Dr. Karen Overall, puppy Toby and Flash
In my opinion, veterinary behaviorist Dr. Karen Overall is the Jane Goodall of the pet world. Her influence is profound, and her passion palpable. Speaking around the world Overall has influenced countless thousands of veterinarians, veterinary nurses and technicians and dog trainers. She’s even swayed the U.S. military to think differently about dog training. Her published research is too innumerable to outline in this space. Her book “Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals” is a bible for vets and behavior consultants.
Knowing everyone – even the most inspiring people in the world were at one time themselves motivated by someone. I asked Dr. Overall, who is that motivated you most? Without hesitation, her voice barely audible - but firm and resolute, she said, “Flash.”
Flash recently passed away. Here’s the story of a dog who changed one person – who is changing the world. For this, Flash will always be remembered, and in a sense will never die as long as Dr. Overall continues conveying her message.
Reprinted with permission, here is Dr. Overall’s tribute to her dog.
Dear all: I am writing with sad news. Flash died on Saturday, 8 December 2007,
surrounded by all of us and with me stroking him and telling him we loved him.
To say that I am bereft is an understatement.
Flash and Toby
Flash survived 4 homes, 3 shelters, and abuse that included hanging him from a
choke chain until he passed out. As we continued to pursue his disease we
learned that in addition to the broken hyoid bones he suffered when hung, he had
had a wing of a spinal vertebra sheared off, and had 2 healed broken ribs.
Flash came to me because he was my patient and my choice was to kill him or take
him after he put his 3rd person in intensive care. When he sat in front of me
and looked me in the eye while putting his paw in my hand I knew I had only 1
choice – I had to comply with his request. So, sometime between the age of 3.5
and 4 years, Flash came to his forever home. He lived with us 10 years and 7
months, almost to the day. I promised him then that he would never be boarded,
never spend a night in a hospital without me, and that he would die at home. He
had seen too much death and abandonment in his short life. I kept my promises.
Everyone who met Flash was transformed. I have received hundreds of emails and
phone calls for or about Flash once people knew he was ill. I told him of each
of these, and I know he appreciated everyone’s thoughts, prayers, best wishes,
and miscellaneous voodoo. I certainly viewed each of these as a talisman.
Flash was simply remarkable. I am convinced he had a fluent understanding of
English, but more important, he insisted that I develop a more fluent facility
in dog. And I did. Flash has touched thousands of veterinarians and tens of
thousands of pets with his story and his lessons. My clients were given hope
after seeing his video, meeting him, or working with him. My patients who
worked with him learned that they could leave their terror behind. Flash
carried the notions of calm and recovery with him everywhere he went. Judges
and shelters who requested his help in evaluating dogs never understood what
happened, but trusted it implicitly. And I felt forever safe when he was by my
side. I learned that his judgment in people far exceeded my own and if he
didn’t like them, something was not right. I never knew him to be wrong in this
regard, but I frequently was.
He never gave up the fight against the hemangiosarcoma that had been diagnosed
in early October, and struggled through the repeated bleeds and transfusions
that characterized the last week of his life the same way he did everything:
deliberately, honestly, asking for what he wanted and looking forward. When it
became obvious that he could not beat the disease, we allowed him to slip away.
This decision was agonizing for all of us. The splenectomy and chemo were
tough, but he never complained…not when he had to have his bottom washed 3 times
a night or when the fentanyl patch (for pain) sedated him more than he wished.
Because we caught the non-specific signs of the tumor early, we had a nightmare of a
time finding the cause. When it was finally apparent, we did everything possible. I
knew all along that we were very lucky – not only did the biopsy report show
restricted pathology, but the common clue that a dog has this tumor is sudden
death. We had 2 more really good months that, by all rights, most people would
not have had. For the nastiest of tumors, this has to be viewed as a gift.
I have never seen a dog who was so seamless in his understanding of, interaction
with, and compassion for other dogs. Even as he became ill he never stopped
visiting dogs at the veterinary specialty hospitals to lick them, lean against
them, or just snuffle them gently. He did an amazing job of raising Toby, and
even when ill, rose to the challenge of sorting out the new pup, Linus.
Together with Emma, Flash ran a tight puppy development program. When Flash
was ill,Linus never left his side if I had to be out of Flash’s sight; when I
would return, Linus would go off to play. Flash’s lessons run deep, and his
canine companions knew it. Emma, Linus and Toby all took turns sleeping with
Flash in his last week, and they switched off with almost military precision.
Their grief is palpable, especially Emma’s because she lost her oldest
companions, Tess and Flash, in such quick succession. For all of us it is an
But most of all, Flash changed me, and changed Art, forever. Flash raised our
standard for understanding dogs and made us passionate advocates of complex
canine cognition. He changed my thinking, my practice of medicine, and expanded
my ability to be compassionate. He redefined the way I approach the specialty
of behavioral medicine. His professional behavior mod video will be out in
2008, and now I will also write a popular book about what I learned from him.
We never owned Flash. We might have been his guardians, but I know we were his
Flash was always teaching and in the last 2 months he taught me about complete
joy and love that occurs truly in the moment. He taught me to look forward, not
back, and to live to the fullest in the present. He reminded me how special
the first snow is, and that you can learn a lot by smelling the passing air.
His lessons of recovery and redemption are transcendent. We are all devastated
by his death. I promised him that to honor him we would bring in another Aussie
who had started down the problem path and teach him what Flash knew. Flash
would be more equal to this than I am, but I will try.
So the next time you encounter a difficult or troubled dog, think about Flash
and how what they can teach you can make all the difference.
In my grief I cannot possibly remember everyone Flash touched so please forward
this e-mail to whomever I missed.