17 Hours With The One That Got Away

On Friday night I had the privilege of watching Johnnie Cash while her parents were out of town (I know, right!). I picked her up after a long work day and dropped her off early the next morning, so I literally had her in my care for about seventeen hours. But it was sixteen and a half more hours than I’d spent with her since she got adopted almost exactly one year ago.

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After work I drove to Johnnie’s house and opened up her front door to find a groggy, sleepy-faced pup awakening in her crate. At first she was wary of this person entering her home that wasn’t her mom or dad, but then when I exclaimed, “Johnnie girl!” she immediately perked up and seemed to be excited to see me. I have no idea if she remembered me or not, but we spent a good five minutes rolling around on the ground giving and receiving kisses with exuberant tail/body wags from Johnnie. I forgot how wiggly she gets when she is excited!

Everything about her and our time together came immediately flooding back. Her happy greetings. Her amazing manners (she sat for me right away). Her gentle but excited face licks. Her general enthusiasm for just about everything. When she calmed down I petted that soft spot on the top of her head that I feel like I’ve petted a million times. It’s crazy how even though she hasn’t been with us for over a year it still feels like I know her so well.

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I harnessed her up and took her outside to go to the bathroom, and she immediately sat at the door and then checked in with me while we were walking. I was floored by her perfect manners. A year later and she has improved so much; it is quite evident how much work her family has done with her. With every learned appropriate behavior she demonstrated – checking in, sitting politely for her next cue, controlling her enthusiasm – my heart swelled. Wow, I thought, this dog is so special… how did we let her get away?

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A few months ago Mark moved to New York City for an amazing job opportunity, so unfortunately he wasn’t able to be with Johnnie Cash for our brief reunion. But I know that Johnnie means as much to him as she does to me, so I sent him pictures starting from when I first picked her up. With every photo we reminisced a little more about the ten weeks we spent with her. It seems that with Johnnie Cash the more that changes, the more that stays the same. She still sits like a goof ball, she still loves to sleep in the car, she still bounds around the house like a happy-go-lucky pup and she still trots along like her knees don’t bend. So much about her is still exactly what it was when we said goodbye twelve months ago.

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After just watching Paco for ten days, I am reminded again of why I don’t want to have a dog of my own at this time in my life. But being with Johnnie also reminded me of the bond I can have with a dog, and how special that can feel. It was nice to get that feeling again. I could not be happier about Johnnie’s family and all they do for her, and I don’t think I could have written a better outcome for her. At this point I am appreciative that she has continued to show me what it can feel like to make what seems to be a life-long connection with a dog. I know I have that with all my fosters, but Miss Cash is so much like what I envision in my “forever dog” that it’s nice to get that I can have this bond with my own dog one day feeling.

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I sure do love you, Johnnie Cash! Thanks for everything you’ve done for me, including turning me into the trainer I am today. I owe ya one, pretty girl.

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KPA Back Story: A Bit More About How I Got Here

I have begun blogging for Dog Latin Dog Training’s website about my KPA experience. My Wednesday blogs here on PLF will be a sort of re-blog from those posts. For some posts it means I’ll touch on things you all probably already know, but for the most part it will probably be new content. Today I am taking a look back on the road to KPA. You’ve heard some of this before, but here it is again, all in one place. Thanks for sticking with me through this journey! 

I guess I’ll rewind for this entry, and talk about how and why I ended up in the Karen Pryor Academy. Both of those – the how and the why – have a bit to do with a wonderful woman named Beth Mullen, the mastermind behind Dog Latin Dog Training.

Beth and I worked together at the shelter for about two years – she with the animals, me in the development department. As I started fostering shelter dogs, our paths began to cross more often. I needed help here and there on behavior issues, and Beth was always so gracious with giving advice. I subsequently started to really see the positive work she was doing with our shelter dogs, all through creative clicker training – never using force or fear that folks sometimes think you need to turn to in a large kennel setting like a shelter.

While Beth certainly had a positive influence on my journey into force-free training, many other factors went into me choosing it as a new career path. When my interest in training picked up, I began attending workshops at Your Dog’s Friend (they are an insanely good resource for learning to live harmoniously with your dog!). It was a seminar about managing your dog’s behavior where I had a “light bulb moment” about management and reinforcing desired behaviors. From there, I went to an internship at Animal Farm Foundation (AFF) and had my first real “hands on” experience with reward-based training, shaping, behavior modification, etc. (I was in between fosters at this point so real life subjects to “practice” on were tough to find – AFF really opened my eyes to the possibilities). I saw first-hand how much you could achieve with this training and officially became hooked.

Photo credit to AFF.

Photo credit to AFF.

(This is one of those instances where you guys already know what I’m talking about – bear with me!) Johnnie Cash was the four-legged furball that sealed the deal for me – the dog trainer deal, that is. That foster pup taught me SO much about communicating with dogs. Johnnie had a lot of energy (she sat in the shelter for five months with no interest), and I promise you that if I hadn’t taught her in a way that her good behavior was a product of her own decisions, she would not have become such a great, well-mannered dog… and I would not have become such a believer in clicker training!

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Fast forward a few months, and Beth has officially taken me under her wing. I am soaking up every bit of knowledge I can from her – and it is a lot! I learn something new every time I watch her work. She really inspires me to work at becoming the best dog trainer I can be. We both believe strongly in continuing education and not becoming stagnant in what you know. Beth has also taught me enormous amounts about mutual respect when it comes to working with animals, and that’s exactly what clicker training is all about.

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KPA will be a difficult course for me, but it will likely be one of my greatest achievements – not only as a trainer, but as a person. I am just trying to come out the other side as a better trainer with the ability to help dogs and their owners live happier lives together. I am so lucky to get this opportunity!

Stay tuned to next week when I talk about how Paco and I are doing together and how we prepared for our first testing weekend.


It Might Not Be Us, But It Sure Is Perfect: A Visit With Johnnie

Johnnie’s visit was the last to come about for that exciting Saturday of foster reunions. I knew we’d be in the area for Zee/Medivka’s visit so I cautiously asked Johnnie’s new family if they would be up for a get together. I hate feeling like I am pressuring my adopters to hang out, so I braced myself for them to say they weren’t around or even that they weren’t interested (which would have been fine!). To my delight they said they’d be happy to have us come by to see her. I could not contain my excitement!

Unfortunately I made it so that I could not share my excitement with the one other person who I knew would appreciate it like I would: foster dad. I decided to make our visit to Johnnie a surprise for Mark. After we left Medivka’s house, I told him we had one more stop. He was confused, but then so excited once I told him our final destination. That is when the butterflies set in… we were really going to see our little Johnnie again!

Her owner came out to meet us (love her) and brought us up to their condo. She opened the door and there was Johnnie, wiggly as ever! I think we both melted to the floor in a flurry of dog tail, human smiles and bouncy paws. Everything felt familiar: her bouncy greeting, her soft, spotted belly, that spot on her forehead between her eyes that I think I’ve kissed a million times. She kept ping-ponging between me and Mark, settling briefly in our laps before joyously running over to the other, sometimes even stopping at her people as if to say, “My old friends are here!”

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I soaked up her Johnnie-ness as we caught up with her owners. They gushed about her and told us how they have adjusted their lives to help her be the best dog she can be. They have play dates with friends’ dogs, they have taken her to training classes, and when they went on a 10-day vacation they found a boarding place that set up a playgroup for her with a few suitable dog friends. Her mom even takes her to work sometimes! They love her. It’s perfect. She’s perfect.

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This visit really (really) made me miss her again, but it also reminded me how lucky we were to have found this family to adopt her. They certainly love her like we love her; how we would love her if she had become our own. Seeing that in person is so comforting. Since she can’t be ours, we couldn’t be more thrilled about where she ended up. So good to see you, Miss Cash!

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A Trifecta of Former Foster Reunions

Sometimes the stars align just right to bring you a day you’ll never forget. That happened to me this past Saturday.

Somehow amidst the chaos of my working-two-jobs-and-still-trying-to-salvage-what’s-left-of-my-social-life schedule, three events found themselves in my calendar on one single day. Those three events were reunions with three of my former foster dogs.

Yes, three former fosters. Zabora, Baxter and Johnnie Cash. All in the flesh. It was, to put it simply, a perfect day.

I haven’t seen Zabora (now Medivka) in two years. I haven’t seen Baxter since his latest scary surgery. I haven’t seen almost foster failure Johnnie girl since the week she got adopted. Each of these reunions were sweet for their own reason, and I’ll write about them individually in the next few posts. For now, here is a reminder of the sweet faces I got to hang out with:

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I am one happy foster mama :-).


Throwback Thursday: The First Post

I don’t know if it’s the cool weather we’ve been having lately that reminds of Autumn and the first dogs I fostered, or the fact that it’s been almost exactly two years, or if I’m just missing all my foster dogs lately – but a little grey pup and the story that came with her to start my fostering career have really been on my mind lately.

Today’s post is a reblogged entry from the very first day I ever wrote in this blog. It’s awkward seeing the way I wrote back then, and how much of a baby I was when I posted that entry. I was only 21! I knew nothing! (I still know nothing!) I remember that it would take me so long to write posts back then because 1. I needed to collect my thoughts in their entirety before writing and publishing, and 2. I tried *REALLY* hard to make sure each post was written the best I could write it. Now I can generally crank out posts with ease. Even if it isn’t reflected in my posts, this blog has helped my writing abilities immensely. Learning how to put your thoughts on paper in a non-crappy way is a skill I’m not sure I would have learned as well anywhere else!

When I was looking back at this post I noticed it was indeed just about two years ago – two years and two days to be exact. So, for those of you who haven’t been around since the beginning, here you go. Here’s the ramble that started it all. If you want to get the full story, you can start on the actual post and keep clicking ‘Next –>’ to follow along. Please excuse the photography, too. I guess at least it is a way to realize how far you’ve come!

Every journey begins with one paw print.

Posted on August 20, 2011

It’s official: I’ve been bit by the fostering bug. It’s the kind of thing that happens slowly over time. For me, it started when I began working full time at the Montgomery County Humane Society.  I have been exposed to a lot since I started working there – some good, some bad. But it all gives you a realistic picture of what the world of sheltering really is.

Due to our tight quarters, my Marketing & Events position landed me at a desk directly next to our foster and rescue programs. I not only get to meet the lucky dogs who go out to foster, but I also get to meet the incredible people who open their homes and their hearts to these animals. I experience first hand the amounts of love, patience, and knowledge that these people pour out to care for these dogs while searching for their forever homes.

One of the most inspirational things I’ve learned from observing the world of fostering is how much emotion and hard work these animals take. The humans that care for them put their hearts on the line and make countless sacrifices to give their foster pet a new life. I wish everyone could realize how difficult fostering is, and what kind of person it takes. Lots of people say, “I could never do it. It would be too hard to give them up.” And it is hard, but I learned it is also one of the most rewarding things you can do.

My first foster dog came along unofficially, but more about that later. That goofy American Bulldog named Otis changed my view of fostering forever. In the two weeks I had him, I fell in love. I was okay with knowing, though, that inevitably I was going to have to give him up. I knew I couldn’t make the lifetime commitment to take him in as my own, but more importantly I knew how many other dogs I needed to help. Otis couldn’t be the last.

With the passing of my family pet, a cranky 14-year old Wheaten Terrier named Barley (whom I miss terribly), my house is finally open to official fostering. I’m bringing my first home tomorrow. Her name is Zabora, she is an 8-year old pit bull whose odds of being adopted at the shelter were slim. I’m nervous, I’m excited, I’m clueless. But I am ready.

Zabora marks the formal start of my journey as a foster parent. I’m going to devote my entire life to fostering dogs in need, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. I hope this account of my experiences helps to show a few others how rewarding fostering can be, and maybe even inspire them to try it out for themselves.

It takes a special person to foster, but fostering can also turn your life into something special.

This is my childhood dog, Barley, whose recent passing comes with the silver lining of now being able to help other dogs in need. Rest happy, little pup, your paw print will always be the biggest on my heart. 

Well. There you have it. The birth of Peace, Love & Fostering. The awkward, naive, totally clueless birth of PLF.  Thanks for sticking with us for two whole years. You guys rule.


Johnnie Cash is on a BOAT!

I have the privilege of following Johnnie’s adopters on Instagram, so I see her adorable little face every once in a while in pictures showing just how happy she is with her new family. It’s always the best surprise when she shows up in my feed, but this particular photo – as you can imagine – caught me attention and made me squeal REALLY loud.

01I haven’t chatted with J’s forever parents in a while, so I used it as an excuse to email them seeing how things are going. I got this glowing report, and some more photos!

“Yes, we are loving everyday with Johnnie!  I love that you can see her pics on Instagram, and I get to see all of the dogs you help everyday. :)  

A couple updates!  Obviously she loves the water and boats!  We’ve been taking her to Obedience Classes at Woofs! She just had her 5th class on Monday we have two more.  We did get put in a separate space because JC gets overly excited around a few of the dogs.  BUT everyday she gets a lot better with her puppy manners.  In the mornings I take her to a few busy corners with kids and people to work on sits, downs, roll over (bellyspots), and basically not jumping on people.  
 
We run her a few times a week and that helps with her energy.  We had a play date with a friends dog on July 4th (a puppy lab mix) they love each other and have very similar energy.  
 
After Obedience Training is over we will probably sign up for a one on one training session and then go onto a more advanced training… then eventually agility classes :D I know she would really like those!! BUT I definitely want her mostly trained by then.
Ty’s family absolutely love JC and her positive energy!!  I know the family took tons of pictures on the trip!!  I was so focused on making sure she was okay; I only took a couple pictures.  I’ll ask Ty’s mom to send me some pics to forward to you to share.  
 
YES, Ty and I are learning so much!!  Especially how to set JC up for success while we are at work and while we are with her.  We have gone through two remotes to date but the great thing is everything has been replaceable :) 
 
BTW She wakes me up in the mornings now (licking my face)!  Bright and early 6:30AM everyday, sometimes after a big saturday she’ll sleep in but not as often anymore.  She is still a sleepy dog though, after breakfast she’ll lounge in the living room while I get ready for work.  
I know JC misses you and sends lots of love your way!”
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I literally have no words. Okay, maybe one. Perfect. Perfect perfect perfect. HOW DID JOHNNIE FIND SUCH A PERFECT HOME!? I mean, all my fosters are in the perfect home. But Johnnie Cash’s home is just so perfect. You guys, this dog was in the shelter for eight months. EIGHT MONTHS. No one even gave her a chance! I’m sorry I’m internet yelling. I just can’t get over it. It brings tears to my eyes and gives me goosebumps and butterflys and all those fuzzy things.  I am the luckiest foster mom in the whole world for having such wonderful dogs and such wonderful people to scoop them up and call them their own!
Cheers to JC’s family and the amazingly bright future ahead of her!

My Journey to Becoming a Dog Trainer: Part 2

As I dove into learning about dogs, I simultaneously learned about the culture of dog training. I learned that there are people out there who know so, so much and are a wealth of great knowledge because they’ve gone to school or they have certifications (yes, in my opinion you need more than just “experience”), and I learned that there are people out there who should not be working with the dogs that they do (nor getting paid the buckets of money that some do!). It’s an unregulated industry. Anyone can give themselves the title of dog trainer, or, even worse, a behaviorist. No one will call you on it, especially if you make it sound like you know what you’re talking about (or, in many cases, you truly think you do know what you’re talking about). I’ve heard so many scary and heartbreaking stories about people who try to work with dogs and behavioral issues that are outside of their knowledge base, and the stories often do not end well.

My point for bringing this up is that I want to be one of the people who knows what they’re talking about, who has education and credentials to back it up, and who knows when they’re at their capacity to help, as well as what to do when they do reach that limit. What this means is that I am going to start small. I am going to start by learning. A lot. As much as I can. Then practice. A lot. As much as I can. Then get a certification. As many as I can.  Then I’m going to learn some more.

Virgil Ocampo Photography

Virgil Ocampo Photography

In terms of learning and practicing, I’ve gotten very lucky. The shelter trainer I told you about on Tuesday, Beth Mullen of Dog Latin Dog Training, has sort of taken me under her wing. She seems just as excited as I am about my career in dog training. The amount that she knows about dog behavior and how to communicate with dogs astounds me every time I watch her work. I began helping her out a few months ago, and have officially signed on as a trainer now. Currently I am teaching puppy classes and helping with basic manners clients – two things I feel very comfortable dealing with.

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Because I’m not okay with just comfort level to back up my abilities, I enrolled in the Karen Pryor Academy Puppy Start Right class. I absolutely loved it! The course went over everything from the way a dog is built to how dogs learn to their developmental stages to how to manage puppy behavior. It was a great course (though I was actually pretty happy with the fact that lots of it was review!), and now I have more to back up my experience when I talk to puppy parents. Also, let’s take a moment to point out the fact that my job is to hang out with puppies. Life is hard.

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Speaking of puppies – did you know a dog’s brain at 8 weeks old has the same learning capacity as that of an adult dog? Just a shorter attention span. You can teach puppies SO MUCH!

So that’s basically where things are right now. I have been blessed with the opportunity to join Dog Latin Dog Training to learn more and practice my skills, and will hopefully one day get my Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed title (REMEMBER: being a member of an association is not the same as having a certification!). I’m not sure how far I’ll go into the “difficult cases” category during my long term career – or if I’ll ever even go there at all. I just know that right now I love teaching people how to better understand their dogs, and I can’t wait to improve my ability to do that!

Newly permanent additions to my "can't go anywhere without it" collection: treat pouch, hot dogs & string cheese, clicker, six-foot leash with knots in it, and front-clip harness.

Newly permanent additions to my “can’t go anywhere without it” collection: treat pouch, delicious treats, clicker, six-foot leash with knots in it, and front-clip harness.