Life Lessons I Learned From My Cat

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Hi everyone —

Sorry it’s been so long since my last post. Unfortunately it has been a hectic — and frankly extremely sad — few weeks here at In Brief Legal Writing Services. As many of you already know, our mascot, Eli “The Cat” Bogdanovic, passed away a week ago at age 13.

He was fine when I got back from London — or at least he seemed fine. But during the first week of June we noticed he no longer wanted any kibble, which was highly unusual. Gradually he lost interest in his food altogether, but was still drinking. After a harrowing weekend, I took him to the veterinarian on Monday, June 10.

Eli the cat.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot, Eli the cat. 1/1/06 – 6/17/19

To make a long story short, his initial assessment showed evidence of significant dental issues and alarmingly elevated kidney values. He was hospitalized for four days and I visited him twice during that time. We brought him home on Friday, June 14 and he seemed to be doing well. But the next morning, he made it clear that he no longer wanted any medical intervention, even here at home.

So we made the incredibly difficult decision to let him leave us on his terms here at home, with us, where he knew he was loved. And that’s exactly what he did.

Life won’t be the same without him.

He was more than a mascot for my business. He was my best friend. He never let met down. He was a great listener. In fact, he was my officially unofficial “therapy cat.” He was a great teacher. I learned so much from him. I learned:

  1. Don’t give up on people, no matter how many times you’ve been betrayed or how badly they let you down.
  2. Once you do find someone you can trust completely, you’ll realize everything else was worth it.
  3. A true friend will always stand up for you no matter what.
  4. Live life on your own terms.
  5. When all else fails, turn on the charm.
  6. Sometimes, silence speaks volumes.
  7. Loyalty is one of the most precious commodities on earth.
  8. Those that you love most fiercely are the ones who need it most.
  9. If you get a second chance at anything, make the most of it.
  10. Life is wonderful, but it is incredibly unpredictable and incredibly short, so make the most of every day.

Alexandra Bogdanovic is a paralegal and the owner/founder of In Brief Legal Writing Services. She is also an award-winning author and journalist whose interests include animal welfare and animal law. All opinions expressed in this forum are her own. Any information pertaining to legal matters is intended solely for general audiences and should not be regarded as legal advice.

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The Importance of Working Hard — And Playing Harder: A London Photo Essay

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It’s been almost four years since I officially started In Brief Legal Writing Services. And in all that time, I didn’t have any meaningful time off. Until last week. I went to London for a week, and I had a blast. Since you couldn’t come with me, I figured I’d share some of my favorite photos so you can live vicariously through me… You’re welcome!

View From The London Eye. Photo By Alexandra Bogdanovic
Peek-a-Boo View of the Thames. Photo By Alexandra Bogdanovic
Signs of the Times. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
This is for the birds. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Big Ben. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Shoreditch Street Art. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
As Seen on Brick Lane. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

 

 

The Cost Of Responsible Pet Ownership

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Lots of people love animals. But sometimes love is not enough.

Sometimes, a long distance (or even international) move forces owners to rehome or surrender their pets to local shelters. Sometimes old age or catastrophic illness prevents an owner from continuing to care for their pet. Sometimes a pet is surrendered because of a shift in family dynamics (such as a birth). And sometimes, the owner realizes that they can simply no longer afford to provide for their pet.

dog parade, puttin on the dog, 2018
An Adopt-A-Dog volunteer with a dog available for adoption. Puttin’ On The Dog, 2018. Photo by A. Bogdanovic

In  fact, cost  reportedly ranks among the top five reasons for pet relinquishment. And frankly, that’s just not right.

Part of being a responsible pet owner — and I do stress responsible pet owner — is being fully informed before you buy or adopt a pet. That means you should know how much it will cost to buy or adopt and provide ongoing care for your pet before you get one. And you need to be honest with yourself about whether you can afford to have a pet before you get one.

That being stated, here is some general information about the costs associated with pet ownership.

  • Initial Cost: Adoption fees (which sometimes include the cost of spay/neuter procedures) will typically be approximately $100. If you are buying a pet from a pet shop or directly from a breeder, expect to pay several times that amount. Conservatively, plan on spending at least $400  to $500 for the acquisition of your pet.
  • Accessories: Brushes, food bowls, toys, litter boxes, leashes, collars, scratching posts… They’re all essential and costs can add up quickly. Budget at least $125 to $140 to cover these costs, depending on whether you get a dog or cat.
  • Preliminary vet check: Whether you adopt or buy your pet, one of the first things you should do is take your new pet to the vet for a thorough checkup. Some shelters or rescues will have arrangements with local veterinarians who will do these exams for a small fee. Plan on spending $50, for the exam and put an additional $200 or so aside for a spay/neuter if Fluffy or Fido hasn’t been “fixed.”
  • Ongoing expenses: Again, food, treats, and toys top the list of pet supplies that have to be replenished on a regular basis. Of course you should budget for these based on your pet’s unique needs. A general estimate is $150 to $200 or more per year for dogs, and $200 per year for cats.
  • Medical expenses: Let’s not sugar coat it. Veterinary care is expensive. Even “healthy” dogs and cats need routine shots and other preventive care. Budget at least $350 to $450 for annual check-ups and related matters, exclusive of emergency medical care.
  • Unexpected costs: Of course, there’s no way to budget for unanticipated events. But if you can, try to set some money aside for emergency veterinary care (for illness or injury). You should also consider health insurance for your pet, since even routine care (like teeth cleaning and lab work) tends to be expensive.
  • Additional considerations: Do you travel a lot? Even if you only leave home occasionally, you’ll need someone to look after your pet. In a perfect world, you’ll be able to count on a friend or family member. But if that’s not possible, you’ll have to get a professional pet sitter, or leave Fluffy or Fido at a kennel or cattery. In any case, it may be costly, so you should plan accordingly.

Speaking as a pet owner, I know exactly how expensive having a cat can be. I also know it’s worth it.


Alexandra Bogdanovic is a paralegal and the owner/founder of In Brief Legal Writing Services. She is also an award-winning author and journalist whose interests include animal welfare and animal law. All opinions expressed in this forum are her own. Any information pertaining to legal matters is intended solely for general audiences and should not be regarded as legal advice.

Staggering Allegations Made Against CT Veterinarian

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In the United States of America, all new veterinarians take the following oath:

“Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.

I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.

I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.”

But apparently some of them don’t take it seriously.

According to a recent news report, Dr. Amr Wasfi, a Bridgeport, Connecticut, veterinarian, was supposed to appear in court on Wednesday. He is facing animal cruelty and third-degree larceny charges based on his “treatment” of a dog named Monster.

The accusations are detailed in an arrest warrant and shared on an NBC affiliate’s website. As set forth in the warrant, Monster’s owner took him to the vet when he noticed Monster limping. That was on February 14, and the initial diagnosis was a sprained knee. Apparently, Wasfi prescribed some pain medicine and sent the dog home.

But when Monster hadn’t improved a week later, his owner brought him back to Black Rock Animal Hospital, where Wasfi again assessed the dog’s condition. This time, the diagnosis was a fractured pelvis. Monster’s owner learned that surgical intervention would be required, and Monster would have to stay at the hospital for five days (until March 7).

A stunning revelation

As NBC’s Connecticut affiliate reports, Monster’s owner told the authorities he contacted the vet that day, only to be told his dog couldn’t come home — yet. Instead, he was allegedly told, Monster had to “stay a few more days for monitoring.” Apparently, Monster’s repeated requests to see his dog after that were denied.  According to the warrant, he finally contacted Animal Control and retrieved Monster on March 25.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

According to the warrant, Monster’s owner then discovered that his dog, who 63 pounds prior to his stay at Black Rock Animal Hospital, had lost 17 pounds.

Monster’s owner then took him to the Emergency Room at Central Hospital for Veterinary Medicine. That’s when he learned that Monster never had a fracture and he never needed operation, which included putting a screw in Monster’s pelvis. One of the veterinarians that treated Monster at Central Hospital For Veterinary Medicine also told police that Monster was being treated for “refeeding syndrome” and dehydration. Police then learned that the treatment is warranted when “an animal is without proper food or water for at least 10 days.”

To make matters even worse, Monster’s owner also told police Wasfi charged him more than $3,000 for Monster’s operation.

An emerging pattern?

As NBC Connecticut also reports, that wasn’t the only complaint lodged against Wasfi. A former Black Rock employee apparently reported that she “witnessed Wasfi hit a kitten that was under anesthesia so hard that the kittens intestines popped out of an incision.” As documented in the warrant, the same complainant  also said that Wasfi was “agitated” and threw surgical tools around the room.”

The warrant also indicates she confided in a co-worker and said she planned to file a complaint. She also told police she planned to resign the next day, but when she showed up for work the employee with whom she shared her concerns greeted her at the door, in gave her a box of her belongings, and informed her she had been fired.

At this point, Wasfi also faces an uncertain fate. In addition to the criminal charges he is currently facing, he will likely face disciplinary action by the Connecticut State Board of Veterinary Medicine.

Sec. 20-202(2) of Chapter 384 of the Connecticut General Statutes specifically states that the board can discipline a licensed veterinarian when there is proof that: “the holder of such license or certificate has become unfit or incompetent or has been guilty of cruelty, unskillfulness or negligence towards animals and birds.”

Sec. 20-202(3) of CGS Chapter 384 also authorizes the board to take disciplinary action based upon: “conviction of the violation of any of the provisions of this chapter by any court of criminal jurisdiction.”

However, the board cannot take any disciplinary action as long as the appeal of such a conviction is pending, or if the conviction is overturned on appeal.


Alexandra Bogdanovic is a paralegal and the owner/founder of In Brief Legal Writing Services. She is also an award-winning author and journalist whose interests include animal welfare and animal law. All opinions expressed in this forum are her own. Any information pertaining to legal matters is intended solely for general audiences and should not be regarded as legal advice.

Exploitation In The Service Dog Industry And The People Who Pay The Price

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This is a story about broken promises, broken dreams and a broken system. This is also a story about a little girl with a broken heart.

As the Associated Press reports, Sobie Cummings was just nine when a psychiatrist suggested that a service dog might help her cope with intense emotional anguish and loneliness.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

Eager to help their little girl, Sobie’s parents agreed. And in the summer of 2017, they thought they finally found the perfect person to provide the perfect dog. That person was Mark Mathis, the then-owner of the Apex, N.C.-based kennel, Ry-Con Service Dogs. He owned a kennel fairly close to home, he is the parent of an autistic child, and he had stellar credentials — or so the Cummings thought.

They believed the claims in the online brochure. At the time, they had no reason not to believe that Mathis was “certified as a NC state approved service dog trainer with a specialty in autism service dogs for children” in 2013, as the brochure stated. And at the time, they had no reason not to believe Mathis when he quickly told them he had “the perfect dog” for their autistic daughter, even though he hadn’t met Sobie.

At the time, they had no way to know that based on her behavior, the dog — a Briard named Okami — never should have been sold to anyone, much less to  a family with a special needs child and two older dogs at home.

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), service dogs must be “handler-focused, desensitized to distractions, and highly trained to do specific tasks. They should not be distracted by the public, as they should focus solely on their owner when working.”

The AKC also notes that safe and successful service dogs must have a specific temperament and abilities. They must be: calm but friendly; alert but not reactive; willing to be touched by anyone, including strangers; be willing to please; have the tendency to follow you around; be socialized to numerous situations and environments*; and have the ability to learn quickly and retain information. (*Emphasis added.)

On a webpage devoted to the breed, the AKC notes that Briards have some of these traits. Specifically, they are “confident, smart and faithful.” Because they are a herding breed, Briards may also have “a protective eye toward family (especially kids, whom they regard as their flock), and wariness with outsiders.”

Although their intelligence and athletic ability allows them to “excel at almost any canine role or sport,” the AKC notes that their independence may make them difficult to train. The AKC also says that socialization “should begin early and continue throughout the Briard’s life.”

But as the Associated Press reports, Okami “pulled at her leash and refused to lie down” while on  “training trips to local stores.” As the AP also reports, Okami “growled and lunged at people and defecated in a hallway” at a mall.

A dream becomes a nightmare

Still, Okami “graduated” in May 2018, and the Cummings bought her for more than $14,000. But when they finally brought her home on Mother’s Day weekend, nearly a year after they first contacted Mathis, their dream became a nightmare.

With no apparent provocation, the Cummings claim, Okami immediately attacked one of the family’s older dogs. And to make matters even worse, they say, Sobie saw the whole thing.

With no other choice, the Cummings sent Okami back to Mathis. And that’s when they made another horrible discovery. Not only were the claims about Mathis’ state certification in North Carolina untrue, but there is no such thing as a  state certification for service dog trainers anywhere in the U.S.

To add insult to injury, Mathis allegedly refused to refund the Cummings’ money, prompting a lawsuit. And then last November, Mathis reportedly notified clients by email that he was closing the kennel because  it was “no longer sustainable.” The next day, the AP reports,  he filed for bankruptcy protection.

North Carolina authorities launched an investigation based on a slew of ensuing complaints. And the allegations are damning. According to state Attorney General Josh Stein, Mathis “falsified medical records and breeder information.” Stein also alleges that Mathis “may have ‘siphoned’ as much as $240,000 of the nonprofit’s money for personal expenses.”

Mathis, a biotech engineer who co-founded Ry-Con Service Dogs with his wife after a service dog helped their autistic son, has emphatically denied the allegations. He also contends that his clients have broken their contracts, fallen behind on payments and misrepresented “conditions in their homes.”

Only time will tell what the future holds for Mathis. In the meantime, all the Cummings can do is try to help their daughter recover from the PTSD she developed after witnessing Okami’s violent attack on their pet.

“Her life is not what it was,” her mother told the AP. “The light’s not back in her eyes yet.”

Apparently, Okami may also be facing an uncertain fate.  According to the AP, Mathis sold her to another family — with a similar outcome. That family has also filed a complaint.

Time to set some boundaries

Although there is a growing demand for service dogs to help people with autism and PTSD, experts say there is little to no meaningful regulation or oversight for the training of such service dogs.  As it now stands, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t even mandate that service dogs are professionally trained.

Until effective rules are implemented, families like the Cummings will be susceptible to incompetence… or worse.

“It is a lawless area. The Wild West,” David Favre, a law professor at Michigan State University and editor of its Animal Legal and Historical Center website, told the AP.

That needs to change.


Alexandra Bogdanovic is a paralegal and the owner/founder of In Brief Legal Writing Services. She is also an award-winning author and journalist whose interests include animal welfare and animal law. All opinions expressed in this forum are her own. Any information pertaining to legal matters is intended solely for general audiences and should not be regarded as legal advice.

No horsing around: Well-Deserved Recognition For CT Rescue

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For this Connecticut rescue group, there’s no such thing as a big problem.

Since 2010, the Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue (CDHR) has been saving horses from certain death. Today, the East Hampton, Connecticut-based organization has dozens of volunteers. It also has a recent commendation from the Connecticut General Assembly for its past and ongoing work.

“We went from very humble roots to what we are today,” founder Stacey Golub told the media.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

The effort began when Golub, a veterinarian, enlisted the help of some friends to save a Shire mare from a Pennsylvania auction and the slaughterhouse. Together, they scraped together enough money to transport, vet, and house her.

They also named her Cleo. And with their care, Cleo, who was initially in extremely rough shape, made an astounding recovery. Eventually, Cleo also got a new home.

And, as the Hartford Courant reports, the small, but dedicated group that saved her life “was hooked.” So in February of 2011, the CDHR officially became recognized nonprofit organization.

A place where size doesn’t matter

Although it is best known for rescuing big horses, CDHR doesn’t discriminate when it comes to helping animals in need. Since its inception, the group has also welcomed miniature horses along with goats and sheep.

Some of the animals have been neglected, and others are surrendered when their owners can no longer afford to provide suitable care. Then there are those that the group rescues from a weekly Pennsylvania auction where nearly half the horses on the block will likely end up at a slaughterhouse.

At CDHR, the first priority is the provision of healthcare, hoof care and training the horses need. Once those needs have been addressed, focus shifts to finding new homes for them.

“If we can’t do that, they stay here,” said Golub.

CDHR also encourages anyone who does adopt a horse to return it if they are unable to provide proper care for any reason, at any time.

An expensive endeavor

Even with as many as 12 volunteers per day helping to care for the horses at CDHR’s East Hampton property, costs add up quickly.

Golub estimates that the annual cost of hay alone easily tops $30,000. And then there are the expenses associated with veterinary care, special food, shoeing and related hoof care, and so on. On top of which, CDHR reportedly needs a new barn.

If you’ve got some spare change laying around and you want to contribute to a worthy cause, you  can help out by making a general donation to CDHR or a specific contribution for the barn project.

If you can’t make a donation at the moment, that’s fine, too. You can always volunteer, or even inquire about fostering or adopting a horse rescued by CDHR. You can learn more about these opportunities here.

Open house slated for May 19

If you live in the area, you can also learn about the wonderful work this group does at an open house scheduled for May 19. The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at CDHR’s East Hampton property, which is located at 113 Chestnut Hill Road. For more information, you can always call the group at  860-467-6587.


Alexandra Bogdanovic is a paralegal and the owner/founder of In Brief Legal Writing Services. She is also an award-winning author and journalist whose interests include animal welfare and animal law. All opinions expressed in this forum are her own. Any information pertaining to legal matters is intended solely for general audiences and should not be regarded as legal advice.

This Never Gets Old: Connecticut Company Provides Animal Therapy For Seniors

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To bring an animal into someone’s home and to see the smile on their face really does bring a joy to us. — Nick D’Aquila

As many of you know, I’m a big fan of starting the week on a positive note. So why not write a post about a Connecticut company that’s relaunching an animal therapy program for senior citizens? I mean, let’s be honest — it sure beats writing about politics. So here goes.

Introducing Marlow

According to published reports, a Meriden, Connecticut-based senior care company recently welcomed a new staff member. Her name is Marlow. She’s a blonde and she’s got a great smile. She’s also got floppy ears, a wet nose, four paws and a tail.

Eli the cat.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot, Eli the cat.

Yes, Marlow is a dog. To be accurate, she is a 10-month-old Golden Retriever. And she’s got a very important job to do.

“To bring an animal into someone’s home and to see the smile on their face really does bring a joy to us,” Nick D’Aquila, whose family owns and operates Assisted Living Services, told the media.

A big job for a little pup

Apparently, Marlow is following in some pretty big paw prints. D’Aquila’s mother Sharron, introduced the company’s first therapy dog, Sunny, to clients several years ago. And they loved her.

“She would do it free of charge and bring the dog there…and he would pretty much bring a smile to the client’s face,” said Nick D’Aquila. “Continuing my mother’s legacy in visiting clients as well as having her join is a great feeling.”

Sadly, lymphoma claimed Sunny’s life five years ago.

The good news is that Marlow is well on her way to bringing the same joy to people as her predecessor. She has already in training to become a Registered Pet Partners Therapy Animal and should soon be available to visit clients upon request.

The importance of pet therapy for an aging population

As reflected in U.S. Census Bureau data,  more than half a million people age 65 and older called Connecticut home in 2016 and accounted for approximately roughly 16 percent state’s population. That’s slightly more than reflected in the U.S. census data from 2000, when approximately 13 percent of Connecticut resident were in that age bracket.

As I recently blogged about, a senior citizen survey conducted by the University of Michigan revealed that owning a pet or interacting with an animal lessens stress, anxiety and feelings of loneliness. Among the 2,000 participants dogs were the most common pet.

Additional research has shown that just petting animals provided mental health benefits to seniors.

“It’s increasing interactions with the seniors and making them more sociable,” D’Aquila noted. “I think the interactions with the therapy dog brings out the inner emotions that people are holding inside that they don’t really know how to express.”

Personally, I know exactly what I’d say. Good dog, Marlow. Very good dog!


Alexandra Bogdanovic is a paralegal and the owner/founder of In Brief Legal Writing Services. She is also an award-winning author and journalist whose interests include animal welfare and animal law. All opinions expressed in this forum are her own. Any information pertaining to legal matters is intended solely for general audiences and should not be regarded as legal advice.

Along Came A Spider… And Caused A New York Car Crash

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Time for another confession. I hate spiders. Hate! With a capital “h.” I’m not necessarily afraid of them. I just don’t like them. I don’t care how big they are. I don’t care whether they’re venomous or not. I don’t care how beneficial they are to the environment. I’m just not a fan.

Apparently I’m not alone.

Bringing a whole new meaning to distracted driving

According to numerous news reports, a spider caused a recent car crash in Cairo, New York. Or, more accurately, the driver’s reaction to finding a spider in her car caused the crash.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

The Town of Cairo Police Department detailed the April 10 incident on its Facebook page, saying:

“After investigating today’s crash on Silver Spur Road we feel it necessary to bring up a contributing factor that is not covered too often. It is believed that the operator of the vehicle noticed a SPIDER in the drivers area with her as she was driving. The operator panicked and crashed suffering a leg injury from the crash. We know that it is easier for some drivers than others but PLEASE, try to teach new drivers and yourselves to overcome the fear and pull over to a safe place. Lives depend on it.”

Police did not say whether the arachnid was injured in the crash, nor did they say whether  the New York state DMV has any plans to require “spider desensitization” for new drivers (sarcasm fully intended).

The fear is real…

Arachnophobia is generally defined as “an abnormal and persistent fear of spiders.” It affects approximately 30 percent of Americans and ranks third in terms of phobias affecting people around the world. Only the fear of death and the fear of public speaking are more common.

So why the universal fear and loathing? There are several theories. Some say it can be traced back to ancient times, when many civilizations viewed them as a source of water and food contamination. Others say it stems from the once widely held belief that spiders caused the deadly outbreak of bubonic plague in the 14th century. Another, more recent theory is that  it’s simply a matter of perception; people who suffer from arachnophobia are unable to accept that only a tiny percentage of the 63,000 known spider species pose a serious threat to people.

A (very) short list of harmful spiders found in the United States

When most Americans think about scary spiders, three come to mind. These are the black widow, the brown recluse and the hobo spider.

The black widow

In all, there are approximately 30 different types of black widow spider. Of these, three are commonly found in the United States. These are the Northern widow, the Southern widow and the Western widow. As you can tell by their names, these spiders are fairly widespread. It is also widely regarded as “one of the most dangerous spiders to humans,” and is known to be “the most venomous spider in North America.”

Fortunately, only a fully grown female’s venom packs enough of a punch to affect people. You can recognize (and  therefore avoid) a female black widow by her shiny black body and distinctive red markings resembling an hour-glass that are found on her belly.

With sufficient provocation, an adult female black widow can inflict a venomous bite that can cause the following symptoms in people:

  • chest pain
  • stomach pain
  • anxiety
  • painful, cramping muscles
  • numbness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • light sensitivity
  • headache
  • heavy sweating and salivating

However, severe reactions and fatalities are not as common as we may fear. As statistics provided by the National Poison Data Center indicate,  approximately 1,800 Americans were bitten by black widows in 2013. More than 1,000 of them did not seek medical treatment. Of the 800 who did,  there were only 14 “significant” cases, and there were no fatalities.

This is not to say you should ignore any symptoms you are experiencing if you have been or believe you have been bitten by a female black widow — or any other spider for that matter. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

The brown recluse

Talk about  a spider with a bad reputation. These arachnids, which are universally feared due to the potentially devastating effects of their venom, are most commonly found in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama and parts of Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska.

Although they do have distinctive markings that resemble violins, experts say the best way to identify a brown recluse is by its eyes. This is because the brown recluse has only six eyes, as opposed to eight. Although the shade of brown varies, these spiders have uniform coloration on their bellies. They are approximately  three-eighths of an inch long and about three-sixteenths of an inch wide (about 1 centimeter long and half a centimeter wide). Females tend to be larger, but males have longer legs.

Like most spiders, the brown recluse will only bite if it is accidentally disturbed or deliberately provoked. Because its venom can pack a wallop, the National Institutes of Health advise anyone who is bitten to seek medical treatment immediately.

Experts stress that symptoms of a brown recluse bite will vary based on the person’s sensitivity to venom and the amount of venom injected. In people with heightened sensitivity or in cases where a lot of venom is injected, a blister may form at the bite site. The blister may burst and become an ugly, open, gangrenous wound. Recovery from such a severe bite can take weeks, and sometimes months.

In less severe cases, symptoms may  include itching, chills, fever, nausea, sweating and generally feeling lousy.

The hobo spider

Although they have a fearsome appearance, these spiders may be less of a threat to people than once thought. Originally from Europe, they are now found in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Utah).

Hobo spiders have long legs, a brown body, and a grayish abdomen with yellowish markings. On average, they are  1/4 to 1/2 inch long with a leg span of approximately 1-2 inches. Even so, proper identification is tricky because they resemble so many other species found in the region.

Although they are sometimes called an “aggressive house spider,” hobo spiders don’t bite people unless they are actively hunting or deliberately or inadvertently “trapped” against someone’s skin.

Symptoms of a hobo spider bite include redness and pain at the bite site and involuntary muscle movement lasting for several hours. However, experts say there is no longer any reason to believe that hobo spider venom causes the same type of tissue damage as brown recluse venom.

I’m still not convinced…

That’s all well and good. But as far as I’m concerned, I’ll just keep my distance from anything that looks scary and has more than two eyes. And hopefully they’ll stay away from me.

Burial Or Cremation? Planning For A Pet’s Death

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Last week, I did a post about a woman who had a memorial service for her dog. The question I asked at the time — which none of you felt compelled to answer — is whether it is appropriate, or whether it is over the top?

Today I’m posing a different, but very difficult question. What have you done when a pet has died in the past, or what do you plan to do after the death of the dog or cat you now have? Will you bury him (or her) under a shade tree in the backyard? Will you have him (or her) laid to rest in a pet cemetery? Will you request his or her ashes and keep them in an urn?

Speaking from personal experience

As many of you know, I had two cats before I adopted Eli (or more accurately, he adopted me). Tiger was the first. She was a small American shorthair/Siamese mix (as far as anyone could tell). She came into my life by chance when I was 10 — and we were only supposed to keep her until she got rid of the mice in our house. She died peacefully in my lap 17 years later, at the ripe old age of 20 — give or take.

In Brief Legal Writing Services Mascot, Eli.
Eli The Cat. Photo By Alexandra Bogdanovic

We wrapped her in her favorite blanket and tucked her into a shoe box (yes, she really was that small when she passed) with some of her favorite toys. Then we dug a hole in her favorite spot in the backyard, and that’s where we laid her to rest in a quiet, but dignified manner.

That was more than 20 years ago. Today our old house and the backyard are gone — replaced by ugly, expensive townhouses that are way too big for the tiny little corner lot perched atop a hill. I hope Tiger’s ghost comes back to haunt anyone dumb enough to live there, but I guess only time will tell.

Anyhow, Heals — a big, fearless orange and white tabby with a penchant for finding trouble — came into my life several months after Tiger died. I hadn’t really been thinking about getting another cat at the time, but a friend found and couldn’t keep her. Thinking about her being sent to the local pound — and an unknown fate — broke my heart. So I agreed to take her.

Heals, named after my favorite NHL goalie, quickly became my best friend and constant companion through marriage, divorce, and multiple moves. In September 2007, approximately three months after she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, I took Heals to the vet and did the hardest, but best thing for her. Her suffering ended on a cold, steel table in a Virginia veterinarian’s office. She was approximately 14 years old, and I’d had for 11 years.

Today her ashes remain in a small but beautifully crafted wood box. I keep it on the bookshelves in my office, along with the copy of her paw print taken by the vet. I take comfort in knowing that — in a way she is still with me — and she is at peace.

A search for the perfect urn

Apparently I was lucky. Another woman, who detailed her experience after her dog’s death in a recent article was decidedly less satisfied with the plain, poorly crafted wooden urn that initially contained her dog’s remains.

“My dog was exquisite, a cantankerous bundle of love and light. She was not a default font. She also wasn’t a teardrop urn with paw prints running along the side. She wasn’t a box with a ceramic dog on top that looked nothing like her,” Jen A. Miller wrote on self.com. She wasn’t a cheap bracelet that held her ashes either. She was my dog, and she was dead. She deserved a better final resting place than that ugly box.”

Miller’s quest to find the perfect urn for her beloved pup finally ended when she found a couple that handcrafts wooden pet urns. The urns are sold on the online marketplace, etsy.com.

“When I opened the urn, it smelled like my grandfather’s woodshop. He loved Emily, who was a rambunctious terrier but would sit quietly and calmly on his lap when he asked during the last years of his life,” Miller wrote.

Pet cemeteries and other options…

In her article, Miller also delves into the inception and expansions of pet cemeteries in the United States. She also mentions taxidermy as another way to memorialize pets — although she doesn’t seem very fond of the idea. Truthfully, neither am I. In fact, I would never consider it.

Come to think of it, I would never consider tossing my dead pet in the dump, either. Or donating its body to science.

Frankly, both options make me cringe.

It’s Time To Start Thinking About Traveling With Your Pets This Summer

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

As I write this, the view from my office is pretty depressing. It is a cold, damp, dreary spring day and the little taste of nice weather we got last week is nothing but a fading memory. But somewhere in the United States, the sun is shining and it is actually warm. And that can only mean one thing. Summer is almost here, and it is time to start thinking about traveling with your pet. So here are a few things to keep in mind.

Getting there

Flying in the lap of luxury

Not too long ago, I came across this really cool story about the new service for pets and their owners offered by the private jet charter company, VistaJet. It’s called VistaPet, and it sounds awesome — if you can afford it.

Because a lot of its members fly with their pets, the company says it created the program to facilitate the experience. Benefits include an inflight care package called a pochette. Basically this is a travel bag containing pet care items, such as bio-organic good, treats, toys, shampoos and wipes  for use during and after the flight.

On certain flights, pets can feast on gourmet meals featuring “prime cuts of fresh meat and fish.” For instance, the company says a “typical meal” could include  “an entrée of roast tenderloin, baked salmon or roast chicken served with steamed, roasted or raw vegetables and whole grain brown rice.”

The company also says its Cabin Hostesses will offer  “natural flower essences” that can be  mixed with your pet’s drinking water to help them relax during the flight.

But that’s not all. Through its partnership with The Dog House, VistaJet  also offers help for dogs that are afraid of flying. The month-long course, which is only available for pets belonging to members,  helps canine participants cope with common experiences while traveling such as the smell of jet fuel, the noise generated by jet engines, cabin air pressure and turbulence.

Speaking of turbulence, VistaJet cites regulations stipulating that pets — who can otherwise hangout on handmade “sleep mats” must be on their leashes or in carriers “during take-off, landing and any turbulence.” However, the rule does not apply to Guide Dogs.

If you recently hit a mega-lottery and you want to learn more about VistaJet and the VistaPet program, you can learn more here.  If you’re already a VistaJet member but you’ve never flown with your pet before, the company recommends calling customer service. Here’s the information you should have on hand:

  • Type of pet
  • Breed
  • Weight
  • Microchip info
  • (Your) passport details
  • Information about your pet’s most recent rabies vaccine
  • Information about your pet’s treatment (if any) for tapeworm and other parasites
  • Flight history

Pet friendly accommodations (for the rest of us)

VistaJet says it can also arrange pet-friendly accommodations and excursions. But even if — like me — you’re still in the, “I wish I could afford to charter a private jet” stage, you can still take your pet on vacation. All it takes is a little planning and a willingness to go someplace fairly close (so you don’t have to subject your pet to a cross-country drive or a near-death experience on a commercial flight). Amtrak train photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

You can find plenty of information about pet-friendly hotels online. But here are a few things to keep in mind about this important aspect of your trip.

  1. Be sure to book a room on the first floor or near an exit if at all possible.
  2. Don’t leave your pet in the hotel room by itself unless absolutely necessary.
  3. If you do have to leave your pet in the room, take proper precautions
  4. If you are traveling with your dog, make sure it’s on a leash in common areas of the hotel
  5. Remember, courtesy goes a long way; make sure you cleanup any “accidents” in the room thoroughly and promptly.
  6. Be sure to take your pet to the vet and/or groomers before the trip to ensure they’re in good health and aren’t likely to shed all over the room.
  7. Follow applicable hotel rules about outdoor areas where your pets are allowed to relieve themselves.
  8. If you’re traveling with a cat, the bathroom (in your hotel room) is usually the best place to put the litter box.
  9. Don’t forget to let your pets get some exercise.
  10. Have fun!

And on that note, happy travels, everyone!