Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Colley Girl

“There's an old female collie down at the shelter with infected eyes and really bad skin, possibly mange.” Evelyn's message on the answering machine was loud and clear. “I doubt you'll want to get her,” she finished.

We didn't have anyone representing collies in our all-breed rescue group, and I have always loved them. Like every little girl in the fifties, I wanted a dog just like Lassie.

But we didn't have room for a big dog, and my mom didn't like dogs anyway. Maybe I'd just go to the shelter, look at the collie, and confirm that she was too old to rescue.

The next day I went down to see her, and she looked pretty awful. Huge wadded up mats the size of baseballs hung off of her. Her third eyelid was covering most of each eye, and both eyes were oozing green pus. She barked endlessly, along with all the other dogs in the kennels. 

But when I took her out, she was quiet and friendly, wagging her tail and rubbing up against me. If her owners didn't come to claim her, I told Leah, the shelter officer, I would take her out and foster her till we could find her a home.

I had never fostered a dog, and was eager to help the rescue group. I called the president, Lyn, and told her what I wanted to do, and she said okay. The following Tuesday I picked her up from the shelter, and found out she had been a stray on Tiger Mountain, right near my home. What was her story? Had someone been hiking and lost track of her? Had she been dumped? Did she just wander away from home? Were they still looking? How could anyone NOT be looking for her?

Obviously I was new at this, and very naive. The shelters are full of dogs that no one comes looking for. Just because she was a collie wasn't anything special.

I took her to the vet, who pronounced her spayed, and healthy, and only about 5 years old. She had trouble climbing into the car or getting up on the table at the vet's office. It appeared she had bad hips, or arthritis. Her teeth were also badly in need of cleaning. He gave me medicine for her eyes, and we went home to start our new adventure.

Since I wasn't going to keep her, I didn't name her. I just called her Collie, and pretty soon that became Colley Girl. In the meantime, we got a collie rep, Sharon, who started telling people about my dog. While Sharon worked on finding homes, I worked on brushing out all those awful mats. I ended up cutting them out, leaving a few bare patches. I couldn't bear to shave her, so we just did a little brushing at a time, until she'd get fed up with all the tugging, lumber to her feet, and walk away. As the excess fur came out, I discovered the end of her tail had been blackened by frostbite.

Once the eye infection cleared up, her inner eyelid was still showing, so I went back to the vet. He decided that her eyes were too small to push the eyelid back into the proper place in her eye socket, and that she was probably born that way. She had bad scars around her eyes, so I thought maybe she'd had surgery or been injured. He sent me to a specialist, who decided she wasn't in any pain, agreed with my vet that the problem was congenital, and there wasn't much you could do about it. Her field of vision was limited, but she seemed to see well enough to get around.

Colley Girl adjusted beautifully to our home, ignoring our four cats, and getting along famously with my two dogs, Sherman and Tank. Within two days she was following my husband everywhere off leash, and never wandered away. I never forgot that she had been a stray, so I kept a pretty close eye on her. Chew toys exercised her gums and started to clean the tartar off of her teeth. Her gums bled a lot at first, but soon they looked good enough that the vet said I didn't need to get them cleaned.

Sharon called several times, and came to take Colley Girl to meet potential new owners, but they always turned her down when they saw those funny looking eyes. I didn't even notice them anymore. What I saw was the sweetest, most gentle, loving dog I'd ever known, who slept by my bed each night, and moaned with happiness whenever I rubbed her tummy. She had been well-loved at one time. I wondered if her family missed her.

Each time Colley Girl went out to see new potential adopters, it got harder and harder to say good-bye. After about a month of this, I told Sharon to come get her while I wasn't at home. She called me that morning at work.

Colley Girl had come out of the yard easily enough, but when she saw Sharon was going to take her away again, she took off and wouldn't let Sharon catch her. After about a half hour of keep-away, Sharon gave up and called for help. I drove home, 25 miles, frantic that Colley would disappear in the meantime.

Silly me. When I drove up the driveway, there was Sharon, arms folded, looking totally disgusted up at Colley Girl. Colley was standing by the dog run, barking defiantly at Sharon, daring her to come after her. Of course, she came straight to me. As I knelt down, Colley Girl tucked her head under my armpit and wagged her tail slowly, as if to say, “Please don't make me go.” 

Tears in my eyes, I loaded her into Sharon's car, and away they went. I sat in bed crying that night. My husband tactfully ignored me. He's no fool; he knew what the problem was. I was deciding I was too soft for rescue work.

The next day, Sharon called. The latest family wasn’t keeping Colley Girl. “They didn't like her funny eyes,” she reported, “Everyone wants a perfect Lassie.”  Sharon offered to keep her at her place so we wouldn't have to transfer her around so much. “Fat chance,” I said. “Bring her back and she's not going anywhere again. She's perfect to me.”

That night my husband came home from work and arched his eyebrows in surprise as he recognized Colley Girl coming to greet him. Then he saw two giant cardboard ‘license tags’ hanging from her neck. One said “I love you Dennis,” and the other read, “Please keep me.”

He looked up at me and smiled. “I think it's already been decided.”

Colley Girl was with us 4 1/2 years. To others, her eyes looked strange, but I saw the perfect pet and companion. She loved children and senior citizens, cats, and horses. I found my Lassie. Those other people didn't know what they were missing. 

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Safety on the trails with your dog

As a reserve park ranger for the City of Poway, I attended a trail safety seminar last week. Here are some tips for keeping yourself and your dog safe on hikes. 

March 20 marked the first day of Spring, and with it, the rattlesnakes are out for the season. Some may be kind of lazy, dozing on warm earth of the trail. Their colors are so close to the dirt and leaves, you may not see them until you are right on top of them. More dangerous are the snakes that lie along the edges of the trail, just under the bushes. If you or your dog get too close, one could strike without warning. A rattlesnake doesn't need to be coiled or rattling to bite. 

Look for a triangular-shaped head to identify a rattlesnake. Then again, don't get that close!

Poison Oak
The edges of the trail offer more hazards. Here in San Diego, poison oak is abundant, and although it isn't a rusty red yet like it will be later in the summer, it still can cause terrible itching. If your dog brushes against it, and then you touch the dog, you can also be exposed. Our ranger, Annie Ransom, explained that you can touch poison oak many times and not be bothered, then one time...wham, you're miserable. 

Carry individually packaged wipes or poison oak "soap" that will help remove the poison before it causes irritation. Camping supply stores carry these aids. 

Ticks and insects
Another hazard along the trail edges is ticks. Ticks carry Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which can affect people and dogs. They are out in full force, believe me. I rode my horse yesterday, and picked four ticks off his belly and two off of me when we got home. UGH! Ticks rest on the leaves, waiting for a warm-blooded host to walk by. They then jump on for a hearty meal. Check yourself (especially your hair!), your dog, and your clothes after hiking. I headed straight for the shower, after dumping my clothes at the door to the laundry room. 

Use tick preventatives for your dog, like Frontline and Advantage. Read the label to be sure you bought one that repels ticks, not just fleas.  Check your pets anyway after hiking-- you don't want the ticks to drop off and jump on you! Camping supply stores also carry tick-pullers for removing ticks that have already attached. Learn how to remove a tick here.  

Insect stings from yellow jackets and bees are another risk. If stung, scrape off the stinger with a credit card or something similar- you can't just pull it out. People who are especially vulnerable to a bad reaction should carry an epi-pen, available from a physician. Benadryl will usually provide enough relief for most victims of a sting. But Benadryl might make you sleepy, so be careful about where you are when you take it. You don't want to drive if you're drowsy. (Disclaimer: I am not a doctor- this is not medical advice.)

Keep to the center of the trail, and keep your dog on a leash. Using a leash is the law anyway, and it is for your dog's protection. Be a good citizen too: carry out your dog's waste, even on remote trails.

It's early in the year, but we'll still have some hot days. Even if it's not terribly hot, carry water for yourself and your dog. Dogs don't sweat, and they can dehydrate quickly when out on the trails. 

I'm amazed at how uninformed people are about the dangers of heat exhaustion in dogs. Your dog will run hard and do his best to keep up, never complaining. If he stops to rest, get him in the shade, offer water, and let him cool down. 

One of my most heartbreaking stories is from a friend, a physics professor, whose dog died while hiking on the trails one morning. By the time he got the dog to the vet it was too late. He just didn't realize the risk. I listened to a grown man sobbing into the phone, "I killed my dog." I will never forget it, and neither will he.  

Be prepared and aware
By now you're probably afraid to set foot on any trail! Don't be; just hike smart and be prepared and aware. 

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A new pet portrait: German Shepherd

Here is my latest painting, of Deena, my friend Jackie's newest family member. She is a very striking dog, only a year old, and lots of personality, so she was a joy to paint. This is done in watercolor and colored pencil, and the picture above shows you the photo, work-in-progress, and the finished portrait. It is 5 x 7 inches, very small compared to my usual portraits. 

I took photos of Deena and let Jackie and her husband choose which pose they liked best. 

I hadn't painted since before Christmas, due to some very busy months pet sitting. This was a nice one to get me back into the groove again. I have three orders ahead of me, which I will share with you when they are done. 

The hardest part is getting started, and like many of us, I can come up with a lot of excuses not to sit down and get to work. A friend once told me her kitchen was never cleaner than when she had a paper due in school! 

My involvement with the Canine Art Guild helps inspire me and keep me motivated. And my artistic friends, a photographer and a sculptor also inspire me. It is hard to stay focused when I have several different jobs. In a perfect world, I would paint every day. It is truly my favorite "career," my passion.  

To see more of my work, visit my pet portraits web site. 
© 2009, Terry Albert. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Change the way you think

Between pets, jobs and/or kids, are you overwhelmed?
Is the financial crisis keeping you awake nights?
If you see one more hairball on the bed, will you have a meltdown?
Me too. 

Add professional burnout, home repairs I can't afford, crazy dogs I pet sit for, and the agony some of my friends and family are facing, I sometimes want to curl up in a little ball and quit. The art above, by Mary Engelbrecht hangs on my refrigerator, and reminds me that attitude is everything, especially in tough times. 

I have repaired my attitude about difficult dogs- seeing them as a challenge and realizing that their families love them. I look at the financial crisis as an opportunity to clean up my own financial act and thank God I am not facing foreclosure or bankruptcy. The home-repair-crisis-of-the-week is something to be endured and survived, not the end of the world. My change of outlook has helped immensely, and I soldier on.

I wish it were so for my friends facing severe health problems. Cancer and Alzheimers have attacked people close to me in recent months, and I ache for them, wishing I could stop it. They need all the attitude they can get. All I can offer is prayers and optimism; I can't stop or cure the progression of these diseases. 

In these tough times, be grateful for what you have, don't sweat the small stuff, and hug your dog. 

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Sisyphean task

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a king punished in Tartarus by being cursed to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll down again, and to repeat this throughout eternity.

Today, Sisyphean can be used as an adjective meaning that an activity is unending and/or repetitive. It could also be used to refer to tasks that are pointless and unrewarding.

Sisyphean task: a punishment from the Gods.

They must be talking about vacuuming. One of the curses of pet ownership is constant cleaning. I should have a sign out front that says Welcome to the Fur Factory.

I tell people I could grow plants in the grout on my living room floor. If I dare open the doors or windows, the house is immediately covered in a coat of dust. I hate living in stale air, so I open the doors often- and suffer for it. Part of the problem is I live on the outskirts of San Diego, with miles of dirt everywhere, including my own half acre. The corral with two active horses in it contributes to the dust, but even if I didn’t have horses, the neighbors have plenty of their own dirt to share.

My pets are no help. I have learned the curse of the Persian cat – constant shedding. I now have them shaved to the skin several times a year (see photos). It is that or vacuum every day- literally. I’ve owned long-haired cats before. Even my Maine Coon didn’t shed like this.

Shelties shed and shed some more. Three of them contribute to healthy fur balls under the oven, frig, and in every corner. If I was obsessive, and didn’t have a job, I could vacuum full time and not keep up.

The perfect set-up

One of the reasons I bought this house is that is perfectly set up for animals. The walls in my hallways are covered halfway up with wainscoting in a dark mahogany finish that doesn’t show the dirt. I’m sure the “Designed to Sell” experts would come in and say “brighten up this hall! Let’s paint it!” You couldn’t pay me enough to paint it white.

I put dark commercial carpeting in the bedrooms so the dirt wouldn’t show. White, shedding cats foiled my attempt to create a low maintenance home. My living room, kitchen and office, where the dogs spend all their time, are tiled in a mottled tan ceramic tile. Perfect because it doesn’t show spots. Easy maintenance is the key for pet owners. I don't put down area rugs. Pointless. My rooms are carpeted in dog beds. 

I have washable slipcovers on my couch and recliner. They get washed almost every week. Not too pretty, but very functional. When I have company I can take them off and the place looks great.

I wipe down the TV screens with a fabric softener sheet. It’s the only way I can get the dust off. My computer printers are covered with hand towels.

No person in their right mind would buy a dog bed that isn’t washable, but Petco carries them. What were they thinking? 

The dogs never go in the carpeted rooms, which prevents accidents. The cats make up for it by throwing up an occasional hairball. I may never get another longhaired cat.

I’ve always loved long-haired animals, from collies to Persian cats. I guess I’m willing to pay the price. A lot like Sisyphus, I will spend eternity rolling a giant hairball out the door and up the hill to the trash can.