Friday, February 27, 2015

Crawfish and alligator dog treats: Liam and Sinead review

Sinead the Boston terrier with her treats

Liam and Sinead love the treat portion of the BarkBox best of all. And often, when that box comes, it contains a bag of soft treats from Think!Dog. As a result, I've mentioned these little snackies once or twice in my monthly BarkBox reviews. (Here's an example.)

But, my dogs love these things so much that I thought it might be best to do a review that focuses solely on what these treats are, and why they're so good. That's what I'm doing today.

Liam the pug with dog treats

So far, Liam and Sinead have tried two flavors of these treats: crawfish with alligator and alligator with blueberries.

You'll see a theme here.

Think!Dog is interested in making treats that come from sustainable farms and fisheries in Louisiana. That means these little snacks are full of American-harvested proteins that I've just never seen in other dog treats before. Seriously, if you told me I'd be feeding my dogs alligator a few years ago, I would have told you that you needed psychiatric help.

But you know what? This approach makes a lot of sense.

Many dogs have been overexposed to common protein sources like chicken and beef. As a result, they can't eat many commercial snacks. Seamus certainly had that problem, and I struggled to find treats with novel proteins. These would have worked wonders for him.

These protein sources are also just a touch stinky. And that means (you guessed it!) the treats have a very distinctive odor. While my husband isn't fond of that scent, the dogs sure are. And it can be a real help.

Sinead and Liam lying down

Getting both dogs to hold a sit/stay position isn't easy, as they tend to poke one another and goad one another. Smelly treats can really help, as the scent reminds the dogs of the wonders they'll experience if they behave. Just opening this bag seems to make the dogs perform a little better. See how well they're doing here?

And, stinky treats are great for cats. Check out Jasper trying these treats.

Cats enjoying treats
Cats enjoying treats

Older cats like Jasper can't smell things as well as they once did, and sometimes, that lack of smelling smarts makes these cats reluctant to eat. A stinky treat like this can help prompt him to dive into his dinner, and the treats are small enough and soft enough that they're easy for him to handle.

So the short answer? We love these treats, and we hope we'll get more in the next BarkBox!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Get the combs out! It's cat shedding season!

Lucy the cat in her bed

It's been creeping up on 50 degrees each and every day in Oregon, and that means the daffodils are in bloom all over my yard. It also means that each and every items of clothing I own is covered with a fine sheen of cat hair.

Yup, the cats have decided that spring is here, and that means I need to step up my brushing routine.

Long-haired cats like Lucy need to be brushed at least weekly (even though she hates it). That little grooming helps prevent tangles (like the riot of tangles she has in her beard in the photo above). But in the spring, Lucy needs even more frequent brushing. That's because the hair she loses with the heat can get tangled in the longer hairs she plans to keep. In time, those tangles can turn into mats that pull her skin and cause her pain. By brushing her more frequently, I can keep that process from happening.

Maggie the cat on her bed

Medium-haired cats like Maggie don't have the same trouble with matting. But, Maggie has a different type of problem.

Mags is the household groomer. She thinks it's her personal responsibility to keep all of the household cats clean and tidy, so she spends a lot of time grooming her roomies (she'll even groom my head of hair, if I let her). Since every cat she helps has a whole lot of hair, Maggie ingests a lot of discarded fibers with each grooming session. She's very prone to hairball problems in the spring as a result.

By brushing Maggie's roommates (and her, of course), I can reduce her workload and lower the chances that she'll ingest more hair than her little body can handle. Since she's still in recovery from that nasty mouth ulcer, I don't want her throwing up anything at all. That alone will keep me brushing.

For now, I'm planning twice weekly brushing sessions. Here's hoping that helps!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: A visit with outdoor cats

Beorn the russian blue cat

I caught Beorn resting and relaxing on top of the hot tub on this cloudy, warm morning. Perfect fodder for a Wordless Wednesday post, right?

Beorn the cat scans the horizon for food
Scanning the horizon for food.

Beorn the cat scratching his neck
Caught mid-scratch!

Thanks for looking! Leave me a comment, if you're so inclined, so I'll know who you are.

And remember, visit some of the other blogs shown below!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The frog dog phenomenon: Is a flat puppy a healthy puppy?

Sinead the Boston terrier in the frog position

When Sinead the Boston terrier is really sacked out after a long day of play, she'll pop her legs behind her in a perfect flat-puppy position. Her hips are nearly inline with her knees, and her feet are resting with the paws pointing up.

This is a variant on the frog-dog position that Liam has perfected. And there's one important distinction. Note how his hips flare out to the sides when he's in a frog. His feet are pointing to the inside of his body, not straight up at the ceiling. (There's another photo of this position in this blog entry.)

Liam the pug doing his frog dog

So which is healthier?

On the one hand, Sinead is getting a deeper stretch here. She's pushing her hips through an extreme rotation in order to put them in that position. And she's almost completely flattened when she's perfected the move.

Sinead the flat puppy

I'm tempted to say that her hips are healthier. But, I have a tidbit of knowledge that might change things.

Sinead has a luxating patella, meaning that her knees aren't as healthy as they could be. Supplements and food choices help to keep the pain quotient down, but I still think she has a little discomfort from time to time. By keeping her knees nearly straight when she's in flat puppy mode, she might be reducing her pain.

And that might also explain why she goes into this kickstand mode from time to time, keeping the impaired leg straight while the healthy leg is bent.

Sinead the Boston terrier kicking out her leg

Either way, I'm a huge fan. There's something about the frog-dog pose that just really appeals to me.

Monday, February 23, 2015

How much sleep do old cats need?

Eamon the cat in his bed

Eamon has always been an excellent sleeper. If he can find a spot that's both soft and warm, he's happy to curl up and drift off into dreamland. He's slept through loud movies, dinner parties and several episodes of pug crazies. When he wants to sleep, it's hard to stop him.

But lately, I've noticed that he seems to be sleeping even more than he did when he was little. Sometimes, in fact, he seems to be awake for only a few hours each day (typically, those hours coincide with mealtimes....). So what's going on here? I decided to find out.

As it turns out, older cats often need a lot more sleep than younger cats do. In fact, it's not unusual for very old cats like Eamon to sleep or doze up to 20 hours each and every day.

These guys need their sleep as their immune systems aren't as robust as they once were, and their tissues don't regenerate as quickly as they once did. An advanced nap allows a cat to shut down regular functions, so the body can focus on the little details that can keep the kitty alive. An extra sleep is a sort of diversion of energy that allows that work to happen.

Plus, older cats sometimes struggle with painful conditions that impair their ability to enjoy a good romp. That's certainly the case with Eamon, as his arthritis causes him a lot of shoulder and elbow pain. He is more stationary due to that pain, and sometimes, sleeping might seem like a good way to pass the time without making him feel worse.

Since Eamon's advanced sleeping isn't a sudden change and he recently had clean-and-clear bloodwork, this isn't something I'm compelled to discuss with a veterinarian right away. But, since advanced sluggishness can be a sign of illness, I will make sure to bring it up during his next visit.

Liam the pug, Eamon the cat and Sinead the Boston terrier

But there are some things I can do to help him sleep better right now.

For example, Eamon sometimes drifts off to sleep in the middle of the floor, and the dogs try to rouse him with toys (he's surrounded by three toys in this photo). Putting soft beds in hidden spots might help entice him to sleep in less intoxicating spaces, so his naps won't be interrupted by playful pooches.

I may also try scattering more throw blankets around the couches and chairs, so he has a high-up spot to sleep. That can help him avoid startles from Lucy, as she often runs right into pets in the middle of the room. Keeping him up off the floor keeps him out of her path altogether.

Any other ideas? I'd love to hear them in the comments section.

Friday, February 20, 2015

February 2015 BarkBox Review: Good stuff for Mardi Gras!

Liam the pug with his BarkBox toy

The BarkBox came a few days ago, and the timing was excellent. You see, hubby and I have been down and out with colds over the last week (I sound a lot like Raymond Burr right now), so we postponed our Mardi Gras celebration to this weekend. We're calling it "Tardi Gras," and now, we have cool stuff for the dogs to use in our party.

Here's what we got.

Aussie Naturals Salmon Quarter Cigar 

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier and their BarkBox

This smell of this treat was pretty intoxicating to Liam and Sinead. In fact, it was hard to get them to sit still for this photo, because they wanted to rip into this treat and eat it!

So I opened the thing up and let them have at it. Liam had eaten his portion in about 30 seconds, which means this isn't a treat I would recommend for long, distracting chew sessions. It just doesn't last that long. But, the treat is all natural, as it contains just fish skin. So dogs with allergies might like this one. Both my dogs seemed to enjoy the flavor quite a bit.

Think!Dog Crawfish Jerky

This is another entry in the stinky treat competition. These little bite-sized morsels contain both crawfish and gator meats, and there's some sort of barbecue flavoring involved, too. These are treats that really stink up the kitchen, and Liam really loves them. Sinead isn't as big of a fan, but that's fine with me. Liam needs treats of his own, sometimes, and these should fit the bill. Plenty of other treats around for her.

Harry Barker Mardi Gras Crinkle Mask

Lucy the cat with her dog toy

This toy is almost too cute to let the dogs play with. I propped it up here with Lucy for a quick shot before they covered it with slobber. And I knew they'd do that, too, as this is a toy that's designed with all of the features they love.

The back is furry and soft, which makes it a great napping pal. And the inside contains both squeakers and a crinkly fabric. That makes this a favorite toy for both gnawing and fetching. And, it's long enough that Liam and Sinead can use it for tug-of-war. I would imagine that this toy will be a fave.

Sinead the Boston terrier and her toy

PetSafe Catfish Po'Boy with Chicken 

This is a treat I'm saving for the weekend's celebration. I'm certain it'll be a hit, as it contains both chicken and fish, both sourced from the United States, and the treats come in a soft, gobble-ready format. The dogs will love these.

 Delca Jester Ball 

Liam the pug posing with his dog toy

Liam is deeply in love with this toy. A nobby, squeaky ball covered with fabric? It's hard to think of something better. He can just chew on the ball, or he can pick it up by the fabric and bring it to me for a game of fetch. He hasn't really put this toy down since we got it.

So, that's our review! We're already looking forward to next month.

That's it for this month's shipment! If you want to try your own BarkBox, use my code for a discount. And leave me a comment, so I'll know you were here!

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.”

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Dog treat review: Liam checks out Stewart Pro Treat

Liam the pug with his dog treats

A few weeks ago, the nice people at Stewart sent me these two canisters of freeze-dried dog treats. I've been using them as training tools for both Liam and Sinead, and this week, I thought it was time to share my notes on these little snacks for dogs.

The short answer? I'm a big fan.

My fandom comes, in part, because these treats contain only freeze-dried organ meats. They don't have a bunch of grains, fillers or other additives that can inflame Liam's sensitive skin. And, they don't have a nasty odor, either. Those make them good choices for this household.

Since the treats are all-natural, they're not processed or stamped into shapes. Depending on the meat source, the treats can either be big or small. For example, I found the turkey treats to be really tiny. That made them excellent food toppers (for cats, too, as I wrote about in this blog entry), but it was hard to use them with gobbly Liam without getting worried about bites to my tender fingers.

I solved that issue by using pork treats with Liam. They're much bigger. Here is a treat on the floor in the front of this photo.

Liam the pug with a dog treat

That's a nice size for a big boy like Liam.

The canisters do tend to settle a little when they're shipped, so it isn't surprising to see a little air when they arrive. But, there's still quite a bit in each shipment. I've been using this jar for about a week, for example, and there's still quite a bit in there.

Sinead posing with dog treats

So, all in all, I recommend these treats. The dogs and cats love them, they're USA sourced, and they're quite a value for the price. We're fans!

Find out more about the treats here. And hey! Share a comment with me if you try them! I'd love to know what your dogs think of them.

Disclaimer: I was sent these treats to try. All opinions are my own. No money changed hands in return for this review.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Boston terrier springtime meditation

Sinead the Boston terrier in the sun

Springtime means sunbathing, for Boston terriers like Sinead. And it's an activity done best with the eyes closed, apparently. I wonder what she thinks about when she sits like this, don't you?

This is a blog hop!

Be sure to check out some of the other participants by clicking their links, and leave me a comment, too, so I know you dropped by!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The trouble with dog toenails: Long quicks mean pain!

Liam the pug during a nail trim

I post a lot of photos of Liam the pug on social media sites. Often, his little dog feet are in the frame. And if I get brave and scroll down to the comments section, I often see comments that read a little like this:

"Look how long his toenails are! You should cut them!"

Now, some of these comments might stem from bullying behavior. There are trolls among us who would love nothing better than to pick on some little flaw in either the dog or the owner of the dog. That's how bullies work. But, it's also possible that people are trying to look out for Liam's welfare. Long toenails can impact a dog's gait, and in extreme cases, long toenails can cause foot and leg deformities. It's a serious issue.

But, the fact of the matter is that Liam will probably never have toenails that are so short that they don't touch the ground when he walks. He'll never have that perfect show-dog pedicure. Why? Because his quicks are really long.

Here's a closeup of Liam's foot.

Liam the pug has long toenails

See how the pink part, deep inside his nail, goes almost to the tip? If I cut into that pink part of his toe, he'll bleed. And, a cut like that will cause him a lot of pain.

Frequent toenail clippings can help to push that quick back into the nail, so the pedicures can result in shorter toenails. But, I cut Liam's tonenails twice per week as it is. At this point, I'm prepared to say that he's just one of those dogs that has abnormally long quicks. And I'm one of those owners that doesn't want to hurt him.

So, please. If you see Liam in your photos and you see comments about his long toenails before I do, just refer people to this blog post, okay? It'll save us all a lot of time and trouble.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Maggie update: Cat rodent ulcer continues to improve

Maggie the cat in her bed

It's been a rough few weeks for Maggie. I found that big lump inside her mouth on a bright and sunny Saturday, and while she improved a touch with antibiotics, I wasn't seeing the full improvement I wanted. So back to the vet's office we went.

I should mention how much Maggie hates the vet's office. Where most of my cats will tolerate the car trip, and might even relax for a little affection when we arrive, Maggie yells during the entire commute, and she flattens out into a pancake as soon as the exam starts. I just hate bringing her.

But I did have to bring her, as that mouth wasn't getting better. My veterinarian and I theorized that the sore was due to a rodent ulcer, which Mags has always had on her lips. I know they can sometimes pop up inside of the mouth, too (see more about that here), and I had hoped that her sore would fade away as her lip sores have often done.

But, I wasn't getting a good response. Here's what her mouth looked like when we started the appointment.
Maggie the cat has a rodent ulcer

Here's what it looks like now.
Maggie the cat with her mouth wide open

So what happened?

She got a shot of of a steroid called Depo-Medrol. Within about 4 days, the redness had faded away altogether, and she was much more willing to have her mouth opened and examined. In short, she's pretty much healed.

I still need to examine that mouth of hers on a regular basis, as it's quite possible that this sore will come back. It's also possible that she'll get another sore in a different part of her mouth. And unfortunately, either of these situations are at least somewhat likely.

Maggie the cat and Eamon the cat in one bed

For Maggie, rodent ulcers have always been closely linked to stress, particularly stress inside the home. And Eamon is a pretty big source of her stress right now. His arthritis is somewhat well managed with medications, but he can still be a little grumpy and unpredictable from time to time. He yells, he hits and he bites. If the girls do something even slightly wrong, he overreacts. It's hard for Maggie to live in that environment, and she may be internalizing her stress and breaking out as a result.

So I may be looking into new ideas for keeping them apart. And, I'm playing with Maggie more often (more on that in another blog soon), hoping she'll be less inclined to get frisky with Mr. Grumpy. That might be the best way to keep these things from coming back.

Have a better idea? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, February 13, 2015

4 unusual ways to show your dog love this Valentine's day

Liam the pug with a sock monkey

There are all sorts of traditional ways to express your love for your pampered pooch on Valentine's day. You could bake treats (I did that last year), buy Fido a bone or invest in some new pup bedding. Any or all of these things could be super ways to show that you care.

But you know what? There are all sorts of other things you could do this holiday that could help your dog feel loved both now and in the future. Here are my ideas.

1. Check the microchip.

Every year, some 10 million pets get lost. Some scoot out from underneath the family fence, others zip off at the dog park and still others make a dash for the front door. It happens, and microchips are designed to help. Unlike a collar, which might fall off or get lost, a microchip is implanted. It's always there and always working.

But there's one problem.

Microchip data must be updated when you move, change phone numbers or otherwise have different contact information. And that's a step many families skip.

This Valentine's day, consider calling your pet's microchip company. Check on the address, phone number and other contact data the company has about your dog, and make sure it's all correct and perfect. That way, if your dog gets lost from your loving home, you'll be reunited in no time at all.

2. Read the dog food labels. 

Most of us find a dog food we like, and we stick with that brand through thick and thin. However, it's not at all unusual for dog food manufacturers to switch up their ingredient list from time to time, and that could mean that a food that was once a perfect way to show your love is now a food that's not quite right for your little one.

Once a year, read through that label and make sure it's still in line with your dog's nutritional needs. For me, that means looking for allergens (I don't ever want to see another reaction like this one). But you might also consider looking for words like "meal" or "corn" in your ingredient lists. These are additives that might not be best for your pooch, and might prompt a loving food change.

Sinead the Boston terrier in her bed

3. Make a training commitment. 

Why should Valentine's day last just one day? Consider making a commitment that lasts all year.

I'm focusing on training this year. Liam and Sinead are high-energy dogs, and it's sometimes difficult to wear them out enough to allow them to sleep soundly (although Sinead is doing a nice job of that here, I must admit).

Training helps because it forces these guys to think and plan and plot. They must use their wee minds to do it right, and that thinking tends to wear them out more than would a long walk or tough play session. Plus, tricks give dogs something to do when they're nervous or stressed. I use them on walks when Liam sees another dog he's desperate to play with, and I park Sinead in a sit when she's nervous in a crowd. By teaching them more tricks this year, I'm hoping to help them be even more lovable in 2015 (if that's possible!).

4. Donate to animal rescue. 

On first glance, this might seem like a crazy way to show your love for your dog. After all, your dog isn't in a shelter, right? So why should it matter?

It matters, in part, because so many shelters rely on the donations that come in from pet owners. With that money, shelters can do all sorts of amazing things that could help your pet down the line.

For example, my local animal shelter (Willamette Humane Society) holds a series of classes on dog behavior and training. Many of these classes are designed for dogs with aggression issues. At the end of a class like this, a dog that may have been a threat to my dogs could be a benign neighbor. By donating to the shelter, I'm inadvertently keeping my dogs safer.

And, shelters are at the front lines of the pet overpopulation issue that threatens the animals we love. Each time they spay/neuter a pet, they have the potential to keep hundreds of new pets from flooding our communities. I think that's something all dogs would support.

This isn't an exhaustive list by any means. I'd love to hear your ideas, too! Just drop me a comment with your thoughts, or pop over to my Facebook fan page to tell me more. I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Picky cat? Try dog treat toppers

Eamon the cat with an empty plate

As Eamon's gotten older and his arthritis has grown stronger and stronger, I've been forced to give him all sorts of different supplements and medications to keep him comfortable and pain-free. Unfortunately, some of these medications also make my guy a little reluctant to eat. It's not at all unusual for him to leave a little kibble on his plate when dinner is done.

Recently, staffers at Stewart sent me some samples of freeze-dried liver treats for dogs, and I got an idea. You see, these little treats break down a little during shipment, and that means there's a little dusting of powder at the bottom of the container. I wondered if Eamon might eat a little better if I put some of that powder on his food.

Eamon the cat cleaning up his plate

I'm planning to tell you more next week about these treats next week in a post featuring Liam and Sinead. So watch for that post to see why these treats are great training tools for dogs. But, in the interim, I can tell you that Eamon really wolfed down his food when he had 1/4 teaspoon of dried treat to nosh through.

He also felt comfortable with the idea of just eating these treats out of our hands, which might be a way to get him to snack on something to whet his appetite on days when he doesn't feel much like eating.

Eamon the cat eating a snack

The freeze-dried treats we're trying are made with 100% liver, and they're produced in USDA-inspected facilities. I feel very comfortable handing them out, even to pets like Eamon that aren't at optimal health. But, these are treats, so they shouldn't be used as a diet substitute. Although Eamon might like it if we went that route.

Eamon the cat sticking out his tongue

As I mentioned, I'll be doing a more comprehensive review of these treats with the dogs next week. But, if you do have a picky cat that isn't always interested in chowing down, these treats might be nice for you to try. They're certainly a hit over here!

Disclaimer: I was sent samples of these treats to try. The opinions and words are my own. No money changed hands in return for this review.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Wordless Wednesday blog hop: Cat hide and seek

Maggie the cat hiding underneath the covers
What's that lump under the covers?
Maggie the cat peeking out from beneath a blanket
I think I see a nose under there....
Maggie and her nose under a blanket
Yup, there's a nose....
Maggie the cat slaps her person with her foot
Maggie says, "Too close!"
Remember: This is a blog hop! Take a peek at the other sites listed here, and be sure to leave a comment for me!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Working, sporting, herding or resting: Why a dog's AKC group matters

Dog looking up at a squirrel in a tree

"Why did you choose that dog?" It's a question most of us will have to answer, at one point or another, and those who rescue from a shelter may open the discussion by talking about availability or love at first sight.

But sometimes, I think that question is best answered by looking closely at what the dog has been bred to do. In fact, I think that paying a little more attention to a dog's breed background could result in better dog placements, and that could make everyone a little happier.

Take this guy shown in the photo up top. Several times each week, he comes over to point at the squirrels that visit the feeder in the tree. He doesn't bark, he doesn't try to catch them, but he does want to point at them.

It's a cute little hobby, except this dog is running across two busy roads to get from his house to mine. And sometimes, he sits in the street to do his pointing. That kind of activity could get this guy killed.

So why does he do all of this? Because his breed is a member of the AKC sporting group. As a Brittany spaniel, he's been bred to find little creatures and point at them, so a hunter can come and blow those things to bits with a gun. In his little brain, he's doing a job. To his owner, it's probably a big nuisance. I can't imagine how stressful it must be to see him tearing away from the house, day after day, to do a job his owners don't want him to do.

Paying attention to the AKC breed guidelines may have helped. If, for example, I fell in love with a spaniel like this, I might read up on what the breed likes to do and is designed to do, and then I could think about whether or not I could provide that kind of dog with a home that is suitable. Do I have birds I need him to chase? Do I have land I need him to keep birds away from? Can I take him places in which he can work, if I don't have these things at home? If I can't do any (or all) of these things, maybe a different breed of dog would be a better fit.

See how it works?

I'll admit that I am a little biased, because I used this system when getting Liam.

I wanted a dog that would be loyal and loving, willing to go where I go and do what I do. So, that meant I needed a dog from the toy group. This group of pups has been bred for companionship, and these dogs are experts at their jobs. Here's proof.

Liam the pug in his bed

This isn't a dog that's going to zip off to look at the birdies or howl at the moon. This is a dog that's going to sit at my feet and gaze at me adoringly. What he thinks of as his "job," and the attributes of the pug temperament, meshes perfectly with what I want him to do on a daily basis. That makes living with him very easy, and it probably makes his life a touch less stressful. The stuff he wants to do won't get him in trouble!

The system can break down a touch, when it comes to Sinead, as she's a member of a catchall group. Non-sporting dogs, like her, basically don't fit into other categories of dogs, and the classification doesn't tell me much about what Boston terriers are like.

The same problem might apply in mutt dogs that seem to come from multiple different breeds. Just looking at them won't tell you where they're from, so it's hard to know what classification to look for. And if there are divergent breeds involved, it can be difficult to determine which might be the dominant factor.

But still. Spending just a little time with the group map, and really thinking about the right placement for a specific breed, could mean putting dogs in homes to which they're perfectly suited. And I think that's a great goal to work toward.

Monday, February 9, 2015

4 reasons to join the 2015 Great Backyard Bird Count

Hummingbird on a feeder

See that little green Ana's hummingbird on my feeder? He comes to visit me every single day, at both dawn and dusk. Normally, I just notice his presence and then get back to whatever it was I was doing. But this weekend, I'll do a little more. If he comes within a 15-minute time slot I've devoted to bird watching, his visit will be logged.

That's because I'm all signed up to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. And I think you should do so, too. Here's why:

1. You'll get to know the birds in your yard. 

Sure, you probably notice the little creatures that come for visits. But do you know their names? Do you know about the food they like to eat? Do you know what sorts of nests they build?

If you participate in the count, you'll learn all of that stuff. The online guides you can use to help you identify a bird (I like this one from Cornell) have all sorts of information about habitat and lifestyle. And that data can help you make your backyard even better for the birds that come calling.

2. You'll be linked with birders all around the world.

Last year, some 144,000 worksheets were submitted, and they came from all across the world. Australia, China, Ireland, England... Basically, any country you can think of had birders on the watch. If you're interested in global pastimes that put you in touch with people in far-flung communities, this is the task for you.

3. The data you'll provide is incredibly valuable. 

Scientists use the data gathered by patient bird watchers in order to do really important work. They can:
  • Attempt to explain how migration patterns are changing, due to development or climate
  • Determine if birds are moving to new environments due to habitat loss or climate
  • Assess the overall health of the global bird flock 
As public funding for research declines, it's harder and harder for scientists to get the data they need to do their work properly. This volunteer effort is just vital.

4. The birds need our help. 

Research suggests that 33 common bird species in the United States are in decline. We're ruining their homes with our habits, and we're killing off their food supplies with our chemicals. All of this damage is hard to see, because it happens so slowly. One moment, it seems as though there are hundreds of birds in the air. Decades later, there are hundreds fewer. We can't see the decline unless we count the birds. And if we can prove that we're harming them, maybe we can convince our politicians and leaders to step up and do something. You can be a part of that change.

Getting started

To participate, you'll need to do little more than sign up on this page. Then, set aside 15 minutes on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday (the 13th through the 16th). During that time, count all of the birds you see in your yard. Then, head back to the website and log in those little visitors. That's it!

I do hope you'll sign up and count with me this weekend. And if you do, be sure to leave me a comment here about how it all went! I'd love to hear your birding stories. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Dealing with dog toy destruction: How to help dog toy killers!

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier and their toys

Liam and Sinead have a whole basket of toys to choose from. And each month, they get one or two new toys in a BarkBox shipment (which we love). But sometimes, they're all little rough on the things they love.

Typically, toy destruction in this house happens after long sessions of solo chewing. Sinead sits down with a toy and starts to chew on one specific spot. Often, she targets the tags that outline who made the toy and what is inside of the toy. But sometimes, she focuses on the sewn-on parts of the toy, like the eyes or the nose. When that happens, she chews big holes in the toys that I can't always fix.

But, toy destruction can also come about due to the epic fetch sessions Sinead loves to engage in. She likes to pounce on the toy before she picks it up, and usually that means the toy is ground into the carpet with each throw. Then, when she picks the toy up, she gives the thing a little shake of her head, which can be rough on the stuffing. Finally, she likes for me to wrest the toy out of her mouth before she gives it back.

See her in action here:

Now, imagine her going through that same series of steps 900 times. You can see why toys could get killed with all of that. 

Unfortunately, Sinead used this process to kill a very cute toy we got in our January BarkBox (it's the snowman I discussed in this blog post). Within about 2 weeks of getting this toy, Sinead had totally ruined it.

I love BarkBox, in part, because the company replaces toys Sinead manages to kill. When I mentioned that this toy wasn't working out, the folks at BarkBox got in touch with the people at Delca Corporation, and yesterday, we got this big tiger toy Sinead is playing with in the video. Getting toys from reputable companies like this, companies that stand behind the work, is one way to deal with the destruction.

But another method involves simple management. If toys are new and I don't know that much about them, I try to keep them away from the dogs unless I can supervise. If I see Sinead sitting down to rip a hunk in the toy, I can replace it with a chewing toy that's more suitable. (And I have many chew toys set aside just for this purpose.)

My best technique, however, involves exercise. When my dogs get destructive like this, it's typically because they're not getting enough exercise on a daily basis. They need more stimulation, and that means they need more walks. But, stimulation can also come through mental exercises. When the dogs are taking toy destruction to a whole new level, teaching them a new trick can wear them out enough that they play nicely with their toys.

So, I'm super thrilled that we got a replacement for the toy Sinead killed (and we even got bonus treats!). But here's hoping I can keep her from killing more toys in the future.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Eamon's cat book club: Let's review "Outwitting Cats"

cat and book
Since Liam has had the chance to help me with a book review (see his entry right here), it seems only fair that Eamon should be able to help me discuss a different book. And I have a great one to talk about: "Outwitting Cats" by Wendy Christensen.

(Please note: I'm reviewing the original version of this book. There's a new and updated version on Amazon with a different title: Outsmarting Cats: How To Persuade The Felines In Your Life To Do What You Want. I'm told it's just as great!)

I first came across this book at my local library. As I read, I found my fingers itching for the highlighter, so I hopped out and bought my own copy. That way, I could mark the thing up to my heart's content without enduring fines.

And since I have marked it up and tailored it, I've found that this book has become my go-to source when I'm dealing with common cat problems.

For example, as Eamon has grown older and a touch more frail, I've found that Maggie and Lucy have been more inclined to squabble. And in those fights, Maggie is the perennial loser.

So what's going on here?

Christensen suggests that fights like this might break out because a protector cat (in this case, Eamon) is no longer keeping a bully's acts under control. Without Eamon's protection, Maggie is more likely to get picked on.

Christensen's solution is a simple one: The bully must be separated until the behaviors improve.

In this household, that meant keeping the baby gate blocking off the lower level of the house securely closed for a short period of time. Lucy isn't able to hop over that gate with ease, but Eamon and Maggie can quickly do so. Keeping Lucy confined to that lower family room for a bit allowed her to accept kitty visitors, but if she got aggressive or too bold, all of her companions left her. Lucy really dislikes loneliness, and after a day or two of this treatment, she learned that she simply must be nicer to keep her friends with her. I've seen a dramatic decrease in bully behavior since then.

Christensen's book is full of commonsense tips like this, and all of them are remarkably easy to apply. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is either dealing with cat problems now, or who is hoping to avoid those problems in the future.

Have you read this book? Or is there another book you like better? Chat me up in the comments.

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.”

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Wordless Wednesday blog hop!

Sinead the Boston terrier performing a perfect head tip
Sinead spent a lot of the weekend visiting relatives and making new friends. She had a blast, and it's good practice, as she'll be meeting tons of new people when we head to Nashville for the BlogPaws conference in May.

Speaking of BlogPaws, this entry is part of their blog hop program! Click on the icons below to find some new friends. And, be sure to leave me a comment on this blog! I'd love to meet you.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Why I complained about the GoDaddy Superbowl ad (and why I'd do it again)

Liam the pug with his NoDaddy sign

When I first saw the GoDaddy Superbowl ad last week, I went right to Twitter to protest. And I wasn't the only one. All across the nation, people who care about animals spoke up and spoke out about an ad they thought was offensive, and perhaps even a little bit dangerous.

And those protests worked, as GoDaddy pulled that ad. 

But since then, I've heard a lot of comments that sound like this: "It's just a commercial. Can't you relax and take a joke? What's the big deal, already?"

So I thought I'd break it down.

Here's the original ad, in case you haven't seen it. In this ad, an adorable puppy goes on a long journey home, only to be greeted by a heartless woman who reminds the pup that he's been sold, and she then pops him in a box and hollers, "Ship 'em out!"

From a storytelling perspective, this thing is abysmal. Why? Because we spend 3/4 of our time in this ad relating to the wee puppy. We're rooting for him, and we want him to succeed. So when the cruel ending comes, we feel a little angry and jilted. From a flat advertising perspective, this ad is a fail. One never makes a joke that pokes fun at the viewer, unless the ad is designed to provoke anger.

But also, this is an ad about what looks a lot like a puppy mill. The owner is selling dogs over the Internet to homes that she (presumably) hasn't inspected or checked out. The person who wants the dog has (presumably) neither visited the kennel nor seen the dog (otherwise, she'd pay in cash when she picked the wee guy up). And, the owner of this kennel doesn't seem at all interested in the welfare of her charge. After all, she doesn't check him out when he returns. She pops him in a box and ships him out. That kind of carelessness really smacks of a puppy mill.

So, okay, it's a puppy mill. Why does this matter? I have two examples.

The first comes from Oregon. This week, the Oregon Humane Society intervened to close down a pug, Cavalier King Charles and other small dog breeder operating in Jackson county. More than 50 dogs were rescued from awful conditions. They were so awful, in fact, that some of these dogs need intensive medical care that blocks their adopt-ability. That means OHS must spend a great deal of money, and tie up kennels needed for other dogs, in order to make these wee ones well. So these 50 dogs suffer now, and many more in the community suffer, too. The longer these guys need care, the more pain they were in before. And that wait keeps other pups out of a place they could use in order to get a home.

And this isn't an isolated incident. Just this morning, I read about a dachshund pup rescued from a puppy mill. Before his rescue, he was in such poor conditions that the rescuers couldn't save his eyes. He lives a happy life now, but he's totally blind. And his puppy mill history did that to him.

So why do we get mad when we see these ads?

Because we don't think animal cruelty is funny. We know what puppy mills can do, and we don't want anyone to forget about it.

Also, portraying a puppy mill as a legitimate business is dangerous. It could mean that more dogs are stuffed into cages and abused until they're tossed away like garbage.

That's why advertising like this makes us mad. It's serious. It's wrong. It's dangerous. It's not funny. And that means we'll speak out when we see it, no matter when it happens or where.

I just hope that GoDaddy, and other companies like it, learn that lesson.

Monday, February 2, 2015

What to do when your blind pet runs into things: A 3-step approach

Lucy the blind cat under a table

Little Lucy was born blind, so she knows to lean on the sensory information she gets from her whiskers and ears in order to keep her safe while on the go. That means she is in a collision-free state about 90 percent of the time.

But, Lucy does run into things both large and small from time to time. Here's what I do when it happens.

1. Try not to cry out 

When Lucy does run into something, it's a surprise to her. Often, she needs to take a moment to figure out what happened and how serious it is. If I cry out or take in a deep breath, those sounds seem to suggest that something really serious has happened. Often, she responds to those sounds by looking for a place to hide.

If I accept the hit silently, at least for a second or two, she typically understands that she's not in immediate danger. And that means she'll usually sit in place or come to me when I call her, rather than fleeing.

2. Check things over 

Most hits are little more than head bumps. Lucy is an inch or two away from the path she should use, and she doesn't do any damage at all, because she's not moving very fast. But, she has run into walls, furniture and other pets while running at full speed. And sometimes, those hits have the potential to really hurt her.

After any hit, either large or small, I give Lucy a little once-over with my hands, looking for spots of soreness. She typically responds as though I'm petting her, arching her back and purring, so she probably doesn't know I'm worried about her health. But these checks do give me an opportunity to make sure nothing bad has happened.

3. Find and fix the cause 

In most cases, Lucy's run-ins stem from some change in the household. Furniture has been moved or dog toys are lying around or there's a strange noise that's upsetting. Once I know that she isn't injured, I can get after the thing that caused the incident.

Sometimes, there's a little of Lucy retraining to be done, too. Once I've moved what I think has caused the problem, I stand in the spot where she made impact, and I call her to me. If she can make it to that spot without hitting again, I've fixed it. If she looks like she's going to have another problem, I can coach her. Words like "Careful!" and "Stop!" can help her to remember that there's a hazard she should be aware of.

I've said this before, but living with a blind pet isn't much harder than living with a sighted pet. These guys are fiercely independent, and they don't need a lot of coddling. But, using a little commonsense is a great way to ensure that their disabilities don't impact their ability to live life to the fullest. That's something they deserve, I think.