Monday, October 26, 2015
Costumes don't bother Lily. She's curious, but never scared. People still smell like people, even little people that are dressed like Ninja Turtles or Power Rangers or Avengers. We've been doing the Halloween walk with her for the last 7 years. Still, we pay attention to her body language because we don't ever want to force her into a situation that makes her uncomfortable. As she ages, one thing is becoming evident: noise sensitivity. Loud noises bother her much more than they did as a puppy.
We have one street that really gets into the Halloween spirit. To get your treats, you must make it to the front door of each house - through mazes and hazes and flashing lights and loud pops and booming explosions. We stopped taking Lily up this street last year. She had always particularly enjoyed this street because it had her two favorite things: People and TREATS! The mazes didn't bother her (it probably helped that the dog saavy parents had schooled everyone involved in the mazes that we do not jump out at people with their pets; only unsuspecting kids and adults sans dogs) and there were always cookies waiting for her at the door (and usually the ones that mom never allowed because they weren't grain free, thus raising the value of those particular treats).
Last year, I noticed that she was no longer the happy-go-lucky girl that usually walked up the street, tail waging and face relaxed. Instead, I glanced down to see her tail tucked. She chose not to go up to the front doors for cookies. We listened to her and quickly curtailed the walk, taking her down a much quieter street - only to see the old Lil return.
When everyone thinks of Halloween and pets, they tend to focus on the chocolate aspect of the holiday. Obviously, we have to be extra careful about that - keeping the chocolate up and out of the way so that they cannot get into any of it. But we also have to pay attention to their body language. The 4th of July isn't the only holiday that can be scary for our pets. Each holiday carries it's own dangers beyond food (leftovers at Thanksgiving and Christmas are a concern, but so is a house packed full of people). We can reward our dogs for their loyalty by paying attention to their needs and comfort levels on holidays.
What about you - does your dog like Halloween? Do you dress your pets up for the holiday?
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
|A young Shirley multitasking phones and computer data|
I started volunteering at a local rescue organization called Pet Orphans Fund (now known as Pet Orphans of Southern California) back when I was a junior in high school, so I would say around 2001 or so. My high school required each student to fulfill a certain number of volunteer hours. I wanted to volunteer at a place that would help cultivate my interest in helping animals in need. I am so thankful that I found Pet Orphans!
I continued to volunteer there for a couple of years, even though I completed my required amount of hours for school after a few weeks!
Aw, thank you for the compliment. My family has told me that I've always wanted to become a veterinarian. There are plenty of stories about how I used to play with my sister and cousin and have them be my clients with their imaginary pets that needed help. While growing up, my family always had at least one pet. Throughout the years, we had dogs, birds, fish, chickens, turtles, a tortoise, an iguana, salamanders, and frogs. Most of them were owned at the same time! My parents were very gracious to allow us to have all of those pets. I think that my interest in veterinary medicine grew as I had more exposure to animals and how to care for them. I can't see myself being as happy doing anything else with my life than keeping animals healthy and being there for them and their owners when they need help!
Which animal has been the most difficult to work with? Which has been the easiest?
This one is a tough call. Each animal comes with their challenges for different reasons. Personally, I would say that wildlife is a challenge for me to work with because you should ideally minimize speaking to them or getting too close so that you avoid imprinting on them. I love interacting with my patients, so it was difficult to refrain from petting them or talking around them.
The easiest to work with is probably the tortoise because they can't really run away or wriggle their way out of your hands!
Yes, definitely! I owned a pitbull mix for almost 10 years named Harley and he showed me what it means to have unconditional love. These breeds have qualities that every person in this world should have: loyalty, compassion, and intelligence. If you spend the time to bond with and train a dog of this breed, you will likely end up with a trusty companion by your side for many years.
You have rights as pets! Why?
I do! I have 2 pet rats, Oscar and Chuey. A little over a year ago, the research department at my school sent out a schoolwide email asking for someone to adopt Oscar because he had fulfilled his job as a breeder rat for a project and they didn't want to euthanize him. So, of course, I said I would take him!
I never owned a rat before, but heard from my brother and others that they are fun to have around...so, why not??
Once I got Oscar, I read that rats do better in pairs, so I adopted Chuey from my brother who had his hands full with two other rats of his own.
|She buys them toys but they prefer the boxes!|
Not much, actually! The usual things like food, water, and exercise that you would provide for any other pet. Most importantly, they require adequate space and hiding places (small cardboard boxes work great!).
I keep my 2 guys in a cage designated for ferrets, that way they can have their personal space and also be able to walk around. They like to eat fresh fruits and vegetables (especially broccoli and grapes!) in addition to their rat food (I feed Oxbow adult rat food). I also set up a play pen for them to have time away from their cage for a couple hours each evening, as they are more social at night. Their cage and bedding need to be cleaned and changed at least once a week, which usually takes about 30 minutes or so. Overall, they're not too demanding!
Let's bring this interview full circle. Why do you feel volunteering is important for young people?
Volunteering teaches young people to find and do something that they enjoy and not expect anything in return, like a paycheck. I ask people all the time, "What would you choose as a job or career if you knew you wouldn't get paid?" That's basically asking someone what they would do as a volunteer. It's such an important concept because I think a lot of people strive to find a career that they love, and a good way to figure that out is to do it for free!
Thank you so much for your time, Shirley! What about you - any aspiring vets out there? Any rat owners?
Monday, October 12, 2015
|Lily at 10 weeks.|
When I say she is the most expensive dog ever, I'm not talking over her lifetime. I cannot bring myself to add up what we have spent on her over the course of her 8 years blessing our lives. We don't have to go that far back to get to the bulk of the money. My husband jokingly refers to her as The Money Pit. It's really not much of a joke.
$30,000 in the last two and a half years.
What could possibly cost that much?
Where do I even begin?
It started one blustery Wednesday. The day before Thanksgiving. Being a Mom, I hear when she moves. If she's up, I'm up. (This comes from her IBD, which used to plague her seemingly out of nowhere in the middle of the night, most of the time when I needed to be somewhere early. And she would go all night long. Poor thing. Her, not me. Sleep deprivation is something you get used to with kids and ill dogs.) She got up and I heard the tap, tap, tap of her feet on our hardwood floors. I beat her to the front door. Where she proceeded to shake her head so hard that she flipped herself sideways. She's done this before and it can be quite comical.
On this morning, it was not.
The side of her head smacked so hard on the kitchen floor that I felt it in MY teeth. When she got up, she was walking wonky. I watched her in the yard and her balance seemed off. I called out to my husband, "Something's wrong with Lily." He scooped her up and off to the Emergency Vet we went.
They ran preliminary neurological assessment and tests with no results to indicate it was neuro. They sent us home to follow-up with our own vet when they opened in an hour. But not before trying to argue with me that she had a seizure. (She did NOT have a seizure. I've had dogs with epilepsy. She never lost consciousness. It was a matter of seconds. But don't listen to the dog owner.) They suggested it was her heart. Did I forget to mention she has a heart murmur? Of course she does! She's Lily!
Our vet gave us grave news. After again insisting she'd had a seizure, she wanted to do a chest x-ray. When it came back, she saw a mass in the chest cavity. And sent us home to sob. Okay, my husband didn't cry. I did enough of that for both of us. The next morning, two other vets saw nothing but a heart on the x-ray. So off to the neurologist we went!
Tests to make sure her heart could withstand sedation, then sedation for an MRI and a spinal tap. Rule out brain tumors, check for infection. Chronic ear infections can lead to loss of balance. They found nothing. The diagnosis: Bells Palsy. In a dog. Which is all kinds of rare. So, naturally Lily had it.
|Tilty Dog. |
It took months for her head to stop looking like she was always questioning.
It took months for her to regain her balance. You can still see a slight droop. Unless it's frigid out - then it all comes back and she has trouble with her coordination and part of her face paralyzes.
|Poor picture quality but you can see that one side is not like the other.|
Next, we had to do an echocardiogram to check on her heart. She has a mitrovalve issue, but is otherwise heart healthy. Two walks a day help that. Agility during those walks help as well.
Then came the Pancreatitis. If you have never experienced this with your dog, count your blessings. It is not fun in any way for your pet and it worries you almost to death (or maybe that's just me).
|She looks like she's had a night on the town.|
In reality, it's the combo of nausea meds and pain killers.
She had recovered from that when I noticed an odd bump on her back. Remember the chronic skin infections? That's what it looked like at first. But it wasn't healing. And it was growing. It ended up about the size of a ping pong ball. So we biopsied it. The good news: it was not the mast cell cancer they suspected. The weird news: it was a rare cancer in a location it NEVER occurs. Because Lily.
They removed the cancer and felt very confident that it was all gone. Knock on wood, we're almost a year out from that and it hasn't come back yet. I stress yet because this is Lily. And weird things happen to her.
|Lily and her friend, fellow cancer survivor, Atlas. |
Atlas also had a rare form of cancer.
This dog eats the best dog food (Stella & Chewy's raw patties, Honest Kitchen). Her treats are high quality. Her cookies are grain free. We spend around $600 feeding her every month. She's got RX Biotics and Enteric Support. She's got antihistamines and steroids. Only now, we can't do the steroids because her liver is enlarged so she just started on Atopica and we're hoping it doesn't bring the cancer back (because it's counter indicative). The only antibiotic that semi works is over $200 for each course. It all adds up.
Through it all, she never loses her gentle, loving nature. She races around the vets office, excited to see everyone even when they poke her with needles. It's hard not to get mad - not at Lily, but at the universe. Here is this good dog. This sweet natured, loving, goofball who lives for her pumpkin beef cookies and her walls and camping in Oregon and her Uncle Drew and her favorite cat Pip has been through SO MUCH. It never seems to end. And you get to the point where you just want HER to have a break. You're fine with having to get an extra job and work extra hours because that medical fund has to be built up since you never know what's coming next because Lily.
She's worth every penny of that $30,000. She's worth another $30,000. But for her sake, it would be nice for her to get a break. Even a small one.
What about you - does your dog suffer from any health issues?
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
What made you decide to get chickens?
I had wanted to have chickens in the backyard ever since I was about 10 and I am now 26. It took quite a while to convince my mother to let them take over a corner of the backyard, but I believe the rising prices of eggs in the supermarket was the final push that made her give the okay. I have always had a fondness for birds (I also have a cockatiel) and was absolutely enamored with the idea of raising my own chickens and getting fresh eggs every day. I also love that I know exactly how fresh the eggs are. The eggs in the supermarket could have been laid 3-4 weeks before you get them.
I bought my 2 day old chicks at East Valley Feed & Tack 11084 Sheldon St. Sun Valley CA 91352 in March 2015. They were about $2.50 each and they carried 3 breeds at the time: Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth (Barred) Rock, and Ameraucana. There are lots of different breeds of chickens but these are some of the most common. I have 2 Plymouth Rocks (black and white variegated) named Snowflake and Obsidian and 2 Rhode Island Reds (rusty red/brown color) named Garnet and Ruby. Many feed/tack/livestock stores carry baby chicks in the spring. You can call them to find out when they will receive their chicks, what breeds they carry and whether they are sexed (usually done at the hatchery to make sure you are getting females - most cities have ordinances against roosters).
Was there a specific reason you went with the breeds of chickens that you did?
We did actually do quite a bit of research into which breeds we were getting. We wanted chickens that were strong layers but also with good personalities. Both the Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds are great layers! We are now getting 6-7 eggs a week from each of our four hens (7 months old now)! These breeds are also known to: have wonderful temperaments, love people and get along well in mixed flocks which mine definitely do. We are extremely pleased with our hens and I adore them. I like to think the feeling's mutual.
Mature hens (once they are about 5 months old) are incredibly easy to care for and require less time than you think. In the morning and evening, I check their food and water containers, mostly just topping them off and usually a full clean of the water fount every 2-3 days or as necessary. Also I check for eggs. As you get to know your chickens, you will figure out when they lay and can collect eggs as convenient (to you and to them). Mine usually lay around lunchtime/early afternoon, but every chicken is different. Every week I add a fresh layer of pine shavings to their henhouse and every 4-6 weeks, I do a thorough clean of the henhouse and run, raking out all the old shavings and replacing them as well as raking out the dirt of the run. As baby chicks, they require a little more watching but nothing about their care is difficult or even time-consuming. You may find it time-consuming for different reasons though. There is nothing like holding a baby chick cupped in your palms and having her fall asleep. As babies, they need four specific needs met: heat, food, water, and sanitation. Usually a brooder box inside the house is the way to go so you can easily and frequently check on them and their environment. As long as they have these things, they will mostly sleep, eat and grow. Endless hours of entertainment as they go about their chick antics is a free bonus!
Have you heard the expression "going home to roost"? That is what chickens do every night. When darkness falls, chickens' metabolisms drop off rapidly, meaning they instinctually want to find a dark protected place to spend the night.
How long was it before you got your first egg?
The first egg showed up just after they turned 5 months old.
People who own chickens say they're actually very smart and that they each have distinct personalities - have you noticed this?
Smart is all relative. They are super smart about most things like the way they know the sound of the back door (Pavlovian style) and all come rushing over to see if we have some little treat for them. They bed down in cool dirt during hot afternoons. They instinctively know which plants are safe to eat which gave me serious peace of mind because of the curiosity. However they will also all peck at something until it tips over (like a potted plant or garden tool) so sometimes you have to protect them from themselves. They most definitely have distinct personalities which really became noticeable as they matured. Ruby, one of the Rhode Island Reds, is our largest hen and seems to be top of the pecking order due to her size, but not due to her smarts. I love her but sometimes she is 30 seconds behind current events. She usually gets first shot at the food or the largest portion. However Snowflake often gives Ruby a run for her money. Snowflake is almost as big as Ruby, but also smarter and faster. Garnet may be the smallest, but she is faster than greased lightning. Often times, she will make off with a treat or a bug before the others even realized it was there. Obsidian is very sweet and calm and just goes about her business, waiting for everyone else to eat first or get the first bite of something before she gets in on the action.
Do you have a favorite? (You can tell us. The chickens can't read. They'll NEVER know.)
Haha! I truthfully love each one of them for their different quirks. Snowflake is usually the one you will catch me talking to because she is usually up to something. I promise that curiosity not only did in the cat, but the chicken too. They love to investigate everything and anything but Snowflake is usually the ringleader of any trouble starting in our yard. All our chickens are comfortable with people and love to hang out with us when we work in the yard. However Snowflake also sees as useful perches and likes to climb onto laps and on shoulders if she can get up that high.
I almost forgot to mention my go-to chicken handbook if people are looking for a great beginner's guide as well as an excellent reference. It is seriously the only book I have ever needed. I tried reading other books but they were more tailored to country folk or people with farms or large scale operations. I still refer to this book frequently. I just love it! A Chicken in Every Yard: The Urban Farm Store's Guide to Chicken Keeping by Robert & Hannah Litt They cover every step of the process: preparation, picking your breeds (with a great breakdown of each breed), building coops/runs, chick care, hen care, health issues, food, laying and egg instructions.
Does anyone else have chickens? What is your favorite thing about them (besides the obvious: eggs)?
Monday, October 5, 2015
About two weeks after they disappeared, I came home to find a kitten sprawled out in my parking space. She was glassy eyed and barely breathing. She had clearly tried to eat because the food dish was scattered. She was soaked from trying to drink water out of the bowl and it really was nothing short of a miracle that she hadn't drowned. She was top heavy - her head so much bigger than the rest of her tiny body.
I wrapped her in a towel, waiting for my boyfriend to get home from work. The plan was simple: take her to the vet and have her humanely euthanized to end her obvious suffering. She was on the brink of death anyway. Crawling with fleas, she was nothing more than a bag of bones. Staring at that tiny body, talking to her softly, I tried to give what little comfort I could before her end.
When Erik got home, he took her from me. I navigated the streets as fast as I could, racing toward the vet. Twice, he said, "Oh hon, forget it. She just took her last breath." She would then utter a small, weak cry to show him she was still there. Our vet was closed so we had to take her to an Emergency Vet. After evaluating her, they came in with an $800 vet bill. Um, what?
Blood transfusion: $500
"How much to put her down?" Erik asked.
That bill suddenly went down to under $200. She had flea anemia. They gave her a bath, kept her overnight on IV fluids, then sent her home with us. She was 12 weeks old and weighed a mere 10 ounces. She seemed so fragile. At night, she would crawl up between us on the bed and sleep so soundly we thought she was dead. I would shake her and shake her and shake her before she would finally open her eyes and give me the grumpiest look. Poor thing just finally felt safe enough to sleep deeply.
Her sisters were less than thrilled with her. Pip, our ever tolerant one-eyed cat, was a reluctant teacher. Having come off the same streets as Wednesday, she seemed to have a bit more sympathy for her. She showed her how to use the litter box, how to pounce on bugs or tricks of light. Sometimes, she even let Wednesday sleep next to her.
As Wednesday grew, she really GREW. Afraid of missing out on food, she can tend to overeat. Free feeding is hard with her because the minute you fill the bowl, she's at it even when she isn't hungry. It's been a struggle keeping her weight down. Our vet does not believe in low calorie food. She believes in feed proper amounts and exercising your cat. So, we feed Halo (and the girls get 1/4 small can of a high quality wet food twice a day). They get supervised yard time where they race around the yard chasing butterflies and bees and flies. It's their time to be cats. (Though I jokingly refer to them as prisoners who get yard time - someone will try to escape and usually a fight or two will break out.)
We've managed to keep her steady at 13 pounds. She would do better at around 10 pounds. The extra weight is hard for her to carry around. But she's otherwise healthy according to her yearly blood work. Having one overweight cat has been hard to balance with an underweight one. Keeping food away from one while encouraging the other to eat can be a struggle. How does one cat relax enough to eat when there is another clawing at the door knowing there is food she doesn't have access to? This is where the small spoonful of wet food comes in handy. Distract overweight cat with just a taste while underweight cat gets half a can of it.
If we had it to do over again, we would never have free fed the cats. It's been back and forth with the timed feedings, critical when you have a cat who cannot afford to lose any weight in addition to one who cannot gain anymore. When we go on trips, we don't ask our pet sitter to free feed. We leave the food down.
Apparently, it's common for cats who are taken from their litter too young, who have a rough start of being underfed, to end up being fat cats. Obese pets are a big problem for vets across the nation. Our animals are no different than we are: being overweight can cause the same health problems for them. We've lucked out so far with Wednesday, but we're very dedicated to keeping at it.
|Wednesday sleeping with her sister, Lily|
What about you - is your pet overweight? Do you free feed?