Sunday, December 27, 2009

Let them eat poop

Imagine if dogs were allowed to eat horse manure as their primary food. My life would be so much easier. Automatic recycling, no daily clean-up, no dog food bills... and the dogs, of course, would think it is a great idea. I wouldn't even need to put a fence up between the horses and the dogs.

Horse owners would run out and get lots of dogs. Boarding stables would have barn dogs in addition to the barn cats. Shelters would empty out as dogs were adopted to perform this important job.

Reality check
Now that you are totally grossed out, I must admit this is a lousy idea for realistic reasons. Horses carry worms and other parasites that they shed in their manure. Most of us don't worm our dogs regularly, but I have to worm my horses every 8 weeks, rotating the type of wormer so all the various parasites are eliminated. That's a lot of parasites for a dog's system to process.

Worse, many collie-related breeds cannot tolerate wormers that contain the ingredient ivermectin. So a collie (or bearded collie, sheltie, border collie...) that eats horse manure could die from the ivermectin he ingests.

Lily the sheltie would like to test this theory. If ONLY her legs were a tiny bit longer, she could reach through the wire fencing and paw a little piece of manure close enough to eat. She spends hours working on this, and I spend hours raking the manure away from the fence. I think the horses eliminate there just to tease her.

I've had dogs that have never even seen a horse before instantly decide that horse manure is great stuff. The fresher, the smellier–all the better to roll in and consume.

When I lived in Seattle I fostered an American Eskimo dog named Juneau. A woman came to look at him and I warned her he was hard to catch if he got loose. She wanted to see just how hard.

I am very dumb. I let him loose and he ran all the way out to the horse corral, rolled in fresh, wet, green horse manure and came running back up to the house, very proud of himself.

She didn't adopt him.

So, dogs and horse manure?

Never mind.

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© 2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays to one and all!

To you and your loved ones, from me and my loved ones!

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© 2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Please don't buy pet store or internet puppies for Christmas!

The puppy in the photo at the left came from a shelter. His name is Jake. Of course there is nothing cuter in the world than a baby animal, but emotions often overwhelm common sense when it comes to buying a puppy.

I received a press release from the RSPCA in Great Britain. Please read this, and think in terms of US puppies and buyers-- the shame is the same. If you know someone who is considering buying a puppy for the holidays, this is a must-read, although the problem continues throughout the year. As the American Kennel Club reminds us, "A dog is for life, not just for Christmas." So buyer beware, and read on:

How much is that doggy on the Internet?
Risk of parents being conned this Christmas by 'counterfeit' puppies

Many parents will be scouring the internet to find the best deal on toys and gadgets this Christmas, which means facing the online threat of 'counterfeit' goods. However, there's another item on the list and it's not the latest games console or fad toy, but one of the 50,000* trafficked puppies believed to be imported from Ireland each year, as well as those bred by unscrupulous breeders in the UK.

Nearly a third (32 per cent) of people thinking about buying a puppy admitted they will search the internet or ads in a local newspaper to find a cut-price, puppy bargain and 45 per cent would be prepared to pay less than £200, according to new research¹ from animal welfare charity, the RSPCA.

The charity is concerned that, despite warnings not to buy a puppy this Christmas, people are unaware of the threat of potentially huge hidden costs, and dangers of buying a 'counterfeit' puppy.**

Furthermore, almost one in five people (19 per cent) planning to buy a puppy are giving in to the demands of their family's children. The research shows that the combination of desperate parents, and the Christmas rush for presents, could create the perfect storm for the puppy 'counterfeiters' who have little regard for animal welfare and whose main concern is profit.

When asked about buying a puppy, 92 per cent of those planning to purchase feel it is important to know where it has come from, yet more than half (56 per cent) say they plan to get one from an advertisement in a newspaper, on the internet or from a pet shop1. Based on complaints received from members of the public, the RSPCA believes this increases the chance of buying a 'counterfeit' puppy, with potentially fatal health problems such as Canine parvovirus or worms. This means that some new owners could find themselves facing the heartache of a very sick or even dead puppy after Christmas.

Justine Pannett, spokesperson from the RSPCA, said: "The RSPCA warns people not to buy puppies as Christmas presents. It's quite shocking to learn that despite this, people may be treating shopping for a puppy in much the same way they would for other Christmas gifts, like a Wii, and looking at ways to make savings wherever possible. There's no cheap way to be a puppy owner. People thinking about buying a puppy don't just need to plan for the initial cost of buying it. They also need to consider the on-going costs and commitment needed to care for a dog throughout its life."

The RSPCA emphasises the importance of thorough research before buying a puppy. A few examples of checks that can be done include always seeing a puppy with its mother in the place where it was bred, as well as checking vaccination cards and vet details carefully. The charity also advises that if the vet's contact details are obscured or are registered outside of the UK, the vaccination card could be a fake.

One mother from Kent, who remains anonymous due to an ongoing investigation, gave into pressure from her children to buy a puppy and has regretted not researching its origins ever since. This October, after scouring the newspapers and internet an advertisement on a website selling puppies caught her eye. She went to the breeder's home in Surrey with her family and paid £250 for Archie, a Jack Russell puppy. Despite seeing what the breeder claims was a vaccination card, within five days Archie became dehydrated, was diagnosed with suspected Canine parvovirus and placed on a drip. A few days later he was put to sleep.

"We were all absolutely devastated," the Mother said. "I feel like I've been very naïve but you don't expect to get a puppy and for it to die just a few days later. Archie was supposed to have been vaccinated, but when we looked closer the card we had been given by the breeder looked like a fake. Next time we will do more research and think very carefully about where we get a puppy from."

Justine concluded: "Puppy trafficking is an appalling, profit-driven business and we can't emphasise enough the importance to Britain's dog-loving public of working together to fight the puppy 'counterfeiters'. It's not always easy to spot a trafficked puppy just from looking at it, but we recommend doing thorough research before buying a puppy, to help save heartache and spare people from lining the pockets of unscrupulous 'counterfeiters'."

To find out more about puppy trafficking please visit
* Figures estimated by the RSPCA (from intelligence gathered by its Special Operations Unit)
** A 'counterfeit' puppy is one that has a fake vaccination card, fake pedigree papers (if any) or where the seller either won't disclose, or lies about, where it comes from [1] Survey commissioned by the RSPCA with TNS, sample size of 3037 GB Adults aged 16-64, November 2009

The full survey results are available from the press office.

To watch a short film on the subject, visit

Tips on buying a puppy are also available at

About the RSPCA
The RSPCA has joined forces with the BVA Animal Welfare Foundation and other leading animal welfare organisations to develop a 10-point guide for the public on how to choose a puppy. For further information please visit

Photo by Terry Albert ©2009. All rights reserved.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

AKC allows mixed breed dogs to compete!

I am happy to announce that the American Kennel Club has broadened its horizons and as of April 1, 2010, is allowing mixed breed classes at its agility, obedience and rally obedience performance events. This is a HUGE concession on the part of this organization, which is dedicated to the sport of purebred dogs and breeding. All registered mixes are required to be spayed or neutered.

The AKC states that their shows are for the purpose of evaluating breeding stock (similar to showing cattle and horses at 4H or the county fair). The field (hunting), tracking, earth dog and obedience classes were originally developed to evaluate a dog's ability to do what it was bred to do, giving the dog further breeding credentials.

For many years, spayed or neutered purebreds have been allowed to compete in many performance events. Allowing mixed breeds in was the next logical step. The UKC has allowed it for years. There was resistance in the AKC, and I understand that. No one wants to be seen endorsing random dog breeding, and by allowing mixes you could claim that this leans in that direction. But it's a stretch.

Mixed breeds will compete in separate classes, and only at non-conformation events. Here is the exact wording:

Mixed-breed classes can be held at all-breed sanctioned/licensed/member stand-alone AKC Companion Events. The definition of a stand-alone AKC Companion Event is an AKC Agility, Obedience or Rally event that is NOT held on the same date AND show site as an AKC All-Breed dog show, Group Show or Independent Specialty. Mixed-breed dogs compete in separate classes from purebreds.

I sense a little "keep your grubby mixed breeds away from my classy purebreds" attitude here, but this is at least a step in the right direction.

The significant benefit to the AKC is a new source of income. For a $35 fee, a mixed breed dog gets an AKC Partners registration number, a subscription to AKC Family Dog magazine, and lifetime enrollment in the AKC Companion Animal Recovery Program, all very nice benefits to the pet owner. And the AKC builds their marketing database significantly, without "endorsing" mixed breeds, or worse, "hybrids." Think of all the designer breeds that can now compete: labradoodles and goldendoodles will at last have a place to showcase their talents. (I can see the conformation crowd cringing.)

The AKC has always allowed mixed breeds (and even cats) to enroll in their CAR database. Mixes are also eligible to earn the Canine Good Citizen certificate.

Although money and marketing clout may be their motivation, I think this move benefits pet owners everywhere and helps foster responsible dog ownership. I'm sure they hope to move some owners of mixes over to the purebred world, but I for one, have owned both and loved them equally.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Art for dog rescue groups

"Draw the Dog is drawn by Jim George, one of your typical ex-Disney animators who lives near the beach in Venice and once spent years animating in a cabin in the woods and who has been creating characters for film and TV and who has been a director and book author and who also has a counseling practice and who really likes animals and people, too." -from Jim's website.

I subscribe to Jim's daily Draw the Dog cartoons. They never fail to start my day with a smile. Now he has created a wonderful cartoon (above) that rescue groups are welcome to copy and use for fundraising t-shirts or whatever ideas they have. Thank you Jim, and I am happy to help spread the word. I have been involved in dog rescue for 20 years now, and know how groups struggle to find new ways to earn money to save homeless dogs.

Here is the link directly to the artwork:

Art for Dogs
And while we are on the subject of rescue, here's another artist who supports rescue. Ara Witmer, of Hemet CA, has a Cafe Press shop featuring her inspiring art. Also, she paints pet portraits of rescued dogs to help spread the word.

My art
I have a done a few of my own pieces of art for rescue groups. Here's one I did for Labrador Retriever Rescue. (Sorry, it is owned by the group, so it's not available for free distribution.) They sold out of shirts, but the second they get them reprinted, I will let you know. 

Foster a Dog for the Holidays
The San Diego Union Tribune ran an article yesterday about a nationwide effort to put pets in foster homes for the upcoming holidays. is looking for one million people who would like to have canine company for Christmas. The nationwide pet adoption database is teaming up with CBS and the new Hallmark Hall of Fame Movie, "A Dog Named Christmas" to campaign for holiday foster homes for all pets, canine and feline. 

In San Diego alone (city, not county) I counted 10 rescue groups, ranging from Siamese Cat Rescue to the House Rabbit Society, that have  signed up for the rescue effort. 

Even if you can't help all year long–for one homeless animal, for a few short days– you can make all the difference in the world. 
© 2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The horses take a nap

I was surprised when I looked outside the other day and saw Star and Ari both lying on the ground stretched out in the sun, napping. Horses are prey animals, and you will usually see at least one in the group standing watch, or dozing upright. Then he can sound the alarm and do what horses do best: run.
So I figure my guys must feel pretty secure out back if they both lie down at the same time. So does this mean I am the alpha horse, standing watch over them?
I must admit, when I see them down, I immediately worry one is sick or dead or some other horrible fate. In my anxious-mother moments, I run out there and they both scramble to their feet and trot away.

©2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

The Dominance Dance: Three dogs and a couch

Put a Boxer, a Giant Schnauzer and an Australian Shepherd in a room together with a couch. Then you, the leader of the pack, try to cover it with a slipcover. Let the dance begin…

Boxer comes over and noses the cover as I am trying to arrange it. One paw comes up on the couch. “No!” I command in my pack leader voice, praising him when he removes the offending paw.

Schnauzer comes over and stands between Boxer and me, guarding “his” couch. I continue my work, while Schnauzer tries to put himself between the couch and me.
Aussie watches from afar, never missing a move, eyes shifting, plotting, planning. She clearly thinks she is smarter than these other two clowns, and is not going to engage in any wasted movement.

I move to the side of the couch in order to arrange the back and sides of the cover. Schnauzer makes his move to get up. “No!” I reprimand him, and he slowly, very… very… slowly, backs off.

Aussie takes notes.

Boxer thinks if Schnauzer isn’t allowed, then I’m certainly saving a spot for Boxer. He makes a leap at the opposite end of the sofa from Schnauzer, only to be thwarted as I yank the slipcover out from under him. He retreats.

The slipcover is finally in position, and I smooth out the wrinkles and straighten the skirt, scowling as a good pack leader should. You’d think I am protecting my kill from the wolves. Aussie plots her strategy.

I walk away. Boxer looks at the couch and loses interest. He follows me out to the patio and settles on the dog bed. Schnauzer follows to be sure Boxer isn’t taking a bed reserved for him.

Aussie moves in, climbs on the couch and settles in for a nap.

© 2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Remembering Oscar

It doesn’t seem fair. As soon as I posted a story about Teddy, a former foster dog, I heard from my friend Ilona, who adopted Oscar from me years ago. It was one of the saddest phone calls I’ve received. She was inconsolable. She came home from babysitting her granddaughter to find Oscar had died with no warning. The only sign was that he seemed tired and wouldn’t eat that morning. 

Even though Oscar was adopted through Southern California Lab Rescue, I confess he wasn’t even close to a Lab, but when I was at the Escondido Humane Society, picking up a Lab, here was this gorgeous white dog with kennel cough, and he came home with me too.

So after the un-Collie (Teddy), I brought home an un-Labrador. I remember the president of Seattle Purebred Dog Rescue reminded me once that this was not Seattle Mixed Breed Dog Rescue… but I was incurable, and I don’t regret it.

But now I was in San Diego, and Oscar was my latest project. Before he went to his home with Ilona, he had a lot of fun at my house. One day, he was digging up on the backyard slope in the iceplant. His head was practically underground, and his white tail was waving like a frantic flag in the air. As I watched, about 10 feet away, a gopher popped up out of his hole and watched Oscar dig. I swear he was leaning on one elbow and laughing at Oscar’s futile quest.

Ilona is an incredible artist and seamstress with an adult son, Todd, who is autistic and lives with her. She has struggled for many years with burdens I can only imagine, and Oscar was a big help to her, bringing happiness into both of their lives.

It seems that we all need to write about beloved pets when they pass away in the hopes that this special animal will be remembered. I have done it; every writer I know does it. Here is what Ilona wrote in memory of Oscar:

To all my friends who knew Oscar,

My long time companion dog, Oscar, passed away suddenly today. He was 12 years old and was much loved by all who knew him. I adopted Oscar in 1999 from Labrador Rescue in San Diego when he was barely two. The terrible two's. Terry Albert was his first Foster Mom, and she became my long time friend because of our connection through Oscar. At first he was so full of energy the only thing that helped was training, training and more training. Oscar passed Obedience I, and his Canine Good Citizen award after taking the class twice and totally forgot much of what he learned, immediately afterward. But not long after that we went through his training to become an Assisted Therapy Dog and he had found his calling. All through the years that my Mom and Dad were in convalescence in Rochester, New York, Oscar visited the nursing homes with me and people loved him wherever and whenever we went.

In January of 2004 we adopted Heaven, who is a beautiful Golden Retriever female, aged nine at that time, and she became the love of Oscar's life. Until then he was pretty much a spoiled boy, but when Heaven came into his life, things changed. He and Heaven bonded soon after, and they have been inseparable buddies ever since.

Later in 2005, when my son Todd came to live with me, Oscar found another new friend. Many was the day when Todd would be having a difficult morning and Oscar, in his wisdom, would start acting silly---jumping on Todd's bed, grabbing his shoes, rolling on his back and wiggling around trying to get Todd to pay attention to him, and if that didn't work he would actually bark at Todd for attention. In the mornings when the bus would come, Oscar would insist on going outside to say goodbye to Todd, or he would bark in the house until the bus left. In the afternoons, Oscar would wait by the window for the bus to return with Todd.

He was like a shining beacon of joy, sticking his nose in everywhere, even when it didn't belong sometimes. But it was hard to stay mad at him for anything, with his sweet loving eyes and gentle ways.
It’s hard to know what to say after ten years with a friend who is with you through thick and thin and never asks for anything except to be petted, fed and loved. One can never be "prepared" for the final moment when their time comes to pass away. I miss him already, even though I know that ultimately he had ten great years with us and that is about all anyone can ask for. He will be missed for a long, long time.

Goodbye sweet Oscar. I hope you're up in heaven guarding my Mom and Dad.

Just a few weeks before his death, Ilona took Oscar and Heaven to a Blessing of the Animals event in San Diego. Ilona told me, “The Priest was so touched by them he blessed them twice! There also was a lady taking photos of the event and she got one really sweet shot of both dogs with the Priest. I was so happy that I did that, especially now that Oscar is gone.”

© 2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved. Blessing of the Animals photo by Tamandra at

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I just love this photo

Fun time! Haley the Bearded Collie, Rex the Lab and Porter the Lab cavort in the yard. These are the two biggest labs I've ever seen, except maybe Nate, who also spends a lot of time here. They are each about 100 pounds and never sit still. As for Haley, well they don't call them Bouncing Beardies for nothing. She loves all the action, but whoa, what a grooming project!

© 2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Red Ted's spot: Collie or Ibizan Hound?

While looking for something else in my files this morning, I came across a photo that shows Red Ted's spot on his head! So in the interest of full disclosure, here it is :)

I still think he looks a little like an Ibizan Hound.

© 2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Woodle and the Dab

Oh I love these designer dog names! My two newest clients arrived today. Claire, their owner, a perfectly rational person who has long been involved in Dalmatian rescue, has two new dogs. I asked her what breeds, and she said "One is a "woodle." Huh?
I've heard of labradoodles, goldendoodles, schnoodles, puggles, malti-poos, and more, but never a woodle. Claire has decided Bogey is a combo between a poodle and a Wheaten Terrier. Well, maybe, but he looks suspiciously like a cockapoo to me! Regardless, he is a sweetie, and that's what really matters. 
I have met Claire's other dog, Wally. She tells me he is a Lab-Dachshund mix, and I agree on that one. So I'll just call him a Dab. What a sight he is, with his Lab head and stumpy little dwarf legs. I've seen a Lab-basset hound mix before, which was a much chunkier dog. The perfect Lab ears seem to survive the cross breeding. 
So enjoy the photos of my guests!

© 2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Red Ted, The un-Collie

“In Loving Memory of Care Bear, SCR No. 786, a therapy dog to many seniors, a true gentleman and friend to all.”
On the Collie Wall of Fame

As I looked through the Southland Collie Rescue website, I found my former foster dog memorialized on the Collie Wall of Fame. To me he was Red Ted. But to the 99 residents of the Sunbridge Care Nursing Home, he was Care Bear.

Teddy’s Story

I told the Oceanside shelter staff I would pick up their collie on Sunday afternoon, in order to give him the weekend to get adopted. When I arrived at the shelter at 4 pm, the last possible minute, there was a big sign on the front of his cage “HOLD FOR COLLIE RESCUE.” So of course no one adopted him. Worse, he wasn’t a purebred collie. Anyone else might have left him there, but I couldn’t do that to him after he’d lost an entire weekend of possible new homes. The shelter would have to euthanize him on Monday morning. But they didn’t, because he came home with me.

He looked sort of like a collie, with his beautiful white mane, white legs and plume of a tail. The blaze on his face was weird though. He had had a big spot in the center of his head, right between the ears. He reminded me of an Ibizan Hound. Come to think of it, he was the same color as an Ibizan too. He was a vivid red, like an Irish Setter, not a golden sable like a collie. Could he be the product of a puppy mill breeding gone wrong? I would never know. I named him Teddy, which soon morphed into Red Ted with the Spot on His Head.

Teddy’s favorite place in the world was on the couch and his favorite pastime was chasing rabbits in our back yard. He would dash out the back door and head straight for the hole in the fence where the bunnies tried to escape before the dogs could catch them. After several weeks, Teddy finally caught one, and he was so proud. I came out the back door and was horrified to see Teddy standing almost upright on his hind legs, wiggling from his head down to his tail in ecstasy, with a dead rabbit hanging from his mouth. A game of keep-away ensued, which Teddy won with ease. He ate every bite of that darn rabbit–even the feet, fur, and head. Ugh.

Red Ted gets a home

Sometimes it is hard to see them leave, and this was the case with Red Ted. I always comfort myself that the dog I’ve fostered is going to a place where he will get more love and attention than I can offer in my house full of animals. Teddy became the resident collie at Sunbridge, and like all the collies before him, he was renamed Care Bear. Susan Osborn, a staff member, explains that Ted/Care Bear is the only reason some residents want to get up in the morning.

Susan told me about Teddy’s life at Sunbridge. “He makes the world beautiful for so many people,” she told me, “ including staff, residents and their families.”

Teddy is part of the staff, and can go wherever he wants to in the facility. He wears a special collar that is the same as the one that Alzheimers patients wear. It buzzes an alarm if he goes out an exit door. This ensures his safety even if someone isn’t keeping an eye on him every second. He has his own health chart, just like the residents, where his meals, potty breaks and care are logged in every day. One staff member is responsible for him on each shift.

Ted senses who needs him most and often sleeps in the room of the sickest residents, comforting the families keeping watch over their loved ones. He enjoys watching the birds in the aviary, especially Dufus the cockatiel. There are treats for him in every office and it seems that everyone, even the staff members, thinks Teddy likes them best. He has his own bulletin board and it is updated regularly with photos of him with residents and visitors. When the marketing director takes visitors on a tour, Teddy goes along as an escort. He knows the route by heart.

Volunteers walk Teddy regularly, and some of the patients also get to walk him as part of their physical therapy. A sponsor pays for his care, and he gets a trip to the groomer once a month.

A good-hearted dog, Teddy always wagged his tail for everyone, even the mailman.
Teddy is gone now, and a new Care Bear has surely taken his place. But I fondly remember my foster un-collie, and the how he made so many people happy. There is a photo of Ted/Care Bear posted on the Collie Wall of Fame, where no one will ever forget him. He is shown relaxing on a couch, just like he did so often at my house.

Photos above: Teddy with a stuffed toy on my couch, and posing in the yard.
© 2009 All Rights Reserved Terry Albert

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Icelandic Horses, and camping in San Juan Capistrano

I took a weekend off and went camping with my friends at Caspers Wilderness Park in San Juan Capistrano. Starr Mesa Equestrian Campground had fabulous facilities where you don't ever have to back up your rig and turn it around!  We arrived Friday afternoon and rode four times over two days. The weather was perfect and the horses were full of steam. We had 7 Icelandics, 2 Fox trotters, a Gypsy Vanner and three quarter horses, so it was an unusual mix.

I am lucky because Ari can go out with the slower horses and he can also keep up with the gaited group. Some Icelandics, and a lot of gaited horses of other breeds, just can't slow down enough to enjoy a ride with everyone. So Ari and I did a little of both.

Our first two rides were out with the Fox trotters and quarter horses and we saw beautiful scenery. The trails are wide and well maintained. Even the single track trails are in perfect condition. We rode up to the East Ridge trail and had a fabulous view. There were signs warning of mountain lions everywhere, but all we saw (thank goodness) were deer. The trails are so well-marked it is hard to get lost, and the maps were very accurate.

On Saturday afternoon we did Mr Toad's Wild Ride with the Icelandics. It was probably the most fun I've ever had! One horse tolted at top speed and several of us tried to keep up. Then there was a slower group behind by several hundred yards. Ari never tolted so well and so fast in all the time I've owned him. He was inspired by being with his Icey friends again.

It was interesting that the Fox Trotters couldn't keep up with the fastest tolt without breaking out of gait. I didn't realize it, but their running walk can only go so fast (which is plenty fast, believe me). The Icelandic tolt is like you'd see a racking horse or Saddlebred do. Very fast and knees pumping like a sewing machine. Watch a video here of Icelandics in action. And a Fox trotter here.

On Sunday morning we did a slower gaited ride (but still pretty quick) and took in the scenery we missed the day before. The giant oak trees and deer in the woods made it worth slowing down!

I've had a few accidents over the years, and I was marvelling as we flew down the trails that I never once was afraid on Ari. I never felt out of control, I always knew that if I asked him to stop, he would. I could just sit back and enjoy the ride. My riding has improved a lot, but the real truth is I just have the best horse in the world.

I definitely recommend Caspers for miles and miles of easy riding, and more challenging rides if you want them. It is also open for day use riding, and is located in South Orange County, about seven miles east of San Juan Capistrano.

© 2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Horse stories: Books You'll Enjoy

I've been on a reading binge- and enjoying some great horse stories. I usually don't read animal stories, because I need an escape from my all pets all the time life, but these snagged my interest, and I'm glad they did. 

Horse Heaven, by Jane Smiley
This is a great novel, providing a tongue in cheek look at the eccentric variety of characters who own thoroughbreds. What I really enjoyed was the chapters told from the viewpoint of the various horses. She really provides a unique perspective, which doesn't usually match what the people are thinking. If you like long books, you'll enjoy this one. It does get a little confusing because there are so many characters, but Smiley provides a list of who's who, including owners, jockeys, trainers and horses in the front of the book.

Stud, By Kevin Conley
My friend Gina Spadafori from the Pet Connection is a big racing fan, and when I mentioned Horse Heaven, she recommended Stud. This is a non-fiction book by an editor from New Yorker magazine. The books details the ins and outs (oh, the pun!) of the horse breeding business, and he never loses sight of the absurdity of it all, especially when viewed by an outsider. You'll read about the breeding careers of the great Storm Cat and Seattle Slew, along with a host of other lesser known mares and stallions. The money involved is astounding, the stories amusing, and the education... well, enlightening. A good read.

Chosen By A Horse and Chosen Forever, by Susan Richards
These last two go off in a different direction. If you've been involved in pet rescue of any kind–dog, cat, horse, rabbit–you'll identify with author Susan Richards and her book, Chosen By A Horse. The author writes a memoir about a horse named Lay Me Down that she rescues from severe neglect. The book is as much about her own life and recovery from divorce as it is about the love she has for Lay Me Down, Hotshot and her other horses. In many ways, I felt like I was reading my own story of my life with Spice and Sage in Seattle, and of my divorce and subsequent years of recovery (I, thank God, did not relate to the abusive upbringing she suffered). 

The sequel, Chosen Forever, is about how, having written Chosen by A Horse, Richards goes on a book tour, and the life-changing events she experiences, including reconnecting with old friends and finding love. I again, felt like I was reading my own story here, as I have been finding old friends lately and enjoying our reunions (Thank you, Facebook). I don't buy into the theory that you have to have a man in your life to be happy, and she doesn't either, though it happens to her. Some of us can be perfectly happy alone, as I am. This book is not so much a horse story as a personal journey, and a very interesting one. 

I have written a book, but my own rescue book is still brewing inside me-- maybe the person who gave me these books was telling me to write it. 

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Felix the Cat

Felix the cat,

the wonderful wonderful cat,

You’ll laugh so much

Your sides will break,

Your heart will go pit-a-pat!

Watching Felix, the wonderful cat.

How many of remember that song for the cartoon show of the 50s? I knew a wonderful cat named Felix.

A pet sitting client of mine recently lost her elderly cat, Felix, due to old age. I have been caring for Felix for over 10 years; he was the patriarch of a five-cat household. As he aged he had a private suite in the master bedroom where the young cats wouldn’t pick on him. I usually found him in his heated cat bed or he would meet me at the bedroom door, ready to dart out if the opportunity presented itself. We always spent some private time purring and petting.

I remember one time recently I lost my key, and when I called, Carolyn, his owner, was so relieved that I’d “only” lost the key and nothing was wrong with Felix. She was positively joyful.

After Felix died, I asked Carolyn, about his story. He’d been a part of her life longer than most of her family:

Yes, I had Felix prior to my kids. I found him September 13, 1990. I was sitting in my office in Sorrento Valley and looked out the window and he was in the parking lot. I went out to the parking lot and grabbed him. As I was holding him, my future husband (though we were just coworkers then) walked by and I asked him if he wanted him. He said no, but I always figured he married me because he regretted not taking Felix. So I took Felix home, named him an appropriate name for a black and white cat, though I had no intention of keeping him. He checked out fine at the vet, and got along with my other 3 cats so I kept him and had him neutered. His age was estimated to be 1 1/2 years old.

There is more to the story; my boyfriend was very ill at that time, and later someone told me Felix means comforter and it was fate that he crossed my path. I was told that that morning in Sept when I found him, I was hanging on to Felix for dear life, so I think I needed him more than he needed me. The next few months were very difficult and I spent most of my time at the hospital. My boyfriend died Jan 1 1991. I think Felix helped me get through that time in my life.

Kent and I married in 1993 and Kelly was born in 1995 and Craig in 1996. Felix never backed down from the kids, if there was a tussle over a toy between him and them; Felix always won. I have lots of pictures with him sleeping with the kids, the kids reading to him, and of course dressing him up in costume... Really a great cat.

One special thing about Felix is he loved a crowd and to greet folks at the front door. He was always the center of attention in the house no matter how many people were over. He also had a knack of being able to open the door if it was left ajar...

Even with a houseful of much-loved kitties, I am sure Felix is missed. I was fortunate to have the privilege of painting Felix’s portrait a few years ago. I still think it is one of the best I’ve ever done. Maybe it is because I knew my subject so well.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Loving my old horse

Last month, on my trip, my friends and I rode to the top of Tiger Mountain, where I had ridden my horses every week when I lived in Issaquah. It had been 12 years; I had forgotten what a tough ride that is.

What wonderful memories. Rocky and steep, our horses stayed in good shape, and friends who brought their horses always had to stop to rest half way up the hard climb. At the top, we would watch the hang gliders and parasailers jump off the mountain and soar over the valley and city below. We could see to Mt Rainier to the south, and Mt Baker to the north, the Space Needle to the west on a clear day. When it snowed it was quiet and beautiful, powder flying around us as we ran up the logging road in the dead of winter. I loved it.

On this day, we rode with Gary Shulyer’s Tiger Mountain Outfitters, the stable where I bought my quarter horse Sage in 1992. It’s hard to imagine that Sage is now 29 years old, and that he ever labored up that challenging terrain. He came to me after a career as a trail horse, TV star (Northern Exposure and commercials) and a sideline at team penning. For my friends and me, Sage was a great trail horse until he retired in 2003.

I was surprised when I went back and discovered some of his old friends are still going up the mountain every day. Fit, sound and 30 years old, Chick, Sage’s best friend, is still going strong.

I remember my first ride on Tiger Mountain. Gary put me on a big red quarter horse, and I asked him,” Why am I on the biggest horse, when I’m the smallest person?”

“Because he’s the safest,” Gary answered, “a fawn ran out of the woods and under him followed by a bear, and he wasn’t even scared.”

“Good God, the horse may not be scared, but I would have a heart attack,” I replied.

“Bears don’t scare the horses, but deer do, because they jump around and move so fast,” was Gary’s reply, as if that should explain everything to my satisfaction.

That horse was Sage, and I have photos of my first day on him, hanging on for dear life. I knew nothing about riding. It was another 2 years before we bought him. He was the one who loyally hauled anyone I put on him: good riders, novice riders and little kids. I usually rode Spice, my POA (Pony of the Americas). Sage was always in the lead since my little mare couldn’t keep up with that big stride of his.

I remember cantering up the mountain at full speed, large maple leaves falling around me–a multitude of fall colors spiraling slowly to the ground. Sage ran ahead of me with my friend Lyn on his back. Tank, my Lab, ran alongside me. I had never dreamed I could do something like this in my life, and here I was. It was one of the happiest memories of my time with horses. I can still picture it.

When we moved to California, Spice retired in 1999 with arthritis and Sage became my main horse for about 2 years. We did park ranger patrols and club trail rides, cantering around Lake Poway and through the desert hills. As I started concentrating on my Icelandics, I rode him less, he started getting kind of grouchy, and was eventually hard for a novice to handle on the trails. He became very possessive of “his” mare, and when a new horse came in, there was always a very tough get-acquainted period before everyone settled down.

After Spice died, we adopted a burro from the Bureau of Land Management, and Sage instantly had a new best friend. Now retired completely from riding, he shares his pasture with Blackjack, an old Thoroughbred gelding off the track, and Bandit the burro.

He’s a lucky horse. He has a big corral–over an acre–so he can stretch his legs and not get stiff. He has companions and good food, familiar people and a place where he can be comfortable in his old age.

My ex husband tells me Sage is getting thin and starting to decline a little, which is sad, but expected. I remember visiting one day a few years ago. I went out into the corral and Bandit and Sage came over and stood with me, noses pressed against my neck and shoulder, the horsey version of a group hug. With a big huff, Sage exhaled and then nuzzled me. I breathed a little into his nose in hope he would remember me.

©2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

What dog breed should I get?

© 2009 Terry Albert

By Terry Albert

The Obama family’s search for a dog was widely publicized earlier this year. They made a great (and careful) selection and Bo has settled into his new life with the First Family. If you are thinking about getting a dog, how do you decide what breed to get?

This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to choosing a dog, but I do want to point out some lifestyle issues that will help you make your choice. Also, I think mixed breed dogs make wonderful pets, but do take into consideration what breeds make up the dog you select. You can’t always tell, but a good guess can help you choose a dog you can live with.

You’re a clean freak

Do NOT choose a German Shepherd, Alaskan Malamute or Labrador Retriever. These breeds shed worse than many long-coated breeds. Unless you are willing to spend a lot of time grooming, these breeds are not for you.

You’re an athlete

Joggers, here’s the perfect breed for you: a Dalmatian. They were bred to run alongside a horse carriage and rest underneath while the owners went about their business. You might think a greyhound is a great idea, but they are sprinters, not intended for long periods of running.

Most of the sporting breeds are very athletic; for example, German Shorthaired Pointers.

You’re allergic

Get a reptile. No, really, there is no such thing as totally hypoallergenic dog. Even non-shedding breeds have skin dander. It all depends on what you are allergic to. Some very “clean breeds” are Portuguese Water Dogs, Schnauzers, Poodles, and Bichon Frise.

You’re a couch potato

I have all the good intentions in the world, but I still spend a lot of time relaxing in the recliner. Pick a dog that matches your energy level. Many dogs were bred to specifically serve as lap dogs–most of the toy breeds, in fact. That being said, a small dog is not always a lap dog. Jack Russell Terriers (renamed as Parson Russell Terriers) will be dancing on your head if they don’t get enough exercise. My mini Dachshund serves as my lap warmer in the evenings.

You might also consider an older dog if you’re not particularly active. I have adopted many senior dogs, and have never regretted it for a minute. I got Sandy at 14, and she lived to be 18. Their love is like no other.

You want a watchdog

Be careful what you ask for, you might get it. One of my pet sitting clients is a single woman who owns a Giant Schnauzer. Casey (shown above) is a great dog, and a 100 pound black dog at the front door intimidates EVERYONE who comes to the house. He is protective and cautious with strangers. He is perfectly trained; she understands how to deal with a dominant dog, and he has never shown aggression to any human or animal.

But most of us aren’t so dog savvy, and you may do better with one of the less powerful breeds. A good watchdog can be a Lab, who barks when someone arrives, and then runs for his favorite stuffed animal to share with the newcomer. A dog that lets you know someone is arriving and then shuts up and lets you be the pack leader is the type of pet most families want. So unless you understand what it takes to own a Doberman, I recommend you pick a less protective breed.

You’re busy

Get a potted plant. Just kidding… Between jobs and kids, many families don’t have the time to make a dog the center of their universe, and that is fine. As long as your pet gets family time with you, you can still have a dog. Puppies require a lot of supervision and training. Consider an adult dog. If you’re not going to make the dog a part of the family and let him live indoors with you, don’t get one.

Don’t pick a dog that needs daily brushing or an hour walk am and pm unless your family is already used to these chores. Don’t get a second dog to keep the first one company; it doesn’t make up for a lack of attention from you, and you just doubled the workload.

You are pregnant

When I was a dog trainer, and then later as a volunteer for rescue, I saw so many pregnant women who wanted to get a dog. The nurturing instinct just won't wait for the baby to arrive– you need something to cuddle and love NOW. "But we want them to grow up together," you say. Wait. Wait until the child is old enough to enjoy the dog, and you have more time to train both of them. Adding a puppy is like adding a child to the family; it's a lot of work, and when the baby arrives, he or she will be your priority. Dogs don't live as long as people. Coordinate their shorter lifespan so the child and dog are better matched in maturity level.

You live alone

The choice is yours. Dogs make great companions. They listen to you, they’re always happy to see you, and they don’t complain when you snore. Just pick one that matches your activity level!


Here are some sites to help you choose a breed that’s right for your family:

Animal Planet’s dog selector:


And a book:

Choosing a Dog for Dummies, by Chris Walkowicz

© 2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Puppy training and dog bites

I have come across a wonderful web site and would like to share an important article with you. Dr Ian Dunbar was one of the originals in the field of puppy kindergarten, maybe THE original. His Sirius Puppy Training Video is a classic. This article tells about the early days of dog training classes and how things have changed for the better, and what you should look for and expect to achieve in a puppy training class.

Once you've read that article, take a look around the site- there are excellent blogs and instructional articles for owners of pets of all ages, not just puppies. I subscribe to his newsletter and always learn something new.

I attended one of his behavior seminars a few years ago, and his perspective on dog bites was enlightening. He talked about how many biting dogs are misidentified, and thus breed bite statistics are suspect. To exaggerate a little, people figure anything that isn't a collie must be a pit bull (my words). How many of us can reliably identify every breed, especially in the heat of the moment when a random dog is biting?

Dr. Dunbar also spoke about the different levels of a bite. Is the dog nipping to warn a child to leave him alone, or is the dog waging an all-out attack, breaking skin and causing major damage? He is a proponent of bite inhibition training, starting when a dog is a puppy.

Dr Dunbar also has a great sense of humor. He did a great Elvis impression at the APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers) conference a few years ago in Memphis!

All in all, I think there is some excellent advice on Dog Star Daily, and I hope you think so too!

©2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Should you debark your dog?

At a recent get-together, an acquaintance came up to me and asked how he can train his 8-month-old sheltie not to bark so much. I laughed. Shelties were born barking. I wish it were just a matter of some quick training. My own sheltie was with me, and obligingly starting yapping full bore…but he is debarked. My friend was horrified. “Poor thing, he can’t bark,” he said. Tux didn’t feel too bad about it. He barked like he still had his full voice, and enjoyed himself immensely.

Debarking a dog is a surgical procedure where the veterinarian cuts the dog’s vocal chords. The dog will still bark, but only a hoarse cough will come out. This is a hot-button subject between the animal rights movement and anyone who advocates the surgery. Critics feel it is cruel and painful, a mutilation of a dog for our own human purposes, as bad as docking tails and cropping ears. If done for no reason, I agree. A lot of vets won't do the procedure.

This is clearly not a medically necessary operation. So why would someone have it done? And who does get it done most often? Breeders with a kennel full of dogs often debark all of their dogs as a matter of course. I’ve seen collies, shelties, Pomeranians, and various terrier breeds, though I am sure there are others too, all chronic barkers.

I was first introduced to the idea at dog shows, where I saw collies and shelties that were debarked. I have owned both breeds. Some came to me debarked, and I know why.

There’s nothing worse than constant complaints from your neighbors. And as many of you surely know, when it is your dog barking constantly, you get sick of it too on top of the guilt. Think of that aggravation times 4 or 5 or 10.

I have resorted to debarking two of my own shelties. It’s not something I would do unless I felt it was absolutely necessary. In both cases it was either debark or give up the dog. If it is a matter of debarking or giving up the dog, I feel it is justified. I have had several collies and shelties I have NOT had debarked.

I must say that one experience was less than satisfactory. I was referred to a clinic up in Los Angeles that does debarks for only $50. Sounded good to me. I took in my sheltie, and felt like I was in an illegal abortion clinic. Dark, dreary lobby with taped up signs saying “Cash only.” I quickly realized this was a regular factory, a production line of dock, crop and debark. Pit bull and Doberman owners sat with their pups in the chairs opposite me, waiting for ear jobs.

I took my dog in the back room, where a breeder had just had four Pomeranians debarked. The dogs lay on towels on the floor along the hallway while they recovered from anesthesia. My dog was placed on the table and knocked out, and as I watched, the vet took what looked like lopping shears you’d use to trim your trees, and stuck them down Bonnie’s throat and with one big crunch, he was done.

I was having some major regrets by this point. Bonnie joined the lineup on the floor and I waited while she recovered. An hour later, she was up, happy and ready to go home. The vet said there might be some bleeding, but she should be fine. “Try to keep her quiet,” he said.

If I could keep her quiet, I wouldn’t be there, I thought to myself.

Bonnie was fine, and still is five years later. She still barks constantly, and I do mean constantly, but I love her. She is a rescued sheltie, and I realized that if I had returned her, no one else could live with all that noise either. So debarking was the right answer for me.

But I am not going back to that vet.

Photo above: Tux, left, and Bonnie right. © 2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Rylee the dog and Casey, a boy who was afraid of dogs

A client (and friend) of mine recently told me the story of their Goldendoodle, Rylee. I knew they have a special bond with this dog, but now that I know their story, I really understand just how special it is. So Diana is my guest columnist this week; I hope you will enjoy Rylee's story.

Hi Terry,

I don't know if I ever told you the story of us getting Rylee.

Casey (our son) has always been afraid of dogs, cats, characters, lighting and thunder. He grew out of the character phase (didn't get his picture with Santa until he was about 6 and we had to bribe him for that).

About 2 1/2 years ago we decided that his fear of dogs was affecting his quality of life. He wouldn't go outside if the neighborhood dog Maggie (a schnoodle) was running around. If we were out and about would move to the other side of the walk area if there was a dog. If we were at a park he would be concentrating more on the loose dogs than the baseball that he was supposed to be watching for.

We took him to a therapist for about a year. That helped get him to a point where he would see dogs and be curious but didn't want to touch them. We found a great program at Helen Woodward called Dog Smart. They bring in employees' dogs and work with kids and adults with fears of dogs. After three months Casey wanted a dog. His story is on the Helen Woodward website.

We did look at Helen Woodward but didn't want a big dog (ha ha) and weren't sure how most of the dogs temperments would be. We needed a breed that would be a good fit for Casey. A Lab or Retreiver would have been great. He started looking at mixed breeds (a Puggle, cute as puppies–not as cute as adults). He googled poodle mixes and came up with Goldendoodle. We found puppies listed on Signonsandiego. We met the litter at 3 weeks old and picked Rylee at 5 weeks (after coming two times before that). The breeder homeschools her daughters and we were lucky that they had a lot of interaction with the pups.

That's our story. We feel blessed to have Rylee in our lives.


Terry chiming in again here with an editorial comment...

I know many many people in the dog fancy scream about "designer dogs"– purposely bred mixed breeds that are then sold at elevated prices. The debate goes on and on, and I'm not in favor of it myself. BUT... once the dog is born, it is just that–a dog, not a political statement or horrendous mutation of what a dog is meant to be. I really feel it is not my job on this earth to pass judgement on others for their choices- choices that don't harm me in the least.

And in this case, Rylee is also a beloved family pet who helped a little boy overcome his fears. I certainly have no problem with that.