Faith, Trust, & Foster Pups

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


4 Comments

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.

baltonnala

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

Love,

Mom

 


3 Comments

The Kindness of Strangers

I spend a good deal of time celebrating Balton’s little moments of bravery. Making it through a walk without incident (or even with only one minor incident) usually is enough to make me proud. When most people think about what a “good dog” is though, Balton’s little accomplishments may not add up to much. I think if they got to be a fly on the wall at our house, maybe they would see what a lovely dog he is. But, let’s be honest, public opinion does matter, and B doesn’t always do his best out and about in the real world. He sure has come a long way, but most people don’t get the luxury of knowing that. Even at his best, greeting strangers and their dogs on leash aren’t things he can do.

When working with a dog who has fear issues, progress is measured in such tiny increments that it can feel like watching grass grow. When your reactive dog has a reaction after you feel like he’s come a ways, it makes you question if the grass has been growing at all, or makes you feel like you’ve lost the ground beneath you entirely. Maybe that’s why few things give me a greater joy than when I hear someone else pay Balton a compliment on his behavior. It’s one thing for me to see him doing well, but another quite entirely to get an outsider’s perspective. In those moments, I feel like the progress he’s made is something big.

Since we started his Relaxing Rowdy Rovers training class almost a year ago, we’ve seen a lot of dogs come and go while we’ve kept working, in an effort to give Balton a safe place to train each week. We’ve had stops and starts, and after seeing little bits of progress, we would hit road blocks and have to take a few steps back. Recently though, Balton’s been on a trajectory upswing in his training class. His quiet confidence has been shining through in his willingness to take treats from the trainers and greet them with cautious optimism, to settle with his back to the other dogs in the room, to walk about the room with a lightness in his step, to not feel the need to go on the offensive if his classmates bark at one another. To trust. To relax.

baltonblanketclass

Last week, as one of our trainers was working with another family who started class recently and is as anxious as Balton was when we first started, she commented on how well Balton was doing. Our classmate said something to her, and she smiled and said “say that so Balton’s mom can hear you.” He looked at me and said his wife last week commented on how “Thundershirt Dog doesn’t need to be here.” I looked at Balton (sporting his weekly school uniform of a Thundershirt) and smiling, joked that he puts on a very good show for class. But for me, it was all I could do to keep from crying happy tears in that moment.

Those words came from someone who really doesn’t know Balton. They came from someone who didn’t have to try to dig deeper to see Balton’s beautiful heart, to keep from seeing him as mean, scary, or broken. The words were unbiased by love, affection, or filtered through my eyes as people here see Balton. I think those words may be the kindest words an almost complete stranger has said about him.

As it turns out, that wouldn’t even turn out to be the biggest moment of class for Balton this past week. More on that tomorrow…


2 Comments

Sophia Yin Seminar Prelude: Fear, Aggression, Foster Dogs, and Me

In September, I had the opportunity to attend a two-day seminar with Dr. Sophia Yin, veterinarian, animal behaviorist, inventor of the Manners Minder/Treat & Train, and pretty cool lady. Dr. Yin began studying animal behavior after spending time in the veterinary field, after realizing during practice that more animals were being euthanized for behavior issues than for medical issues.

Since then, she has authored many articles and books, spoken at many seminars, and continues to provide resources to the pet owning, pet training, and veterinary community through her continued research and practice in the field.

I attended her September seminar on Fear and Aggression on behalf of Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, in order to bring back what I had learned and present it to the rescue volunteers in a way that would be worthwhile for them. Since much of my personal life (and thus, this blog) has become dedicated to creating a better understanding of fear, reactivity, and how they affect dogs in the shelter and rescue system and the people they connect with, I wanted to share some of my learnings here over a series of entries. This is a really tough issue when it comes to rescuing dogs, and one I am passionate about.

Best Friends Animal Society reports that 9,000 dogs die daily in shelters across the United States.  And the infographic below helps outline a few important points:

1. One of those most common reasons is for behavior problems
2. Public perception of how many animals die in shelters on the daily: 5% of what it actually is
3. 90% of those dogs that die in shelters are adoptable, or can be with care and treatment.

savethemallinfographic

Image credit bestfriends.org

Save Them All. It’s a powerful idea, and one worth pursuing as a collective rescue community. But for those of us who spend any length of time in the world of rescue, we know it’s easier said than done. With limited resources (space, funds, appropriately matched foster and adoptive homes, hours in a volunteer’s day) and way more dogs going into shelters than heading out, “saving them all” isn’t so easy.

Coming up with clear points that identify the 90% adoptable vs. the 10% unadoptable is another issue that has many more layers of difficulty. Sometimes, a dog may pass all standard behavior tests in the shelter. They may adapt well (or well enough) to different living environments, over and over again, or up to a point. Well meaning volunteers or adopters may push that dog further than it can adapt to, or not recognize warning signs of behavior challenges until they escalate to a point that become more stressful or difficult than they could or should have been.  In fact, this issue is partly addressed by Dr. Yin in her article “Adopting a Dog: Some Dogs are Easier Than Others”  as she writes “passing a shelter evaluation doesn’t mean a perfect pet.”

Dogs with certain behavior challenges and fear based issues can be placed, and I love seeing those hard-to-place dogs go home, to the right home. In my volunteer experience, Lucky Dog has successfully screened homes for and placed MANY fearful dogs, and they thrive in those homes with patient and loving adopters (even if they spend several months or more than a year looking for the right forever). But, as someone who has screened many adoption applications over the years, the #1 behavior issue adopters identify as a deal breaker is aggression. I can count on less than one hand the number of applicants that do not readily and adamantly admit that aggression would be grounds for a return. And I don’t blame them for that.

What I do ask is that we speak honestly about the known and unknown things about their potential new family member, in order to determine if it’s an appropriate match, and I ask that they make an honest commitment to understanding and training their dog as much as they commit to providing necessary medical care. I ask them how they will work with their dog to prevent aggression from developing, and explain the importance of taking a proactive instead of reactive approach to training. I get frustrated (or downright angry) when people adopt a dog with the promise of giving him the best life possible, and then break that promise by not supporting their physical or behavioral health. Adopters who do not address behavior issues early on, allow them to escalate, and then wash their hands of the promise they made frustrate me. But if someone determines prior to adoption that a dog’s overall needs don’t fit their lifestyle, or if after adoption they really, really try to give them that dog but are unable, I can only thank them for sincerity and honesty, and show support in compassion, problem solving, and identifying the right resources and next steps for them. In some cases, this means a dog doesn’t get adopted, or a dog gets returned, and it’s the best thing for that dog.

In a Dogster article by Sassafrass Lowrey on adopting “imperfect” dogs, her words resonate as we work to place dogs in homes where they will be able to stay and thrive. She writes, “I want people to rescue dogs, but I also want rescue dogs to get forever homes — not experience one more rejection. I believe part of that winning combo is transparency about what an individual dog has: their strengths as well as their struggles. Then, the prospective adopting family needs to do thoughtful self-analysis ensure they aren’t just falling in love with a cute face but can and will handle everything about this dog. Don’t judge yourself if the answer is no, this isn’t the right fit for my home/lifestyle/family/wants. It doesn’t make you bad to realize those things; it makes you responsible.”

If we ask adopters to be responsible, we as members of the rescue community need to ask the same of ourselves. And so, there is a delicate line that is toed regularly in the world of rescue: the line between saving all and assessing risk. Sara Reusche of Paws Abilities wrote a very good piece on Responsible Rescues  which addresses some important guidelines which outline the characteristics of a responsible rescue (if you haven’t read it, take a few minutes to…it’s very good). In short, these characteristics are:

1. Focusing on making good matches between animals and adopters
2. Not making excuses for their animals
3. Caring as much for the safety of the adopter and the community as they do their animals, and not placing dangerous animals
4. Working within their means
5. Improving the animals in their care
6. Following up

So, in following these guidelines, and the guideline of “Knowledge is Power,” I’m on a mission to offer some access to educational opportunities that will allow a volunteer-run, foster-based organization to follow these guidelines.

It’s important to recognize the very nature of being a foster dog is stressful, and our role as fosters or rescue volunteer is to “do no harm”. Dr. Yin addressed this in her seminar, and in her book to the veterinary community on Low Stress Handling, Restraint & Behavior Modification of Dogs & Cats. Additionally, Debbie Jacobs of Fearfuldogs.com recently started a series on “Fostering Success” through her blog, and she explains, “The most important role a foster caregiver can play in the life of a dog in transition is to ensure that the dog, at the very minimum, does not develop new fears, concerns or reasons to distrust people. Every dog in the rescue system would have a unique tale to tell, were they able to do so…when these dogs roll the dice they may not be expecting lucky sevens…a foster home should prove to these dogs that their luck has changed, that betting on people being good to them is worth the risk. And there are the dogs who despite everyone’s good intentions remain wary and unsure.”

Dr. Yin said at her seminar, “every time we interact with a dog, we learn something and the dog learns something.” The question then is what are we learning, and what are they learning? In our lessons with dogs, are we teaching them we humans don’t listen to them, and therefore can’t be taught or trusted, or are we ultimately helping them learn the crazy human world we’re asking them to live in is a good one?

Even if we provide positive experience in a foster home, it’s also important to consider many foster based organizations also rely on weekly adoption events to showcase dogs in their care, since they don’t have shelter visiting hours. These events can be super stressful for dogs who are greeted by would-be adopters and random people on the street who can’t resist the cute factor, but may be clueless/rude in the way they greet dogs. This can lead to the development or exacerbation of fear issues in dogs. Dr. Yin says fear is a precursor to aggression, and most dog bites are attributed to a fear response (which we’ll address in some more detail later). Aggression is a normal fear response for a dog, but in our human world, it is inappropriate. A dog who bites, regardless of reason or emotional state, is considered a liability.  Volunteer and public education on recognizing signs of fear and how we humans make fear worse is critical by virtue of this fact alone, as improper greetings and failing to recognize early signs of fear can literally put dogs’ lives at risk.

wronggreet2

Image credit drsophiayin.com

It seems fairly obvious that animal rescues want to rescue animals, and that rescue volunteers have kind hearts and good intentions. Unfortunately, kind hearts and good intentions aren’t enough to prevent or resolve behavior issues, as I came to learn with Balton. I had to get smarter to learn how to work with him and address his fears, and I did (and continue to). Unfortunately, while I was learning how to address his fear, he was learning that behaving aggressively makes scary things go away, and practicing that behavior. Sara Reusche addresses the “practice makes perfect” idea in this post on reactivity, stating “the more your dog engages in any behavior, whether you approve of that behavior or not, the better your dog will get at performing that behavior.”

Seeing how good Balton was with the people he trusted (namely, my husband and me), I was his biggest cheerleader for adoptability to the right home for many months. Then we had a behavior assessment done, and the professional assessment told us otherwise. Our trainers told us in kindness and honesty after observing him “you’re great with him, but you’re not normal.”

They further told us they felt great confidence in my ability to provide him a full life and keep him and others safe, but if asked would they be comfortable with their next door neighbor adopting him, the answer would be no. His social drive was low, his warning system was poor, and despite his tolerance,  acceptance, and eager-to-please affection for those he trusted, he was too quick to bite the people he didn’t. He would require a lifetime of training and management, and our assessment report stated “management is very hard and most people don’t have your level of skill…he is sweet dog, but a project, and likely will be for life.” If we couldn’t adopt him, it would be understandable, but the kindest thing for him would then be euthanasia.

When I first set out to foster Balton I was adamant that we were an okay home for him in that moment, but not for the long haul. He was doing well in our care, and so I while I knew full well his adoption window was small, I thought his love for “his” people would eventually triumph over his challenges. Well, it did, but not quite as I had thought it would. Ultimately, when faced with the decision on how to move forward, I believed Balton had not reached his full potential. I believed there was more for him than months and months of hard work together, scratching the surface of progress made, and a young life cut short. Continuing to be his cheerleader, I believed he deserved better, and I adopted a dog who had been assessed as unadoptable.

My admission of adopting an unadoptable dog is simply that: an admission of a fact. It’s not a bragging right, nor is it a confession of some sort of sin. Some people might celebrate it, some people might condemn it. I’m sure there are a number of good points to argue either. The point is I knew who this dog was, what he needed to be successful, and how to offer it to him. After a series of early mistakes while fostering Balton, and learning from those mistakes, I wanted to do right by him, and felt capable of doing what was necessary. He is so much better than he was a year ago. Our relationship, and the way he and I partner together to handle his fears, has improved by leaps and bounds and taught us both so much.

Having said that, he will always have challenges, and I will never force him to be a dog that he isn’t or fit a mold that others may expect he should fit as a “good dog”. I know he is a good dog, but I also know it would be irresponsible to pass the leash to someone else, given the level of training and management he would require. I was prepared to provide him that training and management, but if I was not, it would also have been irresponsible for me to adopt him.

With Balton’s adoption, I am currently one less available foster home, which may have helped to provide shelter and development to countless other dogs. However,  I also have a much greater knowledge and desire to learn about dog behavior than I had or could have expected before he came to me. I don’t take for granted how little I knew when we started off together, nor do I consider myself an expert today by any means (you can find some experts on my resources page though). Still, I continue to believe Balton came to my life to teach me things, and I don’t want to keep those lessons to myself if they can somehow help other rescue volunteers and the dogs in their care.


Leave a comment

Foster Flashback Friday: Environmental Management

Managing a dog’s environment is something that can lead to great success and great fails (not in the cute happy ending way that Balton likes to talk about either). We’ve seen our share of both, and sometimes even good management can fail (so it’s often wise to have multi-management systems in place). Fostering has taught me there’s a human learning curve when dealing with many dogs, with many individual personalities and their own doggie learning curves for training progress.

Sometimes, you forget that with a new dog, you have to hit reset. This is true for adoptive homes and the perpetual revolving door for foster parents. Bear in mind that even though your last dog or foster dog may not have never chewed anything or required minimal exercise, for example, the new standard of living is going to be different with a new dog. Perhaps if more people went into adoptions with this one thing in mind, we would have fewer dogs being returned to rescues or being dumped at shelters (article credit Dogs Out Loud).

One lesson in environmental management that I often reflect on comes courtesy of one of my favorite fosters, Loopy the one-eyed Rottie mix.

Loopy - Adopted December 2012

There’s something incomparably lovely about a dog who always is winking at you.

Loopy liked to play, run, and cuddle.

ollieloopybed2

15 lbs of dog underneath 55 lbs of dog. Seems reasonable.

We learned pretty soon after her arrival that she also liked to chew. Her most favorite snacks were rolls of paper towels or toilet paper, and electronic cords. In the 3 weeks we had her, I said sayonara to one cell phone charger, one laptop cable, and almost one vacuum (fortunately we have a handy friend who was able helped us fix the vacuum).  All of these items could have been saved if I had been a little more diligent on management.

I knew it didn’t take long for Loopy to find something “delicious” to snack on – we came in from a walk on day one when she dashed into the kitchen and went to town on a paper towel roll that had been left on the floor. 2 seconds was all she needed to destroy stuff. And yet, I somehow was surprised when I took a short break from vacuuming later that day to do some laptop work at my dining room table while Loopy rested near me in the living room. Within minutes, the vacuum plug I had left unraveled on the living room floor was being chewed just outside my periphery.

She was IN THE ROOM WITH ME and I didn’t see it happening. But why did I think that it would be reasonable to just leave the vacuum plug lying on the floor with a known chewer? Well, maybe because I didn’t think she would have an appetite for plugs. So I’ll let myself slide on that one.

Later that day I had to take a shower. While I am a huge fan of crate training (and Lucky Dog requires it when foster parents are out of the home or sleeping), I somehow thought that this lovely dog who had already shown a predisposition for chewing non-food and non-toy items would be okay for the 10 minutes I was indisposed and unable to watch her. Thus, the demise of my laptop cable. What the heck was I thinking by not crating her?

Thankfully, a little collateral damage was all that came from this great day of learning, and Loopy was unharmed. I take full ownership of being a poor environmental manager, and became a lot more diligent about managing Loopy’s environment. I later had the good fortune of completing her home visit with her forever family, and spied a laptop plugged in on the floor. I cautioned they would want to pick that up, offering what I had learned the hard way as a preventative tip for the new adopters.

cb51d-loopyholly

Loopy (now Leela) in her new home with her Pomeranian mix sister (keep an eye on the laptop in the corner!).

It’s important to note that when something gets destroyed or impacted by the result of poor management, it’s not really the dog’s fault. Let me repeat that. When you fail as a manager, it is not your dog’s fault. It is your fault, human. I’ve seen more than a few situations of adopters getting mad at their recently adopted dog when he shows destructive behavior. Then I come to find out that dog was left unsupervised and uncrated (when the dog had been crate trained and was perfectly comfortable in a crate). I’m sorry, but there is no excuse for blaming a dog for the fact that you set up his environment to fail. Mistakes happen. Accidents happen. But we humans are the ones who control the environment and teach our dogs what behavior is appropriate under our supervision. Eventually, those dogs learn and can be entrusted to less supervision. But until they do, we cannot expect them to know what they have not learned, and have no right to get mad at them when we are the ones who screwed up.

Environmental management is obviously not a substitute for real, honest to goodness training, but it definitely can save shoes, cables, and other casualties of dog boredom (or in some cases, anxiety) as you work on teaching a dog appropriate behaviors and building trust in one another.

For a few more good pieces on management, check here (credit Paws Abilities), here (Fearfuldogs.com), here and here (Eileen and Dogs).  In dogs with more serious behavior issues (like our Balton), you can see a few more flashbacks of management in action herehere, and here.

How about you? Any management tidbits that have been helpful with your past or present resident dogs? Or hard knock lessons that resulted in improved management?


8 Comments

Muzzle Up!

“In the world of dog behavior, one of the most essential pieces of safety equipment we have is the muzzle. Unfortunately,  their appearance and the judgments associated with them prevent their usage, sometimes with tragic consequences.”
– Maureen Backman, Mutts About Town & The Muzzle Up! Project

Social media is a beautiful thing sometimes. Last week, an article on my Facebook news feed led me to my most current “I am so excited about this” thing. And let me tell you, I am excited about it.

baltonbigsmile

Those of you who know this blog, or the dog in training who inspires much of it, know that Balton has been a work in progress when it comes to his reactions to people on leash and in the home. While it makes me happy to report that many of his learnings in doggy school seem to be translating to real life, and his confidence in new interactions continues to improve, he is still in training. Because his reactions to the things that scare him lean to the “fight” side of “fight or flight”, and the outside world is unpredictable sometimes, we use a muzzle as an extra layer of management.

For a really long time I was wary of using a muzzle, and I regret not embracing its use earlier on in training. My reason for being so wary was because I was afraid of the stigma that would be attached to it. I read articles about how muzzles are great management tools while training reactive dogs, like this one from Best Friends Animal Society, or this one from Fearfuldogs.com.

I understood the message: Muzzles are important. Muzzles keep people safe. Counter-condition your dog to using the muzzle, and do it, because it is the responsible thing to do.

But, nowhere in these wonderfully informative articles do they address the hangup I had, or the hangup that I suspect a lot of people have with them: Muzzles look scary, and I didn’t want to taint my then foster dog’s public image any further by using one.

Eventually I had a wake up call, and with it, the basket muzzle became staple on all walks. Even the most experienced handlers, trainers, dog walkers, whomever, are susceptible to accidents. No human is immune to human error, and I never again want to find myself in a situation where a dog who may potentially bite actually does, because I was too stubborn and insecure to put a muzzle on him.

It’s now an accessory that accompanies Balton on every walk, every time.  But still, I felt by putting a muzzle on him, I was basically telling the world he was bad. He was broken. He was mean. He was a menace. When in reality, what I wanted people to know was, yes, he’s a DINOS. He’s got his issues that he is working on. But he is a GOOD DOG.

Even for the number of photos I share of my dogs here, and on Facebook and Instagram, I was always wary to post photos of Balton wearing his muzzle for fear of public opinion. I guess there’s an element of identifying your “kid” is not like all the others, but not wanting to plaster it everywhere for people to editorialize about.

Enter the Muzzle Up! Project to help people like me get over the hangups, and be proud to promote muzzle wearing pups like mine. The movement “promotes safety and education on muzzles and dog behavior, and aims to reduce the stigma associated with dogs who have to wear them…It’s not unreasonable that we should be wary of muzzles. After all, their main usage is to prevent dog bites, something we’ve been conditioned to fear. But which scenario is more unsettling: Encountering a dog whose owner has taken the protective measure of using a muzzle, or encountering a dog whose owner is aware of the potential for aggressive behavior but refrains from using one? While the second dog may not look as scary, the lack of muzzle presents a much more dangerous situation.”

So. Very. True. I wish I had this insight six months ago.

But, learning is a process, so while I can’t go back in time, I can pay it forward right now and encourage you to join B and me in spreading the word that muzzles are to be respected, but not to be feared. To help send that message home, here are a few photos of Balton living, loving, and “nuzzling his muzzle”.

To join in the movement, visit The Muzzle Up! Project site or follow them on Facebook.


8 Comments

Learning “Forever”: by Balton

This past weekend was Wags n Whiskers weekend, a big dog event that happens in Shirlington every year…I remember it well, because it was the last weekend I went to Lucky Dog adoption events before they got hard for me.

Wags ‘n Whiskers is also where I met my “forever” family. When I moved in with this family, they signed a form and got me a new collar and leash, and an ID tag with a new name. I figured this place would be special because it was so official looking with the paperwork, and I wanted to hold onto it for as long and hard as I could.

I think maybe I tried to hold on too hard, and I got to be really scared of the things outside my “forever” home. I got scared the scary things would hurt them, or that they would hurt me. The “forever” family took me to a vet who kept touching me in ways I didn’t like, and strange people kept coming up to so fast that I didn’t know what to do but bark and lunge and tell them to please give me space. The vet called me some choice words, among them that I was “aggressive toward everything” and “aggressive without warning”. He said that I was “dangerous to my family and to the public.” He said things like that I shouldn’t be allowed to go to the dog park (one of my favorite places on Earth) and that I should not be approached when eating.

That A word was used a lot, and if I’m being honest, it still hurts my feelings when I think about it.

My “forever” family kept trying to force me to meet new people after a few days. I kept getting scared and asking the new scary people to go away as loudly as I could. I thought maybe the “forever” family couldn’t hear me or didn’t understand me, so I yelled louder. My “forever” family said they were afraid of me, and the scary vet called them to say they should return me. He said that I would turn on them without warning. I didn’t know how to show them that I was really the most afraid of all, and just wanted for them to help me feel safe. They started calling me the A word that the scary vet did, and they said they couldn’t keep me anymore.

I started to think forever wasn’t really anything special. Or maybe I just didn’t understand forever after all.

I got bounced back to the foster care system, and after a few days in doggy daycare, I got picked up to go to another house by a lady, a man, and a little dog.

I worried that like the homes that came before it, I wouldn’t stay very long.

But I stayed. I stayed longer than I ever had stayed in a home before. It was a foster home, but it felt the most real out of the other homes I went to before. When I barked and pulled to get at the scary things so they would leave us alone, they didn’t act afraid of me. Instead, they tried to help me learn that the things weren’t scary, but until I could really learn that, they would work to protect me from them. When they brought me to daycare to play with friends, they came back for me.

Sometimes they made mistakes, but I forgave them. Sometimes, I made mistakes, but they forgave me.

I started remembering that smiling is my favorite.

It’s been a year since I went to my “forever” home, and for awhile after that, I didn’t believe much in forever, but the foster lady kept saying she was going to help me find it. Then one day, the foster lady came home and gave me a new collar. She said that I deserved forever, and said that she would teach me forever. For real forever. And she said I could call her Mama from now on.

dogselfie

Trainer people say that dogs learn best when you show them what you mean, and then pair it with a word after they learn the action. I didn’t understand forever at first, but I sure do understand it now.

I think maybe that’s because my family showed me what it meant before they gave it a name.


Leave a comment

Ode to Ollie

While I love to share moments of great success and interest from Balton, Ollie is my little ray of sunshine who always makes me laugh with his playful and bouncy enthusiasm, and love for pretty much all people and dogs. Last Thursday after class with Balton, I came home, let him settle in, and took Ollie for a walk alone and experienced a “Treat Yo Self” (credit Notes from a Dog Walker) inspired moment.

I love both my dogs, but I think Balton’s level of need tends to overshadow Ollie a little bit. Sharing love is  something I have to do more consciously when one dog demands so much more attention to achieve a sense of normalcy than the other. There’s a lot of internalized guilt in my efforts to show outward displays for both dogs in a way that is equitable.  Last Thursday’s peaceful stroll around the lake was a gentle reminder about how blessed I am to have a dog like Ollie, and how for all the love he has give to me, the many foster dogs we’ve looked after, and the world beyond is not to be taken for granted. In that walk, I discovered a new Thursday night ritual, and I am excited to start a 6 week agility class with him next Tuesday and spend some alone time with my little guy. He deserves it.

Olliesmile

And agility class apparently can’t begin too soon! Those of you who follow us on Facebook may have caught this video that I took of Ollie, just delightfully being Ollie. I’ve rewatched it several times and it continues to make me laugh, so in the spirit of all the joy Ollie brings us regularly, I hope that in less than two minutes he’ll do the same for you, in case you missed it.

“Jack Russell Terriers are bred to go underground, following scent to locate and bark at quarry until they are dug down to or the quarry bolts. If they do not have an outlet for their natural instincts, they will invent new and fun jobs for themselves.”
-Jack Russell Terrier Club of America