Monday, March 22, 2010

Sammy's Story

I'd like to share an e-mail I received from a reader. Chris is on a mission to educate dog owners about the disease that took his precious Yorkie, Sammy. Chris lost Sammy to Canine Cognitive Disorder and is telling Sammy's story in order to give other dog owners insight into this terrible disease.

When Sammy had just turned 13 years old and one month, he developed pancreatitis due to the steroids he had been taking for his skin allergies. Having almost lost him that day, I was so grateful to bring him home and hug him all over again. Little did I know there was a worse disease lurking to steal my precious boy.

After his hospitalization from pancreatitis, the first thing I noticed is that he stopped drinking water. I tried every which way for him to drink, but he wouldn't. Odd. I thought, could it be that something happened to him with the pancreatitis? Whatever it was, I got creative and developed all kinds of "puppy soup" to ensure he was hydrated. I thought nothing of it and continued his puppy soup regimen.

Time progressed. The first time Sammy wound up behind an antique desk in my living room and stood there crying to get out, I thought "You silly goose, you got in there you know how to get out". But he didn't get out. I helped him out of this corner in which he was stuck and thought nothing of it. Neither did I think anything of the occasional restless nights where he would suddenly just cry and not be comforted. Sometimes he would just sit and stare. Did I think twice about it? Not really. Sammy was never known to do anything ordinary.

As I took my beloved 14 year old Yorkie for walks, something he loved more than anything else in the world, I thought "Oh his eyesight is going due to his age" when he would try to climb the steps to other houses, or maybe it's the dark so he can't tell which house is his. It wasn't until he fainted one day trying so hard to get home from this torturous thing called a walk that I started looking into what could be going on. The first thing we did was go to the heart doctor. No congestive heart failure. In fact, he was looking pretty good and his heart murmur was only a grade 2. What could be going on I thought as I took him to the vet and all his tests were normal. Nothing physically wrong at all.

One night, on a hunch, I typed in "Doggie Alzheimer’s" into and there it was. This awful disease that was slowly stealing my boy. It's called Canine Cognitive Disorder. As I read the signs and symptoms "restless at night, unexplained barking, getting stuck in unusual places, loss of appetite, loss of housetraining (Sam as is typical for a Yorkie, always had trouble with housetraining so I didn't notice this to be a worry), and unexplained trembling" my heart began to sink. My boy clearly had this horrible disease. There was some hope though; there was a medication for this thing. Anipryl. I went to my vet and she started him right on it. Barring this medication, there weren't too many alternative treatments. Within days I saw an improvement in the restlessness at night and the getting stuck. Some things were clearly better, others not, but he didn't progress into being worse. I believe the medication gave me another two years with my boy. Sammy made it through some other hurdles and he saw his 15th birthday on June 14, 2009. His decline had begun early in the year but leveled off until the summer. By the time August came around he was getting stuck almost every time you turned around. He was housebound because it was the only place he felt safe. It was the day I saw him chewing wires that I knew he needed to rest. On 8/29/09 surrounded by myself and his three favorite Aunties my vet came to my house and while I held him and sang him to sleep he went to the rainbow bridge.

I know this is hard to read about. I know your beloved pet growing old is scary. I also know the thought of adopting an older dog with the endless possibilities is a frightening thought. However I don't write this to scare people away. We all know that dogs live far too short of a life. I write this to honor my boy and his struggle to educate people on this awful disease. Sammy was fairly advanced when I brought him to the vet and got the medication for him. Nonetheless it gave me two more years with him. It is vital that people be aware of this disease and catch it early. There are other interventions to use as well now, natural remedies, food (Hill's KD for cognitive health), as well as various supplements. If you suspect your dog has CCD by reading this article, talk to your vet. Also, the best place to get support and advice is from the yahoo group It was there I took a great deal of comfort from others who understood. There was advice, suggestions, ideas, and most importantly someone who completely understood. Lots of someones. I wouldn't have gotten through that journey with Sammy had it not been for my friends and for this group.

Not all dogs get CCD. It's just like Alzheimer’s. Some people get it some don't. So please don't be discouraged from adopting that older dog or live in fear about your dog getting Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. Just make sure to educate yourself and be prepared so that you and your best friend can survive whatever comes your way.

Thanks for reading about Sammy's story.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Gentle Dog Training

After the loss of a pet, eventually most pet owners will consider adding a new pet to their family. This can lead to a time of stress and transition for both the owners and the new pet.

When we adopt a dog and bring it into our home, we do the best we can to prepare for their arrival, but sometimes we still have questions and we wish there was someone who knew about dogs to answer those questions. Ken and Lisa Beachtold of Gentle Dog Training, agreed to answer questions about bringing a rescue dog home.

Mike and I first met Ken when we were looking for an obedience class to take with Molly. It was his training philosophy and how he treated his clients, both human and canine, that made us sign-up for his Level I Obedience class.

Ken started training dogs with his mother when he was nine-years-old and he’s been training dogs for over 50 years. Lisa started training dogs 10 years ago after she got a Golden Retriever puppy.

Ken and Lisa told me they were both taught to train dogs using choke chains and prong collars and to use a lot of force to get the dogs to comply, and also that when dogs are trained this way there is very little trust in the relationship. Ken and Lisa found that by using more positive styles of training, dogs actually learned faster and complied better. They were dependable off leash and in varying environments. Ken and Lisa prefer to depend on quality leadership which helps the owner be the leader in the dog’s mind as opposed to forcing the dog to mind.

FFF: Sometimes when you’re adopting a dog from a shelter, rescue group or pound very little is know about the dog. What can a dog’s body language tell you about him/her?

GDT: Reading [dogs’] body language only tells you what [they] might be experiencing at that one moment in time. They may be very stressed in their current location and act very differently at home. They may appear shy and nervous at the shelter and then be bold and adventurous or dominant in a home. You many want to view a dog several times before making a selection.

FFF: How important is the first day? What can owners do to set their newly adopted dog up for success?

GDT: Provide quality leadership, set yourself up to win with proper equipment, leave your sympathy out with the trash because the dog has already been rescued so STOP feeling sorry for it. Let the dog know they are so darn lucky that they are now in the best quality home they could have ever been placed in and all will be great from now on! Use your body language to show confidence and energy to demonstrate you are a quality leader and the dog can follow you.

FFF: I’ve read that when you bring an adopted dog home the first 30 days are the most important. During this time you’re developing and re-enforcing the dog’s behaviors. Is this true, or does it take even less time to develop behaviors – good or bad?

GDT: Although the first 30 days are extremely vital, every day is the most important day. Dogs are intelligent animals and are learning 24/7. They are learning that they are in charge or you are in charge. When Lisa and I enter a home, most dogs realize that we are in charge within minutes and we out rank them in their own homes without saying a word to them. We depend a lot upon energy and body language like they would in a true canine world.

FFF: When someone adopts a dog from a shelter, pound or rescue group, the dog is unwanted and issues may arise during the first few weeks. What can an owner do to help the dog transition into its new home?

GDT: First and foremost - the new owner should provide the new dog with loving leadership. Follow canine protocols and let the dog know that he is a team member and you are the team captain.

Second - the owner should place all his sympathy in a large trash bag and leave it out with the trash. The dog has been rescued and can look forward to a quality leader and a great home.

Third - owners should set themselves up to win. Owners should have the equipment they need on hand and know how to use them in a gentle, confident and calm manner. Equipment such as: gates, kennels, leashes, head collars and knowledge.

FFF: If your adopted dog is shy, needy or clingy, what can you do to help it gain confidence?

GDT: Be a very confident leader yourself. If you are a new basket case owner, your dog is sure to become one his or herself. You must let the dog know you are in charge and EVERYTHING is under control. Make sure you demonstrate quality leadership by being a benevolent boss.

FFF: What does it mean to be the alpha or top dog and why is it important that you, and not your dog, are the alpha? What are the top three things you can do to show your new dog that you are the alpha?

GDT: To be the leader means that you are responsible for the welfare of the team. So the alpha needs to find food and resources. The alpha is the decision maker and decides what will be done and when it will be done.

First – Control the resources such as food, furniture, toys and space.

Second – We believe in a quality leadership walk, with our method of training we teach the dog to keep track of whoever is taking them for a walk and to keep a slack or loose leash. With our methods all of this can be done very quickly and effectively.

Third – We believe in taking charge of every situation. The dog does not get to control your space, i.e. jumping on your guests or other family members. And much, much more.

FFF: When I think about the first dog my husband and I had, I can attribute every one of his bad behaviors back to us. Who’s the real problem, the dog or the owner?

GDT: In general, a dog already knows how to be a dog in a dog environment. We need to learn how to speak dog language so the dog can learn quickly what is expected of him or her. We do believe that most things can be accomplished again with quality leadership. So to answer your question, the problem lies with the owner, not the dog.

FFF: How important is consistency in dog training, both in the way you train them and when you train them? Does having a routine help?

GDT: Consistency is extremely important. In the wild a dog has only about a 10% kill ratio but he constantly keeps trying. So if you even let a dog get away with bad behavior even 10% of the time, he will try 100% of the time. So ALWAYS be consistent.

FFF: How important is timing when you’re re-enforcing good behavior or trying to correct unacceptable behavior?

GDT: Timing is very important when it comes to behavior modification or basic training.

FFF: If you start to feel frustrated while training your dog, what should you do?

GDT: Stop the training session and proceed when you are in a better frame of mind to where you can change your energy level.

FFF: If you find yourself in a situation where you need the help of a trainer, what should you do?
GDT: You should always feel comfortable with any trainer you choose to work with. Ask questions, get references and challenge ideas. Know what the trainers’ philosophy is and see how close it matches your own. The trainer should be your coach so that you can bring the best out of your dog. Make sure you select a trainer with real experience—someone who has numerous approaches to training.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Still Waters

Emotions like still waters run deep. Still waters can be deceiving because on the surface everything looks smooth and calm, but underneath a torrent of currents are flowing. Emotions are much the same way. On the surface we look calm, we look under control and maybe we are - most of the time.

This past weekend Mike and I stopped by Petsmart to look around. When we walked by the glassed-in training room we saw a chubby, happy, beautiful Boston Terrier. Her resemblance to Molly was unnerving. At first it made me smile and I enjoyed watching her play and do her tricks but as Mike and I walked away I could feel the currents of my emotions rolling up and down, up and down. By the time we reached the back of the store I was tears. No longer calm and collected.

I know now I will always miss my Molly.

The reason for our trip to Petsmart wasn't just to look around. We were seriously considering adopting a Hound Mix and we wanted to look at dog beds. Standing in the back of the store after seeing the Molly look-a-like I felt like I was standing at zero hour and I had a decision to make. Pack my memories of Molly and take them with me into the future or keep my memories on display like an art gallery and take a seat at the bench and stay and watch them over and over like my favorite old movie.

I'm at 00:00 and I can feel time pulling me in separate directions. On one side is the future and Father Time whispering to me. They're telling me how wonderful the future will be: a new love and new adventures. Bring my memories but embrace a new life. If I would just turn and look towards the future I could see how wonderful it will be.

As I start to move forward I feel the hands of time grab my hand and pull me gently to the past. Stay they beckon. Stay in a place where everything was perfect. Life was bliss. Happiness was all around.

I have a decision to make, I can fall back into the past and relive life as it happened or I can spring forward into a new time and place. I don't have to pick one over the other. I can move into the future and still remember the past, but in order to remember the past I have to stop living in it.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Closure. One of the definitions of closure listed on is: Psychology. A sense of psychological certainty or completeness: a need for closure. I'm realizing that definitions in dictionaries are just a bunch of words describing one word. Dictionaries can't describe a pet owner's need for closure or how important closure is for a pet owner or what closure means to an owner who has just lost a pet. And, the dictionary can't help an owner find closure.

During my interview with pet loss and bereavement counselor Teresa Freeman I asked her about finding closure after death. I also asked her for a list of suggestions to help pet owners move through their grief.

FFF: What advice do you have for someone who’s trying to find closure after a pet’s death?

Teresa Freeman: Our culture doesn’t do a very good job of providing rituals for pet loss. The rituals which surround death have evolved in part to allow for an emotional safety net as we experience grief but because society doesn’t really acknowledge the loss of a pet the same way, sometimes we have to create it and be more intentional about it. Also know that it won’t naturally be provided and not to have unrealistic expectations in this area.

Another topic that frequently comes up is how to remember the pet to complete closure for the loss. There are many ways to go about achieving this. Much of it depends on the individual and what feels right. Sometimes memorials are helpful, volunteering or making scrapbooks work for many. The important thing is to find something that fits your life and personality and create something long-lasting that honors your lost pet.

FFF: What suggestions can you give to help a pet owner move through their grief?

Teresa Freeman: Let your feelings out! If you suppress your feelings, it will only delay the healing process.

Write a letter from your pet to yourself and keep this as a permanent memory.

Dedicate something in your pet’s name and memory.

Make a donation in your pet’s memory.

Make a list of all the loving memories you have of your pet and share this list with family members.

Make an audio recording of yourself reading these memories and saying whatever emotions you feel.

Listen to this recording during your mourning and keep it as a personal memorial to your pet.

Establish new routines. Change or vary old ones. Avoid begin left alone too often.

Treat yourself to things you enjoy.

Avoid keeping visual reminders of your grief.

Get rid of your pet’s toys by putting them in a box and storing them away – for now.

Talk to your veterinarian about any questions you may have about the death of your pet. This helps to clear up any doubts or guilt about the death.

Understand and respect your own mourning. If your grief is intense, take time off from work.

Hold some kind of memorial service for your pet.

Keep a daily journal and list your thoughts and feelings.

Attend a support group.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Friends In Need

I recently did a blog exchange with Happy Tails Books, a publishing company from Colorado. To see the interview visit Happy Tails Books' website at

One of the things I discussed in the interview was resources that are available to help someone deal with their grief after a beloved pet dies. For me talking to our veterinarian, Dr. Radakovich helped immensely. He assured us that we did nothing to cause Molly's disease and that we did everything, within reason, to try and save her. The other person who's helped me through my grief is my mom. My mom and Molly were very close and my mom misses Molly almost as much as I do. Whenever something happens or we go somewhere Mom always says how much Molly would have loved it - whatever it may be. What's been so great about my mom is that she always tells the best and funniest Molly stories. I could listen to her stories all day.

Most of my family and friends have offered their condolences, but there have been a few that haven't even broached the subject. I think that's because sometimes we're not sure what to say or do for someone who has lost a beloved pet. I asked Teresa Freeman, a counselor who specializes in pet loss and bereavement how to help someone who's suffered the loss of a pet.

Teresa answered, "Many people cannot find support from the community or family and friends when this type of loss occurs. It is not helpful to invalidate the depth of feeling simply because the loss was a pet, not a human. Many people feel the loss of a pet more than other human losses. This can be a source of confusion and guilt. Support people can help best by being present to listen and to validate whatever feelings may come up. Honoring the relationship even if it isn’t understood is critical and unconditional support is important."

Monday, March 8, 2010


This past weekend I was reminded of one of my favorite Molly memories. Mike and I visited several pet adoptions this weekend and at one of them we encountered a rambunctious Boxer mix. When this young pup used his paw to playfully "pop" one of the other dogs in the nose I laughed out loud.

My nephew has a cute and playful Boxer, Caesar who use to chase Molly around my brother's house until she was completely wore out. This is ironic because it was usually Molly who chased her playmates trying to get them to play with her until they were wore out.

When Caesar was a puppy he stood as tall as Molly and would chase Molly in a huge circle around my brother's house. It would start in the living room, head towards the office, down the hall and back into the living room. On this particular day Caesar must have chased Molly for about 10 minutes when she'd finally had enough. She stopped in the living room, ran and bumped Caesar, knocked him over and sat on him. At first he struggled. Then Molly took her front paw and held his head down. After a few minutes he stopped struggling. Molly sat on top of him smiling with her tongue hanging out of her mouth. Of course as soon as she let Caesar up he started chasing her again.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Happy Tails

There is a fantastic publishing company called Happy Tails Books that collects stories from pet owners and others who have participated in pet rescue or adoption. These books are filled with photos and heartwarming stories of pets who have brought love, laughter and happiness to their owner's lives.

Kyla Duffy, Editor-in-Chief of Happy Tails Books talked to Farewell Furry Friend about opening her heart to rescued dogs, the importance of giving back and Bill, the rescue dog who inspired it all.

FFF: Kyla, your company donates a significant portion of its profits to animal rescue efforts. Why is it so important for you to give back? What are some of the organizations you donate to?

Kyla: There are millions of animals being cared for by private rescues, and that care doesn't come cheaply. For example, I volunteer as a foster parent with MidAmerica Boston Terrier Rescue. I believe we saved 329 dogs last year at an average cost of $319 per dog. Our adoption fees are between $100 and $325, depending on the age of the dog, so as you can see, we spend much more than we take in from adoption fees. Donations are essential to keeping any rescue running. Last year, between June and November, we worked with 34 rescues on 5 different books, and we divided a donation of $4,000 between them. This year we hope to be able to give back at least $10,000. A list of all of our rescue partners can be found on our links page,

FFF: What made you get involved in rescuing and fostering dogs, especially Boston Terriers?

Kyla: I'm not quite sure when I actually fell in love with Bostons, but I just thought that if I had one I would never stop laughing. I also knew I would never buy a dog, so when I decided to look for a dog I did an internet search and came up with From there I found MidAmerica Boston Terrier Rescue, and after finding a cute dog I liked, my husband said, "No dogs!" I asked the rescue if I should foster, and they said if my husband wasn't on board to adopt, he definitely wouldn't want to foster. You see, you never know what sort of issues are going to walk through your door with fostering!

Anyway, a week later they called me with an emergency - a foster received a dog with kennel cough, and since she has several other dogs and kennel cough is very contagious, they had to get the dog out of her home immediately. Of course, a huge grin spread across my face, and within an hour my mom and I were on our way over to get the dog. He turned out to be so sweet: broken tail, eye and ear infections, kennel cough, terrible gas, but of course, a zest for life. Within three days he was adopted, and that's when I fell in love with fostering.

FFF: On your website you list Bill, your Boston Terrier rescue, as your inspiration for starting Happy Tails Books. What was it about Bill that made you take action?

Kyla: I'll spare you the unabridged version of the story of Bill, which can be found in "Lost Souls: Found! Inspirational Stories of Adopted Boston Terriers." In a nutshell, Bill was a two-year-old puppy mill breeder when I met him, who was so scared he wouldn't leave his crate. We went through a lot together during his rehabilitation process, and there were many times when I thought he would have to go live with some very old people who wouldn't require him to ever leave the house. For almost a year I worked slowly to earn his trust, socialize him, and train him on basic commands, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Bill has since become the wonder dog, hiking off-leash, cuddling in bed, romping at the dog park, and he's even recently started running to the door and barking when someone rings the bell (a BIG breakthrough). He's still quirky, like he begs by sitting about three feet away from me and facing the opposite direction, but that just adds to his charm.

The more I learned about how dogs languish in puppy mills and how consumers don't realize the impact of the decision to buy a dog at a pet store, the more I felt driven to do something about it. One day I woke up with the idea to publish breed-specific books full of stories about adopted dogs, and the rest is history!

FFF: It seems part of your life's mission is to educate people about dog rescue, ending animal cruelty and shelter overpopulation. Why are these topics so important to you?

Kyla: I don't think I'm unique in saying that once my eyes were opened to the truth about animal overpopulation, neglect, and abuse, I could never close them again. Meeting ex-puppy mill breeding dogs made me realize how dire their completely avoidable situations are, and that if I don't do something about it, who will? I hope others understand what those words mean and take them to heart. "If YOU don't do something about it, WHO WILL?" The only thing that will create change is people taking action, and I always encourage people to use their talents and skills to do so. For example, rescues need volunteers to do all sorts of things. I hate driving, so transport is not the right way for me to volunteer. On the other hand, I love nurturing these little guys, so fostering is what I stick with.

Puppy mills are places where dogs are kept in 2x2 chicken wire cages. You can tell an ex-mill dog because their toes are usually splayed out, the females have udders like a cow from being bred EVERY cycle, they've often got eye injuries or blindness from being left out to all the elements with no care for their health, they're afraid of grass, doorways, and stairs (because they've never seen these things), they sometimes have broken or deteriorating jaws from abuse or lack of nutrition...I could go on and on. They're not all like this but these are some common traits. The problem with buying puppies from pet stores or breeders who aren't thoroughly researched is not only that the puppies of these mistreated dogs are sick and distressed, but by buying the puppies people are perpetuating this cycle of cruelty. Now, how could I know this is going on and not try to alert people to it? I recently wrote the Mill Dog Manifesto, a free eBook that explains puppy mills, reputable breeding, rescue, and how to socialize a mill dog if you open your heart to one. I hope everyone who reads this will go download a free copy of it at

FFF: Is there a pet from your past that was particularly special? How did you deal with the loss?

Kyla: Ah, the irony. I actually only had a hamster, who bit me, and a dog, whom I didn't like. The dog was a sissy who didn't like anyone except my mom, and I moved out long before she died. I know that making the decision to put her down, when she was 18-years-old, deaf, blind, and incontinent, was very difficult for my mom. These days I mourn the future loss of Bill, because I know someday it will come. I try not to think too much about it, but it makes me sad to think I'll ever have to live a day without my sassy Bill by my side. It drives me to enjoy and appreciate every moment I have with him. Happy Tails Books did recently publish another free eBook called Angels In Disguise by Brandy D. It's a very sweet poem about pet loss and I encourage anyone to download it and send it to a friend in need when the time comes. The link is

That's one thing I can say for foster dogs. I've had 24 through my life in the past two years, and to me they never die! What a great blessing to have all these wonderful pets and to never really have to mourn their loss.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Dog's Tail

I'd like to share a wonderful e-mail I received from Chuck Schick about his adorable black Lab Barley.

Barley was a beautiful black Lab and the best companion we could have asked for. He was not as openly affectionate as some dogs, preferring to present his butt for rubs as a way of meeting and greeting the world on his own terms. He doled out kisses begrudgingly to me and my girlfriend, yet bestowed them spontaneously on small children, whom he recognized as kindred souls with playful spirits and the knack to live in the moment.

Barley had a puppy face that fooled people into thinking he was a much younger dog. Even after he turned 10 and I'd take him for walks at our favorite spot on Boston Harbor, people would spontaneously compliment my "beautiful dog" or ask if he was a puppy. He'd greet them enthusiastically, turn-up his nose at smaller dogs and ignore them, sometimes lunge at similarly-sized dogs whose body language he didn't like, and trot warily past larger dogs that he preferred to give a pass.

He was by turns meek, ferocious, deferential, playful, somber, bored, restless, ecstatic, courageous, protective... whatever the moment required. Sometimes we'd call him "Mr. Curious" or "Mr. Serious" when his expressive features and body language made his attitude clear for all to see.

Barley was a cozy dog who loved to curl up with us on the couch or the bed, but always on his own terms. Usually that meant with his butt turned toward us (or in the bed, with his head pointed toward the foot). I always wondered if this was some sort of defensive instinct passed down from his ancestors' DNA when wolves slept in packs and had to watch each others' backs.

Barley was a dignified, noble dog, and this will always be one of my strongest lingering impressions of him. He had his moments of weakness, drooling as I consumed a slice of pizza as he awaited the crust that he knew he would receive (one of the few people foods I indulged him), or lingering underfoot in the kitchen during any dinner preparations. But he also had a sort of mortified, self-conscious side that he showed when meeting other dogs and their greeting rituals, once he'd matured past the puppy stage and put away puppy things. His back hair would go up and he'd stalk away, as if embarrassed about the other canines' manners. At the dog park, he'd forsake the doggie scrum in favor of the cluster of owners and the treats his Lab nose sniffed out in their pockets.

Often when I'd ask him a question, he didn't recognize the substance but knew from my interrogatory tone that a response was required. He'd stare at me for a beat or two, then glance around the room as if looking for clues. One of his most endearing mannerisms, of so many. Uncomfortable with sustained eye contact, he'd often glance away and appeared to be rolling his eyes like Snoopy delivering a punchline.