Storytime: My Invisible Challenge

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

My Invisible Challenge

My Invisible Challenge 

Name: Pippi

Breed: Labrador/Golden Retriever mix

Origin: Paws With A Cause

Acoustic neuroma is a tiny, benign brain tumor that affects my hearing. For me, normal conversation sounds like a foreign language spoken from the next room. Because my hearing loss started well into adulthood, my speech is unaffected, and my “challenge” is invisible to others. When I am out in public, no one knows that I’m deaf. Sometimes I walk away from someone speaking to me, and more than once I’ve been unable to respond to questions or comments because I didn’t understand. For example, my daughter and I bought a small dessert to share while shopping at a local book store, and after I paid, the employee asked me “Alive?”

Taken aback, I asked him to repeat his question.

“Alive?” he asked again.

Well, I hope I didn’t look as panicked as I felt; what was he talking about? Finally, my daughter stepped in and said, “No, thank you,” before steering me toward our table, where she explained he had been offering me a knife. That is how I hear the world and why I am learning American Sign Language.

After five or six years of a progressive hearing loss, I saw a demonstration involving a Paws With A Cause (PAWS) assistance dog. This bundle of energy did some extraordinary stuff! She could turn the lights on and off and open the door. She picked up a dime and gave it to the trainer. She put gloves on the trainer and took them off again. I was amazed, to say the least. After the demonstration I sat with the trainer and asked numerous questions. One of my concerns was regarding my 11-month-old Boxer, Phoebe. Could she be a candidate for training?

Long story short, after testing proved Phoebe to be a poor “hearing dog” candidate, my family encouraged me to proceed with the application process, even though it meant placing Phoebe with another family. So in September of 2007, I applied for a hearing dog.

Like all things worthwhile, obtaining an assistance dog took time, patience, and paperwork. I filled out forms. My doctor filled out forms. I submitted audiology reports and a statement about how I thought a hearing dog could help me. A PAWS representative came to my home with a video camera to interview my family and record my surroundings. After several weeks I was notified that I would be accepted as a client, and the process to find a hearing dog for me began. I needed to obtain funding, so no one knew how long this process might take. Here’s where the patience comes in. Month after month I waited, until finally, we were able to secure funding.

Next, I waited for a dog to be chosen for me. Matching a client to a dog is done very carefully. A hearing dog has to be outgoing and curious. She has to be eager to investigate sounds in her environment. A shy or skittish puppy would not make the cut.

In July of 2008, I was notified that the trainers at PAWS felt they had the right dog for me. We arranged a “meet and greet,” so I could see what I thought of a hearing dog named Pippi. I know now that the staff at PAWS was also evaluating me and my interaction with this dog. Pippi is a large yellow Lab/Golden Retriever mix with an exuberant and high-spirited personality. I recall being somewhat overwhelmed at that first meeting. She was so eager and enthusiastic that I had to take firm control of her to get her to sit or walk on a lead.

I became thoroughly enchanted by Pippi, and once I had demonstrated my ability to handle her, PAWS agreed that she and I should become a team. There was still some training to finish, which gave me four or five extra weeks before I could bring her home. During that time I worked on placing Phoebe. I was blessed to have several close friends and relatives show an interest in her, so placement went very smoothly.

Right after Labor Day, my daughter and I made the trip to pick up Pippi. I scheduled a week’s vacation to make Pippi’s transition into my home easier and to have uninterrupted bonding time with her. PAWS directed me to stick with bonding for that first week; there was to be no training. However, Dean Gardner, our trainer, did come out to meet us that first week to outline our training program and explain what would be required of us.

Our goal was to become certified, which would take approximately six months. Dean would visit weekly and then bi-weekly until Pippi and I were working together on all the tasks she had learned at PAWS. These tasks are tailored to each individual client. For me, Pippi had to learn to alert me to the doorbell, the oven timer, the smoke detector, the cell phone, an intruder, emergency sirens when I’m driving, and even someone calling my name. We adopted a very intense daily schedule, drilling all the different sounds. With Dean’s help we overcame a few obstacles and fine tuned our practice sessions until Pippi was able to perform each and every drill consistently. We didn’t realize how soon she would put that training to use.

In November my extended family planned to celebrate Thanksgiving at our house, so I took the day before Thanksgiving off work to start preparations. At about two in the afternoon, Pippi began to bark, came to me, pawed my leg, and ran toward the back door. I knew the garage door was closed, so no one could be knocking at the back door, but I followed anyway. Before we got to the door, she turned off into the laundry room and indicated the window. I found the window screen to be bent away…someone had tried to break into our house! I don’t want to think about what could have happened if she hadn’t been there to show me what I couldn’t hear.

Pippi comes to work with me every day. Together we shop and go to family functions, parties, funerals, and doctor’s appointments, all the things I did as a hearing person without a second thought. Now, with my “invisible” challenge, Pippi serves as a “heads-up” to anyone I meet and has made my life immeasurably easier. –Linda Berry

Storytime: Thank Heaven for Fairy Godmothers

From Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Boxers.

Thank Heaven for Fairy Godmothers

 Thank Heaven

Some time ago, in the part of Heaven where Boxers are created, a little soul was wandering around, trying to get in the proper line for having “Boxer puppy parts” assembled. She couldn’t see very well and was smaller than most of the other Boxer puppy souls, so it’s not surprising that she went to the wrong line. She was scolded and told, “That one…that line over there. Can’t you see? That is the line you should be in!”

So the little soul, one day to become Luna, obligingly scampered to “that line over there” and waited…and waited…and waited. By the time it was her turn, it was the Friday of a three-day weekend. The assemblers were tired and had plans to get outta Heaven for the weekend and go camping. They thought they had finished and were closing down the shop until “Little Soul #8265” peeked over the workbench with a happy smile—FINALLY it was her turn!

“What?!” grumbled the foreman of the Boxer puppy assemblers. “Looks like we have one more to finish before we can leave.”

So everyone scrambled to the parts boxes and grabbed whatever was left. They weren’t the best parts, but they were purebred Boxer parts nonetheless. The assemblers had used up almost all the fawn paint and all the white paint, so Little Soul #8265 got lucky with mostly shiny black paint, a few milk chocolate drizzles of fawn, and just a little white for her toes and chest. She was so shiny and pretty, and they called her a “reverse brindle.”

Next she went on to the inspection line, where they also wanted to go home and didn’t carefully check all of her parts. This didn’t matter to Little Soul #8265; she didn’t notice that her parts didn’t fit quite correctly. All she knew was that she was on her way to becoming a full-fledged Boxer puppy.

Next stop for this sweet Boxer puppy soul was the line where they hand out temperament and personality. This time Little Soul #8265 got lucky. A new shift had just begun, and they had a box heaping with those items. The workers on this line were all fairy Godmothers who were happy to stay and work overtime and get holiday pay while they inserted feelings into the Boxer puppy souls. Guess who got overflowing amounts of gentleness, sweetness, and house manners? You’re right—it was Little Soul #8265. After being passed around for lots of Fairy Godmother hugs and kisses, Luna (as she was about to become) was placed on a conveyor belt and whisked down to earth.

A family who was looking for a Boxer puppy came to inspect the litter Luna was born into. Luna was petite with huge eyes and beautiful, shiny, brindle coloring. She looked perfect, and they decided to take her home and call her their family pet.

Luna was a good puppy (one can only imagine) and was easy to housebreak. The family didn’t spend much time with Luna and didn’t work on training very much because, let’s face it, she had such a wonderful temperament; she was “good” most of the time. While they were not paying much attention to her, her front legs started to grow a little differently (remember, she didn’t have the correct parts to begin with). Also, one of her hips was not sitting just right and her eyes were a little off. Finally someone noticed she couldn’t see like the other dogs in the neighborhood. Her eyes were big and black, but they also looked like they had waxed paper in them. Someone used the word “cataract,” but Luna didn’t know what that meant and went on her merry way, sometimes bumping into things and ricocheting off in the right direction eventually.

Her family, the one that told everyone she was “the family pet,” decided she couldn’t stay with them anymore because she wasn’t perfect after all. So one dark night they drove to a shelter and dropped her in the night drop box.

Some nice people heard about Luna, rescued her from the shelter, and took her to a vet where she was spayed and given her shots, but not much else. All foster homes were full, so Luna had to spend a long time being boarded at the vet (actually it was only several days, but it seemed like forever to Luna).

Her reprieve came when the nice rescue people put out a “Christmas alert” to find Luna a warm place for the holidays. There was a rescue home that had a Nana and a Poppi and a big Boxer boy who was six years old. They said their Christmas shopping was done, the tree was decorated, and they didn’t have anything planned for the holidays, and that is how Luna came to be in their home.

Luna’s foster family could see that her parts weren’t quite right and that she could see only light. They also noticed she was very sick with a bad cold (kennel cough), very skinny, withdrawn, and afraid. They made a nice, soft bed for her in a crate, fed her yummy food three times a day, and gave her medicine for the kennel cough.           

Soon Luna started feeling better and noticed the other dog in the home. She could only “sense” he was there and was afraid. She had heard strange, barking, growling dogs around her when she was kenneled at the vet hospital, and it had worried her night and day. That’s why she didn’t trust the big fawn boy who lived with the nice people. She decided to give him “what for” to let him know she was a tough cookie, and he’d better just leave her alone! They had some fights, and though the big fawn boy was a nice guy, he didn’t like being growled at and pushed around by a skinny, little girl who bumped into him all the time.

Christmas came and went. Luna rode on errands in the car with the nice people and decided that she loved riding in the car because it was a safe and warm place where she could wait for the nice people to finish their errands while she napped. After the holidays the house had some great children and grown-ups visiting, and Luna was beside herself with joy and love. The nice people mostly kept Luna and the big fawn boy separated because it didn’t seem like she was going to want anything to do with him. Oddly enough though, she didn’t mind going for walks with him, and they had a good time outdoors.

Luna heard people talking about “New Year’s resolutions” and tried to figure out what that was all about. It seems the people around her were going to “try to do better” in the New Year. Luna was so happy to be with this nice family, she decided she would try to “do better” as well. The big fawn boy seemed to be quite important to them; he was kinda cute on the walks and had a lot of nice toys and soft, comfy beds (one even had a heater!), so Luna made up her mind that this was the thing she could be better at. She could get along with the big fawn boy.

She mustered all the gentleness and sweetness bestowed upon her by her fairy Godmothers, and when she got up the next morning, she went to the toy box and picked out the blue octopus. She shook it, flipped it, and walked up next to the big fawn boy to see if he might like to play tug of war. He wasn’t too sure—every time he had offered her a toy, she had growled and snapped at him—but he was a very patient boy and decided to give it a try. They played and played and played. They boxed, they body slammed, and they head butted. When they were worn out from playing, they lay on the carpet gnawing on each other’s faces and neck (the ultimate sign of doggie-friendship).

The nice Nana and Poppi were so happy at this behavior and so proud of Luna and her perfect New Year’s resolution that they decided to adopt her. After all, Christmas is a time for giving, and there was nothing better Nana and Poppi could give Luna (now lovingly referred to as “Lulu, the Princess of Quite a Lot”) than a permanent place in their home. –Marlene Gardner

Storytime: The Surprise Inside

From Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Chihuahuas

The Surprise Inside

Chihuahua rescue 

The moment I heard about the puppy mill/hoarding bust in Arizona, I knew I would have one of the rescued dogs. Authorities had found 800 suffering, toy breed dogs, neglected and living in squalor, in a triple-wide mobile home. Many were giving birth as animal control quickly whisked them away, and several had severe injuries like paws chewed off from fights. Their living space appeared to be indoor plastic crates crammed with dogs or equally crowded outdoor pens.

The Arizona shelter simply did not have the capacity to accommodate such a huge influx of dogs, so the Marin Humane Society in California stepped in with “Operation Tiny Teacup,” a rescue effort to pick up several hundred of these little passengers and relocate them to California to find forever homes.

I already had two Chihuahuas: an older girl named Smidge, and younger girl named Tidbit. Tidbit needed a younger playmate, as Smidge preferred sleeping away the days. The timing was perfect, and the Marin Humane Society was only an hour away, so I submitted an application to adopt one of the “Operation Tiny Teacup” dogs. To my surprise, the waiting list was in the hundreds! This was good news for the dogs, but bad news for me.

A week later I received word that there were a few remaining special-needs dogs for whom the shelter was hand-picking homes. These dogs were extremely under-socialized—not surprising since they had been raised with very little human contact—and their new people-filled environment was causing them tremendous stress. Because I had been in the animal care industry for so long and am knowledgeable about working with dogs with unique issues and temperaments, the shelter staff was willing to consider me as a potential adopter.

The adoption counselor had a particular dog in mind for me, a little Chihuahua named Rosey, whom I went to meet the next day. Rosey was a shaking, four-pound ball of blonde fur, and I was in love. When I picked her up, she buried her head in my arm, and instantly I knew Rosey, now Olive, would be coming home with me.

Olive spent our first month together hiding under my couch. I fed her under the couch, put potty pads under the couch, and gave her treats under the couch. Finally she started feeling a bit more adventurous and would poke her little head out to see what was going on in the world around her. I was always careful not to push her too fast and let all interactions be on her terms. When she was feeling a bit bolder, I took her to a panel of behaviorists to evaluate her and advise me on the best ways to help her relax. That appointment was the beginning of my long journey of helping to heal Olive’s emotional scars, so she could have the quality life she deserved.

I soon learned that Olive’s quirky behaviors are common among puppy mill dogs. These dogs, who are stuffed into very small cages with other dogs and only given minimal human contact, get the equivalent of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and will often have funny little triggers that send them into high-stress mode. For Olive, the sound of plastic being scraped (like soup being stirred in a plastic container) sent her into a frenzy, from which it took her up to 20 minutes to recover. I often wondered if it was because the sound was strikingly similar to nails on the side of a plastic crate (which I am sure she heard frequently in her former environment). She also was severely copraphagic, meaning she constantly ate her own feces. This is common with mill dogs because they often have to compete with many other dogs for food. When dogs don’t receive adequate nutrition, they are likely to eat their stool to try and get it the second time around.

Ordinary experiences were extraordinary for Olive, since she had only seen the inside of a mobile home her whole life. She found the television fascinating—staring intently at it while tilting her little head from side to side in the inquisitive way dogs do when they are listening. On the other hand, cars absolutely terrified her, and I had to work very slowly to get her used to car rides.

I have now had Olive for a year and have seen an amazing transformation. Just as some olives are hiding tasty pimientos in their center, my shivering, terrified Olive had a playful, outgoing dog stashed inside! She loves nothing more than to cuddle with me in bed, solicit belly rubs, and keep my elderly dog, Smidge, on her toes. She has brought a warmth and playfulness to my household that was never there before. From her dismal beginnings to her amazing recovery, she is a shining example of the resilience and forgiveness that is the true nature of a dog. –Jessica Stout

Storytime: Tough Love

From Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Boston Terriers

Rescue: Boston Terrier Rescue of North Carolina

Tough Love 

Puppy mill Boston terrier

It all began with Macy, a Boston Terrier with a strong will and vigorous personality. At the age of five, she was diagnosed with a recurring mast cell tumor—a malignant and life-threatening cancer common to the breed. Typical of the Boston spirit, however, Macy healed beautifully after having her right rear leg amputated. Soon she was running, jumping and even catching rabbits. Macy recovered as though she never had all four legs; her fervor for life was unhampered.

Even as Macy thrived, I couldn’t control my fear that despite Macy’s favorable prognosis her genetics were against us. The same genes that caused the first tumor could potentially produce another one. In my mind, Macy’s life was expiring, our time together fleeting. I grieved the impending loss of my beloved baby every day as I studied her face and tried to preserve as much of her in my memory as I could, only to find those memories collecting in a leaky bucket. After a year and a half of despair I decided that I needed a pup, ready and able to help me rebound should the unthinkable occur.

The profile of my new addition was this: a young female Boston Terrier, smaller than Macy’s 16 pounds, gentle in nature and disinterested in rough canine play so as to not to bully my three-legged, seven-year-old angel. I thought that it would be tough to find a Boston fitting this description since the breed is typically high strung, 20-25 pounds, and the younger the pup the higher the energy level. Regardless, I persevered.

It took about three months of searching but I finally came across a dog that appeared to fit my desires. I saw her on the roster of available foster dogs at Boston Terrier Rescue of North Carolina. She was confiscated by authorities from a puppy mill in South Carolina where she had been tied to a tree with no shelter and used as a breeding dog. The description painted a picture of a shy and delicate girl, which would work well for Macy, so I grabbed the phone and made arrangements to adopt her.

I picked her up on a cold winter day from her loving foster mom in South Carolina. As I held her on the drive home and pondered a name for her, she curled her tiny black body into a ball as if trying to make herself disappear. I studied her sad eyes and furrowed brow, which told me that everything was big, unfamiliar and scary for her. She reminded me of a small sea creature just emerging from its shell after having spent its entire life in seclusion at the bottom of the ocean floor. She was a beautiful creation of nature—hidden, neglected and fragile. She was a little black “Pearl.”

My first instinct was to treat Pearl with constant doting, kisses and labored goodbyes in the morning, just as I always did with Macy. Macy was confident, independent and housetrained, and easily entertained herself by playing only with her designated toys. Since they were both Boston Terriers, I had no reason to believe Pearl would be any different. However, Pearl quickly proved to me that kisses and doting would not be enough to help her leave her past behind.

 The lasting impact of her traumatic puppyhood manifested itself in many ways and it broke my heart. During the evenings she stayed in a fetal position on the couch, looking as though she wished she could melt into the cushions. She refused to potty outside, and when I left for work, she destroyed anything she could get her mouth on, including shoes, the arms of chairs, the phone charger, my glasses, and, eventually electrical cords.

I knew that I had to do something to protect her from herself and quickly realized crate training would be the best option. The first two days in a wire crate were horrific. I came home to the crate partially dismantled and Pearl’s forehead bleeding. Not knowing what else to do I consulted a dog trainer, who turned out to be exactly what we needed.

The trainer quickly taught me that love comes in a variety of forms and is truly defined by the perception of the recipient. He explained that a dog like Pearl needs a leader and, by kissing her and picking her up, I was showing her submission. She was already a lump of nerves, and my gestures were compounding her fears. He taught me that the way to pull her out of her slump was to show her that I was in charge and able to keep her safe. With Pearl I needed to learn to be the alpha.

I quickly made changes according to the trainer’s instructions. I stopped carrying Pearl and instead gently led her outside on her leash. My gushing good-byes became a non-event (apparently making a big deal out of leaving was also triggering Pearl’s anxiety), and I only praised her when she truly deserved it. One of the hardest things for me was to ignore her when she clearly wanted me to pick her up.

Most useful was the advice the trainer gave about crate training. He taught me that a combination of positive reinforcement and repetition could help turn Pearl’s perspective on her crate from an undesirable place to a safe place. Additionally I learned that getting Pearl in and out of the crate should be done without fanfare to reinforce the idea that crating was no big deal. We switched from a wire to a plastic crate to keep Pearl from hurting herself, and then practiced having Pearl “kennel up” (enter the kennel) and “kennel out” (leave the kennel). The idea was that entering wouldn’t be so traumatic if she was familiar with exiting after only seconds or minutes. I also started feeding her in her crate to reinforce the idea that the crate was a happy place.

A paragraph or two doesn’t give justice to the work we did as it took a lot of time, patience and perseverance. After a week of very intensive focus I was uplifted to see the new training techniques paying off. Pearl stopped showing signs of distress inside the crate—no tossing her blankets or turning over her water bowl. Within two weeks she began entering the crate without being told. Crating kept her safe and secure while eliminating the destruction she had been causing. Within a month she was comfortably moving around the house when we were home, and the progress she made in her crate was amazing. She even started playing with toys!

These days Pearl is a happy, “whole” dog. She is still a bit skittish and clingy, but she has also learned love. She spends her days romping around with her best friend Macy, who, despite my fears, has showed no signs of genetic malfunction.

As for me, it turns out that my furry children are polar opposites even though they are of the same breed, which allows them to each uniquely contribute to my life. Macy is my “pickup truck.” I rely on her and she never lets me down. Pearl is my “sports car.” She’s a luxury that brings joy into my life and I feel spoiled when I spend time with her. While Macy taught me about hope, Pearl taught me humility and patience. The difference between these look-alike dogs has somehow brought a new balance to my life that strengthens me wherever I go. –Dana Harrington

Storytime: The Perfect Male

From Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Beagles.

Rescue: Southern AZ Beagle Rescue

The Perfect Male 

The Perfect Male

A few days before I turned 30, I took a moment to think about my life so far. For the most part, I was pretty content, but one thing was glaringly absent—a companion. I had gone back to school for my master’s degree the year before and had put a temporary moratorium on dating. But as the “Big 3-0” approached, I was ready to lift the romantic relationship ban.

Friends suggested I try an online dating service, and after some internal debate, I decided to take a chance. I signed up, uploaded some photos, and began to draft my profile. Writing my own profile wasn’t so bad, but then came the hard part: describing my perfect match. If I knew that, I probably wouldn’t be single!

 I was determined to give this online dating thing a serious shot, so I settled down on the sofa with a pencil and a pad of paper and started my list:

1) He has to be mature—no more silly boys for me. He has to be serious and take care of his responsibilities. But he also has to know how to have fun. A man who works hard and plays hard—now that is my kind of guy.

2) My ideal man has to be smart. This is non-negotiable. I don’t want just another pretty face who couldn’t find his way out of wet paper sack! He has to be able to keep up with me mentally. It is important that we both can teach each other new things and challenge each other.

3) Speaking of “just another pretty face,” my guy has to be good looking. I’m not shallow enough to count appearance as my number one priority, but let’s face it: Looks are important. Everyone has their own definition of attractiveness. For me, that includes someone who has strong facial features and a muscular build. I’ve always been especially drawn to dark hair and deep brown eyes. A little bit of gray around the temples is a bonus. And, like many women, I find bad boys strangely appealing, so a man with scars that tell a story of past adventures would really catch my eye.

 4) My guy has to be protective. Like I said before, he has to take care of his responsibilities and one of his responsibilities is to look after me. From protecting me from snakes that crawl on their bellies to snakes that walk around on two feet, he has to always have an eye out for those who would hurt me. Of course, he also can’t be too clingy and has to have his own interests.

5) My guy has to be affectionate and always ready with a kiss. He has to get along with my friends, and my parents have to like him as much as I do. He has to appreciate my culinary skills, even when I ruin dinner. He has to be happy when I come home from work and sad when I leave in the morning. He has to like to dance and sing along with me when a good song comes on the radio.

After jotting down my list, I stopped for a moment and took stock of what I had just written. Then something caught my eye. Well, I’ll be darned—there, curled up in a furry, little ball, was my perfect match! His name is Mickey, and he’s my handsome Beagle who came into my life seven years ago.

Who would have thought that my vision of the ideal boyfriend was in front of me the whole time, manifested in the form of a spunky, little pound pup. I am the luckiest girl in the world to have Mickey in my life. Every day since he came home seven years ago has been filled with love and adventure.

Can a dating service really find me a human as perfect for me as my dog? Good luck! –Kimberly McClure

Storytime: Misfit Manor

From Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Pets with Disabilities, Vol. II

Misfit Manor

 Shih Tzu

I witnessed a Thanksgiving miracle: my dog, Baxter, took tentative, wobbly, awkward steps with his paralyzed back legs.

The Tuesday before, I had glimpsed some movement. On Wednesday, my partner, Brian, saw the same thing. On Thanksgiving morning, Baxter managed to right himself and began taking some steps.

This is definitely something for which we are thankful.

We had adopted Baxter, a three-year-old Shih Tzu, from the local SPCA. His background is a mystery. Since he had little musculature in his back end, doctors assumed that his spine had been injured some time ago and that the damage was irreversible. He was originally scheduled to be euthanized, but after a caring veterinarian built him a makeshift wheelchair, he was given a new lease on life.

After Baxter was offered for adoption, many people expressed interest in Baxter but left abruptly when told he was paralyzed. Brian and I started receiving messages from concerned friends soon after this. They told us we were the only ones who could save this dog. We already have a house full of misfit animals, so what was one more?

We went to see Baxter at the shelter. He was terrified, shaking pathetically in the back of the cage. We could not leave him there, so after paying a small adoption fee, we walked out with him. No questions asked, no background check. They were glad to get rid of him.

The first week was difficult for Baxter. He was sullen, but as soon as he got in that cart, his tail (which, by the way, works just fine) wagged and wagged. He became confident and social. He started looking us in the eye. After a few weeks, he decided a house of full of crazy animals and a few people was not so bad after all.

We took Baxter to a specialist and learned about exercises that would strengthen his legs. Then we took him home and started working with him, which brings us to Thanksgiving—when he took a few steps, and we witnessed our miracle!

Domenick Scudera

Storytime: Biscuit Power

From Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Basset Hounds.

Rescue Organization: Ohio Basset Rescue

Biscuit Power

 Basset Hound

When I lost my Basset Hound, Bud, after 14 years, my heart and my world were shattered. He had been there for me through everything. He watched my twin daughters grow up and listened to me complain through their teenage years. He supported me through our move from Canada to Alabama. He was a warm companion at my side through chemotherapy, and he was never confused by my erratic behavior through menopause. My rock, my go-to-guy, was gone. I was a mess.

Though I had never written a poem before, I felt compelled to put the pain of my loss into words:

“The Spot”

There’s a spot on my floor that I cannot erase.

There’s a spot on my couch, that’s a glaring bare space.

There’s a spot by my bed, like a hole in the floor.

There’s a spot in the kitchen, by the pantry room door.

There’s a spot by the table, where we ate our meals.

There’s a spot in my heart that will never heal.

These spots can’t be cleaned, can’t be scrubbed or replaced.

They’re a painful reminder that I now have to face.

All of these spots were made by one friend.

He was soft; he was gentle; he was true ‘til the end.

I will miss him forever; I just hope that he’s found

A spot where he’s happy, ‘til I come back around.

 Everything had changed. Every room was empty. We had two other dogs, whom I loved very much, but the house was still empty. I missed my old Hound.

I found comfort in looking at video clips and pictures of Basset Hounds. I would sit at my computer for hours, crying and laughing at Youtube videos. I also looked at a variety of breeders’ sites. I smiled as I looked at the adorable puppies, but I knew it was not a puppy I wanted. I longed for the comforting snores of my old senior Basset, Bud.

We had never adopted before, but I found myself captivated by all of the beautiful souls on There were more than 2,000 available Basset Hounds. Through my tears I looked at Hound after Hound, waiting for a sign.

Suddenly, there she was! Her resemblance to my Buddy was almost spooky. Her kennel name was Dharma, and she had been rescued by The Ohio Basset Rescue (OBR) after being discarded by a breeder. I called her foster mom, Barb, to learn more. She was in rough shape when OBR got her. Many of her teeth had rotted due to lack of calcium during her breeding days. The veterinarian had to remove 18 teeth. They don’t know how long she had been on her own, but it took several baths just to determine the color of her fur. OBR spent a great deal of time, energy, money, and, of course, love to prepare Dharma for adoption. But there she was, ready for her new home.

The more Barb told me about her, the more I knew she was meant to be mine. She said Dharma was afraid of storms and fireworks, she was a messy drinker, and she shed like a bear. She was always hungry, and if Barb didn’t feed her in a timely manner, she would find a way of feeding herself, including opening Barb’s fridge. She was perfect! There was just one big problem. Our family lives in Alabama, and Dharma was in Ohio. OBR takes adoption very seriously, as they should, and they were not eager for out-of-state adoptions.

I would not take no for an answer. I persisted, and finally, after many reference checks with my vets and neighbors, we were approved.

We drove 800 miles to pick up our girl. As we got closer, I started to feel anxious. What if she was not what I expected her to be? What if she did not like us?

Finally we arrived. We knocked on the door, and Barb answered, inviting us into the living room. Dharma had been with Barb for six months, and Barb loved her very much, so I am sure that she, too, was filled with mixed emotions. After chatting for a few moments, Barb brought Dharma into the room. She was beautiful. Much skinnier than our big boy, Bud. She was shy at first, barking nervously at us, but eventually she came into the room and sat at Barb’s feet. We waited a while until she felt a bit more at ease, and then I brought out the big artillery: a biscuit. Oh, I have been a Basset Hound parent for 25 years, and I knew the power of the biscuit. It worked, and before long she was leaning up against us. We felt good, and I think Barb did, too.

We packed up Dharma’s leash, collar, some snacks, and her stuffed doggy, and we were on our way. She jumped in the back seat without a second thought and was a perfect passenger all the way home.

When we arrived home after our long journey, Dharma pranced through the front door and made our home her own immediately. Our young Basset girl, Mona, rushed to the door thinking Dharma was her Bud. She had known Bud her whole life and had been mourning his loss. She got within about two feet and slammed on the brakes, realizing the dog at the door was someone else. Nevertheless, they bonded almost immediately.

After getting to know Dharma, we renamed her Bunny. She is our Honey Bunny.

Bunny enjoys the southern life: long walks amongst the trees, wading into the streams, and baking her belly in the sun. She has added some “curves” to her once slimmer body, but she is healthy and happy and loved.

Bunny did what I thought could never be done. She filled the hole in my heart. Today is her 11th birthday. As I write, she sits at my side, snoring in the sun. A hint of “eau de basset” fills the air. It is heaven. We often tell her that she hit the Basset lottery when we adopted her, but we really know that it is us who have won.

This wonderful experience of adoption has motivated me. I now volunteer for one of our local animal shelters, Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) of Mobile. I have adopted two more wonderful furkids from the ARFanage. There really is nothing more fulfilling than saving a furry soul and likewise being saved. –Cindy Ferguson

Storytime: From Beirut to the ’Burbs

Originally Published In Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Golden Retrievers, Vol. II.

Rescue Organization: As Good As Gold

From Beirut to the ’Burbs

Golden Retriever International Transport

From a pet store to the streets. From the streets to a shelter. Then, from the shelter to a new home…6100 miles away!

We don’t know for sure what happened to land six-month-old Isabella out on the streets of Beirut. A mix of Golden Retriever and what looks like Saluki, Isabella often garners remarks of, “She has hair between her toes,” when people first meet her.

According to an article by Barbara Cooke in the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Patch (an Illinois publication), a Beirut dog-rescue agency named Animals Lebanon found this mixed-breed Golden and placed her in a local home, but she was returned shortly thereafter because she had health problems. Eventually, she was diagnosed and treated for nephritic syndrome, A.K.A. renal failure. She was placed in a foster home until her foster parents started traveling a lot, which landed her back at Animals Lebanon.

Had Isabella fully recovered from her health problems? No one was sure. The symptoms seemed to have subsided. Perhaps she needed more thorough diagnostic treatment than Beirut could provide.

Animals Lebanon started looking outside their immediate area for help with Isabella. They eventually made contact with animal rescuers in the Chicago-land area. Barbara Cooke was then contacted via email, and she posted about Isabella in her column. Thanks to a selfless donation of frequent flyer miles, Isabella and two other dogs from Lebanon were flown to Chicago’s O’Hare airport, where rescuers picked them up. Isabella went to As Good As Gold (AGAG), a northern Illinois Golden Retriever rescue that had read about her plight on Facebook (posted by Cooke) and stepped up to provide foster care and medical treatment for her. The news was good. Isabella might only have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which simply required a limited ingredient diet.

In January, my wife, Leslie, and I contacted AGAG to adopt a dog. My mother had passed away the previous November, we were empty nesters, and our six-year-old black Lab, Bojangles, had died suddenly and tragically several years prior, an early victim of pet food contamination. We needed someone to care for, and we wanted to again fill our suburban house with a daily dose of happiness.

After completing the AGAG pre-screening process, we were invited to visit Isabella and her current foster mom, Jennifer. For us, it was love at first sight. After Isabella pranced around with her foster home’s dogs in their back yard, she came up to me and sat down. I petted her, handed her a few of the dog treats Jen had given us, and leaned over and smooched her on her forehead. Thirty minutes later, Isabella hopped into the back of our Prius along with her food and toys and headed to her new home in Naperville, Illinois.

Since then, we have maintained a close watch on Isabella’s eating habits. We take her for periodic checkups with her veterinarian to ensure that her health problems – whatever they were – stay in abeyance. Additionally, just as Facebook and social media helped make possible Isabella’s lengthy trek to the United States, it also allowed us to get in touch with her Beirut foster mom, Angela. She confirmed what we already knew about our “Izzy”: She’s shy, adorable, cute, and every other adjective that doting pet owners use to describe their “one and only” pets.

The most surprising aspect of having Isabella in our family was our rapid discovery that we had a celebrity in our house! We’ve come to hear, “Oh, I read about her,” and “I saw her on WGN when she landed at O’Hare,” quite often. At a September reunion picnic for AGAG rescue dogs, Leslie and I felt like we could have set up a booth and hung out a banner that said “Meet Isabella.” While our faces may have been unfamiliar to many attendees, Isabella’s was another story. “Is this the Isabella?” one person inquired upon seeing her. Several of the individuals involved in her rescue through AGAG came by and reacquainted themselves with our world-traveling canine. Currently, Isabella holds the record for furthest distance traveled for a rescue dog from AGAG, a fact that sometimes is referenced with potential adoptive parents.

Isabella is a shy, friendly girl who recently passed her Canine Good Citizen evaluation, but like any dog, she has her moments of mischief. I got a full-blown black eye one day when she butted her forehead against my eyebrow after I bent down to give her a treat. We’ve had to childproof the garbage, and now we have to close the pantry door when we go out, as Isabella sometimes decides to play with the raw potatoes or Swiss Miss hot chocolate packets rather than her own toys. Our two house cats, Huey and Tundra, are slowly warming up and even willing to engage in some play time with her as well.

At first, Isabella had a high incidence of nightmares when sleeping. Was she reliving scary moments on the streets of Beirut? Encountering some other aggressive canine in a dark alley before a fight over garbage in the trash? Re-experiencing the airline flight and an uncertain future from Lebanon to the USA? (Who knows, since I can’t ask her about them, maybe they were really fantastic dreams of scrambling up a tree to snare a squirrel.) The thing I take the most satisfaction in is that Isabella’s nightmares seem to be subsiding. I like to think that she sleeps more soundly these days because after traveling 6100-plus miles, she knows that she’s now home for good. -David Madalinski

Storytime: Peaceful Warrior

Upon noticing a Facebook post from Boston Terrier Rescue of East Tennessee (one of our partner organizations) that they just took in a dog whom they believe to have Sundowner Syndrome, we decided to post this story about Barley, who suffered from the same, in order to support them in their rehabilitation efforts. Hope this helps!

Peaceful Warrior 

We adopted Barley through Great Lakes Golden Retriever Rescue (GLGRR) about 4½ years ago. He is a beautiful Golden/Labrador-mix with lion-colored hair that feels like the silky pile of a thick, expensive rug. The white on his face belies his otherwise youthful appearance and provides character. It’s the kind of face that makes you smile. Speaking of smiles, Barley has many. There’s his “riding in the car, looking from side to side” smile, his “mealtime” smile, and his extra-happy “tongue hanging out” smile, which he shows us when he knows he’s about to get a ride in the car (at which point we go back to the first smile-type).

 My husband, Denny, and I started looking to adopt when we believed our Wheaten Terrier, Biskit, needed a companion of the four-legged variety. A few months earlier, she had lost her sister and fought cancer, which involved surgery and radiation treatments. Since she was well on her way to full recovery, it was time for her to get a new friend. After an extensive search, Biskit had a new big brother named Barley.

It’s easy to remember the date that Barley became a part of our lives – April 24th – because it was also Denny’s birthday. We had found Barley on the GLGRR adoption website after he had been in foster care near Grand Rapids for about eight months. Following several conversations with his foster parents and a successful meet-and-greet with Biskit, we decided that he was the one. Denny made the drive from New Buffalo to Grand Rapids to pick up Barley, while Biskit and I waited at home.

The round trip took more than four hours, and maintaining patience as I waited for Denny and Barley to return was not easy. Biskit knew it. I have always been amazed at the way dogs so readily pick up on our emotions, and, as usual, Biskit wasn’t missing a thing. She was watching intently, focused on me with a look of anticipation. She was waiting right along with me.

Although Biskit and Barley seemed to like each other during their meet-and-greet, we had no idea how they would do living together. As we waited for Barley to arrive, I bounced ideas off Biskit, my attentive listener, as to the best way to introduce Barley to his new home. In the end, we decided on greeting Denny and Barley outside and then taking a walk together to downtown New Buffalo.

Walking with Barley that day was more like a run. He was fast, full of energy, and clearly excited about being in a strange place after the long ride. He stopped and sniffed a lot, and Biskit followed his lead. To this day, we still walk that same route together every morning, and Biskit still likes to play follow-the-leader with Barley.

Once home, Barley was curious, as expected, taking plenty of time to sniff around and investigate. He especially loved his new fenced-in yard, where he could walk and wander all he wanted. He loved being outside.

Inside, Barley immediately recognized his special blanket on the floor of the den, which came with him from his foster home. It did not take long to find out that Barley loves blankets, pillows, and dog beds. Today he has soft items on which he can lounge in every room, but that special blanket still remains in the den.

From the beginning, as we saw how he actually observed his new environment, we could see that Barley was unique. He never intruded. He was tolerant, accepting, and patient, and he had an uncanny air of peacefulness, unlike anything we had ever seen in either dogs or humans. He picked up on patterns and fit right in. Barley showed us wisdom, a trait rarely attributed to a dog. We saw this in his humble demeanor. He just knew how to adapt. He exhibited good manners. If both dogs wanted a drink, he would step back, allowing Biskit to drink first. The same thing applied to going outside and coming back in. We’ve come to realize that these are Barley’s ways. After 4½ years, he is still the same.

Initially, Barley slept in the den on his blanket. It took him a few weeks to move into the hall outside our bedroom door, and then, after a month or so, he came into our room and made his bed in the closet, which we quickly dubbed his “man cave.” Soon he began following Denny everywhere. We’ll never know if the attachment developed because of the trip home together or something else, but it was the beginning of a relationship that can only be described as inseparable. When Denny moves, Barley moves. If Barley doesn’t have Denny in his sight, he searches every room until he finds him.

Barley’s attachment to Denny, combined with his loving, sweet demeanor, has had a significant effect on us, causing us to change the way we do things. These days we take Biskit and Barley virtually everywhere with us, and we go out of our way to help our dogs live good lives. We would do anything for Barley, and if Biskit could talk, she would surely say that she feels the same way.

 Barley began testing this claim two years ago when he started experiencing anxiety. He had always been afraid of thunderstorms, but this was different. Even with no storm approaching, Barley would begin to breathe heavily and pace. It was as if he was either searching for something or trying to get away from something; we couldn’t tell which. Watching him struggle was heartbreaking and frustrating. We felt helpless until we observed a pattern in these “battles”: they almost always occurred late in the day.

 I remembered hearing about a condition of confusion after sundown, but no details came to mind. We began to wonder if this could be what Barley was experiencing, and with a bit of online research and a discussion with our veterinarian, we determined that we were indeed dealing with “sundowner syndrome,” which is associated with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in humans. For canines, it is referred to as cognitive dysfunction syndrome or doggie Alzheimer’s. The evening hours worsen symptoms of memory loss, confusion, and agitation, and in dogs, the symptoms may manifest as running in circles, barking for no reason, and pacing, as well as confusion in familiar surroundings and interrupted, restless sleep during the night. Barley was exhibiting many of these symptoms.

Now that we have a diagnosis and medication to give Barley, things are better. Occasionally we have perfect days, but on some days, we just have to love him through his battles, which can last anywhere from 15 minutes to four hours. There are nights when that connection between Denny and Barley is the only answer, so Denny goes into the den to comfort Barley, while Biskit and I stay in the bedroom. Sometimes Denny does what he calls “cocooning”: He puts Barley up on the couch, surrounds him with pillows and blankets, and waits for the anxiety to subside. On nights like these, none of us sleeps much, if at all. Sometimes Biskit and I come out in the morning to find Denny and Barley lying head-to-head on the couch. It’s precious, and we know our peaceful warrior got through another battle with his anxiety.

Our greatest wish for Barley would be that he could win the war, but that isn’t likely with this age-related condition, so we’re thankful for every battle he comes through, and we look to each morning as a brand new day with him. -Cathy Fryman

Hamster Herding

From Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About German Shepherd Dogs.

Hamster Herding 

Hamster Herding

Jetta was relinquished when her owner was surprised by the fact that German Shepherds get “large” (80 pounds). She came into rescue and was un-adopted twice, which led me to raise an eyebrow. Nevertheless, I inquired and was told she was returned because of her “antics.”

Antics sounded manageable, so Jetta came to live with us. It turns out Jetta’s antics are unique but completely tolerable. Some may even go so far as to call them cute. She loves going for walks around the neighborhood, and if she decides that I am stopping too long to talk with neighbors, she takes the leash in her mouth to pull me along. She is particularly fond of plastic water bottles, but only if they have the tops screwed on. She carefully unscrews the top and then crunches the bottles—helpful for recycling! She also knows how to use her paw and snout to turn doorknobs and open doors. Once, when she was put in the bedroom while the pizza man delivered, she apparently tried to open the door but locked herself inside instead!

We call Jetta the “herdmaster” because she takes shepherding very seriously. One of her favorite “herdlings” was our hamster, Jessica, who escaped her cage on a regular basis. Jetta understood that nipping at a hamster’s heels wasn’t the proper herding technique, so instead, we would come home to find Jetta standing over Jessica after having licked her into a corner. Jessica was wet but unharmed. Jetta also tried herding one of my cats, who was terrified of her. It was classic miscommunication: the cat hid under the bed covers, meowed menacingly, and swatted at Jetta with her paw. Jetta was so thrilled the cat “liked” her so much that she promptly paid the cat even more attention.

Jetta’s antics sometimes get her into trouble, and when she knows I am mad at her, she stays out in the backyard until my son comes home. Jetta doesn’t spend much time in the yard anymore, though, because she hasn’t done much to upset me since we adopted a second German Shepherd. We thought Jetta needed someone other than the cat to play with, so we brought Tillie home one day. The two of them got along great at their first meet-and-greet, and Tillie jumped in the car before we had even completed her adoption paperwork. The one little thing the rescue forgot to tell us was that Tillie had a bad case of diarrhea! She pooped three times in the back of our station wagon before we got halfway home. Jetta assessed the situation quickly and jumped in the front seat with us, making sure we knew she was not the offender. What a day!

Jetta and Tillie have been together for four years now. Jetta is well-behaved, and as strange as it may seem, every time there is a “dog offense,” Tillie is the culprit. Or maybe Jetta has perfected her antics so much that she can just let Tillie execute them for her, leaving her without any blame… –Shirley Worthington