Yesterday, I was working on a homework assignment for a course I am taking on pet loss and bereavement. I was reading about the guilt so much of us feel after losing a pet, and one of the exercises they recommend we do is imagine a conversation with our pet. I decided I would try this with Kekoa, as I struggled- like so many people do- with knowing if it was the right time to say goodbye to her last year as she dealt with bone cancer.
Me: Kekoa, I’m sorry.
Kekoa: I love you.
Me: I feel like maybe I let you go too soon.
Kekoa: I love you.
Me: Do you forgive me if I made the wrong choice?
Kekoa: I love you.
I kept waiting for her to say something else, but that was all she ever had to say. It’s been almost a year, which is hard to believe. February 10th. A Valentine’s Day with a massively broken heart.
But now, I can think of no better way to reflect on this anniversary than to be with all of you, my friends, who can all relate to the special sort of sorrow this kind of loss rains upon us. The first- and hopefully not last- online pet memorial candle lighting ceremony is tonight, February 5th, 6 pm PST. I will be joined by several wonderful friends and we are so honored to be sharing in this event together.
How to Participate:
This ceremony, and this hangout, is for you and all you find meaningful. I encourage you all to participate to whatever degree you wish.
If you like, you can watch the Hangout right here, no special account required.
(Crying along at home is fine, by the by. I wish we let ourselves do that more often.)
Share a memory: You can click on the Q & A button and write a memory of your pet.
Share a photo: You can post a picture of your pet by clicking on the camera icon next to the “say something” box. If all goes as planned, I can incorporate those into the ceremony too.
Tweet a memory: If you post on Twitter using the hashtag #petcandle, I should be able to incorporate those tweets into the ceremony as well.
Above all else I want people to feel included. This is a group-owned event. Feedback after the fact is welcome as well. If you’re not up to watching, we’ll be sending much love to you. And if you know of anyone who might want to watch, I would love it if you could share this with them.
Hardened criminal. Swimsuit model. New media revolutionary. NPR host. Animator. What do they all have in common?
Their lives have been made better by having a pet. And we’re not talking oh, I have a cute cat and I sometimes feed it and it makes me chuckle, I’m talking about people whose lives have been profoundly affected by the animals in their lives.
I assume if you’re here reading this blog, you feel it too. Something about the bond between ourselves and our pets goes way beyond the mildly symbiotic relationship developed millennia ago when cavemen tossed scraps to the wolves on the outskirts of the clan; it is an uncomplicated, pure type of love, and those of us who are fortunate enough to have experienced it spend most of our lives trying to come up with ways to pay our animals back for what they give to us.
This Tuesday, I attended the Purina Better With Pets Summit in New York City. As it was the inaugural event, I didn’t know what to expect. No one did, really. 16 speakers in a Ted Talk-ish sort of format, 20 minutes each to share their stories of how pets have enriched their lives. It was, to put it mildly, fantastic.
Some speakers were enlightening, like Dr. Brian Hare from Dognition who is learning some amazing things about dog breeds and different measures of ‘intelligence’:
Some were funny, like Alex Ohanian from reddit- who talked about how putting a cat on your head and taking a picture creates an experience that allows people to connect with all of humanity:
Some moved us in entirely unexpected ways, like Black Label Dance Company’s exploration of a man’s relationship with his aging dogs:
And some just reduced me to a slobbering mess of OMG-can’t-deal, like Judy Finnegan of Puppies for Parole. Missouri’s program has rescued over 2,000 dogs from euthanasia at high kill shelters, placed them with prisoners for 8-12 weeks, and ended up transforming the lives not only of the saved dogs, but the deeply hardened men who found, through these dogs, how to learn compassion.
These are just a couple of samples, but the other previews are available here, including the inimitable Dr. Marty Becker ending us on a lovely note. When the full videos are up I’ll share again because there were some powerful messages in there that bear repeating, like Dr. Robin Downing’s assertion that reducing pain saves pets’ lives, and Dr. Arleigh Reynold’s touching discussion of moving to Alaska to live and breathe life with his dogs. Doesn’t that sound cool?
I left the event much more affected than I thought I would. As someone who has made my life’s work about animals, I forget that just because someone else hasn’t, doesn’t mean their pets aren’t just as important to them as mine are to me. I forget why I do what I do- not because I love pets, but because so many other people do as well, and I can provide something that helps make that even better. In our human world of strict social order, etiquette, and rules of conduct, pets are one of the rare things that can transcend that artifice and bring us all to the same level.
Group hug, everyone. Life really is better with pets.
*disclaimer: Purina invited me to the Better with Pets Summit and generously covered my travel expenses. They did not pay me or require any posts about the Summit- all opinions and musings are entirely my own.
I can’t believe Koa’s been gone over a month. Sometimes I still look for her around the corner or find some black fur stuck to a sock buried in the laundry pile. We are still adjusting.
I did a quick Google Hangout video talking about some of the lessons I’ve taken from my own dogs as well as my experience in the clinic. I hope it has some information people find useful, especially to those who have never been through the process before.
I admit, sometimes I feel like a lone wolf out here in the veterinary world, wandering aimlessly in the backwoods of Facebook while my more distinguished colleagues do things like invent CPR simulator dogs and dart rhinos and perfect orthopedic surgeries. I, on the other hand, put aside the glory of a specialty and focused on becoming the best GP I could be. I did it quite well. I treated untold ear infections, spayed I don’t know how many dogs, and saved too many carpets to count from the ravages of an upset stomach. I saved lives. I said goodbyes. It is an intense career.
It is an excellent career. But sometimes life catches us in its inexorable current and drags us downstream from where we thought we were going ashore; sometimes it’s by design, other times kicking and screaming, and sometimes we are just cluelessly looking at the sky without realizing we’ve gone off course, but wouldn’t you know it, this new place is pretty cool too so we go with it.
I’ve found myself in the latter category this past few years. Writing was an itch I tried to scratch, but instead of making it go away the itching has gotten more and more pronounced until it’s taken over everything else. Yes, this blog is like a bad rash I can’t stop scratching, and I like it.
It is hard to explain to your colleagues in a room full of tie wearing suits that yes, I spend a lot of time on Facebook and blogging and I Instagram dogs for a good part of the day but it’s all done in the service of the veterinary community. What can I say? I like what I like. I’ve honed my strengths, and unfortunately they’re not what, in the context of a professional medical organization might be considered high minded or perhaps even respectable, but they are what they are. Sometimes I write to entertain myself, and sometimes I write to serve a cause, but I always do it because I love it.
Some see me this way.
And others see me this way:
But I’ve had a hard time convincing my colleagues that no, really, I’m one of you! Like it or not!
I’ve gotten used to being politely ignored by veterinarians who just don’t know how to process what this is that I do and find it easier to excuse themselves than to try and understand what a blog is. I get it. I expect it, actually. Which is why I was a little alarmed when Dr. Andy Roark, a well known and well respected speaker on the topic of veterinary practice management, suggested we meet up over coffee at AVMA in August.
Panic set in. What am I going to say to this guy? I don’t know anything about practice management. Is he going to lecture me about the need to do more educational videos highlighting proper application techniques for topical flea medication? Is he going to ask me about monetizing a blog? Is he just looking for recommendations for a good place to go to dinner in San Diego? I went, because, well, it’s coffee and I never turn down coffee, but I was nervous. Intimidated.
What could a veterinarian who writes about professional and business strategies possibly have in common with me? Other than the DVM, I mean.
Well, plenty, actually. Mea culpa. After I figured out this wasn’t a secret “you need to be more serious” intervention attended by four of my closest veterinary friends holding a pair of khakis and a white coat, I realized that Dr. Roark was actually a really cool guy. There’s a point to this, I promise.
Sadly, I am less likely to take myself seriously with each passing year, in diametric opposition to how I am supposed to act.
The point is this: This led to more conversations about social media strategies and the relative merits of vimeo versus YouTube, and of course once the hamster wheel started spinning I also started with the whole “OMG have you ever heard of World Vets” because that is sort of my thing these days. One thing led to another and before you can say “three french hens” I was sitting with Dr. Roark and Dr. Dave Nicol, another amazing veterinarian and practice owner from Australia, in the lobby of the Marriot shooting a video to promote the World Vets Veterinary Textbook Drive. Dr. Roark came up with the video concepts, recruited Dr. Nicol, and donated his time at the CVC conference this weekend in San Diego.
Any vet who will draft a script, trust me to edit it and allow me to drag him all over a strange town to help a relative stranger with their own pet project is, in my book, aces. And I haven’t even shown you the other video yet – a THIRD veterinarian, Dr. Hoolihan over at Pacific Beach Veterinary Clinic graciously allowed me to shoot in his hospital without even having met me before that day. That video will be up after the holidays. It’s even better than this one.
I have to give my colleagues credit. I really thought there I was the only veterinarian out there who would do something like this. Publicly, at least.
Who knew my fellow vets were so awesome? See what the world would have missed out on had I been too Alan-like to want to meet a new friend over a latte? Tonight, we make a toast!
As long as the internet continues to be a depthless repository of the past, an endless attic of antiquity where people can dredge up whatever photo or story they want from previous years and turn it into whatever they wish, Procter and Gamble will struggle with the PETA/Iams cruelty video from a decade ago. Peta continues to drag it out every few months because, well, it gets well meaning people to send them money, despite the fact that it was inaccurate at best, and no longer relevant at worst.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I really would love you to read the piece I wrote for Good Dog magazine last year, because it goes into the history of animal testing in pet food and how P&G has changed so very much since that time. I’ll get back to this in a bit, but I wanted to mention it because today I’m talking about animal testing and the Natura tour. The bottom line is, despite what was or is rumored to be, companies can and should aspire to develop foods the way P&G Pet Care does.
Animal Testing: Then and now
Natura, which as you likely know was acquired by P&G two years ago, has always incorporated animal testing into their product development. In order to really get how this all works, you need to understand a few things about animal testing in the pet food industry:
1. Animal feeding trials are considered the ‘gold standard’ in determining whether or not a food will perform in the market. You can formulate a food to AAFCO standards to meet certain minimum requirements, and it’s very likely the dog will grow and be in decent health, but at the end of the day until you put that food in front of a dog or cat, you really don’t know how it will taste, how the flavors will work, how their coat will look, how well they will digest it, that sort of thing.
2. Invasive testing- I’m talking about anything involving a scalpel or even a needle- is no longer considered a necessary part of the process. Procter & Gamble and Hills, both of which I have toured, have an explicit policy prohibiting invasive testing in animals, and Royal Canin/Mars and Purina, which I have not toured, also have similar statements as part of their animal care policy.
What does that mean? Animals who participate in non invasive trials have only certain types of data they can provide: do they like the food. How is stool quality. How is the pet’s weight. What is happening to urine pH. How is their coat. How are their teeth. The days of euthanizing a dog at a year old to evaluate their joint cartilage are long gone.
Animal Care Post-Acquisition
So this is the question I get over and over from interested consumers who send me off to these tours with a list of concerns to address: How well, exactly, does a test animal live? And the answer is, it depends.
A company can still contract out their research to a third party facility. To be honest, I don’t know what it’s like for those animals. I haven’t been there. I’m sure they meet the minimums of the Animal Welfare Act, but beyond that- well, invite me for a tour and I’ll let you know. All living arrangements are not created equal.
Until the acquisition, Natura tested their food in two situations: at the Natura Health and Nutrition Center in Fremont, Nebraska, an on-site facility where dogs and cats live, and at an outside facility with whom they contracted for longer studies. The dogs in Fremont were mostly rescues, who came to live there after being relinquished by their owners. I met two of them while I was in Fremont, a beautiful pair of smooth collies who were playing fetch with one of the employees as part of their daily activity.
Natura came under a lot of scrutiny after the P&G acquisition, but the across-the-board reaction from the employees, who were just as if not more skeptical than everyone else about how this would shake out, was this: the dogs have benefitted from it. As soon as the acquisition happened, the animal testing process was subject to the P&G Animal Care policy, arguably the best in the industry. Under this policy, animal research can take place at only one of three places:
in people’s homes as part of a clinical research study- owned pets like yours and mine- about 70% of the research animals at P&G fall into this category;
places where pets live as part of their job, such as Canine Companions for Independence.
So the outside facility was, well, out. They also stopped bringing in rescue animals for testing, which may surprise you, but bear with me. It’s a good thing. Here’s the deal:
An animal who has been used to living in a home environment may not adjust right away, or at all, to a group living environment. You can provide group housing and enrichment and exercise, but at the end of the day it’s still a big adjustment. Under P&G’s policy, which I’ve written about previously, dogs are acquired as puppies from breeders and intensely socialized fron day one to live in a group setting, with the eventual goal of transitioning to a home at about 6 years of age. This program, developed by a behaviorist with the emotional well-being of the dogs in mind, results in happier dogs with less stress, which means better results for all involved.
The folks in charge of the facility at Natura have recently started working with a new group of dogs who had just completed training in Ohio, and they all admitted with some surprise that this has been a really good change for them. That’s right, things got better post-acquisition.
Life as a Natura Test Dog
So I don’t really know what life is like for a test dog at some companies, but for the 35 dogs at Natura it’s this: I get up, I eat, I hang out with my kennel mate, I get group play time outside, I get individual time with a person, I get trained about how to live in a house with vacuum cleaners and doorbells, I get regular veterinary care, someone collects my poop when I’m not looking, and then I get adopted. And that is pretty much it.
The Fremont Health and Nutrition Center is undergoing renovations this year, to make the kennels even more dog-friendly and provide the space for a full-time on-site veterinarian. The kennels are specifically designed to provide hiding areas, places to look out and see what’s going on, vertical space, and easy outside access. They are also improving the group housing facility for the 24 cats to incorporate outside access for the felines. When this is completed, they also plan to get accreditation from the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory and Animal Care, a voluntary certification that goes way above and beyond the minimum standards put forth by the Animal Welfare Act. Most facilities don’t do this. It’s a very good thing.
We all want what is best for our pets, and at the same time we (hopefully) want to know that the products we choose are developed in an ethical and humane manner. I’m very glad to see companies being proactive in their animal welfare protocols and continuing to improve year after year; and happy to give credit where credit is due to a company who is doing things the right way. Even a big company.
So there you go. Still have a post on the manufacturing plant to write- I was waiting on the picture with the giant probe, and it’s totally worth the wait, by the by.
I’m happy to feed Natura. If you would like to try it, I have a coupon for one bag of any size dog or cat food from the Natura line (Evo, Innova, California Natural, Karma, and HealthWise) that I will be giving away this week- you know the drill! Details are below.
Have you ever tried Gu when you’re out exercising? It’s like trying to swallow phlegm: pasty, sticky stuff that seals your esophagus shut with something that is supposed to be good for you. I don’t care for it (obviously.)
I think Brody feels the same way about biscuits. They’re fine for home, but if you’re out working up a sweat/pant/whatever, a dried out dessicated crunchy thing may not be the most appetizing choice. He doesn’t care for them. So I decided it was my goal for Be Kind to Animals Week to find a power bar or trail mix recipe that we could share. Pre made mixes won’t work: they’re either too salty, too sugary, or too packed with raisins and chocolate chips. Then, I found this recipe, and voila! a new treat was born.
The ingredients: It looks like a lot, but you don’t use much of any one thing.
1/3 c olive oil
1/4 c light brown sugar (I used sucanat)
1/2 c peanut butter
1 mashed banana
1 egg white
1 c whole wheat flour
1/8 c milled flax seed
1 3/4 c rolled oats
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 c assorted nuts, seeds, and fruits. I used pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds, peanuts, coconut, mango, and banana chips. Remember to avoid chocolate, raisins, and macadamia nuts!
1. Combine olive oil and brown sugar until well combined
2. Stir in peanut butter
3. Add in banana and egg white
4. Combine flour, flax, cinnamon, and baking powder. Add to mix.
5. Stir in oats
6. Stir in trail mix, blending well until dough sticks together.
7. Shape with your hands into flat, round 1-2 inch cookies. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven on greased cookie sheet or Silpat for 8 minutes.
Store in refrigerator for 2 weeks or freezer for up to 4 months! Bet they won’t last that long.
If you want to see the process in action- I filmed at the same time I was photographing it, and boy that gets complex!- here is the video. Added bonus, you get to see whether or not Brody and Koa liked them at the end.
As I alluded to in a post last week, I’m planning on travelling back to Tanzania in June for a project with World Vets. As you all know, or I think you mostly know, that was pretty much the most amazing experience of my life. And this is going to be different- it’s a working trip, not an anniversary trip I planned for two decades straight. I get that, and in a lot of ways it’s a relief- the pressure is off. I saw the chimps. I saw the Big Five. This time I get to just relax, do some good work alongside good people, and let Africa sink into my pores.
A friend once said to me, Africa is a place you either love or hate. You either get home and shrug with a confused “what was that?” look on your face, or you start planning your next trip. Well, making it back to a country in less than twelve months is a new record for me, so you tell me where you think I fall on that spectrum. I’ve had Africa on the mind since my feet touched ground back in October. (more…)
You all know Caroline Golon, right? She runs the amazing rescue site Romeo the Cat and the wonderful cat resource site The Happy Litterbox and the pet PR site HighPaw and she was one of the co-founder of BlogPaws and she’s a great mom to her adorable kiddos and a bunch of other things that, taken in total, make me realize how inadequate my contributions to society have been.
Anyway, I make it a goal to surround myself with incredible people like her because I always learn a ton from them- some may call it ‘parasitism’, but I prefer to think of it as ‘commensalism’. See, that biology degree comes in handy on occasion. And Caroline was kind enough to allow me to be her commensal organism while we were at Global Pet Expo.
Now, when you look at the technical definition of commensalism, it is this: commensalism is a class of relationship between two organisms where one organism benefits but the other is neutral (there is no harm or benefit). I am sure this is what she had in mind when we were making our plans- sure, I’ll let the vet chick hang out with me, what harm could come of it?
Then I started talking to her about a video. A simple concept, really. It would be the two of us, checking out some of the newest pet products at Global. She works in PR, this is right up her alley, I said.
Then we started tossing around ideas about how to make it, how shall I put it, “unique”…. and I waited for her to scrape me off her agenda like a dolphin might scrape off a wayward barnacle. But God bless her, she rolled with it and made it even better. I’m not sure if that counts as commensalism, humoring me, or just hoping maybe it dies a quick death on the blog, but I put it on YouTube, so now it will live in perpetuity.
What choice did I have? I do, after all, dearly love pet products. And you all know how far I’m willing to go to ensure a product lives up to my expectations.
So thank you, dear Caroline, for doing this bit with me. If nothing else, we gave a good number of vendors at Global a welcome respite from the boredom of their late afternoon with our camera and our slapstick. And say what you will, that bed was awfully comfy.
When I was in school, there was a resident who could best be described as a holy terror. She ate senior students for breakfast, washing it down with the salty tears of our despair when she would mercilessly rip us to shreds in rounds. And hoo boy, did she love me. And by love, I mean, love to rip me up one side and down the other. I was an easy target; I didn’t know much at the time. Her very favorite snack.
“The patient in room two is a….” I studied the chart…”Belgian Mali-noy?”
“Malin-WAH,” she would correct, rolling her eyes. That sort of thing. You had to see her in action to get just how well she did ‘condescending eyeroll’. And then I would make it through the room, and proudly pronounce the next day that there was another Malinois there on the service, only to have her whip out a droll, “No, um, that would be a … Tervuren” plus eyeroll at the senior clinician. While the difference between a Malinois and a Tervuren are now clearer to me, they really weren’t at the time, and well, they are hard to tell apart to the untrained eye.
We don’t learn breed identification in school. We learn it on the fly. We learn that the whatever-it-is in the room has an ear infection, and how to deal with it. It’s much easier in a clinic, where the owner has already filled out paperwork and told at least two other people what breed you are looking at before you go in and mess it up.
It’s still not easy. While this may be easy to ID: (more…)
So I’m super excited to watch the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship on the 4th! Four days of dogapalooza collapsed into two hours- it’s a tall order. I have some fun posts/giveaways planned for next week to lead up to the air date, but in the meantime I wanted to give you a little glimpse into the behind the scenes cogs of a show this size.
What can I say? I live for behind-the-scenes stuff. Dogs galore, camera crews, obedience trials, police dogs, Super Dogs, conformation, agility, and exhibitor booths all in one big conference hall running simultaneously? How does that happen without anyone getting bitten or run over? And when you send in an admitted agent of chaos such as myself to document the process, does that help or hinder the outcome?
Fortunately there was an ace crew of veterans there to oversee both the show and the bloggers, who, if experience is any indication, are always a bit of a wild card.
Crashing the Mrs. America pageant happened offsite, OK? (I voted for Mrs. Colorado, myself.) What are you going to do. We’re a handful. (more…)
First, a note: I fully support the efforts to bring awareness about the dangers of SOPA. And if you happen to have no idea what I’m talking about, or why Wikipedia and reddit don’t work, well, the info is all out there. SOPA/PIPA stinks, and as a small potates blogger, the implications horrify me.
That being said, I decided not to black out the site for two reasons:
I doubt this site going dark is going to be the tipping point for anyone to say, “well, I thought SOPA was a good idea, but the thought of life without pawcurious is just too much, so I’m changing my mind.” I’ll leave the hand wrangling to all the high school kids freaking out over a day without Wikipedia.
Most importantly, I couldn’t figure out how to make the blackout plugin work. Seriously. So here we are. Happy Wednesday.
Monday, I got to go on our local Fox station to talk about ways to keep healthy with your pet. It was a perfect opportunity: I have Brody, who is action central, and Koa, who is a couch potato. There’s something for everyone and dogs of all fitness levels out there.
I brought both of them, unsure of which dog I was going to end up using in the segment. Both Brody and Koa had gotten a turn on the GoPet treadmill that we would be using in the piece (which is entirely deserving of its own post, by the way); I was leaning towards Brody, since he had just gotten his feathers crimped and was looking especially fluffy that morning. Plus he runs faster on the treadmill than Koa does. (more…)
Chicken jerky is one of those things I had never even thought of trying to make until recently. I know my dogs love it, and until the FDA put out multiple warnings about how imported jerky was making pets ill it was something I included in their treat regimen.
About a year ago I got a dehydrator, in one of my occasional crunchy fits of health (it never lasts.) I used it a handful of times and then let it sit on the counter. A few weeks ago, I thought I would try and figure out how to make my own chicken jerky with some chicken that had been languishing in the freezer, and guess what: it is, like, the easiest thing in the world to do. (more…)