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.