Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Strut your Mutt!

Mars Veterinary is asking mutt owners to participate in the 2010 National Mutt Census. If you want your mixed breed pup represented, click the link and take part in their census today!

Writing my way through writer's block

I have writer’s block, easily one of the worst cases I can remember having in a long, long time. Not for lack of having things to say --- it’s more like my brain has decided to stop stringing together properly constructed sentences (well, as properly constructed as mine get, anyway).

This is not to say that other circumstances have helped. We’ve had some wonderful weather lately. Hanging out in the backyard with a cold microbrew while the pets fritter around in the now-lengthened daylight has been a bit more compelling than hunching myself over the keyboard trying to write something thoughtful. Or intelligible. Fear not, for living in Kern County the lazy days of spring quickly flow into the holy-jeepers-it’s-hot days of summer, so this will be an excuse with a very limited window.

Plus, it’s been busy. As many of you know, I’m on the Board of Friends of the Kern County Animals Shelters Foundation (which shall forever be referred to as “Friends” or FKCASF from here on out, because the official name is too freaking long to type). Since this is a fairly new involvement for me, I’m still adjusting to the various time commitments that the position requires and usually feeling that there isn’t enough time in the day to do either the justice they deserve. Fundraisers like the one Friends just held at Red Brick Pizza don’t just happen on their own and time that I spend working on that end of my world usually ends up taking a chunk out of another module. I’m sure that I’ll ultimately end up figuring out how to properly allocate my time to everything that tugs at my sleeve, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet.

I’m also wrestling with the notion that I’ve become increasingly drawn into other areas of animal treatment, most notably those concerning factory farming, humane treatment of livestock and sustainable farming. On the one hand, it seems to me to be a perfect compliment to my overall site, as humane is humane, regardless of which species we are discussing. On the other, the bulk of my site is dedicated to companion animals and I’m not altogether sure that including information on farming practices is what people who peruse this site have in mind. I’m open to feedback on this issue, so if you’re interested in hearing more about farming and factory farming issues (or if you’re not), feel free to share.

So, in short, I apologize. I try to provide as much original material on here as possible, but on occasion the well needs to be dug a little deeper in order to produce. Rest assured, I’m digging and fully expect to hit pay dirt again any day now. Thanks for standing by.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Borzoi beauties

My friend Anne sent a few pics of her borzois playing amongst the wildflowers last weekend. The dogs and their surroundings are so lovely that I wanted to share.
 Simply gorgeous!

 Doing the flowers justice.
 At play in the fields.

Beauty at rest.

Hide and Seek

The wonderful folks at Total Dog Magazine, a free online magazine devoted to dogs and dog care in the U.K., sent me this great guide on how to teach your dog to play hide-and-seek. It's such a great, positive way to bond with your pup that I thought it well worth sharing. If this sort of activity appeals to you, click on the link and sign up for your own free subscription:

A Guide to Canine Hide and Seek
Canine hide and seek might sound like a bit of a laugh, but it stimulates an integral area of many dogs' natural instincts such as scent tracking. People lost in avalanches are only too glad that the St Bernard that finds them likes a good game of hide and seek, and now you can bond with your dog indoors or out come rain or shine, in this fun, obedience orientated and stimulating activity.

Step One
You'll need a helper and a treat for this. Ensure that your dog is familiar with the stay command, otherwise this will be a very short game. Have your capable assistant ensure that your dog abides by the rules and stays put while you disappear just out of sight with a delicious treat tucked up your sleeve. The great thing about this game is that your dog always gets to win, a bonus for dogs that are a little low on confidence.

Step Two
When you are sure that your dog is aware of your absence, he will probably be bursting to come and get his treat, have your assistant let him go. As you hear the sound of paws scrambling across the kitchen floor, begin issuing the command you want to use in the future. 'Come and get me' is as good as any. Your first hiding place should not be out of sight (in the bin for instance) so he gets the hang of the game sooner rather than later. If you plan to play this game a lot, make sure the treat you use is healthy. You will always be found and will always have to issue the treat, so avoid turning your winning hound into a 'rolly poly' ball of flab by keeping the meaty treats only for a spectacular performance.

Step Three
When you feel the nudge of an excited nose on your face (or the whip of wagging tail depending on your position) be sure to issue lots of praise and reinforce the fact this is fun for both of you. You can extend the game a little at this stage by hiding the prize on your person rather than relinquishing it on sight of your pursuer. A squeaky toy tucked up the trouser leg can result in prolonged hilarity as your dog frantically tries to access it.

Step Four
Return to the beginning of the process, but ensure that you hide further away, and a little more out of sight. Again, you will need the help of your assistant as you are now going to make your dog wait a painstaking two minutes before he is released. Issue the command before he is released this time, but ensure your assistant prevents any false starts. See how determined your dog is by hiding under a bundle of blankets. If he merely paws at you, you need to put in more work. You want your dog to be practically dragging these obstacles away from his prize.

Step Five
Again return to step one, but have your assistant stay at a distance from your dog, only intervening if the cheating swine tries to get a sneaky peak at you before you are properly inserted into your hiding position. Make sure every time you play this you challenge your dog, otherwise it will become like going through the motions for him. But he won't tell you this as he will want his treat nevertheless. Test his loyalty by breaking a doggy biscuit in half and hiding one piece on his route to finding you and keeping the other piece on your person. If you hear a sequence of 'gallop, gallop, munch' sounds, you will know were his priorities lie.

Step Six
Incorporate obstacles into the game by closing doors and encouraging your dog to use his initiative. Also, moving the goal posts will keep your dog engaged. When the weather allows, hide outside and leave him to figure it out. Challenge your dog's obedience by extending the amount of time he has to wait before he is allowed to come and find you.

Final Step
Continue the game for as long as it is fun for both you and your dog, but make it interesting for both of you by introducing new challenges each time you play. Remember to praise your dog each and every time he finds you, this will avoid him associating the game with merely receiving a treat. For those of you who believe they have a little dog genius on their hands, try playing this game the other way round.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Apology Video

I continue to be struck by this well-produced video about pet ownership.

Eating Animals

I was initially ambivalent about including Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals on my Christmas wish list. Having gone through Fast Food Nation, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and The Ethics of What We Eat, I wasn’t sure there was going to be enough compelling information to justify reading another book about modern food production. In the end, I plopped it on my list, not caring much whether I actually got it or not, which practically guaranteed that I’d find it under my metaphorical tree.

I tend to start books dealing with this subject matter with a bit of trepidation, since more than a few have crossed my reading table that are so sensationalizing, guilt-string pulling and accusatory that they’ve managed to turn me off within 20 pages. Seriously, if you can’t keep me, “ms. bleeding heart for the critters” hooked, what are your chances with the ambivalent masses?

Foer’s opening play is an argument on whether the reasons why Americans don’t eat dogs (and cats, for that matter) is viable. Hook firmly set. No chance of me wriggling off the line for some time.

Foer explores many of the issues around factory farming that have been covered in other texts, but in more than a few cases comes at them from a completely new angle. Rather than paraphrase the philosophy of Frank Reese, raiser of heritage turkeys, Foer provides a few pages where Reese’s statements on the matter are printer verbatim, in his own words. Likewise, in his section where he aligns three essays about eating meat; one from a vegetarian, one from a vegan PETA employee and one from Niman Ranch founder Bill Niman, Foer allows the individuals their voice, absent dilution. One of his most irresistible uses of this approach is the essay titled, “I’m a vegan who builds slaughterhouses”. Really --- how can you not want to read that?

Which is not to say that Foer doesn’t have a voice. He does, and uses it bluntly as he talks about eating meat, factory farming and occasionally takes Michael Pollan to task for “copping out”. Foer coveys his message in an unapologetic tone, seeming not to care whether the reader agrees with him or not. I find that a much more appealing approach than one where it’s obvious that the author is trying to convince you that you must get on board with what they’re telling you and follow them into battle.

Finally, I must comment on the chapter pages. I have no idea who came up with these clever, profound illustrations, but they continued to stick with me long after the chapter was read. Far too often books on this topic use wrenching photos or illustrations that many folks find so unsettling that the visuals overshadow any message that accompanies them. Foer neatly avoided the easy “get” for something I found far more compelling.

Whether you continue eating animals or not after reading Foer’s work is something you can decide for yourself. Whatever choice you make, you’ll have far more knowledge about what eating animals entails than you had before you began. Even if, like me, you’ve read plenty of other tomes on the subject and believe you’ve heard all there was to say.

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