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Family Matters: A Three-Dog Family

I’m not sure how it happened, but we went from being a family with one old Lab outside dog to suddenly having three dogs, one of which weighs 100 pounds and lives inside within three feet of wherever I am in the house.

Our newest family member is a funky, feisty Jack Russell Terrier/Blue Heeler mix named Buddy. Buddy is the one who just found his way into our home in the blink of an eye, as if he were meant to be with us all along. My younger son, Smith, was avoiding doing his chores – preferring to surf the local dog shelter website. Smith has a huge, tender heart and feels certain we should adopt every single homeless dog and cat in the tri-state area.

Somehow within the next hour, we were on our way to the dog shelter, “just to take a look around.” It didn’t matter that I told Smith we were NOT coming home with another dog. As soon as Buddy saw Smith, and Smith saw buddy, well, that was that. And I don’t have the heart to keep apart a boy and a  new puppy that obviously fell in love instantly.

It’s been an adventure keeping up with three dogs and two teenage sons – all of whom eat so much it blows my mind and my budget! Every now and then I try to make a big batch of these Pumpkin Peanut Butter Dog Cookies. The dogs love them, kids love to help make them, and their cost is much friendlier on my monthly budget.

Pumpkin Peanut Butter Dog Treats

2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup canned pumpkin
3 Tbs peanut butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F. Process all ingredients in a the bowl of a food processor until dough forms, pulsing occasionally and scraping sides. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work area and knead a few times into a ball. Using a rolling pin, roll out to about 1/4-inch thick. Cut into desired shapes.

Place cookies close together on baking pans to bake. The cookies don’t need much space between them, as they don’t spread. Bake for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300°F. Turn cookies over, and return to oven to bake for an additional 15 minutes, until cookies are hard.  Remove from oven and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 100 1-inch cookies

View this recipe to print or add items to your Shopping List.

Family Matters: Frozen Fun

In my long list of never-say-never, I vowed I would never have a dog.

Not that I didn’t like dogs, but I just never had a dog growing up and wasn’t accustomed to being around man’s best friend.

But along came Jack, a sweet little beagle mix puppy abandoned on a co-workers front lawn. Jack came home with me one day and quickly found a place by my feet on the couch and a bigger place in my heart.  Sadly, Jack met his untimely demise after escaping through a hole in a neighbor’s fence. I was never going to get another dog.

But along came Jill, a mutt of mixed heritage including Italian greyhound, possibly boxer, possibly a lot of things. She was silly and loyal and an all-around easy dog.

When my son needed an incentive to complete an activity he hated, he wanted a dog more than anything. He earned Tickles, a Morkie (Maltese/Yorkie) mix, who is now 4 ½ years old.

After Jill moved out, I didn’t even try to fool myself. I got online and quickly found Gretel, an Australian shepherd who’d been dumped on the driveway belonging to a friend-of-a-friend.  Soon after acquiring Gretel, our veterinarian talked me into the German shepherd mix who had been found wandering a busy thoroughfare. We brought Shiloh home to complete our brood.

I love my puppies, but having dogs isn’t always a walk in the park, although I’m sure all three of my pooches wishes it was. My large breeds are also active breeds and while my backyard is substantial, it’s not a ranch where they can herd sheep and run wild. It’s fun to take them to the park for exercise and they love it, but it’s so hot outside all summer and most of the fall. And my dogs are hairy!!!

When I saw this fun and frozen activity, I did it again. I said, “I’d NEVER make that for my dogs; it’s silly.”

But I did. Gretel, Shiloh and Tickles LOVED it. The boys had fun watching the dogs play, too. All you need to do is round up your pet’s favorite toys. Freeze them in a large bowl of water (or beef broth, delish!) and then turn them out of the container into the back yard. Your pets will love licking the block of ice to get to their favorite toys and it will cool them down in the process.

Family Matters: For the Birds

My mom loves birds (except blue jays, but that’s an entirely different story).  Her backyard, resplendent with her flowers and fragrant with her vegetable garden, is also home to dozens of species of feathered friends. She catalogs them with a field guide to birds she keeps handy in her sunroom, which faces the yard on the back of my parents’ home. The well-thumbed-through book sits right next to the binoculars, for a better look at the birds, and the pellet gun.

Oops. Did I say that out loud? I can neither confirm nor deny that there MIGHT be a pellet gun in her sunroom.  Not to hurt the birds, mind you, but to scare off the squirrels which are conniving and constantly finding their way into her bird feeders. She doesn’t hurt the squirrels either, just scares them a bit (not that it works long term, but it deters them for a few minutes, at least.)

All that aside, my mom must have a half dozen different varieties of bird feeders (she won’t stop until she finds one that is truly squirrel-proof). My favorite was always the hummingbird feeders because I am in awe of those amazing birds. I could sit for hours in my mom’s sunroom, and more recently on my own back porch, watching the dance of the hummingbirds as they swoop in to eat, defend their territory and execute age-old mating rituals with each other.

The hummingbird feeders on my back porch are constantly abuzz with activity. The food is super easy and super-inexpensive to make. Store bought hummingbird food and mixes often contain red dye, because hummingbirds are attracted to the color red.

Don’t use it.

It can be harmful to the birds. If the feeder itself doesn’t already contain the color red, then tie a red ribbon onto it. That’ll do the trick without harming the birds.

Homemade Hummingbird Food

1 cup Food Club sugar
4 cups water

This recipe is always in a 1:4 part ratio so make as much as you’d like at a time. You can store the leftovers in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Using a medium sauce pan, bring water to a boil. Slowly add in the sugar, stirring constantly. Once the sugar is added remove the boiler from the heat and continue to stir until the sugar is well blended.

Allow it to cool completely and add to your hummingbird feeder.

Another fun way to feed the birds and let your children in on the action is to make homemade bird feeders. We’ve all coated pine cones with peanut butter and birdseed, but I don’t have any pinecones in my yard. So my boys and I improvised and it works just as well.

Homemade Bird Feeders

1 empty cardboard toilet paper roll
Peanut Butter
Valu-Time bulk birdseed

Cover toilet paper roll in peanut butter. Roll in birdseed. Slip over a branch outside and watch the birds flock to their new feeder.

Family Matters: Summer Pupsicles!

When I picked up my German Shepherd, Duke, from the groomer one afternoon last week, I realized my dog was already wincing having to walk his paws across the hot parking lot.

The temperatures have already started their upward climb to triple digits, and we are all searching for relief from the scorching sun – including our beloved pets! Making homemade frozen dog treats can help make staying cool more fun! It’s an easy way to get your kids involved in a kitchen activity that is relatively easy and quick to prepare.

When Duke hears me opening the freezer, he comes running, even from a dead sleep! Often I just toss him an ice cube to cool off, which he seems to enjoy…although I think he deep down is hoping for one of his refreshing treats.

The ingredients are all natural and are actually quite healthy for your dog. You could use applesauce instead of the banana, or molasses instead of honey. Don’t use chocolate, though, as chocolate can be toxic to many of our pets.

These Summer Pupsicles are easy to make in large batches and keep on hand in your freezer. And they are a cost-effective way to provide a sweet summer treat for the dog days of summer!

Summer Pupsicles

1 mashed banana 
1 (32 oz) Vanilla yogurt 
2 Tbs honey 
2 Tbs creamy peanut butter

Blend all thoroughly in a blender or food processor until creamy and smooth. Place mixture into small paper cups and freeze until solid.  To serve, microwave the cups for three seconds to make the paper easier to release. 

Family Matters: Duke to the rescue

Before my dog Duke came into my life, I wasn’t much of an animal lover. It’s not that I disliked dogs and cats; it’s just that I never understood the connection some people have with their pets. I kind of thought these people were crazy.

It all began when we were at a friend’s house watching the 2011 Super Bowl when my sons came running in and asked if I would come outside and see a dog that some neighbors had found but couldn’t keep. The boys begged me to consider taking him home with us. If I remember correctly the exact words were, “This dog is going to be put to sleep if we don’t take him with us, Mama! You don’t want to be known as the one who killed a dog, do you?”

No, I don’t want to be remembered as the dog killer, although at that moment I thought I might be a child killer if they kept trying to guilt me into a new dog. I went outside with the boys, telling them that there was no way we were adding more chaos to our already chaotic home.

And on top of that, the dog needing rescuing wasn’t a cute little lap dog. It was a 95-pound German Shepherd. All I could think was: Huge. Sheds. Eats. Kills on command.

At this point, I forgot I was the parent. I looked at the boys and said, “Have you lost your minds?”

The boys have a nickname for me: “The Changer-Minder.” I have a very hard time enforcing “no means no” when they either make me laugh or melt me with their sweet words and kisses.

And that was that. Somehow this big dog went home with us that night for a trial sleepover.

For the next couple of days, Duke and I spent a lot of time together. He turned out to be the sweetest, gentlest – and smartest – creature I had ever been around. He stayed by my feet all day as I worked. He followed me from room to room, and slept at the end of my bed every night, coming to my side of the bed several times a night to check on me.

Needless to say, Duke never left our home. Duke attached to me as his primary caregiver, always hovering and protecting and loving. There have been times he has done things at just the right time, in just the right way that I truly believe he has to be my angel.

I know, I know, I now sound like one of those crazy dog people, but I don’t care. It’s been a little over a year that we rescued Duke, but I’m pretty sure he has done most of the rescuing.

Family Matters: Natural pet foods

When it comes to pet food, a big trend the last few years has been a growing consumer interest in more natural, wholesome pet foods. This makes a lot of sense: Many of us are more interested in eating more natural, organic, fresh foods, so why wouldn’t we want the same thing for our four-legged family members? And because pet obesity rates have been growing sharply, many of us have become more vigilant about watching exactly what is going in those food bowls.

One in five pet owners even admits to purchasing human foods to feed their pets, according to a recent national pet owner’s survey. But you don’t have to go that route: More companies are responding to the demand for healthier pet foods by developing natural, high-quality foods and treats.

Check out some of these wholesome options, available at most Brookshire’s stores, unless noted otherwise:

Freshpet:  This company uses high-protein meats and eggs, real grains and veggies, and no byproducts or artificial preservatives in its dog and cat foods. Its philosophy is that pets benefit from eating fresh, minimally processed foods, just like humans do. These refrigerated foods include Freshpet Select slice-and-serve rolls, Home-style cups, prepared Roasted Meals for dogs and cats, and Dog Joy treats. Available at select Brookshire’s and Super 1 Foods, plus FRESH by Brookshire’s.

Nurture Heavenly Harvest Holistic Dog Food: This food is notable for what they do use – healthy natural grains, veggies, fruit and herbs – as well as what they don’t. (No corn, wheat or soy meal; no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives or excess water.) Developed for owners interested in a healthier, holistic lifestyle for their pets, the natural food includes a unique vegetable and herb blend that promotes digestion, plus natural antioxidants that assist in the aging process.

Purina ONE Beyond: Dog kibble and cat food with real meat, whole grains, and all-natural nutrient and whole grains, to provide all-natural nutrients. Keeping with the natural theme, Purina has adopted several sustainable practices in making this food. For instance, it comes in packages made from 92 percent renewable materials, printed entirely with vegetable-based soy inks, which are also more renewable than other inks.

Milkbone Healthy Favorites: These biscuits are made with real beef, rolled oats, flaxseed and carrots, but no corn, soy or artificial preservatives.  Corn and soy can cause allergic reactions or digestive issues in some dogs, even in small amounts as they’d get in a treat, so this may be a healthier option for your pet.

Family Matters: Taking care of your cat

Does your cat like to use your couch – or your drapes, or your favorite pillow – as a claw-sharpening device? If so, you may have considered declawing him or her. But before resorting to surgery, you should know that declawing a cat is somewhat of a controversial issue within the veterinary community, and you may be able to alter your cat’s behavior with a few simple purchases and/or behavior modifications.

The American Veterinary Medication Association, the non-profit association representing U.S. veterinarians, recommends that domestic cats should be declawed only after the owners have tried to keep the cat from using his or her claws destructively. Scratching is a way for cats to mark their territory, groom and stretch, and it’s normal behavior in a healthy kitty.

Some veterinarians feel that declawing is unnecessarily painful and may change a cat’s personality and behavior. They argue that declawed felines may feel defenseless and may be more likely to mark (urinate on) their territory, avoid contact with others or become aggressive and change their pattern of vocalization (growling, hissing, or increased crying).

On the other hand, other experts feel that declawing a young kitten will be less traumatic, because young animals are smaller and have less weight to carry on their feet after surgery. They’ll experience less pain and heal more quickly than full-grown animals, and seem to be less affected personality-wise by the surgery. And, some even feel that even adult cats can be declawed without a permanent change in personality.

If you have a cat with a destructive clawing problem, first consult your veterinarian for advice. But here are some steps to try:

  • Provide a few “safe” places for your cat to scratch. This might be a cardboard box, a carpet remnant, an old pillow or quilt, or a commercially produced scratching post. For best results, attach the scratchable material to a fixed object, like a wall or post.
  • Trim your cat’s claws every couple of weeks. This removes the urge in the cat to “groom” its claws, and prevents damage to furniture AND people. You can purchase clippers specially designed for cats.
  • Give your cats plenty of toys and affection, to keep them from being bored and looking for activity.
  • Make their favorite scratching spots unappealing. You can spray these spots with a scratch deterrent. These are often herbal- or citrus-scented, and cats don’t like the smell. Or place some double-sided tape or sticky contact paper over the spot your cat frequents.
  • Use behavior modification: Praise and treat your cat (with liver treats or another favorite goodie) when the cats uses an approved scratching spot. To prevent the cat from using the old favorites, some experts suggest keeping a spray bottle filled with water handy, and squirting it in the cat’s general direction when it appears headed toward a forbidden scratch spot.

Family Matters: Caring for kitty

Cats may seem like the perfect, low-maintenance pet. You give most cats plenty of fresh food and water, a clean litter box, and a couple cozy places to nap, and they are perfectly content.

But cats need health care too. Cats are somewhat less likely than dogs to be taken to the veterinarian annually, according to an poll, conducted last fall. So it’s even more important for owners to pay close attention to their cat’s weight, behavior and overall health, so you can catch any minor problems before they become bigger ones.

According to the experts at Nestle Purina Petcare, cats’ needs change over time faster than humans do. After all, since a cat’s average life expectancy is anywhere from 12-15 years, one human year translates into several cat years.

So they suggest owners pay attention to several facets of their cat’s health, to help maintain a long, happy life for your four-legged family member. (And, yes, if you’re a dog owner, these tips also apply to your canine friends!)

Weight-watching: Chubby kitties may look cute, but even an extra couple of pounds can create health problems for a cat. Ideally, a cat should have minimal abdominal fat and just a slight fat pad over their ribs.

Should your cat be a little pudgy, you can begin to control its weight by cutting back on any treats, especially if you have been slipping them forbidden people food, and making sure you are feeding the correct amount as directed by package instructions. If you’re already doing everything right, you might need to start feeding a cat food with less fat and/or fewer calories, such as Purina Cat Chow Indoor Formula or Purina ONE Healthy Weight Formula.

Energy level: Consider your cat’s daily routine. Yes, it may seem they sleep 23 hours out of 24, but the healthy cat also spends time playing. If yours seems sluggish, make sure you offer regular interaction. If the cat doesn’t have any interest in activity, especially those that it formerly enjoyed, consult a veterinarian.

Bad kitty: Cats that suddenly develop behavior problems, such as the occasional missed litter box incident, are most likely just bored. Add a new toy or two, and additional interaction, and see if that helps. However, behavioral problems can also be age-related or health-related.  Cats over age 7 should be switched over to a senior pet food formula, so they receive the nutrients they need for their age. Otherwise, you may want to consider a trip to the veterinarian, to rule out any health-related issues.

Family Matters: Caring for new pets at the holidays

What child hasn’t wished for a new puppy or kitten for Christmas?

Although some experts discourage giving animals as gifts, the holidays can also be a great time to adopt a new pet as a family: The children are home from school, and many of us have extra vacation time, so we’ll be home more to attend to the needs of a new pet.

If your holiday plans include adopting a new family member of the four-legged variety, here are some ideas to help ease the transition during this very busy time of year.

Introduce gradually to other animals in the household. Ask your veterinarian for advice on the best way to introduce your new pet to older dogs or cats, especially if the existing pet has lived alone for some time, or if your pet doesn’t always get along with new animals. At a minimum, be prepared to feed the new and existing pets on opposite sides of the room or in different rooms altogether; provide a new litter box for any new cat; and provide separate sleeping arrangements, whether in a kennel or in a quiet, closed rooms. Never leave the new animal alone with other pets until you’ve had a chance to observe them together, preferably several times.

Avoid adopting new pets right during the busiest part of the holidays.  New puppies, especially, need almost as much attention as a baby for the first few weeks, and during house training. Cats may not adjust well to a new home if there is a lot of commotion, whether from decorations, lights or parties. So, if you expect lots of guests, or if you plan to leave town for part of the holidays, ask the breeder or the animal shelter if you can pick up the animal later in the holidays. If you’ve intended the animal as a gift for your children or spouse, you can provide a photo and some of the gear, like a leash, bowl, toys, and bed, so there is something to unwrap on the holidays itself.

“Puppy-proof” the house first. Consider which rooms you’ll allow the new pet into, and then set about making them safe for a new dog or cat. Until you know how much of a “chewer”  the puppy is, you’ll want to limit the dog’s access to just about anything – electrical cords, shoes, remote controls, throw rugs, pillows. Cats tend to be less potentially destructive, but you’ll also want to secure cords, drapery pulls and other items that could present a choking hazard. Check the placement of houseplants; they can be poisonous to animals. Finally, get plenty of toys, even just some old socks, so the new animal has plenty to keep its attention, and will be less likely to be destructive.

Make sure they have the proper diet. Kittens and puppies aren’t just little versions of adults; they have their own special dietary needs. Puppies, especially, grow very fast, and need extra nutrients to build muscle, bone and organs. You should feed puppy formula, preferably one that matches the size of your dog’s breed, until the puppy has reached about 90 percent of his or her expected adult weight. (For small dogs, this will occur by the time the dog is one year old; for larger breeds, it might take up to 18 months.) Kittens should be fed kitten formulas to support their growth, for at least the first nine months of life and preferably for one year.

Finally, even though it’s tempting, do not feed table scraps, even as a treat. It’s hard to break eating habits learned young, and too much human food contributes to pet obesity and other health problems. If you want to provide treats – which can be a great tool while training your puppy – choose those that are appropriate to your pet’s size and breed, and limit them to special rewards.

Family Matters: Cold-weather flea protection

True or false: Pet owners don’t need to worry about fleas in the winter.

False! While this may have once been commonly accepted, we now know that fleas can and do survive in colder weather – especially indoors, and especially in the milder climates of the southern U.S.

In fact, fleas may even be a bigger threat in the cooler months, as many pet owners slack off on the preventative measures for dogs and cats in the fall and winter – meaning more fleas are breeding and just itching to get into your home and onto your pet.

So, to keep fleas at bay, veterinarians and pet experts advise that pet owners treat their four-legged friends all year long. Otherwise, you’ll risk flea infestations, which can lead to more than just nasty little fleas on the carpet and annoying flea bites. Flea bites can cause allergies, infections, and skin disorders. They can also spread tapeworms, tularemia (a disease spread by fleas and ticks that causes headache, fever, and fatigue), and even Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a potentially fatal illness that can affect both dogs and humans.

These flea-prevention tips are courtesy our friends at Sergeant’s, which makes many effective flea- and tick-control products for pet and home.

Prevention goes a long way: Follow your veterinarian’s advice and treat every pet in your household every month, all year long. If you keep fleas from getting a foothold in your home in the first place, you won’t have the more-difficult task of getting rid of them later.

Treat each pet monthly – preferably on the same date so you don’t forget a dose. Bathe your pet to remove dirt and as a first step in treating flea or tick infestations. A flea comb removes flea dirt (flea feces) and dead fleas.

Treat the home, too. Regularly wash pet bedding. If you have or suspect an infestation, wash pet bedding again, then vacuum carpets, and treat your home with a household spray, powder or fogger.

Don’t forget the yard. Spray your yard and your home’s foundation, to kill fleas lurking outside.

Use an effective anti-flea treatment. Squeeze-on, topical treatments are easy to use and very well tolerated by pets. You can now purchase topical treatments at grocery stores and other retailers, eliminating an extra trip to the veterinarian’s office. For instance, Sergeant’s™ Flea and Tick Squeeze-On protects pets against adult fleas and ticks and prevents eggs and larvae from developing into adults. It contains Bitrex, a bittering agent, to help prevent ingestion. Sergeant’s Evolve™ Flea and Tick Squeeze-On is specifically formulated for the weight of your pet, both in dosage and active ingredients. It not only protects against adult fleas, but also prevents infestation and protects against flea eggs and larvae for up to nine weeks.

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