Weekend in review!

The boys have been in a bit of a “fun hangover” the past few days.

They’ve been so busy re-living the great visit they had with their special guests, that they haven’t even had time to blog. Eep!

Most folks have already found out about our special guest from her blog posts this week — we had a great visit with our pal Juliana from Peace, Love, and Fostering and her hunny Mark. Chick had met Juliana before, and was excited to introduce her to his brother, Doodlebug. Immediately, both boys knew that Juliana was their very best friend in the whole world.

And once we dressed our visitors up in cowboy boots that match our boys’ beautiful brown-and-white furs, they decided that Mark could join their elite club, too.

Having dog-lover visitors is always such a treat, but having dog-lovers who also carry cameras wherever they go is extra special. Those who are always behind the lens are familiar with the bittersweet feeling of having great photos of things going on around them, but never being in the photos. So we were thrilled that Juliana kindly showered us with her photojournalistic splendor and reminded us of what our life looks like when mama’s not behind the lens:

photo courtesy Juliana Willems

photo courtesy Juliana Willems

photo courtesy Juliana Willems

As much lovin’ as the boys had, us humans snuck off for some fun of our own too — primarily in the form of eating, drinking, and splashing around in Austin’s many swimming spots.

Thanks for the great visit, friends! Come back soon!





Chix-A-Lot Friday: getting ready for a special visitor!

Hey guys, I’m so excited I’d almost pee in my pants, if I were wearing any pants. I’ve been bouncing and bouncing about, and peeping out the window every few minutes. Mama says I’m being silly because my special visitor isn’t coming until tomorrow, but I want to be good and ready!

I’ve prepared the Dora B&B and have told Doodlebug all about how to charm our special visitor’s socks off so she’ll love him forever. I already am not too worried about her loving me forever, charming as I am.

I can’t wait to tell you all about her visit, but for now I have to run — I need to be on lookout at the door, and there are pillows to fluff!

Love, Chickster

Treats: how NOT to win over a shy dog

You encounter a shy, nervous, or fearful dog at the shelter or at an adoption event. You squat down, try to make eye contact, and encourage the dog to come to you. The dog doesn’t. She stays still, licks her lips, turns her head up and away, as though catching a scent in the air. She licks her lips.

You move a little closer, thinking she’s just shy and maybe you should approach her instead of waiting for her to come to you. You scoot forward a step. She yawns.

You pull out your baggie of treats, thinking that if she is worried about you, maybe you giving her a treat — a peace offering — will show her that you are friend, not foe. You hold the treat out on your hand. She stands up tentatively and creeps forward slowly, with a tiny, low wag to her tail. She grabs the treat and retreats.

You offer another treat, she comes to you more quickly. The third time, she doesn’t retreat as far. You smile as you feel a little rush of adrenaline — You’ve won her over! Breakthrough!

We’ve all been there, right? Offered super-delicious treats to frightened dogs, and then felt like a dog charmer when the dogs approach us instead of cowering at the back of their kennels? Of course. It seems natural and is so tempting to do, but could we be setting them up for failure?

When we bribe a fearful dog to approach using treats, we are creating conflict in the dog. We are saying: Come to me even though you are scared of me. When this request is repeated over and over by different people, it creates a new habit in the dog — approaching people it is scared of in exchange for a food reward. The dog learns that it can approach, get a cookie, and then retreat. It’s when something unexpected happens — this particular stranger doesn’t have a cookie, and happens to sneeze, shuffle his feet, or stare directly into the dog’s eyes — the dog might bite.

We can do fearful dogs a BIG favor by teaching them to stay safe when they are frightened: If you’re scared, don’t approach me. Stay where you are. If a dog understands that he has the choice of whether to approach a new person or not, that dog is much less likely to end up in conflict and in trouble.

We want so badly to win fearful dogs over with food and love, but instead, let’s win them over on their own schedule. Some dogs warm up right away; others will never warm up. Some are somewhere in the middle.

When meeting a new dog, pay careful attention to the dog’s body language. If the dog does not approach or seems worried as it approaches, just be cool and ignore it. Wait and observe. Look for calming signals (yawning, lip licking, sniffing the ground, blinking), and offer them in return. Take the dog for a walk or offer a toy, but don’t use treats or pet it before it is begging for your touch. Many dogs will eat or freeze for petting when they are nervous, but a dog is unlikely to play or actively solicit petting while it’s worried. After that barrier is broken, the treat bag comes out and a world of new possibilities opens up.

But rather than using treats to win the dog’s trust initially, use casual indifference and patience. Teach it: You don’t have to come to me if you are worried. It’ll be the biggest favor you can do.

DISCLAIMER: Author is a student of dog training at the Canine Center in Austin, not licensed professional dog trainer. Contents are one person’s observations, not written-in-stone best practice. Use at your own discretion!

Chix-A-Lot Friday: I am Malaysian

Ok, maybe I’m not really. I am actually a Texan. But, I do have the malaise today, and I heard mama say I was Malaysian (or was it malaisin’?).

You see, mama gave me a bath the other day, after she saw a flea taking a joyride on my belly. She said it must be joyride season and whisked me off for some dampening and some scrubbing! Now, I don’t mind the scrubbing so much, but the dampening is not my favorite. Still, I took it like the brave boy that I am, and only gave her the malaisin’ looks a few times:

And then she whisked me out and dried me off, which is very nice but NOT nice enough to make up for all the malaisin’ that the evil spitting snake causes when he spits water at me and makes me dampened.

Well as though taking baths wasn’t malaise-inducing enough, I got a little bit of yeasties in my ear! They make my ear ouchy and a little itchy, and they make me want to shake it all crooked. And, they give me even more of the malaise. Mama says I already had the yeastie malaise before my bath, but I think it’s her fault for putting me in the tub. Don’t dogs get their ears invaded by yeasties after they go swimming or have evil baths?

So Doodlebug and I are laying low this weekend. He is nursing his bald patches and I am nursing my ear, which is now not only yeasty, but gets a vinegar solution swabbed in it twice a day by mama. Yuck!

Worms of all kinds. And carving new features.

Mama wanted me to tell you about my new feature on my face.

But I’ll just show it to you instead:

I carved it myself, with my back toenails!

Why, you ask?

So many reasons.

I’m itchy.

Because of allergies.

And my toenails stop the itching.

For a minute.

Plus, everybody loves my cute scar on my face . . .

so I thought I’d make another!

Oh, and also: I have a new set of worms.

They are ringworms.

Which aren’t worms at all!

They’re just a fungus pretending to be worms!

Sneaky bastards!

The ringworm funguses make me itchy too

and make my skin dry out and flake up

and my beautiful red and white furs fall out in patches all over.

Even on my darling Doodlebug face and ears:

Mama says there’s an end in sight

(to the worms, not the allergies)

but I don’t see it.

Maybe once I do see it, I won’t have to carve new features for myself anymore.

So there you have it.

Back to the e-collar for me!

Chix-A-Lot Friday: The month I made the rain come

Mama adopted me in November 2004, and it didn’t rain that day. It didn’t rain the following day either. But the next day, and every day after that for more than a month, it rained. Here’s a tiny photo of brave little me and my mama out in the rain during that wonderful but soggy first month together.

She’s been joking lately that if we get another terrible drought spell in Texas this summer she’s going to have to adopt another dog . . . uh oh. She and I have our paws super full enough with Doodlebug already. I hope she’s not serious!

The Saga of Stevie Wonder: Part 3

When we first heard that she was being returned, we panicked. We had seen Miss Stevie in the shelter, and knew how badly she might regress if she ended up back there. And with the shelter close to full already, we didn’t know how good her chances were of making it out.

We didn’t realize how many lucky stars were aligning for Miss Stevie while we were freaking out and coming up with unreasonable, irrational plans. Plans like driving back to Maryland from Texas to fetch her and bring her back home with us. 50+ hours of driving and 1.5 dogs too many in our house, that would have been. Luckily, we kept looking for other solutions.

Lucky Star Number One: we found out from Stevie’s family that they were committed to keeping her in their home for at least a few weeks — until a suitable foster home could be found. We can’t overstate how much respect we have for a family who realizes that they have to / want to / decide to surrender a beloved family pet, but then is willing to hold on to the animal until a good option arises. It must have been heartbreaking every day. But it turned out to be critical.

Knowing we had at least a couple of weeks, we reached out to rescues. We contacted Jasmine’s House, our friends at Bully Paws, and a few individuals and families we know who sometimes foster. We even put a vague post out on our Facebook page, stating that a dog we love very much needed a soft place to land — hoping that one of our DC area friends would step up.

Lucky Star Number Two: our friend Catalina at Jasmine’s House remembered Stevie’s story well, and agreed to do what she could to bring her in to the rescue. Several Jasmine’s dogs were being adopted that week, so a suitable foster home was likely to come up.

Lucky Star Number Three: one of our friend-of-friends and blog followers sent us an email in response to our Facebook posting. They were thinking about getting into fostering, and were interested in meeting Stevie-girl. They were a young couple with two dogs, two cats, and no kids.

Catalina arranged a meeting, and took Stevie up to meet her potential foster. A few hours later, we got a call from Catalina, gushing about how wonderful Stevie’s would-be fosters were. They had lovely dogs, a nice home, and were clearly thoughtful, kind, educated, and actively interested in dog behavior and training.  Potentially perfect. And judging from the quick iPhone photo we got, it was love!

A few days later, sh** hit the fan in Maryland. The state Court of Appeals issued an opinion that casts a label of “dangerous dog” on any pit bull type dog in the state, and creates strict liability for not only owners of pit bulls, pit bull mixes, and dogs who anybody thinks look like pit bulls, but on any landlord who has a pit bull living on his/her property. More detail on the opinion is available here, but in short: the Court of Appeals, in one catastrophic opinion, made owning or adopting out pit bull type dogs a hell of a lot more risky and difficult.

We immediately panicked again — what would this mean for our Stevie-girl? Would the family who had loved her get cold feet and back out?

Lucky Star Number Four: Nope. They quickly reassured Jasmine’s House that if anything, the Court’s ruling made them more committed, not less committed to fostering Stevie Wonder. Awesome!

Another week later, Stevie was safe and sound in their home in Towson, and we could finally sleep well at night. Her journey is far from over, but we already feel optimistic about her prospects. Stevie Wonder is a resilient, loving girl. She’ll bounce back from all of these changes — we have no doubt.

And while she starts the next chapter of her journey, please enjoy Lucky Star Number Five – her new foster family’s blog about their experience, Hound and a Half! Stop by to lend some support, ideas, or just plain thanks for being so awesome.

Bon Voyage, Stevie Wonder! We’ll all be with you all the way!

**And a special bonus, Lucky Star Number Six: Stevie’s new foster family is real-life-good-friends with the adopters of another of our favorite fosters, Curious Georgia! What a beautiful, wonderful, small world it is!

The Saga of Stevie Wonder – Part 2

. . . and they lived happily ever after . . . until they didn’t.

They loved our little Stevie-girl to pieces. She slept under the covers in bed with them, accompanied dad on daily morning runs, played fetch on the back patio until their arms were sore, and went to basic obedience class at the top-notch facility nearby. They bragged about how sweet, smart, and darling she is. By all accounts, everything should have been perfect.

But right about January, we got the dreaded email. Stevie’s family was seeing some behavioral issues –some anxiety and fear– and they needed a good private trainer. A few months later, an even more dreaded email: Stevie is being returned.

Our first reaction was to be shocked, appalled, and judgmental. Yikes.

But the return of Stevie is an important reminder to us that all stripes of people part with beloved pets, for all kinds of reasons. Us who work in dog rescue often protect our hearts with a high wall and a quickness to judge: returns are never acceptable. Those who return pets are wrongAlways.

But in fact, could we be wrong for thinking this way?

Hang around animal rescue for long enough and have the courage to keep your heart and mind open, and eventually you’ll start to see that nothing is as black and white as you had initially thought. Not all those who want to adopt pit bulls are criminals, not every shy dog was abused, not every dog who growls is dangerous, and not every adopter who returns a pet is a bad person.

Naturally, our instinct was to feel protective of our former foster, Stevie-girl, who we nursed back to emotional health after she was found tied to a tree on a golf course last spring. How could she be homeless again? Doesn’t forever mean forever?

That we heard the news in the same week that our post about another dog’s return was highlighted on the ASPCA Pro blog seems like a cosmic sign of some sort. Don’t forget to be compassionate. Kindness and humane treatment applies to all creatures, not just the dogs we work so hard to save.

Eventually, we came to what we think is an important realization. Some dogs may be better off rehomed. We would have loved to have seen Stevie thrive in her forever-home forever. And yes, we think that with enough time, money, patience, training, and care, the incompatibilities between her exuberance and her family’s lifestyle may have resolved. But how much time, money, patience, training, and care is enough, and how much is too much? What level of stress to a family and a dog is justifiable to make a situation fit? Knowing what we know now, we see that Stevie probably never would have become a natural fit for this particular type of family. And don’t Stevie and her family each deserve a natural fit? We realized that it’s actually possible — probably, even–  that she’ll be happier, healthier, and more well-balanced in a different home.

There is much to be thankful about in Stevie’s saga. And we’ll tell you about it tomorrow.

The Saga of Stevie Wonder – Part 1

Who remembers this gal?

Stevie Wonder lived with us last summer — our fifth foster dog, and one of our true darlings.  She was one of those perfect rescue/foster stories. A good dog who wasn’t cut out for shelter life, pulled into foster care when it became obvious she wasn’t going to make it out on her own.

When she arrived, she was a quivery, shut-down mess. But with time and love, we helped her open up. We had lots of fun adventures together, and integrated her successfully with our own grumpy Chick, who ended up pretty fond of the spazzy lass. We took her to adoption events and talked about her all the time, like a good foster family does. Not only is she cute as a button, a great runner, swimmer, fetcher, and snuggler, but she had that kind of jubilant energy with a little splash of nervousness thrown in that made her oh-so-fun to work with. Our favorite kind of dog — a little challenging, but in a good way. Full of love, but kind of a spaz. Very emotional. And very willing to learn.

She was with us a couple of months, and then in mid August, a family showed up to meet her. They seemed perfect. Experienced, loving, ready for a new dog. They had a little boy with a head of blond curls. They instantly loved Stevie, and she instantly loved them. We had fantasies about her and the little boy growing up together. They applied, and they were approved. We were thrilled — it was a perfect match.

We cried a little when she walked out of our world and into theirs, but then we patted ourselves on the back and congratulated ourselves for a match made in heaven. And they lived happily ever after . . . right?

In any case, that’s how the story is supposed to end. In a perfect world, every dog would enter foster care, be matched with their perfect family on the first try, and live happily ever after. Easy breezy. But it turns out that in the case of Stevie — like so many dogs who circulate the rescue world — the story is a lot more tumultuous and complicated. Stay tuned for this story’s next chapter tomorrow . . .

Chix-A-Lot Friday: The end of an era

For the last four bazillion 17.6 years, there was a definite ruler of our Texas family universe. Some of the humans pretended to be in charge now and then, and sometimes I even pretended. But deep down, we all knew who the real boss was. Disney.

She was about eight ounces of pure intimidation, and boy did she boss us around. Especially me.

We first met a few months after mama busted me from the slammer, must’ve been about the spring of 2005. I was a spring chicken, and she was about a hundred years old already. You woulda thought a young buck like myself would take charge of a little old lady (mama says she was not a hundred, but only eleven then), but no sirree, she showed me straight away who was in charge. Disney.

Over the years, she played many, many tricks on me. She talked me into going to the snack bar kitty litter for a tasty morsel — promising me that nobody would see — and then ran and told my mama so I would be caught with my face right in the kitty toilet igloo! Another time she talked my mama into letting me go off leash in her unfenced yard in Galvestion, promising she would take care of me, and then she pulled out her cell phone and secretly called the rabbits to come out and taunt me so I would go racing around and get in trouble. She sure was a trickster!

But sometimes I tricked her too. For example, one time after I took a nap on the couch, I told Disney about the perfect cozy spot I had found, and told her to go try it out. Well she did, not realizing that I had hidden her kitty nemesis brother under the blanket, so she was caught cuddling a cat!

The last time I saw Disney was Thanksgiving weekend. We enjoyed some snacks from the Turkeyman together, and at one quiet moment, she pulled me aside and told me: An era is ending, Nephew. I’m going to be passing the torch along to you soon.

I didn’t really understand what she was talking about, but when I looked at her later that day, I noticed that she was looking kind of tired. I mean, she’s been an old lady ever since I was born, but it was different now. Like maybe she was tired of being the boss. Like she’d had the best life a dog can imagine in her 17.5 years, and she was ready to pass along the Family Elder torch to somebody else.  Me.

And then this past weekend when we went back to Galveston to visit my grandparents and my Disney, I could tell that something was different. Disney didn’t want to come out and party with me and meet my new brother. She didn’t want to eat turkey with me or lounge in the sunshine. She was ready. And so on that quiet Saturday afternoon, Disney’s doctor came over while the Duder and I were napping upstairs, and he helped her let go of the torch.

The family will never quite be the same without that old gal’s spirit, but I’m going to do my best to bravely wear the Family Elder shoes in honor of my favorite aunt Disney. I just wish there had been time for her to teach my brother Doodlebug how to play her spectacular game of fetch.

RIP Disney, 1994-2012

Disney mini painting by http://www.yellowbrickhome.com

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