I Wouldn’t Trade My Life. Or Would I?

Sunrise dogsThis morning, the alarm on my phone went off at 5:20 a.m. My entire body finds that time of day VERY alarming. In a numb haze of sleepy denial, I reach for the phone to hit snooze. Five more minutes. Five more blissful minutes.

In what SURELY was only 30 seconds, the annoyingly diligent alarm sounds again. I reach toward it aiming for that lovely snooze feature “just one more time.” My attempt is efficiently thwarted by a rather large, insistent paw planted firmly in the middle of my chest. Fifty-plus pounds of reality shifts her full weight onto said planted paw and proceeds to lick my face into consciousness which in turn awakens my often impatient bladder. God forbid those 50-plus pounds shift the pressure from chest to lower abdominal region.

I’m up. I’m UP!

Twenty-someodd tails wagging in approval, I stumble to the bathroom knowing I have a moment of solitude before the avalanche that is also known as my normal day starts rolling around me.

My own “pressing need” attended to, I start the routine I can thankfully move efficiently through in an I’m-not-a-morning-person-by-choice zombie state. Dogs rotate out to potty. The foster puppy pen gets cleaned while delighted puppies wiggle exactly in my way at every turn. Water buckets get filled. Ears get scratched. My feet get trampled a hundred times. Somewhere in there I mumble a good-morning to Jim and stop to give him what he may perceive as a hug, but I actually know I have collapsed against him for momentary support. He’s strong in the morning.

Dogs are pottied and as several of them annoyingly return to MY bed for a little extra slumber, I climb the stairs for a life-giving shower and five more minutes of warm, steamy solitude. Well…sort of. There will be noses poking through the shower curtain in ongoing wonder at my willingness to get drenched and shampooed without being forced. There will also be two dogs reliably curled on the bath mats outside the shower, forcing me to step barefooted on the cold tile floor instead of on fluffy warmth. Brooke and Stormy are always there waiting for me. You may think it a sweet gesture on their part. I’m fairly sure they’re just on assignment to make sure I do not escape the house without feeding everyone breakfast.

For the record, I never fail to feed them breakfast or dinner, but they are ever-skeptical.

Shower complete, I come back down the stairs a tad more sturdy on my own feet. I rotate dogs out for another romp in the yard while I make my breakfast smoothie and head back to do damage-control on my face and hair. I may not FEEL awake and raring to go, but I need to look the part. Maybe it’s ambition, maybe it’s Maybelline.

My morning routine does not take long because I eventually look in the mirror and say, “Oh, screw it. That’s good enough.” I then get dressed in my finest professional attire (thank GOD that’s jeans, a t-shirt, a hoodie, and running shoes). It’s a huge plus to glance in the mirror and see no pre-existing slobber smears glistening on my clothes in the flickering light of the bathroom (flickering because I need to change some bulbs and keep telling myself to do that when I have a minute…and I religiously forget until the next morning’s routine).

Dressed and presentable, I turn to face the herd of expectant faces at the baby gate that steadfastly guards our shoes and clothing from the creativity of canine family.

Group of dogsTime for breakfast. Stand back, don’t try this on your own, I’m a trained professional. I can feed 20-someodd dogs in 10 minutes or less.

I stack the bowls in the unique order that makes perfect sense to me, but to no one else on earth. I sling the right food in the right amounts into each bowl. I add warm water because, gravy. The salivating dogs move in eager, choreographed groups as each bowl is placed in each specific dog’s eating spot in exactly the same order as the day before. They know when and where they eat, they know “bowl-diving” is not allowed. It all goes smoothly in a fashion I lovingly call controlled chaos.

As the satisfying sound of 20-someodd dogs slurping up water-logged kibble surrounds me, I make another pass to fill water buckets. I re-clean the puppy pen (this happens a lot). And then everyone else goes outside to potty once again.

I say my goodbyes to Jim. I deliver pats and “be goods” to all the dogs, stooping to give my boy Howie a kiss on his forehead. I grab my stuff and head out making sure no furry bodies slip out the door with me.

The household as conquered as it possibly can be for now, I bolt out to feed the chickens and open their run for a little daytime free-ranging. Mental note, must clean the coop later today. Must.  Then I jump in my Jeep.

Guess what? NOW I get to start my day.

But the next 30 to 40 minutes are Nancy-time. Relative peace and quiet with a few hundred other commuters heading my direction. Ahhhhh…drive-time.

I listen to an audio book. Right now I’m addicted to the Andy Carpenter series of murder mysteries by David Rosenthal. Great stories salted with a healthy dose of humor AND there are always dogs written in because, in addition to being a prolific author, Rosenthal, runs a dog rescue out of his home (Hey, me too!). Where he lives with 20-someodd dogs (Hey, me too!). My brother from another mother.

Morning traffic can’t even fluster me when I’m in the oasis known as Duke, my Jeep Wrangler, listening to a good book. It’s 100% rejuvenating.

I arrive at work, the business I have co-owned with a friend for just over 13 years now (and hey, still friends!). Our business is Pooches, a dog daycare and boarding facility. So yeah, I just left a herd of dogs only to be greeted by a few dozen more. There’s a pattern here and it includes lots of pee, poop, and cleaning. I’m good at that and good with that.

None of this is written in complaint. I love my life. I love my dogs, both the on-purpose ones and the fosters, and I love the dogs that come see me at Pooches. I love helping dogs that are not as fortunate as my own. I love Jim and I love/am grateful that Jim shares my passion for dogs and animal welfare. That’s a lot of love right there.

I really wouldn’t trade my life.  I am where I am supposed to be right now, doing what I was meant to do. But you know, if some kind publisher out there somewhere reads this and thinks, “Hey, I think I’m going to give that little blogger a break.” I’d be really good with that too. Especially if that break actually comes with an income.

The thought that I might get paid to work from home by putting words into a document that become a real book (and I’m talking the hard-backed, hold it in your hands variety)…whew…that’s win-the-lottery stuff in my mind. I’d be so down for that. Someday. I really would. Just putting it out there. Surely someone linked to publishing reads obscure blogs from time to time? I would truly love to have one more “hey, me too” to share with David Rosenthal.

And I think I will. Because after all, dreams are just my future reality waiting for me to come up with a plan.

But for now, there is my little blog. And there is my amazing business. And there are dogs looking at me expectantly because it’s walk time. And there is poop to clean up. And dog bowls to wash. And…and…and. And then there’s always drive-time when I can do a little more dreaming/planning before I return home to Jim and our furry family to do the whole process again. And that will be followed by the great play and snuggle time that only 20-someodd dogs can deliver.

Ahhhhhhhh.

 

 

 

 

When Hope is Born

IMG_7097The moment I met her I knew she was special. Or maybe it’s that I could feel how special she was.

It’s not that she gave me an enthusiastic greeting. In fact, she really didn’t even raise her head. She was tired, sick, and, well, I can only tell you that I felt she was heartbroken. It’s not something I can explain easily, but the feelings rolling off this sweet dog hit me full force.  So far, in her young life, I believe the world had done nothing but let her down.

39750197_2331274450235193_2842965249814953984_oFirst I felt how exhausted she was. And then I felt her aches and pains followed by waves of uncertainty and resignation. But then I felt a little flicker. Something in those soft brown eyes reached deep in my heart. I think it was longing. This good, good soul longed for simple things like comfort and safety. She didn’t dare envision anything more.

She was found by some very wonderful and caring women at the Tulsa Botanical Garden office. She had found her way to them and then just plopped down in the dirt, not able to raise the energy to take one more step. They saw to her immediate needs by giving her water on a steamy summer’s day, and then a bowl of food. They applied drops to her shoulders to rid her of the hundreds of ticks that were draining her body. They gave her the first relief she had likely known in months…or even years.

They messaged me through our non-profit Dalmatian rescue for the help they knew she needed beyond what they could provide in the short-term. I looked at the photos coming across my phone of a dog that appeared completely drained and defeated. She was by no stretch of the imagination a purebred Dalmatian, but this dog pulled at me through her images. I loved her before I ever gave her that first reassuring pat.

Her name became Tansy, a nod to her rescuers who also tended to the beautiful flowers at the Botanical Gardens. Her veterinary exam quickly revealed that the legions of ticks she endured had left her with an unwelcome gift in the form of ehrlichia, a tick-borne disease. Her aches, pains, and lethargy had a catalyst…one that now identified, we could and would chase into submission.

Tansy settled into our veterinarian’s kennel to begin her journey to good health. And there, she told me she felt safe. She had everything she thought she needed. A space of her own, soft blankets, people who stopped in to give hugs, fresh water, and good food twice a day, every single day. And with that, a few of the cracks in her tired heart began to fill.

Then, a week later, I returned with a leash. As soon as I slipped it around her neck, she habitually turned toward the door that led out to the kennel yard. But this time, I urged her toward a different door, the door that led out of the hospital.

Sweet Tansy immediately stopped. Her eyes clouded with concern, her head and tail drooped low. Again I could feel her. This place was safe, she didn’t want to leave. The unknown…the “what next”…had never been her friend. She had no reason to trust anything on the other side of that hospital door.

I coaxed her, I encouraged her, I made her so many promises. Slowly, reluctantly, she followed me to the parking lot and allowed me to help her into my car. Her protest was quiet, her resignation to whatever was to come escaped her in a long, deep sigh as she laid her head down staring blankly into the back of my Jeep.

I concentrated hard, trying to send her feelings and mental pictures, just as she had done for me. I thought about my house with all of the soft dog beds and dog-friendly furniture. I envisioned our big backyard and how beautiful the view is at sunrise when dewdrops on every strand of grass sparkle like precious gems. I thought about the resident dogs out romping and playing, then coming inside to stretch out in the air-conditioned comfort. I thought about how our dogs didn’t have a care in the world.

Could she hear me? Did she feel the peaceful images I was trying to send to her? I could see her in the rearview mirror, head still down, unmoving, but maybe I did feel some little glances my way. A little desire to trust blooming in her own mind.

We arrived home and she glanced around tentatively as she peered out of the open car door. As she stepped to the ground she sniffed a bit, taking in more information than any of us can imagine with each small inhalation. We walked to the house and I could feel her uncertainty mounting. There was not much I could do for her beyond offering my own calm demeanor as her guide.

Once in the house she was met by a few of our calmer dogs. Oh, poor girl. She wanted nothing to do with their inquisitive sniffs or their wagging invitations. She sat quickly in a “please go away” gesture. Her back curved, her ears pressed in worry to the sides of her head, her lips ruffling slightly in protest if any of the dogs tried to come toward her face.

“Too much! Too much!” the feelings cried. And so I listened. I let her scurry into a large crate covered on three sides by a blanket so she could have refuge. I gave her some fresh water and a little snack and then I let her just be. She needed to process. She needed to just be a spectator.

The other dogs in the house…and there are quite a few…came to the front of the crate to meet the newcomer. They were met with furtive glances and quiet, grumbling protests not born of aggression, but rather of fear. “Not yet,” the feelings said. “Please let me be invisible.”

And so, after initial curiosity was satisfied, the other dogs of our household, both our own dogs and our foster dogs, moved on. There were toys to be chewed, birds to be chased, and sunbeams that begged for nap partners.

IMG_7108One hour passed, two hours, a visit outside by herself, and then straight back to the crate. Her idea, not mine. “Not yet.”

Three hours, four hours passed and I left the crate door open. “Up to you,” I thought.

That evening, with all of the other dogs snoozing around the living room, I heard a little rustle. From the corner of my eye I saw her tiptoe out of the crate for a brief look around. Then she slipped back into the safety of her little cave. “That’s fine,” I thought. “At your own pace, in your own time.”

She slept the whole night in the open crate. Her trips to the yard were still solo and protected from prying noses.

But that next morning I saw it – that undeniable little glimmer called hope.

She stepped quietly out of the crate and into our midst By now, my dogs, who are very accustomed to newcomers, were not so curious about our new friend.  They went about their business, weaving Tansy into our routine with little fanfare.

But to Tansy, every part of our routine was amazing. There was food on a regular basis. First she ate nervously, as if someone would surely come to steal her share. Then she ate with focused gusto, no longer glancing over her shoulders with each bite.

Time outside was cherished. The yard was safe from people shooing her away. She could lounge in the shade of the porch or she could lie in the soft grass for a nap in the sun. And when she was ready, the door to the inside was always open to her, welcoming her back to the house.

IMG_7125There were treats, belly rubs, soft brushes, cushy beds. Routine was pure Heaven to this dog who had known nothing but uncertainty. And just as her little space at the vet hospital had become her safe place, so this new place became her haven as well. She started to trust the routine and all of the little things the other dogs knew as constants.

She also started feeling physically better as the medicine chased disease from her body. Her coat softened and filled in. Her ribs were no longer so easy to count. Her eyes no longer darted away, but held a gaze, steady and soft.

And then, one day, I pulled out the leash again. With a deep breath I asked her to trust me. In the car, I could feel her old nemesis uncertainty welling up and I did my best to reassure knowing that only experience could bring true peace.

As we pulled into the drive of the tree-shaded home, a woman walked out, a warm smile spreading across her face at her first glimpse of Tansy.

And the feelings! Oh the feelings. For once, Tansy moved out ahead of me and went straight to the woman. Sitting politely, directly in front of her, Tansy raised her head up to look straight into the woman’s face.

Together, we all sat out in the backyard, Tansy meeting the quiet, kind man of the home as well. She moved between the two, enjoying their attention. She met their dogs with careful curiosity instead of concern. Inside the tidy house, she relaxed calmly at the feet of her new friends.

Not wanting to turn her world suddenly upside down again, Tansy returned home with me that day with plans in place for her ultimate transfer to the couple I had now chosen as her new family. After a few days, I packed up her medicine, wrote out her care instructions, packed a bag of food and a favorite toy, placed a new tag on her collar, and loaded Tansy into the car for a very important ride.

This time, instead of turning her back and lying with her head down between her front legs, Tansy sat looking forward. What was that I felt from her this time? Expectation?

As we once again pulled into the shady drive in front of what was to be her new permanent home, Tansy’s feelings manifested in the form of a thumping tail. Was recognition possible after just one visit? I guess when you visit the right place, it most certainly is.

This time, there was no hesitation as she hopped from the car. She headed straight for the door that was immediately opened by the gentle woman with the wonderful smile. I knelt down to whisper the words I promise to every foster dog that leaves our care for a new home, “I have picked this home just for you and it’s a good one. You will be safe and loved, but remember, I’m always here for you if you need me, whether it’s in a day or in 10 years. I love you. Be happy now.”

Then, as I turned to leave, she gave me her own gift as she looked directly at me, her own eyes bright and shining with feelings that can only be described as trust and hope. Beautiful, newly born hope.

Good for you, Tansy. Enjoy your happily-ever-after.  I think I’ll always be able to feel you in my heart, no matter where your journey with your new family takes you. And right now, finally, the feelings are really, blissfully good.

Sunrise wag

PB, Hold the J

M girlsDog training is not about following rules. It’s about understanding that each dog is different, each a little puzzle waiting to be solved.

Well I now have four very intricate, spotted puzzles and I’m determined to solve them.

Meet Mabel, Molly, MacKenzie, and Margo. These girls are just nine months old and were recently liberated, in a coordinated effort by a rescue village, from life in a puppy mill. If you’re not familiar with puppy mills, think of a little doggy concentration camp where the dogs are kept in small cages and pens solely for the purpose of breeding. They crank out as many puppies as they can and that’s their life. Litter after litter until they can’t produce any longer or the “miller” decides to close out a specific breed.

That’s how these girls came into our  rescue. The puppy mill operator who had them decided to get out of Dalmatians…likely in favor of something smaller that would take up less space and eat less food. It’s all about the almighty dollar right? Ah, but that is a soapbox for another day, another post.

Back to my four M-girls.

These sweet dogs were born in a commercial breeding facility and grew up there. They have likely lived together the whole time, sharing a pen. They have never been someone’s beloved little puppy. They have never known soft blankets, cushions, squeaky toys, or belly rubs. They had each other and likely someone who came along to toss food at them and clean their pen from time to time.

All of the key socialization periods that help puppies learn to live happily with humans were ignored. Afterall, these girls were not to be pets. They were to be breeders. And that cycle would have started right about now as two of the girls popped into their first heat cycles before I could get them spayed.

But thankfully for my M-girls, they are no longer in a puppy mill. Nope, instead they are in our home, currently living in one of our indoor/outdoor dog runs (this allows us to safely contain them while getting to know them and making sure they are healthy). Jim and I spend time with them every single day, several times a day. I’ve even found Jim reclining in the run taking a little cat nap just to give the girls a chance to get  used to him. Our immediate goal is to simply teach them that humans really are a good thing.

So far, they’re not convinced.

Molly is the most willing to learn. She now greets us with a hopeful look (gained through SO many cookies!) and a  wagging tail.  Oh sure, at the slightest “wrong” move she’ll still scramble away from us, clawing her way out the dog door, but then she comes right back. She’s very close to deciding we might be worth getting to know a bit better.

MacKenzie is right behind Molly. She’s interested in the crazy humans who coo to her and promise her all kinds of good things. Margo is thinking it over from a distance…peering through the dog door flap. Poor Mabel, however, is still terrified, huddling in the corner with a blank stare on her face.

So we have a heck of a puzzle here. How do we get these girls to look forward to seeing us instead of fleeing everytime we step in their run?

Tonight my latest/greatest training tool is a jar of cheap, gooey peanut  butter. Yes, PB. No J. Too sticky.

Three of the girls (not Mabel…yet) have been darting in to grab cookies from us, but they take the cookie and run. Dine and dash at its finest.

But peanut butter on the end of my finger? That’s a different story.

To enjoy the peanut butter the girls have to stretch their sweet little necks out and lick it off of the ends of my fingers. And while my hands are a bit scary, they really LOVE peanut butter.

I’m accomplishing a couple of good things here. First, positive association with Nancy. Second, can’t grab the treat and run (hopefully!). They have to stick around a bit to enjoy this treat. And most importantly, my hand reaching toward them isn’t quite so scary now. In fact, it’s delicious!

I do need you to understand this  is taking some dedication on my part because I HATE peanut butter. I do. I know. I’m weird. It’s almost un-American. I can’t help it. Even the smell of the stuff repulses me. So actually wearing it…and that smell sticks with you…is true dedication to the cause.

But it’s worth it. They’re worth it. And someday Mabel, Molly, MacKenzie, and Margo will go on to new homes to enjoy very good lives. The lives they should have had all along.

I think I can tolerate a little eau de peanut butter to help that happen.

(Stay tuned for progress reports!)

 

Never Count a Good Chicken Out.

She's back

It is highly possible that my hen has access to the Internet. Wait. It’s got to be the Internest. (Cracked myself up right there!)

The very day after I shared a post voicing concern that my injured hen, Eggatha Christie, would not recover enough use of her leg to be able to rejoin our little flock of chickens (didn’t read it? It’s here), I walked into the garage/chicken hospital to find her perched rather defiantly on the edge of her pen. And there was an obvious “I know what you’ve been saying about me” gleam in her beady little eye.

This is something akin to a patient pulling his own IV catheter and waltzing out of the hospital ward with his butt hanging out of those open-in-the-back gowns they force you to wear. My hen’s balancing act should not have been possible with her injured ligament. I really didn’t think she could possibly perch on anything let alone that narrow strip of metal fencing.

But there she was. Her butt (sans gown) hanging on my side of the pen  sending a definite poultry kiss-my-tail-feathers message.

“Ok Eggatha,” I thought, “I’m game if you are. Let’s see how this works out.”

I took my ginger hen back out to the community coop late in that evening. Chickens, you see, become helpless little zombies at night. Not the Walking Dead type of zombie that stumbles after anything warm-blooded, but rather the nearly comatose type of zombie that just stares blindly ahead. Dark + chickens = helpless. This was the opportune time to slip my hen back into the coop after her month-long convelescense. They would all awake the next morning and hopefully believe she had been there all along.

I got up early to go out to check on the situation. My greatest fear was that the other chickens might still see Eggatha as a weak link. They might reject her or, worse, attack her. Chickens can be zombies…and they can be bullies. Complex little critters.

What I found was a coop full of relaxed chickens ready to come out to run around the yard chasing bugs.

Ok. She’s back in the club.

Fear number three was that she would not be able to run if she needed to escape a predator. Her left leg had a pronounced limp and speed might not be a possibility for Eggatha. So I waited, watched, and then went out to call the girls and their rooster to me (yes, they DO come when they are called!).

All of the chickens held their wings out to their sides and came scurrying toward me in funny, waddling little sprints. They run like tiny dinosaurs and they can really move when they want to.

Cluck Norris lead the pack followed by Henelope Cruise, Donna Chicken A La King, and lo and behold, Eggatha Christie.

Eggatha can’t run like she used to, but that feisty little redhead has adapted and she can most certainly keep up with the “herd.”

I can best describe her new gait by harkening back to my elementary school days when all of the horse-crazy little girls would gather on the playground to pretend we were riding…or that we actually were…horses.

Do you remember doing that? Anybody else? You would hold your arms curled up to your chest and you would kind of skip along, one leg leading the other in a mock, rocking canter.

And THIS is how Eggatha has regained her place in the coop with the rest of the flock. The determined little hen, who is one heck of a survivor, has adapted. Maybe she doesn’t get around quite like the other chickens, but she is out there living her life, earning style points, perhaps starting a new chicken trend.

Life lessons in the chicken coop. Way to prove me wrong Eggatha.

Now…where the heck do you store that teeny tiny laptop?

Today.

Amy close-up

Today, I made a tag for Amy’s collar. It has other phone numbers on it. Not mine. Not Jim’s.

Today, little Amy becomes Ruby. They are both fine names. The latter has great implications. It is a name a new family has picked for her. It means today is a great day.

Today a puppy gets to go home. It means another day of change for her, and I’m sure some confusion. But she’ll handle it. I know she will. I have picked THIS home for her and it’s right. It’s wonderful. She’ll have a doggy brother. She’ll have two humans to adore her. She’ll have everything she needs and wants. She’ll have the best life.

Today my heart aches just a bit. So does Jim’s. It’s quite impossible not to get attached. They live in our home. They sleep with us. They play with us. They come here out of need. They leave here with our love.

And yes, today is a great day. Though our hearts pull a bit at goodbye, we are thrilled for what is ahead for this little girl who is so brave and so deserving. No more question marks. No more uncertaintly. No more puppy mill life for you, sweet Amy. Go be the best Ruby you can be!

Today we turn back into the house and look immediately into two new sets of hopeful eyes. My heart swells filling in the tiny cracks that were there just a moment ago.

I think I’ll call you Peanut and Olivia. For now.

Peanut and Olivia

 

 

One More Glance.

smily-bruce-2

I look in the rear view mirror and see his wide smile filling the frame. Another happy car ride for you. You have no idea that life is about to change.

A car ride! This is the best. Of course, any time I get to spend with her is the best. Except maybe that time she took me to the funny-smelling place where I took an unexpected nap and woke up missing some pretty important body parts. But that aside, car rides are great!

I’m babbling to him. I’m telling him about all of the good things that are about to happen. “Bruce! You’re going to have your own person to love. You’ll have a real home. You’ll be king of the castle…the only dog. All of the toys will be yours. All of the treats…yours. You’ll be allowed on the couch. You’ll have a yard! You’ll love having your own yard, won’t you boy? Right, good boy?” I think my dialogue is more for me than him. Does he notice the little warble in my voice?

She sure has a lot to say today. Usually she just listens to her books when we ride together. Blah, blah, blah, Bruce, blah, blah, blah, good boy, blah, blah, treats. She sounds kind of funny…WAIT…WHAT? WAS THAT…SQUIRREL! Was that a squirrel? Hey She-person…SQUIRREL!

Here it is. This is the address. I peer out of the window of my Jeep at a tidy little house with a small park next door. This looks good. I feel good about this. I take a deep breath and turn to Bruce, “Ready big guy? Do you want to go see Keith?”

Blah, blah, big guy (I love it when she calls me that). She sounds cheery. Too cheery. Something’s up. She-person smells kind of…what it that…nervous? Excited? Kind of like we all smell when we’re waiting for our breakfast at the place where I live with all of the other dogs. Excited, and a bit worried like maybe today they’ll forget to feed me this time. But they never do. They never forget.

I get out of the Jeep and open the rear passenger door. Bruce is right there to deliver a big sloppy kiss across the middle of my face. “Bruce! Ooooh….that was a messy one, big guy.” I wipe the saliva off my face with my sleeve, hoping there’s not a giant mascara smear to go with it. Bruce is a ninja when it comes to delivering those enthusiastic tongue washes. I snap the leash to his harness and let him jump out of the car.

Wait for it…wait for it. HAH! Got her. She’s so easy…and she acts all grossed out, but I know better. Ha ha ha ha. Got her good. I made that one extra drooly. You’re welcome She-person. Oh! My leash! Yay! A walk!

As we head across the front lawn to the house, Keith meets us at the door. He’s a tall, quiet man whose resting face has a gentle smile, unlike my resting face, which I’m told looks a bit angry. Who knew? I’m going to work on that. A resting face with a faint smile is so much more pleasant. It’s one of the reasons I feel so good about Keith. He’s calm, quiet, and easy-going.

Oh hey! It’s that man I met at the place where I live with all the other dogs. He’s nice. He took me for a walk yesterday and he knows all the good places I like to be scratched. How cool to get to see him again. This place smells like him all over. I think this is where he stays. We go inside and She-human takes my leash off. Permission to explore granted! Let’s get busy nose!

It’s a great sign. Bruce seems to remember Keith and seems very relaxed here. He’s off snooping around and Keith seems equally relaxed about it. It’s a nice home, but not too fancy. That’s good. I like homes where no one freaks out if the dog jumps on the couch or sloshes a bit of water when he laps with that wide grinning mouth. Oh hey, Bruce’s resting face is a smile too.

The humans follow along with me as I follow my nose. So many new smells! Oooo…this is a food room. I like the smells in here for sure. And this door seems to have a whole other world behind it. I press my snout hard to the base of the door and snort a bit as I inhale everything concealed on the other side. It smells wonderful! Someone needs to open this door for me. Oh, thanks He-human Keith…

We follow Bruce who immediately finds the kitchen and then the door that leads to the backyard. I tell Keith I’d like to see the yard, so he opens the door and Bruce rushes out with a quick swish of his tail. He’s in his glory trotting quickly around the perimeter of the fenced area. He stops to sniff, hike his leg, and take a quick back-scratching roll. Then he finds a spot a bit away from us and relieves himself. Well, I guess he’s not nervous. All systems seem to be working just fine. Make yourself at home Bruce. Finally. Make yourself at home.

Oh…grass! This is wonderful grass. And this huge tree! Oh, I know squirrels live in this tree. They have a real surprise in store for them if they come out right now. I’m pretending I’m not watching…but I’m watching. Oh yeah, I’m watching. This is great. I’m going over here to leave a little present. You know…the kind She-human seems to love to collect in little plastic bags. Humans are so weird.

After a few minutes, we call Bruce and head back inside. I tell Keith that everything looks good to me. He smiles and says he’s very excited and that he thinks Bruce will be a perfect fit. He’s really missed having a dog in the house since his old pit mix passed away at 17 glorious years of age. I agree…this feels like the perfect fit. I squat down to talk with Bruce for a moment.

“I love you, Bruce. Be a very good boy for Keith. This is your perfect home, big guy.”

With a quick kiss to his nose, I stand and turn for the door. In more than 25 years of fostering dogs and placing them in new homes, I’ve found it’s best to just go quickly. No prolonged goodbyes, no emotional hugs. Just turn and go, Nancy. You’ve done your job. This is the home Bruce deserves.

She-human and the nice man she calls Keith are talking again, so I’m taking the opportunity to sniff some more. I found a bag sitting by the door that smells exactly like my delicious food. And hey, there’s a plastic bag-not the kind they put my outside presents in, the carrying stuff kind of plastic bag-I think I smell my favorite toy in there and…yes! Some of those chewy things I love so much. Does Keith have a dog? I smell a dog, a very old dog, but I haven’t seen him. I don’t think he’s still here. But that is definitely my food and my stuff. What’s up with that?

I come back over to She-human and she gets right down in easy tongue-to-face range. Silly human! Her eyes seem a little bit wet…not the leaky kind of wet, just the shiny kind…and she’s saying another word I hear a lot from her…love. I understand that word because it makes me feel all good inside and usually comes with hugs and scratches in all the good places. I love you too, She-human. Then she says something about the nice he-human, Keith. I like Keith. His face smiles a lot like mine.

Then, kind of suddenly, she kisses me on the nose and turns to head out the door. I try to go with her, because I guess it’s time to go back to the place where I live with all of the other dogs. But Keith takes hold of my collar and says something about a treat, so I turn to see what he’s offering. I’m always up for a tasty treat.

I march quickly toward my Jeep. Don’t look back, I think. If he’s watching, you’ll just make it harder for him…and yourself. But I just can’t resist one fast glance over my shoulder. Through the glass storm door I can see Keith smiling down at Bruce, his new dog. Bruce has his back to the door and his tail is wagging wildly as he looks up into Keith’s face. Perfect, I think. It’s the best gift a foster dog can give me. No fuss and worry when I leave.

As I unlock the car door and climb inside, I whisper to the Universe knowing Bruce will somehow hear me. “Have the best life, big dog. Be happy, be safe, but know I’m always nearby if you need me. Always.” With that, I practice my new resting pleasant face and drive away.

Keith wasn’t bluffing! He did have a very nice dog biscuit for me. I crunch it up in two quick chomps. And then I remember…She-human. I turn to look through the door that seems like you can walk right through it, but trust me, you can’t. I’ll only make THAT mistake once. She-human is in the car, starting to pull away without me. It’s funny because I’m actually not worried. Something here feels pretty right.

I raise my most excellent nose into the air and sniff deeply. There it is. That’s her scent. I store the memory of that smell in a special spot deep in my mind. I will never forget it. And somehow, I think I’ll get to see her again from time to time. I think…no, I know. I know she’ll always be nearby. Always.

love-you-bruceBruce was a foster dog at my boarding facility, Pooches, for a long time. He showed up in our parking lot a tired, thin dog wearing a ridiculously thick collar with a heavy, industrial metal clasp hanging from it. It was obvious that Bruce had lived his life on a chain somewhere. Perhaps a guard dog, maybe a pet forgotten in a backyard.

We took him in. We helped him get healthy. We learned to trust each each other. We learned to love each other. Bruce was a very popular guy with everyone who worked at Pooches and everyone who met him on our daily walks. But he and I had something special. He was my big guy.

Bruce and I walked together nearly every day for about three and a half years. To some it seemed his perfect home might never show up…not many people line up to adopt middle-aged, 80 pound pit bull mixes. But I knew it would happen someday.

Bruce’s happily-ever-after finally arrived. It was a great day when I left him in a new, happy home. Oh sure, I miss him. I miss our walks and those big sloppy kisses, too. Every time I pass by the kennel run that was his at Pooches and see a different dog there, my heart tugs a bit. But then I smile knowing that Bruce has a real home and his very own person now.

Love you big guy. Have the BEST life.

scary-nan-and-bruce

This is our scary face. I think I’m scarier than Bruce.

 

Good Dog. Seriously. Say It.

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Photo by Jim Thomason

I have a lot of pets. And many of them are pet peeves.

Ba-dum-dum. Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week.

But seriously folks, I do have a lot of pet peeves, especially when it comes to the animals that share our world. And hey, one of my first pet peeves is that I don’t call them “pets.” I’m going to admit it. That word annoys me.

Pet is something I do to greet my dogs, to comfort them, to calm myself. It’s an verb for me, not a noun. Using the word pet to describe my dogs actually seems demeaning to me. My dogs, horses, chickens, unintentional house mice, etc., are my companions. They are my animal family. They are not furry/feathered humans, nor are they little slaves sent here to do my bidding. They are animals who are willing and kind enough to abandon a lot of their natural instincts to try to co-exist in our crazy, human-focused world.

That’s pretty amazing to me. I think it deserves a little respect.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the term “fur babies.” Nope. Let’s not go there.

Today’s pet peeve, however, actually focuses on how we speak to our animals, how we choose to try to communicate with them. As a professional dog trainer (fancy certificate, letters after my name and all!), I get a lot of calls about “bad dogs.”

“My dog is stubborn.”

“My dog won’t listen.”

“My dog is out of control.”

I listen. I ask questions. I imagine what I will find when we finally meet. And I’m usually spot on.

What I generally find on  visits with “out of control” dogs is a complete lack of clear, meaningful, and consistent communication. So what I’m telling you is that 98.9% of the time…it’s not the dog’s fault.

And more than a lack of dog training know-how, I have found that it’s actually a mindset issue. As humans, we still feel the need to be very large and in charge when it comes to our animals. And when other people come around, it seems humans often go into hyper-militant mode, as if to suggest that their dogs behave like perfect little angels every moment of the day…except right now. You should see how people act when an actual dog trainer steps into the mix. It’s as if everyone suddenly has something to prove.

“Sit. Bo-bo, sit. SIT. SIT. BO-BO SIT. Sit down. SIT. YOU SIT RIGHT NOW. Bo-Bo…come here. SIT. COME. NO. NOOOOO. SITSITSIT.”

Kind of makes me want to toss an “h” in that sit somewhere.

And then I get asked how to “correct” that. “How do I make him mind?” “See how stubborn he is?”

OK. I can’t give an entire dog training 101 here (because hey, I don’t give that away for free! Bills to pay, people. Dog food to buy), but what I can do is help you get your head in the game. The right game.

First, dogs require constant feedback when they are learning. That means as good as you are at telling them when they are wrong, you need to be equally as good at telling them when they are right. Equally good. Tell them when they are RIGHT. In fact, spend more time doing that than you do telling them how wrong they are.

I’m going to let you think about that one for a moment. Here’s a gratuitously cute puppy photo you can ponder whilst you chew on that paragraph…

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Ok…all done pondering? Great. So here’s my next free tip: Let’s change your vocabulary.

Sometimes changing your mindset is as easy as changing the words you choose. Here are my new training words for you:

  1. Instead of train, use the word teach.
  2. Instead of command, use the word cue.
  3. Instead of correct, use the word redirect.

Let’s start with those three and see how it goes. Teach, cue, redirect. Doesn’t that feel better already? Just switching to those words and paying attention to their meaning, their undertone, could make a world of difference in the relationship you have with your dog.

This is not a battle. Dogs have no hidden agenda to overthrow the world. They repeat behavior that gets them attention. They avoid things that are unpleasant (and we wonder why they don’t always come when called…). Let me give you some real-life examples.

I visited a home with an “out of control” dog. The dog was said to have horrible manners when guests came over. The dog wouldn’t listen. The dog jumped all over people.

“He knows better. He’s just being stubborn.”

The moment I hear that stubborn word, I wonder which being in the house it really describes. And then I giggle to myself. Usually to myself.

So I asked my client to show me the dog and let me see how they were dealing with the situation. That’s when I got the SIT-SIT-SIT-NOOOO-NOOOO-DOWN-SIT-OFFFFFF-NOOOOOOOOO routine. I listened to the tone of their voices. I saw the chaos escalate. I saw the humans growing frustrated and more excited. I saw the dog doing the same.

And even when the dog wasn’t actually trying to jump on me, the humans were still barking commands.

So when the dog came toward me and kept four feet on the floor, I quietly said, “Yes! Good boy.” Then I offered the dog a little treat.

I backed a few steps away and invited the dog to follow me. I had his attention now because I was speaking softly, I wasn’t stressed. He liked that. He followed.

When he came to me, I asked him to sit. He did. I said “Yes!” I gave him a tiny cookie. I praised him. Then I backed away and did it a few more times. Pretty soon, every time I cued the dog to “come,” he ran to me and slammed his butt to the ground with his tail wagging happily.

I praised him. And looky there, I used all three of our new vocabulary words.

I taught the dog what I expected instead of just waiting for him to screw up.

I helped the dog learn a cue, one indicating what I expected, and also a word that marked the moment when he did something right. “Yes.” I captured behavior I liked.

And I redirected the dog. The dog was jumping on people because he was friendly and wanted attention. I showed him a proper way to earn attention. He listened. He learned.

Here’s another example. I visited a family who had a dog that would not come when called. The dog would play keep-away, staying just out of reach. The family was frustrated.

So I asked them to show me.

We went out in the yard. The dog chased a bird. When he ran to the other side of the yard, one of the humans said “Fritz, COME!”

Now, don’t think for one second that dogs don’t understand the tone of our voices. They do.

When this person said “Fritz, COME,” the sharp tone me want to back away slowly. Seriously…why do we have to change everything about ourselves when we go into dog training mode?

So Fritz, who was still on the lookout for that bird, did hear his person say COME. And he did look back at us. That glance back was the moment of truth…what would happen next?

Well, the owner repeated his command even more sternly, “FRITZ! COME! COME!” It sounded angry to me. It sounded angry to Fritz too.

“FRITZ. RIGHT NOW. COME HERE RIGHT NOW. FRRRRRRITZ!”

Fritz didn’t come. In fact, he glanced away (which is actually dog-speak for “hey, human, chill out! Let’s all calm down).

“See? He’s stubborn.”

Huh. Ok.

“Let’s try something different,” I suggested.

I went to within a few feet of Fritz. In a happy voice, I said, “Fritz, come!”

The moment Fritz looked at me, I said, “YES! Goood boy! Good!”

Guess what? Fritz came right to me. Because I praised him in the moment he acknowledged my cue by looking at me, I gave him a reason to want to come to me. We communicated. I was teaching Fritz that the cue “come” would be followed by something good/fun/rewarding/calm/happy.

Fritz liked that. I wasn’t scary. I was nice. That made Fritz feel good and want to be near me.

So Fritz’s dad, who was also a really nice person when he dropped his alpha dog trainer persona, gave it a whirl. When Fritz heard the cue “come” and glanced at his person, he was praised. Oh hey, Fritz liked that and came RUNNING on cue.

Just capturing that one little questioning glace back and giving Fritz the promise of good things to come, made all the difference in the world.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? The true key to good dog training is to be a teacher, not a trainer. And to give clear praise when praise is due. And perhaps most importantly to recognize when praise is due. Be in the moment. Your dog is.

OH if only I had a dime for every time I’ve seen people continually telling their dogs what NOT to do, but never capturing that moment when the dog is actually doing what they want. I would be a wealthy, wealthy retired dog trainer.

Think it through. Go talk to your dog. Talk. Don’t holler, yell, get all stern and scary. It’s not about intimidation. It’s about building communication.

Now get out there and play with your dog. Oh, and here’s another gratuitously adorable puppy photo as your reward. Good human. Goooood.

yoga-dog

(Bo-Bo and Fritz are not actual dog names. But the stories above are quite true. So true. Very true. Let’s just let all of my training clients wonder if it’s them…)

A Sheep by Any Other Name

meeting-bobI stepped outside to breathe in the fresh cool air of an Oklahoma Indian summer evening possibly, maybe, kind of surrendering to fall weather. The sky held a hint of  blush still highlighting the horizon before the darkness settled in. It was peaceful. And it was quiet. Very, very quiet.

Too damn quiet.

What was missing was the serenade of our old ram. Every evening prior to this for the last decade, if you stepped outside within sight of the pasture just to the south of the barn, you would be treated to a hopeful…no, that’s not the word…a demanding, somewhat plaintive one-note song.

Baaaaaaaaaaahb. Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahb. Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahb.

Ok, when you attempt to say that, be sure to make the “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah” part sound as if you are gargling when you say it. Then you’ll nail it.

This cry was so distinctive that said troubadour earned his name because of it.

Bob.

Ok, I would have typed it the way it was really spelled, but in print, well, you would have ended up saying “boob” in a warbling voice and…no. Nope. Wrong on so many levels.

But back to Bob.

On this evening, Bob did not call to me. Bob was not with us any longer. It’s simple really, Bob got old and needed to move on to the big pasture in the sky.

bob-baby

Baby Bob

I remember when Bob first joined the Tails You Win Farm family. He came to us via a friend who found a stray little lamb. Yes, a stray baby lamb. It was right around Easter time in the spring. Perhaps Bob was an overzealous parent’s version of gifting the kids a bunny (please don’t do this) or a baby chick (even more of a don’t do this!). Or perhaps poor little Bob just strayed from the safety of his flock and apparently met up with a not-so-sheep-friendly dog or coyote. Bob had some wounds, a sore, swollen leg, and he was scared.

Fortunately for Bob, he found a very sheep-friendly human and she immediately starting doing her best to care for him. Ok, the one thing she did wrong? She actually named him Lambykins. Yeah. No.

She also immediately started looking for a safe haven for Lambykins-soon-to-be-Bob.

So yadda, yadda, yadda (do I REALLY have to explain that Jim and I jumped at the chance to have a baby lamb join our four-legged family?) and tiny, scared Bob-no-longer-Lambykins was secure in our horse trailer and headed to the farm. At the time, we had a llama that would be the perfect woolly companion and protector for our dear little lamb.

Now, when I say “lamb” you likely picture a precious, fluffy, white little creature with big brown eyes and an undeniably innocent, sweet nature. That’s what I pictured too.

But Bob was different. He was a black sheep. And when I say black sheep, I mean it in every sense of the term. I think Bob could have been considered cute and sweet for maybe one month of the 120 months that he shared our home. After that, especially after shearing time, he looked somewhat like a prehistoric alien and we had to start using adjectives like ornery, stubborn, thick, and not-the-sharpest-crayon-in-the-box to describe him.

bob-and-scoutBob got rather big, rather quickly. And Bob was pushy. Especially at mealtime.He wanted his supper and the supper of every single animal in the barnyard. So, at feeding time, Bob morphed into a black, fuzzy missile charging from feeder to feeder, pushing even the biggest of our horses off their grain so he could nibblenibblenibble it up at an alarming rate. The horses would stamp, snort, bite and kick in protest, but Bob in his woolen suit of armor was seemingly oblivious.

I recall Jim and I commenting to each other on more than one occasion, “This can’t be good for him.” You see, sheep really aren’t supposed to eat horse food. Sheep are supposed to eat sheep food.

So we tried to sequester Bob at mealtime. We tried to convince him to eat his special sheep food. He, in turn, discovered how very hard the top of his head was and tried to butt us into the next county.

Oh. Hell. No.

Picture Nancy, with a feed bucket swinging like a medieval flail, yelling and chasing after Bob (perhaps with a slight limp after having Bob’s helmet head meet squarely with my hip joint) while threatening all means of bodily harm if he EVER did that again. For the record, the threats were empty, Bob evaded me with great ease, and we never cured him of his exceedingly poor mealtime manners.

Oh sure, we could have put him in a separate pasture. And we tried that. We put Bob in Jerry Swinefeld the hog’s pasture (nobody, not even Bob dare steal food from Jerry!). The result? Well, where there is a will, there is a way, and where there is a way, there is a Bob. If Bob wanted to get out of a pasture, he got out. Add to that the fact that when Bob moved into Jerry’s domain, Jerry was not amused and moved right out. Yes, 700 pound hogs CAN somehow crawl under a pasture fence. Who knew?

Jerry vacated his comfy pig pasture and took up residence in our front yard and in the shade of the trees alongside the pond.

You know. Loose. Able to amble over to see what was going on at the neighbor’s house.

Now we had a large ram and a really large hog on the lam.

Back to plan A. Good luck horses. Duke it out with him. We surrender.

Then there was the time that we presented Bob with his first round bale of hay. If you are not familiar with “farm stuff,” a round bale is a large – generally five feet in diameter and four feet wide – roll of hay. You set it out to feed groups of animals during the fall and winter. It’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet for pasture dwellers.

Jim carried the heavy bale into the pasture via our trusty blue ford tractor and set it down about 20 feet from Bob. Bob stood staring at this new feature to his pasture and instead of saying “hooray, lunch!” Bob screamed “INTRUDER!” as he reared up, tucked his chin to his chest, and charged head-first into the side of the 900-ish pound bale.

WHAM.

Bob rebounded off the bale and landed firmly on his backside. And you know what happened next? He repeated the charge. He landed on his ass-end again. And then he repeated this feat no fewer than 10 times.

Oh Bob. It’s food, not foe. Bless. Your. Heart.

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Young Bob and our mini horse, Trigger

All in all, I think we gave Bob a pretty good life. He had plenty of room to roam. He had horses who tolerated him, he had donkeys and one fine mule who protected him from the coyotes (because yes, there was that one time the coyotes tried to lure Bob away to certain demise and Ferris Muler saved the day).

Bob always had fresh water to drink. He always had shade. He had several bad haircuts to help him stay cooler (and no, we never did master the art of keeping his wool clean or finding ways to spin it into woven tributes to his life here). He had shelter in bad weather and cool breezes on beautiful days.

And he seemed happy. He liked to have that tough spot on the top of his head scratched. He liked carrots and apples. And when he surveyed me with his funny, alien-looking sheep eyes, I think I saw a flicker of affection from time to time. Maybe ours was a bit of a love-hate relationship, but love won out. I admit it. I think Bob would admit it too.

bob-and-nanBob was our first sheep. Bob was most definitely our last sheep. But hey, Bob, I’m sure glad YOU got to be our one and only. You were an experience from start to finish.

Now get out there and enjoy stealing from all of the other animals’ feeders in sheep heaven, you big woolly bully. We’ll miss you. We’ll miss hearing your name.

Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahb!

 

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

 

 

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!