Friday, February 10, 2012

A Moving Afternoon with Guide Dogs of the Desert

Yesterday I was really moved to take part in Dog Day Afternoon, a fundraising luncheon, hosted outdoors at the beautiful and historic Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs. The luncheon celebrated the 40th Anniversary of Guide Dogs of the Desert. What an amazing organization!
“Every 7 minutes, someone in North America will become blind or visually impaired.” -- American Foundation for the Blind.
You think you know about guide dogs, but I sure as heck really didn’t know as much as I thought I did! I chatted with several people about their guide dogs and especially enjoyed meeting Nicole and Snickers, the young lady and her wonderful black lab with me in the photo at left. Snickers is Nicole’s third guide dog and she said he is her favorite. When I asked her why she said, “You know, some dogs are just extra special.” I told her I understood that completely. She also said that Snickers is so smart and never lets her down and opens the world for her that she would otherwise not have available if she just went out with a cane. He is responsible for her safety and he is her eyes to the world, plus he is a very sweet, loving boy. I then asked if I could pet him and she said I could. I crouched down and Snickers plopped his head in my lap and closed his eyes when I massaged his big head and ears. He is a delight!

Guide Dogs of the Desert has a waiting list of 120 people across North America in need of a guide dog. They can only produce/train about 30 a year at this point so the need is strong. They made a smart decision about a year or so ago to produce their own dogs and so are breeding labrador retrievers, both black and yellow, plus standard poodles, german shepherds and golden retrievers to help keep up with the demand. The organization is super cautious in order to ensure that no dogs are bred that may have negative genetic tendencies like hip dysplasia, heart disease, or even problems like hyper personality. They are like reputable breeders who want to ensure they have healthy stock both physically and mentally that can go on to assist those in need.

Even with all this care, the organization often introduce 10 dogs to a recipient in need and sometimes none match up. It is not an exact science but I think, more of an art to match up the guide dogs and the people they will partner with. They rely solely on donations to keep their programs going. Smoke Tree Ranch is a wonderful supporter and has sponsored many guide dogs.

The dog is about two years old when it meets its blind person. It takes many, many hours of socialization and then training to have a dog who can help lead a blind person from place to place. Once the person is matched with their dog they go through 28 days of training together so they can emerge as a safe and effective team in order to navigate as a unit in the outside world.

The North American average for dogs who graduate the program is about 50 per cent but Guide Dogs of the Desert has an average of 73 per cent, which is fabulous. They definitely have strong supporters, but they are also passionate about what they do and they send dogs all over North America. They also have amazing volunteers and foster families who raise the pups until they are 18 months old and go off to training.

In the Guide Dogs of the Desert literature, Alan Fitzsimmons said that “going from a cane to a guide dog is like going from a skateboard to a Ferrari.”

I plan to attend a graduation later this year. I understand there is not a dry eye in the house as the foster families say goodbye to the baby they nurtured and the person who has been waiting forever for their guide dog happily unites with their new partner. It’s an understandably emotional experience and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.

Some facts:

• Guide Dogs of the Desert was founded in 1972 and has graduated more than 1000 students.
• GDD provides students with a family environment
• The organization has smaller class sizes so they can offer both dogs and the people they will guide with more individual attention
• Student to trainer ratio is 3:1
• GDD is a member of the International Guide Dog Federation
• The blind receive their trained dogs and personalized instruction, including the 28 days of on-campus training for first time users, free of charge.

The organization’s mission statement:
Guide Dogs of the Desert improves the lives of the blind by creating opportunities for life changing independence, and by conducting community outreach and education programs.
Taking part yesterday was a different experience than I expected. It was a lovely luncheon on a sunny afternoon in a gorgeous setting. However, more than that it was an emotional and heartwarming afternoon which simply reinforced how wonderful I think all dogs are.

You can visit Guide Dogs of the Desert here.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

John Lund and the Art of the Pet

John Lund has made photos of some astonishing animal antics. Dogs using a hula hoop. Doing the tango. Visiting a beauty parlour. Driving a car. Amazing, right? It turns out, though, that there’s more here than meets the eyes.

In an article in Animal Fair, Lund describes his technique:
So how does this animal artist work his magic? Through the wonders of digital imaging, Lund creates humorous scenarios of animals indulging in unusual behaviors. While Lund is the creator of these fanciful images, he is quick to confess that the original ideas are a group effort.

“Our inspiration comes from many areas, life experiences, other photo shoots and just plain hard thinking,” Lund said. “The images are very much a group effort. The ideas are generated by Portal Publications’ Senior Art Director Collette Car
ter, Peter Stein, and myself.”

Lund has four books that capture the hearts of pet-lovers and elicit more than just a few hearty chuckles. Animal Antics, Animal Wisdom, Animal Talk and Life According to Maude all feature an array of animals hamming it up at the hands of a masterful artist who has an eye for knowing what tickles our funny bones.

On his web site, Lund talks about how much he enjoys making these images:
As much delight as the Animal Antics pictures bring to others, I think I still get as much enjoyment as anyone from actually creating the images. We always work with the same crew including our animal trainers. The animals, though difficult to photograph, are always fun to interact with. I never cease to be amazed at the athleticism of cats, the eagerness of the dogs to please us, and the special qualities of almost every animal. In particular, I appreciate the sensual muscularity of lions, the seemly gentle yet massive power of elephants, and the almost eerie intelligence of primates.
Visit Lund’s web site to view and buy prints and cards of Lund’s fantastic work.

Food is NOT Love: Half of All Pets Are Obese

Years ago, when my beloved bichon, Casey, was overweight, my vet said to me emphatically, “Food is NOT love. Her momma ain’t fat so why is she?”

It took a while for the meaning to sink all the way in, but when it did, there was no going back. I am not fat because it doesn’t work for me. I feel better when I am at what for me is a sensible weight. I think I look better and I know I feel better. Healthier. Like I can take things on. If I feel that way, why would I expect my dog to feel any different?

I cut back on the treats.

Now according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 55% of dogs and 54% of cats in North America are obese or overweight. From CNN:
"I didn't notice the weight creeping on -- it was like all of a sudden he was just this fat dog," Stevens said as she and Dodger visited Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park.

"His weight is about 82 pounds right now, and he should be 62 pounds." That means he needs to lose about a quarter of his weight -- equivalent to a 200-pound person needing to lose 50 pounds.

The reason is pretty simple: "Too much food and not enough exercise," Stevens said.

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention report shows not only that more pets are overweight, but also that those with the problem "are getting fatter," said Ernie Ward, the group's founder.
Being too fat isn’t good. It isn’t healthy for people and, as it turns out, it isn’t healthy for your pet, either:
A long list of health dangers comes with the excess weight. "It's not a matter of if, it's when" serious complications will strike, said Ward.

These can include high blood pressure, "crippling arthritis," diabetes and some cancers. "Their life is shortened by two or 2½ years," said Ward, a veterinarian in North Carolina.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine, which cites the association's annual study, said the diseases seen among obese pets "are eerily similar to those reported for people."
Distressingly, one of the problems might by the commercial pet food you’re feeding:
Pet foods these days are "more calorically dense" than they used to be, yet owners are feeding their pets more, he said.

If you're concerned your pet may be obese, it's important to work with a veterinarian, and not try to tackle the problem on your own, said Ward. "Diet is not about starvation or deprivation. It's about gradual weight loss."

In many cases, carefully measuring food and committing to exercise can do the trick. But more severe cases need more extensive work.
I would take things further still. Begin with a clear idea of what the perfect outline for your breed should be. How much should he weigh and how much fat covering should he have? If you don’t have a clear idea, your vet will.

Next, consider you dog food carefully. Many commercial brands are not good sources of nutrition, no matter what the package says. Make sure you’re feeding a good quality premium brand or, as an increasing number of owners are doing, take things further still and think about options to commercial pet foods.

Finally, make sure your dog has adequate exercise and if you don’t have time to walk your dog or throw a ball for him, consider hiring a service who will.

I know that sounds like a plug -- after all, that’s one of the things Love on a Leash does! But if you’re working so hard that you don’t have time to give your dog the exercise he needs, hiring someone else to do it for you will be a terrific investment in your dog’s health. Even so, if you can make the time to do it yourself, both you and your dog will gain from your new commitment to physical fitness. Don’t forget: dogs make the very best work out partners. They never beg off because of bad weather or because they’re too tired or hungover! You might start out trying to get your dog in better shape and end up with both of you feeling more fit and healthy. What could be better?

Though a rash of articles that have come out since this pet obesity report was released earlier this month make this sound like an almost hopeless problem, on a case-by-case basis, it is not. Diet and exercise really are the first step. If you feel overwhelmed, bring in some help. Your vet will be happy to offer advice on the topic. And make no mistake: so will your caregiver at Love on a Leash.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Your Pet and the Stars

Can dogs have their astrological charts read? Why not? After all, dogs have birthdays, too! On her web site, PetHoroscopesGo.Com, astrologer Lynn Lopez writes:
Thousands of dedicated pet owners see pet horoscopes as a new way to get to know their pets even better, and probably even decipher their day-to-day moods. Pet horoscopes may even be a lot easier to work with than horoscopes for humans, since you don’t really have details like romance and career to figure out.
Even without the complications of human life, however, it’s possible astrological forecasting can help us learn things about our pets we might not otherwise know. As AstrologySource.Com says:
Ever wonder how your dog got his funny habits? Or why your new kitten is so quirky? The answers could be determined by their date of birth and how astrology affects their character. Astrology can play an important part in your pet's life.
So is it real or old fashioned stargazing? To be honest, I’m still not sure. Though with large circulation newspapers like the New York Daily News getting on this bandwagon, you can be sure that pet astrology is something we’ll be hearing more about, and soon!

Editor’s note: the astrology pet dish shown above is from Pet Mountain. You can see it and other dishes here.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Do Any Dogs Really Need Sweaters or Coats?

How can you tell if your dog needs canine clothing? It’s fairly safe to say that if you have a healthy, young dog of a substantial size like a malamute, husky, golden retriever or shepherd, to name a few, who is acclimated to cold and has a thick insulating coat, you likely don’t need to invest in dog clothing for walks in the rain or snow. That said, there are three kinds of dogs who do benefit from the extra insulation of a sweater or coat, as well as the protection needed by life as a pampered house pooch.

Small Dogs.

Dogs who are elderly or ill or both.

Dogs with very short, fine hair and not much body mass. (Like greyhounds, whippets, dachshunds and even some fine-coated terriers like Jack Russells.)

What these dogs all have in common is that they have a tougher time generating and maintaining enough body heat all on their own because they have so little fur and, as a result, they can certainly benefit from a little extra help keeping warm and dry.

Protection from the rain, snow, wind and cold temperatures are all reasons to put clothes on dogs headed outside, and it doesn’t hurt to leave a sweater on them inside as well if you like to keep the heat on the low side.

At our house my Bichons have always had cold/wet weather gear. Jackets to help keep them a little cleaner and dryer through our Vancouver rain as well as sweaters and puffy vests for the cold weather that can also nip at their toes during our winters. My dogs have always loved the snow but need protection that a sweater or coat offers from snow lumps getting clumped in their fur rendering them immobile.

If you have a dog with arthritis, warm snuggly clothing is just one thing you can do to make winters more comfortable (besides wintering in Palm Springs). There are also some amazing pet-safe heated orthopedic dog beds that are a great idea to help combat arthritis, as are neutraceuticals like glucosamine and Omega-3 oils that have been clinically proven to ease joint pain. If you suspect arthritis we recommend you work with your vet as this is an extremely painful and progressive disease for your dog.

Even if your dog doesn’t need a coat, having one certainly won’t hurt him. I have always used rain coats and sweaters when walking my dogs, especially in wet weather, which saves me the trouble of cleaning a wet dog at the door before we come back inside. And a dry dog is one who happily climbs back onto the sofa once we are inside! Boots are also a big help for keeping paws cleaner but also as protection from snow, salt & de-icing chemicals that are toxic should your pet wish to lick them off. They work to protect feet in all types of weather -- from cold to hot when the high temperatures could burn your dog’s paw pads.

Bottom line? Clothes don’t make the dog, but they do make them a whole lot cuter! There’s nothing wrong with having fun and dressing your dog. Nothing puts a bigger smile on my face than canine couture... a smart ensemble means a chic pooch walking down the street? Ooh la la!

Begley Cleans Green

Those who loves pets and are concerned about the planet will be interested to hear that veteran actor and environmental do-gooder, Ed Begley, Jr., has launched a new line of plant-based, sustainable and cruelty-free cleaning products.

Begley had noticed that, while many people wanted to use green and organic cleaning products, most of the ones available just weren’t that effective.

“Most people would switch to greener products,” says Begley, “but have justified concerns about the overall effectiveness of these products. Many green cleaners simply can’t handle the grime and dirt of modern-day living.”

Begley adds that, with the introduction of his new line, there is no longer an excuse not to clean green, “because these plant-based products clean just as well or even better than their non-green counterparts.”

While many “green” products on the market claim to be natural, says Begley, most fail to disclose their ingredient list, which has left many skeptical about their alleged wholesomeness. With Begley’s Earth Responsible Products, consumers know that they have the safest and most effective ingredients available. Each product lists 100 percent of its ingredients on the label. The full list of ingredients is also available on the Begley’s Earth Responsible Products website.

“It is a fact that non-green products can be harmful, and indeed toxic to our minds and bodies and the planet at large,” said Begley. “My priority is to ensure that quality products do not come at the expense of compromising our safety, health, or the environment.”

Begley’s Earth Responsible Products are now available through the website, but look for them in a growing number of stores over the coming months. The full line includes dish soap, hand soap, a multi surface cleaner, glass cleaner, cooktop cleaner, stone cleaner and rejuvenator, pet stain and odor remover, household stain and odor remover and a produce wash.

Love on a Leash is always happy to read about and review products such as Begley’s that are animal friendly. “Cruelty free” means no testing was done on animals and the eco-friendly standards Begley maintains are so much healthier for us and for our four-legged friends who share our lives and live in our homes.

Clean, earth friendly products we’ll be sure to try.

Love on a Leash shares Valentine’s Day Recommendations for your Pooch!

Valentine’s Day is coming up soon, a time to show your appreciation for everyone you love, including your dog! This is the perfect time to pamper your pooch with a little extra TLC. Dogs are so easy to pamper. Just offer them a little extra time and attention and they will be over the moon for you!

Here are 6 things you can do to show your dog how much you love them this Valentine’s Day:

1. Special Treats for the one you love. The ultimate way to pamper your dog is to give him some “special” treats. There are two dog bakeries we really love: Sweet Canine Cookies truly are divine! And Three Dog Bakery in Vancouver and Port Moody continues to be a special favourite.

Sweet Canine Cookies shares some of the things that make them special:
“When we started baking for dogs we wanted to do something really special. Sweet Canine Cookies are not your average dog cookies. They are made with certified organic human grade ingredients to offer goodness for your dog’s body, mind and spirit. Each dog cookie is nutritionally balanced and is a good way to help supplement the body, but Sweet Canine Cookies also treat your dog spiritually! Our recipes are made with love and care for your dog. Not for profit, but for the sole intention of providing your dog enjoyment and health. One hundred percent of our net proceeds are donated to our favorite Bichon rescue organization. And it doesn’t stop there. When your dog eats one of our cookies, he literally consumes a blessing and a prayer made specifically for him or her. Each human grade dog cookie is individually blessed and prayed over to offer your dog nutrients, love and a spiritual touch. Sweet Canine Cookies are food for the body, mind and the spirit with a specific blessing and prayer offering a complete circle of health, wholeness and happiness. And of course they come with just a touch of sweetness to make your dog smile, because even dogs have a sweet tooth.”
Three Dog Bakery is also motivated to create healthy canine treats. In their own words:
“At Three Dog Bakery our mission is simple: to fresh-bake the world’s best dog biscuits and food, giving dog owners everywhere a healthy, all-natural bone-ified treat to give to their favorite four-legged friends. We add NO salt, sugar, chemicals, artificial preservatives or animal fat to any of our products. We also carry the world’s most delicious pre-packaged treats and other Goodies!

Three Dog Bakery presents Love Bites! Peanut Mutter Cups (shown above left) and Fresh Barked Dogversation Hearts (at right).

Your dogs will go “nuts” over our Peanut Mutter Cups. Their all-natural, carob yumminess make all dogs fall in love with the best dog cookies made with carob and peanuts!

Show your puppy some love with the Dog-versation hearts! These wheat free, heart shaped cookies are sure to make your dog fall in love with you all over again!”
2. Have a Canine Photo-shoot. Dogs love attention and are naturals in front of the camera. We recommend you go the professional route, at least once in your dogs’ life, with a photographer who will provide you with photos that will be forever dear to your heart, like Off-Leash Photography here in Vancouver. Angie helps make it fun for your dog while making wonderful images and memories. Don’t forget to pet and praise your dog for being a great model. A photo shoot can be a lot of fun for both you and your dog, and it will capture memories you can keep forever.

3. Give your dog the spa treatment. Dogs get stressed out just like people, and nothing eases stress better than a nice day at a spa. There are plenty of doggie spas with a range of prices where you can take your dog to be treated like a king for a day. Or you can do it yourself: spend some time grooming and brushing your dog. He’ll love the extra attention, and his fur and skin will look and feel better.

4. Take your dog out with you. Most dogs spend their days waiting for us to come home when we’re at work. Next time you head out, try and take your dog along. Ensure that wherever you are going, whether it be work, eating out somewhere, or visiting a friend, that you do a little research and ensure it is ok to bring your dog along. You won’t have to leave your dog home alone, and your dog will enjoy some new sights, smells, and sounds, and meet some new people.

5. Teach your dog a trick. You might not think of this as pampering, but it is! When you teach your dog tricks, you are spending time with him, praising him, working out his mind, and giving him treats for a job well done. And you can show off your dogs’ new skill. What could be better?

6. Surprise your dog with a new toy. Now most dogs love toys, and likely have more than they actually need, but since when is an occasion like Valentine’s Day about need anyway!? There are some adorable heart-shaped or red stuffy, squeaky play toys available to celebrate the day of love.

Follow these tips and you can pamper your pet without making him spoiled. Trust me, your dog will love the extra special attention.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Recipe Corner: Peanut Butter Dog Treats

Peanut butter and dogs seem to go nut in paw. Something about the wholesome goodness of peanuts, plus they’re a good source of supplementary protein. As with everything you feed your canine companion, remember to choose your peanut butter with care. Many supermarket brands are loaded with sugar and other additives. For best results, choose a healthful, organic brand.

Peanut Butter Dog Treats

2 tablespoons oil
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup water
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1-1/2 cups white flour

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Combine oil, peanut butter and water. Add flour, one cup at a time, forming a dough.

Knead dough into firm ball and roll to 1/4 inch thickness.

Cut into 3 to 4 inch pieces. You can use cookie cutters if you like.

Place on an un-greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes.

Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Coyote Season: Watch Your Pets!

Coyote season in Vancouver has been scary this time around. Twice in December we had coyotes gather at our intersection in Kitsilano shrieking and howling their greetings and we’ve occasionally seen the remains of what we sadly suspect are cats scattered around the neighborhood. Not long ago I even saw a coyote walking up the street a few blocks ahead of where Figgy and I were returning from our morning coffee run. Needless to say, I was freaked right out. I think it was the sight of this last one that really got me to thinking. He seemed utterly unafraid of anything and at first I took him to be a largish grey dog walking off-leash ahead of us.

As someone who loves all canines, I'm a little conflicted about how I feel about coyotes. On the one hand, there is something very lovely -- almost otherworldly -- about the coyotes as they pad about my neighborhood in the winter mist. On the other, I know they pose a very real potential threat to my own dogs and those of my friends and clients. Local police have said there are dens in Kitsilano (and likely other parts of the city, I would think) and that it’s best not to have your dog off-leash at any time or to have your cats at large. According to Shine Pets, coyote season is right now:
This time of year -- January through the end of February -- is peak mating season for the coyote, and the resulting hormonal increases "could lead to attacks on pets."

The good news is, you can protect your pet just by...existing; a healthy coyote isn't interested in people, and will back down from a human. (In the event that you see a coyote get hostile with a human or any other animal, call your local animal-control authority or wildlife division immediately.)

It's always a good idea to keep cats indoors. When you go out with your dog, keep her on a leash, or at least within sight.
In my opinion, even that is not enough. At this time of year, if you live in an area where you suspect there may be coyotes in the immediate area, keep your precious canine friends on leash at all times. No sense taking chances when it can lead to heartbreak.