Kathy Diamond Davis

Name:
Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States

Author of the book "Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others," 2nd edition published by Dogwise Publishing. Canine Behavior Series at www.veterinarybehavior.com

Friday, January 27, 2006

Memories of Dog Surgeries

Someone on a message board was talking about getting their dog back from surgery today, and I got to reminiscing:

I sure know that relief! My vet used to keep the dogs overnight, but he started letting mine come home when I kept asking--and even one time took my dog to her breeder's husband, also a vet, because HE would send her home same day!

Veterinary anesthetics have changed and they can bring them up out of it faster. And yes, most vets have no night-time staff, so your dog is unattended down there overnight. I think at my vet's office they leave about 6:30 p.m., check the animals around 10 p.m. (maybe that's only when they have certain types of treatments being done--I don't know) and then someone is in around 7 a.m. If they have a dog who needs overnight hospital care, it stays at a different place, and may or may not be transported back to the vet's office in the morning.

I think it's only a matter of time until our vets will have to start clustering their offices around hospitals that have overnight care facilities as well as equipment too expensive for a vet practice to buy, such as MRI. Meanwhile human care is being done in little clinics and doctor's offices instead of hospitals! One difference, though, is that a family member can often stay with the person around the clock if they need to be watched. You usually can't do that in a vet hospital. A human staying overnight is in a bed. A dog is in a cage. It's a dilemma for us doting dog mommies.

One time my dog did have a complication from spay surgery. It was when the vet still kept them overnight. She came home the next day and while drinking water standing quietly at her dish, began to drip blood onto the kitchen floor from the abdominal incision. The vet had me bring her back and he put on a pressure bandage and kept her overnight. She came back home with it still on, looking like a dog who had been wounded in the war. And dirty. I called and asked him if she was ill. He was upset that his staff had not cleaned her better. He said the stress from having to come back and spend another night had given her diarrhea.

I had another dog I had been to class with and had had her for 10 months when she was spayed and I brought her home the same day. She had a rough flight coming to me at 7 months of age, and felt stressed by a crate because of that for the rest of her life. Vet had said to keep her in a crate. She kept throwing up in there, and crying very softly as if trying not to disturb anyone.

I took her out to potty, lifted her onto the bed and settled with her back against my side and her head on my arm while I propped up my upper body to read. She turned her head back over her shoulder to look into my eyes with a look that said she was my dog now. And she was. It was a profound moment of bonding we would have missed if she had stayed overnight at the vet's. And heck, she might have been so sick from stress the next day that she'd have had to stay another night!

She was my first Belgian Tervuren and looked so much like Believer that it's hard to tell them apart in photographs. I also got Believer at that same age of 7 months. Star was just as good at working around other dogs as Believer is, too. I've been blessed with some great dogs.

When our male Saint was neutered way back in 1983, the vet sent him home the same day (neuters are less invasive than spays). I was working, so hubby picked him up. When I got home he had Saint settled on the sofa like a person with a pillow under his head.

As far as keeping them quiet after surgery, that can be a big challenge. I joke that I had to sit on Star for 10 days, but it's practically true. I mostly kept her on a leash either with me or tethered to heavy furniture in the room I was in. But that's not as bad as when Saint had spleen surgery and had to be so very still so he wouldn't bleed to death while young Spirit also had her spay so she wouldn't go in heat overexcite him. I was running a doggy hospital. So he wouldn't go wild at the sound, I put a sign on the front door not to ring the bell, but to call me instead--and I put my phone number there!

That restricted activity is hard work for the dog mom! It pays off, though. They heal faster and they heal better. It's also good bonding time, because they seem to think you're keeping them near you because you need them. It's a very sweet time.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Introducing a Dog Sitter to Your Dog

I got a question today about how to handle the situation of putting friends at ease--and making it safe--so they can come in and take care of your big, protective dog when you are out of town. Here's my answer:

Here's what I would try to start. It will probably work. If it doesn't, then you'd be wise to engage a behavior specialist--ask your veterinarian to recommend one. But try this first.

Walk into the house with your neighbor and the dog in the situation he'll be in. Have your neighbor carrying some of the dog's regular food if it's a dry food, or regular treats--we're just looking for something that won't risk upsetting the dog's intestines, since it will be used when you're not home. The regular food is least likely to do that.

So, you walk in together and the neighbor gives the dog a small amount of food. If this goes well, do it a bunch of times.

Then you start hanging back and let the neighbor go first. If that's still going well, hang back more and more until finally you aren't even going in with the neighbor. Always have the neighbor have food at this point, and never tease a dog with food--give it to the dog.

Eventually also have the neighbor go in without food now and then, so everyone will be confident that all is still well without the dog being able to smell food. Another transition point you can use is to have food in a container just outside where the dog is, so that the neighbor can reach for that after coming in. But--this is important--if the dog growls, do not then give food! Quickly you will have a clever dog who puts on a bigger and bigger aggressive display because he truly thinks that is how you want him to ask for food! Oops!

I think this will work, but if it doesn't, do get expert help before putting anyone at risk. By doing it in steps, not only does it improve the chances of simple success, but it also adds some layers of safety so you'll see if there is a problem before anyone would get hurt.

A dog who happily welcomes these folks into the house might still bark at them at the fence outside! Dogs are not "I hate you" vs. "I love you" in their feelings toward people. Their instincts and the situation are heavily involved in their reactions. You are conditioning the dog to accept the people coming into the house--these particular people. You might have to condition the dog at the fenceline as a separate task if you want that approach, too, and you might have to condition the dog to any other people you want coming in to take care of the dog.

Don't assume that success with this task this time is going to extend to other situations beyond these people and coming into the house this way. In other situations the training might carry over, but it very well might not. Doesn't mean it's a bad dog. Some dogs are very territorial. An aggressive "display" doesn't necessarily mean a dog will bite. But let's not take chances. Let's let the dog learn that you are authorizing these people to come in, and they are Good News!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

When You See Someone Let His Dog Poop in Your Yard

A day of interesting dog questions. This answer of mine was for someone who wanted to know his rights when he has seen a man allow his dog on walks to defecate in this owner's unfenced back yard, told him twice to stop letting the dog do it, and continues to find (and sometimes step in) evidence that the guy is not respecting his directions:

Call the non-emergency phone number of your police department or animal welfare enforcement and ask what the law is in your locale and how it is enforced. Laws against letting your dog defecate on someone else's property without that person's permission are common.

You would probably have to make an official complaint on the record, so you have to decide if you're willing to deal with the fallout of requiring the guy to either pay a fine or appear in court or both. You'd have to be willing to show up, or the charges could be dropped if he fights it in court and he shows up and you don't. It's not the kind of thing where you need a lawyer, nor would he probably need one. It's like a traffic violation.

If you want to get fancy, you could videotape the act. You wouldn't have to stand out there with a camera if you set up a camera connected to a VCR or computer or other device that could make a recording.

If you're well off, heck, you could even hire a detective to do the taping, get a positive I.D. on the guy, and have the court presentation all watertight. Other than money, why not? This is a violation of the law and people need to know it's no joke. The only people who think it's funny are those who never pick it up or step in it. And their turn is coming.

I'm on your side. I have my dogs do their business at home where I pick it up daily. They are trained not to do it on outings unless I give a command, which I only do if we have to be out for a long time, and only in a suitable place. Then I clean it up with a plastic bag and take it home or to a proper trash can.

Blind and disabled people (I am disabled) pick up after their assistance dogs. There is no excuse for your neighbor's behavior, and as a dog owner I resent it when people do this. It makes other people think the presence of dogs in an area inevitably means these messes. Well, not with my dogs it doesn't. I hate the fact that we get more and more restrictions on dog ownership because some owners are irresponsible.

Another thing you could do is fence your yard. I know how much that costs, believe me--mine is fenced, interior fenced, and a back-up chain link to a neighbor's rotting wood fence! I'm a fence person. "Good fences make good neighbors." In your case, it would keep that dog out of your fenced yard. Plus, the scent left by this dog will encourage other dogs to use your yard as a bathroom, too.

People sometimes try to use my front yard as a potty for their dogs. If I see them, I tap loudly on the window and stare at them! I wouldn't mind if they were going to pick it up, but of course they're not. My city recently passed a law that you have to carry something to pick up poop when you are out with a dog. They were going to require a pooper scooper, but I called my councilman. The mayor and council members did not know we already had a law that you have to pick up after your dog in this city. I asked that the required pick-up equipment allow for it to be a plastic bag, which is perfectly adequate and of course totally easy to carry. So that is the law they passed.

Oh, one other method worked once for me when a next-door neighbor kept letting their female dog in heat potty in my front yard. I would go out and put the plastic bag on my hand like a glove, pick up the poop, invert the bag over it so that the bag is inside out with poop enclosed and the outside clean. Tie the top of the bag. Clear bags work best for this particular application. I set the bags neatly on top of their garbage cans. They took the hint.

If you continue to have to pick up for awhile, the bag method is tidy and quick. It works with grocery-store plastic bags, produce bags, sometimes with the plastic bags your newspaper comes in, bread bags, and similar bags of that size.

If the grocery store produce department manager will sell you fresh produce bags, these are the easiest to carry in a pocket or bag. They can serve other purposes, too, such as catching bugs and other messes. I used one for an emergency ice bag at a picnic one time. Not a bad thing to have on hand. Until you get your neighbor's hash settled, you might stick a few of these into your jacket pocket so you don't have to walk back indoors to get one when you spot a mess.

Police Dog in the Family?

I got a fascinating question today from a mom who wonders what she and her husband need to consider if he joins the police K9 unit and they would have a K9 dog to care for with a large/medium sized female dog in the family and children ages 6 and 9. Here's my answer:

ANSWER:

Interesting question. First, as far as your other dog, as long as she is spayed, police dogs tend to be males, making it likely the two would be pals.

The kids are school age, which is a plus. You don't mention the sexes of the children. If the younger one is female, that's a plus. Boys put extra pressure on dogs to a greater age than girls seem to--at least in terms of dog bites and fatalities to children. Read my two articles on children and dogs in the Canine Behavior Series where you found the police dogs article:

http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=SRC&S=1&SourceID=47

The kids are very young, as you realize, and for any large dog to be part of your family, supervision will be imperative. If the dog is going to be trained to apprehend suspects, you should never leave the dog alone with a child--at any age, really. I expect a good police department would have that policy anyway.

Having you as the mom present to supervise really would not be adequate. Knowing what I know about dogs and kids, I'd want the dog's handler present and paying attention whenever the kids are in contact with the dog. That means you'd need a safe, comfortable place at the house for the dog to rest. It should be secure from temporarily-misbehaving kids (or neighbor kids) being able to enter the dog's area or let the dog out on their own.

I am not for one second implying that a well-trained police dog is like having a loaded gun laying around, or in any way wanting to scare or discourage you from becoming a part of this important work. The thing is, NOBODY wants an accident, and that includes the department. Not only does the dog need to be housed safely for the sake of kids, but also the occasional incident of a police K-9 dog getting loose from the handler's home and being involved in any kind of injury to anyone or any other animal invariably makes the news. And it can ruin a good dog--or even if it doesn't ruin the dog, can interfere with a career. All of this can be prevented with the right housing and HABITS of using it properly at home.

I don't have kids, and my own dogs stay in the house, with a fenced "potty yard" right out the back door. Another gate leads to the rest of the fenced yard, and to enter my back yard through a gate you need a key. It opens the padlocks on two gates, about 10 feet apart, so that on the occasions I am out in the larger part of the fenced yard with my dogs to train or romp, anyone standing at the outer gate is unable to reach through to the dogs. Kids will be kids, you know. One thing the inner fenced potty yard does for me is make it darn difficult for anyone to throw anything into the smaller exercise yard and hit or poison my dogs. It also makes it impossible for a kid or other person to tease a dog over the fence, because it's several feet back from the property-line fence.

When the dogs are in the potty yard, my back door is OPEN, so I can monitor them the whole time. I don't leave them out there unattended. Something on the other side might prove too tempting, and they are able to go over both fences--though I don't think they know that, because I've never given them the chance to try it. These dogs are Belgian Tervuren, first cousins to the Belgian Malinois commonly used in police work now. I've had German Shepherds, too, and Lab/German Shepherd cross, and I love this system for all those types of dogs.

With kids, you have to have interior security as well, so that the kids are not with the dog unsupervised, and neither are their friends. At least this would go for the protection-trained K-9. Which leads me to another aspect for you to think about.

Police K-9 work has become much more sophisticated in the last 5-15 years, and if the group your husband works with is a top group, they will be working the dogs differently, training from different drives, than was the case in the past. The dogs, like the human police, work far more on brains than brawn--in the case of the dog, it's the nose. The department wants a minimum of damage done to anyone from bites, because every bite is a potential lawsuit.

The dogs are often trained in a prey mode, almost like a game, though with a strong work ethic. They are not working from a sense of fear. They are dogs of stable temperament who, if well-trained, can safely work around all kinds of groups. But the handler does need to be alert if the dog is trained to apprehend suspects, because that dog will have to be able to act if the handler is down. So there could be that slight risk of a bite in an unexpected situation with the handler not right there on the ball to give the right command at the right moment.

Most of the work done by contemporary police dogs is scent work rather than apprehension. It might be possible for your husband to work with a dog who is not trained for apprehension at all. This would be a dog very well-suited for home life with kids. The only concern might be if the kids played tug of war with the dog and got a stray tooth hit. My advice would be for the tug-of-war games to come ONLY from the handler anyway. That should be something special between them and part of the reward for the job, not a casual game with others.

These dogs work in the schools detecting drugs, do bomb searches, search for lost people, evidence searches, vehicle searches--the list goes on. I am pretty sure that every police K-9 is trained to scent drugs now, because I think the law still turns all the stuff confiscated by such finds over to the department, and it's vital for their funding. The dogs more than pay for themselves in this way.

So, while your husband is looking into this possibility, he might look at other opportunities in police work with K-9's that don't involve apprehensions. You would really then have no issues at home beyond the average responsible parents with a big dog (that you already have), and it could be a bright career future. For one thing, this is the kind of work you can do a lot longer than chasing down suspects. For another, it prepares a person for a bunch of other jobs, including arson detection, FEMA, Border Patrol and Customs--the list goes on, and it keeps growing. Not only can he become a handler for these programs, he can become an instructor and if he retires and wants to start his own business, he can become a trainer to supply trained dogs to these agencies.

Remember that the scent-only dog would require similar layers of security to those I've described for my dogs, even though there would be no special issues of the dog around school-age kids. Dogs who catch bad guys are targets. My dogs are actually trained never to put teeth on humans, because I served 19 1/2 years as a volunteer therapy dog handler and now I have an assistance dog for disability and will be training another before long. My security precautions are to keep my dogs safe, more than to keep them from hurting other people.

And you'd have to do the same, so some bad guy couldn't get a "reward" from another bad guy by taking out a drug dog. Anyway, I think the day of double-fenced yards being standard is coming. It is marvelous for keeping both kids and dogs safer. Meter readers love it. I remember the first time after installing the dog exercise yard interior fence that I accidentally let my rowdy Lab/German Shepherd out into the yard to potty when a meter reader was there. The dog was barking at the guy from a position safely tucked behind his potty yard fence about 20 feet from the meter. The guy gave me a friendly wave and kept on with his job. I was one happy dog-mom.

I would totally encourage your husband to go for it, provided the department is using good training and handling standards and practices. If it's a well-established K-9 unit, chances are that this is the case. Units tha do not operate properly wind up getting shut down due to the locality's very legitimate fear of lawsuits and national publicity of the wrong kind. Police dogs and K-9 handlers these days are very sophisticated.

It should be great for any law-enforcement career path. Even if it turned out he didn't want to continue working as a K-9 handler, the experience would prepare him better for other steps up the ladder where he would be supervising K-9 units. Some of the businesses that train working dogs for government agencies even have a course designed for these supervisors, but it wouldn't take the place of having been there and done that as a handler himself.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Adding a New Dog after Losing One--or Not

I answered a question today from someone who unexpectedly and tragically lost a dog to an accident, leaving the family with one older male dog. My answer:

I lost a dog myself on December 27th, to what the veterinarian thinks was probably a brain tumor. He blessedly did have the chance to live a long life. I had expected to add another dog when I lost him, but observing the dynamic between my two remaining dogs, both female, I decided to wait a bit and see how that goes.

We can always add another dog. But once we do that, it's more than most of us can stand to give one up because we realize too late that, while we and our dogs can cope as a group, everyone would have been happier if we had not added that dog at that time. So it's always best to wait until we're sure.

One thing that can happen with a bit of a wait is that the dog who might have thought he'd like to be an "only" becomes a little lonely. Then he's a lot more interested in having a new housemate move in, and the whole process could start off happier. There's a lot of truth to the adage "first impressions are lasting impressions" when it comes to dogs. If your dog is welcoming and sweet to a newbie, their relationship is likely to forever be better than it would have been if he had not been in the mood for company.

And the other thing of course is that he may indeed want to be an only dog, or you may decide it's best for now. What I'm trying is to see if my girls can get along okay until the nearly 13-year-old bad-tempered one goes to her heavenly reward. Then instead of coming into a household with a dog who flies into a rage at will, the new boy dog can come join a sweet middle-aged girl dog who loves to play. She, too, will be free to enjoy him without being randomly attacked by the other female.

Your older dog might not enjoy a new youngster, or he might. Taking some time will give both you and him opportunities to readjust your relationship and think about what you would like. Of course you also want to think about your facilities and resources for dog care. In our case it is whether we want to be dealing with the ills that often arise in an old dog at the same time we train a new dog who needs to be trained to a very sophisticated level. Care of a geriatric dog can be exhausting and expensive toward the end, and we've just been through that. Makes you think.

Hang in there. Enjoy your dog, and get to know him all over again. Find new ways to be together. Dogs' lives are short. More and more in recent years, I think of the expression "Redeem the time." It so very much applies to the time we have with our dogs. God bless you.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

How Do We Cope with Knowing We'll Have to Lose a Beloved Dog, Maybe Soon?

I lost a dog December 27th, and I want to answer this question that we all have to ask ourselves as people who give our hearts to dogs. He was the sixth of my companion animals (four dogs and two cats) that I have held while the vet helped them go to heaven.

Realizing your dog is getting older and can't live forever is a way you do some of the grieving in advance of losing the dog. The dog is with you to comfort you during this grief. It can make you handle the loss better when it happens. Of course it will hurt. But some losses are harder than others. I don't think it just gets worse each time we lose a dog. I think a lot of other factors enter into how we experience each loss.

The most important thing for you to do is cherish this time with your dog. Make happy memories with him. Take excellent care of him that will make you feel very good later to remember that you did for him. Tell him you love him and show him you love him. If you have a temper with your dogs, get rid of that now. Life with dogs is too short to waste any of it acting that way with them. It's not good training, anyway.

Dogs live until they die. He is not sitting around worrying about his life being over and wasting the time he has left by fretting. Learn that from him. LIVE with your dog, instead of thinking of him as dying. This time can be the best of his life. He could live a short time, or he could live a lot longer. Sometimes--quite often--you can know when your dog is terminally ill with your veterinarian's help. That is a blessing, in giving you time to say good-bye.

The unexpected can certainly happen, but it's entirely possible you will never experience another loss in the way you lost Tressa. Since you know he's geriatric now, you'll know to have blood chemistries checked regularly and be quicker to have the veterinarian look at the dog for things you might have watched at home first for a longer time in a younger dog. The older dog's body sometimes needs more help getting over things than the younger dog's does.

I have a relative who spent the last five years of her dog's blessedly long life going on and on about how the dog was going to die and she could just never stand it. Sure enough, when the dog did die at age 15, she fell apart. She would have benefitted profoundly for some important reasons from getting another companion animal, whether cat or dog or bird or whatever. But she kept saying she would never, ever have another pet because she could never go through that again.

There is no reason she couldn't have an animal--big house, big yard, husband to help her take care of the animal, daughter living nearby to help if they wanted or needed to travel, plenty of money, everything you can think of. I expect more than one doctor has even told her to get one. But she would rather go without the love and the very real benefits she would derive, because that way what she never loved, she won't lose. I see tragedy in this.

When it's time to grieve, grieve. It's something we have to do in order to heal and be open to love again. We are blessed that it is possible to choose another dog--you can't do the same if you lose a spouse or a parent or a child. Another dog is a successor, not a replacement. Loving another dog honors the one you have lost. The heart stretches plenty big to add another one to love.

If you give your love to Lazar while he is with you, after he is gone you will always know you did that. You will make the most of the time you have with your dog and of the memories you'll have later. Getting another dog is often a great idea, if Lazar wants that, too, because he can teach things to the new one and you will have the new one to care for after he is gone. If it's the right thing for the dogs, it can be a very good thing for you.

The pain we go through over losing a dog is the price of the love. But it really is true that "it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." Some people talk about only having one "heart dog," only one that is a real soulmate. That has not been my experience at all. I love Believer just as much as I loved Saint, and he was like one of my arms, while she is my 5th therapy dog. Your successive relationships with your dogs can even keep getting better, because you can keep getting better at loving.

I find that it helps me to be there with the dog at the end. Not everyone can do this, but I need to know that I gave my dog this last comfort. It is hard, but only for a short time, and for the rest of my life I will know I did it for the dog. I think it helps me heal.

If you find this grief is lasting too long or seems too severe, it's important to get some professional help, whether before or after you lose the dog. Grief brings back your losses of the past, and losses that you have not come to terms with can keep you from working through the grief in a healthy way and being able to open your heart to love again. That's another reason it's important to let yourself grieve for your dog at the appropriate time. Sadly, we will probably have future losses, including losses of human loved ones.

I actually think learning how to grieve for our dogs can help us deal with these other losses better--that it is yet another gift our dogs give us. I'd rather be spared the pain, but the truth is, that is not going to happen. We need to learn from our dogs, including how to redeem the time we have been given for each season of our lives.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Atkins

I hereby proclaim myself Queen of losing weight on Atkins while eating out. My husband helped me by bringing home whatever food I asked for, whether groceries or restaurant take-out, and by taking me out to eat darn near every day. Hey, those eating-out places are not full of temptations from my point of view. They are full of whole foods that I can't necessarily stock at home in the variety my allergic body needs.

My husband is not low-carb--in fact, he eats high carb and low fat--and at buffets we have both been able to get what we needed to eat. Not one time did I see something at the restaurant that I knew was off-plan, grab it and eat it. MANY times I educated wait staff about what was and was not workable on Atkins. And quite a few restaurant managers, too.

I cook at home now more than I did, because these days in maintenance I might want a pound of sliced, unbreaded okra with my dinner meat and fat, or something else no restaurant will be able to serve me.

I know there are people who, if a food is there and other people are eating it, feel "deprived" if they don't eat it, too. That's a good time to ask yourself some private questions. Just what are you being deprived of? Making yourself sick now and in the future? Making your own intelligent choices for your own life? Being a grown up? Eating the food that would nourish your body?

As Adele pointed out, in my overweight days I would not have taken kindly to someone telling me what I should or should not eat. Heck, even now as a skinny person I will see people giving my meat-laden plate the evil eye. Poop on them. Who cares what they think, if they have nothing more important to think about than what is on the plate of someone else whose health or overall eating plan they could not possibly know? There are some people in this world who, if they approve of you, there is something wrong with YOU!

I was involved with Overeaters Anonymous for 10 months at the end of losing my weight, and I recommend that to anyone. You will find sanity there. One thing they teach is that managing an addiction is not about you getting strong or you being a big success or you stopping a behavior. It's about you admitting that you are powerless over the problem, and surrendering to a higher power who will handle it for you.

12-step programs such as OA and Alcoholics Anonymous that Overeaters Anonymous is patterned on do not believe in "will power," nor did Dr. Atkins. Read that 2002 version of Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution book again and note what he says about that. Read the AA Big Book, for what they say. Read the 12 steps and 12 traditions AA book to find out how a remarkable program and a remarkable organization works.

Like so many people, I lost weight twice with sheer "will power," the second time 100 pounds. Both times it came back, and more. What I learned in OA and from Dr. Atkins' book is that I actually am not an addicted eater emotionally. My body was trapped in an eating pattern. I needed the right information and to surrender, to have faith to just do it, in order to get free of that trap.

So that's why I'm not in OA anymore. To be a sponsor and work the program, I would need to be a compulsive overeater. It's one compulsive overeater (or alcoholic) helping another. That is how it works. I don't meet that qualification. But many people stay in it indefinitely, as people do in AA, and it provides exactly what they need. It was not at all what I thought it was. Forget about Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig or a spa or a personal trainer or other motivational programs if you are a compulsive overeater--Overeaters Anonymous has them all beat, and it's...brace yourself...free. It's a free gift from one compulsive overeater to another. It's not for sale.

On my weight loss journey, I fed my mind and heart with all the positive reading I could get my hands on, including a great deal of material about 12-step programs. You mentioned an alcoholic not being able to go into a bar. Guess what. A recovering alcoholic in AA will go into a bar, especially to help another alcoholic. The founders of AA learned that an essential part of their own on-going recovery is to help other alcoholics. They don't go out and badger people, but rather they go where hurting people are--such as dying alcoholics in hospitals--and offer their support. In helping others, they keep their own sobriety.

If you read Dr. Atkins' book carefully, you will find that 12-step word: abstinence. We each find out for ourselves in an attentive low-carb eating journey what foods for us need to be included in abstinence. As Dr. Atkins also wrote, each person will have to customize the plan to their own body. When I very carefully pay attention to what another low-carber is eating, I can tell how their body is doing the math. I eat some things they do not eat, and they eat some things I do not eat, almost always. But the sum total is very, very close to the same. I'm not talking about carb numbers, but something else...hard to put into words. But the body knows. And you get a feel for it, if you keep paying attention long enough. It has to do with the exercise, the calories, the quality of the carbs, the protein, the fat, the non-nutritive or downright damaging foods, and more. The body is keeping track, believe me. Give it the right stuff, and you suddenly realize you have hit the "sweet spot." Then your goal is to keep it there!

Many people on effective low-carb eating plans who have achieved goal weight do the same thing AA members do, whether in OA or not, whether formally or not. They find that by staying involved with other people trying to do low carb and helping where they can, they keep their own weight controlled. If that were not true, hanging around low carb boards would be just as dangerous as you are imagining a bar would be to an alcoholic. All these people with all these excuses, whew. All these blow-by-blow accounts of the "delicious" food the person ate on a binge. All these friggin' "low carb" recipes, and the latest thing at a restaurant (a pox on TGI Fridays and all those other places who call a manufactured product "low-carb" and lure all the people who have not done their homework into going off plan!). This stuff is not good to be listening to.

I'm not saying I read in gory detail every foolish thing posted to a board. At certain stages of my weight loss, I skipped posts about topics or by people I knew were off track and about things I didn't need to be thinking about at that point. For example, I would quickly turn the page in a magazine if there was a recipe, picture, or ad for a dessert that would formerly have tempted me. I put my attention on other things, until my habits were so strong that I just really didn't notice that junk.

This is not a victory on my part. It is a work in progress that is being done in me by my own higher power, God. Though I've been at goal weight for over two years after losing more than 1/2 of my starting body weight in 21 months, this work will always be in progress and will never be finished. If I went off Atkins I would gain it all back and more, and probably not live long. I would wish I were dead, too, because I would quickly be so very ill. The stakes are high for me. But I have seen person after person who was a lot sicker than me just go right back to the food. Why? I don't know. They don't know why they did it, either. I just know that the only way this works is if I do not give myself the credit for it. I did not do it. I proved to myself abundantly that I was not capable of getting that weight off. It took divine intervention. If I did this weight loss myself, I would be living in fear that I was going to blow it, because people do that. God doesn't do that, though. He didn't bring me this far to let me down.

AA and OA teach that you can think of your higher power as whatever you need to, including thinking of it as the group itself. I was already a Christian when I went there, so that was a non-issue for me. In fact, going on Atkins in the first place was an answer to prayer. Or whatever you call a prayer that includes intense and prolonged begging for about 25 years! The answer I was given was this plan. I said, simply, "yes."

I meant it, so I just put my foot on the path and kept going, one step at a time. When I got stalled, I asked God to show me what to do. When he showed me, I did it, whether it was giving up a particular food or adding exercise or whatever. Some of the things I gave up, later I was able to add back. This daily weighing and constant adjustment will have to continue for the rest of my life. That's okay. It's a much lighter burden than that extra 181 pounds was. Note, too, that Dr. Atkins' book specifically says we will have to make adjustments for the rest of our lives.

I think another reason I was ready to lose is that I had accepted myself as I looked and as I was. I did not hate myself for being fat. I did not consider myself worthless or unlovable. If God loved me, who was I or anyone else to say I was unlovable? I am determined not to think less of ANYONE for being overweight, ever. I'll warn you, though, I might think less of you if you behave hatefully toward fat people, and that includes yourself if you think of yourself as fat! It's wrong to do that. So don't do it around me! Self-hatred will seriously get in the way of losing the weight, too.

My motto on Atkins has been "Just do it." No excuses--and also no grand plan to do it better than anyone on the face of the earth has ever done it before. No trying to eat less than anyone else or exercise more than anyone else or otherwise be a "better dieter" or make an extreme out of doing Atkins. Just do it. OVERdoing it isn't doing it. Doing it short-term isn't doing it--Atkins must be for life. Doing it intermixed with cheat days or vacations or going off plan because your brother-in-law's cousin's piano teacher's hamster died on this date last year isn't doing it, either. Just...do...it. No excuses, no fancy footwork, nothing else between you and the simple low-carb everyday plain and simple eating life.

---Minus 181 pounds on Atkins in 21 months, now at goal weight since 10/24/2003. I'm in the middle of a miracle. Thank you, God.