Good Luck Dawsen

As of Friday, it’s been two weeks since my sister handed Dawsen’s leash over to a man who fosters for Golden Rescue. Dawsen was with my sister for seven months, but she just found it too tough.

Dawsen is a two year old, rusty colour, golden retriever with moderate epilepsy. He came to Golden Rescue at the age of 22 months, because his family just found his behavior to be too much to handle. According to the family, Dawsen had pretty much spent his life living in a crate, coming out for walks and short wrestling matches with their teenage sons. They said he had only had two seizures with them, but that he’d just gotten to be too much work. His first foster home taught him to sit, lie down and wait before getting his meals, but by the time my sister adopted him, Dawsen was still in the learning phase.

Over the seven months Dawsen lived with my sister, he learned to sit, lie down, wait, give a paw and how to play appropriately with other dogs. It was a bit of a struggle at first, but my sister stuck with it and Dawsen slowly settled into his new life as a beloved pet. As time went on though, there was one thing my sister was not able to break him of – his food obsession. As a result of the medication Dawsen receives for his epilepsy, he cannot control himself around food or anything that appears edible. Therefore, it was really hard for my sister to keep him safe and out of trouble, but for the most part she was successful. When he came to visit us though, he had to stay on leash or where a muzzle because it was impossible for me to feel comfortable enough with his behavior and safety.

Around the beginning of May, my sister learned that her landlord would be selling the home she was living in, so she began the search for a new job and home, in Huntsville, since she was really not happy in Kirkland Lake. She found a job almost immediately and then found a townhouse for our step-dad and her to share.

During the moving process, Brandi took Dawsen on trips to visit family and friends and found it almost impossible to keep Dawsen from stealing food and/or trying to eat anything that looked enticing. She moved in June, and Dawsen’s behavior got even more difficult to tolerate. She was really hoping that she’d be able to accommodate his needs enough to keep him safe, but This was not the case, so after a couple of weeks, she asked me to take Dawsen until Golden Rescue could find him an appropriate foster home. Dawsen stayed with us for over a week, but returned to my sister for a few days when we had to go “down south” for Rogue’s vet visit and the Red Labrador Retrievers’ annual reunion. It was really hard for my sister to be responsible for handing over Dawsen, but I also think it was important for her to meet the man who would be fostering him and see how easily Dawsen took to his pack – 2 golden retrievers, a boxer and toy poodle.

Since leaving my sister, Dawsen has begun to learn off leash recall and has made really good friend’s with the man’s 2 year old male golden retriever, Octane. He has already sent us a couple of updates and has complimented her on the level of care and training she provided. I’m really hoping Dawsen will find his forever home soon, but in the meantime, I know he is having a blast with his new pals.

My sister still cries about the decision she had to make, but I personally think it was the best one for both her and Dawsen because, in order for her to keep him safe, she would have had to either crate or muzzle him when she wasn’t able to be right by his side. I tell her that she isn’t a bad person, that maybe Dawsen needed her to teach him the valuable life skills he’d need to find the family of his dreams, but she still finds it hard to think about.

If we get any further updates on Dawsen, I’ll post them here.

My Scorpios

We’re still not back online at home so I’ve come to one of the local Mcdonalds to use their Wi-Fi, but here is my submission for the 4th round of the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival.

I’ve been tossing around the topic of “the difference” for over a month, trying to figure out what I should write. Do I write about how different my life would be, if I’d actually enjoyed exploring the world with a lifeless, hollow, metal stick, painted a reflective white? Do I explore the differences between the various service dogs that exist? Do I talk about the differences I’ve observed, regarding the ways people view service dogs? Or do I play it safe, and talk about the differences between Phoenix and Cessna.

Decisions…decisions…

Since I’ve had the pleasure of first working seven years with Phoenix, and now six with Cessna. I think I’ll go the safe route, and write about something close to my heart.

I know people always tell you not to compare service dogs, but do you really think they even take their own advice? I don’t…

It’s part of human nature.

We are just programmed to compare.

How often do you look at something or meet someone, and think, now that person reminds me of “so and so”. Or, I had a really cool hat once, I sure wish that one on the shelf was a little more similar.

I’ll start off by saying that Cessna is not Phoenix. And, Phoenix is not Cessna. See? I’m totally aware of the diversities between them. And, to be honest, I actually celebrate their uniqueness.

Now to start the real “meat” of my submission…(Just a side note, I’m going to write this comparison, as though Phoenix is still the younger, working boy, I got over a decade ago.)

Phoenix and Cessna are very different dogs. If you just look at their physical features, you’ll already notice dissimilarities. Phoenix is yellow, whereas Cessna is black. Phoenix is male…Cessna is female. Cessna is about two inches shorter than Phoenix. Phoenix is about 5lbs heavier than Cessna.

If I move away from the physical traits and look at their personalities, you’ll find even more variations. Cessna is highly emotional, whereas Phoenix is very much “go with the flow”. Phoenix is laid back and just wants to be with me at all times, but Cessna is spunky and finds dogs and other animals intriguing. Cessna will sit back and think through a problem, whereas Phoenix will just try and figure out how to get what he wants out of the situation. Finally, Phoenix could care less about how I’m feeling (he’ll actually hide when I’m crying), but Cessna will stick to me like glue, trying to get between me and the pillow to lick away my tears.

My final comparison between Phoenix and Cessna will come from examining their working relationship with me. Phoenix and I bonded within two weeks of being matched, but Cessna and I took close to 18 months to truly mesh. Cessna forced me to learn alternative training methods because of her sensitivity to corrections, whereas Phoenix would literally turn and laugh at me when I corrected him. Phoenix never became distracted by anything other than cats, but to this day, Cessna cannot control herself around other dogs or small animals. Phoenix worked because he didn’t want to stay home alone and because he knew there were treats involved…we still don’t know what motivates Cessna to do what she does. Finally, Cessna needs to be challenged regularly, whereas Phoenix was fine with the status quo.

As you can see, Phoenix and Cessna are very different dogs. From the way they look, to the ways we worked together. There is no one perfect formula to make up a service dog, it’s all in the chemistry and work ethic of both handler and canine.

Phoenix and I would never have worked out, if I was not willing to accept his frequent accidents in malls, or had the ability to laugh at his devious nature – he was always trying to stay one step ahead. I honestly never got the mutual respect from Phoenix, Cessna and I base our relationship upon.

Then, it took a lot of hard work and patience to create a rock solid partnership with Cessna. We both had to earn each other’s respect, and I needed to think outside the box when teaching her new things, or trying to work through problem areas. I’ve had to accept her never ending love for small animals, and she has had to learn to accept my faults as well. Cessna and I, have a relationship that truly overshadows the one I had with Phoenix. I’ve been able to teach her so many new skills, and she’s shown me that it’s possible to have a service dog work because they just love the job and not because it’s what they were bred to do.

I will always love both Phoenix and Cessna for being who they are. Each one came into my life at a time when I needed them most. Phoenix entered just before Mom passed away and just before I started my journey towards adulthood. Cessna came to me just before Granny passed away, and at a time when I needed to be tested and shown that the status quo, just isn’t enough.

I hope you enjoyed reading my submission for the 4th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Rogue Update

Rogue is now 10 weeks old! She’s been with us almost 2 weeks now and has settled into our lives so easily, that its like she has always been a part of the family.

Here’s what we’ve been up to since day nine.

Day Ten

• slept between Huib & I, as well as on pillows until 6:00am
• sat immediately when Huib asked before putting down her bowl
• chased Canyon & Aspen while I played fetch with them
• climbed the 5 steps outside to reach the water bowl I’d brought out
• no accidents until just after lunch when she missed the puppy pad & peed on the carpet
• sat when I asked for a “sit” before giving her lunch & then dinner
• came immediately 3 out of the 5 times I called her while outside (the other 2 times, she came after a minute, but not directly to my hand)

Day Eleven

• slept until 7:00am before needing out, then slept another 2 hours
• still being asked to “sit” before getting her meals
• slept while we ate lunch at Pizza Hut (people must think we eat out a lot lol!)
• rode in cart at Food Basics (new people, strange sounds, strange smells)
• ate dinner in her new crate (made sure to watch & let her out as soon as she was done)

Day Twelve

• cried off & on while in crate overnight, but stopped when I said “Rogue, enough” & slept until about 5:30am (had 2 accidents in crate overnight)
• ate breakfast in crate, barked/cried after done, so we waited until she was quiet for a few minutes
• had a 2 hour nap with Huib (he worked nights)
• played a bit of tug with Canyon
• played with Canyon in the yard at the new house
• watched Huib & Caleb paint (wanted to help so went on tie down)
• fell asleep while Huib finished sanding & plastering the kitchen
• peed at the door of new house, couldn’t get there fast enough to get her outside
• played with the rest of the pack while Huib mowed the lawn

Day Thirteen

• slept in crate until 5:30am, whimpered just a few times before falling asleep, slept another 4 hours with us in bed (no accidents)
• ate breakfast in crate, before coming out we started working on “wait” (I’d begin opening crate & close it if she moved, called her out when she stayed in one spot)
• jumped on to couch without assistance
• hid under couch for a few minutes after Phoenix barked at her
• watched Huib use the power saw to cut baseboards for our bedroom
• chased Cessna while Caleb threw the toy for her
• napped while Huib hammered nails into the baseboards
• ate dinner in crate & sat quietly until Huib let her out
• still not coming when I call her & jetting off when I come towards her (think it’s because she knows I cannot see to grab her)
• responding well to “Rogue, enough” when we don’t like something she’s doing (chasing cats, barking/growling at others to play, scratching/pulling at carpet, etc)
• independently walked up steps again without too much coaxing (not allowing her to do down)

As you can see, Rogue is experiencing tons and doing quite well. I’m beginning to think this whole reporting her daily adventures is kinda boring for everyone, so I think I might switch to just reporting the more interesting things or doing a weekly recap – what do you think?

Monday Is For Music – Don’t Stop Believin’

Today I’ve chosen, “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey.

Click here to see the music video.

“Don’t Stop Believin’” was first released on Journey’s 1981 album, “Escape”. The song only reached number six on the UK charts and nine in the US. It’s not Journey’s most successful song, but it’s definitely their most popular. “Don’t Stop Believin’” has been used in several different movies, commercials and television programs. It first appeared in the 2003 movie “Monster”, based on the notorious female serial killer, Aileen Wuornos. Then recently, the song was remade by the cast of Glee and debuted at number five on the Billboard Hot 100 (Song Facts, 2011).

On Friday, I will begin raising and training Cessna’s successor, so I thought this was a wonderful choice.

Since telling friends and family about my decision to owner-train instead of getting Cessna’s successor from a program, I’ve had an ongoing parade of comments against this choice. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had many friends voice their excitement surrounding the arrival of a new fur baby. But, my family and several other friends do not understand why I would want to bring another dog into our home and go through the headache of training my own guide dog.

They also do not believe it’s possible for me to succeed without a program trainer’s involvement.

Thankfully, Huib is not one of these people. He is fully on board with my decision and actually seems mildly excited about the new family member.

I know that the journey will not be smooth sailing. But, I also know Huib and I have the skills and ability to be successful.

So…Journey…I’m going to follow your advice, and keep “believin’ and holdin’ on to the feelin’”.

4 DAYS TO GO!!

Puppy news & Other Randomness

We got an e-mail from Karen of Red Labrador Retrievers to let us know that she thinks there are two females who might fit our needs. She said that she could be wrong, but from observing the litter, she thinks “ruby” and “pinky” will be a good fit – they name the puppies according to their collar tags. She describes “ruby” and “pinky” as being “very social, happy-go-lucky’s…middle of the road in the hierarchy, brave without being aggressive…they are all (entire litter) quick learners like both their mom and dad…all (entire litter) are happy to please, of course some more than others and they (“rudy” and “pinky”) are middle of the road their also…” We’ll have to wait for the test scores, but at least we know that there is most likely a puppy or two for us to choose from.

Sadly, Karen hasn’t had time to post updated pictures though…

In other news…

We got some very sad news from our friends, the pawpower pack. Mr. Pawpower’s golden companion passed away unexpectedly. Here’s some more details. I haven’t had the experience of losing a beloved companion, but know from losing both my mother and grandmother, that it can be heartbreaking and the wounds will take time to heal. Our thoughts go out to Mr. Pawpower and the rest of the Pawpower Pack. Rest in peace Rudy, you will be sadly missed.

I’ve been doing some research on courses I might want to take through the University of Guelph or McMaster University. I haven’t been able to find work and am tired of sitting around doing nothing, but training with the dogs and housework. I’m thinking that I’ll take a course or two each semester via distance education through one of the above universities and then hopefully re-apply for masters or occupational therapy when we move closer to London (Ontario) in a couple of years. Huib’s contract with the Kirkland & District Hospital is over in a year and if we can get rid of a couple more debts between now and next fall, I think we might look at moving back to southern Ontario, closer to friends and family. It’s been a wonderful experience living here, but it’s just not home.

My sister found out that the woman who owns the house she is renting wants to sell this summer. She doesn’t really like living here and thinks she will try and find work around Orillia or Gravenhurst. She’s going to visit some friends next weekend in Aurora, so has asked me to help her re-design her resume so she can hand some out on her way down. I’m excited to know she will be moving closer to her friends and a place she loves, but am secretly sad that she will be leaving. I know she can be frustrating, but I will really kind of miss having her so close.

I got an e-mail from Judi of Ramblin Goldens this weekend. I had sent her an update on Canyon since she owns his sire and brother. She told me they got their new female golden retriever puppy, Emmie, a couple of weeks ago and are really enjoying her. She hasn’t yet found a new home for Phoenix, Canyon’s brother, but has also not been looking too hard. She wants to work on some of his obedience before sending him off. I really love having Canyon and wish we could invite Phoenix to live with us, but I’m really not sure Huib will go for that lol! He is quite patient with my love of dogs, but has told me that he thinks five is a good number 

Finally, I have been in contact with a woman who runs a program that helps people train their pets to be service dogs. She used to work for the Lions Foundation of Canada as a Special Skills trainer, but has been working on her own program for about five or more years. The program is called Encouraging Paws Service Dogs and their website can be found here. The Director has informed me that her fees are $12,000 for assistance from puppy hood through to certification and follow-up help. This is a little out of our price range, so we have asked her how much she would charge for just help with certification. She said that her price is $5,000 for certification which is ten hours of assessment. To pass, she says that the dog must meet the standards of “the Blind Dog Act Federation” but I think she means the International Guide Dog Federation. She also informed me that her fee for advice and/or consultation is $500 an hour or $8.33 a minute. I’m not sure if we’ll end up going with Encouraging Paws, but at least we know there is someone willing to certify and/or provide consultation during the training process. I have some other contacts who have offered to give me advice and information when needed, so I think we’re finally ready to officially raise and train Cessna’s successor!!

It’s Been Six Years

Today, Phoenix celebrates six wonderful years of retirement.

On Friday, May 13th, 2005, a trainer from Dog Guides came to assess Phoenix. He had begun to slow down and showed very little desire to work. It only took five minutes of walking with us for the trainer to tell me I was right and it was time. She told me that he didn’t seem ill or anything, but that she felt he would completely stop working by the fall. I knew this is what Phoenix wanted, so asked when the next class would take place. Phoenix started staying home more often than coming with us from that day and I left just over a week later to get Cessna.

I’m glad Phoenix was able to tell me he wanted to retire.

I’m glad we’ve had a chance to enjoy one another without the demands of a working relationship.

I’m glad he’s been able to get to know Cessna and teach her some of his unofficial skills.

But, most of all, I’m glad he’s given me six fabulous years as a stellar friend.

I’m not sure we’ll be able to celebrate another full year of retirement, but I hope Phoenix knows how much I appreciate the work he did for me and the unconditional love he continues to share.

“The gift of true friendship is that it takes us by the hand and reminds us we are not alone in the journey.”

Lesson Six

Canyon and I had our sixth lesson with the Border Collie lady. It’s sad to think that next week will be our second last indoor obedience lesson before we start outdoor agility, but she has had to change her classes to Thursday nights and already has someone booked for 9:00pm privates, so I guess we’ll just have to go with the changes. Last night, Canyon wasn’t as into practicing some of the behaviours, but I think his lack of enthusiasm was because we had started the session off with a high energy “game” and then moved onto less exciting things. I think that next week we’ll just have to do the new “game” at the end of the session, so the more practical task work won’t be as boring to him.

This week she decided to teach me a new way of ramping up canyon’s excitement level in order to get him to do quicker retrieves and recalls. This new “game” is supposed to help him want to quickly run out for a toy and immediately rush back and give it to me, so I’ll toss it again. She feels this skill is necessary for him to be successful at both Flyball and Agility – she’s still showing a little bit of iffiness regarding me and agility, but I’m determined to win her over lol! So, for this “game”, she had me toss a ball and then when he reached it, I started waving around another ball and calling him back all excited and cheery. Canyon has a high ball drive so he thought this game was the best thing I’d ever asked him to play lol! He began to get faster and faster at returning to drop the toy and play a quick tug game, before I asked him to “give it” (release the ball we were playing tug with) and then tossed it for him to retrieve and start the cycle over. around the fifth toss though, Canyon decided he liked one toy over the other and would start ignoring my efforts to play tug and just paraded the other toy he’d just retrieved in front of me lol! We tried to convince him to give it up, but ended up having to just take his collar and throw the other toy, so he’d gladly bring it back for a quick tug game and then retrieve. She asked me to keep playing this game with him and to maybe look at getting two of the same toys so he won’t end up favouring one over the other.

We then tried to do some “heel” work, but Canyon was too riled up to concentrate. He kept running between me and the box where we had put the toys because I only had a treat and he wanted to play the other game again. After a couple unsuccessful attempts at getting his attention, I decided to do some more basic stuff like “sits”, “downs”, “stands” and some “stays” so he would relax a bit. He didn’t really completely settle, but I was able to keep his attention a little easier after a few minutes, so we decided to do some “fronts” instead of heeling. His fronts are coming along. He seems to come in really straight every time I throw a treat to the right or ahead of me now, but still doesn’t seem to come in as straight if I throw it to the left and ask him to come. The border Collie lady tried doing some fronts with him to see if she could figure out what I’m doing wrong when I throw a treat to the left, but he seemed to do it with her as well, so we’re a little perplexed. After he had been doing really straight ones for a while, we decided to test him and see if he was ready to practice while I leaned against a table in a sort of squat/stand position. He came into a pretty straight front about two times, but then started coming in crooked more often than not, so we moved back to sitting on the edge of a chair. I’m sort of feeling as though we’re moving too slowly on learning the fronts, but I’m sort of stuck on how to help Canyon move a little quicker in his learning. It’s sort of like he just doesn’t care or he doesn’t really understand why we’re doing this in the first place. I’ve found it easy to teach him some behaviours like “sit”, “down”, “stand”, “give five”, “leave it”, “give it” and “wait”, but I’ve pretty much failed in teaching him to “touch”, “stay for longer than a minute, to “heel”, to not turn his head when I’m reaching for a toy and now the “front” seems to be another place we’re stuck.

Since getting Canyon over a year ago, I’ve really had to learn to think outside the box because he’s highly sensitive (can’t even handle the sound of a martin gale collar) and isn’t overly food motivated. As mentioned in earlier posts, Canyon didn’t know much of anything when we first got him, so we had to first work on getting rid of some of his undesirable habits he had (mouthing, jumping up & pacing) and teaching him his name, before we could move on to the skills he would need for being a well-behaved family pet. He learned his basic obedience commands quickly, but once I started to try and teach him some more complicated behaviours such as heeling and stay, I noticed his eagerness to learn disappeared. I’m not sure if it is something I’m doing wrong. Or if he’s just going to take more time to learn these behaviours, but I sort of feel as though I might be asking too much of him. When Aspen was young, we tried to teach her as much as we could before she turned six months because her breeder warned us that she may choose not to be as compliant after that and to be honest, she was right. Aspen knows how to “sit”, go “down”, “to heel”, “give five”, “wait” and “come”, but those are all skills she learned before six months. Since then we’ve tried to teach her new skills like “speak”, but she just doesn’t seem to have the desire to learn. I guess we’ll wait and see how our lessons progress this summer because I really don’t want to give up and just accept that Canyon wants to be a regular pet, but I often wonder if this is what he’s trying to tell me.

His number one love in life are toys, so I think I need to figure out a way of always incorporating them into our training. The problem with toys though, is that he becomes so excited and obsessed with the toy that I’m finding it hard to get his attention and “working” for what he wants. But, when I just use treats he doesn’t seem to have the drive and enthusiasm for learning new things that a toy ignites.

Perfect For Me

When the topic “reactions” was announced for the upcoming round of the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival I wasn’t sure I’d be able to participate. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I thought I had nothing to write about. My family have never reacted poorly to anything to do with my dog guides and I haven’t experienced any noteworthy reactions from the public. But, after a few days of thinking and some more heart-to-heart discussions with Huib about the possibility of raising and training my next guide, I thought of something to write about.

My problem was now finding a way to write without offending others

As mentioned in my previous ADBC entry, I looked at different guide dog programs, but decided on the Lions Foundation of Canada
in 1997 and have gotten my second and third guides from there as well. I like the LFC’s small class sizes. I enjoy their laid back atmosphere. I like that they have very few rules/policies and that they don’t come out unless you call for assistance. In addition to all of this, I love their harnesses and have enjoyed each dog I’ve been matched with. Everyone has their reasons for choosing to go to a particular school, but for some reason; I’ve encountered numerous people who find it necessary to make me aware of their feelings surrounding my decision.

The LFC, like other schools, have had their “growing pains”. They have put out “good” dogs and not so “good” dogs. I think because they are located in Canada, and happen to be in the same province as I currently reside, I get a continuous stream of negative comments regarding their track record. I have had three dogs from the school and would not think twice about returning for a fourth. I think that if I lived in another country, near a different school, that I would more than likely begin hearing the same negative stories. I think people need to stop and think before they begin insulting someone for their choices because maybe that person has not had the problems their friends experienced. Or, maybe it wasn’t the dog’s fault at all and therefore not a result of poor training.

When I first began working with Cessna, I heard some of the worst jokes and criticisms. She was only a year and a half, so was full of spirit and had a lot of maturing to do, but still people bombarded me with negativity about my choice to receive a dog guide from the LFC. I think it was hard for people to separate the images they had of terrible dogs they’d met over the years from the newly working Cessna, because to them she did not fit their image of a fully trained dog guide. She was high energy, easily distracted, slow to obey commands and found it hard to settle.

To most, Cessna looked like a joke, but to me, she was a welcome challenge.

Some, desire a dog who will obey and work well from day one. A dog who they can immediately put a harness on and trust. A dog that will not question their authority or that they will need to put a lot of effort into. This, is not me. I look forward to the challenge a new dog will bring and thrive on being asked to think outside the box. I want my dog to make me work for their trust and respect. Phoenix and I bonded quickly, but it took time for him to realize that I knew what I was doing and that he could trust in my judgments. Cessna and I did not begin bonding until our second week together and weren’t even close to being a true team until a year and a half after “gotcha day”. Both have taught me important lessons that I don’t think I would have learned without them in my life.

So, next time you feel the need to express your opinions surrounding someone’s decision, please remember these final words. Everyone makes decisions in their lives because it’s right for them, not because it’s right for everyone.

I Think We’ve got a Winner!

After e-mailing two more lab breeders and briefly looking at the flat-coated retriever as a possible guide dog option, I think we’ve settled on Red Labrador Retrievers. It seems as though most breeders are having litters arrive this spring or are taking a year off breeding completely, so we decided to go with RLR. They have two litters coming up between now and October and they are willing to work with us in finding the perfect guide dog candidate.

Both Huib and I really liked the flat-coated retriever and thought this breed would offer a new challenge, but after learning some more about them from Katrin over at By My Side we went back to the Labrador Retriever. Flat-coated retrievers are a wonderful breed, full of eternal youth and intelligence, but rarely will you ever find one who makes it past eight years of age because they all end up with cancer. The short lifespan of this breed is the same reason why I’m less than thrilled about Huib wanting to someday get a Bernese Mountain Dog. I just couldn’t imagine having to say good-bye at such a young age. Cessna turned 7 in October and I feel as though I have just started to scratch the surface of learning who she really is.

RLR will have a litter born in April and then another born in August, so we will soon meet our new family member and future guide dog hopeful. I didn’t really want to start the process of raising and training Cessna’s successor before the fall, but Huib and I think it’s best to have the option of a puppy from two rather than just one litter. I’ve asked for a small female who is energetic and willing to learn, but not necessarily one who’s eager to please. RLr has Anne MacDonald, an Animal Behaviour
Specialist come and assess their puppies before placing them with potential families. We’re supposed to get a copy of their aptitude test and the pedigrees of Cheyenne, Lizzy and Boomer in the mail, so I’ll do an update when they arrive.

I’m really not sure how to feel about these developments because things just seem to be moving so quickly. I feel guilty for looking forward to the new addition and the challenge of training Cessna’s successor. I worry that she’ll feel left out and kicked to the curb. I know I felt this way when Phoenix retired and I know he easily settled into his new position, but I still worry and feel terrible. I sometimes wonder if it would be better to wait until Cessna is ready to retire and then return to the LFC, but then I also think she could teach my new guide so many things and that I’d really like to see if I have the ability to train my own dog. I know these are probably emotions everyone goes through when deciding whether to retire their current guide and/or whether to start looking for a successor, but it still doesn’t make things any easier…

raw, Homemade Or Commercial…

Ever since Phoenix was diagnosed with Idiopathic Vestibular Disease on December 3rd, we’ve been trying to make a decision on what to feed him. Dr B does not want him eating kibble because he doesn’t chew his food and worries he will aspirate, but she also wonders if changing to more of a natural diet might also help clear up his ears and get rid of some of the other annoying issues he has from both old age and his pesky life-long allergies.

You’d think this would be an easy decision, but there are several factors which need to be considered – cost, preparation time, safety and our other dogs, just to name a few.

Cost is something I always think about when deciding to change something with my dogs, because I do not work and Huib has been wonderful about supporting me, but I don’t want to push his loyalty too far. We’ve been looking at the possibility of buying a bigger chest freezer and ordering large quantities of meat from local farmers, but so far have run into the problem of where to find reasonably priced beef, pork and lamb – we will continue to get our chicken from the Maple Lodge Factory and whole chickens from the farm down the road. When you live in northeastern Ontario like we do, there is a limited supply of farmers who raise and sell their own livestock. As for finding the veggies at a reasonable price we’ve decided that it will be easiest to get stuff when we’re in Waterloo at Costco and the St. Jacob’s Farmers Market or check out the discount section in the grocery store for a little more variety. Then in the summer we will be able to grow some of our own veggies and catch some pike and bass in the lake behind our house.

Right now we feed Phoenix a mixture of a cup and a half of moistened kibble (Fromm’s white fish & sweet potato) and a can of wet food (either Merrick’s Before Grain or Performatin Ultra) each day so it works out to be about 3-5 dollars a day. In order to feed Phoenix a homemade diet he will need to have a mixture of muscle meat, organ meat, veggies, and a small amount of dairy and grains, in addition to supplements which include a high level of calcium carbonate. This supplement can be highly expensive, even though farmers use it as a part of their fertilizers, so this is one factor that has made our decision to move from commercial food more difficult. In a raw diet, half of the diet should be raw meaty bones (ie. Chicken necks, pork feet or beef tails) which eliminates the need to supplement with calcium carbonate because the bones are ground up with the meat, as opposed to removing them, like in the homemade diet. Taking just cost into consideration we’re thinking that homemade diets are out, but still aren’t sure if a raw diet is right – even though it would also mean we would eat more healthy, since it would be silly only to feed the wonderful veggies and meat to Phoenix.

Next we’ve been looking at preparation time. When feeding Phoenix his current diet of commercial food it takes about 30-45 minutes to prepare because we have to turn on the kettle to boil the water needed to moisten the kibble, then we have to wait for the mush to cool before adding the wet food and necessary supplements (for old age & allergy prevention). If we were to change to a raw diet we would need to think much further ahead and it would take a bit more time to prepare, but if we made more than one meal at a time would it be easier in the end? I think the barrier to feeding raw here would be, what will we do in the case of our visits to Waterloo every six weeks…?

After looking at the above factors – cost & preparation time – we’ve begun looking at the safety of a raw diet. There are many people who would say there are absolutely no risks involved with feeding a raw diet, but with Huib being a nurse and me not having the greatest vision this is something we need to think long and hard about. The University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College hosts a blog where various pet related issues are discussed and they have posted a very informative pdf file on the raw meat controversy, which can be found on their resources page. The main concerns they outline are the possible transmission of infection and disease (for example salmonella), a potential dietary nutritional imbalance and the issue of swallowing foreign bodies (such as bones). Even though proponents of the raw diet would consider these as being a non-issue, Huib and I need to really look at safety as a possible deal breaker in making this change with Phoenix – he needs to worry about his patients and I need to think about my safety as well as the safety of the other animals.

One way in which we could avoid the risks of swallowing foreign objects would be to ground the bones along with the meat so there would be no possibility of choking or injury to Phoenix’s throat or intestines through splintering. Since eating slowly is not something Phoenix knows how to do, I think making his food into a smoother consistency would be a good idea. As for the risk involved in the transmission of disease, I think it’s reasonable to think that this would be something we’d need to look at in not just his food, but our own as well. I guess all we can do here is to make sure we only buy our meats from a respectable supplier and take care in the storage and preparation process. No matter how careful someone is though, there is always the possibility of something going wrong, so as long as we’re always conscious of safety, I don’t see feeding Phoenix a raw diet as being out of the question.

Finally, there is the consideration of our other dogs. Cessna and Canyon have always been picky eaters and as a result we’ve had to try and think of creative ways of keeping them interested in their kibble. We’ve tried adding canned food or juices and fats from cooking once in a while, in addition to changing their kibble all together on a semi-regular basis. This has worked well in the past, but we’re wondering if by feeding Phoenix differently, we might run into some problems with getting them to continue with their commercial diets. We have thought about changing everyone over to the same sort of raw diet, but Aspen is doing well with her current food and we worry that by changing her we might irritate her sensitive bowel. Then there’s Cessna, our always willing “hunger striker” – would she even consider eating something (raw meat) we ourselves wouldn’t even think of? I wonder this because my aunt’s friend is a hunter and one day while preparing a venison stew for us decided to give Cessna an uncooked piece, she immediately dropped it on the floor and looked up at him in disgust – she ate a piece later though that I offered her from my leftovers before throwing them out. I’m sure Canyon would be totally willing to change over to this way of life, but I’m not so sure about my little Cessnaroo.

I guess it would be easiest and make most sense to just focus on getting a diet ready for Phoenix before worrying about who else might benefit or be willing to change. But, if we’re wanting to use Canyon as a stud it might be something to consider in the future…

I know this post ended up being a long-winded ramble, but I hope it helps others out there who might be considering whether a change to a homemade or raw diet could be better than the commercial food their dogs are currently eating.