Wednesday, December 26, 2012

It's a JW (Pet) Christmas

dog toys
The (four legged) children are tucked away in bed, visions of catnip and dog biscuits dancing in their heads.... Do you celebrate the holidays with your pets? Running the PetPals Blogger/Reader exchange program, I always have a glut of adorable and unique toys on hand to send out. Just ask the other half, I can't walk past a pet department and not bring home something for our children, and our PetPal! Needless to say, there are 3 tiny little stockings bulging with treats and toys for Nora, Frankie, and Truffles. Whether you're gifting for your own pets, or those of a friend, it's likely you won't want to invest much in toys that have a clearly themed definition. That is, Candy Cane rubber squeakers are adorable during the holidays, but do you really want them rolling around your home through  Spring? Sure, your pets may notice the change in atmosphere, and the additional spoiling, but they won't be offended if that Gingerbread chewier is replaced with an equally colorful and exciting year-round toy.

Yes, we still bust out the dog sweater and the antlers for the holidays, and Nora does have a few holiday themed squeakers, but I didn't pay more than $1 for them, and they are intended to be tossed after minimal use. Our stocking stuffers, well, they consist of one of Nora's favorite brands; JW Pet. Not only have these toys been engineered to last hours, and weeks, of rigorous play, but they feature cutting edge materials such as the virtually indestructible Megalast compound. JW Pet is also home to an adorable assortment of colorful crinkle characters known as Crackle Heads. And, expanding upon the big 'water bottle' toy trend this year, JW Pets has a unique Crackle Ball, within the Crackle Head line, that combines the fun of rubber based chews with a crinkly plastic center! We received an appropriately themed (Red) little devil Crackle Head for Nora. While the smallest of this line is still a little big for her to get her jaw around, the tough canvas material of the feet makes it perfect for chewing. I'm still impressed at how loud the 'crackle' gets, and how quickly the inside material springs back into form.
Also included in Nora's stocking this year was the Hol-Ee Cuz, which resembles a gold ball with feet. Through the mesh like print rubber ball there is a soft yellow filling stuffed inside, making this great for teething pups and long lasting chewing. We've found this quite easy on her developing jaw, and she just loves gnawing at the edges and feet. It even gives way to a little squeak now and then, thanks to the small squeaker tucked away inside the fabric core. Sold in a wonderful Lime Green hue, this dog toy appropriately bundles with the Red Crackle Heads for a Christmas themed stocking that is just as aesthetic friendly in May, as it is in December! Remember, JW Pet covers a wide range of animals in treats and toys; beyond cats and dogs are gerbils, birds, reptiles and more. And, it's never hard to spot their range among the sea of pet toys- JW is stylishly designed with bright colors to engage both owner and pet.
We've yet to have any products break down or become damaged from ordinary use, which is saying a lot with a teething puppy. Some of  the more abstract, or 'heavy duty' toys, though built for small breeds, are still a bit over Nora's head. She likes gnawing on her Crackle Head, but has to have a human companion to create the 'crackling' sound. Thankfully, there are well over 100 sizes and styles of JW Pet toys for dogs, and many of the classic squeakers are just right. I continue to order JW Pet products for family, friends, and Pet Pals, and have no plans on buying any other brand for a very long time. Why would I need to with hundreds of products to choose from and such intelligent styling and design?

As Required By The FTC: I received product samples for consideration. No other compensation was provided. All opinions inside are mine and mine alone.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Bark Box- Monthly Subscription Box Bundles For Fido

I love my pets like children. I'm sure it's blatantly obvious from the very existence of this blog, and likely true for 99% of pet owners (I hate that word, we're parents really, right?) The only difference with pets, versus children, is that there are less guidelines as to when to spoil them. Sure, we reward them for learning a new trick, much like a child with a good grade on a test, but I feel there is much less of a stigma for spoiling the pooch, over spoiling a child. And, yes, you can create a little brat/terror, with too much leniency but, for the most part, we can indulge our pets every day, in any way we want to. This may include allowing Fido to snuggle in your bed, looking the other way when Rufus is harmlessly harassing that squirrel, or literally treating Spot to an edible treat or chewy. I have no problem in admitting that we have an entire 4x Cube System set up for our pets' treats and toys. I'll get around to showing it someday, but for now you can imagine a 4.5' x4.5' shelving unit, divided into 4 cubbies, chocked full of doggie sweaters, rawhides, catnip bubbles, Friskies Temptations, and more.
How do we accumulate all of these pet products? Well the majority of the buys are from bargain (clearance) bins at major pet retailers; toys with broken/missing squeakers (I don't care for the squeakers anyhow, so it's a win/win for me), last season's flavor chews (they are still just as yummy to Nora), or discontinued toys and gimmicks (we found Nora's favorite treat, the Chilly Bone this way). All brand new, safe, products, perfectly acceptable for pets who know no season, trend, or difference. They simply know that something is being presented to them- and that makes them feel special! Secondly, we do participate in the PetPals Blogger/Reader program, where we send a box of goodies out to a new pet acquaintance each month. This also returns a unique collection of goods as we rotate our pets in participation each month. And lastly, in a similar, but retail capacity, we receive boxes of goodies in monthly retail subscription services. I'll be honest, I subscribe to 4 monthly subscription boxes for the humans- so why shouldn't the pet's get involved to? I know I certainly like to receive a box of surprise goodies to explore!
I'm not going to yank your chain- I've tried several subscription services and many have failed in expectations of value and originality. I don't, generally, enjoy paying to receive a box of sample size products from brands I already use and buy. Subscription boxes are all about indulging and discovering new and exciting brands and services; they take the footwork our of the consumer's job and present a unique collection of items and services for the consumer to consider. Let's face it, the perfect monthly box subscription would come loaded with full size products you'd instantly become hooked on, logging into websites to track refills and replacements down, ultimately becoming a loyal consumer to those brands. But, of course, even the most carefully of tailored box services won't be chocked full of 'hits'. And that's okay; buy into monthly box services so you don't spend unnecessarily money trying a product or service that isn't right for your pet. Just be sure to fully read the monthly agreement/subscription terms, and always fill out relevant breed/allergy/size information to the best of your knowledge. Nothing will ruin delivery day more than receiving a box of toys and treats as large as your dog!
I've had hit or miss luck with Pet Subscription Services in the past. One company boasted a hand picked organic assortment of toys and treats, rearing 4 items in a single box; many unusable and overpriced (to jack up the advertised 'value' of the box). So, when I kept seeing the Bark Box ad pop up on my Facebook sidebar I was a little hesitant. Their colorful, cartoon, marketing laid out the process quite simply; choose your size  (dog), pay as little as $17/month with a 6 month subscription, or $29 for a non-contracted subscription month, get free shipping, and help out a Rescue Charity with 10% of your purchase price. Bark Box, like others, promises a minimum of 4 products a month; which was a bit of a turn off at first, but seems to vary greatly on the size (dog) bog you subscribe to. Regardless, I've been monitoring the past few months for all sizes and the boxes are literally brimming with great puppy treats and toys. I've yet to see a box with just the minimum '4' items; let's hope this is not a 'launch' trend, and carries on through the remainder year of this company's inception.
In any case, we received a subscription free ($29) box to try the Bark box program out. Our parcel arrived via USPS, thanks to free shipping, and garnered interest from all four-legged family members, immediately. It must be like the old canning 'oils on the lid' theory, because I'd have sworn Nora know that specific box was for her (and we receive quite a few boxes!) No sooner had I slid the scissors through the binding tape, and wedged the top flap open, then she had her nose, and half her body, inspecting the contents inside. I would have assumed that she would have been overwhelmed by the variety of the contents inside, I certainly was, but Nora immediately latched onto a particular treat and drug it out of the box. The Barkworthies Bully Stick was an immediate winner, from the Small November box. While Nora was focused on gnawing this slender and narrow chewy I rifled through the impressively diverse, and appropriately sized, toys and treats. With the exception of the small Bionic Bone (rubber stuff-able chew toy), Nora was able to consume/chew each and every toy and treat! The Bionic Bone would have been perfect if Nora had just a few more pounds, but her jaw simply isn't able to open wide enough to gnaw on this orange rubber stuffie.
One thing Momma, I, found especially exciting was Mr.Barksmith's Cool treats; one of two flavors of ready to eat smoothies for dogs. Appropriate for the Fall season, we received an individual serving of  Pumpkin Patch. These come in single serve cups which have the option of being frozen, and served as a treat for teething dogs, or the perfect cool off in the summer. There were a few concerns that I had, while watching my little monster gobble this up. In particular, the tiny cup had to be placed inside a larger, stable, food dish, to avoid it sliding all over the house as Nora licked. Additionally, the natural orange hue of this product discolored Nora's mouth/fur for a good 2 days, despite diligent cleaning. Regardless, Nora enjoyed this treat so much I have order both flavors in multiples since discovering them through Bark Box. Other edible treats in the November box include Fruitables Organic Treats, and an Acadia Antler Rope to chew on. The Antler Rope has garnered some interest, but took the back seat to the Bully Stick initially.
The value of our November Barkbox went beyond the physical treats and toys; as there were 3 paper goodies included inside. We also received a $10 discount for dog-sitting, $10 Gift Card, and complimentary one month subscription to Dog TV. As silly as the latter sounds I highly suggest checking out, for their engaging videos and help articles for pets and parents. If you have children with pets, this can be a truly valuable resource for education and pet interaction, as well as networking. Barkbox also included a calling card for their app, which offers FREE Shipping on item purchases made through it. In all, I am planning on subscribing to Bark Box with a 6 month ($17/month) commitment in the new year. We were very pleased with the collection of products and services in our November Box, and I recall watching the October reveals in envy as well! Use our exclusive code to save $5 off your first month's subscription: qXl0t59V2x

Please note: I received a month of complimentary service in exchange for my candid opinion.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pet Pals: Blogger/Reader Program: November Reveal

You may recall how I rolled out our newest pet project: PetPals Blogger/Reader penpal program late this year. For those new to our site, here's a brief re-cap of what the program is:


You don't have to be a social butterfly (though those who are welcome too), or even own a blog, to connect with unique and exciting pets (and owners) just like you! The process is easy, here's a simple breakdown for you- if it all sounds good, fill out the simple form below, and wait to be matched up on the 18th!

-On the 18th of the month, you will receive your PetPal pairing via email. It will be your responsibility to contact your PetPal and get their mailing information, as well as their pet's information (breed, preferences, size, etc). When your PetPal match contacts you, be sure to send a picture of your pet, with your mailing information, so they can see who they'll be shopping for! 

-You will have until the 28th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the 15th of the following month, you will post about the goodies you received from your PetPal!

-The boxes are to be filled with fun pet toys, accessories, or snacks! Please be mindful (you may be matched with a cat OR a dog) of pet size/dietary restrictions, etc. The spending limit is $15. The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a short story about your own pet.

-You are responsible for figuring out the best way to ship your items depending on their size and how fragile they are. (Don’t forget about flat rate boxes!)

-PetPals is open to blog readers as well as bloggers. If you’re a reader and you get paired with a blogger, you can choose to write a short guest post for your PetPal to post on their blog about what you received, or possibly share your box on Facebook (or other social media platforms).

- PetPals is currently only open to US residents. Please note, I am collecting a list of international and non cat/dog owners to gauge interest. If I receive enough matches I will open an international/rodent/reptile division.
As you can imagine, there were many questions, and many interested people had a few concerns about things regarding reliability of PetPal matches, and month-to-month obligation. I'll try and address a few of the common questions here. The first of which, and the most popular, was if a participant had to compete every month. I realize some have financial restraints, or perhaps would like to do this quarterly, or in specific seasons; you are never obligated to participate the following month. I verify interest with all signed up prior to commitment, and you have the option to opt out for the month, or longer. When you wish to return, simply fill the form out once more and you'll get a match with the following month's group. There is no charge for PetPals participation, all I ask is that you let me know should you need to sit out a month, so someone doesn't end up with a bum match on mistake!

The next most common question leads directly off of that- What happens if my match doesn't respond? Keep in mind that everyone has 2 matches, the person they will be sending to, and the person you receive from. Our rules dictate that everyone must contact their assigned partner to arrange shipment within 72 hours (that's 3 days). If you have not received a response from your partner, or have not been contacted by your match, shoot me a quick email and I can reasonably match you up with another person. There are likely reserves waiting on next month (or in this month's case, and odd number of matches and I can fill in). Keep in mind you may receive a Dog OR Cat PetPal, this varies each month and is entirely random. We ask that you provide a little information about your pet (dietary/size restrictions) to help your match in picking out the best treats for your pet. Any food treats must contain a complete ingredient label on the package, no loose treats or homemade goods, please. Another concern is often shipping- Shipping can be quite reasonable with pet products that are often stuffed, and flat rate parcels are available but not necessarily the cheapest option. Parcel post is quite affordable and can get your package there in time if you shop and ship shortly after receiving your matches info.
Some may ask why on Earth would you want to buy stuff for a stranger's pet? Well, for 1.) Everyone loves getting mail, especially a surprise box, 2.) You'd be surprised the fun and adorable pet toys that may be found at a local pet shop in a different demographic or part of the country, 3.) Personally, I spend bundles on my pets each month because I love them, and spending time with them; this is the perfect way to engage with my pet with new things I may never have thought to buy! For those curious, I, personally, sit out each round of PetPals; so that I may fill in for anyone paired up with a no-show. So, by sit out, I mean, forgo an original match, I always end up paired with somebody! In any case, my boyfriend, Jeremy, participates each month, rotating between our 3 pets. This month he was paired with reader Samantha and her cat Llia, who seemed quite excited to be matched with Ms. Truffles, celebrity. (Thank goodness Truffles doesn't know she's such a star).
Jeremy told our Samantha Truffles liked things that dangled and rolled, as well as that she has a knack for eating- everything. He was tickled to receive not only a gaggle of toys, but a sack of unique and healthy pet treats. Considering the box spending limit is $15, you can actually get quite a bit of stuff for your PetPal, and in our box there was an entire kitty stocking of balls and catnip toys!  I promptly slipped the stocking into Truffle's own stocking here at home, which she can often be seen guarding by the tree! She's enjoyed playing with the included Martha Stewart cat wand, though Fankie likes to wander in and get a few swipes. The Blue Buffalo Salmon Yums have been a big hit with both cats, which is surprising, as Frankie is very picky about his food. I like that they do not stink, and are a unique flat shape, that doesn't roll everywhere when Truffles steals them from my hand, to nibble on the ground. Lastly, we received a photo of Llia as a kitten, which has made it onto our house pin board. We were inspired to include one of Truffles in our box to Samantha, and have heard that Llia actually stole it from the parcel and keeps it in her cat tree! We had a great month and cannot thank our PetPal Samantha enough for helping to make PetPals a blast!

Sign Up for PetPals Today!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Thundershirt: Anxiety Treatment for Pets Giveaway and Review~ 11/28

Pets, much like small children, experience anxiety as a result of several, often inconspicuous triggers. While many of the minor attacks are virtually unnoticeable to the owner, severe cases can present themselves in the form of excessive grooming, trembling, and even aggression. One common trigger for canines is the sound of celebratory poppers and fireworks, during holidays. More universal is the fear of a vet visit, pet carrier transit, or simple car ride; which typically becomes traumatic for both pet and owner. While most cases of anxiety are a result of exaggerated fears, and necessary nerves, we cannot verbally rationalize with our pets, as we might with our children. This leaves many pet owners frustrated and anxious themselves. Nobody wants to watch a member of their family terrified, hostile, and confused.
We have 3 pets in our family, 2 cats and a dog, all around the same size, yet all vastly different in personality. Truffles, the 'first born' of our clan spent the majority of the first half of her life by my side at all times. Not only did she become attached, to the point of exhibiting nerves when doors are closed, or she is left alone for a period of time- but she does not respond well to new people. Frankie, adopted as an adult cat with little personal background has an immune disease which causes excessive 'self soothing' grooming, difficulty digesting, and constant sneezing. He is great with strangers, and loves attention, but grooms to the point of licking furniture and his humans. And Nora, the youngest, our 4lb Morkie, has exhibited her own signs of separation anxiety. As I am home during the majority of the day, all week, she is having trouble coping with crate time when we leave.
Recently I began seeing displays for a product called Thundershirt (more of a vest), which claims to help soothe common anxiety triggers through a non evasive training approach. With 2 varieties, canine and feline, both products are virtually identical save a more narrow chest band for cats, and longer length for dogs. Thundershirts are made from a very durable, yet slightly stretchy, gray fabric that 'wrap' your pet to produce a gentle sensation of pressure (much like a steady hug). The gentle, yet constant, pressure is thought to naturally calm pets in stressful situations. While some are skeptical of this theory, and cats seem to respond more sporadically than easily adapting dogs, I had reason to believe the product would work in our home. I have long applied the notion of pressure therapy to Truffles during grooming and introductory (new people) situations. When she was a kitten I would swaddle her, just like an infant, post baths, which were particularly distressing for her. Almost from that very first, tight, but safe, wrap, Truffles was instantly eased- to the point of falling asleep! Some of you may have seen my nail care photos, with her swaddled, and asleep- it is the most peaceful time for her.
Through the past few years I have also found this technique to work when introducing Frankie, then Nora, and new guests in our home. During particularly distressful events this would result in a 'freeze' reaction, where Truffles would become submissive, with an occasional audible grumble. We could tell she was unhappy with the terms, but she would never express aggression over it. Of course I can't have my cat swaddled in towels and blankets every time I need to groom her nails, or have guests over- so the Thundershirt seemed like the perfect solution. And, while many may think of the Thundershirt as a correctional aid, it is actually a therapeutic tool intended to be worn for short periods of time. When your pet is experiencing, or likely to experience, anxiety simply place the Thundershirt on them for 30-40 minutes. While some may be frustrated at a seeming lack of effect immediately, this is therapy, and will work best (even for those who respond quickly) over several treatments. The intent is for your pet to experience security, and the calming embrace, while in stressful situations. Then, hopefully, with or without the Thundershirt, recall those soothing associations when they experience those situations in the future.
We received a Small Cat Thundershirt for experimenting in our home. The Thundershirt wraps around your pet beneath the front arms, and across the chest beneath the neck. There is a well designed flap to cover any excess Velcro, and smooth the appearance of the vest (Thundershirt). For reference Frankie is approximately 9.5lbs, Truffles is 7lbs, and Nora is 4.5lbs. This Thundershirt fit Nora perfectly, despite being the Cat version, as it was just the right length, and fit without any creasing. On Frankie this size was a little snug, only due to the fact he has so many folds of fur. It also seemed a little short, making him a better candidate for the Medium, though it did fasten on both ends. Truffles was a trickier case, as she is quite the smarty cat and will 'scrunch' her body to make herself wider and stouter all around. This is a defense tactic meant to limit my grip, and the number of places I can effectively manage her when she feels threatened. She commonly does this when she has done something she knows is wrong, and I can often hear the growling before I've even discovered what she's done!
Truffles is a classic 'Freeze and Flop' kitty. The Thundershirt effectively immobilizes her, not because she cannot freely move, but because she has been conditioned that the pressure means it's time to be submissive for mom. With the Thundershirt on I can literally position my cat however I want without any resistance, or attempt to flee. In honesty, there was some growling as I first put the Thundershirt on, again because this size is just a little smaller than we likely should have gone with (for the cats), and she was growing anxious of the activity. However, once both snaps were secured, and I was done handling her, she even began to break out into a light purr and drift off (much like post bath time). For maintenance grooming and medical purposes, I would consider the Thundershirt a real aid for pet and parent. The first time I received a few annoyed glances when handling post Thundershirt application- though the following uses have been very mellow, and easier on than the first.
Now Frankie, who we consider a very mellow cat to begin with, seemed more confused than annoyed, at first application. There were a few times where it seemed like he was testing whether he could get up and move- but would instead lay backwards and stretch with a purr. He seemed to really enjoy the Thundershirt most. His first application resulted in 30 minutes of solid purring (without human interaction), and no visible grooming; which is a real triumph for us.  He also, unlike Truffles, was mobile in the Thundershirt, eventually getting up to resume his daily activities around the house. We have been utilizing the Thundershirt as a daily therapy, and noticed a marked cut in the amount of self soothing/grooming; though we are still having issues with his sensitivity (I fear we will be battling that his entire life). 
As the Thundershirt fits Nora perfectly, I've had some time to experiment with her as well. Since the concept for Thundershirt anxiety treatment for pets is not based on a formula, it is possible to cross treat your own pets, so long as the fit is snug and secure. However, it is likely best to have one for each of your pets, specially sized and designed to their anatomical needs. You see, I didn't originally intend on using the Thundershirt with Nora, until we had our first (and likely only) Thunderstorm of the year. She is sufficiently terrified of loud, unexpected, noises, and will tremble during them. With no sign of a letup in the storm I exercised some quick thinking and grabbed the Thundershirt. Nora, as a small dog, is used to being dressed up, but never in anything so secure and form fitting. She seemed to be calmer, even as I was applying the Thundershirt, and within 5 minutes had calmed enough to fall asleep, fully stretched, on her bed. I'd like to continue playing with the effects, in an effort to ease some of her anxiousness over being left alone, and intend on making this Thundershirt hers, and investing in a Medium Cat for Truffles and Frankie. While I frequently find amazing products for my pets, it is a rare case I find something so universal to improve the quality of their lives, all around; and even rarer I will shell out my money to buy duplicates!

One Time Out For Truffles follower will win a Thundershirt for their cat or dog!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Angry Cats- Original Artwork

I know it's not award winning, but I made the little 'angry kitties' and modified the text. This was for a custom shirt I did for a friend's Christmas gift last year- I was just combing through old folders and found it, thought it was worth a chuckle.