What My Bad Dog Taught Me

Working in animal rescue of any sort will teach you plenty of valuable life lessons… chief among them being: don’t ever think you will cease to be surprised. This plays out in many different scenarios. You will always be shocked at the atrocities of man – I don’t care how many abuse victims you see each day, it will still hurt just as much each new time as the first. Think you’re getting a nice break from rescue for a day or two? Nope, surprise! Something needs you and that something is more important than your relaxation. And, we’ve all seen it – that dog that you thought was just any old dog, not the least bit special. Well, you were wrong again.

I’ve been staring at this computer screen for at least fifteen minutes, not the least bit sure how to start what I need to say. In truth, I’ve been mulling the words over in my head for months now, knowing full well that I have to write something. I have to, not just because the words need to be said, but because I need to face the truth that exists behind them. Grief is a monster of an emotion. It stays so long. Longer than joy, longer than surprise or fear. It would even seem that it remains longer than the feeling of love that it spawns from, but of course that is not true, because if the love wasn’t there then the grief would not be either. Grief is just so dark and looming, it shocks the senses and leaves you raw in a way that no other emotion ever could. The kicker, though, is that the existence of grief is only because of love, and so we can never even fully turn away from grief because to do so would be to push out the love we felt for what we’re grieving for.

Is there a solution, then? Can we beat the feeling of grief, or do we just have to let it run its course and hope it does not linger too long? I’m honestly not sure, but I know my personality is such that I cannot let something like it best me. Also, I cannot let something as dark, hollow, and consuming as grief mar the beauty of what I loved so much to start. I will never conquer grief, but I can even the playing field.

I’ve mentioned Kara in passing throughout this blog – in affectionate detail when introducing her and her sisters, as well as other mini-rants about dog rescue and the hurdles we face. Kara was a foster failure from Boykin Spaniel Rescue – she came to me in terrible shape, and she was only supposed to stay a maximum of 48 hours. Well, that was the first of many lessons that Kara taught me: don’t ever think you’re in control of a situation. Those 48 hours turned into two weeks so she could whelp with an experienced foster home, then eight weeks until the puppies could be weaned and adopted out, then two more months for heartworm treatment, until finally I faced the music that everyone else had already been hearing and admitted to myself that Kara was never leaving. I loved that little dog, and she loved me, and quite frankly I couldn’t think of any other adopter who could handle her.

All of our dogs teach us lessons, if we take the time to listen. Kara’s entire existence was about teaching these lessons, though. I could never list them all, but these are my favorites…

  1. Humor exists in everything

This was a forced lesson, for sure. While Kara did not exactly understand the humor she required of me, I definitely understood that if I didn’t start seeing the humor in her actions, I would lose my mind. Or jump off a bridge. Or both.

How many other dog owners can say they’ve had to “burp” their dogs? Kara was the type of dog who firmly believed in the mantra of giving everything 110% or nothing at all. She loved, more than anything else, to retrieve her bumpers from the water – somehow, though, she always managed to inhale so much air and water while doing so that she turned her compact little frame into a balloon on four legs. This would result in quite a bit of discomfort for her (not to mention danger, when her balloon would shift mid-swim and suddenly her butt was in the air like a damn duck), which in turn meant that someone had to hold her down and gently squeeze the air out of her body. Yes, it is exactly what you think – we held her down and squeezed her abdomen until she farted all her excess gas out. I can’t make this shit up.

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Kara would insist on playing fetch in the car. She would pile so many pinecones in front of you to throw for her that you could start a pine plantation. The last day I ever took her to the office, she launched herself from my chair to my computer desk, knocking phone, laptop, keyboard, mouse, and coffee cup to the ground – while my boss was standing in front of me. Despite all the trouble that little brown dog caused, you still couldn’t look at her silly, excited face without laughing. Laughter, after all, is the best medicine they say.

  1. Don’t let mean folks get you down (but do get your revenge)

Kara had a really shitty life before she was picked up off the interstate in BFE South Carolina. It’s always hard to see dogs that have spent years being abused and neglected, but sometimes I think it’s even harder to see young dogs in such awful shape, because, shit, how do you let your dog get that sick, that fast? As mad as it made me, though, Kara never cared. She never held the transgressions of her original owner/breeder against anyone she met after.

Kara greeted everyone she met with a smile and a face-washing (or a full-on second-base makeout session if you let her). She loved all living things, two- and four-legged. The worst reaction you would ever get out of her was an absolutely pathetic look of sorrow when you told her no. Well, that, and her classic revenge technique: pee on it. Nope, Kara wouldn’t hold grudges or let frustrated humans or grumpy dogs get her down – but you better believe she would look you in the eye, twist one leg out, and piss all over wherever she was sitting when you told her to quit what she was doing. I guess we all have our tactics.

  1. Don’t be in a rush to grow up

When I got Kara, we guessed her age to be around a year and a half – still a puppy by Boykin standards, for sure. She was sick and skinny, and obviously pregnant. The last thing that little brown dog needed was to go through whelping and rearing a litter of puppies, but she was pretty far along so we decided to go through with it.

Kara was a terrible mother. I mean, she did her job, but she mothered her puppies like one would expect a fifteen-year-old highschooler to – she did the bare minimum, and loved her babies, but all she really wanted to do was go to the skate rink with her friends. She hated to be locked away in the spare room with her puppies, and more than once she jumped the baby gate and carried a puppy out to me in the den to play fetch (yes, with the puppy…) One day, she decided she didn’t think her whelping box was comfortable enough, so she carried every single one of her puppies to the den and snuggled up with them all on the couch. I will give her credit for at least opting to bring them along, while not exactly appropriate.

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While Kara’s life was much shorter than it should have been, she never once stopped acting like a puppy. She was in no hurry to grow up, and instead she made every effort to do what she loved and enjoy her life to the fullest. As I find myself constantly caught up in the whirlwind of work, school, family, and planning, I often forget to enjoy the moments I have now, young and healthy.

  1. Never, ever stop

Much to my occasional dismay, Kara was the epitome of an energizer bunny – she just kept going, and going, and going… Combine sporting breed energy and spaniel OCD, and you have the perfect recipe for a four-legged perpetual motion machine. A sleeping Kara was a precious thing, a treasure that seemed so rare that you would make painstaking efforts to avoid disturbing.

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While Kara would rest, she never, ever stopped. She would never turn down a ball toss, or shy away from a run or car ride. It didn’t matter how cold the water was, or how dark the forest, she always plunged right in. And, in the very end, it didn’t matter that she was dying – she still refused to stop. Even the vet shook his head and said he never would have thought such an energetic, happy dog was so sick. Maybe if she had slowed down, we would have realized and caught it earlier. But that was not Kara, and she stayed true to herself until her last moments.

It has been almost a year since Kara died, and it’s still as painful now as it was then. Losing her drained me of so much energy that it really did take a year to put my heart into words enough to come to terms with what happened. These words won’t bring her back or make the grief go away, but she deserved to be remembered for the wonderful lessons she imparted. She was the “bad” dog, the one that was never supposed to stay, and the one I knew would live forever simply because of how difficult she made my life at times. I know I’ll have another “bad” dog one day, and I know Kara’s lessons will carry through to then, and that new “bad” dog will teach me lessons of its own. Until then – well, it’s true that one man’s trash can certainly be another’s treasure, and Kara will forever be a sparkle in my memories.

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What the F#@k is That Dog?: Zelda’s Results Are In

Back in September, I wrote an article asking for ideas on my personal pound puppy, Zelda’s, breed mixture. I also ordered a DNA test, so we could all have an answer to the mystery. I woke up this morning to an email from Wisdom Panel – Zelda’s results were in! (Disclaimer: I got sidetracked and took over two months to actually send the test in.) As I lay in bed with Princess Ruto Kissy-Face, I opened up my results document eagerly.

And… drumroll… … … Zelda is a Bull Terrier.

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Wait, what did you say? I didn’t hear you, can you repeat that please?

 

Right. Um. No shit, Sherlock.

To be exact (haha, like what I did there?), she is a Bull Terrier, mixed with Miniature Bull Terrier, mixed with Bull Terrier, mixed with something. Thanks, Wisdom Panel.

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Oh, I’m just giving Wisdom Panel a hard time. This isn’t an exact science, I know that. Honestly, I was genuinely surprised by these results. I knew Bull Terrier was in there, but I assumed we were looking at a completely separate breed for the other side. Let’s take a look at her results!

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So, my first assumption is that the left hand side is Mama Mia, because we know she’s a purebred Bull Terrier. Even the DNA tests cannot always identify purebred lineage, which makes sense because every dog breed is a hodge-podge of other breeds. According to this, then, Daddy is a Bull Terrier mix.

Now, we could also ask ourselves another question. Was Mama Mia a purebred? Or, perhaps, was she a very high content mix? Mia was surrendered to the City shelter by her “owner” when she was in labor with Zelda and her brother, because she “scratched” a teenager during labor. An even creepier question – was Zelda’s daddy also her grandpa? Frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit knowing backyard breeders around here; I’ve definitely seen worse.

Moving on. What insight does Wisdom Panel give us about Miss Zelda?

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Do I recognize any Bull Terrier traits in Zelda? Hmm. Intelligent, active, strong, friendly – yep, we’re good there. Reward-based training sounds about right (I think they could have worded that differently, though – maybe something like, “Stubborn as shit unless you really make them want it.”). She’s actually very friendly with strangers, but she’s a giant bitch to other dogs she doesn’t respect.

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“May not get along well with other dogs.” Zelda loves other dogs. Unless, of course, they go near something she thinks is hers, and that list seems to grow every day. She will share all day with her pack, but “guest” dogs and cats will fall victim quickly to her resource guarding. We’re working on it.

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Then there’s this. Wisdom Panel does preface it with a very clear warning that these other breeds may not exist at all in the dog’s background, but then, they may. I could be convinced that she has retriever somewhere in her background, but if anyone ever even so much as mentions that she’s part Pug, I’ll shank you.

So, there you have it. Zelda is a Bull Terrier/Miniature Bull Terrier mix. I’m glad we have an enlightening answer to the mystery of the Imp Princess. Now, Wisdom Panel has offered me $15 off a second test if I want one… maybe Cady is next?

Fosters August-8

Merry Christmas! Now let me break your heart.

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to sit down and write an article; pulling sixteen hour days between law school and paying the bills, and somehow fitting in running a rescue, has not left much time for my creative muse. Plus, let’s be real – law school will suck your soul out through your nose and leave you feeling akin to something frightening from an AMC show. Never fear, though. I’m still around and pissing off fun-sponges and armchair quarterbacks just as well.

What am I going to hit y’all with today? Well, actually, I’m going to be nice for a change. Believe me, there are plenty of snarky rants dancing like sugar plums through my head, but in the spirit of Christmas, I will save those for the New Year. Today, I want to make you cry, and then I want to make you get in your car and go save a dog’s life.

Before I get to the nitty gritty, I need to tell y’all a story. A few weeks ago, I got my daily email loaded with photos of all the dogs and cats sitting in my two largest local animal control facilities. As usual, I opened and scrolled straight to the bottom, so I could see the new editions. Immediately, I noticed the Boykin (if you don’t know what a Boykin is, go here later). It was an awful photo, like all the shelter photos I tend to get, but I recognized him immediately and sent a text within the next thirty seconds to the director of the nonprofit that sends out this daily digest.

Two days later, I had the smelliest dog ever in the back of my car. Within two minutes, he shit bloody diarrhea all over everything, but than goodness I only had a few blocks to go to get home. I wasn’t even upset – this dog was at least twelve years old, blind as a bat, emaciated, and could barely walk straight. Green slime crusted his eyes shut and his nose looked like a desert, it was so dry and cracked. Shit, I thought. Give him a week, maybe a month.

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And such is the glamorous story of how I came to own my sixth dog. Sullivan, he is named, has now been with me almost a month. It took two weeks to clear up the respiratory infection, and he’s slowly putting on weight. With the help of twice-weekly medicated baths, his skin is softening and his fur is growing back (it took four baths to get rid of the stench of weeks-old urine). At first, Sully didn’t even acknowledge my existence. Now he comes when called, if you say it loud enough. He loves his softy, squishy bed, and likes to find me and press his head into my legs and touch my hands with his nose. He tries to look at me when he hears my voice, but he can’t see anything.

I have always had a soft spot for old dogs, since my experience with Tala. This year I pulled a seven year old Great Dane named Cyrus from my local shelter, and a blind senior cocker spaniel left by her owners at Miami Dade animal control. Sometimes they find homes, like Tala. Cyrus has a foster home who loves him and understands that he may be theirs forever. Roomba, my goofy little Florida cocker, was adopted just last week – I truly expected her to be with me for her entire life, too.

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Sullivan is old, and Sullivan is going to die. It could be tonight. He could be lifeless when I come home today from work. He could live another six months or a year. And when he does die, I am going to be absolutely heartbroken. I am going to cry and it’s going to tear me up inside as if I had owned Sully since he was eight weeks old. It doesn’t matter, though, because every single minute Sully spends in my home is worth all the heartache I could ever imagine.

There’s a special place for people who dump old dogs. There’s an even more special place for people who stick their old dogs outside to rot for months – years, maybe – before they finally succumb to the pain, or, like in Sully’s case, somehow by the grace of Dog escape that hell and get lucky enough to find solace. But, like I said, I’m not here today to bitch about those people. They exist, there’s nothing we can do about it, and I sincerely hope that when they are old and frail, their children leave them to rot from bed sores and dementia in nursing homes.

The silver lining to all of this is simple: we can do something to make these dogs’ lives better. We being me, you, and all dog lovers and rescue advocates. Anybody with space in their home to fit a soft, warm dog bed and enough money to spare to feed an extra mouth. Old dogs don’t do much – they sleep, they eat, they go to the bathroom. Some of them are spry enough to enjoy tagging along on a walk, but others, like Sully, are too weak and wobbly to go far and would rather just sleep all day. They don’t even need much as far as vet work goes. I did a routine blood panel on Sullivan just to get a baseline, and I paid for antibiotics and prescription wet food that would be easier on his stomach. But nobody is asking you to spend a fortune on testing and medications, and cancer or heartworm treatments. All these dogs need is love.

It’s really, really easy. Get in your car and drive to your local shelter. Ask them if you can see their available senior dogs. Go pick one out – you’ll find them in all shapes and sizes. Then, take them home, give them a bath and a good meal, and love the hell out of them. Rinse and repeat. These dogs have done nothing but give their hearts and souls to humans for their entire life. No matter what kind of terrible person left them to die, they don’t deserve to spend their last days on a cold, wet concrete floor surrounded by the stench of feces (probably covered in it, too) and the cacophony of barking. They deserve to sleep on a warm bed, feel the kind touch of a human hand on their head, and die with a little goddamn dignity.

And you know what’s really, really cool about all of this? After you’ve taken your sweet old dog home and loved it, and it passes on to the other side, you can do it all over again.

December-3

What the F#@k is That Dog?: Zelda

Have you ever seen a dog and thought to yourself, “What the f#@k is that thing?” Let’s be real, we all have. Whether it’s walking down the street, at the dog park, the vet, or roaming the wings of a local animal control facility, we’ve all been there.

I take a bit of pride in my knowledge of dog breeds. From the early age of, like, when I could read, I poured over dog breed books like they were encyclopedias and bibles meshed beautifully into a single source of wisdom for all things dog-centric. Needless to say, I’m usually that weirdo who knows exactly what breed the strange dog at the park is. I can’t tell if my friends are impressed or embarrassed – probably a mixture of both, honestly.

I do get stumped, however. For Dog’s sake, folks, I’m not always perfect. Just most of the time. And for a little fun, I have decided to try and garner a bit of public interest and breed guessing skills, with a routine post entitled What the F#@k is That Dog?

For your inaugural edition of What the F#@k is That Dog?, I give you my very own pound puppy, Zelda.

Zelda is a nine month old brindle and white Bull Terrier mix. I’m giving y’all an easy one for the first go – we know for a fact that Zelda’s mom is a purebred Bull Terrier (she’s white, deaf, and her name is Mia).

All we know about Zelda, and Mia, is that Mia was dumped while giving birth because she scratched a teenager in the home. Mia proceeded to have two puppies at the shelter, and when I found her and called Bull Terrier Rescue, we teamed up to get Mia and the pups out. Bull Terrier rescue took the family into foster care, and when Zelda was six weeks old, I brought her home to foster. The rest is history…

So, here’s where you come in – what the f#@k is Zelda? Comment with your thoughts and why you came to that conclusion.

Lastly, just because Zelda is mine and I want to add a little competitive element to the game, I will be ordering a DNA test and sending it in promptly. I’ll post the results when they’re in to follow up!

Alright, guys, let’s have some fun and judge the hell out of my dog (and I promise I won’t get mad at any yucky breeds y’all suggest).

And because I have to say it, even though I shouldn’t… yes I’m aware the DNA tests are not 100% accurate. It’s FUN, y’all.

 

A Very Unscientific Index of Adopters

I’m going on my seventh year of active dog rescue, and I’ll be the first to admit that I still have a lot to learn about dogs, fostering, running a rescue, and dealing with the wide variety of people that I come into contact with daily. You have your volunteers, your shelter workers, your donors, your wannabe-rescuers, your surrender-ers, and your adopters, just to name a few.

Today I want to talk about the adopters. I’m going to resist the urge to rant on about some of the more pet-peeve issues regarding adopters (you know, like being needy, thinking they’re the only adopters in the world, forgetting that we have lives and paying jobs…), and just focus on sweeping generalizations about adopters as a whole. I’ll divide them up into classifications to make it a little easier.

Category One – The Ignoramus

These “adopters” (or wannabe adopters, because you couldn’t pay me to give them a dog) are the most entertaining. They offer plenty of opportunities to poke fun and share screenshots among board members, and their fair share of head-scratching as well.

Mode of contact? Typically Petfinder inquiries, complete with bad grammar and incorrectly spelled everything. Oftentimes the dog’s name is spelled wrong and they forget the gender halfway through, and they never actually read directions and follow the link to our website for complete biographies and adoption procedures. Most inquiries are no more than, “Is _____ still available?” or “How much does ______ cost?”

However, some of them are a bit more exciting. Here’s a little taste of “Shit Adopters Say” (complete with my desired responses):

RE: Auskie Males
FROM: E
MESSAGE: does this dog eat only dog food or he could eat other type of food to
Why yes, E, this dog actually prefers filet mignon.

RE: Auskie Girls
FROM: E (a different E)
MESSAGE: Has the Blue Merle puppy with pure blue eyes still there
My brain doesn’t compute terrible grammar. However, props to you, E, for being original and wanting to adopt the blue merle puppy with blue eyes. We’re working on our Aussie eugenics experiment; we’ll keep ya posted.

RE: I really don’t know
FROM: I
MESSAGE: As the adoption costs?
As the wind blows?

RE: Auskie Males
FROM : Z
MESSAGE: i would love two have a puppie
I would love two have a million dollars and a private jet.

 

Long story short, Ignoramuses will never get a dog from me, but I do genuinely appreciate the bright moments of laughter they add to my life.

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Category Two – Rebels With No Cause Whatsoever

These adopters are serious enough to actually fill out an adoption application, but that’s typically where the positives end. In many ways, they are the most obnoxious of adopters, because they did read the qualifications and procedures and they clearly just don’t care, or think the rules don’t apply to them. Or, they checked the box that said they read, when they obviously didn’t.

Most often, these adopters provide vet references that don’t check out, don’t contact their personal references to let them know we’re calling, and apply for dogs they are seriously under-qualified for. Then, they get frustrated with us when it takes two or three weeks to process their applications and the dog they wanted has been adopted by another family that was pre-approved or had their shit together.

To make matters even more fun, the “Rebels” usually get quite the bad attitude when we deny them for whatever reason – their dogs aren’t vaccinated or altered, they have an adult female and applied for a dominant Aussie bitch (most are). They demand their application fee be returned, tell us that we’re hurting dogs by being too picky, and exhibit plenty of other less-than-classy reactions. These adopters almost always end up going to a rescue of less caliber or a shelter to find a dog, because the rescue process “is just too hard”.

Category Three – The Flakes

The Flakes – the category of adopter loathed most by rescuers around the board (or so I would imagine). These adopters look great on paper and pass all the reference checks and home visits, and thusly we generally devote a great deal of time to them. We answer their emails more quickly than anyone else’s; we may even venture to speak to them on the phone. Everything is perfect and ready to go, the dog has an adopter in the bag, and then BAM – “we’ve decided to wait,” or even better, “we stopped by the shelter this weekend and took a puppy home.” OR, no communication at all – mysteriously radio silent on emails following weeks of conversation.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that situations change. I also get that there is a level of positivity to the fact that at least they saved a dog, no matter where from. However, many Flakes back out for other much less respectable reasons – they realized that the four hour drive was just too much for them to handle in a weekend, or the Craigslist puppy for fifty bucks was easier to swing this month. All in all, the most appropriate word to describe the Flakes is simply “rude”. Flakes are the reason why my rescue requires an application fee, as well as puppy deposits to secure puppies from in-house litters. (Do you have any idea how infuriating it is to have an adopter back out on a 9 week old puppy two days before pick up?)adoptermeme

To top it off, Flakes also tend to be the most argumentative adopters – they know best, no matter what we say. Because there’s no way that the actual rescuers and foster homes could know their dogs best.

Category Four – Plain Jane

Plain Janes are cool and easy… we like them. They pass the approval process, adopt a dog, and if we’re lucky they will supply us with regular-ish updates. Pretty clean operation, and they are definitely a breath of fresh air when the majority of our applicants fall into categories one and two.

I wish there was more to say about Plain Janes. Occasionally, down the road, they graduate into Category Five. Sometimes, they go the opposite direction and become late-term Flakes, returning a dog six months or a year later for one silly reason or another (“I didn’t realize how much time/training/money/common sense owning a dog required!”). Usually, however, they simply live their lives and we live ours, and there is a lot to be said about a relationship as mutually beneficial and simplistic as that.

Category Five – The Golden Children

There are always those class-pet overachievers in every group, and adopters are not exempt. The Golden Children are the cream of the crop and we love them.

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Adopters turned volunteers – I heart them.

Golden Children not only pass the approval process with flying colors, but we may or may not literally beg them to adopt a dog. Or two, or three, or however many they want because we will give them anything they ask for. They typically have a specific type of dog in mind, but are flexible and open to our suggestions. Oftentimes, Golden Children are repeat adopters, whether from our rescue or another. They also have a greater frequency of being involved in canine extracurricular. Most of them drive great distances to adopt the dogs they are interested in, or wait weeks or months for the right dog to come around.

Beyond that, Golden Children are often invited to be a part of our cool kids club. They enlist into the ranks of volunteers and/or foster homes after adoption, and might even climb the ranks into a leadership position. I may or may not save their numbers in my phone and text them regularly.

Did I mention that we LOVE them?

 

If you’re looking for a moral to this story or a takeaway point… well, there is none. Do you have a category you would like to add? Comment away! Until next time, y’all.

The Love/Hate Relationship of Social Media and Rescue

Oh, the double-edged sword of Facebook. Rescuers know it well – what started as a brilliant method for sharing dogs in need and utilizing well-meaning volunteers has effectively become what many of us will consider the biggest thorn in our sides. This is a long read, so get comfortable.

Facebook – social media in general, really – is responsible for the lives of thousands of animals that would have never made it out of the shelter alive. Suddenly, low-budget shelters with no ability to share photos and information of the dogs in their facilities gained a free platform to spread the word about their strays and adoptables. Animals started finding rescues and adopters from all over, just because somebody saw their picture on Facebook and decided to help. Groups were formed for transport coordination, breed rescues, etc. and folks really jumped on the bandwagon to help the animals. I mean really jumped on the bandwagon.

I know I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth. Facebook is wonderful; Facebook users, not always so. What was once such a blessing has turned into chaos and frustration. Many rescuers, myself included, have started avoiding social media altogether due to the pandemonium it creates.

At one point (I’ve worked very hard to rectify this situation), you could look at my personal Facebook page and legitimately think I was a dog. There were no pictures of me – just dogs! Dogs, dogs, dogs! Not even my dogs, but dogs of every make and model all across the country that somebody, somewhere thought I needed to be aware of. Fortunately for me, I do have a social life and employers, and I would rather them see pretty little ol’ me on my Facebook, not some hound dog in Florida.

I digress… There is a right and a wrong way to use social media for the benefit of everyone – rescues and dogs alike. Unfortunately, many people have come to see social media as a way to feel needed and important. They have a purpose in life, even if it’s just sitting on their couch tagging everyone in kingdom come in a shelter dog’s picture. That, my friends, is the wrong way. And below, I have explained this in more detail, as well as things you can do to actually help your local shelter dogs and rescues.

Things You Need To Stop Doing:

1. Crosspost Crosspost Crosspost!

If your Facebook name includes “Crossposter” or “Xposter” or anything similar, don’t request to be my friend. I’m going to deny it. Why? Because I really don’t want to get fifty notifications a day from you, tagging my name on pictures and sharing dogs on my wall. That’s my Facebook page! For me! Plus, chances are, I already know about the dog if it’s the type of dog I rescue. It’s probably been emailed to me five times by 10 a.m., the shelter has probably already called me themselves to ask for my help, and I do check all the shelter pages myself.

Another issue I have with rampant crossposting – it scatters the information to the wind. Every thread has a different set of comments and nobody ever checks the original thread for updates. I’ve all but ceased posting updates on dogs on Facebook because nobody pays attention. Also – if I’m rescuing a dog, letting everyone know the status on Facebook is not my first priority. Believe it or not, coordinating with the shelter and local volunteers personally is my priority. And my guess is, any other serious rescuer trying to help that dog is probably doing the exact same thing, so they don’t need to see it on Facebook either.

Crossposting these days does little more than create absolute hysteria surrounding shelter animals. It feeds off the over-emotional users who aren’t checking the facts before posting, and frankly it’s making our lives (rescuers and shelter workers) more difficult. Panic does not solve problems, coordination and action does.

2. “I wish I could help, but…”

Stop, stop, stop. STOP. If you can’t help, cool. We get it. But there is absolutely no point in posting, “I wish I could help, but I’m 1,000 miles away,” or “I wish I could help, but I have five dogs already.” If you can’t help, that’s fine, but stop cluttering threads with your sentiment. I can look at a thread for a shelter dog with forty-something comments, and not one single one will actually be offering to help – they’re all just crossposters tagging names and people saying, “Oh my, look at that baby, what an angel, I wish I could help.” You’re just trying to make yourself feel better about not helping, and nobody needs to see that.

Well, those comments sure are helpful.

Similarly, stop finding dogs in shelters that are a five hour’s drive from you, and posting, “I’ll take this baby but I can’t drive.” What a HUGE help you are. Unless that comment is followed by, “But I’ll pay to have the dog boarded and transported to me,” you just need to stay out of it. Frankly, I think that any group who relies on the word of some rando on Facebook committing to adopting a dog and pulls that dog under that assumption is just asking for a world of trouble. I’ve done it once, and lo’ and behold, guess who got stuck with a dog? Mmmhm. Fortunately for that dog, I don’t back out on my commitments and she came into my own rescue program. Not every rescue abides by those same standards, however (and that is a blog for another day).

3. “Someone NEEDS to save this dog!”

This one really, really irritates me. Unless that someone is you, keep your dang mouth shut. Because, at that point, you are taking it upon yourself to place responsibility on others beside yourself, and that, my friend, is a load of B.S. If you’re not willing to get off your butt and do something yourself, don’t you ever expect someone else to do it. That’s about all I have to say about that one… pretty self-explanatory.

 

Things You Should Do More:

1. Donate

Whether I agree with rescues pulling based on pledges and sponsorship or not, the fact is that many do. Especially with dogs in the South, where heartworm disease is rampant, many rescues can’t afford to take dogs whose vet bills will run in the multiples of hundreds. The adoption fees will never cover the treatment, and that’s a surefire way to run a rescue into the ground – take dogs you can’t afford. However, when dogs get pledges and sponsorships, doors open. That money can go toward vetting and/or transportation (since many northern groups use professional transportation services) and it actually can be the difference to whether or not a dog lives or dies. We all have little things we spend money on that we don’t need – if forgoing that daily latte´ means you can donate twenty bucks a week to getting shelter dogs out and to rescue, why wouldn’t you?

2. Get Off Your Butt

Seriously. Get off your butt and out from behind the computer. FOSTER. It’s not that hard, really – I promise. Even if you’re just a temporary foster that holds animals for transport, you’re saving two lives – the animal you’re taking home and the animal filling its space at the shelter. Most rescues cover all expenses for fosters, and anything they don’t cover is tax-deductible. You’ve all seen that meme that floats around Facebook with the cute dog that says, “I’m Alive – Because I Had A Foster Home.” It’s as simple as that. Fostering saves lives, more than anything else.

If you genuinely cannot foster, there are still other ways to help. Drive for transports, evaluate dogs in your local animal shelter, or take pictures of their available animals. Become a general volunteer for the rescue of your choice and call references, help with data entry, do home visits, help at local events. The folks who run rescues have jobs, lives, families, and a million things to do that actually have nothing to do with rescue, on top of what rescue responsibilities they have. You have no idea how wonderfully helpful it is to have somebody help us with the little things.

3. Utilize your skills/time

Finally, we all have skills. A lot of rescues could really benefit from those skills. If you’re good with a computer, web design, graphic design, etc., offer to help build a rescue’s website or design a snazzy logo for them. I am sooo lucky that I have both a graphic and a web designer on my board, and because of them my rescue’s stuff looks pretty bomb-ass, if I may be so bold. Not all rescues are that lucky, however, and they definitely don’t have the budget to pay someone to do it. If you’re a good photographer with a decent camera, offer to take pictures of foster dogs or dogs in shelters. A picture is worth a thousand words, we know, and it’s proven than better pictures get animals adopted faster.

Your skills could really be used for just about anything. If you’re an accountant or a bookkeeper, offer to help with records. If you like to sew, make collars or beds that can be donated to shelter dogs or sold at events. Two of my volunteers make tutus in their spare time for us to sell – TUTUS! The list goes on!

tl;dr – Social media is not your platform for affirming self-worth in the rescue world. If you really want to help, do something more constructive than creating mass hysteria and begging for 11th hour rescue.

Tala’s Story: Lessons From a Mean Dog (Part Two)

Read Part One first…

Come Christmastime, I took Tala with me to North Carolina to visit my father. He’s the reason I have Aussies to begin with, and he adopted my very first foster dog, Tucker. I tried to convince him to adopt Tala, since there was plenty of reason to assume she was in fact Tucker’s mom (same county, I was just full of crap). He didn’t buy it, but we had a blast anyways. Tala enjoyed the snow and she was finally at the point where she could be completely off leash without issue. She still hated to be grabbed, and she snapped at me in the den when she had an accident and I jumped up with a “NO!” and went to put her out. Belly up, on the floor, I forgot about her little game and grabbed her. Whoops. This vacation, however, was a definite sign of our much better relationship. She trusted me, and she didn’t want to leave me.

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January brought heartworm treatment, finally. She still hadn’t gained much weight, but we opted to go ahead. Tala was such a trooper; she never complained, never acted the least bit sick or in pain with the injections. Two months later we had a clean bill of health, and a month after treatment, our little blue bug weighed 36 pounds! Tala learned how to play with toys, and she loved tossing a tennis ball to herself. She no longer needed a crate to sleep in, and spent her nights on the rug by my bed with Rugby.

Okay, I knew this would happen. Here’s where I’m going to start typing through my tears. Curse my womanly emotions.

100_8687We were nearing the year mark with Tala in foster care. My hatred for this little dog had turned a 180 and blossomed into full-fledged, unconditional love. It was more than just me caring about her, and more than just me liking her. I loved that dog with all of my heart. I remember one morning laying in bed and looking down to where she and Rugby rested on the rug together, grooming each other affectionately. I loved her, Rugby loved her, and I wanted nothing more than to keep her forever – whether forever was six months or three years. However, I was in undergrad, had two dogs already and couldn’t logically commit to a third. So I kept her up for adoption and fought back the tears every time I thought about her leaving.

It was nothing short of a miracle when my rep told me about a repeat adopter in North Carolina that only adopted senior dogs. They were interested in Tala. To date, nobody had been interested in my now eleven-year-old scrappy Aussie girl.  I had lots of mixed emotions, but they came down to South Carolina for a visit. There wasn’t much to it – she was my dog, and didn’t care too much about visitors, but they liked her and so we arranged a weekend for me to drive to their place to see how Tala did with their other two Aussies and the cows.

Tala did wonderfully, of course. I was so happy and so sad when the adopters said they would like to keep her. My success was also my worst nightmare; I had to say goodbye to a foster that was just short of a “heart-dog” in my life. I stood there in their kitchen, choking on my words and doing a really crappy job of holding back my tears (exactly like right now, thank goodness there’s nobody around to see me and wonder why the heck I’m sitting in the back of the law school auditorium crying). The sweet couple smiled and said they would give me some time with Tala, and as they closed the door behind them I sunk to the ground, wrapped my arms around her little neck and bawled. I cried like baby for fifteen minutes before I gathered myself enough to stand up and walk out to shake hands with the adopters, and thank them for giving my sweet girl the opportunity to have a great rest of her life. Then I left, and I cried the whole way home.

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Tala lived for two more years on her farm in North Carolina. She was pampered and adored, and could not have asked for a better “retirement” home. She passed away last spring; she had developed adenocarcinoma in her mammary glands – probably from years of puppy rearing – and succumbed to the cancer in her sleep one evening. Of all the heartbreaking calls I received last year concerning my foster dogs, hers was by and far the worst. I sat on the back steps and wept hard and long. I knew she was old, and I knew I would get the call eventually, but I was heartbroken all the same.

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In the year that I fostered that scrawny little blue dog, I learned more about fostering and rescue than many people learn in decades. I learned, first, that patience is not just a virtue – it’s a necessity. Dogs will learn, and they will adapt. There will always be foster dogs that are more difficult than others. The key to success with these “project dogs” is to never give up. They feel your frustration and animosity towards them, and it hurts them and makes them anxious. On the flip side, they can also feel your resolve and your patience. It may take weeks or months, but when you and the dog do finally reach an understanding, there’s nothing that can break that bond.

Second, I learned that the dogs that touch our hearts are not the ones that we need or that we want or like, they’re the ones that need us. And we don’t get to choose which dogs need us – they just appear, and it’s up to us to recognize their need and be the rescuer they’ve been waiting for. I’m not religious, but I do believe that things happen for a reason. Tala came into my life to make me a better person, and a better rescuer. I might have saved her life, but I owe her more than I could ever repay. She is the dog I think of when I’m frustrated with a foster. She is a memory that makes me smile and laugh, and she is the reason that I do what I do. She didn’t deserve the life she lived, but damn if she was going to take the fire out of her. If only humans could learn to live with such positivity and resiliency.

Rescue is hard. Fostering is hard. Balancing school, work, and life in general with this mission of dog rescue is incredibly hard. The heartbreak when we lose a dog that we loved so very much, even when it wasn’t even “our” dog, is excruciating. It’s always worth it, however, because every dog and the lessons they impart during their time with us makes us better human beings.

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Tala’s Story: Lessons From a Mean Dog (Part One)

This is a long one, so I’ve broken it into two parts. 

Those of us in rescue know – there is always that one dog that opens your eyes and shows you exactly what you’ve been missing. They may appear early on in our rescue days, or they may not surface until we “think” we’re veteran rescue sages, just to show us that we really don’t know as much as we think we do.

To say I’ve fostered a lot of dogs is rather the understatement. I mean, I can’t even remember all the dogs I’ve fostered. That’s most because, as the “boss”, I’ve always felt it was my job to take most of the rescue burden. I also have never felt completely comfortable asking others to foster dogs that I haven’t met and evaluated myself. Anyways – lots of dogs, which means lots of lessons. Each dog is a lesson of their own, as each dog has a different personality and set of needs.

One dog, though, was a step above the rest when it came to being a professor of the fostering art. She was a scrawny little blue merle female Aussie, found stray in Oconee County, South Carolina (better known as Upstate BFE). This little dog weighed 28 pounds, and I could fit my hand around her waist and probably pick her up by her spine if I wanted to. At that point in my rescue career, she was the worst case I had ever seen. She was 9-10 years old, had very obviously been pregnant recently, and had heartworms and every type of intestinal bacteria you could imagine. Her teeth were all broken and/or worn down to nothingness, her legs bowed, and she smelled like a music festival port-a-potty. I named her Tala, which meant “wolf” in Sioux.

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Getting Tala home was the easy part. Being Tala’s foster mom, not so much. She was nervous indoors and paced constantly. Wire crates were out of the question, but she tolerated a plastic one well enough unless she knew she was being ignored. She was a trash-dog and counter-surfed, terrorized my cats if they didn’t stand up for themselves, and was rather overly enthusiastic with puppy managing. Somewhere in the archives I have a video that basically consists of me saying, “Tala, stop tackling the puppy,” over and over again. That being said, she got along fine with my older dogs and fosters.

Tala was sick – probably the sickest dog I’ve ever fostered, even now (with the exception of parvo puppies).  I mentioned her bacterial infections; it is because of Tala that I learned what giardia and coccidia smell like. All over the living room. I’ve never been a weak-stomached person, but I literally had to hold my breath, run in and wipe up a spot, then run back out to breathe or I would have vomited. Tala’s heartworms were also severe, and it took almost eight months to put the four pounds on her little frame that the vet requested before starting the immiticide treatment.

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While Tala’s condition taught me a lot about foster care (she was my first senior and my first heartworm dog), it was her attitude that taught me the most. You see, Tala was not always a very nice dog. In fact, she was quite the nasty bitch when she wanted to be. About a month or two into fostering her, I hated her. I absolutely despised that dog. She was cunning and manipulative, and she was not afraid to use scare tactics to get what she wanted. Her favorite thing to do was to slip out the door between my legs and take off down the street through the neighborhood. I would chase her, and when I finally got close enough she would flop on the ground, belly up in “okay, I submit” position. Naturally, my first reaction was to reach down and grab her by the collar to pull her up and walk her back home. NOPE. That little shit would bite the crap out of me the minute I touched her collar. She waited, goading me into making a mistake. Fortunately, she had no teeth so I was never hurt, but still – nobody likes to be bitten. So, this turned into me standing over her nudging her with my foot when she would belly up, and she would just lay there, four legs stretched out in the air, not moving a damn muscle. I would eventually get a leash around her neck and she would pop up, happy as a lark with herself for playing such a great game of, “Who’s really the boss?” One day, I got so fed up with her I just walked back home and told her to figure her own shit out. Of course, the game was over then, and she rose from the ground and followed me on home with no problem. That was the end of her running off, if I wasn’t going to chase her, then it wasn’t worth it and she needed to find a new game.

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As quick as it is to explain, it really took months for Tala and I to reach our understandings. Meanwhile, I was begging my rescue representative (I was nothing more than a young, green foster at this point) to move her to another foster. I would take anything if someone else would take Tala. I was fed up with her, we didn’t get along, and nobody was happy. My rep said no, however, and told me I needed to stick it through. Old dogs are different, she said, and we just needed time to figure each other out. Tala had been through a lot and needed to learn to trust me. I very reluctantly complied, and kept trucking on with this bat-shit crazy little bitch dog.

Stay tuned for part two…

Foster Spotlight: Cyrus the Great

This is Cyrus – he is a Great Dane (maybe mix?) around eight years old. He weighs a skinny 100 pounds, but I’m not putting too much more weight on him for the well-being of his joints.

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Cyrus was left at a county shelter in South Carolina. This is one of my favorite shelters to work with – they hate rescues, won’t allow evaluations, and really can’t be bothered to hold any dog past its euthanasia date. I sure hope y’all get my sarcasm.

Anyways, Cyrus’s “family” left him with nothing – not a collar, not a name, not a damn clue anything about him other than they just didn’t want him anymore. So, when his time was up and no other rescue had raised their hand, I did. I’ve mentioned it before, but I really, really can’t stand when people leave old dogs to die in a shelter. When I picked him up from the adoption center, he sat beside me and leaned up against me with that big ol’ body of his, and I could just feel the tension melt out of him.

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Cyrus came with good news and bad news. The good news – he was heartworm negative, and oh so sweet and friendly! Cyrus loves dogs, cats, kids, you name it. He’s pretty awesome. The bad news – Cyrus’s back end doesn’t work too well, and he tends to loose balance and fall a lot. The vet thinks it’s a neurological thing, not a joint issue. On solid ground, Cyrus is perfect, but he has trouble navigating stairs, hardwood floors, and tight spaces.

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Cyrus is, of course, looking for a home. It’s hard to place senior dogs, especially ones like Cy who already come with the signs of aging. Cyrus doesn’t know he’s old, or that he’s “damaged goods”. He just wants a nice bed to sleep on and somebody to lean up against. He loves going on walks – he actually loves running in the back yard, too. He goes pretty fast for an old man.

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For information about adopting Cyrus, contact me here!

What you didn’t know about rescue (but really need to)

IMG_1803 As a sort of follow-up to last week’s post that got a lot of people all hot n’ bothered, I figured I would stir up some discussion on what exactly is the purpose of rescue. This post applies to most dog rescues; I fully understand that there are indeed rescue groups who do take it upon themselves to fill the niches provided below. Those groups are few and far between, however.

Dog owners tend to have a lot of misconceptions about rescue groups and animal control, and what their job is in society. Spoiler alert: it’s not to fix your problems.

1. We’re not rehabilitators

So you got a dog, and now that dog is causing you trouble. It’s snapping at company, herding/nipping your kids, tearing up the house, whatever… The likely reason is that you didn’t train it right, didn’t do your research, got a dog from a crappy breeder, or all of the above. Maybe you genuinely did everything right, and it’s just the dog. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter, because either way it’s not our job to fix your basket case. Don’t email me saying, “He deserves better,” or “She’s a wonderful dog, she just needs a farm,” or the like. You’re right, the dog probably does deserve better, but why do you think I’m going to risk getting my hand bitten off, or my dogs attacked, or my drywall eaten? Take some personal responsibility, change your methods, get a trainer, or, if the dog is a serious threat, do the right thing and have the poor thing humanely euthanized yourself.

2. We’re not your rehoming shortcut

By that I mean, if you decide your dog needs a home, do it yourself. It’s really not our job. We will gladly list your dog as a referral, share, spread the word, direct adopters your way, etc. We are constantly inundated with dogs from animal shelters that will DIE if they don’t have foster space. You took on the responsibility of owning that dog – take the responsibility of finding it a home if it needs it. And if your dog has some issue that keeps you from doing this, see #1.

(While I’m on this topic – it’s also not your local animal control facility’s job to find your unwanted dog a home. Animal control exists to hold and place strays, and protect the public from dangerous animals. If you surrender your dog to animal control, they will kill it in 24 hours.)

3. We’re not in the “business” of rescue

Those of us who are doing rescue ethically are not making any money off this venture. In fact, we’re probably losing money. Dogs are expensive, and we don’t exactly get the cream of the crop as far as health goes. So, no thank-you, we are not interested in you “donating” your dog to our organization (unless, of course, you want to “donate” a litter of purebred, vetted puppies). Our dogs are not “for sale,” they’re for adoption, and we have plenty, thank you very much.

4. We’re not your safety net

You didn’t spay your dog, and now you have eight wiggling bundles of joy in your bathroom (or your backyard, depending on what caliber of person you are). Guess what! That’s your problem, not ours. You’re the dum-dum who broke the number one rule of dog ownership.

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Zelda and Mako were “accidents” – Zelda was born in the shelter and Mako is deaf, so his breeder dumped him.

Similarly (this goes out to you backyard-breeder asshats) – we’re not here to take the puppies you can’t sell. We’re definitely not here to take your inbred, handicapped puppies that were born because you were either too stupid to know better or too greedy to care. If you want me to take your unwanted puppies, you better as hell sign an agreement to have that bitch spayed, or give me her as well. I will not encourage or enable your breeding habits.

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5. We’re not retirement communities

If you send me an email, and it says, basically, “Our dog is 12 years old, and we love her very much, but we just don’t have the time to give her what she needs,” I will pull out my voodoo doll and stick a dozen pins in your eyes. You are the lowest of the low. Tell me, please, what you think we’re going to do with your poor old dog.

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Cyrus is eight – ancient for a Great Dane.

I’m not sure what la-la land you live in, but there aren’t exactly lines out the door for senior dogs. You’re going to honestly sit and tell me that that dog is such a burden on your life that you can’t handle the last few months, maybe a year or so, of its life? I’ll tell you what – I’d hate to be your parents. Mom’s too old to be bothered with, just leave her in the bed to fester. Seriously, you disgust me.

 

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Bruce’s owner gave him up because she was dying.

Okay, I’m sure you’re asking by this point, so what the hell are we here for? That’s very simple, my friend. We’re here for the homeless, for the abused, and for the sick. Our job is to take dogs from shelters that don’t deserve to spend the last week of their lives in a loud, smelly, scary concrete prison cell. The dogs that can be rehomed with families that genuinely appreciate their presence.  The dogs that have never known love in their entire lives – only fear, hate, and abuse. We’re also here to help the people who love, cherish, and want their animals but life just won’t let them. For example, the elderly lady who’s being moved to assisted living, or the single man or woman who lost their job and can barely feed themselves, much less a four legged companion. Doesn’t your plight of “just don’t have time” or “we have a new baby” sound pretty pathetic next to all of that?

Dogs – all pets, actually – are lifetime commitments. You are their lives; you are all they care about and all they have. Stop shirking responsibility, and don’t try to rely on third parties to do all the heavy lifting for you. You thought you were good enough for that dog in the first place, now prove it.