Look-Alikes

So the other night, out of nowhere, I received a text message from J, which lead to the following conversation:

IMG_2508 I know they say that love is blind, but I’m worried what this means for me!

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I don’t know… what do you guys think? Does your pup have a celebrity look alike?

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Sorry J, but I think this might be a little bit more believable… although certainly not as far as personality is concerned!

Wordless Wednesday: Princess and the Pea

While cleaning our house, I typically try to restrict the dogs to a room or two in order to have reasonable productivity. I’m sure you’ve all heard the joke that cleaning a house with dogs is like trying to brush your teeth while eating Oreos, and I tend to agree. Below is what it usually looks like… IMG_2521

There is a lot going on in that photo! But then, sometimes Georgia decides to get extra adorable.

IMG_2522With beds on beds on beds, I wonder if she can still feel the dog bone underneath? If not, we all know she can smell it 😉

Training Tuesday: Dog Training for Dummies

Seriously friends? It doesn’t have to be so hard…

I am all about sharing knowledge on the internet (obviously, or this blog would cease to exist). It is no secret that the world wide interwebz are an amazing gift given to our generations, where no piece of information or opinion is out of our reach. But it is also important to remember that not all of the information we come across is reputable or reliable.

With that being said, the companion animal industry (and yes, it is an industry, one that grossed over $53 BILLION last year alone, up from $28.5 billion in 2001) is one of the most lucrative and dynamic. According to the APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 68% of US households own at least one pet, which equates to 82.5 million homes. Because of this exponential growth, it is no surprise that many of these owners, plenty of whom are new to pet ownership, are turning to the internet as a resource for advice.

An interesting (yet depressing) study shared by Petfinder and directed by the National Council on Pet Population, showed that of the 4 million+ dogs surrendered to shelters in 2012, 96% had received NO obedience training. Of those, between 2-3 million will never make it out of the shelters alive. So statistically, we can reasonably assume that a large percentage of owners who surrender their dogs to shelters may do so because of training and behavior issues. If we make training so complex and nearly elitist, who are we really helping? Rather, if we make it straightforward and approachable and even (gasp!) fun, how many lives could be saved? Even if it’s just a handful, wouldn’t that be worth it?

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So let’s stop it. As much as us dog-nerds enjoy delving into the nitty-gritty of animal behavior and the learning process, what purpose does that serve? Instead, let’s remember why we do what we do. Instead of approaching animal behavior as behaviorists or veterinarians or scientists or dog trainers (even if you are one of those!), let’s start approaching it as the average dog owner.

In honor of this approach, I am going to devote one day a week to talking about training tips in a fun, simple way! I am not a professional or certified dog trainer, and I don’t pretend to be. There are lots of amazing blogs and websites out there written by brilliant dog trainers and animal behavior experts that cover those bases… but I believe that some of them leave a lot to be desired in terms of approachability and usability. I have developed (and will continue to!) some tools in my experiences as an owner, dog sitter, and foster, and why shouldn’t I share that with all of you?

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So stay-tuned for Training Tuesdays!

Through the Eyes of Your Dog

She wanders through the field, her hands lazily grazing the tops of wheat buds as she makes her way down the hill. The sunlight casts a glow over her amber hair and kisses them all with flattering light, a final farewell to the day, while the dogs whisper in quick flashes through the faded stalks, chasing birds and bunnies and bugs. She smiles broadly, her eyes crinkling softly in the corners, at their carefree enjoyment, wishing for a moment that she could take chase with them, but worrying silently of appearing foolish. The black dog, tall and lean, athletic and strong, makes an eternal path of zig zags; rushing off in hot pursuit, then lazily back to check his girl, before bursting off again, only to repeat the process endlessly. They move together, seemingly connected by an invisible string of predetermined length. He mirrors her movements and shadows her steps, as though his world revolved around her… as in fact, it does. A subtle flick of her wrist or nod of her head is often all she needs to send him back or forth, sitting silent or rushing brazenly ahead, communicating her wishes without words. Her movements, however subtle and soft, never slip past him unnoticed. She is always within his sight.

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As the horizon grows vibrant and dusk settles in, crickets begin to play their melodies and the fireflies come out to dance along. The pack ventures into the valley for a refreshing dip at the water’s edge beneath a canopy of trees. Tongues and toes embrace the cool comfort, but before long, they wander back out into the setting sun. The dogs, appropriately sore and tired from the day’s adventures, duck their heads and stretch their tails in a glorious sunset shake-off, causing the fading light to catch shards of water droplets and allowing them to burst to life like flying embers from a fire. She turns, shielding herself to escape their shower, but it is too late. She shakes her head with amusement and admits defeat.

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More damp than sopping, she guides the tailgate of her truck down and lets the girls jump in back to make a pile of puppy-satisfaction, all wagging tongues and tails. The front seat is reserved for her main man, her co-pilot, her quiet companion. They each climb in, and as she tunes the radio to her favorite ‘90s station, she slips on her old aviators, and her cowboy boot presses down on the clutch. The black dog slowly sinks down, stretching his head to rest over her faded blue jeans, his whiskers tickling her summer-tanned skin through the fraying hole.

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“I wish people could see me through the eyes of my dog.” she thinks “This is what dreams are made of.”

And so does he.

We Need Worry, We Need Grace

Any guesses as to why there was no post yesterday? I’ll make it easier for you by offering a multiple-choice exam…

A) Work-related stresses

B) Family-related stresses

C) Health-related stresses

D) Dog-related stresses

E) All of the above

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If you guessed E, you’d be right! Of course, if you guys are anything like me, the only one you’re most concerned about is D. Thankfully, all is well now, but unfortunately we took a SUPER fast, SUPER emergency trip to the Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center this week for everyone’s favorite gentleman, Tonka.

Foster Dad and I took a day-trip on Sunday to visit some good friends and family in the Philadelphia area. Thankfully we have the best friends in the world, two of whom happen to live right here in Pittsburgh, and they offered to hang out with the pups for the day. They reported that all went well, but on Monday Tonka had vomited four times. This is very out of character for him, but as he seemed fine otherwise, we went about life as normal.

The next day, however, he was not himself. See, Tonk is the type of guy who is the life of the party. You know, the man every pup wants to date and every dog wants to be. But on Tuesday, he was no social butterfly. He seemed listless and uncomfortable, and wanted to be alone. As the day went on, he started to have a hunched appearance and wasn’t moving around normally.  I thought he might have had something going on with his spine, and had planned to make an appointment for the next day with the animal chiropractor we used. However, after dinner that night, his symptoms became extreme, to the point that he refused to move. Typically, Tonka is stoic to the extreme: I don’t think I’d ever even heard him vocalize pain at all to this point. While I panicked with a non-responsive dog in my arms, J called the chiropractor, Dr. Dave, as our regular vet was closed for the evening. Unfortunately, after explaining the symptoms, our worries were confirmed as Dr. Dave rushed J off the phone and told him to get Tonka to the emergency vet immediately. He suspected that we were dealing with pancreatitis. Essentially, this is a severe and sudden inflammation of the pancreas, and despite aggressive treatment, it can have a high mortality rate. The pancreas serves to digest the food, but in cases of pancreatitis, the digestive enzymes are released too quickly and begin to act on the organ itself, which causes a cascade of devastating events within the body.

I won’t bore you with all of the details, but after a terrifying 45-minute drive to the emergency clinic in which Tonka began to go into shock, we eventually got to the clinic and were seen almost immediately. Blood was drawn, radiographs were taken, IV’s were administered, and options were discussed, but thankfully pancreatitis did not seem to be on the table. After a few hours of pain meds, fluids, and nutrients, Tonka-Tue was on his way to recovery.

In the end, the worst part about the evening’s outcome was the astounding bill we had to pay, but I know I don’t have to explain it to any of you when I say it was worth every penny. Emergency scenarios of any kind truly put into perspective that we must always treasure our loved ones.

Some of you have been here long enough to have read the post in which I wrote a letter to Tonka about how much he meant to me, and why. It is one of my favorite pieces of all time. With so much focus on the rescues, as well as the girls who require a lot of management and reminders, it can be so easy to let my special guy fall to the side. The good dog, the easy dog, the quiet dog, the friendly dog… there is nothing about Tonka that is less than perfection, and yet, he suffers for it.

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As I write this, he rests at my feet, tail thumping with every deep exhale or pause from the keyboard. There is something so special, so intuitive about this dog. When a foster comes into our home, he looks at me silently as they bump into him or try to steal his food. He sits patiently for pets from children and tugs from babies, and finds the perfect spot to snuggle when tears are shed. While out on the trail, the other dogs blazing ahead for new smells and discoveries, it is Tonka who returns to me with regularity, to check that I’m not far behind. He will always choose me… over food, other dogs, or even rabbits and squirrels, but yet he is calm and confident when alone. When Gaige and Georgia bark or growl at strange sounds in the night, it is Tonka who bravely investigates in front of the pack, forging through the darkness without hesitation. Without any practice or refreshers, or even food as motivation, he will dazzle a crowd with his bag of tricks. He has slept without complaint for thousands of miles as my co-pilot, and watched protectively from just outside the dusty arena as I spent hours in the saddle, practicing and honing my skills. He has quietly occupied himself during my study sessions, even when I would forget to let him out or write straight through his dinnertime, and truly protected me when our safety was on the line. Never a complaint, never a bad day, never an accident or mistake, and certainly never accusations, guilt, or judgement. Whenever I look to him or snuggle him or praise him or acknowledge him, he doesn’t remember all of the times I’ve fallen short, but delights in the present and the attention that showers him. Couldn’t we all stand to be a little more like Tonka?

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Tonka’s greatest gift to me is the gift of grace. How many days do I waste with worry, wondering what if, second-guessing my approach or others’ perceptions? I wonder, have I spent my days wisely? I worry that I focus too much on the have-to’s, and then stress that I haven’t soaked up every minute. How many days end with feelings of failure? Well, none of them that also end with Tonka snuggles. He reminds me that I’ve done at least a few things right in the world.

So thanks for understanding why things were a little quiet on the blog front yesterday. My man and I both needed some extra attention… for him, to soothe away the sickies, and for me, to remind myself that to him, I’m always enough.

Wordless Wednesday: Snugglin’ Sisters

DSC_0131I tell Foster Dad alllll the time that I think it should be illegal to be born into the world without a sister. Thankfully, I was blessed with the world’s most awesome brother, but while I’m sure he would kick some booty in my defense, he isn’t exactly into sharing gossip and clothes (although that never stopped me from stealing his hoodies!) Nevertheless, it makes me super happy to see that Georgia and Gaige have got the seester thing down pat.

 

DSC_0132This makes me laugh at rescue groups who have policies against adopting out dogs to families with pets of the same gender… if all groups had that policy, these two would be much more lonely!

Sweater Weather

{Push play and turn up the volume!}

Enjoying a gorgeous fall day with one of my favorite boys. Thank you, thank you, endlessly thank you, to our amazing friend Emily, the genius, heart, and hands behind both Our Waldo Bungie and Tiennot Knits Sweaters. She graciously offered to send Kingston his very own custom sweater. Knowing Emily, and that she is not the kind of person to do things halfway, we had pretty high expectations of this gift. However, when we received it, we were blown away. It was very clear that hers is a labor of love, and her products are of absolutely impeccable quality. They would make a fantastic gift for your own pups, or any pet lover on your list! Kingston truly adores his, and now waits at the door on chilly mornings until we put his sweater on.

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Do you know how difficult it is to take a photo of a dog who tries to be your shadow?

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if you are chilly

here take my sweater

your head is aching

i’ll make it better

’cause I love the way you call me, baby

and you take me the way i am

How Not to Fall in Love with Your Foster Dog

Any advice here people? It certainly is no secret… We all know I’m not good at this.

IMG_0469I can tend a bloody wound with stone-cold precision. I can cuddle the confidence into a scared dog, and train the structure into a wild one. I have soothed the fear from an aggressive dog and have mended the heart of an abused one. But what I have never been able to do is keep myself from falling head over heels in love with one. While hearing me wax poetic about all of the reasons I love our little K-man, Foster Dad said it perfectly, “Yeah, but I’ve never seen you meet a dog you didn’t instantly love.” Hmm. Well, that may be true, but Kingston is proving to be even more lovable than your average squishy-faced pup.

How do you not fall in love when your foster dog acts as though his world revolves around you? His dissatisfaction over short separations are marked with voracious naughtiness, while your arrival is celebrated with more joy than a little child hugging his parents after being lost in Disneyworld. Kingston’s is the exuberant greeting of a happy dog, twirling on two legs, reaching up to you for petting and kisses, happy beyond all measure just to see you at the end of a long day.

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How do you not fall in love when your foster dog is an expert snuggler? He hops up onto your bed with quick agility, perhaps not so much due to his coordination or athleticism as it is that he knows the sooner he gets settled, the more likely it is that he will be allowed to stay. He finds that perfect spot nestled up against you, like a missing puzzle piece. You snooze together peacefully, letting the rhythmic rise and fall of your hand on his ribcage lull you both to contented sleep.

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How do you not fall in love with your foster dog when you watch him discover the wonder of the world for the first time? Peanut-butter-filled kongs, squeaky toys, leaf piles, mud puddles and car ride adventures just to name a few, the way he delights in the simplest of pleasures reminds you to relax and do the same. The dog who came to you a sensible and reserved old man at only one year of age now displays puppy antics, complete with play bows, head tilts, and around-the-house-zoomies, his spirit as playful as a young dog’s should be.

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How do you not fall in love with your foster dog when he learns to have confidence by leaning on you? The world, once a scary and intimidating place, full of fear and pain, is now happy and bright since you have come into his life. Rather than reacting to the world around him, he looks to you for guidance and reacts with consistency, trusting without question that you would never put him in an unsafe situation. He becomes your shadow, latching onto you like velcro, in the very best of ways.

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How do you not fall in love with your foster dog, when the head that used to duck at your hand raised to pet him, eventually sidles up on your lap to lick away your tears? That head that used to duck in fear, now snuggles in under your neck during movie nights on the couch, letting out a deep and contented sigh. That head also holds his tongue, and boy, he knows just how to use it! He seems to know when I need to smile, and uses those precise moments to cover my face in slobbery love.

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How do you not fall in love with your foster dog, when he starts to forget the specifics of how he ended up so broken and tattered and abused and mistreated, and starts to remember only the new things you’ve taught him? When despite the past he has endured, his favorite pursuit is not a ball or some cheese or the cat, but is in fact making new friends. When although all he’s known is fear and pain, but he never resorts to aggression, even when it might be justified.

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How do you not fall in love with your foster dog, when he resembles a cartoon? Ears like swiveling antennaes, flickering this way and that, trying desperately to read the signals of the others in his environment. Wiggle-butt jiggling here and there in his best attempt at “twerking,” eliciting smiles from all who are lucky enough to meet him. He doesn’t walk anywhere, but constantly hops and jigs and skips and bounces along to his next destination, whatever it may be, his hind legs trailing along at a twisted angle. He has an uncanny ability to make the world fall in love with him, and that is something I could use a lot more of in my life.

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How do you not fall in love with your foster dog when they pass through the world with an accepting spirit that welcomes all they meet without judgement or exception? It is a trait I’ve rarely seen in a dog, and never seen in a person. He loves without restraint or restriction, and brings out the best in everyone he meets. How do you not fall in love with your foster dog when he believes that everything in life is better when shared? His kong, your bed, his dinner, or yours… it doesn’t matter. He knows that friendships are more important than possessions any day.

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How do you not fall in love with your foster dog, when they remind you of all the lessons you have yet to learn in life? Like the amazing power of putting your heart right out there and making yourself totally vulnerable to those you love. It’s something that we humans are so hesitant to do, but your foster makes it so clear that it’s the best way to live.

How do you not fall in love with your foster dog, when they come into your world without warning? One day you are the happy leader of a 3-dog home, minding your own business, until someone tells you about a pup that needs help. You forget to put your guard up, or build a wall around your heart, and before you know it, a sad little guy with his deep brown eyes and comical ears has burrowed his way into your life, sure to leave a permanent hole when he moves on.

How do you not fall in love with your foster dog, when his presence in your life restores your faith and pride in humanity? When a little underdog needed a hand, a community of so many people we had never met joined together to offer compassion, prayer, kind words, financial donations, and even things like food and toys and beds and sweaters.

The answer? You don’t. You fall head over heels, b. spears-crazy,  irrevocably in love. Just like the rest of the world, you are hypnotized by his bouncy, carefree spirit. You give away little pieces of your heart in order to mend his. It is an amazing thing when a sad little dog teaches so many people about resiliency, love, dedication, and the power of second chances. All I know, is that Kingston’s forever family will be the luckiest people in the world. ❤