Dog & Pony Show

Some of you may know that my love for animals originated in the world of horses. I began riding at the age of 7, and soon started competing nationally. For the majority of my life, I slept, rode, ate, rode, slept… not necessarily in that order. I even graduated high school a year early in order to afford me the ability to travel to compete for a national title. My hobby was one that necessitated receiving judgement on a regular basis. My horse’s talent, as well as my own, were constantly under scrutiny, from my trainer, the judges, and even the other competitors. Riding is as natural to me as walking, and the thrill I got from competition required me to remain open to criticism.

My most recent show horse, Shadeless

One of the things I so love about spending time with dogs, whether it be attending training classes or volunteering at local shelters, is the lack of judgement. While this was never something that I felt bothered by while riding and showing, I realized what it was like to come in to a group of people that offered no criticism. The other volunteers, and of course the dogs, were just happy to have another set of willing hands.

However, if any of you readers out there share an affinity for pit bulls, you know that what I’m writing about may not always be true. Unfortunately, pit bull type dogs are judged on an almost constant basis. Whereas the ‘popular’ breeds like Golden Retrievers and Labradors may have the freedom to act out on occasion or misbehave in public, the same is not true for our dogs. If our pitties even let out a low warning growl to another animal they can be considered aggressive.

My favorite example of dog breed discrimination occurred at the Jeep festival last summer. We had only had Gaige for about a month, and it was her first public outing. We took her to the busy festival, not sure what to expect, but we wanted to start socializing her as soon as possible. Surprise? She was. an. angel. (Note: as much as we love her, this is not how she regularly acts at home!) She sat any time someone wanted to pet her, walked patiently on the leash, and was all around a fabulous representative of her breed. We had recently learned how much Gaige adored children, and this festival was no exception. Anytime she saw a pint sized human, she sat her butt down, wriggling her tail and front feet with anticipation. When one particular little lady came up to us with her grandmother, they politely asked us if they could pet our puppy. As Gaige sat down, soaking up the little girl’s lovin, they remarked on how sweet and well-behaved she was. They asked us a few questions about her, until they got to asking what breed she was. We told them that we didn’t know for sure, but we thought she was probably a pit bull – black lab mix. The grandmother glared at us, grabbed the little girl’s hand, and  dragged her away, muttering “How could they bring that dog in here in good conscience…” Poor Gaige just laid down and watched the little girl walk away, presumably wondering what she’d done wrong to scare her off!

Gaige’s “please, pet me” face

Of course, it is not fair that we as owners have to deal with the scrutiny that our dogs come under. We love our pups, and know that if others would just take the time to get to know them as they are, they would probably love them too. However, you can put a positive spin on the negative publicity, and use it as encouragement to make your relationship with your dog the best it can be. Attend obedience classes and work on socialization. Start training for agility competitions. Perhaps even make it a goal for your pittie to be able to pass the Canine Good Citizen test. Any of these things will strengthen your bond with your dog, and also show the public one more positive ambassador of the breed we know to be loving, loyal, and strong.

Where these stereotypes really hurt is in the shelters. Unfortunately, pit bulls fill most of the shelters across the US. Even worse, most of these animals never find loving homes. It is estimated that 1 million pit bulls are euthanized in shelters ever year, some of them just puppies, and many of them without ever having known the love and protection we so willingly offer to our four-legged family members.

Recently, after sharing some of the issues we face in Animal Welfare, a well-meaning family member asked me, “Well, what can you do about it?” I know that my blog may only average 100 readers a day, but my hope is that I can help even just one animal through what I do. Perhaps our stories will inspire someone else to foster an animal in their home, or even to just consider a rescue instead of a breeder when looking for a new pup for their family. I don’t think what I do will put an end to animal abuse or to the unwanted animal epidemic, but maybe if we all did our small part, we would see a large change for the better.

It’s a Dog Eat Dog World

Hope everyone has been enjoying a beautiful and relaxing weekend! At least here in PA, the weather has been perfect. So perfect, in fact, that we decided to head out on a new adventure with our darling pups. We took Tonka and Gaige about 45 minutes away to Misty Pines Dog Park. We had never been there before, but were impressed by their website and wanted to check it out.

The dog park is a full service facility that includes a dog park, dock diving and pond, agility courses, training classes, boarding, and a retail store, to name a few! They are vigilant in requiring every visitor to bring updated proof of vaccines, including bordatella. Additionally, they welcome dogs that are working on socialization issues, simply requiring that they be fitted with a Gentle Lead halter that prevents biting.

We pulled in to a beautiful 25 acre wooded property, complete with safety fencing and many trails. Much of the doggie play areas are set in heavily shaded areas, allowing for fun to be had even in inclement weather. Sunday is the only day of the week that Misty Pines is open by appointment only, which allowed us to enjoy the facility with limited traffic by other visitors. We registered at the main office, and were checked in by a very friendly and helpful staff member. We then walked down to the pond area, which was complete with a covered pavilion and multi-level diving dock! Of course, Tonka was in doggie heaven! He showed off his skills, making impressive leaps and dives to catch toys off of the dock. Gaige watched in appreciation, and tried her best to copy her big brother. There were only two other dogs at the lake, and they politely kept their distance from ours.

Once the dogs had their fill of the water (or, more accurately, once we were soaked and decided we had had enough), we followed the trails to the fenced-in agility area. Although Tonka has been properly socialized from a young age, he has been twice attacked by an intact yellow lab, so he can have some fear issues with other dogs. We let Gaige watch from the sidelines, as this was her first time in an area with many other unfamiliar, unleashed dogs. Tonka entered the area confidently, and was greeted by a young yellow lab. This dog was boisterous and untrained, but harmless, and perceptive to the body language of the other dogs. They played well together. After a few minutes of introductions, we brought Gaige in, leashed. Things went well for a while, until an older woman came in with her aged shepherd mix dog. This dog was unleashed and also harmless, but a bit of an instigator. Gaige, who was still leashed, was working on an agility obstacle with Jonathan. The shepherd rushed up to her from behind, and began barking and nipping at her sides. Gaige turned away multiple times, and let out a low growl. The woman saw all of this, but never once called her dog away. Neither did the dog hear Gaige’s signals, and back off. He kept barking at her and pushing into her space. Jonathan pulled the dogs apart, looked pointedly at the owner, and went to another obstacle. The shepherd lost interest for a short period of time, and then came rushing back to bark and nip at Gaige. She growled again, and when the other dog still would not back off, she did try to bite. Although she never made contact, and calmed down as soon as the other dog backed away, we ended up taking her out of the park to cool off.

We really need some help here from our readers. What are your reactions? We need to take Gaige somewhere to improve her social skills. She has never had an issue with other dogs, and my instinct is that this dog was a bit of a bully. If someone got in my space and refused to back off when I made repeated requests, I can only imagine that I would react similarly. My new worry is that her only association with a dog park is now a negative one. I know that many responsible dog owners swear off of dog parks entirely, due to issues such as these. Do you feel that we could have done something differently? What do you suggest for socializing our dogs in the future? Do you take your own dogs to dog parks? Why, or why not?

I do NOT think that this was a situation of an ‘aggressive’ dog, or a terrible owner. Rather, I think she lacked the control over her animal, and worse, lacked the acknowledgement of this fact. Tonka listens well, and so he has the privilege to go off-leash in safe areas. Gaige, however, has a much shorter attention span, and sometimes lets her own free will over-ride her obedience. Because of that, we do not allow her off-leash in areas other than our own property. She has never displayed aggression with other dogs, but has not been exposed to a large variety of new animals. I am really anxious to hear what some of you might suggest for us.

In other news, we will unveil our foster dog on Monday! Please tune-in then 🙂 Enjoy some pictures of our pups until then. Thanks for stopping by!

Playing keep-away!

That’s one happy pup!

Best friends, always.

Labor of Love

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Our Labor Day weekend was full of fun, friends, and family, with a little bit of rest & relaxation thrown in for good measure. We hope that yours was, too! While we enjoyed our long weekend to the max, there were a few moments that made me think about my blogging family…

At a party on Sunday evening, we announced to some of our friends our plans to take on a foster dog. Keep in mind, present at this party were 3 young pure-bred dogs, of whom the owners are very proud. We listened politely to discussion of breeders and acknowledgement of superior lineage, etc. While I in no way look down on those that decide to go the route of breeders, it does twist my heart to think of the many dogs, purebred and otherwise, waiting patiently in shelters… and then of the many dogs who are never rewarded for their patience.

So many of the behavior traits and congenital disorders we see in unwanted dogs, are the result of careless breeding. While it would not be fair of me to look down on our friends, or any of those who choose purebred dogs, it is so important to me to get the message across that we all choose to be conscientious and selective when taking any dog in to our families. It is vital to conduct the proper research, whether you are adopting a dog from a rescue, or purchasing one from a breeder.

For varying reasons, you may decide that a purebred dog is the best option for your family. I am not one to judge that decision! However, it is imperative to all involved that you research your options thoroughly. Please do not acquire your pets from retail pet stores and internet options, as typically, you are supporting puppy mills. Puppy mills are by and large backyard breeders that do not follow proper protocol when housing and breeding their dogs. These dogs are often kept in unsanitary and unsafe conditions, and bred excessively, as the main goal is high profit for the owners. In choosing a dog from a pet store or online ‘breeder’, not only are you supporting inhumane practices, but you are also taking on a dog that is at higher risk for medical and behavioral problems, due to indiscriminate breeding and lack of proper socialization. Rather, research breeders carefully, ask for references, and even visit their locations if possible. This will allow you to see the living conditions of the pups, and also view their parents in many cases.

Finally, just remember that purebred dogs come through the shelters on a much more regular basis than you might expect. Many times busy owners give up their purebred dogs due to lack of time or financial reasons. You may be getting the breed you prefer, but avoiding the puppy stage of chewed shoes and stained carpets! And of course, you are saving lives at the same time. Another option would be to contact local rescues that specialize in purebreds. For example, my family has an obsession with the Bernese Mountain Dog breed, so if we were to take on one of these beautiful dogs, we would search for a nearby Bernie rescue, first.

While I try to come across as being understanding of all dog owners, it was interesting to note that some of our friends did not offer us the same benefit of the doubt. Of course, we have had strangers give us a hard time about pit bulls. While we have come to anticipate some negative reactions from strangers, we were confident that our friends and family would remain much more open-minded. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Many of our friends and family asked us why we would want to help such mean, aggressive dogs. One woman told us she was deathly afraid of these dogs (as her purebred obsessively humped and mouthed at another party-goer’s pooch, with no correction from the owners.) and that they were only used for fighting. We were told multiple times to ‘be careful,’ and had more than one person assume that we were being paid to do this. These are people that we love and respect, in a variety of age, income, and education levels. We were astounded to get such reactions from them! However, we can only look forward to proving their stereotypes wrong. We are eager to make our foster pup a special representative of the pittie society!

On to today’s feature foster 🙂 We chose to feature this girl, first because she is precious. However, her story also alludes to some of the issues we discussed above… she is the poster child for today’s post! Please check out her special story…

Introducing baby doll Kentucky. This sweet girl has had a hard life. She was rescued from a construction site, after apparently being bred repeatedly and then dumped when she was no longer of use. Her foster mama, Kelly, rescued and fostered her, until they were lucky enough to find what they thought was a reputable rescue to take her in. That rescue was Splindetop Pit Bull Refuge. You can read more about it here, but essentially, 300 malnourished, ill and injured dogs were recently seized from this ‘rescue,’ after the founder left the dogs to fend for themselves. Luckily, after a long process of tracking down Miss Kentucky, she was reunited with her original foster, Kelly. Kelly loves this girl dearly, but feels she really deserves to find her way into a forever home. Here is a note from Kelly: “Despite all Kentucky has been through, she has such a great spirit and outlook about things. She loves all people equally. She’s affectionate and cuddly without smothering you. She is calm and gentle, but still has a playful side too. She’s around 6 yrs old at best guess. She was retested for heart worms and is by no small miracle, negative! She has been vetted and is ready for a family of her own. It’s long overdue! She is house and crate trained. She loves small dogs and does well with children.”

For more information about Miss Kentucky, please visit her very own Facebook page. (Yeah, she’s kind of a big deal…)

Misconceptions

If you are an animal lover, and especially a dog lover… or, more specifically, a lover of all things pibble, then you’ve probably heard the latest about PETA’s anti-pit bull position. If you haven’t, then I strongly urge you to head on over here, for the full story. It was published by Stubby Dog, a non-profit organization that ‘is focused on changing the public perceptions of pit bulls’. How cool is that?

If you’d rather just read my Cliff Notes version of the PETA vs Pit Bull face-off, please see below:

  • In 2009, when the gruesome details of a dog-fighting ring funded and controlled by NFL superstar Michael Vick were released, PETA announced plans to collaborate with him as their anti-dog fighting spokesperson. Might I remind you, Vick never released statements of sentimentality or sympathy towards the dogs he neglected, starved, and brutally tortured. He did, however, apologize to his fans, family, teammates, and the NFL for ruining their associations and his own reputation. He apologized for what he did, but was consistently featured in media reports for justifying his actions, blatantly lying about his involvement, and laying blame on others. He never cared about the dogs whose lives he ruined and ended. However, PETA thought he had served his time, and that Michael Vick deserved a fresh start. You can read more about Vick’s victims via the New York Times Best Selling book, “The Lost Dogs” but Jim Goran.
  • PETA sponsors their own ‘shelter’ in the Virginia area. Their adoption rate? In 2008, it was 5%. No, that is no typo. The ‘shelter’ euthanizes approximately 95% of the dogs that come in to their facility. PETA’s true policy is that 100% of ‘pit bulls’ that come into their doors are euthanized. They do not even attempt to find these animals suitable homes or foster situations.
  • Recently, the buzz in many counties in Maryland has been about Breed-Specific Legislation. In recent hearings on the subject, PETA, who are said to defend the ethical treatment of all animals, was present… on the side of the proposed legislation, which was enacted. PETA believes that Pit Bulls should be outlawed.
  • In the letter from PETA, they state, without any supporting data or factual figures, “people who have good intentions rarely come to a shelter to adopt pit bulls; almost without exception, those who want pit bulls are attracted to the “macho” image of the breed as a living weapon and seek to play up this image by putting the animals in heavy chains, taunting them into aggression, and leaving them outside in all weather extremes in order to “toughen” them.” I guess you’re right, PETA. Our dogs are pretty vicious, and we probably should keep them in better living conditions…

This image courtesy of one of our favorite blogs, Love and a six-foot Leash. Check them out!

The problem with these positions?

  1. The term ‘pit bull’ is widely misunderstood. Many dogs are mis-labeled as pit bulls, when in fact, they are not. Are those in favor of Breed-Specific Legislation, proposing genetic testing for all dogs that have similar physical traits? If so, who is responsible for the funding of said testing? And if not, who serves to label the dogs as being Pit Bull or not… who would be qualified for such a position?
  2. Enacting this legislation is not harming the delinquents, the people who own dogs for illegal purposes. These people will continue to display disregard for law enforcement. Unfortunately, it will hurt the families with loyal pets, who will be forced to relocate or give up their 4-legged family members.
  3. Many people who seek out the pit bull do so because of their enviable positive traits; their quick-learning nature, their need to please their human counterparts, and their affinity for cuddling and love. The other reason so many of us are champions of the breed? Because the misconceptions that organizations like PETA perpetuate, are contributing to an epidemic of family pets that are without loving homes. Don’t believe me? Talk to my friend Francine, who has trained her pit bull Rocket as a therapy dog. Or, visit any of the blogs we list here, to see the amazing work they do in defense of these wonderful animals.

Note: I promise that this space will consistently cover the happier side of what we do, but I felt that I would be neglecting the opportunity if I did not share PETA’s stance with all of you.

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In brighter news, we still anxiously await our home visit from the rescue that holds our foster, but in the mean time, we spent some time exploring the farm with our pups last night. We took a leisurely quad ride back to the pond, with Tonka & Gaige blazing the trail ahead. Here’s a photo of them, with the quad in the background, resting under the shade of an oak tree at the top of the hill. It is one of the highest points in the surrounding area, and the view is spectacular.

Please stop by tomorrow, for your daily dose of cuteness! (Actually, maybe you shouldn’t. You might overdose…) I plan to highlight adoptable foster dogs in every post, until we get our own special pittie. I know you’ll adore tomorrow’s precious pooch, and I know the family he or she is currently placed with, would really appreciate you sharing the love.

Have a great day!