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The Best Laid Plans: When Life Doesn’t Go According To Plans

The Best Laid Plans: When Life Doesn’t Go According To Plans

Regular readers know that Mela the Chow was added to my household in late November. We had been on the lookout for a female addition once I felt comfortable adding to my household, after losing my sweet Siri. It seemed an act of the universe to find Mela in the manner that I did. Surely that meant that all would progress smoothly?

Not really. The world is not a vacuum and although some scenarios seem artfully arranged by the universe, that is not an excuse to believe that said scenarios will be problem free. Such was the case with adding a high energy dog that was to be the playmate for Kenzo, who was desperately missing his playtime.

Kenzo is slowly recovering from his ACL surgery.

Kenzo is slowly recovering from his ACL surgery.

As the fates would have it, just one month into Kenzo feeling enough kinship with Mela to engage in regular evening play, he tore his right ACL. The scream was telling, during the second yard play session of the first snowfall in my area. My heart stopped as Kenzo ran towards the stairs leading to the house from the yard and I hoped against hope that it was just a sprain. But I recognized the particular limp and the look on his face. I immediately called my vet for a referral to the specialty hospital in my town, so that I could secure an appointment with the surgeon who performed the previous ACL tear.

All I could think about, aside from the pain that he was enduring, was how on earth was I going to maintain their relationship during this tribulation? And how on earth was I going to keep Mela mentally stimulated enough without Kenzo’s assistance? This has proven challenging at best.

Mela could not immediately grasp why her new friend would not engage in play with her, when he had been doing so, with an eagerness, every night for the past month. It was a case of a young child not understanding what the older child was trying to say. I had to run interference several times a day, to prevent Kenzo from getting frustrated enough with her to lash out and to prevent her from injuring him further.

With little success, I tried to orchestrate the act of playing while lying down, which Kenzo was game for but Mela did not understand. They could have continued to play tug quite happily with Kenzo in a prone position. He did try to engage with her in that way and I tried to support that engagement. But Mela quickly went back to what Mela likes best, which is rough and tumble physical play. That was out of the question for Kenzo for quite some time.

It was a rough initial month after the injury, while waiting on the surgery date. With passing time, Mela understood that Kenzo was no longer interested in play but what was confusing to her was that it was evident that the spirit was willing but the body was unable, at least for now. On one day, with the pain dulled by pain killers, Kenzo did offer her a return play dance but I had to quickly intervene before things were made worse.

Fast forward to the surgery that has finally happened and things are moving along well. She now fully understands that he was somehow broken and now has been fixed but is still on the mend. She seems to know that play will again be in their future and for that, I am grateful. She is starting to try and engage him before he is cleared for play. That won’t happen for another month at least, but she at least finally seems to understand that the problem isn’t mental but physical.

As for what I have done to try and entertain her while he has been laid up, there are a number of things, none of which have been fully good enough, I fear. She and Trent have vastly different play styles and although he has shown some brief play while on leash during their now joint walks, that hasn’t transpired for more than a few seconds.

As for walks, until recently in Kenzo’s progress, the walks just consisted of just Mela and Trent. Crittering is Mela’s very favorite thing on this planet so crittering is what happens on most walks. What that entails is them deciding on where we walk, leading the way. They both get far more smells under their respective belts now. My goal is mental weariness from these walks so they are lengthier now and they were lengthy before! They all are getting quite a bit of mental stimulation in the way of puzzle toys in the house.

Mela has a favorite game in the yard that involves crittering as well. She stalks whatever critter that lives under my pool deck and follows it’s scent all over, ending up waiting by the lattice under the deck for him or her to make a move that has yet to happen. And of course, we play with toys in a seemingly endless manner, because Mela could play for hours.

Now that Kenzo is in the rehab portion of his recovery, he has started joining us on walks. But rather that enhance those walks. It shortens the conjoined ones. So I walk them all together for the equivalent of two city blocks. Then weather permitting, Kenzo goes back into the car and I walk Mela and Trent on another much longer walk. This seems to help Mela to relax far more than anything else does.

As for me, the extra walking is hopefully assisting with my spring weight loss goal. I count down the days until Kenzo gets cleared for not only longer walks, but actual playtime. I expect that both he and Mela feel the same. I look forward to the day that I can smile watching them reconnect with play.

Please feel free to tell me your own recovery stories with your own multiple dog crew below. I need ideas!

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An Addition to the Crew: Meet Mela!

An Addition to the Crew: Meet Mela!

I can’t pinpoint why the picture of a beautiful cream colored dog looking worried in someone’s car caught my attention, but I am very grateful that it did. I have been searching for an addition to my crew since a few months after losing Siri. We miss her every day but the sadness in my house was palpable. No playing, little in the way of smiles and just a lot of going through the motions without much enjoyment. I had talked to a couple of people about dogs fitting the general outline of what I was looking for and even arranged to meet a couple. The meetings never came to fruition for various reasons. There had not been a spark of recognition like I felt when I saw that picture. I like to think that fate intervened. The right dog was out there waiting for me. I needed her and she needed me.

Thankfully, my search onto the local lost and found dogs Facebook groups resulted in seeing the picture of the dog that would become Mela. I read through the thread and discovered that this beautiful Chow girl had been captured in a rough part of town by a good Samaritan. A call to Animal Control resulted in undesirable answers. She had been evidently running the streets for a couple of months so AC did not think that an owner was looking and that gave her very limited time in an ACO facility. This good Samaritan put out a plea for assistance on social media and one of my good friends came to the rescue. She came to take her until she could be transported to a local shelter that would care for her properly. I saw on the thread that my friend had her at the moment. I immediately texted her and asked with baited breath, whether she was friendly with other dogs.

My new addition, Mela,  feels safe at last.

My new addition, Mela, feels safe at last.

The ride to the shelter the next morning revealed her practicing avoidance with my friend’s dogs, along for the ride in the car. This was a good sign! The next step for me was sending messages to the three people I knew who worked at that shelter. I was invited to come down and evaluate her myself. She was not showing any concerning signs at the shelter other than being very scared. We spent some time in the shelter’s play yard. She appeared to be very housetrained as well as knowing how to offer some behaviors such as sit and paw. An interesting development since she had been on her own in the world. I excitedly stopped by soon afterwards and met her. I found her far more welcoming than I expected.

I soon brought Kenzo down to meet her. That meeting went well, although not as smoothly as I had hoped. Kenzo is extremely dog friendly, but his sheer size is imposing to so many dogs. Mela was in a precarious situation, not knowing what would come next in her life. Having spent a couple of months on the streets of a not so friendly town, she had learned to be very wary. Some very appropriate mutual sniffing was exchanged. Kenzo tried to show her he was interested in playing but she was ready to correct him if he should act inappropriately. I saw her get ready to correct once and then stem that urge when she realized that she had no reason to. She was obviously very savvy at making assessments, a skill that had served her well in her time on the streets.

After the meeting with Kenzo, I made the decision to get her a few days before Thanksgiving, as a foster to adopt. I wanted to make sure that everyone could be comfortable enough together before I made a full commitment. I could not even imagine that this could go wrong but my first loyalty had to be to Kenzo and Trent.

Kenzo wasn’t very polite over the baby gate when I arrived home and let him and Trent out. Trent was his usual self which is initially rude to other dogs. Eventually that day, I had them in the yard all together as comfortably as expected. Kenzo and Mela shared some sniffing and even the water bowl. But Trent had no interest in camaraderie.

A couple of days later led to a joint walk that was very successful. I was also now able to walk out of the room without worrying what might happen if I left them all together. However, Mela followed me anyway so that was a moot point!

Kenzo spent some time wavering back and forth between jealousy at sharing me and “his” things versus delight that he had a playmate. Never mind that the playmate was still not comfortable with his size and although very interested in playing, conflicted with his Jekyll and Hyde persona. He growled at her periodically when she approached the water bowl or some toys. He soon realized that behavior was not going to be supported by me or even by himself if he ever wanted her to trust him.

Fast forward about two weeks. While I would not call them best buds yet, they are definitely more comfortable with one another now. Mela has taken to prodding Kenzo to play from a frontal position as opposed to from behind. And he gets credit for exercising a huge amount to bite inhibition while being very tolerant of her very assertive play style that includes coming away with the occasional mouthful of Kenzo fur. She is learning what constitutes a too enthusiastic playbite, thankfully.

Mela’s addition to my crew feels like fate. I look for that feeling when it’s time to add to the family. I am glad that I did not rush things and waited for the right dog to find me. Tell me in the spaces below, how you make the decision to add to your crew?

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The Wanderers: Multiple Dog Traveling

The Wanderers: Multiple Dog Traveling

I made it a point to plan the vacation I have been dreaming of for so many years to help reboot my brain. This blog post is about that trip. I am actually wrote most of this from Lubec, Maine. We loved it there.

Planning a dog friendly vacation is far easier these days that it used to be. A quick search of lodging on BringFido.com revealed a number of dog friendly rentals in the area of Maine that I wanted to visit. The first one that I emailed responded quickly and arrangements were made for the dates that I wanted. I don’t recall much in other areas of my life being that easy. This felt like it was meant to be.

Next up however, a sudden roof leak that scared me silly, thinking there goes my vacation money. But a seriously affordable estimate lifted my spirits. Vacation planning resumed. Driving nearly 1000 miles one way with two dogs is a serious matter. I wanted my car to be as safe as possible so I had some maintenance things done in advance of their need. We headed out with new brakes all around and fresh fluids. I even cleaned my vehicle thoroughly though that was a moot point when traveling that far with a hairy dog of Kenzo’s size.

Kenzo and Trent at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse Park, Lubec, Maine.

Kenzo and Trent at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse Park, Lubec, Maine.

Luggage was gathered and meals for the dogs were planned. I feed raw and we were planning on visiting a very small town. I could not take the chance of running out where we were away. I thawed all of our 5# bags of their ground raw and repacked them in empty yogurt containers and refroze them. I planned to pack them all into a cooler for travel. It was the largest item that I would be taking in my vehicle. It was space well used. I ended up planning the portions perfectly.

I carefully planned placement of everything I was taking. My Nissan Murano is too small for crates for my dogs and my dogs are never crated anymore anyway. Crating in the car would have caused them additional stress. But I wanted them to be as safe as possible should the unthinkable happen. My solution was a leather leash attached to the hand straps above each back door with those leashes in turn attached to the front circle on their front clip harness. I realize that this isn’t ideal as far as safety goes but in the event that we are hit and a door comes open, they are still attached to the car rather than running in traffic. On long trips I drive super carefully and take zero chances with my dog’s lives. Getting there is more important than getting there fast.

Since it was nearly 1000 miles from my home to Lubec, Maine where we visited, I planned a stop over for sleeping at about the half way point. I was assured via Facebook that a dog friendly choice close to a major highway would be fairly easy and it was. Right where I wanted to stop and rest was a Motel 6, very dog friendly and very affordable and at that location, individual entry to each outdoor accessed room. Exactly what I wanted. A tip when you travel with dogs and choose a motel with more than one floor; specifically ask for the main floor as the stairs are not only usually metal, they are open backed. The combination of those two gave Kenzo enough pause that I actually tried to cancel our already paid for room to avoid more stress for him. But the clerk magically found a ground floor room and we gratefully took it.

A word about stressed dogs when traveling. If your dogs typically love riding in the car, it’s no guarantee that a long trip will go just as smoothly. My dogs are in the car every single day. There has never been a hint of stress from Kenzo over car rides. He normally loves them as they not only serve to take him somewhere he deems fun but they also function as a portable crate that allow him and Trent to go with me to many places that I need to run errands to, weather permitting. On a regular basis, we travel about an hour north to a state park with a lake that my dogs adore. It never entered my mind that this trip would be stressful on my boys. But stressful it was to Kenzo. With few exceptions, he spent the majority of the time in the car on the way to Maine in the spot on the floor behind my seat. I am short so that spot is wide but it would have been far more comfortable for him to simply lay down on the folded over back seats and cargo area like he usually does. I would have done anything to help him feel better.

I brought calming flower essences, calming essential oils and I talked to him and played mostly soothing music when I could. I stopped every three hours at minimum to let them stretch their legs and potty and sometimes more frequently. But I seriously considered calling my vet for a Xanax for the way back. I had hoped that eventually finding out that we were headed somewhere fun would allay his fears. The trip back did seem to stress him less but I still should have called for that Xanax.

A severe rainstorm at dusk while driving on Connecticut highways caused him (and me!) more stress and we had a heck of a time finding a place to sleep that day. I ended up at a wonderful Motel 6 after 9PM, that did not have outdoor access rooms. However, a tearful call on my part while sitting outside in my car resulted in the night desk-person offering me of a room right next to the lobby with easy outside access. There are not enough words to describe how grateful I was for that angel in disguise. We were finally able to relax and awake with renewed enthusiasm to the balance of the drive home.

I did discover that Trent is an adventurer. He clearly enjoyed all aspects of this trip. Even during the car ride, he watched the scenery with a relaxed smile most of the time. Kenzo loves the smells of any new area and was definitely happier every time we stopped on the way here. After our arrival at the cottage that I rented, he was delighted. We did twice daily jaunts around the area since every day but one when it rained all day after out morning hike. They both loved these adventures. This fact made my heart soar.

On the chance that some things that I chose to do in the name of safety while traveling with dogs can help someone else, here are they are. My dogs have a great “Wait” cue so that gets used every single time I open a door, be it the door to the cottage or the door to the car. They don’t go through doorways until I release them. It doesn’t matter in the least who goes through a doorway first. What matters is that they wait until I cue them to move forward. There are few behaviors more important to teach your dogs than this one.

The cottage that we rented had a yard that wasn’t fenced. My dogs are on leash at all times without secure fencing, aside from a couple of specific secluded locations close to home. I place my arm through the leash loop for both dogs. I would far rather face-plant in the event of a sudden tug from one of them or trip on my part, than lose my precious dogs. Especially away from home.

I already mentioned my makeshift car safety precautions, but there are better options depending on your vehicle. Mine isn’t suited to regular dog car seat belts and Kenzo’s size make that solution impractical anyway. At rest stops, I parked as far away from other cars as possible. When there were other travelers with dogs on potty breaks, I waited until they were done before taking my dogs to the dog potty area. I figured that it was a safer option in case both parties were stressed. At one glorious rest stop in Massachusetts, there was a fenced in doggy potty area. My heart be still! What a treasure to find. Keeping my dogs safe is my number one priority.

Maine’s coastal trails have some serious cliffs and we hiked those trails. I am a little weird about heights so I was even more anally careful on these hikes. I kept them closer to the landlocked portion of the trail. I also asked for a sit whenever I needed to orient myself to our location in order to avoid being unexpectedly pulled too close to a rocky cliff.

As mentioned, I made sure that I brought their usual diet with me. I also brought my own homemade treats as well as my bait-bag and all accoutrements that go with that. I kept to our usual schedule albeit with many more physically challenging outings than usual. My dogs, however, welcomed those outings. I would not have subjected them to extra physical activity if it stressed them. I also brought their usual chew items with me and they had one each night as it typical at home.

The only thing that we did a bit differently than a home was an earlier to bed and earlier to ride schedule because we did not want to miss anything during daylight. Being the eastern most portion of the United States, it gets darker earlier, even with daylight savings time still in effect at that time. Sunset was about 5:15AM every day and sunrise about 6:45AM. I wanted to experience all that we could while there.

Traveling with your crew can be very rewarding. I highly recommend it. Planning everything down to the last detail possible takes as much stress away from it as can be done. Get out there with your crew and the road! Have fun but be safe!

Feel free to take the spaces below to share any adventure stories of your own.

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The Search is On? Adding to the Crew

The Search is On? Adding to the Crew

I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I only have two dogs. This is not a scenario that has existed in my life for almost twenty years. The grief is still very fresh. It’s also compounded by what I view as the end of a huge part of my life with the three dogs that taught me so much more than I could ever begin to pay them for. The lessons were abundant and endless and life changing. I feel lost in a world that changed far too fast for my tastes. When I lost Merlin and then Kera just nine short months later, this house was in a sad state of depression. Siri, Trent and I had lost our zest for life. There was little laughter and fun. There was no inclination to smile. Adding Kenzo to our life was a survival necessity. We needed laughter and smiles to move forward.

A similar scenario is unfolding in my life just three short years later. Every day brings multiple reminders of my new two dog life: counting out only two vitamins to add to the daily rations, grabbing two leashes off the hook rather than three, only two bowls in the dishwasher now, I could go on and on. The biggest hole is perhaps the ability to finally sleep in my own bed after three months of couch dwelling, now that Kenzo has received the go ahead to climb steps again. But that first sleep in my sorely missed bed was bittersweet without Siri, who had shared my bed for thirteen years, all 95 pounds of her. I am still getting used to the difference.

Kenzo and Trent wonder who will be joining them.

Kenzo and Trent wonder who will be joining them.

So many tugs at my heart throughout every single day. I know this my cue to think about adding to my family again. Trent and Kenzo are reluctant to play now. They actually have been this way since Siri started declining about six months ago. She wasn’t able to participate so they just stopped trying. Kenzo wants to but Trent has always had Siri on his side, keeping Kenzo in check should he need it. Please don’t misunderstand me. That is certainly my job as well, as the parent here but for play purposes, Siri made sure that Trent felt safe. Kenzo never did anything inappropriate. It is his sheer size that worries Trent so he almost always waited until Siri got him into a comfortable play mode and then Trent joined in. Without her to set the tone, he isn’t accepting Kenzo’s play invitations. Not that Kenzo can actively play right now anyway. He has another five weeks to go before that is on the menu. But Kenzo has always been very good at handicapping his play for other dogs. He lays down and lets them basically play on him but Trent isn’t terribly good at that without a partner to guide him.

So we need a new playmate in this house. When Kenzo gets cleared for more active play, my search for the right female will become official. Right now, it is just casual, with an eye towards what we need. I have mixed feelings about this. I don’t want to put my memories too far behind me. But I don’t want to dwell all the time either. I want to hear laughter and play sounds in my house again. I want my dogs to roll around happily in my yard and share toys and feel comfortable and bonded again. I want my family as whole as I can make them again ASAP. Short enough order, right?

In order to avoid having all sorts of available dog listings sent to me, let me clarify what my goal is. I am looking to add a Doberman to my life again. Female only, probably under five years of age, color, ears, tails don’t matter though I won’t deny a special fondness for those who are black/tan or fawn/tan though. A mix is a possibility. Even other breeds such as Rottweilers or German Shepherd Dogs are a possibility. I will know when the right dog shows up in my consciousness.

Of course, our new girl MUST be wonderful with other dogs. All else I am willing to work on but I refuse to compromise on dog sociability in my own home, especially at this time in our lives. Let’s not forget to mention that local to me is important and for those who don’t already know where that is, it’s the Pittsburgh PA area. I will keep you all posted and I am sure that Siri will help lead the right dog to use just as I am sure that Merlin brought Kenzo into my life. So please resist the urge to send me every dog in need. 

Feel free to share how you chose your addition in the spaces below.

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The End of an Era: Losing Part of Yourself

The End of an Era: Losing Part of Yourself

My heart is broken once again. I have lost another love so dear to me. On Friday, April 10th, not long before midnight, my beautiful sweet 13 year old Siri passed away in my arms. I have written about her struggles recently. Aging is a harsh reality that loving dog parents would prefer to do without. First her mobility was compromised with increasing restrictions placed upon her body. And to add insult to injury, her brain betrayed her and allowed dementia to take hold. Dementia meds helped greatly with the latter but an ever rotating protocol of medication, supplements and other treatments could not reverse the lack of strength on her hind end.

In the weeks leading up to this moment, Kenzo and Trent showed increasing stress about her condition. It was interesting to note the completely opposite choices they made to deal with the situation. Trent chose the loner position, opting to retreat to the second floor where he knew that neither could venture. Kenzo opted to spend nearly every moment near her in some way.

After a medication error on my part a couple of weeks ago, where I accidentally gave her his Tramadol, I rushed her to the ER because of the contraindication between that medication and her brain medication. It was a confusing and chaotic time with my hysterical phone call to the ER and fast exit from the house. I returned an hour and a half later with Siri in tow, with her having thoroughly enjoyed the car ride. Upon seeing Siri be carried back in the house with the help of her harness, Kenzo promptly plopped down on her mat set up along side of her and offered a huge grin of relief.

20150415_SiriKenzo1200Her condition deteriorated since that day (unrelated to my mistake) and I was torn about what to do. She was not in any obvious pain but her quality of life was so back and forth. But she smiled so brightly with any attention; it was obvious that she was still happy enough. When she started refusing most meals a week or so ago, I suspected that she would not be with us much longer. I made an appointment to have my vet see her to help me decide whether it was time and then canceled it because I wanted her to pass at home. I tried to make arrangements to have my vet come to my house but she wasn’t available for a home visit until several days later. I no sooner made that appointment then she surprised me and not only ate a full dinner but had a dessert of Wag-Gurt. The happiness that small success gave me cannot be overstated.

The next day she refused food once again and my reality set in more starkly. I started to worry about leaving the house for fear of returning to her having died alone. I tried to arrange for other vets to come sooner, without success. I was not willing to end her life in a vet’s office. I wanted her to pass in comfortable surroundings with her “brothers” nearby.

The last day of her life, I agonized about leaving for the three clients I had scheduled. I was frantic and sobbing constantly that day and could not have functioned at my job anyway. My clients thankfully understood. I spent the day lying with her on the floor. We laid on her mat and padding in the sunlight shining through my kitchen door and my sweet girl smiled all day. I had not seen her look that happy in weeks. After the dinner she refused, we moved into the living room as usual. She had trouble getting comfortable and I lay besides, her holding her close. She seemed to settle finally and then got restless again. She suddenly started moving her head to one side and with a great gasp, she went limp in my arms. She was gone. I sobbed uncontrollably while the boys slept nearby, seemingly fearful of confirming what they expected that I couldn’t accept sooner. I don’t think that I have ever felt more alone, with my two living dogs and my dead dog in my arms at almost midnight on a Friday night. But the power of social media is great. That same connection is available by texting close friends. Within seconds of my cry to the world, I had offers of immediate help from those close by and emotional support from those at a distance.

After being reassured that she would be fine overnight, I cleaned her up and covered her body leaving her head on her pillow. I surrounded her with her favorite things. I lit a candle and anointed her with essential oils. I urged the boys to pay their respects but they were not ready. They remained where they were. We slept restlessly that night.

A good friend arrived the next morning to assist with getting her to crematory. As we paused before taking her to my car, I wanted Kenzo and Trent to say their goodbyes. They both came and sniffed her and Kenzo bowed to her. A touching gesture to be sure, I wish it had been caught on camera.

My house is so empty even though it is full with my two boys. Siri was one of my original crew who started me on the path that brought me here. She taught me so much about fearful dogs. She came so far from where she started, as one of seven puppies rescued at six weeks of age, from a woman whose Rottweiler mated with the neighbor’s German shepherd. She threatened to a co-worker to drown them and that co-worker’s internet plea led to all seven of the “dwarves” finding their way to a network of foster homes, with four of the puppies ending their initial journey at my house for fostering. She is the one who never left. A dear friend has two of her surviving brothers.

Everywhere I look, I see her contributions to my life. Her “big balls” that she carried around constantly from room to room, until the last 6 months of her life, are scattered in various rooms. The products of our final months together are abundant. Laundry baskets with freshly cleaned towels and hospital pads, a full doggy pharmacy with every possible medication and supplement that could ever be needed by a senior dog, disposable pee pads by the pound, her Help Em Up harness draped over a kitchen chair where I laid it to dry after washing it that fateful night. I wanted it to be dry by morning so I could move her from her bed to her regular daytime spot. It will not be needed now. Her orange Kong, so uniquely colored and chosen just for her, will go unused and tucked away in her memory. Her ceramic bowl will not be needed. Her leash hasn’t been used in months. Even taking her with us on the car rides, it wasn’t needed. She could not walk by herself anyway.

Every moment brings another memory. So many things that I miss: how she would bark at the boys when it was time to come downstairs in the morning, her chasing me and barking when I ran around with them at the cemetery off leash, calling her Baby Button, her head tucking under my chin after sneaking a quick kiss when I greeted her after returned from working, seeing her and the boys play so vocally in their upstairs playroom, seeing her eat snow and grass with gusto, walking her with such ease because she was perfect, having her “tell off” one of the boys because they were too careless with their body awareness, how she used to bark fiercely at anyone who had the audacity to come too close to my Xterra. I vividly remember the way that she acted when Kenzo first arrived to live with us, hiding under the end table for a bit every evening until she finally came out to “put him in his place”. They were fast friends from that moment. She was once deemed imposing by a past boyfriend. She lived fully and deeply and with a zest. She was imposing. She aged gracefully and with kindness. I will miss her so much.

There are of course things I won’t miss. Mountains of laundry, worrying myself sick when she wouldn’t eat, the calluses on my hands that developed from carrying her with the harness and most distressing, worrying about whether I would come home and find that she passed away without me here. I would gladly take all of those on again to have more happy healthy days with her.

I have just two dogs now. This is foreign territory for me. Every evening, I get the supplements gathered in a small cup, to go with their breakfast. Every evening without fail, I count out three pills for each rather than two and I cry a little. Every workday I start to prepare 3 Kongs and then catch my breath, a huge lump where my throat should be. I know this will pass. But what won’t pass is how much I miss Siri and that is okay. I want to know that I loved her that much.

So many people offered me so much support. I cannot properly thank each one of you. But this particular sentiment really resonated with my soul so I share this with you all. Thank you Rachel, who so recently went through the same heartbreak, for knowing how this would help.

Aaron Freeman, You Want a Physicist to Speak at Your Funeral

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4675953

Please feel free to share your own losses below, coping strategies, remembrances, etc. And love your dogs fiercely. Every. Single. Day. Their time on this earth is far too fleeting.

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The Chosen Ones: Breeder, Rescued or Both?

The Chosen Ones: Breeder, Rescued or Both?

I feel like I am about to write about politics or religion or something equally controversial. This subject is so volatile, that I expect to lose a reader or two and probably be called some names that won’t make it to the comments section. Asking my Facebook page members where they got their dogs and why, resulted in more than 5000 people seeing my question and more than 100 responses. Surprisingly, I only had to delete two of those responses. I appreciate the tempered opinions on what is such an emotional subject. So I write this with full awareness.

Until the last not quite three years, all of my dogs have been rescues from various sources. I even ran a Doberman rescue for many, many years. But as regular readers know, after losing my heart dog, Merlin, I got the opportunity to be gifted with a wonderfully bred dog now known as Kenzo. You can read about that here if you so desire: Introducing Kenzo. So I fully get the emotional response that such a subject brings to those passionate about rescue. But despite the fact that rescue has always been a part of who I am, I have never accepted that all breeders should be painted with the same brush. Running a purebred rescue, I never viewed responsible breeders as the enemy because I met some of them. Responsible breeders are who started most original purebred rescues to help save the creations of their not so responsible counterparts. Despite what some of you believe or have read, responsible breeders are not the cause of shelter dogs dying no more than being a cat person is. It’s an absurd idea that needs tossed to the curb.

Adopting a dog from a rescue or shelter or a re-homing situation is an honorable action. As I mentioned, all of my canine kids up until Kenzo have come to me via varying rescue situations. I took in my first dog, Samantha, from a past friend who got a puppy at the same time as having a baby. Layla, my second dog, was found wandering the streets and rescued by my neighbor’s child, while I was still mourning my first dog. When no one claimed her, I gratefully called her mine. Merlin and Kera were both adopted mere months apart from the shelter at which I spent much time volunteering. Siri came to me as a foster puppy who never left, one of seven rescued from the irresponsible owner of a purebred dog who had an “oops litter” with the neighbor’s dog. Trent belonged to someone I knew who sent him into a rescue of my suggestion, when a baby’s allergy made keeping him impossible. The rescue turned out to be a hoarder and he came to me, never to leave. I have personally fostered literally more than a hundred dogs. Some ended up becoming family, even if for a short time. Damon, who my Doberman rescue was named for, was my foster failure for almost a year before I lost him to Wobblers.

From the front, left to right: Luigi, Miley ( GSDX Rescue ) Gianna, Chesney and Denzel. Photo courtesy of Suzy Augello.

From the front, left to right: Luigi, Miley ( GSDX Rescue ) Gianna, Chesney and Denzel. Photo courtesy of Suzy Augello.

I will always have a rescued dog, very likely several rescued dogs. I love making a connection with a dogs who need help and watching them blossom with love and proper care. It’s an amazing feeling. If I had more humans in my home and more money and more time and more space (don’t we all say that?), I would have far more dogs than I should. Facebook shares are hard on the soul, with all the dogs in need. But my first responsibility is to my current dogs and I would never add a family member that would cause them too much stress. Read more on that subject here. The fit should be appropriate so that responsibility limits my desires. When the time comes, I will be on Petfinder looking for my next crew member.

Every dog person I know has a bucket list of dogs that they want to “have” before they die. I have not fulfilled mine yet. So I won’t rule out getting another responsibly bred puppy at some time in my life. Despite what you hear some rescuers state, you cannot find every kind of purebred dog in a shelter or rescue. There are hundreds of breeds that many people have never heard of, who are never going to find themselves in a shelter. Someone wants those breeds and that is okay. Everyone has the right to choose the dog breed that feels right to them. Some people choose breeds for utility such as herding sheep, guarding livestock, helping to hunt, and even guide dogs. Working lines, as they are called, are bred for generations for their jobs. There is nothing wrong with that. Working dogs cared for properly are a joy to watch.

Responsibly bred dogs are not causing dogs to die in shelters. Irresponsible breeders and irresponsible owners are. Insufficient laws addressing breeding are responsible for the over-population problem in this country. Lack of education in proper care and training of dogs are among the many reasons that dogs are surrendered to shelters or rescues. A throw away society that wants a quick fix is prevalent in the American culture. None of these reasons are conducive to long term commitments for the lifespan of a dog. Shelters and rescue groups exist because of the irresponsible and uneducated, not the responsible.

Stable temperaments and sound health are the hallmarks of a responsible breeder. Without them, the future of dogs is in jeopardy. Breeds that you know and love will cease to exist without responsible breeders. Learning how to identify responsible breeders and how involved they are in the lives of the dogs that they create could be a pleasant eye opener.

Buying a puppy from a responsible breeder should involve en extensive questionnaire. You will be thoroughly screened with references checked and multiple phone calls back and forth before you are approved. You will meet in person or see via Skype, the puppy’s parents. You will get the appropriate health testing information for the breed. You will get questioned on your lifestyle and whether you are a good match for the breed. The breeder will have an ironclad and extensively worded contract with requirements that you must meet for the dog’s lifetime as well as a requirement to return the dog at any time in his or her life, should there be a need to do so. You will be asked to contact them throughout the dog’s life for questions on diet, exercise, health and any other subject that you can think of that pertains to your choice.

This chart can help people understand the difference between the type of breeders that exist. Supporting the last two columns should be your goal. Support of the other types of “breeders” is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

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At this point, some of my rescuer readers are probably wondering if the above is a commercial for breeders. Not at all. It’s simply an attempt to educate that responsible breeders are not the enemy. Backyard breeders, commercial breeders, puppy mills and pet stores that treat dogs like a commodity rather than living sentient beings are the enemy. Don’t confuse them with each other. The goal of humane educators should be focused on eliminating the need for the aforementioned sources of irresponsibly bred puppies.

Since I procrastinated while writing this blog post, I had the opportunity to be thoroughly appalled and disgusted at what was meant to be a Super Bowl ad for Go Daddy. This sad excuse of an ad portrays a “family” who sells puppies online, with no regard for who they get sold to. This is not a responsible breeder. See above chart once again. Because of the huge outcry from dog lovers everywhere, the ad was pulled. This shows you do have a voice. Use that voice wisely. Don’t generalize. Support responsibility on the part of breeders and rescuers alike.

That brings me to responsible rescue practices. All rescues and rescuers are not created equal. Rescues should have a thorough screening process, with a questionnaire, a home visit, behavior and medical screening and treatments before placement, as well as putting the utmost effort into making appropriate matches. A good rescue will also be present for you for the lifetime of the dog. Responsible shelters offer the same comfort. What rescues and shelters should not do is be too stringent so that good solid homes get turned down for reasons such as no fences, working a regular job, having children, etc. Obviously, some dogs will require a fence, some will require no kids, some will need more attention than others. But blanket statements and requirements that are rigid regardless of the validity of the home, help no one but irresponsible breeders. Then there is the opposite end of the rescue spectrum; the rescuers who screen no one, adopt out intact and unhealthy animals as well as those with unaddressed behavior problems to people ill equipped to handle it. Read more about that subject here: Saving Them All: At What Cost?
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Responsibility is important on all sides of this equation. The only solution to this is education. Make it your goal to know more and you will make more informed decisions. That is always going to be a good thing. Diversity is also a good thing. Allow people their individuality. Judgments on others for their choices won’t help educate. So leave your ego at the door and please share your story on your canine choices in a respectful manner. Rudeness will not get your comments listed. Thanks in advance!

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We Are Family: Are Your Dogs Family or Pets?

We Are Family: Are Your Dogs Family or Pets?

I have always disliked that word “pet”. It implies a relationship of servitude. Such a relationship is unequal is an unpleasant way. The existence of an animal for the sole purpose of the human. That’s not why I have dogs in my life. I want a mutual relationship with my dogs. They get a say in their life. I am their parent. I am not their master.

One of Merriam-Webster definitions of pet when used as a noun is as follows: a domesticated animal kept for pleasure rather than utility. Further google searches for additional definitions might include the notation that the affection is typically returned by the “pet” to the owner. How generous of that statement as an afterthought! Choosing to share our life with dogs should mean that the pleasure of both parties is of importance as a standard.

I asked this question on the How Many Dogs Facebook page: are your dogs pets or family? I did not calculate percentages so this is only a guess, but approximately 98% said family without question. Some even questioned as to whether I was serious in even asking such a question. Obviously, the majority of that audience is not who I have to convince.

The concept of dogs as family is not easy for some to wrap their heads around. Old traditions die hard. The traditional role of animals in the life of humans placed the humans in what was once referred to as an alpha role. That perception of our role in a dog’s life has been displaced by science. There are plenty of people still willing to cling to that role, however. Bad information presented on unfortunate TV shows contributes to antiquated information maintaining a place in the public eye. This contributes to the unbalanced relationships that many people have with their dogs.

Dogs aren't left out when friends come to visit.

Dogs aren’t left out when friends come to visit.

In human families, those who are closest are not always related by blood. Close friends are often considered family and non-traditional nuclear families are more common than traditional ones (with parents who are on their first marriage to one another with only shared children in the home). Blended families are far more common in this modern day and age.

Dogs are part of a blended family. You choose them. Unlike blood relatives, you have made the decision to add an animal to your home. In multiple dog households, that concept is even more front and center. A cohesive household should be your goal. There are always going to be spats in a family. Love doesn’t prevent other emotions. Conflict is part of life. Your goal as a dog parent is to minimize that potential. Be the parental figure. You can read more about that subject by clicking here.

There are hundreds of multiple dog households with dogs who don’t get along. It happens, but this is not the scenario that this blog post is about. I don’t judge households like this as inappropriate. Keeping the conflict to a minimum and keeping everyone safe should be a goal in such households. How do you create a more cohesive family if your current crew is unstable? A blog post recommendation can only deal in generalizations. The number one answer is get a professional behavior consultant to help you. Failing that, be a strong parental type figure who creates boundaries and is observant and there for all questions and answers. Provide the information that is relevant, provide training for all dogs who need it, provide safety as well as all the other basic needs.

Families celebrate each other’s successes and share each other’s pain. Families stick together when it counts. Families have fun together. Families mourn losses. If your crew is happiest when everyone is together, then you have succeeded in creating a family. If your dogs greet each other after one or more having been separated for one reason or another, then you have a family. If your dogs look out for each other in some way in some scenarios and have jealous spats in other circumstances, then you have a family. Pat yourself on the back, hug your dogs (if they enjoy that!) and celebrate your family. Give them the courtesy of calling them family rather than pets. I personally use the word dogs rather than pets when applicable. I am the human, they are the dogs. Together we are a family. No pets here.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this subject in the spaces below.

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Safety Zone: Why Safety Is So Important to Dogs

Safety Zone: Why Safety Is So Important to Dogs

You make sure that your dogs have a roof over their heads, food to eat and have appropriate vet care as needed. So you assume that they are safe. In comparison to a stray dog, they are indeed safe. But there is a lot more to safety than the basics that I mentioned.

Is any one dog in your home regularly annoying to another dog without consistent human intervention? Do any of your dogs bark at strangers outside of your home while viewing them from inside? Do any of your dogs bark at strangers while on a walk? Do you have an invisible fence and allow your dogs unsupervised access to your yard, which is on a street with others passing by? Then you have an emotional safety problem.

There are different degrees of safety. What a dog with one personality may consider a minor worry, another with a higher strung temperament may consider worthy of a meltdown. Learning what your own dogs require in order to feel safe is crucial to having a smoothly running household.

This is what dogs who feel safe look like while relaxing.

This is what dogs who feel safe look like while relaxing.

Think about your emotional state when you don’t feel safe. Do you feel anxious? Worried? Stressed? All of the above? It’s the same for dogs. Safety means something different for everyone. It’s a very individual but very important component of one’s life. How can you determine what safety is lacking in your household? Learning to be very observant about what worry in your own crew looks like and what creates that worry. Learn body language and signals and what questions to the humans of the household look like.

Let’s address some of my examples individually:

Barking at strangers, from both inside and outside is from a perceived lack of safety. While a blog post cannot fix this problem in your dogs, it can give you an idea that you need professional help to create safety in this area. If your dogs are reactive in these types of scenarios, professional behavioral help can change this behavior for the better. Feel free to contact us for a referral to a qualified behavior professional in your area.

I might get some flack on the mention of invisible type fencing, but it has to be said. Unsupervised dogs in most invisible fencing type situations are a recipe for a lack of safety on the part of the dogs. The dogs know that anything and anyone can enter their space but they are trapped and cannot get away from an intruder. There is no visible barrier so that passersby are seen as a credible threat. This can create and/or increase aggression.

Regarding the subject of one dog annoying another housemate on a regular basis, I have written numerous blogs, one on parenting available here and another on bully dogs, available here. Knowing that the human(s) in the household will provide safety from being pushed around can allow a dog to truly relax.

This brings me additional clues that your dog doesn’t feel safe. An inability to relax easily around the house is a glaring symptom. Pacing frequently and being easily startled are clues as well. Being hyper-vigilant towards certain criteria such as doorways to the outside world and windows that look out onto potentially active areas of the neighborhood is yet another. A caveat about the interest in the outdoor activity; this can also simply be a habit that has been inadvertently reinforced. When that is the case, you will rarely see the other symptoms.

One of the easiest things that can be done to remedy a lack of emotional safety is to truly see your dogs. Their questions, that is. Dogs ask a lot of questions of their humans. The problems arise when the humans don’t see the questions. The dogs then are forced to deal with their fears in the best way that they know. This rarely works out in a manner that is satisfactory to the humans, or the dogs for that matter!

Feeling safe isn’t limited to the examples that I gave. Other areas of safety include not exposing your dogs to scenarios where they could get into trouble that can be avoided. This can include using a leash when walking outdoors, having your dogs greet visitors away from the initial entry into your home as well as not allowing strangers to touch your dogs without your dog’s explicit permission.

And for the initial examples that were presented such as meals, vet care and housing, there is lot to be gained from the expectation that basic routines happen as planned. Another safety stressor is unpredictability on the part of the humans. Behavior wise, that is. If the humans do not behave in a predictable manner most of the time, it can cause instability on the part of the dog’s mental state. Anxious and mentally unstable humans can create or contribute to mentally unstable dogs. This is not always the case, of course.

Dogs with rock solid temperaments can safely be emotional or psychiatric service dogs for humans that have emotional problems or mental illness quite successfully. But these are dogs who are hand picked for such tasks, not your average shelter or rescue dog that has baggage of his or her own. However, such dogs will need to have regular breaks in order to remain successfully and stable.

In conclusion, with a provision of safety, what you will see is dogs who can roll with life’s challenges and changes. Your crew will trust that you are handling all the scary things and handling scenarios that may worry them. They trust that they can look to you with questions and get answers that they understand. They trust that you will intervene when necessary. This allows them to truly relax and be themselves. Creating such an existence among your crew will provide long term peace of mind, not only among your crew but with the humans. Please take the spaces below to describe how you create a safety zone among your crew.

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From the Frying Pan to the Fire: Adding a Dog When Your Current Dog Has Issues

From the Frying Pan to the Fire: Adding a Dog When Your Current Dog Has Issues

Let’s say for the sake of argument that you have a human child who is difficult, with a personality disorder that needs professionally addressed. Yet you haven’t had the heart to take that step. Your child is antisocial towards everyone but your own family, and at times even them. He is disruptive in school, openly hostile and pro-active about avoiding interactions and generally challenges any form of authority. Would you think it a good idea to suddenly decide to adopt another younger child to shower with affection? Would you expect the interactions of the new child and the troubled child to go smoothly?

Strangely, many people do exactly the canine equivalent of this. They are then vastly surprised that they have a problem on their hands. The expectation is that if you have two of the same species in the house, they should automatically get along. Why? All humans don’t get along. It would of course be great if that were the case, but humanity has a long way to go before we get to that point.

No one understands more than I do the temptation to add another canine to one’s household. But even I did not reach this point without planning. My last “singleton” dog was adamant about remaining a singleton. I tried but at that stage of my training life, I was not skilled enough to “fix” her. Layla’s behavior near other dogs was fine. I “fixed” that very easily. She simply did not want to share her space with another canine and I respected that. She had no other issues. She was a delightful and charming dog, enchanting every human she met. Everyone loved her and she them.

Adding another canine to a household with a dog who not only dislikes other dogs but also most humans is a huge task to take on. Changing the behavior won’t happen overnight. There are no magic wands. Consistency and dare I say the word, leadership, are important. Because of my specialty, I get requests to help with such situations to varying degrees. I believe being truthful is important to achieving success. All family members must be on board in order for changes to take place. Realistic expectations are crucial and patience is key.

Teach delivers a correction to Tucker.

Teach delivers a correction to Tucker.

Managing the environment and setting each dog up for success is important. I often get asked, “How do I stop so and so from annoying so and so?” Easy, don’t let him in the first place. Setting up your household for success so that each dog feels safe and secure is important to success. Safety is high on the hierarchy of needs. Anxiety is off the charts without safety. The humans are in charge of safety. The dogs need structure, guidelines and safety. Rewarding for appropriate choices and providing an incentive for such will teach impulse control.

My job would be so much easier if simply integrating the dogs was my only requested task. Yet in so many of these cases, the resident dog in question dislikes all human strangers so that has to be addressed before I can even attend to fixing the dog/dog situation. I do have to get access to the inside of the house, after all!

In the worst scenarios, the owners have waited until the now larger and more confident dog has gotten fed up with the corrections he or she has endured at the paws of the older dog and has started to fight back. Get help before this point, please! Better yet, address your older dog’s issues FIRST, before you add gasoline to your fire. The amount of work that needs done once the deed is done is more than most people want to deal with. So do yourself a favor and think of what the resident dog needs rather than what you want.

If you lived through such a scenario, feel free to tell us all about it in the spaces below.

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The Heat is On: Pressure to Add a Family Member

The Heat is On: Pressure to Add a Family Member

Dog lovers who can’t turn their backs on a dog in need, are faced with this pressure regularly. I am not talking about saying yes to every dog in need. I am talking about people who foster dogs for rescues or shelters and/or people who take in dogs they find wandering the streets.

Post a dog on Facebook that you have found, while you are trying to locate the owners and you will get the inevitable suggestion to keep the dog when efforts to find the owner are not immediately rewarding. The culprits mean well and they use smiley faces to soften their pressure. But pressure it is. Phrases such as “it’s meant to be” and “you found him for a reason” are intrusive and assuming. Assuming because the person applying the pressure presumes to know better than the person who is not ready to add to their household.

The same phrases can be found on threads with photos of foster dogs. Fostering saves lives. If foster homes keep every dog they foster, they typically can’t foster any longer. Foster failures are not a bad thing. Most people who have fostered have experienced a foster failure. Sometimes it is meant to be. But most times, it isn’t. The foster home is just a step along the path. It’s a very important and often life sustaining step, but a step nevertheless. It’s a wonderful thing.

Giving the resident dogs a break.

Giving the resident dogs a break.

Equally wonderful is taking the time to capture a lost dog or a stray in need. Some people will find a new addition to their household by doing this, when the dog in question is a stray. That becomes a joyous occasion for all involved. But it’s just as joyous when the lost dog gets reunited with his or her family of the stray finds a forever home once in safety.

There is no shame in not being ready to be the last step on their journey. Only the humans and the other canines in the home can make that decision. Others can’t make it for them. It’s very stressful to be pressured like that. Pressure can make some people make decisions that are not right for them. That helps no one.

It’s okay to be selfish in these cases. You have to be comfortable with your decisions. Don’t allow pressure from others to make up your mind about whether you add another canine member or not. Be true to yourself and what you can handle. Don’t let outsiders sour you on helping in your own way. Every little bit helps. It’s a wonderful thing to help an animal in need with nothing being returned but happiness in your soul. Don’t allow pie in the sky outsiders who have no concept of your situation to cause turmoil inside of you or sway you from playing your part in an animal’s journey. Play the part you want to play and be proud of what you have done. You deserve it.

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