Monday, December 29, 2008

My 2009 Rescue Resolution

I invite you to join me in my New Year’s Resolution. Let’s each of us do one thing for a rescue group or animal this year.

For example:

• Donate a bag of food

• Donate some money

• Do one home check for prospective adopters

• Deliver a dog or pick up a cat in a shelter.

• Foster a dog just one time

• Work at a rescue event

• Answer phones for one week, or respond to emails

• Evaluate an animal in a shelter

• Take some photos of homeless pets for an event or web site

• Donate something to a fundraiser

• Buy something at a fundraiser

• Write a press release or brochure

• Process paperwork

• Solicit for donations

• Place or sponsor ads in the paper

It’s hard to volunteer for rescue. Many volunteers work so hard they burn out and quit. Some can’t bear to see the shelter animals, knowing so many of them will die. There is plenty you can offer without actually working with animals.

If $5 is all you can do for rescue this year, thank you. You have made a difference.

You may have read the story of the starfish: 

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed 
a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. 

Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”

The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean.  
The surf is up and the tide is going out.  If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”

“Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish?  
You can’t make a difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, 
and threw it back into the surf.  Then, smiling at the man, he said…”
I made a difference for that one.”

Original Story by Loren Eiseley

Artwork above: "Starfish" a yellow Lab named Shelby holding a starfish on the beach. © Terry Albert

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays to my friends, family and clients (who I also consider my friends!) from Terry, Tux, Bonnie, Lily, Desi, Sterling, Whisper, Ari, Star, Red, Fred and Ethel (the box turtles!) 

Friday, December 5, 2008

How to Train a Basset Hound

I recently watched the training DVD that comes with Basset Hound, Your Happy Healthy Pet. The publishers used five breeds in the video: Bulldog, Corgi, Cocker Spaniel, Basset Hound and Beagle, which represent the five breed books they released all at the same time. I didn’t participate in the training video, so this was my first opportunity to see what they had done.

Bassets don’t have a reputation for being easy to train, but they absolutely can be trained, and do well in obedience agility, tracking, and other dog sports. While researching the book, I had the pleasure of watching Cathy Wheeler and Kevin Whelan prove the doubters wrong as their dogs went through tunnels and over jumps numerous times for our photographer. You’ll see some great shots in the book. 

But on the video, the trainer is trying to demonstrate how to teach a Basset to come when called. She calls and encourages the dog, who just sits there and looks at her. (I imagine Ben Stein doing a Basset voiceover: “Why are you jiggling the leash and jumping around? You look ridiculous!”) Finally the dog just gets up and walks away in the opposite direction, giving the trainer a perfect opportunity to demonstrate how to give an effective correction. The Basset responded nicely, thank you very much. I laughed out loud…

If you find training more of a chore than a challenge, more frustrating than fun, then a Basset Hound is not the right dog for you! Tune up your sense of humor and pretend you are teaching tricks. Make it fun and interesting for the dog, or forget it.

I remember watching an obedience competitor who showed a Bloodhound when I lived in Washington State. He seriously challenged her patience. She fed him a spoonful of Fancy Feast cat food as a reward when he did something right. As the tall cousin of the Basset Hound, I saw why — yummy, smelly food for a scenthound.

Rules for training a Basset Hound:

• Keep it fun. Make it a game so he won’t get bored.

• Figure out what motivates your Basset – food, toy, tummy rub – and use it as a reward.

• Train throughout the day, not just at lesson time. Sit for food or petting, down-stay while you eat dinner, etc.

• Short sessions! A Basset is not hardwired for endless drills doing things he thinks are useless. He’ll quit on you if he’s had enough.

• Train with distractions. Once he knows the basics at your house, add distractions, like a cat, kids, skater, interesting smell on the ground, etc. to teach him he needs to respond all the time, not just when there’s nothing better to do.

If you are serious about winning lots of ribbons and titles with your Basset Hound, I recommend tracking. This is not a breed that is highly motivated to please you, so obedience is especially trying. But tracking uses their sense of smell, and a Basset is a scenthound with a nose second only to the Bloodhound in ability.

One of my funniest incidents with training a Basset was when I was teaching one to walk on a leash. They tend to lag behind, and the more you drag them to keep up with you, the more they lag. So this one just quit and lied down on the ground in a pose known as “flat-basset” to Basset Hound lovers the world over. NOTHING would get him to stand up! Totally humbled, I learned that positive motivation works much better with this hard-headed breed!

Photo above: Cathy Wheeler demonstrates that a happy Basset Hound really can come when called!

Be sure to check out the free online chapters of the book at

Thursday, November 27, 2008

My new book is out! Basset Hound: Your Happy Healthy Pet

Today I was thrilled to receive the first copies of my new book, Basset Hound, Your Happy Healthy Pet. It is available for sale on Amazon, just in time for the holidays. I'm sure you will all want one, even if you don't have a Basset (VERY big grin). 

I spent about two months on this project earlier this year. The Happy Healthy Pet series from Howell Books is a series about each of the most popular breeds. I am happy to report that this book is specifically written about about Basset Hounds, rather than just a formula "how-to-care-for-your-dog" book with a Basset Hound on the cover. Although the editor provided me with a table of contents, I was free to reorganize and add elements, and of course, write the content. This is a second edition; the first edition, written by Barbara Wicklund, a respected member of the Basset Hound Club of America, was released in 1996. I was given the first edition to pull from as I wished. The previous book focused more on breeders and dog fanciers rather than pet owners, so my mission was to rewrite the book for the pet dog owner.  A lot of information needed to be updated also. Her writing style was more formal where my style is conversational, so that needed to be changed too. The new edition, while including some of her work, is mostly mine. The editors provided content for some of the sidebars– for example, on vaccinations – so it would be consistent throughout all of their breed books. Since I have so much experience with training, it killed me not to be able to write that chapter! But someday someone will probably rewrite my version too. 

I had some terrific help with my research for the book. Jo Ann and Bill Nolan, of Splash Basset Hounds, Heather Simonek of Vogue Bassets, Don Bullock of Woebgon Bassets, and Cathy Wheeler (whose dogs compete in agility) all spent hours with me as I diligently took notes. Sylvie McGee of Seattle helped me with rescue and Basset health issues. She is the Basset breed rep for Seattle Purebred Dog Rescue (a group I used to volunteer for) and is on the national breed club's health committee. Jacqueline Nolan posed with dogs, and Kevin Whelan had his agility dogs perform for photos. 

My close friend and a professional photographer, Melanie Snowhite, took some fabulous photos which are featured in the book. I love how the Basset's loose skin seems to be caught in slow motion, flapping around mid-action in some of the shots.

I learned so much on this, my first book, that will help me when I write the next one, and there will be a next one, I promise! 

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I'm famous!

A friend and fellow Dog Writers Association member has written an interesting blog on Kim Thornton writes about what pet owners are doing to save money in these tough economic times.

I thought it was fun to find myself quoted in the article, talking about how I deal with the cost of grooming three shelties and shots for four dogs. I'll let you read her blog to find out what I do! 

My cousin in Missouri read the article and was glad to see I'm not being quoted about yet another wildfire in San Diego, which just shows that the fire season isn't over yet.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Catch an escaped dog or cat

• Most dogs will come to you if you squat down, open your arms, and call in a happy, fun voice. You are much less scary when you are down on the dog’s eye level.
• Face sideways as the dog approaches. Facing straight-on is a dominant position, and may intimidate him into keeping his distance. Avoid direct eye contact for the same reason.
• If there’s another dog in the household, snap on a leash and take her out with you. The loose dog will often come to his buddy.
• Tempt Rover with a trail of treats leading to you. Don’t let him see the leash.
• Get ahead of him and herd him back towards the house. Leave the door open; he may run right in.
• Run away from the dog. Get his attention and take off in the opposite direction. This really works! Rover thinks it’s a game, and readily plays.
• If the dog is afraid to come to you, put some really good, tasty canned food out and sit with your back turned. Lay down and he will often come right up and start sniffing you, wondering what the heck you’re doing.
• No matter how mad you are, praise Rover to the heavens when he comes back. If he gets punished, he won’t come next time.

No doubt about it; cats are much harder to catch.
• Throw a blanket or towel over him.
• Run the can opener to lure him in, if he knows what the sound means.
• Ignore him and move away from the door, or herd him in that direction. If you’re not in the way, he may go back in on his own, especially if he’s never been out. An indoor cat is usually terrified outside.
• You may have to rent a humane trap (cage) and put food in it and leave, or watch from a distance. Feed stores or animal shelters should have traps for rent.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Old Dogs are the best

I've been cruising through the dog rescue sites lately, looking at photos of old Labs, Collies, and Dachshunds, all available for adoption. I have two 10 year old shelties, so it's not like I need another old dog, but they just tug at my heart. The article from The Week, linked from the title above, puts it beautifully. It is an excerpt form the book,  Old Dogsby Gene Weingarten and Michael S. Williamson. I quote:

Some people who seem unmoved by the deaths of tens of thousands through war or natural disaster will nonetheless grieve inconsolably over the loss of the family dog. People who find this behavior distasteful are often the ones without pets. It is hard to understand, in the abstract, the degree to which a companion animal, particularly after a long life, becomes a part of you. I believe I’ve figured out what this is all about. It is not as noble as I’d like it to be, but it is not anything of which to be ashamed, either.

In our dogs, we see ourselves. Dogs exhibit almost all of our emotions; if you think a dog cannot register envy or pity or pride or melancholia, you have never lived with one for any length of time. What dogs lack is our ability to dissimulate. They wear their emotions nakedly, and so, in watching them, we see ourselves as we would be if we were stripped of posture and pretense. Their innocence is enormously appealing. When we watch a dog progress from puppy hood to old age, we are watching our own lives in microcosm. Our dogs become old, frail, crotchety, and vulnerable, just as Grandma did, just as we surely will, come the day. When we grieve for them, we grieve for ourselves.

I continually marvel that every writer is compelled to write about their beloved dog when it dies. I did it too, when Tank died. He was that once in a lifetime dog, and I will never forget him. We had a blast throughout his youth, and in his old age, I clung to him, afraid he would go away before I was ready. I was never ready. 

October has been a hard month for me. It is the 26th anniversary of my mother's death. A friend died October 3, 2007. I had my last visit with my father in October last year, and he died Nov. 2. Horrible fires raced through San Diego at this time last year, and two of my friends' homes burned down, and one friend (and client) lost her elderly cat. 

When you lose someone or something that matters to you, you can't help but remember other losses. I guess that's why I'm thinking about Tank, and the love of an old dog. There is just nothing like it. For all the old dogs I have owned, some for a very short time, I wouldn't trade them for anything. The sorrow of losing them is nothing compared to what they give back. Unconditional love, friendship, and an appreciation for the time we have on this earth and the time we have together, however short or long it may be.
Read Tank's story here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Skin Problems and Allergies in Pets

When I was a little girl, we had a schnauzer mix named Patches. I dearly loved her, but her skin was always so greasy and full of dandruff that Mom would never let Patches into the house. That poor little dog itched constantly. We barely had enough money for food, and vet visits were few and far between.

The doctor said Patches needed medicated baths three times a week, regular pills, and a special diet. I remember telling my friends that Patches was allergic to grass, of all things. In other words, we couldn’t cure her skin problems. Every few months, Dad would haul her off to the vet after Mom insisted that he have her put to sleep. But he never did. He always came home with more shampoos, and promises to take better care of her. I used to spray her or rub in Noxema to sooth her skin, and we used Sebulex shampoo when she finally got a bath, every few months.

I look back on Patches and her care with great regret. I was just a little kid, and my mother was always afraid I would “catch” something from Patches.

Today, our generation knows that foods containing additives, dyes, and preservatives can contribute to skin problems. Also, low thyroid, certain grains in food, pollen and dust allergies – a host of causes – can lead to constant itching in your pet. Allergy testing is available, but the results don’t always provide easy answers. After all, if the dog is allergic to dust mites, it is pretty hard to keep her away from them. 

If your pet is constantly licking her paws, scratching her chin or ears, or digging at her butt, allergies might be the problem. First, have your vet eliminate other causes such as impacted anal glands, ear mites, or fleas. Constant scratching often causes a secondary staph infection. Cortisone provides immediate relief, but can drive the infection deeper into the dog’s system, and long term use comes with a host of undesirable side effects 

The best offense against allergies is often holistic, natural treatment. A colleague of mine in the Dog Writers Association of America, Dr. Shawn Messonnier, operates a holistic veterinary practice in Plano, Texas. He has developed his own line of organic pet shampoos, and I quote him here:

I treat a lot of pets with skin diseases including various skin infections and allergies.  However, it is rare that I ever have to use any conventional medications.  Why? Because not only do I make sure that my patients are eating a natural diet, free of harmful byproducts and chemicals, and taking a supplement regimen consisting of various herbs and homeopathics that helps heal their damaged skin, but I also prescribe a regular bathing regimen for them. 

The secret to healthy skin is frequent bathing.  How frequent?  While it depends upon the disease, is not unusual for my clients to bathe their pets every one to two days for a few weeks and then one to two times a week to maintain healthy skin.  I always instruct my clients to use an organic shampoo devoid of artificial ingredients that could harm the skin or dry the skin and hair. I regularly recommend one of the shampoos that I developed in my line of USDA certified organic pet shampoos called Dr. Shawn's Pet Organics 

While I'm obviously biased towards the shampoos, I know they contain the best ingredients available to heal damaged skin and maintain a healthy skin and coat in my patients.  Frequently bathing their pets with the shampoos will allow quick healing without the use of expensive and potentially toxic conventional medications in most pets.

My holistic vet when I lived in Washington State, Dr. Lemon, recommended that I rinse my dog in cool, distilled water. Hot water will aggravate the itchiness.

I haven’t seen a lot of allergies in cats, though many do have thyroid issues. Here are some books that will give you more information about allergies in dogs.

The Allergy Solution for Dogs, Shawn Messonnier

Guide to Skin and Haircoat Problems in Dogs, Lowell Ackerman DVM

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Labrador Retriever painting- my latest!

I have just completed one of my favorite projects. I have painted lots of labs over the years, and I just love it. This one is of three Labradors from Adora Kennels in Ellensburg, WA. I showed you their new logo that I did for them a few weeks ago. This painting is about 16 x 20 inches will go on the wall in their wonderful wilderness home. 

I always do an underpainting in watercolor (shown at left). I found with pencil that you can always see the paper underneath  unless you burnish your drawing very hard and go over it multiple times. I just don't have the patience, and am not such a purist that I have to stick to one media. So technically this is mixed media: watercolor and colored pencil, which is what I most often use. It would not be eligible for a colored pencil show or a watercolor show. But then, I'm not entering it in a show! 

For this painting I did something I've never done before. I blew the photo up very large on the computer screen and looked at it while I painted. This gave me the chance to see lots of detail I miss when I'm looking at a printed photo, even when I use a magnifying glass. The black dog's eyes were shut, so I had to improvise. The chocolate dog's eyes were squinting, so I had to open them up a bit. 

There's a lot to think about when painting a dog portrait. If a dog hunches over while sitting, then his neck will be too thick and look awkward. If he is nervous while being photographed, his ears will go back and not look as natural as they do in this painting. If the ears aren't perky, it can ruin the pose. All three of these dogs are very alert and intense.

Getting a good photo of a black dog is difficult. This dog was photographed in the sun in the snow, so there was a lot of glare, and he was closing his eyes. The best way to get a good photo is to shoot it on an overcast day. Shadows that are too strong from the bright sun hide all the detail that is in the shadows. Sometimes I have to look at photos of another dog to see all I need to know for a painting. I loved this pose- he's a big dog, very noble, and the shadows were easy to define. 

Photoshop is a wonderful tool. I can lighten the exposure so I can see detail that seems lost. I don't always get such nice samples to work from. Then again, sometimes a lousy photo makes a great painting. It may have a dumb background, poor color and all sorts of other problems, but if the pose is good, I can change all the rest. Sometimes I can see detail (especially the dog's markings) in another photo that doesn't show up well in the one I am working from. 

It seems like I spend more time on the layout and sketching than the final painting. By the time I pick up the brush, I have worked out a lot of problems. I do have to stop and set it across the room occasionally to be sure I haven't added a tree growing out of the subject's head or other dumb mistake! And when it's all done, I put it away for day or two and I then take a fresh look. If I see something I want to change, I will sometimes photograph the painting and mess with it in Photoshop to see if the change will make it better. Then I go over and fix the original. It's nice to try something without risking ruining the painting!   

Friday, October 17, 2008

A cat poem for you

    On a Cat Ageing

    He blinks upon the hearth-rug,
    and yawns in deep content,
    accepting all the comforts
    that Providence has sent.

    Louder he purrs, and louder,
    in one glad hymn of praise
    for all the night's adventures,
    for quiet, restful days.

    Life will go on for ever,
    with all that cat can wish:
    warmth and the glad procession
    of fish and milk and fish.

    Only-the thought disturbs him-
    he's noticed once or twice,
    the times are somehow breeding
    a nimbler race of mice.

    Alexander Gray


Monday, October 6, 2008

Responsible Dog Owners

The AKC sponsors a Responsible Dog Ownership Day every September, with events and celebrations around the country. With that in mind, I made up my list of what I believe constitutes a responsible dog owner. The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Basset Hound, Your Happy Healthy Pet, to be published this December by Howell Books.

Step outside your home with your Basset Hound and you are no longer just a family—you are both a part of your community. This is where the phrase “responsible dog ownership” takes on serious implications. The best thing you can do for your dog, others of his breed, and for all dogs and dog owners in your community, is to provide a good example to all who see you and your dog.

Responsible dog owners:

1.     Commit to keeping the dog for its lifetime.

2.     Always provide adequate food and water.

3.     Provide regular health care, including vaccinations, and grooming.

4.     Put identification on their dog. A tag with your name and phone number, a license and a microchip all help ensure your Basset’s return if he gets lost. Dog licenses are usually required by law. 

5.     Spay or neuter their Basset Hound to prevent overpopulation.

6.     Are good neighbors. Confine the dog in a fenced yard, never on a chain, and keep the dog on a leash when out in public. A Basset shouldn’t be allowed to roam the neighborhood, bark annoyingly, or chase the neighbor’s cat or their kids.

7.     Train and socialize their dog. A Basset should know basic obedience at the minimum and be able to sit, down, come, and walk nicely on a leash even with the distractions of being out in public. He should know not to jump on people when he greets them, not to paw at people, and of course, he should never put his mouth on people, even in play.

8.     Exercise and spend time with their dog.

9.     Always clean up after their dog. Keep a baggie in your pocket when you go for walks and keep several in your car. Never leave a pile of waste for someone else to find or worse yet, step in.

10.   Have a plan for emergencies or in case of the owner’s death

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Japanese Chin needed a home

What could be more obscure than a Japanese Chin? First, how do you decide if this dog you’ve got is really a Chin, and then find a rescue group to get her a home? I was faced with this exact question last weekend, when a friend called asking for help. The dog had been relinquished to a kind and generous vet; my friend Mike’s mother-in-law had brought it home, and her husband was NOT thrilled with keeping it. Now what?

The Internet saved the day. But even experienced computer users can get bogged down in a Google search and end up frustrated, looking at a puppy mill site selling Chins, or worse (Can there really be worse?).

This is where I came in. I went to the AKC web site clicked on “Breeds” and looked for the Japanese Chin. A few more clicks took me to the breed standard, but down the left side, there were links to the National Breed Club and national rescue. On that site, I found a list of rescue reps by region.

A really great feature of the rescue site, which all groups should offer, is a section on how to identify a purebred Japanese Chin. It is an unusual and rare breed, and Pekingese, Lhasa Apsos, and Shih Tzu are often mistaken for a Chin.

We were fortunate that there is a rescue rep in San Diego County. She came right out and picked up the dog. Don’t expect every rescue group to be so accommodating. Labrador and German Shepherd rescues, for example, are so overrun with dogs that they may ask you to keep it for awhile, deliver the dog to a foster home or kennel, and certainly fill out a pile of paperwork. Health, age, and temperament may render the dog “unadoptable” in their eyes, and they might refuse to take it.

Unfair to the dog, yes, but getting saddled with a bunch of old, sick dogs drains a group financially and emotionally, and uses up foster homes for a longer period. Then they can’t take in the young healthy dogs that could quickly get a home.

With a rare breed like Chins, the rescue may not get in a dog more than once every few months. Therefore, they are able to quickly respond when a homeless Chin needs rescuing.

So I felt a little glow of pride that I could offer assistance to my friend and this anonymous little dog. I’m no hero; I just knew where to look for help. And now you do too!

The photo above is Kamea, the little Chin who is now safe in the hands of Japanese Chin rescue, where she will be cared for until she is healthy and ready for adoption.

Friday, September 26, 2008

My latest dog painting

This is my latest painting, a logo for Adora Labradors in Ellensburg, Washington. It is done in watercolor and colored pencil, and is 15" wide. The puppies in this picture are all their pups, from a selection of over 350 photos they sent me! Bruce and Mary will use the art on their web site, and on mugs t-shirts and other items. Plus they can frame the original for their home or office. I had a lot of fun with this one, deciding which pups to use, getting a good variety of black, yellow and chocolate, and thinking up some fun elements to add, like the swallowtail butterfly, the tennis ball and stick. 

The concept is part of my NameGames line of designs, where I incorporate the name of the breed or other title into a painting of the dogs. I have done 13 breeds and numerous kennels, clubs and events in this format. 

I have enough puppy photos to last me for awhile now! I have done so many Labrador puppy paintings, that I have used up most of my favorite poses, so this is a gold mine of new reference material. The Labrador Retriever Club National Specialty t-shirt features puppies every year, and I have done that art for 9 or ten years now. This year's design is pictured here.

My next project is a portrait of three of their adult dogs, a black, a yellow and a chocolate. I will share it with you soon!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Did You Know?

Ten Things You Might Not Know About Ten Different Species

Fish can get constipated

Horses can't see straight ahead, because their eyes are on the side of their heads.

Tortoises can learn to come when they are called

If a cat’s head can fit in an opening the whole body can

A dog’s feet smell like Fritos

A rabbit’s teeth never stop growing

Ferrets like to poop in the corner

Birds can’t eat avocados

Snakes “hear” with their tongues; they don’t have ears

Hermit crabs shed their skin and grow out of their shells

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A couple of cute movie previews

For those of you that love a good laugh, here are a couple of darling dog movie trailers to watch. I loved the book Marley and Me, and I like Jennifer Anniston a lot, so I’m really looking forward to this one.

Beverly Hills Chihuahua, on the other hand, may be really cute, but it will cause a huge rush to buy Chihuahuas for Christmas, and I hate to think what that will do to the breed. We are already overrun with poorly bred dogs.

Disney did Dalmatians a disservice with their movie, 101 Dalmatians. Now with this new movie, I’m afraid the damage will be worse, because Chis are already so popular. A poorly bred one can be a little biting machine, snotty and bossy, terrorizing the whole family. People tend to spoil them because they are so small and baby-like.

Basic obedience training, just like you do with a Lab, helps ensure a well-adjusted, well-behaved family pet. People get rid of an out of control big dog, while a little ankle-biter is often tolerated. Neither is a good pet, and neither suffers a happy fate at the hands of overburdened shelters.

Labs are the number one breed in the US already, and Marley and Me will certainly contribute to their popularity. Instead of warning people off with this big goofy dog’s destructive adventures, people will laugh and think it’s fun to have a out-of-control galump of a dog crashing around an apartment. And I haven’t even seen the movie yet.

I could regale you with tales of Tank, our yellow Lab, who settled down at the age of 11 and became a normal pet. Labs have the best sense of humor in the world, and are tons of fun, but not trained, they are a freight train running off the track- right at your china cabinet. It’s not as funny when it happens in your house. Over 10 years volunteering for Lab Rescue showed me that a lot of people have no idea what they are getting into when they buy a Lab. They aren't cute little puppies for very long.

So look at Marley and Me with the perspective of “This is a warming: do not try this at home.”  Train your dog. Or don’t get one.

Enjoy the movies!
Shown above: Tank, my Lab, doing what he loved- playing with kids.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Should I get another dog?

A week has gone by since Sandy died, and I find myself settling in to life without her. I washed her bed, and the other dogs are sleeping in it now. 

I've promised myself that I will get the numbers down around here, through attrition. I will NOT get another dog. Today the paper came with four pages of color photos of homeless dogs. The San Diego Union Tribune does this quarterly. ( I can't find it online, so no link...sorry!) There was a little female doxie, age 3, but my heart went out to the older goldens, two of them. I adopted my two doxies, Beans and Tuffy, from this ad section back in 2003. I promised to take them even before I'd moved into my new house, out of the apartment. They were 10 years old, and had been living in a kennel since their owner went to a nursing home. They finished out their lives with me, and I loved them so much. 

In 2000, I found a home for a donkey I was fostering, through an ad in this newspaper section.  Blossom has lived out in Alpine ever since, and even was featured on TV during the fire evacuation in 2003. My success with Blossom led me to adopt a burro, Bandit (shown here), from the Bureau of Land Management in 2001.

I'm going to resist temptation this time. I can't afford the cost of so many animals, and with my pet boarding business, it's just too many dogs. I hate being a grownup. Sometimes the responsible decision is NOT to get a pet, as much as your heart goes out to them. I have to resist becoming a hoarder, that dreaded cat lady with 100 cats pouring out of a steaming, smelly house. With my boarding business, I always say I get to rent them until the feeling passes.

For those of you out there that want to take them all home, I suggest you volunteer as a foster home for a rescue group, like FOCAS in San Diego, or a shelter. Then you get to try out lots of different breeds, ages, and temperaments, without committing to lifelong care and expense. It's hard to let them go, but I always realize that an animal will be happier in a home where they are the center of attention, rather than one of many. If you love cats, fostering litters of kittens until they are old enough to adopt can be especially fun and rewarding. I fostered a litter of puppies for FOCAS once, and it was a blast.

I've kept in touch with a lot of people who adopted dogs I've fostered, and it is fabulous to see how well the dog does, and very satisfying to know I've picked a great home for the dog. I'll write more about the foster dogs I've loved and remember in future posts. 

Right now, I have my own four dogs and two cats who need me. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Goodbye, Sandy

My dear old Sandy gave up yesterday, after 18 years of a happy life. She was one of the lucky ones. Adopted from the Humane Society at age 2, she lived 12 years with her first owner. Marge, my neighbor, died suddenly at the age of 85 a few years ago. Sandy came to live with me and my family of dogs at the age of 14. I never dreamed she would live this long.  Her first few hours here, she sat by my gate and howled, her head thrown back in sorrow. My heart ached for her. Marge's son sent me an (unexpected) check a few days later, to cover Sandy's medical care if she needed any. Marge's daughter offered to provide food and money for the rest of Sandy's life, which I declined. They were so thoughtful and generous.  Once Sandy settled in, she was queen of the castle, dominant and snotty, but I loved her. She and my collie Emma didn't get along too well. After Emma passed away, Sandy was happier, and everyone got along great after that.  As she aged, she lost most of her hearing and her sight. Her arthritis made her elbows stick out at weird angles, but she still ran and played out in the yard. The past few weeks, she was losing control of her rear, having accidents, and dragging her legs when she tried to crawl out of her favorite bed. Yesterday, she just lay down and gave up, unresponsive to anything, so I knew it was time.  I will miss her.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rattlesnake avoidance training for dogs

I wrote this article several years ago for my dog training club newsletter, but thought it might be useful information for those of you living in snake country, so here it is: my personal experience with snake avoidance training for dogs.


I live in Poway, California, on the eastern edge of San Diego County, and my home backs up to miles of desert sagebrush. Besides problems acclimating to the heat, I have been worried sick my dogs would encounter a rattlesnake here in our own yard (the former owners told us this was very likely).

My dogs are Sherman, a 12 year old sheltie; Mac, a seven year old sheltie: Tank, a seven year old Lab; and Emma, a two year old collie. The training is done out in the open country with several snakes of different sizes, all of them with their mouths taped shut. They are NOT  devenomized or defanged as this is not allowed in California (it’s considered cruel to the snakes). The dogs are outfitted with a Tritronics collar.

The trainer, Patrick Callaghan, a well-known field and obedience trainer in this area, was quick to point out that the Tritronics collar is not a “shock” collar, but a “stimulation” collar, and he had every owner feel the stimulation on their own arm. I have my own reservations about these collars, especially on a breed as sensitive as a sheltie or a collie, but I felt that it wasn’t nearly as bad as getting bitten by a rattlesnake.

We were required to sign a release saying that if either my dog or I were to die as result of a snakebite during this training, the trainer was not responsible. Small comfort to read that right before the training! Graphic pictures of human and canine victims of rattlesnake bites were posted at the training site. I guessed I’d rather they felt a zap on the neck than have all their toes fall off from the venom.

Each of my dogs reacted very differently to the training session. Sherman went first. He is going deaf, and is nearly blind, so he stumbles out with the trainer into a row of olive trees where a snake lies relaxing in the shade. Oblivious, Sherman decides this is a great place to go potty, and positions his rump directly above the snake, who lunges and starts rattling while Sherman gets the shock of his life from the collar. Screaming in terror, he hides behind the trainer. Twenty feet away, screaming in terror, I hide behind the other trainer. On subsequent approaches to the snake Sherman fought to stay back and away from the snake.

On to the second snake. Sherman smelled it this time, and stopped dead in his tracks, refusing to go near. Several approaches from different directions yielded the same result.

Now it was my turn to get involved. First the trainer walked me over to where the snake was resting. Standing within three feet of the snake, he announced, “Now we’re going to get this out of your system so you’ll listen to me instead of watching that damn snake.” So we stood there and chatted for a minute, while I calmed down and the snake ignored us. He explained that Sherman must be nearly deaf and blind for him to react that way (I had not told him this), but his sense of smell would alert him to the snake’s presence, because rattlesnakes have a very strong scent. He also emphasized that you should get away from a snake as quickly as possible, rather than freeze in place and wait for the snake to leave. Turning and running will not cause them to strike, he said.

It was now my job to stand about 40 feet away from Sherman, with the snake between us, and call him to come to me. Sherman just stood there. “Forget it,” he said with his body language. The trainer had me move to the left, so the snake was no longer directly between us. I called, and Sherman came slowly to me. Sherman had alerted me that it wasn’t safe to come to me through that other route by refusing to move. I leashed him up and walked him away, praising and hugging him. 

The final exercise was to walk Sherman away from the area, past several piles of straw, each of which had a snake in a cage in it, which I didn’t know. Sherman stopped suddenly and pulled back, wanting to leave. The snake was out of sight, and hadn’t made a sound. Sherman’s sense of smell had detected its presence.

The most important part of this training comes next- you walk your dog five or six steps away from the snake, and then praise him to the heavens. In other words, get out of there, then praise your dog for alerting you to danger. Your job as an owner is to learn to read your dog’s signals, and then reinforce the behavior.

We proceeded through the training with Mac. Mac is a real crybaby, my 18 pound spoiled rotten rescued sheltie, and he panicked as soon as the trainer led him away from me, long before they got to the snake area. Thrashing and screaming, he tried to pull out of the collar. The trainer ignored him, and they walked up to the snake. Poor little Mac flipped over on his back and screamed when the collar was activated. I cringed. But the training worked. Mac was very obvious in signaling the snake’s presence in each instance, and joyfully skirted the trees where the snake was and ran into my waiting arms at the end of the session. The nice part of the training is the dog does not associate the snake or the correction with you at all. Mac was pretty happy to see me after all that stress.

Tank, our big tough “Huntin’ dawg” is used to a Tritronics collar from field training many years ago. A typical Lab, his first instinct was to go pick up that snake and play with it. He learned soon enough. When it came time to do the recall past the snake, my husband Dennis did the honors. Tank skirted the trees, the field, and ran out into the road, came around behind Dennis and continued up the hill to me with his tail between his legs and head down. I leashed him up and took him back to Dennis, where they successfully completed the final steps of training. “Momma’s boy,” grunted the trainer.

Emma is a typical teenage collie, fascinated with anything that moves. Who knows, maybe she can herd it! She cocked her head and went right up to the snake, where she instantly learned to think twice as the trainer activated the collar. By the time we got to the recall, she was alerting to the snake by very quietly cocking her head and pausing to think about it. I worried that she may not be quite scared enough, but the trainer said every dog alerts in different ways. Many are very subtle, and you have to learn to read their reactions and trust them. Praise is a very important reinforcer here. On the recall, Emma came to me around the outside of the trees, nose to the ground, and stopping to decide whether or not to pass every suspicious looking rock in her path.

Some of the reactions Patrick told us to expect were:

• Stopping and refusing to go forward, with muscles tensed, hackles up or head alert, ears pricked.

• Hiding behind you, dragging you away

• Whining 

Training four dogs took less than 45 minutes and cost $50 per dog. Patrick recommends it be repeated every year. I was comfortable that these dogs won’t soon forget the experience.

When we got home, Tank immediately alerted to the garden hose. I praised him and he got over it. A few months later we had a king snake in the house, and he alerted us to it. Although I couldn’t see the snake, I could certainly see something was going on – he stood completely still and wouldn’t walk forward. Again we praised him, moved him away, and then got that darn snake outside

In the ten years since I wrote this, none of my dogs has been bitten, and we’ve had several rattlesnake encounters in the back yard. To conquer my own paralyzing fear of rattlesnakes, I have volunteered to help at snake avoidance training, and learned a lot. I’m still scared, but not panic-stricken like I used to be.

The first photo shows me getting acquainted with a snake under Patrick’s close supervision! The second photo shows a friend’s dog, Chocolatte, a Lab, who almost died from a snakebite.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Golden vs Labrador retriever- which to get?

This is Indy, a brand new puppy that one of my pet sitting clients just added to their family. He's the lucky friend of three little boys and a very old cat named OJ. 

Golden Retrievers are one of the most popular family dogs in America. Labs have been number one in AKC registrations for about 16 years now. So what's the difference between the two breeds, from an owner's standpoint?

There is NO SUCH THING as a Golden Lab, unless someone has bred the two breeds to each other! Then it is a Golden/Lab mix. Labs are either yellow, black or chocolate. Goldens only come in one color, which can range from pale cream to deep red. Yellow labs also can have great variation in the color, from palest cream (almost white) to deep "fox red." There are no truly white labs, they are just very pale yellows. Also beware of the "rare" silver Labrador. This is a serious genetic defect, or the result of breeding to a Weimaraner. 

Labs have a short coat, but they shed a ton-- probably more than goldens. A golden's long luxurious coat needs more brushing, and can tangle and mat easily. Goldens are larger, heavier dogs. I've always thought they are a little sillier than Labs-- wiggly-goofy when young. 

Both breeds are active, bred to be hunting dogs, and need a lot of exercise. As puppies, they are tremendous chewers. Training should start as soon as you bring them home, otherwise once they hit the teenage months, you'll have way too much dog on your hands. Both breeds are easy to train and eager to please, which is why so many are service dogs for people with disabilities. This goes back to their purpose, hunting, where they must work alongside their handler and follow his direction out in the field. 

Goldens seem to dominate obedience competition, and I am told it is because they are easier to pattern train, and don't mind the repetition like a Lab does. A Lab is more likely to make up his own routines if he gets bored! I've owned a Lab and can attest to that! Although I haven't owned a golden, I have been in classes with many, have several as pet sitting clients, and have trained several when I was working at a training facility. 

Show or Field?
I think if you want a retriever, either a golden or a Lab is a good choice, and it's more a matter of personal preference which you prefer. The breeds aren't tremendously different to live with. Whatever you get, it is more important to decide whether you want a dog from show or hunting lines, because the temperament can be very different. Hunting, or field bred, goldens and Labs can be much lighter weight and be more high-strung and active. Some of them can be downright hard to live with if they don't get enough exercise every day. 

It's a shame that there are almost two breeds within the breed, but there are very real differences. You'll hear about English Labs, which are supposedly shorter, stockier and heavier. That's what a show-bred Lab is going to look like, American or English. A show bred golden retriever will have a magnificent coat, often be a lighter color (not always), and will generally be larger and have heavy bone structure. 

Many show breeders train their dogs and show them in hunting tests, to be sure that the original purpose of the dog is not lost while striving for a pretty profile in the ring. Field trials are a much higher level of competition that hunting tests, and you usually won't see show dogs competing in these. 

The hunting photos shown here are by Susan Wing. All photos are copyrighted and not to be reproduced without permission. 

Sunday, August 10, 2008

What's in a name?

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"
William Shakespeare

A dog by any other name might NOT seem so sweet. I have a noticed some interesting things about pet names, especially when dealing with homeless dogs. A cute name helps them get adopted faster, for example. During my years in lab rescue, we came up with some good ones. I felt a freedom to come up with some silly names because the new owners usually changed it anyway. Bo Wiggly's new family liked his name so much they kept it. 

We took in a group of four chocolate labs, litter mates, from Las Vegas, all about one year old. We named them Fudge, Java, Dutch and Chip. At first Chip was Chaos, but we decided that was too negative for a rescue dog! 

Unintentionally, dogs seem to live up to their names. My Lab, Tank, certainly did. He was famous for plowing right through the high jump, instead of over it, in obedience class. One time my instructor Linda, who wanted to build enthusiasm and drive in our dogs, held Tank back and revved him up before letting me call him on the recall. He recalled so fast I though I was going to get killed! With Tank, it was more about calming him down.

Back to the chocolate dogs – our rescue coordinator, Mary Jane, complained to me once about "all those dumb chocolate names," like Cocoa, Snickers, Hershey, etc. I guess when you hit Cocoa the 15th, it gets a little old! So when I picked up a little brown puppy at the shelter, I named him Mudpie (see his photo here), and he was quickly adopted and became Harley to his new family. 

Another dog, a Lab mix, came to us with the name Dillon, but I renamed him Charley Whiskers, because he clearly had a wirehaired something in his genes! Charley moved on to a foster home with Virginia – she returned his name to Dillon – and she kept him until he died of old age. 

A black puppy I fostered was named Zorro, and  I named a collie mix Teddy. Teddy morphed into "Red Ted with a spot on his head." He had a weird red spot between his ears that made him look suspiciously like an Ibizan hound mix. I often wondered if he had been a puppy mill dog, where accidental mixes come out with purebred papers. I've seen several beagle-basset mixes touted as purebred bassets in a pet store. Teddy went on to become a resident dog in a nursing home, where he was much loved. His picture now resides on the Collie Wall of Fame at Southland Collie Rescue, under the name Care Bear.

One collie I fostered came to us so matted that he resembled a haystack more than a dog. Frosty was almost all white, which turned out to be loose undercoat. Since we were in Seattle, where so many places have Indian names (Suquamish, Issaquah, Sammamish, Snohomish, etc.), we christened him Frosty Five Collies. After we groomed him, he still looked like at least Frosty Two Collies, but the name stuck. 

My Maine Coon cat was named after his father, Moonshine. My first cat I owned as a child was Mustard. I love to see people smile when they hear a name they like. Especially if you own a breed like a pit bull, why handicap him with a name like Sharky?

It works for people too. Why have a boy named Sue when Mike will do? My mother's name was Molly, and when we would do art shows together, I could see people react positively to her name. Before she said a thing, her smile and her name made people like her. 

So think about it before you name your pet. Do you really want a dog named Cannonball or a horse named Buck?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008 is helping me eat better, take better care of myself, and even get a bit of exercise (ack! not THAT!). Actually, my everyday activities keep me moving: cleaning corrals, feeding horses, riding, playing with dogs, gardening, housecleaning for all these animals, etc. But I don't kid myself. It's not enough to keep me fit or healthy. 
As I mentioned in an earlier post, a tired dog is a good dog. Now RealAge has a web site devoted to the health of your dogs, and their latest post talks about... exercise! It's hard enough to do the right things for our own well-being, but I find I am much more disciplined about keeping my pets healthy. They go the vet more than I see a doctor, I feed them healthy foods and don't let them overeat. As I chomp down that pizza, they get their carefully rationed milk bones. 

You can take a test to determine your "real age," based on your lifestyle, and now you can find out your dog's "real age" too. My 18 year old Corgi mix is much healthier than I am, and it's been a real wake up call. It's never too late to start taking care of yourself... or your dog. 

Sandy (shown above), my 18 year old Corgi mix, is 61.3 years at If you use a traditional measure of 7 human years for every one dog year, she would be 126! Other dog age calculators on the internet put her at anywhere from 85-96 years old in human years. 

Figure out your cat's real age too
RealAge also has a CatAge site so you can learn about your cat's health and take the cat age test too. The CatAge test will calculate your Cat's biological age, in people years, based on your cat's lifestyle and current health. You also receive personalized recommendations to help your cat live a long healthy life.

My 7 year old cat Sterling's Cat age is 35.8, 8.3 years younger than the average CatAge for Sterling's breed, a Persian. 

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Pay It Forward

You may have seen the movie, starring Helen Hunt, Haley Joel Osment, and Kevin Spacey, about a little boy who practices (and preaches) the idea of "repaying good deeds not with payback, but with new good deeds done to three new people." 

There is tremendous satisfaction in helping others. I highly recommend that the next time you are feeling blue, go do something nice for someone, human or animal, even if it is someone you don’t know. Then go polish your halo and see how good you feel.

My neighbor and I were chatting the other night about our little street and the people who live here. Most of us are middle to lower income, self-employed or working in hard physical jobs. We have a backhoe operator, a landscaper, a house painter and a concrete contractor. I am self-employed, live alone, and work about four different jobs to make ends meet. I am a pet sitter, artist, writer, and web site designer (both freelance and part time for a company), along with a few other odds and ends that come up occasionally, like working for a private investigator and assisting a photographer friend when she is on a photo shoot.

The current economic problems have hit us all hard. But guess what? We are all in there, helping each other. During the fires last fall, I was in South Dakota visiting my ill father for the last time. My neighbors sprang into action. Julie and Dale loaded up my dogs and cats into their motor home and evacuated them. Rick and Robin hooked up my trailer and were ready to haul out the horses. After the huge windstorm, Alfredo cut up my fallen trees and hauled them away.

The hard times have helped us return to those old-fashioned values that movies from the 1940s glorified. Neighbors help neighbors, and strangers reach out to one another. Midwestern values that I see every time I visit South Dakota. My 86-year-old dad was having problems with his cell phone. His arthritic fingers couldn’t dial, and he would get confused. Jill, at the cell phone store, found a better phone, exchanged it with his for free, and programmed all his speed dial numbers for him. Then she typed up the list in big type, had it laminated, and delivered it to him at the nursing home. Not something you’ll see happen in Los Angeles very often? Think again...

When I was going through my divorce, I lived in an apartment and had nowhere to keep my horse or my dog. My friends Patty and Virginia stepped forward–one took the horse, one took the dog–and cared for them for months at no charge, until I was able to move into a house. They have earned lifetime free pet sitting from me, but in reality, it’s nothing compared to what they did for me when I needed it most.

Remember the emotion as we all pulled together after the terrorist attacks of 9/11? If fires, tornadoes or hurricanes have affected you, maybe you have experienced it; maybe you have hugged strangers, cried in each other’s arms, or even saved each other’s lives. 

You don’t have to wait for a disaster. I don’t know how I’ll ever repay the kindness that has been extended to me. Maybe I can’t. So if the opportunity arises, I’ll have to pay it forward, because my halo could use a little polishing too.