Saturday, January 29, 2011

A dog after my own heart

Overdue update on my health

Have you ever noticed when there is a problem in life, every bit of your attention goes to that problem? Have you also noticed as soon as the problem goes away you forget about all that attention? I sure do. This past summer I was plagued with bladder problems. If you didn't know me back then you can read about my travails here and here.

The human took me to five different vets. Five! I was poked, prodded, tested, and forced to do very unpleasant things. I was finally diagnosed with having calcium oxalate stones--a condition that isn't treatable, persistent, and required bladder surgery. Even if I was to have surgery to remove the stones, I was told I would have to be on a bland (unhealthy!) prescription diet for the rest of my life and I would STILL be likely to get the stones again.

The human fired the first three vets--he felt like they were treating him like he was ignorant. One made me have a painful procedure without proper sedation. He fired the fourth vet because despite his vocal statements about not willing to put me on a prescription diet (do you know the main source of animal protein in most prescription foods are things like chicken feathers? Did you know that prescription diets are associated with their own set of health problems?) the vet continued to suggest I go on a prescription diet. That vet also refused to give me proper sedation despite my obvious and extreme display of fear during a procedure.

I was beginning to worry about my human. In rapid succession he fired everyone that met me. I was worried that he was the problem. As it turns out, he wasn't. He finally brought me to a doctor that understood my problem and was able to solve my problem. He also saved me from having surgery that would have cost over $1,800 and had the risk of life-long incontinence. I don't even know for sure at this point if I actually had the condition that I was supposed to get surgery for.

Anyway--that catches you all up to date. I don't think I told you all that I was better. I am. I am much better. The human took me to Dr. Dan's Integrative Pet Hospital. After carefully listening to my human's concerns, after gently examining me, and after some reflection together, Dr. Dan essentially said this is no big deal. He prescribed me a supplement called UT Strength STAT for dogs. This is the same company that makes the wonderful non-toxic non-scary flea and tick be-gone product that also changed my life (thanks Dr. Dan!).

I've not had a single problem with my bladder since then. With one product I went from having a life-long condition that would likely require multiple expensive operations to having no condition (I don't even use the supplement anymore). I thought you might all want to know, since I certainly complained enough about the problem when I was having it.

If any of you reading this have a similar problem, don't run out and order the UT Strength. You need to consult a vet that you trust: what worked for me might not work for you. What is important here, and what is the moral of this story, is take the time to find a vet you trust. Take the time to find a vet that is knowledgeable. If you believe in a holistic approach, by all means take the time to find a vet that is well trained in holistic medicine. Having a vet that speaks your language is what is important here.

In fact, you can ask my cat-brothers that very same question. They were lucky because the human already had a vet that specialized in cats (in fact, he only sees cats). Dr. Carlson at the Cat Doctor was the one initially responsible for getting the human so strident and uppity about pet food. After having two cats die from fatty liver disease the human finally found Dr. Carlson--and heard him say something along the lines of we've been killing cats for years with prescription diets and dry foods that cause problems rather than help prevent them.

My cat brothers, you see, were also having bladder problems. This was before I was born. The way the cats explain it they discovered painful (yet oddly pretty) crystals in their pee. The human stuffed the cats in a box, drove them all the way to New Hampshire, and upon exiting the box they saw Dr. Carlson. After an hour long lecture about how horrible many cat foods are, and being taught the evils of a dry food only diet, and learning a whole lot of other useful stuff... Anyway, the cats say Dr. Carlson said "wet food only" and "mix it with broth until it's like a beef slurpee." The cats have never had crystals again. Never.

Easy as that.

So--go find yourself a good vet. And as for Dr. Carlson and Dr. Dan--I know you both read this blog sometimes--thank you for being smart and thoughtful.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Helpful Tip: Food Bowl Time

It's been awhile since I've served up helpful tip. I recently joined in on a discussion about dogs who get over excited around feeding time. My first thought was --what's wrong with you humans. You don't get excited right before a good meal?

Apparently, many of you don't seem to like all of the hullabaloo some of us have around meal time. I don't see what the big deal is. Much of what we do is natural. Food is good, so I'm going to be excited. When the humans make a big deal out of me getting a meal, I'm going to be even more excited. Of course I'm going to do all sorts of cute things to try to get you to feed me: I'm going to nose you, I'm going to beg...I'm going to use every trick in the book I can think of that has ever been remotely effective in you giving me food.

Okay--I suppose that can get a little annoying.

Back to my helpful tip. When I was a young puppy I didn't really have a bowl for my food. I wasn't deprived. Rather, my human fed me most of my meals from his hand. He'd sit down on the floor with me. I'd crawl all over him tying to get the bits of food. I quickly learned I had to do something to get food. How exciting, right? If I sat down, I'd get food. If I touched him with my nose, I got food. If I touched him with my paw, I got food. If I rolled over, I got food. How great is that? Once I got into the swing of things he changed it all around. All too soon it just wasn't any activity I did resulted in food. I had to do something specific. Sitting got me food--crawling all over him did not. That was easy enough. Right?

Keeping me on my paws at all time, he switched things around again. Now he'd put food in a bowl but I wouldn't get to eat it. Isn't the mean? I'd sit. No food. He'd just say "leave it." Fair enough, maybe if I roll over? Nope. "Leave it!" How about I give him a little paw? That always did the trick. Nope, leave it. I was confused. I finally gave up and just stared back and forth between my now crazy human and the perfectly good food in a bowl. Finally! "Take it," the human would say.

He pushed this a little too far one day and left me waiting there for an extended period of time. Mean human.

My point here isn't any of this. All of these tasks were chained behaviors leading me up to a very important task. This is something that every dog should be able to tolerate. This is what I was chatting on Facebook about.

What is so important, you ask?

The human started putting down a bowl of my food, have me take it, and in the middle of my meal he would say "leave it." Not only was I (a) expected to stop eating -- I was also expected to (b) tolerate him taking my bowl away from me and (c) tolerate him eating (he was just pretending, of course) my food.

What's so important about this? Everything! It's the glue that holds everything else I learn together. I started to develop impulse control (I don't bit the human even though I'm ticked off at him); I learn patience (I get what I want if I wait quietly); I learn to tolerate the unexpected (people can pet my roughly, grab my tail, pull a toy away from me, and otherwise invade my personal space and I'm willing to be a good sport about it all).

I started to learn how to do all of this at my food bowl--one little yummy morsel at a time.

Be careful with this one at home folks: some older dogs have already learned resource guarding and might bite if their food is taken away. Some puppies have a lower tolerance threshold and may snap. Go slowly and if you have any doubts, get the help of a dog coach you trust.

Friday, January 21, 2011

An Ecological Approach to Life: Urie Bronfenbrenner

Due to popular demand, I'm starting an occasional series of blogs where I go through various theories in psychology from my therapy dog perspective. Why? A friend on Facebook was studying for an exam and asked my take on a couple of theories. I successfully taught these theories using examples from my life (squirrels). It seems like it would be fun to continue doing that.

In the United States, it is now possible for a person eighteen years of age, female as well as male, to graduate from high school, college, or university without ever having cared for, or even held, a baby; without ever having comforted or assisted another human being who really needed help. . . . No society can long sustain itself unless its members have learned the sensitivities, motivations, and skills involved in assisting and caring for other human beings.
Who said this? Urie Bronfenbrenner. You probably don't know him but you should. From all reports, Dr. Bronfenbrenner was a wonderful human being. While studying in New York City the human met a woman who spoke about studying with him. She got all calm and dreamy talking about what a kind soul he was. Later while working in Ithaca New York, the human happened to walk past Dr. Bronfenbrenner. They had a brief conversation--he indeed was a lovely person. Bronfenbrenner was a professor at Cornell University and the co-founder of the national Head Start program.

Children need people in order to become human.... It is primarily through observing, playing, and working with others older and younger than himself that a child discovers both what he can do and who he can become—that he develops both his ability and his identity.... Hence to relegate children to a world of their own is to deprive them of their humanity, and ourselves as well.
Urie was born in 1917 in Moscow, Russia. When he was six he and his parents, Russian Jews, emigrated to the United States. For those of you who aren't students of history, note that Urie was born when the Russian Provisional Government collapsed. His parents moved at the end of the civil war when the Soviets had taken control of the country. Why is this important? These small biographical details anchor Dr. Bronfenbrenner into a particular place and time. How might have these early experiences influenced him? What did he learn during this time frame? Who did his story of emigrating with his parents influence him?
If the Russians have gone too far in subjecting the child and his peer group to conformity to a single set of values imposed by the adult society, perhaps we have reached the point of diminishing returns in allowing excessive autonomy and in failing to utilize the constructive potential of the peer group in developing social responsibility and consideration for others. 
We often don't think about people in a historical context: we should. It is from within our contexts that our selves develop. I'll get back to that in a minute. First let's look at one more thing Dr. Bronfenbrenner said:
Development, it turns out, occurs through this process of progressively more complex exchange between a child and somebody else—especially somebody who's crazy about that child. 
Do you think that perhaps part of how Urie learned this was from a deep understanding of his own context? Neither I nor the human are scholars of Urie or his biographer. It's worth wondering about.

Dr. Bronfenbrenner developed an Ecological Systems theory to human development. It was revolutionary at the time--and in many ways still is. He wrote about about development as something occurring within five systems. I'll describe each of them in turn from my perspective.

Micro system: This is the setting in which I live. My family, peers, school, and neighborhood all populate this system. It is within the micro system that I spend most of my life and have most of my direct interactions. It's important to know that within this theory, I am not a passive recipient of experiences in these settings. I actively am involved in creating and deciding the contours of these experiences. Who's in my microsystem? My humans, of course. The humans that I live with are my most enduring and important relationships. My interactions with them set the contours of what is possible and what is not. My responses to the environmental they create, and my own personal tastes and genetics, dictate the possibilities of what I might become. My microsystem also includes the humans office, the way we are transported to the office, and of course the patients who come into the office. I grew up around people in therapy: this had a fundamental effect on who I became.We develop within the complex exchanges of our relationships. In his ecological systems theory, Bronfenbrenner changed all of our understandings of how children developed. He identified five systems which influence what all of us become. I'll talk about each of those five systems and to help you think about them, I'll put myself in context. Of course I'm sure you all understand that he was talking about human development--not puppy development. However I think the theory  holds for me too!

We as a nation need to be reeducated about the necessary and sufficient conditions for making human beings human. We need to be reeducated not as parents—but as workers, neighbors, and friends; and as members of the organizations, committees, boards—and, especially, the informal networks that control our social institutions and thereby determine the conditions of life for our families and their children.  
  • Mesosystem: Refers to relations between microsystems or connections between contexts. This is the in between system. An example is the relation of family experiences to school experiences. If I don't feel safe at home for example, or my humans don't provide me with positive interactions, I'm not likely going to be successful in school. I won't have the skills from home to use and be skillful in school. Make sense? Ever know anyone deeply frustrated that the dog trainer can easily get their dog to sit (I'm sure you've all watched Victoria Stillwell on T.V.) but then the dog won't listen at home? Well this is because of the mesosystem. The family doesn't share the same set of skills nor provide the same environmental that the dog trainer does. Without an interplay between the two systems it is hard for a dog to learn what to do!
Witness the American ideal: the Self-Made Man. But there is no such person. If we can stand on our own two feet, it is because others have raised us up. If, as adults, we can lay claim to competence and compassion, it only means that other human beings have been willing and enabled to commit their competence and compassion to us—through infancy, childhood, and adolescence, right up to this very moment. 
  • Exosystem: No, not exoskeleton. Those are crunchy bugs that I like to eat in the summer time. Exosystem involves the links between a social setting that I don't have an active role in and my immediate context. For example, I'm not directly involved in my human's marathon running. I'm influenced by it because when he's deep into training, I'm left alone more often and go on less walks. The exosystem, in this case marathon training, changes patterns of interaction with me. Involves links between a social setting in which the individual does not have an active role and the individual's immediate context. For example, a husband's or child's experience at home may be influenced by a mother's experiences at work. The mother might receive a promotion that requires more travel, which might increase conflict with the husband and change patterns of interaction with the child.
In the planning and designing of new communities, housing projects, and urban renewal, the planners both public and private, need to give explicit consideration to the kind of world that is being created for the children who will be growing up in these settings. Particular attention should be given to the opportunities which the environment presents or precludes for involvement of children with persons both older and younger than themselves. 
  • Macrosystem: Describes the culture in which I live. Cultural contexts include developing and industrialized countries, socioeconomic status, poverty, and ethnicity. Don't think this affects dogs? Have you ever traveled to another country and saw the different ways people relate to animals? Some countries dogs aren't household pets--they are street animals. A more simple example--in some countries cows are food--in others cows are considered sacred animals. Take a look at the differences in training styles of Victoria Stillwell and Cesar Milan. They are both highly influenced by different aspects of the macrosystem. They both have different values and different contexts in which they understand animals. They in fact are both from different macrosystems (Milan from Mexico, Stillwell from the United Kingdom). Think about how these macrosystems influence how they relate to animals, and then how they teach others to relate to animals.
If the children and youth of a nation are afforded opportunity to develop their capacities to the fullest, if they are given the knowledge to understand the world and the wisdom to change it, then the prospects for the future are bright. In contrast, a society which neglects its children, however well it may function in other respects, risks eventual disorganization and demise. 
  • Chronosystem: The final system involves the effect of time and transitions across a lifespan. Marriage, divorce, or the birth of a baby all are transitions in the human world that fall into the chronosystem. My chronosystem includes being born in Kentucky, being abandoned when I was a day old, being transported to New Hampshire, and then finding my home in Massachusetts. How do you think these transitions have influenced me?
Last thought? In Dr. Brofenbrenner's obituary at Cornell University the following was written. I see it as an invitation to relationship. I hope you do, too.
He spent many of his later years warning that the process that makes human beings human is breaking down as disruptive trends in American society produce ever more chaos in the lives of America's children. "The hectic pace of modern life poses a threat to our children second only to poverty and unemployment," he said. "We are depriving millions of children--and thereby our country--of their birthright... virtues, such as honesty, responsibility, integrity and compassion."

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dogs With Disabilities

For the better part of the last year I've been noticing this dog in Cambridge. He's filled with energy and always seeming to be very happy to be out walking. I've wanted to play with him. The human wanted to know his story because the dog only has three legs. Last week we finally got to meet each other. I was playing on the snow covered tennis court when through the fence I saw the dog and his human walk up toward us. The woman asked "do you have time to play?" My human said "sure, we have another half hour." After the two humans had a brief conversation about whether their respective dogs were friendly, she came through the fence. We both had an opportunity to greet each other before we were unhooked from our leads. We romped through the snow while the humans talked. I know. Very boring. All the snow to play in and the humans just talked.

It turns out that the dog was rescued when he was about 3 years old. The human's didn't know he had some sort of tumor on his leg. By the time it was noticed, it was too big to be operated on. The only way to solve the problem was the removal of the leg. It took him a few months to figure it all out--but he sure did. He ran through the snow almost as fast as I can!

Being overprotective of me, the human wondered how I would respond to a dog with a disability. Would I be frightened if a dog was different than me? Would I take advantage of a perceived weakness and bully the dog?

None of that happened. I played with my new friend the same as I would play with any friendly dog. We both gave each other play bows (letting each other know that whatever comes next is done with play in mind) and romped and wrestled through the snow.

You see, dogs don't really pay much attention to disability. That's a human concept. My friend really didn't care much about the difference between three legs or four. He learned how to make his way in the world. I didn't really notice or care either. I was more concerned with whether or not he'd be a friendly play partner. Once I learned that, I didn't even notice there was something different about my friend--because from my perspective, there wasn't anything different.

What a great lesson, no? Humans often immediately encounter someone with a disability and notice what is different--and frequently fear that difference. Is the difference really all that important? Does it effect some quality that is important to human interaction? Probably not. When compared the qualities that are really important in relationships the difference really isn't all the important in the larger scheme of things, is it?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow Shoe: Puppy Style

I found that snow days aren't all that they are cracked up to be. I expected a day filled with frolicking around the reservoir hunting for hidden treasures. I got do to some of that--but it exhausted me! Do you have any idea how hard it is to walk with my short stubby legs? I was forced to leap from spot to spot.

Here are a few views from my adventures. Anyone got a lead on snow shoes for dogs?

Play Time

After several weeks apart, my friend Ginger and I saw each other across a snow covered field. Here she is running toward me this morning ready to play: