Monday, June 29, 2009

Book Review ~ Patrick McDonnell's The Gift of Nothing

I first heard about Patrick McDonnell in Modern Dog Magazine, where he (rightly!) earned many kudos for his work promoting shelter adoptions. The article spoke of McDonnell's "Shelter Stories" series that run each November. My curiosity piqued, I checked out McDonnell's website. But that's about as far as I went until my friend Colin asked me if I had checked out McDonnell's Shelter Stories book. It seemed a bit serendipitous that McDonnell's name kept popping up everywhere, and Colin promised the book was a keeper. So, I picked up a copy and was overwhelmed. Archie is a shelter dog and Gabe was on his way to the SPCA when fate (aka my niece Michelle) intervened for us, so shelter stories and Shelter Stories particularly resonate with me. If you know someone who has adopted a pet from a shelter or rescue, I highly recommend Shelter Stories as a gift.

A few months later, I was browsing in the children's section of the bookstore and I came across McDonnell's children's books. I read through a couple of them and thought they were beautifully done with simple artwork and meaningful stories. But they weren't right for the gift I was searching for and at $20 a pop at McNally Robinson's, they were a little pricey for me to keep for myself, so I sadly left them behind.

Fast forward to my great-nephew Dylan's baptism. Dylan's parents have a Staffordshire Terrier who is the sweetest, most playful dog; and they decided to decorate Dylan's nursery with a puppy theme. I am not particularly religious and have never before needed to buy a gift for a baby boy's baptism, so I decided on a couple of Patrick McDonnell's books - The Gift of Nothing and Just Like Heaven. I thought Just Like Heaven was particularly apt for the occasion, as it has a gentle moral of finding heaven on earth. But, The Gift of Nothing is just the sweetest little book; a story about a cat (Mooch) who wants to buy a gift for a dog (Earl) who has "everything" (namely a bowl, a dogbed, and a single toy). Mooch decides that since Earl has everything, Mooch will get him "nothing" which proves harder to find than Mooch imagined. The moral of this one is that the greatest gifts you can give are your time, friendship, and a hug. Perfect.

I was initially unsure if the book would appeal to a child as much as it appealed to me. McDonnell's books incorporate the same spare sketching techniques of his comic strip, and the colours are muted and selectively chosen. So many children's books have a bright and busy Disneyesque style - is that what children prefer? However, thinking back to my own favourite books as a child - namely, Barney Beagle, Frances, and Amelia Bedelia - I realized that sometimes the best books are the simple ones.

Dylan is just short of 7 months old, and perhaps not quite ready to exclaim over a new book. However, all the adults at the party loved both books, and like me, particularly loved The Gift of Nothing. My niece Marissa loved the stories as well and mentioned that she would like to get McDonnell's books for her two-year old daughter Mary. Perfect! Another gift crossed off my shopping list.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Animal Crackers Petsitting Service - 8 Paws Up!

I don't travel a lot, but when I do, my amazing niece Michelle usually petsits for me. The boys have known her from day one and love her to bits. Michelle actually met Gabe before I did, and is responsible for "placing" him with me; and she came along the night we picked up Archie at the airport.

However, a few months ago, Michelle's sister Marie (who is also pretty amazing) proposed a flying shopping trip to Edmonton for her 26th birthday. The group included me, my sister Corrine, and Marie, Michelle, and Marissa (my other amazing niece). So, what to do with Gabe n Arch?

I looked around online and found Animal Crackers. I sent an email inquiry, and pretty promptly, Anna replied. Anna suggest that we meet in early June so that the boys wouldn't forget her before the trip.

The day of our appointment, the dogs got comfy with her pretty quickly. She had some contracts for me to sign; took copious notes about Gabe n Arch's habits and activities; and thoroughly explained her billing system. The plan was for her to stop in for an hour at lunch and supper on both of Friday and Saturday and to spend Friday night at the house. The cost would be $85, plus any incidental expenses that might occur (such as an emergency vet trip).

Upon arriving home after one night (38 hours) away, I found the boys happy to see me and eager to return to our regularly scheduled programming, which always gets slightly thrown off no matter how prepared a pet sitter is. Anna left behind a comprehensive statement of her activities with the boys. The cutest part is where she says "They both slept with me last night and we had a very good sleepover." I had been wondering how the sleeping arrangements would work out.

Although the boys would prefer to avoid a petsitter at all costs, they figure Anna was pretty cool. She greeted them with treats, played ball, gave them cuddles, and even washed up their dishes. How cool is that? They voted 8 Paws Up for Anna from Animal Crackers.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dog Days of Summer

These guys totally destroyed my lawn about two years ago. It was a little shabby to start with, but still ... I laid new sod last year. It's a little patchy this spring, but lookin' good, all in all. The dogs are allowed to play on the lawn on the weekends only. And then, they go all out ....

And the paddling pool came out for the first time today. You can see Gabe waited for about 2" of water before the first dip.

Archie is not a paddling pool guy. Here he is puzzling over how to get the ball out ... Gabe eventually hops in to retrieve it for Arch.

And we have a very special guest with us today: Miss Kona! Miss Kona's people had to go out of town for the weekend and their petsitting plans fell through, so Miss Kona came to stay with us for two nights. She seems to be handling her own mini-break with great aplomb.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Swim and Trim at Bays Waterpaws

My family went through some hard times in 2004-06, and Gabe gained a lot of weight as we all overfed him out of misguided kindness. Gabe has never been very active; even as a puppy he would go get the ball 2 or 3 times before giving up on fetch. Once Archie arrived, with his manic activity and his dietary restrictions, Gabe slowly started losing weight. In January 2008, he hit a "plateau" though - and stubbornly stayed at roughly 43 pounds all year. Our vet felt that his food shouldn't be cut back any further, and at Christmas 2008, she recommended swimming as a low-impact exercise.

We checked out the local canine pool -
Bays Waterpaws - and booked a trial swim. I suspected Gabe would like swimming as he enjoys having baths and using his paddling pool in the summer. I think he initially viewed the pool the same way he viewed his plastic paddling pool - a place to hop into, to get wet, and hop right out of. He was in for a major surprise.

The first few weeks were tough. The swim instructor - Corinne - would have to give Gabe a few breaks during his 20-minute swim. It was often difficult to convince him to get back in the water after a break.

He's become a very strong swimmer over the past few months; and I'm sure the swimming was responsible for him finally reaching his goal weight of 38 pounds in early June. (Yay, Gabe-o!) Gabe loves swimming; and I'm sure he knows which day is Thursday, our usual swim day, as he seems expectant and extra prance-y when I get home from work. He knows the word "swimming" means we're heading to the pool; and lately when we get there he doesn't even want to pause to get his life jacket on - he just wants to pop into the pool as quickly as possible.

Archie, however, is a landlubber extraordinaire. Corrine and I joke about Archie lounging with sunglasses on and an umbrella in his waterbowl, or on a inflatable lounge chair in the pool, floating by while Gabe methodically churns away.Originally, I thought it would be so cute if Gabe and Archie could play together in the pool, but it's not to be. Archie's not keen on new experiences and the swimming excaberates his cauda equina syndrome. He is more or less content to lounge poolside, with hopes that another canine client will arrive while Gabe is in the pool, so that Archie can scope out the new arrival through the window that is knee-high to an Archie.

Sometimes he seems so bored, I wonder if he would rather stay home? I'm guessing, though, that the possibility of meeting a new friend outweighs the boredom of waiting for Gabe to get out of the pool.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Regal Hound Designs - 8 Paws Up & Tail Wags Too!

I first stumbled across Regal Hound Designs on eBay, early in 2009. I had been searching for a leash for a female beagle I was fostering. Annie has a very strong personality. She is regal and very strong willed, a tough as nails girlie, but still very much a girl. None of the flowery, bejewelled leashes I was finding at pet stores seemed quite right. As I usually do when shopping for something specific, I turned to eBay.

It was there that I discovered Regal Hound Designs, which goes by the username "joetriever" on eBay. Based in Calgary, the owner - Kelly - had listed a leash and martingale collar in a dark pink with chocolate hearts design. It was perfect so I snapped it up, and as a result "met" Kelly through email. Kelly does business like an oldtimer on eBay, with prompt, pleasant, and personalized emails. Kelly is also active in supporting greyhound rescue through her business.

I was impressed with the way Kelly does business, and even more impressed with the collar and leash I purchased from her, which were well-made, tough and lightweight. I decided to take her up on her offer of a discount if I purchased 6 collar/leash sets at the same time. With bulk orders, you can't pick and choose your colours/designs, but Kelly picked great patterns for us. Kelly was aware that I planned to keep 2 sets for my guys and donate the other 4 sets to Beagle Paws, for their online auction fundraisers. So, she made two "matching" sets - the flames Gabe n Arch are wearing in the picture above; and the diamond sets.

The problem was deciding which of the matching sets to keep. We went with the flames. Gabe and Arch like the "tough guy" attitude of the design and I appreciate the awesome construction plus, yeah, it was a joy dealing with Kelly at Regal Hound Designs.

Happy Birthday Gabe-O!

So, it was the noise box's birthday yesterday. He turned 5. I can't believe he's been part of my life for almost 5 years - that number seems both too large and too small.

We had an excellent lead-up to his birthday. On Thursday, before his "Swim and Trim" workout, we stopped at the vet's to use the scale. He weighed in at 38.4 pounds! He has been on a diet for about two and a half years, stubbornly remaining at a 43-pound plateau from January 2008 to May 2009. His goal weight was about 38 pounds, so we kicked off his birthday weekend in a very celebratory mood.

His main gift was a matching collar and leash set from Regal Hound Designs and the new tag from Jazzy Tags. We all had bbq steak for supper (Gabe got 200g instead of his usual 170g of homecooked food - not wild and crazy, but a little extra); and Gabe also had an extra large chewie for his Saturday night movie chew time. Auntie Mary dropped by, too, with a toenail grinder gizmo as a birthday gift - we'll see how that goes over.

Otherwise, it was just a good day. A little play time, a little snuggle time, and our usual 3K walk.

Happy Birthday Gabe-O!