Leash walking: Lollie Wonderdog’s story

Yesterday we posted a lengthy account from our first foster’s forever-mama about Lily’s tough transition from our foster home to their forever-home. Our hope was that Jen’s very honest story would help others feel less alone — that transitions can be rocky and outcomes can still be good in the end. Some patience, love, and work with a dog who doesn’t understand what is expected can come a long way.

Below is the second half of Jen’s story, about teaching Lily how to relax around other dogs when out and about. Many dog people struggle with this issue — where their dog is too nervous or too excited to act cool when other dogs are around. Jen used a creative strategy to countercondition Lily to other dogs’ existence — she brilliantly took advantage of a dog park fence line to provide a steady supply of unfamiliar dogs at a controlled distance, so that she could work with Lily and not worry about the other animals at all. Read on for more:

To work on her excitement about dogs outside the house, I took her to the dog park. But no, not in the way that you’re thinking!

First we sat in the car a distance from the dog park. When we saw a dog — JACKPOT! Begin the string cheese stuffing in the slobbery dog’s mouth! We’d spend about 30 minutes each visit, eventually getting closer and closer to the actual park, WHILE SITTING IN THE CAR!! This was fantastic fun on beautiful spring days, jackpotting all the way.  Soon we were ready to get OUT of the car…. (I was no longer the weird girl stalking dogs at the park…) We would sit about 30 feet away from the fence and I would give her a bunch of treats for LOOKING at the dogs and not barking….after she calmed a bit we would practice some basic obedience commands that she could do easily.  Again, we would get closer and closer to the fence, jackpotting for looking at the dogs and remaining calm…after a few visits, we WALKED UP TO THE FENCE!!! I’m not going to lie, I was stressed, and of course a feisty little chihuaha came right up, barked at us and set us back a bit . . . but eventually Lily got to where she could sniff through the fence at the dogs IN the park.  I was kind of feeling like the local predator at the playground, lurking and peering in at the dog park dogs, since we never went into the dog park, but it was a great place to practice her tolerance around other dogs.

During this period, I would use the “turn around” technique while walking her. If we saw another dog, we’d just turn around to avoid any overexcitement. As we got closer to the fence at the dog park, we progressed on her walks. When other dogs came our way, I would have Lily sit and just feed her a constant stream of treats, while the dog went by. It forced her to focus on me, and she got something good for sitting and ignoring them.

Like many dogs, Lily didn’t great well nose-to-nose on leash, and I had no idea at the time how stressful this could be for dogs. I did a little research, and learned that some dogs just can’t sit while other dogs are going by, because sitting still is too stressful in social situations. Luckily Lily is food motivated enough that all her concentration was on the string cheese. It was at this point we suspected a bit of lactose intolerance on her part — No wonder Chick remembers her as “farty pants!”

When she seemed to be doing better we went on a parallel walk with our little friend Kipper. Kipper is a super feisty, high energy, Jack Russell/weiner dog mix. It went well! Lily no longer viewed Kipper as a snack. They began to play, and then slowly Lily started welcoming other dogs.

Back in December, we took Lily for her “Santa” picture, an annual fundraiser for the Montgomery County Humane Society. Lily slobbered like a maniac all over her old friend from the shelter, Santa Dave, and we were lucky enough to meet Juliana, foster mom to another MCHS dog, Baxter. We arranged a walking “date” to work on both dog’s issues and from there our dog hiking club, “Pittie Trails,” was born! 

photo courtesy Peace, Love, & Fostering

To help some of her still existent pulling-on-the-leash issues, we attended a drop in “leash manners” session recently. We spent some intensive time with a most wonderful trainer who gave some more great tips for walking — the ever frustrating but effective “stop and go no further when pulling,” and then the call her attention and go in a different direction when she is pulling. I learned to treat her for good walking and to reward her by letting her sniff things she wanted to “fire hydrants, random dog poo etc”….But best of all, Francine (of Francine’s Fun Walks,) emphasized that there are “training walks” and there are “exercise walks.” Essentially, it’s okay to put the gentle leader (the horrible looking head collar that she walks WONDERFULLY ON — thanks for the tip, Running with Squirrels) and take some time off of leash training and just walk! We’ve made a lot of progress by finally buckling down and doing the “no further progress” walks and I’m back to reeking of hot dogs, but we’re doing well!

I’m not by any means, saying any of this was easy.  Lily is a 60 pound hunk of muscular love. While we were working on the dog reactivity issues, we (sigh) haven’t worked on her people greeting manners.  She thinks that all people on the planet exist only to give her love and snuggles, and that every person wants her to jump up on them. I’m still a little embarrassed to have people come in the house still because she’s SO exuberant. I try to point out to people that isn’t it amazing that a dog that was tossed in a dumpster still LOVES people, but most people don’t see that, they simply see a spotted beast flying at them!

Through this work, I think we have curbed her desire to jump over our BRAND NEW 7 foot fence, which is a good thing, as I was going to have to bring some barbed wire home from work and coat the top of our fences . . . JUST KIDDING!!

Lily is a big huge, licking, stinking butt, monster commitment, but we adore her. And she has come a long way: Just last week she was attacked by a miniature schnauzer — yes, a 20 pound schnauzer attacked Lily on a run. The dog was off leash and came charging at us. I stopped running and panicked! Lily immediately sat down. The dog was baring her teeth, growling and then jumped on Lily. As this happened, I immediately saw headlines written all over this, if Lily reacted in any way to this off leash dog . . . The dog jumped all over Lily and she just sat there looking at me like an angel. After what seemed like forever, but was probably just a minute or two, the owner came flying out her door, yelling “OH MY GOSH! IS THAT A PIT BULL?!?!”  She came up to pull her schnauzer back, and as she did, the dog nipped her hand.  I suppressed a smile and said “yes, she is,” and led my well-behaved dog away.

A Hard Transition: Lollie Wonderdog’s story

We’re so excited to share this very personal, intimate story from our dear friend Jen, adopter of our very first foster, Lollie Wonderdog (now Lily). We try our best to portray each of our foster dogs in a fair and honest light, while highlighting the positives more than the negatives. It’s both how we naturally see our dogs, and a better way to find their forever-homes than focusing on their “areas of opportunity.”

In the case of Lollie Wonderdog, we did this too. The truth is, Lollie/Lily was always a wonderful dog. But, a lot of readers will understand what I mean when I say that she is a lot of dog. She has a big personality. She is full of passion, and as a result, she was somewhat reactive. Not aggressive, just excitable and explosive — reaction types that can, unfortunately, lead to the same result as aggression in some cases. In the coming weeks we’ll be exploring the concept of reactivity and dog communication — but for now, we want to share this account of Jen’s first weeks with Lily. We think this is so important because it’s a glimpse into how challenging a dog’s transition can be into a new home. Many families adopt a dog expecting the dog to fit seamlessly into their life right away — but that’s asking an awful lot of the dog, who has just lost everything familiar and been plopped into all new surroundings with new people and new rules. Some dogs take this in stride, while others have a harder time.

We realize now that our environment was great for dogs coming out of a shelter — our home is calm, we don’t have any kids running around, and our neighborhood is quiet with relatively little car and pedestrian traffic. It’s a great place to recuperate from a stressful journey. But on the flip side, it’s a fairly low-stimulation environment compared to the homes of many of our adopters — we learned this through hearing about Lily’s transition.

I commend Jen for sticking with Lily and working so hard to acclimate her to her new home, family, and neighborhood. And I thank Jen for typing up her experiences for us to share — she writes with great frankness. We hope that rather than discouraging folks from bringing home a dog who needs work, Jen’s tale will help folks who are in similar situations feel less alone. Please keep in mind that Lily’s transition into her new life was the most challenging of all of the eight dogs we’ve placed into homes. And you should also remember that despite her rocky start, Lily is now studying for the CGC, and is on track to become a “warrior companion” dog at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center.

Without further delay, here’s Part 1 of Jen’s story:

My heart broke when I read that Nutty Brown has been returned. It hit me right in the gut. All I could think of was that it could have been the same for Lily . . . She was so close to being an adoption return.

About 2 months after we adopted Lily, she nipped my son. She didn’t hurt him, but I freaked out. I frantically told Aleks: I couldn’t do it anymore. I needed to find another home for her. I was desperate and heartbroken.  Might Aleks take my kids and I keep Lily? I didn’t want to let her go, but I was worried about whether it might happen again?  My son, being a 10 year old boy with some impulsivity issues, wants to love her and squeeze her and hug her ALL the time! Try as I might, I was worried that I would turn my back and he might not follow the rules and stress Lily out. Lily had had a difficult time transitioning from quiet Foster Casa to the madness of two working parents and a herd of kids! It had been weeks of frantic barking throughout the house, barking through the night, running out the front door at any opportunity and setting off panicked “ there’s a loose pit bull in the neighborhood hysteria”, and lunging at other dogs on the leash.

I had fallen for Lily….Her big brown spots, her giant tongue, her white spotty tail…and I felt like I had failed her.  Lily’s transition from foster home to our home was a difficult one.  Unaccustomed to a loud street, she barked at all the cars going by ALL THE TIME.  We have huge floor to ceiling windows with views of the street with a non-stop dog walking parade past our house that she barked at ALL THE TIME…It was a nightmare! Lily would look out one window, bark and race from window to window, running through the house at top speed….She’d throw herself against the windows barking at dogs, birds and squirrels! Oh, the squirrels drove her nuts! And walking her was a nightmare, she would bark and lunge at other dogs, nearly rip the leash out of my hand going after squirrels…I came to dread walking her and tried to do it early in the morning or late at night to avoid the madness….

The day she told Isaiah to back off, it all came to a head. Aleks and I traded many frantic emails that day. I just couldn’t pick up the phone and say that I couldn’t handle this dog, that I was ready to give up… All I could think was “where would she go?” If she went back to the shelter, surely she’d be overlooked. I realized in talking to Aleks, that the problem wasn’t Lily, it was her humans! I either needed to recommit to taking care of her, or hope for a better home for her. As a huge, muscular pit mix, we realized her chances for a good home were slim. We decided to start to really work on things . . . 

First, we had to change her environment. We bought some “frosted” film to put over the lower parts of the windows so Lily couldn’t see out. An amazing barking reduction! After all, she can’t bark at what she can’t see, right? A trainer explained it this way: Lily thinks her barking is scaring off the dogs.  She follows them from window to window barking and eventually she “scared” them away (when really they went walking down the street). After we covered the windows, we started some serious retraining to reduce the barking at other dogs.  Whenever I saw a dog walking by, I opened the front door and sat with Lily watching the dogs go by through the storm door.  When the dog came into view, I “jackpotted” Lily.

Essentially, from the second the dog came in our view, I fed her a constant stream of “super” treats. For Lily, this was pieces of chicken, string cheese, hot dogs — the good stuff. If her mouth was full, she couldn’t bark.  The second the dog went out of view, the treats stopped, we closed the door and went on our business.  On the weekends, I could do this 7 or 8 times a day, maybe more. I was great fun to be around! Weekends would find me ripping the front door open, ignoring the neighbor walking by and frantically stuffing hot dogs in Lily’s mouth. I smelled fantastic!

Pretty soon, Lily was anticipating treats instead of getting upset when dogs walked by the house, and our frantic window barking was fading away. Then it was time to work on seeing and meeting dogs out in the neighborhood . . . “

. . . to be continued

Former foster updates!

Somebody must have told Santa that what we wanted most of all for Christmas was some updates from our former fosters — and boy did he deliver! Over the course of one week, we got updates on FOUR of our old fosters — Lollie (now Lily Fireworks), Gonzo (now Ozzie Bunny-Ears), Stevie Wonder, and Curious Georgia! Updates from our former fosters’ forever-families are one of our absolute favorite parts of fostering, and we’re thrilled to share these with you, too.

For those in DC or Austin who are on the fence about fostering, this is a great time to give it a try: The Washington Humane Society in DC is undergoing renovation, and is desperately in need of a few short-term foster families to care for dogs through the end of January while they fix up the kennels. Here is more info. At the same time in our new hometown, the Austin Animal Center is way over capacity, and is looking for foster families to help relieve some of the pressure on the physical space. The AAC fostering program places pets into homes for 2-4 weeks, while they grow stronger, gain weight, or recover from injury. Here is more info about how to sign up for one of these animals in this time of great need.

Now, on to the former foster fun!

Lily Fireworks (formerly Lollie Wonderdog)

“So we got Lily some doggles in hopes of remedying some of the squirrel/bird/deer chasing and pulling on our walks, and with a lot of hot dog bits and some coaxing, she wore them today — what a difference!!! She wasn’t too pleased with them at first, but over all did really well!!! She couldn’t see the squirrels and walked so nicely! We took them off at mile 4 and what a difference — 3 minutes later she lunged at a deer and almost pulled me over — Hot dogs came out and doggles went back on 🙂 She’s so cute in them…

Have we told you,we adore her! She’s stretched out hogging up the entire carpet in front of the fireplacechewing happily on an antler….Love her!”

Further Lily updates — Thanks to Lily’s patient mama’s work and Lily’s new doggles, our girl has graduated from her Easywalk harness, and has just ordered her first Sirius Republic collar! We can’t wait to see Lily in her new outfit. She prepared for its arrival with a nice bath . . .

Lily got to go out on a date with adoptable hearthrob Baxter from Peace, Love, and Fostering a couple of weekends ago, and she and her new boyfriend are starting a pit bull hiking club in Maryland called Pittie Trails, inspired by HikeaBull in the Bay Area.

photo courtesy Peace, Love, & Fostering

Lily and Baxter got along so well, that Lily’s parents are now daydreaming about adopting another pit bull type dog so that she can have a live-in boyfriend/brother/playmate. Fingers crossed they find the right dog!

Ozzie (formerly Gonzo Bunny-Ears)

“Oz has been great as ever! He had a great holiday season (plenty of gifts from the parents AND the Grandparents) and there was definitely no shortage of kisses and dog zoomies to boot! We are predicting even more loveable antics in the New Year! The dynamic duo of Laila and Ozzie is as strong as ever. He still cleans her every morning (no small feat when you consider her size), they eat every meal together, play their favorite game (tug-of-war) and snuggle up for naps and bedtime day in and day out. When one gets startled and barks the other is right there to back them up. When dad or I leave the room they are both hot on our heels. Their isn’t much they don’t do together. In fact they have actually taken to dressing alike. Well.. almost. Momma is a HUGE NY Giants fan, having grown up in that area, so Grandma decided to get the two matching jerseys for Christmas. Ozzie’s was snug but Laila’s barely fit over her head! So she had to settle with a cute Giants bandana. Dad wasn’t too pleased with the choice of team, being that he is a Ravens fan, but I go pretty crazy during football season especially they way our year has been going so I need every bit of support I can get. AND now that we are in the playoffs they get to keep their pompoms out for a little while longer (maybe even till February *fingers crossed*)

Ozzie also went on the longest trip (as far as we know) of his life. He got to go to the snowy, cold state of Michigan to visit his aunt and cousins. One cousin in particular fell madly in love with Mr. Ears declaring he was “the cutest dog in the whole world!” I was a little nervous at first since I didn’t know how he would respond to the likes of a rambunctious 3 yr old but he was a champ! My niece pulled him this way and that, tugged on his ears, tried desperately to pick him up but he kept his cool. I was so proud and glad that I could see this side of him! All in all we had a great trip and great holiday!”

Stevie Wonder

“Dear Foster Mom –

I know that I haven’t written awhile and I’m sorry about that. I’ve been really busy at home. My mom AND my dad were both home for two weeks over Christmas break. That meant that I got to chase the tennis ball A LOT. That was the best thing ever. AND Santa brought me NEW tennis balls AND a huge bone AND a new sweater. PLUS, we had this beautiful tree IN OUR HOUSE and I liked to curl up underneath it. My mom and dad said I looked just a like a present under there.

My mom said that one of her goals was to get me to chill out a little more around her. The thing is, I love her so much that I just have to be where she is all the time if she’s in the house and my whole body wiggles REALLY furiously when she comes home from work. My mom thought that, maybe, if we practiced being in different parts of the house for the two weeks while she was home than she might be able to start doing her silly yoga DVDs down in the family room again.

That just hasn’t been possible for the last few months because even though I am a SUPER GOOD girl, I just want to get underneath and on my Mom when she is going yoga. She told me that’s not what they meant by downward dog. (Is that a joke? Mom says it’s a joke.)

It gets even tougher because she does yoga in the room with ALL OF HENRY’S TOYS. If she isn’t going to pet me and love me than how am I supposed to pass up taking all of these toys, one-by-one, out of bins and off shelves and throw them around like I just found the arc of the covenant?!?! It’s the only responsible thing to do, right? But, my Mom says no way. She says I need to remember which toys are mine EVEN WHEN we are in the basement and EVEN WHEN I am left to my own devices. I am doing really well at other times, but that is a serious challenge for me. I mean, look at this place!

But, guess what, foster mom: I can totally do it now! (Okay, I might pick up one toy, but once I realize that Mom is doing the yoga, I leave it alone.) I either curl up on the couch and look like this:

Or, I GO UPSTAIRS – away from Mom! – I am totally brave and strong now and I can go all the way up to the 2nd floor of the house when she’s in the basement. AND TAKE A NAP! We all thought that was super, totally cool.

Of course, it wouldn’t be any fun if I didn’t develop new quirks. So, since Mom and Dad were SO happy about my chill out training success, I have redoubled my efforts to protect them – and especially my brother  Henry – from all enemies that surround us; Like, the dirt devil, the food processor and – this is the most unsuspecting villain – a wet paper towel being used to clean up a spill. You might think it’s wacky, but I know I’m just protecting them. So, when these things come out – I bark and try to bite/eat them. Mom and Dad say that I just don’t see them clean enough (which might be true) and that they are going to show me that these things are not too scary, after all.  Whatever. I think they should consider themselves lucky to have such a vigilant dog. When I’m not napping, that is.

Love you! Hope you’re having fun – Mom and Dad said you and foster Dad and my friend, Chick, went to Texas!?!?


Curious Georgia

“It’s been a while since we checked in, and while everyone is winding down from the holidays, Georgia wanted to pass a few things along and let everyone know how she’s doing.
Georgia completed Basic Obedience with a great trainer.  I have to say that she was the shining star of the class.  We worked everyday on our homework, and she finished the class way ahead of everyone else. She’s now a great loose leash walker, sits and waits patiently while we prepare her meals, she can sit/stay like a champ (even with minor distractions), and has a secure verbal command for “come”, which we started training silently with hand cues.  We test that last one with dummy words to throw her off, and while she twitches sometimes, she does an excellent job of only moving on the correct command.  We’re currently working on laying down and “go settle” (on her bed), as well as getting some distance and duration on those others.  I think we’ve come the longest distance with “go settle”, and have moved from a slight disinterest in her dog bed, to sniffing it, to siting on it, to pretty reliably finding it and laying down completely.  I’ve learned a ton myself about patience and consistency, and the results are making it an easier lesson all the time.  G seems to genuinely enjoy our training sessions, and I really enjoy the feeling that we’re working together towards something.
Next on the plate is to work on her social skills and apparent leash frustration.  When she sees other dogs on our walks, she becomes a bit vocal and they become the focus of much of her attention.  I don’t think it helps that just about every dog in our neighborhood, whether on the leash, in the yard or in a house, is a barker.  I think things are getting slightly better, just with repeated exposure, but we have yet to tackle it head on.  Off leash (which we’ve only done in contained environments) is a different story, and over Christmas we spent a few days in Charleston, WV with three lively Corgis and a Golden Retriever.  She had great manners, and when the rest of the group would break into spontaneous barking sessions, she just looked at them like they were crazy.  New Year’s Day we were back in Baltimore with some of our closest friends and their three dogs.  She was a model citizen and we were proud parents.
G’s getting softer, shinier, and more muscular every day.  She had some thin patches of fur on her head and end of her tail that are almost completely filled back in, and she went from shedding what felt like a pound of fur a day to virtually not shedding at all.  She still bothers her paws a bit, so we’ll try and get her to the vet sometime this week to get that checked out.  She’s getting better in the rain and in the cold, and it turns out she loooves bananas, but leaves neat little piles of completely clean lettuce and carrots when I try to hide them in her peanut butter Kong.  I don’t know how she does it.  We broke down and finally let her on the people couch (before she was only allowed on one), and it feels so good, I think everyone is much happier.
All in all, we’re really proud of and thankful for her, she’s an immediate hit with everyone she meets (except maybe the cats), and all is well in Baltimore.
-R, G, and ML”

Former foster updates: It’s me, Lily!

Many of our long-time readers have recently asked for updates on our early fosters. And wouldn’t you know, we received a letter from Lily Fireworks (formerly Lollie Wonderdog) just last night? Her mom was kind enough to type it for her and send it off. Check out what our unforgettable, inaugural foster baby is up to these days:

Hi Foster mom and dad!

It’s me, Lily Fireworks! I just wanted to say hi and let you know what I’ve been up to…Well, my family got me a new 6 foot fence. I love it, they let me out and I run and run and run around the yard chasing birds. And weren’t they suprised when our neighbor called and said she saw me walking down the street? My mom told her it wasn’t me, that I was in the back yard. But oops, it really WAS me– out for a stroll!

I really wanted to be a hurdler, but there’s a No Pitties rule in track and field, so I had to practice another way.  My dad was NOT happy.  Something about spending my sister’s college tuition on a new fence, then he said a lot of words that I KNOW my brother and sisters are not allowed to use.  And well, then the power tools came out . . . My mom says that’s not a good sign, so we all went inside to make dinner.

me and my brother get tired, protecting against the squirrels and birds all day!

Well my dad thought he fixed it, but then I saw one of those squirrels and I hopped right over the fence.  That time my mom said the bad words! So my dad is adding TWO more feet to the fence!  We’ll see if I can make it over 8 feet!

But the good thing about the fence is now my friends can come over and play . . .

Yep! I have friends!!! When I first moved to my new ‘hood I wanted to bark at EVERY dog. My mom and dad were nervous becasue they wanted me to be an ambassa-dog for bully breeds, and show all of our friends just how good and family friendly pitties could be . . . but umm, I didn’t get the message on that one at first. I was just too excited!  Mom and dad spent a ton of time (and treats-YUM!) trying to get me to enjoy other dogs. It took a while, but now I really like to politely say hello to other dogs! It’s so nice to have friends. I’m still not a fan of the dogs that bark at me, so I just walk on by and ignore them. Their people are SO jealous of how well behaved I am!!!

Anyway, I have a new best friend.  Her name is Kipper, and she’s as little as a pipsqueak. At first I treated her like a snack, but pretty soon, we started walking together nightly and now we even wrestle a little.  Her family LOVES me too! I love to play with Kipper, except sometimes she gets really excited and pees! Oops!

When it’s really hot and we walk together Kipper likes to walk UNDERNEATH my belly. My mom thinks it’s SUPER funny, but it’s hard to walk with a 15 pund dog underneath you!

me and Kipper, out for a walk!

And guess what? I got a new man! His name is Apache and he is super cute, and he’s HUGE. You may have thought I had a big head, but check out me next to my hunky boyfriend Apache! We had the most fantastic date recently, we parallel walked, we chased each other, we wrestled a little . . . I’m so glad you got me fixed, fostermama, because I am done with the puppies thing– it’s good to be a cougar!

Me, my dad, and Apache. All our dates are supervised, since we're just kids!

Anyway, I gotta run. There are squirrels and birds to protect against!

Love, Lily Fireworks

Me with my brother and sister, snuggled in for a hurricane sleepover

Blast from the past: Lollie Wonderdog update!

We can’t wait to introduce everyone to our newest foster darling, but first, a long-promised update on Lollie Wonderdog! New to Lollie? Click on any of the links within this post to read more about that piece of Lollie’s story.

Dear Lollie Wonderdog was our very first foster dog. She was a sweet girl with a winning smile and a sad past, and she lived with us for almost five months, learning how to be a house pet and waiting for the perfect family to come along. Lollie had been bred, beaten, starved, and tossed in a dumpster to die. Wonderful, heroic animal control officers rescued her, and she came to live at the county shelter. For months and months. You see, dear Lollie was skinny, dirty, and had marks of abuse all over her face and body. Despite her fetching personality and adorable smile, she kept getting overlooked.

Lucky for us and lucky for her, we came to know about her, and brought her home to foster. In our home, she learned how to play with toys, how to walk on a leash, how to snuggle with a human, and how to solve a dog treat puzzle. She blossomed, and in February, we found her perfect home — a sweet, active family with beautiful kids, an adventuresome life, and a nice yard. Lily and her new mom shared a special connection and the rest of the family soon fell in love as well. Her adoption was a little bittersweet for us because we had grown to love her so much, but time has healed our heartache and all that remains is total happiness.

A couple of weekends ago, we had the great pleasure of visiting with Lily and her family. She is doing great. Lily’s mom takes her running and biking in the mornings, the kids play with her and read to her in the house and yard, and dad is head over heels in love with her — he cradles her in his lap, calls her sweetie, and sings love ballads to her. Her family takes her on lots of adventures, including a hike in the Shenandoah mountains over Memorial Day weekend!

She graduated with honors from her obedience class, and– of course — was the star of her class. Now, she’s working on her PhD through private tutoring with a wonderful trainer, who is helping her work on the fine points of not barking at squirrels through the windows.

Lily seemed totally happy and relaxed when we visited, except when we first stepped out of the car. She came barreling at us and nearly knocked us over with excitement! We were happy to see her, too. Here are a few photos of beautiful Lily Fireworks and her beautiful family.

A letter from Lily (Lollie Wonderdog)

Lollie/Lily sent us a letter, and her dear mom said it would be ok if we shared it on the blog — so check out how great she’s doing in her new home!

Dear Fostermom and dad,

I hope you guys had a fantastic time in Costa Rica. Someday i’d like to go there . . . do they let dogs go?

Well, I’m getting settled in my new digs, and I’ve already had my new mom and dad redecorate for me!  Since they have low windows, I just can’t resist yelling at ALL the squirrels . . . and there’s a lot of them.  So I helped them put up some “frosted” things on the windows.  Wasn’t I suprised when I realized I couldn’t push them aside with my snout like I could do with the curtains!  The nice thing is that my mom doesn’t have to clean the snout marks off the window anymore, and I’m much quieter now that I can’t see all the squirrels, but I wonder if they miss me as much as I miss them?

I’m loving my new dad . . . he picks me up, sings me songs, calls me ‘sweetie’, and lets me hang out on his lap . . . imagine a pit bull as a lap dog!  And he didn’t think he even liked dogs very much!  I’m still waiting for that purse I was promised, though.

Isaiah and Olivia use me as a pillow when they read, and I’m getting better at letting them know I’m ready to get up. Before I learned, their heads hit the ground hard when I decided being a pillow wasn’t working for me and I got up . . . oops!

Speaking of oops, mom made a GIANT oops when she bought me some new treats!  I tried to tell her I don’t do wheat well . . . I showed my new family how I can clear a room in two minutes when not very lady-like scents came from me. Important lesson noted!

I also started doggie school . . . It’s in a big room full of dogs!  I really want to sniff everyone’s butts, but my teacher says “not yet!”  All the assistants told me I was the star of the class!  They were impressed that I already knew so many tricks . . . they couldn’t believe that I have only been with my family for a few weeks.  My mom told the teachers my story and how I was with a fantastic foster family, and then they talked a lot about the benefits of fostering bully breeds.  The teachers were so impressed with how loving I was.  Fostermom, we’re all so glad you got me out of the shelter, so everyone could see how loving and sweet I am.  I have been working very hard on “watch me”, “touch” and loose leash walking . . . When I’m the only dog around I do just great . . . but all these little dogs in the neighborhood! I keep picturing them slathered in ketchup . . .yum! My parents say that’s not acceptable, so I have a lot of homework to do!

It’s not all work though!  We’ve gone hiking a lot . . . I fell off a log into a stream once, and I realized I could swim! That night I had a nice warm bath, and rested in a nice warm blankie by the fireplace . . . I requested an irish coffee or a hot buttered rum, but I settled for a peanut buttery kong!

Anyway Fostermom, I just wanted to let you know I’m doing great . . . I’m settling in with my new people. They take care of me, and I’m doing fine . . . as long as there’s no wheat around – stinky!!

See you soon and love to all my adoring fans!

Lily Fireworks

5 things we love about Lollie Wonderdog

I will quickly admit that sometimes the post comes first, and sometimes the photo. I often have my camera on hand to capture the cute, the weird, and the totally normal elements of daily life at Casa Walldeczka, and often the photo and the post come together in unison. Other times, there is a photo that inspires a post all on its own. This is one of those posts.

Lollie Wonderdog (now Lily Fireworks) had been in her new home for almost two weeks now, which means that we have been almost two weeks without her. We still talk about her all the time (really — all the time), and there are a few things in particular we look back upon with special fondness:

1. Her willingness to play dress-up. This is why Lollie/Lily was a perfect match for a family with kids. I swear, this dog will let you do anything to her. Cover her in blankets, make her wear a necklace, a boa, a hat, whatever. And she looks great in everything. 

2. Her soulful brown eyes. Not much needs to be said here. Her deep, caramel-colored eyes are mesmerizing. 

3. Her unshakable steadiness. Nothing can make this girl jump. Pull her tail, her ears, poke her, she doesn’t care. But in reality, don’t do any of those things. It’s not nice. 

4. Her “pet-me” headstands. I can’t describe it any better than the photos and video. 

5. Her heart-shaped booty. This is the one. The inspiration for the list. We just can’t get enough of her cute little butt! 

Lily’s sending off party

The night before Lollie Wonderdog left our foster care and became Lily Fireworks in her forever home, we had a little goodbye celebration for her. All her favorite people came, bearing gifts, treats, and hugs. From her foster mom and dad she got an indulgent helping of treats and an extra-long walk.

From her aunt Kelly she got a fun bone-shaped stuffie to rip apart, and a very cute new sweater:

From her uncle Dave/Santa, she got a fabulous new pink feather boa . . .

and a visor with her new name on it (also doubles as a neck kerchief)

Everybody except the dogs toasted to Lily F’s progress, journey, and beautiful new life with a nice craft beer (the dogs toasted with their regular old bowl of water). It was a lovely send-off for a spectacular wonderdog.

How Lollie’s new mom tells it (Part 2)

“After John and I got home from meeting Lily (Lollie!), I called the kids to the computer and showed them Lily’s pictures. They adored that she had a red hoodie — Isaiah has a similar one.  After they quickly fell in love, I showed them the “headstand” video — who can resist that?

Several questions followed the headstand video:

Does she do cartwheels?

Can we get a trampoline for her?

Despite their history of pleading for a huge trampoline, I think they thought this would be yet another opportunity . . . (Cue the obscene image of well-endowed Lily flying though the air . . .)

Can we get her a tutu? And will she wear a tiara?

Despite all of the answers to the above being “no” they still wanted to meet her. I was nervous. I had already fallen in love with her. Would they like her as much as I did? Would my husband consent to walking yet another dog with — ahem — udders?

So the family loaded up and went to visit Lily.  She was of course a very well mannered lady that night.  Aleksandra let them feed Lily vegetables, Lily licked their faces, they loved it! They peppered Aleksandra with questions. She patiently answered all of them.  And then Aleksandra asked them one: “Do you guys like her?” . . . “YES!” So we gave her our paperwork and loaded back up. Once back in the car, we discussed some more.  The kids were excited:

Can we get a purse big enough to fit her in?

Can she ride on my sled? Can she sleep in my bed?

Then Olivia piped up, announcing she liked her but “could we still get a maltie-poo to put in my purse?” I still haven’t figured out what an 8 year old would need a purse for, let alone a dog, but . . .

Driving home I was nervous.  Would she be a good fit for our family? Would she be able to adjust to our house with loud kids and homework and general day to day ruckus? Was I even remotely crazy for bringing home a pit bull mix as the newest family member? (cue my mother’s nagging voice-A PIT BULL! A PIT BULL! A PIT BULL? Can you just hear her yelling all the way from New York about her grandkids and this “Lollie monster”?)

I laughed to myself — no,  I can certainly look past the stereotypes and bad rap, and I knew we could offer our home and our family to this sweet loving dog. If only MCHS approved us! Would we be acceptable? Would I answer all interview the questions right?”

How Lollie’s new mom tells it (Part 1)

“We weren’t looking for a dog. In fact, we had decided we probably wouldn’t get another dog. We had just watched our neighbor’s extremely high maintenance Jack Russell mix for a week, and were pretty sure we didn’t want another dog. It was really Lollie’s nipples that made me really reconsider it. No, I’m not into dog porn or anything odd like that . . . let me explain . . .

I had breast cancer at 24, had a few breast surgeries, lost all my hair, all that fun stuff . . . Fast forward six years, and we’re looking for a dog. We found Daisy, a beagle with giant “udders.” A breast cancer survivor finds a dog with udders…it was meant to be! Last year I went through chemo again when my cancer returned, and Daisy beagle was the sole reason I got up and got any exercise some days. She lay next to me on the couch when I felt pukey, she sniffed my head when my hair fell out again, she saw me through the whole year of chemo. That’s a lot of walks together . . . Sadly, we lost Daisy very unexpectedly a few months ago, and I didn’t want another dog . . .

Last month, we babysat a friend’s pitbull puppy for a few days, and I was in love. My husband was in love. We just didn’t want to do the “puppy thing.” But secretly, I started scanning the dogs in rescues and local shelters anyway. I came across the MCHS site, and something caught my eye . . . What’s a wonderdog? There was Lollie. She had her own website! What a cutie! I scrolled through a few weeks of her blog. She was crate trained! Housebroken! Had manners! Was done with the puppy stuff! Eats her veggies! Looks great in red hoodies! Hmm . . . I closed the laptop, and I thought about it all day.

The next night I stayed up obsessively reading ALL of the blog. And there in the pictures, I saw it- Lollie’s got a boob issue too!!! Giant nipples!! Daisy, a beagle with udders, then Lollie, a pitbull with droopy nipples . . . and me, a two time breast cancer survivor . . . If this isn’t meant to be I don’t know what is!

I showed my husband “Look! The dog has a website!” He deadpans: “You know the dog didn’t write that, right?” We thought about it some more. I had always wanted a bigger dog so I could start running trails again by myself . . . She’s got her house manners . . . The kids have been nagging us for a new dog (though Olivia specifically wanted a dog she could dress up and fit in a purse—not sure Lollie would agree to the purse part) and she’s got a BOOB ISSUE!

We contacted Aleksandra and set up a time for John and me to meet her Lollie Wonderdog. If we thought she’d be a good family member, then we’d tell the little ones. We went to meet Lollie. I couldn’t get over her itty bitty waist. She was adorable. Those giant eyes . . . she licked my stinky shoelaces, and it was love. How could a dog who had been through so much still have so much love to give? I thought about it — Lollie and I are both survivors . . . I think we’d be just fine . . . we just had to see if the little members of the household would get along . . .”

Lollie/Lily goofing around with new mom Jen and new sister Olivia

Lollie/Lily expressing her love

Are these not the cutest three ladies ever?


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