LET INGA TELL YOU:
Boy, have I had a chance to eat some words. And since they involve teeth, the phrase is apropos. A little more than a year ago, I wrote a column about brushing dogs’ teeth which at the time I found to be an absolutely hilarious concept.
When I was growing up, every household in my family-centric neighborhood, including us, had a dog. No one had fences and the dogs were simply let out as needed. The dogs generally went to the vet twice in their lives: once to get a rabies shot (if they hadn’t already had one at the pound where you got them), and then when they died, which was usually from being hit by the car they had been chasing at the time.
If my parents were alive today, the concept of brushing a dog’s teeth would incite both incredulity AND hilarity in them. Which it did in me when our vet first suggested it for the now-deceased Winston. I researched doggie tooth brushes and doggie tooth pastes (you can’t use the ones for people) and even tried it once on Winston. An English bulldog, Winston was clear he had the advantage and it was never attempted again.
In the meantime this past year, we have had the full-on expensive education in canine dental health. For reasons I hope someone can explain to me, small breed dogs are notorious for bad teeth, which not only cause the animal pain and difficulties eating, but makes their breath smell like they just ingested a barrel of rotten mackerel.
Percy, our first foster dog last year, was a Shih Tzu who had been abandoned on the streets of Bonita and rescued by a small volunteer rescue organization before being placed with us. Our vet said this dog had some of the worst teeth she’d ever seen.
Let me emphasize that when you foster a dog, the foster agency pays all the expenses: food, medical and dental care, neutering, beds, grooming, toys etc. The foster parents just have to provide love and care while a forever home is found. Or in the case of our second foster, Lilly, until the foster parents fall madly in love with the dog and keep it.
The many volunteer animal welfare organizations locally are constantly scrambling for funds to treat the animals they rescue so as a donation to ours, we said we would pay all Percy’s expenses including dental, neutering, grooming, food, etc. Any money they didn’t have to spend on this dog was money they could spend on another one.
My husband and I agreed afterwards that it was probably the most gratifying money we’ve ever spent. Usually when you donate money to a charitable cause you don’t get to see the results, but after five weeks and just under $1,000, Percy was totally rehabbed. He went to a fabulous home and has given a 75-year-old widow reason to get up in the morning.
At the time, we thought that $500 for Percy’s teeth was a lot of money. We were such virgins. A neighbor with three small breed dogs has spent more than $4,000 on the teeth of EACH of them. “You could get a whole lot of new dogs for that,” opined my husband Olof.
Well, yeah, but the problem is, as we know too well, you get really attached to the old ones.
The first thing we noticed about our second foster dog, Lily, was that her breath was even worse than Percy’s, if that was even possible: a 9 on the “ickter” scale. Lily’s previous owner had relinquished her to the County shelter saying she couldn’t afford the dog’s dental care. The County’s medical in-take report was all of four words: “Nice dog. Terrible teeth.”
Fortunately, the same volunteer organization who rescued Percy rescued Lily. They spent $500 to pull the worst of Lily’s teeth but it was clear that this was only going to be the start.
As happy as we had been to sink $1,000 into Percy, a dog we didn’t even own, this was not something we could do every month. But Lily rapidly worked her way into our hearts and before we knew it, we’d adopted her and sunk another $1,100 into her teeth beyond what the rescue agency had invested. (We consider her dental care our new 401k.) But what a difference in her breath which previously would have scorched your eyebrows. And all of a sudden she was eating voraciously.
But now, of course, it was up to us to maintain this brand new mouth into which we now have such an investment. So just as we became pros at cleaning Winston’s ever-infected ears, we’re now absolutely whizzes at brushing Lily’s teeth. And every time I do it, I look heavenward toward my parents and say, “I know. I know.”
— Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in La Jolla Light. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org