Personal space? What’s that?

First a brag, then an explanation…

Brag:

One of my favorite Web sites that I visit daily, Draw the Dog, used a story about my Stewie as inspiration for one of their daily cartoons that are inspired by real dogs. Check it out!

Explanation:

Bless his heart, Stew-pot has no concept of personal space. He LOVES people, and must get as close to them as physically possible. In fact, hubby and I joke that if he could talk, he’d say (in his best Ron Burgundy voice), “I wanna be on you.”

Back to the cartoon… every morning the hubs gets up earlier than I do, at which point the dogs are invited up onto the bed. Maggie, my lab mix, usually curls up by my feet. You know, an appropriate spot for a dog. But Stewie, my pittie, has to be as close to me as possible, which, depending on the position I am laying in, means curling up with me in the spoon position, laying halfway across my back, or even parking himself between my legs. One particular morning, as I was sleeping on my back, he apparently decided my face looked like a good place to plop down. And that’s what inspired me to submit my story to Draw the Dog.

In addition to climbing on top of us in bed, Stewie’s other favorite pastimes include accompanying us to the bathroom (you know, in case we need any help or are plotting to escape through some secret passageway), sitting in our laps at the computer, and crawling into our (or our guests’) laps on the couch.

One particularly embarrassing (but funny) habit he’s picked up is kissing guests on the mouth when they walk through the door. He knows he’s not supposed to jump ON guests, but that doesn’t stop him from making a vertical leap to face level -*slurp*- and then landing on his feet. Let me tell you, the dog’s got hops. Even the tallest of hubby’s friends get kissed by Stewie as he leaps 6+ feet in the air with the greatest of ease.

Yeah, it’s something we’re working on…

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Education, education, education!

This past weekend our rescue ran an educational booth at a dog show. It was our first event of the year and a good reminder of why education is such an important component of rescue – perhaps even more critical than the actual rescuing part.

If that last part sounds a little backwards, let me explain…

A good analogy would be recycling and its impact on reducing the amount of waste we produce. If all you ever did was dig through people’s trash and pull out any recyclable materials you could find, you’d be facing an uphill battle that was impossible to win. Even if you miraculously managed to round up every piece of recyclable material, come next trash day, there would just be more recyclables going into the trash. The only way to really make headway on reducing the amount of waste is to teach people about recycling so they can all do their part to help.

Now, I hate to compare a living creature to trash, but let’s face it, many dogs that end up in shelters or rescue have been discarded as such. Sure, we as rescuers try our best to find homes for them, but without educating people, we’re facing an uphill battle we can’t win. There will always be more dogs. Here are some stats that illustrate the enormity of this problem:

  • In the US alone, shelters euthanize approximately 5 to 7 million pets per year
  • Only half the animals who enter our country’s shelters this year will be adopted
  • A homeless pit bull stands a 1 in 600 chance of finding a home
  • Pit bulls and pit mixes make up about 30% of the dogs in our shelters
  • About 1/4 of the dogs in shelters are purebred

Shelters and rescues work hard to find homes for the dogs who have been discarded like yesterday’s trash, but clearly rescuing alone isn’t working. We have to educate people about responsible, lifelong pet ownership. I addressed this at length in an earlier blog post, but in a nutshell, with very, very, very few exceptions, getting rid of a pet should never be an option. If everyone viewed pets as for life, then we wouldn’t need rescues and shelters except for the most dire of circumstances.

In addition to the epidemic of homelessness that dogs in general are facing, the stigma attached to pit bulls especially isn’t helping their cause. Did you know pit bulls were once considered the all-American family dog? That’s right, pit bulls were once the equivalent of today’s lab or golden retriever (think Petey from the Little Rascals).

So what’s changed? Well, the dogs themselves haven’t changed much since then, but the owners sure have. Instead of a playful Petey romping with the kids, you’re more likely to see a thug with a cropped-eared status symbol on the end of chain. That image builds exponentially as it attracts like-minded dog owners and scares off your average family.

And the media only make things worse. Those of us in the pittie community are well-aware of a phenomenon called the pit bull paparazzi, whereby pit bull attacks are much more widely reported than attacks by other breeds. But I suppose I can’t even really blame the media. They make money on advertising. And advertisers spend money where the most viewers/readers are going to see their ad. No matter which side of the pit bull debate you’re on, you can’t deny that a pit bull article online is pretty much guaranteed to get a gazillion comments. No other breed evokes such emotion, both for and against.

Ducati, one of our adoptable dogs, hanging out at this weekend's event (excuse the robot eyes - dogs are so tricky to photograph!)

Back to education and this weekend’s event – one of my favorite parts about these types of events is the chance to win people’s hearts before they have a chance to judge. Our rescue’s name doesn’t have the words “pit bull” in it, which means sometimes people don’t make the connection right away that we are a pit bull rescue group. They’ll walk up to our booth to admire our wall of photos of past and current adoptable dogs, or pet one of our available dogs in their “adopt me” vests. When they ask us what kind of dogs they are, they learn that they have just been loved on by a pit bull! This usually presents a great opportunity to give them more information and dispel some of the myths they’ve heard.

Though some people back up and run away awkwardly when they find out it’s a pit bull, I would hope they would at least think twice next time they are presented with misguided or biased information about the breed.

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Vote to protect your dog against BSL

Pit Bull Rescue Central posted a very important article yesterday about a program being run by Change.org. The “Ideas for Change” competition lets the community propose and vote for ideas across 20 different social issues where they’d like to see change in this country. The top 3 from each category will be voted on, and the top 10 will go before relevant officials in the Obama administration.

Under the animals category, it has been proposed to ban Breed Specific Legislation – and this is currently in 5th place in the category!

Those of us with pit bulls know how important this is in our dogs’ lives – the ability to protect them from future legislation against them is huge.

Even those who aren’t fans of the breed should realize that banning the breed does nothing to prevent dog bites (as has been proven in communities where this legislation has been enacted). Furthermore, BSL only hurts law-abiding owners, who don’t own the problem dogs in the first place.

I urge you to visit http://www.change.org/ideas/view/ban_breed_specific_legislation and vote. It only takes a minute to do so.

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Happy “gotcha day,” Maggie!

It was exactly 5 years ago today that we brought home our Maggie. I don’t write about Maggie as much as I probably should. It’s not that I don’t love her – in fact it’s the opposite. It’s just that she’s so easy, she blends into our lives so seamlessly. She is the type of dog that any dog owner could have and succeed with. She’s fairly well-mannered, doesn’t need a ton of exercise, and gets along with all dogs. As Stewie has proven himself to be less dog tolerant as he matures, I can definitely say I’ve come to appreciate that last point. Maggie could get along with Cujo, she’s so great with other dogs. We’ve had to deal with crating and rotating one of our fosters because the foster didn’t get along with Stewie, but I have never worried about Maggie. Maggie’s like the responsible older sister to Stewie. I can count on her.

Maggie was our first dog as adults. Hubby and I both had family dogs as kids, but we definitely learned a lot with Maggie. Sure, we did stupid stuff in the beginning. For starters, we got her way too young. She was only 7 weeks old when we brought her home. The woman at the rescue said the mother had stopped nursing the pups, but knowing what I know now, I know she definitely could have benefitted from that continued socialization with her littermates for at least another week or two. Holy cow, we were so not prepared to be puppy parents. We were living in a third floor apartment in the city, and dogs were strictly prohibited from riding in the elevators. I have vivid memories of scooping up puppy and racing down the hall and down the stairs in the middle of the night during the potty training phase. Hell, our first night we didn’t even have a crate for her. we thought she would be fine in a laundry basket next to our bed. Waking up at 2 a.m. to the sound of her having explosive diarrhea on our bedroom floor made me realize we desperately needed a crate, which we purchased the next day.

Eventually I realized if we were going to raise this puppy right, we would need to become more educated ourselves. Off to the Internet I went, and I haven’t stopped learning since. I became obsessed with learning more and more, and that’s when I realized just how dog-crazy I was. I couldn’t get enough, and committed myself to learning as much as I could about dog behavior, training and the problems of animal overpopulation. That led to volunteer work, and well, the rest is history. How time flies! On the one hand, it’s hard to belive it was only 5 years ago that I was such a “green” dog owner, but on the other hand, I can’t believe we’ve had Maggie for 5 years! It seems like yesterday she was a teeny tiny puppy.

With that, I leave you with some of my favorite photos of Maggie through the years…

Maggie, the day we brought her home

Getting bigger...

Bratty teenager

Looking like a big girl

@#$%?!

Say what?

First time in the water

Sleepover with her friend Parker

Pretty girl

Merry Christmas

Maggie and my parents' dog, Sadie

Ready for Apple Cup - Go Cougs!

With her new brother, Stewie

With brother Stewie and foster sister Josie

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Food for thought…

One of the more confusing parts of dog ownership has got to be nutrition. Just take a look at any commercial for one of the major dog food brands, boasting choice cuts of meat, fresh vegetables and whole grains. Truth in advertising? Nope.

Unfortunately, the reality is, most of the major dog food brands you see in commercials are complete and utter crap. To make matters even more confusing, vets don’t receive a ton of training on nutrition, and what little they do is often funded by Hills. How’s that for an unbiased source? So that Hills Science Diet your vet recommends (and conveniently sells right there in the office)? Yep, they’re profiting from that recommendation.

So if you can’t trust what you see on TV and you can’t trust your vet (for the most part – though there are awesome vets out there who don’t peddle that crap), then how is the Average Joe supposed to know what to feed his dog?

To be fair, feeding your dog a low-quality food probably won’t kill him (unless of course they’re involved in one of the many scary pet food recalls as of late. But that’s a whole ‘nother post…). But feeding a low-quality food is sort of like feeding your kids fish sticks and hot dogs… which is okay in moderation, but not twice a day, every day. If you’re feeding a low-quality food, eventually that’s going to take a toll on your dog’s body.

One of my favorite Web sites for dog nutrition (which I’ve already referenced in several links in this post) is dogfoodanalysis.com. This site includes objective, third-party evaluations of just about every dog food on the market, without the influence of the marketing dollars from the big companies and the kickbacks your veterinarian receives.

It’s a lot of information to take in, but as a rule of thumb, I only feed foods that are 4 stars or higher (it goes up to 6 stars, but for a multi-dog household with large dogs, that can get quite pricey).

But if you find yourself in the pet food store and can’t remember how a particular food ranked, remember these 5 things:

  1. First ingredient should be a named meat source (e.g., duck, lamb, chicken). Be wary of any mystery meat. If they don’t name the meat, it could actually be partially made up of euthanized dogs and cats.
  2. Avoid any animal “byproducts.” While byproducts could include organ meats (which are good for dogs), all too often “byproduct” is a blanket term for hooves, beaks and other parts of the animal that were discarded as unfit for human consumption.
  3. Avoid corn. It’s a cheap filler that has no nutritional value for a dog. Basically goes in one end and comes right out the other. Not to mention it’s one of the most common allergens. A hallmark of a crappy food is one that uses corn, and with many cheap foods, it’s the first ingredient listed.
  4. Anything you can find in the grocery store is crap, and most of the brands you’ll find at the big box pet stores are only slightly more expensive crap. While there are exceptions to this rule, your best bet is shopping at boutique pet supply stores or feed stores.
  5. Don’t focus solely on the price of the bag. A higher quality food is going to be more expensive, but it’s also going to be higher in calories, which means you feed less. For example the recommended feeding guidelines for a 50 lb. dog eating Innova EVO is 2 cups per day, whereas the guidelines for the same size dog eating Pedigree suggest 4 cups per day!

Anyone who’s ever switched a dog from low to high quality food can vouch for the benefits. In addition to giving your dog a longer, healthier life, you’re going to almost immediately notice a softer, less greasy coat, less shedding, less bathing, better smelling breath, and smaller, less frequent, less stinky poop.

I don’t know about you, but that last one alone would be enough to make me switch!

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Ketchup!

Last night I had a dream that I was competing some championship swim meet. I was up on the starting block pulling my goggles down over my eyes when it suddenly hit me that I haven’t done this since high school – what am I doing here? I’m not prepared for this! I won’t mention just how long ago high school was – or how long it’s been since I’ve been in a pool for that matter – but I think that dream was a metaphor for the chaos that has been my life lately.

Yes, I’ve been busy, as is probably evident by my lack of blogging. Actually, busy is an understatement. But most of the things that have been keeping me busy are great blog fodder, so my New Year’s resolution is to blog more. You like how I’m just now getting around to making my New Year’s resolutions and it’s almost February? Welcome to my world.

In addition to being busy at work (yes, I do have a day job – despite the fact that I would much rather spend all my time rescuing dogs, that doesn’t pay the bills), my involvement with rescue has pretty much occupied any remaining time outside of work. I’m cranking up the mileage on the car running transports and doing meet and greets, running up the minutes on my phone screening potential adopters and staying up late almost every night answering emails. But you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I fear this post is going to get quite long, so I’m going to break it out into chapters with big bold headlines so you can skip anything you’re not interested in….

Chapter 1: Update on the bust dogs

What an emotional roller coaster that situation was. It really opened my eyes to the horrors of dog fighting in a very personal way. Of course I have always thought dog fighting was terrible, and if the Philadelphia Eagles ever come to play the Seahawks, you know I’ll be the first one outside the stadium letting Vick know exactly what I think. But getting to know so many of the bust dogs, knowing very well many of them would never be adopted, really hit me hard. I fell head over heels in love with so many of those sweet souls, and in the end, we were only able to save 4 out of the 22.

That sounds like a terrible outcome – and in many ways it was – but the important thing to realize is that those are 4 dogs that would never have been saved if we hadn’t stepped in. Pierce County has never before even evaluated fight dogs – they were always held as evidence until the trial and then destroyed. And it’s not that the other dogs were vicious. They were just broken. Broken by human hands, through no fault of their own. I hate people sometimes.

The hardest part of the situation was knowing that many could be rehabilitated, if only we had the resources. But the shelter where they were being held probably puts down 10-20 healthy, adoptable pit bulls every week, since we are a small group and can only save as many dogs as we have foster homes for. Sure, we could have taken in more fight dogs and spent 2 years rehabilitating them to ready them for adoption, but how many “regular” pit bulls could we have saved during that time? Unfortunately the dark side of rescue is that it’s often a numbers game, and you have to weigh which option has the best odds. It’s really hard, because it’s often the sad cases that really tug at your heartstrings.

I still want to cry when I think of all those sweet dogs who are no longer with us, but it helps to know that even though they spent the last few months of their life in a shelter, it truly was heaven to them. They were inside, and they had nice people stopping by to give them treats and love on them every day – compared to their previous lives of being chained up outside in the cold, forced to fight each other in hopes of pleasing a master who never showed them the approval or affection they craved. For their last meal, they all got cheeseburgers. I like to think they left this world happier than they ever had been in their lives.

But you have to focus on the positive in this line of work, or you’ll go crazy. So to end this chapter on a positive note, here’s a link where you can follow the progress of the survivors. They are doing great!

Chapter 2: Foster #2: Gracie Lou Who!

At the beginning of this month, we unexpectedly ended up with our second foster dog. We were technically supposed to be on a foster hiatus, as the hubby wasn’t quite ready to foster again, but one of our previously adopted dogs came back to us and we had nowhere else for her to go. So after much begging and pleading with the hubs, we took in Gracie. We had two good leads on her for permanent homes anyway, so I convinced the mister it would probably only be for a few days.

Gracie was an absolute doll, and I quickly fell hard for her. Unfortunately, my boy Stewie did not. Thus, we were quickly introduced to the world of crating and rotating. Let me tell you, I have tremendous respect for people who have been forced to crate and rotate as a way of life, and make it work. It’s exhausting! (Mental note: crating and rotating would make a great future blog post)

Gracie’s presence with us really tested my emotions. The fact that I had to pretty much force my husband to even take her in in the first place, coupled with the fact that we had to keep her separated from Stewie created a lot of tension in our home. When the first adoption lead fell through, I was heartbroken. I was so sure it was going to be a good match. So I convinced the hubs that it would only be another week with her while I worked on the second lead. The next weekend, the second meet and greet went really well so we tentatively planned to send her on a trial run starting the following weekend (me to hubby: “okay, just one more week”). About halfway through that week, though, the adopter got cold feet.

Crap, now what?

I had already pushed my luck with the hubs, and if I wasn’t careful, I’d turn him off to ever fostering again. But with no other adoption leads in sight and nowhere else for Gracie to go, we were at a loss. The reality of the situation is, we can only save as many dogs as we have foster homes for, so if we don’t have a foster home for Gracie… I didn’t even want to think about that.

You see, Gracie had already cheated death once before. In fact, Gracie is the very reason our rescue formed a partnership with one of our local shelters. That particular shelter had a “no pit bull” adoption policy. Not because they thought they were inherently vicious, but because they were so hard to adopt out and they were already a high-volume shelter. Gracie was found as a stray and taken to that shelter a little over a year ago. She was actually on the euthanasia table, and the shelter worker flat-out refused to put her down. She was just too nice of a dog. So he called up the board and told them if they wanted this dog euthanized, they would have to come down and do it themselves. That sparked a discussion with our rescue, and they worked out a program where any pit bulls they received would be evaluated by us and taken into our program if there was room. They would still spend their days at the shelter to get exposure to the public, but would go home with foster families at night to learn manners and sleep on a warm bed. All applications would be handled through our rescue, not the shelter, so we could adequately screen them.

Long story short, Gracie had come too far and been through too much for it to end now. So I called up the adopter with the cold feet and talked to her about why she had changed her mind. She said she was in love with Gracie, but she was worried about how her cat would do with her in the house. After reassuring her that Gracie had lived with cats before and would probably be fine, we agreed to do a week-long trial run. I am happy to report the adoption was finalized last weekend! Gracie did awesome with the cat (as I knew she would), and everyone seems really happy.

I will end this chapter with a few photos of sweet Gracie, AKA Gracie Lou Who, AKA Gracie Lou Freebush (Miss Congeniality reference).

Chapter 3: Josie Update

Speaking of foster dogs, remember that super cute blue brindle puppy I had for a while? Well, that “puppy” is now a year old and about 70 lbs! That means she’s bigger than my Stewie. To put that in perspective, here’s a picture of her when we first got her, next to Stewie:

And here’s a picture of her now:

Look at the size of that head! Such a pretty girl, still. She is just thriving in her home, and I love that I get frequent updates on her. I love that “little” girl, and she is a big reason I do what I do.

Chapter 4: “The Kids”

As swept up in the rescue stuff as I get, I can’t forget my own two dogs! Maggie and Stewie are doing great. Stewie still chases his tail on occasion, but we seem to be able to manage it for the most part.

Having been through the crating and rotating phase when Gracie was with us also made me realize how good I have it, and what a perfect match Maggie and Stewie are for one another. Dogs are funny – like people, sometimes they just “click,” and sometimes they just don’t like each other for whatever reason. Maggie and Stewie are like soul mates. They bring out the best in each other. Maggie was really shy around other dogs before we got Stewie, and she has really come out of her shell in the last couple years. Stewie can be a bit of a butt head around other dogs sometimes, but he totally looks up to Maggie and does whatever his “big sister” says.

Sometimes I get applicants on our rescue dogs who are set on one particular dog and don’t like to hear me tell them it won’t be a good match for their family. But I really wish they’d just trust me. When you have a multi-dog household – especially with pit bulls – having the *right* match makes all the difference in the world!

They are lazy and like to wrestle laying down

Best friends

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Update on the bust dogs

I finally got the chance to go visit the fight bust dogs again today. It’s a very emotional experience visiting with them. We know some of them might not make it – some are simply too damaged to really ever recover. We knew this going in – our hope is to give those that have potential the best chance we can give them, and to at least give those who don’t make it some semblance of human kindness in their final days. As is to be expected, the trial against the owners is taking forever and we can’t really do anything except keep them company and provide them with basic veterinary care until the trial. The good news is, the ones who show promise for rehabilitation generally seem to be doing better as time goes on. The irony is, for most dogs, shelters are horribly stressful environments when they’re used to living with people in their homes. But for these bust dogs, who spent their entire lives outside chained up, being inside an actual building where people stop by to visit them daily is HEAVEN!

bust dogs 003

This little smiley girl is one of my favorites. She wouldn’t stop wiggling, so it was very hard to get a good picture of her, but she has the most adorable face. Light tanish-grey with a black muzzle and black eyeliner and the cutest joker-esque smile I’ve ever seen. We estimate she’s about 8 months old, so thankfully she probably hasn’t been directly subjected to fights like the others.  I’d consider fostering this girl once the dogs are released to us.  bust dogs 005

Another one who captured my heart today, this guy reminds me SO much of my Stewie. He’s a little darker than him, but his face shape and his eyes are just spot on. This guy has likely seen MANY fights, judging by his poor scarred up face. His mouth is deformed, causing his lips to jut out in a way that makes it difficult to eat. He’s lost a lot of weight since I saw him last, likely due to the fact that he can’t eat very easily. I fed him a some treats and could tell he really wanted to eat them, but only managed to get a couple of them down. Poor guy. Despite his sad appearance, he was a very happy and affectionate boy. I spent quite a big of time at his kennel giving him butt scritches through the chain link. He seemed to appreciate that.

This little boy has come a long way since I saw him two weeks ago! Last time he would not stop shivering, and even though you could tell he was just dying to rub up against the kennel for some lovin’, it was apparent he didn’t quite trust humans yet. As you can see from the video, today was a whole ‘nother story! What a happy guy! He will make some family very happy.

This little girl is the youngest one of the group, besides the puppies who have been and will be born in the shelter to the pregnant dogs confiscated as part of the bust. She is just happy and cuddly and is one of our top priorities in placing in foster care once we’re given the go-ahead. At around 5 months of age, she likely has not been damaged as badly as some of the others, and we hope we can keep her spirits up and avoid any distress that comes with long-term kenneling. I would consider fostering this girl as well – she just melts my heart.

Last, but not least, I am head over heels in love with this momma dog. Poor old girl is full of puppies and ready to burst any day. We suspect she may have given birth to many of the other dogs confiscated in the bust. She isn’t much to look at with her scarred face and her wrecked body from birthing litter after litter, but she has a heart of gold and is absolutely eating up the attention we’re giving her – probably the first time in her life she’s actually known human kindness.

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