Three Cavalier King Charles spaniels burst through the screen door of Pleasant Bay Animal Hospital in East Harwich, straining at leashes gripped by slightly out-of-breath owners. Hannah and Lily, the two larger dogs, are in for their annual physicals and shots; Brigitte, the puppy, has come along for a grooming. Hannah is first up on the shiny steel examination table. Her tail is between her legs, and the loving strokes from her owner do little to ease her anxiety.
Dr. Peter Watts, one of Pleasant Bay’s three veterinarians, deftly moves his hands over Hannah’s light brown fur, searching for anything that shouldn’t be there. Watts grips a small flashlight in his mouth, leaving his hands free as he examines Hannah’s huge brown eyes. “She’s at least eight, maybe nine or 10,” Watts says. Hannah and Lily are rescue dogs, and Anne and Ralph Specht, the dogs’ owners, are uncertain of their ages. “They came from Amish puppy mills,” Anne explains. “Dogs are kept in filthy conditions—small cages in unheated barns. Some of them are ‘mill mommas’ who are bred until they’re worn out.” Hannah and Lily were rescued and connected with Anne and Ralph through the Lucky Star Cavalier rescue league. Hannah has been with the Spechts for three years now. She arrived with heart worm, but today she’s a healthy 27 pounds, and very ready to get off the exam table before Watts is finished.
Cape Codders’ affinity toward animals doesn’t end with beached whales or nesting Piping Plovers. “We saw a lot of rescue dogs on the Cape,” Watts explains, sitting in the treatment room between appointments. “After Katrina, we saw a lot of New Orleans dogs with pretty significant health problems. They got adopted and stayed here.” The Cape is home to branches of both the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) and the Animal Rescue League, both of which offer veterinary services as well as pet adoption services. The MSPCA estimates they placed over 10,000 animals in new homes in 2009. Pet ownership is about family as well as big business. Americans spent over $41 million on their pets in 2009, according to Business Week. But statistics only show so much about the intimate bonds between pet and owner. The scene inside Pleasant Bay Animal Hospital shows much more.