Thursday, January 21, 2010


When little Doak arrived at the shelter, I honestly didn't give him much thought. I figured, He's young, friendly, smart, extremely cute... He'll be adopted right away.

That was about a week ago, and I can't understand why he's still here. Maybe he comes across as too stand-offish; perhaps it's because his multi-colored eyes give him an unusual gaze. Or maybe his intense culinary fascination with all things green and grassy seems a little obsessive-compulsive in a puppy so young.

Doak knows a good vintage clover when he sees one...

I get the impression that Doak isn't unaffectionate or aloof; he's just a bit bored. For a four or five month-old puppy, he's got a lot of cleverness in that cute, fluffy head of his. Even if he'd received all of the social interaction that a growing pup needs, the odds are good that "fetch" or "chew on the squeaky toy" won't hold his attention forever. Although I might be wrong, Doak certainly gives the impression that his "working dog" bloodlines run deep and strong, and he'd be happiest with some invigorating challenges to keep his mind and body sharp.

That said, little Doak has plenty of aptitude in the fine arts of snuggles and affection as well.

UPDATE 1/22: Doak was rescued! We're so glad he's safe and on the way to being a great pet.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Right next door to Winston is Rexa. She's quiet and gentle but very, very happy to meet anyone who cares to come visit her. She's not much for jumping up on you either, unless you let her know it's okay. Even then she's not too rough or rowdy. But she is a pit bull and far too many people who come into the shelter look past her on that point alone. She appears to know what "sit" means and also jumped up on the doghouse when I indicated for her to do so. She doesn't know how to fetch a ball, but she does love to play chase.

Rexa aims to please

Rexa is a stray that was picked up, but she does seem to have been taught good manners. I enjoyed walking with her because for once I had a dog that didn't try to drag me along behind. (Rufus, I'm talking to you...) and even though she didn't know me a single sniff, she had no problem with me entering her kennel, taking over her "bed" and glomping all over her our first meeting. She is an enthusiastic snuggler and the only danger you'll be in is that she just may steal your heart. She'll give it her best try, anyway.

She's not actually barking here, she's just making a funny face
after some goofing around with me in the yard.

UPDATE (1/21): Sophie and I decided that it was a shame for such a lovely dog as Rexa to be as dirty as she was - so we took advantage of the unseasonably warm day today, and gave her a bath. Although not too keen on hopping up onto the rickety bathtub, she didn't complain when we hoisted her up and strapped her in. She did complain once, very quietly, about the cold water; but so did we, so that's pretty fair. Like a trooper, Rexa let us suds her up, hose her off, ruffle her with some fresh-from-the-dryer towels, and walk around until the bright winter sun warmed her up and dried her out.

I will try to get some better pictures of her tomorrow if I can. It's difficult to see in our hurried, overcast-day snapshots, but Rexa is really quite beautiful: her "mask" and dark spots aren't black, but a warm, dark brindle. And although perhaps not as visually striking as Gilda, a sweet blue American Pit Bull gal at the shelter, Rexa has a classic charm to her that is hard to put into words and still pictures. Perhaps most endearing to me is what she often does when confronted by something odd, loud, or unexpected. Instead of breaking into gales of barking, she turns, looks me in the eye, and cocks her head to one side in an expression of "Well now, that's a curious thing."

I can't help thinking that Rexa's an extraordinary dog; one that deserves an extraordinary owner, and an extraordinarily happy life.

UPDATE 1/22: Rexa is still at the shelter and on the "blue" list. She's still just the best dog in the world and hasn't let the situation get her down. Today she lavished kisses and cuddles on a pair of little girls. She's fantastic with kids, shows no fear or aggression even toward barky dogs, yet no one seems willing to see past her breed. Rexa is too good a dog to let go. She would be the perfect family dog or a companion for a childless person or couple. She loves and trusts everyone. I can't stand to see such a wonderful dog languish unrecognized. If you know of someone who could use a calm, affectionate, considerate dog and who isn't prejudiced against pit bulls, please tell them about Rexa. She'll be the best friend you ever had.

UPDATE 1/28: Rexa has been pulled for rescue by K.A.R.E. (Kathy's Animal Rescue Express) from Minnesota. Our dear and tireless friend Christy has coordinated not only Rexa's rescue, but five other dogs (including Corina!) with K.A.R.E. and all boarding/vet fees are being paid by K.A.R.E. and Christy. If you can donate anything at all to this rescue mission, please click here.



I (Sophie) was told by another volunteer that there was a new dog that needed to be worked with. This unnamed little boxer/ridgeback mix was snapping at anyone trying to touch him. He was small, thin and looked more mournful than menacing. I figured I would just take it slow and easy, so I got in the kennel with him and knelt down. He backed up a few steps and I reached over and took his food bowl. He didn't seem to mind. I put a few kibbles in my hand and held it out to him. He sniffed it, then sort of half-heartedly mouthed the kibble, not really eating but at least touching his face to my hand. I didn't watch him or stare at him, just acted disinterested and kept offering kibble in my outstretched hand. Before long, I was briefly stroking his face and head while he investigated my hand. He got closer and seemed to be pressing against my hand a little more like a dog that wanted to be petted. Within a few minutes, he was on my lap, getting petted from nose to tail. Terri, (the volunteer coordinator and someone we both admire immensely) had previously been able to pet him as well, which made us wonder if he wasn't just afraid of men. So naturally I went to Tim to test that theory.

Check out that cute ridge down his neck

With me in the kennel, sitting against the far wall, Tim came in and sat down by the door. Winston--as Terri and I had named him moments prior--kept close to me but didn't seem aggressive toward Tim, just wary. Gently and reassuringly, Tim offered Winston small bits of dog biscuit from his hand. And just as with me, Winston learned to trust him to the point that I left them for a bit and came back to find Winston curled up and sleeping on Tim's lap, content as you please. But he still growled at one of the Animal Shelter staff members just a little while later, even while Tim was holding him. Without knowing Winston's story, we can't know just what has caused his fear of certain people, only that he isn't a hopeless case and that he does, very much, want to be loved and comforted.

Winston learning that he's got friends.

UPDATE (1/21): Winston has been quickly getting his confidence back, to the point where he'll even occasionally strut around outside, his head and tail held high and proud. It's really encouraging to see. Most of the time, though, he's just thrilled to have some attention, and is quickly turning into a very affectionate young dog. And as he gets less emaciated (though he's still pretty wasp-waisted), Winston is actually shaping up to be a pretty handsome guy.

UPDATE (2/6): We stopped by the local Petsmart (where Lost Paws Rescue of Texas holds adoption events every weekend) to see young Winston, and he was as happy to see us as we were to see him. He was charming people right and left, and seems to have finally met a good play partner who moves at his speed, along with the rest of his new family! We all met back at the shelter to fill out the adoption paperwork, and had a great last get-together with Russell Posch and Terri Walker, the shelter's volunteer coordinator (and Winston's foster mom for the past two weeks). It was a fabulous way for Winston to start his new life.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Pookey is a dog that I wanted to feature a week ago. He's likely a mix of German Shepherd and Australian Shepherd, although he might have some Kelpie in him as well. Regardless of his bloodline, Pookey is bright, friendly, confident and just an all-around fun dog to be with.

The reason for his being at the shelter is the reason I didn't post him earlier. Apparently, he was used as leverage in a "domestic dispute." His previous owner dumped him at the shelter to "teach a lesson" to a family member they were fighting with.

I'm no guidance counselor, but I'm pretty sure it's a stupid idea to try and extort loyalty by getting rid of the only thing someone "truly loves" - doubly so when that happens to be a living being. Triply so when that living being is a dog that still loves you, no matter how callously you treat him. And if there's anything that young Pookey has learned flawlessly, it's how to love.

Of course, he's pretty good at fetch, too. And keep-away. Often at the same time. He's got confidence, intelligence, a sense of humor and energy to spare. Working with him, I get the impression that he is truly a "gifted" dog, and would probably love learning new things and facing new challenges. In fact, the one thing Pookey doesn't have going for him is time: I waited far too long to give his previous owners time to work things out, and now the shelter is full.

It isn't fair that he's stuck in this jam. It isn't fair that he was betrayed by a pack mate for the sake of pride. But it is what it is, and all that's left to do is go from this point into wherever tomorrow takes him. That's one major difference between dogs, and most people.

UPDATE (1/15): Well, Pookey's former family never worked out their differences, it seems. After waiting and waiting in the shelter (with very few people even considering such an energetic and eclectic-looking fellow), he was pulled by a rescue group today. He'll be heading to a foster home quite a distance from here, and hopefully will be finding a permanent - and more stable - pack to live out his whirlwind-happy days with.

Incidentally, had he not been pulled today (with several other dogs), it's likely he would have been euthanized for space at the end of the day.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Shelter Diaries Special: Mia

Rather than repost the blog in it's entirety, here's a link to Mia's page. She was a shelter dog, now she's being fostered by us. I know the best way to help find her a forever home is to start spreading the word now.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Opinion Time - All About the Fight

When people learn that Sophie and I volunteer at a "Kill Shelter," we get a variety of responses. One of the most frequent seems to be a variation on, "Oh, I don't know how you can do that - I couldn't handle knowing that the animals might get put to sleep."

I'll be perfectly honest: it isn't easy. Personally, I'm usually drawn to the animals who have the most difficult time getting adopted or rescued, as I (somewhat abashedly) suspect a quick look back through many of Shelter Diaries' posts would indicate. Given that part of working with a shy, frightened, or headstrong animal is getting to know how it thinks... well, it seems like I wind up making a lot of friends I know I'll lose in one way or another. It's inevitable. The only way to avoid the painful part is not to do it at all. A lot of people take that route, and I can't fault them for it.

I often compare the animal shelter to a field hospital in a hostile land. Of the countless numbers that come in through the front door, many will never leave. You will lose many lives, no matter what you do, and that's just the way of things. But if everyone were too timid to make the effort, you would lose all of them. I don't view that as a palatable option.

It's impossible to "make yourself" stop caring. Empathy has no on/off switch. So you mourn each one that doesn't make it. As Sophie pointed out to me when Buster died, though: "The heart is one of the largest, strongest muscles in your body. Like other muscles, it hurts when you overwork it. And like other muscles, the pain only means it will be stronger the next time you have to use it." Every animal I've worked with has left me a stronger person, including and especially those I've cared about enough to leave me gutted when they die. That strength is something I can bring to the next dog who needs a hand, who I may or may not see leave the shelter.

In the end, you can't focus on the big picture; it'll crush you and drive you out of your head. Each day, each animal, each moment... that's where you have to work. It isn't about winning the war. It's about giving the fight everything you've got. That's what matters.



Corina is a very energetic girl - much like A. A. Milne's Tigger, her top's made of rubber and her bottom's made of springs. And she's so happy when she sees a friendly face, she's likely to bounce all over her kennel and mug for all she's worth.

At the same time, there's a bit of a sad awkwardness to young Corina. It's nothing new to see adolescent dogs come into the shelter that haven't spent enough time around other people and animals - honestly, even our dog Rufus is feeling the growing pains of too little socialization in his first few months. But Corina looks to be nearly a year and a half old; that's a lot of catch-up learning to do, no matter how enthusiastic the student is. It's quite daunting, and Corina doesn't really hide the fact.

Inside her kennel, Corina is a handful. Her eyes and body language vacillate between shyness and a near-overwhelming hunger for affection. She's likely to go from bouncing off the walls to meekly offering her belly for scratching, and just as quickly back to ricocheting around. Outside, she'll amble along obliviously as if she'd never seen a human before, then dart over to your side to lavish snuggles or try and instigate a game.

It's as if she's teetering on the fence between being a loner or a social butterfly, and waiting impatiently to see which way fate nudges her.

UPDATE (1/15): Corina is still at the shelter, although she might have a possible adoptor coming to look at her. That in no way makes her situation "safe," however. We learned a new game yesterday - she'd leap into the air, and I'd say "Hop!" and catch her. She wasn't sure if she thought it was fun or just a bit weird, but it gave her some exercise anyway.

UPDATE (1/21): Our good friend (and great friend of dogs everywhere) Christy Wilson pulled Corina today, along with two other dogs - Laser and Pudge - who will be headed up to a rescue group in Minnesota. Here's hoping that the three of them make it there safely, and find what it takes to flourish in their new homes!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Merlin and Corina: Video

A short video of Merlin and Corina - another happy-go-lucky gal who I will feature later today.



Despite some inclement weather and people's tight end-of-year budgets, the winter holidays went fairly well at the shelter. We have, however, seen more than our usual share of dogs with mange and other ailments over the past week or so - along with more dogs than usual winding up with "unadoptable" ID cards, whether it be for behavioral or medical reasons.

Merlin started out on such a card, due to a lot of skittishness and a somewhat painful-looking collar burn. Understandably, he wasn't too keen on being handled around the face and neck. On our first encounter (while cleaning his kennel for him), Merlin and I had the opportunity to meet on his terms and at his speed, however, and he seemed respectful and gentle, if a bit nervous. Over the next couple of days, he relaxed a lot - and let me pet him gently on his nose, chin and neck; I was, however, mindful not to roughhouse where his collar had bit into him. In return, I got a plethora of tail-wags, some rather awkward licks on the cheek, and a grin that could melt granite.

When I went by the shelter on Monday, I made sure to swing by his kennel. Merlin was a bit taciturn at first, although his tail was going a mile a minute. "Hey, Merlin," I queried, "Who's the best dog in the shelter? Huh?" At that, he broke into an ear-to-ear grin, glomping me affectionately when I stepped into his kennel to refill his water. He does jump up a bit, although he's astonishingly gentle for such a large dog. And before I left, he laid his head on my chest, smiled, and let out a contented sigh.

I haven't checked today, but I'm pretty sure young Mr. Merlin has earned his green "adoptable" card once and for all. He's a bit rough and puppy-like still with his affection, but he certainly seems eager to please and unabashed with his admiration.

UPDATE (1/7): Well, Merlin earned his green card - along with the admiration of pretty much everyone who met him yesterday. Unfortunately, he was put to sleep today; I don't know the reason yet, but I suspect that the winter weather got the better of him and he fell ill last night.

You were well named, Merlin. And I'm going to miss you so very much.

Monday, January 4, 2010

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