Some dogs you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley

The Wild Hunt. Gabriel hounds. Black Shuck. The Baskerville Hound. Fluffy.

Wait. Fluffy?

Any devoted Harry Potter fan knows Fluffy, the fearsome three-headed dog who guarded the philosopher’s stone in the first volume of the Potter saga. Fluffy, purchased by Rubeus Hagrid from “a Greek chappie,” is a not-so-subtle reference to Cerberus, the canine guardian of the gate to Hades, the Greek underworld. Cerberus was also said to have been the companion of the Greek goddess Hecate, who ruled the night, the moon, magic and witchcraft.

Spectral or supernatural dogs have been featured in mythology for millennia. In Egyptian lore, the dog-headed god, Anubis, weighed the hearts of the dead to determine their fate in the underworld. He was thought to protect graves and cemeteries and, later, to escort the dead from life to afterlife.

The connection of dogs to death and the afterlife isn’t limited to Egypt and Greece. A host of ghost dog tales arose in medieval northern Europe. Stories of spectral canines are found from Scandinavia to Germany to France, but especially in Great Britain.

The hounds of the unearthly Wild Hunt may be the best known of these ghostly dogs. Known in Wales as the Cwn Annwn, the white hounds with red ears – a coloration that symbolizes their otherworldly nature and their association with death – run wrongdoers to earth as well as escort souls to the next world. Legend has it that they run only on certain nights throughout the year, including All Saints’ Day on November 1, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

The vision of a phantom black dog foretells death in many parts of Great Britain. One such nocturnal canine apparition is the Barghest, a black dog with red eyes who haunts lonely byways, preying on unfortunates who come his way, and foretelling death by lying across the threshold of the doomed person’s home.

Another ghastly dog who haunts the British countryside is Black Shuck. The shaggy black dog with saucer-size flaming eyes roams East Anglia. Legend has it that seeing him is a precursor of bad luck or death by the end of the year.

Some black dogs have a more benevolent reputation. The Gurt, or Great, Dog of Somerset is a benign canine whose role is to protect children. And Jo Ashbeth Coffey of Devon, England, recalls the time she was living in Berkshire and saw a large black dog on a bend in the road as she was riding home on her motorbike.

“The next day I slowed down right at that corner remembering it, and just as well. As I came around the corner there was a black horse in the middle of the road. At normal speed, it could have killed us both,” she says.

The spirit dogs of folklore have leaped into pop culture. One of the earliest is the hound of the Baskervilles, made famous in the Sherlock Holmes story. Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may have been inspired by a sinister West Country phantom known as a yeth hound.

More recently, a Scottish deerhound (dyed black) played Padfoot in the movie “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” Potter author J.K. Rowling may have adapted the notion of Padfoot from the legend of a black dog in the West Yorkshire area known as Padfoot, who was benevolent if offered kindness. In “Prisoner of Azkaban,” Padfoot is the canine form of shape-shifter Sirius Black.

While black dogs have a fearsome reputation in myths and legends, those of us who live with them know the real truth that’s out there: They are our sweet and soulful companions both in life and in memory.

Can cats have gallbladder issues?

Q: My cat has an inflamed gallbladder and maybe a blocked bile duct. I didn’t know cats could have gallbladder problems. What can you tell me about them?

A: The gallbladder is basically a storage unit for bile. This bitter, greenish-brown fluid secreted by the liver has two purposes: It helps the body break down dietary fats for absorption by the body, and it helps the body remove certain types of toxins. The gallbladder releases bile in response to hormonal signals, the bile does its job, then exits the body through the feces.

When cats develop certain liver disease such as cholangiohepatitis or hepatic lipidosis (sometimes called fatty liver disease), the accompanying inflammation can cause a bile traffic jam in the liver and biliary ducts – the pathways that bile travels into and out of the gallbladder. Bile, being a digestive fluid, isn’t just bitter – it’s caustic. When it can’t flow freely, it can cause serious tissue damage in the areas where it’s stuck.

Cats with cholangiohepatitis typically don’t feel like eating, run a fever, vomit and develop jaundice, the latter indicated by a yellow tinge to the whites of the eyes. These cats may also have associated bacterial infections, inflammatory bowel disease or pancreatitis.

Fluids, antibiotics and pain medications are prescribed to help get bile flowing, give a one-two punch to infections, and just help the cat feel better so he’ll start eating again.

Some cats have an immune-mediated form of disease that doesn’t respond to antibiotics. They are usually treated with steroids given daily or every other day. Antimicrobials, a special diet, fluids, and B vitamin and electrolyte supplements may also help.

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and journalist Kim Campbell Thornton, affiliated with