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.