Category Archives: Environmentalism

Lady Esther: The Cat that Was Not a Cat

woman in holiday poinsettia sweater

Last night I met a remarkable woman at a downtown Christmas party in Kansas City.

Her name is Betty.

She has always lived in Kansas City. When she was a young girl, she lived on Country Club Plaza.

She really wanted a pet cat. However, her mother did not like cats. So her father brought Betty the next best thing.

A pet skunk.

vintage photo of girl with pet skunk

Lady Esther’s scent glands had been removed, but she was still named for the perfume Betty’s mother wore and that her father didn’t like.

When Betty put a harness on Lady Esther and walked her around the neighborhood, people crossed the street to avoid them.

“She walked with her tail straight up!” Betty says.

When she wasn’t walking or cuddling with Betty, Lady Esther lived in their use. She used a litter box.

“She was just like a cat,” Betty says.

When Betty went to college, Lady Esther was given to a man who ran a barbecue restaurant. Unfortunately, Betty says Lady Esther must have eaten too much barbecue, for she didn’t live long after that.

After college, Betty went on to do work at a local nature center, helping orphaned squirrels and other creatures get strong enough to go back out in the wild. She also spent many years serving lunch to students in a Parkville, Missouri, cafeteria.

Sometimes she runs into them, when she’s out hunting hedge apples for craft projects.

Thanks for the lovely conversation, Betty! I wish you a very happy holiday season!

Readers: What’s the most unusual pet you have ever had or encountered?

 

What To Do with Dandelions

Do you hate dandelions?

I don’t. In fact, I love them.

Taraxacum officinale dandelion

Taraxacum officinale. Source: Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885 (U.S. Public Domain)

As I inspected the garden last weekend, I was thrilled to see quite a few dandelions sprouting.

Although we don’t use weedkillers, we don’t get a lot of dandelions.

That’s probably because I like to pull them. And when I do, I try to yank out the whole plant, root and all, well before their heads turn into those fluffy seed puffs. That helps keep the overall population down.

In addition to removing them where you don’t want them, pulling dandelions provides a seasonal treat that’s packed with minerals and nutrients.

If you have been reading this blog long, you know I’m a fan of wild edible plants.

I’m especially fond of dandelions, which are plentiful and trending for foodies. Over the past year, I have seen bags of dandelion greens on the shelves at Whole Foods and dandelion salads on the menus at restaurants. (I tend to gulp at the price.)

According to Whole Dog Journal, dandelions can also be beneficial for dogs.

Last weekend’s dandelion haul wasn’t massive – just about 15 young plants, none of which had flowered.

But that was enough. Cleaning dandelions takes a while, especially if you don’t plan to throw anything away.

The entire dandelion plant is edible, although the greens can be a little bitter.

I cleaned mine by soaking them three times in water and then scrubbing all of the dirt from them.

Then, I snipped their roots for roasting and gathered the greens in a bowl.

I haven’t turned my roasted roots into a liver-cleansing tea just yet, but I have gotten use from the greens.

dandelion greens

Last night, I snuck some greens between layers of cheese in a batch of nachos. I called ‘em Dandy Nachos.

And on Easter, I used the greens to garnish a batch of deviled eggs.

As promised, see below for the deviled eggs recipe. It’s one of my famous, inexact recipes, so you won’t need any measuring cups.

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Deviled Nest Eggs

What you’ll need:

As many boiled eggs as you want (Remember, each whole egg makes two deviled eggs)

  • Wasabi mayonaise (Available at Trader Joe’s)
  • Your favorite yellow mustard
  • A handful of fresh dandelion greens
  • Capers
  • Paprika
  • Bowl and spoons for mixing

Directions:

Carefully peel your boiled eggs – I find it’s best to do this while they are still warm. Slice each egg in half and separate the yolk from the white. Gather all of the yolks in a bowl. Once you have separated all of the eggs, you can mix up your filling. Simply add the yellow mustard and wasabi mayo and begin stirring. Start with a small amount of the condiments at first – no more than a teaspoon – and taste as you go along. You will know when the taste is right for you. Garnish each egg with two or three shreds of dandelion green and one or more capers. Each egg should resemble a little bird nest with very tiny eggs. Sprinkle paprika lightly over the whole batch.

Have you ever eaten dandelions? What did you think?

Ouch!

If porcupines were tree branches, they would look like this.

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Long-haired Luke picked this up in his golden tailfeathers last night during our jog along the Trolley Track Trail.

He squatted down to do his business, and when he stood up, this foot-and-a-half-long weapon was swinging from the underside of his tail. Because his fur kept him safe from the thorns, he seemed more confused than anything – like a cat with a string tied to its tail.

Never have I more wished to be carrying a pocket knife on an outing.

However, instead of cutting around the evil entanglement, I spent ten bare-handed minutes, gingerly tugging strands of hair away from the sticky, hair-like thorns, many of which lodged themselves in my skin throughout the process.

Charlie Machete seemed to be laughing at us all the while.

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Oh well, it was an adventure!

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, several thorny varieties of deciduous trees grow in Missouri. I think our spiky branch was new growth from a black or honey locust that fell off due to the recent snowstorms.

Many honey locusts grow along the part of the trail we were on. They have a terrifying appearance, their own branches wrapping around the trunk like wooden barb wire.

HoneyLocustThorn

What hazards must you watch out for on your outings?

Ranch Life: Livestock, Working Dogs, Wolves and People

As an all-around animal and nature lover, I often find myself thinking about the ways in which dogs can negatively impact the environment.

People and Carnivores logo

Then, every so often, a story like this pops up – a story about working dogs whose loyalty provides a sustainable and reliable form of livestock protection. It’s an awesome solution especially at a time when many people violently resist the reintroduction of natural predators like wolves.

Even if you aren’t interested in the eco-angle of this story from the People and Carnivores conservation group, I urge you to watch this 7-minute video for the rare and old timey dog breeds featured in it. (And don’t be put off by the creepy thumbnail image.)

To learn more about how human society and the great predator animals can share the planet, check out PeopleandCarnivores.org.

What do you think of the Livestock Guarding Dogs?

If you like this story, check out my post on the Conservation Canines.

A Movie for a Dog

scooby and a turtle

Here’s a fun activity for you and your dog.

Turn on the following YouTube video, preferably on your biggest screen and plop your dog down in front of it?

Does Fido watch?

A Dog Tale: A Movie for Dogs is a short film created by a team of film students at Michigan’s Grand Valley State University.  Experts, including scientists, trainers and dog owners, helped the students to include many elements known to stimulate dogs and presented in an attention-generating (to a dog) way.

The only problem: YouTube isn’t smell-o-vision. As his most powerful sense, scent is how a dog “sees” the world.

This was obvious when we showed the movie to our dogs, on the biggest screen in our house. The animal sounds, squeaky toys and red fox flitting across the screen did not cause Scooby, Luke or Charlie Machete to do more than twitch an ear.

Visual media developed with dogs in mind will always be limited in its impact.

(However, that didn’t stop DOGTV,  a paid streaming TV channel for dogs, from being created.)

Check out what else the students learned in the short “dogumentary” that accompanies the film.

Do your dogs watch TV?

Now that you know a movie isn’t the right thing to give your dog this Valentine’s Day, check out some better ideas in Wayward Hearts – a Valentine’s Gift Guide for Dogs and Dog Lovers from Wayward Dogs!

Shampoo You Can Share with the Dog (Review + Giveaway)

The truest thing about my hair right now is that it needs to be cut.

emo self portrait

Taking a self-portrait is awkward.

I don’t “do” my hair. Never have.

I require an easy, preferably bedhead-ready, cut that will look decent for the average 5 months I go between visits to my stylist. On top of that, I want my ‘do to be just a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.

That’s not much to ask, right?

The photo above was taken on a good hair day – two days ago, at the end of the day, following about three weeks of using only natural products on my hair.

Specifically, I have been using a Lavender Neem Shampoo bar and Apple Cider Vinegar with Lavender Hair Rinse from Baltimore Bumble Crafts. For styling, I have been using Pomade by Nutressant.

This post is about the shampoo bar and hair rinse.

Baltimore Bumble Crafts Lavender Neem Shampoo Bar

Shampoo bar. Image courtesy Baltimore Bumble Crafts.

apple cider vinegar hair rinse

After a couple weeks of spritz-and-rinse.

Vanessa Nakoski, the woman behind Baltimore Bumble Crafts, makes an ever-growing line of bath and beauty products. She specifically recommended the Lavender Neem Shampoo bar for me because it’s also safe for dogs.

After a couple weeks of using the shampoo bar on my own hair, I decided to try out it out on Scooby the elderpin.

Scooby bath time

For illustrative purposes only. This bathtime photo was taken years ago.

Scooby doesn’t get many baths, but he doesn’t mind them, as long as the water is warm and no one tries to stick a toothbrush in his mouth. He has incredibly short, thin fur.

Using a shampoo bar on him instead of liquid soap was actually quite convenient. It was easy to suds him up and evenly distribute the soap. Afterwards, he raced around the house at top speed.

While he was still wet and for a couple days after, his fur carried the lightest scent of lavender/neem. I liked that the smell wasn’t overwhelming and can only imagine that with a nose thousands of times more powerful than mine, Scooby did, too.

The best part of the Baltimore Bumble Craft shampoo bar when it came to Scooby is what it didn’t do – give him dandruff.

Typically, within a day or two of a scrubdown, Scooby’s skin will get a little flaky. This is why I don’t generally bathe him more than once a month. It’s been five days since his Baltimore Bumble Craft bath, and he hasn’t flaked, yet. Awesome!

dandruff-free dog

Flake-free miniature pinscher

On my head, the results of the shampoo bar were a little more mixed.

That’s probably because Scooby lives his life pretty much au natural. Dude with the collapsing trachea doesn’t even wear a collar most days, much less hair gel. (Can you imagine?)

I, on the other hand, have been washing my hair and putting petroleum-based stuff in it almost every day for basically my whole life.

There’s gonna be a transition period. And, to be honest, I’m not all the way through it yet.

However, I can say this about my trial use of the Baltimore Bumble Crafts’ lavender neem shampoo bar: The first couple of days were great. My hair felt light and clean. After that, I entered what I’m told is the gunky period. As your hair and scalp work to find the new, right balance of natural oils, the tresses might not look or feel so awesome.

Using the Baltimore Bumble Crafts apple cider vinegar and lavender hair rinse two or three times a week helped. On those days, my hair didn’t feel so weighed down or clumpy in the back.

And, no, I did not walk around all day smelling like vinegar. The scent dissipates as your hair dries.

I cheated a few times by mixing a squirt of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap with my shampoo bar suds. That helped, too.

So did figuring out how to use the bar correctly.

Oddly enough, it took scrubbing the Scoob for me to realize I wasn’t lathering my own head correctly. Even as a crazy dog lady, I hesitated before using the shampoo bar on myself after washing the dog with it, but I had to.

As I scrubbed him, it occurred to me that on my own head I had been focusing more on my long hair strands when I should have been creating some lather on my scalp and working it down to the ends. Duh!

It’s safe to say that I’m still getting the hang of this natural shampoo thing, and I will continue to experiment with different products and routines until I figure out what works best for me.

In the meantime, I’m so happy Scooby and I got to try out Baltimore Bumble Crafts.

One lucky reader (in the U.S.) will get to try a shampoo bar for free, too!

To enter, simply visit Baltimore Bumble Crafts and report back here with a comment about other products you’d like to try.

To receive additional chances to win your own Lavender Neem Shampoo Bar, follow the link below.

Click here: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I received free products for myself and one for a giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

Why I Stopped Using Commercial Hair Products

We’ve been weaning ourselves away from commercial household and personal products for a while now.

Portland portrait

Being natural in Portland last year.

Having discovered Nutressant, the Kansas City company that makes all manner of organic, non-toxic Substances One Needs for Everyday Life, we never get toothpaste, lotion, deodorant or bar soap at the store anymore.

Nutressant even inspired us to make our own laundry detergent. (DIY dish detergent is next on the list!)

Although I am gradually working toward a totally hippie-fied, all-natural existence, a few transitions have been harder to make.

Like hair. (And a whole host of dog products.)

Several months ago, Zach and I watched a movie called Chemerical. The documentary looks closely at the levels of yucky chemicals an average family is exposed to every day via common household and personal products. The family in the movie is challenged to give up all that stuff and instead use only natural and homemade alternatives for a year.

The college age daughter in the house is all for the experiment. Until it comes to her hair and make-up products. She totally freaks out when forced to get rid of all her storebought stuff and begins secretly hoarding a small stash of it. As I was watching, I remember scoffing at the girl.

“Get with the program,” I thought.

Yeah. Get with the program.

The truth is that the process of switching from commercial shampoos to the natural kind isn’t easy.

Nutressant even warned me when I tried their shampoo – because it’s not petroleum-based, it’s not powerful enough to cut through the residue left on your hair by commercial shampoos, which tend to be petroleum-based.

Only oil breaks down oil. (That’s the secret behind Dawn dish detergent’s magic ability to clean oil-slicked seabirds.)

However, at the time, I wasn’t quite ready to give up all of the other, more expensive, hair gunk I had acquired over time from my stylist.

assortment of hair products

So, I cheated.

I used the expensive hair products and a mixture of Nutressant and commercial shampoo but was never able to cut the cord completely on the chemical-laden stuff. Fail.

However, when I was recently presented with an opportunity to review another kind of handmade, organic shampoo – one that is also safe to use on the dogs – I decided to try a little harder.

It wasn’t easy, but I chucked all those pricey hair products. It’s a new day.

Come back tomorrow to learn about my – and Scooby’s – experience using a Baltimore Bumble Crafts shampoo bar! (And in my case, a vinegar-based hair rinse, too!)

Baltimore Bumble Crafts Lavender Neem Shampoo Bar

Shampoo bar. Image courtesy Baltimore Bumble Crafts.

In the meantime, if you’re thinking about making the change from regular to natural shampoo, check out this guide from A Green Routine.

Have you ever used natural shampoo?

I don’t need this stuff anymore

This is all going buh-bye.

Bed Head and Schwartzkopf hair products

Once worth a lot of money to me.

I’ll tell you why I’m getting rid of all those pricey hair products tomorrow.

(And, yes, it does have a little bit to do with dogs.)

In the meantime:

Go check out The Pitch‘s hot-off-the-press Best of Kansas City 2012 edition.

KC Pittie Pack gets a mention – Best Way to Tame Your Wild-Ass Dog!

Also: What kind of products you currently put in your hair?

Conservation Canines save wildlife one scat at a time

Can a dog help save the whales?

Orca AKA Killer Whale

Photo by Innotata. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

If you read the New York Times, are a fan of Wayward Dogs on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, you have probably already encountered the story of Tucker, the onetime stray black lab mix who now spends his days sniffing out Orca scat from the deck of a boat off the coast of San Juan Island, Washington.

By leading scientists to this obscure excrement, Tucker helps them monitor the health of the whales and understand where they go when they’re not in the San Juan area.

I can’t believe this dog is for real.

According to the story, Tucker is the only dog in the world currently trained and working to detect the scent of whale droppings in the open ocean, but he’s not the only dog sniffing out endangered species poop for science.

Since 1997, the non-profit, Washington-based organization Conservation Canines has been training dogs to trackers of endangered whales, bears, owls, elephants, caribou, pumas, jaguars, giant anteaters and even mice.

Studying the scat is a non-invasive way for scientists to learn a whole lot about the animals, including their sex, species, nutritional status and reproductive health. In the case of the orcas, the presence of the chemicals like DDT and dioxin in the scat suggests in what other waters the animals may have been swimming.

We humans are killing off the rest of the planet at an alarming rate.

Something like 200 plant and animal species die off each day, mostly as a result of human impact.

Like our own, the world dog population is more of an overpopulation. Just ask shelters and rescue groups. When they’re free-roaming or feral, dogs can pose a threat to wildlife, as well.

As a person who cares deeply about the environment – and is a crazy dog lady – these are things I think about a lot. In fact, I often feel a bit guilty about the time and energy I put into dog advocacy, compared with what I do about the plight of threatened wild things.

My foster dog Charlie Machete

My foster dog Charlie Machete

What if at the end of the world, it’s just us and dogs? Would that be worth it?

Discovering the Conservation Canines organization was huge for me yesterday. This is an area where domestic animal rescue and environmentalism can come together. Humans can work with dogs to help in the fight to save other species.

Almost all of the Conservation Canines are rescue dogs or owner surrenders. Tucker came from the streets of Seattle.

According to the group’s website, the dogs that make great trackers often don’t make great family pets. They’re too hyper and too single-minded.

The dog now in training to do what Tucker does is a flat-coated retriever who was so obsessed with her ball that when her former owner placed it atop a refrigerator, she sat and stared at the ball for eight hours.

If only the rest of us could apply that level of determination to protecting the planet…

You can support Conservation Canines by shopping at the group’s merchandise site. I rather like the hoodies and “honorary member” shirts for dogs.

Honorary member of Conservation Canines

Wouldn’t your dogs look great in this shirt?

What do you think about this story? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Fun fact: I have been obsessed with whales since I was a little kid. That’s why there are books by the marine life artist Wyland in the “Favorite Things” section of the Wayward Dogs Store.

Wayward Living Tip: DIY laundry detergent

This is not soy sauce.

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After talking about it for months, Zach and I finally took a big DIY plunge recently. We made our own laundry detergent.

It was so easy!

Although we had the three necessary ingredients on hand – borax, washing soda and a bar of soap – we whipped up our first batch with a pre-made mix purchased at the Farmers’ Market from our friends at Nutressant who have already turned us on to natural toothpaste and natural deoderant.

The little brown bag contains equal parts borax and washing soda and shredded cheese pre-grated soap, plus instructions for mixing it all up.

Basically, you just need to add water to the mixture and heat it over the stove, stirring until the soap flakes dissolve. Then, you add more cool tap water and pour it all into your desired container. In a little while, the liquid turns into a jelly-like state and you have homemade laundry detergent. Plus, you get a label to afix to your end container.

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Nutressant’s mix costs $9 and is supposed to make enough detergent to wash 64 loads. The Nutressant folks assured me that the “low suds” recipe would be safe for our high efficiency washing machine, and that seems to be true. No problems so far.

That is, we’ve had no problems with their mix or our own.

We were so excited after making the Nutressant stuff that we immediately made a bunch more of our own laundry detergent. Zach grated the soap — a bar of Nutressant we had on hand. He also added a few drops of essential oils like lavendar and eucalyptus as we transfered our detergent into bottles.

The whole prepping and mixing process took less than an hour and yielded us the equivalent of over two bottles of commercially-availalbe detergent.

We’ve been using homemade detergent for about three weeks now, and I don’t think we’ll ever go back. Our solution is way cheaper, involves no scary, hard-to-pronounce chemicals and is much easier on the environment.

I’m not giving you a precise recipe here because we kind of eyeballed things, based on the Nutressant directions.

But here’s a tip: It’s not recommended to use just any old bar of soap. There are specific kinds of bar soap that are considered laundry soap (Zote is one). You mainly want to avoid using any extra-moisturizing bar soaps becuase they could leave oily stains on your clothes.

The next time we mix up detergent, I’d like to try this Instructables recipe, which calls for a combination of washing soda and baking soda.

Washing soda is supposed to cut grease, while baking soda deoderizes – both key elements for clean clothes.

To learn more about the benefits of non-toxic household products, I recommend the website and documentary Chemerical.

Would you ever make your own detergent? If you have, please share any tips in the comments!

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