Monday, December 19, 2011

Lessons from Nature for the New Year...

My little Hadeda chick did not make it. For two whole weeks he survived (I decided it was a male) in the garden whilst, wonder of wonders, his parents fed him.

Jamie and Jemma were fantastic as they were only allowed out one at a time under strict supervision. Like most city dogs, they missed not being able to view the passing traffic at the gate and the greetings from walkers by.

This was the longest time that a Hadeda chick has ever survived on the ground in my garden. The day he died, he was fine at 9am but by lunch time he was gone. This despite frantic efforts to syringe feed him liquids and food when we saw that he was wilting. We had been working in the garden that morning and afterwards we wondered if this had stressed the chick? Or had it become dehydrated in the heat because its parents would not land while we were outside?

I felt heart broken and guilty about the thought that we may have played a role in the Hadeda's death or that we had not done enough. What's it they say about hind sight...
The parents waited for ages in the trees to see if there was any sign of life from their baby. All those months of effort for nought.
The next day I buried him in the garden.

Nature can be so fragile and we as keepers of the Earth have to be so careful how we tread.

However while the drama of the Hadeda was being played out, another story was unfolding in my garden that tells of resilience and hope in Nature.

Next to my study window, nested in a bush of ivy, are two black-eyed Bulbul chicks. Their parents work tirelessly as they flurry back and forth trying to keep their chirpy offspring happy. A couple of days ago, one of the chicks flew out the nest and perched unsteadily on a bush nearby. The other chick makes tremendous efforts to try and follow but has not been successful so far. I worried that the parents would only focus on the stronger chick but they are dutifully dividing their attention between the two. These Bulbul parents have impressed me enormously with their complete dedication and tireless efforts to raise their young.

But most incredible of all, is the fact that the Hadeda's parents have not given up on bringing new life into the world. They have built a new nest on which one of them is sitting even as I write this post.


Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Help! Held Hostage by a Hadeda...

This has happened for the last six years. Whenever it is breeding season, the Hadedas return to one specific tree in my garden and cause havoc. The Hadeda is a large dark brown/gray ibis with glossy greenish purple wings, a long black bill which is uses to eat earthworms, insects, spiders and snails. It has a loud and harsh call, hence the name and is found in Sub Saharan Africa.

The problem is that they build ridiculously tiny and rickety nests hardly able to house one chick let alone more. It is the third chick that is always the problem. As they grow into fledglings, inevitably one falls out before it is able to fly. I always phone Free Me, a bird rescue centre to ask them what to do. Their advice is always the same. Try and replace the chick in the nest or see if the parents will come down and feed it on the ground.

Mission Impossible !
The nest is way too high in the tree and the parents hover uselessly in the branches idiotically unable to work out how to feed the fallen chick.

I have tried my utmost each year to try and save the chick. One year I spent an entire week totally focused on reuniting a chick with its parents. I would put it on my roof in the hopes its parents would come down and feed it. The dumb parents continued to hover around but did nothing useful except keep it company.
Every time I saw the poor chick getting weaker and weaker, I would capture it and feed it mushy dog pellets through a syringe ( advice from Free Me who said if the protein content of the dog food was high this would help nourish the chick ). I'd keep it warm in a box overnight especially as it often rained at night. The next day I would drag out the ladder and return the re-vitalised chick to the roof hoping that the penny would finally drop and its parents would start feeding it themselves.
This continued day after day which was extremely stressful for the chick, its parents and most of all me. Despite my efforts the chick eventually died.

This year it was with relief that I noticed a broken egg on the ground. Only two chicks hatched making the odds of survival better. Unfortunately the second chick died two weeks ago leaving a single chick in the nest. Well, I thought, at least the parents should have no problems raising one offspring and I would have a peaceful November. Oh boy was I wrong!

It's been two days and two nights since the lone chick fell out of the nest into my garden.
Having fallen from Eden onto Earth it was a total innocent, unaware of all the dangers it faced.
The only reason my dogs did not chase it at first was because it was so passive and trusting. But the Hadeda soon learned that dogs are not really friends. The moment it became defensive, my dogs thought game on.

I have decided this time to let nature take its course. What will be, will be.
But in the meantime I have tried to tip the odds in favour of the chick by barricading myself and my dogs in the house. The chick is currently walking around undisturbed in the garden.

Jamie and Jemma are not very happy about this and we are suffering from cabin fever. But I was thrilled this morning to see a parent on the ground with the chick.

Meanwhile all my windows are closed so that Jemma can't do her famous Houdini act and escape outside. I walk around stealthily trying not to bang doors or dishes so as not to frighten the chick. I have even kept curtains strategically closed so the chick will not be startled by our indoor activity.

And so we pray to Mother Nature:
Please keep the chick safe and may it learn to fly very,very,very soon because we are going stir crazy cooped up and afraid to venture out of the house while the Hadeda keeps us under siege.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Retriever versus the Cyclist...

I enjoy walking in our local park which is full of trees and water. Come late afternoon it is filled with people walking, children playing, joggers, cyclists and dogs.

Observing the goings on can be very amusing. Having cycled in the past, I know there is nothing that can ruin an enjoyable ride faster than a puncture. What a schlep to fix it! I came across a rather grumpy cyclist on the side of the path with his bike upended in the process of repairing a puncture.

Suddenly a Irish Red Setter dog rushed up to the cyclist and grabbed something lying on the ground next to him. The cyclist immediately got into a fluster and started chasing the Setter around in circles. The Setter was obviously having the time of his life, not so the cyclist.

The Irish Setter is bred to be an all purpose hunting dog, both a pointer and retriever. They are especially good at hunting game birds. But this dog had obviously not being taught to return what he retrieves. Eventually the cyclist gave up the chase and arms akimbo waited with a scowl for the very embarrassed owner who rushed up chastising her dog.

Even she battled to retrieve the unknown object. Eventually it was revealed that the Setter had stolen a very expensive pair of cycling sunglasses. Luckily, being a retriever, this breed usually has a soft mouth, so the sunglasses were undamaged just a bit gob smacked.

But the final straw for the hapless cyclist was when another cyclist flew past on his bike and shouted out " Having a bad day mate?!?"

Moral of the story: Retrievers will retrieve. Just teach them to return items before they are labelled kleptomaniacs.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Dog Colonisation of the Couch...

In October last year, I wrote that I had finally given up an 18 month battle between me and my beagles over the kingdom of the couch. No matter what I did, nothing could persuade them that the floor was better than a couch.

Behaviourist, Karin Landsberg suggested a truce: one couch (covered) would be allocated to them and the other couch would be mine. One year later we pretty much have reached an understanding. At least I can see that when they venture onto my couch, they look a little bit guilty about encroaching on my territory. A firm word or two (or three) usually rearranges the seating arrangement.

At the recent Beagle Ball, the problem of the colonisation of the coach by dogs came up in conversation and I was surprised to hear a number of owners admit sheepishly or quite openly that they shared couches or chairs with their dogs. Ahem! I was not the only one who had succumbed to colonisation!

However, I have not imposed this rule on visitors. Hasty arrangements are made to ensure my furniture is fur free and the dogs are unceremoniously spirited out of the living room.

But perhaps my most satisfying observation were the pictures sent to me by my beloved brother.
He is not wholly in favour of dogs living inside the house and gets particularly irritated with one of their dogs who profusely sheds white hair all over their home. He has made it very clear that human homes and kennels are two completely separate entities.

But his family has recently acquired a puppy which is a Labrador/Great Dane cross and they have all fallen in love with this pup.

Then I looked more closely at the photos. Rather suspiciously, it looked as if their new pup was sleeping on a couch or a chair of sorts.
Look closely. Is that not the seam of a soft cushion and a comfortable back rest? Is not the colour cream? I have not seen any dog basket that looks quite like this nor is cream the usual practical choice of colour.

Fellow readers, what do you think? Has my brother gone over to the other side? Has this puppy stolen his heart and as a result he has lost his head?
Study the evidence carefully. Your opinion would be most interesting!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Canine athlete Jamie is my Champ...

Well, the Beagle Ball was a night of surprises (for me at least, probably not for my beagles who knew how hard they had worked this Drag "Hunting" season).

I came home with six certificates and two trophies plus bags of dog food and lots of goodies for both me and Jamie and Jemma.
I must admit that I had trouble not falling over whilst carrying everything back to my car in my stiletto heels (and no, it had nothing to do with anything imbibed!).

But first, congratulations to my little girl Jemma who did very well in improving her ranking from 24th last year to 19th this year. She is way too clever and when she gets tired, she just takes the short cut home. She, unlike Jamie, will always return to the waiting owners thus running almost double the distance.

Jamie just hangs around at the end socialising with the team checking which beagles reach the finish line. Jemma also has a habit, since she is usually in the middle of the bunch, of turning around just before the finish and joining the front runners who are already returning to their owners.

The only way to correct this is to "walk the line" as we say. This means making sure Jemma sees me leaving her behind as I walk up front with the team laying the trail. This technique usually ensures that Jemma actually crosses the line to find me. But it's not always that easy because one has to be very fit to keep up with the hunt master who sets a cracking pace and I have to find people with hands to spare to release both my beagles.

Jamie received a certificate purely for the honour of being amongst the Top Ten beagles and a logo which I must embroider onto his bib to show off his status next season. Then came the drum roll for the announcement of the exact positions of the top ten beagles. As the numbers were called out, I was delighted that Jamie was placed 6th overall, just behind five of the top beagles who have dominated the past couple of seasons.

When it came to the Double Dog teams (two males) Jamie was teamed up with the amazing Roger who was the Top Beagle of the year. They achieved a second position in this category.

I sat back thinking the excitement was over, but there were more surprises in store for Jamie and Jemma's rather befuddled owner. There is a trophy for the Most Improved Beagle since the previous season. Jamie's rise from 21st to 6th position this year earned him this fabulous accolade.

And it was not over yet. There are categories for the Best Junior Beagle, Best Adult Beagle and Best Veteran Beagle. Lo and behold Jamie's name was called out as Best Junior Beagle of the year! Well done my boy because my contribution was only that of taxi driver to the "hunts". Jamie achieved this all on his own.

Of course, Jamie is not sure what the fuss is all about and what these strange looking objects mean. He is blissfully unaware of his achievements only that he had a heck of a lot of fun achieving them!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Beagle Ball Bonanza

It was not difficult finding ones way to the restaurant where we held our Beagle Ball. Paw print tokens led the way up the stairs where we were greeted with a glass of champagne.

The owners really cleaned up nicely for the formal dress code and I finally got to learn the names of some of the owners whose dogs I knew so well.

There were some really nice touches to the evening where someone had embroidered beagle logos on our white napkins and our place mat was a laminated montage of pictures of our beagles.There were tons of prizes and tons of goodies bags to be given away.

There were so many prizes: best new comer of the season, best achievement at a single hunt, best bib (the pret-a-porter prize), most valued dog (not necessarily the best), best mixed team, best bitch team, best male team, best female and reserve female (second prize) and the same for the males, best junior beagle, best adult beagle, best veteran beagle and the winner of the Top Ten race.

The ultimate prize, Top Beagle in Gauteng, goes to the beagle who has accumulated the most points during the season. This prestigious prize went to Roger who has been in the top ten for three seasons and has finally cracked the number one spot. (He was also Jamie's partner in the Dog Double. But more about the outcome of that partnership in my next blog)

No-one went home empty handed that evening and can you believe it, besides eating and drinking sumptuously, most of the time we talked about people and their dogs!
What a great community of laid back, friendly people!

More news about my dogs' achievements in the next blog.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Top Ten beagles battle it out...

So the big day arrived for the Top Ten Beagle Battle. The sky was clear and a keen wind kept the temperature low (ideal for running ultra distances). Champagne was being served to nervous owners who secretly had high expectations of their dogs. I was advised not to fuss as this might throw Jamie off his game (not too difficult when one is not quite awake at the crack of dawn on a Sunday).

The challenge of this race was that it was ultra long - almost five kilometers. Normally we lay five trails each about a kilometer long. We used a quad bike which dragged the lure (a bag of mackerel) behind it to lay the scent trail. This is a quicker method than our usual method which is on foot. This is to prevent the evaporation of the scent in the rising heat.

After about a half hour, we were given the all clear to line up our dogs at the starting line.
It was strange only having 10 dogs in the pack but when the horn sounded, the start was as chaotic as usual as the dogs sprinted off at full speed. Check out Jamie in the bib marked 91!

This time we were able to track most of their progress across the valley and up the koppies. Those owners with field glasses kept up a running commentary.
The dogs stayed together pretty much for two thirds of the race with the lead changing a couple of times. Then they suddenly lost the scent. Some picked up the scent again but unfortunately began back tracking on the trail, to a chorus of moans and groans from the waiting owners.

A couple of dogs decided not to back track but since they could not pick up the trail, headed as the crow flies back to the owners instead of the finish line. One of them was Jamie.

Only two dogs were left on the trail now - two girls. It looked like it was going to be a repeat of last year's race where only two dogs finished and they were also female (usually the minority sex in the Top Ten). This year it seemed that yet again the girls were showing their stamina and tracking skills.

Unfortunately one of the girls who crossed the finishing line was disqualified for not finishing the final loop of the trail. So the only finisher and this year's winner was Marmalade.

Her owner happens to be the hunt master who was jubilant because this was the first time Marmalade had made the Top Ten. His comment was "because I lay the trail, I worry whether my dog is only following me and not the scent, but she has really proven that she knows what she is doing."

It was a tough race that really sorted out the men from the boys... er... I mean the girls from the boys.

We celebrated with a slap up English breakfast and champagne!

I am really proud of Jamie from climbing up the rankings from 21st out of 50 last year to Top Ten this year. However the lesson to be learnt from the girls is that sometimes the underdog who can't keep up with the leader of the pack, really learns how to follow a scent and keep focused.

(Note to self: Must speak to Santacruzrulz
about borrowing a bike; Find out if I can still ride one; Get fit to keep up with beagles.)

All will be revealed when the final results of all the different categories are presented at the Beagle Ball in October.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Canine athlete Jamie has made the Top Ten!

I nearly fell off my chair today when I received a call from the Beagle Scent Trail/Hunt organiser informing me that Jamie has made it into the category of Top Ten beagles of the 2011 Hunt Season. What an achievement for my boy!

He will be racing in the final on September 25 against the other nine dogs to determine who is the overall winner. This time instead of breaking up the trail into 5 sections, they will be laying out one long trail of between 5-6 kilometres. This is a real test of endurance and ability to truly follow a scent. Many dogs just follow the call of the pack and last year only two dogs out of the Top Ten actually finished the trail.

All credit for Jamie's achievement lies totally with him. He achieved his success with very little support from me.

I know that I did not exercise both him and his sister Jemma enough to get them into tip top peak form. I have not kept my dogs mean and lean. A fellow owner who is a vet has chastised me for the fact that Jamie is a bit overweight. He also started the season after being "bed ridden" for a month after the amputation of his toe. He has had to overcome his fear of the car and motion sickness every time we travelled to the hunt. The only thing I did was to be Jamie and Jemma's taxi driver to the "hunt" venue.

Secondly I have begun experimenting with a new diet this week, not a good time to play around with Jamie's nutrition if he is to compete in the final soon. I will have to get my butt into gear and give him plenty of exercise to get a last burst of training in before the big moment.

Oh my gosh!!!!!!!!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Last Beagle bush "hunt" of the season...

We had a huge amount of people and at least 40 dogs pitch for the last scent trial of the season. This was a surprise to the organisers considering the number of avid ruby fans in the group who were itching to get back to watch South Africa play Wales in their first match of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. We normally finish the "hunt" at 10.30am after five trials but the rugby game started at 10:20am! So we were given strict instructions that there would be no loitering or lounging about that morning...

It is bitter sweet when the season ends. I will not miss getting up at 5.00am in the freezing dark or the precarious pot hole ridden drive into the bush in my long slung city car. Jamie still gets car sick and still hates the car so the drive is just as hairy for him. But once we get there, Jamie and Jemma are in their element. They adore chasing the ever elusive scent of the mackerel fish trail through the bush veld and the camaraderie of their fellow beagles.

I love having a morning out of the city and seeing the sun rise outdoors (I'm usually fast asleep in bed at that time). It gives me a great sense of satisfaction to hear my dogs' names called out when they cross the finish line of each scent trail.

It has been wonderful to find an activity so vitally important to the welfare of my dogs who live in the boring suburbia of a city. I also worry about what I'm going to do with them in the summer months. Maybe I should look at agility work which I think Jemma will be very good at doing. But I don't think Jamie will take kindly to going through tunnels of any sort, something he refused to do even as a puppy.

Now the results are in and are being calculated. In two weeks time the top 10 beagles will be named (those with the highest points accumulated over the season). This is a huge achievement and a final race is held in September for these dogs to determine who is the overall winner.

Finally, in October, we will be holding a Beagle Ball. This is for the owners only where we all get dressed up to the nines for general prize giving. It is common occurrence that owners do not recognise each other as on "hunt" days we are usually bleary eyed, muffled in beanies, layers of our oldest clothing and covered in dust and soot from the bush veld fires that burn in the area where we "hunt".

There are awards for the best male or female team, the best mixed team, the most consistent dog of the season (not necessarily a winner), and a pret-a-porter prize for the beagle with the most pimped up race bib. Some owners go to extraordinary lengths to create unusual race bibs for their dogs. The only criteria is that it must show the dog's name and number clearly so it can be identified.

So now we wait anxiously to see if Jamie and Jemma have improved since last year and climbed the seeding ladder ...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bickering Beagles and Bedtime...

My dogs bicker and growl at each other every night over who has the right to sleep where in their bed. I know the warning signs when I hear a low whining growl from Jamie or a loud ear blasting bark from Jemma.

Usually one has hogged all the blankets leaving the other with nothing or one has settled down and gets very irritated by the late arrival of the other who messes up the sleeping arrangements. Otherwise one has taken over the whole bed and will not make room for the other.

Jemma loudly broadcasts her dissatisfaction by rushing around the garden barking madly and waking up all the neighbours. This is usually perfectly timed to coincide with the moment I have chosen to take a relaxing bath. Or she comes and scratches at the bath door disturbing my meditation. I nearly trip over her when I am finally forced to surrender my "me time" and leave the bathroom.

This means that instead of diving under the duvet, all warm and cosy from my hot bath, I have to venture into the cold and sort out the the bickering children. I have to remake the bedding which is often scattered all over the place during the altercation, allocate blankets fairly to each dog and tuck them into bed (literally). They usually settle down after this.

But sometimes someone decides to go for a pee and the bickering starts all over again. By this time I am usually on my way to dream land and my response is "Oh for goodness sake, let them sort it out!". I mean really, how spoilt is that - tucking my beagles into bed every night!
Next I'll be reading them bed time stories.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dog Rescue...

A Wonderful Story Told Without Words

The German tourist jumped in and saved the dog.

Upon getting back up on the bridge he checked the dog out and told the owner that, "Zer dog is Ok, and vill be fine."

She asked if he was a vet?

He replied, "Vet? I'm soaked!


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wounded in the line of Dog Duty...

I remember our canine behaviour lecturer saying that if one wants to work with dogs, a tetanus vaccination is a prerequisite. I found out why this weekend.

I am now learning how to work with adolescent and adult dogs - a whole different ball game from puppies. In these adult classes one gets a real mix of dogs from different backgrounds. Some dogs are well socialised (often owners who attended puppy classes and want to continue keeping their dogs stimulated and challenged through training).
Then there are those dogs that have not been socialised and have now become troublesome teenagers, so their owners want to "fix" the dog's bad behaviour. (Why oh why doesn't everyone who gets a puppy go to puppy socialisation classes? It would save them and their dogs so many headaches.) And finally there are the adopted or rescue dogs who often have problems but little is know about their past. Betty was one such dog.

She was a small mixed breed (with a bit of Staffie) who barked madly and rushed furiously at every dog in the class with bared teeth. During training, my hand accidentally had an encounter with Betty's teeth. It was not deliberate on Betty's part. It was my body part that got in the way. The bite was minor and after applying a plaster, I decided to tackle Betty's problem again.

Betty was obviously in a state of stress. She was interpreting her environment especially the other dogs as a hazard and her natural reaction was to go into hazard avoidance mode. Dogs can choose either to flee, freeze, faint, fidget or fight. Well, Betty was on a leash in a situation she could not escape, so she chose to fight. What appeared as aggression towards other dogs was, in my opinion, Betty actually saying "Hey! I am afraid of you other dogs, so don't come near me or else!!".

Other physical signs of stress are tension in body posture, staring eyes, a tight muzzle, uneven fast panting, lip licking, whining, a very dry mouth or excessive salivating, cold paws and a sudden outbreak of dandruff on the dog's fur. Betty had many of these symptoms.

When a dog is stressed its ability to learn is considerably reduced. So both Betty and her owner were getting extremely frustrated because she was in fear mode and not able to learn anything.

We decided to try some of the basic touches from a method known as Tellington Touch. This works like magic when one wants to calm and build confidence in animals! We used long, gentle, calming strokes along Betty's body, around her hind quarters, tail and her ears where she held tension. We also used touch as a way of praising her because stress often causes a loss of appetite. As a result food no longer works as a motivator or a reward. Every time Betty stopped barking at the other dogs, she got praise the moment she made eye contact with her owner. Focusing on her owner and not the other dogs was the behaviour that was being reinforced.
We then repeated exercises she could easily do like sit, paw and spin and lavishly praised her each time she succeeded. This meant Betty experienced some sense of achievement during the class.

My personal feeling was that the fact that she'd become calmer towards the end of the class was the most important achievement of all. The fact that she was not learning more new tricks like the rest of dogs, was less important. Betty needs to become less stressed and more at ease when exposed to other dogs, people and different situations. Her owners will need a lot of patience to help her achieve this. Hopefully they will hang in there and not give up on Betty.

I was going to ignore the bite. After all it wasn't serious. But since I had never had a tetanus vaccination, one of the instructors advised me not to take any chances. Oh well, if I was going to be working with dogs, it had to be done. So at five o'clock on a Saturday afternoon I schlepped off to the Emergency room of the nearest hospital. Since my case was coded green ( not critical) I had a long wait ahead of me. Whilst sitting in my cubicle I heard some strange stories emanating from the other cubicles. A man fixing his car had dropped the engine on his thumb thoroughly mashing it in the process. In another cubicle a patient was complaining that his gonorrhea symptoms were getting worse...

One and a half hours later, the attending doctor scared the daylights out of me when he began talking about rabies shots ( a series of three) as well as a tetanus shot and antibiotics (A young girl had recently died of rabies and her palm had merely been grazed by the dog).
I assured him that the dog that bit me had been vaccinated and there was no rabies in the area. I would come back for antibiotics if the bite was showing any signs of infection. So we settled on a tetanus vaccination and dressing my hand with antibiotic cream.

The injection was painless, the bite out of my wallet hurt much more.
But hopefully it will be an insurance policy against any pain and aggravation later on.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How we found Bernie's hot button...

Bernie the beagle started "hunting" with his sister this season. He is so laid back and sweet natured, he could be a basset.
It did not take long for his sister to start finishing trails. Fast and agile, she has been doing really well. However Bernie, for some reason, was not running.

The first thing we tried was for Bernie's Dad to walk ahead with the team laying the trail in the hope that Bernie would follow him. But no go.
So I gave his owners my training programme that I had used to train my own dogs by imitating the "hunt" on a minor scale in the park.

Mom and Dad did this faithfully and were surprised that Bernie was the one who picked up the trail first and led the way ahead of his sister. Yet when it came to the actually "hunt" Bernie would run for a short while but always returned to his Mom and the group of waiting owners.

Now from what I've learnt about canine behaviour, the trick to motivating your dog to do something (a behaviour) is to find out what is their hot button. A useful guideline is researching what your dog was bred to do. For example, collies love to herd things, huskies love to pull things and retrievers love to fetch things. In the case of beagles, theoretically they love to follow scents and being part of the crowd joining in the excitement of the chase.

But the other thing that one learns about canine behaviour is that every dog is an individual. Broad scale solutions do not necessarily work for every dog because they are not all the same. So the question was what was Bernie's real hot button? What would incentivise him to join in the "hunt"?

His Mom and Dad had resigned themselves to the belief that Bernie was just not a runner. But I know that deep down (like any parent) you do want your dog to excel. The truth of the matter is that a lot of people drop out of the hunt when their dogs do not run and finish trails. This is a great pity for these dogs who are missing out on a fabulous outing in the bush that leaves them satisfied, happy and stimulated.

I was determined to get Bernie to run because it would be great for both him and his parents.
I began to get an inkling of what Bernie's hot button might be.

At the last "hunt" Bernie arrived with his Mom but no Dad. I insisted that Mom walk the line with the hunt master who was laying the trail. I also insisted that Bernie and his sister be separated at the start line. I took charge of Bernie and Jamie and someone else took Jemma and Bernie's sister. So Bernie was now with a stranger and no Mom or Dad at the start line.

The first time I released Bernie at the start, he immediately began searching the waiting group of owners for his parents. The second time, I made sure that Bernie had a clear view of his Mom disappearing with the team laying the trail.

Suddenly Bernie became a new dog ( I will never accuse him of being a laid back Basset again).
He howled and nearly pulled my arms out of their sockets in an attempt to follow his Mom. They were laying a particularly complicated and long trail around the valley. Those 20 minutes waiting for the horn to blow for the start of the race felt very long as Bernie tried every trick in the book to escape after his Mom.

I held my breath when Bernie disappeared this time. He has an orange race bib and I anxiously scanned every dog in orange returning to the waiting group. None of them was Bernie.
When the race was over and we walked to the finishing line to hear the results, the smile on the face of Bernie's Mom said it all. Bernie had finished the line ahead of his sister. There he sat looking adoringly at his mother.

So finally we had worked out what was Bernie's hot button. He is an extremely people orientated dog. Nothing motivates him more than being with his loving owners. Using the same tactic, Bernie successfully finished the next trail. His proud Mom phoned Dad long distance to share the news.

I was chuffed that I had played a small role in helping Bernie run. I had also learnt an interesting lesson about the need to find each individual dog's hot button if you want to motivate them to achieve a desired behaviour. Bernie's big reward was finding the people he loved at the end of the trail.
Let's hope Bernie keeps running!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Man's Best Friend...

A man and his dog were walking along a road. The man was enjoying the scenery, when it suddenly occurred to him that he was dead. He remembered dying and that the dog walking beside him had been dead for years. He wondered where the road was leading them. After a while, they came to a high, white stone wall along one side of the road. It looked like fine marble... At the top of a long hill, it was broken by a tall arch that glowed in the sunlight.

He saw a magnificent gate in the arch that looked like mother-of-pearl and the street that led to the gate looked like pure gold. As he got closer, he saw a man at a desk to one side.

When he was close enough, he called out, "Excuse me, where are we?"
"This is Heaven, sir," the man answered.
"Wow! Would you happen to have some water?" the man asked.
"Of course, sir. Come right in and I'll have some ice water brought right up." The man gestured, and the gate began to open.
"Can my friend come in too?" the traveler asked gesturing toward his dog.
"I'm sorry, sir, but we don't accept pets."

The man thought a moment and then turned back toward the road and continued the way he had been going with his dog.

After another long walk he came to a dirt road leading through a farm gate that looked as if it had never been closed. There was no fence. As he approached the gate, he saw a man inside leaning against a tree and reading a book."Excuse me!" he called to the man. "Do you have any water?"
"Yeah, sure, there's a pump over there, come on in."
"How about my friend here?'" the traveler gestured to the dog.
"There should be a bowl by the pump."

They went through the gate, and sure enough, there was an old-fashioned hand pump with a bowl beside it. The traveler filled the water bowl and took a long drink himself. Then he gave some to the dog.
When they were full, he and the dog walked back toward the man who was standing by the tree."What do you call this place?" the traveler asked.
"This is Heaven," he answered.
"Well, that's confusing," the traveler said. "The man down the road said that was Heaven too."
"Oh, you mean the place with the gold street and pearly gates? Nope. That's hell."
"Doesn't it make you mad for them to use your name like that?"
"No, we're just happy that they screen out the folks who would leave their best friends behind."

(Author unknown)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My dogs nearly died today because of rat poison!

My adrenalin levels have still not come down. I nearly lost my dogs today due to ignorance on my part and lack of professionalism on the part of a pest control company.

When a strange smell started emanating from behind my stove, I decided to call in the professionals. I was assured that the poison used was legal and safe as far as pets and birds are concerned. I have two owls in my tree and the last thing I want is for them to eat a poisoned rat that would result in their deaths.

The pest experts came and distributed rat poison bricks loosely in my roof, garage and behind my stove where they discovered the source of the smell - a dead rat. They then put the poison bait in my garden hiding a loose pile under a cache of bricks.
HUGE MISTAKE! The professionals should have known better and I found out too late.

Rat poison is safe only if it has been ingested in small amounts by a rat and then eaten by your pet. A greedy rat can eat enough poison to kill 20 rats before he starts to feel sick and if a dog or cat eats that rat, the poison is transferred. The good news is that most rats are not this greedy. The usual patient for secondary poisoning is a pet or predator that depends heavily on rats for food (a barn cat, for example).

However if a pet directly eats rat poison it will die the same way a rat does.

A toxic dosage is a matter of milligrams. My beagles soon scented the rat poison in my garden which apparently tastes delicious in order to entice rodents to eat. They broke down the cache of bricks and swallowed a massive overdose.

Thank God I caught them in the act but not before they had swallowed everything. I phoned my vet and explained what had happened. "Bring your dogs in immediately!" But, I bleated, I thought rat poison was safe for pets? "There is no rat poison that is safe for pets if it has been directly ingested" replied the vet sternly.

The next problem was knowing exactly what the composition of the poison was as this would dictate how to treat my dogs. Luckily I remembered the name of the product but when the vet did a search on the Internet about the product, nothing indicated what the active ingredients were on their website!

There are normally two ways rat poisons will kill - by causing renal failure or internal bleeding due to the anti-coagulation properties of the poison.

Phone calls back and forth between ourselves and the pest control company eventually produced a safety fact sheet two hours after my arrival at the vet. The one my dogs had eaten would have caused internal bleeding. If I had not seen them eating the poison, it is highly likely they would have either died within three days or if caught in time they would have needed ICU treatment, blood transfusions and who knows what kind of damage would have been done to their systems.

Renal failure poisons are far more insidious and difficult to diagnose. This is caused by cholecalciferol poisoning and there is no anti dote for this poisoning.

Poor Jamie and Jemma were immediately forced to vomit (an awful process) until their stomach contents appeared clear of all poison. Jamie was induced to vomit 9 times and Jemma stopped vomiting after 7 times. The vet said I was lucky that I had brought them in so quickly and hopefully very little of the poison had been absorbed into their systems.

The safety fact sheet advised that the treatment was doses of Vitamin K1 which Jamie and Jemma will be getting for the next three weeks.

So what lesson have I learnt? If you want to keep your children, pets and wild life safe from rat poison make sure that it is put in a safe container that is inaccessible to all of the above (except rats). Loose poison is a toxic idea. Make sure that your pest control company knows what it is doing by first educating yourself.

The poison put on the floor of my garage and every grain in my garden that I could find has been removed. My vet advised me to get closed containers that can be locked and attached onto your outside walls or fences well out of reach of children and pets. Even if poison is put in the roof it should be in a safe container as cats may climb up there. If the container should accidentally fall off, make sure that it cannot be chewed open by dogs or pried open by inquisitive children.

So what are the signs of rat poisoning, particularly the one that causes internal bleeding?
Most of the time external bleeding is not obvious and one only notices the pet is weak and/or cold. If one looks at the gums, they are pale. Sometimes bloody urine or stools are evident or nose bleeds may be seen. Signs of bleeding in more than one body location are a good hint that there is a problem with blood coagulation. Be aware of the signs of rat poisoning, particularly if your pet travels with you to places outside the home where poison may be left outside.

What a s****y day! First I set out to kill rats and nearly kill my dogs in the process. My budget is blown because I have a huge vet bill and still have to pay the pest control company!

And I also feel really sorry for the rats because the poisons we use today do not kill them in a humane manner. It's a catch 22 situation because rats do cause enormous damage in our homes and to our possessions. Are rat traps more humane? What do you think?

Whatever you do, protect your dogs at all costs from contact with rat poison!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Flea nightmare!

Over the past 17 years I have never had a flea problem with my dogs - until about three months ago. The experts say that in Gauteng this is due to the unseasonal weather alternating between cold, rain and hot weather. It never rains this late into autumn. Apparently this has caused a flea epidemic and believe me - the fleas are conquering the world. At first I kept on spraying my dogs with my regular flea and tick deterrent but the fleas just kept on multiplying and multiplying and multiplying.

Not only do they drive your pets crazy but they cause skin problems, can transmit tapeworm and cause "cat scratch disease". You need a product that will kill not only adult fleas but the development of flea eggs. They become larvae then pupae that cling to your carpets, furniture, skirting boards, curtains, clothes, bedding - in fact everywhere.
A single flea lays up to 50 eggs a day and lives for about 100 days. That's 5000 eggs per flea! The larvae emerge from the eggs and become pupae. These are invisible to the naked eye and can remain embedded in your home for up to a year waiting to strike. In a flea invasion only 5% are adults and 95% are eggs lying in wait.

I was advised to wash my dogs bedding in extremely hot water. The first product I used for the house was a powder that I sprinkled all over my carpets and on the dogs' bedding. But this did not produce the desired results. I was treating my dogs every second day and yet the fleas continued to thrive.

Out came the horror stories. One woman took 8 months of continual home and pet treatment to clear up the problem. Another woman had to rip up her carpets and left half her house bare for 6 months because they could not afford to fully re-carpet their home.

I eventually spoke to someone who said that there were no half measures when it came to fleas. It was WAR.

I changed the product I was using on my dogs as it was now obvious that the fleas had become immune to my regular product (which happens when you overdose). I gave them tablets to swallow which cause fleas to become sterile (after they have bitten the poor dog). I also paid a pretty penny for an environmental spray that I used to fumigate my house. I put flea collars into the bag of my vacuum cleaner so that any fleas that landed up there would hopefully die. I also bought a lice comb to groom my dogs' fur to get rid of all that nasty black gunk (a combination of flea eggs and flea poop). You have to be careful about what you comb the eggs onto as they stick to plastic, so rather use paper and syphon the eggs into vinegar or paraffin.

So four months down the road, my dogs are no longer scratching themselves to death. They still need more grooming to be completely egg/flea poop free but they seem to be picking up less fleas from the environment.

Have we WON THE WAR or is this just a truce? The cold weather causes the pupae to become dormant so it is possible that hostilities will resume in spring.
But what a nightmare!
Any other advice on the war on fleas?

All I can say is if you see a single flea on your dog, KILL IT!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Canine athlete good to go...

We had our first "hunt" of the season last Sunday. It was a warm morning even at 5.00am and when we arrived, there were lots of new faces. With the smell of mackerel drifting in the air, Jamie and Jemma remembered exactly what they had to do.

They both ran well in the first couple of trials with Jamie gaining a second and third place. But they faded in the last few due to the rising temperature and lack of fitness. To celebrate the start of the season we had a fantastic breakfast courtesy of our in house chefs (Pompadom and Roti's owners).

It took me a while to realise that Jamie and Jemma were not among the dogs milling around the sizzling food. I checked every group of dogs and owners particularly where tit bits were being handed out, but no sign of them. Nor were they near the parked cars. After making several circuits, I headed up the hill to a higher vantage point. Surely the smell of fried bacon, eggs and sausage would ensure they would not go missing for long? But nothing.

I was getting desperate and pulled out the red whistle which I blasted long and hard (this did not endear me to the rest of the owners trying to relax and chat). But no reaction. It has been a while since I used the emergency whistle so no doubt Jamie and Jemma have forgotten what it means. After climbing higher and higher and looking 360 degrees, I thought I spotted a flash of the tip of a white tail in the distance. It was them. I don't know what they were doing. Going AWOL, I suppose. I also realised that the wind was blowing in the wrong direction so they had not sniffed breakfast on the breeze.

That day I met Jamie's grand father who is an 8 times winner of the Hunt and his owner told me he had often gone walkabout after the hunt. She would have to wait up to an hour for him to return. So maybe going walkabout is in Jamie's genes. His toe certainly did not seem to bother him (thank goodness).

There was not a peep from Jamie and Jemma for the rest of the day which they spent fast asleep and obviously wiped out. Now that is an end result worth achieving!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Canine athlete definitely out of form...

It has been a long month. It seems to have taken forever for Jamie's toe to heal. He has put on weight and lost quite a bit of fitness. So has Jemma.

The big problem has been boredom. There is nothing more trying than an active dog that is bored out of its mind while convalescing. The main tip I was given was to keep Jamie chewing. Overwhelm him with chew toys, rawhide, hooves, stuffed kongs and bones.

Bones are of course the cheapest chew toy but they are also controversial. My vet nearly had a fit when I told her I was giving Jamie and Jemma bones to keep them occupied. Probably because she has seen all too often the end result of splintered bones stuck in the intestines of pets.

Those that are pro bones say that they must be BIG bones like knuckle bones, marrow or femur bones. The moment they start to thin or have raggedy edges, throw them away! Some say you must boil your bones as this reduces the growth of bacteria if your dogs like to bury their bones (Now I just chuck them before they get buried). Others say raw bones are better because they are less likely to splinter. Jamie is an "ingester" (tends to swallow whatever he is chewing) whilst Jemma is satisfied with destroying the object of her desire and then walking away. The main message is - be careful, no matter what you give your dogs to chew.

At our last beagle meet at Walkhaven I had to make excuses for why Jamie was looking a bit tubby. It was of course all those marrow bones and lack of exercise. The "Hunt" season starts this weekend. Too late to get them both fit enough. So they will have to toughen up as they run. (Me too!)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Update on Jamie's Op...

Jamie was very woozy and hopping on three legs when I fetched him late on Friday afternoon at the vet. He had a large, plastic bucket around his head (he looked like a creature from outer space).
The vet said that the operation had gone well. They had removed the nail and the bone underneath it. So part of the last digit on his toe had been amputated. "Amorphous bone growth that had developed on the toe as a result of irritation had also been removed" according to the vet.
List of instructions:
  • He had to remain as still as possible for 3 days
  • His pathology report would be available on Tuesday (to see if there was any infection in the bone)
  • I would need to return to have his dressing replaced every 3 days or so
  • He would need to wear the collar for 10 days
  • His stitches would come out in 14 days
  • He needed to be dosed with painkillers and antibiotics
  • He would need another x-ray in 3 weeks
Both Jamie and I felt rather overwhelmed as we returned home. The collar scared Jamie stiff (literally). He refused to move. His leg had been covered with a thick dressing and the vet advised that I could remove the collar so long as he did not chew his dressing.

On Friday night and Saturday, Jamie spent most of the day sleeping on the couch. But when I woke up on Sunday, Whoops! Jamie had chewed off all of his dressing and worst of all had probably been licking his wound. So off we rushed to the vet again to have his toe disinfected and a new dressing put on his paw.

Sorry, Jamie but the collar had to go back on. What an awkward piece of apparatus! He has difficulty sleeping. When he feeds I have to make sure the collar fits around his bowl so he can reach his food. I have put water in a wide flat bucket and he drinks by sticking the collar into the water. I can hear his progress around the house by the sounds of banging and scraping as he bumps into doors, furniture, walls. He also vigorously scratches the collar.

Jemma does not know what to make of this alien looking dog. She has been uncharacteristically quiet. Her usual playmate is now Hop-along-Cassidy in a Space Helmet. I will have to take her for walks on her own and leave Jamie behind (poor boy!).
What ado about a toenail! I keep on wondering if I should have taken Jamie to the vet the first time he stubbed his toe. We might have avoided all this aggravation. So the question is: When is a scratch just a harmless scratch? Should you take your dog to the vet for every little thing just in case it can become serious? Or was this just a case of sheer bad luck?

The good news is that the vet does not believe this operation will affect Jamie's ability to run!

Friday, February 25, 2011

The trials and tribulations of a canine athlete...

One of the biggest fears of every athlete before a competition is injury. Jamie (and his owner) hope to improve his performance during this winter's beagling season. Known as the "Beagle Hunt", a pack of beagles chase scent trails laid out across rough terrain and through the bush. The sooner a beagle crosses the finish line, the higher the number of points he gains. It is very prestigious to be crowned one of the top ten at the end of the season.

But Jamie has been dealt a blow just one month before the season starts. It all started when he stubbed his toe. The injury seemed innocuous enough as he stopped limping after a few days. But he kept re-injuring his toe which would then bleed. I thought that he had broken his toe nail above the quick and was repeatedly bashing it.
I became concerned that the troublesome toe nail would become a real problem once Jamie started hunting because the terrain is very rough and tough on the paws.

So yesterday I took Jamie to the vet thinking that the problem would be easily resolved. My heart dropped when the vet said he needed an x-ray.
The news was not good. A bone had chipped leaving a fleck of bone embedded in his flesh that had to be removed by surgery under a full anesthetic. They also needed to diagnose if there was any infection of the bone or even a carcinoma. It was also highly likely Jamie would lose his nail.

Jamie innocently drove with me to the vet this morning unaware of what lay ahead of him. We arrived at 7.30am. I took him to the sick room where there were several sad looking dogs in post-op recovery, some on drips and monitors. Jamie did not want to stay in his cage where I had to leave him. When I heard that his operation might only be at 12.00pm, I so wished that I had brought his familiar blanket for comfort during the long wait.

So at the moment I am beset by feelings of anxiety.
Jamie is only 2 years old and this is the second time he will have to undergo a full anesthetic ( the first when he was neutered).
What will be the prognosis? After surgery how am I going to ensure that his paw remains clean, dressed and that he doesn't do something stupid that undermines healing? And oh dear, the cost... the cost?
I only hope that this is not going to stop him hunting because he loves it so much!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Still alive and kicking!

Hi there !
In case you thought Jamie, Jemma and I had disappeared from the planet - we are still here in the physical sense. We did zone out mentally during January, 2011.
But we have now come back to earth with a bump (ouch!).

Jamie and Jemma had a wonderful holiday, got fit, lost weight and are looking sleek and healthy.
Now that they are back in the Big Smoke they are giving me hurt looks. It feels like being back in "prison" after a holiday of unfettered freedom.

I am trying very hard to keep them fit, not overfeed them and psyche myself up for the new Beagle "Hunting" Season which starts in April. They are going to have to remember how to hunt mackerel again.

In the mean time we have Beagle "conventions" once a month at Walkhaven. The idea is to keep the dogs involved in the "hunt" well socialised so that they form a cohesive group once we start the season. It's been fun and we are looking forward to meeting all their mates at the February meet.

In the meantime I am still spending my weekends getting my practical qualification to be an instructor. Hats off to everyone who works in the dog behaviour/instructor business. The really good people have incredible knowledge, skill and experience. They can make a dramatic difference to you and your dog's relationship.
Help is out there if you need it!