HOLY S*!%… HERE GOES NOTHING

When New Year’s Eve rolled around this past year, I remember thinking, “I accomplished a lot in 2014. I got my KPA certification and I finally got the Manager of Special Events promotion I wanted at the shelter… I guess 2015 will just be a coasting year.”  Boy was I wrong.

As of next Wednesday, I am officially saying goodbye to my full time, 9-5 job as an event planner. Yup, I’m doing it – I’m moving to training and behavior full time!  I’ve accepted a part time position on the behavior team at the Washington Humane Society and then will be expanding my role with Dog Latin Dog Training.

What does that mean? It means that for two and a half days a week I’ll be working with shelter dogs – evaluating them for adoption, running playgroups, doing behavior modification, teaching volunteers and staff about positive training as it relates to shelter animals, working with adopters, and so much more. It also means that when I’m not at the shelter, I’m working with private clients. It means I have more time to devote to them and their dogs. It means I can make my own schedule. It means I have time to actually blog (!!) and to organize more presentation opportunities and to do continuing education. It means I get PAID to put 110% of my effort and my heart and my soul into exactly what I want to do. Every. Freaking. Day.

I feel so thankful for the four years I spent in nonprofit development. Being an event planner for two different animal shelters taught me so much. Event planners have to be organized, detail oriented, good at working under pressure, able to multitask and really good at working with people. Thanks to the years spent mastering these skills, I consider myself relatively business savvy and able to connect with people in a way that will help me accomplish my long term goals in the dog world (and I’ve got some big goals!).

While I enjoyed my time on the admin side of helping animals, there was no denying the nagging feeling that dog training – specifically as it relates to the human-canine bond – was my purpose in life. I recently went to a TEDx talk about “being rebellious.” One of the speakers really stuck out to me. He talked about his experience breaking away from his own set status quo, and how it was scary, risky and against the norm, but so necessary and exciting. What resonated with me most was when he said, “You don’t make a difference by staying comfortable.”

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So I left my comfort zone. It was scary to let go of my 9-5 job. It was even more scary to let go of my consistent paycheck (duh). But as soon as I made the decision, everything felt right. Even when I told my coworkers at my current job, I got the response, “Well that took longer than we expected :-).” This is where I’m supposed to be, and I couldn’t be more ecstatic (I’m literally tearing up as I write this). Welcome to this new ride you’ll be joining me on, you guys. Cheers to growing up, taking risks and following your passion!
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Where Has PLF Been!?

Honestly, that’s a really great question. We barely even know! Judging by how many of you nice people liked our Facebook status announcing this post, it seems like you’ve missed us? Have you noticed we’ve been gone?

I guess I sort of felt like I didn’t have enough topics of substance to write about that weren’t just me spewing my opinion at you. And for the instances I did decide I wanted to share my opinion, I wasn’t giving myself enough time to come up with a well constructed post.  My efforts felt incomplete, which I hate! I decided I’d rather give you guys well thought out, interesting posts instead of ones thrown together at the last minute (this is where I don’t tell you that it’s 10:13 pm on Tuesday night so clearly I still haven’t addressed that last point).

In addition to feeling torn about post topics, I have been extra busy – in the best kind of way! I’m falling so in love with life every day here in the city. I’m soaking up the sunshine and warm temps. I’m spending extra time with friends. I’m working late nights at the shelter. I’m filling my weekends up to the brim with new, fun activities. I’m bonding with shelter dogs. I traveled to Mexico for a girl’s weekend. I’m spending afternoons with Paco just because. I’m constantly looking around this beautiful city with stars in my eyes. I’m gaining hours and hours of training experience working with clients, celebrating behavior-related victories every time. I’m taking weekend trips to Deep Creek Lake with my best friends. I’m dogsitting Lady Bug (adopt her!) and enjoying tons of snuggles.  I’m journeying out to the barn to spend time in wide open spaces. I’m finding corners of crowded DC bars to watch the World Cup games in with fellow Americans. I’m stealing gorgeous neighborhood husky puppies and helping their owners get through terrible puppyhood.  I’m learning more about dog behavior every single day. I’m embracing chaotic, fulfilling happiness every single day.

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So, I apologize about being absent from this space. I think about PLF often, and it’s not something I’m ready to move away from yet. I’ll be here for years to come, it just might not be every single Wednesday forever and ever because I want to give you posts worth reading. I am still as thankful as ever to have this blog and to have your attention, especially as I commit my career to helping dogs more and more every day.  Thanks for being the best, ever. See you back here soon? :-)

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The Tough Truth About Frankie

When I shared Frankie’s handsome face on Friday, I described him as the dog he is at heart: goofy, adorable and loving. Sadly, there is a bit more to the story. Frankie has been in the shelter for six months. That is almost 20% of his entire life. Shelter life is obviously not the ideal situation for any animal, and it takes its toll on each pet in a different way.  For Frankie, it is not going well.

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The staff at his shelter are doing everything they can to keep him happy, including play groups, enrichment activities, extra human time and more exercise. Something is just not clicking with him though. Here is a note written by his biggest fan on the behavior team at the shelter after some friends met him for the first time:

“When you saw Frankie, you probably couldn’t tell too much. Fridays are good for him, he gets a lot of walks and attention. But then the weekend comes and his routine is thrown off. By Monday morning, he is a wreck. It takes a staff member or volunteer at least 30 minutes of snuggle time just to get him to WANT to go on a walk. We take him outside, where he rolls in the grass, and zones out as we give him belly rubs and talk to him softly.

When Frankie is with people, his comfort and joy is palpable. As you saw, he will literally fall asleep in your lap. But without consistent human touch and affection over long periods of time, the stress of the kennels is slowly wearing him down. This is a dog who grew up in a neglect situation. He grew up without any human affection at all. Despite that, he has managed to remain at heart a social dog who enjoys the company of people. However, long periods without human contact cause him great emotional suffering and stress. Instead of shutting down, Frankie is beginning to show other concerning behaviors that show us his emotional breakdown. He will repeatedly jump at the door to his kennel, and has a difficult time settling on his own, even after the longest of walks. This may not seem concerning, but we have learned that these behaviors are the beginnings of stereotypy – repetitive behaviors caused by stress. If this level of stress goes on too long for a kenneled dog, long term effects occur as their brain chemistry will actually change.

Frankie used to relax quite well in his room after walks. Over time though, he is now just as antsy afterward as he is at the start. To help him, we begin and end walking sessions with relaxation time – body massages and belly rubs and snuggles. However, it is clear that Frankie is suffering. You can’t see it on the outside. Every Friday I go home and he is happy and relaxed. Come Monday morning he is transformed into a stressed out and anxious boy. Given some time, he comes around and bit by bit, he comes back to us. But he is in emotional pain here, and soon I fear it will be too late for him to turn back into the fun-loving, happy-go-lucky dog that he is.

I really am worried for him. The best life he has ever had is in the shelter. The people who love him most are here. And that’s okay, some dogs don’t even get that, many dogs really. But he deserves a home.”

Falling in love with Frankie is contagious. I realized that quickly and, just like the rest of the staff, became attached to him almost immediately. It probably has to do with the way he gravitates towards your lap as soon as you get on the floor, or maybe it’s the way his front paws awkwardly face away from each other beneath his big smile, only adding to his goofy demeanor, or maybe it’s his laid-back personality that is a breath of fresh air from the exuberant adolescent dogs you’re used to. Who knows. But Frankie is Frankie and he will make you fall in love with him.

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It breaks my heart that I can’t long term foster him thanks to my upcoming move, because a house with no other dogs, a big yard and someone who wants to take him on hiking adventures is just what he needs (not saying anything about myself, just that my situation was ideal for dogs like him!).

The least I could do was give him a break from the shelter, so that is what I did. Saturday afternoon Frankie came home with me so I could take him to the pit crew group walk on Sunday morning. We jammed as much fun into our 16 hours together as possible, which I will tell you all about tomorrow!

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If you or someone you know is interested in fostering or adopting Frankie, a big dog located in VA who would excel in an active, only-dog household, please email me at peacelovefoster@gmail.com! Spread the word about handsome Frankie!


Ask Me Anything Answers: How Did It Start

Last week I wrote a post asking YOU what you want to read about on the blog. I got a lot of great questions/topics to cover! I will be answering one question per week. As we move forward, please feel free to leave additional questions in the comments section of answer posts or regular posts. Today’s question comes from ilovecats:

“Are you involved with rescues or a foster program? I’m curious where you find the dogs you foster and how you got started.”

The cool thing is that this blog pretty much documents everything about this journey, including a lot about how it all started. Some of you might remember Zabora, the dog I co-fostered with Love and a Six-Foot Leash – but , as you can probably guess, it all started much before her.

I actually interned at this humane society when I was in high school to complete my senior year schedule of leaving in the middle of the day and heading to a science internship. The relationship I kept with my boss landed me the full time job I took after I graduated college (it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, kids!). It was during the time I interned in high school that I became interested in pit bull dogs. It wasn’t that I fell super in love with them at that point, I just started sticking up for them more because I couldn’t figure out why everyone thought they were so different. I guess I grew up with the value that beings shouldn’t be treated differently just because of the way they looked.

When I began working at the shelter full time in June of 2011 (yes, a whopping ten days after I walked across the stage at UMD’s graduation), I heard people talk about fostering and I even worked next to the foster department desk, but I didn’t think of it as an option for myself. I had an elderly dog Barley at home and, to be honest, didn’t know too terribly much about taking care of dogs on my own past the experience I had with him and a few others growing up. FYI – as an Animal Science major they teach you about cows, not dogs and cats :-). Once Barley passed away, Aleks from L&ASFL was able to convince me to help her out with Zabora. I figured it was an okay gig since the responsibility to get her adopted wasn’t totally on me.

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Zabora’s story was a sweet and rather quick success. We pulled her through Jasmine’s House rescue, which was the first time I’d ever heard about Jasmine’s House. By the way – did you all know that Jasmine’s House was named after Jasmine, the little red dog who graces the cover of The Lost Dogs? Yeah, that Jasmine.

Once Aleks moved away, I was sort of on my own in this big wide world of fostering and advocacy that I stumbled into. By then the blog was kind of rolling, though I wasn’t posting five times a week at that point. I started to put my antennas up a little more at work, figuring out how this fostering and saving lives thing worked. Rumblings about a dog named Baxter needing a foster home began circulating – online I think is where I saw it. I remembered Baxter when I finally put his name and photo together: he was the scared, emaciated dog I had met briefly in our break room at the shelter just a few months prior. I made the connection that Jasmine’s House had pulled him and rehabilitated him to the point that his next step was moving to true foster home.

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Catalina, one of the women who ran Jasmine’s House at the time, finally stepped up and asked me to foster Baxter. A bona fide foster dog, all to myself. I thought it through – though, looking back, did I really think it through? Did I really think about the fact that I’d have this dog for four months, no matter what? And that a black, generic looking dog can sometimes be tricky to place, especially when they’re maybe not the most affectionate of dogs? I’m glad I didn’t think about that, because Baxter was the opening to so much of what my world is now.

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Jasmine’s House loaded me up with a crate, a kong and a big hunkin’ jar of peanut butter. Turns out, I didn’t need much more for Bax! Just kidding, sort of. More so, though, Jasmine’s house provided me with support and encouragement. So much of it. They cheered with Baxter’s victories, marveled at how happy he was in a home, and helped us through challenges. They are awesome. So, so awesome. It was because of how whole-heartedly they welcomed me as a new foster that I realized this was an organization I wanted to stay involved in. That and the fact that they’re totally not crazy, like rescue groups can sometimes be – in fact, they’re very much practical and responsible, two things I value in an animal welfare organization.

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After fostering Baxter through Jasmine’s House, Otis came back to me. We all know how that went – but, in case you haven’t made the connection yet, I fostered him through the humane society, not Jasmine’s House. There were a couple different factors in that decision, but ultimately he ended up as a county shelter foster dog. The humane society has a great foster program that helps hundreds of animals per year in addition to the ones helped at the actual shelter, and it was nice to be able to go through that experience as well. Honestly, every rescue group/shelter has a different way of doing things, and if you’re interested in fostering you should find an organization that you mesh well with.

As far as the dogs I choose to foster, Zabora, Baxter, Otis and Johnnie all came into my life for different reasons. When you have a shelter full of dogs needing your help literally every day, it is easy to just go back and pick one out and bring it home. That would do worlds of good. But I let my dogs choose me. So far it’s worked well, and we’ll see who else weasels their way into my heart and home from now on. Judging by the past 18 months, your guess is as good as mine!

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Exotic Birds… in the ‘Burbs?

Imagine if you saw this big guy hanging out in your backyard.

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Yep, that’s what people have been seeing in my area for the last two months. This handsome bird finally came in as a stray after being sited in local neighborhoods. I honestly had never seen one of these beautiful birds up close – he is really stunning!

peacock1Off to rescue he will go. It sure isn’t every day when you walk into work to see this!


No Better Way to Spend the Weekend

As if working 40+ hours in a week at the shelter wasn’t enough for me, I more often than not find myself volunteering for something dog related on the weekends (as you can tell from this blog).  I keep asking myself when the day will be that I burn out – but so far there is no sign of that. I absolutely love doing all the things I sign myself up for. There are so many perks to volunteering, no matter what cause you’re helping with.  There’s got to be a reason why I continually offer my time to help these animals, and believe me – the “good feeling” isn’t always it. Check out a few reasons why I find volunteering so awesome:

1.  It’s usually FUN! I wouldn’t sign myself up for something I thought wouldn’t be enjoyable. Volunteer opportunities are often a great time to meet new people, hang out with animals (or kids or new adults, whatever your cause may be), and help with activities you’re interested in.  Not surprisingly, there is a reason why thousands upon thousands of people across their country donate their time – because it’s fun!

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2.  You get to open the world up for an animal. This generally only applies to bringing animals to adoption events, but boy is it one of the best parts! I brought this adorable cutie to an event on Saturday, and I can almost guarantee it was the first time she’d been in a place with so many new sites and smells. She’s a versatile little thing, so she loved it (it’s important to keep in mind some dogs may not).  Plus then she slept like a baby when she went back to the shelter that night!

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3. You make really great friends. Hands down one of the best things about being so involved in the sheltering/rescue community the past year and half has been the friends I’ve met. Whether through work, through fostering, or through volunteering – it’s amazing the amount of people you meet and click with when you’re doing something you love! Well, I guess it’s not that surprising considering most of us do it for similar reasons, but it’s still an awesome perk. I know I have made some friends for life through doing this. Volunteering can be a very social experience!

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4.  Once you put in time doing what’s needed, you can spend time doing what’s wanted. After a day of volunteering on Saturday, I found myself curled up on the floor of the shelter offices with this handsome boy named Admiral once all my duties were finished.  Often times if you’re volunteering at an event you have an allotted time you’re needed for help, and then some down time to do what you want.

Here’s a hint: it’s the perfect way to get into an event for free! Don’t take this the wrong way because obviously I don’t want people mooching off rescue groups, BUT I have definitely seen folks who can’t afford to attend an event themselves (usually a gala type or something similar) offer to volunteer so they can still experience the evening while helping out. It’s a win-win for the organization! Plus I have seen volunteers still donate to raffles or buy merchandise, etc. to do their part (in addition to giving their time – did I mention volunteers are awesome!?).

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5.  Resume booster! Volunteering shows that you’re willing to give up your own time for a greater cause, and that can be very appealing to a potential employer.  Not to mention there are a lot of skills to be learned as a volunteer, depending on what exactly you’re helping with.  Don’t think that just because you’re not getting paid means it might not be great experience for a job position!

6.  The “good feeling.” It’s pretty obvious that most people volunteer at least in part because they know how much it helps, and doing your part sure makes ya feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  I certainly cannot complain about spending an afternoon spreading the word about adoption with a pup who was grateful to get out of the shelter. Sure I could have been out shopping with my friends or relaxing at home, but I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to try and get more animals adopted.

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I know I’ve spammed you with this message enough on the blog. . . but consider volunteering!  There are so many groups out there who could use your help.  Volunteers are absolutely invaluable to most non-profits.


Nothing Says It’s Almost Valentine’s Day Like. . .

. . . a fabulous love-tastic photo shoot of adoptable animals!

I had the pleasure of working with the extremely talented photographer Virgil Ocampo again last night (the same volunteer that took these amazing shots of adoptables a few weeks ago). We were taking pictures for an exciting upcoming Valentine’s Day event at the shelter, and we took the opportunity to go all out with cute pink and red props.

I absolutely love Valentine’s Day. I love the chance to celebrate love and to show the people I love in my life a little bit of extra appreciation for a day.  That meant that I had a total blast with this shoot. I can’t wait to show you all the photos! Here’s a little behind the scenes action. . . stay tuned!

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