Friday, March 28, 2014

March 2014 BarkBox review: Puzzle toys (and treats!) make for two very, very happy dogs

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier and their toys

I feel like a bad dog mom, and I blame BarkBox.

My first dog, Seamus, had a number of puzzle-based toys I'd use to keep him entertained when I went away to work. He had dice he had to spin around in order to get treats, ball toys he had to break apart and ropes he tried to untie. When I came home, he was physically tired, but he also had a bit of mental exhaustion going on, because he'd spent most of his day solving problems.

I have no idea why, but I haven't invested in puzzle toys with either dog I have right now. Thankfully, our BarkBox contained a puzzle toy, and given the reaction I got, I should have purchased one of these things much sooner.

Our puzzle toy is from Jolly Pets, and it contains a tiny, soft, green ball encased in a hard, plastic, blue square. The dogs can touch the green ball, but they can't get it out of the blue shell. And I'm here to tell you that these guys tried. They used their muzzles, their front paws and the wall in order to knock that little ball out of there. They even barked at the thing for good measure. Looks like I need more toys like this!

Since only one dog can play with this toy at a time, I was glad that we got another smaller toy in our box from Charming Pet. It looks a little like a dog made of balloons, and the latex material seems to be a favorite of Sinead's when she wants to get to chewing. My only beef with this toy is that the squeaker stopped working within 48 hours, and now the dogs don't like this toy as much, but it still comes out of the toy box from time to time for a chew. 

On the treat side, we got some dental chews from Twistix that seem quite popular. They smell minty right out of the bag, and it took my dogs something like 5 minutes to devour the stick, and there was a lot of deep chewing involved. I can see how this might be really helpful for dogs with dental problems and an aversion to tooth brushing, but since I handle dental care for these guys every night, I'm not seeing much of a difference in their breath or their gums after a few days of use.

We also got some teeny, tiny cookies from Healthy Dogma that I'm using as everyday treats, and I'm thrilled to see that they're corn-free. Happy Howie's chews round out this month's offerings, and while I haven't cracked those open yet, I feel confident that they'll be a hit.

So I'm off to get more puzzle toys, and I'm eagerly looking forward to next month's box!

Would you like to get your own BarkBox? Use my code. You'll get a discount, and so will I!

Disclosure: Some product links in this post are “affiliate links.” If you click on them and make a purchase, I'll get a commission. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I believe provide real value. This disclosure comes in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, March 21, 2014

Springtime cleanup: A vital part of a dog-friendly garden

The sun has come back to Oregon, and Liam and Sinead are spending a lot of time in front of sunny windows, just lapping up the sunshine. Soon, however, they'll want to head outside and spend a little time romping around in the yard. That means I'll need to do a little work in order to keep them safe.

My backyard might seem safe, on the surface, as I don't use harsh chemicals or lawn fertilizers. However, I do like to provide my ornamental shrubs with a little snack before the spring blooming season, and that means that some plants in the yard have a small dusting of fertilizer beneath them. To keep the dogs as safe as possible, I used that product during a rainstorm, and I worked in the material with a small lawn rake. Mixing in the chemicals with the dirt reduces the smell, and the rain provided enough runoff that there are few particles left on the top of the ground. Just to be cautious, however, I've added a layer of mulch over the roots of these plants, so the fertilizer is buried.

Slugs and snails are a problem in my yard, but I'm walking out in the morning hours with a bucket and picking them off, rather than using a form of chemical control. I have a product that is (supposedly) safe for dogs, but I've seen rumors that suggest that this product contains ingredients that are toxic. To be on the safe side, I'm keeping this product out of my yard.

The final springtime danger for my two is a little more subtle, and it involves pruning. As bug-eyed dogs, these guys are at risk of pretty severe eye ulcers, and they can happen amazingly quickly in the spring, when the air is warm and the plants are covered in spines and sticks without leaves. A quick run through low-growing plants could shred these tiny, vulnerable eyes. Some plants, including my outdoor fuchsia, can be encased in a little wire, so there isn't a bundle of sticks to run by, but other plants needed some whacking. Removing new shoots close to the ground can keep small eyes safe.

I'm hoping to have a wonderful summer full of blooming plants and happy dogs, but I'll admit that it takes a lot of work in order to get the whole thing off the ground!

Friday, March 14, 2014

5 ways to help your cats prepare for spring

Beorn and Jasper the cats resting in their bed

Spring has finally come to Oregon, and with it comes kitty spring fever. This is the time when my cats seem to go absolutely bonkers, running around the house or the yard at high speed and mewling at each and every bug they happen to see flying by. They love the warm weather, and since many of my cats are (to put it plainly) pretty old, I love to see them getting frisky. These are 5 things I do each year to help them enjoy spring just a little bit more.

1. Wash out the cat beds. 

My indoor cats must share their beds with two dogs who often have muddy paws, and the outdoor crew often doesn't clean up well, either. As a result, the beds I have scattered around are often pretty filthy in the springtime, and while I know we have rains yet to come, it's nice to herald spring with bedding that's fresh and clean. A good washing with hot water and bleach does the trick for the beds I have.

Eamon the cat in the sunshine

2. Brush, brush, brush your cats. 

Warmer weather means a reduced need for a thick fur coat. Long-haired cats like Lucy need a thorough combing in the spring, so the hairs they shed won't get tangled up in healthier fur and cause mats, but all cats benefit from a quick brush during the summer months. I use a standard grooming comb, as it's easy to clean and my cats seem to enjoy it, but any sort of slicker brush could do the trick just as well.

Lucy the cat eating her dinner

3. Assess weight (and meal size).

I like to keep my pets at the proper weight (and I've written about that in reference to my dogs), but the cats can also pack on the pounds in the winter. There's just less to do when the weather is cold, and my cats seem reluctant to leave their warm beds when they know they'll be exposed to chilly air. As a result, it's not uncommon for my cats to emerge from the winter months with a few extra inches of flab, and that blubber will make them suffer in the heat of the summer. I feel for ribs and look down on my cats from above, just to ensure they're the right size, and if they're too big, we cut meals back just a touch.

Eamon and Maggie the cats in an open window

4. Open up the windows. 

Indoor cats obviously love to have open windows, as they can see out and smell the flowers. But, outdoor cats also enjoy having the windows held wide open, as it allows them to hear the sounds from inside the house and smell the meals we're cooking. As soon as the weather climbs above 50 degrees, I've got the windows and doors cranked to let everyone enjoy.

Eamon the cat on the couch

5. Make time for snuggles. 

I'm not sure why, but my cats seem to seek out affection more often when the weather is a little warmer. They may simply enjoy the added attention, or they may be more compelled to move around when the air isn't quite so frigid. I try to set aside time to pet each and every one of them thoroughly, and I add in a few toys for those who like to play. They enjoy it, and so do I!

Enjoy the spring!

Friday, March 7, 2014

How Pinterest killed my interest in purebred puppies (and why I'm trying to kill your interest, too)

Sinead the Boston terrier and her toys

Young dogs like Sinead are a lot of fun to watch, especially because they seem to love to pose. At any given moment, she's doing something that makes me want to grab my photo and start snapping. She's just that cute.

I joined Pinterest, in part, because I wanted to look at more cute photos of puppies. I do, of course, use the site for work from time to time, but I also liked the idea of tapping into a cuteness database throughout the day. Unfortunately, I signed up for a few boards that are far from cute, and they've changed the way I think about puppies, and about the whole dog industry in general.

The two boards I signed up for have some cuties. But, they also have a number of photos of dogs who look scared, filthy and unhappy. These dogs have good reason to look so pitiful, as they're living in shelters right now, and they've been placed on so-called "kill lists."

The aim of boards like this is to prompt people to take action right now, so that these dogs can be removed from the shelter and walk away with their lives. As a result, the photos are supposed to be pitiful. When they're sad, you're moved to act.

Photos like this aren't new. In fact, if you ran a search for "scared pit bull in shelter," you'd probably get hundreds of thousands of images that would be so sad that you'd need to spend the rest of the day in bed. But Pinterest somehow makes these photos even harder to bear.

That's because the site puts all of the images from the boards you follow into one great big slog of photography. For me, this means I get photos of pampered pugs and Bostons looking adorable, followed by photo after photo of older, bigger dogs dying in their cages because they don't have loving owners.

Liam the pug looking adorable on his dog bed
Adorable photos like this are often followed by
horrible photos on my Pinterest page.
As I scroll through these lists, I can't help but marvel at how good some dogs have it, and how other dogs might seem to pay the price. And I am always, always, always moved to do something. It breaks my heart that all the dogs that I see in the photos aren't happy. It just doesn't seem right. 

Now, I could simply remove those photos from my feed, and I might just do that. After all, most of the shelters that have dogs in this feed are located hundreds of miles from my house. There's little I can do to help these dogs directly.

But, it has changed the way that I think about purebred dogs, and maybe that's a help.

While I have always been an advocate for dog rescue, I've given my support verbally and monetarily, the dogs I have added to my household came from breeders. I love puppies, and I like the idea of having some control in developing their personalities from the time that they're small. I've never gotten a dog from rescue and added that dog to my household.

That'll change now.

We'll call it Pinterest-based advocacy, and it won me over.

I might not get a large-breed dog , as I don't have the space for a big guy, but I might work with Pacific Pug Rescue or Boston Buddies. I might even troll my local shelter and pick up a little kid from there. But no more breeding programs for me. That's a promise.