Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Foster Mustang Sally

So in the midst of the insanity that is my life/house at the moment, I decided it's time to foster another dog. Mustang Sally is a cruelty case owner surrender. I like doing medical fosters, and this one's a doozy.
Mustang Sally is available for adoption through Austin Pets Alive!

From what I gather, Sally's previous owner basically neglected her. She is underweight (38 lbs, should be 50 or 60), undersocialized, and unfortunately tested positive for heartworms. Then, she had a litter of puppies (currently being cared for by another momma dog, or so I was told), and developed mastitis, a painful infection of one of her mammary glands. By the time animal control collected her, the mastitis had basically exploded out the side of one of her nipples and was spreading to another. Somewhere along the way, she also developed a pretty significant upper respiratory infection.

Nevertheless, she's a happy, playful youngster who really enjoys a good cuddle. The animal shelter is calling her a "pit mix" but I see a lot more Boxer than anything. In fact, she reminds me a lot of Lucy, an extraordinarily stupid but loving Boxer that lived with us for several years, first as a foster, then as our (ex-)roommate's dog. Lucy passed away a few years ago, but I see her ghost in Sally, right down to the drool that Sally spreads around after drinking, and the bemused stare she gives me while I futilely attempt to teach her some basic obedience.

As you can see in the photos, Sally is wearing an Easy Walk harness. She's a puller! When I picked her up from the shelter, she practically sawed my hand off, lurching around on the cheap nylon leash they supplied. The harness eliminates all the pulling. It's a temporary fix, but genuine leash training will wait until she's healthier and can focus on what I'm asking her to do.

Unfortunately, her respiratory symptoms are potentially contagious, so we have arranged the house so that the dogs are well-separated. She stays in the "foster wing" (the upstairs bathroom and office), with no less than two baby gates at strategic points to keep the dogs out of sight of each other. When I leave the house, Sally goes into a crate that is in the foster room, so there's absolutely no chance of unsupervised interaction.

The separation isn't much fun for Sally, however necessary it may be. The company of other dogs can sometimes help an undersocialized dog feel more comfortable about new situations. At the same time, I'm not sure she and Star will hit it off—they're very similar in appearance, age, and temperament, and I think Star might feel that her spotlight is being usurped by this newcomer. Once Sally is healthy enough to be with other dogs, we will have to proceed very slowly and carefully with introductions. I'm already prepared for the possibility that Sally and Star will need to stay separated. Dogs don't always get along, especially if their temperaments aren't compatible.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lovely spring days

One of the things I will miss when I get a real job (if I ever do, heh heh) is my current ability to plop down in a chair in the backyard and enjoy the flowers, sun, and breeze of Central Texas springtime. Texas spring is a very short-lived and unpredictable month (two months if you're lucky). Most years it's sunny and pleasant, and we all rush out and do our gardening before miserable summer gets here. Occasionally it will even rain.

Bloom, wisteria, bloom! Summer's around the corner!
Yes, that's agility equipment in the yard. Star and I have been practicing, now that the weather is nicer. Star's problem is not so much in the doing, but in which obstacle she should be doing. She happily does them all, in any order she pleases, rather than pay attention to my hand signals, commands, or body orientation. The cheese she receives for doing things in correct order just isn't enough of a motivator; I'm tempted to try a squeaky toy, but I'm worried that that will be a little bit too exciting, and her pea-brain will explode.

Worst of all, Star is no working dog. Although she enjoys agility at first, she quickly gets tired (usually within 15 minutes), and her performance degrades significantly—to the point where she walks around or even through jumps. She knows those bars fall out, so why would she jump them when she can just push them over? So, I have a very short window during which to engage her.

Although Star is not really an agility dog, I think the agility is good physical and mental exercise, so we keep it up.

Too... much... agility... zzzzzzz....
The crib mattress has been very popular—so popular that I bought a second one. Dozer and Star are roomies, but no matter what Star thinks, they are NOT friends. Dozer refused to share the crib mattress with Star. If she picked a spot beside him on the mattress, he immediately moved to the floor. This defeated the whole purpose of the crib mattress, which was to provide a soft sleeping place for Dozer's old bones.

So I got a second mattress, and the dogs each sleep on one. Yes, Dozer is spoiled rotten.

"Mooooom, her mattress is touching mine!!"

The raw feeding experiment has come to a halt. I ran into several difficulties, compounded by the dogs acquiring a stomach bug (not related to the raw food). The major problems were the fire ants and flies that were immediately attracted to the food, mere minutes after the food appeared outside. Fire ants are a particular problem in Texas and Dozer is allergic to any kind of insect sting. The only way to avoid the fire ants is to raw feed indoors, something I have determined is just not sanitary. I also ran into some minor difficulties, including Dozer not wanting to chew bones (he prefers soft foods nowadays) and Star spitting out any and all attempts to balance the nutritional value via eggs, fish oil, veggie mash, or anything else. When the dogs got the stomach bug, that tipped the scales, and I put them back on the expensive allergy-free kibble so that I could get back to a "last known good" configuration. I will probably retry raw feeding in the future, but I need to figure out how to deal with the peculiarities.

"You will throw this. Now. Pleeeeeeeeese."
Dozer had his annual vet checkup the other day, and tests came back with borderline low thyroid. We are going to watch and see if it crosses into hypothyroidism. Byrd has hypothyroidism so we already know a bit about it. Speaking of Byrd...

What is he doing to our back door? Well, because the house isn't painted yet, the unpainted door and doorframe have been exposed to the elements for a zillion years (okay, five). Consequently, both door and frame rotted.

I would just like to state for the record that I WAS RIGHT. I WAS 100% RIGHT.

Last week....
Me: Honey, the doorframe looks icky. I think it should be replaced before the house painters start.
Byrd: Haha, oh sweetie, you're so cute when you try to talk about manly things.
Me: No, really, when I tap on it, it sounds hollow. I think it's rotten.
Byrd: Nonsense, I know everything about houses, and there's no way it could be rotten.
Me: I'm sure you're right, but I'm so dumb, I just don't get it. Can you please demonstrate to me how it is not rotten?
Byrd: Of course, dear. Look how solid this wood is.
(Pokes doorframe with screwdriver, which sinks straight into rotten wood.)
Byrd: Well, it wasn't supposed to do that...
(Pokes doorframe again. Doorframe crumbles.)
Byrd: This doorframe is rotten!
Me: No way! That's impossible!

And so, we replaced the door.

The new door lacks a window, but once the house is painted (in one week!!), I intend to get a screen door. That will make it easier to enjoy pleasant Texas spring weather!

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Raw feeding

Two days ago I launched a grand new experiment: raw feeding. (For the dogs, of course.)

The reason is twofold: to see if Dozer's allergies are lessened by eating fresh foods rather than kibble (incredibly expensive special kibble), and to help Star keep her teeth clean.

It hasn't been an easy transition. On top of the need to provide a nutritionally balanced diet, I'm dealing with two very sheltered dogs. Neither of them have ever had raw meat or real bones before. Yesterday, neither of them had a clue what to do with their first raw meat bones, a couple of turkey necks. Star wasn't even certain she was supposed to be putting it into her mouth. (Her wide-eyed expression said, Is this a JOKE? You want me to eat THIS?? You're sick, lady! Sick!)

I had decided to start the experiment with poultry because the bones were smaller and I thought it would be easier for the dogs to practice eating. Dozer chewed gamely on his turkey necks, but Star abandoned hers after extensive licking and half-hearted nibbling.

Today, I gave them beef bones for the first time. The dogs were much more enthusiastic about the beef. I don't know if this is because beef tastes better than poultry when raw, or if it's because the dogs were hungrier after their failures from yesterday, or if they had just gotten the hang of this new gnawing-for-food thing.

This is ten-year-old Dozer gnawing his first-ever raw beef bone. This was a very big leg bone, more for chewing practice than for food (yes, my dogs are so sheltered, they had to practice eating a real bone). There's a smaller, meatier neck bone in the foreground; Dozer was studying it while he practiced on the big bone.

And Star is doing her best on a beef neck bone—but she's still nibbling and licking instead of chewing.

There we go... Finally, she's moved from nibbling to chewing on it! Aww, she looks like a Real Tough Dog, not a Miss Dainty Prissypants.

Two hours later... Still gnawing... And after they finished, they both went into the bedroom and took a looong nap on their beloved new bed. It was quiet here all day!

The major downside to raw feeding so far has been the constant cleanup (best not to feed raw meat indoors, must remove uneaten leftovers, have to wipe dogs' feet and muzzles before they come back inside), followed by the time-consuming nature of the process (preparing the food, sitting outside with dogs during hours-long gnaw sessions to make sure there are no fights over bones, etc). On the upside, the fresh food is less than half the price of Dozer's special allergy kibble.

It's too soon to say whether this is doing anything for Dozer's allergies. I can already concur that homemade food with raw meat and bones is a lot of mess and hassle, but if it solves Dozer's allergy problems, maybe it's worth it.

We'll see how it goes over the next few weeks.