Fosters: Michael the Menace

You know how every now and then a dog crosses your path who you will never forget? Well, Michael is one of them, but not in the, “Oh, I’ll miss him,” kind of way. He was the perfect example of why we don’t usually foster puppies, and why I will never adopt one. This dog was so obsessed with Bill that there was no peace when the two of them were in a room together. Michael would constantly try to stick his head in Bill’s butt whenever they were together. He didn’t actually hump him – he just wanted to lick his “male contours” and stick his head in his butt. It was bizarre.

Poor Bill, he’s really had a time of it. The previous dog, Duke, was very sweet to people, but he HATED Bill (I give that capital letters because it was so intense). He was fine when they were on leash on a hike, but as soon as we were home and he had a chance to lunge, he would. I got bit badly trying to break them up in one instance, and three weeks later, it’s still healing. There’s definitely some nerve damage.

Anyway, we shuffled Duke off to another foster home where there was no other dog, and I’m sure he’s doing great. I know Bill was feeling much better, but then came Michael, a one-year-old owner-surrender. He had spent a month at the shelter before being put into foster care with our rescue. I think he may have been adopted and returned, and I could see why.

Sometimes dogs like this have redeeming qualities, like when other dogs aren’t around, they want to snuggle, but not Michael. He was non-stop go-go-go. I don’t mean to make him out to be a bad dog, as he would be great for a family with teens. He just always wanted to play! He pulled terribly on the leash and went berserk when he was on leash and someone (canine or humane) approached. He sounded rabid, but he really just wanted to get to them to say hi.

Michael’s first day at the dog park was a trip. He tried to pee on two people and a dog! I had never seen a dog do this before. On the upside, while at first I thought we’d have a marking problem in the house, it turned out he didn’t mark much. He knew commands, too. So it wasn’t all bad.

Anyway, he got adopted by some folks with a dog named Tony Danza. How cute! I had high hopes that this Tony guy would be able to keep Michael in line, but no such luck. They said he was just obsessed with Tony like he had been with Bill. What a bummer!

The people who pseudo-adopted Michael offered to foster him until he could be found a home, which is awesome. I’ve gotta go check out some applications….

Cherry and Eukanuba Challenge Update

Cherry got a great home out in Grand Junction. This was so hard because a) she’s a mixed-breed, which always takes longer to get adopted and b) I had to get her adopted within a week or she had to get bounced to another foster home because I was leaving town. At the very last minute, the day before I ran out of town for three weeks, a wonderful family in Grand Junction applied for Cherry, and another foster agreed to hold her until we could arrange transport. Long story short, I just got an update the Cherry is settled in and doing great (yay!).

I also wanted to update you on the Eukanuba Challenge. Eukanuba kindly offered us a free bag of food if we would feed it to Bill and blog about results. Honestly, Bill was great before, and he’s still doing great now on Eukanuba, so I don’t really have anything interesting to report. My mom, who is watching Bill in my absence, told me that Bill ran into a tree stump at the dog park yesterday and dug a hole like he always does. This wouldn’t be strange at all except that after he dug the hole, he laid in it and went to sleep. That was a little strange, and one could possible attribute that to Eukanuba food… maybe the food is so hearty he was trying to make his way in the wild?

But honestly, he’s probably just acting out because I’ve been gone for a bit. Which I guess is important for me to mention, as I’m a little slow on blog posts this month.

Anyway, the Eukanuba food seems to be doing the job. I thought that Lorie Huston’s post about her experience with the food was way more interesting than anything I would write, so I’d encourage you to take a gander a what she has to say. I actually learned a lot about ingredients from her.

You, too, can take the Eukanuba 28-day challenge. By checking out their food and telling folks about your experience, you can win an exclusive photo shoot and appearance in Dog Fancy Magazine!

Through a Guide Dog Puppy’s Eyes

This story, translated by Guide Dogs for the Blind puppy-raiser Jill Nieglos, shares a dog’s perspective on becoming a service dog. You can read more about Lilo and another dog Jill raised named Heloise in Partners with Paws: Service Dogs and the Lives They Change.

Guide Dogs for the Blind

Hi, I’m Lilo, a Yellow Lab guide dog puppy born at Guide Dogs for the Blind in California.  When I was just three weeks old, some very friendly and specially-trained people began cuddling me and whispering sweet nothings in my ears. Bet you didn’t know puppies learn more quickly and bond with humans better when we are handled gently while very young, did you? This type of interaction with humans actually makes more synapses in our brains. And, as you know, we guide dogs have to be extremely smart; this is one of the tricks of the trade.

At about seven weeks I went on short walks exploring our campus, but I must say I wasn’t a pro on the leash then. My handlers were gentle and patient while I bounded about on my leash smelling the flowers and bushes.

At eight weeks I went on a long ride with my siblings and friends all the way to Colorado. If you ever see our puppy truck, you will recognize it right away because it has my baby picture on it! The puppy truck really is a very special truck. Not just because my picture is on it but also because the puppies in this truck will forever change people’s lives. When we arrived in Colorado, I saw smiles and tears and cameras everywhere. Everyone was so emotional! Well, I must say, after three days on the truck, I was too.  I kissed my new puppy-raising mom again and again before I became so exhausted from all the excitement that I fell asleep in her arms.

Lilo and JillPuppy raisers are often goofy at the puppy truck. For some raisers who were previously raising a puppy, this is a little bit sad because they have to trade their grown-up puppy for a replacement puppy. For others who are picking up their first puppy to raise, the event is exciting and nerve-wracking. Emotions are running high!  When we came off the truck one by one, there were enough “Oohs” and “Ahhs” to make you think you were at the Miss America contest.

What fun I had when we got home! A huge yard to play in with grass where I could “do my business,” flowers to sniff, and even an older dog to play with. My older sister, who has helped Mom raised seven puppies before me, is pretty strict. No chewing on her ears, I bet.  When we were in the backyard, mom told me, “Do your business,” and when I did it on the grass, you’d of thought I was the smartest puppy in the whole world! She told me what a good girl I was. Humans are a strange. My Lab mom didn’t care where I did my business.

The next year went by in a whirl! I’ve been just about everywhere starting with church. In the beginning I had to sit with Mom in the cry room, but guess what? I’m a baby myself, so I had fun with the other babies.  Soon I sat out with everyone else, but I had to be a “good girl,” which meant no chewing, playing, or barking.  Naptime! (Nothing against the minister, I hear he is good.)

During the next year, I went to lots of puppy meetings where I saw my friends and learned all sorts of neat stuff.  For example, at the outside mall, I learned not to bark at the skateboarders or the fire truck and how to walk over grates (scary) or up open stairs (yikes). But the hardest part for me was learning not to snag the ice cream cones the little kids were holding. I admit this is not to say that I didn’t try a couple of times, but Mom was quick.

The inside malls had all sorts of interesting stuff like toys that talked, funny people that did not smell like people, weird floors, and see-through elevators. Sometimes I was scared, but Mom was patient and showed me I was safe; I really trust Mom.

My mom retired from an airline and still has friends all over, so you should hear about all the places I went: A Polish wedding in Chicago (I do not polka, thank you); Yosemite (I met lots of nice tourists who asked to pet me, and when I was a perfect lady, I did get petted); Las Vegas (pretty lights but very crowded); New York City (Boy, was that an experience). I am now a pro when it comes to airports, buses, planes, trains, automobiles, and subways.

I went many places close to home, too. We visited the doctor’s office and the grocery store (I must say I’m so good at staying by those onions while Mom gets the tomatoes). Mom tells me the grocery store is important since my future blind person will surely go grocery shopping. I also went to concerts, banks, and restaurants, with restaurants being the most challenging because despite all the great-smelling things that were going on the table, I had to just sit on the floor and act disinterested.

Mom tells me I am the best of all eight puppies she has raised, but I bet she says that to all of them. One day we went for a ride, and I saw the puppy truck again. You remember: the one with my picture on it.  Mom whispered in my ear, “See you at graduation.” I didn’t understand, but she did since she has had several of her puppies become guides already.

That day I went off to school.  Wow, was I a busy girl! Six months of intensive training to learn about curbs, stairs, and obstacles. I learned about how to guide a person at night, in the rain, in the mall, and on country roads. The final test was whether I could do my job in San Francisco amidst the noisy cable cars.

After I passed all of my tests, I was assigned to my own person.  She’s different from my puppy raiser, but she loves me; I can tell. She hugs me a lot.  We worked together for a month before the big day… Graduation! Can I tell you a little about it?

What an occasion that was! Over 100 people were there, and us dogs were the center of attention, up on the stage beside our blind people. Everybody gives a speech (well, not us dogs, of course). There was not a dry eye in the house. First, the recipients thanked everybody for their dog (tears). Then, each puppy raiser made a speech about how happy he or she was that his or her “baby” made it (more tears). Finally, we (the dogs) gave a demonstration about how guide dogs actually work.  Everybody was so happy that they were crying and hugging… Well, you get the picture. Lots of Kleenex. Humans are weird.  None of us dogs were crying.

Now I am official, harness and all.  I look nothing like the little baby I was when I left California about 18 months ago. I have been a busy girl with so much to learn, but it was all worth it because now I have a wonderful life serving as my friend Pat’s eyes. I get to go everywhere with Pat, which makes me one happy dog.

Now that you know my story, I’d like to say thanks for listening, and hey, would you do me a favor? Wave if you see the puppy truck on the road between California and Denver.

Love, Lilo

(Transcribed by puppy raiser “Mom,” Jill Nieglos)

Great Dog: Bad Owner

Guest post by Rich Dixon, whose story is featured in our upcoming book, Partners With Paws: Service Dogs and the Lives They Change

I am the world’s worst service dog owner.Rich and Monte

Monte arrived at my door after two years of intensive training. He endured a highly selective process designed to eliminate great dogs who just didn’t have the perfect temperament for this important job. He knew approximately seventy commands; he could open and close drawers, retrieve dropped items, and operate light switches.

Monte would enter a crowded restaurant, ignore the enticing smells and tempting crumbs on the floor, and fall asleep in the corner. At a baseball game he’d lie quietly when 50,000 people screamed and hollered. Monte was a wonderful service dog, perfectly suited for assisting with my life in a wheelchair.

And I ruined him.

I prefer to believe that I “modified” him to suit my particular needs. Every service dog has to adapt to a specialized set of requirements, because no two disabilities are exactly alike. It’s just that my needs were unexpected and, well, a bit unique.

As Monte and I settled into our new relationship, I expected that he would eagerly perform odd jobs for me. But I discovered that he met a need far beyond any physical struggle.

Monte connects me to others. I sit in a wheelchair that tends to isolate me, but my floppy-eared companion makes separation impossible.

A few days ago we entered a busy pub. People were watching football, eating and drinking, enjoying an evening with friends. It’s the kind of environment in which I tend to slink into a corner. With Monte, that couldn’t happen.

Kids asked if they could pet him. A group of 50-something guys invited me to share their table—as long as they could share the benefits of my can’t-miss chick magnet. Monte waited quietly under the table for his next admirer to appear.

Service dogs aren’t supposed to be this social. When others ask if it’s okay to pet him, I’m supposed to politely decline. He should remain focused on me and my needs.

But that’s exactly what he’s doing. He draws people into my world and projects me into theirs. It’s not his fault—he’s just doing what I taught him. He’s my partner, helping me navigate life a bit better.

When you see someone with a service dog, remember that they’re a working collaboration. Don’t distract the dog—or his owner—without asking. Don’t be offended if you’re asked not to touch the dog—or his owner.

Don’t offer to give the dog a treat. That’s the only rule I never break. Monte clearly knows I’m his food source, and he’ll do anything for a biscuit.

On the other hand, offering a treat to the owner is always a good thing.

And please, don’t be offended if the dog appears to be intent on attracting you, licking your hand, and forcing you to interact with his owner. He’s doing a very important job. He’s assuring that his owner is right in the middle of what’s happening, protecting him from the terrible effects of self-imposed seclusion.

He’s not a bad service dog. He just has an owner with different needs. He’s reminding his owner, and everyone else, of the importance of connection and relationship.

Rich Dixon writes and speaks about overcoming adversity and moving forward with hope and courage. Visit his blog at Bouncing Back.

Alumni Update: Bella

Bella appeared in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Chihuahuas. Her mom, Carole Chufo, wrote me with the following update. (Bella’s original story is below):

Bella the Chihuahua

My little Chi, Bella, is still doing wonderful. She is the joy of our lives. We just returned from an RV trip to Quartzite, AZ and little Bella travels well. She has her own car seat and she snuggles down without a peep. This little love has the sweetest personality. My girlfriend rescued a dog that is larger and an unknown breed, but adorable. The two played together. We both think it is much nicer to have an adult dog instead of a puppy. No furniture chewing, etc. House training is a breeze. I am so grateful that I found my Bella. I tell everyone who is thinking about a dog to think adoption. Bella is still the most popular dog in our little community dog park. Everyone wants her. She is such a sweetie pie, and loves people and all dogs.

Bella has a wardrobe that now needs a closet.  She sleeps with us and has her own stairs up to our king bed, and she has stairs up to the couch where she is allowed to shed to her heart’s content.

My daughter lives downtown San Diego, and I can trolley down with Bella to meet my daughter and her two Pugs, so we can go for a walk in the dog park by her place.  Bella gets along great with the Pugs, and they often come to visit me.

Teddy the Pomeranian is still Bella’s favorite. They roll around and kiss each other.  It is classic.  I have to get more pictures of them together. Can you tell I love my dog?


Here’s Bella’s story from the book. Enjoy!

The Apple of My Eye

I lost my beloved Cairn Terrier, Toto, when she was 17. Toto had traveled all over the country with my husband and me, and it was very hard to say goodbye to her. With a badly broken heart, I happened upon an article in our senior community’s monthly newsletter about a resident, Phillip, who was fostering for the Chihuahua Rescue of San Diego. I called him, and Phillip brought to my house this little, skinny, snot-nosed Chihuahua named Bella, with a head like an apple and ears that pointed straight up. There was something in her face that touched my soul—she looked so sad and hopeless—so I adopted her. My vet said she had kennel cough, pneumonia, and dehydration. She was very weak and would not eat or drink. Though happy to be given the chance to help this little, lost soul, I knew we were in big trouble.

I left Bella at the vet for the entire day, so they could hydrate her and start her on antibiotics. I picked her up that night, and we began our rehabilitation. Bella hated me, to put it mildly. She tried to bite my fingers off when I closed in on her mouth with medicine, so I waited until she fell asleep and then shoved the dropper in her mouth. She would spit it right back out at me, so one frustrated day I took her back to the vet and said, “Here, you get her to take the medicine.”

I was determined to save her life, but I really wasn’t sure if I liked her. She was the opposite of what I wanted in a companion dog.  Despite my best efforts to get her to eat and drink, it seemed like she would never come around. But one day my three-pounder finally began to eat, and I celebrated. From then on out we were making progress—running back and forth to the vet for check-ups and more meds, seeing improvement with each visit.

We knew we’d hit the mark when we went in for a nail trim and were told that Bella weighs an embarrassing seven pounds. Now my sickly, emaciated dog needs to lose weight! What a laugh we all had at that.

It’s only fair I tell you the rest of the story, as little Bella is no longer mean and distrustful. This sweet dog loves everyone and is very social. I take her to a nearby fenced dog park every evening where a group of us meet and the dogs romp on the grass off-leash. Bella has many friends, with her favorite being a little chocolate Pomeranian, who is her perfect playmate.

This tiny ball of love is a complete contradiction to what I have read about Chihuahuas. Two-year old Bella does not shake. Nor does she bark, except when someone rings my doorbell. I have never laughed so much as I have with this dear clown, who now lets me stick my fingers anywhere in her mouth and wouldn’t bite me if I wanted her to. She’s housebroken, and I must admit, it is so nice to have started with a mature dog with whom we did not have to experience the “puppy” stage. Bella is the sweetest love of my life. -Carole Chufo

Win $200 for Your Favorite Rescue!

Erika Pinkoczi, an author from Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Dogs, has generously offered to donate $100 to the rescue of a randomly-selected winner’s choice if we can hit 1,111 members on the Happy Tails Books Facebook page by 1-11-11. Up For Pups has offered to match it, so the total is $200. All you have to do for a chance to win is encourage people to sign up for the Facebook Page. A check will be mailed to the winner’s rescue choice within a week of 1-11-11.

Do you tweet? Here’s something to share: Chance to win $200 for the rescue of your choice by joining http://on.fb.me/eFqlHa . Need 1,111 members by 1-11-11. Winner randomly selected.

Good luck!

Recognizing Rescuers: Conni and Chris Jones

Today Susan Sterritt recognizes Conni and Chris Jones of Breeder Release Adoption Service:

I would like to thank Conni and Chris Jones. This couple started a rescue group on their own. They have rescued an estimated 350 dogs annually.Conni drives 2,000 miles round trip once a month picking up 30-40 dogs from breeders and auctions. They spay and neuter all the animals, clean their teeth, do extractions, feed them, bath them, and search for homes and fosters.They typically house close to 100 dogs on their property, part of which has been converted into a kennel. In the winter months, the dogs are kept in their house and in their heated garage. They work 24-7 caring for the dogs. They could be retired, but instead they are saving lives. On behalf of all of them, THANK YOU!

Two Different Dog, One BIG Lesson

There are many different forms of self-torture, but for any animal lover who has a full house of pets already, visiting Petfinder.com is one of the worst. I just can’t help myself sometimes. If you read this blog regularly, you know that I foster for MidAmerica Boston Terrier Rescue. Sometimes I just check out Petfinder to see what Bostons are listed in my area but are not part of our rescue.

That’s exactly what I was doing last Friday when I came across Boots, who was rescued by Breeder Release Adoption Services, a rescue that works specifically with small mill survivors – mostly Yorkies. I called them just to say hello and to let them know that I was in the same state and happy to help with Bostons who came in if I didn’t have a foster. I didn’t really mean that I would take in a foster at that moment, but the founders of the rescue (Conni and Chris – super nice people) told me about a very scared six-year-old Boston mill momma who needed a quiet foster home. This poor eleven-pound dog lived in a cage her entire life popping out litter after litter. How could someone do that to a dog… and especially to a dog who was so small for her breed?

You know where this is going. Of course, I said I would take her, and on Sunday my husband and I rented a little Cessna and flew down to Trinidad, CO to pick her up. The flight was almost two hours long and very turbulent, but she was a trooper and we all made it home safely.

Zoey during her flight

Now for the lesson: Zoey is terrified. She runs away from people and I don’t even know if she’s peed yet (I’m hoping she did when I left her in the yard for a few minutes). She relaxes after a few minutes if you put her in your lap, but overall, she’s not really enjoying anything yet. I can’t blame her – someone cut off half of one ear. I’d be terrified of people, too!

I was told, however, that her sister who was brought in from the same situation is not terrified at all. She is happy, friendly, and loving, and she’s already been adopted into a good home.

I thought of these two sisters, and I saw a lot of myself in Zoey. Had I been through what she had been through, I wouldn’t only be scared – I’d be bitter, angry, and would have probably been euthanized by now for biting someone.

But then I thought about how much better Zoey’s sister’s life has become. Regardless of her past, she’s now thriving in the love and warmth of a family and she’s enjoying the happy life of a family dog. Zoey could be doing the same but so far she hasn’t been able to let herself.

We could all take a lesson from Zoey and her sister: Allowing negative things in our pasts to keep us down is not productive. It doesn’t make us happier, healthier, or more prosperous. Letting those things go and living in the moment like Zoey’s sister allows us to accept whatever love and happiness comes our way, leading to a more fulfilling, less stressful life. Let’s face it, both good and bad things happen in life. If we can dwell on the good things, we would all be much happier.

The Abundant Reward… Reward

Last week we asked people to write in with their favorite memories about their pets, stating that someone would win a free set of Happy Tails Books stationery. The randomly selected winner is Jennifer Kimberlin! She posted:

I had a white boxer girl from a mill that we fostered. She was the typical mill girl and terrified of every thing and one. One night we were watching TV and Nilla disappeared. I went to find her and discovered her hiding in our bedroom with a mooing cow dog toy. She was facing the wall and very quietly making it moo. When she realized I was there she froze like she was doing something wrong. I just smiled as I knew that was the break through we needed. I still keep in touch with Nilla’s adoptive home and anytime I get an update I think of the day I caught her mooing her first toy!

Congrats, Jennifer! And thanks to everyone who shared their stories to make us smile.

PS: Great news! I was complaining before that I didn’t have a foster dog to make me smile, but during the time that passed between announcing this contest and choosing a winner, we were called upon to help a new foster dog! I’ll tell you more about our new 11-pound resident, “Zoey,” on Friday…

(Ironically, we spent last Christmas with a puppy mill survivor named Zoye!)