If you’re a fan of the Superman comics, you’ve probably heard stories about his Fortress of Solitude. Depending on which fan group you follow, some believe the fortress to be a stronghold, while others argue it’s a secret weapons cache, and still others see it as a safe haven free of destructive forces. Personally, I like the idea of a safe haven, and not just for superheroes.
Since late summer, I’ve come to think of my home office as my own fortress–a safe haven from the unpredictable and the scary. One scare in particular has me spending even more time sequestered with my beautiful Sheltie by my side. In addition to gall bladder problems (common, I’ve learned, for many of her breed), Sasha developed a large mass on her side which grew so rapidly our veterinarian recommended removal. The surgery and subsequent use of a Penrose drain at the surgical site meant Sasha stayed in my office so I can watch her closely. I set up her portable crate next to my desk, and Buddy The Wonder Cat promptly claimed the top. (Have I mentioned he considers Sasha “his dog”?) She’s ignored the crate for the most part, preferring instead to stretch out on the floor on her Thomas the Train blanket.
Overall, she’s been a real trooper, accepting the entire process with grace and, recently, a resurgence of her good humor, although she’s no fan of the T-shirts I’m using to cover her torso, and has managed–twice– to wiggle out of a securely-pinned shirt. (She demonstrates her disdain for the shirt by pushing it into a far corner of the room.) Fortunately, she hasn’t bothered the incision (and it’s a big one) even when it’s not covered. As for me, I’ve started a countdown calendar and am longing for the day when my girl can resume squirrel patrol in the yard and long walks in the park.
You’d think with all this time in the office I would have made progress on Dangerous Deeds, wouldn’t you? I’d like to say I did, but I confess I’ve channeled most of my energy into helping Sasha. Along the way, though, I did spend some time on Book #3 in the series. Watch this site for a forthcoming sneak peek at what’s ahead for the gang at Waterside Kennels.
Hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, floods– there’s always a chance natural disasters will hit where you or your loved ones 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 Pet Disaster Kit Checklist from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (commonly known as the CDC) is one of the best I’ve seen; print copies and keep it with the essential documents you’ll take with you.
The American Kennel Club publishes expert advice and information regarding pet safety in the event you have to flee your home. Your dog’s go-bag should include items such as:
bottled drinking water (during an emergency, tap water can be contaminated)
food in waterproof containers or cans. (Choose pop-top tins or pack a can opener.) Bring enough for at least two weeks
food and water bowls.
prescription medications and other required health supplies
familiar items like toys, bedding, and blankets to comfort your dog.
stress-relieving items like an anxiety vest or calming sprays if your dog is prone to anxiety
Build your own “Go” bag. Use a backpack or small tote to stash extra kibble, leashes, collars, and basic first-aid supplies. Tag everything with your name, address, phone number, and/or email. 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, address, and phone number!
If you’re traveling by vehicle, add extra jugs of water, towels, tarps, ropes, and bungees. Duct tape and small hand tools can be easily stored beneath a seat. If you have to evacuate 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.
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.
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.
Remember that you might not be home when disaster strikes. Plan for being away from your pets and/or being unable to get to them. Consider making arrangements with someone who can get to your dog when you can’t like a neighbor, dog walker, pet sitter, or local doggy daycare. And place a rescue alert sticker at your front door to let people know there are pets inside your house. Be sure it includes the types and number of pets you own as well as your veterinarian’s phone number. If you are able to take your pets with you during an evacuation, please write “Evacuated” across the sticker if time allows so rescue workers don’t waste precious time at your home.
Wherever you are, I hope you’ll take time today to review your own disaster preparation plans. Safety first!
Who was it who said that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans? That’s certainly true for writers–at least, for some of us. I’m frankly awed by those who produce well-crafted novels every year (and sometimes more often than that) and I’m the first to agree I’m not in that league. Instead, I’m comfortable doing things my way in my own time. Since the major plot lines for the series are drawn from both life and legend, the research process for each book is proving to be an adventure all its own.
Dangerous Deeds, the second book in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, tackles two hot topics that are rumbling through the region: land fraud and dog ownership. Researching these real-life issues led me to courthouses, community meetings, newspaper archives, legal records (both on- and off-line) and animal shelters. Along the way I’ve interviewed county deputies, elected officials, and environmentalists as well as kennel owners, dog trainers, veterinarians, and community activists. Along the way I learned that people are prone to what scholars term confirmation bias–that is, they’re most likely to believe whatever evidence supports their personal beliefs. They’re vocal in expressing their opinions and quick to dismiss opposing perspectives.
Take the issue of “dangerous dogs” for example. You can find plenty of anecdotal information supporting the position that some specific breeds are inherently dangerous and should be banned. Look further and you’ll find scholarly studies disputing that. Based on these studies, it would appear that Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is a flawed approach while Breed Neutral Legislation (BNL) takes a more responsible view. In summary:
The data, scientific studies, and risk rates all confirm that serious dog bite-related incidents are not a breed-specific issue. For canine regulation, it is important to understand the differences between the two major forms of regulation – breed-specific legislation (BSL) and breed-neutral legislation (BNL). BSL is a limited, single-factor, appearance-based approach while BNL is a comprehensive, multi-factorial, behavior-based approach. For public safety, BSL imposes regulations on a minority of dogs based only on their appearance or breed (regardless of a dog’s behavior or responsible ownership) while breed-neutral regulations address all potentially dangerous dogs, all irresponsible owners, and all unsafe dog-related situations – regardless of a dog’s appearance or breed. Consequently, multiple peer-reviewed studies have concluded that BSL is ineffective; furthermore, it is a discriminatory trend in decline evidenced by the vast majority (98%) of cities and towns that use breed-neutral regulations as their primary and only form of regulation because of the many advantages of breed-neutral regulations summarized on our breed legislation page. For public safety and to reduce dog bite incidents, the data and scientific studies both validate that the most effective solutions are breed-neutral and address the human end of the leash.
While there are some who may question the value of this source, the inclusion of scholarly studies, reports, and position statements from credible associations suggest it’s worth taking the time to review the information and links before making up your mind.
And despite the plethora of peer-reviewed studies and expert positions, there are many who prefer instead to support boycotts and breed bans. I’ve drawn upon real-life incidents, actions, and attitudes reflecting both sides of the issue to create authentic conflict for my protagonist as she finds herself in legal jeopardy when an opponent is found murdered on her property. To save herself, Maggie must unravel the web of deceit and discover the truth before nefarious foes can succeed in their efforts to destroy all she holds close to her heart.
I live in a community that lights up the sky by setting off roman candles, skyrockets, and any other sort of firecrackers–legal or otherwise– guaranteed to delight thrill-seekers. Everyone else, not so much.
Buddy the Wonder Cat 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.
We’ve done our best to create a calm environment for the holidays like the Fourth of July. We’ve managed Buddy’s anxiety by keeping doors and windows closed and fans running. We have one pedestal fan that’s so loud–even on its lowest setting–that I’m reminded of C-130 cargo planes and B-52 bombers. We set that up in the bedroom and watch one of his favorite non-scary movies. He’s still prone to diving under the covers, but otherwise he’s reasonably calm. We bolster that sense of calm with catnip, soft treats, and tickle-time with his favorite brush.
Fireworks tend to invoke an Aaugh!!! reaction in Sasha, although we’ve worked hard to help her manage anxiety over noise. Instead of barking wildly at every burst of thunder, for example, she’s more likely to grumble her way through a storm. We’ve conditioned her to be calm (well, calmer) through a barrage of fireworks by keeping her close beside me, and tossing tiny bits of cheddar cheese or chunks of cucumber her way. She’s agreeable to Buddy’s choice of movies as long as there are no monsters, mummies, gunfights, or battle scenes. If she has to go out in the fenced backyard after dark, we keep her close by using a short leash. That seems to add a sense of security for her, as does having her travel crate set up next to the bed with a favorite toy for company. She clearly views that as her safe zone:
Here are some helpful tips to remember:
Wherever you are and whatever you celebrate, I hope you find ways to keep your pets calm and safe!
Between the pandemic, rising temps, and the dust from the Sahara, our outdoor activities have been curtailed through June. In pursuit of new ways to keep Sasha entertained–and exercised–I turned to the American Kennel Club’s website and discovered cool tips and tricks for indoor fun. I compiled a few of my current favorites here. Enjoy!
Search & Snuffle
If you’ve been following Sasha’s story, you may remember that the coffee bean grinder initially terrified her. (See, for example, posts here and here.) These days, she knows coffee time equals treat time and comes running in to wherever I might be to claim her prize. I usually roll a tiny treat across the oak floors so that she has to search for it. Great game for kitties, too! When I’m tossing a treat for Buddy The Wonder Cat, I make sure it lands in an open area so he can pounce and pat and knock it all about before he eats it.
Snuffle mats are another way to keep your dog mentally stimulated. As I mentioned in previous posts, snuffle mats can be a great way to distract your pup while you’re working at home. And with you close by, you’ll both enjoy the activity. Some like to hide the breakfast kibble in a mat and let them forage for their food. There’s a rich variety of mats available online, and you can easily find sources with a quick Google search. Personally, I prefer the “use what you have” approach. I alternate between an old, loosely woven throw rug, a blanket from Sasha’s crate, and a large bath towel. This morning I used an extra-large old towel and rolled it very tight, tucking treats in at random intervals. It took her nearly ten minutes of concentrated attention to discover the treats.
Snuffle mats can be a great introduction to scent work. I like to give Sasha time with the Muffin Tin game (supervised by Buddy The Wonder Cat, of course.) I’ll hide a bit of hot dog or cheese in a few of the cups, while others use this as a way to make dinner time fun. Here’s a great video from YouTube showing how it works:
Ready for more advanced scent work? Here’s information about the sport of Scent Work, courtesy of the AKC:
Fascinating fact: Dogs have a sense of smell that’s between 10,000 and 100,000 times more acute than ours! The sport of Scent Work celebrates the joy of sniffing, and asks a dog to sniff to their heart’s content; turning your dog’s favorite activity into a rewarding game. It is a terrific sport for all kinds of dogs, and is a wonderful way to build confidence in a shy dog.
In so many dog sports the handler is in control but this isn’t true in Scent Work. Neither the dog nor handler knows where the target odor is hidden. The handler has to rely on the dog, and follow the dog’s nose to success. In Scent Work, it is the canine who is the star of the show.
The sport of Scent Work is based on the work of professional detection dogs (such as drug dogs), employed by humans to detect a wide variety of scents and substances. In AKC Scent Work, dogs search for cotton swabs saturated with the essential oils of Birch, Anise, Clove, and Cypress. The cotton swabs are hidden out of sight in a pre-determined search area, and the dog has to find them. Teamwork is necessary: when the dog finds the scent, he has to communicate the find to the handler, who calls it out to the judge.
Whatever your dog’s age, you can help them stay toned and limber withconditioning exercises. Use whatever’s handy around the house as props, and grab some yummy treats. If you’re counting calories or just not a fan of treats, use your happy voice, or reward your pup with a favorite toy you’ve tucked away and bring out only on special occasions.
Sasha and I have just begun working on the “step stool stroll.” Sounds easy, doesn’t it? The expression “Yeah, no” seems an apt description, at least for my efforts here. Give it a try and see for yourself. Here’s info from the AKC:
The idea is for your dog to walk around a step stool with their front paws on the stool and back paws on the ground. Although it may sound easy to you, dogs generally lack rear end awareness—where their front paws go, their back paws follow. This exercise really gets your dog thinking about what each paw is doing. If you have a small dog, try using a large book that has been duct-taped closed. For large dogs, an upside-down storage bin can do the trick.
Start by teaching your dog to place only the front paws on the prop. Once your dog is comfortable, encourage movement to either side while the front paws stay elevated. You can do this by luring your dog with a treat. Or you can shape the behavior by capturing any back paw movement and slowly building to a 360-degree turn around the stool.
There are more exercises and “how to” instructions available online. Check them out!
And finally, here’s something for the humans in the household. Learn about dog breeds and sports while strengthening math skills–a great idea for these learn-from-home days. According to the AKC:
Math Agility features fifteen playable dog breeds, as well as 60 different breed cards to unlock. To advance in the game, players solve quick math facts, with the option of focusing on addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. Players take twelve tours across the game’s map to compete in different agility trials across the United States, eventually ending up at the National Championship in Perry, Georgia. Tours are available in three skill levels, appealing to students of various ages and academic levels.