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How to Talk to Your Gynecologist About Euthanasia

If I tell someone that I work with dogs, it’s guaranteed that that person will ask me for advice about their dogs. This happens no matter where I am.

If I’m getting a massage, I get asked about house training problems. If I’m at the dentist, my hygienist wants to know how she can convince her mother not to be terrified of her pit bull (who is lovely, thank you very much). And when I’m at the gynecologist, my doctor is asking me about her elderly dog’s end of life issues.

Let me say this from years of experience with a variety of gynecologists who have nothing in common with one another except that they all like to talk to me about their dogs while they root around in my lady bits:

After someone’s had their hand in your vagina, it’s pretty easy to talk about euthanasia.


So there I was at my new doctor’s office, having never met her before, and she’s telling me about the wonderful dog her family adopted a few years ago from the animal shelter where I used to work. The dog, let’s call him Paps (ladies, are you with me here?), was pretty old now and had a whole host of expensive medical conditions.

His meds were running about $500 a month. My doc said she didn’t mind paying, even though that meant her family wouldn’t be able to afford a vacation this summer. She was really just so worried about her dog.

Was he ok? Was he suffering? Why didn’t she know if it was the right time to let him go?

Everyone kept telling her she’d “just know” when it was time.


photo credit: glamour magazine

photo credit: glamour magazine


Around this point in the conversation I wrapped that weird plastic sheet around me and sat up. “That’s not true for a lot of us. We don’t just know. Some dogs don’t magically tell us and we can’t figure it out, even though we love them. It’s ok if you don’t know.”

Tears. Hers.

She was relieved to know she wasn’t failing Paps.  Because you know what “you’ll know when it’s time” implies? That if you don’t know, then you suck at loving them.

Doc thought that if she didn’t know the answer to this seriously important question, then that meant she didn’t really know her dog. How awful is that? On top of being torn up that your dog is old and sick, now you have to question whether or not you’re a good dog owner because you don’t “just know”?

I know we mean well when we say this (I know I’ve said it in the past) and it is true that sometimes we do “just know.” But this common advice winds up not only failing, but hurting, a lot of good people.

So, why wasn’t he just passing away quietly in his sleep? Would that happen, she wondered?

Maybe. But with the level of medical care she was giving her dog, Paps, like so many of our pets, was receiving life-extending treatment. It’s not like the old days – for pets or humans. Today we treat a lot of conditions we couldn’t years ago and that means that both pets and people may get to experience a long period of old age. And with it comes full on decrepitude and peeing in our beds (when we’re sober). Which means we need to actively make a choice on their behalf.

So when is it the right time?, she asked.

I told her what so many people have told me over the 15 years I’ve been caring for their pets:

Waiting too long, because we can’t bear to let them go, often results in a shit-storm of guilt later. If we let our pets suffer, because we’re not ready to lose them, then months and years later we’re stuck with a lot of guilt about the unnecessary pain we put them through. Often, it’s better to err on the slightly too soon side, then the slightly too late side of things.

Disclaimer: When I say “soon”, I don’t mean that the minute they have an accident or sneeze or fall over we should rush to put them to sleep (if that were the case I would have sent Birdie to meet her maker – Charles Schulz, I think – about 4 years ago). I really mean when things are already quite serious and the end is near.

But how will I know?

I told her about the Quality of Life scale which would help her measure the, uh, quality, of her dog’s life. She was so relieved to know this existed and that she would have something to help her measure this seemingly immeasurable thing. She thanked me profusely.

Tears again. Both of us this time. And a hug.

Then she stuck her hand back up my hoo-ha and talked to me about my cervix.

Later that night, when she opened my email that shared a link to the Quality of Life scale, Doc was sitting in her sons’ room waiting for her boys to fall asleep. Her boys wanted to know why she was crying. It was because, thanks to the scale, she now realized that old Pap had some life left to enjoy.

And when the time comes for her to make that inevitable and excruciating choice for her family member, now she knew that she didn’t have to hope that she’d “just know.” She’d have some help.

End of life issues are so complicated. People shouldn’t have to hope that a dog walker with no filter and no shame comes into their office for a birth control refill just so they can get sound advice about when they should put their dog to sleep.

Instead let’s make a point to talk about the hard stuff. Leave out the judgement and shaming and let’s do everything we can to help our family, friends, and clients be better prepared, so that they can make choices that support real quality of life for both them and their pets.  And veterinarians, can you please do me a solid and make sure this Quality of Life scale (and hospice information) is easy to access? It’ll save me some weird moments next time I’m in stirrups at the doctor’s office. Many thanks.




Here are some resources about figuring out when it’s time, including the quality of life scale:

The “HHHHHMM” Quality of Life Scale by Dr. Alice Villalobos

Minimizing the stress of euthanasia by Dr. V of Pawcurious

How to say goodbye by Dr. Andy Roark (with other ways to measure quality of life)


And because I get asked about euthanasia for behavioral issues ALL the time, here are some wonderful, non-judgmental, realistic resources to help with that brutally painful and individual decision (really folks, we need to do a better job of openly talking about this too. I’ve had enough with the shaming and bullying around euthanasia. It’s not helping anyone when we go ALL CAPS about something as complex as this):

When is it time to put down a dog who is aggressive to people? by Patricia McConnell

When is it time to put a problem dog down? by Casey Lomonaco

Euthanizing Aggressive Dogs: Sometimes It’s the Best Choice by Phyllis DeGioia, editor Veterinary Partner and VetzInsight

The burden on euthanizing an aggressive dog by Mel of No Dog About It

Goodbye Huckleberry by Ana Poe – I read this years ago and it’s never left me. Such brave, compassionate, honest writing.


Meet The Rebel Dog Walker of Williamsburg


The other day a reporter from The Forward contacted me to share a story she produced about Gedalya Gottenger, a Hasidic Jew, who decided to become a dog walker.

Hasidic Jews are notoriously afraid of (or at the very least avoid) dogs*.  So a Hasidic dog walker is not your run-of-the-mill professional pooper scooper.

This guy is breaking cultural norms every time he leashes up. I was intrigued.

What I dug about his story is that although his choice to work with dogs is an act of rebellion in his community, the bottom line is that he walks dogs for the same reason I do:

“Dogs are awesome and, uh, I get paid to hang out with them even, so what’s not to like?”

Ain’t that the truth.

I thought you guys might find his story interesting! Take a look at this short video about Gedalya (featuring an adorable brindle dog). You can also read more about him here.

A Hasid’s Best Friend from Jewish Daily Forward on Vimeo.


Sending my colleague Gedalya a poop bag high five, from one Jewish professional dog walker to another!

*So are lots of people…of all religions. Which is why you should always have your dog under your full control. Putting a leash on  your dog also gives others, who may be panicking at the sight of your dog, a clear visual signal that your dog is connected to you and not about to run up and knock them over. Remember, fear isn’t logical – have compassion, use a leash, and spare someone a cold sweat. 



New England: Compassion Fatigue Workshop This Weekend!

Dear New England Posse,

Just a quick note to let you know that I’ll be in Wakefield, MA this Saturday, October 3rd giving a full day compassion fatigue workshop hosted by the New England Dog Training Club.

This seminar, designed for people who work or volunteer with animals in any capacity, is open to the public and you can earn CEs!

map compassion fatigue

I’ve got all kinds of things planned for this weekend….interested?

We’ll be covering six strategies and numerous tools we can use to transform and manage our experience of compassion fatigue, so that we can continue to do ethical, effective, and sustainable work with animals.

The full day seminar identifies what compassion fatigue is, its symptoms, and contributing factors. We’ll also take a look at stress management and self-care practices. You’ll have the opportunity to participate in discussions, experiential activities, take self-assessments, reflect and connect with the positive aspects of your work, practice a stress-reduction technique or two, and create a self-care plan.

We’ll be busy learning how to be well, while we do good!

Spots are still available. Join us, won’t you?


Please note: This seminar is not a substitution for professional mental health care. If you’re suffering from clinical depression or are having suicidal thoughts, please seek professional help.


When: 9:30am – 4:30pm on October 3rd, 2015

Where: Knights of Columbus Hall, 570 North Ave, Wakefield, MA

Cost: $80, $65 for shelter workers and groups of 8 or more. $10 lunch (optional)

CEUs: 6 CCPDT Vet/Tech CE


Register Here!

High five and hope to see you there!


Free Compassion Fatigue Webinar!

Howdy! For those of you who work or volunteer with animals, I’ve got a little something that you might be interested in: a free webinar about compassion fatigue.  Here are the deetz:




Compassion Fatigue: What You Need To Know! is a FREE webinar created especially for people who work or volunteer with animals.

Join me live on Tuesday 9/15/15 at 7pm EST for a 40 minute whirlwind tour of compassion fatigue, followed by a 20 minute Q+A session.

You’ll get to see my smiling mug via a video feed and you’ll be able to hear me through your computer’s speakers. During the Q+A portion of the webinar you can communicate with me by typing into the chat box. All you need to join is your computer and an internet connection.

You can register here. Can’t make the live webinar? Register anyway and watch the recording when you have time!

As you may already know, compassion fatigue is the natural consequence of stress resulting from caring for and helping traumatized or suffering people or animals. Almost all of us who work or volunteer with animals experience compassion fatigue at some point.But hardly anyone talks about it. So even though it’s a normal reaction to the stress of our work, we think we’re the only ones who are struggling. Those of you who have been reading my blogs for a while know that I was deeply impacted by compassion fatigue. I wrote about it here. 

I’ve created this introductory webinar – a very brief tour of a very big subject – to help people who work with animals get access to the basics of compassion fatigue: what it is, what the symptoms look like, and a quick tour of what we can do about it!

power is in balance quote


And for those of you who already know about compassion fatigue and are ready to meet this occupational hazard head-on with the help of a supportive online community, my 8 week online class, Compassion in Balance, starts 9/28. You can learn more about this totally unique class, designed specifically for people who work or volunteer with animals, on my website.

Ok, off to walk the dogs now (they don’t care about my webinars or classes at all, can you believe it?!).





Coming this Summer: Attack of the Atomic Cat Turds!

Well, hello there. It’s been awhile, huh?

The past few months I’ve been doing all kinds of serious stuff like: attending conferences and trainings, creating and teaching a new compassion fatigue class for UFL, and going to grad school.

But that’s not what I want to tell you about. After all these months of total silence on the blog, I’m back to tell you about:

Cat turds.

C’mon, you know you love it.

So, here’s the story. Our cat Penelope (pronounced Peena-loupe, like cantaloupe) was diagnosed with hyperthyroid disease this year. Normally, I’m bummed when our pets whip up new and expensive diseases for us to treat, but it was actually a huge relief to find out that Penelope was sick.

For months prior to her diagnosis Penelope had turned up the My-Cat-Is-A-Dick dial to eleven. For those of you who don’t use Spinal Tap as a reference guide to life, eleven is as high as it goes.

Always a trouble maker, Penelope had upped her game to the max. Her move: sprinting around the house at top speed and launching herself at all of us. And by all of us I mean the other cats, the dogs, friends and family, houseplants, the walls, the windows, the furniture, and all the spaces in between.

She attacked our furniture with so much passion (and by passion I mean a certain, er, how do you say, psychotic, single-minded obsession with demon-spawn-like focus) that it not only destroyed a chair, but it nearly drove our dog Boogie out of his sensitive mind.

Here’s the thing: I am not happy when Penelope scratches the furniture. Boogie is not happy when I am not happy. Therefore, when Penelope creeps up next to a chair and just starts thinking about scratching it, Boogie starts whining.

And if she scratches, he runs over and gives her a nose-butt. Boogie does not enjoy this. He’s not cut out to be a Sheriff. Or any other form of full time law enforcement. Maybe a constable on a small island with a population of 19 in the winter. Maaayyybe.

Penelope attacking the furniture all day, as if her very existence depended on it, was driving Boogie bananas. Which meant it was driving me bananas. I couldn’t get any work done between the cat scratching and the dog whining and the constant reading of Miranda rights.

So when I found out that Penelope had hyperthyroid and that being a professional asshole is actually a symptom of this disease, I was relieved. It meant the Penelope I’d known and loved for the past 12 years might still be in there somewhere.

The only problem was that I couldn’t get her to take her new medication. Not in pill pockets. Not in wet food. Not as a compounded chicken flavored chewable treat. Not as a compounded chicken flavor liquid poured over and mixed into organic cat food with prayers from me to Judy Garland who, for no good reason, I imagine to be the Patron Saint of Crazy Cat Ladies, that Penelope would just eat it because omg, I have so much work to do and I can’t spend another minute of my life doing the Methimazole Shuffle to get my cat to take her meds.

This happened twice a day.

judy cat

FYI: Judy starred in “Gay Purr-ee”, an animated movie about cats, which you can see here.


After collapsing from feline-induced-stress and near bankruptcy from starting a world-class collection of unswallowed Methimazole, we decided to take out a 2nd mortgage on our house and spring for Radioactive Iodine treatment. Basically it’s an expensive injection (over $1k) of iodine that emits radiation to destroy overactive tumor cells and cures cats of hyperthyroid. Medication only treats it, this ends it.

And by Garland, I needed this to end.

But here’s the best part. After she got the injection, Penelope was radioactive.

After getting the injection, it’s illegal to take your cat home until their levels of radioactivity drop below a certain level. This can take a week or two. So Penelope spent 10 days with the best vet tech in Maine (Hi Kathi!) and we all spent 10 days at home enjoying peace in the living room for the first time in 2015. I mean, er, we missed her a lot and were so, so, so sad she was away.

Finally I got the call that Penelope was only a little radioactive and legally I was now allowed to take her home.

But you can’t just take a radioactive cat home. There are RULES and PROTOCOLS.

1. Do not allow your radioactive cat to sleep in your bed.

2. Wash your hands after you pet your radioactive cat.

3. Try not to fall asleep on the couch with your radioactive cat lying on your chest because you’re not supposed to touch them for more than 20 minutes at a time and that nap was definitely an hour and you might grow a third boob where your radioactive cat was lying.

4. Do not throw out your radioactive cat’s RADIOACTIVE POOP.

atomic attack


For two weeks, you will be required to scoop your radioactive cat’s turds twice a day into a double bag, while wearing rubber gloves and holding your breath. You should also avert your eyes, just in case one of the nuclear turds tries to make eye contact with you.

The poop must not be stored in your home. Instead, you take the atomic cat turds and dispose of them in a plastic tote, such as a Rubbermaid container, with a locking lid that is lined with a heavy duty garbage bag.

Note: “This tote should be stored outside and away from small children, other pets, and wild animals.”

I don’t know where that magical no-living-things, not even small wild children, might be on your property, but we settled for a random spot on our patio in our back yard.

After this two week poop quarantine is over (which you know because now you are the kind of person who has “Poop Quarantine Ends Today” in your Day Planner), then you add the litter boxes and scoop to the Toxic Tote of Doom. Finally, seal this poop package in three hundred yards of duct tape.

And then you wait. For 80 days.

Legally, you cannot dispose of the Atomic Cat Turds for 80 more days. Because they’re emitting radioactive poop particles.

So you’ll drag yourself back to your Day Planner, the one that you had hoped to one day write things in like: “10 hour massage today” and “8pm – meet Tina, Mindy, and the Amys for margarita night”, and instead you flip to the end of September and mark:

“Throw Out Turds Today.”

Because that’s your life.

Note: all of this is because you have a private septic system. If you’re lucky enough to live with a public sewer system, there’s still some atomic turd gymnastics you’ll have to do, but it’s not nearly as intense. Amateur stuff really. 

And if you’re like me, then you kinda love all of it, because despite having a nuclear kitty, a schedule that revolves around crap, and an empty bank account, after a few weeks you’ll get your old cat back.

Today, Penelope has returned her former self, the one that I love. The one that does not give my pit bull acid reflux or destroy furniture in a single swipe. She still makes direct eye contact with me – to make sure I’m watching – then knocks framed photos right of the wall. But that just means she’s healthy. Praise Judy.




Surprise! I Made a Book: The Official Guide to Living with DINOS

Shut the front door. I made a book! The Official Guide to Living with DINOS is on sale. Right now.

WHAT?! Yeah girl, it is. Look at how pretty:

DINOS book cover

This tiny book took me so long to get done that I thought it would never happen. But let’s be honest.  It once took me an entire year to make a tri-fold pamphlet.. I’m nothing if not slow moving.

Weighing in at just over 60 pages, my book is technically a booklet. I think the let makes it sounds more mysterious. Like it’s a French woman who, unlike me, knows how to wear a scarf the right way.

The booklet is a collection of ten lessons I’ve put together to help anyone who is living with DINOS for the very first time. Some lessons are brand new. Some are old favorites from the blog. But they’re all in one place now, so that the next time you come across someone who is new to living with DINOS and they’re having a panic attack, you can say,

“Breathe into this paper bag, then check out Jessica’s booklet The Official Guide to Living with DINOS. It won’t teach you how to wear a scarf, but it will make life with your dog way easier.”

And no, the book isn’t about dog training. It won’t tell you how to fix your dog’s problems (I’ll leave that up to the experts). The guide is all about how to make it through the day with a dog that needs space. It’s a 60 page pep talk with practical tips.

I know you guys with fearful and reactive dogs are the ones struggling the most, so you were at the front of my thoughts as I wrote this. I’m hoping that dog trainers, dog walkers, and shelter workers who have clients that are feeling really down about their fearful and reactive dogs can offer up the booklet as support. So instead of feeling isolated and overwhelmed, the newbies will feel empowered and excited about living with their not-so-perfect dogs.

Here’s a look at the Table of Contents so you can get a feel for what’s inside:


I was definitely writing the booklet for people who are brand new to the DINOS scene, but I think some of you who have been around since day one will really enjoy this too.

Jenny Williams, Team DINOS member and creator of the 66 Dogs Project, has been reading my ramblings for years. I was truly lucky that she gifted me her brilliant editing skills for the book and after reading an earlier draft, this is what she wrote about it:

“Reading this I laughed, I cried, and I took snuggle breaks with my dog to remind myself of how lucky I am to have him in my life, in spite of (and because of) his challenges.”


Crying! Laughing! Snuggling! What more can you ask for from a booklet, right? Seriously though, Jenny’s feedback was the kindest and I hope – down to my toes – that you all feel the same when you read it.

You can pick up a print copy or ebook on Amazon.

Or you can buy a print copy straight from Createspace.

Finally, a big fat thank you to Jenny for the editing and feedback, Nat and Bill for the gorgeous cover design, and my mom for the encouragement, proofreading, and for pointing out that using the term “stewardess” in the book was old fashioned and kind of sexist and, uh, maybe I should use “flight attendant” instead. Good call. Thanks mom.

But, wait. There’s more!

Want to win a free print copy of The Official Guide to Living with DINOS?

Here’s what you have to do:

1. In the comments tell me: Your dog just published their first book. What’s the title?

For example: Birdie’s would be This Beagle Don’t Bark: A Memoir 

And Boogie’s would be How to Touch Your Butt to Your Forehead: Maximizing Your Unique Talents and Creating the Life You Want*

*He’s into self-help books.

2. The deadline to leave your comment is Monday 4/27/15 at midnight EST.

3. One comment will be chosen using randomizer. On Tuesday 4/28 I’ll announce the winner here and on Facebook. I’ll also contact the winner via email to get their mailing address, so I can send out the book!

So go, one tell me: What’s the title of your dog’s book?


4/28/15: The winner was just drawn….Congratulations goes to Hannah of Eriesistibull! Thanks to everyone who commented. Your creative answers always make me laugh!!

You’re Not Alone: The Difficult Pet Support Group

When I found about the The Difficult Pet Support Group created by fellow dog walker and pet sitter, Rachel Bow of Ruff Mutts, I couldn’t wait to learn more about this Portland, OR resource.

As many of you have experienced, living with a pet who has behavioral or medical issues can be challenging, and is often exhausting and isolating. So I’m thrilled to see that pet owner support groups which focus on supporting families with “difficult” pets are becoming more widespread. I asked Rachel to tell me more about her group and here’s what she had to say:


Jessica: Can you start off by sharing a bit about the group? 

Rachel: Sure! The Difficult Pet Support Group is a monthly peer-to-peer support group for people loving and living with a difficult pet in Portland, OR. Enid Traisman, the Director of the DoveLewis Pet Loss Support Group and who’s been working in the field for over 25 years, facilitates the group with me. We’re also very lucky to have DoveLewis donate space each month for us to run the group. Dr. Christopher Pachel of the Animal Behavior Clinic was kind enough to give us free support and advice as we were getting the group off the ground.

The group has a few goals. The first is to provide a safe, supportive space for people with difficult pets to vent and brainstorm about management techniques. The second is to make these people feel worthy of being a pet guardian. We’ve found just being around others who understand one’s plight is so helpful in not feeling alone and this makes people who fall in this demographic feel empowered in their relationship with their pet. All of this leads into our final goal, which is to strengthen the bond between people and their pets and therefore keep pets in their homes.

We talk a lot about what our pets actually need to be healthy and happy versus imposed beliefs. It’s important for good guardians to feel like they are good guardians. I loved reading Uba’s story. Uba’s guardian has such a healthy perspective on Uba’s needs and while their lifestyle might not be conventional, it sounds like they are both very happy living their way.


How did you get started?

The group was started just from seeing there was a need. Ruff Mutts provides pet care for difficult pets and I’ve run into many guardians along the way who I felt would benefit from a group like this. I ran the idea past Enid who is also a client of mine and we got the ball rolling.

rachel bow


Was there a special animal in your life – past or present – or a particular experience that inspired you to do this work?

I had a pit-mix named Bowie who was particularly difficult when I was in my 20s. Bowie inspired Ruff Mutts and Ruff Mutts work inspired the group. Once I saw there were many people going through all the turmoil and emotions I had, I knew that the group was needed.


I see a lot of parallels with your group and DINOS. For example, my intention with DINOS was never to be a dog training site, even though I sometimes share training resources. It’s always been about connecting people, so they feel less isolated, less frustrated, and more supported in what can be a really challenging experience.

I often write that our dogs want us to be happy, because happy people keep their pets. That’s the shelter worker in me talking! So I’d love to hear from you: Why is it important to have a place where the owner’s emotions are the main focus?

Yes! I see a lot of parallels between our ideas, too. I think guardians of difficult pets deserve a lot of support and praise for all the hard work, dedication, and compassion they exercise daily. There is a strange idea in the dog world right now that people with difficult dogs are absolutely-to-blame-no-matter-what for aggressive or bad behavior but often enough, that just isn’t the case.

Everyone who has ever attended one of our meetings has worked with a trainer and often more than one trainer. These are very responsible and dedicated guardians who are sticking with their crazy beast through thick and thin – an admiral quality that we should condone, not condemn. I, too, want to keep pets in their homes and my belief is that people who feel they’re capable of providing a good home for their pet will feel good about keeping their pet even if their lifestyle looks a little different than what we think of as a normal life for a dog. I also believe that pets are happier when they’re with happy people.

On another note, I don’t think there are enough resources out there for difficult dogs! The industry focuses so much on changing difficult dogs but what happens to these people and their pets if this isn’t possible?

I totally believe in training, don’t get me wrong, but at a point, we need to see dogs as individuals, accept them for their faults, and manage them in a way that still allows them to be healthy and happy.


Without compromising the confidentiality of the group, are you able to share any stories of how the group is having a positive affect on the pet owners who are attending?

It seems that people are getting a lot from having other understanding, non-judgmental people really listen to their stories. People go through a range of emotions while we’re in session. There are tears often followed by laughter. It’s a ride for sure and people appreciate not having to be on it alone.

worried dog


Do you have any advice or tips for anyone that’s considered starting a similar support group in their area?

Yes! Reach out to others in the community who might know people who would benefit from a group like this, such as dog trainers, pet care providers, doggie daycares, and veterinarians to get the word out. If you’re providing a community service, people will want you to succeed. People can contact me directly for more information about getting a group going and I’m happy to help.

I’ve had the privilege of helping the awesome Kristin Buller get her group going in Chicago and Dr. Meredith Stepita of Veterinary Behavior Specialists get her group off the ground in the San Francisco bay area.


What one’s thing you wish every owner of a “difficult” pet knew?

I just wish that they knew in their heart that they are probably doing a great job! And if I could say one more thing about it, I’d say that they are definitely not alone.


So true. Thank you for the work you do and for talking with us Rachel!


Note from Jessica: Wishing there was more support in your area? I’ll continue to update the DINOS support group page, so if you know of a group that’s not listed there, please contact me.

Later this year, I’ll be offering a 4 week online class for DINOS families focusing on reducing caregiver stress and helping you see to your dogs in a whole new light. And, there’s a Living with DINOS booklet/ebook coming out in just a couple of weeks. It’s designed to help all of you living with DINOS, especially the newbies,  feel more supported and less alone (also: there are poop jokes). So stay tuned…more help is on the way for Team DINOS!



Life With Cats: How I Saved My Furniture from Total Destruction

Two and half years ago my husband and I bought our first house. Over those last couple of years we’ve slowly been replacing our hand-me-down furniture with new stuff. As if we’re real grown ups or something.

At a rate of one purchase a year, we’ve brought home a brand spanking new tiny sectional couch and a pretty Mission-style chair. Next week, our last big purchase for a while, a sleeper sofa chair, arrives. Why am I telling you this? Because having new furniture kind of sucks when you have 5 pets, three of which are cats.

Our cats are like fresh upholstery seeking puke missiles. If there is a tiny sliver of couch that is not covered by a quilt, their radar starts whooping and off they run, heaving as they go, to make their deposit right on that spot. We have wood floors and I would pay them to puke there, but nooooooo...the cats assure me that they’d be kicked out of their feline terrorist cell if they made it that easy for me to clean up. That’s why they puked down the side of a wicker basket the other morning. Wicker. Woven. So awful.

Before you email me to tell me that my cats shouldn’t be puking this much – I know. Turns out that one of our cats, Penelope (pronounced Peenaloupe), the vomit ring leader, has Hyperthyroidism and throwing up is a symptom. This medical condition went undiagnosed for about 6 months. And those six months were torture because another symptom of Hyperthyroidism is that cats act like high energy assholes, attacking curtains and crank calling old ladies.

PSA time: If your pet’s behavior changes, go to the vet. 

I waited way too long to get my cat checked out. We were more than aware that her really annoying behavior had taken a sharp upturn these last few months, but Penelope has always been a real ball buster, so we figure she was having some sort of midlife crisis. It wasn’t until she showed us some other symptoms that we realized that for 6 months she’d been acting like a meathead because of a medical condition. Whoops. I feel real bad about that one.

I spend most of my day with Penelope inched away from my face.

I spend most of my day with Penelope inches away from my face.

Sometimes, when behavior changes are subtle  and build slowly over time, which is what happened in this case, it’s hard to recognize what’s really going on. But if your pets are suddenly acting like jerks, take them to the vet and find out if there is an underlying cause to the bad behavior.

Back to the furniture. During this time period our brand new furniture was under round-the-clock siege by our cat. Besides the puking, Penelope was attacking the furniture as if her life depending on it. Our poor dog Boogie was having a mental breakdown trying to police her away from the scratching the furniture.

So what to do? I hate putting on Soft Claws, those sticky stickers don’t work, two hundred scratchers and Feliway didn’t help. But one thing did and now we have it all over every single new piece of furniture we own.

Meet the Cat Scratch Guard. Cheap, easy to use, barely noticeable, and totally effective furniture protectors:

Not my couch.

Not my couch.

They’re just simple, flexible vinyl panels (they come in a few sizes) that you attach to your furniture with these clear pins that they provide. We have them on our couch sides, on the back of the new chair, and once we even wrapped them around the trunk of an indoor tree that she wouldn’t leave alone.

If your stuff is being destroyed by your cat, you should check these out. They’ve worked so well for us that I keep a spare set around, just in case Penelope finds something new to bother in the house. As soon as I put a set of these guards on, it’s Game Over.

Now we’re just waiting for her new meds to kick in and help her feel better. It’s a bummer we didn’t realize she needed medical attention sooner, but now that we understand what’s really going on, we’re feeling much more patient and forgiving of her behavior.

Except for that wicker basket number. Blech.

p.s. I’ve received no compensation for writing about this product. I just really like these a lot and wanted y’all to know about it.

[CONTEST] Your Mutt the Muse: Pet Portraits 101

Last year many of you met Jenny Williams, my friend and fellow Team DINOS member, here on my blog when she gave the world her brilliant “Should I Leash My Dog?” flowchart. But you may not know that Jenny is also the brains and talent behind the generous and gorgeous 66 Dogs Project.

For the past year, Jenny has been drawing portraits of long term shelter and rescue dogs. Her portraits show off the special, individual qualities of these dogs and the images help their organizations market the dogs in a whole new way.

Here’s one of my favorites (the portrait AND the dog’s name):

66 dogs


Lucky us: Jenny just launched a new Skillshare class, Your Mutt The Muse, so that all of us can learn how to draw pet portraits too!

In her class, which is offered on-demand so you can do the work at your own pace, she covers some general tips and tricks for drawing dogs, but the main focus of the class is to walk us through the creation of a portrait step by step, with the goal of creating a unique line of portraits that are thematically connected.  The portraits are different than her 66 Dogs style, but equally beautiful.

Take a look:



So here’s the scoop! You can sign up for a free 2 week trial on Skillshare and take Jenny’s class at no charge for 14 days, which is plenty of time to do all the lessons.

After the 2 weeks, it’s 10 bucks a month to be a member of Skillshare (you can cancel any time – even before your free 2 weeks are up so you don’t get charged).  If you’re ready to get started: go here now!

But for funsies:

I’ve got 5 FREE passes for Your Mutt The Muse to give away this weekend!


The winners will get free access to Jenny’s class for life – there’s no expiration date on the free enrollment.

I don’t know about you, but I’m trapped under 2 bajillion feet of snow right now, so drawing sounds like the only way I’ll survive the rest of this winter. I’ve already signed up!

If you want a chance to win a freebie pass to join me in Jenny’s class, here’s what you have to do:


1. In the comments tell me: Your dog just had their portrait painted. What is the title of this masterpiece?

For example:

Boogie’s would be Still Life With Shredded Orange Balls.

While Birdie’s would be Portrait of a Lunch Licker. 

2. The deadline to leave your comment is Sunday 2/8/15 at midnight EST.

3. On Monday 2/9 I’ll announce the 5 winners (winners will be chosen using a randomizer) who will receive a special link to enter the class for free, for life!


So go, one tell me: What is the title of your dog’s portrait?



Registration is Open for My New Compassion Fatigue Class!

Just in case you missed the announcement in my latest e-letter

My class, Compassion in Balance, is now open for registration!


I created Compassion in Balance, a unique six week online program, because I want animal care workers to have access to the tools and resources that will help them to be well, while they do good work.

This is the class I wish I’d had, back when I was working at the animal shelter!

Class kicks off on Monday, February 9th, 2015. And enrollment is now open!

You can participate in the class wherever you are. You can do it at home, any time of day, and you don’t even need to get out of your pajamas to join in. The course is all online and accessible 24-7.

You can read much more about CiB, including who this class is for, what we’ll cover each week, and my answers to your FAQs right here.

To celebrate the launch of Compassion in Balance I’m offering the class for $99. The regular price for future sessions will be $149. So it’s more than 30% off right now. Holla!

And, because I want to keep this class a safe, supportive environment, I’m limiting enrollment to just 30 students. Almost half of those spots are taken already!

Want to be one of those 30 people?


Visit this page to read more about the class, think about it, and then enroll. I don’t want you to rush into signing up for the class without really knowing what you’re getting into!

As I explain on my site, the class is focused on building self-awareness and doing personal work that is reflective and honest. It can be emotionally challenging at times. So before you hit “yes, please!”, take five minutes to read my detailed class description over here and decide if it’s the right fit for you.

Here’s what Lauren, an animal shelter worker who just finished up the class, had to say about CiB:

“When I first started this course, I would rush through my 10-hour shifts in a tizzy, feeling like I couldn’t catch my breath and getting so wrapped up in the panic of “I have to do all of this right this minute!” that I’d completely lost sight of why I wanted to work at a shelter in the first place. I wasn’t connecting with the animals, I resented my coworkers, and I was just plain depleted and depressed.

Compassion in Balance offers a fantastic step-by-step approach to help you figure out where you need to give yourself a little more love and support, how to exercise self-compassion on a daily basis (even when you really don’t want to), why self-care is so very crucial in the animal welfare world, and ways to integrate good self-care into your daily routine so that it becomes a habit.

There are still stressful moments at work, but now I give myself space to breathe, which enables me to prioritize really being there for each animal I work with. I check in with myself regularly to see what’s going well and where I need a little boost, and it’s been amazing to see that I can still accomplish everything I had been doing before but with a sense of ease and connection rather than a sense of frustration and ‘never enough’.”

This made my heart burst when I read it because this is why I built the class. I want this for all of you.

Ok, now go on and take a look at CiB to see if it’s right for you!


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