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So, you want a puppy? Things to think about before you adopt a puppy

 Imli

Everybody loves puppies. Even those who dislike dogs like puppies. If you’ve just decided to get your own furry ball of happiness, welcome to a better, happier life. But think twice and adopt once.

Here are a few things to think of BEFORE you get a puppy:

  • Do I have enough money to spare? Money isn’t everything, but it is the most important question you should be asking yourself. Your set-up costs for bringing a puppy home and the first 3-4 months are going to be more expensive than average maintenance costs later on. You want to make sure that neither you nor your puppy has to survive on ramen noodles during that time. Also, in case of a medical emergency, you want to make sure that your little fur-baby gets the best possible care. On the whole, we spent approximately $600 in the first month for our little pup, Imli, and continue to spend around $250-$300/month 2 months later (she’s 4 months old now), despite using coupons and discounts. That does not include her training classes, but does include her $275 adoption fees.
  • Do I have enough space? Puppies only need a little crate when you’re away, but as they grow up, you want to make sure they have enough space to move around while you’re at work. This question helps you narrow down the dog breed by its size.
  • Do I have enough time and energy?
    • Young puppies need to be fed every few hours and taken out every few hours, this requires flexible working hours.
    • Dogs in general like the same routine every day, so if you work varying shifts, you may want to reconsider your decision.
    • Once they grow up, dogs will want to play, exercise and get attention from you, otherwise they will become moody and destructive. Like you’ve probably read in many guides, a tired dog is a happy dog… can you give them enough time and exercise? This question will help you narrow down the dog breed that suits your lifestyle the best based on activity levels of your future dog, as well as yours. This exercise is best done by everybody, even previous dog owners, as our activity levels change over time and our compatible breed (or even species) does too.
    • Dogs are not for the lazy, or the clean freak. You will have to take them out for a walk in the rain, snow and they will come in dripping wet, and track in lots of dirt with their little paws. And don’t forget, the poop won’t scoop itself!
    • If you are a frequent flier, remember that frequent and/or long separation is hard on your pet. Ensure you have a support system of friends/family who will care for your pet when you’re away so that you keep her kennel stays to a minimum.
  • Do I have enough experience handling dogs? This will help you narrow down your breed by their temperament and also, age. Young pups are more pliable than older dogs, but also need a lot more training to get the basics right.
  • Other factors such as children and other pets in the household are a big factor to consider as well. No matter how good you are with dogs, it might just be a good idea to go with a breed that is known to have a calm, mellow temperament in such cases. It just gives you peace of mind when you are not supervising your kids/pet-kids.

In the end, ask yourself, why do I want a puppy?

  • If you want the playmate you cuddled with after returning from school and in between your play times, remember that being a pet-playmate and pet-parent is very different.
  • If you think this is going to be a good training for having children, think again… a puppy is not a training class.
  • If you want your kids to have a playmate, remember that your puppy will be your pet-child first and then their playmate; you will now have to take care of one more child.

A puppy is a highly intelligent living being that will need love, care and engaging attention for the next 10-15 years of your life. It will be a lot of work, especially until they are 6 months old, and then some.

Things will go wrong. Your expensive shoes and furniture will get chewed on. Your puppy will choose your expensive Persian carpet to have an accident on. Even older dogs will go back and forth with their good habits. Make sure that you are emotionally mature to handle a puppy’s mistakes and tantrums, whether intentional or otherwise. There are no shortcuts to achieving a well-behaved puppy, but it can be achieved with patience and consistent training.

Finally, double check all your thought process before you bring the little ball of cuteness into your life.

And please, adopt.

About me: I’m just another animal lover, who thinks my pets make me a better human being. I have fostered many stray dogs and kittens, but this is my first time as an official pet-mom to a lab/shep pup. I’m still easing into my new role, but there are things that I’m absolutely sure of, like this post. This list of things to consider before adopting may not be exhaustive, but it helped me decide, and I hope it helps you too. Please think clearly before making this commitment, so you give your pet its forever home.

Next up: To buy or to adopt?

How do I pick a puppy from a litter?

Stay tuned!

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Close encounter with a red fox

Ever had fantasies of being the hero in a real life emergency? Wait till you come face to face with a fox, and you realize you’re the first to make a run for it.

A few days ago, my Knight in Shining Shorts, Adi and I were vacationing in the San Juan Islands, WA, enjoying the solitude, the nature and ‘so few humans’. On the last day, we decided to go to the lighthouse near American camp, where you could sight baby seals and sometimes, whales. The rocks were steep but we managed to climb down to the gray, rocky beach 20 ft below. We caught a glimpse of a sea otter running across, and then, a fox ran across, carrying food in its mouth. His beautiful fluffy red coat made him look quite big, the size of a German Shepherd.

Fox ahead!

Fox ahead!

We trekked to a nice view point and sat down, only to see that the fox was behind some logs, just visible in the distance (picture is on max zoom). He alternated between peeking up at us and chomping his food. “So cute!”, “He’s so cuddly!”, “What will he say?” we joked and left him alone to eat his food in peace.

He then finished his food and became very curious.

Hello, Strangers!

Hello, Strangers!

He walked across the logs and made his way closer to us. We ignored him until at about 40 ft away, we decided to stand up and look bigger, while sending him “We’re not here to harm you” vibes. He looked straight at us, not threatening, not docile, just looking intently, inching his way toward us. We wondered if people had been feeding wildlife. Was he just curious, or hungry?

Let me take a closer look

Let me take a closer look

What are you doing in my land?

What are you doing in my land?

All the same, we decided this was enough, and clapped. Startled, he scampered up the slope. We started walking back the way we came, but he came back down the slope overlooking our path, at a good vantage point.

Startled

Startled

Vantage point

Vantage point

We were nervous to cross when the fox was right up there. We decided to wait it out, maybe he left his food back there, since he kept looking back nervously to some logs near our entry point. But he patiently, confidently, inched closer, looking us straight in the eyes. What does the fox say? Nothing. He just stares, not snarling, not moving, and slowly breaks you with his cool confidence. It was a game of nerves, and he was slowly winning. We were in his territory, and he was blocking our only way out. When he stood on the path before us about 15 ft away, I buckled (and messed up a potentially uber-cool picture). This was the final stand-off. After this he would be establishing alpha, and despite our experience with urban wildlife and wild herbivores, we didn’t know anything about foxes except that they can be ferocious if they are protecting their kits. He (She?) now fed on my scared vibes and was now almost ready to come closer and…what? I frantically went through my memories of all my dog bites, some violent, some not, but couldn’t come up with a game plan in case she attacked. We were bigger and much more heavier, but she was wilder, and had sharp teeth and claws. We could easily push her away but she could still inflict serious damage if she wanted to.

15 ft away and in our way, and my messed up picture

15 ft away and in our way, and my messed up picture

The rest happened very fast. Adi spotted a rather steep but climbable gravelly slope and asked me to make a run for it, he’d hold down fort. I made a dash for it, and saw the fox dash too. Now panicking that the fox was chasing us, I sprinted up that 75-degree slope in 5 seconds flat! Forget a hero, fear made a mountain goat out of me!

Turns out panic had made me delirious. Adi saw the fox darting backward and toward something it was protecting, it never chased us. Still, we continued to jog, huffing and puffing through the knee-deep grass, until we saw some hikers. I’ve never been happier to see humans! We immediately composed ourselves, acted all cool, talked about the weather, and ‘calmly’ warned them, off-hand, about a fox that was ‘quite bold’ and to skip the beach, and walked on till we found the road. I’ve never been happier to see a tar road. Civilization! I felt like a sailor spotting land after years of being lost at sea.

Looking back, it was a thrilling and brag-worthy experience with a rather comical end, but we know that it could have easily gone either way. We read later that foxes do have their kits around this time, so if that fox was a mom, there was no way she’d have let us cross so close to her den. Maybe we over reacted, many tourists have encountered begging foxes on Cattle Point Road or maybe she was just protecting her food. But I am certain this one wasn’t begging for food or show us tricks.

It is humbling to realize your place in the world. Looking into a hunter’s eyes make you understand the meaning of ‘survival of the fittest’. And you realize how maddeningly defenseless you are against the wild. You develop a different kind of respect for nature.

From now on, we are carrying our trekking poles and a whistle on our hikes. We are also going to leave our whereabouts with a friend so if the unforeseen happens, someone misses us. And lastly, I’m getting a DSLR so I can capture these photos better next time.

On the bright side, I did lose my irrational fear of caterpillars that has plagued me for decades. Look at this one, it looks like a baby fox’s tail!

baby fox tail

I’m wooly and I know it!

Patches- A furry tale with a Super Squirrel and mange treatment

Last fall, we put up a birdfeeder in our backyard that turned our suburban Seattle backyard into a mini-zoo. There were chickadees, nuthatches, jays, robins, thrushes, towhees and many other birds. To keep the squirrels from destroying my birdfeeder, I kept a ground feeding tray for them.

Soon I could recognize the lovable pests. There was the mischievous fat squirrel, Rascal, the competitive brothers (I later realized they were mates) Chip and Dale, and some other regulars. By January, our backyard pets associated me with the F-word… FOOD.

Rascal the birdfeeder destroyer

Rascal the birdfeeder destroyer

Chip and Dale fighting

Chip and Dale fighting

 Most of them were happy co-existing with me, but one little guy decided to go where no squirrels dared. One day, as I watched him finish his food from behind the window, he stood up on his hind legs, clasped his hands, looked straight into my eyes and waited expectantly.

Hungry-puppy pose

Hungry-puppy pose

 I thought I was going nuts, because lately I’d been staying home so much. Then it happened the next day, and the next. I put a finger against the window and he bounded right up to it, pawing at the glass and looking back and forth from me to the table where I kept the food. This little guy really was talking to me!

And so started an extraordinary friendship. Every time I went downstairs for breakfast or lunch, he ran up to the window and assumed his hungry-puppy pose. He was tuning himself to my routine! He bounded around excitedly in a flash of gray fur when I spotted him, and soon stayed put at the tray when I went to refill it.

patches mange stage 1

Initial balding along spine and shoulders

Then he started balding along his spine and shoulders. At first, it was just a little bit, but then he lost hair at an alarming rate. It was still March and quite cold, so I feared he would freeze to death. Frantic, I found a squirrel lovers’ forum, The Squirrel Board, to determine whether this was molting or something else. They were stumped, because it looked like Mange, a common fungal skin disorder, but he didn’t have scaly skin, a major symptom of Mange. Mange was a possibility as Seattle is wet almost all year through. They suggested the antibiotic paste Ivermectin 1.87%, but wrong/over dosage can be lethal, so I refrained from treating him yet.

To make things worse, as his fur thinned I realized my squirrel, Patches, was a she. It was early spring and she was probably a nursing mom, and I wasn’t sure how safe Ivermectin would be for her kits.

I eventually found a blog by a squirrel rehabilitator, which made me quite certain her skin condition was Dermatophytosis, and the best way to treat her was to give her a good diet and virgin coconut oil. So I gave her Kaytee Forti-diet for hamsters and gerbils, half a walnut with quarter teaspoon of coconut oil and some powder from cuttlefish bone (normally found in the pet bird section). It’s the closest I could find to the recommended KayTee Forti-Diet for Rats and Mice.

Patches eating2 JPEG

Patches and I are BFFS

By March end, Patches and I had become inseparable. She scampered up to me as I sat out, held my hand with her little paws, put her little snout in my palms and nibbled away. She liked to show off, too. When other squirrels competed for food, she’d call for me. When I went out and other squirrels backed off a few feet, she’d scamper up to me boldly and hang out, showing her fellow squirrels how close we were. She knew I always gave her second servings and after that, the walnut as a dessert, so she pleaded (read demanded) only twice. Sometimes she’d ask for some other food. No I’m not nuts, people, this squirrel talked.

She was a big bully too. Sometimes this 1.5 pound creature sat near my feet and growled, trying to dominate me like she bullied the other squirrels. A loud clap and an admonishment worked and after a few times, we finally established the alpha in the relationship and she recognized my saying “good girl” as a cue to scuttle away.

But her condition got worse. By April, she was completely bald waist up. Her exposed skin turned gray but not scaly, so I finally guessed it was another form of Mange, called Notoedric Mange. Desperate, I started administering the Ivermectin hidden in her walnut, hoping that her kits were old enough to handle it as well. If she didn’t show up for a few days, I agonized that I’d killed her. But Patches is a super squirrel. In three weeks, she stopped balding. In four, she had fine fur on her upper body. By end of May, Patches had turned into a fur ball. She did develop some fresh bald patches on her lower body, but she managed to grow it back, so maybe that bit was molting.

patches mange stage 3 jpeg

4th week. Her bald upper body has fine fur.

Patches mange stage 4 jpeg

Dosage completed. Upper body furry, lower body molting

I was delighted I could do my bit for my furry friend, although I was terrified I may have killed her kits. But I recently saw her hopping along with a little squirrel, I really hope it was her kit.

As our rental lease expiration approaches, with a heavy heart, we’ve decided to wean our backyard pets so they’ll be self-sufficient by fall. So starting June, we now feed them just once a week, unless someone looks obviously hungry.

I haven’t seen Patches in weeks, but last I saw her, she was happy, healthy and bullying other squirrels as usual. Thanks to her, all the animals in our yard see us as friends, and many other squirrels now eat right next to us as we sit out. But no one has talked to us. The Jays, however, have learned how to ask for food, and the little chickadees stay put, grumbling impatiently, when we go out.

Although I miss her sorely, I know it’s for the good. Patches taught me so many things, and she gave me the greatest gift of all—her trust. Coming from a wild animal, it’s exhilarating and fulfilling like nothing else.

She’ll always occupy a special patch in my heart, for I know she’s a one in a million squirrel.

Patches healed

Healthy, happy and hungry

Endnotes:

Want to see Patches in Action? Watch here

I’m just another squirrel lover who somehow managed to treat a wild squirrel. Please check with an expert or a squirrel lover’s forum if you see a sick squirrel and want to help.

Notoedric Mange was my best guess and Ivermectin did work, but I’d like to know what Patches really had. If you know, please tell me!

We all live in a jungle

Think all dogs are out to bite you, all cats will scratch you and all other animals in your city are dangerous in some way too?

If the Freakonomics guys ever did a statistical study on this, they would probably find two things.

  1. The people who’re most scared of getting bitten if they approach animals most probably will get bitten. Most people who are that scared of animals are that way either because of childhood conditioning or a childhood memory of an attack. All the animals they share their world with are either caged in at the zoo, or are their friends’ puppies. So they missed out on the essential do’s and don’ts that other kids naturally picked up. They don’t know how to shut up and listen, watch, feel. They translate body language and expressions from a human perspective. They have preconceived notions and fears that warp their perception. But you know what? By staying away from what they don’t know, they’ll probably be safer than those of us who’ve had limited exposure (think domesticated pets, petting zoos). Which brings me to my second point.
  2. More people are hurt by pets than wild animals. Of course, we take more liberties with our pets than with wild animals.

Here are some myths I’ve heard from people with limited experience with animals, and disagree with.

WP_20130519_038Myth: Animals are cute.

Fact: Animals LOOK cute. It’s the fur, it reminds us of teddy bears. Unless they’re pets with no worries of shelter, safety and food, they don’t have time to be cute. They need to find food or starve, they need to fend off peers and hide from multiple predators constantly. It’s stressful. Some stray/wild animals may learn that acting cute will get them food and safety, but most of them are happy co-existing with you in peace. Even if you become friends, you can’t cuddle up to them like your pets.

Myth: Some animals are dumb, some are smart.P1050500

Fact: Understanding our language and responding to us aren’t the essential qualities of intelligence. No animal is dumb. They learn what they need—they are intelligent enough to make their lives, raise a family and survive. If they ease up just once, they may end up as a predator’s dinner. Trust me, your friend’s ‘intelligent’ retriever is relatively much dumber than the ‘dumbest’ earthworm.

Myth: Animals will warn before attacking.

Fact: They do, but not the way you expect them to. Not all animals growl or wave their tails. Females and mothers are difficult to read. Some go very still when they’re threatened. Some become very silent. So listen, watch, feel. Their eyes and body language are screaming, but silently.

I’m not an expert, but I’ve been around animals since I was a kid. I’ve only had a pet dog for a few years, the rest of my experience has been with stray dogs and cats, wild urban animals like birds, cows, ponies and very recently, squirrels and even a mama raccoon. I’m that girl whose parents didn’t monitor for a minute at a zoo, and then found her with her arm inside a leopard cage, stroking its tail. That little girl got lucky that leopard just watched her lazily, but I haven’t been lucky all the time. I’ve got bitten twice by stray dogs and a few more times by pets. But I keep going back, for they bring me peace and make me happy. A few accidents don’t stop you from driving, and a few falls don’t stop you from cycling, do they? Besides, the human world gets boring after a certain point.

Like many people, I’ve learned a language and etiquette that spans across many species—mostly urban, but maybe more. Here are some things I follow without thinking. Remember, my knowledge is limited to my mostly urban experience, so don’t try this with a wild bear!

  1. Think what you want to tell the animal. Feel it. The animal will catch your vibes from your body language. You can talk if you want. Your language doesn’t matter, your tone does. Be gentle, be soothing.
  2. Never approach an animal. You’ll threaten it and it will either flee or attack. Imagine a giant bear found you cute and came to you, whispering calming words. Trouble is, all you see is a 10-foot bear with sharp claws growling at you. It’s the same for that little furry fella out there when you approach him. Make yourself visible at a healthy distance and stay, open your palm and hold it out. Let the animal choose whether he wants to approach you, and let him come closer.
  3. Stay still, and move slowly.
  4. If you’ve encroached on their territory or their children, back away slowly, your eyes on the parents but not making eye contact. Size matters, you can use it to your advantage. But if an animal is not tiny, viciousness matters (think raccoons).
  5. If you’re trying for a friendship, establish Alpha with your furry friend early on. A little fear is always a good thing.

Most importantly, share the world and show some compassion. A bowl of water in the summer and some food in the winter can go a longer way than adopting all stray animals. You don’t have to be an animal lover to help a few hungry animals out. It’s good karma. Plus, a bird feeder or a food bowl will give you hours of entertainment, and you’ll suddenly start noticing birds and critters everywhere.

Yes, they’re all around you, even in this busy city. Chirping, tweeting, scampering. We’re all ultimately living in a jungle.

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