Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Holidays

We've got 2 new fosters just in time for Christmas!  These sweeties (Gena & Josephine) are 8 week old labs.  Two puppies = much more cleaning up after messes.  But they keep each company, during playtime and overnight.  No sleeping on the couch for me!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Dog Food Dilemma

I have spent a lot of time researching dog foods lately.  Loads.  The information search began in order to educate myself on the specialized foods I would need to carry in my store.  It didn't take long for my grocery store brand (and Iams is one of the best that can be found in grocery stores) to be permanently banned from my house and the search for a high quality diet for my precious pups began.

I have always thought that perhaps food was an issue.  Maggie has mild allergies and scratches herself more than the average dog.  It's a behavior related to both health and stress but started out fairly mild and seems to be getting slightly worse as she ages.  It's now at the point where I feel that it's time to take action before it gets any worse - and by action I do NOT mean giving her a benadryl every day!  Our vet told us that it was likely seasonal allergies but it seems to transcend the seasons nowadays.  My vet also told me last visit that "some dogs just do better on lower quality foods"., dogs do not "do better" on lower quality foods.  Different dogs react differently to proteins, grains, fat content, carbohydrate content, etc.  Some foods may have ingredients or a combination of ingredients that cause either temporary or lengthy digestive issues and may not be appropriate for that specific dog.  But they are NOT healthier animals on low quality diets.  Don't get me wrong - I love our vet.  But that has got to be one of the dumbest things she's ever said. 

I am on a quest to find the right combination of foods for my girls.  I used to subscribe to the one food for life idea.  But as I started doing some research, it got me thinking.  In what logical world does it make sense that an animal can have a healthy, balanced diet that provides them with all the nutrients they need if they eat the same exact thing every meal, every day of their lives.  I wholeheartedly believe that the food I eat impacts my long-term health.  Why would it be any different for my dogs?  And when I started reading statistics like 25% of dogs will develop cancer in their lifetime, which increases to 50% after the age of 10, I knew that food had to be a major part of the cause for that alarming statistic.

So I have started exploring the food options out there.  Continue with kibble, raw diets, homemade?  For now, raw diets are out primarily due to the high cost and also because I'm still slightly squeamish about raw.  I know that dogs are not as susceptible to salmonella-type bacteria as we are.  I know that there are many processes that the food is treated with to eliminate those types of bacteria.  But I also worry that an all-protein diet may not provide them with the full scope of nutrients that they need.  And I find it hilarious that supporters of the raw food diet have come up with the moniker BARF.  While it stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods, well....BARF seems to be appropriate to me for other reasons!

I have eliminated moving to a home-made diet, which I simply won't always have time for.  I am and will continue to supplement their diets with a little leftover meat and veggies from our table (never given to them as we eat but for breakfast the next day - don't want to encourage any begging!).  I usually prepare their meat separately from ours if I'm cooking it in a sauce or with butter.  My little Sadie-kins is about five pounds overweight.  A friend referred to her as a sausage recently.  I couldn't argue.

I've narrowed my dog food philosophy down to the following:

-There is nothing wrong with changing up the brand and/or protein source occasionally.  I intend to settle on 3-4 different kinds of food that we rotate between.  Unless either of them show a sensitivity to a particular ingredient, I will make sure they get chicken, lamb, beef and/or fish.  These will be paired with rice, barley and oats mostly as the main ingredients.

-I will research brands online, read ingredient labels and ensure that I pay special attention to the first five ingredients.  There should be several whole food ingredients and preferably two protein sources.  Chicken is a whole food ingredient.  Chicken meal is not.  I will make sure that the protein content is around 20% and that the fat content is no more than 12%. 

-It's completely OK to supplement with "people" food so long as it's healthy, does not encourage begging and is mindful of the foods that cause health issues (stay away from those onions!). 

Over the next six months or so, I will be trying out different types of foods with my girls and seeing how they do on each kind.   They will only get leftover people food a few times per month so as not to interfere with my unscientific dog food study.  I have a monthly budget of $60 (one 30 lb bag of food lasts my two girls about a month).  I'll be paying attention to the quality of their poo, bad breath, stinky farts, quality and shine of their coat, whether they enjoy the taste, and if it helps Maggie's itchiness while not causing my little Sausage Sadie to gain more weight.

In case you don't believe Sadie is a sausage, here's a picture of her guarding her bag of food (she does this every time we buy new food).  In fact, I have purposefully left the unopened bag in the mudroom for several days to test how long she will sit there.  Verdict:  hours.  Once the food is put away in its storage container, her obsession disappears.  Back to normal doggy.  Weird. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010


She sat apart from her littermates at OFOSA.  Always calm and sitting patiently.  I spent that entire day walking past her periodically.  I think I might take that fluffy one home.   The other volunteer showing me the ropes kept commenting on how sweet she seemed to be.  Yeah, I think I'm going to take her home with me.  She's adorable, well-behaved and sure to be adopted quickly - the perfect first foster.  And so she went home.

I both did not know what to expect and had some firm expectations.  I expected Maggie to lose patience with a puppy.  I expected Sadie to mother her from the get-go.  I expected both of them to show some jealousy - Sadie because of attention, Maggie due to toys.  I had no idea how I would give her up to her new family.  I had also forgotten how much work puppies were.

Maggie showed an amazing amount of patience, even letting the puppy steal her ball.  Let me ball-obsessed girl let a 20 lb puppy steal her ball....over and over again.   Both of them gave up their bones....over and over again.  Have I mentioned what amazingly awesome dogs I have?  They exceeded my wildest expectations.   It's one thing for TJ to consciously consider and consent to becoming a foster family; it was another thing altogether for my girls, who have no idea what is going on, to accept and adapt so quickly and effortlessly.  I know it will not always be like this.  Mostly because I won't always pick the easiest dog there ever was to foster.  But my girls shined.  I expect to love each and every one of my fosters.  I had never considered how this experience deepens my love for my own girls.  A truly unexpected benefit!

So Sadie doesn't have many mothering instincts.  I totally had that one wrong.  Or maybe it was because the puppy took to Maggie like a shadow.  When she wasn't trying to steal shoes.

I apologize for a lack of pictures.  I will someday master the art of perfectly timing photography of these wiggly perpetual motion machines while not allowing them to destroy my house.  Maybe.  I had forgotten how puppies get into everything...chew everything....get into places you forgot small puppies could get into...cry....whine....nibble...bite.  I hadn't forgotten how sweet puppy kisses are though.  There's definitely a reason for that.

She woke me up at 3:30am this morning.  Was curled up on my chest by 4am giving me gentle kisses and then thankfully napping for several more hours.  By noon, I was watching her cuddle up to her new family.

It was a bit easier giving her up than I had thought.  Part of it was because it was a short four days.   But also because I knew she was never really mine.  Someone asked me this week how I could ever give her away.  I told her it was because I was just borrowing her.  OK...mostly it was easier because it was so short.  I know this is going to get harder with longer term fosters.  We were just getting into our groove-thang.

She now has a little girl and boy to love her to death.  And I have an empty space in my house - one that belongs to my next foster.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Our First Foster Pup

I went into OFOSA's clinic (Oregon Friends of Shelter Animals) this morning for day one as a volunteer.  Learn the ropes, undoubtedly clean up some dog poo, you know, good times.  I came home with this bundle of joy.  Her name is Licorice and she's a 2 month old Australian Shepherd.  Our first foster pup. 
The ladies of the house were extremely confused.  They will likely be even more confused come Saturday when we head out to Petco for adoption day and, cross my fingers, come back home without her.  But I think they've decided this new pup is quite all right.  Maggie came running to get me when...there is no way to shorten Licorice into an adorable puppy name - Lic? Or?  Rice?...when the puppy started whining in her kennel.  She was very concerned.  As I type, Sadie is forgoing both dog beds to nap right next to the kennel.  I don't think they mind at all.

So...if you know anyone who's thinking about a puppy for Christmas...all the deets are on her petfinder page

It took no time at all for her personality to start showing through.  She romped around the living room with Sadie, sneaking her quick kisses while they were playing.  Tackled the stairs once the big girls showed her how to do it and got a hold of some socks and one of TJ's shoes.  Right, I had forgotten puppies did that! 
Back at the clinic, she had been the shyer of the bunch but I'm pretty sure she's going to be running circles around my girls for the next few days.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Misadventures with a Sewing Machine

I've been thinking about making some crafty dog stuff lately so when I saw this great idea for making dog beds on, I thought it was perfect.  I can totally make a dog bed from up-cycled wool fact, I can probably make a whole load of them...piece of cake.  My mom made all of my clothes when I was growing up...sewing skills are genetic right?  Probably as genetic as the construction skills inherited from my father.  I can put together a decent plan and measure the hell out of crap, mostly...but putting it together?  Let's just say I'm not known for being straight or level or staying intact.  Nevertheless, I jumped into this project confident that it would be different this time.  Spending a month as Suzy Homemaker should definitely have brought forth my mad crafty skills and so I ran out to Goodwill to get me some sweaters, Joanns for the yarn, thread and eco-friendly fiber stuffing and grabbed some old pillow cases from the closet. 

Me, being me, isn't the sort to start a project without a plan.  So I created a pattern.  Yes, it was labeled and everything.  Yes, I wrote down the wrong dimension for a couple squares and forgot to add extra inches for the overlay on the back to insert a pillow.  Which I didn't realize until I had cut all the pieces.  No problem.  Pattern-making mistakes were easily corrected with the addition of a few more patches.

Nice work!  It was time to break out the sewing machine.  Except that I have not touched my sewing machine in two years.   Last project was the cornhole bags I made for our wedding tournament of lawn sports that fell apart halfway through our reception.  But I had totally learned the importance of double-stitching, y'all.  This was going to be a piece of cake.  Thank god, the instructions told me not to worry about a "little bit of wonkiness" - I kept repeating that....A LOT.

I laid it all out, pinned the pieces together, navigated sewing machine setup and was off!  I had never before filled a bobbin and threaded the machine...correctly...on the first try.  This was totally going to be easy!

Two strips of dog bed in and it happened.  My finger slipped or I wasn't paying attention or something and disaster!  Yup, I sewed my fingernail.  A big puncture in the center and split to the top.  And I was doing so well (sort of, for me and my mad inherited sewing skillz).

After running around the house searching for appropriate bandaging...or just a band-aid...seriously why don't we have any freakin' band-aids! and attending to my injury, I got back on the horse.  No silly split fingernail that will likely turn some nasty shade of black and fall off was going to stop my sewing project!  It took one more super-wonky seam before I decided I was done for the day.

I spent the rest of the evening getting as many sympathy points as I could possibly collect from my husband, who had been napping through the whole ordeal.

Day two consisted of sewing patches with the seam-side on the wrong side.  Twice.  And lots and lots of cursing at the sewing machine, who was trying its damnedest not to cooperate.  After 2 hours struggling through assembling only about half the back side, I gave up.   I guess this is going to be a 3-day project?

Quitters never win.  And besides, the instructions TOLD me to expect a bit of wonkiness so I trimmed as I went and paid close attention to the placement of my extremities.  Surprisingly, day 3 was a piece of cake!  I breezed through the rest of it, hardly fought with the sewing machine at all and only caught a few strange looks from TJ and one "are you done yet?".

Success!  It only took me the better part of three days. 

The girls approve.  And it's completely green.  A few wonky seams aside, I think it turned out pretty well.  On to Bed #2 and hoping this time it won't take me 3 days.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Two Dog Walk

For those of you who know me well, you know that I rarely walk my dogs together.  Separately, we've molded them into relatively well-behaved walkers who only have an "episode" once or twice during our walks (episodes being lunging at cats, squirrels, other dogs, bikers, skateboarders, passersby, and generally anything that moves).  Walks nowadays are calm and pleasant events for the most part - except for 8am, when all the neighborhood cats are out and about (damn you, cats!).  So pleasant in fact that today I was feeling brave.  So I put Sadie, the stronger one and definitely the most challenging on walks, in the front clip harness, attached them with a little connector so that I had only one leash and proceeded into chaos.  This is what two dogs walking together should look like...sort of...a little less pulling perhaps...

But this is really how our walk went:
 Sadie: "Oh my god!  We're walking together...this is soooooo much fun.  Yippee!!"
Maggie: "Would you stop jumping on top of me, please?"

 Sadie: "Wait.   Did I forget to smell something?"  
Maggie: "Yes, I think you did.  Let's go check it out!"

Maggie: "That grass smells like our neighbor's dog....yum!"  
Sadie: "Oooo! There's a squirrel!"

Oi vey!  I've got a lot of work to do.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Top 5 Ways To Convince Your Hubbie You Need to Foster a Dog

5.  Start casually mentioning all of the cute puppies you are seeing on various rescue sites.  Show him pictures.  Utterly convince him that you want to adopt a new dog without ever saying those words.

 OK.  This may have backfired.  I just perused the Oregon Humane Society website for an appropriately adorable picture.  They have mini-Aussies - which are extremely rare to find in a shelter (3 of them in fact!).  Pictured above is Lulu (#98820).  You get the intelligence and agility of an Australian shepherd in the most adorable miniature form.  Can someone please take this sweetie home before I do??? 

4.  Mention that dogs replace any urge for babies for you.  Locate fun facts like the hormone manufactured by nursing mothers (oxytocin) is also produced by people when they pet their dogs.  Get him starting to think that no new puppy = maybe Sarah starting to think about having kids.  Put the fear of babies in him!

3.  Discuss with him how you would love your current fur-babies to be able to go to work with you every day in your new store but that their behavior issues make them unlikely candidates for managing to be well-behaved in a public retail setting.  Lament that you really wish you had a "shop dog".

2.  When the above 3 have worked like a charm and he graciously tells you that you can get a new dog when your store is up and running, reveal to him that you really feel the need to begin rescuing.  Offer up your new adorable puppy to the Gods of Altruism and request to foster dogs in need instead.

1.  Write a blog post describing said nefarious methods of gentling easing the hubbie into the idea of fostering, point out that it makes zero sense to wait to foster until you are so busy with the new store that you don't have the time, and that fostering now would mean that you take on the brunt of the training and care a foster dog would need.  Cross your fingers, tell your hubbie how much you love him and wait with bated breath...

Shit!  I'm still thinking about that mini-Aussie.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Everything I know in life, I learned from my dogs

Life as I know it is in the midst of change...several months ago, I made a decision.  A decision to follow my passion, to act with furious abandon, to take a chance:  I quit my job.  In the midst of a terrible economy.  To start my own doggie business. Am I insane?

You all began with a  A couple of them in fact.

 First, there was Suzy. 

Suzy came to us by way of good friends, who had taken her in when her first family abandoned her.  She was less than a year old and the WORLD'S MOST PERFECT DOG.  Always well-behaved, needing little obedience training, happy, go-lucky and unfortunately, only with us for 9 months before her tragic passing.  Suzy taught me the most important of life's lessons - live in the moment and enjoy every second of it.  She also led me to discover a core truth about myself - I am a dog person.  Through and through. 

Then came Maggie...

It was a dark and rainy evening (cue thunder).  The doorbell rang and this furry little ball of love greeted me from my husband's wet and cold arms.  Maggie was my first puppy.   

Maggie was and is a fiercely independent and somewhat bossy dog.  Though she has started to mellow out (year 5, finally!), the moniker "The Dog that Hip Checks You at the Door" is still somewhat appropriate.  Maggie's favorite thing in the world is people.  Her second favorite is ball.  Unlike Suzy, Maggie never was and never will be THE WORLD'S MOST PERFECT DOG.  But what I learned from her is that is OK.  She becomes overly excited easily, has leash aggression issues, allergies, incontinence and has viciously attacked, on 3 separate occasions, small dogs.    It's easy having a perfect dog; it's not so easy having one with some problems.  She is improving - she successfully hung out with smaller dogs at doggie camp this past summer, can be distracted from leash aggression with a constant stream of treats and her urinary problems are under control after a year of antibiotics, surgery and now a pill a day.  Possibly the most important lesson I have learned from Maggie is that there is nothing I won't do for my dogs.  And that, in despite of these issues or maybe because of them, I love her as much as the first day that adorable ball of fur jumped into my arms.

Cue Sadie

Now, this is the dog that changed my life.  A search for a big sister for Maggie with restrictions from my husband (no german shepherds, rottweilers, pitbulls, or other vicious breeds - his words, not mine; okay, in all fairness to my husband, I don't recall if he actually labeled them vicious breeds but it gets the point across) led us to adopt a pitbull mix with fear aggression issues.  Huh? 

It started with a craigslist ad; one which advertised a lab mix and pictured a dog that was not at all Sadie.  Curiously enough, it was TJ (aka my husband) who first saw the ad and drew it to my attention.  A few days later, we were in a field meeting Sadie for the first time.  It was apparent from the get-go that this was more of a pitbull mix than a lab mix but there was one person there who didn't give a damn about the type of dog she was:  Maggie.  From the first second they laid eyes on each other, Maggie and Sadie were BFF's.  Maggie chose Sadie; thank god, TJ and I were smart enough not to get in the way of her selection.

Sadie's fear aggression issues presented themselves rather instantly that first day.  She was cautious with TJ and I but we were cautious with her.  There was still a hesitancy in us - were we really prepared to adopt this pitbull mix?  When a friend came over and she shook in the corner for hours, snarling at anyone that came close to her and snapping when anyone tried to touch her, our fears and uncertainty grew.  It was obvious that she was terrified; it was not so obvious if we were equipped and willing to deal with how her fear caused aggressive behaviors.

I spent that first week rather fearful of my new dog.  The week capped itself off with a trip to our vet.  I barely had finished my description of the behavior issues we were seeing before my vet insisted upon a muzzle and proceeded to lecture me on my new aggressive, dangerous breed of dog.  She barely observed Sadie, who patiently allowed me to put her muzzle on and mostly hid between my legs shaking.  That visit, besides being the last time I ever set foot in that vet's office, was the day I decided to change.  I knew that I did not have a dangerous, aggressive breed of dog.  I knew that I had a terrified pooch and that the way that she dealt with her fear was the problem.  Somehow, I instinctively knew that love was the answer to her problems and I decided right then and there that this was MY DOG and that I would love the fear aggression right out of her.

It's been a long road with dear Sadie.  My instinct has proven right though.  The #1 way to rehabilitate a fearful dog is to provide them love and stability.  Grow their confidence.  Show them the world.  Give them rules and train them on more appropriate ways to deal with their fear.  Sadie is the most sensitive, loving dog I have ever met - she is in tune with people's emotions more than most people are themselves (downside being that when you are scared of her, as most people are of pitbulls, she then gets scared...cue behavior problems).  She loves nothing more in life than being loved, petted, getting a belly rub or some other form of attention.  She has not snapped at anyone in over a year though she still barks ferociously at anyone who enters our house.  So there are rules for coming over:  treat my dog like a skittish horse - ignore her barking and let her get used to your smell.  Refrain from petting her for the first few minutes until she seeks attention from you.  It works like a charm.

So what have I learned from Sadie?  From the moment we adopted her, I knew that giving her back would mean she would end up in the county shelter.  I knew that a fear aggressive pitbull in a shelter was a death sentence.  Throughout, that was why we gave her a few days, why I decided to love her no matter what:  I was her last chance.

Sadie taught me what it truly means to rescue a dog.  It's one thing to adopt a cute puppy from a shelter (Maggie); it's another to bring an adult dog with known issues into your home.  If it wasn't for Sadie, I would never have started volunteering at my local shelter.  It was by working through Sadie's issues that I found my passion and calling in life:  rescuing dogs.

So now I embark on an effort to combine the experience and business skills I have with my passion for dogs.  It will all start with a small little shop selling dog supplies and donating a portion of its proceeds to local shelters.  And with a foster dog.  See, TJ promised me that once my store was up and running that I could get another dog.  He meant adopting a dog; I requested that we begin fostering dogs.  Step #1.