Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Meet Popoki: My foster cat

Foster cat Popoki hiding in her shelter kennel

This week was a rough one for my local animal shelter. Allegations, suspicions and drama all wrapped up in one big bundle of yuk. I wrote about it on this blog, but I've been wondering what else I could do to help the shelter through a tough time.

Then I met this pretty lady. She's a Persian Exotic Shorthair kitty, she's 2 years old and her name is Popoki. She was stressed and nervous in the shelter, so that's given her immune system a hit. So, not surprisingly, she also developed an upper-respiratory tract infection. That's dangerous for flat-faced cats like this.

So she needed a foster home. And I wanted to help. So she came here!

Foster cat Popoki resting in the shelter

She's just arrived, and she's spending her time examining the space underneath the guest bed. I'm hoping she'll feel confident enough to come out for a visit and a meal in a little bit.

But in the interim, welcome Popoki!

And check out the other blogs in this Wordless Wednesday series. Good stuff this week!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

One simple trick has transformed my dog walking experience

Don't these two dogs look exhausted? They should. I snapped this photo just a few minutes after we'd completed our nightly walk. Now they're ready for some snacks and snuggles (not necessarily in that order). And while I love to spend time with them in a post-walk state, I'll admit that I haven't always enjoyed the act of walking them.

These two dogs have very different walking challenges. Pug Liam is in love with every person and creature he meets, so walking with him meant enduring pulls and pulls and pulls anytime he saw something he wanted to investigate. And sometimes, walking him became a dangerous proposition, as his pulling looked a little like lunging. Some dogs thought that was a show-time maneuver, and they were ready to rumble.

Sinead the Boston terrier, on the other hand, is terrified of many people and pets she meets. She's been picked up, cuddled, accosted and generally harassed on far too many walks, and that's meant that she's gone on the defensive. Walking with her often meant dealing with her growling and snarling and snapping, and sometimes, she simply tried to run away from people she saw.

So walking with them meant dealing with one dog trying to run back and one dog trying to run forward. Far from zen.

Pug comments about his dog walking experience
"I regret nothing."
This summer, I invested in a little training for both of these dogs. Liam went through a class called "Check In and Chill Out," while Sinead took a class just for shy dogs. Both were held at Willamette Humane Society.

Obviously, the lessons taught in these classes are very different, as the problems are very different. But there's one ingredient that showed up in both places, and it was used in the same way.

We call it "I Spy."

In class, the dogs learned to signal me when they saw something that was potentially frightening and/or stimulating. They could do that by changing body language (which is typically what happened at the beginning of class), or they could do that by bumping me or looking at me. When they looked at me, it was treat time.

Sounds simple, right? But it's made a huge difference.

Now, when I walk, I have two relatively behaved dogs that have very different ways of signaling the need for a treat. Liam will look out at the issue of concern, bump me with his head, run ahead of me and walk while trying to sit down. He will hold that sit until I give him the treat. No pulling, no jerking.

Sinead will signal with a head bump and then try to get behind my ankles with her whole body. She's looking to me for protection. When I stop walking, she runs in front of me (typically, I am between her and the thing she's afraid of at this point), and she sits for a treat. She'll also hold the sit until I give it, which allows the other thing to move away.

Walks like this take longer to complete, as there's a lot of sitting and waiting involved. But there's also a lot of thinking going on here, too. These dogs are pondering and considering and wondering. And that wears them out just as well as does physical exercise.

So was the class worth it? You bet. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Anyone else do something similar with their dogs? Love to hear about it in the comments.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A note to the person who attacked my animal shelter (and my reputation)

Surprised kitty at Willamette Humane Society
See how absolutely gobsmacked kitty Harvey Dent looks in this photo I took earlier this year at Willamette Humane Society? That's how I looked last night when I checked my Facebook feed. Mouth open, frozen in place--I was this guy's twinsie.

Someone that I met during my volunteer time at Willamette Humane used an innocent photo of an adoptable dog as a springboard for something really disgusting. And let me tell you something: I'm fighting mad.

The post, which I will NOT link to here, as I don't want to give this person any kind of traffic whatsoever, contains two photos of dogs. In one photo, the dog is in a kennel smeared with blood. In the other, the dog is in a kennel with more than a few logs of poo. Underneath the photos, this person suggests that these are snaps of a day in the life for animals at the shelter.

She suggests that animals are routinely neglected, abused and/or ignored by staffers who have no passion for the work that they do. At the moment, her post has been shared upwards of 179 times, so this is a message that's gaining traction.

And I'm absolutely, 100 percent baffled by that.

As the administrators of the Willamette Humane Society page (which I will happily link to here) have pointed out, both of these photos were taken out of context. The blood? It happened in the evening, after the shelter had closed up for the night. The poop? Same deal.

Both dogs had serious medical conditions that caused them to deteriorate overnight. They weren't neglected. They were ill.

And it wasn't routine. These were one-time, horrific examples of poor health in old dogs taken to an open shelter late in the day.

But as it turns out, the truth doesn't resonate. The explanation for the photos has only been shared 32 times. That means many people in my community think that I volunteer in a place that stands for animal abuse. That breaks my heart. And it also makes me feel a little like this.

Angry cat at Willamette Humane Society

Yep, I'm a little angry. And here's what I'd like to say.

I understand how a difficult job, such as one you might do at an animal shelter, might make you feel disgruntled about rescue work as a whole. I can see how you'd be so broken and upset at the end of a shift that you might just want to snap up all sorts of photos to shake things up and change the world.

But you know what you could do? You could actually--you know--do the damn work. Clean the kennel. Offer to take the sick dog home for monitoring. Go into the shelter late at night to sit with the sick dog. Or take photos of the dogs and ask for donations or added volunteers or knitted comfort blankets.

What you did instead? You're taking money and resources away from that organization. You're making the work harder. And shame on you: That little tantrum will cost animals their lives.

That goes double for everyone "sharing" this story without researching the facts. Ask questions. Donate. Sign up to volunteer. Knit your own damn blankets. If you want to do something, do something. Don't snap up a lie and spread it around.

I do the work, and I stand with Willamette Humane Society. And for those of you who believe pictures more than words, see the cats in this blog entry.

Harvey Dent at the top of this post was 10+, and he was adopted. Lucky mid-way down was also 10+, and he was adopted. Both of these cats went from less-than-ideal situations to beloved home lives, all because of Willamette Humane Society.

Is that abuse? Are you freaking kidding me?

It's time to redefine the word.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Beginner SEO tips for pet bloggers: What's a keyword?

Liam is ready to write down some SEO tips for pet bloggers

Are you guys ready to take some notes? Liam is, and that's a good thing, as I'm starting a new educational series on this blog. Once a week, I'll detail a few beginner SEO tips for pet bloggers. This week, we're starting with the basics: Keywords.

A keyword is nothing more than a label. Think of it as the filing system of the internet. Things with the same keyword get grouped together, as they tend to be about the very same topic. A keyword helps a search engine like Google to know what your page is about, so it knows where to file your page. (Disclaimer: Google is the largest and most widely used search engine out there, so from now on, I'll use "Google" to mean "search engine." That'll save me a few keystrokes.)

Anything a person types into a search engine box could be a keyword, too. And Google will try to match the keyword the person is typing with the pages that have the very same keyword.

Sounds easy, right? But here's where it gets a little complicated.

Sinead the Boston terrier is ready to take notes
Get ready, Sinead! More tips coming!

In the days of ye olde internet, you could make your pages visible to searchers by using the same keyword over and over and over again. Google used simple math to figure out how relevant a specific page was. The more often a term was mentioned, the more relevant the page was thought to be.

All of that has changed.

Google's algorithm has grown so sophisticated that it no longer relies on counting. Instead, it uses more of a word-cloud model. So Google looks for specific keywords, but it also looks for words that are related to that keyword, too.

A page about pugs, for example, would need the "pug" keyword. But Google might look for related words, too, just to make sure that page was really about the furry canine creatures we know and love. So my pug page might also need to mention:
  • Dogs 
  • Pets
  • Animals
  • Fur

Get the idea?

Pages that also have these keywords tend to be a little more robust and thick. These are pages with a lot to say about pugs, so they're pages that would probably have high appeal for someone looking for pug information. If a page just had the word "pug" and no other terms, it is probably keyword stuffed spam. And which page do you think Google will serve? Yup, the thick page.

That's what makes Google's searches valuable--the ability to deliver great content--and that robust algorithm makes it happen.

So what does that mean for you? It means SEO just got a little bit easier.

Whenever you're thinking about your pet blog and coming up with your topic of the day, you should do a little research and settle on one or two top keywords. You can use this tool to do that (and I'll tell you more about how to use that tool next Thursday).

But after that? Just write naturally. Don't worry about cramming your page with 10 zillion references to that keyword. You'll bore your readers (and Google will call you a spammer and won't put your page at the top of search results).

And rest easy: In 2 weeks, I'll tell you where to put your keywords for maximum impact.

So that's your bite-sized (byte-sized?) SEO lesson for the day! Enjoy! And if you have a specific SEO tip you'd like to see me discuss in a future column, just drop me a comment. Love to help!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: First day of fall for pugs and Boston terriers

Boston terrier and fall photo props

I wanted to do a special blog to commemorate the first day of fall, but since it's far from fall-like here, I had to rely on some props to set the scene. Working with props and dogs is never easy, and this shoot had some pretty exciting moments (which I expected). Here goes!

Sinead the Boston terrier is trying to get out of this fall photo shoot
Starting to get a little tired of this shoot...
Sinead the Boston terrier falls asleep during her photo session
Really tired of the photo shoot!
Liam the pug breaks into the photo shoot and scatters things
Liam saves the day by breaking in and causing a little chaos
(he does look a little embarrassed about it)
Liam the pug poses with two fall bird friends
Liam gets a few fall friends of his own.

Thanks for looking, and be sure to leave me a note, so I'll know you were here.

And don't forget to check out some of the other blogs in this hop! There's some good stuff this week.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

September 2015 BarkBox review: Dog toys and dog treats for fall

Sinead poses with her frog dog toy from BarkBox

It's the middle of the month, and that means it's happy mail time for pug Liam and Boston terrier Sinead. Their beloved BarkBox arrived! Here's what we got for our fall celebration.

Frog prince from Simply Fido 

Toys are, paws down Sinead's favorite part of the BarkBox experience. And when I spotted this little frog inside of our box (It looks a little like this), I thought we had a winner. It's small, as you can see in that photo up top, so she can carry it around very easily. And it comes with a robust and pretty loud squeaker, so it seems to make satisfying noises. I felt pretty certain we'd be throwing this guy around non-stop for the next few weeks.

But the blush went off this toy pretty quickly, for some reason. It's possible that Sinead doesn't like the canvas-like material this is made of, or it could be that she's still too much in love with the bearded lady toy we got a few months ago. At the moment, this little frog is resting in the toy box. I'm hoping he comes back out soon.

Femur bones from Heartland 

Bones are a pretty common part of our BarkBoxes, and often, mine go right to the humane society where I volunteer. I can't figure out how to break an entire shin bone or shoulder blade apart in order to allow the dogs to share, so I donate them to shelter dogs instead. So I was pretty happy to see this product in our box, as it contains to separate slices of bone. I can give one to each dog without breaking out bone-carving equipment. Yay!

Bone from BeneBone 

Speaking of needing carving tools, check out the size of this Benebone Bacon Flavored Wishbone Chew Toy.

Sinead the Boston and Liam the pug can't possibly eat this huge dog bone

Jeepers, this thing is massive. The BarkBox people say that this bone is approved for dogs up to 50 pounds, but it just looks really big to me. If I gave this to Liam the pug gobbler, he's try to eat it until it was all the way gone. And that's too much treat all at once.

So I'm trying to figure out what to do with this. I might try to cut it into thirds, so the portions aren't so big. Or I might just let Liam have it for short sessions of supervised chewing. I'm not sure. Suggestions?

Beef liver treats from PureBites 

I've bought cat treats from this company before, and they were huge hits with both the dogs and the cats. These Purebites Beef Liver Dog Treats are made of pure liver that's dried to a crisp, so they're easy for the dogs to gobble. Since I've been handing out a lot of treats on our walks to reinforce good behavior, these should come in handy. They're the perfect size!

Biscuits from Wagatha's 

These Wagatha's biscuits are also a great size, even for very small dogs like Sinead.

Sinead crumbles her dog cookie from BarkBox

Half of a cookie makes a suitable treat for her, and she can crumble the treat really easily with her tiny teeth. These smell a little bit like curry or something exotic, and the dogs really seem to like them. I may have to get more when we run out.

So that's it for this month! If you'd like to try your own BarkBox, use my affiliate link for a price break (and I'll get a little gift, too!). If you'd like to see reviews of previous BarkBox offerings, click here or here or here or here or here.

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. I write about these products because I like them. But, 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.”

Monday, September 21, 2015

In the news: Salem cat poisoning case goes to trial; cat issues remain

Troy the cat does an excellent job of reading the newspaper

Raise your hand if you've dealt with cats pooping in your flowerbeds, spraying your door jambs and shredding your car/boat tarps. See my hand raised high? Yup, it happens to me, too.

And it happened to a man in my neighborhood, and he's on trial right now for his solution.

According to some published accounts of the trial, this man laced meat with antifreeze and set that meat out where neighborhood cats could find it and nosh on it. And when the whole thing was over, nine cats lost their lives.

I first wrote about this incident in January (that post is here), and at the time, I was pretty pleased with the great deal of coverage this case was seeing in the mainstream press. This man's solution got a lot of people talking about feral cats in Oregon, and I had hoped we'd see some new and innovative solutions coming out of this horrible crime.

There are some good reasons to be hopeful.

The TNR program in Salem is credited with reducing a large population of feral cats in one Salem neighborhood. Each surgery done makes this colony a little smaller, and presumably, that colony will die out altogether once the adult cats pass away. With no new kittens to replenish the colony, the herd will just go away altogether.

But, we're still far from a feline-friendly Salem, as this same cat success story comes with a darker side.

Some people living near this large cat colony are so tired of the issue that they've pressed for rule changes. Now, the people living in this community can face steep fines if they feed these feral cats. The community members want to starve these cats out.

Now, removing a cat's food source isn't the same thing as feeding a cat poison. I understand that, and I'm sure you do, too. But I think we can all agree that refusing to feed a feral cat colony is inhumane. It's a method that's designed to keep cats from a neighborhood due to behaviors the humans don't like. It's all part of the same spectrum.

At the moment, the man on trial for poisoning cats could face jail time or fines if he's convicted. But I can't see any references to consequences for these community managers who hope to starve cats. I think they should face some sort of backlash, too.

So what's the answer?

I always ask this, and I'm not certain my solutions really resonate. But here's the thing I would counsel Salem residents: Be patient.

Cat overpopulation issues don't crop up overnight. They take time to build. And similarly, solving them will also take time. TNR teams are on hand and very active in Salem, helping to corral these cats and alter them, so their numbers won't grow each and every year. Let that work continue, and celebrate the smaller colony sizes.

If you want to get involved, trap a few kitties yourself and deliver them to spay/neuter sites (find out more here). And when the surgery is done, bring the cats home and feed them. If you tame them, bring them to humane societies for adoption.

And just wait. Don't get dramatic. Don't beat them or poison them or starve them. Support the work. Do the work. Be part of a positive change for our community.


Friday, September 18, 2015

Why even bother with a pet blog? (It's a rhetorical question)

Liam the pug spells beautifully for this pet blog
I read a lot of pet blogs each and every week. But I also read all sorts of other blogs, too. In fact, I read a lot of blogs about search engine optimization and online marketing. (That's sorta my day job.) And this week, I stumbled across two blog entries that threw me for a bit of a loop.

These two entries (which you should read in their entirety; I'll link to them at the end of this piece) have to do with the concept of blogging as a recreational activity. In essence, these two bloggers were discussing the value of both writing blogs and reading blogs. One blogger wondered if blogging had reached a nadir, and the other thought blogs still had some life left.

These are vital issues to ponder, as our industry is really changing.

When I started this blog 5 years ago, there weren't that many pet bloggers out there. And during the day, I was writing up keyword-stuffed pieces for content farms. It was easy to get noticed, as the search engines weren't that sophisticated and there weren't that many people talking.

Now, everything has changed.

Just look how many pet bloggers participate in the Wordless Wednesday series each week. And while content farms went the way of the dodo, there are still plenty of people out there writing up all kinds of content all day long.

Readers suffer from exhaustion, simply because they can't take it all in. And unless you have your SEO nailed down tight, search engines won't serve your content to people who might enjoy it. This is a tough landscape. It's easy to get discouraged and give up.

But here's the thing.

I read these particular blog entries on a day in which my blog meant a ton. My words meant a lot to me.

When I was reeling from the aftermath of Eamon's death, I was wracked with guilt and wondering if I took him in for his final visit just a little bit too soon. So I went back through this blog, and I found an interesting pattern. In the beginning, I wrote a lot of entries about Eamon's quirks and cuteness. In the end, I wrote a lot about his pain. I worried for him. I experimented with therapies. I saw him decline. Reading through all of my own words brought me a huge sense of comfort. I knew I'd done the right thing.

And then I went out and read many blog entries written by other people who had also lost their pets. They felt the same things I did, and they were faced with the same nasty choices. We formed a sort of community in my mind, and that also brought me relief.

So when I read these entries about the value of blogging, I couldn't help but hope that everyone will just keep on writing. I need to write for myself. I need to read the words of others, too.

So if you're on the fence about writing your pet blog: Keep with it.

I need you.

And check out the blog entries I'm talking about here and here. Love to hear your thoughts on them.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Do cats grieve? Maybe, but it's a little complicated

Maggie the senior cat is recovering from the loss of her pack mate
When senior cat Eamon died earlier this week, I immediately started worrying about my other two cats. Little Maggie, shown here, is 11 years old, and she doesn't deal well with changes of any sort. This is the girl that attacked my other cats for simply going to the vet, and it took her more than a year to learn to live with Boston terrier Sinead. She dislikes disorder. And, she and Eamon grew up together. He was her parent figure and her best friend. I expected her to feel the loss.

And Lucy here also struggles with change due to her blindness. I wondered if she'd look for Eamon endlessly, or if she'd simply hide and wonder where he went and when he'd come back to rescue her. She is a sensitive girl, and she and Maggie don't have the tightest of bonds. I thought she'd be a little lost at sea without her kitty pack leader.

Lucy the blind cat is processing the death of a senior cat

As it turns out, cat grief is a lot more complicated and subtle than I ever thought possible.

In the 48 hours following Eamon's death, I didn't see any overt signs of mourning or grief in either Maggie or Lucy. They were both affectionate, playful, active and hungry. They didn't seem any more lonesome or mournful than they were in the days leading up to the loss of their friend. If anything, they seemed a little happier.

Lucy quickly claimed all of the top sleeping spots (which Eamon once dominated) as her own, and she took over chief affection-grabbing techniques, too. And Lucy spent a lot less time hiding under her favorite chair downstairs and a lot more time out in the open upstairs. These two even got into some play sessions. I have proof!

So they're not showing classic signs of loss or grief at all. But I'm wondering if they were showing me signs before Eamon left us.

Eamon had a long struggle with pain, and he wasn't the best roommate in the world during the final weeks of his life. He no longer wanted to cuddle with his girl cats, as their subtle shifts in position hurt him. And any play sessions they tried to initiate went south in a hurry, as he'd attack them when they got even just a little rough.

So these cats have been tip-toeing around the cat they once loved for months, and they may have missed the way he once was. No wonder they seem relieved. They've probably been mourning him in their own way for quite some time.

Now, I know a lot of people say that cats are incapable of higher feelings like loss and mourning because they're animals and they live in the moment. That might very well be true, and it could explain why I don't see signs of mourning. These cats might not be able to experience that emotion. But, I am definitely seeing changes in their behavior. And that might be the last gift Eamon gives to me. It's wonderful to see my girls so happy, and I'm thankful they're coping so well. Now I just need to do the same, right?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Remembering Eamon the senior cat

Eamon the senior cat covering his eyes
For today's Wordless Wednesday, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite shots of Eamon, my cat that crossed the bridge earlier this week. He was such a big part of this blog, and my family, and I miss him like crazy.
Eamon the brown tabby all curled up on his grey bed
Eamon couldn't sleep in tight positions later in life, but he was a master when younger.
Three cats all curled up on the same cat bed
Lucy, Maggie and Eamon sleeping together, all lined up in a row.
Eamon the brown tabby on a shiny floor
An early attempt to get artistic.
Eamon the brown tabby had big yellow eyes
He had the prettiest eyes.
Eamon and Lucy in one cat bed
Eamon and Lucy in a cuddly moment.
Two cats sharing one cat bed
And in a different cat bed, years later.
Eamon the senior cat in the sun
This is one of the best later photos I have.
They say that grief is the price we pay for the love we get from our pets. But sometimes, like today, that price seems a little high.

Thanks for looking. And thanks to everyone who has sent notes, Tweets, Facebook photos and letters. It helps. It really does.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Pets on the furniture? Protect your couch from dog hair in 3 steps

Sinead demonstrates why pets on the furniture can be great
People are pretty evenly divided about the idea of pets on the furniture. Dogs, in particular, seem to draw some pretty vehement responses. To some people, dogs are filthy creatures that roll in all sorts of things that should never be on the couch. People like this ban dogs from all furniture (and as I discovered recently, people like this tend to own a lot of rentals on VRBO).

But there are a lot of us, including me, that adore having our pets on the furniture with us. Sinead and Liam are big-time cuddlers, especially in the evening, and I just know that I'd miss out on a lot of their love if I didn't let them up on the couch. And I just don't want to give up moments like this.

Liam the pug cuddles with his person on the couch
But allowing these guys up on the furniture means taking a few steps to keep everything clean, tidy and protected. And I have a three-step action plan.

1. Clean those dog feet when they walk through the door. 

I keep wipes and towels by the doors when the fall hits. And, I used the "wait" command to teach Liam and Sinead to stop within a foot or so of the door when they come inside. That little pause allows me to wipe off their paws (sorry, but I couldn't resist) before they walk into the house and onto my couches and chairs.

2. Brush, brush, brush. 

The biggest issue, in this house, is Liam's pug hair. These little guys shed all year round, and if they're on couches and chairs, they leave a little tuft of down with each and every visit. Brushing coats on a regular basis allows me to pull out some of that excess fur before it even leaves their little bodies, and that helps me to protect the furniture, just a little bit.

3. Use blankets and beds. 

Cuddling is easier, especially in the winter, when everyone is warm. Liam and Sinead tend to settle right down when they have a blanket to sleep on. And, blankets can be popped in the washer, where washing an entire couch can be tricky. I have an entire closet full of fleece blankets that I rotate and wash on a regular basis, and that helps me to keep the hair down just a little bit.

Sinead the Boston terrier loves to spend time on the couch
Now you could, of course, skip all of these steps and just keep your pets away from the places you plan to sit. But seriously: How could you resist this little face? And why should you? Our pets have a limited time with us, as I've been reminded this week, so we should do all we can to make every minute count. If that means a little planning and a little cleaning (and maybe a few stray hairs on your clothes from time to time), that's a small price to pay, right?

Monday, September 14, 2015

The cat blog post I never wanted to write: My cat died today

Eamon the brown tabby in his cat bed
At 4pm today, less than an hour ago, my sweet 14-year-old cat took his last breath, while he was resting his head in my hands. It's a horrible, horrible day. And it's been a long time coming.

Eamon was diagnosed with arthritis many, many years ago. Over the past few years, I've tried all sorts of things to keep his pain under control, including prednisone, Adequan, gabapentin, fish oil, dasuquin and metacam. I bought him fancy heated beds, cushioned pillows, cooling blankets and getaway carriers. I used massage, soft music and focused play to help him work out kinked muscle.

Sometimes, these things worked.

Sometimes, like this weekend, they did not.

On Saturday, Eamon didn't eat anything at all. He wouldn't even touch the salmon treats he loves. On Sunday, he ate two bites of breakfast and stayed in his bed for the rest of the day. By my count, he was in the same position for 36 hours.

And this gentle, loving boy started biting both me and his canine and feline roommates when they came to comfort him. He's done this before, but this weekend, he took it to a new level.

Months ago, I put together a list of Eamon's favorite things, so I'd know just what to look for when he started to fall ill. These were the things on his list:
  • Regular meals
  • Kitty treats
  • Belly rubs
  • Dog play time
  • Cat snuggles 
This weekend, he didn't want to interact with anything on his list. It was his time.

Does that make me feel any less guilty for signing the paperwork to end his life? Of course not. It seems totally unnatural to pay someone to kill your cat. Like 99.99999 percent of pet parents, I wished that he would have simply faded away in his kitty bed on his terms, without prompting me to make decisions for him.

But at the same time, I'm thankful that I didn't force Eamon to stay in pain for one minute longer than was necessary. When he could no longer find the joy in life, I helped him to move onto a different plane. My job was to protect him, and today, I did just that.

But it's still awful.

 Eamon the cat rocking a bright pink collar
For now, I'll just say good night to my sweet, silly, precious old man.

You'll never know how much I miss you.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Does your dog have a good memory? Test it in 4 simple steps

Pug and Boston terrier waiting for a memory test to start

Popping your dog into a training class is a great way to gauge both memory and working intelligence. Those dogs that pick things up in a snap and then retain that information between training sessions tend to have something special that others just don't have.

But some of us (including most of us with Boston terriers) have little ones that are mystifying. Do they remember the lessons at all? Or do they remember them, but just refuse to do them?

I've been asking myself this question quite a bit. So I was thrilled to see this memory test highlighted in Modern Dog Magazine. With a few simple steps, the authors suggested, I could test both long- and short-term memory in my dogs.

So I tried it.

Liam and Sinead are sitting nicely for this first test in the photo above. After I got the first snap, I rubbed the inside of these cups with a smelly treat (I used Salmon Paws), and then I put Liam in a sit and flipped two outer cups over while putting a treat inside the middle cup. He watched that treat placement carefully, and then had a chance to get the treats.

Here's what happened.
Liam the pug waiting for a treat
He went right to that proper treat cup, but he didn't feel comfortable knocking it over (polite boy). So he tapped it with his foot and waited for more instructions. I'm going to call that a perfect score.

I repeated that test with Sinead, but she didn't do as well. She sniffed all three jars indiscriminately, and then sort of wandered off. I guess alternate choice memory isn't her thing.

We then did a test of short-term memory, in which I popped a treat down in front of the dogs, walked out of the room with the dogs, and then walked back into the room to see if they remembered where the treat was. I tested each dog seperately.

Liam, once again, got a perfect score. He went right to that treat. Here's where it was. So it wasn't exactly hidden.
The small dog treat is right in front of this cabinet

Sinead knew the treat was in the room, but she had to sniff a little for it. But she did find it quickly. Not quite a perfect score for her, but it's not too shabby, either.

The last test we did is much like this short-term memory test, except that it involves staying out of the room for 5 minutes before running back to allow the dog to find the treat. I only did this particular test with Liam. Sinead really doesn't love these experiments of mine. Here's how she looked this week when I tried to get her to pose in a bow tie.

Boston terrier doesn't love her bow tie
No. Just no.
I think I'd get the same response to the long memory test. So I skipped it for her.

Liam did quite well on this test, but he had an interesting response. Even though I showed him the new location of the treat at the start of the test, he went to the spot I used for the short-term memory test first. That is close to perfect, but not quite.

The last test involves moving furniture around, walking out of the room, and seeing how quickly the dogs adjust to the change (or notice that it's happened). It was 90+ degrees here yesterday, and no one felt like moving furniture. So I skipped this one.

After adjusting for the tests I skipped, I can say with confidence that Liam the pug has an above-average memory, especially for things involving food. That's not too surprising, given how much all pugs love their treats. I'd be shocked if he didn't remember this sort of thing.

Sinead's memory is in the above-average range, which isn't too shabby at all. But it does tell me that Liam remembers more than she does, and that might be why she's always trying to beat him through doorways, to the toy basket, etc. She might be trying to compensate for his ability to head right back for the last thing they were doing. She can't remember things as well, so she needs to get there first.

This test was a fun way to spend an hour or so of time, and it was pretty tiring for the dogs to use their noggins like that. Both of them slept like logs on the couch for an hour or so afterwards. Maybe I'll do it again!

If any of you readers try it, I'd love to hear how well your dogs did. Shoot me a note in the comments!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Cat clicker training: Yes, you can teach your cat parlor tricks!

Cat and clicker training tool

Eamon is a great model for this blog, in part, because he knows a few basic obedience commands like "sit" and "stay" and "watch me." That means I can pop him into position, and then I can use commands to make him hold that position while we work. It's pretty awesome, and we got here because of one very basic dog training tool: A clicker.

I never intended to train a cat with a clicker, but when I was training my first dog and Eamon was just a kitten, he often sat in on the training sessions. He liked the treats, so he'd wander over, and I'd make him perform in order to get a snack. Now, he'll learn almost anything with the help of a clicker. And the techniques I used to train him are the same as those I'd use to train a dog.

Let's use "sit" as an example. I have treats and a clicker, and when Eamon wanders over, I hold the treat up high, and draw it back toward his eyebrows. He wants to look at the treat, so his rear end drops as the treat moves back.

Cat in a sitting position

When his rear end hits the floor like this, I can use the clicker to mark the motion and drop the treat for him to eat. I use the word "sit" with the motion of my hand, too, so he'll associate the motion and the word and (ideally) do it on command. Eamon pretty much has this down with hand motions.

Eamon the cat performing a sit on command

Eamon can sometimes do a "down" command, but I don't ask that of him very often, as his elbows are worn with arthritis, and getting up from a down is a little hard. But to train it, I'd put him in a sit position and then drop the treat to the floor and move it forward. He'd follow it with his nose and then he'd be in a down.

Normally, I wouldn't click and treat until he was in the 100 percent proper position, but this is pretty close for this old guy.

Cat performing a down on command

Cats and clickers really do go well together, but it's vital to keep in mind that cats can have remarkably short attention spans. Where Liam and Sinead might be able to work with me for 5 to 10 minutes, Eamon will wander away after 3 or 4 minutes. When he was a kitten, our sessions were just a minute or two.

Training should always be fun, so the sessions shouldn't stretch past your cat's capacity. But, working with them really is fun, and it's a great idea for kitty bloggers. Your photo sessions will go so much easier with trained cats.

So enjoy! And drop me a line and tell me how it goes, won't you?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Rescue cats are happy cats

Every black cat needs a sock monkey

Troy has been spending a lot of time with this sock monkey. I suspect that has something to do with the fact that this chair and the toy are in the sunshine most of the day, but it could be that the toy just makes him happy. And you know what? That makes me happy.

On Wednesday mornings, I spend time in the animal shelter, working up blog entries for kitties waiting for adoption. That means I spend a lot of mornings looking at cats like this guy: Squeak.

Squeak the cat doesn't love his shelter kennel

It can be a little depressing. So it's all the more important to come home to Troy, who was once a kennel dweller like this, and see him enjoying his life.

He doesn't seem to miss the kennel at all.

Troy the cat resting in the sunshine

Maybe Squeak will get a chance to do his own sprawling in the sunshine soon. At least, I hope so.
Troy the cat in the sunshine

This is a blog hop, and this week, the theme is happy pets! Be sure to check out a few links for an extra burst of happy.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Fat pug? No way! Liam's top pug weight loss tips

Slender pug Liam waits for instructions
Liam is a slim pug, and that's great for his health. Since he is so small around the middle, he doesn't struggle overmuch when he's engaged in active play. And, he's less likely to deal with obesity-related illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and kidney stones, too, so his weight really helps him in all sorts of ways.

But keeping this guy on the trim side isn't always easy. Here's what I do to help Liam maintain his pretty pug figure.

Go easy on the treats. 

It's been said that pugs live to eat, and I think that's certainly true. Liam would do anything for a cookie, a piece of cheese or a snippet of hot dog. He gets so excited for these snacks, he'll even bite the hand that distributes the goodies. Not nice!

Pug Liam really wants to eat a cookie

Unfortunately, a lot of dog cookies are really large, and they're packed with calories. Look how big this cookie is, for example. That's a serving size made for a large dog, not a little pug.

I want treats to be a part of Liam's life, since he loves them so very much. But, he's limited to 1-2 per day, and in most cases, he only gets a tiny bit of cookie at a time. The treat in my hand, for example, can be broken up into 3-4 pieces.

And Liam needs to work for those treats, too. I ask him to do active things like shake my hand, back up or bring me a toy. That way, he burns calories before he eats.

Get active!

Liam goes for two walks almost every day (weather permitting). And if he seems energetic at the end of all that, we play rambunctious games, too. 

Tug of war with a pug
Liam is more energetic than the average pug, I'll admit. But keeping him so busy and active is certainly a part of keeping him slim. If I let him sleep through the day and the night, his body would be in hibernation mode, and that might mean he'd pack on pounds he'd never get off again. So I keep him on the go.

Mealtime matters

Whenever I'm eating something tasty, Liam looks a lot like this. Notice the wide eyes and the moving tail. He really wants a slice of anything I deem good enough to snack on.

Pug begging for food in his bed
Pugs can be master manipulators, but it's vital to resist their allure. These dogs just can't handle the added calories that come from human food. Liam rarely gets up from bed to beg simply because he knows he won't get extra food. It's not good for him.

And I make sure that he only eats a specific amount of his own food when his mealtime comes around. I measure it carefully, dole it out once and let him have at it. By watching his portions closely, I can make sure he doesn't eat too much.

So that's it! Any readers with their own pug slim-down tips should share in the comments section. Love to hear from you!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Cat anophthalmia: Your kitty's tiny, missing eyes might need surgery

Lucy looks beautiful after her enucleation surgery
I think Lucy is a stunning kitty. But she wasn't born looking this way. When she was a very small kitten, I took her to my local veterinarian, and she went through two enucleation surgeries.

Lucy needed those surgeries because she was born with a genetic condition called anophthalmia. In essence, she had no functional eyeballs in her eye sockets. But she did have functional eyelids, tear ducts and eye lashes. Here's what she looked like the day I brought her home.

Small and blind cat Lucy before her enucleation surgery

You'll notice that she had really beautiful eye lids here, ringing her sockets with black mascara. She didn't have any pain from her eyes at all, and in theory, she could have gone on living like this for the rest of her life. But, those functional eye parts didn't make Lucy's life very easy.

Her tear ducts went on working, even though she had no eyeballs to lubricate. So at the end of a long day, her cheeks were caked with tears she didn't need. She often looked a lot like this.

Lucy the blind cat before her surgery with her pug
Liam the pug has always been a great big brother.

Her poor cheeks are wet with tears, and her eye sockets are also a little pinker than they should be. That's a concern, as it seems to indicate that the tissues are inflamed, either by bacteria or from the cleanings I had to give her every night to wash the excess tears away.

My veterinarian advised a surgery for Lucy to improve her overall heath. Those two moist, open, dark eye sockets in her head were a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, and if she got an infection in there, she'd need eye drops and other stinging treatments in order to heal.

Lucy the blind cat before her enucleation surgery
Lucy didn't have a huge mane when she was a kitten. That came later!

Plus, surgery could improve her quality of life. Enduring a face cleaning every night just wasn't fun for this little girl, and it's possible that she would tolerate it less and less as she grew into an adult. Kittens are accustomed to momma's work, but older cats might not handle the same level of attention.

So we scheduled surgery. The doctor examined her eye sockets and removed any eye globe tissues he found, and then he removed her tear ducts and eyelashes, and sewed everything shut. She was sent home with pain medications, and she's never looked back.

I've seen other cats with Lucy's condition. In fact, we had a kitten pass through the shelter last month (with the adorable name Megatron), and he had anophthalmia in one eye.

Megatron the kitten with anophthalmia

Notice that his left eye socket is open, and that it's a little gooey. In theory, he could simply deal with this for the rest of his life. Plenty of cats with this condition do.

But, based on Lucy's experience, I think that surgery really is the way to go. She has never had an open infection in her eyes, simply because I got it handled before her inflammation turned south. And she recovered from surgery really quickly, too, and may not have done the same with a daily cleansing.

So I'm the first to recommend surgery. In my opinion, it's a great choice for cats with this (unfortunately common) eye deformity.