Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Paws Up for the DOOG Walkie Belt

There are certain perks when your best friend is the Fit City column writer for the Austin American Statesman. You may get roped into running a marathon, or maybe you'll be asked to join her on a relaxing 100 mile mountain bike ride through the West Texas desert. You might find yourself on a 55 mile cruise on your road bike in Van Horn, TX with winds of 35mph and temps in the 40s. It's for sure always an adventure, and I am ALWAYS glad I took part.

The other great perk about your friend, the Fit City writer, is that people are always sending her free stuff in the hopes she will use it and review it. Lots of it is sports related apparel, or supplements, or gadgets. But this is a dog column, so back to the dog stuff. So here goes. Occasionally Pam receives stuff that you can use for your dog, in the hopes that people are actually exercising with their pets. Pam, who doesn't currently have a dog, but is well acquainted with my brood always forwards the dog stuff on to me. Free stuff for my dogs - YIPPEE!!

I received a package in the mail from Pam just the other day with some great stuff in it. When I opened the envelope, I pulled out a dog "walkie belt", a collapsible bowl and some biodegradable, scented dog pooh bags. The company that makes this gear is called DOOG - Dog Owners Outdoor Gear. Started in 2007, by a husband and wife who had grown tired of all the accoutrements one must take when walking dogs (such as leashes, pooh bags, hand wipes, treats, keys, money, etc.), Jaime and Jessica Knight decided to design a product that would allow you to bring all the necessary items with you, but in a compact and organized way.

I had actually seen the "walkie belt" advertised somewhere before, but I thought I was managing fine without one, so didn't see the need to purchase one. But, now that I had one, I might as well try it. Well, let me tell you, I am sold. It is so much more convenient to be able to strap this belt around your waist and take off on your walk with all the things you need right at your fingertips. The belt design has a strap to clip your cell phone to, a velcro pouch with slit in it to easily access your pooh bags, and a zippered pocket for your keys and some cash, your license, etc. On the opposite end of the belt, an additional pouch with slit, makes handy wipes for messy jobs easily accessible. Finally, there is a carbineer attached to the belt for attaching leashes, or hanging your belt on a hook by your door when not in use.

While in general, I like the overall concept and the ease of all the necessary items close at hand, I did find a few flaws in the product. The pouches for holding the plastic pooh bags and handy wipes are small. This means that you must use the DOOG brand bags and wipes in order to reload your belt once you run out of the original supply. The slits in the pockets are small, and it can be a tight fit to get your fingers in there and pull out the bag or wipe that you need. Additionally, while the carbineer is a good idea, I think, I 'd hook a waterbowl or water bottle to it, rather than a leash. It would also be good to hook a bag of treats for those dogs that need to be distracted during a walk. Also, the foldable water bowl itself is a bit cheap and expensive at $12. I believe there are better collapsible water bowls out there for the money, such as those made by Ruff Wear or Planet Dog. However, even with these minor flaws, I do find myself reaching for the belt now each time I take my four pups for a stroll.

The "walkie belt" retails for around $35, but I found it for $17 on Amazon. Amazon also sells the handy wipe and doggy pooh bag refills. I personally think the "walkie belt" is a great deal at half the price and am considering purchasing a few for Christmas gifts. It comes in a variety of colors and styles and is sure to please anyone on your dog lover list.

Is this belt a necessity for a successful walk with your pooch? Surely not, but it does make life a bit easier and more organized. Try one and see if you like it. If you don't, just give it to your best friend!!

During this time of year, we are ever mindful and thankful of our wonderful volunteers and donors who give constantly of their personal time, money and dog supply donations. We have a lot of great dogs in our program right now, so be sure to check out our "Labs Needing Homes" list. If a special dog touches your heart, give a little gift and sponsor them this holiday season. Again, thanks for all you do for HOTLR!!!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Kinder Gentler Way to Take a Walk

Ahh, the cool, crisp days of autumn that I have been longing for have finally arrived. There is nothing I enjoy about autumn more than a steaming mug of coffee in the morning as the sun rises and then leashing up my dogs for a nice long walk.

But it hasn't always been that way. There was a time I dreaded walking my dog. The thought of it made me tremble and my hands began to sweat, and it wasn't because the weather was less than perfect. I hated walking my dog, because I just physically couldn't.

At the time, my 12 year old boy Cayman, was a strapping 2 year old and weighed around 90lbs. Those of you who have met him, know how tall he is (too tall for a "show quality" Lab) and how big he is. There wasn't an ounce of fat on him, not my boy, he was solid muscle. And then there was me. I am 5'1 1/2" on my best day. Being a lady, I won't mention my actual weight, but let's just say that the pounds that separate Cayman and me don't amount to much. Here I had this beautiful, gorgeous dog that I wanted to show off to the world, and yet, I found myself petrified to leave my house with him.

So we went to dog training classes. Those were fun. The first day I showed up with my metal pronged pinch collar and the dog trainer looked at me in disgust and told me not to come back with it. (Now, remember, this was 10 years ago and I didn't know then, what I know now. So please forgive me.) After the end of the first class, she asked me to stay late. She worked with Cayman and me for a few extra minutes, one on one. At the end of our extra session, she had changed her mind and told me to bring the pinch collar back with me to the next class.

Actually, the pinch collar never worked. If anything, it only made him fight me harder on the leash. And the issue, of course, was his pulling. It didn't matter where I wanted to go, we were going where he wanted to go. I always hated the thing anyway. It looked like a medieval torture device, it was hard to get on and off, and let's face it, it's prime objective was to cause him pain.

I was thrilled when Gentle Leader came out with the Halti product. Another dog trainer several years later turned me on to this little gem. I was skeptical at first. How could this little piece of nylon that fit over the nose and head of my dog allow me to walk him easily when a steel pronged pinch collar did not? The Halti is used in much the same way that a horse halter is used. The concept is that when you steer a dog's head, you steer the dog's body and the Gentle Leader Halti headcollar allows you to "steer" your dog. After the first try, I was sold, this product was brilliant and it worked great for me.

There was a bit of a downside however. First, Cayman hated it. Whenever I put it on him, he ran around the house rubbing his face on anything he could. Me, the furniture, the floor, other people, nothing was off limits. He clearly hated wearing the thing. Also, many people we saw on the street would hurry to cross to the other side when they saw us coming. It was only later after I heard someone whisper the word "muzzle" that I figured out that people thought that Cayman was a dangerous dog that required a muzzled to be walked. And last, whenever he went swimming, it seemed that the Halti would rub his nose in places and often leave marks or rub his hair off in spots as if the collar fit too tightly.

Finally, the good people at Premier Pet Products came up with an alternative to the Halti head collar that I believe works even better. The skies opened and the sun shone down on none other then the Gentle Leader Easy Walk Harness. Once again, a third dog trainer turned me on to this next generation product. It is by far, the easiest and best alternative I have ever found to walking a difficult dog and ALL four of my dogs have one even though two of them probably don't really need one. The concept behind the Easy Walk Harness is this: most harnesses attach to the leash on the back of the animal, but the Easy Walk is different as it attaches to the front. This puts gentle pressure on the chest and shoulder blades of your dog directing his/her attention back towards you should they begin to pull. I also like the stability of the product. There is always that chance, however, slight that your dog could slip out of it's collar and leash. Not so easy with the Easy Walk Harness. For me, it just adds an extra layer of stability between me and my dog should we come up on a difficult situation. It is a wonderful, magical, life saving device and I cannot tell you how much I love, love, love this product!!!

The Easy Walk Harness is a familiar site at Heart of Texas Lab Rescue Meet 'n Greets, or social events such as the Barnes and Noble gift wrapping sessions where HOLTLR dogs are invited. If you have trouble walking your Lab (or any dog) or know someone who does, get yourself or your friend an Easy Walk Harness. Either the Halti head collar or the Easy Walk Harness can be bought at your favorite pet supply store. You'll look forward to walks with your dog almost as much as he does, and your dog will thank you for it!!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Day for Celebration!!

There are 3 very important days in a HOTLR rescue dog's life. They are as follows:

1) The day they are pulled from the shelter and are officially accepted into the Heart of Texas Labrador adoption program.

2) The day they are chosen by their forever families and leave us for their new lives healthy, happy and whole.

3) The day they complete their heartworm treatment.

On each of these days, I find myself saying the same thing to each of them....."Today is the day you begin the rest of your life." And today is a very special day for me. Because my foster Tango, who is now my very own adopted boy, is finally free for the first time in his life. He is now considered "heartworm negative".

Every dog owner should know just how deadly heartworms can be. Their name alone can conjure up shivers of disgust and well it should. These worms that are carried by mosquitos live and breed inside the heart and lungs of the dog. Dogs with heartworms may have a mild cough, are exercise intolerant, and seem lethargic and unwilling to play, however, in early stages of the disease, dogs may exhibit no signs at all. The most critical aspect of heartworm disease is death of the infected animal.

Heartworm treatment is expensive (costing anywhere from $500 - $1000) and takes around 8 weeks to complete. It also is very hard on your dog. Your dog will undergo a series of chest xrays to determine the severity of the heartworm disease. He will also be placed on antibiotics and steroids to fight infection and inflammation for the duration of the eight week treatment period. Your dog will be administered an injection of an "adulticide" into the muscles surrounding his spine. The injection is very, very painful and as the medication begins to kill the worms your dog will feel very ill.

For the next four weeks, your dog will not be able to participate in any exercise and will be only allowed leash walks for "elimination" purposes. Should your dog participate in any cardiovascular exercise, the dying worms could potentially cause a clot in the heart or lungs which could be fatal to your dog.

After the first four week period, the process starts all over again, with back to back injections over a two day period to kill any remaining worms. Again, your dog will be required four weeks of steroids, antibiotics and cage rest as the remaining worms die. Because the injections only kill adult worms, in the meantime, you will also be required to give your dog heartworm preventative that will kill off any of the baby worms.

The only guaranteed way to prevent heartworm disease is to give your dog a monthly preventative prescribed by your veterinarian. There are a few different brands on the market. Some kill other parasites and/or fleas along with the heartworms. Your veterinarian will be best suited to recommend which preventative is right for your dog.

Many dog owners are under the false impression that during the winter months, it is not necessary to give dogs heartworm preventative as mosquitos seem to disappear. But we live in Texas with a mild temperate climate year around, that means heartworm preventative is a must year around. Your dog should receive heartworm preventative every single month of each year.

For more information on heartworm disease, treatment and prevention, check out the American Heartworm Society.

So, today was definitely a day of celebration for Tango. He had endured and survived heartworm treatment. I loaded him into the 4-Runner and took him to Bark 'n Purr on Burnet Rd. Once inside, we took our time..... we chatted with some other customers and we looked at EVERYTHING....TWICE....Tango became so exhausted from our shopping spree that he even decided to nap on the store floor while I sweated over just the right collar for him. (He has a matching handmade leash and collar coming from our friends at Lucky Fiona for special occasions, but he also needed a collar for everyday wear.) I finally decided on two different collars in shades of red. We'd let the cashier make the final choice. He also received his very own Huck ball by Westpaw Design. Now, and forever, he can chase all the balls he wants....

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Reason Heart Exists in Heart of Texas Lab Rescue

Sometimes it's hard for me to write a blog every week. Sometimes I can't think about a good topic, or the words just don't come easily. Sometimes the happy, happy, joy, joy of rescue is tempered with the reality of why rescue exists. Today is one of those days.

I want to write about some of the dogs in our program that have been around for a while...for one reason or another....to update you and to ask you to think about them and to send hope for them, that we can find the right family for them soon. These are the days when I hope my blog can make a difference.....

This is Sedona. She was born about this time last year and is one of Eden's puppies...She has suffered from bouts of pneumonia since her birth. She was adopted twice, by two different families. And her familes loved her deeply, however, they could not cope with her constant illness. So she came back to us. She has new hope, however, a recent visit to the veterinarian shows that with the proper antibiotics her pneumonia is nearly gone. The vet is hopeful that 6 more weeks of antibiotics will have her healthy for the first time in her life. Look at that face. Look at those eyes. We want for her a healthy, happy life and a forever home. Do you know someone who would like to give her a chance?

This is Corona. Corona has been with us for over a year. He is a handsome, strong chocolate boy who simply loves people. But he has a hard time getting along with other dogs... This doesn't happen very often with Labs, but this is rescue. We don't know what Corona has had to face in his past. We haven't been able to identify what sets him off with other dogs. Did he have to defend himself just to survive? Is that why he is untrustworthy with other dogs? We simply don't know. However, what we do know, is that he deserves to have a chance to be in a forever home and be loved like every other Lab we rescue. But he will need a special home. Someone who doesn't mind skipping the dog park, and is happy showering him with love in a dog-free environment. Do you know anyone like that? If you do, Corona is waiting and he pledges to be a lifelong best friend....

Here we have Maris. She is a hard case too. We had high hopes for Maris when she was placed in the Alzheimer's wing of a local senior care facility. She did wonderfully there and loved her job as caretaker for her people. This is where the trouble began, she loved her people too much and didn't want to share them with other dogs who came to visit. After some time, sadly, Maris was asked to leave. She is at our boarding facility now, where she has been for a while. It is not a good place for her as she is overwhelmed by all the dogs and activity going on around her. She is not a young dog and just needs a place to lay her weary head to live out her days in safety, comfort and love. But she too needs to be in a home where she is the only animal. Do you know someone who could help?

Last, we have Zeke....Nothing wrong with Zeke except that he is one big, crazy Lab....He is strong and exuberant and can be quite the handful. We were hopeful that he would make it into a program to be trained as a drug dog, but sadly his ball drive is just not strong enough. He is a big, beautiful boy who needs a strong, dedicated hand for guidance. He would not do well in a family with young children, but this could be a very rewarding experience for a young person who is up for a challenge, loves exercise and would be willing to work with a trainer to help Zeke learn some rules and boundaries. Do you know anyone that might fit that bill?

At the end of the day, these dogs deserve a second chance at love just like every other dog we have in our program. Sometimes we need a unique individual or family to step up and help us meet the challenge. If you know anyone who can help any of these wonderful dogs find their forever homes, we would love to talk to you. Please contact us for more information.