25 Lessons in Time to Turn 25

If you are reading this it means that I have made it to the big 2-5. Yep, last week was my birthday. Twenty five years old. There are a lot of intimidating aspects about turning 25, but one of them is the fact that this was birthday number four I am celebrating on this blog (22, 23, 24 – whoa what a time machine!). Time flies. What better way to jump back on the blog than to channel my inner BuzzFeed and make a list of everything I’ve learned up until this very day?

In all seriousness, I’ve grown up immensely between October 1st last year and October 1st this year. It’s been a crazy, beautiful year and it feels like a lot of different journeys came to a head. Dogs have taught me a lot. My relationships have taught me a lot. My job has taught me a lot. So here are 25 lessons that I’ve learned over the past 9,138ish days. I promise to make most of them dog related.

1. Everything is a work in progress. Like this blog, for example. If you’re reading it on the actual site then hi, welcome to my new design that I hoped to have finished weeks ago for a big unveiling. Oops. But you can’t let a little lag in progress discourage you from reaching your goal. I will complete this makeover… one day!

2. “You have to be well to do good.” This is my favorite quote from an awesome blog post the geniuses at Notes from a Dog Walker wrote about setting up boundaries for yourself to prevent compassion fatigue. Re: #1 – I haven’t been updating this blog because I’ve been working on, oh, just about one million other things. It’s not that I don’t love this blog and wish I could give it more of my attention, but it came to the point that for my own sanity something had to give – and that something was this sweet little nook in the corner of the internet. Luckily I know it (and you guys!) will always be here for when I have some extra time to breathe :-).

3. Science is a thing. Oh the world of dog training… whew! I’m exhausted just thinking about all of the debating, the arguing and the I’m-right-you’re-wrong-ing. Over the past few years my knowledge for animal behavior has grown to a point where I feel comfortable digging up the scientific reasoning behind why I train the way I do. I grew up loving biology and majoring in animal science, so in my adult life I’ve really valued knowing the why behind what I do with animals – it helps me not lose sleep over the arguing. I’m confident in what I know. As late Dr. Sophia Yin writes, “What does it mean to base your training on science? It means using the scientific method to work through the problem and possible solutions, as well as measuring behavior change and evaluating your methods based on results.” Swoon.

4. Treat yo self. Similar to #2, it’s important you look out for yourself in your busy life. I’m sure you have work priorities, maybe a family, probably/definitely dogs, and just remember that yes, they are counting on you – but you can’t be counted on if you’re not happy and healthy! Grab that crazy-expensive pumpkin spice latte before work just because it makes me happy? Don’t mind if I do.

5. Kindness is powerful. I swear by this phrase. I’m kind to my dogs and I’m kind to people around me, and I see every day how this impacts my interactions. I’ve learned that I can get those results I want by being kind (and, yes, sometimes direct!) and respectful.

6. We’re all different. So different. Guess what, guys – I’m not you and you’re not me, so I have no idea how you think or why you do what you do! Ground breaking, I know. But this has been one of the most life changing realizations for me lately. I cannot understand why someone did what they did… and still survive? I don’t have to rationalize or understand the way a person acts to get along with them? My love of kindness might not float your boat, and that’s okay! The simple understanding that I’m the way I am and it’s probably not the way you are eases a lot of frustrations. Try it.

7. Dogs are awesome. Funny lesson, I know. But I just love them! I’ve learned to, ya know, appreciate the smaller things in life – and one of those is a wiggling dog butt greeting you at an appointment or in a shelter kennel or at the end of a long day. As trainers and even shelter workers we often turn them into such specimens (especially when I don’t have my own), we often forget the value they have on their soul. Don’t ever forget that.

8. The definition of love/hate is the internet. Am I right?? Scrolling through your Facebook feed can be so uplifting and so heartbreaking all at the same time. Do yourself a favor and set boundaries if you need to (you see what I did there?). I promise that person will not find out if you unfollow them! And you will not go to hell for not wanting to see the **URGENT DOG** postings on your own social media time.

9. “Remember that time when…” REMEMBER THESE MOMENTS. I find myself reminiscing a lot lately, I think because I’ve had a lot of “pinch me” moments the last few years. Lucky me, I know. But you never know when you’re going to wake up thinking, “Man, I was really lucky.” The past few weeks I’ve been remembering my experience of going through KPA with Paco. Even though at the time it was stressful and overwhelming, boy did we have a blast. I truly miss it, and I don’t want to ever forget it!

10. Mom and Dad always know best. Shout out to the best parents there are! Nothing makes you appreciate your parents more than growing up. You know that Mark Twain quote? “When I was sixteen, my father was the most ignorant man in the world. By the time I reached 21, I was surprised at how much he had learned in five years.” Yeah, that.

11. People can disagree and still be friends. Whoa. This was a biggie for me. You and I can have different viewpoints and that won’t cause us to be forever divided? This speaks a bit to #6 as I’ve realized that the fact that I’m different from other people means they’ll have different view points. Go figure. This has also helped immensely being in animal welfare. Agree to disagree – or, better yet, agree to have a healthy, respectful conversation. Now let’s move on and save some animals.

12. Words matter. This has so many different meanings across so many worlds of loving animals, but as I’ve matured I’ve noticed that what I say can truly, 100% have an impact on the subject matter, no matter how big or small. From gossiping to spewing misinformation about animal training to trying to be an advocate for something – think before you speak.

13. Love wildly. Don’t need much explanation here. Don’t hold back. Love your dogs and your friends and your family as much as you possibly can, every day.

14. All dogs are individuals. See #6 and #11. Same goes for dogs. The more I learn about behavior, the more I am aware that no two dogs will ever be the same, even if they’re the same breed or litter.  I work every day at not generalizing about dogs, even in a lighthearted sense (“Ooookay, let’s not generalize you guys! xoxo your let’s-give-everyone-a-chance coworker”). When you shift to this mindset, you start doing more for the dog in front of you rather than the dog you’re assuming them to be. Makes life easier.

15. If it’s broke, fix it. Or should I say, “Quit your b*tchin’.” The only one who can solve my problems is me. Instead of moping, I’ve learned to take action. It can be hard, but much more with it in the end. Like with dog training: you can get upset about your dog’s behavior, or you can figure out how to improve it.

16. Life is about reinforcers. I keep thinking, “THIS is the best lesson I’ve learned!” throughout this whole post. But forreal, this might be it. The science of learning works across species. People (and dogs and fish and zoo animals) do what works for them. They will always do what works for them. Figure out what reinforces and motivates the people around you, and use that. Guess what: reprimanding someone for not calling you more often when they do finally call you will not increase their behavior of calling you. Telling them they’re a rockstar who made your whole day by calling them might get better results. Or giving them $5 every time they call, that might work too :-).

17. Give yourself victories. This ties into #16. Victories are what make the world go round and keep you feeling positive (they’re very reinforcing). I don’t know about you, but if I didn’t treat the simple behavior of getting my butt out of bed in the morning as a victory, I’d surely give up by 10 am. Okay maybe not. But seriously! Pat yourself on the back for those accomplishments at work. Do a little dance after you finish the dishes. Give yourself a quarter for making your bed in the morning. Acknowledging these little moments you did something right throughout the day makes ya realize that hey, you’re not so bad.

18.  It always gets better. Change is scary. Really, really scary. I remember when we were looking at housing this past summer and my roommate was panicking. I looked at her and said, “But Ash, think about it – it’s always gotten better, every time we’ve moved, even though it was always scary and hard and unknown.” Change is a good and necessary process in life. My favorite quote: “It’s always okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” If you’re having a really bad day with your dog, remind yourself that it can only go up from there!

19. Don’t be embarrassed. This mindset is tough for me because I’m a sensitive soul and I care way too much what people think about me. But lately I’ve learned… f*!k em. Excuse my french, but seriously. The majority of people I was worried about were people I didn’t know and would never meet again. Yikes, they’re seeing me with my treat pouch! (Just kidding I have never had ANY shame in my treat pouch game, ha!). But if I break out in a dance to this awesome song on my iPod right here on the sidewalk they’ll think I’m weird. Ugh, my dog is having a bad day and is trying to eat their perfectly well behaved dog. Guess what. You are a blip in their day, they probably won’t even remember you. And if they do? Well, you’ll never know, so who cares. Same goes for people you do know. If they’re worth knowing, they won’t judge you… (hopefully).

20. Never stop learning. Continuing. Education. Continuing education. I can’t stress the importance of this no matter what you do in life, and especially in the dog world. Studies are published every day about behavior and animal cognition. Do yourself and your animals a favor and stay updated on what the scientists and professionals are saying.

21. Put down your phone. Another toughie for me. This really inspiring video called “Look Up” was circulating a few months ago about how much we miss in life when our noses are in our phones. I am 100% guilty of this almost all of the time (hey, at least I acknowledge it). There are some situations I always try to keep my phone away, and one is definitely when I’m walking a dog. Yes for the safety factor but also to be present with him when we’re on this happy little nature walk together. Again, it’s the smaller things in life.

22. Listen to the voices. Yes, the ones in your head. No, I am not suggesting you have a disorder. Malcolm Gladwell has this great book called, “Blink.” It’s about listening to that gut feeling – something we ignore all too often. Most of the time, it turns out that that feeling was correct all along. You owe it to yourself to at least take them into account and add them to the conversation in real life.

23. Take a day off. Or five. Burn out is a thing, and you don’t want it. We live in a gogogogogo world, and our bodies are programmed to be a gogo-stop-gogo-stop creature. I always feel guilty for sitting on the couch and not running around doing this, that or the other thing. But then I remember my mental and physical health is just as important as my productivity. See #2 and #4.

24. You are enough. Stop comparing yourself to anyone else – whether it be at your job, in your relationship, etc. It’s great to have people to look up to, but remember that you are not them and you need to have your own standards for yourself. You can make tweaks here and there but you can’t change who you are as a person – and the good news is that you probably don’t have to. You’re awesome, give yourself some credit.

25. YOLO. Yup, I went there. “You only live once.” Don’t use that mentality to rob your favorite pet supply store, but DO use that mentality when you’re deciding about taking a trip, visiting your family, taking that class, whatever the choice may be. Life waits for no one!

Cheers to year twenty five. And thanks to all of you wonderful people for being here for four wonderful years!

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Breaking Tradition: Jackson the Gun Dog

After the last three years of working with dogs in various capacities – from fostering, to sheltering, to training – it sort of surprises me to say that training with my clients have been some of my most rewarding experiences. There is no better feeling than watching an owner’s relationship with their dog improve once they learn how to communicate with them in a positive way. I’ve recently had an exceptionally rewarding ongoing journey with a dog named Jackson.

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Jackson the GSP. His smile matches his energy and enthusiasm for life.

A while back, a friend from college mentioned to me that he was getting a German Shorthaired Pointer puppy to hunt with. I wished him luck (because really, a working puppy? No thanks!) and forgot all about it. Once my friend Bryan brought Jackson home, I got a text message here and there asking for basic advice, but not much more than that. Finally when Jackson was about seven months old, Bryan asked if I’d stop by to help with some training.

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Bryan and Jackson.

Now I don’t know much about hunting dogs, but I do know they’re trained with aversives. This means the trainers use positive punishment (add something unpleasant to decrease a behavior) and negative reinforcement (remove something unpleasant to increase a behavior). I explained to Bryan that I use entirely force-free methods, and in fact use a lot of treats when I train, and that a lot of that probably wouldn’t fit with what he’d be learning out “in the field” as they call it in the hunting world. To my surprise, Bryan was still open to it. He did tell me though that he didn’t want to use a clicker because he didn’t want to have to carry it with him forever.  I explained that’s actually not how it works but we’d talk more when I stopped by.

The first few times I visited Jackson and Bryan were great. It’s quite evident how brilliant Jackson is, as he mastered sit, down, touch, “go to mat” and a decent recall almost immediately. Bryan and I had a lot of great discussions about training: why we use a marker signal, how to motivate Jackson in a way that will keep up with his natural instincts, why punishment isn’t the way to go for the type of relationship Bryan wants with his dog, why a high rate of reinforcement is important to keep Jackson engaged, how to break down behaviors so that Jackson fully understands them and more. I showed up the second week to Bryan using the clicker. I was thrilled, Bryan seemed pretty happy, and Jackson was enjoying training.

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After three of four weeks of visits, it became clear that using entirely positive training at home but still doing “traditional training” in the field would be too confusing for Jackson.  An example of one training exercise gun dogs trainers use is a “force fetch.” This means applying a painful stimulus to the dog – for example, pinching their ear or pressing a dowel between the dog’s toes and using a cord to compress them – and then releasing that stimulus when the dog puts the object in its mouth. The dog learns that it can cause the pain to end by picking up the object. Another common practice for gun dogs are electronic shock collars. A shock is administered to the dog to get a change in behavior and the shock stops when the desired behavior is completed or the undesired behavior ends.  The training we do with Jackson at home using rewards encourages him to be an engaged, participatory learner. We often want him to offer behaviors in an effort to find what gets him a reinforcer (this is called shaping and capturing). Our training teaches Jackson that good things can happen at any time, and that he can trust us to never use pain or fear if he messes up. Aversives teach the opposite. “Don’t mess up, or else.” Aversives are proven to slow learning because the dog is worried to try something new for fear of being punished. Ultimately this means that the trust we build with Jackson at home would be completely broken when he goes out to hunt, hindering his progress across the board.

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Upon realizing it couldn’t be done both ways, we started brainstorming on how to teach hunting skills using force-free methods. It uncovered an enormous learning curve for me because there are so many technical skills and technical names for those skills associated with a really great gun dog. Plus, these skills can’t be taught haphazardly – hunting dogs need to be fluent in all their cues under intense distraction and at a variety of different locations and distances. If you’re ever taught your dog literally anything, you know how difficult that can be. Luckily at the Karen Pryor Academy we mastered the skills behind teaching clean, reliable behaviors, so Bryan and I got right to work – he brought the hunting knowledge and I brought the training knowledge. I’ve also immersed myself in books (Positive Gun Dogs is my favorite at the moment), Facebook Pages and Yahoo listservs for positive gun dog training.

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It has been hugely encouraging to see Jackson’s progress over the last six weeks, especially given that he spent seven months doing pretty much whatever he wanted. Bryan and Jackson are up against a lot in their sport, but Bryan has stepped up as Jackson’s advocate and overall the tides do seem to be chaining, albeit slowly. Bryan said last time he showed up to hunting training with his clicker some of the other guys said they knew people who trained their dogs that way.  It might be a while before traditional training is eliminated from dog sports all together, but I am hopeful that Jackson will soon be a shining example of what a gun dog can be when trained positively.  Regardless, he will have helped me gain another skill set as a trainer that I can use in my career, enabling me to help more dog and owner teams in a new way.

Growing Up

It’s been a busy summer around here, especially with my two best friends from high school. You’ve met one of them briefly on here when I wrote about her gorgeous dog Kenji. Well, she’s getting married! We got to spend some quality time with Kenji yesterday after wedding dress shopping with his mama. It’s been so great to watch him grow up into a lovely gentlemen.

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More exciting news – my other best friend just adopted her foster dog from BARCS, Baltimore’s animal shelter! Ilana has never had a dog before and this new addition to her family has got me doing all sorts of happy dances. Dominic is the perfect dog for her, and I am so proud of her for adopting a pup in need of a home. She will be here with a guest post soon about what it is like to have a dog for the first time ever. Stay tuned!

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So we’re busy busy, and so grateful for this time spent with close friends – especially since catching up is usually extra dog related these days!

Are you all doing anything special this summer?

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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