Wednesday, May 27

Startling Discovery

I realized a week or so ago, in light of our recent loss of my beloved Pandora, that Scamp's anniversary of both his birthday and euthanasia have come around, and for the first time, I had forgotten it.

That's not to say I've forgotten Scamp, my childhood Shih Tzu who trooped along to the admirable age of 17 - no, his picture is hung right by my door so I see it every time I leave. His quilt, that I made by hand just for him, that he and only he has ever laid on, is hung over the headboard of my bed. I think about him daily. And here it is, five years later, and I completely forgot two extremely important days in my life.

And I'm thrilled.

I take the loss of every single pet extremely hard. My mom, when I was younger, told me "no more pets," simply because I become a wreck. This rule, I might add, did not stay around long. ;) Because even in the severe, heart-wrenching pain of losing an animal, you still have those years and years of joy that they have brought into your lives. I do not want to live in a world without pets. I'm sure many of you feel the same way.

I see my oversight as proof that I have finally moved on. Yes, five years later. I had Scamp from the time I was 6 years old, until I was 23. We grew up together. He knew all my secrets. He was my first baby boy, and he will always hold a very special place in my heart. Worst of all, I had to make the decision to euthanize him - quite possibly the most difficult decision I have ever, and will ever, have to make. To this day, even though he was suffering terribly, I feel as though I killed him, because, essentially, I did. For at least a year it plagued me daily what I had done to such a trusting little dog who had done nothing but offer me his entire heart without hesitation. Every year for four years on his birthday, I ached for him. He was euthanized the day after his birthday, so the next day would be even worse as I relived the visit to the vet's. Over. And over.

I still get emotional and choked up thinking about it. And to me, that's good. It means to me that he made an impression upon the world, that at least one person is sadder for him having left it. I think of my little baby boy often, and how, wherever he is now, he's moving along without pain, with perfect vision and hearing, and wondering what's holding Mom up. I hope he doesn't get too irritated with any other pets that are waiting with him, because he'll be the first one to get a great big squeeze from me. But until that day, I remember all the pets I have lost, with a tug in my heart, and the knowledge that no matter how badly their deaths may hurt, they brought me endless love and joy while they were alive.

Tragedy at Menagerie Mayhem

Last week, we suffered the loss of our long-time birdie friend and avian companion, Pandora. Pandora was a whiteface lutino cockatiel hen, an extremely endearing little bird that behaved more like her bigger cousins the cockatoo than a 'tiel. Pandora's life was long haunted by illnesses and maladies (hence her name) and at last succombed to a sudden and severe respiratory infection.

She was laid to rest in our rose garden, and no doubt is busy bossing other family members that are also resting there. She would have been 8 years old on June 3rd. She is missed terribly.

Thursday, May 7

Owning an Old English Sheepdog

Because the Old English Sheepdog isn't extremely common where I live, I get a lot of questions about what the breed is like. Now, granted, I've only ever owned one - Roofus - so I can only tell you what it's like to own Roofus. :)

It's definitely an experience! LOL

Roofus is much heavier and taller than the AKC breed standard calls for, but his size is actually not uncommon in the breed. He stands approximately 30" tall at the shoulders, whereas the breed standard is 24", IIRC. He weighs 99# in the winter, full coated (take five pounds off for the summer!), and the high end is more like 70# in the standard. So, he's pretty much a giant breed dog. So you get all the issues that come with that size of animal - the ability to drag you down the road if he sees a squirrel, nicking stuff off counters, putting his head on the table while you eat - all that. He also has a problem with his front right leg because he's so large and active. The vet believes it is arthritis, which he sees a lot in giant breed dogs.

As far as the coat goes... It's not that bad. You can keep them in a puppy cut year round, but most of us grow it out all winter and then shear them in the spring. I brush his coat once or twice a week completely in the winter, and I bathe him at least once every two weeks as well. I find a nice double rake gets out EVERYTHING in his coat (and he picks up weird stuff - once, in a bath, I found a live spider in his coat!!), but you may want to use a single rake to get all the mats out first. My Old English Sheepdog does not shed, but there are some that do, and you'll love having the rake.

Food-wise, he doesn't eat much. I give him three cups a day of Premium Edge Lamb and Rice adult. He's not a voracious eater. Sometimes he doesn't eat for a day or two at a time. When he was younger, he had a lot of digestive issues, which is common for the breed. Keep this dog crated for at LEAST the first year if you don't want your home decorated in liquid poo. He stopped having these "attacks" when he was about two years old. Pepcid helped tremendously.

Personality-wise, he has the best personality ever. I love this dog to death and with good reason. He loves EVERYBODY. Even dogs or people he doesn't care for, he still loves them. He adores children, but because of his size there is a very likely possibility of knocking them over in his enthusiasm. And here I should note that Old English Sheepdogs stay like puppies for their entire lives, until shortly before they die. They are always exhuberant, always happy, which makes it pretty easy to tell if they're ill. Roofus is a lap dog - you read that right. He lays in my lap while I'm on the sofa. I encourage it. He loves to snuggle, cuddle, spoon - anything to be close to his person.

Old English Sheepdogs are great watchdogs, too, and are wary of folks that invade their home or approach their family. This doesn't mean they're aggressive - Roofus just barks to let me know someone is around the yard or coming near. They can be quite protective of their owners and families. This is a natural sheep herding mentality, but you have to keep it under control so they don't become aggressive.

OES are also known for being stubborn and bullheaded. If Roofus thinks he knows better than you, he won't listen to a word you say. They need a strong pack leader, and honestly, I let him walk all over me a good deal of the time. They seem to be trained best with lots of love and affection rather than treats. It's quite difficult with Roofus because of his size - a gentle leader is a godsend for helping to control him, particularly on a walk when he wants to go and visit with every man, woman, child and dog. My sheepie also has a jealous streak. He doesn't like it when my SO hugs me or gets too close to me. If other people do that, he may or may not care (usually nudges me), but he does not like my SO stealing his mommy. He also is quite reactive if I see a shady character while we're out and about (I don't live in the best of neighborhoods). He gives that person the evil eye, and may even softly woof or huff if that person approaches. He goes into "protect" mode, and I have no doubt he would attack someone that was trying to injure me.

Sheepdogs aren't terribly bright, either. They're smart in their own special way, but if I had to rate their intelligence, as far as learning tricks, etc, I'd put them rather low on the scale. They're GREAT at herding - they herd with their muscle, pushing the sheep around with their shoulders. But because of that stubborn streak, you may have a heck of a time getting them to do what you want them to. They just want to go out and have a good time. That may or may not include driving the sheep where you want them.

My Roofus has done a few dog classes, included advanced obedience and rally-o. He is also great at frisbee, but remember what I said about giant breed dogs.. they are definitely not made for high-impact sports like that. He would, however, die if we did not play it occasionally, so I try to throw it low so he doesn't do his big air acrobatics.

Old English Sheepdogs are also HUGE chick magnets. I have never taken Roofus on a walk or to somewhere that there hasn't been at least two people that stop and talk to me about him. Usually it's a lot more. There's just something about them. True, he doesn't get near the admirers as when he's full coated, but if I turn around and walk, say, the corgi on the same path, I generally get no comments whatsoever. Everyone wants to pet Roofus.

Roofus also gets mistaken for other dog breeds quite often. I think two people in his whole life have correctly identified him as an Old English Sheepdog on the first try. The most common ones I've gotten are: irish wolfhound (when he's shaved, he gets this a LOT), labradoodle (when his coat begins to grow out), saint bernard (oh come on people, that one's ridiculous), bearded collie (i can see that, even though he has no tail and is much, much larger than a beardie), giant schnauzer, bouvier des flandres (seriously, you guess bouvier but don't see OES??). I'm sure there are others, but those are the most common mistaken identities.

So, to sum up, I love this breed. I'll probably always own one. They are active dogs that aren't the brightest crayon in the box, but are snuggly, adorable, and always ready to have some fun with their family!