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

New Puppy: Week One

Hillary has been in our care for just over two weeks, but she’s only been living with me for about one. I got the call about the parvo puppies on August 6th. Noodles went right into the hospital, where he stayed for five days. Luckily he did survive. Then there was Boo, who spent the first night throwing up on Hillary (“Spunky” at the time). Boo stayed in the hospital the next night, but quickly recovered. 

My friend Susan was nice enough to care for Hillary for the week, as I had my hands full with my dog (Bill), the puppies, and circus practice. The circus was on Saturday night, but luckily I had received what I thought to be good applicants for the puppies during the week. I took Hillary back from Susan, gathered all the puppies, and arranged for the adopters to meet at my house in the afternoon. Everyone went home with a puppy that day. Noodles’ (now “Archie”)new mom struggled with him for a few days, as the first night she tried too hard to make friends, and he resented her for that. I talked with her frequently, and she hired a dog trainer. The day before the trainer came, she sounded sad and desperate. The day after, she sounded exuberant! She said it was like night and day. Apparently Archie likes her now.

The original photo of the parvo puppy adopters


I received great feedback from Boo’s new mommies. He took a road trip to California with them and their Boxer-mix, and he’s doing great. Then there was Hillary. A couple adopted her but emailed me less than 18 hours later to tell me they’d like to bring her back. They said she didn’t like them. I said they didn’t even give her a chance. It turns out they just weren’t ready for a new dog yet, as their previous dog had just passed. Additionally, they didn’t understand that getting to know a dog who spent the previous (and only) 14 weeks of her life in a yard takes time. Well, their loss is my family’s gain, as we’re going to keep her. 

Oh, look! Dylan and I got taller and are holding our new puppy!

So it’s been a week. Hillary is still a little hand shy, but I swear she’s a puppy genius. Within days, she learned the following commands: sit, stay, come, lay down (shouldn’t it be “lie down”?), crawl, and sit pretty. She has only had two accidents in the past week, and she’s hiking off-leash already, with only a few minor transgressions where she gets too excited to meet other dogs and tries to follow them. She’s figured out that she’s supposed to follow Bill into the car and out of the car, and she is responding well to corrections. 

This puppy loves to chew, but she’s been pretty good about discontinuing chewing my books and pillows when I say, “No.” I tried to brush her teeth yesterday, but she thought the toothbrush was also a chew toy. Guess we’ll keep working on that one. 

What I love most, so far, is the energy she has brought to our home. Bill has definitely been more active, even playing with toys and bones, which is something he never does when he’s alone. Tux still isn’t so sure about her, but we’re working on it. Maybe he’ll even come back downstairs sometime soon since we’re “taking a long break” from fostering.

On that topic, I need to address how this blog will chance. For that past three years, I’ve been keeping this blog as a diary of life as a foster parent. Now I’ll continue to write, but the topics will be more centered around the care and training of a puppy rescued from a backyard breeder and a puppy mill survivor – my distinguished couple – Bill and Hillary. I’ll cover their interactions, my trial-and-error training of Hillary, and how Bill benefits from her presence. I’ll cover our adventures as I experience life as a new “mom,” which is totally new to me. It should be a blast, and I’m sure you’ll be able to relate to the chaos, so stay tuned.

Regarding hard-hitting animal advocacy work, the Up For Pups blog is again free for animal advocacy posts. It had been occupied by the development of the Road to Rescue: Dog Rescue Best Practices Manual for several months, but the manual is complete, and now we will go back to writing about important advocacy topics of which you should be aware.


The Democratic Party is Not Just For Donkeys

Apparently it’s for Boston Terriers, too. With today’s post I’m proud to introduce you to Boulder’s new most patriotic couple: Bill and Hillary!

As you can see, Bill is thrilled with his new little lady. Granted, he still has plenty of other lady “friends” he “visits” with at the dog park, but Hillary doesn’t care. She’s too busy to worry about that stuff (lots of bones to pick and whatnot).

Hillary (previously Spunky) was one of the parvo puppies we took in a few weeks ago. All three puppies are now healthy, and they all got adopted, but after less than 18 hours in her new home, Hillary was returned. Was it fate? Should we keep her? Or is she going to run for president and leave us in the dust? What do you think?

Olive Update

Boston Terrier Hiking
Olive's First Day on the Trail

Olive is a very sweet girl who is proving a bit of a challenge…to photograph! This little wiggle-butt never stops moving, except when she is sleeping (which is most of the time when she’s not moving and is certainly not very interesting to photograph). Yesterday was Olive’s first time on a real hike after spending five years in a puppy mill cage. She’s not a great leash-walker only because she like to take A LOT of time to stop and smell the “roses,” and she can’t yet be off leash because she doesn’t consistently come when called, but we had a great time nonetheless.

Olive and Bill on the Couch
We're pooped!

Olive really impressed me during our hike, as despite the fact that she only has one eye, she went up and over rocks that were at least two feet high. No problem for Olive! I expect that from my rehabilitated Boston, Bill, who thinks he’s a mountain goat, but Olive’s persistence and bravery came as a bit of a surprise.

Today’s adventures will include sleeping on the couch, visiting the dog park, sleeping in the car while we go to the flying trapeze rig (I know, it’s a bizarre hobby, but my husband and I just can’t get enough of it), a nice long walk in the woods, and then more sleeping on the couch, all interspersed with great dog food from People Food 4 Dogs and some delicious doggie treats.

Olive Having Fosters In The House

We’re back in action! Now that things have finally settled down after a wonderful trip to Vegas for the Best Friends No More Homeless Pets conference, we’re ready to foster more dogs.

If you’re new to this blog, check out Bill’s story (he’s my foster-turned-forever Boston Terrier who inspired me to get involved with animal welfare) to get a background on how we became foster parents and ended up starting Happy Tails Books. It’s a pretty crazy story. Most relevant to this blog, is that since we adopted Bill, our 2nd foster, we’ve had 29 more foster dogs through our home. And this week we got a new one.

Olive - MidAmerica Boston Terrier Rescue Foster Dog #32
Olive - MidAmerica Boston Terrier Rescue Foster Dog #32

Olive languished in a puppy mill for the first five years of her life. After the mill was raided by the ASPCA (I think) back in March, Olive came into foster care with MidAmerica Boston Terrier Rescue. I’m pretty sure she actually had a litter in foster care before she was spayed, but I’m not positive. All I know is that her nipples are huge, and this poor little girl has probably had at least seven or eight litters in her life. She’s only about 14 pounds – being a puppy mill breeder must have just been awful for her. (Honestly, who wouldn’t life in a chicken-wire cage be awful for, though?) Oh, and by the way, she needed an eye removed because of an unattended injury.

Olive was adopted out and returned. She went to someone with no other pets, and it turned out another dog was important for Olive’s well-being. Then she was shipped to a family in Colorado from her foster home in Nebraska, which is when I got involved. That family, actually good friends of ours, was concerned with Olive’s initial behavior. Olive and Lucy, another one of my previous foster dogs, didn’t exactly hit it off, and Olive bit my friend when he tried to take a toy away from her. Because they have a small child, they were very concerned about the biting, so I offered to foster her and help them find a different dog.

Olive came to our house and thrived. Her and Bill had a great time together, and Dylan (my husband) and I just loved her. She’s sweet, funny (especially when she pulls herself across the floor on her belly like a sand shark), and pretty easy to hang out with.

After a few days, my friends though they might like to give it one more try. We had a play date, and it went much better. I think that when they met Olive the first time, she was really stressed out from having been in a car for eight hours, and then their dog Lucy overwhelmed her with her “butt-spin-attack” play technique. This time around, with Bill as the referee, the girls actually romped and played for a while. Nobody got bit, and my friends were convinced she could be a good fit. I’ll find out tomorrow if they were right…stay tuned!