Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Vet's pets: Gillian Shippen introduces her toy-testing crew

These guys may look sleepy but keeping them entertained and enriched is busy work for Gillian Shippen.
Gillian Shippen is a Nursing Practice Manager for Dr Michael J Burke Vet Clinic in South Australia. She’s also the author of PetsNeed a Life Too, and founder the company with the same name – it’s all about enriching the lives of companion animals. (Here at SAT we’re very big fans of appropriate and safe environmental enrichment for animals).

I think it’s safe to say that Gillian takes her work home with her.

She shares her life with Normie (7.5 year old moggy), Diesel (10-12 year old Rottweiler cross) and Buster (a 7.5 year old Rottweiler). This crew are not only her companions, they’re also her product testers. When Gillian recommends a toy, she knows exactly how sturdy and entertaining it is.

How did you meet?

Normie came to us as a stray kitty – a friend of my stepson was working at a winery and found a litter of kittens. The owner of the winery suggested something unthinkable (drowning) so the friend brought the kittens to me. The kitten were only about 5 weeks old so as my stepson and his friends were all enamoured by the kittens I suggested they foster them until the kittens would be old enough to re-home.

Normie naps.
Stepson fell in love with Normie and begged to keep him (my sighing, knowing what the eventual outcome would be). Eventually stepson decided looking after a kitten wasn’t for him (and we had a return of another one) so they came to the clinic for re-homing, I immediately found a home for one but Normie was to stay at the clinic until I could find him a home. My partner said no, he’ll come home with us!

Diesel came from a shelter/rescue one year after I lost my first Rottie, Cole. Diesel was approximately 10 years old looking for a new home and his forlorn face looked at me from the photo reminding me of Cole.

Busta was also from a shelter/rescue group at 6 years old, a few months after we lost another one of our other dogs. He was the result of a marriage breakup.

Does anyone have any conditions that require treatment?

Busta is a strange dog and I have him on Prozac for anxiety as he is a very much over-the-top dog. I am hoping it is just to do with the re-homing and will see about weaning him off - I have already tried to wean him off (unsuccessfully) once but that would seem it was too soon. He also has unusual gastric issues which we manage.

Diesel is on anti-inflammatories for arthritis.

The dog we lost just before we got Busta had his front leg amputated due to an osteosarcarcoma. He survived 8 months before he got another one on his hind leg.

The wheelchair didn't impede this dog's enjoyment of life.
How would you describe household dynamic?

The cat is the boss of the household (after me!) with his 7.5kg frame (not fat just BIG) keeping the two Rottweilers and anyone else in the household in line. The two Rottens are good friends and play well together.

What do you do to spend time together?

Busta often goes to work with my husband, leaving Diesel and Normie behind to enjoy the creature comforts of home. The animals are all allowed on the furniture to snuggle with us.

A slightly out-of-focus snap of Gillian hanging with her two rotties, just to prove that they are allowed to snuggle on the furniture.
The dogs are taken for a walk daily and if there is something we are doing that they can attend with us, we take them. Diesel just helped me with a display stand for an Open Day at a Doggie Day Care Centre recently.

Has caring for this group taught you anything you didn’t already know about their condition or animals with this condition?

I started my Pets Need A Life Too! because I decided to bring a Rottweiler into my life at a time they were getting a bad reputation in the press. I wanted to prove that Rottweilers are a great breed of dog given the right environment.

Cole was a great ambassador (and my heart dog) he taught me about fairness and being with an awesome dog. [Cole passed away in 2012].

Then we got Chevy, he was a lovely dog but had so many issues, Chevy taught us how to manage a dog with “issues”. Diesel is just a lovely sweet old man who just gets on with everyone and Busta is a sweet handful. They all have taught me something (even Normie the cat) in their own way.

How have they changed your approach to patients?

I don’t know if they have, or if it is my obsession with learning more about how to approach patients…maybe it is because of them I have the obsession?

Any parting words of wisdom?

Treat animals with patience and kindness – they will always respond in kind. Animals need to trust and we need to earn that trust, we cannot force it on them

I often feel the problems we feel with have with animals are purely because of our own lack of understanding of the animal’s feelings. We want things to happen on our terms, we need to slow down, take our time and be patient in our dealings – things need to happen in the animal’s time.

Given the above, I think everyone might be wondering what toys you like to enrich the lives of your crew?

I particularly like the AussieDog range for Rottweilers – very hard wearing range of toys, for both just playing, as well as their food dispensing range.

Food dispensing toys:
Starmark BobALot,
Busy Buddy Magic Mushroom, Tug A Jug and Kibble Nibble,
Buster Food Cube is a an old favourite;
The Foobler is a nice new one on the market but does need careful training;
Aussie Dog tucker ball and Home Alone;
Ultra Kong is awesome too.
(all of these are good hard wearing toys)

Hard Boiled Softie (a little difficult to get at the moment);
Kyjen Iqube, Hide A Squirrel, Hide A Bee, Hide A Bird, and the Kyjen Egg Babies range;
(Because what dog doesn’t like to unstuff things?)

Aussie Dog Enduroball (or the Staffy ball for the real hard workers), Turbo Chook, Bungy Chook and well pretty much all of their range – including some of the domestic hoof stock range, works well with the bigger dogs!
(just because they are so darn well made!...even better they are an Australian company)

I really do believe it is all in the way people introduce toys to their pets and what kind of toy they choose too (a ball is no fun unless someone is there to throw it).

We need to understand that some pets need to be taught how to play and or play a new game (just like humans do), they need to be supervised at least initially to ensure they understand the “rules” of the game (i.e. no destroying) and then at the end of the day people need to recognise toys are meant to be played with and ultimately be wrecked.

It is up to us as to how long the toys last by the way we teach our furred friends. And we also have to recognise that even within breeds every dog is an individual and what works for one may not work for another.

Thanks Gillian for sharing. You can follow Pets Need a Life Too on Facebook
Vet's Pets is a new series we're running weekly about the animals sharing their lives with veterinarians, nurses and technicians and veterinary students. To find out more click here.