Monday, August 25, 2014

On the Road (With a Crazy Dog)

Casa de Bella is preparing for a much-needed getaway celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary at a little house on a secluded lake somewhere off the beaten path in Mid-Coast Maine.

Sounds romantic, doesn't it? Yeah, not so fast.

There's a reason we are renting a house so far away from civilization and it has little to do with romance. It has to do with our crazy dog.

Who? Me?

Traveling with Bella can be a test of patience and fortitude. She is highly reactive in the car, afraid of all things new and, while crate-trained, not super-cool about being locked in her crate left by herself in a strange place. (She's a "run and hide" kind of girl and views the crate more as a trap than a treasure.)

Planning a vacation with a scared-y dog - and let's face it, we can't really plan a vacation without her - starts early and requires more than a modest amount of planning and effort.

First, we choose the locale. Since Bella will be joining us, we have to be able to drive to our destination and the search is limited by travel time. I usually pick a nearby state we haven't visited (or haven't visited recently) and begin digging deeper into various areas to explore.

This year I boiled it down to Maine or Vermont. I love Vermont but we've been there recently and Jan has never been to Maine so Maine it is. Now, we not only have to accommodate the crazy dog in our travels, we have to please the humans as well and Jan and I, while having much in common, are also more than a little dissimilar in our vacationing tastes.

"I'm a little bit country, he's a little bit" city-boy.

Jan loves to peruse art museums and antique shops. I prefer hiking and beautiful, natural vistas.

Luckily we both love to eat so as long as I can find a really good foodie culture with a few art galleries and a lake or ocean view, we're good to go.

This year Camden, Maine looks like it will fit the bill nicely.

Or rather Hope, Maine since Camden will be busy with people and tourists and other dogs and we want to survive this vacation. So we're staying in Hope, Maine.

Never heard of it? Good, that's the point.

Bella will have her own private yard with a private dock and a large pond to play in. Jan will have antique tools to browse and I'll have the natural beauty that is Mid-Coast Maine at my disposal all while enjoying an exciting, locally-focused culinary jewel.

Did someone say "Food"?

So that's the effort that goes into planning where we'll go. Getting there and being there offer their own adventures in organizational dexterity.

Some of the other preparations I have planned include:
  • Before we leave for the 3-hour drive up, we'll take our crazy beast for a nice long walk near home so she should be good and tired when we pull into town somewhere around Ogunquit, Maine to grab some lunch.
  • I've already found a few 'clam shacks' on the drive where we can get good old-fashioned New England take-out and sit on the rocks by the ocean with the pupper safely tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist scene.
  • Once we do arrive at our destination, I've taken's advice and prepared a zip-line for Bella that we'll hook up between the house and the pond so she can explore to her heart's content without us having to dig her out of the bushes every 5 minutes.
  • We've been crate-training Bella since March and she's doing well but not great. But I've still got a few tricks up my sleeve to help make her crate feel more like home than the couch in the home she'll be staying in. Lots of Kongs and my famous "Peanut Butter and 0% Fat Yogurt" stuffing are on the packing list as is our homemade chicken jerky.
  • And I'm making sure her stuff smells like her stuff for the trip. No lilac-scented bedding here - I want her bed to smell like home. HER home. Which means I'm not washing her bed before we leave. I did that a few weeks ago and now it's just sitting there soaking up all those good Bella smells to hopefully make her stay a little less stressful.
A few other "must-haves" for our travel itinerary: medications including those infrequently administered, a list of what those medications are and the dosages, her Storm Defender cape and of course, all Bella's vaccination records and the number of her ID chip.

Getting around

The house we'll be staying in is secluded and private but we do intend to take Bella into town with us and on some scenic drives but we'll do so with treats at the ready to distract her from anything that spooks her. We've also put up sun shades in the trusty old Subaru to help lessen her visual stimulation.

While we're on the subject of car travel, Bella wears an EzyDog harness that is securely fitted to the car's seat belt system and we also have a front-seat barrier to keep her safely in the back seat away from the driver.

We're planning to spend a day in Acadia National Park and will take Bella with us when we do. Again, we'll seek out less popular trails and empty beaches on the quieter side of the island. And I've found a kennel on the island that will provide Bella a private, quiet place to rest if Jan and I decide to lunch on our own. (I see this as highly, HIGHLY unlikely but you never know.)

It's funny, as I was planning this vacation, I realized we don't, in fact, search for "dog-friendly" places - too many dogs visit those spots. Instead we look for the "road less traveled" when traveling with Bella. It's easier and more enjoyable for everyone that way.

Thanks, mom.
Jan and I are private people who like spending time with each other rather than hob-nobbing about town with the well-heeled. Traveling with Bella may take some extra planning but really, she just gives us an excuse to seek what we enjoy most in a vacation anyway: peace, quiet, and privacy.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wordless Wednesday 132 - Oh those ears!

Pardon the unmade bed. Bella got to it before I did and I just didn't have the heart to kick her out.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Bella's list of fears grows shorter

Waaaaaayyyyyy back when I first started this blog, I wrote a post about all the things Bella was afraid of.

It was a pretty big list.

In the same post, I listed how many of those fears she had already managed to overcome.

I couldn't have been more proud of her for facing all of that.

But it's time to update that list once again.

There are still a few things that Bella needs our help and encouragement to face but her list is so much smaller now I almost wonder what I'm supposed to do with a blog about a scared-y dog when she's not so scared-y any more.

Here's where we left off back in April of 2012:
Things Bella was still afraid of
  • People (general)
  • Dogs (general)
  • The vacuum cleaner
  • Bugs that buzz (flies, bees, etc)
  • Beeps/alarms
  • Storms (wind, heavy rain, thunder)
  • The snow-blower
  • Things that fall on the roof (acorns, stones, branches, snow...)
  • Agility obstacles (in progress):
    • Teeter-totter
    • Tippy boards
And here's we are now:
Things Bella is still afraid of
  • People
  • Other dogs
  • Beeps/alarms
  • Thunderstorms
She's still not fond of bugs - but only when they are harassing her and that's not fear, that's annoyance and rightly so.

Bella's also still not thrilled with the squirrels who seem to think the shortest distance between two points is over our bedroom roof at 6 o'clock in the morning. She still gets up and leaves but it's not the distressed, frantic scamper that it once was.

And while she's learned to self-sooth for small storms by going to the basement by herself, the considerable storms we've been having here in Massachusetts as of late have proven she will always seek our comfort for the big bad booms that go bump in the day or night. 

(To be fair, there was a thunderclap so loud and house-rattling the other day that, even though I was in the basement with her, I jumped out of my skin. I think her nervous reaction to such is what one would have to classify as, uh, normal.)

But here's something new, something that jumped out at me when I looked at the pictures in that original post. When I first wrote these lists, it never occurred to me to put something like "toenail trimming" on them because it was so far outside our realm of possibility - as you can plainly see by the dagger-like talons she's sporting in those pics.

Yikes!  Look at those claws!
Well, guess what, folks? Toe-nail trimming? It is now on her "I'm not afraid of this anymore" list!

Prior to putting Bella on Gabapentin as we did in January this year, in the 5+ years(!) I had been working with her to achieve the toenail trimming milestone, the closest I had ever been able to come was holding her foot in one hand with the Pedi-Paws turned on in the other. Any attempt to bring the buzzing tool closer to her was met with a dash into another room. (I never pushed beyond that point because it was clear she was "over threshold" and I'd be doing more harm than good.)

What follows is a tragically uninspired video of Bella getting her toenails trimmed. While it will mean little to the vast majority of people who come upon it, it represents a once unimaginable step in Bella's development to me and Jan.

There has been more than one occasion in the last 6 months where Jan and I have looked at each other and said "What happened to our dog?" Not in a bad, "oh no she's broken" kind of way but in a "how did she get to be so normal?" fashion. Her reaction, or lack thereof, to the vacuum cleaner surprises me each and every time and the fact that I can trim her toenails with (relative) ease is something I never expected to witness.

She is my brave little girl even if she did need some pharmaceutical assistance to get there.

Now that we have her under threshold as a general rule, it is incumbent upon us to teach her the coping skills she needs to survive whatever life throws her way in the future. We finally feel that's a real possibility. She is a good student, quick and eager to learn. We just have to have the patience and persistence to guide her in this journey.

And now we know, it is at least truly possible.

Author's note: We learned today that Brewster has rescue in San Diego. We are in awe of our friends, Tim and Lorrie, for the incredible heart-ache they have assumed in order to give Brewster a real shot at a happy and fear-free life. We are saddened by their loss but so incredibly happy for Brewster as he engages in this new journey. Best wishes, Brewster! Here's hoping your new family will drop a line every now and then so we can watch you flourish.

Disclaimer: If you happen to click on that link to the Pedi-Paws and decide to buy one for your own pup, I'll get a small commission. I'm pretty sure I'll not be getting rich off the deal but for the sake of full disclosure, it needs to be said. Same thing with the treats in the background: Zuke's Mini Naturals if you were wondering. Both were purchased by me and are not part of any promotion or advertisement.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

So, this is awkward...

I received this message in my email on Monday:
"Hi Leslie,

Congratulations! Your blog is a finalist in the 2014 Petties category for Best Video Post. I have attached the 2014 Petties finalist badge for your category.

Voting for the 2014 Petties will begin later today. We are currently working on setting the voting page live. Voting will continue until July 31st midnight PST. I will be reaching out again soon to get more information from you.

Congratulations again! Please let me know if you have any questions.

Christina Kwan
Director of Marketing and Product Development
DogTime Media, Inc

To be honest, I found out about it from some friends on Facebook before I even received the email.

So it should come as no surprise that I found out from the same friends that there was a new "complete" list of finalists. A "complete" list of finalists that was kind of missing some of the original finalists. I never did get a follow up to the original email telling me the first email was sent in error. What I got instead was a blanket "Hey yeah, sorry for the confusion, here's the real list."


When I was first told we were nominated for a Pettie in the "Best Video" category, I was psyched. I've made a few videos, worked my tail off to do so and thought, "Hey, that's cool that someone nominated us." I still think it's very cool that someone somewhere out there thought enough of us to nominate us for one of these awards. I really do.

But when I went out to see which video made the cut, I was more than a little confused. The video that we were up for was hardly worth the nod. So I guess I wasn't really too surprised when I found out that the first email about being a finalist was sent in error. And I'm REALLY glad I didn't rush out to tell you all about it.

However, some of my friends who were on the original list of finalists and weren't on the revised list are big-name and popular blogs who had every reason to believe they were appropriately nominated as noted in the first email. Kol's Notes, The Writer's Dog and Dog House Adoptions, Oz the Terrier and Pawcurious all deserved to be on that list and believed DogTime when they told them they were finalists encouraging them to recruit their followers to come out and vote for them.

When the "complete" list came out and they weren't on it, they had every right to be angry and embarrassed for asking their followers to go over and give DogTime the traffic. And they never even received the slightest hint of an apology from DogTime for the mix-up.

Not cool, dudes.

I feel bad for everyone involved. But here's the thing with my nomination. The video that made the selection for us didn't even make sense. I barely edited it, never mind slaved over it as folks who make good videos do. I knew something was wrong. I wasn't going to ask you all to vote for us because I was embarrassed by the video that ended up on that finalist list.

It's too bad though because I've made some good videos (the one "not really" a finalist notwithstanding.)

It would have been nice to get that recognition. It would have been even nicer to get the prize money for Save a Sato had I won. But I wouldn't have won with the video that was nominated and the folks who are in the finalist list deserve to be there where I did not.

Truth is, I had a video do everything I've ever wanted earlier this year - it went "viral". Well okay, it went "viral" in parts of the the scared-y dog community anyway. But really, no award can compete with how it feels to hear from folks who have been encouraged to keep working with their fearful dogs because they've seen evidence that these dogs can succeed in overcoming their fears.

If I had a choice, this is the video I would have submitted to the Petties for 2014. Who knows, maybe I'd have given some of the real finalists a run for their money.

"Bella Learns to Jump" was 18 months in the making. (I first wrote about it here.)

Bella was afraid of sticks and poles not to mention the clicker so we literally started with just a stick on the floor encouraging her to come into the room. She made this video and it's better than anything I could have ever done on my own.

There isn't an award in the world that can make me more proud of this crazy dog than what's in that video right there.

"The Petties, DogTime Media’s annual awards show recognizes the best of the pet blogging community. Through this program, DogTime has donated over $50,000 to shelters and rescues across the nation. In addition to bloggers, the Petties honor nonprofit organizations and volunteers who have dedicated their lives to helping homeless animals."

Bringing up Bella extends our sincere congratulations to all the 2014 Petties Finalists. Good luck to all!