Monday, January 30, 2012

Pugs, clinginess and the underfoot factor

Liam the pug sleeping right beside my desk
My home office, in all its glory.
When I was reading pug breed descriptions, I kept coming across some variant of this sentence: "Pugs live to be with their people." At the time, I had no idea what this really meant. Liam seems bound and determined to teach me this lesson.

All day long, while I am hard at work, Liam is in his little bed about 6 inches away from my feet. If I'm not careful, I roll over the edge of his bed when I push back for a drink of water. If I leave the room, he leaves the room. When I come back, he comes back.

He's uncomfortable if we're more than about 2 feet apart, and if we are separated, he'll come running to my side and act as though we haven't seen one another in years.

Some dogs develop separation anxiety, and will howl and scream if they can't see their owners. Liam has touches of this disorder, but he will happily stay in his bed for hours at a time, if he is given cookies and toys and peanut butter. I'm not trying to explain a disorder here. Instead, this is just his basic pug-related M.O. He is a very attached, very loving, very person-oriented dog.

This is a pretty important point to get across for you pug-owning-wanna-be people out there. This sort of attention can be a little annoying. Forget about having alone time. The pug will always be there. Forget about doing stretches on the floor. The pug will be in your lap. Forget about sitting in complete silence. The pug will be snoring at your feet.

For those of us who adore our pugs, this is ideal. It takes some getting used to, for sure, but now that I'm adjusted, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Does your dog have a toy addiction? Liam the pug sure does

Liam the pug surrounded by a sea of dog toys
"I can't seem to help myself!"
I think the picture above answers the question in this blog headline, but I'll add a few words down here anyway. Maybe I can at least attempt to explain what in the world is going on here.

Liam has three separate toy baskets in this house: one in the bedroom, one in the workroom and one in the downstairs living room. When I got all of these toy boxes, I figured it would help me keep toys off the floor. In almost every room I stand in, I have someplace to chuck the toys.

Unfortunately, it hasn't worked out that way, and after a few months, the downstairs toy box has no toys at all and the upstairs workroom box is full to bursting. So periodically, I empty all of the toy boxes and redistribute the wealth.

Apparently, I have lost track of the toys that Liam actually has. He destroys toys so frequently, and he has toys that he's singled out for special favors, so when I see those toys in the checkout aisle at the pet store, I tend to pick up a few. Often, it seems, I am picking up replacements when the originals are still in good condition. Looks like I've gone a little crazy with the tiny sheep and soft balls in particular.

So Liam gets no new toys! Enough is enough! Except for that long green dog... Had to throw that one out yesterday because he tore a hole in the ear... Maybe I'll pick up a few more balls while I'm at the store.

Is there a rehab program for dog toy shop-a-holics?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Seeing eye pugs

An old photo, but a good one.
From time to time, I write about the love affair that takes center stage in the Dion pet household. From the moment they met (two or three days before this photo was taken), Liam and Lucy have been nearly inseparable. When Lucy was a kitten, unsure of where she was, she would walk beneath Liam with her back arched and in constant contact with his swinging belly. If the two were separated, she would cry out and he would run to her with reassuring kisses. Liam had to come to all of her veterinary visits, just to make sure she survived the process, and she would reach her little paws out of the carrier and pat him on the face as we sat in the waiting room.

Now, they're a bit less functional in their affection, as Lucy can get around pretty well without any help, thank you very much. But, they continue to snuggle through most of the day and they have a wrestling session most evenings. Now, it seems that Lucy provides Liam with help too, bathing his nose when he's fighting off infections and hauling his toys up the stairs so he can play with them when he doesn't feel like going down there to get them himself.

Up until this point, I thought this relationship was unique. Turns out, I might be witnessing a breed trait. This story recently ran in the Oregonian, describing a relationship between an adopted pug and a blind Chihuahua. The author suggests that pugs make good seeing eye dogs due to their easy-going personality.

So I guess my couple isn't so unique after all. Who knew?

Friday, January 13, 2012

The joy and pain of old pet photos

Seamus the Boston terrier in a portrait from 2005
Seamus, taken in 2005.
I keep my digital photographs in an online album. When I'm looking for a photograph, I just pop the program open and 10 years of photographs appear, all ranked by date and time. Last night, however, I stumbled across a secret stash of photographs I had forgotten about. I had them in a separate folder for some reason, and all of these shots had ambiguous names. So I start clicking and opening these shots, and suddenly I'm looking into the trusting face of my dearly departed Seamus.

In March, Seamus would have been 11 years old. Instead, I'll be remembering the anniversary of his death. You'd think these photos would make me happy, as they remind me of his healthier and happier days, but they still have the capacity to make me quite sad.

When this photo was taken, Seamus was still recovering from his mandibulectomy from his mouth tumor (I wrote about this extensively in this post, my first on this blog). I think he was 3 months post-op when this photo was taken. Over time, his gums and lips tightened and shrank, but he had quite a big lower lip here. And, there's a tiny drop of drool forming. He was a big drooler in those days.

And yet, he's incredibly dirty. He's got dirt in his eyes, in his ears, on his paws and in the white blaze on his forehead. I had forgotten what a mud-lover he was, and in these summer months, he would lie in the dirt in the garden for hours and hours.

Seeing these old photos just makes me miss him all the more, in part, because makes me remember what I am slowly forgetting. As time passes, the details blur and meld and he slips further and further from my grasp. It's painful. I'm hoping my computer has no more landmines as March draws near.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dog walking rant: Pedestrians have the right of way!

Liam the pug sitting in a pile of leaves
"Where did these people learn to drive?"
Twice each day, I take the pug through a walk in the neighborhood. He benefits from the exercise, and I often find that I do my best writing while I am away from the computer and out in the fresh air. In fact, I often have to dash to my notebook when I get home to jot down witty phrases I thought up while out on a stroll.

This morning, my walk was punctuated with two (count 'em, TWO!) episodes of idiotic driving. Here's the scenario: I have one foot in the street, stepping off the curb and into an intersection. A car also decides to enter the intersection, and I have to yank the dog back so he isn't hit.

People, this is illegal. Here is the statute. As you can see, it's pretty clear. If you're in a car and I am on foot, and we both approach an intersection at the same time, I have the right of way.

It doesn't matter if there is a painted crosswalk or not.

It doesn't matter how quickly or slowly I am walking.

It doesn't matter what time of day it is.

If I am in the intersection and you enter the intersection, you're in the wrong. This is a Class B moving violation, and according to my quick research, that's a $360 ticket.

This morning, these drivers both had their windows opened, which allowed me to yell "Unbelievable!" and "Right of way!" My husband yelled other unprintables. Perhaps tomorrow, I'll just yell "$360!"

Here's hoping this evening's walk is a little calmer, and I'll do a lot less yelling and a lot more writing.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Blind cat questions: Is it ear hair or a navigational device?

Lucy the blind cat showing off her long ear hair
Lucy showing off her curb feelers.
Lucy is a long-haired cat, so she's got some fur that defies all description. In fact, I think she has three separate layers of fur at the moment: downy, mid-range and freakishly long. She's been growing hairs of the third variety out of her ears for the past year or so.

At first, I was a bit amused by these big hairs, as they would curl about and meet at the back of her head, and when she sat in the breeze, they would flutter and wave. I've never seen ear hair like this. But, over the weekend, I ended up trimming her ears. Turns out, these long hairs can cause real problems for blind cats.

Since Lucy is blind, she uses her whiskers for navigation. And since she's a cat, she spends a lot of time bathing. Often, she would use her paws to clean the back of her head, and she'd push these long ear hairs into her whiskers. Then, she'd become convinced that something was right in front of her face, and she'd spend the next several minutes going around in circles, trying to figure out what she was running into.

After a few days of this, I started to feel real pity for Lucy. How confusing it must have been to feel like something is in front of your face all of the time! So I took my embroidery scissors and gave her a little trim. I just took off the long fronds and left the rest as-is. Now, she can bathe without getting her signals crossed. I will miss those long, wavy, crazy hairs, however.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Cat hair: How long does it take to grow back after surgery?

Eamon the cat sporting a patch of shaved hair on his neck
Eamon seems offended at the very idea of this article.
In September, Eamon had a bit of hair on his neck shaved away. The techs wanted to see his vein so they could grab a sample of blood, so out came the clippers and away went the fur. Since we went to an emergency clinic, rather than a kitty beauty parlor, the clip job was a bit rough with jagged edges and uneven spots.

At the time, I didn't think too much about it. But now that four months have passed, I'm beginning to wonder if that hair is ever going to grow back.

As it turns out, cat hair grows depending on the climate. When Eamon had his fur clipped, he'd already transitioned to his winter coat and he'd been through one complete session of shedding and regrowing hair. He is still growing hair, of course, but the process is moving a bit slowly because we're in the middle of a season. If I'd clipped him in August, right before a shed, it's possible that he would have grown this hair back much faster.

So, he has a tiny soul patch of fuzzy fur underneath his chin that doesn't quite match the rest of his fur. Each day it fills in a little more, but it's unlikely that he'll completely erase the shaving edges until the springtime, when he transitions out of the winter coat into a soft summertime coat.

I'll try not to embarrass him by taking any more photos that highlight his hair loss.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Want to help feral cats? Do this

Feral cat Franklin watching from his hiding post
Feral Franklin watching from his post.
Almost every community has at least one feral cat. These are the kitties that hide in the shadows and run at the mere sight of a human. They may associate with other cats, including pet cats, but they are far from pets themselves. Some of these guys may have never even been touched by a human in their lives.

To some people, these feral cats are nothing more than a nuisance. They spread around smelly urine to mark their territory, and they respond to acts of kindness with nothing but fear. Some people won't consider helping them for these reasons.

The fact is, however, that these cats need our help. Without food, water and access to shelter, these cats can live brief and brutal lives. Without a spay or neuter surgery, they can produce more creatures who will live this way.

Most experts, including the ASPCA, say that feral cats should be allowed to live where they are. They do need to be altered, so the population won't grow, but then it's a simple matter of maintenance. Regular boosts of food and water, and access to shelter, is enough to keep them happy.

I have one feral cat, Franklin. He's hard to care for as he doesn't trust me and he simply refuses to approach me. When he's sick, he hides and I can't provide him with any sort of medical care. I know he's afraid much of the time, and it makes me feel awful when he scurries away at the mere sight of me.

But I know that he has two meals a day, a full water dish and a heated portion of the garage to live in. I also know that he's neutered, so he won't produce any more ferals. For now, this seems like enough and it's rewarding to know that I am providing him with an opportunity to live out his life. When I spot him stretching in the sun on hot summer days, I do feel as though I'm doing right by him.

If you think you can do the same for the ferals in your neighborhood, I urge you to try it. Click here and here for more information.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

When cat abscess home care fails

Jasper the cat snuggling with his cat brother
Jasper is clearly enjoying his pain medications.
Over the past week or so, my husband and I have been treating Jasper at home for a small cut on his neck (I first wrote about that problem here.). Several times per day, we swabbed out the wound and applied hot packs to draw the infection out. Often, this can help tiny wounds heal before they become abscesses.

Unfortunately, sometimes all the best home care in the world can't keep an abscess from taking hold. We found that out the hard way this week.

An abscess is a pocket of infection deep beneath the skin. Since cat skin tends to heal quickly, the skin can grow right over that pocket and the infection can fester deep below. It's hard to get to that deep pocket without severely injuring the cat. As we discovered with Jasper, attacking the infection from the outside is sometimes not enough. He developed a hot spot on his neck that smelled simply terrible, and soon, he wouldn't allow us to provide home care. He was just too painful.

So, into the vet he went yesterday and he had a sedated abscess repair. The vet opened up that wound and cleaned it out thoroughly in a way that Jasper would have never allowed had he been awake. All dead tissue was cut away, and the puss was cleaned away. Then, Jasper got a shot of antibiotics and some lovely pain medications he seems to enjoy.

All of this work cost in excess of $300, which isn't something we're pleased about. I had hoped that home care would help us save a bundle. But sometimes, big expenses just can't be avoided and we pet owners have to dig deep to get our critters the help they need.

A day later, and Jasper already seems much improved. The wound is shrinking in size, and it doesn't seem hot or soft to the touch. He is eating well and feeling great. In the end, that's probably worth the price.