Paco Update

Thank you for your well wishes for Paco last week. I am happy to report that he is feeling much better! When I dropped him off with his family he was still limping, but he was definitely back to his old self, wagging non stop! It became quite the challenge to keep him calm as prescribed, but it was much better than seeing him the way he was just a few days earlier. Here are some photos of our time together from before and after his injury – mostly recovering, with lots of snuggling, just like the doctor ordered.

photo 1photo 2photo 3photo 4photo 5photo 6photo 7photo 9photo 11photo 12photo 13It was so great to have another week with him, even though our partying walking was cut short. Hopefully he’ll be back sometime soon, injury free!

Falling in Love at the Emergency Vet

I told myself I would be better about posting every Wednesday like I promised. You probably (hopefully?) noticed there wasn’t a post yesterday morning. Well, here’s why.

I’m watching Paco again for a week while his family is on vacation, which I am absolutely thrilled about. Like I wrote about last time I got him for ten glorious days, he’s super easy and we have a great time together. Tuesday morning started out like every other day. I was going to attempt to bring Paco to work with me for the first time because my shelter’s kids camp had a “Meet My Pet” session that Paco and I signed up for (he loves kids, after all), so I got him up early to wear him out for the day. We were playing with the flirt pole. Paco loooves the flirt pole, and his manners when playing with it are impeccable – he always sits before chasing, he drops as soon as I ask and his arousal levels stay low. He just runs like a crazy dog and exercises himself quickly! I’m always careful to keep our flirt poles games horizontal (unlike how I used with JC last year, which I have since learned to be more responsible and safe with). Chase-catch, not jump-spin-catch, for the exact reason of what happened next.

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Paco was chasing and chasing and grabbing and shaking and having a grand old time. Like I mentioned, he was being polite and following all of our game rules. Then, all of a sudden, he was all four paws off the ground. My wrist must have flicked too much and the toy went flying a bit too high, and Paco followed. To say he crash landed would be putting it lightly. This poor pup splatted on the ground. I held my breath as he got up. Please don’t be hurt, please don’t be hurt. Sure enough, he was limping and visibly in pain.

I rushed him inside and quickly got ready for work. Working at an animal shelter meant I’d have more resources for me there than anywhere else, so I scooped him up and off we went. I had some coworkers check him out and he seemed to be improving throughout the day. We were able to squeeze in a quick vet exam and get pain meds, so I thought he’d be okay until the following morning at 7 am when we had x-rays scheduled.  The vet exam determined it was probably a shoulder injury, but we couldn’t know for sure what was wrong until further investigation.

After work I realized he wasn’t fine. His breathing was a bit labored and he started to not want to walk at all, even with the pain meds. He started whimpering when he moved too much. I panicked, cancelled my training client for that evening (who is actually a vet herself and was the most wonderfully supportive human I could have asked for in that moment), and rushed Paco to the emergency vet. Watching him be in pain like that was the absolute worse feeling in the whole world – I just wanted him to feel better!

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Arriving at the vet put him in better spirits. He loves people so, so much that greeting all the people in the lobby and the techs and doctors made his happy little tail go crazy. Just like with my foster dogs, it makes my heart swell when people compliment Paco. Whether they comment on his handsome good looks, his polite greetings or his general happy-go-lucky attitude, I cannot help but beam when people fuss over him (yes, I know he isn’t mine – but more on that later).  With another initial exam the doctor confirmed it was the shoulder, but radiographs were the only way to determine if there was something broken, so I handed him over to the techs.

So I’m going to take a minute here to ask how those of you who have gone through any sort of trauma with a pet (or human, for that matter) came out the other end in one piece. I was a mess! Luckily there weren’t any real tears, but I sure came close a few times. I was just so worried about my little guy. And yes, I know he isn’t actually my dog, but after all those hours we spent together for KPA and how many times he’s stayed with me I just feel so close to him. We’re buddies, ya know? I’m his safe place and he’s a pair of big brown eyes that will do anything for me. We’re a team. I don’t want anything bad to happen to him. I want to keep him safe, happy and healthy forever and ever.  What if it had been a worse situation!? I have a whole new perspective on pet owners who have to go through medical emergencies with their pets.

Two and a half hours after I handed him off, I finally got a groggy, wiggly Paco back. The radiographs showed no fractures – hooray! The verdict was just very sore, probably strained or a little torn soft tissue. Treatment? Lots of pain meds and two weeks rest. The rest part will be difficult for Mr. Bouncy, but thanks to the pain medication I have already seen an improvement in his spirits.

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It was a late night, but I was thrilled to have his sleepy head rest on me for the remainder of the evening. I set up a comfy bed on the floor next to me and he immediately curled up and went to sleep. Seeing him peacefully sleeping was such a relief just knowing he was more comfortable and that nothing serious was wrong.

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Throughout this whole ordeal I had some friends tell me I was being too worried and that he was just milking it and that he was being a big baby. Sure, a strained shoulder might not be too serious but my goodness there was nothing worse than seeing him in that pain! I would have done anything for him in those moments, even for a stubbed toe. Luckily I was able to get a hold of his family who are vacationing out of the country and they were 100% supportive of anything he needed and they thanked me for taking care of him (never mind the fact that I broke him in the first place, but hey).

Even though it was a stressful twelve hours and it puts a damper on our hiking/adventure plans for the rest of the week, this little ordeal made me fall even harder in love with my Paco Taco. I think I am going to be seriously bummed when my forever dog, whenever I end up getting him or her, is not exactly like him. He’s everything what I want in a dog, which is probably why the stars aligned to bring us together like they did – so I can have him in my life at a time when I cannot actually have a dog of my own. For that, I am so grateful! Love you Taco Man.

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Big shout out to my mama for being on call for hysterical-daughter duty, to my friends who gave in-person moral support or sent messages with well wishes and to Friendship Animal Hospital for treating him like one of your own!  I am one lucky stand-in dog mom.

Taking Action for Animals – What “Action” Means For Us

When I was invited to attend the Humane Society of the United States’ (HSUS) annual Taking Action for Animals (TAFA) conference here in DC this past weekend, I eagerly looked up what lectures were being offered.  One session called “Saving Pets” stood out to me (and luckily was on the only day I was able to attend). This workshop featured four speakers: one about increasing adoptions in shelters, one about decreasing the number of puppies from puppy mills sold in pet stores, one from HSUS’s Pets for Life program about helping under served pet owners, and one from Coalition to Unchain Dogs, a group that builds fences for dogs who previously lived on a chain.

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I was impressed with how much of this conference truly revolved around the word “action.” In the “Saving Pets” workshop we were not only told about current welfare issues, but we were also given ways we can take action ourselves. What can I, as your average animal lover, do to help those dogs being bred purely for money? What can I do to increase the quality of life for dogs who need to live outside? What can I do to help people who might not be able to provide for their pets? Of course we can write checks (which is also needed!), but TAFA gave us some tools to go a step further.

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While the presentation about sheltering and puppy mills were full of great (and heartbreaking) information, it was the Pets for Life and Coalition to Unchain Dogs speakers that really stood out to me. Like I wrote about a few posts back, one issue in animal welfare that is currently at the forefront of my interests is helping under-resourced pet owners keep their pets instead of having them end up in shelters. Pets for Life and Coalition to Unchain Dogs both do just that. For more information about the two groups, I encourage you to follow the links to their websites in the previous sentence. I’d like to focus on some common themes behind the action that these groups are taking that translate to just about any work done when helping animals:

Leave your judgements at the door. I’m serious. All of them. Every single assumption you want to make about someone, all those stereotypes you believe in even if you swear up and down that you don’t – get rid of them. You will help more animals. I’m not saying it’s easy, in fact many times it can be quite the opposite – but when you go into a situation with your guard down and with no judgements, enormous changes can be made. That person might not take care of their pet the way that you do, but you sure as heck better realize that they love them just the same. Us having the mentality, “If they can’t afford to take it to the vet, they shouldn’t have it,” isn’t going to change anything about the situation at hand. So move on and start figuring out how you can help.

Relationship building is the most important task on your to-do list. Helping animals usually starts with helping their owners, and a lot of times the best way to get through to someone is to have a relationship with them. Relationships build trust and break down walls. Dolly’s Foundation is an amazing organization that offers owner support in Florida, and they report that it can sometimes take months before someone agrees to get their pet spayed. Dolly’s goes in judgement-free (ding ding ding!) and takes what little victories they can get, all the while building the relationship.

It is important to have the core belief that people love their pets. As Neya Warren of Coalition to Unchain Dogs said in her presentation, “A lack of resources does not equate to a lack of love.” Believing that people want the best for their pets – whether they can provide that or not – makes it that much easier to shed judgements and start helping.

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Ask open-ended questions. This is a tool I recently learned that I now use in all aspects of my life, but especially when doing application reviews with potential adopters. If you ask someone a yes or no question, it almost immediately removes an opportunity for discussion. Plus, you sort of make it seem like there is a right or wrong answer. Open-ended questions are amazing at getting people to open up and feel comfortable – plus it makes for a much more productive, two-sided conversation. We’ve all been there where we feel like we’re talking at someone. Open-ended questions put it on the other person to do some talking which, when working to help them or their pets, can be very important!

Nothing beats face-to-face interactions. I suppose I already covered this in the previous points, but the folks who make a huge difference are the ones who have their feet on the ground and who are out there meeting with the people who need their help. Facebook, tabling events, flyers, etc. are great, but they’re not going to get the job done. Laurie Maxwell from Pets for Life made the point that we have to get rid of the, “If you build it, they will come,” mentality. Most of the time it is knocking on doors that is needed most. It’s volunteers in the neighborhoods. It’s that face-to-face conversation and relationship building. It’s meeting them where they are.

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Those points are just a few snippets of the expertise from this workshop. I jotted down some phrases that came to mind as I listened to the presentations – concepts that came up over and over again – and the list included: feet on the ground, face-to-face, benefits everyone, non-judgmental, inspiring, conversation, dignity, listening, respect, open mind – and more. Do you see a common theme here? It’s time to start realizing that action for animals – especially those in shelters or who might end up in shelters – means action for people as well.

For more information about how you can help the people, and therefore the pets, in your community, check out HSUS’s Pets for Life program, including their extensive toolkit. I recommend you see if there are existing organizations in your community, like Ruff Riders in New York City, who are already working to keep pets with their families. If you prefer a different route for helping animals, I still encourage you to keep these “action” points in mind when you are working with pet owners, potential adopters, whoever. A little open mind goes a long way.

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P.S. – Check out who made it into HSUS’s All Animals Magazine!

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Where Has PLF Been!?

Honestly, that’s a really great question. We barely even know! Judging by how many of you nice people liked our Facebook status announcing this post, it seems like you’ve missed us? Have you noticed we’ve been gone?

I guess I sort of felt like I didn’t have enough topics of substance to write about that weren’t just me spewing my opinion at you. And for the instances I did decide I wanted to share my opinion, I wasn’t giving myself enough time to come up with a well constructed post.  My efforts felt incomplete, which I hate! I decided I’d rather give you guys well thought out, interesting posts instead of ones thrown together at the last minute (this is where I don’t tell you that it’s 10:13 pm on Tuesday night so clearly I still haven’t addressed that last point).

In addition to feeling torn about post topics, I have been extra busy – in the best kind of way! I’m falling so in love with life every day here in the city. I’m soaking up the sunshine and warm temps. I’m spending extra time with friends. I’m working late nights at the shelter. I’m filling my weekends up to the brim with new, fun activities. I’m bonding with shelter dogs. I traveled to Mexico for a girl’s weekend. I’m spending afternoons with Paco just because. I’m constantly looking around this beautiful city with stars in my eyes. I’m gaining hours and hours of training experience working with clients, celebrating behavior-related victories every time. I’m taking weekend trips to Deep Creek Lake with my best friends. I’m dogsitting Lady Bug (adopt her!) and enjoying tons of snuggles.  I’m journeying out to the barn to spend time in wide open spaces. I’m finding corners of crowded DC bars to watch the World Cup games in with fellow Americans. I’m stealing gorgeous neighborhood husky puppies and helping their owners get through terrible puppyhood.  I’m learning more about dog behavior every single day. I’m embracing chaotic, fulfilling happiness every single day.

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So, I apologize about being absent from this space. I think about PLF often, and it’s not something I’m ready to move away from yet. I’ll be here for years to come, it just might not be every single Wednesday forever and ever because I want to give you posts worth reading. I am still as thankful as ever to have this blog and to have your attention, especially as I commit my career to helping dogs more and more every day.  Thanks for being the best, ever. See you back here soon? :-)

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The Human-Canine Bond Comes in All Shapes and Sizes

If there is anything I’ve learned about dogs from both living in DC and being a dog trainer, it’s that the combos of dogs and humans that love each other unconditionally are never two in the same. Now that the weather is nice, the dogs are out in full force around the city. I see dozens of dogs every single day.

Many people who love animals have a preconceived idea of what a dog owner should look like. I love the variety of dog owners I see here in the city. I have a friend who runs the Facebook Page Dogs of New York, a page that celebrates New York’s dogs and the people who love them. It was inspired by the blog Humans of New York and I highly recommend you check it out. The photos highlight everyday dog owners and help to open your mind about the people out there who truly love their dogs as family.

When I saw a gorgeous pup the other day at my favorite DC park, Meridian Hill, I decided to go up and talk to the owner. He told me her name was Storm and that she was the best thing to ever happen to him. Storm sleeps in his bed and goes everywhere with him. When I asked if I could snap a picture, he said, “absolutely!” and immediately grabbed Storm to pose. How stinkin’ cute are they!?

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I was so energized by my short conversation with Storm’s dad that I am thinking I might start talking to more DC dog owners I find, just to learn more about who is out there loving their dogs. The folks of Dogs of New York have gone even a step further and created the “Brooklyn Ruff Riders” to support local pet owners. To learn more about the Brooklyn Ruff Riders and support their initiative, head to their website! I so wish I had the time to start a program like this in DC. Supporting pet owners is the first step to keeping animals out of shelters, and I know that’s where the need is greatest. Maybe one day!

Yesterday evening I headed back to Meridian and didn’t talk to anyone, but captured this pair doing some fabulous training in the park. I’ll be honest in saying when you work at a shelter and see so many animals without homes, you forget that the overwhelming majority of owners are out there loving and caring for their pets. I love being re-reminded of this on a daily basis. It helps me keep the open mind that I need in order to continue making a difference.

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Round Two & Why It Ain’t So Bad

When someone makes the decision to foster a dog, the next step is usually to decide what organization to do it through. This can often come down to choosing between going through a rescue group or fostering for a shelter. Any organization has their own procedures and policies, but private rescue groups and local animal shelters usually run their foster programs quite differently. Both can have pros and cons depending on what your own individual wants and needs are as a foster parent.

When Eran’s house got Rudy adopted through the Washington Humane Society, they reevaluated their needs as a foster home. After looking at many different options, they decided they wanted to try fostering through the rescue group Jasmine’s House. WHS has an amazing foster program and gives great support to their foster guardians, Eran and his roommates just wanted to try something a little different this time around. Jasmine’s House is able to give very individual attention since they keep the number of dogs in their program low, and their adoption application process is a little more in depth than many shelters. They can do this because they are a private, limited-intake rescue group. This can mean they don’t always have the same exposure or attention for their adoptable dogs as a county shelter though, which is another example of how different programs can work better for you depending on your needs and wants.

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Fostering through Jasmine’s House meant that when an applicant came up for Lady Bug, we were all able to discuss the best option on how to move forward. Because there are no hard and fast rules for how an application must move forward in Jasmine’s House, we could brainstorm what would work best for Bug and her potential adopters. You see, Lady Bug and her adopter absolutely loved each other, but there was another dog in the house and Bug and this dog didn’t really love each other just yet. We decided to do a “foster to adopt” situation that could act as a trial for Lady Bug and her potential new family. We all know that transitions can take lots of time, and we wanted to set Bug up for success by not setting in stone what her future was going to be.

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It turns out it was a good idea that we did not have them sign the adoption papers, because the new home ended up not being the best option for Lady Bug’s final stop – and that’s okay! Since it was just a foster-to-adopt situation, Eran’s house didn’t immediately take in another dog and they stayed mentally prepared in the event that they needed to take her back.  Her adopter was sad to see her go, but we appreciated that such an open line of communication was kept between each party so that Lady Bug’s best interest stayed in the forefront of all decisions.

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So now she is back where she started, and she’s enjoying quality time with her boys again. They are training her to know all sorts of new behaviors and they’re getting some medical issues back on track, so she is happy as can be. Plus, now I get to spend some more time with her. Win win for everyone!

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If you’re interested in adopting Lady Bug, email peacelovefoster@gmail.com.

17 Hours With The One That Got Away

On Friday night I had the privilege of watching Johnnie Cash while her parents were out of town (I know, right!). I picked her up after a long work day and dropped her off early the next morning, so I literally had her in my care for about seventeen hours. But it was sixteen and a half more hours than I’d spent with her since she got adopted almost exactly one year ago.

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After work I drove to Johnnie’s house and opened up her front door to find a groggy, sleepy-faced pup awakening in her crate. At first she was wary of this person entering her home that wasn’t her mom or dad, but then when I exclaimed, “Johnnie girl!” she immediately perked up and seemed to be excited to see me. I have no idea if she remembered me or not, but we spent a good five minutes rolling around on the ground giving and receiving kisses with exuberant tail/body wags from Johnnie. I forgot how wiggly she gets when she is excited!

Everything about her and our time together came immediately flooding back. Her happy greetings. Her amazing manners (she sat for me right away). Her gentle but excited face licks. Her general enthusiasm for just about everything. When she calmed down I petted that soft spot on the top of her head that I feel like I’ve petted a million times. It’s crazy how even though she hasn’t been with us for over a year it still feels like I know her so well.

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I harnessed her up and took her outside to go to the bathroom, and she immediately sat at the door and then checked in with me while we were walking. I was floored by her perfect manners. A year later and she has improved so much; it is quite evident how much work her family has done with her. With every learned appropriate behavior she demonstrated – checking in, sitting politely for her next cue, controlling her enthusiasm – my heart swelled. Wow, I thought, this dog is so special… how did we let her get away?

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A few months ago Mark moved to New York City for an amazing job opportunity, so unfortunately he wasn’t able to be with Johnnie Cash for our brief reunion. But I know that Johnnie means as much to him as she does to me, so I sent him pictures starting from when I first picked her up. With every photo we reminisced a little more about the ten weeks we spent with her. It seems that with Johnnie Cash the more that changes, the more that stays the same. She still sits like a goof ball, she still loves to sleep in the car, she still bounds around the house like a happy-go-lucky pup and she still trots along like her knees don’t bend. So much about her is still exactly what it was when we said goodbye twelve months ago.

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After just watching Paco for ten days, I am reminded again of why I don’t want to have a dog of my own at this time in my life. But being with Johnnie also reminded me of the bond I can have with a dog, and how special that can feel. It was nice to get that feeling again. I could not be happier about Johnnie’s family and all they do for her, and I don’t think I could have written a better outcome for her. At this point I am appreciative that she has continued to show me what it can feel like to make what seems to be a life-long connection with a dog. I know I have that with all my fosters, but Miss Cash is so much like what I envision in my “forever dog” that it’s nice to get that I can have this bond with my own dog one day feeling.

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I sure do love you, Johnnie Cash! Thanks for everything you’ve done for me, including turning me into the trainer I am today. I owe ya one, pretty girl.

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