Humbled by these hearts of gold: a visit to BAD RAP

When we decided on the Bay Area as our homebase for our two weeks of travels, I knew I had to put a few dog-related visits on our agenda. BAD RAP was on the list.

Early in our work with pit bull dogs, there was a time when BAD RAP was our main (only?) source of reliable and trustworthy information on pit bull rescue, training, temperament, etc. We’ve learned volumes since then and expanded our list of good sources, mentors, and sages a lot since then, but BAD RAP is still one of our all-time favorite dog orgs. So it was with a skip in our step that we walked up the driveway to meet founders Donna and Tim and kennel manager Nancy for a sunny visit on their lawn in Oakland.

In a lot of ways the BAD RAP barn was just how I imagined it: warm, sunny, friendly, stylish, and brimming with engaging, clown-like pit bulls of all shapes and colors.

The barn, where adoptable dogs live, was built by Tim, Donna, and a team of friends.

Former BADRAP resident Teddles, Donna and Tim's Honky Tonk, and adoptable Patsy Pup

Tim with Teddles. Former Vick dog Teddles lives the good life in his forever home now, and pays occasional visits to BAD RAP to hang out with his old friends.

Adoptable Patsy Pup's personality is as big as she is tiny.

Patsy Pup clowning around.

The list of impressive things about BAD RAP is not short, but one of the programs they run that’s dearest to my heart is their compassion hold fostering. I’ve always held a special place in my heart for those who do this difficult, draining, selfless work. Occasionally — or more realistically, whenever their partner animal shelter asks — BAD RAP takes in a dog who is too old or too sick to be adopted out and is going to be euthanized. Where most others — even those with hearts of pure gold — would say no, Tim and Donna say yes. The week before we arrived, Tim and Donna said yes to this beautiful eldergal.

This sweetie was found wandering the streets, near death’s doorstep. Her initial vet check and her swollen glands suggest an illness that may not be treatable. The shelter couldn’t keep her, but BAD RAP took her in, no questions asked. When we visited, she had been with them for a few days. She had gathered a bit of strength and while we sat in the sun and chatted, she slowly investigated each grassy nook and cranny of the yard, basking in the sunshine and occasionally sauntering over for some ear scratches or to sneak us a quick tongue to the face. Possibly for the first time in her life, she was content. Last we heard, there was no word yet on the state of her health or how long she would be a guest of BAD RAP. But one thing seems clear — these last days, or weeks, or months, or years, will be golden ones.

As always, we were humbled by Donna and Tim’s depth of knowledge about policy issues. Since we visited California just before our move to Austin, we talked for a while about the political landscape in Texas for pit bull dogs. We knew that a state-wide breed ban had been proposed in the legislature last year, but since nothing moved during the once-per-two-years session, we had let our concerns dissolve. But Donna diplomatically reminded us that idly waiting for the situation to devolve would be a poor choice, and that there was plenty of proactive work that could be done to preserve — and dare I dream, improve — the status quo. We discussed some of the nuances of how socio-economic dynamics play into politics in Texas, how the strange political landscape in this unique state makes a formidable challenge for pit bull advocates, and how the steadfast discriminatory policies of one large shelter in one major city set the tone for the whole state. Such interesting stuff.

We left feeling simultaneously hopeful and discouraged. Excited for the work left to be done, but overwhelmed with the options of where to begin. It’s only fitting that we would walk up that driveway enchanted by individual dogs, and walk back down that driveway enchanted by the big picture. BAD RAP has a way of doing that to all of us.

Thanks for a great visit, Nancy, Tim, and Donna!

TANK’s ancestry comes to light

We have made a critical and shocking discovery about TANK’s lineage. It appears that he is part lion. He is so liony that we are amazed, actually, that we had not realized it before. His coloring, the way he moves his body, those cute too-short ears, the enormous paws, the furrowed brow, the graceful lankiness of his muscular frame — it’s all lion. Just look at this striking comparison.

But before you start running off to hide your children and your groceries, an important distinction: Our lion is a very friendly, teenaged lion. He is no pride leader, our lion. He is no stealthy, ruthless hunter, our lion. He is just a sweet, goofy, lanky teenager of a lion.

And there is even more to the story than this. We believe him to be the reincarnation of a very specific, famous, friendly lion from history: Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz. For example: just like his ancestor, TANK is a big softie who is quite timid. He is scared of water hoses, stairs make him nervous, and the sound of sirens makes him whimper. When the little 15 pound dogs in our neighborhood bark at him from behind their fences, he ducks his head down and tries to cross the street to get farther away from them and their meanness. In fact, here is a photo me and my friends comforting him after the little maltese down the street almost made him cry:

confessions of a serial drooler

My name is TANK, and I drool. Sometimes I drool a lot, and sometimes I drool a little. And sometimes — rarely — I am even caught not drooling at all. Sometimes I drool while running around. Sometimes I drool while I am in a restful slumber. Sometimes I drool to express how exciting life is.  Sometimes I drool because I am hot. Sometimes I drool to show off my impressive jowls. Sometimes I drool to see how long of a ribbon I can make. Sometimes I drool to show how happy I am to see you. Sometimes I drool to tell you that I would like to eat whatever you are holding. And sometimes, I just drool.

Sometimes when I drool, I leave a little puddle on the ground. Sometimes, I leave streaks. Sometimes when I drool, I smoosh a little bit of it onto my foster mom’s outfit, like a lipstick kiss left on her cheek by her grandma. Sometimes when I drool, I make an avant-garde drippy pattern on the deck, like a Jackson Pollock painting. Sometimes I do a more traditional pattern, like a Monet. Sometimes I keep my drool hanging, in case I need it at a later time. Sometimes I shake my head and leave decorative little ribbons on the wall. Beautiful, classy little ribbons. Singing, dancing little ribbons. Shimmery, happy little ribbons. They’re how I express who I am.

Love,

TANK

On learning a new dog

One of the highlights of fostering, for me, is getting to know a new dog. I love seeing a photo and reading a bio, and then experiencing the anticipation of how the new foster will be in real life. How will s/he fit into our family? What will his/her cutest quirks be? Biggest training challenges? Most surprising characteristics?

With a new dog, I am also always anxious to understand her/his personality so that I can try to convey it photographically and in words. One of my many untested theories is that adoptable dogs with a distinct “personality” have a magical sort of draw to them, making them more attractive to potential adopters. Our first foster, Lollie, was a classic lovable underdog. She was a big sweetheart with a sad past who had a lot of heart, and really wanted to win the world over. And she did. We dubbed her Lollie Wonderdog. Next was Gonzo. Gonzo was a pocket rocket. He was a tiny little ball of mischevious antics. He had tons of energy and didn’t much care if anybody liked him, but with that face and those ears, people just couldn’t resist.  His name became Gonzo Bunny-Ears.

TANK’s persona is still evolving, since we’ve only had him about three days and upon bringing him home, we knew much less about him than his predecessors.  He doesn’t yet have his middle name, which we like to bestow upon our fosters. So far we know that he is a big, goofy, oafish, friendly lug who is absolutely jazzed with life. Other aspects of his personality are coming out, but we are just barely starting to fit together the puzzle. It’s hard to resist, but we’re trying not to rush: the discovery is one of the best parts.

Here’s one piece of the TANK puzzle: in the house, he is an enthusiastic, bouncy youngster who is constantly moving, licking, chewing, running, and jumping. He will learn how to be a good house dog quickly, but at this point he is acting like a typical 60 pound puppy with little training. But outside? Outside he is the calmest dog I’ve ever met. He walks slowly next to me on the leash, almost never gets excited, and occasionally even decides to lay down in the grass to rest and smell the clover. And once he’s down, there is little that will convince him to get back up except his own free will.

New foster: TANK!

Introducing our new foster, TANK!

Have you ever seen such rugged good looks on a dog?

We have only had TANK for 36 hours, but are totally falling for this giant, puppy-like goofball. TANK may have that tough-guy look, but he could hardly be more of a softie! TANK lives for ear scratches, belly rubs, and big hugs. He also loves to give big, slobbery kisses to anybody who shows him a little kindness. He has such a big personality that when we say his name, or think his name, or write his name, we can’t help but use all caps: TANK!

This poor oversized puppy showed up as a stray at a rural animal shelter in South Carolina, where few dogs ever make it out alive. There he sat, patiently, quietly, and worriedly, waiting for somebody to claim him, but nobody ever came. And still. The shelter workers must have seen something really special in this guy’s sweet disposition and devastatingly handsome face, because he wound up being the first pit bull type dog to ever be released from the shelter to a rescue group! TANK is very proud of this great honor, and hopes that he paves the way for many other pit bulls who come from his former turf.

The area he came from is very rural and fairly poor, and we wonder: was TANK loved? Had he lived in a house and had his nails trimmed? Was he bred by bad people for bad purposes, but then failed to live up to their expectations? Has he ever played with a toy before? Slept on a soft bed? Seen the bright lights of a big city?

We wish we knew more about TANK’s history, and are really looking forward to getting to know him. We hope you’ll join us!

A letter to Gonzo in his new home

Dear Gonzo Bunny-Ears,

Thank you for being such a good boy and barely whimpering when I left you at your new home with your new people. I was so delighted to learn that you were not only a brave fellow, but quickly forgot about us after I left, just as I had hoped you would. After all, your new parents, C and J, are so wonderful, and your new sister Laila — a 95 pound presa canario — well, she’s just a dream. And I’m sure the milkbones helped too.

When I first heard from C and J and started corresponding with them over email, I thought they were too good to be true. And when they came to the adoption show with sweet Laila to meet you? I just about died from the cuteness of the two of you together. You probably don’t realize how small you are or how big she is, but Gonzo. She is almost three times bigger than you! 

Later in the week when they brought Laila over to our house for a play date, since you never did like the adoption shows very much, we were all nervous about how things would go. Would you like her? Would her rambunctious, boxer-like play style be too much for your tiny self? We already knew that you far prefer big dogs to small dogs, and that Laila always seeks out the little guys at the dog park, but still . . . would you be a match? By this time their application had checked out perfectly, so this was the last step, and the stakes were high! Your co-walk went fine, and the two of you even got to bond over near-simultaneous pooping, do you remember? You probably didn’t notice that Laila’s poops are almost as big as your head, did you. We also learned that you share an affinity for pooping multiple times on one walk — something that drives me and foster dad crazy.

Once we let you loose on the deck together, you did great. It is difficult to describe the joy I felt as I watched you sail through the air — seemingly in slow motion — to give your sister a good love-nip on the neck, and watched you both tumble to the ground, only to writhe on deck, side by side, two backs on the ground, eight paws flailing, two mouths open, and two tails beating on the wood planks in a hyper happy rhythm.

Gonzo, I hope you don’t forget all the things we talked about before you left. I hope you remember how to be a gentleman, and to let your new sister win games of tug-of-war now and then. I hope you are a good snuggling partner and don’t hog the very center of the bed like you so often did with your foster-brother Chick. I hope you remember to always pee outside and never inside, not even a little squirt now and then when you are exceptionally excited. And Gonzo, I hope you remember us. Not as your parents, but as some nice people who helped you make a graceful transition from your former life to your forever life.

And finally, Gonzo, you have touched our lives in an unexpected way. Just like the rest of the world, we have been hypnotized by your good looks and your bouncy, care-free attitude. We never thought we would see the day when a totally adorable, totally uncontroversial, tiny pocket-pittie would steal our hearts. We thought we were underdog people, and Gonzo, you are not and underdog. And to a large extent, we are still underdog people. But you have helped us realize that above all, we are dog people. Every dog has a story to tell and a special gift to share. Thank you for sharing yours with us. You have expanded our horizons, and we love you very much.

With eternal affection,

Fostermom and  fosterdad (and brother Chick, whose affection has surprised even himself, since he thought he could never love a dog smaller than his 50 pound self)

PS- here are a few photos of you, your sister, and your new parents — partly for you, partly for your fans.

PPS- the first photo is one of your foster mom’s favorite photos of all time.

Gonzo: ADOPTED!

Gonzo Bunny-Ears has been adopted!

On Sunday we sent Mr. Ears off to his fabulous and loving new family. It was a long journey for Gonzo — longer than we would have expected for the cutest, most adoptable bunny-eared dog we’ve ever seen. He was with us for nine weeks, and had been kenneled with the rescue group since late 2010. But it was worth the wait!

We knew it would be difficult to find his perfect family, because he is a demanding little guy with a long wish list. He wanted a family with another dog — preferably a big one, a house with a yard, a neighborhood with no BSL, a person who works from home or only part time, a family without lots of very young kids, a willingness to keep us up to date with lots of emails and photos, and most importantly, a family that is open to keeping “Bunny-Ears” as his middle name. We know what you’re thinking. Impossible, right? At most we would get five out of those seven, right?

Well Gonzo won the forever-family lottery big-time, we got all seven!

We can’t wait to tell you all about his new family tomorrow, but for now, a few photos of foster dad and me with the little Ears on the day before we took him home.

We admit, Gonzo was a hard dog to give up. He fit in so well in our family that we had a few moments of weakness where we thought about keeping him for ourselves. We loved snuggling with him in the mornings after the alarm went off, when both dogs would pounce on us in bed. We loved taking him for walks around town and getting zillions of compliments on how adorable he is. We loved how easygoing he was, and the fact that he got along with everybody. But in the end, he was not meant to be our dog. We have a special commitment to the underdogs of this world, and if there’s one thing Gonzo is not, it’s an underdog.

And for now, our commitment is to saving lives through dog fostering. Giving up a foster dog may be hard, I reminded myself as I kissed Gonzo on the soft spot between his eyes, and as I walked down the driveway away from his new home, but it’s not as hard as knowing that another dog will die in a shelter because we were too attached to let him go. We’ll probably flop to the other side some day. No doubt, a foster will enter our lives down the road that we just can’t let go of, and we will throw our theories out the window. For now though, this is our story and we’re sticking to it.

We will miss the sweet little guy, but we couldn’t be happier for him.

Come back tomorrow, when we will introduce you to the rest of Gonzo’s wonderful new sister, Laila!

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