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Posts Tagged ‘animal shelters’

Where does a rescue or shelter’s responsibility end when it comes to a dog?

January 10, 2016 20 comments

Jack Russell Terrier SnarlingWhen you work in rescue, you encounter a wide variety of situations that you not only can’t anticipate, but for which you also don’t have an easy solution. Things are rarely in black and white. Answers aren’t always easy, and many times you second guess yourself.

There is no question that rescues are there to save every animal they can. No one wants to be the one to make the decision to euthanize an animal. When an animal is in pain and suffering, the answer is a little easier because you know that it will no longer need to suffer in pain. But when it involves behavior or genetics, it can be so much harder to know what to do.

I often struggle in this middle ground. I firmly believe that many animals are euthanized when they could have been saved. Proper training and dedication can help many a dog who is fearful or has fear aggression. But, I also believe that there are animals being saved who should not be. Many of these are animals are ones who but for the perfect owner, would be a danger to others, people or human. and dedicated and self-sacrificing that without said owner, they would be a danger to others, people or animal.

Perhaps my strong sense of what is right and wrong prevents me from seeing other possibilities and options, but in a world where mistakes can happen, where perfection is impossible, I just cannot see how saving a dog that is a potential danger to other dogs is the “best” decision.

Last year, I participated in a group discussion involving a dog who had killed an older resident dog in the foster home he was staying in. The foster mom had made an urgent plea for someone to please take the dog. Many in the group expressed their condolences. Many praised her for being able to see beyond her grief to want to save the dog despite him killing her dog. A few of us expressed our condolences and broached the topic of euthanasia. She was seriously considering it.

But then, the person who had originally rescued him was able to get the dog into a no-kill shelter just south of here and he was saved. That was a little over six months ago.

Since then, I’ve often wondered…

Was the shelter informed about the death he had caused? If the shelter was informed, did they plan on or did they tell prospective new owners about the danger (I am assuming they are legally required to do so)? And, if they have told prospective owners, and he was rejected on that basis, would he spend the rest of his life in a shelter?

I also wondered if he had been placed in a new home and if the new owner knew understood the risks involved if the dog were to get loose or live in a home with another dog. I wondered if his new owner was experienced with dogs with behavioral issues. I wondered if he or she was continuing to work a training and behavior modification plan with him, like his foster mom had been trying to do, and if the he had harmed another dog since being shipped across the border.

j0387553I hope he is in a home where he is the only dog, and that he is living with someone who knows how to work with him and will make sure he does not harm another dog again, but I will always wonder.

I fully support rescues and shelters transporting dogs to places where they can have a better chance at living in a real home. I also support trying our very best to help a dog who has behavioral issues rather than choosing euthanization first. So many dogs have been saved this way.

However, when it comes to dogs with serious behavioral issues (or a history where another animal in the home was killed) I wonder where a rescue or shelter’s due diligence and responsibility begin and end. Is it okay to pass on a dog who has serious issues as long as the receiving rescue or shelter is aware of it? Is it okay to simply hope that the receiving rescue or shelter will do the right thing and inform the new owner of the possible dangers? Is there a right and wrong decision when it comes to this dog? I don’t know. Maybe there isn’t, I just hope it wasn’t passing the buck.

What do you think? Where does a rescue or shelter’s responsibility end when it comes to a dog with serious behavioral issues?

Fetch-For-Fosters: A program that proactively helps rescue dogs to get adopted

July 6, 2015 5 comments

Woman Rubbing Noses with PuppyIf you’ve read my blog, then you know that I am a big believer in dog training and helping people to better understand their dogs through dog body language. You probably also know that I am also a huge supporter of animal shelters and animal rescues.

The biggest issue many rescue organizations face is making a dog more adoptable. Training is key to making this happen. How a dog behaves is one of the biggest factors that impacts whether a dog will be adopted. It is a key factor in keeping an adopted dog in their new home.

Today, I would like to introduce you to someone who has a novel new idea that I hope will become a model nationwide. Fetch-for-Fosters is the brainchild of dog trainer Katie Grillaert of Fetch Dog Training and Behavior. It is a new program focused on proactively addressing a dog’s training needs while he is still in the shelter or in a foster home; before he is adopted, and where needed, working with the adopter to ensure his forever home really is his home for life.

Below is my interview with Katie Grillaert.

 

What is Fetch-for-Fosters?

Fetch-for-Fosters is a social entrepreneurship initiative, meaning that we are using business methods to try and solve a social problem.

Our vision is to shape and support a rescue community that both understands and prioritizes the value of training.  I’d really love to see a trend toward proactive dog training, rather than reactive.

Fetch-for-Fosters provides low-cost training and behavior services to rescues and shelters in order to facilitate the adoption of pets; as well as to help them stay in their new home. We prioritize education and promote training techniques that are effective, ethical, and that nurture the human-animal bond.

Our Fetch-for-Fosters staff are talented trainers who have been accepted into a training/behavior internship with Fetch Dog Training and Behavior. The program allows them to see a diverse range of dogs and students as they work toward their own goals. For example, one of our trainers is also a veterinary student with a special interest in shelter medicine and behavior. I mentor the trainers through this entire process, so we maintain a high quality of service for all of our rescues.

The program is new, but if things continue to go well I am excited about the growth goals that I have been brainstorming… but I’ll just have to leave you with that teaser for now.

 

I love the idea of helping a dog to stay in its home. What motivated you to create Fetch for Fosters?

My first dog, Petra, was a rescued Belgian Malinois. She was my shadow. She read my mind. I was heartbroken when I had to euthanize her due to serious behavioral issues due to extremely poor breeding and poor puppyhood socialization. Her sacrifice is what drove me deeper into behavior modification and rescue. Every time I can help another dog, I can honor her a little bit.

I have been fostering and doing volunteer training for a long time now, including through the birth of my business Fetch Dog Training and Behavior. As the business grew, I continued to volunteer, but found myself with limited time for volunteer work. (This saying is so true: “Entrepreneurs: The only people who work 80 hour weeks to avoid working 40 hour weeks.”). I wanted a way to formalize giving back to my community, but also to make it sustainable.

I’m fascinated with the way for-profit companies can provide social benefit. For example, Grameen Danone Foods Ltd. created a fortified yogurt for malnourished children in Bangladesh, improving health outcomes and creating local jobs. They are a sustainable business, but do not return any profits to their shareholders – it is all reinvested in the social business.  (http://socialinnovator.info/ways-supporting-social-innovation/market-economy/social-business-partnerships/partnerships-betweeen/grameen-danone-partnership-b) This is my current answer for my local community, in my area of expertise and passion.

 

How does the program work?

Our service contract is with dogs in foster care – the actual rescue. We will provide email/phone support when the dog is adopted so that we can advise new owners on what work we did with the dog, and how this relates to the settling-in process. In fact, we’d love to disclose this to adopters before they even adopt the dog – that piece is up to the rescue, as we are not involved in the adoption process.

If adopters have questions beyond the scope of work that we already did, or beyond the initial two weeks, we might refer them to our training business or another local trainer. This is for their benefit – there is a real importance to the trainer being able to observe the dog in its new home, form a connection with the dog’s people, and make sure that the trainer is getting the full picture before making a training program. This avoids wasting time and money (at best), or the behaviors worsening.

 

What kinds of issues do you generally see?

Adolescence is a frequent time that people decide to re-home their “annoying” dog, so we see a lot of regular goofy teenage behavior. First-time fosters do quite well with a session or two to help them understand how to communicate with their youngster, and how to develop good behavior.

Separation distress and leash reactivity are both quite common as well, and those are things that we want to address immediately so that they don’t become big and costly – they rarely resolve on their own, and in fact they can get worse quite quickly.

It’s also not uncommon for us to work with fearful dogs, usually puppy mill dogs, to help them conquer their fears, and especially to help their fosters understand how to support them.

We are also able to address any training issue – house training, manners, puppy issues, polite walking, chewing, digging, grooming, barking, and so on.

We can also offer limited services for fear, aggression, and anxiety. Hopefully most dogs in rescue will not have serious fear or aggression, but sometimes these issues pop up when the dog has already been accepted into the rescue. We can help the rescue address management and safety concerns with the foster, and give our professional assessment of the issue. Long-term behavior modification assistance may be available, but this takes a large commitment from the rescue.

 

Do you provide the rescue updates on the dogs you work with?

We will disclose personal information upon request if the legal owner of the dog has given us permission to do so. In general, it is the rescue’s responsibility to follow-up with owners and track the progress of the dogs they have placed.

 

What is the cost, who pays, and what does it cover?

I want this program to be sustainable – helping my community for a long time. If your organization – even your nonprofit – could not function without some key people, then I think you should be putting things in place to make sure those people stay happy and available to you. That’s my goal. Therefore my trainers for Fetch-for-Fosters get reimbursed for their travel and time spent with the dogs. Because they are paid, there will always be space on their schedule for foster dogs. I think this will be fundamental to the program’s success.

We directly invoice rescues for their training sessions. A $45/session for a training issue (this is something I think we should highlight) with my regular Fetch-for-Fosters staff, includes:

  • Approximately, one hour with the trainer.
  • Our summary of the session and homework for the foster family, which is shared with the foster and the rescue.
  • Two weeks of email/phone support with the adopter once the dog is adopted. (We’ll also provide follow-up support to the foster family, but we may ask that we see the dog in-person again if there are many questions, or if they are complex.)

Most rescues will only need these regular training sessions, as that is the category where most adoptable dogs will fall.  However, we do offer behavior consultations for $75/session, and we’ll staff an experience behavior consultant for this. Often behavior consultations need at least one follow-up, if not more.

Our fees allow us to purchase insurance and to pay our professionals for their time. The other overhead costs are supported by Fetch Dog Training and Behavior, which is one major reason why it makes sense for me to operate this as a social initiative of my business, rather than a non-profit – it keeps our costs significantly lower.

Donations for training, submitted directly to the rescue, are tax-deductible. We do accept online donations to our program, but these are not tax-deductible. Online donations may be earmarked for a specific rescue, or may enter our general pool and distributed as a scholarship.

 

Do you only work with foster dogs?

Our work is entirely with dogs in foster or shelter care. We support adopted dogs through their two-week transition to the new home if we have already provided them services during their time in rescue, so that the adopter understands exactly what work we’ve done with the dog and how that may relate to helping their dog settle into his new home.

We do not work with “owned” dogs; we’d refer someone to our business or another local dog trainer. I believe that training is a really important part of owning a dog, and should be planned for just as are veterinary and food expenses. Good trainers spend a lot of time on their education and professional development, and deserve every penny that they make. If they couldn’t get paid for their work, they wouldn’t be able to get really good at their craft – and that would be a loss for everyone, foster or not.

 

How does a rescue organization contact you if they want to be a rescue partner or want you to help one of their dogs?

Any interested rescue can send an email to info@fetchforfosters.org and we’ll provide our program information right away. There is no cost for rescues to become a rescue partner. By becoming a partner, they  are able to schedule our services whenever they need them.

We’re able to do some special services for our partners as well, such as running a group class for their foster dogs. So far, we’re doing this on a case-by-case basis, brainstorming together to address a particular need.

It’s been a lot of fun for me to work with the rescues to see what we can accomplish together, and we are all excited about the potential for growth – which, of course, is how many dogs and families we can positively impact.

You can learn more about Fetch-for-Fosters on their Q & A call this week, on Wednesday, July 8, from 12:00 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. Central time . To join the call, go to their Facebook event page by clicking here

 

Katie GrillaertKatie Grillaert is a professional trainer and behavior consultant specializing in work with fearful and aggressive dogs. She holds two certifications from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA) and is also a Certified Behavior Adjustment Training Instructor (CBATI). She is pursuing a degree in the Interdisciplinary Master’s Programme in Human-Animal Interactions at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna

The shame of Chicago – Are they killing lost pets before they can be found?

March 9, 2015 30 comments

Having a pet become lost can be so devastating. Whether it be a cat or a dog or a bird, the loss is still the same. The fear and the pain one feels is overpowering. Sometimes it can be difficult to act because we are so immobilized with fear.

There are so many things that can stand in the way of being reunited with a pet, but among them are:

  • Not having your pet microchipped.
  • Waiting to spread the word. Hoping that he/she will come back in an hour or two.
  • Driving around the neighborhood instead of handing out flyers and getting the word out.
  • Not calling the police, shelters and vet clinics in the area to alert them that your dog is missing.

If you live in St Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota, and you do not do any of the above, you STILL might be lucky enough to be reunited with your pet. Why?  Because Minnesota has a five-day stray hold that requires pets be held at the animal shelter for at least five days to allow an owner to claim them.

And even if you don’t get them after the five-day hold, your pet may still survive because a rescue was able to take him in or the shelter was able to put him up for adoption.

But if you live in Chicago and your pet goes missing, you better hope and pray you have a lot of luck on your side. Why? Because Mayor Rahm Emanual, and the City Council did something pretty low down and dirty. They introduced, and passed, an ordinance to reduce the stray hold in Chicago from five days to three for dogs and zero days for cats.

YES, I said ZERO DAYS for CATS. 

IMG_8244Not only did they reduce the stray hold time for dogs and cats, but they also reneged on their promise to do an information campaign to inform Chicagoans about the change. Thus, most Chicago pet owners have no idea that their lost pets could be killed before they even have a chance to find them.

And, if you have a cat? Good luck. Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC) will most likely have killed it by the time you start looking. Remember, cats have ZERO days to be saved.

So unless your pet is microchipped and you spread the word immediately that he or she is lost, you may never see your lost pet again. Ever.

Feeling a little pissed off? Good. Because I need you to let the mayor and his friends on the council know how you feel about them choosing to reduce the chances of an owner and their pet being reunited.

There is a petition posted on Change.Org demanding that the Mayor, the City Council and CACC revisit this resolution and reconsider the reduction in stray hold (Thank you Lost Dogs Illinois for the heads up!). They also demand the Mayor and City Council inform the citizens of Chicago about the change.

Let’s tell Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council what we think about them killing lost pets.

And one more thing, get you pet microchipped. NOW.

Don’t wait for CACC to tell you it’s too late and they already killed him.

Pet adoption and the fight for the millennial mind

February 8, 2015 10 comments

Woman Watching Television with DogYou may not have noticed, but the pet industry has shifted their attention to a new demographic these days, and they are getting laser focused. Who are they studying with such intensity?

Millennials, the group that is expected to surpass Baby Boomers as the largest generation this year.

And it’s not just the pet industry that is taking notice. Almost every major company inside and outside of the United States is doing the same thing. Why? Because unlike generations past, millennials have influence. It’s not just their sheer size (in numbers) that is powerful, but also their reach. Millennials are more socially connected and more socially influential than any other generation. They are also ethnically and racially diverse, well-connected, technically proficient, and early adopters. They are unlike any other generation that has preceded it. They are the movers and shakers who will be impacting our world for many years to come, much like the Baby Boomers did in previous years.

With a generation this large and influential, it only makes sense that they would impact the pet world as well.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recently published a report on how millennials will change the way veterinarians do business. In “The Generation Factor: How the rise of the millennial generation could mean changes in the way veterinarians do business”, they laid out the differences between Baby Boomers, Gen Xer’s and Millenials, not only as clients but also as employees. The differences are quite distinct. For instance, the work ethic for Baby Boomers has to do with how many hours worked, while Gen Xer’s are about working smarter (not harder), and millennials are all about tasks completed and getting feedback and gaining consensus.

Puppy Wearing BowI am sure many animal welfare groups are taking notice, but I wonder if smaller, local shelters and rescues are as well? I hope they are because there is another reason that the pet industry is taking notice of the millennial generation – they think pet ownership is going to decline with them.  

This means more competition between those who are selling pets and those who are adopting them out, and the adoption side may be facing an uphill battle.

Why? Because millennials are more likely to:

  • Rent than to buy a home – This means more apartment and condo dwellers, the residences least likely to allow a pet.
  • Move frequently – More than any other generation, which makes it harder to care for a pet long-term.
  • Stay in college longer – Millennials have had a tough time in the job market due to the poor economy, so more are choosing to stay in college longer and get their masters degree or a doctorate. Owning a pet and going to college is also a possible deterrent.
  • Be impulse buyers – They are less likely to wait and go through an extensive adoption process to get a pet.
  • Purchase a pet from a pet store or breeder (including online) rather than adopt a pet from a rescue or a shelter – According to a recent survey by Best Friends Animal Society, by almost 50%.
  • Believe that animals can safely stay in shelters until they are adopted – 38% of millennials vs. 28% of the total population.

No wonder the pet industry is worried.

All hope is not lost however, millennials are also more likely to get a pet earlier in their lives compared to boomers (21 years old vs. 29 years old), be single longer (and thus, may seek a pet for companionship), and are more civic-minded and more likely to get involved tomato a difference..

Low Section View of a Man with His BulldogRescue groups have an opportunity to make a difference now. If they are not doing so, they should start working to build a relationship with millennials in their community. Organizations need to be inclusionary and seek their input. They should also be open to new and innovative ideas on how to improve the organization, increase adoptions and connect with other millennials.

Other ways rescue groups and shelters can connect with millennials:

  • Have a strong social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, etc.) and be actively engaged with followers.
  • Make your website and social media platforms a place where millennials can get information and learn something new that can help both them and their pet. You need to be the online expert they go to when they want advice and support.
  • Connect on a person-to-person basis. Two-way communication is important to them.
  • Be open to texting and responding via social media platforms. Millennials are less likely to use email.
  • Make what you provide, and what they are getting from you, is distinct and different. You want it to be share-worthy.
  • Be more customer-service oriented. Millennials are individual social media companies of their own, so what they experience with you will be shared with their network of friends and family.
  • Recognize their efforts frequently. Acknowledge the work done and the benefits experienced by the organization.
  • Appeal to their desire to make a difference. Adopting a pet needs to be less a sob story and more of a motivator to do good.

Despite some of the concerns about pet adoption declining, rescue groups and shelters should be very excited about the impacts millennials can bring to the rescue community. Their innovative and creative ideas, combined with a dedication and desire to help, has the potential to make a real difference in animal rescue.

I know one millennial animal rescuer who is making a difference on a daily basis here in Minnesota. I am often in awe of her ability to motivate people and get them involved in rescue. She is well-connected, uses social media extensively and has saved more dogs and cats than anyone I know. She is a force to be reckoned with. Just imagine what could happen if we had 100 more people like her. 

Resources: 

Introducing a new dog into your home when you already have a dog

November 11, 2014 8 comments

The girlsOver the past couple of months, I have had several friends adopt a new dog into their household. Given the fact that each already had a resident dog in their home, it is understandable that each one of them worried about how to introduce the new dog into their home. They also worried about how the new dog would make their current dog feel and whether they would get along.

I remember how nervous I was in bringing each one of my dogs into my home. (I think you would have to be a fool not to be a little nervous and anxious!) Every dog is different and every situation must be managed to ensure success.

When Cupcake first came into my home as a foster, it was a tough go. Not because she wasn’t an awesome and very sweet dog, but because she felt like she had to establish her place as top dog right away. She claimed the couch and snarked at Daisy and Jasper whenever they came close to her. Jasper and Daisy were intimidated by her behavior. Daisy started staying in her kennel to avoid her.I think it was at this point I seriously considered giving her back to the rescue.

But then, I remembered to use the skills and knowledge I had gained from so many other trainers. I took away Cupcake’s couch privileges to eliminate any snarking. Then, I started enticing Daisy back to the couch with treats and rewarding Cupcake with treats as well to show her that staying on the floor was a beneficial spot to be. Soon, the snarking had stopped and Daisy was feeling less stressed. We worked on other things too: waiting for dinner, not stealing other dogs’ food, sharing toys, etc.

Introducing a new dog into your home when you have another dog can be difficult. I’ve been offering my own advice and suggestions when asked (think baby gates, crates and slow introductions), but then I remembered that I had attended a webinar earlier this year put on by the ASPCA. The guest speaker was well-known author and animal behaviorist, Patricia McConnell (PhD, CAAB, Author). The topic? Multi-Dog Households: From First Date to After the Honeymoon (You can find more materials and information here as well).

It was a great seminar and discussion and one that I suspect would be beneficial to many an adoptive parent and/or rescue or shelter. I’ll definitely be sharing it with my friends. You can check out her presentation deck here

So how have you handled introducing a new dog into your home? What worked? What didn’t work?

Are we rescuing? Or, are we passing the buck?

August 10, 2014 21 comments

Jack Russell Terrier SnarlingReading the latest news on Steve Marwell, owner of the Olympic Animal Sanctuary (OAS), made me realize once again how few of us have actually spent time asking how this all came to be in the first place.

How did a man who had never registered his charity with his state, and who collected donations but never made any of the required disclosures needed to maintain his good standing as a rescue or sanctuary, able to fool so many rescues and animal shelters into sending their unadoptable dogs to him?

How did no one know about all the dogs living in crates and kennels and in extreme conditions, with little to no food? How did this place pass as a sanctuary and continue to receive dogs for years?

The whole awful and disturbing story brought to mind a blog post I had read back in 2012. Written by Jessica Dolce, How I Failed as a Rescuer: Lessons from a Sanctuary, was a sad, but very insightful look into something that happens so often in rescue – we push it on down the line.

As Jessica wrote:

We all keep pushing down the chain. Individuals reach out to shelters, shelters plead with rescues to pull dogs, rescues can’t place all the dogs, so they board hard-to-place dogs in sanctuaries.

We’re all begging for someone else to give us the happy ending we so desperately want for the animals we love. If people deny us, we lash out that no one will help. If a shelter isn’t no-kill, we refuse to donate to them. We keep pushing and pushing until someone will take this painful, difficult situation off of our doorstep.

We all push until we find sanctuaries who say yes. (How I Failed as a Rescuer: Lessons from a Sanctuary by Jessica Dolce, Notes from a Dog Walker, July 21, 2012)

But the responsibility isn’t the person on down the line is it? No. The responsibility is ours, the rescuer’s, and we should be taking it more seriously.

I wonder… Are we asking the right questions when we decide to pass a dog off to someone else? When we choose to ship a dog off to a sanctuary to live out their lives, do we do our due diligence? Do we ask around for references? Do we go visit the facility ourselves? When we choose to save a dog that cannot be placed, are we really “saving” the dog? Or, are we just making ourselves feel better?

Sad Looking Chocolate LabRecently, I said NO to someone who wanted help in finding a home for an unwanted dog. The dog had an extensive bite history (with several owners) and was scheduled to be euthanized in three days. The person wanting to “save” the dog could not take the dog herself, but wanted desperately to find someone else who would. I could not help but be angry. She wasn’t willing to take in the dog in herself, but she wanted someone else to take on that risk? Really? It very much felt like she was passing it on down the line, leaving the dog for someone else to deal with it, all the while patting herself on the back for saving a poor dog.

I won’t lie. I recommended the dog be euthanized. With so many dogs out there in need, and so many of them without a bite history, why would we save this one dog? Why save this dog who has bitten several former owners in the past? 

Desperate to save the dog, the woman ended up taking the dog where? A sanctuary for difficult dogs.  God only knows if it is a “good one” or it it willbe one that we will one day see in the news, like OAS. I can only hope it is a good one and the dog is receiving great care, and hopefully, some retraining. I can’t help but wonder if the “rescuers” have bothered to check in to see how the dog is doing since they “saved” her? I would bet the answer is no, which is precisely the problem. Out of sight, out of mind.

What happened at OAS should never be allowed to happen again. And yet, I know it will.

As rescuers, we need to get better at doing our due diligence. We need to visit the places we send our unadoptable dogs. We need to inspect, ask for references, ask questions (lots of them) and follow-up regularly. But most importantly, we need to stop passing dogs (who cannot be re-homed or who are unsafe in a normal home) down the line.

We need to be honest and ask ourselves if euthanization wouldn’t be a better solution in these types of situations rather than passing the dog off to a sanctuary where they could suffer unimaginable cruelties for years on end. 

Because the truth is, that kind of solution is not rescuing, it’s passing the buck.  It’s contributing to animal suffering, not saving them from it. 

Dog Adopters: Stop focusing on that picture and focus on the match

March 1, 2014 28 comments

Sad Looking Chocolate LabIn a Suzanne Clothier seminar I attended last year, she shared a video of the first meeting between a man and a dog he wanted to adopt. She asked us to watch the dog’s body language as the man interacted with him.

It was pretty clear throughout the video that the dog was uncomfortable with the man’s interactions with him. The dog wanted more space, the man wanted less. The dog was happy to sit at his feet, the man wanted him to sit right next to him. The dog wasn’t into hugs, the man wanted to snuggle and hug away.

It was evident that the needs of dog and man did not match. They were incompatible. But, as Suzanne shared later, the man was still set on getting the dog. He couldn’t see that they weren’t a match because he had already fallen in love with the dog’s picture. He had already envisioned his life with this dog. It never occurred to him that the dog in the picture might not be a match for him or his lifestyle.

Fortunately, Suzanne and staff were eventually able to convince him not to adopt the dog, but from what she said, not without some serious convincing.

I experienced something similar recently.

Like the situation I mentioned above, the potential adopter (a great candidate!) had fallen in love with the dog she had seen in a picture. In her mind, she had saw them going on walks and visiting friends. She wanted a dog that would cuddle and be silly and play with her.

What she wanted a normal, well-socialized dog.

Man and Dog Lying on FloorUnfortunately, she had fallen in love with a picture of a former puppy mill dog. This was a dog who had never been on a walk on a leash before, who still had to be caught or herded inside the house, a dog that was a huge flight risk and not likely to socialize with strangers very easily. Definitely a mis-match.

It took some convincing, but eventually the adopter was able to see that the life she had envisioned with this dog would not be the life she would get. Changing the image of what she had in her head with a more realistic one allowed her to see that it was not a match. Reluctantly, she made the decision not to adopt that particular dog. A good decision in my opinion. Shortly after this she did find the “right” dog, a dog who was a much better match and I hear that both are very happy together.

I share these stories because I think there is a lesson here for all of us. The lesson is not to stop taking adorable pictures of adoptable dogs. (I am all for taking better pictures of dogs to help get them adopted – the cuter, the better in my book.) It is a reminder that a picture is only the first step. It is a way to get you interested in a dog. It is not, however, a good indication of how the dog will fit into your family or your lifestyle. Understanding the dog’s personality and preferences are just as important as understanding your own.

Yes. Fall in love with that picture, but then spend the time getting to know the dog and find out whether the dog’s personality and preferences really match your own. Is the dog too active for your lifestyle? Or are they not active enough? Does the dog prefer to cuddle with you or not? And, is that okay with you? Does a dog like other dogs or does he prefer to be an only? If adopters and rescuers spent more time asking themselves and their adopters these questions, I think the chances of a good match would increase. After all, isn’t the goal here to save a dog and help a human?

How Daisy Came to Stay With Me (a look back)

April 17, 2013 24 comments

IMG_6216Today 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.

When did you KNOW that your dog was “the one?”

February 27, 2013 38 comments

The first time I saw Jasper, it was here…

Jasmine and Jasper

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.

IMG_7097

Daisy

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.

Cupcake, a.k.a. Cuppers, a.k.a. Cupperdoo

Cupcake, a.k.a. Cuppers, a.k.a. Cupperdoo

Dogs don’t come genetically hardwired to know “SIT”

February 10, 2013 10 comments

Dog Lying on FloorRecently 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.

Sound familiar?

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?

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