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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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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Thirty Days of Thanks Day 12: Grace

I admit I am not always the best version of me. Lord knows I try, but sometimes I fail. And sometimes maybe I don’t try hard enough. I can be angry, I can be envious, I can hold grudges, I can fail to see the forest through the trees.

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I do believe in grace. I also realize grace is granted, not earned. And when someone grants you grace, you need to be thankful for that, and find a way to grant it back to someone else.

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I try to be mindful of that, and seek opportunities to be graceful to others. And in my darker moments, I am thankful for the grace of God, and the grace granted to me by these three beautiful hearts who stand alongside me.

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Take a moment today to be graceful, to be gracious, to be grateful.


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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.

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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


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Love Knows No Bounds in the Hearts of Rescue Humans

Okay, so the last time I checked in I was feeling a bit of a grumpy Gus about things. Sometimes we go through bouts of hardship when it comes to our overall life progress, and I have to remember that sometimes, even the best of us have bad days. The lesson within the challenges life sends our way is to acknowledge them, learn from them, and move on from them. Moving on from them may sometimes involves backtracking a bit to a different spot on the game board and once again advancing forward (our canine agility course is sometimes more like Chutes and Ladders).

Rescue is hard sometimes. For as many happy ever afters as there are, there are things that break our hearts. Some dogs don’t make it from the shelter to rescue. Others get sick after we think they are saved and require expensive treatment. In some cases, they don’t survive and we mourn their loss. Still others get adopted, and for some reason or another, it doesn’t work out. We ask that if that happens, the dog get returned to the rescue he came from. But it always stings when a dog you thought had found the end of their yellow brick road still has some miles in the foster care system to go. Some dogs come off the transport van and go straight to their happy ending. Others wait for months and months in foster care. Sometimes, it’s simply because they are overlooked. Sometimes, it’s because they need a little extra – and the family that can provide that little extra is still out there, waiting to be discovered.

A college friend of mine follows this blog, and sent me a lovely note last week. I asked her if I could share it here, and she graciously said yes. So, for all my humans that sometimes feel discouraged by the harder moments of loving animals as much as you do, I hope this resonates.

“I have some exciting news, we adopted a dog! (My husband) and I have been discussing it the past several months and decided it was time. We started looking on Petfinder…had a few ‘not the right fits’ and even one ‘he’s already been adopted’.

So, I went to a Petco event this weekend for FARR (Florida All Rescue Retrievers & Friends) and met Snapshot (name subject to change).. he’s a 4 month old Shepherd/Rottie or Dobie/maybe Lab mix. His foster mom said he’s a sweet boy but he’s a bit shy and skiddish and probably had a rough go at it before he got to her. She wanted him to go to a family who had patience and a little extra love for him. He warmed up to me over about an hour and walked the store with me and even snuggled a little. We decided he’s worth the extra efforts and is already making great strides.

Now, for the point of my note to you. I wanted to say thanks for all your posts, blogs, pictures and especially your stories of Balton, whether good or not so good. You are one of the reasons I knew it was so important to rescue a dog and with a little patience and lots of love, every dog can be the best dog he can be. I feel confident that with some knowledge and lots of time, I too can help my pup come out of his shell and see all the fun things ahead of him.

BTW, as much as you wanted to find B a good home, we all knew he already found it! Those 2 are so darn cute!

So, thanks for being so passionate about rescuing pets and spreading the word to as many people as you do!”

Snapshot, now Jake, is pictured below in all his adorable glory. I had no idea that my love for my fosters and the other pups I come in contact with would ultimately play a part in his finding such a wonderful family, which I think is why the note was that much more profound. For every volunteer and rescue/shelter worker out there losing sleep, shedding tears, and loving without bounds, there are hundreds and thousands of Jakes out there who span many miles, grateful for you and touched by your hearts. And I am endlessly grateful to know you all.

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Language Translations Through the Leash

I am grateful to have had a few opportunities to travel to foreign countries in my relatively young life. Living in a place where you don’t speak the native language can be exciting and interesting, but it can also be uncomfortable, and at times, downright terrifying and upsetting.

While on a chaperoned High School Trip to Paris, we were allowed opportunities to explore the city on our own, in small groups. During our last day in Paris,  I recall being swindled by a street artist at the young age of 15, crying with frustration and unable to sufficiently argue in the native tongue that I had been ripped off (I had studied French for two years, but was far from conversational in a general means). As I sat on a stoop, sobbing, another artist took pity on me, and kindly drew a new charcoal picture for me, at no charge. I gave him the last 50 francs in my wallet because I was so moved. We said nothing to each other, but knew what the other was saying quite clearly.

I suspect that for dogs, much of life feels like being in a foreign country, but their caretakers don’t speak their language. In fact, they speak to them in an unknown language, and there are even differences between their body language. Or sometimes, they just tend to disregard some of the clear messages dogs send with their body language, and cross the lines of what is socially acceptable physical behavior in the human world in an effort to communicate with dogs, as depicted below:

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I’m pretty sure before I knew any better, I was socially rude and awkward to a lot of dogs. Sometimes, I probably still am when I’m not thinking straight. In our human interactions, we can get away with being rude when other people are too polite themselves to tell you how your staring at them and reading over their shoulder makes them super uncomfortable. Or that they don’t like to be hugged.

Then there are those who will call you out on your rudeness. I had a bartender one time who thought I had stiffed her on a tip, when in reality, I just left the tip in cash instead of with the credit card I used to pay my bill. It was all a misunderstanding when she yelled at me from across the crowded bar to tell me how she felt about the fact I had not tipped her, and when I assured her she had indeed received a gratuity, pointing to the bills I left on the bar, her gaze fell and she was a bit sheepish. However, if I had stiffed her, I would have definitely deserved to get called out for it.

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot about canine communication. This has been essential to learning how to work with Balton, and learning how to help him deal with (or get out of) situations that cause him to react. More importantly than that, I’ve had to learn about communicating with Balton and speaking on his behalf.  People look at shy dogs hiding behind your leg with sympathy, and perhaps they are the equivalent of the person who is too polite to be direct (though, I’ve had fosters hide under cars to get away from the people that make them uncomfortable, which I suppose some might qualify as direct).

People look at fearful reactive dogs with disdain and concern, as if their fears are somehow less real, and the human attached to their leash should be ashamed for allowing their communication efforts. But their fears are no less real, they are just more candid about them. Sort of like my bartender who was more candid about gratuity etiquette than perhaps I would have been, likely muttering under my breath instead about the would-be patron’s lack of consideration.

In no way do I mean to shrug off the behavior of a dog who is reactive, or imply that they pose no threat if not handled safely and responsibly. But, to discount their fear as any less real because they express it more loudly is just not fair.

I’m currently in the last few chapters of Suzanne Clothier’s “Bones Would Rain From The Sky: Deepening Our Relationship With Dogs.” This book has been very eye opening, and while I could never hope to effectively or eloquently sum up what Clothier illustrates in putting pen to paper, I am taking its lessons and using them to look at my own foster with refreshed eyes. I know that for all his challenges, Balton is (as Clothier says all dogs are) truthful in what he communicates. Through the last 8 months, it has effectively become my mission to understand his messages. It has become my goal to speak to him in a way he understands, and doesn’t need to fear, when so much of the world beyond me can cause him such panic.

Nick and Balton engaging in a delightful conversation.

Nick and Balton engaging in a delightful conversation.

I’ve pulled a lot of especially good quotes from Clothier in my reading, and the one that has thus far pulled my heartstrings the tightest was this one:

“To my way of thinking, a critical part of the relationships I have with my animals and anyone I love is this promise: “I will protect you.” And to the best of my abilities, I do not violate this promise in any way. To keep that promise, I must be vigilant and willing to step into harm’s way on their behalf…To be a dog’s protector, to champion his rights at all times even when it means stepping up and speaking out on his behalf, this is a true gift of loving leadership.”

No dog should ever have to feel as I did that sad day when a French street artist ripped me off. So, while we may not always speak the same language (and to my knowledge, no such Rosetta Stone exists for the language of dog), I shall try every day to help speak with, and for, my foster dog. I will be vigilant in being Balton’s protector, and trying to speak to the world in a language they can understand, while also speaking to Balton in a language he gain some comfort from, and listening intently to the words he has to say.