Tattoo!

Earlier this week I finally got the tattoo I have been thinking about for a while now. Four pawprints – one for my childhood dog, two for my current dogs, and one for past and future foster dogs. If you look carefully, you’ll see the paw prints are actually made out of hearts and teardrops, symbolizing the dogs I have loved and dogs who will never know what it’s like to be loved.

If there was every any doubt, I’m pretty sure this officially makes me the crazy dog lady. But you know what? I’m okay with that. In fact, I embrace it. Someone’s got to speak up for those who can’t. I’m very happy with the way the tattoo turned out.

(Now if only it would hurry up and heal – it’s currently very itchy!)

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22 souls worth saving

On Saturday I went to visit with the 22 dogs seized in a dog fighting bust in Pierce County. 22 souls without a name, but each with a unique personality and spirit that makes you want to fight for them.

There’s the teeny brown puppy. The smiling little tan girl. The giant block-headed fawn boy who just wants a good ear rub. The white spotted girl who can’t contain her excitement or get enough attention. The tan girl who shivers in the corner and won’t make eye contact. The little brown boy that shivers with both fear and excitement, not quite sure what to make of this new kindness from humans. The black boy covered in mange with the ripped up ear. The little brown one who actually smiles when you approach her kennel. These are just a few who captured my heart on Saturday.

These 22 souls are being held until their owner can be brought to trial, and because they are considered evidence, they are only permitted basic health care, and cannot be altered in any way that would tamper with their status as “evidence.” This means none of the dogs can be spayed or neutered. Several females are in heat, which we actually celebrate, since at least we know they’re not pregnant. Some are suspected to be pregnant, such as the sweet fawn girl with the swollen belly, despite the fact that she is so emaciated that you can see every vertebrae in her spine. One little black dog has a broken leg that never healed correctly and she can’t put any weight on it. Since her condition is considered evidence, we can’t fix it to make her more comfortable. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to look at their scarred and broken bodies, knowing they’ve never known the comfort of a warm bed or a loving family.

Most of the dogs seem to be in good spirits, and even though we can’t interact with them beyond ear rubs and butt scratches through the kennels, many are just soaking up the new found love and attention they never received in their previous life. A few of the dogs are too terrified to do anything more than tremble in the corner of their kennels. Some of the volunteers have been bringing books with them and simply hanging out next to these kennels, tossing the occasional treat in, to let the dogs know they mean no harm.  Sadly, the shyest ones show little promise for adoption – they are just too badly broken. Our only hope is that we can show them a little kindness toward the end of their lives. We can’t even compassionately release them from the misery of this life due to their status as evidence. Perhaps even more heartbreaking than the hopeless cases are the happy and otherwise adoptable dogs, who could eventually succumb to the stresses of living in a kennel for months on end. These dogs’ lives depend on their ability to stay sane while awaiting trial. Once the trial is over, we can then more thoroughly assess the dogs’ level of adoptability, and hopefully get them into foster care, where they can learn the socialization they so sorely missed out on. Even then, they will be very special cases that will need to go to only the most experienced dog owners. Some may need to be only dogs, due to their fighting background; others may be able to find placement with the right canine companions. We just don’t know, and we won’t know until we can evaluate them. In the meantime, they need all the love and affection they can get while imprisoned, and I will surely be spending as much time as I can visiting them, no matter how much it hurts to do so.

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Thoughts on positive versus negative reinforcement

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on dog training. I have, however, spent a lot of time researching different training methods and have had experience training many different types of dogs via my involvement in rescue and shelter work.

Let me just put this out there: I am not a fan of Cesar Milan (AKA the Dog Whisperer). This surprises a lot of people, since he has basically become the pop culture icon of dog training. While I do appreciate all he’s done for pit bulls, and I think it’s great he’s inspired an interest in working with behavior problems and not giving up, I simply don’t agree with dominance techniques. Many experts will agree that these methods are horribly outdated, and downright destructive for many types of dogs.

Dominance techniques are based on asserting yourself as a leader over your dog in order to elicit a desired behavior. While this sounds good in theory – in the dog world, true leaders don’t earn their status by force; they earn it via respect from their pack. That’s not to say dominance techniques don’t work – sure, you can sometimes get your dog to behave a certain way via these methods – but when dogs behave out of fear of punishment, it drives a wedge between dog and owner. This method also can also backfire horribly. For example, many aggressive dogs are actually fearful dogs – when it comes to fight or flight, they choose fight. Instilling more fear in dogs like this only perpetuates the problem.

Positive reinforcement, on the other hand, works to strengthen the bond between dog and owner. In the dog world, the leader controls the resources, so by giving positive reinforcement in the form of praise and/or food when your dog does what you want him to do, you’re showing him that you’re in control of the resources and he’ll get what he wants when he behaves how you want. Dogs have an innate desire to please their people (even if they don’t show it sometimes)!

Again, I’m not an expert on the subject. But if you’re seeking an expert’s help for training or behavior modification, ask them whether they use dominance techniques or positive reinforcement, and seek out the latter. You and your dog will be happy you did.

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Update…

I have not been very good about keeping up with this blog lately. So, here’s sort of a mashup of what’s been going on in my life…

Josie is doing great in her new home. My cousin and her husband have been sending pictures and keeping me updated, and it’s so great to know she’s doing well. I am thrilled that it worked out that I got to keep her in the family. Here are a few pictures – she and her big brother Moses are just the best of buds!

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In other exciting news: I was just voted onto the board of directors for our local pit bull rescue! I have been volunteering with this rescue for about a year and a half now, and have slowly been getting more and more involved. I’ve been very impressed with the rescue and consider it a huge honor to have been asked in the first place. As a board member I’ll become more involved with the events and media outreach I’ve already been doing, and will also start doing some of the adopter screening and dog evaluations.

This past weekend I went to hear Donna Reynolds, the co-founder of BAD RAP, speak at the Pacific Northwest Animal Care and Control conference. What an amazing experience. First of all, BAD RAP is pretty much the holy grail of pit bull rescue (they are the ones responsible for saving all the Michael Vick dogs). Donna shared some amazing stories about programs they’ve implemented and partnerships they’ve formed, and then everyone broke out into groups to talk about the problems pit bulls are facing today, what our main goals are for improving these problems, and how we plan to get there. Though there were a lot of different points of view in the room and at times we didn’t all agree (the group consisted of private rescues, shelters, trainers and animal control, to name a few groups), it was really interesting to hear everyone’s perspectives. We were also able to share quite a bit about what our rescue has been doing, and I think there are a lot of ways that we can help these other animal organizations through partnerships. At the end of the session, Donna actually told us how great she thinks our rescue is – which was a huge compliment, considering the source! We’ve certainly modeled a lot of our programs after the success that BAD RAP has seen, and to receive that recognition was quite an honor.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…  Stewie’s tail chasing has been improving. Ironically, the day I called in the prescription for his medication was the day he quit chasing his tail in his crate. He still does it occasionally – mostly in the mornings when I’m getting ready for work. But the crate thing was the biggest issue since we couldn’t stop him from hurting himself. At least when we’re home and he does it, we can physically stop him from spinning and/or redirect him to a bone or toy. I think we’ll hold off on the meds for now, but it’s nice to know we have access to them, should we get to a point where he needs them again.

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Too funny not to repost: “The George Incident”

Came across this blog post yesterday and just about died laughing.  Enjoy.

http://www.arottalove.org/blog/?p=1581

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I *heart* George. He is without a doubt my favorite dog in the adoption program right now. He’s sweet, handsome, happy, funny, and about a dozen other nauseously sweet adjectives. Tragically – and I say this with all the love in the world – there are goldfish smarter than George.

So when I call Maus, Riley, and George in from the yard Saturday night and George doesn’t come racing up, I don’t think much of it. I tuck my two boys inside, close the screen door, and go off to find my wayward temporary foster.

It’s dark, but luckily for me George is white, and I find him behind the garage making friends with a tree – or so I think. I call him with the promise of all sorts of yummy treats, and at first I think it works. George’s head pops up, he tosses a full body wiggle in my direction, and starts prancing over. However, when he gets about five feet away, George suddenly veers to the side and starts running for the house. That’s weird, I think, and then I saw it silhouetted in the porch light:

George has half a dead squirrel dangling from his mouth.

The other half is, of course, on its way down his throat like the world’s most disgusting spaghetti noodle. I spring into action, and in a fit of genius, George realizes I’m on to him. The race is on: can he finish swallowing this thing before I get there, or will he be telling generations of foster pups about The One That Got Away?

George breaks through my screen door and tears into the house, me hot on his heels. He flies through the dining room, the sound of franticly crunching bone coming from his mouth, but I manage to tackle him in the living room. Without thinking, I wrap my hand around the former squirrel’s tail, and now –

Now I have a problem.

Those of you who own pit bulls know one basic fact about them: pit bulls do not let go of something unless they want to. George definitely does not want to let go of his new friend. I am definitely not letting George eat this dead squirrel, no matter how fresh it is. Unfortunately, George weighs almost half of what I do, and unlike me, George is entirely made of muscle.

While I am desperately wishing I own a break stick like any good pit bull owner (and then realizing that if I were to let go of this squirrel for the three seconds it would take me to go get the break stick the squirrel would be gone), I suddenly become aware that George and I have an audience. Maus and Riley are watching this exchange with expressions of rapture that I can only assume have not been seen since the three wise men saw the baby Jesus for the first time.

Crap.

Well, first things first. I have to get this squirrel out of George’s mouth. I’m smarter than him, I can do this. I decide the best course of action will be to pinch George’s nose closed and cut off his breathing. George now has three options: he can let go of the squirrel, he can pass out, or he can grow a blowhole.

George tries very, very hard to grow a blowhole.

Luckily for me, evolution doesn’t work that fast. George projectile vomits the squirrel across the living room in a way that would make men shot from cannons proud. For an instant, time stops. The dead squirrel is free; none of us can quite believe it.

“MINE!” I scream like a deranged Chihuahua, “MINE!MINE!MINE!MINE!”

The four of us launch ourselves toward the squirrel at the same moment, colliding together in a storm of legs, teeth, and bodies.

“Wa-HAH!” I shout, jumping to my feet and triumphantly waving the dead squirrel over my head like I’ve just won the Super Bowl. “Mine!”

And in this second, I realize that I have a really, really big problem.

Now there are three pit bulls staring at me as if they’re wondering if it might be okay – just this once – to bite the hand that feeds them. I’m surrounded in enemy territory.

Double crap.

I start inching toward the door, but the dogs mirror my movements, waiting for that one, perfect moment when my focus waivers. I’m going to have to make a run for it.

I take a deep breath, shoot out a quick prayer to whatever deity might be listening (and laughing his or her ass off), and make a break for it.

I race out of the living room, through the dining room, into the kitchen, out the door, and SLAM! the door shut behind me. There are three crashes from the other side that I’m sure are hard enough to rattle windows and knock pictures off the walls, but it doesn’t matter because I HAVE WON!

THE DEAD SQUIRREL IS MINE!!!!!!

MWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ladies and gentlemen, I have survived this ordeal to tell you one thing:

Crazy is contagious.

You get it from your dogs.

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ADOPTED!

It’s official – woohoo!

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Josie’s adoption: take two.

On Saturday, we dropped Josie off for her second trial adoption run, after the first one didn’t work out.  I have always believed things happen for a reason, and I hope the way things have panned out have just been fate’s way of stepping in.

You see, the weekend before Josie went on her first trial run, we had gotten together at our lake cabin with some family, and my cousin and her husband had totally fallen in love with Josie. At the time, we had no reason to believe her trial adoption wouldn’t work out, so we didn’t even really discuss the possibility of them adopting her. Well, fast forward two weeks – when they found out Josie came back to us for separation anxiety issues, my cousin’s husband emailed me to tell me they were interested and were filling out an application. Yay! It sounds like a perfect home for her – my cousin is a stay-at-home-mom, and they have another dog whom Josie has met and gets along with. Really an ideal situation, because not only will Josie have someone home with her most of the time, but even when the humans are out, she’ll have a “brother” to keep her company. My cousin’s kids are really great, too. They have an obvious bond with their current dog and everyone is really excited about possibly adding Josie to the family. Of course, on a more selfish note, I’m just excited that Josie would get to stay “in the family” and that I’d get to see her again!

The adoption coordinator and I spent a good couple hours at their home on Saturday answering questions, observing Josie playing with their current dog (they went nuts!), and explaining Josie’s separation issues. They’re fully prepared to deal with it and work on it, and I just have a really good feeling about all of this.

They are planning to do a week-long trial run, so we should know by Saturday whether the adoption will be made official.

Fingers, toes and paws crossed!

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