Thursday, November 29, 2012

Eat your (Dumpster-Fresh) Veggies!

I've been really impressed by all my blog friends who home cook for their dogs. Delicious meals of fresh animal products, veggies, grains (or no grains), fruits--it just seems like the right thing to do!

So I've tried to do it myself, and somehow the trip to the meat counter always discourages me. Looking at all those sad packages of chickens and cows, I just feel terrible buying them even if they are for the good of my own animals and even though I know that cans of dog food are the same stuff, only more processed.

A successful trip to the dumpster solves that whole moral dilemma. What every dumpster-diver knows, and many NPR listeners now know, is that expiration dates are determined based not on safety, but on appearance. 

The date at which something becomes unsafe to consume is significantly later than the date at which it starts to look slightly past its prime, with the result that we throw away nearly 40% of our food in the U.S.--a large percentage of which is food that gets thrown away in stores. That's in the vicinity of 55 million metric tons or $165 billion worth of food. 

When I lived in Portland, I ate a lot of food from the dumpster and my diet was varied, tasty, and high-quality. My dumpster diet plan consisted of things that I would never have thought of purchasing in the store because they were unusual (Japanese frozen custard), seemed frivolous (Wasabi peas) or were out of my budget (organic sundried tomatoes). Lamar found that he loved Southwest-style chicken salad, lettuce and all, which we would never have discovered had we not found them, fresh and in abundance, in the trash.

My kitchen was filled with orchids, and a few of those orchids I liberated from the dumpster in 2003 are still blooming in my mom's dining room.

Now that my economic circumstances are different and I live with someone who loves to shop, I still turn the profligate wastefulness of big stores to my pets' advantage, and that of my local animal shelter. 

I seldom purchase dry dog food, and my dogs and foster dogs enjoy an amazing variety of foods whose packaging was slightly damaged by rodents or a box cutter.  

With our latest score, my dogs are even enjoying those home-cooked meals I always wanted to make for them. One of the things that's so impressed me about my fellow bloggers who cook for their dogs is the quantity of vegetables their dogs consume. 

It just so happened that the latest trip to the dumpster yielded about a dozen packages of raw "Asian Stir Fry" veggies. I cooked them up, along with some of the frozen fish that was thrown away in truly staggering quantities, but found that most of those perfect baby carrots and snap peas were rejected by my discerning canines. 

Into the Vita-Mix they went, along with a bit of that fish and a dollop of slightly-past-expiration milk. 

The result was a yummy doggie smoothie that even my picky canines loved.

I've wanted to write a dumpster post for a while but hesitated because I feared it might make me sound a bit, you know...odd. 

But my excitement over making a nutritious, veggie-packed meal from scratch for Fozzie and Lamar, and watching their little tongues lap it up so eagerly, was just too much for me to contain. 

I encourage everyone to check out your local Petsmart, Trader Joes, and other stores for the bounty that will otherwise molder in a landfill!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Stray in Baltimore

The other day Florian was driving around Baltimore after teaching his class at a university, and he saw a dog running around in a grassy area near the train tracks. 

When he got out of the car, the dog ran away from him but when he squatted down and waited a few minutes, the dog cautiously approached and he was able to give him some of his lunch. But when he tried to touch him, the dog ran away again.

A neighbor showed up, and told Florian the dog has been running around there for a couple of months.

Florian said he looked just like Fozzie and we had to rescue him. He picked me up after work and we went back.

As soon as we got there a couple of neighbors leaned out of their windows and struck up a conversation about the dog, and told us that a few people come regularly to feed him but no one has been able to catch him. We didn't see the dog at first, but a neighbor said he was probably looking right at us. Sure enough, there was movement in the bushes and there he was.

A large dog, brindled and with a white chest like Fozzie but more stocky and with a bigger head. Maybe a mastiff/boxer/presa canario something. He wouldn't come anywhere near us this time. 

A few days later we came back and this time we met a woman who said she comes a few times a day to feed him and that he sometimes comes and eats out of her hand. She said he likes rice, likes carrots and peas and baked chicken and dog food mixed together, but doesn't like fried food. She said animal control has tried a few times to catch him with no luck. Someone set up a crate with blankets in the trees for him, but this woman said he never goes inside anything enclosed.

I was so happy to hear that there are people caring for this dog and that the people who live around him--in a poor section of West Baltimore--are trying to help him!  Restores my faith in humans a bit.

But we still need to find a way to get him before it gets too cold and before he gets hit by a car!  

Coordinating now among rescues and trappers and neighbors.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Holiday in the Big City

Florian and I went up to New York to celebrate Thanksgiving with my parents, and because traveling with the pups is less stressful than leaving them for any length of time, we loaded them both up and took 'em with us to the big city. 

Lamar's been to stay in my parents' apartment many times, but Fozzie's never been to New York. I used to stay with my parents with my old girl Tashi and Lamar all the time, and they were no trouble--but I wondered if I was just a wee bit mad to bring my two big males, one young and energetic and one old and grumpy, to stay in an apartment with my parents' unneutered big male.

I resolved to just walk everyone really well so that they could relax and be good when in the apartment.  

They sure did enjoy having more people around to interact with.
And had no trouble at all feeling at home in a strange environment. 
The real test was whether everything would be OK when Florian and I went out, leaving them alone with my parents and their great big boy Dizzy. 

Uncle Johnny felt it was very important to bring my niece Ursula to the Thanksgiving Day parade. So as not to disappoint the hopes and dreams of an innocent young child--not to mention those of a grumpy old man--my sister, Florian and I agreed to go along with the scheme of getting up at 6:15, taking the dogs for a vigorous walk, and meeting Johnny at 8:00 Thanksgiving morning at 72nd and Central Park West. 

The parade was way more crowded than I remembered it from when I was a kid and Johnny used to take me, but the floats were so big and so high up that you could see them even from way back in the crowd. Ursula enjoyed watching from her perch on Johnny's shoulders. 

I thought the floats looked kind of weird, and sinister in a way.

After the parade, we went by Uncle Johnny's apartment on 71st street to check out some of his amazing watercolors. Then we decided to walk all the way home to 116th street.

Inspired by the parade, Florian made a float of his own.

When we got home, Mom reported that the dogs had been good the whole time! They did nothing but snooze, perhaps in preparation for the frenzy of eating that was to come.

My mom makes such amazing hors d'oeuvres. 

Cherry tomatoes and celery stuffed with bleu cheese, baked cheese olives, and those vegan nutty meat balls that are my mom's own invention.

There's just no way to save an appetite for the main meal, 

so you just have to space out the engorgement with lots of good conversation 

and try not to get too spaced out yourself.

Somehow we survived to eat even more for dinner, 

Mom's spinach phyllo pastries and mashed potatoes and portobello mushrooms stuffed with tomatoes and feta fromage and my dad's vegan stuffing.

Lamar was in heaven with the D-lux orthopedic dog bed I gave Dizzy about a year ago, which my parents gave back to me as Dizzy prefers the cool floor.

See Lamar, Dizzy is the source of all good things!

Lamar's never been crazy about his large, hairy cousin Dizzy, maybe because he's such a big guy and maybe because Dizzy has know...organs  that sometimes make other male dogs uneasy, or maybe jealous. 

Maybe because of those same organs, or for some other reason that no one can begin to fathom, Dizzy adores Fozzie and can't get enough of following him around and sniffing his butt.

Despite these complicated interpersonal dynamics, the three boys did just fine, even the next day when Florian and I went walking around all over lower Manhattan and checked out our favorite little shops in the Village. 

Must have been all the good food, good walks, and good company. Hope everyone else had a great holiday too!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving to the shelter dogs

Since I promised Lamar no more foster dogs for a while, I have been making an effort to spend all kinds of quality time with shelter dogs in other ways. This past weekend, I took two Washington Humane Society dogs who are in boarding at a doggie daycare to the Silver Spring Thanksgiving parade. 

Candy is a 10 year old puperoo who still has a lot of energy and spunk. Cub is a 7 year old beagle mix man who just loves people and is sweet and gregarious.  

They loved coming out and meeting all sorts of people, 


getting really good scratches, 

smelling the flowers, 

enjoying each others company,

and seeing the parade.

There was another foster dog named Gus there, who just showed up on the porch of the people who are now fostering him.

 Looks like Fozzie! 

I live in a neighborhood that is very multicultural, and at events like this I realize that just about every country of Latin America is well-represented here.

There were Bolivian dancers, Ecuadorian, Peruvian, 

others I don't know. I love that.

After the parade, I brought the pups home to meet Fozzie and co., and then over to my sister's house to meet Genghis. 

They seemed like they were in heaven being outside in the sun and nature, and they were not the only ones enjoying themselves. 

These guys live in a doggie daycare, so I wasn't surprised they did just fine with new dogs. 

Genghis can be a bit intimidating, but he likes most other dogs and once everyone loosens up they have a blast. 

These pups started to look like they could imagine sticking around, and my sister and I were starting to feel the same way.

But no, gotta be disciplined! Back to the daycare for Cub and Candy, and Fozzie and I took a nice little walk along the Anacostia River. 

We are off to New York to spend Thanksgiving with my parents! I am hoping my mom will make her nutty, hearty, crunchy meatless meatballs.

This will be Fozzie's first trip to the big city, and I am fully prepared for him to be absolutely overwhelmed, nutty, impulsive, and impossible amid all the sights, sounds, and stimulation.

Especially if we see the pot-bellied pig!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Happy groaning growling convulsions

If there were just one thing I love about dogs (and there isn't), it would have to be those groaning, growling, rolling, happy convulsions they make. 

You know, when they flop down on the grass or on your bed or on their dog beds and roll around on their backs, rubbing their noses against the fabric or the ground and making a low, moaning, growling gurgly noise.

Lamar's always been a big convulser, and with the paws flailing in the air, the tail loosely wagging, those happy groans resounding, he seems like the epitome of happiness at those moments.

Lately, he seems to be stepping it up a notch. At all hours, but at least a few times an evening, I'll hear that low gurgling sound that I think must signal a happy, itchy nose and I have to just go wherever Lamar is and check it out.  

I think I may have heard once that this behavior may signal something is wrong. Is there more to it than just an urge to scratch that nose and that back? 

Since Lamar's been doing this ridiculous thing for all of his 13 years, and Tashi did it for all of her 15+ years, I can't bring myself to be too worried about it. 

Should I? Should I really worry that those groaning, growling, gurgly noses are ticking time bombs, just waiting to go off?

If anyone has any insights about dog gurgling, growling, rolling, happy convulsions behavior, now would be the time to let me know. 

Why do they do it? What does it all mean? 

We await your wise counsel. 

P.S. Don't forget to vote in Jodi's Dogs of Blogville Calendar Contest! All the entries are fabulous, though of course I am partial to Fozzie's elephant impersonation...

Friday, November 16, 2012

Star update

Star, the celebrity stray, is still at the shelter, where I've been continuing to work with her. 

The shelter staff say she's been calmer in her kennel, and they think she could be ready for adoption to the right person!

The other day I took her in the van to the Kingman and Heritage Island Trails to see how she'd do in the car and out in nature. 

She was pretty good in the car! She loved sitting in front and looking out the window, but couldn't resist sniffing around in back a bit. 

Once again she was so happy to be out on a walk and see the world.
As we walked along the road on our way to the trail, this little city girl was pretty calm as fire trucks with loud sirens sped past. 

She was really happy to get to the nature trail though. What fun to experience some real live mud, then rinse off by lying down in some nice clean puddles! 

She was actually pretty calm just walking on the leash through the woods, though when we passed some work crews cleaning up the trail then she got excited! 

I felt much more comfortable with her this time, and confident that she wouldn't get too crazy meeting a new friend. So I did let a few people pet her, and she tried to jump up but didn't get mouthy or go wild! We passed one dog and she got very excited, but when the dog wasn't interested she just sniffed as the dog walked away.

I wanted to see if she was interested in connecting with me and how she handled not doing anything, so we sat on the wooden bridge for a while. While she didn't get too relaxed, she did kiss me nicely and lie down for some moments with her head on my leg. 

I hope everyone else who interacts with Star sees how much potential she has, and that eventually the right patient person decides to bring home a sweet celebrity dog.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fozzie's first dance routine

Over the past two weeks, Fozzie's started to put together a little choreography in his dance class and he's continued to make huge progress with tricks I never thought he'd be so good at. 

Last week, we worked on some of the tricks he's learned already and added in a couple of new skills.

We started again with putting my arm out as a target and support, using "Paws up!" to ask him to balance on it. 

Now that he's used to this exercise, it's gotten much easier for him to start to support his own weight and even to start going up on his hind legs!

I love watching the dog dance move where the dog puts his arms on his human--either from the front or the back--and moves forward and back.  One of the students in class has gotten to where her dog will put his paws on her back and walk with her. This is the first time Fozzie's done anything like that!

We worked a little bit on some new skills like backing up and moving laterally with the dog. And we showed off the little choreography we're working on! 

It consists of a bit of weaving between my legs as I walk, then a spin, a sit, high five with right paw then left paw, then a rather dramatic Down--because most things Fozzie does are dramatic--and a crawl forward. 
And this particular version includes Fozzie grabbing the bandana I use to wipe icky dog treats off my hands. Carolynn suggests I put that trick on cue and do it every time--that will take some doing to get Fozzie to do in any sort of controlled way, but would be worth it!

We are using the mbira song Vazimuto by Linos Magaya, probably my favorite song in the world. If anyone can tell me how to put a song in my post, I'll add it in so you can listen to it!

Fozzie seems to love the routine and does it with a lot of energy and joy. We're not really moving in time with the music yet, and I'm not sure if the choreography makes any sense--if its a good sequence of moves. 

We'll have to ask the expert.

And for Fozzie, really the most impressive trick of all is that he's able to do all this stuff, and be relatively focused, in a room with all these other dogs dancing around. Hard to believe my little high maintenance death row inmate has blossomed into such a talented young man. Fozzie, I believe we have found our calling!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Star - the stray who jumped INTO the window of a police cruiser

Recently I got an email from the head trainer at the shelter asking me if I might take in a tough case as a foster dog. Star was a bit of a celebrity, having been in the papers after she jumped in the window of a police cruiser stopped at a red light. The officer, stunned but laughing as he submitted to a furious facewash, called Animal Control and Star was taken to the shelter. 

Despite her high energy, it did not take long for her to be adopted as she loved people and was only about 6 months old. But she was returned after her adopter reported she became very defensive, barking and lunging, when she was sternly reprimanded for chewing on a rug.

Star had a big, raw wound on her back, and it was clear that wherever she came from, she'd gone through some rough times. Either she was abused in a previous home, or she had a really bad accident while she was running around the streets. Either way, she had reason to be frightened at the first sign that someone might hurt her and she had little tolerance for any hint of harshness.

Star needed time with someone who would be sensitive to her sensitivity. I couldn't in good conscience bring her into my household, where she could get into all sorts of trouble with my own behaviorally challenged dogs, but I did commit to working with her at the shelter whenever I could. 

In the little room where I brought her, she immediately started jumping up on me and going after my scarf, hat, and hands. It took some doing to get said objects out of her mouth, which I had to do just by prying it open and then replacing the items with treats. 

She did love the treats and seemed to relax as soon as she saw that she could work for them.  She knew her Sit and did it pretty readily when asked, but she got frustrated quickly when I tried to get her to Wait. She picked up on Down quickly and once she got into that, she seemed to relax. She calmed down overall as we worked together, but if I stopped asking her for behaviors and let down my guard for a moment then she was back to launching up on me, mouthing my hands, trying to steal my gloves and hat and scarf. 

When I turned my back for a moment, she went after my stuff that I thought I'd put out of reach and I reflexively said "uh uh!" Her response was to jump at me and start intensely mouthing again. I wasn't exactly scared, and she focused and calmed almost immediately when I whipped out a treat and asked for a sit. But you can imagine that this behavior is not something most adopters will be thrilled to discover.

I took her for a walk, using my metal leash since I'd already learned that anything chewable near her mouth will end up inside it, and she relaxed once outside the confined indoor space. She didn't pull badly on the leash, and looked up at me sweetly as we were walking. When I gave her treats for walking nicely, she took them more gently. Whenever we walked past another pedestrian, she wiggled happily and wagged and wanted to greet like a typical happy puppy.

At one point I stopped to connect with her and pet her, which was more than she could calmly handle.  She got really excited again, jumping up, mouthing my hands, trying to rip my clothes. Good thing I still had treats! I sprinkled them on the ground and she settled down, and we were able to proceed.

Star is the clearest argument I have seen yet for positive training. Here's a dog with some pretty significant behavioral issues, and I could just imagine someone coming along and trying to show her he's "pack leader" and producing a dog who not only has mouthy impulsive issues but has been labeled "aggressive" or has a bite history and needs far more work to rehabilitate. Her "aggression" is 100 percent the result of fear which is the result of God knows what happened to her, and will need gentle, positive, treat-filled treatment in order to abate.

I hesitated to even write this post because this is the first dog I've worked with where I've had some doubts about the prognosis. What if I post about her, and get all you guys attached to her just like I am, and then the decision is made to euthanize her?

The shelter for now is committed to continuing to work with her--with all she's been through, they want this story to have a happy ending! She is certainly not an easy dog, but I do feel that at her age her potential to turn around, mellow out, and learn better coping mechanisms is huge. She's super treat motivated and loves people, just needs to learn calm behaviors and better ways of coping with stress. 

I'll keep you posted as I work with her, and if anyone knows of an incredible patient person who really wants to adopt a high energy celebrity pittie mix who's had a rough life but whose love for humans is undiminished, or has any ideas about how to help her in case the shelter decides it can't, please let me know!