Mar 23 2012

An Epiphany

At lunch with friends this week, one was accompanied by his young child. I’m no expert on children – she’s walking and starting to say a few intelligible words, and can feed herself – so you child age experts can estimate for yourselves her age.

Now, this child did not know any of the rest of us. And she was just waking up from a nap, so somewhat sleepy and disoriented as any of us would be. If it had been a puppy, I admit I’d have been right in the middle of things attempting to hold and cuddle her – but a child – well, that’s just not me. Plus my other two friends adore little kids and were having a wonderful time with all the toe squeezing and chin-chucking.

The child was not responding well – she was pretty much stone-faced although she didn’t start crying – I give her credit for that. And as I watched these interactions and thought about them later, it dawned on me: When humans meet dogs, they treat them just like they do small children – and the dogs and children both have the same reaction: I don’t know you, get out of my face.

The difference is, dogs will either move away, growl at, or bite a stranger who is getting too familiar; children will generally just back away and become “shy,” or worst case scenario, they will start crying.

The second lesson in this experience was the child’s eventual reaction to me. I basically ignored her – not actively ignored her, but I maintained a rather neutral posture. She was getting plenty of attention from folks who really love babies, and I couldn’t see a lot of sense to insert myself into that mix – it just seemed like it would be more than she could comfortably deal with.

By the end of the hour, I noticed that she was starting to observe me. At first just quick sideways glances & then full-on checking me out. We didn’t have enough time to make direct contact, but I have no doubt that had we had another half-hour she and I would have been connecting and having some type of communication. Which again is parallel behavior to what I’d expect with a new dog.

When I meet new dogs I ignore them – I don’t try to pet, or play or interact – I maintain a neutral posture and attitude and allow the dog to check me out in its own time and as the dog’s comfort level increases and it gets more comfortable with my presence, I can slowly begin to interact. By the time I put my hand down to pet the dog, it’s comfortable with me and the unfamiliar has become the familiar.

The same for young children.

Maybe as adults we need to keep these lessons in mind – both for children and for dogs – it would save both lots of stress and grief in the long run, and would help us feel less rejected when they are allowed to approach us instead of our constant pursuit and hurt feelings when the child runs away crying or the dog snaps.

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Oct 25 2011

A Week of Whiskey

Published by under Uncategorized

Whiskey & Water

Last Tuesday Whiskey arrived via Pilots ‘n Paws private plane transport from Idaho. He’d ended up in the Wood River Valley shelter when his owner was threatening to shoot him because he’d jumped out of the back of the pickup (Knowing Whiskey, I’m certain this wasn’t the first time it had happened.). Luckily someone was nearby who offered to take him, and then she turned him over to the shelter.

After a week and a couple of temperament tests, the shelter determined that Whiskey could not be adopted out from there – he failed his “food aggression” test (More elsewhere on the temperament tests that shelters use, but I will say that having seen the video of this portion of Whiskey’s test, it’s likely I too would have failed it.) – so long story short, I said I’d take him and see how he managed in a home environment.

The shelter manager and I had some long discussions about Whiskey’s issue with food guarding and I made it clear that I’d keep him for two weeks and if in that time we didn’t see noticeable improvement, I would not keep him. I’m not comfortable with euthanizing a dog for behavioral issues – I’ve only had to do that twice in 12 years; both times after having kept the dog for an extended length of time – but these days there are so many dogs needing help, and our resources are so limited that a dog with issues doesn’t stand much of a chance. It’s a harsh reality and not one that any of us in rescue likes to face.

When Whiskey arrived I was prepared to “handle with care” and did not have the usual treats ready when he came off of the airplane. When it became apparent that he was more interested in getting pets and reassurance from us than guarding his crate, we broke out a few dog treats and were pleasantly surprised at how polite he was.

Once home it was close to doggie dinner time, so I put his bowl of kibble next to my work spot in the kitchen and stood next to him as he ate. I was told that at the shelter he would stand over his bowl and growl at anyone who approached his kennel. In my kitchen he wolfed down his food and wandered off. I picked up the dish and he barely noticed. I hand fed him treats and made him bite off pieces – he’d rather grab the whole treat but when he figured out that wasn’t going to happen, he bit off pieces. In the last week I’ve given him bones, stuffed Kongs, and other interesting treats and if I walk toward where he’s chewing on them, he drops whatever it is and backs away without me having to ask him. If it’s quiet and he can focus all I have to do is show him a treat and he plops his butt on the ground immediately – and is pretty polite about taking the treat.

Yesterday as he was eating I pushed his dish around with my foot – he just kept eating. So far, the only time I’ve seen him actually grabbing for anything is when we’re playing. If I happen to have a toy or treat in my hand and raise it to throw he’ll lunge to catch it before it leaves my hand – his teeth are really hard! – his intent is not to do me any damage but to catch the item and so far although he’s bumped my hand a number of times he’s not done anything more than bruise; no skin has ever been broken, not even a welt raised. So we’re working on “sit & wait” before I throw anything. He’d love to play tug, but that’s not a game you want to get into with this boy.

So far, what I have here is a 70-lb puppy who will chew up your eyeglasses if they’re left within reach. He’s a pretty dominant dog – he’d like to be the one in charge and he uses his body and his mouth to try to push the human around and get his own way, but when he’s denied he gives in gracefully.

Somebody has worked him over a time or two – he flinches when anything goes quickly over his head and a raised voice sends him cowering. Discipline is a balancing act because he’s persistent and sometimes it takes more than a “no” and redirection to get him to stop what he’s doing.

Whiskey has a surplus of energy; every morning we go walking and he usually is running full tilt for the first hour, then we move into chasing the Kong-on-a-rope for at least a half hour more. He’s found that he loves the water – not a real enthusiastic swimmer but just bouncing around in the shallows and splashing is lots of fun.

Given some time and training and love this is going to be a great dog and he’ll be lots of fun. He’s a happy boy with a generally positive outlook and a good sense of humor. So far he’s greeted most strangers with a smile, but I notice that when he’s stressed (like walking downtown for the first time) he’s not nearly as eager to reach out to people he doesn’t know. That’s fine – he’s a very typical cattle dog and I’d be shocked if he was friendly under those circumstances. He does not try to bite anyone although I would not recommend backing him into a corner; and once he’s had a chance to familiarize himself with the new place, he’s ready to accept treats and behave quietly, if not becoming everyone’s new best friend.

I don’t happen to like dog parks but they are good places to see how some of the rescues respond to unknown dogs and people – Whiskey’s dog manners are very appropriate; he’s fine with small dogs, and he generally just ignores the humans – which is what I want him to do.

Probably the toughest behavior we’re going to have to deal with is his squeaking and barking when riding in a car. I’m thinking covered crate as his excitement increases as he sees objects flashing past: fence posts, trees, cars…he doesn’t seem to have a preference.

I’m appalled when I look at this dog to think how very close he came to dying simply because his owner was ignorant and then because he was stressed and over stimulated at the shelter. When I do in-person shelter evaluations, I look at one thing: Is the dog trying to eat me? If the answer is no, I’ll at least give it a chance and so far, with one notable exception that we’re still struggling with, the dogs I’ve evaluated have made it out of the shelters and into forever homes with a minimum of foster time and training. Some folks wonder if there really is such a thing as kennel stress; they question the theory that dogs do behave differently in shelters than in home environments. I’m not saying every dog is a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde in and out of a shelter – but I do think they should be given the benefit of doubt.

After a week of Whiskey, I’ll be very surprised if I see many more changes in his behavior in the second week. He’s a perfect example of why rescues are great shelter partners: We can give the dogs a normal environment in which to decompress and show their true colors. With dogs like Whiskey it really is the difference between life and death.

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Jan 07 2011

Something for a smile

Published by under Uncategorized

Thanks Amy Beller for passing this along.

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Jan 06 2011

Little Miracles

From my first foster, over a decade ago, to the rescues I have in foster today, I’ve believed in miracles. Not the loaves and fishes type, but the everyday miracles of kindness and generosity of spirit that leads people to the homeless, neglected, and often abused dogs that we take into rescue.

For many of these dogs, the first miracle is the rescuer pulling them from a high kill shelter, out of a yard where they have been chained their entire life, or a home where they are abused, neglected, or just unwanted, and moving them into a warm and loving foster home where they receive the care and training they need to function in today’s world. The second miracle for these dogs is the family that adopts them and makes them a part of their family where they will never be hurt or abandoned again. Continue Reading »

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Dec 23 2010

Reaching out: Helping neighbors

Published by under Navel gazing

About five years ago a neighbor acquired a couple of dogs.  The first dog lived there a year; he was a cute furry puppy when they got him – I think he was about nine months old when the kennel went up and the dog went into it – initially just during the day, but as he grew older he spent more and more time out there.  He was about a year old when the second puppy showed up.  At that point both dogs were in the kennel 24/7.  When I saw two dogs in the kennel I cringed, assuming that we’d be seeing litter after litter of backyard-breeder puppies and have been cautiously relieved that this has not been the case.

It happens that these dogs are in a yard that is not fenced, and is on an access road to the city park, so everyone who ever goes to the park sees them leaping against the kennel sides and barking frantically.  The brutal irony is that just on the other side of the property line is a large park where dogs are allowed to run off leash – to my knowledge neither of these dogs has ever been in that park – in fact they’ve only been out of the kennel a few times and are not leash trained – or any other kind of trained for that matter. Continue Reading »

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Dec 17 2010

I really need to take a break.

Published by under Navel gazing

For the last two years I’ve been trying to take a rescue break.  First I tried limiting the days I did rescue work.  I asked my rescue contacts to only call me on Mon, Wed, Fri, afternoons; and I would not respond to other queries that came in until those times.  Made it for about two or three weeks.

Then I promised myself that once the dogs I currently had in foster care and posted were placed, I wouldn’t take on anymore for a couple of months.  Well, that didn’t work out either.  But after the last month, I think I really do need to figure out something and stick with it, or I may find myself in even more serious straits; so far I’ve lost one FaceBook “friend” because she took personally my venting about something unrelated to her – and the sad part is I really don’t have the energy to make the effort to clear up the misunderstanding. Continue Reading »

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Dec 01 2010

Licensing: the biggest dog-owner scam.

Published by under Uncategorized

I just spent part of yesterday evening and most of this morning dealing with a situation which reinforced my conviction that licensing dogs, as it’s currently done in most jurisdictions, is one of the most useless and biggest rip-offs for dog owners.

A disclaimer:  I’ve never voluntarily licensed my dogs – I never will; if I get caught, then I’ll do what I need to do in order to not be continually harassed by animal control; given the estimates I’ve collected from cities and counties around the country, I’m pretty sure that most people feel the same way.  Estimates are usually that about 1/2 of the dogs resident in a jurisdiction are actually licensed. Continue Reading »

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Nov 24 2010

In search of the perfect dog

Published by under Adopting

The Perfect Dog

In the last nine months I’ve encountered more adopter issues than I recall in the last 10+ years. I’ve also had more dogs returned – because no matter how long we’ve spent with the adopters, or how carefully we’ve described the dog’s issues, there seems to be a chasm between what we say, and what the adopters hear – or don’t hear.

This has been quite puzzling to me as I have not been doing anything different – I’m using the same adoption applications, doing home visits, spend time in conversation getting to know the potential adopters. So what, I keep wondering is changing? Continue Reading »

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Apr 24 2010

Animal cruelty and the First Amendment

Published by under Legal

Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday in the case of United States v. Stevens, I’m guessing that practically every animal advocacy group in the country has posted articles with some version of the headline: Supreme Court Rules Overturns Anti-Animal Cruelty Law.

Unfortunately while the various iterations of this headline do make a person stop and read the article, the fact is the Supreme Court did no such thing. They did say that the current law which says that anyone who: “creates, sells or possesses a depiction of animal cruelty” for commercial gain can be imprisoned for up to five years. A depiction of cruelty was defined as one in which “a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded or killed,” is too broadly written. Continue Reading »

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Mar 30 2010


Published by under Relinquishing a dog

For the last 6 years we’ve been a three-dog household. It wasn’t quite intentional: first there was Rose; a couple of months later Shae joined us, and two years later Sam came along.

About four months after Shae came to live with us, I knew it was going to be difficult, but I always believed we could make it work. Rose and Shae did not like each other. It wasn’t even a matter of a couple of jealous females, they quite simply have very different personalities that are continually in conflict.

When, at the age of six months, Rose ripped open two-year-old Shae’s side because she was pushing her way through the door ahead of Rose, it was apparent that “difficult” was a mild description of their relationship. Rose is a very typical opinionated, bossy, “I’m in charge” cattle dog. Shae is a typical soft, people pleaser border collie; the two personalities just did not mesh and we’ve spent the last nine years trying to keep Shae in one piece. Continue Reading »

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