Monday, July 19, 2010

"Last Dog on the Hill" by Steve Duno

I am deep into a new book by my friend from Seattle, Steve Duno. Last Dog on the Hill is the story of his dog Lou, a Shepherd-Rottweiler mix that he used to bring to work with him when we were both trainers at the Academy of Canine Behavior in Bothell, WA. We were both pretty green in those days, but my, how far we’ve come. I like to think Jack and Colleen McDaniel, the owners, would be proud of their alums. Many of us have gone on to lifelong careers in dogs.

Steve traveled down to Warwick’s Bookstore in La Jolla last week for a book-signing event, one of many stops on his book tour for the just-released book. We had dinner beforehand and caught up on each other’s lives and shared some fond memories of Lou and Tank, my Lab from way back then, and our days at the Academy.

Last Dog on the Hill is not Marley and Me, nor is it Lassie Come Home. Lou was a real dog, a scruffy mutt with a shady past who got lucky and landed in the right home. Some dog stories are really memoirs of the author’s life, and the dog is the vehicle to tell the story of a family (Marley and Me), or a life-changing event (Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain). In contrast, Duno’s book is more about Lou and his adventures.

I asked Steve how he could remember all those details. He said that although he’s always been a writer, he didn’t really keep a journal of Lou’s exploits. They are still fresh in his mind, because Lou was such a memorable part of his life for 16 years. I can relate to that. Every writer, even one who has never written about dogs, finds himself compelled to eulogize his beloved canine. Steve started writing about six months after Lou’s death.

Steve has written 18 books, but he got that misty far-away look in his eyes when we talked about this one. This is “THE BOOK,” that once-in-a-lifetime story that has to get out; the book I may someday write about Tank, the one you may someday write about your once-in-a-lifetime dog. Kudos to Steve for getting it down on paper, and for crafting such a compelling story.


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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Update on my pony family

With a houseful of ponies (okay, a back yard full), I thought I’d update you on the horsie family here at Heaven’s Half Acre.

Yesterday, I rode Honey on a ranger patrol around Lake Poway. She is the rescued Icelandic mare I brought home in early March. I didn’t know what I was getting when I took her, I just knew she was an older horse who needed a home. I am very lucky- she is rideable, no arthritis, and in good health.

She is also the sweetest little horse, very loving and loves attention. She now has a hot pink halter and saddle pad. She’s really the girly girl of the household. She recently hosted my friend Kiyomi for a pony ride and cuddle session (see photo).

I named her Honey because she was a rich golden palomino. Now she has shed out her winter coat and she is a dark chocolate color- with whipped cream on top!

Formerly named Rod Stewart, this Shetland pony arrived about 6 weeks ago. He was one of 18 neglected Shetlands, all stallions and pregnant mares, who were seized by Animal Control in LA County. He has fattened up nicely, is learning to be handled, and has been gelded and had his feet trimmed.

I take Sherlock for a walk several evenings a week, and he attracts lots of attention from the neighborhood kids. I have started clicker training him and he loves it. He looks forward to his nightly training sessions and is eager to play the game.

My friend Saskia and I have been working with Star to get him used to trailering and ponying. We kind of stalled when school got out, but he loads better now. His ground manners have always been good, but because he doesn’t go out at all, he is very spooky out in the world. He has always been willing but uncoordinated, since he had a back injury sometime in his past. His coordination has improved, and I hope to start getting him out in public more. I want to be able to handle him if I have to evacuate from fires again.

Ari and Star got their teeth floated, which means the vet filed down the sharp points on their teeth, making it easier for them to chew their food. It’s quite a process, and they have to be sedated for the procedure. Ari, my main riding horse, continues to be the perfect horse, and he looks like a Clydesdale next to the two new ones!

Little Red
Little Red has been at the J F Shea Center in San Juan Capistrano for two and a half years now, working as a therapeutic riding pony. They love him there and he is thriving. Recently a school class in Saddleback Valley sponsored his care for a year. I’m so proud of my pony!

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Summer dangers for dogs and cats

My summer has gotten off to a pretty dramatic start. There are so many things that can happen to pets in the summer when we are outside with them.

4th of July
Fireworks make me crazy, and they scare pets. A panicked pet, cat or dog, can run out in the street and get hit by a car, which is exactly what happened to a friend's dog this week. Fireworks aren't even legal here and it wasn't even the 4th yet, but someone shot off a noisy bomb and their dog Lily died for it.

Before you start thinking the owners were stupid, let me tell you my own story. Ignorant is a better term, which means we just didn't know what the consequences might be.

When I was a brand-new dog owner, we though it would be fun to take our sheltie, Sherman, to the beach on the night of the 4th so he could watch the fireworks with us. People were blowing off smoking, sizzling, sparkling do-dads all over the sand, and our dog just completely melted down. He never recovered from his fear of loud noises after that. What was I thinking?

Worse. We thought our cat, Sebastian might enjoy chasing one of those burning snake things out on our patio. I was holding him and when my husband set it off, the cat almost amputated my arm in his haste to get away.

Ignorance is not bliss.

Rattlesnake bites
You would think your dogs would be safe in your own back yard, but not always. My friend Melanie lives on a slope, so she has a patio with a retaining wall around it, and the hill slopes up behind the wall. A large red diamondback rattlesnake must have fallen off the edge into the patio. She heard frantic barking, and ran outside to see her standard poodle, Tango, standing between the snake and her rat terriers, defending his pack.

She brought the dogs in; her husband killed the snake. It was several hours before she realized Tango was swelling up from several bites. His head and neck were huge, and by then, it was too late. The dog died.

I had a similar incident in my back yard (not where I live now). I found a small rattler and rounded up the dogs. It was hours before one of the dogs swelled up and I realized he'd been bitten. He survived, but it was a long and expensive night in the emergency room.

There's not much you can do to protect your pets in the back yard, but when you are out on the trails, keep your dog on a leash and keep him from sniffing under bushes until you are sure there's no snake under there. Snakes like to rest in the shade along the edge of the trail. I also recommend rattlesnake avoidance training and a rattlesnake bite vaccine.

This week's disasters reminded me of another one a few years ago. Another friend was hiking on Iron Mountain one hot August morning. He is an extreme sportsman who enjoys mountain climbing in Europe and endurance riding. His white German Shepherd, Enrico, was with him, and the owner didn't recognize the signs of heat exhaustion. On the way back down, the dog collapsed and died before he could get him to the car.

He called me later, sobbing into the phone, "I killed my dog!" Needless to say, it was horrible and he was inconsolable. It's a hard lesson to learn. This man has a Ph.D. in physics, but he just didn't know any better when it came to his dog.

A dog loves his owner and will go and go without complaining just to keep you happy. Read my recent post about heatstroke in dogs so you'll be prepared.

It doesn't need to be an extreme situation for your dog to die from the heat. Temperatures rise so fast that even five minutes in a closed up car can kill your dog. Older and ill animals need to be kept indoors where it is cool.

When you walk your dog, if you touch the pavement and it is too hot for you to stand on barefoot, then it's too hot for your dog's feet too. His paw pads can get badly burned.

Photos: In memory of Lily, Tango and Enrico

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© 2010 Terry Albert. Photos of Tango and Enrico © Melanie Snowhite. All Rights Reserved.