Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Adventures of a (Itchy) Dog-ma - Fleas.

A few weeks ago I thought winter skin had set in even though winter isn't here... I had some itchy spots that I couldn't attribute to anything else since it's October.  I even complained to my husband that I felt like I had little bugs on my face in bed one night. He thought I was crazy as I quickly started researching bed bugs...

Then a few nights later at about 1:30am, I looked over at my white dog, Glacier, and saw a bug crawling across her face. As soon as it hopped away from my approaching fingers, I knew what it was... a flea.

The only other time I have ever dealt with fleas was when I moved into my summer cabin at the camp I worked at in California. I sat down on the floor and saw bugs jumping all over me... It took several weeks of bombing the house to knock back those little suckers and we certainly didn't want to deal with that!

As soon as I caught and ground between my fingers that first flea that I found on Glacier's face, I immediately went to work looking both dogs over carefully... and found both had fleas in their nether regions - not a ton but one is too many! Yes, it was 1:30am. Yes, I was home alone. (I'm sensing a theme here... Every time I had to wash skunk off our old dog Jericho, my husband was conveniently in another state. :-)) But regardless of time or on-hand staffing, BOTH dogs got a bath and all sheets, dog beds etc went right into the washing machine. I only got two hours of sleep before work... but it was worth it!

After 15+ years of dog ownership and nary a flea in sight, we suddenly had to become flea experts in a hurry. Thank you, Google! Here is what we've learned about how to manage fleas without the use of chemicals.

First... fleas are tenacious little buggers that require a multi-faceted, full-force, constant and steady long-term attack if you are going to get them before they get you!

Second... it IS possible to manage them without introducing chemicals or other harsh or toxic treatments into a home that is otherwise cleaned and maintained naturally.

Here's how...

The first step in the process is to toss all hosts (yep, you too!) into the shower/bath as soon as possible. Wash them with Dawn dish detergent - it kills them pretty much instantly and isn't too terrible on their skin if you rinse and rinse and rinse them clean. If they've got a thick undercoat, like Brody does, this step takes a while - be patient.

The next step, while the dogs are drying, is to strip everything - sheets, linens, dog bed covers etc and get them through a hot wash and dryer as quickly as possible. The detergent will take care of the mature fleas and the hot water and the heat of the dryer will also tackle the eggs and larvae. I'll bet that you are feeling all creepy-crawly now thinking about the eggs and larvae, right? Me too!

The next step is to purchase a good amount of food grade diatomaceous earth - we found it in 4.5lb bags and bought two bags for our 1,600 sf house that is about half carpeted/throw rugs and our half acre property. You can usually find this at garden center or the like. Do NOT use pool grade diatomaceous earth - it is different and can cause health problems for you and your animals. Always get the food grade!

Also purchase a big bag of baking soda - we found it at our local bulk purchasing warehouse.

And while you are out shopping, buy a couple of large bottles of organic apple cider vinegar.

Here's how and why to use each of them...

Diatomaceous earth (DE) - Wear a mask! DE junks up your lungs like any other fine particle. There is nothing toxic about it but lungs aren't designed to handle dust.
Diatomaceous Earth -
Off-white with a flour-like consistency

  • Sprinkle a generous amount covering all carpeted surfaces that your dogs have come in contact with (and ones that they haven't... might as well!) and including furniture etc. Then work it into the fabric with a broom or brush and leave it there for as long as you are comfortable - a few hours at least. Then vacuum it up. The vacuuming excites the fleas into leaving their cocoons and they get nailed with the DE and then they get sucked up and die. DE has fine, sharp edges that cuts the exo-skeleton of the fleas and dehydrates them (and slugs too!).
  • Then when your dogs are completely dry, rub a good amount of DE directly into your dogs coat including gently around the ears and muzzle. Don't forget the nether regions (taking care not to overwhelm the truly sensitive parts) and full length of the tail. The DE will stay in their coat for a day or so depending on how thick their coat is and how wet they get. Feel free to re-apply daily until the little buggers are gone. 
  • Sprinkle DE on dog beds or any other place that they spend time.
  • Walk around your yard spreading DE all over it. Repeat after the yard has dried if it rains - water "melts" the DE and renders it ineffective. Pay particular attention to areas where fleas hang out... like for us, along the fence line that borders our neighbors yard. He told us last summer that he had a flea infestation but Brody never got it.
Baking Soda - Wear a mask. See lungs v. dust explanation as to why.
  • Spread a thin layer of baking soda into all of the same places that you used the DE in the house. The DE only works on mature fleas but the baking soda works to dry up the eggs and larvae before they even hatch. Work it in with a broom and leave it for as long as you can - up to 48 hours if possible - and then vacuum up.
  • Toss some in with the washing that you are doing too - it can't hurt!
Organic Apple Cider Vinegar - 
  • Add a tablespoon or so to your dog's drinking water. The acid of the vinegar increases the pH in the dog's body and fleas don't like it. 
  • You can also make a spritz with one part water and one part vinegar and spray it directly on their coat. Rub it in well and really soak them well. Do this every day if fleas are bad, every other day as the problem eases.
Things to remember... 
  • Repeat the dusting and vacuuming every day or every other day for several weeks to make sure you've killed all of the fleas in the various stages.
  • Once you are done vacuuming, you MUST empty the vacuum bag immediately. In order to fully kill what's in there, you can freeze the bag for a few days before putting it out in the trash. That will keep them from crawling out and starting all over again.
  • Vacuum cleaners with Hepa filters can get jammed up with the fine dust so if you've got a shop vac, that's probably your best bet.
  • A clean dog isn't enough. A clean house isn't enough. You have to tackle ALL fronts simultaneously or you'll just end up chasing your tail... literally and figuratively.
  • Keep at these multi-faceted approaches for several weeks. If you give up early, you are giving in. 
  • DON'T go to the toxic stuff. It's bad for you, your pets, your family. It stays in your house much longer than you think. It's bad stuff. Don't do it!
This is the best website we found - http://www.richsoil.com/flea-control.jsp

Friday, October 26, 2012

Adventures of a Dog-ma... First Travels

I travel a lot. Therefore we are always in a constant state of what to do with the dog. Now it's two dogs. Brody is a piece of cake - when he was an only dog and I traveled to CT, I could swing in with no notice and drop him at my in-law's house for a little grand-dog time. Glacier has added a new wrinkle to the negotiations.

Despite being very friendly with us when we first met her, she has major "stranger shyness" that we weren't prepared for at all. (Luckily it manifests in hiding under things, not being aggressive in any way.) This means that new people, even people she's met before but doesn't see regularly, require a fairly significant breaking in period.... Therefore dropping the pair with Grammy and Grandpa isn't quite on the roster yet. Soon we hope!

So... Needing to be in CT for a few days this weekend while my husband worked multiple 16 hour shifts required bringing both dogs with me to my dad's farm for the first time.

We arrived after our four hour drive and Glacier leapt from the car thinking we had just arrived in heaven! Suddenly she had acres and acres of fields to run in. She and Brody could get more than 20 feet from me without me constantly calling them back to me. She could run at full tilt (which is REALLY fast!) without having to slam on the brakes for the fence. She cavorted like she's been imprisoned her whole life... Well... She kind of has.

Then as I stood there smiling because I'd just achieved saint status in the dog's eyes for bringing her here... she stopped, dropped and rolled... in the nastiest, gooiest, most prolific pile of deer diarrhea she could find. Despite my yells of "NO! Leave it! Glaciiiiiiieeeeeer!!!! NASTY!!!!!!!" she proceeded to roll in it so that from under her chin to under the opposite rear leg, she was striped like a barbershop pole. White dog. Green-brown crap. She was covered. I particularly appreciated the chunks waggling at me from her collar as she trotted happily back toward me. I didn't like her right then.

I spent the next twenty minutes holding my breath while washing her from head to toe with a sponge, pitchers of warm water, and some dish soap. Her happy wore off quickly. Mine was sulking elsewhere.

With that debacle behind us, we went to visit my mom who had just gotten home from rehab after her hip replacement. No dogs allowed. So I left the two pooches in the back of the car and went in for a visit. A few peeks out the window and they seemed fine. When I went out, the hazard lights were flashing, the brand new radio that my husband had just installed in my car had the volume knob popped off (it went right back on - PHEW!) and my iced coffee was spilled onto my seat. Frick and Frack were lounging in the "way back" like nothing happened but I soon figured out (because at our next quick stop she did an abbreviated version of her antics again with less disastrous results) that Glacier had spotted a squirrel and had bounced through every inch of the car trying to get to it.... With no luck. (Note: it was at this point that I texted my husband to resume the search for a dog gate for the back of the car.)

Back at the farm we went for another romp only this time, wiser Dog-ma that I am, I kept her on the leash until we were far away from the scene of the earlier slide-by crapping. She romped and ran with Brody happily for 30 minutes and had no further interactions with poo. "Yay!", I thought, "Perhaps I'm safe letting her run as long as she's far away from the pine trees!?"

She spent the evening hiding under my dad's desk... Hoping that he and everyone else that stopped by would just go away. And the next day the walks in the field went great... But exceptional Dog-ma that I am, despite pushing eight feet several inches back from the edge of the "way back" door, shut Brody's foot in the door and broke his toenail off. Poor guy. He was already limping from romping too hard... And now he's really got something to limp about!

Glacier met my mom and step-dad for the first time... And hid under the table and behind couches for the duration until we headed back to the farm for another romp in the fields. Thirty or so minutes into the romp, my previous delusion came to a sliding halt as she found a fresh pile of deer doo in the field and promptly gave herself the barbershop pole swirl again. And again I washed the danged dog with a danged sponge and danged pitchers of danged warm water... which I had wisely left outside knowing that it likely wasn't the last time!

I felt like the mother that wants to leave her kids at the playground so someone else can watch them for a while and I can go get a massage... I didn't though. I reminded myself that at home, I love Glacier. At home she's funny and entertaining.

Did I mention that neither of them ate a bit of food for 36 hours? Apparently the high-end extraordinarily expensive dog food is just too intolerable without ground turkey added. (Don't judge us... We are trying to fatten her up!) So... Off to the store for some wet food to mix in and at last two dogs - one limping, the other smelling like poop and Ajax - finally gobbled up some food and passed out on their beds.

Thus far the first trip has included poop rolling, poop eating (I won't say which dog - you'll have to decide if they lick your face), two makeshift baths, a broken toenail, a wet coffee butt, a narrowly avoided call to explain how my new radio got broken, barely any real food (poop doesn't count as real food), two pounds of diatomaceous earth to help combat the terrible flea year, and me sharing a queen sized bed with 100lbs of snoring dogs while their perfectly good beds go unused on the floor. I'm such a sucker...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Adventures of a Dog-ma - Night Sounds...

Brody has had four years to break us in to his peculiarities so he's not getting much play in the blog about his oddities... but really, when I think about it, he doesn't really have any. Well... he does seem to have extremely vivid dreams and actually woke me up this morning with a low, mournful throaty whistle of sorts - whatever he was dreaming about was sad. So I woke him up and he was fine but he does get quite animated in his dreams complete with vocalizations and some fancy footwork! He also isn't a prancer or pacer when he's hungry or needs to go out, he prefers to sit directly in front of you and stare intently in your eyes until you catch a clue and take care of whatever it is that he needs. If you don't respond for a while, he goes and lies down and tries again later. He's really the easiest dog in the world!

Glacier, on the other hand, is a constant source of entertainment. She emits a high-pitched, muffled howl when she wants your attention, when she thinks we're going for a walk/ride/outside/or other such fun activity or when you walk by and she thinks you haven't pet her recently enough. She also reminds me a bit of my cat Charlie's old habit and races down the stairs in the morning to beat me into the living room where she lies in wait with her butt in the air and chest on the floor howling... and then as soon as I cross into the living room, she pounces on me and grabs my fingers in her mouth as we head to the door. She's a bit of a loose cannon.

The other night we had all settled in for the night - we'd finally kicked the two dogs off the bed (100 lbs of dog is a lot to handle when sorting out blankets and pillows!) and all was quiet. Glacier had tip-toed downstairs (we never heard her leave) and as we quietly watched our movie and were drifting off to sleep, we heard the tell-tale sound of her coming back up the stairs... She dropped her bone. It's a large bone (made to resemble a beef bone except it doesn't splinter) about 6" long and 2.5" in diameter. It's heavy. She had apparently made it nearly to the top step of our wood-treaded stairs when it slipped out of her jaws and tumbled like a slow-moving slinky to the bottom step. 

My husband and I looked at each other as the deliberate 12-13 "clonk, clunk, thunks" rang through the house as the bone  plummeted and when it came to rest without the sounds of shattered glass or whimpering dog, we erupted in laughter! Going to get the bone was clearly too much for her so she walked into the bedroom, flopped on her bed and let out a perfunctory old man groan. .

I have only ever heard one other dog make the noises that Glacier makes on a regular basis. A few months ago my sisters and I were walking with one of their dogs - a 9-10 month old black lab 70 lb "puppy" named Homer. We were just finishing up a five mile loop in the fast-approaching dark when we decided to check in on a neighbor's newborn calf and his herd of cows. Before we knew what was happening, Homer slipped through the electric fence into the pasture with the cows. He was a rookie with cows and with a newborn calf in there, we didn't know how the cows would react so we had to scramble to get him out as quickly as possible. After several efforts to coax him back through the live fence by separating the strands with some fiberglass poles we had found, we realized we were ONLY going to get him out by going in there and getting him. In the pitch black we finally found the shut off switch to the fence and my sister climbed in... but Homer wouldn't come any where near the fence (having gotten zapped on the nose the one time we got him to almost come through the separated strands) so she had to lift him up, carry him ~20 feet back to the fence, and hand him over the fence to me. All the way home Homer made noises I had never heard a dog make before - groans, grunts, grunts that morphed into yelps, groans that slid into howls - he was a sad sad puppy!

So now we have a dog that makes noises constantly. She's not a barker (thank God!) but she grunts and groans like an old man settling into his chair, howls, woofs quietly through her closed lips... and she snores. She snores worse than most men I know! The other night I was working in my office, which is the next room over from our bedroom, and for a second, I thought my husband had gone to bed... but it wasn't him snoring so loud that I needed to shut the door in order to concentrate - it was our 40 lb dog!

She has brought a lot of joy and energy to the house... and she is getting away from some of her naughty settling in/puppy behaviors... and we all love her. But sometimes Brody looks at her like she's a completely different species and totally off her rocker. She kind of is.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Being a Dog-ma...

Last night while I was lying on the couch wearing a 60 lb blanket (Brody) across my chest and a 40 lb blanket (Glacier) on my feet, I found a mass on Brody's abdomen. Of course he was so zonked out that I couldn't really move him to compare sides but it seemed to me like it was about the size of a super ball and gelatinous-like deep under the skin. I've never found anything like this on any of our dogs so I called the vet this morning to just have her take a look.

Our vet's office is five minutes from our house but even if it was further away, I would still take our animals there for one reason... they LOVE our animals and make them feel like they are only in business for these two dogs! The vet tech that answered the phone this morning gushed about how adorable Brody is (I had found out during our last visit that she actually has a picture of him on her personal cell phone - creepy if he was a child, cute since he's a dog) and that she hoped we could come in while she was still there so she could see him. Unfortunately she left earlier than our appointment so he had to just deal with being adored and ogled by the vet and the other tech.

When we arrived, I brought Brody in first and left Glacier in the car until I got him settled. The moment we approached the cubicle (foolishly upholstered with cloth!) that surrounds the check-in desk, he swung around and for a flash it looked like he was about to lift his leg on it. Apparently the tech's appearance at that exact instant changed his mind and I guffawed as I told her that he had looked like he was about to pee on it (since I was SURE he'd NEVER do such a thing)... and as we were laughing............ the little stinker DID lift his leg and pee on it!

I pulled him away before he got off much of a shot and took him outside briskly. I returned a few minutes later explaining that he'd never ever peed inside before (except one time he started to trickle on the couch while he was dreaming but he stopped as soon as we woke him up) as she was cleaning it up and she was laughing saying not to worry about it - it wasn't the first time (upon further inspection, it looks like he's about the 500th dog to have done it there). But it WAS the first time for Brody and I was mortified nonetheless! I'm just hoping that the news of his un-adorable behavior doesn't get back to Christine or she might not think he's such a doll any more!

So, with Brody secured several feet from his new favorite pee spot, I brought Glacier in and weighed each of them. Despite Glacier eating a full cup more than Brody each day of the really expensive "healthy weight" dog food, BOTH dogs gained a pound! Brody is supposed to be losing five pounds and she is supposed to be gaining five pounds! Eesh! Then we went in to see the vet and Glacier slid into her normal "standby position" under the bench - she's still getting used to the love - while Brody gave joyful kisses and then stood stock still while the vet probed at his belly.

After a bit of prodding and squeezing, it turns out that Brody's lump is most likely a "Fatty Mass" which is common in labs and is harmless (Phew!) but we need to watch it for changes. I'd like to say it's where the extra pound came from... but nobody would buy it.

Loving What I Do...

These past two weeks I've had to come face-to-face with the person that I feel had a strong role in getting me "laid off" from my job a few years ago so that she could get a full-time job there. It was really hard when I found out that she was going to be working with an organization that I currently do a lot of work with but I reminded myself of the good that came from it and faced her head on. She's super friendly and even now I'm not sure exactly how much of a pawn or participant she was in what happened - it doesn't really matter at this point - arm's length is close enough for me.

The first time I saw her, I kept it brief and light and I could tell that she was happy that I was nice to her - my last day at the aforementioned job I wasn't as kind as I could have been. I don't feel bad though because whether she was pawn or participant, she KNEW what was happening. She KNEW that in order for her to move from part-time to full-time, I had to lose my job entirely but on my last day she had the gall to stand in my office with a pouty lip and ask me what I was going to do next and ooze about how much she would miss me. For God's sake... when you've been blind-sided with a lay off and then had to stick around wrapping things up for two weeks, it's pretty damned hard to be nice to the people that had anything to do with it.

The second time that I saw her, we were alone in the office and I could tell that she was prying for information about how life has gone for me since the layoff. I bounced. I always bounce. I ended up in the job that I've got now that I love and with that, life is grand - I have no complaints! Yes, I made four times as much money at the previous job but I also had 50 times the stress. I also had back pain, a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, and felt the least appreciated I had ever felt in my professional career. Magically within weeks of leaving that job, the back pain subsided, the fibromyalgia diagnosis was lifted and stress was identified as the source of the constant pain in my hands and feet, and I moved on to a job where now I get thanked for doing even the most basic things. 

In my mind, I'm the winner. She ended up working there for three more years and let me tell you, it has aged her. A lot! She kept telling me how happy and beautiful I look now and I know it's because I am happy with what I do for work AND that it gives me time to do the things at home and with family that I didn't have time for during my previous job. I had come into that previous job with a promise that I could have the flexibility to go to my step-son's tennis matches and school functions - reality turned out that I was allowed to go to ONE tennis match and made to feel guilty about it before and after. I was miserable.

The last three years since I left there have been storied with both personal and professional joys and challenges but right now, I can honestly say that getting laid off from that job was the greatest gift I have ever received.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


It's weird to me that the word "aspiration" means more than one thing: Strong desire, longing, or aim; ambition OR the act of inhaling fluid or a foreign body into the bronchi and lungs, often after vomiting.

I actually cannot imagine trying to sort out the English language if it wasn't my native tongue. But I digress...

I aspire to be graceful, not rich. I aspire to be kind in all situations, not right. I aspire to be considerate, not dominant. I aspire to live simply, not judgmentally. I aspire to be helpful, not bossy. I aspire to live in love, not intolerance. I aspire to be a person that I would invite into my life, not someone to run from.

I aspire to be like my mom who, among all of the things listed above, is also currently accepting a new hip into her body like she gets new joints every day! Good job, Mom! Welcome home!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

I Blame My Mother...

My mother takes Halloween VERY seriously. She loves this "holiday" more than any other. When we were kids, she would dress up become "Wanda Witch" every year as All Hallow's Eve approached. During certain years, when parents are a total embarrassment no matter what they do, this was not my favorite thing about my mom... but before and after those years, I thoroughly enjoyed my mom's enthusiasm for the season.

Wanda Witch had many incarnations over the years - sometimes she had elaborate, creepy hand-painted masks made of papier mache and sometimes she had green face paint with wadded up paper towel bits and Elmer's glue for warts. I don't think she ever wore a "store bought" mask... and neither did we. I'm not actually sure if we even knew that store bought costumes even existed!

A as Kojak (the bald skin cap and lollipop disappeared
by this time) and me as Police Woman.
On Halloween evening, we would spend an hour or two figuring out what we were going to dress up as and rummaging through boxes and closets to put together an outfit. Never did we ever run to the store for a costume - it was the 80's and we were raised by a frugal, creative mom who just didn't even introduce that as an option. None of our friends wore store-bought costumes either. We would occasionally get some face paint but more likely we decorated our faces with burned corks or heavy red lipstick smudged onto our cheeks, flour to gray our hair or whiten our skin, and ketchup for fake blood. I don't recall ever being embarrassed by what we came up with - more often than not, we had the more creative outfits at the parties we attended because we had a mom at home who totally got into helping us create costumes. She never freaked out about a cut-up t-shirt or shredded jeans (as long as they weren't new ones) and she never gave us a hard time about smashing her lipsticks to bits or staining our clothes.
Latka (from Taxi), Chachi (Happy Days), Daisy Duke,
Marcia Brady & the Incredible Hulk

To this day, we enjoy celebrating Halloween. A few years ago, the first Halloween after we moved into the house, we hosted a pizza party for the neighborhood and asked everyone (including the adults) to come in costume. We spent hours putting together our Shrek & Fiona homemade costumes and painting our faces and necks green. When we greeted people at the door, we were disappointed... nobody (except for a few kids in store bought princess dresses or spider man pajamas) came in costume! Not a single adult even put a silly headband on or anything. Hrmph. We realized that we weren't in Kansas Vermont anymore where we'd had some fabulous Halloween parties including themed parties like 70's TV characters, animation characters etc.

Me as "Carpenter Ant"
Years before when I lived in CT, we had HUGE Halloween parties that people went all out for and made (rarely bought) the most incredible costumes as well. One year a friend of mine and I spent weeks making our costumes out of rug padding and spray paint - his was a praying mantis and mine was a carpenter ant. The following year I made a dragon costume out of the same material and after being harassed throughout the party by the art teacher from the local school, I finally donated it to the school. (I kind of wish I hadn't... I'd like to pull that thing out again one of these years.)

Those parties were SO much fun but we figured out quickly that clearly we don't have the same type of friends/neighbors here on Cape Cod. What a bummer.

A and me at the Jungleberry Ball & Testicle Festival
But... luckily we have a weirdo family and last year we held a party celebrating my nephew in-law's first anniversary of being free of testicular cancer by hosting the "Jungleberry Ball & Testicle Festival" on my brother and sister in-law's farm in TN. The party was a hoot and included an ugly dress contest for the ladies and an ugly vest contest for the gents. Some of the entries were fabulous - my nephew Matt found a faux leopard fur vest that was hideous, my niece Anna looked like she'd stepped right off the plantation with her big flower-print dress and complementary hat, my brother wore a Halloween themed sweater vest that I'm pretty sure our grade school librarian once wore, my sister in-law wore a black and pink shiny little number with a top hat - the entries were hilarious!

So... Halloween is just a few weeks away and we need to figure out some way to celebrate. Perhaps the carpenter ant will make another appearance... or perhaps I'll disappear into my workshop with some new materials and see what else I can come up with - I've got some old textile quills that would make a fabulous porcupine! One thing is for sure, we'll be the only adults on the block dressed up again... and that's okay because I know that in CT, despite recovering from hip surgery, Wanda Witch will find a way to ride again!