Monthly Archives: February 2012

Jenga: One Week In.

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Today marks a week since Jenga moved in. I have to say that it has gone remarkably smoothly. She is recovering nicely from her multiple issues and has become more playful and loving as she heals. Let’s review the issues that Jenga came home with, so we can mark her progress: terrible upper respiratory infection, kennel cough to the extreme, demodex mange and a secondary skin infection that was either yeast or ringworm. I got the results on Saturday for her skin culture, which confirmed what I already knew: she did not have ringworm, but, did have a very bad yeast infection. She was on heavy duty antibiotics for the URI and kennel cough and both have improved dramatically in the past 2 days. She is on Ivermectin for the mange and her coat is coming back in quite nicely. I was given Ketochlor by the shelter to bathe her and help with the yeast. I gave her a bath yesterday and saying that she smells great is an understatement. She actually smells like somebody loves her! A bonus was that she was as good in the tub here as she was in the shelter…as long as I kept the Snausages coming, she was happy as could be in there! She met my brother yesterday and it was love at first sight. She has officially met Savannah and they were very playful together and Rocco, well, Rocco is Rocco 😉
A few things I have noticed about her: she is full of personality, which is nice to see, because at the shelter, she was afraid and overwhelmed and I think those two things sort of dampened who she is. Happens to all of them, but, I am happy to see that what I thought I saw in her remains. She is a loving, friendly dog who likes people and enjoys company. She is mischievous….has brought numerous random items to bed with her, like her leash, towels, a dog bed and the bathroom rug. She is easily trainable. Her personality lends itself to happily going along with whatever we have planned. She is a doofus. I think I underestimated how big she is. Maybe the stress of the shelter caused her to shrink into herself a bit, but, what I thought was a 45 lb dog is more likely a 55 lb dog, who probably needs to gain about 10 more lbs. Which is fine, she walks nicely on the leash and when she jumps up (which I am working to train her out of), it really seems to be just to hug and get close, she is not at all obnoxious about it. In addition to the fact that she is bigger than I thought, she seems to have no concept herself of how big she is. She is clumsy and graceless…and this just seems to make her more charming. I haven’t had a dog this big in a long time, and it’s nice.
Jenga is house-trained, she has not had a single accident in the house.She does not seem the least bit bothered by the cats, nor, them by her. She is at the point in her recovery where she can’t be left alone and trusted to just sleep. She has to have something to do, so, today we will take her to Petsmart and let her choose some toys, since she seems more fond of chewing on dog beds and mattress pads than Nylabones. A few stuffed animals, perhaps?? She has been having diarrhea, which, I think is caused by the Ivermectin, so I’ll fill a few Kongs with canned pumpkin and some dry kibble and hopefully, that will keep her away from my dresser, which she also noshed on. I am not upset about the stuff she has gotten into, it just reminds me that she probably hasn’t learned what’s okay and what’s not and that is up to us to teach her.
Now, back to Rocco….we did a quick introduction yesterday and though he was definitely not feeling it at first, some happy talk helped him calm down pretty quickly. Jenga just sort of sat there and looked at him as if wondering what his deal was. We didn’t want to overload either of them, so we kept it short and sweet. This morning, we did some side by side sit and treats with a gate separating them, which I had seen in a Bad Rap (www.badrap.org) video in which they did this to start assimilating a foster and a resident. It went very, very well, so we then took them all for a pack walk, and again, no problems. This was a huge relief, since we never got nearly this far with Rocco and Angie. He just did not like that dog, and, this one I think he will come to accept, if not fall in love with. Since the walk, they are separated only by a gate and so far, so good. She really is very easy-going and the only time she has barked was when my nutty neighbor decided to make the (steep and rocky) back hill his exercise circuit and she could see him out there. Perfectly acceptable barking, as far as I am concerned.
This week, we’ll start working on training more diligently. Now that she is feeling better and not coughing every 5 seconds, I think she can handle it. She already understands sit, down, watch and is working on stay. I truly believe that by the time she is spayed, she will be a great dog and whoever adopts her will be very, very lucky.
In the meantime, we are trying to figure out what the heck she is. Paul thinks she is not a dog and is really La Chupacabra, a neighbor said he thought she looked rottie/ pit (what??) and my best guess is hound/ pit. I am curious to see what she starts to look like once she has gained some weight and her skin/ coat has improved even more. Anyone else have any guesses??

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Welcome Home, Jenga!

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Yesterday, I brought my Pen Pal Jenga home. She was getting sicker and sicker at the shelter and Nora, my co-Pen Pal and I became extremely concerned at her condition. Poor Jenga really has the cards stacked against her: she is suffering from demodex mange, has some type of secondary skin infection and then developed the dreaded kennel cough, which turned into a full-blown upper respiratory infection. Her ears smell like someone is baking bread in them and she woke up this morning looking like someone tried to cement her nose closed. So, clearly, some serious TLC was desperately needed and what better place to do it then the Nanan Isolation and Recovery Room?
Jenga is roughly 2-3 years old. In her short life, she has seen her owner die, ended up at the shelter and was separated from her doggie roommate. Her buddy went to rescue almost immediately, but, for some reason, no one wanted a mange-y, yeasty dog who stinks to high heaven. Can’t imagine why 😉 My guess is that Jenga’s owner was a fairly decent one and got sick over time. I say that because she is so sweet and gentle…she does not seem abused and maybe her current state of health came about as her owner got sick. Pure speculation, but, she shows no signs of abuse (and though neglect is not great, I like to believe that it was not intentional) and is certainly very people and dog friendly. I actually met Jenga shortly after she arrived at the shelter when my friend Michelle and I took her pictures. She was a sad thing even back then….so scared that even while she snuggled up tight, she would not give kisses, but, would only bump your lips with her snout. It was endearing and sad, and because I am a sucker for a sad dog, I immediately fell in love with her. Fell in love….despite the stink, despite the scaly skin and lack of fur. I fell in love with a dog whose entire persona changed as soon as she realized you were there to see her! I knew that she was likely to not get much notice by potential adopters, what with the stink, the lack of coat and the fact that she was generally pretty quiet in her kennel, so as soon as Winnie was adopted, I asked if Nora and I could take her on as a Pen Pal. We started working with her right away, and she showed herself to be a quick study. Sit…easy peasy….down…not a problem….stay…got it within a few trials. All of this outside, on Hunting Park Ave, with lots of traffic, other dogs all over the place and not feeling so great. So far, the only command she is struggling with is paw. I wonder if she thinks it has no value beyond being cute??
Jenga developed a loyal following among staff and volunteers, but, as time went on, it became pretty clear that she was not being considered by adopters. The marketing that Nora and I did yielded zero responses and compared to Winnie, who we got hits on immediately, this was concerning. Truth be told, I kind of knew she would be coming home to us for a while, I just held out hope that someone would come along and see beyond her issues. Fast forward to yesterday afternoon…crusty nosed girl, shaking and not eating the special treats we brought for her. Visualize 2 grown women, crying for this sweet dog and picture the numerous (not too pretty) scenarios running through their minds. I had a decision to make, so I called Paul and told him what was going on, and good (awesome, incredible) husband that he is, he told me to bring her home if I thought it was best. In my mind, the only decision to be made was when and the time for waiting was over. This dog needed out immediately, or she would continue to get sicker, continue to be overlooked and probably end up dying. Maybe I am being overly dramatic, but, based on all of the above issues, I could see no other fate for her at the shelter.
Since arriving home yesterday afternoon, Jenga has pretty much just slept. She has eaten her meals enthusiastically and is happy to see us when we visit the recovery room. She has done all of her business outside. She eats, goes out and goes right back to sleep when we come in. I ended up sleeping with her last night (which I really didn’t want to do) and am glad I did, as she woke up at around 3am having a horrible coughing fit. I rubbed her neck, thumped her chest and right back to sleep she went. It was scary, though, and my thoughts immediately went to how awful it would be for her if no one was there to help her through it, which would be the case at the shelter.
Jenga will recover here for a while before we start doing anything to get her adopted. She needs to de-stress, get well and get used to being cared for again. She will need to be spayed and that won’t happen until all of her other issues are cleared up. One thing is for sure, she knows that beds are much more comfy than a kennel floor and we are more than happy to provide that to her for as long as it takes. We’ll work more on training and by the time we are done, this overlooked girl will be beautiful, healthy and will make someone a wonderful lifetime companion 🙂 I feel so lucky to be part of that process for her because I know how great of a dog she is and can’t wait for the rest of the world to see it, too!

These Are The Dogs Of Our Lives.

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I am a big fan of the refrain “People Suck”. I use it often, particularly when I see what I believe to be a lack of compassion towards other people or animals. Today is not a “People Suck” day. Today is a day in which I think people are fantastic, do great things and that the power of people dedicated and committed to a cause is reason to celebrate. Or, to at least write.
From Sunday to Sunday of this past week, I got to see some fantastic things happen. First, my father’s beloved New York Giants won the Super Bowl and I knew that he was celebrating in Heaven. I also like to think that he had something to do with the win…but, that’s for another blog 😉 Then, my very first Pen Pal, Winnie was adopted, a dog who my co-Pen Pal and I fell head over heels for and who proved herself highly worthy of such devotion. I was so honored to be asked by an experienced Pen Pal, Nora, to join her in advocating for Winnie and jumped in head first and now I am hooked on Pen Pal-ing. Then, one of my closest friends, Kim, came to ACCT to see a dog and adopted him and is head over heels in love with him. This has special meaning to me, because not only does it mean another dog has a second chance in life, but, it is with someone that I love, respect and cherish. She overcame her nerves about adopting a shelter dog, took the plunge and now has a companion who is so very grateful for that second chance. At least, that’s what my anthropomorphizing brain says. I mean, he covered us with kisses the second we got in the car! And, rested his head on the armrest between us, leaning slightly towards her, as if to say “Ahhh…this is my mama, I am safe now.” I must say that all of this would have been enough to keep me on an emotional high for days…but, it gets even better. Another dog who I was a HUGE fan of went into foster care, his name was Brock, but, has been changed to Owen and he is a sweet, sweet little guy, who both Paul and I really looked forward to playing with at the shelter. Now, he and his skinny little self have a home, other dogs and people to play with. He will never be cold and hungry again, and never have to worry about being left to fend for himself. He’s a nugget. I adore him.
And then, the best thing of all happened. Paul’s first Pen Pal, a smallish, brown, former mama dog went into foster care, too. The reason why this is the best thing of all out of all those other great things is two-fold. First, the fact that Paul fell for this dog and wanted to advocate for her filled me with such love and pride for him. Paul enjoys going to the shelter, but, Jenny was the first dog who (I think) really spoke to him on a deep level. Second, because Jenny is in foster care with my foster mama hero, Ashley. Since I started volunteering in September, I have seen Ashley bring dog after dog and cat after cat into her home, get them settled, healthy and safe. It simply astounds me. When Paul & I found out that she and her dogs would potentially be meeting Jenny, I think it is fair to say we both sent silent prayers into the universe. As a brown dog, Jenny tended to just sort of blend in, as a shy dog, she just sort of sat in the back of her kennel and as a former mama dog, her body paid the price. I need to say that if I never see another female pit bull with nipples down to her knees, I will be happy. But, since that is not likely to happen any time soon, I thank God for people like Ashley, who look past that and I also Thank God for her dogs, who are so accepting and will (and already have) help Jenny come out of her shell. Almost immediately upon meeting Ashley’s dogs, Jenny became like a new dog herself. Her tail was held higher, she seemed less afraid and it looked pretty obvious that Jenny needed dog friends to feel like a dog herself. In a very short period of time, this shaky, scared little thing became a dog. Ashley is my foster care role model and I truly wish that Rocco would take a page out of her dog’s book…but, I have decided, that, at 12 years old, if he doesn’t like someone, he’s allowed.
My goal now is to get the current Pen Pal that Nora and I share adopted. Jenga is a super sweet dog, who is very popular at the shelter because of her personality, but, has some skin problems that are causing her some issues. I have no doubt that once those are cleared up, her looks will match her personality and she will make some lucky person a devoted, life-long companion.
Anyone who knows me, or has read this blog, knows that I spent all of 2011 in a horrible state. I was depressed, lost and yes, scared. Losing my father had a devastating effect on me. I wondered what meaning anything had and if anything was really worth working for. Volunteering at ACCT has restored all of that for me. Even when I was still rolling in my depression, hanging out with the dogs there took my mind off of it and for a few hours, I could be okay with my life and the world. Now, a few months later, having met some amazing people and seeing lives get saved, I no longer have that nagging sense of sadness. Although I do get sad when an animal doesn’t make it, I don’t want to quit. I don’t want to give up…I want to do more. I can honestly say that this is the first time in my life I have felt this way. People and their actions and compassion move me forward. The dogs and cats, and their need for people who care keep me going back. I love the laughter an animal can bring out in me, I love the way my heart swells with happiness at seeing an animal cared for and I love that there are so many people who “get” this. People who understand what it means to stretch beyond themselves for the love of an animal. To take a chance and believe that dog or cat are worth it. I love that I have met these people. When I was growing up, my mother told me that I was not a “joiner” (that’s for another blog, too) and, boy, was she wrong. I have joined the ranks of those who rescue animals and I could not be in better company.

This is Jenny the day Paul met her, it was love at first hug:

This is Jenny after only a short time in Ashley’s home…this is the power of love:

This is the dog formerly known as Loko, now known as Brody and living the good life with my friend, Kim:

This is Brock, now Owen, my little Nugget:

This is Winnie on her adoption day:

This is Jenga, who is still looking for her home:

And, this is Eli 🙂

Soul Deep.

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Yesterday, I was driving to the shelter and my thoughts turned to Angie, our former foster dog. It started out as a visual rundown of what I called “Top Ten Moments with Angie” that quickly turned into a profound sense of longing and missing her. Whenever I start to feel that way, my thoughts almost inevitably turn to my dad and how much I miss him. I was nearing a full-on cryfest when I decided to change the radio station. I switched to 102.9 and what was playing but “Angie” by The Rolling Stones. Our Angie was given her name for this song, because the Stones were my dad’s favorite band. And, I mean FAVORITE band. My dad loved a few things above all in life: his family, food, the New York Yankees, the New York Giants and The Rolling Stones. Anyway, I struggle a lot with feeling close to my dad and like he is still “with me” and in that moment, I truly felt his presence in my heart. Yes…our next dog will likely be named Keith Richards, male or female 🙂 So, I cried the rest of the way to the shelter (Thankfully, I was able to see because I keep a large collection of Dunkin’ Donuts napkins in my glovebox) and when I got there, needed to decompress for a few minutes before heading into the kennels. I was chatting with my friend Lara and told her of my experience driving there and then mentioned a particular dog I was looking forward to seeing. Lara told me that the dog had been euthanized. Cue instant tears and a new pit opening in my stomach. I was devastated. I let it sink in for a few moments, we talked about why and I went and washed off my face and moved on with my day. To say that moving on was easy would be a lie, I had a haunted feeling that honestly still hasn’t left me 24 hours later. But, move on I did, because at the end of the day, any time that I spend at that shelter isn’t about me. It’s about the dogs and the amazing people there who work so hard to ensure that as few dogs as possible end up with the same fate as sweet Blanca. I know many people don’t approve of kill shelters and have problems with them for lots of reasons, but, all I will say is that at the shelter I volunteer for, these decisions are made in a very considered way in which many times the dog’s well-being and mental health is of primary concern. There are many places that are “no-kill” which keep dogs alive in conditions that are not sufficient for the long-term, and I for one, can’t believe that being alive in a sub-par environment is good for any dog. There are lots of ways to argue this one, but, at the end of the day, I believe that a dog’s mental health is an important consideration and that shelters are not to blame when a dog is euthanized (at least I believe this about ACCT), but, society is. People are…people who have dogs for the wrong reasons, people who have not the slightest idea what a dog’s needs are and people who flat out just don’t care.
I can hardly think of anything in my life that pushes me to work harder and to try to do more. I get enraged about a lot of things, ie, statements like “I am not concerned about the very poor, they have an ample safety net” can make my blood boil, but, mostly leave me feeling helpless. But, you can bet I will be doing the one thing I feel I can do in that regard: voting against Mitt Romney. Plus, he strapped his dog to the roof of his car in a kennel. I mean, c’mon, really?? But, volunteering at the shelter does not leave me feeling helpless, even though the over-population of animals and under-education of people is not likely to end any time soon. Rather, it makes me feel empowered, like I am doing something of value…even if that value is only felt by the dog in front of me at that moment. The value is time out of a kennel to play, getting some loving and just being a dog.
A lot of people ask me how I do it and my answer is always the same “how can I not?”. I can sit back and feel sad, I can cry, I can get angry or I can try to do something about it. I understand that a smelly, chaotic shelter full of scared, sick, confused and sometimes desperate animals is not everyone’s idea of a relaxing place. But, for me, it is the place where I feel most like me. I feel like I am the best version of myself when I am there. I tune out the sound, I tune out the smell and I tune into the wagging tail or the lowered head in front of me. And, I feel truly blessed to have found someplace where so many other people feel the same way. When I first started volunteering, I didn’t care about making friends…I wanted to hang with dogs. Since starting, I have met so many people who simply amaze me. People who day after day, dog after dog and cat after cat, open their hearts, put their feelings aside and just keep going. People who foster sick animals or scared animals, get to the shelter more days than not, who take pictures endlessly, who run events weekend after weekend and who dust their asses off to do it again tomorrow. I am so glad that I decided to do more than just cuddle, because this small army of people (some of whom I don’t really even know) have shown me the way out of my self- centered depression. And, ironically for someone who worked as a counselor for years, the way has not much to do with talking…but, much more to do with doing.
Some of the things I most proud of in my life have to do with animals and bringing discarded ones into my home and loving them. It is not a feeling of “Wow, I rock, look at what I did”, but, rather a feeling that reaches down into my soul and gives me a feeling of connectedness with life. Now, I get to add to that every time I share the joy and love and sadness and loss with other people. For me, it is the best therapy I have ever had. The shelter has given me a way to feel like I am adding to life instead of just sitting around thinking about how sad some things are. Pick up runny poop? Sure. Pet your mangy head? Yep. Throw a slobbery ball endlessly until you tire out? No problem. Lay in the sun with you today, not knowing your fate tomorrow. Sign me up. I wish more people had the opportunity to do this, I wish more people saw it as an opportunity. Because, it is. Spending time with and giving love to an animal that someone else decided wasn’t worth it is a gift…a chance to open your heart and just love. Yesterday, before I went to hang with dogs, I hung out in the adoptions office, where 2 cats are currently being housed. I went over to say hello and looked at the signs on their cages. One said (I am paraphrasing here) “I am super-sweet and loved to be held like a baby” and the other said “Feed me soft food” with either a heart or a smiley face and “I am dirty and need a bath, but, I am very sweet” and my heart just burst open at the love that someone put into those simple signs. I talked to them through the wire, pet the gray one, who was desperate for more love and felt terribly guilty when I left to go see the dogs. Every time I walked back into the office, that cat was reaching through the wire, meowing like crazy as if saying “LOVE ME, PLEASE!!”. Later, I walked by and a staff member was holding the cat (like a baby!) at her desk while she worked. These are the people I have met…and I could not feel more honored 🙂
Now…shameless pitch:
This is my new Pen Pal, Winnie:

She is awesome. I am totally in love with her. Sweet, smart, perfectly-sized, playful and walks like a dream on the leash. You can learn more about her on the ACCT Pen Pals page here:
https://www.facebook.com/ACCTPhillyPenPals
and more about all of the other dogs and cats available for adoption at ACCT here:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Philly-Urgents-Page/196737460358855