For the love of a cat

Like Deadly Ties, the first in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, there are multiple scenes in Dangerous Deeds (book 2) that were inspired by real events. One of those, previously described in the post There Came Along A Kitty, is the scene in which Maggie Porter’s dog Sweet Pea rescues an injured stray kitten she finds beneath the dock. Although Maggie’s initial assessment is “not much more than bones and fur” the kitten turns out to have a tiger-sized attitude and, after a brief stay at the vet, claims the kennel—and Sweet Pea—as his own. There’s another scene in which Sweet Pea briefly regrets the new addition, and it’s inspired by my own cat’s early morning shenanigans.

Buddy The Wonder Cat starts every morning at oh dark early by tapping me gently on the shoulder. If I don’t immediately get up, off he goes to do whatever cats do in the pre-dawn hours, and he’s back in 15 minutes to tap me again.  Ignoring him might buy me a few more minutes of quiet time, but then he knocks whatever he can off the headboard shelf and runs laps around the room. And if none of that gets me up and moving in the direction of his food dish, he leaps straight down onto the still-sleeping dog. That’s a move guaranteed to get everybody up and moving, whether they wanted to or not. He can go from sweetly solicitous to saber-toothed snarly in no time at all. Fortunately Sasha, like Sweet Pea, is quick to forgive her feline housemate, and life goes on.

More soon! And in the meantime, here’s a slideshow of my own Buddy The Wonder Cat and Sasha, who both keep us laughing every day of our lives.

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Hurricanes, Floods, and Pet Safety

Hurricane Harvey is a good reminder for every pet owner to review their emergency preparations. Even if you don’t live in hurricane territory, there’s always a chance natural disasters can hit where you live. It’s a good idea to tune the NOAA Weather Radio to your local emergency station to hear the latest reports of weather in your area. And if you’re watching weather conditions where friends and family live, the FEMA app allows you to track National Weather Service reports from five different locations anywhere in the US.

Have a plan! This 2-page checklist from the CDC is one of the best I’ve seen; print a copy and keep it with you. For more resources and information about pet-focused disaster planning, check out https://www.cdc.gov/features/petsanddisasters/index.html.

Go to http://petfriendlytravel.com/pet_shelters to see a list of state-by-state shelters, as well as additional resources and information. (Here’s the direct link to Texas shelters.) And here’s a brief explanation of pet-friendly evacuation sheltering, courtesy of this website:

 
Pet-friendly evacuation sheltering can be planned and executed in a multitude of ways. In some communities, the human evacuation shelter is within the same room, facility, or campus as accommodations for pets. This allows the animals’ owners to have a large role in caring for the pet. In other communities, the human shelter and pet shelter may be in separate locations. In this case, evacuees are told where to bring their pets, while they will be staying at a shelter for people.

If you will need to go to a pet friendly shelter during an evacuation, make sure you have the following items ready to go for your pet: a leash and collar, a crate, a two-week supply of food and water, your pets’ vaccination records, medications, and written instructions for feeding and administering medication. If your favorite four-legged friend is feline, be sure you bring kitty-litter and an appropriate container, too.

Image courtesy of OlsenVet.com

Identification:  Microchips are one smart way to ID your pets. My Sasha and Buddy The Wonder Cat are both microchipped and registered with AKC Reunite. Make sure you complete your registration and keep your contact info current.

Take photos now of your pets. Photograph them standing, left and right profiles, and face-on head shots. Take additional photos showing you with your pets. If you can tag or add metadata to each photo, that’s even better. (To learn how, click here.) Save copies to Dropbox and/or email them to yourself and others. That way, if you lose your phone or computer, you can easily retrieve them.

Build your own “Go” bag.  Use a backpack or small tote to stash extra kibble, leashes, collars, and basic first-aid supplies. Collapsible bowls are a great addition and don’t take much space. Put paperwork in sealed plastic bags, and make sure to include your name! Keep it handy so you can grab and go.

If you have space in your vehicle, add extra jugs of water, tarps, ropes, and bungees. If you’re evacuating on foot, roll up the tarp and fasten it to your backpack with those ropes or bungees.  If you are stranded on the side of the road or have to camp outdoors, you’ll be able to rig up a basic shelter to shield you and your pets from the weather.

Communicate! Let family, friends, and co-workers know your plans. Social media can be a great tool to help you stay in contact. And have a back-up plan, to include alternate routes and destinations. And remember: cell towers and Internet providers may be impacted by disasters, so share that info ahead of time.

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Wherever you are, I hope you’ll take time today to review your own disaster preparation plans. Safety first!

The Big Bang: Tips for the 4th

Sasha and Buddy The Wonder Cat will be celebrating the Fourth of July indoors with plenty of sound camouflage in the form of music, movies, and one particularly loud standing fan that’s reminiscent of a C-130 in flight. The freezer is well stocked with ice cubes (Buddy likes to bat them across the kitchen tiles when he’s not pushing them around in his water bowl) and the fridge has low-fat cheese and cucumbers for Sasha’s snacking pleasure. Add in treat balls stuffed with special yummies and these two will be able to tune out the scary sound of fireworks.

Here are a few reminders about pet safety on the 4th:

Whatever and wherever you celebrate, here’s wishing you a safe and happy holiday!

There Came Along A Kitty

Like Deadly Ties, the first in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, there are multiple scenes in book #2 (Dangerous Deeds) that were inspired by real events. One of those is the scene in which Maggie Porter’s dog Sweet Pea rescues an injured stray kitten she finds beneath the dock. Although Maggie’s initial assessment is “not much more than bones and fur” the kitten turns out to have a tiger-sized attitude and, after a brief stay at the vet, claims the kennel—and Sweet Pea—as his own.

The roots of that story go back to the mid-1990s when my own beloved spaniel Alix found a raggedy bundle of fur in our yard and dropped it at my feet with a “Fix this!” look. Beneath the raggedy coat was a near-starved Calico we promptly named Katie. We nursed her back to health under the watchful eyes of the dog Alix and Amy, our Silver Tabby (another rescue). The three of them immediately became collaborators, conspirators, and loyal-to-the-end friends.

About six months before we lost Katie—the last of the three—in 2012, Buddy the Wonder Cat came to us as a feral kitten weighing just 2½ pounds. One of the reasons he’s called the Wonder Cat is because it’s a wonder he’s still alive. On one terrifyingly memorable occasion he injured his foot, fracturing or dislocating most of the bones and mangling one of his claws. In the fear and pain that followed, Buddy’s feral instincts came roaring back and nobody escaped unscathed before the vet managed to get him sufficiently sedated to examine. If the vet clinic keeps a “Look out for…” list, there’s probably a picture of Buddy with the warning “don raptor gloves before handling.”

Thanks to the fabulous skill of our veterinarian and the clinic crew, our only reminder of that experience is one razor-like claw which to this day does not retract. I channeled a good bit of Buddy the Wonder Cat into the fictional feline you’ll meet in Dangerous Deeds. (That probably explains why he tends to sprawl on the desk when I’m writing.) In celebration of life ongoing, here’s a slideshow of the best of Buddy the Wonder Cat through the years.

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The Big Bang: Managing Your Dog’s Fear of Fireworks

flag and firecracker

CC0 Public Domain

 

Anyone following Sasha’s journey knows my Sheltie is no fan of noise. She was hypersensitive to clickers, coffee grinders, and any number of household sounds. (Want to know how we’re managing those? Catch up on that part of her journey here.) So it’s no surprise that fireworks invoke an Aaugh!!! reaction.

Before the storms rolled in last night and sent the celebrants scurrying for cover, it seemed half the neighborhood was setting off bottle rockets, roman candles, cherry bombs, and any other sort of firecrackers guaranteed to delight thrill-seekers. Everyone else? Not so much.

We’d done our best to create a calm environment for the holiday weekend. Even without knowing Sasha’s past, we already knew Buddy the Cat’s attitude toward fireworks. Buddy was a rescue who came to us at just three months of age, so we’ve had lots of time to create positive experiences for him. Still, those first three months on his own are etched in his memory, and the Feral Cat Within emerges in times of stress or pain and his first instinct is to hide.

My Rescue Kitty Buddy

“Make that noise go away, Momma!”

We’ve managed his anxiety by keeping fans running and doors and windows closed, Willie Nelson on the stereo (Buddy’s a big fan) and a movie he gets to choose from the cabinet. (Hey, everyone gets a vote in this household!)  He still dives under the covers now and then, but that tends to happen when he just feels the need for solitude. As those solitary periods tend to coincide with linen change, I suspect he’s successfully overcome his early trepidation.

Sasha, in contrast, was on high alert and making the rounds with every bang until I distracted her with beef jerky strips–something new for her. An instant hit, making me grateful once again for all the delicious treats we received as part of Sasha’s goody bag at the Humane Society of the Ozarks’ annual Dogwood WalkAnd since Sasha’s idea of her “safe place” is wherever I am, I positioned her bed next to my recliner, close enough so she could snuggle as she liked. Once she realized the rest of us were calm and relaxed, she settled into her bed to enjoy the movie.

Not every cat or dog has the same luxuries during fireworks season. Some reports suggest dogs can be frightened by the fireworks and often escape the yard, winding up lost, injured, or worse. I hope you’re taking whatever precautions you can to keep your furry family members safe and secure this weekend. As this graphic from http://www.thatpetblog.com/ shows, being prepared and holding to a relaxed routine can go a long way toward helping pets:

pet safety 4th july

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Here are more useful tips to help keep your dog safe, courtesy of the Such Good Dogs blog:

Have ID on your pet:
This is the number one most important thing!  More pets run away on July 4th than any other day of the year.  Be sure that your pet has proper identification tags with updated contact information.  On the 4th, be sure to keep your pet on a leash and keep a close eye on him when out and about.

Preparation:
The best thing to do for a dog that gets nervous, anxious, or fearful during fireworks is to properly prepare BEFORE the day arrives.

Try Lavender Oil:
Lavender is a naturally calming scent for both humans and dogs.  I have recommended lavender in the past for dogs with arthritis.  To use lavender for your dog, take some time to give your dog a massage and give some good petting.  Put just a little dab of lavender oil on your hands before massaging your dog and/or petting him in his favorite spots.  Use nice, calm, slow strokes.  Slowly massaging the outsides of the spine from the neck down is another proven approach.  Be sure not to use a lot of lavender.  A little dab will do just fine.  You do not need a lot to get the smell, and we do not want to have dogs licking excessive amounts of oil off themselves.  The point of this exercise is to associate the smell of lavender with a nice calm, relaxed state of mind.  You should do this for a few days (or more) prior to the fireworks on July 4th.  Your dog will build an association to the smell of lavender and being relaxed and calm.  Before the fireworks begin, put your dog in his “safe place” with the scent of lavender.

Have a “Safe Place” for your dog:

For many dogs the thing that makes them feel best and most safe is to be able to get as far away from the sights and sounds as possible.  Have a spot ready that your dog will enjoy and be comfortable in.  Make it somewhere far away from outside walls and windows.  This will make it easier for him to relax.  The best thing would be a kennel or crate.  Dogs generally enjoy den-like enclosures, and having your kennel or crate set up before the 4th will help them have a nice spot to go.  It is also helpful to place sheets or towels over wire crates to help block sound and lights.  Be sure to take the temperature into consideration.  It is summer and things get hot quickly.  Do not make your “safe place” uncomfortable for your dog by making it too hot.  You are most looking for a den-like area for your dog to feel safe.  If possible feed and/ or treat your dog in this area prior to the 4th.  Make sure the area is lined with a bed or comfy blankets for your pup as well.
Also remember to try and give your dog something he enjoys to help occupy him such as a chew bone or Kong filled with some yummy treats or peanut butter.

Communication & Energy:
If you will be around your dog during the fireworks, the best thing you can do for them is to remember to remain calm and feel like the fireworks are no big deal.  Dogs react to energy.  If your energy is telling your dog that you are calm and not at all worried about the sights and sounds, your dog will feel that it is okay for him to relax as well.

Exercise your Dog before Dusk:

A fantastic way to help your dog is to thoroughly exercise him before the fireworks begin.  Be sure to get your evening walk in before it starts to get dark.  The less energy your dog has, the less energy he has to put towards being fearful.  A tired dog will be more comfortable and will be able to more easily ignore the sounds and sights of the night.
Read the entire article at the Such Good Dogs blog.
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The American Kennel Club always has helpful information about canine care, and they’re put together a sensible list that’s worth keeping for year-round reference. (New Year’s Eve, for example, often ends in a frenzy of fireworks.) Find that here. And here’s a great graphic, courtesy of the AKC, that sums up the key points to help keep our beloved pets safe. Wishing everyone a happy and safe celebration!
INFO_Fireworks_201507_Infogfx

All in a day’s fun

Strong winds pushed us to and fro this morning, making our daily walk more of an endurance test than an enjoyable stroll. We soon retreated to the relative shelter of the back yard where Buddy the Cat joined us for play time. (Note to self: buy a video camera to capture the antics of these two!)

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With storms on the horizon we headed inside for training time. Buddy joins us for every session and expects his share of treats, which of course he gets. After a quick review of the basics, we moved on to practice what we learned in our second Intermediate session. One thing we’re working on is the auto-sit, which Sasha seems to do naturally. (Have I mentioned how smart this dog is?)

We’re also working on the straight sit, something Sasha manages often but not always. The trainer showed us the skip-sit exercise, which involves holding the leash in your right hand and treats in the left, then stepping off with your right foot first and drawing your left foot up in alignment as you stop. By holding the treat at your left side, your dog should line up straight in the heel position. Moving your hand a bit left or right seems to help guide the dog into the desired straight position. We’d be making more progress here if I would remember to step off with my right foot as instructed. My challenge: that contradicts 20+ years of “left foot first” military training!

Fortunately, both of us were much more successful learning the place command. If this is a new one for you, too, here’s a video you might find helpful:

During our training sessions I use Blue Buffalo’s Blue Bits treats because they’re soft, moist, and I can easily break them into tiny bits. She’s partial to the salmon but likes the chicken, turkey, and beef treats, too, so I buy a combo pack. Sasha loves Fromm’s salmon-with-sweet-potato treats at the end of a workout; they’re crunchy and big enough to convince her it’s a well-earned reward.

Between six sessions of Basic Obedience, the Intermediate class (four sessions to go), and daily workouts, we go through a lot of treats! Since Sasha doesn’t share my preference for vegetarian fare and prefers the savory meat-flavored treats, our trainer suggested using hot dogs. I’m willing to give it a try if I can find a low-fat, low-calorie hot dog that’s not chock-full of icky artificial stuff. (Is there such a thing?) If making your own hot dog treats sounds like something you want to try, head for the kichen and your oven of choice.

Microwave: Start by cutting your hot dogs into small bits. For a dog of Sasha’s size, that might be the size of a nickel cut in half or even smaller. Line a paper plate with paper towels before spreading out the bits. Some folks prefer to cover the bits with another layer of paper towels to help absorb moisture and minimize any mess.

Cook times will vary depending on the amount of hot dog pieces and your microwave’s size/power settings; I’ve heard everything from 2 to 10 minutes. Cook until you reach desired crispness. (Sounds like careful monitoring is essential here!) Once prepared, these treats can be stored in an airtight container on the counter, refrigerated, or frozen.

Traditional oven: Some folks prefer to bake their treats. If that sounds appealing to you, here’s a video showing you the steps. Note you’ll still need to monitor the time to achieve the desired crispness!

Do you have a favorite homemade dog treat? Share in the comments!

Notes from a Graveyard Scholar

Ozark folklore is a recurring theme in my writing, and chasing down the old stories and tall tales has led me off the proverbial beaten path more than once. Sometimes, though, the stories fall right in my lap, as happened a few months ago when I attended the Books in Bloom Literary Festival and met Arkansas writer and independent researcher Abby Burnett.

Abby BurnettAbby has spent years researching death and burial customs, with much of that work presented in Gone to the Grave; Burial Customs of the Arkansas Ozarks, 1850 – 1950, published by the University Press of Mississippi. Other publications include entries for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture as well as articles for county historical societies. She lives in a log cabin in the Boston Mountains when she’s not out photographing tombstones in rural cemeteries. Here’s Abby, talking about her research and the ways we remember the pets who shared our lives…

The worn image on the tombstone in Hot Springs’ Hollywood Cemetery, lit up by afternoon sunlight, is puzzling. Is it a lamb? No, a dog – definitely a dog. A quick check of Stories in Stone; A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography, by Douglas Keister (Gibbs Smith, 2004) reveals the meaning: “The virtues of fidelity, loyalty, vigilance, and watchfulness have long been symbolized by man’s best friend.” Surely this was intended on the stone of B.B. Porter, who died at age 42 in 1882, but elsewhere across Arkansas, images of dogs found on modern granite markers don’t have the same meaning. “Nowadays when one sees a carved dog in a cemetery it is probably homage to a beloved pet,” Keister writes.

There is no lack of such homages in pet cemeteries, of course, where humans eulogize their beloved animals. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, here lies our little boy with ears of rust,” is the verse on the grave of Rusty Bucket Bumstead (1991 – 1994) in Rest Haven Cemetery, in Bentonville, Arkansas. Tributes to other dogs and cats include, “You left paw prints all over our hearts,” “Our ‘love sponge’” and “So loved, so loving, so missed.” In Friends of the Pet Cemetery, a considerably larger pet graveyard near Springfield, Missouri, are found these tributes: “He lived for love and food,” “Always a puppy” and, “Friend – Gentleman – Athlete.”

I spend a lot of time in cemeteries because I research and write about death and burial.  I transcribe epitaphs, photograph tombstones, and compile information on everything from the symbolism at the top of a stone to the name of the carver often found near the base. The most heartbreaking epitaphs, or poems, do not upset me but my outpouring of grief in pet cemeteries always catches me off guard.  After all, I live with four elderly dogs and two cats, volunteer at my county’s pet shelter, and serve on its board. Though I wouldn’t cross the street to admire a stranger’s baby, I just might dart across several lanes of traffic to pet a puppy.

This has led to a fascination with the way pets are portrayed on modern markers, ones for humans, that is. I’ve found artwork showing every dog breed imaginable, portraits or cartoons of pets, and dog and cat figurines placed on the markers. Most interesting of all are photoceramics, little disks imprinted with actual photographs then bonded to the front of a tombstone. Photoceramics were invented in France in 1854, and they’re rare in the Arkansas Ozarks’ oldest cemeteries. Perhaps they were too expensive, difficult to obtain, or easily broken. Some tombstones contain circular indentations, evidence of a vanished photoceramic. In modern times, however, these little photos are affordable, unbreakable and plentiful, so much so that some markers sport separate ones for each family member and the dog.

What to make of the photos people choose? One husband and wife’s marker contains a photo of each spouse holding up the same tiny Chihuahua. There’s the haunting photo of the young woman holding her cat against her shoulder, the girl’s face tinted a flesh color but the cat standing out in stark black and white. Though hunter and hound photos are plentiful, one man chose to use a shot of his three hounds treeing an unseen prey. One older photo shows a husband, wife, and dog where both the wife and the dog are leaning away from the beaming husband, as though afraid of him. (People who knew this family assure me that the man was not abusive but I don’t know why wife and dog look so wary.) Others are like hidden puzzles, where the pet is somewhere in the picture.

Occasionally a photoceramic will feature an unconventional pet. Brian Harness, buried in Maplewood Cemetery in Harrison, Arkansas is shown cradling a large fox. Given that Harness was a hunter and a professional taxidermist I thought he might be posing with an especially life-like example of his work. But no, an online obituary showed a different photo of the two, and mentioned that Mr. Harness was survived by his pet fox, Jasper. In this same cemetery a stone bench, at one side of the Johnson family plot, is decorated with a photo of a cow wearing a jaunty razorback-red beret with “Arkansas” knitted in. The most unusual creature is probably found in Hugo, Oklahoma, a town where various traveling circuses spent their winters. There a female snake-charmer is shown holding what appears to be a python with, “To each his own” carved above the frame.

Modern technology has made it possible to put anything – anything – on a tombstone: aerial photos, sonograms, NASCAR logos, the deceased Photo-shopped into a portrait with Jesus. Perhaps someday someone will study these images as seriously as I do study the meaning behind the Ozarks’ oldest symbols (anchors, clasping hands, broken columns). If so, those graveyard scholars will have to make sense of the large numbers of dogs and cats populating the tombstones of the people who loved them so much they considered them members of the family.

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Abby’s book was first published by the University Press of Mississippi in 2014 in hardcover, and is now available in paperback and Kindle editions as well. While she was researching the book, the Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) featured her in AETN’s “Silent Storytellers” program. This documentary featured people and organizations “who are passionate about the preservation of cemeteries and memorials in Arkansas.” Here’s the clip:

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