All That Matters.

Brother DakotaI get yelled at.

I get called names.

I get cuss words thrown at my face, and I’m sure behind my back.

I had one man try to intimidate me physically. (For the record, it absolutely did not work.)

I’m told I’ve made children cry. (Umm…no, that would be the parents who make premature promises.)

And all of this because of my chosen “hobby.” Or passion, more accurately.

Jim and I rescue and re-home dogs. If you’ve been reading along, you know that. Formally, together with a good friend, we are the Dalmatian Assistance League, Inc. But we don’t limit our love to only our spotted dogs…we’ve opened our home and hearts to any number of dogs in all shapes, sizes, colors, and breeds. It’s our thing. It’s a life we love.

Of course with taking in a good number of homeless dogs, comes the need to find new homes for said dogs because, as I always say, it’s a fine line between rescuer and hoarder. We want to stay on the right side of that line.

1924925_10208602696168516_4029565097214493627_nSo when we foster a dog, it’s our job to get to know that dog really well, to work with the dog to teach it some manners (manners may or may not include sleeping in our bed and learning to take food gently off of an offered fork), to teach good potty habits (outside being preferable), and to provide socialization so we know how our dogs react in different situations and to different people. All of this is to prep a dog to find a perfect “happily-ever-after” home.

And then there is the people part of this whole process. While we are getting to know the dogs, we are also beginning the process of screening homes for each of them. Honestly, the dog part – complete with accidents in the house, shoes and furniture chewed, non-stop barking in the crate training process, mounting vet bills, etc. – is far, far easier than the people part.

For me, anyhow. (And I’m betting 99.9% of all people involved in animal welfare feel the same.)

So here’s how it works. We take in a new foster dog and start the “getting to know you” process. After a few days, we post the dog on a website called PetFinder, as well as on our Facebook page. Soon, the people part starts to roll in.

We get inquiries about our dogs. We send them adoption applications and answer any and all questions they may have. I always, ALWAYS explain that our placement process is based on “best match” for each individual dog. Best match means that I take what I know about my foster dogs and compare that information to the answers given by prospective homes on our adoption application.

We can weed through applications fairly quickly this way. For example, a four-foot fence won’t work for a dog that can jump everything but a six foot fence. A dog who is scared of little children won’t fair well in a home with a toddler or two. An elderly dog may not be a good match in a home with a six month old Rottweiler. You get the idea.

And to that end, the questions on our adoption application are fairly open-ended. We need an accurate picture of your home, your hopes for adding a dog, your family dynamic. Then we can work with you to hopefully find a good match. Or not.

Some people really, really have issue with the “or not” part.

I turn down more homes than I allow to adopt one of my dogs. I don’t do it because they are not potentially good homes for a dog (though admittedly some people seeking a dog aren’t even equipped to care for a goldfish), I turn them down because they are not the right match for one of my dogs – the dogs Jim and I know really well.

When I inform someone that they will not be adopting the dog they fell in love with from a static photo on the Internet, I get some interesting reactions. I try very hard to let people down gently and explain why I do not feel my dog is a good match for their situation. Some people are very understanding and accept my redirection toward a different dog…or perhaps a nice houseplant.

Others, however, immediately make it their life’s mission to change my mind. They plead. They promise to change whatever it is that got them rejected (you’ll place your toddler in a new home until he/she reaches the age of 18?). They assure me that I’m quite wrong and that they CAN make things work with the exceedingly active puppy they have their hearts set on despite the fact that they have no fenced yard and work a 12 hour day.

One woman recently yelled at me as she informed me they HAD to have my puppy and if I require a fenced yard, I should spell out the rules for adopting right from the start. I tried to nicely explain that my rules are different for every dog I place. There is no one definition for a perfect home. Plus, if I toss my open-ended questions aside and make it really clear exactly what I’m looking for, people…ok, SOME people…will simply lie.

Yes, they will give me the answers I want to hear so they can adopt that dog with the cute black patch over his eye. Shocking, I know. People lie.

And then some of them tell me how messed up my system is. How terrible I am. How I should be jumping at the chance to place my foster dog with them because their home is surely better than no home at all.

Um. No. No it’s not. MY HOME is better than no home at all. My foster dogs are not in danger. They are not suffering. They are not lacking anything. What they are is waiting for the chance at the very good, very perfect life each and every one of them deserves. And if that means I have to upset a few humans along the way? Well, I just don’t care.

I really, really don’t care.

Go ahead. Yell at me. Tell me I’m crazy. Call me a b*tch (umm, yeah. It’s been known to happen). I’ll smile through it. I’ll wish you luck in finding the right dog. I’ll turn the other cheek. I can do that because when I get it right, when I do find that match made in Heaven, it makes all of the rough stuff dissolve away. It makes everything worthwhile.

Pepper and Kane

Photo used with permission.

I’ve had some great placements lately. Summer brought a little flood of puppies in need, Dalmatian and otherwise. It has been a busy few months and some of my applicants have been unusually “inventive” and, shall we say, pushy. But on the flip side of that coin, many of my applicants have been absolutely amazing.

One woman inquired about a specific dog and I told them she was not right for their family for various reasons. They thanked me for my honesty and asked if I had another dog that might be right. And I did. And she is. And now a darling five year old boy has the best friend of his young life. The dog he will remember with a happy heart forever. Best match.

Cinder and dad rev

Photo used with permission.

Another young couple wanted to get their first dog together. No, no fenced yard. An apartment, in fact. But they were both active hikers and runners…did I have a good fit for them? I did. And she is spectacularly happy with them. Best match.

And then there were the guys who lost their beloved Dalmatian of 15+ years. Their hearts still very tender. Were they ready for a new friend? Did I have one special dog that might be their new beginning? I did. And he is. And when this precious puppy met his new person, he never looked back at me because I got it right. Very right. Best match.

Dakota and LouisSo here’s the deal. You are more than welcome to apply to adopt one of my foster dogs. Jim and I have taken in some GREAT dogs. You can ask all the questions you like. You will answer the questions I have on my application. I will likely ask you some more questions. I’m going to be nosy. I’m going to check your references. I’m going to want to see your home. I’m not alone in this process, most good rescue groups will do the same.

And then I’ll tell you whether or not I have a dog that would be a good fit for you. If I tell you no, you can accept that, you can listen to my rationale, you can choose to accept my help in finding a better match for your family. Or you can get mad at me. By getting mad, you only confirm for me that you were truly not the right match. I thank you for that, and trust me,  your angry words slide right off me.

Because when Jim and I select a home, when we have no more questions to ask, it’s usually very right and it’s a lasting, forever kind of match. We owe that to our foster dogs. They’ve already had their lives disrupted in one form or another, we want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“Best match” is apparent when a dog greets his new owner for the very first time like a long-lost friend. Best match is when the foster dog that slept with his head on my shoulder the night before, gives me a quick kiss goodbye and trots off looking up adoringly at his new human. Best match is getting a photo of a precious five-year-old watching cartoons with his new dog stretched out contentedly by his side.

You can like me, or not. You can listen to me, or you can be angry. This isn’t a popularity contest. In the end, it’s about a wagging tail in a safe, happy, perfect home. And we’re always willing to wait for the right one.

That’s all that really matters. Plus, the really cool people we meet far outweigh the negative-Nancy types (Oh WHY does my name have to be in that phrase?).

Now, on to the next dog!

JIm and buddy don rev

 

 

How We Do It.

Jim and Skip 2“I don’t know how you do it,” a friend exclaimed as she watched me send one of my adorable little foster puppies off to a new home. “This is exactly why I don’t foster dogs. I could never let any of them leave. Seriously, how do you do it?”

I get this comment a lot. And I mean A LOT. Jim and I have fostered many, many dogs. We have placed many, many dogs. And we have loved each and every one of them.

It’s what we do. But how do we do it?

Well, interestingly enough, the very person who posed this question to me was a mom about to send her child off to college for his freshman year. She raised this child. She loved him dearly. She gave him everything she had to give. And now she was about to let him go.

This week Facebook has been filled with similar stories. Parents dropping kids off for that first day of kindergarten. Nervous parents seeing their youngsters smile and wave as they hop on a bus for their first solo ride to school. Moms forcing eye-rolling kids to pose in front of the very same tree they’ve posed in front of at the start of every school year for…can it be eight years now? Nine? Ten?

I’ve heard tale after tale of parents nervously adding as many home touches to a cookie-cutter dormitory room as their eager-to-spread-their-wings college students will tolerate before saying goodbyes.  Then, of course, while driving away with suppressed tears springing free, they think of a hundred more things they should have said.

So how do I do it?

I think it boils down to this, you love, you nurture, you teach, you shelter. And then, there comes a day when love means knowing it’s time to let go. It’s time to trust that you did your job and that there is a perfect home out there for that puppy…that there is an amazing life ahead for that child.

Do I dare compare a human child to a foster dog? Well…I do because it’s what I’ve got. And really, loving and letting go tugs at your heart, regardless of how many legs your kid has.

But I do have to give the nod to you parents to actual human children. Seriously, you take your child, whether born from your body or born in your heart, and you set him or her free to explore this thing called life. Maybe it’s just for the school day, or maybe it’s for an entire semester or longer. That takes some serious faith and amazing strength.

So how do I do it? How do Jim and I take dog after dog into our home, treat them and care for them as if they are our own, and then let them go to another home,  to a new life?

I think I can answer that question best with a question of my own.

How do YOU do it?

Because really, you moms and dads out there, bravo. Well done. I think you really know the answer to your own question far better than I do.

Brother nap

Creative. Life.

Howie and coI’m not going to lie to you…and my blog won’t let me lie even if I wanted to. I haven’t had much time to write lately.

Writing is my therapy. It’s my joy (well, one of my joys!). It’s my me-time. It’s the place where the voices bouncing around inside my head sometimes come together to make sense. It’s an outlet for my good friend, Creativity.

Ah, Creativity. How I treasure and respect you, both in my own self and in the incredible works of others. If I could, I would just bask in your light every day, all day. Just imagine…

But lately, I have been beating myself up because I feel I have been neglecting my best friend. I haven’t made time. I’ve let “life” get in the way.

Life has a way of doing that sometimes. Hustle. Bustle. Ping-pong from one project, one commitment, one necessity to the next. And then, at the end of the day, you collapse on the couch and wonder where time went.

So I thought maybe I should write an apology to Creativity. You know, give my dear friend an explanation. I could list all of the “life” things that have been going on and surely Creativity would understand. Yes. I could tell Creativity I’m very sorry and ask for forgiveness.

So here it goes:

Dear Creativity,

I haven’t been a very good friend to you the past couple of months. I’m truly sorry for that. 

You see, life has been crazy busy lately. My business partner and I opened a second business and getting that up and running…and then working to make it successful has been quite a task. It seems I spend every minute of every day thinking of ways to get customers through our doors. Thinking of advertisements, promotions, posting away on social media. It’s fun, but boy it’s time-consuming.

And do you know that Jim, my friend Lawanna (aka: business partner!), and I run a non-profit organnization to rescue, care for, and re-home Dalmatians? Of course you know. you’ve helped me write about my beloveds spotted dogs often. Well, things have been a tad busy on that front lately too. We’ve taken four additional Dalmatians into our home in the last two months. They’ve each come with their own set of special needs, so they’ve kept us hopping.

13716136_10210354273316850_5128798030219378446_nDottie came to us neglected and with horribly disfigured feet. We’ve been working to keep her comfortable, healthy, and happy. Sweet girl, her tail never stops wagging in appreciation.

Then Brother and Sister came along with several of their litter mates. Just babies, they all had come down with a terrible case of deadly parvovirus and needed our help. Some of their siblings did not survive, but Brother and Sister did. We’ve been nursing them back to health while being careful not to spread the disease to other dogs. It’s been a huge juggling act! And did I mention that we had to set up a giant fund raiser to pay for their treatment? Oh, but how rewarding that has been as we witnessed so many friends and strangers-who-are-now-friends stepping up to help provide the needed funds to see our puppies through to good health. 

Amazing stuff right there.

Almost immediately after we took the puppies in, we got the call about Skip. Ah, Skip. What a little doll. He was born and raised in a puppy mill where his life was restricted to a small cage with no toys, no soft beds, no belly rubs. Then he, his parents, and several other Dalmatians were placed in an auction, to be sold to the highest bidder. Sad, scary stuff for a six month old puppy to endure.

skip crate 2Luckily for Skip, dedicated rescue friends were able to purchase him and asked if I could pick him up from the auction house in Missouri, get to know him, and help him find a REAL home. One with toys, soft beds, and tons of belly rubs. They didn’t have to ask me twice, I’m a sucker for a cute, spotted face. 

Of course that just added a lot more work to the old to-do list, and that darn list was already pretty full anyway.

Because we have our own dogs to care for. There’s chickens to feed and a barn full of animals. There’s laundry  and mowing and a house that always needs cleaning.

There are bills. There are seminars to attend. There are errands to run. There are birthday parties. 

Darn it! When is that doctor appointment?

There are articles to write. Deadlines to meet. More business ideas that need research, thought, and execution. 

The car needs an oil change. My closet is a mess. We’re out of milk. I need to take Lacy the Whippet to the vet for a check-up. 

Creativity, I know I’m babbling here. The point I’m really trying to make is that life has been crazy busy lately and I’ve neglected you. I know I have. I’m truly sorry. You are such a good and loyal friend that you haven’t even complained once. You’ve just been waiting patiently for me to return, haven’t you?

And I will. I’ll be back. I promise. I’m truly sorry.

Love, 

Nancy

As soon as I put my apology out into the universe, an immediate reply filled my heart and mind.

Dear Nancy,

You never left me. I was never neglected. And I certainly never left you. 

I come to you in a lot of forms. I’m not something you make time for, I’m not something that can be scheduled. I’m a lot more than just words on a computer screen.

I’m part of you. I’m with you every minute of every day. I help you make things happen. I help you solve problems. I help you make a seemingly impossible to-do list do-able. 

How in the world do you think you ever get everything done?

We do it together, my friend. 

Love, 

Creativity.

You know, I don’t think I’m going to beat myself up any more. And you know what else? I’m pretty sure this reply wasn’t just to me.  We all have to deal with that life to-do list thing. Nice to know you have a good friend to help you juggle it all, isn’t it?

Thanks Creativity. You’re the best. We’ve got this.

Sleep-In Sunday. Who Needs It?

sleep Kaine 2

I’ll admit it. I was a tiny bit giddy when I tucked myself into bed last night. It was Saturday night and I had NOTHING to do Sunday morning. Nothing. Nada. Nil.

And so I drifted off to sleep with visions of a lazy morning dancing in my head. I would sleep in. Not the 7:00 am kind of sleep-in. Not even the 7:30 kind of sleep-in. I was going for the gold. I was shooting for 8:00 am sleep-in glory.

That rarely gets to happen.

It still rarely gets to happen.

Several factors conspired against my lazy, stay-in-bed Sunday. If you know me at all, you might think that some of those factors were the members of my four-legged family. You would be right, but in their defense, it was the two-legged inhabitants of the farm who really stirred the pot.

“Stirred the pot” may be an unfortunate phrase choice, because the two-legged creatures I am referring to are our little flock of chickens who decided that a rainy, gray, perfect-for-sleeping morning was, instead, the perfect morning to crow repeatedly (that would be Cluck Norris testing his new-found skills as a young rooster), and run hither and yon across the yard. In front of the windows. The bedroom windows. Where the dogs WERE sleeping with me. Until they were not.

windowBarking, pawing, and whining incessantly at the windows became the new order of the day. I tried desperately to press my eyelids tightly shut and pull the blankets over my head in an effort to block the dogs, who were ping-ponging across the bed as they vaulted to the windows and back to me in a HEY-DID-YOU-KNOW-WE-HAVE-CHICKENS frenzy.

Yeah. I know. Chickens.

And then the lead two-legger came in to crash my slumber party once and for all. He released THE hound. Yep, I believe his words were, “If you’re not going to come see him, he’s going to come see you.”

With that, approximately 115 pounds of soggy Kainan, our resident wolfdog, landed squarely on my abdomen.

Chicks in yardOh, and did I tell you that the aforementioned human two-legger also happened to be the one who let the chickens out of their coop at 6 am? On sleep-in Sunday? On a cloudy, rainy, perfect-for-snoozing day? Yeah, I’m not pointing any fingers, but that’s what happened and his name rhymes with hymn. (That reference is going to make all kinds of sense here in a minute and you’re going to look back and you’ll surely think I’m quite clever…)

But the sound that REALLY got me out of my fog and into the day had nothing to do with rogue chickens or bouncing dogs. It was the pitiful, complaining, wail that echoed from the garage, down the hall, through the living room and straight into my pillow-muffled ear canals.

PUPPIES!

Oh yes! My eyes suddenly popped wide open. It was my first morning to wake up to our two tiny spotted charges. Our new little foster babies.

In the garage, you say? Yes. I know. It goes against everything that is Nancy and Jim (hey, that rhymes with hymn…). Our dogs and our foster dogs are in the house. Everywhere in the house. They own the place.

But these tiny babies are special. They are two of the survivors from a litter of Dalmatian puppies that came down with the dreaded parvovirus (parvo).

In a nutshell, parvo is a highly contagious virus that attacks a dog’s intestines and destroys the lining that allows them to absorb nutrients and fluids. While there is prevention for parvo – all puppies and dogs should be vaccinated for it – there is no cure for it once a dog or puppy has contracted it. So the only course of treatment is to provide supportive care while the virus runs its course and hope like heck the puppy can rally. It is an aggressive disease and can be deadly.

We learned all too well about the deadly part this week.

Jim and I, along with our good friend Lawanna, run the Dalmatian Assistance League, Inc., a nonprofit group dedicated to the welfare of our beloved Dalmatian dogs. We educate the public about our favorite breed of dog. We rescue homeless Dalmatians. We foster them. We provide care for them. We find them wonderful new homes. And we love them. Each and every one that passes through our lives.

About a week ago, while on a trip to California for my cousin’s wedding (BEAUTIFUL!), I received word about a litter of 10 Dalmatian puppies that had contracted parvo. One puppy had already died, and other puppies in the litter were starting to fall like a line of teetering dominoes. The litter owners, who had not really planned to breed their dogs, but ooops happened, were overwhelmed and out of resources. Treating one case of parvo can be costly and is a 24/7 proposition. Treating an entire litter was devastating.

Long story short…with lots of texts and phone calls, Jim and I started arranging assistance for the puppies, hoping that a little help would go a long way. Sometimes you can nip parvo in the bud. Sometimes you can’t.

This was one of those “you can’t” times.

Pink 2Once back in town, I met the puppies for the first time at a veterinary hospital that was willing to work with our rescue group to try to save some lives. Three puppies had already left for new homes (and were receiving care from their new owners), one, despite supportive care from the litter owner, had already passed away. We were left with a plastic tub full of six puppies, five of which were showing symptoms.

I won’t give all the details, but of the six puppies, five required hospitalization through the course of the week and in the end, we lost three of them. Overall in the litter, five died, five survived.

It was heartbreaking and hopeful all at once. It was a yo-yoing, emotional, glass half full, glass half empty kind of week. At times, especially in the mornings when I awaited my daily update from the veterinarian, it felt like a cracked glass draining fast kind of week as I received news of loss despite their very best efforts.

But then there was the morning when the remaining puppies made it through the night. That was followed by the call when I could actually hear the puppies complaining loudly as they vied for attention in the background. Then there was the news that the two puppies remaining at the vet were drinking water on their own and holding it down. Soon came the news that they were finally hungry…in fact, hAngry. Finally, we had good, glorious, turning-the-corner kind of news.

These kids were ready to be sprung from the vet and Jim and I were ready to welcome them to our home to recover. Oh…wait. We were anything BUT ready.

Even though they were doing better, the puppies would still be shedding the virus and though our adult dogs would not be affected, we could not let our home environment become contaminated. Parvo can live in your yard for years. It is one stubborn little bastard.

So Saturday morning erupted in a flurry of preparation so we would have a comfortable quarantine space for our new adorable charges. Though parvo is spread through contact, it is not airborne, we still needed to have a good plan and set-up for keeping the puppies isolated.

Hymn, um, I mean Jim, cleared a space in our do-you-really-use-all-of-these-tools garage (and he does. I guess he really does) while I ran out to gather/buy supplies. Supplies included a tarp for the floor, rubber gloves and gowns to wear when handling the pups, blankets, a crate, a puppy pen, oh, and a portable air conditioner. Oklahoma is hot, hot, hot. Recovering puppies needed to be comfortable.

We got everything set up in record time. I went to the puppy hospital, met with the wonderful Dr. Sellers, got all of my instructions, and then loaded a little crate into my Jeep, two sweet, curious faces peering out of it.

13568795_1372346229461358_3022580120059058848_oThe pups settled into their new recovery space nicely. They both immediately lapped up a big drink of water (yay…dehydration is one of the big killers with parvo) and then discovered the pile of new toys we had waiting for them. It was a great feeling to see two puppies who had just a day ago been so ill they could barely raise their heads, pounce on squeaky toys and settle in to gnaw on puppy chew bones.

And so these spotted charmers were the determined little alarm clocks that finally broke through my Sunday slumber fog. They were my reason to bolt out of bed and start my day just a wee bit earlier than I had planned. And I didn’t mind. Not one bit.

It was perfect.

13592266_1372345986128049_2484418169794870042_nGowned and gloved, I sat holding each puppy, thankful for a great veterinarian, thankful for a litter owner who did not give up, thankful for that Jim guy who would never turn his back on a puppy in need.

In our set-up, we had added an old radio in the garage to keep the puppies company. On this Sunday morning before the 4th of July, one of the few stations we could find that would actually tune in was featuring the “Big Country Sunday Morning Gospel Show.”

The old-time hymns (see that…hymn, rhymed with Jim…I brought it full circle!) brought a grin to my face as I sang along to my little patients. Patsy Cline and I crooned “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.” I harmonized with the Statler Brothers through “Amazing Grace,” followed by a rousing rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” that reverberated through the garage as two happy, returning-to-healthy puppies squirmed in an enthusiastic attempt to lick my nose.

You know what? Sleep-in Sunday can happily be damned. My cracked glass is now full and runneth right over. I have puppies to hug.

 

There is a fund raiser underway to help cover our mounting expenses for the puppies. If you would like to contribute to the puppies’ care fund, you can find information here: gofundme.com/dalmatianrescue. Donations in any amount are greatly appreciated. All funds go directly to the Dalmatian Assistance League, Inc.,  a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Good thoughts, prayers, and words of encouragement are equally valued. We thank you!

 

 

Terrible, Terrible Twos

the chaseI can’t say they didn’t warn us. They did.

“You won’t really know what you’ve got until he turns two.”

Those simple words from our wonderful friends at Freedom’s Song Wolf Rescue have stuck with me for the last 18 months. Now they’re proving a bit prophetic.

And what they meant was, with wolfdogs, you really don’t know whether they will think more like a wolf, or more like a dog until they mature. For some, I guess, the wolf side of the brain can prove to be a bit of a challenge. It’s possible we’re finding that out.

I  can’t say that I didn’t see it…and feel it…coming. Over the past several months I have seen a shift in our wolfdog Kainan’s attitude from time to time. It was subtle at first. You had to pay attention. And it was easy to write it off as just a little incident.

Since joining our family as an adolescent wolfdog in August of 2014, Kainan been remarkably easy-going. Though he dwarfs all of our other dogs – now easily outweighing the largest by about 40 pounds – he has been an affable boy, romping and playing like a gentle giant with dogs half his size or smaller. His current most devoted playmate tips the scales at a mere 38 pounds.

He also defers to our 10-year-old, “top dog” Dalmatian, Howie. He bows down to Howie on a daily basis, groveling at his feet and licking under his chin in absolute submission to the older dog. Howie is very large and in charge in Kainan’s eyes. This behavior is not because Howie is an “alpha dog” who has forcibly rolled Kainan over and asserted his dominance. That theory is tired and outdated. Kainan’s behavior toward Howie is healthy, voluntary submissive behavior and it’s a good thing.

But in recent months I have noticed it, I’ve seen a little shift. Dogs that were once included in Kainan’s merry little circle of playmates, are now excluded. If you know the subtleties of dog to dog communication, you can see the change in attitude a mile away.

Kain and Bernie

“Good play” with Bernie

I think I first noticed it with Bernie, our pit-mix boy. Bernie was one of Kainan’s initial best buddies. They would romp and play like big, goofy puppies. Until one day I saw it.

I looked outside and saw Bernie sitting in the very back corner of the yard, sideways to the house. His body was curved, his back rounded, his head dropped low, his ears pinned back in a worried expression. I could see he was licking his lips and glancing sideways toward the house and then looking quickly away. These are all signs of stress, all signals to another dog that he is no threat, that he is not challenging, and he wants no trouble.

Having never seen Bernie display this behavior, I quickly looked to see what was causing his concern. There, standing tensed and focused between Bernie and the path that leads to the dog door, was Kainan. His ears were pricked sharply forward. His head was dropped level with his back. His body was tensed and in a partial crouch as if ready to spring. His eyes held a hard focus on the worried dog across the yard.

I immediately went out into the yard and called Kainan to me. He did not respond quickly or very willingly. I had to go to him. His focus was intense, but just by breaking the moment, the spell, I was enough distraction to allow Bernie to run to me and then into the house.

What the heck had I just witnessed?

Time to pay closer attention. We had dropped our guard. We had been lulled into a false sense of security by silly, adolescent Kainan. Now mature Kainan had moved in and it was time to take notice.

Kill the wolfdog

“Kill” the wolfdog.

For a bit, I saw nothing further. He was Mr. Frolic. He had a little pack of girls comprised of three Dalmatians, one husky/malamute, and one mixed breed dog who raced and wrestled with him nonstop. Even with his huge size advantage, he was gentle with his girls. In fact, more often than not, he chose to be the prey, allowing them to chase him down, tackle him, and “go for the kill.” It was hysterically ferocious and comical.

And so my guard slipped back down.

Then it happened. Our little whippet girl, Lacy, dainty and all legs and speed, popped out of the dog door with a bunny-like hop and Kainan grabbed her. He reacted as if by instinct. Grab the prey.

Jim was just inside the house and was out the door to break things up in an instant. But it still happened. And our little Lacy got some puncture wounds in the process.

You could explain it away. Lacy moves very erratically and very quickly. If she popped out right on top of him…well…you can almost understand what happened. But still.

So we watched. We redirected Kainan when we felt his focus was inappropriate. We kept a close eye on Lacy.

And then it happened to Nora, our senior Dalmatian. We’re not sure what caused the incident, but Kainan went after her. Again, Jim was there quickly. Nora was not badly injured.

But still.

We had a problem. And it was a problem we always knew might surface. Wolfdogs are not dogs. Wolfdogs are not wolves. And there’s the tricky part.

You don’t know what you’ve got until they turn two.

I have watched the well-educated, experienced people who run Freedom’s Song. They too live with wolfdogs. I know that not all wolfdogs are social to people. We are very lucky that Kainan is. He is quite friendly and very appropriate around people.

I have also never seen him act aggressively when we see other dogs. He has been out and about with us to a few places where we have encountered other dogs on leash and he has been fine. We don’t let other dogs rush up to him, we don’t ask for trouble, but Kainan has consistently remained calm.

Now, this behavior at home, well, it actually makes sense to me. This is his space. This is his home territory. We have asked him to share it with a number of other dogs. And we have dogs come and go from time to time as foster dogs come in and eventually leave for homes of their own. It’s a busy place, and can be a stressful situation for some dogs, but we are generally good at finding balance and keeping the peace.

So now it appears that Kainan has a little circle of friends that he prefers…I call them his gang. And it also appears we have some dogs that he does not want in his circle. So who makes the rules? Wolfdog or humans?

Calm before the pounce

Still good play…I promise!

Well, it has to the be humans, but we have to have respect for Kainan’s view of the world as well. As I tell every training client who has dog to dog issues in their home, just because YOU like a dog and want to add it to the family does not mean your dog is going to like it as well. Humans don’t like every other human they meet…I don’t. And I certainly wouldn’t want to be asked to live just any other person that comes along.

But humans ask their dogs to do that all the time and then seem appalled when the dogs don’t agree with the decision.

So what to do?

Well, I jokingly say that Kainan is currently grounded. He is not allowed to play unsupervised with all of the other dogs loose as he once did. We have supervised sessions several times a day with Kainan loose with all of the dogs, and then we give Kainan his own space with his little gang.

Fortunately, our world is physically set up to handle this new routine. We have sturdy dog runs that allow access inside the house and to outdoor space. We have two dog yards. We can allow Kainan to play with his little gang, while keeping the other dogs separate and safe.

And we are dedicated to doing a lot of work with Kainan. Jim and I have worked out a plan for reminding Kainan the benefits of offering desired behavior. We are focusing on spending a lot more one-on-one time with him. We are working to teach him a strong recall – no matter what the distraction in the world around him.

We’re also giving him constant feedback when he is loose with all of the dogs. My own belief, backed by a recent online course presented by Dr. Ian Dunbar, advocates giving dogs like Kainan consistent input. If he’s playing nicely, he gets lots of praise and reinforcement. If we see that he’s starting to be a bully or he’s starting to get too rowdy, we call him, we interrupt the action. He gets told “uh-uh,” and redirected. The moment his behavior shifts back to calm and loose, he is praised.

If he crosses any tiny line, it’s game over. He is removed from play.

There is no hitting. There are no shock collars (and BOY are there a lot of people who love to go there…that’s a topic for another day). There are no harsh prong collars. There is no physical punishment beyond limiting his freedom.

There is feedback. Lots of meaningful, timely feedback. And we are patient. And we are fair. And we are learning.  All of us. Kainan is as much our teacher as he is our student.

We love Kainan and we are committed to his welfare and his well-being. That means it’s our job to understand his way of thinking. It’s our job to help this home and life work well for all of us. We don’t want to “dominate” Kainan, we want to provide leadership. If we are good and fair leaders, then everything else can fall into place.

We will make wise choices too. We may have to rethink what types of dogs and how many dogs we can foster. We can do that. Our own dogs come first.

We hope this is just a phase for Kainan. He is not one tiny bit aggressive. In fact, one stern look from me or Jim sends him sprawling to the ground in an apologetic pile. He is just mature now (and yes, neutered, but that doesn’t change who/what he is!), he has instincts, and he is testing the boundaries of  his world. We hope that with fair, positive-focused training, Kainan will be work through his terrible twos to be able to be free-roaming with the other dogs again soon.

But if he can’t…if living with a number of other dogs is just not right for him…we will deal with that too. We will make sure he has always has a great life that is fair to him, while also fair to the other dogs that share our home. We made that commitment to Kainan when we took him in and we will always stand by it.

We know he is new territory for us. We still have a lot to learn, and so does Kainan. But I know it will work out. Everyone is OK. Kainan is happy and being very compliant. Oh, and he really loves turkey hot dogs for his training treats.

This too shall pass. He is still very much our big, fuzzy, lovable guy who, 9.5 times out of 10, gets along great with our furry family.

But oh the terrible twos. I’m so ready for three.

Kainan and shadow 2

Where Sunflowers Grow

Run in Peace Big PaulThe patch of broken, brown earth stood out in sharp contrast to the surrounding blanket of green dotted with splashes of colorful wildflowers. This was the first time I had ventured out to visit this spot in the pasture since the day it happened more than two months ago.

I looked at the packets in my hand, eight in all. There were two each of four varieties of sunflower: Mammoth, Moonshine, Autumn Beauty, and American Giant. The promise of the massive flowers seemed a fitting tribute to my big boy. Soon, I hoped to see a small forest of sunflowers covering the bare spot in the earth that marked the place where Paul, my big draft horse, was buried.

It was a gorgeous spring day. The perfect day for a walk in the pasture. Life was erupting all around me. The trees were covered with tender, brilliant green leaves unfurling to greet the changing season. The birds darted about, busily tending their nests. Insects flitted lazily about from blossom to blossom, finding nourishment as the warmth of the morning sun fueled their meandering mission.

Hi there NanYet I stood oblivious to the spring parade. I was fixated on that one patch of cracked, clumpy earth that represented the beautiful ghost still testing my heart.

I’m no stranger to loss. We live with lots of animals…all lives more temporary than our own. We’ve said our share of goodbyes and we always find a way to celebrate the beings that have shared their time here with us. Each has taught a lesson, each has been a blessing.

But, Big Paul. I just wasn’t coming to terms with his loss. The stately Belgian horse who won my heart from one photo on a Facebook page. Our story was supposed to roll gently toward a very distant sunset. It was not supposed to be a short story, over in just a couple of chapters.

So my morning visit to Paul’s piece of earth was to find resolution. It was my private ceremony. I was going to welcome closure.

gogo 2016Standing clutching the seed packets in my right hand, I heard a quiet shuffling behind me. I turned to see GoGo, our old appaloosa mare, with her nose to the ground as she followed my trail through the pasture as surely as a faithful tracking dog.

GoGo is a special girl. She is 30 years old. She has lost her vision. But she doesn’t hide in the barn, she doesn’t beg for special care. In fact, she won’t tolerate being kept in a stall or safely confined to a paddock. She is, despite the toll advancing years have exacted, strong-willed and determined to keep pace with the rest of our horses. Where one sense has failed her, others have grown stronger. She is a survivor.

I stroked the sweet mare’s neck as she sniffed the seed packets, perhaps checking to see if I might be holding a carrot or a horse cookie. I was immediately thankful GoGo decided to join my private memorial service. The mare who had graced our farm for such a long time, joining me as I paid respect to the horse who touched my life so profoundly in such a short amount of time. Perfect.

I opened the packets, one by one, and sprinkled the contents across the bare earth, watching as the small seeds bounced and tumbled into the cracks and crevices. Soon they would find purchase, sprout, and spring back up toward the sky, strong, tall, and golden. Just like Big Paul was.

Job done, GoGo and I retraced our steps and headed back to where the rest of our little herd watched in seemingly silent homage. Did they know I needed some space? My very spoiled animals are not known for restraint, especially when they see a human that normally has pockets filled with cookies. But somehow, today, they showed quiet respect.

As I moved closer to the barn, the truce was broken and my herd surrounded me, snorting and sniffing. I looked into a half dozen pairs of soft, hopeful eyes as impatient noses pushed at my hands and nudged my pockets.

In that moment, it hit me. Just as surely as the sunflower seeds would sprout roots in the fertile soil and grow to fill the cracks and gaps in the broken earth, these silly horses and donkeys, in the here and now, would help fill the cracks and gaps in the fertile ground of my heart.

I would always remember, and I would always be grateful for what was, but I could also let go. It was time to stop replaying the pain of loss and instead focus on the good times I had with Big Paul. And it was also time to simply allow myself to appreciate what was standing right in front of me.

Just like that, a spring day became a gift. The sunflowers to come became a promise. A ghost became a beautiful memory. A heart was allowed to begin healing.

Oh…and yeah…a little herd of horses, donkeys, and one fine mule got to eat cookies. Lots and lots of cookies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once a Year…

MotherYou know that old saying…you don’t know until you try? Well, several years ago I wanted to do a Mother’s Day giveaway at my dog care business. I had seen a cute doggy floral arrangement online and asked a local florist if they could make one. They made one for me…and it was adorable…and it was EX PEN SIVE.
 
Hmm, I thought. I looked at the arrangement. Hmmm.
 
So the next year I dove in and decided I could make one myself. Oh, mine are not perfect, but they make people smile and I think I love creating them just as much as I love giving them away.
 
Once a year, I become a florist. Once a year, I fill a shopping cart with bundles of beautiful flowers. Once a year I pick and choose just the right bloom here, the perfect bud there.I make a terrific, colorful, aromatic mess of my kitchen. And, when I’m done, I step back and laugh.
 
Pictured are this year’s creations. The “leftover” flowers (I buy WAY too many on purpose!) will be crafted into beautiful bouquets to honor my mother, grandmother, and sister.
I’ll go sit in the peace of the cemetery and tell them all about my funny dog arrangements as I carefully place just the right bloom here, the perfect bud there, in a heartfelt attempt to make the world just a little more beautiful on a very special day.
 
Happy Mother’s Day!

So, About Those Chickens…

Family portrait

Holy cow. Or should that be holy chick? Either way, I have really neglected my blog. Shame on me. But the old “life has been a tad busy lately” line rings very true in my world.

Right around the end of last year, in addition to the dog care business I co-own with a great friend (that would be Pooches in Tulsa), we opened a little dog/cat supply boutique because, because…we needed more to do?

But it’s been fun to get Wagology Shop (naming things is fun!)  up and running, and it’s also been time consuming and a bit tiring. But ALLLLLLLL good.

In there somewhere, Jim and I added a little flock of chickens to the farm because, again, we apparently needed more to do. The chickens, however, will be the one species of animal at Tails You Win Farm that is actually productive. There will be eggs. There will NOT be fried/grilled/baked chicken. There will be eggs.

Of course with the amount of money we have invested in said flock, as my savvy business partner pointed out, it may well take about five years of busy egg laying for the chickens to actually pay for themselves. But hey, who said life on an e-i-e-i-oh farm had to actually make sense? Certainly not Jim or Nancy. Nope.

Chick NorrisBut the chickens may redeem us. They will eat bugs. They will fertilize the grass. And yes, they will lay eggs. Maybe they will lay golden eggs and prove said savvy business partner wrong? Highly unlikely, but a girl can dream.

Go chick-ens! Go chick-ens! Go chick-ens!

Of course the egg laying won’t start for months. They are just baby chicks, and quite honestly, we’re not yet sure who is a he and who is a she. We obviously hope for more shes than hes.

One outgoing little guy has identified himself as all rooster. He struts his stuff. He is confident. He has prominent wattles (the little red things under his beak for my non-chicken-farmer friends).

We have named him Chick Norris. Chick Norris is so tough he can kill two stones with one bird. Chick Norris is so tough that Colonel Sanders has turned vegan. Chick Norris is THE man.

As for the others, we know that two – our little redheads – are pullets (girl chicks). And we are pretty sure the other barred Plymouth Rock, Chick Norris’ twin, is a hen. We arrived at this conclusion very scientifically…she doesn’t look like Chick Norris, so therefore is a hen. See how we’re catching on to this chicken farming stuff?

13055286_10209585444496610_3658281857654009960_nThat leaves our Polish chick and our little, fluffy cochin as the big question marks in the chicken nursery. The Polish chick has flair. He/she has attitude. He/she has an amazing updo. His/Her name will be Don or Donna Chicken A La King.

(You may have noticed that we like to have a tad bit of fun with the name game on the farm. Let us never forget Spamela Anderson and Jerry Swinefeld the hogs, Ferris Muler the mule, and Harry Ass Truman, the donkey.)

We have names picked out for the other chicks…but I’ll save that reveal for another day, another post, and, well, once we really know who is what.

In the meantime, the next big milestone is getting the new chicken coop all fixed up and ready for move-in day. Our young feathered family should be old enough to move out of the garage nursery and into their new chicken condo in a week or two depending on Mother Nature’s whims. What an exciting day that will be. I know you’re all on the edge of your seats.

The girlsWhat I can tell you about my chicken adventure so far is that I’m head over heels in love with these crazy little dinosaurs (Hey…google it. Chicken = tiny T-Rex). I think we might just be able to sell the television once they move into their fancy new digs outside. I’ll just want to watch them doing their crazy chicken things all the time.

Well, except for when House Hunters International is on. Or Fixer Uppers. Or anything on HGTV. Oh…Walking Dead next fall. I’ll definitely want to see that.

OK, the t.v. stays, but I do anticipate lots of great fun watching the Home Chicken Network (HCN). Stay tuned for new episodes!

 

The Dangers of Shopping at Tractor Supply in Springtime

our babies

Let’s be 100% clear. This is not totally my fault.

Yes, I have been known to bring home stray dogs. Even stray donkeys. And yes, I have purchased rather large horses without consulting with Jim. Guilty.

But this time, I’m not to blame. Not totally.

We stopped at Tractor Supply on Sunday JUST to grab a bag of horse feed. That’s all. Quick stop. In, grab the feed, get back out. Simple.

Let me preface the rest of this story by telling you that Jim happened to bring home a flyer all about raising baby chickens. Odd, but they were handing them out at check-out last time he was there. Yeah. He just picked it up and happened to bring it home. He wasn’t suggesting anything.

OR WAS HE?

So back to Sunday.

We were heading back to the stacks of horse feed…which happen to be directly adjacent to the area where they keep baby chicks every spring. Little tiny peeps popping into the air were like the magnet of a siren song. My feet made a beeline.

“Awwwww…look. Jim. LOOOOOOK.”

He was looking. And looking. And I was looking. And looking.

And we looked at each other.

Were we about to be really spontaneous? It’s really not a great idea to decide to add an animal to your world on a whim. It’s really not. I tell people that all the time.

But Jim and I are admittedly not normal people. And we’ve been pondering the idea of adding chickens to the farm for some time now. There are perks.

Eggs.

Weed control.

Bug control.

Justification. BAM.

Our “in the door, out the door” quick stop into Tractor Supply turned into an hour-long shopping extravaganza (would eggs-travaganza be too cute here? Perhaps).

We bought a stock tank to serve as a nursery. We bought a heat lamp, chick feed, a feeder and special water bowl. We had to have wood shavings for bedding. Oh, and a book all about raising chicks.

And yeah, we bought chicks. Jim let me pick them out. One because it was pretty. One because it was spunky. Another because it wasn’t doing well and I couldn’t bear to leave it there with the other chicks stepping on it. Two because I loved the white spots on their little black heads. Two more because they were sexed pullets so we would be guaranteed at least two hens. The rest could be roosters, or they could be hens…a total gamble. Fingers crossed for more girls than boys!

We raced home, laughing at ourselves for our spur-of-the-moment new farming enterprise. We set up the nursery in our garage with a heater to keep the air warm and the heat lamp affixed to one end of the trough. Nursery complete, we introduced the little peepers to their new digs.

Six of them immediately started investigating. Our little quiet one just sat in the warmth of the heat lamp. Sadly, despite our best efforts (and we did try!), the tiny little guy, who was struggling when we bought him, didn’t make it.

We kind of knew that was going to happen. But hey, he got to be loved for just a little bit there.

The remaining six were still doing quite well. They were active, they were eating and drinking, and they were pooping. In fact, some got a little poop stuck to their tiny, fuzzy bums. But…um…it would fall off, right?

After arriving at work this morning, I checked in with my co-worker and resident chicken expert, Lindsay. She informed me that poopy chicken butts must be cleaned immediately or the babies could get sick.

Huh.

So I called Jim. Here’s how that conversation went…

Me: “Hey, you know how some of the baby chicks have poop stuck to their butts?”
Jim: “Yeah…”
Me: “Well, Lindsay says that’s bad and needs to be cleaned off asap.”
Jim: “So you’re saying you want me to go out and wash chicken butts?”
Me: “Yes. Yes I am.”
Jim: “Don’t you want me to wait so you can video that for Facebook?”

Oh Jim. You get me. You really get me.

And yeah…I sort of DID want to be able to video that little feat of chicken grooming. But the need for clean butts trumped my desire to have him wait the eight hours so I could document it. Plus, I’m guessing we’ll have another opportunity…or six.

All in all, I’d say we’re off to a great start as chicken farmers at Tails You Win Farm. Especially if I arrive home to nothing but shiny, clean chick tushies.

You’re on that, right Jim?

Jim?

 

 

The Night Shift.

Home from the hunt

If you look closely, you will see what Kainan sees. One to the far right, one to the far left. The night shift is heading home.

The young couple heads home from the night shift. Traffic is light. Most of the world is still stretching and shaking off the last fog of sleep.

They have had a busy night. They always have a busy night. Their work follows routine, familiar trails where the likelihood of finding field mice, bunnies, and other small prey is high. It’s hard work, especially in the winter, but now the days are a bit longer, and the warmer temperatures mean bounty. Their full bellies will now provide sustenance for the warm, squirming secret they have tucked safely in a deep burrow by the big pond.

Now it is time to rest. Time to recover. Time to enjoy the safety of their haven. Tonight, when the moon peeks above the treeline, it will be their cue to clock-in once again. They will announce the start of their work night with a mellifluous chorus and the neighboring workforce will answer. It’s an ancestral ritual, passed through generations. It is a confirmation of life, of boundaries, of territory.

On this morning, just as at sunrise yesterday, the young coyotes dart carefully and purposefully from the cover of the trees across the open pasture. It is this last part of their path that leaves them open, vulnerable in the morning spotlight.  But they are not afraid. They know this place; they know the others who share their home.

The dogs come rushing out of the house, but the coyotes know they will stop. They have a fence they will honor. The wild ones pause, sitting to watch the silly dogs racing up and down the fence shattering the early morning peace with their frustrated cries. The coyotes know the dogs will soon become bored with this game. They will go back to the house to do whatever it is domestic dogs do.

But they know one will remain. He is different. He doesn’t bark, he doesn’t race around aimlessly. He just watches with quiet intensity. This one both fascinates and unnerves the coyotes. There is something about him that is like them, but also very different. He is huge and powerful in comparison to their lithe, agile frames. Even from a distance, they are able to meet and hold his gaze, for just a moment, before moving on. They know this one.

Often, during their night shift, they sense him there. He lies in the big yard, but he does not sleep like the other dogs do. He watches. He samples the wind with his long snout. His ears remain alert and pinpointed to their every move.

Yes, this one is different. He seems to understand the need that drives the coyotes every single night. He will sit and watch them in rain, snow, or cold. On some level, he seems a part of their world. But no, he is on the wrong side of the fence. He lives in the house.

The big wolfdog watches. Every morning he sees the coyotes cross the field. Part of him wants to race the fence and bark at them with his housemates, but he never does. He sits back and studies. He knows by the scent on the wind that this pair has young in a burrow just behind the big tree on the north side of the pond. He knows they work long nights. It is a job called survival.

On some deep level he is drawn to them. Sometimes he adds his deep howl to their evening chorus, speaking a language that was born to him. He could go. The fence that separates his world from theirs is not insurmountable.

But he doesn’t go. The other half of his brain always wins. He watches as the coyotes disappear into the camouflage of dense brush that leads to their home. Then the big wolfdog turns back toward the house, where he hears the call that puts his wild side to bed for the day and summons the playful dog.

“Kainan! Breakfast!”