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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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Frown lines or laugh lines?

I need a wrinkle-free breed!

Can I get some botox, please?

So the drive to conquer my fear of aging continues, and I just found the top priority item on my 30-year plan… SMILE! After all, happiness is a gift, and the best investment in ourselves. So go on, replace “I’ll be happy when…” with “I’m happy because…”

Laugh lines pay in more ways than one.

So who do you want to be, Grumpy or Happy?

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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