Thursday, January 31, 2013

January is Train (and Socialize) Your Dog Month

Coming in under the wire! Better late than never! Just made it in time! Etc., etc.

January is Train Your Dog Month, and I'm finally going to talk about it. I will be blunt, maybe even a little rude. And I will tell you that it doesn't need to be January for you to care about dog training. And I will also tell you this ain't just about obedience training.

Properly, safely, humanely training and socializing your dog is so very important--for dogs of all ages, all through their lives. If you're not going to put the effort into training and socializing your dog, please do not get a dog.

You don't have to become the next Canine Good Citizen or therapy dog team, but there exists a basic set of manners and common-sense behavior that should be addressed.

Has my experience as an Animal Behavior College dog training student influenced this post? Absolutely. So has Desmond.

Yup. That crazy guy.

A word or two about socialization: 

Do not blow this opportunity. The time period when a puppy is most open to and best able to learn about the great big world of dogs and humans and other dogs and trucks and more dogs and vacuum cleaners, and other animals, etc., is short--just 3-16 weeks. If you miss this period, you are going to have a hell of a time with socialization. Individual dogs are different, of course, but in general you want to accomplish providing a positive socialization experience by the time the puppy is 16 weeks old.

Did you just freak out about vaccinations? Did you just think, "Oh hell no, I am not going to risk my puppy getting parvo!"

Well, for one, you should consider looking into a new vet, because he or she should know better and have given you tips about socialization that explained why it's not only OK but also very important to not hide your new puppy in your living room for months on end.

For two, you should start a slow-going, positive socialization experience as early as 3 weeks of age. There is a ton of information online and in books, but I highly recommend taking your pup to a well-run puppy socialization class.

You should do a little research on trainers in your area prior to committing to a class, of course--research which you may think you don't have time for now that you're in a rush to socialize your puppy. But let me tell you something else: you should have done a whole lot of research about puppies and dogs prior to committing to, well, getting a dog.

"Gee, I wish my first family would have done that." Me, too, Des. Seeing as how all the research we did was rendered nearly useless by your shenanigans. Me, too.


A word or two about training:

Training is not just for puppies, and training is not a one-time thing.

Training is necessary for the lifespan of your dog. Once your dog learns a cue, it's stored in his brain on a "use it or lose it" basis. You cannot take your dog to a group class series or two and expect him to just be trained forever.

If you don't do the work to maintain what your dog has learned, he will unlearn it. Or, rather, he will learn something else in its place (which is often more fun for him and less fun for you).

Take a look at the article I wrote on Examiner.com for last year's event. It's a super-simplified introduction to the 4 quadrants of operant conditioning. I know that sounds very professional dog trainer-y, but trust me. Understanding this information is a great foundation for any additional dog training methods you pick up. It will help you get a little bit inside your dog's head.

Then think about the type of dog you would love to have in your life... Do you want a high-energy agility dog? A dog you can travel with anywhere? A dog who will go hiking with you? A dog who will lounge quietly in the corner during your bustling summer BBQs? A dog who will sit calmly with you at an outdoor cafe? A dog you can let off-leash at the dog park who will come bounding back to you anytime you call him? A dog who can perform all sorts of cool tricks?

And now realize that you will have to help make that a reality.

Is training work? Yes. But it's also fun. It can--and should--be fun for you and for your dog. When done properly, you'll find that you both look forward to training time together. You'll learn new things, you'll bond, you'll have a blast.

Will you face challenges and frustrations? Absolutely. It's all part of the process, and those challenges can actually help you better understand your furry friend.

If you don't feel up to the task yourself, don't hesitate to get in touch with a positive-reinforcement-loving, rewards-based trainer (you know I won't promote any other methods, right?). Group classes will be more affordable than private lessons, and most of the folks at those classes are in the same boat as you--wanting a great dog but facing some uncertainties. Plus, you can benefit from the questions other people have that you didn't realize you also had.

Never be afraid to ask for training help--it can make a huge difference in the relationship you have with your dog.

Again, I say all of these things about training and socialization not just as an ABC student but as someone who has seen firsthand both the amazing benefits of doing these things and the unfortunate, frustrating side effects of not doing these things. (I'd link you to an example of "unfortunate, frustrating side effects" but it's not actually possible to link, in one fell swoop, to every single post about what can happen with an unsocialized and poorly/inhumanely trained dog. Oh wait, yes it is: Life With Desmond)

Let's bring this all home with a great graphic you may have seen before from pet365 that touches on both training and socialization:

Dog Training Facts & Figures Dog Training graphic created by Matt Beswick for Pet365. Click below to see the full-size version.
Dog Training Stats Infographic

What about you? What do you wish you knew about socialization and training before jumping into the world of caring for a dog? What training challenges are you still facing?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Frosty Paws for the Post-Holiday Blues

Are you and your pup feeling a little down now that we're in the midst of winter and the festive season is long gone? Would something soft and cuddly and yummy make you feel better? 

Wait. 

Soft and cuddly and yummy? 

Yup. OK, well sort of. Frosty Paws ice cream for dogs is soft and yummy. Frosty, the plush mascot for the brand, is soft and cuddly. And you have a chance to win both. Actually, you have 10 chances to win both!


Mmm...coupons...
Frosty is enjoying sitting on the couch. Typical dog.
Frosty Paws provided us with 10 gifts to give away to our readers. Every winner will receive 2 coupons for Frosty Paws--so you can give your dog a special treat to help him fight the doldrums--and 1 plush Frosty doll--so you, the human, can snuggle up with a little cutie during your next boredom-induced weekend snooze.

But don't feel guilty about the fact that you can't share your toy with your furkids, because Frosty Paws frozen treats are fortified with protein, vitamins, and minerals that dogs need--so they can't share with you either.

Wondering what Desmond thinks of all this? Sure you are!

"Sniff sniff sniff. Is this edible?"
"Nope. This is not edible. I am not amused."
"Why won't this lady just leave me alone and let me nap?"
OK, so Desmond doesn't understand that this plush Frosty means he will be getting some delicious doggie ice cream soon, but I won't hold that against him. And just to be clear, the stuffed animal is not a doggie toy; you should not leave your pup unattended with it, nor should you let your pup rip it to shreds even if you are there to supervise. Got it? Good.

Enter below via the Rafflecopter widget for a chance to win 2 Frosty Paws coupons and 1 Frosty plush toy (not suitable for dogs). 10 winners will be chosen! U.S. residents only, please; Sir Frosty isn't available elsewhere. 

(image provided by Frosty Paws)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: all coupons, plush toys, and mailing supplies provided by Frosty Paws.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Better Cozy Cave Pet Bed

Guys--do you remember our foray into the land of cave beds?

how to fail at the cozy cave dog bed

Well, today I'm here to tell you about a great sale on an improved version of this bed.

I think that we bought the bed one size too small, which made it hard for Des to really get in it and turn around and whatnot. He's a 55-pound dog, and we got the bed in a size large. It cost us over $80.

But once we realized it wasn't going to work well for him, we were stuck with a bed--an over-$80 bed--that was basically useless. The material on the outside of the bed, the colored material, isn't very soft--the good stuff is on the inside. So even when we offered the bed up to Desmond to just lie on top of, with the dome flattened, he wasn't super interested in it.

What solves that problem? A removable dome. Oh how I wish that we were able to remove the top of the bed. And also buy the bed for far less money than we spent.

Well, that ship has sailed for us, but it has not for you.

FULL DISCLOSURE: The link I'm about to post here is to a flash sale for a cave-style bed. The company running the sale? Well, that's where I work. These are my peeps. If you purchase this bed, I will not get any money (maybe some brownie points at the office or first pick from the next platter of bagels), but if you and you and you and you and you all purchase the bed--or find yourselves loving the site and buying all kinds of things--that is good for my company and, by proxy, good for me. And by the way, the image above is from the site (nomorerack.com).



This happens to be available only in red and the 25" diameter (our large bed was about 10" bigger than that), but perhaps we'll get more inventory if the sale goes well.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Another Day, Another Biscuit: Desmond's Putting in Overtime

With our hurricane displacement still going strong, we find Desmond tagging along with Dad once a week and working hard, as usual.

Wasting time on a morning snack before doing anything productive. Don't judge. You all do that, too.

Wasting time Looking for inspiration for that big presentation later (probably should have planned ahead on that one, Des)

The stresses of the day are simply too much

3PM slump. Not even a rousing game of fetch can save you now.

But when he's not hardly working, he's running away from someone who is working. With a stamp. Yup, that's right--a stamp. Damn those dastardly, menacing stamps and their blood curdling screams. 

Xstamper: Office bully since 2013

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Guest Post: Natural Dog Allergy Treatments

We're very lucky here in the Desmond household, because--wonky though his legs may be--our dear, crazy dog does not have any allergies. Does he scratch? Sure, but nothing really out of the ordinary (and we know that fish oil helps that). Do some foods bother his stomach? Sure, but there's nothing to be suspicious of there (plus, he does seem to get some relief from a probiotic). 

Our worst problem is his dry elbows, especially because he is so skinny and his skin is soooo thin (I'm gonna get on that show-your-pet's-waistline campaign thing soon). But lots of folks have it way worse and need to be quite careful about what their dog gets into. 

Dog lovers who have these pets may be inclined to want the safest, most-natural way to relieve their pet's discomfort, in hopes of avoiding introducing even more variables to the scenario. More than understandable!

Here to tell us more about natural remedies for allergies in dogs is Carly Messmer of AllergicPet.com.


Natural Dog Allergy Treatments

There are several different ways to treat allergies in dogs, but the prescription
medications that are often provided can have serious side effects. Natural
treatments are best for your pet's safety and health because serious side effects are
rare. By using herb-based medicine on your dog, you won't be giving him steroids
and you can also strengthen his immune system. That stronger immune response
will help your dog fight off the allergens that normally attack him, so he will feel
better. Several different types of allergies can be treated with herbs and natural
options. These include food allergies and skin allergies.

Allergic reactions on the skin are among the most common of the allergy problems
seen in dogs. There are herbal remedies that come in tablet or capsule form, so
you can give your dog whichever one he will take more easily. Make sure you look
for an allergy medicine that's veterinarian formulated and that has already been
used for some time. If you just buy the first thing you see, it might not be something
that's truly safe for your dog. A skin allergy medicine used by veterinarians in their
practice indicates good quality, strong results, and very few side effects.

Since veterinarians are trusted with people's dogs all the time, they have to provide
safe and reliable care in order to continue to remain in business. Your veterinarian
may be able to recommend a skin allergy medication for your dog, but you can also
find good products online as long as you do your research. Most of the skin allergy
medications on the market for dogs today contain all-natural blends of spices and
herbs, which have been found to be safe. If you find an allergy medication with a lot
of chemicals in it, it should be avoided just like prescription treatments.

For severe skin allergies, there are bonus or booster options that can generally be
purchased along with the tablets or capsules. Using those options can help raise
the immune response faster and get a good head start on clearing up the allergic
condition. Whether it's biting and scratching, excessive licking, hair loss, rough skin,
or a combination of symptoms, your dog won't be comfortable until he gets some
relief from his allergies. With products that are all natural, you can get your dog
some help and you won't have to worry about the side effects he might have from
the treatment. That will give both you and your dog peace of mind.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Desmond's Homecoming After Hurricane Sandy

We finally did it. We brought Des back to the neighborhood, back to the house.

I am not exactly sure what I was expecting from this, but it felt rather anticlimactic. He didn't seem excited or confused. He seemed indifferent. Granted, it was pretty chilly and obviously there is no heat at the house, so maybe he was just annoyed about being cold. He did a lot of sniffing around in the house, not so much outside. I think I hoped he would get to his yard and go bonkers, like, "YAAAY! IT'S MY YARD! WHERE IS THAT DARNED NEIGHBOR CAT? ZOOMIES!!" Instead, he just sat there.

He did seem to remember the house itself, at least. He knew where he was going and was very curious in there. And he also seemed to remember the park immediately. So I guess that's good. I'd like to try and take him back whenever we can. It may be completely pointless, but it makes me feel better for some reason I don't fully understand.

Anyway, here are some pix from Desmond's return to East Rockaway. As usual, you can click on the pictures to enlarge.

Seeming bored or confused or cold in the yard
Thanks for your enthusiasm, Des. On a side note, see the Leaning Tower of Old Crappy Fence back there? I didn't realize how bad it was until that day. We'll have to do some sort of patch job to fix it and keep watch on Des when he's outside, lest he try to make another Great Escape.
This paw-up pose is what makes me think the poor guy was just cold.
Looking for neighbor cat??
Here we are inside. This was the bedroom where we all snuggled at night got punched in the face and shoved to the outer edges of the bed.
He seemed very curious in here.

This is the doorway between the dining room and living room. He wanted to go into the living room, but that's the room with lots of random nails sticking out the wood, so we stayed away.
In the dining room with the kitchen behind Des. Scope out the old tin walls.
After some time at the house, we headed over to check out the dog park and see if anything had been fixed, per chance. Things there are still pretty messy but not as bad as I figured they would be.

Some of the decking/walkway and the big ramp jammed up against one of the fences, which is doing a pretty good job of falling down.
Desmond didn't seem to care that the park was looking rather ghetto. (That's more decking and one of the kiddie pools piled into that corner on the right.)
A couple other dogs were there, which was a pleasant surprise.
This is a terrible pic, so please forgive me, but I had to share it. On our way out of the park, we saw that a dock, a jet ski, and a boat were still sitting way on the far end of the field. I'm taking the pic from outside the passenger-side of our car. The water is right behind me. 
Here's a Google Maps shot for added  perspective. Yellow dot is the car. Pink dot is the boat & friends.

Also, just for kicks, here are a couple pix of neighbor cat's house. The evil feline used to sit on that back railing and taunt my poor dog. We also never had such a good view of the house before, since there was a tree there to block it.

This is neighbor cat's front door (by our falling-down fence). It looks like they are blocking the opening where the door was with the decking that was in front of it. I have no clue what the story is with these folks--if they will fix it or just disappear or what. The house was being rented by neighbor cat's dad, and we've never met the landlord.


That's the latest on hurricane recovery. We'll be getting our work permit this month so fingers crossed for some action in February!

And I'll give you something to be excited about: Desmond's been going to doggie daycare. He's been there three times now--and of course there's already a story or two.
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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Pet Blogger Challenge 2013: Repeat Offenders


Woo hoo! For this year's Pet Blogger Challenge, we are first-time repeat offenders! (Is that an oxymoron?) We get to go back and look at our Challenge from last year and see how things have changed. I'm quite excited, not just because I truly love a good survey, but also because I hope this is really the post that's going to get me back into blogging on a more-than-once-a-week-or-so basis. 

Before I plunge into the questions, I'd like to say thanks to Go Pet Friendly for being such a gracious host. 

1. How long have you been blogging and provide a link to your post from last year’s Pet Blogger Challenge so we can refresh our memories. I will be coming up on my 2nd blogiversary this April. I started the blog right after we brought Desmond home, on April 1, 2011. Here's a link to our post from last year (when I was still writing in all lowercase): Our First Pet Blogger Challenge
2. What do you consider the most important goals you set out in last year’s post? My goals involved redesigning the blog, going to a pet blogger conference, and talking more about my ABC student trainer experience. 
3. Have you made progress toward those goals, or have your goals changed over the past year? Um...I accomplished basically none of those. However, I think if not for the hurricane, I'd have been posting about the end of my externship with my mentor trainer and my shelter practicum. At this point, I'm on a six-month hold with school. And I have some secret fears about the whole thing. Maybe I should post about that...

All that being said, I still really really want to redesign the blog. It's just hard to find the time to do it. Or, rather, when I have a span of hours on end during which I have no plans, I either find another way to fill those hours or I want to relish in catching up on quality time with my couch & DVR.
4. How often do you post? It's been a bit of an odd year, as three fairly major events affected my posting. Not that I've ever had a schedule, but before September (due to a job change) I had much more time to blog, and due to a death in the family and Hurricane Sandy (that jerk), I spent the spring and the fall/winter mentally focused on other things. For a while, I was posting 2-4 times a week. I feel like 3 posts a week is the ideal number. Posting 4 times is time consuming, both for me and for readers, and posting 2 times a week can make the blog feel blank, plus it's not great for traffic. 
5. Has your opinion of blogging on a schedule or as the spirit moves you changed?
Not at all. I don't run this blog for money or fame or anything like that. I do it for fun. A schedule would make it no fun anymore, because my real-life schedule is all over the place. I actually stopped letting myself feel guilty about not joining up with as many blog hops and blogville group activities as I once did. The first year, I felt like I had to be part of everything in order to both grow the blog/keep an audience and be considered a "good neighbor" blogger. Now I'm more comfortable with the fact that I am not the same person or the same blogger as other bloggers who are much more involved with things. And that's OK. I envy their ability to fit this level of blog commitment into their lives, but I no longer am feeling bad about myself for not fitting it into mine. 
As for the question regarding how I know when a post is post worthy, the simple answer is I don't care. And that's not to say that I take my readers for granted, but it's to reiterate the fact that I started this for fun, for myself, for a group of people who were interested in how Desmond's life in his forever home was going. Did that audience expand? Yes. Do I love that? Yes! 

The blog did grow into something a bit more--I talk about health issues a lot and do quite a few pet product reviews and giveaways--but what makes something post worthy (other than agreements with third parties, like review posts) is basically if I feel like posting it. Every so often, I do post something that resonates with a larger group of people, and that's awesome, but if I spent all my time trying to create that post, I don't think it would work, and it certainly would not be any fun.
 6. How much time do you spend writing your blog per week? How much time visiting other blogs? Share your tips for staying on top of it all. Again, it used to be a lot more time--an hour a day and a few hours each weekend. Lately, it's an hour or two every week, tops. I'd like to get back to somewhere in between those things.

Google Reader is how I get to other people's blogs. It's great for reading things super quickly. It's not great for commenting on blogs, which I still find extremely time consuming and daunting. There are two sides to commenting: saying something meaningful because you really have something to say; and commenting for the sake of making the rounds. I often read posts and love them or simply agree/can relate. So those are the posts I would like to comment on--but I rarely have anything groundbreaking to say and often just want to say I loved it or can relate. But that kind of commenting can look like I'm "just making the rounds," and so I find myself getting frustrated and not commenting at all. Or saving the posts for later when I "have more time to think" and then never getting around to it. I often have 50 or so "saved for later" posts in Reader and most of them are over 2 months old. What's the point of that?

I want to comment, I really do. But the amazing comments from other readers/bloggers are always so well thought out, that I feel ridiculous coming in--always days or weeks or months later to begin with--with some silly meaningless comment. 

And now for a rant about commenting: I cannot stress this enough (I'm sure I've said it before), but I find the plethora of commenting systems super annoying. Everything needs a login or to be connected to some other account; half of them require clicking a freakin subscribe link via email; and those !$#^ING captchas are going to be the death of me. PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, GET RID OF YOUR CAPTCHA! I get it, you don't want spammers, but why are you making that the reader's problem?? You should be approving your comments then. It should be the blogger's problem, the blogger's chore--not the reader's. And the folks who have captchas AND approval. Oh dear me, that is frustrating. Captchas make it nearly impossible to comment via smartphone, by the way, which is where a good portion of folks (myself included) do their blog reading/commenting. End rant.
7. How do you measure the success of a post and of your blog in general (comments, shares, traffic)? Comments are definitely a big part of it (is that ironic now?), because you can see right away, from afar, what the response is. I haven't actually checked on my analytics in months, but I used to check them every week pretty much. Hits on a post--that's meaningful to me, too. And when I remember to look at my social sharing buttons, I'm always thrilled to see that people have utilized them. Makes me smile. 

I also measure it based on how many contacts I'm getting from third parties (guest bloggers, publishers, pet product manufacturers). These people tend to not want to waste time, so I feel that each contact is a notch in the plus column. And I'll say this: since the hurricane has significantly slowed my posting, I have gotten many less bites from third parties. 
8. If you could ask the pet blogging community for help with one issue you’re having with your blog, what would it be? Oh goodness, will someone please come and redesign the blog for me? Please, please. Don't make me do it. I don't wanna do it. Please let me wake up and the blog will be magically all redone and pretty and lovely and fancy and working perfectly. 
9. What goals do you have for your blog in 2013?
Well, there's that dastardly redesign... But I also still would love to go to BlogPaws. This year's conference is within geographical reach, but due to the house rebuild and not knowing where I'll even be living by May, it's a bit hard to plan for/commit to. Plus, we just got not one, not two, but three wedding invitations for May-September (are we really not done with this yet? sheesh. though don't get me wrong--i love a good wedding.), so I'm not sure I can justify the extraneous funds for BlogPaws. It's not 100% off the table yet, but I'm leaning much closer to not going than going at this point. Major sad face.

Check out everyone else who is participating in this year's challenge!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Guest Post: You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks ... But You Can Help with His Healthcare


Today we have a guest post--our very first guest post on LWD--about doggie health insurance. As you may know, we have VPI and as you may also know, we're not entirely sure that we like it. Check out this article by freelance writer and senior-dog mother Missi Harris and then see the end of the post for my two cents.

You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks ... But You Can Help with His Healthcare

Dogs can be expensive--it is a sad fact of being a pet owner. The ASPCA reports that during its first year of ownership alone a large dog costs a minimum of $1,843, and an annual total of $875 for each year thereafter. As your pet gets older he will start racking up more health care costs as even the fittest canine companions need a little extra help during their later years.

On average, Americans spend $505 on vets visits every year and owners whose pets had a serious illness parted with fees of over $1,000 per annum. One in six pet owners reported their pet had a serious illness in the last 12 months. Illness and injury become more common as pets reach their senior years.

The financial burden of pet ownership is difficult for lots of households, especially in the current financial climate. However, it is something many people don't consider or fail to understand the extent of when they commit to the long-term ownership of a dog. In fact, 52 percent of those who did not take their pets to the vet at all in 2011 said they would only see a specialist if their pet was really sick. A third of these people said they couldn't afford to go at all.

Pet insurance
Pet insurance is vital throughout the entire life cycle of your dog. It can help you ensure your pet gets the attention and medication he needs when he requires it, and it also means many of the costs of medical attention are covered by your policy. 

The majority of pet owners invest in cover when they first gain ownership, but even the most responsible often don't understand how their policies change as their pets grow older.

Before you take out your insurance policy, you should be aware that most policies exclude pre-existing and hereditary medical conditions--this often includes problems such as dysphasia in German shepherds and retrievers. If you have purchased a policy when your pet is young and before a diagnosis, you will be covered by the policy; however, your premiums will almost certainly increase as your pet gets older.

What you need to consider in this situation is the cost of not being insured at all. Switching your policy when your older pet is likely to need medical attention for a specific condition will probably leave you will no funding for your pets whatsoever, so think carefully before you swap between providers. 

In fact, it is common for pet insurance providers to refuse insurance for pets over seven years old at all, or to charge much more expensive premiums for elderly pets they take on. 

The way to combat this is to make sure you diligently read the details of the policy you take out, look for exclusions in cover regarding your specific breed, and make sure you are covered as early in your pet's life as possible. Also, make sure your provider won't cancel the policy once your dog reaches a certain age.

Healthcare tips for older dogs
Insurance is imperative but you can also help reduce the cost of your older dog's healthcare by helping him maintain his health for as long as possible. During seven to twelve years of age, your dog will become a senior citizen and require a little extra help. Older dogs won't be quite so energetically exuberant as their more youthful counterparts, and one of the most common problems resulting from this is obesity. Older dogs don't require as much food as they did in their youth, so offer smaller meals to your pet instead, because obesity can lead to problems with organs and joints, resulting in even more costly veterinary treatment.

It is important however, that you don't reduce the level of protein in your dog's diet, as this requirement does not decrease with age and is necessary for maintaining muscle mass. Instead, try lowering the calorific density of your dog's dinner.

While your dog may be less willing to go for long, fast-paced walks, exercise is still vital in old age. Instead, try walking at a gentler rate to ensure your pet can keep pace, while doing your bit to prevent muscle atrophy.

Be pro-active about your pet's health. In old age, vets visits are essential in order to keep your pet healthy and happy, and preventative heath checks can catch potential issues early. This gives you the the best chance to make positive changes to diet, exercise and routine, before they become real--and expensive--problems.

***
I suspect that had we gotten insurance right away, a bunch of our current insurance issues wouldn't be issues, because VPI wouldn't be able to argue with us about pre-existing conditions. So that's my main input: if you're going to get insurance for your pet, do it ASAP. Do not hesitate. Waiting will only go against you. 
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