Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Feline Purrsuasion

Posting photos of your cat is supposed to be the blogging equivalent of jumping the shark... but I'm doing it anyway since we actually adopted ZB last spring and although I've written a little about her I just noticed that I hadn't ever posted any pictures of her.

It's been so lovely to have a cat again!! She gets along great with all the dogs - and I'm very, very proud of our dogs for how well they've adapted to her. She does get a lot of the credit, because she's just fearless. If a cat doesn't hiss and run when a dog approaches, the dog is much less likely to try to chase the cat!

This is the first photo I took of her after we started letting her into the house.

Here she is sleeping on the bed with Kinsey

Here's a closeup - I told you she was comfortable with the dogs!!

Flat cat

This is a pretty typical scene at feeding time. Except she's not always this patient, and will sometimes start knocking things off the counter if the food doesn't start appearing quickly enough.

She's even taken well to eating a raw diet! Although I've been feeding a raw diet to our dogs for about 10 years, I didn't switch my cats over back then. They were old, and healthy and it was partly a case of "if it's not broke, don't fix it" and partly that they were totally not interested in raw food. From what I've been told and have read, this is very common - switching dogs to raw food is usually pretty easy but switching cats can be very difficult.

But not ZB - she will eat pretty much anything. I started out feeding her pretty much the same thing I was feeding the dogs, but just adding more heart since that is a good source of the taurine that is so important for cats. And about one meal a day - or every other day - she got some grain-free canned cat food just to cover the bases. But now I've found a good recipe for homemade cat food, and she's getting that and is doing fabulously well.

The only thing that really has been a challenge has been making her into an "inside only" cat. She enjoys being outside - and admittedly she survived out there for at least 3 or 4 months while we were teaching the dogs that she was not to be chased - but it's just not worth the risk unless we're watching her. I'd like to build her an enclosure - well, to be honest, I'd like Ronnie to build her an enclosure - but that hasn't happened yet. So we occasionally let her outside while we supervise, and occasionally she escapes but we get her back inside pretty quickly.

I love having a cat again!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Good Old Days

I got a GPS navigator for an early Christmas present. And I love it!! Even though I didn't think I needed one...

I am a home health therapist so I'm in the car pretty much all day long. But even though my schedule changes almost daily - it's a very common occurrence that when I'm on my way to a patient's home, I am coming from a different direction than I have before - I've never really had any trouble finding my way around.

That statement may shock people who know me because there is no doubt that I am directionally challenged. I can easily get turned around inside a home or store and forget how I came in. I can also get lost in a parking lot and have trouble figuring out how to get back on the road I came in on.

But on the road it's different. I know where I am and where I'm going, and since I'm very familiar with my area I don't have much trouble figuring out how to get from here to there. Of course I use a map to look up the address prior to the first time I go to a patient's home, but other than that I have always done fine on my own.

But having a GPS makes things SO much easier!! It takes me from one patient's home to another sometimes via routes that I wouldn't have thought of, and so far it's always worked out really well and seems very efficient. And I've set it so that it will automatically re-route me around severe traffic congestion, which is a BIG help since I'm seeing a lot of patients in Dallas lately.

It's a Navigon 2100 Max, and I really like it. I had never heard of Navigon before - I'd only heard of the Big Three brands - but it's not a no-name generic and seems to have a lot of features for the price. Text to Speech (and the speaker pronounces street names quite accurately), live traffic updates (which really was the main reason I got it in the first place), free map upgrades 4 times a year etc.

It's definitely got a "new toy" vibe and I enjoy playing with it, but it actually is making my life a bit easier. Since it's the only GPS system I've ever used, I have no idea if it's really one of the better ones on the market or not - what matters is that it's so much better than what I'm used to.

Which got me to thinking - this is like the Word Processor revolution. Remember your first word processor? If you are too young to remember a world without word processors or computers, just hush. Your first word processor could have been an absolute POS - and certainly it was much inferior to the programs we've got now - but you were absolutely thrilled with it. Because no matter how clunky or slow it was, it was a freaking miracle compared to a typewriter.

Remember making corrections on a typewriter? It's not just that there was no Spell Check (other than your faithful dictionary) - if you made a typo you had to manually fix it somehow. There were several options, all of them awful. Many typewriters had a correction ribbon that was just like a regular typewriter ribbon except it held white ink. You would type over your mistake which didn't really erase it and then when you typed the correct letter it would look a little different. Or you could paint on some Liquid Paper, blow on it until it dried and hope you hadn't daubed it on too thickly - in which case it would crack and flake off your page. They even made special erasers that were supposed to actually erase typing errors - they didn't work so great either and usually ended up smudging the paper and/or rubbing a hole in it.

And don't even talk about revisions... back when I was in high school if you were writing an essay or a report you'd write it out longhand first. If you wanted to change around words, sentences or paragraphs you'd draw a circle around them and then draw an arrow to the place you wanted to put them. If you made a lot of changes it would quickly become very difficult to read the paper at all and keep all the changes straight so you'd re-write the whole thing to see how it looked. Most of our papers could be turned in handwritten, but there were always a few "formal" papers that had to be typed. Oh, the Horror!!

Now, if you could afford it you'd hire someone to type it for you. Some people put themselves through college or made a nice second income on the money they made typing papers for students.

But if you had to type it yourself and you weren't a really accomplished typist, it was a nerve wracking experience because you were trying so hard to make as few typos as possible. And Heaven help you if, after it was all typed, you realized that you needed another revision. Or had made some major mistake. Because then you'd have to type the whole damn thing all over again.

My first word processor was just that - it wasn't a computer. I could store documents on floppy discs but it was really just a glorified typewriter. There was no mouse, you just used keyboard shortcuts to highlight, cut and paste. There were about 5 or 6 different fonts to choose from, a few different text sizes and you could italicize, bold and underline. The screen was maybe 5 or 6 inches high and 10 or 12 inches wide, and showed about a half page at a time.

And how I loved that little machine!! The unbridled joy of being able to just press a button and erase a mistake!! The thrill of moving words and sentences around without having to re-type the entire thing!! Maybe you had to be there, but believe me when I say that it was so awesome.

So although I'm sure that someday I'll look back on my Navigon and think "how quaint" - for now it ROCKS!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Daily Grind

Yesterday I made about 160# of dog food.

As you may or may not know, we feed our dogs a raw homemade diet. It's really not too much trouble normally - once you learn the basic rules and also learn what works for your particular pets it's fairly easy.

A lot of people who feed raw diets don't grind anything. After all, dogs and cats come well equipped with excellent meat and bone grinders as standard equipment.

In my case, I've got several reasons for grinding meat and bones for the dogs. One is, we've got a little Shih-Tzu cross dog we inherited who is about 14 years old and missing some teeth. While he LOVES to eat meaty bones and I occasionally give him small ones, I am worried about him breaking/losing what teeth he's got left. And before you ask, yes he has had a dental and dental X-rays etc. The teeth he has are fairly sound but I tend to err on the side of caution.

Another reason - probably the main reason - is that Teddy and Topper are hopeless pansies when it comes to eating raw food. It is totally my fault: I'm their breeder, I raised them, I weaned them to raw food. That's pretty much all they've eaten their entire lives... and in the 10 years I've been feeding raw food to dogs, they are by far the PICKIEST eaters I've ever had. Teddy will eat turkey necks, and pork neck bones. Period. Topper will eat ONLY pork neck bones. Neither one of them will touch a whole piece of chicken (say a leg quarter) but they like chicken if it's ground up. They'll also eat hamburger but won't touch raw liver unless it's ground up and mixed with something they like. *Sigh*

I have nearly the opposite problem with their mother Kinsey - she's a classic gulper. She'll eat anything I give her, but I have to be careful that the pieces are big enough that she can't just swallow them down and choke.

So although they all do get whole meaty bones on a regular basis - which I believe is important to them for the psychological satisfaction and the physical exercise, not to mention the teeth cleaning - because there are so many limitations on what my crew will eat and on what I can safely give them that I grind food so I can get a bigger variety of things into them.

I used to have a little electric meat grinder from Northern Tool that is popular with people who grind food for their pets.

It worked great for a couple of years, but then finally died. I have no complaints - it's a light duty grinder made for grinding meat only (there is a sticker on it that says you're supposed to remove not only the bones before grinding, but even the skin!) and I routinely ran 40 to 50 lbs. of various chicken parts through it at a time. It was hard on the grinder, but hard on me too - there was a lot of preparation because I had to cut or chop the chicken into smallish bits so they would A) fit through the hopper, and B) not bog the machine down too much. It usually took longer to do that, than it did to grind everything up.

So when it finally perished I decided I didn't want to go through all that again. I wanted a grinder that was bigger, stronger, and - most importantly - with a strong enough motor and a large enough hopper that I didn't have to cut a chicken leg quarter into 4 or 5 pieces to get it to go through.

After some searching, we settled on the 3/4 horsepower grinder from Cabela's:

So yesterday I decided to christen the thing and went to the grocery wholesalers and got a 40# case of chicken leg quarters, and a 40# case of chicken backs. Then I went to Fiesta for a bunch of beef heart and chicken liver - and since they were having a great sale I picked up 20 more lbs. of chicken leg quarters.

Now, chicken leg quarters have a nearly perfect ratio of meat to bone naturally. Chicken backs, on the other hand, are mostly bone and some fat with the skin. But I'm fortunate enough to have a lot of Nilgai meat in the freezer courtesy of some very generous friends who are hunters.

This is a Nilgai - they have become popular as game animals in Texas

Nilgai, like most game meats, is very lean. So the fatty, bony chicken backs are a perfect addition to it as a calcium source and a fat source.

Normally, I am not this ambitious when I'm grinding food for the dogs. I think the most I've done at one time in the past was about 50 lbs. And that took about 3 hours, using my little meat grinder from Northern Tool.

So I was really, really hoping that my new grinder would do the trick. Nothing like jumping in with both feet. I unpacked it, washed the parts that come into contact with the meat, put it together and turned it on.

First surprise - it's a lot quieter than my old grinder! It's still not exactly what I'd call a stealth machine, but when I turned it off my ears weren't ringing.

So far, so good.

Let's see what it does with a chicken leg quarter.

I picked up a small one, and fed it into the hopper drumstick first.

The grinder sucked the whole thing down, and the motor didn't even change pitch.

This calls for a Tim Allen "more power" grunt: HOH, hoh, HOH, HOH, HOH!

It was so awesome! It took everything without any effort at all - there were a few giant chicken leg quarters that wouldn't quite fit, but all I had to do was cut through the thigh so they'd straighten out a bit. It took me about the same amount of time to go through that 160+ lbs. as it used to take me to go through 40 lbs. - and my hands weren't hurting at the end from using the poultry shears.

100 lbs of raw meaty bones = $ 40
40 lbs Nilgai = free
16 lbs liver and heart = $ 20
Most excellent new grinder = $275*
Having a couple of month's
worth of food for 4 Danes
in the freezer = PRICELESS

*A lot of money, yes - but this sucker will pay for itself pretty quickly!
Not to mention keeping ME happy...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Over the past 15 years, I've probably fostered 50 or 60 Great Danes in my home. These are/were dogs who were either lost and their owners couldn't be found, or they were surrendered by their owners for various reasons. I worked with established Dane rescue organizations that were responsible for taking in the dogs, finding temporary (foster) housing for them, paying the medical expenses to get them healthy and get them spayed or neutered, and for finding new permanent homes for the dogs.

My responsibility - as the temporary or foster home - was to teach the dog how to live with people as a member of the family (if it didn't know this already and many of them didn't) and to assess the dog in an attempt to decide which sort of family would be the best fit for the dog in the long run. And sometimes I also had to help nurse the dog back to health before they could even be put up for adoption.

Sometimes this was a big job - I got many dogs who had obviously not had ANY training at all, and once they reached adolescence they could be a handful. Think of a hyper, untrained "puppy" who weighs over a hundred pounds and you get the picture. But fortunately Danes are usually pretty quick to figure out what is in their best interest, and once they realized that unacceptable behavior resulted in undesirable consequences then it all became just a matter of teaching the dog what WAS acceptable. I called it "boot camp" but it wasn't really harsh - just a set of simple rules that were enforced with great consistency.

But many times it was actually an easy job. I had lots of foster dogs who were quite mellow and not interested in testing the limits at all, but were just thrilled to get some TLC, and having plenty to eat and a comfortable place to sleep were just icing on the cake.

Most of them were really nice dogs, who were destined to be beloved pets - but while I loved them all I didn't fall in love with them. I didn't think of them as being "my" dogs - which isn't such a good idea anyway if you are fostering, it is hard on the person and can be confusing for the dog - but rather I thought of them as "someone else's dog" that I was just taking care of for awhile. Which was the truth, in a way. So when they got adopted, it really wasn't all that hard to say good-bye to them. I stayed in touch with their new owners, and it was satisfying to see how happy they were. But that was about it.

A few of them weren't so nice - dogs who were so damaged by a disastrous mix of bad genetics and bad upbringing that we soon realized they could be dangerous. Danes are SO big and SO strong that no reputable Dane rescue will try to place such dogs with members of the public. The potential for catastrophic damage is too great. Sometimes an experienced Dane owner comes along who can handle such a dog safely, but most of the time we have to put them down. It's a very difficult decision, and we do our best to make it a peaceful event by feeding the dog treats or letting him have a special toy, sedating him if he doesn't tolerate handling or restraint (so his last moments won't be full of struggle or panic) and generally comforting the dog the best we can. Fortunately this was very rare - in my experience only two dogs I fostered had to be put down.

But there were others - also just a few, but memorable - who really captured my heart. I only succumbed to one and adopted her - that was Patience and it wouldn't have mattered at the time whether or not it was a "good" time to acquire a new dog. Fortunately it was, but I would have kept her regardless because I realized very quickly that she was "my" dog. There is more about her on her memorial page on our web site and also on our info page.

There were 4 or 5 other really, really special ones that I was sorely tempted to keep, but in the end realized that - to be fair to the dog - either I just didn't have the time to do right by them, or for some other reason they would be a better fit for another family. Those were the ones that although it nearly broke my heart to let them go, I later was glad that I had when I saw how happy they were, and how happy their new families were with them. Actually, now that I think about it, it was very good training for being a breeder and being able to let puppies go to their new homes! That is hard to do, too.

Anyway, one of those super special dogs was an adorable puppy bitch named Sophie. She was a fawnaquin, which although it isn't one of the recognized (i.e. showable) colors for Danes is still very pretty and flashy. She was not only friendly and outgoing and confident, but was smart as a whip, and I happened to have her about the time I first learned about clicker training. I experimented shamelessly on her and the results were nothing less than spectacular. I could teach her a new behavior, or a new trick in about 10 minutes, tops - and her retention was perfect.

Sophie coming home with me - is she adorable or what?

What a face!!

I had her for only a few weeks, but have a lot of happy memories from that time because I was able to do a lot with her. We went to training classes, we went on walks and outings, and on one memorable occasion we got kicked out of an AKC show.

You usually aren't allowed to bring dogs who aren't entered in a show onto the show grounds, although exceptions are made for various reasons. And it is strictly prohibited to bring in a puppy less than 6 months old - which is the minimum age for showing a dog in AKC conformation classes. Sophie at the time was about 4 months old - she'd had all her vaccinations so it wouldn't hurt her to bring her, but she was obviously too young. I was showing Patience in obedience, but we didn't have any of our dogs entered in conformation that weekend, and after Patience and I were done I wanted to go watch the judging and see some people I knew. It was a local show, so I decided to bring Sophie along. We had a great time, and Sophie did not disappoint. She walked boldly into that huge building, echoing with the (not so) subdued roar of hundreds of people talking and a couple thousand dogs barking. All the sights and smells and sounds can be overwhelming even to worldly-wise adult dogs - never mind a puppy. But her tail was wagging and she was absolutely thrilled by it all. We watched the Dane judging and talked to LOTS of people, and Sophie got petted and fussed over and got her picture taken dozens of times.

Sophie at the show

Sophie and Patience doing a Sit - Stay for pictures at the show

Then one of the members of the Kennel Club that was hosting the show walked up to me and asked, "How old is that puppy?" I knew the jig was up but lied anyway, in a most half-assed way: "Six months?" I asked. It was such a bad lie it was kind of funny and he almost smiled, but just said "I don't think so. Please take her out of the building". So I got kicked out of an AKC show for the first and (hopefully) last time. I'm such a troublemaker.

I really, really was tempted to keep her, but I do believe that things often work out the way they are meant to. And when this absolutely fabulous family asked about adopting her, the writing was on the wall. It would be best for all if she became their dog. It damn near killed me to let her go, but I've never regretted it. Her owners stay in touch, and Sophie has developed into the amazing dog we knew she would be. She's had lots of adventures but has remained that happy, sweet smart girl that I knew all those years ago.

Today her owner emailed me to say that they had to say good-bye to Sophie yesterday. She was healthy and happy up until the last few days, when it sounds like a cascade of things started going wrong despite everyone's best efforts. Euthanizing her was obviously the right thing to do, and she was with the people she loved at the end, just as they had been with her for all these years. But I know how hard it was on them, and my prayers and good wishes are with them tonight.

Sophie in her new home

Farewell, Sophie. You were one of the Special Ones.

Sorting things out

I just added some photos of our "kids" to the sidebar, hopefully to help you all sort out who is who, and so when I write about one or another of our dogs I won't have to re-explain the relationships each time. They don't all live with us, of course - Gus, Keeper and Buck all have marvelous, wonderful homes with terrific people. But we are fortunate enough to see them all pretty regularly, and I write about them often enough that they needed to be listed here, too.

Shameless bragging

I still get a kick out of seeing Gus's picture on a dog bed package at the pet supply store. I've never seen the crate package that supposedly used Kinsey's picture, nor did I ever get a copy of the JCPenney catalog with Teddy in it.

But I get to see Gus's claim to fame all the time! :-)

Here he is - this was taken at PetsMart. And no, we don't get any royalties or residuals or anything on the sale of the beds. We did get a free bed for his "acting fee", so that wasn't too shabby:

He's a handsome boy, if I say so myself (patting self on the back).
But I like this picture that the photographer sent us better than the one they ended up using on the package:

Monday, December 15, 2008

Happy Camper

Mood: Delighted!!

Yesterday afternoon (Sunday) it hit 80 degrees. When I got up this morning, the outside thermometer said 29 degrees. Now THAT'S more like it!!

I didn't actually wear a jacket today, but did wear a long sleeved T-shirt and my Christmas vest*. It felt maaaaavehlous. I do love me some winter-type weather. It even stayed cold (for us) all day - only got up to 33 or 34, now down to 28 - which is unusual here. We got some sprinkles late in the afternoon, which made some icy patches and immediately, as always when we get any wintery precipitation, 3 things happened simultaneously:

1. All television broadcasts are interrupted by Weather Alerts with sedate titles like ARCTIC BLAST!!!! or WINTER STORM WARNING!!!! - these are repeated every 15 minutes or so until we get about a quarter inch of sleet/snow whatever, in which case all programming is pre-empted and we get 8 or 9 straight hours (or until it all melts, whichever comes first) of breathless coverage of the WINTER STORM, complete with live shots of reporters standing up to their shoelaces in white stuff, talking about How Dangerous It Is, and Everyone Should Stay The Hell Home.

2. Everyone panics, and figures they'd better make a run for the grocery store for provisions in case - *gasp* - we get snowed in for an hour or two.

3. Half the drivers believe that "gunning it" is the best option for dealing with slick patches, whether or not they actually exist. The other half believe they will crash and die if their speed ever gets over 5 mph, even if they're on the Interstate. Much hilarity ensues.

Sorry about all the weather talk, but - even though I've lived in the South all my life - I still find the local reaction to cold weather pretty darn hilarious. To be fair, many of my fellow Southerners also find it hilarious. Me, I'm just glad it's cool!!

*WHY don't they make warm weather Christmas clothing?? In at least a third of the US, maybe more, December is a fairly warm month. I usually only find sweatshirts in Christmas themes and I wear a sweatshirt - oh, maybe 1 or 2 days a year. Maybe. I need to find some Christmas T-shirts. Or make 'em, if I can't find 'em!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It's beginning to feel like Christmas...

I've been in a horrible mood all day. It was EIGHTY F***KING DEGREES today!! On December the f***king fourteenth!!

For those of you who do not know me well, I am - shall we say - a warm-blooded individual. As in, I hate hot weather. I don't like warm weather. I'm not really all that fond of mild weather. I loooove cold weather, and snow makes me smile all over my face. I've been like this all my life but as I've gotten older and fatter and menopausal it has gotten - *ahem* - rather more pronounced.

Of course, I live in Texas, which is just an inch or two from the fires of Hell. Go figure.

Anyway, it was all I could do to restrain myself from turning the AC back on in the house today. I did turn it on in the car while running some errands, and it felt great. Only my desire to avoid contributing to Global Warming any more than necessary kept me from sitting in the car, in the driveway, with the engine running and the AC on high.

But tonight... tonight... a blessed Cold Norther has come to my rescue. The temp outside is already in the low '40s, and is going to fall into the '30s before morning and stay there. The wind chill tomorrow is predicted to be in the teens.

I can't wait!!!! (Rubbing my hands in glee). I may actually get to wear a jacket!!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Quick Update

Topper is MUCH better this morning!! Still not 100%, and I'm not convinced that constipation is/was the whole problem. If indeed that was the problem at all.

But she's up and around! I'm on my way to the acupuncture vet with Aeryn (Kinsey's sister) and I'll ask him about her symptoms. And yes, sometimes it does feel that all I do is shuttle dogs to one vet or another. But actually - other than Aeryn who has a lot of issues related to birth trauma which I'll write about one day soon - they are a very healthy bunch.

Really! :-)

Monday, December 01, 2008

This is getting old

A couple of weeks ago I was out at work (I'm a home health therapist, so I drive around all day) and Ronnie was working from home as he usually does. This is a GREAT arrangement for many reasons - not the least of which is that his office is 50 miles away. And needless to say, the dogs LOVE having him there all day.

Anyway, I had overslept that morning so had rushed out and left Ronnie to feed the dogs their breakfast. He sort of forgot - I'm really surprised that they let him forget, but they do cut us some slack sometimes - and didn't feed them until nearly noon. Which is no biggie, since with training classes and other things the dog's meals often are delayed until late morning, or late evening.

But I got a phone call: "Teddy isn't feeling well. He didn't want to eat his breakfast, and now he's just laying around." I was immediately worried, since normally Teddy is a chow hound. I asked him to take Teddy's temp, and call me back. It was a little high, so Teddy obviously needed to go to the vet ASAP. Unfortunately Ronnie had an important conference call soon, so even though I was across town it would be me taking him to the vet that day. Which actually is fine, since although Ronnie is an absolutely sterling human being in every way, he's a bit deficient in the Giving of Details department. I can usually drag the relevant information out of him when he returns from a vet appointment or training class or whatever, but it can be exhausting.

I get home, and find a very, very sad Great Dane. Teddy wasn't just laying around, he was seriously lame. Not putting any weight at all on his left front leg, and actually seemed to be favoring his right hind leg too. He didn't want to eat anything, even treats. He was very depressed, and panting, and obviously in pain. I'm thinking that this must be a serious injury, or infection. I didn't waste much time trying to palpate his leg, we just put him in my car and I took off for my vet.

Once there, things seemed a bit more mysterious. Although he was still very, very lame they couldn't find anything wrong on palpation. His neck and back also seemed fine. Since they couldn't feel anything amiss, we decided to hold off on X-rays. Especially since it would take several films to cover his whole shoulder assembly/front leg/foot. His blood work was OK except he did have a mildly elevated white count.

So, we opted to treat the symptoms: antibiotics (Cipro) and pain meds (Metacam). I normally do NOT give my dogs antibiotics "just in case", and my vet doesn't normally recommend them. But with the fever and white count and pain, we felt it was justified. They gave him a shot of Metacam to get the ball rolling, and we headed for home.

By then the rush hour traffic was starting to pick up, and since my vet is a good distance away from us it took nearly an hour to get home and Teddy was actually feeling better by then. He was willing to eat some hamburger, and I gave him the Cipro. Later that evening he was feeling MUCH better, although still rather lame but he ate a good dinner and seemed to be more himself.

The next morning, he had a swollen paw on that left front leg. A light bulb dawned... over the past couple of years, Kinsey has twice turned up with a fat foot, apparently the victim of some sort of stinging insect. And Topper (Teddy's sister) had the same thing happen last year. In each of those instances, the dog was fairly lame but not really distressed. I gave them Benadryl for a few days, and they were fine. I think maybe we've got some sort of ground dwelling bees or something. I've never seen a wound, or stinger or anything like that - they just present with a swollen paw. It's always been a front foot, which makes me suspect that the dog may be pawing at something when it gets stung.

So apparently that was what had happened to Teddy... but unlike his mom and sister, he quite obviously thought he was going to CURL UP AND DIE after getting his foot stung. What a wuss!! I still don't know why he'd have the elevated white count and/or temp with the bee sting, but I added Benadryl to his Cipro and Metacam. After that second day he didn't need the Metacam anymore, and I'm happy to say that the big baby recovered completely in just a couple of days.

Fast forward to this morning. I didn't have any patients lined up to see because I'd originally had a private agility lesson scheduled for this morning with Topper, but it was too windy. Way too windy, as in "it could blow the dog off of the dogwalk" windy. So I was out running a few errands, and got a call from Ronnie. This time it was Topper who was sick. WTF? She'd been fine earlier, had eaten a good breakfast and been her usual bouncy self.

I came home and found her acting like she was in severe pain - she was trembling and panting, arch-backed, reluctant to move. Not exactly lame, but very stiff. Danes can get a life threatening emergency condition called Bloat, or more correctly Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (click here for an article on GDV - must read stuff especially if you have a large, deep chested dog) (here is a useful chart of the cascade of events that occurs during GDV) and that is ALWAYS in the back of my mind. But this didn't really look like bloat to me, she was too alert. She wasn't trying to vomit, in fact she was willing to eat treats. If I thought she had been bloating, I would have taken her to a 24 hour clinic near us for emergency treatment since it takes over half an hour to get to my regular vet. With bloat, every minute counts. But I have learned to trust my instincts, and I figured we could safely take the time to get to my regular vet.

When we get there, she's still very uncomfortable. And very clingy - some dogs get clingy when they don't feel well, and she is DEFINITELY one of those. Not just leaning against me, but practically wrapping around me. Wanting to be in physical contact all the time. Usually when she's at the vet, she is so busy greeting everyone I could probably leave her and she wouldn't notice, not for a while anyway. But not today.

As with Teddy, there didn't seem to be much wrong clinically. Although she was obviously tense and painful, nothing really stood out. Her color was fine, her lab work was "perfect". So we decided to take some X-rays to rule out a really atypical bloat, or an equally atypical pyometra. She had her last season in early August, so although technically an intact bitch can develop this life-threatening uterine infection at any time, it's most common about 2 months after they are in season.

So we X-ray her, and what we see is: Poop! Her colon was full of poop, with some gas behind it.

Hmmm. I have been cutting back on her food lately, since she was getting a little pudgy. And it's very possible that as a result she's been getting a little too much bone and not enough meat which can certainly be constipating. She's kind of picky, and the ONLY kind of bones she'll eat are pork neck bones. Which is fine, that's a great source of calcium - but they aren't really the "meaty" bones you want to emphasize with a raw diet. So I do feed her extra meat, usually with some veggies when she gets the pork necks. But maybe I haven't been giving her enough meat.

Anywho, they gave her an enema (outside!!) and she passed a pretty decent amount of feces. With a raw diet, the dog doesn't produce a lot of poop anyway since the food is so darn digestible. Just in case, we gave her a second enema and then I walked her (and walked her, and walked her, and trotted her, and practiced recalls, and walked her some more) but she didn't pass anything else. She seemed to feel a LOT better. Not totally normal, but better.

So we came home. I am REALLY HOPING that this is just another case of a very wussie Great Dane overreacting to a relatively minor problem.

But she's still looking pretty sad:

Sorry for the crappy photo.

I suck at taking pics with my camera phone, and was too lazy to go get the Canon.

She ate a good dinner (no bones, and I added some canned pumpkin for some extra fiber) but still is not acting quite right. Unlike Teddy, she's not bouncing back. She doesn't want to go outside, although she will when we insist. But when she's out there all she does is just stand there looking pathetic.

She's much better than she was earlier today, not panting or trembling. But something ain't quite right.

This is all she wants to do:

So say a little prayer for my baby girl, will ya? I'll keep ya'll posted.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Little things sometimes get me down. Like today - usually on Thanksgiving evening I start at least thinking about getting out the Christmas decorations. But we store those in a part of the attic over the garage, and this year the garage is still full of things we moved out of the house last spring in order to get the floors refinished, walls painted, windows replaced and all that big stuff.

There are still several smaller jobs left to be done because we took some time off from the home repair this summer since we were going to so many shows. Then our contractor got busy with other clients, and we just haven't gotten around to getting ourselves back on his calendar. Plus, unfortunately the roof apparently is still leaking and the bedroom ceiling will probably need to be replaced/repaired. Again. Before that, more roof repair or even replacement.

Which is why I can't get to my Christmas decorations so may not be able to put anything up this year. Which is seriously bumming me out. I do love me a pity party.

So a little self therapy is in order. I believe that gratitude is good for the soul, so at the risk of giving my readers diabetes I am going all syrupy today and here goes with my list of what I'm grateful for:

  1. A wonderful husband who is smart and kind and funny and shares my values - the most important of which of course is a complete and unfailing devotion to our dogs. The fact that he ALSO shares my interest in training and competing with them is just icing on the cake! I often wonder why I got so lucky - but I am endlessly grateful for him.
  2. Great Danes. I often say "there is no perfect breed of dog, but there IS a perfect breed for most people". You just gotta do a little research. I am so grateful that Great Danes exist, and that I found them. There are many different breeds and types of dogs that I love, have lived with and wouldn't mind living with again. There are even more that I admire although I might not want to actually live with them. But to me, "There is nothing like a Dane" (apologies to Rodgers & Hammerstein). I just seem to "get" them like no other kind of dog.
  3. My Great Danes. I am so grateful to all the responsible breeders who developed these bloodlines, so that I have dogs who are healthy and smart and sweet and gentle and just a joy to be with every day. Of course we can take some credit for them too, the way we raise and train them and manage them as a pack. But you have to have good raw materials to get a good product.
  4. My job. I don't talk about it a lot here, but I'm an Occupational Therapist and do home health visits. Most - in fact the vast majority - of my patients are elderly. This isn't everyone's cup o' tea but I love it. I set my own hours, I really get to know my patients and am able to help them work on goals that are meaningful to them, and yes, even though they're old they usually do get better. I get to drive a lot which fortunately I like. The job security is excellent and so is the pay. Oh, and did I mention that I can set my own hours? :-)
  5. My friends and family. I have wonderful friends that I take for granted all too often, and a wonderful, loving family (including in-laws) that I also take for granted too often. But I love every one of them, and am grateful to have them in my life.

Now then... I have to say I feel better!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Notes from Agility class

Tuesday night is Agility class night, at least it has been lately. I love, love, love our agility instructor (Debbie Spence, PAWSative Agility Working School - if you're in the north Texas area near D/FW I can't recommend her highly enough) but it is a bit of a drive to get out there, so lately we've been able to consolidate things and take all 3 dogs to class on the same night.

At PAWS, once you and your dog are through with the carefully structured Beginner class which takes about 12 weeks, you enter classes that are ongoing but organized into five or six different "levels". As the dog and the handler progress in skill and knowledge you get promoted to the next level. At each level the courses and exercises become progressively more difficult - but even at Level 2 (the first one after Beginner) we get instruction and practice on courses that are short, but have elements that are technically difficult. For the handlers, that is.

In the Level 2 class, Ronnie runs Teddy and I run Topper. (She's the brindle girl in my avatar). With Topper, to say I "run" her is an exaggeration. Not only am I not exactly built for speed, but she - as I knew she would - demands a lot of reinforcement for everything. She's not unwilling, or scared (except of the dogwalk, more on that later). She's sweet, and cooperative, and very food motivated... but also must be convinced that anything we expect her to do is in her best interest.

In other words, "What's in it for me?" should be tattooed across her stripey forehead. That would save a lot of time. Either that, or I should let her wear her "I'm a Princess" tiara more often.

So I'm still reinforcing everything - even the easiest and most basic elements like jumping and the start line - stay very heavily. Which tends to slow things down a LOT because I keep stopping to reward her with a treat and lots of ego stroking. But it's working - she's offering more and more things every day. Tonight she actually "sucked" (meaning she chose to enter even though that wasn't part of the plan) to a curved tunnel and then also the chute which - although technically a mistake - is GREAT to see. Let's face it, those obstacles are not easy for a Dane who has to get waaaay down and crawl through them and I'm thrilled that she's deciding that they are fun after all. Her "Go!" (as in "on ahead of me") is improving and I got a couple of nice rear crosses (meaning the handler changes sides for a change of direction behind the dog).

I think she's doing great, and we're having a ton of fun. She is still scared of the dogwalk - she had a pretty bad fall off of it a while ago which was ENTIRELY my fault. But climbing on things is something she's loved to do since she could crawl - she's not called "Topper" for nothing. We are taking the dogwalk slowly - just taking a few steps up the ramp and then letting her hop off - and she's very wiling to keep trying so I'm confident we'll fix that in time.

Teddy is so different. His attitude is "What do you want me to do?" All you have to do is show him what you want and he'll do his best. And he is so FAST. I think he developed the speed as a survival mechanism: his mother and sister chase him all the time and they are merciless! The main challenge Ronnie has with Ted is just planning ahead - so often Teddy lands farther out from a jump than Ronnie anticipated and it's really hard to signal early enough that Teddy has time to respond. But they're getting their act together and really starting to understand each other. Teddy is a lot more advanced in his training than his sister, and is entered in his first agility trial the first weekend of December - I don't think he's quite ready but it won't hurt anything to give it a try. He'll be fun to watch - I'll try to get some video of it.

Their mother Kinsey, who is in a more advanced class later in the evening, is doing great. She and Ronnie are a pretty well-oiled team by now. She loves the running and jumping part, and doesn't mind doing tunnels or the dogwalk or anything else... except the damn Table. That is what has kept her from qualifying in Standard - she still doesn't even have her Open title in Standard - even though in the Jumpers with Weaves class (which has no Table) she is halfway to her Masters title. She'll hop on the table OK, but then at a trial she knows that Ronnie can't touch her, and doesn't have any food on him so she seems to make a game of seeing how high she can push his blood pressure. Her expression ranges from "What is this 'Down' you speak of??? I've never heard that command before!" (picture a charmingly cocked head) to a very simple "I don't wanna, and you can't make me!" A few weekends ago she had a near perfect run in Open Standard, except it took Ronnie about 30 seconds to get her to lie down on the Table. Which of course ran them over time and they didn't qualify.


Friday, November 21, 2008

"People food"

I haven't been able to download any photos lately so I'm feeling lazy and uninspired when it comes to blogging...

BUT I'm not above glomming onto another writer's brilliance when I'm in need of blogger fodder.

This is one of the best, clearest explanations I've ever read that gives common sense guidelines to sharing a few goodies with your pets this Holiday season while still keeping them healthy. It's really not rocket science!

Thank you, YesBiscuit!

It goes back to the odd notion that there is "pet food" and then there is "people food"*. Food is food. Sure, different species have different nutritional requirements but that just boils down to different proportions of different kinds of FOOD.

We feed our dogs (and now our cat!) a homemade diet of mostly raw foods - I'll write more about that one day. But for now, remember that - in general - it's perfectly OK to give your pet a bit of whatever you're eating as long as it's a wholesome sort of food to start with.

But go read YesBiscuit!'s article. She does a better job of explaining all this.

*OK, in one way there IS a big difference between "pet food" and "people food" - pet food is mostly made from the waste products of the human food supply. Foods that are either unfit for human consumption for some reason, or are the by products or waste products or leftovers from some sort of processing. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for recycling... I just don't want to use my dogs to do it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

More bitchy talk!

Dogsdeservefreedom left a good comment on my last post, and reminded me of several things I forgot to add about managing an intact female dog.

The first, and most obvious, is that although I emphasized how important it is to keep an intact male dog at home I didn't specifically mention that about an intact female. Probably everyone reading this is already knowledgeable enough to know this already... but if not:

All the time, even if you think she's not in season. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell for sure. And basically, if your dogs run loose sometimes - for whatever reason - you absolutely MUST have them all sterilized. It's not only the responsible thing to do, but will save you lots of headaches and even lots of money in the long run!

Other points to consider:
If she is in season - if you even THINK she might be in season - then it's not just a matter of keeping male dogs away from her, but also being considerate and not taking her places where she will be an undue distraction for any male dogs. The example of taking your girl to be groomed is a good one.

Also, most training classes don't allow bitches in season to attend class - if necessary, talk to your instructor about having a private lesson or two so that you don't lose too much ground for the weeks your girl is in confinement. Or, just go to the class without your dog. That may sound weird, but that way you'll see the lessons being covered and then you can practice those same things at home. Training classes are more for teaching the PEOPLE anyway - you learn how to teach your dog to do something, but your dog actually learns that lesson best at home in a quieter environment.

At the very least, if you think she may be in season talk to your groomer or your instructor and follow their advice about if or when to bring her to them. If they say it's OK to bring her, then be sure to put diapers on her so she doesn't drip on their floor or in the class area. Be sure to keep her away from other dogs if at all possible, or at least warn other dogs' handlers that she is in season - if they have an intact male, you SURE don't want her getting too close and enticing him! And remember that SHE may be abnormally cranky toward other dogs, and even if she's normally a sweetheart she may snap at inquisitive dogs when she's in season. So keep your distance.

As for showing - bitches in season are NOT allowed to compete in any performance events. That includes obedience, agility, tracking, herding, field trials, lure coursing etc. The only AKC event that does allow a bitch in season to participate is conformation. Even though she's allowed at the show, again be considerate of other handlers while you are waiting to go in the ring. Keep her diapers on her until just before her class is called, keep her to one side and away from other dogs as much as possible, and tell other handlers that she's in season so they know to keep their dogs away. Once you're in the ring, it's a good idea to tell the judge she's in season also. Some bitches show just fine when they're in season, but some won't. She may be abnormally fearful or resistant, or not want the judge to touch her hindquarters or tail. If she "acts up", remember that in this case it really isn't a training issue. Don't scold or punish her - if she seems really unhappy just ask to be excused from the ring and keep her home until she goes out of season again. She'll be back to her normal self once she's out of season.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Is your bitch in season?

Well, is she? If you have an intact (that is, unspayed) female dog, you'd better be able to tell!  Living with a spayed female dog, or a neutered (castrated) male dog is easier than living with an intact one.  But it's perfectly possible to be a responsible pet owner, and not spay or neuter your dog.  Being a responsible pet owner - among other things - means not letting your pet breed accidentally.  Breeding dogs is something that should be done using only the best and healthiest dogs possible, and only after some thought about how to select the best possible mates, to produce the best possible puppies.  Although there is no shortage of well-bred, purpose-bred dogs; the shelters ARE full of the results of "oops" breedings.  These happen when someone's intact male dog gets loose, or someone didn't realize that their female dog was in season and didn't know how to protect her.

I have NO problem with people who don't want to spay their female dog or neuter their male dog, as long as they are willing and able to prevent accidental matings. Managing an intact dog really isn't THAT difficult. But if you're debating whether or not to spay or neuter your dog you should realize that there ARE some inconveniences involved in responsibly keeping an intact pet.

And I've talked to a lot of intelligent people lately who have had basically no idea how to properly manage an intact male or female dog.

So let's cover a few of the basics. This is doggy sex ed 101. (THAT should get a few interesting search results!!! Ha!)

Let's talk about the boys first since they really are easier. The most important thing to know about keeping an intact male dog is:

If he's an escape artist and digs or jumps out of your yard every now and then, or if he successfully manages to bolt out of your front door... or if you just think that it's "good" for dogs to roam free now and then - you definitely SHOULD sterilize your boy!! Even if he's just 4 or 5 months old - that is the age of puberty for many dogs!!

If you don't want to castrate him, you can have a vasectomy done on him. That way if he's really young he'll still have his testosterone for normal growth and development, but he won't be siring litters all over your neighborhood. He'll still want to roam in search of a lady friend, but at least he'll be shooting blanks.

Now, if your dog escapes or bolts out the door or runs away you ALSO need to do some training! Neutering alone won't stop all those problems. But this post is about preventing accidental breeding which is part of the responsibility of owning a pet.

Now for the girls...

Although bitches do have a bloody discharge when they're in estrus (in season or in heat) it's a completely different type of cycle from a human female's menstrual cycle.

On average, a young bitch will come into estrus the first time when she's about 5 or 6 months old, and stay in estrus for 3 weeks (about 21 days). She will repeat this approximately every six months for her entire life - bitches do NOT go through menopause.

Just like in humans, there can be a huge variation in the schedule from one dog to another. Some will have their first heat cycle as young as 4 months - others won't have their first one until they're about 18 months old. Some will have 3 estrus periods in a year, others will only have one. If you have a puppy bitch, the best predictor of when she'll first come into season and how often she'll do it thereafter is to know what her mother/aunt/grandmother's cycles were like. If you can't talk to her breeder to find out, then plan for the worst. Be ready for her to come into season the first time at about 4 months of age, and be ever vigilant after that time.

The first symptom of a bitch coming into heat is usually some swelling of her vulva. She may lick it more than usual. The vulva and the skin around it may turn pink or reddish. Then a bloody discharge will start - in some bitches this can be a heavy flow, in others it is hardly noticeable. If you think your girl might be coming into season, one quick test is to fold a clean paper tower or kleenex and dab her vulva. If you see pinkish or bloody looking spots, then she's starting to come in season.

 Some bitches also have personality changes at this time - she may be more affectionate, or more cranky. She may not tolerate other dogs very well.  I had one young bitch who became very destructive when she was in season.  Your other dogs - even females or neutered males - will be more interested in her and want to sniff her rear. She may get tired of this and start to get snippy - you may have to separate her from all other dogs while she's in season to prevent fighting.  Don't punish her for any behavior changes during this time, just don't let other dogs bother her, and don't expect her to do her normal work (training, showing etc) during this time if she doesn't seem to be willing to do it.

After a few days - up to a week or so - the bloody discharge will taper off and you'll see a clear or pinkish discharge.

This does NOT mean that she's going out of season!! Rather, she's probably about to ovulate and is entering the most fertile time of her cycle.

BUT - and I cannot emphasize this enough - unless you do hormone testing you CANNOT predict exactly when during her cycle the female is fertile.


This means no contact from the INSTANT you even THINK she might be coming into season.

This means no contact at all - dogs CAN and HAVE managed to copulate through a chain link fence, baby gate, or during a 3 minute phone call when the owner wasn't paying attention.

This means ANY male dog - even her father, her brother, her uncle, her son. Dogs do not have sexual taboos, and do not recognize or understand the concept of "incest".

This means keep her on a leash when you take her out to potty, and don't take her off your property.  A loose running male dog can and will mate with her while she's on the end of your leash!  Only let her off lead in an absolutely securely fenced area, and even then only after you've checked to be sure no male dog has managed to get into the area. Even then, keep your eyes on her. Don't leave her unattended outside AT ALL.

This means you must keep her in the house even if she's normally an outside dog. It IS possible to build a kennel secure enough to keep out an amorous dog trying to get to a bitch in season, but it's expensive and difficult.  It MUST have a secure roof unless the walls are 8 feet high and absolutely un-climbable.  It should be enclosed within your property fencing, so there is a "buffer zone" around it.  It also must have a barrier buried around the edges to prevent a dog digging underneath.  It's much easier to just keep her inside.

This means separating her from male dogs for at least 3 FULL weeks (at least 21 days) - she may still be able to get pregnant just when you think she's going out of season.

Inside your home, her discharge may be messy.  You can keep her confined to a crate, pen or room covered with washable blankets and bedding, or you can teach her to wear a dog diaper (Seasonals are a good brand, there are lots of others) to keep her from dripping all over your house. I start teaching female puppies to wear diapers when they're 3 or 4 months old, I just put them on for a few minutes at a time when they're about to eat a meal which will distract them. Gradually increase the time they wear them, and by the time they have their first estrus cycle they won't mind wearing their "panties". Get several pairs, and wash them frequently. If your girl has a heavy flow, you'll need to put an adhesive menstrual pad inside the diaper - but be watchful that she doesn't remove it and try to eat it!! The absorbent materials in sanitary napkins can cause an intestinal blockage. Usually I find that the diaper itself provides enough protection. I change them at least twice a day.

I know this sounds like a lot, but even managing an intact bitch really isn't THAT difficult. Keep her inside and away from male dogs is really what it boils down to when it comes to preventing accidental breeding.

Do you think you're up to it?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Responsible pet ownership

There has been so much discussion lately about this everywhere, it seems. And many attempts by municipalities to legislate responsibility. But sometimes the definitions are a bit vague.

My definition of responsible pet ownership may be different from yours... here is what I believe:

A responsible pet owner

1. ...takes good care of his/her animals.
This includes all the basics like plenty of wholesome food and fresh water; appropriate medical care; plenty of exercise and socialization and clean living quarters.

2. a good neighbor.
This means not letting your pets annoy, frighten or inconvenience other people and includes not letting your dogs bark excessively (and like it or not, the person who best defines "excessively" isn't you, but rather the neighbor who is trying to get some sleep); not letting your dogs or cats run loose; keeping pet waste picked up in your yard so it doesn't smell or attract flies; not letting your dogs rush the fence and bark at your neighbors when they are walking by just a few feet away.

3. ...doesn't expect the community to help take care of his/her animals.
This means planning ahead so that - barring something really catastrophic - you never have to surrender your pets to the local pound, shelter or rescue; not letting your pets breed accidentally or indiscriminately; not breeding at all unless A. you already have good homes lined up for all the offspring, B. you can give plenty of support to the new owners so the placement will be successful, and C. you can take back any offspring at any time if the home doesn't work out.

4. ...doesn't ever have so many pets that he/she can't meet the above requirements.

Notice that I DIDN'T include "a responsible pet owner spays/neuters his or her pets". That has become a major part of the responsible pet owner creed for many people but it isn't absolutely necessary. There is no doubt that it is much, much more convenient and easier for a pet owner to keep sterilized pets - especially where the requirements listed in #3 above are concerned. But if a pet owner can meet those requirements without spaying or neutering, more power to them. It IS possible, it just takes more effort and more knowledge.

Having listened to so many pet owners over the years who are totally clueless about animal reproduction ("But she's his SISTER/MOTHER, they won't mate, will they??") I do believe that the vast majority of pet owners are better off if they do spay or neuter their pets. Especially if they have pets of both genders in their home. And ANYONE who lets their pets run loose at any time MUST spay or neuter that pet, period.

But it is totally possible for a responsible pet owner to keep intact pets. That's my take on things anyway - what do you think?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fighting Breed-Specific Legislation

"Breed-Specific Legislation" - or BSL - for those of you who don't know, refers to legislation which targets and punishes certain breeds of dogs based solely on the fact that they ARE a certain breed or look like a certain breed. It is based on the misguided notion that certain types of dogs are inherently more dangerous than any others, and so those types must be suppressed or eliminated.

And misguided it is. Yes, of course there are certain types of dogs who are more dangerous than others... large dogs for instance do usually cause more damage when they attack than small dogs do, because they are stronger. Adolescent, intact dogs are involved in more attacks on humans than puppies or old dogs, for the same reasons (youthful strength and energy, lack of life experience and raging hormones, combined with a lack of discipline) that adolescent and young adult men commit more violent crime than children or older adults. The most dangerous dogs of all, of course, are those owned by people who WANT to have a dangerous dog but are too irresponsible to be willing or able to properly manage their dogs.

But a particular breed being more dangerous? The only way to determine if a particular breed really IS more dangerous than others - based on reports of attacks on humans - is if you know the number of dogs of all the different breeds or mixes that are in a community. Then you could figure the percentage of dogs of each breed or type that are involved in serious attacks each year.

An article on dog bite prevention on the Centers for Disease Control web site states: "A CDC study on fatal dog bites lists the breeds involved in fatal attacks over 20 years (Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998). It does not identify specific breeds that are most likely to bite or kill, [emphasis mine -B] and thus is not appropriate for policy-making decisions related to the topic. Each year, 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs. These bites result in approximately 16 fatalities; about 0.0002 percent of the total number of people bitten. These relatively few fatalities offer the only available information about breeds involved in dog bites. There is currently no accurate way to identify the number of dogs of a particular breed, and consequently no measure to determine which breeds are more likely to bite or kill."

A commonly given example of this is that if a study indicates that there are five bites by golden retrievers and 10 bites by pit bulls, but there are 100 retrievers in the community and 500 pit bulls, then statistically the retrievers are the breed more likely to bite.

There are many many articles on the Internet and many books out now about this. A great article I just found is on the Caveat blog. Please go read it.

Why do I care about this so much? After all, I don't own a pit bull. I care mostly because BSL is just unfair, and WRONG, and unAmerican in the most essential way possible - it is absolutely and unashamedly willing to punish the majority of innocent pet owners in order to catch a few guilty parties.

And, of course, I also care because I'm scared. I know that all it would take would be for the media to decide that Great Danes are DANGEROUS and then my dogs would be next on the chopping block. Despite their having never done anything wrong.

And that is something I cannot even bear to think about.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Breeding for Fun and Profit

A recent comment brought this topic to mind - thanks Abz!

I think this is something that all owners of purebred dogs encounter at some point, but since some dogs attract more attention than others some of us run into it more than most.

I'm talking about when you're out in public with your dog, and someone walks up to you and says something like "I've got a Great Dane [or whatever breed you have] too!! I've been looking to breed my dog - would you consider breeding your dog to mine?" Or words to that effect.

So what do you say? What should you say? You can of course just say "No" or "Sorry, my girl is spayed". You could lie and say that your intact male has had a vasectomy (don't laugh - that procedure IS done on dogs, and may be a good alternative for sterilizing large or giant breed dogs before they are mature) (more on that later).

Ideally however, this sort of situation can be used as an educational opportunity. True, much of the time - probably most of time - your words will fall on deaf ears. But if you can educate even 1 out of 10, that's a good thing. And you never know when you may be planting seeds of doubt in one or more of those other 9.

You can talk about all the big reasons that they shouldn't breed their dog - especially if they have thoughts of creating the latest new "designer" mix. How difficult it can be to find really good homes. How many dogs of this breed turn up in shelters and rescues every year, and how likely it is - ESPECIALLY if the pups aren't registered purebreds - that their pups will also wind up in a shelter or rescue.

However, you will probably see that their eyes start to glaze over as soon as you start talking about "The Big Picture".

So make it personal. Figure out the motivation of the wanna-be breeder and address that, specifically. The motivation is usually either sentiment or profit.

Is it sentiment? They think their dog is absolutely the greatest thing EVER and want to have another just like him/her? Or "all our friends want a pup out of our dog"?

These can actually be the most difficult to talk out of breeding their dog. You can tell them that siblings are usually more similar to one another than parents are to offspring, so if they want another dog like the one they've got the best thing to do might be to go back to the breeder and get a sibling or half sibling.

As for friends wanting a puppy - the same recommendation would hold true. Getting a sibling to your dog will be more likely to be similar to your dog than a puppy from it would be. But also tell them that friends who want a puppy have a way of evaporating once the litter is actually here. Maybe they've lost a job, or are having to move. Maybe they didn't wait, and got another puppy already somewhere else. Or maybe they've just changed their mind. And what if you've got, say, 4 friends who want a puppy but you have a litter of 10?

Appeal to their sentiment, to their love for their dog - they wouldn't want to see any of their dog's babies in a shelter if something like that happened and they couldn't find homes for all the pups, would they?

If you can tell you aren't making an impression with this argument, the next best thing you can do is talk about health. Start with keeping their own dog safe - males can catch venereal diseases, and can be seriously injured by a female who decides she's not "in the mood" or just takes a dislike to the guy. And of course, there is a whole list of awful things that can happen to the female. If the breeder isn't well informed and knows what signs of trouble to watch for, tragedy can strike and you can lose not only all the puppies but the mother too.

If they still want to breed their dog, they will want to be sure they produce healthy puppies of course! Especially if all their friends get one - imagine the trouble if you sold puppies to all your friends and the pups turn out to have some sort of genetic disorder that crops up in a few years.

You can talk to them about health testing, to try to prevent this sort of disaster. Sometimes once they understand all the possible health issues it will give them pause, and start them re-thinking the whole "Oh boy, let's have puppies" scenario.

Explain that Brucellosis is a nasty venereal disease that CAN be picked up in dog parks and other places where dogs congregate - so even if both dogs are virgins they still need to be tested for it. Hip X-rays are necessary to rule out hip dysplasia with almost all breeds. Many breeds have heart issues and need cardiac screenings. There are other tests that are recommended for various breeds of dog - you can check the parent club web site (that will usually be The [insert breed name] Club of America or something similar) or the web site for the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals to see what is recommended for any particular breed. For Great Danes, the recommendation - at minimum - is to check hips, heart, eyes and thyroid.

But what if the motivation is making a few bucks? These people can sometimes actually be easier to dissuade. Because the truth is, if you do the health testing you SHOULD do, and provide all the care that the mother and the pups will need until the pups are 8 weeks old, it's damn hard to break even, much less make a profit.

You can start by explaining the same health testing recommendations. OFA hip screenings; thyroid, heart and eye screenings; and a Brucellosis test can all easily come to $500 or more. $250 or $300 minimum if you get a deal from your vet, and get some screenings done at dog shows where they often offer a discount on these things. (They can do screenings at a discount at shows because the kennel club hosting the show will get a specialist to come in for a whole day, and he/she will sit there and check eyes or hearts or whatever all day long.)

The health tests need to be done on both parents, obviously. And for the stud owner, the cost of the health testing will take a whopping chunk out of the stud fee.

For the bitch owner, the expenses are just beginning. You'll have the stud fee - this can range from half the cost of one puppy (typical with unproven sires) to the whole cost of a puppy, or even the pick of the litter. Or more.

If the mother has trouble whelping (giving birth) she may need a C-section. This is an expensive surgery anyway - add to the cost the fact that it almost ALWAYS happens in the middle of the night requiring a visit to an expensive emergency clinic, and that C-section surgery can easily cost $1000 or more for a large dog.

But the real kicker - especially with large or giant breed puppies - is FOOD!! With a large litter, the mother may double or even triple her food intake for the first 2 or 3 weeks until the pups start eating some mush on their own. And it is absolutely shocking how much puppies will eat from the time they are 3 or 4 weeks old, until you sell them at 8 weeks. By the time they are 6 or 7 weeks old, each PUPPY will be eating at least as much as a sedentary adult dog. This is why many uneducated breeders - whether they produced the litter accidentally, or did so with the thought of making some money - become absolutely desperate to get rid of the pups. Every day they keep the little monsters, they see their profit margin shrinking and going into the red.

This is also why some breeders try to sell pups at 5 or 6 weeks old - fortunately this is actually illegal in many places. Even though pups at that age are usually eating "solid" food they still need their mother and littermates to teach them manners, bite inhibition, how to relate normally with other dogs, and other vital life lessons. So NEVER EVER take home a pup who is less than 7 weeks old, MINIMUM!!

Just as an example of the costs involved, here's the breakdown from our last litter. I am NOT including show expenses in this, since showing is a hobby for us and we do it whether or not we're planning to breed the dog someday. But on the other hand, we WOULDN'T breed a dog who wasn't good enough to at least be competitive in the show/obedience/agility ring. And, of course, "show quality" puppies are worth more (or should be worth more, keep reading) than pups from parents who haven't been shown or can't be shown. So if I really wanted to horrify you, I could include those expenses! Ha!

- Health testing $500
OFA, thyroid, heart, eye, Brucellosis
- Breeding costs $750
Progesterone tests (to pinpoint ovulation) and stud fee
- Whelping costs $1250
Whelpwise service and C-section
I need to write a post on Whelpwise, they are AMAZING and are the main reason ALL of Kinsey's puppies arrived safe and healthy. And as for the C-section, fortunately this was done by my trusted regular vet, and not after hours
- Extra dog food $500
This is for the lactating bitch and 5 growing pups to 9 weeks of age. This is a pure guess, and is probably REALLY low. Honestly I have no idea how much it was. It was easily double the normal food bill for our crew for those 2 months or so. We didn't sell Gus until he was 4 or 5 months old, so if you include HIS extra food bill, it would be a lot more than that!!
- Deworming, puppy exams and vaccinations $300
- Ear crops $1000

Obviously this is optional, and controversial. But very common with show puppies.
- Taking 2+ weeks unpaid leave from work $1300
Theoretically this is optional too. There are LOTS of very responsible breeders who don't (because they can't) take off more than a day or two when they have a litter. And of course, someone who works from home or at home wouldn't have a pay cut for being there. At the time I was just working part time, but I couldn't bear to NOT stay home with them. So I did!

I've forgotten lots of things, and had to guess on others. I actually DID keep excellent records but a disastrous and total hard drive crash about a year after the pups were born lost all of that. It's a hard lesson: MAKE BACK UPS!

But the total of the expenses above is $5600.

Now this may shock some of you, but with many breeds an actual, "bona fide" show quality puppy - i.e. one or both parents are actually show Champions or at least have show points, and the puppy gives every indication of maturing into an individual who will also be able to win in shows - actually isn't that expensive. No more expensive than puppies sold at pet stores who come from puppy mills, or puppies sold on anonymous web sites from kennels who don't show their dogs, and may or may not be puppy mills. It's more DIFFICULT to get a puppy from a reputable breeder because they CARE about their pups, but that's a different story. But the truth is that supply and demand control the price of show puppies just like everything else. In our area, fawn and brindle show pups sold at that time for about $1200. But that still sounds like a lot, right?

So, sale of 3 pups: $3600

Our net loss was at least $2000. All of a sudden, that $1200 for a puppy doesn't sound like so much, does it? And bear in mind that - other than needing a C-section - this was an "easy" litter. The mother had no health problems during pregnancy, and all the pups not only survived but were robustly healthy.

But so many things can go wrong, and if your goal is making a profit you can easily wind up in the hole, financially. If the mother gets an infection at some point, or if you have a sick puppy you can easily spend additional hundreds or thousands of dollars in veterinary care. Worst case scenario is when most or all of the pups die - maybe the mother too - and you have absolutely nothing to show for the experience.

In our case, if we'd sold all 5 pups we would have made a "profit" of $400. For several months of hard work and sleepless nights. Woo-hoo. But of course the whole plan for us all along was to keep at least one pup for ourselves.

Sure, we could have made more if Kinsey had had more than 5 pups that we could have sold, or if she hadn't needed a C-section... if, if, if. It IS possible to break even or even make a decent profit on a litter WITHOUT cutting corners if you're lucky. That is, if you don't pay yourself for your time - raising a litter properly is unbelievably time consuming and if we "paid" ourselves for that time there would never be a way to break even.

Of course, we don't look at it that way. We got 5 wonderful, wonderful dogs from this litter. They just turned 3. Three of them have finished their AKC Championships, and one only needs her major points. Two of them have obedience titles. Two are in agility training and will start showing in agility soon. We've made some wonderful new friends because of them. And ALL of them are sweet, and stable, and funny and smart and beautiful and totally loved by their owners.

So by all the standards that really matter, we hit the frickin' MULTI STATE LOTTO JACKPOT with this litter. And we'll try to do it again as soon as we can afford to :-)

But anyway, back to the original topic - I hope this gives you all some talking points the next time someone approaches you and asks you about breeding their dog to your dog.

Assuming you want to expend your time and energy on what may be a waste of your time, what will YOU say?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Poop happens!

I don't know why I was thinking about this today - fortunately none of our crew is having any gastrointestinal issues - but a common issue with dogs is some variety of loose stools. This can be caused by stress, a change in routine, or a change in diet as well as by parasites or illness.

For mild cases, sometimes the best remedy is to skip a meal. Let the GI tract rest and recuperate. Don't do this with puppies under 6 months, elderly dogs, dogs with chronic severe illness, or pregnant/lactating bitches.

Adding plain canned pumpkin to the dog's food (not pumpkin pie filling which contains spices and sugar) can help - the fiber tends to "clean out" the digestive tract and may help sweep away irritants. A plain baked or boiled potato often works to settle an upset system. The latest and greatest remedy is Activia yogurt - you can find this plain, in large tubs.

If the diarrhea is severe, if it persists more than a day or two despite the above remedies, or if the dog seems to not feel well - take him/her to your vet! Something serious may be going on. Diarrhea in puppies and elderly dogs is always a cause for immediate action - they can become dehydrated quickly and this can be life threatening situation.

As for clean up in your yard when Fido has the cow pattie poops, try sprinkling some clumping cat litter on the mess. After a few minutes you should be able to pick most of it up. While just using the hose and washing it into the ground is tempting, make sure your dog doesn't have any parasites before you do this. You don't want to infest your yard!!

Speaking of poop pick up, Dr. Khuly at Dolittler has an interesting article today. She's always interesting, and has one of my favorite pet blogs.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Great Dane Fun Day!

I know I don't have very many readers here, and you all are scattered all over the country. But - for anyone in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, here is an announcement for a Great Dane Fun Day this Sunday, sponsored by the Great Dane Club of Greater Dallas:
You (and your Dane!) are invited to a Great Dane Fun Day! It is this Sunday, at Bob Woodruff park in Plano. This is not only an opportunity to get out with your dog or puppy and have a fun day, but also you'll have a chance to find out about and try out various fun events with your dog!

We'll have information about all sorts of Dane topics and health issues; demonstrations and run throughs for all levels of Obedience; demonstrations and practice for Rally obedience; a CGC test; a conformation handling seminar; a conformation match; a great Raffle of Dane-related items; and last but not least GREAT FOOD!!

**Your Dane does NOT have to be registered to participate!**

The flyer info is copied below - feel free to print it out and distribute it if you wish. Please feel free to cross post this message to anyone interested in Great Danes.

We hope to see you all there!! If you have any questions, please let me know.

Great Dane Fun Day

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sponsored by the Great Dane Club of Greater Dallas

Are you interested in learning about fun activities and events you can enjoy with your Dane? Do you have a puppy that you want to socialize? Or do you just want to come out with your Dane, meet other Dane lovers and their dogs, and have a GREAT Dane Day!!

We are having:

- An Obedience Demo and Show & Go
- A Rally Obedience Demo & Practice
- A Canine Good Citizen Test (For the CGC only, dogs must be 6 months old, and must have proof of Rabies vaccination.)
- A Handling seminar by Steve Arnold
- A Sanctioned B AKC Conformation Match (Great Danes Only)
- A Pot Luck Picnic following the Match
- A RAFFLE with Dane-appropriate gifts!!

Community Park Bob Woodruff Park
2601 San Gabriel Drive
Plano TX, 75074
Directions to the Fun Day TX 75 to E Parker Rd (east)
South (right) on San Gabriel to Park

Conformation Match entries: $5.00 (entries taken day of Match. Match starts at 11:00)

CGC Test: $5.00 (must have current Rabies vaccination certificate with you day of test, and the dog must be at least 6 months old)

Come and enjoy all the Great Dane Activities!!!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Teddy the cuddly

Ronnie just mentioned that he might have trouble getting to sleep tonight. I hadn't gone to bed yet so looked in the bedroom to see what he was talking about. Teddy is curled up next to him, with his head on Ronnie's arm. I mean, curled up CLOSE so if Ronnie moves or rolls over he'll probably fall out of bed. It's very touching (no pun intended) but uncomfortable.

But that's the way a lot of Danes are - they really, REALLY like to be near their people. That doesn't necessarily mean they have to sleep in your bed - in fact, I'll cold heartedly make Teddy get off the bed when I go in there. (I'm such a bitch!)

But they DO need to feel that they're part of the family. If you've ever tried to buy a Dane puppy from a reputable breeder, or tried to adopt one from a reputable Rescue and wondered "why am I getting the third degree here?" - that's why. They know what it takes to keep a Dane healthy and happy, and go to great lengths to be sure that they get put with families who will not only love the dog, but really spend a lot of time with it.

A lonely Dane is a neurotic Dane!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Random shots

Since the planets have aligned, and our computer AND external hard drive AND scanners are all working and talking to each other, I thought I'd better take the opportunity to post some photos that have been taken over the past few months. Enjoy!
First, some photos of our stripey girl Topper since she's had to take a back seat to her brothers lately:
Here she is in the ring last March. The lovely fawn girl behind her is "Jazz", aka Calypso's Born to Hand Jive, owned and handled by our mentor Vicki Monson.
Here's a side view:
On the more casual side, here's a photo of Gus relaxing at his home - Topper does this same thing, lying on her right hip but with the left side of her head on the bed, or vice versa.
Here Ronnie is getting some sugar from Teddy while they wait with Gus for their Brace class in Tulsa last fall.

And here are some pictures of Keeper...



... and airborne! This is a still from my video camera. I have no idea what he was looking at, but he is a very springy dog!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Runs in the family

I'm going to try to get some updates done while I can... our new laptop will have to go to the Computer Doctor in a few days but for once it's not the machine's fault... the poor laptop got stepped on! The screen is cracked but the computer still works, so for now the laptop is a desktop - hooked up to a monitor.
But I do have pictures! First off, some big news... Teddy finished his AKC Championship weekend before last. Once he got going, he won every weekend we had him out in June/July and finished in a hurry! There is a photo collage taken by Jax Show Pix (new venture started by the son of a friend of ours) on the "2008 Updates" page of the web site.

But Teddy also has some non-show news... last spring he was selected to do a photo for JCPenney! His mother and brother have both done some commercial work, hence the title of this entry. I think it was just a sale circular but we still had fun, and Teddy was sooooo good! Even though it was a VERY long day - the first model called in sick that morning and the second model they found couldn't come until afternoon. So we just hung around until he showed up and watched the set decorators and photographer and director and all do their thing. But since it was at a house in a very swanky part of Dallas it wasn't too rough! At one point I put Teddy up on the porch where he'd have to be for the photo just to get him used to it, and I took the opportunity to take some pictures of him:
He got lots of attention:

He was very calm...

Even when the crew members were moving big screens all around him (I was about 15 feet away all this time):

He did perk up when some of the crew started playing basketball on the private court - but he still stayed! I love this picture: