Monthly Archives: March 2012

Why I do what I do.

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Many people have asked me how I can continue to go to a shelter where I know animals are going to die. Sometimes, though I have no intention of stopping, I ask myself the same question. Or, at least a similar one…”How much can my heart take?” When things get super urgent for a dog I have met, invested time, energy and love in, I find myself fighting multiple internal battles. First and foremost, wanting to go save the dog myself and running through a list of scenarios and in which I could do so. After abandoning that idea, because in most cases it simply isn’t doable, I start thinking about what else I could have done. Could I have posted more on Facebook? Could I have worked more with the dog? Could my ads have been catchier? My pictures better? The answer is that I am only a small part of the picture. And, I know that I am not the only one who goes through this, and quite frankly, that makes it more bearable.
The most recent example of this is my Pen Pal, Gidget.  I had grown increasingly concerned about her as time went on. Her frustration was growing, her energy becoming more unfocused and Nora (my co-Pen Pal) and I had received very little interest in her. Nora and I were able to see what she was capable of and how good of a dog she could be for someone and it was heartbreaking that it seemed there were no adoption prospects who could. Gidget is smart as a whip, and training with her was amazing. Her ability to focus on what her human is asking of her was astounding..and we both believed that once in a home, her unfocused energy and frustration would work itself out with some more training and consistency.
While all dogs at the shelter are considered urgent, there comes a point when things become “super” urgent. Monday was that day for Gidget. I immediately got in contact with Nora, who ran down to the shelter. I didn’t want to leave the house, because Jenga, our foster dog, has a bad ear infection and was really not feeling well, so, I manned the computer. I watched the shelter Facebook pages and checked my email continually. And, it paid off….at very close to the last minute. At 7:16, I switched back to my email from Facebook, and I had an email from someone wanting to know if it was too late. I could not believe it! I wasted no time on pleasantries and told her that if she was going, she needed to go NOW…her response: “On my way”. I called Nora to let her know to be on the lookout and she and a few volunteers kept Gidget happy and busy until the person arrived. The adopter fell quickly in love and after a few hours of tips, offers of support and (happy) tearful goodbyes, Gidget went on to her new life, with a mom and 2 teenaged boys.
So, despite the heartbreak, the endless stream of dumped dogs, the tears and the uncertainty; I keep going back. Because of days like Monday…because there are other dogs who don’t make it and were just as deserving of a new life. Monday also helped Paul and I make another decision that was difficult to make. As much as we love her, and as well as she fits in, we will not be keeping Jenga. We had toyed with the idea of keeping her once it was clear how well she fit in with everyone else, but, we brought her in to let her go and we are going to stick with the plan. If we keep Jenga, we cannot bring another dog in need home. Monday was a stark reminder of what we set out to do: save dog’s lives. Jenga has what sounds to be the perfect adopter interested in her and we are meeting on Sunday. If all goes well, Jenga will go live with them Mid-April. Once I get back from my seminar with The Academy for Dog Trainers and dog*tec in May (which is a big deal for me, since it’s in California and I hate to fly!), we will plan to bring in our next foster…and fall in love and say goodbye when the time is right.
This is an endless roller-coaster of emotions to be sure. But, a most worthwhile one. An update this morning from her adopter said that Gidget is doing well and people obviously don’t know a good thing when they see it and she felt like she hit the jackpot with her! And, really…I mean…look at this face!! Doesn’t she deserve the absolute best life possible?

Best wishes for a happy, happy life sweet Gidget 🙂

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Jenga joins in.

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Last night, we invited Jenga into general population. After almost a month of group walks, trials of various combinations of dogs and cats we finally felt like everyone was ready. We were right. I can not express how relieved I am. If you know me, you know that what I was concerned about was not Jenga, but, our 12 year old grumpy old man, Rocco. I had been growing more confident that it would be okay and last night, conditions were optimal. My brother was here with us and the dogs are all familiar with him, Jenga has been a bit more mellow since her surgery and I was actually feeling brave enough to do it….so, I opened the gate and out she came.
As expected, Rocco snarked off at her a few times, but, Jenga proved herself to be excellent at reading his cues. This was the case on our walks, and I was happy to see it was the same indoors, off-leash. We let them sniff and mill about a bit and over the course of a few hours, everyone eventually settled into a spot. Jenga tried to engage Savannah in play, which, Savannah at 9 years old, was not all that interested in, but, when given a back off growl, Jenga did exactly that. The cats handled it well, too, and neither Trixie or Zooby seem particularly bothered by her walking amongst them. This is probably in part because the three of them had much conversation and sniffs through the gate.
This morning, Jenga showed her usual hesitation when presented with something new: the new this time being free to roam freely. Once she was reassured, she happily joined us in the living room. A little too happily for Rocco, who snarked off again, but, once again she handled it like a champ and backed off immediately. With that out of the way, the rest of the day has proceeded without incident. Jenga really seems very in tune with the residents and has maintained a pretty calm attitude all day. Her jumping has decreased dramatically, they have been able to do sit and paw and take treats side by side. It is fantastic.
Over time, I have become increasingly nervous when mixing dogs. Incidents at the dog park, Rocco’s grumpiness and my own tendency to be a nervous nellie have caused me to be a bit more cautious than necessary, at times. Talking to my classmates in The Academy for Dog Trainers, watching dogs interact at the shelter, learning more about body language and understanding behavior more have helped me feel more comfortable and last night really boosted my confidence.
So, for now…we have an integrated home. No bouncing back and forth between the bedrooms and the rest of the house. It makes things much easier…and more peaceful. No one feels left out. No one is anxious about when we are coming back. The best part, according to the cats, is that they have their room back. Even if they have to share it with Jenga’s leash 🙂

Jenga is much more a fan of her comfy bed when it’s in the living room 🙂

Jenga: 4 Weeks of Love.

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What makes a dog “good”? I guess many people would answer that question based on behavior and how little of a path of destruction they leave in their wake, but, for me that is only part of it. To me, what makes a dog good is as much about who they are as it is about what they do. Jenga is a good dog. In both ways: she has shown tremendous capacity to learn new things and her personality is just a tremendous. And, when a dog has such a great personality, I think bad behavior is sometimes overlooked. We, at the Nanan house, are working very hard not to do that, because it would be a disservice to Jenga. There is one thing that I do overlook: her love of the bathroom rug. She picks it and brings it to lay down with her, no ripping, no shredding. That’s okay with me. She just likes it. Weird, but, it is one of the things that make her uniquely Jenga. One day last week, I heard all this rustling around and went to check. She came walking towards me with it in her mouth and turned into the bathroom and put it back. She could have just dropped it in the hallway, but, like a good girl, she put it back where it belonged 🙂

I found out this weekend that Jenga will play with virtually any dog she is introduced to. She has played with our Savannah, but, Savannah is older and smaller and not as rowdy as I think Jenga likes to be. On a walk on Saturday, she met an off-leash yellow lab and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t instantly panic as the dog came near us. **A bit of background: our Rocco is very reactive on leash, a DINOS (a “Dog in Need of Space”: http://notesfromadogwalker.com), if you will. So, for years, I have tensed up at the sight of an off-leash dog in an area not designated for it.**  I’m still not keen on it, but, was very relieved that Jenga had a much more positive reaction. They had a ton of fun together and both left panting and wagging. Then yesterday, we took her to an adoption event, where she loved meeting lots of new dogs and played quite a bit with a few of them. Though she throws more punches than Rocky, her play style is appropriate for a young dog and she never used her mouth in an unacceptable way.

I am not going to lie and say that Paul or I are looking forward to the day that Jenga moves on to her forever home. But, we are committed to doing what we set out to do: finding her a great place to live. It is going to be harder than Angie, for sure, and that one was truly tough. It’ll be harder for so many reasons. Jenga is so much more “go with the flow”…she is the dog who is okay with whatever you want to do. Angie was just more demanding, which I think had more to do with our set-up here than her personality. Angie also showed much more terrier-like behavior in her pit bull terrier mixed genes than Jenga does. Angie was go, go, go and Jenga is go, go….whatever. Jenga is much more a lazy hound who occasionally likes to have a rousing good time.

I am currently in contact with a potential adopter that I like. If everything goes well, Jenga will be adopted mid- April.  By that time, she will have been here 2 months and I am confident that we will have trained Jenga, nurtured her and built her confidence to the point where she can move on safely and happily. As for how Paul and I will handle it, we’ll remind each other that we have a goal: help a dog heal, love a dog, teach a dog and send the dog off to someplace where he or she will be loved and cherished for life. Angie remains securely loved in our hearts and in her adopters home. We want the same for Jenga. And, will want it for whoever comes next. And next and next 🙂 Because one can never have too many smiling dogs in one’s life!

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Jenga: Week 3.

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The longer Jenga is here, the less I like to think about her leaving. Jenga has stolen my heart (and Paul’s, though, he doesn’t want to admit it) completely. She is such a good dog and so entertaining, that just the thought of her not being here is painful. While I felt the same way about Angie, I knew that there was no way we could make it work long term. With Jenga, it’s different. She has a more easy-going personality and has far less separation anxiety. I felt that Angie’s separation anxiety would abate in a home where she had more freedom and less competition, since we maintained two dog “camps” while she was here, and that seems to be the case in her adoptive home. In Jenga’s case, she is not at all bothered by the competition, has little anxiety when we are not around and takes pretty much everything in stride. Add to that, the fact that she is a complete goof and you have the makings of what could be pretty close to a perfect dog. Perfect for us, anyway….But, as always, I have to remind myself that we have a job to do with her and a goal to achieve: get her adopted into the best possible home. The problem is, I can’t seem to convince myself that ours isn’t it 😉 She is pretty much living the good life here in New Hope, Pa.
We have been working hard on a lot of different things with Jenga and she has made tremendous progress. Today she gets a bath and I am hoping that she cooperates as well as she has before. Since she is so treat- motivated, I am fairly confident she will. Training is going well, but, unlike Angie, whose brain you could almost see clicking away, Jenga needs more prompts and cues and repetitions. Angie was a quick study in pretty much everything, Jenga struggles with the tougher stuff. Like, how to get back up on the seat in the car when she has climbed down into the passenger seat well. Like jumping….and, the jumping is a big one. Part of the problem is that for a long time, while in the shelter, she was allowed to jump. I think it’s because her jumping is more to hug than to get in your face in that obnoxious way some dogs can do. However, she is a fairly large dog, so it’s a problem. She has not completely stopped with Paul and I, but, it has decreased. She gets no attention from us until all four feet are on the ground, and her impulse control has gotten a bit better. She is not 100% reliable, but, she is close, sitting for food and to have her leash put on. This stuff actually has us thinking that she is younger than we thought, maybe more like a year old, instead of 2 or 3 and had zero dog training.
It’s also clear that Jenga had some not-so-great experiences in her life. She is very afraid of the broom and kind of slinks away and goes to lay down when she sees it. This makes me very sad. But, it is the only thing she has shown fear of and I guess it could be worse. I just can’t bear the thought of someone threatening her or hitting her with it. She doesn’t seem to have any other fears and her personality is such that I really can’t imagine what she could have done to warrant that treatment. But, I guess, I will never know and lots of people do that and worse to their dogs.
So, why do I want to keep Jenga so much? I think it’s because she is just so nice. I think it’s because as my co-Pen Pal, Nora said, Jenga chose me. I do believe that dogs choose people to be their humans as much as we choose them. I was drawn to Jenga the moment I met her, and that just isn’t always the case. Even before she became my Pen Pal, there was not a time that I was at the shelter that I didn’t take Jenga out. I have always enjoyed her company…the way that she looks to me for reassurance and comfort. I enjoy watching her cuddle with Paul and seeing her wag her entire body with excitement. I love that she is big and goofy and that her paws look like they belong on a much bigger dog (even though she is pretty darn big). I love the way she slinks low to the ground when she is uncertain and perks up when she realizes there is nothing to worry about. I love the way she and our cat Trixie sniff and roll and feel safe near each other. Most of all, I love that she loves us and likes living with us. If I can find a home for her where she can continue to blossom and gain confidence, I will gladly hand her leash to that person. But, the choice will be Jenga’s. She will have to choose her forever person, just like she chose me to bring her this far. Until then, she will stay here, safe and loved. 🙂
Here she is down in the passenger seat well, with zero clue how to get back on the seat. I prompted her numerous times, but, she would only follow my hand with her upper body. Eventually, I gave her a little boost on her butt. She showed her appreciation by giving me kisses once she was on the seat and comfy again 🙂

Jenga: After 2 Weeks.

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Two weeks have gone by. In the space of 14 days, it feels like we have watched the evolution of a dog. As is usually the case, as she has started feeling better and becoming more comfortable, Jenga has become almost a completely different dog. In mostly good ways…the ways that aren’t so good are completely workable. The positives highly outweigh the negatives and she continues to become more enjoyable every day. She is by far the goofiest dog either Paul or I have ever met. She has zero clue how big she is, and, though that sometimes manifests itself as a paw to the face, it is extremely funny to watch her pounce around like a puppy or a chihuahua. But, because an adopter may not find it quite as funny, we are working on not jumping… a lot. You can see how hard it is for her to not jump, she literally seems to be bursting with excitement at times. But, she enjoys treats and praise so much, that keeping four on the floor to get what she wants is becoming easier for her.
Another thing we are working on is chewing. It is pretty obvious at this point that Jenga never had an appropriate toy to help her get her energy out. She is a big fan of Paul’s shoes, so, we have to be careful not to leave them around, or, they will end up in bed with her….just like towels or the bathroom rug. She still doesn’t do anything to those items, just likes to have them with her. The shoes on the other hand, if given enough time, I have no doubt she would chew on them til they were in bits. Her favorite toy is the super- hard Nylabone and she will chomp on that for hours. This is another issue that I know we can work out, and simply replacing the wrong item with the appropriate one seems to do the trick. She also loves Kongs, and will try to get food out of them long after it is gone. She is amazingly skilled and patient with these.
We have been working on crate training, too, and this part is going amazingly well. I admit to suffering from a bit of crate- guilt, despite knowing better. Rocco routinely crated himself for years and chose to hang out in there even when he didn’t have to, and Jenga seems to be making the same choice. She is in there right now, sleeping, as we are trying to build up the length of time she spends in there. She does whine a bit at first when we leave, but, settles down quickly and seems much less anxious in there resting than just in the bedroom.
Working with and getting to know Jenga has been a true pleasure. She is totally treat and praise motivated, and is willing to try just about anything. She is very trusting, and I would consider her a “soft” dog. We have done some group walks, which have gone well and she and Rocco can take treats near each other….but, crossing a physical threshold is something that has only happened due to Jenga escaping. I simply do not trust Rocco enough, and unlike Angie, who would give it right back, Jenga sort of shrinks away from his bullying. However, Jenga has escaped twice and honestly, it was kind of funny…she sort of slinked into the living room and this morning she just came up on the couch. It took Rocco a minute to realize that she was there, and of course, he started acting like a jerk as soon as he did, so she had to go back in the bedroom. I have a friend I trust coming to help us with this later this week, and until then, we’ll continue pack walks and slow intros. Jenga and our cat Trixie are in love, though, and sniff and roll around on the floor with each other through the gate. It’s very sweet and a good indication of how easy- going Jenga is.
This week, she will get a final skin scraping to make sure the mange is gone and if it is, we will schedule her spay surgery. Once she is spayed, she can be adopted. Even as I type that, I get a lump in my throat. Just like with Angie, watching Jenga become healthy and happy has been an amazing experience. Becoming a foster parent has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and, though last night I called her “my” Jenga, we don’t intend to keep her. As another friend said, our mantra is “revolving door….revolving door”.
If you know of anyone who might be interested in adopting Jenga, please give them my email address: lorosuzo@yahoo.com. It will be a few weeks yet, but, the more interest, the better. Plus, if she is a not a match, I am more than happy to try to find another dog that might be a fit at the shelter. 🙂
This is the gorgeous girl outside yesterday in the sun!

A few other things worth reporting….Lovefourpaws will receive a portion of the sales from this event, which opens this Friday, to help the shelter animals. In addition to photographs of some of our adoptables, there will be adoptable animals there! This is a really exciting event, for those of us who love animals and who want to support local artists!


Another exciting thing happening for us, is that our business “La Dolce Doggie” is ready to launch! After a year of upheaval and deciding that a move to Georgia was not the best thing for us, we are starting a pet- sitting, dog walking and training service, which will serve primarily New Hope, Pa. but, we will be available for weekend sleep- overs further away for those who like their furbabies to have overnight company. The start of this business will bring us closer to our goal of saving more homeless animals and we have big dreams and plans! Please, keep us in mind if you are looking for an experienced (I had a business doing exactly this in Baltimore) service that will provide the highest level of care for your beloved beasts! Visit our awesome website, created by Paul for more information!