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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#FUUD: Salted Lemon in Liliha

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I’m always on the lookout for a good acai bowl.

And when Salted Lemon opened up near my (new) ‘hood this summer — and I heard it sold sizable acai bowls filled to the brim with fresh fruits — I had put it on my list of places to try.

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Outside the shop on Liliha Street.

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Inside — decorated for Halloween!

It’s not the easiest place to find — unless you’re familiar with the Liliha area.

The shop is in an old shoe store on Liliha Street next to the iconic Jane’s Fountain. (I love that place.) It really brightens up the neighborhood, giving this aging community a boost of cool.

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Salted Lemon was opened by Patrick Nguyen, whose parents ran Bob’s Market for 26 years. He started making juices for his mother when she was battling cancer — and that became the basis for the menu here.

Taking up an entire wall behind the counter, the blackboard menu has three basic categories: juices ($7 for 16 ounces), acai bowls and smoothies (between $4 to $5 each). Nguyen prefers to use the natural sugars from fruits and veggies, with simple syrup, to sweeten the drinks.

I’ll be honest, I’m not much of a juice person, despite my attempts at juicing in the past. I came for an acai bowl — and that’s exactly what I ordered.

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The acai bowl — with soy milk.

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The acai bowl — with apple juice.

Salted Lemon’s acai bowl ($9) looks like this (above, both). The acai made with soy milk is nice and thick, perfectly chilled with the consistency of sorbet (my preference). It’s got apple banana slices, strawberries, blueberries, bee pollen, lehua blossom honey and granola.

We ordered acai sweetened with apple juice instead of soy milk — and it took about 10 minutes longer to make. (The acai is pre-made.) That made the acai not as thick and it melted a lot faster. (I’d opt for the soy milk version next time.)

And at $9 a bowl, it’s a bit pricey.

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The couple next to us ordered the papaya bowl ($7), a half Kahuku papaya filled with Greek yogurt and topped with blueberries, bananas, granola, honey and chia seeds. This looked pretty refreshing and tasty.

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I had to order the shop’s signature drink, the Salted Lemon ($4), and I was surprised at how much it grew on me.

At first, it was a bit unusual. It’s made from lemons that are brined and fermented in the sun for months, then combined with bits of lemon peel. I feel like if I were sick, this would be the surefire cure. It was salted and sour and sweet and perfect. I could have had six of them.

It’s nice to know there’s a shop so nearby that serves the kind of refreshing drinks perfect for these humid days.

And yes, there’s WiFi, too.

Coffice, anyone?

Salted Lemon, 1723 Liliha St. in Honolulu. Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Phone: (808) 538-1291

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#CatChat: Visiting the new Choco le‘a Boutique

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Yeah, yeah, I keep saying I’m going to restart the #CatChat segments on my blog.

And hey, this might be my first one in 2014, but at least I did it!

I decided to save my first #CatChat of the year for the opening of Choco le‘a‘s first boutique in Mānoa Square (2909 Lowrey Avenue in Mānoa).

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Outside the shop on Lowrey Avenue.

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Owner Erin Kanno Uehara preparing a box of chocolate truffles.

The charming storefront opened in late September — the grand opening isn’t slated until November — for fans of the artisan chocolates made with premium chocolates and the freshest ingredients possible.

I visited Erin Kanno Uehara last year — last year! — and have been a huge fan ever since. (See my blog post on that visit here.) I appreciate the rich, bold flavors and unique ingredients — like Guinness beer, locally made cheesecakes, pink chichi dango mochi, lychee liqueur — that set these chocolates apart from others.

The shop features about 18 different truffle flavors that will rotate monthly; dark, milk and white chocolate macadamia nut clusters; almond cups; dipped pineapple and mango slices; chocolate-dipped strawberries; and prepackaged gift boxes and bags. Soon, she’ll be serving chocolate drinks. (Can’t wait!)

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White chocolate-covered macadamia nuts

For the holidays, Choco le‘a will be selling special orange chocolate-covered Oreos, caramel apple Oreos and pumpkin spice Oreos. And yes, you can come here on Halloween to trick-or-treat. (Or treat-or-treat, as I like to do.)

Here’s what the Mānoa shop looks like — and why you should plan your next weekend around visiting it:

#CatChat with Erin Kanno Uehara

And here’s the outtake where I fired my mother. LOL.

Visit Choco le‘a at 2909 Lowrey Avenue in Mānoa on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Or follow them on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @chocoleahawaii.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel to watch more #CatChats.

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