Thursday, February 19, 2009


Sometime in December I read a quote, I believe from a Harvard Business School professor, stating something along the lines of, “If you purchase items for the price they are listed at [in this economy] you are foolish.” It is so easy to put consumer goods in your shopping cart, and head straight to the check out line. What most people fail to realize is if you take a few minutes out of your day to speak with a manager, you often will get a discount on your purchases. Yes, I’ve even started doing this at big box stores, and while it doesn’t always work, more often than not I get 5-10% marked off of my total bill.

In these unstable economic times people are watching their savings diminish rapidly—it is not uncommon to hear someone say they’ve lost 40% or more of their 401K in less than a year. With prices on groceries, utilities, gas etc. all going up, people are finding new and different ways to save. For example, coupon use is at an all time high—companies are now putting tougher restrictions on coupons (for example, shorter expiration periods) because people are not only using them but also, planning their shopping trips around these precious pieces of paper.

The same can apply to dog food—especially if you are committed to finding the right deals. I am a firm believer in feeding a high quality dog food. In the long run, the pricier bags of food can and do save you money. A high quality food is able to deliver the proper amount of nutrients to your dog, in a smaller measurement, can lower your vet bills (especially if your dog suffers from skin conditions or ear infections—where a holistic grain free diet may be appropriate). A high quality diet can expand the life expectancy of your pet—particularly when fed from puppyhood. If you are interested in learning more about your dog’s food, I highly recommend checking out this website.

I have been able to save with most dog products I use by contacting the companies directly. For example, Natures Variety has an option on their website called “Try It.” By filling out a form providing them with some basic personal information you can get a buy one get one free coupon. The coupons apply to their smaller bags of kibble, canned food, and raw diet. But, a heads up, you can only select one option. I think the raw food or kibble is probably the best deal to select. I know if you write to Purina Pro Plan and express an interest in switching to their food they will send you a coupon—I know one person who got a coupon for a free 50 pound bag of food. California Naturals also has a coupon option on their website—over all the savings with this are around $15. I recommend explaining you would like to sample the food, but do not know how your dog will like it, or whether or not the food will work for your dog’s sensitive skin, stomach, etc. when requesting a coupon.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bully sticks and antlers

A few days ago I came home from work to find a small package waiting for me on our front porch. I had completely forgotten what it was I ordered and eagerly ripped open the padded envelope. I was tickled to see it was a few little things I ordered to keep Milly occupied while I am at work.

As I’ve briefly touched on in the past finding healthy made in the USA treats can be a real challenge. I avoid all treats made out of the country—particularly those made in China, as melanin scares have had some impact on dog food and treats. You’d be surprised how hard it is to find things only made in America, and it is amazing just how many things are made in China. I particularly avoid chicken products from China—so double check the packaging on those fancy dehydrated chicken strips you picked up at the pet store… there is a good chance those were made in China (if you have found some made in the US please comment so I know what brand and where I can get some!).

Back to the contents of this padded envelope: 2 Bully Sticks and 1 antler (I think it is deer).

Bully sticks are a great product to give your dog—especially the hormone-free, antibiotic-free and chemical-free, USDA inspected free-ranging beef variety. They are a great alternative to rawhide bones or pig ears. Milly went crazy for her Bully Stick. She spent about an hour chomping and gnawing at it. I ordered her two of them—one in a spiral shape (she tends to like neat textures) and the other a straight stick. The only problem I’ve found with the Bully Stick is what it is made of—Bull “parts”… as in parts a female cow would not have. But, despite my knowledge of what the thing is made of, it does feel a lot like a thick rawhide, and Milly LOVES them! Below you’ll find some info about them—they come in all sizes and shapes. Note: A dog should spend at least 30 minutes eating the Bully Stick… if it is consumed faster than that this may not be the best treat for your dog.

About Bully Sticks:
• Dogs love these long lasting chews; they are generally preferred over rawhide.

• Chewing a bully keeps dogs busy and out of trouble! Great for when you need your dog to settle down for a while.
• Cleans teeth and freshens breath. Will not stain carpet.
• Great for teething puppies.
• Bully sticks are not rawhide; they are dried bull penises (yeah, it’s pretty gross, but dogs don’t mind!).
• The 100% natural smoke flavor produces bully sticks that have a nice barbeque odor and taste dogs seem to love. I ordered mine from
• Bully sticks are from free-ranging, Brazilian cattle. Bullies are inspected upon arrival into the US. Free-range, chemical-free bullies are simply not available from US beef.

As far as Antlers, those were not quite as big of a hit with Milly, but I intend to be persistent, and am confident she will learn to enjoy them in time. I learned about antlers from the Golden Retriever Forum I belong to. There are tons of advantages to antlers—they are all natural, they last a LONG TIME (think months!), once a dog is familiar with them they can provide hours of entertainment, etc. Like the Bully Stick, the antlers have little to no odor (the bully stick has a slight smoked odor, but it is not unpleasant). I was amazed at how little these things smell—in fact, holding the antler right under my nose I can not smell anything!
• Antler chews hold up longer than those made of compacted starch, like rawhide.
o They last longer than Bully Sticks.
• Antlers are much less likely to chip or splinter when they are being chewed than processed bones. The chewing action grinds the antler down slowly.
• Antlers contain many beneficial nutrients and nothing artificial.
• They have virtually no odor or reside to get on your carpet of furniture.
• Antlers vary in shape, thickness and color. Dogs enjoy variety—and with no two alike, your dog is sure to get lots of variety in his chews.

So, once your antler arrives (or if you get one from a friend with access to antlers) make sure the antler is large enough so your dog does not choke on it or swallow it. Also, you’ll want to wash it with warm, soapy water and rinse well before giving it to your dog. I am still getting Milly to warm up to the idea of the antler. So far she likes to lick it, but gets bored with it very quickly. Some ways I am trying to get her more fascinated are lightly going over it with sandpaper or a nail file (I actually haven’t tried this yet, but plan on doing so this weekend), because dogs enjoy varying textures. Also, lightly coating parts of the antler in peanut butter (she loves this! She will spend at least 45 minutes licking the antler to get every last hint of peanut butter off of it). The final way, which I have not tried yet, but may do tonight, is to soak the antler in water over night in the refrigerator. I am assuming this will soften the antler a little bit, and encourage the dog to slowly chew at it—perhaps it brings the marrow like filling to the surface in some way? I’ll let you know once I’ve tried it.

As far as cost goes, if your dog enjoys antlers they are very cost efficient. You may be put off by the sticker price (I sure was!)—At a whopping $13.75 the things aren’t cheap for a dog treat, but keep in mind it will last for MONTHS. In the long run, some antlers are a wise investment.

Bully sticks are not cheap either, but I have found a few websites where you can buy them in bulk. seems to have much more reasonable prices than my local pet stores do.
I often feel a bit guilty when I leave for work, and put Milly in her backyard. Sure, she has her own room she can walk in-and-out of as she pleases, plenty of fresh water and lots of stimulating toys, but I still have a certain pang of guilt, and can’t help but wish I could take her to work with me.

Finding stimulating toys was easy enough—now-a-days they have plenty of mentally challenging options in the dog toy department, one of my favorites is a plush box with holes on each side, the box is filled with squeaky balls and the dog must figure out how to get each squeaky toy out of the holes. Milly’s timing with this toy has progressed and she is now able to get all four balls out in about 30 minutes. Note: I would not recommend this toy if you are not 100% sure about your dog’s playing activities, as all toys pose some choking hazard. Squeaky toys should never be given to dogs that rip the toys, as the squeaker itself could get lodged in the esophagus if the toy was to tear. Balls should also never be given unless supervised—or if you know exactly how your dog plays, as these also have potential choking risks.

So, with only 30 minutes of Milly’s day taken up with the mentally stimulating toy, I like to give her a treat to snack on when I leave each morning, but finding a treat that can last, is healthy and safe can be a challenge. I used to give her rawhide chews (you know, the white ones with the knots on each end), but then learned that these can not only upset the dog’s stomach, are high in fat, but also are sometimes treated in formaldehyde! So, how do you know if the treat you are feeding your dog has been treated in formaldehyde? Well, you don’t, but a good rule of thumb to follow is only buying made in the USA treats. I could write an entire blog post about the problems with rawhide chews, but that is for another time. There are also pig ears, but those pose the same digestive risks of rawhide, and I have seen more than one dog, on more than one occasion, get horrible diarrhea and/or vomiting from pig ears. They are also very high in fat.

So, to find the right treat—something that will both take some time and is healthy—the saga continues! I am a big supporter of the Kong—there are lots of alternatives to the Kong paste for good filler. I like to add some mashed up banana, a little non-fat organic plain yogurt or some organic peanut butter to Milly’s… sometimes I’ll put some small dog biscuits inside to challenge her, and in a quick pinch I will use the Kong paste (I personally prefer peanut butter paste, because the Liver paste smells rancid and Milly is not a fan of the mint variety). Note: If you are a multiple dog owner always purchase Kongs sized for your largest dog. Also, make sure to get the suitable strength Kong for your dog’s chew style.

There are many mentally stimulating toys on the market if you’d like me to provide you with links to examples please let me know.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Five Golden Retrievers [presumably] Stolen!!!

The past few days have been an absolute horror for one Golden Retriever owner and breeder on the outskirts of Austin, TX. Maura Phelan of Manor, TX had her five Golden Retrievers [presumably] stolen from her own kennel yard! Four of the Goldens are between 2-4 years of age and the fifth is 10 years old. As most responsible owners do all of the dogs were microchipped, though none were wearing collars, and Avid was notified of their disappearance. The five dogs were stolen from a kennel run/pen/yard beside Maura Phelan’s barn in broad daylight!

At around 12 noon the man renting the apartment on Maura’s property put the dogs in their pen, then went up to Maura’s house to do some work on the house. When the tenant’s wife returned to the property less than 30 minutes later the gate to the pen was opened. The gate to the kennel was apparently kicked in so hard the latch mechanism turned to the side—making it fair to say the dogs did not escape on their own.

The local police and sheriff’s offices were notified, and a search for the dogs began. Flyers were posted throughout the area, ads were posted on the Pets section of, utility companies were notified, neighbors alerted, the Texas Vets were notified via Maura’s Vet, rescue lists and humane societies were all notified. A tracking dog was even used in hopes of picking up a scent—the tracking dog was able to follow a trail across a neighbor’s property to a dirt road, but that is where the scent disappeared.

Nearly two days later, and I can only assume sleepless nights for this distraught owner, the dogs were all found, all thirsty and exhausted… but safe. Thank God! There had been speculation of a dog-spotting Northwest of her home, but the dogs were found several miles to the Southeast. All of the dogs were found together, except for Friday (the 10 year old girl) who was found in-between the house and the rest of the dogs—about 2 miles away.

Not only is Maura Phelan a famed breeder, well known in the show world for having bred or co-bred numerous champions, but she is also the founder of Gold Ribbon Rescue in Austin, TX. Maura co-bred “Rotten,” a champion in his own right, but also the sire of Toasty’s Treasure Island a.k.a. “Treasure” the Best of Breed winner at Tuesday night’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Friday, the 10-year-old dog that went missing, is Rotten’s half sister. While each dog that disappeared had impeccable show pedigrees, they are all Maura’s beloved pets. It is truly a miracle all five dogs were found safe and sound.

I wanted to post on this, with contact info, as I know I have some blog followers in the Austin area. I am so thrilled I am able to tell this story with a happy ending, as all dogs were found. I cannot begin to imagine the absolute horror and devastation one would feel if just one dog went missing, but to have all five dogs missing must be awful. As I type this, my own sweet Milly is curled up with her head resting on my feet, snoring. Just looking at her puts a smile on my face, and I don’t know what I would do if something like this ever happened to us. I have received a few emails in recent weeks regarding dog theft—particularly of yellow dogs. I cannot help but wonder if the success of Marley & Me has something to do with this desirable color. Dog theft is something every dog owner should be concerned with—dogs are frequently stolen, and while I’d like to say it is to be pets, I know the horrific truth is a large percentage of stolen dogs are sold to laboratories for testing.

In conclusion, please microchip your dogs, and have your vet scan for the microchip at least once a year. Make sure your microchip contact information is up-to-date, and if your microchip company requires a subscription, please do not let this lapse. Microchips are very useful, but they can and do fail on occasion. The chip can either stop working or “float” to another area. Also, many microchip companies require a paid subscription, and if this subscription is lapsed no contact info will show up when the dog is scanned and that data is entered into the system. There are many reasons not to keep collars on dogs at all times—including the breakage of hair around the neck that is so important in show dogs, but more than half of all missing dogs are returned not based on microchip data, but instead on ID tags found on their collars.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Two years ago I began searching for my puppy. Today, I still don't have that dog.

Two years ago I decided I wanted to purchase a puppy, a Golden Retriever to be exact, and thus began the hunt for the right dog: a sweet personality, smart, but with a quiet temperament, sound conformation, and a pedigree filled with healthy dogs. I chose to purchase a puppy, rather than adopt one of the thousands of homeless animals in this country, because I wanted some sort of guarantee, or at least educated hope, that my sweet new family member would be of sound health, and live a long life. Today, I still do not have my puppy, and in many ways I am thankful for that.

I began my puppy hunt with sound research, or so I thought. Logically, it seemed to me, the best place for information would be the information super highway. I pulled up Google, and entered, “Golden Retriever Puppies”—the first hit on the long list was a website where you could enter your credit card and a puppy would be shipped to you—no need to even speak with the breeder. This did not appeal to me, and I was thankful I was educated enough to know not to purchase from here. My next search was “show quality golden retriever puppies” or “champion golden retriever puppies”—it was this search that led me into the world of “Rare Alpine White Golden Retrievers,” “European Cream Golden Retrievers,” “English Cream Champions,” etc. I must admit, I was intrigued by the photos of what looked like my own Golden Retriever (a dog I scooped up from the SPCA) coated in white paint! They were adorable balls of white fluff that reminded me of stuffed animal polar bears. I quickly decided this was what I wanted.

Next, I decided to search for these rare white golden retrievers. I found three websites, all of which seemed great to me. They spoke of family life, puppies they had bred that were now Seeing Eye dogs, features on national cable and features in various magazines I regularly read. It seemed the whiter the dog, the more it was worth. I book marked my favorite breeders, and decided when my lease ran up in 2 months I would contact the breeders, and the nicest most helpful, would sell me my next dog.

It wasn’t long until I saw a white golden retriever sprawled on a sofa on the cover of Oprah Winfrey’s magazine. I have always been a secret fan of Oprah’s “must-have” lists, and turned to the internet to find where on earth she had purchased this white dog.

It did not take long for the World Wide Web to lead me to sites of Golden Retriever fanciers discussing the pitfalls of Oprah purchasing a dog from, “gasp” a puppy mill or high volume breeder. I soon learned my bookmarked sites were also high volume breeders and/or puppy mills. I felt a sense of relief knowing I had not purchased from them. Soon after, a dear friend of mine Facebooked me to tell me she was getting a puppy. Obviously, my first question was what kind? When I learned she was getting an English Cream Golden Retriever, I felt my search was over for the right breeder. I would simply use the breeder she had used. I got the contact info for the breeder, and began emailing them. However, each email response I got from the breeder gave me an odd gut feeling, that something was not right. I Googled the kennel name, only to learn this was a puppy mill, known for scamming buyers, and knowingly breeding unhealthy dogs with hip problems. *Phew,* another bad breeder avoided.

Having realized I had now found multiple breeders that seemed to be legit at first glance (to the self-admitting untrained eye), I decided the only way to find a legitimate breeder would be to ask animal lovers like myself—and, what better place than an online forum for horse owners? I knew this forum was frequented by people who loved their horses, spent thousands of dollars a year on their animals, and usually owned lots of dogs themselves. I drafted a forum post, seeking information and contacts on a breeder of English Cream Golden Retrievers. With in hours I had a response! A recommendation for a breeder in Canada, the woman responding owned one of her puppies, lived in the same town, and gave me a link to the kennel website—which was filled with win photos from dog shows. I was thrilled! My hunt was finally over!... or so I thought! By now, I thought of myself as a fairly educated dog owner in search of a good breeder—boy was I wrong. I knew clearances were important (“clearances” refer to health certificates given by a specialist to the parents of the dogs, the most important clearances for a Golden are hips, elbows, heart, and thyroid—for most of these (such as hips) the clearance is rated on a scale from fair to excellent)—and I assumed simply finding a dog with both parents having good or excellent clearances would guarantee a healthy puppy. Wrong again.

I began emailing with this breeder, she seemed kind, and had a “puppy questionnaire” on her website for potential buyers to fill out—that gave me reassurance, obviously she cared where her dogs went. This breeder responded to my many emails, and seemed so kind. We had selected the breeding I wanted, and were making arrangements for a deposit, and began researching importing a puppy from Canada—much easier than I had thought, the breeder would make the arrangements, I would simply pay $300 and the puppy would be flown to the closest international airport. Thrilled I had found “the breeder” I decided to Google the kennel name, in the hopes of finding owners of famous off spring that would be related to the puppy I planned on purchasing. I was devastated when the first review online was for the kennels boarding services, and spoke of the filthy conditions of the property. I pushed this review to the back of my mind, and assumed this must be a different kennel with the same name. About half way down the list of Google hits I found an online forum dedicated to everything Golden Retriever. I clicked the link, and found myself reading 20 pages of posts regarding a buyer’s experience with this breeder. Page after page explained this once reputable breeder, had traded in her love for the breed for profit, and now was a large scale/high volume breeder, though she did clearances on her dogs, she did little to ensure they were handled as puppies (a very critical factor in ensuring a dog has a sound temperament), she was known for selling unhealthy puppies infested with parasites, and underweight. Her buyer contract contained numerous loop holes, enabling her to get around paying vet bills on the unhealthy puppies she sold. I was terrified, and relieved. I had been in the process of arranging to put down a $500 non-refundable deposit, thankfully I hadn’t done so, and looking forward to receiving my new puppy, only to learn this seemingly friendly breeder was in it for nothing but profit. Reading this forum was like looking at a car wreck, I didn’t want to see it, but I couldn’t look away. I read of how this breeder routinely uses a stud with known food aggression in her breeding program—I was devastated. I felt as though I had been taken for a ride by this woman, we had exchanged countless emails, and she knew the number one trait in the puppy I sought to purchase was a gentle personality. She had recommended a litter with a mother known for producing hip dysplastic dogs, and a father with food aggression.

By now I had spent a year looking for my puppy, and secretly hoped this was simply one bad review from a person seeking slanderous revenge. I signed up for this Golden Retriever message board, and typed my first post. I sought reviews on the breeder my long time friend had purchased from (the puppy mill type) and this new Canadian breeder. I explained I wanted an English Cream puppy. My very first thread got tons of hits! Fanciers explained the terms I had used in search of my light colored puppy were simply marketing ploys, often used by irresponsible breeders trying to charge more. I learned any breeder that charges more for European type Golden Retrievers than American is not reputable. Personality of parents is vital in choosing a puppy, but equally important are that the puppies are handled regularly, preferably raised in the house. Any breeder advertising White Golden Retrievers, Alpine Golden Retrievers, Rare European Crèmes, etc. was in it for the wrong reasons. “Designer dogs” like Golden Doodles, Labradoodles, YorkiePoos, etc. are not recognized by any legitimate organization in this country. Reputable breeders of purebred dogs sell their puppies on Limited Registration (there are two types of AKC registration: Unlimited and Limited), meaning the dog must be spayed or neutered, can not be bred, and can only be shown in obedience, agility, and field events. Reputable breeders will only offer Unlimited or Full registration to owners planning to show the dog in confirmation, and often times will not offer such registration until the puppy is old enough to be evaluated as a show dog. Once the owner actually is able to have the dog on full or unlimited registration, a reputable breeder will require the dog be actively shown and have all major health clearances performed (which must be done by a certified specialist, such as a cardiologist) before a new contract will be granted stating the owner has permission to breed the dog. As a result, Designer Dogs are often parented by dogs purchased from disreputable breeders, who will sell dogs on full or unlimited registration to anyone willing to pay extra. This results in the parents of the designer dog being less than stellar representations of their breed. The other problem with Designer Dogs, is F1 breeding (First generation) do not produce a standard set of traits—both physical and personality wise. Therefore, it is extremely common to find two Golden Doodles that look nothing alike, have opposite personalities, and often times have completely different coat types.

Since then, I’ve learned the major red flags in finding a breeder, but it has been a long task. I say praise almost daily that I took the time to go down so many wrong roads before finding the right one. I now see how easy it is to be led astray, and find the internet to in ways be an excellent source of information, but in other ways an awful source of information. I often wonder if I, someone who prides herself on having great knowledge regarding animals could be led so astray, then what about the average person looking for a family pet? When celebrities like Oprah are purchasing from puppy mill type locations, our Vice President is quoted saying he purchased from a reputable breeder—with documented violations accusing them of being a puppy mill or irresponsible large volume breeder, and our president is searching for a Doodle then we are being fed mixed information.

I still yearn to own a Golden Retriever with European ancestry, but not for any of the reasons I had when I started my search. I have come to appreciate both the American type and the European type, and would love to one day have one of each. I’ve learned a European type Golden will have more trouble successfully competing in AKC shows than an American, because they are bred for slightly different breed standards—though, it is not unheard of for a European type to succeed in AKC shows. I’ve researched breeding, and am starting to understand how to look at a pedigree—though; I will admit I have A LONG WAY TO GO.

I think I have found my breeder. She actively shows her dogs, raises the puppies in her bedroom, and is in it for bettering the breed—meaning, she only breeds dogs she knows have traits, health, personality, etc. that would help improve the Golden Retriever breed. However, with all of the research I have done, I have found four breeders I would happily use—three breed the American Golden Retrievers and one, the one I am 99 percent sure I will buy from, breeds the European type.

In conclusion, it is easy to be led astray, and sometimes trying to research can lead you down the wrong path and to a plethora of websites for large scale high volume for profit breeders. At the same time, thorough research is critical in selecting your next puppy. For every one legitimate reputable breeder out there, there are at least 20 backyard breeders, puppy mills, or high volume breeders. I think I have found the breeder I will use, but over the past two years there have been numerous occasions where I thought I had found “the one.” My research has piqued my curiosity in dog shows, as I now am starting to grasp the reasoning behind breeding, and the importance of breeding to the standard represented by the AKC.