February, 2012

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An evening prayer for the dog in the shelter

Tonight I go to sleep with my dogs. My long legged lurcher (an adopted rescue) is roaching against the pillows. The new little fellow (another adopted rescue) is contentedly asleep in his crate in the closet.  My older girl Lucy lies on the dog bed by my side, tennis ball still in sight of sleeping eyes. My boy Linus spoons against me. Time for bed. The quiet, contented sighs of dogs who feel safe and loved…. secure and at peace.  As my eyes begin to close, I picture a dog in a shelter I have been working with.

At the end of a session I spend some time with her in her kennel. I hear the barking and whining of the other dogs that make her alert her head and ears.  I can see how no matter how well things are arranged for her, she is still surprised and alerted by the passing of another dog. She is dog reactive. We make good strides but there are still challenges for her.  Each day  after I work with her and bring her to the gate of the kennel, she hesitates, then quietly follows me in through the gate. She has come far with her training. She loves to learn. She has done a brilliant job today. She lets me brush her. We play a game of search for the tennis ball under the blanket on her bed. Then it is time to go. I close the gate and secure the lock. She sits and watches me as I go. I am haunted.

Tonight I say a prayer for her, and for all of the dogs sleeping (or not sleeping) in shelters near and far.

May a person with realism,  vision and acceptance walk past your gate.

May they see that the jumping dog in front of them is desperate to say hello.

May they realize that with a bit of training, you can learn polite greeting manners.

May they understand that you are not perfect, but that you can be trained to be a good dog.

May they understand if you are shy and overwhelmed, and see that with love, encouragement and confidence you will come out of your shell. May they understand this may take quite a few months.

May they see that the thunder and bluff is just that; and with training that teaches you in a peaceful way to get the distance you want from whatever “monster” that scares you , you will learn to resolve your conflicts with the world constructively and gain confidence.

May they understand you are curious and inquisitive and need to explore the world, but also you will need clear boundaries and kind but constant guidance.

And may they decide to make a life commitment to you. For who you are. The brilliant, the challenging, the aloof, the goofy, the exhuberant, the serious, the silly, the reserved, the obnoxious, the funny, the athletic, the laid back, the complex and beautiful;  the real dog that makes you the completely unique you.

Divorce is not an option in adopting. This is not fast food or Disneyland. This is real dog, real relationship and real commitment.

May you feel the touch of a kind hand and hear a gentle word.

May you take a car ride to your forever home.

When you mess up, may you be forgiven.

May your new family understand that it can take months and sometimes years of training, guidance and learning to help you be the best you can become. May they make that commitment to you.

May they accept you for the dog that you are in spite of all of the training. And may they smile at your imperfections as much as your achievements.

May they protect you, nurture you, give you exercise and adventures together.

And may you someday fall asleep  on the bed, sighing in deep contentment, peace and security,  spooned against your forever friend.

This I pray for you my friend, and for all dogs. This I pray.

Sleep in peace and we will both dream and pray for your forever home.



Love and Understanding: Max’s story

By now, most readers are aware of the tragic bite incident that happened to Channel 9 newswoman Kyle Dyer.  While the bite seemed to happen “out of no where”, a series of events in this dog’s life, combined with misunderstanding (or non understanding) of dog communication, played a major role in this split second bite.  What can we learn from this event in order to prevent future tragedies?

I am sure Max’s owner loves him. However, part of love is making good decisions for our pets that do not understand the rules and nuances of our human world. This includes getting them vaccinated for rabies and licensed, if required by local ordinances. This also includes being honest with our selves about whether or not our dogs have 100% recall with high distractions.  If we do not know for sure that we have 100% recall, we should not let our dogs off leash in areas where wild life or other equally desirable distractions may be present. Max began  his journey with a visit to the local open space park. He was off leash and chased a coyote onto a lake.  They both fell through the ice. The coyote drown. Max swam for his life and was rescued; scared, exhausted and traumatized.

Max’s owner loves his dog and is very excited that his wonderful dog Max will be featured on the Channel 9 news the next morning.  Max, however, is still very tired, still probably quite distressed and his cortisol (stress hormone) levels are still quite high. Max’s owner does not know about cortisol, stress and their relation to aggression and does not understand how stressed Max still is from this experience. So Max makes the journey to the studio.

Imagine Max, picking up on the nervous, excited energy of the humans around him, now in the studio with bright lights against darkness, cameras moving in and out of the light and darkness, people he does not know close to him, touching him, and in his space. His owner is jerking and popping on his leash. At the very least, Max is very confused. At worse, his stress level is rising to the point where he is over his threshold. Max tries to calm himself down with yawning. He tries to communicate that he is very uncomfortable with the situation. He pants, his respiration rate is high, he licks his lips repeatedly, roles his eyes, his body is tense and vigilant.

Someone he does not know approaches from behind. This woman also loves dogs and all animals passionately and has been a wonderful advocate for their cause. She is moved by his story and in the moment, leans over to kiss him. Max growls. He is saying he wants space. The woman does not hear him and comes closer. Max’s owner does not understand anything his dog is trying to communicate.  Max resorts to his last alternative and bites.

Max’s next journey is to a ten-day quarantine in a kennel, away from his home and the people and routine he knows. He is still there.

Love is important, but understanding is crucial. Learn to understand your dog’s body language. When they are saying they are nervous, remove them from that situation to a quiet, safe place. Make decisions for them that keep them safe. Be not only their best friend, but also their interpreter, protector, and advocate. And when a dog asks for space and peace, let us all grant them their simple requests.