Faith, Trust, & Foster Pups

Helping dogs on the road to forever, forever finding ourselves as we walk that road with them.


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3 Years Ago Today…

Time is pretty short these days. There are a limited number of hours that I have available each day to dedicate to work, family (spouse, baby, dogs, cat), and health, and so finding time to reflect and write on those finite and fleeting moments is tough.

One of the things about our digital footprint, though, is you can’t help but be reminded of how far you’ve traveled. One of my new hobbies is catching up daily on my Facebook On this Day feed. Today’s memory was one that sort of got me in the feels, as I read –

“Doggy school starts tonight. Paws crossed for positive progress and outcomes.”
-April 18, 2013

Longtime friends and followers know that this post was written for Balton. At the time, still my foster dog. In a lot of ways, I can barely remember back that far to where my head was at that time, but I do remember feeling a tremendous weight and amount of pressure, anxiety, and fear (which I suspect Balton also was feeling) as we started our training journey together and walked into class that night.

It would be exactly one month later that I would adopt him, because, in short, he needed me to.

Little did I know though, how much I really needed to adopt him. I don’t know where I’d be or what I’d be doing if Balton never came along to help me chart the course we ended up on together. But man, he sure has made a dent. On my heart, on my way of thinking, on my livelihood, on my interactions with others, on the type of mom I’ve become. It’s been in tiny increments, but it’s been huge and profound.

The other day, I was walking Balton, and a person across the street waved and said hello. I returned the wave and hello, quickly looking to Balton on my right and telling him enthusiastically what a good boy he was as he looked at the lady across the street, looked to me, and carried on with a loose leash, and without s second thought. I was caught without treats for once, but in that moment, it didn’t matter. He’d gotten enough clicks and treats in the last 3 years for looking and not growling, lunging, or barking, that he was okay with a stranger acknowledging us. It seems so small, this brief, ordinary moment, but the neighbor across the street observed a polite dog enjoying a walk with his person. And it made my heart smile.

3 years of finite and fleeting moments…it has gone quickly and sometimes is exhausting, but man, it sure has turned out pretty beautiful in more ways that I could have imagined.

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Charlie’s Angels

Hello FTFP Fam! First of all, let’s just go ahead and address the fact that it’s been almost a year since I have popped in here. As you may recall from my last entry (though you might not because it was a long time ago), things got a little derailed with my regular blogging priorities when we began to prepare for the arrival of Balton and Ollie’s new human brother. Since we welcomed Baby H into our world, there’s been a lot of adjusting and readjusting to our new normal, while also keeping some of the old normal. For inquiring minds, I am pleased to report that both pups have been doing wonderfully these past several months. We’re at the beginning stages of having a mobile little one on our hands though, so we’re bracing for that and will be sharing some of our ongoing parenting misadventures at our sister space, For Kids and Fur Kids. It’s relatively sparse right now but there are a few entries and some good resources, so if you have parent friends with dogs or just a general interest in following along with us, mosey on over there!

In other recent news, I’ve started training dogs part time and am delighted to be part of the staff at All About Dogs as of this Spring. I’m also volunteering with a new fantastic rescue full of fantastic people, DC PAWS, and serving as their training and education coordinator and helping make sure the dogs in our care and our adopters volunteers are provided resources to make sure dogs and cats are kept feeling safe and learning how to succeed through positive reinforcement and humane, science based training. Check them out on their website and on their social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We’re still planting our roots in some ways but those roots are going to be strong and growing some beautiful things. I’m actually hosting a New Adopter Workshop on August 15 in Springfield, VA, so if you would like to come please check out more information about it here.

Which brings me to Charlie, one of our newest DC PAWS Adoptables. Charlie was found abandoned on the side of the road in rural South Carolina with a broken leg. Pickens County Animal Control, one of the rescue’s shelter partners, was alerted and picked him up and brought him to the Animal Control Facility.  This facility is so severely under-resourced that it is not set up to facilitate adoptions to the public.   Charlie was placed on a 10-day stray hold by animal control; had he not been wearing a collar, his time would have been limited to 5 days. Luckily for Charlie, DC PAWS Rescue was on site at the end of his 10-day hold period.

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It turned out that Charlie had an old broken bone that hadn’t healed properly, and required surgery. It also turned out he had contracted heartworm, had been shot in the leg and, at the risk of sounding crude, had been left for dead. It’s no wonder he looks so sad at the animal control facility. What is a wonder is when DC PAWS and our on the ground volunteer in Pickens County took him in, his ability to look past how badly humans had wronged him and immediately love and show his gratitude. He’s awesome, and we know he is going to be an awesome companion to his forever family.

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Charlie’s medical costs are rather significant, and my dear friends at DC PAWS are working hard to raise the needed funds to cover his surgery, physical therapy, and heartworm treatment costs. These expenses are about $5,000 in total. The costs are significant, and so DC PAWS is looking for support to continue showing Charlie how good people can be.

If you have any amount you can spare to be one of Charlie’s Angels, please make a donation at the page DC PAWS has built for his medical funding. Updates on his progress will also be provided there, so continue checking back on how our boy is doing. And if you can, please share his page and story, and ask others to do the same. It’s worth noting that DC PAWS is still a fairly young group, and while they’ve been touching lives and creating positive experiences with adopters and volunteers, their internal support base is still pretty small, especially when compared to what is needed to meet Charlie’s needs. Longtime readers know that I have a history of sharing much and asking for little here, but this truly is one of those “it takes a village” situations. Thanks for helping us make a difference for a truly awesome dog and the truly awesome people who took him in.

Warmly,

Lynn and the Boys


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Life-Changing Moments

Sometimes there are moments in life where you find yourself in a moment where your realize your life has fundamentally changed, and you’re looking at the path in front of you, realizing it’s maybe become a little bumpier or unfamiliar. You may have been coasting along on cruise control and suddenly realize you’ve got to adjust your speed and grip the wheel a little tighter (or, in some cases, ask Jesus to take it).

Then, sometimes you find yourself in a moment where you realize your life is about to change. You’re staring down the road, catching a blurry glimpse of what’s up ahead, and having a clear understanding that things are going to be completely different. But you can’t see exactly how. You only know that your world is changing, and you better fasten your seatbelt and try to prepare best you can for what may come.

Up until now, I’ve found myself more in the first kind of moment. Maybe when we adopted Ollie, or when I got engaged to my husband, I had a little sense of that second moment. But I’ve never felt quite so much sense of knowing the unknown is about to happen as I have lately. Something about knowing a human baby is coming along, and you will never be fully prepared for what that means until that human baby gets here, is just a lot to think about.

I guess this would be an appropriate time to note that come December, our family is due to grow by one more. I should also probably note that between lots of nausea, fatigue, and all the life in between, it’s been hard to write as much as I would like. Not for lack of experiences, though. Especially for as long as I can continue cherishing these moments where it’s ALL about them. Just this summer, Ollie has completed Intermediate Agility, Balton has started taking Nosework, and we successfully got through a family vacation up to Maine that I had been having a lot of anxiety over, due to the fact that it was Balton’s first time traveling in a car with people other than Nick and me, and that we were sharing a cabin with my parents for a week (I’m pleased to say Balton did amazing, by the way).

As we come up on Balton’s second anniversary with us, it’s impossible not to look back and reflect on how life with him has changed us all over these years, and how in agreeing to foster him I never knew just how big an impact bringing him into our home would have. As I try to plan ahead, realizing 16 weeks from now things are going to change in ways no amount of planning will truly prepare me for, I know things are going to be different.

Between reading articles and attending classes about living with kids and dogs (it’s not the only thing I’m studying up on, but let’s be honest, it’s probably all you guys here care about), I wonder, I worry, I prepare, and I pray. I pray because I know that no amount of preparation, training, or reading will adequately reveal how our family dynamic is going to be altered until I get home from the hospital with a tiny human.

I have assumed a lot of responsibility in trying to give my dogs the best quality of life possible. Especially Balton, who came to us pretty broken and deserved so much better. It’s not that I don’t worry about Ollie, but I worry much less about him, in large part because I’ve been able to observe him around children and see him do well. With Balton, it’s different. I can’t “kid test” him or provide practice opportunities with children, because I don’t trust other people’s children enough to do so safely. After all, too many times, well-meaning adults have set him back in their interactions and inability to follow instructions to keep him feeling safe. So while one side of logic tells me it’s irresponsible to say “we’ll just have to see what happens,” the other side of logic and my heart tell me that coupled with the training, management, and care we already provide, waiting to see what happens, and taking it day by day, is truly the most responsible thing I can possibly do with Balton and our new baby.

I am certain we are not the first people on the planet to have a baby live with a dog who can be a bit more challenging than the average bear, and I imagine others are out there doing it well (I can’t say I’ve found a lot of case studies to refer to though, so if you have any feel-good stories of fearful dogs and their people doing it right with a new baby, by all means send them my way). 

In the mean time, we continue on as we always have. Keeping the faith, trusting in the powers that be and asking them for some extra sprinkles of blessings, but more importantly trusting in ourselves to keep doing right by our pups (be they the four-legged or two-legged kind). In acknowledging that life can (and will) change in a moment, it’s sort of a sweet reminder to cherish each moment when you experience it. With that, I hope you’ll forgive me in doing a little less chronicling of these coming weeks and months, as I work to give these moments of now and moments ahead as much of me as I possibly can. 

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An Easy Dog to Love

This past weekend, my parents came to visit for some family celebrations. Balton actually did surprisingly well during the visit, but only felt comfortable enough to come out and visit with his grandparents one day of the five they were with us. Nevertheless, he was content to hang out in the kitchen and back porch during most of their stay, and only barked at my dad a few times when he would get up and move about (my dad has been over to visit us less often than my mom, who Balton is by and large used to by now).

My dad is sort of used to being loved by all dogs, so I think it’s hard for him not to take offense that Balton did not immediately warm to him (or that he hasn’t decided to become his BFF by now). In spite of my dad’s natural love for dogs, and the fact that he has had dogs all his life, he’s also been pretty fortunate to be surrounded by your typical, resilient, tolerant family dog. In fact, as a child, we had a temperamental Miniature Schnauzer named Whitney who was not fond of children and a bit destructive (okay, he would chew his way through dog gates and one day we came home to find all the pillows in our living room had been shredded). We ended up rehoming him with a family friend when I was six, and he lived out his days being spoiled and pampered as the only at-home “child” when the three adult kids had moved out. Looking back now, it’s pretty clear he probably had some fear and anxiety issues. I think rehoming him was the best thing, but I also think growing up, we kids didn’t necessarily realize that dogs weren’t playthings, and that we were probably dealing with symptoms of stress instead of indicators of a bad dog. Yet, even with all his issues, Whitney seemed to love my dad and would cuddle up with him when we would go to parties at his new family’s house.

So this weekend, when my dad said to me, “I love dogs, but I don’t think I could love a dog like Balton,” it sort of stuck with me. I understand why he would say it – because Balton doesn’t give his love to just anyone. In fact, he has given it to very few. But as quickly as he said it, I was as quick to respond. Not defensively, but truthfully. “Actually, he’s a very easy dog for me to love.”baltonpark

Sure, he can frustrate me and confound me at times. The level of management and energy he requires in order to live a happy life can be exhausting. I worry about his health and happiness. I realize his world is much smaller than those of other dogs, and it starts to make me sad, until I realize that he’s happy in that world, and that’s all that counts. He gets so excited to welcome his people home. It takes every fiber in his being to keep all four paws on the ground and wait for me to bend down to give kisses. His tail wags in a circle when Nick or I come home. His human social circle doesn’t really extend beyond Nick, the dog walker two days a week, and me. But when he joins me up on the couch for TV every night, or sunbathes peacefully on our back deck, or engages in silly wrestling matches with Nick and Ollie, or happily sniffs grass fervently on our walks to explore the world in a way that makes him feel good, senses when I’m sick and cozies up to give me nuzzles and licks on the cheek, it all reminds me how very much I love him. And honestly, there are no less than 20 moments a day that reinforce that fact.
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Operation: Adopt Nala

“Saving one dog will not change the world, but surely for that one dog, the world will change forever.”

In the world of rescue, there are certain dogs who touch your heart in such a way that your heart just wants so badly to find that forever home they deserve. One such dog who has been touching hearts for some time is Nala.

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Nala was rescued from a rural shelter in 2013 and has been living in foster care with my good friend Cathy for one year as of today. When Nala first arrived she was incredibly fearful of the world around her, but the safe haven of a loving foster home has been a wonderful gift for this beautiful young lady, who has begun to learn the world is full of good and has really blossomed in Cathy’s care. I’ve had the joy of spending some time with Nala and helping her practice getting comfortable around strangers in the home, and also have gotten to see her work at doggy school when I would take Ollie in for classes.

Much of the last year has been spent getting Nala really and truly ready to go to her forever home, and her foster mom knows the time has now come to find happy ever after. Although Cathy loves Nala to pieces, she knows that hers is not the right fit forever home. Having put so much time into Nala’s training and confidence building, Cathy feels confident that Nala is now ready to transition into her life with her new adoptive family. I couldn’t agree more, and hope you will help us in spreading the word about this truly special soul so she can find them.

Nala has been attending adoption events through her sponsoring rescue, Rural Dog Rescue in Washington, DC, but as you might guess, adoption events are kind of hard for shy dogs like Nala to put their best paw forward. So a few weeks ago,  I had the pleasure of practicing my amateur photography skills as part of an adoption video Cathy made for Nala.  This video allows would-be adopters to see the Nala they don’t get to see at events, and Cathy did a beautiful job highlighting Nala’s skills, playful nature, and sweet disposition. And if you watch closely, you’ll notice a certain semi-celebridog who came along for play date fun during filming to make a cameo and credit appearance.

Please share Nala’s video far and wide, and help Cathy in her mission to get Nala adopted – she’s waited oh so patiently for forever and deserves it more than any dog I know!

To learn more on how to adopt Nala, check out her adoption bio or email her foster mom at cathyruraldog@gmail.com.  All of us on Team Nala thank you for your support and for reporting for duty on this very important operation!


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Dear Balton: One Year In the Life of You

Dear Balton,

It’s been a full year now since we welcomed you home for good. Unbeknownst to us we had made you part of our family well before we signed your adoption contract, but we had a lot of learning and soul searching to do before could make it official. I don’t know if you knew that something had changed when we went from being your foster family to your forever family, but I like to think you did.

There was a cautious uncertainty you came to us with, mixed with some (rather trying) awkward adolescent behaviors of jumping, mouthing, knocking down your food bowl with excitement before it could even touch the floor, and exploring the contents of my purse and attempting to eat my pens if I left you for a moment. There was the immediate love and want to trust and be protected by your people, but there was a scariness about the unfamiliar people  and what their presence might mean. There was the overwhelming sense early on that we were not the right home for you to be in long term (and sometimes, even in that moment). But then over time, there was the overwhelming sense that you were right where you belonged…one of the most surprising and delightful things that strikes me today.

The purse explorations and food bowl knocking (thankfully) came to an end, but we’ve still been through a lot this last year – hard work, exciting adventures, frustration, joy, and love. So much love.

Life with you Balton has taught me how to be a kinder, more attentive human. I’m so grateful that you have sparked in me a need to share in each moment so fully with you, and to know that our learning together will never be done. I am grateful for the time I have spent training with you, and that it has motivated me to give Ollie that same time so I could build a stronger relationship with both of you.  I have learned to be fully present and celebrate every little victory that may seem invisible to the outside world. I have learned how to set boundaries and to listen to your needs. To make sure you believe me when I tell you “it’s okay” and that you don’t need to be afraid. That I will protect you, and keep you feeling safe through and through.

I have learned how to be a better human to other dogs altogether, and you have driven my motivation to help other humans do the same. You’ve helped me to help other people with reactive dogs. To help them see that their dogs are good dogs, even when they share some bad moments. I only hope I can continue meeting the standard that you have so unwittingly set for me. When we started on this road together, I said we were doing so with the same cautious uncertainty you had when you came to us 8 months earlier, but always having faith. And so we walked, one step at a time, with a lot of treats, a lot of courage, and a lot of motivation to learn together.

Seeing you today, and enjoying in your snuggles and smiles each and every day, gives me one of the greatest comforts I have known. That those snuggles and smiles become more and more prevalent as your confidence and sense of belonging grows, reinforces my belief that we belong together. The path is still uncertain in so many ways, and sometimes it involves several emergency u-turns and detours, but the scenery along the way sure has been pretty and become a lot less scary. From quiet moments at home to wild moments of exuberant play, I am so grateful that we found one another and that the dance continues.

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I love you, sweet boy. So very much. Thank you for being you, and helping me to be a better me.

Love,

Mom

 


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Together we’re unlimited…

This week marks one year since I began professional training with Balton. Right around this time last year, I was feeling pretty lost and sad about my then foster dog, whose behavior was confounding me and frustrating me. I’d been feeling pretty lousy for not knowing how to help him with it. I saw this super dog at home, who by all accounts was a really wonderful companion and joy to have around. On the other hand, walks were miserable and rather unpredictable at the time. I was starting to feel like my argument of “surely this dog is adoptable!” was losing ground, and I was losing confidence in myself as a foster mom.

Last week marked the conclusion of flight school, otherwise known as the basic skills class Balton and I were trying out. The first week went great, the second week was not as great but gave us (me) some things to think about in increasing his comfort level sense of fun. We saw improvements each week in the remaining three weeks of class, and although he was able to participate in most of the class activities, we made some modifications as needed so that he could succeed and enjoy himself. For example, while the other dogs would practice their recall exercises (requiring the trainer to take the leash, which neither Balton nor I would have been okay with), we’d use it as an opportunity to lay down and settle, and just be relaxed amid the activity of the other dogs being excitedly called by their people. Although very much aware of the moving dogs and squealing people trying to call them, he wasn’t worried about it and did a great job practicing his braves.

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Mat settling like a boss

By week four, Balton was ready to let our new trainer try tossing some treats from a distance.  Early on when his trainers would do this, he would be too overwhelmed to eat them and sometimes sniff them and refuse them. We promised they weren’t poisoned, but it took him a few months to actually believe us.  Well, wouldn’t you know…when we did this exercise with our flight school trainer, not a single treat was poisoned.🙂

Week five was our final class and class talent show. Our trick we practiced (and frankly learned just for the talent show) was to “wave,” shaped through hand targeting and then modifying the hand target for shake to a waving hand so he could differentiate the cues. This is what it looks like:

Balton waves hello

Following the end of class, the students who demonstrated the necessary skills taught in the class (many of which Balton came with, but had stage fright about initially) earned what is best described as a hall pass. It’s not exactly a diploma for graduation, but it means the dog has shown capable of moving up to an intermediate or Level 2 class. Coming into this class with pretty uncertain expectations, imagine my surprise when we got handed this:baltonhallpass

I admit that when I got the card, I stared at it and teared up over it and got goosebumps about it. Silly, perhaps, I know.

But when I think about where we were this time last year, and I think about where we are today, I consider what I thought possible for Balton then and what I consider possible for him now. Sure, my thoughts for possibility were perhaps a little idealistic at the time because I wanted so badly for him to be adopted by a family that wasn’t ours. But with that possibility there came a million limitations: no families with kids, must be a savvy adopter committed to what would likely be a lifetime of training and management, must live in a suburban or rural area, must live a quiet lifestyle without many visitors. And when you’re looking at a window of adopters among a sea of dogs without those limitations, that makes for a very, very small window.

When we adopted Balton, we frankly adopted him because of those limitations. When I looked at things objectively, I didn’t really see how we could pass the leash, but I believed he deserved a chance to be more than a dog too limited to live a full and happy life.

For a long time, there were a lot of self-imposed limitations because we couldn’t and wouldn’t push him too far too soon. We had definitely done things wrong for a number of months before we got steered right. But with the pressure off to find him a home, and the reality being that we were the ones to give him that full and happy life  I thought he deserved, we were able to slow things down. We were able to let Balton be the Balton he was, and that allowed him to become the Balton he could be.

These last few weeks, I can’t seem to get over how often I catch Balton smiling. I think it’s because he continues to redefine what his own limits are, and with that his confidence is starting to shine through in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen glimmers of it before, but I’m seeing it a lot more regularly.

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This particular happy moment was captured soon after we had a visitor over to our house this past weekend. Balton and I have found a training buddy to practice visits with from the Animal Welfare League of Arlington Pit Crew, the group with whom we do our social walks. The training buddy we are working with has a dog with similar “stranger danger” challenges, so I visit with him and he visits with us in order to “practice” being okay with guests. This Sunday was his second visit. Now, you could probably argue this was Balton’s happy face after our visitor left, but take my word for it when I tell you he was the most relaxed I’ve ever seen him with a guest. He was kept on a leash and we kept our distance, but on this visit our guest tossed him hot dogs while I also fed him treats and he laid at my feet. It helps to have someone visiting who gets what we’re going through, and makes a point not to make eye contact or get too close.  But it also speaks to Balton’s progress in overcoming those fears that have long since limited him. Seeing his world grow in tiny increments makes me so incredibly happy, and seeing this happy face who seems to know how far he’s come makes me grateful that we’ve been taking this journey together.

We’re learning that the world we thought we knew is changing each day, redefining what is possible, and defying gravity as a team. Discovering that our limits are no longer the same as they once were makes me really believe there is no limit to where we can go or what we can do. We just have to understand what our limits are in each moment, and keep walking the path, even if we walk it little more slowly and take some detours behind a car or a tree, or take an emergency u-turn every so often.