March 31, 2015

A Fire in the Neighborhood Sparks Thoughts of Disaster Preparedness

Keeping these two safe is my number one priority.

On Sunday afternoon as I drove home from the barn where I had a wonderful ride on my good old horse, El Corazon, I saw a white plume of smoke rising over the freeway. As I got closer it became apparent that it was in my neighborhood. After a brief moment of panic I was able to pinpoint the location slightly south of my own home. Very slightly - as it turns out, the fire was only about half a block from me. I went to have a closer look when I took the dogs for a walk - by that time, the fire crews were packing up but there were still crowds of people standing around, a local news station truck, and a fleet of emergency response vehicles.

News of the fire was soon available on Twitter, and more details emerged on the Monday morning news. The fire was caused by an electrical malfunction and four units were damaged. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Photos online showed flames shooting from the roof of the building - I'd been gone for the worst of it, when black smoke was billowing into the sky. The building is nearly identical to mine - six connected two-story units. The trouble with shared walls is that your neighbor's mistake, negligence or misfortune can quickly become your own. 

Fire has always been one of my greatest fears. When I was a kid living in the country in southwestern Colorado, our neighbor's teenage son shot a bottle rocket into our parched pasture in the middle of the summer. My mother and I watched as within seconds, fire spread across the dry field to our shed and chicken coop. It was lucky that we didn't yet have horses, but my brave and heroic mother rescued our chickens and rabbits from the burning building. We had some irreplaceable items stored in the shed, but the animals were the priority and my mom risked her own life for them. She was ill from smoke inhalation for weeks afterward, my rabbits had to live in my bedroom, and one of our hens suffered severe burns to her feet. The memory of that terrifying day and its aftermath has been forever etched in my mind, and the neighborhood fire brought it all to the surface again.

I had a hard time getting to sleep last night as I thought about how ill-prepared I am for disaster, even being as risk oriented and safety conscious as I am (fifteen years in the insurance industry will do that to a person). I thought about what I would do if I had to quickly evacuate, or what would happen if there was an emergency when I wasn't home. Although they are both micro-chipped, the Ginger Sisters don't wear collars in the house. They play rough and I've read too many tragic stories about dogs getting tangled up. With Ruby being a flight risk, I often wonder if I'm making the right choice.

I envisioned getting out of the house quickly with all three animals, the logistics of where I keep their leashes, what I would do with them once outside. Putting them in my car and moving my car to safety would seem like the simplest plan. I usually keep at least one slip lead in my car, but this new train of thought has prompted me to keep a couple in the bedroom as well, since that's where we'd be if something happened in the middle of the night. I have one of those stickers on my front window alerting emergency responders that there are pets inside, but I should have one on the back door as well. It's hard to imagine strangers being able to wrangle Ruby, Boca and Nina, especially with no collars on. This scary event too close to home has definitely inspired me to make some changes. The CDC's Disaster Preparedness For Your Pet is a helpful guide.

What about you? Do you have a plan for your pets in case of fire, flood or other emergency?

March 30, 2015

Ruby Reviews: Riley's Organics Dog Treats

At the Ginger Sister residence, we like to have lots of yummy, healthy treats around. We use small treats for training, and the girls get larger "cookies" for being members of the Clean Plate Club after meals. Boca aka Miss Lazybones, has also successfully implemented the bedtime cookie routine as the only way to convince her to move from the sofa to the bed if I stay up late watching television! As such, we were delighted to review Riley's Organics dog treats and offer our readers a chance to win some for their dogs.

Riley's offers something for everyone - their treats come in four flavors (Peanut Butter & Molasses, Sweet Potato, Apple, Pumpkin & Coconut) and two sizes (Large and Small). They incorporate natural, USDA Certified Organic ingredients and are made in the USA. Their products are human grade, and I have to admit that this human was very tempted to try the Peanut Butter & Molasses flavor, which smell just like delicious peanut butter cookies!

Ruby and Boca were very excited to sample the treats out on the patio this weekend. I feel good about the simple ingredients - each recipe contains only five or six - some of which even offer health benefits, like the Pumpkin & Coconut (Organic Pumpkin, Organic Oat Flour, Organic  Oats, Organic Peanut Flour, Organic Coconut Oil). They are free of the common allergens wheat, corn and soy. The small bones are perfect for training, and the large bones can be given whole or easily broken into pieces. 

Just a note on Boca's eye: she is recovering well from her conjunctival graft surgery and at our re-check appointment on Saturday the vet was pleased with how things are progressing. She will be wearing the cone collar for another week but was able to enjoy some supervised time without it this weekend, including the photo shoot for this review. I think everyone agrees that she deserves lots of extra treats for all she has been through lately!

Here is your chance to try Riley's Organics - four lucky readers will each win one package of Riley's Human Grade Organic Dog Treats. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only, and winners will be selected at random.

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Disclaimer: I was provided Riley's Organics dog treats in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own and I only publish reviews for products I feel comfortable using in the day to day life of my pets.

March 26, 2015

The Meaning of Rescue

Boca ready for her flight off the island - photo courtesy of The Humane Society of Grand Bahama

Inspired once again by my friend Anna's wonderful writing (I'm not kidding, she has a book coming out soon), I wanted to talk about my own experience and the evolution of my thinking regarding rescue, which happened over the course of adopting two rescue dogs. There is a lot of controversy surrounding "rescue" vs. "adopted" and the criticism that people like to throw the term 'rescue' around to feel better about themselves. Some think we should forget our animals' pasts and live in the moment, to stop labeling them as rescues and ourselves as rescuers. There is a lot of in-fighting even among the people who are fighting for a common cause.

To be clear: I did not rescue Ruby and Boca firsthand - I adopted them. The savior credit goes to Ruby's angels, who pulled her from death row in an Arkansas shelter and transported her to Colorado, and Boca's angels, who saved her off the streets of The Bahamas, housed her for a full year and flew her to Denver. They were absolutely delivered from terrible fates, and I am forever grateful to the wings both literal and figurative that flew them home to me. I will always refer to them as rescues, as a tribute to those who saved them and what they have overcome.

What I didn't fully understand about rescue, despite having volunteered, transported and fostered for Norwegian Elkhound Rescue, is the shoestring budget they are normally operating on, the extremes of abuse and neglect that they witness on a regular basis, and the level of dedication they have to their customers - the animals. They aren't in business to make sure you get a perfect dog, but to make sure the dog gets a forever home. You can hardly blame them if they seem overprotective or ask a lot of questions - they have seen the worst of the worst.

Ruby at the dog pound in Arkansas - photo courtesy of Arkansas Angels for Animals

A few days after adopting Ruby, I found a tick in her ear, followed by two more on her back. I was somewhat horrified, to be honest. I didn't understand how the vet that had performed her spay had missed them, or how she had been released to me in this condition. I had always adopted animals from big fancy shelters, where my pets were sent home with free vet checks, obedience classes and a goodie bags. I contacted the adoption coordinator to let her know about the ticks, and she apologized but didn't seem to think it was a big deal. Ruby's icky freeloaders were evicted with no ill effects, and as a bonus I am now really good at removing them!

I was later humbled as I realized why it wasn't a big deal. I started following the efforts of the rescues and shelters that were instrumental in saving The Ginger Sisters' lives. I saw picture after picture on Facebook of the desperate dogs they were trying to help. These were not animals that were relinquished because someone was moving and kenneled in state-of-the-art, well-funded shelters. These were animals that were skinny and starving, badly injured, bald with mange. If they had ever had a home, they had now been dumped on a highway or abandoned on a chain. They roamed the streets of the south, the Caribbean and rural Colorado. They probably had ticks, and ticks were the least of their problems.

I will repeat what Anna says: rescue is not for everyone. The sad story dog is not the instant gratification dog. As much as I am an advocate for adoption and nearly always encourage anyone I know to rescue or adopt, I am the first to admit that it can be hard. It takes patience, creativity, and a willingness to let go of expectations. I met someone at an event recently who said their friend had also adopted a potcake, but was mad because the dog turned out to be partially blind. It's true: a rescue dog might come with some unwelcome hitchhikers, be leash-reactive, or have an eye problem. There are no guarantees with a rescue dog except one: they will love you and change you for life. Not because they're a rescue, but because they're a dog and that is what they do best.

March 25, 2015

Ruby's Favorite Ball

 Ruby always knows where her favorite white ball is. 
She brings it to me when I ask, then growls playfully until I try to grab it from her.

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March 23, 2015

Boca's Ocular Ordeal: Part III

Home from surgery on Thursday afternoon.

Who knew that I would still be writing about a seemingly minor eye issue months later? In review, here are Part I and Part II. Boca Face had her conjunctival graft surgery last Thursday. She was her usual wonderful, cheerful self at the vet hospital, but I had an especially hard time seeing her led away. General anesthesia is always a worry, and I just didn't know what to expect with regard to how her eye would look afterward and if it would finally be the end of this long process. Adding to my uncertainty was the fact that for the day or two before the surgery, her eye had been doing much better and her comfort was increased, so here I was making her worse again with the hope that it would then finally swing the other way. She was squinty again on Thursday morning so ultimately I still felt I was making the right decision. 

I was told that Boca's would likely be the last surgical procedure of the day because it was the longest, and not to expect a call until after lunchtime. I was surprised to get a call from Dr. N. at 11 o'clock reporting that Boca was out of surgery and doing well, and that I could pick her up later that afternoon. Boca was groggy and disoriented when I arrived, and I was given her new medications and discharge instructions. I wasn't able to see much of her eye because they put one stitch in the outer corner of her lid to hold it partially closed. She whined most of the way home and seemed happy to be back in familiar surroundings, where she immediately laid down in the dining room. Ruby needed a walk and I intended to let Boca rest, but she pretty much insisted on coming along, so we kept it short. 

She continued to improve over the weekend, wanting to play with new toys we got in our Bark Box and enjoying a beautiful spring weekend. She is a fairly low-energy dog to begin with, so pain medications really knock her out. She spent a lot of time laying on her bed on the patio and snoozing on the sofa. It's hard at this point to tell how her eye is. It is still watering a lot but I was told that is normal. The graft is supposed to integrate with the cornea within about a week, and we have a re-check appointment on Saturday. I don't know when the eyelid stitch will be removed. Complete healing can take up to eight weeks. She holds it open just a little when we are walking or when she is getting a treat, and I have glimpsed part of the graft, a thin layer of semi-opaque tissue. It so far looks better than most of the pictures I've seen online. I hope it will soon feel better, and am maintaining my faith in the skill and confidence of the professionals. 

A note about pet insurance: I'm in the process of developing a full post on pet insurance, but for now I will just say that it has been a lifesaver for me. While the claim was initially denied, their decision to accept the appeal based on my vet's analysis was very fair and since then they have paid every line item from every invoice, responded quickly and compassionately to all my questions and pre-certified Boca's surgery. I was even able to make arrangements for the insurance to pay the vet directly. My first claim payment was direct-deposited into my bank account nine days after submitting the invoice (all the rest of the pre-surgery charges went toward my deductible). I really don't know what I would have done without the insurance and will always consider it an essential part of pet guardianship.You just never know what can happen - I considered Boca my "low-risk" dog and so put her on a high-deductible plan, then ended up having a multi-thousand dollar claim within the first year. I'm so thankful that I was able to make treatment decisions for her without feeling constrained by finances.

March 18, 2015

A Beautiful Day with Boca

I am lucky enough to live near a big open space park, and Boca and I enjoyed a long walk there on Sunday, when Denver had record high temperatures for March. Ruby had to stay home due to the abundance of bicyclists, but I think it's important to spend one-on-one time when you have multiple dogs, and Boca's big grin seems like a testament to that. 

Boca is just a dream to walk - she doesn't pull ahead, she stays by my side when dogs, joggers and cyclists pass, and she's happy to stop every so often to bask in the sunshine. I think we will make this a standing Sunday tradition now that the weather is nicer.

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March 17, 2015

Sometimes It's Okay To Say Never

andy warhol jack russell terrier so what

Last week I listened to this podcast, an episode about leash reactivity on The Great Dog Adventure. It became an instant favorite, because along with some great tips for training and management, trainer Fernando Camacho said something so inspiring, so freeing. He said "it might never get better." You might think I'm crazy for finding that encouraging, but accepting Ruby for who she is and what that means for our life together has been the single most helpful thing in dealing with her reactivity. In the early days I was so focused on "fixing it" that every walk was an exercise in frustration and disappointment. Every time she got to practice the behavior I was working so hard to reverse was another drop in the failure bucket, along with many tears. If I was expecting linear progress, I was stuck in a discouraging two-step.

When you live in the suburbs with an extremely hyper-vigilant terrier who is triggered by pretty much every thing that moves, it isn't an exaggeration to say that effective counter-conditioning/desensitization setups are impossible. There is the pack of skateboarders that clatter past just as you open the back gate. There is the off-leash apricot toy poodle that chases you barking while a small child tries to herd it back inside with a tennis racket (this actually happened to us on Sunday.) There is that evening when you narrowly avoid the woman walking two Yorkies only to round the corner to see a family with a stroller and two labs headed your way. Ruby barks and lunges and spins, and we make our escape as quickly as possible. If things get really hairy, I can thankfully pick her up. I've (mostly) stopped caring what other people think. Do you know what I've noticed in my life with my reactive dog? There are just as many people out there dodging behind hedges and making emergency U-turns with their dogs as not. I sometimes wish there were some secret hand signal of solidarity we could flash one another, if we had a free hand. 

In one and a half years together, I've learned what works for us...and what doesn't. I've acknowledged our limitations. I celebrate small victories, such as Ruby's ability to sit and watch while a car goes by, or politely greet a neighbor. I know the best times and routes to walk, and I've even found some places we can go hiking with a relatively low chance of mishap. I'm not saying to give up, to stop training or stop goal-setting, but I am inviting you to give yourself and your dog a break. To appreciate your challenging dog's good qualities, to realize there might be a reason you were brought together. To re-evaluate the changes you can explore to make your lives easier, to find your dog's hidden talents, to accept the things you might never do and say "so what." 

March 9, 2015

Boca's Ocular Ordeal: Part II

Poor squinty girl.

Sadly, Boca's eye issue continues and this will be an ongoing series - Part I can be found here. It's hard to believe that Boca has been squinty and uncomfortable for about 7 weeks now, and I've lost track of how many appointments we've had with the specialist. On Thursday we had another re-check appointment and surgical options were discussed. The first of these is a thermal keratoplasty, in which heat is applied to the cornea and a series of shallow incisions are made to create a surface for better adhesion. Due to Boca's poor (and unusual) response to the diamond burr debridement, the confidence level for this procedure is much lower than it would normally be. The second, more serious and more costly procedure is a conjunctival graft, in which a flap of inner eyelid tissue is bonded over the eye. This introduces a blood supply to the cornea and promotes healing. Vision can be impaired depending on the size and thickness of the flap, but it is the surest way to retain the eye and restore comfort, with a very high success rate. Because it's likely we may arrive at the graft if the keratoplasty failed, the specialist is more strongly recommending it as the primary option. 

A soft contact lens was placed in Boca's eye at Thursday's appointment, with the hope that it would provide her some relief and even allow some additional healing, but unfortunately even wearing the cone collar, we lost the lens within 24 hours. It was a cool idea - the lens had four black dots around the edge so I could easily see when it was in her eye and I think it did help for a short time. We did not find the contact, but I didn't spend a lot of time looking since putting it back in was not a possibility anyway. 

 Still loves her walks!

At first I was really upset about the idea of the graft surgery, because it will permanently change the appearance of Boca's eye, but I have a fairly short time-to-acceptance phase, and after having my little cry, I think I am prepared to move forward once some other things are in place. She will be my beautiful Boca Face no matter what, and dogs are the very best example of unconditional love. As long as she is comfortable and can hopefully keep her vision for the most part, I will be happy. At this point, the main thing I am waiting for is for the decision on my pet insurance appeal. This will determine if they will pay for the cost of the surgery and the treatment to date (minus deductible, which is high but has already been met and exceeded). I want to also touch base with my regular vet to get a non-specialist perspective. Several people have asked why the eye cannot just be removed - my understanding is that since Boca is not blind in the eye, enucleation is not the best option - its only benefit to my knowledge would be economic. I have also reached out to the shelter director in The Bahamas, to see if she may have some vet connections that might know of some tropical condition that the vets here could be missing. As it is, Boca has been seen by two regular vets and three accredited veterinary ophthalmologists, so we have gone above and beyond second opinions. Still, I think the more information I can gather the better, before making any big decisions. The graft is done under general anesthesia which is always a worry; however, Boca did fine with it when she had a tooth extracted shortly after I adopted her.

As for the Potcake herself, she is doing well under the circumstances. I have been trying to give her breaks from the cone collar which she is very appreciative of. She did grouch at Ruby this weekend because Ruby tried to lick her eye and I'm sure it is painful (as well as unsanitary). She is getting twice-daily eye drops and Rimadyl and maintains her great appetite and cute cheerfulness on walks. She still hoards all the toys and bones on her bed. She had everyone in the waiting area at the vet's office laughing because as I was checking out, she was sprawled out on the floor with her frog legs and her tail wagging. Such a delightful girl. We appreciate your good thoughts as the pieces come together for an eventual resolution to this prolonged problem.

UPDATE 3/10/15 - This morning I received notification that Boca's pet insurance has reversed their denial and has accepted the appeal of our corneal ulcer claim. This is the best possible news and I am incredibly grateful to our ophthalmologist for her influence on the insurance company's decision. 
Still hoards all the stuff!

March 3, 2015

Treats for Potcakes: One Dog Organic Bakery and The Humane Society of Grand Bahama

Last month I posted about the shelter in The Bahamas that rescued Boca from the streets, and their struggle to remain open so that more dogs like Boca can be saved. Since that post, due to fundraising efforts that have reached potcake lovers around the world, The Kohn Foundation has raised over $10,000 for The Humane Society of Grand Bahama, and there are community-wide efforts being made to keep the shelter operating. Veronica from One Dog Organic Bakery saw the post and generously offered to feature The Humane Society of Grand Bahama as their rescue of the month.

One dog took a long journey from a tropical island to change the lives of her guardian and her little ginger sister in Colorado. We are lighter with Boca around. We are lazier in the late mornings when Boca reminds us to snuggle closer and sleep longer. Even through her ongoing eye problem, Boca keeps smiling, wagging and loving life. She has taught me so much about trust, resilience and the appreciation of a warm spot of sunshine on the patio. Because of Boca, I have learned about street dogs around the world and international rescue, coming to the conclusion that compassion should defy geography. Because of Boca, I have committed to a monthly donation to HSBG and am dedicated to giving back in whatever small ways I can. The Ginger Sisters have some treats on the way from One Dog Organic Bakery and I hope that the matching donated treats will brighten some other potcakes' days as they wait for their very own family.

If you are in the market for some dog treats, please consider placing an order from One Dog Organic Bakery in the month of March. As an added incentive, use code RUBICON15 for 15% your order. Other ways to help are listed below:

  • Sign the Petition to encourage the local government to support The Humane Society of Grand Bahama. 

  • Donate to the Colorado-based Kohn Foundation, a 501c3 organization dedicated to raising funds for The Humane Society of Grand Bahama. 

  • Foster or Adopt! Both Colorado Animal Welfare League and Outpaws here in Colorado regularly have Potcakes for adoption and are always in need of foster volunteers. Transportation can usually be arranged for dogs to be adopted directly from The Humane Society of Grand Bahama into the U.S.

  • Spread the word! Please share this blog post on Facebook, Twitter (#savethehsgb) and other social media.

March 2, 2015

Positive Training Toolkit

You may have seen those people at dog parks or walking their dogs with a remote in hand or a prong collar at the end of their leash. They may have been yanking on the leash or shocking their dog, and they probably didn't look like they were having fun. You might have noticed yelling, tense expressions and stress signals such as a lowered tail, lip-licking, an averted gaze. Did they seem to be in control?

You may have also seen those people wearing treat bags on their belt, making clicking noises and handing out smelly treats. Maybe they seemed a little bit dorky - treat bags look suspiciously like fanny packs... Look closely and you might have noticed happy voices, smiling faces and signs of a relaxed dog such as an open mouth, loose body language and bright eyes.

We have the intelligence and the resources to put together the best training toolkit for our dogs, one that will strengthen our relationship and increase understanding. While I will admit that sometimes it feels like I need another set of hands to juggle my leash, treats, clicker (and don't forget the poop bags!) the choice is obvious to me, even if I look "dorky." Which will you choose?

Suggested Reading:

The Power of Positive Training by Pat Miller

Plenty in Life is Free by Kathy Sdao

Bark and Lunge by Kari Neumeyer

This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Cascadian Nomads, Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. The hop happens on the first Monday of every month, and is open for a full week - please join us in spreading the word about the rewards of positive training! Next month, we invite you to take part in the Ten Minute Training Challenge - take ten minutes to teach your pet something new and report your results in the next hop on April 6th!

March 1, 2015

From Street Dog to Video Star

A while back, Boca was invited to be part of a video shoot for Colorado-based company Outward Hound as they introduce their new website and re-brand (formerly Kyjen). I was asked if she would interact with puzzle toys and be able to be in a studio off-leash with the other dogs, and I thought she would do great. We both had so much fun and I couldn't wait to see the results, which went live on their website this week and are even cuter than I imagined. 

When we arrived at the studio, she met some of her co-stars and checked out the surroundings. There were lights and camera equipment as well as six to eight other dogs, their owners, video crew and Outward Hound staff. One whole corner of the room was draped with a white background, and the humans had to remove their shoes and stay out of the shots while directing the dogs, who could not be wearing collars or leashes. Boca was slightly nervous at first, and you can see her startle a little in the Paw Flapper video, but she soon relaxed and gave them some wonderful smiles and tail wags.

The dog she posed with in the Star Spinner video was also named Ruby, and was a real sweetheart, although Boca was wary of her as she often is with bigger dogs. It was that much more impressive that we were able to get them to pose so nicely together. It wasn't easy to get Boca to stay in place while I was off to the side, and it inspired me to work harder on our sit-stays and down-stays in case we ever do anything like this again. I am so proud of how well Big Sister did with all that was going on: strange people, strange dogs, new sights and sounds...from starving street dog to commercial star!

At one point, Boca removed one of the blocks from this toy and brought it over to me off-screen, which cracked everybody up. When it wasn't her turn, she sprawled out on the floor like she'd done this a million times. I loved introducing more people to these awesome island dogs. I'm delighted to have had this opportunity and I admit that I can't stop watching Boca happily crunching, frog-legging and trotting off camera to that catchy tune.