Xander — February 2002 to June 2, 2014

XanderJune12014aIt’s taken me more than two months to get this post up, mostly because it’s still pretty raw, but because I know a few of you read about the vasculitis and have commented, I wanted to offer one final follow-up on what I know about the disease and what it can do. As I’ve talked about  on here before, Xander contracted vasculitis (an auto-immune disorder, likely from a reaction to a tick prevention collar), in late 2011 and we thought that we were going to lose him in early 2012. The disease attacks the blood and by extension organs – it’s indiscriminate in the organs that it attacks. In 2011, it was his skin and heart that were attacked. But, with the help of antibiotics, a lot of discomfort on his part, White Castle frozen burgers (it was the only thing he’d eat), and some good steroids to manage the disease, we got another 2 years of healthy, active, happy, thieving mischief out of him. 

Earlier this spring, he’d had a bit of a bout with anemia, but he was treated with antibiotics and seemed to make a good recovery from that. What seems clear now in retrospect was that the vasculitis was trying to poke its ugly head again. Because he recovered and was fine, we didn’t pursue additional treatment, but then again there is no cure.

The week of May 26, I was just getting ready to head to the UK to start a new job and find a new house for the beasts and us to live in and Xander seemed a bit weary, so we were watching him but worried that his heart condition was beginning to get the best of him. I got to Manchester and the next morning got the call that I needed to come home … he wasn’t sure Xander was going to make it. Luckily, I was able to get back to Germany late that night and overnight at the vet’s office, Xander made a little bit of a rebound with lots of antibiotics. This time, it wasn’t his heart — the vet didn’t want to run a lot of other tests because he was weak so we took him home on Saturday to just rest for the weekend and we would come back on the Monday. 
What became clear by Monday was that there wasn’t going to be a rebound — our tough little guy wasn’t going to beat it again. Don’t worry — he was feeling good and he was happy. That picture above was taken on the Monday. The problem was that he was really weak — he had a hard time standing and walking at that point … his happy wee face in that picture was probably because he was getting all of his favorite foods all at once — hamburgers, ice cream, chocolate, and nutella. He got what he liked and even bit my finger a couple of times while he was getting it (he loved doing that).
On Tuesday, June 2 we said goodbye to our little friend. The little fart (and yes, he was the flatulent one) was such a happy, spoiled, and funny little criminal menace to the house. He’s better traveled, seen more, and pooped in more states let alone countries (six to be precise) than most Americans.

Germany was his last home. We’re all going to miss him. 


And now for something different…. Gardening for the Non-Gardeners

If you’re anything like me, I’ve looked at peoples’ lovely yards full of flowers, fruits/veggies, and cultivated by season and always had envy but also did the … and I have other stuff to do and have never wanted to spend a ton of money on it either. So, last year as we moved to Germany and I had some time on my hands, I decided to give it a whirl (sometimes I think mostly because I like taking pictures of flowers 🙂 ). Our yard was pretty basic — here is the ‘before’ picture — at this point I had cleaned out the junk from both corners, added about 8 bags of soil to level everything out, and mowed the yard. I think for most of us moving into a new rental house, this is pretty much what we hope/ expect to see.

The yard before anything was really done with it.

The yard before anything was really done with it.


So, in the spring, I got some potted plants and seeds of various kinds — and seriously, I have no idea what most of them are… the names were in German and my two criteria: (1) were they pretty and (2) did they suit the lighting conditions in the yard? I only spent about 100 euro (around $130) on the whole thing — soil included. I spent a few hours one day putting it all together. Now, I was battling a bunch of vines that creep in from the neighbors yards, so I had to weed each time that I mowed, but all-in-all, it was a couple of hours every couple of weeks (and that includes picking up after the dogs).

There are various flowers in each of the corners — with some blooming in the spring and some in the summer up the right side (from the perspective of the yard shown above) I had sunflowers and zinnias. Across the back, I put in some super baby strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry plants — 2 plants for each type of berry. I got a few strawberries and raspberries in 2013, but they mostly just grew. The slide show below shows the results at various points across the spring and summer in 2013.

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All in all, I was pretty darned satisfied with my first proper gardening/ yard attempt. It was inexpensive, made the yard look a lot nicer, and in years to come will provide some really nice berries for us or anyone who lives here and takes care of it. So, for 2014 I decided to add a stronger spring component to the yard and on a trip to Amsterdam picked up about 35 euro worth of bulbs (I mean seriously, I’m in Europe if I’m going to to bulb plants, I may as well get them direct from the Netherlands 🙂 ). I think I ended up with about 60 tulip bulbs (2 varieties… a small and a large), along with some dark purple calla lilies (that didn’t come up…grrrr), and Kaiser’s Crown (you’ll see it below). Now technically, you’re suppose to plant them in the fall so they can winter. I didn’t really get around to it in the fall, so put them in my garage and everything but the lilies are coming up with no problem.

I got everything in the ground a little later than I had wanted (mid-March), so my tulips are behind but as of April 11, 2014 here’s what the yard is looking like. Notice how much the berry bushes have grown and it looks like I’m going to have a bunch of blueberries off of two little plants.

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The bottom line — for not a lot of money and not a lot of time (yes, you do have some work to do), you can play in the dirt and have a nice little yard … and you don’t have to know much about growing stuff :).

Pet Shaming… Damn, it feels good

Anyone with a pet has no doubt  had a “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me” moment when you walk in the door to some ‘gift’ that your pet has left you on the floor.

My first “grown up” dog (i.e., one I bought and had on my own in college), Kylie (to the right) had KylieRosesthis way of telling me that I’d been spending too much time away from home… She’d go into my laundry basket and drag a pair of underwear (no, not clean ones) into the middle of the living room. Mind you she never chewed them up or did anything destructive — it was just an embarrassing reminder that she was in fact there and was not amused. Fair enough.

And then, when she was 6 I decided that she needed a friend and so Xander entered our lives. Oh… Xander. Please, don’t get me wrong, I love my little bug but I just wasn’t sure he was going to survive the first year to 18 months of his life. Xander has separation anxiety issues — he’s “mommy-fied”. He’s never been abandoned (and I should know, I’ve had him since he was 6 weeks old) nor had any major life traumas… he’s just a needy little boy.

Aside from chasing the little monster around the neighborhood and reminding him of what his name was AND that he could hear, one of Xander’s first loves was chewing electrical cords. He would play tug of war with the electrical socket and unplug the cord and once he inevitably won that game, he would proceed to chew the cord into 8 jillion little bits. And trust me, there are only so many ways to hide your electrical cords in the house AND I am not a fan of stuffing dogs into crates for 6 or 7 hours at a time after they’re initially house trained….

I tried using bitter apple and that just seemed to titillate the intrigue of the game. I even tried creating my own concoction of anything nasty spicy that I had in the house to no avail. He wouldn’t go near them when I was home, but as soon as I left … game on! Finally, because I was sure that I was going to come home one day to an crispy dog who had electrocuted himself, the only thing that I could figure out to do (and trust me… we went through many training recommendations) was just to spank him with the electrical cord (look — calm yourself … not really my first option but I thought that was better than peking pooch) to create a negative association with the cord. After a few days, it worked. It took about 3 years before I could pick up an electrical cord without him ducking and covering, but the dangerous habit was broken.

After that came Xander’s venge poop stage. He could have been walked and pooped a couple of times, but as soon as I would leave, he would leave me a gift on the floor. When I would come home, he’d be sitting in my entry way looking kind of like he does here, XanderPatheticbut probably a bit more pathetic (as if that is possible) as if he were saying, “Yes, I know I’m an asshole… I just can’t really help it”.

After the venge poop stage came the next 9 years (and he’s 11 mind you) of trash search and destroy. As soon as we’re out of the house, Xander looks for what he can get into and in the first 5-10 minutes goes destructo-dog if there’s been anything left in his path. Here’s the thing… after 11 years of living with the little beast, I’ve gotten pretty darned good at knowing what he can get into and clearing the path so that there’s nothing to destroy (remember, he doesn’t destroy the house, just anything like trash that creates a mess… it’s not about damage, it’s about annoyance 🙂 ) but sometimes the little shit gets me.

Today was one of those days. I went around the house and moved everything that I thought he could get to out of his way (e.g., put the bathroom trash in the tub) and went out for the day. I come home and walk into my room to find … the trash bag that had been 3 1/2 feet off the floor on a window sill emptied and exploded around the room (paper bits mostly). The little monster jumped up on the chair and then had to teeter dangerously (especially for the 11 year old heart patient) on the arm of the chair to even reach the bag of trash and knock it onto the floor before the feast of ripping goes. How do I know it’s him and not Dani? Easy — Dani doesn’t jump and is scared of heights — it was Xander.

As I had a few choice words for him, I remembered the site I’d come across a week or so ago of dog shaming via Facebook (of course) and it was an epiphany. What a beautiful way to make myself feel better before I had to pick stuff up… name and shame baby, name and shame. And now — anytime that Xander’s bad – he will be shamed. It’s delightful! If only I’d known about it for the last 11 years… All I can really say is that damn it feels good!




Road Trip France, Belgium, or Nebraska… pretty similar

On January 10 it was time to rent a car, load a bunch of stuff, and most importantly the beasts to take them to their new home in Germany. So Dani, Xander, and I set out at the pre-ass crack of dawn from Sheffield for our road trip to our new house in Sickenhofen. I got three blocks away from the house, realized I hadn’t locked the door… so only a Road Trip small false start and we were really off this time! The dogs had about 6 layers of pillows, comforters, and of course their dog beds, so they were all kinds of comfy!

Eventually, the sun came up — somewhere between Birmingham and London on the M1. Hitting rush hour traffic wasn’t so bad in Birmingham except that I realized they couldn’t simply exit — I’m not sure why exiting caused 4 lanes of traffic to slow down, but it did. We looped around London on the M25 and for some reason my GPS sent me down the M2 instead of the M20 to Dover, but I went with it… better than listening to it recalculate.

The dogs got to take a quick walk somewhere just north of Dover and I decided to go for a cup of coffee and a pit stop myself. And silly me, I wasn’t worried about the goodie bag because nothing had been opened to smell too good … except one thing. Buried in the bottom of the goodie bag was a bag with two Gregg’s sausage rolls (enough to make an adult feel pretty full for those who may be unfamiliar with the Gregg’s experience) also known as my lunch! Yeah, Gregg’s is like crack for dogs and Xander’s definitely a user! In the 10 minutes I was inside, the little shit had the time to dig it out (nothing else was disturbed), open the bag, and demolish the two sausage rolls on the driver’s seat (a double bonus). I come back and see him on the driver’s seat madly licking up all the pastry crumbs, Dani still sitting in the back looking very put out that she just watched Xander eat both of those by himself, and open the door to say, “Goddammit Xander” (this is what Xander thought his name was for the first year of his life because he was always in trouble). He did at least make the effort to look embarrassed (that he got caught before he was completely finished). There went my lunch.

Dover CliffsThat was the only mishap of our morning because not long after we dropped down into Dover (white cliffs and all) and right to the DFDS Seaways dock. The cool thing is leaving the UK, the dogs don’t cost anything … it’s only coming back into the UK that the British government charges you 30 pounds/dog for the UK Border authority to spend at most 2 minutes scanning their microchips and checking their pet passports. Woo hoo — the doggies weren’t coming back… HA HA! 🙂

Everything went nice and smoothly going through customs and so with my passport already stamped for France, I only DFDSEntryhad to wait about 15 minutes for us to be loaded onto the ferry. While we were waiting the border authority folks passed out pamphlets about driving in France. The French require all cars to have 2 breathalyzers (how’s their drunk driving problem?), a safety vest for the driver, put silly stickers on your headlights because as the pamphlet said, “Your headlights will dazzle the French drivers, even during the day” and a magnet on the car that says “GB” so that it’s clear what country your car is from (because driving on the wrong side of the car isn’t a clear indicator with the registration as a tidy follow up). Of course, all of this was available for purchase on the ship.

So, about 30 pounds later, I was safety-equipped and kind of ‘snuck’ (walked down the stairs) to the car hold and just got in the car… I actually didn’t hear the announcement (I know there was one because of the trip back) saying that no one could be down there AND no one seemed to bother… the dogs were much happier with me there. The dogs and I hung out for the 20 mile and 2-hour crossing (you might wonder why we didn’t take the 30 minute channel crossing — it was twice the money PLUS 15 pounds per pet so that they could ride in the car with me… I could make my day a bit longer for less than half the money).


Normally, I would have used this time to eat my lunch, but someone we all know already scarfed my Gregg’s (little shit). DXTrip7But so Dani and Xander both sat back and chilled. I listened to some tunes on my tablet and wrote most of a letter of application to a job in Germany on the trip, played a little solitaire, you know… normal bored traveling things to do. 🙂

Once we arrived and the flood of people came out, they opened the gates and we were released into Calais, France (Here’s a note when you’re traveling with your GPS and you lose satellite coverage for a period of time… you need to not only shut it off but unplug it from the car and then let it reboot or it can’t find itself). We get released and the GPS isn’t working and I’m thinking “oh … ummm…. hell”. We find a little side street and I reboot the GPS, it finds itself, and more importantly, our destination and we’re off.

Now, I’m not sure what I expected the drive across France and Belgium to be like, but I wasn’t really expecting it to pretty much be like driving across Nebraska but it really was. It was basically flat (some rolling hills), lots of farm ground, some random trees from time-to-time, semi trucks in the right lane, everyone else whizzing past in the left aside from the occasional twit who holds up traffic because they’re going exactly 1 mph (or 1.61 km/h) faster than the semi and decide to pull out in front of other cars (assholes) to toddle past them. The notable differences? Well… the houses/ barns were stone and instead of silos being the only thing poking up off the horizon it was big church steeples… oh yeah… and the signs were in French and Dutch :). Seriously, that’s about it — even the truck stops were the same brands — Texaco, Shell, and a few random local gas brands… Pizza Hut express, and truck stop cafes. I laughed… it was pretty much driving across Nebraska… maybe some parts of South Dakota too (it was more scenic than Kansas…but you get the picture).

Entering Belgium

TexacoPizzaHut  Belgium2



After hitting Brussels rush hour (kind of like hitting Omaha at rush hour), then it was pretty much wide open dark space thereafter.

For those of you anticipating border crossings (or like my Mom hoping to get their passport stamped) yeah… not so much… it’s like going from one US State to another. There’s a nice little sign that says, “Thanks for visiting France” and then a couple hundred yards down the road one that says, “Welcome to Belgium” (etc). That’s it. One other travel note — unlike driving in the US, the longest I went without seeing a service area was only about 50 km (30 miles), so there are never any “pucker” moments of having to stop or needing gas! If you drive by one stop, wait about 15-20 mins and you’ll have another opportunity!

And then we entered Germany und das Autobahn!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ironically, as we got into Germany the terrain changed substantially to big rolling hills (for anyone from Colorado kind of like driving in the foothills along I-70 on your way to the Eisenhower tunnel) — big sweeping turns, some decent grades, and no speed limit! Since I had a little car, loaded with the dogs, I’d never driven the road before, and it was after dark I did limit myself to 140 km/h (or about 90 mp/h). 🙂 🙂 🙂 I was a happy driver!!!! Germany is my driving mecca! Yet as quickly as I was driving, I was pretty much middle lane material the whole way — certainly faster than the trucks and pokey cars, but every-once-in-while some Audi, BMW, or Mercedes would pass me like I was standing still. It was cool! 🙂 Of course, the Germans are sensible and when you’re coming into towns/cities, etc. they slow you down to like 70 mp/h, but then the little sign says the speed limit has ended and it’s off to the races again.

I cannot wait to drive a better car than a little economy compact car on the Autobahn! I’m fairly certain Stuart will not be pleased with the rate of speed… muah ha ha ha.

The dogs settled into their new digs pretty quick — in all… the Schipperkes live a pretty cush life. They’ve now been in about 20 US states and 5 countries … living in 3 different countries– more than we can say for most Americans.


Happy 2013 from the motivated roaming dogs!

DaniXanderNappingDani and Xander couldn’t be more excited to welcome the new year. As you can see … they can hardly contain themselves.

DaniYawnIn fact, Dani had a ton to say about her excitement — unfortunately it was drowned out by her yawn.

But I do think that Xander won the award for the most excited Schipperke of the new year — he was fighting to hold down the chair so much so that his little tongue was poking out from the effort.






How to Travel/Move to Europe/UK with Your American Pet

It’s now been about 5 months since the ‘Roaming Dogs’ embarked on their adventures to Europe and the UK and I thought I would share information about the process — hopefully to make it easier than running down the 800 websites, unclear/ poorly-written instructions, etc. Please note — if you have a big dog (or any critter that’s too big to be carry on luggage) only part of this post will be useful for you.

Bottom line — traveling from the US to the EU/UK isn’t a big deal anymore IF you’re organized.

So, I’ve broken this down into a few sections: (1) Getting ready to travel; (2) The UK requires extra considerations; and (3) The travel day(s). I’ve also included the forms that you must get filled out because I couldn’t readily find them, most vets won’t have them on hand, AND the sites where you can download them typically charge $10 — as if. They’re all linked to pdf’s.

Getting Read to Travel

This is the most important part and takes some foresight.

  1. Book your tickets, then call the airline to reserve your pet space. Even though your pet is probably quieter and less offensive to humans than most small children who fly and that they have to travel as “carry on” luggage, airlines only allow a limited number of pets on any flights (domestic or international). So, once your ticket is booked call the airline and tell them you will be traveling with your pet. You will not pay for the privilege of having to keep your pet in its bag at your feet until the day you fly (yes, that is open disdain for airlines). If you’re flying coach, I STRONGLY recommend booking the extra legroom seats — trust me on this one. You can plan for usually around an extra $70-80 per seat for this.
  2. Make sure your vet is USDA certified. In order for your vet to complete all of the paperwork for your pets to travel internationally, the US requires the vet be properly accredited with the USDA. Large’ish practices will typically have one vet who is, but you can’t just assume that your regular vet/ vet practice is.
  3. Get your pet(s) microchipped. This is a good idea anyhow because once they’re microchipped, you get a little tag for their collars that indicates they are chipped. You go to petlink.net and enter your information, any vital information about your pet (e.g., if they’re on medication), and you can even upload a photo. Then if your dog is ever lost, they can be scanned and much more easily returned to you. This isn’t as common in the US as it should be. Please note, this MUST be done at least 30 days before they receive a rabies immunization in order for that immunization to ‘count’ for international travel. The cost will vary — for us, in New York, it cost $90 per dog to give you a point of reference.
  4. Get your pet(s) a rabies vaccination. For travel into the EU and UK this is the ONLY required vaccination. This must be done at least 21 days before travel (please note the special consideration for the UK below). This means that you need to start getting your pet(s) organized for international travel at least 2 months in advance if you’ve never had them microchipped AND if you don’t have a current rabies vaccination (if you have a current rabies vaccination but no microchip, you’re going to have to get the rabies vaccination again anyhow).
  5. Make an appointments with your vet and the USDA office within 10 days of travel. This bit takes some coordination. All of the paperwork has to be filled out and dated within 10 days of your initial departure date (don’t worry, it’s valid for your return trip to the US). You must FIRST visit your vet so that they can fill out the documentation and then you take it to the closest USDA office. Here’s a listing of the USDA offices. In our experience, they can be a royal pain to get ahold of and don’t have very convenient appointment times, so you should get this appointment set up first and then get in to see your vet the day before.
  6. Take the following forms to your vet appointment: You will need both of these forms fully filled out by your vet — (1) DogAirline_Certifcate and (2) the UK_(1)_Vet_Cert_Rev12. These forms are standard no matter which EEA country to which you’re traveling — the difference is that some forms are also in the native language for the country along with English… you don’t really need that the English language version is fine. Your vet will also fill out a triplicate  USDA form. Once your vet fills everything out, you’re ready to go to the USDA appointment. This will cost you a regular office call for your vet.
  7. Take your filled out forms to the USDA appointment. You only need to take those three forms with you — your pets don’t need to go. We showed up for our appointment, the man took the paperwork and disappeared for about 15-20 minutes while we hung out in a ‘luxurious’ government office lobby and came back and everything was USDA stamped, signed, and approved for travel. This costs $37 (as of July, 2012) for both pets because they’re on the same USDA form.

Congrats, at this point — your pets are ready to travel to the EU! It’s a lot of crap paperwork, costs a little bit, but it’s relatively painless once you know what to expect. Like I said, it just takes some planning ahead of time. If you’re traveling to the EU, you get on the plane with your pooches and you’re set to go.

And Then There’s the UK

Here’s the good news if you’re traveling to the UK, if you’ve done all of your paperwork (see above plus the other paperwork described below), then as of February 2012, your pets no longer have to be quarantined when traveling to the UK.

And then there’s the annoyance. No one can travel directly into or out of the UK with their pets on a plane. This means that if your destination is the UK, you can either pay about $1000 PER PET to have them shipped and it’s on a special carrier so you will not be departing nor arriving at the same time as your pet. BLECH! That’s a bunch of crap, but it’s their island and they make the rules.

Here’s what we did — we flew into Amsterdam and then took a ferry to the UK. There are a number of departure and arrival points for ferries from the Netherlands to the UK (ranging from Newcastle in the north to London in the south). Please note that most ferries DO NOT allow pets to accompany foot passengers, you have to have them in a car. However, Stena line (traveling between Harwich, England and the Hook of Holland) does allow foot passengers to travel with their pets, you just have to book a pet kennel once you’re on board (no, they don’t get to stay in your cabin with you).  The ferries are alright, but they’re all overnight will cost a couple of hundred dollars and your pets are kind of stuck in a kennel with a bunch of other dogs (please make sure they have all of their vaccinations including kennel cough) or in your car and you can only visit them for short periods a few times in the evening/ morning.

Alternatively, if you’re up for a bit of a road trip — fly into any European destination, rent a car, and drive to the UK. You end up going through the Eurotunnel from Calais, France to England. The crossing takes 35 minutes, you and the pets all hang out together in the car for the crossing, and then you’re there. Same thing on the return trip. Honestly, this is probably the easiest on you and the pets … plus when you’re in the UK you might be driving on the wrong side of the road, but you’re at least driving on the correct side of the car ;).

Again, if you know the score, it’s not too bad — it’s just making a decision about what’s best for you and your pets (especially the pets part… you, I don’t worry about so much).

Now, the other thing about the UK is that they’re very rabid about having no rabies in the UK (yeah, yeah bad pun). They haven’t had a case here for decades and they want to keep it that way. That’s why they’re so strict about flights, etc. Your pet should have a blood test to identify that they are, in fact, sufficiently immunized against rabies. This is the blood titer test — it measures the levels of the antibodies. Your vet can do the blood draw; however, the blood is then shipped to the ONE lab in the US that runs these tests (it’s in Kansas) and the results will take about 6 weeks — so it’s important that you really plan ahead if you’re going to the UK.  This is the Blood_Titer_Test_Application_Form that your vet will have to fill out and while the test isn’t that expensive, the blood draw and shipping costs are — I think it cost us about $300/dog to get these tests done.

We had current rabies vaccinations and the microchipping, but because we were traveling in the summer, our test actually took about 8 weeks to come back. When you travel to the UK, this isn’t necessarily checked; however, if the border agent that you draw up that day happens to be … in a mood … and you don’t have it, your pet can be quarantined until the test is run anyhow. So, you’re much better to have it done ahead of time instead of risking a jerk having a bad day and putting your pet in prison …

Travel Day

Alrighty — so you’ve planned ahead, you have more paperwork for the critters than you can imagine, they’ve been USDA certified (sounds like a side of beef or something), and you’re ready to go. You’ll need to make sure that your pet carrier (usually soft duffle-style bags) is alright with your airline — go here for pet airline information. The airlines think they’re awesome, so they’re kind of a pain in the ass about everything. The most important thing is that your pet can move around alright in their bags — ours are about 10-12″ tall (at the shoulders) and that’s about as big as you can really stuff into the bags and have them be comfortable. Also, it’s helpful if you have those sheepskin liners — they’re comfy and if they have an accident while traveling it’s not the biggest thing ever because they’re absorbent.

So, here’s what to expect or think about based our experience:

  • Don’t tranquilize them. Our vet recommended strongly against any ‘mood relaxers’ for the pets because there are substantial health risks. Dani is a bit of a high strung dog and we thought she might not be a good flier, but as it turns out once she was in her pet carrier, she was fine. The security they feel being with you and being in the pet carrier actually makes it easier on them. But, just like kids — unless you’ve traveled a lot with your pets, you just have to see what they’ll be like.
  • Remember, there’s NO WHERE to walk your pets from the time that you go through security until you walk out of the airport at your destination. It’s not going to be a fun day for your pet, so don’t let them gorge on dog food or suck down water at will the day of the flight… you want to be careful that they’re not dehydrated, but really watch their water intake. 
  • Have your pets in the travel bags when you enter the airport.
  • When you check in for your flight, you’ll need to pay for the privilege of carrying your pets on as luggage. It ranges for the airlines, but we were supposed to pay $200 per dog per direction (the woman was kind of incompetent and only charged $200 total and I didn’t correct her).
  • The check in counter will want to see your pet’s health certificate. They’re likely not going to be interested in the USDA certification stuff.
  • When you go through security, you’re going to have to take the pets out of their travel bags to go through security don’t forget to take off their collars. It’s just so their bags can be scanned. You will be a nuisance to people in line because you’ll take longer — everyone will cope with it … you and your pets are less of a nuisance than most peoples’ children. If you’re traveling with someone, have 1 person deal with the bags and ‘stuff’ and 1 person deal with the dogs. Carry them, don’t walk them.
  • Whenever possible, get a baggage cart — not only is this probably more comfortable for your pet, but 10-20 pounds of beast gets darned heavy when you’re trudging through an international airport.
  • Once you find your gate… if you can find a place that’s a bit out of the way, take your pets out to let them stretch. As long as you’re not an idiot, no one’s going to say anything. Give them a little drink of water.
  • On the flight you have to keep them in their bags the whole time, but if they’re well-behaved, you can probably open up the zipper lid and let them sit up. Again, as long as they’re contained in their bag no one’s going to say anything. You will likely get sucked into conversation if you’re sitting next to a random person ;).
  • To keep them hydrated on the flight… give them some ice from time-to-time. It gives them something to do, they think they’re getting a treat, and keeps a bit of moisture going for ’em.
  • Once you arrive at your destination, have your paperwork readily available but we weren’t stopped going through customs. We also didn’t wave a flag saying “see our pets”, but they were in their pet carriers and readily visible. As soon as you can — get them out and let them have at least a quick potty break. The only time we had to show their paperwork was getting on the ferry to come to the UK.
  • Think about your ground travel. In Europe most public transport allows pets with no problem — public buses and trams regularly have pets on them. Cabs and other private transport (including rental cars) are another issues — it’s sometimes tough to find someone willing to take them … even if they are in the pet carriers. We were just pushy with the cab driver and he took us. We tipped and called it good.
  • Remember, to plan ahead with your accommodations. Just like in the US, some places allow pets and some do not.

Really, the flight is a pain in the ass — for the pets and for you. It sucks to schlep them around for everyone. However, it’s not a drama. If your pets are used to traveling then it’s no big thing. If your pets have never been in a pet carrier bag, you should probably give them a few dry runs at being in it and being in it for a while. We took our dogs on about a 6 hour roadtrip and put them in their bags to see how they’d react.


A great dog web resource

I was clicking through interesting pages this morning and found a site titled, “An honest review of Schipperkes” and was intrigued. I’ve read 8 jillion pages and the books about Schipperkes and while some of them give an honest history, they’re basically PR pieces for the breed. This site not only had the best review of the breed, but some health information about them, as well as information about other health concerns. They also have information about 180 breeds.

At any rate, it seems to be a very good web resource that I thought I’d share: Honest Advice About Dogs

Oh yeah, and if you read about pet nutrition in it — you’ll learn that the dog food lobby in the US ensures your dogs get kibble and canned food that will contribute to a shorter lifespan. For example, much of the protein in American dog food comes from animals that fit one (or more) of the 4D’s meaning that their meat tends to come from animals that: Diseased, Disabled, Dying, or Dead.

Don’t like that? Write your Congressman, do something about it — and it’s not just a matter of avoiding food made in China. Those are American regulations that allow that stuff in American-produced dog food.

How we almost lost Xander to a flea collar: Vasculitis & Allergic Reactions

I must warn you — some of the photos that I’m sharing of Xander are kind of gross … you probably shouldn’t read the post if you don’t have a strong stomach.

When we moved to New York from Colorado in 2009, one of the pet health issues that we learned about was the increased risk of flea and tick infestation on the east coast. Like the responsible pet owners that we try to be, we tried to prevent and treat as appropriately. In 2009 we tried Frontline. Both Xander and Stuart (one of Xander’s people) felt a little weird for a few days. We tried it once more three months later and for the three days afterwards both of them felt much worse. The girls (Dani and I) were unaffected.

Clearly, Frontline wasn’t going to work for us. So, we bought flea/ tick collars for the dogs and kept them on them for the next 2 and a half years. Over the next couple of years, Xander began to slow down, but was still a happy trouble-making beast. So, we attributed his slow down to being an elder statesman.


This is Xander in October of 2011 — he was a little portly at 19-20 pounds, has some cataract like things going on in his eyes, but was generally a happy-go-skippy old guy.

In late November/ early December we noticed Xander started to seem depressed and moody — something that wasn’t really him.  It was time for the dogs’ annual check up and inoculation appointment anyhow, so we scheduled an appointment with our new vet (we had just moved). Just a day or so before our appointment, Xander was sitting on my lap (as normal) and I noticed that he had a sore underneath his flea/tick collar. We had put new flea/tick collars on the week before, so immediately removed it.

At our vet appointment, the vet noticed Xander had a heart murmur. This was news to us — Xander had been to the vet at least once a year for his entire life and no one had ever heard a murmur before. Xander was seen by a ‘specialist’ and at that point, the best course of treatment was to leave things alone because it was just a murmur and he had no complications with it. The vet also gave us a round of antibiotics and spray treatment for the skin leasion and we went on our way.

SAMSUNGOver the Christmas holiday, Xander’s mood didn’t improve. In fact, his appetite went away, he only wanted to sleep, and he developed new skin lesions on his back and hip. Shortly after the first of the year, we went back to the vet and he was stumped.  Though the lesions had nasty (and nasty smelling puss) around them, he told us to leave the lesions alone as they would likely protect the wounds and continue on the antibiotics and we scheduled an appointment for two weeks later. We asked if he was on the right antibiotics — asked if we should test the infection and were told yes and probably not respectively.

At this point, I was cooking special meals of ground beef gravy for Xander, just trying to get him to eat, but he kept losing weight, kept feeling worse and worse, and it was just heartbreaking to see the robust little criminal becoming a sad little man.

By mid-January when we went back to the vet yet again as he had lesions all over his back, his face, even the sheath of his penis (serious ouch there). Nothing seemed to be doing the trick. It seemed like Xander was literally rotting away in front of our eyes and we had no idea what do to for the little guy … apparently our vet didn’t either. The vet had us washing Xander once a week with antibacterial shampoo. Thrilling — adding insult to injury for the little guy — but we were willing to do anything… including getting down and dirty with his infected skin lesions.

Xander faceXanderBackIn early February I went back to the vet — our 20 pound robust dog was down to about 14 pounds and we felt like he was on death’s door. In fact, that day, when I took him to the vet, I expected to be told that there was nothing that could be done and that the most humane thing to do would be to prepare to put him to sleep.

It was then the vet decided this was probably a good time to change antibiotics, test the infection, and consult a specialist — really? Now he says this. The specialist (about an hour and a half away) could fit us in that afternoon if I put Xander back in the car and hustled.

We did exactly that. The specialist walked into the examination room, took a very quick look at Xander and identified the problem as vasculitis — a blood disease where the body literally attacks itself. It’s not terribly common, but is also not curable. Both animals and people can get vasculitis. Vasculitis basically makes the blood attack organs — the skin most commonly, but also internal organs. The vet said that it commonly attacks the kidneys. Xander’s kidney functions, however, were alright. However, there’s that heart murmur that he never had. She ran a battery of tests, confirmed the diagnosis, then consulted with our regular vet. In some ways, Xander was lucky — a lot of times, vasculitis seems to attack the skin on dogs’ feet to the point that they can’t walk and have to be euthanized.

That night, as I left I decided to stop for a quick bite at McDonald’s and ordered a couple of extra hamburgers in hopes that Xander would eat them. Yeah… he did. So, the heart patient with vasculitis lived mostly on McDonald’s, Sonic, and then White Castle (because they’re frozen and it didn’t mean a 30 mile roundtrip to the nearest fast food) for the next couple of months so that we could hopefully put some weight back on him and so that he had enough calories to help his skin heal.

Xander March 2012In early March of 2012 — three months after we sought treatment for the first skin lesion — the tests on the infection in Xander’s skin lesions showed they were a variety of staph infection. Fortunately, a treatable variety AND the little guy was finally on the right medication. However, all of that crusted nastiness had to come off Xander and he needed to be shaved because the hair was just causing problems (something we had asked about in January).

Here we had been dealing with crusting nasty lesions on Xander and when I picked the little guy up from the vet, the vet was worried that I’d be shocked at what he looked like with all of the lesion scabs removed and shaved. Seriously? Alarmingly, this was an improvement to both the smell and aesthetics of the last month. I know it looks ghoulish, but this was an improvement. The vet tech who actually spent 90 minutes working the scabs off in a bath of warm water said that he never said a word, never hassled her — she’d never seen a dog take what would’ve been incredibly painful so well. That’s my tough little guy!

So, on his hearty-healthy diet of fast food hamburgers Xander began his road to recovery. One of the essential parts to the recovery was prednisone -a cortio steroid. Here’s the problem — steroids are hard on the heart … think of all of the NFL players and pro-wrestlers who drop relatively young (i.e., in their 50’s) of heart attacks. And here’s Xander, who likely because of the vasculitis developed a heart murmur. In the short term, it was a no-brainer — put him on the steroids.

But after the healing process was well underway, the vet wanted to take him off of the steroids.

XanderMarch2012Now, I had read probably more about vasculitis at this point (if you know me, you know that I get kind of serious about research) than the regular vet and we weren’t pleased with the recommendation because one of the realities of vasculitis is that it is not curable and the specialist had said that he would likely need to be treated for the rest of his life. Within a couple of weeks, Xander started to get moody and depressed again.

When we went back for the check up, my statement to the vet was … well… direct. I told him basically, ‘Xander is not doing well off the prednisone, we’ve discussed it and we’d rather have a happy and relatively healthy dog and risk a heart attack than put him through anything close to what he’s gone through in the last few months — he’s going back on the prednisone.’ And so he did. That was also the last time that we saw that vet — we hadn’t been happy with him, but didn’t want to change mid-course. We decided it was better to drive all the way to our old vet to get better care.

Xander April 2012The healing process went well — Xander had to give up his diet of fast food and is back on regular dog food (tragic, we know). Within the first six weeks of being both on the correct antibiotic and being ‘roid boy the lesions had basically healed, there were no more new ones. Xander gained a couple of pounds back and seems to be maintaining around 16 lbs. He has gained his energy back… and is even back to being an obnoxious little criminal (his most favorite thing in the world is stealing a small tidbit of people food if you leave it unattended — we now do this once-in-a-while just because he enjoys it).

Even though hair has come back in some places in the areas with the worst scarring — across his face, the center of his back, and by his butt — he’s never going to regrow hair. And because steroids can cause baldness, it’s not like the hair that’s come back is particularly thick like it used to be. That means, the dog who used to HATE getting dressed up now has a wardrobe and wears clothes most days. In the summer, it keeps him from getting sunburned. As the weather gets cold — well… he’s snuggly warm. We think he even likes his clothes (weird little animal).

XanderNov2012This is Xander — 11 months after we noticed the first lesion. Barely 8 months after I thought we were going to have to put him to sleep.  And yes, this is his favorite way to lay on the floor with his little legs pushed out behind him and wearing his favorite shirt — it says “Security” because he’s our tough guy!

In reflecting on how all of this emerged, reading as many journal articles (both veterinary and human), looking at as many pictures, and reading as many websites about vasculitis as I could… this is what I think happened…. Clearly, Xander had a reaction to the Frontline … but it probably wasn’t just the Frontline, but the active ingredient that repels fleas and ticks. So, instead of ‘poisoning’ him quickly with that we ended up unwittingly poisoning him slowly with the flea and tick collars. In the two plus years we were in New York before his first lesion, Xander very gradually began to slow down as his body was fighting the oncoming disease. Then in December/ January, his system could no long take it.

Based on our experience and the reading that I’ve done — I do have some recommendations for pet owners:

  1. Try to avoid chemical pest repellents as much as possible. They are poison (to the pests) that we’re applying to our pets. Use oral flea prevention and if you live in an area with lots of ticks, make sure you immunize against Lime disease then be rigorous about checking your pet for ticks. 
  2. If you feel like you must use Frontline or flea/tick collars, watch your pet’s behavior very carefully. If it changes at all, take the collar off or don’t treat them again. Typical signs of extreme allergic reactions include ‘slowing’ down, moodiness, and loss of appetite (i.e., what we would call depression in humans).
  3. If you notice a lesion — and this is very important — insist that your vet test the infection immediately. It will probably cost you about $60, but Xander lost 3 months of treatment because the vet didn’t test and we didn’t know to insist until later. Also, have the test done for vasculitis.
  4. Insist that your vet shave the affected area and remove any scabbing. Combining topical and oral antibiotics is likely going to be necessary.
  5. Know that if it is vasculitis, it’s not curable — you’re going to have to treat the dog for the rest of its life. Be prepared to weigh the consequences. Prednisone is incredibly inexpensive (about $5/ month) and it does carry side effects, but continuing lesions is inhumane. Apparently, it can go into remission though, so once the initial outbreak is managed, reducing the amount of Prednisone or trying to go without it is an option; however, if you do — be rigorous and insistent if doggie depression starts to reoccur because skin lesions aren’t going to be very far behind.

The bottom line is to inform yourself — be proactive. Unlike people, they can’t exactly tell us what’s up. They try to with their behavior… but sometimes it’s just hard to recognize it.

For us, we have a happy ending to our story — not even a year later and Xander’s a happy boy… demanding his dinner, stealing what he can, playing with Dani, and generally causing as much doggie havoc as he can. But, now because he has a heart condition, we have to be careful that he doesn’t exert too much, get too worked up, and he is our ‘roid boy. He may have a year, he may have 5 years left. But as long as he’s happy then we don’t care.


A moment of dog ridiculousness, dinner time

The trials of being a dog

We are back and all together in Sheffield — just in time for the gray, dark, and dampness of winter. C’est la vie :). The doggies don’t mind — especially since Xander has patches of hair and clothes!

Xander, October 2012 Sheffield

Xander, October 2012 Sheffield

Dani, we don’t worry about because there’s not a whole lot of cold that’s going to be getting through that particular coat.

Dani, October 2012 Sheffield

Dani, October 2012 Sheffield

While I was away, I found a comic that personified owning a dog — but in particular, it really fit Xander. I think that it has pretty much summed up this little dogster like no other — My dog: The Paradox. Check it out… it’s well worth the look.

So, as we all begin our adventures (ok, in fairness the dogs are already 3 months into their adventures), we should probably note the rough and tough lives that Xander and Dani are living in Sheffield. Here are some prime examples of the ‘challenge’ that is their life:

  • They begin their morning with a run and bark in the backyard (the neighborhood cat has learned to avoid the little black beasts)
  • Along with their breakfast they are given Cheerios, which they hoover up like some kind of mad dust devil
  • In the late morning, things get exciting as they get to bark at public enemy #1 (aka the postman)
  • In the afternoon, they get to retire to their conservatory where they’ve designated the couch and chair as their favorite basking location
  • Later in the afternoon comes the big excitement for the day — DINNER — with the extra bonus of human food (e.g., ground beef cooked with veg or whatever we happen to be eating).
  • In the evening they get their choice of laps to cuddle
  • And then when it’s bedtime, they get to snuggle up and go to their bed… and for the old dog in the house, yeah he has stairs onto the bed.

In the grand scheme of life, I’m thinking that I should be adopted as someone’s pet. It’s not like these dogs have actual responsibilities — in fact, they may be the best compensated entertainers because all of their life is taken care of for just the short time each day that they break out with doggie gladiator games for our amusement.

Xander, Hanging on the couch in the conservatory

Xander, Hanging on the couch in the conservatory

Oh, and for anyone who would complain about the dog’s talon-like toe nails… sheesh, I’ve been gone for a few months — they’ll get trimmed!

Dani, Hanging out on the bed under my desk

Dani, Hanging out on the bed under my desk