Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Love My Job or The Story of Obed

I love my job. It's never the same - even when I'm presenting the same material. You never know what's going to come out of a student's mouth. Last week, I had the honor of teaching Careers with Animals to a 5th grade class at Fenton Charter. The class was engaging, intelligent and fun. They kept me on their toes with questions ranging from "Do I need a permit to own a tiger?" to "What do you have to do to act in a movie with a dog?" to "Can you take someone's dog if they're being mean to it?" (paraphrasing).

That last question was a heroic one without an easy answer. It came from a boy named Obed.

"What if there's a guy in your neighborhood and he's really mean to his dog? Like he hits it every day with a stick? Could you take it from him? Like sneak in at night when no one can see you? I heard that might be illegal."

First, I love the compassion of this child. It's not a common thing to see in boys. When I explained to him that he would have to sneak onto the man's property, which would be trespassing (hence the "illegal" part), he came up with this:

"But what if you're just walking by and the gate happens to be open and he comes out to say hi to you and then follows you home? Could you keep him then?"

He's not just compassionate. This is child is creative. He's a hero in the making. His creativity made me laugh. It also reminded me of a story from a man at a Humane Education Conference I attended a few years ago.

I was staying with my mother for the weekend and got to witness a sad sight. Her neighbor's five year old son taking his shoe off and throwing it at their 10 week old puppy. Before I could reach the puppy, the father yelled, "Do it again!" What had the puppy done? It had bolted off the chain it was tied to in the front yard. I stepped in to help the poor thing, but the father grabbed the puppy and ran. Ironic that I was attending a conference on Humane Education...and it happened to be at the ASPCA. I reported him first thing in the morning and an Animal Control Officer was sent out immediately.

After sharing my story with the table I was seated at, one of the men told us that he had a neighbor who kept his American Pit Bull Terrier puppy tied up in the yard. This pup was never let off the chain. It never got to come inside the house - rain or shine. Rarely did the poor thing have food or water. It didn't have shelter. He lived in an area where it snowed during the winter. As if the living conditions weren't sad enough, the young man who owned the dog beat and kicked it frequently. They didn't have Animal Control in their area. He had tried repeatedly to speak with the young man and his girlfriend, to educate them, but they weren't open to it.

One night the puppy disappeared.

"I don't know what happened to it," he said, winking at me. "But I'm pretty sure it got a really good home."

I wonder if this will be Obed in thirty years. After he wins his Oscar and is commanding $20 million a film acting with dogs.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pet Sitters

I must admit, it's hard for me to leave my pets for the weekend. We left the cats for a week while on our honeymoon, a week each summer while we go camping and a few weekends a month. When we travel, Lily comes with us. She's welcome at every house we go to. She's a good girl - well socialized, well trained and well loved. We've left her once overnight. That's it. This past weekend brought a trip to Vegas. We left Lily with a pet sitter.

Our pet sitter is the best - she is a vet tech who is currently studying to be a vet! I've also known her since she was a pre-teen. We love Shirley. And best of all, she loves our pets - especially our Lily. Shirley has a pit mix of her own so she knows and loves the breed. She's also patient with the numerous medications and my long list of instructions.

My best friend happens to be the proud owner of Lily's favorite boy, Bubba. I arranged two playdates for her while we were gone. As you can see, she didn't miss us during the playdates.

Or after them:

Wednesday is a shy cat. She never comes out for ANYONE. Not in her five years with us. But this is what happened when we left town. Wednesday decided that Shirley's lap was as good as dad. And she slept with Shirley as well. It's not hard to go out of town when your pets are well taken care of.

List of Information we left our sitter:
Our itinerary
Contact numbers (our cell phones, a local friend, number where we are staying)
Vets Number/Address
List of Medications, times they are given Feeding Time Walk Schedule & Route

I leave extras such as:
Lights to leave on when out
Favorite TV Channels when out

Here is a great list from Home Safe Pet Sitters for owners for you to use next time you have to hire a sitter. What about you - do you have a favorite pet sitter? Do you leave long lists of instructions?

Friday, March 25, 2011

FUN Friday

Happy Friday!

Let's have some FUN animal style.

These little guys are so cute!

How to Pet a Kitty (for those of you who don't know and those of us who need reminding).

I'm not sure if the baby elephant is sneezing or trying to scare the people off. Either way, it's cute.

We hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Your Pet or Your Partner

I remember vividly that morning at the shelter I volunteered for - a young woman and her new fiance brought in the woman's 5 year old shih tzu. The woman cried and shook as she filled out the paperwork to relinquish her pet. Her fiance sat stoic across the courtyard. The dog did his best to comfort his distressed owner.

We were forbidden to speak with owners relinquishing their pets. In fact, I could have lost my volunteer position for doing so. But I had seen too many of these to keep silent. I brought the poor woman a box of kleenex. As she blew her nose, I told her how cute her little dog was. She said, "He's such a good boy." She dissolved into tears again telling me his favorite toy (a little pink octopus), his favorite spot to sleep (on her pillow), his favorite walk (Balboa Park), his favorite food (roasted chicken). She bought him when her grandmother had passed away to help her ease the grief. He had been there for her at one of her darkest moments.

I asked softly, "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"I don't have a choice," she sobbed.

"There's always a choice," I told her. "He is going to be here for you long after that one is gone."

Two things I have learned over the years: 1) It's never about the pet. There's always an underlying issue when someone says to you "it's me or the dog". 2) If someone really loves you, they're not going to ask you to give up a pet that is such an important part of your life.

She didn't change her mind. She relinquished her little shih tzu. He was absolutely adorable and it was obvious she had loved him - well socialized, well trained. I don't think we had him for a full week. He went that quickly to his new home.

She came back less than a month later. Her fiance had left her. She wanted her dog back. He was already in a new home. There was no going back.

When I was in my early 30s, I met and fell in love with a man. I had a cat. He was allergic. I understand cat allergies because I have them as well. I still own three cats. It means air filters in every room, hardwood floors and extra cleaning but it is manageable. So him not being willing to work through his allergy meant we had to stop seeing each other.

Boy did I hear about it from EVERYONE. "You're a fool!" "You're choosing your cat over (insert name here)? You're CRAZY!" "You're going to spend your life alone!" (Really, Mom, I'm only 31. It's not time to push the panic button yet.)

I held firm. It broke my heart. I was in love. But I had made a lifetime commitment to my cat. There would be someone out there who would love him like I did. It took four more years for me to find him - and Junior had passed by then.

I hit the jackpot. I can have my cats and my husband too! I would never give up my pets for a person. That is no way to reward their loyalty to me. I promise to always be just as loyal to them.

Mercola has a great article on this same topic here.

What about you - would you give up your pet for a partner?
(The dog in the picture above is Henry, a 2 year old Shih Tzu looking for a home through New Life K-9 Rescue in Sherman Oaks, CA. For more info on him, click here. It's his Petfinder page.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Reading Our Dog's Signals

Did you know dogs have all the same feelings that we do? They do - happy, sad, mad, scared. Can they tell us how they feel? YES. But not with words. They tell us exactly how they are feeling in their own way - with their body language. Many owners just aren't adept at reading the signals.

My husband can read them well. He just doesn't always pay attention to them.

He loves to hike with Lily. I'll admit freely he is probably the more loved parent as everything is fun with daddy. From hikes that are a grand adventure (think "map? we don't need no stinkin' map!") to treats (think "but she just looked so cute - look at that face, I had to give her a bite of my ). They almost always have a great time.


We are fortunate enough to live close to many hikes in the area we reside in. There are so many options that we could hike every single day and not run out of new places to go. We do have our favorites, though. One of my husband's favorite hikes just happens to start out right next to a shooting range for our local police. The hike goes up the hill next to the range, skirts the rim above it and drops back down in a loop. This means gunshots echoing all around you the entire hike. Not a pleasant experience if you don't like guns (me) or if you have super hearing (Lily). Last week, my husband took poor Lily on this hike, his favorite. I got an angry phone call from him later that went something like this.

"When are you coming home?"
"In about an hour. I have one more class to teach, why?"
"Because you need to ask Lily why we didn't finish the hike and I won't be hiking her anymore."
Since Lily can't communicate THAT well with her body and I'm not into dog to human charades, I went with, "Why don't I just ask you?"
"She was acting hinky the whole way up the trail."
"Define hinky."
"Scared. Her tail was tucked, her ears were back, her eyes were wide."
"Was there shooting?"
"Not that I heard." (It should be noted that my husband only hears out of one ear and not very well in that one he does have hearing in)
"So there was. Why didn't you turn around and take her somewhere else?"
"Because we love that hike."
"You love that hike. What happened?"
"When we got to the top, I took her off leash. She was okay for a few feet, then she turned to look at me and bolted back to the car."

The car is in parking lot back down this steep hill and Lily had to cross a street to get to it.

"Did you try her recall word?" (Usually he panics and forgets to)
"Yes, I did it a few times and she just kept running so I took off after her. Can you believe she did that?"

What about you, dear reader? Can you believe she did that? Or were you, like me, mystified as to why he took a dog off leash when she had given him every indication that she was scared, uncomfortable and did not want to be in that place?

I took Lily's side on this one (not really, I don't take sides, but I did understand WHY she did this) while acknowledging his anger and frustration. She gave every indication through her body language that she was afraid. This fear was ignored by the person who was supposed to keep her safe. It was no surprise to me that she headed back to the car. Whether or not there was anything that my husband thought she should be fearful of, she was and she let him know that she was.

Tail tucked, ears back, eyes wide - all clear signs that she is feeling uncomfortable and afraid.

Instead of realizing that she was scared and had tried to show him that, he was taking it personally because she defied him - this scared dog ignored her owner. Fear is a very heavy motivating factor. I've enrolled the two of them in a rocket recall class so he can over this with the trainer (who will tell him what I said, but he won't take it personally coming from her). It will be a bonding experience for the two of them and teach him what to do in situations like this (because I have no doubt that this will happen again, I married a wonderful but extremely stubborn man).

It's important for us to learn our dog's body language and imperative for us to pay attention to it. Heed the warnings. Anything from a bolting dog to a biting dog can happen if we don't know what their signals mean and don't act appropriately when we see them.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Is that a TICK?

My husband uttered those horrible words no dog owner ever wants to hear (especially HOURS after a hike) - Is that a TICK?

I was out of my chair and kneeling in front of Lily as soon as he finished the sentence. Yes, it was. I had flicked one off her back on the trail. With her short coat, they are easy to spot. I have been in the habit of checking her over after EVERY traipse off the trail. The minute she comes back to me, she gets a good once over.

How did I miss this one? No matter, the damage was done and the little sucker (I used a different word than that, but let's keep the blog PG) was already burrowing. No problem. My husband backpacks into the woods off trail with his buddies frequently. I'm used to plucking those little suckers (again, keepin' it PG) out of their backs, off their stomachs, off their legs. (Side note for backpackers: One guy starts consuming mass amounts of garlic before their trips and I have never plucked a tick off him.)

I wielded my tweezers with confidence. My husband pinched her skin, holding it up so I could get a good grasp on the tick. I grabbed it right against the skin and slowly pulled. Nothing. I pulled harder. The tweezers slipped and cut the thing in half.

Oh crud.

I fought down panic. We repeated the process and I got everything...but the head.

Now, the panic came over me in waves. The head. The worst part. And it was still in my dog.

When this happens, Google is NOT your friend. A quick search reassured me that my dog was headed for death with several nasty diseases. This statement came up repeatedly: If you are not careful, you can leave the head behind and your dog exposed to numerous diseases.

I was upset that the part of the tick that carried disease would be in her overnight. I set my alarm and called the vet first thing in the morning after tossing and turning all night. They fit me in, but reassured me that she would be fine.

My vet said this (paraphrasing): The head of the tick = myth. Disease is not carried in the head. It's carried in the stomach. Leaving the head behind is not your biggest worry. Your dog's body will eventually rid itself of the head. The worst thing to do is squeeze the middle of the tick, sending the stomach contents (which do contain the diseases) into your dog. This is when we should worry about infection and tick borne illnesses.

We are watching Lily for signs of infection and will treat her accordingly if that happens. Tick borne illness is rare in this area. I have a list of symptoms to watch for, but the vet didn't expect we would be seeing any.

I came home and ordered a tick hook. We're not planning on having to pull any ticks in the future, but I want to be prepared just in case. We don't need a repeat. Lily was so patient with us. She let us work on her for half an hour without a single complaint. It would be nice if we could get it out in under five minutes next time - and get all of it!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Help With WHERE to Get a Pet

These terms are meant to help those interested in getting a pet distinguish between the variety of choices out there. Some of the following options profit off of inhumane practices, while others give people the opportunity to save an animal’s life. By becoming familiar with all of these options, people can acquire their new pet from a responsible source and avoid contributing to the overpopulation crisis.

Shelters do not fall under a national governing body. They differ in many ways, from funding, to admission, to euthanasia policies. Regardless of type, all of the rescue categories have some wonderful, reputable groups as well as some that are not so great.

City & County Shelters - These shelters are owned and run by the government and are completely supported by tax dollars. They are usually named after the town or city followed by Animal Control or Animal Services. They are required to accept all dogs and cats being relinquished regardless of space available at their shelter. They often are responsible for enforcing city animal laws and investigating cruelty cases.

Private Shelters - Usually these are non-profit organizations run by a board of directors, and are supported by donations and grants. Larger, full service shelters are often named by the city followed by Humane Society or SPCA. Admission policies vary by the size of the shelter, and they usually try to keep the animal as long as they can. They often strive for low euthanasia rates and have active adoption, humane education, and spay/neuter programs. Occasionally private shelters will have a contract with the city to aid in animal control duties in the community.

Rescue Groups - Usually they are smaller, non-profit organizations with limited resources. They may or may not have an actual shelter, and those that don't typically house their animals in foster homes or board them at kennels while awaiting adoption. Some groups focus their rescue efforts solely on a specific breed.

National Groups - The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), American Humane Association (AHA) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) do not have a direct role in the running of shelters around the country. They are largely educational organizations and some are heavily involved in passing legislation. People often pay to join national groups as members mistakenly believing their donations will fund shelters in their own communities. While these groups do many wonderful things with their money, this is usually not the case (although the ASPCA does run a shelter in New York City). SPCA's across the country are own their own separate entities, and have NO affiliation with the ASPCA.

"No-kill" Shelter - This term is often misinterpreted, and its no wonder given the misleading (and sometimes intentionally deceptive) manner in which it's used. The term "no-kill" is generally accepted by the animal protection profession as meaning "no euthanasia of animals which are adoptable, or who will be adoptable after medical or behavioral treatment or rehabilitation." First and foremost, people often don’t realize that many "no-kill" shelters do in fact euthanize animals that they deem to be unadoptable. The confusion is largely due to the fact that different shelters have vastly different resources to put towards solving an animal’s issue, and making it "adoptable."

For example, Shelter A might have limited kennel space but also have a staff member trained in behavior modification. Shelter B might have more kennel space and no trainers on staff. If a dog has an upper respiratory infection, he’ll be treated and adopted at Shelter B, but euthanized at shelter A because they don't have the kennel space to isolate him while he recovers. Another dog coming in with mild resource-guarding issues would be adopted at Shelter A after working with the behaviorist, and euthanized at Shelter B which lacks a behaviorist. Technically, both shelters are "no-kill" because they are operating with a different set of resources to cope with the same problems.

There are some rescue groups that will not euthanize an animal for any reason. One concern is that many of these groups eventually find themselves overwhelmed with difficult to adopt animals. Quality of life often deteriorates for these animals, many living in overcrowded spaces and some spending the rest of their lives in a kennel and suffering severe psychological stress. Another commonly overlooked factor is that these essentially unadoptable dogs are also restricting the number of healthy, adoptable dogs these rescues could be taking in. The kennel space occupied by an unadoptable, aggressive dog for the remaining 5 years of his life could have housed dozens of highly adoptable animals in that same time period.

The "no kill" label is often attractive to donors, many of whom don't truly understand all the implications. It may sound wonderful to only support organizations that never have to euthanize an animal, but that doesn't make the overpopulation crisis any less real. The fact remains that there are currently more homeless animals than there are people willing to adopt them. While striving to make every shelter in the U.S. a "no-kill" shelter is a wonderful goal, until more people look to adoption instead of buying their pets, and until more mandatory spay/neuter laws take effect, that goal isn't realistic. If half of the U.S. shelters became no-kill overnight, the extra animals wouldn't simply disappear. It simply means the "kill" shelters would be even more overcrowded and their euthanasia rates would increase. The shelters that do take on the awful burden of euthanizing animals shouldn't be punished. The more support they receive through donations, volunteers and foster homes, the fewer they will have to euthanize. Whatever type of shelter you support, make sure you understand and agree with the organization’s policies and philosophy. No matter what you label it, what’s most important is that the shelter is providing every animal in its care with a humane lifestyle - however long it may be.

"Backyard Breeder" - This is the average pet owner who breeds their dogs "for fun", by accident, or to make extra cash just because it has AKC papers. They are willing to sell their puppies to anyone with money, and they often breed their dog at every heat cycle. This irresponsible behavior is physically hard on the mom, and it is also the largest contributor to the overpopulation problem that exists. The backyard breeder has no understanding of genetics, bloodlines, pedigree or breed improvement, so they’re usually breeding dogs with faults. This often results in puppies with health or temperament problems that may not show up until years later (like hip dysplasia). If for any reason the buyer can’t keep the dog, a backyard breeder won't take it back.

"Responsible Breeder" - Their goal is to further the best qualities of the breed (and diminish faults). They are knowledgeable about genetics, bloodlines, and canine health. They will screen buyers and turn away those whose lifestyle, commitment or home situation doesn’t agree with the needs of that breed. A good breeder keeps their dogs inside their home as a part of the family. They do NOT keep their dogs in the yard or in kennel runs. They feed high quality "premium" brand pet food. The dogs will appear happy, healthy and eager to meet new people and you will be encouraged to spend time with the puppy's parents when you visit. A responsible breeder will only breed one or two types of dog. They will be knowledgeable about breed standards (size, proportion, coat, color and temperament) and be involved in showing of purebred dogs. They will explain in detail the potential genetic problems inherent in that breed and will provide you with documentation that the puppy's bloodline has been tested to ensure that they are free of these genetic problems. A good breeder will give you guidance on caring for and training your puppy, even after you take him home. A quality breeder doesn’t always have puppies available because they only breed their dog every few years. They will keep a list of interested people for their next litter and they don't advertise in the newspaper. Responsible breeders will provide you with a written contract and health guarantee for the life of your dog. They will require some things of the adopter as well, which might include a home check, a veterinary reference and proof from your landlord that you are allowed a dog. You will be required to sign a contract stating that you will spay or neuter the dog and that you will return the dog to the breeder should you no longer be able to care for the dog at any point in the dog's life.

Puppy Mills & Pet Stores - Puppy mills are mass breeding facilities that exist only for profit. The minimum care standards are rarely enforced due to the lack of inspection officials. This means thousands of animals are kept in inhumane conditions, often for their whole lives. Breeding dogs will never see the inside of a home or experience human companionship. They will spend their entire lives in small, cramped cages stacked one of top of another. Facilities are not climate controlled and there is often insufficient food and water. The cages aren’t cleaned so their feces often winds up on themselves and in the cages underneath them. Dogs aren’t groomed so their coats often become painfully matted. Despite the rampant illness that spreads from living in such unsanitary, stressful conditions, the dogs receive little or no veterinary care. When they are no longer fertile, the dogs are simply killed or abandoned.

Pet store employees are experts at convincing well-intentioned consumers that their dogs come from private breeders. The fact is, no respectable breeder would let a pet store sell their puppies. The biggest problem with these puppies is poor health. Puppies are taken from their mother too early since they are often shipped out of state. This compromises their undeveloped immune systems so they often get sick in transit. Upon arrival at the pet store, sick puppies are then placed in poorly ventilated enclosures creating further health problems. Inbreeding is common, and since no care is taken at puppy mills to weed out undesirable genetic traits inherent to its breed, health problems are common yet might not show up until later in the dog's life. Behavioral issues are the second most common problem with pet store puppies. Puppies learn critical developmental lessons from their pack, such as bite inhibition and socialization, between 4 and 8 weeks of age. Since puppy mills commonly remove the puppies by 5 weeks, they lose this valuable education in appropriate dog behavior. By the time the puppy is purchased from the store weeks or months later, it has spent its entire life eating, sleeping and eliminating in a small confined space. This behavior is not natural for dogs. Given a choice, they prefer to avoid areas they soil. However, once they have become accustomed to living in their own filth from such a young age, it is extremely difficult to ever fully housetrain the animal.

AKC Papers - AKC stands for American Kennel Club, which is an organization that maintains a purebred dog registry. Responsible breeders use registration certificates and pedigree in order to make sure they aren't breeding two animals that are closely related (resulting in health problems). A pedigree is simply a list of names of the dog’s parents and grandparents going back many generations.

There is a commonly mistaken belief that if a dog comes with AKC papers, it's a guarantee of a quality, purebred animal. The reality is, the only criteria for AKC registration is that the puppy's parents are already registered. There is no requirement to meet any health, temperament, behavior or soundness qualifications in order to receive registration papers or pedigree. AKC papers are also not a guarantee the dog is even purebred. Most registries, including the AKC, rely on the honor system. The breeder fills in the dogs’ names on the paperwork and mails it in with a fee. The registry simply takes the breeders word for it that the information is accurate, even though it's possible the mom was actually impregnated by the neighbor's mutt by accident. The AKC does have a voluntary DNA program for those breeders that want to prove their litter's parentage (for a higher fee). The reason AKC papers are important is not because it means you’re getting a quality purebred, but because NOT having them means you’re dealing with an irresponsible breeder. If a breeder was too lazy or inexperienced to bother checking the lineage of the dogs before he bred them, you’re probably going to get an unhealthy puppy - and that's not someone you want to reward with cash.

Paws and Learn Recommendation:
The best place to get a pet is through a shelter or rescue group. Shelters across the country are overwhelmed with dogs and cats of all ages and breeds that are in desperate need of loving homes. There are also numerous rescues dedicated to small companion animals like rabbits, birds and guinea pigs, as well as horses and farm animals. Save a life! If you are set on going to a breeder, however, it's critical to research how to find one that's responsible. You’ll wind up with a healthier animal, and if at any point you need to give it up the breeder will take it back, which means you won’t be adding another dog to an already overcrowded shelter.

All experts agree that pet stores are the worst place to get a puppy and should never be considered as an option. Aside from getting an unhealthy animal, you're supporting an industry that subjects animals to incredibly inhumane living conditions. This industry will only be shut down when consumers stop buying their dogs.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Hardest Responsibility of Owning a Pet

This is Patches. She was one of my mother's cats. Patches was the runt of a litter whose mother was killed by a car when she was only a few days old. She was hand raised (bottlefed) by a shelter volunteer. She came to live with my mom was she was twelve weeks old. My mother said goodbye to her last year at fourteen years of age.

When we get a pet, we make a lifetime commitment to that pet. We pledge to love that pet up until the very last breath of their life or ours. Loving a pet is more than a hug or kiss. It's doing everything we can to ensure they live a long, healthy life...and then being there with them when it is time for them to go. We pledge to recognize when they are in pain, when they can no longer live a painfree existence and we pledge to end their lives humanely. My mother had a difficult decision as Patches health started failing last year. Within a few weeks, Mom realized that her cat was no longer enjoying life. She was in pain most of the time.

Did Mom want to say goodbye? No. She loved Patches. Truth be told, out of the two cats, Patches was the one she was the most bonded with. Patches slept with her every night. At 11pm, if she wasn't in the bedroom, this cat would come down the hallway crying out to let Mom know it was bedtime. If Mom overslept, she would bite her nose gently but with enough pressure to wake her up.

Mom could have been selfish. She could have kept Patches alive so that she didn't have to grieve or be alone. But is that anyway to reward the loyalty of your pet? Make them live out their final days in pain, suffering just because YOU as a pet owner can't stand to say goodbye? That isn't fair to the pet who has loved you and been by your side all those years. My Mom made the right decision. Not the easiest one, but the one that benefited her beloved cat. She took her in and held her while the vet ended her life humanely. Gone was the painful, crippling arthritis. Gone was the suffering. Patches was running freely over the Rainbow Bridge.

My aunt and uncle had to make the same courageous, painful decision for their dog, Sasha last year. Sasha developed lymphoma. Rather than put her through chemo that might prolong her life for only a few months, but take away any quality of it, they chose to allow her to live the last of her days comfortably. They carefully monitored her condition. When she took a turn for the worse, they went with her to the vet and loved her to the very last second she took a breath. My uncle's Facebook status said that she was "the best dog that ever lived."

Saying goodbye is hard to do. There are support groups out there to help us through the grieving process. Part of our responsibility as pet owners is to not allow our pets to suffer if we can end that pain. When a cat has crippling arthritis that keeps them from being able to sit down, that makes every step painful, it is our responsibility to alleviate that suffering when drugs or supplements no longer can. That is our pledge as a pet owner. Is it easy to honor? Never. But it necessary.

Friday, March 11, 2011

FUN Friday

Happy Friday, everyone!

Not much cuter than puppies falling asleep!

These two are selling their brother out.

We love Dogs & Storks. They're reaching out to teach families how to prepare their dog for the baby. Here is an adorable video from them - adorable baby, adorable puppy with humongous ears! And a very good demonstration of incorporating your dog into part of your every day routine with baby.

This cat loves to get a bath...from a deer!

For our Bird Lovin' Fans out there...I think this guy dances better than my husband (shhhhh)!

Paws and Learn wishes everyone a great weekend!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

To Leash or Not to Leash - Is There Really a Question?

Nothing is more annoying than walking your dog in the neighborhood and having another dog rushing up off leash - whether to greet or to pick a fight. We have two problems in this area: the off leash dog and the flexi-leash dog. Both are equally annoying and innapropriate on city streets.

Off Leash
I know you think your dog is so well trained that they will never leave your side. Two weeks ago, I got to watch a well trained dog get hit by a car. All it took was a squirrel and training went out the window, leaving it with nothing but dog instincts. Can't fault the dog. Something runs, it gives chase. The owner, for all the training, hadn't bothered with "leave it" command. It didn't need one, after all. For five years it had never left the man's side on walks through our neighborhood. All it took was one moment. A mere two seconds. Well trained dog was now a dead dog. Was this the fault of the dog? No. The owner failed him. This is the second time I have watched that happen. We had a golden retriever who used to run with his owner in our Studio City neighborhood. The jogger felt the leash was too cumbersome. It was nice that his dog could stop to sniff and he could keep on going. Despite having numerous talks with him, he continued this practice. A cat was the cause of that dog dashing into the street. Cat made it safely to the other side. Dog did not. The owner was mad at the dog. Because a dog should never, ever act like a dog. It should behave like a well trained robot, right? Wrong. Dogs LOVE to chase things that move. Trust me, your dog is NO exception. Even Lily, who has an incredibly low prey drive (okay, she's lazy), will give chase once in a blue moon. The difference? A leash and a recall word that stops her in her tracks.

Another problem with your dog being off leash is that not every dog is into saying 'hi'. Your dog may enjoy the company of other dogs, but not every dog is that way. All it takes is your dog rushing up to a dog aggressive dog and we have ourselves a trip to the emergency vet. Just because someone's jack russell terrier is dog aggressive doesn't mean that they shouldn't be walked. It means your dog should be on a leash so that the jack russell can enjoy his walk in peace without your dog sticking her nose in his face. I have had well trained dogs race across the street to rudely greet Lily - darting across traffic to a strange dog. My dog is extremely tolerant when it comes to other dogs. But what if she wasn't? Now your dog is injured. That's not the leashed dog owner's fault. That's on you. It's your job to protect your dog - from everything, including themselves.

This also applies to hiking areas that require a dog be on leash. If you see that sign, your dog needs to be on leash. This may shock you (it certainly did me!), but not everyone likes dogs. Even people who are into nature, aren't always into a dog drooling all over them in greeting. It's your responsibility to have control of your dog. They are allowed to enjoy their hike without being rushed by dogs. Also, people who have dog aggressive dogs still like to hike those dogs. One of my bestfriends owns a cattle dog that is dog choosey. There was nothing more annoying than hiking him on a trail that had a clearly posted DOGS MUST BE ON LEASH sign only to have dogs off leash and racing toward him to greet. Their owners would shout "he/she's friendly" and we would have to shout back "he's NOT." More than once, we were faced with ignorant people who would callously state "if he doesn't like other dogs, why are you hiking him?" Because he likes to hike. He needs his exercise. He has just as much right to be on that trail as any other dog. We chose to hike on trails that required leashes so that her dog AND your dog would be safe. If you don't follow the leash laws on trail and your dog gets hurt, that's not the fault of the dog owner who obeyed the law. Your dog relies on you to keep him or her safe. Complying with leash laws is a great way to fulfill that responsibility!

When we were in puppy classes with Lily, we were instructed to purchase a flexi-leash for use ONLY in our own yard or a wide open park. This was to help us practice recall with her safely. We also enjoy using it while hiking her in places that require she be on leash. This allows her the freedom to explore her environment safely - she can get ahead or fall behind, but she's always attached to us. In my neighborhood, every small dog owner walks them on flexi-leashes. They have no control over their dog. Dogs will round the corner with their owners a good twelve feet behind them - far too late to do anything about a fight. I have yet to encounter even one flexi-leash walker who actually knows how to operate it. As their dogs are yipping and barking and snarling in my dogs face, they're simply shouting at their own dogs (which does no good since they never trained them in the first place). A few might attempt to reign them in by hand, which gets them a nice burn on their palm. No dog should be walked in neighborhoods on a flexi. You have no control over your own dog. Even if you know how to operate the leash, it can lock up on you (a friend had that happen when we were hiking). They're not fail safe. Your dog should not be rounding the corner without you. You need to be able to see what is happening. You can't do that if you are several feet behind your dog. It's also dangerous if you happen to encounter a dog aggressive dog. Your dog is already engaged before you have rounded the corner.

A six foot leash is all you need for neighborhood walks. You should exercise courtesy and caution. As dog owners, we have a responsibility regardless of the size or breed of our dog. If you are currently using a flexi-leash on your walks, you need to switch to a standard leash. If you are not using a leash at all, you need to start - for the safety of your own dog. Walks should be fun - for everyone!

Monday, March 7, 2011

How Much is That Doggy in the Window?

Our new Dog Fact in our FLASH on the Home Page reads: The average guardian spends over $1,000 per year caring for their dog.

For most of us, we don't even think about the amount of money that goes into caring for our dogs. Our dogs are lucky enough to be members of our families and are treating accordingly. Not all dogs live this wonderful life, though.

Others are purchased or adopted by people who don't think past the initial cost of owning a dog. I hear over and over and over "I didn't realize how expensive it would be!"; "She needs (blank medical), but there's no way we can afford it!"; "I don't have the money to spay her or to feed this litter of puppies. She just keeps having them." I will spare you the horror stories we hear with the last sentence. They aren't humane or pretty.

I will admit that I didn't think much about how much owning a dog would be. We got Lily at the shelter for $200. That included her spay, microchip, shots, leash, collar and a bag of dog food. Quite the bargain, I would later find out. Lily is a blue fawn (color, not a breed or type) American Staffordshire Terrier. At least, that's what she was listed as at the shelter but we have our doubts. For starters, she weighs 80 pounds. It's not fat. It's muscle. She's at least 20 pounds too big for that breed. Her body is far too long and her legs too tall to be considered APBT or AmStaff. The vet sees more Mastiff in her than anything. My dad sees some Lab. But puppies that look like her are sold all over the internet as "rare" pit bull puppies. They go for $200 each - without any shots or the extras Lily came with.

I thought it would be fun to break down how much we spend on Lily. We'll start with the puppy. $200 adoption fee.

We put Lily through training right away - two classes back to back (Beginner and Intermediate) to the tune of $240 total. This was more for us than for her. We needed to be taught how to effectively communicate with a dog. Thank you, J9sK9s.

We fed her a raw diet because it turned out that she had bad allergies thanks to her breeding and color. I knew that blues had allergies from my research before we got a dog. She has defied even those. Her food costs us $60 a week. Feeding her cheap kibble is not an option. That increases our monthly vet bills.

Her medication runs $50 a month. This is too keep her scratching to an acceptable level. Poor kibble and no meds means she scratches and whines non-stop throughout the day. Not acceptable. So we fork that over.

Our average monthly vet bill runs $200. That's on a good month. She's prone to skin infections because of her coloring and allergies. On months that we have to treat the infections, it can run double to triple that cost. We have an emergency fund set aside for her that we keep at about $1000. That gets us through the months when we run high on medical, but that also has to be replenished on the months after we've dipped into it for a bad month.

Lily requires toys. All dogs should have toys. Dogs don't dig and bark and chew because they are bad. They do those things because they are BORED. No squeaky toy to chew on? No problem. Your leather shoe tastes yummy and keeps them occupied. If they're outside, they'll dig the garden up for fun. They have to occupy themselves in some way. Because of her breed, Lily can be tough on toys. She loves a game of tug with her doggy friends, but they can demolish the toys quickly. Indestructible? That only slows them down. It will last five minutes instead of five seconds. We have a monthly toy budget of $40.

We feed Lily raw marrow bones in the yard once a week to clean her teeth. It's a great workout for her jaw and it keeps her occupied for awhile. There are many benefits to feeding a raw bone. We get a package of them for $15. That lasts us a month.

So, for Lily's first year of life, we spent...

Adoption $200
Training $240
Food $3120
Medicine $600
Vet $2400
Toys $480
Bones $180
TOTAL $7220

That's just for one year. It also doesn't include everything (leashes, collars, puppy parties, beds, crate). In the three years of her life, we have spent roughly $21,660!


Are we crazy? No (well, maybe, but that's a separate issue). We spend what we have so that she can enjoy her life. We didn't adopt her thinking this would be the cost, but it is. We want her to live a long, healthy, happy life so we pay it.

She's gone from this...

To this...

To this...

Healthy (as she can be) and happy. Totally worth the money.

What about you - how much do you spend on your dog?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Interview with Author Michelle Sathe

Today, we bring you an interview with Michelle Sathe, author of Pit Stops Crossing the Country with Loren the Rescue Bully.

A brief description of the book (taken from the back cover):
When journalist and animal welfare advocate Michelle Sathe turns 40, she bypasses a midlife crisis for a great American road trip. But this isn’t just any road trip…along for the ride is Loren, a young female pit bull whom Sathe fell in love with while volunteering at The Brittany Foundation dog rescue in Southern California. Sathe and Loren set out to explore 29 states in 50 days, for a whirlwind sampling of regional cuisine, historic landmarks, and just plain fun. Mile by mile, whether they’re avoiding Ohio due to breed specific legislation or making the unlikeliest of friends in the Deep South, Sathe and Loren forge a bond that only 24/7 togetherness can create. Their exploits take readers along on an unforgettable journey filled with laughter, sadness, insight, and ultimately, hope.

How did you get started writing?
My writing career started when I took on a company newsletter as an executive assistant. I really liked putting together short stories about the business and its employees.

Then, I moved to Shanghai in 1999 for 15 months, where I entered a poetry contest for an English-language magazine and won. When they advertised for a copy editor, I applied, got the job and offered to start writing restaurant , music and movie reviews.

Subsequently, I was a PR manager for a couple of Western restaurants in China, which required writing press releases, so by the time I got back to the US I had international experience and was able to score a public relations job in the nutritional supplement industry.

My journalism career started while I was in public relations. A friend of mine gave an article I had done, appropriately enough, on a local rescue to the publisher she worked for and he started hiring me as a freelancer. Eventually, he took over The Signal newspaper in Santa Clarita and offered me a full-time job as a features writer.

It’s been kind of an unusual career trajectory, as I’ve had no formal training and do not have a journalism degree (or any college degree or that matter). But I find, if there’s a will, there’s a way, especially if you work hard.

What inspired you to write this book?
I’d always wanted to write a book and take the great American road trip, so when I turned 40 in May 2009, I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to do both.

At first, I was planning to take my own dog Buster, but then, after volunteering at The Brittany Foundation, I realized the dogs there needed a vacation way more than mine did.

So, I chose Loren, who I’d fallen in love with, and crowned her bully ambassador. Loren inspired me to find out the truth about what was happening to pit bulls and homeless pets across the country.

What was the most uplifting experience on your trip?
Meeting the many people who work tirelessly to give pit bulls and bully breeds a second chance. There are a lot of them in America and they’re incredible human beings.

What was the most heartbreaking experience of the trip?
Realizing just how big the problem is and that it’s everywhere, from urban to rural areas. In some cities, bully breeds make up 80 to 90 percent of the dogs in shelters and most of them don’t make it out alive.

There are people who fight these dogs, breed them and/or mistreat them. It’s overwhelmingly sad and hard to digest how humans can be so cruel and how many innocent animals die because of irresponsibility, neglect or worse.

How did most people react to Loren?
I’d say 90 percent of people were positive and would come up to us to tell us about their own pit bulls or the pit bull they had as a kid. The other 10 percent would either avoid us, sometimes crossing the street to do so, or outright act as if they were scared. It was very strange to me, that people can be so prejudice against dogs. Loren still has her ears and, in my opinion, looks like a sweet little marshmallow.

In a strange sense, though, there’s some security in the fact that people can be a bit scared of bully breeds, at least when you’re a woman traveling alone across country. I felt very confident that no one was going to mess with me and no one did…and we passed through some fairly shady places.

How did you find the overall attitude about “pit bulls” as you crossed the country?
It was mixed. Many people, as I stated above, love pit bulls and think they’re great dogs. The minority were negative. However, we also came across people that bred bullies and someone I suspected, later on, may have been a dog fighter. These dogs are obviously not seen as family pets and that breaks my heart.

Can we look forward to another book from you in the future?
Yes, actually, I’m hitting the road to promote Pit Stops on May 9 and will also gather material for Pit Stops 2: Adventures with Kara.

Kara is a three year old female bully that was bred, dumped at a killshelter and slated for death before a volunteer named Kyle Harris saved her. Kyle has a foster kennel in her garage and kindly agreed to let me take Kara on the road. Hopefully, her story will have a happy ending like Loren’s.

Anyway, in between signings, Kara and I will go camping and meet with new rescuers, so that will be book fodder. Look for Pit Stops 2 in the summer of 2012.

You volunteer at the Brittany Foundation. What drew you to that rescue?
In 2008, I was a producer for SCVTV and ended up doing the on-air for a segment on The Brittany Foundation. I had been looking for a place to volunteer, but couldn’t do so at a shelter, where dogs are killed. It would be too hard for me.

The Brittany Foundation is a no-kill rescue. It was really clean and the dogs were well taken care of. During the taping, I had fallen for Loren and a crazy little terrier named Roxy, so I inquired about how I could help. Within a week, I was cleaning out kennels and walking dogs. Now I’m a board member and volunteer coordinator.

We’ve made a lot of improvements over the last few years and attracted a lot of new volunteers, so I’m really happy about how the Brittany Foundation family has grown. While it’s not ideal for any dog to be at a rescue for months, years or their whole lives, the dogs at Brittany Foundation really have a lot of love and better living conditions than many dogs that are in “homes.”

Additionally, I’m a board member and the PR director for Bow-Wows & Meows, a non-profit which hosts an annual pet fair for L.A. County shelter animals. Last year, we adopted out 155 dogs and cats in five hours. The founder, Yvonne Allbee, is now one of my best friends and the board is incredibly dedicated. I’m honored to be a part of it.

How many dogs do you have? What breeds/ages?
I am the proud mother of two bully breeds, both of whom I found as strays. I tried to find their owners, but, surprise surprise, they were never claimed.

Sam showed up on my porch Christmas Day 2000, after initially coming up to me and my pack during our morning walk. He is now 11 years old and, I suspect, an American Bulldog/pit mix.

Buster I found while covering a story at a shopping center. He was wandering around the parking lot, a little brindle puppy with one ear sticking up. Buster is now six and I believe he’s a Staffordshire Bull Terrier mix of some kind.

I love them both dearly and appreciate that they don’t get mad when I spend time to help other dogs who are less fortunate. At least, I think they don’t. They have a pretty nice life in the mountains.

If you don't have a copy of Pit Stops yet, you're missing out! You can purchase the book HERE. $1 from every purchase goes to benefit The Brittany Foundation (so you get to feel extra good about spending money!).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Conclusion to the Bob Saga

For those of you that don't know the Bob Saga, it starts here and continues here.

Bob was not going to go into a trap. I figured that out within two days of having one. Since he was so terribly skinny, I couldn't afford to continue starving him in hopes that he would go in. Instead, I pulled out a crate. I started feeding him right at the mouth of the crate. The next meal, I moved it just a bit farther back. Each day, I would move the meals until he had to go all the way into the crate to eat. This took me four days. On the third day, he was eating all the way inside, but would not go in with me next to it. Yesterday, he starting going in with me right there. This took incredible patience. It meant I had to be present for every meal - at the beginning and through it.

Last week, Bob started letting me pet him. After a day of petting, he started seeking me out. He would wander into our yard when he knew Lily was in the house and wait for me. When I would come out, he would run to me. Such a sweet, sweet boy. I was as smitten as he was becoming.

Unlike my ferals, Bob would come out during the day. In two weeks time, he warmed up to me and sought me out. This told me he used to be someone's pet. By the condition of him, I felt that he had been outside for some time. He was a "hot mess." His fur was matted, he was missing teeth and his mouth was full of puss. After a particularly bad day yesterday, I decided I had to just grab him. I taught this morning, came home this afternoon to him waiting for me (see picture above where he was asleep on the carrier). I put food in, he went all the way in and I shut the door.

Off to the vet we went. My husband met us there because he was curious as to what the outcome would be. We were worried. Would he had kidney failure? Would the vet recommended euthanisia because he was so ill? We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. The vet tech scanned him for a microchip just in case.

He had one.

They told us not to get our hopes up because they had seen this happen over and over lately - families moving and leaving their pets behind on the streets. My husband told them to stress that we wanted to keep Bob so that the family would be honest. If they didn't want him, he had a home with us. We didn't want them to lie and have him end up back on the street without the vet care he desperately needed.

Bob's real name is Lily (what are the chances?). He was a she. She was being missed terribly by a grieving owner who was leaving food out and setting traps every night in hopes of recovering her after a handyman let her out.

They lived across the street from us and down three houses.

Many people believe that cats can always find their way home. They can't. Even when they are that close to home. Microchips save lives. They reunite pets with their owners. Lily has a very happy ending. All it took was some compassion, patience and responsible owners who had their beloved pet microchipped.

I miss her. But I'm glad she's home!