Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Two Dog Heart

Today I did something that I haven't done in awhile and went to the shelter to walk the dogs. I used to be a faithful Wednesday walker, but lately life has gotten in the way and I haven't been making the time like I used to. Walking the dogs is a double edged sword. I always leave with a mixture of emotions bumping around in my heart.

Joy: because the enthusiasm and love that the dogs lavish on anyone who will pay them attention is contagious and I can't help but feel happy for these lucky dogs who are patiently waiting for their families to find them.

Frustration: why doesn't the whole world understand how important it is to spay and neuter pets? I swear, the woeful, emaciated mamas that come in with huge litters of puppies break my heart into a million pieces.

Sadness: each dog at this one shelter represents hundreds of others who will never make their way to a safe haven and have a chance to live out their lives in the arms of a loving family.

Rage: pretty much the same as frustration but add anger.

Contemplation: obviously the problem of pet overpopulation is not a simple one or it wouldn't be so widespread. My last thought as I'm leaving the shelter is almost always, "What else can I do?"

What makes the dog on the left (McGee), so different from the dog on the right (Pokey)?
Today as I spent time in Pokey's run with her and watched her tremble in fear as I sat down next to her on her blanket, I had the same conversation with myself that I've had so many times before. McGee really does need a friend. This dog is so sweet and mild, I'm sure the two of them would get along fine given the proper introduction. McGee just hasn't met the right dog yet, but maybe this one would be just the right match for her. I wonder if we just took them on lots of walks together first if it might work out...
The inner monologue goes on for miles. Today as I sat stewing and brooding, Pokey decided that I wasn't so bad after all. She lay back down on her blanket and tentatively placed her substantial head on my thigh. Her wrinkly brow was knit with worry and she wore a pencil eraser sized scab on her nose from who knows what happened to her before she arrived. Suddenly, she took a deep breath and then let out a massive, rattling sigh from the bottom of her lungs. I felt her head grow heavier as she licked her lips and settled her skinny little body into the floor and my leg.
Her eyes watched me the whole time and her giant antenna ears were tuned in and waiting for any sign of trouble, but I could tell that we were maybe starting to be on a friendly kind of basis. I situated my palm on her head and noticed how she had brand new fur growing on her skull where the old fur probably fell out from malnutrition or mange. I rubbed the big crease between her eyes and since her ears were so ready for listening, I sang her silly made up songs about what a good dog she is.
While I sat, I felt all of those emotions. Each of them jostling around inside of me, demanding to be heard. I'm so glad you're safe Pokey. It's terrible that someone could have witnessed you starving and losing your fur and done nothing to help you. The fact that you are not sure whether to fear me or not is filling me with grief. I am so angry that you ever had to suffer for even one minute. How can I help you even if I can't bring you home with me?
Really, the only thing that makes these two dogs different is that I met McGee in July of 2012 when I had space in my home to bring home a new family member. Sweet Pokey could easily have been my dog as well if time and fate had brought us together at a different moment. I think, more than anything, this is the most painful thing that shelter workers and good Samaritans face: the feeling that you could love and cherish any one of the dogs that you meet, if only you could bring one more home.
For now, the reality of my one dog household outweighs the desires of my two dog heart.  
If you or your loved ones are looking to adopt, please consider sweet Pokey. She is residing at The Humane Society of Calvert County in Sunderland, MD.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Daddy's Girl

She looks up to him.
I am pretty sure that of all the humans, Dog Dad is McGee's first favorite.

How do I know this?

She like to sleep in his dirty clothes. Sometimes I can't find her in the middle of the day and then I discover her in a pile of stinky work shirts in the corner of the bedroom, happily snoring (note to Dog Dad: it's called a hamper). She does not sleep in my clothes. I guess they smell too good. It's both cute and sad to see her sleeping on his smelly old laundry because I know that she would prefer to be cuddled up with him.

She is only happy if we are both home. If I come home and Dad's not here, McGee acts as if she is still by herself. She does this by continuing to nap. She'll open one eye to check and see if it's me and then close her eyes and go back to dreaming. I swear she knows the sound of his truck though because she's off the couch and sitting by the door before he even climbs out. As soon as he walks in the door suddenly it's party party all the time. WTF McGee? Don't I reek of fun? You make me feel like I used to feel at college parties- not very cool and like I might need another drink.

I must be as close to you as possible Dad. It is for your own protection.
She shows off for him. You wanna see me chew my antler Dad? You wanna see me pulverize my stuffed dog? You wanna wrestle? You wanna watch me itch my face all over the carpet? You wanna see me get out every toy I own? Look at my teeth. Look at my tail. Oh wait, let me get closer and put my tail in your face so you can see it all up close and personal-like. I will wag it for you and show you how it works. Right paw shake. Left paw shake. Look at my belly. Now I am stretching. I can do yoga too, you wanna see? You wanna watch me chase my tail? Hey Dad, Dad, Dad, hey, hey, hey Dad hey... etc and so forth.

She even likes the smell of his feet. That is true love.
She seems to be under the impression that he is a mountain and she herself, a fearless billy goat. Self
explanatory I think.

Though I find that I am a little hurt from time to time by her unbridled adoration for our guy, mostly I just laugh and shake my head and feel relieved that they are infatuated with each other. I did, after all, bring her home before they had even met. He told me, "If you like her, so will I." I'm so glad that they turned out to love each other and being second favorite does have it's perks.

After all, first favorite is the one who usually gets farted on.

Does your dog play favorites?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Flower Dog

When we got engaged back in February 2012, we did not have McGee. We still lived in NYC and had high hopes of getting a dog someday, but could not possibly have imagined the little gremlin who would eventually share our abode.

Fast forward to February 2013: our wedding is 5 months away at this point and we're ironing out the details. We are certain that we want McGee to be in the wedding, but what role will she play? Ring bearer? Hostess with the mostest? Food taste tester? Talent show entertainment? So many options.

We ultimately decided that she would be one of our flower girls, alongside our nieces aged 13 and 5. We dubbed her "Flower Dog" and hoped for good behavior and no pooping in the aisle. I custom ordered her a collar from Puddles and Posies made from scraps of all the ties we had already ordered for the men in the wedding party. We decided that she would walk down the aisle with our elder niece while the younger walked ahead and, in the fashion of Gretel, laid a path of doggie biscuits for McGee to follow.

I have to say that McGee, with all her endearing quirks and challenging attributes, was a source of some stress for me in the days leading to our wedding. Will she knock our niece over and drag her down the aisle? Will she joyfully scamper through the barn and then tackle me in my dress? Will she get nervous and refuse to move at all when she sees the huge assembly of people?

Turns out, none of these fears were validated. While I can't quite say that she was a perfect lady, she did her best McGee and that's saying a lot. She ignored the dog treats that our niece so carefully placed on the ground in favor of snarfling and snuffling the grass, she had to wear her usual harness along with her pretty new collar for safety's sake, and she spent the duration of the ceremony having her leash passed from one member of the wedding party to the next since she couldn't decide on where she had the best view of... who knows what.

Our special considerations for McGee were not limited to the ceremony alone. The week before the wedding she stayed with my in-laws. They have a Rottweiler of their own, so her visit to their house was a constant game of dog shuffling- one would head out the back door as the other was secreted into the front of the house, and they each had their own bedroom for night times. Poor Achilles probably wondered what the heck was going on.

In the week before the wedding, Dog Dad and I had an additional half dozen people sleeping at our house and it was delightfully heart warming to see sweet McGee switching from person to person so that everyone could have an equal opportunity to love on her. She cozied up to anyone who would make room on the couch (or the blow up mattress) and we were relieved to see our dog's true personality shining through. McGee is a dog who is difficult to get to know unless she's in an environment where she is at ease. Since my family lives far away, most of them had never had the opportunity to spend quality time with the real McGee and they were all super smitten by the time their visit was over.

We also took what may seem an extreme step to some and asked all of our guests to leave their dogs at home. This may sound like a no brainer for a wedding, but since our party was a weekend of camping and the vast majority of our loved ones love dogs, it was actually a difficult thing to ask. We knew that this would be our one chance (maybe ever) to secure a completely McGee friendly environment, and just as much as the weekend was for us to enjoy, we wanted her to enjoy herself as well and have the most stress free experience possible. This meant a dog free zone for her to spend time relaxing and soaking up attention from all her aunties and uncles without the constant hyper-vigilance that it means for us when other pups are around.

All in all, I think we had great success introducing our girl to our community. She surprised me by showing up at our reception in the company of my sister and having her leash passed around among several of our other dog-doting guests. I felt so lucky to be surrounded by people who cared enough to take the time to understand our dog's special needs and give her the same care and affection that we try to give her every day.

I am so glad that we made the decision to include McGee in our wedding ceremony. Dog or not, she is the center of our little family and the day just wouldn't have been complete without her there. In 50 years when we reminisce about what made our union special, we will undoubtedly look at the photos and recall our McGee. She will be long gone by then, but we will smile and remember her velvety ears and think of how much we loved her on the day we promised to love each other forever.

A special thank you to Taylor Dunham Photography for the beautiful shots!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

100 Mile Pact Follow Up

Florida walk.
For me, it's incredibly hard to admit when I haven't done something I said I would do. Unfortunately,
it happens pretty often. I love to jump on the bandwagon of a 10 day challenge, a 30 day challenge, or something even longer. I am full of enthusiasm at the beginning and then, as life and my responsibilities creep back in, I lose my footing and forget the initial feeling of unstoppable-ness. And I don't finish.

This behavior accounts for so many things in my life: file folders labeled and carefully organized but empty inside their box while papers overflow from countless gift bags where I stuffed them for later sorting, a garden that started out meticulously planned with tiny seedlings lined up in perfect rows that ended in rogue tomato plants and half grown but inedible watermelons that never received the proper amount of fertilizer and care, and, probably most famous of all, piles and piles of partially knitted accessories that were meant to line the cyberspace walls of my painstakingly thought out Etsy shop that somehow no longer seemed interesting or lucrative to me by the time that first spring after my opening rolled around. So often, I find that I am full of hopes and good intentions, and then I lose myself along the way in another endeavor and the previous undertaking is left to trail off with little of the pomp and hoopla with which I welcomed it into existence.

Beach walk.
And so it was with my 100 Mile Pact. If you don't recall, or if you've never visited McGee and me in the past, on November 14, 2013, I set out to walk 100 miles with my dog before the year came to a close in hopes of working on some of her behavioral issues and my skills as a dog leader. So many of you asked kindly along the way how we were doing, and I found that I just couldn't answer. It's not that we weren't walking at all, we were; however, as the days closed in on 2014 and our mileage stayed relatively small from day to day, I saw the number of miles that we would need to walk per day to meet our goal increasing hugely with every passing nightfall.

But something was different for me this time: even though I knew we couldn't make it, we kept on walking. Together, we logged some of the longest walks we have ever taken together (5.76 miles, 4.56 miles, 5.19 miles) and I didn't care that I knew we weren't going to get to 100, I was just enjoying hanging out with my dog.

We both benefited in so many ways:
  • McGee learned to look to me as a leader of equal (if not more!) importance than Dog
    Smiling walk.
    Dad and I learned how to be a more confident dog handler.
  • Together, we got used to her equipment and comfortable with the double leash/Freedom Harness/Gentle Leader combination.
  • We met other people in our neighborhood who are having similar issues with their dog. We exchanged contact info and will hopefully be able to figure out a way to work together to help our dogs.
  • We got shout outs from people driving by who were impressed by our dedication to walking and training. This was a great confidence booster!
  • McGee's happiness when it's time to go for a walk is palpable and contagious!
  • I got more exercise than I have gotten the whole time we've lived in Maryland. I used to walk everywhere in NYC- easily miles every single day. Taking these walks with McGee reminded me how much I love walking as a mode of transportation and gave me peaceful, quiet time to think and reflect on my days.
  • McGee actually got double goodness on the walking front because I think Dog Dad felt a little left out, so he ended up taking her for some walks so they could have alone time- pretty cute. 
Christmas lights walk.
The final stats from our walking adventures looked like this:

Total days available to walk: 37
Total number of walks taken: 23
Most walks in one day: 2
Longest walk in one stretch: 6.05 miles
We walked in the rain, in the cold, in the dark, and in the morning (ugh).
We walked on the beach, on the road, on wooded trails, around in circles, and in Florida.
McGee saw countless cats, squirrels, motorcycles, birds, and about a bazillion other dogs- and she ignored them approximately 60% of the time.
We walked 61.74 miles.
Dog Dad wants to know if we're going for 1000 miles in 2014.
I told him I have some knitting to finish.

Monday, January 20, 2014

McGee's Gear: What She Wears While We Walk

Yup, we're still here. McGee and I have been catching up on snuggle time and cleaning after two whole weeks apart. I missed my baby so much while I was away, but got to spend lots of quality time with my sister's sweet Benny. He comes in handy when the Wisconsin weather drops down to nearly -60 degrees. We spent a lot of time curled up watching Harry Potter.

Probably the most challenging thing about leaving McGee in the care of others is the amount of gear that she comes with. We have so many doodads and thing-a-muh-whats-its that we use to keep our little McBossy in line and it can be a real struggle to get her "dressed" and ready for an outing.

We had a good question posed to us on our Facebook page about one harness that we use in particular, so I decided to take the opportunity and give a run down of the doggie equipment we use on a regular basis.

Martingale Collar

Right now, McGee wears a pretty boring martingale collar that we picked up from PetCo on the day that we brought her home from the shelter. Though there are many cuter options available for collars that buckle, I feel strongly that a martingale collar is the way to go. This type of collar slips over the dogs head and tightens if the dog pull on it's leash (preventing the dog from slipping out of their collar and getting away). After walking many, many shelter dogs, I have learned to covet martingale collars for this feature in particular. While her PetCo collar isn't very trendy, it has lasted us over a year and a half at this point and, while it does show a little dirt, it's holding up very well.
PetSafe Easy Walk Harness

This was the first harness we tried for McGee when it became clear that we needed backup on our daily walks. It fits her very well and doesn't rub or chafe. The downside is that there is only one point of attachment (front of the chest) and, while it does lessen her ability to pull a little bit, we found that she was constantly tangling her front legs in her leash, especially when she would get excited. Also, being a strong puller and an excitable dog, McGee would often end up flopped over on her side if she had a particularly energetic outburst. Comical, yes. Productive, not so much. We have since moved on to another choice of harness.

Freedom No Pull Harness

Dog Dad and I like this harness quite a lot. It comes with a double ended leash that clips in to two spots on the harness: one spot on the front of the chest and one on the dog's back. The benefit to this is an automatically shorter leash and more steering capabilities. I feel much more able to keep McGee at my side with the Freedom harness because I can steer her shoulders with the front portion of the leash and keep her at my side with the portion clipped to her back body. This harness is a bit more weighty than the Easy Walk, but still comfortable (it even has a little velvet lining to prevent chafing) and it comes in lots of pretty colors. McGee has spent lots of time in this harness learning to walk like a lady. We picked ours up on Amazon.
PetSafe Gentle Leader
After we exhausted all of our training potential with harness only, we decided that a head halter might be the next best thing to try to give us even more control. The main idea here is to relieve pressure that a dog would be placing on their throat if they were to be walking with a leash attached to a collar around the throat. A head halter can also deter a dog from barking and jumping and give the handler more ability to gently remind the dog where he or she should be looking (at the handler!). We also found that McGee's exuberance sometimes led to a feeling that we were being "hauled" behind her when she was wearing her harness, no matter which one. The Gentle Leader definitely took her some getting used to (we used lots and lots of treats!) but eventually she came to accept it and only gave us a momentary glare before becoming her jolly old self and trotting along as usual. We found that the Gentle Leader gave us access to tons more eye contact from McGee and she soon realized that barking and freaking out is a very undesirable action when you've got a loop around your snout.
Snoot Loop
The latest piece of accoutrement to find it's place in our bag of tricks is called a Snoot Loop. It's similar to a Gentle Leader, but it's got more bits and parts. Sort of like a straight jacket for your dog's face. The Snoot Loop was recommended to us by our trainers during McGee's eight week reactive dog course. We lost her Gentle Leader halfway through and decided, what the heck, let's give this Snoot Loop thing a whirl. The long and short of this review is that McGee feels certain that the Snoot Loop was designed by Satan himself. She hates it with a passion. I think it's the bit that comes down between her eyes that really wigs her out. She just can't seem to get used to the feel of it on her face and, no matter how many treats I try to encourage her with, she spends most of the walk with her head hanging and the rest of the walk dragging her face on the ground to try and rub the feeling away. We gave this one a good effort, but I'm not sure which one of us was more relieved to find her old buddy the Gentle Leader buried at the bottom of a bag of stuff. I will say that I saw other dogs in class experience great success while working with their Snoot Loops, but I think McGee was just too dedicated to her Gentle Leader by the time we gave it a shot.
And that's that. Now that we have evolved as a walking team, McGee and I usually settle on a combination of Freedom Harness and Gentle Leader. I clip in to the Gentle Leader with one end of her leash and the backside of her harness with the other end. It strikes a good balance for us between controlling her body (harness) and keeping tabs on her busy dog brain (head halter). She always wears her collar with I.D. because I am a worried mom and want her quickly identifiable as MINE in case of any catastrophe.
Rocking her Freedom No Pull Harness and her Gentle Leader at the same time. Look at that smile!

 What is your go-to dog walking gear?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Has Gone to the Dogs

On Dog Dad's side of the family there are kids. Lots of kids. Little kids, older kids, kids who live nearby, kids who live far away. Kids everywhere.
On my side of the family there are also lots of kids.
Of the 4 legged variety.
Our holiday gatherings don't really revolve around Santa and decorating cookies as much as they tend to center on juggling multiple households full of furry friends. Did someone remember to let Dad's dogs out? Mom's dogs have been alone for more than three hours, we better go make the mashed potatoes at her house! Let's go over and visit Uncle G so we can say hi to the dogs. You get the idea. We really love dogs.
The not so great part about this is that, while the humans all love to be together, the animals do not feel the same way. All together, we're talking about 9 dogs, 2 guinea pigs and 1 cat in the immediate family. Add to the equation that the dogs range in size from three to nearly 100 pounds and you've got a great animated film on your hands but in real life: chaos.
I thought I'd take this opportunity to introduce you to the cast of our Christmas:

Sweet Ben
He wins the award for most expressive ears but has a hard time trusting the world.
He's named after my grandparent's bar. He is a fetching machine who also answers to the nickname Shak Attack.
Yes, named after the Norwegian playwright. Why? I don't know. He looks like a possum to me.
Reno & Sam
The sweetest girls you've ever met.
This dog needs a job working for Cirque du Soleil. I swear she's powered by AA batteries.
Phinnaeus Bing
He likes to sleep in unexpected places.
Arlo Carlos
We affectionately refer to Arl Carl as The Sausage Dog.
Recent additions to the clan include a cat named Cujo and two guinea pigs whose names I have forgotten. I'm pretty sure the pigs are coming home for Christmas too.
Poor McGee will be traveling to her Nana and Poppy's house for the holiday where she'll only have one other dog to contend with rather than eight. If only they were reindeer, then we could just put a shiny red nose on McGee and call it a day.
Dog Dad and I will miss our McGee terribly over the holiday, but we are excited to see all the other pups (and their humans).
How does your furry family spend the holiday season?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Vegan Dog: Is it Possible?

Holiday time is a time when I think about food. A lot. I think about baking, I think about eating, and, inevitably, I think about what I will not be eating.

My life over the past decade has been a bit of a revolving door when it comes to the food choices that I have made. When I was 19, I decided I wanted to be a vegan; however, I didn't have the know how to make good food choices and lived mostly on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Oreo cookies. Yes, you can technically be a vegan and eat no veggies. The extreme weight loss and lack of energy that this brought on influenced me to return to my old ways as a meat eater. And then began the back and forth from meat eater to vegetarian and back again with short bursts of veganism when I was feeling extra inspired.

Flash forward to the summer of 2012 (when we adopted McGee) when I felt a shift that made me
desire a vegan way of living more than ever before. The connection that I felt with McGee brought up so many questions for me. I remember watching her play in her new backyard and thinking how can I eat another being when I am witness to how much joy this little dog is capable of experiencing? Surely a cow or pig isn't that much different?

I have since educated myself about factory farming and plant based cooking to the point that I feel confident about both my reasons for choosing vegan and my ability to provide myself with a healthy diet. When I'm paying attention and eating with awareness, a vegan diet makes me feel healthier and happier, in body and in mind, then I ever have before.

Sitting for salad.
I don't claim perfection. Being vegan 100% of the time can be super challenging- I've definitely eaten cheese on occasion (the absolute hardest thing for this Wisconsin girl to give up) and I've had a few doughnuts too. Dog Dad is a great support system for me and the food we keep in our home is all completely vegan. We even had a vegan meal for the reception at our wedding this summer which was fun to plan and was received very well by our family and friends.

What's the point of this spiel? Well, one of the challenges I didn't expect when I made this decision about my lifestyle is that I feel super weird about the fact that I feed McGee dog food made out of other animals. I mean, I love her so much and here I am watching her eat other creatures. It just seems bizarre to me. I cringe when I see pictures of dogs happily chomping on bully sticks (bull penises), I was super freaked out when we decided to use dog food with lamb in it as a training reward, and I know my dog has lusty feelings about bacon, but that pig may very well have been smarter than McGee!

The challenge is that, while I can adopt a vegan diet and then analyze how I feel and make changes to meet my nutritional needs, McGee can't tell me if an all veggie diet is making her feel crappy or happy. And have you ever tried Googling "can my dog be a healthy vegetarian"? You will get every result from people telling you that their dog lived a freakish 25 years as a vegetarian to those who say you will kill your dog by not letting them eat meat. I'm not sure how to provide McGee with everything she needs on a cruelty free diet. I don't want to hurt her, but I also don't want to hurt all those chickens that are ground up in her dog food. I seriously feel like it would require me to go back to school and get a degree in dog nutrition to know what's best. What's a girl to do?

I feel you VeganPolice. I really do.
For now, McGee enjoys her Blue Buffalo chicken and rice food and all of her treats are vegan: sweet potato dog biscuits, peanut butter in her Kong, broccoli or green beans for something extra special. The fact that she's reactive and needs extra special treats in order to focus adds to the challenge. I gave in and let her have pizza, lamb, hot dogs and an array of other items that gross me out during her 8 week training course.

I know that there's the argument that a wild dog would be out there eating meat to survive, but the reality of the situation is that McGee just isn't a wild dog. She's my dog and it's up to me to provide her with food and make sure she's healthy and well cared for. And I want what's best for her, it's just really hard to come to terms with the fact that she's living at the expense of other creatures.

Are you a vegetarian or vegan who feeds your dog meat? Do you believe a dog can live a healthy life as a vegetarian?
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