So much can change in a week. On Monday of last week, we were excited to get home when it was still light out so we could take the pooches on a walk around our new fantastic park. The weather was so warm that the pooches went sans coats and A and I went sans scarves and gloves. Mr. B enjoyed a nice evening duck and rat watching.
Then comes Sunday, the pooches were bundled up in their Chicago team hoodies and A and I had on our heavy scarves and gloves.
For all the years we lived in our 2-bedroom with our 2 big pups (plus the occasional foster!) we always thought things would be so much better if we just had a bigger space.
And I think that a lot of people in the city are hesitant to get large dogs because they feel the same way.
Now that we have that bigger space, we're realizing that there actually are a lot of benefits to having dogs in smaller space.
And since we've tried both, this is what we've figured out:
Being Able to Monitor:
If you have a smaller space, you are always able to know where your dogs are and what they're doing. When our pups first came to live with us, and even as we've been fostering, we've been able to intercept any destructive chewing or human-food gathering because we could hear it happening and we can stop it before it became an issue.
With our larger space it becomes more difficult because we're separated by so much space we don't know anything has been happening until after the destruction has been done (especially by a sly "Serial Shoe-chewer" that lived with us over the summer).
I also like being able to know where the pups are at all times. Living in a smaller space, there were only about 2 places they could be. Though now that we have 3 levels, sometimes I really need to look for them. Which was especially frightening the time some workers came and left the back gate open and I was frantically searching for the pups who were safely sound asleep in our bedroom.
Being Separate without Being Separated:
While we never thought about it in our smaller space, our pups generally like being with us at all times. Which is nice, until we run upstairs to get something and they follow us up, and back down, and up again when we realize we forgot something else. And this is becoming harder for our older dogs (but they still insist on doing it anyway).
We also found our fosters were more likely to feel comfortable in their crates when they realized we were all nearby. They show a lot more anxiety if they need to be separated on another level and they can still hear us, but they're not able to see us.
I really enjoy cleaning, and I developed a whole routine of preventative measures to make cleaning easier. And it worked in our small space!
Though in our larger space I'm realizing how much more space we now need to clean. Which would be an issue even in a pet-free home.
I really felt on top of the cleaning when we were in our smaller space and now it's just completely overwhelming.
We've seen it from both sides, but we're always curious to hear about other people's experiences. What are some benefits you've realized from living in a smaller space or larger space?
Having Miss M gives me low self-esteem.
How else would you feel waking up to this judgmental face every morning?
And while we can't control disapproving expressions like these:
We have found a way to make them a bit more bearable:
We "put a bow on it".
We got this one from Silly Buddy who has added these collar flowers to their collection. While they have flower/collar combos, we like this single flower with elastic that we can just slip on over Miss M's main collar.
Which makes her kind of cute, even when she's criticizing the amount of food she is given:
Or showing her disappointment in our decorating decisions:
For the past 8 years of city-dog ownership we have been out there each and every day, multiple times a day, walking our pups. And for 8 cycles of seasons, we're finally starting to 'get it' to prepare for the changes we find each season.
Out of all of the walking seasons people usually guess that fall is one of the best. The temperatures are cool enough that pups don't overheat, and the streets are lined with beautiful fall foliage, but we finally realized to watch out for these things:
The Problem with Dog Poo and Leaves:
While all the leaves blanketing the grass do look nice, it's also a huge problem when trying to pick up after our dogs. With even a single glance away (Look at that black squirrel!) the poo suddenly becomes camouflage and it becomes a "Where's Waldo" of trying to clean up all the poo among the leaves.
Knowing how hard it is for me to find it when I'm actually trying, I know there are so many other bits of camouflage poo among the grass just waiting to be stepped on.
Piles of Leaves:
All summer we can see all types of trash strewn across the streets and sidewalks. Fall only looks more beautiful because this trash becomes hidden among the leaves. I never realized that leaves could become a type of carnival game for dogs, until our first fall when Miss M went diving into a huge pile of leaves emerging with her prize of... a dead rat. Usually Miss M has a good 'drop it' command, or I'll just pull it from her mouth, but this was the only time she refused to let it go. So we were at a standstill for about 10 minutes (or at least it seemed like that) as the rat's tail dangled, swinging in circles from her mouth until she finally become bored.
Now I make sure to pull them away if the pups become too interested in a pile of leaves.
Though I guess I didn't learn my lesson entirely after Miss M dove into a snow pile and pulled out an entire gyro (but that's another story of another day).
What the Darkness is Really Hiding:
Fall becomes really hard because daylight savings time suddenly immerses us into a world of darkness. Both our morning and evening walks are both done in the dark. Sure we have the anticipated difficulties of making sure cars can see us, and watching for other dog-human walking teams rounding blind corners.
But the worst part...darkness brings out the rats. And not just any rats, these are football-sized city rats who are bold enough to actually walk down the sidewalk beside you.
Mr. B doesn't care about the birds, the squirrels, or the black squirrels, but his kryptonite is the rats. Seeing a rat is enough to send him squealing and running. Which makes it really hard to keep him from pulling on our walks. And it also makes our walks feel like a horror movie where Mr. B is constantly reacting to things under cars, behind bushes, and in piles of leaves.
Fall can be a weird time because you don't want to actually admit it's cold and wear your cold weather clothes. But at the same time, it can be really cold!
The biggest issue is that my hands get really cold which makes it really hard to get a firm grip on a leash. Or if the leash slips through my hands it hurts that much more because my hands or so cold.
It really does feel like over-kill to bring out my gloves on what is just a crisp fall day, but after all of these walking cycles it is what I have learned to do.
We all know pet-ownership can be expensive. And it was especially hard for us this summer when we had several unexpected expenses and no paychecks.
See, we never thought we were going to move until May when we saw how condos were finally selling high and we could actually buy our very own house at an affordable rate. Though a new home also comes with a lot of things we didn't expect that could be surprisingly pricy (Blinds! A secure front door! A security system! A city mailbox!). which might not be so bad, but since we're both teachers in the city we don't get paid during the summer.
With elevated expenses, we realized we only had a month left in the school year to save up our paychecks and add to the savings we set aside for summer money.
Which really made us look hard at what we were spending our money on, and where we could save.
We found a lot of ways to save money overall (I think that could be its own post!), but we really struggled finding ways to cut back for the dogs. And these tended to be our biggest expenses.
These are the things we considered to be non-negotiable dog expenses:
High-Quality Dog Food
As we went over our finances again and again, we realized one of our biggest expenses is the pups' food. We spend as much on the dogs' food as we do for our own groceries every month. We rationalize that spending the money on a high-quality diet can actually save us money because we don't need to visit the vet as often. During one vet visit, Mr. B was diagnosed with early stage kidney disease but once we changed his diet it has never been an issue. I also think it's a combination of eating well and daily walks that has kept them youthful; people never believe that they are really 10 and 11 years old. Since they are older it has been worth it for us.
We know all dogs are different, and they might react to food differently, but we feed our dogs a combination of raw food, limited-ingredient canned food, a dehydrated mix, goats milk, fish stock, fish oil and joint supplements. We highly recommend going to Liz's Pet Shop (on Chicago and Western) where Liz can recommend food specific to your pup. She has spent her life learning the specifics of dog nutrition and she really knows a lot.
We know many dogs that have lived long, healthy lives eating table scraps and standard dog food, but we rationalize if there is any way to keep them healthier and elongate their lives it's worth taking that chance and just making other financial sacrifices.
We know a lot of people have different thoughts about pet insurance, but I'm a worrier and it really has saved us. With unexpected things coming up, plus a couple of tumors removed, we've gotten thousands of dollars back. We also know several friends where a single accident has cost $5,000+. Sure we could save up the annual payments in a savings account where we might come out even in the end, but if that $5,000 accident happens only 3 years into pet ownership, you would still need to find that extra money. So we play it safe and we have our insurance.
We did a lot of research and we really like Trupanion because it covers breed-specific ailments many pet insurance companies don't cover, and they don't have the same yearly increases once your pet becomes a senior (we had tried Embrace before, and I think they had about a 40% annual increase once your pup turned 7). We also recommend that people who are thinking of getting pet insurance to get it immediately because it will not cover any pre-existing conditions that your dog has already been treated for at the vet. Daily Dog Walks with the Dogwalker
Mr. B tries to take his stuffy every time!
When our dogs were younger, I was more comfortable leaving them home all day. I knew that they wouldn't have to use the bathroom, and I just spent extra time in the morning and after work to make sure they were adequately exercised. Now that they're older, I think it's more important that they are able to get bathroom breaks mid-day. I also feel more comfortable knowing that there is some one there to check on them during the day.
It was only as we hit our first really cold walk this weekend, that I rediscovered these never posted warmer-weather walk photos from several weeks ago.
Seeing all of our pups with warm-weather wide-mouthed smiles, cooling off in the fountain, and even wearing sunglasses has reminded me how much will change in the next few months.
We still keep walking all through the winter.
Just with a few changes.
We change a lot of our walk locations based on the seasons. During the summer, there are so many runners, bikers, and other dogs out that we need to look for more obscure walking locations.
Plus, temperatures change throughout the city based on how close you are to the lakefront. We have a short window where we can do some lakefront walks, but just to avoid the winds and extra lake-effect snow we tend to walk further west.
Forgetting the Loop
We have a couple of locations which are smaller and we will walk the loop twice. Though in the extremely cold weather, it can be enough just to loop through one time.
Living in Chicago, we need to be hearty even if we're not. And for many of our pups that means gearing up. Our pups come in an array of jackets, sweaters, hoodies and snoods...sometimes all at once! The best part is learning from each other and figuring out what works best.
Though living in the city, very few of us have the luxury of a yard, and especially in the colder months it's extra-important to get our pups out keeping their minds healthy through mental stimulation.
As we had written before, we don't allow our pups to sleep in our bed. Sure, unlike A I do love having the pooches within snuggle and smooching distance, and after my insistence, A eventually gave in and allowed the pooches on our outdoor furniture.
I have yet to win her over with our indoor furniture, especially our comfy sectional in the basement. But we still won't have pups in our bed. Seeing this photographic evidence** might explain why:
* Miss M did not stop moving, I was eating lunch and forgot to continue taking screen shots **Photos are screen shots taken with our IP camera.
Also: How we spy on our pups.
We know she won't move from that bed Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and story lines beyond the blog.
E had been eyeing this bed for awhile, and now that we finally have the room we decided to make the investment.
Since it was something new, Miss M was quick to claim it as her own. Mr. B will only lay in it tentatively with one eye open anticipating the exact moment Miss M might appear and he becomes a pillow:
This bed is huge! We have an extra bedroom upstairs that we've dubbed "the dog bedroom". Ironically, it was the one room in the house that they never wanted to go in. So it lives in there. It takes up as much room as a dresser. Which we don't have in there. Because it is the dog bedroom.
While we've only had it for a few weeks, this is what we've noticed so far. What We Like:
-The bed is super-plush and comfortable and it is the dogs' bed of choice. Once we brought this bed home, we didn't see Miss M for several days.
-We like that it has the bolsters as a type of built-in pillow. Since our dogs are pillow dogs.
-We like that it has a type of cut-out front which will make it easier for the pups to enter and exit as their joints get a bit more rickety
-We like the color (remember how we are prone to gray?) and the velvet/microfiber texture which make it seem modern. The bolster and bed unzip separately, and it seems really well-constructed.
-With a name like "Deep Dish", it seemed destined for this Chicago family.
What We Don't Like:
-The bottom insert is stuffed with a polyester fill and we wanted it to be even more stable and plush. We ended up buying a foam egg crate bed topper to stuff inside to make it sturdier and more comfortable.
-For a dog bed, this thing is a fur magnet. It shows fur like crazy which will happen often. Because dogs sleep here.
-It is quite pricy and an investment. It cost around $200 which is similar to most large higher-end dog beds. Though we rationalized that our dogs are nearly pre-teens and if this is going to help them to be more comfortable than it was worth it to us (and we just really haven't gone out to eat for a long time).
We are still casually looking for another stable comfortable bed that we can have on the main floor so the pups don't need to climb as many stairs to get to the good bed.
And if we're looking for Miss M, now we always know where to find her.
From us to the pooches, we were all so excited for Halloween this year. We were finally grown up, or acting like we were grown up, by giving out candy to all the trick or treaters from our home.
A and I went out and bought almost $100 worth of candy, we were so afraid of not having enough candy for all of our trick or treaters.
Mr. B sat eagerly in his turtle costume, ready to greet all knights and princesses with smooches to go with their candy.
Miss M was over it and partially wore her butterfly costume and waited upstairs for the first
ghost and goblins to knock on our door before she went full butterfly.
The weather did not cooperate and potential trick or treaters were greeted with rain, wind and even snow. Sadly we did not get a single trick or treater and Mr. B's costume was all for naught.
We love that there are so many things to do in the city, and we love that our pups can accompany us on so many of our outings. Our pooches ride in cabs and have stayed in fancy hotels. They have shopped at Nordstroms, marched in costumed parades, and have even gone to a professional soccer game.
And while the pups have been so successful galavanting around the city, there are also some places that we completely avoid. Which also happen to be the most common and "dog-friendliest".
While some places might be more geared towards dogs, it doesn't necessarily mean that these are the places where your pups will be the most successful.
We think pet stores are kind of like Lollapalooza for dogs: so many people handing out free biscuits, so many eye-level stuffies to grab, and so many little dogs stretched out on retractables peering around corners. It's so exciting and they just want to do everything all at once. Which anyone who's been at an all-day summer concert knows just leads to bad choices.
We also found out that if they realize they can push the boundaries in one location, these exceptions will translate into that behavior in all of the other places. So if they go to the dog store and everyone is giving them treats and other dogs are there wanting to play and excitement is up, they will have those same expectations and excitement in any other type of place we go. We work to set them up for success by focusing on locations that don't have as much stimuli so they will be polite in all settings.
Dog Parks and Beaches:
The dog parks always look like so much fun with all of the owners laughing and sipping Starbucks. While there are some places that might be smaller and more controlled, we have been to several places that are over-exciting and lawless. It seems to be the first stop for anyone who has just gotten the dog, and often times well-meaning dog owners bring dogs who just aren't comfortable in this situation. I too thought this was something our dogs would enjoy, and when I first adopted Miss M I brought her to the dog beach so she could romp and roam. She ended up getting attacked by a dog who grabbed her by the jowl and as she tried to get away her jowl was stretched out, cartoon-like, since the other dog wouldn't let go. We also had a friend whose dog was attacked at a park and required several Frankenstein-like stitches. Not to mention this fluke accident I experienced at the dog park that landed me in the ER.
It's just not worth it to us to put our dogs in a situation where they might not be comfortable or could be hurt. These are some ways we get in some extra exercise. And this is how we socialize with our dog friends.
Also: Dog-friendly shopping! Why our pups don't greet on leash. Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and story lines beyond the blog.