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.

zaborakisses

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.

baxfront

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.

bellalookatbax

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.

petexpo_2

petexpo_1

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!

meandmarkmebaxmeotieMeJoanie_0101

01

01


Calling All Readers: Ask Me Anything

In the past I’ve loved when other bloggers have done “ASK ME!” type blog posts. Kate With a Camera has done it and I’m positive others have but I cannot for the life of me remember. In any case, it’s a fun way to learn a little more about the folks behind the blog or anything else you’re curious about really.

So please, my faithful readers, leave a comment asking me something you want to hear more about. I will try to answer most, if not all, of them (within reason, of course ;-)) over the next few weeks.

4photo4


Dear Johnnie

After doing this fostering thing for about a year and a half now, I’ve become a firm believer in the idea that “everything happens for a reason.” Each of my foster dogs found their way into my life for what ended up seeming like a pretty obvious reason, and, after reflecting on it since you left, your situation is no different.

photo 3

The puzzle pieces for how you ended up with me can be put together pretty easily. After you arrived at the shelter in September, we continued to cross paths. I don’t often spend time one-on-one with a specific shelter dog as much as I did with you. Remember how I dressed you up and took your picture for our October e-newsletter? And then how I brought you on tv with me not once but twice? It seemed like we were always ending up with each other for one reason or another. So because I knew you so well, I paid attention to what the buzz was about you.

This leads me to the why you ended up with me. This was your doing. You had reached your limit. Not a limit set by any one person, but by your own little brain. The kennel was too much for you. For five months you teetered on the edge of rambunctious in a teenage puppy way and rambunctious in an unsafe, unhealthy way. By the end of January, it was clear you weren’t happy and that if it went on much longer like this, your own health and well-being would need to be seriously thought about. When I took you to that adoption event in late January and watched the calm sparkle return to your eye, I knew I had to give you the chance to get back to the dog you were without all the stress of a shelter.

This photo was taken at the adoption event where I decided you were mine.

This photo was taken at the adoption event where I decided you were coming home with me.

The why you ended up with me continued to make itself incredibly obvious as you settled in and became a part of our family. I say “our” family because you bonded in your own way with each and every one of us that you lived with. Having you around actually brought us all together. It was a team effort, helping you learn to be a family dog again. Sometimes it was difficult, but at the end of the day when you would bounce around the kitchen with your squeaky toy as we all made dinner, we couldn’t help but laugh at you and, more importantly, fall in love with you. In addition – like this blog made pretty clear – you, foster dad and I became quite the little family unit. That dynamic was actually a new one for us, but I soaked up every minute of it. We knew it wasn’t the right time for us to bring a dog into our lives, but pretending that you were ours for a little while was a nice privilege.

01

03

I think the final why that I will take away most from our time together is how much I learned from you about training. I can read books and articles and attend seminars as much as I want – but nothing compares to trying it and seeing it work in real life. I was your mentor, showing and teaching you how to make good decisions, and you were my partner, helping me learn how to improve my communication. You showed me what can be accomplished with force-free, reward based training and how much a dog can blossom when you bring trust and confidence into a relationship. An energetic, misunderstood shelter dog like you was exactly what I needed at this point in my life – you changed my opinions, my outlook and, honestly, probably my career path (!).

photo 30 photo 10

So while because of all the whys it was hard to let you go, I know that everything happens for a reason and that you were 100% meant to move on to your new (amazing!) family. I’m selfishly jealous of them that they now get to be the ones who wake up to your adorable sleepy face, that they get to take you on hiking adventures, that they’ll perfect your skills at being an awesome family dog and that they’ll be the ones to watch you grow old. I would love to be the lucky one who shares those moments with you, but I was put here not to be your final stop, but to be a stepping stone for you to find the happiness of a forever family.

photo 4

I haven’t yet learned how to make one of those adorable photo slideshows to music, so instead I will just include a song with lyrics that I think sum up perfectly how I feel about you leaving: “I’ll love you long after you’re gone.”

We’ll miss you, Johnnie Cash. Thanks for so much sunshine and laughter!

smile1


Johnnie is… ADOPTED!!!

If you asked me three weeks ago what it would be like to write a post about Johnnie getting adopted, I’d tell you it would be impossible. I thought letting Johnnie go would be the hardest thing I’d ever have to do. It was difficult, yes – but after meeting this family and watching them interact with Johnnie, I don’t think I could be happier about her going to a forever home.

01

I got a lot of interest in Johnnie while she was with me, but it was never the right fit. Yes it probably had to do with the fact that I was not going to let my little princess go to just anyone, but mostly it was because Johnnie can sometimes be a challenging dog (though always the sweetest, of course) and would need an adopter really willing to work with her.

02

When J (the human not the dog!) first emailed me, she told me about all the great adventures she and T would take Johnnie on. It sounded great, but I figured she wouldn’t be interested in a work-in-progress like Johnnie (not actually because of any vibes she gave me, that was just sort of the way things had been going with potential adopters). I fired back an email about why Johnnie was awesome but also how she’s working on her skills with other dogs and she’ll need a lot of training and she probably won’t ever love every single other dog she meets and how she’s not going to be easy blah blah blah. I figured I wouldn’t hear back, which was fine with me. A few days later I got the response: “Sorry about the late response, I wanted to make sure T and I talked it over before I got back to you. We both agree… we’re ready for it. What’s next?”

Hold the phone – you just read my straight forward “this is actually why you don’t want Johnnie” email and you came back for more? I didn’t get my hopes up because there were still some things standing in the way: the initial meeting, which Johnnie always bombs because she gets so excited and acts like a total lunatic, and a meet and greet with T’s parents dogs. When J and T met her for the first time she acted like her normal over-stimulated self, being extra bouncy. I thought for sure after they left that Johnnie had scared them off, but again I got a super positive email from them the next morning about her and how they still wanted to move forward.

A lot of you are probably thinking, “Why would you ever think they wouldn’t want her!?” Well I have this thing where I’m paranoid that no one else will understand the way she is and how her bounciness is often a product of stress and how she’s a great learner and how the crazy, often annoying behaviors can be changed and how she can be a really fabulous dog. I always just think that they’ll see a dog who is too much work and say “no thanks.” That’s why I kept thinking Johnnie’s adopters wouldn’t come back.

But they did come back. They came back every time I sent them long emails with endless ramblings about training and how to communicate with Johnnie and where to go for the best resources to help with the transition. They came back even when I told them all about how much work I’ve done with her and how much they’ll have to continue doing. They came back even after I brought her over to their place and she barked and wanted to play and was just generally her energetic self. They kept coming back for her.

The final hurdle that I figured would be decided by Johnnie Cash herself was the dog meet and greet.  One big black retriever mix and one little black fluffy dog stood in the way of Johnnie potentially heading to her forever home. To my surprise, it went better than I ever could have imagined. All three dogs were playing off-leash by the end of the meeting. Johnnie is definitely more puppy than I think either of the other dogs prefer, but no one got into arguments. It was amazing.

After that meeting, the adoption process seemed to happen at lightning speed and all of a sudden Johnnie was going to her new home in 36 hours. Of course I immediately began to panic – what if they take her home, realize how nuts she can be, and they want to bring her back? What if she has a melt down around other dogs and freaks them out? What if what if what if? Ask Mark and he will tell you how annoying of a worry wart I can be.  I don’t know what it is about Johnnie, versus my other fosters, but I just feel so responsible for her behavior.

Well, not surprisingly, I had nothing to worry about. My mind was immediately put at ease when we did the swap and I saw how excited they were to bring her into their lives. They showed us all the awesome new dog supplies she’d be spoiled with, and they even gave me the most amazing photo book as a gift. I know, right – isn’t it me who should be thanking them for agreeing to take such great care of my dog? Johnnie really hit the jackpot with this family.

ADOPTED03

We’ve been in touch since she went home, and they are still love with her (yay!). Some of the hiccups I thought would arise have indeed come up, and they seem more than willing to do what’s needed to make sure everyone stays happy and comfortable.

ADOPTED02

So there it is. Johnnie Cash, the dog who spent five months in the shelter, has found her forever family. The best forever family. Good luck Johnnie – you will have an amazing life with people who love you, and you deserve every minute of it!

ADOPTED01


How We Spend Rainy Days

Our weekend started off real yucky with some serious April showers. Now that I have little Johnnie Cash though I actually really love the rain, because who better to spend a snuggly evening in with than your favorite pup?

rain1

Johnnie is the perfect rainy day partner. We played enough indoor fetch, tug and keep away that she was okay with chillin’ out for most of the night. Johnnie was quite intrigued by the rain though – or at least by the fact that we had the window open.

rain3 rain2

We were really happy (so happy in fact that J did some break dancing in celebration) when the sun came back because we had a crazy busy weekend. We’ll tell ya all about it on the blog this week, so check back to hear what we did!

rain4

To adopt Johnnie Cash and spend rainy days together, check out her Adopt Me page.


Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

For a long time, this blog was a way for me to sort of “sell” my foster dogs – meaning I would share all the awesome stuff about them and then creatively touch on the areas they needed to improve upon in, hoping that it didn’t scare off potential adopters.

While of course I focus on Johnnie’s positives (I mean, she’s got so many of them!), I’ve gained enough confidence on this blog to share with you both the good and the slightly-less-than-good about fostering her (and any future dogs).  I’ve come to terms with the fact that any adopters who want to bring Johnnie into their lives will have to deal with these things anyway, so I might as well just put them out there – and I do this with the hope that it will help anyone in my audience having the same “issues” with their dogs.  I don’t want to ever give the impression that Johnnie is perfect or that I’m the perfect foster or that we live this perfect life – because who can relate to that? We’re a real family and Johnnie is a real (teenage!) dog who is learning every minute of the day.

So, with that being said, we had sort of a tough week last week. Around Wednesday, some annoying habits started popping up again from Johnnie’s days in the shelter – specifically leash biting and worse jumping up.  It started on a walk after a particularly rough day – Johnnie was worked up for some reason (if I paid better attention to what she was trying to tell me, I’m sure I’d know what was bugging her), and I had a stressful day at work. I wrote it off as “bad day syndrome.” But it showed up the next day as well, and the day after that.  I used the methods I thought I should to help stop it before it got worse, but nothing was working. Every time we went for a walk she went into “stressing up” mode where she would try to grab at anything in reach, including my clothing and the leash.

A bit of a side note: I used to be an extremely emotional person. Growing up riding horses, I had a tough time not taking it personally when my horse and I couldn’t communicate well. Looking back, it’s clear I just was not conveying to Marley what I really wanted from her – but at the time I would dismount from a ride almost in tears because I was so angry with her and our performance.  I very much matured through college and once I started working with dogs I realized I was able to keep emotions out of it. In fact, I think my ability to keep emotions out of training my dogs helps me be that much better at communicating with them. That is, at least until last Thursday night.

Johnnie was particularly obnoxious, frustrating and embarrassing on our Thursday evening walk, and, after an upsetting conversation with someone about how I wasn’t doing enough to stop the behavior, I totally lost it. I knew Johnnie’s behavior wasn’t acceptable, but I didn’t know what else to do to stop it in the deadline that seemed to be conveyed by some people around me. What was worse was that she had been doing so well for so many weeks. What did I do to make this behavior pop up? After all I’d learned about working with dogs in a positive, force-free way, what was I doing that enabled this behavior to continue? Was I being a bad foster for not “disciplining” her like many people would want me to be if they watched the situation unfold, even though it went against everything I’ve learned about science-based training? I felt like a failure.

My frustration continued over to our walk Friday morning.  She displayed the leash-biting again, but only a little bit. As she settled down and we walked through the woods behind my house early that morning, I got lost in my thoughts. How was I going to solve this? Am I being stupid for trying to think I can do this on my own? If even I’m worried about it, what will I tell potential adopters? I began making a mental list of who I would reach out to for help. I become so absorbed in my thoughts, I didn’t even notice that we came across an off-leash dog until they were right in front of us. Luckily Johnnie was amazing and just wanted to play, but it caught me so off guard that after we passed them I broke down again. For the second time in only twelve hours, I’d failed Johnnie – it turned out okay even though I wasn’t paying attention, but what the heck was I doing?!

That morning was sort of the turning point. It was like I got out all of my frustrations and fears and emotions about working with Johnnie, and was finally able to look at it with a clear mind again. She was great for my parents while I was at work all day, which always makes me happy, and I arrived home that Friday afternoon promising her a clean slate.
I set us up for success for our walk that evening. I packed high value treats, a clicker and strapped two leashes on J. As we started walking, she began to get excited. As soon as she looked like she was about to jump up on me in excitement, I asked her to sit. I’d done this before, but not until after she was jumping – it was preventing the behavior that was helping this time. Also, when she sat and I clicked her behavior, I rolled the treat on the ground in front of us so she got herself going again. Previously, she would use my moving forward as a trigger to jump again and we’d spend time sitting and dancing around trying to avoid jumping. This way, she got herself started and was distracted from jumping by looking for the treat. The combination of preventing the behavior and setting her up for success helped her get past the excitable jumping phase much quicker. Also, when she wanted to playfully bite the leash, I just dropped it – which is why I had her wearing two. This way it never turned into a game for her and she decided it wasn’t worth it very quickly. The entire process only took us about three minutes and we were able to continue our walk normally again, versus the frustrating 10 – 15 it had taken on the handful of previous walks. Once she gets out of that mental state she is fine, it had just been difficult getting her to a better place – until that breakthrough.

As we trotted along together for the rest of that walk, I finally felt accomplished in what I wanted from my relationship with Johnnie.  I had thought harder about what I needed to do to help her understand what I wanted, and I was able to stay patient while we both worked it out.  I felt a sense of relief that I wasn’t a total failure and that I didn’t need to believe anyone who told me my methods wouldn’t work.  She still hasn’t completely gotten over the habit, but I trust that I’ll be able to stay consistent in my message to her that there are better decisions to make instead of getting too excited. I also trust that we will be able to work through other little speed bumps like this again in the future, using ways that will strengthen our relationship, not break it, as we both continue learning.

kisses

To adopt Johnnie Cash and build your own positive training bond, email peacelovefoster@gmail.com.


If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done. . .

A lot of people make New Year’s resolutions. A lot of people don’t. Some see New Years as a fresh start, and some see it as an annoyance that will make the gym more crowded for the first few weeks of January. I see it as a reason to take a moment to think about where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going.

2012 was an interesting year for me. For the first time in my life I wasn’t transitioning to something new. I didn’t enter a new grade, I didn’t start a new job. I had a consistency that I wasn’t used to, but welcomed. Outside of my job, I heavily expanded my extracurriculars, mostly with activities having to do with dogs and documented through this blog.  I met a lot of really awesome people with the same intense passion for helping animals that I do, and surrounding myself with them helped me realize that together we’re each making a difference in our own way.  I feel like I grew up a lot because of the unique balance of consistency and new experiences that I found myself with in 2012.

I don’t like to set unreachable goals for myself in the form of New Year’s resolutions, so I steer clear of the drastic stuff (example: “I’m going to the gym every morning at 6 am in 2013” – talk about setting yourself up to fail).  Even though I shouldn’t need the changing of a date to make me do this, the New Year is as good an opportunity as any to take a solid look at what I can improve upon in my life.  Like one of my favorite quotes says, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”  If I don’t make the effort to step it up and make myself better when and where I can, then I’ll lose opportunities to grow as a person.

With that being said, here are four of my goals for 2013 to work towards always improving myself.  They’re pretty general, but if I look back at this time next year and have continued to do all four, I will be happy.

1.  Learn, learn, learn.  I’m soaking knowledge up like a sponge right now. I feel like I can’t get enough, and I love it.  I’m going to continue learning about dog training, photography, animal behavior, business and more.  I’m already signed up for a few more photography courses, dog behavior seminars and a business marketing class – and that’s just during January!

2.  Continue to foster as many dogs as I am able. Here is one where I want to be realistic for myself. I stuck “as many as I am able” in there instead of a specific number because I know how many different factors go into fostering dogs, and if I’m only able to take in two this year then I will still be happy. If my circumstances work out that I can help ten find new homes, that would be great too.  But I know I definitely want some temporary four legged fur babies back in my home at some point!

3.  Read more. In addition to reading for my first goal, I really want to tap into the massive amount of awesome fiction books that are out there about dogs. I’ve already started a few thanks to my wonderful boyfriend giving me a Kindle for Christmas, and I can’t wait to keep going.  I even joined a book club with Your Dog’s Friend that meets once a month to discuss dog books, both informational and fiction. I’m so excited!

4.  Stay positive. I know, can’t get more general than this. But 2012 showed me a lot about the benefits of positivity, both for rescue and my personal life.  Everyone knows that animal rescue can be a really crappy field to work in. You lose your faith in humanity and you lose animals you love. But staying positive helps to combat that, and in the end can actually really benefit the animals.  I’m going to continue to try to look for the good in every situation this coming year – and I think that will be easier than it seems.

So they’re sort of standard and obvious, but I like to make the reminders to myself anyway. What is anyone else doing for 2013? Any big resolutions? I’d love to hear! And, as usual, thanks for being with me for this kick ass past year. Can’t wait for 2013 with you!

2013