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An Engineer in the Woods, Installment 35: Pets#1;Dog 9, West; Part 3, A New Dog

Thursday, October 1, 2020


                             Howie and Shatzi on the mantle of the fireplace in our House in the Woods in 1964
                         The fireplace looks the same today.  I don’t look the same, though I still part my hair that way.

I learned about heartworms before I could read.  Our Grandma Ham (Vida Leontina Krans-Hamilton) surprised our family with a Schnauzer puppy (Gretel) on Christmas in 1967 or so.  Our previous dog was a Schnauzer named Shatzi who had died after swallowing one of my marbles – at least that is what I was always told.  It wasn’t until I became a parent that I realized that must not have been the case and that my lifelong guilt was misdirected (for that issue anyway).  What would a two-year-old be doing with marbles ???!!!!  Off topic again….  

We took Gretel to her first vet appointment with Dr. Attrill and I was in four-year-old awe.  In the exam room he had bones, models,  pictures, and a half-dozen sealed clear Ball jars that contained all kinds of anomalies in aging baths of tan-green formaldehyde.  A quart size jar had a light pink and gray solid mass that was the size of an adult fist.  The mass had several grayish-white tubes jutting out from it, and the tubes were packed with thin white strings that extended out of their severed ends and curled around the edges of the mass like an unraveled ball of yarn.  Dr. Attrill saw me studying the curiosity and asked, “Do you know what that is Howie?”  BTW, don’t ever call me Howie!  When I was four, not a problem.  After I turned twelve, and the ensuing 45 years since, it is not allowed (except Aunt Priscilla, love you!).
“No sir,” I replied.  “What is it?”
“That’s a heart from a Great Dane.  It died from heartworms. That’s why your Mom will bring Gretel here every year to be tested, and why she will give medicine to your dog once a month – so Gretel won’t get heartworms.”
Lesson learned; I have never forgotten.

When Dr. Attrill retired ten or twelve years later, young Dr. Hampton acquired the practice and kept the jar of heart displayed where it had always been.  A couple decades later when Kristen and I moved to our first house on the river and the now “old” Doc Hampton was our neighbor and vet for our cat Bentley, and many animals after that, the heart was still there.  Every time I saw it, I remembered Dr. Attrill warning the young Howie about heartworms.  Dr. Hampton retired and the clinic eventually closed.   I don’t know what happened to the Telltale Heart, but it told me a tale that was powerful, and not forgotten – I NEVER want one of our dogs to catch heartworms!  Now we were considering adopting a 7-month old hound mix, Wade, whom I was just told had heartworms.  I’ll return to the conversation on which I ended last month’s blog:

At noon on Wednesday I called the vet clinic that was boarding Wade and introduced myself.
“Good afternoon Mr. Hamilton, I was just going to call you.  The information came in from your vet just a couple hours ago and you are approved to adopt Wade!”
“Excellent,” I replied, “when can we get him?”
“Well…” she began as my heart sank, “there is a complication.”
“Okay…?” I waited to hear the explanation…
“I believe you know that he has heartworms…”

I answered, “Yes, but the adoption coordinator said that it wasn’t serious because he is young.”
“I’m not a vet, and you will need to meet with one before adoption for a consultation, but heartworms are ALWAYS serious, and they require months of treatment.”
I’m not easily deterred, “We’re prepared for that, and I think it would be better for him to be in a loving home while being treated.  Don’t you agree?”
“You will need to meet with a vet.” Professional, but nice.  Serious, but pleasant.
“We’ll do that.  Can we pick him up tonight and meet with a vet then?”
“That’s another, but related issue.”  Further heart sinkage.  “Wade received his first heartworm injection this morning.  He needs to be under observation for the next 72 hours.”
She continued, “I can make an appointment first thing Saturday morning.”
“Sure!” the bilge pump kicked-in and my boat was floating again.
“We’ll see you at 9 am on Saturday.”
“See you then!”

If you haven’t realized it yet I am not just an engineer.  I'm kind of an uber-engineer.  I love to investigate problems, research and apply what I learn – every day at work, every day at home.  It must be very irritating to those around me.  I could apologize, but I haven’t researched how to best do that.  I did, however, begin research on heartworms since I was fairly certain that my 52 years ago, pre-K heartworm education would not be adequate to manage the treatment regimen of our potential new pet.

I visited several websites and landed on one by the Heartworm Society.  I devoured a 37 page document, printed it, highlighted it and added notes.  If you are curious for some unimaginable reason, here’s the link:  Page 25 sets out the almost daily, 365-day treatment schedule.  We were in for an ordeal if we adopted this dog…

On Saturday morning Kristen and I approached the receptionist desk at the vet clinic to adopt Wade.  We reviewed and signed some forms and wrote a check.  As we were completing the last of the forms a young blue-coated gentleman led Wade to us.  I bent down, buckled his new red color around his neck and latched a black leash to it.  He was now officially part of our family.  Our consultation with the veterinarian was mind numbing. Wade had severe infestations of every worm that a dog can have, except hookworms – which are the most common.  All of these would be  treated with various pills for the next 30 days, and this was pretty normal.  However, the treatment protocol for heartworms would be intense.  There were twice a day drugs, once a day drugs, every other day drugs and monthly drugs.  There were painful injections on Day 1 (already done), Day 60, Day 90 and a blood test at 120 days.  If there were still heartworms present at 120 days, we would start over again.  MOST IMPORTANTLY he could have no exercise or excitement for 4 months.  He must stay in the crate at all times, leashed walks must be short and leisurely, and he must be kept calm.  Excitement increases blood flow and that could cause dead and dying worms to dislodge from the heart and cause a stroke, pulmonary embolism, or heart attack.   Kristen and I took the warning seriously.  We walked him slowly to the car, and lifted him into the back.

At Rotary on the following Tuesday I sat with our regular vet, Dr. Ron.  Ron told me to not worry, but then he shared some heartworm horror stories.  The most memorable was a hunting dog that had been doing well for over three months.  The owner was convinced he was cured, so he let him loose in their fenced yard, tossed a ball and yelled “fetch!”  The dog dropped dead before it reached the ball.  At least Wade was pretty chill – but 4 months in a crate is a LONG TIME!

Regardless of our concerns, and the amount of dedication we would need over the next four months, we had a new dog.

The Right and Honorable Process of the Naming of the Pet
Wade was a fine name, but we had no connection to it.  I had chosen Fern’s name (Fernberg), so now it was Kristen’s turn.  
She had always liked the name Bobber for a dog – but we didn’t know if Wade could swim, and we wouldn’t know for another four months.  
Hoover was a possibility.  We have used every dog to cleanup spills.
Moose for Moose Lake (where our cabin is near Ely, MN) was a contender.
The final choice was Westridge (West), the street that we live on in our big house in the woods.  Our first fur-bearing pet, also our ONLY other male pet, was our cat Bentley – named for the street we lived on then (in our little house on the DuPage River).  So, it just seemed right.  

So now you know (as if you hadn’t suspected) that Wade became West, that West was successfully treated for heartworms and that he is now a great and very active member of our family.  He lost his “chill” personality after about 3 ½ months of treatment, and is now a very excited, very happy TERROR!  He has also earned some other nicknames in the last 1 ½ years.

Mr. Wuffles.  As a hound, West is always on the trail for something and as he sniffs, his muzzle jiggles and vibrates.  Kristen calls it wuffling and her preferred name for him is Mr. Wuffles.

Heinz.  Our veterinarian, Dr. Z., includes West on her list of all-time favorite dogs.  I asked her once what she thought he was and she answered, “Everything.  I would call him Heinz.  There are at least 57 varieties in him!”


The muddling of breeds that created West’s great combination of personality and puppyish looks leads to regular debate of his lineage. Here are some pics, so I would love to learn your guesses.  



West and Richard on
the Side Deck








Tripp (Aileen's Wire-haired
Griffin/Lab) and West





 Fern and West
 (and my foot)













There are two guesses that will not be allowed:
1.    Pit Bull.  Yes, he has a stout body and strong chest.  He also has a wide mouth, but he does not have quite the right head for a Pit.  I asked Dr. Z. if she thought he had any Pit Bull in him.  She studied the pup, “No I don’t see any Pit Bull in him.  Maybe he only has 56 varieties.”
Good answer. 
2.    Beagle.  I chose the neighbors at our last house and both of our families spent a great 20 years or so together.  Our kids played together, the adults played together, and we babysat each other’s dogs.  Their beagle, Reggie taught us to not like beagles.  He was a nice dog to have around and he would ring a bell on the door when he wanted outside.  However, he would run away whenever he had a chance, he would howl incessantly at squirrels waking the neighbors (we were the neighbors), and he had terrible separation anxiety so he could not be left alone.  Two stories:

Destruction by Beagle
Our dogs have always had the run of the house – with limitations.  House breaking is necessary first and they are not allowed on the furniture and not allowed on the beds. Reggie was kept in a crate when his family was away because his family didn’t trust him – Kristen thought she could trust him; she could trust our dogs.  The first time we babysat Reggie, Kristen felt sorry for him being left in the crate.  So, one evening while we were out doing something with our kids, Kristen left Reggie out in the neighbors’ kitchen.  When we returned home, Kristen walked next door to check on the beagle and found that he had been a very bad boy.  There was a roll of chewed paper towels, a pee stain on the kitchen cabinets, and a pile of poop in the family room.  After letting Reggie in the backyard to howl at squirrels she ran home and got two rolls of paper towels; one to clean up the messes and one to replace the eaten roll.  Reggie’s family was due home late that night, and Kristen made sure that they would never suspect that she had left him out against their orders.

Around midnight our phone rang.  Caller ID reveled that it was Reggie’s mom.  Kristen answered.
“Kristen?  This is Sue.  I hope I didn’t wake you.”
“It’s fine, we were up,” Kristen fibbed as she stifled a yawn.
“Did someone break into our house?”
“What?!! What happened?” Kristen was waking up quickly.
“The sheets were pulled off of our bed, the cushions from the living room chairs were left in a pile in the middle of the room and my brand-new lace living room curtains have been shredded.”
“Ohhhh…sshh#######!”  She didn’t say it out loud, but I knew the look.

The sheets and cushions were not damaged, but the curtains had to be replaced.  By first light Kristen had ordered new window coverings with overnight shipping.  By the following afternoon, the house, and our friendship with our neighbors, had been restored.  However, any affection for Reggie, and his breed, had been torn to shreds like the antique lace that had been set upon by the savage beast.

Beagle Meets the Long Arm of the Law
We babysat Reggie many times after the drapery debacle with only one other significant disaster.  
Our house on the pond had a fenced back yard with four gates and it was common practice for a child, a neighbor child or an inattentive dad to accidently leave one of the gates ajar.  Our dog Echo would occasionally take advantage of an open gate, but she would usually just go to the front yard.  Reggie, however, would disappear immediately if he found an opportunity to escape from anywhere – including from or through our yard.  

One weekday morning while we were dog-sitting, Kristen went next door, fed Reggie, put him on a leash, led him to our side gate, removed the leash and let him into our rear yard.  Unfortunately, she didn’t notice that the large double gate onto the driveway was not latched (probably my fault).  About a half hour later as she was clearing the breakfast dishes of Aileen, Sean and Ricky (6, 4 and 3).  She looked out the kitchen window  and noticed Echo sitting on the driveway watching Reggie as he trotted down the drive and toward the street.  Kristen immediately bolted for the front door, swung it open and shouted, “Reggie! COME!!”  The wayward beagle stopped in his tracks, looked over his right shoulder at my flustered wife, turned back toward the street and resumed his leisurely stroll.
“COME!!” He didn’t miss a step as he continued toward the street.
“STOP!!!!” No recognition.  It was a tactic that we had often observed from him that we referred to as “Beagle-Deaf.”  It was why I knew that our adoption attempt with Bubbly, the “deaf” “terrier” was doomed to failure because she was actually just a stubborn beagle and neither deaf nor a terrier.

Kristen ran to the kitchen, asked Aileen to supervise the shoeing of the siblings, and grabbed two leashes – one for Echo who would assist as a tracker, and one for Reggie once he was caught.  She completed the shoe effort begun by Aileen and led the young Hamiltons to the driveway where Echo was waiting.  Aileen held Sean’s hand, Kristen held Ricky’s hand and Echo’s leash.  When the group arrived at the street (we had a very long driveway), Reggie was nowhere to be found. Kristen chose to begin her search to the left (east).  When she arrived at the corner of Pauline and Ann Drives she looked to the right and saw Reggie lifting his leg on the stop sign at the corner Caton Farm Road and Ann.  She moved toward him, “Reggie!  COME!!!”  He lowered his leg and bolted across all four lanes of traffic on Caton Farm Road, brakes squealing and horns honking.  He never looked back as he sprinted into Aspen Meadows subdivision.  The Hamilton clan raced in pursuit (“raced” is a relative term for 3 and 4-year-olds).  The traffic that had halted for the escapee remained stopped until the family crossed.  One of the vehicles was a Joliet Police cruiser heading west, away from the intersection.   The officer, thinking like a detective, and noticing my wife’s flushed face, realized that this was a stressful situation.  When traffic began moving again, he continued west to the wide intersection at Drauden Road, flipped on his lights and made a U-turn.   The cruiser returned to Aspen Meadows and began a systematic search for the family he had seen just moments before.  He found them on White Eagle Drive, pulled to the curb and lowered his passenger window.  “Can I help you ma’am?” 
Kristen was surprised by the voice and turned quickly.  Seeing Officer Friendly she relaxed.  “We’re looking for my neighbor’s beagle.”
“Can I help you in any way?”
“Sure,” She replied.  “Do you have a gun?”
The officer smiled and stepped from his squad car.
The posse of five, plus one dog, quickly found Reggie peeing on a fence.  They surrounded him and Kristen snapped a leash onto his collar.  The misbehaving beast looked into her face with mournful hound eyes and appeared to say, “Who? Me??”  
Against Kristen’s pleas, the officer reholstered his weapon.

Therefore, West is not a beagle.  If he were, he wouldn’t have been accepted as a member of our family.

He is definitely a hound though.  He is ALWAYS on the hunt.  But, sometimes he points.  Sometimes he barks.  Sometimes he whines.  He does not howl or bay.

He loves to swim.

He is very retriever-like.  He ALWAYS has something in his mouth, and he has a soft mouth.  He never leaves a bite mark, unless he has decided to shred the unfortunate prey – usually a toy, but way too often one of Kristen’s shoes.

He is strong.  His shoulders and chest are solid muscle.

He has HUGE paws.  Bigger than Fern who weighs 15 pounds more than him.

My guess? LabraBeagle.

I have several stories about West and Fern that I will share with you next month, and that will be it for the “Pets series.”  I’m not sure what I will write about next, and I would like to learn your ideas.
Topics that I have kicked around are :
- Flora and Fauna of our House in the Woods – I can list over a dozen birds without thinking, about that same number of other critters, and probably three times those numbers of plants.   A few fun stories but mostly data – could be boring, but informative.

- Walking Around the House – I have some interesting stories about our “stuff”, some of which predates my families’ moves to Will County (near Manhattan) from Massachusetts in  1855 and from other colonies and Scotland to Lockport around the same time. But I struggle with how to not make it become a “come steal this” menu, though almost all of our stuff has much more sentimental value than actual value.  Still not sure how to write on this topic, but I like a challenge.   The stories would probably involve some genealogy as I have multiple lines to the first puritans, am a direct descendant of an executed “witch” from Salem, am related to 9 U.S. presidents and am a direct descendant of several kings and knights including Robert the Bruce (after whom my brother was named).  Lots of research though, and I could end up missing a month or two along the way as I try to collect enough info to make the stories interesting.

- A Bad Day at Work – I have struggled with how to make being runover by a drunk driver on a road construction site a “fun” topic, especially when two other workers were killed.  There is a lot to write about life, law, medicine, perseverance, people and faith that I probably should jot down, but I’m still not sure that this blog is the right forum.

- The First Five Years - We have now been in the house for five years, and I have many home improvement horrors that  I can write about, plus a few new construction stories that didn’t make the first cut of prior blogs.

- Engineering Projects – Another one that I struggle with.  Things that I think are funny or interesting could be embarrassing to clients.  Because I work with wastewater many readers would be grossed-out by what I think is funny.  Stories from Trinidad, Tobago, St. Lucia the Dominican Republic and Haiti are interesting and enlightening – but in two instances subject to non-disclosure agreements, and in all cases could be seen as embarrassing by the clients if taken out of context.  This may be a book that I will write if I can ever retire – but even then, it may have to be an anonymous book…too bad though.

-Ask an Engineer – I tried this before and lost readers.  An engineer friend told me that the information was “too complicated” even though I thought I had chosen some of the simpler topics and had simplified them.  The offer that I made then was for anyone to ask me a question, and I will explain it.  The two questions I received I had to answer offline though – one due to political issues, one due to liability concerns.  But the offer still stands, ask me anything technical.  I probably know the answer, or will know someone who does that can serve as a guest blogger.

-Give Me a Topic (Prompt) - In school we all had assignments like this.  Sometimes I liked them, sometimes I didn’t – it was school.  Today it might be fun.

I’m looking for ideas, please give me yours! Leave a comment on the post, or in the comment section of our contact form.

Keep reading and have a wonderful day!