I Have Your Dog

FaceI have your dog.

I remember very clearly the first time I saw her. A photo was posted on Facebook with a plea for a senior dog that had been surrendered to City of Tulsa Animal Welfare (TAW). The photo featured a very dignified, rosy-tan female pit bull dog. Her ears were cropped to tiny triangles with sharp little points, her big eyes were calm and looking straight ahead. Her name was Stormy.

Nothing tugs at the heartstrings quite like a senior dog surrendered to fate at an over-crowded city shelter. It is all too often a very sad ending to a long, loyal life. “Someone save her…She looks scared…she looks so sad!” The comments came flooding in.

As I revisited the photo, what I saw was a dog who appeared to be surprisingly calm in the chaos of the shelter environment. She was resting on a cot and the expression on her face was…what? Fear? No. Sorrow? Nope, not that either. The expression I read could only be described as one of patient expectation. This dog was waiting, apparently confident that this turn of events did not represent her final chapter.

I had to respect this dog’s bravado. And what the heck? I had a dog bed to spare and an extra bowl or two. I could easily let this dog come live out her remaining days on the farm with me, my partner Jim, and the furry canine herd that is our family.

I clicked on the comment bar and typed three simple words, “I’ll take her.”

I have your dog.

When I arrived at the shelter the following day to claim my new little “grandma dog,” I first stopped in to finalize the adoption with Jean Jenkins, TAW manager.

As always with these cases, my mind was struggling to understand how someone could turn their supposedly beloved dog over to a public shelter. It’s easy to immediately vilify the person; painting a picture of someone callous and uncaring in your mind.

I asked Jean if she knew Stormy’s story. She confirmed she had been present when the woman came in to relinquish ownership of the elderly pit bull. While she didn’t know specific details, she said it was clear that Stormy’s former owner was very upset. Jean understood she had fallen on hard times and could no longer afford to take care of her dog. Apparently, the dog, having been with this woman since she was a tiny puppy, was well-loved.

“She left the shelter in tears,” Jean said with a sympathetic shrug. I tried to imagine a scenario that would force me to surrender my beloved dogs to an uncertain future. Thankfully, I can’t begin to envision anything that would push me to that point. But emotionally, I allowed myself to walk in that woman’s shoes and my heart felt the weight and despair of her situation. I believe this was not a deliberate act of abandonment, but rather a last-resort act of desperation.

I have your dog.

Jean and I walked through the heavy, metal door into the main kennel of the shelter. About halfway through the building, Jean turned down a row to the left and stopped at the third pen. There, facing away from us and still lying in a seemingly relaxed fashion on her cot, was my new dog, Stormy. As Jean opened the gate, Stormy turned and as her soft, expressive eyes met mine, her air of expectation so clear to me in her initial photo, was immediately replaced with what I can only describe as recognition.

“Ahhhh, good, you’re here. I’ve been waiting for you,” I could almost hear her say in a voice similar to my memory of my own grandmother’s soothing tone. “Let’s go home now.” And so, I slipped my soft lead over her silver-highlighted head and led her down the main isle of the kennel, a cacophony of barking voices echoing around us as if to cheer her on.

Once in the car, we took a quick, first selfie portrait together to share on the post that had only 24 hours before brought Stormy to my attention. I think I just typed a simple message with it: She’s safe now.

I have your dog.

50883613_10218751900452280_4761211271863336960_oStormy’s transition into our home was quite honestly very anticlimactic. For an old dog, reported to be into her 16th year, who was so suddenly uprooted and thrust into a totally new and unfamiliar world, Stormy took everything very much in stride. She met each of her new four-legged housemates with a wagging tail and calm demeanor. She wandered around the house and explored the yard, stopping with her nose held high to gather the scent of the horses in the adjoining pasture. She relieved herself appropriately and learned there was a dog door that allowed her to come and go from the house as she pleased. She discovered the water bowl and spent a moment lapping a cool drink before settling into what would become her favorite bed.

Everything about the wise old gal was serene and matter-of-fact, almost as if she already knew this was to be her next and final home. There was no learning curve, no jitters, no confusion. There was only quiet confidence; an immediate acceptance of these new people, these new dogs, and this new place as her family, her home.

That very first night, her sweet silver face popped up over the side of our bed with a questioning, hopeful look in her eyes. “Well, come on up, girl,” I encouraged, patting the open spot beside me. Stormy climbed the little stairs that led onto the bed and settled in by my right side, soon snoring none-too-softly in my ear. This has been her space every night for the 18 months since she arrived and it’s hers for as long as she chooses to stay in this life. Frankly, she is perfectly healthy, has a hearty appetite, and is still full of spunk. I expect to sleep happily crowded for some time to come.

I have your dog.

I have often thought of Stormy’s former owner. She has no idea what become of her dog. I wonder if that haunts her. Maybe she’ll stumble onto this story and recognize the big eyes framed by silver fur in the photo. I want her to know that Stormy is doing great. She is happy, she is very loved, and she will be safe for the rest of her life. I hope the woman who left the shelter in tears reads my words and they give her peace. I want her to know that I am continuing the good care she obviously gave Stormy. I want her to know that Stormy is not in our home out of pity, she is a treasure and we are grateful to have her.

I have your dog.

She is very much my dog now, as I believe she was meant to be. Thank you.

One Treat at a Time

headed home revisedThe first thing I always notice is that they have no idea how to take a treat from my hand. I always offer one as soon as we are safely loaded in the car. The dogs are either too nervous to even sniff the morsel, or they lick it with interest but have no idea they can actually have it.

I guess dogs raised in puppy mills aren’t ever handed treats. But when our rescue is able to get these dogs out of the hands of commercial breeders and turn them toward a life as a companion dog, it’s my very favorite first thing to teach. I have a delicious bite of food in my hand and I want you to have it.

At first they sniff, lick, and fumble around my hand. Then, eventually, I manage to pop the treat into a surprised mouth. Crunch, crunch…and the look of confusion on the dog’s face turns quickly to one of delight and hope. “May I have another?” Yes. Yes you may. And there are plenty more where that one came from.

I know a lot of people hear about puppy mill dogs, but being hands-on to actually work with them and rehabilitate them is an interesting journey.  Getting a new dog out of a puppy mill is actually a bit like getting a mystery box where there’s a prize inside, you just don’t know what it might be or how hard it will be to get it unwrapped.

Margo came to us completely terrified of humans and shut down. Ladybug was clingy, skittish and initially latched onto me as her lifeline. Andy and Ollie were goofy, clueless teenagers.  Jack and Sally, two of our recent additions were opposites. Sally was on the wild side while Jack was sweetly reserved.

And now, on an early, chilly Sunday morning in Missouri, it was time to meet Jo and Meg, our little women. They greeted me quite enthusiastically from their holding pen inside the auction house kennel until the moment I slipped leashes on them. And then they froze and flopped to the ground. The concept of walking on a leash was obviously new territory and met with oh-heck-no attitudes from both puppy girls.

Now, I say puppy because they are only seven months old. But at seven months, they both weigh more than 50 pounds so the oh-heck-no response to the leash made life a tad interesting. You see, I had two very valid reasons why I wasn’t excited about the prospect of physically lugging them out of the building and across the parking lot to my Jeep. First, my sure-to-be-aching back. I couldn’t imagine that trying to carry a flailing 50-something pound dog was a promising recipe for great lower back health.

Second, the girls were less than clean. In fact, they stank to high heaven and the dirt I saw on them was not mud, if you catch my odoriferous drift. This was not the time to introduce them to the concept of cuddling.

With a little help from another kind/brave person and a LOT of coaxing and baby talk, we haltingly made our way out to parking lot with just one quick close encounter to lift the dogs into the car. Because yeah, “hop on in” was not in their skill set.

But I do love that moment when I climb into the driver’s seat and turn to face my new foster dogs. It’s always filled with butterflies of anticipation and a dash of what-have-I-gotten-us-into-this-time. I snap a quick photo to send to Jim, my partner in life and rescue, then I talk to the dogs to calm them. And I always offer treats.

It was the same routine with Jo and Meg. I said hello to my slightly bewildered duo and offered each of them a cookie. They stared at the offered goodies with cartoon-like curiosity, they sniffed, they stretched their necks out tentatively to try confused licks. After a moment or two I tossed the cookies on the floor and they were gobbled right up with delighted enthusiasm.

So I immediately held out two more cookies. Sniff, sniff, lick, fumble, lick. I waited for just the right moment and popped treats straight into their mouths.  I love that “ah-ha” moment. That moment when they realize I’m handing the treats to them…for them to have. And after a few more tries, these excellent students were plucking treats from my fingers like champs.

And so the first lesson that would begin to transform these dogs from kennel breeding dogs to beloved companion dogs was complete. Oh sure, there are about a million lessons still ahead, along with a million lessons in patience for me and Jim, but successfully taking the treat from my hand goes in the win column. In that exact moment, it’s all I needed.

Well, that and maybe the please-don’t-poop-in-my-car lesson. THAT would be a great one to nail down too. And so I turned the Jeep toward the highway with precious, smelly cargo and fingers firmly crossed.

Welcome Jo and Meg. Welcome to the road that will eventually lead to a place called home.

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

The Little Roomba Who Could. (Or At Least Tries Really Hard.)

roomba 2.5We have a new addition to our home. Jim has named her Robbie (we name everything). I think at first it was actually Robby…but then I heard her distress cry and realized he was a she. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Robbie is a Roomba. You know, one of those nifty little iRobot sweepers. The one that miraculously clears dust and debris from your floors whilst you sit on the couch eating bonbons. Except no. That’s not how it goes here.

In our household, a nifty little robotic floor sweeper has to run a terrifying obstacle course in an effort to perform its pre-programmed mission. And it must also have a chaperone. A diligent, mindful, always-aware chaperone even more dedicated than a teenage girl’s dad supervising his precious child’s first date to a school dance. Scary stuff, people.

And our little Robbie is coming of age in a fast, trial-by-fire manner. Bless her little mechanical heart. There was no way to warn her or to begin to prepare her for the challenges ahead.

I remember the day I first saw her there, on prominent display at Target. Oh sure, I had heard about Roombas before and dreamed of having one as my personal slave…um…assistant. But our house? A little robot that would surely be immediately overwhelmed by the sheer volume of dog hair, dirt, and dust that coats our floors? A whirring, erratic machine not much bigger than a Frisbee and certain to be viewed as a new chew toy by the four-legged members of the family?

Madness, I tell you, madness.

At least until I saw the magic word: SALE. Roomba was on SALE. And it was a good sale. And there was only one box left. One. One chance to experience sit-on-the-couch-and-raise-your-feet-as-she-passes-by bliss.

As I stared at the box that boasted the promise, “The helping hand you need to keep your floors thoroughly clean every day–all at the push of a button,” I could feel others lurking behind me. I was certain if I made one tiny move to the left or right, another shopper would swoop in to snag MY Roomba. MY on-sale Roomba.

So I snatched her up, held her close to my chest, and scurried through the store muttering, “Mine! It’s mine! All mine!” There may or may not have been high-pitched creepy laughter involved.

When I arrived home triumphant in my purchase, Jim solemnly shook his head and said something about a mighty pricy dog toy. Oh he of little faith. I would protect her. I would watch over her like the indentured little Cinderella I hoped she would become. Scary how easily I fell into that evil stepmother role, isn’t it?

So with my guarded, unfounded, blind optimism cheering him on, Jim unpacked little Robbie and set her out on her first mission, our herd of dogs paying rapt attention.

One dog (Kainan…110 pound hulk of a wolfdog) ran out of the room, tail tucked firmly between his hind legs. One dog (Tink…20 pound terror) immediately attacked the Roomba. The rest of the dogs just bounced around in front of it, over it, and all around it.

Within no time at all, we convinced Tink it did not need to die. We lured Kainan back into the room and convinced him that HE was not going to die. And the rest of the dogs lost interest. First hurdle cleared, right? Well…sort of.

You see, Robbie Roomba is an intelligent little machine designed to learn the floor plan of your home so that she can clean more efficiently. Problem is that my floor plan is ever-changing.

In case you don’t yet know us well, you need to know that we have a good number of dogs. Enough dogs to classify me as “a” crazy dog lady, but not quite enough to have me charged as “the” crazy dog lady. Once said herd of dogs no longer found Robbie’s presence entertaining, they fell into “ignore it” mode. You know, that same mode they fall into when you beg them to scootch over to give you more than eight inches of space on the bed.

As dear, determined Robbie blindly felt her way around our home, she bumped into a dog here, a dog there, here a dog, there a dog, everywhere a dog, dog. I can’t imagine what she must have thought.

Do these humans rearrange their furniture on an hourly basis just to torment me?

Am I on candid camera and I will soon be rescued, we’ll all laugh, and I’ll move on to a new home where there’s a modest arrangement of furniture and perhaps one quiet cat?

Sorry, dear Robbie. Fate dealt you a complicated hand.

So far, things are going pretty well. For a device no bigger than one of those stone-things they slide around on the ice in curling, Robbie is able to pick up an astonishing amount of dog hair. No, she doesn’t get all of it in one pass, but she works her little gears off in 50 minute spurts, following which she spends her remaining 10 minutes of battery life bumping and limping back to her home base for that all-important rest and recharge period.

Another huge bonus is that Robbie is willing (forced?) to go places that are really hard for me to reach and are therefore often neglected. The first time she dared venture under our king-size bed, well…let’s just say I heard unmistakable gasping, sputtering, wheezing, and, I believe, whimpering.

On a plus side for the dogs, Robbie unearths toys long-lost to these dark and distant places. Now, when she dares to go where no human has gone in months, the dogs gather in great anticipation for what little Robbie will shove into the light of day.  Balls, chew bones, and squeaky toys abound! What was old is now new again! All hail Robbie the robot!

On a down side, we have to address the elephant in the room. From poor Robbie’s perspective it might as well be the elephant dung in the room. Back to that number of dogs thing…we foster a lot of dog while they wait to find their adoptive homes. That means we house train a lot of dogs. That means there are accidents. Accidents are no bueno for Robbie.

This takes us back to the need for a chaperone thing. I believe the fine MIT grads who developed Robbie and her kind did so in the hope that floors could be cleaned while humans focused their valuable attention elsewhere. But alas, not in THIS house.

Dare I say I hover over Robbie’s every move? I do. I do so in an attempt to ward off certain disaster. Don’t make me say it. You know where I’m headed with this. There are some things Robbie should most definitely NOT run into.

I would like to tell you that it has never happened. I would REALLY like to. But on day two of this new relationship I turned my head for just a moment. A really important little moment. The very moment when our precious new foster puppy felt nature’s call and answered it…right in the path of dear Robbie.

I will spare you the gory details, but let’s just say that it’s fantastic how easily all of Robbie’s brushes and compartments come apart to be cleaned. And cleaned. And cleaned again for good measure. Kudos to you, MIT grads! Robbie was easily physically restored to her former, ready-to-roll condition. Alas, the emotional scars will likely forever be imbedded in her little artificial mind. A mercy reboot would only thrust her into a cruel 50 First Dates-esque learning curve that would prove too painful to witness.

Suffice it to say that we do not take advantage of Robbie’s ability to be programmed so she may roam the house freely while we are away at work. Nope. Not ever going to happen. I’m back to hovering and obsessively sweeping dog hair into her path.

Today I did learn of a new talent Robbie possesses. She can TALK! She can actually tell you where it hurts!

After surveying the living room for any potential Robbie landmines (and by landmines I mean…), I stepped away to eat a bonbon or something. After a few moments I heard, well, I heard nothing.  No whirring little engine-that-could noise. That is never a good sign in Robbie-land. Suddenly I heard a distinctly high-pitched female voice (hence the he-is-a-she revelation), calling for help.

I think she said something like, “For the love of all that is holy, come find me! I need help! I’m choking! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

Ok, it may have been a bit more like a monotone voice asking me to check the sweeping brushes for a clog, but I swear it sounded a tad whiny and offended. The crazy thing is that I don’t recall seeing ANYWHERE on the packaging that she could talk! Should I be nervous here?

Anyhow, I cleared the wad of hair from Robbie’s cute little underbelly (we had moved the couch and uncovered a whole new frontier of hair and detritus without warning her. Robbie was apparently not amused.), and sent Robbie back on her merry way.

You know, once we get a few things ironed out, I think this is going to be a beautiful relationship. In fact, Jim has suggested that we should invest in an army of Robbies and her wet-mopping cousins. Oh the fun we could have watching dozen of the little disks coursing hither and yon through our house and through the legs of any number of dogs. I dare say it would become something of a spectator sport, the iRobot Olympics.

In the meantime we will continue to nurture our firstborn, our Robbie. I will dust her, I will clean her brushes, I will help her avoid disaster, and I will feed her unimaginable amounts of dog hair. We’re in this together, kiddo.

Oh, hey Robbie, not to be rude, but you missed a spot over there. Wait! Come back here young lady! Do NOT turn your back on me! What did you just say?

Two Hundred Thirty Two.

20180107_092343 (002)

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.

IMG_7649

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.

 

All That Matters.

Brother DakotaI get yelled at.

I get called names.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I really, really don’t care.

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

Pepper and Kane

Photo used with permission.

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

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

Cinder and dad rev

Photo used with permission.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, on to the next dog!

JIm and buddy don rev

 

 

How We Do It.

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

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

It’s what we do. But how do we do it?

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

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

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

So how do I do it?

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

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

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

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

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

How do YOU do it?

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

Brother nap

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!