On Veterinarians

Why does a visit to the vet sometimes feel like a trip to the used car lot?

Sure, I admit that, although I fancy myself a relatively well-informed pet owner, I do not, in fact, have a degree in Veterinary Medicine or even Biological Sciences.   Perhaps it is this necessitated deference I therefore must pay to the professionals that in turn heightens my doubt and cynicism.

Or perhaps it’s the way everyone in a vet office baby talks to my pets.  It’s uncomfortable to watch.  (We actually visited one vet who baby talked to both Moses and us.  It was jarring. We did not go back.)

At a certain point, I do feel that the average pet owner’s lack of expertise and love for our companions makes an easy target for price gouging and misinformation.  And the increasing popularity of pet insurance should not be a license to charge even more.

Maybe my mistrust comes from clinic shelves stocked with food like this, peddled to trusting clients, unaware that the main ingredient of this very food is corn and not even aware why that's a bad thing. Seriously. Look it up yourself: hillspet.com (Also source of photo.)

Of course, there are exceptions to my complaints and there are lots of good vets out there.  Vets that don’t want to have them overnight for observation for no real reason. Vets that don’t recommend unnecessary blood tests.  Vets that don’t go to lengths to argue wild canines have grain-heavy diets.  If you find or have one, hang on to them!

For us, however, we could nearly fill a recreational kickball team with our team of vets.  Or at least a travelling band.  We seem to collect them like trading cards, noting opinions and specialities, often trading one in for another.

Yes, it is true; we are veterinarily promiscuous.

But I find everything I wanted in one vet, maybe I wouldn’t need to call in a second opinion.  I want a holistic opinion to compare with the one that’s more “western medicine”.  And I want to have that information when we see a specialist.  I want a thorough explanation of the problem, prognosis, and the options for treatment – no sugar-coating.  I want to be able to understand what’s going on and be able to Google it at home later.  And I want to trust that I’m not being taken advantage of, instead of having to compare the price for services across the city, because the realisation that one place can charge you $200 to neuter your dog and another can be upwards of $600 is ridiculous.

Because even though we have pet insurance, I’m not going to put Moses or Alma through unnecessary treatments and I’m not going to pay an exorbitant mark-up on services just because.

So yesterday when Alma was unusually demure and I found the cause in a lower incisor, I was not looking forward to the forthcoming rigamarole.

A dental cleaning with potential extraction is in order.  Let the shopping around begin.

Why can't you just be straight with us?

I better work on my pokerface, too.  “$485 base price for a dental cleaning?  Extraction on top of that?  And post-op meds?  And an additional pre-surgery check-up?   And pre-anestheric bloodwork for the low, low price of $80? No, no, that all seems perfectly reasonable.  Mere pocket change. I assume you can break a $1,000?”

I wish.

A Monster and a Teddy Bear

I will be the first to admit our dogs have more toys than they need.

The least intense game of tug-of-war ever.

And Moses isn’t one of those “toy-destroyers”, either.

They get dirty, mangled, chewed up, de-stuffed, but are still in suitable “play condition”, and we’ve never thrown one out.

Moses the day we got him - this toy is still in commission.

Which means we just accumulate more dog toys over time.

So, when we adopted Alma, of course we bought a couple more.

Despite our growing collection, Moses has always had one toy in particular he favours.

Moses' favourite toy is NOT the elephant.

Moses’ favourite toy is not even a dog toy, but a teddy bear he adopted early on as his own.  And we consented.

Over the years, the teddy bear has been de-stuffed, lost its head, survived a trip or two through the washing machine, yet it remains his favourite.

We’ve always rotated the rest of the toys, but the teddy bear is perpetually out.

Moses and his teddy bear

And it’s not that he even really plays with his teddy bear.  He does what you see above – and that’s pretty much it.

And yes, it’s stinkin’ adorable.

Alma, on the other hand, doesn’t give the teddy bear the time of day.

But she has also adopted a favourite.

Alma and her monster

Alma’s prized toy is her monster – one of the ones we bought the weekend we adopted her.  It’s actually very similar in a lot of ways to the teddy bear, except that she can pounce on it, toss it around, and make it squeak.

And I knew it was her favourite when I snapped this:

Alma napping with her monster.

And just like Alma with the teddy bear, Moses doesn’t really show any interest in the monster.

Though, I am happy to report that while each dog seems to have a favourite, neither gets bent out of shape if the other shows an interest.

So now a question for you:  Do your pets have any favoured toys?

The teddy bear and the monster - just waiting to be played with. Like a crusty, drooly version of Toy Story.

Preparing Your Dog for Surgery

I wouldn’t consider myself terribly lucky to have experience in this topic.

It’s an unfortunate fact that Moses has undergone two major procedures: one for bloat and one for his spinal cyst.

Take into account his neuter, and the big guy has been under the knife three times.

Moses, released from the vet after bloat in October 2009

But if I can put together some pieces of advice for others, I suppose that could be the silver lining.

First, I should note there are two kinds of pet surgeries, and we’ve experienced both:

1.  The expected.

2.  The unexpected.

Granted, not a lot of preparing can be done for the second category.

The unexpected for us was bloat, but it could be an accident, porcupine encounter, nearly anything – that’s why it’s “unexpected”.

But, as any good Girl Guide can tell you, there is a way to be as prepared as possible for those sorts of situations, including:

– knowing where the nearest 24 hour vet is located

– having a pet first aid kit on hand

– consider taking a course in pet first aid (I’ve taken one, and would highly recommend it)

– having a pet insurance policy or being otherwise financially prepared for surprise vet bills

– ensure your dog is comfortable being handled by strangers

– putting your dog on a quality diet to keep them as healthy as possible overall

– training with your dog (mastering skills such as recall, heeling, and stop can be potentially life-saving)

On the flip side, the “expected” category are the times when your dog is going into the vet and you have at least some advance notice, such as a spay or neuter, or diagnostic work (CT Scan, for example), or major surgery (like Moses’ dorsal laminectomy to remove the cyst).

And in addition to the precautions noted above that also apply, there are definitely some further words of advice I’d like to pass on.

1.  Prepare your household

Our Moses-specific addition

Our vet was very straightforward with us: when we brought Moses home from his surgery, he wouldn’t be able to walk.  And even as he learned and got more mobile over time, stairs would be a challenge.  To this day, almost a full 16 weeks after the surgery, we’re still not having Moses take a tonne of stairs.

Luckily, the Husband has some mad construction skillz (yes, with a ‘z’, that’s how you know they’re “mad”), and was able to outfit our back yard with the ramp before the surgery.  We purchased the black rubber floor mats to help provide grip, which we also placed throughout the house to give Moses some stability on our tile floors.

The ramp proved to be invaluable as we found ourselves offering Moses considerable support in and out of the house during the first couple of weeks, and it’s been very easy for him to use during recovery.

2.  Get them groomed

We didn’t do this and I really wish we had.

Like I said, Moses was immobile when he was out of surgery.  And I don’t just mean unable to stand up – the first day was a struggle for him to even lift his head.

This limited mobility made for a lot of laying around, which, for a long-haired dog, can lead to matting.  I brushed Moses on alternating sides for over an hour each day during the first week after his cyst was removed to combat this and was barely able to stay on top of it.  It would have been off to a much better start if we had taken him into a groomer before he went in for the procedure.

Besides, if your dog is prescribed some post-op downtime in the house after an operation of any kind, it would probably be nice to have them smelling fresh.

3.  Prepare yourself

Serious procedures are stressful, worrisome and emotionally taxing over all.

Trust me.  I know.

So do what you can to divide responsibilities, get some sleep, and just find the time to cope in the way that works best for you.

For example, I had the day off we took Moses in for his CT Scan during the diagnostic process and it was the worst decision I could have made, since I was mostly left with my thoughts all day and did nothing but fret.  So the day he was in for his actual surgery, I went to work like usual, kept busy and survived the day.

It also helps if you talk through some of the potential out-comes and “what-ifs” with the family, so perhaps some tough decisions don’t cause tension and take everyone by surprise.  Like writing your own will, there are certain topics no one wants to discuss, but it’s still the responsible thing to do.

4.  Ask the vet as many questions as possible and follow their instructions

Maybe it’s just me, but the more informed I am, the more secure I feel in my situation and my decisions.  So I asked the vet some questions, did some reading on my own, and then came back with follow up questions.

Post-op care also comes with lots of information and instruction. When it has come to Moses’ recovery, we’ve followed the vet’s instructions to the letter and I must say, so far it’s turned out very well!  Sure, it was hard not to walk him for 8 weeks, and it was even harder to walk him for only 5 minutes when we were finally able.  But they don’t just make that stuff up for the fun of it.  It’s important not to push it too far.

On the other hand, it’s as equally important not to go too easy on them.

Remember that cart I mentioned that the Husband was going to build to help support Moses and aid in walking?  A prototype was made, but a functional cart never came to be and Moses walked on his own after 2 weeks out of both will and necessity.

I think a major reason why we didn’t pursue the cart building with more gusto is because a certain anecdote our vet told really stuck with us:  she mentioned how several small dogs become reliant on the carts and their use can come to mean the dog never walks without it again.  Not only did we not want that for Moses, with a dog his size, such a fate would be near impossible to accommodate long-term.

Instead, the Husband retro-fitted a seatbelt harness so that we could help him ourselves.  It was motivation for all of us to get him up at at ’em again as soon as possible.

Moses stands, with moral support only, for the first time after cyst removal (August 2011)

5.  Consider dieting (the dog, not you)

Of course, you should always ensure your dog is a healthy weight and not carrying too much extra around the mid-section (for the large breeds, too many extra pounds can literally shave years off their lifespans).  And if post-op recovery means reduced mobility and a less intense exercise regime, it makes sense to reason that your dog will therefore be burning fewer calories in a day.  Therefore, a temporary diet cut-back can prevent them from putting on some extra pounds in the meantime.  Depending on what health issues you may be encountering with your pup, excess weight can mean extra strain on their joints, and agonize any existing issues or lengthen the recovery process.

6.  Get creative

Yes, going through a major surgery with your pet is sad, stressful and expensive.  Having a bored dog going stir-crazy in the house afterwards can be additionally frustrating.  But there are lots of ways to make the best of it by working on old or new tricks and in-house games with your dog.  Hide and seek or remedial tracking exercises with toys in the house are a great way to keep them calm but still have fun and get their mind working. Give them a task by practising patience in the form of sit-stays and down-stays.

For Moses, motivating him to walk and regaining dexterity in his front legs was our focus, so we had him “high-five” a lot for food, tickle his feet so he’d move them, and would entice him with his favourite treats and practice short-distance recall to get him moving around.

7.   Be prepared for some odd behaviour

Just like people, when pets are sick or unwell, they can behave in ways contrary to their normal selves.

We saw this first hand with Moses.  He’s usually pretty laid back and tolerant, but while his condition was progressing, and while he was just gaining his mobility back, he became unusually sensitive to those around him – particularly other dogs.  By this, I mean he became clearly uncomfortable if dogs around him were getting too excited or rambunctious, likely because high-energy play could result in him getting knocked over or hurt.  So, in what was very uncommon for Moses, he kind of became the “Fun Police” for a little while there, scolding other dogs who were threatening excitement.  He also occasionally barked at passing dogs and people as we started introducing walks again – something we’d not previously seen from him, but potentially a result of cabin fever (which is my official guess based on the fact that these behaviours have since ceased, and he’s very much his “old self” once again).

There’s no real way to predict how your dog’s behaviour could possibly change, but be prepared that it could happen and don’t worry too much if you notice a few things.   If you keep to your normal interactions and training routine, and handle behaviour anomalies as you usually would (and don’t hesitate to ask for professional support or advice), you should notice that they’ll work themselves out for the most part as your dog’s health and routine also go back to normal.

8.  Stay optimistic

This can be tough.  Especially if your dog comes home a depressing sight: shaved, immobile, drugged up, unresponsive.  And it doesn’t make you a terrible person to wonder at least once “did we make a mistake going through with it?”  I know it was either the first or second night – when Moses would sadly sigh, and was unable to get up to even use the bathroom – that very thought crossed my mind, with concerns about recovery, long-term prognosis, cost, and quality of life weighing heavily.  But if you have come to the decision that going through the surgery in the first instance was in your dog’s best interest, trust your decision-making and stay positive about the days to come.

I can say for certain, for us, it was entirely worth it.

Worth it.

Of course, a lot of this advice stems from my own personal experiences, so it could be irrelevant or directly contrary to other experiences out there.

Though, at the end of it all, I just hope no one has to actually put any of this advice to use.

Single (Dog) Parenting

Alma has been a part of our family for about two and a half weeks now.

Moses and Alma

And out of the last 18 days, I don’t remember the last time I didn’t walk the dogs.

I mean, I know there have been at least two instances, but I can’t really pin-point them or remember how I made use of that time otherwise.

You see, work has taken the Husband out of town Monday through Friday at increasing frequencies over the passing months.

In the normal course, the Husband and I have an alternating dog walking schedule.  Variances to that schedule are liberally made based on work schedules, social commitments, and general will, but, suffice it to say, the dog responsibilities are typically pretty evenly distributed.

And even before we adopted Alma and the Husband was taken out of town during the week, it wasn’t a big deal.  Moses is a breeze to take care of and had pretty minimal daily exercise requirements as he continues to recover from his surgery in July.

But now Alma is added to the equation.

Moses and Alma have different exercise, training, and attention requirements to meet.  While Moses is up to 40-45 minute daily walks now, Alma needs a solid hour, together with training exercises and skill practice, as we build up patience, focus, trust, and introduce verbal signals and their meanings.

And even though the time requirements can still be met by taking them out together, I do want to walk them separately occasionally, to give them one-on-one attention, mix up the routine, and attempt to prevent potential separation anxiety between the two.

This has added up to a lot of logged dog walking time for me lately, which, on the whole, I’m not complaining about.  I like walking the dogs and spending time focussed on them.  And even though the biting winter winds have arrived in Calgary and didn’t even have the courtesy to bring the snow with them, it’s still nice to have a reason to get outside for 60-90 minutes each day.

But it’s also hard.

It’s hard to muster up the energy after a long work day – every work day.

It’s hard to walk them separately as often as I’d like, because it takes so much longer.

And it’s harder to not get frustrated.  Because when the Husband is home, I can take the night off if my head’s just not in it.

Don’t get me wrong, for a dog with little to no leash experience, Alma’s walk is excellent.  But she’s still learning and figuring out the expectations.  And she’s still known to occasionally throw all 92 pounds of her enthusiasm behind greeting a passing dog or person, attempting to chase one of the neighbourhood rabbits that plague Calgary suburbs, or getting out of the way of a loud truck that has spooked her.   All of which is fine if I see it coming, too, and can appropriately and quickly respond, but those terrorists  bunnies can be sneaky little bastards.

The real ruler of the 'burbs.

Basically what I’m getting at is that I have a whole new appreciation for the single-dog-parents out there.  Whether you’re actually a single dog owner, or just the only one in the household who takes on the dog-related responsibilities, I have a whole new respect for your day-to-day commitments.

And I haven’t even been at it a full month! And I get weekend support!

So I must ask: what is your secret?  Dog walkers?  Caffeine?  Wine?

Kisses (Not the Chocolate Kind)

I’ve never been one to think that dogs who give “kisses” are overly adorable or charming.

I mean, I suppose if you’ve got it solely attached to a verbal signal, fine, and I do know lots of people find it cute and/or hilarious, but I’m just not one of them.

Maybe it’s because my dog is… errr… I mean, my dogs are (still getting used to that!) are Newfoundlands.  Which means Moses can be one panting, drooly mess, and I’ve never had a hint of desire to teach him to “give kisses”.

Can you blame me?

But you may remember that, in my brief recap of Alma’s first week home, I mentioned she had a few little things we needed to work on with her.

One of the unique little personality traits of Alma’s that we noticed right away is that she’ll lick you.

A lot.

To her credit, Alma’s not nearly as drooly as Moses – not even close – but it’s excessive and I’m not a fan.  And I can only imagine what guests will think if they come over and our adorable little Newf won’t stop assaulting them with her face – regardless of how friendly she may be.

Assaulting? Who? Alma? (Also - notice the kitten photo-bomb to the right)

Sure, to some an occasional “puppy kiss” now and then is endearing.  But when I say Alma’s licking is excessive, it is.  It’s not just when you get home from work – it’s every time she comes to see you.  (In the course of proof-reading this post before hitting ‘Publish’ – about 15 minutes – she’s racked up four counts of Attempted Licking in the First Degree.) And she’ll go for your hands, your pants, your foot, your face, your elbow… whatever she can reach.  It sure makes her one little weirdo.

Interestingly enough, she doesn’t really lick Moses at all.  But it would be no surprise to learn her dog manners are better honed than her people ones.

Now, we’ve got our plan to curb the excessive licking all laid out.

Are you ready for it?

It’s very high-tech and complicated.

We’re going to… ignore it.

And by ignore, I mean ignore.  Alma’s licking will get no reaction – not a smile, not a word.  Not even eye contact.  In fact, we may even turn away from her, to associate it with a negative consequence.

Then, the times when she approaches us calmly and politely and doesn’t try to lick us, she will be met with praise and affection and all good things.

I’ve already noticed the amount of times she approaches without licking me is increasing (albeit slowly), so we’ll just keep up the ignoring and be as consistent in our strategy as possible.  Admittedly, the ignore technique can prove to be challenging, especially when the initial knee-jerk reaction can be to laugh, say “eww”, or say “no!”  But I’ll work on it.

The Licker

But encountering this behaviour has made me very curious about its causes. So I did some reading.

Licking is a natural behaviour for dogs.  Mothers lick their newborn pups to stimulate them.  Young puppies lick their mothers to prompt her to regurgitate food for them (not just for birds – who knew?!).

But part of me is pretty sure (hoping?) Alma’s not trying to get me to throw up some dinner.

A couple of websites say dogs lick people because they like the salty taste of skin.  I’m also going to throw this theory out in our case because Alma will also lick your pants or shirt sleeves.  Or the laptop.  I’m also ruling out that it’s part of grooming behaviour.

Ever-trusty Wikipedia’s brief page on dog behaviour suggests licking can also be a friendly greeting or a bonding technique, and another random website that Google turned up suggests it can be a gesture of appeasement, goodwill, deference, or an attempt to get attention from people.

Both “dog gurus” Victoria Stilwell and Cesar Millan address this question on their websites.

Stilwell, answering a question about a situation that sounds very similar to our own, says the licking provides comfort and pleasure to the dog, and can relieve stress.  And she similarly recommends ignoring it.

Millan, answering a question that seems a little more excessive than ours (the dog licks furniture too), classifies it as a sign of anxiety (once medical reasons are ruled out – which some other online sources also discuss, but I will also rule out in our case), under-exercise/stimulation, as well as a behaviour that can increase when it receives a positive reaction from the humans.  He also hints at ignoring the behaviour, or redirecting with another activity.

While not really finding any firm answers behind the “why”, I thought of checking into licking as a calming signal, since I have noticed that the times Alma does approach without licking us, she sometimes licks her own lips and nose.  But my hunch hasn’t turned out to be validating, since licking others isn’t included in any of the lists of calming signals out there.  Still, I’m tempted to chalk it up to a sort of social awkwardness around people.

Moses, mid-calming signal

And, interesting fact: while looking up this subject, I read somewhere that black dogs use licking as a calming signal more often than lighter-coloured dogs because their facial expressions are often harder to read.  It doesn’t seem to be the case for Moses (he often yawns, as you know – which is also a clear signal for a dark coloured dog), but definitely is for Alma.

Moses & Alma

Basically, though, I’m still not exactly sure why she does it (let me know if you have any thoughts/theories/suggestions), but it’s one of Alma’s quirks that she likely once learned got her a positive reaction from people.

So we’ll see what we can do about decreasing her weirdo-factor by not encouraging the licking.

Alma’s First Week

Alma has now officially been part of our household for a full week!


When the Husband and I decided to adopt a young adult dog instead of getting a puppy from a breeder, we knew there would be lots of benefits and drawbacks.

For the benefits, well, we’d get to skip all of the ‘typical’ puppy frustrations: middle of the night bathroom breaks, house training, nipping, chewing, and what I like to call general “Puppy A.D.D.” when training starts out.  We might miss out on the short – but very cute – puppy phase, but we also forego the aforementioned.  And it’s not like Moses was a terribly difficult puppy, but it’s near impossible to guarantee a Moses 2.0 no matter where we’d get a puppy.

On the other hand, adopting an adult dog has its risks.  You’ve missed some of the formative years of the dog’s life, and by the time they are around two years old, the dog’s habits, manners, and temperament can be well-established.  This is really both good and bad, because while you know what to expect, you may also have some challenges ahead.

This was a reality we accepted and prepared ourselves for.

I mean, I’ve met lots of amazing, friendly, well and easily trained rescue dogs.  But I’ve also heard and witnessed stories of dogs with serious histories to work though: obsessions, reactivities, even aggressions.

Discussions with Alma’s foster mom before we picked her up hinted at a bit of shyness or insecurity around people (which would be reasonable) and food aggression (also understandable, despite whether or not it’s acceptable).

So, given Alma’s history of neglect and unwant, we weren’t quite sure to expect.  How would she interact with us? How would she and Moses get along? And the cats? How would she adjust to life inside the house?  She’d never been walked before – how challenging would that be?

Well, it turns out, Alma’s transition has been near seamless!

Sure, we may have a couple of things to work through with her (which I will write about on another day), but it’s nothing we can’t overcome and she’s a fast and willing learner.

Alma & Moses

Alma and Moses are two peas in a pod.  We actually could not have asked that the two of them get along any better.  In fact, she seems to almost breathe new life in Moses while he’s still on the road to recovery.

She’s also very respectful of the cats and the kitten has even permitted her a couple of sniffs.

And around people?

Well, I continually find myself baffled that Alma was surrendered in the first place – she is such a sweetheart.  She’s very affectionate and, like a typical Newf, wants nothing more than to hang out where we are.  (Which makes thinking of her former life that much more sad and angering, really.)

A new walking buddy

In short, Alma’s first week has been great!

Sure, there are risks adding a second dog to any family – no matter where that dog comes from – but for us, it has only been a week and it has already been completely worth it.

Introducing Alma!

This weekend, the Husband, Moses and I gathered up our passports (rabies vaccination certificate, in Moses’ case) and went on a little international road trip.

As you know, we have been contemplating, discussing, and researching a second dog for several months now.

We had decided we wanted to try for a purebred rescue, rather than put our name on a list with a breeder.  That’s not to say our experience with getting Moses from a breeder was anything less than perfect – we just wanted to keep our eyes open for the opportunity to give an adoptable dog a home.

Then, on one of my near-daily PetFinder.com browses a couple of weeks ago, I came across this ad:

"Winnie is a sweet 20 month old Newfoundland who has spent her time "UNWANTED" for the last year and a half."

I showed the Husband the ad and we both instantly agreed we should get in contact with The Montana Companion Animal Network.  It was late on a Sunday evening and I immediately fired off a brief introductory email expressing our interest.

The next morning, Winnie’s foster mom gave me a call to ask some questions and answer ours.  And we her story.


‘Winnie’ was originally purchased as a puppy from a breeder in Montana.  The family had a couple of other dogs, and when it came to Winnie, there was either a sense that she should figure things our herself or be trained by the family’s existing dogs.  This, obviously, was hardly the case, and by the time she was 5 months old – large, untrained, and still a puppy – they had simply decided they didn’t want her anymore.

But instead of contacting the breeder, or surrendering her to the rescue then, what I assume was some sort of guilt or shame prevented them from giving her up.  Instead, they kept her out in a pen in the back yard – hardly interacted with.  She did not live in the house with everyone else. She did not get walked.  She was not even fed regularly.  For a year and a half.  Reports are that they would tell other people that they “hate that dog”.

For that year and a half, the foster mom – who knew these people – tried to get them to surrender Winnie to the rescue so they could re-home her.  The foster mom been fostering dogs for the MTCAN for several years, saw the problem, and wanted to help.

Finally, the family got fed up came to their senses and the foster mom arrived home to find a scrawny, stinky Winnie dropped off in her back yard; the search for a new home began.

Which is where we come in.

Two weeks, several emails, and lots of Google-mapping the state of Montana later, and we have arrived home with our much-awaited new dog!

Meet Alma!

Sticking with the historical-names theme in our household, we have changed her name to Alma, which is a short form for Amelia – as in Earhart.

And I must say, it hasn’t even been two days and she is settling in very well; we could not be happier that we’d chosen the adoption route and found her!  She is awesome – and super cute – and it is extremely sad and angering to think she was “unwanted” – or even hated – by someone else.

Will her past experiences effect certain behaviours she’s learned or developed?  Sure.  But we’ll all work together to discover them and work through them.

Can we expect her to be just like Moses? Nope.  But who knows – maybe we’ve got another Olympic Champ in training!

Alma & Moses in Montana: they make a great pair!

And Moses seems pretty stoked to have a little buddy, too!

A Case of Unusual Pet Behaviour

Exhibit A

A puzzle was solved in our house this week.

It’s not a particular serious or life-changing puzzle.  It’s just one those ‘I wonder’-type things, to which there is now no more wondering.

You see, Moses has two water bowls in the kitchen (Exhibit A).

Both are always filled with water because we have a separate bowl for his food.

The mystery?  For some weird reason Moses only drinks out of bowl on the right side.  With very few exceptions.

In fact, he could be out of water on the right-hand side, and unless he is very hot, he will patiently wait until your refill it instead of drinking from the left.

It’s peculiar.  At most.

Not exactly a Nancy Drew-league mystery, but I’ve always been curious why.

Then yesterday I walked into the kitchen and the reason why was there, right in front of me.

Isaac; aka Black Cat; aka Mean Cat


Moses prefers to leave the left side alone because that is the Black Cat’s water and it is not to be trifled with.

Suffice it to say, Moses and the Black Cat do not have a relationship of what I would call mutual enjoyment and respect.  They co-exist peacefully enough – kind of like a demilitarized zone.

Sometimes if the Black Cat is tired enough, or we have food to distract him, he might let Moses get in a sniff.  Maybe.  But that’s really the extent of it.  And Moses is quite happy to just let the Black Cat be; the Kitten is friendly, and she’s his buddy.

Emma; aka The Kitten - she has no interest in what I assume she considers is awful "floor water"

Isaac, on the other hand, has very strict guidelines about his personal space, and is always very quick to communicate that to dogs.  The Black Cat’s dog training methods are definitely exclusively P+/P- (negative reinforcement), but they work extremely well: quickly and permanently.  And I can say most dogs make it through the lessons without a scratch (one exception to date, and he had it coming).

So it was very unsurprising to see Moses respecting what he figures is Isaac’s water bowl – Moses is pretty laid back and happy to share space, water, food, toys… you name it.

Sharing a bone with Kimbo

Do I think maybe Moses is being overly cautious with the water?


But there has been the rare occasion on a hot day that he’s dipped into the left bowl, so at least we know he draws the line somewhere.

Status Quo

A Second Dog? Revisited

Back in June I mentioned that The Husband and I were in the process of determining what kind of dog we would like to add to the household next.  That process is still under way.

In fact, nearly 6 months later, we have explored a lot of options, researched some breeders and even more breed-specific rescues, but are still a single-canine family (for now).

Our “short list” for breeds is pretty much the same – and not at all narrowed down.  Newfoundland.  Saint Bernard.  Tibetan Mastiff.  Great Pyrenees.  All favourites.

So in our commitment vacuum, I decided to turn to the one place that could give me concrete answers and unveil some insights from my inner most psyche.

You guessed it: the interweb.  The land of online quizzes.


I'm most like: Lisa Turtle! (Photo: fashionindie.com)

And there are no shortage of online quizzes that attempt to match you with your perfect dog breed.  I found 11, to be exact.  And I took them all.

Now, I might argue that Newfoundland – Moses, in particular – is the ideal breed for our household and lifestyle, but I’m curious to see what the “experts” say.

So let’s look at some results!

(Photos are of adoptable dogs available on PetFinder.com)

Quiz #1:  Dog Breed Selector, breederretriever.com

By grading qualities by importance on scales of one to ten, the best breed for me is:

St. Bernard (Elly, Mikey's Chance Canine Rescue, PFId#19414949)

Not bad!  Though, not sure what bumps Newfoundland to #19 on the results list.

Quiz #2: Dog Breed Selector, PuppyFinder.com  

And my ideal dog breed is…

Newfoundland! (Geyser, Heart of America Newfoundland Rescue, PFId#20863395)

St. Bernard was #2.

So these results seem to be right up my alley.  But does that just mean it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy?  I mean, I am filling out the quizzes to indicate large breed, lower-energy dogs that do well in a cold climate.  Let’s see what else comes up.

Quiz #3:  Dog Breed Selector Quiz, DoggieDealer.com

(Terrible website URL, by the way.  Sounds like a puppy mill broker or something.)

And the jury’s back with…

Curly Coated Retriever!... ? (Abby, Pick Me! Pet Rescue, PFId#21105232)

Interesting.  Newfoundland was #2 on this list.

Quiz #4: SelectAPet, petnet.com

This website picked four breeds “most suitable” for my lifestyle, so I decided a screen shot of the results would speak for themselves.

This website has the caveat that results are based on "Australian lifestyles". Not sure what that implies.

Is it just me, or are they a bit all over the place?

Quiz #5:  Breed Match, Eukanuba.co.uk 

First, props go to Eukanuba for having the nicest quiz so far!

My ideal breed is:

Bull Terrier! (Kenzie, Yakima Valley Pet Rescue, PFId#20868959)

Unexpected!  But how can you not fall in love with Kenzie?! Though I’m not sure she’d appreciate the long, cold Calgary winters.

Rounding out the top 5 were Newfoundland, Rottweiler, Bernese Mountain Dog, and Great Pyrenees.

Quiz #6:  Dogfinder Matchup, dogtime.com

My favourite quiz thus far.  Doesn’t look like a website that will give you spyware, and the questions are different that the others – more insightful.  Despite the results, I think I’d actually recommend this quiz to people initially considering getting a dog, based on the way it highlights time, exercise, and training commitments.

And after that glowing review, my Matchup results:

Akita! With a 96% match! (Ginger, Washington Akita Group Inc., PFId#20084568)

Not a bad option, if not a bit on the small side 🙂

Also recommended for me: Alaskan Malamute, Anatolian Shepherd Dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, and Black Russian Terrier.

Quiz #7:  Purina Dog Breed Selector

This quiz slowly eliminates breeds as you answer the questions.

Interesting concept, but once I was finished, zero breeds matched my criteria.  That’s a little depressing.

With a little revamping of my answers, my sole ideal match is:

Great Pyrenees! (Aspen, Friends of Animals Utah, PFId#19332264)

Looking at that photo, I’m not sure what’s stopping me from dropping everything, driving to Utah, and adopting Aspen!

Quiz #8:  Which Dog Is Right for You?  GoodHousekeeping.com

Not being Good Housekeeping’s target demographic, this should be interesting.

And the votes are in…

Bichon Frise?! (Benny, For Pets Sake Inc., PFId#21102764)

I’m sure Benny is adorable, but I’m going to have to say Good Housekeeping is just a little out to lunch on this one.

Quiz #9:  Dog Breed Selector, ShowDog.com

The breed that “best satisfies my requirements”:

Beauceron. (Zoey, Wags, PFId#15685531)

Very interesting!  Had to Wikipedia the breed, since I’d hardly heard of them and judging by the low PetFinder results (only 10), I’d say it’s a pretty rare breed.

Extremely varied results in my top 25 from this site, though, with lots of spaniels, hounds and terriers, so I will be putting even less stock in these results.

Quiz #10:  Dog Breed Selector, Animal Planet

On question 3 I’ve already decided I’m not a fan of some of the messages behind this quiz: the maximum daily exercise option is only 45 minutes?

As I moved through the questions, it seemed like someone who’d never actually owned a dog wrote this one.  Heaven forbid someone actually take this one looking for advice.  For shame, Animal Planet.  Let Ms. Stilwell at it, will you?

Nevertheless, my result is:

Another Akita! (Inu, TikiHut Akita Rescue Association (TARA), PFId#20517268)

Quiz #11:  Dog Breed Selector Quiz:  SelectSmart.com

(The last one!)

And with a 100% match, my ideal breed is:

Mixed Breed! (Buster, Edmonton Humane Society - no "mixed" search options on PetFinder)

Ha!  Well I can definitely see the underlying message from these results, and I must say: I approve!

The results go on to say that Leonberger and Newfoundland are both the next-best results, with a 72% match to my responses.

Phew!  And that’s it for the online dog quizzes.

Call me a sap, but Moses is the only 100% match for us I can be sure of.

After all that I can say with confidence that I have learned… nothing.  And gained no new insights.

But I suppose that shouldn’t be too surprising.

The search continues.

Dear Petland

To my dear friends at Petland Canada,

Did you watch the Calgary Now! debate on Shaw TV (Calgary) – channel 10?  If you missed it, it will air again on August 17 at 10:30pm and August 19 at 2:00pm.  If you forget to set the PVR or don’t get your television through Shaw, they will put it online after the last airing.

But I’m guessing you saw it.  You were there.  Well, Mr. Robert Church, owner of Petland Market Mall and a Director of PIJAC Canada, was there.

Also present were Patricia Cameron of the Calgary Humane Society and RJ Bailot, a Director of Pound Rescue, a local no-kill shelter.

And the topic?

Banning the sales of pets in stores, of course.

This is a very hot topic since Actions Speak Louder (Calgary) is pushing for this issue locally with the support of several rescue organizations and local businesses, and many other cities are implementing bans (e.g., Los Angeles, CA; Austin, TX; Richmond, BC), and even more are currently considering bans themselves (e.g., Toronto; San Francisco).

There were a couple of things about the debate I wanted to specifically bring up.

Patricia Cameron says that Calgary Humane sees approximately 8,000 animals through their facility each year.  Nearby Cochrane Humane sees an additional 1,200 animals, and the City of Calgary Animal Services sees 5,000 animals annually.  And that does not include the several other local rescues – Pound Rescue included – that foster and re-home several hundreds more.  If you do the math, that’s upwards of 15,000 pets annually that go through these Calgary and area rescue organizations.

That is no insignificant number.

At 8 minutes into my PVR recording of the Calgary Now! debate, your representative Mr. Church says that, in order to tackle pet overpopulation, “all of the industry players should work together” and “we all want the best for our animals”.

I have no doubt about either point.  Based on our previous exchanges here at the Soapbox, I do believe you don’t necessarily think there is anything wrong with selling dogs and cats in your stores.

But just because you believe it, doesn’t make it so.

Why are you, Petland, digging your feet in, drawing a line in the sand, and refusing to budge when it comes to pet sales?  Why can’t you go beyond “good enough”, go beyond placating customers and the general public, and actually try to do the absolute best for the pet population as a whole?

I’m not talking about you “sourcing your animals”, “guaranteeing them to the nines”, and always letting them be returned to your stores.

And I’m not talking about you releasing some breeder information in an attempt to convince the public that the problem is solved and the issue is dead.  At 10 minutes into the debate, Robert Church talks about Petland breeder inspections and making those results available to the public, which they haven’t done in the past.  And you know why?  “Because nobody has ever asked us before!” he says.

Really?!  I’ve been personally asking since our first debate here on the Soapbox in October 2010, and I know you know because many members of your executive team were here commenting and replying.  Actions Speak Louder (Calgary) has been asking as an official campaign for more transparency since its launch March 2011.

Not to mention releasing breeder inspection results in a form yet to be specified after several months of requests does actually not guarantee any real information, but it sure does sound good, doesn’t it?  And I happen to know this debate was taped in June; it is now August – where’s the info?

At 9 minutes into the debate, your representative says “you will not find your animals in a shelter”.  I am wary of these kinds of generalizations.  Not?  Ever?  Really?

I follow Pound Rescue on Facebook and on July 10, 2011 they posted that they took in their second (un-altered) Petland surrender that week.  So yes, we do find pet store animals surrendered to rescues; some of your sales directly burden the rescue community.

And if you check Kijiji, there are dozens more people either giving away or re-selling their Petland pet purchases.  On August 8, I took a few minutes to see for myself, and made a slideshow of select Kijiji ads that you can view here.

RJ makes an excellent point, at 9-10 minutes in, when he says “the bottom line for a retail outlet is making profit off of a product, so when animals are merchandised as they would be a t-shirt or a pair of shoes, it puts different value than in a rescue organization.  Right now we see stores that use the word ‘adopt’, and really that’s misleading, because the term ‘adopt’ is to provide a home for an animal that is homeless, not to sell an animal – that’s a transaction”.

Robert Church defends pet store word choice: “I like to say ‘place’ an animal; we place animals in good homes.  It’s a little friendlier than ‘sell’, but it’s not the human term ‘adopt’, either.  Just sayin’.”

So I took to the trusty internet and captured some screen shots for your consideration.

No use of "adopt"? Hey, who's that handsome guy in the middle of the profile picture?


The Pets for a Lifetime contract itself refers to “…the pet that they are adopting from Petland…” in the second sentence.


Just sayin'.

Okay, last one. Nothing to do with "adopting", but you're seriously recommending a puppy as a Valentine's Day gift? No impulse purchases. Right...

When it came to discussing pet-related costs, including spay/neuter and unexpected veterinary bills, RJ brought up financing pet purchases, and your Petland representative Mr. Church said this (24 minutes in):

“Frankly, financing an animal is just another step in the whole process because these people are screened and you should be very careful about judging people who would finance an animal – I mean if you have a credit card you are financing things.  So passing judgment on somebody who chooses to pay for something this way, I mean these are people that have stable jobs, stable addresses, stable bank accounts, and the ability to obtain credit.  If these people can’t obtain credit, then maybe they’re not the best pet owners anyways.  But if they do qualify for credit, I don’t know how you can judge a person that way and I find that quite discriminatory and a little offensive. … It gives them extra time to think about it, frankly, because the process takes at least a couple hours, and usually a few hours.  And, just so you understand, my store, the Petland in Market Mall, was the only store that offered financing and we pulled it, number one, because nobody was financing animals anyway, and number two, because there was little bit of a kerschmeezle [phonetic] about it with the animal rights people, and so I just pulled it, you know, it wasn’t worth the hassle.”

Pay for your bulldog puppy over 36 months O.A.C. (Ad from a PJ's Pets in Edmonton, 2 months ago)

Obviously Mr. Church doesn’t see himself on the same side as “the animal rights people”, despite going into a long defence of something he stopped doing anyway because, really, if there’s anything I’ve learned about discussing a pet sale ban with the average Calgarian, it’s that, regardless of your overall opinion on the issue, most people can see there is something inherently wrong with financing pet purchases.

Does that result in judging customers’ financial means?  No.  If you want to pay for your dinner with a credit card, finance your new car or television, by all means, do that.  Those things are products.  You yourself agreed earlier in the debate, “puppies are not products” – so why treat them like they are?  And what do you do if someone defaults on payment?  Repo a Yorkshire Terrier-type?

The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but rather, “Can they suffer?”  

(Jeremy Bentham (English philosopher), An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, 2nd ed., 1823, chapter 17, footnote 122)

But let me go back to my original request, where I ask you, Petland, not to simply do what is good enough.  Not to patronize me, Actions Speak Louder (Calgary), or the public.  But to do your best.  Because if you as a corporation, and your staff as pet lovers, really care that much about companion animals as your advertising lets on, you can do better.

Take, for example, the two other large Canadian pet store chains, Pets Unlimited and PJ’s Pets.  As of June 1, 2011, Pets Unlimited no longer had any puppies for sale in any of its 18 locations.  And just today PJ’s Pets announced they will do the same as of September 1, 2011.

PJ's Pets and Pets Unlimited have 41 locations across Canada. I both commend and thank them for their recent decision. I look forward to a similar policy change with respect to cats/kittens (you're not done yet, guys) and I anxiously wait for other pet retailers to follow suit.

This, I think, is fantastic.  And a real step in the right direction.  These companies are being proactive rather than reactive.

Because instead of selling puppies for profit, Pets Unlimited and PJ’s Pets are collaborating with local rescue organizations.  In Alberta, Paradise Pets in St. Albert has also adopted this very policy, announcing they “do not want to encourage any type of animal mill that is motivated by how much money they can make selling to pet stores.”

And I do not find it unreasonable to expect the same from Petland.

With this improvement, the focus of PJ’s and Pets Unlimited is “to support pet adoption services in an effort to find homes for thousands of pets in local SPCA’s, Humane Societies, rescue groups and shelters across the country.”

The mission of the Every Pet Deserves a Home campaign – that both PJ’s and Pets Unlimited are a part of –  is “to help increase the visibility of pet adoption agencies within the community by offering them the opportunity, within our stores, to educate the general public about their organization and the pets they have available for adoption.”

Isn’t that really the best of both worlds?

I mean, no one is going to a pet store looking for a specific purebred dog.  And if they are, they are severely mistaken, because you and I both know that Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) registered breeders are prohibited from selling to retail stores.  So you still have your arbitrary mixes and purebred types (plenty of both in local shelters) for people to see, but instead of sourcing them for breeders who breed pets to supply your store and for profit, people instead adopt their next dog through a local rescue.

It is win-win.

Rescues get more exposure, and with that, adoption rates will increase and euthanasia will decrease; the pet community undoubtedly benefits.  There will be no more risk that pet store puppies come from mills or backyard breeders.  Meanwhile, customers can still go to the store to play with puppies.  And instead of impulse pet purchases, those interested in adopting will have to go through a thorough adoption application implemented by the rescue organization.

Not to mention, animals being adopted through rescues are almost always spayed/neutered prior to adoption, which is a crucial part of pet population control according to Patricia Cameron and not something you can currently say about the animals now leaving your care, despite your best guesses or promises for post-altering rebates.

With an adoption model, you will even save money in animal care costs, since the animals are still under the care of the rescue organization.  You will retain the marketing advantage of having cute puppies and kittens at your locations, with the added bonus of now being able to honestly say you’re doing the absolute best you can for Calgary’s (and Canada’s) pet population.  You will even gain a new customer base: all those people who currently refuse to shop at Petland because you sell animals – myself included.

“We applaud what PJ’s Pets and Pets Unlimited are doing in giving up puppy sales to help organizations like ours find homes for more pets,” said Kristin Williams, Executive Director of the Nova Scotia SPCA. “Far too many animals are without a home, but this program will help to alleviate the burden and add vital capacity to our network of Branches. Collaboration is critical to resolving welfare issues and saving more lives and this is a remarkable example of what can be achieved by working together.

Collaboration.  Working together.  Wasn’t that exactly what Robert Church talked about at the outset of the debate?

In short, why not strive for remarkable, Petland?  Why defend old, questionable practices and risk extinction rather than evolve with the industry?

I thank you for reading and look forward to hearing from you.

Yours most sincerely,


To read more about RJ’s support for the initiative to ban retail pet sales, please see his post on the Pound Rescue website, Why I Support Actions Speak Louder (Calgary) – it’s worth the read.