Friday, September 18, 2020

Dogs & Dogloos

Dogs are man's best friend.  So why would anyone put their dog in a dogloo? And what ever happened to those, anyway?

One great thing about camping is you can bring your dog with you.  You can bring your cat, too, but it isn't quite the same thing.  We've seen people do it, though.  One enterprising fellow we met cut a hole in the floor of his motorhome, from inside a small cabinet, connecting to a "basement" storage compartment.   They put a wire mesh cover behind the compartment door, so when they parked, they could open the door and the cats could then jump down to the lower compartment and look outside, right next to where their owners were sitting.   Close the cabinet door, and they can't get back into the camper - and jump out the front door, as cats are wont to do - and run away.  It was also a handy place to put the litter box as well.

We had three cats and they were nice companions.  But whenever we think about getting a cat, those two words come back to haunt us - "litter box".   I love cats - other people's cats.  It is always nice to pet them, but after doing so, I find myself covered in cat hair and having a mild allergic reaction and then I remember about the reality of cats.   Fur everywhere!  And that cat smell - like urine or something - that permeates a cat-owners house (it is urine, I think - cats love to "mark their territory").

So for now, I am content to pet someone else's cat.  Maybe if I am older, I will adopt an older cat from the shelter.  We saw one once, a huge orange tabby, that was 18 years old and his owner had died.  I said to Mark - "That's the ideal cat - maybe a 2-3 year commitment, tops!"  We've had cats live as long as 22 years, but that is not really the norm.

Dogs are the same deal - we love dogs and we love other people's dogs which is why we dog-sit on occasion to get our dog fix.  We spoil the dog, of course.  Dogs can be wonderful or awful, depending on the breed, the breeding, the training, and the owner.    I think a lot of people get a dog after seeing someone with a well-bred and well-trained dog, who follows the owner's every command, even clicks and whistles.  People think, "Wow, that would be cool to have a companion dog like that!" and they go out and buy one from a puppy mill and are disappointed when it turns out to be a spastic monster than poops on the floor and eats the sofa.

Why are some dogs like that?  Well, dogs are pack animals, and they want to be with the pack at all times.  Most people have "jobs" and leave the house for ten hours a day or more.  If they are like typical Americans and eat out five nights a week, that's even more time alone.   Left alone, dogs lose their minds, over time and start acting out.

Making things even worse is that some breeds of dogs are just spastic to begin with.  You remember when "Frazier" came out and they had this adorable Jack Russell Terrier on the show - professionally trained, of course.  So every Yuppie in the world went out and bought one and then dumped them in the shelter when they turned out to be outright monsters.

The problem is not only the breed, but most people don't have the time or inclination to train their dog, and breeds like a Jack Russell need professional training.  We had a Lab/Chow mix, Maggie, we adopted as a puppy from the shelter - not realizing that Chows are very disturbed dogs to begin with - and took her to a professional trainer to train both us and her.   After a few basic lessons, the trainer said, "I can keep taking your money, but the truth is, this dog will always be a challenge to you, as she wants to be Alpha dog."  It was good advice, and while she was indeed a challenge at times, she was a good companion.   Her behavior improved dramatically when I started taking her to my office (and later when I worked at home).  Funny thing - pack animals want to be part of the pack!

I know I rag a lot on so-called "homeless" people (professional beggars and thieves who are fueling their drug habit).  The idea of homeless people with pets is absurd - you can't afford to take care of yourself, you want a pet?  And pets cost a lot more than you think!   But oddly enough, since they are with their dogs 24/7, often these bums have very well trained dogs.  We saw one homeless girl in New Orleans who had trained her dog to jump up and ride on her backpack, which no doubt was a good deal for the dog (which looked to weigh about 40 pounds).   "Being with" is what dogs want the most, and when you leave a dog alone, they can slowly lose their minds.

I always hoped Maggie would grow out of the spastic stage - always pulling on the leash, always wanting to chase a squirrel - and become this mellowed-out older dog that just laid by the warm fireplace and farted occasionally - like an old Labrador (or indeed, like some older husbands).  And she did mellow out - in the last few months of her life.   Many dogs are like that, which is why dogs don't live very long - their metabolism is easily double ours - they burn the candle at both ends.

But again, there are breeds, and then there is breeding.   And a spastic breed of dog, poorly inbred by a puppy mill is an even bigger nightmare.   We never had that problem with Ginger, our greyhound.  Racing greyhounds have their genealogy mapped back ten generations, and indeed, you can look them up on line, along with their racing history.  Greyhounds can be spastic monsters too - dogs have personalities just like humans.  In the dog world, there is no doubt a dog Hitler and a dog Trump - along with a dog Ghandi.   Ginger was more of the latter.

Caution: This video may make you cry. Mark hasn't been able to watch it all the way through, yet.

She had the breed and breeding, and the temperament, and of course, was strictly trained for the first three years of her life.  When we adopted her, she was all-too-happy to just go with the flow, for the most part, other than the incessant need to run as fast as possible for about two or three minutes every day - whether you wanted her to or not.  Sometimes, this racing alarm would go off in the house, and you just had to wait it out.  Dogs gotta run - greyhounds especially.

But even with a dog as nice as Ginger, dog ownership presents difficulties and limitations on your life.   You can't leave them in the car, but they want to go with you every time you leave the house.  If you want to go off for the day, you have to figure out who is going to let the dog out and feed it.  If you want to go away for a week, you have to find a dog-sitter or pay enormous sums for boarding - the latter of which is little more than dog jail.   Owning a pet places limits on your behavior - you constantly have to think about the dog in your daily plans.

When camping, this seems like less of a problem, but not really.  Most campgrounds have very strict rules - no leaving dogs in your camper all day (where they bark, bark, bark, because of separation anxiety - they want to "be with") and you can't leave them tied up outside either.  Both will get you thrown out of the campground.   And of course you have to feed and walk the dog - the latter multiple times a day.  Granted, it is good exercise, but it may prevent you from doing other things - like spending three hours in the kayak, for example.

Of course, with Ginger, we could leave her in the camper with no problems.  Greyhounds are used to being kenneled and she loved her "nest" and of course, rarely, if ever, barked.  Note that AKC greyhounds are a totally different animal (pardon the pun) and are usually as spastic and unruly as a Lab-mix puppy.

Speaking of mixes - adopting a dog these days is fraught with problems.  Unfortunately, as bad as the puppy-mill breeders are, the dogs that end up in shelters are often far worse.  They are "bred" by ignorant rednecks or inner-city types who want a "tough dog" either to guard their pathetic pile of possessions, or to actually engage in dog-fighting.  This is particularly true in recent years.  As a result, the shelters are full of "fighting breeds" and various haphazard mixes thereof - pit bulls and so forth.  People say "It isn't the breed!  you shouldn't judge!" but pit bulls were bred to fight to the death in a pit and have been known to kill people.  It is in the breeding - they are like a machine programmed to kill.

This is not to say the pit bull mix you adopt from the shelter is going to eat your baby - necessarily - only that it may be very unruly and hard to train, and likely go after the neighbor's cat.

Given all that, we aren't chomping at the bit to get another dog.  When Ginger died, everyone said, "get another dog" as if you could replace them like appliances.  It is like when your spouse dies, do you go out shopping for a new one?  Well, I guess my Dad did, and it was probably a good thing, as left to his own devices, he would have gotten himself into trouble.   The evil stepmother did keep him on the rails, and yes, she was an Alpha dog in that relationship.  But I digress.

We will be content to dog-sit for friends or admire other dogs from afar, or pat on the head a nice dog that we meet while out on a walk.  Getting a pet that may live 10-20 years seems a little irresponsible when you may have fewer than that many years left to live.  Oh, right, that.  We see a lot of elderly people getting dogs - even puppies - or cats, without doing the math on the life expectancy of the dog versus their own.  As a result, when the owner dies, someone has the messy job of finding a new home for the pets, or the heartbreaking job of taking them to the shelter.  When Mark's stepmother died, we were fortunate that a neighbor quickly re-homed her two Siamese cats - one of which was only a year or two old.  You have to wonder what she was thinking at her age - if she thought at all - about what would happen to her cats when the inevitable happened, and being 150 pounds overweight and on dialysis, she should have known what the inevitable comprises.  But again, Americans think death is some weird anomaly that happens to other people - like this virus thing - and not an inevitability that happens to us all.

My second topic is Dogloos, which British readers may think is some sort of dog bathroom or cottage.   Back in the 1980's, I think, we saw these at the big-box stores.  They are a triumph of packaging over practicality.  They are an igloo-shaped "doghouse" that comes apart and can be stacked for easy shipment.  When they first came out, we saw them in everyone's cart at the wholesale club.  And later on, we saw them at the curb.   Turns out, most dogs don't like doghouses - the house they want to be in is yours.   The idea of leaving your dog chained-up outside with a doghouse is very retrograde.   Even back in the day, when you'd build a doghouse with your Dad as a Boy Scout project (well, maybe you did, my Dad wanted nothing to do with that) the dog generally would ignore it, or like Snoopy, sleep on top of it.

I recounted before how I went to a friend's house in rural Michigan.  They had a beautiful German Shepard chained up - padlocked - to an old engine block, next to a dilapidated dog house.  The dog never came inside or went for walks.  He just ran in a circle defined by the chain, stripping the grass clean to bare dirt, and dragging his own desiccated poops and dog dishes with him.   He smelled to high heaven.   I felt sorry for the dog, and in retrospect, I should have taken this as a sign to find new friends, but drugs make you do weird things.

So to me, the whole concept of "dog houses" is flawed, and the "Dogloo" even moreso.  It provides scant shelter for a dog, even with the optional clear plastic "door" they sell for them.   Yet they still sell them today, but we see less and less of them in shopping carts or parked in front of trailer homes.

When people get a dog, they often feel the need to go out and spend inordinate sums of money on accessories.  Often a lot of this stuff is overpriced junk.   For example, greyhounds, like most larger breeds, prefer an elevated food dish.  The pet store wants $40 for such a thing.  Walmart has a metal plant stand for $7.99 that does the same thing.   But pet supply stores - and websites - abound, and they make a lot of money off the guilt of pet owners, who buy a lot of this crap, not realizing that what a dog wants most is companionship.

And oddly enough, isn't that the same reason people get dogs in the first place? For companionship?

Leave the dogloos on the shelf at the wholesale club, and spend more time with your dog.