Today I am going to do something a little different and share an old blog post from Daisy’s blog, “Daisy the Wonder Dog (and how she found her inner Lab)“.
I don’t write on her blog much anymore, two blogs just became too much to manage, but I still treasure the words I wrote then because they remind me of how far Daisy has come since she first came to live with me as a foster dog in November 2007. I hope you don’t mind me sharing.
I first wrote this back on October 14, 2008, almost one year after I first adopted Daisy.
I always like to share the story of how my dog Daisy came to live with me.
When I first met Daisy, she was swollen with milk, having just weaned her puppies, and very, very scared. This would be her last litter (one of the many she’s had over the past 4 years).
Daisy, a yellow Labrador Retriever, had been brought to our shelter (the one I volunteer at) by a service organization. They had gotten her from a puppy mill – pregnant and scared. They cared for her during her pregnancy and after the birth of her puppies. Luckily for the puppies, the group had decided to keep them to be trained as service dogs, but for Daisy this was not even a possibility. She was too terrified, and often just curled up into a ball waiting for something awful to happen to her. You see, Daisy was puppy mill breeding dog, everything bad had happened to her up until this point.
When I first met her on that day at the shelter, she was sitting at the back of her kennel – terrified and alone. She cowered in my presence and refused to make eye contact. When I raised my hand to unlock the kennel door, she went straight to the ground, crouching in fear, and froze. It was easy to get the leash on her, but getting her to walk to the door to go outside was a slow process and required slow movements.
I walked her, with much difficulty, around the shelter property. She was so scared that she mostly walked low, slunk to the ground, and would freeze at any sound – or if I made any sudden movements. I avoided talking to her; hoping it would calm her. It didn’t. After a short walk, I sat down on the parking lot curb outside and waited to see what she would do. Her whole body language conveyed fear and distrust – averted eyes, lowered head and body, frozen body posture, and her back kept towards me at all times. She was telling me she did not trust me, and I didn’t blame her at all given her history.
I let her be for a moment as I remained seated and gave her some time to adjust to my presence. She never did. She allowed me to pet her, but I think that was only because she was too scared to move. My heart broke for her. I think I knew then that somehow this dog and I were going to be connected.
I already had a wonderful older dog (Aspen) at home whom I adopted about 7 months previously. Aspen had several health issues and took a lot of time and care, but I knew that I couldn’t leave this dog behind. I was afraid that she would never make it to the adoption floor given her extreme fear and lack of socialization. I also knew that I couldn’t really adopt her. But I knew one thing, somehow I was going to make sure this dog had a fighting chance. “Perhaps I could become her foster mom” I thought, “Maybe I could help her to become an adoptable dog.” It would mean taking on even more responsibility (adding another dog to my life), but I think in that moment I had already decided to give it a try. If ever there was ever a dog that needed a chance it was this extremely fearful Lab. Maybe with a little time and patience, she could be adoptable I thought.
And so, Daisy came to live (as a foster dog) with Aspen and I in November 2007, only a few days before Thanksgiving.
Little did I know how much work, time and patience it would take to make her an adoptable dog. In the end, it didn’t matter because she was my dog. My best friend. Little did I know how much she would come to change me and my life.
The first time I saw Jasper, it was here…
He was in impound with his sister, waiting to be examined by one of our vet techs before being fostered or put up for adoption. I fell in love with his handsome little face right then (I also fell in love with his sister). I practically begged to foster them…just for a little while. But I should have known then, he wouldn’t be leaving. He was home the moment he walked through my door.
The first time I saw Daisy, she was cowering in a kennel much like the one Jasper was in. She was terrified as hell and my heart broke when I saw how she cowered and flinched when people came near her. I knew then that I would foster her. I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I worried someone inexperienced would adopt her and place her in a situation where she could be further damaged.
But it wasn’t until two weeks later, when I picked her up after being spayed, that I knew that she was mine. Her vulnerability drew me in and captured my heart. She needed me. She needed someone who understood her. There was no way I would give her up to someone who didn’t understand her needs for space, time and patience. She was home.
Cupcake was different. She had already been living in a foster home and was more than likely going to be adopted soon. Besides, I had already had a talk with myself about how I would not be falling in love with her. Two dogs was more than enough thank you. I couldn’t possibly take on another. I was sure she would be moving on to her forever home soon and then I would foster yet another dog in need of help.
But then, one fateful night, she went missing, and I was distraught. I was a complete wreck. I imagined all sorts of awful things happening to her. I worried she would be killed by a coyote or would starve to death or be hit by a car. It wasn’t until she was found and finally started to recognize me again that I started to have an inkling that she would be staying. At that very moment when she recognized me and sighed and leaned into me, I knew. There was no way Cupcake would be leaving my home to go to another. She already was home. She had been all along. I think she knew before I did.
I suspect that most everyone has had that moment, the one where you just KNOW that this dog is “the one.” With each of my dogs it was different. Jasper was love at first sight (he had me at “Hello”). With Daisy it was much more gradual. It started as a strong sense of responsibility towards a dog in need and slowly grew into something much, much more. With Cupcake, it took a traumatic event to make me realize how much I loved her. Like I said, I think she knew she was home before I did.
So what was your moment? When did you KNOW that your dog was “the one?” Was it love at first sight? Or, did it take time to bond? I would love to hear your story.
Recently a friend posted her volunteer pin from our old local humane society that I used to volunteer at here in town. It brought back a lot of memories for me. We used to be such a tight-knit group of staff and volunteers. There was something special about the place. Even now, two years later, we all still pine for the days when we would all work together to help the animals in our care.
One of the things that made us such a close group was the amount of time we spent learning how to help the dogs and cats in our care. Like other humane societies, ours offered training classes for puppies and newly adopted dogs. We also had training for staff and volunteers, including such topics as cat care, dog care, positive reinforcement training and understanding dog behavioral cues. And, we had a training program for STAR volunteers, for those of us who worked with some of the less adoptable dogs to help them become more adoptable.
I like to think that our volunteers were trained better than those in most other shelters. I might be a bit biased on that front, but I know we certainly were given every opportunities to learn more about dogs and dog behavior (Thank you Rut, Inga, Kate and Colleen!).
Perhaps one of my favorite training segments was the one that didn’t include any dogs at all. It was a regular part of the dog training classes, both for adopters and their dogs and the volunteers and STAR members.
The instructor (i.e., dog trainer) would first have people pair up in class. Once pairs had been established, one person from each pair would be asked to leave the room. The trainer would then tell those who remained that they would be playing the role of a trainer. They would be responsible for training the other person a new trick or command. The catch was the trainer could not use any words to explain to the other person what they wanted them to do. They could use some hand gestures and head nods, but no sounds or words. The class trainer would then assign a trick or command and let the other people back in the room.
It was always fun to watch the other people come back in as we tried to get the to do what we wanted them to do. They would stand there with puzzled looks on their faces trying to figure out what were asking of them. Many would try the obvious commands -sit, down, come, etc. Others would resort to offering a variety of behaviors in hope they would hit upon the right one eventually. Most people figured out what they were being asked to do, with a little time and trial and error, but occasionally, they wouldn’t be able to figure it out and would just give up.
If you haven’t already figured it out, the purpose of the exercise was to help us understand what our own dogs go through when we are trying to train them. As many of you already know, training a dog with words only works if you first show them what the behavior is that you want. Saying “sit, Sit Sit, SIT!” over and over again is unlikely to get the behavior you want if your dog has never been shown the behavior in the first place, or if they haven’t been shown how that word “sit” is connected to a specific behavior. (I can’t tell you how many times I heard people going through the dog kennels at our shelter yelling “SIT!” to a dog who had no clue what they were saying or why.)
Dogs aren’t genetically hardwired to know “SIT”. Helping us to understand what it felt like to be our dogs helped us to be better trainers and to have more patience and understanding when working with them. Sometimes putting ourselves in their shoes can open our eyes to things we had not seen before. I know this one certainly made an impact on me and how I work with my dogs.
What about you? Have you ever done this exercise with your spouse or a friend before? How did it change how you work with your dog?
Recently, a friend shared a website with me that left both of us pretty disturbed. As animal welfare advocates we often see and hear things that can be pretty disturbing – puppy mills, animal abuse, animal neglect, etc. but this was one that seemed pretty wrong, at least on the surface.
It left us asking a lot of questions, including:
- How can a rescue or shelter claim to be saving dogs when it is breeding dogs and selling their puppies?
- How does a rescue or shelter legitimize the fact that they are selling dogs when there are so many dogs already in sitting in shelters needing to be rescued?
- If a rescue or shelter breeds dogs and sells their puppies, can they really be a rescue or shelter?
- Can a breeder claim to be a rescue or shelter, but really just be a front for selling dogs?
- How can a rescue or shelter breed a 7-year-old dog and still be considered a shelter or rescue?
- How can a state allow a breeder to be registered as a no-kill shelter too? Isn’t that some sort of state law loophole?
I can’t help but think something is wrong here. It doesn’t pass the smell test. But, I thought I would let you, the reader, weigh in and share what you think. Below are some screen shots of the website in question. I would love your thoughts on this.
What do you think? Is this a puppy mill or a shelter? Or is it a breeder masquerading as a shelter?
Their Mission Statement begins with…
These are the quality that Have a Heart dog homes has to improve and care for the homeless and unwanted of the No-Kill shelter that they live on.
The breeding and puppies that come from these AKC dogs pay to build buildings, pay large electric bills and fence the 10 acres that is needed for all that are here.
They also say “This shelter has no choice but to breed some to support the many that never leave.”
Their puppies are sold on Puppyfind.com and Next Day Pets (Next Day Pets is a well-known website for selling puppies. Many puppy millers use this site to sell their puppies.)
There were only 3 dogs listed on their Adopt a Dog page. Here are two of them.
The majority of the website was focused on the breeder dogs and their puppies, including 7-year-old Angelique (who just had her last litter) and Cabella (no age given).
Clicking on the Breeders tab provides you with some additional information:
We will have more Goldendoodles and Golden Retriever puppies
in the spring.
Please call or email to reserve.
Also puppies seen on Puppyfind.com and Next daypets.com
AKC bred Standard Poodle puppies ready now.
Although the site had a spot for you to Adopt a Cat, it appears there were no cats available – yet.
Their Happy Adoptions page features quite a few customer comments, but it appears many of the “adoptions” are puppies from the breeder dogs. In fact, I couldn’t find one picture of an adopted dog that wasn’t a Golden Retriever, Goldendoodle or Poodle – all puppies and all the same breed or breeds as the breeder dogs.
According to their About Us page they “are now licensed per state laws as a No-Kill with breeders through the DATCP.” which is the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Is it possible that they would provide a breeder with a shelter license? It seems so. Their last inspection was just this past month.
When the neighbor behind us hangs her laundry on the line, Jasper will stand at the fence and bark like the world is on fire at the sheets blowing in the wind. Lady is completely unfazed by the vacuum, and will even lie there as it approaches, but Daisy and Jasper run and hide in my bedroom until I am done.
When I walked dogs at our local animal shelter, I would always watch to see what new things each would find interesting, or in some cases, frightening. The fire hydrants we had on the shelter property were always of great interest to the young dogs. It might have been the fact that they were painted white with black polka dots (like a Dalmatian) that caused so many varied reactions. So many found them to be quite puzzling and frightening the first time they encountered them. They would back away from them in fear, or give them a wide berth, as if they feared it would attack them if they got too close. I would often knock my knuckle on the metal to show them it wasn’t alive. That usually seemed to settle their fears enough to check them out with some curiosity.
We had something else on the shelter property that also drew a lot of attention from the new dogs. A topiary in the shape of a dog (similar to the one below).
It always made me giggle to see some of the dogs’ reactions to it. Some just peed on it. Others ignored it or gave it a cursory sniff and moved on. But it was the dogs who would approach it with a wagging tail that were the most fun to watch. These are the ones who would greet the dog nose to nose or would sniff its underside or back-end to try to get its scent. They were also the ones would greet the it with a play bow or two. Some even tried to engage it in a game of chase.
I can’t imagine what they were thinking when the topiary dog did not return the favor. Did they thing the dog was anti-social? Rude? Or, did they finally realize this dog was not a dog after all? I guess will always wonder.
There is so much you can learn about a dog, and dog body language, by watching them approach something new in their environment. It makes me wonder… What new or unusual things has your dog found interesting in his/her environment? How did he/she react?
Back in May, I shared a study released by Banfield on the state of our pets’ health. It was quite an eye-opener when it came to pet health trends (pet obesity being the most concerning of all). But there is another study I found just as interesting and even more concerning from the perspective of animal welfare. I read it a year ago, but for some reason forgot to share it. It’s still worth sharing now.
Among the objectives of the study were:
- Measure awareness of pet adoption and spay/neuter problems in the U.S.
- Gauge whether perceptions of and attitudes toward pet adoption and spay/neutering problems differ by geographic region in the U.S.
- Identify the drivers for using pet adoption and spay/neuter services
- Determine the barriers to pet adoption and spay/neuter services
What I found the most surprising (and yes, shocking) was the lack of knowledge and understanding people (especially people in the 18-34 year old category) have about the pet overpopulation problem, and how much it is impacted by choosing to spay or neuter a pet. Granted, this study was done in 2009, so maybe attitudes have changed since then, but I suspect they haven’t changed all that much.. Social media certainly has helped to educate people on the pet overpopulation problem, but there is clearly so much more work to be done.
I encourage you to read the full report yourself, but here are just some of the statistics I found interesting:
- 62% of 18-34 year olds and 47% of people over 55 thought the number of pets euthanized each year was under 1 million. (Estimates place euthanization rates somewhere between 4-5 million a year.)
Acquiring a pet
- Between 10 and 20 percent of dog/cat owners have had a litter (53% of dog owners and 54% of cat owners said it “was an accident.”)
- The largest percentage of people got their pet from a family member (25%) or an adoption organization or animal shelter (24%).
- For those that acquired their pet from a breeder/local pet store, the primary driver was they wanted a specific breed/purebred.
Spaying/Neutering a Pet
- More than 1 in 3 recently acquired dog/cat owners have not spayed or neutered their pet. (Younger adults and those living in the South were least likely to have their pet spayed/neutered.)
- Many owners are confused about “when” to spay or neuter their pet, with men having the most misconceptions about when is a good time to spay or neuter.
- Among the top reasons given for not spaying or neutering a pet were – young age of the pet, cost and time, “Haven’t gotten around to it”and “Did not feel it was necessary…”
- Those who chose not to adopt listed these top 5 reasons – did not have the type dog or cat they were looking for (17%), wanted a purebreed (13%), don’t know what you’ll get with shelter animal (12%), don’t know much about pet adoption (10%) and adoption process is too difficult (10%).
- “Saving an animal’s life” is the key motivation for pet adoption.
Yesterday I took the dogs to the dog park for a long walk. It’s been the first day that it’s been cool enough to take them for any length of time. As we were walking, we ran into a woman we ad seen a few times before and we stopped to chat. Towards the end of the conversation, she said “You foster all these dogs right?” I laughed. “No.” I said, “but they were all fosters at one time.” We chuckled for a second and then she said, “I could never foster.”
I couldn’t help but feel sad. I hear that one a lot along with:
- I could never foster because I would fall in love and keep the dog.
- I could never foster it would be too much work.
- I could never foster and then give them up.
I used to hear similar things from friends and acquaintances when I used to volunteer at an animal shelter:
- I could never do that because I would be sad.
- I could never do that because it would break my heart.
- I could never do that because it would be too hard to leave them there.
Maybe it’s true. I’m sure not everyone can foster, nor can everyone can volunteer at an animal shelter. But, these aren’t the only things that rescues and animal shelters do.
Are you good at organizing events? Help a rescue or shelter to plan their annual fundraiser or volunteer recognition event.
Are you good with talking to people? Offer to make calls to newly adopted pet parents to follow up on progress or offer to go to pet adoption events and share more about your shelter or rescue with people.
Great at writing? Rescues and shelters need help rewriting their informational brochures and packets all of the time. They could use your help.
Great at taking pictures? Offer to take pictures of their available dogs and cats. We now know that good pictures, pictures that show a dog or cat’s personality, makes all the difference in how quickly they get adopted.
Can’t commit too much time? Offer to donate supplies or money. If there is one thing both of these organizations need it’s money. I know it’s not sexy or quite as personally rewarding as “doing” something, but it is the one thing you CAN do that will absolutely make a difference in the life of one dog or one cat. Rescues often pull these animals from kill-shelters. By donating money, you are enabling them to save one more dog or one more cat.
Maybe you are considering fostering and just can’t quite get up the nerve to try. Ask a rescue if you can speak with some of their foster parents about what they do and some of the things to expect. Ask a friend who fosters. Look up one of the many online blogs that shares their fostering experiences.
Fostering can be so very rewarding. Without foster homes, rescue pets would have no chance.
To those of you who have already fostered or continue to foster – Thank you. You are truly the unsung heroes of animal rescue.
You are the ones who say I CAN.
This month (May) a special documentary will be airing on several PBS stations around the country. The movie, Shelter Me, is hosted by actress and animal advocate, Katherine Heigel, and focuses on the success stories of several shelter pets after they are adopted.
Episode one shows how shelter pets are helping returning war veterans cope with PTSD.
Episode two goes inside a women’s prison to show how inmates are training shelter dogs to become service animals for people with disabilities.
And lastly, episode three features the journey of two stray dogs, “from the day they are picked up on the streets and brought to the shelter until the day they become a beloved family pet.”
To find out when it is airing in your state go to ShelterMe.com. You can watch a preview of the film below.
For my Minnesota friends: Unfortunately, there are only two Minnesota PBS stations airing this special film at this time (Appleton -Pioneer Public TV -KWCM, Thursday, May 24 at 9 pm and Austin -KSMQ, Monday, May 28 at 9 pm) but I hope TPT will choose to air it soon.
With nearly 3-4 million pets euthanized annually, it’s encouraging to see some big names promoting how wonderful shelter pets can be, if only given the chance. Don’t Shop, Adopt!
For this Just One Day we are asking shelters across the USA to stop killing and instead embrace the 300 million citizens of the USA who would like them to do so. Even if it is for Just One Day.
I’ll admit, my skeptical side said “Yeah. They’ll stop killing for one day, and on June 12th the killing begins again.”
But, after looking at some of the materials and the people who are supporting this campaign, I am having a change of heart. Yes. It is just one day. But this one day could mean so much for so many animals.
On this one day, June 11th, those who have the unfortunate task of killing shelter animals will instead be taking pictures of them and posting them on the internet, Facebook, and on Twitter. They will host adoption events and promote the pets they have in their shelters to help them get adopted. In their own words “On average, if each animal shelter in the USA adopts out or transferres to rescue groups an extra three animals on June 11, the USA can become a no kill nation, even if it is for Just One Day.” A worthy cause, don’t you think?
To me, this is more than a campaign, this is about saving lives. It’s also a great way to bring attention to the plight of many of our shelter animals.
So I am asking you to join the campaign for Just One Day.
Here is what you can do:
1. Join the campaign – “Like” their Facebook Page
2. Spread the word – Share the map and the message on Twitter and Facebook
Example: Join me and thousands around the nation in asking animal shelters to stop killing animals for Just One Day. http://www.justoneday.ws/
3. Ask your local animal shelter to take the pledge.
4. Blog about it.
5. On June 11th, retweet and share the images of the pets that these shelters are sharing. Join in and support their efforts.
The map is changing every day as more and more shelters take the pledge. This may be a focus on just one day, but bringing awareness and encouraging people to adopt on this day makes a difference – for every pet who’s life is saved. Won’t you join me and others for Just One Day?
I recently saw this image shared on Facebook and shared it on my page as well. It struck a chord with me. I have seen many an older dog dumped at our shelter when I was a volunteer, mostly because the owner no longer wanted it or they just couldn’t face putting their beloved dog to sleep. My last dog, Aspen, was just such a dog. The excuse they gave was that she jumped the fence, but I know better. She had arthritis and moved way too slow to be able to jump a fence. She had health issues that took her life only a year later (I’m just glad she was in my arms when it was time and not at the shelter).
I know that there are sometimes reasons why a person can’t be with their dog when it’s time to say goodbye at the veterinarians office (see Dr. V’s post from a year ago here), but am I wrong to think that a person is a coward if they dump their dog at a shelter when they get too old? Or, is this just a result of our throwaway culture? After all, people buy/adopt a pet without thinking pretty often and then get rid of it when they realize the work involved. What do you think? Why do people dump their older dogs at shelters?