Month: October 2013

Dog clothing? Really? Do we need to dress up the little buggers? Or is that human vanity?

While I do believe that when it rains out, Izzy needs his ThunderShirt, both to stay dry and so that he won’t get freaked out if it’s thunder and lightening while we’re out, I’m not so sure he needs a specially-designed sweater in the middle of the winter or a nice wooly blanket for football season.  Seriously.  What is it about people who dress up a Golden Retriever in a kerchief like some Middle-Eastern babushka-wearing grandma?  And how long does the dog keep the kerchief on to begin with?

I’ve read a lot of articles about Baby Boomers and how we are treating our animals as though they are the children who have long since left the nest.  While that might be true (not only of Baby Boomers but pretty much everyone who’s crazy about their pets), I’m still not convinced we have to turn animals into pseudo-human-children.  I’ve seen Chihuahuas in pink tutus, poodles in berets, and boxers in Irish Fisherman knit sweaters.  They all look the same:  ridiculous.

I’m writing this and remembering that the dog I had when we were growing up often got scalped rather than having a decent haircut (because my parents were do-it-yourself-ers).  Tammy would skulk around, head down, eyes averted, as if ashamed that she was “nude.”  In that particular case, I can see putting something on her nearly naked body if it was the middle of the winter, because she certainly would have frozen.  But should we dress our animals just to make a statement?  Does a Cocker Spaniel really appreciate being dressed as a dragon for Halloween?  Should we create a mini Pekingnese version of Santa Claus on December 25th?  Or what about a heart-shaped Pit Bull for Valentine’s Day?

Maybe I’m just being an ol’ poop, but I don’t get design clothing for dogs.  http://www.refinery29.com/pet-accessories?utm_source=email&utm_medium=editorial&utm_content=los-angeles&utm_campaign=131029-dog-accessories#slide-1

I’d be interested to hear how you feel about dressing up your lovely pooch.  And I would venture to guess that your most affectionate cat wouldn’t sit still for putting on a hat or a vest or a lovely sequined dress!  

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Herding the pack and Why Friends Are Necessary

Over the weekend, the weather improved from its bone-chilling factor to a rather reasonable and mild 50-60 degree range.  Though I couldn’t do the hike I had wanted to do with Izzy, I did get in some nice walks, and we were lucky to find Peggy and Ellie at home — with visitors!  Nothing like a Fall romp in the leaves with dogs, but when they’re all the same size, are great friends, and absolutely adorable, it makes it even better.

Whenever I’m with dogs, I am struck by how much they teach us.  The attention to detail that Izzy spends when we’re walking always reminds me that I need to pay the same amount of attention to my writing.  He notes every new sound, whether it’s in the neighborhood, up in the sky or in the trees.  This weekend, he heard a new bird, and even though I have no clue what type of bird it is, I can guarantee that Izzy separated that birdsong from the others we hear regularly.  And the sound of fire engines and ambulances on the boulevard several blocks away made Izzy (and the other dogs in the neighborhood) howl in response to the high-pitched noise.  He’s also aware that the seasons are changing, and his gait reflects his pleasure in the piles of leaves he can sniff, as well as the cooler temps.

But this weekend’s most important lesson was about friendship.  I have always valued my friends and have kept in touch with everyone who has been special to me through the years, from my first friend (we met before kindergarten and have been friends ever since) to those I’ve worked with recently at various colleges.  I drop a card or an email or just a comment on Facebook to let people know I’m thinking of them, and I truly treasure the moments we’ve spent together.  The only way to have friends is to be one, that’s my mantra.

Izzy’s excitement when he sees his little buddies knows no bounds, and when I see him (and them) greet each other with that quiver that only dogs can have when greeting someone they care about, I am reminded that we need to show that same kind of pleasure when we see people whose presence in our lives is special.

Next time you see someone you like, wag that tail of yours a little.  Friends are necessary.  They lower our blood pressure and make little problems laughable.

Here’s the pack of Izzy’s friends this weekend.  A smile for a Monday morning.  From left to right:  Cocoa, 6 month old chocolate Poodle; Ellie, 5 year old Maltese; Izzy, 2 year old Shichon; and Maggie, black Poodle (I think she’s 3).

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Dog Treats that Kill.

Every night before we go to bed, I give Izzy a doggy treat.  Most of the time, it’s Pupperoni, but sometimes it’s a piece of dried chicken.  Imagine how I felt when I found out yesterday that some of these treats are being recalled because they’ve been KILLING dogs.  I can’t imagine what I’d do if something happened to Izzy, so my first thought was to share this story with as many people as possible so that no one else loses their beloved pets.  Please read the article that’s linked here: http://www.ibtimes.com/jerky-treats-recall-fda-issues-alerts-after-600-dogs-cats-mysteriously-dead-full-list-pet-treat 

Birthdays and Visits and More Car Rides with a Terrified Dog

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Izzy didn’t want to get out of bed this morning, probably because he thought I was going to force him into taking another car ride.

Yesterday, I put him in his ThunderShirt and took him for a long walk before getting into the car to head for my daughter’s house.  Izzy shivered so much, I finally pulled him onto my lap for the ride.  That’s something I never do, but driving for almost an hour and a quarter with him shivering and drooling and sliding on the glove box didn’t seem like a good idea.  He was a bit more comfortable on my lap, but I can’t say that I was.  I don’t like driving that way, even though he was completely still and didn’t impede me at all.

The up side of the ride was that Izzy got to spend the day with Gordon and Wilson, my daughter’s two dogs.  Gordon is a Cockapoo who thinks he’s human, and Wilson is a rescued Rat Terrier mix who was even more of a mess during his first year than my Izzy.  The three dogs played in the fenced in yard while I helped my daughter, who has thrown her back out.

It was my grandson’s birthday, his first birthday, so we played with his new toys, I read him the books I had bought him, and we had some cherished ‘grand’ time.

When we left, Izzy just about turned himself inside out to get his leash on, but when the ThunderShirt was introduced, he knew what it meant:  the horrible red car.  The ride home.  Facing his fear.  As soon as he saw my red sedan in the driveway, he sunk his butt down and refused to move.  Normally, I’d take him for a walk and get rid of some of that anxiety, but it was early evening, starting to rain, and I was tired.  We drove home with him on my lap again and shivering — though not as much as earlier.  By the time we were halfway home, he had his head on my arm, a bit more relaxed.

This morning, we put on the ThunderShirt to go for our early morning walk because it was raining . . . and because I don’t want Izzy to see it as a negative or as a clue that we’re going for a ride.  He won’t have to worry this afternoon, because I’m going back to my daughter’s alone and he can stay home and enjoy napping on this gray, rainy day.

A Dog’s Story: What Could They Tell Us?

I’ve been thinking a lot about narrative therapy and how it helps people to tell their stories.  It helps to heal and to move on and to let go of the past.  What if dogs could do that?  Would it help a dog who was antisocial to be able to tell someone exactly why they didn’t trust humans or other animals?  

Izzy’s story could probably be a country song.  “My ma left us, broke and alone.  My brother went blind and I had no bone.  Awwwww, woe is me.”  Other dogs would do a rock and roll love song or an aria howled in the highest notes.  Some would simply speak their story in rambling, incoherent sentences while others would be Virginia Woolf-ish and let their story fly via stream-of-consciousness.  But I don’t think the little ones would moan about being the smallest in the pack and the overweight dogs would not express their frustration about losing weight.  A dog’s story would be simple.  Direct.  To the point.

Would a Pitbull trained for the ring discuss his post-traumatic stress?  How about a Lab trained for sniffing out bombs?  Would she cry about the stress of the job and the horrible things she’s seen?  Would a Cockapoo feel left out because he can’t identify with just one family?  And how about a Poodle?  Would she write about how no one is as beautiful as she is?

Stories are important, but the thing about dogs is that their story doesn’t last longer than this moment.  No rear view mirrors for dogs.  Now.  The moment.  Dogs are true Buddhists.  Dogs are cool.  

Here’s Izzy being cool.

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The Kennel and the Car. Izzy’s Fears.

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Izzy upon arrival in North Carolina, 2012

Izzy’s only a little more than two years old, and he’s been working on some fear issues ever since he moved in with me.  I’m proud to say that he’s come a very long way from burrowing deep in the kennel and not wanting to come out when we picked him up at the airport.  He also doesn’t growl and bark at new people like he used to.  Instead, he wags his tail and wants to say hello.  That’s a biggie!  But there are a few things that still bring out the fear.

Over this past weekend, I had to travel to Cincinnati for a college reunion and brought Izzy to the kennel where he has stayed on occasion since he came to me.  The people who run the place are fabulous.  They love him and worked really hard with me when he first went there in order to get him socialized.  At one point, I came to pick him up and found him in the owner’s office, sitting on the recliner.  Yes, he got under their skin like he has with me.

But the kennel isn’t next door to my house.  It’s a half hour ride, which means Izzy needs to get into the car.  That’s not fun for him at all.  When we first started dealing with the issue, Izzy was so frightened of the car that he would literally not even walk by it (and he knew which car was mine) whenever we went through my apartment parking lot after going for a walk.  I spent hours trying to get him to walk around the vehicle, but he sat his butt down and pulled his whole sixteen pounds against the leash.  He would not — for love or money — get into the car unless I forced him.  I knew that wasn’t a good idea, but no matter what I did, nothing got him past the fear.  I spent hours with him, enticed him with treats, sat in the car when it wasn’t running, made sure we went on short rides to “good” places (like my girlfriend’s house where he could run in the back yard with her Jack Russell).  

Nothing worked.

Then we went to obedience school, and one night, I was telling the instructor about Izzy’s fear of cars.  When he rode with me, he would need to be carried into the car, and then he would get up on the glove box, lean against me and drool/pant frantically until we got where we were going.  Usually, those trips were to the kennel.  It doesn’t take much detective work to realize that he soon linked the car with the kennel.

Heidi worked with me that night, and together, we found a “fun” way to get Izzy into the car.  I ran away from it, then turned around and ran toward it (the passenger door open) and when we arrived, said, “Up, up, up!”  Izzy jumped right in.  From then on, it was easy.

But this past weekend, when we went to the kennel (for the first time in months), Izzy didn’t want to go inside.  He finally did, and I didn’t think much about it while I was gone.  When I came back, it was a different story.

Izzy came through the door to the office where I stood, and I bent down to say hello.  His tail tucked between his legs, and his whole body quivered.  The women who were checking me out started making cooing noises, obviously sympathetic to my little shivering Shichon.  

I knew I couldn’t take him in the car immediately, especially in the shape he was in, so I sat on the bench in the lobby and asked him to come up on my lap.  He tried, but the slatted bench wasn’t familiar, so he gave up.  I patted him and talked to him a while longer, but his quivering became worse.  It was as if he knew he would have to go into the car.

Having just driven 10 hours, I wanted to get home, so I paid my bill and took him outside.  He saw the car and immediately pulled in the other direction, both his head and tail lowered.

It was lightly raining, but we trotted up to the end of the long driveway.  I let Izzy take a good look (and sniff) at the horses in the meadow across the road, then we trotted back to the car.  He seemed a bit more comfortable, but not relaxed.  

“Up, up, up!” I said, and Izzy obediently jumped in, though he still shivered.

All the way home, he quivered and drooled.  I felt horrible for several reasons.  I hate driving with him on the glove box, for one.  If I have to make a turn or a quick stop, he has no traction at all.  Secondly, his fear seems amplified, and I don’t want him to associate the car with a negative end.  Thirdly, I had just gotten home and wanted him to be comfortable.

Once we were home, he had a walk and got settled back in the house.  Within minutes, he was back to his playful self, finding his favorite tattered red ball and bringing it to me.  But I think that the next car ride will bring back the same fears.

So, research this week . . . on good car seats that will allow him a view of the outside and some security.  And I think the next time we go to the kennel, he’s going to be wearing his ThunderShirt to keep him calm.

Izzy Wears a Thundershirt in the Rain

Raining, cold, miserable weather.  Not the kind that makes me want to jump out of bed, click the leash on Izzy and head out for a 6 AM walk, but when you have a dog, you don’t have much of a choice.  The funny thing is that Izzy doesn’t like walking in the rain either.  He stops at the back door, looks up at me, out toward the yard and back to me again as if to say, “Seriously, woman?  You want me to go out in THAT?”  I pull him off the stairs, he tucks his ears, then obediently trots at my side, but when it comes to a puddle.  Whoa!  Pull up here!  Then a big leap over the offensive water and we’re off — really quickly — to do “the thing.”

When I lived in an apartment complex on the third floor, the storms would echo through the meadow we faced.  It was truly spectacular to see flashes of lightning from that height, and the repeating booms of thunder made the pictures on my walls rock.  Exciting for me.  Not so much for Izzy.  He would run from room to room, tail between his legs, as if he couldn’t find a space safe enough to sit and hide.  

I did some research and found a place right in Durham that had invented a shirt for animals that purported to calm their anxiety, whether it was thunderstorms or fear of something else that made them turn into whining balls of nerves.  They called their product a Thundershirt.  It looked like a piece of gray flannel with Velcro.  Unassuming.  I wondered what could be so magical about this gray flannel shirt that would calm down the most anxious of animals.  

I spent a lot of time on their website, read all of the success stories, watched the videos, perused the research about how the Thundershirt cured anxiety in 80% of the animals (dogs and cats) who wore it.  No matter whether it was thunderstorms or separation anxiety, the Thundershirt would cure it.

I looked at Izzy, thought about his fear of the thunderstorm, but even more so, I thought about his fear of human beings.  At 9 months old, my little Shichon had a terrible attitude toward people in general.  He charged strangers, barking and growling so fiercely that no one would come near him.  It wasn’t fun.

So I tried it.

Within five minutes of putting on the shirt, Izzy curled into a ball and went to sleep on the floor next to my bed.  Meanwhile, a thunderstorm that wouldn’t quit for hours raged on outside.  He could have cared less.

Success!

Today, Izzy really doesn’t pay attention to storms, but he still doesn’t like rain, so when it’s a dreary, rainy day like it is today, we put on his Thundershirt and it keeps him dry while he’s outside.  I still have to rub him down with a towel when we come home because his head and paws get wet, but his body is dry, and he absolutely loves putting on that shirt.  Amazing.

Having a dog that’s only half wet is much better than having one that is soaked to the skin — even if that dog’s ‘fur’ is really hair.

I’m not doing a commercial for this product, but if you’re interested, here’s the link:  http://www.thundershirt.com/

(And here’s Izzy on our walk when it’s dry!)

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Street Orphans

Street Orphans

In the South, there are house dogs and yard dogs. I’m not a big fan of yard dogs. I hate seeing dogs on a chain in a back yard, and I truly feel that those dogs begin to harbor aggression after a while. Yes, it makes no sense to let dogs run free, but if you have a dog, aren’t you responsible for giving it love and care and making sure it’s healthy and safe from the elements? Yes, Izzy goes out in the yard occasionally, and when he does, he’s tied up (because he does the fa-la-la-I’m-free! thing when he’s off leash and he’s too little for cars to see when he zips across the street — giving me heart attacks). But when you leave a dog outside day and night, simply giving it water and food, that doesn’t work for me.

Yesterday, when Izzy and I walked, a clownish black Lab raced up to greet us, large pink tongue lolling out of his mouth. He was wet and obviously wanted some water, so I knew he’d been outside for most of the day since it had been raining. And he was young and wanted to play. Suddenly I realized he was Spike, the black Lab that lives around the corner from me — in the back yard on a chain. He’s been there since he “moved in” when he was quite little and quite scared. Occasionally, Izzy goes back there to play for a few moments (when I’m brave enough to let him off the leash), but other than that, Spike sees no one, doesn’t play, doesn’t get to walk the neighborhood, and doesn’t have any shelter other than the trees overhead.

His newly-found freedom was obviously an aphrodisiac for him last night. He hopped over Izzy, did the puppy-bow, raced alongside us, rolled down the grass, and generally looked — plain and simple — happy!

We worked with one of the guys on the street to try to get Spike back to his yard, but he was not interested. I think he rather likes being one of the Street Orphans, those dogs who race freely up and down the streets of our little town.

Can’t say that I blame him!

Shedding Season

Last night when Izzy and I went for our dinnertime walk, he was drawn to some sounds near the fence where yellow roses bloom.  He poked his nose into the leaves, then jerked back.  Poked his nose again and jerked back as if something bit him.  I thought he might have found a spider nest since their webs often stretch three feet across between the tree branches above the fence, so I pulled him away and kept walking.

We saw Ellie and Peggy, played and talked for a while, then when the sun started to set, we headed back down the street to the house.  Curious, I walked past the fence again.  Izzy still cautiously sniffed around, but this time, I saw what must have been making the rustling sounds in the leaves and deadwood beneath the roses.  And I’m pretty sure we’re not going to be sniffing around that area again.  I didn’t get a photo of the actual skin, but this is a close facsimilie — and for those who don’t recognize it, it’s a copperhead that has shed its skin.

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Izzy and the Haunted House

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The house around the corner from mine decorates for Halloween at the end of September and people come from miles around to see the moving and speaking figures that populate the porch and hang around on the rooftop.  In the corner of the porch, a Frankenstein-like creature plays an organ (and the haunting music from that organ plays 24/7), while a witch welcomes visitors and tells them (every fifteen minutes or so) about what she’s stirring in her pot (‘double double toil and trouble’).  On the roof, a supersized black cat swings its head from right to left, lit from within in some horrid way, and above the doorway a gigantic spider waves its arms, threatening to spin its web over any intruders.  Pumpkins litter the lawn, cutout witches guard each corner, and a blow-up evil tree spooks little kids who will probably never enter the woods again.

Every time Izzy and I pass by the house, he freezes in his tracks and his eyes light with the orange flickerings from the decorations themselves.  He’s baffled by the moving cat and spider on the roof, tilts his head when the witch intones her spell, and the sound of the organ alerts him even when we’re blocks away.  He pees on the gravestones at the edge of the walkway and doesn’t even bother sniffing the wood cutout witch.  If we’re walking by early in the morning when everything else is quiet, he mutters a little in the back of his throat or does a little prance and whine routine.  He knows this isn’t “normal” but he has no clue what Halloween is (nor does he care, other than the sound and lights bug him).  

Wait until the kids start ringing our doorbell in their costumes.  Now that is cause for a great deal of barking!