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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Thirty Days of Thanks: The Lucky Ones

This Thirty Days of Thanks Series seemed like a really good idea at the beginning of the month. Signing up to complete my one or my BSN program pre-reqs in an 8 week Oct-Dec class also seemed like a really good idea when I registered for the class. Unfortunately, both were pretty ill-timed with an event at my day job I’d been tied up with and losing sleep over for awhile. So between that and then trying to get caught up on Stat studying and homework upon its completion, the typical snowball effect of losing some momentum, plus a couple sprinklings of petsitting and keeping up with my own family’s needs, I got a little bit behind on my notes of thanks. I promise I’ve been counting my blessings though and just keeping my thanks up in my head and down in my heart. Sometimes something’s gotta give, and in this case the blog had to take a backseat to life and other grown-up activities.

I guess I could even argue that it’s something to be thankful to have a life so full that you can afford the luxury of having to prioritize and take a break from writing. Nevertheless, I have a bit of ground to make up, and so over the next few days I’m going to try and offer up some multiple thanks on things while I celebrate this Thanksgiving weekend with my family.

Today, I am going to share some of the work of others to give thanks to the rescue world I hold close to my heart, and to promote something that will do the same.

So, it may already be abundantly clear that I’m a big fan of Jessica Dolce’s Notes From a Dog Walker blog. Her clever, witty posts are always enjoyable reads, and so very often are helpful to caregivers for DINOS, which I sort of signed on to become some time ago without entirely realizing what I was signing on for. It’s worth mentioning that I am SUPER thankful for all the resources I have found incredibly helpful and inspiring through her writings.

Anyway, this time of year, as many people are working to help give gifts of forever homes for the holidays, there are a special crop of people that  I want to acknowledge and say thank you to, who don’t often get the thanks they deserve every moment of every day. And because Jessica honors them so well, I want to credit her tributes and thank her for writing them. I have provided excerpts below from each entry, but I encourage you to click through to the original post to truly have your heart touched.

Each dog takes a journey on their way to forever, and has many touch points along the way. Their first touch point is usually at the hardworking and ever gentle hand of the shelter worker.

“They stand at the doorway each morning and take a deep breath. The dogs, recognizing that they’re no longer alone, have erupted in a cacophony of demands for food, bathroom breaks, attention. Overwhelmed by the noise, hearts pounding, trying to pick a direction to go in first, they say, “I’m coming just as fast as I can everybody. I love you all this morning.” And then they start running…

…They are a vital part of our community. The safety net for our pets. The beating heart deep in our collective hope for a better world for our animals.

They are the magicians, the master jugglers, the contortionists, working endlessly to pull one more miracle out of their bag of tricks. One more life saved by their weary hands. They are the underpaid, overworked operators working the lines until there is a happy ending.”

Pictured here are just a few of the ladies who are the miracle workers of Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, and the heroes I hold responsible for both Ollie and Balton coming to my my life. Stephanie, Tiffany, and Pam are three of the most dedicated ladies who work with two of Lucky Dog’s shelter partners, and countless lives are owed to their dedication down in the trenches (photo credits to Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, Cris Ghillani, and Virgil Ocampo).

The next touch point a shelter pup finds holding its leash on the road to rescue is the volunteer.

“They are the worker bees, absolutely essential to the bustling hive that is the shelter. They work together towards a common goal: saving lives.

They discover that they themselves have found a home among the temporarily homeless.

The work is tough, but they feel uplifted, empowered and proud. They are contributing to a cause, making a difference in every single life they touch. A community is discovered, new friends are made, a purpose is revealed, a fire is lit!”

Volunteers make their impact down in the shelters where Lucky Pups come from, and once they arrive here to the DC area, Lucky Dog volunteers come in many forms: drivers, handlers, home visit volunteers, adoption coordinators, event team members, weekly volunteer email composers, community members like trainers, groomers, boarding facilities, veterinarians, dog boutiques, and photographers who donate their services in order to make a difference for one lucky, precious life at a time (and as I write this, Lucky Dog’s volunteers and the 6,000+ lives they’ve saved are thanked in this lovely guest blog post featured in NovaDog Magazine’s blog!). We’re not kidding when we say it really does take a village, and there can never be too many volunteers. Below is a sampling of LDAR volunteers from all walks of life at this year’s Strut Your Mutt walk with Best Friends Animal Society, who collectively raised over $18,000 to help more even more pups, and had fun doing it. Many hands working hard, making great things happen. That’s what volunteering is about.

symteamphotoAnd in the world of rescue, the final bridge on the road to forever tends to be the foster family.

“They do their best to balance holding tight and letting go. It is a tricky dance to care so deeply for a guest, since dogs stay forever in our hearts. But when people tell them, “I couldn’t foster because it would be too hard to give the dog up.” They say, “How can it be harder than knowing a dog died because no foster home stepped up?” And that is why they do it time and again.

And while they worry they might not be strong enough to let this one go, something special happens: The right adoption application arrives!

They lifted a single soul up, out of the crowd and floating on their hands, their foster dog arrived in the arms of the family that has been searching for him. It was all worthwhile.”

angelallison

Fosters Angel and Allison with their now-adopted-former-fosters, Randy and Wilson

In the new year, tribute will be paid to the touch points that act as stepping stones on the Lucky Dog journey, thanks to a documentary being created by Creative Liquid Productions called “The Lucky Ones.” The film will premiere in January 2014 here in the DC metro area, but the trailer can be viewed on “The Lucky Ones” landing page now. Check it out, and stay tuned for premiere details as they become available!

PS – In case anyone is counting, this brings today’s not-too-shabby thank you tally to 6:

  1. to full life
  2. to Jessica Dolce/Notes from a Dog Walker/Dogs In Need of Space
  3. to shelter workers
  4. to volunteers
  5. to fosters
  6. to Creative Liquid Productions

By my count I still owe at least 7 extra thank yous to get caught up, but I will get there!

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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.


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My Fosters, My Teachers

Somewhere down the road, fostering went from being a thing I did to help get a puppy fix, to being something I felt compelled to do for the dogs that I really felt maybe needed it a little more.  It started with a shy Chihuaha named Star, who needed to change fosters and go to a place with a second confident dog. Consequently, she got adopted two days later, but within 24 hours I could see a turnaround in her demeanor, and it warmed my heart. Once all 9 lbs of Star went onto her forever home, I found myself agreeing to take a 55 lb Rottie mix who had needed to have her eye removed. Sweet Loopy was a total lamb, a goofball and a complete awkward young adolescent with boundless energy. But all this was irrelevant when I agreed to take her home, for all I knew was she couldn’t go to doggie daycare because of her recent medical procedure.

After Loopy, there was Suga, Seth, and Cora Beth – all painfully shy and all needing a human willing to earn their trust. I learned a lot about how faith in humanity can be lost, and how it is a slow path to restoring that faith – if not in the whole of humanity, than at least in the couple of humans that occupy their world. Seth also offered the profoundly painful learning experience of how to pick up the pieces when the life you hoped to bridge to a long life of happy ever after, goes instead to the rainbow bridge.

My time cut short with Seth has taught me to learn that, well, there is always something to be learned, but you just need to sometimes dig a little to find the lesson. I think my fosters have come into my life at specific times to teach us what we need to learn at that given moment. They move on when they are ready to, and when they think they’re ready for us to move on. Timing seems to be everything.

So, as I reflect on the last 6 and a half months, I find myself asking what Balton is trying to teach us? Clearly, we haven’t yet graduated his course in foster continuing education, since he’s still here. There are days when I feel and see the progress we are making, and other days where I really question if I’m doing things right. I’ve had the question asked a few times about how a dog like Balton could ever successfully transition into a forever family, given his stranger danger how he shows his fear when situations make him uncomfortable.

I see forward progress through small victories, such as being able to let people bypass on the trails with less distance, bit by bit. Or recovering with more ease from the stress of children running and yelling outside our front window. But there are things that still prove to be a struggle, such as inviting guests into our home. To some degree, we have learned how to manage these interactions, but it’s still hard. Someone outside his circle of trust moving around or creating any sort of a “disturbance” is incredibly stressful for him, and so for two consecutive weekends when we had visiting guests, we tried to minimize stress (for Balton and the guests he kept barking at) through trips to the dog park and walks together, through marrow bones and high value treats, through baby gating, crating, and time away from the action.

So often I wish I could get into his little doggy brain and understand why certain triggers and certain environments make him feel and act the way he does. And while that may not be possible, I have learned ways to help him feel like he can take things on with greater confidence, and that he can trust the people who care for him to know that someone’s got his back. Developing a strong, trusting relationship with Balton has been but one layer of  setting Balton up for success, but it’s the foundation that all his other training rests upon. I’ve been grateful to learn about relationship based training in the resources provided by Suzanne Clothier, which consistently makes me now ask the question “how is this for you?” when working with Balton. Now, we are working on giving him some more tools to help him to give more polite cut off signals to people who make him nervous, thanks to the support and guidance of Grisha Stewart and BAT.

It’s been speculated by some that Balton has already found his forever home, as those of us in the rescue community can’t help but think after a foster dog hangs out in his foster home longer than the average bear. While it’s a thought that has crossed my mind on a few occasions, I look ahead, as I always do, when thinking about “foster failure” and what it all means, and consider if I can offer long term what is needed 15 years down the road (as we ask all prospective adopters to). Until I can definitively say yes to that question I ask myself, I know the right thing to do is to continue fostering and ultimately pass the leash when he and his forever family are ready for it and find each other. While there are challenges, and their are always lessons to be learned, we get to enjoy in the daily experiences of the happy, contented, sweet and affectionate dog you see below.

Image

I don’t know how or why Balton got dealt the hand he was dealt before he came to Lucky Dog, and why his fears didn’t emerge until a time where Cora Beth conveniently got adopted, and the stage was set for him to move in with Nick, Ollie and me. I also don’t know how long he will stay here until the right forever family comes along. But I do know that forever family exists, and they will be very lucky to have Balton be part of theirs. I find encouragement from things I happen to read at just the right time, like this great piece on “Leash Gremlins” in all their forms, and how reactive dogs are not unadoptable dogs, they just need those right tools to be successful, and allow their humans to understand them a little better.

Balton is helping us understand a little better.

I also find myself encouraged when I get notes from our Dog Walker, Alex, from Good Dog Pet Care – who was very patient in working with us over the course of about 2 and a half weeks, when Balton vehemently objected to a stranger walking him mid-day. Time, patience, compassion, and the help of a doggy friend has helped build their relationship, and we are fortunate to chronicle Balton’s journey on a daily basis from a different set of eyes. Today’s mid-day note, a teaser for tonight’s journal entry, reads, “What a lovely day! They boys did great. Nothing was too disturbing or strenuous. Awesome.”

balton trail

Awesome indeed.

To adopt Balton, visit www.luckydoganimalrescue.org or email lynnh@luckydoganimalrescue.org 


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A Change of Scenery

Hello friends and followers of the blog space formerly known as A Lucky Dog’s Lucky Blog! As you might have already guessed, we are relocating and rebranding a bit. The reasons for our move to WordPress and changing up our name are not terribly interesting, but worth being forthright about, in the tradition of how we roll at A Lucky Dog’s Lucky Blog, which will now go by its new name of Faith, Trust, and Foster Pups.

We started our little blog here in 2011, with a pretty simple and straightforward goal: to find some homes for some dogs at Lucky Dog Animal Rescue in Washington, DC. Hence the simple and straightforward name to go along with it. However, it later came to my attention that there was another blog out there with a super similar name, the Lucky Dog Rescue Blog, which supports some other very passionate rescue efforts affiliated with Ashley Owen Hill and Lucky Dog Rescue in Meridian, MS. A quick glance will show that there is already quite a large follow base there, and it got me to thinking that I don’t want to dilute/confuse efforts. I had also sort of wanted to switch out of Blogger and move over to WordPress, so the timing seemed good as any to make the jump.

Snooooze mama Lynn, this story is boring.

Snooooze mama Lynn, this story is boring.

Obviously, the stars of this show (present foster Balton and resident foster brother Ollie) are unimpressed, and ready for me to move on and start talking about them again. So, that is what I intend to do. As I have shared the many stories of the many dogs who have spent some time in our home (some with longer stays than others), I have learned a lot about them, and in doing so, more than I could have possibly hoped to learn about myself. As time has gone on, I have come to find my greatest teachable moments have been from the foster dogs who have needed a little extra support. Who have taken a little longer to come around, have required a little extra patience, and who have had me work a little harder to build their faith and trust. In doing so, I’ve had to also dig deep to find faith and trust in myself, and continue learning and growing right along with them.

These are their stories – which I hope you will find endearing since I hope to find their forever homes. But these are also my stories – which I hope you will find useful in some other way. My fosters have taught me many unexpected lessons, and have helped me to discover unexpected things within myself.

I hope my musings might help whoever stumbles here do some learning and discovering of their own, and also help my fosters find a home of their own.