Friday, December 12, 2008

Still waiting

Still no acceptance letter from the therapy dog people.

In the meantime, Finn and I have been learning to snowshoe. We got about 8-10 inches of snow on Tuesday and so it's a good amount for a beginner. Yesterday Finn ran straight into me and knocked me down into the snow. I've learned that snowshoeing can affect your balance on certain terrain. Luckily I had snow pants and a warm coat on so I was padded and not upset about falling into all that snow. Of course, Finn thought it was great fun once I was down there and started licking my face and jumping on top of me. Anyway, hopefully the snow stays around so I can continue with this new activity. It gets us outside and helps break up the long winter.

Today it was 0 degrees when I woke up and the wind was gusting to 40 mph and bitter cold. Makes you want to stay home and drink hot chocolate all day. I'm terribly behind in all types of holiday preparation including cards, decorations and gift purchases. We did finally get our family photo taken for our holiday card so that's one step in the right direction. It was a beautiful day right at dusk but the moon was full so it lit the sky in this gorgeous shade of blue. Here it is.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

One step closer

I don't think that I realized how much paperwork would be involved with this therapy dog process. Not only did I need to fill out about 5 pages of forms and submit a photo of Finn and I but I had to take about 5 more pages of forms to our vet for him to complete.

After a full physical exam, heartworm blood test, fecal test, one vaccine booster and about 30 minutes of the good doctor's time, we learned that Finn has a slight skin infection on his upper lip. The therapy dog form has a list of systems i.e. body parts that are to be checked by the vet. Unfortunately, this small bump and little bit of hair loss on his upper lip required our vet to check "abnormal" next to the skin/coat section. We left with a week's worth of antibiotics and now wait anxiously to see if this abnormality warrants a rejection letter from the therapy dog program. We can't go on any visits until we receive our acceptance letter and identification badge. Who knew this would be such a process?

In the meantime, Finn and I have been enjoying the 8-10 inches of snow we got yesterday. Finn really gets quite invigorated by the snow and has a blast doing hot laps around the yard. Today it's super cold and windy but I hope to post some pictures soon of our winter wonderland.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Friendly Skies

So here is another post about the injustice in the world, albeit a bit more light-hearted this time. I was in an airport recently in pursuit of a standby seat from Minneapolis to Milwaukee. For those of you not familiar with the challenges and pitfalls of airline travel, specifically business travel, standby is what you do when trying to get on an earlier flight than the one you are booked on.

Sometimes I luck out, but sometimes I'm left to sit outside the gate wishing and hoping that some fellow traveler is delayed, ill, or has decided not to take that flight. On this occasion I was left to sit and wait until the very last minute when the gate agent shut the door to the jetway and confirmed I was not going anywhere early.

As usually happens when I am the only person sitting near an empty airport gate area, the man across the aisle from me struck up a conversation. He was also going standby but was confident that I would be allowed on board the flight before him because he was a "non-revenue" ticket. I learned that this meant his brother was a pilot and so he was floating around the airport waiting to scoop up any available seat to Milwaukee. Once the jetway door closed it was clear that neither of us was going anywhere, revenue or non-revenue.

About two hours later I met up with this gentleman again outside the gate for the flight that I was booked on and that he was hoping to get on. As we were sitting there waiting to board, he was called up to the podium and presented with a first-class seat. He was positively giddy when he returned to tell me he had been bumped to first class.

Now, I realize that a first-class seat on a 44-minute flight is no prize. However, as someone who has racked up thousands of frequent flier miles flying for business, I was seriously disturbed that one of us revenue-generating frequent fliers who regularly slogs through airports tolerating bad service, delays, weather and cancellations was not bumped ahead of someone whose brother works for the airline. Are you listening airline executives?

Friday, November 14, 2008

The country life

I was traveling for work again this week and am now fighting off a small cold. Damn airplanes! They are just simply giant germ traps.

So yesterday I decided to work from home and not spread my cold around the office. Around noon I was startled by Finn barking like a alien spaceship had landed in the backyard. This is what he saw.

It was bizarre because this little buck was running from the front to the back of my yard and all around the neighboring yards as well. It was the middle of the day and he didn't seem to have any destination in mind. Just getting some exercise I guess or, more likely, looking for some friendly doe that might have been hiding in my garden.

Friday, November 7, 2008

And I Approved This Message

Despite my love of politics and the legislative process and other nerdy things of that nature, I am glad that that election is over. I'm thrilled with the result but I know many of you are not. I live in a dark red county of a blue state and sometimes it's tough to be the only one in your neighborhood who is supporting a certain candidate.

Recently we stopped by our local Irish pub where we know the owner and were immediately attacked for having an Obama yard sign. The usual arguments about taxes and the economy were mixed in with other more disconcerting commentary about being a "Hussein" and a Muslim. Now, I'm not naive enough to believe that this election is enough to end racism in this country. I'm well aware of how persistent it is, even among members of my family and people I consider friends. However, I AM naive enough to hope that everyone, regardless of their political persuasions, is proud that we've taken this big, historic step forward as a country.

Most importantly, I can't wait to see what kind of puppy those two little girls get to take to their new home.

I don't intend for this blog to be a political one so I promise to get back to more noncontroversial matters in my next post. Happy Friday everyone!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Big Dog Discrimination

As a big dog owner all of my adult life, I have found there is a certain level of discrimination against the 50+ pound doggy crowd. Some hotels and resorts that are "pet friendly" are actually restricted to small dogs. Some people are more fearful of big dogs just because they are big. Houseguests don't want a big dog on their lap but probably wouldn't mind a small dog or cat.

I'm sure there are other examples but the most discouraging, especially this time of year, is the very small selection of big dog Halloween costumes! Last year, in order to participate in our local doggy day care's Halloween party, I went out in search of a costume for Finn, our 70-lb Labrador. I didn't have much luck as almost all of the costumes were only provided in small and medium sizes. I ultimately settled on a tuxedo and top hat outfit that came in size large. It appeared that all of the super cute costumes - the hot dog, the pumpkin, the dragon, etc. - were reserved for the small dogs.

I quickly discovered that even though the packaging on the tuxedo costume indicated it would fit a 50+ pound dog, I could barely get it zipped. Finn looked like a stuffed sausage as the costume fabric pinched and stretched across his chest and back. Worried that the circulation was being cut off to his legs and chest, the nice staff at doggy day care took some photos and quickly took the costume off.

So this year, I gave up on the costume idea and went with a simple neck scruff that was more comfortable and just as festive. As you can see by the picture, Finn was less than pleased to be wearing it but was a good sport overall! Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Gotta be some justice in the world

I'm writing tonight from lovely Des Moines, Iowa. Okay, well, it's actually not so lovely because it has rained the entire day. Western parts of the state and Nebraska are apparently under blizzard warnings. Welcome to October in the Midwest - 80 degrees one day and a blizzard the next.

This will be a short post due to the fact that I'm pretty fried from an all-day training. However, I had to vent about something that I read on another blog regarding a starving and very sick puppy that was abandoned at a mall near where I work. I will let the blog post speak for itself. It was written by the staff at one of our local animal shelters. I hope they don't mind me cross-posting like this.

I'm not a vindictive person generally but I do hope that there is some justice in the universe that gives people who do these things what they deserve. On the other hand, I'm so grateful for all the animal shelter staff and volunteers out there who are committed to taking care of pets that other people just discard like trash. I wish I had the constitution to do that work but I fear I would spend every night driving home in tears. Along with all the adoptions and happy endings, they must see too much of this kind of horror. Please give generously to your local animal shelter whenever you can!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

She's Not There

Wow, it was an incredibly beautiful weekend. You can't ask for much more than 80 degrees in October in Wisconsin. And I wish that my real digital camera (not just my blackberry camera which is what I have been using to post photos up to this point) was working because the view from our front door is absolutely gorgeous right now. Looking west from our home there is a decent-sized hill that is just a wall of fall color. It's really stunning and I'm trying to remember to go out there every day and just appreciate it. Perhaps I will get my camera fixed this weekend and get some pictures posted before all the leaves fall off.

We got an email message from our neighbor about a coworker of hers who is trying to re-home a male black lab because his family is moving. Unfortunately, by the time I reached this person they had already found a home for the dog. I expect that there will be many more of these situations and many more dogs turning up in shelters in the coming months because of foreclosures and general economic strife.

The hubby and I go back and forth about getting a second dog. I think that Finn would really benefit from having a companion around the house and it's so much fun to watch him romp around with his doggy friends. The hubby worries that having two dogs will be a pain and twice as much work, despite the fact that we had two dogs during the most time-consuming and challenging time of Finn's life a.k.a housebreaking a puppy. I visit the local animal shelters pretty regularly looking for the right match but so far he or she hasn't appeared. Even though it has been a year and a half since we said goodbye to our 10-year old lab, Kayla, I still think about her often and mourn that loss. I think I expect that she will reappear at the humane society but even though I keep looking for her she's not there.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Now introducing, Mr. Certified Therapy Dog!

Yup, we passed! And holy crumb, I was WAY more nervous than I expected. The test started out well with greeting a stranger, sitting politely for petting, and staying in place for grooming and body checks. No problem.

Unfortunately, things went downhill a little bit when two of the assistants got up to begin the "walking through a crowd" item. One of the assistants was banging a walker and Finn was extremely suspicious of the other assistant. He let out a low woof and I started to sweat. It was way too early in the exam for things to start going wrong so my anxiety level went up about 10 notches. Finn was skittish and distracted, strained a little on the leash, startled when they dropped the pie plate (to simulate a loud noise) and was clearly frightened of one of the assistants. To the point that even after they sat back down he was watching her and giving a few low woofs.

We moved on to sit, down, stay and come on command which all went really well. Walking on a loose lead through cones was a piece of cake. Then Finn really gave his best performance during the "meeting a neutral dog" item. Seriously, he was fantastic - he stayed by my side, didn't lunge toward the other dog, paid attention to me, sat when I told him to and pretty much was a model of doggy behavior. The evaluator and the two assistants showered us with praise.

After that came the temperament items including rough petting, a restraining hug, people arguing, and several people crowding around him. Then came the "reaction to a person who is staggering and gesturing" and out came the walker again. Luckily it was the assistant that he liked so even though he didn't like the walker itself, he recovered nicely when she reached down to pet him.

Then all that was left was "leave it" when walking past a toy on the ground and taking a treat nicely. No problem! It was over and we were both exhausted. While the evaluator completed my paperwork I chatted with the two assistants and Finn was still hesitant to let one of them pet him. Of course, even though we passed the test and they were all very complimentary of our performance, I thought about his reaction to her to the whole way home.

Now that we've passed the exam, I have to have our vet fill out some paperwork about vaccines and health, send in a photo for our identification badge, complete some forms, and then wait until we receive our official registration before we can start our visits.

So, cheers to us and a doggy ice cream for Finn!

Whew! All of this therapy dog stuff is hard work!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Nursing Home Part Two

I was out of town on business for a few days this week and to be perfectly honest the last thing I wanted to do when I got back was take Finn to the nursing home. Our visit this week did not have a promising start as we were sitting in the lobby waiting to start our rounds and a family came through the sliding doors including several small children. One child approached the area where we were sitting and just looked at the dogs. Finn let out a low "woof" that turned into a low growl which I quickly tried to redirect by getting some treats out of my pocket. I must say that I don't think he growls in an aggressive, teeth-baring way but rather as just a way of letting me know that something strange is approaching. It's not like he's never been exposed to children, we've had many children visit the house and after some initial uncertainty he seems to be fine with them. I don't know what the problem is but in certain situations with certain children he seems to be very fearful.

The rest of the visit went very well and it made me much more comfortable to see some of the same faces that we saw last week. Some of the residents are such clear dog lovers and it warms my heart to see how much joy they get out of our visits. The instructor thought Finn seemed very relaxed and she was very complimentary of how well he did. I think my comfort level and handling skills are improving as well.

So, next week is our final exam where we will repeat many of the same test items in the Canine Good Citizen test as well as be tested on a number of temperament items. Thinking about it makes my stomach turn but I'm trying to stay optimistic. If you are interested in learning more about the work that therapy dogs do and the examination components check out the Delta Society at

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hi, Would You Like to Pet My Dog?

Finn did well at the nursing home this week. He didn't growl or jump on anyone and he didn't seem fearful or nervous. Some of the residents we met had just finished dinner so Finn was very interested in making sure he cleaned all food remnants off hands. He was exhausted by the time we left but the instructor seemed to think that we did well.

I've come to realize that perhaps these visits are going to be harder for me than for him. Those of you who know me won't be surprised to hear that I'm not the most outgoing person around. Don't get me wrong, as an adult I've definitely gotten better about speaking in public and talking to strangers, but it was a challenge for me to walk through a nursing home, pop my head into rooms and ask complete strangers if they want to pet my dog. Add in the fact that many of these folks can't hear, can't understand what I'm saying and/or just don't know what's going on and I was pretty far outside my comfort zone. At one point the instructor said to me, "I think this is good training for you, too". That's an understatement!

I got more comfortable towards the end of the visit as I started to know what to expect and began to see how much joy the dogs brought to some of the residents. But I am truly envious of some of my fellow trainees who seemed to know exactly what to say and appeared to be so comfortable in talking to the residents. I'm definitely not a natural but hopefully I'll improve with time and practice!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Therapy Dog Take One

Last Wednesday was our first session of therapy dog class. It consisted of a 45-minute slide show presentation that detailed what to expect on test day, what to expect at the nursing home, all the benefits that therapy dogs provide, and all the different volunteer opportunities that are available to therapy dogs. The next two Wednesdays we will be visiting a local nursing home with our dogs. Then we will have a final certification test consisting of nine of the items that were part of the Canine Good Citizen test plus a few more items that are specific to therapy dogs. Things like a restraining hug, rough petting, many people crowding around you and your dog, and the command to "leave it".

I'm a little conflicted about this whole process. Partly because I'm not sure how much I would enjoy visiting a nursing home or hospital on a regular basis. I think it would make me feel sad. But partly because I'm not sure Finn is the right dog for this type of activity. He can be nervous around certain people. He occasionally growls at strangers. And he seems to be frightened pretty easily. I'm worried that we're trying to force Finn into being a dog that he's not. And I regret not going through this process with our last lab, Kayla, who would have been a natural therapy dog. She loved everyone and I trusted her to be friendly and tolerant in every situation and with every type of person.

The test itself sounds like a pretty serious undertaking. We will be tested at a neutral location that we've never been to before and the handler is not allowed to wear jeans! The handler will be evaluated as well as the dog and I must role play as though I am in an actual therapy setting. We will be tested the moment we walk in the door of the test facility and no pulling on the leash is allowed. Yikes!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Just another day in paradise

We just returned from a long weekend in Michigan where we visited Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It's a beautiful park right on the shore of Lake Michigan. Surprisingly for mid-September, we got one of the last campsites in the park when we arrived on Friday afternoon. After we got settled we took a quick hike down to the beach where Finn was beside himself watching those little sand piper birds zip by him on the sand. The park was very dog friendly and we were allowed to have Finn on all trails and even on certain parts of the beach.

It was gray and cloudy during much of our drive across the upper peninsula of Michigan and down the eastern shore of the lake to the park on Friday. Unfortunately, the weather only got worse from there. Saturday we were able to do some hiking in the morning but a light drizzle turned to a pretty heavy downpour for much of the afternoon. We tried to do the scenic drive up to the dunes but it was foggy, overcast and we couldn't see much from the overlooks.

Despite the weather, my hubby and I always return from these trips more determined than ever to figure out a way to retire early, buy a roomy RV, and travel around the country. When we're on the road we meet many couples in campgrounds who are full-time road warriors and I always find them fascinating. It's addictive to look out your camper window and see a mountain, a lake, a forest or a moose in your backyard. My husband and I love the idea of waking up every morning and saying, "Where should we go today?"

My sister bought us a doormat for our camper with a picture of a trailer on it and the words, "Just another day in paradise." That's how I feel every time we hit the road, no matter where we end up and no matter the weather.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Meet Mr. Canine Good Citizen

We passed! Last night Finn and I took the Canine Good Citizen test and we passed all ten items on the test. After 8 weeks of practice I was so relieved to see that it paid off. The Canine Good Citizen is a certification program developed by the American Kennel Club to help dog owners improve their dog's manners at home and in the community. Any dog can take the test - they don't have to be registered with the AKC.
The trainers and the evaluator talked me into continuing on for another four weeks to complete the additional steps for therapy dog certification. Next week we have a class without our dogs and then the following two classes are held at a local nursing home. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Marco Polo

Did you know that they play polo right here in southeastern Wisconsin? The Milwaukee Polo Club plays every weekend during the summer right down the road from us in Hartland. We went and watched a match this past Sunday and it was terrific. You can pull your car right up close to the field and tailgate or picnic. Some of the spectators even brought their dogs along. We need to remember that when we go back next summer.

Polo consists of six chukkers, or periods. At half time all the spectators go out onto the field for the "stomping of the divets." Yes, just like in the movie "Pretty Woman" except I didn't see any movie stars. You are also allowed to walk over and talk with the players and pet the horses at half time.

Polo is a pretty exciting sport to watch. There is a lot of action and it's very fast-paced as the players move back and forth across the field. Of course, the horses are beautiful and so much fun to watch. It was a blast!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Visit from the hoot owl

I was awoken in the middle of the night by a very loud owl. It was chatting with another owl that I could hear off in the distance. I think the owl may have been perched either on our house or on the garage. I got up and cracked the window to figure out where it was but I must have spooked it because I saw something fly across the yard toward the woods. It continued to hoot its little heart out but I eventually fell back asleep.

We hear owls pretty regularly in the fall and winter but not so much in the summer. I don't know how large their territory is but they don't seem to be around as much in the warmer months of the year. I think the owls we hear at our house are mostly great horned owls.

I'm pretty sure we have also heard screech owls in the past - their call can be sort of spooky.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Nature calls

This afternoon Finn and I visited Richfield Nature Park for the first time. It's a brand new park in Washington County, very close to our house. I was pleasantly surprised and will definitely go back. It's a very nice park with a system of walking trails, a pond, a stream and a nice mix of woods and prairie. When I first arrived there were only two other cars in the parking lot but I ended up having the whole place to myself for most of the time I was there.

I am working on improving Finn's off-leash recall so I'm trying to remember to carry a bag of treats wherever we go. Today I remembered the treats and a tennis ball which proved valuable. Finn is pretty good at coming back when I whistle or call him but there are just certain things that are much more desirable than obedience. One of those things is wild animal poop! We came down a little slope and Finn got distracted by something off the trail. I could see he was eating something so I stopped, whistled, called him, and even rattled the treat bag. No response. I remembered the tennis ball in my pocket so I took it out and threw it at him. That got his attention! Now I just need to identify a treat that is more desirable than wild turds. Yuck!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Doggie hangover

This all started when I was searching for an article about the Labor Day dog dip at Cool Waters and came across a blog about a dog who had attended. I thought we should have a blog to amuse our readers with stories about our home and its inhabitants, including our labrador, Finn. So, just as I was one of the last people in my age group to learn to download music, I will be one of the last to start a blog.

I think we have sufficiently recovered from the long Labor Day weekend which would not have been complete without Finn eating something he shouldn't. This time he really went all out and got into some leftover cooking oil that was used to fry asparagus and eggplant. Of course all that oil came back out in the middle of the night in the form of dog vomit complete with tiny pieces of asparagus mixed in. The next day we compared it to one of Jeremy's infamous Jack Daniels hangovers when he spends much time in the bathroom and the alcohol literally comes out of his pores. Finn even smelled like cooking oil!