Friday, May 28, 2010

Should you give advice to pet owners?

I adopted a Shetland pony this week. Although I’ve owned horses for 20 years, I’ve discovered that ponies are a horse of a different color. They have fragile digestive systems compared to a full size horse, and can easily colic or founder if overfed or fed food that is too rich, too sugary, too high in protein, or any one of dozen different “too muches…”

Everyone that walked in my door offered an opinion. The first one was “Don’t feed alfalfa,” which is what these ponies have been fed all their lives. The next was “no grain,” then “no molasses,” “no beet pulp,” “only one carrot per day,” and the list goes on. I was doing everything wrong.

After sorting through the advice and reading a lot of scary articles on the Internet, I called my vet and we worked out a feeding and health care plan for the next few weeks. Shetlands don’t appear to be as fragile as miniature horses, but they are still delicate. And who has ever seen a thin pony? They’re all fat little bowling balls.

Except for the two at my house. They need some careful TLC. My friend Mary Ann adopted one of these ponies too, and they are both here until they are gelded (Yes, they are stallions). They came from a situation of severe neglect. Here is their story:

I adopted Rod Stewart who is now named Sherlock, and Mary Ann adopted Ziggy Marley, who shall remain Ziggy.

Make your own decisions
When your clients ask you for advice, they trust you to give them accurate information, not just a biased opinion. I realize that all my well-meaning friends and advisors all have the ponies’ best interests at heart.  

After being on the receiving end of so much advice, I understand the information overload that owners face when making decisions about their pets’ care. As pet sitters and dog daycare operators, owners assume we are animal experts, and they expect us to know what we are talking about.

So here’s what I want to recommend to pet owners:

Research: Read books and look up the issue on the Internet. But don’t believe everything you read or everything you hear. Just because someone posts a fancy web page doesn’t mean they have any credentials on the subject. Check into the background of the writer.

Ask questions: Your friends and family are often good sources of information, but it will be based on their particular experiences; valuable, but not necessarily applicable to your situation.

Talk to the expert: when in doubt, ask your veterinarian, a certified behaviorist, or a trainer whom you respect. This was my final step in the great pony-feeding dilemma. I asked my trusted veterinarian, and will be following his advice.

Advice which, by the way, was exactly what some of my friends told me to do. It was nice to validate their input, and I hope our ponies quickly recover from the horrible conditions they lived in.

It made me stop and think about the advice I offer to my clients. Opinions are not facts, and it is important to know the difference. There’s nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know.” A closed mouth gathers no feet. 

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Small doggie daycare sues Petco over name

Small independent businesses continue to snarl in frustration as Petco, a major national corporation, moves into their areas. 

First it was the Petco alliance with Fetch Pet Care, a petsitting franchise company, that caused a ruckus. Pet sitting business owners were afraid that Fetch and Petco would compete with big advertising campaigns and run them out of business. So far that hasn't happened, partly because Fetch franchisees are our fellow small business owners. Each business has to survive on the quality of its service, and no amount of backing by big business will save them if the service just isn't there.

Now a dog daycare owner, Oliver Blumgart of Unleashed Doggie DayCare in the Rhode Island/New Hampshire area, is fuming because Unleashed by Petco, a new upscale format pet supply store, has opened nearby, causing customer confusion.

Here's an article about it:

I remember when, years ago, Wickes-owned Builders Emporium, a California based operation, decided to expand and open a store in Las Vegas. BE had to buy out the name of an independent hardware store with the same name that had operated in the area for years.

I am guessing the motivation behind this lawsuit is money. I'm sure Unleashed's owner would accept a couple mil to change his name. But what about all the other Unleashed businesses throughout the US? If you do a google search, you'll find there are many.

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The trials and tribulations of dog care...

I have a bearded collie sitting at my feet- she has a full coat, and diarrhea. She absolutely reeks. She got into her owner's take-out Mexican food the night before she came over here. Three burritos and 2 flautas later, her tummy is a little upset. This afternoon's project will be to hose her down. I have company coming for lunch, or I'd do it now-- don't want to get too disgustingly dirty before they get here!

This is such a fun job-- just play with dogs all day!

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The quest for the perfect dog dish

The folks at Petzazz probably never dreamed their dog food bowls would lead the fight against terrorism at our airports. As everyone tossed their keys, cell phones and wallets in the bowls at the security checkpoint, I was reading the bottom of the dish to find out the brand name. A non-slip bottom! Just what I was looking for!

Nate the Lab dives into his bowl of kibble and it slides across the tile floor as he follows, finishing his meal in less than 30 seconds. After watching him push it under the cabinet and up against the wall (across the floor, out the door, go Nate go!) I realized that if his dish had a rubber bottom on it, it wouldn’t slide so badly. Thus began my quest for the perfect dog food dish. And I thought I’d found it at the Alaska Airlines terminal.

I searched the Internet and found the bowls for sale at Petsmart, and bought one for each of my dogs. Alas, the fix was not so simple. Nate, who isn’t even my dog, loves to carry his dish around, and the bowl was shredded in no time. My own shelties and dachshund did some chewing of their own, too.

At last I found the solution. WalMart carries a stainless steel version of the non-slip bowl. Chew-proof (well, almost) and easy to clean, I now have a collection of assorted sizes. I think it is interesting that I couldn’t find them at Petco or Petsmart. Maybe the airlines bought them all. 

Other bowls

I don’t like the so-called hound or spaniel bowls, with the angled sides and large bottom because they are hard to carry or store. They are the perfect solution for your long-eared dogs, though. If you buy the right size, the dog can throw his face into the bowl, and keep his ears clean because they fall outside the bowl. Cavalier spaniel owners are you listening? Plus, they don’t tip over.

I hate ceramic bowls. They are always really cute, and I have broken dozens. A happy Lab bouncing up in the air will crack the bottom of the bowl in two with his head. Or knock it out of my hand, or jump on it, push it off the porch and onto the sidewalk or even pick it up and carry it around. One of my more memorable pet sitting moments happened when I saw the dog with the ceramic bowl in his mouth, and I yelled “NO!” in my best pack leader voice. He immediately dropped it on the tile floor. What a good dog.

My water bowl solution involves tying a bucket to a tree or the fence, so that the water-loving retriever clients will quit dumping their water. It doesn’t stop them from playing in it. I often check the water to find the bucket still attached to the fence with a bunch of mud in the bottom. I think my next trick will be to install an automatic waterer like they put in horse corrals.

If you are fighting ants, there are bowls with a reservoir around the outside. You fill it with soapy water and the ants can’t cross it and get into the food. You can also fashion your own with a baking dish. I’ve been known to ransack a client’s kitchen to find the perfect ant-prevention bowl.

When a speed demon eater is the issue, buy a bowl with a big lump in the middle that slows him down because he has to eat around it. Or, you could put a large rock in the bowl. You could also just throw the food on the floor all over the room—one of my favorite solutions.

Treat balls or the Buster Cube (see the YouTube video above) also help slow down the fast eater. You put the meal in the ball and one bite falls out at a time while he rolls it around the room. This is also great entertainment for a bored dog.

So next time you are fighting with the food bowls at your client’s home, consider buying your favorite and giving them one for Rover. 

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Dogs that play too rough

I love to take pictures. I had to laugh; my neighbor caught me out in the yard taking photos of my guest dogs the other day. So we took a photo of each other taking photos!

This weekend's big accomplishment is to get four dogs who didn't like each other much at first to become friends. At last, after a full day and night, everyone is getting along well. The mixed breed, Max, is only eight months old and a real pest. His dog manners needed some work, and he was aggravating everyone. He still gets a little wound up and has to come in for a time out, but overall he's made great progress.

Meanwhile, Willow the pit bull mix was playing too rough for the Labs, batting at them with her front paws. I've seen boxers do this. She just wouldn't let up, and the Labs, Rex and Nate, were getting sick of her. Gradually everyone got tired and calmed down. I let her out with each lab one at a time, and they started to play better. They've had a blast ever since, though I supervise carefully. I was relieved that they all worked it out, because they are all really nice dogs that usually play well with others. Sometimes meeting a new dog puts everyone on edge for awhile. Some dogs just get so wound up they don't know when to quit.

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.