Category Archives: Dogs & Other Animals

A Beautiful Thing

Shelby has her credentials!

My dog Shelby is a certified therapy dog. This means she has passed a test indicating that she is qualified to visit nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals, residential care facilities, hospice patients, and she can participate in “Read to a Dog” programs at libraries and schools. It also means that she exhibited a temperament that is suitable for such “work.” It is work, even though this is a volunteer position and cannot be done for money, as certified by the organization we are members of.

Shelby and I have not done any visiting since February of 2020. This was the time Covid started to rear its ugly head in our area. Nursing homes and the like were one of the first things to be shut down because of the vulnerable nature of their residents. It was deemed too great a risk for dog and handler teams to visit. (And I agree with this determination.)

As late spring 2021 arrived, things were looking up as the Covid vaccine started to be distributed. Case numbers fell and it was safer to go out, with the proper safeguards. I got Shelby’s veterinary care and records up to date and sent away for her 2021 credentials, seen above. I was taking steps so we would soon be ready to resume visiting our friends at a local facility and maybe consider going back to the schools with the Reading Role Model program through the United Way.

Now cases are sky rocketing again to over 100,000 per day in our country. I’m not feeling so safe anymore. And I certainly don’t want to take a chance on spreading Covid to any people Shelby and I would visit. I am not ruling out the possibility that Shelby and I may still be able to visit this year, but I am putting our return on hold for a while longer.

Shelby after a Reading Role Model visit a couple years ago.

This is a sad thing to me for multiple reasons. The obvious is there are more Covid cases and some people will die from it. Some will suffer long term, perhaps permanent, damage.

And then there are my self-centered reasons. I need to be more cautious when I do go out in public. I must be sure I have my mask and avoid mass gatherings. (No, I don’t like wearing a mask. I consider it the responsible thing to do, for myself and others even though I have had the vaccine.)

I have other selfish concerns too. Will the folks I used to visit still be at the nursing home? A few of them probably died in the year and a half since I was last there. Will they still be able to remember us? Shelby is 11 1/2 years old now. She had just turned 10 when last we visited. That is a long time in dog years. I have no doubt that she will still do a fine job and be a reliable partner for me. She may tire faster than she used to and I will have to pay attention to know if she needs a break. I will also need to think about training a younger dog to take her place when it is time for her to retire. I like to train my new dog with the old one. They learn faster and take cues from the old pro. I have found this to be the best way to train a therapy dog for me. And it’s best if I do it over a long period of time. Months, at least. I can teach a dog the basics faster, but giving the new dog time to ease into it and process the adjustments has given me dogs that I feel are more confident and trustworthy.

A therapy dog needs time not only to learn the obedience and desired behaviors and responses. The dog needs to feel that he and I are a team. He needs to know that I will always look out for his safety and best interests. He must know that we are working together and he can trust me to have his back. These things take time. A relationship on this level cannot be built quickly. I must earn the dog’s trust and respect just as much as he must earn mine. A good dog/handler relationship is a beautiful thing!

New Friends

Mourning Dove

We have a couple new residents here at Sanctuary Acres. At least for the time being. We have two young mourning doves hanging around in the patio area. There is a small pear tree in one of our raised beds that has a bird’s nest in the top. There are so many leaves around the nest that we never got a good look at the resident bird although we did hear nestlings chirping at one point and noticed an adult coming back to feed its young.

It must have been a mourning dove. Occasionally we see an adult, but usually it’s two slightly smaller birds that must have been born this year. They don’t show much fear of us or the dogs, having grown up with their nest so near us. They grew up watching us sit on the patio, so we are nothing of concern to them.

A young mourning dove listening to me talk.

I am able to get within a few feet of the young birds. Often when I enter the patio garden the doves are there. One time they were sitting on the brick walkway sunning themselves when I came along. They moved to keep around 3 or 4 feet in front of me, but never flew away or seemed too concerned. I can stand there and talk to them and they listen to my voice, cocking their heads from side to side as if they find the conversation very interesting. I have come upon the a number of times and taken the opportunity to socialize with them.

Claire watching our two young dove friends.

The doves spend some time in the pine trees that surround the patio. They sometimes fly down to the patio as if they want to hang out with us. They have even come to the patio when I am sitting out with the dogs. The dogs do show some interest in the doves. If the doves stay still, then the dogs leave them alone. The doves will fly up into the trees if one of the dogs runs near them and barks, but they will come back later.

I am working on teaching the dogs not to chase the doves when they move around. It is going pretty well. I tell the dogs, these are our doves. If they move towards the doves, I tell the dogs “no no.” This is working well. Claire is our most active dog and likes to watch them. She likes to watch every thing. Even she usually leaves the birds alone at my request. They provide fine entertainment.

I worry that I am not doing the birds any favors by acclimating them to humans and dogs. I hope they stay around here where they are safe. We certainly are enjoying having them around. I had forgotten how much I enjoy watching birds. I recently learned that mourning doves usually mate for life. And that their diet consists of seeds, which they eat from the ground or from a tray style bird feeder. They are too big and heavy for other types of feeders.

I don’t know how long we will have are little friends, but we are making the most of the time they are here.

A New Normal?

Zekie has graduated to sleeping outside the crate at night! Read about all the trouble he has been causing recently, here Zekie-2, Mommy-2; or Exuberant Love. He had a couple nights that weren’t too bad. The Prozac may have helped Seeking Inner Peace Through Prozac.

I had high hopes for being able to teach Zekie to sleep on the floor. In the evenings, he usually prefers to nap on the floor at my feet rather than on the couch beside me. We don’t want him to sleep on our bed because he sometimes shows a sense of entitlement that results in trouble. I hoped it would be the same when it came to sleeping on the bed.

A few nights ago I decided to try him sleeping out of the crate. I folded up a thick fleece blanket that has my scent on it and put it on the floor next to the bed where I sleep. When it was time for bed, I tapped the blanket and said “lay down and stay there.” I then turned off the light. I didn’t hear a peep out of Zekie.

I got up to use the bathroom once during the night. When I returned, Zekie had moved to lay on the floor near the head of the bed, so he could see the bedroom door to know when I returned. He stayed there when I got back in bed and remained there the rest of the night.

He has done well each night so far. Only moving if there is a reason. Sometimes he finds the blanket to be too hot and moves onto the wood floor. He goes right back to sleep.

With any luck this will be our new normal. Life with Zekie is always a challenge and I don’t expect this to change, but here’s hoping our nighttime struggles at least, have come to an end.

Seeking Inner Peace Through Prozac

Zekie in a quiet moment.

Zekie had an appointment at the vet’s this morning for a rabies booster shot. It was just routine. Our veterinarian, a wonderful lady, came outside to talk to me before they brought Zekie back out to the car. (They are continuing with the curbside service, that started due to Covid, because they are undergoing an interior remodel of the clinic.)

We talked about Zekie’s anxiety. His behavior had stayed pretty constant since I retired, but lately it seems to be getting worse. He continues to have crate anxiety at night in addition to his other anxiety issues. Zekie-2, Mommy-2; or Exuberant Love. This night time anxiety only started about a week or two ago. Before that he was fine, since his upstairs crate is only three feet from where I sleep. See the above link.

And today’s trip to the vet was a new experience too. Normally, he goes with the vet assistant for his appointment and is well behaved. This morning, he wouldn’t go. He planted himself on the asphalt of the parking lot and refused to move. I had to walk with them to the clinic door. As he and the tech entered the clinic and the door closed, I could see him through the glass. He was looking back at me with a look of sheer, glassy-eyed terror. I imagine he was remembering when this same thing happened to him nearly five years ago at the county dog shelter where he was left. I can’t really know. I can’t think of anything else that would account for that much fear.

When the vet tech eventually returned him to the car, she said he had been very afraid. She said she had stepped out of the room for a minute and when she returned, Zekie was sitting in the exact place she had left him. He hadn’t moved at all, and was sitting ramrod stiff and staring straight ahead.

My talk with the veterinarian was mostly about the saliva staining on Zekie’s paws, front legs, and belly. She wondered if he had allergies. I told her, no, it is from stress and him drooling massive puddles of saliva anytime we go away from home and he must be in his crate. This even happens during just a quick trip to the grocery store. We decided to try Zekie on Prozac again. I did try this once before under the care of another vet, with no luck. This time his dosage is doubled and we will be sure to try it for the full eight weeks that it may take to kick in.

I truly hope the meds help him this time. It must be terrible to be so upset that you pant and drool puddles and do yourself bodily harm. It can’t be any fun being the dog in the crate next to him either.

If we are able to help Zekie overcome his anxiety, I have hopes that this will improve his leash reactivity as well. So, keep your fingers crossed and pray for Zekie. I so hope this little boy can have a more normal life and enjoy the peace that should go with being a dog in a loving home.

Peace be with you, Zekie.

Beat the Heat

Patio view

This is how I beat the heat after working outside.

In the morning I worked in the vegetable garden, removed Japanese beetles from my roses and fruit trees, watered hanging baskets, and hauled one of the dog crate pans outside to clean it with the hose.

After lunch, I pruned the bad grapes from our vines and went on my second round of Japanese beetle patrol of the day.

Then I decided it was too hot for any more foolishness of this nature. Ie.: Working. So I went for a dip in the pool where the water was a pleasant 79 degrees. Refreshing!

Patio view

Then I spent the rest of the afternoon on a lounge chair in the shade and read while enjoying the company of some of our dogs.

My pup

Zekie is my constant companion. He is rarely more than a few feet away from me. This is just as well. Otherwise I have to keep looking for him to see what trouble he is getting into.

Shetland Sheepdog

Claire likes to be outside. She has made it her job to keep track of all squirrels, chipmunks, and birds. She also barks at loud motorcycles and cars that she deems to be going too fast. Her true bliss seems to be keeping an eye on rodents residing in the rock pile.

Greyhound Cassius is a momma’s boy too!

Cassius likes to hang out near to wherever I happen to be. He was supposed to be my husband’s dog, but it turns out he is a momma’s boy. Wherever I go, there he is. He especially likes to lay in the middle of the kitchen floor as I attempt to work around him while preparing meals.

This is a typical summer day here at Sanctuary Acres. And once again, life is good!

Zekie-2, Mommy-2; or Exuberant Love

Zekie Bear

When you have a dog who is a problem child, there is always a new adventure. Check out some of Zekie’s antics at this link. Zekie the Wonder Dog Life is never dull with Zekie around. He keeps me on my toes. He is a no mistake dog. If you forget to put something out of his reach or give in to his demands once, he will make you pay.

His newest quirk involves his quest to be able to sleep on our bed. We don’t want him to sleep on the bed because if he thinks he is moving up in the pecking order to become higher in the pack ranking, trouble is sure to follow. Zekie sleeps in a crate beside our bed. He used to sleep in his downstairs crate for the night. He was fine doing that for a while, then one day he decided it was time to move upstairs. I did promote him to sleeping upstairs with us humans, because after a few days of dealing with his barking, we just wanted a good night’s sleep. Zekie has been sleeping in a crate near our bed for a couple years now. He has been quiet and content for the most part. Until recently.

It started with Zekie trying to avoid going in his crate when I took him upstairs at bedtime. He no longer went directly in his crate. He was circling around the bed, trying to avoid my attempts to catch him for incarceration. Over the past week, things have gotten worse. Now Zekie wakes me up about 1:00 am with whining and huffing. The first night, I got up to put him outside, thinking he needed to go to the bathroom. He did.

The next night he began the whining and huffing and making noise in his crate at the usual 1:00 am. Then again at 3:00 am and at 4:30 am. I put him outside thinking maybe he wasn’t feeling well. The second and third time he just stood there looking at me as if to say “what are we doing out here?” This has gone on for five nights. On the second night, I broke down and let him sleep on a blanket on the floor at the foot of the bed. He was content and slept there for the rest of the night without making a peep. By the third night, after my husband pointed out that Zekie was playing me, I realized that I could not let him win this quest to sleep outside the crate at his demand. I had been thinking before of letting Zekie sleep loose in the bedroom with a designated bed for him, not on our bed. And I may still do that at some point, but not now. Zekie has a sense of entitlement and giving in to him creates more behavioral problems in the long run. So, he may make it out of the crate at bedtime one day, but today is not that day. It must be when I decide, not him.

On the third night I knew we couldn’t let him out. We needed to break this cycle. So, we suffered through with his whining, yipping, etc., ignoring him, but getting little sleep.

How did I solve this dilemma? With my trusty spray bottle. So far, so good. I have noticed that Zekie does respond well to the use of a squirt bottle as a deterrent. It stops him, and a number of our other dogs, from barking. It even stops him from jumping on me. Zekie is the only dog I have ever had that I have not been able to break from jumping up. And he jumps hard. He often flings himself at full speed into my legs, sometimes hard enough to bruise. He does everything in a big way and he is so excited to see me when we have been separated that in his exuberance, he becomes a missile. Incidentally, being separated can be me returning from the mailbox, which takes about one minute. Or me going to the garden to pick a vegetable for dinner. Even going to the basement to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer counts as a separation to him. (Going to the bathroom does not count as a separation because he goes with me. Every. Single. Time.) But I discovered if I squirt him as he is jumping up, he will either turn around or veer off to the side, missing me. I am even starting to be able to just point the bottle at him down to keep him down.

I found this one tool that has given me good results with controlling Zekie, so I decided to try it to keep him quiet at night too. And it worked! Zekie started his shenanigans in the middle of the night. I gave him one “Be quiet” command. On his next whine and woof, I picked the spray bottle up and squirted him once. Silence ensued. He does start up again multiple times throughout the night, but I give him a squirt and he settles down. This has worked for the past two nights. So for now, on sleeping or not sleeping through the night, the score is: Zekie-2, mommy-2. I fully expect my wins to increase now that I have discovered the water bottle technique for this use.

At some point, when I decide the time is right, I will give Zekie his shot at becoming a dog who doesn’t sleep in a crate at night. Having the humans keep control is a constant challenge around here. So far, although we have gone to the dogs, we have prevailed.

You have to love a dog with so much love that it can’t be contained. Yes, Zekie is a problem child. He is also a constant companion, and a source of undying love. I love him back.

A Summertime Walk

Pink sweet peas
Pink Sweetpeas

We haven’t been walking much lately because, well, there’s just so much to do around here in the summer time. After weeding, planting, deadheading plants, fertilizing, going on bug patrol (hello Japanese beetles), transplanting, trimming bushes and trees, not to mention mowing, there are not a lot of hours left in the day.

Black eyed Susan’s
Black-eyed Susan’s

However this afternoon, the dogs were so insistent and hopeful, that we couldn’t bear to refuse them a walk. And they really needed the exercise after being cooped up from yesterday’s rains.

Day lilies
Day lilies

So, we loaded the dogs up in the car and went to one of our regular trails at West Branch State Park. It is interesting to see how the plants along the trail side change with the seasons. I took pictures of a few of the wildflowers that we saw today as walked.

Wild rose
Wild Rose

It was a cool day, so the flies weren’t even too bad. It was nice to enjoy an outing with the pups.

Sweetpeas
White/light pink Sweetpeas

Being a weekday afternoon, we had the trail to ourselves which made for a relaxing time.

Yarrow
White Yarrow

There were many more types of wildflowers in bloom than what I am sharing here. This means we also saw lots of bees, and my favorite, a hummingbird moth!

Sheltie
Claire and me, on the ride home

Here is a selfie of Claire and me on the ride back home. She always sits on my lap in the car. It is the only way I know of to keep her from getting carsick!

What Lengths Will You Go to for Your Dogs?

Fence
Dog proofed!

We are trying to grow a yew hedge at the entrance to our walled garden. Every time the dogs run past on their way into or out of the house, the boys (3 of them) stop to pee on the yews. And one of the girls runs right over the shrubs, too caught up in the joy of life to notice.

The yews had a branch knocked off and were getting brown tips from all the abuse they were suffering. So, we installed a temporary fence around them. Until the dogs are retrained, or the yews grow bigger, whichever comes first! I also tied a few strips of bright cloth to the fence, anticipating that some of the dogs won’t notice it at first.

And just for good measure, I will share with you pictures of a few of my favorite plants in the garden this evening.

Hollyhock
My favorite hollyhock

Hollyhock
More hollyhocks

Sunpatiens
Sunpatiens

Verbena
Verbena

Bluebirds vs. Sparrows!

My husband made this bluebird nest box in the spring and mounted it on a pole that is easily visible from our kitchen window. We had a pair of bluebirds move in within a couple weeks. We took joy in watching them fly in and out, first bringing grasses to build a nest. Later they laid eggs and raised a clutch. We saw them spend a lot of time flying around, going in and out, carrying insects and other delicacies, presumably for their young chicks. This went on for a few weeks.

Recently, we experienced just how cruel nature can be. House sparrows and wrens started hazing the bluebirds. It was rather traumatic watching the bluebirds come under attack after watching them raise a family.

I did some on-line research and discovered that this is quite a common occurrence. House sparrows and wrens frequently chase off bluebirds. They will even break the eggs, or kill chicks, and sometimes kill adult bluebirds, so they can take over the nest. They are even known to build their nest right on top of the bluebird bodies.

House sparrows are an invasive species. That means not native to the United States. Hence, they are not protected by the Migratory Bird Act. Wrens are native and so are protected. I immediately employed some of the deterrents that I read about to help our bluebird friends. I found instructions for something called a “sparrow spooker” and constructed and installed one right away. This consists of the metal strips hung from a strip of wood or twine. It can be seen in the photo above.

The sparrow spooker seemed to confuse the sparrows for a bit. I did see them or the wrens enter the house a few times afterwards, but other times they shied away. I was back the next day ready to continue battle with the avian invaders after doing further research. Apparently, if you install monofilament fishing line vertically along either side of the entrance to the nest box, sparrows, and hopefully wrens, do not like it. The sparrows and wrens cannot see the line and when they bump into it, it confuses and upsets them. Hopefully, enough so that it will keep them away. I did see a wren bump into the line and sit in a branch nearby tilting his head and staring at the offending area. Bluebirds, being insectivores, are thought to have better eye sight and can avoid the fishing line. That installation is also visible in the photo above.

Bird activity in general is less at the nest box today. I haven’t seen the bluebirds since yesterday, and the number of sparrow and wrens sightings is less too. I am hopeful that the clutch of bluebird babies grew up and fledged before the interlopers showed up. We did not find any baby bluebird bodies in the nest, nor did we find any on the ground in the surrounding area. My research says that bluebird babies fledge in 17-21 days. We had been watching the box for some time so it is possible that the young left to live out their lives elsewhere.

There is one last thing to try at some point in the future. My delving into sparrow habits unearthed the fact that they are territorial. They will not allow other house sparrows in the immediate area of their nest. It’s not the bluebirds per se that the sparrows take issue with. They just want the nesting site. I read that if you install two of the “bluebird houses” within 10 feet of each other, the sparrows will use one and bluebirds can nest in the other. The resident sparrows will not allow other sparrows to use it, leaving it open for the bluebirds.

This experience gave us pause to think. We put up a birdhouse, but who are we to say it is a bluebird house? The sparrows and wrens do not see it that way. And although it was upsetting when “our” bluebirds were driven off, it was nature at work. Should we be allowed to specify who lives in a birdhouse just because it is our whim? Tough choices.

And following, is a photo of one of our flowerbeds that was recently enlarged. Just so there is something positive to report today. I planted gladioli in it, so it should be bright and cheery soon!

Baxter says…”Have you heard? Don’t walk dogs on hot pavement!”

There are some things to know before taking your dog for a walk in hot weather. You think about what you need for a walk and what conditions you will encounter. Don’t forget to consider the same for your dog.

Don’t walk your dog on hot pavement, or even sidewalks when it is really hot. The rule of thumb is to put your hand on the surface. If it is too hot for you, it’s too hot for your dog. Dogs can get burned, get red and sore footpads, blister, and endure suffering. Yes, dogs have thick pads, but they are still sensitive tissue that can be damaged. Check the internet. There are pictures.

This doesn’t mean you have to forego walking altogether. Move your walks to early morning or later in the evening. Do still check the pavement temperature when it’s really steamy out. Are there any grassy places you can walk? Since it is not a solid surface and it’s not black, grass doesn’t absorb heat as well as pavement.

If you’re going farther than around the block, take water along for both of you. Keep an eye on your buddy, if he shows signs of overheating, stop and rest, then head back home. If he’s in real distress, sprinkle him with some of your water to help him cool off. If the distress is severe by the time you’re back home, you may want to call your vet.

Be conscientious. Dogs can die from heat stroke. It happens every year.

This should go without saying, but don’t ever leave your dog in a closed car in the warm summer weather either. The temperature rises quickly in a closed vehicle, even with the windows cracked. Even if I think I can run into the store and be back in 5 minutes, I don’t do it. You just never know if there will be a long line or something unforeseen will happen. I take my dog home and go back if I need to. My dog’s life is not worth anything I want in the store! Neither is yours’s.