The Napkin Thief

I'm not guilty at all!

I don’t know anything about a napkin…

Jackson is a really good dog. He is three and a half-year old, he is now neutered, so he’s in that wonderful stage of being a dog where he is young and energetic but has outgrown the crazy puppy years. We’ve worked together training since he was just eight weeks old, we can trust him in the house without worrying that he will get into something, and he is just generally a well-behaved member of dog society.

Until he sees a napkin.

Jackson is obsessed with paper napkins and paper towels. Aiding him in his quest to chew and consume napkins is his sharp memory and ability to associate my actions with opportunities for him to obtain a beloved napkin.

Take, for example, breakfast. Breakfast is a “everyone fend for yourself” meal in our house, and I typically have my morning coffee and a bowl of cold cereal while sitting on the sofa with my legs tucked under me and the morning news on TV. Jax knows that there is not usually a napkin involved in this meal.

There are some mornings, though, when I will choose to make oatmeal in the microwave. Because the bottom of the bowl stays hot for a long time my habit is to grab a napkin or two to keep my hand from burning on the hot bottom of the bowl.

With the first sniff of my standard Melaleuca brand cinnamon oatmeal wafting his way, Jax is ready. He enters the kitchen and watches me grab a napkin from the holder. “This is not for you” I tell him each time, “not for puppies.” Jax thinks otherwise.

As soon as I sit in my end spot on the soft, Jax is in front of me. He never begs for actual food. I could eat the most delicious smelling hunk of meat and he will not beg. He simply wants the napkin.

Jax, Professional Beggar

Jax, Professional Beggar

Most days he stares at me with his big beautiful but intense eyes, willing me to give him the napkin. Sometimes he gets brave and rushes up and grabs a nibble, although he has not done this since he got in trouble after dumping the entire bowl of hot oatmeal into my lap.

Other times he will go to the side table next to me and reach out to grab the remote control or a magazine, trying to distract me to get the napkin. I am onto him, though. He understands “Don’t you dare steal my stuff” as he is in mid bite trying to take my latest issue of In Style. He will gently open his mouth back up, release my magazine, and back away as if to say “What, I was just checking it and I have deemed it to be ok.”

This afternoon I had a sandwich and some chips for lunch, also consumed on the sofa instead of at the table. Because I am logging and counting every calorie I put the chips in a small container and weighed them on the scale, and that is what I kept them in to eat them. I made the sandwich on a napkin so as not to dirty a plate. Somehow Jax missed the fact that I had used a napkin.

I forgot that I had left the container on the side table with the crumpled up napkin inside of it as I worked from my sofa all day on a writing project. A few minutes ago I got up to pour a fresh glass of water and Jax took the opportunity to steal my seat from me, something he does quite regularly.

I turned and watched as he started to nestle into the soft cushions of the sofa but stopped in the middle as he either smelled or saw the napkin. I watched and suppressed a laugh as he very gingerly reached his mouth into the container, grabbed the napkin, lifted his head and looked me in the eye, white paper napkin hanging out from his teeth. He then spun around, jumped off the sofa, and back to his dog sofa to chew his prize.

Tinkerbell was immediately on the bed with him, checking out his ill gained loot, although she did not inherit the napkin loving gene from their line of ancestors. Jax’s full litter mate brother did, though.

I will never forget when the dogs were about a year old I met up with our friend/breeder to watch her show Jax’s brother in a conformation show. Since she is a professional dog trainer I marveled at the impeccable leash and social manners that Jax’s brother had, compared to my sweet boy who was still a work in progress with a less experienced trainer.

The day of the show it was pouring outside and our friend was soaking wet right before her time in the ring. She grabbed a handful of paper towels to dry herself off and was standing with them in her hand talking to me, with Jax’s brother on his lead. He stood there perfectly on his thin show lead waiting for her next command. I laughed as he reached his beautiful head, so identical to Jax’s, up to his owner and opened his mouth ever so slightly to grab a piece of the paper towel.

“He’s a paper thief too!!” I exclaimed, laughing! Jax is obsessed with paper towels and napkins!

So today as he began to tear off little pieces of his napkin I let him get in a few small bites before I went and took the rest away. After all, it was a great find for him, as happy of a moment as when we put on a coat at the start of cold weather and find a $20 bill in the pocket.


A Year of Tinkerbell

A few weeks ago we celebrated our “gotcha” date with our sweet female Labrador Tinkerbell. As she sleeps on the bed next to me right no, her bedtime toy “snakey” a few inches from her head, it seems like much longer since this crazy pup came into our world.

I did not realize how few blogs I’ve written since Tinkerbell came home. Although we had just gone through Jackson’s puppyhood a few years before Tink’s I had still forgotten just how much time a puppy takes. It is worth every second and I would not trade it for anything, but it also does not leave as much time for blogging about it as I always think.

I did not get to spend much time with Tinkerbell’s mother when we went to pick her out of the littler; after all, she had nine pups to watch over as they frolicked in a big grassy yard. However I read on her website that she is the type of dog who makes her owner and our breeder (her co-owner) laugh out loud one second melt their heart the next. Tinkerbell is most definitely her mother’s daughter.

On one hand, Tinkerbell is a little crazy. She is lean and strong and does everything full force, whether it is leaping off the deck to chase a bunny, racing zoomies around the yard, running up the stairs to chase the cat, or greeting us when we come in the door. Tinkerbell has one speed: full throttle.

She runs indoor zoomies with Jackson and hurls herself against the back of the sofa, she has jumped entirely over our loveseat, and body slammed the oversized chair. We have worked on stopping her jumping for months, using every technique that we can google. She has springs in her legs and we joke that she has to be part Jack Russell. She makes me understand what our breeder is talking about when she refers to dogs who like to be “busy” all the time. Tinkerbell is one of those dogs.

Then there is her tongue,which appears to be extra long as it lolls out the side of her mouth when she is hot and tired. With her bright brown eyes glistening and her red tongue hanging carelessly out of the side of her mouth we cannot help but wonder what is going on in her mind, what crazy antic she is plotting next.

When Tink is calm there is no sweeter dog. Her head is on the small side but with classic female Labrador beauty and beautiful lines. Just like Jax, it seems as if we can see her every emotion in that face. She is as loving and snuggly as she is energetic. She sleeps on the bed with us every night, something we’ve begged, bribed and tried every method to get Jax to do, yet he still prefers his travel crate that will likely be a permanent fixture in our bedroom. She has two favorite spots, both of which mean that either my husband or I cannot stretch out our legs fully; neither of us will make her move.

Tinkerbell was one of 9 puppies and one of the first ones to go to her forever home. Accustomed to being part of a big pile of snuggly pups, Tinkerbell immediately found her spot next to Jackson, choosing to lay next to him no matter where he was, usually mimicking his position. A non-snuggler, Jackson was clearly out of his comfort zone, having been a little separated from the pile o’ pups in his own litter because of his broken leg, but he seemed to indulge her, never moving even though he looked like someone on an empty beach who had just had their space invaded by another beachgoer.

A year later she still will lay nearly on top of him no matter what they are doing. We smile as he gives a huge doggie sigh and sniffs her as if he is asking her “really??” She turns and looks at him and gives him a lick as if to say “oh, you love me.” We often joke that she has no concept of personal space; this is just fine with me as I love it that she will lay across us, sprawled on her back and ready for tummy rubs and ear scratches.

As I write this she is snoring loudly and her beautiful black paws are twitching. I wonder what she’s dreaming about. Come morning she’ll be ready to go for the day, leaping up and down like a kangaroo as she shares her very enthusiastic “good morning” greetings. But for now she’s having her little doggie dreams, her tail wagging sometimes, licking her lips every now and then and sometimes even making little puppy nursing sounds with the tip of her tongue hanging out. I’ll never know what she’s dreaming but like any mom wishes for her babies, I hope it’s a good dream, inspired by a good life. Because that’s what Tinkerbell and Jackson give to us and what we will always strive to give to them.2014/07/20140720-004403-2643872.jpg”>20140720-004403-2643872.jpg



Spring Walks

After the longest winter ever, Jax, Tink and I emerged today for our first neighborhood walk of the spring. In fact it was our first walk ever as a threesome and was fairly short for that very reason.

Tinkerbell (or Tink) came into our life last year right as I was learning about the connection between lawn care chemicals and the soaring number of cases of canine cancer. She also came into our lives in July when it is too hot in the Chicagoland area for puppy paws on hot pavement, especially in our essentially treeless subdivision. Since we essentially went from summer straight into the Polar Vortex last year we have not had her out on her leash as much as we would have liked to.

While Jackson attended continual obedience classes and daily walks during moderately mild weather, Tink has been essentially home schooled. Between my obsession with avoiding pesticides and toxins from neighboring yards and parks plus a steamy summer and a frozen winter, young Tink has spent most of her time frolicking and training in our fenced in yard and has missed out on a lot of leashed walks.

Today was so gorgeous I decided it was time to head out into the world, or at least a small radius around our home. It was sunny and in the high 60s, warm enough for me but not too hot for them, and I was ready to wipe and wash their bodies, paws and faces when we got home.

Armed with my cell phone, a dispenser full of eco-friendly dog poop bags, my pepper spray (for fending off other dogs) and my keys, we headed out. We made it around the corner, turned around, and headed back home to try a different tactic. Plan B was formulating in my head as we made our way home in a less than dignified manner; Plan B was to practice some loose leash walking.

Back home I put Jackson in his kennel with a bowl of water. Tink obediently ran into her kennel, always mimicking her big brother’s actions and learning from him, both good habits and his few naughty habits as well. She stood quietly in her crate watching me head back to the front door, probably wondering if I was going to realize I had forgotten to shut the door to her crate.

“Tink, don’t you wanna go for a walk?” I asked and she sprinted to me, leaping into the air with her four long legs askew as she reached me. We had been working on not jumping on humans for the last few weeks, and I’ll give her credit, she didn’t jump on me, but she could not contain her joyful leaps when she saw that I had her leash in my hand.

Once outside without Jax, Tink was great on the leash, especially for an 11 month puppy who had not had nearly the experience that Jax had gained by her age. One of the hardest things in dog ownership and training, at least as far as I am concerned, is to resist the urge to walk when the dog is pulling on the leash. I failed this miserably with Jax, letting him develop bad leash habits because I was just so excited to have a walking buddy again. With Tink I forced myself to stay strong, reminding myself that putting in the work now would lead to a lifelong walking partner who walked with me in harmony instead of attempting to drag me to each and every tree and good smell on the path.

And so Tink and I walked through the subdivision, me stopping each time she pulled, having her resume the heel position, starting back up and walking in harmony until the resist to pull was too strong. With the mantra “no forward motion if the leash is tight” going through my head, I stopped every time she pulled. Eventually she caught on (or became too tired to pull) and we walked along peacefully, a sweet female lab exploring the world and her proud dog momma.

We arrived home, I swapped out dogs, gave Tink a nice bowl of water and a Cloud Star cookie and then grabbed Jax’s leash and headed out for our first walk since he had been neutered in December. I was anxious to see if the lack of testosterone and another year of maturity would impact his leash manners.

Jax had been my first puppy in over a decade and I foolishly started walking him on his leash before we went to obedience school. I had been so excited to have a walking buddy again that I let him develop some bad manners involving pulling me. With his immense strength this presented a problem; although I could hold him back and win the power struggle it was not relaxing and it was embarrassing. I knew I looked like the woman who could not control her dog, the owner who had been a total pushover. His other manners were impeccable; his leash walking skills were atrocious but we had done a lot of practice and were very close to great manners when I stopped walking him last summer.

I was not disappointed. At three years old my Jackson is finally a gentleman on the leash, a complete 180 degrees different from the first two years of his life. We only had to stop a few times because of pulling and he quickly got into his heel position and sat and waited for me, gazing up at me as if to say “sorry, Mom, I forgot”.

Although I still have a great fear of lawn pesticides and treatments being used in neighboring yards I’m looking forward to more walks with my pups this spring and building to the point where the three of us can walk together. It’s not as easy to have the human/canine bonding moments on walks when you’re walking two dogs at a time, at least not two lively young Labrador Retrievers, but we will get there. For now, though, they are sound asleep, worn out and dreaming of all of the things they saw and smelled today.




Snow Zoomies

This winter has just  taken over the record of 3rd snowiest winter in the Chicagoland area and there are two black Labradors in my house who are giving this achievement of mother nature a total of eight paws up. As I write this they are milling around me making little whining noises and staring a hole in my back because they know that it is almost time for their morning snow zoomie session.

What is a snow zoomie session? Quite simply: zoomies run in the snow. Zoomies are play sessions in which active dogs run around like maniacs at top speed. In normal weather we just call this part of the day zoomies. Sometimes they run indoor zoomies. Snow zoomies are paws-down the best fun they have all year.

Tinkerbell is experiencing her first winter. At almost ten months old she has been given a great gift from mother nature in the form of so much snow. Jackson’s first two winters were very sparse in terms of snow, so this is his first big winter of snowy fun. I am the only neighbor who is outside literally running around like a little kid with my dogs, making ice balls for them to chase, snapping photos as they race through the yard. We have a blast together and I have a lot of fun watching them frolic in their joyful and innocent way. Our neighbors’ yards sit untouched with covers of beautiful smooth snow. Our snow does not have a single section that is not tramped and tossed around by Labrador paws; it looks as though 100 Labradors have been playing in our yard.

As the snow starts to melt today I am very sad. I love seeing my sweet dogs having this much fun. Winter has lasted so long that I wonder if they have forgotten what it is like to have regular grass under their paws. Sure there will be bunnies to chase again, birds to watch fly over the house, the doggie pool with water in it and our neighbors will come out of hibernation and join me in the yard. For now, though, it is just the three of us trying to get in as many snow zoomies as we can.

My Big Black Dogs

As a writer who works from home I am blessed that I look at these two sweet black dog faces more than I look at anyone else in my family. They lay by my desk as I write, they force me to take periodic breaks, they are my lunch buddies, my muses and my best friends. I look at their beautiful black faces and marvel daily at the different expressions that show their emotions like an open book.


Black Dog Syndrome refers to the lower adoption rates, longer waits for forever homes, and ultimately increased euthanasia rates for black dogs. Although the evidence for this is anecdotal rather than statistical, it is enough of a problem that some shelters have used creative means of promoting their black dogs, from brightly colored bandanas to special adoption events. DSCF0501

Personally, I prefer black dogs. As a Labrador parent I sought out a black puppy both times. Jackson and Tinkerbell now fill my home with black dog hair tumbleweeds, but previously there was Snoop, Cinder and Babe, all black Labradors. In fact, we specifically waited for a black litter. We would have had a wonderful puppy out of any of our breeder’s yellow litters as all of her puppies are amazing dogs, but as far as aesthetics go, black is my preferred Labrador coat. Their fur seems more silky and shiny, especially with their Canine Caviar holistic pet food that fuels them. To me they are simply works of art, from their tails to their noses, and every furry black inch between.1

Since I can’t understand how they aren’t the FIRST dogs to find homes, let’s run down some of the fun reasons why black dogs are the best!

10. Feed them good food and keep them nicely brushed and clean and their fur will shine like silk.

9. Black fur is easier to see when it’s time to vacuum.

8. Dogs with black faces do not get tear stains like lighter colored dogs.

7. It’s easier to see them in the snow.

6. Their fur won’t show up on your Little Black Dress, black dress pants, black sweaters or black leggings!

5.  Brightly colored collars pop beautifully against their fur!

4. In some breeds, like Labradors, their fur feels softer and more snuggly.

3. In the rescue world, one person’s unwanted dog is another person’s best friend!

2. You can sing Led Zeppelin songs to them.

1. Their hearts and souls are the same as lighter colored dogs!DSCF0259

Want to read more about Black Dog Syndrome or find your own black dog? Check out these great links:

How A Pet Treat Company Broke My Heart

Two days ago I discovered something that I never knew to be possible. Two days ago I learned that a company was able to break my heart.

I was browsing through Facebook as I do multiple times a day when I saw the announcement on the Zuke’s Pet Performance Pet Nutrition page: We are very excited to announce that Zuke’s is now part of the Nestlé Purina family.

I stopped scrolling. I read it again. And again. And again.

Still stunned, I shared the post on my own wall with the comment that I would never purchase their treats again. I have been a loyal customer to Zuke’s for at least three years, recommending them to every other dog owner I could, ordering  from their Colorado location in $100 orders to save on shipping and ensure that we  were never without the blueberry and peanut butter treats or the soft peanut butter or salmon flavored soft treats. I have fed thousands of their small training treats to Jackson and now Tinkerbell as they have gone through the constant training that shapes a puppy into a great dog.

I am not always this loyal to a brand, but after the terrifying recalls of treats over the last several years, I found this company to be safe and reliable. I also loved their quality ingredients, that they were made in the US and that they believed in an allover healthy lifestyle for pets.  I loved it that they donate to the Dog and Cat Cancer Fund.

Zuke’s selling to Purina is a kick in the stomach. It is shocking, appalling, disgraceful and more negative words than I can fit into one blog. The entrepreneurial part of me understands that perhaps this was the only way to keep their business open. Maybe there were financial woes that I am not privy to as just a customer. Unfortunately, hooking their car to the Purina train puts them in a category with me where they might as well have just closed shop and gone under. As part of Purina, they are no longer an option for my hard earned funds.

This is a similar feeling to being cheated on by a bad boyfriend. I want to tell them that I hope those new customers are worth it. I hope those new customers will be as loyal as the former customers as they grab a pack of Zukes off a shelf from Walmart along with their Beggin Strips and Beneful cookies and toss them into their cart. I hope those new customers donate some funds to the Dog and Cat Cancer Fund like the old customers did when they shopped on the actual Zuke’s site.

I have had several friends very kindly offer suggestions on their favorite treats and homemade treats. It is very sweet and it will be easy to find a new brand. I will go to my locally owned store and browse their plentiful shelves full of similar products to Zuke’s and purchase other brands for my dogs. My world will go on and my complete and utter disrespect for Purina will continue. The only difference is that Zukes will be lumped into the Purina mix of products whose ingredients show zero regard for healthy pets.

I know there are varying levels of atrocious Purina products, some like Beneful and Alpo that are at the bottom of the food chain and others that are marginally better. I also understand that there are beloved dogs in good homes where the owners simply have blind faith in the well known brands of pet food, that they love their dogs as much as I do but have never done the research to find out the ingredients. I know and feel for owners who simply cannot afford a more expensive food. I do not judge my friends who feed Purina although I am always happy to help them find a more healthy option. I actually used to feed Purina Pro Plan as recently as four years ago  because it was recommended by a former veterinarian and I simply had not learned what I know now, before I found my beloved Canine Caviar to feed to my dogs.

I am often asked why I despise Purina so much. It is simple. For a company to include animal-by-products and animal digest is all I need to personally feel that they care nothing about animals. Their ingredients are not fit for my dogs to consume. Period. I don’t care which champion breeders or respected veterinarians feed their food to their own dogs. Purina is despicable and I have no respect for them. To include animal-by-products and animal digest, as well as the controversial menadione is a deal breaker that cannot be undone. For Zukes to join such a company is a deal breaker as well, regardless of whether or not they continue to produce their treats in the same location with the same ingredients. They sold their soul at the crossroads and I will be headed out to find some new treats as soon as my current supply runs out.

Want to read more about the ingredients I’ve mentioned? Check out some of my favorite Dog Food Advisor links:



One thing I’ve learned very well in my decades as a dog owner is that dogs thrive on routine. Most of my dogs’ routines revolve around our routines and actions, but the ones I marvel about the most are the ones that they create on their own.

Every night Tink jumps up on our bed, roots around under my pillow, locates her hedgehog dog toy and chews it for about 5 min before putting it gently aside and rolling over to go to sleep. The hedgehog is known as Hedgie and was passed down to Jackson and Tinkerbell from my late German Shorthaired Pointer Dutch. Back when Tink was younger she would have chewed Hedgie for hours, so I started taking it away from her after just a few minutes and stashing it under my pillow so she would wake me up if she tried to take it.

Two weeks ago Tink was spayed and Jackson neutered on the same day. Rather than have two different periods of kennel rest and recovery I figured we might as well get it all out-of-the-way at once. For a week and a half both dogs slept in our bedroom in their upstairs crates as part of post-surgical kennel rest. At some point during that period Hedgie fell behind our bed in a hard to reach place. I could see him but it would take lots of stretching, shimmying and creative usage of hangers to get to it.

Four nights ago we let the dogs sleep freely out of their crates. Tinkerbell jumped on the bed, searched for Hedgie but could not find him. She finally gave up and laid down by my feet but did not cooperate by going to sleep. She stared at me, she tried to chew the fleece blanket on our bed, she jumped off the bed, back onto the bed, and back down again and would not curl up and sleep. After a few minutes she jumped down and nudged the door of her crate open, walked in and curled up to sleep. The next three nights she did the exact same thing. I assumed she had just become used to her crate after the week of kennel rest.

Last night I finally took a moment to maneuver myself under the bed to grab Hedgie. She watched my actions with intense interest, standing over me with her cheek against my cheek as I stretched across the floor under the bed and reached in with a hanger to get the wayward toy. Somehow she knew exactly what I was doing.

As soon as Hedgie was successfully rescued I handed it to her. She jumped up on the bed, happily chewed it for five minutes, then rolled over on her side and started to fall asleep. She lifted her head to watch me put Hedgie under my pillow and then went back to sleep. She was still on our bed when I woke up this morning.