Category Archives: Animal House

Dog Days

After six long months (for reasons entirely of our own doing), our wee family is finally intact again – we’ve got our dog back!

All things as they should be.

Moving your pet internationally is not for the faint of heart, or the thin of wallet! Oy. The dog’s new nickname is Million Dollar Baby.

Even with the elimination of quarantine for dogs entering the UK from Canada, it’s still a somewhat complicated process to pack up your pet and send them over.

The DEFRA site is a useful guide. And since Sasha was traveling unaccompanied (i.e. not on the same flight as us) we also used the services of Worldwide Animal Travel, who were incredibly helpful getting us organized on both ends so Sasha had the smoothest journey possible.

So what all is involved? First and foremost, your dog must be microchipped, with a chip that’s readable by an ISO scanner. Those are NOT the standard microchips used in North America, so ensure you’ve asked for an ISO chip specifically from your vet.

Once your dog’s been microchipped, it’ll need an updated rabies vaccination (whether or not one is due at that time). You’ll also need to include the original vaccination certificate (with the original label for the rabies vaccine dose), and a copy of your microchip registration certificate with your import paperwork.

Then you need to find an appropriate crate. It must be airline approved and big enough that your pet can turn around freely inside, lie down easily, and when sitting or standing naturally, has 2″ of clearance above the top of its head. Of course Sasha’s existing crate (which was the biggest one we could get at the time) was too small.

This is where the “thin of wallet” part comes in. For our long, tall dog, we had to upgrade to the “Giant” crate, running about $300. Then your cargo rate is charged based entirely on your crate’s dimensions (not weight). So we paid about $2500 just for Sasha’s flight (never mind any of the pre-post flight vet appointments, delivery, etc.).

It’s a good thing she’s cute!

Within 5 days of departure, it’s time for a final vet-check and tapeworm vaccination. Then it’s go-time.

Animals fly in a pressurized cargo area of the plane. There are generally restrictions on when animals may travel cargo over the shipping-heavy Christmas season, and through certain destinations in the hottest and coldest weather, since not all cargo areas are temperature-controlled.

I was a little worried about how our old, crate-hating dog would fare, but when we picked her up, Sasha was better than I’d expected. She was happy, alert, and thrilled to see us.

Port of Entry. #latergram

The people at the Animal Reception Centre were fantastic. I am convinced this is the secret heart of the airport; where all the goodwill and kindness we wished were involved with flying actually lives. Also, it is the only spot at the airport with free parking.

Upon arrival pets are cleared by customs, then unboxed, fed, and watered. At the ARC they are given another vet inspection and microchip verification, as well as a check of all their paperwork. This can take a few hours, depending on how busy they are.

Our contacts at Worldwide Animal Travel gave us the best tip of all when they said to call ahead that morning and see how long it might take for Sasha to clear. We didn’t wait more than 20 minutes to get her – though if you do end up waiting, their waiting area is actually quite nice!

We did hit a small snag trying to get our giant crate home – it wouldn’t fit in our car! So we had to arrange for a courier to pick it up and deliver it to us a few days later. Yet another thing to keep in mind if you ever want to fly your big dog anywhere!

But for all the bureaucracy, expense, and crate-drama – it was worth it! We may not have furniture yet (another story for another day), but this house already feels like more of a home with the big, hairy doofus off chasing squirrels in her sleep in the corner.

Jetlag. #latergram


The reality of hanging out with an infant all day is that not much happens worth blogging about. But we have had some progress on a few things I mentioned recently, so for those who’re interested, here’s how life is shaking out these days:

The Dog

We had a session with a trainer who confirmed what we suspected – we have a really great dog who had a really bad day. And who is suffering from a distinct lack of leadership. Two distracted humans does not a quality dog-owner make, so we’ve been working hard on giving her clear directions, a “job” to do, and acting more like leaders who are capable of “protecting the pack” so she doesn’t feel she has to.

She also didn’t have a good command for getting out of an uncomfortable (to her) situation, so we’re working on something called “This Way,” which is basically a cue for us to give her so we can make an about-face and walk away from whatever is stressing her out, be it a rude dog or a loud noise or just a chaotic environment. So far it’s all going quite well. Sasha hasn’t had an aggressive moment since, and we’re well on our way to having a much less neurotic dog around.

The House

We are not moving. We are, in fact, not doing anything. We are sticking our heads in the sand for at least a year and just enjoying the place we have now, which is, a la Goldilocks, just right. Well, it’s not quite just right – the outdoor space is still pretty barren and uninspiring, so we’re going to attempt to remedy that so we can enjoy it through the end of this summer and whatever nice weather Spring/Summer/Fall 2012 brings us.

The biggest factor in the decision was the fact that we really love the neighbourhood we’re in. The amenities, parks, local shops, community centers and activities are pretty much perfect, and we make good use of them on a regular basis. We’d love to stay exactly where we are, but local prices in the 8 block radius around here are insanely overvalued, and with the Westside teardown market being what it is, finding something bigger than 2 bedrooms that’s not $1.5m and/or falling down is actually really tough.

So we’re holding tight and waiting until we really are out of space before doing anything.

The Trip

I didn’t end up posting much about the logistics of our trip to DC and Montreal, but traveling with Isaac went really well. He was an absolute charmer, and really calm and quiet on the flights. He didn’t sleep particularly well at night while we were away, but made up for it with an abundance of stroller & ergo naps while we were out and about.

We took a lot more luggage than we’re accustomed to when traveling alone (we generally fly with 1 or 2 very small carry-on bags each), but I think still managed to fly pretty light:

  • 1 medium-sized suitcase for Neil and I
  • 1 small duffle bag for Isaac (that straps onto the suitcase)
  • 1 stroller, checked in a travel bag (about the size of a large suitcase), along with a pop-up travel bed for Isaac and a couple extra baby blankets, etc.
  • 1 diaper bag (carried on)
  • 1 backpack with the computer/camera/usual carry-on comforts for Neil and I
  • This setup meant we each had one wheeled thing to pull, one back/shoulder bag, and one of us carried Isaac in the Ergo. We navigated airports, train stations, rental cars, buses and taxis easily.

    In fact, the one packing fail we had was packing for me! I totally misjudged the weather, what I’d decide to wear on a day-to-day basis, and what would make most sense for exploring and nursing on the go as well as how much I’d be spit-up and spilled upon. I only wore about half the clothes I brought, which is really quite bad compared to my usual efficient packing.

    Excitingly, we get a do-over next month as we’ve just booked tickets to Europe for September. I feel a tiny bit more nervous about this one, mostly because we don’t have our accommodations and intra-European transport all planned and booked yet, but it should be pretty fun.

    And if you have suggestions for baby-friendly things to do in Amsterdam, Barcelona and anything between the two (along with a way to traverse that – we are torn between driving and training), and a day or two in London near Gatwick, drop a comment.

    Otherwise, that’s pretty much it for us. It may sound like a lot, but in reality, we mostly do a lot of hanging around:

    Barking Mad

    I’m not sure exactly when, how or why it happened, but we suddenly find ourselves in possession of one Aggressive Dog.

    Yes, it’s the same dog we’ve always had, except Sasha has decided to stop being completely submissive and start being mean.

    So far it’s only to other dogs, but considering how completely docile she’s been up until now, it’s a worrying trend.

    I thought it was the other dog’s fault at the bank a couple days ago (it was obviously curling back its lips at her), but now I’m not sure she didn’t start things somehow.

    And it seemed like a coincidence at the dog beach yesterday, when she snarled at the other dog who trotted by. I thought it was about the stick she had recently abandoned, even though she’s never been protective of toys before. She regularly has her balls stolen at the dog park.

    But it became impossible to ignore when we were walking home and a happy dog came up to say hi. Everything was going normally, until the other happy dog looked at me for acknowledgement and maybe an ear scratch, and Sasha decided to growl and lunge, nipping at its hindquarters.

    The only thing I can think of is that Sasha is a) awfully jealous of the attention shift from her to Isaac, and not interested in letting any other dogs muscle in on the limited time she gets from her people or b) suddenly convinced Isaac and I need protecting from any strange dogs.

    I haven’t taken her out without Isaac, so I have no idea if he’s truly part of the equation or not, but in the meantime, it’s unacceptable behaviour and I’m not sure what to do about it (short of getting a muzzle, mostly as a visual sign to other dog owners that they should give us a wide berth while we sort things out).

    Anyone have experience with a usually sweet but suddenly very cranky dog? Dog behaviour changes post-baby? Recommendations for trainers to help us work things out and get my sweet, silly, totally safe dog back?

    Poor Sweet Sasha, in happier (for her) child-free times


    We got Agnes the lamb from a livestock auction. A fairly typical one, from what I can tell after reading up on them.

    It was the saddest place I’ve ever been.

    I am not generally one to be overly sentimental about animals. I’ve had my share of pets die. I eat animals regularly. I was in 4H as a kid and had lots of farming friends. Lots of family friends are hunters and I spent my high-school years living in a mostly rural area.

    But I still believe we owe it to animals to treat them humanely, with respect, and like the intelligent, feeling creatures they are. Whether they are destined to live out their years in our yards, or end their lives on our walls or dinner plates.

    This auction made it clear that many people do not consider it their responsibility to treat their animals even as well as they treat their cars.

    When we started down the “let’s raise our own meat” road, we originally went to the auction looking for pigs. The pigs there were all slaugher-house rejects. And if you have read anything in the last few years about the conditions on factory farms, you should realize it takes a LOT for an animal to be rejected from a commercial feedlot processing farm.

    At least half of the pigs had hernias growing out of their bellies the size of their heads. About a third had open sores on their hides. Most of these were the size of a large coin, but one was about 5 inches across. All the sores were caked with dirt and shit. A few of the pigs were lame, and had just enough oomph to be able to drag themselves into the barns, ring, and back again (if an animal can’t move under its own power, it must be put down, as that’s a risk indicator for brain disease).

    One buyer was using the pre-auction viewing time to check out the pigs, and was viciously kicking them to get them to move around so he could see all sides of them. A pig doesn’t need more than a solid nudge with a boot or a firm slap on the hide to get up and get going.

    Did you know that pigs are among the most intelligent mammals on the planet? They fall between dolphins and dogs. And these 20-ish pigs were hurt, sick and scared.

    Most of them went for under $50/head to discount butchers & processors. Do you know where your bacon comes from? Do you buy it based on price per pound? Think about it.

    But the pigs weren’t the worst thing I saw that day.

    That special honor goes to one very sad looking jersey cow.

    She was literally skin and bone. She had sores on her hip bones where the skin had rubbed away because of lack of padding. I could count every. single. rib. in glaring detail. Her over-used udder dragged on the ground, where she occasionally stepped on it.

    This does not happen to an animal overnight.

    I don’t know the history of the person who owned her and let her get to that state. But I do believe it’s the responsibility of any animal owner to either pass that animal on or end its life before it gets to that state. Even if she were destined to go to the glue factory anyhow, waiting that long for it to get that bad before dumping (because that’s what it is, dumping) her at the auction is just cruel.

    We ended up with our lamb, because the young sheep and goats all actually looked pretty good. It’s definitely a reality of farm life that sometimes your animals breed more young than you have space for. Especially if you’re running a dairy operation and only have the need or space for one or two males on your farm. And in reality, sometimes animals do need to go to the glue factory. They are old, and now a financial liability. The auction serves a purpose.

    But the upcoming end of an animal’s life should NOT be an excuse to starve, abuse, ignore or otherwise mistreat it.

    And the auction houses do have highly visible signs stating that bringing obviously abused and/or neglected animals to auction is an offense under the animal cruelty act and will be reported to and potentially investigated and prosecuted by the SPCA.

    Problem is, the auction fills such a need in a world where we care less about the welfare of our food animals than almost anything else, that nobody involved in the system reports the violations, because that would mean this convenient dumping ground would go away.

    When economic times are tough, it’s easy to say “I can’t afford all this organic/biodynamic/ethically-raised meat” and that’s a valid point. But that doesn’t mean it’s an excuse to buy the cheap stuff if this is how it’s being treated on its way to your plate.

    If you wouldn’t stand by idly and watch an animal starve, or go up and kick the legs out from under a lame pig with as little care as you’d kick the tires on a car, or punch your dog in the face (who isn’t even as smart as a pig), then why do you think it’s okay to eat meat from animals who’ve had exactly that done to them in the name of “cost savings.”

    Learn to love a lentil, and save up for the happy steak. Please. For the jersey cow.

    Baa Baa tasty sheep

    Remember Agnes?

    We’ve finally come full-circle and are taking her back to the mainland from whence she came.

    This time in little pieces!

    Agnes the lamb. Magically delicious!

    After a summer of mowing my in-laws’ lawn with her flock-mates, she headed off to the slaughter house and came back as about 55 pounds of meat. We cooked up a roast last night, she’s DELICIOUS!

    Because I felt like death through pretty much the entirety of Agnes’ growing season, the initial drop-off was the only time I met her. I never did see Gloria and Miserere while they were alive.

    Agnes was probably about 1.5 months old when we got her. Most likely recently weaned, since she had no idea what to do about the first bucket of grain she got when the hot sun meant the sheep ran out of an adequate supply of grass. By all accounts, the sheep were almost entirely pleasant, excellent groundskeepers, and remarkably easy to get into the truck for their final trip. They put the “laughter” in “slaughter!”

    Our start-up costs were not insignificant (about $1000 for the pen, yard, electric fence and sundry other small supplies & feed). But the lambs themselves were about $150 each. Plus a processing fee. They ate primarily grass, so growing costs were almost nil. Aside from any repairs needed to the plywood roof over the winter, and some extra electric fencing this summer’s experience showed would be nice to have, next year’s costs will only be the sheep.

    Looking at the current grocery rates, BC Lamb is going for anywhere from $27/lb for a rack of lamb down to $4.50/lb for a shoulder roast.

    Our lamb ended up costing $2.75/lb plus the cutting fee (about $0.50/lb if I recall correctly). We’ve got roasts, racks, shanks, stew, bones for stock and even some offal for the dog. And if the roast we had last night is any indication, we’re in for a winter of amazingly tasty meals.

    We also have the added benefit of knowing most of our lamb’s history, what she was fed, and that she lived a perfectly lamby life, eating grass and cavorting in a pasture with other sheep.

    My only regret is that we don’t have a better idea of her origin (we don’t actually even know what her breed really is) and her earliest days. Our auction experience was pretty disturbing (another post, coming soon), and I’d hesitate to purchase animals from that particular auction house again. Sadly, most literature I’ve read on the livestock industry and its seedy underbelly claims that our experience was closer to the rule than the exception.

    But! On the bright side, we do have a freezer full of lamb that lived happily and lambily for the majority of her life.

    Now, who wants to come for dinner?

    Project “Lamb of God”

    Now that we’re not going anywhere, we’ve picked right back up on our micro-farming project.

    You may remember posts from last summer and this past spring on our construction efforts on building the pig shelter and fencing in the yard. Well, they’re finally being put to use!

    Except, we’ve gone from pigs to sheep!

    Between Neil and I thinking we were moving, then my in-laws’ phone going down for a week or so (hazards of living at the edge of the grid), the pig thing fell through. Our original source sold all their piglets, and you’d be surprised at how hard it is to find piglets for sale!

    Neil and I eventually went to the Fraser Valley Auctions to see if we could find any pigs that suppliers were unloading, but goats seemed to be the order of the day, along with a good assortment of sheep!

    Agnes in the Car at the ferry line-up

    We left with a lovely lamb who lamented her way down the highway in the back of our car. And lamented in the ferry line. And lamented during the ferry ride. And lamented up the island highway (while she wasn’t busy nibbling on the poor dog’s tail). And lamented all the way into her pen, and all night, and most of the next morning until we put her with the neighbour’s sheep while my inlaws found her some friends.

    The lamenting inspired her name: Agnes – short for Agnus Dei, the lamb of god. Also a movement in Mozart’s Requiem.

    A few days later, Agnes was joined by two other lambs, Gloria and Miserere (have mercy), who were also known by their voices, raised to the heavens.

    Gloria and Miserere at the gate

    Thankfully (for my inlaws anyhow, I obviously can’t hear them from here), they have apparently quieted down and are now lovely little lawnmowers.

    Agnes, Gloria & Miserere Outside

    And come September (because we need to get them slaughtered before hunting season gets underway and any potential fall floods happen), we’ll have our own Requiem for a Lamb, and end up with a bunch of fleece and a freezer full of tasty sheep meat.

    Besides, if you’re doing bio-dynamic farming anyhow, you really want to start off with ruminants, then follow with chickens, and finally end up with pigs. I think it might be a harder sell to convince my in-laws to go for the chickens, but we’ve got a year or so to work on them….

    Penned In

    My job for the past number of years has been marketing technology products.

    For the most part I love it – the amazing ways people are finding to manipulate machines to improve lives (even if it doesn’t always work out that way) is fascinating. The communities are exciting; the innovation is inspiring. I love the feeling I get when someone discovers our products, engages with us as a company, and is profoundly thankful that what we do has made them better at what they do.

    And then I try to explain to my grandmother what I do.

    “Well, many businesses buy a really big software system to run everything at their companies, like hiring and bookkeeping and inventory, and the software we build helps one of those pieces work better…”

    “I tell people about the software we make and show them how it can help them make the most of this other software they have….”

    “How? I build calculators to show that spending $40,000 can save them $80,000 and go to user groups to share ideas and write papers and presentations to explain the technology and….”

    “Yes, I’m sortof a writer. No, it’s not like writing a book or for newspapers and magazines. Mostly it goes through email.”

    My job, in my grandmother’s eyes, is reduced to writing (sortof) and sending email. And she still doesn’t understand why I didn’t go work in a bookstore.

    So I think it’s understandable that when I can get out of the magical world of ones and zeros and make something that I can point to, touch, have aches and blisters from building, and whose form and function are plainly obvious to anyone, anywhere in the world, I get pretty excited.

    Over the past long weekend, we fenced in our pig pen! Pigs arrive first week of June.

    As I get further and further away from work that anyone understands, I get more and more satisfaction from things that everyone can relate to.