Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

• In Winter, Help Neighbors with Pets

In a winter storm, older neighbors with pets may need help. Your small acts of kindness can make a real difference.

• Volunteer to walk a neighbor's dog.  To keep snow from sticking to the hair between toes, treat paws with Musher's Secret before a walk. Or, when you bring the dog inside, brush snow from between its toes.
• If snow is very deep and a neighbor has a smaller dog, clear an area in their yard where their dog can relieve itself.  Sprinkle sidewalks with pet-safe deicer.
• Ask neighbors if they have enough food for their pet. If your pet has toys it doesn't play with, offer them to neighbors to help pets with cabin fever. Clean toys first.
• Encourage elderly neighbors to stay inside until you or someone else can shovel a safe path to their car or the sidewalk. Always use a pet-safe deicer.
• In many neighborhoods kids go door-to-door, getting paid to shovel snow. With your neighbor's permission, supervise kids in creating a pet potty area or path.

What other ways can you help elderly neighbors with pets in a storm?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

• Wordless Wednesday: Giving Thanks

On Thanksgiving Eve, I'm grateful to have traveled with Winnie this year.
Here we're in Atlanta at BarkWorld.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

• Remembering Charlotte

One year ago today I woke to the sound of my hamster screaming. Charlotte gave one short, desperate cry; I knew she was in deep trouble.

I don't know what happened. The night before Charlotte had been her plump, bustling self. Now she was nearly unable to move. Toward the end of its life a hamster becomes extremely weak. I picked up Charlotte, who melted in my hand. I felt her warm belly on my hand; I kissed the thick fur on her back. She didn't protest or squeak. Hopefully, she wasn't in pain.

I called the vet when they opened and made an appointment for later that morning. I knew it would be a one-way trip for Charlotte. With a hard lump in my throat, I dressed for my pet sit. At the entrance to Charlotte's hut I left her favorites, watermelon and carrot, which would provide moisture if she wasn't able to crawl to the water bottle.

More than anything, I wanted to stay with Charlotte, but I was booked to care for two dogs that day. Before I left, I peered into her hut. She was hunched down, motionless and already shriveled. Maybe she would pass on her own. I called the vet and cancelled the appointment.

All day, as I played with the dogs I prayed that Charlotte would die at home in the warmth and safety of her hut. It would be the most peaceful end. The hours dragged by. Thank god my client decided to come home early.

"Hey, sweet pea," I whispered when I got home. Charlotte didn't stir but her back moved almost imperceptibly. She was breathing.

My vet was closed by that time but there was an emergency clinic close by. I carefully lifted Charlotte into her travel cage. She kept her eyes shut. On the way to the vet I talked to her for the last time. I told her what a special girl she was, how much I loved her, and how she was going to be OK, no longer afraid or in pain. My throat ached. How could I say goodbye to my little girl?

I sobbed as the vet tech hugged me. They gave me a plaster cast of her tiny footprints and returned her body to me in a small box.

I've owned hamsters for more than 10 years. Charlotte was unique. Does it sound silly to say a hamster can be mature? She was so wise and calm that I had her certified as an Emotional Support Animal.

I still miss my girl.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

• A Tribute to Lorie Huston, DVM

Dr. Lorie Huston, DVM (right) and me at BarkWorld in 2012.
While pet sitting Piewacket, I accidentally spilled water in the small bird's cage when I was cleaning. Although I switched out wet newspaper for dry, he would have no part of me drying him off. When I tried to pick him up with a dry washcloth he firmly chomped down on my index finger. What a bite! I was sure from his zesty response that Piewacket would be all right. But the next time I checked, he lay still on the floor of his cage. I touched his foot. It retracted slightly. I needed help. What veterinarian would be willing to help on a Sunday afternoon?

I thought immediately of Lorie Huston. I'd met Dr. Lorie at conferences and we'd kept in touch on social media ever since. With desperation at my back, I got her home number from the White Pages and left a message. She called a half hour later, but it was too late for Piewacket.

Piewacket in better days.
I sobbed and sobbed Dr. Lorie listened patiently. Then she gently asked questions. How old was he? Did he have any health issues? What was his behavior like over the past few days? Piewacket, who had lost most of his feathers, had been rescued from dire circumstances. His owner had him for many years and coddled the little guy with heat lamps and special food. I didn't have a sense of how he'd been doing during this pet sit. When I cared for him before his cage was at eye level, but this time it was on top of another cage. I only saw him once a day when I fed him. I had to stand on tiptoe so I could get a glimpse of him, since he was always on the bottom level of his cage.

Birds go to the lowest level of their cage when they are nearing the end, Dr. Lorie explained. (Later, when I talked to Piewacket's owner, she confirmed that he'd been spending more time than usual on the bottom of his cage before I started pet sitting.) Dr. Lorie doubted the water had anything to do with Piewacket's death—it was simply his time.

That day Dr. Lorie gave me one of the most important gifts I ever received: the knowledge that the little bird's death wasn't my fault. We talked about how, as a veterinarian and a pet sitter, we were destined to love animals that didn't belong to us. She talked about how helpless she felt when her patients died.

Dr. Lorie was genuinely kind. She took the time to talk to everyone. Even on a Sunday afternoon, even when she'd been working at the hospital all day. I'm certain she'd be embarrassed by all the praise we're lauding on her now, at her untimely passing. I don't think she understood how rare she was.

This article by Cat Wisdom 101 touches on Dr. Lorie's professional life.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

• What I Learned from Kitty Litter

I was pet sitting Taz, the world's friendliest cat. His parents were due home in three days, but his kitty litter box was dangerously low. I texted his dad. Do you have more cat litter? He did not. Would I buy some, he asked?

Taz's brand was available only in a 25-pound box. Holy moly, I thought as I picked up the carton—25 pounds weighs a lot more than it looks.

As I hoisted the monster-size box into my car, a thought struck me: I am more than 50 pounds overweight. That's two boxes of kitty litter. Two! I imagined each of my hands clutching a 25-pound box of litter. In my mind, my shoulders hunched. My back ached.

That's how much weight I carry around every day.

One of the reasons I love animals is that they don't judge a person by their looks. Taz Kitty doesn't care that I am overweight. That's how I always think about my weight: how people will judge me. When I take pictures of myself I never show my entire body. I hide behind trees, animals, other people—anything. That damned box of kitty litter left nowhere to hide. All I thought about was my poor body, struggling under its own weight.

Kitty litter taught me a lesson. But there's a problem. I left the box at Taz's house, behind the laundry room door. I am comfortable forgetting the weight of that box.

It was a hard lesson: I pray that I remember it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

• Wordless Wednesday: Behold the Pet Blogger

A pet blogger seizes a photo opp! His Realtor mom's sign
also serves to 
announce Obi's future pet sit with moi.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Saturday, June 7, 2014

• Burnham is the Newest Angel

Guinea pig Burnham was a "foster fail"—an animal that a foster parent adopts. Burnham's mom is one of my pet sitting clients.

"I think of Burnham and taking care of him as so typical of what Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue (MGPR) is all about, and why so many of us fosterers are drawn to this form of service," said Burnham's mom, a MGPR volunteer. "While there are many lovely and sweet piglets in our care, we also have the Burnhams of the guinea pig world—they come to us with serious health conditions, as well as quirky personalities and hostile behaviors that make them difficult to adopt out. Burnham was all of these, terrified of or hostile to other guinea pigs, and chomping without predictable cause at human fingers, faces, and noses. I don't know how much of this was due to his illness and discomfort. But he was unadoptable; so after fostering him for months I took him in, finally, as my own."

After she adopted Burnham, his mom wanted answers to a concern she'd had: his small size and weight. She took him to the University of Pennsylvania Ryan Veterinary Hospital, which, as a veterinary school, has CT scan technology for sonograms. (Most vets in the D.C. area don't have that technology.) The results were devastating: Burnham was riddled with aggressive liver cancer.

"I was shocked to learn he was terminally ill," said his mom. "But I'm glad I was able to provide him with hospice care. In his final days, Burnham was so loving, and wanted constantly to be held and stroked. I assured him that there were many MGPR piglets who had proceeded him to Heaven who would welcome him and show him the ropes, as well as my family members who had passed on who loved animals, especially my father. I asked him to, in turn, take care of guinea pigs who are being neglected on earth, and those who will eventually join him in Heaven . . ."

"Burnham is the newest angel."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

• We Have a Winner!

I'm excited to announce that Janet Roper is the winner of a $50 credit toward a visit to an AAHA-accredited veterinary hospital!

The credit, which I won at BlogPaws, was announced in a previous blog post. Blog visitors entered the contest simply by commenting. 

My hamster, Winnie, picked the winner!

I wrote numbers 1 through 28—one for each comment—on slips of paper. I spread out the papers, blank side up, and waited. Winnie did not disappoint. Immediately she selected and chewed the number 10 slip of paper. We had a winner—Janet Roper, who made the tenth comment.

People who commented on the blog were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the AAHA. "It's a mark that helps you know you can trust someone," said Life with Dogs and Cats. "I just learned the Vet clinic that I have been taking my kitties to is NOT AAHA accredited," said Laurie Smith. "I have found the list of clinics in my area that are; this summer I will be making sure my fur kids have a doctor/clinic that meets these guidelines!"

Veterinary student Carolina summed it up. "All veterinary hospitals want to treat your pets the best they can but with AAHA-accredited animal hospitals you KNOW FOR SURE they are performing the best care for your pet. These clinics have to follow certain rules and regulations to keep their accreditation and as a former employee of an AAHA veterinary clinic I can assure you that being accredited makes a clinic run more efficiently because technicians as well as veterinarians and receptionists work as a team to give the client and their pets the best quality service."

Janet Roper goes to an AAHA-accredited vet. And so does my Winnie. To find an AAHA-accredited veterinary hospital near you, go to the AAHA-accredited hospital locator

Friday, May 23, 2014

• Win $50 from the AAHA!

One of the prizes I won at BlogPaws 2014 is for you! The American Animal Hospital Association asked me to give one of my readers a $50 credit toward a visit at an AAHA-accredited veterinary hospital.

What is AAHA?
The acronym is easy to remember: Ah ha! The AAHA is the only organization that accredits veterinary practices in the U.S. and Canada. Unlike hospitals for humans, veterinary hospitals don't have to be reviewed by an outside regulating agency. Some veterinary hospitals, however, choose to undergo the rigorous testing process by AAHA, an unbiased, outside organization. Being accredited means the hospital is meeting, or exceeding, standards in a variety of areas. A hospital must prove to the AAHA that it provides the safest quality care.

High Standards
AAHA sets standards of quality veterinary care on many fronts, including one that interested me: preventing the spread of disease. Care is taken even before an animal arrives at the hospital, throughout its treatment, to its discharge and follow-up, to ensure the environment is sterile and to prevent the spread of disease to other pets.

To help relieve some of the risk associated with anesthesia, AAHA requires anesthesia monitoring equipment for your pet's safety. The equipment tracks a pet's vital signs and alerts to potential problems. AAHA standards also ensure pets receive the best surgical techniques and sterile practices. AAHA-accredited hospitals must follow protocols for preparations for emergencies, dental procedures, exam facilities, medical records, and much more.

How You Can Win
To be eligible to win the $50 credit toward your pet's visit to an accredited facility, comment below—that's all you need to do!

I was pleased to learn that Old Dominion Animal Health
Center, where I take my hamsters,  is AAHA accredited.
Only one comment per person will be counted. Anonymous comments will not count. You may comment to win until 11:59 pm Mountain Standard time on May 31, 2014. Winnie, my hamster, will pick a winner at random. I will announce the winner publicly in my June 4 Wordless Wednesday post.

Your comment could include feedback that the AAHA might find helpful, e.g.:
• Before you read this post, were you aware of the AAHA and what it does? (Before I researched this, I was not.)
• Did reading this post make you want to know if your veterinary hospital is accredited by AAHA? (It made me want to know.)
• Is your veterinary facilitated accredited by the AAHA? You can find out at the AAHA-accredited hospital locator. (Whew, yes, mine is accredited.)

I'd also like to encourage you to follow the AAHA on Facebook or Twitter, or to subscribe to their newsletter, Pets Matter. If you win and your veterinary practice is not accredited, you must find an AAHA vet and register with them for the appointment.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

• Wordless Wednesday: Counting Down to BlogPaws

Half the fun of the BlogPaws conference is the pets and the other half, the people. Tiny
Schmitty the Weather Dog brought her sidekick, piano-playing meteorologist
Ron Trotta. Check out this duo's famous weather paw-casting videos

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

• Wordless Wednesday: Counting Down to BlogPaws

Many canine dignitaries visit BlogPaws conferences, such as this
Search-and-Rescue German Shepherd, in 2012. After his presentation
this boy was ready for tug-of-war and willing to let videographer Kenn Bell
play with his ears—the ultimate compliment.