23Apr/15

What to feed your dog

I find there are two kinds of owners when it comes to dog food. The owners who say, “I would NEVER give my dog people food!” And the owners who slip something off their plate every time they see those sweet puppy dog eyes.

I have to admit, I am the plate-slipper kind of owner.

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Here she is licking salt off my face, like the walking food source that I am.

While treats are a matter of taste, picking the right dog food is a lot tougher. We are in the age of choices, and deciding between aisles upon aisles of kibbles, raw diets, freeze-dried and frozen meals – it’s hard to know what to do.

When I was doing my research for this blog, I messaged all my veterinary friends to get their take on how to choose a dog food. Their responses showed what a hot-button issue it has become. “You’re so brave to write about that!” they said. And I got more than a few “I’m staying out of that one!” Some named a couple brands that they personally use, but wouldn’t necessarily recommend for everybody. (Which makes sense because not all dogs should eat the same food.)

But I do think there is a place we can all start from when choosing a dog food. (Yes, I am going there, vet friends.) Please be kind and know that I am just going over some basics and that I fully encourage you to do your own research. And, as always, consult with your vet because some dogs have very specific nutrition requirements based on their health.

AH, THE PURINA DAYS

When I was a kid, dog food was easy. There was Purina, Alpo and Milk Bones. That’s it. And if you gave your dog anything else, you were “spoiling” them. As long as the packaging had a picture of a dog and a wagon on it, you were good to go.

THEN WE GOT WISE

Fast forward a few decades and enter the era of the informed pet owner. No more cheap dog food for us. (Or horse meat? Was that a real thing?) We wanted to do better. And just like everything else that used to seem simple (kid’s birthday parties come to mind) the internet has enabled us to more easily share ideas. That’s a good thing! But the dark side of the internet is that it has also allowed us to more easily compare ourselves with others, and awakened a forum for the competition of who can be the best. The Best Mother! The Best DIY-er! The Best Pet Owner! (That’s me, by the way.) Look at any blog or Instagram and you can see this competition playing out in real time.

For example, my refrigerator looks WAY BETTER than this one from the internet.

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In your face, @marthastewart.

THE BASICS

So there is a lot of noise out there. I think a good place to start is with the VERY basic. What are dogs supposed to eat? Are dogs carnivores, herbivores or omnivores? (Surprise, surprise – there is controversy about this subject too!) I found a good article addressing this question, which claims the following:

– It is believed that all dogs originated from the timber wolf about 15,000 years ago

– Wolves are definitely strict carnivores (nothing but meat)

– Domesticated dogs are not exactly wolves, but share a lot of their traits – therefore they are carnivores too

– Dogs’ carnivorous traits include sharp teeth, front to back (no square molars to grind grains); the absence of salivary amylase, the enzyme herbivores and omnivores have to help break down starchy carbs into simple sugars; and a higher concentration of stomach acid that aids in digesting meat and protecting them from bacteria in decaying meat.

– Although dogs are basically built to be carnivores, over the years they have adapted to eat non-meat foods, including scraps from their owners’ cast-off meals, whatever they could scavenge and, more recently, commercial dog foods.

Read the entire article here and decide for yourself.

BUT ARE DOGS REALLY LIKE WOLVES?

Carnivorous wolves they may be, dogs have become highly functioning omnivores. And let’s be honest, thanks to their incredibly malleable genome and years of human tinkering, most domesticated dogs don’t look anything like their lupine ancestors.

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Real wolf.

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Native American Indian Dogs. (A mix of wolf, Siberian Husky, German Shepherd and Malamute.)

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And English Bulldog Luca, who is the cutest wolf I’ve ever seen.

LET THEM EAT MEAT! (BUT ONLY MEAT?)

Now that we know dogs are carnivores, but have adapted to also eat grains and vegetables, we are faced with a choice. Do we stick with an all-meat diet? A raw-food diet? Or do we “compromise” and buy a more convenient kibble that has ingredients other than meat? I think that depends on your dog and your lifestyle.

Dogs, like us, are all individuals and their dietary needs are going to be different. There is going to be some trial and error. (For some people, just finding a dog food that doesn’t make their dog itchy or have diarrhea is a feat in itself.)

And committing to an all-meat regimen is no easy task. I had a hard time finding an all-meat kibble online. (I did find a Real Meat Pet Food site, where a 10-pound bag of beef dog food was about $100.)  Even brands like Instinct and Taste of the Wild are “grain-free” but still contain vegetables, and in some cases, fruit (and other stuff).

Feeding raw meat is do-able, but can be difficult. It’s expensive, it’s tricky to store, and it’s hard on some dog’s digestive systems.

Unless you’re going to cook every day, you’re going to have to find yourself a decent kibble. This is when we enter the crazy world of canine marketing. What should you look for? What ingredients are acceptable?

FINDING A GOOD KIBBLE IS ALL ABOUT READING LABELS

We stand in the pet food store and stare at the shelves. We read labels, scratching our heads because they all have ingredient lists a mile long. We choose the lesser of all the evils and still feel a little guilty. (At least I do.)

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And we really want to do better.

You have to read dog food labels with a discerning eye. By law, food manufacturers are supposed to list the largest percentage of what’s in the food first. So I am always looking for foods that start with some kind of meat ingredient. Be wary of the word “meal.” Meal is a Frankenstein-like meat monster. “Chicken meal,” for example, is suspect because by law it is allowable to use “4D chickens” to make this meal – the four D’s being dead, dying, diseased or disabled.

Next, the fewer ingredients the better. Although they will have to add some kind of preservative to keep the kibble fresh on the shelf, tons and tons of chemicals are not what your dog needs.

Basically, choose food for your dog that you would choose for yourself. Real, whole foods are best. Compromise wisely.

And by all means, slip your dog a piece of boneless, skinless chicken off your plate once in a while. Because, despite what you’ve heard, people food is dog food.

Take it from me, the Best Pet Owner on the Internet.

What do you feed your dog?

13Apr/15

5 Tips: Bringing Your Dog on Vacation

Can I just say right up front that you don’t have to take your dog on vacation. DON’T TAKE YOUR DOG ON VACATION. That’s what WOOF is for! So, go ahead. Go on vacation. Leave your dog with us. We got this.

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Welcome to WOOF – may we take care of your dog today? 🙂

But let me pose a hypothetical situation. Say you adopt a dog. Say that dog is crazy adorable.

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(And this is just the back view.)

Say this crazy adorable dog also has separation anxiety. And say, even though you may work at a boarding facility, and get free boarding, you never leave her at work. Like ever. And maybe in order to actually be able to relax without constantly worrying about your dog, you have to take Miss Crazy Adorable with you on vacation.

Maybe that person is me.

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Hi, my name is Vickie and I am with my dog all the time.

(Hi Vickie!)

Let’s just say I have a lot of practice taking my dog everywhere, even on vacation. Let me share my insanity wisdom.

1. Find a good dog-friendly hotel.

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The emphasis being on the word “good.” Just because a hotel will accept your dog doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to you. Remember, this is your vacation so find a place you would like regardless of its pet policy.

I drove across country with my dog twice and was able to find a decent spot just about everywhere we stopped. Most chain hotels accept dogs – just call ahead and check. It’s becoming more and more trendy to accept pets, so you have that going for you.There are books and web sites listing pet-friendly hotels, like this one. If they’re pros, they’ll only charge you an additional $20-$30 a day for your dog. If it’s more, or they want a hefty “dog deposit,” shop around. A pet fee shouldn’t be more than 15-20% of what your room costs per night.

Some hotels won’t allow a dog over a certain weight. This always confused me because little dogs can be just as destructive as big dogs. I’ve heard hotels prefer small dogs because if the dog pees or poops in the room, the mess is smaller. There’s no point in arguing with the front desk, especially with a chain that operates by corporate rules. (And don’t start your vacation being angry – it’s not worth it.)

But sometimes if I just say, “okay, I’ll call the hotel down the street,” they want your business so badly they’ll accept your big dog. Same goes for the pet fee – if you think it’s too expensive, politely decline and tell them why. They’ll either lower the price to get your business, or they’ll make a note for management.

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I am very clean, thank you very much.

Make sure you understand the rules – the main ones being don’t make a mess (easily done if your dog is potty trained and you take care not to let food and hair get everywhere) and don’t leave your dog unattended in the room. (I couldn’t leave Lady in the room even if I wanted to, so my plan includes bringing her along everywhere we go.)

Luckily for me, my favorite place in the world is also famously dog-friendly. We most often vacation in Carmel, Calif. because it has everything we like: beaches, hikes, great food and it’s just plain beautiful. Neighboring city Monterey also has the amazing  aquarium, which is worth going to more than once. Up picturesque Highway One is the coastal majesty known as Big Sur. (If you haven’t been up this way, you really should go!)

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This is just a picture I took from the car. I mean, come on.

I love the Carmel River Inn because it’s clean, quiet and my kind of charming. There is a main motel-like hotel but tucked in the back is the good stuff: sprawling gardens peppered with quaint little cottages. We like the John Steinbeck cottage (room 24, king bed, whirlpool tub, little patio). Rates per night are around $150-$200, depending on the season, and the dog fee per night is $20. It’s very reasonable considering you get your own space plus acres of Bambi-esque meadows to wander around in.

If Disney designed these cottages, they couldn’t have been cuter. (And I did not get any discounts for mentioning this inn – I just really like it!)

Some photos, proving my point:

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Gurgling fountains.

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Flowers, flowers everywhere.

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(Oh, hi Lady!)

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Our cottage duplex.

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Part of our room (I moved the couch around.)

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The rest.

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Big, ol’ tub!

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Our patio.

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Swing for swinging.

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… my magical place….

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… where I swung my head back, looking at the trees.

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An actual hammock.

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A leafy heart right outside our room.

Not every dog-friendly hotel is the Carmel River Inn, but if you do a little research, you’ll find a good place.

2. No hot weather (sorry sun-worshippers!)

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It’s essential that the place you’re visiting doesn’t get much hotter than 70 degrees because it’s likely you’ll have to leave your dog in your car sometimes. (Make sure your dog doesn’t mind hanging in the car!)

Generally, it’s cool enough to leave your dog in the car if the temperature outside is under 70 degrees. Finding shade is best but not essential if the temperature is low enough. (If it was over 70 degrees and we couldn’t find a shady spot, we’d change our plans to include Lady.)

A sandwich on the beach instead of dining in a restaurant is not that much of a letdown when the view looks like this.

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(Carmel Beach is 100 percent dog-friendly!)

3. Pack only the essentials.

Just like with your own packing, you don’t need to totally relocate all the creature comforts of home for your creature abroad. We take food (meals in sandwich bags are easy), leash, bowls, brush and bed. That’s it. Anything else that comes up, like a bee sting or wound, you can buy what you need at the drug store. Read my blog about home healthcare here.

(The bed is optional but Lady loves hers and knows immediately where her “spot” in the room is. But most dog-friendly hotels will provide a doggy blanket.)

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Bed in car!

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Bed in room!

Bonus tip: If you’re ever travelling and run out of dog food, white rice mixed with scrambled eggs or boneless, skinless chicken is a good alternative (and your dog will love it!)

4. Have a game plan.

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Dogs are pretty basic. They need food, exercise and sleep. (And love, yes, yes.) They’re like humans without all the added cerebral BS – they know what they like, and they don’t over think things. Following their lead actually leads to a pretty awesome vacation day.

Here’s what worked for us:

We had breakfast in the room. A french press and fruit is a little piece of heaven. Lady ate her breakfast and got pieces of toast. We showered. Lady did not.

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We went on our Big Morning Outing – I’m talking at least a couple hours. It was either a hike in the forest or a long beach walk. This was Lady’s favorite part (and mine too!)

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Bonus tip: have water and a bowl in your car at all times. It’s important to hydrate your dog (and yourself) frequently.

The next thing was our people-only time. This is when we found the shady parking spot, Lady took a nap and we had some human fun.

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One of my fancy meals.

 Then a siesta was in order. We all went back to the room, cleaned up a little and rested.

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Sometimes we’d nap on the beach.

Refreshed, we’d venture out for our Nighttime Activity. We’d go out to dinner, we’d sit on the sand and look at the stars, we’d marvel at the weirdness that is Carmel.

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This is their gas station sign, for example.

5. Decide if your vacation can realistically involve a dog.

Figure out what a great vacation is for you. Mine is pretty simple: to walk, to eat, to sleep, to read. That’s all I want. Lady fits in with our ambitious plans just fine.

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Like peas and carrots.

 But if your idea of a good vacation is more involved, like flying to a faraway land or exploring the ruins of an ancient civilization, you might have to leave your dog at home.

And “by home,” I mean at WOOF, of course!

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Staff are standing by.

Much love,

Vickie Jean

 

 

 

 

 

24Mar/15

Dog Park Etiquette

Once upon a time there was a magical dog park by the sea, where dogs romped and played and owners laughed and hugged, and all was right with the world.

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There were balloons there every day.

My dog park is just like this – sometimes. (Let’s hear it for Alameda Dog Park!) But I have to be honest. Dog parks are wonderful and fun, but they can also be extremely stressful. From naughty dogs to abrasive owners – sometimes the dog park is not the canine utopia we would hope it to be.

So Lady and I have come up with some unwritten rules – now written! – that can help you keep your dog park experience fun and safe.

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Step 1. Yell “we’re going to the dog park!” in a ridiculous, shrill voice.

Watch the doggie theatrics ensue.

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WE’RE GOING TO THE DOG PARK!

2. Use the entry chute as it was intended.

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Hopefully your dog park has a little area that has double gates – one to the outside and one to the inside, so you have a “neutral zone” to unleash your dog and let her smell inside dogs before letting her in. Make sure you close the outside gate securely before opening the inside gate. Don’t be one of those owners who sloppily close the gate and then watch it swing open in surprise while dogs rush the chute and race out of the dog park. (I’ve seen this happen, I’m sad to say.)

Don’t let other dogs into the chute if you can help it. (But if you do, rest assured that the outer gate is securely closed because you made sure!)

Do make sure you take your dog’s leash off before entering the dog park. When you enter with your dog still on leash, it can cause insecure or protective feelings that can lead to a dog fight. (You know those times when you’re walking your dog and an unleashed dog rushes up and all hell breaks loose? That’s because leashed dogs feel and act differently than unleashed dogs. So even the playing field by taking your dog off leash so she can interact and greet other dogs on her own terms.)

3. Keep calm and monitor your dog (from a distance!)

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Dogs will rush up to your dog because nothing is more exciting than THE NEW DOG who just entered. Observe the interactions but resist the urge to participate by petting the other dogs. Dogs have a very specific greeting protocol that involves sniffing each other and generally sizing each other up. One false move from either dog (or you!) can throw this greeting off and make the dogs defensive and possibly cause a fight.

Keep your attitude calm and neutral because, believe it or not, your dog is very in tune with your emotions and if she senses you are alarmed, it will make her alarmed and feel she must defend you. Remember you are her pack leader, and you set the tone.

4. Note (and follow) the rules.

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Each dog park will have its own set of posted rules. It’s a good idea to know what they are and follow them to the letter. A dog park is a public space, so do your part by keeping it nice for everyone. Since my local dog park is sandy, someone went to the trouble of posting these signs about holes. So you better believe I’m refilling the holes my dog digs out – not only because it’s a rule, but because I’ve seen plenty of people step into a hole there and almost break an ankle.

5. For goodness sakes, clean up after your dog.

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In a place where there are bags, shovels, rakes and garbage cans devoted to this gross but necessary task, you have no excuse not to clean up your dog’s poop. And yet I still see owners casually stroll away from their dog while they are relieving themselves, either not noticing or pretending not to notice. (Guess what – I’m onto you.) It’s not a choice to pick up after your pet; it’s your responsibility – your dog, your mess. And believe me, there are plenty of owners who will call you out if you try to shirk this chore. And I’m one of them. Let’s avoid an embarrassing and unpleasant exchange and just do the thing you know you are supposed to do.

Also make a mental marker when you see your dog poop from afar. Many times I can’t find the poo and feel like announcing to the park, “I’m sorry; I tried!” 🙂

6. Beware the bench.

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This is personal choice but it is most assuredly a fact that if there is a bench or chair at the dog park, it is covered in urine. Just know that before you sit down. Or be like me and wear “adult play clothes” to the dog park you don’t mind being coated in a light mist of urine. Because it’s fun to sit a while at the dog park, even on a pee-pee bench.

7. Monitor dog behavior.

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This is one of the trickiest things to master at the dog park. I monitor dog play professionally and even I make mistakes sometimes. I think the key here is to know your dog, to know the warning signs of an impending fight and to only intervene if it is absolutely necessary.

Watch every dog your dog meets. Is the greeting going well? (Remember, it should ideally be the mutual butt sniff scenario.) You’ll notice one or both dogs trying to take things to the next level by initiating play. Usually it’s one dog trying to get the other dog to chase her.

Lady, for example, loves being chased the best, but will be the chaser if that’s her only option.

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So chasing, pawing each other, doing play bows – those are all good signs your dog is enjoying herself. Sometimes a dog will initiate play with your dog who plays in a style your dog DOESN’T LIKE. I don’t call this a “bad dog,” but simply a “bad match.”

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You’ll be able to tell if it’s a bad match because one of the dogs will start to look wary and a little offended. A good example is one dog trying to mount another one (some dogs tolerate humping; my dog Lady does not, so I always intervene if a dog tries to mount her.) Maybe a dog plays rougher than your dog likes. You’ll hear and see your dog warning the other dog to back off.

Your job is to watch closely for these warning signs and intervene at the critical point before play turns into aggression. If you’ve ever seen a bar fight escalate, it’s very similar. It starts off as joking around, then someone gets angry, warning signs start being thrown (with people, it’s words and sticking their chests out; with dogs, it’s baring of teeth and growling)

If you see the beginnings of aggression, DO NOT reach in to physically separate the dogs. It’s best to REDIRECT your dog to something else. With Lady, if I yell her name in that same shrill, ridiculous voice aforementioned, and tell her “over here!” it breaks the trance and she’ll follow me. Your dog may be different. For example, if you have a ball-crazy dog, grab a ball and get her attention diverted to a game of catch.

8. Keep your leash at the ready.

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The leash is handy because it will allow you to quickly leash up your dog if you see a situation escalating and pull her away. People’s first instincts are to grab their dogs’ collars, but this can be dangerous. If you take the extra second to latch the leash onto the collar, you can get your limbs and hands out of the way and have more control over your dog during a fight. The hope is that other owners are smart enough to leash up their dogs too and then a fight can really be stopped quickly without human flesh being served up for dinner.

9. Monitor your behavior. 

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Remember how I said calm owners generally mean calm dogs? Well the opposite is true too. Anxious owners sweating over every dog who approaches their dog are an absolute recipe for disaster at the dog park. Owners who interpret every sound as a growl, or every play grab as a bite – please do yourself and everyone a favor and don’t come to dog parks. It’s unreasonable to expect no touching at the dog park. Don’t bring your teacup chihuahua into the big dog area and then accuse all the other dogs of playing “too rough.” Use your head, and keep your outrage for situations that truly warrant it.

Conversely, don’t walk around the dog park “educating” everyone. (That’s what blogs are for – ha!) There’s nothing more tiresome and condescending than strangers telling you all about dog behavior, breed types, etc. It’s like talking politics or religion at a dinner party – you can do it, but you shouldn’t. Everyone has come to the dog park to have a good time, not to listen to you. Light conversation is nice. I strictly keep mine to “your dog is so cute!” That seems to be okay with everyone.

10. Watch at the water bowl.

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Generally, dogs at the dog park aren’t bowl-aggressive because the dog park is neutral territory. But if you know your dog can be food-possessive, be careful at the water bowl when another dog comes up to drink. Your dog may react like the other dog is trying to take something away from her.

Lady has many drinking buddies and is a happy drunk.

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That was some GOOD water!

11. Finally, understand you are taking a risk.

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Any off-leash, dog group play situation comes with inherent risks. Your dog may get hurt. Your dog may hurt another dog. Your dog may catch a cold. Etc. The only way you can keep your dog 100 percent safe is to keep them at home (and even then there are risks.)

Knowing this going in is helpful and reconciling with yourself a cut or scrape is minor compared to the major enjoyment and socialization your dog will get at the dog park makes the risk worth it.

I saw a People’s Court recently where a dog got attacked right when he entered the dog park. The owner hadn’t even taken his leash off yet. (Breaking my rule number 2!) Even though it was clearly the other dog’s fault, the judge had to rule that the victim had to assume all the responsibility for the vet bill because the attacker’s owner hadn’t done anything wrong. They were just at the dog park, where it’s allowed for your dog to be off-leash. That really clarified for me that dog parks are dangerous, because you are giving up some control by putting your dog in with dogs you don’t know, and you may very well come home with an injured dog and a big vet bill.

But somehow Lady doesn’t understand all this when I yell “We’re going to the dog park!” And that’s okay. Because it’s my job to think of that part. Her job is to just have fun.

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 What are your tips for going to the dog park?

NEXT TIME: Cat Park Etiquette. Rule one: sit with a box of wine and hope for the best. 🙂

25Feb/15

Dog mom

I am one of those people who call myself my dog’s “mom.”

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Here I am, momming it up.

I call myself that because I feel like her mom. She is completely dependent on me from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed. (And sometimes in the middle of the night, if she’s not feeling well.)

She expects a lot from me. I am her world. Sometimes when she needs something, I am so tired and I can’t imagine doing one more thing. Even for her. But then I see her cute face and love takes over, and moves my body to do what she needs. Even if it’s to clean up the millionth mess she’s made somewhere in the house (and after I just cleaned it!)

Sound familiar, moms?

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Her cute face, expecting something.

But still I wonder what other people think of this term. Is it cringe-worthy? Is it offensive? Are they neutral and I’m the only one who feels a bit weird about it? Or do they nod their heads in recognition, like, yep, I’m a dog mom too! (If you picked the last, then you are my people and I will love you forever.)

When I’m talking to or about Lady, “mom” just rolls so easily off my tongue. But, if I’m being honest, it feels like a bit of a stretch – and perhaps even an out-and-out delusion? Since I, you know, didn’t give birth to my Siberian Husky. (But I did adopt her! But not legally? See how the mind reels.)
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Sitting on mommy’s lap.

Then there’s the judgment I may get from others when I say it, the most obvious of which: since I don’t have human children, this is obviously my way of (mis)directing my maternal instincts.

All I can say about that is that I grew up wanting stuffed animals, not dolls. I was crazy for all things horse and dog. The first question I had when my husband asked me to move in with him was, “can we get a puppy?” (Spoiler alert: we did.)

So I’m not too sure this assumption applies to everyone. Sure, I am a woman with womanly feelings and all (define those however you like), and I do enjoy “babying” my dog, but it doesn’t mean what I really want is a baby. Because at my age, I’m pretty sure I don’t. And having had a dog since I was a kid, and always wanting to have a dog in my life, I’m pretty sure what I want is a dog.

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My beautiful daughter, admiring a chicken.

My reticence in using the term “mom” is because I have a lot of respect for the job. (And for dads too!) Being a parent is a massive responsibility and I don’t want to use it lightly.

So should I switch to the more loathsome term (in my opinion) “owner?” I mean, I don’t own my husband, so neither do I own my dog. (But I will fight you ten ways ’til Tuesday if you try to take what’s mine! Ha!)

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Riding in mommy’s car.

I have friends who have kids and friends who have dogs and friends who have kids and dogs. (And friends who have cats, but don’t have kids, etc. etc.) I’ve seen a lot of kid and animal love and I never really thought to compare the two. Comparing kinds of love just seems wrong and ultimately, pointless. Someone is going to feel marginalized. And who’s to say what kind of love is greater than another?

Love is personal.

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Waiting for mommy to come home.

But I have really noticed that anybody who has a human child usually has a bit of an eye-roll reaction when they hear pet owners calling their animals their “kids.”

And boy do we pet enthusiasts love shouting our love from the rooftops!

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And sometimes from our car’s bumper…

Arguably, pet people are just as passionate about their pets as parents are about their children. Their Instagram feeds are stuffed with pics of little Fluffy or Rover doing the cutest things ever. They celebrate their pet’s birthdays. They cradle and kiss their pets on the lips. They set up play dates for them.

Need I remind you that I work at a DOGGIE DAYCARE? I mean, we have doggie daycares! People from the last century wouldn’t have even believed such things would ever exist! I address our WOOF clients as “WOOF moms and dads.” It seems so natural, and yet I have to acknowledge that maybe it’s not for everyone.

At home, I say things like, “mommy doesn’t like that!” or “come to mommy!” Sometimes when I’m grouchy, “this is mommy time.” When it comes to Lady, I hear the “m” word slip out of my mouth so easily and it feels right.

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Sitting on mommy’s knee.

Of course, having a dog is different than having a child. You don’t have the awesome responsibility of raising a responsible, well-adjusted adult who will leave you someday and roam the earth only with your teachings to draw from. You don’t have to save for a college fund. They never leave you.

I acknowledge there are some major differences.

But I stand on the similarities. If I’m responsible for feeding, providing medical care for, cleaning up after, loving and generally directing a living being’s entire existence myself, well – then I’m their mom. Period.

And I have an even more intense relationship with Lady because she suffers from separation anxiety. She literally goes everywhere with me.

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Out with friends.

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While I’m working.

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On damn near every errand. (Unless it’s too hot, in which case I don’t go and I suffer without conditioner or coffee creamer like a champ.)

My husband and my vacations so far have all included the dog. We plan our lives around her. Sometimes I feel a little resentful. Sometimes I feel guilty that she’s so needy. Sometimes I feel so lucky and can’t imagine my life without her.

Mostly, I feel like a mom.

Question: Do you call yourself your dog’s mom? Or dog’s dad? Why or why not?

13Feb/15

Your Funny Valentines

I started working at WOOF on Valentine’s Day three years ago. I met the staff, the dogs and wrote the very first Dog Blog on a day dedicated to love.

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It was a pretty sweet first day.

Years later, even though dogs have come and gone, our business has almost doubled in size and our staff has grown by leaps and bounds, reflecting back on what I’ve learned here so far … I have to say I’m having a little deja vu!

Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate dogs.

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In our playgroups, it’s always interesting to see which dogs gravitate toward one another. I’m not sure how they decide who they want to play or cuddle with. But each morning we see them choose their playmates or recognize when one of their besties is entering group.

It is, needless to say, super cute.

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So on this day of love, let’s highlight some of our WOOF Valentines and celebrate their special brand of affection.

Maggie and Posey

Posey and Maggie have an interesting relationship. Posey often sits on Maggie, and Maggie doesn’t seem to mind. Love works in mysterious ways.

Donato and Emmy

Emmy and Donato are from the same family. We always know they’re around when we see a blurry set of dots whizzing by.

Jasper and Annie

Annie is a big girl in Little Dog Land and Jasper the Cavalier has found the stunning redhead of his dreams.

JJ and Liza

JJ and Liza are from the same family and always have each other’s back, even when they’re sleeping.

Scout and Liza

Although sometimes JJ (NOT LIZA, whoops!) needs a little Scout time too. (JJ is okay with it.)

Indy and Posey

Indy and Posey are two Viszlas from the same family and rule Big Dog Land with an iron (red) paw.

Cosmo and Nike

Cosmo and NIke, the sweetest black Labs ever, live together at home and stick together at WOOF.

Charlie Jasper Scout and Annie

This motley crew proves that four is not a crowd. Charlie, Jasper, Scout and Annie like to create this kind of special sleeping society mid-day in Little Dog Land. (May I join? Please?)

Biggie and Ruby

Biggie the chocolate Lab pup is relatively new to our play group but he found a kindred spirit in Ruby, the kind older woman.

Hank and Jake

Hank and Jake have a pretty strong bromance going on. The give each other stiff, manly hugs but we see the tenderness underneath.

Asher and Serge

Asher and Serge, baby German Shepherd and Doberman, are growing up together in Little Dog Land (they’ll graduate to Big Dog Land soon!) They understand life is about the three P’s and N’s: play, play, play and nap, nap, nap.

Freya and Posey

Freya and Posey know size doesn’t matter when it comes to getting some girly alone time.

Abby & Bitsy

Abby the Great Dane puppy has found a friend in Bitsy the Dachshund, who is three times smaller and three times older but showing her the ropes while she goes through puppyhood in Little Dog Land. Bitsy’s the boss, obviously.

And this last picture shows that you don’t even need two dogs to spread the love.

Riley

Riley has plenty oozing from every pore on his adorable, fuzzy face.

Here’s to a very Happy Valentine’s Day! Keep your loved ones close and your dogs even closer!

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xoxo,

Vickie Jean

05Feb/15

Doggie Healthcare at Home

Having a dog is like having a furry family member. A furry family member who totally depends on you but can’t tell you when something hurts.

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Not exactly a fountain of info here.

I know what it’s like to feel helpless when you think your dog isn’t feeling good. Maybe she has vomited a couple times; maybe she didn’t want dinner last night, which is so unlike her. 

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I think Lady still remembers this chicken from July 4th of last year.

I know the frustration of when it’s a Saturday and the only place open is an emergency hospital. You don’t know the doctors there, you don’t know how much it’s going to stress out your dog to even go there, and you certainly don’t know how much money it’s going to cost.

Owners everywhere, right this minute I’m sure, are looking at their dogs and thinking: “should I take her to the vet?” It’s not always obvious what to do.

This post is aimed at helping you answer this question by:

  • Giving you straightforward tips on how to assess your dog’s health,
  • Offering a few safe home treatments for common ailments, and
  • Clarifying when you don’t have enough information and need to go to the vet

As always, my disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian and my advice should not be substituted for that from a real doctor. These are merely general tips to help owners become more educated about the health of their dogs.

That said, meet my dog patient, Lady.

She is super-thrilled to be my model for all these humiliating illustrations.

Your home “exam”: When you are checking your dog at home, you’re simply looking for the source of what might be making her uncomfortable. I think it’s helpful to go through all parts of the body, step by step. (I put the “exam” in quotes for our purposes because nothing can substitute for a real veterinarian’s exam, one from a professional with years of training and experience to draw upon when assessing your dog.) 

That said, you can get a lot of useful information from looking at your dog from tip to tail!

Nose

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First, note how cute the nose is.

Next, note if there is any discharge coming out. If there is discharge and it’s a color (not clear), it might be infected mucous and you’ll need to go to the vet.

Is there anything up there? Is your dog breathing okay? Sometimes violent sneezing can indicate a foxtail or piece of plant has flown up there. (This is especially common in the dry season of summer.) foxtails continue to travel upwards and are not to be underestimated in the damage they can wreak along the way, so if that’s suspected, you’ll need to go to the vet.

You can also somewhat gauge hydration from the nose. If the nose is dry, it doesn’t necessarily mean your dog is dehydrated, but check it later to make sure it moistens up. A dry nose is one clue to indicate dehydration. (More on hydration soon.)

Eyes

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First, your dog will note that her food bowls are missing from the stand behind her and resent you for it.

Second, you’ll check if the eyes are red, watery or have discharge. (Again, colored discharge means you’ll need to go to the vet.) If your dog’s eyes are blood shot or the pupils look strange to you, it could indicate inflammation and you’ll need to go to the vet.

If the eye fluid seems sticky, like the lids aren’t easily lubricated with each blink, it could indicate dehydration. Dogs get cataracts, just like people, and they look similar. Ask your vet to go over the pros and cons of cataract surgery.

A quick tip on how to administer eye drops by yourself:

If you’re like me and have a working spouse, and often don’t have anyone to help you hold your dog, you can pull off administering eye drops solo! Simply straddle your dog’s back, gently squeezing with your legs, and lean the dog’s head back toward your body. This gives you the most control if your dog tries to resist. (If your dog is little, get closer to the floor, mimicking the same position.) Have your eye drops ready to go and be quick about it! Even the most patient dogs will eventually tire of this ordeal.

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Use only vet-prescribed or recommended eye drops!

Mouth

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Your dog’s mouth tells a story. First look for obvious things like lesions and cuts.

Particularly bad breath can indicate an illness or dental disease. Sharply defined, red lines above the teeth at the gum line can indicate dental disease too. You can most easily clean your dog’s teeth by rubbing them with a gauze-wrapped finger. (Works much better than a toothbrush, in my opinion.)

And don’t poo poo having your dog’s teeth cleaned under anesthesia. It’s the only way for a vet to properly clean under the gums and extract bad teeth. Dental disease is serious and can be fatal if left untreated. Not to mention the PAIN your dog is going through with an untreated rotting tooth or gum disease.

Speaking of the gums, they are really telling. They should be pink, pink, pink! Pale, white-ish gums can indicate a serious illness. If you see white gums, you’ll need to go the vet right away.

Quick Gum Check Tip: Press your index finger into the gum and take it away. Watch as your pale fingerprint appears and then quickly fills again with pink color. If your dog’s gum stays pale where you pressed your finger and takes a long time to fill back in with color, it could be a sign of illness and you should run, don’t walk to the vet.

The saliva on the gums should be wet but not sticky. If you feel sticky saliva, it could indicate dehydration.

The tongue should be relatively clear. If you see a thick film on it, it could indicate illness.

Ears

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You are looking at the skin and smelling for any strong odor. Infected ears can have red skin and smell really bad (“normal bad” smelling ears just smell a bit yeasty).

Cleaning ears: Wrap gauze around your index finger and gently swipe into the ear canal. DO NOT USE Q TIPS as the dog’s ear canal is a weird shape and you might puncture something. Ear wax should come out. If you see blood, puss or anything other than wax on the gauze (sometimes the wax is black, don’t worry), your dog might have an ear infection or a foreign body and you’ll need to go to the vet. You’ll know if your dog’s ears are infected because she will protest pretty dramatically at having her ears touched because it’s very painful.

Those aforementioned foxtails love to go into ears and often need to be removed under anesthesia.

Ear injuries: Cuts or wounds on the ears should be handled with great attention. Dogs will shake their heads at the feel of the irritated ear and sometimes burst blood vessels, creating the dreaded ear hematoma. Ear hematomas look like a squishy, blood-filled balloon has invaded your dog’s ear flap. They are terribly difficult to repair and should be avoided at all costs. If your dog has a cut on his ear, wrap his ear flat to his head with a stretchy bandage or vet wrap and get yourself to the vet. Ear hematomas generally require repair under anesthesia.

Bonus anesthesia tip: if your dog is going under anesthesia, ask if your vet can perform a dental while she’s under. Ask the tech to really trim her nails nice and short. Anesthesia is expensive and hard on the body so you’ll want to get as much done while your dog is under as possible, within reason (you don’t want your dog to be under too long either.)

Bonus bonus anesthesia tip for stomach-flipping dog breeds: dogs like Standard Poodles or other deep-chested, large breed dogs prone to BLOAT – ask your vet if they recommend stomach stapling while your dog is under. Sometimes dogs who are very prone to this deadly condition can benefit from having their stomach anchored in place so you don’t have to worry about the dreaded bloat the rest of her life.

Handy-dandy dehydration test

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Lift the skin between your dog’s shoulder blades into a tent-like shape and let go. For hydrated dogs, you should see the “tent” go back down into position quickly and easily. If the shape hold its position for longer than a second or two, it could indicate dehydration. You can also gently pinch the skin together and rub the two pieces of skin to feel for stickiness inside. (You may be seeing a pattern here: sticky fluids anywhere (gums, eyes, under skin) may equal dehydration.)

Paws

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Lift the paws, separate the toes, look at the skin, pads and nails. Our friend the foxtail likes to make an appearance between toes, creating a nasty hole and abscess in its wake. Sometimes ticks will attach here. You are basically just looking for abnormal skin or foreign bodies hiding between toes.

Bonus note on ticks: ticks are generally harmless unless your dog comes into contact with the tiny ones that carry Lyme disease. Lyme-carrying ticks vary according to region and are more prevalent in the northeastern US. Regardless, you’ll want to REMOVE ticks as soon as possible. You DON’T have to use matches or any strange technique! Simply use tweezers, grab the tick and pull it out. Or take your finger, press it onto the tick (for the brave of heart), and make quick, tiny circles on it with pressure. The tick will let go and you can pull it out and flush it down the toilet (my fave method.) If part of the tick remains in the skin, worry not. You know the tick is dead and the body treats the leftover part as a foreign body, pushing it out eventually. (You’ll want to watch for infection if this is the case.)

Bonus note on nail trims: if you cut your dog’s nails too short and “quick” them, you don’t have to have Kwik Stop or a similar product that helps the blood clot. You can use regular old flour!

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Flour, right out of my cupboard!

Simply tap a gob of flour onto the bleeding nail’s tip and have your dog rest for a while, as walking breaks the clot off, starting the bleeding process all over again.

Spine

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If your dog seems painful, is hunching or has trouble walking, you can palpate (a fancy term for examining by touch) the spine to check for any points of pain. Start at the top, using both of your thumbs to press gently along each side of the spine. If your dog has an issue somewhere, she will likely flinch or cry out. Spine issues require a specialist so you’ll need to go to the vet.

Palpating other parts of the body

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Methodically and gently squeeze the elbows, legs, knees, hip area, and muscles to try to pinpoint any painful spots. Pay close attention to how your dog reacts because dogs are generally STOIC and have an instinct to hide their pain. Rotate and flex their joints to see if there is any arthritis pain.

If you are in any doubt about your dog being in pain, you must go to the vet. There are safe and effective pain relievers for dogs. Dogs shouldn’t have to live with pain just because they are good at hiding it.

Bonus life saving tip: DO NOT GIVE OVER-THE-COUNTER PAIN MEDS to your dog! Ibuprofen (Advil) and Acetaminophen (Tylenol) are TOXIC to dogs and might kill them. Aspirin can be safe in infrequent, low-doses but you should consult your vet because it can cause stomach ulcers with prolonged or heavy use.

Tummy

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Your dog’s tummy is just as sensitive as yours is, so be gentle! Press around to scout for pain, lumps or masses. For females, you can give a breast exam along the nipple lines, similar to how you would do your own breast exam. (She just has more of them because she has more mouths to feed…) The more you do this, the more you’ll get to know what your dog feels like and what’s abnormal or new going forward. For boys, it’s a good opportunity to peek at the old privates and make sure there are no obvious issues down there.

Taking your dog’s temperature

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Not a rectal thermometer, but here for illustration.

You’ll want to buy a rectal thermometer and write your dog’s name really big on it so you’ll know exactly where it’s been (and where it should go next). You’ll need something like KY Jelly or Vaseline for lubrication.

Coat the end of the thermometer in the lubricant and explain to your dog that something slightly upsetting is about to go down, but it’s for her own good.

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Make a goofy face to show her how much fun you are having together.

Lift her tail and insert the tip of the thermometer gently. Most dogs are okay with this if you are deliberate and gentle. Wait until the thing beeps or count to fifteen one-mississippi-style.

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A NORMAL DOG TEMP is about 101 degrees Fahrenheit. (Normal range is 99.5 to 102.5.) A temp 103.5 or above is considered to be a FEVER and you’ll need to go to the vet. If her temp reaches 106 or above, it can be FATAL.

Common ailments & home treatments

The most common issue for dogs at home is vomiting, diarrhea or both. Before I suggest treating these signs, let’s first agree on when a vet needs to intervene.

FOR VOMITING: generally, vets consider three vomits within 24 hours reason to have your dog seen by a vet. If your dog vomits breakfast one morning, try giving her a half meal at dinner to see if she keeps it down. Don’t give a vomiting dog water – it will likely trigger more vomiting! Check for hydration (nose, gums, skin “tent”) and take your dog to the vet to get rehydrated under the skin by IV. If your dog is vomiting infrequently but for a prolonged period of time, go to the vet. Blood in the vomit? Go the the vet pronto.

FOR DIARRHEA: Dogs are like us in that they get diarrhea sometimes. Some breeds and certain dogs even get diarrhea often. You can home-treat diarrhea with a bland diet: white rice (brown is too complex to digest), low-fat cottage cheese, scrambled eggs, low-sodium chicken broth – all are good and delicious bland dinners to give your poopy dog.

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You can also give Imodium (loperamide) to dogs safely. Doseage is .05/.1 mgs per pound of body weight every eight hours. (For example, Lady weighs 55 pounds, so I can give her one to two 2mg tablets.)

If diarrhea continues for more than a couple days, or contains mucous or blood, or is dark red or black, get your poopy dog to the vet. Dark stool can indicate blood coming from the intestines and needs to be addressed.

POISON INGESTION

Dogs love the sweet taste of anti-freeze. They’ll lap up pools of it off your garage floor. Chow-hounds like Labradors love to eat just about anything. For this reason, you may find yourself in the position of inducing vomiting.

Be careful – you don’t want your dog to regurgitate everything. A whole chicken carcass fished out of the trash, for example, can do harm coming back up the throat. You don’t want to induce vomiting for bleach, drain cleaner or if it has been over two hours since ingestion. You also don’t want to induce vomiting if your dog is in any weakened state and can’t be counted on to vomit successfully. Ask your vet before inducing vomiting so you can tell them the suspected substance.

But it’s a good idea to have hydrogen peroxide on hand for those throw-up occasions.

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You’ll want to use the 3% kind that’s sold at most pharmacies. (The more concentrated ones are too potent.) Use 1 teaspoon for every 10 pounds of body weight. (Lady’s vomiting cocktail, for example, would be 5 teaspoons (rounding down for 55 pounds.))

Vets have the advantage of having oral syringes to shove the liquid down, but at home you can mix it with some non-chocolate ice cream or honey to make it more palatable. Walk your dog around after she has taken it to get the reaction going. Take her to a place you don’t mind being covered in vomit! Comfort and encourage her as she vomits as the act is very stressful for dogs. It typically takes 15 minutes or less. If the hydrogen peroxide doesn’t work, or you are unclear what your pet may have ingested, you need to go to the vet.

Benadryl is your friend

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Benadryl (despite being blurry in the above picture) is truly a wonder drug for dog owners. Its uses are myriad and it’s pretty safe for all dogs.

Doseage: 1 mg Benadryl/diphenhydramine (make sure the pill contains no other ingredients!) per pound of body weight every 12 hours or so. It makes most dogs sleepy!

ALLERGIC REACTIONS – if your dog starts swelling up, pop her with some Benadryl for its antihistamine qualities. If the swelling doesn’t subside, or recurs for no apparent reason, go to the vet.

SEDATIVE – Benadryl is a safe, over-the-counter sedative for dogs who have anxiety. Whether it’s fireworks, separation anxiety or any stressful situation, it can help your dog calm down. You’ll want to try it first when you are around because sometimes dogs get more anxious when they feel a shift in their perceptions and they panic, negating the therapeutic effect.

GENERAL ITCHINESS – try Benadryl first. If the problem persists, go to the vet.

And… that’s all for now.

There may be more medical tips percolating in my brain but I think that’s quite enough for one round.

Lady has been poked and prodded, is tired and needs a cookie.

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Your dog’s health may not be simple, but dogs themselves are. So Lady, take this cookie and call me in the morning.

With love,

Your doctor mom

 * Thanks to Hans DeHamer, Super Husband, for helping me take all these pictures. *

22Jan/15

Top 10 Tips for Going to the Vet

In a former life I was a veterinary coordinator. That’s a fancy title for people who answer the phone and schedule appointments at a vet practice (but!) are also called upon to help save lives every now and again.

 

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For nearly two decades, I counseled people through medical conundrums large and small and had to become competent really fast in giving sound veterinary advice. I’ve worked at general practices, a practice specializing in orthopedics and neurology and for the veterinary program at the fabulous Guide Dogs for the Blind in Marin County.

I’ve had the privilege of shadowing some amazing doctors while they diagnosed and treated, a delicate balancing act between education, experience and good old-fashioned detective work. I’ve seen dogs saved and lost, anguished owners grieve, and angry owners blame. I’ve seen some things.

At WOOF, I’m in charge of monitoring the health of our guests – a responsibility I take very seriously as I’ve seen how quickly a seemingly insignificant problem can go really wrong, really fast.

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You could say I’ve been writing this blog in my head for quite a while.

So, what are the Top 10 Tips I would give to owners for going to the vet, you ask? Let me tell you.

But first, the standard disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian. This blog is about sharing some general observations I’ve had as part of the veterinary world and not to be substituted for real medical advice.

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1. Try out more than one vet.

Successfully caring for a pet is very dependent on a good relationship between vet and owner. Find a vet who you can communicate with, whose medical approach you understand, and who you like. You might want a small practice that incorporates some acupuncture, or you might prefer a big practice, with in-house diagnostic equipment and 24-hour availability. Figure out what makes you feel safe and who you trust so that each visit isn’t confusing and upsetting. (If you pick the small vet, make sure you have an emergency vet in mind for after hours!)

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2. Know your dog and speak up.

Vets need to take a good history of your dog in order to diagnose. They may need to know what they eat, how often they poop, if they are generally hyper or mellow, if they eat socks, etc. You are your dog’s spokesperson! There is nothing more frustrating for a vet than hearing crickets when they ask the owners questions, or owners who go off on unrelated tangents. Remember that symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea could point to so many different illnesses – the details you share with your vet can really make the difference between life and death. Be observant, stay on topic, and give as many relevant details as you can.

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3. Stop Googling!

Don’t go into your vet appointment armed with pages of online research and self-diagnoses. Vets have gone through years of study and practice – let them do their jobs. A little information is truly dangerous. If you think you already know what is wrong with your dog, you run the risk of steering your vet in the wrong direction or – worse! – deciding you don’t need to take your dog to the vet at all. (And on this topic, take Yelp reviews with a grain of salt. Even the best vet practice is going to have some loudmouths spewing nonsense online.)

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4. Keep and bring records.

If you change vets, move, or go to a different vet for emergencies or specialty treatments, keep copies of any lab work your dog has ever had. Blood work, urinalysis, titers (the tests that determine if booster vaccines are necessary) – each time you get one of these done, (you’ll know because they are expensive!) ask your vet’s receptionist for a copy and keep it in a handy folder. When you can hand your vet previous labs, they can compare your dogs’ values over time and see trends that may help them in diagnosing what may be wrong today.

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5. Ask for estimates!

For any vet appointment, you walk in the door already paying an exam fee. They can range from $40 to $90, depending on the practice. (Future readers: these are 2015 prices.)That’s it until the vet takes your dogs’ vitals and history, and then starts suggesting tests, surgeries and treatments. This is where you ask for an estimate. This helps not only determine the cost of your visit, but also illuminates the approaches your vet might take in diagnosing your dog. Any vet worth their salt will not only willingly give an estimate, but gladly do so. This helps them make sure they can collect their fees and protects them against folks who may be ignorant of how much things cost. I’ve had vets work up two or three estimates at a time, pricing all my options at once.

* A special note (and long one, sorry!) about vets and money: I stop listening to people when I hear the words: “All vets care about is money.” This is the battle cry of the ignorant, is unfair and simply not true. Firstly, veterinarians (unless they are specialists) rarely, if ever, make anything close to six figures. Secondly, running a veterinary practice costs money. The overhead for a hospital is staggering and most of the income goes towards staff, leases, insurance and upkeep, not lining the vet’s pocket. And thirdly – and I’m most passionate about this point – vets did not go to school and incur student loans to fund your dog’s health care. That’s your job, as the owner – one you took on when you decided to get a dog. It’s manipulative and insulting to tell a vet they don’t care about dogs because they won’t treat your dog for free. If they did that, they’d be out of business and couldn’t afford to treat their own dogs, many of whom I assure you they’ve probably rescued.

Okay, rant over. Onward!

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6. Can this be a tech appointment?

There are many things a technician can do, saving you an exam fee. Things like vaccines, anal gland expression, fecals, nail trims, and even blood draws for pre-ordered tests. Most vet offices will allow this so long as your dog has been seen by the doctor within the past year. So ask for tech appointments for the small stuff, and thank me later when you feel rich and clever.

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7. Medications – ask for them!

If you have an ongoing relationship with your vet, and bring your dog in regularly, sometimes your vet will prescribe a medication over the phone. Things like antibiotics for hot spots, pain medications for arthritis, sedatives for the Fourth of July – all can be given without an office visit so long as your dog has had recent blood work and been examined within a year. Make sure to ask about risks and side effects and let your vet decide if a med is reasonable to try before coming into the office. But you can certainly ask!

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8. When in doubt, throw in an X-ray

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen dogs present with some subtle symptoms – a little dehydrated, minor vomiting, lethargy. Blood work is done and the values seem mostly normal – maybe the white blood cells are a little high, or the dog is a tad anemic. Nothing serious. Can I just say – go ahead and ask for an X-ray. They can be a bit pricey (ask for an estimate!) but sometimes a vet is willing to take one lateral view (that’s the one taken from the side) and it doesn’t cost that much. An X-ray can spot swallowed foreign objects that could obstruct the intestines or a tumor that will eventually burst. Ever since I lost my dog to a splenic tumor that I had no idea was there, I’m a fan of the X-ray. They can’t catch everything, but they can catch some big things.

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9. Get the pain meds.

Dogs feel pain just like we do, but they are really good at hiding it. Some say it’s a leftover instinct from the wild because showing pain showed weakness. Whatever the theory, if your dog has had a surgery, an injury or even a particularly nasty hot spot, ask for the pain meds. As long as your dog’s liver and kidney values are normal, there is absolutely no downside to treating their pain, even if you’re not sure it’s bad. The flip side is that your dog will be suffering silently and it’s your job to make sure that doesn’t happen. (This also applies to surgery: make sure there are pain injections on your estimate and that your doctor will be actively controlling your dog’s pain while hospitalized. Sadly, some vets overlook this aspect of treatment and, ironically, make their clients really happy because their surgeries are “cheaper” without the pain injections. Another reason to feel good about paying your vet well!)

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10. Lastly, BE NICE.

Vets and their staff are people too. When you are a cooperative client who makes appointments, follows the rules and is pleasant – and doesn’t pull the “all vets care about is money” card when presented with your bill – the staff appreciates you and will be more willing to help you when you really need it. They’ll be more willing to squeeze you in between appointments when you are having an emergency, or to waive the exam fee if the diagnosis was really simple. At the vet’s office, just like in life, it pays to be nice. You are setting the tone for the relationship and you will often be treated as well or as badly as you treat the staff. (And this goes the other way too: if the people at your vet’s office are rude, change vets!)

Going to the vet is really stressful for everyone. You’re worried about your dog, the vet is worried about missing something important and your dog is just plain worried. I hope these tips help in navigating these stressful waters. And please know I am always available to you if you have any questions about your dog’s health.

Here’s to health and happiness,

Vickie Jean

Receptionist

 

15Jan/15

Bad dogs

Have you seen the trend “dog shaming”? It’s when owners post photos of their dogs with a sign telling everyone what naughty thing their doggy has done. They can be so funny because, really, dogs are dogs, and they have no shame thankyouverymuch. It’s part of their charm.

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But this one hit home and made me very sad.

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If you can’t read it, it says: “I got kicked out of doggie daycare because I’m a jerk!” The other says: “I’m her blind brother and I am awesome at daycare!”

I’m not criticizing this person at all. I think this was something very lighthearted and I’m sure he/she loves these dogs very much. It just ignited my thoughts about something I’ve been dealing with for a while now that I think is worth exploring.

Because I work at a dog daycare facility, I’m often in the position of having to tell owners that their dogs can’t come back to play. I hate having this conversation. Unfailingly – despite how carefully I choose my words and how clearly I try to communicate – what they hear when I tell them their dog isn’t working out in the daycare is that “your dog is bad.”

Can I just say for the record right now? There ARE NO BAD DOGS.

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Dogs are individuals, just like us, with likes and dislikes. They have experiences that shape their reactions. And the simple truth is that not all dogs like being put in a group with a bunch of other dogs.

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Some like to play with just a few besties.

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Or cuddle with a close friend.

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Or sometimes, sit on each other for no apparent reason. (Get off Maggie, Posey!)

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Others just want to play with a ball. (And if another dog tries to take that ball, all hell will break loose.)

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Others might be having a bad day and just want to be babied a little.

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There are a few things that we just can’t get around in the daycare setting. First off, they have to be okay being surrounded by other dogs. That’s just what a dog daycare is like. And second, they have to be able to have their own brand of fun in this setting. All of this has to be done safely, so that no one gets hurt.

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Many times, I’ve talked to owners who need their dog to come to daycare because they work all day. Unfortunately, these owners don’t always have dogs that enjoy group play.

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They want us to socialize their dogs better, so that they will start to like daycare. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. And while we’re figuring that out, we have to make sure nobody gets seriously hurt.

Whatever your theory on dog training (and there are many!) I have one truth I believe about dogs. They are individuals, just like us. And just like you can’t train a person to be an extrovert when they are an introvert, you can’t always convince dogs to enjoy something that they just don’t.

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I’m not an expert, but I can say that I’ve owned dogs since I can remember and have worked with them going on 20 years. I’ve worked with the most carefully bred labs and goldens in the Guide Dog program and helped treat street dogs who wanted to tear my face off. And I can honestly say I loved them all, and I could understand where each one was coming from.

An angry dog is just an angel who’s had her wings messed with one too many times. The angel is still in there – you just have to gain her trust.

vickie and sherman

vickie and desi

lady kiss

Having said all that, I think it’s an understandable misconception that all dogs like to play with other dogs. And that if they don’t – if they snap at dogs at the dog park, or lunge at other dogs while on leash – well, they’re BAD DOGS with BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS.

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But I say no to that. No, they are not bad dogs! They are just dogs who prefer doing other things for fun.

It’s asking a lot to expect every dog, who are all individuals with their own experiences and reactions, to love being surrounded by other dogs in a play group. Some dogs are understandably overwhelmed and lash out in fear. Others pick up on the frenetic energy of the group and think it’s a free-for-all for ransacking and bullying. And yet others panic because their personal space is constantly invaded and they feel they have no place to be.

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I read an article,”My Dog Got Kicked Out of Daycare Today” by Robin Bennett, a behaviorist from The Dog Gurus,,” who I think got it just right:

“When a dog doesn’t do well in off-leash play, it is not necessarily a symptom of a problem… This might be the case, but more often than not, it’s just a dog who prefers people…”

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“… It’s a dog who would love a hike in the woods but doesn’t enjoy off-leash play with a group of other dogs. This doesn’t make the dog bad.”

Bennett goes on to say that many of her clients still don’t accept this situation – they have dogs who don’t seem to enjoy dog parks or doggy daycares and they want to know why.

“Don’t all dogs want to play with other dogs?” they ask. “Shouldn’t I socialize him so he gets used to it? The truth is, there are far more dogs who do not enjoy off-leash play, than there are dogs who love it.”

And this was my favorite part:

“When a pet care professional dismisses your dog from daycare or recommends you don’t go to the dog park, you should thank them. Thank them for caring more about your pet, than about making a buck … Thank them for seeing your dog as a unique animal with individual temperament traits. Thank them for trying to look out for the well-being of your pet and putting your dog’s safety and comfort first.”

Thank you, Robin!

So to all those folks out there who think there is something wrong with their dog when I call them to say WOOF is not right for them, this blog post is for you.

I don’t think you have a bad dog. I think you have a lovely dog who just doesn’t like daycare.

 

21Feb/14

Daycare snapshots

Oh, hello.

close up pup

Where the heck have I been on this blog? Wasn’t November just yesterday?

It’s a deep thought, I know.

deep thoughts

Well, all I can muster is that it’s been busy, busy, busy! Business is booming, we’re meeting a lot of new faces all the time and it’s just staggering how many incredible dogs and dog families there are out there in the world!

little and ready

Yes, our enthusiasm is positively UNBRIDLED at this news as well. (She gets it.)

So here we are, catching our breath from all the holiday boarding, and find we are now in the midst of a very healthy daycare turnout. Our old-timers are showing the new-timers how it’s done.

chair stoughton

(It’s okay Stoughton – don’t get up.)

So many dogs, so many days, so many moments. We get to share them all with your pups while you are away. And I thought, hey, here we have all these great moments captured in photos.

I struck upon the best blog idea of all – The Quick & Dirty Photo Barrage.

So here goes nothing – a few of our favorite daycare snapshots!

It’s been chilly, so we’ve enjoyed a doggie fashion show each day.

cold pups

This is Maisy and her fabulous pink plaid jacket. You know she knows she looks good.

 

jacket maisy

I look good too! (You do.)

another coat

There has been lots of tennis ball action, of course.

 

running with ball

And some tennis ball hoarding.

 

lets play

We saw double.

double trouble one

double trouble two

double trouble three

And sometimes quintuple. (Quadruple? Let’s just say lots and lots of black labs.)

black dog meeting

There has been some igloo-sittin’.

igloo sitting

And some stolen kisses.

stolen kisses

Some massive babying. (Which we enjoy.)

rockabye doggie

Some interesting choices to rest.

denali trash can

(Denali! Get off the trash can! Denali? Okay. Never mind…)

And, of course, lots of RUNNING, RUNNING, RUNNING!

active pup

Okay, have to go back to work. It’s busy, you know. Did I tell you that?

Bye!

bye

 

11Nov/13

I don’t know why you say goodbye

One night last summer, I opened the door after work to find my dog dying on my kitchen floor.

beautiful Desi

This was my dog, Desi.

My husband and I had Desi for five wonderful years. We rescued her from a family who got new hardwood floors and didn’t want to risk her nails ruining it. She was missing half of all her canine teeth from chewing on a cage they kept her in.

I’m so thankful that they got those floors.

Desi lake

Before us, Desi had a tough life and she was, in response, a tough girl: intense with a nervous disposition. She was so tough, in fact, that we didn’t know she had a tumor growing on her spleen for quite some time. Up until the day it burst, she ate, drank and acted pretty much as if nothing was wrong.

On that July evening – a Wednesday that my husband and I both had to work unexpectedly late – I drove home thinking about how I would give her some dinner and then walk her around the neighborhood. It was getting dark already and I was tired, but she had been alone all day and I owed her a walk.

She lived for her walks.

Hans and Desi

walking Desi at the lake

And truth be told, we lived for them too.

That afternoon was a long and painful one for Desi. She bled out for over three hours, crawling to all the doors in the house, onto all the furniture, and finally settling in the entryway of the kitchen, sides heaving, struggling for air. We know all this because we could trace her movements from the blood. We also know this because our security camera captured every minute of it.

My husband watched some of the footage to see what time she began to struggle. I couldn’t watch any, but made him promise not to delete it. I’m not sure I’ll ever watch it, but I still need it to be there.

Desi butt

Sometimes when I used to lay in bed with Desi, I would think of how I would do anything to keep her safe. I imagined snatching her leash back just in time in front of an oncoming car. Turning the hose on a strange dog running to attack her. Helping her veterinarian identify and treat a rare disease that I happened to know all about.

In my fantasies, I was her hero and protector.

me and desi in carmel better

That night, I was not exactly a hero. I stood there, frozen, my purse over my shoulder, clutching a handful of mail. She looked up at me, eyes bulging, struggling for air as her insides flooded with blood.

I said, “OK, baby. OK.” I thought about calling hospitals, calling my husband, calling a friend – but everyone was so far away and my phone seemed useless. The closest emergency vet was eight miles away, through heavy traffic. I was losing time with all this thinking.

I tried to comfort her, but there was no comforting that would help. She was struggling to breathe, absolutely terrified. I tried to lift her, but she was too heavy. I was afraid of hurting her even more.

“Ok baby. Ok,” I ran around the house, grabbing things I thought I needed. My phone. A blanket. Her eyes followed me. I came back to her, wrapped her up and ran out the front door.

“Hold on!” I yelled back. I didn’t want her to think I was leaving her.

Desi Marissa

For the longest time, Desi would throw up any time we took her in the car. We had our theories as to why: she feared car trips because she thought we were taking her somewhere else to live and she’d have to get used to a new family all over again. Or she had car sickness due to her “German Shepherd belly,” a very sensitive digestive system common to the breed that couldn’t handle strange foods and acted up with motion sickness.

But one day, we threw caution to the wind and took her to the beach in Point Reyes. We knew we were taking a big chance because the road there is so curvy and the trip is long. We opened all the windows and let the ocean air rush through the car. We piled blankets underneath her just in case and petted her, which sometimes distracted her from the nausea.

Desi stuck her head out of the window and sniffed. The strong ocean breeze blew her ears flat against her head. She had to close her eyes, the wind was so strong. She kept her head out of the window the entire trip, sniffing and squinting away.

I swear, she was smiling.

Me and Desi

From that day on, just like that, car rides became one of her favorite things. Just when you thought you had her figured out, Desi could surprise you like that.

Desi enjoying car ride

Tearing down the sidewalk, I saw a man parking his car on the corner. I waved at him as I ran, practically opening his door for him.

“My dog is hurt. I need you to help me get her in the car.”

“Ok,” he said. I have no idea what my face looked like in that moment, but he didn’t even hesitate.

We ran together back to my house, scooped Desi up and put her in the back seat of my car.

Desi party

 

The next half hour was spent breaking every traffic violation I could break, chanting to Desi from the front seat.

“I know, sweetie. Hold on. We’re almost there. Hold on.”

My husband called the hospital while I was on the road. Two techs met me in the parking lot and carried her in on a gurney. I was told to wait in the waiting room. I sat next to a family with their puppy and their little girl looked at me with curiosity. I smiled but I was tearing up, so I moved to an abandoned corner. Shortly after, my husband arrived in his work clothes, looking freaked out. He sat in the corner next to me.

I cried for the first time, telling him, “It’s bad. It’s bad.”

And it was bad. They could do an emergency, $8000 surgery, support her with blood transfusions all night, but the prognosis wasn’t good. I didn’t want my girl spending her last days in a hospital, alone again, in pain again. My husband and I agreed we had to help her go.

We held her while the needle went in and her heart stopped. We held each other after.

goodbye Desi

The next few days played out like a bunch of pictures in a photo album I wish I could throw away. Kissing Desi’s still, grey muzzle for the last time. Driving home, tears making a smear of the road, thinking, “I shouldn’t be driving.”. Sitting on the chair in my blood-soaked living room. Saying to my husband over and over again, “is she really gone?”

“Did this really happen?”

An hour and a half had passed since I put my key in the side door, entering my kitchen after work, thinking of taking my dog on a walk.

 

Desi last Sunday

This picture was taken the Sunday before she died. She hung out with me all afternoon in the backyard while I read. I stare at it a lot, wondering how big the tumor was in her stomach on that day. It had a few more days to grow – a 3-day ticking time bomb. I imagine its trajectory as it moved and got read to explode, on its way to changing not only my plans for one Wednesday night, but my life.

I’ve had many dogs and I’ve lost many dogs. In theory, I’ve gotten better at accepting that they are temporary, that I should love them as much as I can because they will always be gone sooner than I want them to.

my first dog

It makes me think of my mom, who is in her seventies now. I visit her a lot and try to ask her all the questions I’ll think of later, when I can’t ask. I tell her I love her every time I see her.

me and desi on the beach

It makes me think of my husband, and how I can’t imagine living without him. The pain I felt from Desi was so bad, it makes me wonder how people survive losing a spouse, or losing a child. It seems un-survivable.

husband Desi button

Desi knows what lies beyond this life. I wish I could ask her what to expect. I hope her answer would be something magical, something more than I ever imagined.

I think of all the pain she endured in this life, with owners who didn’t take good care of her, locked her up in a cage when she was inconvenient for them, built a dog who sized strangers up as if asking, “are you going to do bad things to me?”

I think of our time with Desi, us teaching her to relax, we got you. Her teaching us that even if people hurt you in your past, you can still get ridiculously excited at the sight of a squirrel in a tree. (And we did!)

Even though, between those bouts of joy and excitement, her everyday moments were shadowed with ghosts from her past. I think about her last moments on this earth, where her body betrayed her and the people she loved and trusted most weren’t there. I hate that she had to be afraid once again,alone.

 

love Desi

And then we were there, and we took her to a place where we paid someone to give her a pain injection that brought her relief, and then paid them some more to give her a shot that took her away, to somewhere else we’re not even sure of.

Because, ultimately, that was the best we could do.

Having dogs has taught me a lot. To get up on some mornings when I don’t feel like doing anything until I see that little face, telling me, “come on, come on. There’s lots of fun stuff out there. Come with me and I’ll show you.”

And I go, and there is, and I wonder, “what was I so sad about?”

But I think the biggest lesson comes when they leave. And you’re left alone to wonder, “what happened? Are they really gone? Did that really happen?”

Because dogs live such a short life. And with each one we get, then lose, we remember that everything, and everyone, is temporary. That they should be savored and hugged and loved to within an inch of their life every waking moment of yours.

showing Desi the world

Because, even though there is so much to be sad about, there’s really not enough time to waste being sad.

desi is gone

Dogs can surprise you like that sometimes.