Summer Petsitting and Other Projects

ImageI’ve really neglected this blog for a while. I think a winter of health incidents culminating in my doggy soulmate’s decline into congestive heart failure left me a little depressed in the pet world. Yuuki’s on the mend, as much as a 2-year tops life prognosis can be considered ‘mended’– maybe ‘stabilized is a better way to describe it– and our summer B&B doors have opened for the pets of all our friends. I actually really love petsitting because it gives me a chance to imagine what it would be like to have this or that in my life. Sugar gliders– interesting to watch, but glad I never allowed myself to get them. And I always love to host our big doofy husky friend pictured above, though I would never have a husky myself (neither would they, for the record, but their big old hearts couldn’t let him keep house-jumping). Right now, I’m learning the ropes of Box Turtle care, who I think is actually a little depressed his people are gone…is that possible?? 

Our newest summer project is a rescue chihuahua that’s entered our lives via a friend of a friend. I remind myself that Cesar Milan tells people, ‘You don’t get the dog you want, you get the dog you need,’ and I suppose this little guy is really going to push us to find our inner calm and help him out of his tormented shell- it’s dog rehab ‘intermediate’ level. He’s the worst little demon chihuahua (like the kind you see on the Dog Whisperer) I’ve ever seen in real life. He screams and thrashes if you try to pick him up, we have a leash permanently attached because otherwise we can’t get anything hooked to his collar because of his ferocious biting at the leash and alligator death-rolls (and to drag him around everywhere we go so he can’t hole up in a corner somewhere), he won’t take food from anyone’s hand, and just when you think he’s finally comfortable enough to receive petting, he snaps! He’s a mess– truly a mess. Dumped off on me at 9 years old because it was inconvenient for his owners to arrange for his move with them. I think that might be reasonable to say if your dog weighed 200 lbs, but not for 11 lbs of dog. Not for one you’ve had since he was a puppy. Oh, and I haven’t yet mentioned the crying. All dogs get depressed, in my experience, when their owners leave them with me for a little bit. For some, it’s a day or two, for others a week or two. It’s not always expressed in the same way. Some mope, some seem constantly looking for something. This one, he cries. He cries and cries and cries. Inconsolable puppy-like whimpering and mourning. They had no idea they would rip out his tiny soul and stomp all over it by leaving him here– not that we won’t be good to him. I don’t know how long it will last, but so far, two days of off-and-on sobbing. He knows they’re gone. They left him in a crate to watch while their friends and family came through to say goodbye. He’s not stupid. He is timid, insecure, uncertain of the world, and lacking self-esteem in a way I’ve never seen before. So he’ll be our summer project– our project for most likely the next few years. Who would take a broken soul like this one? He’ll just have to stay here for a while…

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The new dog, Blitz(en)–because “blitz” sounds violent– wet from our walk in the rain

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News Flash: Weigh-in

Yuuki had his 6-month cardiology exam today, and I just wanted to report that he has officially lost 0.7 pounds. Woo hoo! I know, it doesn’t sound like that much, but remember: it’s nearly 10% of his body weight! So proud of my little guy!

The vet did measure him though while he was on the Xray table, and he’s still got quite a bit of fatty lining on the inside, so we’ve still got a bit to go. Here’s to the next 0.7 lbs!

December Hiking and a Farewell

I’ve totally been slacking with my blog lately…

Today, we finally made it out to enjoy a bit of unseasonably warm December weather and take a hike. Chilly decided she’d rather not go in favor of all-day snuggles with her grandpa. She really missed out! We headed out to Chippokes Plantation, which is a Virginia State Park and also a functioning plantation. While the trails aren’t particularly long or interesting, and the weather turned sour just as we arrived, we managed to have a pretty great time. The rain cleared just as we were gearing up to get out of the car. We noticed there was a path from the visitor’s center leading to the river below, so we followed it to get our trail started (the trail maps aren’t particularly helpful).

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First off, there were more shells than I’ve seen on any beach ever! And it’s the James river, but apparently still brackish at that part. It was mostly clams, scallops, mussels and oysters, but my mom managed to located something that looks like ancient coral. There were some people panning for something on the beach. I’m pretty sure they were looking for shark’s teeth (there’s a Boy Scout camp up the river that’s known for it’s beach full of shark’s teeth– or used to be before everyone cleaned them out), but I’d like to think they were searching for pirate’s gold!

Shizuka had a blast navigating the river-beach strewn with fallen logs and giant rocks, while I tottered along behind balancing Yuuki in one arm. She played in the water, swam across a feeder stream and back again (thank goodness for extra long flex-leads! we only use them when we hike). Then we hiked up the trail a bit and ended up at the tourist area set up like a farm. Shizuka came face to face with chickens, saw a giant pot-bellied pig, eyed some goats like a coyote on the other side of chicken-wire, and attempted to chase some donkeys. Then we made our way up the path to the lookout over the river, and Shizuka pounced into the brush after any number of wild animals. We only walked about 4.5 miles, but she was “on” the whole time– swimming, pouncing, prowling and zig-zag-running. Good times!

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Also, my little fat dog only rode in his pouch for about 10 minutes in the middle. After that, he was fine and waddled his awkward little frame all over that farm. He’s definitely a cold-weather Chihuahua.

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On a sadder note, Sir Ouch-a-lot passed away last Friday. He went in for surgery to have his cancerous foot amputated. We didn’t actually think he would live this long, but since he seemed to be doing fine, and his foot was really swollen and starting to smell a little, we had scheduled his amputation. He made it out of surgery fine, but we think maybe they should’ve kept him longer to monitor him. He was gone by the time Thomas got him home. You wouldn’t think a little guy like that, who didn’t really enjoy our company, would leave such a hole…but he did.

We, of course, shed far more tears for our spikey hamster than seems reasonable, and then committed the worst sin of all. We got rebound pets. Argh. I will regret this forever and ever. Thomas had gone to the store to get guinea pigs before I got home and found out Sir Ouch was gone (like I’m a helpless child!), and ran into a woman who instead offered to give him her 2 degus, which she couldn’t properly care for with all their other pets (her daughter’s pets). We didn’t think it through, and she handed them over- cage and all- and then we got them home and realized we could never protect them from the wrath of the big dog. These things chitter and chirp and cling to the side of the cage. I later read that they’re so inquisitive, they often won’t flee a domestic predator because they’re more curious than fearful. Eek! So, we did what no one should ever do, and took that lady up on her offer to give them back. We didn’t make it even 24 hours. Sigh. So the hedgehog tragedy turned into a terrible pet-return disaster. I felt so guilty that I bought them all new toys and researched healthier food and bought that for them, so I’d at least return them in better shape than I got them. How can we be this old and not know better than to get a rebound pet? HOW!? That will go down as one of my most shameful moments ever. At least we didn’t actually buy them, and she had offered when we took them that if we changed our minds, she would take them back. I still feel horrible. And it wasn’t going to fix the hole that that little prickly, grumpy guy left in our hearts.

Rest in peace, Sir Ouch-a-lot. We will miss you, even if you won’t miss us!

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Tantrums and Set-backs

Last night I picked Yuuki up and realized something horrible. I don’t need a scale– I know he’s gained weight. This always happens. The little bugger is doing fine, and then we have a major set-back. This time, Yuuki’s learned to work the system of humans in the house who are no match against his pitiful barks and hunger loops (see his Yuuki vs. the Pizza Crust video if you don’t know what I mean). He’s gotten to the point that every day at 8 pm, he pretty much demands some kind of treat.

I’ve been a little indulgent myself (maybe alot) and given him a granulated rawhide every few days. I know that some people are against rawhides and some are for them, and I have no idea what the calorie count for a little stick is (anyone know??) but, he would get 1/2 a stick every other day or so, unless he was really demanding and then he might get a whole stick. I kind of hope he gnaws some of the plaque off of his teeth. Not really happening… So, yesterday I put the brakes on the treats, because I suspect that others have been doling them out as well. Dr. Ward, in Chow Hounds, says you should “…trash your treats unless they are low in calories or swap them with some healthy alternatives. There’s simply no room for those empty calories and brain-altering chemicals in your dog’s new healthier lifestyle.” Which sounds great on paper, but alas, I am weak when it comes to this grumpy dumpling. Last night he got a baby carrot.

Let the tantrums begin.

Holy cow, he did not want that carrot. He cried (like in the video) and then he pouted (he goes to the edge of the bed facing away from us and lets out tiny whimpers until someone acknowledges him). After being ignored, he starts the hunger loops again with intermittent barking that escalates into throaty WOOFS! He’ll drink some water, and then come back again. Chilly ate her carrot and his because he wouldn’t touch it. I know he’s not above vegetables. He actually loves green beans, but I’m out at the moment.

Yuuki makes me hold the carrot so he can eat it

After about 1.5 hours of tantrums, I went and got him another baby carrot. While he refused this one as well, he immediately stopped barking and turned to his staring technique. He will look me in the face– I swear he makes himself look fluffier– until I ask him “What?” and he begins the loops all over again (this time less assertive, more cute). I know some trainers/behaviorists would say I put too much stock into Yuuki’s communication strategy, but…he’s pretty convincing.

Ultimately, the compromise was that I would hold the carrot while he ate it. What does that mean in the doggy kingdom? While I feel like I came out on top, he may have in fact won that battle.

Today I ventured to my favorite dog supply store and stocked up on some new treats. I know, I know. Real doggy dieters say never to have any treats in your house, but that’s just not me. Not yet, anyway. So, I’ve added to the arsenal: Honest Kitchen Pecks (with less than .6 calories per treat); Small Dog Himalayan Dog Chews (I know, 435 calories! But, low in fat and he only chews a corner at a time); some American-made tiny rawhides; and some Zukes Mini Z-Bones (only for very rare occasions). I know that those last three items shouldn’t be part of a fat dog’s pantry, but sometimes a dog needs to chew– even little, fat Chihuahua dogs with the worst set of chompers you’ll ever lay eyes on.

Here’s what Yuuki generally eats in a day:
Breakfast: <1/4 cup Acana Light & Fit  = (350/4) = 87.5 kcal
Dinner: <1/2  cup (maybe closer to 1/4 cup) Chicken & Rice recipe from Chow Hounds by Dr. Ernie Ward = (176/2) = 88 kcal
8pm snack: 1/2 granulated rawhide stick (calorie count unknown) and/or 1 baby carrot (2-3 kcal per carrot)
Throughout the day: 2-3 Wellness Pure Reward jerkies–they tear nicely into training treats = (3×4) = 12 kcal

Total: 87.5 + 88 + 3 (on a carrot day) + 12 = 190.5

According to Dr. Ward’s book (pg 96, if you’re keeping track), if Yuuki wanted to weigh 9 lbs (he doesn’t, but I want him to) then he’d have to eat no more than 193 kcals per day. Being generous above in the measurements for his food, he still comes in under the bar. And we were doing fine…but I guess his tactics of begging different people at different times of day is working. Time to cut back again. Let the howling and crying begin…

Bark in the Park 2012

Rain, rain go away! Bark in the Park is my favorite dog event of the year. It started with a stormy looking morning. I signed up for the 1 mile Puppy Trot (instead of the 5k) hoping that Yuuki could walk the whole thing and get some steps on his little pedometer. We showed up to a cold dreary morning, but I wasn’t about to let that stop my fun. This the biggest collection of dog-related vendors in one place for the whole year! It was time for me to get my doggy-nerd on. Seriously.

8-ball waiting for his humans to finish the 5k

I offered to walk my favorite not-my-dog so the giant husky wouldn’t have to run 5k– mostly because I thought it was going to be hot. He speeded along as Yuuki huffed behind us. Yuuki tried really hard, but he didn’t make it the whole mile. I walked him for a little bit of it in his pouch, but I let him finish strong. Just as my friends finished the 5k with their dogs, it began to sprinkle…then rain…then DOWNPOUR! Oh sadness of sadnesses. Doesn’t the sky know that today is a dog festival day?? There are dogs that need to be adopted and doggy t-shirts that need to be bought.

We waited it out for a bit under the registration tent- really about an hour. At noon, it cleared up to a regular rain and so we determined to make the best of it (thank goodness for dog-nerd friends!). Yuuki was wearing his hoodie, tucked into his pouch, zipped up in my raincoat and sheltered by my umbrella– and still a little cold. We pretty much ran from booth to booth picking up freebees like we were trick-or-treating. I had no idea what I’d grabbed. Then came the torrential downpour. We waited that out for a few minutes under the Two Brothers Dog Wash tent– he was understandably upset about the rain. Then, off again into the muddy, sloppy mess in the field. We stayed to watch the Police Dog Demonstration, but they apparently left early. The Jack Russell frisbee team was totally not feeling the frisbees.

Out of all of this, though I missed strolling without thinking about how pruny my feet are, there were two new attractions this year that I really liked. First, The Midway Veterinary Hospital in Chesapeake adopted a puppy from the Chesapeake Animal Control whom they named “Squirtle.” I’ve actually been referred to this clinic often because they handle hedgehogs there. At their booth, they were putting in raffles for a “guess my breed” contest for little Squirtle. You could guess two and write it down. They plan to get a genetic test done (though I’m skeptical of these because of an article in The Bark — I think it’s gotten better over the years as they include more breeds in the database) and the closest match wins. We all love to guess the mutt make-up, so it was a pretty brilliant idea! Next best: Radar Run. I saw it on the flyer, but didn’t understand what it was. They used police speed radars to measure the running speed of dogs down a corridor. Around midday, the fastest was about 34 mph. Of course, Yuuki had to play, too! As I expected, he didn’t run top speed and stopped to pee about 3/4 of the way through, but he got a whopping 2 mph on the records. He should get an award for cutest run. I noticed as he left the line was much longer. I’m not saying it was his cuteness that drew in the crowds, but…

Yuuki’s certificate for running in the Radar Run. 2mph!! Yay!!

All in all, despite the rain, I had a pretty good dog day hanging out with fun people and awesome dogs. Can’t wait until next year!

Yuuki sleeping off the rainy, cold day at Bark in the Park

Dogfood: its worth talking about

In the spirit of counting calories for Yuuki’s weight loss program, I recently started researching some alternative dry dog foods to the one that I’ve been using. I’m a huge Orijen fan, but the calories are quite costly- on Yuuki’s waist as well as my wallet. Eventually I settled on the idea of switching the Chihuahuas to Acana Light and Fit. It’s also a brand of Champion Petfoods, which is the company that produces Orijen, so it seems pretty safe. This means I can “easily” drop Yuuki from a 395 kcal/cup diet to 360 kcal/cup. Certainly, that’s way above the recommended caloric density for dieting animals– don’t judge me. I’ve come not to trust vets with their ideas of what makes for healthy weight loss. I’ve tried the Hills prescription diets and Yuuki became itchy, his coat was awful (the weight loss line is mostly corn) and he would cry for hours because he was so hungry. It was painful for all of us. I’ve been happy with Orijen, but I need to shave off a few more calories in a day. In my determination to switch, my dog food provider reinforced my committment to his little business. I was wondering where, exactly, can I buy the Light & Fit line of Acana? I wrote to the Two Brothers Dog Wash and got a reply less that 24 hours later. In fact, they do carry it now. The long-time supporter of Orijen for his own dogs has now switched his Pitty to Light & Fit. We are totally on the same doggy nutritional page. I love that!

Using the borrowed kitchen and Vitamix to experiment with dog food recipes

So, Yuuki has made the switch. I have to say, he does seem a little hungrier. But, given his general lack of energy over this last summer, it’s nice to see him eager to eat again. I know I’ll regret saying that later! In addition to the change in diet though, and after many years of tough consideration, I’ve also made the committment (to myself) to become a partial dog food chef. Hardcore dog-people cook food for their dogs. I’d like to think I’m hardcore, but I’m not. But the other day, I was reading my bible for doggy weight losswhen I realized just how much Yuuki would save in calories if I cooked his food. Holy cow! Generally I’m pretty lazy. I don’t want to cook for myself, much less my dogs. In fact, I’ve always been a little jealous of their nutritionally balanced kibble with no menu planning or grocery store visits required.

The sardine, blueberry, veggies and lowfat cottage cheese concoction that Yuuki didn’t appreciate

Here’s the reality: Dr. Ernie Ward’s recipe for chicken and rice would allow Yuuki to eat nearly double the volume (less density) for halfthe calories. That’s worth cooking at least one meal a day for! Now if I could just figure out how to make it in the slow cooker. Really, it doesn’t take that long. But, by the time I’m finished cooking his food (I freeze some for later, so it’s not like I cook it every day– more like once a week), I’m too tired to cook my own, so I eat cereal. I suppose I could just serve myself up a bowl of his food (plus some salt and pepper!), but I’m not that interested in chicken and rice that’s green. Yes, green. The little bit of spinach or kale or kelp that is required to keep it balanced pretty much turns the whole thing green. He likes it, but it looks pretty gross.

Side note though: while we were housesitting, I had access to a really nice food processor, so I tried to make the sardine recipe from the book. Not a sucessful run, I’d say. Yuuki looked down at his bowl and sniffed the fishy mess, looked back up at me and telepathically shouted “Are you kidding me?!” That will be off the lists for future doggy menus! Now I’m going to work on incorporating some heart-healthy vitamin mix that a friend gave me. Healthier every day!

After some hesitation, Yuuki decided it was okay to eat