Archive | September 2011

An alternative education

Franny attends class with me at the Marin Humane Society!

In June I decided to take the plunge. Those of you who know me (or who have read posts from the beginning of this blog) know that I have been considering a career change for a while now, but it took a trip to Turkey with my girlfriends to change my life. At some point – maybe while drinking Turkish tea in Istanbul or relaxing on a boat in the middle of the Mediterranean – I realized that life should be enjoyable; that I should really love what I do. When we returned to San Francisco, my decision was made: goodbye anthropology, hello dogs!

What does it take to make such a drastic change? Well, first I had to figure out exactly what to do. In a perfect world I would study animal ethology and behavior. But…because I have no background in biology, I would have to start from the bottom, working my way through another 5-10 years of school for a Master’s Degree or Doctorate. To complete the degree, I would have to move north to attend UC Davis (not exactly my idea of an enjoyable place to live) and sell my soul to student loan officers. Not to mention the fact I already HAVE a Ph.D.! Clearly, this was not the best option.

I considered being trained as a Veterinary Technician. I worked as a vet tech in college and found it to be satisfying and interesting work. I could complete that certificate far more quickly and wouldn’t have to move out of San Francisco to do it (it is offered at Foothill College in the Bay Area). But, the state of our economy being as it is, the program has had so many applicants that it is only accepting those without a prior degree…that kind of puts me at the bottom of the acceptance list.

But I was in luck. Even though the highly reputable Dog Training Academy at the San Francisco SPCA is no longer in session, I discovered a wonderful alternative just across the Golden Gate Bridge: the Canine Behavior and Training course at the Marin Humane Society. Taught by renowned behavioral specialist, Trish King, the program had all the elements I was looking for – Saturday classes, a relatively low-cost, and a universal acceptance policy. Plus, it would give me a great education in dog ethology, dog training, and all other things canine.

With the help of Marin Humane, I will have the training and skills that will keep me from wondering if I made the wrong choice by leaving my old life to start anew.

For the juiciest tidbits I learn in class, check out my tips and facts on Modern Hound’s Facebook page. “Like” Modern Hound at

And for more on how I hope to put my alternative education to use, visit me and Franny at

Paku’s paws, part II

For dogs with low to moderate paw licking tendencies, there are a lot of great home remedies that can help to relieve the itchiness. First it’s important to determine why your dog is licking his paws. Is he under stress? Is he having an allergic reaction? Is he obsessive compulsive?

If allergies seem to be the culprit, first visit your vet to try to narrow down the range of possible irritants. At home, try boosting your dog’s immune system by slowly adding some additional fatty acids like Primrose Oil, Flaxseed Oil, or Vitamin E to his food. Try giving a 40lb-dog 200-500mg of Primrose Oil twice a week (buy liquid gel capsules at any drug store, break them open, and add them to your dog’s evening meal) twice a week or a quarter teaspoon of Flaxseed Oil once a week. With Vitamin E, buy the smallest capsule you can and give it to your dog once or twice a week. Be sure to slowly build up to the full dosage with these vitamins or you may upset your dog’s stomach and give him diarrhea.

Also try changing your dog’s food to something that is higher quality and low in carbohydrates.

Chamomile and sage teas can provide immediate relief to your dog’s paws. Soak a tea bag for a couple of minutes in cool water, then rub it over the irritated area. Both are effective antiseptics and completely harmless as a topical solution – just be sure to avoid getting the tea in your dog’s eyes or letting him eat the tea bag, which can irritate his stomach.

For other kinds of paw licking – those caused by stress or OCD – you may want to try covering the area. You can find rubber booties that will keep your dog from getting to his paws but, because dogs sweat from their feet, the rubber may cause pruney paws or bacteria build up, in the long run. White cotton children’s socks are a better option because they are breathable, but they are also easier for your dog to get off. One company, DermaPaw, has created a sort of hybrid sock/bootie that snap on to doggy suspenders that may be a good option for some.

What shouldn’t you try? Never use cortisone cream, tea tree oil, or eucalyptus products on your dogs paws. All can cause severe negative reactions.

Paku’s paws

Paku, a five pound nearly hairless Chihuahua, is an occassional resident of my little zoo. I have to admit that I am not a Chihuahua person. They typically strike me as needy, frightened (both timid and agressive out of fear), and all around odd. So when 7-yr old Paku arrived six months ago it took me awhile to warm up to him. But eventually, he won me over with his funny antics and snuggly nature.

One of the things I find most amusing about Paku is the way he plays with stuffed toys, pouncing at them, chasing them around, carrying them in his mouth. But when the fun is done, Paku gets weird. He begins to lick his paws. Obsessively. His mom told me that, at times, he has gotten so over zealous that he has licked the hair right off. Lately, I have noticed Franny licking her paws, too. It seems to occur when she lays down for or wakes up in the middle of a nap in the evenings and, though she doesn’t obsessively lick, the action is the same as Paku’s. So, why do dogs lick their paws?

There are several possible reasons:

– stress

– boredom

– an allergic reaction to diet or outside stimulus (like chemicals used on lawns)

– psychological reasons (obsessive-compulsive behavior)

– fleas

In Paku, the behavior seems to be obsessive compulsive. In fact, Chihuahuas are among the most likely breeds to have obsessive compulsive disorders (along with Australian Cattle Dogs, Chows and Dobermans, among others). With Franny, the problem may high levels of cortisol in her blood stream. Stress is typically the cause of high cortisol levels but Franny’s Cushing’s Disease also causes her to have excessive cortisol. Franny’s paw licking, then, is likely a side-effect of her Cushing’s Disease!

For some suggestions on what to do about paw licking, check out tomorrow’s blog!

Dangerous digestibles

I love grapes. I eat them almost every day. And whatever I eat, Franny wants, too. We all know that chocolate is bad for dogs – too much can kill them – but there are several every day foods and household products that can also poison your dog. Here is a quick, go-to list of some of the most common dangerous digestibles for your mutt:

Grapes (and raisins)
Onion (and chives)
Macadamia nuts
Jerusalem cherry and all cherry pits
Avocado pits
Apple seeds
Tobacco and marijuana
Yeast dought (i.e., bread – if your dog’s diet is over 5% bread, they are in danger!)
Acetaminophen and aspirin
Azalea, daffodil bulbs, mistletoe berries, poinsettias, tulip bulbs

Farewell to Dusty

Franny has gotten in to a number of little skirmishes with other dogs. Usually, it’s a quick bark or growl, telling another dog to back off, but occassionally it escalates into something more. Dusty is the second foster dog I attempted to bring into Franny’s home. The first was a sweet, confused mutt who had lived his life tied up in a backyard. The last year of his life, his humans stopped feeding him and he was kept alive by the neighbors. By the time he got to Muttville, he was severely underweight after having been removed from his home by Animal Care and Control. When I brought Franny to Muttville Manor to meet this sweet guy, though, there were just enough signs of agression to suggest that it wouldn’t be a good match. I brought Franny home alone.

And then Dusty entered our lives and, the first week, things were fine between them. Franny was clearly dominant and would let Dusty know when he was too stepping on her proverbial toes. Then we spent an afternoon at the park with a group of friends. Whether it was the shifting attention of the humans, the stress of a day in the heat or another spark, I don’t know, but Fran and Dusty got into a scuffle which, with snarls and yelps, sounded worse than it really was. I pushed Franny away with my knee to her shoulder and things calmed immediately. We had no more incidents until last night. I was preparing dinner for the dogs and both sat in the kitchen looking at me with their big hungry eyes. Then suddenly, Franny was on top of Dusty, pinning him to the ground with her teeth. Though it lasted only 20 seconds, it felt like minutes. I finally pulled Franny off of Dusty from her collar (behind her neck so she wouldn’t bite me on accident) and Dusty lay on the floor. I pulled Franny outside, closed the patio door, and went back to check on Dusty. He was fine – a little shaken, but no wounds – and within minutes it was as if nothing had happened. I called Sherri at Muttville immediately and let her know. Her wise advice? Franny doesn’t need that stress, Dusty doesn’t need that stress, and you don’t need that stress. A fellow foster mom, Yoko, came to pick up Dusty later that evening, and just like that, he was gone.

After Dusty left, I wondered what I should have done in this situation to make things better. What if, for example, Dusty was not a foster dog but a permanent one? So, I began to read and here is what I did wrong:

– I was treating Franny and Dusty as equals when, in reality, they were not equals in the pack. In fact, Franny may have felt I was giving Dusty preferential treatment (i.e., treating him as if he was dominant). Franny loves love but she also likes to have her own space. She rarely sleeps on my bed and doesn’t like to be on the couch (interestingly, her disinterest in being close could be a symptom of her Cushing’s Disease). Dusty, on the other hand, is a typical Doxie. He wanted to be as close as possible as often as possible and would whine if I didn’t put him up on the couch with me or let him sleep in my bed.

– Even though it sounded bad, I didn’t really need to pull Franny off of Dusty. She was reaffirming the pecking order in the pack and by pulling her off of Dusty, the pecking order issue was never resolved. If the fight became bad enough, I should have pulled Franny away by her back legs, silently (without saying things like “Franny, no!” or “Bad dog”). Another option is to shift the dogs’ attention by spraying something at them or making a loud noise away from them.

– I should not have put Franny outside and gone to check on Dusty. Dusty was fine and I just showed Franny that Dusty ranks higher than she. In other words, I contributed to her need to show she was dominant. I am also lucky that I did not make the situation worse by seperating the two. Franny could have come back inside and restarted the fight.

Franny’s Cushing’s Disease

The first health problem I noticed in Franny was her excessive water drinking and urinating. After several tests, the vet diagnosed her with Cushing’s Disease. There are two primary causes of Cushing’s:

1. A benign tumor in the pituitary gland (usually less than 3mm in diameter) which causes the oversecretion of a hormone called ACTH. Normally, the release of this hormone causes the release of cortisol by the adrenal gland. As the cortisol is released, the pituitary responds by stopping the release of ACTH. But in pituitary dependent Cushings, the hormone release doesn’t stop. In response, the adrenal glands become very large to keep up with the cortisol production.

Pituitary tumors account for 85% of all cases of Cushing’s.

2. A tumor in the adrenal gland that causes the secretion of too much cortisol. The brain doesn’t register that the cortisol is being released and the ACTH hormone is also secreted in excess. Half of these tumors are benign and the other 50% are malignant.

In both types of Cushing’s disease, then, it is the overproduction of cortisol which causes a number of symptoms. Franny’s signs of Cushing’s included increased/excessive water consumption, increased/excessive urination, loss of muscle mass, giving the appearance of weight loss, hind leg weakness, excess panting, seeking cool surfaces to rest on, and coat changes like dryness.

Other symptoms of Cushing’s can include:
• urinary accidents in previously housetrained dogs
• increased/excessive appetite (polyphagia)
• appearance of food stealing/guarding, begging, trash dumping, etc.
• sagging, bloated, pot-bellied appearance
• bony, skull-like appearance of head
• exercise intolerance or lethargy

• new reluctance to jump on furniture or people
• symmetrically thinning hair or baldness (alopecia) on torso
• easily damaged/bruised skin that heals slowly
• hard, calcified lumps in the skin (calcinosis cutis)
At it’s worst, Cushing’s can cause diabetes, pancreatitis and seizures.

Cushings typically strikes dogs of 10 years of age or older and left untreated, it will progress. Excess cortisol suppresses the immune system and can, therefore, lead to congestive heart failure, seizures, liver and kidney failure, and more. If treated, the symptoms of Cushing’s can resolve fully in 4-6 months. A dog will never completely recover from Cushings but treatment can improve the quality of life and perhaps even extend it.

If your dog is showing any of these symptoms, especially excessive water drinking and urination, see your vet

The joys of dehydrated food

Don't be fooled by the look of it, this food is great!

After Franny’s cancer was diagnosed I started to think more about providing her with the best nutrition I could in order to keep her body running well until the end. Since I took her as a foster dog her stool had been overly soft and frequent. She was eating a high quality dry kibble and a bit of wet dog food formulated for senior dogs with which I could make some medication meatballs. Then one day, after a visit to Muttville headquarters, Anne Lauck sent us home with a bag full of free samples from The Honest Kitchen. I began making the switch that evening – mixing some of the dry kibble with the dehydrated food so as not to agitate her stomach. She loved it! With the dry kibble, she would eat half and leave the rest for later; the dehydrated food was literally gone in seconds. Within 48 hours, Franny’s stool was completely solid, healthy, and less frequent. The food – which combines human-grade quality meat, veggies, fruits, gluten-free grain, and vitamins – is gentle enough that we can continue to use it, even as her stomach cancer becomes more severe, by mixing it increasingly with white rice, cottage cheese, and boiled chicken.

If your dog is older or sick, give The Honest Kitchen a try. It comes in several different varieties and is available at Pet Food Express in the Bay Area (among other locations) and online at

Franny in the before time

Day Johnston shares her first experiences with Franny over six years ago:

“I was working on a construction project in Watsonville.  It was a new development that was quite a ways back into the hill area.  I took the back road to it every morning.  This road lead to Hwy. 101 though and was heavily trafficked by local red neck fasties.

As I turned to get on that stretch, I saw coming towards me, right in the middle of the road, this wonderful, long legged, lanky dog.  I drove past her a few yards so as not to scare her into the road further, then got out, happened to have a dog cookie, and called her.  I didn’t expect her to come and figured I’d have to lure her and be patient.

Well, hardly the case, she turned and looked at me as if I were her long lost family person and came bounding towards me.  My driver side door was open and she just jumped right in!  She managed to get into the back seat where she sat quite comfortably.  I was so relieved to have her inside the car.  Now to find her home.

I tried for weeks stopping all along the road at different houses, no one recognized her.  I ran an ad, radio ad, and notified the shelters.  It didn’t take 2 seconds for me to fall in love with her.

I had been without a dog very purposely for quite some time.  She was water to a parched desert. We quickly got to know each other and had wonderful walks.  She was quiet and delicate actually for such a tall girl.

I knew I would not keep her permanently as she was too large for me and my lifestyle but I wasn’t about to give her up to anyone that wasn’t perfect.

I contacted AFRP, at that time I didn’t know much about them but they took a picture of her and posted her. Within days I started getting phone calls inquiring about her. I interviewed a few people and told them I didn’t feel she was quite right for them and kept looking.

Finally, Annie called [Franny’s last owner].   I had given Franny her the name ” Annie” not really knowing why…but reasoned out maybe I was thinking about ” little orphan Annie”.  I always thought of her as kind of an elegant hobo, almost like royalty gone undercover. She had such a tranquility, sophistication yet was such wiry looking girl. Anyway, this lady named Anna, (Annie is what I called her) called and I cracked up.  I liked her over the phone immediately. At the time she lived in Big Sur, so that sounded perfect.  She liked to hike and go to the beach, that sounded perfect, and she had a teenage daughter, that sounded perfect. So they came to my house for a get together.  I liked Annie right away, and saw her daughter to be a loving animal lover.

We’d found our fit.

It was very hard giving her to them but I was relieved that Anna, Annie promised me I could still get together. Well, initially it was to see Frannie but very quickly Annie and I became friends and are still very much so today. I’d say I had her for probably about 6-7 months before I let her go.  I’ve dog sat several times for Annie during this time and am so grateful for all of that.”

…and a little story from their time together…

“Frannie has a very pensive and deep soul. One day, a young friend was visiting me with her boyfriend.  He was being very macho and rather unkind to this girl. She was sitting very quietly in a chair at the dining table.  Frannie just walked over to her and laid her head in this girls lap.  This girl wasn’t a real dog person, but she was so comforted and touched by Frannie’s obvious gesture that she had big tears running down her face.”


Bringing a new animal in to the house is rarely problem-free. Dusty is no exception. I joke that my flat is a zoo. There are constantly new animals coming in and out. There’s Franny, of course, two cats – Osito and Phoebe – and an occassional resident, Paku, a five-pound Chihuahua belonging to my roommate […]

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