For Kim, Allison, And Keith

Anja (below, in comments) is right.  This blog entry is itself like a doggie stew–I’ve put in all kinds of different things–and she threw her ingredients in, too.  🙂 

What are the chances?  On the exact same day that I come to the conclusion that the reason many people from the general dog-owning public prefer Cesar Millan-style dominance theory training, over the much more scientific and incidentally more humane positive reinforcement/negative punishment-style training, is because tons of people get their jollies from controlling whatever living being they can get their hands on, the issue of domestic violence is offered up on a platter for me to ponder, not once, not twice, but more times than you’d think would be statistically probable.

The training question is huge, and the thought I had (I’m going to go so far as to call it a realization) depressed me.  To know that many folks you’d think would be more aware of progress in training methods are still convinced that we need to use physical control and discipline with our dogs, makes me despair sometimes.  

One person’s input that packed a wallop:  an acquaintance said he’d never been to a trainer who didn’t use physical manipulation to get a dog into a sit.  This plummeted me into the depths, temporarily.  Teaching a dog to sit is so easy that a toddler still in diapers can do it.  You just need to be able to stand quietly in front of a dog, looking like you’re waiting for something, and the dog will sit.  A freaking Roomba set on ‘pause’ could probably train a dog to sit, once the dog got used to it.  And a trainer who has to push a dog into a sit isn’t worth what you’d pay for the Roomba (and don’t forget that the Roomba will do your floors, too).

But this subject is so loaded that I’m leaving it for a day when I didn’t spend all day thinking about it.  At the bottom of this entry I’ll put a link to today’s most outrageous control freaky domestic violence incident involving a pet.  But the ‘meat’ of this entry will be about something much less controversial (although it still features in many ‘discussions’ between dog lovers):  dog food.

A friend asked what she could do about her dog, who was somewhat obsessed with getting himself on the outside of people food.  For today, I’m going to be as brief as I can, and provide links and stuff tomorrow.  Two things pop out at me for now.

Thing One:  The present-day kibble industry is very recent.  If you think back, you’ll realize that, even in your parents’ day (if you’re close to middle age), people were feeding ‘people food’ to their dogs.  The kibble manufacturers did a masterful marketing job, but its days are numbered, and that’s a good thing.  More on that (lots more, if I can find it) tomorrow or the next day.

Thing Two:  a tale from Suzanne Clothier’s fantastic book, ‘Bones Would Rain From The Sky’ (short form of the title, which is commonly used)

Client brought dog to her; said dog was picky eater and would not eat her dog food.  Dog too thin, not very healthy, just not thriving.  Client/owner convinced dog being manipulative, holding out for better, staging hunger protest or something similar.  Offered as proof, ‘whenever I have chicken, she’s right there, begging her head off!  And she licks my oatmeal bowl clean every morning.  But will the little diva eat her food?  Oh, no.  She’s so stubborn I don’t know what to do anymore.’  (major paraphrase, done from memory)

I have no idea what any of you are thinking at this point.  For me, it was obvious where this was going, but the client was a little hard to convince at first.

Dogs don’t lie.  Dogs aren’t manipulative, as we can be (although they can train us, but that’s something different).  Dogs don’t have all the weird relationships with food that we do.  If the dog was desperately begging for chicken and licked up every speck of oatmeal, it’s because those were good things for it to eat.  Once Suzanne persuaded the owner to try it, the dog’s health took a major leap upwards, in every way.  (It’s probable that this particular dog had allergies to a lot of other dog food ingredients, which is why she needed a purer diet to be in good health.)  All of us have stories like this. 

(Now don’t be a smart-tail and say that your dog begs for chocolate–should you feed her chocolate?  No!  The dog in the story wasn’t messing around–she was desperately craving the foods which she could sense were the only ones her body could utilize, and this may be the case with my friend’s dog, too.  There’s certainly no harm whatsoever in trying a more ‘people-food based’ diet for a dog like that.)

Not every dog thrives on the same ingredients.  You need to observe your dog, and tweak what you’re serving to meet his or her needs.  And, in general, dogs like variety in their meals.  If you think otherwise, you can thank the same kibble industry that brainwashed us into thinking that is was OK to feed our best friends greasy little balls from a bag with an expiration date sometime in the next decade, day after day, with no added anything.

People sometimes think that dry food is better for a dog’s teeth than ‘wet’ food.  Even that’s not true.  When you eat a Triscuit, it’s nice and crunchy.  But within seconds it becomes a mushy paste that sticks to your teeth just as much as a marshmallow does.  It’s bones that help clean a dog’s teeth–intense chewing on a resistant surface–not kibble.

Having bashed kibble a bit, let me say that all kibbles are not equal.  There are some really great ones out there, and I had to learn about them for Soyer.  The trainer who worked with Soyer at the beginning feeds her own dogs a raw diet (I’ll add at least one link about that, tomorrow), which wasn’t possible at Soyer’s boarding facility, and I cook for my own dogs, which wasn’t possible either (although I began cooking extra stew, and taking it to Soyer in microwave-safe containers), so Soyer needed to eat kibble, and we got him one of the best that money could buy, in our opinion:  grain-free Canidae.  There are lots of other excellent ones, and if people want to read about them here, I’ll write about them.  I suspect, though, that the information is easy to come by.  Still, you might want personal testimonials from other owners, so just write in, if so.

I bought Soyer’s food at a store we have here called Country Max.  It stocks a wide variety of high-end pet foods, in addition to some of the less expensive ones.  For my own dogs, I wanted to use a kibble base, and I wanted it to be a kibble for which I didn’t have to go to a special store.  I wanted to be able to buy my kibble at our 24-hour supermarket, so that I would never risk being without it.

Luckily for me, right around the same time I began to learn a little more about canine nutrition and came to that decision, a decent, all-natural kibble appeared on our grocery store shelves here:  Harmony Farms.

I don’t know what a Canidae-level owner would feel about Harmony Farms.  For me, it’s a very nice step up from Science Diet, which is what I used to feed, thinking (brainwashed by my former vet’s office) that I was doing a good thing for my dogs.  Science Diet, frankly, is a terrible choice.  I think you’d be better off with most store brands.  I’m quite sure you’d be better off with Purina One, or Rachael Ray’s Nutrish.

My dogs really like the Harmony Farms (not the diet bag, though–just the regular stuff in the green bag), and have never once tired of it.  Maybe someday, when I have fewer dogs or dogs with special needs, I’ll feed one of the super high-end kibbles (although I still feel that supplementation with freshly cooked ‘stew’ is the most important contributor to my dogs’ good health and longevity).  For right now, this is really working.  The price isn’t too bad–it works out to be about $1 per pound.  It’s a better price at Wegman’s than at Tops, and the bigger the bag, the better the value, as you’d expect (although it’s not an infallible rule).

I feed the dogs twice a day, morning and late afternoon.  I cook a ‘stew’ to mix into their kibble.  If you want to try it, it’s easy and satisfying for the cook, I’d say.  You can really exercise your creativity.  I can’t tell you quantities, for obvious reasons, but you can hardly go wrong.  Make a little the first day, and if your dog is looking for more, make more for the next meal.  If you make too much, cool it and refrigerate it for later.

Boil some water in a saucepan.  If you have some leftover all-0r-almost-all-natural broth (low sodium), add it to the water.  If you want to give your dog a real treat, buy a jar of Gerber baby food (beef, chicken, ham, turkey, or lamb) and add that to the water (and be sure to rinse out that jar to get every last bit–dogs and cats love meat baby food, as a general rule, and it’s good to keep some on hand for giving pills, coaxing the appetite of an ailing pet, etc.)

If you’re using raw meat that day (thin chicken breast cut into pieces, or ground beef, turkey, or chicken, add it at this point, and cook for a couple of minutes.

Now add a little grain (this is controversial–many dedicated, knowledgeable owners and trainers are looking for grain-free diets lately), avoiding corn.  Corn isn’t truly bad for dogs; it’s just not too useful to their bodies, except as fiber.  If you don’t believe it, feed your dog some frozen corn or corn on the cob and notice the yellow polka-dotted poop you get the next day.  Most kibble is loaded with corn (the Science Diet, for instance, is outrageously corny).  Harmony Farms is not.  I use rice (mostly white, believe it or not, unless I want to add fiber, because the brown, like corn, tends to go right through them), oatmeal (my preferred grain), or, occasionally, pasta (elbows or broken-up thin spaghetti).  

Cook until the grain is close to finished (depending on your veggie/fruit), and add a vegetable or fruit (apple is the fruit I almost always use–had some gassy dogs with peaches, but it may have been because it was new to them).  I usually use frozen veggies, in the interests of time, but fresh would be wonderful.  My dogs really love spinach and peas, and they like carrots and beans very much, too.  The big bags of mixed veggies are a good variety (although there’s some corn in there), and a good bargain: 91.6 cents per pound, I believe, at Wegman’s. 

I cook the veggies just enough to make them palatable.  I cook the apples a little longer, until they’re fairly mushy.  Dogs love apples, and you can use all-natural applesauce on days when you’re rushed.  I keep that in the pantry year-round.  Use any veg or fruit your dog likes, except–and this is a big exception–grapes or raisins and onions.  I have found it better to avoid tomatoes, peppers, and loads of garlic, too, although a moderate amount of garlic is very nice, and they love it.

Lastly, add cooked meat, if you’re using it–chicken or turkey from the day before, or pot roast, or pork chops…go for lean meats, since too much fat is not only not great for any of us, but can actually cause serious problems for a dog, if he or she isn’t used to having much fat (I think this can happen to us, too).  Don’t feed much (or any) sausages or hot dogs or luncheon meat–nitrites and nitrates should be avoided even more for dogs than we avoid them ourselves.  One of the easiest meats to add, and one of the dogs’ all-time faves, is canned tuna.  I always have it in the house, for them, and the cats, and me. 

Mix it thoroughly, let it cool for a while (definitely check the temperature before setting it down for your dog), pour some on top of the kibble, and stir.  If you try this, friend, I hope you’ll let me know what your people food-obsessed doggie thinks of it.  I confess that I hope very much you’ll try it, as I suspect your dog, whom you told me was a shelter bounce-back (a few times!), hasn’t always had people who cared as much about him as you do, nor too much good food.

For folks who are OK in the financial department but who have very little time, check out The Honest Kitchen.  Their raw, dehydrated diets are great.  You just soak them for a few minutes to rehydrate, and serve, and they can be stored, dehydrated, for ages at room temperature.  My dogs really loved, ‘Thrive’–I served it in place of their homemade ‘stew’.

Please, anybody, write in with your tips about creatively and healthily feeding our dogs–thanks!

I'll deal with the bone issue tomorrow--kind of controversial.

 Here’s the link to the most depressing domestic violence article I saw today (you might not want to taint your soul by reading it, seriously):

something much more wholesome--the meal tray at my house

P.S.  I always keep some cans of different flavors of Harmony Farms wet food in the house, too, in case it’s a really rushed day and I can’t cook for them.  I just make a thick broth from the canned food and warm water, and they really like it.

P.P.S.  I was wrong.  My favorite grain is not oatmeal, although that’s wonderful.  Even better is quinoa, and my dogs just love it.  It’s a little pricier and takes a teeny bit longer to cook, so I buy it less frequently, but the extra protein and yummy taste are so worth it.

More pees and one ess:  I forgot eggs!  They love eggs, any which way!  And I also forgot that the Crock Pot is invaluable for making doggie stew.  Layer the stuff in there (veggies and grains on the bottom and meat on top), turn it on low and cook it overnight, and you’ll be golden in the morning.

Posted in Dog Rescue | 4 Comments

Holy Shih Tzu

Well, today seems like another good day for pissing people off, so I’m gonna do my first anti-Cesar Millan blog.  He seems like a nice enough man, and I read his book, and I think he probably does an excellent job with the dogs he trains.  Unfortunately, I think that when the information he puts out there gets into average dog owners’ hands, it does more harm than good.

However, in the article I’ve linked to here, I can’t believe what I’m reading.  I actually had to stop, because I was getting mad, and I’ll read it again later.  But I’m pretty sure he said we should discipline our dogs for showing ‘aggression’ at the dog park.  Even implemented by his own no-doubt capable self, that advice sucks. 

Try that with your kids.  Next time they overreact to a situation, out of fear, or being overwhelmed, or even, possibly, because they have a tendency to become feisty when less than comfortable, punish them (since I believe that Cesar is using the word, ‘discipline’, here to mean some negative consequence, and that is more correctly called, ‘punishment’.  Discipline means something else.)  See what happens next time your kids are in the same situation.  Think they’ll do better?  What do you think would happen if you were to say, ‘Jeremy, dammit, if you don’t behave better at birthday parties I’m going to give you a timeout until you’re eighteen?’  Sure, Jeremy might want to avoid that so much that he’d start behaving better, but do you think he’d ever really enjoy himself at a birthday party again, ever be truly relaxed and comfortable and himself

I’m starting to feel more and more convinced that the combination of this faddish cult of Cesar Millan-style dominance theory training, practiced by a nation of angry citizens who feel life is out of control and who just want to control something, is not only not helping our dogs with their emotional and behavioral issues, but is actually causing a great deal of canine aggression, to the point where I think our whole relationship with dogs is at risk.  I believe that any display of aggression by a shelter dog means that ‘euthanasia’ (it’s in quotes because the true definition of euthanasia refers to medical reasons only) is the most likely end to his or her story.

To clarify this in my own mind:  positive-punishment (meaning, the trainer makes a negative consequence happen to the dog; in other words, the trainer takes positive action) based training tends to increase dog aggression.  Displays of aggression by a dog are more likely to land him or her in a ‘shelter’.  Once there, displays of aggression are much more likely to result in his or her death.

So, I suppose I think that trainers who work with dogs using methods which tend to increase canine aggression are, therefore, dog murderers a couple of steps removed.

Posted in Dog Rescue | 1 Comment

Alive In An Angry World: Better Off Dead?

This happened in a city quite near me.  It’s the capitol of our state, and it’s where my nephew lives, the one who got the awesome summer course grade I wrote about here a few days ago.  And the criminal in this news story is just about the same age as my nephew, so I felt I could envision the guy.

News items like this one are very common lately.  I can’t tell if they’re appearing more often than they used to because things like this are happening more, or because media folks now judge them to be more newsworthy, so we’re hearing more about them.  I’ve wondered that before, here, and I’m sure I’ll be writing more about it, because it seems to me to be an important question.

When someone posts a news item about pet cruelty on Facebook, people are very quick to write things like, ‘How could he/she have done that?  Only a monster would do that!’, and, ‘I wish I could swing him by a rope and drop him on the pavement on his head!’  (Things like the latter comment I find incomprehensible.  You want to do the same thing to him that he did to the dog, and it’s OK for you, but not for him?)  In my mind, I think of this as apparently necessary (for some people, anyway) but useless venting, and I try to keep my Facebook utterances free of it, not because I think venting is always a bad thing, but because I’m afraid that venting might make someone think he or she has done something, taken an action, making him or her less inclined to make an actual difference.  I have to go and look up a quote…

Here it is; unfortunately, it wasn’t attributed to anyone in particular.  I’d have liked to give credit for it, since it’s something I remind myself of almost daily, and try hard to live by. 

“The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention.”

Wow, it came out in such a big font.  Someone else must think it’s very important, too.  🙂

I need to get outside and scoop poop, so I’m going to rush through this.  And I just realized that the unusual sense of urgency I feel about scooping poop is because of the quote!  It’s fine for me to sit here writing down my thoughts, but, compared to scooping, these words are mere intentions, and scooping is a good deed.

So here’s what I was thinking, briefly.  What if that kid is not what you’d call a ‘monster’, but merely someone who has very poor anger management skills?  What if there are more people nowadays like him?  What if gigantic stressors like 9/11 and the war and the poor economy have changed people in some fundamental way, at least temporarily?

Sociologists can look back and give labels to eras and decades.  In fact, I should have researched it before writing this, because I won’t be surprised if I find that they’ve already labeled this time period.  This ain’t no 1950s we’re living in–times are tough.

And what if, in addition to having lots of tense, angry people walking around, our lifestyles have changed so that they are not at all conducive to helping a dog be happy and content?  What if we spend so much of our time sitting in front of screens of one kind or another that we’ve become a sedentary, physically unfit group, spending so little time outdoors exercising that we need a campaign to address the problem?  Do you think that could be true?  Duh, we know it’s true!  Do most dogs enjoy spending hours each day just sitting and staring?  Do we see a lot of obese feral dogs?  Uh, no. 

What if we’ve become a group of people who think that living with a dog, possibly the most good-souled animal most of us will ever get to know, is an inconvenience?  Who’s got time to walk outside?  I have a treadmill.  Training classes?  Are you kidding?  I’d have to go.  I’ll just send the dog off to that lady who trains ’em using a remote shock device.  She says the dog will come back all different, and I won’t have to do a thing except pay the bill.  And so on and so on…

I’ll finish this later.  I’ve got a lot more to write about this, but I want to scoop.  Let me just say that I’m not defending the kid in the article in the least.  I’ve lost my temper with a dog on a much smaller level, and I don’t defend myself, either.  Losing one’s temper is a pretty loserish thing to do.  You might as well just admit that you’ve failed.  Losing your temper with a lousy, dangerous driver might be one thing.  Losing your temper with a dog is always an epic fail, as they say now.

Part of what I hate about dominance theory training is that, in the hands of the general public, it walks a very fine line, and I have a feeling that many angry and/or naturally controlling people feel ‘enabled’ by it to lose their tempers with their dogs, while remaining ostensibly guilt-free (‘Cesar says I’m supposed to pin him down, to show him I’m alpha.’)  I cringe to think that long ago, for a period of weeks, I believed a colleague at work who, sincerely feeling it was right, was feeding me this stuff, giving me advice about training a dog with issues who had been passed around from home to home until he didn’t know up from down.  Thank God I figured out quickly, by trying very hard to get inside his brain even though I really didn’t know what I was doing, that the dominance junk was not at all what he needed–I feel it’s harmful in general, but it would have been particularly awful for him.  

Back to the guy in the news story.  He may really be a ‘monster’, a sociopath.  Or he might be a ‘normal’ man who totally lost it.  While no thinking person could defend what he did, either way, I think it would be very good to find out why an average person, not a monster, might do something like that.  It seems important for those of us trying to adopt out dogs to know such things.  If this really is a time in history when people’s psyches are disturbed and our general approach to daily life isn’t at all suitable to dogs, it might be a ‘perfect storm’, an unusually lousy time to find good homes for dogs.  

The people who were surrendering Burberry, at the age of only seven weeks, were having trouble controlling their anger with her; at least, the woman of the couple was, she who was Burberry’s primary caretaker.  She was so angry, in fact, that she displayed her anger in public, at my vet’s office, and that’s what prompted me to give her my phone number, in case she felt she needed some help.  It’s a complicated subject for me, because Burberry is the dog who pushed my own anger buttons, and I’ll write more about it.  I think the dogs would be better served by our honesty about this subject.  When my friend said that Jemma was pushing her anger buttons, that was all I needed to hear.  If more people were honest about their inability to manage some of their emotions, there might be fewer incidents of cruelty to animals and to people.

I am very concerned that part of the reason our ‘shelters’ are filling up with dogs is that people are finding themselves overwhelmed by too much lately, from the global situation to the chaos and rage in their own souls.  I cannot stand the idea that many people might be so psychologically unfit to have a dog that a dog might be better off dead than living with them.  Please, say it isn’t so.  Surely we can find a solution.  We must.  The universe can’t stand the waste of life and love that is happening every day in our ‘shelters’.

I’d love to know what you think about this.  Also, here’s a reminder note to myself: 

I want to write about a time when I happened to be on the spot when something similar to what’s in the news story was occurring, when I believe my intervention made a real difference.  And there was another time when there’s at least a chance I helped.

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Stupitity, Or, Pit Prejudice

Not an exception--this IS the rule.

This is an entry I never thought I’d be writing, because, frankly, I’ve read it, in essence, ad nauseam.  I’ve been reading other people’s words about the unjustified bad rap that Pit Bulls and the other ‘bully breeds’ get in this country (and maybe beyond–I’m not aware), for a few years now.  I agreed with all of it.  I agreed so completely that I didn’t think there would ever be anything for me to add.

But now I think I do have something to say, although I’m a little afraid to write honestly, because what I write here will reveal some things about myself that I’m not necessarily proud of.

True confession #1:  I used to think that people whose dog rescue ‘platform’ focused on Pit Bull prejudice were rebels, who sometimes weren’t too far removed from the idiots who ruined the Pittie reputation in the first place.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, thank you for reading my blog all the way from the that little island off the coast of Iceland.

True confession #2:  Although I know I shouldn’t, I prejudge people with tattoos.  I equate, ‘tattoo’, with, ‘rebel’ (see true confession #1).

True confession #3:  I am probably too focused on what breed a dog is, or what breeds are present in his/her background, as a basis for predicting behaviors.  I think I’m fairly good at just seeing the dog in front of me, as an individual, but I do often catch myself thinking in terms of breeds.

Maybe there will be more self-revelation, but that’s enough for now.

So, I saw people defending Pitties left and right, and I thought that they sounded a little defensive, as if they had something to prove, a chip on their collective shoulder.  I thought, “They’re not really doing such a great favor to Pitties, because the people they’re trying to convince will think, ‘Methinks they doth protest too much’.” 

Then came Soyer, who, ironically, may not even be a Pittie (MVDVM and I are sure he’s a Boxer mix, and the rest of his tall self seems more like a Mastiff or a Great Dane than a Pittie) to my house and to my neighborhood, and I quickly found that it was impossible for me to avoid sounding any less defensive than anyone else who knows Pitties, because you just can’t seem to manage a better reaction to the lack of knowledge you encounter, whether politely expressed or not.

It seems as if everyone you meet has something to ‘prove’ when they talk about Pit Bulls, and that includes you, yourself.  Pit Bulls are a loaded subject, a topic with major baggage.

OK, just thought of

True confession #4:  I am very judgmental about potential adopters (I suppose I haven’t exactly kept that a secret in the other blog entries), saying things to myself like, ‘This person can handle only an ‘easy’ dog’, or, ‘This one can take more of a challenge, but only a physical or behavioral challenge, like a potty training issue, but not an emotional one, like a resource guarding issue’, or vice versa.  In my mind, ‘easy’ dogs fall into different categories.  For instance, a dog who needs only a ton of exercise to be psychologically fit might be an easy dog for a jogger, but an impossible one for a couch potato.  But at least I’m clear in my own mind about what I mean, and I believe I am a pretty good judge of who will fit with whom, once I know both parties.

This brings me to my ‘platform’ re. Pit Bulls.  In general, they are the ‘easiest’ dogs I’ve ever met.  And in this case, what I mean by ‘easy’ is that people who don’t know a hell of a lot about how the mind of a dog works will still do perfectly well with these dogs.  These dogs represent the best qualities of Dog with a capital D, ‘Dog’, like, ‘Comfort Food’, ‘Family Values’, ‘Home and Hearth’, ‘Honor and Glory’.  Pit Bulls are family dogs.  They act like particularly charming children.  If Soyer is indeed part Pit Bull, he’s proof of it, to me.  If he isn’t, then I feel I know now that Boxers, and maybe Mastiffs and/or Great Danes, are also ‘easy’, ‘family’ dogs.

My dog Audrey is certainly a Pittie mix.  She’s wonderful.  My neighbors, probably not realizing she’s a Pit mix, tell me that all the time (but only one neighbor, a man who’s much more dog savvy than the rest, has noticed that Soyer is also a peach).  I’ve actually had people ask if they could have her–she’s the only dog anyone has asked me that about since my little wonderful longhaired Chihuahua named Pito, years and years ago.

I’ve told you about the dog rejected by my friend, who found that she (the dog) pushed her anger buttons.  The dog is here now, and her name is Jemma, and she’s definitely a Pit Bull mix, and she’s delightful, the perfect example of ‘particularly charming child’.  I don’t know if I told you that my friend decided that, because of her own psychological makeup, she realized that she should give up the idea to have any dog, and, sadly, I think she’s right about that.  I think that most people, most families, would have no trouble at all fitting Jemma into their homes.

And Audrey, and Jemma, and Soyer (if he is a Pittie mix), aren’t exceptions to the rule.  They are the rule.  Nice Pit Bulls are as common as daisies. 

I humbly beg the pardon of anyone I prejudged before, the people I thought were ‘protesting too much’ and actually making the less-educated think that there was something difficult about Pitties.  I realize now that this is an unavoidable consequence of being educated about a breed about which so many others are ignorant.     

So this is the chip on my shoulder:  Hey, you neighbors and others who, whether you express it or not, think that Pit Bulls belong to a certain type of person, someone you think of as a tattoed rebel (yes, I’m making fun of myself), whether tattoed because they’re trying to be scary or tattoed to show that not all tattoed people are scary, the fact is that, since you obviously don’t know too much about dogs, you yourself are the kind of person who should have a Pit Bull, because even a less-educated, first-time dog owner will do beautifully with most any Pit Bull, any Pit Bull who hasn’t been messed up by a mean owner, because Pit Bulls are just plain nice dogs.  If you compared pets to food, a Pit Bull might not be quite as easy as a hard-boiled egg (that might be a Beta fish), but a Pittie would be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich–you’d have to use something like mint jelly to mess it up, and even that might not do it.  

Now read this.  Read to what lengths the ignorant can go.  And educate yourself.!/notes/kristin-kucsma/one-sibling-killed-by-neighbor-his-remaining-two-siblings-were-turned-into-the-m/10150250828386398

P.S.  I just remembered that one of my almost-neighbors, someone I barely know, occasionally petsits for his kid’s Pit Bull.  I met this dog over the fence one day, without my neighbor’s knowledge.  The dog was totally lovely–friendly and sweet and smart and playful.  The next time I ran into my neighbor, I asked about the dog.  It was pathetic to me to hear him go into his, ‘He’s a very nice dog, really’, spiel…the poor man had that defensive sound in his voice, thinking he was going to have to convince me that not all Pit Bulls were bad.  I enjoyed telling him what a prize that dog is, but I doubt he hears it often, although it’s nothing more than the truth.

P.P.S.  I still don’t like tattoos.  Your skin has to work so hard filtering toxins.  Why do you want to add to its workload?  And I bet you anything you felt bad for the bully in the picture, having to work through all that marker or whatever the child is using.  🙂

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Don’t Know Much About Puppy Mills?

I’ve been getting a little brochure for the past few months, with coupons for local businesses.  One of them is Al’s Pet Shop.  ‘Al’ sells fish and aquarium supplies, pet food, pocket pets, and puppies–several different breeds.  I’m starting to get very interested in Al’s Pet Shop.  As part of my research today, I came across this:

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S’Wonderful, S’Mahvelous

a good nature, through and through

It’s so interesting here that I just did a crazy thing.  I went upstairs and phoned the news editor of the good local paper we have, and asked if I could write for them as a freelance.  We’ll see if I hear back.  The first woman I spoke to was very nice.

This is the specific incident which prompted my call (and really, I have no idea if this would be of interest to non-dog people–probably not, but I have that note factory angle to offer, too).  I was sitting at the computer, taking a break from scooping poop, when I looked to my right and saw that Soyer had brought me his ball.  He looks truly adorable when he does that–big wrinkly head, ears laid back shyly, eyes hopeful.  The thing is, I think he’s hopeful I’ll throw it, but he hasn’t mastered, ‘Drop it into my hand’.  He hasn’t mastered the whole sequence of, ‘I bring her the ball, she throws it, I chase it, we do it again.’  The reason he hasn’t mastered it is because I don’t practice it enough with him, but now was the time. 

The past few days something has crystallized in my mind.  I am now sure that dogs can understand the gist of complete sentences I say to them.  Somehow–a combination of my body language, the look in my eyes, my words, their expectations, their super intelligence–leads them to understand complex concepts I’m trying to get across.

So this time I didn’t focus on saying the exactly-correct specific words I’d planned to use.  I just said something like, ‘Aw, Soyer, you brought me your ball!  That is very good.  I love it when you do that, and I love that ball.  Do you want Mommy to throw it for you?’ (figuring that it must be that which is responsible for the hopeful look)

He looked interested.  Then I said, ‘If you want Mommy to throw it, you have to give it to her.  Put it in Mommy’s hand.’  And damned if he didn’t!  That was the first time.  In fact, although he’s quite good at, ‘Drop it’, that ball is in a different, higher value category for him, even for dropping.  There’s another factor at work there, too, to explain his reluctance to drop his ball for me, which is that, now that he’s here, there are always other dogs waiting to grab it, and he knows it.  So I don’t ask him to drop it under those unfair conditions, and we haven’t been practicing much lately.

So this time, when I asked him to put the ball into my hand, I asked the other dogs to back off, too.  He put it into my hand, I made a delighted fuss, and I walked outside to toss it for him, followed by lineup of dogs, Soyer in the lead.  I told them, this is for Soyer to get, and they let him chase it alone, although Giovanni was very tempted, and ran part way, but slowly, not really trying to get it.  (That’s another example of a sentence they seem to understand–‘This one is for Soyer.’)

Now the next bit is what was so interesting.

Soyer took the ball into the long room of the dog suite (the door is wide open on this beautiful day), and we followed.  Giovanni made an unusually determined dart, to try to take it out of Soyer’s mouth, and, maybe for the first time, Soyer ‘yelled’ at him, made a quick, loud sound to tell him to back off.  I wanted to do something to ‘smooth it over’, but I think what I did wasn’t the right thing.  I picked Giovanni up and told him, ‘no, that was Soyer’s ball, you have to leave it for now’.  Anyway, whatever I said, it didn’t matter–he already understood that perfectly well, from Soyer.  I said to Soyer, ‘good gentle’, because he really is a bit of a saint, allowing any dog to do almost anything to him, usually without even a word from him, and he could have been much harsher to Giovanni, who’d breached dog etiquette there.

Anyway, I was saying, ‘blah blah blah’, probably not the right things, and both dogs reminded me of characters in a P.G. Wodehouse book I’ve read many times.  There’s a dumb blonde character in the book named Veronica Wedge, a girl who needs everything explained fifty times.  Two other characters are having a heated argument, but when Veronica comes into the room, they immediately make an unspoken pact to stop fighting, just so they won’t have to explain it to her.  As soon as she leaves, they continue right where they were.  That’s how my dogs were.  They let me talk, but they were just being polite.  They had unfinished business.

I realized that, just as I bent to put Giovanni back down.  ‘Hope they don’t pick up where they left off’, I thought.  Then I saw the first surprising thing.  The ball was not in Soyer’s mouth, but on the floor.  Normally Soyer keeps a tight hold on it when others are around.  I didn’t want them to argue over it, so I picked it up and gave it to Soyer, as Giovanni was arranging himself after having been set down.

And then came the really amazing thing.  Giovanni went to Soyer, and I thought Soyer would scoot out the open door.  Instead, Soyer turned around and purposefully dropped the ball so Giovanni could get it!  I swear!  Giovanni picked it up, Soyer looked relieved or something, and both dogs wiggled happily.  They so did not need me to mediate that for them.  They had it all under control, all along. 

I am quite sure that dogs do tend to have their relationships with other dogs nicely under control and humming along smoothly, except when we mess them up.

I’ll never forget what I learned today.  And that Soyer, boy…what a prince of a dog.

Alexander McCall Smith ends the books in his Ladies’ Number One Detective Agency series with the word, ‘Africa’, written over and over in a diamond shape.  Even without that, you can tell from the books that he loves Africa with every molecule.  When I see things like that little ball episode, my brain just thinks, ‘Dogs dogs dogs dogs dogs’.

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Better Off Dead, Part II

You’ll be coming in in the middle, unless you first read, ‘Better Off Dead–Really?  When, Then?’

Every day, at least once, I have a thought which makes me squirm.  It’s this:  my dog Grace is living the kind of existence about which many people would say, “It would be kinder to put her out of her misery.”

But I can’t see it.  And if I can’t comprehend it for Grace, I don’t see myself ever comprehending it for any dog in any situation other than my frequently-reiterated, ‘terminal illness/unmanageable pain’ scenario.

Grace is old.  The Brooklyn, NY Animal Care and Control, from which I adopted her on December 1st, 2010, guessed her age as 13, and she could be that, although she ‘presents’ as much older than my Jiminy, who is 15 or even 16 by now.  Grace has severe arthritis in her hips, and was almost immobile when I adopted her.  Now, because of glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, and other supplements (if you need a product like this, I highly recommend ‘Next Level’, the liquid form), and the veterinary NSAID called Rimadyl, she appears much more comfortable, and can move around for very short walks (ten or fifteen steps).  I carry her when we need to go further than that, or push her in a shopping cart for walks in the ‘hood.

Grace has geriatric megaesophagus, a pouching of her esophagus, which means that food can collect there and trap bacteria.  I’ve written about all these things elsewhere, so I’m skimming over them now.  She’ll need to be on Clavamox, the ramped-up form of Amoxicillin, for the rest of her life.  I have to make sure her head is higher than her chest, while she eats, and try to flip her over to have her cough out anything that might have gotten stuck, twenty minutes or so after she eats.

She’s incontinent, most of the time, and often has trouble controlling her bowel movements, too.  I have little pants for her, which hold maxi pads meant for women, and they work very well, most of the time.  I have lots of waterproof mattress covers, and a special portable cozy pad which is waterproof on one side and soft cotton on the other, given to me by the mother of one of my cello students (she thinks it was from the hospital where he was born).  All of these things help a great deal.  But there’s still an awful lot of cleanup with Grace–laundry, floors, and baths for her.

Taking care of Grace is hard in other ways.  I have tendonitis in one hand from carrying her, because, although she’s only forty pounds, she is a complete dead weight in my arms, and unwieldy as hell.  If you read my entry, ‘Sticky Controversy’, you know another challenging thing about Grace.  She doesn’t have long periods where she’s comfortable, and she’s very vocal when she wants something, which is often (and that’s OK–that’s the least I can do for her).  She’s the first dog I’ve ever met who whines like a child.  It’s not the sound of a dog whining in discomfort.  It’s the sound of a kid saying, “I’m bored“, or, “Are we there yet?”  It gets to me.

A lot of these things aren’t new to me; in fact, only that, “Mom, it’s borrrring” thing is.  After all, I’ve lost five of my ‘six pack’ (only Jim is left), and many of them were tricky to care for.  But I think the thing which seems harder about Grace is that I don’t really know her, and I’m not sure anyone really knows her, and I feel sad when I think that some of the ways we usually get to know dogs aren’t options anymore.

Grace’s personality is muted, or so it seems to me.  I wonder if anyone ever did with her what trainers call, ‘working’.  Many dog owners don’t understand that the great part about ‘training’ your dog is not that you’re able to control your dog’s behavior; it’s that, through working with your dog in a training relationship, you bond, and you become true friends (if we’re talking positive reinforcement/negative punishment training, that is, and that’s the only kind I’m writing about).

So I feel that someone never took the time to really encourage Grace to be Grace, and I’m trying, but since she can barely move, it’s not easy.  And I confess that sometimes Grace seems to me like a forty-pound thankless job.  I know that at least some of my neighbors think I’m…maybe not crazy, but at least ill-judging, for keeping her alive. 

But I’m positive they’re wrong, and I think any truly good dog person would agree with me.  Grace is still enjoying life.  She certainly enjoys her food–she really wants it, and eats eagerly.  She likes to taste new foods.  She likes to get treats.  And she likes being brushed, and petted, and having me hold her in the warm bath.  She loves riding in her shopping cart.  She seems to like having the other dogs around her, and no matter how rambo they get–my mother’s word for rambunctious–no one has ever stepped on or knocked Grace, although they don’t take as much care about Jimmy, seeming to realize he doesn’t need it yet.

So, no, Grace is certainly not better off dead, not even close.  Thank goodness I have MVDVM, a vet who thinks as I do about euthanasia. 

I can more or less understand ‘normal’ folks who have ‘average’ relationships with their dogs and who are juggling jobs and kids and elderly parents and I don’t know what else, who, when faced with a challenging end-of-life situation like Grace’s just feel that it’s too much for them to handle.

But what I don’t understand is other rescuers, who’re really dedicated to helping save dogs and cats and who would almost certainly be doing for Grace what I’m doing, who say things like, “We can’t save this dog from the shelter if he’s got nowhere to go for a while–he’d be better off dead than in long-term boarding”.  I look at Grace, and that seems so illogical that I can’t yet see why they think there’s a leg to stand on there.  Aren’t we all in ‘long-term boarding’, in a way, as we’re at the end of our lives?  But in the case of the dog rescued from a shelter, he or she isn’t moving forward to death, but simply waiting for a home.  What’s so terrible about that?  Surely the dog would not think he or she is better off dead.  Even Grace doesn’t think so.  Really.  Somehow, you can just tell.

Grace, whining as I write this caption...

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