I love it when something works really well. That’s why I wanted to write about managing a flea infestation for My Favorite Things.

We took in a little rescued dog several years ago. At the time, we had no flea issues, though we live in an area that has more than its fair share of the pesky parasites and a moderate climate that doesn’t seem to slow them down in any season.

Max, the formerly flea-infested mutt, after his recovery. Photographic art by Tim Bulone.

A day or so after we got ‘Max,’ I saw a couple of fleas on him. I tried to reach the fosterer from whom we’d gotten him to find out what preventive she’d been using. (He’d been in foster care for almost six months because of his apparent lack of socialization as a puppy and possible mistreatment, and I didn’t want to bombard him with more changes than necessary.) He came with a bed, blanket, toys, treats, a bag of food, a new leash and collar, and even an ID tag etched with his name and our telephone number. But apparently he didn’t come with any flea preventive.

Of course, before I could even connect with the fosterer, fleas were everywhere. Despite using a topical spot-on, fleas continued to feed on the poor dog. He clearly was getting re-exposed.

Even though I’ve lived with dogs all my life, I’d never dealt with such a flea problem. Our years in the desert spoiled us for having animals anyplace else.

I’d read – and edited – numerous stories on flea prevention and even infestation management over the years, but when it came to specific product brands, I was at a loss. So, I called a friend who had a pet care business for advice.

Out of it came my favorite flea infestation things, not just products, but a protocol of sorts.

A trip to Petco for Zodiac Flea and Tick shampoo and a flea collar started our recovery.  Back at home, into the big old utility sink Max went, but only after running a ring of the shampoo around his neck, right under his jaw and ears. Why? To keep the fleas from dashing to his head when his belly hit the water.  A good lathering and a triple rinsing later, I estimated that 75 percent of the fleas went down the drain.

While I was dousing the dog, my husband cut a piece off the flea collar and put it in the bag of our vacuum. He stripped our bed, vacuumed both sides of the mattresses, then headed to the living room to attack our sectional couch. When done, he took the vacuum bag out to the big trash container in the alley. Full disclaimer: we live in a small apartment without carpeting or draperies, so we did have an easier fight before us than most dog owners do.

I washed our sheets and other bedding in hot water, disinfectant and lots of soap.

Two days later, I gave Max another bath, with the same ring of shampoo around his neck. The next day, my husband did the vacuuming job again.

One more bath, and in one week, we went from flea circus to flea-free.

Thankfully, regular use of a spot-on has kept the nasty little pests off Max ever since. (For anyone who thinks Advantage or Frontline isn’t working as well as it used to, it’s just not true. I interviewed researchers recently who said the active ingredients are – rather amazingly – still very effective. And whenever they investigate a particular case, they find extenuating circumstances, such as a visiting non-treated dog or a pack of raccoons living behind a shed.)

So, if you find yourself with a flea issue, I heartily recommend this plan. It worked for us, and hopefully it will work for you too.