Peach Therapy in session

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Moving to a new home in a new town last month and effectively unraveling many of our daily routines and rituals has taken a bit of a toll on our four-dog family. Peaches, in particular.

A lot of her longtime fear-based behaviors (barking like Charles Manson just arrived when we walk in the door, and not wanting to go in her crate) have bubbled back up, leaving her stressed and anxious in certain contexts at home. And now I find myself obsessively reading fearful dog blog posts in between bouts of guilt over not doing more for her and moments when I’m ready to auction her off on her Facebook page to the highest bidder.

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Luckily I always have one tool in the behavior box that I can reach for when the Peach is in need of some therapy: People. Get her around people.

I’m a person who likes to recharge and refocus by myself, not around others. But my dog is the opposite. Peaches needs lots of fun, positive interaction with people in order to get her groove back. Most stressed, anxious and fearful dogs I know need a break from people–at least from strangers–in order to reenter their comfort zone. But pretty much since the day I brought her home, Peaches has needed people in order to find that comfort–all people, lots of people, new people . . . not just her people.

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Coincidentally one of my good friends and a long-time teaching colleague invited us back to visit with this year’s summer school students in the Mitchell-Scarlett Teaching & Learning Collaborative this week. Two years ago, we spent a couple of days visiting with students in this program and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had with Peaches.

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The program and our visits there aren’t about dogs or animals or “pit bulls” or therapy dog work. They’re about literacy and learning. And sometimes what you need in a learning environment is an opportunity to engage with your subject matter in a novel context with new “collaborators.”

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Most of these students are non-native speakers of English and get the opportunity to spend time outside with a friendly, nonjudgemental dog who thinks they hung the moon while they practice reading their presentations in English. And in turn, Peaches and I get the opportunity to regroup as a team outside of our home, away from other indoor environments that she might find stressful, while enjoying the company of some incredible young people eager to interact with her. Win win.

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The first year we participated in this program, we listened to presentations on rescued birds of prey that the students had learned about at the Leslie Science and Nature Center here in Ann Arbor. And this year we learned about local fair trade businesses and some of the products that the students researched. Which was great for Peaches, because she always thought “fair trade” was about her begrudgingly giving me a sit or a down in exchange for some cheese.

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Posted in Advocacy, Teaching and learning, Therapy Dogs or dogs in need of therapy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The problem with your “pit bull” shirt

Peach is so conflicted about wearing her Michigan hoodie considering how  badly they (along with many other schools) have dropped the ball when it comes to addressing sexual assault on campus.

Peach is so conflicted about wearing her Michigan hoodie considering how badly they (along with many other schools) have dropped the ball when it comes to addressing sexual assault on campus.

We live in an intense, politically correct, emotionally charged world. Where anything you sell, buy, wear, consume, do (or don’t do), say, support or smoke is sure to be painstakingly dissected by some Preachy McPreacherson who’s more than happy to take your fun, feel-good personal statement and walk all over it in their poopy preacher shoes.

And that’s probably what this post is gonna feel like too. But hear me out.

I’d like to talk about t-shirts. Specifically, pit bull rescue t-shirts and the messages they convey.

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When is a t-shirt not just a t-shirt?

In the last week, I’ve seen the following crowdfunding shirt and variations of it pop up in my Facebook newsfeed at least five or six times, oftentimes hilariously right next to a post from pages like A Mighty Girl or Miss Representation.

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What it says: Some girls play with dolls. Real girls rescue pitbulls!!!

What it does: Legitimizes the idea that there are girls out there who aren’t “real girls.”

Excessive use of exclamation points aside, I have a REAL problem with this shirt. Because it further engenders the insidious and absurd notion that some girls/women (or boys/men) lack legitimacy in some way. Which is a pretty ironic message to send when you spend most of your time fighting for the “rights” of dog owners who happen to have a certain kind of dog.

But that irony isn’t what ultimately bugs me. Because the dog rescue community is one seriously ironic space and I’ve grown rather numb to it. What gets me about shirts like this is that they represent messages that are profoundly damaging to women, and yet the rescue community largely comprises women. So what gives?

Peach says, "How exactly does disparaging women and girls help your advocacy and rescue efforts?"

Peach says, “How exactly does disparaging women and girls help your advocacy and rescue efforts?”

The reality is that, at least in the United States, we’ve become so comfortable with appropriating the phrase “Real Man” or “Real Woman” to suit our own purposes, we’ve lost sight of the REAL problem with using that kind of language to begin with.

Who you callin’ a “bitch”?

Which brings me to another shirt. One that has succeeded in completely reinforcing my belief that so many pit bull rescue groups out there are every bit as harmful to pit bull welfare as breed discrimination and abusive owners are. For the record, you will never see me donate to, volunteer for or support any group clueless enough to be promoting this kind of language and merchandise. I don’t care how many dogs they’ve “saved” or fences they’ve built or how many free bags of food they distributed last year.

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The best part about these shirts is that they’re available in women’s and toddlers’ sizes too. Awesome. Because every 5-year old should have their own “Dog Fighters are Bitches” tee to wear to their first day of kindergarten. Thanks, Cafe Press.

With this shirt, it is both the irony and the flagrant offense towards women that completely crack me up. Literally, you are saying Dog Fighters are Female Dogs, which is supposed to be a put down? Wait, I’m so confused.

Figuratively, you’re insulting dog fighters by comparing them to women using the quintessential female slur. Why not Dog Fighters are Assholes? Or Dog Fighters are Dickheads? Or Dog Fighters are Pea Brains? Or Neanderthal Simpletons? Or Ohio State Fans?

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Because apparently nothing is more insulting to men, particularly those who fight dogs, than being compared to a woman.

But here’s the thing: Dog fighters aren’t the ones buying your clever or cutesy, pro-pit bull t-shirts and they don’t give a shit about what you have to say about them or how they choose to spend their time. But guess who is buying (or not buying) your shirts? Women. Particularly those of us who have the luxury of spending money on frivolous dog t-shirts. And as shocking as it might be to hear, we’re not big fans of lazy, unoriginal marketing that reinforces bullshit gender stereotypes. In fact, that’s why a lot of us got involved with dog rescue, pit bulls and animal welfare in the first place.

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I’ve got piles of dog t-shirts in my closet. Some of them I purchased, some of them were given to me. Some of them are so old and grungy I only wear them to bed or to the gym. Some of them are ones that I was far more excited about when I bought them than I am now, but I still wear them because, hey, why get rid of a perfectly good t-shirt? Mostly, I prefer the ones that combine drinking and dogs.

What I don’t have are shirts that disparage others for the sake of my cause. Especially when we’re already having to work so hard to convince our fellow human beings that us and our dogs are just like them and their dogs (or lack of dogs).

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Every time you design, sell, share or buy one of these t-shirts putting others down, stating that “if my pit bull doesn’t like you, I probably won’t either,” or defining what is or isn’t a “real man” or “real woman,” or calling someone a bitch, you are making the job of pit bull advocacy more difficult.

Using that language and wearing those shirts doesn’t make you a real man or real woman or real advocate. What it makes you is a real problem, for all of us.

Posted in Advocacy, Animal Welfare, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

The Lover, the Terrorist and a Pit Bull’s Soulmate

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This post is neither here nor there. It simply needed to be written. I think I’ve been deliberately not writing it, desperately hoping that if I just waited a little longer, the outcome would be different. More Disney, than reality.  And although I’m a cynic and relish a a bubble being burst every now and then, I’m also a romantic and could have used a prerequisite happy ending this month.

Five weeks ago, our cat disappeared. And it’s safe to say he’s not coming back. More specifically, it’s safe to say he’s dead.

And as heartwarming as it is to hear encouragement from the eternal optimists who say, “I’m not giving up hope,” and “you never know, animals wander away for all kinds of reasons and end up coming back,” I know better. Because I know my cat, and I know the context in which he disappeared. His name was Mose (aka Kitty Mose or Mose Kitty) and he was a ridiculously bitchin’ cat.

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The myth of the “Lost Cat”

For those who don’t share their lives with cats, and are more accustomed to dogs getting loose, getting lost and being found; cats are a little different, particularly when they’re indoor-outdoor cats, which ours was.

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Cats don’t get lost. They roam. They wander. They hunt. They get hunted. They get stolen. They get poisoned by Audubon Society fanatics. They pass away. They go missing. But they don’t get lost.

Which is why it’s so bizarre to report your cat missing and have it labeled as “Lost Cat.” He ain’t lost, folks. And I didn’t lose him. Something happened to him. And after over three years of roaming our property, using the dog door as he pleases, sleeping in our beds, snoozing in our laps, stealing roast chicken off our counters, cuddling with our dogs, slaughtering wooded creatures in our 3-season room and manipulating me into letting him in’n’out and in’n’out at all hours of the day and night, he’s not going to suddenly forget which way is home.

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I should mention here that I have zero interest in delving into the debate over indoor-only vs. indoor/outdoor cats. I’m aware of all the pros and cons, and I don’t believe that one is healthier or better or safer or more humane than the other. And I certainly don’t believe that all would be well right now “if only I’d kept him inside.” I’ve lived with cats my whole life and you never really know what might spell the end of one cat versus another.

All you can do is make decisions based on the individual animal in question and based on the context in which they will be living and provide them the highest quality of care within your power. And yes, our cat was neutered, microchipped, fully vaccinated and given monthly preventatives.

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Our last cat–the original Kitty–we’d had for nine years, eight of which he spent as an indoor-outdoor cat roaming the canals of Venice, California; the tree-laden suburbs of Ann Arbor; the alleyways off Manchester Blvd near LAX; and the lush greenery of Chelsea, Michigan. And ya know what took him down in the end? Congenital heart failure. He died in our home, in the middle of the night, right in front of me on our kitchen floor, after receiving a clean bill of health from the vet just a couple of months before. That’s life.

The Original "Kitty"

The Original “Kitty”

Living with small tigers

It’s funny to think about that cat in light of this situation because our first Kitty did disappear for a time when he was younger. We didn’t start letting him go outdoors until he was around a year old, and a few months after that he took off for 8 days. My husband was devastated and assumed he was gone. But based on his age, how recently he started going outdoors and my experience with cats growing up, I expected he’d be back. And he was. Popped right back in through the dog door in the middle of the night, whining for food, and unscathed. That’s how cats roll. And that’s why I love having them in my life.

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Cats inhabit that elusive and wistful space between the domestic and the wild that is likely what propels so many of us humans into the desert on “vision quests” or into the wilderness to live “off the grid” in hopes of escaping the comfort and conformity offered by four walls, a working washer and dryer and a nearby Starbucks. Or at the very least, maybe that’s why so many of us occasionally get drunk or high and go running naked through the streets. Sometimes it’s a real bummer to be so hopelessly domesticated.

As Temple Grandin often likes to remind us, today’s “housecat is a lot closer to a wild cat than a dog is to a wolf.”

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Cats and dogs living together

Kitty Mose came into our lives two months after our previous cat passed away. I went to the humane society specifically looking for an adult cat who might be less likely to be adopted, and who would thrive (NOT just survive) living in a home with four active dogs.

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While most of the other cats at the shelter remained wary and aloof when I approached, this scrawny black cat with cruddy eyes and patchy tail lolled about in his cage, pressing his head against the bars and reaching his paws out to grab whatever walked by, chattering up a storm as though engaged in conversation. We took him into the visitation room where he immediately climbed all over us, lounged in our laps, purred up a storm and trotted off to the window periodically to watch with keen interest as rowdy shelter dogs bounded down the hallway. At which point we said, “Yeah, we’ll take this one.”

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Since I’d only had the experience of introducing dogs into a home with a cat, and not the other way around, I assumed I’d have to spend several days letting Mose get comfortable in his own room in the house and then gradually introduce him to each of the dogs. Yeah, that was totally unnecessary. After saying hello to each of the dogs individually through a dog gate, he promptly hopped the gate, galloped around the house unconcerned with the four canines following him and parked himself in the corner of the couch, where shortly after he was butt-to-butt with Buster, our youngest dog.

Mose and Buster frequently went to the vet for check-ups together, where Mose happily played with Buster's tail while waiting for the doctor.

Mose and Buster frequently went to the vet for check-ups together, where Mose happily played with Buster’s tail while waiting for the doctor.

Lover, Terrorist and Pit Bull Soulmate

Most of our friends and family are familiar with the many faces of Mose Kitty. There was the Lover, who routinely sought out any warm body in the house–human or dog–and made himself as comfortable as possible, whether it was comfortable for you or not.

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We often found him lounging with the two other black animals in the house, and used those opportunities to accuse him of racism.

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There was also the Terrorist, who made a habit of dragging his prey in through the dog door and using our 3-season room as a kill room and chamber of death. If you’ve ever watched episodes of Dexter, the only things missing in our episodes were the knives, plastic drop cloths and a killer who cleaned up his own mess afterwords. I’ve always loved the idea of maintaining a small rabbit sanctuary on our property. Mose squelched that silly fantasy years ago.

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And then there was Peaches’ Soulmate. Okay, so there were two reasons we decided to adopt a new cat: 1) We love having a cat around, and 2) We have a little female “pit bull” with a Glenn Close style cat obsession. And Mose was the lucky beau who fit that bill for Peaches. Peaches was madly in love with our last cat too, but Mose was a considerably more willing participant in her feline-focused inclinations.

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Cruel Twist of Fate

After Mose failed to reappear after a few days, I reported him missing with the microchip company, the local humane societies and nearby vet offices and pet stores. I also handed out detailed color posters to all our neighbors with bordering and nearby properties and to our mail carrier (who, bless her heart, keeps leaving hand written messages with our mail, asking about him and mentioning other neighbors who have black cats). I combed our 10-acre property repeatedly for several weeks and got permission to wander around neighboring properties as well.

Three weeks after he disappeared, I got a call from a woman living four miles away from us (with several lakes and major recreation areas in between) who said she’d seen my poster at the pet store and had a little black cat who’d been hanging around her house for the last two weeks. I called her back, ignored her mention of him running away every time she tried to say hello to him (Mose would never do that), and drove to her home at NASCAR speed, absolutely convinced that I was about to be reunited with my cat.

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After 30 minutes of wandering around a stranger’s home and property, desperately calling Mose and tapping a can of wet food (either of which would have sent him running towards me from hundreds of yards away), I went back inside, wondering if this was my cat they’d seen. Sure enough, once I stayed inside and quiet for a couple of minutes, a little black cat who looked almost identical to him crept around the front walkway. I looked through the window, said his name and called him, and the cat looked right at me and bolted. No way on Earth that was our cat. In the brief moment I saw him, it was also obvious that the coat was a couple of shades lighter than his and the eyes were a touch different. That didn’t stop me from waiting for another 15 minutes in the hopes of seeing him one more time just to be sure.

I profusely thanked the woman for calling me and for caring, left her some wet food for the other cat, got back in my car, pulled out of her driveway, and sobbed uncontrollably as I drove back home.

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No Closure

I grew up with lots of pets, lots of cats, all of whom have long since died either naturally or because they met an early death from cancer, cars, cat fights or coyotes. So it’s hard to figure out why the loss of this particular cat has affected me as much as it has. And I think it has to do with control, and with closure.

When a pet dies or is euthanized, however painful or gut-wrenching the experience may be, you at least get some sense of closure through your knowledge of that animal’s death. There is, on the other hand, something profoundly unsettling about not knowing what happened to one of your animals, and having to accept the fact that you’ll probably never know. I am a worrier and a control freak. And I’ve found this experience of not knowing to be remarkably unbearable.

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Given where we lived and his long history of successfully navigating our property for years, never leaving for more than several hours at a time, it’s hard to imagine he would suddenly fall victim to a coyote or willingly choose another home over ours.

Which leaves two likely outcomes: 1) He met his end while out and about either naturally or through a fatal bout with another cat or wild animal, or 2) there was human intervention. And by human intervention I mean he was either wounded or killed by someone out of spite or for sport; or some clueless, bleeding-heart loony toon forced him indoors and now has him in their home because they saw a poor little kitty who they didn’t think should be outside . . . never mind their obligation to take him to the vet to scan for a microchip or check with the humane society first.

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Heartworm in Cats

Mose was one of two Heartworm-positive cats at the shelter when we went in to adopt. I was familiar with heartworm in dogs, but had no idea what it meant for cats. As it turns out, heartworm in cats is not necessarily the health catastrophe and death sentence that it is in dogs. But it’s also incurable in cats, so the only way to beat it is for the worm to die and for the cat to survive that event. You can have them surgically removed, but that’s a pretty risky move itself.

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At the time of adoption, the shelter told me he would have a shorter lifespan and that I couldn’t give him heartworm preventatives, neither of which is entirely accurate, although can be the case in certain scenarios. I consulted with a cardiologist who specialized in heartworm in cats and who showed me the one or two adult worms that showed up on the echocardiogram. I asked him a ton of questions and here’s the gist of what he told me:

  • Living with heartworm is most likely not affecting his physical comfort or quality of life.
  • You do not have to keep a heartworm-positive cat calm and indoors. Their activity level will not affect what happens with the worms.
  • The life span of a heartworm in a cat is 3-4 years (much less than the 5-7 years in dogs), mostly because cats are a far less hospitable host for them.
  • The danger of heartworms in cats is when the worm finally dies. It will pass through the lungs, which are incredibly sensitive in cats and most likely cause its immune system to attack itself. At which point every cat’s reaction is different. Some survive, or can survive if brought to a vet during an attack, while some don’t make it.
  • Keeping him indoors only or letting him going outside is not going to impact what happens with the heartworm one way or the other.
  • And since there did not appear to be any baby worms present, just an adult (maybe two), it was okay to put him on preventatives to keep him from contracting additional worms.

In an attempt to gain some minute peace of mind, and since this is around the time when one of those heartworms would have died, I’ve chosen to believe that he did in fact pass a worm while roaming around somewhere and didn’t survive the experience. I don’t know for sure if that’s what happened, but it’s what I’m choosing to believe.

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The Magic of Mose

Once we brought Mose home and I realized that, 1) all he wanted to do was go run around outside with the dogs and hunt critters, and 2) that he might not live more than another 3-4 years, I decided there was no way I was going to force him to be an indoor cat. And even now, I’m glad I made that decision.

Most people were never sure how to pronounce Mose’s name, and thought it was weird. For the record, Mose (sounds like “hose”) is named after Dwight’s weird and rarely seen cousin, Mose who lives on his beet farm with him in the tv show, The Office. My husband and I are pretty big television addicts and have a habit of naming animals after characters in comedy series. Our oldest dog, Charlie Murphy, got his name from the Rick James bits on the Chappelle Show.

IMG_0642Mose purred, played and napped while undergoing vet examinations. He preferred to drink water from drinking glasses placed around the kitchen counter. He was obsessive about roast chicken, and frequently stormed the kitchen to steal it while I was trying to stuff it in Kongs for the dogs. He ate twice as much food as our previous cat and yet was 3-4 lbs. smaller. He clawed the shit out of our couch corners, and I totally didn’t care.

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He’d lick his butt on clean placemats I’d just put on the kitchen table. He loved to attack the dogs from underneath the couch. He’d go for walks on our back property with us, running and exploring with the dogs along the way. He’d come running from whatever corner of the yard he happened to be in when he heard you call him. He left multiple dead chipmunks in our home, and knew exactly which window to go sit under and cry when he wanted in, depending on what time of the day or night it was.

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And he had this incredible habit of climbing onto your chest, nuzzling your face and purring right before you were ready to get up from the chair you were sitting in. I think it’s gonna be a while before we adopt another cat. Because he really was something else.

 

p.s. For those friends and family who know that we moved recently and are wondering if the two events are connected, they are not. Mose disappeared more than a week before we had moved or changed a single thing in our home or routine. We’d only just decided to move the day before he went missing.

Posted in Animal Histories, Animal Welfare, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

An Unexamined April

April was a bit of a blur. So I thought I’d dig through my photos and figure out what I’ve been doing for the last month that so profoundly curbed my writing activity.

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Oreo Cookie Ava, actively seeking a sponsor in Ball-a-holics Anonymous.

The polar vortex comes to a slow and stubborn end

Nearly 100 inches of snow and countless sub-zero and single digit days later, our grand Michigan winter has finally come to a close. But not without a few last gasps for air.

Here’s what it looked like on April 14:

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And here’s April 15:

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And here, thankfully, is April 29:

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A return to playdates

I chose to hibernate this winter with the help of lots of books, booze, pizza and Walking Dead reruns. Thus my dogs were forced to do the same. So now that the ice age is over, we’ve jumped back into our playdate group with pizazz.

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Peaches assumes her favorite play position

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Buster and Bolt have a stick munching contest

Peaches meets Scarlett, the crazy Corgi puppy

Peaches meets Scarlett, the crazy Corgi puppy

Buster reunites with his brindle bosom buddy, Ivan

Buster reunites with his brindle bosom buddy, Ivan

And Peach encounters Hugo the Giant, part lion, part Muppet

And Peach encounters Hugo the Giant, part lion, part Muppet

A return to professional development

As much as I hate to admit it, all the cool dog geek stuff in the midwest seems to happen in Ohio. So I’m frequently forced to cross the border for professional development opportunities. Earlier this month, the vet tech program at UC Blue Ash in Cincinnati hosted Sophia Yin for a Low-Stress Handling workshop, which included all of the great foundational operant and classical conditioning info I’ve heard her present before, along with a bunch of new video cases featuring a range of cat and dog handling techniques.

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And apparently Ian Dunbar will be visiting the Buckeye state in June as well, so back down south I’ll go.

A return to volunteering

In the past month, I’ve logged somewhere in the ballpark of 45 shelter volunteering hours across two different shelters. At one shelter, I’ve had the pleasure of walking and working with 50+ different dogs, and at the other all I’ve been permitted to do so far is laundry, TNR trap cleaning and a few dishes, and the soonest I’ll be allowed to attend dog walker training and interact with dogs there will be mid-June. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of experiences, to say the least.

Too much to summarize from those many hours, so here are a few random highlights:

Big shepherd puppy, Maxx was the largest dog I’ve ever handled. He was a cuddly beast who came into the shelter, was adopted a day later, returned a few days later and then immediately adopted again. Here’s hoping this last home works out and that he’s happy and healthy and able to hear his owner with those big ass ears.

Big Maxx

Beauty here was isolated, not to mention nameless, for weeks at the shelter with her large litter of puppies. Once the pups were old enough for adoption, all were adopted in one day at a Puppy Shower event, leaving yet-to-be-named Beauty behind. I took her out for a walk and managed to snap this photo of her, which was subsequently posted on the shelter’s Facebook page with a “Let’s find mom a new home before Mother’s Day message.” 87 Facebook shares and a day later and she was adopted. Happy Mother’s Day, Beauty.

Mama Beauty. Was isolated in the shelter for weeks with an enormous litter of puppies, all of whom were adopted in one day at an event, leaving her behind. We posted this photo with a "Find Mom a home before Mother's Day" plea and 90+ shares and a day later, she was adopted.

Big girl, Isis is my big, brindle love at the shelter right now. She’s getting overlooked a lot and it’s a real shame because she’s an incredible dog. She has a MONSTER wiggle butt and an equally big smile. She’s also a dog who is now manageable and easy to walk for other volunteers after getting her fitted with a front-clip harness. Imagine that.

Lovely lady Isis. She's definitely a gal that's taking longer to get adopted, which is a shame because she is an affectionate wiggle butt desperate for some attention. Love this girl.

Lovely Lady Isis

Oh Clyde. I must have been harboring some preconceived notion about hounds, because for some reason I didn’t think I’d love Clyde as much as I do. I only met him yesterday and I’m sure he’ll be gone by next week, but what a lovely, lanky gentleman. His flippy-floppy ears and sad hound dog howl are just too much for words.

Clyde. I guess I've been harboring some preconceive notion about hounds, because I didn't expect to love Clyde as much as I do after taking just a 25 minute walk with him. He's a lovable puppy with a sad, hounddog howl and I expect he'll be snatched up rather quickly.

Handsome hound dog puppy, Clyde

And of course. . . . Miss Ava, STILL at the shelter. Waiting for that perfect person who’d be happy to find a stunning, high-drive dog who may be a bit aloof, but totally makes up for it in other ways.

Ava says, "This way to ADOPT me!"

Ava says, “This way to ADOPT me!”

Thanks to a few Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons and some generous harness donations from dog training friends, I’ve also become a bit of a harness-fitting, organizational lunatic in between dog walking shifts.

After hanging up this handy dandy, cheapo door organizer, we now have a place to label and organize harnesses and toys specific to individual dogs, complete with a demo puppy and some fitting guidelines posted on the wall. I love cheap, simple solutions.

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I also dug up a handful of self-adhesive wall hooks to replace the old, cluttered leash stand in the hallway.

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And a return to fostering

The last time I fostered dogs was in late 2010. That very long hiatus was in part due to a rather discouraging experience with an old rescue group, and also the inevitable result of not wanting to impose further on the successful 1 cat + four dogs dynamic we’ve had going here for a while. Until this week . . .

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Tasha is a young, female Rottie who’s midway through heartworm treatment and having a hell of a time staying calm in the kennels. She can’t be in the outdoor runs next to other dogs because of the energy level, which means she’s stuck in a small indoor run all day with just a couple brief bathroom breaks. So to our house she shall go . . . but just for a couple weeks. Stay tuned.

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A one-year anniversary

And last but not least, I would be remiss in not recognizing the May 1st anniversary of a rather special injury that had me walking ZERO dogs for many weeks this time last year. Happy to say that other than some very minor nerve damage and scar tissue build up, this baby is equally ready for a day of leash handling or my next “bar fight.”

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My sister-in-law refers to this as my Harry Potter scar. Sounds good to me.

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Posted in Animal behavior and training, Animal Welfare, Fun Stuff, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

April showers bring … indoor playtime with adorable adoptables

Despite otherwise warmer and encouraging weather recently, last Thursday and Friday were cold, icy, rainy and grey here in the Mitten. So we brought our outdoor time indoors at the shelter on Friday, which provided the perfect opportunity to learn a little more about some absolutely fabulous dogs.

JENI

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First up was Jeni. Last Monday was the first day that I took Jeni out for a walk, during which I quickly learned that Jeni is terrified of the world. She is most definitely a poster child for one of my all-time favorite sites, FearfulDogs.com. I overheard a number of folks describe her as “shy.” But she is not shy, she is fearful. An automatic door to the shelter opening in front of her sent her soaring several inches up into the air, after which she gripped the pavement as though gravity itself might fail her.

Even with me moving slowly, speaking softly, crouching down and offering treats (which she did take), all of Jeni’s body language told me that the world is a scary place for her and she’d just assume grow a turtle shell and hide inside it. I walked her maybe 50 or 60 yards before it was abundantly clear that she was stressed, uncomfortable and desperate for some sort of safe space.

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On Friday, I brought her into the shelter’s “community room” where we had a blanket, some toys and a few staff members eating their lunch, one of whom was Jeni’s regular caretaker who she appears to trust more than anyone else. She regularly took treats from me and happily begged for some fries and fast food items from the other folks in the room. After reading this post on belly rub body language, I am however curious to know if Jeni was truly comfortable at the moment the above picture was taken, or offering this body posture up for other reasons.

Jeni is an affectionate, young girl with a gentle demeanor and a stunningly beautiful polychromatic coat. She was found as a stray with a jerry-rigged hunting harness on so tight that you can still see the impressions from it in her fur. Jeni has the potential to be a wallflower-turned-starlet if given the chance to move at her own pace and build some confidence in a calm, patient home where she has oodles of choices available to her and gentle, empathetic souls to support her along the way.

GINGER

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Next we have Ginger. And while her name may be Ginger, her aesthetics and personality are more representative of Brown Sugar. In a word, or three: This dog rocks! She is mature, playful, chill and affectionate all at the same time. I’ve noticed that one of the regular dog walkers frequently walks Ginger and seems to have her out longer than some of the other pups, and I can totally understand why. She’s every person’s dream dog. She’s got a fantastic range of facial expressions, she’s a breeze to handle and seems perfectly happy doing pretty much whatever you want.

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While we were hanging out, she played an enthusiastic game of fetch with some rope toys, galloped after treats as I rolled them across the floor and mellowed out on a blanket next to me before heading back to her kennel. This girl could probably plug right into any type of home or environment and be wildly successful. Here’s hoping she lands the new home she deserves.

PUMPKIN

IMG_1804I got very few clear pics of Pumpkin because she’s fearful and mostly deaf. This sweet 10 year old gal was recently relinquished by her previous owners who could no longer care for her.  And she is now seemingly lost and wondering which way is up. Not more than five or six pounds, this sweet, old soul is desperate to find a quiet, easy-going home where she can resume life as the mellow Pappy-Pom Boo Bear that she is. She walks on leash like a champ, despite nearly being blown away by the slightest of breezes, and she’s happy to sit on your lap as long as she feels safe. I am definitely a “little dog” rookie, and this special gal tugged at the heart-strings a bit.

Miracle . . . more minutes logged

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I mentioned Miracle in the last post, and can’t help but share her again after the fun time I had with her before heading home on Friday. She is a big goofball and loves to gallop after toys like a puppy. She loves tug and fetch and has a lovely soft mouth while playing both.

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I did however realize very quickly that the heavy hand that haunted her previous life still looms large in Miracle’s world as she ducked and crouched in fear when I accidentally swung a tug toy in the air above her. This beautiful soul needs a special person who understands that intimidation should never play a part in the human-animal bond.

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These four fab ladies are all available for adoption at Cascades Humane Society in Jackson, Michigan. Speak now, or forever regret not finding that special girl.

 

Posted in Advocacy, Animal Welfare, Fun Stuff, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Spring in the air, shelter dogs everywhere

I wore sandals in my yard this afternoon. S-A-N-D-A-L-S. It was 60 degrees and there is officially more ground showing than snow now. Hasta la vista, Polar Vortex. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. To celebrate, I filled my morning with being jumped on with poop-covered paws, getting head-butted square in the nose by a very excited puppy (as though my Irish-American schnoz wasn’t big enough) and burning off some winter fat by playing chase with some four-legged goofballs.

Today’s cast . . . .

Miracle, available for adoption at Cascades Humane Society in Jackson, Michigan

Miracle, available for adoption at Cascades Humane Society in Jackson, Michigan

Miracle melts and oozes into gooey butter the second she makes physical contact with you. She’ll need a loving, gentle home with no other pets most likely and time to learn that real relationships don’t involve intimidation and abuse. She spent much of our time together melting into a lovable, submissive puddle against my feet, which is why I love this more confident, carefree photo of her.

Jumpin' Jak, available at Cascades Humane Society in Jackson, Michigan

Jumpin’ Jak, available at Cascades Humane Society in Jackson, Michigan

Jak is back. Literally. This happy-go-lucky 8-month old boy was just returned a few weeks after he was adopted because he was “a handful.” Imagine that? A teenager acting like a teenager! Jak’s got some energy reserves that are easily depleted fetching multiple tennis balls at once. After which, he’s happy to lay down next to you and get a full rub down. I hope this guy finds the owner he deserves who’s willing to take him to some obedience classes with a professional trainer who understands behavior and training. Because he’s a super sweet, svelt guy who’s always up for a good time.

Diesel

Dashing Diesel, available for adoption at Cascades Humane Society in Jackson, Michigan

I like to think of Diesel as the Sean Connery of dogs. Everybody at the shelter loves his low, sexy bark and he’s got some fabulous bedroom eyes to boot. He’s just an easy going guy–probably listens to Bob Marley and maybe some Etta James in his downtime–and is just too cool to not have a home of his own.

Here’s hoping that April showers bring May flowers, along with some seriously lucky adopters.

Posted in Animal behavior and training, Animal Welfare, Dog play, Fun Stuff, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Romance of Rescue

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I must say, we humans love a good rescue story, fact or fiction.

The princess in the castle tower. The baby in the well.

Old Yeller saving Travis from the wild boars, and he in turn saving Old Yeller from the circling vultures.

33 Chilean miners rescued after 70 days underground.

Richard Gere rescuing Julia Roberts from life on the streets. Captain Phillips rescued from the hijackers. Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone rescuing the good guys from the bad guys again and again until we lose track of who’s who.

For those of us concerned with the welfare of pit bull type dogs, there is perhaps no more defining rescue than that of the Vicktory Dogs. But here’s what’s really interesting about that particular rescue. What ultimately made us all so enamored with the rescue of those dogs wasn’t the fact that they were rescued, but rather the quality of care provided to them AFTER most of the cameras stopped rolling. And this is where I believe that the singular idea of the rescue story has led many “rescue” groups astray, and why I believe that many folks are now inappropriately equating involvement in rescue with efficacy in animal welfare.

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Recently I wrote a guest post for Your Pit Bull & You in which I posed the following questions:

Has “pit bull rescue” become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Have rescue groups unintentionally limited their ability to serve the dog welfare community by labeling themselves “rescues”?

There are an infinite number of reasons for posing such questions in relation to dog rescue. But here’s the primary one for me: We have too many groups focusing on RESCUE, and too few focusing on WELFARE.

Rescue is sexy. Whereas Welfare is offensively practical, and oftentimes dressed in a terry cloth robe and house slippers. 

Buster Brown says, "Hey baby, come rescue me and I'll make it worth your while."

Buster Brown says, “Hey baby, come rescue me and I’ll make it worth your while.”

But, the real powerhouse rescue groups are as successful as they are because they know how to make welfare sexy. And coincidentally they do it without ever having to flash the term rescue. Best Friends Animal Society. Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pit Bulls (BAD RAP). These are the primary groups responsible for rescuing, rehabbing and rehoming the Vicktory Dogs. And although their involvement in the “rescue” process was certainly well-publicized (I personally was infatuated with the story of BAD RAP driving a motor home full of pit bulls across country incognito), the welfare provided for these dogs after the rescue was the real main event.

And yet again and again I see well-intentioned “rescue groups” reproducing the rescue part of that equation very successfully, while stumbling around in the dark with the remaining pieces of the puzzle.

I also see “rescues” engaging in rescue when educationoutreach and/or support would have been more appropriate responses. But engaging in those activities requires actual thought, planning and knowledge, none of which are as fun to think about as the endless positive feedback loop provided through the act of rescue. Who Rescued Who? makes a pretty bitchin’ bumper sticker. Who provided Outreach, Education and Resources for Who? . . . Hmm, not so much. Especially since it should technically read for Whom?, not for Who?

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Imagine if, in the closing scene of Pretty Woman, Richard Gere climbed up the fire escape only to discover a relaxed, confident Julia Roberts, sitting on her couch with a representative from a local women’s advocacy center. Julia Roberts turns to her “rescuer” and says, “Oh no worries, dude, it’s cool. Gloria here got me set up with some classes and a job at the local junior college, and to be honest, I’m really looking forward to living independently and taking a break from dating for a while.” Well that’s no fun. And it’s certainly not going to win you an Oscar nomination.

And yet that’s exactly what we should be pushing for in the dog welfare community: No rescue needed, because other options that provide great welfare for dog and owner are available. I feel like BAD RAP has been saying this until they’re blue in the face lately. From a recent post on their Facebook page:

Want to save lives? Bless you! Keep your eye on the prize and stay stubborn about the need for proactive, community-based dog owner support programs in your town. Keeping them HOME will save more dogs than the best efforts from of all of the rescue groups combined.

But the romantic notion of the “rescue group” persists. Why? For a number of reasons, three of which are as follows:

  1. We are creatures of habit, and habits are really hard to change
  2. We are a hopelessly reactive society, rather than a proactive one . . . God forbid we plan for shit ahead of time once in a while
  3. Our egos are our guiding stars, and we continue to take everything personally even though none of our welfare work should have anything to do with us

Be passionate, sure. Be emotionally invested, fabulous. But don’t take it personally.

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I believe that when you decide to start your own rescue group because you want to help “pit bulls” you are in essence putting the cart before the horse. You shouldn’t be rescuing before you’re prepared to provide welfare.*

Be prepared to evaluate your current habits and your most entrenched beliefs, and seek out help in objectively assessing whether or not change and additional resources are needed in order to accomplish your goals.

I’ve said this in relation to “pit bull” advocacy, and it is as equally important for “pit bull” rescue: Be proactive, not reactive. Don’t constantly post “Urgent! Foster Homes Needed!” requests after you rescue a dog. Proactively recruit, train and manage a network of appropriate foster homes that are prepared to take in rescued dogs when they arrive. And make sure that whoever is doing the recruiting, training and managing actually possesses some basic level of professional knowledge about dog behavior and training.

Stop using recycled catch phrases like “Saving one dog won’t change the world, but for that one dog the world will surely change,” and “It’s all about the dogs.” Honestly, if that’s really the case, then you shouldn’t need to say either of those things. Using clichés like these as evidence for your success is like showing someone a stock photograph of some vegetables while you claim to be an expert organic farmer. The proof is in the pudding, not the tired one-liner.

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Years after the Vicktory dogs’ rescue, BAD RAP, Best Friends and Hector the Pit Bull continue to show us great welfare on behalf of the rescued dogs in their care. And that is possible because those groups and individuals were in it for the long game.

Consider the previously mentioned story of the Chilean miners and how riveted the world was listening to that ordeal and celebrating that long-awaited rescue. Where are they now and how are they doing? In 2011, a year after the event, those “rescued” found themselves in a myriad of challenging situations, largely because the outpouring of love and charity was there for the heroic rescue, but was short-lived and replaced by a complete lack of resources and support for their rehabilitation and return to society. One reporter writes,

One year after their globally televised rescue, after the worldwide spotlight faded and the trips and offers have dwindled, the miners say that most of them are unemployed and that many are poorer than before.

I think it’s fair to say that most of us certainly entered the “pit bull rescue” arena compelled by passion and emotion, not organizational acumen or rational thought. And that’s okay, because that’s how we discover the things that matter to us. And as individual dog owners and good samaritans, we should feel free to continue to be driven by our passions.

But once we decide to go further, to step up and say, “I want to do something for pit bull type dogs and I think starting my own non-profit will be the way to do that,” you now have a responsibility to stop being driven by your heart and your ego, and start making objective, thoughtful, evidence-based decisions that will help you accomplish your goals in the long-term. Because, after all, as so many rescues like to say, isn’t this supposed to be “all about the dogs?”

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*It is important to note here that when I refer to “rescue” in this post, I am referring specifically to organized groups and registered non-profits who claim to be engaged in the work of “rescue.” I am not referring to the individual good samaritan exercising her altruistic right to rescue and rehome one dog at a time, which coincidentally is what many of the existing “rescue groups” should probably be doing instead.

 

 

Posted in Advocacy, Animal behavior and training, Animal Welfare, Best Friends Animal Society, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments