Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Smitty (AKA, "Buster")

Weekends at the shelter are usually a great time - some of the most amazing folks volunteer there, and Saturday is when most of them can shake loose from the daily grind and come play. One of my favorite volunteers is a guy who always seems to have an extra bit of happiness to share around, and a real way with dogs both large and small. After having spent time exercising dogs ranging from Chihuahuas to a St. Bernard, he got ready to call it a day and hopped in his car.

A few minutes later, he came back into the shelter with this young fellow in tow. While leaving, he had seen a couple of guys in a truck slow down a bit, chuck this poor dog out onto the sidewalk (at about 10-15 miles an hour), and speed away. Without pausing a beat, he had pulled over, scooped up the pup, and whisked him back to the shelter to be checked out.

When I got back to the shelter (I was away when it had happened), young Smitty was sitting in his kennel, shaking and looking around nervously. Moreover, he hadn't touched his food. I sat down next to him, casually looking around and waiting for him to calm down. Smitty - who I straightaway nicknamed "Buster," owing to both his earlier pratfall and his deadpan face - sniffed at me cautiously, then licked the air nervously. I gently petted his shoulder, and he crawled right into my lap and promptly fell asleep. I felt so guilty when I had to finally get up and go, but he took it in stride, and nibbled a bit at his dinner.

Monday, Sophie and I decided to brave the rain and take Buster out for a few photos. He was very calm and friendly, though he kept trying to crawl up into my lap whenever he had the chance. Remarkably, he seems to have walked away from his tumble with only a few minor scratches and scrapes, which made me very happy.

When I had to clean his kennel later on, I simply clipped his lead to one of my belt loops, and he followed me so well he never even took the slack out of the leash. And when I was in the kennel next door with Chester, I would periodically glance up to see Buster's eager face bounce up over the kennel wall, then back out of sight. It seems like now that he's seen a bit of comfort and affection, he's very hesitant to let it slip away.

Best of all, I saw him smile today - something I hadn't seen since he came in.

UPDATE (August 1):


UPDATE (August 14): Two weeks. Buster was with us for only 13 days, then he was gone - the "kennel cough" that he'd contracted had masked the only early symptoms of canine distemper, a far more serious (and lethal) infection. By the time any tangible symptom had appeared (in Buster's case, myoclonus of the facial muscles), it was far too late. In less than twenty-four hours, he was beset by pneumonia, encephalitis, disorientation and seizures. He might have been able to hold on another day, perhaps less; and if by some miracle he survived (CDV is untreatable), he would have suffered horrifically and been left destroyed both physically and mentally.

It was an impossibly painful decision, but we decided that Buster's last memories should be ones that would give him comfort, not agony or fear or hysteria. He was euthanized by anesthesia overdose yesterday, and his body cremated to prevent any other animals from being contaminated.

I can handle the grief - the sorrow, the pain of loss. I can cope with the guilt that I'd let him down so very badly, and wasn't able to save him. The only thing I can't grapple with right now is the anger; the abject disgust for the reason he was in the shelter in the first place, the reason he got sick. The reason he died.

The chance that a mature dog will contract CDV is remakably small, assuming that the human who is responsible for him gives enough of a shit to keep his vaccinations up-to-date. Because someone couldn't be bothered though, Buster is dead.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Just a couple of weeks after we began volunteering at the animal shelter, Sophie ran across this tiny ball of fur. It looked to everyone like a cross between a Husky and a potato (because up until a certain age, all dogs look pretty much like potatoes). As Sophie sat with the puppy, named "Rufus," snuggling and comforting it, the Shelter Director walked up and nodded in their direction.

"That puppy's too young to stay here. It'll need a foster home." She punctuated the latter sentence with what novelists refer to as 'a significant look'.

After discussing it with Sophie, we agreed that - ready or not - someone would have to step up, and it might as well be us. Thus began two months' worth of attempted house-training, socializing, and looking for a good, stable owner to adopt him. The sleepless nights came as an added bonus. Four aborted adoption missions later (and five other foster animals come and gone), we finally threw in the towel and declared him a "foster failure," as the shelter employees teasingly refer to it. Since he had spent 75% of his life with us thus far, we figured he could stick around for the rest of it.

Rufus has his own Blogger page, "Raising the Rufus," where we basically natter on about some of the ups and downs of bringing up a puppy (now an adolescent dog) in our bizarre little world. Maybe we'll even discuss some things that we learn along the way about what to do - and what not to do - when forging a relationship with (hopefully) the furriest member of your family.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Shelter Diaries, June & July '09

Dedicated to Sophie, my reason for everything.
And to Jenny - There's going to be an empty spot
in our lives just your size.

Sarge, Part 2: Fetch!

Through some logistical miracle, Sarge has managed to hang on at the shelter for nearly a week now. Yesterday, I needed to take young Nedra (who appears to be a Pointer/Jack Russel Terrier Mix... talk about your energetic dogs!) out to burn off some excess jitters. Sarge wasn't at all happy about being indoors on such a nice day, so I took him out as well. I figured, why not let the old fella' hang about and watch the puppy ricochet around? Why not, indeed.

I threw a tennis ball across the yard, and Nedra chased it playfully. Sarge watched intently. The next throw was a bank-shot off of a wall, and Nedra homed in on it like a missile. Suddenly, there was a flash of black, a flurry of grass, and the ball was gone from under her nose. Sarge ambled over to me, chewing the tennis ball absently, and dropped it at my feet. A few more throws saw the two dogs racing each other to the ball, having a grand old time. Then Sarge leapt up and snatched the ball out of the air. After that, little Nedra plopped down where she stood, and just watched the old German Shepherd admiringly.

Pretty darned spry for an 8-year-old...

Today was another good day for fetch, and Sarge got to stretch his legs solo this time. He's not too keen on the big red rubber ball, but the felt-covered tennis balls bring out the puppy in him. I honestly had no idea that he could run that fast, jump that high, or scramble that nimbly. It was obvious that he was having a great time, and just as obvious how proud he was when he'd manage to grab the ball in-flight. And every time, without fail, he'd bring the ball back to me, ready for another go.

After a good, long game, I decided it was time to head inside. I put the ball down, walked over to the gate, and picked up Sarge's leash. He followed cheerfully, but stopped a few feet short. Looking around for a second, he darted back across the yard, grabbed the tennis ball, and nudged it into my hand. We did a second round of fetch, until he seemed satisfied. Then he politely tucked his head into his leash, and we headed back inside.

All the way from the playpen to the back door of the kennel area, he pranced along like a puppy as he walked.

UPDATE (7/27): When we came to the shelter today, Sarge was gone. We figured he'd been euthanized first thing in the morning, but it turns out the old boy was adopted! We are thrilled for him and hope he and his new family are a good match. Much love to you, Sarge and to Ryan and Addie, his new "parents!"

Friday, July 24, 2009


Another dog that came in under less-than-great circumstances, Lester falls under the category of "Abandonment," or as I usually think of it, "Cruelty by Stupidity."

I'm not certain if Lester's owner was leaving for good (as in the case of Wendy and Mike), or just stepping out for an extended vacation - in either case, they felt that Lester would be fine on his own. Locked in an apartment for over a week, if I remember correctly. But just in case the little fella' could figure out how to open the door or order a pizza, his thoughtful owner added a few extra safety measures. Here's what he was wearing when he came into the shelter:

Sadly, Lester did not get to sport this high-fashion accessory for long. Shortly after coming in, he caught his collar on his kennel door and nearly hanged himself to death. If it weren't for the quick thinking (and quick action) of one of the Animal Control Officers, Lester could have been seriously injured or worse. And I don't even want to think about what would have happened if something similar had occurred when Lester was alone behind a locked door.

His first night there, Lester was considered pretty much unapproachable. He barked furiously at anyone who came near, jumping around and chewing nervously on his kennel. Having the luxuries of both time to watch him and a kennel door between us, I studied his barking and his movements. With each bark, he'd turn his head away, and he became shriller as you got nearer his kennel. Both of those are indicators of fear rather than aggression - not necessarily less dangerous, mind you - but a foundation to start with nonetheless.

When feeding time rolled around, hunger overpowered Lester's fear. He wagged furiously, jumping and smiling when I showed up with a bowl full of kibble. Cautiously, I waited for him to sit before turning the bowl over to him. After the first three bites, he turned and licked my hand furiously, waited for my approval, then buried his face in the bowl again. I left with the feeling that young Lester was going to be all right after all.

Since then, Lester has made an amazing turn-around. He plays well with the other dogs (although he definitely fancies himself near the top of the social ladder), is oh-so-close to figuring out what "fetch" is about, and generally loves romping around. With judicious application of treats, I managed to even get him to sit down calmly when asked. And in an uncanny show of lucidity, he learned "sit" in three repetitions (darned good for any dog), "lie down" in only two, and nailed "roll over" on the first try.

Of course, he'll probably be as scatter-brained as ever tomorrow. But who knows? Lester's been full of surprises so far.

UPDATE (July 29): Apparently, Lester never really calmed down and focused enough around anyone but me. We spent some time yesterday working on obedience commands in his kennel, since the weather wouldn't allow for outside play. He still knew how to sit and lie down, so we worked a while on "roll over," "sit up high," and "stay." Although we had only limited success, I was still very proud of him. Lester's favorite was "roll over," since that meant he got free tummy rubs.

Today, six dogs were euthanized to make room for incoming animals. Fortunately, Chester was not one of them - but sadly there was only rescue room for one Pit Bull (and Chester was by far the calmest of them all).

Lester had already been put to sleep by the time I reached the shelter this afternoon. He was so young, had been through so much, and had come so far beyond it. Even though I knew there was almost no chance he'd be adopted or rescued, I'm taking his passing extremely hard.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Although we see our share of injured and ill animals at the shelter, we don't often come across actual cases of "animal cruelty." That makes me quite happy. Unfortunately, we've had two dogs come in under that heading this week, and we'll try to feature both.

The first one is Chester. He's a good example of what would be "cruelty by neglect," or as I'd label it, "cruelty by ignorance." An animal control officer arrived on the scene, and found this poor fellow trying to re-define the term "hot dog," locked up in a car. It was 104° outside, and the owner later pointed out that the windows in the car "were open an inch or two." Regardless , when they dropped a thermometer through the window, the officer found that it was 137° inside the car. Let me repeat that, because so many people don't realize how extreme this can be: almost 140° inside the car. That is quite often hot enough to kill a dog in 15 to 30 minutes' time.

For two full days afterward, Chester was pretty much a basket case. He trusted absolutely no one, and didn't want to be touched - or near people at all. Even working with him as slowly, deliberately and carefully as I could, the best I could do was get him to eat out of my hand for a couple of minutes before he'd slink back to the far corner of his kennel. The other folks at the shelter had similar luck, and although everybody was pulling for him, it was determined that he would ultimately be completely unadoptable. The decision didn't set well with anyone, but what else can be done with a dog you can't touch, handle, or even approach?

The following morning at feeding time, Chester was waiting happily at the front of his kennel, pleasant as you please. And by about lunch time? I got a phone call from Sophie: "Hi! I'm at the shelter. Guess who's laying here with me, getting his tummy rubbed right now? Guess!" Literally overnight, Chester had gone from near-paralytic and unapproachable to friendly, outgoing and begging for play and affection. People have long vaunted the resilience of dogs, and Chester made me realize just how deep and strong that streak of resilience can be.

Later that day, he got hit litmus test - outside in the play yard, with a whole pack of Pit Bulls, an American Bulldog, and even a little Australian Cattle Dog pup. Chester was right in the middle of things, still a little bit shy with the people around him, but having a great time. Unexpectedly, he pulls on his leash a bit, and is definitely not a shrinking violet when it comes to the pecking order with other dogs. He's far from a bully, though - when he got too uppity with Colleen (a particularly submissive Pit Bull), Jenny (the Most Awesome Pit on the Planet™) put him back in line with a sharp bark from a neighboring yard. Given a little time to adjust to having so much friendliness around him, I think Chester's going to turn out to be quite the affectionate gentleman.

UPDATE 7/31: Chester was euthanized after contracting parvo. He was a good, sweet dog for all the days we knew him. Chester, you filled our hearts and they're a bit broken now without you.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Clifford when he arrived at the Irving Shelter
(photo by Russell Posch)

Every now and then, you run across a dog that changes how you think about animals entirely. For me, Clifford is without a doubt one of them.

He arrived at the shelter when I wasn't there, so the first I saw of him was a rather pathetic lump of fur in the middle of a kennel floor. He was dehydrated and malnourished, and had quite likely not been bathed or brushed for most of his seven-year life. His eyes were milky, his tail as bare as a rat's, and he seemed to have a perpetual snarl on his face that was rather off-putting. And something about him just tightened around my heart and wouldn't let go.

I mixed puppy kibble with wet food, and brought it to him to nibble on while I brushed out his tangled mass of fur. About an hour later, Clifford looked slightly more dog-like, and the floor was sooty with the dirt of ages. I got a few half-hearted tail wags before I left, and that was more than enough.

In the days that followed, Clifford was bathed and fed. His fur became less matted, his eyes brighter, and his energy level much higher - he still had his "rat tail," but that was all right. And the snarl turned out to be nothing more than an awkward fatty tumor on his cheek. Things were on a slow and steady climb for my timid pal. Then one day, everything changed.

Returning from a walk outside, Clifford insisted on veering a hard right away from his kennel. What was originally a brief detour turned into a walk around the entire shelter, with Clifford pausing in front of each new dog that had come in. He was making the rounds, greeting each one and trying to embolden the frightened dogs. After that, Clifford stuck with me whenever I could let him, helping out as our original "therapy dog for dogs." Every bit of kindness we gave him, he seemed to pass along to timid and frightened neighbors tenfold. Except for Olson.

Olson was a bit of a problem dog - big, bossy, aggressive, and disrespectful. Doubly so toward other dogs. One day, when Clifford and I passed his kennel, Olson launched himself at the door, barking and snarling at the little spaniel as if he were going to chew his way through the wire. Clifford stood his ground, slowly turned, and just stared at the larger dog, clearly unimpressed. Olson barked again, a bit less confidently. Then timidly. Then he retreated to the back of his kennel, and curled up on the floor. Clifford turned to me, wagged his tail, and we continued onward as if nothing had happened.

As all great shelter dogs should be, Clifford was rescued, then adopted. He was given to someone as a gift, however, and the recipient didn't want a dog. Shortly thereafter, he found himself back at the Dallas SPCA. Since then, he's tested positive for heartworms as well. With his age and health counting against him, they've not found a good home for him yet (although his heartworm treatment is already paid for, apparently).

Clifford now, at the Dallas SPCA

If you have patience, dog-savvy, and a quiet place for him to recover, I would think that Clifford could be a great companion. He got perfect marks on his behaviour tests, even - no small feat for a spaniel. Although he's probably a bit long in the tooth to even consider training as a therapy dog, I would love nothing in the world more than for him to hook up with someone far more talented than I, who can bring out that "spark" I saw in him, and nurture it into true greatness.

UPDATE (July 29): Clifford's profile isn't on the SPCA page anymore. I really, really hope that means he was adopted over the weekend. The world kind of needs a dog like him about now, I think.


I have to admit, it puzzles me a bit when I see older dogs and cats being brought into the animal shelter. Don't get me wrong; I know why a lot of people do it, and I understand their reasoning.

I've seen a 14-year-old Cocker Spaniel at the shelter. In human terms, that's close to being a centenarian. Failing eyesight, dental problems, and a tumor about the size of a tennis ball on one shoulder. Not easy to look at and remember that it was once a bouncing puppy just a few short years ago. Heartbreaking to realize that same bouncing puppy quite likely won't be around much longer. In our own household, it's been a rough 18 months; we've lost a cat to illness, a bird to old age, and we have another aged cat who will be lucky if he survives another few months. It's never easy on the pet owners.

But I'd think that it's harder for the pets themselves.

I'm pretty sure that Sarge has no idea what he's doing here. He's part German Shepherd, and looks like he might have a little Akita in him as well. He's strong for his age, and confident. He's good with other dogs most of the time, even the little puppies who just don't understand what respecting one's elders is all about. Sure, his eyes may not be what they were eight years ago, and he's got some patches of dry skin and shots of grey in his fur. You'd have a hard time convincing him that any of that triviata matters, though.

I like walking with good ol' Sarge. I'm a "big dog" kind of person anyway (as if dogs like Johann and Engel weren't a giveaway there), but there's a certain ineffible quality that a lot of older dogs bring with them that's as delightful as it is elusive. Dignified but not too stuffy; proud, yet strangely affable: Sarge tries to shoot for that narrow line between the contradictions. He sometimes even manages to pull it off without too many malaprops.

Don't get me wrong - Sarge is far from genteel at times. He doesn't really understand why you look at him crossly for marking that tree, or for "mounting" that uppity youngster up in his grill. I think he genuinely assumes that every other dog in the world admires him, and he's like some kind of "Awkward Uncle Albert" trying too hard to be groovy with the younger set. He doesn't argue or complain when you correct him, but it's really, really hard to be stern with him; Sarge just carries that much unabashed affection in him.

As I write this, I know that he's been at the shelter far too long. And I know he may well be gone forever (or gone to live with someone else) before I get a chance to see him again. Strange as it sounds, a part of me is perfectly fine with that. No matter what happens from this point on, I know that Sarge managed to figure out something really important. Something that a lot of people never even come close to realizing, with all their superior brainpower.

Sarge has found his happy place, and it's not a place at all. It's wherever he happens to be.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ways to Help Your Local Shelter

Those of us that love animals tend to already have a lot of them. We always want to do more, but often it seems like we don't have the space or the money to take in another dog or cat in need. But there are other ways in which folks can help make the lives of shelter animals a bit brighter, and although they may not have the glamour of sweeping in to rescue a pet from certain doom, they are all important and necessary to keeping the animals happy and comfortable, no matter what the final outcome is.

1. Come play with us!

Your local shelter or humane society needs volunteers to walk, feed, groom and socialize the animals. Being cooped up in a cage for hours on end can make even the nicest pet grouchy, territorial and untrusting. Don't worry - you can do it at your own pace and only with the animals you are comfortable with. Even just sitting with them in their kennels or on a leash in the lobby can make a lonely dog or cat feel loved and hopeful. It also gives you the chance to talk about these pets to prospective owners as they come in. This is a great volunteering opportunity for anyone, from college kids to seniors. Contact your local animal services or Humane Society for information on volunteer classes.

Gordo, Morgan and Sophie resting after playtime.

2. Toys, Towels and Blankets!

We always seem to be in dire need of clean towels and blankets. Even with the washing machine running nonstop all day, there never seems to be enough to deal with the constant messes and spills that crop up. Keeping our friends' kennels clean and pleasant is important, and keeping warm blankets available for the sick, injured, very young and very old is also critical. Puppies, kittens, and many small breeds of dog have a difficult time maintaining body heat on a concrete floor, and with young and small animals alike, it may only be a couple of hours before a warm, clean blanket has become a soggy, smelly mess in need of laundering.

New or gently used baby blankets, towels, pet-safe toys (cotton-filled rather than polyfiber-filled), dog-safe rubber balls, cat toys, grooming brushes, clippers, leashes, collars, etc, can often be found at garage sales and thrift stores. Toys may not seem like critical items until you see a small puppy, newly separated from its littermates, snuggle up to a stuffed Spongebob Squarepants doll for comfort. We've also seen quiet, stoic dogs spring to life when a ball or frisbee is tossed across the play yard.

Check with your local shelter before bringing in any edible items, please. Some shelters may be under contract with specific pet food companies to provide only that brand's food. Treats are usually welcomed, although certain items (such as rawhide chews, which can clog plumbing) may be politely discouraged.

3. Spread the word!

It's a constant struggle against the bad and inaccurate information being circulated about animal shelters and the people who work there. Get to know what's really going on, get involved in helping, and help spread the word on the wonderful animals that need homes. Got a website? Twitter account? Flickr page? Help find these guys and gals new homes. And always remember that we are trying to be ambassadors and role-models for these animals; everything we say and do should reflect kindness and dignity, the things they need most from us.

Just as importantly, educate yourself. Help fight the tide of misinformation and ignorance regarding breeds, behaviour, animal services, and the dog trade. Discourage buying from puppy mills and disreputable breeders. Get to know the legitimate breeders in your area. Read up on behaviour, communication, training and care for animals. In addition, try and encourage others to do the same.

If cruelty, overpopulation, neglect, ignorance, fear and bad "parenting" are diseases, education and knowledge are the best vaccines.

Naomi and Her Puppies

It was love at first sight. One of the shelter employees told me to go take a look in the last kennel in the very back: I did and was greeted by a pair of the bluest eyes I have ever seen, a heartbreakingly sad face and eight beautiful one-week-old puppies. Knowing that new moms can be protective, especially around strangers, I approached as politely as I could. She didn't seem defensive at all, only somewhat vigilant as I picked up one of her puppies. She was nursing four of them and another four were burrowing under the dirty blanket her owners had left with her when they ditched her and her puppies because they "can't afford them."

While she let her pups nurse, I picked up the non-nursing ones and set them on my lap where Naomi could lick their little bottoms to stimulate them to pee. Yes. On my lap. But that's okay. We were a team, and just as soon as she was done with one, I'd bring her another one. Like any other octomom (yeah, I had to use that lame joke) she's going to need help raising her family. She needs a spare room, access to food, water and a yard. She's a fantastic mother and very gentle and trusting of humans. Hopefully, someone will come to her rescue and give her a safe place to raise her puppies until they are old enough to be adopted out. She appears to be a mix of shepherd and ??? I think her card says "Cattle Dog" but I have no idea. What I do know is that she's a great dog, and her puppies are soooooooooo freaking CUTE! The shelter is no place for them, though. They don't even have their eyes open yet. If anyone can be a dog-nanny, now is the time to step up and rescue them.

Four of the eight puppalumps

NOTE (From Tim): Naomi's situation is dreadfully serious. Sadder still is the fact that her situation is dreadfully common. Every Spring and Summer, people drop off litters of dogs and cats that their "little angels" have managed to somehow produce. More often than not, when faced with the fact that their animal can and often will reproduce without being neutered, they simply discard their original pet as well. Think spaying or neutering is too expensive? If she could talk, Naomi would say that surgery was the cheap end of the equation.

An animal shelter is no place for a pup or kitten; there's just no denying the necessity for a foster or rescue. And somehow, if one can't be found, or if Naomi and her puppies are lost to illness or the crushing reality of overcrowding... somehow, those same owners will likely point an accusing finger at the people who took up the burden of their irresponsibility.

UPDATE(7/20): Although this past weekend was pretty much a nail-biter regarding Naomi, a rescue group stepped up today and took her and the puppies in. It doesn't really change the way we feel about the circumstances of her arrival, but we're thrilled and relieved beyond belief that they're all at least safe now.


Amy is a ray of sunshine inside the walls of the Irving Animal Shelter. With her smooth, puppylike face and meltingly sweet chocolate drop eyes, it's a real stumper as to why Amy is still there. She's a really good girl for a puppy and loves to play with everyone she meets - whether they run on two legs or four. In one of our first meetings together, I sat down in her kennel with her and proceeded to have my face licked so frantically that my glasses fell off. She's not a bit aggressive or bossy and although she thinks everyone is her playmate, she acknowledges discipline from humans and other dogs.

When we took little Amy outside with a gruff older dog named Sarge, she bounded around him, play-bowing and clambering over his head and back. Good old gent that he is, Sarge endured it patiently up until the point he didn't, whereupon he pushed her down and "mounted" her (showing dominance, not trying to mate). She rolled onto her back happily and told him "Yuppers, you're the boss. Now let's play!" - then it was back to jumping, bounding and playing tag.

(Sarge, despite his bluster and cufuffle, is another wonderful dog about whom we will post shortly.) Amy doesn't seem to have any personality problems, unless you consider slobbering affection to be a problem. Those of us who know her just don't understand why no one has taken her home yet. She's adorable, smart and loving. She's very special and deserves a lifetime of love. She deserves a lifetime, period.

UPDATE (7/20): Amy and Sarge are two of the only three dogs left on the "Urgent List" this week that haven't been rescued or adopted. It's kind of a bittersweet thing, considering how many other dogs were actually saved today (see Naomi's entry, among others). Tomorrow, the shelter will check to see how much space they have left, and "re-evaluate" the situation. It's looking hopeful, although I've learned not to trust certain kinds of hope.

UPDATE (7/25): Amy was reclaimed by her owner, who apparently has been looking for her for weeks. We're very glad for her safe return.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I (Sophie) keep referring to Morgan as "she" but Morgan is a male. A neutered male as of last night, but a male nonetheless. Maybe I'm just sexist and because Morgan is such a gentle, affectionate little love bug, I automatically think "girl!" Or maybe it's because "Morgan" sounds feminine to me. At any rate, we like Morgan a lot. He is genuinely a sweet-natured dog and definitely best-friend material. He loves a good snuggle and will sit companionably beside you, or even in your lap if allowed to, and boy does he have kisses galore to bestow. He wasn't feeling so good today, understandably, but in spite of major discomfort, he tried to follow me out of his kennel. He should be feeling a bit more spry tomorrow and we can do more than just lay down together on a blanket on the floor, as we did today. (Yes, I would brave a pee-sprinkled blanket for this dog. He's just that special.)

Although young and energetic, Morgan is not hyper or obnoxious like some "spirited" dogs can be. He's a pleasure to be around and seems to get along with other dogs. Everyone who's met and spent time with Morgan really likes him. He's a pal. He'll hang out with you and relax, or if you're into walking or running, he'll keep up with you. You're the boss. Just be sure to give him things to do and ways to please you.

He'll even let you squish his face.

UPDATE 7/16: He was feeling much better today and spent a lot of time with various people and dogs. He is relaxed and friendly and just one of the best darn dogs I've ever met. Totally glompable and patient with not-as-friendly dogs. 100% good dog.

UPDATE 7/27: Morgan was part of a group of dogs rescued by the SPCA. He'll be safe and cared for until his forever family finds him. Congratulations, Morgan!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Johann, Days Two and Three

Well, the fight continues to rid Johann of his legion of parasites. He's been given a flea/tick dip now, which makes him oh-so-popular with the other dogs. Another round of topical pesticide (the kind that soaks into the skin and hair) was added, so he's been barred from another bath until at least Monday. He's trying to put a brave face on things, but some kinds of displeasure are hard to hide.

We did get to go out for a couple of short walks and a game of fetch, so at least he could stretch his legs and breathe some fresh air. Just about everyone who passed by the two of us commented on how striking and majestic he looked, and I think the boost to his confidence helped quite a bit.

Another pick-me-up came with feeding time. I had gotten permission from the shelter's resident vet to give Johann a little something for anemia, and cookies and orange juice aren't particular canine favorites. So the big guy got a bowl of liver with his kibble. Even if the extra iron and protein were superfluous, the psychological value was immeasurable.

On day three, Johann was moved to a more easily isolated kennel - the retreating army of ticks was beginning to attack the nearby kennels, something which is absolutely verboten. His considerably less-comfortable temporary bivouac was surrounded by some fairly potent insecticide powder, which combined with the added smell of the flea dip made for a very, very unhappy dog indeed.

After one last trek outside, it was feeding time. I went to put Johann back into his temporary "oubliette of doom," and he naturally balked. A good "alpha" leads by inspiration instead of intimidation, so I stepped inside to call him in.

There was a booming bark of warning that echoed through the shelter, and I was nearly yanked off my feet. Looking back at him, I saw Johann planted firmly in the hallway, trying to pull me back out of the kennel with all of his might. Quietly, I called him over to me and cradled his head in my hands. "I know it's bad," I said calmly. "But you need this. You need to trust me."

The words were just babble to him, of course. The message, however, was earnest, heartfelt, and focused - and Johann is no idiot. He looked at me a moment, walked carefully into the kennel, and waited for his dinner.

I can't wait for this to be finished. And if I never see another tick as long as I live, it might just be too soon.

UPDATE: Well, it looks like there won't be a "Johann, Day 4" update. A rescue group came all the way from Arkansas to check him out, along with Buzz, a BullMastiff / Lab mix. Apparently, both of the boys left a good impression, and they set out for their new foster-homes right away. I'm very happy for Johann, but a little bit sad for myself: I didn't even get a chance to say "Goodbye."

Gute reise, mein freund.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Mike came into the shelter with Wendy; abandoned, lonely and terrified. He seems to be the more courageous of the two, but he wasn't born with Wendy's winsome good looks. Predictably, he's still at the shelter nearly a week after his only real packmate has gone to find new friends.

Looking something like a cross between a Labrador Retriever, a German Shepherd, and possibly some kind of doggish-looking cow, Mike isn't going to win any purebred championships. But he's got a huge heart, albeit one that seems pretty badly broken at the moment. Trying to get him out the front door is a losing battle; he's terrified of the shelter's lobby, much like Wendy. Shuffling quietly out the back door, however, he gets a bit more of his courage up and cautiously sets out to find some fun.

From the time I've spent with him, Mike seems to enjoy simply walking over just about anything else. Sophie and I have started referring to him as "Shadow," because he's so glad to be near me when we walk, his nose seldom strays more than a foot or so from my side. In the play yard, he's happy to stretch his legs and explore, but likes having a friend around to reassure him.

Although I've had him out and about with both Nick and Johann with no problems at all, the past week seems to have jaded Mike's view of other dogs a little bit. Being sedentary isn't natural for a retriever or a shepherd, and spending most of his time in a kennel is definitely not his idea of a wacky, fun time - so he will occasionally announce his displeasure when I walk by with another dog. It took him long enough to realize that there was actual, positive attention to be had out there; I don't want him to conclude that it's a limited resource he has to compete for.

UPDATE (7/13): I'm quite worried for Mike tonight. Though on the receiving end of a lot of affection (not to mention a good grooming) at the hands of a fantastic new volunteer at the shelter today, he was more withdrawn and depressed this evening. He barely picked at his dinner, and I noticed just before I left that his nose was running. Hardly the end of the world normally, a little cold or a respiratory infection can be disastrous when all of your neighbors live about six feet away. Hopefully, he'll be better in the morning.

UPDATE (7/14): Mike wasn't better in the morning. At least he'll never feel abandoned again: I hope he realized he took a piece of me with him, and it kept him company on his way out.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Johann, Day One

Johann's a bit of a fixer-upper, as dogs go.

An animal control officer found him living underneath a bush, and he'd been there a while, apparently. Flies had destroyed a goodly bit of his ears, his teeth were ground down to almost nothing (his canines are literally flat; no exaggeration), and his coat was a matted thatch of tangles, unshot winter fur, fleas, ticks, and blood. All in all, he was a complete wreck of a dog.

Needless to say, I fell in love with him instantly.

The first priority for me (after the staff gave him his vaccinations and parasite-control tablets) was a bath. We strolled out to the play yard, and I pulled out the bathtub. Johann only took a little coaxing, and hopped up into it himself. Round one of reclaiming the dog underneath the wreckage went well, though it broke my heart to see how badly life in the rough had treated him. Drying him off and taking him back to his kennel, I set off to work with some of the other dogs for a while.

Johann: Filthy, bloody, infested with ticks...
and thrilled to be here.

Later, we went outside and got to goof around a bit. The two of us played fetch for a good while, and he seemed glad for the chance to stretch his legs. Rotating through all of the toys at hand, it was finally decided that Johann loves the classics; nothing beats a good, old-fashioned red rubber ball in his opinion. Though not the quickest dog I've played fetch with, nor the most enthusiastic, he was certainly one of the most polite. He would chase down the ball, and more often than not, walk back and place it directly in the palm of my hand. Petting him, I cringed again inwardly. His poor skin felt like a riverbed, pebbled with bloodthirsty ticks. That can not be comfortable, I thought quietly, and tossed the ball again.

After feeding time, I made a final pass through the shelter: it's sentimental, but I enjoy a chance to say good-night to all the dogs. Passing Johann's kennel, I noticed a couple of ticks had fallen off of him and were trying to crawl away, so I grabbed a paper towel and hopped inside to dispatch and dispose of them. I nudged the big, white dog out of the way, and Johann took a wobbly few steps aside; apparently, the combination of anti-parasite measures from earlier had finally kicked in, and he was understandably a bit woozy. Looking down, I froze; and was suddenly very glad for every disgusting, gut-twisting experience I'd ever had with a tick or flea.

The floor was covered in them. Dozens (if not a couple of hundred) of bloated arachnids futilely scrambled to get away from the now-toxic dog. Sweeping them into a pile, I noted at least three generations' worth of the parasites. And by the time I had cleaned them up, another few dozen had fallen off. Looks like it's going to be a very messy, but very worthwhile night.

I'm off to the shelter now, and am eager to see how well the recovery is coming along. Although we officially don't endorse any particular brand over another, I have to give both Capstar and Frontline props; they certainly earned an A+ with a gold foil star yesterday. Regardless of brand, if you own a dog you owe it to them, yourself, and your loved ones to find a good parasite control and use it regularly. Take Johann's word for it; it's well worth the effort.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Sometimes, it seems like certain dogs come in and are gone again without anyone really noticing. Shelley was not large, not loud, not overly cute and not outgoing - very little to grab your attention. Most of the time, she sat in her kennel, shaking anxiously and shying away from anyone trying to interact with her. Of course, that's pretty much exactly the kind of dog that I'm drawn to.

After sitting with her a while, I decided to try taking her out with Engel; not only because I thought she'd be a good influence, though. The shelter was filling up quickly - so many new dogs and cats were being brought in or dropped off, and precious few were being reclaimed, rescued or adopted. When I had arrived that day, I had no idea that Engel was going to be rescued. All I knew was that it was her last day there, come what may. And come what may, I was determined that her last day would not be a lonely one.

The first time Engel boldly stuck her nose in Shelley's face, Shelley snarled and gave a menacing growl. I calmly told her to stop, and she did so instantly. Looking from me to the large German Shepherd and back, it took her a moment to realize that all three of us were de facto in the same "pack," and she was the youngest and newest. As soon as it "clicked" with her, she relaxed and fell in stride with us as we walked outside. The difference between "outside the pack" and "inside the pack" was so drastic with her, I honestly got a lump in my throat. Engel wasn't going to make it easy on her, though, and repaid Shelley's earlier bad attitude by merrily jumping over the shorter dog again and again as we ambled along.

After their initial rocky start, I kept a weather eye on the two dogs as we started to play. At one point, the usually shy Engel boldly strode up to Shelley and unexpectedly asserted her higher status. Even more surprising, Shelley assumed the attitude of "yep, you're the bigger dog," without any hesitation or fuss (I actually managed to catch that exchange on video). And by the time we were ready to head back inside, Shelley was timidly smiling, face-licking and wagging her tail.

I was shocked to find a couple of days later that Shelley had been put to sleep; kennel space had again become a rare commodity, and apparently she hadn't warmed up to anyone else enough to make adoption appear even a remote possibility. All in all, she'd only been there a few days, and she didn't really even make a significant impression on the majority of the people who passed through.

But I noticed.

That's the main reason for this web log. For the ones here who embark on a new life with a rescue, foster family, or a lifetime adopted pack, this is just a chapter for them in a much longer story. I cherish every footprint they leave here, make no mistake. The others, however, don't get to keep writing their stories; this is their final chapter. And no matter how the story unfolded from one animal to the next, the last line should be the same for all: "In the end, they were loved, and they will be remembered."

Friday, July 3, 2009



That's what Wendy's kennel card says. Hard to imagine someone would willingly leave this beautiful, gentle animal behind, but apparently that's what happened. Walking by her kennel today, it certainly looked like she'd been thrown away: she lay in the back corner, pressed up against the wall like a discarded sweater. I couldn't get her to come to me, even with treats in hand, so I got into the kennel with her and just sat there a while, talking to her and slowly scooting closer until I could touch her. She didn't seem to mind and even gave me a couple of tail thumps, but still would not so much as stand up. When Tim showed up, he also could not coax her out, so he literally scooped her up in his arms and carried her outside.

A leash is a foreign object to her and it seemed to scare her to feel it around her neck. However, once freed of it in the play yard, with Nick there to give her encouragement, Wendy trotted around and seemed a lot more at ease. She looks to be a cross between a Weimaraner and a Retriever, and her silver fur is so soft to the touch. As far as her personality goes, at the moment she is rather impassive to what's going on around her. Naturally, she's rather confused by being in a strange place with strange dogs and people, but she seems almost more depressed than frightened.

She did arrive with one companion, a mixed-breed male who also seems meek and spends most of the time lying on his kennel floor. I'm not sure what sort of life they had before being brought here, but my guess (and this is just Sophie here speculating) is that their abandonment started long before their owner left them behind. But Wendy seems to want love. If she moves nothing else, her eyes and tail express a welcoming warmth and she trusts us to touch her, carry her, talk to her and bring her out of her kennel and out of her shell. It's been only a day since we met her and we hope so much that we can win her trust and give her reasons to be happy, knowing she'll never be abandoned again.

UPDATE: Thanks to word of mouth, and I'm pretty sure Tajana and Almir had something to do with it, Miss Wendy was rescued on 7/7. I'm sure she'll blossom in her new home! Thank you to everyone involved in spreading the word about these dogs and finding them new homes. We all love happy endings.