Five essentials for the multi-dog household

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The interwebs are full of helpful tips and tricks for managing multi-dog households. The bulk of which are concerned primarily with two things: preventing squabbles and managing feeding times. Those things are awesome and important, and this blog post has nothing to do with those things. So, to anyone looking for that kind of help, I apologize.

This post is also not helpful for people who live and breath dog training and learning theory and/or who are just naturals at it. Those people have magic beans in their pockets and are direct descendants of Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner. Many of them are also my friends and I resent them almost every day.

I’m talking to us average folk. Those of us who have multiple dogs, a decent understanding of dog behavior and canine social dynamics and a fundamental desire to sit down at the end of the day and enjoy a normal conversation and a drink without having to perform great feats of operant conditioning or choke out the anti-squirrel task force raging in the backyard.

For me, the following are the five things that consistently make life with our four dogs (and one dog-like cat) blissful at its best and manageable at its worst.

A big-ass sink

Kongs and other food enrichment toys are a beautiful thing. Truly they are.

But what nobody tells you when you start multiplying the number of dogs in your house, and in turn the number of food toys that you buy, is that at some point you have to wash all that shit. And depending on what you put in them and how you use them, your dishwasher ain’t gonna get the job done.

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If you’re like me and often let your dishes pile up while frequently freezing Kongs for your dogs, your kitchen can get out of control pretty quickly. Which is why having a big-ass sink to pile all that stuff into is essential.

Four out of seven days a week, my big kitchen sink is the difference between mental balance and total mayhem.

Top-down, bottom-up window shades

Barking is a self-rewarding behavior. We all know this. But you know what’s even more rewarding than barking? Barking with friends.

You know those people who always act shocked when your dogs go apeshit every time the UPS man drives by or someone walks their dog past your living room window? The ones who say, “weird, my dog never barks.” Yeah, that’s because they only have one dog. And honestly, it’s hard to remember why you’re friends with them sometimes.

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For those of us living in the real multi-dog world, limiting visibility and blocking line of sight is a way of life. But just as important is not having to block out the whole big, beautiful world while you do it. In fact, I honestly believe this is why humans were designed to walk erect while dogs were not. So that we can see shit that they can’t while hanging out together.

In that spirit, keep your view and save your sanity by investing in some top-down, bottom-up window shades. Here are the ones we have. And they’ve transformed our quality of life.

Large containers of strategically-placed, non-perishable treats

All of you dog trainers, as well as any owners who struggle with resource guarding or dog-dog aggression, should probably stop reading at this point. Because I’m going to break your hearts and your brains.

I frequently throw treats around my house and yard like they’re cocaine on Rick James’ birthday. Specifically, I do this when I’m too lazy to properly manage or train my dogs. And it makes me so happy.

If I have friends coming over, I scatter treats all over the patio to distract the dogs while people come through our gate. If I know my neighbors are about to walk by our fence line with their newborn while out for a pleasant evening stroll, I chuck treats all over the place so the dogs have something else to focus on.

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If I’m relaxing in the backyard with a fat glass of pinot, I shake the treat container and toss treats everywhere to get my dogs to stop barking at the squirrels without me having to get up. I’m aware this is rewarding bad behavior. And yes, it bothers me. But not enough to stop doing it.

I liken this activity to the otherwise uber responsible parent knowing that every now and then you just gotta swallow your pride and ideals and stick that two-year-old in front of the television or iPad with Elmo for your own sanity. And because all my dogs generally get along and don’t have food-related aggression issues, I get to do that.

These are my favorite treats for this hedonistic, anti-behavioral activity: Charlee Bears. You can buy them for $2.99 at Trader Joe’s. I buy in bulk.

A good relationship with your neighbors

For all you multi-dog people out there who have a lot of dogs because you like animals more than people, let me just say this: You are your own worst enemy.

At the end of the day, the only thing keeping many of us out of doggie-owner jail is a neighbor who likes us and our dogs too much to file a nuisance complaint.

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It of course helps tremendously when, two days after you move in, your neighbor’s good friend stops by and, upon glancing at the angry little pit bull barking like a banshee through the fence says, “Hey, is that Peaches? I love her Facebook page.” I can’t say enough about having a dog whose online fan club inspires enough good will to counteract her everyday in-yard behavior.

Short of that, I recommend being proactive. Within the first week of me moving somewhere new or someone new moving next door to me, I am on that person’s porch with a big smile and care package in hand (baked goods, wine, flowers, treats for their pets, whatever) and a card with my name, my husband’s name, both of our phone numbers and emails and a friendly reminder to always call or email if they ever need anything or if our dogs happen to be bothering them.

It’s awesome when your neighbors are just chill people who like dogs like ours are. But when they’re not, for the love of god, be proactive.

A well-stocked bar

When all is said and done, if you don’t have a big-ass sink, can’t afford new shades, food enrichment toys or extra dog treats and can’t stand your neighbors, all you really need to effectively manage your own sanity in a multi-dog household is a stiff drink, or four, and a good sense of humor.

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It never ceases to amaze me how much less I care about my failures as a dog owner after a hefty glass of wine or bourbon.

In the words of Chelsea Handler:

I went out with a [dog] who once told me I didn’t need to drink to make myself more fun to be around. I told him, I’m drinking so that you’re more fun to be around.

Long live the multi-dog household. You’ll need exactly one bottle of booze and an ornery cat to keep it all in check.

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Six activities that are always better with a dog

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Despite what friends and family might believe, I do not enjoy doing everything with my dogs. In fact, the only reason my social media feeds are full of pet pictures is because my dogs are constantly hovering around me engaging in absurd and highly photogenic behaviors.

Truth be told, I find myself regularly looking for opportunities to do things without my dogs, simply because they already dominate so much of my everyday life.

However, similar to the way the Golden Gate Bridge always, under any circumstances, enhances the beauty of the San Francisco Bay, there are certain activities that, any way you slice them, are always more enjoyable when you add a dog into the mix.

1. Walking at sunrise

I love going for the occasional evening walk or midday run without dog. Reminding myself what things look, feel and smell like in the world when I don’t have another living creature attached to me by a six foot leash is essential for my well-being.

But mornings are different. Getting out of bed in the morning is tough sometimes. Especially when you really love your bed. But even when I’m not super motivated to get up and go enjoy the quiet and beauty of a sunrise stroll for myself, I’m usually willing to do it with a dog. 

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Whether it’s wet grass, bird song or the collective neighborhood calm that comes after everyone’s had a good night’s sleep, early morning walks are stimulating in a way that no other activity is. And quietly sharing that stimulation with someone who relishes it in an entirely different way – sniffing the dewy grass, intensely inspecting every trace of nighttime wild life activity – is cathartic.

2. Eating peanut butter

For those of you who are troubled enough to not like peanut butter or unfortunate enough to be allergic, my heart goes out to you. But for the rest of us, I think we can all agree that eating peanut butter is super awesome. And it’s even more awesome when you share it with your dog.

There’s a reason that at least one of your Facebook or Instagram friends has shared a video of a dog eating peanut butter in the last month. A dog transforms sitting on the couch with an open jar of peanut butter and a spoon from a self-indulgent, slightly regrettable caloric intake into a nose-lickin’ good time. If I looked that adorable while eating, I’d eat even more than I already do.

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3. Watching scary movies

I seriously dig disturbing shows and movies. (anybody else Netflix crushing on Stranger Things right now?) But every once in a while, I watch one at the wrong time or in the wrong context and find myself gripping the remote, waiting for a hybrid amalgam of Alien, Predator and Frank Underwood to crawl out of my television like that girl in The Ring and scare the living shit out of me.

However, when you’re surrounded by one, two, four or ten predatory, albeit bumbling and needy, beasts, the possibility of you dying at the hands of a murderous cinematic creature seems far less likely. Especially since the last time a squirrel had the audacity to run through your yard, they completely lost their shit.

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One Halloween, my best friend suggested we watch the movie, The Entity (which I had never seen or heard of) at her house, and then promptly scooted me out her door because her boyfriend was coming over, leaving me to drive home alone at midnight to my empty studio apartment. I’m not sure how much or how well I slept that night. But I do distinctly remember thinking, “Jesus, I wish I had a dog right now.”

4. Drinking alone

I suppose this one’s kind of a chicken-or-the-egg activity, not to mention a little bit of a misnomer. After all, I could just as easily argue that playing ball with your dog, relaxing with your dog and cleaning up your dog’s puke are always more enjoyable with a drink in your hand. And when you have a dog, I suppose you’re never technically drinking alone. But I think we all get the point here.

Pouring myself a glass of wine at the end of the day and sitting down in the backyard to play ball with and throw treats for my dogs is one of my favorite things. I don’t have to talk to anyone or think about anything and I’m surrounded by happy creatures with simple needs. And, when one of my parents calls to ask me what I’m up to, I can just say “playing ball with the dogs” rather than “drowning my self-doubt and general anxiety in another alcoholic beverage.”

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5. Hitting up the drive-through

This one’s pretty straight forward. The once mundane and tedious task of picking up your prescription at CVS or drawing the short straw and having to go grab your group’s to-go order at In-and-Out becomes a lively adventure with a dog in the car.

Where people once reluctantly slid open that little window lamenting having to deal with one more customer as you pull up, they now smile ear to ear and offer you a treat as the big-eared goofball in your back seat grins and drools while hanging his head out of the window.

I think more businesses should have a drive-up option for this reason alone.

6. Managing social anxiety

For angsty writer types like myself, social interaction is a mixed bag.

We love going out for good food and drinks and meeting up with close friends. But in general, the idea of attending a large social gathering or engaging in small talk with strangers makes us want to curl up in the fetal position and drink our bourbon through a straw.

Dogs help with this. Because when you have a dog with you, your dog becomes the focal point by default. You and whomever you run into can even look at the dog while talking to each other, relieving you of the all-consuming fear you have of sustained eye contact with another human being.

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On days when my irrational and paralyzing fear of leaving the house for fear of running into another person threatens to take over, my dogs get me out and about – to the beach, to the park, to the bookstore, to a training class, to the pharmacy drive-through. And coincidentally, I usually have a fabulous time. In fact, I’m pretty sure our favorite restaurant gives us the occasional free drink because they really like our dog, and by default us.

So, go adopt a dog.

For those who love morning walks, peanut butter, scary movies, a good cocktail, friendly drive-through attendants and coping mechanisms, but who are currently dogless, go wander around your local shelter or jump on Petfinder and find that one friend who will be there for you through a zombie apocalypse, even if you run out of peanut butter.

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What’s your “always better with a dog” list look like?

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The Peach goes to Clicker Expo

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Lately I’ve been looking for more opportunities to relax and unwind. (Or at least that’s what my therapist, husband and basically everybody who knows me have suggested.) So naturally, I thought it was a fabulous idea to take Peaches to the Karen Pryor Clicker Expo in Dearborn, Michigan last week. Because taking a sensitive, inherently fearful dog to a large, sensory-intense hotel with hundreds of people, 150 other dogs and one small horse is a very zen-like activity (insert hysterical dog owner laughter here).

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Most folks who know me though, and who know Peaches and her story, know that I am ridiculously concerned with my dog’s comfort and care at all times, almost to a fault. Well, not even almost. And I don’t do things that are likely to cause her more discomfort than pleasure. And so last Thursday, the night before the expo started, I found myself obsessively weighing the pros and cons of taking Peach to the event.

Pros

  • Taking her to the event and spending the night at the hotel would be a great bonding experience for us.
  • Peaches is highly people-motivated and getting to go hang out with hundreds of dog-savvy people eager to say hello would be quite a treat for her.
  • It’s a great training opportunity in a safe, supportive environment.
  • It’s 40 minutes away from home. Worst case scenario, it doesn’t go well and dad has to come pick her up.
  • All of my friends coming into town who expect to meet her won’t be mad at me.
  • Peaches gets to sleep in her first hotel bed.

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Cons

  • She might not enter the hotel because the entrance is scary, and we have to go home.
  • She might not cross the lobby because the floors are scary, and we have to go home.
  • She might not get in the elevator because sitting in a moving glass box is scary, and we have to go home.
  • She might not do well in the session rooms because loud speakers and microphone feedback are scary, and we have to go home.
  • She might revert to her old submissive peeing habits when seeing other dogs and having pee-stained carpet damage added to my hotel bill is scary, and we have to go home.
  • She might fear bark at noises in the hallway when left in the hotel room while I’m at the bar, and interrupting mommy’s cocktail hour is scary, and Peach has to go home.
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Mingling with our buddy, Laura Witkowski, author of the Growing Up Gomez series (http://www.yourpitbullandyou.com/category/growing-up-gomez/) and one of the most talented stand-up performers you’ll ever meet. http://www.rayandlauracomedy.com/

In all seriousness though, I had three primary concerns about her attending: 1) The elevators. Peach has been in elevators before because it was part of therapy dog training and work at the hospital. But it’s been a couple years since she’s been in one and I had a feeling that the hotel elevators would be more than she was used to; 2) I was a wee bit concerned that she might be overwhelmed with all the other dogs and might submit and pee if another dog rushed her at any point; and 3) I was pretty confident she’d bark at noises in the hallway if I left her in the room while we weren’t there.

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As it turned out, the elevators were the only legitimate problem. She got in them twice on that first morning–once because she followed friendly people in not knowing where she was going. And then again when she followed a dog in, forgetting where she was going. But by the third time she was on to me and she hit the brakes before we could even get close enough to push the button. So after I allowed her to flee from the crime scene (aka the mobile chambers of death), I found myself on a grassy knoll outside the hotel letting her sniff her anxiety away while I considered the very real possibility that we’d be sleeping in the lobby or the car because we couldn’t get back up to our fourth floor hotel room.

At lunch time, with the help of my band of merry, sympathetic, dog-devoted friends and another, less anxiety-prone, dog, we coaxed Peach into the staff stairwell and took the stairs up to our room. Once in the room, she milled around with her doggy roommate for a bit and then happily took a Kong. Success.

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Sadly, our attempts to return to the stairwell later in the day were met with Peach perplexity as well, and I ended up just having to hold my big 50 pound baby in the elevator whenever we had to go to or from our room. (So glad I went to Pilates class last week.)

Despite the trials and tribulations of traversing different floors of the hotel, Expo with Peach was a blast. She gave me no signs of distress other than in the elevators and when within ear shot of the bone-chilling screech of the coffee counter’s espresso machine, and she recovered quickly after each event. She happily moved in and out of different sessions and to and from our room. She had no problem just chilling out during presentations while I popped her the occasional treat, and she even made a brief appearance at the hotel bar.

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Peach gets a butt rub from Tammy Crenshaw at Fido Personal Dog Training in Ferndale, Michigan. http://www.fidodogtraining.com

She hugged new friends, and said hello to familiar faces. She sat on new laps. She perused the treat and toy tables at the expo store and took home more than a few goodies. She discovered the magic of freeze-dried bison treats. And she happily passed out butt-to-butt with her new buddy, Turbo on the hotel bed at night. (Don’t tell hotel management.)

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Peach and Turbo were down for the count at the end of Day 2.

And, perhaps most importantly, I took her home at the end of Day 2 and was smart enough to let her stay home and rest rather than drag her back for Day 3.

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Sleeping in with her new toy on Sunday morning while mom heads back for the last day of Expo without her.

I am an imperfect dog owner–to say the least. I get frustrated with my dogs and get overwhelmed with the need to provide them with adequate exercise, care and enrichment on a regular basis. There are plenty of days when none of my four dogs get walked and they eat their food out of bowls (god forbid!) and that’s just the way it goes.

But, one of my greatest sources of pride as a dog owner has always been my commitment to making smart choices about my dog’s welfare, particularly when it comes to things like therapy dog visits and attending events. And that’s why, as much as I would’ve loved to bring Peach back for the last day of the Expo, I knew it wasn’t good for her. Two days at an event like that is a lot to ask of a dog, any dog, and deciding to bring her that day would’ve been a poor choice.

Peach wastes no time grabbing one of her new toys to play with once back in the hotel room.

Peach wastes no time grabbing one of her new toys to play with once back in the hotel room.

And sure enough, Day 3 of the Expo proved to be the breaking point for most of the dogs in attendance. All those fabulously quiet, content and relaxed pups who successfully attended on Friday and Saturday were frustrated and spent come Sunday. There were frequent moments of dog-dog reactivity, vocalizations and stress signals sprinkled throughout the hallways and session rooms that day. I even sat in on a wonderful session on training frustrated dogs and watched another attendee in front of me ignore the actual presentation because she was so distracted by her own very frustrated dog who probably should’ve just been left in the hotel room to rest that morning.

Peach and Turbo patiently wait for a treat while their owners are embarrassingly engrossed in returning emails, perusing session descriptions and planning for happy hour.

Peach and Turbo patiently wait for a treat while their owners are embarrassingly engrossed in returning emails, perusing session descriptions and planning for happy hour.

So, returning to some pros and cons, here are a few of the pros and cons to attending Clicker Expo with your own dog, for those who are considering it in the future:

Pros

  • Safe training space. If you have a well-trained and well-socialized dog who enjoys working, settling and being in the company of other people and animals for long periods of time, Expo is a fabulous chance to bond with your dog in a safe, supportive environment with like-minded dog folks who are equally happy to offer you a helping hand or give you and your dog space when needed.
  • Bitchin’ presenters. There are some fabulous speakers and trainers who present each year. Highlights for me were Emily Larlham‘s Trick Training and Frustrated Dogs presentations (I think I actually squealed with delight when Emily showed the videos of how she taught her two dogs to stand up and hug each other on command), Irith Bloom‘s talks on the Power of Choice, Kathy Sdao‘s presentation on older dogs and Susan Friedman‘s Critical Client Conversation Skills session (this last one is worthy of a blog post of its own).
  • Looking normal. At Clicker Expo, you’re almost guaranteed to not be the craziest dog person there. It’s a great opportunity to feel normal in comparison to those around you, or at the very least feel like you’re among “your people.”
  • Cheap Kong toys. The Expo store had majorly discounted Kong items. We stocked up.
  • Friendly people. Everybody is thrilled to see you and your dog.
  • Drinks. Dog people love a good cocktail hour.
Peach says hello to our buddy, Kelly from Your Pit Bull & You. www.yourpitbullandyou.com

Peach says hello to our buddy, Kelly from Your Pit Bull & You. http://www.yourpitbullandyou.com

Cons

  • Cost. It ain’t cheap. My biggest beef with Clicker Expo is that it’s totally cost-prohibitive when you factor in the hefty registration fee, the hotel room (keep in mind you’ll probably have to pay for extra nights if you want to use the room for your dog before check-in or after check-out) and food. I was lucky enough to live just 40-minutes away from the venue. Any additional travel would make it even more costly.
  • Competing priorities. If you bring your dog, you’re inevitably not going to get as much out of the sessions as you could were you not focused on managing your dog. Even if your dog is great at just settling at your feet for long periods of time, you’re still responsible for staying aware of your dog’s needs at all times, and that includes leaving sessions when your dog needs a bathroom or water break and devoting a portion of your overall attention to their physical presence and body language.
  • Pee breaks. I mean for you, not the dog. Attending with people you know is kind of essential, mostly because you’ll really wish you had someone to hold your dog’s leash while you run into the restroom to pee in between sessions. (Thank goodness for texting capabilities, Katelin Thomas and Kelly Shutt Cottrell.) I saw lots of folks just taking their dogs into the restrooms with them and patiently waiting for the handicapped stall. But to be honest, none of those dogs looked too happy to be there and it seemed like a real hassle.
  • Planning. Bringing a dog to Expo means you have to bring a lot of crap with you too. A crate, blankets or towels as needed, Kongs, treats, treat bag, poop bags, leashes, toys, water bowl, a mat for the session floor, food, water, Nature’s Miracle (just incase) and then all of your own crap too. In a nutshell, it can be a real pain in the ass.
Buster Brown was bummed I didn't take him, but thrilled with the loot I came home with.

Buster Brown was bummed I didn’t take him, but thrilled with the loot I came home with.

If I do ever decide to attend Expo again with a dog, I’ve promised Buster Brown I’ll take him. Since those type of events are totally his jam. And since he’d happily hop in an elevator and offer up a decent Steven Tyler impression if it meant an extra hot dog or two. And since Peach is just as happy cuddling at home with Pickles as she is schmoozing with dog folks.

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Springy-dings for the beast lady

We live with a smokey beast lady of pint-sized proportions and whiskers of death.

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Said beast lady must be kept occupied at all times or ankles are bitten, sleep is disturbed and dogs are assaulted. Sometimes trickling water faucets or a fresh can of wet food will successfully occupy the beast lady. Sometimes not. And rarely for long.

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Springy-dings save lives

In a last ditch effort to save my life and the lives of others in this household whom I love, I spent a couple bucks from the money I was saving to buy us all body armor and face masks, and ordered a couple packs of springy-dings. Also known as “colorful springs.”

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These little coils of plastic perfection are like manna from heaven when all you want to do is get a little sleep, and all your kitten wants to do is rip your throat out, spill water on your book and smother your sleeping dog like those creepy facehuggers in Alien.

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If one day I found out that these little springy-dings were made in a sweat shop by child laborers using radioactive plastic, I would still keep buying them. In fact, I’d probably buy even more for fear of that sweat shop one day being closed down. Springy-dings save lives.

Beast lady bats, chases and carries her little springy-dings all over the house like fresh kills. We find them in our bed, on the couch, under the couch, inside shoes, down heat registers, in the dogs’ water bowls, under the washing machine and in the bathroom. Sometimes beast lady leaves her springy-dings in her food bowl, incase she’s hungry for more later.

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Springy-dings come in four snazzy colors. Although beast lady seems to be partial to the green and yellow ones. I’ll have to do some research on cats and color vision. Although none of them are the color of blood and entrails, so I assume her preference is mere coincidence.

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Beast lady also loves to play fetch with her springy-dings. And I do mean fetch. Like dogs play fetch. At night, usually when we’re trying to relax and watch some tv or just settling into bed, the beast lady brings us her chosen springy-ding and threatens to brutalize a dog or gnaw off one of our toes if we don’t meet her springy-ding demands.

We’re sure there are many folks out there who are thinking, “Oh come now, it’s just a little cat. A fuzzy little kitty baby who would be just as content to sip milk from a tiny little saucer or play with some yarn. Why don’t you try petting her a little and showing her some love?” But this is what the beast lady wants you to think. She’s counting on it.

And then just as you lay your head down on that pillow at night, in the dark, surrounded by four large canines, theoretically capable of protecting you from any and all bodily harm, . . . the beast lady strikes.

Unless you have some springy-dings.

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Maple Apple Cranberry Sauce with Pickles on the side

‘Tis the season for baking and cooking with dog fur and cat hair, at least in this house. We haven’t formally introduced her on this blog yet, but we have a new kitten in the house. Her name is Pickles and she likes to sit in the sink. She also likes to stand with her head directly under the running faucet and watch the water go down the drain. I whipped up a batch of my favorite apple cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving last Thursday, and she was super helpful with the food prep. Cranberries and cat hair: So tasty.

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A face for winter

Well, until I can get my act together, along with some words on the page, I better keep throwing up some photos to keep this blog’s pulse going.

This is Casey, available for adoption at the Humane Society of Huron Valley in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She maintains a strict daily beauty regimen that involves a generous application of black eyeliner and carefully curled ears,  followed by a honey and brown sugar body scrub. All that beauty tends to steal the show from other dogs and she’s not very fond of sharing the bathroom mirror in the morning, so this adolescent lady would love to be the only dog in the home.

Tell your doctor you don’t need those blood pressure meds anymore. Because rubbing these velvety bunny ears between your fingertips is all you’ll need to soothe that stressed out soul.

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A face for Fall

Been a little hectic around here lately. Once again, neglecting the writing. So here’s a quick pic to fill the void and usher in the fall weather. It’s been cold, colorful and fabulous in Michigan this last week. Great dog walking weather.

This is Max. A beautiful boy currently undergoing heartworm treatment at the Humane Society of Huron Valley–sure to knock the socks off of anyone he makes eye contact with.

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