Saturday, March 22, 2008

32. Hats Off

or... "Butch Cassidy and the Sunset Cabernet":

On a mission for a bottle of wine this evening, I found myself staring into the face of The Hustler himself. It would seem Paul Newman has dipped his continually expanding tentacles into the depths of wine crafting. The man is quietly taking over the world, methinks.

In all honesty, I've been a fan of most of Paulie's products. He makes a pretty tasty pasta sauce, and I can't complain about his spelt flour pretzel nuggs. My only real complaint has been his organic mints. They're too sweet and not bitey enough, which leaves me feeling like I'm eating chalk rather than a breath mint. Cool tin though. The wintergreen polar bear reminds me of Soren, and green is my favorite color.

Anyway, I decided to give it a try. I'm not usually a brand name kind of girl when it comes to wine, but the Cabernet Sauvignon was on sale for $12.99, when it regularly sells for $18.99. Mass-produced can often equal no bueno, but I do enjoy a Francis Ford Coppola bottle every now and again, so I thought I'd give it a go.

For the price, I'm pretty pleased. I don't know if it's $19 good, but it's certainly a value for $13. At first taste, it's tannic and spicy. After a little time to breathe, the edge begins to loosen and the fruit steps into the spotlight. Overall, I like the oakiness and the fruit is plump. I tend to avoid wines heavy in the cherry flavors, but this one lingers more in raspberry land. Matt puckered up, claiming it was too sweet. But his taste is made for whiskey, and whiskey is made for putting hair on one's chest...

I'd rate this at least an 88 by Wine Spectator standards, if I were to try and guess. It's not stand out or terribly unique. It kind of reminds me a bit of Gnarly Head. At least, that's the most recent similarity I've had. But I think it's a solid buy, if you're looking for something to drink just because (which I always am). I wouldn't hesitate to buy it again if it were on sale. I'm down half a bottle and contemplating whether I should finish it off.

It's Saturday. Do we need anymore reason for drunkenness?

Friday, March 14, 2008

31. Awful Treasures

I had just finished putting together tomorrow's breakfast, Creme Brulee French Toast, and needed a place to store it in the fridge overnight. The fridge was packed, and I quickly realized that most of the items taking up space should no longer be considered edible. Jars of icky-blicky salsa, freakish rotting spaghetti sauce, lily pads of mold floating on month old home made raspberry syrup leftover from Valentine's Day, store bought alfredo completely liquified and festering in its container...The smell was enough to kill a herd of sweaty yaks. I swear, I nearly passed out flushing each monstrosity down the drain. I could have saved myself a lot of misery by tossing them away unopened, but I just couldn't do it, I had to recycle.

I am Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout. And I finally took the garbage out.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

30. Third Try

It's been a week, and I've done several recordings on Frank with the bark collar, in different situations. First, Soren and I did a voice activated recording in my car while we were at work on Thursday. We got 30 seconds of recorded sound, and none of it included barking. We were suspicious of this, because the recorder explains the first few seconds of dictation will be cut off in voice activated mode, which means it could have missed recording the bark entirely.

That afternoon we stopped at a bar for a drink before doing some errands. We left the handheld on continuous record for the entire time we were inside. Except for the occasional whine, there was no barking on the tape.

Afterward we took Frank to Soren's house and locked him in the bathroom while we went to get my car an oil change and buy some groceries. We were gone an hour at the most. When I listened to the tape, I didn't hear any actual barking, but Frank's whines and cries became more and more intense as time went on. I'm sure that it was loud enough the surrounding apartments would have been able to hear him.

Friday we crated Frank in Soren's living room and left the recorder on the floor across the room. We left and made it half way across the parking lot when Frank started barking, LOUDLY. I immediately went back inside, pulled him out of his crate and readjusted the position of the collar on his neck. We reset the tape and left for the gym. We were gone probably half an hour. This time, the tape recorded a very soft whimper about every 10-15 seconds throughout the entire half hour period, but not a single bark. This left me wondering if the collar was correcting him at all, as it seemed like the second time we left for the gym, he hadn't even tried to bark.

I'm so frustrated. I need this to work, and I need it to work every time. The collar seems to fit poorly, and I'm concerned that this is causing it to move to a position in which it can't read his vibrations properly. The band is a hard plastic material, and because Frank's neck is only about 13-16 inches around, the side with the buckle creates a straight line instead of curving along the side of his neck. Instead of the collar being a circular neck shape, it looks more like a triangle with rounded corners. The fit guide says you should be able to slide a finger between his neck and the collar. At the back and under the correction box I can, but on the side with the buckle, I can almost fit a whole hand in the gap. It corrects him for shaking his head, but only sometimes for screaming. Also, his neck seems red and irritated, but I can't loosen it anymore because it would be too loose.

This morning I called Pet Safe for help. After reviewing everything with the rep, I feel like this collar was intended for dogs with a larger neck. He mentioned that some people have a lot of luck with the plastic band, but on some dogs it seems to just slide around. He also said it is very important that it stay in the correct position or the collar will not work.

Pet Safe makes another collar with a nylon mesh band that I think I'm going to try. I read through the user reviews on Petco's website, and almost everyone had excellent results. There were maybe three who had bad luck. A Samoyed who seemed to be panicking when the collar went off and screaming so much it continued to correct over and over, a Lab who was too stubborn to stop barking, and a Jack Russell whose bark was apparently of such a high pitch it wasn't registering. The other 20 reviews were all very positive and encompassed the full range of dogs, from Shih-tzus to Great Danes.

So we'll see. I'm really disheartened. I need this to work so badly. I did some more research on debarking as well, in case I run out of options. It seems to be pretty highly advocated by people like Sheltie owners and breeders. Shelties apparently love to bark, and one woman mentioned that her dog's bark actually shattered glass. I found a lot of people with positive things to say about it, all of whom had tried every other avenue first with no success. Meanwhile, the sites I find opposing the procedure didn't seem to have very valid arguments to support their case. They called it cruel and inhumane, but couldn't really back up their reasoning, whereas the people in support of it seemed to be very caring and intelligent people trying to do the best thing for both their dogs and themselves. Many of them pointed out that the surgery is less invasive than spay or neutering, and doesn't cause any kind of psychological damage like declawing a cat would.

After watching Frank wear this collar all week, I'm honestly concerned that having 2 metal prongs jamming into his throat 8 hours a day is going to do more damage over the long term than a few holes surgically cut into his vocal chords. Not only is his neck irritated, but he's been coughing and wheezing a lot as well. There have been a couple occasions where he bumped the collar on something like the edge of a table, and spent the next several minutes choking. Riding in the car last night he got it caught on the window and had to be rescued by Soren before he hung himself.

I love my dog so much. I want to do what's best for him, but separation anxiety is such a difficult problem to fix. Still, all I can do is keep trying until something works. I think if this third collar fails, I'm going to make an appointment with my vet to discuss other alternatives. I want to know all my options before I do something drastic.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

29. Shocking Confession

It doesn't sound as though Matt will be getting to work from home afterall. Apparently they're thinking of moving him to another building to support the executives, for which he would need to be present.

This possibility could destroy my summer. I find I am left with very few options in regards to Frank.

Dayboarding. As my boarding kennel is no longer accepting clients, and doesn't sound like they ever will be again, I would have to take him somewhere else. I've checked into boarding facilities all of the city, and all of them run $25-30 a day. A DAY! The low end of the scale would cost about $500 a month. Matt would not be able to quit his pizza delivery job because my dog's boarding would cost almost as much as it would for me to own a horse and board it. Not quite...but almost. Worse, the only ones who allow early morning drop off before 7am charge an extra fee. So boarding can either cost me more than $500 a month, or I can alter my work schedule to rush hour times, costing me just as much or more in parking, and adding an additional 2 hours commute to my day.

Debark my dog, so he can finally be crated at home. I find this option to be neither humane nor nor pleasant for either of us. But it would stop his barking immediately. It might even be cheaper than boarding him all summer, I don't know. It's a risky procedure in which a dog may regain the use of his bark after several years, or could choke to death on scar tissue that builds up over time. While it stops the sound of the bark, the dog still tries, making a sound much like Jabba the Hut would if he contracted emphyzema.

Hire a trainer. This is the weakest of my options. Expensive, at around $100-120 an hour. Not guaranteed to work. Time consuming. Further, I've done extensive research on techniques, and have tried to desensitive Frank myself. My dog is a stubborn and disrespectful little beastie. My attempts to correct the issue myself, using the same techniques that an overpriced trainer would have failed. I feel that I am an experienced dog owner, and while a trainer would certainly be more efficient, I sincerely doubt they'll be trying anything I haven't already. I don't have time for this.

Find Frank a new home. I am clearly in possession of an animal who needs a lifestyle I cannot provide to be happy. The best situation for him would be one in which he had a large yard or property to run and chase things on, and an owner who was home most of the time.
I love my dog, and I'll die before I give him up.

Purchase a corrective training device, such as a shock collar. I have tried these before on Ein, and found them to be inhumane and traumatizing. But Frank is strong willed, and I have run out of options. So I did, on Friday. The shock scares him to pieces, and I feel terrible because it looks like it hurts. But it's working. He started to get the idea after a few shocks. I have never seen him so quiet in the car. He is panic-stricken and confused, but he's quiet.
This could be the answer...

The first collar of the weekend was working perfectly, until it quit correcting him at all on the second day. After looking up reviews, Matt determined I bought a bad brand/model/whatever, and that other people complained of the same. Sunday we went back to Petsmart and exchanged for a cheaper, but supposedly better quality collar. It's battery operated rather than rechargeable, and the battery life is supposed to be 3-6 months. It has a harder plastic band instead of flexible mesh, which I doubt is terribly comfortable, but appears to keep the collar from sliding around to the side where it can't read his vocal vibrations.

It's been 2 really successful days, and I'm starting to hope. I bought a tape recorder and plan to test him crated at home alone for short periods, leading up to a few hours over the weekend. If this works, I could be crating Frank at home while I go to work as early as next week.
Like a regular person, with a regular dog...

I didn't believe this was a valid option before, but it turns out I may have been wrong. He's responding to the corrections, he's learning to keep calm, and I for the first time in 2 years, I may be able to leave my house and not have to worry what I'm going to do with Frank.

I don't dare hold my breath for fear of disappointment, but it's working...