pet

Remembering Scout the Cat

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When my, now fiancée, Jessica moved in a little over a year ago, she naturally brought her clothes and toiletries and others things she had, but she also brought a very special friend: An old, deaf, little lady named Scout. Scout made herself at home right away, sleeping on my face, mewing with her gritty gargled voice day and night . . . In short, she was a tough animal to get used to and I think my initial thoughts were along the lines of "I'm glad she's so old, I'm not going to have to worry about her THAT long". But that quickly past. She endeared herself to me. Her presence, sleeping on my legs every night, became a comfort. She always wanted to be on our laps or at least touching us and she would often bring gifts to us - a pair of mittens or a little stuffed animal lamb - to prove her love and win affection. What started as a terrible cat roommate, became one of the most profound animal friendships I have ever had. Of course, Jessica had this type of relationship with Scout since her mother brought her home way back in 1997 and she had Scout perched next to her from the time she was 10 all the way through into high school, college, adulthood, relationships, different dogs and other cats and pets. Scout was a constant for her.

But there was a problem.

A few months prior to my meeting Jessica, she lost her beloved dog Bogart to cancer. She made the hard decision to end his life before his suffering was unbearable. Only and few days after that, Scout went into shock herself and Jessica was faced with putting a second family member to sleep in less than a month. Miraculously, on the advice of a coworker and vet of Jessica's, Mike, Scout recovered, but she had issues with her thyroid and possibly other issues. Jessica didn't know how long she would have with Scout after that. When she told me this when Scout first arrived in our little apartment, I was worried about the poor thing crashing again. What would be the cost, monetarily and emotionally? How could I prepare for the sadness that would encompass Jessica when her friend of 19 years finally expired?

I dealt with Scout's impending doom the same way I have been trained to deal with many of life's dilemmas: With dark humor. I would commonly Snapchat our friends pictures of Scout peacefully sleeping with the word "dead" nearby. I created some creative poses. Not everyone was amused all the time, but for Jess and I, it was a fun inside joke that we could share.

The problem was, the more time that went by, the more I cared and grew closer to Scout. She was there for every moment we had in our room, almost always on top of us or in our lap. She was there for my birthday party and Halloween and our roommate Christmas and our couch proposal . . . She was there for it all. So when we both noticed that she was losing weight, those thoughts of her crash the year before kept coming up in the backs of our minds. She began periodically throwing up her food after eating too quickly and drinking too quickly. It was a sign that her thyroid and perhaps other organs weren't working the right way. An inconvenient truth about cats is that they are programed to hide pain. Pain is weakness and the weak are often killed or at least marginalized. Scout hid her pain, but we could see it every so often. She was deaf, so we would surprise her more often than we would like. Sometimes she would be jostled from a deep sleep and not be able to get up. In another instance, she just fell over without provocation. It was funny, but sad. This was the end for this tiny, fuzzy cat.

After a little time, Jessica and I made the decision that I think all animal lovers should make: To make sure that the last moment of Scout's life was on our terms and not a situation where she was in pain and suffering. On top of that, she was suffering at least a bit even though she was able to hide it.

We called up our vet Mike and set an appointment. The week that followed was quietly torturous for both of us. For Jessica, she made some artwork using Scout's paws and ink. She also makes origami boxes for all her animals with special personalized notes and trinkets that are interred with the body. For me, I just tried to remember her touch and recorded her voice. I tried to spend as much quality time as I could with her. The night before, Jessica took Scout into her arms and told her what was going to happen the next morning. It's really hard to know if a cat understands you or not, but that night, Scout decided to sleep by each of our heads, Jessica's and then mine, for a few hours. She didn't eat all night and leave the bed to go do cat things. In that, I felt like she understood.

A few hours later, we were in the car to McGrath Animal Hospital. It was a sunny and warm day. birds were just returning after the harsh snow a few weekends before. It was hard, but we did it and saw it through and her suffering was over. Possibly the greatest friend and presence in Jessica's life and a creature that had crawled into my own heart was gone. Today, I think I still hear her sometimes, her awful smokers mew or see her in my periphery. We still mourn, but I can't help but think we did the right thing. I'll never forget Scout Sinatra, the greatest cat in the world.

Scout Sinatra was brought home to Jessica sometime in 1997. Named after Bruce Willis' daughter, Scout spent the next 20 years accompanying Jessica through all her ups and downs. Just this last year, Jessica found the love of her life, Evan, and the two of them made sure Scout was well loved up to her last breath. Many will debate the fact, but all who knew her have donned Scout the Most Greatest Cat Who Hath Ever Lived Lifetime Achievement Award!

My Pet Turtle - Part 2

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Salutations!

In part 1, I told you that I had a turtle named Sandy and how I came to have her. In this post, I will write a little about caring for the beast and my current enclosure I have for her.

Over the years, I have had to upgrade Sandy the Turtle's tank many times to keep up with her growth. Turtles need several things to survive and thrive as a pet. Turtles need an area of water to swim around in that is heated between 76 and 86 degrees, and area to crawl up out of the water to bask, and full spectrum light with both UVA and UVB rays. As far as the enclosure, I was always told that a tank should be, at minimum, 4 times longer than the turtle (head to tail), 3 times wider, and 1 1/2 times the length of the turtle tall. As of this writing, my current set up is on the small side. Despite having a 50-gallon, 36"x18"x17" tank, Sandy is huge, measuring approximately 9" in length. With the basking platform, I only fill the tank 3/4 of the way, limiting the overall height. I also use two modified carbon fish tank filters and I like to subtract the area they displace from the dimensions as well. Needless to say, I will need to find something even larger soon, but I'm waiting for warmer weather, as now I have exhausted what you can buy off a shelf and will need to build something. That will likely be another blog post of its own.

Despite the current size of her tank, she has grown rapidly and appears very healthy and I attribute this to my cleaning and care regimen. Throughout the years I have tried many different methods to keep the tank water clean, but I have finally realized that simple is better. To help prevent the tank from getting dirty too quickly, you have to be smart about how you feed them and filter the water well.

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When it comes to feeding, I am not scientific. You are supposed to feed an adult turtle every other or every 3rd day and by the time they are adult, they need a diet that is not only comprised of those little pellets you can buy at the pet store, but also leafy veggies. Turtles are notoriously messy eaters and as much as half the food they chew gets in their stomach and the other half floats around the tank. After years of practice, I don't measure how much I put in the tank, but kind of guesstimate what Sandy will eat. I know I've nailed it when I feed her and return 15 minutes later and find only a few scraps left over. No waste! Then I'll take a fish tank net and get those scraps out before they dissolve into the water. To make it easy, I usually feed her right when I wake up every 2 or 3 days, then take a shower, and return to scoop up the leftovers. If she has pooped, I'll scoop that up too before it dissolves. This goes a long way to keeping the water cleaner longer. When the turtle is young, it is suggested that you have one tank for the turtle to live in and another to feed it. When turtles are small, you can get away with 2 tanks, but when they are bigger, the amount of area and the risk of the thing biting or scratching you to pick it up makes it unfeasible. 

Filtering the water is very important. You have to remember that the water in a turtle tank serves as a drinking supply and toilet at the same time. Carbon filters capture and neutralize most of the excrement to keep the water at a 'potable' level. The first lesson you learn when you own fish, turtles, or other aquatic animals is that the expectation should be that the filter keeps the water safe for the animal for a period of time, not that it keeps the water perfectly clear indefinitely. Turtle poo is especially putrid and viscous and will clog your beautiful filtration system. No matter what, the water will become visibly brown and cloudy after a time. What do you do then? Well, change out the water, of course! For me and my set up, I completely empty the tank and refill it with fresh water once a month. That means that I scoop up the water a little at a time, pour it down the toilet, heat up fresh water, and refill the tank. This process takes me up to 4 hours, start to finish. Also, while I do this 'deep clean', I take out the basking platform, filters, heater, and anything else in the tank and scrub all the excrement off of them. In the case of the filters, I completely take them apart and get all the goo out of the motor as well. This is the cost of having a turtle as a pet: Time.

The filters themselves are very important. I use two, very basic filters that I found at Walmart. They are cheap, expendable, and easy to open and clean. In previous setups, I bought fancy canister filters and others, but they are expensive, hard to get started sometimes, and get clogged easily. Simple is good. Using PVC extensions on either side of my basking platform, I have been able to bring the filters close to the water level. I also bought versions that are rated to move more water per hour than exists in the tank. This is important because, as the filters age and dirty up, they lose effectiveness. At the worst, the filters need to move as much water as there is in the tank at least once an hour. Eventually, the filters break, but that's alright: Just throw it out and buy a new one.

Creating a basking platform is a common problem that turtle owners have to tackle. Turtles absolutely need to get out of the water for stretches of time to absorb vitamins and metabolize their food. I've had a number of different setups. When the turtle is young, they are small enough to climb up on one of these floating docks, which are very convenient as water evaporates out the tank. After Sandy grew too heavy for the floating dock, I bought this contraption called a Turtle Topper which worked fantastically. Unfortunately, Sandy outgrew that as well and there was nothing bigger on the market. That's when I turned to DIY methods. A simple Google search will yield hundreds of homemade basking solutions. I made mine out of a PVC frame, the ramp from the old Turtle Topper, and a plastic cutting board. As mentioned previously, I also incorporated extensions on either side of the platform to hold up the filters. It works very well, but soon I will have to go back to the drawing board to expand the tank for the ever-growing reptile!

For lighting, I have used many fixtures and bulbs over the many habitats I have created. It is suggested that the basking platform include a heat lamp, but in lieu of that, I placed my tank next to a very sunny window and that, together with the full-spectrum fluorescent, is enough for Sandy to stay warm. Keep in mind that glass and windows kill much of the good UVA and UVB out of light (or so I've been told). Similarly, full-spectrum light can only penetrate so far into water. I believe the limit may be a foot of water depending on its clarity and other factors. It's also very important to remember that bulbs have an effective life span of about 6 or 7 months. That means that even though the bulb still turns on and doesn't appear any different to your eye, you still should buy a new full-spectrum bulb after about 6 months. It sucks because they are a little pricey, but it's for the good of the turtle and as generally uncaring and cold-blooded as reptiles are, they will thank you.

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And so, that is an overview of what I have to do to keep my precious green friend alive. While it's pricey and difficult at times, I never completely tire of my unique pet and how much she has grown since I first adopted her years ago. Now, the only question is what I'll do next to expand her habitat.

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Mocha the Dog

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Hello all!

I just wanted to introduce y'all to Mocha (a.k.a. 'Mo') the Frenchton (half French Bull Dog and half Boston Terrier). While she resides at my parents' house, Mo is a family dog and I make sure to visit her whenever I can (Sorry Mom and Dad, I love you too). 

Mocha was the runt of her litter and it shows. Since puppyhood, she has been very, very, very food centric which made training her easy, because she'll do ANYTHING for a treat with patience. One of the first things we trained her to do as a family was ring a bell so we know when she needs to pee. She waits patiently to be fed and even puts her toys back into a bin. Now adult, she is quite petite, but like her Frenchie lineage, she is all lean muscle and weighs about 15 pounds. When she is let off the leash, Mo is fast and kind of resembles a rabbit the way her hind legs swing from behind her ears to fully extended behind her thin frame.

Personality-wise, Mocha has that playful puppyish demeanor, but I always thought she has the intelligence and mentality of a bigger dog like a boxer. Big dog in a small package! She is far too friendly to make a good guard and very rarely barks. Her only vice is food. She will do anything to get at your lunch and even jump up on the table if you leave a chair out. She also will sit right next to you and drool the entire time you're eating your dinner. Gee wiz! It's not like she doesn't get regular meals!

In summation, Mocha is most likely one of the coolest dogs I know and I will definitely write more about her.