Finding Your Favorite Toy

IMG_0882 (2)I woke with the sun serving as my alarm clock this morning. A quick search of my sleep-fogged brain confirmed it was Sunday so I gave a contented, don’t-have-to-be-anywhere sigh, and snuggled with our still-sleeping dogs for a moment more.

With a stretch and a happy heart, I crawled out of bed and headed out to the backyard to say hello to the day. The dogs raced through the open door, all signs of our recent state of slumber abandoned as they made dark trails through the too-long grass still laden with dew. It was a golden morning with a light breeze that carried the scent of…the scent of…skunk.

Ah, country life. Sometimes it just doesn’t exactly smell great. But it’s still great. Because I can walk outside in my jammies and no one is there to care. Skunk smelly or not, it’s a good life.

Of course I did have to check to be sure the smell was just on the wind and not coming from any of said dogs. All dogs verified normal dog-smelly and not skunk-smelly (and yes, that HAS happened…in mass…one dog holding said skunk and spinning in a big circle to be sure ALL of the dogs in the yard got a good dose), I tossed a ball for a quick game of chase.

Several dogs took off after the one, lone ball bouncing to the far corner of the yard. One dog came out the victor and was immediately “it” as the other dogs vied for the prized toy. Ahhh, the struggle of being in a multi-dog household. Someone always has THE toy. The best toy.

Of course the best toy is whichever toy another dog has.

PearlThis game of fetch and the ensuing spirited game of tag brought a quick smile to my face, but not for the reason you might think. It made me smile thinking about the dog missing from this morning’s romp.

Yes, we are one dog short today. Friday night I met a very nice young man at a McDonald’s that is midway between my home and his home in a nearby city. There, my foster dog Tori officially became his dog; the dog he has been excited to welcome into his life since the moment he met her three weeks ago and passed my scrutiny (hey…you have to prove you are worthy if you want to adopt one of my foster dogs!).

I handed over vet records, a bag of her food, and gave last minute instructions as he paid his adoption fee. Then I gave Tori one last kiss on the nose as I promised her this sudden change in her life was a very, very good thing.

I’m not sure she believed me, but, with a little coaxing, she hopped in her new person’s car and off they went.

Tori and ball revWithin a couple hours of arriving back home, I received a text stating that Tori had already selected her favorite new toy and, after dinner and some playtime, was sound asleep. Asleep in her home. Asleep by her new human. Asleep with her special toy.

Now, a couple of days into her new life, the one-time stray dog has made herself right at home with her new person. She has already made lots of new friends, both human and dog. And did I mention she has a favorite ball?

So for everyone who asks how Jim and I take in so many great dogs, love them, let them live as our own, and then let them leave, this story is my answer. It’s all about letting them find their favorite new toy (you could replace the word toy with human).

Hey, IMG_3189Hannah…you’re next. There is most definitely a special toy out there with your name on it, too.

Hey, Bill! Pick on Someone Your Own Size. (Or, Sparrows are not Ducks.)

20150618_190414So if you’ve been reading along recently, you may have read a post or two about the rain and subsequent mud we’ve been experiencing here in the Heartland. Specifically at my house. And all over my house, thanks to mud-loving dogs. According to very excited local meteorologists, it was the wettest May in Oklahoma history with upwards of 15 to 18 inches of rain depending on where you were standing.

And then, just to mess with us, all of that wet weather was followed by a couple of weeks that were almost rain-free. The mud surrendered to the blazing sun. We actually got to mow the yard. We ventured out without even a backward glance at the old raincoat.

Well, kids, it was just the old calm before the storm. During the second week of blissfully sunny, dry weather, we heard rumors of a storm brewing down in the Gulf of Mexico. We ignored it. The whole ignorance/bliss thing.

But then some of the reports actually managed to breach our defenses and there was excited chatter about a weather event. Oh, it is NEVER good when they toss the word event in there.

The final blow was when they named the damn storm. When a storm gets a proper name, you have to take note.

789436_1280x720Tropical Storm Bill. Yes, Bill. I know we’re being all P.C. by not calling every hurricane and storm by a feminine name, but don’t we all agree that Bertha is a bit more tropical stormy sounding?

Alas, we were stuck with Bill. And I think he was a bit bitter. He swirled and whirled his way right up from the Texas gulf coast and took a good swipe at Oklahoma. OH the rain. And then more rain. And top that off with a bit more rain.

Screenshot_2015-06-18-17-25-32 (1)This is when I started wishing that phones weren’t so darn smart these days. Our phones sounded alarm, after alarm, after alarm about the serious threat of flash flooding. Now, far be it from me to downplay the dangers of copious amounts of water pouring down from the heavens to overwhelm our storm sewers, rivers, and streams, but if I have to hear that honking alarm one more time, I just might go off the grid.

At some point we just smash the phone to shut it up and don’t even take note of the actual alarm. It’s the phone that cried wolf/flood/tornado.

The kicker about that alarm is that it does NOTHING to warn baby birds about the danger of steady downpours. There are no little, tiny smartphones in the nest. And evil Bill took full advantage of the situation.

Right now you’re thinking my brain is waterlogged and I’m making no sense whatsoever. Stay with me. We’ll get there.

Yesterday, during one of Bill’s milder outbursts, I was walking a stout, feisty dog down a sidewalk in front of my business because apparently dogs still have to go to the bathroom, even during a “major weather event.” Suddenly, something sitting in the middle of a sizable puddle in the parking lot caught my eye. There, soaked through, shivering, and stunned, was a tiny fledgling sparrow.

20150618_153022Fortunately, I saw the little bird before my canine escort did. One quick scoop and the soggy baby was out of the puddle and headed inside my dog boarding and daycare facility for a little check-up. Pretty sure, had he been aware of said destination, the bird would not have considered this development an improvement to his situation. Ignore the 50+ carnivores, little guy, I got this.

After handing the dog off (we did not need his curious, insistent help!), I tossed some little towels in the microwave (note: I put TOWELS in the microwave) to warm them and then wrapped little Soggy in the warm towels. (Note: You do NOT put the baby bird in the microwave to warm it…that is WRONG. You might think I don’t have to spell that out, and yet…well, I feel better for having said it.)

I put Soggy into a little bucket all cozy and covered in warm towels and ran errands with him. Yes, he went with me to the credit union. We went through a drive-through for a beverage (he didn’t want anything). We dropped some plastics at the recycling place. It may seem crazy to take a baby bird for a trip in a Jeep, but what Soggy needed was a little time to warm up, dry out, and calm down. I needed a little time to get my errands done. Multitasking at its finest.

Finally, a few errands into our outing, I heard a little peep from the bucket on the seat next to me. Good sign.

Then that peep was followed by a little chorus of questioning cheeps and chirps. Very good sign!

Back we headed to the spot where I found Soggy. There are lots of shrubs and trees around that parking lot and the sparrows nested there in droves this spring. Soggy was likely born in that parking lot and he still needed his wild parents to finish his how-to-be-a-bird education. The best thing for Soggy at this point was to get him back to his mom and dad.

Ah, but what about Bill? Bill was still hanging out. Bill was still spitting and drenching everything in his path.

Time to outsmart Bill.

20150618_163106I took Soggy’s little bucket, turned it sideways to create a little storm shelter. I tucked the shelter beneath and behind a large shrub and made a little cave in the warm, dry towels. Soggy could hang out there until the storm passed and his folks called to him to come home.

Tiny bird vs Tropical Storm Bill. I am pleased to say that the win goes to tiny bird in this match. I’m also pleased to report that Bill has moved along (friends to the east, your phone may be screaming at you as I type) and we now have a bright shiny new day to enjoy as we work to dry out once again. There is surely some grand David and Goliath message in this story, but right now, I’m just grateful that one small bird caught my eye yesterday.

Hopefully, Soggy’s parents will now teach their adventurous child the difference between being a sparrow and a duck. They will surely scold him and tell him that in the event of another Bill, Bertha, or Charles, as the case may be, it is not wise to fly into pouring rain or to land in standing water.

Either way, I think great things are ahead for Soggy. He dodged many potential tragedies yesterday – Bill, dogs, flooded parking lots, torrential rain, microwave ovens – to survive and likely thrive. Surely he is destined for birdie greatness. I hope he throws a feathered wave my way if our paths cross again.

How will I know him if I see him, you ask? He’ll surely be the sparrow sporting a teeny, tiny smartphone.

I. Was. Wrong.

Nadia 2There, I said it.

I had the best of intentions, but I was wrong. I thought I had found the perfect home for my foster dog, Nadia. Actually, I thought I had found the perfect dog for a good friend.

My friend had lost her dear companion dog of 13 years and she was grieving. I had a wonderful young dog that I was so sure was the right fit…not to replace her old boy, but to fill the void in a new and equally special way. It just seemed perfect. To me.

In my dog rescue work, I jokingly say I keep a mental Rolodex (Yeah, that’s old school, I know. Kids, a Rolodex is an old tool we once kept on our desks that was a spinning address book. Contact information and fun!). I store a list of people in my mind who have expressed interest in adopting a dog. Then, when I find a dog, I spin through that mental Rolodex to see if I can find a good human/dog match.

I compare it to fishing. I’m never pushy about placing a dog…I just toss a line out there in the form of a photo or a short text/email/message. If the target says no, I reel the line in and move to the next fishing hole.

But if the target nibbles, then we start talking.

Well, this time the target took the bait, and took the dog, but it was just never right. It was never a comfortable fit, though both human and dog wanted it to be. They did love each other. But over the weeks and months that followed, the dog was becoming increasingly stressed and displaying unmanageable behaviors in her new home including strong aversion to being left home alone.

My friend tried everything. Training classes, crate training, private training in-home – anything and everything that might resolve the dog’s growing anxiety. Short of trying to get Nadia a companion dog (she did not feel she could be a two dog household and I respect that, plus there are no guarantees it would have helped), or putting the dog on medication, she tried everything.

Perhaps it was too soon for this human to have another dog. She certainly gave it her all to make it work, though. Maybe it was the wrong timing, or the wrong dog. Maybe this dog couldn’t handle being an only dog. It’s hard to pinpoint the reason for the mismatch.

And maybe, just maybe I wanted it too much. It’s possible that I wanted this to work so much for both human and dog that I didn’t go through my normal adoption questions and “think it through” process. Maybe. (Hey, I already admitted I was wrong once in this post. Don’t push it.)

It rarely happens. Jim, my partner in life and rescue, and I rarely have a dog returned. But when it does happen, we are 100% here for the dog. We take her back immediately. Our foster dogs are our responsibility for life. We will always take them back if things in their new homes truly can’t work out.

In the last couple of weeks, we have found homes for Annie, Piper, Skye, and Cinder. Next week, Tori is leaving for her wonderful new life and Morey will go for a home visit with his potential new family. I feel great about these placements. They all seem like perfect fits and I will provide support to the new owners as they settle in with their new canine companions.

It’s unlikely that any of these dogs will ever need us again. But still, we have made a promise to each and every one of them.

I hope they don’t somehow all need us at once someday. Wow. I shouldn’t even toy with that thought.

But now I have to focus on Nadia. She is back and she is out of sorts. She loves being in our home. She loves playing and romping with all of the other dogs. But she is not settled. Something is off…or missing.

When I stop, clear my mind and look at her, I feel an ache in my heart that was never there before. I feel a certain sense of heaviness. There is a connection missing, there is an air of unrest surrounding her. It shows clearly in her posture, in her actions, and in her eyes.

We will work through it. She is back here because it was the right choice for her, as well as for my friend. They both tried very hard. They both feel the loss. For anyone who says they would never give up on a dog, well, sometimes we have to set aside our human determination to do what is best for the dog. That takes strength. My friend did what was right for Nadia.

In the end, the right dog will land in that very good home, and Nadia will find her intended person. I believe this and Jim and I will work to make it happen.

We will work through Nadia’s issues. The concern that seems to cloud her face will clear. She will learn to relax and trust the world.

And she can have all the time she needs to figure it out. I promised her that the day I found her cowering in the brush at the side of the road, I promise her that today and always.

It’s just a little detour on the path to your happily ever after, Nadia. Just a detour.

Time to go fishing.

Thanks for Stopping By.

IMG_0174 (2)She was really just dropping by.

She wasn’t our dog. She really didn’t seem to be anyone’s dog. Hazel was her own dog.

The day I found her, in the fall of 2010, I was simply driving down the little road that leads home. This is the road where many people stop long enough to shove a dog out of the car door. It’s a secluded little road, but there are enough homes along the route to give a dumper some ill-placed justification that the dumpee will find care here.

We are, quite literally, the “I found her a home in the country” dumping ground.

I really don’t think this dog was dumped, though. It was more like she was on a mission. She was trotting purposefully along the road on that beautiful October day with some destination seemingly firmly implanted in her mind.

As I always do when I see a dog along our road (or any road, for that matter), I stopped to check on her. She was a friendly girl, not thin, not in bad shape. I asked her if she needed anything and she just glanced up the road as if to say she really should be moving along.

There have always been free-roaming dogs around our area. A loose dog does not always equal a lost dog. She was not a dog I recognized, but, having just recently had a “not every dog who passes this way needs us” conversation with Jim, I wished the basset mix well and turned into our long driveway.

As soon as I arrived at the house and stepped out of the car, a glance up the drive revealed that my traveling friend had experienced a little change of heart. The long dog with the short, stubby legs and the determined gait was heading to my house for a visit.

She came straight to the porch and plopped down by the front door, making herself right at home. I went inside to get her a bowl of water and bite to eat – the finest bed and breakfast in the area.

Our little pilgrim, who had apparently decided to stay for a bit, had a basset hound body, an already silver muzzle, crinkled little ears, and big, soulful eyes. I gave her a dog bed so she could relax in her chosen spot on the porch. She was right there to meet Jim when he got home at the end of the day. In fact, she stayed right there for three days, greeting us as we came and went without causing any problem beyond driving our own dogs a bit nuts every time they caught sight of her through the door. It seemed we had a porch dog.

But on day four, I arrived home to find that porch dog had moved along. I checked both sides of the house. I checked the barn. Porch dog was nowhere to be found. Apparently she had decided it was time to hit the road again.

I won’t lie. I was disappointed and a bit worried. I called Jim and told him that she had left. It was ok, right? She was probably heading home. She was just a visitor…not every dog we see needs us. Right?


Did I get reassurance from Jim? She’ll be fine. Yes, she’s finally heading to her real home. No. What I got was, “What do you mean she’s gone? Go find her!”

Dammit Jim. (And yay Jim, too. Mostly yay.)

All resolve crumbled and I took off in the car to find my black and tan needle in miles of haystack. I drove through the neighboring small town. I drove up and down nearby roads. Finally, remembering that her original determined path was due south, I headed down the road that leads straight out of town.

And there, poking around a trash can at a rundown house, I found her. She was a couple of miles south of our house, still on a mission. Was this dog heading to Dallas? No clue.

I pulled up and called to her from the car. I swear she seemed surprised to see me…surprised that anyone had bothered to look for her. The moment I opened the car door for her to hop in, I also opened the door to my home and heart to her.

1916031_1260799003748_6820868_nPorch dog no more. Welcome, couch dog.

We named her Hazel after the funny, red-haired spitfire of a housekeeper from a 1960s sitcom of the same name. Hazel was a straight-talking, no-nonsense, lovable, tough old gal. For my modern era friends, think of a more huggable Berta (you know, Two and a Half Men?).

This name fit our traveling gal perfectly.

Hazel melted into our home and family very well. She was quiet and sweet, but certainly took no guff off of any of the longer-legged dogs. God save the canine that dared venture near Hazel’s bowl at mealtime. She knew how to back any of them right off with a stern, growling bark.

I’m not sure if, in her pre-Tails You Win Farm life, Hazel ever had a proper, live-in-the-house home, but she sure figured it right out. She was a welcome, loved member of our clan.

Now fast forward to a point about a dozen days ago. Hazel started having trouble with her rear legs – not a shock for an older dog with a long back. Hazel had actually experienced this problem once before and medication to help with inflammation combined with a few sessions of acupuncture restored her mobility within a week. We were concerned to see the condition return, but were hopeful that Hazel would bounce back once again.

After a week of treatment, Hazel was still unable to walk without assistance, her back legs just not cooperating. She was completely dependent on Jim and I for every need – a tough existence for such an independent gal. Then she started losing her appetite, refusing a meal here and there. Maybe just the meds combined with inactivity? Or was there something more?

There was something more.

Suddenly, overnight really, she started showing signs of stress. Her eyes looked vacant, her breathing became labored and I knew. I knew Hazel was ready for a new journey.

There were no heroics. Hazel was an old dog, probably around 13 or 14 at best guess, with issues. She had liver disease that was diagnosed after blood work earlier this year and perhaps other issues yet to be discovered. Her deteriorating condition painted a clear picture for me. On Monday morning, I was up and out the door early to load Hazel for one more journey. She was ready. I was not, but this was not about me any longer.

We drove up the road to the veterinary hospital and I went in to make arrangements before carrying the old girl inside. When I returned to the car to get her, I found Hazel in transition, taking her last breaths. I’ve seen animals and people die before, and I am not frightened by it. It is a beautiful, natural process and one to be respected and treated with nothing but love. So I just stood at the back of my Jeep, holding Hazel in my arms and telling her how very much I loved her. With one final little breath, she left, on her terms, in her time.

167610_502058444421_1311102_nBon voyage, sweet Hazel. Jim and I joked a lot through our four and a half years with you that we kidnapped you from the road and kept you from finding your way home. In reality, though, you did find your way home. To our home.

Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for sharing part of your journey with us. Now off you go…I know you have places to go, things to do, and people to see.