Two Hundred Thirty Two.

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Oh…hey there! Yeah, it’s been awhile. Sorry about that. It’s not you, it’s definitely me.

Yes, 2017 slipped by with barely a word here from me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t have stuff to say. I can always find SOMETHING to say. It’s just that somehow, I didn’t find much time to put everything I had to say down in written form. That may not seem like much of an excuse…you should make time for your passion. You should make time to do the one thing that always centers you and brings you joy.

And yet, time escaped me. When was my last post? June-something? And then I blinked and it was New Year’s Eve. There may have been time travel involved. Yikes!

So here we are.  From June-something to a week into 2018. Seems like a good time to hop back in the old saddle, yes?

Perhaps I have some explaining to do. The two precious faces in the photo above are a good part of the reason for my departure from regular blogging. Those two faces have been through a lot…before coming to our farm, and since. Granted, the “since” part has been positive for them, though it has been a bit tricky convincing them of that at times.

Pictured are Margo and Mabel, two of the twenty-two Dalmatians our little local Dalmatian rescue took in this year.  Of those 22, 18 were rescued from puppy mill auctions. If you don’t know what that is, here’s a brief glimpse.

Puppy mills are commercial facilities where breeding dogs are kept in pens and bred as often as possible to crank out as many puppies as possible. The conditions are generally poor and the quality of life for the breeding dogs is, in my opinion (and the opinion of any rational person), miserable.

Dogs are social animals who need companionship, mental stimulation, and physical exercise. They are denied all of the above in a puppy mill.

The auctions are where the puppy mill operators gather to sell off “stock” they no longer want, and to purchase new stock. It’s a heartbreaking scene for anyone who cares about dogs. They are bought and sold just as you would buy furniture at a yard sale. The highest bidder gets the dog. It doesn’t matter where they are heading or what kind of life will be provided. It’s just about buying and selling. No questions asked.

The puppies produced in puppy mills are generally sold to brokers who in turn sell them to pet stores across the nation. Sometimes, however, entire litters of puppies are taken to auction. In my breed of choice, Dalmatians, that happened a few times this year.

As rescuers, it is a slippery slope to “rescue” dogs from puppy mill auctions because it means you have to basically go in and bid to buy them. So yes, you are paying money to the puppy mill operator for the right to rescue his or her dogs.

I’ve had people argue that rescues buying dogs at auction only lines the pockets of the unscrupulous breeders. My answer to that is simple. The dogs are going to sell on the specified day, at the specified time. Whether they are purchased by people with their best interest at heart, or purchased by another breeder who will plunge them straight back into another breeding facility is irrelevant. The dogs WILL sell. The puppy mill operator will go home with money in his pocket one way or another. We might as well get as many out of the system as we can afford.

I’ve also had many a person insist that we should reason with these “breeders,” try to work something  out before the auction to allow release of the dogs to rescue. Well, that would require the puppy mill operator to care about the dogs. And, in most cases, they don’t. They care about how much money the dogs will bring. It’s their business…their livelihood. Our type of reason has no place in their world.

If you find this mindset appalling, you are my people.

I could go on, and on, and on, but the underbelly of the dog breeding industry is not the point of this article. My last word on the topic is this…if you, as I do, enjoy sharing your life with a purebred dog, turn to a breed rescue or, please, please research your breeders carefully. There are WONDERFUL, caring, educated breeders out there who work so hard  to ensure the ongoing health and welfare of purebred dogs. Don’t be fooled by imposters. Oh, I could write an entire series on the topic and maybe this year I will.  That whole back in the saddle thing.

But I digress. Back to my little subjects in the photo. Margo and Mabel have now been living with us for 232 days. When they came to us with their littermates, Mackenzie and Molly, the sisters did not see humans as a good thing. Their theory was very Animal Farm-esque, four legs good, two legs bad.

What it boils down to is this, for the first 10 months of their young lives, they lived in a puppy mill kennel. They were going to be used as breeders. They missed all key socialization periods. Until May 20th last year, their world was living in a pen together. When the two-legger showed up, you moved away. The two-legger might spray water to wash your urine and feces away. The two-legger might yell or bang metal pans on the fence to get you to move back from the gate so food and water could be set inside.

And that was it. There was no petting. No playing. No soft words as silky ears were rubbed. And so it was…four legs good, two legs bad. Actually, two legs were downright scary.

But then May 20th arrived, and for whatever reason, the person who owned the four sisters decided it was time for them to go. Swapping out for a smaller breed that required less room and less food? Perhaps. Whatever the reason, the four girls were ripped from the only world they knew and tossed in the middle of a busy, dog and human-filled auction house.

Terrifying for them, but truly the best day of their lives because a really nice guy named  Jim was there for them. His bid was the winning bid. He was the one to load the girls into crates in his car to bring them home.

Of course no one told them it was a good day.

I wrote about them previously…back in June (you can read it here!). Contact was not welcome, though they never growled or snapped in fear. The girls were shut down and trembled if we just looked at them. Exciting progress came in the form of peanut butter licked from the very tips of my extended fingers.

Molly, the most willing/least traumatized of the four, left early on with Tom, a very kind man with two happy Dalmatians already living the good life in his home. We all agreed it was in Molly’s best interest to separate her from her siblings and get her into a new routine. We were right. Molly is making great progress with Tom. He is a saint.

The work with the other three continued when something really special happened.  Somewhere along the way, the girls fell in love, head over heels, with another of our foster dogs–a wolfdog named Kenai. Though the girls played, romped, and learned from all of our dogs, I credit Kenai with their most profound breakthrough.

Black and white 1Kenai was the star football player in the eyes of his adoring spotted cheerleaders. Kenai was the patient big brother. He let the girls crawl all over him. He ran and played with them. He rested in the shade with them. He also helped show them that two legs weren’t always bad.

Most importantly, he taught them how to stop worrying so much and to kick up their heels and have some fun.

Because Kenai adored me and Jim, the shy girls started trusting a bit. A tiny bit.

Now we can actually pet them. There are still dog-imposed boundaries that need to be gently broken (you may pet us out in the big yard where escape is easy if necessary, you may also pet us through the fence of our run, but we are still not sure about much contact inside the house where escape is not guaranteed), but still, each day we see baby steps.

Where we once saw shiny, glazed, panic-filled eyes, we now see recognition, curiosity, and a tiny hint of blossoming trust. Where there were once shivering limbs, we are now greeted with wagging tails.

IMG_7312 finalThings even progressed to a point where Mackenzie was able to move on as well. Dear Tom came back for another. He thought Molly would enjoy having one of her sisters join her and Mac was the second-most willing of the group. Though she still has a long way to go in the socialization department, I know she’s in excellent hands. Tom is kind, patient and completely devoted to his dogs. Mac is going to be fine…well…once she realizes that Tom doesn’t have to move to the opposite end of the house for her to feel safe coming inside from the yard.

Baby steps. She’ll get there.

IMG_7606Kenai has now placed in a loving permanent home, but never fear. The sisters were more than happy to transfer their crushes to our resident big guy wolfdog. Uncle Kainan has stepped in and the lessons continue.

I don’t know how long it will take for these two girls to trust enough to move on to homes of their own. Or maybe I should say I don’t know how long it will take to find homes for them that have just the right ingredients for success. But I do know it will happen. It happened years ago for two puppy mill survivors named Jack and Jill (Thank you Syl and Jim!). I believe it took about 425 days for them to begin to really trust.

Margo and Mabel will get there in their own time. We just take it one day at a time, always looking forward to the day when two legs can be seen as a really good thing. But right now, we’re just looking ahead to day 233.

We think it will be a really great day.

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Wolfdogs in the House: And Then There Were Two

2014-10-18 23.22.50The sound emanating from the dog room had a mournful timbre—an intense, beautifully eerie vibrato. Kainan’s head swiveled with ears riveted as he listened intently. Then he threw his head back to answer the tenor’s cry in his own rich baritone.

If I had heard this duet while walking through the woods at night, well, I would have been entranced and in need of new undies all at once. I would love to book this act for Halloween night. There are no sound effects in the world to rival this hair-standing-on-end opera.

So yes, the title of this piece reads “Wolfdogs in the House.” Yep. You read that right. WolfdogS.

Just over a week ago, my Facebook feed started blowing up with people sharing a photo of a dog that was at the animal shelter in Owasso, a nearby town. The dog had a certain “look,” if you know what I mean. And because of his look, he was deemed illegal within the city limits. He was in trouble.

When it comes to rescuing animals, the Facebook alert system can have the same effect as the beam of bat-infused light that prompts Bruce Wayne to squeeze into his tight, abs-built-right-in suit and then bolt off to once again save the city of Gotham. My slightly less theatrical bat signal came in the form of a private message from my friend Stephanie at Freedom Song Wolf Rescue.

10726645_766054940121746_1459711085_nThe question seemed almost tentative and was followed quickly by a pleading-eyes photo. I could imagine Sarah McLachlan crooning in the background, “…in the arms of the angel.” I could even feel Stephanie holding her breath as she awaited my reply.

“You got room and willing to do it again?” She asked.

I understood her hesitation. It was just over a month ago that Jim and I welcomed Kainan, our resident wolfdog, as a permanent member of our family. Right after that yes-he-can-stay decision, Kainan started stealing everything. He developed a taste for sheetrock. He took it upon himself to join our rank amateur dogs in redesigning the landscape of our backyard.

Oh yes. I understood her hesitation all too well.

But one look at that photo and of course I agreed to go get this boy out of the shelter. I am admittedly an easy mark. We agreed that I would spring him from the shelter, get him checked over by my veterinarian, and then house him for a few days until I could deliver him to Stephanie’s house.

On the following Thursday, after his required 72 hour holding period had expired, I made the 30 minute drive to the Owasso animal shelter to liberate our new temporary (picture that word chiseled in stone) boy. The shelter staff…who first reported that it was a female wolfdog and later changed that report to “oh, wait, it’s a male,” (ummm…so girls have…and boys have…yeah) had told us that the wolfdog was thin and very frightened. I was not worried. I have always had good mojo with shy/frightened dogs.

When they first brought him out to me, I could tell that he was nervous and unsure…you know, the old “what the hell now” expression clouding his expression. I sat down in a chair, not directly facing him, and within a few moments, he carefully sniffed me and decided that I might be OK. Considering that at any given moment I probably have the scent of no fewer than 25 dogs wafting around me like the dust cloud that follows Charlie Brown’s buddy Pigpen, I have to believe I’m a tad appealing.

As I helped WD2 into my Jeep I will admit to a tiny “what have I gotten myself into now” moment. Another wolfdog in the house? With all of my dogs? With Kainan? Well, hello hindsight, my taunting friend. You’d think I’d learn, but hey, planning things in advance can be so crazy overrated, right?

First stop with WD2 was a visit to my dear veterinarian friends who have basically grown numb to me walking through their doors, unannounced, with yet another dog or critter, domestic or otherwise, in need of their attention. I believe I even heard one of the staff members close a phone conversation by saying, “I have to go. Gallimore just walked in with another wolf.”

I think I’m becoming a bit too predictable.

WD2 was nervous, but behaved well as Dr. Henson gave him an exam. I remember one moment when the good doctor, who was crouched down directly in front of WD2’s muzzle, said, “Do you think he’ll tolerate a blood draw for his heartworm test?”

“Uh. Sure?”

I’m fairly certain my wishy-washy answer did not give Dr. Henson the rush of confidence he hoped for, but we had one great tool on our side. WD2 was thin and really hungry. I held a piece of food for him to nibble while Dr. Henson aided by Chris, the fearless veterinary technician, quickly drew a small amount of blood from WD2’s front leg. He never knew what hit him.

One hurdle down, it was time to head home and get this guy into the house. By myself. With 20-someodd other dogs vying to be the first to sniff his nether regions. Yay.

In just the span of time we were in the car together, I was already seeing some differences between WD2 and Kainan. They were equally wolf-like in appearance, but behaviorally, Kainan had always been pretty easy going. This might have had something to do with the fact that, at just 38 pounds when we initially rescued him, he was nearly starved to death and very weak. But even with more than 30 pounds gained (and still gaining!), he was still a relatively placid, albeit more playful, boy.

20141018_104434WD2 wasn’t in much better shape at 46 pounds, but he was different. He paced the back of my Jeep. He tried to dig into the floor. He wanted to climb into the front seat. He wanted to climb into my lap. He tried to “borrow” my purse. He immediately started chewing on the tarp that covered the floor of the cargo area (the tarp in place because I learned the hard way that some newly rescued dogs do unspeakable things in the back of your vehicle. The very hard way. )

It was a drive home that required me to watch the road and the rear view mirror in equal parts. Of course I knew that WD2 was stressed, so it was not fair to judge him too quickly, but still, there was just something that felt very different to me about this wolfdog. The old gut instinct was waving a red flag. It wasn’t a fearful feeling, but maybe a feeling that this guy was more of a handful than my sweet Kainan.

More of a handful? Those words struck terror into my heart. While we loved having Kainan as part of our family, living with him had not exactly been a walk in the park. His curiosity, mischievous nature, and propensity for kleptomania required constant supervision. I could not imagine Kainan squared. I could imagine the policeman being interviewed on the evening news, “We’re really not sure what happened. It appears that the house was somehow chewed down from the inside out. We found the human residents just sitting in a corner rocking and babbling nonsense.”

I did arrive home safely and managed to get WD2 into one of the indoor/outdoor runs in my dog room. As my herd of anything-but-subtle dogs flooded in to check out the newcomer on the other side of the fence, he displayed classic, wimpy wolf behavior. If you have read some of my previous posts, I mentioned that wolfdogs are not brave or confrontational. Beyond their impressive appearance, they make terrible watch dogs.

True to his wolf heritage, when confronted at the fence, WD2 pressed himself into the back corner, immediately sat, kept his muzzle pressed down to his chest, and bared his teeth—not in a menacing growl, but in a submissive grin. All of these behaviors were a clear message to the resident canines: Please, oh please don’t kill me.

Then Kainan came in. He stood very still and erect as he stared at the newcomer. Long lost brother? Grand reunion? Well, initially Kainan seemed kind of excited to see WD2. Excited until the moment I went in the dog run to sit with and sooth my new foster wolfdog. For the first time in our relationship I heard Kainan issue some low grumbles at the fence. Awww…he didn’t want to share his she-human with another wolfdog (come on…just let me have this one).

WD2 started to relax and began sniffing noses with the other dogs and the nose-out-of-joint Kainan.  I believe WD2 really wanted to come out to engage in a rowdier-than-I-was-ready-for play session with some of my dogs. There was play posturing at the fence, but Jim and I decided that since this was just a short stay (seeeeee…we don’t keep them all!), it might be best to just keep everyone separated.

2014-10-23 14.16.19WD2 continued to show me that he might have a bit more wolf attitude in the wolf to dog ratio than I was prepared to handle. I watched him as he tested every part of the fence in his run. I watched him nose the gate latch to see if he might be able to open it. I watched him look up to the top of the six foot fence and I immediately wondered if I would be running out to buy material to add a secure top to his run.

At feeding time, as I entered his pen, WD2…every bit as hungry as Kainan always was/is…immediately stood on his hind legs, putting him easily at eye level with 5’9” me, wrapped a front leg firmly around my shoulder, and, in this secure tango hold, proceeded to grab at the food in the bowl. Nothing about this was threatening to me personally, but he was being very rude. Food spilling everywhere, I wriggled free from his unwelcome embrace and backed out of the run to regroup.

Wow.

I forgave some of this behavior. WD2 had experienced a hard week with lots of change, so stress and starvation undoubtedly played into his overly enthusiastic attitude at mealtime.

But still. There was just something different about this animal. Maybe that word was the key: animal. WD2 seemed more primal than Kainan—a bit more flighty and unpredictable. I never felt he was dangerous, but I certainly believed he could be a great challenge to live with and to keep safely contained.

20141018_104256On the following Saturday, I made the drive to Jones, Oklahoma with WD2 actually relaxing in the back of my Jeep. He was a very good boy for the drive there and when we arrived at his new foster home we were greeted by a chorus of howls from the other residents of Freedom Song Wolf Rescue. It was a beautiful serenade, though it put WD2 a bit on edge.

Stephanie, her daughter, and their young wolfdog Yuma welcomed us. Again, unlike the very gregarious Kainan, WD2 was a bit hesitant during the introductions and took a few moments to warm up. Once he seemed comfortable with his new human friends, I hopped back in my Jeep, happy in the knowledge that I had played a part in saving this beautiful boy, but happier still that he was now someone else’s beautiful boy.

During the 90 minute drive home, I had time to think about my expanding knowledge of wolfdogs. This brief time with two wolfdogs in my care provided some very clear lessons that confirmed everything I have read as well as what I have been told by my Freedom Song friends. First, temperaments in wolfdogs vary greatly. Some—like Kainan—are very tractable and can make wonderful companions, while some display more classic wolf behavior.

Second, had WD2 come into our lives BK (before Kainan), I doubt there would be a wolfdog living in our midst. Though he was sweet, based on our brief relationship, I did not feel I could have successfully integrated WD2 into our home. Third, and perhaps most important, WD2 taught me that we truly won the wolfdog lottery with Kainan…he is smart, affectionate, a wonderful companion, and a great ambassador for his kind.

Of course, as I see him dart out the dog door with something red in his mouth, I am reminded that his lovely disposition doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges.  Ah, and now Jim is yelling something about a favorite shirt. Uh oh. Time to run. Literally.

Heeeeere wolfdog. Gooooood wolfdog. (Really. Good wolfdog.)

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Kainan and our Australian cattle dog, Boog. An easy, welcome fit into our home.