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I have low dog-owner self-esteem

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The other day I was hiking up the dog-friendly Makapu‘u Lighthouse Trail with my three dogs — we affectionally call the Ratter Pack — and I was reminded about a feeling I used to get at the dog park.

That my dogs aren’t good dogs. And that meant I wasn’t a good owner, either.

Let me back it up: When I first got Sunny, a Pomeranian-toy fox terrier mix, six years ago, I couldn’t wait to take her to the Hawai‘i Kai Dog Park. I was living in the area, newly single with a lot of free time, and wanted to socialize my little puppy as soon as possible. Once we completed the necessary rounds of shots and I got her registered with the city, I started taking little Sunny Girl to the park every weekday afternoon.

The first time I walked into the park, I wasn’t sure how Sunny would react. At home, she was super mellow and quiet. She liked sitting on the couch with me, watching “Top Chef” and eating fried chicken. (Remember, I was single.) So I figured she would be a little shy around other dogs.

Man, was I wrong!

IMG_0190She literally bolted into the park, running and playing and greeting everyone — owners and dogs alike. She loved the freedom, the wide open space, and her canine playmates. And it showed.

And then she started barking.

She barked and barked, mostly at the bigger dogs on the other side of the fence, trying to get them to run with her. And her bark could be incessant if she wasn’t getting her way.

Most people didn’t seem to notice. But there were a few dog owners who would give me dirty looks, roll their eyes or make snide remarks like, “Oh, there goes that dog again.” Sunny didn’t seem to care, but it made me feel badly.

I kept thinking, “Is my dog really that bad?” “What does that say about me?” “Am I a bad dog owner?”

I tried to stop her from barking, which was frustrating, and other dog owners could tell how stressed out this was making me. My new friends at the dog park would tell me to let it go, she’s just barking, who cares? But I did. I didn’t like people judging me — or my dog, for that matter — by her fairly innocuous behavior at the park. She wasn’t biting any dogs, she didn’t play aggressively. In fact, she was just barking — to get other dogs to play. I knew she wasn’t a bad dog, but I kept feeling other people thought she was, and it was really getting to me.

Once, a man walked into the other park, the one for larger dogs, and Sunny started barking at his pooch, a very relaxed English bulldog. I was embarrassed. I ran over and tried to grab Sunny — she’s quick, I gotta say — and apologized over and over again to the man. He just smiled and waved his hand. “It’s what dogs do,” he said. “They bark. It’s a dog park. Let ‘em bark.”

That made me feel instantly better, to have someone — a stranger — tell me what I’ve been thinking all along: What’s the harm?

IMG_8607It’s taken years to get over that feeling that I’m not a good dog owner. I know that I am. I take them walking every day. We hike at least twice a week. We go to the beach, they get bathed weekly, I feed them healthier food than I eat myself.

Still, the looks and remarks can hurt.

As we were walking down the trail, we met up with a large pit bull mix and his owner. Two of my dogs barked at him — I warned the owner ahead of time — and her eyes just widened as we approached. She shook her head and mumbled something under her breath. When another couple approached us — my dogs were well done barking by then — she remarked to them that she was so happy she had a good dog. I wanted to both cry and throw my shoe at her head.

My dogs are happy, they sleep well, they play together, they’re healthy, they get a lot of exercise.

But yes, they bark.

They’re dogs.

Get over it.

At least, that’s what I have to tell myself.

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Today’s Happy Shot — and why I love my vet

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My husband and his family have been taking their pets to Feather and Fur Animal Hospital for years.

When we got married, he insisted I take my two dogs there, too.

I was on the fence. I really like the vet who’s been taking care of both Sunny and Indy since they were pups and the thought of going somewhere new — and trusting someone new — wasn’t appealing.

Vets are like hair stylists, dentists and mechanics. You find one you like, one who you’re comfortable with, and you don’t change.

But working with the vets at the Kailua animal hospital with ‘Elua these past few months have really changed my mind.

There aren’t many clinics that have vets who know how to treat and care for birds and exotic animals. But Drs. Kirk Ayling and Mina Khoii were both knowledgable and compassionate in how we handled ‘Elua’s ailing health. They both plainly laid out our options and explained each scenario so we could make the best choice for our bird. It made me feel a ton better knowing ‘Elua was here with these two.

When my husband and I went to the hospital to say goodbye to ‘Elua, Dr. Khoii, who has worked as an associate veterinarian at the Honolulu Zoo and has handled plenty of chickens there, went over exactly what would happen when we put down our bird. She said that since the infection caused fluid build-up in her belly, she couldn’t inject the euthanizing drug there. (Usually, it can be injected in the belly and we could have held her while she died.) Instead, she had to administer the drug in her wing, so we could only stand by and watch.

Dr. Khoii was sympathetic and kind. I could tell euthanizing animals — not matter how humane — wasn’t her favorite thing. But she kept reminding us that this was the most compassionate choice for ‘Elua.

She brought in a box of Kleenex for us and let us spend a few minutes with ‘Elua after. We could even leave out the back door to avoid the sympathetic stares and concerned looks on the faces of the folks in the waiting area.

It wasn’t easy, but Dr. Khoii made us feel good — well, as good as could feel — about our decision.

And then, the other day, we got a card from her and the staff at Feathers and Fur (above). And the card included a few of ‘Elua’s feathers.

It was the sweetest, most thoughtful gesture of sympathy I could have ever imagined getting from anyone, much less our vet. It rendered me speechless — which, if you know me, isn’t easy — and made me feel a lot better, not just about our choice to euthanize ‘Elua but to switch vets, too.

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Ode to ‘Elua

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‘Elua, our beloved chicken with a big personality and an adventurous spirit, died last night.

We took her in a couple of days ago after finding her standing out in the rain, soaked and frail. She wouldn’t eat, she wouldn’t move. We knew it was bad.

It was the second time we had taken ‘Elua to Feathers and Fur Animal Hospital in Kailua this year for being egg bound. (That means she had an egg inside her that she couldn’t expel. Read my blog on that.) The first time we left her there — incidentally during Hurricane Iselle; she was back at the vet this time around during Hurricane Ana — for about a week. The vet drained the fluid in her belly, put her in an incubator, and fed her antibiotics daily.

We brought her home and gave her calcium supplements and antibiotics every day for about a week, slowly reintroducing her back with the other two hens when she was strong enough to hold her own. (Chickens notoriously pick on the weaker in the flock.) And for a while there, she looked fine. She was healthy enough to jump into the hutch and was eating with the others. I had no idea she was suffering.

I’m not sure how long she had been sick. I noticed she was acting a bit strange on Friday when she didn’t jump into the hutch to eat. She stood outside in the mud, her red crown flopped over, just looking at me. I poured some chicken feed into my hand and let her eat out of my outstretched palm.

It wasn’t until the next morning that we found her, standing near the banana trees, confused and disoriented, that we knew she was really sick. We rushed her to the vet.

‘Elua tried to pull through. She just wasn’t strong enough. The infection ran rampant through her belly, making it difficult for her to stand, breath or digest anything, including the medication she desperately needed.

She was suffering — and we had to make a choice.

My husband called me in the morning and told me the prognosis. It wasn’t good. We could keep ‘Elua at the hospital indefinitely, but she likely would never get better.

I have never put down an animal before. All of our pets — guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs, fish, parakeet — have all died naturally, as far as I can remember. I never had to make a choice about whether they lived or not.

There was really no option: to euthanize ‘Elua was the most compassionate decision. She was in a lot of pain and there was little hope she would ever recover.

We drove to Kailua yesterday to say goodbye to our feisty chicken, the one who would escape the pen so often my husband had to double the height of the fence. She wasn’t the biggest or the bravest, but she was the smartest and the most adventurous, ready for anything and fiercely independent. If she could, she would have lived in the house with us.

The vet invited us to stay with ‘Elua as she injected her with the euthanizing drug. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, watching her emaciated body twist and jerk as the drug circulated throughout her body and stopped her heart. I watched her chest fill and contract, fill and contract, until it stopped. And it was quiet.

My husband stood there, stoic and strong. But even he couldn’t hold back the tears. That’s what I love and admire about this man. He has the kindest, biggest, most compassionate heart for any creature. Even when he fishes, he’s respectful, taking only what he needs — which is usually just one fish — kills it quickly and humanely, and thanks it for giving up its life to feed us. It’s a special thing to be in the presence of someone who respects and values life so much, and he has inspired me to view the world in much the same way.

I cried. I cried hours later. Even in bed, watching “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Even as I blog. It’s strange for me, someone who has never had chickens before, to feel such an emotional connection to them. I felt badly that we didn’t see how much she was suffering earlier, that she was pretending to be strong and healthy. I know this was the best choice, to end her pain and let her sleep forever, but it’s still hard to watch her life leave her.

What I’ve learned is life, no matter how small or short or seemingly trivial, is valuable and worth our respect. That’s what ‘Elua and my husband taught me.

Farewell, my sweet bird. You’ll be missed but not forgotten.

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#CatTravels: Inside the Scottish referendum

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We didn’t plan this at all.

It just so happened we ended up in Scotland the week of the historic independence vote. More than 5 million Scots will hit the polls Thursday to answer one simple question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

And right now, it could go either way.

The latest polls have suggested the result is too close to call. One survey published Wednesday afternoon put support for “Yes” at 49 percent against 51 percent for “No” when undecided voters were excluded. Another poll released earlier on Wednesday showed support for independence was at 48 percent, with 52 percent support for Scotland staying in the U.K., once undecided voters were excluded.

And social media is a-buzz with reasons to #VoteYes or #VoteNo.

But the real action is right here in Scotland.

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We just walked from Leith to Edinburgh this afternoon and passed dozens of people wearing stickers and pins declaring their support for either side. There were people waving signs and handing out flyers with information about the referendum on street corners, urging people to take a side at the polls tomorrow.

We even saw a farm in East Lothian, on our way back from a whiskey tasting at the Glenkinchie Distillery, with the words, “NO,” plowed into the fields.

I mean, this is serious.

On our way back from dinner at Monteiths on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, we came across a group of people gathered around a van parked at the top of Cockburn Street. From the van shot a huge spotlight with a scrim that read, “Yes,” on it, boldly displayed on the side of the building. (See first image)

And that was after a #VoteYes rally spontaneously gathered there and walked to the Scottish Parliament, several thousand strong. (Some were chanting, “Where’s your cameras, BBC?”)

This referendum is not just the biggest news here, it’s the only news. No one is talking or thinking about anything else — aside from maybe where to grab a pint after the polls close.

This is huge. If the results are in favor of independence, Scotland will transition to its own country by early next year. That means Scots will need to vote in a new government, decide on a new currency and figure out what to do next.

And that’s not something the Scots aren’t already accustomed to.

It seems, in every chapter of Scottish history, they’ve always made do with whatever they have. They’ve always figured it out — and succeeded. And I wouldn’t expect anything less from the Scots.

But the vote right now is so close: there are people who truly believe they deserve independence from Great Britain and should be allowed to make their own choices about what’s best for their country — and there are others who feel separating from the U.K. would be detrimental to the country.

At the heart of it, though, these Scots love their country, unconditionally and unabashedly, and this referendum has split a very spirited and proud people. To me, both sides are looking at what they feel is best for the country and its people. I believe that. But what’s best is what’s on debate, and each side has compelling arguments.

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We’ve been spending a lot of time with Andrew, head of social media at an independent digital consultancy in Edinburgh, whose loft at which we are staying. (He’s the guy in the photo above, on the left.) And he’s pro-independence — for all the reasons that make sense to me. They finally get a say in what happens to their country. They can get rid of the nuclear weapons stored on their land. They can keep the tax and revenue made from its oil reserves. I can’t help but feel sympathetic toward the #VoteYes folks.

Whatever happens, though, we’ll be here for it. Voting starts tomorrow morning and runs until 10 p.m. Then it will take several hours of counting each vote to determine the outcome, which is expected to be announced around 8 a.m. Friday. And then we’ll know.

No matter what the outcome, there will be revelry in Edinburgh — on the streets and in the pubs. And either way, I’ll be toasting the beauty of democracy.

Follow Cat on her #FoxHoneymoon to England, Scotland and Ireland on Twitter @thedailydish and Instagram @catherinetoth. Track her travels at #CatTravels.

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Concussions aren’t fun

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I wouldn’t say I’m accident prone.

But it’s no surprise things happen to me that make for great Facebook status updates.

Like getting my wallet stolen in Athens. Or getting a serious staph infection after surfing in Tavarua, Fiji. Or suffering through a urinary tract infection on a flight to Hamburg. (The Germans have the best medicine, let me tell you!)

So why wouldn’t I get a concussion on a recent kayak trip to the Mokulua Islands in Kailua?

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Here’s the story: We met up with some friends this past Sunday to kayak to the iconic twin islands off Lanikai Beach on the windward side of O‘ahu. The plan was to walk around Moku Nui, the larger of the two and the only one the public can legally land on.

The backside of the island can be dangerous to traverse, and I wouldn’t recommend people venture there.

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An unofficial warning sign posted toward the back of Moku Nui.

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But of course, I never listen to my own advice. I’ve been back there (see above) a couple of times before without any incident. There’s a protected cove into which adventure-seekers like to jump from the rocks overhead. And there’s also a shallow saltwater bath — into which adventure-seekers like to jump from the rocks overhead.

I don’t jump into anything, so that’s not where I hit my head.

In fact, it was on my way around the island when I sustained this concussion that doesn’t seem to go away.

I followed my friends’ two teenagers into a sea cave and a wave pushed me against the side of a rock wall, full force, and I whacked my right cranium pretty hard.

At first I panicked, thinking I was going to start bleeding profusely. And the ocean is the last place I’d like to be with an open wound to my head and blood gushing everywhere.

So I quickly got out of the water and onto land.

And to be honest, save for a headache, I felt fine.

In fact, I felt fine up until that night, when I sipped a glass of moscato and started slurring. Then I went into the bathroom, switched on the lights, and everything got so bright, I thought the roof had been torn from the house and the sunlight was streaming in. I couldn’t open my eyes.

When I told my husband about this strange phenomenon — I was actually tripping out about the suddenly bright bathroom more than thinking this could be neurological damage — he started asking me a bunch of questions.

“Do you have a headache?”

“Are you nauseous?”

“Are you dizzy?”

“Do you have any weakness or numbness in your arms?”

To all of these questions I answered yes.

“I think you have a concussion.”

OK, so I’ve heard about concussions. Football players, boxers and car accident victims get them. You have to really hit your head pretty hard, I thought, to sustain something like that.

Turns out, millions of Americans have suffered from a concussion, many unreported. More than 300,000 sports-related concussions occur annually in the U.S., according to the University of Pittsburgh’s Brain Trauma Research Center.

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works. And you don’t have to actually hit your head to get one. A violent shake can cause a concussion, too.

Effects are usually temporary and include headaches and problems with concentration, memory, balance and coordination.

On Monday, I was really starting to feel the effects. I had a difficult time concentrating, I would forget what I was saying mid-sentence, I felt dizzy and nauseous all the time. Light hurt my eyes and I was still suffering from what was starting to feel like a migraine. It wasn’t fun.

By Tuesday I was at the doctor’s office, getting my eyes checked and my brain scanned. No blood clots, but I definitely had a concussion that the doctor said may take weeks to months to heal fully.

This is Day 5, and I already see an improvement, at least in my concentration and balance. (It would take me twice as long to type an email, for example. It literally hurt to think.) But this injury is no joke.

Friends kept reminding of me actress Natasha Richardson, who, back in 2009, sustained a head injury when she fell while taking a beginner skiing lesson at a resort in Canada. She seemed fine, talked and acted normally — then died the next day.

I feel like if I’ve survived this long, I’m in the clear.

But I won’t be swimming into any sea caves anytime soon.

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