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?

Monday, December 9, 2013

McGee's Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Part II

In this installation, we will focus on gifts that McGee would like to have for herself. Don't worry, she's not going to get everything on her list. She'll have to narrow it down and be good...

For Dogs Who Like to Pull

McGee might disagree with me on this one, but we just got a Snoot Loop for her and so far, we (the humans), love it. Although she was already used to her Gentle Leader, it's still taking McGee a bit of time to grow accustomed to the extra structure that's built into her Snoot Loop, namely the piece that comes down between her eyes. It seems to me that, as she gets more and more comfortable, we are noticing less pulling and more paying attention from her. We've even stopped double leashing her to her harness and head halter in favor of using only the Snoot Loop on walks.
Ma, stop staring at my Snoot!


For Dogs Who Like to Chew

McGee's favorite chew toy in the house is an antler. It also happens to be my favorite chew to in the house because A. nothing had to die for her to have it and B. it was free because Dog Dad found it in the woods. Now that it's starting to wear down, I've been wondering: where can I find her a new antler if I can't find another in the woods? The answer: Grateful Shed Antler Chews. I will definitely be checking these guys out. Especially since they offer Moose and Elk chews (what are the odds that I'll find one of those just sitting around in Maryland?) and their prices are way more reasonable than anything I've on the shelf.

Bonus: Grateful Shed draws a client's name each month and plants a tree in their dog's name. How cool is that? That is something we can totally get behind.

For Dogs Who Like to Walk (In the Dark)

We need to get a replacement for our the light that McGee wears on her collar when we go for night walks. Especially since she is a black dog, we find a light on her collar makes us feel much safer when we walk her in the dark. We also practice extra safety (and dorkiness) by wearing headlamps and reflective vests of our own. These PetLit LED collar lights by Nite Ize are a fun addition to your dog's collar and keep them safe and easy to see in the dark.

For Dogs Who Like to Shiver

Stop it. Just stop. A dog pig?!?! Now your dog can be warm and embarrassed adorable at the same time! You'll have to check out Courtanai's other cute creations for yourself over at her Etsy shop.
Perfect for dogs who oink. This just solidifies the fact that I cannot eat a pig.

For Dogs Who Like to Minimize Their Intake of Animal Products

Dog Dad and I do our best to stick to a vegan diet. We know it's not for everyone, but it makes us feel good to remember the welfare of all creatures when we make choices about our daily food intake. We have thought about transitioning McGee to a fully vegetarian diet, but haven't yet found a vegetarian dog food that we feel would meet all her nutritional needs. For now, we stick to vegan treats and chews. We are intrigued by this new little vegan bakery called The Kind Puppy. The treats sound almost good enough for us to eat!
Sweet Potato Christmas Mix anyone? Yes please!

For Dogs Who Like to Help the Earth

Earthdog is the first company I ever bought a dog collar from. 10% of their profits go to Kody's Fund, a non-profit which funds spay and neuter programs. The products they make are earth friendly and they also take in foster dogs and get them ready for adoption. They even name their different collars after dogs they love. We give them five out of five stars for sure!

For McGee

Shhhhh! Don't tell her!!! I think McGee is getting a new tag from Purely Personalized this Christmas. They are just too cute to bear.

For Dogs Without a Home

A foster home, a bag of treats, a Kong, a jar of peanut butter... it doesn't take much to make the season brighter. Many dog treats and toys are on sale at this time of year. Please remember your local shelter dogs this holiday season when you consider deserving charities to give to.

For those of you who missed it, Dog Dad had a fun gig this weekend dressing up as Santa and getting his picture taken with local dogs to raise money for the Humane Society of Calvert County. The weather was yucky and the roads icy, but quite a few families still braved the snow and rain to have their dogs (and one cat) meet Santa. Molly Humphrey of Artistic Imagez donated her time and talents to the event and snapped some super photos of Santa and this sweet dog, who is currently available at HSCC. Special thanks to HSCC board member Jill Lee of Custom Dog Jackets for organizing a great event!
Such a sweet boy- his tail never stopped wagging even though he was feeling a little shy!

Does your dog get holiday gifts? Do you wrap them? Do you give gifts to dogs that aren't your own?

Friday, December 6, 2013

McGee's Holiday Giving Guide: Part I

We try to keep our Christmas shopping to a minimum around here. When we simply can't resist, we like our holiday giving to be meaningful and to support companies and organizations that we believe make the world a better place. McGee and I put our heads together, and here's a first look at our favorites for this year.

Support a rescue!

I love me some tye die. Support Villalobos Pit Bull Rescue (from the popular Animal Planet show Pit Bulls and Parolees) and rock an awesome sweatshirt. I only wish they had some doggie tye die for the McGeeter. Find the Villalobos shop HERE. Keep in mind that many established animal rescues have shops of their own where you can shop and help them out simultaneously.

Let even the tiniest pit bull fanatic show their pride!

Available here through BADRAP's online store (BADRAP is a pit bull rescue run out of California, the acronym stands for Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pitbulls). $2-$5 from every item purchased from their online store goes to help fund their rescue and community support programs.

P.S. I have this design as a T-shirt for myself and I love it.

Support a small business!

It's no secret that, when I do shop, I love to shop on Etsy. It's such a great resource to find gifts that are unique and made with love. And it feels good to support an artist who is trying to make a living doing something creative. I stumbled on Christy Robinson's shop and I am in love with her designs. Now I need to choose just one...

Oh. My. Goodness! This sticker from Nicker Stickers is killing me! There are so many different ones to choose from, many in the spirit of animal rescue. I'm in love.

Does the person you're shopping for have enough stuff and love animals as much as you do? Do something awesome to honor them!

Sponsor an animal while they wait for a home!

Many shelters offer ways to support a specific animal, here are a couple sponsorship programs with rescues I admire:
Dane County Humane Society Sponsorship Program
Pets With Disabilities Sponsorship Programs

Sponsor a spay/neuter surgery!

Hey Tank, guess what you're getting for Christmas this year?
Handsome Dan's Rescue

Send a little Christmas cheer to a dog or cat through your local shelter's Amazon wish list.

Calvert County Humane Society
or look up your local chapter on Amazon

McGee is very good at the helping with the blogging.

What are the animal lovers on your list getting this year?

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Trouble with Travel

This Thanksgiving, we were lucky to be able to travel as a family to Florida to visit my grandparents for the holiday. While McGee is not crazy about car rides (especially 14 hour car rides), we were so happy to be able to take her with us. We were able to find a pet friendly hotel near my grandma and grandpa's home and, although she did get lonely when we had to leave her in the room, having McGee with us during the holidays really helps bring stress levels down.

You might be thinking, "Oh, that's cute. She has her dog there to snuggle and it makes her feel more relaxed after a day of Black Friday shopping."

Well, actually no, that's not it at all. First and foremost, it's my dog who needs the snuggling to reduce her stress level. Secondly, I think Black Friday is a horror show, but that's for a different post on an altogether separate blog.

You see, the thing about my little dogfriend is that she poses many problems for us when it comes to traveling during the holiday season. Or any season. I struggle so much with the idea of leaving her anywhere that I am more likely to pass on a trip than to take a risk when it comes to her care and keeping while I am away.

Enjoying a break from her accommodations.
What am I worried about? Well, for a dog like McGee, staying with strangers is not an option. She won't eat or sleep, she's afraid of strange places and people unless she has Dog Dad or me their to encourage her to be brave, and she certainly can't stay with anybody who owns another dog.

Or a cat.
Or a ferret.
Guinea pig.
Maybe a fish would work out ok as long as it was on a high shelf.

And let me ask this: what are the odds that someone who owns only a fish will know what to do with a leash reactive, scared of strangers, insomniac dog? I'm sure that magical person exists someplace in the world, but if they are in my neck of the woods I either haven't met them yet or, more likely, can't afford their help. We've worked so hard to help McGee become a more well adjusted dog, I'd hate for all our work to be inadvertently undone.

There is the option of kenneling her in a boarding facility, but The McGee is so quick to morph into a doggie version of Eeyore that I shudder at the thought of leaving her all alone in a kennel run for days on end, even with the most loving of attendants checking on her. And again, unless they've got a true dog whisperer on staff, the likelihood of her getting playgroup time is pretty slim.

Last day at the hotel. Clearly the novelty has worn off.
Last year at Christmas time, we drove to Wisconsin and brought our McGee with us. It was a brilliant idea, until we realized that every single family home comes with it's own set of dogs. McGee found herself sequestered to an upstairs bedroom where, though visited often and cozy as a bear in a den, she spent many lonely hours wishing for company while everyone else played games and snuggled with my mom's menagerie of tiny dogs.

It's a difficult situation when spending time with loved ones means a plethora of incompatible canine companions. Before we had a dog, I dreamt of taking my future pet home and watching him frolic in the snow with my uncle's Labradors or snooze on the couch with my dad's two little monsters. I hoped for family dog walks in the park and an understanding between the dogs that because their humans are all kin, they should love one another too.

Unfortunately, I have come to understand very clearly that dog brains do not work this way and pushing for my dog to develop any relationship faster than her comfort will allow is selfish on my part. But still, she is undoubtedly my family, and while I love my human relatives and treasure the time I spend with them, I am still racked with guilt when my loyal dog cannot share some of the happiest days of the year at my side.

This Thanksgiving, I was just so thankful to have my McGee close at hand.

How do you manage your pets and the pets of your extended family during the holiday season?
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