Tag Archives: pets

How do you handle unsatisfactory service?

Due to remarkably bad timing, Howie was due for his vaccinations and heartworm test this month, just two weeks after we moved. So we had to start hunting around for a new vet last week. As if we didn’t have enough going on right now.

After reading some online reviews, it didn’t seem that there was a clear leader in service in our new town. Most vets require an exam for a new “patient,” so I started making phone calls to find the vet who offered the best prices. If I wasn’t so pressed for time, I would have made more of an effort to ask pet owners in town who they recommend, but things have just been so crazy. So I made an appointment with the office with the best prices.

It’s not always a good idea to make decisions based solely on price. This is one of those times.

Howie has never shown aggression to anyone. In the three years we’ve had him, we have never had an issue with him at a vet’s office or a groomer. He’s not particularly comfortable with strangers poking around at him in those settings, but he’s never growled or snapped, and the animal technicians who’ve handled him in the past have never had a problem getting him to do what they need him to do. They can distinguish nerves from aggression, and they’ll typically work their magic to get the job done even though he’s skittish.

These people, though? It’s like they’d never handled a nervous dog in their lives. They tittered around the office waving treats at him, and when he wouldn’t sit completely still, they refused to examine him or vaccinate him.

I grew up with dogs. When I was a teenager, I was usually the one who took our family pets to the vet. I have never seen a dog wag his tail while a vet sticks a thermometer up his butt. Most dogs are just nervous during vet visits. But most professional animal technicians know how to handle the situation.

I’ve dealt with a dog who showed vet aggression. When I was a teenager, my family had a Rottweiler/German Shepherd mix. He was a sweet dog, but one summer he became gravely ill. He couldn’t keep food down, he was in a lot of pain, and he lost about a third of his body weight in a few months. There were many tests and vet visits, and he made it clear that he did not want to be handled by strangers by growling and even snapping. I completely understood when they made the decision to muzzle him. I don’t expect the vets or vet technicians to put themselves in harm’s way, and dogs are animals, after all. Animals that can bite.

But seriously. This was not the situation with Howie. He was nervous, but he wasn’t aggressive. I even got down on the floor and held his head with his face thisclose to mine. He wasn’t going to bite or even snap. He was just squirming around. If they had wanted to muzzle him, I would have been fine with it. They didn’t want to do that, though. They just didn’t want to deal with him. I have never seen animal professionals who seemed to have so little experience wrangling nervous animals. Even the groomers at PetsMart will usually just grab Howie, tell him to chill out, and do their jobs.

I held him while a vet tech took his temperature, and that’s about as far as the exam went. The vet came in and took at look at his mouth from about five feet away while I held him, and she said his teeth looked fine. But then she said they wouldn’t be able to vaccinate him or trim his nails because he was just “too nervous.”

He was due for vaccines, though. So what did they do? They packaged them up in a bag and sent them home with us. I mean, what? Is that even legal? They’re nasal vaccines, so it’s not like we have to stick him, but I still have no idea what I’m doing. Because, you know, I’m NOT A VET. So we’ll see how that goes.

We were charged half price for his vaccinations, and I didn’t expect to be billed for an exam since they didn’t really perform one. But of course, when they handed me the bill, there was an exam charge. I argued with them a little, but they basically said it wasn’t their fault that the dog wouldn’t cooperate and I had to pay for their time. What could I do? I paid the bill.

Then the icing on the cake: they refused to give me a prescription for his heartworm prevention medication. We always purchase his medication online, because the prices are so much better than at the vet’s office. They told me they “don’t do business” with online pet drugstores. Um, okay.

So my options were to either pay their higher prices for medication or make Howie an appointment with another vet who would allow us to order his medication online, because I’d need the vet to sign off on it to get the medication. I begrudgingly bought the heartworm medication in the office, but I’ll be ordering his flea prevention online because it doesn’t require a prescription.

Now I ask, what would you do if you were me? The whole experience was terrible. We were charged for an exam they didn’t perform, we have no idea if his vaccines will be administered properly because we don’t know what we’re doing, and we were forced to buy medication from them (I’m not even sure if that’s legal), and I feel like I have no recourse. What would you do?

Bad dog

Yesterday I had a very. important. phone call. An organization that I’ve wanted to work with for years is hiring for a position in Indianapolis that would be absolutely perfect for me, and they wanted to interview me.

I was on my way out of the office last night when the phone rang at 5:30 on the dot. On my drive home, I talked to the interviewer about the position and my qualifications. It seemed to be going great.

When I pulled into my parking lot, I stayed in the car to finish up the call. Things were wrapping up, and I was asking questions, when I looked up and saw my dog standing in the middle of the lawn by himself.

Howie. Wandering around off leash with Tony nowhere in sight.

I’ve always been overly paranoid about allowing dogs off leash. When I was a kid, my family had a dog named Bruno, a German shepherd mix, who we could not keep inside. The dog was constantly running away, and he was fast. My sister chased him down once in her car and clocked him at 40 miles per hour.

He would disappear for days at a time. I was a sensitive kid and a dog lover, so while my parents muttered under their breath about the damn dog and waited for the dog catcher to call — he knew Bruno by name — I tossed and turned for a lot of sleepless nights.

Because of Bruno, Howie has lived almost three years without ever wandering the world off leash. We take him to the dog park and let him run around in fenced areas, but that’s the extent of Howie’s experience with independence.

So there I am, on arguably one of the most important phone calls of my life, and my dog is wandering around the parking lot. Now I’ll admit, the sight of my dog off leash led to a slight overreaction.  After years of experience with a dog who ran, I expected Howie to turn and run, too. Running from us after escape was Bruno’s absolute favorite pastime. But Howie is about half Bruno’s size with absolutely no experience dodging cars, and our apartment is on a very busy road.

The last thing I wanted to do was interrupt my interview to start shouting at my dog like a crazy person. I fought the urge to chase him, afraid that he might decide it was a game and run from me.

When I got out of the car, Howie looked surprised to see me. He also looked like he had no idea what he’d gotten himself into. The hair on his back was standing up straight, and I assumed that as soon as he wandered outside he looked around, realized Tony and I were nowhere to be found, and didn’t really know what to do with himself.

I started snapping my fingers and pointing at the backseat like a maniac. Howie regarded me much like he does at the dog park. He sort of looked at me like, “Oh. Hey. Fancy meeting you here.” Then he took his time smelling the grass as he wandered over to me.

Typically when he does this I’m able to call him in a tone that he recognizes as very. serious. In this case, I was trying to have a very. important. conversation. So I continued to snap and attempted to communicate telepathically with my dog.

The whole time I’m thinking Tony has probably been murdered. Either that or he’s not home, and we’ve been robbed. I imagined myself walking back upstairs to find the door hanging open, everything we own scattered around our living room. How else could the dog have escaped a 900 square foot apartment on the third floor without anyone realizing it?

Howie finally wanders over to me, tail wagging, happy to see me. I reach out, grab his collar, and shove him into the backseat.

Throughout all of this, I tried to stay engaged with my interviewer. I was absolutely interested in every word of the conversation. Unfortunately, though, I’m sure I seemed distracted. How could I not? I was wrangling my dog, considering the possible murder of my husband, and picturing my apartment in shambles from a break-in.

We still have no idea how the dog escaped. Tony’s theory is that he left the door slightly ajar when he came home just minutes before I found Howie in the parking lot. He was opening windows in the apartment, and the door must have cracked open enough for Howie to wander out. What confuses me is that the door was closed when I came back upstairs. The only other explanation is that Howie has been studying magic.

The interview is over. I did my absolute best to stay engaged in the conversation despite the circumstances. All that I can do now is wait to hear back from them and hope the interviewer didn’t notice my distraction.

Christmas through the lens of my point-and-shoot camera

Unfortunately, my camera didn’t return to me until yesterday afternoon, so I shot Christmas through my AA-battery-powered point-and-shoot camera. I was dying to take photos, though, so I’m thankful I had it (even if finding batteries for it was a last minute struggle that took over an hour).

We spent the weekend drinking cocktails, watching movies, eating too much chocolate and playing Beatles Rock Band. Just as I anticipated, it was heaven. However, I’m not looking forward to my not-so-triumphant return to the gym tomorrow (or today if I can actually force myself to get up and go).

Click on the unfortunate family photo below to see our Christmas slideshow. You should know that this poorly timed family photo was not taken for lack of trying to get a good shot. However, when it comes to photographing animals, you’re largely at their mercy. Getting Howie to sit still and look at the camera as we sat on the floor next to him was impossible. We finally bribed him with treats, but the result was just photos of a dog staring at the floor.

And now back to the real world. Sigh. I’m counting down the days to the New Year.

Two years ago

Baby Howie

Click this adorable puppy to watch him grow before your eyes.

On August 31, 2007, we adopted this little guy.

For a full year after that, Tony looked at me every day with a look that said, “Why did you do this to me?” I assured him that he only had to wait a year. After a year, the puppy magically wakes up one day, and he’s a dog. He can let you know when he needs to go outside, you can turn your back on him without fearing that he’ll rip the couch apart, and you can leave him alone for longer than an hour at a time.

Best of all, I told Tony, there will be times when you’re sick or you’ve had a bad day, and he’ll somehow just know. And in those moments, there are few things more comforting in the world than feeling his head in your lap or his presence at your side, and you’ll know the purest kind of loyalty and the most unconditional form of love.

The good news is I was right. The bad news is that this particular dog grew into such an amazing companion that we know he’s set an impossible standard for any other dog we ever adopt. I’m 99% certain that we used up all of our good dog karma on Howie with all of his sweetness and obedience and not an ounce of destructive tendencies. Someday we’ll get another dog, and it will be the exact opposite, and we’ll have NO IDEA what to do.

But for now, we’re both glad I turned out to be right about this one. Otherwise, I don’t think Howie would have lived to see two years old.

The first of many Sunday slide shows to come

Well, I paid a small fortune for this camera, and the good news is that it’s absolutely worth it. Just as I suspected photography is easier and more fun with a fantastic camera, and we’re having such a great time with it. The bad news? You’re going to have to endure a weekly slide show (or two) from me. :) I’ll be uploading images to Flickr every Sunday and posting a link to a slide show here.

This week I have two. First a few shots of Howie. He wasn’t quite cooperating with the camera at first. The shutter is loud and the flash is bright and he seemed a little afraid of it. But I finally sat him down and explained, “Howie, I spent enough money on this camera to feed you for 2 and a half years, and if we don’t get our money’s worth out of it we’re going to have to cut corners else where to make up for the money we wasted which means you may not eat for the next three years, so you better just GET USED TO IT.” He was more willing to cooperate after that.

Click on the action shot to see him pose.

action shot

On Saturday we took the camera out to Fort Fisher in Kure Beach, North Carolina to give it a test run. After deleting over 100 practice photos, I posted the 30 that turned out okay. Click on the image below to see them.

beach grass

I hope you all have a fabulous Sunday!

Traveling with pets without losing your mind

This week on our vacation to Indiana to visit family and friends, we brought our dog Howie along for the ride. Our families were both happy to accommodate him, and he’d rather be with us than back home in a kennel. But bringing a dog along on vacation comes with a long list of hassles.

Howie window

We took some steps to keep Howie happy and out of our hosts’ hair while saving our own sanity. Try these tips if you’re bringing your favorite family pet along for vacation:

Exercise, exercise, exercise.

If you think your dog has had enough exercise, put him on the leash and take him out again. If you have a young dog, it’s not possible to exercise him enough on vacation.

Howie is incredibly well behaved in the car — he usually just goes right to sleep as soon as we start driving. But we still stop every two hours on the road to let him stretch his legs on long car trips. We also took him for a run every morning when we were staying with family. Nothing is more stressful than an under-exercised dog in a strange environment. Without enough exercise, dogs are restless and whiny at best and downright destructive at worst. Make sure they’re spending the vacation as tired as possible.

Bring as much of home as you can.

When Howie was younger and sleeping in a crate, we brought it along on trips. Now we bring his dog bed, his favorite toys, and plenty of food. If you’re traveling with a cat, consider bringing a scratching post, cat toys and bed to keep them occupied and comfortable. Bringing a piece of home along with you will make them feel more secure in a strange environment, and the more secure they feel, the less likely they are to act out.

Don’t pawn your pet off on family.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Howie is pretty much the most adorable dog ever. Consequently, all of our family members were offering to walk him and feed him and pet him. It’s easy to walk away and assume they’ll take care of taking him outside or disciplining him if he’s getting too rowdy. Be careful not to do that.

If you’re visiting family with your pet, don’t expect them to do the dirty work. Just because they’re enjoying the novelty of your furry friend doesn’t mean they want to scoop the litter box or follow your dog around with a poop bag. Don’t get too distracted to take care of your pet’s basic needs.

If your family or friends want to take advantage of the fun parts of spending time with a pet, let them. But when it comes to the dirty work, make sure you’re doing it yourself. If you expect someone else to take out the dog, you might end up with a mess on the floor, and your family won’t be so willing to welcome your pet next time.

Since I’m not a cat owner, I’d like to hear from those of you who’ve traveled with cats. How do you make it easier on your pet when you’re traveling?

Frugal pet care in honor of Howie’s 2nd birthday

2nd birthday

Left: His first photo at the shelter, 8 weeks old. Right: Enjoying our anniversary camping trip last month.

I can’t believe how quickly time flies.

We made the decision to adopt a pet right after we moved to a new place. We were just beginning to live frugally out of necessity, but we managed to bring a pet into our family without sacrificing our budget.

It was absolutely one of the best decisions we’ve made. Howie has brought us nothing but joy, companionship, and comfort in some of our darkest times. He’s truly a part of the family.

Despite the horror stories you hear about pet expenses, rescuing a pet can be frugal. As long as you plan ahead for their vet care by saving a little each month and work necessities like food into your budget, it’s really not a huge burden.

That’s not to say caring for a pet is free. We spend about $350 a year on Howie’s vet care alone. But it’s absolutely worthwhile, and like anything else, you can reduce the burden by planning ahead. We put aside $25 a month for his vet visits, immunizations, and flea and tick prevention medications. We buy his medications at 1800PetMeds to save money, and we make his immunization appointments on Thursdays when our vet offers a 20% discount for shots.

If you’re committed to bringing a pet into your family without blowing your budget, all it takes is a little work and planning.

Here are some additional tips I’ve learned over the past two years:

Don’t pay for obedience training.

The biggest commitment for the first year with your puppy isn’t money; it’s time. If you don’t have the time to properly train your dog, then I don’t recommend getting one. You can’t teach your dog manners in an hour a week at obedience school, and you’ll only end up wasting your money. Instead, invest in a book on dog training and spend your time working with him.

Pet health insurance is a waste of money.

It seems tempting to insure your new pet’s health, but with all the loopholes it’s just not worth it. Often times you’ll spend hundreds a year on premiums only to discover your pet’s claim isn’t covered. Instead, save a little each month for routine care and keep building your emergency fund. If disaster strikes your pet, I’d consider that an acceptable reason to dip into your emergency savings.

Don’t be cheap when it comes to caring for your pet.

We choose to save money by planning instead of skimping. It’s okay to shop around for the lowest price on quality dog food, but don’t buy the cheap, low-quality stuff just to save a few bucks. Don’t avoid preventative veterinary care to save money, either. In the end, it will end up costing you more to deal with the problems it causes. And if you’re going out of town, spend a little extra for a reputable boarding facility. Your pet depends on you for the best possible care. If you can’t afford to give it to him, then you can’t afford a pet.

If you have to board your pets, don’t take the budget route

Our beloved Dachshund/Lab mix, Howie, has been in a kennel all weekend. :( No, I don’t like boarding him. Unfortunately, we don’t have close friends here who we’re comfortable asking to shoulder the burden of pet-sitting. He’s well behaved, but very hyper. Our solution is to budget Howie’s boarding fees in with our vacation budget.

This is one area where I don’t look for the cheapest option. The truth is, if your boarding facility is reputable, you’ll pay more for personal care. The more personal care they provide the animals, the more staff they need. They also must have better facilities, which are more costly to maintain. If those are the things you’re paying for, then it’s absolutely worth it to pay extra to board your pet.

We boarded Howie for the first time during the week of our wedding. He wasn’t quite a year old, and I was very uncomfortable with the idea.

I don’t expect our dog to be pampered with doggie massages and treats four times a day (though that’s not far off from what he gets at home), but I do expect the people whom I’m entrusting with his care to treat him humanely and kindly. I’ve heard horror stories about understaffed boarding facilities abusing and neglecting animals. Even facilities considered humane often leave the animals in small cages 24 hours a day. I hate the idea of animal cruelty period, and I certainly don’t want my own pet to be mistreated. The thought of putting Howie in a cage for that long with no room to stretch his legs broke my heart.

We researched extensively before choosing a boarding facility. After looking at reviews, asking other pet owners in the area for recommendations, and touring the facility, we chose a place that charges $23 a night. That includes 4 hours of morning play time and 2 hours of afternoon play time in a yard with all of the other dogs. For a social dog like Howie who loves the dog park, this is ideal.

On the tour, we were looking for a few things. First, we checked the play area. The dogs in the yard all seemed friendly and social. I wanted to make sure they were keeping aggressive dogs separate. Indeed, the owner showed us a separate play yard where staffers play with dogs that don’t play well with other dogs.

We also looked in the kennels where the dogs sleep. Dogs stay there, so I didn’t expect it to smell like roses. However, excessive bad odors could be a warning sign that the kennels aren’t maintained well or cleaned after messes. That’s not only uncomfortable, but unsanitary. I also looked at the kennels to make sure they were large enough to comfortably hold the dogs.

When choosing a boarding facility, pay attention to their policies on vaccinations and vet care. Our boarding facility must have current vet records on dogs before they can stay. When I called to make a reservation for this weekend, they even reminded me that Howie was due for several shots before he would be welcome. Their records were so up to date that they knew the dates when he was due for his shots. That’s important if you don’t want to bring a sick dog home.

If you’re considering boarding a social dog, I suggest finding a facility that offers several hours of daily playtime.

They even gave us a free half-day pass to let Howie play in the dog area for a few hours before our trip. This was good for us because we’d never boarded him, and we wanted to know how he’d react to being dropped off in a strange environment. He loved it. When we picked him up, he was exhausted and filthy from rolling around in the dirt with other dogs. I’d rather give him a bath when we get home than pick up a clean dog who’s been caged.

We ended up paying almost $250 in boarding fees while we were away for our wedding and honeymoon. We’ll pay a little under $100 for this weekend. Obviously, the ideal is to leave your pet with a loving family member or friend for little or no money. When that isn’t an option, it’s worth it to pay top dollar for good care.

Rescuing a pet is frugal

In honor of the 1-year anniversary of the day we adopted our dog, Howie, I’d like to share a few reasons why pet adoption is the frugal way to get a new pet.

We knew we wanted to adopt a dog when we moved in together, and we searched for one for a long time. It took us some time because we wanted a puppy. Tony had never had a dog before, and I was afraid that an older rescue might come with behavioral problems that would be difficult to train. Someday we’d like to rescue an older dog, but for Tony’s first pet, I wanted to make sure that we were beginning the training process from scratch.

I also didn’t want anything to do with commercial pet stores. I’ve heard too much about the practice of puppy milling, and I wanted to make sure that we weren’t participating in it. If you’re considering adopting a pet from a store, please research the practice of puppy milling, and see if you can ensure that the store you’re considering doesn’t work with puppy mills.

After visiting animal shelters, looking at PetFinder.com for hours a day, and visiting the PetSmart adoption fairs, we finally found Howie at a humane society about an hour away. The picture above is the one that was displayed on PetFinder.com when we found him. Pretty hard to say no to that face, isn’t it?

We paid a $150 adoption fee which included neutering, three rounds of shots, and extensive veterinary care to ensure that the puppies were healthy before they were adopted. The adoption fee barely covered what the humane society had already paid for his vet bills. If we had found Howie on the streets and paid no adoption fee, we still would have shelled out the money for neutering, shots, and a physical exam to ensure his health.

Humane societies are non-profit organizations, so even if you choose an older dog that doesn’t have the high pre-adoption puppy vet bills that Howie did, your adoption fee is a charitable donation to an organization that is fostering unwanted animals. So you get a lovable, healthy new family member, and you get to donate to a good cause. It’s win-win.

If your heart is set on purchasing a pure-bred puppy, keep this in mind: pure-bred dogs are often prone to genetic defects and medical problems that could eventually be costly, such as joint disorders, blindness, and epilepsy. I grew up with pure-bred Great Danes, and they were wonderful pets. Unfortunately, they also suffered extensive joint pain and none lived longer than 9 years.

The mixed breeds that you’ll find at the humane society are not only free to adopt, but they are typically less prone to the medical issues of pure breeds. So in the long run, a mixed breed could cost you less in vet bills, too.

If you’re thinking about welcoming a new pet into your family, I hope you’ll consider the humane society. Not only does it make sense financially, but it’s good karma.