Thrusday, January 14, 1999

Bad behavior might be just a yelp for help

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Our dog Murray is worried. He even seems a little depressed. He has not said so in as many words — and, of course, I would be shocked if he did — but I think he is afraid he has been wasting his time on us.

        Murray Kempton Pulfer has spent the last two years of his life training me and my husband, and he suspects that we are going to throw it all away on drugs. A collie, from a very distinguished family, Murray undertook our education immediately upon his arrival at our home.

        He whizzed on the floor.

Furniture du jour
        This was our first lesson. Since then, we have learned that while he would prefer to use the outdoor facilities, he is not a fanatic. We must open the door for him. He is not going to risk damaging his personal kidneys by prancing around “holding it” until we get around to letting him out. Besides, it's not dignified.

        During the first few months after he came to live with us, in addition to his puppy chow, he ate a tube of Neosporin, a pound of bananas, a chocolate layer cake, a sock, three Reeboks, two library books, a window sill and the leg of my favorite wing chair. We thought he might outgrow this. And he did.

        He started eating bigger things, beginning with a couch.

        This was his signal to us that he was bored. And lonely. We gave him big meaty bones and expensive chew toys. We bought a bigger car, so that he would be comfortable on long trips. And short ones. We started going more places together.

        This was in the old-fashioned days before we heard about Clomicalm. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration approved its use as an antidepressant, recommended specifically to treat doggy “separation anxiety.”

Little furry people?
        Novartis, maker of the drug, claims the antidepressant will reduce doggy jitters that result in barking, chewing and soiling. The Humane Society of the United States warned pet owners not to use this as a quick fix and fretted that overuse of the drug might result in medical disorders that would go untreated.

        For instance, urinary infections and hormonal disorders might cause loss of bladder control. And a dog that chews your slippers might just be looking for a little more of your time, maybe a pat on the head, a game of fetch.

        A man named Moussaieff Masson, a “psychoanalyst and student of animal emotions,” told a CNN audience that the new drug should not be used because “there is no consent from the dog.”

        He said this with a straight face.

        “I'd be glad to see a magic pill,” said Dr. Tamara Goforth, the vet for the SPCA here, “but I don't believe anything is that easy. Even the manufacturer says it should be used in conjunction with training.”

        And you have to remember, Dr. Goforth says, sometimes dogs just do doggy things.

        A California vet who offers acupuncture and homeopathic care, says, “Dogs are really just little people in furry bodies and big teeth. Their anatomy and physiology is very similar to humans.” But there the similarity ends.

        Dog are much nicer than most people. They are more forgiving, more generous and certainly less inclined to talk behind your back. They do not fear commitment, nor do they demand expensive jewelry.

        Do we really want to make them just like us? Their dogginess is the reason we like them so much in the first place. Worse, do we want to drug them into submission?

        Murray hasn't said so, but I think his opinion would be that those people who want their dogs to smell like spearmint and who are willing to give them a pill instead of a good romp in the park probably are not really looking for a dog at all. I think he would suggest that you might want to just go out and get yourself a nice Beanie Baby.

        E-mail or call 768-8393. She can be heard Mondays on WVXU radio and as a commentator on NPR's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine. Her book, I Beg to Differ, is available at (800) 852-9332.

        Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at