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.

 

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