Cats

19Dec

Microchip Mayhem

Sometimes I forget little things. But I would have remembered if I sold my service dog to a woman named Alyssa.

Let me back up a bit. Normally, I am a very organized person. I have been that way forever – even as a kid, I arranged my books on the shelf by author’s name. But some systems challenge even me. Take, for example, pet microchipping.

In the beginning, it was simple. Avid was the only game in town. You paid, the vet implanted the chip, handed you a certificate, and you were good to go. If you moved, you called Avid and they updated your info. Three of our animals have Avid chips – those age nine and over. The others who had Avid chips have now passed away.

Since that time, competition has come onto the market. Each time we add a new animal, it seems there is a new company involved. Little Bit and Kenji, ages six and seven, are registered with PetLink. Malakai, age five, is registered with HomeAgain. Rocky and Pickle, ages three and four months, are registered with 24PetWatch. The plethora of new companies was difficult at first even for veterinarians – they had to have different scanners to read each chip. Now, thank goodness, there are universal scanners.

It is not as simple, though, as just receiving a certificate with your number anymore. The new microchip companies want to provide extras – and, in turn, charge your more. For an annual fee, or a lifetime fee, they offer things like online registration, the ability to update your info whenever you like; 24 hour call service; extra assistance when searching for your lost pet, with advertisements and flyers, etc. The basic microchip implant identification is still there, but it is easy to be led to believe that if you don’t sign up for more, your pet won’t have full protection.

I have a file folder with everyone’s microchip documentation, and additionally, a Word document that lists each pet, their microchip number and company, plus basic stats: breed, date of birth, weight, color. I use it as my quick go-to if something comes up.

We just changed the ownership for Pickle, as his microchip number was registered to ACTion Program for Animals, and after the adoption went through, it was time to put our personal names and address into the system. Since his microchip was with 24PetWatch, we already had an account, as that is the company that Rocky is listed with.

I logged into my 24PetWatch account, to see if I could just add an animal. I was baffled to find that although my info was there, it showed I had no pets. There were no animals under my account. Because Rocky is my service dog, I had even decided to make the extra expenditure, and had signed up for the lifetime support, at $65, for their full package. I had done this only in September, when I officially changed Rocky’s records from American Service Dogs over to my personal ownership. But she wasn’t there.

I figured I was merely looking in the wrong place on the website, so I called customer support. When I reached the representative, I explained my dilemma. He said, “Oh. Rocky was transferred to a new owner in October.”

I said, “What?”

He said, “Yes, we received a transfer of ownership. So she was taken off of your account.”

I said, “That’s crazy. She’s my service dog. She’s sitting in the room with me right now.”

He said, “Oh. Let me look here.” (Pause) Do you know anyone named Alyssa?”

“Alyssa? No.”

“Let me look into this. I’ll call you back.”

About fifteen minutes later, he telephoned. “The number was incorrectly assigned to someone else. It has been corrected. It should be listed again now on your account.”

I checked to make sure, thanked him, and hung up. But, really? What if I hadn’t gone onto 24PetWatch that day? What if I hadn’t happened to look at my account for months, and, worst case scenario, Rocky had gotten lost? And someone scanned her microchip, and then they would call some woman named Alyssa, who would have no idea who I am, or how to reach me?

So, I am feeling much less confident in microchip companies right at the moment. All it takes is a keystroke for them to erroneously assign your number to someone else. Lesson learned – periodically check your accounts, and make sure your dog or cat is still registered to you, regardless of how many promises the company has made.

 

22Nov

Kitten Conditioning

hey-dilly-72We have a new member of our household – introducing Dilly Pickle, the rambunctious, fearless, three-legged kitten.

Now, as you may remember, if you’ve been following this blog, Rocky had had no experience with cats prior to moving into our household. On the day we first met Rocky in May, at the American Service Dogs kennel, we brought in Dozer, our most easy-going cat, to see how Rocky would react. We wanted to make sure she would be able to adapt. She seemed curious and eager to play, but with no bad intentions. When she finally came to our house for an overnight visit in August, it became clear that Rocky was a bit more focused on cats than was comfortable. She spent her entire first twenty-four hours skittering around, wanting to lunge after every cat that came into view. (We had four.) Ah, more work needed. So we then brought Bailey, our oldest and grumpiest cat, in to the kennel, and worked with trainer Jared Latham to try to desensitize my dog. Between Bailey’s body language and a squirt bottle, we managed to get the message across that cats were to be left alone. It still took a while for Rocky to calm down completely at home, but eventually she made peace with the cats. Just as with our other two dogs, canine and feline co-habitate without incident.

During all of this time, my wife Sabrina has been fostering kittens for ACTion Programs for Animals (APA). A total of thirty-seven kittens have passed through our house this year, on their way to new homes. Sabrina’s office is kitten central, with two big kitten condos set up, so she can keep two separate litters at a time. She lets them out to play during the day, but only in her office, with the door closed. The great thing is that all of our dogs have been exposed to the little ones, without anyone being in danger. Rocky has had lots of opportunity to be around kittens, in a safe way. It has also let the kittens get used to dogs.

dilly-water-dish-72But Sabrina finally succumbed, and became an official “foster failure” with Dilly Pickle, meaning that with this one kitten, she simply couldn’t give him up. So he’s staying with us. About three months old, he was the runt of the litter, all of them polydactyl (having extra digits – it looks like their paws are mittens!), and Dilly himself is missing more than half of his back left leg – an injury that occurred before APA got him from the shelter.

His first weeks in our house, Dilly was with his litter mates in a kitten condo. But after the others were old enough to be adopted, and we made the decision to keep him, we moved his condo into our bedroom. Kitten season is over, so he is now the only little guy in the house. It took a few days for Sabrina to feel brave enough to let him run around, and at first he was closely guarded. However, it soon became apparent that this little guy has no idea he is disabled. He began climbing up to the top of our cat trees, scrambling up every piece of furniture, leaping off of bureaus. He is fearless. And, having grown up with dogs coming in and out of his room, Dilly thinks they are just one more option for playtime.

I was pretty cautious with Rocky initially. I’m still working on her reaction to rabbits on our walks outside. That prey behavior, which triggers something instinctual. I didn’t want this small creature, running quickly, to spark a bad reaction. But I needn’t have worried. From the beginning, she has been wonderful. She will be half asleep on the bed, and Dilly runs right over her body, and Rocky barely even raises her head. Once Rocky ran from the front door towards the kitten, who was across the room, just to say hi. The kitten was startled, and did a Halloween cat all-fluffed-up-and-hissing greeting. Rocky immediately stopped right in front of him, and lowered her head, as if to apologize. “Sorry, little guy. Didn’t mean to scare you!”

Wagging tails are huge fun, of course. Ripley will eventually give warning snaps, because Dilly has sharp teeth, and he bites down hard on those tails. The warnings are good, as Dilly is beginning to learn some boundaries.

Overall, of the three dogs, I had worried about Rocky the most, because she is the youngest, and has never had a kitten loose in the house. Yet, surprisingly, she has been the best with Pickle. I think Ripley is getting grumpier in her old age. And Malakai doesn’t like having his favorite spot in the bed taken.

So, good girl, Rocky. Because believe me, this will not be the last kitten in the house. You might as well enjoy them.

 

29Jul

Bunnies, Cat Food & the Great Escape – Rocky Spends the Night

The long-awaited event finally arrived: Rocky’s first sleepover!

Rocky has been so excited for the past few weeks, wanting to come home with us. Each time I leave her at the kennel, it gets harder and harder, because she so clearly wants to get in the truck with me at the end of our training session. So I’d like to tell you that thanks to all these hours of work, the entire experience went off without a hitch. But that would be more than an exaggeration. It would be a bold-face lie.

OK, parts of it were fantastic. Really fantastic. Rocky and Malaki got along great. No animosity at all. They were both off leash the entire visit (Tuesday 7 p.m. to Wednesday 1 p.m.), and had not a single incident. She and Malaki raced around in the dog yard, and it appears they may become buddies. Won’t that be grand?

But as soon as we arrived, Rocky went into cat obsession again, despite our training session with Bailey. It wasn’t quite as bad as before, but she was jacked up and fixated. Part of it is that this is all so new. She’s been living at a kennel. So I thought, “I know. I’ll take her for a walk to burn off some of that excess energy.”

Open the door, please?

Open the door, please?

Good idea, but not completely thought out. She was thrilled to go for a walk. But as soon as we hit the road outside our house, I realized our nemeses: bunnies. We live in a subdivision where each house has over an acre of land, so it feels very rural. Within a few feet, the little desert rabbits that abound here started popping out left and right. On our twenty-five minute walk, we must have seen at least two dozen, maybe more. Rocky went crazy, straining at the leash. To save my left shoulder from being wrenched out of the socket, I had to pass the leash behind my hips, and brace with my full body to stop her pulling. We also had quail, doves, and lizards to contend with. It was a marathon session of “AHHT!” “Leave it!” and “Easy.”

The good news is that Rocky did not respond at all to the barking dogs we passed, or the cars, or the people. Which lets me know that this is about exposure. She has been exposed to dogs, cars, and people. But not to bunnies, quails, or lizards. More walks ahead.

Back at the house, exhausted, I got water for myself, and watched Rocky tank up on water. Laurie at American Service Dogs had told me that Rocky hadn’t eaten much of her dinner, so I tried to offer her some of her dry food, but she wouldn’t eat. I eventually offered her some from my hand. She ate a couple of handfuls, but that was all.

We continued to keep an eye on cat interactions. Dozer strolled around in Rocky’s presence throughout the visit, and batted her whenever she got pushy. Kenji also allowed close contact, and bopped her on the nose when Rocky was a little too inquisitive. Little Bit hid the whole time – but that’s Little Bit. It takes her a while with everyone. There was one incident in the dog yard, late at night, when Rocky was way out in the distance, and she spotted Dozer and took off in pursuit. Dozer ran full out for the dog door. I grabbed Rocky right at the entrance and slammed her down, with a huge, loud “AHHT!” I’m hoping the message got across.

Resting in Studio-72

Relaxing in the writing studio

She also had some really nice moments of being relaxed and calm. We all sat in the living room and watched TV for an hour, Rocky lying peacefully right at my side. She spent some time resting beside me in my writing studio. Yes, very good.

And at bedtime, believe it or not, Rocky was in a pile of bodies on our king-sized bed:. me and Sabrina, Ripley and Malaki, and Rocky. And then who comes prancing into the mix, but Dozer! Rocky became alert, then realized, “Oh. I guess it’s just that cat.” She went back to sleep. We’re going to be able to work this out.

The next day, I tried to offer her breakfast, and she again refused to eat. Then Sabrina said, “Ha! No wonder she’s not hungry! Did you look at the cat food bowl?” Last time Rocky visited, we discovered she is slender enough to go through the cat door into the bathroom where we were keeping the cat food. So we were in the process of moving the feeding station. I thought Sabrina had already moved all of the food. But she had left the large bowl of dry food in that room. And sometime when we were not looking, Rocky had gone in and eaten the entire bowl!

Since she had no need for breakfast, I took her for a second walk. It was essentially a replay of the day before, except I remembered to add in some of the movement work heeling techniques, doing right circles, left circles, right abouts, left abouts, which forced her to pay attention to me periodically instead of the bunnies and birds.

At 9 a.m. a workman came over to give us an estimate about repairing the trellis in our atrium. We were sitting with the dogs on the front patio area of our house when he arrived. The patio is bordered by a four foot rock wall. As he pulled up in his truck, Rocky leapt up onto the top of the rock wall! Sabrina stood up and yelled, and Rocky jumped back down, on our side. OK, now we know she can jump over. Great. (The dog yard has a six-foot chain link fence.)

I thought the workman was only here to talk ideas and give a quote. I took Ripley and Rocky into my writing studio, and left Sabrina with him. Both dogs were relaxing quietly with me, while I did some work. I vaguely became aware of a drilling/sawing sound, but it didn’t fully register. Suddenly Sabrina came to my door, and said, “Where’s Rocky?” I said, “What?” She said, “The front door was open.”

The workman had actually started to take down the trellis, using an electric saw, and the sound frightened Rocky. Sabrina and he were removing lumber through the door, and had left it open. I hadn’t noticed that Rocky had left the studio. I started frantically searching first the house, and then the backyard, while Sabrina went out to the front, both of us calling her name. When I fully realized she was not in the house or in our yard, I panicked. She wasn’t wearing any ID tags or anything. I ran out the front door, and heard Sabrina yelling for her. As I got to the end of the driveway, Sabrina said, “Rocky! Come here!” I could tell by her tone of voice that she could see Rocky. I looked up and saw my dog, two houses down the road. I yelled, “Rocky! Come!” She ran straight to me, and I knelt in the dirt, embracing her. Oh my god. I can’t even tell you.

We’re hoping that her next visit won’t be quite so thrilling.

 

 

23Jul

Bailey the Cat Kicks Some Dog Butt

So what do you do when your service dog in training shows an unhealthy obsession with felines? You enlist one bad-ass cat to show her some manners.

After hearing about our first home visit last week, where Rocky spent the entire time straining at her leash and on tiptoe, cat hunting, trainer Jared Latham at American Service Dogs said, “Bring me a cat.” Well, we have several to choose from. Dozer isn’t a good option, because he simply doesn’t care; too nonchalant. Kenji is equally unfit, because he’s smart enough to freeze; a cat that doesn’t move won’t stimulate enough interest. Little Bit is certainly pissy enough. A little too pissy. Neither one of us wanted to lose a limb in the process. She also has a bad habit of peeing all over you when she’s stressed, and we didn’t really want to add that to the afternoon’s agenda. So Bailey seemed the obvious candidate.

Bailey is the same age as Ripley; well, actually her senior by about two months. She turned eleven in March. So she’s the grande dame in the household. She has always been regal and rather aloof, not much into the whole petting, lap-sitting thing. In fact, she’s not very interested in humans, except for their obvious usefulness as providers of food. There are only two instances where she asks for human touch: one, when you are sitting on the toilet, and she rubs against your legs, asking for head scratches; and two, when you are in bed, and she cuddles against your feet. Be warned, though – if it gets hot, and one has the audacity to stick one’s feet out from under the covers, Bailey does not hesitate to bite your toes for that rude disturbance.

She does, though, like dogs. She was completely enamored of our little Catahoula-cross, Houla, who passed away a few years ago. Now, she is infatuated with Malaki, our pit-boxer cross. She rubs up against him, cuddles with him, loves to groom his face.

New dogs are a different manner. Especially new dogs with no manners, who come charging across the room at her like Rocky did last week.

We arrived at American Service Dogs with Bailey in the cat carrier, and went back to Jared’s office. Rocky, Sabrina, Jared, Bailey and I were all in the small room, ready for cat training. At first, Jared had us leave Bailey in the carrier, and I had Rocky on leash. My job was to walk Rocky around the room and correct her whenever she looked at the carrier. One time Jared used a spray bottle as a correction. After that, it was just me, “AHHT” voice corrections, and leash tugs. Rocky’s eyes kept going back to the carrier, but eventually I managed to convince her this was off limits, and she went into a down/stay right in front of the carrier, eyes averted.

Then we brought the carrier out into the large training room, and practiced walking in circles around the carrier, where I again corrected Rocky each time she strayed towards the cat. This brought up all the initial behavior at first, but after about ten minutes, Rocky began to listen to me, and ignore the cat in the box.

We went back to the small office, for the real test. Jared let Bailey out of the carrier. Of course, as I knew she would, Bailey immediately went under the sofa. Since we wanted her to stay visible, Jared got down on the floor and reached underneath to grab her. Even as he did it, I thought to myself, “Oops. This is not going to end well.” He pulled back his hand suddenly and yelped, “Hey! She bit me!” One of the rules with cats: When they are hiding, do not reach underneath into said hiding place bare-handed to grab. You don’t know what end you are going to get, and they have a much better turning radius than you do. You are going to lose.

When we are trying to flush out a cat, we use either a squirt bottle, or a stick (broom stick, yard stick, etc.) I handed Jared my cane. “Try this.” He swept it underneath the couch, and Bailey popped out the other side, coming up to the top of the couch. Now she remained in our sight, and I was able to work more with Rocky, who was interested (OK, very interested), but managed to stay in her down/stay position with some effort.

Bailey took control at this point. Parading her diva self around the room, she made it very clear that she was in charge, she would not be intimidated, and this dog had better learn some manners. She strolled right past Rocky at one point, and sat just inches away from her.

By the end of the session, I was able to let Rocky off leash, and she walked slowly over to Bailey, without aggression, and gave her friendly, respectful face licks. Just a couple. Then she retreated. No one got clawed or hissed at. No one got chased or terrified. Bailey returned to her carrier with dignity.

A highly successful training session. Whew.

 

16Jul

Kennel Break! Rocky’s First Home Visit

Rocky came home on Thursday for her first official home visit, and I can sum up the experience in one four-letter word: CATS!

So let me confess. I had a little fantasy going on. I had really been looking forward to this day. Since I first met Rocky in May, I’ve been waiting for the moment when she could come to our house, thinking about what it would be like for her, building up a little dream image. We’d come in, she’d look around, it would feel like home. She’d feel relaxed and safe. We’d lounge around, letting her get used to things, and I’d take a gazillion pictures. It would go so well, that our next visit would be an overnight one. I had it all planned.

Well, it didn’t quite work out that way.

See, we have four adult cats in the house, and four foster kittens in a kitty cage in Sabrina’s office, and our whole house must smell feline, and obviously, to Rocky, this is entirely new. Because from the moment she walked in the door, she was on alert. Her ears were perked, she was leaning forward, she was practically standing on her tiptoes. Where are these mysterious creatures?

She paraded through the entire house, with me at the end of the leash. We got to the atrium, and there was Dozer, our most nonchalant cat, half asleep in a corner. Now, she met Dozer once, at the kennel, back in May. But that was two months ago, and apparently erased from her doggy brain. Rocky approached, fascinated. She got a little too close, poking her nose right into him. He turned into hissy cat for a moment, and scooted out of the way. Rocky strained at the leash while I tried to correct.

We went into the living room for a time out. Dozer leapt up to the top of the cat tree in the same room, just a few feet away, curled into a ball, and fell asleep. Rocky sat at my feet, intently watching. I decided a short walk was in order. We strolled through the house again. I stopped in my writing studio. Kenji, the white and black cat, was asleep on a dog bed there. I let Rocky approach. Kenji didn’t move. That went fine, because a still cat isn’t nearly as interesting as a moving cat. Kenji blinked twice, I let Rocky sniff from a distance of about 18 inches, and we went back to the hallway.

Then Bailey, our grey cat, happened to wander by, unaware. Rocky lunged for her, and Bailey turned into a fuzzed up ball of spitting frenzy. This time, I didn’t kid around. I yelled out a huge “AHHT!” and gave a stern leash correction. Rocky sat at my feet immediately, subdued. Okay. That was better.

We went back to the living room to sit for a break. Meanwhile, Malaki, our pit cross, was chilling out with Sabrina. He had been our major worry; Sabrina had him on a leash the whole time, to ensure that he was behaving during the visit. He, of course, was looking like an angel, resting quietly, while Rocky was the one that was behaving like a maniac.

Ripley was in the bedroom on the bed. I brought Rocky in there to say hi, coaxing her up, not sure how that would be. They had no trouble lying next to each other. But then, a sound. CAT! Sure enough, that’s where Little Bit, our tawny cat was hiding – under the bed. Rocky jumped off and went to the side, peering underneath. OK, this isn’t a good spot either. Exit bedroom, to the sound of yet another hissing cat.

 

Rocky and I went in search of Sabrina and Malaki, who were now in Sabrina’s office. With the kittens. I came in and sat in a chair some distance from the kittens’ cage, and placed Rocky in a down/stay on the other side of me, so she was away from the cage. Malaki loves the kittens, and they are used to him. This is a new batch of fosters; they have only been with us a couple of weeks, and are rather feral. As soon as Rocky entered the room, they went crazy. Even though she was lying down, they turned into spluttering hissy balls of fur, and began dashing around the cage in a frenzy. We didn’t stay long.

We went out to the atrium, Rocky now a hyper, excited mess. Malaki was lying down next to her, on leash. Rocky was also on leash, but pacing. She kept stepping back and forth, over Malaki. He finally had had enough, and he snapped at her. Rocky immediately chilled out, coming over to lie down at my side.

A three hour visit, that’s all it was. I was exhausted. We were exhausted. Then we left to go to the kennel for an hour of training. Rocky and I were both so tired we were loopy during the training exercises.

Not to worry. All part of the process, right? Next Friday, Bailey the grey cat is coming to the kennel with us. To teach Rocky to respect cats. Wish us luck.

 

22May

Service Dog In Training: Rocky Meets Dozer, Our Cat

Rocky, the two-year-old female who will most likely be my next service dog, had a big week. She not only met me, Ripley, and my wife Sabrina – she also met, we’re pretty sure, her very first cat.

Rocky is, by our best guess, a Belgian Shepherd Malinois mix. We went to see her on Tuesday for the first time – we being Ripley, me and Sabrina. I knew that Ripley would be fine. As long as the other dog is not aggressive in any way, we never have any issues. Ripley gets along with everybody. She did a little meet and greet, and then that was it. No big deal. Rocky was very friendly with me, approaching repeatedly, and generous with gentle kisses. It was nice to have kisses. She has a soft mouth, and a fairly submissive demeanor. I got no hit that she would try to be the alpha in the household, which is good.

We decided to come back the next day with Malaki, our pit cross, since he can be somewhat nervous with new additions to the family. We also had no idea if Rocky had ever encountered a cat, and because we have four cats at home of our own, plus a roomful of kittens who Sabrina is fostering for a local rescue program, we wanted to ensure that any potential service dog didn’t have major cat issues.

So, on Wednesday we loaded up our truck again, this time with Ripley, Malaki, and Dozer. Dozer is our most mellow cat. Part Siamese, he’s the kind of guy you can toss in the air and catch on the way down, a cat you can literally flip over on his back on the bed to rub his belly, and he purrs all the way through it. We figured if anybody could handle the situation, it would be Dozer.

Malaki tested first. We kept him on a leash, with Rocky and Ripley loose in the room, along with about five people. Malaki was alert but OK –  until Rocky came up and licked his nose. Then Malaki growled and snapped. Rocky immediately backed up, then kept her distance. As Jared Latham, head trainer at American Service Dogs said, “Well, now we know what Malaki doesn’t like. That’s the only way dogs have to communicate. It may not be the best way, always, but it’s the only way they have.” We let the dogs be in each other’s presence a while longer, and it was clear from that point that it was going to be a workable situation. Malaki established a boundary, Rocky respected it, and that was that.

Rocky fascinated by Dozer

Rocky fascinated by Dozer

Now for that cat. Rocky hadn’t noticed Dozer at first. Jared brought her over to the crate that Dozer was in, on the floor. Whoa! Immediate interest! As you can see in the photographs, Rocky was intensely fascinated with the cat. She stretched out on the floor and just stared at him. Dozer couldn’t care less. He was completely unintimidated. He’s grown up around dogs, and has no fear. So they touched noses through the door, and had a good sniff. We opened the crate door – and Rocky tried to crawl inside with Dozer! It was hysterical. There was no maliciousness; she just wanted in there to see what the heck was going on. Jared pulled her back out, and we allowed space for Dozer to exit.

As we all watched, Dozer nonchalantly began to walk the perimeter of the room. Rocky did a GI Jane crouch-crawl, in pursuit. As Dozer made a little headway, Rocky sprang up and trotted after. She began to bounce up and down, complete play behavior, an invitation: “Come on! Let’s go!” Dozer ignored her, and kept walking around the room. He went to the opposite corner, and jumped on top of some wire kennels, and Rocky nearly died of excitement. This was fun! Then Dozer disappeared behind the couch. The dog ran all the way behind the couch, and found no cat. That was simply too much for Rocky. A game of hide-and-seek where the cat actually vanished? She became a bit obsessed, and had to be escorted from the room. Jared and Sabrina had to tip the couch over to find Dozer, who had gone inside – it was a sofa bed, it turned out, so had a “secret” compartment. Still, Dozer was completely unruffled, and walked calmly back to his crate.

We’re thinking we should have brought Bailey, who maybe would have taken a swat at Rocky, and given her more of a sense of real cat behavior. She’ll learn.

 

Michelle Wing © Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved
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