Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving


On a beautiful, sunny Thanksgiving morning I am thankful that I have time to train my dogs a little.  I have a lot to be thankful for, including my family that I will spend this afternoon with, but right now I am thankful that I have been blessed with dogs who love to work with me, no matter what venue I choose.  Lately we have been focusing on obedience and getting Cory ready to show in utility (the highest of the three basic levels).  Cory is the third dog I have trained in utility;  my first dog Levi earned his Utility Dog Excellent (UDX) title and Cory's father Andy needed just one more qualifying score for his UD when he died.  Utility is a tough class for green dogs, because it involves working independently away from the handler and making decisions between "right" and "wrong" (whereas, in novice and open, pretty much the choice is a more straightforward "do it or not").  There is heeling, a signal exercise where the dog must respond to hand signals from across the ring, a scent discrimination exercise where he must choose the dumbell touched by his handler, a directed retrieve where he must choose the correct glove indicated by his handler, and the directed jumping, where he must run away from the handler in a straight line across the ring, stop and sit when directed, and then take the correct jump indicated by the handler.  While utility is the hardest class, it also is the most fun.  

While those who know me might think I got into obedience because I am somewhat of a control freak, that actually is far from the truth.  My "obedience" dogs have all had varying degrees of basic manners, with my current two probably being the worst on a day to day basis for listening and minding me.  Training in obedience has become less about demonstrating control over my dogs, and more about developing teamwork and communication with them.  The bond with a dog that you have trained to a high level is so much more intense than the one you share with a dog you just "hang with".  It is hard to describe, especially without denigrating other types of relationships, until you have experienced it, but it is like the bond you feel with a teammate on that gold medal winning team, the bond with a child that you love desperately and have known from birth, and the bond with a life partner that is your 24/7 companion all rolled into one.  For me at this point in my life, obedience training is not about ribbons or placements;  it's not about scores although I hope before we are through we will reach the level we aspire to;  it is about acheiving the mental picture in my head and the synchronicity you feel on the days when you and your dog are perfectly in tune.  The obedience regulations state that the dog should demonstrate "the utmost in willingness, enjoyment, and precision".  We have a ways to go in the precision department, but I would like to think that my dogs fit the bill on the first part.  

I am including a video below of one of Cory's recent runs in Utility A.  (If anybody has any good tips for how to improve the quality either here or on youtube, let me know- the original video is quite sharp).   This was his second show, entering for the first time away from our home club.  I chose this trial because it was a small, one ring trial;  I knew it would be fairly relaxed and I had shown under this judge before.  Although it was a one ring trial, space was very tight at ringside with no room to have the dogs inside before their turn, not much room to warm up, and varying from quiet as a church (not good for us) to sounds that really stand out because there is not much else going on.  On our first outing at the previous show, Cory did not qualify but overall I thought did not do too badly EXCEPT that he barked (a lot) on EVERY exercise.  That is not looked on kindly in obedience and I knew it was going to be a big struggle for us.  I hoped the smaller trial would not rev Cory up quite so much (he barks both when he stresses "down" and when he stresses "up", and we had one of each types of run at the last trial).  Obedience people who look at this run will no doubt be unimpressed; we blew a signal and the first scent article, we had lots of places to lose points in chunks- he forged quite a bit on his heeling, we had a couple of no-sits (really, not-quite-sits), a sloppy moving stand, an anticipated finish, a bark or two on the scent articles and the go outs and a couple of times between exercises (a HUGE improvement over the last trial), and we didn't move particularly smoothly from exercise to exercise.  All duly noted and being worked on before the next trial.  But on this day I was SO proud of my boy I could just feel my heart clench each time I looked at him.  He was amped up to the max this day;  sometimes this can be an indicator of stress but on this day Cory was giving me every one of his signs that he was having FUN and was trying his hardest to play by the rules.  Unfortunately, he usually feels compelled to remind me of this on each exercise, especially the finishes, by commenting under his breath and in this little building it was pretty easily heard by all :-).  I know just how hard it was for him to keep his focus and not explode, and I am so proud of him for trying.  The next day he was not quite as hyped up, and he made it all the way to the last jump before he chose the wrong one and NQ'd. 

We get to try again next weekend...at our home club, where theoretically we might have a small advantage of a familiar ring.  Wish us luck- we'll need it!



video

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Remembering 9/11 and thoughts on the purpose-bred dog

Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy.  It is hard to believe as it is still so fresh in my mind.  I can still remember watching the second plane hit that morning as I was getting ready for work and how surreal it was;  later that day I can still remember the patient I was with when the Pentagon was attacked (he is still a patient, but getting pretty long in the tooth!).  That was a scary moment, as my sister was working nearby at the time. 

Facebook has been flooded with images of 9/11 and, on the facebook feeds of my mostly animal-oriented friends, images and remembrances of the search and rescue dogs who were part of the recovery effort.  These very special dogs and their handlers provide such an important service, putting their own lives on hold to go to the aid of others at short notice, sometimes putting themselves in danger in the process.



In looking at these memorial postings, I noticed something that I thought was very important to point out, ESPECIALLY to my friends, neighbors and clients who are animal lovers but not necessarily immersed in the "dog world".  If you look at these photos, you will see that, almost without exception, these dogs are purebred dogs.  It takes a very special dog to be able to perform these services;  in virtually every case, these dogs have been bred for generations, if not specifically for THAT job, to work closely with their handlers in ways that complement this effort, and to develop the skills that are important for this job.  Dogs from the working and sporting, and occasionally herding group predominate, with German Shepherds and retrievers of various sorts tending to be seen the most frequently.  Training a dog for this work involves hours and hours of commitment and literally years of seasoning.  It is important to pick a dog genetically predisposed to excel, from a breeder who then provides the environment early on to foster these tendencies  in order to ensure the best odds that that dog will successfully complete the training.  You certainly would be very unlikely to go to, for example, a pug breeder, to find a dog to train for this type of work (not picking on pugs, but I've never seen one do SAR;  their prominent eyes would be prone to injury, their short noses make them rank well down the list in tracking ability, and their stocky stature,small size, and limited heat tolerance is not the best suited to the conditions these dogs must work under).  It would be equally difficult to go to the shelter and pick a prospect for this work.  Can it be done?  Yes, but you will run through a LOT of dogs in the process which will "wash out" of the system wasting time and resources.  There are undoubtedly mixed breed dogs out there who could do this work well, but in order to consistently identify the dogs most likely to possess that special combination of physical, mental and emotional attributes you will be far more successful in choosing a dog bred for those attributes.



This is not only true just of search and rescue dogs, but also of many, many other working dogs.  Guide dogs for the blind have been bred specifically for that purpose for many generations.  Go to any "border collie" herding trial (aimed at real working dogs and generally considered much more challenging than their AKC counterparts which are more "sport" trials);  these trials are open to any breed, and I even have a friend who has competed in them successfully with a sheltie, beating the BCs at their own game;  but in general if you want to be competitive, you need to go get a border collie.  And not just any border collie, but one that has been bred for generations and literally maybe even hundreds of years, to do that job.  And if you're smart, and want your dog to have a long working life, you will find one whose pedigree is filled with dogs who have the appropriate health clearances so your dog doesn't end up retired at three because he has bad hips, or eye problems.  And before you say "but I just want a pet", remember that a dog's genes greatly influence many things you will have to live with, including how much he barks (boy do I know that!), how much he drools, how quickly he learns things, how much he likes to cuddle etc AND how long he lives and how healthy that life will be.  I found early in my life that I was NOT a terrier person and my personality was not at all suited to that type of dog.  Luckily, I found a perfect fit for me, in a totally different breed from a different group bred for very different personality traits. 

Right now there is a very strong, "politically correct" sentiment that is pushing us towards mandatory spay and neuter policies in our communities and telling us that a rescue dog or random bred mixed breed is ALWAYS an equivalent choice to a purpose bred, pure bred dog.  For my average client, and the pet loving public, this is a very "feel good" position and the "shelter good, breeder bad" feeling is pretty prevalent out there.  Let me first say, I have NO issue with the wonderful mixed breeds out there.  My first dog Winky was a little mixed breed hound and she was a wonderful dog, a very appropriate choice for our family at the time, and lived to be 15 years old (she also had the worst allergies of any dog I have owned, and probably was the least healthy overall).  Many of my favorite patients have been mixes, and all but one of my cats have been.   Mixed breeds CAN be a great choice for a given situation.  My concern is that we are losing the CHOICE and soon either random bred dogs, or dogs from very high volume purebred producers (who generally do no socialization or health screening) will be the only options we have left to us.  Promoting the propaganda that all dogs are interchangeable, that all purebreds are unhealthy,  and there are no advantages and disadvantages to mixed breeds vs purebreds is kind of like going to a college and saying all students are interchangeable and now we will have the PhD candidates play football on the weekends and the football players spend their days in the lab.

There is a reason that man has bred dogs selectively for thousands of years, and AKC currently recognizes 161 separate and distinct breeds falling into seven groups bred for specific purposes;  working, herding, sporting, hound, terrier, toy, and non-sporting.  For the average Joe Public who just wants a pet;  doesn't care how big they get or how much hair they have, and has relatively flexible tolerance for various temperament types, a mixed breed may work out fine.  One of the advantages is that there are some great deals to be had on mixed breeds.  Our tax dollars go to support county shelters, where in most instances the pets available for adoption for a nominal fee have been spayed/neutered, microchipped, vaccinated, and maybe even heartworm tested  (remember though, you DID pay for it- just at tax time, not when you walked out the door of the shelter with the dog).  The disadvantages include increased risk of infectious disease exposure to those puppies compared to those of a responsible breeder;  questionable early socialization and exposures which can impact greatly on a dog's future temperament and emotional stability, and difficulty in predicting size, coat, and personality traits.  Some of those concerns can be decreased by adopting an older dog in comparison to a puppy. 

However, the more specific your needs tend to be, the more likely it is that a purebred dog will make a better choice because you can predict many traits with a good degree of reliability.  And when I say a purebred dog, I don't mean any dog from a pet store or Craig's list who had two parents of the same breed bred together without much thought for anything other than availability.  One of the problems is that when promoting the "zero population growth/mandatory spay neuter" agenda, there is no differentiation made between a WELL BRED purebred and backyard breeder or puppymill dogs.  A well bred dog from a responsible breeder has parents who have been screened for the appropriate health conditions common to the breed (mixed breeds are NOT immune to these conditions, it's just harder to predict which ones to look for).  That doesn't mean one dog who has an OFA hip certification in the pedigree, but that the majority of dogs in a five generation pedigree have clearances.  A responsible breeder knows the dogs in his pedigrees, not just by name, but what strengths and weakness they had in structure, type, temperament, and health.  He knows how old they were when they died and what they died of.  Not just mom and dad, but again, back three, five, and more generations.  He knows what he is likely to produce in a given cross.  He breeds dogs who conform to his breed's written standard and not "rare" chartreuse flugglehounds in a breed in which chartreuse is a disqualifying fault (he found out early on that the founders of the breed wrote this into the standard because they already knew the chartreuse color was associated with health defects).  He breeds his dogs with a purpose in mind and has a way of evaluating their suitability for that purpose by outside sources, such as dog shows, obedience, agility, field trials, working farm or service dogs, tracking dogs, etc.  He spends time socializing his puppies, keeps them in clean conditions, and provides appropriate veterinary care.   He interviews his puppy buyers just as if they were adopting a human baby, and keeps in contact with them through that puppy's lifetime.  He takes that puppy back if things don't work out for any reason.  He offers guidance when the puppy goes through those terrible teens, and can be a good source of information when training problems crop up.  He is NOT always easy to find, and his puppies are rarely advertised in the local paper.  He doesn't take credit cards.  You can't go online and "order" a puppy from his website, though he may have a website which shows his adult dogs and proudly displays their health clearances and pedigrees full of more dogs with appropriate clearances.  You probably will be on a waiting list, as puppies like this are not produced overnight, but with much planning, forethought and care.  They will almost certainly cost more than the "great deal" on the Lab puppies that the guy who bred his bitch to the dog down the street and raised the puppies in a muddy stall in a barn.   Think about what you are paying for.  If you are not getting what a responsible breeder should be providing, you probably are better off with a mixed breed than one of the poorly bred purebreds who haven't had any of the planning, health screening, or socialization, because those poorly bred purebreds really offer very few of the ADVANTAGES of purebreds.  Why pay for something you aren't getting? 

So, you can see by my list above, there are some very real differences between the purebred puppy from a responsible breeder and the mixed breed puppy from the shelter.  Depending on your circumstances, those differences may or may not be hugely important to you.  I would personally not recommend going for the "cut rate" purebred as in my experience they may or may not exhibit the physical and temperament traits which caused you to select that breed in the first place, and they rarely to never have any health screening and early socialization;  I think much of the "bad rap" given to purebreds is because people don't bother to differentiate.  There will always be a market for these dogs in our gotta have it now, looking for a deal society.  Don't be the rube who gets taken.  As far as the current fad of blaming any disease a purebred dog happens to get on "inbreeding",  a lot of it is simply hype.  Many diseases can be controlled or eliminated in a breeding population by screening your breeding stock with appropriate testing.  This is rarely done in the backyard/puppy mill bred purebreds and, not coincidentally, I am much more likely to see inherited disease in them than in their carefully bred counterparts.  The really ironic thing is that if you look at these dogs' pedigrees, they are such a mishmash that they often have zero dogs repeated in a five generation pedigree, so they are about as outcrossed as you can get.  However, dogs are creatures, not machines and even the most carefully bred dogs can have unexpected problems crop up.  In my group of purebreds I  and my family have owned that have passed on, the youngest was not quite 12 and the oldest was almost 17 at the time of their death.  One died in an accident at 14 and was still quite hale and hearty.  All of them were healthy and vigorous into old age, some even competing in agility in their geriatric years, and only one had any prolonged illness the last year of his life (he died at 13).  How many of you, with your presumably quite outcrossed human families full of hybrid vigor, can claim an average age of your family members in their late 80s with no significant illnesses until their mid seventies?  (those of you with highly inbred families need not answer!).  Yet that is my experience with my purebred dog family.  Thankfully I have been very lucky, but I also have been very careful and hopefully very smart in choosing my dogs, caring for them, and on rare occasions breeding them. 

Regardless of which you choose, please, please understand that there is a REASON that we need to have a choice when it comes to our dogs.  Purebred dog owners and breeders are not in it for the most part because they are vain and need a new "toy" or possession to show off (just visit most of our houses, look at our cars and in our closets in order to get over that idea real quickly!).  Our dogs are our passion and our lives, and there is a reason we have chosen to live with the dogs that we do.  It is a reason that can greatly benefit society as well.

Please, familiarize yourself with the difference between "animal welfare" and "animal rights" groups and realize that the animal rights groups are NOT the friend of the animal lover.  Please educate yourselves and don't buy into their agendas, and when the mandatory spay/neuter proposals come up in your town, please DON'T fall into that trap and support them.  (Don't think it will happen?  Check out the situation in Louisville if you don't think so).  These laws will do little to impact the high volume puppy breeders or the careless pet owners, but they will eliminate the majority of responsible hobby breeders which are our BEST source of quality purebred dogs. 

And please, think carefully when you DO choose your next pet.  The BEST way to keep the shelters empty is to CHOOSE CAREFULLY AND APPROPRIATELY THE BEST PET FOR YOUR SITUATION, purebred or mixed.  Disposable/recycled pets make up a huge part of the shelter population.  Please don't get a dog you can't care for, don't know how to/have time to train, are allergic to, are shocked when it gets to be the size of a horse, can't deal with its coat care, can't afford it's medical bills.  Be a responsible pet owner and do your part not to contribute to the shelter population.

And please, unless YOU meet the criteria for the responsible breeder above, please spay or neuter your pet at an appropriate age agreed upon between you and your veterinarian (not your city council).  Breeding dogs is not for the faint of heart, and breeding dogs well takes a level of time, commitment, money and energy that most pet owners are not prepared for.  Saying you "just want to breed pets" is a cop out.  Failure to do the appropriate screening and planning is not conducive to producing healthy pets.  I know, it's my job to see them every day and pick up the pieces.   So many times so much heartache could have been avoided if my clients just stopped to think and choose carefully BEFORE they brought that dog home.

We don't need government to tell us whether or not and when we should be breeding our dogs.  They have their hands full with other things.  Dealing with the aftermath of irresponsible HUMAN reproduction comes to mind.  We DO need to take responsibility for our own actions in our dealings with our pets.  With freedom to make choices, comes responsibility for the consequences of those choices AND we also must have tolerance for those who make other choices we may not always agree with.  Don't know about you, but I like it better that way than having my government "protect" me to death.  Looking at the 9/11 images again just brought home to me once more that I want to live in a FREE country.  I want to make my own choices and live with the consequences of those choices, good or bad. 

Off soapbox now.  Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Thunderstorms and fireworks and phobias...Oh my!



The Fourth of July is upon us and the phone calls started at the end of last week.  The endless fireworks season has started, and to top it off we've also had fairly severe thunderstorms (sadly, with lots of noise but little rain or cooling effect) for the last several days.  Many dogs are afraid of loud noises, with thunder and fireworks topping the list, so it's a tough season for them.  These phobias tend to worsen with age, although at some point many dogs become deaf enough that they sleep through them so the problem is somewhat alleviated.  The severity of the problem can vary widely, with the mildly affected dogs simply panting, pacing, and acting stressed, all the way to the far end of the spectrum to dogs who panic and destroy things, often in an attempt to escape and run.  (This is also the worst time of the year for lost dogs, as many dogs panic from the noise while outside in the yard and take off, not always able to find their way home, so be sure and take appropriate precautions). 

If you are just now calling us about your dog's problem, our options are much more limited- for dogs with serious phobias, most of the medications we use take at least three weeks to reach full effect and the dogs need to be started at the beginning of the season and kept on them until the end.  However, there are some things we can do.  One of our first recommendations is often melatonin.  Melatonin is available over the counter and is often sold as a sleep aid.  It is a naturally occurring hormone that helps the body regulate cycles which fluctuate with season or time of day.  It is generally a very safe drug with few side effects, although I always caution my clients with breeding animals that it may have some effect on reproductive processes.  In animals, it often has some anti-anxiety effects as well as helping them to sleep better, so we use it for mild phobias as well as older dogs whose cognitive function may be declining.  It also does not require a prolonged time to "build up" to effect.

Another very safe, benign product which can be helpful is a DAP collar or diffuser.  DAP stands for Dog Appeasing Pheromone, and is supposed to mimic the chemicals secreted by a bitch when she nurses her puppies.  It is available in either a collar form or a diffuser which is plugged in like an air freshener.  I have used the collars with some success on my own dog, when he developed a fear of bottle rockets shortly after his companion died.  He had been raised with fireworks from the stadium and riverfront going on practically in my backyard, and had no issues until he was about four years old.  We went to an out of town trial, one of the first ones where he was the "only dog" after his father died, and there were a number of bottle rockets being set off outside the hotel.  He seemed only mildly worried there and asked to go back inside, but the next year was terrified of them and did a running pace around and around the house until well after they had stopped.  He could not be distracted or stopped without physically restraining him.  The DAP collar helped quite a bit, and the next year, I did not have to use it and so far have not needed it this year.  (I think also having another dog in the house again has helped him).  Interestingly, he is not bothered by gunshots, and will bark at the loudest thunder but doesn't show the same signs of distress- it's those darn little pops of the bottle rockets.  The DAP products can be ordered online and do not require a prescription.

Some people swear by "Thundershirts" or anxiety wraps, which are tight fitting jackets the dog wears during the storm.  I have not tried them myself, but know several people who have used them with success.  They are not totally without a basis in science, as this is a therapy used in soothing autistic children. 

Counter conditioning, or pairing the noise with a positive stimulus such as a treat, can also be successful.  Many tapes are available to start with the sounds at a low level and work up to full volume if you find your pet is not interested in food during an actual storm or fireworks display. 

Finally, medical therapy may be indicated for some pets with severe phobias.  This generally is appropriately done with a full physical to rule out any contraindications for the medication, as well as a consult with your veterinarian to help develop a behavior modification plan to use along with the medication.  As I stated above, most of the medication needs to be started well in advance of the season, though we do have a few options for quicker acting anti-anxiety drugs to use short term for severe cases.  In most cases, I don't like to use tranquilizers as they don't alleviate the fear at all, just make the animal incapable of reacting- which in some cases will make the phobias worsen more quickly.

I did just recall that I did a similar post a couple of years ago, so if your dog is having problems you may want to look in the index to the right under fireworks and check out that post as well.  Happy Fourth to all!  (and thanks to my friend Joann Jozwiak for the photo above of my beloved Andy at our favorite place, my friend Maryann's farm).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reverse sneeze...not as bad as it sounds!

One of our most frequent calls from clients goes something like this:  "Help!  My dog has been making this awful noise and he sounds like he can't breathe.  He wheezes and wheezes, but then after a minute he seems fine.  He's done it twice today!".

This is a typical description of a dog with a reverse sneeze.  No one has identified one specific thing that causes this, although there are a number of different triggers that are thought to be involved.  In our area, I think most of the dogs I see have some post nasal drip that is probably allergy related which causes the episodes.  We tend to have clients report it in clusters, which supports the allergy theory.  Also short faced breeds seem to have this problem more frequently, which may be related to a longer soft palate which can become entrapped over the epiglottis and contribute to the problem.  In some areas of the country, nasal mites may be a factor but I have not seen this in our area.

Below are a few videos which demonstrate typical reverse sneeze episodes.  All dogs are a little different, but if your dog looks like this, seems fine after the episode is over, has pink gums and tongue during the episode, and shows no other evidence of disease, reverse sneeze is the most likely answer.  If the problem is frequent or seems to be causing your dog distress, contact your vet to make sure there are no other problems going on.  In some cases, antihistamines may help decrease the symptoms.  During the episode, sometimes stroking your dog's throat gently or even sticking a finger down his throat may help to stop a prolonged episode, though in most cases the dog is probably best left alone (note- several places on the internet recommend holding the dog's nostrils closed.  I would not suggest using this technique).






Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sanibel

Several years ago my parents bought a place on Sanibel Island in Florida and started spending half the year there.  I love going down to visit, but it can be really tough to get away from the clinic and this summer it didn't happen.  Around Labor Day my cousin Chip and his wife Krystal moved to Big Pine Key near Key West...and I had the idea that maybe Thanksgiving on Sanibel would be doable.  The clinic is only open a half day on Weds, would be closed on Thurs for Thanksgiving, and we usually come in and work a half day or until we run out of clients on Fri and are closed on Sat.  I figured I could leave Tues night or Weds morning and come back Sun night and only have to close 2 extra half days.  Luckily my parents, Chip and Krystal thought it was a good idea as well.  Mom and Dad drove down, I flew down Wednesday morning, and Chip and Krystal drove up with their Lab Vader.   The only one who DIDN'T think it was a good plan was Mom and Dad's cat Spooky.  It's hard to say if he was more annoyed by Vader or by me, his least favorite person on the face of the earth.



Vader, on the other hand, thought it was a GREAT idea and wasted no time investigating the pool.  It did take him just a little bit to figure out how to get IN, but once he had that down he was in heaven.




And that was before we took him to the beach.  He was in seventh heaven...their new house on Big Pine Key is on a canal, but he hasn't tried to jump in there yet.  And the beach is at the end of their street, but it is private access there so I don't think he's spent much time in the ocean yet.














 The next day we went back to the beach;  it was about 80 degrees but the water was COLD!  Krystal and Vader braved it for a little while and Dad and Chip took out the kayak.  Mom and I were wimps and watched from our beach chairs!







 Vader looks very handsome, but it is hard to catch a Lab NOT looking goofy!  The one below is my favorite goofball shot.


But my favorite place on the island is Ding Darling Wildlife refuge, which takes up a huge percentage of the island itself.  Ding has about a five mile drive through the refuge;  you can drive through at your own pace (usually barely rolling for me), stop and get out as you like, walk the trails and climb the viewing towers, or just watch from the car.  I usually try to be there every morning as soon as the gates open and often make another run through in the afternoon or evening.


This time of year the white pelicans were very visible- they have not been there when I have gone down in the summer.  The more common brown pelicans are around most of the time, but they tend to spend their time on the ocean rather than the bay side where the refuge is.

This particular tree must be a favorite spot for the osprey to bring their prey to eat, as I've found them there several times.  If you look closely, you can see this one has a fish in his talons.


My very favorite "Florida birds" are the Roseate spoonbills.  I didn't see many of them this year at Thanksgiving, so most of these shots were ones I took last summer when I went down.  They were very much in evidence that time and I got many good views.  They always remind me of the goons in the old Popeye cartoons.











This shot always makes me think of a choir director!









Aaargh!  Blogger STILL won't let me manipulate photos to my liking, so sorry about the annoying arrangements.  Next time I make a trip down I think I am going to rent a big lens for my camera, as I was definitely suffering from "lens envy" comparing myself to the REAL photographers down there!  My quest for a good in flight shot continues...they are really hard to get and I think I am going to have to figure out how to use a tripod and still get the right angle. 

Sorry for those of you with a slow connection- I know this one was really picture heavy but I always have fun shooting in FL!