Monday, December 30, 2013

December 2013 BarkBox review: Santa brings sad news for Liam

Liam the pug looking out the window
Every month, Liam stands just like this, eagerly awaiting the moment when the mail delivery person drops off his beloved BarkBox filled with yummy treats and even more wonderful toys for him to destroy. He truly loves his BarkBox, and he happily gobbles up anything that comes out of the box.

Unfortunately, he pays the price in the days that follow.

Liam has a legendarily sensitive stomach, and as a result, I'm careful to provide him with a very specific diet that contains no little ingredients that could even remotely cause either nausea or vomiting. However, when he has a few treats from the BarkBox, all of my planning goes right out the window, and it's not uncommon for him to spend the next few days feeling a little queasy and unwell. He just can't handle the novel foods.

Sinead seems quite happy to nosh away on any treat, and she never suffers any kind of ill effect whatsoever, so it's likely that I'll keep on buying the BarkBox. She needs treats, and the options we get in our boxes seem to agree with her. She also loves the toys that come in the boxes, as this photo clearly demonstrates.
Sinead the boston terrier and her BarkBox toy
But Liam may only get to try just one nibble of the treats that come. It's sad, but the nausea and horrible gas that comes along with a sensitivity reaction is really not pleasant for either him or me. I think it's best avoided.

In any case, these are the items we got in December's BarkBox:
  • Simply Fido reindeer toy. This little bugger has both a rope and a chewy, soft center incorporated into the design, which made it a hit for these dogs. They love to both chew on it and tug on it, and so far, it's held up quite nicely to all that abuse. Unfortunately, I can't find the toy online right now, so it may no longer be available.
  • GoDog Yeti. The design of this toy is a little creepy, as it has only one eye and some pretty big horns. But again, the dogs loved this thing and they've spent hours tugging and chewing on it, with no tears in sight. We may need to get another one of these.
  • Planet Dog chicken pot pie treats. I was surprised that these little treats didn't smell like anything at all, but the dogs really didn't care and they ate them quite quickly. The size of these treats are nice, though, as they're small enough to make for some chewing but not so big that I felt I had to break them in half. 
  • Bistro Bites treats. These little snacks also didn't smell like anything, but they're really small and easy for the dogs to gobble, and they did that happily. These would be excellent training treats, as they're about the size of a piece of kibble.
  • Barkworthies bully stick. Sinead absolutely loves these, and I love them because they don't have a nasty odor associated with them. They also don't disintegrate into a gummy mess after a spate of hard chewing. Instead, they're perfect for an afternoon nibble, and I'll definitely be getting more for her. 
So that's it! Next month's review might be a little truncated, as I'll be giving the treats to only one dog, but here's hoping Liam forgives me when he realizes he won't feel ill the next day.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Go ahead: Adopt a pet for Christmas!

Liam the pug with his Christmas tree
For years, we've all been told that adopting pets around the holiday season was a bad idea, particularly if the pet was slated to become a gift for someone else. There's too much hustle and bustle around the holidays, the experts would say, and some pets lose their novelty when the spring arrives and they become homeless when summer is in full swing.

Hogwash, says the latest research.

In a recent telephone survey conducted by the ASPCA, 96 percent of pet owners got their furry critters as gifts, and about 86 percent of those pets were still living with their original owners (or did so until they passed away). This means that pets given as gifts are no less likely to be homeless than are pets acquired in any other way.

Good news, right?

In addition, some trainers are even recommending that new pet owners take home a wee one when the holidays are in full swing, as most families tend to be at home for long periods of time during this season. Rather than bringing home a pet and then ignoring it as the family goes off to work or to school, a pet brought home during the holidays is more likely to have people around 24/7, and that might prove vital during the first few (crucial) adjustment days.

Now that this thinking shift has taken hold, many rescue organizations are lifting long-standing bans on holiday adoptions. The Oregon Humane Society, for example, is holding a great big "Home for the Holidays" event, in which people are encouraged to look for a furry creature to take home before December comes to a close.

Taking on a new pet during the holiday season isn't for the faint of heart. In fact, there's a significant amount of preparation families might need to do in order to ensure that the home is safe for little pets. Presents and trees pose obvious hazards, but chocolate, fatty foods and even candles could cause serious harm to new pets that might not have their family-friendly behaviors down pat. Sweeping through the home and ensuring that all dangers are safely out of reach is a good place to start, but providing adequate supervision might also be key to keeping wee ones safe.

It's also worth mentioning that some small animals are simply overwhelmed by holiday festivities, and they might appreciate some quiet time. While you might love to share your new puppy with your party guests, that pup might also like a warm kennel to sleep in, far away from the noise and the grabbing hands. Respecting the space, and the mental health, of new pets can make the adjustment period a little less stressful.

So get out there and adopt a new pet! You'll make Santa proud.

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier and their tree

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What can we learn from Bubbles the mastiff and her amazing rescue team?

Seamus the Boston terrier in his bed

Before you start reading this piece, head to the cupboard and pick up a 5-pound bag of flour and balance it on the top of your head. Now imagine doubling that weight, and moving it to the side of your face. That's about the size of a tumor that was found on a rescue mastiff named Bubbles.

She had the good fortune of being rescued by an organization that's known for taking in "hopeless" cases and providing the therapies others might never consider. (Read this blog entry about a dachshund with a severe back injury to see what I am talking about.) Rather than euthanizing Bubbles for her tumor, the administrators of this rescue chose to get her surgery. The updates (which you can see here) are nothing short of inspiring.

I've been through this sort of thing before, as the photo I've chosen for this blog entry clearly demonstrates (I've also written about that journey here). I know that helping dogs to recover from a disfiguring surgery that impacts the way they eat and play can be difficult and a little heartbreaking. As a result, I have so much admiration for the work this group is doing on behalf of a dog that clearly needs help.

Typically, coverage of cases like this follows a predictable pattern in which the dog is considered patient and a role model, and the rescue group is considered angelic. That might be true here, but I think there are also more important lessons we can learn from this case.

Firstly, it's important to remember that tumors like this can grow incredibly quickly. When Seamus had his mouth tumor, it grew at about a rate of an inch a week. I have no idea how long Bubbles was left with her tumor, but I feel fairly confident that she hadn't been living with the bump for years and years. She clearly deserved better, but the comments I've seen that suggest that the owner neglected her for a long period might be stretching the truth. There's no need to exaggerate when the truth of the tumor is powerful enough.

In fact, I think some of that exaggeration could actually be harmful. The fact is that many owners with dogs who have tumors choose not to operate, and within months, their dogs might look like this. These owners might have all sorts of reasons for steering clear of the operating room, and financial considerations might play a primary role, but I also think it's rare for owners to find success stories like this.

When your dog has cancer, you're worried and wondering, and there's very little information available about how major surgeries progress and how a dog does after surgery. When trying to research the procedure Seamus had, I hit an absolute brick wall. I could find out typical length of life after surgery and I could read reports in which surgeons suggested that the results were "cosmetically tolerable," but that didn't really mean much to me. I just wanted to know if my dog would live, and if he would be happy. I would have loved to see just one role model dog, just so I could know that I was making the right decision.

Now, if I hadn't done surgery, it might be too easy to blame me as neglectful, ill-informed and hateful. But wouldn't it be more helpful to suggest that people who don't do surgery just don't see how it could help?

That's what makes this rescue so extraordinary for me. This group is proving that even severe tumors are worth working on. With each little update they post, they prove that the surgery was worth it, for this dog. People who are dealing with their own disfiguring tumors in their dogs might be inspired by this story, and they might be willing to take action. By doing the surgery, the organization could be saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of dogs.

So if you're a blogger or you're somehow active on social media (aren't we all?), I urge you to share the Bubbles message. Many people out there might need to hear it.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

5 reasons adult dogs are much, much better than puppies

Sinead the puppy and her toys

Sinead the puppy Boston terrier had her first birthday last week, and as this photo clearly demonstrates, she had a whale of a time. Presents and zucchini cupcakes were hers for the taking, and she even got to skip the dreaded afternoon walk in the freezing cold for a special treat.

Obviously, she had a lot to be thankful for, but I had my own reasons for throwing her a party. For me, this birthday meant the end of the days of the puppy, and I'm really glad about that. While I loved her little puppy belly and intense small dog cuteness, I think older dogs are far superior to the whippersnappers. Here's why:

1. Adult dogs  have potty training figured out.

Sinead potty trained rather easily, as did Liam, but it took an intense amount of vigilance on my part to make it work. I had to supervise each place they went, and be prepared to haul their butts outside if it even seemed as though they might need to go. It's a little exhausting. Adult dogs, on the other hand, usually have the potty business down pat, so there's no need for me to be on high alert around the clock.

2. Older dogs have impulse control. 

When Sinead was smaller, it was hard to keep her from doing something that she wanted to do. She saw a morsel of food, she ate it. She saw a squirrel, she chased it. As an adult, she's more likely to think through her options, and weigh the costs of doing something crazy against the injury she might face. She's also more likely to ask for my input, and listen to me if I ask her not to act on her impulses. This makes living with her much easier.

Sinead the Boston and a cupcake
Sinead waits for the "okay" command that tells her the cupcake
is fair game. 


3. Older dogs have less energy. 

Living with a puppy means living with a creature that has two speeds: on and off. Sinead was hard to pet when she was younger, as any contact I'd initiate seemed like an invitation to play. She ran around the yard at top speed multiple times each day, and she wore my other poor pets out with her constant demands for attention. She was a drama queen, and while it was endearing, I also love the mellow side of her adult personality. Now, she plays and runs, but she also takes time to nap. She loves to snuggle, and she's content to simply sit near me without asking me to throw something or pull on something. As an adult, her energy level more closely resembles mine.

Sinead the Boston terrier will not fall asleep
In desperate need of a nap.

4. Older dogs know basic commands. 

This is a biggie, and it's only true if you take the time to teach a pup the basics, but it's nice to feel as though I have at least a modicum of control over what Sinead will and will not do in a given situation. If I need her to get out from underfoot, I can simply tell her to do so and she complies. When she was smaller, it was a bit like living with someone who didn't speak the language. I'd ask her to do something, and she'd look at me blankly. It's nice to have a dog that can communicate with me.

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier waiting for a treat
Liam and Sinead demonstrating a nice sit.

5. Older dogs have independence. 

Dogs are pack animals, and I find that small puppies need almost constant physical contact with another living being. Little Sinead was reluctant to sleep on the floor in her warm bed at night, when she first came into my life, and she'd cry until I picked her up and let her into the person bed. I had to throw toys for her, as she wouldn't play with them alone. She always wanted to sit in my lap. I loved this, of course, and she's still a very needy little dog. But, as an adult, she happily sleeps in her own bed and plays with her own toys. Sometimes, she seems to need a little alone time, and she'll head out into the yard to search for fun and adventure. I like to think that she feels more confident as an adult, and that's reflected in her habits.

Sinead the Boston terrier with a toy
Solitary, under-the-couch play.

I got Sinead as a puppy as I wanted my husband to experience puppyhood at least once in his life. But, we're both agreed that Sinead will be our last. As she grows and changes, it's so apparent that we prefer adult dogs. As much as we love puppies, we're really made for adults. So it's adult rescue for us from now on. Hopefully, if you agree with my points, you'll do the same, and give an older dog a chance in your home. Chances are, you won't regret it.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Pet hospice: Not so crazy after all

Eamon the cat snuggled up in his bed

In yesterday's New York Times, the authors covered the pet hospice industry under the somewhat silly headline: "All Dogs May Go to Heaven. These Days, Some Go to Hospice." Predictably, the author compared hospice to other pet expenditures the petless might consider frivolous, including clothing and therapy. I was prepared for that.

But what I wasn't prepared for was the implication that pet hospice was somehow a new idea that is just now catching on. You see, I think most dedicated pet owners are quite familiar with the idea of hospice, and most of us have been dealing with the difficulties of caring for aging pets for years.

The basic idea behind hospice is that the patient isn't expected to improve and live a long and healthy life. Instead, everyone involved knows where this journey will end, and all work hard to ensure that the path is smooth. Medications play a role, but gentle understanding and reasonable expectations are also part of the hospice package.

Eamon, my old guy, has been in what I might consider hospice for well over 3 years. I've chosen not to perform advanced diagnostics on his back problem, as I'm not sure a cat in double digits should go through an orthopedic surgery. Instead, I manage his pain with prednisone and heat, and I'm quick to bump up the application of either if he's painful. (See more about that here and here and here.)

When Eamon goes to the vet, he gets no vaccinations. We don't discuss the years of life he might have left. Instead, we discuss his pain and his comfort. We discuss his appetite and his mood. We keep him comfortable.

I'd bet that pet owners all across the country have these conversations with their medical professionals on a yearly basis. They may not call these visits "hospice visits," but they're discussing pain control and comfort. They're easing the path from life to death, and I'd call that hospice.

Some of the pet owners interviewed in the NYT piece, however, seemed to need just a bit of an extra push. They didn't know if they were making the right decisions for their pets, and they were worried about what would happen in a pet's final moments. These owners seemed to want to cede control, and the companies that were willing to offer supervision called themselves hospice providers.

This is a little new to me, but I must say that I find the concept refreshing. It's difficult to know when you're doing the right thing for aging or ill pets, and I know many pet owners torture themselves when death is near about they could be doing or what they should have done. If hiring a hospice provider allows them to prevent guilty feelings from forming, I'm all for it.

I would say, however, that owners might need to consider this option a little sooner. Calling in hospice 24 hours before a death might not help as much as working with a provider in the last year or two of a pet's life. That's the kind of care that really eases the path, and whether it's called hospice or routine care, it's not frivolous. It's a necessity.