Sunday, December 20, 2009


A woman came into the shelter this weekend to have her dog euthanized.

She spoke quickly and deliberately, and explained that the dog was ill, she had taken it to five different vets, they had each told her something different and nothing had helped, now he was starting to cough up blood and the latest vet said there was something wrong with all the dog's organs and he'd have to do x-rays but she'd spent all her money at the other vets already and... She needed to have him put to sleep, because there was nothing else she could do, and she didn't want him to keep suffering.

She signed the release just as quickly, almost dismissively. The shelter technician and I both looked at the dog and his shaking owner, then at each other, and I'm sure we both had the same expression - if not the same thought.  He gently lifted the dog and carried him away. Since it was a busy day in the rest of the shelter, I was left alone with the woman.

She just stood there at the counter for about half a minute. Without looking at me, she asked, "I'm not going to see him again?" I told her no.

"It won't hurt, will it? What'll happen when they do it?"

I explained how the euthanasia injection worked - the dog would be given an anesthetic, just like if it were going into surgery. He'd fall asleep, and just not wake up again. And he wouldn't be hurting.

She nodded, then started crying. "It's all my fault. I should have done something else. I should have done more..."

Those words were very familiar. They were pretty much what I'd told myself, over and over again, when Buster died. But I knew how untrue those words were. She'd fought tooth and nail for her dog, and literally given that fight everything she had. In the shelter, she'd given him comfort and courage - and believe me, I know how hard it is to stay calm when your heart's breaking. She'd been brave enough to take on the pain of grief so her dog's pain would abate.

What more would her dog have asked of her?

I wish I could have put it more eloquently and completely, as the behavioral psychologist Patricia McConnell did on her blog, here. Sophie recently pointed this article out to me (under the heading of, "you really, really need to read this"). If you've ever lost a pet, and especially if you've ever had to have one euthanized, I highly reccommend it.

Just before she left, I told her the one thing she could have done - the one thing she still could do, in spite of everything: "Just try to always be the person your dog thinks you are."

I really hope she realizes how much she did for her dog. In time, when the sting of grief isn't as sharp, I hope she'll come to the shelter and adopt another companion. Because that will be one well-loved dog.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


If you pick up a book about raising American Pit Bull Terriers, you'll probably run across the phrase, "Ambassador Dogs." It's sort of an ideal to shoot for: the best example of what a breed has to offer, and what they're supposed to be when brought up right.

When I first met Homer, that seemed a bit far from the reality of his situation. He was surly, mopey, easily startled, and didn't want to be touched. He even went so far as to shove my hand away when I went to pet him. Then he'd turn around and curl up in my lap. I wanted so much to connect with him, but he just seemed so out-of-kilter.

He seemed pretty affable toward the other dogs, though, and I thought he might be the one dog in the shelter who could keep up with Joker, a rowdy, fun-loving, athletic, and very bored dog who many of the volunteers are quite fond of. At first, it was a little tense... and then ensued a twenty-minute wrestling match of epic proportions which left both Joker and Homer panting, content, and grinning like idiots the whole way back to the kennels. It was the difference between "doggie jail" and "home."

A kennel isn't Homer's happy place, but it seems everywhere else is. He's vivacious, energetic, cuddly, attentive and gentle - and honestly, none of that is gilding the lily. Watching him roll around on the ground for tummy rubs, bound back-and-forth between Sophie and I because he couldn't decide which of us was more fun at the moment... I found myself thinking, This. This is exactly what a Pit Bull is supposed to be.

Between his sparkling personality and his velvety brindle coat, I kept thinking of Tige, the famous Pit Bull sidekick of Buster Brown. Honestly, if we had the resources and room, Homer would be sitting at home with us right now, likely thwacking an eager paw on my keyboard in an effort to help me with the blog.

It isn't often we run across a dog who'll run pell-mell across the playpen when you call, only to slam on the brakes and nuzzle or hop up and wait for you to catch his paws and snuggle him. Nor does every dog seem equally at ease romping like a maniac, then flopping down next to you for some quality hang-out time. Homer seems to be game for whatever you are, with enthusiasm and affection to spare. And I never would have guessed it, just watching him sulk all alone in his kennel.

UPDATE (12/24): Although tentatively "earmarked" for a rescue group, Homer wasn't picked up yesterday. He'll be spending Christmas in the shelter, along with Hershey and so many other dogs. At least they aren't out in the snow, foraging for whatever they can eat - but I still wish they were all somewhere warm, loving, and smelling like "home" to them.

UPDATE (12/28): Finally! Homer gets one step closer to having a home of his own - he was picked up today by a rescue group, and I couldn't be happier!


When Hershey first came into the shelter, I was on my way out with another dog. His owner spun him around and pressed him against the wall, indicating that I should keep the other dog away (I went out another exit). Apparently, there had been an "incident" with Hershey and another dog, and no one wanted a repeat performance.

I'll be the first to admit, it takes a lot to convince me that a dog is "just bad." I don't always agree with Cesar Millan, but I do think he's spot-on when he says that the overwhelming majority of dog problems are based in their environment (and particularly the humans that interact with them). Thus far, Hershey hasn't betrayed my optimism for him.

He's no perfect little puppy, of course - at a modest 93 pounds, he's used to doing what he wants, when he wants to do it. Hershey's pretty sharp, though, and he seems to be getting the hang of this "dog/human teamwork" thing quite well. When it came time to weigh him, he climbed right up onto the scale and waited patiently... and then stepped back down, paused, and on again when we realized that we'd forgotten to turn the scale on. All the while, he was just happy for the attention.

In fact, attention is one thing I think Hershey is needing desperately. It took quite a while - and quite a lot of brushing - to make an appreciable difference in the gritty, oily, dander-crusted mess that was his coat. He didn't seem to mind a bit, which made a nice change from trying to brush our rowdy and grooming-shy dog, Rufus. Hershey's elbows and hocks were scuffed and skinned up, and his collar was pretty filthy - despite still having the plastic price-tag hanger attached to it. I got the impression that someone was in a bit of a rush when they put it on him, long ago.

We gingerly tested his bad reputation with other dogs, starting with an adorable (and pregnant) beagle named Savannah. (She's available too! Hint, hint...) Their conversation seemed to consist mostly of:

"Wow, you're big."
"Yep. You're kinda' small, aren't you?"
"Hey, I got buns in the oven. See? Wow. You're big."
"Er, thanks."

No tension, no drama. A good start. Next we brought out Homer, a male Pit Bull Terrier. No problems at all when they met, although Homer really wanted to romp around and Hershey wasn't overly keen on puppy antics. He did, however, want to go out and walk around. When Homer marked a pillar, Hershey casually sniffed it and moved on - apparently, he's secure enough in his doghood to not feel compelled to "over-mark" other males. There was one moment of tension when another puppy was brought outside, and Homer took the opportunity to get up in Hershey's face. A low growl ensued, and we decided that a break from the happy-go-luckyness was in order.

Later, when the vet was taking Hershey out of his kennel, there was a brief moment of alarm when he and Miller lunged at each other through the kennel door. He backed down as soon as he was reprimanded for it, and I got a visible cringe from him when I put a rebuking finger on his nose (which seemed a bit of an over-reaction to a "hush" command). After getting his weigh-in and check-out, I took him back to his kennel. No problem passing Savannah's kennel, or Joker (another adolescent male), or Homer. As soon as we reached Miller, though, the retriever was at his door, barking and bristling. Hershey tensed up, but relaxed again when I told him to leave it alone. He acted up once more, growling when I had moved between the two dogs - and again dropped the drama when told to.

I'm not sure if Hershey's issues with other dogs are simply testosterone-based (he's 6 years old, and not neutered), or if it's a wayward side-effect of his guarding instincts (all three times he got agitated, there was a person between him and another confident, male dog). For now, he'll need supervision when around other dogs, and a lot of good, old-fashioned training. Personally, I'd love to see him rescued by a group that specializes in German Shepherds, who can re-direct his lonliness, frustration, and tenseness to more satisfying, challenging outlets.

As I said before, I tend to give dogs the benefit of the doubt. I don't doubt for a minute that Hershey would unhesitatingly end any fight brought to him. There aren't many dogs that I've seen with quite so much desperate affection in their eyes, either. He's a bit of a fixer-upper, perhaps, but my gut tells me that he might be well worth the effort, and then some.

UPDATE (12/29): As Tajana and Almir pointed out, Hershey was rescued today! He's made so much progress since he came into the shelter, I have little doubt that he'll earn himself a permanent place in someone's heart - and family - soon.


We didn't get much of a chance to get to know Miller - while we were out in the play yard with him, a rescue volunteer was on her way to pick him up. What we did get to see of him was both impressive and a little bit frustrating.

As dogs go, Flat-Coated Retrievers are some of the most elegant-looking out there. Miller's certainly no exception, and he's gifted with show-dog poise and grace on top of that. He doesn't so much run as float, and he carries his flag-like tail high and proudly. And... that's part of the worrisome bit.

There's usually no way for us to know what kind of life the dogs at the shelter led before they wound up here. But it would be a pretty plausible guess that he was bought as a cute puppy, turned into a cute (and far less tractable) adolescent a couple of months later, and was simply not given any attention from that point on. He's affable, but unconcerned with people, and his dog-to-dog conversational skills seem... er, lacking. I don't speak canine, but whatever he's been saying to the dogs in the surrounding kennels hasn't endeared him to the other guys on the kennel block.

Fortunately, he's going to a first-rate rescue group, who will get him up to speed on the socialization he missed out on earlier in life. Which is a great thing; it shouldn't take much to turn Miller from the gorgeous but aloof adolescent he is into the gorgeous and much-loved dog he should have been all along.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Kind Winter, Thus Far

Well, here it is December already - and much has happened since the last time I posted anything.

Gheera, one of my two fourteen-year-old cats passed away in his sleep, content and comfortable. I couldn't have asked for a better way to go, although his brother Tez is a bit lonely now; as friendly as they are, the dogs are no replacement for his litter-mate and long-time sidekick.

Amelia's stuffy head has finally cleared up (a bit... she still snores like a lumber mill sometimes), she survived her spay surgery with only a little bit of worry on my end, and is now bouncy, playful, and as clumsy as I've ever seen a dog. She's come such a long way both physically and mentally in the past two months, and I couldn't be happier about it.

Rufus, on the other hand, continues to be an angsty teenager. Our list of "Things that Rufus has eaten or destroyed" continues to grow, but he's starting to relax a bit. And I'm beginning to learn to take things in stride, and put them in perspective - which I can't say is a bad thing for me. Even when they're not so good, dogs can bring good things to our lives. Mind you, Rufus doesn't spend all of his time moping or searching for the next sock/CD/book to inspire the next game of "chase me": he's one of the most empathetic and loving dogs I've run across, and there's a lot of potential for things both great and terrible from him. I wouldn't trade any of that for the world.

Today (in about 15 minutes, in fact), I'm off to help with an adoption event at the Irving Mall. If you're in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area today, feel free to drop by any time from noon to 3, and meet a few of the folks (and animals) that make the shelter work day in and day out. Maybe even take one home (er... one of the animals, that is).

I'll try to post something more substantial later today, but for now I must run and put on my dog-wrangling attire...