Saturday, April 24, 2010
My favorite color is PINK, and when you see Milly's collar collection that is apparent. I love to match my leash to my collars, but sometimes that isn't possible.
My favorite flat collar is a Preston collar in pink and green whales with a matching leash. This collar is very well made - I've had the collar/leash set for over 3 years and it is still just as sturdy and strong as the day I bought them. Nylon collars are nice, because you can throw them in the washing machine. The leash is about 1" thick, and 6' long, which makes it ideal for daily walking and even appropriate for practicing obedience. Both collar and leash are well made and strong - I have no fears of them breaking if Milly were to pull hard on the leash. I love pink so much that I even keep a pink poop bag dispenser with pink poop bags on the end of the leash.
Another favorite collar of mine that I have retired was the collar my beloved childhood dog Sweetie wore. Sweetie passed away in the fall of 2006 just a few weeks after I adopted Milly. I love to incorporate my love of animals into my home decor, and leather goods are perfect for this. I have a former horse's bridle hanging on a wooden bench, a former horse's halter hanging on my dresser mirror, and Sweetie's leather collar sits with a sterling silver bowl in my parent's dining room.
The collar is incredibly well made, and I could easily use it for many more years on another dog, but Sweetie left very big paws to fill, and Milly is a different collar size. This collar is made by Edgewood Leather - they are known for making top of the line horse bridles, and was not cheap. However, the leather work is simply stunning, and the stitching on the leather is absolutely perfect. This collar went through 7 years of wear with Sweetie and I rarely cleaned it (with saddle soap), and it is still in very good condition. The leather is still subtle, and the stitching is still completely intact. In the future, I would love to own another of these collars (and the matching leash). Sweetie's was the raised fancy stitch collar with a brass nameplate with her name and my phone number, like the one pictured. Check out the leather details - isn't it beautiful?
Edgewood Leather is one of my favorite companies, their craftsmanship is superb. I would love to have any of these collars, and a matching leash would be great, too. They really are a collar you can buy for a dog's entire leash (and then use it on your next dog)... the quality is that good. While the cost is high, my collar was nearly $50 the lifetime of use makes it a worthwhile investment. They are very strong, and appropriate for dogs of all sizes. If the reins are strong enough to hold a 1,500 pound horse from running away with a rider, you can guarantee this collar will withstand even the heaviest dog pulling on the leash. Of course, good training to stop leash pulling is ideal. Don't you just love these? The styles all mimic things seen in their horse bridles like fancy stitching (on my collar), metal work (found on the brow band of bridles), and even collars made out of reins!
I took place in one of Hopsy's blog swaps last year, and received an adorable pink argyle Old Navy collar. Milly rocks this collar when her other is in the wash. It is thinner than the Preston collar, but it is so fashionable. It is very similar to this collar.
I also received a Vera Bradley collar as a gift from my dear friend Heather (it's pink, of course), and this one also gets a good bit of use. I am always getting compliments on it, too. While I love the pattern, I don't feel it is nearly as sturdy as the Preston collar, but it is a bit stronger and better made than the Old Navy collar.
I hope you enjoyed seeing some of my favorite collars. I always keep a collar on Milly when she is doing any off-leash activity outside, and try to keep one on her if she is in the yard, because all of her collars have ID tags on them (she is also micro-chipped). I do like to take the collar off whenever possible though, so she doesn't have collar neck (where the coat is damaged from too much collar wear) and broken hairs on her neck.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
As many of you know, I grew up riding and showing horses up and down the East Coast. Of all the breeds of dogs, the two most popular in the horse crowd seem to be the Pembroke Welsh Corgi and the Jack Russell Terrier, and I have spent countless hours with hundreds of these dogs at the barn, horse shows, or horse races (my parents bred race horses, and my hometown of Camden, SC is known for its history rich in both show and race horses).
One of my favorite events at many horse races is not the horse racing itself (well, I do love that!), but instead the Jack Russell Terrier races, held between horse races at some events. These races are fun, fast, and competitive as Jack Russells fly at warp speeds down the track towards the finish line! While I have never owned a Jack Russell that participated in racing, many of my friends enter their Jack Russell's each year at the Colonial Cup Steeplechase in
(From left to right: Lonny, Ashley, Miss Muddy Paws, Mary Katherine, Mark)
Racing is the only terrier trial event I have ever witnessed in person, and it is extremely exciting from a spectator standpoint. Just like with Thoroughbred horses, there are two types of races for Jack Russells: flat and steeplechase (also known as hurdles). The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America (JRTCA) sanctions numerous trials throughout the year all around the country, and horse races also hold their own events in the same format and style as the JRTCA races.
The format of the race is very interesting. The track is a minimum of 150 feet long, usually 200+ feet (the length recommended by the JRTCA), and is a straight track with a starting box at one end (the dogs are separated into their own ‘gates’ much like horse races) and a stack of straw bales at the opposite end with a hole in the middle (directly behind the hole is the finish line) of the bales. A lure, typically an enticingly scented piece of fur, is attached to a piece of string and pulled along by a Lure machine that the dogs chase to the finish line. Some races require muzzles for the safety of both the dogs and the human catchers at the end of the course, but other races have optional muzzles for non-aggressive dogs. Before the race begins the dogs are allowed to see and smell the Lure while in their starting box, this excites the dogs and motivates them to chase the lure down the course. The race begins when the starting box opens and the terriers’ race down the course (it’s incredibly exciting to watch them jump in the steeplechase races). The first dog to cross the finish line (the finish line is immediately behind the hay bales and is the entrance to the catch pen) is declared the winner. To make it even more exciting, the first dog to cross the finish line is not always the first to enter the hole in the hay bales! Each race may be a series of heats, semis, and finals. A championship race is often held in each division and is a competition between the winners of the flat and hurdle races. To qualify for the championship those dogs must have run in both the flat and steeplechase races.
If you’ve never seen a Jack Russell Terrier race first hand I encourage you to attend one! They are a blast to watch, and it is incredible to watch these feisty small dogs do what they were bred for! A real sense of a prey drive really comes out when you witness these races, and they give dog owners a better understanding and appreciation for the history of the breed.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
I love trying new and different products and toys on Milly. I have fun finding out what works, and what doesn’t, and sharing my findings with you, my readers. I have a handful of favorite dog products, and one of them is the Kong – a plastic toy with a hole on each end (a large one to add the treats, and a small hole to allow airflow so the Kong does not create a suction cup when the dog sucks or chews on it). I actually have two Kongs, so one is always ready to use.
When I first got Milly she didn’t really play… those of you who know Milly will probably be shocked reading this. I really had to teach her how to have fun and how to use toys and eat treats, but now she’s a playing monster that lives for her toys. One of the first products I bought for her was a Kong, and some Kong paste (it comes in a bottle and you squeeze it into the Kong… kind of like cheese wiz), which at the time she wanted nothing to do with it (I bought the breath freshening kind in the beginning... and it just isn't as tasty to doggies as the liver paste or peanut butter paste). She’s come a long way, because the Kong is one of her favorite treats now… I think she just needed time to feel safe, and I needed to make it more enticing.
I made the novice mistake of only using Kong paste in it when I bought that first Kong... which is enticing enough for some dogs, but just didn’t do it for Milly at the time. Now, I keep some Kong paste on hand for when I’m in a rush, but I rarely use it. The reason I love the Kong so much is the possibilities are endless, and it’s a treat/busy toy that keeps Milly occupied for a long time. I love to give her a Kong when I leave for work in the morning, and this daily treat has really eased her separation anxiety. She now looks forward to me leaving, because she knows she will get a Kong.
One of Milly’s favorite Kong treats is when I smear some peanut butter inside the Kong (I use all-natural so it doesn’t have added sugars). You can simply smear the peanut butter inside the Kong and give it that way, but if you want it to last longer, smear some peanut butter in the Kong and freeze it for a few hours. This way you can use less peanut butter, and the dog will take at least double the amount of time to lick it all out. Try sticking a dog biscuit or a vegetable like a carrot stick out of the end of the Kong for a fun different flavor and texture. While a frozen peanut butter Kong is a favorite in my household, it is packed with extra calories, which will quickly add pounds to your pup’s waist line if fed regularly. I now reserve peanut butter for special occasions, or as a weekly treat.
Another favorite is to create a doggie “ice cream” by combining non-fat plain yogurt (I use organic), water, a small amount of honey (optional), and a mix-in like canned pumpkin (make sure it’s 100% pumpkin, and not pumpkin pie mix), a mashed up banana, a little peanut butter, or some kibble. I then put peanut butter in the small hole of the Kong to create a stopper, and pour the mixture in and freeze it (you can put the Kong in a glass or a zip-lock baggie to freeze, and you can cover the big hole with peanut butter to seal that as well). This is a very high value treat, and another one with lots of calories, so it’s not one to feed on a regular basis.
I like to feed canned pumpkin on a regular basis, because it aids in digestion and helps prevent impacted anal glands (it also firms up a dog’s poop). While I can simply scoop some canned pumpkin onto Milly’s food it’s more fun to make it a treat by scooping it into the Kong and either giving it to her like that, or freezing it so it lasts longer. I’ve found with the pumpkin if I stuff a “pill pocket” into the small end of the Kong it will keep it from leaking. Pumpkin is a great low calorie reward to give in the Kong. I’ve also cut in half the amount of canned food Milly gets with her kibble and now feed her half of her canned food portion in the Kong, again, you can freeze it to make it last longer, or just scoop it in the Kong and give it that way. Milly loves fruit, and oranges, apples, and bananas are some of her favorites. I will sometimes slice an orange (peeled) and stuff a few slices in the Kong, or cut an apple slice thick so it sticks out of the Kong, or stuff half a ripe banana in the Kong.
Just remember when feeding Kongs or any treats that these will add extra calories to your dog’s diet. So feed accordingly.
If you are in the market for a Kong make sure you purchase them sized for the largest dog you own, as a large dog could easily choke on a too small Kong. There are all sorts of options for dogs chewing styles from teething puppies to seniors, and even extra strong Kongs for powerful chewers (the strongest Kong is available from vets only).
Do you have any favorite Kong recipes? The possibilities are simply endless! I’m sure I’m leaving out lots of them. This is a product that I was so happy to invest in, and an added bonus is they are dishwasher safe. Milly loves her Kong so much we even play fetch with it (sans treats) on occasion.
Monday, April 12, 2010
When I adopted Milly she was supposed to be younger than she actually was, by about 2-3 years. I'm glad I didn't know her actual age, because I might have turned her up for fear of future heart break if I'd thought my days with her would be limited. The first week I had Milly I made my most valiant effort to make her feel loved. That was all I cared about. I wanted her to feel like she had finally come home, and that she was safe with me. I let her sleep in my bed every night (okay, that went on for a full year), she was terrified of her food and water bowls, but I hand fed her every meal, she didn't know what to do with toys, but I encouraged her to play with lots of praise and treats.
When I look at Milly now, that seems like a life time ago. She knows exactly what she wants to do, when she wants to do it, and she makes her opinions clear. She gobbles down her food as soon as I present it to her; in fact, I now add water and fresh veggies to her meals to slow down her eating; she is very opinionated about what toys she will and will not play with (she loves plush toys with squeakers, but hates latex squeaky toys); she tells me when it's time to get up, or if she's bored and wants to play; she races to the door to retrieve her leash if she thinks the possibility of a car ride could be in her future. She is the ideal dog, she'll sit under my table at a restaurant with outdoor seating, she'll calmly ride the elevators, she'll wait for permission before exiting the grooming tub, she'll silently lay under my desk at work with her head on my feet when I'm really busy, and she'll look to me for reassurance that it's okay to lick a toddler. She's just perfect!
For the past three years, I've been told that Milly is a geriatric. I go with whatever it is the vet recommends for her care - I've started expressing her anal glands (gross, I know!) at home myself after the vet suggested it, I keep her on a loading dose of Cosequin DS and fish oil supplements, I brush her daily and stretch and massage her joints, I regulate her exercise to make sure she is getting neither too little nor too much, I continue to mentally and physically stimulate her in new and different places, and of course, I've added extra protein to her diet, as older dogs require more. But, she's never really shown any signs of old age. Sure, her muzzle has slowly become more filled with grey hairs, and she's a little stiffer about jumping into the car in the snow, but she really has been just the same dog I've always had!
That is, until recently. I woke up yesterday to Milly's normal nudges on my arm, and her normal morning wake-up calls, but I noticed something different. The medium golden coat that glistens in the sun has now become a white mask on her face. Her face is almost entirely white, now. Her body has numerous white hairs (yes, before she had the occasional grey hair) throughout it. She now is a bit slower to jump in the car, though she displays incredible athletisism, still. Milly also seems to be smarter than ever before!
I know the old adage, older is wiser, but I think it is really true. I've been working with Milly since I got her to walk on a loose leash, to not acknowledge and squirrels or birds we encounter on our saunters, and to respond when I ask her to do various commands. She's always been pretty good, but never perfect. She's always listened, but never been absolutely spot-on, and I've always needed to give her corrections.
Not anymore! It's like all of the sudden, the same day I realized her face is now entirely white, she is spot-on with every command! I used to walk her in a prong collar, but this week she's been flawless on the flat collar. She used to leap in the air and bark at squirrels, but now she simply perks her ears as if to say, "Hmmm, that's intersting, but not worth my time." Of course, Milly still eagerly runs to the leash rack if she thinks a walk is in her cards, but it seems as though she's wiser about it.
It's wonderful to watch my Milly age into such a dignified and wise dog, but at the same time I know in the back of my mind our days are somewhat limited. Perhaps, that is Milly's only flaw, that she will not live as long as me. I love her so dearly, and picturing my life with out her is virtually impossible.
I keep looking at her, and while, perhaps, I should let the fear of her mortality impact my emotions, all I can see is pride in my olden golden! I love her more than words can express, and she's teaching me a lot about life as I watch her wisen each day. It truly has been a blast to watch Milly age, and be with her through her life. She has certainly taught me about patience, love, dedication, hardwork, and playfulness. It's a blessing to have such a fun reminder telling me how to live my own life. She truly is a wise old lady!
Many of you know that I regularly bake my own dog treats. They're cheaper, they're healthier, and it's simply a fun activity to do! I love to bake, but I hate consuming those added calories, so baking for Milly is perfect for me. I own numerous doggie cookbooks, and over the years have tweaked and perfected my favorite recipes. Tonight, I made Doggie Peanut Butter Cookies and Grrrnola. Milly goes absolutely bonkers for these treats, and they're so much fun to make for her!
I highly recommend picking up the ugliest but best dog cookbook that has ever been written, "Homemade Treats for Happy, Healthy Dogs" by Cheryl Gianfrancesco.
Doggie Peanut Butter Cookies:
- 2 cups of whole wheat flour
- 1 cup of peanut butter
- 1/4 cup of vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1 cup of wheat germ
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup of water
Grrrnola: Oat-nola for doggies
- 1.5 cups of quick-cooking oats
- 1.2 cup of wheat germ
- 1.2 cup of unsalted sunflower seeds
- 1.2 cup of pure honey
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup of Carob Chips (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 325 F. Grease a baking sheet. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients; mix well.
- Spread the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes; let cool.
- Transfer the Grrrnola to a resealable plastic bag and crush into small pieces.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Summary: Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.
Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn't simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life's ordeals.
On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Eve, Denny's wife; the three-year battle over their daughter, Zoë, whose maternal grandparents pulled every string to gain custody. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoë at his side. Having learned what it takes to be a compassionate and successful person, the wise canine can barely wait until his next lifetime, when he is sure he will return as a man.
A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life . . . as only a dog could tell it. -- Harper
I was so excited when I saw my local library had the unabridged version of "The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein in their audio book collection. I have read numerous rave reviews for this book, and I’ve been dying to read it. I love to read, but don’t always have as much time as I’d like to devote to reading, and audio books have become my new best friend. Living in the
As a creative writing major, I understand the challenge a writer undertakes when giving a voice to a character when the success of the story pivots on the believability of that one character. It is even more difficult when the character lacks opposable thumbs, cannot speak and happens to be a dog.
In the novel, “The Art of Racing in the Rain”, Enzo, a lab-terrier mix, is the main character and serves as a vehicle to not only relay the story of an amateur race car driver, his cancer-stricken wife, and their daughter, but also acts as an anchor for the family as life hands them many ups and downs.
From the beginning of the book, Stein captures his readers. As the book begins the reader meets the narrator, Enzo, who is at the end of his life. Quickly, the reader realizes Enzo is much more than your average mutt, he is the glue that holds this family together. Enzo yearns to be human and finds himself frustrated by his inability to speak and be understood by those around him. Throughout the novel, Enzo holds tight to a myth he once heard that states dogs return in their next life as humans. This is his driving force to continue on as a dog.
Enzo will steal your heart (I know he stole mine), and provide readers with a new look at life. Enzo is by far my favorite narrator out of any book I’ve read in recent memory. He is a loyal and loving companion to Denny and his family, but Enzo also offers insight into the basic human nature that is rarely explored on this level in novels. It was these insights into humankind that make this one of my all time favorite books.
An amateur race car driver, Enzo’s owner is Denny Swift, who shares his love of speed with his dog riding shotgun in his car. Enzo spends his days alone at the house watching videos of race car drivers and analyzing their techniques. Of course, this is symbolism of how humans live their lives under difficult conditions, much like race car drivers performing in the rain.
“Very gently. Like there are eggshells on your pedals,” Denny always says,” and you don’t want to break them. That’s how you drive in the rain.” Enzo explains to the reader in one scene.
The reader will feel heartbroken when Enzo displays how humans treat dogs in the most cavalier of ways. There were times while reading this novel that I found myself envious of Enzo’s innate abilities to pick out which humans to trust and which humans to stay clear of, and at times I was afraid for him as he tried to work his way through the peculiar dynamics of human life.
Long before any doctors suspect a problem, it is Enzo who first senses the cancer in Denny’s wife, Eve, and it is Enzo who becomes her steadfast companion through treatment, even though Eve initially disliked Enzo.
“To live every day as if it had been stolen from death, that is how I would like to live. To feel the joy of life, as Eve felt the joy of life. To separate oneself from the burden, the angst, the anguish we all encounter every day. To say I am alive, I am wonderful, I am. I am. That is something to aspire to. When I am a person, that is how I will live my life.” Enzo provides the reader with so much knowledge and insight into how to live life, as displayed in these lines.
Throughout the novel, Stein magnificently crafts writing like the above quote. Enzo is full of incredibly insightful observations, and the reader quickly learns Enzo has an old soul and much knowledge to offer humans. The only part of the story I question is the predictability of evil-in-laws battling for custody with Denny over his and Eve’s daughter Zoe, after Eve loses her battle with cancer. The idea of Denny as a desolate island against the unfeeling relatives has been overdone in many stories. Through this custody battle it is Enzo and race car driving buddies who stand by Denny’s side during tough financial struggles caused by the legal battles. However, the dog aspect, and Enzo’s ever faithful attitude makes this story unique.
“The Art of Racing in the Rain,” is a work of fiction, and this helps Stein build a strong relationship between Enzo and Denny that can ring true with readers from all walks of life. I found this to be a much better read than “Marley and Me” by John Grogan, and I think the writing style and the creative license available to Stein as a fiction writer is a contributing factor to the success.
I have dog loving friends that refuse to read anything about animals; because they worry they will be let down or saddened by the ending of books. I sometimes feel that way too, but my love of reading and animals also draws me to these types of stories. This book is an exception. While I was sad at times, the book provides enough foreshadowing that I always knew what was coming and prepared myself for heartbreaking scenes. I found myself loving this book so much as I listened to it that I worried the ending could not do the book justice. I’m glad to say my fears were proved wrong. The last few chapters of this novel, though they did cause me to shed a few tears, were my favorite parts! Rather than finishing the book with a sense of heartbreak and sadness (how I felt after Marley and Me), I finished this with a sense of joy and hope about life and love. I was so grateful to Enzo for leading me through his wisdom and explaining his life-affirming messages throughout the story.
This is the only Garth Stein novel I have ever read, but after reading this book I am planning on exploring some of his other books, as well. This now is on the list of my all time favorite books! If someone told me I needed to read a book told by a dog about his race car driving owner and his family struggles, I would never have considered it, and thought you really didn’t know the type of literature I enjoy. With all odds against him, Stein was able to tell this story in a way that truly captures the hearts of his readers. He used symbolism and incredible descriptions throughout the novel to create a truly magnificent literary work. He compares race car driving (especially in the rain) to living life and its many ups and downs. In ways I found the reflections on life and human relationships similar to another one of my favorite books, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but Enzo is able to provide a sense of hope and loyalty that other books truly lack. You might enjoy looking at this interview with Stein to gain more insight into the writing process of this novel. I really enjoyed his answer to the question, “What answers can we all learn from Enzo?”
All in all, “The Art of Racing in the Rain”, is a perfect book for people everywhere. This is one of the few books I think I will actually re-read! The book is truly a page turner – I listened to it in a weekend, and the story will capture any reader’s attention and steal your heart in the very first chapter. I would be truly shocked if I found someone who did not adore this book and its message. If you’ve read this book, I look forward to reading your comments on this endearing novel.
Check out the book trailer and you too will fall desperately in love with Enzo, and want an Enzo of your own! Isn’t he precious?
I'm hoping to post a giveaway to honor my blogging milestone of over 100 followers this weekend (I have to find my camera cord)!! The items are all ready to be photographed and include a copy of this fabulous book, an adorable leash rack, and some extra surprises to be given to one lucky reader!! Stay tuned!!!!