Saturday, June 30, 2012

Huh? Dogs and Ears

New owners ask a lot of great questions about their dogs when they first get them: contagious diseases, weight and dog food, and behavior and training.  In Colorado, I've had the distinct impression that more owners than not also take their dogs to the groomers.  There, someone else can address their coat, and the dreaded "nail trims".

I beg dog owners to not ignore the health of their dog's ears.  Nails and coat health may seem obvious, but as a Great Pyrenees owner, a dog prone to dirty ears, I beg new owners to take a hard look at ear health.

Some dogs have ears that are pink and pristine without any effort.  Other dogs, like our Pyrs, have floppy, hairy ears that trap a ton of moisture and dirt. Some other breeds, such as Poodles, can even have additional hair throughout their ear cavity which traps all kinds of cooties.  It's important to understand what kind of ears your dog has.

Dogs' ears are not like ours.  In humans, the eardrum, or "tympanic membrane", isn't as deep.  In our dogs, their ear canal is kind of like an "L" shape.  It goes deep and far, and what we see on the outside is far away from what is deeper into their anatomy.

In the rescue days, more often that not rescued Great Pyrenees had horrible ear infections.  We had several dogs come through that were diagnosed by the veterinarian with deafness, most likely caused by owners who ignored ear health.  Great Pyrenees ears, while not as floppy and fuzzy as some dog breeds, are still floppy and hairy.  All Pyr dog owners need to be educated about how to properly clean their dogs ears, how often, and with what.

Avoid over-the-counter ear cleaners.  While the temptation is great to purchase that cheap ear cleaner from the local pet store, many of those cleaners contain fragrance and ingredients not conducive to great ear health.  Purchase your ear cleaner from your vet clinic; it's only a few bucks and it's guaranteed to be gentle and effective, assuming your dog does not have a current infection.

If your dog is shaking their head or tilting it, do not assume that cleaning them is the solution.  By this point, the chances of yeast, bacteria, and/or infection being present is very likely.  I know they seem like "just ears", but before you try to clean and treat at home, it's important a vet looks at them.  They aren't just looking for dirt and infection, but rather to ensure that the eardrum is in tact.  Certain treatments and ear cleaners can be very detrimental to the ear drum if the condition of the ear drum isn't established first.  Damage to the ear drum doesn't need to happen through trauma, it can be the result of a number of things and it's important your vet does an assessment.

Not only our our dogs ears deep, they have many crevices in the external portion, the floppy part or "pinna" for dirt to become trapped and cause inflammation and irritation.  Owners should never use Q-tips to clean these portions, as your dog could move or jerk and you could cause trauma.  It's key to take your cleaner and a cotton ball and thoroughly clean those outer portions with care.

Every doctor will have a different recommendation, based specifically on your dog and their health, regarding frequency of ear cleanings.  The important thing to take away from this article, is that we must be proactive.  We do not clean our dogs ears after dirt has accumulated; we clean them proactively to prevent infection.  I have personally found that my Pyrs need their ears cleaned once a week to prevent nasty accumulation of dirt and debris.

They aren't going to like getting their ears cleaned, but we cannot rely on vet visits to address the ongoing health of our dogs ears.  Hearing is important, and it's key to not dismiss ear health the way owners are quick to dismiss a tangle or dread in their hair. 

Ask your veterinarian or their technicians to show you proper cleaning techniques.  Do not be shy; even if your dog isn't there for an ear problem, show the staff how much you love your animal by addressing any and all causes for health concerns.  Ask your vet about diet and allergies, as some of these things can contribute to persistent ear problems.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Needs of Senior Dogs

Whether you are considering adopting an older dog, or you own a dog reaching their senior years, health care begins to change.  We look at our dogs, and we can often find ourselves seeing the same pup we always saw.  "Sparky" seems fine, and owners feel no need to run blood work and be proactive. Some dogs show age, others don't... on the outside.  I have met many senior dogs with little to no changes in body condition, eyes, or teeth, and yet their internal organ function has changed considerably in a year.

Black and darker dogs slowly reveal graying hairs, while lighter colored dogs rarely show signs of aging in the sense we relate to.  Often owners of older dogs don't understand the need for additional care in the later years, because their older dogs "look the same" and haven't really seemed to be slowing down yet.

Sadly, I see too many owners appropriately addressing the needs of the senior dogs only after symptoms of deteriorating health have begun to surface.  They may visit the vet once a year, refuse the annual or blood work, and then feel even more put off by the recommendation that senior dogs, dogs over 7 years old (regardless of size or breed) , get blood work done *twice* a year.

We all make jokes about "dog years", but how many of us really think about the "true age" of our dogs?  Like with most illnesses, if we wait for symptoms to emerge, there has already been damage occurring in the body.  By catching things earlier than later, we are better able to manage those diseases before they do additional damage to the body.  I always tell owners, "Don't wait to learn they are *visibly* sick".  Some owners really *get* this, while others think that since their dog seems fine, we are just trying to get more money from them in a visit.  Anything could be further from the truth.  Your veterinarian and their technicians deeply care about your pet, and nothing is more exciting than meeting an animal who has surpassed their life expectancy!

The reason senior pets should receive blood work twice a year, is because as their bodies age, we have more concerns.   Prior to reaching senior years, there may have not been a great concern that liver or kidney function would deteriorate between June 2011 and June 2012.  They are young, and barring any illnesses, injury, or congenital predisposition, annual blood work should be enough.  Simply put, dogs age faster than us.  What is 6 months to us, is much longer for their bodies.

We all can think about human senior citizens we have know.  Unfortunately, body systems seem to begin to potentially fail more frequently, and perhaps several years of being on a medication begin to take their toll on the liver and/or kidneys.  In addition, the health of an aging animal can be greatly enhanced by attention given to dental disease, where as when they are younger, we hardly think of it. (right or wrong).

"Seven" doesn't sound old, and it shocks some people.  The thing about this magic number, is I do believe it takes some discretion on the part of the owner.  Not in the sense that "I'll wait until they are older than 7 to consider them seniors, and pay for additional care", rather, if your pet had a hard life before you, perhaps you need to think of them as a senior at even 6.  Dogs who came from bad stories, who have had diseases; we know as people some people "are older" than their true age.  I think it's important to consider this when you pet is on the 'borderline' in ages.  Additionally, giant breed dogs, like our Great Pyrenees, can be considered "senior" by age 5, due to their life expectancy of 10-12. 

I began getting blood work done on a cat of mine, very few years into his life.  Some would think, "Wow, 3 years old?  Isn't that too young to have a problem?"  No, it most certainly isn't.  While a veterinarian wouldn't have necessarily thought to convince me into blood work, I knew my friend.  He wasn't super healthy when I got him, for starters.  Also, he seemed to get "off" or "sick" pretty easily.  He has had blood work twice a year since, and it's never been great.  But I know that due to my frequency, I will catch something before it erupts into a true, bad, disease condition.  Due to my thoroughness, we caught tumors on him at age 4 that were potentially cancerous.

There are some primary concerns with our senior dogs.  Of course, there is liver and kidney function.  In addition, we grow concerned about their thyroid gland. Dogs can get hypothyroidism, and it can often occur due to natural aging.  Arthritis becomes a huge consideration, and while x-rays can diagnose arthritis, often symptoms alone will cause your vet to make that diagnosis.  X-rays can help determine how bad the arthritis is, and where it is, and if you can, get them done if any stiffness or lameness seems noteworthy.  Unless congenital, aging animals can develop heart murmurs.  A heart murmur isn't a disease, rather a symptom of a disease.  Like us, hearts age.  With that aging, certain parts of the heart begin to do their jobs less effectively than when they were young, and diagnosis and treatment may be merited. Without those vet visits, those murmurs would go unheard.

Lastly, let's address the trepidation of owners to adopt older dogs.  While many people will lament at the prospect of "not enough years" together, I think there still exists some underlying anxiety about vet bills.  This isn't unfair, older dogs *do* cost more, assuming you are a great dog owner.  I think most people will agree that the value to life isn't in quantity, rather quality.  When considering your senior adoption, consider all the great care you have to offer.  Yes, twice annual vet visits will add up; but I feel we are quick to spend money on frivolous things and not think twice, but think that our companions should be *all bonus*.  They aren't; they are growing, aging, majestic creatures who are even that much more amazing with age.

I have met owners whose 4 year old dogs got cancer.  I can only imagine that their advice to others would be to find your soul mate, period.  It doesn't matter how old or young they are, because health isn't a guarantee.  We can do our best to give great treatment, but if the "make it or break it" of dog ownership is the naive assumption that younger dogs spend more time with us, think again.  That, of course, is the fair hope, but our fear of aging shouldn't put us off from adopting older dogs.

Regrettably, I've seen too many dogs surrendered, during old or geriatric years, due to increasing vet bills.  This is *unforgivable*.  Please take a moment, before adoption, to realize that 'forever' means 'forever'.  This means, one day, your dog will be very old.  He or she will need blood work, x-rays, pain killers, and any number of other things to make their senior  years pleasurable and as healthy as possible.  Listen to your veterinarian, and believe them, when they talk about the changing needs of your senior dog.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father's Day, to all the men out there who are "Dads" to a very special pet or three.  Animals are our "kids", as much as the non-animal people want to tease about it. 

Thank you for all the love you give to them!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pyr Pups need a Foster or Forever Home!

Pyr Pups need a Foster or Forever Home!

How can you resist these precious little faces?!  
Get your "puppy fix" by fostering one of these adorable babies!

These pups are 6 weeks old as of 6/9/12 and will be coming to Colorado on 6/22/12...

Help save a life, foster a pup!

 2 Little Girls
 4 Boys
The boys again!

These babies have had their first set of shots and have been dewormed.

If you are interested in fostering or adopting one of these precious pyr pups, please contact Jennifer with 4 Paws 4 Life Rescue at

You will also need to fill out one of their FOSTER or ADOPTION applications!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Dawn's Completed Legacy: Mya Has Found Her Home

Mya and her new family
For anyone who has been following this blog, or who had worked with The Colorado Great Pyrenees Rescue before our doors were shut, Mya is no stranger.  When the Pyrenees Rescue was ended, we had several dogs to place, and found homes for most of them in relatively a short amount of time.  The last two, Sam and Mya, remained, struggling to find their forever homes.  They were "our last dogs".  Our last 2 dogs to see their way into forever homes, and enabling us to *truly* close the amazing chapter of Dawn's years saving Great Pyrenees with her rescue.  Sam, now "Jack", Mya's former "boyfriend", found his home first. Mya became the true last, and now she has found her place.

A nice man was hiking with his Great Pyrenees on the western slope.  He was at a convenience store, where he overheard some people commenting on his Pyr.  They more or less said, "Isn't that the same dog our neighbor has?"  The man began to converse with them, where it was revealed they felt those who owned Mya didn't care for her well at all.  This great person took it upon himself to visit the neighbors, where he offered to buy Mya from them.  They agreed, and he took her.  His goal was short-term, get this girl out of a loveless home.  He next needed to find Mya a true place, so he found Dawn.  Dawn took Mya into The Colorado Great Pyrenees Rescue.

Placing Mya was difficult.  She is an alpha gal, and no other dog is going to push her around!  Her deep bark and strength would reveal itself anytime another dog would antagonize her.  So sweet and loving with her humans, we cautiously approached her interaction with other dogs.  She wasn't a great candidate for adoption events, and sadly she had to sit a lot of them out if there would be a lot of dogs there.  Great with her human, if another alpha gave her guff, she gave it right back.  For potential adopters, seeing this huge, loud dog respond in such a manner didn't show Mya's true colors very well.

In the last days, she and Sam would love each other and play and play.  Mya just wasn't a fan of the big rescue thing;  she didn't really like having to worry about all the other dogs all of the time.  In a smaller environment, she flourished.  Mya was and will always be a show-stopper.  A true Great Pyrenees to the standard, she is majestic and smart.

Thank you, Big Dogs Huge Paws, and thank you to Mya's foster.  Having lost our momentum, BDHPs was gracious enough to welcome Mya into their temporary family to facilitate finding her new family.  It was hard holding "adoption events" with only two dogs left, and they took Sam and Mya under their wing in order to give them exposure and adopter credentialing. Choosing to move Sam and Mya to BDHPs was a very difficult choice for Ken, as he would no longer be on the front lines for them.  It was nice he found people he could trust.

Mya's Success: Big Dogs, Huge Paws

All of Our Old Blogs for Mya

Mya has met a lot of amazing people who helped her along her way.  From the nice young man who originally rescued her from a family that didn't want her, to Dawn who welcomed her into CGPR.  Ken, Dawn's husband, spent a ton of time, money, and love to care for Mya while the rest of us searched for her family.  Not being Ken, I still assume that the day he transferred Mya to her last foster was one of the hardest things he's ever had to do.  I thank him for his strength and courage. Big Dogs, Huge Paws came in and saw her that final length of her long journey all the way to Missouri.

My heart is warm tonight, and I feel like Dawn can finally rest.  If I could imagine a heaven, I see Dawn up there still working and working on finding homes for her Pyrs.  Like somehow her 'cloud' was still unorganized, papers everywhere, full of commentary about who was 'right' or 'wrong' for her dog.  I imagined her last dogs, when they felt discouraged, being visited by Dawn who would tell them to not worry.  I imagine Dawn in the car as Mya was driven to Missouri, kissing her face and saying her final goodbye, as the other Pyrs who left before Dawn urged her on with them, saying "It's time to go now, all your babies have found homes."

As pictured below, Mya was the last Great Pyrenees Dawn was ever photographed with.  In addition, the last photo to ever be taken of Dawn.  It seems now almost eerie that Mya would be the last one waiting.  Like somehow Dawn knew, and her deep embrace was filled with all the wishes and hopes she had for her.

This picture has long been burned into my heart.  It's the image I always think of when I look back on the rescue.  Thank you to everyone who helped this angelic, loving, beautiful angel.  Good luck, Mya.  We will never forget you, and we will never stop loving you.


Dawn's last photo, hugging Mya
Saving Sam: The Long Road Home

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Banner's Second Chance


Abby found Banner early one morning during a thunderstorm. He was dirty, wet, scared, and limping. He just laid by her car looking for help. She took him to the vet where they took an x-ray that showed he had been shot in his left leg awhile back. The vet recommended he be put to sleep because his leg would have to be amputated.  They called animal patrol who took him and tried to locate his family. Abby called to check on him after a few days and they said they couldn't find his family, and he would be put to sleep that day. Abby talked to her vet and showing him the x-rays, and she decided to try and get him help. She contacted a local no kill shelter, who told her they already went to see him and wouldn't take him because of his leg. So Abby adopted him,  in hopes of finding him a great home. Banner went to her vet for a full check up and he told her that he was in great health, minus an ear infection that has since cleared up. The buck shot missed his joints and his leg was going to be fine.

  • Banner is a 2 year old male Great Pyrenees.
  • He currently is with Abby in Park City, Utah.
  • He is up-to-date on his shots.
  • He is *not* neutered.
  • He's very calm, very sweet, and loves to cuddle his head on your lap. 
  • He loves walks and being outside, but also loves being around people. 
  • He gets along great with other dogs, I have yet to see him around cats, other animals or kids. 
  • He does have some broken teeth that the vet said can either be fixed or left alone (as they don't seem to bother him). 
  • I've actually never heard him bark, but sometimes he does cry when he wants to hangout with you or needs something. 
  • He was weary to go in the car at first, and whens he's in there he's a little unstable, but now he loves it and is always trying to get in the car to go for a ride when we walk past it. 
  • He tries to bite the leash when he doesn't want to go the same direction as you, but is good about stopping when you say NO. 
  • He isn't totally housed trained, but is getting better at it. He rarely even pees on the porch and waits to be brought to the grass to go. 
  • He does not know any commands, but is catching on to COME, NO, OK, and GOOD BOY. 
  • He doesn't know to stay behind gates if you put them up, and will walk through them. 
  • He is very smart and recently figured out how to open doors, even ones that you have to pull in, but is never troublesome when he gets out he just wants to hang out. 
  • He really is one of the sweetest nicest dogs I have ever met, he has a very cute and funny personality and really just wants to be loved. I really hope he can find a great home with a family who loves him as much as he will love them.

Banner found a guardian angel the day he waited for Abby at her car.  He must have known she'd stand by his side and save his life.  Unfortunately, Abby is not able to provide his forever home.  It was never an option to keep this amazing boy, but she knew his life deserved to be saved.  Now we are trying to help Abby write the last chapter to this amazing story of rescue and love.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Great Pyrenees Mixed Dogs: What to Expect

I have often ran into owners of dogs they claimed were "part Great Pyrenees".  Upon vocalizing my affection for the breed, they immediately perk up and ask, "So, what do you think my dog will grow up to be like?"  To this question my answer is often the same: "It depends."

When owners adopt "mutts" they begin a quest to understand the influences in the gene pool and what that may mean for the dog's temperament.  Usually the Great Pyrenees mixed dogs I meet are mixed, in theory, with a breed people tend to know a lot more about.  Uncovering the Pyrenees mystery becomes a pursuit for that new owner.  On the whole, the breeds I have seen Great Pyrenees most commonly mixed with (either on purpose or by accident) are Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, and the occasional Saint Bernard, Bernese Mountain Dog, or Anatolian Shepherd.  This finding may be unique to my area, I cannot be sure.  And, honestly, we have only theories.  I must add that often owners *think* their Pyr is a mix due to coat color, and they are merely undereducated about the potential for darker colors to naturally appear within the coat of this breed, in moderation.

Ultimately, we never know what breed traits will influence our mutt pups more than others.  I feel like I have been able to identify certain traits as "that probably comes from the Pyr side", but it's not been with any consistency.  For example, some "Lab" mixes have displayed the enthusiasm, trainability, and energy of a lab, while demonstrating the leaning, night barking, and double dew claws of a Great Pyrenees.  I have met herding dog mixes where the dogs have behaved wholly like Great Pyrenees, they merely resemble their mix and have a bit more energy than a typical Pyr.

As with all dogs, some are just anomalies within their own breed:  Labs who are low energy, Pyrs who never bark.  Who's to say what the parents of your dog were truly like?  And of course the eternal truth: we mold our beloved canines.  A lot of unwanted behaviors may be due to our lack of attention and training, and we cannot so easily blame a "breed" on the quest to deflect blame.

I can only say, with a great amount of certainty, there is 1 trait that I have experienced with nearly all Great Pyrenees mixes:  they are gentle, loving, and affectionate.  Many dogs are.  Of course, I assume having a "Pyr in the wood pile" can only help the cause for gentle temperament. 

Bottom line, "You never know".  You have to watch your dog grow and change, and realize that certain traits may counteract that of the other assumed breed influence.  Your Pyr mix may offer a lower energy level and a gentleness with children and other animals.  The only advice I give to Pyrenees mixed breed owners is this:  beware the naughty traits, as they may rear their heads.  Upon meeting a Labrador/Great Pyrenees puppy owner, I suggested she watch her pup closely.  While Labs are renowned for being responsive to commands such as "come", I cautioned her to look for a Pyrenees influence which may bring more stubbornness.

When adopting any mixed breed dog, do your breed research on both.  Be prepared to have to address the positive and negative influences both genes may bring.  There is no magic answer for what to expect when a Great Pyrenees is in your dog's gene pool.  Hopefully you will get "the best of both worlds".