The Littlest Food Critics

After several months of research and writing around oil spill related topics, it was nice to have my 7 and 8 year old niece and nephew up for a diversion, I mean visit, over the last week. This was their first time staying at our house without their parents. Since we live in Knoxville now and they live in Mobile, we all met in Birmingham to make the switch.

The drive home really set the tone. We began by instituting our “everybody plays, nobody whines” weekend theme. They had to chant it 5 times to ensure they got it. Since they hated saying it, that was a handy little gem during their tenure with us.

We then embarked on a discussion ranging from cellular regeneration to the placebo effect, eliciting rapid-fire questions from the 8 year old, who was totally engaged. It’s so funny how quickly children can switch between intelligent adult conversation and random make-believe. I wish there were a physical switch for adults for just that transition! We could go from a business lunch to a city-wide game of tag in seconds.

Their biggest challenge turned out to be in the food area. We have fairly strict food guidelines in our house (nothing with HFCS comes through the door, we avoid packaged, processed foods, buy local and organic to greatest extent possible, and all meat comes only from grass-fed and/or free range, hormone-free etc. animals, for example). So when the kids said they wanted “hot dogs” apparently what we served them is not what they had in mind.

Another great thing about kids is that they are brutally honest. Well, it CAN be great. After about the third meal setting down a dish in front of them, only to be followed by: “I don’t like this!” I started to wonder if honesty really is always the best policy! It’s a little ego-damaging to be told, meal after meal, that you’re a complete culinary failure, even by an 8 year old.

I did discover that my idea of “parenting” was all wrong. If you aren’t a parent and haven’t had the joy of extended trips with little ones, I would best define it as: slave labor. I felt less like their caretaker than their personal servant!

We watched Harry Potter, which they’d never seen. Although we’ve seen the movies already, I found it was a totally different experience to watch with the kids and to see them through the eyes of the children.

I got to have lots of little side conversations about how the brain works and of harnessing the power of our minds to influence our realities and to positively impact not just our lives but the lives of those around us. This is one of my favorite topics so having the little ones so interested in it gave me great joy.

The dogs however, were a bit less pleased. Occasionally I’d glance over to see one of them covered in kids and casting a glance my way, as though to ask: Why?? But we all survived, even the kids, I’m happy to report! They went home yesterday, and I returned to two happy puppies, both of whom think I’m Julia Childs meets Emeril Lagasse! Ahhh… everybody’s happy, nobody complains!

Tinny vs. TCU, Round 2: March Badness

Tinny – 2, TCU – 0

Tinny manhandled the TCU in round 1. So we had to step it up with reinforcements for round 2.

We cut more netting and re-stapled it, getting it flush between the fence support boards so she couldn’t get a paw between the top of the netting and the fence boards behind it.  We removed the gate support boards and put the netting flush to the gate itself.  We took pieces of 2×4’s and screwed them in over the netting to really secure it.  We used anything we had on hand to reinforce the netting around the TCU, and put Tinny in it one more time.

I took her back out, filled her bowl with food, placed it in her château, and gave her a bone and a giant rawhide. She stayed in her house long enough to eat her dinner – THIS is what makes me think it’s not so much separation anxiety as it is Tinny just working up to a good “mad” for being left. If eating is more important than worrying about us leaving then she isn’t that anxious, imo. She’s just ticked off at us for leaving her. She even poked her head outside to watch me leave, then went right back to eating.

Perhaps she just recognized the need for nourishment before her next battle, since she now had a bigger job before her. And would she ever rise to the challenge. Continue reading “Tinny vs. TCU, Round 2: March Badness”

Tinny vs. TCU: Round 1

Tinny – 1, TCU – 0

As mentioned in the last post, Tinny had made short work of our first pass at the TCU, and we had decided to “beef up” the security. Since Ryan was sick, off I went to The Home Depot to pick up some galvanized poultry netting (aka: chicken wire), and a package of yard stakes.

I was sad to think of taking Ryan’s beautiful creation and “rednecking” it (I’m pretty sure that’s an actual verb) with chicken wire but… necessity demanded. Ryan came out to help but he was in no shape to be working so he measured out and cut the pieces and I used a staple gun to attach the netting around the interior of the TCU fence.

Maybe I shouldn’t have let Tinny watch the operation. She kept coming over to me while I was hunched down stapling. She would rustle my hair around with her nose like… “Mom, I could save you some time and effort by telling you this will NEVER hold me.  Just sayin’.” You may notice the mischievous look she’s giving the camera behind my back.

We allowed several inches of the netting to hang off the bottom of the fence and we used the yard stakes to secure it to the ground.  The goal was to simultaneously prevent her from accessing the fence with her mouth to chew it, and prevent her from digging by having the wire on the ground below.  In theory, this was a great solution.

It was 6 p.m. the night before our trip so we put Tinny in immediately to give it another test run.  It took her less than 5 minutes to pull most of the wire off the gate, and dig up the wire that was staked into the ground below the gate, and be gnawing on the wooden fence again.

I was ready to admit defeat at this point, at least temporarily. Since we had to leave at 7 a.m. we weren’t able to make kennel arrangements, so I called our dog sitter for help with weekend options. We use ZooMommy in Farragut and Nicole immediately stepped up and offered to either pick Tinny up and take her to a kennel in the morning for us, or to keep Tinny in her own home for the weekend (she must not be reading The Tinny Chronicles).

With that option in our back pocket, we decided to give the TCU one more shot for the night.

Next up: Tinny vs. TCU, Round 2 : March Badness

I Get Knocked Down, But I Get Up Again

…You’re never gonna keep me down. I’m pretty sure this is Tinny’s official theme song now. In fact, you’ll get the most out of this post if you start the video at the bottom and listen while reading. I keep thinking The Tinny Chronicles will end soon, each time we find a new “solution,” but I’m beginning to see Tinny has other plans.

Since we got the TCU (Tinny Containment Unit) ready in time for our anniversary weekend (which we’re spending on the gulf coast), we did a “test run” of the TCU, to see what devious ways Tinny might invent to dash our hopes and dreams for a cozy, safe, secure area to house her while we are away. She did not let us down.

I had an appointment a few days before our travel plans. We filled the Chateau with blankets and some of Ryan’s old sweaters, put plenty of water and chew toys in the TCU, closed the gate and bid Tinny “Adieu.”  She was in the TCU for 2 hours before I returned. She spent most of her time inside pacing the interior of the fence. But apparently she was doing something else as well…

As I was walking down the back steps I could hear and began to see what was happening. The gaps in the TCU fence are JUST wide enough for Tinny to get her mouth around the individual boards. She was happily chomping away at the bottom of the middle three cedar boards on the gate, and had made quite the “impression” by the time I got there.

She was combining the board chewing with digging at the earth below and, given much more time, would have been standing at the back door awaiting my arrival (and that door/door jamb would have been in shreds). Thank goodness for “test runs.”

Immediate interventions included adding 2×4’s along the bottom of the gate and interior fence, but we know it won’t be sufficient. Next move is to pick up some chicken wire and staple it across the lower, interior portion of the fence, and bury a bit of it into the ground below the fence.  We’re running out of time to test any more solutions before our anniversary weekend so, here’s hopin’…


The Last Car Ride

Last Friday night was (I hope) Tinny’s last ride along in the back of my car. She’s done so well in the car for so long that I guess she didn’t want me getting spoiled. That, or she sensed the impending completion of the fence around the TCU (Tinny Containment Unit).

Without a lot of words, let me give you the play-by-play on Friday night, which will clearly explain why Ryan jumped out of bed Saturday morning and finished the fence lickety-split, and why I am oh-so-happy to leave Tinny in it on my next outing.

  1. I drove downtown to meet up with Ryan and friends for some drinks and First Friday, with Tinny in tow.
  2. Before leaving downtown we hit Coffee & Chocolate to pick up one of my favorite little cakes.
  3. I had a couple glasses of wine and was (ahem) hormonal anyway (hence the chocolate).
  4. We left downtown but made a stop in Bearden for a friend’s art event.
  5. Tinny stayed in the car, as did the chocolate cake (need I finish this list??).
  6. When I walked back out to the car and saw the cake box in shreds and licked clean… I opened the back door and just started swinging (my purse).

Not sure who was more afraid at that point – Tinny or Ryan.  And I only realized as I was getting in the car to drive away that there was a small group of folks gathered outside our last stop, bearing witness to my little tirade… folks with whom I’d just been chatting like a sane individual, not 3 minutes earlier.

So as I said, Saturday morning the fence got finished in a hurry.  The TCU is now complete.  Time for a test run………..

Le Chateau de Tinny

So I told you a few days ago of the “work-around” solution to the Tinny crisis. And I also explained why the “mobile home” couldn’t work long-term for Tinny (never mind the inside of my car is starting to smell like a dog kennel). After more problem-solving I finally worked out a plan!  Here’s how it happened (in my head):

ME: What’s the problem? SELF: Tinny tears up the house and our belongings when left alone.

ME: Why can’t she just stay outside? SELF: Tinny tears up the screens, windows, doors, door frames, weather stripping, anything between her and the inside of the house, trying to get back inside when we leave her outside.

ME: Where else could Tinny be that would keep her out of the house and also keep her from coming in contact with any and all parts of the house? SELF: WELL – if we had a separate fenced off area at the back of the yard, and built her a house in there… she would be contained and safe, and so would our house!

But then, being the humanitarian that I am, I got all wrapped up in concern over her comfort.  How do we keep her protected from the elements if it storms, warm in the winter and cool in the summer?  She needs a house that can do all this for her, and still serve as a TCU, or “Tinny Containment Unit.”

Enter my very talented and handy husband.  I was fleshing out my idea with him – it needs to be insulated for warmth, but vented so it can cool during the summer. It needs to be large enough that she can be fully protected from rain or snow fall, and kept warm and dry.  Ryan was internally rolling his eyes at all this, but at least knew that I wouldn’t settle for less, so set about researching plans for a dog house, or rather, castle.

I just want to say – he outdid himself.  The TCU is now fully formed! We still need to fence off the area and paint the house, but I promise you Tinny will NEVER know how good she’s got it.  She’ll spend days out there being mad and sulking, but I will be out on the town, relaxed and happy, knowing all is well in, on and around our nest.

Notes: The house is comprised of 2 separate living areas. The first is accessed through the dog door, which has been equipped with thick plastic strips to keep weather out, but allow easy passage by Tinny. As she enters the house, she is in a large, open area, which will have carpet (unless anyone has a better suggestion), blankets, etc. Plus there is a built-in section for water/food bowls, to keep them stable and prevent Tinny from knocking them over. At the middle of the back, she gains entry to the second living area. This one offers her an even more sheltered area, completely insulated (the whole house is), which will also have a heat lamp in the winter. A vent has been added for summer ventilation, but can easily be plugged for the colder months, to preserve heat.  Three-quarters of the front is one long panel that swings open, so we have easy access to both living areas, and for food/water changes.  Thanks to Steve at RLI Roofing in Knoxville for the shingles. I’m planning to paint but am open to suggestions on color……. although I’m thinking I should hire an artist to come in and paint a mural on the side, to truly do this Chateau justice!

Going Mobile, Doggy-Style

I’m way behind on The Tinny Chronicles and I’ve been reminded of this several times. Here’s the deal: I’ve started and stopped the next post many times and it turns out I’m just worn the hell out of even talking about the individual incidents, let alone experiencing them.  So here’s a quick summary and then I’ll share the good news in the next post (no, we didn’t find Tinny a new home… at least not exactly).

After the “muzzle” attempt we came home to find she’d pulled it off in the first 5 minutes or so, and then proceeded to perform her normal wreaking of havoc on the house until we returned. We did learn of her interest in champagne that day. We also learned that the more expensive champagne bottles are more durable than our ceramic tile floor.  But, I digress.

It wasn’t long after this event we went on vacation.  We spent 8 days in Hawaii in January and Tinny spent that time in prison, hopefully thinking about all the trouble she’d been causing.  Okay, she was actually at Diane’s Canine School of Charm.  Tomorrow is the first day of March and I swear since we returned to Knoxville on January 24th Tinny has not been left at home alone even once. It FINALLY occurred to me if I didn’t want my house ripped to shreds, I simply shouldn’t leave the bad dog there when I go.

So… the back of my SUV is now a make-shift Tinny house.  There’s a fleece bed, a giant down comforter, chew toys and other such distractions.  If I go to the store, the doctor, to a business meeting, to lunch Tinny goes with me. She has spent a LOT of time in the back of my car in the last six weeks. I have no idea why Tinny is perfectly happy (and GOOD) alone in the car, but I am thankful to have found this work-around.

Two days ago I had a business meeting, then I ran by the store to re-stock on Milk Bones before heading to a business lunch.  Only as I walked back up to the car after lunch and saw the boxes of Milk Bones did it occur to me what I had done. Amazingly, Tinny didn’t rip open the boxes. There WERE teeth marks on the boxes, but they were still in the bag on the front floorboard of the car.  She was sound asleep, curled up in the back, as she normally is now when I come back to the car.

This little discovery has made life lots easier in our house.  However, we know it cannot last. While it’s hard to imagine as cold as this winter has been, we know that summer is coming and eventually it will be too hot to leave her in the car for any extended period of time. In fairness, it also hasn’t been without incident. Tinny has gotten used to having me and the car to herself. So when I had to take Hayley to the vet last week, Tinny of course had to come along. This is when Tinny decided to teach Hayley that the back of the car was Tinny’s land.

I was sitting at a red light when I was clued in to the situation. A car behind me suddenly started honking. I checked and the light was still red. As I looked in the rearview mirror I simultaneously saw the man behind me (with his own dog in the front seat), laughing hysterically, honking and pointing… as Tinny was fully mounted on poor Hayley with a “who’s your daddy” look on her face, riding high.  That man was still laughing in full hysterics, even as I pulled away from the intersection, completely embarrassed.

So as I said… brainstorming for a long-term solution continued!

Put A Muzzle On It

Armed with the drugs I mentioned in the last post, we researched online and found recommended training techniques to pair with the drugs. Some were very different from our current way of training. For example, with my dogs I have always taken a moment to say some sweet things before I leave and give them some command: “I’ll be back soon. Watch the house for me and don’t let any strangers in, ok?”  I realize it’s not what I am saying so much as that I am saying something and how I am saying it.  It seemed to offer reassurance to them that I’d be back soon.  Such was our routine.

I tried it with Tinny as well, thinking perhaps she just needed some reassurance before we left.  It did not make any difference.  The training online suggested we give her a treat or other distraction a few minutes before we leave and then simply walk out the door without saying a word, making it a non-event (in theory).

Perhaps that works for some dogs. I went out and bought a giant KONG Goodie Bone Dog Toy, Large, Red with paste and filled both ends and gave it to her. She loved it, but would drop it the minute she heard us leaving. Another note here – we’ve discovered that Ryan can leave and Tinny remain calm, but I cannot leave the house (whether Ryan is there or not) without a strong reaction from Tinny. It’s strange because she’s Ryan’s dog so I don’t know why she has developed this reaction to me. Oddly enough, Tinny has done this since she first met me. Ryan told me after the first time I visited his house (we had dinner and watched a movie) and then left, Tinny spent the rest of the evening crying. It’s bizarre.

The vet said it would take several weeks for the meds to kick in so we just tried to be patient. We moved during this time and that was traumatic enough. After getting into the new house we simply wouldn’t leave Tinny alone. We either didn’t leave or we made her ride along if we went anywhere.

Now it’s 8 weeks later, we still dog-proof to the fullest extent possible and she still manages to find something to destroy while we are gone (most recently it was a giant package of toilet paper from Sam’s – you know, the one with about 78 rolls).  So we’re weaning her back off the drugs – no sense in continuing them if they don’t work.

Our next bright idea was to try a muzzle (she looks so innocent here, doesn’t she??).  If she can’t open her mouth she can’t chew stuff up, right?  We took her to the pet store and spent lots of time carefully selecting a proper fit of a muzzle that would still allow her to drink while it was worn.  We set up cameras from all angles and performed a test by putting the muzzle on and leaving her for an hour.

Our first clue that something had gone awry was revealed the moment we walked up to the front door….

Hope Springs Eternal

With the recommendation for drugs by the emergency vet, we had renewed hope that there may be help for us.  The next day Ryan called and scheduled an appointment with our regular vet, as the ER vet had said we should do.  Ryan took Tinny to the vet without me, partially because we realized through our phone conversations that getting drugs for a dog was about as tough as getting drugs for humans.  Apparently… some PEOPLE abuse the doggie drugs by CLAIMING their dogs have issues and then they take/sell the doggie drugs.  Really, people???

I hate taking Advil, so the thought of taking drugs prescribed for animals is so foreign I can’t even imagine it. Nonetheless, Ryan being the more “even-keel” of the two of us, we decided it best that he go with Tinny alone.  There was a substitute vet there that day, a surgeon from UT Vet School.  He was especially careful and took Ryan through a litany of alternatives to drugs, including and especially a “behavioral therapist” for dogs. Ryan was sending me chat messages throughout the appointment, and I was steadily arming him with rebuttals… slowly working to wear the vet down so we could just get the drugs and move on.

Ryan admitted when he got home that day that he basically painted me as a manic psycho on the edge of a breakdown who, without drugs for the dog, would simply kill her instead. Granted, some days I came home, surveyed Tinny’s damage, and felt that way, but it was a bit disturbing to know I would have to change vets to avoid the “psycho” label in the future. Still, he knew I’d agree it was worth it.

So, after another $200 down on blood tests to be sure she could take the drugs, we waited a day or so to get the results and then go back to actually buy the drugs. This drug is called “Clomicalm,” which sounds nice and relaxing, doesn’t it? Let’s see how “calming” it really is…

Dogs, Disorders and Drugs

Tinny survived the chocolate night very well. The next morning was the day before we were leaving for a weekend trip to the gulf coast.  At that house we had the most awesome neighbor kids who would come and take care of the dogs when we traveled.  They would come down to our house about every 3 – 4 hours and let the dogs out, play with them, care for them, etc.  They did all this for $10/day, no joke.  We always paid them much more than that, because they were worth it and we wanted to keep them happy.

Since the house was on the market however, we couldn’t risk any “Tinny antics” while we were away. The neighbor kid, Dylan, was actually our impromptu real estate agent (we had it FSBO).  If someone wanted to see the house while we were away he’d come down, prep everything (hide all the dog toys and blankets), turn on all the lights and some music, open all the blinds and even bake cookies just before the showing!  I’m not kidding – still $10/day.  God we’re gonna miss those kids at our new home.

So, Hayley (the good dog) was staying at home but Tinny was going to stay with Diane (Diane’s Canine School of Charm) out in the country.  We called it “prison” but really we think she had a ball.  Diane had a dog school 1/2 mile from our house, but she loaded the dogs up and drove them 45 minutes out to the country where she had lots of land and room for the dogs to run and play.  Tinny always came home from Diane’s exhausted and filthy.

So Thursday morning I awoke early to check on Tinny following the chocolate night. She was resting soundly on the couch, saw me and hopped up, ready for the day. We did our usual routine – dogs outside, eat treats, eat breakfast, etc.  Then I walked over to the couch where Tinny had wadded up the dog blanket into a ball in the middle of the couch.  I picked it up to shake it out and it was soaked… with urine, which was also now all in the center of the couch.

Let me re-cap: we’re in the middle of buying a new house, trying to sell ours, packing, but keeping our house clean and show-ready, and we’re getting ready to go out of town the next day.  We just spent several hours and hundreds of bucks at the emergency clinic the night before and are planning to catch up this morning.  Do I need to say that I lost it?  I did.

Ryan came wandering down the stairs in time to see my head burst into flames as I shouted: Get that dog out of this house right now!!!  Without hesitation he had her loaded in the car and Tinny got to go to prison a day early.  In hindsight, and in fairness, we should have checked on her throughout the night to see if she needed to go outside.  So we’ll share that one with her.

The funny thing is that as maddening as she can be it’s so obvious that there is no malice or spite… I don’t even consider it “bad behavior” anymore. I believe that Tinny has a disorder.  When people are around she is kind and loving and attentive.  Everyone that meets her adores her.  But she can not stand to be by herself, not for 5 minutes.  We’ve tried setting up cameras to record her actions when we leave.  She spares NO time getting started on her pillaging.  We aren’t even out of the driveway before she’s up on the kitchen counters or nosing through garbage cans or any other thing she’s not allowed to do when we’re home.

So, the moment the vet at the emergency clinic said the words “you should get her on drugs for separation anxiety” we looked at each other and went… there are drugs for that??  Tell us more!  Doggie downers, indeed – why Tinny, there may be hope for you yet, sister!