Friday, January 30, 2009

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Star Struck

Victoria Stilwell from "It's Me or the Dog" is amazing to me. She is so patient with animals and so good at helping people understand and work with their pets. Plus, so put together while dealing with stressful situations... yes, she is up there with Jenna Fisher ("The Office" star who often talks about how she used to work with homeless cats and has done fundraisers for them) in my mind, even though I haven't seen Victoria Stilwell on the cover of Entertainment Weekly.

Why do I mention this? Just to gush? No, because she is a honorary cochair of the Washington Humane Society's Third Annual Fashion for Paws, taking place March 28, 2009.

I was already planning on volunteering for the event just because it's a great fun fundraiser for WHS. Now I'm a little starstruck that I might get to be in the same room as such a fantastic dog trainer. I wonder if she'll ever do a show with cats. I use some of her tips when working with Toby.

I Call Bull

The Washington Post is running an article from AP which presents ignorant views.

I'm sorry that Ms. Sedler's daughter wasn't raised to know better than to peer over people's fences. I do think the owner of the dog should have trained the dog better or put a sign to not trespass. However, Jacquline Sedler shows ignorance when she states a false reason for why pit bulls were bred. Please, before you speak out on anything, do some research and train your own daughter. She was in the wrong. Don't go pushing to punish an entire breed. Pushing your city council to ban a particular breed of dogs won't erase your daughter's scar.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

From the Interwebz: Baby Otter

The BBC reported today on the rescue of a baby sea otter by a kindly Scottish post officer. The photos that the BBC has are cute, but the one below from the Arthurshiel Rescue Centre blog (Arthurshiel Rescue Centre Diaries) just about made me melt.

It's cold and gross outside, but this interspecies friendship made possible by a helpful human brings about the warm, cuddly feeling inside.

Alternative to the Super Bowl

Most people love the Super Bowl or at least love the commercials. For those of us who don't...there's Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl with adorable adoptable puppies playing and kittens doing the halftime show. Puppy Bowl is in its fifth year but it'll be my first time watching it. I've gone without cable for a long time so I'm really entertained that there is a day when I can just watch hours of cute puppies. Oh, and don't forget thirty minutes of kittens playing.

One aspect that I find really neat is that all the puppies and kittens are from shelters and are looking for homes. I hope they all get adopted quickly after their big day!

Apparently Puppy Bowl was inspired by the Christmas Yule Log program which I remember my dad playing on the kitchen tv while making Christmas breakfast. I usually have writing to do Sunday afternoon and the puppies and kittens will be a good distraction from any housework I need to do. I'm curious to see how Toby will respond to the noises and sights. I'll admit, I might flip over to check the score of the traditional big game during the commercials...or just dangle toys for my own hopelessly cute bundle of fur.

Above is a puppy from D.C. who should be going to his forever home soon, exactly what the Puppy Bowl puppies and kittens want.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Learning from TV, Practicing with Puppies

In a conversation with my brother today,I heard about a sweet dog who jumps a lot and whose human has a hard time handling him. Our conversation made me think of how I had tried out a technique I had seen on "It's Me or the Dog."

Basically, the episode showed two dogs who always jumped on people when they entered a home. A lot of dogs do this and a lot of the owners I know just put up with it or pull the dog away. I've always just let the dogs jump because it didn't bother me to have dogs jumping on me. However, it can be upsettin for people like my mom who are afraid of dogs. If I get a dog some day, I want my mom to feel comfortable visiting me so this particular technique really interested me.

Victoria started with teaching the dogs to "wait" to the side of the door with enough room for a person to come in. This involved training the dogs having someone come to the door, ring the doorbell, and wait patiently for the dogs to sit and wait properly. Then, when the dogs were calm, the person came in and the dogs were allowed to politely sniff (not sure if my mom would deal well with this, but if I promised sniffing instead of jumping, it might help). If they started to jump, the person was to turn around so they were jumping at the backside of the person. The dogs miraculously would return to the ground when the person's back was turned.

I was handling a sweet one year old Pit Bull/Bull Dog mix. She was a sweetie but kept jumping on me and other people. Thankfully most potential adopters understand that shelters dogs often have basic training, but not the greatest manners. I did try the turning trick though whenever my dog would jump. What was really cool--it worked! Whenever I turned, my dog returned to her feet and would stop jumping on me.

So today you get advice. If a dog is jumping on you and you don't want him to do so, try just turning around. They'll lose interest and stop. I tried it with two of the other dogs and it worked. Let me know how it goes for you!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Feline Intelligence

Speedy is the cat of two awesome Ph.D. students. Would you expect anything less of a cat who wins at chess?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Spay Day Photo Contest

The Humane Society of the United States is holding a pet photo contest to promote their fifteenth annual Spay Day, February 24, 2009.

I entered the photo above. I wanted to enter one that was a little different. He's purring on my feet at the moment. Maybe he's hoping to help me not eat Ben&Jerrys tonight by being extra affectionate. He's at least succeeding by making me not want to move and disturb him. If he keeps up this level of affection, I may succeed in getting down to my summer weight before May!

More seriously, please enter a photo of your pet and/or donate and vote for Toby. With each dollar you donate, you get one vote to use on whatever pet photo you find to be cute. Every owner has decided between three charitable options for where they want the money to go. I chose a 50/50 distribution between HSUS and local spay/neuter organizations for any money raised via Toby's undeniable adorableness.

Spaying and neutering helps control the homeless animal population and cut down on the rate of growth. If you can't donate now, please tell your friends to fix their pets and be sure to fix your own. It's a basic tenet of animal welfare but it bears repeating. Fixing is good. In addition to helping control the population fixing a pet will often make it easier to train a pet and decrease aggression and marking behaviors. It's safe, effective, and the best way to control pet homelessness.

Support Spay Day '09. Donate if you can, spread the word if you can't :)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

People are Animals (and that's not a bad thing)

I told a friend on Wednesday about an awkward conversation with my boyfriend's mom wherein I compared children to dogs. Tamika's response: "How could you? Kids aren't dogs!" This of course led to me defending my position that, up to a certain age, it is perfectly appropriate to raise kids on the same principles I raised my cat and would train a dog. Motivation, positive rewards, patience, and boundaries. There have been movies about women training husbands according to puppy books and even Animal Planet's It's Me or the Dog seems to have the same basic principles as Super Nanny.

When Toby is afraid, I comfort him. We give timid dogs and cats small tasks they can learn to do and feel proud about. This is the approach I plan to use if I ever have kids. I want my cat to know that he is a smart kitty who is capable. Why wouldn't I want any theoretical kids to feel the same?

When I want Toby to exercise more (he has a small bit of a tummy pouch because I didn't notice he had figured out how to get into his dry food), I motivate him with interesting activities and toys that encourage him to play and move instead of lay about the apartment. I understand that parents do the same. Parents play catch with their kids. I play fetch with my cat.

Wednesday's Washington Post chat on pet obesity even noted that cats substitute food for affection and this often leads to overeating. I'm pretty sure this is why my Ben&Jerry's consumption jumped when my boyfriend moved away. This is why sometimes petting Toby when he whines near the food dish quiets him without a single piece of kibble coming out and why I can avoid the ice cream when I get a sweet email.

I know that Toby is food motivated and does well with positive reinforcement, this helps me teach him to sit, come when called, or put up with brushing. My boss figuring out that I'm motivated by editorial work and positive comments, gives her a way to encourage me to invoice, copy, or file when I don't otherwise enjoy those tasks. Me knowing that I'm food motivated helps me get to work on time by bribing myself with chocolate pudding cups for breakfast.

Realizing that people are animals doesn't mean just acknowleging where we act less than civilized, it also means realizing all the ways to helps ourselves and others act in civilized fashions. A three year old doesn't understand how to not grab toys away from others unless he has been trained to share. I don't work out unless I find a way to motivate myself. Toby doesn't come unless I train and motivate him Understanding pets isn't just a way to help ourselves get them to do what we want, but it helps us understand how to help ourselves do what we should.

And doing what we should helps everyone sleep better at night.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Toby met the roomba. Not his favorite cleaning apparatus. He seemed less scared when above it, but still kept a watchful eye the entire time it was cleaning. Maybe someday he'll be one of those cats who tries to ride the roomba.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Daily Dose of Cute

Most of the communicable diseases we worry about in the shelter can't spread across species. So when there was one lone beagle puppy, Gulliver, and a litter of active kittens in the shelter yesterday, my friend and I were encouraged to take them all into the play room.

Gulliver loved the kittens and just wanted to play with them. He would lean down (demonstrating why Downward Dog is called such), wag his tail, and give a happy puppy bark of "let's play!" The kittens usually responded by curving up, raising their fur, and running backward with a bit of a hiss. They did not know what this strange creature was and were not sure if they liked it.

Thankfully Gulliver didn't seem to mind and began to play with the kitten toys. One brave black kitten began to follow Gulliver around, sniffing at him, and seeming interested without being aggressive. The other kittens came out from under the futon or behind the chairs as they saw the cat toys come out.

While Gulliver and these kittens won't be best friends for life (Gulliver should be going to his forever home within the next two weeks), their small interaction helped all those animals to be a little more comfortable with other species. Dogs and cats can have similar body movements with opposite meanings. Exposure to the other species while young, helps an animal learn to read even those opposite meanings and interact successfully with others.

Today was the Inauguration of President Obama. It seems that everyone throughout the District is talking about change, bipartisanship, and getting along. Those kittens were afraid of that puppy at first, but they learned they can coexist peacefully. Let's hope that people can learn the same lesson.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Daily Dose of Cute

Meet Matilda and Sangria. Sangria also greeted a calico cat this way through the bars of her cage.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Story of Missy

Earlier this week you met Missy, the pit bull who changed my mind. Here's the story of how I came to love pit bulls.

During the volunteer training for my shelter, they talked about pit bulls and asked who knew what about pit bulls. No one wanted to raise their hand and say that they had heard and bought what we had all heard and that I at least had bought, so one guy stood up to say that his brother had trained pit bulls, they were actually very sweet but really energetic and just needed good training in large quantities. He also brought up that they had been Victorian nursery dogs which the staff person confirmed. (This was the first time I had heard this claim. Since then I have heard and read it many other places—most recently in a Sports Illustrated cover story.) What I had heard was that they were used for fighting and were naturally aggressive, mean dogs. While I felt awful that they were used for fighting, I didn't really think much beyond that.

A few weeks into my volunteering at the shelter, I felt a pro at walking dogs, brushing cats, and taking pets up to the socialization room. The staff liked me and knew that I felt I was there to get work done, not just hang out with animals (though that was my favorite part of the socialization room). One evening there were only four dogs to walk. One was a pit bull.

I didn't want to say I was scared of pit bulls, especially when she didn't really jump much higher than the others and did look kind of cute with her black and white coat, so I took out other dogs first and hoped the other dog-walking volunteer that night would take the pit bull. After my second walk I came back to find that the only dog waiting to be taken out was the pit bull and the other volunteer had already left for the night. Swallowing my fear, looking the black and white pup in her sparkling eyes, I grabbed a leash and approached her cage door.

I was on my butt within seconds. Missy had jumped and licked me so much that I fell to the floor in surprise. Instead of running off, she stayed and kept licking me—somehow this dog was just that happy that I was going to take her for a walk. At that, I just had to laugh at this feisty girl. Part of me was still worried about how she would be on the leash, but at least I was pretty sure she wasn't about to attack me on purpose. I got her leash on and headed outside into the warm spring evening.

Missy pulled. A lot. Apparently pit bulls do have a lot of energy and need long walks or runs. Leisurely fifteen minute strolls were just not using up enough energy for this dog. I broke into a jog whenever I got Missy to stop pulling for even a moment, breaking into a walk every other block (it had been over six months since I had jogged regularly). After fifteen minutes of this, I sat down on the grass and she lied down beside me, rolled onto her back, and wriggled with obvious doggie delight. Eventually I got up and walked back to the shelter with her, won over to a pit bull's personality.

I began to take Missy for runs every time I was at the shelter. I walked her over a mile to an outdoor shopping and civic district where I knew she would meet lots of people. She still pulled a lot, but she seemed to be getting better with each long run. Missy was the first dog I handled at an adoption event.

Sh was also the first dog to ever ride in my car. After finding that she did not fit on the tiny ledge behind the back seat of my Corolla, she cleaned my car by finding a week old PBJ sandwich and wolfing it down in pleasure.

The day that Missy was adopted was one of my happiest. It was the first time I felt like I had helped an animal get adopted. She helped me, too. Knowing Missy not only got me back in shape, gave me confidence with every other dog who seemed too energetic, but won me over to her breed.

One of my favorite aspects of interacting with the public now is telling them how great pit bulls are. We have so many in shelters. One county near us won't allow any pit bulls. Another requires a special permit and mountains of paperwork. Multiple states are considering breed specific legislation aimed at keeping out pit bulls. The pit bull PR problem continues: even today the Washington Post mistakenly said that the pit bull reputation is “well deserved.” There is hope. Salon had a lovely post regarding one author's love for his sweetheart of a pit bull. The pit bull featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated is a loveable dog, rehabilitated from a horrible situation.

I genuinely believe that if more people learn about pit bulls and if more legislators meet these dogs, the discriminatory laws will be taken off the books and all communities will be allowed to love pit bulls. Dog fighting is an awful crime, but making the dogs illegal only hurts the canines, it doesn't solve the problem. Humane education and greater security in all areas of a town—not just those with fancy homes—is how we'll stop dog fighting. Let's let everyone love a pit bull if they want to, without worrying what county he lives in.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Daily Dose of Cute

I have no idea why he was lying in the sink. Normally he just hangs out in the tub when it's dry and sits on the toliet seat when the tub is in use. By the way, expect to see Toby fairly regularly. He's cute, even if he is trying to eat my Rome dvds as I type this. I think he just wants more episodes set in Egypt.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Five Confessions

I have a few confessions:

1. I used to be scared of cats. My friend Ted remembers me asking why his cat was making a weird noise and sounding like a motor. He had to explain that she was purring.

2. As a result of #1, I used to be in favor of declawing. In my defense, I didn't know anything about it. I was ignorant. I still feel guilt and shame when I remember actually saying out loud that I didn't understand why Toby and his "sister" weren't declawed. In my defense, I had never lived with one cat, let alone two (yes, I got Toby from an old roommate when she didn't want him). Thankfully I never actively tried to get any cats declawed. It still makes me turn red.

3. Until I met Missy, I bought into pitbull's bad PR.

4. After bruising my tailbone and hitting the back of my head, I became terrified of large horses for awhile. Admittedly, I still have to remind myself not to tense up when the horse is particularly tall.

5. I'm not good with reptiles and bugs really just freak me out.

Why did I post these? Partially to show that even an "animal lover" can have anti-animal characteristics. More importantly, because it's proof, albeit anecdotal, that information and experience can change a person's mind. Living with Toby started my journey toward being a "cat lady," volunteering at the shelter taught me about declawing and all the ways to help a destructive cat without maiming him for life, and meeting Missy made me fall in love with pit bulls. I now adore cats, hate declawing, and consider pit bulls my favorite breed of dog.

Maybe in the future I'll get to know a snake up close and personal and he'll change my mind.

Mr Darcy

This is Mr. Darcy. He belonged to my friend, Emily, and was a very good hamster.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Daily Dose of Cute

This is Missy. You'll be seeing more of her sweet face this week. She's a dog with a naturally high pain tolerance, innate loyalty toward humans, and tons of energy for playing--i.e. the ideal family dog. She eventually was adopted by a family with kids under the age of 12 and two other dogs with whom she could play.

Yes, Missy is a Pit Bull Terrier--the breed used by Victorians as nursery dogs.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Non Canine Assistance Animals

The New York Times magazine has a great article exploring noncanine assistance animals. I had heard a little about these helpers before but hadn't realized the variety of animals used, nor the threat to their continued status as assistance animals. Also, the assistance miniature horse is rather adorable.

My friend's mom in college was on her third guide dog, each one expensive and difficult to train. Also, her three sons became emotionally attached to each dog and had to decide what to do when the dogs were too old to be guide dogs. The last one was retired from guiding about a year ago an is now living with my friend in his apartment. She's too old to be an effective guide dog but still makes a good pet.

If my mom ever went blind, it'd be near impossible for her to have a guide dog. She's terrified of them. A sweet miniature horse however wouldn't set off her fears and would still be able to help her. I thank God that she's not blind, but if anything wful were to happen, I wouldn't want her to not be able to get a noncanine companion just because some businesses had lobbied for species restrictions.

Animals can do a lot for humans, let's not restrict which ones we allow to help us.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Daily Dose of Cute

"But it's cold out there!"

Meet my Toby. He burrowed himself into the sheets while I was watching tv and I had to grab my camera to take a photo of him. I promise one of his full glory soon.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Daily Dose of Cute

A news clip on Tarra and Bella--a dog and elephant pair who are best friends. A coworker showed this to me and I had to share it with the wider world.

Favorite shots:
The two running together
The elephant trying to squeeze though the gate to get to her friend.
The dog lying on the ground, super happy, while the elephant uses her trunk to give a belly scratch.

I also love that the announcer at the end points out how the elephant and dog are friends despite massive differences and how we should do the same. Animals really do have so much to teach humanity.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Daily Dose of Cute

Buddy decided that his sister needed a bath. As you can see, Leona isn't sure what she thinks of this. Buddy and Leona are awaiting adoption at the Washington Humane Society Georgia Avenue Shelter ( These cats are sweet and even more adorable in person.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Years Resolutions/Goals

After taking December off to shower my cat with holiday joys, Capital Animals is back!

While making some general New Years Resolutions I realized that a number of them were animal-related. While some are pretty specific to animal activities in which I engage (a lot of people would have to conquer a fear of horseback riding before dealing with jump-related fears), others could be used by anyone. So, in the holiday spirit of giving, I give you some animal-related resolutions to consider implementing in your own life.

--Go to the shelter more and use my time there more effectively; a lot of times I'll sit and talk with my friends at the shelter while just holding a cat. This isn't a bad thing but I could be brushing her or encouraging one of the volunteers to walk another dog with me (check to see if your shelter allows this). The shelter is a social place for me, but I can't let myself forget all the work that I'm supposed to do while there.

--Speak out against declawing even when socially awkward; animal pain outweighs social awkwardness and I can be polite when explaining why declawing is so awful for a cat.

--Brush my pet 5 days a week. I will admit that right now this is about a once a week occasion. If I do it more regularly, less hair will come off each time and Toby will enjoy the process more.

--Handle my cat's paws every day (hopefully leading to clipping at least one claw each day). Toby is a very sweet, docile cat. He didn't react when the vet took his temperature. As soon as she reached for a paw, he freaked out. This is one cat who does not like claw clipping. His old owner was rough when clipping his claws which only turned him off from the process more. For a while I was able to clip one claw a night but after some really bad scratches, I gave up because he wasn't being too destructive. Now that I've found the discarded shell from a claw on my floor (okay, found it in my foot when I stepped on it--those suckers hurt!), I'm trying again. Plus, it'll make life easier for my vet when I take him in. I'm going back to baby steps with this guy. Handling the paw with lots of Greenies before and after.

--Get my pet running around for 10 minutes every day--no matter how late I work or how tired I am. I can shake the wand, throw the mouse, and chase Toby for those few minutes.

--Attempt to make food for my pet. I buy midrange cat food for Toby right now. I make sure that there is no ash and I feed mainly wet food. My vet says Toby is healthy so he doesn't require a full diet change, but this is the guy who cheers me up when I'm sad or lonely, he deserves a home-cooked treat every now and then.

--Fully disinfect the litter box each week. Toby is a little more laid-back than most cats about his litter box. I sift it out every day and do a major digging each week, but I only do the major full washout when I'm having someone else watch him or won't be able to sift for a few days.

--Be more proactive in encouraging people to adopt. I'm asking a friend who owns a cafe if he'll host an adoption event and then going to ask my apartment building. It's hard for me to ask people, but similar to above, animal welfare trumps personal shyness.

I hope we all have success with our resolutions! If you're in the DC area, don't forget to mark your calendars for the seventh annual Sugar & Champagne Affair, January 28, at the Ritz Carlton.

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