Love in the Time of Conjunctivitis

A slightly edited version of this post was originally published on 10,000 Birds.

Congratulating myself for leaving the house on time, I got into my car and drove off to meet up with a friend for lunch. Not one minute later, I noticed a small feathery mass sitting in the middle of my lane. Giving the bird a wide berth, I veered towards the other side of the road with the assumption that it would encourage her to fly off. As I drove past her, I glanced in my rearview mirror. She hadn’t budged. I felt compelled to go back and see if the bird was just being fickle or if it was something else.

As I approached on foot, I asked the little House Finch if she was OK, completely expecting her to fly off in a flurry but once again she did not. She moved her head around a bit but that was all. Once I got close enough, I reached out and grabbed her which was too easy to do. That was definitely a bad sign; it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to just walk up to and snatch a healthy adult wild bird. Upon initial inspection, I noticed that one eye was quite squinty and the other was red and completely swollen shut. I immediately assumed it was conjunctivitis and that she’d need rehabilitation.

I was going to be late for lunch.

Since I had no way to safely contain her in the car, I made the short drive back home with her clutched in one hand. Fortunately I was able to get an assist from my husband who set up a shoebox for the poor bird’s ride to the local wildlife rehabilitation facility, Fox Valley Wildlife Center, which was conveniently located just five minutes from my dining destination.

Arden Zich with sick house finch

She’s probably thinking, “So this is how it ends…” Not so, little friend!

In less than 24 hours of receiving medication, the eye that had been swollen shut had calmed down and opened enough for her to see again. Laura Kirk, the wildlife center’s director, said that the bird couldn’t inhale her seeds fast enough once she was set up in her own private quarters. The difficulty she had seeing me come at her must have meant that she’d had a hard time finding food as well.

sick female finch 24 hrs after medication conjunctivitis

The next day.

Not long after her arrival, a male House Finch was admitted with the same malady. Together they stayed in the bird infirmary for a few weeks while being treated with medicated eye drops and an antibiotic in their drinking water. I like to think they comforted each other and passed the time from their respective cages by swapping stories about themselves, how they endured being caught by big scary humans, and their plans for the future.

Once their treatments were complete, they were transferred to a soft release outdoor cage for observation and to readjust to the weather. With no netting between them, the pair was free to frolic about as they pleased until they were cleared for release. When that time came, the couple was chauffeured to the general area where the female finch was found.

male female house finch ready for release

The finch couple anxiously await their release.

Opening the carrier door was a bit uneventful and neither bird chose to leave immediately; they wanted to make sure the coast was clear before leaving their protective confines. Once one finch finally took flight, the other immediately sprang forth in the same direction. Together they flew to a nearby tree to take in the sights and sounds of their new surroundings, hopefully to make good on their plans for the future.

released recovered male female house finches

We ride together, we fly together.

Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis is a highly-contagious disease that primarily affects House Finches but can affect other birds such as Purple Finch and American Goldfinch. Birds can recover from the disease if they don’t first succumb to predation or starvation from the inability to see, which was undoubtedly imminent for “my” House Finch.

It is highly recommended that those who enjoy feeding birds ensure that feeders are spaced far enough apart to avoid crowding, clean feeders on a regular basis, and provide only enough seed for about one to two days. Feeders should be immediately removed and sanitized (10% bleach solution) and feeding area cleaned if sick birds have been observed in that area.

For more information and tips on how to help decrease spread of disease:

The Raccoon Rode Shotgun

A growing desire to get some food I can’t get at the local grocery store trumped my antipathy of getting into traffic and shopping with the masses on the afternoon of Sunday, June 7th. Reluctantly, I set out for my 16-mile journey.

About twenty minutes into my half hour trip, I noticed a soggy little animal trotting along the side of the street close to a busy intersection. It seemed like the size and shape of a kitten. I wasn’t sure exactly what to do in the moment but figured I should at least try to catch it. Once I was able to pull over and get a better look, I noticed a distinctive white and black mask.

That was no kitty cat. It was a little raccoon.Intersection Where Arden Finds Raccoon June 2015

This is the intersection where we first met.

I was not prepared to fiddle with a raccoon that afternoon. However, in those seconds of deciding what to do, I knew immediately where I could take her. If I were a helpless raccoon kit about to play in traffic, I’d hope that someone in a position to help would do just that. The grocery expedition would have to wait.

Fortunately the wee bandit hung a right as well, sending her my direction. Thinking fast about what to do and how to do it, I grabbed a beach towel from the back seat. I stretched out the towel as I approached her. Her curiosity quickly erupted into fits of screams and clawing the moment I threw the towel over her. Can’t blame her, I’d have done the same thing.

By the way, did anyone else at this busy intersection pull over or roll down a car window to ask if everything was alright or if I needed a hand? NO. 

Pinned down against the sidewalk under the towel, I worked fast to bundle her up like a burrito so that she couldn’t nip or scratch me.

My work with the wildlife center has taught me to keep a few old towels in the car for just such an occasion but unfortunately I had no way to contain her. Looking at my options, I had several large tote bags for my shopping trip, so I started bagging. She was carefully triple-bagged for good measure because raccoons carry disease that can be transferred to people and pets. Besides, my vivid imagination already had her escaping from a bag and attacking me, sending us both careening off the road. I placed her on the passenger seat next to me. It was the best way to ensure I could keep an eye on the road and any funny business coming from the bags.

When I finally arrived at the center, I anxiously handed over my sack o’ raccoon to staff member Audrey. With bated breath I asked if the kit was OK. There had been no movement or sound at all from the bag during the entire trip. About four seconds after making her way through the towel, Audrey flinched and said, “She’s alive.”

She was immediately put in a quarantined area for new raccoon arrivals and given a vaccine against the Distemper virus. I’d have to wait a week or two to even learn if she was carrying a disease that would change her fate yet again.

raccoon after intake June 2015

This is now her beach towel.

Fortunately that time came and went without any health issues. I’m told by staff that she mellowed over time once she got used to the routine of being fed and not smothered in towels. Since she was so little, she received daily formula feedings until she was old enough to be weaned onto solid foods.

Raccoon in rehab July 2015

Getting ready for a feeding. Doesn’t she look less “attacky”?

Once she was eating solids on her own she was moved outside to an enclosure that allowed her to readjust to the changing temperatures, climb, huddle up, and get her own food (which was provided in the enclosure but she had to make an effort to go get it).

Raccoons in outside enclosure 2015

I’m thrilled that she was released on October 17th  with several raccoon friends to a heavily wooded area. Here are some photos of the release:

one raccoon leaving cage

several raccoons leave cages

newly realeased raccoon plays in forest

raccoon climbs tree for first time

raccoon up in tree for first time

Kits are left orphaned usually because mom was hit by a car or she was trapped and removed from someone’s property. When the latter happens, kits may be left behind somewhere in the house or around the property unbeknownst to the home or land owner.

It’s not uncommon for raccoons to make themselves at home where humans are likely to leave lots of goodies in the trash. They’ll eat just about anything, so any food trash and pet food left outside makes their job to find food a lot easier. They also look for warm, quiet spots to raise their young, like attics. They too have a “work smarter not harder” ethic. Desirable? No. Admirable? Yes. There are several good resources available from The Humane Society’s “What to Do About Raccoons.”

There are occasions when someone without the proper permits or licenses tries to rehab a raccoon at home or even keep a little one as a pet. Bad idea. Why? Here are 10 reasons from “The Wild Animal That Doesn’t Belong in Your Home” by Dr. Becker. Aside from ensuring that the animal gets the right nutrition, is fed properly, and follows an appropriate weaning schedule, once an animal like a raccoon is imprinted and/or has become accustomed to life with humans, it’s extremely difficult to make them wild again or hypnotize them into thinking it all never happened.

I’m definitely not suggesting that anyone go put themselves in harm’s way by handling a wild animal that could bite, scratch or carry disease! However, if you’re an animal lover like me and are likely to help a critter in need*, you may want to have handy:

  • Protective gloves in the car
  • Old towels or sheets (old t-shirts and comfy clothes that can’t be donated work too!)
  • A box or crate (or even sturdy tote bags in a pinch!) that allows the animal to breath but not escape
  • Bungee cords (I stash these everywhere)
  • The Animal Help Now link and phone app to help identify local animal rehabilitators

*In need refers to a bird or animal that is truly orphaned or requires medical care. Not all little ones found alone are necessarily orphaned. For example, mother cottontail rabbit leaves her nest for an entire day so you might never see her. Sometimes little ones like birds and squirrels can be reunited with the parent which is always the animal’s best chance for survival. I knew for certain this raccoon was much too small to be ambling aimlessly around town, especially in the middle of the day. Young animals that would not otherwise leave their nest or den may do so if mother stops coming around to feed them; they’ll go in search of food even if they don’t know what they’re doing.

Consult a local licensed wildlife rehabber if you’re ever in doubt of what to do.

Home Made Small Dog Coat and Harness: When Store-Bought Won’t Do

A pug mom takes matters into her own hands when she discovers that it was impossible to buy off-the-rack for her barrel-chested baby.  

My experience with dog apparel started years ago with a really cute cowl neck knit pullover coat purchased from a pet store. It would keep Peanut’s bare belly warm, and as a bonus, she’d look extra adorable! Tags removed, I tried to work the pug into the sock-like tube. It wasn’t great. Later on I’d discover another off-the-rack coat that was not only thicker but also fastened with Velcro. Even better! Tags removed, I lifted her up from the front, awkwardly threaded her legs through the leg holes (which could take a while if she kept pulling her legs back out) and tried to affix the Velcro under the belly. It was about one to two inches away from fastening. I would continue to find a variety of coats that seemed like winners but always missed the mark.

Determined that Peanut would have a coat she could actually wear, I decided to take a sewing class and make one myself. Since I hadn’t touched a sewing machine since Junior High school, I took a basic sewing class from the local Jo-Ann Fabrics store. Our instructor Teri was fabulous and helped me pick out a good, basic sewing machine.

Experimenting with different patterns using fleece bulk fabric, I finally found a pattern that worked well.

  • It accommodates her barrel chest
  • It’s easy to get on and off
  • Peanut can be standing or sitting while I put on the coat
  • No awkward wrestling with getting legs in and out

From my various attempts, this is one of the designs I like best.

Winter Coat How-To


  • Fleece fabric: Whole piece sized large enough to fold over and cover the dog’s entire body from neck to tail. In my opinion, an extra layer for the tummy is a nice touch.
  • Velcro: Enough strips to be applied from neck to tail along the back side as well as at least two long strips on the underside that will fold over to meet the back. Having enough Velcro allows for easy application each time the coat is put on; nothing needs to line up exactly to get a snug fit.
  • Fabric Shears: Any scissors will do but fabric-only shears seem to make extra-sharp cuts.
  • Pins
  • Sewing Machine: Primarily for the Velcro as I find that too difficult to stitch by hand.

I started out by ensuring I first had the proper length with the cut for the neck. Next, I played around with how much I would need to cut away around the shoulders so that it narrowed properly. The only hems here are around the shoulders so that it looks a bit neater. The fabric keeps its shape well enough around all the edges. It doesn’t stretch out or fray so adding any additional length to your measurements for hems is unnecessary.

Note that the Velcro strips sewn on the back narrow towards the tail to accommodate a snugger fit for Peanut. (Her sparsely-furred belly hangs a bit back there and I did not want her catching a draft.) I did not modify the cut of the cloth, only how I applied the Velcro.

Use caution and common sense if you do any measuring, cutting, and pinning while the coat is on the dog!

homemade winter coat dog pug design stocky barrel chested

homemade winter coat dog pug putting on the coat.pptx


Since the winter coats were originally created, Peanut has required some assistance with keeping her balance when we let her out to go potty. She has trouble at times keeping steady, especially on uneven ground. I assumed we’d need to purchase a separate harness, but when I considered factors such as the accuracy of fit, threading her into a harness four times a day, and possibly having to put the harness over the coat, I considered turning the existing coat into a harness. An internet search revealed a photo of a key chain ring that was sewn onto a fabric harness for just the upper body that would allow for attaching a leash. Bingo!


  • Dog coat
  • Key chain rings
  • Ribbon
  • Sewing machine
  • Bungee cord

Attaching ribbon and key chains to dog coat

I conveniently had access to lots of unused key chains, so I sewed a ribbon over the back of the coat and threaded it through the key rings. It’s important to consider where the pressure will be applied when pulling up so it’s as comfortable as possible on your bestie. I focused the pressure around the upper chest, avoiding the neck, and just below the hip bones. Since the coat covers the entire upper and lower body, the pressure should be more distributed.

Dog coat made into harness with key chain rings front and side view

Yes, I have my dog attached to a bungee cord – but hear me out! 

I could have used a strap with clips from a piece of luggage, for example, but I went with a bungee cord secured by twist ties. It’s a good length for me to hold (a bit short for my husband) and affords a little give when tugging upwards. The twist ties are a simple way to keep the cord hooks from unhooking.

Summer-Weight Harness

Using the same basic pattern of the winter coat, I created a summer-weight harness.

Summer and winter weight home made dog coat

Summer and winter weight home made dog coat 2

The pink coat in this photo has a variation in the Velcro pattern from the first coat shown. This pattern affords more wiggle room for where exactly the sides get attached. It’s a matter of preference.

The summer harness uses the same basic pattern of the winter coat which is cut from one large piece of cloth. Two pieces of cloth could be stitched together but the idea is that it folds over the dog so the dog is covered from the base of the underbelly to the base of the back. Most of the middle of the belly is cut away as well as the upper back. The straps along the back are about 2.5″ wide; leaving enough room for one to two strips of Velcro. To add back support for the key rings, two pieces of a stiffer fabric were sewn to both the front and back of the harness. Some additional editing for a snugger fit was required after the basic harness was created.

Summer weight dog harness details

Peanut in summer weight home made harness

There are undoubtedly rugged, well-crafted harnesses available for purchase. Those options were explored, but since I wanted something right away and was concerned about sizing and the inability to return a custom order, I decided to try my hand at making one. For our purposes, these home made coat/harnesses work perfectly well.

Rain Visor

A few years after I made my winter coat, I discovered this one by RC Pets purchased from Healthy Pet in Aurora, IL that is really close to what I had been originally searching for. Even though Peanut is petite for a pug, she is a size 14, so a bit larger than the total sizing and weight would suggest. It’s warm and attaches easily with velcro. As a bonus, it is also waterproof. In an “if-only-it-kept-the-rain-off-her-head-too” train of thought, I came up with a way to attach a rain visor to the collar.

Rain visor for dog coat using clear plastic and velcro

I purchased clear plastic fabric from the store and continually cut down the size in a visor shape until it appeared to hold up and not flop over from its own weight while pinned to either side. Using velcro, I cut little squares and stiched them to both the underside of the collar and the visor. If it’s not raining, I don’t use the visor.

I sewed key chain rings directly to the coat for harness support as well, so this is now our go-to coat for rainy days.

Dog coat color up and down with without rain visor

Want to see how I use mitten clips and suspenders to attach little doggie socks? Check out The Dogged Battle of Frosty Paws.

I Got a Fever and the Only Prescription is…More Bird Songs!

How do you pass the miles when you have lots of time to occupy your mind? Do you listen to the radio? Ipod? Audio books? Contemplate life? Enjoy the silence (if you can)?

When Joel and I go on little road trips we are apt to challenge each other on our music trivia. General topics are selected such as songs about a location or that reference the weather. We’ll volley back and forth until we have a gloater winner. Much to my surprise and delight, Joel recently picked songs that reference birds or flight.

Besides singing about other people, does the music world croon about any other living creature as much as it does birds?

Bird Song Word Cloud

Given our ages and musical preferences, many songs that reference birds and flight certainly won’t be represented, however, here is our collective list:

In alphabetical order by song title

As I Lay Me Down – Sophie B. Hawkins
“It felt like spring time on this February morning. In a courtyard birds were singing your praise.”

Beds Are Burning – Midnight Oil
“Four wheels scare the cockatoos from Kintore East to Yuendemu.”

Birdhouse In Your Soul – They Might Be Giants
“Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch who watches over you. Make a little birdhouse in your soul.”

Black Crows – Honeyhoney
“Black Crows on the blue sky always making a mess. And I wake in the morning tangled up in their nest.”

Blackbird – The Beatles
“Blackbird singing in the dead of night. Take these broken wings and learn to fly.”

Blue Jay Way – The Beatles
“Soon will be the breath of day sitting here in Blue Jay Way.”

Chorus – Erasure
“And they covered up the sun until the birds had flown away.”

(They Long to Be) Close to You – The Carpenters
“Why do birds suddenly appear? Every time you are near?”

Edge Of Seventeen – Stevie Nicks
“Just like the white winged dove, sings a song sounds like she’s singing…”
Personally, I detest any kind of cooing so I always have a hard time with this one.

Fly Like an Eagle – Steve Miller Band
“I want to fly like an eagle to the sea. Fly like an eagle let my spirit carry me.”

Fly Robin Fly – Silver Convention
“Fly, robin fly. Fly, robin fly. Fly, robin fly. Up, up to the sky”
Lather, rinse, repeat. These are THE ONLY lyrics to the song! You don’t want to miss this gem from 1976. I may add this choreographed dance routine to my exercise repertoire.

Hot In Herre – Nelly
“Check it, got it locked at the top of the four seasons. Penthouse, roof top, birds I feedin.”

I’m Like a Bird – Natalie Furtado
“I’m like a bird I’ll only fly away.”

Little Bird – Annie Lennox
“I look up to the little bird that glides across the sky. He sings the clearest melody. It makes me want to cry.”
One of my favorites. Unfortunately no birds make an appearance in this video.

One For The Mockingbird – Cutting Crew
“But the sweetest song of all the mockingbirds couldn’t hope to match one note of any song we played.”

Over the Rainbow – Judy Gardland
“Birds fly over the rainbow. Why then, oh, why can’t I?”

Remedy – Black Crows
“Baby, baby why can’t you sit still? Who killed that bird out on you window sill?”

Rockin’ Robin – Bobbie Day
“All the little birds on Jay Bird Street love to hear the robin go tweet tweet tweet.”
Nine different birds are mentioned in this song. Is there any other song that is birdier than this?

Scar Tissue – Red Hot Chili Peppers
“With the birds I’ll share this lonely view.”
I always thought the words were “Scott Tissue”. “Scott Tissue that I wish you saw…” and thought it was so odd (but quite a coup for the Scott®  folks) that a band like Red Hot Chili Peppers would reference toilet paper in a song.

Sign Your Name – Terence Trent D’Arby
“Birds never look into the sun before the day is done.”

St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion) – John Parr
“I can see the new horizon underneath the blazin’ sky. I’ll be where the eagle’s flying higher and higher.”

Sparrow – Simon & Garfunkel
“Who will love a little Sparrow and who will speak a kindly word? ‘Not I,’ said the Swan, ‘The entire idea is utterly absurd, I’d be laughed at and scorned if the other Swans heard.’ ”

Suga Suga – Baby Bash
“So fly like a dove so fly like a raven. Quick to politic with some fly conversation.”

Take a Chance On Me – ABBA
“If you’re all alone when the pretty birds have flown…honey I’m still free, take a chance on me.”

The Night Owls – Little River Band
“He’s gonna win her every time. He knows he will, he’s dressed to kill he’s a night owl.”

Three Little Birds – Bob Marley
“Three little birds each by my doorstep. Singin’ sweet songs of melodies pure and true.”

When Doves Cry – Prince
“Why do we scream at each other? This is what it sounds like when doves cry.”
No, actually it still sounds like cooing. You can hear the agitation in the coo but it’s still a coo.

Wings of a Dove – Ferlin Husky
“On the wings of a snow-white dove He sends His pure sweet love. A sign from above on the wings of a dove.”

Songs about bird flight word cloud

We’re assuming the use of flight is in reference to birds and not insects, bats, angels, or airplanes.

In alphabetical order by song title

Amazing – Aerosmith
“That one last shot’s a Permanent Vacation. And how high can you fly with broken wings?”

Breakaway – Kelly Clarkson
“I’ll spread my wings and I’ll learn how to fly. I’ll do what it takes til’ I touch the sky.”

Broken Wings – Mr. Mister
“Take these broken wings and learn to fly again, learn to live so free.”
A falcon with intact wings makes a few brief appearances in this video.

Don’t Fear the Reaper – Blue Oyster Cult
“We’ll be able to fly (Don’t fear the reaper)”
You get bonus points if you knew that this SNL skit this was the inspiration for the title of this post!

Theme From The Greatest American Hero (Believe It Or Not) – Mike Post
“Flying away on a wing and a prayer, who could it be? Believe it or not it’s just me.”

I Believe I Can Fly – R. Kelly
“I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky. I think about it every night and day, spread my wings and fly away.”
When you want to instill confidence in yourself, spreading your wings and flying away does seem sexier and more inspiring than, say, lacing up your gym shoes and sprinting away. 

Never Tear Us Apart – INXS
“I told you that we could fly ‘cause we all have wings…but some of us don’t know why.”

On the Wings of Love – Jeffrey Osborne
“On the wings of love up and above the clouds the only way to fly…is on the wings of love.”

Time For Me To Fly – REO Speedwagon
“Time for me to fly…oh, I’ve got to set myself free. Time for me to fly…and that’s just how it’s got to be.”

Wind Beneath My Wings – Bette Midler
“I can fly higher than an eagle, ’cause you are the wind beneath my wings.”

Like the bird song word clouds? Check out Tagxedo for a word cloud generator with lots of fun options.

The Tent-tacular Outdoor Potty Tent

Last year was one of the coldest winters on record with extremely heavy snowfall; I won’t soon forget it. As temperatures started to drop this past fall, I couldn’t help but fret about what winter would have in store for us this year and how it would take its toll on Peanut’s potty time. Considering how difficult the whole process was for all of us and knowing that her little body would be taxed even further with age, I really wanted to make this season easier to manage.

My first thought was to buy an outdoor dog kennel and cover it with tarps or boards. There was much discussion between Joel and I about the ideal size of the kennel, how much to spend, how much work it would involve, the likelihood of Peanut actually using it, etc. After all, we tried using a bottomless camping tent outside a few years ago but we believe she did not use it because she thought she was still indoors.

I searched craigslist often over several weeks to find used kennels that might fit the bill but we never found anything that stood out as the best option.  Just when I thought this project was not going to happen, Joel proposed boarding up the sides of a pole tent we already owned.

Our project was a go.

Joel in the completed potty tent

A fine-looking potty tent indeed!

It has been over two months since we built the potty tent. I’ll cut to the chase and share that it has been a complete success ! We could not possibly be happier with the tremendous relief from the hassles of winters past. Why?

No snow or ice!* 
No getting knocked over by high winds!!
Instant access to clear, odiferous grass!!!

What We Used

  • 10 x 10 pole tent
  • 9 sheets of medium-density fibreboard (MDF) 97 mm thick; 3’ x 11’ 7/8” (1.21m x 2.43m) These boards were not designed for outdoor use
  • 2-3 boxes of small nuts and bolts
  • Gorilla Glue
  • 13 wooden lawn stakes
  • 12 cable ties
  • Table saw
  • Center support board
  • Truck (rented to get the boards to the house since our cars were not large enough)

Approximate total cost: $180 (excluding the tent which we already had)

The following is based on using the materials above and Joel’s measurements for our particular tent.

Confirming our plan: We put up the tent and picked out what we believed would be the best spot. We considered the distance from the door to the house and direction of wind.

Preparing the boards: This was a weekend project that Joel approximates took about eight hours. This included cutting the boards down two feet each in length so that they would not be taller than the tent. Boards were placed flat on the ground and overlapped about one foot on either side. For our tent, this meant using three boards per side for a total of nine. Joel then glued the overlapped sections together so that he had three full sides for the tent. Lastly, he drilled holes spaced about ten inches apart through the overlaps so that he could add nuts and bolts for extra strength.

close up of tent boards

Close up of glue and nails.

Attaching the boards: We transported the three tent walls around to the backyard where the tent had been erected. With the boards propped upright against the tent legs, Joel drilled holes into the boards where they met at the corners (top, middle, and bottom). This is where we fed the cable ties through, securing the boards to each other.

tent pole corner

 Duct tape secures the tent frame. Cable ties (2 of 3 shown) secure boards at right angles.
Slight buckling is is visible after two months.

 Securing the tent: The last steps included pounding in the wooden lawn stakes. This was meant to help stabilize the walls with the buckling and movement we expected to occur from winds and general outdoor wear and tear. The stakes were added to both the inside and outside for stability and extra strength against wind.

tent and lots of snow

 Two outside stakes are visible. This has to be done before the ground freezes.

The potty tent was completed in the nick of time. It snowed that same weekend. We were deliriously happy that the tent remained completely clear, however, Peanut was not immediately sure what to make of it. We had to keep her in socks since she ambled in and out of the tent for several days. I later added two small leaf piles to the tent when I made the connection that leaves seemed to…inspire her. That’s all it took. Once she went potty in the tent, the rest of the snow-covered yard became completely undesirable.**

view from inside the potty tent

 View from inside.

After two months’ time, the boards have buckled a bit but it’s not bad. We made it a point to brush off any snow that would collect on the top of the tent because the cover is only a thin canvas material. Because we grew concerned about just how much snow the cover could take, we added a tarp over the tent draped down at an angle from our deck for added security. I’m not sure how we would have reinforced the canvas top if we didn’t have this option.

potty tent is holding up in extreme snow falls

View of inside. Several wooden stakes support the walls on all sides.

We’re delighted that the tent has provided an excellent barrier from snow and wind; it’s exactly what we hoped for and then some. The benefits we have all enjoyed have far exceeded the cost of materials and our efforts to build it. We don’t intend for this tent to be up year round, only for winter. It would be great if we could reuse these same materials, but if not, we will absolutely consider investing in sturdier components for future use.

Hopefully others who have similar problems can use this idea to create their own wintertime potty oasis!

Peanut in the potty tent

Peanut gives the potty tent two dew claws up!

*A little snow collected in the corners when winds were extremely high.

**Peanut also made the connection that being in the potty tent equaled treats. Because she is so food-motivated and a bit too smart for her own good, she would go in there and do somewhat of a curtsy while staring at me like she did her part and now it was my turn. We had to once again start rewarding potty anywhere she went outside, just so long as she knew that inside the tent area was also an acceptable choice.

Adventures in Aging Canine Physical Rehabilitation Part 2

It’s been a year and a half since I wrote a post about Peanut’s physical rehab. Since that is one of my more popular posts, I thought it would be worthwhile to share an update.

Our little gal turned 13 on December 24th. A few weeks prior to that, I met a woman who just happened to be with her own 13-year-old pug at the veterinarian’s office. While making small talk, she referred to Peanut as a young pug. I thought she was joking but she wasn’t. It must be the black coloring she still has on her ears, around her eyes, and on her muzzle. It’s been wonderful to be fooled for so long by a dog that has barely been showing her physical age. It often tricks me into thinking that nothing has changed and the three of us can just hang out forever more.

Peanut Sleeping 13 years old

She doesn’t look a day over seven years old, eight tops.

Despite her youthful appearance, we’ve had to make some changes over time to Peanut’s exercise and standard care. Towards the end of summer, Peanut seemed more hunched in general. She was also starting to lose balance from behind on tile; she couldn’t keep her legs from splaying which was causing her to fall. We not only had a weak wrist that was getting weaker but also back legs that were no longer holding her up as well. Add a hunched frame and I was struck with the reality that she really was getting older. I think it all happened rather quickly but Joel says it has been a slow evolution over time. I don’t envy the animal medical professionals who have had to wade through our differing assessments of what started when.

Pain Medications: At our veterinarian’s advice, we started giving Peanut Metacam for pain. Since Peanut never gave us any reason to suspect that she was in pain until she started hunching, we decided it was time to provide relief. She’s doing well on it and does seem generally perkier and less hunched during the day. We also recently started giving her Tramadol in the evenings which has made a huge difference in her ability to sleep through the night without uncomfortably shifting around several times an hour. We initially assumed it was just something we’d all need to live with until we spoke with our vet about it. I’m so glad we did.

Carpet: And lots of it. Because my faithful companion still insists on providing a personal escort throughout the house, I had to find a way to provide traction on tile. There were tireless efforts of trying any and every combination of boots, socks, velcro, vet wrap, clips, bands, and incantations to keep her from sliding and falling on tile floors. Some provided only short-term assistance, others proved to be more of a hazard.

Socks and other ways to stop Peanut from Slipping

Sadly, no silver bullets here for us.

We tried keeping her crated during meal time preparation; times meant for revelry and leaping about. It didn’t go well. We now have inexpensive carpet off the role from Home Depot that covers the entire kitchen. Peanut can easily trot after us at will and once again run from one end of the kitchen to the other when that dinner bell chimes.

Peanut in kitchen on carpet

Strategically placed in the work triangle of the kitchen where spillage is most likely to occur.

Senior-friendly activities: We’ve incorporated more low-impact activities such as slow movements around the house and sensory stimulation. I picked some from this list and made adjustments that work for us.

Step Overs : We’re down to two tightly wrapped towels spaced a few feet apart because of the racing and potential tripping. (Peanut is more focused on the destination rather than the journey. She must get that from me.) Trying to slow her down using a leash only makes it worse.

K-Laser: We are now getting weekly K-laser (cold laser) treatments. I believe the science behind this as well as our experience that these treatments help accelerate repair and provide relief. You can find a local K-Laser provider here.

Low Incline Ramp Balancing: The homemade ramp that we’ve had for years now doubles as a core strengthening tool. This works better for us than the yoga ball. I prop the ramp up on a few pillows placed on the ground so that the incline is much less than it is on the couch. Even though the ramp is just a few inches off the ground, the slow back and forth movements provides good balancing and coordination exercise. I make sure I’m standing over her or right next to her to keep her from falling in case she stumbles. Of course she only complies if there are treat rewards! We originally used a bosu ball  in therapy (rubber side down), so that or something similar would also be ideal.

More Buggy Time:  A pet buggy purchased years ago also allows for balancing practice. While our preference is to visit forest preserves, we bumped up the number of small walks around the neighborhood when time is tight. Whether she is standing or seated, she must balance while we are in motion. The added stimulation of seeing and smelling what’s going on around the ‘hood is great, too.

Joel walks Peanut in buggy dog stroller

Chiropractor: For now we have paused on chiropractic adjustments. When researching dog diseases of the spine, I learned about Pug (Constrictive) Myelopathy and the suggestion that adjustments could be counterproductive. I have not yet spoken with the chiropractor about this to get her input. The only way we would know for sure would be to get an MRI, but due to Peanut’s age, we will not pursue that or any non-lifesaving surgical procedures which would be too high risk at her age.

Professional Physical Therapy: We left one physical therapy group and got a second opinion from another. Regarding the weak wrist, we were told that no exercise could accomplish strengthening it back up and that we’d actually need to brace the weak shoulder, the source of the problem. Because I think she would hate the harness and since she compensates quite well from day to day, we are not pursuing the shoulder harness at this time.

Treat Ball and Figure Eights: She stumbled around too much while batting the ball. We also eliminated figure eights because she was tripping herself while scrambling to get the treats. It’s adorable when a puppy does it, but a wonky senior? Not so much.

We cherish the good days and do our best to roll with the challenging days. But roll we shall.

Blooper photo_Stopping Peanut from SlippingBlooper photo. The Floor Manager must first inspect new stuff on the floor during photo prep.

Thank you to all the great members at for their compassion and support on this journey through senior care.

Rhapsody in Bluebird

My very productive afternoon of house cleaning came to a screeching halt when I happened upon this:

blue birds

We get Eastern Bluebirds from time to time zipping across the yard but it’s not common at all to witness them just hanging out on the deck.

Clean or watch pretty birds?
Clean or watch pretty birds?
Let me take half a second to think about that.

Seizing the opportunity and grateful to have the time to stop and watch, I perched in front of the window and savored the gift of having a front row seat to the bluebird show.

bluebirds oct 2014 1

For well over a half hour, I watched them watch the world, huddle up with one another, sample the suet, preen, cough up little berries (that was odd), and bathe for what appeared to be the first time for some.

bluebirds oct 2014 6

That might be mom and dad supervising the festivities. Most of the birds still had little speckles on their chest and a few baby feathers.

Is it the blue that makes them so dazzling? I could not look away.

bluebirds oct 2014 9

At one point there were eight bluebirds frolicking about. They didn’t have the foggiest idea that I lurked just a few feet away, completely captivated and delighted by their presence.

bluebirds oct 2014 4

bluebirds oct 2014 8

bluebirds oct 2014 5

I stayed fixed on my little blue buddies until one by one, they were gone.

“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” – Vincent van Gogh