Monday, October 31, 2011

Pongu and Stella: Friends at Last (Day Two!)

It took a day and a half for Stella to relax enough to solicit play and Pongu to warm up to her enough to engage (and he still isn't that warm, although he will tolerate her presence as long as she doesn't try to get up on the couch where Only Pongu Is Allowed), but it looks like the pancake dog has officially been welcomed into Team Stupid.

Now I get to have constant bumfights next to my computer while I'm trying to work again. Hooray.

Afterward Stella was totally pooped out, and when I put her back in her crate, she just snored all night long. I have never seen a dog snore that loudly for that long. I tried to tape it but the camera didn't begin to do justice to the loudness of her snores (also Pongu was not excited about me paying attention to Other Dog again and photobombed me nonstop).

It's only been two days, but I want to keep this dog. If I keep the dog that means no more fostering, though, and that would make me sad. :[

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Stella: The First 24 Hours

It's now been almost exactly one day since Stella came into our lives, and that seems like a good time to note some preliminary impressions. Some of these may prove mistaken as we get to know her better; some may remain accurate.

In person she looks more like a pit bull mix than I had expected, which I'm concerned may make it more difficult for her to find a home. Whether she is a pit mix or not is almost immaterial; what matters in the great lottery of adoptability is how she looks to the average eye. Owing to the real and perceived issues surrounding pit bulls, many people simply will not (or, because of lease restrictions, homeowners associations, and the like, cannot) consider adopting one. It's not fair, but it's a factor.

Hopefully outweighing that, however, that she's young, cute, and unusually sweet. If you were looking for a dog to embody the opposite of the stereotypical "pit bull temperament," it would be hard to find a better match than Stella. We'll never know for sure, but it's not hard to imagine that Stella and her brother ended up in that roadside ditch because they'd proven to be total failures as fighting dogs, just as beagles in rural areas often wind up at the pound because they're no good at hunting. Dog fighting is sadly common in the area Stella came from, and she's clearly got about as much talent for fighting as she does for juggling flaming chainsaws.

I call her the "pancake dog" because her default move when she doesn't know what else to do or is confronted by an overwhelming situation is to flatten herself on the ground like a pancake and freeze. Stella does not have a lot of confidence and is completely unsocialized to many of the everyday sights and sounds of the city (delivery guys on bikes, women in heeled boots, umbrellas, motorcycles...), so I've been seeing a lot of doggy pancakes these past few hours.

When she isn't pancaked out, however, she's a snuggly little mutt who solicits attention constantly. Every now and then I get a glimpse of a clowny side to her personality, but so far she's mostly been gentle, subdued, and forever seeking reassurance. Her ideal home would probably have an older, more confident dog that Stella could use as a role model -- she's clearly a born follower who looks to other dogs for guidance in how to react to things. Unfortunately, the older dog in this house is Pongu, who is still in full-on "oh my god what are you doing in my house get OUT you stupid little interloper" mode. He doesn't even want to play with her, which makes Stella sad.

As for the rest, it's about the same as usual. We're starting from zero on training. Stella is not housebroken, has no idea how to walk on leash, and knows no commands. Stairs and glass doors are mysterious and frightening. Like all of our shelter mutts so far, Stella is a bit of a Velcro dog and doesn't like to be away from her people (she wailed like a banshee and peed all over the place when I tied her out in the hallway for a couple of minutes so I could get Pongu and introduce the dogs on neutral ground), but she's not as vocal about it as Gremlin or Pepper, and she seems to calm down faster. So it is probably not crucial that she go to a home where someone will be present all the time, although that would likely be her preference.

And that's where we are on Day One.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Stella the Pancake Dog

This morning we picked up our next foster dog, Stella the Pancake Dog. Stella and her brother were found as half-starved strays covered in fleas; quite probably their owner had dropped them off at the side of the road and driven away. She was listed as a 20-pound hound mix by the rescue, and while that's on the small side for our household and I wasn't too sure about the wisdom of keeping a potentially very vocal dog in our building (as hounds are known to sing when the mood strikes), she otherwise seemed like a good fit. So we volunteered to take Stella, and her brother went on to rescue with WAGS.

Just getting the pup proved to be a mini-adventure. This morning Philadelphia woke up to the rare calamity of October snow -- only the third time in recorded history we've had snow in October here. I don't know what the other two were like, but this one was a sleety, hail-y, slushy mess that destroyed visibility on the roads and felt like driving through half-frozen Crisco.

The weather change was so sudden that this is what my garden looked like this morning. The last strawberry of the season, frozen solid on its stem.

We eventually made it to the meetup point, a rest stop in Delaware (which was itself slightly confusing because I initially thought it was the rest stop near Newark, then was told that it was "near the Pennsylvania state line," then finally figured out that indeed these two things were both true and referred to the same rest stop, since Delaware is so small that a spot in its center is near the PA state line, especially by the standards of someone coming from a full-sized state), and picked up the little furball.

The caravan was jam-packed with dogs -- mostly young, mostly small to medium sized, all in desperate need of help. Stella wasn't nearly as bad off as some of the others (one poor mother dog looked like a black-furred skeleton with teats, although at least all her still-blind puppies were fat and healthy), but she was still underweight, underconfident, infested with ear mites, and badly in need of a bath. I think she might have a touch of pinkeye, too.

But she was and is an extraordinarily gentle, friendly little dog (although not that little -- closer to 30 pounds than 20, I'd say, which is a much more comfortable size), and by the time we got home she had already begun to bond. So here we are. We'll see what the next weeks bring. Miticide would be a good start...

(Stella does not much care for the cold, and wonders: "what is this horrible place you've brought me to!" She's a Georgia girl, after all.)

An End to the Raw Food Experiment, For Now

After several weeks I'm calling an end to the raw food experiment, at least for the time being. Pongu just didn't like eating it. I did the slow transition from cooked to "rare" to raw, but he never especially liked the rare and he got real finicky when it went to raw, often picking at his food and spitting out bits he disliked (including his assorted pills), instead of hoovering it down and looking around hopefully for more, like he did and does with the cooked food.

So since the science doesn't really support the superiority of a raw food diet over home cooked (although plenty of people swear by it, and it did seem like there was a very slight improvement in Pongu's coat and breath while he was eating raw food), we're switching back. I do plan to keep using the meat grinder so that I can cook the food for shorter periods of time instead of boiling bones for days on end, and maybe I'll give raw feeding another shot later on, but for now this is it.

It's timely, too, since the next foster mutt just arrived...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Woops and Misc. Updates 10/13/11

So the raw food plan hit a snag: turns out my food processor can't grind up chicken wings. I thought it could because it pasted a brace of quail no problem, but apparently chicken wings are just tougher or shaped wrong or something. Oh well.

I ordered a Northern Tool food grinder (the 16-pound model) after reading recommendations from Whole Dog Journal (although the article was from 2003, hopefully Northern Tool's quality hasn't gone down in the intervening years...), which should settle the wing grinding issue. But until it gets here, it's back to powdered eggshells and cooked bones for calcium.

Other updates:

-- Sat in on my first-ever Y2K9 training session yesterday: a canine freestyle and tricks class. It looked really fun and well taught; I am SUPER excited (and, yes, still a little intimidated!) about enrolling Pongu in a freestyle class next month. Thanks to his janky pigeon-toed back legs, formerly-broken front foot, and general floppiness, Pongu will never be a serious agility competitor (plus he's terrified of scary obstacle things, so there's that too). But freestyle he can do, so that is what we're gunning for.

It's pretty awesome (and intimidating!) to have a group of hardcore dog sports enthusiasts right on our doorstep. I saw some of the Advanced Agility class on my way to the freestyle class and omg those dogs are faaaast. Crazy fast. I don't see dogs that fast at the dog park, that's for sure.

I also met a jaunty little jumping bean of a JRT who made me reflect on what a great flyball dog Gremlin would have been. She did the exact same kind of improbably high jumping from a standing start -- she could hit shoulder height consistently without any training. And once she got healthy, she was crazy fast too. It's hard to believe we used to think Gremlin was a low-energy dog... although, to be fair, she was. At first. Until she got her strength back.

Anyway, it's really cool and inspiring to see all the dogs who are so damn good at their chosen sports, and to see what a wide variety of sports are taught and practiced at the club. HOORAY, can't wait to get started.

-- Took Pongu to the vet for booster shots, discussed whether to up his Prozac dosage. It's been about five weeks now and he's definitely showing improvement, but it's not quite where I would like, and I don't know whether this is because the medications aren't sufficient or he needs a different kind of medication or he's just always going to be like this, and this is as good as it'll get.

On his good days, Pongu is noticeably less reactive to startling noises, doesn't cower from people who reach out to pet him (although I still block them, because WHAT THE HELL PEOPLE, DON'T GRAB MY FEARFUL DOG), and seems calmer and more relaxed. He seems more able to have fun and just "be a dog." On his bad days, he's just like he was before Prozac. There are more good days than bad days, and I haven't noticed any detrimental side effects (big plus!!), but I still find myself hoping for more.

We might talk to a specialist at Penn next; our regular vet said that would be the best course if Pongu doesn't show much more improvement on his remaining course of Prozac, since as a general practitioner she doesn't feel super confident about prescribing other psych meds. But for now we'll keep on keepin' on, at least until the pills in his bottle run out.

-- Training goals for this week: back away, circle on hip cues (both directions), getting into/returning to heel position. First two are just modifying or improving things Pongu already knows, the latter is totally new and is something I don't even actually know how to teach yet. Research project!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Transitioning to Raw

I'm making a gradual transition from home-cooked "dog stew" to raw feeding.

I don't know if this will become a permanent thing -- with an immunosuppressed person in the house, and the occasional not-completely-healthy foster dog passing through, it may not be feasible to feed raw foods all the time -- but Whole Dog Journal's consistent advocacy of raw feeding convinced me to give it a try, and a couple of weeks' experimenting with Pongu does seem to show some improvement in his energy level and general demeanor. Of course, that could be the Prozac kicking in too; it's hard to say exactly what's making the difference. But it seems clear that there IS a difference, and so I think it's worth keeping on with everything.

The transition hasn't been an overnight thing. I started with some whole ground rabbit and chicken from a butcher in the Italian Market who provides meat to other raw feeders, but Pongu rejected that batch. Maybe he doesn't like rabbit, or maybe he felt there was something "off" about that food. (I found a sharp piece of wire measuring an inch and a half long in the ground rabbit -- thank god Pongu found it first and spit it out instead of swallowing it -- so it is not hard for me to believe that there might have been subtler problems with that food as well. Needless to say, I won't be buying meat there anymore.)

So I stepped back and, following WDJ's advice, made a batch of lightly cooked "rare" dog stew, let Pongu get used to that for a few days, and started alternating meals of lightly cooked dog stew with completely raw food (that I ground up myself in a food processor, being now completely paranoid about purchased ground meat-and-bones). I've also been using the Primal frozen pheasant nuggets, because that's an easy way to mix some raw food into a lightly cooked meal.

It's been a little over a week and Pongu is now accepting raw food, albeit with some suspicious sniffs before he digs into each meal. I'll start completely raw feeding (which is to say, all the homemade food will be raw, but still accompanied by a scoop of high-quality kibble with every meal, just in case I'm missing something) this week.

Here's hoping it takes. Grinding up chicken wings and raw liver in the food processor isn't much fun, but it still beats the 24-hour crockpot endurance run to make cooked dog stew.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pepper Goes Home

...actually, she went home a couple of weeks ago, but I've been neglecting the blog again and so this post is very much belated.

Regardless! Two weeks ago, Pepper found her forever home.

I actually had to make a decision between two qualified adopters who wanted her, which is the first time that's happened (previously, it's been all we could do to find one person who'd take the mutt of the moment), but then Pepper was unusually cute and unusually sweet, and was a miniature version of a very popular breed, and was still a puppy, so I suppose it's no surprise she was in high demand.

Couple A was in their late 20s/early 30s and lived in the city. Both work outside the home. No kids or other pets, but they were hoping to start having kids in the next few years. Couple B was in their 60s and retired to a low-key lifestyle out in New Jersey. Their kids were grown and gone with families of their own.

Both couples would have been perfectly fine homes, but since we had the luxury of choice, I placed Pepper with Couple B. A calm, quiet home with older people who could spend all day with her was the best place for a gentle and somewhat shy dog who disliked being parted from her people. And from the moment we brought her into the house, it was a great match... notwithstanding the fact that Pepper squatted and peed right in the middle of the living room rug within 30 seconds of coming inside. The adopters declared that they loved her anyway, and she seemed to love them too.

Yesterday I heard that Pepper was doing beautifully in her new home and was following her new person around as a constant companion -- which was exactly what they were hoping to have in a dog. Hooray!