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Posts from the ‘health and diet’ Category

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.


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.




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.

DIY Wobble Board For Your Dog

Birdie is doing well these days (knock on all the wood) and she’s been fully mobile for a while, so our new goal is to rebuild muscle in her leg. In order to do that, she has to learn that’s it’s ok to use it again, since she’s been avoiding putting weight on it for so long. (Need to catch up? You can read about Birdie’s ACL tear and rehab here and here)

One way to do that is to use a Wobble Board. At physical therapy, our therapist had Birdie stand on one as we gently moved the board around. This forced Birdie to shift her weight to the atrophied leg and activated those weaker muscles as she balanced herself.

I don’t have any photos of Birdie on the board because my hands are always full – I’m holding her in place so she’s secure, but you can see a Wobble Board in action here.

We wanted to keep this up at home, but money is tight, so I couldn’t buy a new Wobble Board. Birdie’s therapist suggested I make my own.

I found a piece of kitchen counter top from the 1950’s (check out that mid-century metallic flecking) sitting around the house and it practically screamed “I wanna rock your dog’s world!”. Who am I to deny an old kitchen counter a new life as physical therapy equipment for my dog?

And so it was born: The Kitchen Counter Weeble Wobble. Also known as the DIY project for people who don’t want to measure much or cut anything.

This is how you can make something similar at your house:

1. Find a piece of counter top, a table top, or get some plywood. It should be big enough that your dog can stand on it with all four legs.

wobble board

2. Next you’ll need a softball, an approx. 4 inch screw, and a couple of washers. Find the center of the ball and with a drill, screw that, uh, screw through the ball and into the center of the board. We stuck a washer between the board and the ball for good measure.

board back

3. Now you’ll need something to act as tread for your dogs. I used rubbery shelf liners. You can also use adhesive stair treads/strips or any variety of gripping, non-skid tape. To get my drawer liners to stick, I used Gorilla Glue (with rubber gloves because I prefer my fingertips with the skin on them).

board supplies

4. After I laid down the tread, I smushed it down real good. If you’re wondering, that’s exactly how Bob Villa describes this step in “This Old Wobble Board.”  And then I let it dry overnight.

board front

5. Done! Wobble it Baby.

board pinterest

Note: this is a pretty steeply angled board. I hold Birdie while she’s on it so she doesn’t hurt herself launching off of it. You can learn how to make a real deal, cut your own pieces of wood, lower wobble board here so you can do more rehab exercises like these.

Don’t want to make one? You can buy a Wobble Board. Check out this one from Fit Paws.

Not sure if you need one of these bad boys in your life? Here’s a few ways your dogs might benefit from the Wobble Board:

1. They improve balance, mobility, and joint strength.

2. If your dog wants to impress all the other dogs at Pilates, they’ll need one of these to work their core.

3. They can help boost your dog’s confidence. Shy dogs can benefit from from tackling weird stuff like this. Start slow and reward generously. Next thing you know, your shy dog will be boldly asking the head cheerleader to Prom.

4. They can help get your dog ready for the Teeter Totter in agility. This is a good intro to all moving thingamajigs.

5. They increase body awareness which can be helpful for just about any dog. Working with the board helps them to become more aware of all four of their limbs. Or two limbs.


In other Birdie-Busts-a-Move news, her physical therapist got a brand new, state of the art space ship  hydrotherapy treadmill which we got to try out for the first time last month.

birdie treadmill 2

Birdie, who is as excited about swimming as I am about doing my taxes, did much better on the treadmill than in the pool. I think she liked that she could keep her head above water. She walked at a good pace for 10 minutes. The point? To rebuild that skinny leg!

birdie treadmill

Wobble On!

No Surgery, No Problem: Treating Our Dog’s ACL Tear

Birdie graduated this month (from physical therapy, not Yale).

Turns out, we are doing pretty ok without that surgery she was supposed to get. Conservative Management has officially saved the day by taking care of Birdie’s injury and respecting our budget. Let’s discuss: 

First of all, I’m double-dog-daring myself to believe that she really is doing as well as she seems to be doing. The pessimist in me isn’t entirely convinced. Frankly, I’m afraid that as I write about how well she’s doing, Birdie’s leg is going to spontaneously combust. I have a fire extinguisher next to my desk, just in case.

Anyway, when Birdie tore her ACL this summer (a complete tear, not just a partial), surgery was the recommended course of action. For better or worse, we couldn’t afford it, so we had to explore other options. We landed on a conservative management plan. Here’s what we did: First we restricted her activity. No jumping on and off the couch, no running around in the yard. The goal was to restrict movement and allow stabilizing scar tissue to form. Birdie didn’t mind this lack of activity as her DNA test revealed that Birdie is indeed half Beagle and half a baked potato.

That being said, Birdie isn’t overweight. If she was, we would have had to put her on a diet. Extra weight is hard on injured legs. We did add a new heavy duty joint supplement, plus lots of stinky fish oil to her diet. After a couple of weeks on NSAIDs (which were too hard on her liver and kidneys to continue using them), she’s been off any and all medications. We also added non-slip area rugs around the house, so that Birdie wouldn’t slide on our hard wood floors and tweak her leg or back.

Most importantly, we started hanging out with our physical therapist, Gayle Hickok, a lot. We started with five visits in a row that first week post-surgical consult. At each visit, Birdie got some time with the cold laser, manual treatments and exercises, and then hydrotherapy in Gayle’s heated saltwater pool.

birdie swims

Ton o’ Bricks hits the high seas

Birdie was not interested in swimming – never, not once, not at all. She chose to practice nonviolent resistance by standing still on the pool’s ramp without budging or blinking. Birdie is the Rosa Parks of canine hydrotherapy.

She is also surprisingly strong for a small senior citizen and “Ton o’ Bricks” Birdie had to be lifted into the water, all dead weight, by her life jacket. Once she was in the water, Gayle would gently guide her through exercises. Birdie occasionally faked massive reverse sneezing attacks in order to escape the pool (we know she was faking because the reverse sneezing stop the second her paws hit the concrete. Also, she was laughing at us).

On the other hand, Birdie thought the laser and manual treatments were exquisite, since that part of the rehab required that she be hand fed chicken while lying down on a soft bed. That’s my girl. I was also happy that these treatments were addressing her whole body, not just her bum leg.

Over the past three months we reduced our visits to twice a week, then once a week, then just every other week. From the start, Gayle felt that we had made the right choice – conservative management – rather than surgery, and Birdie’s improvements have backed that up.

About a month into Birdie’s physical therapy visits, we also began using a product at home called the Loop which produces a Pulsed Electromagnetic Field around her injured bits.The Loop is supposed to reduce inflammation and pain and increases blood circulation. I can’t say for sure if it’s helped, but it does compliment the other therapies we’re doing and Birdie continues to be pain-med-free.

birdie loop

Birdie, wearing the Loop, looks sad because no one is feeding her chicken right-this-second.

Last week, Gayle said that Birdie was good to go for a month or more until our next visit. This worried me (my DNA test reveals I’m part Eeyore). But Gayle swore to me that Birdie’s leg is in great condition. She has full extension, is weight bearing and can walk and run around, plus she has no obvious signs of pain when her leg is being manipulated. She’s come a long way since our first visit when she was only using her leg about 50% of the time.

Birdie won’t be competing in a decathlon any time soon ever, but our hope was to reduce Birdie’s pain and help her get mobile again. It looks like we did it. She still has days where she’s a little gimpy, which could be the injury or it might be coming from her atrophied leg muscles. We’re working on rebuilding her muscle and strength in that leg. But most of the time, she’s doing fine.

It’s hard to say which piece of the puzzle had the biggest impact on her recovery. Our physical therapist isn’t sure either. She keeps reminding me that all of the therapies and supplements are playing a part in her recovery and are working together to support her overall health and well being.

That’s the funny thing about taking this approach – it’s clearly working, but there are days when I still doubt myself and the choices I’ve made for Birdie.  The surgical option, plus the recovery and physical therapy that would have followed it, seems so much more tangible and measurable. With the conservative management approach, it’s a bit more subtle and there are fewer vets involved. Things have been going so well, we haven’t been back to see a vet since our original surgical consult.

birdie cold laser

Birdie and Gayle: What’s a little laser between BFFs?

I’m not sure why it’s so hard for me to believe Birdie is really ok. Sometimes I get a little panicky with an internal dialogue that goes something like this: “What if she’s not really better? What if we were wrong and she really does need the surgery? What if her leg is only pretending to be a real leg, but it’s really made up of marshmallows and candy canes, which is why she’s always licking herself? Will we have to buy her a whole new leg then? What if? What if? What if?”

That’s why I have to keep reminding myself that when Birdie runs across the yard it’s the real deal. She’s not faking it so that I won’t worry about her. Dogs are a pretty honest bunch, which I really appreciate. They don’t put on a show for our benefit (They will do it for their own benefit. See: Birdie sneezing in pool).

Dogs don’t tell fibs or fake it to save us from feeling badly or worrying about them. If you give them a toy that they don’t like, dogs won’t play it. Or eat food they think it’s awful. Or sleep on a bed they think is uncomfortable. Dogs don’t tell white lies to spare our feelings.

So I’m starting to believe that Birdie really is as good as she looks. Her life is back to normal. Opting out of that surgery we couldn’t afford in the first place wasn’t such a bad choice after all. In fact, it might have been the right choice, even if we could have afforded the surgery.

It makes me wonder how many dogs would benefit from a conservative management approach as a first option, not a “that’s all we can afford” option. Based on your earlier comments, many people never hear a peep from their vet that conservative management/physical therapy might be an option. That’s a shame. Some dogs do need the surgery, of course, but depending on the individual dog and/or the financial situation of the owner, there are other routes to explore. Vets should at least mention it.

I don’t want to jinx anything – Birdie’s leg hasn’t burst into flames yet – so I’ll just end things by knocking on wood and sharing some resources for non-surgical options if you’re in a similar boat and want to learn more about what’s out there.

Mutt Knee Brace

The Loop



In Maine: Pawsitive Results K-9 Rehabilitation 

Whole Dog Journal: Alternatives to Canine Surgery

Whole Dog Journal: Laser Therapy for Rehab

Yahoo Group: Canine Conservative Management

If you know of others, please share in the comments!

Your Picks for DINOS-Friendly Veterinarians

Earlier this month on Facebook I asked Team DINOS (that’s you guys):

“Do you have a trusted veterinarian that goes above and beyond to create a positive experience for your fearful, anxious, or aggressive dog? Are they compassionate about your dog’s needs, rather than judgmental? Are they skilled at handling your dogs using low-stress techniques and/or knowledgeable about behavior modification? “

You guys did not disappoint. So many of you shared your faves that it took me a bazillion and half hours to organize, alphabetize, and link your responses. But I finally have a list to share!

I posted the whole thing over on the Dogs in Need of Space website so you can always find it:

vet capture

Go on over and check it out.

But keep this in mind: picking a vet is so, so personal. A vet that comes highly recommended by one DINOS family might turn out not be the best match for your dog. It happened to me.  One person loves a particular vet, the next person hates them. It’s just the way it seems to go. So, the list is a really great reference, but you won’t know if a vet is the right match until you meet with them. Annoying. I know.

Ok, now go and look!

Searching for Answers: Pit Bull T-Shirts, French Bulldog Woes, and More Poop

The other week I decided to start giving search terms (one of my fave parts of blogging) their moment in the sun. If you missed it, here’s how this is gonna work.

Short version: you search for stuff on Google and a blog pops up in the search results. If you click on the post, then the writer of the blog will see the search terms you used to find their blog in the “search term results” of their blog’s back end.

The search terms are some funny stuff. And don’t worry – it’s anonymous. I’ll never know who searched “cannot commit to children and pets” and wound up on my blog. Not that I don’t have my suspicions. 

Anywhoozle, here are some goodies from the latest batch of search terms. Enjoy!

“Are there t-shirts designed to fit pit bulls?”

Aw yeah! Are there any other dogs on the planet that look better in clothes than pit bulls? This (clearly biased) lady thinks not. The fine folks over at Fit for a Pit agree and they know just how to cut a tee to fit our dogs. Behold:

fit for a pit tees

see all the tees here

p.s. I bet they’ll let you buy one of these sweet tees even if you don’t have a pit bull.

“Are French Bulldogs easy to train off lead?”

“We rescued a 2 year old French Bulldog. He beats up all dogs that come to our home. Can his behavior be corrected?”

“Do French Bulldogs have cellphone aggression?”

“My French Bulldog chokes on his own bile”

I like to imagine that all of these searches are coming from the same family and they’ve got one French Bulldog that’s driving them nuts.

Considering I’ve never written about French Bulldogs before I have no idea why this poor family winds up on my blog every time they search for answers about this piece of work dog of theirs. But they keep landing here, so allow me to take a swing at this:

1. “Are French Bulldogs easy to train off lead?” Depends. How good a trainer are you? No matter what breed your dog may be, just know that it’ll take time to build up a reliable recall (even if you’re a pro and your dog is made of genius) which is a key factor in allowing a dog off lead. And even if they have a great recall, always obey leash laws. No excuses.

2. “We rescued a 2 year old French Bulldog. He beats up all dogs that come to our home. Can his behavior be corrected?” Yes, you can stop bringing strange dogs into his home. Unless your house is a bus stop for hobo dogs and you are required by contract to let them wait for the bus in your living room. Then you might want to work with a trainer to help your dog feel more comfortable with all these hobo dogs entering his home. He may never like itthat’s ok and normal – but perhaps you can help him cope a bit better by giving him some new skills with the help of a professional trainer. In the meantime, manage him and the other dog by crating/gating/leashing, so everyone is safe and your dog can’t rehearse that naughty hooligan behavior.

3. “Do French Bulldogs have cellphone aggression?” Do French Bulldogs work in retail? If so, yes. They hate it when people talk on the phone while they’re trying to ring them up. But, if your dog isn’t in customer service, maybe he’s just freaked out by your Bell Biv DeVoe ring tone? (Get your BBD fix here.) One thing I know for sure: hating mobile devices isn’t a breed thing.

4. “My French Bulldog chokes on his own bile” Poor kid. He’s so worked up from all the hobo dogs talking on their cell phones while he’s busy working on his off leash recall, it’s no wonder he’s puking up his guts.

I hope your vet can help. That sounds like it’s no fun at all.

Final thoughts for this family (or any one else that thought their dog’s breed would make them immune to dog problems): French Bulldogs are hella cute. Hella hella hella cute. So lots of humans snatch up one of these four-legged smashed-faced yummy dumplings because it’s pretty much impossible to resist these dogs. If you put a French Bulldog in front of me right now, I’d stuff it down my shirt and run.

But – hold on a sec, I’m getting up on my soapbox – no matter how cute or where you got them from, French Bulldogs are still dogs. They need training, management, and responsible ownership like any other dog. They’re also just as susceptible to regular dog problems, like leash reactivity, aggression, fear, and general in-need-of-basic-training glitches as any other dog.

That’s because there is NO breed on the planet that you can buy or rescue that will behave perfectly all the time and requires no effort on your part. It turns out that when you get a dog, costume changes are only like 1% of the real day-to-day shit. OK, maybe 3%. No matter what breed or mix your dog is, be prepared to train, manage, and help your dog succeed. Even if they’re hella cute, dogs still need you to do the work. It’s a partnership with a living being after all.

I have no idea if that rant applies to the specific family searching for help with their Frenchy, but I wanted to throw it in for good measure. Now on to the poop.

“Turkeys with wet dark poop”

This is what I get for putting “turkey” and “poop” in the same blog post. I have no one to blame but myself for this one. And now I’m starting to feel obligated to get educated on turkey care. Is there a Dancing with Turkeys book I should be reading? The Way of the Gobble?

That’s it for this week folks. I’ll see you on the back end of the blog!


You’re Old and I’m Broke: Conversations With My Dog About Surgery

Remember that time my dog tore her cruciate from lying in the sun too hard? Yep, that would be Birdie. My 11.5 year old dog decided to go blow a ligament in her rear leg the other week. Super expensive surgery has been recommended. Beer, please.

Here’s the thing about working with dogs all my adult life: I’m pretty good at giving compassionate, reasonable advice to people who are struggling to make the right call for their dogs.

And here’s the thing when it comes to my own dogs: I am not very good at hearing the kind, reasonable, forgiving lady that lives in my head. She talks to everyone else, but clams up when I ask her to weigh in on my problems. Most times, I can only hear a weepy confused kid spinning around in panicked circles calling me a dick for not being a better dog owner. That kid is such a drag.

So during our recent consult with a very nice surgeon, I found myself suddenly fighting off hot tears when I forced myself to ask her what would happen if I couldn’t afford the surgery that Birdie needs. It made me feel like I was saying, “I don’t love my dog.” Which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Here’s what the surgeon said, “You should feel supported if you choose not to do the surgery.”

You should feel supported. Those are some good words right there.

And she went on to say it was reasonable for me to weigh all the variables, including my dog’s age, her activity level, and my financial situation when making the decision to opt for surgery – or not.

Surgery is how much? Just cut it off. I have three more.

Surgery is how much? Just cut it off. I have three more.


The surgeon also patiently answered my two million questions about Birdie’s pain levels and what would happen over time to her other limbs since they’d have to pick up the slack of her bum leg.

We ultimately agreed that this was not emergency surgery and it was reasonable to give Birdie four weeks of rest combined with cold laser treatments and hydrotherapy (with an awesome physical therapist  Birdie knows and loves). And then we’d revisit the idea of surgery.


Of course, four weeks from now, if the results from physical therapy aren’t what we hope they’ll be, it still won’t change the gist of the conversation I had with Birdie on the way home from the surgical consult:

Me: Your dad and I are broke.

Birdie: Phumpfh.

Me: You’re kind of old.

Birdie: Phumpfh.

Me: We’re broke and you’re old. I feel like maybe it’s ok to choose not to sink an entire line of credit into one of your legs. Right?

Birdie: Phumpfh.

Me: Birdie, listen. I feel like an asshole trying to figure out how much your leg is worth. I don’t want you to be in pain, but that’s a lot of money. If you want the surgery, I’ll rob a bank to pay for it (or use a credit card). Just tell me what you want me to do. I don’t want to make the wrong choice and have you suffer for the rest of your life. I hate the idea of putting a dollar sign on your leg. You deserve all the bionic legs a dog could ever dream of having…I’m sorry I’m not rich. Just tell me: What do you want me to do?

Birdie: zzzzz-phumpfh-zzzzzzz.

Me: Dammit.

Birdie on bed rest looks just like Birdie on every other day.

Birdie on bed rest looks just like Birdie on every other day.


I wish dogs could tell us what they want. One of the hardest parts of caring for our dogs is making decisions on their behalf and feeling badly that we’re not doing the right thing.  A lot of us are beating ourselves up and second guessing everything – from the everyday decisions about diet and training to the excruciating choices we need to make at the end of their lives.

It’s no fun being the one in charge of making the call. As humans we carry around all these conflicting, painful thoughts – about the various options available and what the future holds for the dogs we love so much. Luckily, our dogs continue living in the moment. Knowing stuff is our burden, not theirs.

You might think that those of us who make a living working with dogs would have an easier time making choices for our pets. We know all the questions to ask about quality of life and the different scales to help measure their good days and bad days. Plus we have tons of personal stories from clients and colleagues, etc. to mentally reference in order to help us put our own situations in perspective.

Turns out, when it comes to my own dogs, like most pet care pros, I’m in need of the same sort of outside perspective and compassionate counsel as everyone else. The situation isn’t life threatening (for the record, I’m grateful the diagnosis wasn’t something more serious), but I needed someone else to help me get my footing. And to tell me I’m not a jerk.

I really appreciate that the surgeon told me not to feel guilty for considering my financial situation. And I could have hugged her for saying I should feel supported in trying a non-surgical option first.

It’s what I would have told myself if the confused, weepy kid in my head wasn’t busy shouting about how I was turning into Cruella De Ville for allowing money to pop up when thinking about what Birdie needs. It’s what I would have told any of you, if you were in the same spot.

Thanks for the compassionate advice Doc.

We’re starting rehab next week. In the meantime, Birdie still seems to love me, despite the fact that I’m thinking about the value of her leg repair versus the potential span of her life divided by my credit line. Maybe that’s because she’s thinking about snacks and smelly stuff to roll in, not surgery. That’s my job.


p.s. if you’re interested in some alternatives to surgery, this article at Whole Dog Journal is really helpful.


Searching for Answers: Turkeys, Soft Poop, and Underage Dog Walkers

One of my most favorite things about having a blog (other than getting to hang out with you guys – seriously, thank you for being here gang!) is reading the search terms that lead people to my blog. For those of you who have better things to do with your time than hang out on the back end of a blog, search terms are the words that people plug into Google or other search engines. Sometimes the terms trigger my blog to pop up in the search results and then those poor innocent people are directed to my posts.

For example, here are a couple of common search terms that bring people to my blog:

“How to make flirt pole” or “Toy on a string for my dog” 

Then they get directed to this post. 

Makes sense right?

Here’s where the fun comes in: people plug in all kinds of oddball search terms that lead them to my blog, even though they’re clearly hoping for something non-dog related. Like:

“How much space do I give my girlfriend?” or “Tell that bitch to back off.” 

Then I get some that make me want to cry, like:

“My dog was killed by a loose dog” or “My dog got hit by a car and died in my arms.”  

These slay me.

But I also get a ton of questions in my search term results. It turns out that, in addition to typing in questions like:

“How do I get my dog to stop pulling?”

We’re also typing in our deep, dark, vulnerable questions, hoping that the Universe (aka Google) will guide us to the answers.

Questions like:

“Am I bad dog owner?” and “Does my dog hate me?”

And much more, much worse. Trust me.

Except it’s not Google/Universe getting the questions, it’s me. And every other blogger out there.

If you click on the blogs that pop up in your search results, then we’re the ones who see you in your most freaked out, desperate-for-answers moments.


So I thought: What if I just answered the (anonymous) questions that lead people to my blog?

I feel like these questions and search engine terms deserve their moment in the sun. I’m gonna give it to them.

Here we go. Let’s start with a couple of funny search terms that have led people to my blog this week:

“Turkey Harness”

Do people walk their turkeys? It never occurred to me that they did. Are there TINOS out there? Do I need to start another website?

I don’t know where you get a turkey harness, but I do know that if a dog can get out of a harness, so can a turkey. So, to all you turkey wranglers out there, always use a carabiner for back up. Safety (gobble) first.

Why bother with a harness when turkeys can clearly drive themselves to town? (source)

Why bother with a harness when turkeys wearing cool headgear can drive themselves to town? (source)

“Don’t get mad when a girl cares too much. Worry when she stops caring.”

True that.  Except if caring too much means pulling a bunny boiler ala Fatal Attraction. In that case, go ahead and worry. Go ahead and call the cops actually.

And here are a couple of questions that people have plugged into the interwebz, hoping for answers:

“I have begun a dog walking business. But will people be surprised that I am a kid?”

Maybe. How young are we talking here? When you roll up to a new client’s house, how many wheels are on your bike? Do you have enough facial hair to convince them you’re not a 7th grader?

Depending on how slick your website is, some people will be really surprised that you’re not an adult. If, on the other hand, you made homemade fliers with construction paper and glitter, people might not be so shocked that you’re 10. And they might be fine with hiring a kid to walk their dog. Sometimes kids can be OK dog walkers. And they’re cheap too.

However, lots of families want to hire an adult that is a real pro and for good reason. You’re too young and too full of magic unicorn dust to understand liability issues, but sadly adults are not. Due to stuff like liability, geezers like us may prefer to hire someone that considers dog walking a full time profession and has significant dog handling experience under their belts.

They should know in advance that you’re not an adult.

I'd be surprised if this kid showed up to walk my dog. I'd also be time travelling. (source)

I’d be surprised if this kid showed up to walk my dog. I’d also be time travelling. (source)

Going forward, make it clear how old you are in your advertisements. It’s a waste of your time and theirs for you to show up for your first meeting and have them discover then that you’re 6. Plus, it’s gonna be super awkward. Especially when you have to excuse yourself mid-consultation to have a juice box and take a nap.

Also, be upfront about your handling skills when you’re talking to potential clients. Don’t overstate your skill level. Being a good dog walker – at any age – means recognizing how much people are relying on you being honest and trustworthy. Don’t get a relationship started in a lie (of omission). Admit your newbie-ness and get your feet wet by walking easy, laid back dogs. Or stuffed dogs on wheels.

Please recognize your limits kiddo, even if your clients do not. No one under 18 should be handling other people’s dogs who are fearful, aggressive, or reactive. If something goes wrong (it will) you need to be experienced, insured, and have access to a car or cab to get to a vet asap. Or be able to get yourself to the ER. There are some dogs that really are adults-only when it comes to taking them out in public.

Good luck in your new business. Be proud of who you are – you’re a hardworking kid that digs animals and wants to earn money providing a valiant (if not poop covered) service.  That’s exactly what some folks are looking for, so don’t be afraid to strut your wee stuff.


“How come my poop came out like soft serve yogurt?”

Dude. I know why it happens to your dogs (see this), but I’m so sorry you wound up on my blog when what you really need is WebMD or some other site that deals with human #2.  I want to help you, but after reading this page with one eye closed (just in case there were photos), I’m going to throw this one back at you and Google/Universe.

There are hundreds more. I purposely left out the sad ones this first time, but I’ll come back around and answer them sometime in the future. It seems like the people who are throwing those painful questions out into the universe are most in need of a little anonymous support.

Until then, keep asking questions. One day, you might just get an answer!

Our Love Smells Like A Hot Tuna Melt

This past weekend we celebrated Birdie Day at our house. Five years ago we brought Birdie home to live with us (her full adoption story is coming…stay tuned!) and she’s been making our home a much funnier place ever since. Mostly because she farts really loud while watching us eat dinner. It never fails to make us laugh. We are a simple people.

Birdie is the world’s easiest dog to live with and has been since the day she arrived. Because she lived the first six years (that’s right YEARS) of her life at a shelter, Birdie gets to do whatever she wants. That’s the deal. If she had any issues, we’d certainly work with her on them, but she doesn’t, so we don’t. Birdie is polite, sweet, likes naps, and doesn’t poop in the house. My dream dog.

And now she’s 11 years old. So what do you give a silver fox(y) lady like Birdie on her 5th Gotcha Day and approximately 11th Bird-day?

Hot Tuna.

Thanks to our friend Teri who runs Canine Kinship here in Portland Maine, we happened to have the world’s stinkiest dog treat recipe on hand. It took just minutes to whip up these uber-smelly tuna treats.

Here are the deets:

Tuna Fudge

(2) 6 oz cans undrained tuna (or salmon or mackerel)

(2) eggs

1 and1/2 cups of flour

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Tuna Treats

Mix all that greatness together, then press it into a greased 9×13″ pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

tuna fudge

Let cool. Cut into strips, then dice. Makes approximately one ton of treats.  Give or take. Refrigerate or freeze treats.

tuna treats

Super easy, super cheap, super stinky. Birdie thought it was an excellent Birdie Day gift.

Especially because I let her lick the bowl.

birdie licks the bowl

These treats came in handy for the Nose Works class Birdie and I have been taking recently at Canine Kinship. It’s our Girl’s Night Out and Birdie thinks it’s thebestthingever since all she has to do is wander around smelling stuff and eating treats. Stinky treats like Tuna Fudge. What more could a Birdie Dog want?

birdie finds the treat tube

Our pal Nola is also in the class (read her blog here) and was gracious enough to sample our treats this week. Nola gave them a snarf of appreciation.

So there you go: two out two dogs in our class give these treats their drool of approval.

p.s. more on how awesome Nose Works is later. If you’re not doing it with your dogs yet – sign up. It’s a hoot.

Birdie w/the treats in Box

Well, that’s all for now kids. It’s just this one thing: I love this dog.

And our love smells like a hot tuna melt.

Thanks to Teri for the treat idea and to Nola’s mom Danielle for snapping some photos of Birdie working hard in class!


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