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a death in the family

26 July 2012

Wow. Some times that’s all you can say about life.

Luna lost one of her siblings yesterday. Her sister, the one our family called Princess Vi, died of pneumonia. We don’t have any details on how Vi fell ill but Luna’s litter of five is now down to four. That’s attrition that we only expected to live with beginning in 2019/2020.

Who dies of pneumonia? Old folks, people suffering from advanced HIV…you know, people who are prone to sickness, or people already sick. Not young pups that have just celebrated 20 months on Planet Earth.

A Way Too Premature Death in the Family

Does the Great Dane in this picture, which was taken on July 1, 2012, look anything less than super healthy and fit? Nope, she looks great, probably 15 pounds heavier than Luna. If this was a modern remake of Charlotte’s Web, a spider would have written “SOME DANE” in a web attached to one of the plants behind her.

Female Great Dane at 20 Months

luna’s sister vi looking happy and healthy just three weeks before she died of pneumonia

Vi’s owner Cathy sent us a link to a video earlier this year of Vi performing a great string of obedience tricks. Through the viral magic of YouTube, Luna wildly enjoyed watching her sister, who she hadn’t seen since week eight, play. I wrote about it in a May 2012 post entitled “When Animals Leave Their Families.

We’re really, really, really sad for Cathy and everyone—two-and four-legged—who played with her in the Lonestar State. We’re going to show Luna the pictures and video of her sissy again this evening.



contraception for dogs

18 June 2012

Getting pregnant is one of the bigger events of life, isn’t it?

Got a female dog and don’t want her to follow the promiscuous path of Rizzo in Grease?

You’ve got two choices. #1 is keep them in your home for the duration of their heat. #2 is to spay your dog. We already survived one round of #1 and had long opted to neuter Luna, or as Wikipedia so clinically describes it, “abdominal surgery to remove the ovaries and uterus.” This meant removal of the parts that would have made Little Lunas had we’d been the breeding kind.

Contrast that with the human condition.

One day, you’re a freewheeling Summer Shakespeare-going couple, and the next day you’re staring at two pink lines on a home pregnancy test and exclaiming, “Oh man, oh man.” (Ed note: true story, by the way).

Positive pregnancy test image

what you can expect to see as “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” plays on the reruns of Dick Clark’s old top 40 show

The first time I heard talk of controlling pregnancy, I was something like ten years old. A friend of the family was getting her tubes tied. My Mom said that it was a tubal ligation. Until that moment, I didn’t even know humans had tubes. I thought then of the human body in terms of limbs, hair and haircuts, skin rashes, bloodied knees during summer months, and nose hairs that tingled whenever the temperature dropped below about -20 Fahrenheit. Tubes? Not at all.

Still, this woman was ending any future chances of additional baby-carrying in her womb by having her fallopian tubes blocked. (Womb was another word the ten-year-old me had never heard of). It (the procedure) sounded really drastic to me, someone whose most stressful moments in life usually came from watching footage of lions mauling impalas on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom while host Marlin Perkins narrated.

Skip forward a couple of years to middle school when my giggling classmates and I first learned about contraception courtesy of the grainy black and white archives of the National Film Board of Canada. By the end of the film, I was current and expert on all contemporary birth control methods. (This was the late-1970s, prior to the invention of RU-486 and other morning-after solutions).

Birth Control for Dogs Can be Permanent

Birth control for dogs is a little less glamorous than heading to your local Duane Reade for Trojan Extra Ribbeds or getting a recurring prescription for The Pill. As far as I know, the pet industry hasn’t perfected morning-after pills for dogs so good old-fashioned neutering was our choice on the menu.

Here’s how birth control for dogs works. You make an appointment. You take your dog over. You pick her up the next day. She’s a little lighter.

Luna’s done all of the vertical growing she’s going to do. She’s also done most of the growing on the other axes that she’s going to do. We scheduled the procedure today. On the morning after Father’s Day, MW dropped Luna off at the TGV so she could forever avoid having to celebrate Mother’s Day.

What to do While You’re Preventing Pregnancy

If you’re eying the calendar and thinking of a convenient date, here’s a tip courtesy of B2. Large breeds such as Great Danes are subject to stomach torsion. It is a frequently lethal condition in which the stomach twists. The moment of spaying is the moment to also have your vet perform what is called circumcostal gastropexy, which attaches the stomach to the ribs.

It’s a double shot of surgery that prevents two big landmark moments – motherhood and premature death.

top five useless products for dogs

26 May 2012

There are a lot of useless products for dogs on the market.

It won’t surprise anyone who has ever walked into a PETCO.

The pet business is a multi-billion business. If you have a Great Dane like our Luna, you probably feel that the billion-dollar business is actually a trillion-dollar business. It is especially true when you have to buy dog food every three weeks, as we do.

Beyond the basic nutritional stuff that keeps your dog alive, the pet industry produces no end of products to separate pet owners from their money. Most are crap. Here are my top five picks for the most useless products for dogs. (Feel free to insert your own adjective in lieu of useless). Each would have been better left dormant in the imagination of their inventor(s). (All of the stuff in quotation marks is actual advertising copy designed to convince you that your heretofore sad, sad life with dog will improve after buying what you were previously able to live without).

1. Canine Genealogy Testing

Having owned mixed breeds in the past, part of the joy of owning a mutt is the unknown wonder about the ancestry. This isn’t breeding yearlings for spring thoroughbred sales in Kentucky. Accuracy of ancestry there is worth millions. Not knowing the exact lineage of a mixed breed dog is part of the fun. For those who remain unconvinced and have $65 unallocated to food, shelter or clothing, you can order this “DNA test that recognizes 63 different breeds.” You receive a certificate, which explains  “each breed’s dominant characteristics that likely have been passed on to your dog.”  Can you say “must have?” (Source:

2. Luxury Marble Top Pet Dining Table ($240-$280)

World's Most Expensive Dog Product You Don't Need

dog dining tables for the donald trump in all of us

Large dogs should eat from raised feeding stands as Luna does. But a marble topped-version? If you don’t have enough marble in your home, live in a Trump-branded building, or have purchased at least twice from the Frontgate catalog in the past year, this is for you. It is clearly a seamless fit with your home and your lifestyle.

“’This elegant and sophisticated raised dog feeder exemplifies the term “eating in style.’”  Who writes product descriptions like this? Seriously, dinner at Downton Abbey is “eating in style.” This is not. I can assure you that dogs can’t distinguish between eating, and eating in style. To them, it is simply eating. (Source:

3. Indoor Barking Dog Deterrent ($39.95)

Got a dog that barks in the house? Want to terrorize it into silence? What’s that you say? Waterboarding your pet unnerves you? Well Mr. Too-Soft-For-The Bush-White-House, just buy this and restore “peace and quiet to a home vexed by a dog’s barking.” This indispensable product is a small 3”H X 5” W X 2.5” D device that “emits a harmless ultrasonic tone, inaudible to humans, that startles the animal into silence.” Sort of like a giant cuff to your kid’s ear when they’ve been bugging you too long with dinner table stories of their track meet success. I’ve gotta admit that I don’t know what happens with long-term exposure to these ultrasonic tones. Don your logic cap for an instant. If they were truly harmless, would they be able to silence your dog so quickly and effectively? Hmmm…don’t think so. (Source:

4. POOP-FREEZE™ ($9.99 or less)

Poop Freeze

please keep away from your dog’s bottom

Sometimes the blogging Gods just throw you one down the middle. How can I miss with this one? It is so good, it immediately begs for inclusion on a best-ever list of the worst pet products invented since The Battle of Yorktown. This is basically liquid nitrogen in an aerosol can that you spray on dog poop to freeze it. As the marketing copy proudly states, “Just Frost & Toss with Poop Freeze.” I hope the copywriter got a raise for that one!

The manufacturer is so confident you’ll love it, the website clearly states that “all sales are final.” It is a good thing, too, because the reviewers are pretty pissed and would have loved a money-back guarantee. If you want to spend two minutes you’ll never get back, watch the YouTube infomercial. (Source: Poop Freeze website).

5. Neuticles

Is your manly dog is no longer feeling, well, manly due to neutering? Are others laughing at him at the dog park? Is he feeling like sexagenarian action movie stars like Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Lundgren who make disposable films like The Expendables to counter their aging libidos? Then maybe he needs a testicular implant, and you need your head examined. This is what Neuticles are, fake testicles for your dog so his post-neutered “self-esteem doesn’t” plummet. There’s really nothing more to say, is there? (Source: Neuticles website).

That’s it. Five pet products that we shouldn’t really be able to live without, but somehow manage to do so. As Public Enemy rapped, “don’t believe the hype.” Trust me, you can continue to live without them.

when animals leave their families

08 May 2012

When Dogs and Cats Leave The Family

Life is all about perspective.

Sometimes you’re the one doing the hitting. Sometimes, it’s life hitting you back. I think this works regardless of which rung you inhabit on the World Ladder of Mammals.

Yesterday morning, MW hit a cat after dropping OD off at school. Seen another way, the cat ran out of a vineyard and encountered MW’s car. The cat then hit the rear left wheel.

The cat did not fare well.

MW’s medium-sized SUV weighs just over 3,100 pounds. The cat was probably 16-18 pounds. It’s a messy affair when a cat and a rolling SUV meet.

Pet Insurance When You Really Need It

For this cat, his life immediately became a feline-centered cautionary tale about the value proposition of life insurance. “Protect your family” and what not.

It you’re a cat newly struck by a car, your family will need support to get through the coming summer, especially if the little ones haven’t yet perfected the stealth of mice capture. Unless you return soon, the family will start to miss you and the young are going to miss their dinner. It’s kinda like a Dickens’ tale of animal world woe.

One minute, you’re a feral master of a vineyard and all the birds and mice passing through. The next, you’re a bloodied shag rug with fluids matting your black fur into an oozy clump.

The Good Vet Evaluates

With the help of a couple of other Moms who’d just seen the peace of their post-dropoff rituals interrupted, MW hurried the wobbly and snarly cat up to TGV. One of the Mom’s even provided a blanket and pillow for the cat to bleed on while riding in the back of the car.

The diagnosis from TGV was grave–a crushed chest and internal bleeding. Without an x-ray, who knew what else was wrong inside? MW said that the cat’s determined will to live was pretty amazing. Despite being completely thrashed physically, it hadn’t forgotten the primal instincts that it had no doubt drawn upon many times to survive. She said it appeared to want to fight anyone.

Sadly, the future isn’t bright for injured and feral cats. They have to be neutered by law. The convalescence would have been weeks/months. And the cat would have to return to the wild because feral cats like this one can’t be officially adopted, especially one with a jaw far larger and stronger than any house cat MW had ever seen.

If you’re imagining the injured cat, think “Animal Safari” cat rather than the playful stars of Whiskas commercials. TGV recommended. A decision was made.

And so an animal that had run beneath chardonnay grapevines only three hours earlier was laid on its side, further sedated, and euthanized. The sparkle in the most flourescent green eyes MW said she’d ever seen went out.

Family Separation

It wasn’t a happy morn for MW, but it started me thinking about the issue of removing animals from their families, which is what happens when you get a puppy.

Consider the dead cat. Did his family, or girlfriend, or cousins and aunts trouble themselves with the question of where Dad/Cuz/Uncle had unexpectedly disappeared to?

3-week old great dane puppy

almost famous: luna (aka purple girl) at three weeks

Minimally, I hope they concluded that blindly charging across the road 30 yards from a school, and 30 minutes on either side of school drop-off time, is nuts.

How do dogs, in their way, process absence like this?

Luna was Purple Girl until she became Luna. We brought her home after just eight weeks of bonding with her Mom and four siblings. She never met her Dad, an absentee father so typical of too many contemporary families.

Missing Their Siblings

Maybe the siblings Luna left behind asked themselves,

“Hey, what happened to the girl with the purple collar?

I was asleep. When I awoke, she was gone.

Do you think she’ll write to us?”

Fortunately, Purple Girl has been able to see two of her sisters and one brother twice in the past year. And the sister in Texas? Last month, Luna watched her perform envy-producing obedience tricks on a YouTube video. She (Luna) barked happily.

Through planned play dates and a bit of technology, Luna’s family has been able to remain as close as dogs can. It’s a better life than the ones led by feral cats in the vineyards near OD’s school.

the most expensive plant in the world

01 May 2012

What is the Most Expensive Plant in the World?

I know. Do you?

The world’s most expensive plant is probably not one that readily comes to mind even if you’re a tenured botanist. Let’s review some promising candidates:


Saffron is a very expensive spice obtained from the flower of Crocus sativus. It’s harvested by hand and yields are really, really low. According to the reliable online source that is Wikipedia, “110,000–170,000 flowers or two football fields” are needed to produce one kilo. You can buy it online for around $100 for 20 grams.


Having once known a friend of me Dad’s who feverishly collected orchids after retiring from life as a school headmaster, I know that orchid collectors can be a bit overboard with their affections for these delicate plants. Rare specimens are valuable, running into the thousands of dollars each.

Illegal Drugs

This is the catch-all for plants such as marijuana and opium poppies (cannabis sativa and papaver somniferum, respectively, for your inner botanist) from which you derive illegal drugs like pot and heroin. From these products, you can also derive lengthy prison sentences-plus the odd death sentence-in most countries in the world.

Large Palm Trees

OK, not exactly plants but they’re living things that grow in the ground. Mature palm trees can be really expensive, too, if you’re a successful Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur who needs to spruce up the entrance to his house. This was the scenario for an old boss who, in 2000, paid over $20,000 to buy and install two 35ft tall trees to bookend his house’s rather impressive entrance.

Announcing The Most Expensive Plant in the World

Yes, the above are pricey but definitely not worthy of the “Most Expensive Plant in the World” title. The envelope, please.

The title of the Most Expensive Plant in the World goes to the slender grasses that have membership in the Hordeum plant genus. They’re commonly called foxtails. On a per-gram basis, there is no plant in the world that will cost you so dearly. Here’s why.

$230 Foxtail

Foxtails and Dogs

foxtails are not very friendly to man's best friend. luna prefers dog biscuits rather than these two foxtails that were removed from her nose.

Last Saturday, two foxtail spikes weighing probably all of one gram total cost us $230.  That’s the haul TGV earned for removing both from Luna’s nose.

MW and OD took her to the local dog park in the early morning where she happily gamboled through the tall grasses. Somewhere between starting and stopping her celebrations, her big nose, acting like the General Electric GE90 engines that power Boeing’s 777 aircraft, hoovered up the foxtail pair from terra firma to the terra incognita deep within her schnoz.

The sneezing started. Bleeding shortly followed. The blood then started spraying, flicking hither and yonder as great volumes of air entered and exited her nose, passing alongside the increasingly embedded foxtail barbs. It was a repeat of Luna’s encounters last summer with bees and wasps-rising panic followed by an expensive vet visit. Off to TGV, which, sadly, has yet to create a frequent buyer fidelity discount.

After a morphine/dexdomitor sedation cocktail and six hours, the foxtails were gone as was the $230 from our checking account. In mid-afternoon, still doped up on the vestiges of the morphine, Luna lurched out of the vet’s office to recover at home, which she did because she’s a dog and that’s what young dogs do when they risk missing dinner; they recover as fast as possible so they can start eating again.

Not even an encounter with the World’s Most Expensive Plant can deter Great Danes from doing what they do best, eating and prone recovery before the next meal.


Recommended Reading: 

When a Wasp Bites a Puppy  (We’re Dog People Post)

Bee Stings and Puppies: When Wasps Aren’t Bad Enough (We’re Dog People Post)

the kong is dead, long live the kong

27 February 2012

Demise of a Kong Air Dog Squeaker Stick

The Kong is dead, long live the Kong!

KongAirDogSqueakerStick-We're Dog People

kong air dog squeaker stick in better times

It’s true, our Great Dane puppy Luna’s somewhat beloved, yet irregularly used obloginal squeaker toy, has passed on. (Ed note: is obloginal even a word? If you know, please reply). For reference, here is my original Kong Air Dog Squeaker Stick product review from March 2011.

The yellow vessel of aural evil is evil no more. The squeaker has squeaked for the last time and will squeak no more.

Let it be rung from hilltops everywhere that the Kong is dead.

“It has passed on and ceased to be! It’s expired and gone to meet its maker! It’s a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace and pieces! Its toy properties are now history! It’s kicked the bucket. It’s shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! IT IS AN EX-TOY!”

If you’re a fan of the Dead Parrott sketch from Monty Python, you’ll recognize the above. We acknowledge with equal solemnity the Kong’s passing.

Luna had the toy almost a year so the end didn’t exactly come quickly. Given its potential for mind-numbing noise (see product review), it wasn’t as quick as I would have liked.

What kept the end from coming quickly, though, was Luna’s relative disinterest. Disinterest, often benign neglect, characterized their relationship. The squeaker stick was good for two minutes of randomized diversion twice a month but it sure wasn’t what you’d call an indispensable friend.

Serious Chewers Need Not Apply

I questioned its future durability in the product review:

“Not for serious chewers. The outside is the same kind of yellow fuzz you find on tennis balls. It’s OK (I wouldn’t exactly characterize it as “durable”), but I doubt it will last long in the mouths and paws of serious chewers. To be fair, the company notes on the packaging that it isn’t a chew toy. A nylabone is a chew toy.”

Without the attention of a “serious chewer,” which Luna fortunately is not, the demise was long and slow. First, she made a tiny breach in the fuzzy tennis-ball covering. From small openings, big things come. The purchase enabled Luna to penetrate a couple of weeks later through the outer material into the soft underbelly. The squeaker still emitted sound but the end was approaching.

How long does a Kong Air Dog Squeaker Stick last?

the kong is dead! luna's kong air dog squeaker stick after too much loving

A few more weeks on, Luna took all of two minutes to tear the remaining yellow cover off. It was the kind of “serious chewing” attention a Kong like this is incapable of withstanding.

At its core, squeaker toys are just shapes of gray rubber that contain a device to emit squeaks when pinched or squished. Remove the bright yellow fuzziness and it’s a bit like discovering the big secret (the short guy) behind the political structure of the Emerald City. It’s a letdown.

Death in the Afternoon

Once the gray rubber was indeed revealed, Luna went Great White Shark on it and that was the end. An end that was “months in the making,” as marketers pimping big things like to loudly proclaim, came in seconds.

Designed in the USA, made in China, and deconstructed in Northern California.

The Kong is dead.

the low crawl: how dogs get into places they shouldn’t

08 February 2012

Low Crawling for Fun and Profit

The US Marine Corps call it a low crawl. It’s the worming slithering that privates do in boot camp with their rifles. Basically, you get dirty by going forward on your belly. There aren’t many war movies that don’t feature the trial-by-mud passage as a grizzled staff sergeant yells obscenities.

Goldie Hawn demonstrated it in Private Benjamin, Bill Murray slithered in Stripes, and Demi Moore did it GI Jane.

I think Richard Gere, too, low crawled in an Officer and a Gentleman before really taking to Buddhism and clearly deciding to avoid characters who low crawled. (Ed Note: There was no low crawling when Gere played Lancelot in 1995’s First Knight, where he was second fiddle to Sean Connery’s Scots-accented King Arthur).

Speaking of Gere, films about dogs are notably lacking in low crawling. Hachi, his 2009 tearjerker? Not a whiff of low crawling. Didn’t see any in Marley and Me, either. Nada in Eight Below, although those dogs were stuck in Antarctica where getting muddy isn’t a real possibility. It’s probably a poor example.

Low crawling for dogs

using the low crawl technique to get low and get in.

I mention movies because in modern society, much of our learning comes from what we see. As the average American household watches 21.75 hours of TV per day, much of what we learn comes from what we see on TV.

How Dogs Learn

Dogs learn, too, by watching. Unlike us, they don’t learn from their parents, though; they’re not with Mama long enough to learn much more than how to drink from a milk-engorged nipple. And drinking from a milky nipple only takes you so far in life. I know.

Just because dogs do not learn how to low crawl from movie-watching doesn’t mean they don’t know how to. The mystery to me, though, is how they learn. I give you the example of our family as our Great Dane puppy Luna’s obviously learned how to low crawl with both stealth and purpose.

Take these pics, for example. I took them with a telephoto lens from our living room as Luna surreptitiously slipped beneath the perimeter fencing to infiltrate the lawn.

That’s a low crawl that would pass inspection during the Crucible at Parris Island Marine Corps boot camp.  As Luna might say, Semper Fi.

How then did she learn to low crawl? Cue the head scratching.

We don’t watch war movies at home. Thus, there’s no way for Luna to have learned to low crawl from Saving Private Ryan or The Longest Day. And she was asleep when we were watching the six Star Wars movies, and the Terminator, Jason Bourne and Indiana Jones series. Which leaves?

A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, to borrow from Winston Churchill.