Pumpkin Carving

Happy Halloween!!

We decided to have a little bit of fun here at Team Unruly, and we got our dogs into the Halloween spirit with some doggy pumpkin carving! The dogs had a great time, and really got into carving their pumpkins!

All of our dogs should have some pretty healthy stomachs for awhile!

Dogs and Gratitude

Here on TU, we talk a lot about rescues. Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you either own or know at least one rescued dog. Perhaps you’ve experienced, firsthand, the phenomenon I’m about to describe.

Technically, both of my dogs are rescues. In fact, you could probably argue that Herbie is more of a rescue than Julio. Herbie was found as a three week old puppy, emaciated, covered in fleas, and in the middle of a seizure that was induced by ingesting something toxic. She nearly died at the vet’s office that day, and it was a long, hard road to recovery.

"Thanks for taking me in!"

“Thanks for taking me in!”

Julio, while from the same bad part of town, was at a good weight and healthy as a horse (and almost as big!) when the neighbor saw him get dumped. He had been abandoned, and his future certainly wouldn’t have been very bright if he hadn’t gotten picked up, but he pretty much went out one car door and immediately into another. As far as getting dumped at the boat yard goes, Julio was pretty lucky.

We still suspect that his first (second, third?) owners didn’t always treat him kindly, but mostly I think he was just ignored. He was certainly never taught much about manners or obedience. The words ‘sit’, ‘down’, and ‘stay’ meant nothing to him. In fact, he wasn’t even fully house broken. Now that we’ve had him for a while, we can guess why the last owners got rid of him. He’s huge, he chews on things, and he’s an escape artist. With a little bit of management, these gaps in his knowledge aren’t much of a problem, but to an ignorant dog owner, they were probably a deal breaker. None of this is Julio’s fault. He’s an excellent example of humans failing their dog.

I have always said that we got pretty lucky with Herbie. She’s a mostly obedient dog. She was well socialized as a puppy. She is brave, friendly, and always up for an adventure. She fits my lifestyle perfectly and she’s pretty much the happiest dog I’ve ever met. In fact, I frequently get compliments on her joie de vie attitude. I firmly believe that dogs in general embody a sort of ‘enjoy the moment’ mentality. I certainly don’t think they sit around philosophizing the grand scheme of things. Now that we have Julio, however, I’m beginning to think that Herbie sort of takes her awesome life for granted. After all, she was too young to even be properly weaned when she was rescued. I doubt she remembers anything other than having a fully belly and a warm place to sleep.

Julio, on the other hand, seems to genuinely be grateful for his new lease on life. The fall out of being disposable to someone else is still fresh in his mind. He still flinches sometimes if you move too fast. He still whimpers in his sleep sometimes. He’s still anxious about being left behind and we are constantly working on making him more independent and less clingy. Perhaps as a direct result of this, he positively wiggles with wonder and happiness at the smallest kindness. The contrast between him and Herbie is pretty stark. It makes me really think that dogs are quite capable of being thankful.

For example, when we come home from the grocery store, we always make a stop at the all-natural pet store around the corner. We bring home some sort of chewy treat for the dogs, usually a bully stick or raw hide. It has been this way for as long as Herbie can remember, and it hasn’t taken Julio long to pick up on the routine. We come home and set the grocery bags on the floor, and a pair of dogs appears.

Herbie marches over, sits on the floor, and seems to demand, “O good. You went hunting. Where’s my treat?” She is polite, but expectant. As soon as I hand her the treat, she takes it in her mouth and prances out of the room. “Thanks, bye.”

Julio, on the other hand, has probably never had someone go out and buy treats special just for him. When the grocery bags are set down, his eyes grow wide, his tail wags, and his whole body trembles in anticipation as every muscle strains to stay in an obedient sit. He has learned by now that ‘sit is the answer’, but it’s all he can do to stay still. I hold out the treat and his mouth opens into a big, bully grin. I tell him ‘ok’ and he takes the treat. His whole face lights up and his body explodes into a fit of wiggles. He throws himself on the floor and gnaws on the treat in a state of exaggerated bliss. He brings the treat over, repeatedly, sharing it with me and showing it off.

Julio’s end of this routine seems to go something like this:
“OMG, for me, REALLY?!? Thank you thank you thankyouthankyou. You are the very best human. Nobody has ever been this nice to me! I get to chew this??? It’s all mine??? Let me eat it right here so you can see how much I appreciate it. This is the best treat any dog has ever had. Thankyouthankyouthankyou.”

It’s quite heart warming, in sort of a sad way.

A warm bed to sleep in.

A warm bed to sleep in.

The other thing that Julio seems to have a deep appreciation for is morning time. He is very much the dog you see in the Facebook meme, captioned, “Morning is my favorite time of day because I missed you all night long.”

My mornings since we got Julio all seem to start off the same way. I can feel him staring at me before I even open my eyes. He knows he’s not supposed to wake me, but I know he’s watching. As soon as I crack an eye open, the tail starts to wag, and I can tell he’s trying his darnedest to hold still. He waits ever so impatiently until I say, “Hi, Julio,” then immediately explodes with excitement, army crawling up the bed to meet me, roll around in the blankets, and kiss my face.

It’s as though he starts each new day with an appreciation for the fact that he still has a home and his very own humans to wake up to.

Herbie? Yeah… not a morning person.

But perhaps my favorite part of having a grateful dog is every new experience we get to have together. I learned very quickly that Julio had led a very sheltered life prior to being dumped at the boat launch. The look of wide-eyed wonder on his face every time we try something new gives me butterflies.

Julio's first reservoir visit. He was delighted. Herbie doesn't get the joy.

Julio’s first reservoir visit. He was delighted. Herbie doesn’t get the joy.

At first, Julio was afraid of car rides. The neighbor had to bodily lift him into his truck to bring him home. The morning that I took him to the farm with me for the first time, he cowered and shook as I lifted him into my hatchback. Then, slowly, Julio’s appreciation for car rides grew. He started by throwing his head back and letting the wind whip his ears around. Today, he stuck his head out  the window, jowls flapping in the breeze, and made people stop, stare, and smile. These days, I can hardly get the doors unlocked fast enough, and he does a happy dance every time I grab my keys off the counter. He bounds to the car and leaps in. In fact, he’d probably go home with anyone who opened a car door at this point.

The first time we went to a park, Julio’s eyes just about bugged out of his head. I don’t think he’d ever seen such wide open space. I let him explore and stop to sniff all the things and he had this look of pure bliss on his face. He rolled in the grass and played in the streams and pranced happily along on his leash, taking in all the sights.

The first time we took him to the reservoir, he seemed pretty unsure of the water, but when Herbie bounded in, he too came in to swim. He spent hours in the water, playing until he was completely worn out.

Herbie leads Julio on many adventures.

Herbie leads Julio on many adventures.

More adorable than anything else, perhaps, is the way that Herbie shows him the joys of his new life as a fellow Adventure Dog. She really treats him like a little brother, and he follows her leadership in a way that deeply resembles hero worship. Wherever Herbie goes, Julio shadows, and Herbie seems to positively glow as she shows him the way.

“And this is the park. We go walking here. And this is the pond. We swim in it. And this is deer poop. We roll in it. And those are horses. We stay away from them.”

Last month, we went to West Virginia for four days. We were lucky enough to bring the dogs with us. Herbie, who has been everywhere from New York state to North Carolina is familiar with the concept of long trips and the many adventures to be had in the wilderness, but it was Julio’s first time experiencing Real Hiking.

Once again, I think his mind was blown when we first got out of the car. He stared at the big boulders around us as if to say, “We didn’t have rocks like this in Trenton…”

Julio's first real hike.

Julio’s first real hike.

His mind was blown further when I unleashed him and let him go. At first, he stuck close to me, cautiously maneuvering between the rocks, choosing each step carefully. Then, Herbie did a ‘fly by’, inviting him into a game of chase. Before long, they were both bounding happily along the rocks and through the wild shrubbery of the tundra-esque landscape. Julio climbed with more and more grace and ease. He still isn’t fit enough to keep up with Herbie, but he put forth a valiant effort. And when he climbed to the overlook and paused to catch his breath, he looked like he was positively beaming.

It may sound silly or day-dreamy or anthropomorphic, but after rescuing Julio, I really believe that dogs are completely capable of feeling and expressing gratitude. Julio may not have been blatantly abused, but I definitely think he led a bland, boring, somewhat sad life before he came to us. He knows what it’s like to be ignored, misunderstood, and alone, and he doesn’t take for granted the little things that all my animals get, no questions asked. Warm beds, full bellies, and lots of love and attention are kind of a given around here, but it hasn’t always been that way for Julio. He seems to be getting less worried every day, and I think he knows on some level that we are his family now.

I’ve heard several cases similar to this now, where an animal from a bad situation seems to be grateful for a second chance. I’ve seen it first hand a few times with horses in the past. I have found that the horses with a rough history are often the ones who try hardest to please, who work the best without complaint, and who genuinely love human interaction. Now, I suspect that the same is true for dogs.

As usual, I’d love to open up the comments for some story telling! Please share experiences you’ve had with dogs (or other animals!) who seem to really appreciate their new lease on life.

Naked Lunch Part 2: Beginning with BARF

So, in the first post of this raw feeding series, I talked about the basic principles of raw feeding and the way I started out as a raw feeder. In today’s post, I’m going to talk specifics about the BARF method.

Before I start; just a reminder to everyone that I am the lone Australian here at Team Unruly. So if there’s any lingo that sounds unfamiliar, let me know and I will translate! :D

So, what is BARF?

BARF = Biologically Appropriate Raw Food

The BARF acronym for this particular method of raw feeding is trademarked by Doctor Ian Bilinghurst (an Australian veterinarian), but the principles of BARF can be used by just about anybody. However, Dr Bilinghurst is somewhat of a figurehead for the BARF school of thinking and much of his thinking is extremely educational.

Dr Bilinghurst’s observation, gained through experience in his work and at home with his own pets, was that “commercial pet foods, not only did not promote good health, they produced positively bad health.” The BARF ideology follows on from what I explained about raw feeding in my last post, but of course, Dr Bilinghurst explains it all much more eloquently than I ever could:

If you want to feed your dog BARF, it means not feeding your dog cooked and or processed food. That is, not feeding your dog a diet based on cooked grains, no matter how persuasive the advertising. Artificial grain based dog foods cause innumerable health problems. They are not what your dog was programmed to eat during its long process of evolution.

A biologically appropriate diet for a dog is one that consists of raw whole foods similar to those eaten by the dogs’ wild ancestors. The food fed must contain the same balance and type of ingredients as consumed by those wild ancestors. This food will include such things as muscle meat, bone, fat, organ meat and vegetable materials and any other “foods” that will mimic what those wild ancestors ate.

Please note that modern dogs of any breed are not only capable of eating the food of their wild ancestors, but actually require it for maximum health. This is because their basic physiology has changed very little with domestication despite obvious and dramatic changes in their current physical appearance and mindset.

The BARF diet, being an attempt to mimic the evolutionary diet of dogs, must, from a practical point of view, use food that is available from the local supermarket or whatever local or distant source is economically viable. BARF feeders do not have to go hunting or send their dogs out to hunt. That is why I said BARF must mimic, not duplicate the evolutionary diet of dogs. This is an important distinction.

But what IS BARF? What kind of food do you feed? And how much of it?

The basic BARF diet breakdown is:

  1. 60-80% raw meaty bones (aka RMB, which is also known as a feeding method all of its own that I’ll talk about in a future post); and
  2. 20-40% fruit and vegetables, offal, meat, eggs, or dairy foods.

Raw Meaty Bones (for BARF purposes), are bones with about 50% meat, e.g. chicken and turkey necks, backs and wings. Here’s Danielle’s Molly, enjoying a nice raw meaty bone in the form of a deer scapula:

molly's noms.

The amount of BARF you feed is dependent on the size, weight, age and physical condition of your dog. The guidelines Dr Bilinghurst sets are as follows (just be aware that they are specific to the BARF products he markets):

Healthy Dogs – Not Exercising

Feed 2% – 3% of bodyweight per day – divided into one or two meals

Working, Racing, Active Dogs

Feed 3% – 6% of bodyweight per day when actually working or active. At this time feed food with a higher fat content to increase the energy supply. Feed 2% – 3% of bodyweight per day when not active or working

Puppies – Small to Medium Breeds

Feed 3% – 5% of bodyweight per day – divided into 3 to 4 small meals

Puppies – Large and Giant Breeds

Feed 2% – 4% of bodyweight per day – divided into 3 to 4 meals. It is important to ensure that these puppies grow slowly. To ensure that this happens, it can be useful to add extra vegetable pulp to the patties (from a juicer). Feed soft raw bones daily. Note: – feed BARF and soft raw bones from young animals as the only source of calcium; it is not necessary and may be harmful to use calcium supplements.

Pregnant (‘in whelp’) Female Dogs

For the first two thirds of pregnancy, feed 2% – 3% of bodyweight per day – divided into one or two meals. For the last third of pregnancy increase this to 3% – 4% of bodyweight per day – divided into two or three meals.

Lactating Female Dogs

Depending on Litter size and the age of the puppies, feed from between 3% and 6% of bodyweight per day – divided into two or three meals – up to free choice with large litters.

Dogs with Health Issues – for example, Kidney, Liver or Pancreatic Disease

These dogs usually require extra vegetable material, sometimes with less fat; in the latter case, combine Dr. B’s Kangaroo flavour with raw pulped low glycaemic index vegetable material. For simple obesity, reduce the amount of BARF and Raw Meaty Bones and replace with as much raw pulped low glycaemic index vegetable material as the dog will eat.

What does that actually mean?????

I hate maths too. Don’t worry. So, my 20 kilo, reasonably active little Staffordshire Bull Terrier gets 500 grams of food per day. That’s just about 3% of her body weight, and it seems to be the right amount to keep her happy and healthy. If I notice her getting a little rotund, I up her exercise and slightly reduce her portions.

If we follow BARF rules, 60-80% of those 500 grams (I go with 80% and say 400 grams of each meal) needs to be raw meaty bones. The remaining 20% (200 grams) is everything else: meat, dairy, fruit, veg, eggs and offal. That all sounds terribly exact, right?

This is where I tell you to relax and follow your instincts a little bit. As long as you’re feeding the right approximate amounts of fresh, good quality foods and you’re being careful with foods like liver, pork and heart (which I will talk about more later on), it won’t matter a great deal if your ratios are a bit off. This is especially applicable, if you a DIY BARF feeder!

DIY BARF?

Do-It-Yourself BARF can be a little labour-intensive and time consuming, but in my opinion, totally worth it. For one thing, you will save a truck-load of money if you shop smart (it will cost you significantly less than commercial food). For another, you will know exactly what your dog is eating, with no preservatives, additives or fillers.

Here’s a picture of a BARF mix I made on the fly one evening: fish (tuna and sardines), egg (including the shell), grated carrot and apple, a bit of bran and some yoghurt.

Fish BARF mix

And here’s the bulk recipe I started BARF with! It makes approximately 42 serves for a medium, Staffordshire Bull Terrier sized dog (20 kilos). All up, including shopping, it will take you about 3 hours. It was originally given to me in a similar form by a SBT breeder friend, and I made changes to it over time. Feel free to make changes of your own too!

  • 5 kilos kangaroo mince (or whichever minced meat you prefer, or a combination of red OR white meats. Note: kangaroo is very easy and cheap to source here in Australia, that’s why I use it. Go with whichever local meat fits your budget!)
  • 6 small tins of oily fish (I usually use sardines and mackerel)
  • 1 large cauliflower (or 2 medium ones)
  • 2-3 large heads of broccoli
  • 1 medium to large butternut squash
  • 1 kilo of Granny Smith apples (de-cored)
  • 1 litre of natural yoghurt
  • 6 eggs (once you’ve cracked them, crush the shells and mix them in too!)
  • A few generous handfuls of flax seeds (you can use the meal if you prefer, just be aware your mix will be a lot drier)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup of kelp powder (you can find this in most health food stores. Go easy with it to start with, a little goes a long way!)

Here’s the kind of fish I generally use (tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines), unless fresh fish is on special!

Fish for BARF

A side note: I never put anything into my mix that I knew was toxic to dogs, because if I was unsure, I double-checked online first. However, conventional wisdom suggests caution when feeding broccoli and cauliflower, as it may cause gas and depress thyroid function if fed regularly and in large amounts. So, proceed as your own research dictates. Here’s a handy list of BARF friend fruit and veg to start you off.

Also, you’ll notice I didn’t include offal in this recipe. That’s because I prefer to feed it whole, that way I can control the portion sizes. I feed heart (ox, lamb and chicken), liver (lamb and chicken), kidney (lamb and pork), brain (lamb), tongue (lamb and ox), giblets (chicken) and very occasionally, lung (lamb). I would usually just bag them up individually, freeze (then thaw later) and then add them on top of the day’s BARF mixture. Easy peasy!

Bagged up raw meaty bones and offal for the fortnight:

IMG_1833

Right, back to the recipe! You will need:

  • a decent sized food processor
  • sharp knives
  • a veggie peeler
  • some food prep gloves (optional, but they keep you from getting smelly gunk and raw meat under your fingernails)
  • freezer bags
  • a kitchen scale (particularly if you like to get your portion sizes exact)
  • a nice big, clean bowl or tub to mix it up in.
  1. Finely process the cauliflower, broccoli, cored apples and pumpkin (peel off and discard the hard skin first). You can use the stalks, leaves and pumpkin seeds too if you like. I have seen a few articles floating around the interwebs that suggests pumpkin seeds can be very beneficial for your dog!
  2. Empty the processed fruit and veg, then the mince, into the tub/bowl.
  3. Add all of the tins of fish. If you like, you can stick your hands in now and mix together.
  4. Crack the eggs on top. Crush the eggshells until they’re nice and fine, add them in too.
  5. Empty the entire tub of yoghurt in.
  6. Throw the flax seeds in.
  7. Add the kelp powder.
  8. Stick your hands in and mix everything together until it’s all well-incorporated. This can take a while and a bit of effort. It’s worth it I promise.
  9. Scoop mixture into the freezer bags, weigh and tie off until it’s all bagged up.
  10. Put bags straight into the freezer.
  11. Put tub on floor and let helpful dogs carry on with preliminary clean up.

You’ll end up with a soft, relatively wet mixture. And yeah. IT STINKS. I think that’s probably why it was always such a hit with the dogs, smelly interesting food!

Some proponents of BARF strongly advocate the regular inclusion of bone meal in your dog’s food for added calcium. In my humble opinion, finely crushed eggshell works just as well, and you won’t have to worry about the possibility of a bowel blockage later on. You can also balance your dog’s meals to include a raw meaty bone a few times a week and they’ll get their calcium from there too.

What does a week of BARF look like?

Since I get asked about it a fair bit, here is a rough weekly breakdown of what my dog was getting on the BARF diet. Bear in mind that you do need to adjust the BARF mix portion sizes to accommodate any extras you’re feeding if your dog is not super fit and athletic.

  1. Monday: BARF mix + red bones (usually a neck bone, soup bone or rib bone)
  2. Tuesday: BARF mix + heart (either 1 lamb’s heart or 4-5 chicken hearts)
  3. Wednesday: BARF mix + turkey neck (and 1-2 chicken wings if the neck is small)
  4. Thursday: BARF mix + kidney (1 lamb kidney or pork kidney)
  5. Friday: BARF mix + chicken carcass
  6. Saturday: BARF mix + small piece of liver (2-3 chicken livers, or approximately 100 grams of lamb’s fry)
  7. Sunday: Fast Day

Lindsey’s Tiki thinks chicken wings are pretty awesome:

 photo Tikani241.jpg
And yes, I am a fasting advocate, I usually fast Tayla once a week. It helps me manage my dog’s weight and gives her digestive system a break along with a raft of other reasons you can read about. There are passionate arguments for and against fasting; I do it because it seems to benefit my dog.

In addition to this, her treats are usually bully sticks (pizzles), beef/kangaroo tendons, antlers or something that will safely encourage her to chew and clean her teeth.

Antlers are Tayla’s favourite thing.

Tayla and her antler

Where do I even get all that stuff? Wouldn’t commercial pet food be cheaper?

Not if you get organised and shop smart. I get my dog’s food from a variety of sources and I do it at the same time as my own shopping (thus not incurring any additional costs for petrol). Pet meat suppliers are usually a good place to get cheap meat. Some butchers are good for getting cheap raw meaty bones, some will even give them to you for free! I also have found that specialist meat shops (e.g. places specialising in poultry, game or fish), particularly the ones located in markets, have really low prices for meat, bones and offal.

Cheap, cheap, cheap!

Beef neck bones and chicken livers

Some supermarkets/grocery stores, depending on the area, have excellent deals on common offal like kidney, heart and liver – it’s just a matter of keeping your eyes open! Yoghurt and sardines are also bought from the supermarket/grocery store, and I always keep an eye on what’s marked down to get the best deal.

I get my kelp (and the flax seeds, depending on price) from health food stores, but they are also very cheap to buy online.

As far as fruits and vegetables go, I never pay supermarket prices. Always get your produce cheap from a farmer’s market, or go to a greengrocer/fruit and vegetable shop if you’re in a pinch. Familiarise yourself with the reasonable prices for what you want (and more importantly, buy what’s in season) and you will usually save a bundle!

Let’s talk figures.

I’ll use premium food for this example, since it’s what I was feeding my dog before I switched over. A pet supplies store in my suburb sells Hill Science Diet Adult Healthy Mobility dry food in 13.6 kilo bags for $125.99. Each bag contains 45 (just over 6 week’s worth) three cup/300 gram serves for my 20 kilo dog.

That works out to $2.79 a serve. (Obviously, the cost would be greater per serve for a larger dog, and smaller per serve for a smaller dog.)

Here’s the price list for my BARF mix:

  • Kangaroo mince: $29 (I buy my meat from a pet food supplier)
  • Yoghurt: $5 (supermarket)
  • Eggs: $2.50 (farmer’s market)
  • Sardines: $9 (supermarket)
  • Apples: $1.60 (farmer’s market)
  • Cauliflower: $3 (farmer’s market)
  • Pumpkin $3 (farmer’s market)
  • Broccoli $3 (farmer’s market)
  • Kelp powder: $7 (for a 200 gram box, I usually use 1/4 of a box for each batch, which works out to $1.75 per batch) (health food store)
  • Flax seeds $10 (for 500 grams, I usually use a cup per batch, which is 180 grams. So I get 3 batches out of each bag, which works out to $3.33 per batch) (supermarket or health food store)
  • Total: $61.18

Divide that by 42 and it works out to $1.45 per serve. $1.34 per serve LESS than commercial dog food.

Even if you added in the additional cost of raw meaty bones and offal, you would still come out on top. For example, I can get 3 large chicken carcasses for $1.50 at my local market, that’s 50 cents per serve. Add 50 cents to the days of the week I feed a raw meaty bone with my BARF mix and that’s $1.95 per serve total. I can get a packet of 7 lamb livers for $2.95 at my local supermarket, that’s 42 cents per kidney (and I would feed one per serve). I can get a packet of 3 lamb hearts for the same price, that’s 98 cents per heart.

Give it a go! It is strangely satisfying (once you get used to handling raw meat, bones and organs) to see just how much money you can save whilst still feeding your dog nutritious, balanced and biologically appropriate meals.

There’s also the Christmas-coming-early reaction from your dog to consider, as Kelsey’s Nellie demonstrates.

happy breakfast face

I… don’t think I really want to make BARF myself.

Should you decide that you would like to skip the ick factor of handling raw meat and various smelly substances (completely understandable!), or you prefer the peace of mind and absence of stress that comes with purchasing a ready-made BARF product, there are companies who can help!

Lindsay did an excellent review of Honest Kitchen in the US, and in Australia Dr Bilinghurt’s BARF products are an excellent place to start. These are just two examples and there are many, many others. Google is your friend!

BARF safety! A few important tips and a recap of the safety pointers from my previous post: 

  1. Do not, under any circumstances, feed cooked bones. Cooked bones can splinter or shatter and become lodged in your dog’s throat (causing a choking hazard) or perforate their intestines. If you feed cooked meat, remove the bones!
  2. Be very, VERY careful about what kind of bones you are feeding. Large, weight-bearing bones such as femurs, vertebrae and knuckles can cause fractures and broken teeth. Avoid them if you can, or feed for short periods under close supervision.
  3. Do not feed rotten or ‘off’ meat. Dogs get food poisoning, gastroenteritis and stomach upsets the same as humans do. Experienced raw feeders know when meat is good to feed and when it is borderline, but if you are new to raw feeding, err on the side of caution!
  4. If you are going to be making your own BARF mix, be sure to avoid foods that are toxic for dogs, such as garlic (only in large amounts; there is evidence to suggest it is quite beneficial in small amounts), onion, leek, chives, raisins, sultanas and dried grapes, avocado and macadamia. A good rule of thumb is to research every ingredient before you add it to make sure it is safe for dogs.
  5. Do not freeze, thaw and then refreeze your raw food. You wouldn’t do it for your own food would you? Treat your dog’s food the same way you would treat your own.
  6. Don’t mix white and red meat in the same freezer bag.
  7. You CAN mix red meats together (e.g. beef, lamb, kangaroo, buffalo, venison) or white meats together (chicken, turkey, pork). Fish is fine added to either.
  8. If you are going to feed raw pork mince in your BARF, make sure the mixture is frozen for at least 2 weeks before you feed it, and make sure you defrost it in the fridge, NOT at room temperature.
  9. Red meat offal is a lot richer than white meat offal. If you’re introducing your dog to offal, chicken hearts, livers and giblets are usually quite successful and are less likely to cause an upset tummy.
  10. Heart is best fed in small amounts, particularly when it is new to your dog’s diet. Ox heart in particular is extremely rich and can cause digestive distress.
  11. When feeding fish, be choosy. Avoid salmon if you live in the US or Canada. Ocean fish are generally safe, but research what types of local fish are safe for canine consumption.
  12. Freeze raw pork for a minimum of two weeks before feeding, or cook it (and de-bone it!) first. This will kill any harmful t spiralis trichonosis larvae that may be present in the meat. Raw pork is best left for when you’re a little more experienced and confident.
  13. Be cautious when feeding liver. A major function of the liver is to detoxify the body. The raw feeding rule of thumb is that liver should make up no more then 5% of your dog’s diet.
  14. Be sure to supplement your dog’s diet with regular raw meaty bones, and bully sticks/tendons to help with dental hygiene.

Danielle’s Ein loves his raw meaty bones!

ein/scapula

Did BARF work for me?

The difference I noticed when I moved from commercial dry food to BARF (my first step in my raw-feeding journey) was swift and amazing. All of a sudden, my dog’s coat went from dull and bristly to soft and shiny. Her “doggy” skin odour disappeared and I barely needed to bath her anymore. And even when I did, a quick spray with the hose or a run in the surf and a towelling was all she needed. Her breath stopped smelling bad. Her energy levels went through the roof. She stopped passing wind as frequently. Her poops became smaller, firmer and less frequent, and the frequent loose stools I would find before the switch seemed to stop altogether.

She’s simultaneously the laziest and most athletic dog I know.

Ball exhaustion

All in all, I would say BARF was a massively successful diet for my dog. Even though I have since moved on to Prey Model Raw Feeding, I still highly recommend BARF to new raw feeders, as it is an excellent place to start.

Good luck! The next post in this series will talk about Raw Meaty Bones (in the literal sense and as a feeding model) in greater detail.

Growing Up Guide Dog Puppy: The Application Process

After several years (8, to be exact. Not that I’ve been counting) of being out of the guide dog puppy raising loop, I have found myself once again in the position to raise again! Most of the guide dog schools in the United States have “raising territories” in which you need to live in, in order to raise for that school. Since I had moved about the country several times, living in various states for college, grad school, and other reasons, I haven’t been in a raising territory since I moved out of California- Guide Dogs for the Blind’s (GDB) puppy raising area.

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Guide Dogs for the Blind, the first school I raised for

I had made one unfruitful attempt to raise for Canine Companions for Independence, a service dog organization, but they prefer their puppy raisers to be stay-at-home, or take their puppies to work with them 100% of the time. Since I was in graduate school at the time, I was working 20 hours a week with special needs children in order to accrue my clinical hours for board certification- not an appropriate place for a puppy, and since I wasn’t at home all day, my application was denied.

After moving to West Palm Beach, I found myself once again within a school’s territory and, as I had purchased a home, without a landlord to tell me I had too many dogs (as if that’s a bad thing? Foreign concept to me…). After unpacking all the boxes, and making a few needed repairs to the house, the first order of business… apply to raise a puppy. I pulled up the website for Southeastern Guide Dogs, Inc. (SEGDI), headquartered just 3.5 hours away outside of Tampa, Fl, and found my way to the puppy raising page. The application said no more than two personal dogs, and I had three, but I figured I would try anyway. Hawkins was a retired guide, and I was hoping they’d either count him as a good influence, or at the very least, grant us an exception.

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Southeastern Guide Dogs- the school I hoped to be raising for next!

Many people are confused by all the different guide dog schools out there. Guide Dog? Seeing Eye dog? Aren’t they all the same thing? Well, yes, and no. While seeing eye dog and guide dog have been used interchangeably to refer to dogs that lead the blind, there are many different schools that train these dogs. Seeing Eye dogs generally refer to dogs that come from the very first guide dog school in the world: The Seeing Eye, in Morristown, New Jersey. Guides dogs may be from Guide Dogs for the Blind, Guide Dogs of America, Southeastern Guide Dogs, or any number of other schools. A Fidelco guide dog would be a guide dog from the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, while a leader dog or pilot dog would be from Leader Dogs for the Blind, or Pilot Dogs, Inc. While it may confuse you now, think of it like the difference between a Mercedes, and BMW, and a Lexus. All 3 are luxury cars, with seats, engines, seatbelts, windshields, etc. that drive and get you from one place to another. The only major difference is the company the car comes from. Just like cars come from different companies, so do guide dogs come from different schools. Some schools train dogs to fetch dropped items, some don’t. Some schools train guide dogs for people with multiple disabilities, some don’t. Some schools encourage puppy raisers and handlers to stay in touch, some have a waiting period, some don’t allow contact at all. So it’s up to the handler to research and decide which school most fits in with what they are looking for in a guide dog. While most guide dog schools take students from anywhere in the US and Canada (with a few exceptions- a few schools take international students, one or two only take students from their particular state), puppy raisers usually don’t have as much choice; they raise for the school that allows puppy raising in the area they live in. If they’re lucky they live in an overlapping territory between multiple schools and can choose which school is the best fit for them to raise with.

Often, a person can tell which school a puppy is being raised for by just looking at their puppy coats!

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Guide Dogs for the Blind- Green Vest         Freedom Dogs- Red Vest

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Guide Dogs of America- Yellow Cape         Fidelco Guide Dogs- Red Cape

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Southeastern Guide Dogs – blue cape            Leader Dogs- White Cape

A few days after sending off my initial application to Southeastern Guide Dogs (SEGDI), I received an invitation to attend a puppy raising meeting by the “Area Coordinator” of my county. She would be the one handling all the paperwork and deciding if I was a suitable fit for a puppy raiser, then overseeing my puppy’s progress over the coming months through my attendance at these twice monthly meetings. Before I could raise my own puppy, I would have to attend two of these meetings, then have a home interview/inspection by the area coordinator. At the puppy meeting, I meet the 8 other raisers for Palm Beach County, got to handle one of the puppies, was asked lots of questions about my experience, and gathered just as much information about puppy raising. Some things were similar to Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) and some things were new to me. At GDB, we had weekly meetings that were usually held at the fairgrounds or in the gym of a local school. Same time and place every week, with optional ‘outings’ scheduled here and there for group trips into San Francisco, on public transportation, on the Oakland ferry, or whatever raisers could think up and organize. Southeastern meetings would be a different location every time, every other weekend, and always at a park for obedience, or a place of business, for an ‘exposure’ outing. Some of the commands were similar (sit, down, stay, Let’s Go), some were different (“Get busy” for going potty, versus “Do your business” for GDB). At GDB, all puppies are raised and trained wearing only a flat buckle collar, or a gentle leader. SEGDI puts all puppies in a chain training collar at 6 months. As a positive reinforcement proponent, I don’t ‘train with a chain,’ but I wouldn’t have a choice in the matter. Because guide dogs must be taught to ignore food on a daily basis in restaurants, food courts, and in public places means only ‘come’ and a select few other commands are trained with kibble only, except in certain circumstances. My first 3 guide dog puppies were raised with no food training whatsoever, so I’ve become very proficient at delivering high rates of quality praise!

After having attended the required 2 meetings, I was scheduled for a home interview. The area coordinator came to my house, with a club puppy in tow, to look things over, check out my yard, fence, and home for hazards, dangers or unsuitable environments, and to meet my personal dogs to ensure they were friendly and not going to eat any puppy faces or be unsuitable naughty. Naturally, it was Hawkins, my senior retired guide dog, who was the most naughty and just couldn’t ignore the 6 month old puppy the area coordinator had brought over to play with him (and when he wasn’t antagonizing the puppy, he was stealing the little guy’s kong toy!) I tried to explain to the area coordinator that he did have manners once upon a time, before he became a spoiled, retired senior that I cater to on a daily basis.

As soon as the home interview was complete, I had a background check done, to ensure I wasn’t a psycho, homicidal, puppy killer, and then I got the official e-mail. I had been approved to raise a puppy!! The area coordinator gave me a puppy raising handbook, a blue, nylon puppy collar and leash, a nylabone, and an itty-bitty puppy jacket.

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When I first raised for GDB, I was given a leather service dog leash, and since I prefer that type of leash, I ordered a new one from them as well as a cable tie down.

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I also went shopping for a few new puppy toys. Guide dog puppies can only have certain toys, nothing stuffed or squeaky, and none of my personal dog’s toys met that requirement. GDB was a little more strict, only nylabones, rubber rings and kongs for their puppies. I was happy for the relaxed toy policy, and I also found out I would be allowed to teach the puppy to fetch, something that’s a big No-No for GDB puppies. At GDB, puppies go home with a puppy collar, an adult dog collar, a puppy leash, two ID tags, some flea and heartworm prevention, a small bag of food, and if it’s your very first puppy, a new leather service dog leash and a cable tie down. With SEGDI, the puppy raisers are responsible for everything but the heartworm prevention.

I was also assigned a vet in my area, who would bill SEGDI directly for all veterinary expenses. Although I couldn’t choose my own vet, I could ask my personal vet to join the SEGDI vet partners program so I could continue to use them. I liked this better than GDB’s method of reimbursement forms for veterinary expenses. Hawkins, as a retired guide, still has his medical expenses (outside of routine vaccinations) paid by GDB, and this eliminated having to keep track of different reimbursement forms and procedures for two different guide dog schools.

I didn’t yet know what type of dog I would be getting. Like GDB, SEGDI only uses Labradors, Golden Retrievers and mixes of the two, so I knew it would fall into one of those breed categories. At GDB you can request breed and sex, and I once applied to raise a set of siblings with a friend. At SEGDI you can’t request type, but you can request sex or a personality type. I told my area coordinator I was fine with either sex, but that a less headstrong puppy would do better in our house, as I own a giant German Shepherd with some fear and reactivity issues around headstrong dogs. Because I had raised before and I had a background in behavior analysis, the area coordinator asked if I would be up for a challenging puppy, and when I replied with “sure!” she passed along that info to the school.

Because of specific raising methods, GDB puppies don’t attend outside obedience classes, but SEGDI puppies are encouraged, and sometimes even required, to attend a regular obedience class for ‘strange dog exposure.’ As all 8 puppies currently in my new puppy club were in need of taking an obedience class, I offered to teach one for the club, have it open to outside pet dogs, and have the proceeds from the class fee for pet dogs go toward fundraising for a club outing with the puppies. The area coordinator seemed to like this idea, and said she would check with SEGDI to make sure it was allowed.

All I had left to do was wait the agonizingly long week until I could pick up my puppy, all the while wondering what would it be? A black lab? Golden retriever? Boy? Girl? I knew that, because they had large litters born over the summer, there was a shortage of puppy raisers, and some puppies had been waiting in the kennel for their raiser homes. So most likely I wouldn’t be getting an 8 week old puppy like I was used to, but rather a 4+ month old puppy that was still waiting for a raiser. I was anxious to learn the breed and sex, but I would have to wait find out…

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Hawkins: The Life of a Guide Dog

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Most people recognize a guide dog when they see one. A dog, most often a Labrador, Golden Retriever, or German Shepherd, but occasionally  a different breed, wearing a leather harness with a rigid handle, leading a visually-impaired person down the sidewalk or through a building. They avoid obstacles, watch for cars and are the eyes of the person on the other end of that handle. Or, you may even see them while they’re growing up, small puppies, wearing a colored vest or cape that proudly states “Guide Dog Puppy in Training.” Most people stop to comment on the cute puppy, some are even allowed to pet (if they’re lucky!) but the general consensus from the public is that “I could never give it up.” Puppy raisers generally just smile and nod. They know they’re not really giving that puppy up- they’re sending it on. Much like a parent raises a child to grow up, go to college, leave the house, and live their own life, so puppy raisers do the same for the puppies in their care.

This is the story of Hawkins, one most exceptional guide dog, if I do say so myself.  Hawkins was born in the breeding/whelping kennels of Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc. on their sprawling California campus, located in San Rafael, California. The only male in a litter of 7 yellow lab puppies, born to carefully selected and bred parents, dogs from the private breeding colony kept by Guide Dogs for the Blind. Generations of careful, selective breeding have produced dogs with exceptional traits that are highly valued in guide dogs.

At Guide Dogs for the Blind, no two active dogs within the breeding, guide dog or puppy raising programs, have the same name. Their names are unique to set them apart from the other thousands of active dogs in Guide Dog’s programs. If a dog retires or is dropped from the program (‘career changed’ as we call it when they fail guide dog training), the names are recycled for use. Every litter born to Guide Dogs is given a letter, and every puppy in that litter will have a name that starts with that letter. So Hawkins’ litter consisted of Hawkins himself, and his sisters, Harriet, Hashana, Hatari, Hibiscus, Hickory, and Hula. Their early puppy days consisted of eating, playing with soft puppy toys, hearing gentle music within the kennel, and being carefully handled by a dedicated kennel staff. As they grew, they were weaned and moved to the puppy kennel, where they got daily romps in the toy-filled puppy play yard, an area with grass, concrete and rubber flooring (to expose the puppies early to different types of floors), plastic toddler jungle gym equipment to encourage curiosity and exposure to strange looking objects, small flags that flap in the wind, whirligigs, colorful mobiles above their heads (to encourage the future guides to look up!) and even their very own cat. Volunteers wait months for the opportunity to come play with the puppies inside the yard, giving valued interaction and play time to growing puppy minds.

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Baby puppies!

At roughly 8 weeks old the puppies are placed throughout the western states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and in the Dallas or Austin areas of Texas. Some puppy raisers have raised dogs for decades and some, like me at the time, are first time raisers. To be able to raise a puppy, I first had to attend several puppy raiser meetings. For my puppy club, the Alameda County Puppy Raisers in Alameda County, California, our meetings were weekly on Tuesday nights. I attended several of these meetings, handling other people’s puppies, learning how to handle a dog, how guide dogs expects their puppies to be raised and trained, learning the commands Guide Dog’s uses, and letting the club leaders evaluate me as a potential puppy raiser. Some commands were universal, sit and down, but some were a little different- “Let’s Go!” for heel, “Go to bed” to go lay on a mat, and “Do your business” to tell a puppy it’s the time and place to use the bathroom.

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After a few of these meetings came the scary in-home interview and home inspection. The club leaders came over to make sure my home was fit to raise a puppy, and because I had a personal dog- my Dalmatian, Chili Pepper- to make sure that Pepper was friendly with other dogs. They check things like secure fencing for a backyard, or to ensure that a pool is fenced off from where the puppy will be using the backyard. They make sure there’s nothing lying around that a puppy could get into, and have a home interview to make sure the entire family is on board and really wants to raise a puppy. As I was in high school at the time, and 17 years old, my mom had to agree to co-raise the puppy with me as my guardian. Since we lived in a 2 bedroom apartment, we had no yard to be inspected, and our home visit went well. From there, I had to puppy-sit a younger puppy and an older puppy for two different weekends, to get a feel for what it was like and how much work would be involved. As soon as that was done I was cleared to raise my own puppy!

When you are told that there is a puppy ready for you, you only get the sex of the puppy and the letter of the puppy’s litter. You don’t find out the name until you actually pick your puppy up. So I was told my puppy would be an “H” puppy, and we spent the rest of the week thinking up all kinds of H names that the puppy could be named. We weren’t even close. That Saturday we drove to the campus and picked up Hawkins from the weaning kennel at Guide Dogs. They provided us a puppy collar with a tag on it, and an adult sized collar with a tag on it. Since this was my first puppy, I also got a small nylon puppy leash, a larger leather leash, a cable ‘tie-down’, a nylabone toy, and a tiny green puppy cape. As my puppy grew, I would exchange this puppy cape for large ones from my guide dog raising leaders.

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Picking Hawkins up at the Guide Dog campus

We stopped for lunch on the way home, and Hawkins got a chance to wear his little green cape for the first time in public. Because he was so small and not yet potty trained, I carried him into the restaurant. After a few moments of sniffing the floor under the table, he plopped right down.

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Baby Hawkins

Now it’s important to understand that guide dog puppies have no access rights. While they wear a little cape to identify them as puppies in training, they are not guaranteed access into public areas by law like a working guide dog (except in the state of Oregon, where the law makes no distinction between a puppy and a working guide). While most businesses are understanding about letting us take puppies inside, if we are asked to leave, we cannot push the issue. Luckily that only happened once the whole time I was raising. Most places are happy to see the puppies come and go and in many restaurants, no one knew there was a puppy in there until we stood up to leave and the puppy came out from under the table! Most people don’t realize that it’s not the dog that has the access rights, it’s the person with a disability that has the right to be accompanied by a dog that helps mitigate their disability. An important distinction. If you were to hand over a fully trained guide dog to a fully sighted person, that fully sighted person would have no protected rights to take that guide dog into any public building.

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Hawkins in my high school physics lab

Nonetheless, Hawkins was my constant sidekick from day one. In California, just 90 minutes from the main campus of one of the world’s largest guide dog schools, most people know what these puppies are, and welcome them into places of business with open arms. Hawkins came to high school with me, including marching band practice in the morning, to all my classes during the day, and to track and field practice in the afternoons. He accompanied me to my evening job as an obedience trainer at PetsMart, and to weekend hangouts at the movies with my friends. He went into grocery stores, shopping malls, on the buses and subway trains into San Francisco, the closest large city to where I grew up in the East Bay of California. As a puppy club we took group outings to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, Jack London Square in Oakland, Wednesday night street festivals in my hometown, even to the PacBell stadium to watch a game of baseball with the San Francisco Giants. Hawkins learned to be well behaved in public, ignore distractions, not eat food off the ground, ignore other animals and people, and how to interact with things like automatic sliding doors, shiny floors, statues of scary animals, metal grates on the sidewalk, loud noises, honking cars- things that Hawkins might encounter on a daily basis as a guide dog.

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Me and Hawkins (far left) with my Dalmatian and some puppy raiser friends

Puppy raisers are given a manual with training tips, guidelines, problem solving strategies, and a list of appropriate outings based on a puppy’s age. It’s important not to do too much, too fast with a young puppy. A busy shopping mall at Christmas or a baseball stadium might be too much for a 4 month old puppy, but a 10 month old puppy should be able to handle it just fine. Slow and steady wins the race for puppy socialization. Every month puppy raisers submit training reports on their puppies, listing outings they’ve taken and writing up reports of any problems the puppy is showing. These are compiled and placed in a file to be given to the trainer when the puppies come back to ‘college’ so the trainer can see what’s been going on in the puppy’s training since day one.

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Hawkins, getting bigger!

After about 16 months in their puppy raiser’s care, the dreaded letter comes in the mail. “The time has come for your puppy to return to our San Rafael, California school to begin training to become a Guide Dog.” The letter gives details on the weekend that your puppy needs to be returned, as well as the kennel’s hours. Including Hawkins, 7 puppies from our club were scheduled to go back for training that weekend.

That Saturday I put Hawkins in my truck and drove him the 90 minutes up to the guide dog school. I took some pictures, and with tear-filled eyes, I was lead to his kennel. The trainer told me to take my time, and to leave Hawkins in the kennel when I was ready to leave. I tried to explain to Hawkins how much I loved him and that I wasn’t abandoning him, but that he was going to be an amazing guide dog for someone. I also whispered to him that if he decided not to become a guide dog, he was always welcome home, but I knew as long as he didn’t chase his tail too much (something he loved to do) that he’d be a guide dog.

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Hawkins, all grown up and ready for college

Monthly recall weekends can bring in several dozen dogs at each of the two training campuses, San Rafael, California and Boring, Oregon. Puppies that have been raised in far-off locations often return on Guide Dog’s puppy trucks, small buses that have been converted with veterinary kennels on either side of the aisle. Puppy staff drive these buses out to the remote raising states, dropping off new baby puppies and picking up adult puppies ready to come back to college. In this way, raisers in places like Utah are saved the expensive of a very long drive or even a flight back to pick up and return puppies. Everybody loves to see the puppy trucks!

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Many people opt to raise again, and many people choose to pick up a new puppy that same day in order to heal the heartbreak of  leaving your adult puppy in the ‘puppy dorms.’ While I had applied to raise another puppy, which I was supposed to pick up the same day I was dropping off Hawkins, my second puppy  (who would end up being a black lab named Narci) had come down with a puppy tummy bug, and the kennel staff had decided it would be best to wait another week before I took him home. So I left the kennel with an empty leash, climbed into my truck and cried the whole way home.

After the first two weeks of initial health checks, hip and elbow x-rays, eye exams, blood work, complete physicals, and finally being neutered, Hawkins was placed into a training string with about 30 other dogs and roughly 4-5 trainers. The best of the best of the puppies that come in, who have the best physicals and certain personality traits that the breeding department would like to pass on to future guide dogs, are selected as breeders and are placed with ‘breeder custodian’ families, who keep the breeder as a family pet and bring it back to be bred when Guide Dogs requests. Since Hawkins was not selected as a breeder, he entered guide dog training. The training is broken down into 10 ‘phases’ and every week on Friday, the puppy raisers would get a ‘phase report’ which would tell us what phase of training our puppy is in.  I waited on pins and needles every Friday to see if Hawkins would move up a phase. Over the next 5 months I watched Hawkins progress through the 10 phases until he was deemed ‘class ready.’

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The dogs learn how to find and stop at down curbs and up curbs, how to find doorways and go around obstacles. The dogs are trained to look up to make sure there are no low lying branches or other things that might whack their handler in the head. They check for cars before crossing the street, and are trained to drag the handler backward to safety if a car unexpectedly pulls out. It is the handlers responsibility to know where they are going and to give directions to the guide dog. Although most guide dogs memorize familiar routes, the dogs themselves can’t read street signs or stop lights, so the handler must know how many blocks before turning right, and must pay attention to the sounds of traffic patterns to determine when it is most likely safe to cross the street. A guide dog’s final test is to escort a blindfolded trainer through one of the busiest areas around the campuses, downtown San Francisco or Portland.

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When Hawkins finally mastered all of this he was placed with a visually impaired person. I received a letter inviting me to his graduation, just a week after my own high school graduation. When a visually-impaired person receives a guide dog from Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc., they come to one of the two campuses and stay for 28 days (if it’s their first guide dog) or a 2, 3 or 4-week refresher course if it’s their 2nd or subsequent guide dog. The first week is spent learning how to handle a dog and what commands the dogs use, and practice guide dog work is done with a trainer holding a harness and pretending to be a dog, or a rolled up rug with a collar on it, affectionately called “Juno. ” The trainers know the dogs they trained, and after a week of working with the students, they carefully match dog personality to people personality, and assign the class ready dogs to the visually-impaired students based on these factors to ensure a good match. In this way they make sure a heavy handed handler doesn’t get a soft dog, or a soft handler doesn’t get a headstrong dog. They also match pace, to ensure a slow walking dog doesn’t get placed with someone who prefers to walk fast.

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Walkway on the California campus

Guide dogs pays for a student’s flight, as well as room and board costs, and of course, there is no charge for the dogs or their equipment. Students live in the on-campus dormitory, and meals are served restaurant-style in the dorm’s dining room. The dorms also have an exercise room, laundry rooms, a pool, and dog park areas where a student can walk their new dogs or let their dog off leash for time to romp and play. Student rooms are private, like a hotel room, with private baths and direct access to the outside courtyard for relieving dogs.

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Students learn to use their new guide dogs first in the smaller city streets of San Rafael and Boring, working their way up to more complicated and difficult areas of San Francisco and Portland.

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The final day of class is graduation day, and the puppy raisers get to come see their puppy again, and meet the handler that received their puppy. A graduation ceremony takes place, where puppy raisers present the puppies they raised to the handlers that will be their new best friends. On the graduation letter is the name and address of the new handler of the puppy you raised. So when I arrived on Saturday morning, I already knew the name of Hawkins’ new handler, and I knew Hawkins would be going to live in the great state of Texas. I brought along my current guide dog puppy, black lab Narci, as well as a scrapbook of pictures of Hawkins’ puppy days, along with captions in braille, done by the lovely receptionist at Guide Dogs. Very few visually-impaired people are totally blind, a majority have some sight, ranging from light perception to tunnel vision to peripheral vision, or spotted/blurred vision, and some can even make out some of the pictures included. Although people laugh, even today, when I tell them I gave a scrapbook of pictures to each of my graduating guide dog puppy’s handlers, the truth is, even if they can’t see the pictures themselves, they have friends and family members who can, and who doesn’t love to show off puppy pictures? For each scrapbook I gave out, I found out the graduate’s preferred method of reading, and transcribed the scrapbook in that way. Some scrapbooks were done in Grade 1 Braille, some in Grade 2 (shorthand) and some I recoded on cassette tape, describing each picture on a voice recorder.

When Hawkins saw me at the end of the hallway, he took a flying leap at me, and I dropped everything I was holding, including Narci’s leash. Luckily my friend was with me and she quickly grabbed Narci before he could scamper off like the mischievous puppy he still was, and picked up my things as Hawkins turned himself inside out in excitement. We were all able to visit for a short while before the ceremony, some pictures were taken by the photographer, then Hawkins was left with me while the graduates lined up on stage. One at a time the puppy raisers came out and presented the new guide dogs to their new owners. After the ceremony we went out to lunch, and I was able to see Hawkins in action as a real guide dog for the first time. After lunch I said my goodbyes to Hawkins and his new handler, and left the guide dog school, happy that Hawkins was now a working guide dog.

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Hawkins in harness, now a fully-fledged guide dog!

I went on to raise three more puppies and co-raised a fourth for guide dogs, before moving out of state and out of the puppy raising territory. When I moved to Texas several years later, I thought of Hawkins, living just 4 hours away, but decided against writing or calling. I was busy with work, graduate school, competing with my own dogs in schutzhund, and working with a search and rescue team, and I figured his handler was probably equally as busy. I missed raising, and while I lived there, Guide Dogs started a brand new puppy raising club in Dallas, the same city that Hawkins was working in (I would find out years later that they actually moved out of Texas, but I didn’t know this at the time), but at 4 hours away, it was too far for me to become a puppy raiser again. Shortly after I left Texas, having graduated from my graduate program, a puppy club would open in Austin where I was living, ironically.

I moved temporarily to Tennessee and it was in December of 2012, nearly 10 years after I’d last seen Hawkins, that Guide Dogs gave me a call. Hawkins had been retired due to his advancing age (he was approaching 12 years old) and some arthritis. His handler couldn’t keep him in his old age, and he’d been returned to the guide dog school for placement. Did I want him back?

Did I want him back?! Yes!! Of course! I jumped at the chance to bring home my Hawky-Wockie with the cute pink nose. The ‘corndog’ puppy (so nicknamed because he was yellow on the outside, pink on the inside, and a total goofball).  But I was in the middle of getting ready to move to West Palm Beach for a job offer, and couldn’t get him. Even if Guide Dogs brought him to me, I had no where to put him. So I called my mom, who still lived in California, who owned one of my puppies, and my co-raised puppy, that had both failed guide dog school. She was happy to keep Hawkins for me for a few months, and made the drive to the California campus to collect him.

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Picking Hawkins up

Guide dogs takes care of their dogs, even into old age. When a dog retires, the handlers, of course, can keep them as pets themselves, but for many handlers, that’s not an option. Especially if they live in a no-pets apartment, when the dog retires and is not being used a guide dog, their access rights expire, too. Some handlers travel extensively for work, and can’t leave their retired guide at home, and some are nervous about caring for an elderly dog with no way to get to the emergency vet quickly if their dog were to go downhill fast. Guide dogs always asks the dog’s puppy raisers first if they would like the dog back. If the puppyraiser can’t, then there is a long waiting list of people who love to adopt these elderly dogs, and Guide Dogs spares no expense finding the perfect homes for any of their dogs being released from the program.

When I finally picked Hawkins up I was excited to see him again. Other than a white face now, he looked much the same, same blocky head, same cute pink nose. Same happy labby smile. I’m not sure he remembered me, but followed me about the house nonetheless. I drove him back to Florida, stopping for a pit stop in northern Florida, where his handler now lived. He hadn’t seen Hawkins since the previous December, and when I found out he was right along the drive home, I offered to stop for a visit. Hawkins was happy to see the family he’d spent the last 10 years with, and the afternoon seemed to fly by before I realized we’d have to head out in order to make it home before 3am.

Hawkins is now happily enjoying his guide dog retirement, lounging in the sun on the grass, chewing bones, and eating cookies. He’ll live out his final days here (of which he has many left- he’s in great shape for a 12 year old dude), and it seems most fitting that, while he started life with me in California, he’s come down here to south Florida, like so many other retirees, to enjoy the warmth and sunshine in his retirement. And pretty soon, he’ll be helping me start the process all over again with a brand new guide dog puppy…

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Epilogue: Shortly before Christmas of his 13th year, Hawkins was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, a.k.a. spleen cancer. Sadly it had already spread to his heart and lungs by the time we detected it. The Guide Dog school spared no expense, paying for all his veterinary needs. We kept him comfortable, had an enjoyable last Christmas with him, and then made THE appointment at the vet in late January when he started to go downhill quickly. Hawkins didn’t make it all the way to the vet that day- he died in the backseat of the car with me holding his head, while we were waiting for the vet techs to bring a stretcher. Luckily, through the miracle of technology, Hwakins had a long FaceTime call with his former handler the night before he died, and perked up quite a bit, waging his tail and looking around for the source of his handler’s voice. It was a privilege to spend his first year and a half and his last year and a half with such an amazing dog. 

When cancer steals your dog.

On July 27th, the day before my birthday, cancer stole my sweet pit bull, Mushroom, from me.

It was completely unexpected.

Sweet Mushroom boy

Sweet Mushroom boy.

He had started with a mild cough not long before and we were treating him with antibiotics and steroids with the thought that it was kennel cough. The obvious choice- he’d been to a dog event, he’d been in the company of a bunch of dogs.

But his cough got worse instead of better. And then his breathing started to be labored and faster. Maybe I should have taken him back in sooner but I had that sinking feeling in my stomach and I was afraid that it was going to be something awful. Finally, we xrayed him, and found what no dog owner ever ever wants to see in their dog’s chest.

Cancer.

And lots of it.

This is one of his xrays, taken with him lying on his side facing toward the left. His spine is at the top of the picture. His heart toward the lower right. On an xray, air is black. There should be lots of black in this picture– healthy lungs full of air. But no. Instead there are clusters of circles everywhere. Tumors.

Mushroom chest film

Ugly ugly chest xray.

I felt like the ceiling had collapsed on me.

Primary lung cancer is fairly uncommon in dogs, but cancer loves to spread from other places into the chest. I didn’t look further. We could have xrayed and ultrasounded his belly, but we would have just been looking for further badness. At this point, there was really nothing to do. We put him on cough suppressants and continued his steroids. The vet told me a couple of weeks.

I got a day.

We spent it at a flyball tournament. He looked miserable. He didn’t want to eat. He was so weak he was having trouble standing. He looked like he did not feel good at all. I couldn’t watch him suffer. I held him in my arms and said goodbye to him that evening. He went quietly. Euthanasia. A good death.

I work in a veterinary hospital with a doctor who has a strong interest in oncology. We usually have at least one dog (and the occasional cat) in the midst of a course of chemotherapy. Most of the time it’s for lymphoma, which is one of the most treatable cancers. Occasionally we have treated leukemia and hemangiosarcoma, once a dog with melanoma.

Being around it every day has drastically changed my impression of chemo in pets. Before I started working there, I never ever would have put my own pet through chemo. I had visions of vomiting and misery. I had visions of sick, bald children.

It’s not like that in veterinary medicine, though. We don’t treat to cure. We treat with the goal of remission. We treat with the goal of extending life. We treat for quality of life. And, generally speaking, they get quality of life. With one treatment, they usually feel so much better. And we treat with that good quality of life always, always at the forefront of what we’re doing. The doses are lower and so side-effects are not so severe. We pre-treat with anti-nausea drugs for the chemo agent that is most likely to cause sick bellies. We understand that dogs don’t understand the big picture, the longterm outlook. They understand now. They understand “I feel good” or “I don’t feel good”.

The most important thing is that they feel good.

Chemo is expensive and it is time-consuming, but I wish that I could open the minds of more people to it as a possibility, because many people have the same pre-conceived notions that I did– that it makes dogs sick. And above all, their hearts are crying out to prevent suffering at all costs. To prevent the suffering of a beloved dog, but to not have him taken from them so soon. If your dog is diagnosed with cancer, I believe with my whole heart that a consultation with an oncologist is one of the kindest things you can do both for your dog and for yourself.

Chemotherapy wasn’t an option for my boy, though. It was too late. There was no delaying. There was no going back.

I feel a little bit gipped.

I have seen dogs with cancer live good lives for years past diagnosis. But it was not to be for my guy.

Goodbye, Mushroom my sweet friend. You were one of those Good Dogs. An Easy Dog. A dog who wanted to please, a dog who really wanted nothing more than a soft piece of furniture, a stuffed toy, and a belly full of food. You were a dog with a gentle spirit. You were a dog who was taken too soon.

Rest easy. I miss you.

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Siren’s Shiitake Happens, 11/02 – 7/27/13