Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Call of the Shelter

How about the new photos of Slim? The new and improved Slim. He is doing really good. I'm going to begin teaching him basic commands.
Good news today -- I hope. I have a family interested in adopting two of my foster chihuahuas, which would be terrific. I hope their application is good because that will mean I can get two more fosters and we can save two more dogs from being euthanized at the shelter.
People who adopt dogs are fabulous. Simply wonderful. But if you really want to make a difference, adopt and foster. When you adopt, you can save two or three dogs. When you foster, you can save a couple of dozen a year, if you're lucky. Even in a slow year, you can save a dozen. Just think! By opening your heart and home to foster dogs, you can save lives that would have been tragically taken through no fault of their own.
When applicants ask me, "Why was the dog in the shelter? What's wrong with him/her?" I just want to scream! Ninety-nine percent of the time there is nothing wrong with the dog. It's the people who owned the dog that need to be questioned. Dogs end up in shelters because they were dumped or discarded. Period.
People also ask me, "How can you give them up? That's why I don't foster. I couldn't let anyone else adopt them."
Well, folks, I have my own dogs that I spoil and love. I enjoy the foster dogs and I do invest time and affection in them, but I also have my attention on the dogs in the shelter that need to get out of there. As soon as I can find a great home for a foster dog, ARF can go to the shelter and save a dog. So, while sometimes it is a bit sad when I have to say farewell to a foster, I get happy again when I go home, love on my dogs, and pick out a new foster dog to bring into our pack.
Unfortunately, there are always other dogs waiting . . .

Monday, August 24, 2009

Shiny Little Orphans

I plan to take Slim to PetSmart next month and see how it goes. We show some of the dogs there every week. I haven't taken Tootsie there for awhile because she is old and I don't think anyone will want her. Paco hasn't been there for some time because he is on medication for a skin infection. I want to get the infection cleared up before I show him again.

I have taken Walter and Major there, but they have not caused any ripples of interest. I think I will put new collars on them next time and tie colorful bandanas around their necks. This helps sometimes. We shine them up and hope they behave nicely in front of the public. Often, they do not.

They bark at passersby, growl at children, pee on other dogs, poop in the middle of the floor, and leap up over and over like crazed jumping jacks. Some of them turn into slugs that won't budge from their crates or wag their tails. We smile and say things like, "He's not like this at home." "She calms down when she is out of the crate for awhile." "He is smart and will be easy to train." "She is just a little scared and nervous."

And it is true! The little fur balls do act differently at home!

I have confidence that I will eventually find the perfect homes for my foster kids. It is heaven when you match a dog to an adopter and feel that it is going to be a great relationship and that the adopter won't be calling you in a week or two and asking to return the dog. Like the dog is a product instead of a family member.

We received a call last week from someone who has had one of our dogs for 9 years and now wants us to take it back because it bit her neighbor. That is traumatic. But why doesn't she just put the dog in a crate or behind a closed door when there are visitors? What did the neighbor do when he/she was bitten? Maybe the dog is ill or hurt in some way. There are so many variables besides kicking the dog to the curb.

Sometimes it is so disheartening. But I will prevail! I will find homes for my foster kids.

Even Slim

But probably not Tootsie. Sorry Toots. Getting old sucks, even for dogs.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Read with Caution

Little Slim continues to amaze me. He wants up in my lap now and will sit and relish being loved and petted and kissed. He plays quite rough with Walter, one of my other foster dogs.
Slim occasionally wees in his bed, but no pooh. Although I did catch him eating pooh out in the yard. This is common, unfortunately, in breeder or puppy mill dogs. They sit in their own mess and are hungry and will eat what is there. Afterall, it smells sort of like dog food, I suppose.
I'm pooper scooping a lot to keep him from being tempted. I have other dogs that will down a turd now and then also. One of my dogs has an upset stomach and I'm giving her medicine for it. I figure she ate some pooh that didn't agree with her.
Well, hasn't this turned into a fine post? For those who are delicate, forgive me. When you work with dogs, you tend to get more ho-hum about this subject. I have used products on the market that supposedly makes pooh less tasty to dogs, but none of it has worked very well. The best thing for me is to get out there and scoop it up to get the dogs out of the habit.
Back to Slim...he is doing quite well and I do believe I might start showing him out at PetSmart to see how he does. He's not the cutest pup in the joint, for sure, with his spidery long legs and skinny bod, but he is adoptable. I just need to find the right person who will love him for making such progress, given his stunted start in life.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sweet Murmurings for Slim

Sweet Slim continues to improve. I just finished holding and loving on him. His coat is that soft, velvety type that so many Chihuahuas possess. Chihuahuas are great for people with allergies because their coats have no dander and they have no "doggy smell." I love Chihuahuas. Slim knows this because I told him tonight. Snuggling him, I whispered to him that he was a good dog, a handsome boy, and he closed his eyes and relaxed against me. I believe that dogs can feel what you're saying. I believe that when you tell them they are handsome, pretty, good, sweet, wonderful creatures they feel this and take it on. I swear I have seen dogs improve their confidence and attitude after I have praised them. Likewise, I believe you can whip and beat a dog with harsh words.
Dogs deserve so much more than we give them. They are such clever animals and so very kind. Any dog could bite your hand and crush the bones in it. But they don't usually, unless they are terrified or have been abused (even then so many cower instead of fighting back). Any time I have "lost it" and slapped one of my dogs, I have cringed and wanted to take it all back when I see them tuck tail and move away from me. I hear a voice in me whispering, "You bully! You coward! Slapping that dog . . . that dog who adores you and wants nothing so much as to please you." I used to slap more often, but the more I learn about dogs the more I know that such behavior is the action of someone who would rather hit than think.
If I take a moment to think, I will discover a better way to let the dog know what I want and what I don't want. Some trainers insist that giving a dog "time out" by placing them in a crate and ignoring the dog for half an hour or so is pointless. I have found that for my dogs it works. They want to be with me, and when I isolate them, they calm down and are more eager to pay attention to what I want from them once I let them out of the crate.
It's so good to see Slim's tail wagging. Poor kid just got a rocky start in life and needs time to smooth off his edges. He will get there. We will get there together.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Chew Chew Time

At my house five o'clock can only mean one thing. No, not quittin' time or the news. At Debby's house is it Chew Chew Time.

The dogs stretch awake and begin circling toward me, eyeing each other, nuzzling each other, coming to life. Then comes the staring. Let's all sit near Debby and stare at her until she gets up and heads for the Cookie Jar in the kitchen.

Funny how we get into habits -- some not so bad and some we wish we hadn't started. Smoking. Drinking beer. Eating donuts. Cursing. Dating jerks. Giving dogs treats at five o'clock.

If I don't get up and give them doggy treats, the canines begin to get really restless the closer to six it gets. Today I was very, very busy working and it was past five. Way past. Okay. It was close to seven when I surrendered to the "stare" and headed for the Cookie Jar.

The dogs behaved like a pack of starving wolves. It took me five minutes to get them to sit and calm down. No chew chews during chaos! Finally, they were quiet. Quiveringly quiet. The chew chews commenced. The whole thing was over in a blink of an eye and a lap of the tongue.

Dogs love habits. Routines? They dig 'em. A great day for my dogs begins with a run in the backyard, breakfast, watching Debby eat breakfast, a brisk walk and a few wrestling matches and sprints, watching Debby eat lunch, a long nap, another long nap, the mailman, a run in the backyard, a nap, chew chew time, watching Debby eat dinner, a nap, the evening stroll, bedtime.

There is something to be said for the dog's life. Especially if you are my dogs.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bigger Steps

Big news. Slim is using the doggy door in and out now. Isn't that terrific? What a guy. He also stands still for me to pick him up and love on him. So, we skipped ahead a few steps and are back to our forward progress.
Dogs are funny that way. Just when you think they have forgotten everything you've been trying to poke into their heads they will wake up one day and it all clicks for them. They sit, stay, roll over, the whole play book. Or you will have almost given up on house-training and suddenly the dog goes to the door and whines to be let out. Like he has done it his whole flipping life!
With dogs there is always hope. My hopes for Slim today are brimming.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Okay. Slim pooped and peed in his crate this morning. He didn't prance in it, thankfully. I scolded him, cleaned the crate, and cursed the setback.
I think he felt I was getting a bit too cocky and decided to knock me down a notch or two. He also was skittish of me all day, running in the opposite direction if I even glanced at him.
We are back to Square One, Slim and I.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Senior Moment

You would think that senior citizens might want senior dogs. You would be wrong.
For some reason, senior citizens want puppies. I am in my fifties and I sure don't want a puppy. I can't imagine why someone in their sixties, seventies, eighties, and yes, nineties would want a pup. But they do. When we try to talk them into a dog that is six years old or older they tell us right quick that those dogs are too old.
Our animal intake officer, Norita, has an interesting outlook on this, though. She says that at least when they take a puppy and return it two years later, it is adoptable. But when they get a seven year old dog and return it two years later, we have trouble placing a nine year old. In fact, we often don't place dogs that are older than eight.
I have a foster dog now named Tootsie. She is a schnoodle and she has been a faithful companion to two older ladies. The first lady surrendered Tootsie to us two years ago when she entered a nursing home. I browbeat a lady in her seventies to adopt Tootsie, even though she was looking for a one or two year old dog. I figured Tootsie was about all she would be able to manage and I was right! Two years later and Toots is back in the ARF program and my home. Now she has congestive heart failure and is on heart medicine. She is a sweetheart and no trouble at all, but I figure she is here to stay this time. I won't be allowing another older person to adopt her. She has done her bit for the seniors. Not that senior citizens would even think of wanting her! No, that want a puppy that will tear up their slippers, chew through their extension cords criss-crossing their living rooms and bedrooms, pee on their newspapers and magazines that are piled here and there, and run and hide from them under the bed.
We show our dogs to the public at PetSmart stores on Fridays and Saturdays. This Saturday I volunteered for a shift and a little lady who probably is past eighty had put in an application for a toy poodle puppy, but she changed her mind and decided she might want a four year old poodle instead. That means we would get the four year old back when it is six or seven. Maybe her grown children will take the poodle when she can no longer care for it. Yeah. I'm dreaming. Dogs would have to be considered part of the family for that to happen.
Dogs ARE part of my family and I am making provisions for them in case I have to go into the hospital or can no longer care for them. Some people thought Leona Helmsley was crazy for leaving her money to her dog so that the little furry cutie would be taken care of. Personally, she grew in my esteem. She might have been a mean boss, perhaps she was a disagreeable old bag, but she did right by her dog. Bless her.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Emotional Disconnects

Walter is one of the sweetest kids I have ever fostered. He is a "please love me" kind of dog. Handsome, he is. He is colored like a Siberian Husky, but he is a chihuahua mix. I fostered him once before and he was adopted out. The woman who adopted him kept him more than a year and then called the ARF line and said she was ready to give him up. He had been climbing the fence and biting her neighbors. This meant to me that she had been keeping him outside most of the time by himself. He is a smart dog and he wants to belong to someone. Left alone, he would find an escape route and go looking for love. He might have been leaping on the neighbors and giving them love nips (sometimes he does that to me when he follows me down the hallway, but I have dissuaded him of this behavior). He is, in no way, a bad dog.

But some people give up on pets pretty quickly. I swear, if people could turn their kids over to agencies when the kids got just too irritating or time-consuming, the agencies would be overrun just like the pet rescue groups. "This is Mrs. Smith and I want to give John Junior to you. He keeps playing his music too loud and he has a smart mouth. I just don't have time to devote to him anymore. Can you come and get him or do I have to bring him to you?" That's the kind of calls we would get day in and day out, I can assure you.

When people want to adopt dogs they tell us how much they love animals and how devoted they are to the dogs they want -- even though they often haven't even met the dog; just seen a picture of it. They beg us for the dogs. They hound us. Then they get the dogs and some of them call us within days and want us to take the dogs back.

"The dog peed on the carpet."

"The dog scares my dog."

"The dog chases my cat."

"The dog chewed on my house slippers."

"The dog barks all the time."

"The dog growled at the postman."

Yes, people, dogs do all these things. Duh. They are animals that must be taught your rules, restrictions, etc. This takes time. They can't learn it all in a week.

Returned dogs are one of the banes of fostering and rescue volunteers. But we would much rather take them back than leave them in a home where they have become a problem instead of a family member.

I can't imagine throwing Walter aside after having him for a whole year as my baby. I am not made that way. I can't disconnect my emotions so effortlessly. I'm glad my heart isn't so hard and my psyche so jaded as that.

Slim update. He uses the doggy door now to go outside! Has not used it to come back in, but that will come in time. All good things come to you in time.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Baby Steps and Bucky

Slim is still more frightened deer than normal dog, but he did come up to me this morning and allow me to pet him. I held him and loved on him. However, he hasn't approached me again. I hope that in a few more days he will be comfortable with me. At that time, I will start working one-on-one with him. If I can get him to use the doggy door, obey some simple commands, and not mess up his crate, we can find a home for him. He is an attractive dog with white feet, a white-tipped tail, and a white-blazed chest. His overall coat is a deep chocolate with tan points.

I began fostering dogs a few years ago. My mother was feeble and I was spending a lot of time watching over her. She lived a few blocks from me, which was wonderful, especially after she broke her hip. I lived with her for a couple of months while she recuperated and I was able to go back and forth to my house to take care of my dogs. I work from home, so I could take care of my mother and stay employed. When she was back on her feet, I realized that when the time came and she passed from this world my life would have a huge void in it. The remainder of my family is emotionally distant and I don't see them usually unless I call or reach out to them. I knew that I wouldn't do that much because I don't want to bother people who can't be bothered. So, I decided to do something that would give me pleasure and get me out of my small little world.

Fostering was what came to mind. My mother tried to talk me out of it because, frankly, she wanted all of my free time. But I decided it would be good for my dogs, too. They were snappy and freaked out every time they saw a new dog. I couldn't take them on walks without them going bananas every time they saw someone or another animal. Their small world needed to be expanded, too.

I didn't see much improvement in my dogs until I fostered a certain guy named Bucky. He is a doxie mix and has an uncanny way of getting along with all dogs and showing unsocial dogs how to be social. Bucky actually demonstrated to my dogs how to meet other dogs (sniffing butts, approaching each other sideways, etc.) and how to play with other dogs. It was a sad and joyous day when he was adopted. I remain in contact with his owner Bob. Bob even brings Bucky to PetSmart when I'm showing dogs with ARF for visits. Bucky now "works security" at the dog park, keeping the peace. He's the right dog for the job.

Bucky also showed me that I could learn a lot from my dogs and foster dogs. Bucky taught me the importance of patience and taking joy in the baby steps of progress. When my Gypsy (chihuahua/rat terrier) would run up to Bucky with her screaming, screeching, ear-splitting barking, Bucky pinned back his ears and turned aside. He ignored her until she chilled. He went about his business for a few minutes and then he would slowly approach her. She would run at him in a false "charge" and Bucky would turn and trot the other way. They did this every day for almost a week. Bucky was patient. He waited for a baby step. On the sixth day he was rewarded. Gypsy ran toward him, but instead of barking and snarling, she stopped and did a "let's play bow" in front of him. Bucky responded in kind. Then they ran at each other, around each other, and then Gypsy ran away from him. Bucky didn't follow her. Baby steps had been made and he was satisfied for now.

Every day after that brought more baby steps. After about 10 days, my dogs and Bucky were a pack. They played together, walked together, laughed together (yes, dogs do laugh), and ate together.

Bucky was my assistant dog trainer while I had him. I will be forever in his debt.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Breeder Dogs

It's a wonderful dog day at Debby's house. I have two chihuahuas I'm fostering that I've had here for several months, a 10-year-old schnoodle who will probably never be placed in a home, a chihuahua mix who is a great dog but was returned to us after the adopter kept him for more than a year, and now a chihuahua mix who came from a breeder and is a freaky little guy.

The freak is Slim. He came to ARF at the same time as the two chihuahuas I mentioned above -- Major and Paco. Major was social and sweet from the beginning, but Paco was scared spitless. He had obviously never been on grass before because it scared him when I placed him in the yard. The breeze scared him. Leaves falling from trees scared him. But what scared him the most was me. I terrified him. He ran like a jackrabbit when he saw me.

Skip ahead three months and Paco is my sweetheart. He stands on his back legs and wants me to pick him up, cuddle him, kiss him, and mainly scratch his hide quarters. For the first six weeks I had him, he would not look at me in the face. When I kissed him he stiffened as if I had given him an electric shock.

All of this is classic puppy mill behavior, even though he came from a "small breeder." Evidently, Major was given attention but Paco wasn't. I also had another chihuahua from this breeder, but he was adopted after about a month. He, too, was very social and sweet.

Now I have Slim, who came from the same breeder, and has been in two other ARF foster homes. In each one he made progress, but he has a long way to go. In his most recent foster home he went poop and pee in his crate very often. Of course, we will have a lot of trouble ever adopting out a dog that poops and pees in his crate and in the house. Slim was doing well at the other foster home other than that. He was loving with the foster family and liked to go on daily walks, although everything startled him.

Here, I have not had the poop and pee trouble much. Just once. We decided to try him out here to see if he would learn to use a doggy door since the other two chihuahua fosters figured it out pretty quickly. If we can get Slim to use a doggy door, his adoption chances will improve.
But beyond the doggy door thing, he has other problems. Puppy mill problems. I was told last night at the ARF board meeting that he shows poorly when we are at PetSmart with our dogs. He snaps and growls at children and men. I'm not going to show him in public until I can get his confidence and he likes me and wants to please me. Then I will take him out among people and see how it goes.

It is difficult for rescue groups and foster homes to deal with dogs like this because they take up a space that we could use for adoptable animals. Adopters mostly want well-behaved, social dogs that are at least crate trained. They also don't want dogs that are older than 6 or 7. Which brings me to the schnoodle, but I will tell you about her in the next post.

As for Slim, stay tuned. This morning he came up to me when I was sitting on the patio and placed his front feet on my knee. I reached out to touch him and he flew away in a panic. Patience, I'm told, is a virtue.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Thee Dog Hollerer

The Dog Hollerer
I am a big fan of Cesar Milan, The Dog Whisperer, and his TV show of the same name on cable (National Geographic Channel). He speaks knowingly of being the “calm and assertive leader” and I dig that! I want to be that for my dogs.
However, with my dogs and the foster dogs from ARF, I am often The Dog Hollerer.” I, of course, blame it on the dogs. Cesar would sit me down and explain in his charming Latino accent that I am the problem, not the dogs. And he would be correct (darn it).
Even as I type this, I am stopping to turn around and holler at my dogs to please shut up. They are barking at a man and woman walking outside in a calm and assertive way with their calm and submissive Sheltie. My dogs are going ballistic inside the house as they watch the calmness.
Cesar says to stand near your dogs, say something guttural, and let your superior “I mean business, buddy” aura do the trick. It does the trick for him. Sometimes it works on my dogs.
Crenshaw, one of the foster dogs I have right now, is another story. He came to my home not knowing his name, neither his ARF name (Crenshaw) nor the adopted name he was called for awhile (Chauncey). The adopter was a mature lady who said that Crenshaw was WAY too much for her, what with his teeth and his claws ripping at her. His nails were long, but that was easily fixed at the groomer’s. His teeth can’t be fixed. He has a lower jaw overbite that is really kind of cute. Crenshaw does not have a face – he has a mug. He can’t help it if his sticking-out teeth hang on skin every so often.
After weeks and weeks he finally knows his name. He looks at me when I holler “Crenshaw!” or “Crennie, stop that!” That, my friends, is progress. He is young – not quite a year old. We got him when he was only a few months old. It was thought that he would be adopted quickly and “stick” with some family. Crennie has had rotten luck. I’m hoping his luck will change soon.
Lately, he has taken it upon himself to barrel up into my lap. This is sweet, but startling. Sort of like having a cannon ball land on you out of the blue. After I get my breath back, I pet him and tell him he’s a gorgeous kid. He likes that.
He is not impressed with my calm and assertive self. He looks blankly at me when I discipline him “Cesar style.” Sometimes he barks back at me as if to say, “Snap out of it, woman!” When I holler he pays some attention to me, if only for a fleeting minute.
I am The Dog Hollerer.