I took my dogs for a walk after dinner. On our route, we came upon a little girl drawing on her driveway with chalk. I will call this girl Amelia, although I do not know her real name. Amelia was startled when she saw us approaching and jumped to her feet. Watching us, she slowly backed up toward her house. I can imagine that the sight of two large dogs walking towards you is very intimidating when you are on the ground. I moved the dogs away from Amelia’s direction when she asked loudly,

“Are those dogs friendly?”

I stopped and answered her with a smile. “Yes, they are very friendly.”

“Can I pet them?” Amelia was standing at least 20 feet away from us when she asked.

“Of course,” I said. I told the dogs to sit while Amelia slowly approached.

As Amelia walked closer, she stopped every few feet to ask me another question. First, she wanted to know if the dogs were boys or girls. So much for the pink collars, I thought.  Hearing that they were girls, Amelia wanted to know their names. Every time I answered a question, Amelia got closer.

“How old is that one?” she said, already forgetting their names.

“They are both five. They are sisters.”

As soon as I said that, Amelia’s face lit up and she caught her breath. “I am five and so is my brother and we are twins!”

“Then you and the dogs have something in common,” I told her. Apparently, hearing that common bond was enough to give Amelia courage to walk up and pet the dogs. One of the dogs licked her face and she laughed.

After a minute or so, I told Amelia that we needed to go and we said our goodbyes. As I was leaving, Amelia’s brother came out of the house. I heard her tell him about the friendly dogs she just met.

As I continued on our walk, I thought about my encounter with Amelia. She was afraid of the dogs, but didn’t really want to be. Like many of us, Amelia wanted something just outside of her comfort zone.

Her first reaction was fear. When the dogs and I approached, she jumped up and back to the safety zone of her house. But instead of going into the house, Amelia stood there and contemplated her next move.  Amelia wanted to interact with the dogs, but they were twice her size. She was understandably intimidated. Thankfully, her curiosity outweighed her fears.

Amelia looked more at ease as soon as I told the dogs to sit. The two dogs patiently waited while she asked her questions. What Amelia did not know was that the dogs were probably a little intimidated by her. They live with older kids who don’t pull on their tail or ears and whose movements are more predictable.

When Amelia did finally work up the confidence to step outside her comfort zone, you could see the joy in her face. She conquered her fear and reached her goal. Having been there myself, I know that high will cause her to smile for the rest of the day. She learned something that day. Each time you step outside of your comfort zone, it grows bigger.

When I heard Amelia sharing her story with her brother, I had to smile. She told him that she got to pet two big dogs who were five and twins like them. She giggled as she told him how one of the dogs licked her. She left out her fear and hesitation and only focused on the happiness she felt.  If only all accomplishments could be rewarded by a big friendly dog who licks your face!


In addition to our three children, we have two black Labs and a black cat. The cat, Smuckers, (Don’t ask, I didn’t name him.), was part of the family first. He showed up on our front porch on my daughter’s 10th birthday. He was a kitten, about 6 or 8 weeks old. Although we were not in the market for another pet (we had another Lab at the time), we couldn’t imagine giving him away. Smuckers got along fine with the other dog and I even have a picture of them eating dinner side by side. Six months later, we had to put our dog down and for a couple months, Smuckers was our only pet.

Enter Anna and Chloe. When we adopted these litter mates, they were 1 ½ years old. We were told that they got along well with cats so we felt good about bringing them home. Within 30 minutes of their arrival, Smuckers came down to investigate. That’s when the barking started. We tried to calm the dogs down as they were freaking out the cat. Our other dog did not bark at him. Smuckers responded by getting in his Halloween cat stance and hissing and pawing at the dogs. Needless to say, they weren’t too worried and chased him up the stairs and into our room.

Smuckers lives primarily in our room these days. He only ventures out when he is hungry and he thinks the dogs are asleep. Smuckers’ food and litter box are housed in the master bath. It is the one room the dogs are not allowed to be in. The bedroom itself is not off limits. The dogs venture in if we are up there, but most of the time, they give the cat his privacy.

All of our animals are solar. They love to lay with their black coats in the sun. The first bit of sunlight during the day starts in our room, opposite the bed. It is a pretty good sized spot – the width of two windows. The cat lies in the middle of it until it moves across the room to the bed. The dogs usually lay in the sunlight that comes in the living room. I open the front door for them and they bask until their coats are hot to the touch. Sadly, their sunlight does not come in until it moves past the garage – a couple hours after the bedroom sunlight. As the weather gets colder, they have been trying to overtake the cat’s morning spot.

One morning, I heard Anna, our alpha dog, bark upstairs. I couldn’t understand what she wanted. It was a single bark, usually reserved for telling us she needed to go out. I found her in the bedroom, standing over the cat. Apparently, alpha dog means nothing in the feline world. Smuckers wouldn’t budge. She barked again. The cat got all puffed up, hissed and slapped Anna in the nose. (He is declawed.) She let out a yelp and backed up. Chloe heard her sister’s call for help and came barreling up the stairs. She barked at poor Smuckers and chased him on top of the bed. After thanking her sister, Anna curled up in the now abandoned sunlight and took a nap. Smuckers stared down from the bed at her and silently planned his revenge. At our house, Ebony and Ebony live together in a strained harmony.

My 11-year-old daughter had softball practice between the holidays. During some down time at the end of practice, the girls sat in a circle and shared what they each got for Christmas. Of course, no one talked about the jammies they got from grandma – this discussion was for big ticket items only. The list included an iPod Touch, Ugg Boots, cell phones, Xbox with Kinect, a drum set and several other nice gifts. My daughter’s best friend got an iPad. A nice haul for 11-year-olds.

Although my daughter has some very nice things – she already has a cell phone, iPod Touch, Ugg slippers and then got the Xbox with Kinect for Christmas – she was feeling a little bit of the ugly green monster rearing its head. After practice (two days after Christmas) she announced she was going to buy her own Ugg boots and an iPad. (I guess the two other pairs of boots she got for Christmas from Delia’s and access to my iPad wasn’t enough).

I told her I was happy to hear her plan to save and buy her own things. I knew she would appreciate them more. She had done it before. Two years ago, she used her own money to buy her iPod Touch. Her “own money” consisted of monetary gifts from her birthday and Christmas and money she had earned from doing things at home. After counting her money, she was about $400 dollars short on the iPad and less than $50 short on the Ugg boots. (Of course, she didn’t factor in tax.) She would earn the rest somehow. We went to bed that night knowing she had a goal in mind.

The next day we went to Petsmart to get new collars for our dogs. Santa didn’t realize how much weight the dogs lost and brought collars that were too big! My 11-year-old came with me. After recently losing a snail in her fish tank, she wanted to replace him. Moments later, she decided she wanted to buy a 10 gallon fish tank to replace her 2 ½ gallon fish tank at home. I reminded her about her savings plan, but she waved me off. She told me it was her money and she was going to spend it however she wanted. So we walked around and added up all the things she would need. We talked to the man in the fish department who gave us some tips. When all was said and done, the price was the same as the Ugg boots. (plus tax, of course)

Wow! That was a lot for a last minute decision. I told her that since she had a totally different plan yesterday, she should go home and sleep on it tonight. That didn’t sit well with her. She had an 11-year-old tantrum right there in the fish department. She loudly shared her feelings about HER MONEY and that I was the meanest mom in the world. The before-having-kids Pam would have been embarrassed, but I have been through the Terrible Twos three times. At least she wasn’t lying on the floor. I just told her I was leaving and she followed.

In the car, I told her that I know she is mad at me, but she should really think it over. I told her that I didn’t go to the first car dealer I saw and drive out of there with my car. Yes, it was her money and I thought she should spend it on something of her choosing. I just wanted her to research it and not end up with buyer’s remorse. When we got home, my husband got to listen to the whole story and agreed with me. We told her to do some research and compare prices and then we will talk about it again.

That night, my daughter went online and wrote down all the items she would need. She compared prices at three different stores. She even made a spreadsheet listing prices and items. While she was price shopping, she decided to read up on the types of fish – who was aggressive, who needed different water temperatures, who played nice with others. She also realized that she needed to buy a 20 gallon tank to get all the fish she wanted. It was a very thorough list and we told her how proud of her we were. The only problem was that she was still short on money. She asked if there were projects she could do to earn money.

Projects that needed to be done? You have come to the right Mom! The first project I gave her was the Christmas card list. It got out of hand with address changes and new names. I wanted them all changed in the computer so I could print out labels next year. It took her about 2 hours to complete and she did it without complaining.

Next project? Clean out her room. I don’t mean make the bed and pick up the stuff off the floor. I mean go through every drawer, the closet and under the bed. Make bags for donation and bags for garbage. A couple hours into it, I went to check on her. She was working hard and I told her that. She made a face and then said “I have to. I need the money.” I nodded in understanding and left her to her work.

I walked away from her room smiling. It was a teaching moment that had gone well. If you really want something, you have to work for it.

The following week she had enough money to buy her tank, accessories and fish. Today everything is living happily on her dresser. Last night my husband asked her how much money she had left. She told him it was less than a dollar. He was surprised and it must have shown on his face. She responded, “Dad, fish are expensive.” I had to laugh. She should try having kids.

I am amazed by the simple products that people come up with and often ask myself, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Items that come to mind – the cardboard sleeve that goes over hot coffee cups, the little seat cover that goes in shopping carts for babies and toddlers, Silly Bandz or any of the crazy kid fads – the list goes on. A few weeks ago, I discovered another one that a customer showed me.

This product is called Port-A-Poo and does exactly what it says. It is a cute plastic bone that you attach to your dog’s leash. Instead of having to carry a bag after you pick up from your dog, you attach it to the Port-A-Poo, and enjoy the rest of your walk hands free. It is a wonderful idea for those of us that have more than one dog. With a leash in both hands, how do you carry the poop bag? I usually have to hold both leashes with one hand and the bag(s) in another. It is not ideal since my dogs’ combined weight is more than what I weigh. I swear I have one arm that is now longer than the other.

I not only love the idea of the product, I love that that it was invented out of need. The couple that invented it have eight rescue dogs. However, even with the Port-A-Poo, I am not sure how you walk eight dogs and pick up after them. Even better, the inventor donates a portion of the profits to dogs in need. I love their slogan, too – “Picking up where your dog left off”. Too funny!

Check out the Port-A-Poo website and find a retailer near you.

Adventure is definitely the right word. Fostering kittens is a lot of work. Yes, they are much easier than fostering puppies, but there is a lot of running around that I didn’t expect.

We are on our third batch of kittens in seven weeks. The first batch of six were in the pre-adoption stage, meaning even if they were adopted, they were too small to go home. They don’t release them until they are large enough to be spayed or neutered – 2.2 lbs. I had to run them back and forth to Petsmart when a prospective family wanted to see them. Even if they were adopted, they came back to my house to gain more weight. During that time, they had a bout of worms (typical for kittens) and needed meds. Some of them needed additional meds for the diarrhea that went along with it. We switched their food four times until we found one that was better for their digestive system. You can imagine how often I had to clean out the litter box with all of this going on.

When they were finally large enough, they had to go to the vet to be spayed or neutered. This had to be done in the morning between taking kids to school, but before I started work for the day. The first time I went, the vet was late opening the door and I had to sit outside in my car for 15 minutes. I explained who I was and who the kittens were, but he seemed very scatter brained. I reluctantly left the kittens in his care. Unfortunately, in the world of rescued animals, you go with cheapest and/or newest vet.

Shelters and fosters are all volunteers. I work with two other people. One finds the kittens and passes them on to me. She is also the one that is in charge of their health while with the fosters – ie, the one who supplies the meds, and determines the food they are on. The other one is an adoption coordinator. She calls me to ask me to bring the kittens in for a showing and to coordinate the vet visits. There is a lot of the right hand not talking to the left hand and I am in the middle.

As I said, we are on our third batch. Over Thanksgiving, I had three kittens. One was adopted, but the family was moving over the weekend. The other two have been to three weekend showings, but no one is interested. These kittens are three-months-old now. I guess they are not as cute as the six-week-old kittens!

I picked up four more kittens this week, bringing my total to six again. They came with two new crates because they had to be separated. The one kitten has to be feral. She hates people and spends most of the time hiding under the blanket in her crate. I tried to play with her yesterday, but the result was scratched hands and wrists. The other three have colds in their eyes, so they need eye drops three times a day. They are very scared and hang out in the corner of the crate together. We let them out to play every day, but they just look for a place to hide. They need a lot of TLC before they can be adopted.

A couple days ago, I had one of those crazy after-school shuffles. After working all day, I left the house at 3:00, picked up and dropped off my oldest so she could babysit. I then went into the elementary school to be a girl scout leader. After that, I had to drop the other two at home and go run errands until I picked up my oldest again at 6:30. I asked the kids to take the kittens out to play while they worked on their homework. Fifteen minutes after I left, I got a call from my middle daughter that a kitten was missing. She said it jumped out of her arms and ran under my husband’s desk. Clearly there was nothing I could do from the road, so I told her to leave her alone and she would come out eventually.

I got home an hour later. Still no kitten. I spent the next 15 minutes looking and asking the kids to reenact what happened. Still no kitten. We ate dinner and then looked again – this time all five of us looked. We were in the crawlspace, the closet under the stairs and then upstairs under beds and in corners. The only thing I found were cobwebs and dustbunnies. We even got the vacuum out, hoping the noise would scare her into running out. Nothing. Now what? My husband was not happy, the kids were crying and I had no idea what we were going to do.

I went back to the basement and asked my daughter again what had happened. She told me that she saw the kitten run under my husband’s desk and then she couldn’t find it. I guessed there was a hole in the back of the desk that the kitten got into. Sure enough, when I opened the drawer, there sat the kitten.

There is never a dull moment at our house. Dull moments do not create adventures or memories. It’s crazy moments like this that give you a story to share.

Chaos is roughly defined as any state of disorder or confusion. If you look it up in the dictionary, you might find a picture of my house. With a kitchen remodel planned for early January, I expect things will get worse before they get better. I can live with a little insanity, after all, I’m a mom. It’s having too many things out of place that is driving me crazy.

My middle daughter’s room is under construction. My husband has been working on taking down wallpaper and repainting, including the ceiling, doors and trim. With only one day off a week, this project has been spread over three weeks. My daughter is sleeping on the floor of my son’s room. All of her furniture, except the bed, is in our room. A pile of her treasures from the walls and shelves lay in the corner of our room as well. Her fish tank is in the hall bath on the counter, making four out of the five rooms upstairs in chaos. We are having house guests for a couple days and they will stay in my oldest daughter’s room. She is joining the chaos by staying in either my son’s room or the basement while they are here. Our middle daughter’s room will still be under construction during Thanksgiving. I really wanted to put up our tree over last weekend, but to do so requires us to move the living room love seat into our room, which is already occupied by additional bedroom furniture.

Today my last kitten is scheduled to go to the vet to be spayed and then onto her new forever home. While cleaning up after grooming my 6th dog yesterday (tis the season for clean dogs), I got a phone call from the shelter. I thought she was calling to make sure I remembered the vet appointment. No, that would be too easy. She was calling because, due to the upcoming holiday, three kittens needed a foster home RIGHT NOW. Yes, she wanted me to drop what I was doing (cleaning up dog hair), while dinner was 15 minutes away from being done, and pick up these kittens. Thankfully they are only five minutes away! “Oh, by the way”, she said, “These kittens need to be separated.” I explained that I only had one crate for them. “Couldn’t you put them in a bathroom for a couple days?”, she asked.

Thankfully, I borrowed a crate from my friend and settled everyone in. I am grateful that my husband and kids have learned to live with the disorder. As much as I hate it, things are still getting done. I guess that only the top layer of my life is chaos. Somewhere underneath lies the organization that gets me from day to day.

No, not you. Your pets! My two Labrador Retrievers, Anna and Chloe, have just completed the Biggest Loser! program at their vet. They have lost a combined weight of over 30 lbs. When we got them from the shelter, they were already overweight by ten pounds. We added to their weight program, not by feeding them table scraps, but by feeding them the recommended amount that is printed on the bag of dog food.

When I explained that to my vet, he said that the dog food makers sell dog food and the more they get your dog to eat, the better for them. They said those recommendations are for herding dogs that work for a living, and not for the average pet that lounges in the sun. During that vet visit, he offered to let my kids listen to the dogs’ heartbeat. Sadly, they could only hear it on Chloe since Anna was over weight by 25 lbs! The vet told me that dogs should have a waist and my dog did not. I have to tell you, I felt like a terrible, neglectful pet mom. How could I let this happen?

The vet wanted to put the dogs on medicine that made them feel more full so they wouldn’t eat as much. I really didn’t want to put the dogs on unnecessary meds, so I told them I would just try old fashioned diet and exercise. I basically cut my dogs down to almost 1/2 of what I was feeding them (with the vet’s approval) and then breaking that into two meals. My dogs used to take all day to eat their food. Now they quickly eat it before the other dog can get to it. I also took them on two walks a day and the only treats they got were ice cubes, carrots and apple slices. It made a big difference.

In just over a year, my largest dog, Anna, went from 101 lbs. to 81 lbs. and my other dog, Chloe, went from 88 lbs. to 75 lbs. The vet said Anna could lose another 5 lbs, but I think that could be said for everyone. She now has a waist!

As a groomer, I see so many overweight dogs. Many of them try to sit down during their groom because the extra weight is hard on their joints. Being overweight shortens their lives as overweight dogs are prone to several health issues. In 2009, a study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention stated that more than 45 percent of dogs are now estimated to be overweight or obese. Wow! I was amazed to read in this study that giving a 40 lb dog a pig’s ear treat is the equivalent to us drinking six 12oz. colas. Even worse, Dr. Ernie Ward, lead researcher in this study, says, “Even a single, small dog bone treat given to a 10-pound dog is no different than a person eating two chocolate doughnuts. The truth is, we rarely stop at one dog treat. Give a few each day and you’ve fed the equivalent of a dozen doughnuts. No wonder we’re seeing such high obesity rates.” Double Wow!!

You can assess your dog’s body condition by these simple steps: First, you should be able to feel each rib on your dog’s body. If you can see them, he is too thin. If you can’t feel them, he is overweight. Second, stand over your dog and look down. You should be able to see a waist between his ribs and his hind legs. Third, look at your dog from the side. You should be able to see a tuck up in the waist area. Although the amount of tuck depends on your dog’s breed, no breed should have a waist that is lower than the ribs. Translation: Dogs should not have a beer gut!

If you do have an overweight dog, it is never too late to start him on a diet. Consult your vet on how you can safely bring him to his optimum weight and keep him around for many more holidays!

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