Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What are you feeding your dog? ( or What is your best friend worth?)

Lately you humans seem to have been developing an ever-increasing awareness of how the quality of your food supply has devolved over the last 50 or so years.  Dad says that he used to eat a lot better when he didn’t have any money and had to grow, pick, shoot or catch much of what he ate.  In concert with this thought process, there is a parallel ever-growing movement in this country to tighten up some on the quality of the food that you put in your bodies, avoiding the highly processed fare that your body doesn’t recognize,as food, an overabundance of sugar and fat as well as some very nasty chemicals.  Now, of course you’ve got your GMO thing trying to take over agribusiness and the world at large.  While a lot of folks don’t seem overly concerned, those that have researched what these bio-engineers are actually doing, how they are doing it and how very little they know about what it is they’re actually doing, it’s downright scary.  Heck, just the word “bio-engineer” scares me!  Okay, so what’s the point of all this?
Well, your faithful companion has to eat too and most manufacturers are just a little less particular about ingredients that go into dog food than food for human consumption.  You can see why I might take umbrage at that!  The old adage “You get what you pay for” certainly works here to some degree but not entirely.  A lot of manufacturers have cashed in on your heightened awareness to present products that appear to have healthy, nutritious ingredients.  The picture shows what appears to be a healthful combination of meat, vegetable and grain when the truth of what’s in the bag is far different.  There’s also the quality of ingredients.  Did you know that they’re allowed to call ground up chicken feathers “chicken”?  I wouldn’t be totally averse to getting a chicken or maybe a duck feather in my mouth from time to time but seeing as how they are totally indigestible, I don’t think I want to rely on them as my main source of protein.  You’d be surprised,  Even the stuff you find for sale as top-shelf products at your vet’s office is mostly junk, even the stuff that sounds like it was cooked up in a nutritional expert’s lab.   As important as the ingredients are, where they come from is equally important.  Nothing personal against the Chinese who supply a great majority of the ingredients in even premium foods but they have a serious quality control if not an integrity issue ( Please see my post "Howling Mad" from May 2010 ).  Heck, they even put melamine (a toxic industrial waste) into the baby formula for their own kids just to turn a profit.  The government made them pull it off the shelves and six months later it was back on the market again putting tens of thousands of human infants at risk of renal failure.  I remember the big dog food scare we had back when I was a young.  They were putting melamine in the dog food (it fools the assay test so as to show a higher protein content) and I remember that we lost several dogs to unknown causes, normally a very rare event here, during that time period. 
Coincidentally, it was around this time that Dad began to do some research on dog food quality, not just ingredients but their sourcing as well.  This can be very daunting, particularly when sourcing is not generally made very obvious and price can be a huge factor but he did manage to wean us from the “eye candy” that we preferred and started rotating between several top quality brands.  I’ve got to be honest, we loved our eye candy, would nut up as soon as we saw the bag but I will say that since we’ve been eating better, I spend a lot less time digging myself raw.  I wonder what other good effects it’s been having.  Nowadays our palates are a little more sophisticated.  We will turn our noses up at the eye candy that we once so loved as well as anything less that the best.  I’m not here to endorse any particular product but I will say that we all love our Blue Buffalo and Merrick.  Yes, it’s pricey but not as much as you think.  As it is nutrient dense, we eat (and poop) less so the cost has to be looked at in this light.  Sure, there’s some really good food out there that we won’t touch either.  It’s all a matter of personal taste much like how a lot of humans love lobster and others wouldn’t eat it on a bet.  I’m glad Dad loves us enough to take the time to find some really good food that we like to make the most of the few short years that are given to us.
As I said, the process of ciphering through all of the information, then going back to the manufacturers website and trying to get information there can be more than daunting but fortunately there are others who, with no vested interest, have already done much of the research and are willing to share their findings.  Dog Food Advisor is one such entity that can help to make some sense of all that is out there.  Given that the results can be somewhat subjective, it is always good to compare several ratings and a quick Google will get you there without a problem.  Then it’s just a matter of figuring our what, within your budget, are the best foods that your pet enjoys.  It’s always good to have 2 or 3 to rotate through as no one food is perfect and rotating them will help balance that out.
I have always considered it a great unfairness that, as mans’ best friend, dogs only get to enjoy 10 + – years of that.  If you value your companion, wouldn’t it be best to make the most of those years, possible extending them and certainly improving their quality.  A rule of paw here, if you are feeding your pet from the grocery store or, dog forbid, the dollar store, you could do soooo much better.  What is your best friend worth?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Happy New Year

                                                I couldn’t resist posting this picture!
found dog
The weather was really bad the other day when dad went to work and I wanted to check the weather to make sure he didn’t have to deal with anything too bad.  If he doesn’t want me to hack into his computer, he really should stop using my name in his password.  Duh!  Anyway, I came across this picture on weather.com.  The gentleman in the photo had just found his dog buried alive under rubble after one of the major tornados that have plagued the country in the past year.  One look at his face ‘bout says it all doesn’t it?  The image is almost haunting as you can feel the broad array of emotions he is experiencing.  I know that if that had happened to me, dad wouldn’t rest ‘til he found me.
So what is it behind this great love between man and dog and the other way ‘round?  Nobody really seems to know.  It exists nowhere else in nature.  Think about it for a minute, a mama dog wouldn’t expend half the energy looking for her lost puppies as did this gentleman looking for his faithful companion.  On the other side of the coin, you have your stories such as Greyfriars Bobby that typify the devotion that dogs have for their humans.  Whatever it is, it’s a wondrous thing and I’d hate to go my whole life without ever experiencing it as much as I pity the human who exists without the benefit of a faithful dog.
If you happen to be up for some light reading, there are a couple of wonderful books by W. Bruce Cameron called: A Dog's Purpose and A Dog's Journey that explore this relationship with a whimsical yet thoughtful style and even delve somewhat into the notion of a doggy soul-mate.  They’re a great read.  You’ll laugh.  You’ll cry and you’ll find yourself hurrying through the sad parts knowing that you’ll be laughing again in no time.
I’ll holler at ya later, I’ve gotta go make my rounds now and you probably need to go hug your dog just in case a tornado comes through.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Munch revisited

It was just about a year ago that our little Munch came to us ( see post: A Heart to Heart, Species to Species posted 12/24/12) in a pitiful state and almost died on Christmas eve.  We felt that an update 1 year later would be appropriate so we are very happy to tell you that little Munch is thriving.  He’s absolutely spoiled rotten, thinks he should have a “hamburger” (our name for his special dinner) every time dad’s feet hit the floor.  Dad often tells him that he’ll have to wait some of he’ll pop.  Some supervision is required when he and Grandma (an ancient Min Pin) get their treats but Munch will staunchly ward off any interlopers, setting them straight in short order on treat ownership issues.  He’s still a very old dog, no getting past that but he enjoys life and still takes himself out to enjoy sunny days on the deck and has actually been seen to run around and cavort with some of the other dogs.  He’s got his own little spot in dad’s office but sometimes asks to sleep on the bed in his special corner.

I’m so glad we have been able to help him enjoy another year of “a life worth living” and he has certainly repaid us several times over with love and laughter.  When he does leave us, it will be as a member of the family, not a piece of trash.  Merry Christmas y’all!  Please remember to be supervise your doggies with all of the holiday treats, gift wrappings, small toys etc.

Cocopaw

Friday, August 23, 2013

Flouncin’ Bouncin’ Rollin’ all Around The Show



I absolutely had to share this with y’all.  A couple of posts ago I had related the experience of Bruno who had to have a leg amputated after being caught up in a trap and this brought up the issue of what sort of quality existence could be had by a dog with a serious physical impairment.  Since then we happened to come across a video of a little Pug in Belfast, Ireland who has ataxia which is a harmless condition other than it  causes some pretty serious loss of motor control.  Loca the Pug finds herself unable to run due to this impairment but leads a fulfilling life nonetheless and has made a video (as well as others) to reflect that.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2RJN9a_jdM  will take you there.  In just over 2 minutes, Loca will win your heart and you won’t be able to get her little song out of your head but the main point is that it’s obvious that she has a “life worth living”.  While you’re there, be sure to check out her other videos as well,  particularly this one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOQtKnHcpSg&list=SP7EA4D3F0A25D9568 .  Enjoy!
Just a word here about the flavor of the local vernacular:   In the video, the word “feckin” appears often.  Although this is remarkably similar to its oft-used American counterpart it does not convey any vulgar connotation and, in that part of the world is considered a very mild oath and not indecorous by most standards.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

I’m just sayin…..

 

It’s usually around this time of year when I start reminding people of the dangers of leaving their best friend in the car. Even with the AC running, tragedy is potentially only moments away. Machines can and do fail and if the motor were to cut off or the AC malfunctions, the temperature can rise to over 140 degrees in minutes.

Rather than reiterate the content of past posts on this subject though, I wanted to take the time to address a related issue that applies specifically to our valiant K9 police and sheriffs dogs. Generally, the best and safest rule is to never leave your dog in the car unattended but I do understand that the K9 corps is a breed unto themselves. Not only do they provide a unique and irreplaceable service to the community, they are sterling ambassadors for our species as a whole and have their own protocols that are unique to their situation. When it gets real hot, Dad just stops taking me in the truck until things cool down a bit. I hate it but I do understand. With a K9 officer, laying out by the air conditioner is not an option, they have an important job to do. Just the other day though, we went by a place where the sheriffs and town police were on their lunch break inside a small fast food joint. I noticed that the K9 officer was left in the car with the motor running and presumably the AC on because he’s not allowed in the restaurant and I got to thinking that there’s maybe a better way to go about this.

According to my understanding, as things now stand, the K9 officer would not normally be allowed inside the restaurant unless on official business (to protect his partner or help make an arrest or maybe search out drugs). Lunch is pretty much out. Think about it though, other service dogs (like Seeing Eye dogs) are allowed special exemption from this rule for the good reason that their services are absolutely essential.

The ADA defines a service animal in the following manner: 2. Q: What is a service animal?

A: The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.

Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. Guide dogs are one type of service animal, used by some individuals who are blind. This is the type of service animal with which most people are familiar. But there are service animals that assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities. Some examples include:

_ Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds.

_ Pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments.

_ Assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance.

A service animal is not a pet.

I cannot see where the K9’s services are any less essential even though the officer doesn’t technically have a disability other than the fact that he or she is more likely to come to harm without their partner. I believe that the human officers wouldn’t have a problem with having his or her partner accompany them while they dined, as from what I’ve seen, they treat their K9 partners with great care and respect (often as literal family) and while they’re having lunch, their partner would have their back. As to the individual establishments and the public in general, I’m sure there would be some who would disapprove but, overall, I would think the average response would be quite favorable. I can actually picture an increase in patronage of an establishment that welcomed K9 officers. These dogs are magnificent to behold as well as highly intelligent and superbly trained. I think a lot of folks would come just to see them (I know I would) and they’d be sure to bring the kids too. On top of this, you could be pretty sure the place wouldn’t get robbed while you’re having your meal with a trained K9 on duty.

Whenever the community loses one of its K9 officers, either in the line of duty or of old age, they afford them the same dignity as they would their human counterparts, full military honors. This speaks volumes about their worth to the community and the respect they command. How tragic and needless it would be if even one of these heroes were to be lost because the cruiser motor cut off or the air conditioner belt broke while his partner was at lunch when we could have proactively negated the risk. I wouldn’t have a clue as to  who to approach about including K9 officers in the service animal exemption, I’m a dog myself and don’t really know about these things but I’ll be sure to ask around. In the meanwhile, if you have any ideas or thoughts on this matter, be sure to let me know. I’d especially enjoy hearing from you human K9 officers to get your take on this.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Communication

For two entirely different species, dogs and humans communicate with one another remarkably well.  This is due, in part, to a natural affinity for one another but is also the product of some pretty impressive adaptations on the part of the canines.  When you’re trying to get your pet to pay attention to an object and you shift your eyes toward that object, most dogs will follow that eye shift.  A relatively simple thing you may say but there’s no other animal on earth that will do that (not even chimpanzees), this is purely adaptive behavior on the dog’s part in order to better interact with humans.  Sometimes though, miscommunication and misunderstandings occur and can often have deleterious results.

Frosty, a young Terrier mix, came to us a while back.  It wasn’t hard to see why he’d been abandoned, he was a snappy little thing.  He desperately wanted attention but would react to it by snapping at your hand. Other than that, he was a great little guy, zany to the point of absurdity and full of fun but totally unadoptable.  As he tended to hang out with me and my gang, Dad had pretty regular contact with him and started to notice that the initial snaps were not ill-intentioned.  They were however immediately followed by the “bad dog” persona and it was evident that he was ready to take that downward spiral.  It’s probably safe to say that, in the past, he’d been scolded (or possibly hit) for exhibiting unacceptable behavior which, of course, triggered an aggressive response.  My dad’s pretty perceptive for a human though and recognized these initial snaps as misguided attempts at positive interaction with humans as the body language was not consistent with being ugly and there was no force behind the bites.  Dad decided to let him have his way, basically ignoring the bites while encouraging more appropriate interaction.  The initial result was that the bad dog look never manifested itself once he realized he wasn’t going to be chastised and the exchange became much more relaxed than previously.  Then dad did something that I didn’t understand at first and don’t entirely grasp now.  Using a technique he calls “satiation”’  he gave Frosty constant opportunities to chew on his hand (this would obviously not work with a truly aggressive dog) and even encouraged it,  all the while paying no attention to the behavior itself.  What happened, which is typical I guess with satiation, is that the behavior increased dramatically at first but then started to taper off once Frosty got bored by the lack of response to it.  Meanwhile, of course, there were always plenty of socially acceptable methods of interaction offered and Frosty could get the attention he craved in that manner.  Lacking the constant negativity in his life, Frosty blossomed.  I don’t normally gravitate toward small dogs, I tolerate them for the most part but Frosty’s pretty cool and we play a lot.  He’s also turned into a real cuddlebug with dad and insists on sleeping in his armpit.  Now, when he wants attention, he jumps up and “asks” to be petted, no snapping involved.  Socially, he’s as appropriate as any dog here now.  Although some additional work remains to help him generalize this response and increase its durability, Frosty will be leaving later this week for an adoption up north and, provided he can be found a human who is capable of and willing to follow up on my dad’s training he will add love and laughter to their home.

Now most pet owners don’t have formal experience in behavior modification but most of the time that’s not necessary.  The thing here is to recognize the communication attempt for what it is.  Had Frosty’s humans done that, the behavior probably would not have become an issue.  Being non-verbal, we have much fewer means of communication at our disposal than humans and sometimes fall back on what we know best, what has been hardwired into us for tens of thousands of years.  Not every dog bite is an act of aggression.  Heck, when I feel it’s extremely important to get my dad’s attention, I do exactly the same thing by gently biting his hand and he takes it for what it is, an urgent need to communicate something.  Probably without even realizing it, you’ve done a lot of this type of training if you’ve ever raised human children.  Young humans’ actions and reactions are notoriously inappropriate to the situation and, without formal training, you’ve lovingly guided them toward the more acceptable choice.  The only real difference here is that this process, with dogs, takes place at a somewhat lower level of cognition.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Every Pet Deserves a Life Worth Living

This is GARD’s overriding philosophy, governing all we do and how we do it. On our website and literature you’ll often see reference to the fact that we operate quite differently from most other rescues in that rather than being guided by a business plan, we operate from the heart. Although we’ve managed to keep the shelter viable by trying to avoid fiscal suicide, we often do things that would cause a good business manager to break down in tears. There’s a good reason for this. We like to be able to sleep at night.

Bruno is a very good recent example of this philosophy at work. Mom was at one of our Vets several hours away with a van load of dogs in for routine treatment/checkup. While she was there, some folks came in with their dog who had got himself caught in a leg-hold trap and had dragged himself 2 miles home to get help despite the fact that jagged bone protruded from his destroyed limb. The decision was made that surgery would be too expensive and he would have to be put down. Now I don’t know about you, but if I had just dragged my mangled body 2 miles to get help and you offered to kill me for my efforts, I might just have to bite you. Reacting to the unfairness of it all, Mom said that GARD would take the dog and get him the care he needed and left him with the vet for surgery to be performed. By the time she got all the way back to the house, the vet informed her that he wasn’t going to be able to “get around” to the surgery for a week (Bruno wouldn’t have lasted a week given his recent heroics and the fact that the wound was already starting to stink), suggesting that it might just be better to put him down. Aghast, Mom left out the next morning, back to the vet to pick him up and bring him to another vet half a state away. Bruno’s leg was amputated and he is recuperating nicely, having taken up temporary residence in our laundry room with access to the back porch and fenced yard. You may be wondering, at this point; “What sort of life worth living does a three legged dog have?” You’d be amazed at how adaptable we are! We’ve seen numerous amputees go on to lead healthy, happy lives. We have one now who has the run of the shelter and he gets around so well that, unless you looked closely, you might miss the fact that he’s missing a leg. I personally would rather be a live three legged dog than a dead four legged one. We even had a dog here once who had been confined so long in an overly small crate that she had lost the use of her hind legs. While she was here, she taught herself to do “handstands” and got around remarkably well in that manner. Angel has since gotten a loving home where she has benefitted from physical therapy and has since regained the use of her back legs.

Yes, Bruno’s surgery and all of the running around it entailed was expensive but we were able to accomplish it without sabotaging our overall mission and yes, a good business manager would be a whimpering basket case by now but who are we to randomly decide who lives or dies. In a “normal” shelter, this decision would generally be made based on such as cuteness or being of a highly preferred breed but even then, who wants a damaged dog? Maybe, just maybe if he made the AKC’s top ten he might have a chance but only maybe. I sure would hate to see the right to life routinely determined on a basis of charisma and good looks ‘cause I love my Dad and would really miss him. Bruno? Have no doubts that Mom will find someone to love him and give him a forever home. She’s real good at that.

For those of you who have followed Bruno’s story on our Facebook page and have responded with generous donations to help defray the expenses incurred, we offer you our profound thanks. GARD is a non-profit public charity, receives no governmental assistance and is totally dependent on the generosity of a caring public. As important as these donations are in fulfilling our mission, they are equally important in providing the moral support of knowing that there are other, like-minded individuals, families and organizations out there who value what we do.