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News: Guest Posts
Tip Sheet: Hiring A Dog-Sitter
Traveling this holiday? Reserve your dog-sitter now.

My nephews are two of the best things to happen to my dogs and me in the past couple years. These responsible, compassionate, dog-loving 20-somethings settled in Seattle after college and have so far proven willing and eager to house- and dog-sit pretty much every time we ask. A cloud of worry and stress has lifted. Anyone who has more than one dog or a dog with special needs—such as separation anxiety—will understand the challenge of finding a sitter you and the pups trust and adore. And that’s the goal, right?

If not for Tyson and JB, I’d be starting to get a pit in my stomach about now—with holiday travel plans cranking up. Mind you, that doesn’t mean I’d get a jump on the problem; I generally exacerbate my troubles by procrastinating. So this is a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-normally-do tips list for selecting a dog sitter.

1. Get a move on. Land the sitter of your dreams by booking early. (You are not the only person who needs a sitter during the holidays.)

2. Interview several sitters to find the best fit for your needs. Ask your veterinarian, dog trainer, agility coach, friends at the dog park, even the pros at your pet supply shop for recommendations. The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPSS) provides a nationwide referral network searchable by zip code.

3. Ask for each sitter’s references—and call them. Slick websites and display ads in phone directories can be deceiving. The only way you can gauge a sitter is past performance. Not only will you cull the bad seeds but talking to happy clients will increase your confidence when you’re away from home.

4. Be clear about your expectations. Don’t be afraid to say you want the sitter around for a certain number of hours a day or expect your dog to be walked for two hours or brushed before bed, read to … whatever. It’s your dime.

5. Walk together with the dogs. How is your perspective sitter interacting well with your dog or dogs? Are they enjoying their time with the sitter? This is a good time to talk over your dog’s special needs or challenges.

6. Tour the house together. Remember, these pros will be living in your home. Let them know what’s off limits and what you expect in terms of the house responsibilities, such as collecting mail, putting out garbage, shoveling snow, etc., and emergency procedures, such as turning off the water and gas or disarming the burglar alarm.

7. Leave clear instructions for the house and animals (feeding, medication, etc.), including your vet’s contact information, the closest 24-hour ER vet and back-up assistance. (Be sure your backups know they will be on call.)

8. Request proof of bonding or liability insurance coverage. This is also a good indicator of how professional your sitter really is.

9. Establish all the fees in advance. Another advantage of interviewing several sitters is that it provides a good sense of the going rate in your area for pet-sitting.

10. Stay in touch. Ask if your sitter has any routines for providing status reports via email, text or online. iPhone-toting dog walkers or sitters can manually file reports of your dog’s business via the DogiDuty application. Or you can verify your pup’s daily routine with a SNIF digital dog tag, which will automatically upload a log of your dog’s activities—from napping to sprinting—to an online profile.

News: Guest Posts
Life with an Autism Service Dog
Part I: Getting started

It started with a crazy longing for a dog. We don’t need a dog. We already have three cats and our children are high-need. Our daughter has Asperger’s (a high-functioning form of autism) and our son has autoimmune issues. My hands are quite full, but somehow I’d find myself looking at petfinder.com, or the Greyhound rescue sites, or the Golden Retriever rescue sites. I’d stare longingly at the faces in need of adoption. I’d send their photos to my husband’s e-mail at work. He’d e-mail back, “We don’t need a dog.”  I knew he was right.

Then, about a year ago, I was asked to review the book A Friend Like Henry by Nuala Gardener. It is about a boy with autism and the amazing gains he made with his Golden Retriever by his side. My wheels started to turn. Is it possible a dog could help with the intense meltdowns our daughter experiences when she becomes overwhelmed? Is she “autistic enough” for a service dog? With the encouragement of fellow bloggers I checked it out and found 4 Paws for Ability. It is one of the only organizations in the country that places service dogs with children under 18, and yes, they do train dogs for children with Asperger’s.

4 Paws for Ability does not let people purchase service dogs. Each family must fund raise between $11,000 and $14,000 depending on what the dog will be trained to do. The dogs receive between 400 and 600 hours of training before being placed with a family. The families must also be trained and are required to attend a ten-day session in Xenia, Ohio, where 4 Paws is located.  

We thought it would take at least a year to raise the funds, but once my husband and I got over our pride and asked for help, the money came pouring in. Musician friends altruistically performed a benefit concert in our hometown in upstate New York. Friends, neighbors and a local church made generous donations. The power of the Internet was lassoed and virtual friends who’d followed my blog came out of the woodwork to donate money. One blogger friend organized a fund-raising autism/mommy blogger dinner in Boston with author John Elder Robison who wrote a book about growing up with undiagnosed Asperger’s. 

To our amazement, we raised $11,000 in less than two months. The goodness of people is overwhelming.

Then came the waiting. For ten months we didn't know who our dog would be. In the meantime, we had to videotape Riley’s meltdowns and send the tapes off to 4 Paws. As the time drew near, they studied the tapes and matched her with the perfect dog for her.

Jingle is her name-o! We met her this week. She is an adorable Australian Shepherd/Boxer mix and we are here in Xenia, Ohio, in the middle of training. I’m typing this from our hotel room. (Yes, we bring the dog back to the hotel with us every night for ten days!)

I'll be blogging throughout the training, and will continue to tell our service dog story at my blog Full-Soul-Ahead! It is a thrill for me that The Bark will be featuring some of these posts on its website. We hope you will join us for this incredible ride.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Is It Okay To Drink And Bark?
Many wineries welcome dogs

Hotels have become more dog friendly, and so have many businesses. Years ago it was rare to walk into a store to be greeted by a dog, but now it’s unremarkable. More and more people are bringing their dogs to work, and they are more common visitors at hospitals, schools, and rehab centers.

Still, it represents a big advance that so many wineries have resident dogs or welcome visitors with their own dogs in tow. In the October 2009 issue of Diablo Magazine, wineries in Northern California that welcome dogs are highlighted. How much nicer is it to take your dog with you for a relaxing weekend in the wine country than to go alone. When you can bring your dog and drink wine, you have found a place where life is good!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Big Even For a Great Dane
George might be the world’s largest dog.

My sister is about an inch shy of six feet and people regularly tell her that she is tall. A lifetime of handling this rudeness (Would you go up to a woman who is five feet tall and proclaim, “You’re short!”?) has yielded many witty replies, but my favorite is, “Well, I’m definitely not shopping in the petite section.” That’s all I could think of when I read about George, whose owners are trying to get him in the Guiness Book of World Records as the world’s largest dog. At 42 inches tall and 245 pounds, he is most definitely NOT shopping there either.

Great Danes are the dogs of my childhood and I am quite fond of them. I love the way they sit on couches (and laps!) in a posture that few breeds can assume. I enjoy the way they clear the coffee table with one wag of those whip-like tails. I love the galloping gait they have and the specific shapes of their massive paws.

The dogs we know as young children stay with us forever. I cannot help myself—I must go meet every Great Dane I see. (Occasionally I am able to resist meeting dogs of other breeds, but not often. And with Great Danes, never!) Does anybody else feel a particular affinity to a certain breed, even if, like me, you don’t currently have one in your home?

News: Guest Posts
Tell Us Your Love Stories
Do dogs bring us closer to our fellow humans?

In his essay for The New York Times “Modern Love” column on Sunday, Bob Morris described how a nine-pound longhaired miniature Dachshund souped up his love life. What is wonderful about the story is that Morris doesn’t end with simply describing his newfound canine affection, he makes an important extrapolation: His love for Zoloft (the pup's name), as well as his partner’s love for same, has combined for more love all around. Any fears over competing for love have dissolved in a rising tide of devotion.

My husband once described how his family’s first dog had a similar impact. An effusive Golden Retriever named Minnie wiggled and wagged her way past the family’s Minnesota reserve until the outward expression of love became a little easier for everyone.

All this got us at The Bark wondering about how dogs bring people together or enhance existing relationships among humans. Have you seen canine cupids at work? We’d love to hear your stories and may include our favorites in a piece for the magazine. Post your story below.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dining with the Whole Family
Searching for dog friendly restaurants is becoming easier for pet lovers.

I’ve always envied Parisian restaurants where you can dine with your furry companions, a practice banned stateside by our health codes. Eating with my pups is one of my favorite warm weather activities, although I’ve braved the cold many times to enjoy a meal with the whole family!

I’m always on the lookout for good restaurants with decks or sidewalk spaces, although not even all places with outdoor seating allow pets. Once I was even asked to tie my pups to a tree across the sidewalk. Needless to say, I didn’t eat there!

Online reservation website, Open Table, recently published a list of the best pet-friendly restaurants, compiled from user reviews. They included several in New York City, but left out two of my favorites -- Fred’s, named after a Labrador and whose customers’ dog photos adorn every free space on the walls, and Fetch, host of weekend adoption events and whose walls feature homeless canines.

I’ve also been able to find restaurants by searching “pet friendly” on Yelp’s message boards and by looking through Citysearch’s reviews. DogFriendly.com and PetFriendlyTravel.com also maintain databases of eateries that welcome pups.

Do you have favorite restaurants that welcome your four legged crew?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Find Your Dog A Date
Matchmaking for canines

I once introduced a friend of mine to my roommate because I felt so strongly that they would like each other. Now that they’ve been married for six years and have two kids, I still consider my matchmaking success with them to be among the biggest accomplishments of my life. Her dog even fell in love with him, so the happiness was complete all around. (This couple happens to be in a picture together that I took in the photo section of Patricia McConnell's book The Other End of the Leash. It shows them kissing to illustrate that this is a primate form of affection and very different from the ways that dogs express affection.)

The urge to make introductions runs strong in many people, but perhaps never more so than in the case of Mike D’Elena, who started the site FindMyDogADate.com. When his roommate moved out and took his own dog with him, Mike’s dog Mika was left missing her best canine friend. Rather than have her continue moping about the house, Mike tried to find her some new playmates by asking neighbors, making phone calls and using Craig’s list, but he had no luck. A few months later, his new website was born out of necessity.

The site, based in Phoenix, Ariz., already has hundreds of dogs registered. Using the free site, people can find companions for their dogs by searching for dog buddies based on size, breed, personality and what activities they are looking to share. Whether someone is seeking hiking or walking companions or another dog for vigorous romping, FindMyDogADate.com just may provide a link to that perfect partner.

So many human couples have met online in recent years. It’s about time dogs had that same opportunity.

News: Guest Posts
Surprise! It’s a Boy! Can You Afford Him?
The nuts and bolts of budgeting for a pet.

Sometimes these things just happen.

In my case, I was leaving the park on a Saturday evening in August. The clouds stretched flat in the warm turning light. I felt relaxed, healthy, happy. A man approached. His smile was friendly and he was sipping a cocktail. A black puppy hopped behind him.

I was done for.

I held the park gate open for the man and the little lab. Then, I found myself waving goodbye as the man walked away. “I found him around the corner,” he said. “I’ve done my part.” His smile turned sheepish.

I didn’t want to leave the little guy to fend for himself. So I brought him home, gave him a flea bath, and posted a message on Craigslist. No one responded. A few days later we went to the vet. “I don’t think you’re going to find his owner,” she said. “It looks like he was dumped.” He had worms, a skin condition, and an eye infection.  

A few weeks later, the pup is still here. My two year old dog, Charlie, seems to like him. My landlord said he could stay if we put down an additional security deposit. Labs puppies "are rough on the wood floors and on the gallery deck,” he said. Lab puppies are also pretty good cuddlers. I’m sending the check this week.

It will be one of a number of hefty checks I’ve written for the little guy. Puppies are costly surprises. But like I said, sometimes these things happen. In an effort to help anyone else considering a new pet, I’ve put together a few steps to help you figure out how a pet will fit into your budget.

While many of us don’t wholly base our decisions to expand our families (or not) on finances, it’s important to understand how a pet will impact your budget. By doing so, you can make sure you’re prepared for the unexpected – say your dog swallows his plastic toys or you lose your job. Your relationship will be healthier for it.

  • Estimate the one-time “start-up” costs and the ongoing “maintenance” costs of the pet. These costs vary depending on the type of pet, the size, and its health. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals published an easy to read chart that estimates the costs of adopting pets. They estimate that a medium sized dog will incur $565 in capital costs such as neutering, training, collars and leashes. But the figure will be much higher if your dog has any health issues. The ASPCA estimates the same dog will also cost about $695 a year in annual upkeep. (All said, that’s $1,580 in the first year as long as there aren't any major health issues.)
  • Slot those annual numbers into your budget. Sit down with your budget and create a line item for your first year pet costs and ongoing costs. See if you can trim other areas of spending so that your savings line isn’t affected. Maybe you don’t need that gym membership if you’re going to start running with your dog? Be realistic. If a pet is going to stress your budget to a point of major discomfort, you’re probably not the best match. (I know, it’s hard to hear.) Don’t have a budget? Quicken provides a free budgeting tool here. Or check out this cash flow worksheet that Martin Hopkins put together. Plug in your numbers, add a line for your pet-to-be, and see how your future cash flow is affected.
  • Prepare for unexpected surprises. Consider pet insurance or an emergency fund. Remember that puppies chew, cats claw, and fleas descend. Make sure you’re prepared for the unexpected by signing up for pet insurance or by building up an emergency fund. You don’t want to get stuck charging a four-figure vet bill to your credit card.
  • If the numbers aren’t adding up, make reasonable decisions. Often times, our hearts are bigger than our wallets. You could do an animal more harm by bringing him into an ill-fitted environment. Think carefully about whether the decision to adopt is best for both of you. The ASPCA recommends asking yourself these 10 questions. And if you ever find yourself in a financial bind, The Humane Society of the United States provides a list of resources for people who need financial help with a pet here.
  • News: Guest Posts
    What If Your Dogs Outlive You?
    Tragedy leaves four dogs grieving and homeless.

    This past Labor Day, suburban Chicago couple Mike and Sue Kelm went for a motorcycle ride. Sue had been battling cancer and was scheduled for surgery later that week. She usually didn't ride with her husband, but it seemed like a nice way to enjoy some time together on a beautiful, warm day. Tragically, a car pulling out of a gas station hit and killed them, leaving behind their beloved pack of dogs. The Kelms did not have children of their own; their niece, Kim Mayer, said her aunt and uncle's four dogs--Lab mixes Anacortes, Tacoma and Everett, and Husky mix Cedonia--"were their children."

     

    In the event of their death, it was the Kelms' wish that all four dogs be kept together. Unfortunately, none of their relatives or friends are in a position to do so and they are seeking help from the dog lover community. The dogs are currently in the care of Chicago Canine Club, a doggie daycare facility in Burr Ridge, IL. If you or someone you know would be interested in helping the Kelm pack stay together, please contact Kathy Deets at the Chicago Canine Club at (708) 542-8969 or Kathy@chicagocanineclub.com. Or contact Kim Mayer at (815) 272-4583 or mayerdnk72@hotmail.com.

     

    I always tell my husband that we need to make plans for our five dogs and two cats should something ever happen to us. But we never do; we make excuses, saying that we're only in our 30s or assume that our family members will take in our zoo, so why bother with paperwork? I know we need to do it. What provisions have you made for your animals in case you can no longer care for them? What is your advice for people (like me!) who have not done the same? 

    News: Guest Posts
    Dogs As Stimulus?
    A relief package with four paws and a tail.

    Only weeks after we blogged about some Oregonians’ efforts to rollback what they consider a too-dog-friendly attitude in stores, a Southern California community is heading in the opposite direction. Merchants in Escondido, Calif., want to welcome dogs into downtown shops (and a park where dogs are currently banned) in the hopes it will spur traffic and sales in a down market.

    Will it work? While a day shopping with my dogs isn’t my idea of a good time, I would like to be able to combine dog-walking with errands. What stops me now? Leaving my dogs tethered on the sidewalk. Plus, I’m guessing there might be a loyalty bonus. I know I feel a certain allegiance to shops and shopkeepers who demonstrate a little dog love. The coffee joint on my regular morning loop, Café Javasti (plug intended), has fresh water in a bowl, treats behind the counter and one barista who, when business is slow, delivers snacks to my waiting hounds herself. The espresso is good, which is important, but dog-love is an equal draw for me, even when it’s being showered on someone else’s buddies.

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