Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Feed me

What do you mean, it's not lunch time?
Sherman the vizsla is very vocal and has lots of personality. I couldn't resist sharing this photo of him trying to manipulate me into feeding him lunch at 10 am one morning! Pleeeeez! accompanied by lots of whining, didn't do the trick.

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

October is fire season in Southern California

None of us who lived through the fires will ever forget. The first fire in over 40 years to roar through Poway, and all of San Diego County, was in late October, 2003. I was just getting ready to move into my new house, and instead I evacuated my friends’ animals to it. My living room was filled with crates and birdcages, my corral with horses. And then the fire kept coming, and we had to move them all again.

The birds stayed in my car up in Rancho Bernardo for four days, where the air was safer for them to breathe. The horses ended up in a kind stranger’s back yard in north Poway. Many more horses ended up at the Del Mar Racetrack until their owners could claim them. If you’ve ever lived through a natural disaster–tornado, hurricane, fire, earthquake– you know how traumatic it can be.

The landscape and trails were decimated. Everything was covered in a thick coating of ashes for weeks. We rode out and discovered animals burned to a crisp, still in the pose they were in when the fire caught up with them…running. It is still hard to look at the photos.

Then it 2007 it happened again, this time coming in from the north and east. Thousands of homes burned. This time Rancho Bernardo and northern Poway got the worst of it. Several of my clients and friends lost their homes. Some of them lost their animals too.

The cross says "For the animals, 2003 Cedar Fire"
We all get a little leery of October now. We plan to stay in town. We clear the brush. We update our emergency kits and put air in the tires. Make sure the horses remember how to load in the trailer.

I occasionally walk a Kerry Blue Terrier near her home at the far east end of Garden Rd, an area that was burned in the 2003 fire. One day I ventured out of the neighborhood and onto the surrounding trails. I found a homemade memorial (above) to the animals that died in the 2003 fire. It is still there, and I find it very touching. I visit often while Wrigley and I walk. I want to remember.

One day I came out the front door with Wrigley, and there was a beautiful rainbow just across the street. I’m not especially religious, but I remember my bible studies. The rainbow was a sign of hope that God showed the survivors after it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. I like that.

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Thundershirt for dogs

Desi is afraid of fireworks and thunder
At the recommendation of other dog daycare owners, I ordered the Thundershirt. In fact I ordered one in every size, since I have canine clients of every size. The folks at Thundershirt claim this product will relieve anxiety caused by storms, loud noises and other scary things. Several of my clients are also having trouble at home with their dogs, and I thought the shirts might help them. The gentle constant pressure around a dog’s body has a calming effect. For theory and examples, visit their website.

I told one of my friends about this miracle product and she laughed. “So your clients will show up at your house and all the dogs will all be running around in straight jackets!”

Oliver models his Thundershirt. Look! He's sitting still!
The experiment: Oliver
One little rascal who stays with me, Oliver, is in constant motion. I wrapped him up in his shirt, and the difference was immediate. Instead of zooming around, totally agitated, he settled down at my feet. As time went on, he was still active and busy, but the edge was off. Oliver was a much nicer dog to have around.

I asked his owner Lianne, if he was always hyper at home and she said no, but she’d like to try the shirt. So I sent it home with her. I have a feeling he’s more active than Lianne let on! She explained that he gets pretty wound up when people come over. The Thundershirt definitely has an effect on his behavior, and now she wants to get a second one for him.

Wally, a Dachshund/Lab mix, had a nasty habit of charging anyone who came into the house, and even bit a few people. The Thundershirt instantly calmed him, and he’s much easier to live with. I got a note from Wally’s owner, Claire:
Thanks so much for the Thunder jacket for Wally! He loves it. It’s amazing how it calms him down. Now he’ll wear it and watch movies in bed with me. Before, the sound made him upset and he’d run outside.
My helper Judy was skeptical. After all, it’s only a shirt. So one day when she was here, I put one on Sadie, an Aussie who constantly barks. She was instantly silent. Neither one of us could believe it.

It doesn’t work on every dog in every situation – nothing does. But I’ve had several successes and highly recommend one if you have an anxious dog.
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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


I took a week off. This is a major event, since I felt like all I’ve done is work, seven days a week, for the past several years. My trip to Portland with my high school girlfriends, Janis and Laurie, was a real treat, and we made the most of it. I came home invigorated and ready to conquer the world, which is exactly what vacations are supposed to accomplish.

The Northwest is where I am happiest. Give me some big green trees and cool weather and I know I am home. In Eugene, we hiked, ate wonderful food, tromped around the University of Oregon campus, visited art galleries, walked for miles (oh my aching feet), and spent hours talking, just like old times.

In Portland, we visited the wonderful Powell’s Books, which houses several floors of new and used volumes, right in the heart of downtown. I was THRILLED to find my new book, Animal Planet, Dogs 101: Labrador Retriever for sale! The book is finally out, and I was hopping around like a little kid at Christmas when I found it on the shelves. The salesperson had me sign it, and they stuck a sticker on the front that says “autographed,” like I’m a celebrity or something.

Our visit to Portland included lunch with my cousin and her daughter, and a visit to my aunt in her retirement home. Some antiquing, a visit to the test Rose Gardens and a stroll around Reed College finished off our trip. I came home tired and happy.

My excellent week continued when I discovered the book in Petsmart and Barnes and Noble. For the first time, I felt like a real author.

Home again
I returned home to some sad news. My sheltie Lily, age 14, had taken a turn for the worse, and she died the afternoon I got home. She had never recovered from her spell with vestibular syndrome, and her old body finally just gave out.

Lily came to me with Bonnie– both girls were rescued from a Texas puppy mill and brought to California. They had both weaned litters right before I adopted them. I’ve had them for seven years. Bonnie is now deaf and is also in fragile condition, so I treasure these last months with her.

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Australian Shepherd portrait by Terry Albert

My latest painting, this one of Gibson the Aussie, is an 11" x 15" done in acrylics on Strathmore board, matted to 16" x 20". 

I sure struggled getting started on this painting. I kept asking the client for more photos, and I got several that showed the proportions of the dog, but none I liked so well. I originally didn't want to use this pose because his nose looked way to long to me; camera distortion, I'm sure. I finally realized, once I started drawing, that his nose looked long because his tongue was hanging out so far-- optical illusion! So I shortened that tongue and am happy with the result. 

Many dogs, especially German Shepherds, have huge long tongues that look odd if painted the way they actually are. If a dog's tongue is hanging out that far, he's probably hot and tired, not  something I want to convey in a painting. Painting exactly what you see is not always a good thing. 

Gibson, "Gibbs" for short, is one of several pieces I have done for this family over a period of almost 20 years! I finally got to meet them last summer, and we were instant friends. Thank you Larry and family, for allowing me to paint the many wonderful dogs you've owned over the years.

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Art Critics

Everyone’s a critic, including me. As I sat at a client’s home with their tabby cat on my lap, I studied a mural painted on and above the fireplace. The Trompe-l'œil scene depicted a tiled veranda with plants on pedestals, and a view of the hills in the distance. To create the illusion that you are looking out a window, the entire setting is surrounded by painted drapery. My own inner art critic kicked in while Charlie the cat napped on my chest.

As Charlie purred, I marveled at the drapery. It was so real I couldn’t see the edges of the fireplace wall. The clouds and sunlight in the distance were luminous. The entire scene looked soft and ethereal, almost like someone muted the colors with white powder over the whole thing.

But something about this work was really jarring. I finally identified the problem. The perspective was off on one of the pedestals. The porch tiles were accurate, the front pedestal lined up, but the back one was just a bit off, and the handrail that went down the stairs was therefore also off. Right smack in the center of the painting, the illusion was spoiled.

Then I noticed a tree in the distance. It looked like it was growing out of the flowerpot on the porch, which was in the foreground. UGH! It’s a good thing the cat woke up. I wanted to get out my brushes and fix it.

Once Charlie had removed himself to the kitchen and the comfort of a bowl of milk, I walked up to the mural and realized that the carved floral decorations and swirls on the fireplace front were not real, but painted on. I had to touch them to be sure, and I was less than a foot away.

So I have to admire this nameless artist. I’m not sure I could have done as well. But I thought of times I have sat in my show booth with my own art. People talk about your work like you’re not even there. “I could do that,” is by far the most annoying comment!

Dog Portraits
But I’ve heard some doozies. Because I paint dogs, People will critique the dog’s conformation, rather than the artist’s depiction. “Look at that awful lower jaw,” said one. Her friend answered, “I know that dog; it’s what he looks like…” One time a Pug breeder looked at one of my paintings and said, “I wouldn’t have that hanging in my house. Look at those legs, terrible hocks.” Oops. I was humbled by that comment! I wonder if I ruined his legs or his breeder did.

If I am doing a commissioned painting of a pet, I try to make it look like the actual dog while not overemphasizing any physical faults. But if I’m going to exhibit a painting, or make prints for sale, that dog better be a gorgeous show quality specimen of the breed! Then both pet and show people will like it.

Time tells
I need to get away from my art for a day or two after I sketch it, and again about half way through the painting process. When I come back to it I see any glaring flaws that I was previously blind to. A little time away keeps me from painting a tree growing out of someone’s head. Major flaws, like putting eyes too low on the head, are easier to fix before you start painting than when you are half way through.

I have made all these mistakes and more. I am ruthless these days. I can go back in and completely paint out a section and redo it, where I used to be afraid I’d ruin the entire thing. I also am sure that if I don’t get the eyes right, the entire painting doesn’t work.

And the biggest test: I am happy if I can go back to a painting a year later and still be happy with it. 

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Pugs pet portrait by Terry Albert

I've been doing some experimenting with my art. This portrait is 10" x 20" on canvas, painted in acrylics. To add a touch of bling, I added a little bit of glitter to their eyes, and the client loved it. The dogs, Oscar and Cilla, go to work every day with their owner, Lynn, at the Buried Bone here in Poway, California.

The canvas is 1 1/2" deep, so it doesn't need to be framed. Here is the photo I worked from:

As you see, I moved the two dogs closer together to enhance the composition. I usually work on illustration board or watercolor paper, then cut a mat to frame the finished piece, so this is a new way of working for me. I also usually add detail in pencil, and it is a big change for me to do the entire painting in just paint, no mixed media. Also, on canvas, I am stuck with the composition, I can't just cut off an edge if I want to crop the painting differently when it's done! I'm sure I will be switching back and forth between the techniques for awhile until I decide which method to pursue. 

If you are interested in a portrait of your pet, please contact me. Thank you!

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Animal Planet Dogs 101: Labrador Retrievers, by Terry Albert

I am thrilled to announce that my latest book has been released and is now available on Amazon.com. Soon, it will also be in Petsmart stores. It is one of a new series of breed books. The first release includes 8 titles, including Chihuahuas, Cavaliers, Yorkies, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Shih Tzus and Beagles. More books in this series will come out at the end of 2011, including another one I wrote, about Boxers.

For those of you who know me, you know writing a book about Labs is my dream come true. I've known hundreds of Labs over the years. I have boarded them in my home, fostered many for rescue both in Seattle and San Diego, and of course owned my own beloved Lab, Tank, for over 13 years.

My initial thought was, oh I could practically write this in my sleep. Hah. Some sections were easier than others, but I still did mountains of research and interviewed many experts. Don Ironside helped me with the nutrition chapter. His many years as a sales rep in the pet food business gave me an insiders' look at ingredients, manufacturing and the differences between brands and formulas. He also taught me how to sort out marketing hype from facts, a sometimes murky subject. Don's wife Barbara and Nina Mann gave me lots of good information on how they help buyers pick a puppy, health issues, activities, and showing. Edith Bryan, my training buddy and rescue partner up in Seattle, has participated in every activity ever invented for dogs and their owners. She talked me through therapy work, search and rescue, agility, tracking and other dog sports.

Edith also has fed her Labs a raw diet for over ten years, so I valued her input on that subject. Down here in San Diego, my friend Angie Meeks feeds her dogs a raw diet and has done extensive research on the subject. My friend of 20 years, Julie Cantrell, has been making home-cooked food for dogs for as long as I've known her, which was years before raw and home-cooked foods became popular. She and I were trainers at the Academy of Canine Behavior where we began our dog careers.

For health issues, my own vet, Sarbit Singh, DVM, patiently walked me through the minutiae of basic health care, from worming routines to vaccine protocol. It may seem pretty straightforward, but I found that when I was assigned to write about a subject, I wanted to understand it thoroughly and be absolutely accurate in my explanations. Once this information is in print, people take your word for it. I wanted to answer important questions correctly.

For inherited health issues in Labradors, Frances Smith, DVM, president of the Orthopedic Foundation For Animals and chair of the Labrador Retriever Club Health Committee, generously shared her time and knowledge with me.

These people all kindly gave me their time and attention, answering even my dumbest questions. I couldn't have done it without their help. Thank you!

Next time, I'll write about some of the dogs whose stories are featured in the book.

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Great Pyrenees pet portrait by Terry Albert

Tanner, a Great Pyrenees
I have just completed a new pet portrait of Tanner, a Great Pyrenees. His owner, Patti, is a veterinarian in Montana, and I have done five portraits for her over the years. It is amazing to me that it is almost 20 years since I did the first one, a portrait of Mugsy, her golden retriever. I recognized the setting for this painting, in the same yard where Mugsy posed one winter's day all those years ago.

This painting is 11 x 15", matted to 16 x 20, and done in acrylics and colored pencil.

Here are the other paintings I have done for Patti. They are all displayed at her veterinary practice.
Mugsy Golden Retriever, pastel
Ursa, a Great Pyrenees, watercolor 
Polly, Bernese Mountain Dog, watercolor
Mugsy, pastel
If you are interested in a custom portrait of your dog or other pet, please contact me! Visit my website, http://www.terryalbert.com to see more examples of my work.
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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Canine look-alikes

Bonnie, above, and Lily
Most people have trouble telling two purebred sable shelties apart.  My two, Bonnie and Lily, are usually greeted with “Hello Bonnie or Lily or whichever one you are.” And of course the same is true for Labs, German Shepherds and most other purebreds. They all look pretty much alike. But what about mixed breed dogs?
Lucee, puggle
Rylee, goldendoodle
With “designer breeds,” I can identify pug-beagle mixes (puggles) and Golden retriever-poodle mixes (goldendoodles) pretty easily.  But some wonderful mixed breed dogs, a soup of assorted breeds, can also sometimes appear almost identical. As a pet sitter, I have fun comparing the odd assortment of dogs that I meet.

Stussy and Mobi
For example, my most recent guests: Stussey is a white 8-year old, and Mobi is a red 2-year old. They have different owners, and although different colors, they are identical in every other way. They have soft coats, curly tails, black-spotted tongues, and love to “talk” in a growly sort of way. Their owners both refer to them as chow/lab mixes.

Ivory, left, and Rex, right
Ivory is a 2-year old female, and Rex is a 6-year old male. They also have different owners. Rex is a scrappy terrier mix, Ivory is much more mellow. There’s probably some poodle in their ancestry.

Speaking of scrappy, Oliver is the ultimate troublemaker. I remember thinking he and Rex would either be best friends or kill each other. They love each other. Fausto, Oliver’s identical twin, has an entirely different personality (thank goodness). Fausto was a stray adopted in Mexico.
You might notice a certain resemblance between Oliver, Fausto, Ivory and Rex- I swear these guys are all the same mix of breeds. Fausto is a little bigger than the rest of the bunch.

Identify this mix!
This is Chobee, and I actually know that he is the product of two purebreds. Can you guess the breeds? (Answer at the end of this post)

Sally left, and Max, right
Max and Sally also have different owners. Everyone assumes they are border collie mixes, but who knows. They also resemble Belgian Sheepdogs.

Chobee answer
Chobee is a Shar Pei/ Doberman Pinscher mix.

Bookmark and Share© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved. Thanks to my friend Nancy Dobransky for the photo of her dog, Fausto, and Diana Leonard for her photo of Rylee.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sheltie painting by Terry Albert

I had such a cute sheltie staying with me this past week. I pulled out the paints and did a quick painting of him. This is Rolex, and he belongs to my friend Patty. It is 8” x 8” and done in acrylic on wrapped canvas.

It’s odd how I loosen up and just go for it when I am working on something that is just for fun–not a commission or assignment– just inspiration. I hope to transfer this abandon to another painting I am working on. Sometimes I get stuck, because I’m not sure what to do next. I didn’t have that problem here.

Here’s the real Rolex. I think I’ll go groom my shelties…

Contact me if you would like a pet portrait of your dog or cat! 

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

My old sheltie girls


Bonnie and Lily are both closing in on 14 years old. I have had them since they were six, rescued from a Texas puppy mill. Both had just weaned a litter, and were thin and frightened. Today they are grand old ladies who I love dearly, but they are suffering some age-related illnesses.

I wrote in a recent blog about Lily’s onset of old dog vestibular syndrome. She continues to have balance issues and her head is always cocked at an angle. But she remains sweet and always hungry, so all in all, she is doing well.

Bonnie, however, had a scare last week with a bout of pancreatitis. She spent two days getting IV fluids and antibiotics at the vet hospital. Symptoms included bloody, smelly diarrhea, vomiting, and lethargy. I thought I was going to lose her.

Bonnie has had digestive issues for over a year, and is on a special high-fiber diet, so at first I thought it was just another episode. But she didn’t get over it, and started to get dehydrated.

In conversations with friends, I discovered that many shelties are prone to this ailment in old age. My Mac died from it, and my friend Lynn in Seattle has had several shelties that were affected. My dachshund Tuffy also died from pancreatitis. Once a dog gets it, they tend to relapse, and that starts a downward spiral.

Fatty foods, like Thanksgiving turkey, can trigger a bout of pancreatitis. In Bonnie’s case, there was no known trigger.

Old dogs get expensive, but I wouldn’t trade them for the world. My girls are so sweet, and as long as they are comfortable, I will do my best for them. The love of an old dog is priceless.

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Why I love Labs

I have been trying to explain a "zipper" to fellow dog writer Susan Conant, who writes great mystery novels featuring her Malamutes. She asked for some advice on Labrador retrievers and what makes them look different from each other.

Well, I suggested, some have a zipper down the middle of their face between their eyes. It's a little ridge of hair growing in the wrong direction that sticks up and is very noticeable. A Lab staying at my house, Nate, who is yellow, sort of has a zipper, though his is just color, not an actual ridge. I thought I'd show her what it looked like.

Okay Nate, pose for the camera...

If I ever have to explain airplane ears, that one will do the job...

Now Nate let's try again... "sit!"

Those beady little eyes in the background are my dachshund, Desi. Notice the blurry, wagging tails.

Once more with feeling. Okay Nate... "Sit!"

I knew you could do it! Not much of a zipper, but you get the idea... 
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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.