Monday, July 30, 2012

On cats and moving: Your cats are going to love home staging!

Maggie the cat sitting on boxes I have packed
Maggie finds a bed among the boxes.
Let's make one thing clear: When you're moving, your cats will love your realtor. Why? Because the things your realtor wants you to do will be the things your cat has wanted you to do all along.

Here's why. 

When you're preparing to sell your house in a tough market like this one, your realtors often encourage you to do something called "staging." In essence, you walk through your house and box up almost everything that has personal meaning to you.

That vase your grandmother gave you? Too personal.

That Asian lamp you bought at an antique store? Holds too much visual appeal.

If you do staging properly, your home looks a lot like a vast, vacant showroom that someone is camping in, not a home that anyone would actually choose to live in. And the corners of your home contain boxes of things you'll move months later, when you transfer ownership of your house. I hate packing, and leaving packed boxes around, but I also hate the idea of having the house on the market for months and months and months, so staging has been the name of the game here.

This seems to make Maggie the cat especially thrilled.

Maggie is a curious sort, and she's the first to investigate anything new. When we take items off the shelves in order to pack them, she's the first to give those items a sniff. When boxes are packed, she tries them out with her teeth, just to make sure they're solid. And Sunday, I found her sleeping on this pile of packed stuff in the sunporch. I guess she just can't help herself.

Packing with a curious cat like this holds some special dangers. In previous moves, Maggie has been packed inside of boxes for a few moments, when she crawled in and I hadn't noticed she was missing. She's also tipped over boxes of packing peanuts, and she's had her paw stuck to packing tape. It's entertaining, but it's also a gigantic hassle to keep moving her, scolding her and reassuring her when her antics make her frightened. However, I let her participate in the packing process as it seems to help her acclimate to the concept of moving. She can see that something is happening, and she is a part of this process, so the move might be less likely to frighten her.

At least this is what I tell myself as I remove her from the box I am packing, for the tenth time.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How to prepare your pug when it's time to move

Liam the pug posing with a chair I was selling
Liam (not helpfully) posing with a chair I was selling.
My husband has made the decision to sell this big house and move to something that's smaller and more sustainable. This means we have months and months of chaos and disarray ahead of us, and poor Liam the pug already seems to be in a shambles about the whole thing.

Dogs like routine: They like to know where you are, what time you get up, what time they eat, where the water bowl is located. Realtors like you to be flexible with just about all of this stuff, packing away most of the things that you own and keeping the house in a pristine and clear condition so the new owners can come in and visualize the space with all of their own stuff in it. Oh, and they'd like these visits to happen almost anytime of the day or night, thank you very much.

So, we've been dutifully packing and planning, selling off furniture we don't want and putting away things we don't want broken. Liam has become increasingly anxious with each change we make. He won't get out of pictures of furniture (see above), he paces when we're working, and yesterday, he even made an attempt to pee on our coffee table before we stopped him and whisked him away.

So what in the world can be done to keep drama-queen dogs under control when you're going through a long real-estate process? Crate training seems to come to mind. Liam may not be able to control what happens in the house at large, but he can certainly control what happens within the metal frame of his crate. By allowing your dog access to a crate during times of stress, you're giving your dog a safe place to go when he or she begins to feel like it's all too much.

Exercise also seems to play a key role, as it allows the dogs to burn off some spare energy and sleep a little more soundly. This isn't working so great with Liam, as it's much too warm outside for long walks, given his short snout, but we're working on indoor ball-throwing exercises. Now that the house is only half-full of furniture, there's lots of room to run.

Right now, we're hoping this house sells quickly, so he can go back to feeling safe and secure in our new home (wherever that might be). But in the interim, I hope he'll at least start to think of chaos as the new normal, and perhaps he'll then mellow out just a bit.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pugs, construction noise and barking

Liam the pug is playing with his toys
Liam is better at playing than guarding.
Yesterday, we had the roof of this old house cleaned. In order to do the job, the workman had to climb all around the house, and he was wearing a huge parka as well as eye and ear protection. I felt sure the pug would be a barking, snarling mess when he looked out the window and saw some masked person peering through our windows. Much to my surprise, Liam didn't let out a peep. In fact, he didn't even seem to notice that anyone was here, even when the man was directly outside our workroom windows.

In addition, this man used a compressor on our roof, which meant a lot of slapping and swishing and dragging noises, and large clicks when the machine turned on and off. Again, I expected barking noises, and instead Liam responded with snores.

At first, this whole thing had me perplexed. Liam will wake up out of a dead sleep if he hears the merest jingle from a dog's identification tags, and he will bark relentlessly at any animal he sees on the television. He'll also sometimes growl at people he thinks seem threatening in some way, and that are coming toward our property. Put all of this together, and you have a recipe for a bark-a-thon when the roofers come.

On the other hand, the lot adjacent to our house is going through some extensive renovations, which means there has been a significant amount of construction noise day in and day out. At first, the noise was troubling to us all, and I found that both Liam and I would jump at each new sound. Now, since the work has been ongoing (and seems to be ending), we don't notice any construction noise at all.

Perhaps in Liam's little dog brain, the roof cleaning was another example of construction noise, and he chose to tune the whole thing out. This bodes well if the husband and I have to do yet more work on the house this summer, as we seem to have created the perfect construction-impervious dog!

It's probably difficult to recreate this situation for people who do not live next to construction. A recording of construction can't recreate the rattling of the earth that so often comes along with these big machines, and those sonic movements tend to drive dogs wild. I suppose you could hire a kid to drop something heavy from a 2nd story window or something, but it's probably not practical. I do think, however, that I will probably continue to encourage Liam to endure, and then become accustomed to, strange noises whenever I can. Instead of trying to shield him from the loud motorcycles, the leaf blowers or the screaming children, I'll let him acclimate to each noise in his own time. If it results in less barking, it's worth the effort.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Found a lost pet? Here's what to do!

Sleepy senior pug in her bed
This poor old girl had a rough day!
On the morning walk, I saw a very old pug limping along the sidewalk. At first, I was quite sure that she was just investigating the area on the end of a very long leash, but when the minutes began to tick by and I noticed that no owners were in sight, I started to get worried. When the old girl moved into the street, directly in the path of oncoming cars, I took action. She became a guest lodger of the Dion household until I could find her owner.

Normally, reuniting a pet with its owner is as simple as reading a phone number of the tags the pet wears, but this gal had no collar on. This made reuniting her difficult, but definitely not impossible. While she went with my husband to our neighborhood veterinarian for a microchip scan, I posted her description on these local sites:
  • Multnomah County Dog Control. This is the most important site, as you must register a found pet if you intend to keep it in your home. 
  • Craigslist. Equally important, as this is where most dog owners look for their pets. 
  • Dove Lewis. A long shot, but I know some people look here for their lost pets. 
Our guest had no microchip, so we plastered the neighborhood with "Found Pug!" signs, and we waited for her people to call.

This gal is quite old, and while she appeared to be in good health, she is also a bit of a grumpy gus. She didn't like Liam to get too excited, and she also didn't like to be sniffed or played with. In other words, she wanted to be left the hell alone. As soon as she was settled in her bed, and Liam was settled in his, all seemed well.

Helping a stray like this means providing food, water and shelter, but it also means taking some risks. I had no idea if she was cat friendly, and I also had no idea if she had medications to take or serious health concerns I should be monitoring. I also didn't know how long I could reasonably keep her, without disrupting my own cat and dog family. I think I had decided I'd keep her for 24 hours, but then she would have to go to the shelter.

Thankfully, I didn't have to make any tough choices as her owner called our veterinarian to report her missing. Since we'd taken her to the vet for a microchip scan, it was easy to link our found pug with her lost pug and she went home with her mother just a few hours after we found her. However, this story could have easily had a more sinister ending. This old girl could have been hit by a car on her wanderings, or she could have been lost for good as she had no identification on her. The owner promised me that she would get a chip this week, but I hope she also convinces the wanderer to stay home.

Monday, July 9, 2012

I wish we could save Lennox from BSL

Pretty pink flowers on a summer day
I previously wrote about Lennox, an Irish dog that has been held in captivity for years because of breed-specific legislation. At the time, I was fairly hopeful that activism could save this dog, and perhaps his story could spur other people to act against breed-specific legislation in their own countries. I envisioned him functioning as a sort of mascot, and I felt sure that all who saw him would be inspired by his story and by the fight his family put up to save him.

I am far from hopeful today.

The saga of poor Lennox has just gone on and on, and recently, the family came to the difficult decision that they couldn't fight the legislation any longer. They faced roadblock after roadblock, and Lennox also developed skin disorders as well as some sort of neck injury, and it was thought that these issues were causing him pain and would make his rehabilitation from captivity all the more difficult.

So the family chose to let him go.

Celebrity dog trainers, and several dignitaries from other countries, offered to rehome the dog at no expense at all to the government (see more information here), and yet, the authorities refused to even meet with these people or listen to any of their offers. Their pat response, which you can see here, is pretty disgusting, if you ask me.

So I feel sure that when I wake up in the morning tomorrow, this dog will be dead. I can only hope that this story demonstrates why breed-specific legislation is so truly horrible. When a dog can be condemned due to the measurement of his head (as he is not even of the breed that's been banned in Ireland), something has really gone wrong with the laws. And when a city council refuses to listen to the thousands of people who have protested all around the world, and they instead hide behind these misguided laws, it's shameful, to say the least.

At one point, I had considered visiting Belfast. I had heard it was a beautiful city, and I have a friend who visited the city for work and who showed me some enticing photos of the views he had from his hotel room. I had even been pricing plane tickets. But now? You couldn't pay me to go to Belfast. In fact, I signed this petition (link is now broken), vowing never to set foot in the city limits.

I feel for Lennox, and I feel for his family. Let us all remember him, and all of those innocents like him, who lose their lives due to unfeeling policies. Let us stop supporting breed-specific legislation.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Protect your pets from theft

Liam the pug napping on the couch
Who wouldn't want to steal a pup this cute?
I'm an avid New Yorker reader, and a few years ago, I remember reading this story about dog theft in New York. The author used a tongue-in-cheek tone, mocking these owners for their concerns, and the author pointed out that no dog thefts had been reported to police. The article ends with a quote from a poly-sci prof who suggested that people fixated on dog theft because they had larger concerns about the economy. In a word, the article implied that dog theft was all hysteria.

Times have changed.

According to a recent article, there has been a 49 percent increase in the number of stolen dogs reported between 2010 and 2011. While I've done no major research on my own, I can see several entries almost every day on the Portland craigslist.com from people who are asking about their own stolen pets. It seems that the threat of dog theft is real, and it's on the rise.

Pets could get stolen for a variety of reasons. Some people might steal them to sell them again, especially if the dogs are small, cute and from a recognizable breed. Some people might steal them in order to breed them and make more money on the pups they could produce. And finally, some people might just steal them in order to keep them as pets. It happens.

There's no real way to make sure your pet is completely theft-proof, but there are some commonsense things that people can do to make theft a bit less likely:
  • Don't tie your pet out in public places. People who leave their pets unattended outside of stores, coffee shops or restaurants might be inviting trouble.
  • Don't put your pet in the yard unattended. Some local thieves seem to be nabbing pets from their yards when owners put them out for the last bathroom break. It's best to go with them. 
  • Don't leave your pet in the car. That's what happened in this story, but thankfully, the man got his dog back. 
  • Don't use expensive, shiny bling on your dog. Rhinestone collars, Burberry coats, etc., all scream money and they could make nabbers target your dog.
  • Microchip, microchip, microchip. If your dog is stolen, this is (almost) the only way to legally prove that the dog is yours. 
  • Spay and neuter. If your dog can't be shipped off to a breeding organization, it might be less valuable to thieves.
If your dog is stolen, by all means, report it! Highlighting the case on craigslist.com is all well and good, but asking the police to join in the search is always prudent. Your dog may be found when the cops bust these people for other offenses. While the investigation is ongoing, follow these excellent tips for making a great lost dog sign.

Stay safe in these rough economic times, everyone, and if your pet has been stolen, please shoot me an email. I'm happy to highlight your case on this blog.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Protect your Portland pets from fireworks

Liam the pug is hoping there will be no fireworks this year
"Oh, no. You're going to light things on fire AGAIN?"
Every year, it seems, I end up writing some sort of piece about the 4th of July. Last year, I even toyed with the idea of spending the holiday in Canada, since our neighborhood sounded so much like a war zone when the holiday arrived (see that rant here). I have no idea why people love to shoot things off on the 4th, and I have no idea why they start celebrating on the 2nd and take it through the 6th. But, I do know there are some things that Portland pet owners can do to fight back this year.

According to news reports (including this one), Portland Fire & Rescue has teamed up with the police department to crack down on illegal fireworks in the city. These are the things that fly up in the air, raining down sparks and crackles. They're also the things that cause big booms to rattle the windows and send pets scrambling. They've been illegal here for a long time, which means people could always be prosecuted for owning them, but this year is shaping up to be a banner year for fines. The fire and police departments claim that they're staffing up for the holiday and are preparing to hand out some pretty hefty tickets. A bottle rocket, for example, can cause a "patriot" to pick up a $1,000 fine.

So what can we pet owners do on the 4th, aside from keeping our pets in and their identification collars on? We can call in reports when people in our neighborhood are setting off these illegal things. If you're not sure what is legal and what is not, call the non-emergency hotline and report what you're hearing. I know I plan to be on the phone if I hear these things.

Now, I know fireworks like this have always been illegal, and I know the authorities often suggest that people should follow the law or live in fear of fines. We've heard it all before. However, this year does seem a little different to me. The authorities seem to be taking the issue just as seriously as we pet owners do. Why not help them do their jobs, and hand out those promised fines?

Perhaps if we do, I can avoid writing this article next year. It's worth a try, at least.