Wednesday, March 26, 2014

If You Haven't Fallen ...

There's a saying among equestrians that if you haven't fallen off a horse, you probably haven't been riding long enough, and as with most sayings, there's at least a kernel of truth in it.  

I started riding at a young age, and I rode pretty seriously all the way through my childhood and teen years, up until my junior year of high school.  At that point, I had to make a decision between two things I really wanted:  to keep riding and to go to an out of state college.   Ultimately, I chose the out of state school, and since my parents couldn't afford to send both me and my horse, a beautiful, somewhat cantankerous bay mare named Ginger, away to college, Ginger had to be sold.  In the intervening years between then and now, I have ridden only infrequently.    

Naturally, then, it has been some years since I've fallen.  Until, that is, earlier this evening.  It was my sixth lesson, and for the first time in far too many years, I was cantering.  It was, in a word, amazing. For those non-horse people, the canter is a three beat gait that is often confused with a gallop. By this I mean that there are three audible footfalls (da da DAH ... da da DAH ... da da DAH) per stride, and then the moment of suspension, when all four of the horse's legs are off the ground.  It is as close to flying as  you will ever get without either being aboard an airplane or astride a hippogriff, and to say I have missed it would be a dreadful understatement, but missed it I certainly have. 

I can't say I feel the same about falling, although, to be totally honest, I didn't fall a whole lot back in the day.  I was younger then, and in better shape.  I had a rock solid seat and leg muscles of iron.  I wasn't easy to unseat.  Unfortunately, I can no longer say that, and during this evening's lesson, that fact was brought home when my mount got a little too strong at the canter, and instead of sitting deeper into my saddle and going with him, I got caught off balance, and landed, rather inelegantly, in the dirt.  

I'm fine, and in truth I think my poor instructor was more shaken than I was (to be honest, I was pretty happy to have landed safely on terra firma, however ungracefully I may have landed there - it is always those few seconds before a fall, which seem to stretch out to hours - if you've ever been in a car accident you'll know what I mean - that are worse than the fall itself), and I got up, dusted myself off, and got, as the saying goes, back up on the horse.  Because that is what you do.  You hope that you don't fall.   You work at developing a solid seat so that you are balanced in the saddle at whatever gait you happen to be traveling in.  But if you fall, and at some point (though hopefully not often) you will, you get up, and get back on in pretty short order.  Because otherwise you may never get back on at all. And that is not an option.  

Friday, March 14, 2014

Working Hard or Hardly Working

I somewhat jokingly refer to The Paragon and The Flying Monkey as my "working dogs."  However, today they seem to be sleeping on the job a lot more than usual.  Sometimes I wish I had their jobs instead of my own.  Is that wrong?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Gadgets for the Techie Pet Owner

I won’t lie … my dogs and cats have a pretty nice life.  I don’t really consider them spoiled, because I do insist that they be reasonably well-mannered and appropriately behaved, but they do have it pretty good.  Though, the way I see it, they deserve it.  They bring an incredible amount of joy, love, and companionship to my life, so even given all I do for them, I still feel like it can’t possibly compare to all they give to me.  Also, all five of them had less than auspicious beginnings in life.  The dogs were both rescue pups, (though The Flying Monkey had an easier time of it than The Paragon did – she got yanked from a high kill shelter in Miami along with her sister and was queening it up in her foster home and sleeping in bed with her foster mom’s little girl when I adopted her) and all three cats were born feral.   I consider myself incredibly lucky to have each of them, but there’s no doubt that they also got pretty lucky to have landed themselves a home with us.  Things could easily have gone far differently for each of them, and indeed, for The Baby in particular, he probably didn’t have much longer out there on his own before starvation, dehydration, and a nasty respiratory infection would have done him in. 

The point is … I do concede that this once-motley, now greatly beloved, furry crew of mine do have things pretty good.  But neither are they particularly spoiled.  Their collars and leashes aren’t terrifically expensive, they don’t have “wardrobes” to speak of, except for a few T-shirts and sweaters for the dogs when it’s cold and they need them, and they certainly aren’t slurping mineral water out of crystal dishes.  They get filtered tap water in stainless steel bowls, and they like it just fine!  About the only thing I do splurge on is their food, but I don’t even really consider that a splurge.  I consider it an investment in their health, and that’s why my vet bills, except for things like routine checkups and blood work, and the required-by-law yearly rabies vaccines (I don’t routinely vaccinate for anything but rabies – I do titers instead), are just about nonexistent. 

But even though I don’t consider myself particularly extravagant (in much of anything, but even where my greatly treasured furry housemates are concerned) I do still like to keep an eye on the trends.  So today when I was scanning for my daily dose of all things newsworthy and not-so-newsworthy, my eye was caught by an item that read “The 7 Best Tech Gadgets for Pets.”  I had five minutes to kill, so I clicked.  Here’s what I found:

Gadget #1:  The iFetch ($100 from 

This gadget shoots a ball up to 30 feet away whenever the ball is dropped into the funnel.  For ball-obsessed dogs, whose owners get tired of throwing a ball over and over, I can see the appeal in this gadget.  But in my house, the pups’ preference runs more toward stuffy toys with squeakers than to balls.  I have some friends whose dogs might really like this, though. 

Verdict:  I can see where this might come in handy for some people, but for me I would have to pass.  
Gadget #2:  The Passport Pet Access Smart System Door ($230 from

 Truthfully, I’m kind of surprised that this particular gadget made it on anyone’s short list.  I’ve seen its’ like many times before.  It’s a pet door that can be programmed to allow entry or exit only for designated pets by using a little electronic key that attaches to their collar. As I said, I’ve seen other ones that advertise similar capabilities in the past, so I can’t see what’s so different or great about this particular one. 

 Verdict:  Pass 
Gadget #3:  The Petnet Smart Feeder ($249 from 

Again – I’m not terribly impressed with this one.  Its selling points include that you can manage exactly when your pet eats and exactly how much.  But other automatic feeders can do this, too, and actually, so can I, with my own two hands, albeit not when I am not actually home!  The difference here is that you can program the portion amounts and the times the food is dispensed via a computer, smartphone, or tablet.  I guess this is handy, but again, I prefer to feed my animals myself.  Also, I feed a raw diet, so it probably wouldn’t work very well for me anyway.

Verdict:  Pass

Gadget #4:  The Whistle Activity Monitor ($130 from

Perhaps my Amish roots are showing, but here’s another gadget I just don't see the point in.  A little device hooks on to the pet’s collar, and “uses information like weight, age, and breed to crunch data about your pet’s periods of activity and rest.”  This, apparently, allows you to “set and chart health goals and track behavior patterns.”  To what purpose, I’m not exactly sure. 

Verdict:  Pass 
Gadget #5:  PetChatz ($349 from

At the risk of sounding like the boat-coveting-woman-from-Napoleon-Dynamite let me just say:  I want this!  Unlike with a web cam, not only can you see/hear your pets, but they can see/hear you as well.  The PetChatz unit is plugged into an electrical outlet and then screwed securely into the wall stud.  The PetChatz unit is connected to your home WiFi network and then you log in to on your computer, or download the app on your tablet or smartphone, and you’re ready to go.  Go to the PetChatz website and see a video of it in action.

Verdict:  $349 doesn’t seem that bad for this system – heck, it even dispenses treats – but then again – I can think of other things I would probably rather buy for that amount of money.  And yet I can’t deny that I really would like to try it out.  Not even for the dogs so much, as they are with me at the office most days, but for the cats.  Especially because I like to go away for the weekend (usually the dogs come along) and when I do, it’s easy to have my pet sitter come twice a day to feed the cats, but The Hunk, especially, is so shy with people he doesn't know well, that my pet sitter, K, pretty much has to take it on faith that everyone’s still alive and well.  The fact that I could dispense treats remotely would be kind of fun, and I can see The Baby, especially, really digging that.  I’m highly intrigued, and feeling covetous, but not quite ready to whip out my credit card at this juncture. 
Gadget #6:  The Tagg Tracker ($100 from plus an $8 per month service fee after the first 90 days of service) 

This gadget, I admit, is pretty cool.  It attaches to your pet’s collar (it’s designed to be worn at all times – and is even waterproof!) and uses a GPS system to keep tabs on the pet’s location.  If the pet strays from a designated zone, you’ll be alerted by both email and text message, and you can track the pet’s location on a map using your computer, or mobile device (you have to download the free Tagg mobile app for that).  With my current situation, and my current animals, I don’t have much real need of this device, though given The Baby’s penchant for staring holes through doors (and his recently documented ability to OPEN them himself), this probably would be a good idea for him.  And it definitely would have come in handy back in my departed Malamute mix, Dakotah’s, glory days.  That boy could run like the wind, and he’d take any available opportunity to take off and explore on his own.  I remember one sleepless night in particular when a family member accidentally let him out during a torrential rainstorm and he got his collar snagged on something, got stuck fast, and it wasn’t until daylight that someone spotted him.

Verdict:  If you have an escape-prone pet, this definitely seems worth looking into. 

Gadget #7:  The Petcube ($149 from 

Similar to the PetChatz, this gadget is designed to let you keep an eye on your pet(s) when away from home.  Set to debut in May, it will allow you to check in on your pet(s) via a mobile app.  A wide angle camera streams and records HD video to your computer or smartphone, and apparently you can move around a laser pointer to “virtually play with your pet.” Though cheaper than the PetChatz system, this one doesn’t really thrill me.  If I were to choose between the two, I’d rather pay double the money for the PetChatz system as it just seems like it can do more, and is more interactive. 

Verdict:  Pass 

Overall, quite a few of these gadgets were not all that exciting to me, but I really am strongly considering trying out the PetChatz system, and I think the Tagg Tracker is also a great idea, especially for pets that are known escape artists.

What about you?  Do any of these strike your fancy?  Is there a pet-related gadget that you just can't live without?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Guess Who?

Guess who suddenly decided to teach himself how to open doors?

Well, the pronoun has already eliminated two of the suspects.  So you know it wasn't The Diva ...  
"Why bother to learn how to open a door?  That's what servants are for." 

And you know it wasn't The Flying Monkey ...

   "Who me?  I'm just laying here looking cute!  Please excuse my bedhead." 

So that just leaves the boys. 

But it wasn't The Paragon ...

"Nope, wasn't me either ... I am perfect, don't you read?"

And it also wasn't The Hunk ... 

"Door?  What door?  Yawn."

So by process of elimination, that only leaves ... yep, you guessed it.  It was The Baby.
"Yep, it was me.  What's my prize?"

I swear, as anyone reading this as my witness ... this cat is going to be the death of me.  As I have mentioned, his blog moniker could easily have been The Train Wreck or The Money Pit, but it could also easily have been Houdini.  He has yet to prove it, but I would lay odds he could walk on water or upside down on the ceiling if he chose to. And apparently sometime between yesterday and today, he has learned to open doors.  Which presents, as you might imagine, all sorts of possible issues.  I don't "think" he has the strength to open the heavier exterior doors (the front door, the door from the den to the garage, or from the den to the back door leading onto the patio).  But I am making a major mental note not to test that theory anytime soon.  All of those doors will remain securely locked.  But he most definitely can (as he proved twice in succession this evening) open the lighter interior doors at will unless they are locked.  

How do I know?  Well, it's like this.  This past summer, we moved from our previous abode to a 3 story townhouse with an attached one car garage.  As I hate to park in enclosed spaces (it brings out some sort of latent claustrophobia), the garage is used for storage, to house an extra fridge/freezer, to store the rolling trash and recycle bins, and it is also where the litter boxes are. We have three oversize boxes there, and another smaller one on the third floor in the master bath.  The door from the den to the garage was outfitted with a cat door when we moved in, one with a latch so that in the event we wanted to keep the cats in or out of the garage temporarily (shutting them all in the garage so we can Furminate, for example, or, as was my intention this evening, to keep them OUT of the garage so that I could raise the door to roll out the trash can without the cats escaping), such a thing would, in fact, be possible. 

Well, theoretically anyway.  Because the thing is .... The Baby does not enjoy being thwarted.  When he wants in, he wants in.  When he wants out, he wants out. And invariably, whatever side of any given door that he is on is ... you guessed it ... the wrong side.  Which is why the little sliding latch on the cat door was toast in about a week and a half. So now when I want to keep the cats in the garage or out of it, there is some finagling to be done.  

Tonight when I got home, it being the evening before garbage day, I slid the piece of particle board I have for this purpose between the cat door and the door-door to block The Diva and The Hunk from entering the garage until I had opened the garage door, rolled the trash bin out to the street, and shut the door again.  Yep, particle board.  Classy, right?  But see, there is no point in buying and installing another cat door, because I know The Baby.  Once he does something once, it becomes part of his repertoire, so I knew it would only be a matter of time (and not much time, either) before the latch on the new cat door was broken, too.  So I figured I would, in the interest of saving myself time, money, and aggravation, just skip the part where I bought and installed a new cat door, only to be in exactly the same predicament I'm in now.

I also know, unfortunately from past experience, that the particle board barrier might thwart The Diva and The Hunk, (because they are reasonably normal), but it is not going to stop The Baby.  See, when The Diva and The Hunk, again, being reasonably normal (reasonably being the operative word ... they ARE still cats, so normalcy is not really something that is high up on their list of priorities), encounter something like a piece of particle board that is blocking the door through which they usually pass, they treat it as a human might treat a locked door or a posted sign reading DO NOT ENTER.  In other words, they figure "Hey, Mom must be cleaning the latrines.  Better come back later." 

The Baby, on the other hand, does not view it that way at all.  If there is something between him and wherever it is he happens to want to go, he will simply do his level best to remove whatever impediment is in his way. Which is how, apparently, he taught himself to raise the particle board up enough with his paw to get his head under it and then shimmy the rest of his body under, and thereby bypass said impediment.  Which, therefore, makes it necessary, on garbage day (or evening), to lock him in the downstairs half bath off the den, and then slip the particle board barrier in front of the cat door to bar The Diva and The Hunk from entering the garage to use the facilities for the approximately ninety seconds during which the garage door is open to the outside.  

This system, while a bit of a PITA, has worked reliably now for some months.  Until this evening, when, as I was walking back into the garage (having just deposited the rolling trash bin in its position by the street) and was about to hit the button to bring down the door, I happened to hear a rattle of the particle board, and caught a glimpse of a little black paw.  The Baby was at the door, attempting to do his patented lift and shimmy move to gain access to the garage. 

 Whether he needed to use the litter box, or was just sick of waiting for dinner, I'm not sure, but there he was. So clearly, we will need to figure out another system of securing the perimeter against unauthorized escape by one very determined little black cat.  

Any ideas?