To recap, at approximately seven months old, I had started leaving Ayla loose in the kitchen and only having dog walkers come once a day. I initially started by crating her in the morning and having the dog walkers leave her loose in the afternoon. But I realized my mistake within a week. After some minor gnawing of the walls, I discovered if I was late getting home it was better to have a crated puppy than a bored puppy. Our new workday routine became:
|5:45AM||Wake up, get ready for work, pack lunch.|
|6:15AM||Cuddles with Ayla.|
|6:20AM||Take Ayla for a walk; work on obedience.|
|6:50AM||Give Ayla a frozen puzzle toy and her Sir Bobs A Lot. Lock her in the kitchen. Turn on classical music. Leave for work.|
|11:30AM||Dog walker comes for 20 minute walk. Ayla is crated afterwards.|
|5:00PM||Arrive home, switch shoes, take Ayla for evening walk.|
|6:00PM||Start cooking dinner; practice tricks with Ayla in the kitchen.|
|6:15PM||Eat my own dinner.|
|6:30PM||Go upstairs with Ayla. Watch TV and play tug-of-war with her toys.|
|8:30PM||Last potty run for Ayla.|
|9:00PM||Crate Ayla for the night, go take my own shower, go to bed.|
We did this routine until Ayla was about a 1.5 years old. By this point, I was leaving Ayla loose for longer hours on weekends. I decided the crate portion of her day only needed to be at night and started leaving her loose full-time in the kitchen. I bought a hammock bed (because Ayla has at least one bed per room in my house and why stop now?) We were going into the summer months and I didn’t want her to get too hot while hanging out in the kitchen, but I still didn’t trust her enough to drop the blinds all the way down on the kitchen windows to block out the sun. So I replaced the crate with the hammock. This way she could lie in the bed and look out the window.
As summer moved into autumn and autumn turned into winter, I faced a new dilemma. I still had problems with my heat. My downstairs was cold and I didn’t want to restrict Ayla to the kitchen because she got cold easily. But I wasn’t sure I totally trusted her loose in the entire house for a whole work week either.
As it happens, I didn’t have much of a choice because I couldn’t seem to get my thermostat to behave. I kind of winged it. I blocked off my bedroom and all the house plants behind the pink plastic gate panels from Target. I put everything Ayla height in closets. I piled things on my loveseat to make it clear that sleeping there was still only by invitation. I closed the bathroom door, and I started a new routine of giving Ayla a puzzle toy that she had to whack around while upstairs. I thought if she was busy trying to figure out how to get food out of a ball, she’d be less likely to destroy anything.
January rolled around and we got caught up in a polar vortex. It was so cold in my house. Something seemed amiss with my furnace. I tried to keep the house at 68 degrees, but the furnace kept shutting off and the soon 60-64 was about average. I had tradespeople out and I was told, “oh you just have to open all your vents.” I had closed the upstairs vents in an attempt to force the air all the way downstairs. (My furnace is in my attic.) I reopened the vents. It didn’t help.
Unfortunately, with the extreme cold snap, my house wasn’t warming up even a little bit during the day. I came down one morning and the thermostat read 50 degrees. Brr. While I’m a normally cautious person who is hesitant to leave electric space heaters running while I’m not home (it says right there on them not to do it!), we had a string of days where the high was 9 degrees Fahrenheit. I took a risk and put the space heater on the other side of the pink gate in my bedroom, where Ayla would not be able to topple it. I put it on high. I put her bed on the hallway side of the gate. I put Ayla in a sweater and I went to work. The first day I got home Ayla bounded down the stairs to greet me. The second day, she stood at the top of the stairs and looked down at me. The third day she didn’t come down. I was actually scared for a minute, because I was calling her name and I heard no movement. I quickly climbed up the stairs and she was curled in a ball in her bed giving me the most pathetic look. I said, “I know, love. It’s cold. I’m sorry.”
Meanwhile, my colleague who was aghast at my living temperatures took pity on me and loaned me his family’s space heater. I also brought my work one home. During those coldest days, I had one space heater in my downstairs bathroom to prevent the pipes from freezing, one space heater pointed at my rear exterior wall where I had another water pipe, and one space heater adjacent to the dog. During the day, I used the gate technique and at night when she was safely enclosed in her crate, I put it right by the kennel.
It wasn’t until my parents and sister showed up for my birthday that I became aware that this wasn’t normal. My parents had to put back on their winter coats. My sister was shivering on the couch. I ran and got her Ayla’s space heater. Mom asked me, “Has your house always been like this?” I shrugged and said, “It was cold the first year too. That’s why I bought the electric blanket. I’m not sure if it was this cold though.” Mom told me, “You need to get your furnace looked at.” I told her, “I did. I don’t know what to tell you. They told me nothing was wrong with it.” The next day my parents called me and told me that they’d help me financially if that was what was holding me back, but I needed to figure out what was wrong with my furnace because I shouldn’t be living like that. One of the funniest things from all of this is that my cold tolerance has drastically improved. I used to be the person who’d be wearing a winter coat at 55 degrees. Now 45 degrees only calls for a light jacket. But while I might be able to pile on sweaters, I did feel bad for Ayla. It sucks being a dog whose built-in clothes are only for summer.
At this point, I was starting to think it was a problem with my vents. However, after calling a bunch of HVAC vent cleaning people on Yelp and getting told no one was available for over a month, I wasn’t sure what to do. I asked my realtor for a recommendation, since she’d referred other helpful contractors to me and a gentleman came out to look at my setup. He had a heat gun and he was able to confirm that the heat coming out of the vents was the correct temperature. He also said my furnace was chugging along better than he would have expected for a furnace its size.
As a relatively new home owner, I tend to follow contractors around because I’m trying to learn how things work. I’m glad I did that because the gentleman quoted me $8k in repairs and because I was listening when he was explaining things, I did a lot more research after he left. The things that he suggested didn’t seem like they’d help me get heat to the ground levels and I wasn’t fully convinced it wasn’t an issue with the vents. I was griping to a friend about the situation when my friend offered to loan me some cameras he had that you could snake up vents. Said friend also works in construction, so he came over and said he’d test air flow before we did anything with the cameras. As it happens, air flow was fine with no filter. My friend recommended I get some metal tape to patch a small hole in the duct and buy the cheapest, most see-through air filters I could find to increase air flow. I did what he suggested. Magic. He saved me $8k. I thanked him profusely and sent him a Wegmans gift card.
A month later, my parents asked how it was going with my heat. Was my thermostat getting up to the correct temperature? My house had been warmer, but I actually had recently noticed the issue with the thermostat was happening again. This was about the time I made a breakthrough discovery. I remembered that my friend had said if I used cheap air filters, I needed to replace them monthly. Previously, I was using allergen air filters, which I replaced every three months. I climbed into the attic to swap filters. I pulled the cheap filter out. It looked really clean. I compared it with a brand new filter. Oh. OH. It was white. The new filter was not white. It was translucent. There was a mineral coating the filter. This, in turn, had blocked air flow and caused the furnace to shut off to avoid overheating itself; hence why the thermostat was always showing a low temperature.
I run ultrasonic humidifiers in the winter. I have dry skin. I get nose bleeds easily. Ayla has natural German Pinscher ears and characteristic to her breed, her ear tips often crack and bleed if the air is too dry. I was running 3-4 humidifiers in different parts of my house to try to avoid the classic German Pinscher blood splatter artwork that is annoying to have to keep scrubbing off the walls; also, I need a humidifier in order to sleep. I find ultrasonic humidifiers work best for me, but in the past, I had experienced a situation where my humidifier caused a fine white power (minerals in city water) to cake all over the surfaces of my furniture. I wasn’t observing that in my house, but clearly it was affecting my air filters in the same way. The reason that a white filter didn’t stand out as strange to any of the tradespeople was because newly purchased allergen filters are white. It wasn’t until I got the cheap filter that wasn’t supposed to be white that I understood what was happening.
I am happy to say that the heat in my home is much better now. I bought demineralization cartridges for all of my humidifiers and as long as I replace air filters every 2 weeks from November through March, both me and my dog can live comfortably in my home.
Giving Ayla access to both levels of my home during the day wound up being fine and we continued like that until August 2019, when the last of our major routine changes occurred. Ayla was roughly 2 years and 9 months old. And one evening she arbitrarily decided that she didn’t want to sleep in her crate. She’d been out to potty, I was ready to go to bed, but she refused to go into the crate. She danced around the room in a game of Keep Away. I looked at her and said, “Alright then. You can stay up, but I’m going to bed.” I tossed her a treat, closed the bedroom door and went into my own room. (I closed the door because I didn’t want her coming to my door and lying outside of it whining, which to be honest, is probably why I crated her as long as I did. I like being able to sleep in on weekends.) Often Ayla starts the night in her bed by the window, but on cold nights she returns to her crate to snuggle into its many layers of bedding. And that’s how its been ever since.