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Izzy’s Christmas Portrait

During this time of year, things happen that are often surprising and heart-warming.  Sometimes when you plan on a great gift for someone else, it becomes a gift for you, as well.

It all started when my daughter, Jen, fell through the ceiling.

Yes, I’m serious.  She was in the attic getting some stuff down and took a wrong step, literally through the ceiling of her son’s room.  Long story short, that fall damaged a few things, one of which was a photograph of the dog she grew up with:  Jessie, a gorgeous German Shepherd who was the best dog I’ve ever had.

My all-time favorite photo of Jen is a pic of her on the floor in my kitchen dressed in pj’s with her arm around Jessie on the first day we had her in our home.  Jessie was about 8 weeks old, one ear up, one ear down, huge paws, tongue hanging out.  They bonded in that moment and after that, they were best friends.

When Jessie passed at the age of 19, Jen fell apart even though she hadn’t lived at home for years, but that dog was like the sister Jen never had.  Jen’s fall scratched up the portrait of Jessie at her best, sitting under the apple tree in our Vermont backyard.

I took the portrait from Jen, who asked me to get it fixed somehow.  She had a tear in her eye as she relinquished the photo.

My friend, Deborah Bradsher, is an artist who normally sketches houses for homeowners, but she’s done a few animals, so I asked her if she could create a pencil drawing of Jessie.  She took on the project with a promise to “try.”  I told her I wanted to give the sketch to my daughter for Christmas.

When Deb finished, we met for lunch in downtown Durham, where she shared the sketch with me.  It was wonderful!  Jessie came alive on that page.

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But even better than this gorgeous portrait of Jessie . . . Deb pulled another portrait out of her bag, one I didn’t expect at all . . . a portrait of Izzy!

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This was a huge surprise that I absolutely loved!  Just like she had with Jessie, Deb brought Izzy to life.  His eyes are perfect, and the look on his face is one that I see all the time.

I told Deb that she could sell these portraits, and she’s so modest that she doubted whether anyone would buy one.  I’m determined to prove her wrong, so I’m posting her information here.  If any of you dog lovers want a portrait of your baby, this is the artist for  you!

Deborah Bradsher, https://www.facebook.com/deborah.bradsher, or email her at deborahbradsher@centurylink.net

 

 

 

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Izzy Goes Back to School

One of the reasons I haven’t blogged for a while — actually, the ONLY reason–is that my life has totally changed.  I’ve been writing novels, trying to obtain agent representation, finishing up and selling houses (we’re now knee-deep into renovating a huge formal Victorian), and enjoying a new relationship.  Yup, there’s someone else in Izzy’s world now.  His name is Louis, and I’m enjoying his company a lot, but Izzy’s not really sure how to handle this new person.

At first, I thought Izzy’s nervousness and barking (and lots of jumping) was due to the fact that Louis was new in his world.  A month went by, then two.  Louis was becoming a regular at the house, but Izzy’s behavior didn’t change.  In fact, we noticed that if we touched each other or hugged, Izzy would come out from wherever he was in the house and stand in front of us, barking.

Louis, in his low Southern drawl, said, “He’s just a jealous ol’ tick, is all.”

Another month went by.  Izzy still jumped at Louis’s back, even though we’d all gone on vacation together and had worked hard to build a bond between Louis and Izzy.

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We bribed Izzy with treats.  Tried to surround Louis’s entrance to the house with “positive stuff.”  Still, he jumped and acted like that “jealous little tick.”

Finally, Louis and I had a serious talk.  He shared that he wasn’t totally comfortable, especially since Izzy had nipped at him.  I understood that completely.  Years ago, I was attacked by a dog I knew well.  I almost lost the use of my hands and had to endure four years of physical therapy and a ground-breaking operation on my thumbs.  Anyway, if anyone would know about a fear of dogs, it’d be me.

But I also knew that a dog’s behavior was largely the result of how the human handled the relationship.  I was the one responsible for training this dog, and I’d gotten to a certain point with Izzy, then backed off.  I’ve made more excuses for this dog than I can count.  He’s had antisocial problems since he arrived with me.  We worked hard and solved a LOT of his issues, and I guess I was happy with that so I backed off and treated him like a “poor little guy.”  I stopped insisting that I was the alpha in this household — and Izzy took over.

Time for Izzy to respect me again.

When I had my German Shepherd, Jessie, we went to a dog obedience school taught by a guy who trained police dogs.  As a result of a very intense six-weeks, Jessie would stay at a seated position for hours.  I didn’t have to say a word, just point.  That was a great training technique that I would be grateful for when Jessie became deaf in her later years.  But that’s another story.  My point is that going to school with Jessie, the dog attack, and learning how to handle dogs again (via hundreds of hours of video and another bout of dog obedience techniques), I have much more experience and information about training dogs than at any other time in my life.  I had the tools.  I just needed to use them.

Izzy and I went back to the basics.  I used the Umbilical Cord technique to get him used to doing what I wanted rather than what he did.  I wound his leash around my waist, then attached it to him.  Without speaking to him, I went through my daily work.  Where I went, he had to follow.  He had no choice.  I followed that routine every day for at least an hour, sometimes more.  It got to the point where he loved it — and it also re-established me as the boss.

Then we worked on his basic commands.  I made him sit before we went out for our walks (he’s never been bad at the door, so I didn’t enforce obedience before going out.  Big mistake.  Let the dog go out the door first on a retractable leash, and the dog — big or small– is the one in control.).

I made him sit and wait while I put his food down in the morning.  In the past, he’s been a grazer.  Half the time, he wouldn’t eat until sometime in the afternoon; thus, the food sat on the floor all day.  Now he knows that food is a “treat” and that I’m in control of that treat.  He eats right away, as soon as I put the food down.

The walk is the most important mode of communication between a dog and a person, so I rethought what I’d been doing when we went out on our three-times-daily walks.  I put Izzy on a regular length lead instead of a retractable one.  That helped a lot with control, though I must admit that one of the reasons I used a retractable lead was that Izzy could run in short spurts, getting a bit more exercise than he would with me on our regular daily walks.  With the regular lead, I walked closer to Izzy and became his lead; with the retractable leash, he led me. Now not only does he have to pay attention to me, but I feel more comfortable on our walks, too.

He started looking at me like this, paying attention to my every word, excited about doing something for praise or that occasional treat (I’m withdrawing treats bit by bit so that I won’t need something in my hand to get him to behave for me).

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The changes I’ve made have worked so far.  It’s getting easier to control Izzy, to have him sit and wait/stay when Louis first comes in the door.  I can usually stop Izzy from jumping now (he still barks when we hug, but we’re working on that, too).

We’re still working on finessing some things, but one thing I can’t seem to control is the excitement Izzy feels every time Louis’s truck pulls up.  His tail is going a mile a minute.  He knows this guy is going to be in our lives, but it’s taking time for him to get used to knowing how he should act.

Izzy’s not perfect, but he’s trying hard, and I love him for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Izzy and the Black Cats

It’s no secret that Izzy doesn’t like cats.  Every time he sees one — across the street or across the universe — he charges.  Growls.  Appears ready to rip the cat to shreds.  The several times he’s gotten away from me, it’s because he’s been chasing a cat.

20150703_062206[1]Since we moved to my townhouse in Durham, we’ve come face-to-face with a black cat who appears to have no fear of dogs.  One morning, Izzy and I headed for the walkway into the wooded area in the middle of the neighborhood.  It’s a favorite place to walk because there’s a pathway that circles and cuts through the woods.  It’s quiet in there and the smells rival the forests leading to the lake I used to visit as a child.  Izzy snuffles around, exploring with a lighter pep in his step.  And, of course, he’s a boy, so he leaves his mark on almost every tree.

On that particular morning, a black cat sat on the walkway leading into the woods.  I truly expected that the cat would flee as soon as seeing us, but just the opposite happened.

The cat began walking toward us.  Izzy charged forward, ready to chew that cat.  Then, he stopped.  And the cat kept coming.  Running!

Is this cat rabid, I thought.  What the hell?

20150917_071130[1]Izzy glanced up at me, then at the cat, and almost simultaneously, we both turned and hauled ass in the other direction.

Several days later, we rounded the corner to head home and spotted the black cat coming toward us.  I prepared to sprint in the opposite direction, but the cat didn’t chase us this time.  Instead, the cat dropped itself into the nearest storm drain and disappeared.  Once again, Izzy glanced at me, puzzled.  And when we went by the storm drain, we both peered down, wondering where the cat went.

20150917_071248[1]The very next morning, we walked down Ellis Road outside the development.  We were early, the sky had just started to lighten and only a few cars drown down the road toward Route 147, a major highway leading to I-40.

My mind buzzed with work that I had to accomplish, so I wasn’t paying attention.  Izzy was, though, and when he started pulling at the leash and growling, I came out of my reverie to see…yup, the black cat.

He sat on a little rise overlooking the parking lot, forcing us to walk right by him.  The cat sat on the rise like a little king and licked his paws.  Lazily.  How brash, I thought.

Izzy  pranced and watched the cat with superstition, but we kept moving.

This morning, Izzy and I both realized something surprising.  That black cat that had chased us wasn’t the only one in the neighborhood.

This morning, we ran into the storm drain cat again, a fluffy,  Persian mix.  She appears rather wild because as soon as she saw us, she dropped herself into the storm drain again.  And, again, Izzy stared down the drain, wondering where the cat went. 20150917_071201[1] When I looked down the hole, I couldn’t see the cat.  The drain drops down at least twelve feet.  WTF.  Where does the damn cat go?

Then we saw the black cat who lives near Ellis Road.  She’s small, dainty, unperturbed, and sits on the hill overlooking the homes, happy to simply sit.

The attack cat is brash and when I saw it more closely, his ear is a bit crooked.  Whether he lives with another dog and is comfortable with them or whether he is more mountain lion than house cat.

One or three, Izzy still wants a bit out of them and it’ll be interesting to see whether we can dodge them when we walk the neighborhood in the upcoming days.  In the meantime, at least we know it’s not one cat with a split personality!

Izzy’s New Friends: How to Introduce Dogs to New Dogs (and People!)

Since moving to the new place, Izzy and I have settled down and are now meeting new people (and dogs), both in the neighborhood and in life.  The good part is that we have a much more positive life now (Izz y’s life has always been good, but mine . . . well, suffice it to say I was ready to commit hari kari in my last job.  It’s much easier being my own boss!).

At first, we explored every inch of the neighborhood, meeting those dogs/owners who walked at the same time we did.  There’s a twenty-something woman who walks a cockapoo named Callie (who Izzy likes a lot), a middle-aged guy who lives with his girlfriend and walks her Shih-Tzu named Little Man, a woman my age with a Bichon mix that looks like Izzy’s cousin, and several people who have young and energetic Pitbull mixes and a pair of twin dachshunds.  I’m sure the people introduced themselves to me, but to tell the truth, I remember the dogs’ names but not the humans’.

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Izzy has discovered that he likes ‘overlooking’ the neighborhood.  He perches on the bed in the guest room overlooking the parking lot and lets me know whenever someone walks by or a strange car pulls in.  He takes his job very seriously, like any good ‘guard’ dog.  I wonder sometimes whether he thinks I need his protection or whether he would do it even if I wasn’t home.  Of course, it helps that he has a new squeaky ball he can take upstairs with him.

Meeting the new neighbors and their dogs (whether from his perch on the second floor or on our walks) has become our part-time gig.  There’s a protocol in meeting dogs.  Izzy’s often on a retractable leash (I let him run out to the end of it on our morning walks because I figure it’s his best chance of getting exercise), so I need to reel him in when I see another dog coming.  He loves going over and “saying hello,” and usually, that’s all he needs.  He’ll go on his way happily after just a few moments of sniffing and doing his puppy bows.  But I won’t go near another dog with him unless I call out to the owner first.  If there’s any hesitation in answering the question, “Is your dog friendly?”, we’ll keep our distance.  And reading the other dog’s body language is important — no matter what the owner says.

Body language that tells me the other dog’s attitude:

  • Tail down/relaxed (not tucked) or wagging:  means the dog is relaxed and open to meeting someone new
  • Ears back and tail tucked:  the dog is nervous or frightened.  Any dog with those body language attributes might be fearful enough to snap at someone in order to protect itself.  Fear often sets a dog into a zone that might result in an attack.
  • Head up and listens to owner:  that’s a great thing, but if the dog is more intent on pulling at the end of the leash than listening to its owner, that’s not a good thing.
  • Lays down and shows stomach:  submissive dogs are easy for us to meet (Izzy usually doesn’t lie down for any reason other than a belly rub when he’s with me, but other dogs might do that — and that’s a great thing).
  • Sniffing and puppy bows:  getting to know each other means dog sniff butts.  Though it sometimes grosses people out, it’s dog language, so that’s a good thing.

So far, so good with all the dogs.  However, it’s a different situation with the kids in the neighborhood.

Last week, we went on a walk and a group of kids who were playing outside came running to meet Izzy.  “Look at the puppy!  Let’s pat the puppy!!!”  The kids, aged 6-12, came toward Izzy with their hands out.

Not the way Izzy likes humans to come at him.

Since he’s scared of hands reaching for his head, I corrected Izzy and pulled him behind me while I talked to the kids.

Little Mikie (the 6 year old) wanted to know Izzy’s name, so I told him, and then I explained that dogs like to sniff people so he should stand still and let dogs look at him before he reaches out.

“Give him your fist,” I told Mikie.  “Not your fingers.”

“Like this?”  Mikie caught on fast, and instead of ducking away, the way Izzy usually does when meeting new people, my dog wagged his tail and sniffed at Mikie.  Thankfully, the older kids learned quickly too, so when they encircled Izzy, he sat his butt down and looked at each of them, one at a time.  But I knew that being surrounded wasn’t exactly comfortable, so we moved on quickly.  Hopefully, the next time we see the kids will be easier for my Izzy and he’ll be able to accept his new kid-friends.

And then there is Louis.  🙂   Louis is a new person in my life and someone who will probably be spending a lot of time with Izzy and me, so it was important that the first visit with Izzy would be a calm one.

Izzy has a habit of barking at a new person who comes into the house, and I have to correct his behavior, getting him to sit and stop, before I’ll pay attention to the new person.  Sometimes even after I get him relatively calm, I can walk away and Izzy will revert to barking and jumping.  That’s not a good thing.  20150705_091850

Louis came into the house in a calm fashion, speaking briefly to Izzy, but not reaching for him until Izzy calmed down.  After about fifteen minutes, Izzy decided the new person was boring, so he went to lie down on the living room floor with his bone.  Success.

I’m sure we’ll still be learning the new people and dogs in our life, but so far, Izzy’s doing great.  And so am I.

Izzy and the Summer Haircut

Another name for Shichons is Zuchon . . . and yet another is Teddy Bear.  One of the reasons Shichons are called Teddy Bear dogs is because most of them are brown, and they do, indeed, look like cuddly little teddy bears.  See?

Though Izzy is black and white, he still has that teddy bear look when he needs a haircut.

I love when Izzy’s hair is this long and his eyes are rimmed with inch-long eyelashes, but let’s face it:  North Carolina is hot in the summer and when Izzy’s hair gets longer, he needs some relief from the summer heat.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t look like the same dog when he comes out of the salon.  Here’s the before:

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Yes, my boy needs a bath in this shot, but he’s also particularly cute with his little Elvis curl in the middle of his forehead.  I took the picture because I knew that once his “locks were shorn,” he’d look like an underfed Terrier rather than the cute Shichon he is.

And I was right.  Sarah at Spaw, a dog groomer in Roxboro, always does a great job.  Everything is even.  She cleans up his face and makes sure his ears are trimmed.  But no matter what she does, Izzy looks skinny and scared after his haircut — and he can’t wait to get home!

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You can tell he’s nervous because he’s panting.  The only other time I’ve seen him pant is when he’s been playing too hard with another dog (and that doesn’t happen often enough).

This will be his last haircut for the summer, and I’m certain that he’ll be in the bathtub at least once a week because this little boy has discovered the places in the yard where he can dig — and he’s so happy when he does!

Izzy’s New Friend: Meeting Alan

Let’s get something straight.  Even though Izzy thinks he’s rough and tough, he’s not.  He’s a 17 pound cutie of a dog whose bark is truly worse than his bite.  Occasionally, he “gets” that, but there have been many times he IS the one bigger than the others and can flex his doggie muscles (like when he pees on chichauhas). In years past, I’ve had big dogs who thought they were lap dogs (like my British Mastiff, Joshua, who weighed 175 pounds and always wanted to sit in my lap), but I’ve never had a little dog before and I’m constantly surprised at the amount of attitude this Shichon has brought into my life. Last weekend, he was made very aware of how little he truly is.

One of the things I’ve always tried to do with Izzy is to “introduce him” to my friends’ dogs.  He sees my daughter’s two dogs regularly, he loves playing with my friend Theresa’s Jack Russell, and if I even mention his little maltese friend Ellie’s name, Izzy does the cocked head-wiggly feet dance until I leash him up and we head around the block for a visit.  But all of these dogs are either Izzy’s size or just a little larger.  Meet Alan.

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Alan’s a Great Pyrenees, a hunk of an ol’ man who doesn’t have to throw his weight around.  All he has to do is shift every once in a while, and the world rocks.

When we walked into Alan’s house, he moseyed over to meet us, and Izzy looked up, tail wagging, curious about this behemoth in front of him.  He poked his nose against Alan’s leg, sniffed, then touched noses with him.  They wandered around the yard together, Alan peeing everywhere Izzy did (sometimes I wonder where boy dogs get all their pee since they “water” everything they pass, but that’s another blog for another day).

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By the end of the night, they had come to the point of ignoring each other.  A dog’s way of saying, “you’re okay.  I’ll let you hang around in my place.”

Next week:  Izzy and Alan go to the beach!

Izzy and the Crazy Chihauha

Whenever I ask Izzy whether he wants to visit Ellie (his Maltese friend who lives around the corner), his head cocks, his eyes brighten, and his tail wags furiously.  He pulls me excitedly as we walk down the street, often turning to wait for me as we round the corner, as if to say, “Come on, come on!  She won’t wait for us!”  Obviously, he loves his little girlfriend.

In order to get to Ellie’s house, we need to pass by the big yellow Victorian house (that’s always decorated for holidays) and the Chihauha that lives in a fenced-in area on the front lawn.  That’s the dog that chased us down last year, knocking me on my butt and freaking out Izzy.  The dog is nasty.  Plain and simple.  He barks (translation: yaps) constantly, running back and forth along the fenceline, growling at anyone who passes by.  You know that if he gets out, he’ll rip into your leg.

Usually, Izzy will ignore the dog, happily bouncing past because he knows he’s excited about going to Ellie’s, but the other day, I think he just had had it with the yappy Chihauha.

We made it to Ellie’s house, the two dogs played, and Izzy wore himself out.  On the way home, we passed the yellow Victorian again, and the Chihauha went ballistic.  Casually, Izzy walked the fenceline, looking the little yapper right in the face.

You’re behind the fence, acting the fool, Izzy seemed to say.  Is that really necessary?

The Chihauha charged the fence, in a barking frenzy now.  Izzy was way too close for the other dog’s comfort.  Izzy stared him down, unmoving, then when the dog came close, Izzy lifted his leg.  Perfect score. Right in the Chihauha’s face.  The other dog shut up immediately.

As Izzy bounced happily down the street in front of me, I couldn’t stop laughing.  Boy, how I wish I was a boy dog sometimes and could have the last laugh the way Izzy had.  Bravo, little boy.  Bravo.

Izzy and his best friend, Elllie the Maltese

Izzy and his best friend, Elllie the Maltese

Watch out for EAGLES!

Shichon owners are in love with their “teddy bear” babies, as I can attest.  Our little dogs have great temperaments, are known for being cuddly loves, are fairly quiet, and do not shed.  Always playful, they make the perfect family pet, and they’re pretty smart (though some can be stubborn).  Whenever people see Shichons on the street or at a dog store, the instant reaction is “Awww, isn’t he cute?”  Owners of Zuchons, as Shichons are often called, band together to discuss their pups, talking about the best food to feed them, comparing cute antics and some even share photos of their dogs dressed in various costumes.

I belong to a couple of Facebook groups of Shichon owners, and we carry on about our dogs, commiserating when one of them has an operation or is about to be spayed or even when one has his/her first haircut.  (I know it’s silly, but I’ve also received some great advice and shared some info about what works for Izzy and the types of food he eats.  It’s definitely great to have that community.

When one of my FB buddies wrote the other day about her female Shichon’s battle with a giant eagle, we were all aghast.  Even more shocking was the photo of the poor pup with five huge holes in her side – where the eagle’s talons had been!  Thankfully, the pup’s human mom was close by and able to chase away the eagle, who had the pup in its talons and struggled to fly away with it.  After a quick emergency trip to the vet’s, the dog is on antibiotics and recovering from both the physical damage as well as the emotional.

Shichons are little dogs, usually less than 15 pounds.  Izzy is barely 17 pounds and most Shichons are smaller than he is.  Because they’re fast, furry and often a light beige or white, they can be mistaken for other small animals such as rabbits and mice by flying predators like hawks and eagles.  High-flying birds scan the ground constantly for what will constitute lunch or dinner, and they’re not always right about which small objects would make a good meal.  If you scan the internet, you can find plenty of exciting videos of eagles snatching babies off the ground or attempting to fly away with a deer or wolf in their talons.  Normally, eagles weigh less than 10 pounds and usually can only carry a 3 or 4 pound animal, but every once in a while they break the rules.

Raptors aren’t the only ones lying in wait for small animals.  Coyotes, bobcats, and even raccoons will drag away a small dog or cat.  Dog owners who live in the country or the mountains have to be exceptionally careful to keep an eye on their pets because a hawk, owl, eagle, coyote, bobcat or other predator can steal a small animal in the blink of an eye.  It’s important to be vigilant in order to keep our animals safe.

I’ve had some close calls with Izzy and larger dogs (as I wrote about earlier), but as much as I watch the birds when we go for our walks, I’ve never thought about worrying that one of them would swoop down and carry my pup away.  But now I worry.

Izzy and the Easter Bunny in the Bush

It’s been a busy month. Izzy took care of me while I was sick for a week around Valentine’s Day, then we had two weeks off from work because of snow, and by that time, it was mid-term week at the College, so I’ve been slammed with doing evaluations for my faculty. Izzy has been patient, teasing me occasionally with his ball, forcing me to remember there are other things in life besides work. I’m so grateful for that.

This morning when we walked, I realized it might be time to put away my winter jacket and to let Izzy out without his Thundershirt. The weather has turned. The jonquils have bloomed and the pear trees are giant puffs of white blossoms. Spring has come to North Carolina.

And so has the Easter Bunny . . . he’s nesting in the bushes around the corner from my house, and this morning when we walked, he lit the way. Izzy thinks it’s weird. So do I.

 

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This Winter’s Snow & Izzy and His Food

This winter’s snow has definitely kept Izzy and me busy.  We have tromped through mushy snow, icy snow, solidly frozen snow, and snowflakes.  It doesn’t matter what kind of snow it is.  He loves it!  You’d think he had some Husky in his 17 pound body.  He pops like a bunny through the deep stuff, but he never shies away.  And even when he had balls of snow stuck to his legs, he didn’t complain when I threw him in the shower to melt the snow off his body with a warm bath.  He’s a trooper.

The one thing that we HAVE had a problem with this winter is his skin.  When he has a Thundershirt on every time we go out, the heat is on in the house, and he tends to sleep away most days, it dries out his skin.  He actually had a bit of dandruff a couple of weeks ago, and I knew I had to do something.  I put a combination of olive oil and fish oil on his dry food in the morning (which he’s not crazy about), but something was bugging me about the food.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I just wasn’t satisfied — and to tell the truth, I don’t think Izzy was either.

This weekend when I finally got out of the house to go shopping with a girlfriend, we ducked into a little pet boutique in Durham, North Carolina called “The Other End of the Leash.”  I figured everything would be more expensive and that I would end up leaving without buying anything, but I wanted to see what they had for dog food.  The owner of the store asked lots of questions about what I was currently using and proceeded to give me a great education about the types of dog food on the market and how the “filler” a lot of them use is sawdust.  Yup, you read that right.  Sawdust!

Even the most expensive foods — the ones that tout that they’re made in the USA — can actually be produced in another country, and that country might not have the quality control that we have here.  That was all she needed to tell me.

After some discussion, we found a food that would have a high content of fish oil (salmon) and would be grain free.  The price was good, as well.  What I hadn’t counted on was that Izzy LOVES it!  So, here I am doing a testament for Canidae Dog Food.  

And sending out some love to the women who run Other End of the Leash in Durham, NC.  They were fantastic — and I love that I can now be assured that the food my little guy eats is good for him!

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