Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Tail for the New Year: In Memory of Mugsy

The clock strikes twelve, like it does the other 364 days a year, yet on this night, this monotonous act carries such weight. Resolutions. Promises. Plans. Dreams. A clean slate. An opportunity for change, happiness, pursuit of passions and fulfillment of goals.

For us, at Hungry Dog Heaven, the birth of a new year provides us a chance to offer love and hope to our four-legged friends struggling through the long, cold nights of winter. Those four-legged friends aching for a warm home, a big heart and the promise of security.

As Hungry Dog Heaven celebrates the ten year anniversary (!!!) of our very first batch of cookies, we want to honor those who have shared our love and compassion for animals. Friends like Missy and John, who have been tireless advocates for displaced pets, in particular those mistreated and abandoned due to the perpetual problem of breed discrimination. Friends we have never met in person, yet have been so very fortunate to have in our canine-loving circle. In 2009, when my "brother", Chaos (a 150+ lb. Cane Corso), injured his leg and accumulated thousands of dollars of medical expenses, it was Missy that rallied a virtual community to make generous contributions to my family. Their compassion continues to remind me of the goodness of people.

On Christmas, when we were surrounded by the warmth of our family (two and four-legged alike), Missy and John were at the emergency vet making the most difficult decision a pet parent ever has to make. A day for joy and celebration, for this family, will always carry with it the memory of Mugsy's final moments and the deep sadness and emptiness that follows.
We want to start the new year by honoring Mugsy, and his family.

Hungry Dog Heaven is pleased to debut the "In Memory of Mugsy" treat. Each bag has been specially priced to include a $1 dollar donation to Liberty Humane Society (serving Jersey City and Hoboken, NJ). In addition, during the month of January, Hungry Dog Heaven will donate an additional $1 per bag (plus our standard 3% charitable donation). If you would like to donate more, we've made it easy for you, too!

Mugsy's Tail
as told by his parents

Mugsy was supposed to be a cute pocketbook dog, but that idea didn’t last too long. At the local shelter, where Mugsy was dropped off that very day back in 2003, he was a tiny, blue eyed, five-week-old being fed formula from a bottle. The shelter staff estimated that he would grow to be maybe 35 pounds. How could I resist?

I couldn’t! As John stayed at the shelter, I ran to the nearest ATM to get the cash I needed to take Mugsy home. Being bowled over by puppy breath, it was SO incredibly easy to fall in love with Mugsy but he was not always easy to live with. Separated from his mother at five weeks, there were other details of his short life we would never know – but we saw evidence of something traumatic when his fear aggression began to take shape.

Our first vet had no bedside manner, did not greet Mugsy appropriately and immediately expressed his anal glands…at which point Mugsy turned into Cujo. Office visits were never the same after that – after struggling to muzzle him and failing, sprawled on the floor of the examining room, John and I were told they would not enter the room and would no longer treat Mugsy. Um, “Thanks.”

We were leaving on a plane in a few short hours headed for London and Paris. That office visit put a damper on the vacation where we left as a dating couple and came back engaged – but came back encouraged when John found a vet that was willing to bend over backwards to treat Mugsy and help us.

We were both 100% devoted to Mugsy and committed to working with him. There were nights I cried because he was so difficult; when he chewed the sofa or the entire club size package of toilet paper; what neighbor did he lunge at and cause one of us to fall and get dragged, etc. But, we didn’t give up.

We drove 30 minutes to training classes for 4 months. We saw a behaviorist, who gave us no encouragement, but still we moved forward, with Mugsy on his gentle leader at our side. Call us crazy, but we brought home another rescue, Maddie, even after we were told Mugsy should be in a single pet home. For weeks we would sit in the kitchen, each with a dog on a leash, letting them sniff each other, pull apart, interact and pull apart. We praised heavily, we treated heavily and all along Maddie was just clueless girl. “Come on! how could he not love me?”

And you know what? Mugsy did come around! It took a long time with tons of effort and doubts that it might not work…but we never gave up on him. I recall our immense sense of pride when both dogs chewed their treats on the same dog bed at the same time!

Once we discovered we were expecting our first child, we were flooded with concerned family, friends and co-workers suggesting that maybe it was time to let Mugsy go. What would he do to the baby? Why risk it?

All we could think was they were crazy. We read up on what you should do – like bringing home the baby hat for the dogs to sniff...they sniffed and then found their spot on the bed for the night. When we did come home, what happened? Mugsy (at 80 pounds) and Maddie just started at Brendan in awe. When he cried, they jumped. When Maddie would be getting out of hand with her clumsiness, Mugsy would chase her away from Brendan. Mugsy shocked us when one night he placed his favorite pull-toy on Brendan while he was sleeping…Mugsy had found his boy! From then on Mugsy would lick, lick, lick Brendan’s hands and feet – we encouraged it. After Brendan’s first time eating baby cereral, Mugsy was there to clean up his face with kisses. Weekend mornings were filled with everyone cuddling in the bed while Brendan lifted his feet for Mugsy to lick. Then he would explode into deep belly laughs.

By the time we brought home our second son, Connor, Mugsy was a pro! He was a lucky dog to not only have one boy to love him but TWO! Right off the bat Mugsy showered Connor with kisses, checked on him when he cried and snuggled for naps with him on the sofa…what a full life we had.

On Christmas Eve, I actually had to chase Mugsy from trying to get into the boppy with Connor! Well it wasn’t much of a chase - it was a simple command of ‘off”. Mugsy just wanted to snuggle. How I wished we let him snuggle; little did we know that was the last night Mugsy would snuggle with any of us.

Mugsy was a little “off” the week before, but only for a day and then he was back to being his old self. We just thought that getting close to 8 years old was starting to slow him down some. As we prepared to set out for the holiday with family, John returned from the walk with Mugsy dragging his feet (knuckling) with very labored breathing. Once in the house, Musgy collapsed, legs splayed with a look of fear in his eyes.

Brendan teetered over, stepped on Mugsy’s tail, then gave him some big hard pets that Mugsy loved. I coaxed Mugsy into the kitchen with a Hungry Dog Heaven cookie (Mugsy’s favorite), since they just arrived the day before and then were open and within reach. That was Mugsy’s last meal.

What chaos our house was in a few short moments! But before I knew it, I was behind the wheel of my cousin’s truck driving Mugsy to the emergency vet, where I had convinced myself he would stay over night for some fluke thing and he would get better. There was no other option in my mind.

Mugsy, our long legged 80 pound pit-bull-mix, with fear aggression, who was the sweetest dog if you knew him, was put to rest while John and I cradled him and told him what a wonderful dog he was and how we loved him.

Upon initial examination Mugsy had an elevated heart rate, a low temperature and pale gums. We were told he must be bleeding internally. We consented to x-rays and could hear our weak pooch giving them a hard time through the wall, but then it got quiet and the vet came back. In addition to the x-ray that showed a massive tumor on Mugsy’s spleen, she had a huge syringe filled with blood that was from Mugsy’s abdominal cavity. Everything pointed to a splenic tumor that was most likely hemangiosarcoma (an aggressive cancer). Even with it removed and chemotherapy, Mugsy would have been looking at maybe 6 more months. We were not comforted when the vet explained that there was nothing we missed - that we could not have changed the point we were currently at.

Most likely, Mugsy had a bleed a week before and it stopped and he returned to normal. But we only had two choices Christmas Day: 1) stop his suffering now; or 2) have him transported to another hospital for an emergency surgery to have the spleen removed. But there were no guarantees that Mugsy was even strong enough for that. So with tears streaming down our faces we made the decision to end Mugsy’s suffering and to allow him to pass with dignity, in our arms on Christmas Day 2010.

Mugsy was not easy-going. He was high-strung, fear-aggressive, and automatically black- listed because he was part bully-breed. He made vacation planning and company in our home a challenge and sometimes downright impossible. With our love and devotion he became the kindest and gentlest dog around our two sons. He never once tried to eat them (LOL), and even accepted the clumsy love of an almost -two -year old boy as he was dying. He did not ‘lock his jaws’ and maul us…he just stole our hearts forever and will always be our ‘gentle giant’.

The reality is that Mugsy was taken from our family too early. But, we would like turn our sorrow into an opportunity to spread the message that having a child doesn’t mean you have to give up your dog. In fact, even with Mugsy’s fear of strangers, he was able to prove that is not the case. All it takes is patience, love and supervision and you too can have a loving family that can include a family dog.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Dog Mama Guilt

I’ve attempted to write this blog entry for a long time.

There are a million reasons why so much time has passed, but the biggest reason is that two and a half years ago, my world was turned upside down. On March 30, 2008, I welcomed Lincoln, my first two-legged child into my family.

I had never imagined the impact two little feet could have on my world. Hours previously spent cuddling on the floor with Jeter and Aardvark were now spent feeding, changing, cuddling and entertaining Link. By the time he went to bed, after working a full-time job and taking care of a baby, I was exhausted.

But, the reality is that what has really kept me from writing this entry has not been Lincoln, but the Dog-Mama guilt I’ve experienced since his birth. Before he was born, I recall specifically saying (and feeling!), “I just can’t imagine loving anyone more than I love these dogs”. Then…BAM! My world was rocked by the power of the love I felt for my first biological child. It was overwhelming and confusing. Like my love for our dogs, it was unconditional, but it was clear from the beginning that this love was just different.

The thing is, I had been a “dog person” and a “dog mama” for a very long time. The new addition of “biological mama” to my identity had thrown me for a loop. But…with time, I’ve realized that the short break from paying the dogs my undivided attention has been paid-back (and then some) as our son has grown into an independent, dog-loving toddler! He, like many children, is drawn to his older siblings. Now, at two and a half he throws the ball for them, feeds them dinner and loves to help take them outside. He hugs them, kisses them and shows little regard for dog hair or drool (thankfully!).

Earlier this summer, we ventured off on our first family vacation since Lincoln was born. We swam, canoed and enjoyed the sound of crickets and frogs lulling us to sleep. Link was thrilled to explore a new world with the dogs and every memory we created was a reminder that, although our life had changed, it was better and richer then ever before. We get to share our love for our dogs with our son!

The best mama-moments, however, come right before Link heads off to bed. Part of his bedtime routine includes the following one-sided conversation:

“Love you, Jeter. Love you Aardvark.”

“You guys are my best friends!”

“Protect us!”

“Get good rest!”

“Okay guys, love you! ‘Night!”

“Oh, sleep tight!”

Then, two tiny little toddler feet head off to bed and my heart soars.

Who is Hungry Dog Heaven?

Beyond all else, we are “dog people”! Pictures of our dogs adorn our desks at work. Stories of our dogs often make their way into conversation, usually when our friends and family are sharing tales of their own biological children.

We adjust our lives, our homes and our schedules to care for our four-legged family members. We wipe drool from their jowls and concede to the fact that we may never have “dog-hair-free” clothes. We vacuum more than the average family (although still not as often as we could).

We value the warmth and love dogs bring to our lives. We laugh at the way they wag their tails and lick their chops. We take pictures of them sleeping. We are in awe of their beauty and their character. Loyal. Humorous. Perceptive. Courageous.

We take our relationships with dogs seriously and consider them parts of the family. We care for them and respect them. We could not imagine our lives, our world, without dogs.

For all of these reasons, Hungry Dog Heaven strives to create a world where dogs, and their needs, are paramount. Simply stated, we create healthy homemade treats for dogs. Each treat is made from human-quality ingredients, baked from the same products found in the grocery store. If the quality of an ingredient isn’t good enough for us, it isn’t a part of our product.

Hungry Dog Heaven goes beyond caring for the individual dog and hopes to contribute to a community of conscientious canine parents dedicated to enhancing the health and lives of all dogs. By donating a portion of each purchase to local animal rescue organizations, we hope to help all dogs find the love and comfort of the life they deserve – a dog’s life.

“If there are no dogs in heaven, when I die I want to go where they went.”
– Wil Rogers

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Year without Moose Chop

It’s been a year since Moose left us. In a lot of ways, it hardly seems like that much time could have possibly gone by. The pain is still so real and the emptiness almost tangible.

A year without cuddle trains. A year without searching for the right sized sweater to keep his little body warm. A year without the little man that holds such a big part of my heart.

When I look back on the blog I wrote a year ago, I can still feel the weight of the day and clearly remember the dark days that followed. I am so thankful though, that Jay and I created silly stories about Moose because they have defintely helped to keep his spirit alive.

Moose was an author. When he passed, he was in the process of writing the story of his 952nd year (for the 952nd time). Moose was the pilot of his own plane. When his engine was in for repair, the Ass would take him on his daily delivery route. He was a hunter that ate marsupials. Moose is/was a model. Moose was 952 big and small AND 952 short and tall.

I love and miss him 952.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

It’s a Moose Time of Year

This time of year causes most of us to reflect on our blessings, as well as our sorrows. For me, this time of year will forever be connected to Moose Chop. I wrote the following, almost a year ago, when we lost Moose. It is his story and a huge part of my life.

The Story of Moose Chop

Written January 14, 2007

Sometimes, the best things happen when you’re not looking for them or trying to make them happen. Sometimes, you and your (then) boyfriend are just driving down a South Jersey road talking about your best friends’ baby (whom you had just visited for the first time in the hospital) and you’re talking about life and friendship and…

Jay: “Oh my God!”
Me: “Is that a bunny rabbit?”
Jay: “I don’t know – I think it’s a dog!”
Me: “Really? Okay – I’m turning around!”
Jay: “Hey there, little girl, come here!”

It was December and Moose had been walking in the rain on a dark country road when we came along. No collar. Only a few teeth. Very skinny. HUGE tesitcles – definitely not a girl!

When Jay opened the door to my car, Moose jumped right in his lap like he had been waiting for us. We took him to my parents’ house, where my mom quickly fell in love. I remember the conversations.

Mom: “Oh – he looks so much like Pickles!”

The truth was that he looked nothing like Pickles (my childhood dog), but my mom had gotten so accustomed to seeing me with big dogs (Charlie and Aardvark), that Moose seemed to resemble all little dogs at that point.

Me: “I really don’t have any business adopting another dog”

Jay: “I don’t know… maybe he could stay with me. I’d have to talk to Bo and Gideon (roommates), but…”

Moose spent the weekend with us (at Jay’s), but on Monday, we did the responsible thing and called all of the shelters in South Jersey. Nobody had called looking for the little guy and given his health and age, they probably weren’t going to call. Secretly, we were hoping this was the case.

This is how Moose became part of the family. We took him to the vet, where Jay got his first chart as a “pet parent”. He was presumed to be about 10 years old. He had Lyme’s Disease, bad teeth and those huge testicles. We took care of him.

He lived with Jay in Highland Park, where he kindly slept on all of Jay’s papers as he studied for his qualifying exam. He stole salads and cheeseburgers off of his desk. He peed on me in dog parks, barked at the alarm clock and chased little red balls through the backyard.

He moved to the new house, where he was definitely King of the Castle. He rode around in the big truck like he was a God. He had poise and personality and a “tough guy” demeanor. He was our Moose Chop.

Through the years, things changed, the family grew. At one time, it was just Jay and Moose living in our house. Then came Jeter. Then came the Mama and Charlie and Aardvark. The changes didn’t seem to bother Moose.

He tried to get in my suitcase when I left for business trips. He became best friends with the Ass (a small, ceramic donkey statue in our yard c/o Grandma’ Marie and Grandpop George). He suffered through some bad hair cuts. Jay took him “swimming”. He slept on the couch, the chair, the bed, his bed(s), Charlie’s bed, etc. He ruled the roost.

When you love someone, you take care of them. Sometimes, you don’t even see or realize all you’ve done for them – it’s not really a conscious decision because it’s instinctual. Moose is having digestive problems? Okay, let’s get that low residue prescription food from the vet. Moose is having eye problems? We need more Optimune. Moose is drinking a lot – let’s put out two water bowls. Moose is having kidney problems? Pick up some of that other prescription food from the vet. “Oh – and pick up some more paper towels from the supermarket, we’re gonna’ have our fair share of pee to clean up!”

I appreciate all of the people who say that we are great parents. It feels wonderful to be recognized as such, but the reality is that our dogs are our children. If my child had allergies, I would treat them. If she had kidney disease, I would treat it. Our dogs are no different. When I take them into my house and assure them that they will be cared for, there is no limit to that. The deal does not say, “I will care for you until you become too big of an inconvenience, or you cost too much money”. The commitment is as strong as my love – endless.

So… when you have an old dog, you continue to follow-through with that commitment. When you get home from work, you will probably have to clean up a mess. You may have 5 different kinds of prescription food around to meet his appetite and prescriptive needs at any given time. You feed him with a syringe; you help him get out of corners and your rearrange your house, your life, to meet his new needs.

The difficulty comes in knowing, or understanding, when you have done all you can do. The bargaining begins, “If you eat this piece of pizza, I will buy you an entire pizza every day for the rest of your life”. The questions, “Doesn’t he know how much we love him?” The fear, “What if he is in pain?” The reality, “It’s his time”.

Moose left us yesterday. He left with strength, and courage and dignity. He was in our arms, surrounded by love.

Our house is empty without the pitter-patter of his tiny little Moose-feet. Our hearts are heavy. Aardvark knew when we left in the morning. He cried and cried when we were leaving. When we returned home, he went straight to Moose’s bed. He searched the whole house for his little buddy. It broke my heart.

We are all heartbroken. Moose’s empty beds. His food bowls. His collar. His smell. The empty spot between Jay and I in the bed, where Moose used to get on the Cuddle Train. Right now, these things are painful reminders of our loss. In time, they will serve to help us dive deep into memories and stories of Moose – the stories that will keep his spirit alive for the rest of our days.

Jay has said this many times, and he is right, “Four years just isn’t enough”. Finding Moose was one of the best things that happened to us. We just wish we had more time to spend together. More time for kisses, and cuddles, family vacations, etc. Just more time.

I know that Charlie is with him, showing him the ropes at the Rainbow Bridge, where Moose is running and playing – full of a youth that we never experienced with him. He can see, and hear and play! It comforts me to think of this.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Barkery Book Review: Walking in Circles before Lying Down by Merrill Markoe

The dogs of Hungry Dog Heaven have distinct voices and doganalities. It’s not uncommon for the barkery staff to have entire conversations with each other – two-legged and four-legged alike. The dogs give Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards, signed by each dog with their own unique word selection, spelling and handwriting.

I know we’re not alone. We may be in the minority of people who admit that our dogs have identifiable voices, but I am quite sure that there are others out there that have such a deep connection with their pets that they have established their own means of communication.

“Walking in Circles before Lying Down” is the perfect book for us! Dawn Tarnauer, the book’s protagonist, isn’t having an easy string of luck. In her mid-thirties, she’s been divorced twice and is trying to put her life together with little help from her self-indulgent family members.

When Dawn starts to question her own instincts for love and life, Chuck, her adopted pit-bull mix, begins to offer his own audible canine wisdom. Chuck, despite all of his insight and advice however, is struggling with his own insecurities – feelings of jealousy towards Dawn’s lingering love for her previous dog, Swentzle. Through the story, Chuck and Dawn come to better understand each other as they offer their own thoughts on love, life and happiness.

In the following passage, Chuck offers a simple solution to help brighten Dawn’s spirits.

“Here, throw this,” he [Chuck] said. “It’ll make you feel better.”

I [Dawn] sat still, chilled to my core.

“No, really,” he went on. “Once you get into it, it’s all you can think about. Look, I know you don’t trust my judgment because I eat cat poop. Someday I’ll explain that to you. But right now do what I say. Just pick up the ball and throw it.”

So I did.

For any of us that have had conversations with our four-legged companions, this book will make you laugh and cry at Chuck’s perceptions and honest simplicity. This book is a MUST READ for all fellow dog lovers.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Charlie Malcolm: My Muse

In the movies, there are often moments when the sun shines down from the heavens, the angels sing and the life of the protagonist is forever changed. In real life, there are these moments, too – only they are usually not accompanied by harps or a parting of the clouds. Sometimes, you don’t even know the moment is happening until quite some time later, when you look back and say, “THAT was a moment/person/event that changed my life!”

In my life, there have been a few clearly defining moments and incredibly influential people, but this entry is dedicated to only one: Charlie Malcolm.

When I adopted Charlie as a Sophomore in college, I knew two things: 1) I wanted to provide a home to a dog in need and 2) I wanted a big dog to follow me around and cuddle with me in bed. Charlie gave me so much more and I will be forever grateful.

Charlie was my first baby. For years, he and I were a two-man team. Charlie and Mama. Mama and Charlie. We moved from apartment to apartment and lived with a variety of roommates (even a few cats!), but it didn’t matter where we lived, as long as we had eachother.

When Charlie started losing his fur, we began our cycle of frequently-scheduled vet visits and trips to specialists. Diagnosis: underactive thyroid and allergies. Treatment: pills every day for the rest of his life and high-quality dog food/treats.

From this, Hungry Dog Heaven – A Dog Barkery was born. In exchange for his unyielding loyalty and love, it seemed only fair that I find a way to treat my boy to healthy, homemade cookies.

Years later and a slew of other health problems encountered, Charlie left us for the Rainbow Bridge. It was 2005 and it had been years since we first met and the thought of life without Charlie was unbearable. But… with time, I gained clarity and have come to realize that Charlie is very much alive and with us.

Every cookie, cake, pupcake and specialty item we bake is made in Charlie’s honor. Without Charlie, the barkery may never have been born. Hungry Dog Heaven is a special place because it has been created out of the greatest love – love for Charlie and for all dogs.