Animal Farm Foundation: The Experience

I’ve had a hard time getting started on the posts revolving around my experience at the Animal Farm Foundation Language and Advocacy Internship. There is just so much important information, some of which I haven’t even fully wrapped my head around! I will be splitting it into a few parts, for those of you interested in applying in the future, or at least improving your advocacy abilities.

I left my house in Pittsburgh early Wednesday morning, as I had 7.5 hour drive before I had to be in New York at the Animal Farm at 5:00. I was also planning to stop along the way for some puppy snuggles with some of the dogs in our rescue!

This is what the drive looked like…

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We were having torrential downpours and flash flooding! But I still looked like this:

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Because I was so excited for what the next few days would hold.

Fast forward a few hours later, and this is what I was surrounded by…

Pictures just don't do it justice

Pictures just don’t do it justice

Even though I was in a hurry and anxious to reach my destination, I couldn’t resist stopping every few miles to capture some photos of the breath-taking scenery. The area was dotted with stunning estates, farmland and horse farms.

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This was the lane pulling into the farm

This was the lane pulling into the farm

The next few pictures are of the Animal Farm Foundation property

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Agility Field

Agility Field

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All of the interns were split up between a few different houses. I was lucky enough to stay in the lake house, which was just a short drive (or long walk) from where our meetings were held each day.

This was the view from the porch on the front of our house

This was the view from the porch on the front of our house

The best part about the trip?! This adorable face!!

DSC_0006Her name is Marilyn. She is an absolute snuggle-bug with a slight giant ball obsession, and exceptional house manners. She was our house dog for the time we were there. She slept with us, and we were responsible for her care. It was so hard to say goodbye to her!

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The other interns came from all over the country. There were local visitors that drove in each day from a No-Kill shelter in Duchess County. There were rescue advocates from Cincinnati Pit Crew in OH, Pets Alive Sanctuary in NY and Pit Bull Crew in FL, as well as an education and advocacy group in Las Vegas called Incred-a-bull. Finally, there were women from municipal shelters in VA and NJ.

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It was inspiring to meet so many bright, driven, compassionate, and competent women who were passionate about the same cause as I. However, it was also at times difficult to hear the challenges and struggles they face in their endeavors with advocating and rescuing pit bull dogs… as much as I feel that I put myself in the midst of the issues in our area, it was disturbing to learn that there are so many locations where pit bull dogs face much worse discrimination and difficulty.

However, if there is one thing I learned during my time at Animal Farm Foundation, it is that we must always focus on the positive. If this is just a small sampling of the individuals who are advocating for pit bull dogs, then it is just a matter of time before discriminatory tendencies are a thing of the past!

This post has highlighted the overview of the experience, but in the next few posts I will paraphrase the actual content and information that Caitlin from AFF shared with us. This trip was immensely educational, and part of my goal was to be able to convey the things I learned to all of you. So please stay tuned!

Blazing New Trails with Animal Farm Foundation

I first became aware of the Animal Farm Foundation internship program through my blogging idols at Love and a 6-Foot Leash, and Peace, Love, & Fostering. Each of the bloggers participated in one of AFF’s informative and life-changing week-long internships, and I was so moved by the experiences that they graciously shared. Prior to that, I of course had heard about all of the great things AFF is doing to advocate for ‘pit bull-type dogs’. I just knew that if I got involved, it would forever change my perspective on all things dog… from training, to rescue, to adoption, and more.

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Photo from Peace, Love, & Fostering

I don’t want to give too much away up front, but I will say this… I am attending the AFF Language and Advocacy session next week. You can read more about what I can expect, here. I am so excited! I am also nervous. And, I am a little bit bummed that my experience will only be the 3-day version, as opposed to the week-long. However, I anticipate that this will be a great way for me to get my feet wet, and maybe even have the opportunity for a longer experience next year.

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I will be attending as a representative of LCPO, the rescue group where I volunteer. They are also the ones that pulled Georgia and eventually placed her with us as a foster. I hope to soak up as much knowledge as possible, in order to bring everything back to our hard-working team of leaders and volunteers. I am sure that there will be so many others in attendance that possess infinitely more knowledge and experience than I. I can only hope that some of theirs will rub off on me!

Surround yourself with the dreamers the doers the belivers the thinkers

 

Remember that I started this week discussing adventure, and my goal was to put myself in environments and with people that made me reach for more… I would say that this endeavor is going to be just that! I can’t wait to share it with all of you on here.

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Another great photo from Peace, Love, & Fostering’s AFF Internship experience

OH! And Happy 4th 🙂 I hope you all enjoy it (safely!) with your pups!

Photo source: Pinterest.com

Photo source: Pinterest.com

 

Summer 2013 Dog Bowl List

…Because a bucket list just doesn’t really apply, does it?

Ok, whatever.

The point is, as we continue this week’s adventure theme, it gets me to thinking about all of the fun times we’ve had with our pups. And then that gets me thinking about all of the fun things we want to do with them! So I thought I’d share our list with all of you! Tell me… what fun things do you have planned for your pooches this summer? We’d love to hear about them!

2013 Pittsburgh Dogs’ Summer Bucket List

  1. Teach Gaige to dock dive like her big brother: We know she has it in her! jumptonk
  2. Homemade dog treats: Any favorite recipes you’d like to share?
  3. Volunteer at a local shelter: We just haven’t found one that is the right fit… recommendations?
  4. Camping: In the backyard, at least. DSC_0003
  5. Start working on agility
  6. Attend Pittsburgh’s Cinema in the Park cinema_in_parkDSCF2355
  7. Catch fireflies
  8. Kayak Pittsburgh: with one of the pups
  9. Make a new friend (at least 1 with two legs, and at least 1 with 4!)
  10. Tonka. Beach. Vacation. Enough said.
  11. Visit a doggy bakery: Dozen BakeshopWoof Stop BarkeryBone Appetite Barkery, or Doggie Delights

    Dozen Bakeshop specializes in human AND canine varieties

    Dozen Bakeshop specializes in human AND canine varieties

  12. Take Georgia to her first horse show
  13. Visit the Sunday night Pup night at Jergel’s: Dog menus!
  14. Fence for backyard… should be completed before our vacation at the end of July.
  15. Make doggy ice pop

    Source: Pinterest.com

    Source: Pinterest.com

  16. Attend a dog or dog-friendly festival in Pittsburgh. So many to choose from! Pittsburgh Pup Crawl, Food Truck Mondays at Animal Nature, to name only two!
  17. Meet a blog friend in real life! Who’s in??
  18. Attend a car cruise with J’s favorite girls: Gaige, and his ’67 Camaro!
  19. Paint Georgia’s toes
  20. Visit McConnells Mills State Park
  21. Give each of the pups their own day of fun DSC_0007
  22. Take Gaige trucking: Can you guess who came up with this one? IMG_0445

So that’s it. We will keep you posted on our progress! What is on your summer bucket list with your pets? Bonus points if it’s different from ours!

Considering a trip to Pittsburgh? Check out our post on all things dog in this great city!

And last but not least, as we approach the summer, hopefully full of vacations and travel and adventure, be sure to keep some of these safety tips in mind.

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More and More Every Day…

I would hope that by now, it is pretty evident that I absolutely adore my dogs. I take great pride in them, as well as in the way I care for them. In fact, I think the greatest compliment anyone has ever given me, is when they say; “Man, if there is a life after this, I want to come back as one of your dogs!” While I love pretty much everything about these four-legged fur balls with whom I share my life, there are just some moments that my heart swells with pride and affection. I bet you can relate…

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1) When they are content or joyful

Especially when I think about where Georgia and Gaige probably came from, it makes me incredibly happy when I see our pups enjoying their lives to the fullest. Whether that is when they are in hot pursuit of an animal in our open fields, or slumbering all cuddled together under our down comforter, I feel so great knowing that their lives are better because of me. I live for moments when I can bring them sheer and unbridled joy… ears-a-flying, tongue-a-slobbering, head-hangin-outa-the-window-style.

 

 

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2) When they depend on me

While I would never wish fear or anxiety on my dogs, I feel invincible when they come to me for guidance or reassurance. These dogs, with their powerful muscles and athletic limbs, turn to me when they need assurance that the world is a safe place. Whether it is a visit to the vet or when I have to tend to a wound, their trust in me is steadfast and pure. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve it, but it means the world to me.

 

 

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Partners in crime

Partners in crime

3) When other people are lovin’ up on them

Of course I think my dogs are the greatest. Don’t we all? But those moments when someone else stops to recognize all of the heart and courage and beauty that they bring to this world? I think that’s kinda what dog ownership is all about. Whether it’s a stranger on the street, all of you friends here, or the people that mean the most in my life, when I see the bonds my dogs share with others, it reaffirms all of the pride I have in them. And if it’s someone fragile that they are bonding with? Fo’ gedaboutit. My wild, exhuberant dogs seem to have this switch… put them around a child or someone elderly, and they become like little lambs, gentle and sweet, cuddley and quiet. Try to tell me that they don’t understand us. I dare you.

 

 

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4) When they’re all together

If you’ve been following this blog for a long time, you may remember that it took us months to acclimatize the dogs to the point where they could coexist in the house. Georgia came to us a bundle of nerves, with little trust for anyone around her, human or animal. She even thought the cat was out to get her! The poor girl just had no confidence in herself or anything in her environment. But to see our pack now, you would never know that we had ever experienced any issues. These dogs have a strong yet intricate bond that ties them together. You see it in the way they move through the house, and the way they all snuggle in bed together, sharing their space and their favorite people. It’s in the way they play tug of war, growling and barking and enjoying all that it means to be a carefree pup. It’s even in the way they guard the house, communicating silently as each takes their post at a window until an intruder approaches. One of the three sounds the alarm, and the troops come running for backup. They’ve learned to respect one another’s space, but they’ve also become dependent upon each other. Take one away, and the others pout and whine. Our dogs are true friends. I don’t know if they do it because they know it is what I expect of them, or if it is because they have a need for the kinship of other dogs, but I do know that I love it.

 

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5) When we’re snuggling

Morning snuggles with the dogs are my favorite. Part. Of my day. Paws down! While we don’t usually allow the dogs to sleep through the night in our bed, once J is out of the house, they know that the dog bed rules go with him. One by one, they leap into the bed as delicately as is possible for 3 dogs with a combined weight of almost 250 pounds! They creep quietly along the mattress, careful not to disturb me, in case I might decide to kick them out. Sleepily I smile to myself, loving that their favorite place on earth is just wherever I am. Each selects their perfect spot, snuggled right up against me, but still somehow in contact with the others. We rest peacefully together, until I make the first stirs… maybe a yawn or stretch, or an arm reaching toward the night stand for my phone. Then all bets are off… they leap from their positions, shake off their slumbers, and grab for a toy. They know that once I’m up, fun begins, and they can’t wait to get their days started!

 

"If I don't look at her, she can't make me come inside..."

“If I don’t look at her, she can’t make me come inside…”

6) When they’re being naughty

Believe it or not, J told me early on that one of the things he had first loved about me was the way I treated my dog. He said that I was strict with him, and he admired my sense of discipline. At the same time, I was affectionate and spoiled him rotten when he was good. I think it’s safe to say that this is exactly how I approach my relationship with our dogs to this day. I hold high standards for their obedience, and think that discipline and structure are a vital part of their lives. At the same time, I think that if our dogs could speak, they would happily tell you that there are no dogs on this planet more loved and well cared for.

With all of that being said, there are some times that I just can’t get over how adorable they are when they’re bad. 95% of the time, our dogs are so focused on their ‘jobs’ and are incredibly eager to please us. But there are those moments where their instincts take over. They seem to forget all about any of the manners that they’ve learned, and take exceptional delight in the fact that they are dogs!

With Gaige, it happens when she is outdoors and doesn’t want to come inside (see photographic evidence, above). You can call and call and call her, but she pretends she hasn’t heard. She will trot slowly over to the furthest point of the yard, and plop herself down, staring at you in defiance. You will try throwing bits of hot dogs to her, shaking the treat bag, and bouncing around like a crazy person. All to no avail. Then when you’ve lost your patience, and decide to risk the late-night or early-morning walk in your bare feet, crazy hair, tee shirt, and underwear, she waits like a panther. You will stomp yourself over to her, muttering under your breath, and just when you think you are in arms’ reach of her collar, she will tuck her tail up under herself, and dash around the yard in sheer ecstasy, proud of her quick and conniving ways. If you can stay mad at her when she does this, you are a much tougher person than I!

 

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7) When they are there for me

Tonka, especially, seems to have some sort of wire to my heart. Not only does he know when I am happy or sad, but he often seems to be aware of it before I am. He will come to me with an expression to match my own. If I am hurting, he will cuddle up as close as possible, and stare deep into my eyes. I swear he is trying to speak to me. But when I’m excited about something, he bounces around my feet, grabbing the nearest toy to celebrate with me. Talk about selflessness… this pup has it in spades.

 

One of my favorite pictures in the whole, wide, world.

One of my favorite pictures in the whole, wide, world.

8) When I think about the past

Mainly, it’s when I write posts like this. I think about all of the adventures I’ve shared with these dogs. And even the lows. These dogs have been there for me through everything, displaying a loyalty not rivaled by even my closest friends. They were all brought into my life for different reasons, and I wouldn’t be who I am without each of them.

Ambassadog, Extraordinaire: Vivian Peyton

Because we exist to celebrate all things pit bull, we wanted to take a moment to talk about a special little dog that you may or may not have heard of (no, not Georgia!)

Photo courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/VivianPeytonDog?group_id=0

Photo courtesy of Vivian’s facebook page

Her name is Vivian Peyton, and her story is heart-warming. What we know of her past began at the Animal Care and Control facilities in Philadelphia, where she was rescued from a life that suggested a history as a bait dog. Her scars may bear witness to her past, but her heart is even more noteworthy. Thankfully, a special group called New Leash on Life USA saw that much in her, and pulled her as a student in their three month prison dog-training program, where inmates work to socialize and train the dogs in preparation for adoption. In this novel program, prisoners help dogs gain a second chance at life, both simultaneously working to redeem their reputations, all while learning from one another.

Upon graduation from the training program, Vivian Peyton was adopted by Michele Pich. Michele is a veterinary grief counselor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital, where she comforts grieving pet owners who are working to overcome the loss of their beloved family members. On her own time, Michele visits children at the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia. Michele knew from their first meeting that Vivian Peyton would make a great partner in both of these endeavors, and so she worked to achieve further accomplishments with her. Vivian soon became a Penn Vet VetPets therapy dog, and soon thereafter passed her Therapy Dogs International (TDI) certification.

Vivan’s touch offers an opportunity for healing when it comes to grieving pet lovers at the veterinary hospital, who gain so much comfort in having an animal to hug. She also provides an outlet for children who are subjected to treatments and extended hospital stays. Her owner tells a special story, ” There was a little girl who, since she had some surgery, had some scars, and used to get picked on in school,” Pich says. “We used it as a teaching point to say Vivian used to get picked on by bullies, and even though she has some scars, she has been able to rise up beyond that.” The young girl took comfort from that, and was grateful to just be around Vivian.

Photo courtesy of Jack McMahon Jr.

Photo courtesy of Jack McMahon Jr.

For all of her contributions to her community, Vivian Peyton was recognized at the 2012 National Dog Show Presented by Purina, where the sweet little Staffordshire Terrier mix was honored as one of three Purina Therapy Dog Ambassadors. It is clear to anyone that Vivian Peyton is an amazing ambassador of the pit bull type dog, and we hope that her achievements will encourage others to give an unlucky shelter dog a chance to do something special.

Slone, Ernie. “A Champion for the Underdogs.” Dog Fancy. 01 Apr 2013: 24. Print.

 

CharlieDog & Friends: L.O.V.E.

“I’m in love, I’m in love, and I don’t care who knows it!”

-Buddy the Elf (…and Stephanie the Blogger)

Love #1? All of you. Can I just say how awesome our readers are?? You never fail to inspire me with your comments and support and even constructive criticism. This blogging community has become such a treasured and vital part of my life, and I don’t know what I would do without all of you! It is so special to be able to share my passions and find others who can relate.

Love #2: CharlieDog and Friends

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Charliedog and friends is a company that is doing amazing things for the plight of unloved and unwanted animals. Their approach? Start small… as in, with the smallest of animal lovers.

Almost every family experiences the begging and pleading from their children for a new four-legged family member. But what if those children were not pestering for just any pup, but for a shelter dog? I can’t say it any better than they have eloquently described it themselves, so I will be pulling much from their Mission Statement page:

”  Our mission is to help rescue organizations change the way people think about, and go about, getting their family pet.  It’s to make sure the animal shelter is the first (and, hopefully, only) stop on that exciting Saturday afternoon, when children and adults get in the car and set out to find their new best friend, brand-new leash in hand.

We hope every child that loves a CharlieDog toy loves the spirit of that toy, the spirit and the story of the once-homeless pet that inspired it.  And when the day comes — and it will! — to start pestering the parents for a dog or cat, we hope that child will say, “I want a homeless pet.”

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The unique, hand-crafted toys themselves are made in America, and based on real-life shelter and rescued pets, and now they help homeless pets get to their forever homes. In addition to their toys, they make colorful, playful, patterned bracelets that mimic pet collars, simply embroidered with the word ‘Adopt’. Talk about a conversation starter!

67485_474802525912793_176412963_n 549843_466402763419436_1926436812_nThe above pups are real-life rescue dogs Ruko and Adolla, pulled from New York City kill shelters just before their time was up. They continue to do good by touching the lives of children as treasured stuffed animals.
 
Their website calls this pup a little red-nose pit bull from PA... it MUST be Gia, right?!

Their website calls this pup a little red-nose pit bull from PA… it MUST be Gia, right?!

We can’t wait to make a little red pocket pittie addition to our family! (Remind you of anyone?!) As if all of that isn’t enough to send you running to their website to share and make purchases, CD&F isn’t just talking the talk barking the bark… they are also walking (no-pull leashes & harnesses in hand!) the walk in their every-day lives. $5 from each and every purchase goes directly to rescue shelters across the country.

”  We promise never to waste your money.  We’ll pledge to spend it thoughtfully and directly on on-the-ground rescue needs — exactly how we would spend our own money.  Vet care for sick or injured animals.  Transport costs (gas and tolls) for pets who have been rehomed, but have no way there.  Direct sponsorship of individual dogs or cats in shelters.  The people behind CharlieDog and Friends have seen local rescue in action (we volunteer ourselves) and we can tell you: it’s awe-inspiring, and because it’s a job that tears at the heart, it needs constant funding. We’ll never donate to large, bloated animal welfare organizations, that — despite their size, and without a doubt — do good.  Rescues need more help. 

My friend Suzy Allman is the brains, brawn, and (especially inner) beauty behind this amazing group. If you’ve fallen in love as quickly as I did with her heart, which she so openly shares through her words, then show her some love by following her blog and liking their facebook page. She is essentially an angel for animals… not only is she running this amazing yet fledgling company, she is a blogger, writer, NY Times sports photographer, and shelter volunteer, but she also provides free transportation for ‘super urgent’ rescue dogs out of New York shelters in her spare time. Wow.

Perhaps my favorite kernel of light from the CharlieDog website is as follows, because it so closely resembles my own mission when it comes to unwanted animals (here):

”  It’s hard for us to see a homeless animal without thinking of our own pets — safe, warm, loved, living a life that we know they need, and deserve.  It kills us, and we’re not alone.  We’re in the company of millions. CharlieDog and Friends believes we all want the same thing for our animals: a soft place, a loving place, a place where scraps sometimes land on the floor and it’s okay to pick them up with your tongue.  A special spot in the heart of a family.  ”

The dogs in shelters are no different than the dog resting at your feet, guarding your front door, or curled up beside you on the couch. (Cats too!) They deserve the chance to prove that. By supporting CharlieDog and Friends, you are giving those deserving animals the opportunity to find their forever families.

While CharlieDog and Friends is entirely deserving of a post all their own, I will be back tomorrow to talk about how their toys just might pertain to some of you! Stay tuned…

Challenge: Changing Stereotypes

Guess what today is? Our 100th post! And we think that deserves something special, don’t you?

Many of our blogging friends (including my BBF* Morgan at Temporary Home, Permanent Love) have found unique and creative ways to simultaneously increase readership and blog involvement, while also giving back to their local shelter communities.

Morgan & Maggie from TH, PL

Morgan & Maggie from TH, PL

*BBF: Best Blogging Friend

They call it ‘Kibbles for Comments’ or some similar idea, where the more involved their readers get, the more food they donate to their local shelters. How cool is that?! We wanted to copy them follow in their charitable foot steps, but with our own unique twist…

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So we wanna know: what is the ‘meanest‘ thing your pit bull does?? Let’s change some stereotypes, people! For each photo you send me, with info about what is happening, I will make a graphic like this, and share it on the facebook page. Who knows; maybe one of your photos will go viral! AND spread pit bull love at the same time. Simultaneously, you will be earning one pound of dog food, which we will then donate to a local shelter. You have two weeks to send in your stuff, so let’s get started! This is a super easy way for you to make a difference. My email address is sel1490@gmail.com, and I can’t wait to see how creative our readers and blogging friends can be.

If you don’t have a pit bull of your own to use for the photo, borrow one from a friend, or better yet; head to your local shelter and spend time with one of their adoptables! They could use the social interaction, and I’m sure they’d be happy to be your model.

Cherish Me

I won’t always cry out at night,

When you leave me all alone,

Or chew on your brand new shoes,

Instead of my brand new bone.

 

My puppy breath won’t always linger,

from big yawns and dozing naps.

I won’t always be small and cozy,

Enough to cuddle on your lap.

 

Soon I will begin to grow,

Into my super-sized puppy paws.

I will start to want my freedom,

And our cuddles will take pause.

 

I will not always trip and tumble

When you call me down the hall.

Cherish every snuggle, snore and slumber,

For I won’t always be this small.

Baby Tonk

Baby Tonk

~~~

I won’t always love to run and romp,

After toys and tennis balls.

I won’t always want to tug and fetch,

or (almost) always come when you call.

 

When I was small you taught me well,

‘best friend’ is what you call me now.

Wherever you are, I’m by your side,

Loyalty is my solemn vow.

 

No matter the roads you take in life

I am your companion, willing and able

But I won’t always ride shotgun in your car

Or keep watch beneath the dinner table.

 

I won’t always be up for a new adventure

My body athletic and strong

Cherish every shake, sit, and stay,

For I will grow old before too long

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~~~

My puppy transgressions a thing of the past,

Obedience is now my middle name.

Wisdom collected as your lifelong companion,

‘Good dog’ is my claim to fame.

 

Achy joints and stumbling movements,

My body betrays me as age creeps in.

Our adventures decrease, yet I am brave,

Because of the memories I hold within.

 

I won’t always struggle to catch up.

Still so many roads left unexplored.

Yet I yearn to please you, however I may,

Your love is my favorite reward.

 

Though I grow weak, gray and tired,

Unable to lift my body from the ground,

Cherish every snore, stare and struggle,

For I won’t always be around.

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~~~

You have to face your life without me now

You see what a void there is to fill.

No one to play and fetch and run with you,

Or to cuddle quietly when you’re ill.

 

You used to grow frustrated

with all of the little things.

And now you wish to have them back

With all the joy they bring.

 

You miss the jingle of my tags,

The weight of my paw in your hand.

You’d even embrace my fur and drool,

Just to have me at home again.

 

Though the tears will fall like rain

Don’t let the grief tear you apart.

Cherish every story, sign, and snapshot

For I will always be in your heart.

 

Why Dogs?

Why dogs? What is it about these furry, funny creatures that can capture our hearts and change our lives? We (I use this term loosely!) dress our dogs up, afford them the best of medical care, take them to meet Santa Paws, provide them with quality organic food, and even throw them birthday parties… in the last 15 years, the US jumped from $17 billion to $43 billion in the amount of money we spend on our pets.

But if you are reading this blog, it is safe to say that you probably agree that loving our dogs is not all about the money. In fact, the financial ‘investment’ is probably the furthest thing from most of our minds. Loving our dogs is about loyalty and companionship, entertainment and comfort. But, the question remains: why dogs? Why not pigs or horses, or even inanimate items that constitute hobbies… trucks, fishing poles, etc?

Is it the way they love? Unapologetically and without restraint. Tongues flying, paws prancing and scrambling, they want to get as close to us as possible. They rest their heavy heads on our knees, as their deep eyes look into our own, expressing what their mouths cannot. Scientists may argue that this ‘adoration’ is simply an appropriate appreciation of resources, and acknowledgement of the vessels that provide them (ie: we bring home the bacon). However, I argue that all dog lovers know the difference between a friend’s dog, staring longingly into our eyes while we nom down on a burger, and our own dog’s adoring glances when we’ve been away for an extended any amount of time. Not to mention, what about when that loyalty extends to those members of the family who are not the ‘pack leaders’? Many new parents discover a new found love for their dogs, once two-legged puppies enter the scene. When properly introduced, dogs can take on a role that is fiercely protective of the children in their family, who have no resources to offer in exchange. Many adults will look back on their childhood most fondly when recalling memories that highlight their family dogs. Perhaps even more noteworthy, is the fact that dogs who have been socialized appropriately may display affection toward other (prey?) animals in the house, be it dogs, cats, and even bunnies.

Via tumblr

Via tumblr

Perhaps it is their zest for life, their passion, if you will. Watching a dog run and tumble in hot pursuit of a bouncing ball, or dashing and splashing their way into a cool pond is enough to bring a smile to even the most cynical among us. They bring a uniquely lighthearted intensity and exhuberance to everything they pursuit, be it chasing birds, stealing food from the table or hard-core napping. For many dogs, even training can be fun, and our pups respond almost as if they want to help us learn!

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Is it their obedience? It can’t be that, because Gaige doesn’t have an obedient bone in her body, and yet still, she is the apple of her dad’s our eyes! In fact, it is sometimes in her contrary disobedience that we are nevertheless able to so clearly see the depth of our affections for her.

Perhaps it is their honesty. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met a dog with a particularly good poker face. Even with three pups in our house, if I walk in to a plate pulled off of the counter (Georgia) or a chewed shoe (Gaige), their guilty mugs identify the perpetrator almost immediately. Even more worthwhile are their honest evaluations of the people they encounter in their environments. I will trust Tonka’s perceptions of character over any reference or compliment I hear, because his reservations have never once been wrong.

My boys <3

My boys ❤

We cannot forgot the dog’s intelligence. Sometimes during a particularly intense training session, it seems as if Georgia’s mind is working so hard, I can actually see the lightbulbs flickering and eventually turning all the way on. Dogs are intelligent creatures, but more than the way they learn, is what they perceive. They seem to possess a wisdom far beyond their years, and hold the secrets to some of life’s most lingering questions. The greatest lessons I’ve learned in life, have come from my dog.

You have to give dogs points for their patience, which I must admit, is commendable if for no other reason than that most of us don’t possess much of this attribute ourselves. This trait is visible not just when it comes to begging endlessly for food. Our dogs spend their lives waiting for us… waiting for us to come home, waiting for us to understand their requests, waiting for us to broaden their environment to walks and adventures. They wait for us, not with frustration or annoyance, but with an unbridled joy when we finally return, get it, or explore. Another trait that humans should envy is the innate confidence that many dogs possess, which is admirable because it often exists regardless of physical stature or athletic abilities. The tiny Chihuahua isn’t afraid to yap at the massive Dane, and the diminutive Corgi doesn’t hesitate to dive head-first into the water.

I think my favorite canine trait is loyalty, which I believe to be different than love. No matter how the days pass, full of activity and outdoor romps, or spent lazily indoors, our dogs greet us with the same frivolity, regard us with the same adoration, and protect us with the same courage. They forgive us when we are unclear or inconsistent, and are always looking toward the future. Although our dogs have memories, or at least recollections, that allow them to recall where they hid their favorite toys or just why they hate the bath tub, they are quick to forget our mistakes and flaws.

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You may most admire their companionship and observance (and I’m not just referring to the squirrels outside the window) by they way they move with you through the house, shadowing your steps in and out of rooms, never letting you out of their sight for more than a few minutes at a time (unfortunately, even when it comes to the bathroom!). Again, cynics may suggest that this behavior is simply a creature being on the alert, anticipating the possibility of potential rewards such as outdoor romps or surprise snacks. I prefer the belief that my dogs can’t bear to let me out of their sight. For our dogs, not only must they keep an eye on us, but they prefer to be physically touching us: laying on our feet, nestled against our body, or heads resting on our hands. They romp through the woods, running far ahead, but occasionally turning back to us for a quick pat on the head, seemingly reassured by our presence. Not to mention, what person do you know that would be happy to go along for a car ride with you, no matter the destination or length, just content to be by your side?

Dogs are endlessly resilient and courageous. To meet Georgia is to know nothing of the neglectful past she has endured, and the same can be said for so many dogs who have experienced trauma and violence. Their courage is impressive, seen time and again in stories of devoted dogs laying down their lives to defend their  family members. The next time you roll your eyes or yell as your dog barks ferociously at the door, take a second to analyze that act. Sure, it could be a hyper-active overreaction to the mailman. At the same time, how many of our dogs would valiantly defend us with everything they have? I know I would be my own life on mine…

Those of us who work with rescued dogs, who may have seen horrors we cannot imagine, may point out that not all dogs exemplify this list. Certainly, some dogs become withdrawn from play, and are hesitant to embrace the environment around them, etc. But somewhere inside of these dogs, is a little soul that yearns to be cuddled and protected. In spite of their fears, in their hearts lies a fighting spirit that enabled them to endure their tragic past. It may take time for traumatized animals to come back to their natural state, and maybe some won’t ever recover completely, but I believe that this list describes what we all know to be the essential Man’s Best Friend . Sure, there are some quirky dogs that just don’t fit these stereotypical tendencies… and yet their owners love them all the more for it! The dogs that are ornery, difficult, and aloof can sometimes inspire the most devoted companionship out of us.

At the end of the day, I think most of us can agree that the reasons and the depth of loving our dogs are one of the few things in life that defy words, and travel just out of the grasp of language. Nevertheless, we try. So tell me: what is it about dogs, or perhaps your dog in particular, that you are over-the-moon about, and just can’t get enough of? There just might be a giveaway in exchange for your answer! (But I’ll choose to believe that you would answer even without the bribe 😉 )

To be Wealthy

What makes you feel like a million bucks? I am so interested in the way people answer this question. It is important to note that ‘a million bucks,’ is not the same thing as ‘beautiful’.

I believe that it is a moment we all search for. A moment when we are the rulers of our world, and in total control. It is a moment that inspires us, carries us, and reminds us of what we are living for. In this moment, we see everything that we can be in this life, and suddenly, we can’t imagine being anything less.

"Dreams are always crushing when they don't come true. But it's the simple dreams that are often the most painful because they seem so personal, so reasonable, so attainable. You're always close enough to touch, but never quite close enough to hold and it's enough to break your heart."

“Dreams are always crushing when they don’t come true. But it’s the simple dreams that are often the most painful because they seem so personal, so reasonable, so attainable. You’re always close enough to touch, but never quite close enough to hold and it’s enough to break your heart.”

Every great love starts with a great story. One of my greatest loves in life, was my horse Frosty. He came into my life at a pivotal time, and our adventures cover the highest of peaks and the lowest of valleys. His registered name, the name we competed under, was ‘A Dynamic Minute,’ which so perfectly sums up our memories together: a fleeting yet divine moment in time.

Losing Frosty was one of the most painful moments in my life. Painful is probably an understatement, and conversely, one that very few will ever comprehend. Even in every happy moment or good day, something would spark that undercurrent of pain, and the crack in my heart would spread all over again. In time (only recently, 7 years later), the hurt began to lessen, and it was easier to just let go.

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Or at least, I thought it was easier. But in every ride I took over the years, I found myself searching for him. I’d seek the lifting float of his trot, or the rocking gait of his canter. I looked for his clownish personality in the barn, mirrored by his stone cold focus in the show ring. I craved the pride from our successes in the spotlight, and the quiet loyalty of our private moments behind the scenes. I missed him so. I missed hearing his name called along with mine, that sweet sound of success that made all of the sacrifices worthwhile. Even the times when our names weren’t called first… yes, I missed those too. Because, at the end of the day, I knew that I still had his giant heart to depend on. Mostly, I just missed my friend, my partner, my champion. I was looking for him everywhere, and when the feelings got too strong, I’d take a step back from the world that reminded me endlessly of him. I couldn’t continue to drive towards my dreams, for fear of what I needed to face, and what I might ultimately find. I didn’t want to recognize my own inadequacies without him. I wanted to remember us like we were those fleeting years, those exquisite summers. Independent of the world, yet fiercely dependant upon one another. Strong and brave, focused and calm. Grey horse and slight girl, gallant steed and timid princess: a fairytale, a living poem. Undeniable champions, and yet we were eventually torn apart by the very thing that drew us to great heights… ambition, though ultimately not our own.

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Our last moments together…

What I am only now realizing, as I write this, is that Frosty, in himself, was my dream. That’s it. Aside from the glory and success and points. All of that would have meant nothing without him. Every little girl’s fantasy of the beautiful horse with the rocking canter, who galloped into their dreams to carry them away from reality. That’s the gift he gave me. The glaring absence of the light that he once brought into my life, sometimes makes every other beautiful thing so much dimmer by comparison. In his dappled gray glory, Frosty was the silver lining to the clouds in my life, and so sometimes it’s hard to see much more than stormy weather. I don’t know how to conclude this to do justice to this magnificent creature. All I can say is that, in all of his glory and imperfections, Frosty was the best thing that has ever happened to me. And, he truly is ‘A Dynamic Minute’ that will last a lifetime in my heart.

"Wherever I go in life, I take a piece of you with me everywhere."

“Wherever I go in life, I take a piece of you with me everywhere.”

While I have finally come to terms with the fact that he will never again be mine, I still work to uncover the reasons why the pain of our separation was so deep and sharp. Perhaps the reason it hurts so much to have lost him is because our souls are connected. Maybe they always have been and always will be. That gets me through.

It hurts that my dreams seem to be so intertwined with him. To face the ascent to my greatest aspirations, I must also face my life without him. I still want the dream I have put down on paper so many times. The dream that has existed in my heart for years. I preach to others that not a single one of us should feel that our dream, our freedom, or our choice is elusive. It should be ours to attain. And yet, my fear of loss, of failure, of betrayal, cripples me. A paralyzing fear that is only self-fulfilling… my fear of not achieving my dreams, prevents me from actively seeking them, which in turn renders them unachievable.

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For me, riding has always been about passion. What does that mean, you might ask? I believe it is a primal, instinctively vibrant part of ourselves that doesn’t come from social status, a fancy car, or a corner office. Expressing this part of yourself radiates a confidence and glow unattainable through beauty treatments and material possessions. Passion comes from our core; from the deepest part of who we are…that place we pull our last bit of strength from, where our deepest love lives.

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Find your passion. Seize it, and make it your life’s work. You will come alive. Most importantly, no matter how much it sometimes hurts, never give up.

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“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours.”

– Ayn Rand (Russian-born American author)