Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How Much is That Doggie in the Window?

We were dog-less and I was looking for a Golden Retriever-type dog.  A mix or a rescue would have been fine, but I wanted a guarantee of the Golden personality.  Our last dog, Riesling, had to go after he bit 5-year-old Kelsey on the face.  We needed a dog that had a gentle nature, trainable, and a large breed.  Sorry, but small dogs just aren't "real dogs" to me. I called the shelters and rescue organizations with no luck.  Finally, I found a Golden Retriever breeder who had two female puppies remaining, a blond and a red.  My next task was to convince my husband Jay that we were ready to get a puppy when we had just recently put a deposit down on our first Maine Coon kitten. 

Of course, Jay argued that it was too soon, too much money.  I was planning on starting a Maine Coon breeding program with the kitten I would get in June and a dog would be a problem, he protested.  I countered with how well socialized our kittens would be by growing up around a dog and children; it could be a selling point.  Besides, you just got your bonus, right?  I ended my phone conversation with my husband by asking, "So you want me to call the breeder and tell her we're coming tonight?" and Jay caved. 

Knowing that I wanted the blond puppy, I made sure that we got to the breeder's house before her next scheduled appointment for a puppy buyer that evening so I could pick first.  This was in 2001, before everyone had websites and Internet access.  The two puppies were much larger than I expected for 7 weeks old, weighing in at 14 pounds each.  While I signed papers and talked to the breeder, Jay and Kelsey (Tyler was at a baseball game, oblivious to what we were doing) held our choice, a darling blond Golden female puppy.  When I came back outside, I found my formerly reluctant husband holding the puppy like a baby, tears running down his face.  Jay realized then how much he already loved her, our precious new family member. 

Chardonnay at 2 months, trying out the swing
The rest of the family agreed with my name suggestion of Chardonnay.  I was into the wine theme and had had the name in my head for some time.  We brought Chardonnay home and the real work began.  Golden Retrievers are a mouthy breed, chewing anything and everything.  Our wooden steps at the front of the house have been gnawed down.  Our picnic table benches have rounded edges.  Tyler's action figures were dismembered.  Shoes, socks and anything left on the floor were destroyed.  It's a minor miracle that with everything Chardonnay ate, she never had a problem with passing it.  She pooped out pieces of plastic and the Spiderman doll's head in the yard.  We had her crate in the kitchen and later put up a gate to keep her in the kitchen.  She chewed through the gate twice.  Now Goldens are supposed to be one of the more intelligent, trainable breeds, but our dog wasn't completely house-broken until 8 months.  I don't want to hear from anyone whose puppy was housebroken at 8 weeks and never did anything wrong.  I swear Chardonnay was mentally challenged up until her first birthday, when I finally began to see signs of intelligent life. 

As a puppy, Chardonnay liked to play by nipping our heels with her sharp puppy teeth, leading to her being banned from outside family sports most of her first year. I often felt like I was chasing a toddler around, constantly cleaning up after her, sticking my hand into her mouth to pull out whatever non-edible item she was eating, yelling reprimands, buying rawhide by the bag to keep her occupied, chasing her down outside to put her back in her crate....she was exhausting and frustrating to live with. I often threatened to put her outside for a year until she grew up enough to listen.  I promised myself then that I would never get another puppy. The only thing puppies have going for them is their undeniable cuteness.

Chardonnay has given us a couple of scares.  One of the more memorable times was when we took her to the pond at the Westbrook Fishing Club where Jay frequents.  It was winter and a great time to ice skate and ice fish.  Chardonnay's favorite ice game is "grab the hockey puck and run".  Jay had warned the kids to stay on the pond and not to try to walk across the frozen stream below the dam because that ice wasn't as safe.  He forgot to tell Chardonnay that rule and sure enough, she fell through the ice, about 10 feet away from the bank.  Since I'm married to Mr. Safety, we all knew better than to go out on the ice ourselves to pull Chardonnay out of the water.  If the ice can't hold a 75-pound dog, it certainly won't hold an adult human.  Most of her body was submerged, her head and shoulders held up by her front legs hanging on to the edge of the hole she'd created.  Jay tried throwing a lasso around her several times with no luck.  Goldens are bred for swimming in cold water, but after a while Chardonnay started to whine.  I worried that with the extreme cold of the water even she could suffer from hypothermia, get tired and go under.  Our dog would be swept under the ice by the current.  I was haunted by images of my children watching their dog die right in front of them.  Finally, someone remembered there was a row boat nearby.  The kids and I carried it down to the stream where we were able to lay it across the ice and Jay could reach down from the boat safely to haul her up.  Not knowing how cold she'd gotten, I ran Chardonnay up to the fishing hut where we had the wood stove going and she enjoyed an Oreo cookie snack while she warmed up.  Within a few minutes, Chardonnay was ready to go out and chase the hockey puck again, her brush with death forgotten.  

Racing Jay and Ben down the hill this past winter
The other time when we were afraid of losing our dog was two years ago when I found a large tumor under her tail.  I blogged about that event in "Mother's Day".  Cancer is prevalent in Golden Retrievers and although Chardonnay's tumor was benign, the fear of what might have been reminded us of how much she means to our family.  I was made aware of this again just yesterday when Logan, a fellow Golden and service dog who I've blogged about before, lost her battle with cancer at only five years of age. 

True to my persuasive argument with my husband, having a Golden Retriever has been a positive selling point to potential kitten buyers.  I have had kitten buyers tell me they will wait for one of my kittens because they also have a dog and it's important to them to have cat-dog harmony.  Chardonnay is an important part of their socialization, enabling my kittens to walk into a new home without a fear of dogs.  She also considers it part of her job to clean, snuggle and occasionally play nursemaid to the kittens. 

"You can try all you want, but I'm telling you guys I don't HAVE any milk!"

Our neighbor has a year-old Standard Poodle he's trying to train.  The other day he was walking his dog and Jay was walking with Chardonnay.  Chardonnay sat on command beside Jay while the other dog jumped excitedly at the end of her leash like Tigger from Winnie-the-Pooh.  Our neighbor chastised his dog, "Why can't you act like Chardonnay?"  Jay replied, "I hate to break it to you, but it took ten years to get her like this."  Actually, it didn't take that long.  Other than Chardonnay's bad habit of jumping on new acquaintances and coprophagia obsession, she's pretty well-trained.  I can point to a spot on the floor where I want her to be and she'll sit there.  She will usually stay on command even if I go out of sight.  Chardonnay will even stand still without any restraint or a collar on while I bathe her with the freezing cold water from our garden hose.  She only chews on her own toys now, though she will occasionally still grab my shoe if she feels I'm ignoring her, smiling as I go after her to retrieve it from her mouth.  Chardonnay doesn't chew on the shoes; she just relocates them for her amusement.

I've blogged before about how Chardonnay defies her breed's nature to hunt; she not only doesn't bother our chickens, but protects them from predators.  I was talking to another chicken hobbyist and Golden Retriever owner the other day who lamented about how many chickens her dog had killed.  I naturally bragged about Chardonnay and how good she is with our hens.  Jay and I have often said that we'll never get a dog as wonderful as Chardonnay again.  When the day comes to add another dog (and it'll be an adult), we'll have to lower our expectations.

Happy Tenth Birthday Chardonnay!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring Reminders

Spring approaches the Northeast two steps forward, one step back.  The daffodils are emerging, then it snows.  A foal is born on a 65-degree day, but the temp still goes down to 28 at night.  The days are longer, we're on Daylight Savings Time, my hens' egg production has gone from their winter average of four eggs daily to ten.  Spring is coming I know, but I'd like for it to hurry up and get here.

March 24, 2011

Greyhound-style Comb
Relating to cats, I thought I would remind people of a few things to keep in mind with springtime and their furry, feline family members.  Although cats, like most mammals, shed throughout the year, more shedding is done in the spring in response to the longer daylight hours.  If your cat normally has a low-maintenance coat that needs little combing (lucky you), this is the time of year when that is more likely to change.  As the fur becomes loose, it can get caught in the coat, leading to more mats if  you don't help it out with a good comb.  A Greyhound comb works best (don't ask me why it's named after a short-haired dog).  The Greyhound comb is metal, about seven inches long, and available from places like Revival Animal Health online or various other retailers, with prices ranging from $4 up to $40 for the original Belgium-made comb.  I buy the imitation "Greyhound-style" combs to use and give out to each of my kitten buyers.  When kitten buyers take their new baby home, I advise them that although their little fluff ball may not need it now, come Spring, it will be necessary to get down to the roots of their growing cat's coat.  Brushes going over the surface of the coat just don't do it.

Of course, prevention is key which is why I'm reminding people (and myself) to start combing their cats more often now.  I've blogged before about how to handle mats with regular bathing, seam rippers and shaving so I won't repeat myself.  Read Fat and Sassy No More for details. 

LA, IW, SGCA Dracoonfly Finbar Conneff demonstrating how beautiful a well-groomed Maine Coon coat can look

Another consideration in the Spring is parasites.  If you have a cat that's scratching itself bald or licking itself obsessively, it may have a flea allergy.  You'll never find a flea on such a cat as one bite sends it into such an itching frenzy, the poor thing will ingest any fleas, but keep scratching.  With a chronically itchy cat, try treating it for fleas to eliminate the possibility that parasites are the culprit.  You know how a mosquito bite can drive you nuts?  Imagine how that'd feel if you were not only covered in itchy bites, but the perpetrator lived on your skin, continuing to feast on you whenever it needed a snack.  Don't dismiss your pet's suffering from parasites.  Untreated, they can cause anemia and fleas can reproduce to give your animal tapeworms.

In the South, fleas are more of a problem, riding in on pants legs with the fire ants and Palmetto bugs.  When I lived in Florence, South Carolina where Palmetto bugs thrive, I often joked that God had a sick sense of humor by making a giant cockroach and giving it the ability to fly.  Ticks are in the South also, but here in Connecticut we invented Lyme disease (ever heard of Lyme, Connecticut?).  The standard brown dog tick is the one we see easily, but it's the tiny deer tick the size of a freckle that makes one realize we are just at the mercy of Mother Nature.  Even though our Golden Retriever, Chardonnay, is on Frontline Plus year-round, is carefully brushed everytime after a walk in the woods and vaccinated annually for Lyme disease prevention, she has tested positive for the disease twice.  My vet says she sees this in about 40% of the dogs like Chardonnay.  Since my kitten buyers are all required to keep their cats indoors, and most are located in the Northeast, parasites should be a minimal concern, but it does happen.  Cats are naturally very clean and usually groom the wayward tick off their bodies before it has the chance to attach itself. 

Chardonny in Doggy Heaven

Dogs, being not so fastidious about their personal grooming and having a need to go outside to do their business, tend to pick up parasites pretty easily.  Added to that is a dog's love for covering itself with Bambi Essence by rolling in deer poop. Not only can your dog bring in a stench like no other, but it is more likely to pick up ticks by simply going where the deer have been.  Most responsible dog owners keep their pets on a topical flea and tick protection like Frontline or Advantage which minimizes the parasites on the animal and in your house.  With Chardonnay on Frontline year-round (I have seen ticks even with snow on the ground), it protects not only her but also the cats from the likelihood of her bringing parasites inside to them.  Only our cats which have access to the outdoor run need a separate flea protection; the rest of them don't require anything.

I remember well my childhood days in the mountains of North Carolina when we wouldn't pet the dogs in the neighborhood because you could see the swollen ticks covering their bodies and faces.  With our own dog, we'd periodically pull the ticks (often up to 20 at a time), have her wear a flea collar and apply flea powder or dip in an effort to keep the buggers at bay.  Later I learned the Shake and Bake method of flea control for my cats in which I'd shake a generous amount of Sevin Dust (the same stuff you put on your flowers) in a pillow case.  The cat would then be placed in the pillow case with its head protruding and the case gathered around the cat's neck.  That made it easier to completely coat the cat with the insecticide.  Of course, I found out that once you let the cat out of the bag, it was best to put it in the bathroom for while until it shook all the loose powder off.  Otherwise, I ended up with white patches of powder all over the carpet and furniture. 

Powder, flea baths, dips, flea combs, garlic pills, flea bombs.....luckily that's largely a thing of the past in regard to dog and cat ownership now.  With the invention of products like Frontline, there is no excuse for fleas and little excuse for ticks.  Back then, more dogs and cats lived outside simply because there wasn't a really good way to keep the parasites from infesting your home.  Now we're able to enjoy our pets better as members of the family and they are a lot healthier and more comfortable.   Is everyone feeling itchy now?

Myra and Kelsey - 2007

Monday, March 21, 2011

Birthing Creatures Great and Small

I've now had the opportunity to witness the miracle of birth in at least four different species; humans, cats, chickens and now horses.  Of course, most of my experience has been midwifing for my Maine Coons.  I've delivered over sixty litters of kittens since I started breeding Maine Coons almost nine years ago.  Doing so has given me the confidence to feel as though I could successfully assist with the birth of just about any domesticated land mammal (no whales or dolphins though). 

Boom Boom with her litter of seven in 2006

When a cat is in labor, her entire body is affected by the contractions.  She may push for an hour or more until the first kitten begins to present itself, usually looking like a white grape because the amniotic sac often protrudes initially.  The queen may be silent or she may scream when the going gets tough, not too unlike us humans.  I've often wished I could offer my cats an epidural to relieve the pain, remembering how much I enjoyed the benefits of the drug with the birth of my first child (after four days of dysfunctional labor, I was ready for major drugs).

With a hen, she sits in the nesting box for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to deliver her egg.  My hens' eggs aren't fertile, but the hens still go through labor to lay an egg three to seven times weekly, depending upon the season and the individual hen.  Right before the egg comes out, the hen will often stand up to push.  The egg drops out, slightly damp.  The hen may remain on the nest for a while, but often she jumps off and announces her achievement with a very raucous squawking for several minutes before running out to join the rest of the flock.  No cord to sever, no baby to clean up and make sure is breathing; chickens have it easy except for the fact that they deliver their "babies" almost daily.

I volunteer a couple of days a week at a horse rescue farm, Beech Brook Farm, in Mystic, Connecticut.  One of the rescued mares, Mia, arrived scrawny and with rain rot, a fungal infection of the skin.  Within a few weeks of being well fed, it became apparent that Mia was with foal.  Not knowing when she was bred or by whom (what if the sire was a donkey?), the farm has been on foal watch for the past month.  The foal predictor test which uses the mother's milk, indicated that the foal was due last week.  Unlike cats which have a very narrow window for premature or late delivery around their 65 days of gestation, horses can deliver a few weeks on either side of their average gestation of 340 days.  The owner, Deborah, set up a foal cam in the designated birthing shelter in an effort to be prepared.  She even camped outside overnight with Mia on the weekends.

Last Friday, March 18, was my regular day to volunteer.  I had checked the farm's Facebook page that morning to see if there was a birth announcement, but Deborah had just posted that the foal predictor test had changed color so fast that morning that it was bound to happen that night.  The owner was going by what people who were more experienced at birthing foals had told her, that the babies are usually born at night.  Yeah, right.  That's what they say about cats too.  Babies come when the mother's body is ready to deliver.  Anytime, day or night, full moon or half moon, good weather or bad. 

I knew as soon as I saw Mia that she was going to have her baby that day.  Normally very quiet and reserved, Mia was restless, milk was dripping from her udder.  She lay down, she got back up.  Nancy, the other woman who volunteers with me, said Mia had been behaving that way the day before also, but without the dripping milk.  Not concerned, Nancy left to clean up the upper paddocks and stalls.  I cleaned one stall and kept watch on Mia.  Mia laid back down in her muddy paddock, ignoring her shelter with all the nice clean straw bedding.  I walked across the pasture to take a look at her back end and sure enough, that foal was on its way.  Deborah was at work and couldn't leave, the vet on call was in surgery.  We were on our own for this.  Luckily, it was uncharacteristically warm and sunny for March in Connecticut and about sixty degrees. 

Like I said, I was pretty confident about midwifing, but foals have these long legs and necks which can cause problems if they are presented incorrectly.  They are supposed to arrive in diving position; front feet first, head laying on top of the legs.  I had read all the James Herriott books and horse books years ago about how to reach in and turn babies around if necessary, but I hoped I wouldn't have to do anything like that.  Mia stretched out her front legs, half-sitting up at times to push.  She grunted a little, but otherwise Mia was very stoic.  Fortunately, the birth was textbook perfect.  The foal emerged feet and head first.  We had been instructed not to interfere at all, but I went ahead and broke the amniotic sac which contained the foal like a thin, translucent latex balloon so she could breathe and quickly wiped out her nostrils with a towel.  Mia's delivery went rapidly.  Although I'm sure she was in labor when I arrived at 9:45 am, she started really pushing at 10:30 and the foal was born at 10:45. 

Born on the muddy ground, Mia's foal with her amniotic sac still on her back, hind legs not out yet

Unlike cats, horses can't reach around to watch what's happening back there, nor can they easily clean up their new baby without standing up.  Mia didn't seem to want to stand while she felt something still hanging out of her so the baby stayed with her hind legs still submerged inside her mother for several minutes, wet and trying to maneuver her front legs under her body.  Mia actually looked pleasantly surprised when she sat up enough to look behind her and saw a pretty little Mini-Mia.  She nickered her excitement and tried to reach her baby from her lying down position.  If this were a kitten, the mother cat would be feverishly cleaning it and herself, severing the cord, probably eating the placenta (unless I take it away first) and preparing for the next kitten to arrive while the recently born searches for the milk bar.  Like all the hooved animals, foals have to be independently mobile quickly in order to keep up with the herd.  Born with her eyes open, Mia's foal was standing within 30 minutes.  The umbilical cord broke on its own and the amniotic sac remained hanging out of the mare until the placenta was delivered an hour later.  The foal fell a few times, but somehow managed to get her incredibly long legs under her and working.   In contrast, kittens are more needy at first, don't open their eyes and ears for about a week, standing and running at around 4 weeks.

Standing for the first time

With cats, the placenta follows the kitten within several minutes.  With horses, it can take one or two hours.  The vet arrived about an hour later to check out the new foal and shortly after, Mia lay back down to deliver the placenta.  Of course, it's all in proportion and I later picked up the placenta mass with a pitchfork, its job of nourishing life in the womb over.  Mia seemed relieved that she didn't have to worry about what to do with it.  Eating a placenta must be really gross for a vegetarian, but in the wild, that's what the mothers often do to keep from attracting predators. 

The vet gave mother and foal a shot of penicillin and did a quick exam of both, declaring the foal strong and healthy.  He agreed with me that we had a girl and that sexing kittens is infinitely more difficult than foals or puppies.  I'm still floating with the excitement of being able to watch a foal come into the world, happy that it all worked so well. The foal's back comes up to my hip, to give you an idea of her size.  The farm is having a contest to name the baby and raise funds on their Facebook page if you'd like more information and to participate. 

Mother and Daughter

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Feline Frenzy or Cat Breeding 101

Since I've blogged at length about animal excrement and being a cat sex therapist, I figured it was time to push the envelope to the next level and post a video. 
Downy, the black silver mackerel male I purchased from the Luckypaws cattery in Florida, has finally come of age.  His heart was echoed and declared healthy by veterinary cardiologist Dr. Mark Stamoulis a couple of weeks ago, he's over a year old, and he is now interested in girls.  Whether or not he's fertile is yet to be proven (I had a stud cat a couple of years ago who was interested in girls at a very young age, but didn't manage to get any of them pregnant until he was almost two years old.  Very frustrating for me, but he enjoyed trying). 

Downy's girlfriend this week is Lucy, a brown tabby and white who was born here last year (she's Trifle and Bugger's daughter) and now lives with my friend and fellow Maine Coon breeder Jo-Ann Benedetti in upstate New York.  Lucy is a year old and recently had her heart screened also.  Both cats have super affectionate, outgoing personalities and nice physical attributes, but neither has the strong chin we'd like to see.  However, since Lucy needs to be bred or risk getting pyometra (a uterine infection) and Downy is the non-related male easily available, we're going ahead with the idea that the kittens will probably be pet quality.  By the time Lucy is ready to breed again, my 8-month-old male, Colonel Bates, should be ready to do the deed and Jo-Ann may get a keeper out of that.

When Lucy arrived at my house, I put her here in the computer/kitten room.  She was happy to be out of her carrier, exploring her surroundings, chirping and rubbing up against my legs.  Then I introduced her to her betrothed.  Poor Lucy!  Feeling defensive and scared at seeing a whole male for the first time in the same room with her, she did what any girl with raging hormones would do; she became a bitch.  Downy was confused.  He smelled "Yes, yes!", but he got "No, no!"  If he looked at or tried to sweet-talk Lucy, he was met with growling, hissing, and swinging claws.  So like any girl-whipped guy (you know what word I mean here), Downy waited.  He waited safely under the desk where she couldn't get to him easily, making himself as small as possible and calling out to her once in a while to let her know how desirable she was and that he was sorry for whatever it was he'd done to make her hate him. 

Before I went to bed that evening, I stroked Lucy's back to see if she was exhibiting any signs of being in heat.  Nope.  Oh well, the darkness of night brings out the beast in most cats so I went upstairs to bed.  Sure enough, by morning Lucy was smiling like Scarlett O'Hara after Rhett Butler carried her up to the bedroom and it was obvious that they had worked out their differences.  Downy is proving to be a sex-obsessed teenager, not even giving Lucy the opportunity to eat without jumping on her.  After witnessing three breedings within about an hour, I took Downy out of the room so Lucy could get some rest.  Since my web cam has mostly been used by daughter Kelsey, I decided to see what I could do with it while Downy and Lucy "did the nasty".  Fortunately for the viewers, I did manage to edit out the first 3 minutes.  Assuming Lucy is pregnant, she is expected to deliver mid-May.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Prove Your Love by Doing Something Meaningful to a Woman

Since I have teenagers, I am somewhat hip to today's hits.  Once they've both left home for good, I'm sure I'll be allowed to isolate myself with classic rock again.  There's currently a popular song being played relentlessly by the radio stations called "Grenade" by Bruno Mars. The singer takes the macho approach to send his message of going to extremes to prove his love to his former girlfriend. 

I’d catch a grenade for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)

Throw my hand on a blade for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)

I’d jump in front of a train for ya (yeah, yeah , yeah)

You know I'd do anything for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)

Of course, whenever this song comes on the car radio, my fifteen-year-old daughter Kelsey turns up the volume and sings along.  Being the mother, I attempt to make this a teaching moment by pointing out the ridiculousness of a guy making promises that he not only can't keep, but probably wouldn't have the opportunity to perform.  Unless you live in a war-torn country, it isn't that often you are walking down the street and someone lobs a grenade toward your loved one.  The man jumps forward, arms outstretched, "Honey, let me catch that for ya."
Likewise, what do the other masochistic proclamations do?  "Honey, if you really love me, you'll stab yourself or jump in front of a train."  Some may think it sounds romantic, but I'm thinking it's not a very healthy relationship. 
While I'm on the subject of promises a man can't realistically keep, I thought of some other unrealistic demonstrations of devotion that would really get a woman's attention; promises that would make a woman's life easier without risking the life or limb of her man. 
I'd have PMS for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)  

Go through pregnancy and childbirth for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah) 

I'd stand in line at a public toilet for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
My last fantasy line addresses the only time I personally have "penis envy", when the bladder is full and finding a suitable bathroom is problematic.  Men can go behind a building or a tree without exposing their rear ends.  They never have to wait in line to use the public restroom.  I invite my readers to think of other suggestions for men anxious to prove their love.