Monthly Archives: October 2011

Foster Dog Files: 5 days in.


So, Angie has been here for 5 days now, and, with the exception of yesterday, all is well. The wacky October storm was rough enough to begin with here in New Hope, where we had quite a few inches of wet heavy snow…and then the power went out. With the power out, we had to make some adjustments in our arrangements and not everyone took to them well. Poor Savannah hangs out by the bedroom door waiting for whoever is inside with Angie, the cats have to quell their curiosity and Rocco is not getting the amount of “alone on the bed” time he likes. As for the humans, we are okay, but yesterday almost  pushed us to our limits. But, we made it…and had a good day today….considering we left the house unshowered and un-coffee-ed to get Angie to the shelter for her vet check. The power finally came back on at around 3 this afternoon, thank God!
The good news through all of that is that Angie was a trooper. Even without her sweater (which was in the wash when the power went off) she did all of her business outside and though I think not getting much exercise or stimulation was hard for her, she maintained her good behavior….other than the separation anxiety. Which I am to blame for. I take full responsibility. And, I am working on it…and it seems to be working. I have stopped interacting with her close to when I am leaving her. I gave her a stuffed kong that she will only get when we are leaving and I am squashing my desire to check on her every 10 minutes. Which is hard, but works better for her…and this is about her, not me.
This morning, Paul & I did a group walk, which went well…no one is bothered by anyone else’s presence outside. She and Savannah did fine on a brief face to face in the house this morning….but then she tried to hump Savannah. Savannah didn’t react badly, but, we thought better than to take the chance. Found out at the clinic that she is in heat…so, now she is wearing a diaper. Hasn’t bothered with it at all, good girl that she is. We will keep doing the walks together, but, real get-togethers probably have to wait until after her surgery later this week.
I have to say how truly impressed I am with this dog. She has had only one accident in the house since she got here. She sleeps through the night. She knows to sit to be leashed and fed. She sits and gives paw for treats, and did so for a little boy this morning at the shelter. She is great in the car. She is super affectionate and friendly. She will make someone an excellent companion.
Plus, she let me put the diaper on her…how many dogs can you say that about??? 🙂


The Foster Dog Files.


Yesterday Paul & I brought a very sick dog home from the shelter. The dog, formerly known as Amy, is a young pit pull mix who developed pneumonia. Not much is known about her past, except that she was found as a stray in Philadelphia about 2 weeks ago. It breaks my heart that, not only this dog, but, so many are brought into the shelter as strays. *And, don’t get me going about the “owner surrenders”.* It especially breaks my heart when they are either very young, or very old. A dog under a year old has little idea how to fend for herself, and I find myself wondering how she ended up there. Was she once someone’s cute, little puppy and they decided that they had enough of “puppy stuff” and just let her loose? Or, did she take off from a backyard where she was kept night and day? Did she ever know love? Was she ever treated like a member of the family? We will probably never know. What we do know is this: she is very sick…she is very skinny…she trusts people (likely due to the attention she got at the shelter by some wonderful volunteers)…and she is very tired. Other than brief periods outside, or Paul and I sitting with her…she has slept probably the best sleep in her recent memory these past 18 hours or so. This poor girl, now known as Angie…for the Rolling Stones song (shout out to my dad) is so sweet and trusting, that despite being so sick, her little tail wags like a whip when either of us enter the room. Also, she is pretty much house -trained, so either someone took the time to teach her to do her business outside, or her time in the shelter taught her that pooping where she eats and sleeps is yucky. I’m guessing the former, but, I could be wrong.
What made us decide to bring her home? Clearly, taking on another dog, any dog, is a big responsibility. A sick dog, even more so. Here’s why: I was told her situation, and knew that she would likely be euthanized in the next few days if someone didn’t step up. And, I know that I wouldn’t be able to live with myself had I said no and saw it happen. And, Paul and I are presently in a position where we can do something like this. It will probably not always be the case, but, right now it is…and that is a gift. This is how I am choosing to pay that gift forward.
My good friend and sorority sister Bethanne once told a story. It must be close to 20 years ago, if not more that I heard it, but, it has stuck with me all this time. I don’t remember the specifics of the story, but, the gist of it was this: a house may be full of people, too small for more…but, there is always more room for love. This is kind of how I see welcoming this dog (at least temporarily) into our home and our lives.  I have a lot of love in my heart, and so does Paul. We don’t have children (at least the two-legged kind), so our animals get all of that love. Surely, there is enough for one more. We will get her well, I will work on training with her and when she is ready, she will make someone a very lucky person (or persons) of her own.
Angie has already figured out the short cut to her door. She has already decided that she doesn’t like dried beef liver treats or Canine Carry-Outs.  She has already figured out that the bed is comfy, but, will wait until I let her know she can hop on. She has already started feeling better, as her breathing has improved dramatically with the help of a humidifier. And, she has already shown me that I made the right decision: she is alive and has a chance at life that she may not have had yesterday.
When thinking about a new name for her (I was not a fan of Amy, because I know a lot of human Amy’s), I kept coming back to Rolling Stones songs. Angie seemed to work, because it is not too different from Amy, which she has been hearing for the past few weeks. Though Paul has been insistent we keep the name Amy (likely more to get a rise out of me than a strong affinity for the name), once he sees the lyrics, I think he will agree with the change. Some of this song just fits. I like that. I like her. It’s a win-win.
Please share this post if you want to help save Angie’s life and be part of finding her forever home 🙂

A Ripple in the Sea of Life.


A friend of mine posted this picture this morning on Facebook. I think it’s funny and almost re-posted it to share a laugh, but, then I realized that, for me, under the humor lies a very upsetting phenomena. In case you don’t already know it, the picture comes from an Ad that Sarah McLachlan did for the ASPCA in which her song “Angel” plays behind images of animals in shelters. It is a tear-jerker to the Nth degree, designed to direct our attention to the plight of these unwanted dogs and cats, and get us to donate, adopt or otherwise take action to end their suffering. I suppose that it has been effective, as it has been around for a while, but, based not only on the caption on this photograph, but things I have heard from people, that what it is more likely to do is invoke guilt and a feeling of helplessness. Based additionally on the many animal rescue pages I follow on Facebook, guilt and helplessness are the feelings that most people end up with when they see images of dogs and cats in shelters, found as strays, abused, neglected, unwanted. Those feelings are natural…I felt them for a long time when I started to pay attention, but, found over time that in addition to feeling sad and like I couldn’t do anything, I began to feel angry. Angry at just how widespread this problem really is. And that led me to feeling like I had to do something. I already visited shelters and donated a few dollars here and there to my local SPCA, but, that wasn’t enough for me. Despite my initial fear that my Facebook friends wouldn’t like it, would be sad or offended by some images, I started posting pictures, stories, links that stood out to me. In order to not alienate people, I try pick and choose carefully. I had started an additional page a few months back, thinking that I would use it for that purpose, but, decided that I would keep sharing on my personal page, because you never know who might see something that spoke to them, and only animal people would pay attention to the other page. I didn’t want to limit the visibility of  these animals and their stories to people who were already paying attention. Some of my friends may have blocked me or hide my posts, and that’s ok. I know plenty of others are reading, sharing and thinking about this issue in ways that they never have before….because that’s how it started for me.
My own guilt and sadness has led me to some amazing places and I have met some amazing people and animals. But, that’s because I didn’t wallow in the sadness and guilt. Those emotions are not very helpful for anyone in any situation, for any extended period of time, because they tend to either fade (and we tell ourselves to get over it or rationalize) or simply make us feel worse and eventually, powerless. I believe that they are only helpful if they provide some motivation to do something. To be part of the solution, instead of just another person who feels bad or sad. I can tell you that those emotions serve the animals you feel sad about absolutely no purpose….unless they are backed up with action.
It’s the same really with anything that we say matters to us….if something is important to you, you do something about it. And it doesn’t have to be anything grand. For an example, this past Christmas, one of my sorority sisters posted a note on Facebook about a very sick little girl in Pittsburgh. She asked for all of her friends to send this little girl a Christmas card  in the hospital. I was so saddened by the thought of this girl in the hospital at Christmas that I cried. I cried when I read the note and I cried when I wrote out my card. I wrote out the card because it mattered to me. Because it was something that I COULD do. Rather than cry and feel guilty about what I couldn’t do (make the illness go away for the poor girl), I focused on what I could. It felt good, and along with a lot of my sorority sisters, I felt a part of something bigger….a force for good for a little girl in need. I will never forget that my friend thought enough of this little girl and of the people she knows to feel like a difference was worth trying to make. Was the little girl any less sick? No. Did she smile when she got all those cards? I bet she did. Was her day a bit more bearable? I bet it was.
So, my point is simple….if Sarah McLachlan makes you cry….do something. If sick children make you cry….do something. There are so many things you can do for any person, animal or cause you believe in. I see so often statements like “I wish I could save them all” and am guilty of thinking that exact thing myself. But, it is not a helpful statement…it becomes overwhelming when we think like that. So, for me, I have focused my efforts on one animal shelter and doing what I can there. And, I know now that I haven’t even scratched the surface of what can be done. For now, I am happy to play with a few dogs, take pictures, write up Petfinder ads, post needs on Facebook. I bring treats for the dogs and cats. The biggest and most surprising side effect of all of this is just how enjoyable it is. For those few hours, I forget about everything but the dog I am playing with. All of my problems disappear. I become fully engaged in what I am doing and where I am. No amount of yoga, meditation, long walks or quiet time have been able to accomplish this in the way getting down on the ground with a lonely, scared dog has been able to. It is an amazing feeling. To my surprise, my husband (who I thought I coerced into volunteering) said this to me as well, without knowing how I felt. It feels like I am part of something bigger than me, and helps me remember that we all (animals included) play a part in the world. We all have a role. We all matter. The little girl in the hospital….the unwanted dogs and cats of the world. All of us.
Oh, and last I heard, the sick little girl had returned to school…..very happily 🙂


Resiliency and the Wagging Tail.


Yesterday afternoon Paul and I went to the shelter. I was going to meet another volunteer to take some Petfinder pictures and Paul had a rough exam in the morning, so I suggested he join me to get his mind off of it. So, we headed down in the hopes of spending some time with a bunch of dogs, in addition to the doggie photo shoot.
One of the dogs I wanted to spend time with was a female pit bull mix named Autumn, as I had heard very good things about her from another volunteer who was concerned about her. We also spent time with Cher, the oddly proportioned rottie/corgi (basset?) mix and the beautiful Ella again. In addition to these girls, another caught my eye and made my heart sad and her name was Tracey. Tracey is a young brindle, beagle mix who I had to lure out of the kennel by speaking softly and sitting at the entrance and awaiting her approach. Though she made me sad, I didn’t let her see it and we got her out, took her pictures and let her relax a little bit. One thing worth noting is that someone at the shelter was thoughtful enough to provide her with some soft blankets to rest on in her kennel. This really touched me and reinforced why I am doing what I am doing.
As for Autumn, she has been on the News as a featured dog and has lots of people advocating for her…however, she has remained in the shelter for about six weeks. That is a very long time for any dog to be in any shelter, especially for a dog like this.  For the life of me, I cannot imagine why she hasn’t been adopted. She was the most trusting, loving dog that I have ever met. Even Paul said that he thought she was a very special dog…and I am pretty sure that before he met one, Paul, like way too many people, was sure that all pit bulls were un-trustworthy, brutal killing machines. If Ella had not proved otherwise just shortly before, Autumn surely would have. I had been told how sweet she was, but, honestly I didn’t believe she’d be this sweet. Within moments of being outside, she settled with her head on Paul’s lap, while I finished up taking pictures. When I finished with picture-taking, I headed to the run they were in and she placed herself between us for more loving. With every touch and soft word spoken, she would wag her tail a little. Eventually, I sat on the ground with her and within a few minutes, she nudged her way onto my lap and made herself a nest between my legs. Then, she began to snore softly. I was extremely physically uncomfortable…the pebbles were cold and hard underneath me yet my soul was full of joy and for as long as I could stand it, moving was not an option. Most of the dogs come out of the kennel and want to walk, play and/or go to the bathroom before snuggling, not Autumn…her need for physical comfort and reassurance was far greater. And, it was nice…it was relaxing and in a way, reassuring for me. It did make me sad, though, because she needs that love and reassurance full time. But, again, I didn’t let her see that, because I truly believe that dogs can sense what is going on in us and I just wanted her to feel the love.
As for resiliency, the more dogs I meet at the shelter, the more amazed I am at how capable they are of trust and love. So many found as strays, roaming the streets for God knows how long and so many dumped by their owners for reasons I just can’t understand. But, time and again, they are willing to meet a new human, let him/her loop a leash around their neck and take them from the safety of their kennel. They do so with hope in their eyes, tails wagging and then come up for pets, kisses and playtime outside. It speaks volumes to what dogs are made of. And what they have to teach us.
I don’t talk about it a lot, but, my love of dogs is a very spiritual thing for me. I find something very calming and life-affirming being with them.
I am constantly reminded of the film I watched on HBO last year called “Temple Grandin”, about the life of this brilliant, autistic woman whose love of animals has revolutionized much of the livestock industry. I won’t get into detail, but, I highly recommend the film to everyone who loves animals. Much of it isn’t pretty to think about, but, worth pondering for many reasons. Just like most animals we use for our purposes, humans have molded dogs to suit our needs for a very, very long time. We have exploited their talents for both good and bad. We have held them up as heroes and disposed of them like trash. Life is a sad state of affairs for many, many dogs. I look at so many of my friends who love their dogs and how many dogs I have loved throughout my life and am so saddened to think of the literally millions of others who were not afforded the same care. But, being sad isn’t enough for me. I can’t just sit here and ponder the unloved ones…I can love them. Even if it is only for a few minutes. Because, those few minutes matter. To me, but, more importantly to the dog. I’m pretty sure Autumn agrees.

Learning to speak dog.


Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the disservices that we humans bestow upon our so- called best friends…dogs. I have known for a long time that there are lots of people out there who didn’t take the time to get to know or train their dogs and that there are also lots of people who have dogs who aren’t even interested in it. What I don’t think I truly appreciated was the toll that this takes on dogs.
I am currently enrolled in “The Academy for Dog Trainers”, a training program run by Jean Donaldson, who is considered by many to be a guru among those in the know about dog behavior. In the short time I have been taking this course, I have learned so much that really should seem like common sense, but, just isn’t for a lot of people. About 10 years ago, I took a training course through Animal Behavior College, and, though I learned a lot, that was much more focused on the mechanics of dog training, rather than the behaviors, thought processes and motivations behind it for the dog. I had some success training after completing ABC, but, this program is taking things to a whole new level for me. Taking the course now is helping me in my volunteer work at Philadelphia Animal Care & Control, too, because it is helping me see how many dogs are surrendered or given up on for behavior issues that are totally fixable. The numbers are staggering. Way too many people give up on their dogs for issues I can pretty much guarantee you are their own fault. Take, for instance, lovely Ella (seen below), who was returned because she started peeing in the house about a month after being adopted from the shelter. Her owner stated that he wouldn’t have a dog that didn’t listen to him. I’m willing to bet Ella thought “why won’t my owner listen to me?” herself. House training is a pretty easy fix, but it takes something a lot of people are not willing to extend to their dog: patience. In fact, most issues with dogs take two simple things: patience and a little bit of knowledge. A little of both can go a long way towards ensuring that your dog remains your best friend. Too many people make the assumption that a dog should just “know” how to do something. Really?? There are so many factors to consider, not the least of which is that dogs are a different species and don’t speak human. Seems like a big “duh” to me.
Looking back at my own life, it seems like dumb luck that so many of the dogs in my family got by at all. None had professional training  and a few were shelter dogs that were less than perfectly behaved, but, somehow, they learned the ropes and lived out the rest of their lives happily and well-loved. I look at my current dogs in a whole new light. They are far from perfect, but, I see how much happier they are when I am consistent and they know what to expect. Plus, I am currently working with a trainer to get Savannah her Canine Good Citizen certification and Rocco has joined in on the fun, and I see how much they enjoy working. How much they are capable of. How much they will do for some love and treats.
Dogs put up with a lot from us. They don’t ask for much. Really, they just want to be safe and be able to pee and poop away from where they sleep and eat. So, that brings me back to poor Ella. I just wonder what signals she was sending that were ignored and based on my interactions with her, how much she could thrive in the right environment. She is young, friendly and holds no grudges against people for her situation. Now, if only I could be that forgiving.