Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Better with Dogs

Boy, it's been far too long since I posted anything here. I thought I'd use the blog to chronicle Remy's puppyhood and he's 8+ months old already and huge! I guess I forgot just how much work a puppy can be (and I mean that in a good complaints). Given the choice between playing with my puppy and blogging, I guess the puppy wins.

Tonight I'm on a business trip and the dogs are staying home with my husband. I've only been gone a day and I miss them all. And when I found myself with a bit of free time today, after my meetings ended, I was amazingly non-productive. I thought I would relish having some quiet time to catch up on my writing, my reading and maybe a little channel surfing for some sappy movie my husband would never watch with me.

I didn't end up doing much of any of that. I was restless. I went for a walk and I missed having the dogs with me. I sat at my desk and I missed having the dogs at my feet. I ate dinner and I missed having a husband to chat with and two dogs staring longingly at my dinner plate. I channel surfed and landed on Animal Planet. Coincidence? I don't think so. Although it wasn't conscious.

I even missed getting up at the crack of dawn to a whining puppy.  I woke up at the crack of dawn this morning anyway, out of habit I guess. What's worse is it was the crack of dawn in a time zone two hours earlier than where I live.

Anyway, I guess I could blame it on jet lag or sleep deprivation or poor travel diet. But I think part of the reason this day seems incomplete is because there weren't any dogs in it. When my husband and I travel without our dogs, we find ourselves fawning over every dog we pass on the street. When we haven't scratched a dog behind the ears in a few days we comment to each other how much we miss not only our dogs, but dog energy in general. There's just something about dogs that feels very real and very much at home, no matter where you are.

I'm not saying anything here that dog people don't already know, and non-dog-people probably think it sounds downright weird. But I really do think dogs make us better people. At least it's true for me. My dogs keep me from spinning off into flights of nervous worry or navel-gazing -- you know, that kind of thinking with which we humans can drive ourselves batty. Dogs are, for me, largely an antidote --at times even a vaccine -- for that affliction. They remind me that we must occasionally drop everything and play. They remind me that the day is better when I take a nap in the middle of it. They remind me that work is not more important than dinner. They remind me to take each day as it comes and that life is a journey so I should not be wasting my time worrying or navel-gazing because those sorts of things get me nowhere.

Yep. I am definitely better with dogs around. If I had my way, there would be a dog in every hotel room, every business meeting, even in every board room, just to remind us all of what's important as we make our big decisions.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Remembering Baxter

It's been a year. I still miss you, my friend, and I know I always will. But I have 13 years of wonderful memories that continue to make me smile.

Here's to Baxter Henri Campagnard, the sweetest dog I've ever known.

  - J                                   

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Pets, Pesticides and P'd-off

UPDATE: Well, I survived the HOA board meeting and I'm pleased to report that it was successful. I made my case. I managed to keep my cool. (I had decided that being calm, straightforward and solution-focused would probably net better results than letting my ire guide me down a less constructive path -- after all, it wasn't clear where the buck stopped on this particular issue.) I explained the consequences of the lack of notification/flagging on our dogs' health. The wincing when I described our puppy sneezing bloody mucous was pretty universal. 

The HOA board and landscape committee members who were present at the meeting not only heard my plea, but some of them also had dogs and were equally appalled at the lack of flagging. Others seemed less personally worried about it, but all were in agreement that what I was asking for was perfectly reasonable and should be done.

By the way, it's the subcontractor's fault. Of course, it's always easy to blame the subcontractor, but flagging was asked for as part of the plan. Apparently it was just not clear to the subcontractor (or possibly not adequately explained) what constitutes proper flagging. I volunteered to help them provide more specific guidance as to how many flags and where they should be placed. Nobody took me up on it, but a few people nodded. 

As for advance notification, I'm pretty sure the board thinks that it's every resident's job to check the website often, but they agreed that a more proactive form of advance notification would probably reach more people more effectively. They all agreed that posting notices on mailboxes 24-48 hours in advance of spraying should be the process from now on. I don't recall any actual resolution along those lines, but I'm going to believe them until I see the guys out spraying the lawns again.

I also managed to get in a plug for "Integrated Pest Management" with a focus on natural pest controls as an alternative to the automatic annual spraying of pesticides whether we actually have pest problems or not. I agreed to send a bunch of web links to the landscaping committee (which I did) and they promised to look into it. 

Now we wait to see if these promises are kept. But I did see a lot of nodding heads in the audience and among the board, so I think things will be done differently next time. 


It has taken me nearly three weeks to calm down enough to write this post. But we've been busy tending to two sick dogs who were sick because some ignoramus (or group of ignoramuses...still trying to figure that out) decided it was OK to spray all the grass in our neighborhood with pesticide chemicals and not bother to proactively notify the residents or even post flags noting that chemicals had been sprayed.

Who is ultimately responsible? Not yet sure. You see, the homeowners' association (HOA) board in our community has a landscaping committee that hired a landscape maintenance company to take care of all the community's landscaping including the grass and trees lining the streets as well as a few nice big grassy lawns where residents go with their children and dogs to play. That company subcontracted to another company who are "experts" in the application of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and other things that end in "icide," which is basically Latin for "kills things."

One day recently, we took the dogs out for a walk and noticed when we came back that there was a strange metallic smell about them, which they had tracked into (and all over) our house. The dogs were licking their feet constantly and sneezing and reverse-sneezing. This was my first clue something had been done to our lawns. We washed the dogs' feet and I checked our community's Yahoo! group and saw nothing. I looked up our community website (which many residents don't even know exists). On it I saw a one-sentence notice that spraying was slated for that very day.

Weird, I thought. There were none of those little brightly colored flags stuck into the lawns anywhere around the areas where we took the dogs out to walk and do their business. There were no flags on the big lawn where our neighbors' 3-year-old grandchild had been playing all afternoon with his friend. Something was amiss, so I sent an email to ask if something had been sprayed, if so when and what. (You see, we and our neighbors have a "no spray" order around our houses because we actually like things like bees and frogs and salamanders and other visiters to our gardens.) Apparently those requests don't apply to anything that looks like grass, because I was informed that a moss killer and pesticide had been applied to all the grass that day. (The fact that the moss had turned brown by the next morning confirmed it.)

They sent me the materials safety data sheets. Of course, those are always scary things to look at, but these said that the chemicals they used are not to be touched, especially when wet, because skin irritation and damage to the mucous membranes could occur, as well as a host of other potential problems if the stuff is ingested. from a 3-year-old rubbing an eye or putting a finger in his mouth, like from a dog licking his feet or sniffing it up his big, sensitive dog nose... Yet, there was not a flag in sight.

I complained. Other neighbors complained.

The next morning two flags showed up at the far end of our multi-block street, right across the street from one another. Nothing else for the rest of the street for another couple of blocks on around the corner.  There was one there. The day AFTER. Nothing on the long swaths of lawn that run between the houses. Nothing on the larger lawns where dogs and children play. The grass still smelled like metal, as did our house. By that time, Day 2, our dogs both had constantly running noses and and the reverse sneezing had kept us up a good portion of the night.

The manager from the landscaping company came by the house. He talked to my husband, which was good, because I was livid and not feeling very diplomatic. I'm told he was a nice guy and seemed personally upset that there hadn't been sufficient flagging or notification to residents -- apparently he thought that was supposed to happen. But it didn't. Not sure whose fault that was. Buck officially passed.

The dog nose situation went from bad to worse. Remy, who was not yet 6 months old at the time, developed dark speckles all over his smooth brown nose, and there was a constant stream of snot coming out of him. Kirby's nose and eyes ran constantly. When Remy started sneezing out blood-tinged snot, we took him to the vet, who read the materials safety data sheets and said Remy's and Kirby's symptoms were consistent with exposure to the chemicals. The dogs showed no other signs of illness like a cold or kennel cough. We found out that neighbor dogs were also having issues.

I apprised the HOA board and landscaping committee, mentioned the health situation with dogs, mentioned the livid neighbors whose grandchild was exposed for a good part of the day, mentioned how the chemicals still smelled active when wet with morning dew (even several days later). I asked why there wasn't better notification in advance of the spraying and expressed that, at the very least, even if they can't afford to tell us in advance, they should flag areas that have been treated so people with children and dogs don't get exposed to the wet chemicals.

I got a somewhat terse and official-sounding note back suggesting that email wasn't a good way to get through to them and that I should show up at the next HOA board meeting and voice my complaints there. It kind of seemed like the "snarky email reply template."

I replied, nonetheless, wanting to put it in writing. I re-asserted my contention that it shouldn't be a matter of having to come to an HOA board meeting to request something that is so basic, such a matter of decency and common courtesy. Even if issues like "to spray or not to spray" and proper advance notification are debatable, there is absolutely no way to justify the spraying of toxic and irritating chemicals all around our homes without adequately flagging the areas that have been treated so that we can avoid them.

No reply. Apparently, as I was told, email is not a good way to get through to them.

The HOA board meeting is tomorrow. I'm not looking forward to it, but I haven't lost my head of steam over the issue. About the time Remy started seeming better, our Kirby became quite ill. He developed a secondary sinus infection (when his nose completely crusted over with green mucous we took him to the vet). He's on antibiotics and Benadryl and it's been nearly a week and he's still not entirely better. He can breathe a bit easier now (he was having a hard time breathing through his nose at all), but he still violently reverse-sneezes multiple times throughout the day and night and he seems to be suffering from some hearing loss as well. We are hoping that will clear up when the sinuses do.

All because the simple act of putting a little flag in the ground next to a treated area was either too costly or too bothersome or just not thought of at all. And whose decision (or negligence) was that? The HOA? The landscape committee? The landscape maintenance company? The pesticide sprayer they contracted with?

It's coming up on three weeks since the chemical application. The little blue flags that were sparsely put out the day after the application are still there. So if they never remove the flags, how will we know the next time the DO spray? Negligence x 2.

Needless to say, this isn't over. Once we get to the issue of common decency of letting people know when their neighborhood lawns have been sprayed, we get to the issue of whether to spray at all. In this particular case, one of the things they said they sprayed for was the crane fly, which isn't even a major pest in our area, causes little to no damage that lawns don't repair by themselves over a couple of weeks and for which there are numerous safer alternatives than pesticides. (By the way, the pesticides they use to kill crane flies also kills the crane fly's natural it can make matters worse over time.)

Yes, it's not enough that they sprayed without proper flagging, but also that they sprayed when they didn't have to. And, by the way, three weeks later the fresh green moss is coming up in between the stripes where they sprayed (as evidenced by the brown dead moss). Because they didn't actually remove any of the moss or replant any grass, all that spraying did absolutely no good.

And the icing on the cake is that we PAID for all this unnecessary chemical application with our HOA dues.

Think of the money the HOA would save if they didn't spray for bugs we don't have a problem with! It might even be enough to buy some of those little plastic flags to plant next time they spray our yards for some other pest.

PO'd and signing off for now. More to come...

Monday, February 25, 2013

Detente with Treats and a Spray Bottle

I'm thrilled to report that the rather strained relations between Kirby and Remy have improved. While it's not yet an entirely peaceful household as far as the canines are concerned, we have come a long way and we had a true breakthrough this past Friday.

As I've chronicled here before, relations between Remy and Kirby have been a bit strained. If they're together, they're wrestling. At least that's how it has been pretty much ever since we brought Remy home. We've tried force -- pulling the dogs apart, telling them "leave it!" or "stop it!" but sometimes the grabbing and forceful words just seem to reinforce the fighting mood. Only a human-imposed segregation of the two dogs has allowed us peace for any extended period of time.

On Friday I was on puppy duty. (Jamie and I have been taking turns watching Remy and working downstairs while the other person works in their office upstairs with Kirby. Remy has a crate, but since we both work from home, we are afforded the opportunity to not have the little guy in a crate all day.)

Anyway... it was a day when we both really needed to work from our upstairs offices. I decided to go ahead and have both Remy and Kirby in the office with me. Of course, immediately there was a Tasmanian-devil-meets-Iowa-tornado-like whirling mass of rolling, growling, biting scruffiness happening under my desk. It wasn't long before I'd had enough. I went and got a spray bottle and a bag of little treats. I came back to my desk where the war raged on and gave them both a spritz. Immediately things fell shockingly silent. From under the desk there were four eyes focused on me, shining from from disheveled little faces, both wearing expressions of WTF?!?

Ten seconds later the wrestling started again. Another spray. WTF?!? After the third spray things were quiet a bit longer. I gave them both treats. Whoa. Treats! This process went on, with treats applied for calmness, until, I'm shocked to report, they each staked out a spot and took a nap. In the same room.  It was almost unbelievable...especially given that the spray bottle was just a mister I use for ironing.

That night we had both of them up on the blanket-covered couch together and they slept through an entire movie...side by side. Touching even. The spray bottle and treats (liberally applied for good behavior) were sitting on the coffee table. Again, an almost unbelievable turnaround.

We've now done this every evening since and it seems to be sticking. It seems rather silly to say this, but ever since we brought Remy home (and even before), I've dreamed of having the two dogs stretched out with me on the couch as we watched a movie. It's never happened before, so this is HUGE for me. 

Yesterday, while Remy napped in my office, I caught Kirby licking Remy's face and ears -- just like he used to do with Baxter -- and Remy seemed to like it. I think they genuinely enjoy each other's company, even if they have odd ways of showing it. And now that they know they can be together without fighting, they seem to rather like it. It's as if they've been given permission NOT to fight sometimes.

This is a pretty good testament to positive reinforcement -- rewarding positive behavior and applying just enough correction so the dogs know what's expected of them. Now it becomes a matter of motivation and choices...

A few days into this I'm finding the spray bottle/treat combo doesn't ALWAYS work. Remy and Kirby both understand the carrot and the stick aspect very well now. But sometimes the urge to wrestle is just greater than either of those options. I realize these guys need time to play and it would be wrong to expect them to never play together, even if the play seems a bit rough at times.

So now we're trying to dole out sanctioned play time. Of course, once they get into the fervor  of it, it's rather difficult to get them to stop. It's a learning process. And it's not fool-proof. I did have a harder time managing the under-desk wrestling today. The spray/treat combo was working at first, but not for as long at a time.

I asked myself what was different?  I think part of it is Remy has decided that he doesn't mind the spritz so much. (He is a water dog, after all, and he's also a fast that initial element of surprise didn't last long.)  But, moreso, I think it's because it was a blustery day and we didn't get Remy out for very much exercise. The little dude just HAS to get his gonzo puppy energy out somewhere and, at 5 months old, he has a lot of gonzo puppy energy. Today was evidence that at least part of the trick to maintaining the peace on the home front is having a tired puppy.

Note to self: weathering the storm outside means not weathering a dog tornado inside for the rest of the day.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Potty Bells and Big Buts

Potty bells. They really do work. A bell placed near the door will help your puppy train you.

Some of you may remember our experiences housetraining Kirby with the little hotel bell from the office supply store. We tried this, but Remy (aka Bigfoot) just wasn't having luck getting the little bell to ring effectively, so we instead hung one of those dangling ribbons of bells on the front door. I swear, Remy picked up the general idea in about two outings to the yard and he's been consistently using the bells now for several weeks. Just knowing when the puppy has to go to the bathroom -- and knowing that the puppy knows when he has to go to the bathroom -- is a huge relief compared to the guesswork of early puppy housetraining.

I guess these stories always come with a big but... (thank you Pee Wee Herman).

Remy has decided that the bells have trained his humans quite well and that we are now ready to move on to using the bells as a way to communicate his more sophisticated desires, such as:

  • RING! I need you to open the gate so Kirby can come down and wrestle with me.
  • RING! I need you to close your laptop and play with me. Now.
  • RING! You have just started watching  another interminably long DVD and I'm bored to tears.
  • RING! It has been at least 10 minutes since you last stopped the interminably long DVD, said some words I didn't quite recognize and took me outside, so it's time to go again. Have I mentioned I'm bored to tears?
  • RING! There you go saying those words again. I don't think I like them. I don't have to pee, but it smells really interesting outside. Did I see a little black and white striped "kitty" out there last time? I think I did.
  • RING! Have I mentioned I'm bored? I have at least seven toys sitting in front of me but you are just so busy doing something else...I feel like we need to connect. Really, we do. And you have opposable thumbs and can turn the doorknob...
It worked for a while. Remy had us jumping EVERY TIME. For weeks. Now methinks he has "rung wolf" a few too many times. We're not falling for it anymore. Remy is not pleased. If we've taken him outside in the last 15 minutes and we see him pacing back and forth, looking bored, and we hear the bell again, we just say "no Remy, not this time." 

After a couple of these attempts at ringing to no avail, the other day Remy started ringing and then barking when he really had to go. Perhaps this is a good thing. Now a ring means "I want something" and a ring with a sharp "woof" means I REALLY have to go outside.

What's next? 

Sometimes I feel like a dog butler.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Separation Whining and a Moment of Bliss

We have been blessed with dogs that do not suffer from separation anxiety, and little Remy shows no signs of developing it. He doesn't particularly relish being left in his crate when we step out of the house for a short time. He whines a bit at first (we listen from outside), but he quickly settles down to a nap. From day one, on the trip home from California, Remy has known that his crate is his safe place -- whether in the car, in the living room or in the bedroom. And when he's in it, he knows we will come back. I think this gives him comfort. It certainly did for Baxter and for Kirby starting from puppyhood.

Today's separation whining is mine. All mine. The dogs don't know I'm leaving for a couple of days.  My husband, Jamie, will be home to take care of them, so I'm not worried about that aspect.  He does the lion's share of the dog feeding, walking and puppy watching while I'm working upstairs in my home office during the day anyway (even though it has forced Jamie to adapt our kitchen into a makeshift art studio). I think they might miss me a little, dogs and husband, but I'm not really worried about that either. I will miss them all. And I rather look forward to the enthusiastic greetings I know I will receive when I get home.

No, this whining and vague hint of anxiety is about two things: 1) feeling guilty about leaving poor Jamie with 24/7 puppy duty for the whole weekend and 2) realizing that I've never been away from Remy for more than a few short hours at a time.

As I sit here on the sofa this morning, knowing I have a ton of things to do: packing, shopping, prepping food (this is a women's choir retreat and food is second only to music), I realize how very content I am to be here right now, in the early morning, sitting on the sofa writing on my laptop with little Remy curled up by my side chewing on a toy. He has positioned himself so that his back touches my elbow, like an extension of me. He feels me typing and I feel him chewing. This is bliss.

For me, sharing a quiet moment with a dog is often richer than sharing a quiet moment alone. There is a calmness that emanates from a dog -- even a puppy at times -- that is far more still and settled than my own, overly-busy mind. The dog brings a warmth, a solidity, a connection to the Earth that I, as a human, can too easily lose track of.  Right now, in this quiet, morning moment, Remy and I expect nothing of each other other than just being here.

And that is what I will miss the most this weekend.