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News: Guest Posts
Extreme Pet-Proofing
Beyond bitter spray and baby gates

Before adopting my first dog, I did what any soon-to-be dog parent would do, I pet-proofed my home. I was vigilant. Exposed electrical cords were tucked out of sight, my favorite white shag rug was Scotchgarded and put in a room where my dog would never go without supervision, and I bought a baby gate for confining him in the kitchen when I was out. I felt extremely satisfied with my preparation, and thought about what an excellent dog parent I would be. Perhaps it was hubris, but God or the universe or whoever decided that no matter how hard I tried to pet-proof my home, I would be given a dog that would constantly prove me wrong.

  My first dog, Skipper, was a breeze to pet-proof for, although he did show me he could easily jump over the 3-foot baby gate. Then came Leo. Problems that had never seen imaginable suddenly needed to be addressed immediately, such as the fact that Leo can scale vertical chain-link fences like Spiderman. Or the reality that even though my fence goes several feet underground, Leo will dig like he’s Tim Robbins in the Shawshank Redemption until he is free. Containing Leo has been like plugging a cartoon water leak: Once one rupture is stopped, another pops up out of nowhere, then another, and I’m left scrambling to fix them all at once.   Leo seemed to know no limits or bounds, until finally he went too far. One rainy afternoon, he tried to follow me outside and down the stairs leading to the garage. I closed the wooden gate at the top of the stairs, and told him to stay. When I got into my car, Leo was in the backyard and I assumed he would use the dog door to go back into the house. Instead, he scaled the gate (with his aforementioned Spiderman abilities), slipped and fell down the flight of stairs. I returned home an hour later, entering through the front door and not immediately seeing Leo. It seemed strange. I couldn’t find him anywhere in the house, so I panicked and went to the backyard, imagining he had escaped. Then, I spotted him. Leo was at the bottom of the stairway to the garage, shivering. My heart broke. I felt that in spite of my efforts, I had failed. Though Leo wasn’t seriously injured, he sprained three ankles and scraped the front of his face. We were lucky, as his injuries could have been much worse. After taking him to the vet and confirming he would make a full recovery, Leo spent the next few days curled up in a ball on the couch, seeming to consider what he had done.   Though it’s been challenging to pet-proof my home, I think we’ve finally reached an understanding. For me, pet-proofing is not about creating impossible challenges for the dogs to defeat (because my dogs have proved time and again that nothing is impossible for them) and it’s not really about protecting my property (no matter how much I love that rug), but instead it’s about ensuring the protection of what is truly important—my dogs. And they seem to recognize I put in place to keep them safe and comfortable, even if one of them had to learn this the hard way.

 

News: Guest Posts
Celebrate Canine Roommates
Help a dedicated dog person win $10,000+

Two wonderful pups—the delightfully verbal Charlie and a trick-happy rescue named Abby—have made it into the group of ten finalists in Apartments.com’s Roommate of the Year Contest. I blogged about this video competition in May because, well, I was impressed by the more-than-decent prize—your rent paid for one year plus $10,000. You could raise a lot of dog-centric fun with that kind of dough. And I figured since dogs really do make fabu roommates, who wouldn’t want to tell the world about it?

  What I love about the submissions by Kathryn McGonigle (with Charlie) and Suzanne Marshall (with Abby) is how well cared for and engaged their dogs appear to be.   Check out all the finalists—there are pitches for two-legged roommates as well, whatever—and vote once daily for your favorite through July 30.

 

News: Guest Posts
A Girl and Her Dogs
Karaoke vs. hula hoops

Even from a young age, I was convinced my life would not be absolutely complete until I had a dog to call my own. Now, at 24 with two dogs, I can tell you that in many ways it is complete and also complicated! My rite of passage into adulthood began when I adopted my first dog a few years ago, a small Schipperke mix who the rescue aptly named “Skipper.” To me, Skipper meant I never would have to come home to an empty house, I would always have someone to take to the park, and perhaps most importantly, I would always have someone to secretly watch Lifetime Original Movies with who wouldn’t judge me when I cried (or at least wouldn’t say anything). Nearly a year later, Skipper’s rescue contacted me to let me know they had another Schipperke, which is how Leo joined our family.

As a young adult, my social life has changed dramatically as a result of being a dog owner. I don’t have the same “freedom” I once had. I can’t just crash at a friend’s house in San Francisco. I can’t be gone all day and then head out for the night. I have to be home for my dogs. Initially, it was painfully apparent that I had sacrificed something to be a dog owner. If I were invited out to karaoke, before I could even consider which sequin dress to wear, I’d realize that I had been at work all day and probably should stay home. Some might say I’m punishing the world by not sharing my life-changing rendition of Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance with Somebody with the public. So be it. Sometimes it’s more important to stay home and teach your dogs to jump through a hula-hoop. 

Today, I have adjusted fully to being a dog owner. A typical Saturday afternoon now consists of my boyfriend and I lounging on the sofa with the dogs after a long hike. We ponder important and life-altering questions like: If celebrities were dogs, which dogs would they be? Meryl Streep would be a Saluki. Tom Hanks would be a Cocker Spaniel. Fabio would be an Afghan Hound—no question. To our friends who don’t have dogs, these types of afternoons seem pointless and borderline insane, but to us it’s just part of being a dog lover.

Though there are drastic lifestyle changes that come with having dogs, there are major benefits too—we have a lot more dance parties at my house after we discovered Leo loves dancing! I don’t need to invest in one of those robot-vacuums, because the dogs will immediately inhale any scraps of food I drop (except those which are poisonous to dogs, of course!). And I didn’t know it was possible to have that much fun at a beach until I got the dogs. This is my life now; while it involves scooping poop and often staying in on Friday nights, the amount of joy and fulfillment these dogs have brought into my life has changed me more than any number of Toga parties could. It took some getting used to, but now I can’t remember life before the dogs and I don’t know if I care to.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs on Campus
More and more colleges allow pets in dorms

As the school year comes to a close, graduating high school seniors are busy getting ready to depart for the next step in their lives. This year more students than ever are planning to move on campus with their dogs. At Stephens College, 30 incoming freshmen will be coming this fall with family pets, a 20 percent increase over last year. The students will be welcomed to a special dorm, called Pet Central, that has a makeshift kennel with temporary boarding services.

Stephens College has allowed pets since 2003 and believes that animals ease the transition to school life. And they’re not alone. Other schools that welcome pets include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Eckerd College, and Washington & Jefferson College.

However, some worry that taking a pet to college could actually have the opposite effect, serving as a Band-Aid for social or mental problems. Others are skeptical that teenagers are responsible enough to care for an animal in a dorm’s crazy environment.

To compensate for the later, colleges have come up with many checks and balances. For instance, Stephens, Eckerd, and Washington & Jefferson have groups of students and faculty members who enforce guidelines that ensure proper care. Last year two students at Stephens College lost their dog privileges after the Pet Council decided that they were not taking proper care of their pets.

I have mixed feelings about allowing pets on campus. I know many people who decided to live off campus in order to keep their dogs and I would’ve loved to have had a dog at school. However, a dorm may not be the best home for a pet. I wonder where those two dogs went that were evicted from the Stephens College dorm.

Certainly there are many college students capable of handling the responsibility of an animal, but there are many that are not. It would be wonderful if these colleges required obedience or agility classes to ensure that the dogs are getting enough mental stimulation, but it sounds like they’ve put a lot of thought into their pet programs, which are still evolving.

What’s your take? Did you have a pet at school?

News: Guest Posts
Lady and the Tramp Mentality
Washington Post article reinforces purebred vs. mix debate

When Washington Post reporter Monica Hesse contacted me about my AKC/mixed breed blog post, I was flattered and eager to share my thoughts on this controversial decision. Unfortunately, Hesse was on a tight deadline and we never connected for a formal interview. After reading the piece, I was surprised at its "Lady and the Tramp" mentality. From the first sentence, she paints lovely images worthy of any literary novel, yet they reinforce an ignorant stereotype that purebred dogs are superior over mixed breeds. For example, while attending a dog show where both purebreds and mutts, ahem, mix, she compares the "sly Border Collies, whose owners plaster their cars with bumper stickers reading, 'My Border Collie is smarter than your honor student,' to mixed breed Otis, who "might lick his rear end." Talk about a cheap shot! I've got news for Hesse and the general public--purebreds lick their rear ends. And they probably drink out of the toilet, too. It is my fervent hope that the mingling of purebreds and mixes at AKC events will remind us that they are all dogs, regardless of pedigree.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dating with Dogs
One in 14 people have used their pet to attract a mate

Dogs are social by nature, so it’s no surprise that our pets help us make connections with our fellow humans. Dog parks and pet lover dating web sites have become popular places to meet new friends and even spark romantic relationships.

Recently statistics web site, the Book of Odds, calculated the chances that a person has ever used his or her pet to attract a new mate as one in 14.29.

This tactic must be a fairly successful one. If I walk down the streets of Manhattan by myself, no one so much as glances in my direction as they rush to their destinations. When I take my dog for a walk, hardly anyone passes without stopping to give him a pat on the head or, at the very least, smile in our direction.

And I’m not the only one who feels this way. An American Kennel Club (AKC) survey of dog owners found that 46 percent of women said that they would stop to chat with anyone accompanied by a cute puppy.

Meeting a fellow dog lover means you already have something in common. I’ve met some of my closest friends through our pets.

Who have you met through your dogs?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Educating the Future
NJVMA creates a humane education curriculum for N.J. classrooms

When it comes to problems like overcrowded shelters and the proliferation of puppy mills, I believe everything comes down to education. So I was excited to hear that the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association (NJVMA) is offering grants to provide teachers with structured lessons on pet care and animal welfare.

Many animal shelters and therapy groups have humane education programs, but this is the first time I’ve seen such an extensive program integrated into schools. The NJVMA program is a middle level language arts study that incorporates New Jersey Department of Education core curriculum standards in language arts literacy, science, and social studies. The NJVMA will supplement the program with training, classroom speakers, and resources on animal health and welfare.

New Jersey teachers can apply for the 15-lesson curriculum called, Taking Care of Your Community by Taking Care of Your Pets, on the NJVMA website. I believe that this program will help kids understand the importance of this subject and will hopefully inspire these future leaders to explore animal-related careers.Today’s children will dictate how dogs are treated in the future and I’m glad the NJVMA is investing in their education.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Car Safety
How to protect your dog while driving

I recently saw a dog tossed around the back of a vehicle when the driver had to stop suddenly to avoid an accident. Luckily the dog was okay, but many dogs who are not so fortunate are injured in car accidents. The saddest thing to me is that it can be avoided.

  The best ways to protect dogs while they are in cars is with the use of crates, seat belts, or barriers that keep the dogs in the rear part of the vehicle. Even without these specific safety features, keeping dogs in the back seat rather than the front seat and not having them ride around in the back of trucks are ways to protect them from harm.   How do you travel in the car with your dogs? Have you had the misfortune to find out if they are safe in the event of a crash?

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Key West Decides Where Dogs Can Go
New ordinance concerns dogs at restaurants

Dogs in Key West have traditionally gone almost everywhere with their people, and that includes to many restaurants. People dining al fresco with dogs by their feet has long been a common sight on the island. Recently, a fine imposed by a new health inspector has changed this tradition, and dogs have been banned from one of the most popular canine hangouts in town. The Schooner Wharf Bar’s motto is “Hang with the big dogs” but now, dogs of all sizes are not allowed there.

  A change in the current situation is possible, pending a proposed city ordinance that would allow dogs into the outdoor eating areas of restaurants that get a permit, follow the required health and safety requirements, and carry at least a million dollars in liability insurance. Dogs may soon go back to their traditional roles as dining partners on Key West.   Many people, including the mayor, support the ordinance, which simply legalizes the behavior that has been common practice on the island for many years.

 

News: Guest Posts
Ever Lost a Pet?
Technology and the media improve chances of being found

When I opened today’s paper, the front page featured the ecstatic reunion between Denise Shepard and her Boston Terrier Frankie. He had been missing for three months. During that time, the little guy somehow managed to travel 200 miles from his home in Battle Creek, Michigan, to a suburb of Chicago. A tiny microchip in Frankie’s neck allowed this story to have a happy ending.

Of course, I’m thrilled to see pet-owner reunions--we had one with our naughty black cat last summer--but when I read this morning’s headline, I thought, “Really, another one?” It seems like everywhere I look--newspapers, magazines, blogs, TV, Facebook--someone is reuniting with their lost pet. Are there more reunions due to microchips, pet detectives via the Internet, or is it simply more media coverage?

My cynical self knows that human interest stories involving pets sell papers, but is it possible that the mainstream media is recognizing how important our pets are to us? That they are worthy of making the front page because they are beloved family members and not “just” a dog?

Have you ever been reunited with a lost pet? If so, did you use Facebook or the Internet to help with the search? Did the media cover your reunion?
 

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