Musings of a Mutt – First Edition

The personalities of my two dogs are kinda the running joke of my family.

Not because of the dogs themselves…but because of the voices that my husband has created for each pup.  Buffy’s voice is a sweet, girly version of Scooby Doo, and Amigo’s takes on a Latino playboy quality.  They really are hilarious if you are lucky enough to overhear one of their “conversations” (as performed by Pablo) – and these silly little voices have caused us to create elaborate personas for each dog.  It might sound a big crazy (and admittedly it is), but sometimes I feel like I literally KNOW what my dog is thinking.  (Agreed?)

So I thought for you – my lovely, loyal blog readers – Amigo would share some of his deep thoughts.  These philosophical ponderings…his musings, if you will….will no pop up on the blog from time to time.   And because he is so dashing, we will of course be including pictures.

So without further ado, Amigo’s first tidbit of wisdom…or as we like to call them…Musings of a Mutt. (And we think the word “mutt” is endearing, not derogatory.)

 

Amigo Jump

“No one ever made it to the top with their paws on the ground.”—Amigo

My Own Slice of Heaven (The Quest for the Perfect Back Yard)

I hate when life gets in the way of my blogging.

Lately, my days have been spent hunting for houses.  Having spent many of my “adult years” in New York City – I have been a renter all my life.  The prospect of spending HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of dollars is not just daunting…it’s terrifying.  Hopefully, you all remember your first home buying experience and can relate.

On the other hand, how fun is it to sit around and mentally decorate your dream home?  When I’m looking at houses to buy, suddenly I’m Mrs. Do-It-Yourself and I have endless hours to put the finishing touches on transforming this house into a “home.”  Haha!  Snap back to reality…better buy something we like as-is.

Awesome back yard was at the top of my must-haves from Day 1.  Its size cannot be changed – and beautiful, mature trees are not something you can just order.  (Well, I’m sure they CAN, but realistically speaking…)  I can slap a coat of paint on something a lot faster than I can rebuild an entire fence.

And I feel like it is the part of the home that can increase my families happiness the most.  My life centers around dogs…and no matter what you tell yourself…your dog wants to be outside.  Don’t get me wrong – they love sleeping in your bed and staying cozy and dry during a storm – but they are animals.  They want to be outside!  They WANT to be dogs.

As readers of this blog well know – my Amigo is a first rate escape artists.  Part of our yard is forever wet and muddy – and my Buffy is a champion mud roller.  I can’t leave them unattended for long.  And let’s be real – it’s just plain ugly.

I also want Sebastian to grow up playing outside.  I want swing sets and tree houses and dogs running around him while he plays.

So – let the search begin for the perfect house with the perfect backyard.  I would really LOVE feedback: pictures of awesome back yards, ideas on what I should look for, blog posts/articles about this stuff.  Post the in the comments or email them to me personally: jessica@wagsandwhiskershouston.com.

Help me out!

Hello 2014

With only hours left in 2013, I wanted to take just a few minutes to wish everyone a Happy New Year.

2013 was a year I will never forget.  Not only was this the year my personal life changed forever (hello baby Sebastian!) but it was also a great year for me professionally as well.  As my company and this blog continue to grow I am constantly reminded of how lucky I am to earn a living doing something I love.  I truly love what I do.  I love caring for dogs and cats.  I love writing about the animals we invite into our homes and into our lives.  I love sharing my knowledge with others to help make people’s’ (and pets’) lives just that much more enjoyable.  Thank you for reading this blog and supporting what I do.

As I move toward a new year (and new resolutions, heaven help me!) I strive to appreciate life as it comes.  I want to learn how not to stress out about each and every curve ball that comes my way.  I want to try not to worry so much about what happened yesterday…and what will surely happen tomorrow…and just live in the moment.  I want to take time to smell the roses.  I want to appreciate those who love me – even if I can only show my appreciation in the smallest, simplest ways.  I want to snuggle under the covers.  I want to play more.

In other words – I strive to be more like my dogs!

Happy New Year!

How My Baby Is Like My Dog – The Power of “Calm”

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Baby Boy Sebastian survived his first Thanksgiving last week.  Being the cutest kid to ever be born (I might be bias), everyone wanted to take a turn holding him.  As he was passed from relative to relative, I quietly watched his facial expressions change as he was safely deposited in each new set of arms.  (If only he would have screamed and cried for everyone equally, my job would have been much easier).  I soon realized, though, that there was a definite pattern to his mood swings.

Call it confidence, call it “calm, assertive energy” (if you are Cesar Millan)…call it what you will.  But babies and dogs alike can sense when someone is relaxed.  More accurately – they can sense when someone is tense.

Dogs and babies don’t really know what the heck we “grown ups” are doing most of the time.  The way we move and how we vocalize are virtual mysteries to them, but they both are acutely and instinctually aware when we are tense.  If you reach out to Sebastian like you’ve been raising babies your whole life, he will mirror your calm and go to you with a coo and a smile.  If you come at him with a secret fear that you are going to cause him a massive head injury (no matter how sweet and eager to hold him you are), he magically transforms into the screaming baby from hell.

Dogs are the EXACT same way.  If you approach a  pooch with body language that broadcasts how scared you are – they are going to be confused.  Not only are they NOT going to trust you…they are going to be on edge trying discover the source of your anxiety.  If you  walk up to that same pup like you are the dog whisperer himself, that dog will take a cue from you and know that he can chilax.

It am truly amazed at how often I find myself using similar parenting skills with Sebastian as I used with Buffy.

(I think being calm, cool, and collected helps when dealing with other “grown ups” too.)

Failing to help…feeling guilty…what would you do?

Thursday had to be one of the most incredibly frustrating days of my life.

Driving to my in-laws’ house to drop my baby boy off, I noticed a dog roaming down their street.  I opened my door and right away knew this wasn’t a pet that had recently escaped…this poor girl had been living on her own for some time.  She looked hungry, dehydrated, and dirty.  She was desperate for help, but obviously extremely fearful.

She was a pit bull.

Having my 4 month old son with me and being on my way to make my daily dog walkin’ rounds, I wasn’t really sure what to do.   Not only did this gal have no collar or tags…she wouldn’t let me get anywhere near her.  (And regardless of breed – it’s never good to force yourself on an unknown dog.)  I left some water for her and politely asked her to hang around until I could figure out what to do.  I worried about her my whole day.

A few hours later, I cruised the neighborhood before picking up my son.  I was hoping to find her roaming around (but praying she had found her way home).  Eventually giving up, I drove to my in-laws’….only to find the sweet girl laying in the shade of their front porch.  She got up and gave me a tiny tail wag when she saw me.  I had come prepared with water AND food this time, but despite being STARVING, would only approach either if I backed up a few feet.

I decided I HAD to do something.  I asked my in-laws to keep an eye on her and drove my kiddo home to begin the quest of finding someone to help.

I had no idea just how hard this would be.

The hours that followed were filled with emails, calls, tears, and lots of Googling.  All pit bull rescues/independently run shelters in Houston (the 4th largest city in the country, mind you) very clearly stated they weren’t accepting dogs as they were filled to capacity.  The ASPCA would take her for a fee (no problem) but I would have to bring her in (BIG problem.)

City animal control would come and pick her up, get her into a vet, and (assuming there were no major medical/behavioral  issues) get her healthy and up on their website for adoption.   The words “animal control” scared me, and they definitely gave me no guarantee that she would not be euthanized….but at this point, it sounded like the best shot.  I spent an hour wondering if I was actually prepared to send her somewhere that didn’t guarantee her survival.  Finally, I decided this was my only real option.  I called…oh,wait…they won’t come to that neighborhood.  (While in the city of Houston it was not in the city limit’s??)

They referred me to the county shelter.  Sounded like the same thing as the city animal control…until I inquired how I could get updates on this specific dog status.  (I was hoping I could help get this dog adopted or at least bring her to the attention of pit bull rescues once she was officially in “the system.”)  I was then notified that she would be held for 3 days to wait for her owner to claim her and then she would be euthanized.  They did not keep ANY pit bulls.  It was their “policy”.

After another round of tears (and a very compassionate woman on the other end of the phone), I was able to get the whole report canceled.  All that point, there was only one thing I could do.

Nothing.

So I went to bed that night wondering where she was.  Wondering if there was anything else I could possibly do (and realizing that there probably was).  Feeling guilty that I did nothing for her…

Baby, I Was Born to Run – The Tale of the Great Dog Escape

Your heart stops.  Your breath quickens.  You have that half-second hesitation – do you run or do you hurry to your car?  Do you grab the treats or grab the leash?  Almost every pet parent has been there…the moment your dog (or cat!) escapes.

Two days ago, this was me.  My house backs up to trail/reservoir/field…and the fence planks seem to shift daily.  My little chihuahua Amigo is a master at scouting out unseen holes, loose planks, and soil that is settled to provide a crawl space.  As vigilant as I am (and I am VERY vigilant), a few days ago we all went out back for a routine potty break.  I was holding my son, and looked down at him for maybe 20 seconds…when I looked up Buffy was staring intently through a tiny gap in the fence planks, Amigo nowhere to be seen.  I just knew.

Amigo relaxing in front of our questionable fence

Amigo relaxing in front of our questionable fence

Not his first escape (Amigo has also been known to bolt out the front door as well), I have my Amigo recovery tactics down pretty well.  Jumping over a fence or quickly grabbing the keys as I run to the car – I have been quite successful in bringing him home in a matter of minutes.  This was all pre-baby boy Sebastian, though.  As all moms can attest too – there is no “running out the door” with a baby.  I could obviously not leave him unattended at home…so chasing after Amigo would require involving a car seat.  (Time is of the essence here!)  Oh – and did I mention I was barefoot…and in my pjs??

Of course, all these thoughts were whizzing through my head in what was probably .25 seconds.  As soon as I began to move – I was spinning in circles, literally.  First, I have to put the kid down….no, first I have to get Buffy inside….ok now I have to get dressed….no, I should just put shoes on….oh, shoot, I’m still holding the kid…you get the picture.  All the while, I’m frantically calling Amigo’s name.

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There is obviously no accurate statistic or number on just how many pets are lost every year, it is estimated somewhere around the 2 MILLION mark.  A survey conducted by the ASPCA found that 15 % of us had lost a pet in the last 5 years…at that 85% of those pets were recovered.  (A high percentage…until you realize that that means 15% of them never saw their furbabies again.)  Not surprisingly, locating missing cats proved to be more difficult and had a lower success rate than that of missing dogs.

In every dog training book I have read, it advises you have an “emergency word”.  A word that will get your dogs attention and make him return to you no matter what the circumstance.  A word that your dog knows means business…that will recall him to your side even in the most dire situation.  A word that your dog will respond to without question.  How you manage to teach your dog this word is something I have never quite figured out.

…cut back to the scene of me frantically calling for Amigo while running around my house trying to figure out how to get out the door to catch him.  (Meanwhile, in the back of my head I’m thinking of all the horrible things that might be currently happening to him.)  Now, I might now have an “emergency word”, but I do have a sound.  A sound that will catch Amigo’s attention no matter what is going on around him.  A sound that will have him running to me no matter where is his in the house or the yard.  That sound, my friends, is the sound of his treats rattling in his glass treat jar.

GENIUS!  I think.  THIS HAS WORKED BEFORE!  I assure myself.  Grabbing the jar, shaking it like mad woman…I run to the backyard.  Shaking and screaming.  (Lord knows what the neighbors thought.)  10 seconds of shaking…nothing.  20 seconds…nothing.  A minute…nothing.  Tears spring to my eyes.  I have lost my dog.  He is already dead in a ditch somewhere.  I give up the shaking and screaming.  He has broken his paw and is crying to me for help.  I will never see him again.  And then…Amigo is trotting towards me!!!  He sits at my feet ready to receive his treat.  No worse for the wear….like nothing has happened.  (Dogs!)

Needless to say, he got many treats and lots of love that day!

In those minutes that Amigo was gone, there were only two things that comforted me:

Amigo modeling his tags (one with his name and our information - one with his microchip info)

Amigo modeling his tags (one with his name and our information – one with his microchip info)

**One, he was wearing his collar with all of his tags attached.  I cannot stress how important this is!  Even if (your think!) your dog never leaves your home or your property…it is so important for your dog to be wearing tags in a situation like this.  Obviously, having your name and phone number will expedite getting your dog back home safe and sound.  What you might not realize, though, is that people are more likely to take an interest in your pet if he or she is wearing a collar with tags.  While a neighbor might be wary to approach a possible stray dog…a collar can be spotted from far away and can provide instant confirmation that your dog or cat is indeed someones beloved pet out on the loose.

**Two, he is microchiped.  I honestly, in my heart of hearts, cannot understand why everyone does not get their pet microchipped.  This not only means that a shelter will call you if your pet is turned in (I know we have all heard at least one horror story of a pet being euthanized before the family was able to be contacted), but it also means that anyone can take your pet to ANY vet and be able to get your name and phone number.  The process of microchipping is no more painful than vaccinations…and relatively inexpensive.  (Can you really put a price on your pet’s safety?)

Luckily, it did not come down to a collar or a microchip to bring my little Amigo home.  As frustrating and heart-attack-inducing as it is, he is one of those dogs that loves to escape and run all over the neighborhood…but at the end of the day never ventures too far from home.

…and really the whole ordeal was my son’s fault.  How dare he distract me from my dogs with his cuteness!

El Perrito Pequeno – The Chihuahua

The arrival of Baby Sebastian has caused me to spend much more time at home…which equals spending much more time with my pups.  Yesterday  I found myself looking at my little Chihuahua Amigo and realizing I know very little about his breed!  Time to get down to business and educate myself about just where he came from and what his fellow Chihuahuas are like.

My Amigo (modeling one of Sebastian's baby hats)

My own Chihuahua, Amigo (modeling one of Sebastian’s baby hats)

Everyone knows that Chihuahuas originated in Mexico, but I was surprised to find that the history of their origin is often described as “puzzling” or “legend”.  Members of the ancient Mexican Toltec civilization had a companion dogs known as the Techichis, but little is know about that animal.  (Little is really even know about the Toltec themselves…they didn’t even have a written language!  All that we know about them comes from Aztecs.)  A “dog pot” thought to illustrate a Techichi was buried in a tomb in Mexico dates back to somewhere around 300 B.C. Wheeled dog toys thought to represent different varieties of Chihuahuas show up in Mexico around what is thought to be around 100 A.D.  In other words, no one knows when the Chihuahua as we think of it today showed up in Mexico…but it was a heck of a long time ago!

Another interesting historical fact about this breed – Christopher Columbus was probably responsible for bringing the Chihuahua to Europe.  He even references the itty-bitty dog in a letter to the King of Spain.

Unlike most breeds recognized by the AKC, the Chihuahua breed standard does not specify Chi Bodyheight but only weight – which cannot exceed 6 pounds.  (If you were wondering about my Amig0, he is not a pure bred, but what my husband likes to refer to as a “hybrid”…a.k.a. mutt/mix.  He tips the Chihuahua scales at 14 pounds!)  Other AKC qualifications include “muscular” hindquarters, a “slightly arched, gracefully sloping” neck, and a “saucy” expression.  (Yes…the official American Kennel Club stance on a Chihuahua’s expression is that is should be SAUCY!  I love that!!)

I think we all know about the temperament of Chihuahuas.  Unfortunately, they aren’t exactly well-known for their sweet, easy-going personality.  They tend to be very loyal to one member of the family.  They can also be easily provoked…which means they aren’t exactly patient with the poking and prodding of small children.  They are, however, much smarter than most of us give them credit for!  They often mimic the personality of their humans…so in the right family, they can be much more relaxed.

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Look at those ears! (Picture from DogBreedInfo.com)

I did not know that Chihuahuas actually prefer the company of other Chihuahuas in what is often described as a “clannish nature”.  They (allegedly) do not get along with other breeds.  (Although Amigo has yet to meet a dog he didn’t like…regardless of breed or size.)  I also found that Chihuahuas especially love their dens – which explains why Amigo can be found burrowed under all the sheets and blankets at the foot of our bed.Amigo Pillow

I feel like my little Amigo does possess some of those stereotypical Chihuahua attributes, but he is very much his own man.  As I mentioned before, he loves Sebastian…and despite many accidental kicks and punches by tiny fists, Amigo has shown absolutely no signs of snapping (or even being slightly annoyed!  He still just seems fascinated.)  The only thing that gets him worked up these days are the frogs that come out at night in our back yard.  He thinks himself quite the frog slayer.  For better of for worse, he has been a perfect addition to our family…as I write this, he is snuggling up to me with his head on my lap.  I can’t imagine life without him.

People & Pups – Welcome Baby Boy, Sebastian!

On April 29 at 8:08 in the morning, this dog-lovin’ family welcomed its first baby of the human persuasion into the world.  Sebastian MacArthur changed our lives forever – and we couldn’t be happier.

Sebastian Crib

Sebastian!

Well…maybe we should ask Buffy & Amigo about that!

As a woman who considers herself somewhat of a dog expert, I thought I had a pretty good idea of how each of my pups would react when Sebastian came home to join our family.  I thought wrong.

Amigo – who I thought would have issues with jealousy and loud baby noises – was immediately curious and quite enthralled with our new bundle of joy.

Amigo keeping a close eye on his new brother

Amigo keeping a close eye on his new brother

Now, three weeks after Sebastian arrived on the scene, Amigo is still the first to react when the baby cries or makes any new baby noises.  (And by react I mean run to Sebastian to check on him…and then look to us to see if we are properly responding!)  Instead of trying to nudge Sebastian out of our laps to commandeer prime petting position, he seems to enjoy snuggling up next to him and snoozing side by side.  I don’t know if it’s mommy hormones or if I’m just a sucker for dogs and babies – but it is a sight that has reduced me to tears more than once.

Buffy – who I thought would instantly bond and feel protective over her new little brother – has not shared Amigo’s enthusiasm.  For the first few days, Buffy treated Sebastian like he was the scariest monster she had ever laid eyes on.  Rarely wanting to be in the same room, she would cautiously peek at the baby from behind a chair or behind a visiting family member.  My attempts to bring the baby closer to her so she would become familiar with that foreign “new baby” smell sent her (literally!) running for cover.  She looked positively offended the first night I took Sebastian out of his bassinet and brought him to the bed to nurse.  Anyone who thinks dogs cannot feel emotions should have looked into Buffy’s eyes at that moment.  I couldn’t have been more sure of what she was thinking if she had opened her mouth and told me herself!

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Buffy liked baby boy more when he was still in my tummy. (Note the dog-themed nursery!)

I am also glad that Sebastian is living with dogs from day one. Already he is completely unphased by dog barks.  (Let me tell you…some of those barks startle me!)  And while my mom things it boarders on bad parenting – I don’t see anything wrong with him getting a puppy kiss every now and then.  (From reading the above paragraphs, I bet you can guess who does the kissing!)  Logically, I know that Sebastian isn’t going to remember these first experiences with his canine siblings, but I can’t help but think that on some level it will make him feel more comfortable around dogs for the rest of his life.

Because what’s the point of having a baby if you aren’t going to raise him as a dog lover. 

Just found out you’re pregnant? Step #1: Get another dog…

…while it might sound crazy, that is exactly what my husband and I did.  Days after that positive pregnancy test, it was off to the Houston SPCA to pick up our four-legged bundle of joy, Amigo.

Sound crazy??  Well, just wait and listen to my logic –

Our first pup Buffy has never been an overly needy pet, but she had been an only child her entire life.  Inevitably, she got use to being the center of attention.  We weren’t constantly entertaining her by any means, but much of our time was spent playing with, talking too, loving on our sweet girl.

What is the first thing all the articles/books/literature tell you to do when you are trying to prepare your pets for a new baby?  Give them less attention.  Get them use to not being the center of your world.  Let them become more independent.  I can tell you right now, folks….this just wasn’t ever going to happen.  (And not just for Buffy’s sake either…I got a dog for selfish reasons.  I need that canine affection!)  So instead of attempting to ween Buffy off play and love….why not find someone else to play and love with her?  GENIUS!

Enter Amigo!  (Now do you see where we got his name?  We adopted him to be Buffy’s friend!)

We hurried to find Buffy’s companion before any drastic baby changes (nursery prep, changes in my schedule, etc) in an attempt to make his adjustmentIMG_1388 our top priority.   (Let me also state here – Pablo and I always knew we would be a multi-dog family.  Getting a second dog was something we had been considering for a long time – and was not a rushed decision.  Getting a pet – whether your first or your fifth – should NEVER be a decision you rush into or take lightly.)  Now, with our Baby Boy’s arrival almost exactly a month away, nothing makes me happier to see Buffy & Amigo off in their own little world.  Open the blinds – and they will sit side by side watching the neighborhood.  Let them out in the backyard – they will bark at birds or play chase until they drop.  Always interested in the same toy (typical siblings!) – they won’t fight over it, but instead will watch the other chew on it…and then switch.  I find such comfort in knowing that if I’m off taking care of Baby Boy in the other room…Buffy will not feel abandoned or neglected.

While Buffy has never been the kind of pup to get jealous (I think a lot of this has to do with me taking her to work with me.  She sees me loving on and playing with other dogs all the time, and never becomes possessive), I think Amigo has also helped her adjust to my husband and I being affectionate towards another living thing.  She has seen that we can introduce a new child to the house…and our love for her will not diminish.  She will still get tummy rubs and treats – she just doesn’t get ALL the tummy rubs and treats!

As I constantly mention in this blog and to my clients – Buffy is so go-with-the-flow, I’m not sure why I ever worried about her adjusting in the first place.

Now I just have to worry about how to prepare myself for the change!

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Amigo is quite taken with my GIANT belly!

Wags & Whiskers Wednesday (#38) – Special Announcement!

Happy day before Valentine’s Day!

This is an exciting (and scary and a bit sad) time over here at Wags & Whiskers.  My husband and I will be welcoming a new addition to the family soon…and this time I don’t mean 4 legged.  I’m pregnant!  Obviously, it goes without saying this is this is a joyous time for me…just as I’m sure it is equally obvious as to why I am scared out of my mind.   I say it is a bit sad because (at least for a few months) I will be forced pull back from the business and essentially stop working.  Years ago, when working meant sitting in front of a computer, behind a desk, next to a constantly ringing phone…months off from work (even when that meant facing a screaming baby) would have seemed like a dream.  Now, work is something completely different.  Work is something I love.  Work is dogs.

Not to say that I shouldn’t put family first.  When Baby Boy arrives, I’m sure my perspective on work (heck, on life!) will change dramatically.  But I can’t imagine my life without caring for dogs.  Clients – daily walk service will be suspended as of March 31, 2013.  Pet sitting will continue as long as I am able (I am due at the beginning of May.)  Please contact me as early as possible to book pet sitting services.  Regular clients should have already received written notification, but please email me with any questions or concerns – jessica@wagsandwhiskershouston.com

And what of my own dogs?  Amigo is relatively new to the family – but as an attention hog and professional lap warmer, I think the adjustment might be a bit hard on him.  Then there is Buffy.  Buffy…my “first born”, my constant companion, my coworker.  Buffy seems forever adaptable. Both my husband and I are sure that our baby boy and Buffy will become the best of friends.  Buffy has been my savior through my pregnancy thus far – knowing when I need a shoulder to cry on, when to take her brother in the other room to play so I can get some alone time, and when to simply sit by my feet to let me know I’m not alone in this.  (Not to discount my amazing husband…but unfortunately he does have a job!)  The wonderful thing about love is we have an infinite amount to give – and I don’t think Baby Boy will diminish the love I have for my four-legged kids.  

For the next few months, you might see more blog posts on kids and dogs….and how to prepare everyone for such a life changing event.  I would truly welcome any personal advice, any books to read, or any articles/websites/resources to help me and my family. I have been able to find very little so far…but I know you, you fabulous blog reader you, have the knowledge and experience to guide me into this new phase of my life.

So today’s Wags & Whiskers pics are all courtesy of my own two pups.  I want to celebrate all they have done for me in the past….all they do to support me now…and all they will do for my family in the future.

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Buffy

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Amigo

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Sibling Love!

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Sorry, Mom & Dad, no room!