Tuesday, July 8, 2008


The last two weeks have been packed for me - as soon as the temperature hit 115, half the population of Ahwatukee suddenly got the urge to bolt out of town and of course needed a pet sitter. So I've had a full dance card the past two weeks straight, and just as I finished gigs with five clients over the July 4th weekend, a slew of new ones are coming in. I've had to turn away at least three new clients as I've blocked off a week at the end of July for my own family vacation.

Not that I'm complaining: this is the second best job I've ever created, next to being a full-time stay-at-home parent (and that is no longer an option since they're all in school, bwAH HA HA HA!!!). And like any small business owner, I'm thrilled to see it taking off this way: it validates of my philosophy and practice, makes a lot of my early frustration laughable, and also puts food on my family.

So as I print out new client forms for my next two meet-and-greets, here are a couple of threads for your perusal.

  1. Area animal shelters are full, if not overfilled. Maricopa County Animal Care and Control reports they are receiving about 200 strays per day (see item 3 below), and other shelters have to turn away animals because there is simply no more room. Ahwatukee Cat Rescue has had to scale back our stray cat operations (as opposed to feral cats, whom we trap, neuter, and release) as any new strays brought to the shelter are likely to be euthanized.

    Your takeaway on this? Go adopt some critters.

  2. Local First Arizona is an organization devoted to homegrown, independent Arizona businesses (and of which Ahwatukee Pet Sitting is now a member). They appear to embrace the sort of local economy ideas I've been spouting about for years.

    From their website: "When you shop at a locally owned business, 45 cents of every dollar stays in Arizona - versus only 13 cents of every dollar spent at a national chain! Put your money where your house is."

  3. ' Foreclosure pets' filling Valley shelters: Monday's AZ Republic ran a front page story on another effect of rampant home foreclosures: a population explosion among homeless pets. The latest addition to the Ahwatukee Cat Rescue Foster Home is one such foreclosure pet, a sweet & sour long haired female cat who'd been frequenting friendly back yards the next neighborhood over (props to the people who fed her for those months). We took her in as a foster and searched for her people, but no one came forward. She's just one of thousands of family pets who have been left to fend for themselves - the shelters are overloaded.

    Now go adopt one, or two, or five....

  4. I've finally gotten around to reading Cesar Millan's latest book Be The Pack Leader, which I highly recommend to any current or prospective dog owner. I find Cesar's work to be of great benefit not only as a professional pet sitter but also as a parent and a business person as well. Plus, he has a few memorable quotes like this one:

    Humans are the only species on earth that will follow a totally unbalanced, unstable leader.

    And that explains plenty.

  5. Did I mention that you can adopt one or more homeless animals right now?

Friday, May 23, 2008

desert pet care tips (reprise)

We got lucky, weird, or both this past week: our first official hundred-degree day, followed by a thick blanket of soaking thunderstorms three days later, cooling us down into the 70s. Seasonal transitions here in the Sonoran desert are rarely boring....

So enjoy the brief taste of Pacific northwestern weather while it lasts - another day or two, probably - and remember that once this cold front passes it will be the beginning of the Sonoran Summer. Meaning, of course, intense ultraviolet rays for fifteen hours a day, every last strip of shade a little oasis, and that northeastern or midwestern hellhole you had to go visit over the winter holidays is looking just a little friendlier as July looms on the calendar.

So once again I redirect your attention to DesertUSA's summary of Desert Pet Care Tips. Last year they waited until September to post this excellent resource; fortunately it's still on their website.

The only thing I'd add to the article is that when considering shaded areas in your yard: measure it. Mark off the area that you think provides shade with chalk or lawn stakes at least three times during the course of a day: morning, midday, and late afternoon. The nice shady spot on the patio at nine a.m. may become an open barbeque pit at one p.m. Don't guess, make sure your pets have shade all day.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

More about Pumpkin and Behrendt's commentary

Ahwatukee Foothills News readers wrote back with a vengeance after Emily Behrendt's misguided and misinformed commentary. The majority of letters in the print edition of last Wednesday's (May 14) AFN set the record straight on Behrendt's factual errors regarding pit bulls and rottweilers, animal mistreatment, and inbreeding in particular. One writer cited BadRap.org, which is not linked from AFN's website.

The 5/14 print edition of AFN also featured a full page ad in memory of Pumpkin from Deloris Delluomo, the woman who rescued Pumpkin three years ago. Deloris could have been bitter and lashed out at Maricopa County Animal Control or at the judge who ignored her pleas to find an alternative to killing Pumpkin. Instead she turned her anger and grief to fuel her longtime mission of working toward the benefit of homeless animals:

...What I have learned in all these years of fighting for animals is this: We can build bigger and better shelters, where larger numbers of pets can be housed and killed, we can educate children in schools, we can neuter and spay until we're blue in the face, and try to convince those who already have too many pets to adopt just one more.

But as long as pet owners fail to act responsibly by having their pets neutered and spayed, as long as consumers continue to encourage breeding by buying rather than adopting or rescuing, and as long as legislators fail to regulate responsibly by enacting breeding laws, no one wins....

...Today my resolve to fight for these abandoned and helpless animals is stronger than ever and I will continue to do so... in memory of Pumpkin.

I couldn't have said it better.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

bad dogs or bad people?

If you've been following the story of Pumpkin, the pit bull terrier who was euthanized Thursday after attacking an Ahwatukee woman and her two Yorkshire terriers, you probably have a strong opinion one way or the other. By the owner's account Pumpkin was an average dog, gentle with her family and never previously prone to attacks. The victim of the attack differed, and in the end a Phoenix Municipal Judge ruled Pumpkin had to die.

I do not want to diminish the severity of either the injuries sustained by the victims - one of the Yorkies nearly died, and their owner faces a long recovery from her wounds - or the loss of Pumpkin to her family. But I believe this commentary by Emily Behrendt in the Ahwatukee Foothills News needs to be rebutted, and unfortunately what I have to say about it is inappropriate for the comments section of that online paper.

They might be amenable to my opinion that pit bulls and rottweilers are not, as Behrendt suggests, inherently dangerous animals and unfit as pets. Too many pit bulls and rotties are brutalized as puppies in order to turn them into attack dogs or worse, and these breeds are selected for this because they have the characteristics that make that sort of abuse a success. Personally, I'd like nothing more than to see some of the people that "raise" their dogs to be killers put into a cage with one of their prize students for a few hours or days.

What would probably get my comment booted from the AFN website is my contention that Pumpkin attacked those two Yorkies for the simple reason that something she sensed from them set off some of her more primal instincts, marked them either as prey or as weaklings that needed to be driven out for the good of the pack, and acted accordingly. This isn't a trait limited to pit bulls, rottie, dobermans, or any of the dogs that scare us as a society: it could have happened with any dog, particularly a purebred.

Two anecdotes to illustrate this: I knew a rottweiler named Max owned by a bar owner in Scotland. My girlfriend at the time worked there, and sometimes I'd come pick her up at the end of her shift. Max was there, wagging his tail, greeting every customer with his playful nature. As he got used to me he'd put his paws up on the bar when I sat down and demand that I scratch his ears before I touched my pint.

But every so often someone would walk into the bar that would set Max off. His whole affect changed dramatically: he'd put his paws up on the bar in an aggressive stance, bare his teeth and growl at the newcomer, and would not back down until that person left. The bar keeps would simply tell the man (it was always a man) that Max didn't like him and that he'd better leave. Upon seeing Max, they did so without argument.

I could not tell you what it was that set Max off, but his owners knew how to deal with his reaction: remove the source of his agitation. Once the man left, Max would return to his usual jolly self.

More recently - two days ago to be exact - I was walking a pair of elderly miniature schnauzers and an eight year old Jack Russell terrier who thinks she's eight months old. As a pair of Maltese or similar little white dogs came around the corner my three charges began growling and pulling at their leashes as if they wanted to rip the throats out of the other two. The smaller of the schnauzers, who suffers from severe degenerative hip problems and could fit in my pocket, might have done so if I hadn't had a good hold on her. As soon as the other owner and I got clear of each other my three defenders of the sidewalk got back to the business of happily sniffing the bushes, as if the other two dogs had never existed.

The dogs we keep as our household friends and companions are descended from predators, and all retain some degree of that proto-canid nature. We may never understand what sets one dog off and not another, but we have to recognize that they all have that potential. We have no right to single out particularly strong breeds like pit bulls, rotties, shepherds, etc., as Behrendt does, because any dog can snap for Dog knows whatever reason. Particularly the purebred ones.

Therein, I believe, lies the problem. Pure breeding limits the genetic health of any creature, and dogs are no exception. I've said before that the best dog you can possibly have is the mutt you adopt from the pound, because s/he will not only appreciate you taking hir home but s/he will be genetically more robust than a purebred.

I refrain from posting my comments on AFN because I don't believe I'm articulate enough to write it in a way that won't leave at least a few people thinking I'm suggesting the Yorkies deserved to die because Pumpkin responded to them as prey. I am certainly not saying that. What I am saying is that we have to stop patronizing not only the bad breeders who damage their dogs but the ones who damage the entire species by limiting their gene pool and virtually insuring they will have mental and/or physiological problems at some point in their lives

We single out pit bulls because they are strong and scary. We single out rottweilers because they are big, black, strong and scary (see the Big Black Dog post). We need to recognize that dog ownership carries a responsibility to the species itself in the form of not perpetuating the madness of pure breeding and to accept that dogs sometimes just lose their shit.

Get well, Yorkies and Yorkie owner.

Rest in peace, Pumpkin.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Black Dog

Not the Led Zeppelin tune, but the ugly and/or scary looking mutt at the pound. According to a recent AP article by Emily Zeugner that ran in Sunday's AZ Republic, animal shelters nationwide have a hard time finding homes for big black dogs (BBDs).

There aren't any good statistics on this, but the national ASPCA hears the same story over and over again: BBDs don't get adopted, and too many of them wind up euthanized. Shelter workers cite a number of logistical difficulties - they don't photograph as easily as lighter colored dogs, their expressions are harder to read - but the bottom line is that people find them scary.

Last week I had a client with two dogs, one of whom was a big black lab. She had been adopted as a puppy, survived both Parvo and Valley Fever, and now she has diabetes and cataracts. It takes a rare (too rare) type of person to keep caring for a dog with so many problems - a lesser person would have given up on this dog a long time ago, and I doubt she'd have made it out of the next shelter alive.

The question I ask myself is, if she'd been a smaller and lighter colored dog, would she face the same odds? I doubt it. We have a cultural image of big black dogs as Hellhounds, and I think we project our own worst intentions of malice and mayhem onto them. (For the record, the BBD I sat for last week is a complete sweetie.)

I propose a national service corps of BBDs as part of a larger program of behavioral therapy for all Americans. If they can help us face up to our own fears, especially the fears of our own shadows, we'll all be much happier and healthier as a people - and the dogs will get to live. Until that happens, go to the Arizona Humane Society or the nearest Maricopa County Animal Care & Control center and meet one in person. Then adopt one or two!

"Well, I'm back"

I've always found Sam Gamgee's words at the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy to be an excellent starting point for rebounding from the inevitable slips and pitfalls of my life. That plus Kilgore Trout's creed from Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s 1996 novel Timequake:

You were sick, but now you're well, and there's work to do.

So after several months of bloglessness, partly due to spending more time pet sitting than writing (and partly due to my own inertia), I am declaring myself both Back and Well.

Or something like that.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Desert pet care tips

A little late for some of the hot weather related items, but still pertinent:
Protecting your pet in the desert (from DesertUSA)