Friday, July 09, 2010

We've Moved.

We've moved. Now that we've unpacked, settled in and gotten comfortable in our new home, we wanted to invite you on over. Great memories from this blogger site, but all the previous posts from here as well as more current [and certainly future ones] are now woven into the New And Improved A Better Pet LLC Website. Come on over and visit. Leave us messages, subscribe to our feed, join our fan page, just check us out. And don't forget to visit the store as well for your higher end, quality dog and cat needs!


Wednesday, April 07, 2010


Thursday, April 15  6:15 – 7:45 pm

Knowing how to use the right tools for the job comes in very handy, even in dog training. A lively and informative discussion reviewing the PROPER USE and COST EFFECTIVE BENEFIT of some of my favorite tools in a positive dog training approach. When understood and used correctly, equipment and toys are invaluable in the training of reliable dogs both at home and out and about. Learn how to start thinking outside of the box and learn about inexpensive, simple solutions to prevent or fix common dog behavioral problems. Any equipment/toys purchased the night of class receives a 15% discount. DOGS OPTIONAL / NOT REQUIRED BUT DUE TO LIMITED SPACE ADVANCED PERMISSION TO BRING DOGS REQUIRED. Maximum 5 dogs.
Groovy Grooming
12908 Larchmere Blvd.
Cleveland, OH 44120 (near Shaker Sq.)

To register, with or without a dog, please email or call 216] 321-7654. Advance registration required. No guarantee walk ins will be accommodated.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Classes & Lectures Starting Up Soon!

PUPPY KINDERGARTEN & PUPPY NEXT STEP both teach basic manners and allow for off leash social play for dogs in SIX (6) weekly 75 minute sessions. There is an expectation of completed homework assignments. Classes are fun, educational and informative. You'll learn basic skills -- reliable recall (or coming when called), sit, down, stay, go and leash manners. Plenty of time for off leash play which is key to developing social graces for dogs of all sizes and breed types. Families are welcome but children 6 and under require an additional adult for supervision.
Classes are held INDOORS ON MONDAY EVENINGS in the basement gym at the South Euclid Board of Education Building (SELREC) at 5044 Mayfield Rd.,located on the SW corner of Richmond and Mayfield Rds. in Lyndhurst,OH. Free and ample parking lot is accessible from Richmond Road.  
REGISTRATION THROUGH SELREC OFFICE • 216-691-2246 M- F,8:30 - 4:30pm
Mondays: April 12, 19, 26th; May 3, 10 and 17th. 
Puppy Kindergarten: For pups btwn 8 wks-5 mos at start of class            Monday    7:45-9:00 pm
Puppy Next Step:      For puppies 5 months to 2 years at start of class    Monday    6:15-7:30 pm

If your dog is 4 - 5 months at start of class, contact rachel to discuss best level for your dog.
Call SELREC: 216) 691-2246.  Monday - Friday, 8:30 am - 4:30 pm to register / request a catalog.
For more information about the classes themselves,
contact •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• 
Series include sessions on pet loss/bereavement, equipment clinic, career alternatives in the world of animals, kids and animals, and much more.  

Thursday, April 01, 2010

National Stress Awareness Month -- No Fooling

There are only twelve months in a year and 365 days in most of them. Assignations for months and days for various interest groups to raise awareness abound. This month is Stress Awareness Month and I phool you not.

I know I have animals around me -- my own pets and an awareness of nature and animals in the world -- because their presence, antics, focus on the things in life that really matter -- reduce my stress. They of course add joy, motivation for exercise, a reason to sweep obsessively and a grounding that keeps me centered.

More often than not the clients I work with are themselves stressed out not just from life but from the dog in their life. Helping clients adjust and tipping the dog's (or cat) presence from a source of stress to a source of stress relief is my main mission in the training/education I provide.

There are various coping mechanisms that go to the root of the problem to help de-stress ourselves. You probably know the ones that work best for you. Whether you choose to medicate to alleviate symptoms, work on modifying your life to reduce stress using methods that resonate for you, or even a combination, many are at a loss for how to help their animals.

In addition to understanding dogs in general and your dog in particular and learning how to become the benevolent leader, there are other resources that might help reduce your dogs stress -- whether it's when you're leaving your dog alone or helping your dog cope with stressors that are in the environment, going holistic is the best way to get at the root cause.

Two proactive ways include the use of appropriate calming music  and Bach Flower Essences. To learn more about becoming the benevolent leader, sign up for upcoming spring puppy kindergarten and puppy next step classes.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Walk the dog, Find a Cure

Today marks my youngest daughter's 11th birthday. I remember her birth so vividly. Sophie is a remarkably poised, competent and amazing being [as are her older sisters, ages 13 and 17]. A very old and nurturing soul is she.

Bringing children into the world is a daunting prospect. But you hope to raise them to go out in the world.

Bringing a dog into your home can also be a daunting project. But you hope to raise them to live a long and happy life with you and not go out into the world.

Dogs don't usually live as long as people. But we give them our hearts and our souls. We whisper our secrets into their silken ears and take comfort in their ability to enjoy life's simple pleasures. A good scratch. A long walk. A cozy cuddle. A welcome greeting. Yes of course we curse their sometimes unruly ways. But we love them. Yet they usually leave us before we want them to go. That is the usual order of things and an agreement we enter into knowingly.

I lost Lily to cancer just over two months ago. But she was 10 and had lived a good and long life.  She lives on in my memory and I am fortunate to have many of those.

Olivia Crowley was 10 years old when she died. She was stricken with cancer at the tender age of 7. For 3 years she battled her illness with an indefatigable spirit. Bright, optimistic, funny and a fellow dog lover, I had the great good fortune to meet Olivia when she was partnered in service with Charlie, a golden retriever. A pooch who buoyed her spirit when it was flagging, who listened to her secrets, played secret games and gave unconditional positive feedback. Olivia touched me deeply. Not because she was sick, but she was yet another wise old soul way who just made the world she was in a better place.

Please join me on the Curesearch walk -- with or without your well behaved dog -- on May 8 at University Circle. Or donate -- whatever you can afford -- to A Better Pet Pets team.  Follow on Facebook, tell your friends and family, and together let's make a difference.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

And you thought chewies were just for puppies!!

Did you know that 4 out of 5 dogs over the age of 3 have gum disease? And gum disease is also one of the most preventable and treatable diseases. I actually spent a few years figuring out Lily's previous horror show smell that often emanated out of her mouth. 
Twice I had her go under anesthesia for a full teeth cleaning but the problem returned. Finally, with the diagnostic skills of Dr. James Preuter at Shaker Animal Clinic, I discovered that she had a low level bacterial gut infection that came roaring through her oral cavity when she panted or yawned or just opened her mouth. Room clearing odor. Friends leaving early because of it odor. Finally resolved by giving her low doses of flagyl for the rest of her life which treated the actual problem.
But that was more of an exception and gum disease is real. What can you do about it? Tartar contributes to gum disease, so controlling tartar buildup will help control gum disease. Two simple things that you can do to help prevent this very common problem in your dog: 
  1. Daily brushing .  Brushing your dog's teeth every day (or at least 3 times a week) will work to remove tartar. Start by offering your dog a taste of the veterinary toothpaste. Position the bristles of the brush along the gum line of the upper back teeth and angle slightly up, so the bristles get under the gum line. Work from back to front, making small circles along the gum lines. It should take you less than 30 seconds to brush your pet's teeth. 
Or you could say that isn't going to happen because you just aren't going to get into that habit. Another supplemental or different option is
  1. Tartar control chewies.  The best solution I have found, and the thing I sell the most of, are bully sticks. Organic (made from the part of bull that a cow doesn't have), digestible, highly desired, non perishable and great for dogs of all ages and sizes, this chewie is hands down the best for your goal to:
a. Entertain a teething puppy
b. Prevent tartar build up
c. Entertain a dog of any age.

Tell me you were inspired to order bullies from A Better Pet by putting TARTAR PREVENTOR in the comments section of your order form and you will get FREE SHIPPING and a little surprise if you are a new customer and order a minimum of 25 bullies.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Why The Dog Whisperer Whispers

Just finished up a 6 week series of Puppy Kindergarten and Puppy Next Step with the next series slated to begin next month.

Shy dogs learning to play and overcome some fears; over the top pups learned to tone it down and play nice; people learning a peaceful, fun and non violent way to train.

Spring is definitely afoot. Sunshine, melting snow, blue skies, chirping birds -- an assault on all the senses. In a good way.

View this hilarious clip from Charlie Murphy which says with laugh out loud humor the real secret to the Dog Whisperer. An assault on the senses. In a bad way. Shout it out -- positive training works!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Behavioral Mutations Revisited

Lily the Queen died nearly 8 weeks ago. The historically sound triumvirate - 3 kids, 3 cats, 3 dogs -- has been fang shwayed into imbalance with 3 kids, 3 cats, and just 2 dogs.
[Trip (L) and Bean feel the void left by Lily]. 

     From the very beginning when she came into my life as a gangly rescue pup -- serendipitiously and unplanned in January of 2000, Lily kept benevolent control over the human and animal gang. My aide-de-camp. An organic nanny cam. Chase games with Bean. Tolerance of Trip's terrier antics. A jarring habit of one LOUD bark at the cats if they walked too close to her while she was resting. Never phased the cats. Freaked me out when I wasn't prepared. I miss it.

When she hit adulthood, she did become protective and reactive on occasion [she nipped at my sister's visiting dog once but I take responsibility --- they had been good friends on previous visits, I have the video!] which I worked with in the last four years of her life once I understood all the triggers and ensured safety.  In all her orchestrations of the Better Pet posse that lived in my house, permanent and visiting members, she never resorted to so much as a lip lift. Elegant. Graceful. Feminine. Strong. Athletic. Gently persuasive. Calming. Gosh I miss that.

The Boys, Trip and Bean, do all those things boy dogs do. Marking and one upmarkingsmanship --- this time of the year all the more obvious by the yellow discolored snow streaks in the piles that abound. Being goofy and find it difficult to multi task. They rarely ask for directions but always end up following my lead. They both like to push their heads into my hand for rubbing; Lily would just calmly insist without force that her head be rubbed.

Two weeks ago, my 10 yo daughter Sophie and her sleepover friend Schuyler were happy to be spending much of the following day together. The tweenager energy spilling out of them after waffles (too much syrup?) needed venting. I sent the girls off into the great outdoors, each with a dog on a leash and a bag of treats.
     Some 45 minutes later a frantic Sophie called from her cell phone. Her hysterical rant produced only a few legible words -- dog fight, blood, lots of blood -- and her location -- her elementary school playground and fields. 
     Arriving minutes later with my oldest daughter Zena in tow, all four -- the two girls and two dogs -- were sitting calmly on a large hill of deep snow. As we neared the group we could see the snow flecked with quite a bit of blood. NOTE: I remained incredibly calm -- both because I knew it wasn't serious and because I didn't want the kids to be any more freaked out than they already were. I inspected both dogs. I found a few scrapes and shallow puncture wounds. I kicked snow over the bloodstains.  Later I would find a gash on the inside of Trip's rear left thigh and a cut near Bean's right eye. None of the injuries were serious but there was an edge in the air.
     Moving slowly to maintain calm, I assured the girls that it was boys being boys and much like human brothers fighting. I took responsibility because I had been developing an awareness of an unsettlement with the dogs. I shouldn't have had the girls take both without me.  I explained that the dogs were rudderless without Lily. Behavioral mutations were afoot and it was an ongoing process. That even though I often took just Trip and Bean on walks without Lily, her presence in the home was was kept balance on the pack. Her death was a loss for all of us to deal with, however we needed to, including the animals. But the good news is that, in terms of this fight, like human boys, usually, once it was over it was over. And it was over despite the trail of blood and the cuts and punctures.
     We took the dogs home, I bathed them up, slathered their shallow punctures with neosporin and really observed. I've been observing ever since.
     Trip and Bean have not had any issues since The Fight. The next day Sophie and I returned to the scene of the crime with just Bean. We played on the playground with Bean -- having him do what I call Playground Agility -- and he was drawn to the area in the snow where I had covered the blood. His usually very reliable recall was seriously compromised -- he couldn't stop sniffing deeply into the snow. What was his plodder brain processing? It's at times like this I wish I had one of those translators ala one of my favorite movies, UP!
     Both dogs are fully recovered. They seem to my mind and observation to be more settled in their new role without Lily since then.
     And in Lily's memory, because she loved those car rides so, I have started taking Trip for more experiences (have I ever mentioned he's a horrorshow in a car?) and I dare say he's improved by at least 75%.
     Isn't making observations grand?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Slipping & Sliding into Spring, Celebrating Eskies

Despite the deep drifts and potentially lethal icicles that drip all about, sights and sounds of spring are peeking out — stalwart birds a-chirpin, lengthening days and a noticeably different angle of sunlight — not to mention my itch to feel bare feet on grass.
The Olympics are [ finally ] over and in the spirit of glasnost, or just warm feelings with our neighbors to the north, today’s blog is dedicated to the celebration of the 4th anniversary of the American Eskimo dog breed being formally recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club.
Eskies are modernized white dogs descended from Spitz dogs developed in the Arctic and northern area of the world and tweaked to come out in 3 sizes — standard, miniature and toy —  I contemplate the benefit of such a winter loving dog with energy to spare to pull my sled to get me where I need to go. But then I think about all that white hair that would need sweeping and I console myself that the Winter Olympics are over for four more years.
If this is a breed that appeals to the musher in you, learn more about whether their wicked high intelligence, high energy and protective but non aggressive nature might be a good match for you.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Some Days...

Some days, most actually, when I finally stop the constant motion both in body and mind in living my life, I feel a sense of collapse and wonderment that 12 - 16 hours has elapsed and there has been no break.

Owning and running my own company, single parenting 3 very different daughters, nudging as best I can the workings of my beloved 100 year old house, managing and enjoying business and personal relationships, dealing with any and all contingencies, adapting to the new dynamic since the death of Lily last month, not to mention recent chronic snow shoveling, keeps me on the treadmill of life.

But sometimes, when it's all quiet about me, I look over onto my magnetized inspiration board [stay tuned for a future post on that], and see the triangulated ceramic tchotchke [you can't see the silly feet that are attached to the bottom of what by all accounts seems to me to be a Christmas Tree] that reads in an all lower case cursive:
And then I do. And whether it's a moment, an hour or a whole day, I can get back on the treadmill and do it all over again.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Who Do You Love?

Valentine's Day is soon upon us. Formal and informal polls reveal that a lot of us out there put a significant amount of our emotional energy into our companion animal relationships. I really enjoyed reading about a recent global poll which reveals that 1 in 5 [1/5th] adults surveyed would prefer their pet than their partner.

I'm not very sentimental, but I do not take it for granted that I can spread my emotional and physical energy easily among both my human and animal loved ones and enjoy all. I live for perfect moments and most all of them come from some interaction of affection or connection or even awareness between myself and my inner core of people and the many dogs in my life.

In the realm of positive dog training, effort towards a non-violent and loving form of training as opposed to a more punitive one increases the probability that a loving and more fluid partnership is likely. Learning how to take on, from the earliest of ages, a positive, clear and benevolent leadership role and working with your animal at a realistic rate of expectation versus the You Do It Or Else Approach in which you dare not start training until the dog is 4 months lest you harm him is my Valentine's Wish For Dogs.

Doing a wee bit of journalistic research into the history of Valentine's Day, I learned that once upon a time, the context involved a lot of whipping and force. And double gasp, included the use of dog skin whips.

Valentine's Day for me is a sign that we're still going to be dealing with winter weather for at least another 6 weeks. Snow storms in waves make driving hazardous and includes lots of shoveling.

However you celebrate the mid of the month, heck any day, any month, savor your loved ones, whatever their species.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Learning Styles

My obsession of late with respect to the dog training services I provide is taxing my brain. I'm always trying to figure out how best to communicate to clients, either in a private in home or group setting, the correct information about how dogs learn. Getting clients to understand is paramount.

If you don't have a solid foundation for your house, it will collapse in an earthquake; if you don't have a solid foundation in understanding how dogs really tick, your dog in particular, you're going to accept disappointment and possibly the canine equivalent of an earthquake or tsunami.

Other than using that disappointment to rake in profits by writing best sellers like MARLEY AND ME (I could neither finish the book or the movie btw, which is very uncharacteristic of me), I want people to develop increased desire in increasing accountability of their dog's behavior by taking a greater role in the process.

I think the key begins with understanding learning styles. People often know their own learning style or can tell me what their best learning style is when I tell them their choices; if I ask them what their dog's learning style is they look at me with a blank look.

Having worked with thousands of dogs, including my own pack of shifting canines since very very young, I have developed by observation and working the dog, briefly, what the dog's learning style is. And I see that regardless of age, breed, temperament, gender or any other variables, that the learning style in a dog is the learning style in a dog -- it doesn't change.

So here are the three I have discovered:

1. Learns something new very quickly but can't sustain it without lots of reinforcement, i.e., learns sit but gets right back up. (MOST COMMON IN MY EXPERIENCE).

2. Learns beginning and end of a behavior but has trouble with the middle, i.e., can sit and stay but wiggles in a sit position) (LEAST COMMON BUT NOTED FREQUENTLY ENOUGH)

3. Has a heck of a time just taking in the information to learn the very beginning of a behavior but with patience, eventually gets it (MOST CHALLENGING BUT MOST SATISFYING FROM THIS TRAINER'S PERSPECTIVE).

Once you figure out your own dog's learning style and you can commit to a positive approach to training, the unruly adolescent can be tamed into the amazing, intelligent animal you never even knew you had!

Here's a little clip of a brilliant dog, Nina, who because she was misunderstood, initially presented as a monstrously unruly, defiant, and at times, scary dog. Polishing off the rough in a single session revealed the diamond that she really is. Hopefully her people are continuing the journey. Here she demonstrates how she learned a simple command that is complicated to teach (not really, you just have to really understand clicker training and have good timing and patience) but was done in under a minute once she stopped reacting and started thinking:

Can you tell what Nina's learning style is?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Trip nostalgia trip

Lily's recent death at age 10 paralleled the entire first decade of the 21st century. She came into my life on January 2, 2000 and she left it 10 days ago almost exactly ten years later on January 10, 2010. I've recently rediscovered a box of old video tapes including a lot of footage of my children when young and, of course, my dogs past and present were well represented, sometimes to the exclusion of the kids!

The process of video preservation -- transferring the tapes to the hard drive of a computer and then editing the footage into interesting little movies for both personal and professional use is an exciting but nevertheless daunting proposition.

My tech savvy teenage daughter figured out how to configure the appropriate cords to show the videotape on the living room TV and last night the girls and I (along with the dogs and cats) watched one tape dating back to Fall 2001. Much of the cassette was when my now 8 + year old Trip was a puppy -- including the day I took my girls (then ages 2 1/2, almost 5 and 8 1/2) to meet Trip and his whole litter. What I hadn't counted on was how excited Trip was to see his family on TV.

Trip has really been the only dog I've lived with who really loves TV. Especially if there is some animal related show on (I watch a lot of them). He gets really giddy when it's about dogs. I can only imagine how very giddy he was watching his very small and young former ungray self and his siblings and his birth mother.

This is just a small snippet I just had to take to show his excitement and how it transferred down to the cats (who normally take no interest in TV). Stay tuned for more!

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen

The cost benefit analysis of bringing animals into your life can vary for person to person.

There are of course the financial expenses -- cost of animal, medical care, food and treats, chewies, toys, equipment, grooming, boarding, training, dog walking, day care, and possibly the loss or replacement of valuables your dog destroys during phases of development. Certainly those in the animal welfare world are well aware of the current economic crisis having a very high toll on the loss of animals of their home simply because of financial issues.

Then there is the more important cost of getting emotionally involved in the animals you take on responsibility for and the knowledge that there is a very high likelihood that you will outlive an animal and the grief that follows, often misunderstood or dismissed by other people in your life.

Four weeks ago today I learned Lily had an advanced case of hemangiosarcoma. Based on her radiograph and blood tests, I was told she would not last long. Kindly I was told by my vet he would be surprised if she lived a month.

I have gone through the stages of grief during this past month of hospice culminating in Lily's death Sunday night at 9:20 pm. She was one day shy of his month prediction. I consider this last month a real gift. I had an opportunity to spend quality time with her and to savor her on those days she felt well. Just being quietly near her on the more difficult days seemed to comfort her. Her pattern seemed to be a few good days (good appetite, spring in her step, her general joie) followed by one or two not so great days (no appetite, vomiting, lethargy, trouble breathing).

Friday was a very good day. Lily had a sudden surge of energy and seemed almost puppy-like in her enthusiasm and indicated desire to go for a drive even though it was freezing cold and snowy. I was thrilled that something I had already let go of just a week or so ago could be revisited -- at least one more time.

Off we went to visit my father, her "grandpa". She was solicitous of affection and was her old, sweet, usual self. No obvious signs of distress, heavy breathing or a dulled affect. She was downright perky!
I watched in awe but had in the back of my head the end of care guide, specifically the section in which it was written:

Surge of Energy
Occasionally, when someone is close to death, he has a temporary increase in energy and alertness. He may become talkative after a period of disorientation or sleepiness. He may ask for a favorite food after having refused meals and he may ask for visitors after a period of withdrawal. Take advantage of this time; it can be one of special closeness and a chance to express your love and support.
She remained pretty chipper the rest of Friday and had a great appetite.

Saturday was not a great day, but not a horrid one. Aside from a few potty breaks in the cold and snow, Lily mostly slept. But early evening she began to get up and instead collapsed, unable to get up. I helped get her on a dog bed and dragged her into the the living room. She rested there the rest of the evening.

My daughter Callie and I made a nest of cushions and warm blankets next to Lily on her bed

and along with all the other animals -- Bean, Trip, Grace, Lola and Byrne -- spent the night with her on the floor. I knew she would never go upstairs again. I cried myself to sleep, quietly, so as not to stress out Callie who was herself already openly grieving for a dog she had known from her earliest memories.

Lily remained unable to get up in the morning, and it had been nearly 18 hours since she had last gone out for a potty break. I put a towel under her hindquarters on the bed in case she lost control of her bladder or bowels.

At noon, as I was getting ready to take one daughter to begin a bus journey for a 3 day field trip for school and pick up another who had been at a sleepover birthday party, I went in to check on Lily and she was gone! Not one of us had noticed that she had gotten up and returned to her crate next to the radiator.

I was able to roust her long enough to get her outside one last time. On wobbly legs she made a successful potty break and came back in. Back to her warm crate and rest.

Throughout the rest of the day she rested. She refused food, drank some water. Visitors to the house included grandpa again as well as my sister in law and 5 1/2 month old nephew.
Lily rested through it all.

Shortly after 9, guests long gone, I went to try to roust her for one last evening potty break. My two younger girls were nearby. I helped her up and out of the crate. Lily let out a very sharp, loud scream. It had a guttural, primal sound, and it shook me to my core. Her ears, usually flopped over softly, stood straight up in a way I had never seen before. I called Callie to grab the dog bed from the other room and together we helped get her fully back on the bed. Lily screamed another singular wail, sank into the bed and died.

The girls and I sat on the floor in the dark room surrounding her. We stroked and petted her. Bathing her in our tears we told her how much we had loved her. I thanked my sobbing girls for being such great friends to Lily. I also told them it was such a gift that she had allowed us to be with her at the end, and it was a gift for her that we could be there, stroking, loving and generally doing everything we could to help her onto her journey to the Rainbow Bridge.

The flipside of grief is humor. We sat there for a very long time as Lily's body began to further shut down. I had been around enough dying dogs to know that she was already gone in spirit; now it was her body turning off the rest of the lights in the house.

The other two dogs and cats came by to sniff and regard the body. Each addressed her differently, and the girls asked a lot of questions about the surviving animals' take on her death. It was one of those parenting moments you dread and savor all at the same time -- an opportunity to share the experience of the death of a loved one is a bittersweet time. I told the girls I couldn't begin to know what animals think, I can only observe. To my mind, all were exhibiting more or less respectful behavior.

Finally Trip came over to sit on my lap as I sat on the floor and make what Sophie calls his Old Man noises. I began a dialogue.

Me: "Just because you are now the oldest animal does not automatically make you royalty."
Trip: "grrrr moan, moan grrr, moan moan whimper moan grrr."
Me: "I don't care how much you think the crown will look good on your head. Passing of the crown has to go to the animal amongst the remaining pack who exhibits the greatest leadership while maintaining dignity. I think we can all agree that Bean, loving as he is, does not convey the greatest attributes of royalty. And Lola and Grace just can't be bothered.

And frankly, although you are smart, funny and certainly have seniority age wise, I just don't think you have the sobriety needed to rule fairly. You're too happy happy joy joy all the time, and it doesn't help that you get too overstimulated in that terrier way."
Trip: "grrrrr...moan, grr, grr, moan, whimper, grrrrr, moooaaaannnnn."
Me: "I know, sometimes the truth hurts. But I have to know the passing of the crown goes to the one who deserves it."

The girls and I realized that of the remaining 5 animals, Byrne, although still young and very much a punk much of the time, has the greatest leadership qualities.
But until the crown can fit snugly over his adolescent ego, we shall carry on during the interregnum.

We'll all need some time to adjust. Lily's death has left a huge hole in our hearts and hearth.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

When to Euthanize

The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) announced last month that January 2010 would be The First Annual National Train Your Dog Month.

You know how some people don't like to stop to ask for directions? The result can lead to taking a very long time to get to the destination, getting hopelessly lost or worse, getting into an accident. So it is with raising a dog well. Not many people realize that there are very simple things to learn and practice that will help shape a puppy from the beginning or rewire an unruly adolescent or adult dog into a well behaved and adoring companion animal. Note I said simple, not easy.

Lack of simple and consistent training ends up becoming a death sentence for many very wonderful dogs (and cats and other pets). The adorable puppy crawling out of the box on Christmas morning isn't so adorable after a few weeks or months of NORMAL DOG BEHAVIOR you decide you don't like. Pup hasn't learned where to consistently pee or poop because no one taught her. He's destroying property because no one is managing him or giving him appropriate chewies each and every time. She is jumping up on owners or guests; he is pulling on the leash and maybe even barking and lunging at strangers/other dogs/anything it sees. Perhaps the dog is running off and at risk for being hit by a car or lost or injuring someone or something.

Fed up with behaviors that aren't cute anymore or new ones that are overbearing, owners give up on the dog and, because the owner can, the dog ends up in a shelter or rescue group or almost incomprehensibly, just dumped. [AUTHOR'S NOTE: Lily was herself a rescue -- she and several litter mates were serendipitously found by a passerby who heard them whimpering -- they had been dumped in a box in the woods in late December to freeze to death. My rescue cat Grace was from a litter thrown in a dumpster in the back of a vet hospital where I used to teach -- she was the only kitten in her litter to survive. How? She managed to escape the dumpster and find me in the parking lot . From day one this feline exudes a cerebral calm and cunning that makes her such a survivor.]

According to the Humane Society of the United States, between six and eight million dogs and cats are turned in to animal shelters each year, and about four million are euthanized for lack of good homes. These are often healthy, nice and potentially amazing pets whose only crime was owner impulsivity, ignorance and irresponsibility. Check out their video.
My own dilemma regarding euthanasia has to do with the flip side of that coin.
At what point does one make the decision for a beloved and cherished dog in their care that euthanasia is indicated? A dog you really don't want to lose but are coming to accept you will lose. Now at 3. 5 weeks post diagnosis and thus at the tail end of the time frame guesstimated on Diagnosis Day, I called in to Lily's medical doctor, Dr. James Preuter of Shaker Animal Clinic.

I've known Dr. Preuter for years but never had the need to have one of those emotional conversations revolving around the painful topic of death and dying: "When do I know when it's time and when and if that time comes, what will I do?" I was very grateful for his gentle tone and willingness to discuss options available even though I knew he was in the middle of a hectic work day.

I was most heartened that he was willing, should I need it, to provide a house call to euthanize her in her familiar environments. I also probed him in detail about what the actual cause of death might be and what it might look like if she went on her own. I was heartened that although gruesome sounding to a lay person, her probable cause would be bleeding out in whatever internal organ was "winning" the hemangiosarcoma tumor war. Since the cancer wouldn't spread to her bones, he indicated her continued deterioration shouldn't be painful. She might be walking about and just drop dead suddenly and relatively painlessly, or, in best case scenario, she would simply fall asleep and die peacefully sleeping.

Since a good 90% of Lily's time is spent resting/sleeping and I'm making an effort to minimize her excitement/arousal level since that causes breathing trauma, I'd like to think that she is savoring the end process because I have worked it out to remain near her much of the time. She seems to take great comfort in me being near her, which is really the greatest gift she could give me. Thank goodness for slow periods like endless snow of January!

Lily is proof positive that one person's trash is another's treasure. And treasure her I have. And do. And hope to for many more days to come.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

The ceaseless snow here in my neck of the woods since 2010 rang in 5 days ago is absurd. Thirteen years ago today it was very cold and snowy. Thirteen years ago yesterday, it was balmy and unseasonably warm for January in Cleveland. This is unlike yesterday's weather, in that it was snowy and cold and, did I mention snowy?
How do I know these facts? No, I'm not an idiot savant or weather freak. I just remember that it was 13 years ago today I came home from the hospital having given birth to my second daughter, Callie. The day after she was born we got to know each other a little bit but I couldn't take her outside yet even though there was a freak warm day to savor.

Nostalgia snap!!!

It's official. Now I'm living with TWO teenage daughters. TWO! Very smart ones to boot. I'm outnumbered. And Lily, my stalwart friend, their loyal queen and my right hand bitch for the entire first decade of this 21st century, is now three weeks and one day post diagnosis. She is fading slowly but surely. Hospice care continues. She is mostly resting now, inbetween going out for potty breaks, which fortunately she can still do. She continues to take the medication Theophylline which helps her breath easier and seems to calm her when she gets a gak reaction or loses balance or, as what happened a few days ago, lost control of her hind quarters for about a minute. But mostly the hospice care is just being around. Being a consistent benevolent leader and finding ways to maximize my time at home and briefly, outside with her.

Things I have let go of in the past 2 weeks:

1. Lily will not be able to go on any more walks out and about in the planet. But we had a lot of them. Mostly they were great and I just loved watching her run -- she always reminded me of a young filly when she really let it go. Now I'm just grateful she can still walk up and down the stairs to go both outside and upstairs in my house.

2. No more car rides. Something she really loved, especially the past few months, before I even knew she was ill. And I promised myself if it should come to having to euthanize her, I would figure out how to have it down in my home, not at a vet hospital. So, no more car rides. A bittersweet loss.

But there are many things she still can do and do well. She even hauls up out of her warm crate to greet the kids when they get home from school. I bet she's wishing (like they are) that we get a snow day from all this precipitation.

So my non teenager is off taking a driveway shoveling shift and Trip joins her. A reminder that death is not so much a reason to be sad, but a way to celebrate a life that was and to remember to cherish the life that remains.