Storytime: Charlie Takes a Dip

From Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Dogs, Vol. I.

Charlie Takes a Dip 

Charlie Takes a Dip

Charlie and I live in New York City and like to visit Central Park in the morning during off-leash hours. While Charlie never strays too far from me, he loves running around free in the grass. On this particular morning, we were walking along the bank of a pretty large pond in the middle of the park. Charlie ventured to the edge of the pond, but since he had never shown any interest in water before, I let him wander. Then, he started to cautiously step in to the dirty, muddy, and moldy pond.

At this point I was amused but still not too worried. That’s when Charlie started to actually swim in the pond! He headed straight to the middle of the dark and disgusting water, and I feared he might get tired, stop swimming, and then have no way to get back to land. I called to him, I whistled for him, and I looked around for someone to help me, but in the wee hours of morning, even in New York, people were few and far between.

Charlie, normally a very obedient dog, was completely ignoring my panicked cries. He looked so calm and happy that someone watching him would surely have thought he was just going for his morning swim. My nervousness was growing quickly, and I realized that my best option was to jump into the murky water after him and try to catch up. My heart was racing as I started thinking of the possibilities of this dire situation. I took off my jacket. I was planning on taking off my t-shirt, too, so that I’d have something clean and dry to wear when I got out, when I heard a jogger from the other side of the pond: “Stop! Wait, don’t jump in!”

I screamed, “But that’s my dog, and he’s not coming back to me!”

The jogger replied, “He’s coming toward me. Just wait, and I’ll catch him!”

I thought, okay, we can try this option before I jump in.

Charlie did continue swimming to the other end of the pond, looking as happy as a clam. Then, when Charlie was about five feet away from the shore, he turned around back towards the middle of the pond! I was beside myself, but I realized that Charlie was clearly teasing us and enjoying every bit of it. Eventually Charlie came back to my side of the shore and trampled out of the water. Everything but his head was a muddy, greenish-brown mess! I felt a rush of emotions: relief, happiness, and anger. And I couldn’t stop laughing as I tried to dry Charlie off with my jacket. –The Sheth Family

Storytime: With Us in Spirit

From Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Herding-Breed Dogs.

With Us in Spirit

With Us in Spirit

We had a great bunch of dogs at our Texas home: Cirrus, our Samoyed, and Shadow and Mac, sister and brother blue merle Collies. Shadow’s favorite place to go was Gaston’s White River Resort in Bull Shoals, Arkansas. We took a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and stopped at Gaston’s on the way there and back in July. We normally went in the fall, but at the time, we didn’t know Shadow wouldn’t be joining us there ever again.

She was diagnosed with ehrlichiosis, an auto-immune problem, after being bitten by a tick. The vet put her on medication and requested a follow-up at the end of August. On August 15th she would not eat. She had not previously shown any signs of being sick. I took her to the vet. She had a 103 fever. By the next day she was gone. Her body was trying to destroy the disease, and in the process had killed her. The veterinarians at Texas A&M said there was no hope to save her. She was only seven years, eight months, and 16 days old.

We were devastated. She was my little girl. And Mac was especially saddened because this was his little sister.

It’s true what they say about one door closing and another opening, though. Our hearts broke for our loss, but my husband knew we had to move on. We had been looking at Houston Collie Rescue’s website for a while, even before losing Shadow, and after her passing had seen a blue merle listed as a courtesy for a Great Pyrenees group out of Seguin, Texas. I told him it was too soon. He said it wasn’t. This girl needed us as much as we needed her.

I contacted Val at the rescue, and she told me she was taking the dog, Spirit, to Dallas to meet another couple. I told her I would drive the four hours to meet her, too, if she would consider us. She agreed.

I took Cirrus and Mac with me because they would have to approve Spirit, too. As soon as they all met, they began to play. Spirit ran up to me, too, and I loved on her. It was like she knew I was going to be her new mom, and she was excited about it. She had come from a woman who had had 18 dogs, so I’m sure that sharing a home with only two others seemed just delightful. Both Val and I could see that she fit right in with us, so Val didn’t hesitate to say she could be mine.

In the truck on the way home, Spirit sat in Shadow’s favorite spot. Mac was not too sure about that, and for a while, he snapped at her every time she tried to lay her head on his back in the same way Shadow had. That all changed during our first trip out to Gaston’s that October. In the car, Spirit again laid her head on his back, and this time Mac just looked at her and sighed. He had finally accepted her as his new little sister.

We all continue to miss Shadow, and we don’t see Spirit as a replacement. We see her as a new chapter in our family book, a wonderful addition to our story, who has brought us out of our misery and elevated our spirits. –Linda Gandy

Storytime: To Fail is to Succeed

From Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Beagles.

To Fail is to Succeed 

To Fail is to Succeed

Fiona, Ella, Echo, Trixie, Freckles, Peter, Paul, Mary. Each name evokes a special memory and a smile. These were my foster dogs before I became what we call a “foster failure.”

My husband and I were already owned by Beagles. We had two; both were rescues. One was a beautiful, calm, lemon-colored female named Abigail. Beagle two is a tri-color male who has a great deal of difficulty staying out of trouble. In the first two years we had him, he tangled with a herd of javelina (animals that resemble pigs) and was bitten by a rattlesnake. He’s named after my husband’s favorite baseball player, Mickey Mantle.

Fiona, our first foster, was a golden-eyed, long-legged Beagle who was, to put it diplomatically, a very free spirit. She loved to run and roughhouse with her foster dad, and I spent hours in our family den with the door closed teaching her to “leave it.” We got to the point where I could place a treat at her feet, and she wouldn’t touch it until I gave the okay. This was no small feat for a chowhound Beagle. While we were on a short trip, and Fiona was staying with another foster mom, my husband and I thought seriously about making her a permanent part of our pack. Lo and behold, when we returned, Fiona had been adopted. We didn’t even get to give her a goodbye hug, but we did escape becoming foster failures.

 Ella was the Beagle version of Queen Elizabeth—it wasn’t hard to imagine her in a hat, white gloves, and a purse on her paw. She was a Reubenesque tri-color with an allergy that caused certain parts of her female anatomy to swell to “much larger than life” size. She was adopted in less than a month and now lives in a beautiful home in the foothills. (Many of our fosters end up living much better than we do, but then again, they deserve it.)

 Echo looked a lot like Ella. She had lived with the same family since she was a puppy, but their youngest boy was horribly allergic to her. Having tried everything, the family turned Echo over to our rescue, and it wasn’t long before she was adopted from our home by a couple who had previously adopted from our group. Their earlier adoptee had succumbed to cancer, and they were still paying those vet bills when they adopted Echo. In a second stroke of bad luck for this family, it wasn’t long before Echo woke one morning and couldn’t walk! The vet diagnosed her with some problem no one could pronounce and suggested that surgery might be able to fix her. To help this couple out, our rescue went deep into debt to get Echo fixed, but it was worth it. She is now happy, relatively healthy, and very well-loved.

 Trixie was another tri-color, plus-sized girl. She slid right into our pack and our hearts as if she had always been there. She was adopted by an older couple who travels a lot, and I’m sure she’s seeing the USA via their Winnebago. She was the first foster whose adoption brought tears to my eyes.

 Then there was Freckles. Ten years old, graying but full of life. She had been named Freckles, I guess, because of her spotted belly, which she loved to have rubbed. Everyone who met her loved her, and in turn she remembered everyone she ever met and loved them right back. After I took her home with me, she developed problems urinating. We went through test after test after test. One vet repeatedly said it was a urinary infection, and when a wonderful couple wished to adopt her, the vet thought she would be okay.

 But she wasn’t. Soon there was blood in her urine. The adopting couple, who loved her dearly (they have a web page dedicated to her to this day), couldn’t cope with the vet bills, so Freckles came home with me again. There were more tests leading to the dreaded diagnosis: untreatable cancer in her urinary tract. She lived, played, and loved with our pack for a full year, until one day the pain was just too much for her. Rest in peace, dear girl.

 Peter, Paul, and Mary. No, not the 1960’s folk group. They were three littermates from a puppy mill in Missouri. At just eight weeks old, Paul, the smallest, fit in the palm of my husband’s hand. But, oh, they were so sick! All three had giardia and a respiratory infection. Aside from being the smallest, Paulie was also the sickest, and he came to us because his foster Mom had too many other dogs to care for. The first night we were sure we would lose him, but miraculously he made it through. The next day the veterinarian said he had less than a 50/50 chance of living and decided to try keeping him in an oxygen tent for several days. Paulie was a fighter, and his health improved. In the process he won the heart of one of the vet techs, who took him home with her at night and then back to work each day to nurse him back to health.

Meanwhile, his brother and sister were getting sicker, so we took them in, too. Mary, the next-smallest, improved ever so slowly. Peter was soon well. They became increasingly attached to one another, and we took them both. When the rescue wanted to separate them while Mary was still ailing, we just didn’t feel she could handle that stress…or maybe we couldn’t bear to part with them. Thus we became foster failures, adopting them and renaming them Ike and Mamie. Now we’re living happily-ever-after with our pack of four rescued Beagles.

 To those who say they could never foster because they would get too attached, I say, yes, that’s a real possibility. But the rewards in seeing your fosters go to their forever homes to be loved and cared for as they deserve make the risk well worth it! –Carol Meyer

Storytime: A Story of Circumstance

Read this and other awesome rescue stories in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Labrador Retrievers.

A Story of Circumstance 

A Story of Circumstance

Like so many other stories, mine is one of coincidence and circumstance. Ten years ago I endured major brain surgery and a brief near-death experience. Fortunately it left me with a somewhat altered outlook, giving me a greater sense of compassion for people and creatures struggling to maintain a normal, healthy life. This experience resulted in moments of total exhaustion and despair, but some indescribable motivation kept me going. There were times along the way I wondered why I couldn’t stay on the peaceful “other side,” but I eventually came to believe the main reason I remain in this world is to not only inspire others with my story but to also find a way to give something back. I just had not discovered what that would be.

Twenty years ago our family moved into a subdivision to be close to schools and other activities for our two daughters, and my wife constantly questioned why we couldn’t have a dog. Between my travel and the typical busy schedule of the family, I felt a dog wouldn’t receive the attention it deserved. For years I have seen overweight, bored, and neglected dogs that appear to be objects of their owner’s amusement with limited concern for the dog’s welfare. I explained to my wife that I had no intention of going down that path.

Following my surgery, our circumstances had changed, and I eventually agreed to open our home to a dog. My wife found Sir George, a blind 18-month-old Lab, on the rescue website, and I seriously thought about the challenges he must be facing without the benefit of sight. I reflected on my own struggles and recognized some common ground. Still, we ventured to the rescue headquarters keeping an open mind to all the adoptable dogs. The puppies were especially cute and difficult to resist, but, not surprisingly, they are quickly adopted. As I recall, when the moment came to make a decision, my wife and I looked at each other and asked the same question, “What do you want to do?” Our mutual conclusion was a concern that if we didn’t take George, who will adopt him? And so our decision was made. I remember the tears in the rescue director’s eyes after hearing our choice. She looked at us for clarification and asked again, “You’ll take George?”

Soon after adopting George, my wife entered him in a basic obedience class where he easily became the star pupil. Next we decided on therapy dog training with The Delta Society. Again, he easily passed and has managed to upgrade his status. He visits patients at local hospitals, elementary schools, and nursing homes. The experience is not only rewarding for George, but it also helps those with disabilities and illnesses to connect with a blind dog that is so happy and oblivious of his handicap. During one visit my wife encountered the nurse who retrieved George from an Indiana animal shelter before he was transported to Cincinnati.

Apparently George was severely neglected and his owners were reported to the Humane Society. Sometimes we wish he could tell us his story, but then again, it’s probably best if he doesn’t remember. We find it far more important that we give him the life he deserves for the present and the future. George and I visit the park often, where he swims and retrieves his ball or stick from the lake. Strangers watch him and are amazed when they discover he is blind. We run errands together to Home Depot or Lowes, and he has become a favorite among the staff. He even tolerates the grandbabies crawling all over him, and we have never experienced even the slightest problem at home. Is it a coincidence that he arrived at the rescue just prior to our visit? I can’t answer that, but what I do know is that he is the perfect fit for us.

Often I close my eyes and try to imagine what it’s like to live in a world of total darkness. It is frightening for me, but considering that George has no choice, he has learned to adapt by responding to touch and sounds. He groans from delight after a good belly scratch, gobbles his food with absolute gusto, and is excited when he knows we are preparing to travel somewhere. To us he’s a big, soft, gentle, loveable teddy bear and a pleasure to hug. I don’t know if I would have been so drawn to George and his disability had I not been through a life changing experience myself. Yet the most gratifying feeling for us is knowing George is in the absolute best possible home for the rest of his life, and although he has brought so much joy to our family, it’s even greater to be able to give back. –Rich Ayers

Storytime: Monte and Me

From Partners With Paws: Service Dogs and the Lives They Change.

Monte and Me

Monte and Me 

A while back Monte and I were climbing a ramp in front of a school when I noticed a woman watching us from a distance. As we reached the top, she called, “You’ve got a mighty handsome companion there!”

In a futile effort to salvage my fragile self-concept, I shouted back, “Are you talking to me or the dog?” She laughed and waved before walking across the parking lot and up the stairs. We chuckled together and exchanged dog stories while my charming sidekick accepted affectionate scratches and licked her hand in return. As she left, she assured me that I was every bit as handsome as Monte. For some odd reason, I found her comparison comforting.

Something’s wrong when being as attractive as a Labrador Retriever actually improves your self-image, but that’s just one of many revelations I’ve encountered in my adventure with a service dog.

I thought that Monte would do stuff for me, sort of like a four-legged servant who would anticipate my needs and fulfill my every desire. I imagined a combination butler/maid with a cold nose. Instead I got a floor littered with plush toys and a constantly wagging tail threatening anything in its path. I got a tireless retriever who returns a tennis ball until it’s too slobbery to hold. I got a devoted partner who always greets me enthusiastically, never gets angry, instantly forgives my impatience and eagerly performs nearly any task in return for a pat on the head and an occasional crunchy biscuit.

I anticipated a furry, dedicated attendant, always on call, no sick days and no appointment necessary. Monte fulfills those expectations with a comical twist. He may appear sound asleep, but the moment I drop something his head snaps upright. He’s instantly prepared to retrieve: after he stretches and shakes his head, he pounces as though the lost item must be subdued before he can safely return it.

As he transforms the frustration of an unreachable object into an entertaining pursuit, Monte reminds me that most everyday calamities aren’t the disasters I often perceive. I expected a service dog. I received a constant reminder that life can be calm and peaceful, as long as nobody utters the word “Frisbee.”

I wasn’t certain what to expect from a service dog. I’ve always loved and had dogs in my life, but after my injury I had been reluctant to accept the responsibility of training and caring for a pet. However, after reading about these amazing animals and meeting a couple of them, I could see how they enriched the lives of their partners. My wife loves dogs as well and thought a service dog was a great idea.

But I was still reluctant. As I shared my concerns, the staff at Canine Partners of the Rockies told me about this incredible yellow Lab named Monte and how he was perfectly suited to my situation. After some thinking, I decided to commit to a partnership.

I tried to prepare for Monte’s arrival, but I still felt apprehensive as the big day approached. When he appeared at our door, it was clear that he didn’t know what to expect either. He spent a couple of hours hiding in a corner, trying to figure out this strange environment and new people.

Then a simple, magical moment changed everything. A tennis ball appeared. Monte forgot that he was unsure about this new place. I forgot that I was unsure about caring for a dog. He bounded happily after the ball, brought it back, and dropped it in my lap.

I wasn’t a guy in a wheelchair; he wasn’t a timid, uncertain stranger. We were just there, together, having fun. We were partners.

The presence of a wheelchair in public settings frequently creates invisible interpersonal barriers. Others hide their discomfort as they shuffle apologetically aside and try not to stare, while their uncertainties circle in uneasy silence. Children are quickly shushed when they point and ask innocent questions. I’m embarrassed, smiling as though nothing’s wrong while I seek the quickest possible escape. But all of that awkward silliness disappears when Monte’s around.

Dogs forge instant relationships, and service dogs seem to amplify that effect because they appear in unexpected places. Even when I’m feeling self-conscious and wishing I could be a bit less noticeable, complete strangers become Monte’s instant pals, and I’m an automatic member of his social network.

People at the next table in a restaurant become immediate friends. We learn all about their dogs and their kids’ dogs. We listen to fond recollections and bittersweet remembrances of faithful, beloved companions. We laugh as our new comrades imagine the potential chaos if their own lovable but unruly dog were to enter an environment full of strangers and food.

Monte loves carrots. At one of our favorite hangouts, we scarcely reach our table before he is welcomed warmly with a doggy veggie plate. If the server is new, one of the veterans introduces her to Monte. Usually they greet my wife and me as well, but he’s the obvious guest of honor. Other diners giggle at the impromptu entertainment as I violate service dog protocol by tossing an occasional carrot to the star of the show.

Monte’s quiet demeanor in crowded situations always generates admiring comments. Even non-dog-lovers smile and note his remarkable behavior. Whenever we’re together, something in his calm, friendly manner draws people to us. My wife and I frequently chuckle when someone greets Monte, tells him how beautiful he is, and then as an afterthought, speaks to us. We’re clearly just part of his entourage.

I often struggle in the rushed, barren atmosphere of a hotel lobby. Business travelers are on a mission, families are frazzled, and children are restless. A wheelchair signifies an unwelcome complication involving special room arrangements and accommodations that slow the process and require extra effort. It’s easy to feel like I’m in the way, to imagine that people are silently thinking that things would be simpler if I hadn’t appeared. But something about Monte’s presence seems to encourage folks to unwind and slow down a little.

One especially harried check-in clerk at an upscale resort apologetically advised me that I’d have to sign a damage waiver to allow Monte in the hotel. She laughed and relaxed when I assured her that I posed a much greater risk of unacceptable behavior than Monte. In a short time the clerk, the manager, and a couple of weary guests were chatting, smiling, and admiring Monte (and his owner, of course). Each time I saw those folks during the next few days, I felt a bit like I was encountering old friends.

Anywhere we go together, Monte elicits excited grins from kids and warm smiles from adults. Despite his “working dog” label, people are drawn to him. Most folks ask permission to pet him, but many simply cannot resist. The most reserved individuals become puddles of mush, scratching his head as they share the life stories of their own dogs.

There’s something magical about a being that triggers giggles just by showing up.

Monte even impacts the normally reserved atmosphere in church. He usually lies quietly at my feet, garnering jealous glances from those who wish they were sleeping so soundly. A few weeks ago a guest musician was performing, and the service halted when she saw Monte. She stopped singing, ran down from the stage, and knelt on the floor to rub his tummy. Laughter filled the auditorium as he rolled onto his back with legs pointing straight into the air in the immodest pose we refer to as “The Full Monte.”

I love to ride my hand cycle, but cranking with Monte in tow redefines the experience. I might find a familiar path repetitive and unremarkable, but my counterpart renders such terms meaningless. Every corner reveals a new world to explore. Every fellow traveler offers fresh opportunities for interaction and admiration.

My workout partner eagerly anticipates each ride, and it’s impossible not to share the joy as his ears flap in the wind and his tongue lolls playfully. When I ride alone, I too frequently focus on a destination. Monte doesn’t care where we’re going, but he loves the experience of getting there. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear he smiles as he romps along beside me.

I think Monte brings a sense of life and connection to an increasingly isolated, sterile culture. In a strange paradox, he seems to make things a bit more human for folks who are too frequently immersed in their own world of iPods and cell phones. He’s certainly a catalyst for interaction, breaking down walls of isolation for an owner who’s too frequently preoccupied with disability.

Monte invites people to relax, slow down, and forget their objective for a moment. He’s totally here and now, and his presence appears to promote a quieter, calmer atmosphere.

The effect is especially evident when he’s at school with me. I teach junior high math, which, for some reason, isn’t every kid’s favorite subject. No matter what I do to create a relaxed classroom environment, there’s often a good deal of stress in the air. Monte seems to calm things down for many students.

Some kids just gravitate to him. They always greet him, pet him, and some just get on the floor and hug him. During a test, if I sense that kids are unusually anxious, I simply move around the room with Monte. His simple, calm aura, along with an occasional lick on the face, seems to help them relax and concentrate.

Before Monte arrived, I feared that a service dog’s constant presence might create disruptions and distractions. I was right.

Monte disrupts my efforts to hide. Life in a wheelchair tempts me to withdraw or try to blend in with the scenery, but I quickly discovered that blending was no longer part of the script. There’s no such thing as “inconspicuous” in the company of an 80-pound people magnet.

He distracts me from my tendencies to lose perspective and to forget to enjoy the blessings that surround me. His jovial eyes and constantly sniffing nose lovingly mock my incessant need to accomplish the task at hand. Life becomes a bit less serious when you always have to keep a doggy treat handy.

Monte transforms the simplest excursion into an adventure and eliminates the notion of a “routine” errand. Whether it’s the reactions of the people we encounter or his intense interest in every sight and sound, there’s always an element of unanticipated magic in Monte’s world. It’s a joy to be part of his supporting cast. –Rich Dixon

In Memorium: Vegas

We are sorry to report that Vegas, one of the shining stars of Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Pit Bulls, crossed the Rainbow Bridge last Thursday. Please help us remember him by reading his story and sharing with others the truth about what great companions Pit Bulls can be.

Take a Chance on the Truth

Vegas, Pit Bull Rescue

When the story I’m about to tell you took place, my newlywed husband and I had been married less than a year, had adopted two dogs from local rescues in Augusta, Georgia, and were expecting our first child later that summer.

Lilly is a Lab/terrier mix (which is code for adorable mutt that’s too smart for her own good), and Vegas is an American Pit Bull terrier (although professionals love to argue amongst themselves over his “true” lineage, since no one knows for sure where he came from). Vegas was dropped in the bushes in front of a very nice, elderly woman’s home when he was just a puppy. She thought she had a 50/50 chance of being bitten by this unknown dog, so she named him Vegas. As he grew, it quickly became obvious that his size was going to be too much for her and her elderly mother to handle (bad hip and all), so they gave him to Heartsong Animal Rescue to find him a forever home…and that’s where we found him.

One warm Georgia summer evening a couple of months after we adopted Vegas, we decided to go out for dinner. We had a huge, fenced back yard, so we thought we’d let the dogs run and play there while we were out. But just as they had served us our entrees, I received a call on my cell phone from a woman who lived up the street from us. She said she had our dogs locked in her dog pen in her backyard. Apparently they were just running around under the street lights when she came home from work, so she called to them and they came to her. She got my cell phone number off Vegas’ tag and called me right away. “Just get here when you can,” the woman said, “I think one of them might be bleeding somewhere. I had blood on my skirt when I went in the house. It was too dark outside to see much…”

 We quickly finished our dinner and headed home to retrieve our dogs. When we got to her house, she greeted us outside and was very kind. She explained that her son had built the large kennel run in her backyard for his two dogs and that’s where they stay when he comes to visit. “Lucky I could get ’em in there,” she said, “Otherwise they might have wandered off pretty far.” She admitted that when she saw Vegas, she wasn’t sure if he would be aggressive or not, but when she called them over, much to her surprise, he was the first one to her, licking her and wiggling all over. She commented on how sweet he was and how Pit Bulls get such a bad rap. Then we thanked her for holding our dogs for us, and we took them home.

Once inside the house, no doubt exhausted by all the excitement, the dogs went and lay down, falling asleep almost immediately. Vegas was on the cool tile floor in the kitchen; Lilly by a vent in the living room. As they rested, we checked them over and saw what had happened to them in the short time we were gone. As Lilly lay sleeping, her chest rising and falling with each breath, we noticed a little glimmer of light reflecting off her ribs. Upon further inspection, we found the unthinkable: a copper bullet, used by a BB gun at close range, was lodged in her side and reflecting the light from the kitchen each time she took a breath. Horrified, we pulled out two BB’s.

Vegas only had one bullet lodged in his coat, but his wounds were far more disturbing. His face was bleeding from four or five holes in his snout, where someone had shot him at close range multiple times.

I was beside myself with guilt, fear, and anger. Who could do such a thing? Lilly only had body shots because after the first hit she must have run away. Vegas, on the other hand, loves and trusts all people, so after these monsters shot him in the face, he did not turn away; he may have even gone back to them if they called him to, so they could just shoot him again.

Yet despite the fact a stranger had just shot him in the face, and he and Lilly were running for their lives, Vegas recognized the Good Samaritan and immediately, willingly let this stranger put him in a cage, somehow knowing it was for their safekeeping.

But that’s Vegas. I am constantly surprised at how gentle and loving this dog is towards everybody. His enthusiasm and affection have never faltered, even when people don’t give him the same courtesy. The more I researched this breed, the more educated I became as to their inherent kind nature and capacity for love. My Vegas is a shining example.

When my daughter was born Vegas paced the floors each time she cried. I think he was just as happy as we were when she started sleeping through the night! He slept under her bassinet when she slept, and if she was awake he was watching over her. Every time I, or anyone else, sat down on the couch, Vegas wanted to be next to us, touching us (preferably in our laps). There has never been a friend or a stranger that has come into our home that he did not welcome energetically with a wagging tail.

His benevolence, goofy charm, and unyielding love for humans since day one in our family have taught me that I’ve got no room for pre-judgment or prejudice in my life. He has also sparked the animal-loving flame within me that now burns brighter and hotter than ever before. Through his loyalty, affection, and steadfast heart he has shown me my purpose and prompted me to do all I can to help rescue, rehabilitate, and find homes for as many shelter dogs, especially Pit Bulls, as possible. I am on a mission to educate people about the joys of a Pit Bull-filled life and the fallacy of ferocious, baby-eater myths.

The happiness Vegas has brought to our family knows no bounds. My heart and mind are now open, thanks to Vegas, and I will continue to fight for Pit Bulls until the truth sets them free. – Steffanie Prestol

Heidi’s Challenge

Happy Tails Books encourage people to find unique ways to integrate their pets into their lives and communities. Here’s Valerie Keener’s story about how she and her Boxer, Heidi, have come up with an innovative system of helping children to improve their reading skills:

When my eldest daughter had our grandson at only 28 weeks gestation, we anticipated developmental problems. He was in the NICU for 13 weeks and came home on heart monitors, etc. 

Eight months after my grandson’s birth, I looked to adopt a Boxer puppy because I felt that my grandson would benefit from the stimulation, and perhaps he and the dog would bond. We brought our grandson to meet Heidi, a 13-week-old pup from a bad situation. She was shy, but she went running right up to my grandson and stayed by his side. We took that as a sign and brought her home.

Luckily, it turned out that my grandson had no deficits. None! He is our miracle boy in so many ways. Although he didn’t need Heidi as much as we thought he might, perhaps other people did. Heidi had the perfect disposition for a therapy dog, so I decided to train her. After she finished beginning though advanced classes at PetSmart and achieved her CGC (Canine Good Citizen award), we joined an organization called Thera-Pits in the Cleveland area, and Heidi went on to earn her Therapy Dogs International certification.

With the blessing of Chris Hughes, the founder of Thera-Pits, we started an Akron branch of the organization. With that, we began working on reading skills in local schools with both special needs and mainstream kids. We also worked with the local library in their kids reading to the dogs program. 

Our work with the children had many ideas rolling around in my head. I researched dogs and reading programs and discovered that university studies proved that kids’ skills and confidence grew significantly after reading to a dog just once a week. I thought, “What if they were able to do this every day?”

Of course, Heidi can’t work with the kids every day, so what could we do? I founded Thera-Paws, a new organization, and from that came “Heidi’s Challenge.” Through this, we challenge kids to read to their family cat/dog/hamster/whatever (if they don’t have a pet, a stuffed animal will do). They are to do so for a specific amount of time, during which they are to skip over words they can’t read or pronounce. After the designated time is up, they are to ask someone for help with the difficult words.

We challenge them to do this every day for an entire month, and at the end, we give them an award from Heidi. The first month earns them a bookmark with Heidi’s photo on it. It says, “I completed Heidi’s Challenge.” Each month they complete earns them a different award. 

Last year was our first, and the program was very well received. We have been asked to do it again this year. We are extremely pleased with the program’s success, and especially with the fact that we are not only helping children to read but we are also helping children to learn about pet-related issues. In launching the challenge, I did a 20-minute assembly with the entire school and spoke about proper dog manners, how to handle a strange dog approaching in a park, and the “real” pit bull and canine discrimination and BSL (breed-specific legislation). 

I have MS and I do not do well in the winter months. Historically, I do not go out in the winter; basically, I just hibernate. During this past winter and with the commitments I had made with Heidi, I was forced to go out. As a result, I had the best winter I have had in many years, both physically and mentally!  At this point in time, Heidi and I are the only Thera-Paws “team,” but another team is joining me this year. Their timing is great because the more known we are, the more we are invited to visit schools. I really believe in the program and the impact it has on kids. This year, we are working with at least three classes of autistic children. We look forward to the challenges. 

If you’d like to follow Valerie and Heidi’s successes, please visit their website and their Facebook page.


How Does Everybody Win?

Being both an animal lover and a rescue donor can put a person at odds with oneself. While the animal lover hopes that every wayward animal can find a wonderful home, the donor understands that rescues have financial limitations that necessitate some tough decisions about financial allocation and who gets to be saved. Short of overhauling the entire animal rescue and rehabilitation system (thank you to those working on that), what’s a person to do? If you can’t save everyone, how do you decide who gets saved and what donations are best used for?

We felt this topic deserved a post after receiving a heartbreaking email from a Lost Souls: FOUND! author about her dog, Joey. Joey was the product of a backyard breeder. He arrived with mange, cherry eye, and some extremely serious anxiety, which manifested in aggression. For four years, Leatha and her husband, Jerry, worked to build trust and include Joey in their furry family. Things did improve over the years, but still he suffered with anxiety, and one day that anxiety turned into aggression toward Leatha when she startled him by mistake.

JoeyTwelve bites and a trip to the hospital later, Leatha is recovering, and Joey is in mandatory quarantine for 10 days. As Joey continues to struggle with both human and canine relationships, Leatha and Jerry have had to make the heartbreaking decision to give him up. They have tried all they can – they have seen him enjoy some things in life, like going for walks and playing ball – but after this last incident, they simply feel that they can’t go on with him like this. They are, however, offering to pay for Joey to spend two months training with Suzi Schaefers, a canine aggression specialist, if someone would be willing to adopt him. Her number is 1.303.995.0132, if you are interested.

Any dog lover can surely empathize with the difficulty of the decision Leatha and Jerry have had to make. Surely it will linger in their hearts, especially if Joey doesn’t find a new home before his quarantine time is up (which will ultimately mean that Joey’s “time” is up as well).

Beyond the immediate concerns about Joey, this situation made us think more generally about rescues. It begs the question about when a rescue should say when and how scarce financial resources should be allocated. We often talk about when it is time to euthanize a pet. The consensus is generally “when the pet is in too much pain in this world to go on or poses a real threat to society.”

Is it more humane to free a high-anxiety, aggressive dog from this life if all other options (anti-anxiety meds, training, etc.) have been exhausted? Is the rescue running a risk by not euthanizing a dog who is known to be aggressive because a human (or canine) could get hurt? Regarding the financial cost of attempting to rehabilitate extremely “difficult” dogs, do you think that money would be better spent to help multiple readily-adoptable dogs than just one questionable one? Or is it that a rescue should do the best they can on a first come, first serve basis?

Is there a solution where everybody wins?

What are your thoughts on this topic?

Storytime: Tears and Cheers

Originally published in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Basset Hounds.

Tears and Cheers


What can you say about a five-year-old Basset Hound who died? That she was beautiful and brave?  That she loved belly rubs, baby feet, ice cream, and a Red Flyer wagon?  That her life was ending when we came together, but in those six remaining months, she would move many to tears and to cheers?  She was amazing.

With less than a week remaining until Christmas, I was elated when my foster Basset Hound Abby was adopted into her forever home. Woohoo! I would spend Christmas with family and upon returning to my cozy little townhome in Dumfries, Virginia, would request another foster Basset Hound. Having become a foster home for BROOD (Basset Rescue of the Old Dominion) earlier that year, I found that both I and my kind-hearted Basset Hound, Hoover, enjoyed our temporary house guests.  We both had more than enough love and nurturing to share as each sad-eyed Basset Hound, wounded in numerous ways, slipped into our routine, our bed, and our hearts.

December 23rd brought a phone call about a staggering Basset Hound dropped off at the overflowing holding kennel.  She was a confused, frightened, and severely impaired little girl, who desperately needed to be in a quiet and attentive home. So while everyone else was in the countdown to the final 24 hours of Christmas, we were on the countdown to getting our new foster dog, Pecos, and before day’s end, she was whisked from the kennel chaos to the warm bath and bed our home could provide. Hoover, with his welcoming watchful eye, undoubtedly was happy that Christmas would now be spent at home with a new foster.

Pecos’ affliction was a mystery, and her relinquishing family provided little historical information.  Her saving grace was the apparent lack of pain. She wobbled when she walked, with an odd, over-reaching step, and any movement appeared to be a challenge. She valiantly staggered toward the door when responding to nature’s call, but outdoor potty runs were impossible in her condition. I quickly learned to express her bladder, stimulate bowel movement, and carefully time her meals. Pecos adapted to saucy, padded denim britches, and we seemed to have things under control.

The search for a diagnosis and a plan of treatment took us to several specialists. Pecos had blood tests, X-rays, a spinal tap, an MRI, rehab therapy, acupuncture, and holistic treatments. Then we received the devastating diagnosis: Her brain and spine were affected by neurological distemper, undoubtedly having been latent in her body from earlier survival of the disease, which, by the way, is easily preventable.

Without a cure, we pushed on with living, with making the most of every day, with meds and therapy, and with prayers raised from the Basilica of Baltimore to the Grotto of Lourdes. Together we learned how to master movement with doggie carts supporting her rear legs. The day she came through her neurologist’s clinic door in her cart, the entire staff came into the lobby and cheered with smiles and tears as they watched her proudly roll forward to the treatment room under her own power.

Pecos became an ambassador for BROOD, attending doggie events and participating in fundraising walks. She alternated between her doggie cart and her Red Flyer wagon, which was known as her chariot. People applauded her effort to walk and asked to have their pictures taken with her. She adored the attention and gave a kiss to anyone who wanted one. She had a special fondness for licking the feet of squealing, excited babies.

Five months into our journey, Pecos lost the use of her front legs. Still happy with Hoover’s companionship, good food, and her pile of quilts with a view to outdoor activity and TV shows, we were now in hospice mode. At least Pecos was pain-free and reveling in outings with the Red Flyer wagon.

One month later Pecos let me know it was time to let her go.  I gave her a final ride in the Red Flyer wagon, embraced her with our love, and then helped her on a peaceful transition from wheels to wings.

Pecos may be one of the few dogs in rescue history to be adopted after her passing. Some may think it a moot point; she was in foster care and considered unadoptable because of her terminal prognosis. But it did not seem quite right to close the books without making it official. She was part of our family. She was treasured. She was loved. To this day I think of her with that infamous question put forth by many a foster parent: “Who rescued whom?” She was so amazing.

Diane McManus

Do you have your own story to share? Submit it here!

Storytime: The Best Listener

Originally published in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories of Adopted Boston Terriers.

The Best Listener


 When Jace came into the rescue group, he was thin and timid. His foster family helped him to put on some weight, and he quickly became a cute, fun-loving guy with an “attitude.” When we met him for the first time, we were impressed with the way that he walked with an air of purpose and determination, as if he were on a mission.

 Jace was relinquished by a family who found him too challenging. They couldn’t handle both him and their new baby. The family said he was a handful, and perhaps not very smart. Upon surrendering him they complained that he just wouldn’t listen.

When we heard about Jace through the rescue group, we simply couldn’t resist! He was adorable, and it turns out that his previous family was wrong. It wasn’t that he was stupid or a poor listener, the problem was that he was DEAF!

Since he came into our home, we have all learned sign language. To an outsider, the signs look very much like standard sign language, but we’ve simplified some of the hand signals to make learning easier for Jace. The signal is also accompanied by a verbal command. This way, our other Boston Bentley also learns the signals. Both dogs are now so familiar with the hand signs that we rarely bother with the verbal cues around the house. The signal for “no” sometimes has to be accompanied by a squirt from the water bottle (NEVER in the face) as a physical reminder that Jace is active in a behavior that is not allowed.

We have made up signs for my husband’s name as well as mine, Jace’s and Bentley’s. We try to use them every time we talk to Jace about each other. When it’s dark, we communicate with him through flashes from a laser pointer, or if he’s in the yard, we flash the outside light as a signal for him to look at the door for his next command or simply come inside. When Jace is confused, he looks to Bentley for “listening” cues, and Bentley happily shows him what to do next.

We don’t know if all deaf dogs are similar to Jace, but for him, being deaf is barely an inconvenience. We know that he is deaf, but sometimes we accuse him of faking…for a dog that can’t hear something hit the floor, it’s amazing how quickly he can find food that we drop!

Jace thrives on touch when you talk to him and likes to know where everyone is at all times. He’ll regularly search the house to check on everyone’s location and then go back to his resting spot. We have two older pugs that sleep downstairs, and often at night Jace will accompany them to their kennel so that he can see where they were going. He is a very loving, concerned companion and will not go to sleep at night until he knows that everyone is in his or her place.

One of Jace’s favorite things to do is to climb into our laps and lean against our chests so that he can “have a talk” with us. His favorite person to “talk” to is my husband, Jerry, who makes Jace so content that he sometimes even falls asleep on him! Other naps are taken with Bentley, either in the afternoon or in front of the fire after a bath.

Jace’s former family was right about one thing… he can be a bit of a handful during his waking hours! We’ve had to “Jace-proof” our home since he’ll eat practically anything: buttons off baseball hats, paper from our printer… essentially anything that he can reach is fair game. Just as he keeps his mischievous eyes on us, we keep our eyes on him with a spray bottle close by, just in case…

Despite his occasional “sense of humor,” Jace is very easy to love and has become a wonderful pet. “Talking” to Jace is sometimes difficult, but one thing is always clear: he never misunderstands a smile, and he always knows how to bring one out during a conversation! 

Gerald and Leatha Pierce

Do you have your own story to share? Submit it here!