Monday, January 4, 2010

A Dog Chrismas Story

Our brightly lit tree twinkled and taunted from the corner of the room, but had made it well so far - only losing a few low-hanging ornaments.  Our attentive doggie damage-control toddler monitoring techniques had paid off in the last few months and it was obvious.  Naughty puppy behaviors were down by at least 80%, and the chaos of having toddler dogs was transforming slowly into some light and random teen-aged defiance.  With Christmas just two days away, we had planned to light a fire that night, have some wine, and just relax a bit; but first there was one last errand to be ran.  A trip to the drug store would only take a minute, and the dogs, who laid like boneless plushies on the living room floor, were just too cute and innocent-looking to disrupt.   . 

15 minutes passed before our return.   The first indicator that something was a amiss came in the form of a lone small yellow and black peice of paper that had drifted to the back entry.  "Uh oh..what is that?" Jason's ninja puppy damage-control vision spotted the item instantly. 

"Where are the dogs?"  I sped around the corner, flung my purse to the table, and laid my eyes upon a perfectly upright and decorated Christmas tree; under it, presents with bows in tact snuggled safely together.  Three waddling and slightly slower moving dogs walked up to greet me.  A brief sigh of relief was interrupted as my eyes wandered towards the clean fireplace and I heard Lyla licking her lips. 

"Wait," the word carried with shivers of panic.  "Wasn't there a.."   - My husband, Jason, finished the sentence, "a box of FireLogs!  Where did it go?!" 

We scanned the large living room completely, only to find a few more scraps of slobbery bumble-bee colored fire log wrapping and a few bits of orange and black Duraflame logo. 

"Oh god," Jason exhaled as he wandered out of the front dining room carrying an empty and badly mauled Duraflame box.  "I think there was only one left, but maybe two," he explained in a forced hopeful tone.  "They've been busy!" 

Looking down at the adoring faces of our three now-flammable dogs, I could see the look of 'oops' in their eyes.  Their swollen bellies shifting to and fro as they wandered the room looking for comfortable spots to sleep off their poor meal decision.  Visions of emergency room visits danced through my head as Jason ran for the phone and dialed Animal Poison Control. 

How the words 'fine' and 'consumed a firelog' can appear in the same sentence - I will never understand.  Of course, "either they'll vomit it all up or it will come out the other end," came out of the Poison Control Professional's mouth next, so this explains the expertise that we were working with. 

We were advised to dose Pepto Bismol consistently on the hour to "help."  No other advice was offered, so a minute later I was huddled with three burpy puppies smelling of lighter fluid on the living room floor, doggie medicine shooter loaded and firing thick, chalky, pink pepto down their gullets.  In hindsight I see that our minds may not have been entirely clear and operational that day, as the reaction that followed can only be described as very poor planning.  

One might think that dog vomit alone is bad, and I agree.  But then there's dog vomit plus flammable firelog chunks, which definitely has a smell all to itself.  In my vast dog vomit experience catalog this smell is second only to that of doggie car sickness vomit, which defies all laws of logic and stench to create what can only be described as something the devil would throw up after eating too many hate-gummies during his favorite holocaust movie.  So this was second on the list to devil barf/ car dog vomit.  But I'll spare you the charts and graphs.

As I was saying, Duraflame logs and Pepto combined in a torrent of dog tummy terror almost instantly.   
We may have had a minute before the chase began.  First it was Jack, the fastest, that made the all-too-familiar 'urp urp' noise.  Anyone who has a dog or cat knows that "urping" is the universal signal for 'this sucker is gonna blow!"   Of course our cats, being the kind-hearted and thoughtful felines that they are, would probably choose to make this noise from the top of our favorite peice of furniture or pillow.  The dogs however did not spend much time planning and just wandered about, bodies heaving, like little furry bombs counting down: 4 urp, 3 urp, 2 urp, 1...

It was this moment that I realized my most catastrophic mistake - well, aside from leaving three dogs out with a flammable box of chewy paper-wrapped wood.   In all my panic, I had failed to contain three sick dogs before dosing them with the pinkest most syrupy stuff known to man.

If you have ever played the game Wack-a-Mole, you can understand the situation that followed.  Urping and vomiting sounds filled our house as Jason and I chased around three large dogs, each equally sick, confused, and running like hell away from the crazy people that just shoved pink disgusting goo down their throats.  The Pepto plus the highly flammable syrup in which the wood had been soaked in resulted in the same reaction as the volcano experiment often seen at science fairs.  Pink bubble-gum-hued foam outlined each dog's mouth like a happy santa beard on a not-so-happy pooch.

Devil vomit and dog car sickness may stink the worst, but the appearance pales in comparison to the loads of pink, syrupy, foamy, and chunky streams of pure nightmare shooting out of three dogs simultaneously.  The once beige carpet became spotted in festive Hubba Bubba toned puddles.  Perfectly clean red, tan, and black and white freckled paws became pink.  Parts of the wall: pink.  The gory visions burned permanently into our brains:  ALL PINK. 

Once the carnage had past and we had all been sufficiently slimed by the poor puppy parenting blob of revenge, Jason and I mopped, wiped, and scrubbed our house clean of our mistakes, leaving light baby girl pink stains on various areas of our floor.  The dogs slept soundly that night, and awoke the next day unscathed.  We, on the other hand, we scarred for life.  Thank goodness we have their love to help us cope with these hardships.

Writer's note:
This happened quite a few years ago.  Also, I am a trainer and behaviorist, but this does not make me or my dogs perfect.  In fact, I rather like them in their imperfect state best.  After all, if it weren't for my mistakes, and trust there have been many, I would have a lot less wisdom to share with my clients.  Case and point: always contain your dog on solid flooring if they are suffering from an upset tummy.  This is especially true if you have dosed them with bright pink Pepto Bismol.  Yes, you can thank me later.

I'm Ready to Get a Dog - Now What?

Once we've made the decision to adopt a dog, then the search is on.  All of the sudden our pants are on fire and it's a rush to find an extinguisher.   But take a moment to consider your options here, and you and your dog will reap the benefits.

First, shift gears from consumer mode for a moment.  We don't shop for dogs, we shop for shoes.  Dogs are family members, confidants, and friends.   You should not be spending more time shopping for a new computer than you do looking for a dog.  Give them the respect they deserve when looking to invite one into your family.  Don't expect to come home on the same day with your new dog, expect to go through an adoption process that involves planning. Consider the below Do's and Don'ts before adopting.  You'll thank us later.

DO NOT go to a pet store.  The majority of these dogs come from puppy mills - a cruel and sick industry that tortures animals, creates sick and inbred dogs, and feeds off of public ignorance.  Don't be ignorant. 

DO NOT make an impulse buy on the side of the road.  These dogs are from puppy mills too. The sweet family that you are about to hand your hard-earned $300 to breeds dogs for profit.  These people often buy their dogs from Mexican puppy mills, then smuggle them over the border to make 5-10 times the money.  They do not care about those animals and they do not care about you.  If they seem otherwise it is because they are well-rehearsed con artists.   If you feel compelled to save their dogs, stomach it and drive directly to your local shelter.  You'll find plenty more dogs there who need to be saved, and your money will go to a group aimed at stopping this vicious industry instead of feeding it.

DO NOT buy from back yard breeders.  Well bred dogs are not bred in the dirt or the laundry room,  and they certainly aren't the product of some family's beloved in-tact Pit Bull who made babies with the neighbor's Mastiff.   There is science, investment, and tons of dedication in breeding pure bred dogs - and even then there are some serious ethical questions to be answered.   

How does one rationalize breeding more dogs when, for every one human in the U.S., there are seven homeless dogs on death row?   
The costs often outweigh the profits for breeders too, making it a much less profitable industry than one might think.   Plus, the circles in which champion dogs are bred are elitist, expensive, and highly selective about who their dogs go to.  If all you are wanting is a good family dog, there is absolutely no reason to purchase one from a breeder, no matter what your requirements are.  Trust that there are literally hundreds, even thousands, of dogs who would give you exactly what you are looking for.

DO adopt from a shelter.  Big, small, purebreds, mutts, allergy-friendly breeds, puppies, and potty trained dogs galore!  They come vetted for a nominal adoption fee and they are always grateful to finally have a home.  Don't make the mistake of thinking these are throw away dogs. Plenty of rescues have won obedience and agility competitions.  Mutts tend to have more stable temperaments and fewer health issues than purebreds. We prefer the term 'originals' instead of mutt in our family. Our dogs are awesome!

DO adopt from breed-specific rescues.  If you have your heart set on a purebred, we understand.  We know there's no face quite like that of a Golden's and no nubby butt wiggle like that of a Boxer's.  Because of this intense love of certain breeds there are breed-specific rescues.  These groups end up with the dogs from people who don't consider number three on this list before rushing out to buy a dog.  Sadly, people buy hounds and are surprised when they bark; they buy Yorkies and are appalled when they are difficult to potty train; and the list goes on.  When these people realize that they made a poor decision, they take the dog to a shelter.  IF that dog is lucky, a breed-specific rescue will be able to pull them from death row.  These organizations are largely foster family based and go to great lengths to work with the dogs and place them in homes that are well-suited for them.  They often have pretty intense application and qualification processes because of this.  They will tell you the truth about the dog and any challenges you need to be prepared for.   Want a tiny teacup pooch or a giant dog?  No worries, there are size-specific rescues too!

And there you have it - the best tips on where and how to get the dog you want.  Need more help or want to make sure you choose wisely?  Contact your local trainer.   They can help you prepare your home and family, and they can even help you evaluate dogs up for adoption to see who might best suit you. 

Notes on choosing a dog

 Yet another email I sent to a couple looking to adopt their first dog right after buying their first new house.  I send these a lot.  Some of my views on buying versus adopting and puppies versus older dogs are discussed here.  Not a complete list of ins and outs, but worth posting none-the-less.

A few things to consider when choosing your dog:

1. Puppies are very destructive - especially the powerful breeds like Chow Chow, Labrador, Shepherd, etc. They require at least 2 long walks a day and will not be satisfied by just playing in the yard. Are you sure you want to mix puppy and new house? No matter how careful you are about kenneling and monitoring, you will almost definitely have at least a few potty accidents, wall chewing, wire chewing, etc. Puppies must teeth, so they also must chew. A trainer can help you get through it with minimal damage, but it takes most dogs 1-2 years to mature enough to be trusted regardless of how early you start training.  A puppy may sound like a  fun and cute idea, but you may regret it.

2. You can still adopt a young dog, 5 months and older, at the shelter and shape their personality while skipping the super destructive phases. Dogs are very adaptive and smart - it is never too late to train.  There may still be some chewing, jumping, and other young dog behaviors depending on the age of your dog, but this makes them no different than a dog you would buy from a breeder. Keep in mind that the dogs at the shelter are not bad dogs.  They are simply overflow from the millions of households and breeders who carelessly allow their dogs to breed when there are already too many.  It is a simple issue of overpopulation.  When there are too many people and not enough homes, we end up with homeless people.  Works the same way for animals, only there are a lot more homeless dogs and cats in this world than there are people.  Approximately 7 dogs to every one person in the states. 

3. I highly recommend, whether or not you decide to adopt a puppy or a 5+ month old, that you adopt a mix breed. Unless you are planning to drop $3000 and show the dog, there is no real reason to buy a purebred. Plus, purebreds tend to have more medical issues and temperamental imbalances than most mixes. All purebreds were designed with a specific job in mind, so they are prone to more severe behaviors. Plus, these days they are often bred for looks and not health or personality, meaning there are dangers of health issues, in-breeding, and corruption in the blood lines - all for the sake of a "pretty" dog. It is nearly impossible to know about these issues when you go to buy a puppy. Keep in mind that the dog breeding industry is not a regulated one. Finding a good breeder is like finding a trustworthy tow truck driver. Not likely.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Cowboy and The Pee-Pot

In my job I meet a lot of people so I often get asked about my weirdest dog and human experiences. One of my favorites involved a truck driver and his "dominant" pee-pot dachshund.

Sitting outside of obedience class one day a slender, rugged-looking man walked up to me with tight wranglers and an uncomfortable strut to say, without introduction: "This damn dog won't stop pissing in my house." I looked down at the black and tan dog busy wiggling around on the end of his leash looking everywhere but at us. Attached to his hind end: two enormous testicles.

I asked the man about the dog's behavior to decipher whether or not it was a marking issue or a myriad of other potential problems, but instead of answering me, the man started off on a tirade that could have only been brought on by a six pack of Coors, inbred parents, and watching way too much Dog Whisperer.

"I'll tell you what the problem is here. This damn dog is trying to dominate me! He's pissing all over my walls and couches. When I spank him, he don't care. He just growls and threatens to bite me. But I don't take that shit. No, no... he growls, I take him down! He pisses, I just piss right over the top of his urine. He thinks he's gonna claim my wall, he gotta 'nother thing comin'! That's MY wall and I'm not afraid to top his scent!"

In all my days as a dog trainer, I've heard some pretty creative attempts at potty training and addressing marking, but peeing on your own walls to top your dog's scent? This one takes the cake.

Trying to remain calm while restraining from reaching out, shaking the man, and screaming WHAT THE F*** IS WRONG WITH YOU!?!? I calmly replied with: And how are those methods working for you?

Well, apparently the dog doesn't know the rules to his own damn kingdom because he just keeps peeing on the same spots."

And this is why everyone should be subject to a psychological evaluation before being allowed to adopt a dog.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ruthless Dictator or Friend?

After raising dogs as part of my family for so long, I can speak from experience when I say that forcing them off of the couch or pinning them to the ground to exercise authority is unnecessary. But training dogs in the heart of the "Alpha Dog" generation has had me saying WHAT THE....??? too many times to count. The techniques range from simple and harmless, to dangerous and ridiculous. I find it frightening to see how willing people are to believe such a theory and not challenge it with common sense.

There is a reason that dogs are so trainable, and it's not because they are stupid. I prefer to give my dogs a little credit in the intelligence department. I expect them to think. I challenge them to think. The trade is that I think of them in return. And I think it would be insulting to both my and their intelligence to assume that they see me as a giant bald dog when I'm clearly a big bald monkey. Therefore pretending to be an alpha dog makes me look like an ass, which only confuses everyone.

I've seen the reactions from my student's dogs when they insist on going through every door first, eating first, or attempt to handle them in cold and uncaring ways. When your dog sees you as a volatile control freak who will flip them over on their back without warning, they may listen to your command, but it's probably for the sake of safety not love. There is a big difference between acting as a leader and acting as an insecure dictator, and your dog knows it.

Anyway, there is also some scientific merit to believing in a less militant, more caring method of training. So if you feel that the "leader of the pack" mentality is a little fishy; or if you think that alpha rolls are the best way to establish love and respect, you may find Animal Behaviorist, Kathy's Sdao's article enlightening.

Monday, November 26, 2007

If you cannot be silly with your dog, then who?

Debbie has a dog named Joe that will follow her every command as long as she has a treat in hand. But Joe is no fool and consistently calls Debbie's bluff whenever she asks him to comply without the bribe. "The problem is bigger than obedience," she explains. "He knows how to do everything, he just isn't interested in me. Making me happy is last on his list of priorities."
How many people can honestly say that their dog, the one species on earth said to be endlessly loyal to humans, does not like them? Ouch! This is a problem.

I've spent a lot of time observing Debbie and Joe's behavior in class, and I can confidently say that Debbie seems like a generally pleasant person to live with. Reserved and calm in demeanor and gait, she does not appear to be a shouter, rough houser, or prone to any kind of major meltdowns - something I am usually pretty good at detecting in people, no matter how hard they try to mask it. If you need to hit pillows and count to 10 more often, I am the kind of trainer who will call you out on it. Not Debbie though; she is consistent, patient, and clearly a woman who means business. Nothing wrong with her training style at all - except for the minor inconvenience of her dog "not liking her."

I watch Joe perform some basic obedience techniques, and he runs through the process like a pro with his eye on the treat. He views training as a show, and he is an actor who memorizes and performs his lines. He is clear about one thing up front: He does not work for free, especially when he has reenacted this show a million times and is bored to death with it.

I have my suspicions as to what has gone awry here, but to make sure, I ask a few more questions. How do you react when Joe enters the room at home? "I usually call him over to me," she explains in an exasperated tone. "I want to cuddle with him, but he wants nothing to do with me. He just looks at me and walks out of the room."
Do you ever give Joe treats for doing nothing other than just being with you? Debbie's mouth goes slack as she gasps, "just give him treats for free? He is already spoiled enough, don't you think? He won't even look at me unless I have food!"
And what about play time? What do you do to interact with him just for fun? Debbie grins as though she's got me on this one. "I walk him twice a day on a leash out to the woods. Once we're there, he is allowed to run free and explore with our other dog."
That is a wonderful gift, but what activities do you do with Joe that actually involve you playing with him?
"The woods doesn't count?"

What I conclude from these few short replies and their behavior in class is that Debbie has been so diligent about teaching Joe his manners, that Joe seems to view every direct interaction with Debbie as some obedience ploy, at the end of which, he earns a reward. If the reward is something Joe is not interested in or cannot detect, he chooses not to play the game. Joe can't even walk into the room without Debbie asking him to come. Sure, there may be some good cuddle time waiting on the other end of that request, but Joe lives in the now, and her call to "come" just sounds like another order. Joe must want something first, then be asked to earn it.

At the core of Debbie's frustration there seems to be a lack of relationship. Joe certainly doesn't hurt for the good things in life, but most of what he enjoys is entirely separate from Debbie. Even his play time in the woods, as wonderful as it is, has nothing to do with Debbie; she is simply the means by which Joe must use to get there. She is a hurdle to get past in order to reach the fun part, but at no time during the fun part is Debbie actually part of the fun.

The tricky part about this situation is that Debbie has done nothing wrong. In fact, I did not suggest that she change a single thing about her training style, since Joe had clearly mastered all of his obedience cues. Instead I recommended that she add something.

Unlike the majority of cases that I see, Debbie has had no problem slipping into the authoritative role with her extremely cute and tiny pooch. It is instead with the role of friend and companion that she is struggling. With most dogs this is a battle that we do not face, as most dogs are happy just to hear their name, and most people are not quite as diligent as Debbie. But these two have certainly been paired for good reason. Like people, dogs are individuals; and if you are going to be Joe's friend, you are going to have to learn to drop the demands for a little while and just be a dog. This meant that Debbie was going need to lighten up.

So it was with this in mind that I recommended, despite her perfect posture and pristine clothes, that Debbie learn to play bow and roll around like a dog. He'll probably look at her funny the first few times (dogs know an unusual behavior when they see one), but this confusion will quickly turn into an opportunity for Joe to play along with Debbie as her friend; rather than perform for her as a servant. There are a few rules to this play time: 1) No one else is allowed to partake - not even the other dog. 2) She is to use a toy that only she and Joe play with alone and it needs to be a favorite of his. 3) When play ends, the toy gets put away.

I also recommended that Debbie focus more on using Joe's life rewards when working on obedience, such as insisting on a good sit stay before Joe gets to go outside on his walk. Incorporating his obedience into normal daily activities will transition Joe away from the "dog & pony show" that he is performing now, and teach him to apply his lessons for more practical use. She should also make sure that everyone else in the home is playing by these rules so he doesn't get mixed signals.

Slightly apprehensive, Debbie smiles and agrees that I might have a point. She even agrees to try the rolling on the ground, even though she is not fond of the idea of looking so silly. I urge her to give it a go when no one is home, so the pressures of human onlookers does not affect her ability to have a good time. After all, no one is as trustworthy, loyal, and appreciative of a secret as a dog. Sometimes a silly secret is all it takes to form a great friendship.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A fur family that would make Noah proud.

I started my fur family small and within my own means.
I got a harmless little cat.
Ripley was rescued from an unusual mommy - an orange female tabby who was a stray and got impregnated by a wild giganta-cat. Her kittens seemed like normal domesticated cats with the exception of Ripley, who was the largest of the bunch. Upon entering the room to meet him, he shot out from under the bed leaving his siblings behind, and thoroughly examined my feet while talking in his short quack-like meows. At the time I assumed he was saying, "take me, I'm cute!" Had I known what he was really saying, I may have reconsidered.

Ripley's playful, yet slightly fierce personality bloomed shortly after we brought him home. What at first seemed to be cute kitten play, turned into the ferocious ankle biting of all strangers. In his first year he hit 17 lbs; having grown so fast that he constantly bonked his head on low lying tables in the living room. He was incredibly intelligent too, and began fetching hair ties and anything that we agreed to throw for him. When alone he would use his enormous paws to open every cabinet and drawer within reach to find more hair ties and toys, then leaving the cabinets gaping open. It was a lot like sharing your bathrooms and kitchen with a poltergeist.

Considering his enormous size, eventually topping out at 24 pounds, his protective nature, and his propensity for games like fetch and "I'm going to lick your eyelids until you wake up," I realized that I probably should have just gotten a dog to start with.

After spending many hours contemplating where I went wrong with Ripley, I accepted that I simply adopted the Tony Soprano of cats. After a number of attempted hits on the neighbor's cat's, dog's, children, and anything else foreign and funny smelling to him, it became clear to me that Ripley needed to learn to share. I hoped to at least socialize him to a point where I would not have to wrap visitors in protective gear before allowing them to enter the apartment, so I rescued a six week old gray and apricot colored ball of attitude, hoping their personalities would mesh.

It was a little scary at first, but Ripley took surprisingly well to Olive. Almost maternal, he would let her nurse on his belly while he meticulously groomed her ears and butt. They had an understanding with each other: she could tackle, bite and growl at him, but when cleaning time came, she held still for the Godfather.

When Ripley met my husband, I became old news. It was no big deal though, as Olive had already parked her pear-shaped body on my shoulder and had no intention of moving for anyone, not even me. Now this is a place where she literally puts herself when she is in need of cuddles. About five times a day she jumps into the bathtub, "meers" at me until I give her a drink, "meers" again because she does not like the splash it gives her when it hits the tub, gives up, jumps onto the bathroom counter, drinks from the faucet, and then crawls up my chest to claim her shoulder seat. Whoever said cats are not loyal never met Olive.

A few years of kitty bliss went by before we bought a house and decided it was finally time for the dog we had waited so long for. Upon passing Lyla's cage at the Humane Society, we both immediately recognized the look on her face, which said quite simply: I DO NOT BELONG HERE.

Lyla was afraid and distant the day I picked her up to go home. I expected a bouncy six month old puppy in the car, but Lyla found a corner in the back seat and froze there for the entire hour drive home. The true puppy slowly surfaced in Lyla over the next few months however, and it was a relief to see her start doing normal destructive puppy things, indicating that she had finally become comfortable in her new home. Eventually she started making eye contact with us and trusting us to ride in the car again.

In four short months Lyla also proved that she is quite the over-achiever. Within a day she learned that ringing the bells on the door would get her outside - especially at 6pm for some quality frogging time. She also mastered her obedience skills in record time, except for the less practical tricks that she feels are silly. Upon teaching her to rollover, she made it clear to me that this trick was better suited for circus acts, and looked at me as if to say, "does it look like I'm wearing a red nose and clown shoes, lady?" But with all of her practical and sophisticated tendencies aside, she will still allow me to put stupid hats on her and balance treats on her nose. Not her favorite trick, but it's her way of allowing me to have my silly fun.

Jack, on the other hand, looks like this to everyone meeting him for the first, fifth or 978th time. In fact, I don't think I even knew he had eyes when we first brought him home. It seemed as though we had adopted a big wet nose and tongue. The only thing tipping us off that there was more to him than a head was the pain his paws were causing as he climbed up our bodies to get to our faces.

Unlike Lyla, personal space is a lost concept to Jack. He is all affection, in your face, on you, licking, snarfing and licking some more. An athletic 37 pound blur of squirrel chasing black and white spots and freckles; Jack is energy. I have often considered running a cord to his butt, as I'm sure he puts off enough energy to power our house.

Jack likes to challenge us. We've tried very hard to communicate to Jack that his lust for attention and constant face washing may be teetering on the delicate edge of coo-coo. But he remains relentless in his efforts, insistent that we need his face licks and spotted little body in our laps as often as possible. He is so persistent, we are even beginning to believe he might be right.

The next edition to our family would come in a very confused package. At four weeks old, Titus was found in a woman's front yard screaming full blast after a nasty storm. The woman brought him to me, milk face and all and I crumbled under his foofy charm.

We're not sure if it is her maternal nature or love for cat poop, but Lyla claimed Titus immediately. And like a mean joke being played on the new kid, Ripley and Olive laughed from a distance as the new cat grew to believe himself to be...
a dog.

Nowadays Titus wakes up with the dogs, goes outside in the morning with the dogs, tries to eat dog food, rings the bells on the back door, poops in the backyard, and lays around on the floor on his back just like the dogs. He even joins the training circle to sit and wait for his treats, offering a paw when prompted for a shake.

Although he is the smallest dog in the group, and his freakishly long tail is always in the way, no amount of tail squashing or chewing on his head will deter him from taking part in his pack. He is truly a dog's cat, or a cat's dog - or something... We don't really know what he is anymore, but he's cute.

With five animals total, Jason and I were of the opinion that we no longer had any vacancies. At this point we recognized that if the animals were to form a coo against us, we would have good reason to be frightened. We were already knee deep in yard poop, which is what we tried to explain to Mo when he followed us home on a walk one day.

Mo(hawk), as we dubbed him in a less than witty moment, is undeniably one of the coolest dogs in the world. First off, thanks to his Ridgeback roots, he has a full blown mohawk that sticks up about an inch off of his back. Secondly, his big square head has summoned more pity from strangers than I care to count. Thirdly, much like Winnie the Pooh, he is a big, golden, cuddly bear made entirely out of honey. Fortunately Mo is the persistent type and barked at our window until we let him in...

Whereupon he immediately did this on our floor.

Weeks of discussing permanent homes for Mo passed before we finally realized that no home for Mo would be good enough. Our previously "full" home was indeed missing something. It was missing a big, lazy, square head, which is what he was trying to tell us from the start. Luckily he knew we'd come around.

Through the years there have been many changes to our little family combining the old and young, big and small. Some were surprisingly smooth transitions, while others have taken a considerable amount of effort and resulted in temporary relocations to the top of our fridge. Explaining change to a being that does not speak your language can be tricky, but time and patience have been on our side, resulting in a sometimes chaotic, but surprisingly harmonic existence.

Rarely a day passes when we are not cleaning up a surprise; rarely a month goes by without the added expense of a vet visit. But, with freshly licked faces, we witness dreams of squirrels on a daily basis. Olive is always there in the morning, purring and waiting for one of her shoulder rides. Lyla knows just how to sleep on you without causing discomfort. Ripley is always surveying and quacking from his roost on the fridge. And Mo is always there to remind us that, no matter how full our hearts may feel, there's always room for one more friend.