Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Meet HOTLR's Scuba!!!

On February 21st, I attended a meet 'n greet at President Margaret Huston's house. Most of you familiar with HOTLR know how a meet 'n greet works. Potential adoptive families are matched with 2 - 3 dogs available for adoption and hopefully find the perfect fit for their family.

We had 8 families meet about 10 different dogs on Sunday. Meet 'n greet's are fun, exhausting and chaotic, but I guarantee if you've ever been to one, you're pretty much smiling and laughing the whole day.

I've done several meet 'n greets as a volunteer. Sometimes I come because my foster is "showing" that day. Sometimes I come just to help out. It's another great way to get to know some of the dogs in the program too.

Everyone laughs at me, because I fall in love with all the dogs in the HOTLR program. Maybe it's because they each have a story to tell that we will never fully know. Maybe it's because I often participate in the shelter checks and I see the dogs in the cages at the shelters, how pitiful, broken and sad they seem. Then after entering the HOTLR program, I get to see how they come out of their shells and begin to trust in humans again, eventually becoming a part of a new wonderful family. Watching this change touches me every time no matter how many doggy success stories I witness.

Right now there is a little dude I can't get out of my mind. It's Scuba, so named because his shelter card said that he loves water. Scuba is probably a classic victim of "Black Dog Syndrome". Black dogs are routinely passed over at shelters and rescue programs in favor of lighter colored dogs. It's a real documented problem. We picked him up about a month ago at the Waco Animal Shelter. He'd been there since early November having been transferred in from another shelter. Who knows how long he'd been at the previous place. They had placed him in a back corner cage where he sort of melted into the shadows of his kennel.

He hardly greeted us and would not make eye contact. He was emaciated, probably the skinniest guy I'd seen. I knew we were his last chance. I knew he didn't have long. He was going to die of malnutrition or the shelter would soon deem him unadoptable because his spirit had been broken. He had quit trusting in humans and wouldn't engage with them even if they did stop by his cage.

We took him out and looked at him anyway. We pulled his tail, looked at his teeth, talked to him, petted him. Ultimately, we felt he would blossom in the right situation and we pulled him and added him to the program. He's at Canine Hilton right now. He's getting some training and he has started eating again. He's beginning to fill out from the neck down but it will take a little more time before he is fully fit. He has a gorgeous head and face. When he fills out, in my opinion he will be a truly beautiful Lab.

Yet, he still has some rough edges. He definitely needs to be potty trained. He's most likely never been in a house before. However, I believe he is a quick learner. As soon as he understands where it's appropriate to go, the problem will be solved. (Neutering will help too.)

He was shown to a large family of 7 on Sunday. He was not intimidated at all. We watched fascinated as he greeted and showed interest in every family member. He stopped in front of each one, sat, sniffed and licked each person, all the while loving the attention. After a few minutes, he moved on to the next family member, exhibiting the same behavior. It seemed he was giving each a chance to get to know him and he them. Later, after they left, he spent a few minutes pacing around the house, then laid his head in my lap for some more attention. Finally he collapsed on the floor next to me, paws crossed, completely relaxed and seemingly at peace with the world. It was a totally normal Lab thing to do. The very thing I'd seen my own dog do thousands of times. It was in that moment that I knew he was going to be okay and just needed a little more time to get things figured out.

Ultimately, the family that visited with Scuba chose another dog better matched to their family. I know it's just a matter of time for Scuba, that he needs to meet the right family, that we did the right thing pulling him from the shelter. It's this feeling, watching the changes that come over the broken souls that we find at the shelters that make me so thankful for this organization. I don't think this feeling will ever get old to me or that stories like Scuba's will ever stop touching me. I can't wait to see the next chapter in Scuba's life.

Right now, he could sure use a foster home. If you'd like to foster Scuba or are interested in adopting him, please visit the HOTLR website at hotlabresue.org.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Crate Advice from a Non-Believer

Dog owners have mixed emotions about crating their dogs. You know what dog crates are (also known as kennels) - those giant boxes that may look to some like mini jail cells. I for one used to be a non-believer. However, years ago I flip-flopped my belief when my husband "won" custody of a Beagle version of "Dennis the Menace" from his previous marriage. The exploits of Bonnie (yes, she was a girl) deserve a blog all to themselves , but suffice it to say that Bonnie and I had many stand-offs in which I (and my house) came out the loser.

So, we had no choice but to use the crate. Since then I've crated my last four dogs and every foster that has come into my home. Cayman is my 12 year old yellow male. When he was a puppy he ate a garden hose, a tennis ball, the rubber rim from around his food bowl, numerous toys and some twine. He's had exploratory surgery 3 times to remove many of the items listed above from his stomach. Since using the crate, the incidences of surgery from ingesting foreign objects have decreased dramatically - like to zero. From my perspective, when the dog is in the crate, know that the dog is safe and my stuff is safe from the dog.

Crates are great for potty training dogs too. Dogs are pretty smart. They don't like to sit in their own mess. Just make sure that the crate is small enough that if they do "mess" in their crate, there isn't an easy way for them to get away from it. They learn pretty fast that "hey, if I 'go' in here, I'm stuck in here with this mess and it's stuck in here with me until my parents get home". I promise, it doesn't take long for them to learn there are better places to go.

You can buy crates at almost any pet supply store. They come in many shapes and sizes, and are made out of many different types of materials. Some are so nice that you might mistake them for an end table in someone's living room. Others are made from canvas and look like they came from REI or Orvis, complete with screened in doors and windows and stakes for planting them in the ground if you go camping. You want to make sure that your dog can stand up and turnaround in which ever size you choose.

Most recently I purchased two really nice crates from Costco. They came with nice padded beds that fit the floor inside. They also collapse so that when they aren't in use, you can hide them under a bed or in a closet. I won't lie, they aren't cheap. Especially when you are buying for a larger breed like a Labrador. But you can buy about 12 crates at Costco for the cost of one exploratory surgery. So, they might end up paying for themselves many times over.

Ideally, dogs shouldn't be left in crates for many hours day in and day out, so use your judgment and do the best you can based on your work schedule. Place a nice padded bed or blanket in the crate. Sometimes I sleep with a blanket or towel for a few nights and then put it in the crate with one of my new foster dogs, so it smells familiar.

Introduce your dog slowly by placing the crate in an active area of the home where he won't be alone. Leave the door open and let him investigate it. Feed him in there. After several days of feeding him in there, shut the door while he eats and open it after he finishes. After he gets used to eating in there, leave the door closed for longer and longer periods of time. Toss cookies or treats into the crate to encourage him to go in. Praise him like crazy if he goes in on his own or better yet, if he goes in and lays down.

Of course, there will be resistant craters. My favorite thing for resistant craters is to stuff a Kong with wet dog food (you can mix kibble in there too). Don't be shy. Get the biggest Kong you can find and buy the one made for the REALLY STRONG chewers. Really pack the wet food in there until there is no space to stuff any more. Freeze it and then before you leave, throw the frozen Kong into the crate with your dog. Because the food is frozen (and stuffed in the Kong), it will take a lot of time for your dog to get it all out. It will be challenging and keep him busy while in his crate, plus it provides him with a unique treat easing the discomfort of you leaving. It is important to save the Kong treat for this particular occasion so that your dog will associate this treat with the crate making the crate a more pleasant experience. The Kong can get funky with wet food leftovers, so just chuck it in the top rack of your dishwasher for quick and easy clean up.

Other options you can try for resistant craters are DAP(Dog Appeasing Phermone) available at Petsmart. Also Peaceful Paws is an essential oil that can help calm a dog with separation anxiety or crate anxiety. Last, patience and practice will help your dog become more relaxed and comfortable with crating.

So, give it try. I'm sure glad I did.

Friday, February 5, 2010

February is Doggy Dental Month

Jupiter is a recent addition to the HOTLR family. Ain't he just gorgeous? This picture says to me that dogs most definitely smile. How can we as pet owners ensure that our dog's smile is as beautiful as Jupiter's?

How about giving your pet's mouth a good once over to determine if a tooth cleaning might be in order? Why clean your dog's teeth, do you ask? How about that stinky "doggy breath" just for starters. Wouldn't it be nice to be rid of that? That unpleasant condition is not the fault of your dog, or something you're doing wrong, but there is something you can do about it.

"Doggy breath" (aka "halitosis") is caused by the same exact things that cause bad breath in people. Bacteria, poor oral health or an oral infection can lead to the offensive odor. We have the luxury of brushing our teeth to help rid our mouths of the odor and to help eliminate the bacteria causing the bad breath. But although pet owners can brush their dog's teeth, few of us do.

How do you know if your dog might need a good teeth cleaning? Lift up your dog's lip, check out his teeth, especially the teeth in the back. Do you see any brown, sticky buildup, or worse yet, is one of your dog's teeth broken?

Dogs acquire plaque and tartar buildup just like people. It happens in the course of every day eating and drinking. After a few years, the tartar becomes evident on a dog's teeth by forming a barrier on the tooth and discoloring the tooth. Over time, the bacteria causing the tartar can effect your pet's kidneys, heart and liver. Each time your pet eats, drinks or swallows, they are swallowing some of this harmful bacteria.

Broken teeth can cause abscesses which can lead to infections in the mouth eroding the underlying gum tissue and bone structure. You can bet if your dog has a broken tooth, he is experiencing pain every time he eats or chews. Eating crunchy kibble and chewing on bones, ropes and other veterinarian approved chew toys aids in removing plaque from the teeth. Therefore, having a healthy pain-free mouth will also help to make sure it stays that way.

Well, what's a dog owner to do? Take him to the vet, of course and have an oral exam done by your veterinarian. Your vet can then recommend treatment and tell you if a teeth cleaning is in order. The beautiful thing about dental month is that many veterinary practitioners are offering discounts for dental cleaning this month. So give your vet a call, and check it out.

For more information on doggy dental disease check out February is Pet Dental Month at Petplace.com.