Monday, April 12, 2010

Buddy update

When Dempsey is out training in public, we're sometimes asked why Helping Paws has a breeding program, instead of rescuing dogs and training them. I don't know what the official reason is, but I have a good guess now: Buddy.

You'll notice Buddy boy is now sporting a "lion cut." This is not because we think it's cute -- it's actually quite ridiculous --  but because we had no choice.

Buddy's fur was pretty matted, and he doesn't like getting brushed. We called the patient and kind Ms. Megan, our favorite cat groomer, to make a grooming visit to our house. No dice: Buddy quite literally screamed and knocked over the portable grooming table. Megan suggested bringing Buddy to her regular salon, where she has a fixed grooming table, elbow-length welding gloves, the "cone of shame," and probably a chair and a whip.

Before the visit, we tried giving Buddy some Benadryl to calm him down. In fact, we started trying, unsuccessfully, several days before his appointment. We put the Benadryl in a Greenies pill pocket, tried mixing it with his favorite kitty gravy, mixed it with his favorite salmon treat, and -- worst of all -- made a slurry that I tried giving him orally with a syringe. Ouch.

Poor patient Megan had to work with an unsedated Buddy, who, stressed out, had three poop and pee accidents in the salon. Megan was pretty embarrassed by the uneven results, but we were happy she tried so hard to remove Buddy's painful mats.

Unlike Dempsey, who sits happily to have his ears and teeth cleaned, and who will even work for medicine, Buddy was not well socialized as a kitty. And since we don't know his history, we don't know exactly why he gets so freaked out when we try to handle him. It makes it challenging to take care of him.

Getting back to Helping Paws, I think the reason why they have a breeding program instead of using resuce dogs is that there's so much more control over how the dogs are raised and socialized. And since the trainers are all volunteers, it's much easier to have "standardized" puppies, rather than a bunch of individuals, each with unique issues that need to be addressed. In addition to the training challenges, there's the time issue. There's a waiting list for service dogs, and the less time is spent on improving basic socialization, the more time there is to train real skills and get the dogs graduated sooner.

Which brings us back to Buddy. When we first got him, I had dreams of clicker training him to do tricks. That is a dream deferred. We've spent most of his food trying to socialize him and build trust: getting his tummy brushed, walking calmly into his kennel, wearing his new harness and leash so he can go explore outside. We've made progress: I was able to clean his ears the other day, and he'll walk into his kennel now, though he still complains a bit if I carry the kennel to the car.

Buddy isn't a monster, but it'll take some time to train the basics with him. And since he's on a diet -- Buddy, like most cats in America, was overweight when we got him -- it'll take even longer with his limited calorie allotment.

He's pretty cute, though. When he wants to play, he'll bring his toys to me and drop them at my feet. He and Dempsey have started playing together, and Buddy even knows his name and comes when you call him. And, like Dempsey, he likes getting his picture taken.

Buddy is not a stupid cat, and I think he's trainable. It's just going to take us a while to get there.

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