Wednesday, May 6, 2009

It takes a village

It takes a village, some people say, to raise a child. I think that's right. Although parents are, and should be, their children's primary source of support, guidance, nurturance, young people do not reach adulthood without the need for additional adults - as role models, teachers, mentors, guides and friends.

It takes a village, I think, to keep a dog as well. A dog's owner should be the primary source of support, care, attention to health and socialization. But it's a rare dog owner who can go through a dog's life without the need for support in their care.

Behavior or health puzzles exceed our scope of knowledge - we need advice, perhaps not just from a competent veterinarian, but from others in dogs who have more or different experience. We need the support of reputable breeders, owners of our own breed or another breed, people who have lived with multiple dogs, blind dogs, dogs suffering from arthritis, dogs experiencing stress - people who have learned how to help dogs manage all the multitude of challenges that they might face during their lives.

Or life changes, and we have to travel more, work longer hours, take on other responsibilities - and need the support of neighbors, friends, family or paid caretakers to keep the dog on an even keel, allowing them to be at home or cared for safely while we are gone.

Ill health or even death comes calling, and our dogs must find new homes in which to live out their lives. If we've been thoughtful about the possibilities, we have made arrangements for those homes, left instructions that are clear, and have made a plan that allows them to have an orderly transition that minimizes their loss and hardship.

Do you have a support system in place? Do you know who can help you with information and skills to keep your commitment to your dog throughout its life? If something happens to you, is the information about who to call readily visible? Do people know, and are they committed to, their roles in relation to your dogs?

Rescue is a valuable resource. But we should be a valuable *last resource*, not a first stop. Dogs are not things. They are living beings with, we hope, good long lives to live. Think through what it will take to travel by their side throughout those years, to help them grow, develop, learn, age, and ultimately pass on. Connect with other dog lovers in your life to make a plan for your dog's secure future - and that of the dogs you care for in your extended family and friend circles. Become part of the village. Your dog is counting on you. Your neighbor's dog is counting on you too.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

It's foster puppy time!

We've had a foster puppy in the house for the past couple of days. I say "we" because even though I make the decisions on my own about whether to bring foster dogs in, it's really the canine pack that has to live with that decision on a minute-to-minute interactive basis. It's a team effort to manage the transitions involved in bringing a dog in for a while and then let it go successfully.

This foster is a puppy. The owner who relinquished her believed her to be five and a half months old, based on the birth date that she was given when she bought the puppy over a month ago. It's clear, however, that this puppy is only about 3 months old or so, because she has had no break-through of adult teeth. I can just now feel one starting to push through the jaw, and that generally happens at about 3 months or so.

What this means for this puppy is that she was separated from her dam (mother) and littermates at about six weeks of age - way too early for positive development. Between six and ten weeks, puppies usually learn good dog-manners. They learn bite inhibition (not to bite too hard, or for foolish reasons), appropriate submission to older/more dominant dogs, and how to initiate play and play properly. The most effective teachers for these lessons are the pup's dam and its littermates - who teach the lessons organically, in the day-to-day interactions. As humans, we are poor substitute teachers.

Amazingly, this particular puppy is doing really well in her dog interactions. She's been schooled twice by Luna, the pack leader of my dogs. Both times involved a big rush at the puppy by Luna, a LOT of screaming from the puppy, and my quick realization that the adult dogs had never laid so much as a lip on her, let alone a tooth. With the other girls, the puppy has been playing a lot. She's a self-confident little pup, but not brash. She approaches her elders pretty much correctly - although Emmy would like it if she would stop trying to grab onto her side, and has told her so... And the girls are good with the pup - they roll over on their backs so that she can "win" some of their play sessions, and are willing to leap and run and tussle with her pretty much any time she asks.

I don't know how this family managed to raise such a well-adjusted little pup away from her pack, but they did a good job on that front. In her family she lived with six children between the ages of 2 and 14, and apparently was great with the kids. And she's fitting very nicely into the pack life here. I'm grateful to them for that beyond what I can express, because I know the alternative - a dog that cannot be socialized because she missed early socialization, who ends up bouncing from home to home, or in a shelter euthanized because she can't be safely placed. It can happen in any breed. It does, sadly, sometimes happen to Bassets.

On the other hand, they clearly didn't understand the first thing about puppy health. After a single vaccination by her breeder, her family did not follow up with shots of any kind. As a result, I haven't let her feet touch the ground outside the house since she got here, because her risk of infection with parvo or distemper is really high. At her age, puppies don't maintain immunity from shots for more than about 3 weeks or so, so repeated vaccinations are usually given to keep immunity working until the puppy's body can maintain the immune response - usually around 18 weeks. The pup was vaccinated the day after she got here, and in another couple of days, I will feel comfortable with her interacting with the outside environment, but right now, she's still at fairly high risk if she encounters these viruses.

She was also never wormed, which explains why I can see her ribs clearly, and she's ravenous but then had poor digestion. She was wormed yesterday, and is now actively shedding her worm load. Not the most pleasant sight, but I'm still delighted to see it, because it means that soon, she'll be putting on weight and thriving.

I fault the family somewhat for not taking her in to their vet for a well-puppy check - where they would have found out about the need for vaccinations and for worming. But more, I fault the pup's breeder for not educating the family on her continuing care needs. It's the breeder's responsibility to make sure the family buying a puppy they have produced knows what's needed for the puppy to grow up healthy - actually, in the case of vaccinations, even to stay alive! Of course it's hard to do a good job of educating when you meet the buyer in a parking lot to hand over the puppy in exchange for cash. And if you don't follow up after the puppy goes to its new home, it's easy for the new owners to decide not to take the pup to the vet, because after all, you said it had had a set of shots...

But this little girl has dodged the bullet and ended up in a safe haven full of big dog beds and routine (which puppies love) and big dogs who play with her - at least if she remembers to approach the right ones! Tomorrow, she'll be visited by a couple that hopes to adopt her. They've had Bassets for over 50 years, and their vet was delighted when I called for their reference. Their last Basset lived over 14 years, and passed peacefully in her sleep. I'm hoping the same for this little pup.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A FABULOUS weekend working myself to a nub....

Let me start by saying that I'm exhausted! Working at a dog show is, if nothing else, somewhat of a marathon. But what a joyous exertion!

The kennel club that I belong to, Timberland Valley Dog Fanciers' Association in Chehalis, Washington, held its annual all-breed dog show this weekend. The show features conformation (where judges assess the extent to which dogs meet "the standard" which describes each breed's ideal form and qualities), obedience, and rally (sometimes referred to as 'obedience lite'). On another weekend in October, we offer an agility trial.

We had a lovely entry of nearly 1,600 dogs - we were fortunate that we did not see a lot of drop-off in our entries. Other clubs are not so fortunate, as costs for entry, travel and hotel are starting to weigh heavily on many exhibitors.

I love dog shows, because I love dogs. I'm in heaven on a weekend when I can hang out with over 100 different breeds of dogs, can socialize and love on puppies, and can learn about breeds' history, function and aptitudes from the breeders and owners who know them best.

Working at a show is very different than attending the show as an exhibitor. For one thing, it's a LOT more exercise. We started the weekend by moving our supplies from the storage unit to the fairground on Thursday afternoon. On Friday, club members and volunteers were on site all day (I snuck in really late because I was swamped in the morning with incoming rescue dogs), setting up the hospitality area, laying out a "rummage sale" of used equipment like crates and fencing and dog beds, and getting signage and rings up and prepared.

Saturday morning, the rings are ready for judging to begin by 8 AM, which means the hospitality and grounds crew gets in about 6 AM, and various others arrive usually about 7 AM. That's when I arrived, and from then until group competition and Best in Show was determined at 6:45 PM, I was on my feet and moving nearly all day. Sunday, we did it again - finally going home about 7 PM.

I'm know I'm beat - but I'm aware that others in the club are probably more tired - the hospitality chair immediately comes to mind, as she was on-site at 6 AM and probably shopping and organizing for a week before the event! A mother/daughter team manage the grooming areas, checking people in, patrolling and making sure the space is cleaned out. They have extremely long days and nights! Family members pitch in - the grandson of one of our members works - and brings friends to work - on parking, restocking supplies, set up and tear down. All in all, it's a huge group effort! And our club has a lot of members who do not, themselves, show their dogs. It's such a gift that they participate for this very long weekend to organize and pull off a show that they don't "benefit" from directly - the partnership and common purpose in the club is really fun!

We offered a "Dog Show Tour" for visitors each day - on Sunday, we had a group of six or so on. It's a lot of fun to offer - and a good reminder that, as in any hobby, much of the language and routines we take for granted are completely foreign to newcomers - and can leave them feeling a bit put off or rebuffed if we don't remember to slow down and explain things that were new to use just a few years ago.... Having a welcoming atmosphere in which folks can ask questions and get them answered is really important. I particularly appreciated exhibitors who were good sports about answering questions about their breeds and what they were doing in the grooming area and ringside!

I think one of the real gifts of working in a dog show is the opportunity to talk with judges about dogs. Conversation between exhibitors and judges is limited normally. In one's own breed, limiting this contact prevents the appearance of undue influence or relationship. And in other breeds, we often just don't know that many people, including judges.

In an all-breed show, it's possible for those working in the show to talk with judges casually in the lunch room, at dinner, and on breaks. Since we're not showing to those judges, it's possible to have real conversations, and listen to what they have to say about their dogs, and their lives in dogs....What a wealth of knowledge they represent! I learned about a "new to the US" breed from Hungary, the Pumi (related to, but different from, the Puli). I heard about the history of Saint Bernards and compared some thoughts on the differences between breeds here and in Europe.

This week, it's back to (my regular) work. And while I admit to being a bit relieved today that it will be another 360 days or so until I need to work that hard again, I know I'm also looking forward to next April, already.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Veterinary Insurance - It's a Good Thing!

This week lovely Surprise (seven years old, and should know better) did some unlovely things....

On Monday morning, a really putrid smell spread through the house. Having checked the floors for any evidence of an "accident", and finding none, I assumed that one of the girls was having some indigestion and gas.

Soon, I heard the tell tale signs of a dog vomiting, and when I tracked down Surprise, found the source of the stench.

That evening, Surprise refused her dinner. Hunger strikes are not in her usual repertoire, so I became pretty concerned. She trembled through much of the evening - a clear sign of distress or pain in most dogs, but eventually fell asleep and seemed comfortable through the night when I checked on her.

Tuesday morning, Surprise seemed back to her self. She ate breakfast with gusto (she would probably say "well, duh! I missed dinner the night before!"). Alas, about a half-hour later, up it came, undigested.

Surprise has been a serial rock eater since she was about 9 months old. During her most active rock-eating period, she had surgery to remove rocks from her gut 4 times, and had three other incidents in which she successfully passed rocks that she had swallowed. Although I've not seen evidence of rock eating over the past five years (and she's been supervised a LOT!), when Surprise vomits, Surprise gets x-rayed....

Off we went to the vet, where a quick x-ray revealed that she had an upset, gassy stomach, but no rock. She's been chewing on some sticks lately, so it's possible that the extra roughage irritated her gut. She got a shot for quick relief and a couple of days of follow up meds, and I got instructions to withhold food for 24 hours. She's been fine since, happily eating - and keeping down - the breakfast she got on Wednesday morning and meals since.

In all this, I never hesitated to take Surprise to the vet - in large part because she's insured. I carry a Pet Care Insurance (www.petcareinsurance) Quick Care accident-only policy on Surprise, and on two other young dogs. While this is not comprehensive insurance - it doesn't cover many illnesses - it does cover the unpredictable emergency costs involved when dogs eat foreign objects like rocks or remote controls, when they get hit by a car, torn up in a dog fight, or break bones in a fall or other accident.

Because of the insurance, I knew that I could afford the bill, even if it involved surgery... In this case, I won't make a claim - the costs were really pretty moderate at under $200, and I want to keep insurance for the big gun bills, such as rock surgery that runs about $1,500-$2,000. But I didn't have to think about that choice at all at the time.

Pet Care Insurance is not the only company providing veterinary coverage. VPI, the AKC Pet Healthcare Plan, and Pet Plan are three of the other major providers. Depending on the breed of your dog, your personal needs, and your dog's history, one or the other may be your best choice. I like Pet Care Insurance for their responsive customer care, fixed $50 co-pay per incident, and choice of coverage packages - but your mileage may vary....

There are certainly more comprehensive coverages available - including some that provide cancer riders for chemotherapy. For me, living with five dogs, those are not cost effective. The monthly costs to cover all the dogs would add up to more than I will generally need for routine care, especially since I work closely with my vet and am able to do a lot of care at home, including things like administering fluids and giving shots. And my personal choice in the face of cancer or other catastrophic illness is to make my dog as comfortable as possible as long as possible without extreme intervention - and then let them go peacefully.

But for those who buy my puppies, and those who adopt dogs from me through rescue, I strongly recommend the accident only coverage particularly for young dogs, for dogs that have proven that they are risk takers (rock eaters, fence jumpers, escape artists), and for dogs who go to dog parks (I know two really sweet Greyhounds who were nailed by other dogs at dog parks in separate incidents).

So think....Do you roll your eyes when you take the remote out of your dog's mouth? Does a good part of your conversation consist of amusing stories of things your dog has eaten? Do you have a puppy under the age of 2? If the answer to any of these is yes, then ask one more question: Are you independently wealthy?

If the answer is no, you might want to think about veterinary insurance!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A long day in dogs!

Aretha, my nearly-two-year-old girl, was entered at the Seattle Kennel Club today. Luck of the draw, we had an 8 AM ring time. Since I live an hour + away, it was an early morning.

We were also invited to participate in Meet the Breed, an educational event put on by the kennel club. The breed club (in our case, the Basset Hound Club of Greater Seattle), is asked to supply 2 to 4 dogs of the breed, and you gather in a ring set up for the purpose so members of the general public can come by and meet the dogs, talk with you about them, and get their questions answered. To fill out the numbers, I took Emmy as well as Aretha, although Emmy was not entered in the show. Another member of the club brought her girl as well.

As far as Aretha was concerned, this was definitely the day's highlight. A lot of families with children come to Meet the Breed, and she spent a happy forty minutes or so kissing babies (she'd make a GREAT political candidate!), having her ears and belly rubbed, and generally being fussed over. I'm sure if she could speak, she'd tell me that she'd like it if the judges took this approach at dog shows also.

Emmy also enjoyed the attention, and in all, the girls had a great day. After all that, we bundled back up in the car, and headed home.

Alas, rest was brief. By 1 PM, I was back on the road again, this time in my rescue mode. Zoe, a sweet eight or nine year old girl, came into the Olympia shelter the other day as a stray. She was microchipped, so the shelter was able to contact her owners. They decided not to come get her, as they say she has been climbing the fence and getting out of the yard. Personally, I'm not sure how an elder Basset girl is climbing fences, but perhaps it's not very tall.

Anyway, she needs a home, so off I went to the Olympia shelter, picked her up, and went straight back to the show to drop her off with her new foster dad. Had I not had such an early morning in the ring, I could have done it all in one trip, but instead, it was another 120 miles round-trip to get her up to Seattle.

Tomorrow looms with another 8 AM ring time. And tonight is the change over to Daylight Savings Time, so I lose an hour. Thank goodness for the 24 hour Starbucks about 20 minutes up the road towards Seattle!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Pup Mail

Last summer, I raised a litter of Basset Hound puppies. I've written about their mother Millie, the very-busy-a-little-Beagly Basset girl who came in to the shelter pregnant and came with her pups to me after the birth, below.

Lately, I've had a few messages about the pups. Lexie, who lives up near Tacoma, has just been spayed. She's recuperating this week from her surgery, which I suspect will only slow her down for a couple of days at the most - she's taking after her mother in her activity level.

And a couple of weeks ago, I heard from Oscar's new mom. He's growing into quite the boy - and Bernice, the elder gal in the household, has got him firmly in paw.

Yesterday, a Basset belonging to a friend and mentor of mine had a litter of 10 puppies. I'm looking forward to visiting with them, perhaps this weekend. There's very little that relaxes me as much as cuddling a sleeping pup. If you sit quietly with them, they'll crawl up on your chest, push their little noses against your neck, and sigh into a nice deep sleep. Ahh, puppy murmurs!

No matter whether they are a litter from rescue, or a litter carefully planned for and bred, puppies have the same life at my house - and are as all-consuming. The first week or so, I sleep on the floor next to the whelping box. That way I can hear Momma if she needs to go out, and the puppies if something starts to go wrong. The first week or 10 days, there's really very little sleep, if you're being careful with the litter.

Even past that point, puppies are fragile, like babies - although even smaller. Things can go south for them - dehydration, a little virus brought in unawares on someone's clothing from a dog they passed by, a chill - very quickly. Millie's litter all came down with something around 2 or 3 weeks of age. They were all congested and snotty, and when puppies are snotty they don't eat, which means they can dehydrate very fast. I made them a tent, and ran a humidifier under it to keep their nasal passages open, and gave them fluids to keep them from crashing. It was another week of lost sleep, up every couple of hours to check on them, check their gums for dryness and give them their every-four-hours-around-the-clock medication.

Even with all that, the first month is magical. The puppies are all cuddles. When they are resting, they twitch and move constantly. In fact, one of the signs that a pup is not well is when it stays in one place while sleeping. All that twitching is their nervous system developing - a pup too quiet in sleep is a pup that may well be failing, and needs help fast.

Once their eyes open, at a few weeks, they start to hoist up onto their little legs and lurch in each other's direction, falling together in piles and growling like little bears as they start to learn the basics of play.

That's when the real work starts....socialization, play, stimulation, all these are critical in raising pups who will be good family members - for their people and for other dogs in the home. Puppies raised here stay until 12 weeks at least. The show puppies stay longer, while I sort out who's staying, who's going off to good homes.

By the time the pups this summer left, they each had a place in my heart for good. They are off to their new lives, but they will always be "my kids". I love getting emails and calls about the pups - it's great to hear that they are off to their new lives successfully. At the same time, they will always be welcome home - whether it's for visits or because life didn't turn out quite how we all hoped.

Today I was at the local shelter, checking in on an 8 year old Basset who came in as a stray. When her owners were notified she had been picked up, they declined to come get her. She's been climbing out their fence when she was left in the yard all day. With luck, this weekend she'll be safe in foster care, and we'll figure out from there a good home for her.

One day eight years ago or so, she was a little snuffling and twitching puppy. I guess her family didn't know her then - or they couldn't have let her go, could they?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

We're all awfully bored here, human!

I've been working on deadline for the past week, and will be for the next few days. You would think this would please the Bassets. After all, I'm home with them all day - virtually chained to my desk, so an easy target for the random cookie-begging or the scratch-my-itch bump on the arm.

Alas, they are bored. B-O-R-E-D, I tell you! Or rather, they tell me...

There is a lot of rolling of eyes, stretching and moaning, and coming in to see are-you-done-yet-can-you-come-out-in-the-yard-yet-why-are-you-just-sitting-there-with-the-clicky-clack-machine.

But I'm not done, instead I'm still here typing.

Big Basset sighs. Oh, boredom. Maybe we'll go off to the living room and see if there's something we can chew on. That makes noise. That gets her attention. That makes her get up and talk to us, play with us, rub our bellies.

Maybe, if we get a good rumble going, she'll remember she's part of the pack, and get down on the floor with us for a while, the way she's supposed to.

Wednesday, kids, I tell them. Wednesday - it'll be done or not by then, the deadline come and gone. We'll be out in the yard then.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Really, this isn't a commercial....

The other day I stumbled across a vein of gold on the web - a series of dog photographers whose blogs feature their photographs. I hope you'll enjoy visiting some of these as much as I am...There's really nothing that can lift my spirits quite as easily and fully as beautiful dogs, beautifully pictured. - Angie Wojciechowska in Vancouver B.C. seems to take all her pictures of dogs off leash, running, leaping, chasing, all doggie exuberance and life! Well, ok, except for Max, the Lhasa Apso, who seems to be mostly exuberant about his couch.

Not a blog, but the Cowbelly Pet Photography Team (there really must be a story in that name!) has a wonderful gallery website here:

Beth Andrews at Hound and Hoof Photography has a blog that right now is featuring a wonderful trio of Beagles, and then don't miss scrolling down to Bailey, the elder Golden, who just seems to shine!

The first thing you'll see today on Jaime Rowe's blog is actually parrots, but after you admire them a bit - they are quite dashing - do scroll down for some really lovely dogs as well. You'll find her work here:

For quite a while, Mia Clapton was blogging "A Dog A Day" project featuring pictures of dogs she's taken far and wide. Although she's taking a break for now from the project, she still has fabulous pictures up, which you can find here:

Finally, Macro Mutt, at, was created to help connect dog lovers with professional dog photographers in their area. They have a changing gallery of really beautiful dog pictures by the photographers in their directory.

Enjoy! I have ...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A tough week

I've spent the past week or so thinking and writing about laws a lot. The legislative session in Washington is in full swing, and there are a number of laws that have been proposed that have impact on me as a dog owner, a rescuer and a breeder. Sometimes the intersection of those identities is an uncomfortable place to be.
  • There's one that would fund voluntary spay/neuter for pets of low income people.
  • There's another bill that would impose a number of regulations on people with over 10 intact dogs - whether they are breeding them or not.
  • There's yet another that would require the Department of Agriculture to define what shots and worming protocols puppies should have.
  • And there are two that would take an old law that requires the Sheriff to shoot a dog running at large in the months between August and March - a hold-over from a more agricultural time in our state.
I support some of these laws, and I'm opposed to others. So I've been doing what I'm supposed to do in a democracy - reading the bills, calling my legislators when I have questions about them, and writing to them to let them know what I think. I went down to the capitol and testified on one bill, and I've sent out some emails to others that may share my concerns to encourage them to contact their legislators.

What's most difficult about all of this - other than the fact that it's keeping me up late at night reading and writing - is the level of distrust that people have in each other over these issues. People on both sides of the bills see the folks on the other side as the enemy, and accuse each other of terrible things.
  • Some people accuse breeders of being Nazis and trying to breed a "master race".
  • Some breeders accuse people involved in rescue of seizing people's dogs in raids only to profit for them or to kill them.
Some of this I know about because I've been reading blogs and listservs and people's comments on articles in the paper. Some of it I know about because I know and talk with people involved in rescue and people involved in breeding pretty much every day.

All in all, it's an atmosphere of distrust, fear, bitterness, and yes, sometimes even hate. I've been struggling for several days to find something really eloquent that I could say, something that would make enough of an impact that everyone would stop all the name-calling and accusations.

In the end, I don't have that power, and I'm not even that eloquent - all I can say is that it makes me really sad.

I've spent my whole life with dogs - dogs from the pound, dogs from good breeders, dogs from rescue, dogs I've bred. I've played with them, hung out with them, held them when they were ill, taught them when they were young, and held them when time came as they crossed over to the next realm. They've slept in my bed, and I've slept on the floor next to more than one - scared pups on their first nights new in my home, my beloved Phoebe her last night on this earth. Every single one of them has left their mark on my heart.

And I'm no different than anyone else who has so loved a dog that they felt their heart would never heal when they lost them.

I'm not sure how we get to the point where we can all sit down and speak from the place in our hearts where those dogs live. If we could, I think we could find ways to be as good companions to our dogs as they are to us. If we can't, we might end up in a world where the connection between people and dogs is irretrievably broken. I don't want to live in that world.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New Resource on Cancer for Pet Owners

The School of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University has formed a new group called Partners in Animal Health, which is producing educational materials for veterinarians and for clients of veterinarians.

One of their early products is a DVD series called the Pet Owners Guide to Cancer and it features both cats and dogs with cancer. It's about 35 minutes all told, broken into eight "chapters" that include:

* Introduction
* What is Cancer?
* Why Do Pets Get Cancer?
* Early Detection
* Diagnosing Cancer
* Making Treatment Decisions
* Mandy's Chemotherapy
* Triton's Radiation Therapy

The series includes a thorough segment on what kind of behavior changes to watch for, and good demonstrations of how to regularly check your pet for lumps, bumps and swollen glands that might warrant a trip to the vet for further assessment.

The whole video series can be viewed here, and since the chapters are separate, can be seen in several sessions if you're not up for a full half-hour.

It's a terrible diagnosis to hear when you're at the vet's office with your beloved dog or cat, so now's a good time to watch the series, so that if that awful day comes, you'll be more prepared for decisions that must be made thoughtfully but quickly.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

iPhone Apps For Dog Owners

Since Apple opened software development for the iPhone up to "app" providers, there's been a real proliferation of these portable little mini-programs - at present there are over 15,000 apps available. Some are real tools, many are entertainment . I thought I'd take a look at a sampling of the available dog-related apps so I fired up iTunes and entered "dog" in the search box.

  • One of the apps that caught my attention was "Dog-A-Log". This is a dog breed reference, which draws its breed information from wikipedia. This would be a great resource for people doing shelter checks to identify and refer purebred dogs to rescue groups - the listings include pictures, size, and other information. It might also be a good starting point for folks just starting to look for a dog.

Training tools are another category of dog-related iPhone apps.

  • "Dog Tricks and Bark Machine" offers dog training tutorials that cover basic commands (sit, stay, etc..), games, tricks to impress, and puppy training.
  • "Dog Whistle" claims to produce whistle frequencies up to 20,000 Hz with multiple sound patterns, and the ability to use a "bark detector" that triggers a tone when the dog's sound level exceeds a pre-set threshold. The "Dog Trainer" app aims to mimic a classic dog whistle, with three different sounds to choose from - long whistle, two pips and multiple pip whistle.
  • There's also the "Clicker" app for those trainable moments. The description says: "Clicker training is an easy, proven technique for training your dog, but until now, it required a clicker. No More!". Personally, I'd rather use a $1.49 plastic clicker than a $300 phone for my training sessions - but this is probably because I have Bassets. Perhaps those with dryer-mouthed dogs won't mind so much?
Of course, many iPhone apps are specialized databases - either as references or as tools.

  • "Pet Notebook", "MiPets" and "Dog Diary" are all utilities that allow you to store information about your dogs or other pets. I like the looks of "Pet Notebook" the best - each dog has its own home screen with picture, and then links to a full picture gallery, veterinary and medication notes, identification section with birthday, registration number, sire and dam, and a custom notes section.
  • "Diagnostic Imaging Atlas" is a veterinary resource that provides high quality illustrations of normal biology and pathologies in veterinary medicine. It's intended as a client education tool, but I'm planning on downloading this FREE application for my own reference when talking to my vet.
  • "Off Leash" uses the iPhone's GPS utility to locate the closest five dog-parks to the phone user, and provide directions - currently good only in the US.
Finally, not all of these iPhone apps are for dog owners.

  • "iPet Dogs" is a social iPhone app that allows people who have adopted "virtual" dogs to feed, pet and play with them, talk to other virtual pet owners, and have their virtual dogs challenge other virtual dogs to games of ball chasing and other doggie play-dates. All with no actually grooming, food or vet bills, or clean-up required!
  • The "Fake-An-Excuse" app offers a number of sound effects that can be played during a phone call to provide an excuse for hanging up *right now* - these include "someone is vacuuming", "I'm being pulled over", "Someone's here (doorbell)", and of course, "There's a big dog here! (growling)".

This is just a taste of what's available - and of course new apps are being released all the time. Now if I could just find one that would handle the clean-up, it would really be a treat!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Pay Attention, Mom!

I work from home - sometimes a week goes by where I barely leave the house. Other weeks, I'm in and out a lot to meetings, errands, a walk with a friend. Today has been mixed - a relatively leisurely morning, since it's a holiday for many of my clients.

So now I'm home, checking email, filing a report. The dogs went out for a while in the yard, checking out new rabbit tracks, and now are back inside. Yesterday, one of them - probably Aretha, perhaps Hank - brought in a stick. Ok, not just a stick - a branch. The main branch is a good 1 1/2 inches in diameter, and maybe two feet long. There are several branches off that main piece, a bit gnarled - you can see these in the picture of the stick. Of course yesterday, and most of today, the stick was longer - those gnarly bits were actual branches extending several inches.

Since I've been home, however, the stick has been the focus of a lot of attention. I've heard banging around, some playful growling, more toenail clicks than I should have (time for the dremel again!), and the stick landing and sliding across the floor repeatedly.

And all this leads me to ask - why now? Why not while I was gone? There was free time, lots of opportunity to destroy the stick, and presumably not that much that was interesting going on. It's not like I leave the TV on so that the dogs can catch reruns of Law and Order, the National Dog Show on Animal Planet, or "Designing for Dogs" on HGTV.

In fact lately when I'm gone, I have been coming home to destroyed books, the responsibility for which I'm laying at Hank. Originally a foster dog, Hank was very fearful when he first arrived. Now, about 8 months into living here, he is loosening up - and apparently experiencing his first true puppyhood, complete with exuberant destructive tendencies.

But when I come home, if I slip in unexpected and unheard, the girls are lounging on the sofa and the chairs, all is quiet. Until I'm in the house, when play breaks out, Bassets race from one end of the house to the other, sticks are destroyed. Is this because it's nearly dinner time, and they don't want me to forget? Or is this all a ploy for attention - the doggie equivalent of "look at me, Mom, hey... MOM, look at ME!"?

One of my favorite books is Stanley Coren's "How to Speak Dog". It's all about dog-to-dog communication - one of the most accessible books I've read on the subject. I wish he'd write another on "How to Understand Dog". It would really help me sort out what all that banging in the other room is *really* about!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The hidden costs of dogs (Part 2)....

Actually, this post would more properly be called "The hidden costs of rescuing dogs...".

Thinking about the costs of my dryer and vent repairs got me started thinking about other large outlays of cash I've had to make because of my dogs. I didn't have to go back very far in my memory bank, since the last $850 outlay was just this fall in October. In that case, it was actually a rescue dog that caused the expense.

Back in August, the local animal shelter called. They had taken in seven Bassets in a neglect case, and one of the bitches was pregnant. She gave birth at the shelter, and they called to ask if I could take her and her puppies and raise the litter. A shelter can be a deadly environment for a litter of pups - it's too cold, there are always upper respiratory tract and other infections that pups are susceptible to making the rounds, and there's no way to keep mama dog from getting stressed. The puppies were born overnight, and they were at my house, toasty-warm, by about 3 PM.

Millie, the dam, was an excellent mom. The puppies grew and thrived.

As the puppies matured, Millie started to back off her mothering duties. She showed more interest in playing with my dogs, exploring the back yard, and climbing onto the dining room table. Let me be clear here that I don't mean just putting her feet up on the edge and checking out the action. She would climb up onto the table, I think hoping that if she could get there, she could hop over to the kitchen counter a bit more easily.

It was at this point that I started to think that perhaps there is some Beagle in Millie back not too many generations. My friend Rosemary had suggested this fairly early on. Millie was smaller than most Bassets. She also had a bark that was sharper than a typical Basset bark. I had defended Millie's "Bassetness", saying that her size was probably due to poor nutrition and early pregnancies. Now, as Millie's activity level returned to normal, and she demonstrated her climbing prowess, the Beagle-in-the-woodpile theory was starting to make more sense to me.

Outdoors, she was also more active. My backyard is a little over a third of an acre fenced, so there is a fair amount of fence line. The fencing is about 20 years old. There haven't been any big holes - I walk the fence to make sure of that pretty frequently - but over time, in a couple of places, the ground has fallen away a bit from the bottom of the chain link fence.

The fence as installed does not have a bottom rail. It turns out that in order to put in a proper bottom rail on an existing fence, the entire fence has to be removed from the supports, and essentially rebuilt - a job that would run about $3,800 for my yard. So last winter, after one of my girls pushed up the bottom of the fence and went for a walk in the field, I jerry-rigged a bottom rail by lashing electrical conduit pipe along the bottom of the fence to make a solid bar. This cost me about $140, a significant savings over the true bottom-rail job. In all, it was an effective barrier for Bassets, who are not committed diggers, and I was pretty pleased with my thrifty handiwork.

That lasted until Millie's assault on the fence line. She was smaller than my dogs - half the size of my eldest and largest Luna, and probably a good 15 pounds smaller than my youngest Aretha. She was also much more determined, in a distinctly Beagle kind of way. If you'd like to see what I mean by this determination, there's a great video of a Beagle name Sofia that demonstrates what I'm talking about. You can find it here:

Millie began spending her free time casing the fence line for weaknesses. Since my dogs have in and out access through the dog door, the puppies were now firmly on their own, and the weather was mild, she had a lot of free time. I was walking the fence line one day and saw evidence that she had been digging a bit, so I hauled in some cinder blocks and blocked the area.

The next day, the dog spent the morning sleeping off breakfast while I worked in my office. In early afternoon, I heard them go out the dog door for a little romp in the yard. And then, a few minutes later, I heard nothing. For owners of dogs and parents of toddlers, "nothing" is not a good sound. I headed to my back deck, looked out over the yard, and saw Millie out in the field beyond the fence. My own dogs were not in sight.

I grabbed up leads and car keys and ran out to the field to catch Millie. With her in the car, I ran out to the road, which in front of my house runs 50 miles an hour, and saw three of my dogs headed down the side of the street. In the moments it took me to get into my car to follow them, other cars coming saw them and - thank you, good neighbors - stopped, effectively protecting my girls from oncoming traffic.

I know the whole scene lasted only 2 minutes or so, but I felt like I was running through sand to get my dogs home safely.

I closed the dog door before I brought anyone into the house and went off to the hardware store for more cinder blocks. My quick fix that afternoon that afternoon only set me back about $40, but it was clear that Millie would breach any barrier I could throw up quickly. At this point, with her pups headed to their own new homes within a week, I sent her off to Rosemary's, who has REALLY solid fencing.

But my own dogs, now, had learned from Millie that the fence could be pushed up in places, and I didn't trust them in the yard anymore. For the next two weeks, no one went out unsupervised in the back yard. I bought two pallets of landscaping blocks, called Labor Ready and hired a crew, and in a very efficient morning, they laid landscaping blocks against the outside of the fence. Since each block weighs 26 pounds, I think they are a good match for Basset noses.

Millie was eventually adopted by a long-time Basset rescue volunteer. Her adoption fee nicely covered her post-whelp care and her spay. The fencing's on me.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The hidden costs of dogs....(Part 1)

Thinking of getting a dog? In these economic times, it's a decision that people should think about carefully. Oh, sure, you've considered the cost of food, even of vaccinations or routine veterinary care. Maybe you've even looked into the cost of veterinary insurance, so that you never have to face the heartbreak of losing a dog because you couldn't afford to treat an injury or illness.

All that's fine. But have you considered some of the hidden costs of dogs?

This week, I spent $435 to get my clothes dryer working again. Thank you, dogs.

When you live with multiple dogs, there's a lot of dog laundry. I'm not talking about cute costumes, or even post-bath towels. No, I'm talking about dog bedding, blankets and covers for cushions. At my house, that makes up a good 4 or so loads a week. About 2 weeks ago, under the pressure of it all, my dryer gave a great sigh and quick producing hot air.

This is a bit of a crisis, since the local laundromat has BIG signs that say "DO NOT dry DOG BEDS in these machines."

Experimentation and some web research revealed that it was probably the heating element that had blown, and after a few calls Jim the Appliance Man came by and replaced it. Alas, he also declared that the reason it had blown was the blocked dryer vent running under my house. I also got a nice lecturette on the number of house fires caused by blocked dryer vents each year. So today Steve the Vent Guy came by and spent six hours cleaning every vent and duct in the house. The heating system went pretty quickly, but the dryer vent was a three hour challenge involving multiple tools - and although he kept it to himself, probably a lot of cussing.

Tonight I'm listening to the happy domestic sounds of laundry drying - first up, the dog own things can hang dry until I get through the backlog. And come late spring, I'll be listening to the banging noises of a new, shorter, improved vent being installed. Figure another couple of hundred there.

Ok, who am I kidding? It will be more than that. By the time it's all done, I figure $1,000 total for the dryer and venting work over the course of this year.

Watch this space for other adventures in financial planning for a life in dogs. ;)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"Outside a dog, a book is your best friend. Inside a dog, it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx

So what does it mean to have "a life in dogs"? It's a funny grammatical construction, but for those whose lives revolve around dogs - raising them, romping with them, showing them, watching them, learning from them - it's a common turn of phrase.

My Basset Hounds are the first to greet me in the mornings, the last thing I hear falling asleep, as they stir, settle and sigh on their own beds near mine. My home is made for their comfort, my schedule arranged to meet their needs. At the same time, I'm not a "dog parent", and no one standing on four legs here gets dressed up in Halloween costumes or rides around in an oversized shoulder bag.

We are companions, living together with affection and respect. I try my best to understand what they are saying to me - and to each other - in their infinite and complex body language. Perhaps they try to understand what I am saying to them when I ramble on about my day. If nothing else, they show the courtesy of looking interested. Good thing, too, since I do control the cookie jar. ;)

Right now, it's me and five of them - the four girls and Hank, who used to be a foster dog but somewhere along the way became a permanent resident. Living with a pack of dogs is different than living with one or even two. At a certain point, you recognize that you are outnumbered - but you have to learn to still be in charge, to set the tone, project an expectation of peace in the household.

My dogs have a life outside of me, their own relationships and interactions, their own hierarchy and affections. That's not just ok with me - it's a delight.

So what is my life in dogs? Most often, it refers to someone whose living is tied up in dogs - trainers, handlers, dog show judges, breeders. For me, it's not about making a living, but making a life in their company.