If You’re Thinking About Getting A Dog, Read This

All of my previous dogs before Barry were purchases from breeders and strays found on the street. I had never adopted before, and wasn’t aware of any other services animal shelters could offer. Overall, shelters were, in my mind, places to avoid if you’re looking to include a dog in your family. Not too long after I moved in with my boyfriend, a woman offered Barry to us for free. It was definitely within our price range, and breeders were definitely not. At $1500 a pup (He had an eye for a GoldenDoodle), we simply couldn’t budget for something like that. By then, I had heard about adoptions, but hadn’t seriously considered it until after Barry was gone.

And then I found out about fostering.

Most animal shelters and adoption centers are overwhelmed with dogs, and not just strays off the street. There are family dogs that are surrendered there because of living situations that change, or are simply not a good fit for the family. There are rooms full of puppies, given by families who didn’t spay their dogs. Each time I went to an animal adoption center, I wanted to take at least one home, just to see how they are like in home setting, away from the cold metal kennels or shared single rooms. Fostering allowed me to take a dog home, give it a home to live in and a family to love, and help them get adopted, or become what they fondly call a “foster failure” and adopt them myself.

My journey in fostering started sometime in November, with this little guy named Nibbles.

He sunbathed and got to know the neighbor's dogs very well.

He sunbathed and got to know the neighbor’s dogs very well.

I remember the first night we had him, I came home from work to find him in my boyfriends arms, fresh and damp from his first bath, shaking from cold and fear of the unknown. He didn’t bark or whine at all for the first night; he would run from us every time we walked up to him. But, after a couple nights with us, he got used to his new surroundings, the dog-loving people that lived there, the new smells and sounds from within the home and around it. By the third day, he was finding himself engaged in vocal-combat with the dog on the other side of the gate in our backyard. He would jump for joy and make whiny pleas from his crate when we would come home. He was definitely a cutie, and a very sweet dog, and a joy to have in my home.

Loved to be loved. And has tons of love to give back.

Loved to be loved. And has tons of love to give back.

In fact, we might have become foster-failures if he hadn’t gotten adopted two weeks after we got him. But, we had already decided something: we’re not just looking for any dog. We’re looking for our “soul-dogs”, as I lovingly put it for my boyfriend’s crying nine year old girl after she found out Nibbles was adopted. I promised her there is a special dog out there for her, but it wasn’t Nibbles, and we would find that dog one day soon.

She’s excited to invite more dogs into our home, so not too long after Nibbles left, we brought two more home: Mickey and Coop.

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He wasn’t with us for very long, but he was really fun.

Mickey was very social from the get go, curious and dubbed by the kids “the escape artist”. He found his way around doors and gates, only stopped by our 8ft wooden gate around our house (thank god). He was fully potty trained, ate a full meal not too long after he was neutered, and had gained enough weight to look awesome and get himself adopted by a great family with another dog to use up all of his energy.

He was shy and avoided us like the plague. But we warmed up to him eventually.

He was shy and avoided us like the plague. But we warmed up to him eventually.

Coop was a different story. He would hardly leave the crate, only to drink and eat and use the restroom. It took him a few times to get outside to do it, but with some positive reinforcement (which I will cover later) he got the hang of it. I noticed over time that Mickey was very dominant, and would sometimes push Coop around, especially with food. I fed Coop first, but it didn’t seem to help. Coop didn’t make a single sound since we brought him home, and I was starting to get worried about him until Mickey got adopted.

Coop in the car

He never put his ears up like that until about a week ago. Adorbs.

The first day he seemed confused, and would venture out of the crate when everyone was sitting down or distracted. Now though, four weeks since he was at the shelter, he’s hanging out with me on the couch, nuzzling my hand for cuddles and petting (thank god for autocorrect), getting himself underneath beds and exploring while on his daily walk. He whines and wags his tail furiously when we come home, and I’ve heard from the kids that he growled at the stray cat that hangs out near our house, but he has yet to make a full bark.

Then, we got Toby today.

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Six years old, but has a lot of energy. We really like him.

We brought Coop today to the animal shelter to get to know a couple of dogs that have been there for a while. Toby warmed up to Coop right away, and they’ve been hanging out together every since. We brought him home with a spare crate the shelter had, and now he’s staying with us for a while. Coop is already happy and excited, which will help Toby get used to the idea of finding a forever home. He’s been sniffing constantly for the last couple of hours, but he finally stopped long enough to eat a bit before running around again with Coop. He’s now going back and forth between sniffing in the backyard and stalking my boyfriend while he cooks in the kitchen, but hasn’t really let any of us pet and play with him. He’ll settle in here within the next few days.

Dogs at the animal shelters are scared and lonely. The weird smells, the loud noises, the strange place, the other dogs – they get overwhelmed easily, and a scared, shy dog is not as endearing to a prospective adoptive pet-parent as a spirited, cuddly one is. Either way, their personality doesn’t shine until they’re in a home with people to love them. A warm, loving home helps bring out their sweet, loving nature, and that’s what gets a dog adopted. When I realized I could help other dogs get adopted while having dogs in my home (and for free?!), i jumped at the idea, and plan on having more.

Ask your local animal shelter if they have someone who is in charge of a fostering program (and if they don’t have anyone, tell them that they should!). Ask them if you can bring your family to meet some dogs, and take one home! I was genuinely impressed with the staffing and facility of my animal shelter, but I did my research and found one that had a fostering program. They will usually have adoption days, which is a great way to meet other foster parents and meet with potential adoptive parents face-to-face.

Having dogs back in my home is wonderful, but I still miss Barry every day. Hopefully, with some time, I’ll find a dog like him, or even better, my soul-dog.

How to Feed My Dog: The Starting Block

All of this research for the right way to feed your pet sent me into a tailspin. Corn is “safe” for pets, but it’s not giving the right nutrients that a dog needs and causes allergies. Grains are good for digestion, but should not be one of the main ingredients in their food. It feels like my research has only just started.

Luckily, from what I’ve found, you don’t need to know everything. There are people out there just waiting for you to walk in and ask them what they need. Veterinarians, pet-loving store owners, dog groomers, they all want to help. But first, let’s start with the basics.

Know your sources. My last post described what most commercial dog food brands use, and how/why it’s usually the cheapest. All dog food packaging have a phone number where you can call and ask up-front where they get their ingredients from and how they are manufactured. There are plenty of websites like this one who review and find the best dog food brands available. Find a brand that doesn’t use “by-product” or “meal” in their protein sources, which leads me to my next point:

Know your labels. The ingredients list is ordered from highest ratio to lowest, meaning that the first ingredient on there is the main ingredient. Look for named ingredients, so “meat” doesn’t count, but “chicken by-product” is worse. You’re looking for “chicken”, “turkey”, etc. Most commercial dog foods will have “corn” or “corn by-product” as the first ingredient, which is not something you want to buy. Avoid artificial anything when possible, and be wary of “enriched” or “added” nutrients, which shouldn’t be needed if the ingredients are unprocessed.

Know your alternatives. Dry dog food is not your only option, especially if your dog is not getting the right nutrients. Raw feeding has become very popular, and there are many brands available for all kinds of dogs. They will usually come in the form of frozen meat patties, which are thawed and served right away, or there are plenty of do-it-yourself recipes which you can make with the ingredients in your kitchen. Supplements are a great way to customize your dog’s food according to what they need, which brings me to my last and most important point:

Know what your veterinarian knows about your pet. If they need specific nutrients in their diet, your vet will know exactly what they need and how they need it. Never be afraid of asking multiple vets for their opinion, and always make sure the vet knows if there are any changes to their diet.

Making sure your pet has the best food available to them is the #1 way to prevent illness and disease, but finding the right food can be overwhelming. I’ll be going further into detail about each point I made in this post, but for now, I think I’ve got a good starting block to find the right dog food for my soon-to-be fur-baby.

Pet Food: My Startling Revelation

Since Barry’s passing, I’ve invested a lot of time into reading books about pet care. My house is in the middle of a remodel, and its not exactly ready for a new addition to the family. Its been about a month since he died, and I think I could use a new friend, but I’m realizing everyday that I have a lot to learn about how to truly take care of a loved pet.

I read Natural Pet Care: How To Improve Your Animal’s Quality of Life by Gary Null, and he painted quite a picture in the first chapter about the pet food industry. He says around the 1940s, the food industry was trying to find a way to dispose of its “wastes” – rejected animals or parts of animals from the meat packing industry. When you see a can or bag of dog food and it says “byproduct”, Null says, “what you are likely to find … are the contaminated or condemned remains of ‘4D’ animals—that means dead, dying, diseased, or disabled livestock.” Most byproducts are made in “rendering plants”, which could also include dead animals from shelters and even veterinary clinics who dispose of dead pets.

Wow.

"By the way, when he dies, I'll be sending the carcass to a rendering plant so he can be processed and eaten by other dogs. Sign here?"

“By the way, when he dies, I’ll be sending the carcass to a rendering plant so he can be processed and eaten by other dogs. Sign here?”

I’ll be honest, it seemed a little too extreme. The reference article he uses is an Animal Protection Institute report from 2000 called What’s Really in Pet Food?, and an article from The Toronto Star called “Pet Food or Poison?” from 1998.

I wanted to find a newer resource that talked about this, which I found in the Dogs Naturally July-August 2014 issue. According to the article, there are two kinds of meat in the pet food industry: Mechanically-separated meat and Denatured meat. And I quote:

“So what is mechanically separated meat? And how is it separated? This is a process used both in human food production and pet food production. The left over carcass is ground down to a paste-like product, then put through a high pressure sieve to extract the meat from the bones. Any bone particles should be caught by the sieve. With this process there are tendons, veins, and arteries that are ground up as well.”

The article made a note that nowhere in the AAFCO guidelines is there a reference to where the meat comes from. However, in order to make the food more “appealing”, they add “artificial colors and flavors… and to make it bacteria free, the meat is treated with ammonium peroxide.”

This is a photo of what they call "pink slime" after washed in ammonium hydroxide. McDonalds uses this. I'm not even kidding.

This is a photo of what they call “pink slime” after washed in ammonium hydroxide. McDonalds uses this. I’m not even kidding.

What the hell. This just can’t be right.

Denatured meat, if possible, sounds even worse. This is the kind of meat that Gary Null was referencing when describing meat that is not intended to be eaten by humans. Apparently, there are no rules about pets. Chemicals are used to “denature” these meats, such as crude carbolic acid, cresylic disinfectant, charcoal, and about 25 other things that I definitely don’t want my dog around, let alone in his stomach.

Amy Budd, the author of the article, describes an experience while trying to buy meat from a USDA facility, and was not allowed out of the plant with the meat after the facility realized she wanted to use it for pet food. The meat they had sold her was inedible for any animal, and had to be denatured before feeding it to dogs. Pet food companies are not required to put on the label which kind of meat they use.

"So let's take a look at some of the good stuff we use in our recipes." -Actual quote from Pedigree's website

“So let’s take a look at some of the good stuff we use in our recipes.” -Actual quote from Pedigree’s website

Budd also talks about how the food is labeled, saying that “there is no such thing as ‘hormone free’ or ‘antibiotic free’ meat”, that the labels are only allowed to say that there are no added hormones or antibiotics. She ends that article with her “ugly truth”: pet food manufacturers simply don’t care about quality materials, only their profits. But our loved ones are paying the price. You can read Dogs Naturally’s online article about it here.

I fed Barry Pedigree wet food and Rachel Ray’s brand dog kibble. Pedigree’s website says chicken and meat byproducts, and a bunch of stuff I can barely spell. Pedigree has a 1-star rating on this dog food analysis website, and there is a less than glowing review on Pedigree on petfoodtalk.com. I also found an article about Pedigree’s Adult Nutrition recall for “metal fragments” found in their food. That was this last August.

Even though Rachel Ray’s pet food got a marginally better score (3 stars), the review says it has too many fillers, and many dogs have allergies to the corn and ground wheat flour. The primary ingredients in the food. /facepalm

In case you didn't know what a face palm was.

In case you didn’t know what a face palm was.

I’ll be talking about corn and soy later, otherwise this might turn into a novel.

Among this list of dog food recalls were Purina, Iams, Eukanuba, Nature’s Recipe, and several other brands that I recognize. They’re sold everywhere! I see them every single time I go to the grocery store. On the other hand, I can’t recognize a single one of these brands, and these are supposed to be the top rated pet foods available.

Look at all our denatured, disgusting cans of poison! Buy some for your dog!

“Look at all our denatured, disgusting cans of poison! Buy some for your dog!”

I’m in shock. I can’t even believe that I was feeding this to my dog! Well, enough’s enough. Settle in everyone, I’ve found a new category for my blog here: Pet food that our dogs deserve.

This is a story about a dog.

Early on, when we first got him. He was so shy.

Early on, when we first got him. He was so shy.

This dog was potentially the best dog in the whole world. He would fetch. He loved walks, and had a weird obsession about balls. He would dance with you. He learned all the basic tricks, like sit, stay, lie down, roll over. He would lick your face and insist on cuddle time, regardless of what you were doing at that particular moment. He was constantly happy, and was an absolute joy to have as a part of my family.

On the way to the groomers!

On the way to the groomers!

His life didn’t start that way. I don’t know much about his parents, but I believe they were most likely a mix between poodle and schnauzer/cocker spaniel. A woman stopped my boyfriend’s mother while on a walk with her dog and begged her to take this dog. She was going through a divorce, and needed to find her dog a home before she moves out. We went to visit the dog, and immediately I fell in love. He was covered in mats and was obviously malnourished, but he was so excited to see us I wanted to take him right then.

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Just hanging out, no big deal.

The reason why I don’t know much about him is because after we took Barry from her, we never heard from her again. Her phone number was disconnected, and she didn’t even give me her correct name, so I had to wait three months before I could find records about him. We couldn’t understand why, until we gave him his shots after seeing that he didn’t have his rabies yet. He became incredibly sick. He was weak, could barely walk or eat, and we found blood in his stool.

Our vet found, after some testing, that he had thrombocytopenia, a genetic, auto immune blood disorder. Suddenly, it became clear why this woman was giving this dog for free. I spent the next couple of months in constant anger, trying to find her, and finally accepting that the only thing that matters now is giving Barry the best life we can. We were given three choices: do nothing, and he will succumb to his illness within the year. Steroid treatments in the short-term, and a stronger drug (azathioprine) for the long term, maybe another 2 or 3 years. Regular blood transfusions, thousands of dollars each, giving him maybe 5 years. I was devastated to find that there was no cure. We decided early on that we wouldn’t be able to afford blood transfusions, and that attempting steroids first would be a good start. He recovered very well, but he would be susceptible to infections. Abscesses formed in his mouth, small cuts wouldn’t heal. Suddenly, having a clean environment became a top priority for me, as well as making sure the products that my community pet salons, hospitals, and adoption centers are also using products that are truly healthy for our pets.

By then, this dog had become part of our small and loving family, myself and my boyfriend, along with his three dog-loving children. This dog was waiting for us to come home every night after work, escorted the 8-year-old girl to her room to “scare the monsters away” while she got ready for bed. He was a fetch buddy when you just needed to throw a ball and think about life. He would get you off your lazy butt and take him for a walk around the block. He was my alarm clock, my car-buddy, my reminder to smile.

He was the best dog in the world. And I miss him every day.

On September 17th, 2014, Barry died after four days of fatigue and internal bleeding from his disease. The steroids made him susceptible to infection, which created two abscesses in his mouth that never fully healed. We were hesitant to put him back on the steroids, and seemed healthy for a few months, until his last days of fatigue and bleeding, then death. I feel guilt and regret every day for not continuing his steroid treatment, but I didn’t believe that he would survive another infection.

We decided to give him he best thing we could: a healthy environment to prevent infections and toxins from harming him. We focused all of our energy in providing a clean, infection-free environment for him, so early on we started shopping online for our household goods, including laundry, floor/bathroom/glass cleaner, as well as pet shampoo, and looked for products that were all-natural, ph-balanced, and safe for pets. We threw out all of our retail-brand, toxic products, and switched the entire house to all-natural. Unfortunately, I can’t exactly switch my community to it. My local pet salons use specialized kennel cleaners that are not toxin-free, and some smaller businesses admitted to using bleach. The second time he became very ill, I had taken him to a pet salon where he was allergic to the kennel or the floor cleaner, his paws were raw from the toxins after only a few hours. Every one and their pets are entitled to have an all-natural, clean environment for their homes and the pet salons, hospital, hotels and adoption centers of Southern California, the US, and the world.

That’s where I stand. I want a world that has pet shampoos and conditioners, household, industrial, and laundry cleaners that use naturally-derived ingredients, are toxin, artificial color and fragrance, and triclosan-free, ph-balanced, and are concentrated and phosphate free for our planet. I also want to know where my money is going to when I buy that kind of product. I want a world where pet owners can have access to the right information about the products their using, and where to find the right ones. I want to find alternatives to love our pets the way nature intended, and have the right tools to give them the happiest and healthiest lives possible. Because they deserve it.

Barry was my world. He might be gone, but I can promise him that I will find the resources to fully love and care for the next dog I invite into my world. I’d love to share that knowledge with any other pet lover that comes across my way.

You can find more photos of Barry here: http://imgur.com/a/FFDyE