It’s Kong O’clock Somewhere

At best, it looks like a beehive toddler toy. At worst, it appears to be some bizarre contraption best kept hidden in the bedroom.

Introduced in the late 1970’s, the Kong is a toy (or as we professionals call it, “enrichment device”) that has nearly become a staple in dog-owning homes. The founder, Joe Markham, designed it after his canine companion finally found gnawing satisfaction with a rubber suspension part from a VW Bus.

The patented one-of-a-kind plastic is safe on teeth, yet strong enough to withstand determined chewers. Its hollow “snowman” design allows for treats to be stuffed inside, prolonging the challenge and fun for users. Is the cost worth it? Yes! Even rat fanciers and zookeepers appreciate its value. (See video links at bottom.) To find the perfect Kong “fit,” more on its history, and recipes, visit the official Kong website.

My Josie Junebug is an energetic young dog who spends her workdays in the kennel. In addition to her walks and indoor play sessions, her dinnertime Kong serves as great mental exercise. I fill it in the morning, when I’m packing lunches, and stow it in the freezer (for extra challenge). When the family congregates for dinner, her Kong keeps her too occupied to even consider begging at the table.

I invested in a second Kong so one can be rotated through the dishwasher each night while the other remains available for her enjoyment. (That is assuming she doesn’t hide it from me.) Even after it’s emptied of edible surprises, it still provides hours of squeaky chewing enjoyment.

How difficult is it to fill? My husband was clueless when I texted him a request to prep Josie Junebug’s Kong after I had forgotten one morning. How easy is it? He asked my seven year old for directions!

Step One: Plug the smaller bottom hole with peanut butter (non-chunky), or cream cheese. I invest in a separate doggie PB jar, so I don’t have to worry about double-dipping.

Step Two: Set Kong upright in a cup for filling convenience.

Step Three: Fill with something yummy and exciting. My basic “recipe” is kibble soaked in a bit of meat broth or dinner drippings, but feel free to allow your doggie chef creativity to run wild. The hippie in me abhors food waste, so I often use food scraps (yogurt, pizza crust, rice, etc). The daily Kong is an especially good use for “ugly produce,” those slightly wrinkly blueberries, bruised tomatoes, and old carrots that human family members scorn.

Step Four: Fill to top with water.

Step Five: Freeze until dinnertime

That’s it! That two minute investment in the morning buys dinnertime peace for us all.

Family, friends, co-workers, pets: I think it’s worth a little extra time to set each other up for success and harmonious living. Don’t you?

Obligatory notes about safety and other resources for Kong recipes:

Like diets for all species, do what works for you. If you feel it’s best for your dog to only eat store bought food (or perhaps he medically needs to do so), use a Kong stuffed with dog food and water.

If your dog is getting fat, cut back on calorie intake. You can feed dinner in the Kong as a way of slowing down eating and providing some amount of exercise.

If your dog has a sensitive stomach, of course, don’t go pouring bacon grease or some other craziness into a Kong.

Some human foods are toxic to pets. Chocolate is the most infamous; however, you should also not feed grapes/raisins or onion. Also, check labels. Xylitol, an artificial sweetener, is toxic to pets and now also used in some peanut butters and yogurts! The ASPCA has a good starting list, or check the Pet Poison Helpline for a more exhaustive list.

Still, there is some solid evidence that veggies are good for dogs too: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/want-your-dog-to-live-to-30-add-this-to-their-bowl.html 

Here are other videos links where you can watch other species enjoying Kongs:

More Kong Recipes: http://www.k9instinct.com/blog/frozen-kong-dog-treat-recipes

Go to Fern Dog Training to download a nice Kong recipe book, and while you’re there, check out his informative and entertaining dogcasts.

Sanctimonious Blabber

At the end of the day, what good does your outrage do?

First was the incident with Harambe the gorilla in Cincinnati. Everyone was quick to judge: parents’ fault, zoo’s fault, kid’s fault. The only thing internet trolls seemed to agree on is that the only life worth saving was the gorilla’s. Everyone knew just what should have been done, despite not being there and having no working knowledge of the use of tranquilizers in a grown, 450#, amped up ape.

The next witch hunt was local. The Indianapolis zoo announced that they were sending our polar bear to Detroit. The Inquisition tried them on their Facebook page with accusations of discarding her in her old age in an effort to save money. Every time I visited, people were most often overheard remarking on the small size of her enclosure. Yet “fans” were furious she was being sent to live (no longer in isolation) to a four acre modern habitat.

With rising temperatures, local officials posted civic ordinances on how to respond to a animal in a hot car. Step one: if you’re at a business, ask for the owner to be paged. Step two: call animal control or non-emergency  police. Posters waxed sanctimonious. “If I find a dog trapped in a hot car, I’m breaking the glass. I don’t care. I’ll go to jail to save a life.” I recently had to stop by a gas station on the way back from an awesome hike with Josie Junebug; paranoia racked me the whole three minutes I was inside the building. I could just see the headlines “Local vet tech arrested for abandoning dog in car.”

ac on

 

I love animals. I’ve dedicated a career to them. I’ve worked at a zoo, with feral cats, in a clinic, and with laboratory animals. No one knows better than me how adorable they can be. Majestic, fascinating, noble.

But you know what, people, you’ve got to stop! Stop criticizing the zoo keepers, the park rangers, Disney World, and shelter workers. Stop picking up every animal you see on the sidewalk, under a bush, in the National Park. Your good intentions often make things worse. Caring for animals is a tough job that requires education, foists much responsibility, and rewards little pay. Your derision is unnecessary; we’re hard enough on ourselves.

In his awesome commencement speech to graduates of the Harvard School of Education, Dean James Ryan warns against the Savior Complex, a common trap where your desire to help misleads you to believe that you are an expert. He advises, How we help matters as much that we do help.”

The same person proudly proclaiming no hesitancy in rescuing an animal from a situation they know little of, would just as vocally own up to ignoring someone on the street asking (begging, even) for help. Can we really wonder about the violence in our streets when we value human life so little?

This hit home for me a few weeks ago. I met a girl on track to be Valedictorian for a large high school. In one breath, she proclaimed me her hero. She would love to work with animals. In the next, however, she said she planned to go into human medicine. She could never make life and death decisions about animals; someone’s grandma, however, she could handle. I’d like to attribute this position to the immaturity of a teenager. Yet, as I sat and absorbed this at the tables of the Ronald McDonald House, where families stay while their children fight for their lives at Riley Hospital, I was overwhelmed with sadness.

At the end of the day, what good does your outrage do? The next time something happens that stirs your heart, instead of declaring who was at fault, or finding a villain, do something useful. Ask “how can I help?” Channel your empahty to the bigger problem.

Thousands of gorillas  and other extremely endangered species are being wiped out worldwide. Donate to a wildlife fund in this gorilla’s honor, not once, but every month.

Volunteer at an animal shelter or donate much needed supplies.

If you love cute bunnies and songbirds, plant some life-sustaining natives in your yard, and think twice about pesticides. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator or park ranger before you pick up an animal that you think is abandoned. Trust the experts.

Animals are adorable and amazing. But you know what?

Josie Junebug would argue that humans are pretty terrific too.

Use your head along with your heart.

Worst Day Ever

Disappointment hurts. It’s raw and personal. Why weren’t you good enough? Why do good things pass you by? Why did you feel like the Universe was pointing you in a direction that included an emotional spiked-pit trap? 

Too often, we’re encouraged to “brush it off,” and our instant-fix society would certainly rather you self-medicate rather than be unhappy. Anyone remember Soma pills from Brave New World?

So, why would one ever choose to be discontent? Pain is part of living. A yoga practice usually starts by “checking in” with your body. Where does it hurt? How do you feel? Don’t judge or push away any discomfort. Breathe it in and know: this is what it feels like to be _____.”

Disappointed.

Pain
Princess Bride, 1987

I was working in the kitchen last week when my four year old trudges through mumbling “worst day ever.” Wow, what happened to him? I went to the living room to find out. He had to stop playing video games. Seems like a bit of an extreme reaction to an adult. We learn to modulate and reason out our emotions. But maybe there’s something to be said for just embracing how you feel for a few minutes. I think it does help us experience life and move on. 

The mirror of my son’s grumbling is that anytime he gets good news–going to grandma’s, pizza for dinner, new library books–that is the BEST day ever. How great that must feel. Learning to embrace the moment and drink it in means cultivating gratitude for small victories.

Toddlers and dogs really excel at living in the moment. Every now and then, Josie Junebug spends more time than usual in her crate because we have somewhere to go for the evening. Clearly, those occasional long days are her “worst day evers.” More often, though are good days: being with her family, exploring her yard, savoring a Kong, meeting new people to tell her how beautiful she is. As my husband and I sit in the quiet of a day’s end, we look over at her smile or her exhausted sleep and proclaim it for her: TODAY was the BEST day ever.

Feel your heartaches. Don’t judge or be hasty to push yourself into how society wants you to feel. Rest, pray, learn your lessons, nurture yourself through them. Then do anything in your power to make tomorrow the Best Day Ever.

 

A Punxsutawney Miracle

Our crate training journey wasn’t graceful, but you know what? In less than three months, we got where we wanted to be.

When it comes to relationships, be it marriage, raising kids, or training dogs, I think compassion and the pursuit of mutual understanding will guide you to success.

Trainers’ guides to introducing a puppy to a crate go something like this: crate training should be a gradual and positive experience so that your puppy learns to accept the crate as her happy den of comfort. Start by leaving the door open and littering the floor of the crate with treats so your puppy willing enters…

Josie Junebug’s crate introduction at our house went more like this: Welcome home, adorable girl, here’s your crate, go in it.

I admit, it was abrupt. In our defense, we had not raised a puppy before and were told when we adopted her that she had been crate trained at her foster home. So, I guess we just assumed she would take to it with the grace we expected.

She spent the first night whining and barking at the top of her lungs for forty minutes, every hour. I cowered under my pillow thinking “oh, what have I done? Dogs are smelly, loud, and trouble.” I was convinced I had forfeited all domestic tranquility for the next decade and a half. (Note that this is the kind of thinking that stems from anxiety and exhaustion.) Though it was a long, frustrating, worrisome night, I felt it was important not cave to her whining.

The second night, we moved her crate into the kids’ room so she wouldn’t be all alone. She whined for twenty minutes, sans barking, after which she slept through the night without incident. From that rebound, she quickly adapted to keeping quiet and not eliminating in kennel.

When it was time to return to work (after Thanksgiving break), I was very anxious about leaving her in a crate all day. My husband was surprised: “I thought you were all pro-crate.” The funny thing was, professionally, I had no problems putting other people’s dogs in kennels all day. Turns out, as a [dog] mom, I’m a total sap. Still, though, she could not be trusted to hold her bladder or avoid the temptations of destroying all we possessed.

I knew from counseling clients that it was important from the beginning to avoid  nuisance barking and separation anxiety. So, we were consistent and no-nonsense about putting her in her crate at night and while out of the house. Though she accepted her fate with slumped shoulders and pleading big brown eyes, she had to be carried to the kennel every time. The optimist in me thought “thanks for the sixty pound deadlift, Junebug.”

I’m sure her crate would be more comfortable (and quieter) with a mat or blanket. We bought a cheap rug at Aldi (my husband pointed out that, at $8, it cost the same as every toy we tried on her). She left it alone the first night, but chewed it so thoroughly the second that I felt it was safer to trash it. So, until we save up enough for a chew-resistant pad, kennel time means cold, hard, nail-tapping drudgery on the plastic.

Then, on Groundhog’s day, I get a surprising text from my husband. Josie Junebug voluntarily crated herself! Recognizing the signs of their morning exit routine, she slinked in of her own volition! Now resigned to her lonely schedule, she “kennels” on her own.

I certainly would not claim she has embraced her kennel as a comforting wolf den. We could have handled the whole situation better by working systematically on crate acclimation. A few days, I fed her in her crate so she’d have positive, short duration exposure while the cats ate in peace, but I forgot to do this consistently. Working full time, managing a house, and caring for two kids and three pets keeps me busy. Though I’m quite organized, consistent training (of dogs and kids) is not one of my strong points.

 

Our crate training journey wasn’t graceful, but you know what? In less than three months, we got where we wanted to be.  What lesson did I ultimately glean from all this? Follow your own path. When it comes to relationships, be it marriage, raising kids, or training dogs, I think compassion and the pursuit of mutual understanding will guide you to success. After all, it’s not about me asserting my will over her, but about us all discovering how to live together. To that end, I have just as much learning to do as anyone else.

February 29, 2016: a reflective post

Leap boldly into your day.

Twenty four extra hours to live fully,  love deeply.

Strive for goals that seem further away than the day you determined to succeed.

Breathe and eat and rest through a day special and yet the same as all the others.

Argue,  protest,  scare yourself with your anger,  because there are those powerless and too weak to do so for themselves.

Create,  rend,  reinvent that which  you no longer wish to carry.

Honor and rebel against tradition and expectations–yours and others.’

Leap Day is a strange surprise in the calendar. Once every four years, a whole ‘nother day, and unless it’s your birthday, not a lot of direction on what to do with it. Aside from playing leap frog all day, the best suggestion I found to celebrate was to take a picture. So we did.

The fun thing about Leap Day is that it occurs just seldom enough to be special but often enough to a repeated occurrence in our lives (Lord willing, as we say in the South). Four years from now, my son will be in school. My daughter will count her age in the double digits. Josie Junebug, of course, will no longer be a puppy.

And what about me? Hopefully, I’ll be on  book tour for my latest best-selling novel. Perhaps I’ll be waking to the sounds of waves crashing outside the window. (Awesome vacation waves, not end of the world tsunami waves.)

far better

In four years, who will be our President? Will we have made any progress in race relations or peace in the Middle East? Will our oceans be any cleaner or the bees have made a come back? What planets will mankind have traveled to?

Aside from the promise of entertaining the world with my literature, what else will I have accomplished? What strangers will I have fed? How many children will I have comforted? How invasive will my footprint be on the Earth?

In the comments, share any unique Leap Day traditions you have and what you hope the picture of your life will look like at the next Leap Year.

Product Review: Outward Hound Fun Feeder

Anyone know of any pet speed-eating contests? One of my fourteen year old cats would be a shoe-in. Josie Junebug has learned from the best. In an open bowl, she can finish her meal in under thirty seconds.

Being a big-chested broad, I’m mindful to watch for bloat. Some dogs regurgitate after eating too fast. I’m hoping that slowing her feeding might decrease her silent-but-wicked gas. When she settles down for the night, she looks like someone sold us a basket of deer legs for a pet; yet her adorableness is interrupted by her un-lady-like flatulence.

The first slow feeder I bought was OK, but there were two main problems. First of all, despite the rubber no-skid feet, it slid all over the room during the eating process. Secondly, the dimensions given apparently described the footprint of the bowl and not the interior feeding capacity. It barely held two cups, though the product description stated that it held five. 

The Outward Hound Fun Feeder is working much better. Presumably because of the flatter design, it stays put during use. Also, it easily contains her three cup meal portions. The puzzle walls deflect food back out of the bowl if you haphazardly dump kibble in as you would a traditional bowl; more careful and slower pouring is required to avoid spillage. An obvious side benefit is the colorful cute design. At $10, I consider it a solid investment in her health and a successful enrichment device.

Thankfully, she has not yet learned to dump it like the dog in this review. I attribute it to her youthful naivety since she’s generally a pretty bright girl.

This feeder has slowed feeding time from around thirty seconds to closer to seven minutes.  video here

When you eat, know that you are eating.
When you eat, know that you are eating.

Maybe I should buy something similar for myself to encourage slower and more mindful eating.

Leave a comment: do you eat like a ravenous wild dog, or have you mastered the trick of civilized self-feeding?

 

The Gift of a Renewed Habit

Reclaiming a healthy routine seemed impossible to do for myself, but when a beautiful brown-eyed girl entered our lives, it became effortless.

Before my daughter was born, I woke up 45 minutes earlier than I needed to every morning for the sake of self-development. I would be sure each day started with a positive thought of intention, read something spiritual or personally progressive, and end with a set of simple calisthenics. Every self-improvement guru will advise you to do this. So will this anal-retentive blog author.

Unfortunately, once the sleepless nights of motherdom hit seven and a half years ago, I fell out of this habit and never managed to restart it. As a matter of fact, the stresses of long-term joblessness in my household and the addition of a scrappy son have, for years, dunked me continuously under the waters of chaos. I can honestly say that the loss of this one clarifying habit has, for me, been the main contributor to a chronic sense of “not having a handle on things.”

predawn
Stepping into the predawn, starting the day with a breath of fresh air. (Thankfully, she doesn’t poop until later.)

This habit gently resurfaced in my life a couple of months ago, and it should be no surprise to the reader that I owe it to the adoption of Josie Junebug (Greatest dog in the world). You see, I felt guilty that, after spending all night in her crate (to insure she didn’t chew up the entire downstairs whilst we slept), she got only a short reprieve before returning to her crate while we were at work and school.

The Monday after Thanksgiving break, my alarm rang half an hour earlier than usual. What had seemed insurmountable for years suddenly just happened. Since that day, and every work day since, after showering and dressing, I liberate her from the evil crate (her sentiments, not mine) and am rewarded with grateful adoration displayed via entire rear-body wags.

Friedrich Nietzsche picture quotes - He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how. - Inspirational quotes
Reclaiming a healthy routine seemed impossible to do for myself, but when a beautiful brown-eyed girl entered our lives, it became effortless.

I drink my coffee while it’s hot, not having to set it aside to pour chocolate milk, or cut up an apple. In 15 minutes, I am able to read more of C.S. Lewis’s  Mere Christianity than I could accomplish in hours while wearing the Mommy Hat. I put away the clean dishes, accomplishing something before I even leave the house.

In the stillness of predawn, my dog and I peacefully step into the day together.

 

Leave a comment: What good habit has your pet (or loved one) inspired?