The Only Edmonton Dog Park

Edmonton has a lot of dog parks. Over forty, in fact. 4-0. Yet, if anyone was to ask me for a recommendation, there is only one answer.

Terwilliegar.

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Yes, it is located near a pretentious south-end gated community. Sure, the parking lot is tiny and you can never be sure there isn’t a chihuahua about to dodge under your wheels. It is still the best place in the whole city to give your dog a taste of freedom.

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With over 5 kilometres of walking trails, both open and forested, an extensive dog beach along the river, numerous ponds perfect for cooling off, and a giant well-maintained field designed for a killer game of fetch, there is no better. Even Shubie Park in Halifax, what I used to consider the Cadillac of dog parks, can’t beat Terwillegar.

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It’s the kind of place where it doesn’t matter if the other owners are ignorant jerks. It’s just so big! No one remains in one place for long so there is no fear of too many dogs getting annoyed with each other in too small of a space. At the first sign of trouble, it is easy to just move on and get back to the fun.

Do you see how far away the other people are?

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There are many other dog parks in this city. Some of them might even be worth checking out if you are in the area. But if you are looking for something to do on a weekend afternoon? Terwillegar is a guaranteed good time.

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Caring for Critters Round Robin: Preparing for sudden injury

I am participating in the Caring For Critters Round Robin hosted by Heart Like a Dog. Think of the Round Robin like a relay race, each blogger passes the baton to a fellow blogger, who will then share his or her experience in caring for an ill or injured pet. Kol’s Notes ran ahead of me yesterday and tomorrow SlimDoggy will take the next leg!

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We have been lucky with Shiva. In the five years she has lived in our home, her physical health has never faltered. I wish I could say the same for her mental well-being. The Shiva stories are somewhat legendary among those brave enough to cross her zigzagging path. If you dig through this blog’s disorganized archives you will find tales of such bizarre canine decision-making you will wonder how this dog has all of her limbs intact. It is something we ask ourselves every day.

The first thing you need to understand is that Shivas a born without an instinct for self-preservation. Believing themselves invincible, they crash through life, leaping from one distraction to the next. If Shivas lived in a world of factions, they would only ever be members of Dauntless.

Hmm, this bush full of bees looks like the perfect place to shove my head

Hmm, this bush full of bees looks like the perfect place to shove my head

This is why our Shiva’s history is made up of tales of near disaster. From scaling cliffs, to climbing trees after porcupines, to throwing herself from walls over six feet tall, Shiva likes to make sure her people are paying attention. Her agility career was filled with episodes of this sort of madness. Why run up the teeter from the ground when it is much more fun to lunge onto the end facing the sky? Why take one jump when it is faster to take three in a single stride? Why wait for a reward when it is funnier to bound over the fence and race through the barn, stealing treats from other dogs?

Outside of the ring, her attitude was, and is, no different. There are so many stories, I have forgotten the details of most of them. Unfortunately, I’ll never forget the time she crashed a wedding. I am still not sure I am ready to share that story. For my own sanity, it is best to pretend I don’t know how many times she has run into the walls of our home, how many stairs she has slid down, how many floors she has met with her face. We have stories of infinite number involving skirmishes with other animals, domestic and wild, desperate attempts to fill her belly with food from the vehicles of strangers, and, of course, her most infamous moment of all, the incident at the drive though. At the dog park, we often joke we know where she is by the trail of screams and laughter Shiva leaves in her frenetic wake.

Sometimes we laugh too. More often, we are horrified.

Given all this, it is stunning Shiva has made it to the approximate age of six with only one trip to the emergency vet. I was so sure during her panicked fight with an agility jump standard, resulting in several long seconds of choking, that her healthy streak would end. Amazingly, the only serious misadventure we’ve experienced together was an actual fluke, one I cannot even blame on her crazy nature. We’ll never know what happened that November evening in the woods, a place Shiva has roamed many an evening before. I will also never be casual about the possibility of serious injury again.

The idea of this post isn’t to recount the near misses of my dog’s past. Rather, it is to reiterate the fact that accidents do happen, no matter how careful we and our dogs may – or may not – be. Most are preventable but sometimes we are blindsided. The only thing we can truly control is our reactions to these often scary incidents.

I don't know what you're worried about. Life is awesome! I can't wait for my next adventure!

I don’t know what you’re worried about. Life is awesome! I can’t wait for my next adventure!

Have a plan

This might sound painfully obvious but until disaster happens, you may not think about the details. I know I didn’t.

  • Do you know the phone number and address for your closest after-hours vet clinic? Looking these things up in the midst of a crisis is no fun. Trust me.
  • Do you have money set aside so you can pay up front? Pet insurance is great for reimbursement after the fact, but it doesn’t help if you don’t have the cash or credit on hand. Most clinics won’t even look at your pet unless you prove you can pay.
  • Do you know how much you are prepared to spend or how far you will go to save your pet if the worst happens during surgery? These are tough questions but I remember being rendered speechless when the emergency vet asked if we wanted him to resuscitate our dog should she go into hear failure. I was so worried I couldn’t think of any rational response. Breaking down at the clinic did not help me or my family.

Prepare your pet

Following a bad injury and the subsequent surgery, your pet will likely be put on several weeks of crate rest. This is not easy for most dogs. We expected it to be especially hard on Shiva who is used to two long walks day plus hours of play time. Active animals can struggle just as much as humans against sudden restrictions. I know I am a terrible patient. It wouldn’t have surprised me if Shiva turned into the same. Luckily, we had a few things built in to Shiva’s lifestyle that prepared her for the temporary change.

  • Shiva has long been accustomed to the routine of a crate. It was nothing to her to sleep inside her enclosure when we had to leave her alone to go to work. She had no difficulty relaxing and giving her body a chance to heal.
  • Shiva is used to being carried. Though she is a medium-sized dog of about forty-five pounds, we have spent a lot of time getting her used to being handled. Most of it was in play and for the purpose of fooling around, but because Shiva learned to trust us when we lift her up, she didn’t struggle when we had to carry her up and down the stairs during her convalescence. She accepted that it was just something we were doing and that everything would be okay.

White Coat Syndrome

Shiva is not a fan of the vet. Is any animal? But for a dog who is fearless in the face of coyotes and ten-foot gaps, the emergency vet represents all of her worst nightmares wrapped into one terrifying individual: stranger danger, new environment, small space, and usually someone standing in a doorway. Because we have moved around a lot, Shiva has never seen the same doctor twice. This has prevented her from building a relationship with a health care provider. As we can never predict Shiva’s response to strangers, it is a tricky thing to navigate for us. However, even if your pet is somewhat bonded with a regular vet, when it comes to emergencies, it is unlikely he or she will be attending the usual clinic. It is important to recognize this experience might be even more frightening than usual.

  • In all health situations, you are your pet’s advocate. If you know something that might make it less scary for your dog, such as being examined on the ground instead of on the table, or you holding him or her during the examination, instead of an assistant, it is your job to speak up. A caring vet, as most are, will be more than happy to oblige if at all possible. They have your pet’s best interests at heart as well but they don’t know unless you tell them.

I hate to suggest it, even I have an automatically negative response to the word, but muzzles can also be a dog’s safety net during these scary times. When an animal is in pain and thrust into a new place with a stranger prodding him, it is understandable he or she might react. Even if your dog has never bitten anyone before, it is possible her inhibition might be non-existent in an emergency. Any sign of aggression is placing him or her in danger. At the very least it prevents the vet from examining him or her properly.

  • While your dog might being upset by a muzzle in an already frightening situation, if you purchase one in advance and treat the tool as something natural and rewarding, it will be much less aggravating. Muzzle training is not just for aggressive dogs. There are some great online resources that detail how to make it a calming experience for your dog.

Practice

  • It might sound a little like jinxing your pet’s health but I don’t know if it is possible to be too prepared. Your pet doesn’t speak English and has no way of knowing what is to come. If you work to create positive associations with places and smells when your pet is healthy, it will be much less stressful in the event the situation is real.

I hope my experiences have provided some helpful tools. With such an adventure-seeking dog on my hands, I know it is possible another injury is in our future. Maybe next time we will all be more prepared. If there are any suggestions or resources you can add, I would be extremely grateful.

Thank you to Heart Like a Dog for running such a useful blogging event and inviting me to contribute. Don’t forget to check in with SlimDoggy tomorrow to learn more about dealing with Spondylosis deformans (fused spine).

The first stage of grief

I tried to embrace it. I really did. Even if this morning’s snowfall was a temporary mishap, I know winter is peeking over the horizon. Complaining isn’t going to prevent it from coming. Better to find the joy in the approaching weather than to let it get me down.

Yet, when I opened the door this morning and paused in the threshold, even Shiva looked wary. The wind was bitter. The flakes that wafted into the mudroom were depressing.

Regardless, we grit our teeth and moved into the cold, leaving our furnace and blankets behind. My breath wafted out in front of me. I tucked my head into my coat and contemplated going back for a scarf and mittens. At least I had thought to wear boots. My toes wriggled in thanks to my foresight.
After a moment or two Shiva lost her trepidation. Dogs are experts at rolling with the punches. Accepting the sudden drop in temperature as just the way things were, she bounded down the sidewalk with her usual verve.

I trailed behind as quickly as I could. The faster I walked, I told myself, the sooner we could go home. My nose was already numb. My fingers throbbed and tightened around the leash.

I really am going to have to find those mittens.

Edmontonians are tough creatures. Expecting to see no one brave enough to face this unaccountably early snowfall I was surprised by how many cyclists and joggers we ran into as we wandered through the ravine. These Northern people don’t let a little thing like freezing to death stop them from their exercise routines. I wish I could say I was as stubborn. If it wasn’t for Shiva, I would have still been in bed.

I know I need to get over it. Soon it will be much colder than it was today. If I am to survive I will have to find the beauty in an endless winter.

But not today. Today I am allowed to whine and vent and tantrum as much as I please. Today I let myself hibernate  and brood. Tomorrow I will get up in the morning and force a smile on my face. Today, however, today I will continue to pout.

Summer is gone. I am allowed some time to grieve.

Dog Poetry Sunday – An Agility Blessing

It could be nostalgia or it could be jealousy. When I found this poem on Agility Nut I knew it would be perfect for my Sunday series. I have spent a greater part of the weekend watching the videos of my Haligonian friends as they go on to earn title after title in one of the greatest sports in the world. I knew these people and these dogs back when they were just starting out, when one was too scared to zip through a curved tunnel and when another quivered at the sight of a tire jump. It is heart-warming to see how our former teammates have grown and it is bittersweet to watch from afar as they succeed beyond their early expectations.

I miss the sport of dog agility a lot. It was a significant part of our lives for almost four years. It was where we found each other. The few moments Shiva and I had together, when everything just connected, were a wicked experiences. Our last class together in July 2013, before we moved to Edmonton, was one of those times. It is a memory I will always treasure. If only we had it on video. If only those moments had been more frequent. If only things had aligned a little better for us.

This isn’t to say we’ll never get back into the ring. One never knows what awaits. But it isn’t going to be any time soon.

Here is a blessing to all dogs and humans participating in agility, this weekend and next, and all the days to come, whether your are just beginning or whether you are a seasoned professional. May your frustrations be minor and your joys of working together outweigh them all.

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An Agility Blessing, by P.J. Hughes

May the tunnels not have too much suction,
May the course be fun and fast.
May your dog not stop to say “hello”
to the photographers they pass!

May the table not be too slippery,
May the chute house no scary beasts,
May all the yellow parts be touched
with one little toe, at least.

May the wind be always at your back,
May no bars fall on the ground.
May the A-frame have no stop sign on the top,
May the judge’s whistle never sound.

May your dog obey all correct commands
And ignore the ones that are wrong.
May your heart be light, your feet be sure
and the bond with your dog grow strong.

At the finish line, may great joy abound,
regardless of your score,
You have your dog, your dog has you,,
and who could ask for more?

Lots of questions. And a baby goat.

It is day 58 of my 100 Days Project. I feel like it may as well be day 1. So many words, much more than the required 5800, and I am no closer to my goal of figuring out my goal.

The point of this challenge was to cultivate a daily writing practice. This I have done and am doing. It can be checked off. The underlying point, however, was to move beyond writing for writing’s sake. One can only blather on about nothing for so long.

Granted, I’ve done a decent job of this for over four years. Maybe there is purpose in a lack of purpose?

This is all a little too meta, isn’t it? Even for me. I am putting a lot of weight on one online scheme.

I am proud that I have stuck with it. Though I have dropped from blogging every day, I have faithfully kept up with my personal project. In the last few weeks, I have leaned toward pen and paper as a preferred medium. It is all very old school. There is something more appealing about burrowing into my deep blue chair, notebook in hand, scratching out the first thing that comes to mind, than there is about balancing my laptop and frowning at a bright screen. The experience of writing on real paper feels more natural. I correct myself less, crossing out much less than I would delete if I were typing.

But then, if I can get the same catharsis from writing my thoughts by hand as I do from sharing them online, is there a meaning behind this space at all? Why bother stammering to the void? Would it be more rewarding to hold my words to my chest? Should I just start a journal and be done with it?

What am I doing, really?

These are questions I can’t answer. I hate that. I hate that I am 32 years old and I have no clue what my passion is, what my goals are, what it is I want to do with my time. If I wasn’t afraid, if I was to throw everything at my dream, what would that dream be?

I don’t know. I am frightened I never will.

That’s enough ennui for today, I think. Because I don’t know how to end this properly, here is a short video of a baby goat. I filmed it while on holiday in British Columbia two weeks ago. If I could have fit him into my suitcase, he would be cuddling in my lap and life would be perfect.

Sweet dreams.

Things I learned about my dog while camping

Whoever said that dog training is never over was a very bright individual indeed. After all the time I have spent studying my dog’s behaviour, enough to fill several years of blog posts, one might expect me to be an expert on Shiva-isms. This is why expectations are premeditated resentments. If Labour Day Weekend 2014 is a forecast for my future, I am a novice in the way of the Sheevs.

Once I climb out of myself and look at it from an aerial view, I can see how this is a positive. Learning more pushes our relationship forward. Time had taught me how to give us both a break.

DSC08233We spent the last weekend camping with family. We’ve never done this before as we always lived several prairies and a Canadian shield away. I was nervous. Obviously. Shiva has met these family members before and it sometimes went well, sometimes… Less well. To be kind about it. Camping brought fresh hope, however, in a clean environment. There would be no territory for her to defend.

This was the thought. Shiva had other ideas. Doesn’t she always?

Alas, there were plenty of dicey moments, more than made me happy. But there were also more moments of clarity than I could have predicted. It turns out, gaining a little outside perspective on my dog’s actions can spin even my cynical brain.

DSC08203Things I learned about my dog while camping (with my parents)

  1.  Shiva is a dog. Yep. Stunning, right?
  2. Shiva is a dog who does dog-like things. You are blown away, I know it.
  3. Dog-like things include barking and sometimes jumping. Can you believe it?
  4. Shiva’s bark is loud and frightening BUT she is easily called off after one or two woofs. This is not the end of the world. Some people startle, some people swear, some people laugh, and some people don’t do anything at all. None of these reactions say anything about my dog.
  5. Shiva is a very well-trained dog, in comparison to the majority of other dogs. Comparison games are dangerous and I don’t want to play them, but it feels awesome when Shiva sits after one cue and other dogs the same age look like they have never heard the word before in their lives. I shouldn’t gloat over this. I don’t care. Shiva and I worked hard!
  6. Shiva likes her sleep. She turns into Grumpy Dog when she doesn’t get it.
  7. Shiva can sleep alone in a tent when she is motivated to do so. She cannot sleep alone at home.DSC08195
  8. Shiva has a lot of trust in me. When walking on narrow board walks and passing unpredictable toddlers and flailing cyclists, she didn’t have one reaction. Not because these things didn’t bother her, but because we worked together to give her the space she needs. This is why I can stop her from losing it at the end of her rope when people and other dogs wander by our campsite, sometimes staring as we eat our dinner. She knows I will take care of it.
  9. Shiva makes mistakes. And so do I. Thus far, no one has died.
  10. Shiva is not a dog everyone likes. She isn’t cuddly with strangers and she struggles with impulse control in new environments. She is anxious when forced to stay still. These are not endearing qualities. It doesn’t matter if anyone else loves her. It has nothing to do with my training.DSC08222
  11. Shiva is not an easy dog and is not a dog for a beginner. I was a beginner. I am not any more.
  12. Shiva is great with smaller dogs and puppies. I love this about her.
  13. Shiva is not going to change. She might mellow, she might learn more fun tricks to show off, but she isn’t going to turn into the relaxed, submissive dog other people think she should be. Good on her.

Do you still learn new things about your pets after years of living together?

One new thing every day

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One of our favourite things to do, Shiva and I, is to explore new places together. It doesn’t have to be complicated. So often new discoveries are as simple as meandering around corners before ignored. The ripe smells invigorate Shiva and the fresh sights prevent mental boredom in me. I have learned that routine is my swiftest route to insanity. The smallest change is worth any inconvenience.

We never would have found this interesting church if we hadn't crossed a new road

We never would have found this interesting church if we hadn’t crossed a new road

I have been thinking of embarking upon a new challenge, to do one new thing every single day. It can be minor – finding a new tree under which to eat my lunch – or major – talking to a stranger. Would such a feat even be possible? This is what I wonder. There will come a time when I will run out of little things to alter. How willing am I to deviate from the norm? This is what I think I am ready to find out.

Shiva, contemplating doilies on trees. That is a first.

Shiva, contemplating doilies on trees. That is a first.

It is something else to think about, regardless. I might fail. Then again, I might impress myself. As winter approaches and I face seven or more months of Canadian Arctic, I have to focus on something positive, right?

Shiva will be my guide. No challenges daunts her. I couldn’t find a better companion. Year of Badassery, part deux?