Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Killer skwirls today, testicles later.

I was going to write about testicles. I'm going to leave that topic hanging for a day or two (don't look at me like that) because I have more skwirl news.
(You'll want to come back for the testicle bit later. Really.)

First, remember how I have two Rottweilers? You know, great big killer dogs with big sharp teeth? So this morning I was out doing dog poop duty before work and a skwirl started threatening the dogs. She was upside down on the big maple tree, flipping her tail, showing nasty little yellow teeth and chattering like a wee banshee, about half an inch from lunging Rottweiler jaws. And she wouldn't quit, wouldn't move. In fact, she was sort of lunging back at them. I got worried about who would hurt who worse and hauled the slavering beasties into the house in case they got bit by a 2lb skwirl.
I think there's maybe a nest in the maple tree in my yard. Which is a really stupid location for a skwirl to have babies. She could've chosen my neighbor's yard, they have a Pomeranian.

And, I found an oddly entertaining Scary Squirrel website which I think y'all should look at. Courtesy of this funny lady.
Balls later, I promise.

Playing god and surgery with our dogs.

Animal rights groups have pushed for bans on "cosmetic" surgeries like ear cropping & tail docking - in fact these procedures are banned outright in some countries. Don't kid yourself that it can't happen here in the US. So. What does Auntie Carina think? Auntie Carina thinks it's fine.

Ear crops & tail docks. Tail docking is done when a pup is just a few days old. Puppies have little feeling in their south ends at that age - neurological development is incomplete, which is why they can't control pooping and peeing yet. I've been told by a Rottweiler breeder and vets that tiny pups simply don't notice it. They squeak when they're being picked up and handled, but pay no attention to the snip.
Complications from this are practically nonexistent. I can't think of a single reason why not to do it on breeds traditionally docked. I've heard three reasons why not. A: It's cruel. No, it's not. B: It takes away a dog's ability to "signal" other dogs with tail position. Well, dogs' entire bodies are involved in communicating with other dogs; nothing I've ever heard or experienced validates this theory. Dogs are savvy enough to read the whole picture without being confused about the absence of tail position. C: Dogs use their tails for balance and agility. Oh baloney, that's just silly.
Why do it? Because we can, and it's harmless. When they wind up in shelters and rescues (which happens by the thousands every day), undocked dogs get passed by which is often a death sentence. Because it looks cool. It's one less body part to be injured - dogs with long whippy tails frequently break or bruise them. I had a dog who lost a third of her tail in an unfortunate incident involving a thunderstorm and a broken double hung window. The vet cleaned up the wound and stitched it up fine, and she had a funny-looking tail for a GSD mix, but she didn't seem to mind.
Ear cropping is no doubt more bothersome and uncomfortable for a dog, because it's done when they're a bit older. Crating a dog is bothersome and uncomfortable for them too.

Debarking. This one is controversial because complications are more common. From everything I've read, and from a recent conversation with a Sheltie person, the skill and experience of the vet is critical. There's several different procedures and finding an experienced vet who uses laser surgery to nick the vocal chords leads to a happy, successful outcome.
Here's an excellent, common sense little article on debarking. Read it.
Now, debarking really should be a last resort. In many cases it's not difficult to train a dog to vocalize appropriately. Most dogs are communicating a range of "messages" by barking. Telling his pack there's someone at the door, excitement, play barking, warning barking, boredom, demanding attention, to go out or come back in. Why nag a dog to shut up when she's just telling you someone's at the door? She's just being a watchdog; this is a good thing. If she continues to yap incessantly once the visitor enters the house, she's saying something quite different - could be defensive, excitement or demanding attention. Training a dog to limit her barking to appropriate or natural situations isn't that difficult; not to do so is owner laziness.
We're the ones with great big complex brains. Dogs have little, simple brains. Figure it out.
If she's barking because she's stuck out by herself, tied up outside all the time, that's easy. Don't leave the poor thing chained up and isolated. That's terribly cruel. I think people who have chained up outside dogs should be chained up outside by themselves for a year and see how they like it. I really do.
However. Sometimes, with some dogs, it's just difficult to almost impossible to train them to be quiet, say when we're at work and they're home alone. Try everything else first. You can even try those nasty no-bark shock collars, or the ones that squirt lemon juice in their faces every time they make a noise. Personally, I think that's mean but it's fairly widely accepted. in extreme cases, why not have a simple surgery done? She can still bark all she wants, you don't have to nag her, your neighbors will be happier and you won't be threatened with eviction. The only difference is her bark will be much, much quieter.
We routinely do speuters on dogs and cats for our own convenience, why not this?

Spaying and neutering. This one's tough. Apparently, a huge percentage of the population either doesn't care that their pets spit out litter after litter, contributing to massive overpopulation and Dumpsters full of throw-away dead pets in every city in the US, every day. Or, they are too stupid and irresponsible to figure out how to prevent boy animals and girl animals hooking up. If I ran a shelter or rescue organization, I would mandate speuter for every animal that leaves alive, you bet.
However. Tens of thousands of people manage to keep intact dogs their entire lives without a single unplanned or throw-away litter.
Tens of thousands more wait until the dog has reached sexual maturity before speutering. For responsible owners, I think this makes sense.
Why? There's lots of health reasons, for one thing. Nature intended for animals to be intact and retain all the hormones. Hormones are important to human health, right? Same with dogs. Spayed bitches often become incontinent - actually referred to as spay incontinence - and have more urinary tract infections. True, this isn't life threatening, but it can be painful and inconvenient. By waiting until she is about a year old, the risk can be minimised. Some cancers, heart problems and thyroid problems have been found significantly higher in speutered dogs.
Male dogs - especially in breeds prone to bone cancer - have significantly higher rates of osteosarcoma when neutered.
The (extremely knowlegable and ethical) breeder I got Cooper from advised me to wait until 18 months before neutering because of osteo risks. That was in 2001, before the above study was published - people were already aware of the risk. Dogs can get osteo as young as two years old, and it is often terminal and very common in Rottweilers, Boxers and several other breeds. I lost my last Rottie (neutered at 6 months) to osteo. A good friend lost hers at about the same time, an early-spayed bitch. My first Rottweiler developed lymphatic cancer when he was about two - the vet was able to remove all the cancerous tissue, although the dog tragically died less than two years later from unrelated causes. (I know, anecdotes aren't proof.)
Here's a sensible article, with references, on the downsides of early and pediatric speutering.

We surgically alter our dogs' behaviour to make them "easier to train" by speutering. We stick them in cages, confine them to fenced yards and prevent them from running or moving in their natural gait by putting a collar and leash on them for walks. If we walk them at all, which most people don't. We bathe them, feed them pellets instead of real food and train them to conform to our wishes. We make them endure grooming and stripping (which involves yanking all the outer hair out by the roots.) We clip their nails and clean their ears. We've intentionally bred dogs who cannot breathe or breed properly, like French and English Bulldogs. (They usually need a C-section to deliver because the puppies' heads are too big to fit through the pelvic opening.) We overmedicate and overvaccinate them - which leads to many deaths and health problems, by the way.
Tell me how debarking, ear cropping and tail docking is any more injurious or "unatural" for a dog, again?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The headless Rottweiler.

This would be Daphne, mindlessly beating up on Cooper. Hahahaha.
(Crap pun, sorry all.)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Peculiar dietary habits of skwirls, baby birds & baby snails.

Don't know if you can see it clearly - that's a photo of a squirrel gnawing on a piece of beef soup bone in one of my trees. He probably swiped it from my back yard (the dogs like them.) What's wrong with this picture? Aren't skwirls vegetarians? This one was quite possessive over his bone and got annoyed that I was encroaching on his territory. Little turd.

In other news, I cam home one day to find a fledgeling bird hopping around in my driveway. OK. I let it be - I figure mother nature takes care of her own and I'm not about to interfere. Two days later, the same bird - or one like it - is in my back yard. Unable to fly more than a few feet high, and would surely be cat or dog food if I left it there. Google to the rescue! (This is like, so 2006.) I turned on the 'puter, googled "orphaned birds" and everything I read said to leave it be as long as it had feathers. That parent birds were probably still feeding it, until it was able to fly. I scooped it up under a sheet with the parent birds dive-bombing my head and put it in the empty treed lot next to my house. Hope it survived.

Lastly, I was at at a friend's house and pulled a clump of water plants out of her pond to put in my little bird-bath thingie. That was a week ago, and I just saw an explosion of teensy weensy baby snails all over the bird bath, I guess they hatched from the pond plants. I scooped up a handful and dropped them in my back goldfish barrel to help clean algae.
Isn't that what snails eat, algae?
That's all the news from my city yard this week. Oh, the carpenter bees are back drilling amazingly precise little nesting holes on my back porch; I'm finding scatterings of sawdust on the deck.
And, I just bought an old Jeep Cherokee for a dog bus. It's parked alongside of my house being pooped on by birds until I can get it legal after the holidays. It's a beast and I love it already.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Fun times at the gyneocologist.

I haven't had time this week to make any new, pithy, thought provoking or even interesting posts.
So, instead I'll just c&p a non-animal related story I just wrote to friends.
(It's true.)

I have a tattoo of three intertwined fish on the inside of my right knee. Well, some years back I went to my gyn-doc for the annual checkup thingie. Nice, courtly white haired old doc. Usually his physician's assistant did the exam, but this time he did, with her in the room. So I get into position (y'all know the one) and he settles down with his little light and instruments of torture.
And said,
"Oh! I didn't know you had fish down here."

What!? Thinking this was the most tasteless thing a doctor could possibly say in this position, I sat bolt upright and glared at him. (Actually, I think I was considering kicking the dear old man.)
His PA just stared, with her jaw 'bout dropped to the floor.
And the poor old doc realised what he'd said, turned about 80 shades of deep red and didn't stop apologising for the rest of the exam.

The End.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

(almost) HIT! (almost ) HIT!

My dog did so good at today's agility trial. We were beat out by about 5 seconds for high in trial (HIT.) This means the dog with the fastest time and highest points in a run. Not bad for a 100lb musclebound Rottweiler, running against lots of more agile, lighter dogs. Damn, wish we'd gotten it though....5 seconds faster....!
We still came home with a first place ribbon, a second place ribbon and 3 qualifying runs - including a clean run, meaning no points off for anything.
Did I mention I really love this dog?

That's a course map, from our last run of the day.

If you want to read an utterly hilarious and alarmingly accurate description of agility, check out the Laughing Dog Press.

If you want to check out excellent agility tshirts, go here. My favourite is "Praise The Dog, Slap The Handler."

Friday, May 19, 2006

Bloodthirsty Bettas & bloodworms.

Bettas are little carnivorous fish, they don't live on vegetable matter. (It just occured to me: I live in a houseful of carnivores.)
Most carnivorous fish find bloodworms insanely tasty, and they're pretty much a complete diet. You can buy them freeze dried or frozen at pet stores.
Or, you can go out to your backyard pond in the morning, scoop out some dead leaf debris from the bottom, swish it around in a container so the wiggling red worms fall off and dump it into your fish bowls.
Easy-peasy and free!
And, the Bettas have a grand old time chasing the little wigglers all over the bowl.
Hardcore aquarists (I think that's the term) go to huge legnths to culture all manner of bugs and worms and maggots and such for their fish. I'm not about to start farming maggots in my basement! I'm not that demented.
The top picture is Elvis, right after he figured out they were too peculiar to eat.

Hey, I'm a daily top voted blog today!

...On blogmad.
Woo hoo. There's 2,024 blogs registered, so I feel pretty chuffed. Thank you for everyone who voted for it!
I was going to post photos of bloodworms today, but I'll do that later. Betcha can't wait.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Adorable baby spiders at my front door.

Aren't they cute? Came home yesterday and there they were right at my door - just hatched and setting out to the big wide world.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Emotionally fragile people want special rights? Oh puh-leeze.

According to this NYT article, a growing number of emotionally disabled people are demanding that businesses allow them to bring in their "service animals" onto the premises. This could include any animal from a service goat in a restaurant, to a Rottweiler flying a passenger on a plane.
Seriously. I'm not kidding about the goat. Or the monkeys, miniature horses, cats and a support duck wearing a fetching little outfit. It's in the article.
Now, the Americans With Disabilities Act mandates that people who depend on
trained service dogs in order to function be allowed access to any business. Think seeing eye dogs, or assistance dogs for wheelchair-bound folks. Fair enough. However, the ADA was quite vague when writing this law and now some who state they're emotionally disabled without their pets by their side at all times be allowed to bring their untrained pet everywhere. One woman states she is "less hostile" with her dogs by her side, and won't hesitate to sue any business that won't allow her full access, citing the ADA ruling. Sounds to me like having her dogs gives her an excuse to be hostile....!
I don't usually use naughty words (well OK, that's a fib) but this is fucking ridiculous. Someone who is hostile without their dogs next to them, or who has anxiety attacks without an emotional-support goat sitting on their lap has far bigger problems and needs better meds or inpatient treatment.
In fact, if you are unable to fly without a goat on your lap, or can only dine out if your pack of dogs are lying at your feet, don't fly or eat out. Take Amtrack and order in. Get help, for heavens sake. Don't demand the world cater to your emotional fragility.
To put this sort of responsibility and stress on an animal is unfair to people who don't want to dine with a goat at the next table. And, it's terribly unfair to the animal. They're not furry crutches, they're animals.
Before Cooper got mature and very aloof, he spent about a year as a TDI therapy dog. He enjoyed it, but it was stressful for him. After a couple of hours working, he was tired out. It was work! I cannot imagine selfishly forcing him to satisfy my needs - or anyone else's - every single day.
After I left the Insane Control Freak Doctor Who Stole My Stuff
in 2004, I had some difficult months. This might sound silly to some, but having my dogs was incredibly important to me, then. Nothing as dramatic as needing them to buck up and deal, but I really depended on them, yes, for emotional support. However they were just being their own doggie selves. They adapted to a new living situation without drama and weeping and wailing and rending of flesh, which was a pretty good lesson. Their just being in-the-moment dogs, relying on me for care and support, was helpful.
That should be what we can learn from our pets.

PS, I'm not sure but registration to the NYT might be required to read that article. It's free and quick to register, I recommend it.

PPS, in response to a comment, I wanted to include this. It's not so much that people truly in need should not have a service dog, even for psychological reasons, or whatever. But - I missed this point when paraphrasing the article - there are people who order "service dog" vests online, then demand that they be allowed to bring their pet everywhere. Regardless of whether the animal has had special training, or is even a canine good citizen. Seems to me this is taking advantage of the existing laws, and muddies the waters for those who have legitimate service animals.
And finally, thank you, May for telling me about Guide Horses for the visually impaired. I had no idea!! That's pretty cool.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Early morning, White River.

Last weekend. West Michigan, a very nice early morning walk.
Usually I am a horrid photographer, but it was so pretty I took some great photos quite by accident.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Does kibble kill cats?

Cats are obligate carnivores - meaning they will become very ill and eventually die without meat. Cats have utterly no nutritional requirement for any sort of grain and derive little benefit from the various grains added to most commercial cat food (and yes, there are grains in canned food - despite the attractive pictures on the label, they are not all meat.)
Fact A: Cats need a meat based diet.

Domestic cats descended from desert-dwelling wild cats and retain some of those traits, including a very low thirst drive. This means that cats fed a dry, kibble-only diet are much more likely to develop myriad health problems and live a shorter than necessary life in low-grade dehydration. A typical, optimum rodent based wild diet contains 60-70% moisture. Kibble contains at best 10% moisture and most cats will not drink enough water to make up the difference. This constant state of dehydration can lead to early renal failure, constant urinary tract problems, crystals and bladder stones and bladder infections.
FACT B: All-dry diets are not good for cats.

Grain-based foods (virtually all kibble sold on the market) are heavy in carbohydrates. Unlike humans, cats derive little energy or nutrition from carbohydrates and are more likely to have diabetes, become fat, sluggish and have poor muscle tone - if this is your cat, she is neither happy or healthy.
Kibble manufacturers add flavorants, vitamins and minerals to compensate for an inferior product but these are a poor substitute for proper nutrition. Kibble also has artificial stool hardeners (usually beet pulp) added, because the cat will have constant diarrhea otherwise on the grain by-product based food.
FACT C: Cats are natural Atkins-diet eaters.

Dry kibble is bad for cats' teeth. Although many kibbles have artificial abrasives added (ptrophosphate salts, insoluble vegetable fiber, cellulose) and are sized to encourage chewing rather than gulping, these are generally insufficient to maintain good dental health for the life of the cat. How would your teeth feel after eating a bowl of dry cornflakes for every meal? Would you have cereal mush between your teeth and along your gums, fermenting away? So does your cat. And she can't swill it away by drinking lots of water or brushing her teeth.
Ideally, carnivores will maintain healthy mouths by chewing and eating small bones, cartilege and gristle. Dental diseases are rampant in pets and the bacteria overload in an unhealthy mouth puts stress on many internal organs, potentially leading to disease and early organ failure.
FACT D: Kibble is not good for teeth and gums.

So - the bottom line here is - do not feed an all dry diet! At the very least, even cheap canned food added to a kibble diet is better than feeding all dry, even if you buy a "better" brand of kibble.
Want some veterinary references to the above? OK.
Here, this one's REALLY good.
There's tons more like that, just google "kibble cat health" or similar and ignore websites selling anything.

And read Leigh-Ann's excellent May 5th blog entry on cat nutrition!

So, Carina, what does your cat Elvis eat?
He absolutely adores whole ground rabbit (bones, guts and all.) I buy it for a little over $2/lb, it looks like coarse hamburger. He will also eat chicken necks and various bits of raw this & that along with the dogs. I also keep various brands of canned cat food on hand; I do not want an unnaturally picky cat and he eats most although does not appear fond of beef. Despite what I wrote above about the Evil That Is Kibble, I do keep some on hand because he really likes it! He eats so little that I keep it in the fridge for fear of spoilage, and mostly I buy Innova EVO, which is a grain-free kibble. He's nuts about it. Although it's pricey, it is a more concentrated food without a bunch of junk bulk added to it. I imagine a cat would need to eat much less of it to maintain a decent lean weight.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

More agility pics (doing things right.)

Well, maybe we aren't doing things so right here! I must have set him up wrong, he's coming over the jump in one direction and I'm trying to get the poor guy to turn left, mid-jump. We ran eight times over two days; I can't remember if I got him turned around.

Flying out of the tunnel and headed in the right direction. Good dog! Most dogs adore tunnels.

Making proper contacts, though I am clearly directing him quite emphatically. That's the judge in the background.

Wheeeeeeeee. (Do these pants make my butt look fat? LOL.)

Desperately trying to get ahead of my dog, since I had to direct him to the right, then back to the left to finish the last two jumps. He is getting better at working away from me - having had lots of obedience training makes it difficult for some dogs, since they are so used to staying by you (and on the left.) Sequences of staggered jumps are hard; Coop runs way faster than me and if I direct him wrong, he might take the jump at a funky angle and knock a bar down.

Pause-jump-pause. UKC only. This took forever to learn! The dog has to run to the first little platform and sit. Then hop over the bar and immediately sit again without leaving the second platform. If I recall, I was having a senior moment here and trying to remember where I was supposed to go next...uhhhh....crap where are those numbered cones....?

Another UKC thing, swinging bridge. The horizontal part is slatted and moves about, Coop's never had a problem with it though.

Crawl tunnel like a champ. One Shepherd got confused and tried to climb over this, at which point it collapsed.

With the exception of different jump heights, tiny little dogs and great big dogs run the exact same course. Generally I think it's easiest for medium-sized dogs - it is definitely more challenging for a large dog. Harder to make fast turns; harder to make all the contacts. Cooper is extremely fast and exuberant, and I make about one handler error per second. But, we are improving! (I think.)

What NOT to do at an agility trial.

Both of these obstacles are challenging, especially for big dogs.
The one on the left is the dog walk, and the dog is supposed to make contact with the dark purple "contact zone." Not turbo-leap right over it.....note my body language. I was doing everything I could think of to slow him down and pull him back, and probably hollering TOUCH! TOUCH! right there. For all the good it did.
The second one is a swinging plank, which wobbles all over when the dog steps on it. Really hard for large dogs, all four feet need to make contact. It's difficult for dogs to get used to this one. No, he is not supposed to be leaping off the side like that! As far as I know that's only encountered in UKC trials; AKC doesn't anything like that.
I'm going to post some photos of us doing the correct thing next!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Please take this poll!

It's only one question.
You can guess what I voted since I've had Rottweilers in my life for almost 20 years...
What other dog breeds would be considered "dangerous," do you think?
Remember, the dog that ripped the face off the French woman who had the face transplant was her pet Labrador Retriever.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Messengers of death.

Ravens have long been considered messengers of death, from Native American to Middle Eastern to Celtic lore. They can be seen all over the US, but usually avoid populated areas; they are carrion eaters and more often seen in rural areas. Ravens are extremely intelligent, vocal birds and have been known to mimic human speech. They are quite large, much bigger than crows with glossy black feathers.

A few days ago I was at my friend Linda's house. We were sitting in her dining room, chatting with her neighbor Stacey. The conversation turned somber as Stacey told us the story of her little brother's difficult life and very recent death of a drug overdose. He was found several days after he died alone in his apartment, by their father. A sad story and a sad death. Stacey started crying.
As we sat quietly for a moment and as Stacey composed herself, Linda looked to the window. "Oh, my God. Look at that." A raven was perched on a deck chair, right at the window, looking at us. Silent and glossy and still.
Coincidence? We were in suburban sprawl, ravens aren't common there.
Maybe it wasn't coincidence.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

What is your cat REALLY saying to you?

Cat emoticons. Catoticons. Pussicons. Felicons. Emotipussies.
(I'd better stop while I'm ahead.)
Thanks for this cute thing, Natalie!