Gorilla Glue: A Cautionary Tale

Last Friday I woke up to the insistent beeping of my alarm clock… and a young pit bull covered in Gorilla Glue. He had it all over his face, all over his front paws, across the top of his head, on his scrotum, and all over my carpet.

Not. Good.

Gorilla glue is a great product, but when it contacts moisture, it expands tremendously. Guess what’s nice and moist? The inside of a dog. Even a small amount of ingested glue can expand far enough to cause a blockage, and the only solution is surgery.

So, in went Trek to work.

A quick xray confirmed it (and a belly full of kibble because I was stupid and not awake yet and fed him. Surgeon not amused).

Belly full of glue.

Belly full of glue.

So off to surgery he went. After they scooped out all his breakfast (I’m sorry I really am), they removed several large hard spongy sections of glue. Thankfully the glue doesn’t stick to the stomach and all of it was still in the stomach, so it was a “simple” foreign body removal. With a big incision. For big mistakes.

This dog.

This morning he brought me a knife while I was still in bed. I just don’t even..

This is what they removed.

This is what they removed.

Off he went to recovery where he slept off his drugs. The surgery team was nice enough to scrape all the glue off his tongue and the inside of his mouth, as well as his muzzle. I sat and pulled the glue off his feet. It was like he was wearing casts, it was so hard. It left angry skin underneath, but what are you going to do?

Sleeeeepy pit bull.

Sleeeeepy pit bull.

He did fine after surgery. The surgeon warned me that it was not a sterile surgery because of all the food they had to take out and he might spike a fever and have to deal with some infection, so he went home on antibiotics as well as pain medication, but he never seemed any worse for the wear. The jerk.

We spent the weekend camping out at a flyball tournament and he was as obnoxious as if he had never had major abdominal surgery. And he ate his way out of my tent in the middle of the night.

Oh Trek. You are such an adventure.

How I lost my best friend and found a new one all in one day.

If you follow us on Facebook, you might have seen that I put Luce to sleep last Friday. Luce was my first dog, my first competition dog, and my savior. She taught me so much about dogs, about training, about creativity and patience and forgiveness. And unconditional love.

She was 12 1/2 and it was showing not just in her arthritic body, but in her brain. She wasn’t my dog anymore. She was so senile that she’d bark and bark and nothing could make it better. She didn’t greet me anymore. It just wasn’t my Luce anymore when I looked into her cloudy eyes. I couldn’t watch her like that, so I scheduled her an appointment right before my therapy appointment, and I held her in my arms as she went to sleep. And then I held her in my arms some more while I sobbed in privacy over her empty body.

There will never be another dog like Luce. There will never be another dog who will be able to teach me as much as she did.

My best girl.

My best girl.

I had sworn before she died, for months and months, no new dogs. Three is plenty.
I had especially sworn no more pit bulls. They’re too much trouble. The dog/dog issues complicate things with sports. They all blow out their knees. The social stigma is wearing. The legal crap is always that threat hanging in the background.

But somehow I found myself at the shelter where I adopted Luce. I wandered through their kennels without seeing anything that I liked (lots of cute small dogs there– unusual!)

And then I drove to the shelter in my county, not expecting much. They’re small. Not much to choose from. And who knows if a shelter will even adopt to me with my intact dog and my Steve who I knew would hate any dog at a meet-and-greet and they’d just have to take my word for it that he would settle with time and I could handle it.

So with all of that in my head, I walked into the kennels, and there he was.

Luce put him there. That’s the only way.

McLovin

McLovin

45 pounds, the size a pit bull should be. Cute as a button. Young. And more interested in me than in what was going on outside his back kennel door.

So I went up front and asked. Will you adopt to someone who has an intact dog at home? She said all of our dogs and spayed or neutered before they leave, so that is not a problem. Logic! Yes!

So then the next scary question– I know one of my dogs will hate him at the meet and greet but that he will also settle down with time and space. Would you still adopt to me? She said as long as when my dog did his jerk stuff that the dog I was interested in didn’t want to eat him in return, they’d be ok with it.

I said can I meet McLovin?

So I did some paperwork and then they brought him up to one of the getting to know you rooms and this dog is freaking perfect. He’s goofy and floppy. He likes to play ball. He likes to tug. He likes me a really lot. He likes to play but he’s not bouncing off the walls.

They offer to let me take him for a walk outside, so we do that and he’s distracted by all the cool stuff going on, but a “puppy puppy puppy!” from me brings him right back to my side.

What a good dog. And he’s just nice. He’s even-keeled. He likes other dogs (and hopefully will continue to), he’s fine with cats, he loves people of all shapes and sizes.

I put him on hold for 24 hours so I could think about it, but really I didn’t need to. I had already fallen in love. This dog, he’s nothing like Luce but he immediately settled into that pit-bull-shaped hole in my stomach. He’d already taken up residency in my heart.

Saturday I loaded up my three idiots and drove them down to the shelter, where the shelter staff took them from me one at a time and introduced them to McLovin. None of them loved him immediately, but they parallel walked them for a bit and tried again once everybody had settled down. They were good at knowledgeable about what they were doing, and even Steve was tolerant and unworried by the end of his intro.

And so I own another pit bull.

In love all over again

In love all over again

His name is Trek now, and eventually I’ll register him as Siren’s Improbable Journey. I hope that he will play flyball and rally obedience. I hope that he will be a rockin’ hiking companion. He’s already a great cuddle buddy.

It’s amazing to me how he just slipped into my life like he’s always been here. It amazes me that I could fall in love again so quickly.

I never thought of myself as a “breed” person. There are tons of breeds of dogs that I like and would like to own someday. But it looks like I might always have to own a pit bull. It looks like the breed might have chosen me.

Seeking for hidden treasure: Geocaching with dogs

Over the summer, I discovered this delightful game called Geocaching.

Basically, Geocaching is using our fancy GPS technology to search for tupperware in the woods. (Well, and in towns and cities, too. They’re everywhere.)

People, it’s like searching for hidden treasure! It’s fun. It gets you outside. It’s cheap. You can (usually) take your dog. And you never know what you’re going to find.

To get started all you need is a GPS-capable piece of equipment like a smart phone or an actual GPS and a free membership to Geocaching.com and an app for your phone (I use c:geo/ which is free, but there is also an official Geocaching app). You type in the location where you’d like to go searching, and it gives you the GPS coordinates and some details on all the caches in that area. There are traditional caches which are just a container (tiny or large) hidden at the given coordinates.

Large! Google "Raiders of the Lost Cache" for the full awesomeness of this cache.

Large! Google “Raiders of the Lost Cache” for the full awesomeness of this cache.

Or tiny. And tricksy.

Or tiny. And tricksy.

There are multi-caches that include searching for multiple containers, often containing coordinates that lead you to the final find. There are mystery or “game” caches that can involve solving a code. There are even virtual caches which require you to go to the location and report back to the cache owner what you find there. (Some of these are super cool.)

A very traditional tupperware cache.

A very traditional tupperware cache.

Also needed: a curious mind, a sense of adventure, and a little bit of frustration tolerance! Some of these suckers can be hard to find!

This one hadn't been found in a year!

This one hadn’t been found in a year!

That’s it. Simple, right? Yes. But not always easy. You may be at the coordinates, but you’re still looking for something hidden. And that hidden thing may be the size of your thumbnail. Some cache-hiders are absolutely devious and evil. But that’s part of what makes it so much fun. They are so creative! Once you finally “see” and the lightbulb goes off above your head, it’s like a rush of amusement and joy.

This guy was a bit more creative.

This guy was a bit more creative.

Caches are rated on the website both by difficulty of terrain and difficulty of the hide. Obviously, it’s best to start out simple until you get a feel for the game. Another good tip is to always check the log before you head out, especially if you’re having to travel any significant distance, to make sure the thing has been found recently. It can be really annoying to travel half an hour only to get to a cache that nobody’s been able to find in the past 8 months.

Now to bring dogs into it. Safety first! Caches should be marked on the website if they are not dog-friendly but be sure to use common sense as well. Remember, if you are out in the woods, to carry appropriate safety equipment and water both for you and your dog. Personally I find a convertible leash to be super useful because it lets me easily tether my dog to a tree or a post while I search or write in the log of a cache I’ve found. And since many caches are hidden in areas that allow hunting, be sure to wear orange and dress your dog in orange if you’re going to be out! As with any hiking, if you’re going by yourself, always let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Safety first!

All business, holding down this tree while I search.

All business, holding down this tree while I search.

I hope I can get least a few of you out into the woods searching for hidden treasure. It’s addictive and it’s fun. I think a lot of us need more fun in our lives.

I have found my joy, and his name is Steve.

Years ago, when Steve was young and completely insane and I was new to agility and new to the special kind of insanity that is Border Collies, I had a trainer completely steal my joy. The club where I took obedience and rally also ran an agility program, and the instructors were some pretty accomplished people– multiple championship titles, Nationals, even someone who has been to Worlds. It was natural that I would just start off my agility journey there.

Very bad plan. Very bad. They begin with what they call Foundations, which is exactly the skills that it should be, but the problem is they have six young, green dogs all trying to

Big air Steve

Big air Steve

work, usually offleash, at the same time. Steve, young and overly excited about anything and everything that moved tasked with rear-foot-targeting a small board OVER AND OVER AND OVER again… well… let’s just say that didn’t keep him very occupied.

I did a lot of mat work with him. I did a lot of control unleashed games with him. But what it came down to was that there was no way for me to keep this dog under threshold far enough for him to learn much of anything with the class set up the way it was.

And none of the instructors either could understand that or were able to honor that and help me work around it.

We finally made it out of Foundations after several sessions and moved into Beginner 1. This class involved stringing several jumps together, maybe in a big circle. Stever dropped probably 85% of the jumps. So they found me special jumping instruction. She was going to teach my dog how to jump.

Never did anyone address that my dog was so over threshold that his brain was gone and the only thing his body wanted to do was GO AS FAST AS POSSIBLE.

I left class crying week after week.

I was taken out of the class and set aside and told to work on my relationship problems with my dog.

My heart broke. I got this dog to play agility with him, and I had failed completely before I ever got started.

They missed it. They missed it completely. The problem was not my dog, not at all. It was not me. I was doing everything I knew how to do.

The problem was the setting. The problem was instructors who just didn’t get it. Nowhere along the line did anybody suggest a different class, or private lessons. That was what he needed. No one said anything about thresholds.

Steve masters a different kind of teeter totter

Steve masters a different kind of teeter totter

I quit. I left class crying yet again and I never went back.

Finally after some encouragement from friends, I switched to another training club. I went to meet the instructor to see if my dog was broken. He wasn’t. He ran beautifully alone in her training building. What?

So we joined her classes. One dog in the ring at a time, for the most part. The rest of the dogs crated either in the building or out of it, depending on the dog.

And yeah, he was high at first. WOOHOO AGILITY! He crashed a lot of jumps. But as he learned the game, as he learned the environment, he started to settle.

And we made progress. I stopped crying. My dog learned. I learned.

Somehow, I had an agility dog.

We’re nothing amazing. I don’t like to trial, so he has a couple CPE titles and a couple legs in USDAA Performance 1 Gamblers (and I think 1 in Standard).

Here’s his first USDAA Gamblers run ever. (fast forward to about 50 seconds in)

Now most of the agility we do is on our own, just playing around in the training building, running whatever course is leftover from classes. I like it. He likes it. It works.

Recently I’ve put him back in Rally Obedience classes again. I love the instructor. I love the sport. Steve is a smartypants who pretty much knows all the exercises (he has one Rally Excellent leg, and I just haven’t managed to get out of bed to make it to another trial). But it’s good for him to go brain, and it’s good for me to go play with him in public.

And play we do. Sometimes, our play gets caught on camera, like it did before class last week. We were just warming up, fooling around, getting ready for class. The instructors husband caught us on film.

 

 

(and before anyone says it, yes, he forges terribly and no, I don’t care)

And what do you know, my old agility instructor, the one who broke my heart and stole my joy? She saw it and she commented on the “long way” that Steve and I have come and that it was “impressive”. And that would feel good if it were coming from somebody else, coming from someone who supported us and believed in us from the beginning. But she is somebody that we worked hard *despite* of, somebody that broke us down instead of lifting us up.

Steve and I? We didn’t need to work on our relationship. We have that in spades and we always have. We just needed somebody who understood what we needed to help that relationship shine in a particular environment.

I am so lucky to have this amazing dog in my life, and I am so very very grateful to have found people who would build us up, who would work through the hard stuff, who would sing his praises and help me toward achieving what I wanted with him.

That is what everyone trying to train a dog deserves, whether you’re just trying to learn basic manners in a beginner obedience class or you’re trying to learn a complicated game like agility. Respect. Honoring of your special relationship with your dog. Encouragement. Knowledgeable advice appropriate to your situation. We are not all cookie-cutters. We all deserve to be treated and taught as individuals.

Not all disabilities are visible: Life with a Service Dog in the real world.

13042453925_38b7ff5eb3I never dreamed I’d ever have a Service Dog. I never dreamed I’d need a Service Dog. But sometimes life happens, and sometimes you fall off the edge of a really big cliff into an ocean of rough, dark, deep water and you have to learn how to swim again.

In December of 2012 I fell. I had three psych hospitalizations, more medications thrown at me than I can even remember now, countless therapist visits. I hit the point where I couldn’t live alone anymore, so my four dogs and I moved into my agility trainer’s home with her and her family and their six dogs. It was a challenge. It was stressful. But they kept me safe.

But that couldn’t last forever. I needed to figure out how to become self-sufficient again. I needed to figure out how to do all the normal “every day” tasks that people have to complete, even the ones that require going out in public. Out in public is hard. I get panicky. I get lost. I get overwhelmed by the noise and the motion and the colors and my brain gets stuck, which is such a scary and vulnerable place to be.

When I had lost a significant part of my hearing in my left ear the year before, I had started to teach my Border Collie Steve to respond to my alarm clock by insistently poking and licking and pawing me. As the meds piled on and piled on, I needed him not because I couldn’t hear my alarm, but because I couldn’t find the energy to respond to it.

He naturally started to alert to my panic attacks and to my episodes of dissociation at home, and so I reinforced and reinforced them to make them dependable.1794690_10202521920382148_975814216_n

I told my therapist how great he is, and she asked about using him as a Service Dog. I thought… my crazy dog could never function in public as a Service Dog! He’ll be over-the-top and embarrass me! But she asked me if I’d start bringing him to sessions to see if it helped, so I did and it did. I bought him a vest and we ventured out into the real world, cautiously, one small step at a time.

My dog did not falter.

My crazy, screaming flyball dog walks calmly next to the cart in the grocery store, ignoring the food on the shelves, ignoring the people who invade his space, who try to pet him, who babytalk him. He lies down while I unload all my groceries at the cash register. He goes under the table in a restaurant and hangs out there while I eat dinner. And he continues to alert me, interrupt me, help me ground myself when I need him to. And having him with me makes me need him less, because I am more confident knowing that I can trust him to have my back, to keep me safe if I need to be interrupted from going out of my mind.

But being out in public with my clearly vested dog has opened my eyes to how utterly ignorant people are around and about service dogs.

A service dog can be large or small. He can be walking by his owner’s side, leading him, or held in his arms. It all depends on what the dog is being used for. There are dogs who help people with a wide variety of disabilities from balance to hearing to seizures to diabetes to PTSD. Just because a person doesn’t look a certain way, doesn’t mean that their dog is not doing important work. Just because we do not meet your stereotypes does not mean we are fakers. Not all disabilities are visible.1662092_10202375352278037_772026057_n

Please do not try to disrupt these dogs while they are working. Do not bark at them, so not try to pet them, do not throw food or toys at them, do not babytalk or make kissy noises at them. Just leave. them. alone. These dogs are very well trained, but they are still just dogs, and their attention wavering at just the wrong time because some dumb person at the mall was barking at him again (why people think this is funny, I will never understand) could end up in disaster for the person depending on him.

Please don’t treat the owner as if she’s not there. There are two members in every service dog team. It’s ok to ask polite questions, but don’t be offended if the handler is not interested in talking or in revealing her personal information or history. General questions are usually ok, but “what do you need a service dog for, you don’t look disabled?” is not an ok question.

Employees may ask two specific questions to verify if the service dog is a “real” one. He may ask whether the dog is a service dog, and he may ask what tasks the dog has been trained to perform. That’s it. He may not ask why the handler needs a service dog, what disability afflicts them.

Employees may ask any dog who is disruptive to leave. This is one that I think employees don’t necessarily know and that they are afraid to use. If the dog truly is a service dog and the dog is being disruptive and is not under the control of the handler, the ADA still gives permission to businesses to ask them to leave. While all service dogs are guaranteed access to any public place under federal law, that federal law does not allow them to abuse the privilege and cause problems.Serviceable Steve

It’s just a service dog, not a unicorn. Service dog teams may be uncommon in your area, but surely you’re aware that they exist, right? Don’t stare, don’t cause a scene, don’t whip out your cell phone to snap a picture. Just let us go about our business. Just let us fit seamlessly into the flow of people on the street or in the aisle. Respect our privacy and our space the way you would that of any other stranger.

And please, stop trying to pet my dog when I’m not looking. He doesn’t like it.

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

The come and go game.

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Out of reach puppy.

I took Bean for his first solo hike last weekend.

And we discovered that while he has a very nice recall in a fenced yard and in the training building, he has no recall in the woods. Whoopsie!

Oh, he didn’t go anywhere, and he turned and came toward me when I called him, but he would not come to me and he would not allow himself to be caught. Not even for a food bribe. Instead, he’d come to a distance of five or ten feet and we’d play the “neener neener you can’t catch me” game.

Naughty puppy!

(In order to emergency catch the unruly beast, I ran away from him and “fell” down. He immediately came and jumped on me and he was nabbed! This trick works great for a lot of dogs. Curiosity caught the puppy.)

I absolutely need my off-leash hiking dogs to have reliable recalls. They need to turn and come immediately, at speed, and end up close enough for me to get hold of. This is non-negotiable. So the baby will need to learn if he is to be allowed off-leash privileges.

One game I like a lot for recall work is the “come and go” game. For so many dogs, “come” means the fun is over. The dog is only recalled when it’s time to be leashed or go home or even, for some dogs, when they’re in trouble. Of course they’re not going to come promptly and happily if it signals the end of playtime!

So I like to make a game of calling my dogs, taking hold of their collars or harnesses, and then immediately sending them away. Come! Good job! Go! We do this in the yard (and Bean is funny in the yard– he’ll come, but then I can’t get rid of him) but he hasn’t had very much experience doing it elsewhere. My failing and laziness.

DSC_0047

Steve going.

Steve, my adult Border Collie and superduper hiking buddy, loves this game. We play it nearly every hike, just to keep in practice. And because “come” most often dictates that there will be “go”, he has no reason to hesitate or second guess. And yes, sometimes he gets held because there are people coming toward us on the trail and I need to get him out of the way, and sometimes he gets leashed because the trail is twisty or tight and I can’t see ahead of us, but other times he’s rewarded and re-released and it’s fun to run.

With Bean, we’ll start working this game on a longline or a Flexi attached to his harness, so that he can have more freedom than a regular six foot leash will give him, but so that he doesn’t get the choice to not come, and so I don’t risk losing him. Once he’s reliable with that, we’ll start trying it off the leash again. I guess because he’s generally so very good, I had too much faith in him last weekend. He’s come back in the past because he’s just following Steve’s lead, and Steve is reliable. But when left to his own devices, his lack of training in new places– and simply his youth– showed. So leashed hikes it is for awhile, until he’s more invested in the recall game.

Raising Bean: Five months. Building the baby flyball dog.

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Growing up herdy.

Time is flying and Puppy Bean is turning into, well, a dog. He turned five months old on Thursday. He has all his big boy teeth. He’s in the process of swapping out his puppy fuzz for an adult coat.

Some people like to raise their puppies without a lot of training. Some people start working heavily with their puppies from the day they come home. I was very enthusiastic with my first Border Collie Steve’s training, but haven’t been nearly so hardcore with Bean. It’s not that we don’t do stuff, it’s just our focus has been a bit different. Less sit/down/stay/come and more things like building drive for toys, building thoughtfulness around toys, developing body awareness, and learning how to learn. We do perch work where he puts his front paws up on something and is rewarded for moving his back feet around (the goal being to have him turn in circles). We work on shaping behaviors like having him put all four feet in a box. We do a lot of hand-targeting, and we’re starting to work on targeting things with his hind feet.

First and foremost, I got Bean to be a flyball dog, and a lot of what we’ve done has been geared toward that.

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Tug Toy Redux: Kongs!

Disclaimer: The products reviewed in this blog entry were provided to us by the Kong company to review. Team Unruly does not receive any money for product reviews and strives to provide objective and honest critiques of quality dog products.

Faithful Team Unruly readers will remember our epic “Favorite Tugs” post published a few weeks ago. The response we received was amazing and we’re so grateful to all those who participated and gave their recommendations! We forwarded the post on to some of the companies mentioned in by our readers, and the great folks over at Kong sent us a few of their other tug products to try out – to take for a “test tug”, if you will. Between Katie and Bex, there are three bullies and two Border Collies, so we figured we’d see how Kong’s products hold up to a bit of rough treatment.

The first product is Kong’s Ballistic Tug. This is a plushie tug made from three layers of fabric and stitched in a diamond pattern across all the fabric areas. It feels pretty sturdy. The product information says it floats, but I didn’t try that out — we haven’t had a really good swimming day that coincides with any of my limited free time! It also says it’s washable, but I haven’t washed mine yet.

"For... me?!"

“For… me?!”

Cerb loved this tug. He was pretty fixated on it when it arrived – it was the first toy he pulled out of the shipping box and he stared at it when I put it up on a shelf to keep him from destroying it right away. It makes for a really good tug toy – if you can get your dog to stay on one end, you can slip your hand through the circle on the opposite end and get a really good grip!

The circular ends are well-stitched and durable. Cerb hasn’t done any damage to the ends at all. Unfortunately, he zeroed in on the tug’s soft belly-area in the middle and ripped through the fabric in his destuffing frenzy. I think this product is a great tug toy and it might hold up really well with a more gentle dog, but for added durability I would love to see the middle area of the toy toughened up a little bit. Maybe extra fabric or stitching here would help.

The next toy is Kong’s Safestix. This is a rubber tug and fetch toy that can replace regular sticks and tree branches, which can be a dangerous choking or puncture hazard.

Okay, yes. This toy looks hilarious. It is the first thing everyone says when they first see it and it resulted in quite a few bawdy jokes from my family members when I showed up at my mother’s house with this toy hanging out of my luggage. Let’s move past that.

This toy is pretty awesome. I love the idea of trying to replace sticks and branches, because I have nightmares about Cerberus getting a stick lodged in his cavernous maw. This toy comes in several sizes, too, so you can get something appropriate for your dog. It’s really durable, as we have come to expect from Kong products – even super-chewer Cerberus hasn’t managed to do much damage, just a few tooth-marks on the ends. He really enjoyed tugging on it and flinging it around.

That’s the one drawback to this toy: This is an outside toy. This might not be such an issue with the smaller sizes, but we got the large and Cerberus delights in whipping it around in a frenzy. Those ball-shaped ends hurt when they collide with your shins, knees or groin (yes, groin – sorry, honey!) at high speed. For the sake of your lower extremities, your walls and your fragile home decor, I suggest playing with this one outside or at least in a room with lots of open space – but those are the best places to play, anyway!

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Serious puppies need serious tug toys.

Alright, let’s turn things over to Katie:

I will admit, when I signed on to take a plush tug toy, I wasn’t that optimistic. My dogs are hard on tug toys. Heck, I started my own tug toy making business because of how hard my dogs are on toys. But when I opened the box and laid hands on the Kong Tuggerknot, I was pleasantly surprised. This toy is solid!

It has a nice plushy, cute exterior (ours is a moose), but underneath it is all super serious knotted goodness. I expect this toy may loose some cutesy feet and ears, but it is a toy that looks like it will hold up to heavy-duty tugging. A rope handle on each end allows the human end of the equation to get a double grip, making it even more appealing to the owner of a heavy-tugger. I hate tug toys that only allow me to tug one-handed with my pit bulls, because they are so darned strong, especially when Mushroom turns on the full-body thrashing. (Unfortunately, my pit bulls have decided to be crotchety old farts and neither one of them will engage with this toy, so you’re stuck with a picture of an adorable Border Collie puppy, who immediately claimed the toy as his very own.)

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It’s a ball! It’s a tug! It’s a happy Collie!

The other toy I received was the Squeezz. The Squeezz. Really, what more could a dog want? It’s a BALL! It’s a TUG! IT SQUEAKS! I have flyball dogs. This toy was built for them. There are actually several different designs of this toy, but ours has a ball on one end and a handle on the the other. And it is a nice handle. It is cushy and comfortable to hold. It is also anchored to the rope, so it doesn’t slide around, which I appreciated.

The Border Collies loved this toy, though the puppy grabbed onto the rope instead of the ball. Steve clamped his jaws around the ball, delighting in the squeak, and went to town. And killed the squeak in about five minutes, much to his dismay. (I told you they’re hard on toys!) But other than that, this toy is a ton of fun and is holding up beautifully. It throws well, it bounces, and because my dogs are so ball-oriented, they’re inclined to grab their end instead of slobbering up my end. The rope has a few pulls in it from vicious puppy teeth, but other than that, it looks like new after several sessions of backyard play.
This is not something I would have chosen to purchase in a store based on looks alone. I had no question that my dogs would like it, but I would not have expected it to survive them. So far, I have been very impressed by the sturdiness of both of the Kong toys that we tried out, and the Squeezz has become such a favorite that I would consider replacing it once it reaches the end of its lifespan.

Needed: Retirement homes for old dogs.

Siren, going for the classic French look.

If you had told me that my first dog was going to be a Miniature Poodle, I never would have believed you. And doubly so if you’d told me that Poodle was going to be 15 1/2 years old when I brought her home. But I am one of those people who believes the adage that you don’t always get the dog you want, you get the dog you need, and so it was that I brought home an ancient Miniature Poodle from work. And I loved her. She was senile, not really housebroken, had congestive heart failure and weakening kidneys, but she was mine.

Who dumps an elderly dog? Well, an elderly woman who was no longer able to care for herself, much less a dog with her own laundry list of medical conditions and pill organizers full of pills. (No lie, she was on five different pills as well as eye drops by the time it was all said and done.) She had made arrangements in advance: her young poodle went to her groomer to place, and Siren went to her veterinarian. She lived in the kennel at work for awhile, and I would let her out with me at night (I worked nights by myself, and it was usually fairly quiet- paperwork, housekeeping, monitoring hospitalized patients, sterilizing surgical instruments and gowns). At first I couldn’t stand her- she paced and paced and pottied on the floor and paced some more. But with time, she got comfortable with me, and her pacing changed to wandering around looking for toenails to eat, and then settling in her basket to snooze.

She was not an easy dog. She didn’t deal well with being left alone, she was not at all housebroken, she didn’t see well, she didn’t hear well. But she loved life and she loved people, and I’d take her for carries around the neighborhood because she could only walk for a block or two.

Siren gave me a great gift: she gave me a love for old dogs. I love my young dogs too, don’t get me wrong, but there is something that feels really good to me about giving an old dog a place to live out whatever time she has left.

So a number of years after Siren, despite already having two pit bulls at home, I started trolling Petfinder for another old dog, and adopted Harv. Harv’s story was a bit more harsh. He was seized by animal control as a cruelty case (though I didn’t know this until after he’d passed). He was evaluated as adoptable, but nobody wanted an older black pit bull, so he lived in the shelter for over a year. He was finally at long last adopted, only to be returned a year later, a victim, this time, of divorce. And there he sat for another several months until I showed up. And even though I didn’t fit the general requirement that pit bull adopters need to live in the same county as the shelter, they let me take him home. (And I want to give a shout-out to the York County SPCA for housing and caring for a not very adoptable black, elderly pit bull until somebody showed up who wanted him. I would guess that in a depressing number of places, my old man never would have had a chance. But they were rooting for him, and so many of the employees and volunteers who were there when I went to meet him and then to pick him up were overjoyed that he was finally going home.)

How could I leave this face in the shelter?

Harv was an epic dog. I only had him for fourteen months until a brain tumor claimed him, but it seems like so much longer. He was the most wonderful old fart of a dog. We went to beginner obedience class and changed some minds over what pit bulls are like, though I think all he actually learned was sit and down. He was kind and gentle and loved everybody. He tried so hard to play with the other dogs but he was endlessly awkward about it. He spent a lot of time not really knowing what was going on, but he was Happy! He would run back and forth through the house and bite my butt while I was getting dog meals ready, and I could never correct him for it because it made me laugh so hard.

A lot of people have asked me how I could do that to myself– bring home an old dog I knew was going to die soon. You know, nothing is ever certain. I had a puppy die too. It’s different, I think, to bring home an older dog, and I think my relationship has been different with them, but I didn’t love them any less, and the time we shared… I wouldn’t give that back for anything.

They have certainly been high maintenance. Bringing home an elderly dog means bringing home a dog right in the midst of what is probably going to be the most expensive time of his life. Siren had her heart failure and she also had an ugly bout of pancreatitis. Harv, whom I swore I would not spend a lot of money on, developed excruciatingly painful glaucoma (high pressure) in one of his eyes, probably secondary to an old injury. I had his eye removed, since he couldn’t see out of it anyway. I could hardly put him to sleep for something we could fix! And then one of his teeth abscessed, so even though he was already having seizures from his brain tumor at that point, we put him under anesthesia and took that out, because again, it was something that needed to be fixed. Oh expensive dog!

A little rough around the edges, but happy til the end.

Training is a ittle iffy with an old dog whose mind is not as sharp as it used to be, but at the same time, training is one of the very best things you can do with an old dog. If you don’t use it, you lose it. Harv loved his food-dispensing ball, and it was good for him to have to interact with it to get his food. We did obedience class because I’m an obedience class junkie, but I am glad that we did.

I do think old dogs can be a bit less flexible about things, and they can get very attached to their routines. I think that’s simply one of those things that goes with old age. But at the same time, they’re mostly pretty darned content to just be. Harv spent a lot of time crashed out, snoring, on a dog bed. He didn’t really want for anything else. An occasional romp around the yard, some walks around town, his dinner, a bone to chew. He was good.

I have shared my stories of Siren and Harv with a lot of people, and my hope is that if I can keep sharing it, more people will consider giving a home to an older dog. There are so many oldsters in our shelters and rescues who are there through no fault of their own. Yes, it can be hard. Yes, it can be heartbreaking. But it is also an incredible joy to cherish and spoil an old soul, and to give a good old dog the comfort he deserves for the time he has left.