Luck is in the Eye of the Beholder

I interrupt our previously scheduled blog post for a momentary freak out. Seriously?! You guys are amazing. Which doesn’t even begin to cover it. I believed that one way or another, we would find a way to make this surgery possible, but I never expected so many people to care and donate and share. I am blown away, and honestly, a little bit speechless. Good thing I wrote this post on Sunday, when I had words to spare 😉 Thank you doesn’t begin to express my gratitude. You all are amazing.

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After a weekend of getting to know our little house guest, I posted this photo to facebook, with the light-hearted caption- ‘You guys are all: “Aw, what a lucky boy to have been saved by such nice people.” Meanwhile, I’m all: “How’d I get so lucky to have this handsome dude as a roommate?!”

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Of course, my post was meant to be silly, but it was brought about by a serious perspective. So many people are commenting, thanking us for what we are doing and posting really flattering statements about what this must mean about who we are as people. As much as I appreciate the flattery, anyone who knows me will tell you that compliments and attention in general make me very uncomfortable and awkward.

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I want to make it very clear that I hope and believe that anyone faced with a similar situation would do the same thing. I cannot imagine that the people I love and admire and respect (and most of you are among that list!) wouldn’t go out of their way to help an innocent animal if they had the means to do so. So if you are reading this, I hope you know that I believe you would follow your heart in an instance like this. What we are doing does not make us saints or heroes or angels… in my opinion, it makes us normal people who want to make the world a little bit of a better place, in whatever capacity we can. That means that when I am faced with an opportunity to do the right thing, I will. And I believe that you will, too!

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Not only does this statement reflect on my perspective about our society, but can we talk for a second about this amazing little dog?! Talking about how wonderful we are makes it seem as though what we have done is endlessly selfless and, to some extent, a huge burden. Yes, we have had to alter our schedules and our lifestyle and our finances… but all of that is what makes it possible for this guy to LIVE. I’m sorry, but that is not a balanced trade if you ask me. The amount of affection and love and joy he has already given to us will not ever be repayable by anything we can do for him. It will always be an unbalanced partnership. I think that is one thing that makes dogs so irreplaceable in the lives of humans; their endless need to express their love and devotion, regardless of what we have done to deserve it. Let me tell you, every second of the time I have spent with this dog has been enjoyable. He is not the lucky one… that is all on us, I promise.

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Moral of the story is that while I appreciate the recognition, please don’t put us up on a pedestal. We are doing what is right, not anything exceptional, and we know in our hearts that all of you would do the same! Anyway, if you met this dog, you’d understand why we’d gladly PAY for the opportunity to spend some time with him 😉

IMG_2331There is nothing I love more than a blurred-pittie-tale!

He is scheduled for femoral repair and neuter surgery at Butler Veterinary Associates on Wednesday. They are an incredibly charitable practice, and at least per the original estimate, have given us a very generous discount. With their permission, we will post the bill when it comes in, so that everyone knows where their funds have gone. Please keep in mind that the dog will probably require a second procedure once he has healed in order to remove the pins. If the donations exceed the original cost of the surgery, they will be allotted to this later procedure, as well as the vaccines, etc that he will still be needing. Again, I wish there was a word for me to use other thank thank you… you all are amazing, and I hope this incredible act of teamwork and charity restores your faith in humanity as much as it does mine.

(In other news, I start a new job today. Eeek! A little crazy here in the AFM5 household, but why would I ever expect it to be any other way?!)

Good Deeds

Some of you may have been following our eventful weekend via social media, but for those of you who did not, I will try to start from the beginning.

Friday afternoon I received a facebook message from an acquaintance from high school. She told me that she had a pit bull that had been given to her because the owner was going to kill it for having pulled down the curtains. She said that it had been badly abused, and believed that it was suffering from a broken leg. She wanted to help him, but did not have the means to do so. She saw me posting about dogs all of the time, and wondered if I might be able to help. She said that he was less than one year old and endlessly sweet. I felt so much compassion of course for the dog, but also for someone who had put herself in harm’s way to help an animal, even though she knew she couldn’t care for it long term.

I’m sure I don’t need to give too much detail as to what happened from there. (Have I mentioned that I have the world’s most supportive husband?!)

Of course, I posted about it on facebook, to inquire if anyone might be able to help. I received probably 20+ offers to help pay for the dog’s care and veterinary needs, but no offers to foster. So what else was I supposed to do? I figured that if these people were so willing to help fund his care, the least I could do was provide a safe place for him to recover.

In spite of the hefty and unplanned medical bills they have been faced with recently, A Positive Promise Pit Bull Foundation, the rescue that brought Georgia into our lives, was eager to help us help this little dog. Especially when I shared with them the fact that so many people had already pledged their funds to help save his life!

The next morning I drove to pick the dog up. When I got there, I was instantly struck by how adorable this pup was! A small dog was jumping all over him, and he paid it little attention. He was wiggly and friendly, but non-weight bearing on his right hind leg. I noticed some swelling and bruising around the hip area. The girl and her grandmother talked about seeing him interact kindly with both children and cats. He willingly, yet haltingly, walked with me toward my vehicle, where we headed back toward home.

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Waiting at the vet. Practicing his yoga poses!

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Another high school acquaintance worked at a local veterinary office, and suggested that I bring him into the clinic for an initial evaluation. The facility is called Saxony Animal Clinic, and the doctor and staff there were absolute angels. Between them (though I’m not sure who specifically deserves our appreciation) our entire bill was covered. This included the emergency exam fee, radiographs, a rabies shot, a fecal exam, pain medicine, antibiotics, and (much-needed!) flea medicine. I cannot begin to convey the depth of my appreciation to them for being so kind, compassionate, and generous. Unfortunately, our worst fears were confirmed. The abuse that our little trooper endured resulted in a severely fractured femur.

1378643_10151900879292427_511742613_nThe vet who examined him advised that the break would absolutely require surgery, most likely to the extent of needing a plate and some screws. This was not a procedure that they could perform in their facility, and so she suggested some alternate clinics where we could be referred.

I made a few calls that day, but as it was a Saturday, I was not able to make much progress in terms of getting a quote. I have been told that surgeries of this capacity vary in cost between $1-$3,000, with our area typically being on the lower end of that estimate. I will be making some additional calls first thing Monday morning to hopefully get more information so that we can proceed.

Unfortunately, many of the people who initially pressured me to bring this guy home by offering to donate to his care seem to have disappeared. I am understanding that circumstances change, but am also hopeful that they will remain true to their word. We really can’t afford to cover the cost of his surgery, on top of his transportation, food and other needs, and the needs of our own pets. In spite of that, there are many generous people who have stepped up to help us, both in financial ways and in others. For those of you who have contributed in any capacity, please know that your selflessness means the world to me.

On a lighter note, we enjoyed spending the weekend with our new addition, in what we can only imagine have been some of the best days of his life. While he is relegated to our (finished!) basement due to his flea issue and our need to keep him separated from the other animals, he has a warm cozy bed, blankets, toys, and treats galore. He gets plenty of love and attention! We all enjoyed lots of time laying out in the grass while we soaked up the unique experience of the last bit of summery weather mixed with a vibrant blanket of fallen leaves.

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He already has some interested adoption applicants, and while we want to wait until after the surgery and recovery in order to accurately evaluate his temperament, preferences, and disposition (of course he won’t chase our cat… but then again, he’s not chasing much these days!) we are absolutely sure that he will make someone the most amazing family member. He is endlessly loving, affectionate, playful, and obedient. How someone could find ANY fault with this dog is still a mystery to me.

You may notice that we have left out an important part of his story… his NAME! While his previous owners called him ‘Ghost,’ we’d like to give him a new name to mark his new journey. A few top contenders include-

1) Kingston: It definitely fits his good looks

2) Tripp: the name suggested by our top donor

3) Bucco: to celebrate the Pittsburgh Pirates Pride in our area

We’d love to hear your input on what you think his name should be!

Thanks for all of the support and encouragement 🙂 If you are interested in helping this deserving little guy on his road to recovery, you can share or donate to his fundraiser. It is appreciated more than you know!

 

 

Perfecting my Perspective

*I know this one is long, but I happen to believe that it is worth the read!*

Those of you that have been following this blog for a while, may know that my passion for animals, behavior, and training first came from my background as a competitive horseback rider. When I had to take a break from riding, and my horses, for a few years, I found comfort in the world of dogs and dog training. It was an easy transition, as there are so many similarities between the two species.

Both dogs and horses are intelligent, athletic animals. They both have a strong tendency towards communication via body language. Both are powerful animals, with a fight-or-flight tendency that gives them the potential to be destructive, but only in self-defense. Perhaps most importantly, both are animals that have evolved to develop close relationships with humans. Because of this, most possess a tendency toward companionship with humans, if not a strong drive to please them. Anytime I give a riding lesson and the rider faces a frustration, I always remind them that our horses rarely willfully disobey, especially if we make the right choice easy. If they are not responding to our cues, it is best to assume a miscommunication on the part of the human partner. Of course, if you are reading this, you probably also know that to be my approach to dog training.

543388_10150945397487427_101345628_nBecause of these tendencies, I largely have always applied force-free tendencies when training either species. While we do use our bodies to cue our horses (as well as tools such as leg aids and bit pressure) the best riders will recognize that they will never be able to overpower a 1,200+ pound animal. Attempting to be forceful or aggressive with a horse will only result in a frustrated animal, that may or may not react by lashing out.

Due to the similarities I see, I will often read articles that apply to one of the two species, and stretch it to apply to training the other. I find this to be a great way to gather fresh or unique approaches and ideas. With that goal in mind, I came across this article last week, and quickly shared it on facebook with an affirmative description. Let me share with you my gut reaction.

The article discussed the perils of ‘spoiling’ our horses. What resonated with me was reflective of two important theories I apply to animal behavior.

1) Animals thrive with structure, discipline, and training. They want to know how to please us (or at least, how to earn what they want) and so we teach them ‘right’ from ‘wrong’. We create anxious animals when we change the rules or never train them to begin with, because they will exist as though they never know when punishment or praise is coming. If you know me, you know that I love to take my dogs on exciting adventures, let them sleep in the bed, and consistently supply them with the newest toys, but I also spend lots of time training them to ensure that they understand what my expectations are, and make them work for their rewards. I can confidently say that because of this approach, our pups are some of the happiest and most secure dogs I have come across.

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2) One fatal flaw (literally) I often encounter in other pet owners, is that they try to show their affection to their pets by form of food. Please do not confuse my criticism as being directed toward those that practice force-free training, and make their pets work for their rewards, while maintaining a balanced diet! Instead, I am referring to those pet parents that insist on feeding table scraps regularly, and ignore the signs of weight gain in their animals. Maybe it comes from my own fixation with healthy eating, but when I see people overfeeding their pets, or feeding them inappropriate items, I can’t help but picture it as literally poisoning their friend!

food is medicine or poisonDon’t just take my word for it! You may or may not recall the invaluable research done by Purina, which produced undeniable results supporting the benefits of an appropriately-portioned diet in dogs. The study took place over 14 years, and compared 48 purebred labrador retrievers from seven litters. Paired within their litters according to gender and body weight, the pups were randomly assigned to either a control group (fed ad libitum during 15 minute daily feedings) or a lean-fed group (fed 75% the amount eaten by the littermates in previous group). All dogs were being served the same balanced, nutritionally complete diets, which started as a puppy variety, and later evolved to the adult formulation, for the entire duration of the study. The only difference was in the quantity provided.

What is your reaction to a dog that looks like this?

What is your reaction to a dog that looks like this?

Any guesses as to the results? I’m sure you can hypothesize where I am going with this, but the actual results were even more astounding than I expected them to be!

  • The median life span of the lean-fed dogs was increased… but by 1.8 years, or 15%. In the lean-fed group, the age at which 50% of the dogs had passed was 13, compared to 11.2 in the opposing group.
  • By age 10, only three of the lean-fed dogs had passed away, as opposed to seven of the control dogs. At the end of the 12th year? Only ONE control dog had survived, in comparison to 11 of the lean-fed dogs. 25% of the lean-fed group lived to see 13.5 years of age, while none of the control group achieved that mark.
  • Additionally, 50% of the dogs in the control group required treatment for chronic conditions at 9.9 years of age. In contrast, the median age for the lean-fed dogs was 12 years. This group had lower serum triglycerides and triiodothyronine, as well as healthier insulin and glucose use.

Think about your dog; your sweet best friend, partner, and confidante. Imagine them aging, slowing down, becoming hard of hearing. As hard as it may be, picture yourself preparing to say goodbye to them when the time comes… in that moment, what price would you pay to guarantee you a few more years of your time with your dog, free from pain and the difficulties that old age brings? I would be willing to bet that no price would be too great. But this study shows us that we need pay no price… to ensure more years of time with our dog, as well as a significant reduction in health problems and associated vet bills, we must simply maintain portion control in our pet’s diet. It makes those nightly tablescraps seem a little less innocent, doesn’t it? Of course, occasional indulgences are not my complaint… but we must keep in mind that when we are responsible for the input of calories in our pets, we must be cognizant of the effects of our decisions. By overfeeding them, we are literally shortening their lifespan.

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While those are the visceral responses I had to the article, a friend of mine, whose opinion on the topics of animal training I greatly respect, had a different reaction. Her reactions were not my initial perspective, but I could not agree with them more. I think it is so interesting that two people who have largely similar approaches to the subject (she also shares an equestrian background, as well as an animal sciences degree, an affinity for pitties and force-free dog training… and we are the same age!) can have such different gut responses to the same topic. This was our conversation:

J: I agree that untrained/”spoiled” horses can be very dangerous – but I’m not comfortable with thinking my horse is “disrespecting” me. To me, this article weighs very heavily in human emotions, and does not seem to address other sources of bad behavior: fear, anxiety, nervousness, insecurity (just like dogs). The “too many treats” argument is often used against reward-based positive training, and, while I agree they shouldn’t be overused, I think that primary reinforcers like food can go a very long way in getting an animal – any species – to change their emotional response to things and therefore their behavior. Thanks for the thought provoking article!!

S: Completely agree J! I wasn’t thinking about it from that perspective… I would never want to reinforce theories that refute force-free training, so thanks for sharing that perspective. Maybe I should have applied that philosophy a little more in my mind before I shared this. I guess what struck me about this article is the fact that humans often anthropomorphize our animals’ behaviors… not wanting to train them or correct them because they worry about ‘hurting their feelings’. I am a strong believer in the fact that happy animals are ones that know what is expected of them, and are corrected when they stray outside of their expectations (not forcefully!) and rewarded when they make the right decisions. I believe that the best animal owners / handlers /etc train their animals to clearly learn ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ so to speak, by making the right choices easy to achieve, and the wrong ones more difficult. Does that make sense?

J: Yep, totally. And I’m completely with you on the not over-anthropomorphizing the behaviors of our dogs (animals) to justify letting them get away with something – that is one of the only things Caesar Milan and I agree on. In sort of but not really the same vein, a big thing I am learning with all the books I am reading lately is that if an animal is not responding to our cue (often quick to be labeled as stubborn!!), it is our job as the trainer to look at how we can improve our communication. Does the animal *really* know what we are asking of them? Anyway, positive trainers often get the wrap that we’re big softies, which is a shame because our animals have a ton of boundaries and expectations, they’re just not upheld in the traditional ways (“let’s make it worth your while to do what I want” vs “do what I want, or else!”).

One difference that my friend has from me, is that she has been a part of the blogging and advocating thing longer than I have, and she has more formal, applied experience with dog training. I think that while we largely share the same views, she has developed a clearer position that she applies any time she approaches a topic. I am still working on developing my approach and perspectives, as well as learning to check myself before I choose to support or criticize an article, group, etc. Do you know that you readers and your comments are a huge part of that learning process for me? So let’s hear it… what was your first reaction to the article? Any similarities or differences to the perspectives that my friend and I had? Can’t wait to hear from you! (PS- As a reminder, I am a big fan of intelligent and respectful debate!)

There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Dog

A few weeks ago, I shared a link on our facebook page, that had been shared first by one of my daily reads, Peace, Love & Fostering. The original post was from the blog, Notes from a Dog Walker, and it is probably one of my favorite blog postings I’ve read thus far in our fostering experience. I urge you to head over there to check out the piece. For even some of the most seasoned dog lovers, it just might change your perspective forever.

If there is one thing I could convey to all of you, it would be this… “It’s not how they’re raised, it’s how dogs are managed, that matters most.” A dog with a terrible past can still make a wonderful addition to your family. At the same time, unfortunately, sometimes a dog raised with all of the right tools, whether pit bull or black lab or poodle, will not be successful. Don’t stereotype ANY dog, for ANY reason… it is dangerous, and unfair. Give them a all a fair chance. The Vicktory Dogs & BAD RAP dogs are just two perfect examples of this! These dogs were rescued from the most cruel and outrageous fighting operations. Yet through careful and dedicated rehabilitation, they have become loyal and gentle family companions. If I took the time to list every popular story of a dog fighting victim that went on to live happily with other animals and children, this page would be full.

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I don’t believe that either Georgia or Gaige were ever involved in dog fighting cruelty. Yet if I had a penny for every time someone asked me if my pit bull was aggressive, or had been a ‘fighter’… well, I would have a lot of pennies. And while I don’t like to focus on the negative, I think it is important to note that those questions have come even from those that claim to like pit bulls! The point is, we love dogs because of their loyalty and resiliency. Give them a chance to prove it to us!

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In other news, please check out our facebook page here. We shared a few videos of lucky boy Cash, from yesterday’s post, who has begun his new life! One shows him playing exuberantly with a toy, while the other shows him interacting happily with his new foster sister.

Finally, we are very excited to announce that we have a two-hour training session scheduled tomorrow for Miss Georgia! We will be working with the talented Debby McMullen of Pawsitive Reactions, LLC. Debby specializes in positive reinforcement dog training, as well as management of multi-dog households. She has even written a book on the subject! You can even follow her blog here, and she also maintains a facebook page.  We are planning to focus on Georgia’s issues with overly enthusiastic greetings towards new humans, and also narrow down her discomfort with some other dogs. We are hopeful that we will learn new tools to manage her introductions, and also identify what sort of doggie household she would be most comfortable in. We are anxious to see whether her issues with female dogs are simply a matter of additional socialization, or something that would be best avoided for her comfort level. Wish us luck! We know this will only add to her repertoire of skills and talents, thereby making her more adoptable.

Are you my forever family?

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We hope your weekend is kind to you!

This Old Dog Learns New Tricks

I have to start by saying, thank you SO MUCH to all of you that commented and emailed your advice to us. It is much appreciated! We will be taking all of your tips and suggestions to heart. It is so nice to know that we have many friends and supporters as we face new challenges with fostering. All of us blogging fosters are a little community… know that we are happy to repay the favor anytime you need support!

I try to keep this space very organized and methodical… much like I try to maintain my life! But my world is feeling very topsy-turvy disorganized right about now, so this particular post may be much the same. I apologize in advance!

Gia wrestling with Foster Dad. Her signature move? The Kiss of Death

Have I mentioned lately the fabulousness that is Foster Dad?! He really is the most supportive husband I could ask for… he is my perfect life partner. While I was working yesterday, he was on afternoon doggie walk duty. Which, can be a bit hectic, given that we are still doing some pooch rotating, rather than releasing the hounds all together. Not only that, but while playing with Miss Gia outside, my notoriously terrible multi-tasker was also pooper scooping. For a dog-loving Foster Mama, does it get much hotter than that?! Some of you out there know what I’m talking about… and the rest probably think I’m crazy.

Best friends

Anyways, what may sound like a silly story turned into an opportunity for us to learn more about Georgia girl. As Foster Dad was wielding the shovel with skill, he leaned down to give Gia some lovin’… and she proceeded to melt down onto the ground into a terrified, shivering puddle. 😦 Poor baby. She adores her Foster Dad, at least as much as she does me. They share a special bond, so the fact that with a shovel in hand, she didn’t trust him, made J feel terrible. As soon as the tool was down on the ground, she came back up to him wiggle-waggling, but it just reminded us that you will learn new things about your pup’s past everyday. This is why it is so important to approach their training process with sensitivity and understanding, as well as a willingness to adapt your methods as you learn more about your dog. Every dog is different, every dog’s past is different, and maintaining flexibility in your approach will ensure that you provide your dog with a secure foundation for their future. While we have long ago made the decision to only employ training methods of positive-reinforcement, Georgia still deals with issues from her past that create lingering fear and distrust. We will embrace this knowledge as an opportunity to increase her confidence and security in her relationships with us.

He knows the way to this girl’s heart

Not to get too philosophical here, but isn’t that a great way to approach life in general? Whether two or four-legged, we never know what challenges others have faced or are currently facing. If we kept in mind that everyone has their own battles to fight and insecurities to face, perhaps we would not be so quick to make their paths more difficult. We should all be so busy pursuing the improvement of our own journeys, that we have no time to judge the actions of others. Jonathan and I approach our marriage with the philosophy that if both spouses are consistently putting their partner’s desires first, everyones’ needs are met; but what if we brought that theory to all of the relationships in our lives? We would all feel constantly empowered and embraced. To me, that is what life is all about: doing what I can to improve the happiness and experiences of those around me.

“Let the refining and improving of your own life, keep you so busy that you have little time to criticize others.” — H. Jackson Brown Jr.

{Okay, sorry… end soap box.}

You should all know that our brain-storming idea of sharing one of Georgia’s only flaws, actually may have worked! We have a family that sounds pretty darn ideal who is very interested in our baby doll Gia. Fingers crossed that it works out… so far they seem like a match made in heaven! It would be great to have Georgia in her forever home in time for the holidays. We will keep you posted.

If you think you might know someone who would be interested in adopting our sweet girl Georgia, please share her story! Any questions about Georgia or the adoption process can be directed to me (Stephanie!) at sel1490@gmail.com.