Saturday, April 25, 2009

American Dog

Although this post is a little delayed, I just want to also share my congratulations to the Obama family in their new furry members arrival. I remember how much fun it was to be young and have my first dog too. The adventures they have, the lessons they learn and the love they share will be with them forever. Although I am not a subscriber to the same political party or mindset, and of course am completely biased on what particular breed has my heart, I couldn't be happier with the situation.
I'm so glad that they, as our blogger friend Cadie posted on her Acadia Shelties site, did not buckle under the immense pressure that was being put on them from various animal welfare/rescue groups about what THEY think the family should have done. It was really nice to see that they did what was right for THEIR family.
I cannot BELIEVE how much controversy their decision has caused. Sure, he may have said that we would like a rescue dog. We ALL would like to see rescue dogs in permanent loving forever homes. But when it comes down to it, we all need to make a decision based on our individual and familial needs and wants. And after all, isn't this still America? Don't we still retain the right of freedom of choice, and the right to the pursuit of happiness?
I mean, if you think about it, yes, the Earth might be better if we all drove hybrid Prius'. But a Prius will NOT fit every ones lifestyle. How are you going to cram you 4 kids and spouse into a Prius? How will you fit your two English Mastiff's in there? How will you pull your trailer or boat? Just because they are available and a good decision, doesn't mean that everyone can or should get one. Now, look at it when it comes to dogs. The Obama's needed a hypo-allergenic breed (personally, what makes me SO proud is the fact that they did not pay some exhorbent amount of money for a "designer" dog like a labradoodle). They also need a friendly, outgoing energetic breed that can keep up with their demanding schedule. If they were to get a mixed, Heinze 57 dog, who knows what the personality would be like, or the size the dog grew into. Or the temperament or behaviors the dog could come up with. Of course, as was expressed in my last post, every dog is an individual even beyond their breed tendencies, but it is hard to have any predictions when you don't even know where to start.
And it is obviously harder to guarantee the health of the dog as well. Sure, many people argue that mixed breeds are healthier because they have fewer genetic conditions, but think about it: any mix or combination of purebreds can have the same inherited eye, bone and joint and heart issues. And yes, in the veterinary clinic where I work, we see mixed breeds with cancer too.
I know that there are many passionate animal lovers out there who would like to see every homeless pet in rescues and shelters adopted. I applaud their love, hard work and all of their efforts to get that mission accomplished. But these people also need to STOP blaming and penalizing RESPONSIBLE pet owners and breeders. Just because someone buys from a breeder, it doesn't mean that they are making or accepting the conscious decision to "let a shelter pet die". We need to start looking towards the actual reasons behind the pet over population; it has nothing to do with the good responsible breeders making good, healthy, quality pet dogs available to loving homes. It has to do with the fact that so many low income pet owning households are irresponsible: not spaying and neutering their pet (who is clearly not being kept intact to "improve a breed"-as most are mixed breeds themselves) and then letting said intact pet run amok through their neighborhoods ensuring unwanted and unplanned litters. It is because of commercial facilities (aka the HUNTE corp.) that churn out pets like product, and then sell to second party dealers (aka pet stores) who then sell them to people who walk through their shops and buy on impulse; with no regard to the dogs health, if they are really ready and able to care for another being, and who because of lack of education, they keep THESE dogs intact and become "backyard breeders."None of these things happen when responsible breeders are at the helm. These people not only ensure that they are only breeding healthy and temperamentally sound dogs, but they also screen out the people who may not be the best candidate for that breed (or a pet at all!) They are doing all of the right things; the problems lie when those people who get turned away (for whatever reason) by the responsible people, are then able to go to the pet store or even shelter and get a pet. The red flags that the responsible breeders saw on the initial meeting usually crop up at some other time later (or in some cases, right off the bat) in the pets life. People who shouldn't own so much as a gold fish because of personality flaws/disorders (hoarders, people who want to breed for ridiculous reasons-"I want my kids to experience the miracle of birth", "I don't want to take away his/her right as a 'parent'", "I want to make money" etc.) are then able to do all of those irresponsible things at the animals expense. People who were turned away for financial reasons (most breeders know that if someone balks at the price of a high quality puppy, they will also question other "pricey" things that are undoubtedly bound to come up throughout the pets life-accidents, vaccines, heartworm tests, other illnesses etc.) will then find themselves facing a huge medical bill or euthanasia because the puppy they bought from a pet store has parvo, kennel cough that progressed to pneumonia, or hip dsyplasia. (I see these INFURIATING cases all the time at the hospital).
We (we meaning all of us animal lovers) need to stop persecuting and placing hugely restrictive laws on responsible owners and breeders and focus on the real issues plaguing us. Good breeders need to stop being demonized for what they do; this is America. The greatest country in the world. We can deal with the issues of Peace all over the world, but we can't all agree on or take care of our pet issues here in our own country? We need to start working together and stop pointing fingers. We need to look at the issue as a whole, and find out really, what the root of the problems are. And for HEAVENS SAKE, we need to stop judging people based on their decisions as pet owners-as long as they are RESPONSIBLE. And although criticizing politicians is part of what it is to be American, judging him on his decision on which pet would be right for his family is just wrong. I hope we can keep in mind how happy that this dog will make this family for years and years to come; even after they have vacated the White House, and have moved beyond Washington, "Bo" and all of the memories with him will live on in their hearts forever.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Real Life: Lessons in life and love

This post was inspired by the "Real Life" post by one of our favorite Bloggers "Many Muddy Paws". (If you haven't read it, and it's follow up post, go check it out!)

I have long since been an advocate for people teaching their dogs real world skills. When I taught puppy and small dog beginner and advanced classes, I always tried to impress upon my students how great it is that their dogs could shake their hand, and leave a biscuit that was placed in front of them alone, but that the real importance of those lessons was to have a happy, well socialized, SAFE pet. It wasn't just "shaking hands", it was an ice breaker for someone who might be afraid of a big (or any sized) dog; it wasn't just neat how your dog could turn their noses up at a piece of highly edible food that was being offered to them, but it was an extremely important safety skill that can be used when your dog was going to eat something undesirable or worse, dangerous. (Like the time a little boy was trying to feed my girls M&M'S in Petco).

Even the "fun" things that we did in class had an important purpose: when we brought out small agility equipment for the dogs to play on at our last class, we were not only intending for everyone to just have fun. It was important to not only build the confidence of new dogs and their new owners, but to also demonstrate to the humans that if they could act like EVERYTHING they taught their dogs was this fun, then their dogs would learn things and be weaned off treats faster. They should treat every exercise as a game; sit and lie down doesn't have to be boring!

When I worked for the big facility here in Mass, I was told that using our own dogs as demos would cause the students to feel bad; it would cause a sense of inadequacy, and make them feel like they could never achieve that level of "obedience". I, however, thought and saw differently. When I did bring my girls out for demos, I found that the students really did strive to do better: concentrate more on their homework and try new things as well. Many said to me that they hoped that their dogs could be like mine. I took this opportunity to remind them that this was my JOB. They were the ones who had it really hard; they had to work their regular jobs and THEN find the time and energy to put into training their dog to be a good citizen. I got to do the training AS my job every day. I told them that I did just as much work on my two as they were doing, but I was able to incorporate this into my every day activities: because it was what I was PAID to do. I made sure that they understood that just because we were the trainers, we did not keep the "magic" pills hidden in the office for our use only. They could do whatever they wanted with their dogs but just like with anything else in life, you get what you put in.

I also tried really hard to impress upon them that they had to take into account several factors in their training and relationships with their dogs even before we got started. You should always remember that you dog is a DOG: not a human in fur-clothes. They are going to do DOGGY THINGS like eat and roll in disgusting things, sniff butts, and wrestle/play fight with other dogs. We expect a lot from our dogs because they live in our homes and play such a huge part in our lives. But they cannot be held to the same high social standards that we put on ourselves and our human children. If you can't handle NORMAL (i.e.: non aggressive, non-out of control) behaviors, then don't get a dog. HOWEVER, there are doggy behaviors that although are normal, can be considered rude and bothersome if they are allowed to continue. These include jumping on people and incessant barking. All of these behaviors can get better and get under control with some good training, but remember: they ARE normal.

The next thing that I asked them to keep in mind was their dogs breed. It is important to know something of the history of the breed (or breeds in some cases) so that certain behaviors predictability could also be kept in mind. (Shelties bark, Labs swim and retrieve, Beagles bay...) Going a bit beyond that, is to keep the dogs INDIVIDUAL personality in mind. It's important to remember that even though you have a lab, this dog may not retrieve. Your Newfie may not like water. Your Border Collie may not have "eye". And just because the LAST 15 individuals that you owned of this breed did behaviors A,B and C, doesn't mean that this one will. Just like with people, dogs genetics, socialization and personality reflects how it will behave in certain situations.

It is important to keep this all in mind so we do not place too high expectations on these little fuzzy beings so that we may enjoy a happy life with them; we don't want to waste our all too short time being angry or frustrated with them. Which is why training in itself is so important. We bring these guys into our lives for companionship and love, so why not make that a little easier to come by?

And on that note, it is so important to not only spend time training your new best friend to be a well-mannered member of society so that they can go out and about with you, but it is important to remember to cherish the time that your dog has a new member of your family. (As was posted in the "Full Tilt Border Collie's" blog where "Manny Muddy Paws got THEIR inspiration). As important as training is, don't forget that this is just the start of your magical journey together. Although every moment is precious and deserves to be remembered, it is the first golden days that you spend together that will be most missed once they have gone. Once our dogs grow into adults and their training is "complete", you start to remember and revel in the beautiful puppy nostalgia; remembering the silly puppy behaviors that although at the time probably seemed annoying, are now looked back on fondly. It was those behaviors that were the dogs raw personality coming through-without the training and discipline that we ingrain in them as they grow up. These puppy antics may have even helped get them their name (sometimes that name that you spent so long deciding on would have changed the instant you met and got to know them because their true nature shone through).

I'm not really sure what the point of this blog was; so many of you reading this know and are aware of all of this already. I guess that, just like with any of the other blog posts I write, this is a little bit for myself as well as for everyone else. I constantly try to remind myself to be thankful for every day I get to spend with my girls...and I hope that in my efforts to remind myself, that maybe I remind someone else as well. I try to remember that even though we aren't competing in Agility anymore, all those wonderful hikes in the woods and trips out and about are just as special as any clean run. And although that just the thought of it is excruciating to think about, I hope that one day, when my girls have crossed over that Rainbow Bridge, I will look back on all of these posts and remember that I did love them every day that we shared together. And that just because they will have gone, doesn't mean that the love that I have needs to go too. That is what will get me through those toughest of days. And that is what gets me through these tough days too.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sheltie Rituals

I started getting into this whole blogging thing when I got sick and was out of work for a while a few months ago. It's been a lot of fun discovering new blogs to read, and learning about so many different people (and dogs!) from all over the world. One blog that I got into and still check on is author Jon Katz's Bedlam Farm blog. Its so nice to live a little vicariously through his posts; I know I'll never be able to own and live on a farm myself, so it's a treat to feel like I'm just a little bit a part of one when I read his posts and see his pictures.

One of the things that he has posted entries and pictures about is his "daily egg" that he gets from his chickens. Various pictures sometimes accompanied by stories will be put up of the egg as it is photographed in different places around his farm. He then started posting a "daily bottle" scene, as he was having a hard time finding his chickens' eggs. The photographs are beautiful-even though their context is so simple.

So, his ideas bring me to this post. I know that his posts are about his photography and the beauty in simple, everyday things, but I think it is also about little rituals. I started thinking about my own every day ones and was quite surprised to realize how many the girls and I actually have.

For example, we have "our daily cheese." After I have whatever it is I usually have for breakfast (lately it's been a bowl of Cheerios!) I have a cheese stick. I figure it's good to have a bit more dairy and protein to start off the day, right? Well what started out as a trial of a healthy morning snack, has now become a daily ritual. It doesn't matter if I eat it early or late, it is always the same: I finish the cereal, and then reach for the stick (which is usually on the coffee table beside me). Immediately upon seeing my reach, both girls come over and give the notorious "Sheltie Stare". Shelby gets up on the other side of the love seat, and Heidi cranes her neck to rest her jaw awkwardly up on the cushion. I peel open the wrapper and feel their intensity and keenness increase; Shelby moves the slightest bit closer, and Heidi starts licking her lips and nose. I pull a small piece off the top and give it to Shelby (the faster I can give it to her, the sooner she stops drooling). I then repeat the process for Heidi. We all love this ritual, although for slightly different reasons. The girls love the food, and I love the closeness we share.

Another ritual we have is "attack the towel", which is one I have with Heidi. I usually walk around with my hair wrapped up in a towel-turban in the space between the shower and when I sit down to get my make-up on for work. As soon as it is time to get the hair down, Heidi knows. She comes running in full tilt, and attacks the towel as I bend over and shake/ruffle/pat my hair a little bit dryer. It didn't start out like this. But as our tug games increased with our agility training, so did Heidi's toy/play drive. Now, I was a trainer for a number of years. Trust me, if this was as obnoxious of a behavior as it may sound, I would have stopped it. (Like chasing the vacuum...I HATE that, and don't allow the girls to practice it.) But this is actually cute. She never tugs hard enough to make me drop the towel, or even stop drying my hair. She just thinks its a bit of fun we can share in the morning before I go to work. And I have to say, that after out "attack the towel" session, my day does start off a little brighter.

A ritual that I share with Shelby, is something that is very specific to her. And it is a ritual she does with EVERYONE; not just me and my mom, but our Vet and strangers when they ask to pet her. She is a HAIR SMELLER. She never ever chews, licks, or bites hair, but she NEEDS to smell it. She just very gently puts her nose right through the strands to the scalp, and proceeds to sniff around. She'll usually then move to other parts of someones head. She takes anywhere from 2-10 seconds to do her "job", and gets VERY upset if she is interrupted before she has finished. She will continue to attempt to get her nose back in the hair if she is not given enough time. My mom and I are of course used to it. To see strangers react is something funny. Most people are happy to oblige once I tell them that she does this to EVERYONE and will not lick or chew their hair. Some people get freaked out though, and as soon as they feel the little nose buried in their tresses, they panic and stand up. That's when Shelby gets most upset. It is very sad.

And one ritual that I share with both my girls, is our "snuggle" time in the morning, and our "say hello" time when I come home. I get up an extra half hour early every morning so that when I get out of the shower (and after I started thawing their food) I can get back into bed with them and snuggle. Usually Heidi will lay right up on my other pillow and sigh contentedly, and Shelby will crawl up in between us and snuggle close. I pet and stroke them, rub their bellies, and kiss their heads. This is also one thing that starts out day off on the right paw, er, foot. Then, when I get home, the ritual is much the same. When I come in the door, they are usually going pretty nuts. Shelby usually jumps on the glass, and then jumps like a jumping bean straight into the air until you tell her to settle down. Heidi usually doesn't jump, but she stands and barks: DEMANDING that you pay attention to the Queen as soon as possible. So, once I get my stuff settled (coat off, mail and lunch bag set on the table, etc) I tell them to "lets go say hello", where they proceed to run to the living room and jump on the couch. I sit down in the middle of them and proceed to give them lovin'. Shelby usually stands on my thigh (to smell my hair, and lick my face) and Heidi lays down with her head on my other leg (so I can scratch inside her ears, and stroke her head and muzzle). After about 10 minutes, they've usually settled down enough to where I can get up and get some other things done (like get their food ready, make dinner, thaw their food, iron, and feed them...which is VERY important).

Most people think I'm crazy for waking up early just to snuggle, putting off my own responsibilities to greet them when I get home or to take them for their daily walk/Chuck-it/Frisbee session, and sharing my own food with them, but the people who would think this are the people who also think "it's just a dog" (see my "It's just a dog" post). I'm happy that our little daily rituals have so much meaning and can make such a big impact on the day as a whole. I know that these rituals will probably even continue with my next generation of Shelties, years from now, and will always be looked back on fondly. They are, after all, just more golden memories that sparkle and shine through the haze and confusion that is sometimes life. It's nice to have little habits to stick to when so much in life is unpredictable and out of our control. It's especially nice when these habits can be shared with a fuzzy loving being that takes just as much joy in them as you do. What are some of your daily habits?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Kennel update (still panicking!)

So here is the update on our kennel visits from last weekend (finally). I have to admit, I tried putting off the visits for a week, but in the end I forced myself to go and have a look last Saturday. It is just so hard thinking about leaving them, even for a few days. I knew seeing the kennels would essentially make my decision final; I felt like if I could just put it off, another option would miraculously materialize before I needed to leave. Then my rational side kicked in and I thought about how hard it will be to leave them, compounded with the fact that if I had not done my homework, the already difficult situation would be made all the more hard. So I got off my butt and took the short drive to see them both.

I have to say that there are quite a few qualifications I look for in ANY place I plan to bring my dogs; whether it be for a seminar, class, boarding, etc. Being in the business, I know what warning signs to look for in the facility AND the staff: I find it pretty easy to spot red-flags, but also pick up on the positives of a place as well. So one of the first things that make an impression on anyone walking in is the staff. Are the friendly and welcoming? Does it seem like it is a hassle or harassment to ask them for something (that is probably part of their job??) Does it seem like they WANT to be there and enjoy their work? That last one is the big one for me. I know what it feels like to work somewhere and be MISERABLE. I'm sure that the clients felt it, but even more worrisome, is I'm sure that the DOGS felt it. That's why I left that job. And I don't want someone who doesn't want to be there to be handling my dog; their short temper or lack of compassion is not something I want my kids to experience. And I'm not saying that we all don't have bad days. Of course we do. I can't tell you how many times Ive been short with my girls after having a stressful day at work. The difference is that we have a RELATIONSHIP. My dogs and I know each others personalities, temperaments and quirks. Having my girls in the care of someone who doesn't really care at all can make an already stressful situation all the more worse. I don't want that. I want caring people, who love their jobs: where they work, what they do, and who they work with. (This is one reason why I love my own job so much; everyone is extremely dedicated to our patients and other members of our team.)

Another, obvious thing that I look at is the facility. Sure, it really is the people who make a business successful (or not), but the place in which these people work is obviously just as important. It needs to be clean, updated and SAFE. I want to make sure that there is no damage or faults with anything structurally where my dogs (or anyone else's) will be staying, i.e.: screws sticking out from places, chipped/splintered wood, cracks in the floor that can harbor bacteria and broken/sharp chain-link. I also want to make sure that the outside is just as good as the inside. It's important that where the dogs are expected to potty and play be just as clean and safe: no holes in any fencing allowing escapes and proper ground cover to be both sanitary and safe to play on.

I know that the dog people out there will be nodding and agreeing with these areas that need to be inspected. Some of my human, non-dog owning/loving friends may think its over kill. But wouldn't you do the same when looking for somewhere for your HUMAN kids? Just because my adopted children still walk on all fours and are covered in fur doesn't make their lives, happiness, comfort and safety any less important.

So, with those things in mind, I went to visit kennel #1. This was the kennel that was the fore-runner in my mind already. I just like everything that they stand for, and the things they do for the good of dog-dom. Again, I had been there before for seminars and events, but had never seen the boarding/daycare area. When I walked in, I was greeted by two very nice, friendly staff members. Already, a plus for this kennel. Both seemed glad to help, and happy to be there (even on a Saturday morning). One woman was checking someone in already, so the other offered to take me for a tour. She called on her walkie-talkie out back to make sure that the kennel was "secure" (i.e. in lock down, no one running around) before bringing me out to see it. As we walked, I told her of my concerns with Shelby and her previous episode of HGE. She told me that that made her concerned too. She said that although they had a wonderful facility, that it was still no doubt a kennel-setting; it can be loud and stressful. I was not allowed in the actual room where the kennel runs were kept because it would get all the dogs riled up (which I completely understood!) but I could see the two "suites" that I had been interested in. These were not runs like the rest made of chain link fencing, but they were their own little rooms with in the big kennel room. They had concrete walls and a solid, wooden dutch door (with a plexi-glass window on the top panel). These had guillotine doors to allow the dogs to go to a small, fenced patio area where they could take care of "business". The floor was concrete. Although I understood this, as it was easily sprayed down and washed, it still bothered me; I am not sure if my girls will be willing to go on it. I'm afraid they will hold it until they get to their play-yard time and will get a UTI, or in Shelby's case, diarrhea.

The woman explained that they usually give them 3 times throughout the day to use the "play-yards" which are 8 fenced in areas that have sand on the ground. It kind of reminded me of a cattle ranch; different chutes and areas where dogs could go to make sure that they did not come into any contact with any other dog, besides the ones from their families. She told me that this free yard time could be used for cuddling or playing. Whatever suited the dogs individual needs. (I immediately though that this would be the place where "Chuck-It" came out!) The woman emphasized that they are really about the DOG'S needs here; they will tailor the dogs stay to whatever they need or want. They have someone on site 24 hours, and will try to contact our vet first, and then the 24 hour clinic up the road from them if our vet is unavailable. (I explained that our vet is also 24 hours, and that I work there). She suggested that maybe we do a "trial overnight" where the girls can stay one night at a discounted rate to make sure they can handle the situation OK, and to reinforce that I will be coming back to get them.

I thanked the woman for all of her time and help, grabbed some printed info on their boarding program and left. Off to option #2. This kennel is actually only a short 15 min drive from the first one. This one I had a little more experience with, as it is where I usually groom the dogs, but this extra experience wasn't necessarily a good thing. I had encountered a few rude employees before; on two instances it was one of the owners. But, I figured that I should at least go and have a peek. I wanted to give them a chance.

When I pulled in the parking lot, I saw that they were doing a show 'n' go for agility. Luckily it wasn't too crowded. I walked up to the window and explained that I had emailed about some boarding info and was told I could come by and see the facility. The man (who is one of the other owners) said that he could do it. So he took me out through the main hall (where the agility was taking place) and brought me to the kennel area. These were all chain link indoor/outdoor runs. Some were slightly bigger than the others, and those housed multiple dogs. He didn't give me too much information, other than the standard "this is where they stay, they never come into contact with other dogs, etc." I never saw the outdoor portion of the runs. It was very full (again, a Saturday) but the dogs seemed overall content. It was loud, but not excessively so. When I was back in the main lobby grabbing some info, the man asked where I was from. When I told him Methuen, he said that he had driven trucks around that area for years. He went on to say how terrible of a place the area was, with an outrageous crime and violence rate. I told him I lived in a quiet section in the rural part of town and he proceeded to tell me that ALL parts were bad. Yeah. This is the type of rudeness that I had come to expect from his wife also. Although the facility was nice, and I will go back for classes, seminars etc., the staff leave something to be desired.

So, after seeing them both, I felt a little uneasy. I'm not sure if it is the hugeness of my decision to leave my precious girls in someone else's hands in a strange place, or because I had now seen the facilities and realized that yes, they WERE KENNELS. I really did/do like the first place, is still a kennel. I don't know what I was expecting, but I wasn't prepared for the reality of it. I have seriously started considering getting a pet sitter for the girls. I think they'll be more comfortable at home in their own beds and rooms and having some one drop by 3-4 times a day would be plenty for them to potty, eat and get some exercise. I mean, of course I am by no means made of money (as I still have a $677 bill from the hospital sitting on my table waiting to be paid!) but I will pay/do whatever it takes to make sure my girls are happy, comfortable and safe.

But the pet sitter option is an issue in itself. I have been on the various certification website (pet sitters international, etc.) and cannot really find anyone in my area. It seems like a lot of people cover New Hampshire, or north or west of Methuen, but no one says that they cover the Merrimack Valley area. And here too I am very picky; I want someone who is Pet First-Aid certified and accredited by some organization. I sent out a plea to the message board for the Sheltie Club in my area, but have only received one response. I'm still looking into it all, but I think that I have a really tough decision ahead of me.

Well, that's all for now. As things develop, the Shelties and I will of course keep everyone posted. For right now, we're just going to enjoy the time we have before the dreaded 4 days in October come. I'll keep hunting, and if the stars, moon and sun align, we might just find someone who will make the whole process just a little more bearable for us all...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Preparing to panic

I publish this post with a heavy heart. My plans for a long and glorious road trip to Florida this October have died. I ask you all to take a moment of silence for them. Thank you.

My dreams of a road trip for this year have ended due to my inability to pay for such an extensive (and expensive) car trip. The idea initially sprang from my inclusion in a friends wedding; she had changed her plans from getting married locally here in New England to getting married on a cruise ship (before it departs for a week long cruise in the Caribbean) in Miami. Upon hearing the news about the change of plans (and venue) I immediately became worried: what was I going to do with my dogs while I needed to be away? They have never been kenneled, and I broke into heavy perspiration at the thought of trying to either find a reliable kennel that I trusted (and also agreed to feed their specialized raw diet, and did not require a kennel cough vaccine) or a REALLY reliable bonded and insured pet sitter. But then I started to have wild and crazy thoughts fed by my increasing wander-lust (no doubt borne from my house arrest and inability to go anywhere for 7 weeks!) I thought how fun it would be to make the DRIVE from Massachusetts to Florida; all those amazing things along the eastern seaboard. I started getting REALLY into the idea, and even put in for my 2 weeks vacation the week before (of) and the week after the wedding, so I could visit with family and actually experience some of the amazing things offered along the way.

I got even MORE into it when one day I spent the entire day on the computer researching dog friendly places in all of the states that we would cross. I made a list of everything that we wanted to see and do, and even of some places to stay. I pretty much had the whole trip planned and figured out. It not only served as something to keep my mind busy when I was still idling, but also something REALLY positive to focus on in the not too distant future. But now, alas, the plans have somewhat died. I cannot say they have completely gone because I still have all of the information that I collected saved on my computer and I DO plan on someday taking this really wonderful trip, just doesn't look like it is going to be this year. For a trip like this, you need to plan far ahead; like, I should be planning NOW. And I just do not have the funds to support those plans. Nor do I think I WILL have the funds when October rolls around. (I still have medical bills, credit card debt and a kayak debt from my mom to pay off!) So I'm trying to convince myself that I am taking the mature and responsible route, and looking into alternative options now before it gets too close to the dates and it is then too late.

So, I've decided that we'll (my mom and I) probably fly down to Florida on Thursday, stay and visit with family on Friday, do the wedding on Saturday, and fly home on Sunday. I know, it seems like I should be taking more time, but the truth is, I don't want to leave my dogs for that long. It's been hard enough leaving them at home when I went back to work, which of course, is involuntary. I can't imagine how difficult it will be to drive away from them knowing that I'm supposed to be off to have a "good time".

So, with the cancellation of my big trip and the drastic change in plans, I find myself doing research not into dog friendly places to visit and enjoy, but a raw-friendly, vaccine free kennel (read: PRISON) to leave my girls. That little sense of maturity, responsibility and preparedness has not faded away since I made the big decision. I know that I need to find somewhere that not only has the afore mentioned qualities (that ALLOW my dogs to be there), but a place that is clean, professional, staffed 24 hours and equipped to handle any situation. In short, a place that I am comfortable leaving my furry children whilst I am away; thus (hopefully) ensuring a little bit more peace of mind which will (again, hopefully) then lead to a more pleasant and fun (albeit SHORT) trip.

So, my search starts now. I have already found 2 well known, well established kennels with great reputations in my area. Yes, they are in the neighboring state of New Hampshire, but both are only about a 45 min drive from my home in Mass. I have been to both facilities before for shows, training classes and other events, but never looked hard at their boarding program. Lets face it, before now, Ive never had to! I have to say that even this early into my research, I am leaning more heavily to one facility over another. One just seems more...I dunno, is prepared a good word? Their facilities seem to be more up to date and state of the art, and I have always really liked their message and the work that the owner (a very well known clicker trainer) has done both in her facility and in the dog community as a whole. The other kennel option is also very well known, but for slightly different reasons. They have some of THE top handlers in THE WORLD when it comes to competition obedience and agility. But I know from experience (from being there for various things) that it is fairly loud; I'd want to make sure that where the girls would be staying would be a bit quieter and calmer.

This is a big issue for me, as I believe that Shelby's case of HGE (hemorrhagic gastroenteritis) was a DIRECT result of being stressed out from being in a "kennel" situation. I was house sitting for a friend of mine, who also operates a small kennel/doggie daycare out of her home. My girls were not allowed up in the main house, so I kept them down stairs with the other boarders. I wasn't able to leave them at home because the kennel was very close to work at the time, but work (and therefore the kennel) was about a 45 min. drive each way to my house. I just wasn't able to work, take care of the kennel dogs and my own in a days time. So I brought my girls along. We were there for probably 3 or 4 days(?) When I got home Shelby started with diarrhea. On the second day home it turned bloody. By the end of that day, she was producing a large mass of what looked like blood-clots (a jam-like consistency.) I took her to our regular vet (at the time) and the doctor we saw said "she must have gotten into something. Try a bland diet". I try explaining to this guy (who looked like it was his 2nd day out of vet school) that there was NO WAY that she just ate something; she is with me at work AND at home, and we have a trash compactor. Something was wrong. I ended up taking her for a "second opinion" the next morning after it had gotten worse. I took her to where I work now. This vet diagnosed her with HGE right away; she had an arrhythmia because she was so anemic and weak. She could have DIED. Needless to say, this new clinic became our new vet, and we have continued to see that same doctor since. (Although for emergencies when she is unavailable, we see who ever is here...they're all WONDERFUL).

So, needless to say I'm a little apprehensive about leaving them. Although HGE is said to have a very strong tendency to reoccur, Shelby has never had another problem. Maybe it is because she is on a better diet, maybe because I've limited her stress, but what ever the reason, I'm glad that particular scare has not come back to haunt us. So having a kennel be quiet and stress free is very high on our importance list. Just having a good reputation is not going to do it. I have to actually see and experience the kennel for myself; with my own eyes. I mean, I of course would have done regardless of whether or not either of my girls had any issues; but Shelby's potential bowel troubles have made it all the more important.

So, this is where I head on my Friday off this week; to see and inspect the two kennels for myself. I hope to have a review and our impressions (and hopefully reservations!) to let you all know about this weekend. Wish me luck, and if any one has any tranquilizers, could you pass them along? Not for the girls...for their over-bonded, nervous-nellie Sheltie Mom! Thank you!