless “rub their noses in it” approach may actually encourage the behavior.
So, seriously, what is an owner to do, and how do we blame this on Donald Trump?
At the risk of being obvious, it’s all about opportunity, cleanliness, and timing. Some might employ 8th grade graphing paper overlying a map of the back yard. An enterprising millennial tech geek might build an app to track of how much, how often, where, and when Peter poops, and pick it up. Assuming you’ve also established a reliable recall and high value treats (that’s right, higher value), then the instant she squeezes it off, call her to your side, make her sit, and pop her a treat. Do your best to establish association and reward.
To every dilemma, there are multiple approaches. Squarely under the heading of do as I say, not as I do, there is the Dr. Stork and Tugger approach: “embrace it.”
By way of defense, or explanation, Tug is a Catahoula Leopard Dog crossed with a camouflaged jacket.
Sheila and I live on a seven-acre wildlife swamp. In any given day you can find evidence of deer, cats, racoons, possum, and ground hog. And of course, the pièce de résistance… frozen horse poop. He loves to run the farm while Sheila and I do chores.
Tugger is also very social.
If he hears the neighbors laughing or the chickens cackling, he’ll disappear like the friend that owes you twenty. We’ve come to know our neighbors by way of Tug, and brewed a few pots of chili as peace offerings to compensate for Tug’s impromptu culling of their aging flock of layers.
We’ve re-purposed one of Calvin’s old head lamps with a flashing red light, hooked to his collar, to increase our odds of marking the ghost. There is a cadence. You feed grain, check for Tug. Feed hay, locate Tug. Drag the hose to the water tank… you have to keep an eye on him at all times.
That is, unless he’s locked on to a pile of scat.