Saturday, May 29, 2010


I have written a great deal about the products I purchase for my dogs, but rarely do I write about the product I purchase for my cats. This is strange because I am, at my heart, a cat person. Don’t get me wrong, I love my dogs, but dogs are like children in that you can’t just leave them for a few days with an extra bowl of food and water and expect them to be ok. Not that I would do that to my cats, but I could, and that is what I like about them. They re like little furry, independent people who really have no interest in what you are doing. They like knowing that you are around at times, but for the most part, they couldn’t; care less about your comings and goings, and more often than not, they just want to be fed, watered and left alone. I love that in an animal.

For these and several other reasons, I have always had cats. When I say “always” I mean that since I’ve been an adult and not living in my parent’s house. Under those circumstances, I had no pets because the inconvenience of even a cat was too much for my parents to bear. But I digress, I have always had cats because they are independent. They are easy. They require little extra effort, and they don’t cling. The first time I spent an afternoon with a dog, I thought it was the most annoying situation I had ever encountered. They followed us everywhere. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why this was such a great thing. It was like having a canine stalker. I don’t much care for being followed by any living thing. Canine or otherwise. It just seemed weird to me. So cats it was. They would jump on my lap for a minute or two. Maybe watch an episode of CSI with me and then be gone. I’d find them hours later under the bed or in the closet or on the pillow, looking inquisitively up at me with those big brown hazel eyes, questioning my intentions and wondering how I deigned to disturb their slumber.

Cats are prefect. They sleep all day and most of the night. They have no interest in walking on a leash and only need a few chin scratches every now and again. Of course, we are talking about me here, I have managed to turn even my low maintenance cats in little divas. Enter Emery Cat. Granted Emery Cat was not entirely purchased for the pleasure of the cats. It was as much purchased to keep them from annihilating the chairs as to keep prevent them from having to go through the torture of getting their claws trimmed. Trimming a cat’s claws is sort of like baby’s first haircut. They scream and scream and scream until you stop and then they completely forget what they were screaming about. The whole process is not as traumatic as all that, but still, cats are opportunists so if there is an easier way, why not take it? If given the chance and a Visa, any cat would.

I ordered the Emery Cat for only $19.95 plus shipping and handling which conveniently comes with not one, but two Emery Cats. I figured I could give one to my sister in law who has two semi-destructive cats of her own to contend with. All together, the bill came to over $35. I think it was $36 and change, I though this was a little steep for a corrugated cardboard arch, but my babies are spoiled, so I didn’t cancel my order.

The package comes with a corrugated cardboard arch coated in some sort of sand-induced adhesive, a plastic base for the arch to sit in, a baggie of kitty crack (aka catnip), a feather on a stick to put into a little hole in the a plastic base and a de-shedder. The sand-induced adhesive is intended to file down the cat’s claws as it scratches. A good idea, as I can’t tell you how many times, in the absence of a nail file I have run my nails over the sidewalk to try to get rid of the ragged edges. I’m not certain what the point of the de-shedder is, since I think every pet owner has at least one. I can say for certain that I didn’t need another de-shedder (much less two) since I seem to have been collecting them at a rate of about one a year for the past 20 years. I’m a little unclear as to why I have so many, but I do. Perhaps I need to donate them to the de-shedder de-prived or something.

When Emery Cat arrived, I set it up (sans the feather on a stick because Bobo the young dog likes to eat those), sprinkled the kitty crack on the corrugated cardboard and put it out for a rapid test. Actually, I need to caveat that a little. I threw away the plastic arch and tied the corrugated cardboard to the old battered corrugated cardboard tied to a brick that my cats currently use. Its tied to the brick so Bobo won’t eat it. (Are you sensing a theme here?). Once secured to the brick, my youngest cat (Nugget) made a b-line for Emery Cat it right away. My older one (Muffin) was a little hesitant. She doesn’t care much for new things and is oddly suspicious of anything the young one finds enjoyable.

With Nugget scratching away, I thought that perhaps the $36 plus was well spent and put the second Emery Cat together and put it in the room with their food and little box, safely away from Bobo’s curious mouth. The “cat bathroom” as we have so lovingly named it, is behind a baby gate and therefore safe from the scavenging, cat food and cat poop eating tendencies of Bobo. Neither cat would have anything to do with that Emery Cat setup. I’m not sure if it’s presence makes too much clutter, or if it’s just that cats don’t play where they eat. Either way, neither Nugget nor Muffin had any interest in the Emery Cat as set up as intended. In fact, Nugget quickly lost interest in the arch tied to the brick and instead reverted back to the old, flat, sand-less, seriously mangled corrugated cardboard scratch area. Both were tied to the same brick, so it wasn’t as issue of convenience, I guess they just didn’t care for the way it felt on their little feet. I thought it was a good idea, but clearly I was mistaken.

I still have the Emery Cat set up in the cat bathroom and tied to the brick, but they still insist on using the furniture and their old corrugated cardboard. Maybe they just need more time. Maybe the kitty crack wasn’t strong enough. Maybe they are just creatures of habit and don’t like their routine being messed with. Either way, I don’t think I could recommend this product. They cats’ don’t use it and unless you need a de-shedder, your money is better spent elsewhere.

Friday, May 21, 2010


I believed in purely positive (positive reinforcement only) dog training once, and then I realized that it just doesn’t always work. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as though I approve of abject humiliation and constant punishment as a viable dog training method, but there are just some dogs that won’t behave no matter how many cookies you give them and no matter how many “good girl’s” they hear. Some dogs just need that extra little motivation to not act like a complete and total wacko. Sometimes a girl just needs a smack-down.

Bobo is the sweetest dog you would ever want to meet. She doesn’t have an aggressive bone n her body, she has the face of a saint and it is only on a very rare occasion that she has problems with any other dog. To her credit, she has that perfectly innocent puppy-look when she tips her head to the side, which she does relatively regularly because she knows I think it’s just the cutest thing ever. It is only because of that pathetic look that Bobo got away with what she got away with when we first brought her home. Although this is not an essay about dog training, let me just give you one small piece of advice. No matter how cute they are, don’t let your new dog get away with bad behavior. It’ll only come back to bit you in the ass. This I can promise.

When we first got Bobo she was horrid. Aside from the fact that she was a year old, not house trained and she ate just about everything in sight: socks, shoes, our new glasses, books, magazines, pillows and the venetian blinds, she was also relentless chasing the cats and refused to give Zac a moment of peace. After a few weeks of sleepless nights we finally decided that training Bobo correctly was outside of our area of expertise and decided to bring in the professionals. We actually didn’t much care for the trainer we hired because aside from the fact that she was unable (or unwilling) to remember the names of our dogs she, for some reason, insisted on focusing her attention on Zac, the dog who didn’t really need the help. She also informed us that it was actually not a bad thing that our out of control dog was out of control.

Bobo had so much pent up energy and so little self control that she would run around the room so fast that she would actually get enough momentum to run on the walls. This is not a lie. I never would have believed such a thing was possible if I didn’t see it myself. When we told the dog trainer about this, she actually did tell us that if we didn’t mind then we should just let her do it. OK, let me just a take a second to say, who in the world would be ok with their dog running on the walls? And what kind of dog trainer would condone it?

The problem with Bobo, and the reason that "purely positive" training techniques didn’t work that well with her is because she’s not motivated by anything but running to swimming. She’s not motivated by cookies or praise or tennis balls. She cares about nothing but running and swimming and there is nothing better to her than those two activities. Therefore, unless we could have figured out a way to reward her by letter her go swimming or running, we were out of luck. Thus we were in a pickle. She was not motivated by what we could give her and therefore she had no reason to listen and when she was misbehaving she was usually doing so in an environment where she was moving too fast for us to catch her so there was no immediate result (read: punishment) associated to her action. There was never any punishment or scolding associated with the craziness because by the time we caught her, too much time had passed and the punishment would have been useless for extinguishing a bad behavior.

A big part of our problem training Bobo was that she is very smart and a remarkably good problem solver. In fact she quickly solved the problem of how to avoid being yelled at and punished. She learned that here were never any repercussions to her running away from us because, well she was running away, and since we couldn’t catch her, we couldn’t punish her. So instead of getting punished for misbehaving, she got the double reward of getting not punished and getting to do exactly what she loved best, run. Unfortunate for us, but very fortunate for her, her speed and agility made teaching her self control extremely difficult. If she chased the cats, by the time we got to her, the cats were long gone and enough time had passed that the punishment would have been tied to nothing. If she ignored us at the dog park, she got just what she wanted, to run and continue to play, and we got to feel like the asshole dog-moms who have no control over their puppy. For the most part she knew her commands, but being the smart dog that she is, she learned that she could ignore them when she wanted to and there really wasn’t anything that we could do about it. Enter the PetSafe Remote Spray Trainer.

This collar contains a small waterproof box which when remotely activated either makes a small beep or releases a spray of citronella under the dog’s chin. The Spray Trainer has 4 levels of spray so you can increase the length of time the spray sprays if needed. Conceptually it’s a lot like a shock collar only there is no shock. Instead of the shock it’s a spritz under the chin. Nothing painful, just annoying, and yet amazingly effective. With this one small device, we could actually control our Bobo because for the first time we could catch her in the act of behaving badly and we could act accordingly. If she was chasing the cats we could stop the action without having to leap across the living room to tackle her to the ground. If she ignored a command we could give her a spritz and she would know that there was no more ignoring us. The PetSafe Remote Spray Trainer put us in charge.

We tried the Spray Commander first which is a different brand with the same functionality. The biggest differences are that the Spray Commander is a little less expensive, only has one spray level, and is not waterproof so after Bobo chased a duck into alligator infested waters, it was pretty much useless.

The PetSafe Remote Spray Trainer on the other hand is waterproof so she could swim with it and it would still work, but of course, like all of Bobo’s gear, it needed some adjusting. Bobo, for obvious reasons, is rather hard on her things. She looses jackets, she breaks collars, she is as hard on her things as she is on herself. She managed to kill the first $150 PetSafe Remote Spray Trainer we purchased. She cracked it somehow. We’re still not entirely sure how. Since the device is intended for active dogs, one would think that it would be durable enough to withstand the abuse active dogs would give it. Apparently not. So we shelled out another $150 for another one. Only this time we wrapped the small waterproof box in electrical tape to give it some extra padding. That worked, and Bobo has not, as of yet, been able to destroy it.

The PetSafe Remote Spray Trainer is only a training tool and you can’t expect that it will work wonders for your dog if you don’t take the time to work wonders in conjunction. It is however an extremely useful tool for dogs who choose to misbehave because they can. Dogs are a lot smarter than people give them credit for and Bobo is no exception. There are dogs out there that are just more difficult to train than others. Bobo falls into this category. Bobo didn’t care about treats so getting her to behave for a treat was near impossible. We spent hundreds of dollars on books and training tools and private training lessons and doggy daycare to rid her of some of her excess energy. We tried everything that we could think of to get Bobo under control. The PetSafe Remote Spray Trainer was the most effective training tool for us because Bobo needed an immediate punishment when she misbehaved. Not all dogs need that type of discipline and not all dogs are as difficult to catch in the act as Bobo, but if your dog is, I highly recommend the PetSafe Remote Spray Trainer. If it works for Bobo, it will work for any hyper dog if used correctly.

Friday, May 14, 2010


I know, I know, this is an odd one. It’s a little old, a little outdated and quite frankly, a little goofy. For those of you who know me, just owning one is nothing short of sacrilege. I pride myself on my kitchen, my knives, my pots and pans. Although I do enjoy grilling, I would never in my life have previously considered grilling inside my home with what amounts to a Panini press with ridges. But alas and alack, at the time of this purchase I was not home. I was on the road working. For months. In a furnished apartment which came equipped with all of the basic necessities required to exist in today’s America. I had a toaster, a microwave, a full-sized stove and oven, a sauté pan, and 2 sizes of pots. I had one small glass bowl, a set of plastic nesting bowls and the crappiest knife block ever created. The steak knives were dull, the butcher knife was duller, and oddly enough the bread knife didn’t event work. I ask you, how can a bread knife not work? I have yet to answer that question, but what I do know is that there was definitely no Ginsu action here. No one was cutting any tin cans with these babies. I have heard the expression “so dull it wouldn’t’ cut through butter,” but I’ve never actually seen it in action. And the bread knife, bless it’s little serrated soul, didn’t actually cut the bread, but instead mostly just tore it. It was almost like the ridges on the blade went the wrong way, but that’s just not possible, is it?

Suffice it to say that this was not my ideal kitchen. I usually enjoy cooking, but when I moved into this temporary location, I was very happy to have restaurants of every ethnicity within walking distance. In fact upon walking into this new space I believe the first words out of my mouth were “there’s no fucking way I’m cooking in here”. Aside from the terrible accoutrements, the space itself was too small to make a sandwich. You think I’m kidding? The refrigerator door hit the door to the small space containing the washer and dryer when I opened it. All I can say is it’s a good thing there’s a little anorexia in my history, there’s no way anyone over 150 lbs could move around in there.

After about 2 weeks of restaurant-prepared dinners, my lovely wife thought that cooking at home would be just lovely. It would be simple and taste just like we were home. We could pretend. I wasn’t thrilled about the idea, but I love her so I conceded. We decided on grilled chicken (free-range, blessed with the Humane Society seal), asparagus and little potatoes. Nothing too complicated, and the apartment complex had propane grills scattered throughout the property. I had planned on grilling outside, but the thought of toting food up and down 6 stories just wasn’t working for me after a full day at work, so the oven went on. This is where the problem arose. We had nothing to cook any of those items on. No cookie sheets, no Pyrex pans, no nothing. The best we had was the sauté pan, which at least didn’t have a plastic handle so I suppose I could have put it in the oven, but I just wasn’t trusting that to not be a big problem. Thankfully I had thought to buy aluminum foil when I first went shopping. Two hours and one small nervous breakdown later, dinner was ready. I swore I’d never cook in that fucking kitchen again.

And then the lovely wife suggested the George Foreman Grill. I believe I sneered. Then I think I laughed. Then I probably said something really rude and crass because that’s just the kind of girl I am. I cook. I like to cook. If I can’t cook, I eat out. I don’t use weird culinary devices that sell themselves as “fat grilling machines,” that’s just wrong, a little weird, and completely against my pseudo-foodie ethic. But again, I love my wife, so I conceded.

Off we went to Target to get the frightening kitchen-assistant. I’m not a snob about a lot of things, my clothes have been in my closet for an average of 8 years, my jewelry is mostly made of pooka shells and beads purchased from the gem show in Tucson and my favorite chair is a 15 year old chair and a half, the pillows eaten by the dog and the legs picked by the cat. But I take pride in my kitchen and I buy my pans at Williams-Sonoma, not Target. My knives are Henckel’s and the only thing I want out of life is a 6 burner Viking stove. I have my priorities.

But there I was in Target. On a Saturday. Buying a George Foreman Grill. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Immediately upon purchase, I was told, once again that I would not be disappointed by this devious device. I was told, actually, I’d be pleasantly surprised by both its ease of use and its cleanup. We decided the virgin meal was to be steak (organic, grass fed only), carrots and sweet potatoes. Fast, easy and since we’re usually protein deficient, we’d eat it no matter what it tasted like.

Let me first say that because of the lack of quality of my knives, the sweet potato chunks were completely uneven. In the oven, the thickest one would have taken at least an hour. The carrots were whole, bunch with only the green tops cut off. All these items were marinated in olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper (come on, I can’t completely give up the ghost), but all were also very thick and, as previously stated, would have taken at least an hour in the oven on 400˚. A 400˚ oven, in this small space on this oh-so-unseasonably hot day would have created chaos. The grill a la Foreman did no such thing. The heat required to cook those items in under 30 minutes stayed where it was required, the ridged plates surrounding the food.

Our dinner was done in about 27 minutes and before I even had the plates to the table, the George Foreman Grill was clean and put away. The food itself was pretty good too. The steaks had good flavor. The texture was a little bit off from if it had been cooked on an outside grill (I think because there was no sear on the outside), but all it all it was pretty good. The carrots and sweet potatoes were soft and flavorful. They weren’t overcooked and soggy like they would have been if I had microwaved them, so I would have to give the George Foreman Grill a ringing endorsement. Granted nothing is as good as the food that comes out of my kitchen on a good day, but I wasn’t in my kitchen, and I can’t imagine a good day in the kitchen I had. So given the circumstances for me and the impatience of most of the current American population, I’d say give it a go. Both the low emotional and the financial costs make it more than worth while.

Friday, May 7, 2010


The busier we got, the more creative we became with our dog’s chew toys. I like to think of myself as a good dog owner, but the very nature of that statement makes me, by default no better than a mediocre one. The fact that I think of myself as a dog “owner” at all eliminates enough puppy-parent-points to leave me spending my life trying to redeem myslef. I would love to say that I want to be the kind of person that my dog thinks I am, but I think my dog knows exactly the kind of person that I am, which would explain why she spends every moment she can trying to push me over the edge. She knows how easy it is, and although for her, it’s just plain fun, for me it’s something a little more unfortunate than that.

We work from home, and although we spend a lot of time every morning making sure the dogs’ needs are met well before ours are, there is always that 2:00 to 3:00 time period where people crash and dogs get their second wind. I’m a little unclear as to why these two species who have had such a fantastic symbiotic relationship for the past 10,000 years are so out of sync on this one. Perhaps the out-of-sync-ness is a recent result of the industrial, technological and information ages wherein the sustainment of life became much easier and less time consuming and humans stopped becoming hunter/gatherers and started becoming text-er/on-line shoppers, widening the distance between us and our canine counterparts. Whatever the reason, there is that time of day when the pups just wanna run and I just wanna tear my hair out because of the stupidity and redundancy and inane-ness of it all. It is at this time that it’s really easy to push me over the edge, somehow, Bobo knows it, enjoys doing it, and while doing it, silently chuckles to herself as she pulls yet another shirt out of the hamper and chews out the armpits.

As my workload increased, I also got more creative about Bobo’s afternoon entertainment. I figured if she could entertain herself for just a few hours every afternoon while I was trying my damndest not to loose my mind, maybe we could come to some mutual understanding on how to best to cohabitate. She could chew on something that was intended for those purposes, and I could not feel like I spent all my time working just to replace all the shirts and pants she decided to eat the sweaty parts out of.

Thus the Atomic Treat Ball was purchased. It claims to be “made of tough, safe, non-toxic thermoplastic material,” and perhaps this is true, but not for this set of jaws. Bobo must have been a pit bull in a past life. She has the jaw strength of a Crocodile. She chewed through one of the super-industrial-strength black Kongs in about 3 minutes. If you don’t know already, that’s not supposed to happen. I guess that should have provided the first clue that a different product would probably not fare much better, but she did the Kong-damage when we first got her and she was terrified and nervous and had zero manners. That was 3 years ago and she no longer qualifies in any of those categories. I wrongly thought that she would focus on getting the treats out of the treat ball and not just save time and eat the treat ball itself. I guess you can’t tell a dog that is she eats the toy, the fun will be over because there won’t be any toy left. Reasoning doesn’t work that well with canines. It doesn’t’ really work that well with humans either, so I guess in that respect the species are still in sync.

The overall concept of the Atomic Treat Ball is a good one. The odd shape makes it roll sort of funny and the treats do come out randomly (or so it would seem to a dog) which makes the whole experience pretty entertaining for the pup and rather humorous to watch for the people. The problem is that the “tough, safe, non-toxic thermoplastic” just isn’t that tough. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know that I could chew through it, but I think I know a few people who could.

The end result of the meeting between the Atomic Treat Ball and Bobo was very simple. The hole from which the treats are distributed was widened so that the treats no longer came out randomly, but instead poured out. Thus eliminating the entertainment associated with the distribution method. It rapidly became just a new way to pour food on the floor. Since that day, the Atomic Treat Ball has sat in the Atomic Treat Cabinet to assure that no more Atomic Treat Parts are spit out on the carpet. Clearly the Atomic Treat Ball needs to be made out of some sort of Atomic Treat Material. Perhaps Unobtainium would do the trick. But the presence of that material would even more widen the chasm between man and man’s best friend. This would move us even further away from the natural instincts we once embraced.

The “ease-of-use” stamped on most of our lives is really just a self-destructive slinky spiraling to infinity. And our inventions and purchases, one after the other are designed for the sole purpose of making our lives easier. But just because it’s easier, doesn’t mean it’s simpler. Simplicity is allowing your dog to eat your shorts because that’s just what dogs do. Ease is going on line to purchase a plastic toy to occupy your dog so you can do something else instead of telling your dog not to eat your shorts. The ease is in occupying our pups to assure that they are seen and not heard during our busiest and most irritating times of the day, simplicity is not having a most irritating time of the day in the first place.

And all best intentions fully acknowledged, the very fact that this purchase was even made means that instead of the simple solution of taking her out for a walk or paying some real attention to her, I just resorted to the seemingly easy solution – buy something to fix the problem. And this my friends is the real reason that I will never be the kind of person my Bobo thinks I am.