Monday, September 23, 2013

The Road Less Traveled By (or) Shit Happens

Hey y'all - GUESS WHAT? We didn't die!!!

Each trip into the woods is a learning experience. You tweak equipment and style and technique each time, and you're always gaining new knowledge about the right - and wrong - way to do things. For example, I learned that my new sleeping pad was totally worth more than its weight in gold because that thing is super comfortable and light as heck. And I confirmed that my old rain gear is absolutely better than my fancy, expensive new rain gear. And I also came up with a new way to connect Rubi and Piper's leashes a la sled dog style so that they get tangled less frequently.

Not tangled leashes, very handy.

And then we learned that although Rubi has always been extremely respectful of barriers, she will, in fact, go right through the front of a tent to get to another dog. After which we learned that I have mad flying ninja dog-tackling skillz, y'all, and the NFL needs to recruit me right the hell now because I would totally take that team all the way to the Super Bowl. They should also recruit me so that I can have the money to fix the front of my tent.


Shit happens. At the end of the day, it's just stuff. And even if I'd known, I'd still have brought Rubi with.

No dogs were harmed in the making of this trip, even though he totally deserved it (according to Rubi).

The eighteenth of September, smack dab in the middle of our trip, marked Rubi's third Gotcha Day (that's the third anniversary of the signing of her adoption papers, in case you didn't know). Sometimes, I think I'm incredibly lucky to find a dog willing to let me yank her out of civilization and into the wet, mosquito infested, tree-rat laden woods for a week. Sometimes, I think Rubi is incredibly lucky to have found someone willing to take her blonde, bitchy, reactive ass anywhere. Needless to say, I think we suit each other well.

Rubi thinks we should go on vacation every year for her Gotcha Day.

Rubi was bounced around a lot before she landed at my house, and I always regard the perfect storm of events that brought her to my door as a bit of a miracle of coincidence. She is certainly not a dog I would have gone out looking for. I mean, who in their right mind goes to a rescue and says, "Yes, I would like the old, crazy-reactive dog, please. The worst one you've got." I mean, I'm not that insane (yet). But after three years, I've yet to seriously regret signing those papers. Rubi and I, we have a friendship that is completely unique and amazing and hard in all the good and bad ways. We have done things and seen places that many others will never even realize exist. Rubi and I have walked the road less travel by.

And that, of course, has made all the difference.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

So This is Happening

In a few days, Rubi, Piper, and I will be heading out for a week with my dad and brother to hike the last half of the Border Route.

You might remember, we did the first half last year.

I've been really relaxed about planning this trip (and by relaxed, I mean I've procrastinated all over the place and just don't care). I think that part of it is just experience: this is my third trip with a dog, and I've lost count of how many trips into the woods my dad and I have done. Also, I finally own pretty much all my own gear, which means that I don't have to try and scrounge up stuff from other places. Oh, and all my worry is being taken up by the huge trip my husband and I are taking in October wherein I have to find sitter for all six dogs PLUS not kill my husband because he still hasn't found us a hotel in Seattle (I suspect we will be sharing space with the Fremont Bridge Troll).

Anyway, I feel like Piper, Rubi, and I are about as well prepared as possible for one of these trips. I know what I need to bring for the girls, and what's okay to leave behind, how to hold the leashes so they don't pull under the doggie backpacks, and what commands to polish up before we leave. That's not to say we won't get eaten by bears or kicked to death by moose, because these things happen, but at least the parts of the trip that respond to planning are well in hand.

Water proof boots for flooded trails? Check.

One of the hard decisions that came with this trip was whether or not to bring Rubi at all. At the end of last year, we found out that Rubi has arthritis in her spine. Since then, she's been getting steadily stiffer after hard physical activity - things like playing ball, or chasing her big orange back, or biking. I'm certain that by going on this trip, Rubi is going to get sore. It's going to happen. But on the other hand, Rubi LOVED our trip last year. She thought is was a grand adventure, even though there was rain and bugs and she fell in a lake. So is the enjoyment she gets out of the trip worth the pain I know is coming?

I hate to anthropomorphize, but I think if I asked Rubi, she'd say she would rather go than stay home on the couch and be bored.  I hope this isn't me projecting my feeling on her, because I feel the same way - I'd rather be out on the trail than sitting at home "taking care" of my knee.  Rubi has always been an adventure-oriented dog, and I like to think we're similar that way. Our bodies are simply a method of transport from one adventure to the next, and if they get a little banged up in the process, well, that's how you know it was a good trip.

So here's to the adventure! May we never run out of pain meds . . .

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Essentials

Recently, Two Pitties in the City asked their readership what they consider "canine essentials" - basically, what do you need to have to be a good dog owner? Now, it's no secret that I am a horrible, horrible dog gear junkie. I love dog stuff, and I'm much more likely to buy pretty things for my dogs than for myself (although I'd argue that buying pretty things for the dogs is very much like buying pretty things for myself). But after three years of working with Minneapolis and St. Paul's poorest dog owners, I've taken a more minimalist view of what is really needed to be a good dog owner . . .

1.) Purchase price: Probably the first price a new dog owner will pay is, of course, the purchase price of the dog (unless, you know, you do your research and buy supplies and whatnot before you get your dog, but who does that?). Generally speaking, the cheaper the dog is to buy, the more expensive that dog will be later on. You can get a German Shepard for $100 from the newspaper, but chances are that her hips will fall off in a year or two. You can get a dog for $50 from some shelters, but I wouldn't count on it being spayed or neutered or even up to date on its shots. That free puppy from your neighbor? Not so free when you have to count in the cost of vet care and supplies and equipment everything else that goes along with dog ownership.

"I am an f!ing expensive dog, but it's okay because I look like an alien."

2.) One time purchases: This is stuff that you'll buy once or maybe twice during the life of your dog, and it varies a bit from dog to dog. One item that won't vary is a good collar, leash, and ID tag. These three items aren't expensive (unless you want them to be), but as preventative items, they're worth their weight in gold. After that, this item list gets a little hazy. For example, the dog trainer in me says that you should get a crate, because crates are awesome tools for training and management, but what if your dog is an only pup and doesn't chew on inappropriate stuff? There are three dogs in my house right now who aren't crated on a regular basis, and they manage just fine (note: they're all separate when unsupervised, I don't want to come home to the aftermath of a dog fight, they're just not crated). Another example of home-specific purchases would be the fenced yard so many rescues seem to require. What if you live in an apartment, but you're really physically active and hike and run and everything? There are a lot of things that could fit into this category, but I think collar, leash, and ID are the big ones.

3.) Food, water, shelter: Food is a tricky one, and an issue it seems that everyone has an opinion on. When it comes down to it, I don't care what you are feeding your dogs as long as the dog is being fed consistently and its major nutritional needs are being met. You can have a good home and not feed raw or grain-free or super fancy. Your dog probably doesn't even care if the food is in a bowl. Clean water should probably be from a bowl, though. As for shelter, well, provide adequate shelter so that your dog is suffering from neither the elements nor loneliness.

4.) Routine health care: Core vaccines are cheaper than treatment for the diseases they prevent - if not in actual cost, then in heartache. It doesn't matter to me if you go to an exclusive private veterinarian or a low-cost shots fair: get 'em done. I'm also an advocate of yearly vet exams, but do I think you absolutely need to have them done in order to be a good dog owner? I suspect not. Heartworm and parasite preventative is usually a good idea, but I also understand why you might not want to put poison in or on your dog. Which brings up another subject: it's pretty easy the say that your should have enough money for routine vet care, but anyone who has owned a dog knows that they rarely need "just the basics" when it comes to healthcare. What is the minimum amount of money you should have in your bank account to provide for emergencies and unanticipated vet bills? The number I like the most is that you should have on hand the amount of money it would cost to have your dog euthanized. If you don't have the $1000 + dollars required for bloat surgery, at least have enough money to be able to end your dog's suffering humanely. Being poor doesn't mean you're a bad dog owner; it just means that you'll have more difficult decisions.

5.) Give a damn: When I look at the dogs around me, in classes or at shots fairs, I see a rather simple trend: dogs that are happy have people who care about them. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule (*cough*Maus*cough*), but in general, the dogs who seem to be enjoying life the most are the ones who have people to enjoy it with. The dogs don't necessarily need someone to love them. I've had plenty of fosters through my doors that I didn't love like mine own, and their quality of life didn't suffer for it. But if you care about your dogs, you do simple things like spend time with them, and work with them, and feed them, and try to make sure they don't play in the street. People who don't care about their dogs - well, I'll spare you the horror stories, but it's never pretty. Even if someone isn't caring for their dog properly, if they care about the dog, they'll try to change. We have someplace in common to start from. And that will go a long way.

So that's my list of essential items needed to be a good dog owner. What are some things you think are important to being a good owner to your dogs?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Hike #5: Some . . . Random . . . Trail . . .

Okay, so I had an official hike all picked out for after class on Saturday, but I had a knee injection on Thursday, and my knee hurt, and I was kind of hungry, and it was hot out, and then Crystal decided I wasn't allowed to go hiking. Or something like that. So we took the dogs to Shish, a yummy café with sidewalk seating in St. Paul.

Maus was not entirely thrilled with this, but he got to eat lots of my gyro meat and didn't bite anyone, so we both got something we wanted.

He puts up with so much.

After lunch, I pointed out to Crystal that the Mississippi River was only a few blocks away, and it'd be a shame not to wander over and take a look. A tragedy, really.

Little did Crystal know that the blocks on Summit Avenue are about twice as long as any sane blocks. As a consolation prize, though, the houses are some of the loveliest bits of architecture in the cities. And, of course, the Mississippi is always worth walking to.

No one fell down this cliff, luckily.

Once we got to the Summit Ave overlook, I pointed to one of the random trails down to the river and said most innocently, "Gee, I've never been down there before." 

I am sneaky, sneaky. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I buried Maus's feet in the sand. He was only mildly horrified.

Then I buried Piper's feet in the sand. She gets me.