Here’s to good health!

A neighbor stopped by this morning. “Are you training Sasha to be a therapy dog?”

“No,” I responded. “But she’s certainly good therapy for me!”

Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha

 

Sharing your life with a dog really is good for your health and overall well-being. Consider, for example, this info from Harvard Healthbeat:

Pet ownership, especially having a dog, is probably associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. This does not mean that there is a clear cause and effect relationship between the two. But it does mean that pet ownership can be a reasonable part of an overall strategy to lower the risk of heart disease.

Several studies have shown that dog owners have lower blood pressure than non-owners — probably because their pets have a calming effect on them and because dog owners tend to get more exercise. The power of touch also appears to be an important part of this “pet effect.” Several studies show that blood pressure goes down when a person pets a dog.

There is some evidence that owning a dog is associated with lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. A large study focusing on this question found that dog owners had lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels than non-owners, and that these differences weren’t explainable by diet, smoking, or body mass index (BMI). However, the reason for these differences is still not clear.

Dogs’ calming effect on humans also appears to help people handle stress. For example, some research suggests that people with dogs experience less cardiovascular reactivity during times of stress. That means that their heart rate and blood pressure go up less and return to normal more quickly, dampening the effects of stress on the body.

If circumstances limit your ability to share your own home with a dog, consider volunteering at your local shelter. Visit Adopt-A-Pet online or Volunteer Match to find opportunities near you.

 

Dangerous Deeds

One of the most common questions asked of writers: “Where do you get your ideas?”

As a professor and research geek, I love this question. Maybe I’m genetically wired this way; my dad was brilliant with crossword puzzles and my mother excelled in finding creative solutions to vexing problems. That’s as good a reason as any to explain why I’m prone to wonder who and how and why and what if. I might see a headline, visit someplace new, overhear a conversation, sift through photographs, encounter someone unusual, or dream a tall tale—any or all of these  become grist for the proverbial mill. For me, the answer to  “Where do you get your ideas?” changes from one writing project to the next. The idea of breed bans as a plot for Dangerous Deeds (book #2 in my series) started with news headlines.

The Plot Challenge

Breed specific legislation (BSL) has been a controversial issue in many communities, including mine. A nearby town’s efforts to ban pit bulls caused an argument that went on for months. When unleashed dogs attacked cyclists and joggers on roads and trails, elected officials were challenged to reconsider the county ordinance. They struggled to find reasonable common ground, balancing owner’s rights with public safety. Not an easy task! These and similar events prompted me to wonder how the folks in my fictional world would react to a proposed ban.

Search the Internet and you will likely find hundreds of articles and stories and websites focused on this issue. Tempers run hot on both sides of this controversy, and the thought of researching a topic steeped in such graphic violence left me downright queasy. Still, the idea lingered. I spent months searching for credible information about BSL from advocates and opponents alike, trying to figure out how to tackle the issue in a way that wouldn’t offend readers or my own sensibilities. The AKC’s issue analysis of BSL published in 2015 gave me the hook I was looking for. Read on for a glimpse of how the AKC position and citizens’ comments at public hearings inspired the primary plot line of the book.

Excerpts

There’s a scene early in the book where the sheriff warns my protagonist, Maggie Porter, about a sleazy local attorney:

“Simon Tate claims to have a client whose dog was attacked at the county park.  No witnesses, mind you, and no injury to the dog according to the vet. Still, the suit claims negligence on the part of the county, and he’s demanding we outlaw what he calls vicious breeds. He convinced the Quorum Court to hold a public hearing. My gut tells me he’s after a whole lot more than just a county ordinance, but darned if I can figure out his motive here. Gotta say, that worries me some. Seems like whenever Simon Tate profits, somebody loses.”

Fast forward to the public hearing, where Maggie does her best to explain her opposition to breed ban.  She’s blindsided, though, when Simon Tate uses the event to attack her reputation with a barrage of lies and innuendo. Here’s an excerpt from the end of the scene:

“These breeds have a known history of attacking others. Killing machines, that’s what they are, and you let them in your kennel, side by side with beloved family pets.” Turning to face the crowd, he had to shout to be heard. “Until we get the Dangerous Dog Ordinance signed into law, I challenge everyone to take a stand, show your support for our community. Vote with your wallet—boycott any place that puts profit over safety! Don’t take your business to any animal clinic, pet shop, groomer, or kennel that won’t stand up for our pets, our children, our community!”

Simon pointed to Maggie. “We’re going to shut you down.”

***

Maggie soon discovers the boycott is just the start of trouble. When a body is found on her property, suspicion turns to Waterside Kennels where everyone has motive and nobody has an alibi. Can Maggie unravel the web of deceit in time to save herself and everything she loves?

Dangerous Deeds is scheduled for publication this year. Stay tuned!

A Blue Ribbon Day!

After this morning’s backyard adventure, the four-legged family members opted to spend most of the day inside. Sasha seemed apprehensive when it came time for her mid-afternoon yard break, so I went out with her. This time, however, I was armed with a Plan of Action.

The dogs visiting next door came straight to the fence,  with the Chihuahua leading the conversation. (I’m rapidly growing fond of that little voice.) In similar situations, Sasha has immediately engaged in sustained barking and her mood tends to shifts from interested to agitated in record time.

This afternoon, though, I’d gone prepared. Even as Sasha looked toward the fence I focused her attention on me as I moved toward the center back of the yard. There’s a 20-acre field behind our fence, where the only distractions are squirrels and, come evening, coyotes. We worked through sit, stay, down, and recall even as the dogs barked in the background.

And joy of joys–instead of reacting as she did this morning, Sasha stayed focused on me and worked through the basic obedience routines. Calm, confident, happy. That’s my girl!

This is a FIRST for Sasha!

 We’ll keep working on managing distractions and increasing confidence on our outdoor adventures. For now, I’m happy to know Sasha is on her way to becoming a Canine Good Citizen!

Keep Calm and Have a Plan

Most holiday weekends, our neighborhood sees an influx of out-of-town guests who bring their pets along. For those of us whose dogs are wary of strangers, the new arrivals can add a new level of anxiety.  While vigilance–and maintaining a safe distance–can often prevent a full-blown canine crisis, it pays to have a plan in place to help mitigate stress.

I have a plan. Several, in fact. Lots of strategies and tactics to put into place on our walks, in the park, or anywhere else we might care to go. What I didn’t have was a plan to mitigate the stress of strange dogs showing up at 7 am next door.

Sasha and Buddy The Wonder Cat were in the backyard, enjoying the first rain-free morning we’ve had in a while.  All was peaceful until we heard dogs barking and running toward the fence on our eastern boundary. Sasha, being a Sheltie and the good guard dog she is, ran over barking in response, with Buddy The Wonder Cat in close pursuit.

There’s a wooden fence along the boundary; it’s the “shadowbox” kind with pickets offset on each side with slight gap between pickets. The gap is enough for animals to glimpse each other but not enough for even the leanest dog or cat to slip through. (Cats’ paws, however, are another story, hence my close attention when the boy is outside.) So with a fence between them, the interaction started off well. Buddy The Wonder Cat loves visitors of all kinds and was clearly eager to visit the Chihuahua who approached. Sasha followed head up, ears forward, tail in happy-wag mode, and the whole body posture suggesting a “happy to meet you” attitude. Her barks were conversational rather than confrontational. Even better, she paused after greeting the visitor and looked to me for approval. She was probably hoping for a tasty reward, too, but my bathrobe pockets were devoid of treats so she had to make do with happy-voice praise.

Alas, the peace of the meet-and-greet was shattered when a bigger dog approached, shoved his nose into the gap, and hurled a barrage of barks and growls our way. Whatever he said, it wasn’t nice. Buddy immediately flattened on the ground, just as he does when a hawk swoops low across the yard. Sasha’s ears went back, tail and body lowering, and her bark tone shifted to classic “keep back” in seconds.

It was easier than I’d expected to get them both inside. I used a combination of the Focus and Look-At-That techniques we’ve been working on. Asking Sasha to focus on me instead of the scary dog gave her a reason to disengage. If you’re interested in helping your dog focus on you, here’s a video that may help:

After a game of Find It! inside, we ventured out for a neighborhood walk, and soon met a different neighbor heading our way with her dog she’d recently adopted from the local shelter. I was encouraged to see Sasha’s initial reaction was once again that of interest, so I used the Look At That again while rewarding her with treats. When they got too close for her comfort (across the street and two houses away) I switched direction and lured her away with me. I paused at the corner when Sasha turned to watch them moving closer on the opposite sidewalk. I had the super-yummy Ziwi treats with me which did the trick! Sasha first stood, then sat calmly, enjoying her treats while alternating her attention between the dog and me. My neighbor stopped on the opposite corner and let the dogs see each other while Sasha enjoyed her treats. Here’s an example of what we did:

I owe much of our progress to Beverley Courtney’s excellent workshops. If you have a dog that’s reactive or fearful, check out Beverley’s Brilliant Family Dog website and online training resources. You can find her on Facebook, too.

A cat with a dog of his own

Two years ago, we introduced Buddy The Wonder Cat to Sasha. We’d been a one-cat household since Katie, our 14-year-old Calico, passed away, and without a dog for 17 years since losing our beloved spaniel Alix. It’s fair to say we were a bit nervous about bringing home a rescue with an unknown history but we hoped Buddy, being the (mostly) mellow kitty he is, would eventually accept the newcomer.

Those early weeks were a challenge for everyone involved. It helped, I think, that we let Buddy stake out his preferred territory—which included the bed, the upstairs guest rooms, my lap, and the office. Buddy make it clear, right from the start, that the office was his domain, as evidenced here the day after we brought Sasha home:

The backyard became neutral territory, and as the days warmed into spring the two of them slowly became comfortable together:

They grew so comfortable with each other that Buddy supervises all the training sessions and joins in play time:

And when Sasha injured her leg and had to be confined to her crate, Buddy first tried to unzip the screen to help her escape. When that didn’t work, he stayed as close as he could:

They share most of the water bowls scattered through the house, although Sasha tends to ignore the bowl in the laundry room where Buddy is prone to wash his paws. Sasha also ignores the water bowl next to her food dish at the end of the kitchen island. That, too, is Buddy’s territory, where he likes to fish for ice cubes (really!) while he watches Sasha eat. I feed him first, having discovered that Sasha won’t start eating until Buddy comes to keep her company. Between his enthusiastic splashing and Sasha’s habit of drinking at the edge of the bowl and dribbling water in the process, all the water bowls have catch plates under them. The kitchen bowl is currently Buddy’s preferred place to dunk strings, grass, and miscellaneous things he drags in from the yard, so he has plenty to keep him occupied while Sasha eats.

I generally feed them early mornings and late afternoons, with the water bowls picked up before meals for cleaning. Yesterday, I gave Sasha a snack of cucumbers (her favorite treat) mixed with her kibble, hoping to help her calm down after yet another dog charged us during our afternoon walk. I’d intended to feed Buddy next, but he’d apparently decided food came second to offering sympathy and support for Sasha:

A cat with a dog of his own.

 

Is there a doctor in the house?

Sasha with her “Puppy”

…Or maybe it’s a seamstress we need!

This week marked the second anniversary of Sasha joining our household. Freezing drizzle and a silly injury of mine has kept us housebound, so we’ve celebrated with toys. And that is A Big Deal.

Why? (Glad you asked!) When Sasha came to us, she didn’t know how to play. She was anxious, easily startled, and tended to shy away if one of us made sudden movements or raised a hand. When we tossed a soft Frisbee, she’d tremble or retreat from the action. Ditto with balls of all sizes and textures, although Buddy The Wonder Cat demonstrated the fine art of chasing after toys for her. The variety of toys we piled into a basket might have thrilled any other dog, but Sasha just walked on by.

Then, a few months later, she received a Sock Monkey, and suddenly it was game on!  (And thanks again to the sponsors of the Humane Society of the Ozarks who donated all those treats and toys.)

Fast-forward 18 months. We were wandering through the local pet supply store when Sasha discovered the toy aisle. She browsed through every shelf at nose level until she found the red stuffed squeaky toy pictured above and now known as “Puppy.” (Ask her to fetch Puppy and she’ll bring you this toy. Every time.) She nosed that toy out of the bin and examined it thoroughly, to include a few exploratory nibbles, before carrying her prize triumphantly to the checkout counter.  Since then, she’s learned the fun of “fetch” and “bring it” and enjoys a rousing game of tug. And she’s generalized that experience to her other toys, so we’re now treated to play time with Puppy, Sock Monkey, and Squeaky Duck.

Today, though, it was all Puppy.  I think we’d hit 15 rounds of “fetch” and “bring it” before she decided “tug” was the game of the day, followed by a tear-the-stuffing-out session. By that point I was laughing too hard to focus, which explains the slightly fuzzy photo above.

Time for a patch job!

A Tribute to Shadow

Taking Flight ©2015 Tom Hidley

If you’ve been following this site, you already know I’m a big fan of the Doodlebugged Mysteries and its award-winning author, Susan J. Kroupa. Doodlebugged is that rare sort of series that appeals to people of all ages and is truly a delight to read over and over.

What you may not know is that Doodle was inspired by Sue’s real-life dog, Shadow. Shadow passed away last month, and I wanted you all to know more about this wonderful dog. As Sue writes in her blog (and shared here with permission):

Shadow, with his keen intelligence, his independence, his often maniacal energy, and his always amiable spirit, was truly the most interesting dog I’ve ever had. Admittedly, sometimes he was interesting in the Chinese curse sort of way.

He was a study in contradictions. He liked everyone, but was not especially affectionate with us, at least not until the last couple of years. He was a dog who liked his space.  He loved treats, but often would not work for food, and would thoroughly sniff anything we offered him, because, hey, THIS time it just might be poison.  He was loyalty impaired—a go-where-the-action-is kind of dog—and not averse to abandoning me during a walk if it started to rain, and race to the shelter of the porch.

A true country dog, he was equally at home in the city, attending soccer games and events with my grandkids.

His antics taught me how little I knew about dogs and sent me in search of more knowledge. He learned early on to hold still if I was holding a camera. After all, as I used to joke, he had “his public”, the many people from neighbors and friends to field workers and service people that he befriended. More than once I had the occasion to meet someone for the first time only to discover they already knew Shadow. “He has more friends than we do,” I would complain to my husband. And it was true.

Shadow inspired a host of nicknames: Motormouth, the Barkster, Boing-Boing, The Ever-Ready Labradoodle, Jumping Jack, Bear-Bane, and Possum-Bane.  Oh, how he loved to catch possums! I often said finding them was his super power.

He inspired a book series. The Doodlebugged Mysteries came directly from observing Shadow, who would stare up at me, never breaking eye-contact, with an expression that clearly said, “Seriously?” He was his own dog, not a people-pleaser, even though he was always pleased to be around people. Doodle’s oft repeated mantra that “smart and obedient don’t go hand in hand” came straight from Shadow’s actions.

Seriously?

Fly away, home, Shadow. May you find woods to race through, logs to leap over, possums to catch, and bears to chase away, and may you live on, at least in part, in Doodle.

♥ ♥ ♥

You’ll find the complete post with more photos and links to previous posts at Fly Away Home. Shadow will live on in our hearts and in the Doodle stories, and I am grateful to Sue for allowing us to be part of Shadow’s public.

♥ ♥ ♥

Available in print and Kindle editions:

Bed-Bugged (Doodlebugged Mysteries Book 1)

Out-Sniffed (Doodlebugged Mysteries Book 2)

Dog-Nabbed (Doodlebugged Mysteries Book 3)

Bad-Mouthed (Doodlebugged Mysteries Book 4)

Ruff-Housed (Doodlebugged Mysteries Book 5)

Keep up with Sue at https://susankroupa.com/