DUCK BOOT ADDICT

Okay, I don’t actually mean my closet is full of these brown and black boots. But I realized the other day that I spend a lot of time in my L.L. Bean duck boots. You never realize how similar your outfits become each day until your work uniform is basically “clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty but that also looks half way decent.” There’s only so much wiggle room with that criteria!

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with a client’s black lab puppy named Griffin. Griffin and I bounce around the city once a week in the name of socialization. Yes, that’s right – I get to spend the afternoon with a puppy so I can rapid fire treats at him whenever we see, well, just about anything. New people, places, things – they all mean good treats for Griff so he learns that the world is an awesome place! And, no surprises here: I do it all wearing my duck boots.

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Then, on the other end of the dog-trainer-job spectrum, I spent time with a shelter dog, out of the shelter! Her name is Kyra and she is ah-maz-ing. My behavior team had to run an errand to Home Depot so we figured we’d bring along a dog. Turns out we picked the best dog in the whole place, because Kyra was a rockstar for the outing. I did a lot of rewarding her like I do Griffin (basically showering her with treats throughout the whole experience) but I also paid her for practicing the skill of acknowledging all the crazy sights, sounds and people of Home Depot, and still sticking with me. I’m about to throw you all for a loop right now and tell you I was wearing my duck boots for the occasion.

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But forreal, I have bad knees and I work in potentially very muddy environments, so my Bean boots have been one of my best investments this season, just like my flannels in the fall and my work-appropriate khaki shorts in the summer. Now that I have to skip the heels and dress pants every morning, I’m clinging on to every ounce of “fashion” I can, even if it means lumberjack chic (yes, that is a thing).

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P.S. Adopt Kyra so I don’t.

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SETTLING IN

If I had a dollar for every time I tried to sit down and write this post, I’d be able to buy a lot of bully sticks. For some reason I just can’t get the thoughts from my brain on to my screen in a way that I’m happy with. But I just snuggled into a cozy corner of Starbucks with a peppermint mocha and classical Christmas music, and I’m not leaving until I get this done. Nothing like setting myself up for success, right?

The past eight months have felt like my life has been turned upside down and re-centered, all at the same time. To give you a refresher, I left my 9-5 event planning job in May to take two part time jobs: one on the behavior team at my local animal shelter, and one doing dog training with private clients.

I am so happy I made the jump, and there’s nothing I regret about the decision, but I can’t say it’s been completely easy and stress-free. The transition from being development staff for an animal shelter to working hands on with the animals was harder than I expected. I’ve worked in two other shelters prior to this one; I’ve seen and experienced what sheltering is about. Or so I thought. But I spent the first few months in my new role exhausted, both physically and emotionally. Working so closely with the animals has its positives and negatives.

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My favorite part about working on a shelter behavior team is, as you can probably guess, the behavior. Oh my goodness, the stuff we get to see! I think I’ve seen more dog behavior here in eight months than I’d see in years as a private dog trainer. We evaluate every dog that comes in, so I’ve experienced the squishy, adorable emaciated stray dog, and the gives-you-the-heebie-jeebies-better-get-my-defensive-handling-skills-ready owner surrender. We quite literally never know what is going to walk through the door.

I’ve also found that working at an open-admission city shelter has made me fall more in love with my community. I’m proud to work for an organization that values the people we serve and prioritizes keeping our community safe. I get to know the people coming to us for help, whether I’m talking with them about a dog they are surrendering, or helping to match them with their new best friend, or giving them advice about an animal they just adopted. Putting a face with the homes our animals are going to helps me remember how I can best help animals by helping the people who love them. That part is, as a whole, quite rewarding.

I’m sure you can also guess what the toughest part is. It’s both a blessing and a curse to get to be involved in decisions about euthanasia. So far, there hasn’t been a decision made that I don’t agree with, but that doesn’t necessarily make any of them easier. I’ve been there as we said goodbye to animals who are no longer healthy, happy or comfortable. I’ve fed them hot dogs as they took their last breaths, knowing that someone failed them long before they came to us, and that they spent their final days knowing what a consistent meal, warm bed, and fierce love felt like. The emotional weight the job of a shelter worker brings is something I actually welcome, as I know it takes a certain kind of person to be able to do our jobs with responsibility, compassion and empathy. If that person is me, then so be it.

The following are all pictures from work over the past few months. We really do have a great time working with the animals. I love love love my team. While we do have to deal with the tough stuff, admittedly there is a decent amount of “playing with puppies” (aka what my friends think I do all day) as well.

At my other job, I find that my work with private clients helps to balance out the emotional fatigue I sometimes carry from the shelter. The shelter is full of animals who are not yet committed to by anyone (loved by the staff, of course, but you know what I mean). With my private clients, I see the dedicated families putting work in with their pet dogs. It’s refreshing, and it’s usually just what I need in the middle of my work week (I’m at the shelter Sunday – Tuesday and see clients the rest of the week). Having the time to really dedicate to my clients makes working with them that much more rewarding. I’ve gotten so close with so many of my regulars. From rushing one client’s dog to the emergency vet because he got bloat when I was walking him (he survived!), to mourning the passing of another’s pup as the dog declined during the months we spent training her younger sister, my clients truly feel like family to me sometimes!

Through all the ups and downs, when I take a step back and look at where I am now, I can’t help but realize how different this life feels than my “past life” (which is how I refer to my role as an event planner). There’s never a day I wake up and dread going to work — in fact, quite the opposite. Even though I work pretty much six full days a week, I’m not feeling any kind of burnout yet. I think that’s because I am so fulfilled by what I’m doing for “work.” My friends are hitting the age where you start to realize working your butt off in a window-less cubicle for a nice paycheck kind of sucks. I can’t say I relate to that. I almost feel, I don’t know, selfish? self conscious? in a way, because I’ve been able to find a career that makes me so incredibly happy, while many of my peers are miserable at their desk jobs.

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Life outside of work is great as well. I’ve found a mental escape in the workout group I joined a little over a year ago. Three times a week I go run a bunch of miles with them before I start my day with the dogs. They helped me run the Marine Corps Marathon in October! These workouts and these people help so much with my work-life balance.

I’m spending time with my friends. I continue to fall in love with DC every day. My friend Eran fostered another dog that every once in a while I pretended was my own. I’m giving seminars on behalf of Dog Latin. Life is good, guys. I’m really lucky.

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A big shout of to my friends who kept calling me out for not keeping up with this space the past six months. Hopefully I’ll be back soon.

Happy Holidays!


What’s Black and White and Speckled All Over?

Jayla!

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She’s the one I told you about yesterday that I took to an adoption event (so, before you get all excited, no she is not my new foster). Mark says I’m just on a “falling in love” kick since I miss Johnnie. I say that Jayla is AWESOME and how can anyone not fall in love with her!? Let me tell you about her.

Dogs like Jayla are actually very refreshing to me (have I talked about this before? I feel like I’ve talked about this before… I’m sorry if I’ve talked about this before!). To be totally honest, it’s very easy when you’re working at a shelter to sort of have your eyes glaze over and stop seeing every dog individually, but rather as a whole group of animals who need help (Animal Farm Foundation addressed this in a very interesting blog post about the concept of psychic numbing). I don’t do it consciously, it just sort of happens… maybe it’s our mind’s way of sparing us a bit of the emotional torture that comes along with working in animal welfare. In any case, it’s not every day that I find a dog I really, truly fall for.

Jayla, like lots of the dogs in a shelter, gets lost in the crowd. At four-ish years old, in the sixteen seconds it takes for someone to walk past her kennel she is just another black and white dog with short fur and a big head. Even when I first took her out, she was distracted and investigating her new environment. Not that I blame her – new places are ohsointeresting when you basically live in a box – but it’s hard to bond with a dog like that. It was only after spending about thirty minutes with her did she start to warm up to me. And it turns out that she is a big sweetie!

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Point #1 for Jayla: awesome passenger in the car. Any dog who sits nicely and even falls asleep on their first ride in the car is awesome in my book. Point #2 for Jayla: calm around other dogs. After dealing with a few “over eager” pups, boy was this a nice change! Point #3 for Jayla: she’s tolerant and up for anything. Being around her while she’s got a bully stick? No big. Hanging out with kiddos who want to run and squeal and pull on her tail? It’s nothing. Taking her to new sights and sounds? Easy peesy.

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It seems pretty evident that Jayla’s wisdom and maturity comes from the fact that she’s past her teenage years (she’s about 4, remember). She’s over the partyin’ and would rather just hang out on your couch. Oh, and those belly spots? Feel free to give those a nice long rub while the both of you are enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? I tell ya, if I wasn’t moving in July this little girl would be in my house on my floor at my feet right now (whether foster dad liked it or not ;-)).

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And yes, I stole her away for a bit after the adoption event and introduced her to my parents and my yard. They fell in love with her, and she fell in love with them (okay, maybe mostly the yard). Sometimes you just have to fall for one again to remember why you do it!

05Looking for a laid back gal whose favorite thing to do is hang in your lap and make you smile? Email me at peacelovefoster@gmail.com.


Puppies on Puppies on Puppies

This post is a little bit a reminder that 1. it’s baby season and 2. you absolutely CAN find puppies at shelters (meaning you don’t have to buy). But mostly I just wanted to share with you the rather unfortunate cuteness that took over work last week. I say unfortunate because I hate that there are so many puppies coming through our doors with no home! But regardless, here are some squishy faces for your Monday.

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I’m actually going to be seeing lots of puppies from now on thanks to an exciting new opportunity (no, that does not include fostering… for now) – but more on that later!


Sometimes It’s Just Meant to Be

On August 27, 2012 a family in tears walked their eight-month old puppy into the shelter because their landlord wouldn’t allow them to keep her.

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The puppy was adorable, but seriously lacked basic manners.  For five months she was overlooked in the shelter, despite her deep brown eyes and a tail that wagged her whole body when she met you. I first met Johnnie Cash (formerly known as Angel, for anyone who is looking for her from MCHS) in early October when I took her on tv and she was a total doll.  It wasn’t the right time for me to foster her, but I fell in love and told myself that after my big event in November was over I would take her home.

The more I watched her in the shelter though, the more hesitant I got about taking her. She was so rambunctious, clearly with lots of pent-up energy. Even some of our long time volunteers were weary of taking her for walks, annoyed with her love of biting the leash and jumping on you. Occasionally I would take her out – giving her a toy to occupy herself with so she didn’t grab the leash – and I would work on basic manners with her: sit, four on the floor, loose leash walking, etc. She picked it up really fast.

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And yet I started to ignore what I saw in her myself and started listening to others. “Oh, that dog, she’s a pain!” I began to talk myself out of fostering her because I was afraid she was going to destroy my house and be tough to adopt out. Soon the holidays came and went and fostering drifted out of my mind, even though this beautiful tan and white pup had now earned her spot as our longest resident.

January flew by for me with obligations almost every weekend. I finally came up for air a few weeks ago, so Mark and I started entertaining the idea of fostering again.  He joined me for one of the fabulous photo shoots at the shelter two weeks ago where we both met a few fostering contenders.  During the shoot we took Johnnie out and she immediately caught my attention because of what she wasn’t doing. She wasn’t jumping, she wasn’t biting the leash, she wasn’t making a mad dash for every toy in the room. . . she was just an extremely waggy, happy girl – totally different than when I had spent time with her months before.

After that photo shoot, I couldn’t stop thinking about Johnnie. I couldn’t stop marveling at how well she demonstrated “sit” and “down,” and I couldn’t stop wondering if it was just a fluke and maybe she was behaving nicely because she was just worn out that day, or if something had changed in her as she grew up in the shelter.

I learned that about a month ago Johnnie got spayed and had surgery for a hernia. Volunteers and kennel staff noted that that’s when things started improving – she wasn’t acting out as much, she wasn’t as out of control. To me, it sounds like she was probably in pain from that hernia and when she finally recovered from it, she felt better and started to clam down.  When I took her to an adoption event last weekend and she totally rocked it, I knew her fate was sealed. She was coming home with me.

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It’s only been a little over 24 hours since she’s been in my home, but I am head over heels in love. So is Mark and my whole family. It breaks my heart to know that this dog spent so much time misunderstood in the shelter when she is proving herself to be an AMAZING family dog with me now. She’s fast asleep at my feet as I write this, and we already went for a run together this morning after bouncing around the yard playing with sticks.

I’ve never truly busted a dog out of the shelter like this – Zee was a product of Aleksandra’s generosity and hard work, Baxter came from the Jasmine’s House farm and Otis came from his previous adopters. The feeling of walking Johnnie out of the shelter and into my loving home is an experience I don’t think enough people are blessed with having. I’m so happy to be able to share our journey with you this time around – though I have a feeling this gem of a dog will not be here for long!

02If you’re interested in adopting Johnnie Cash, email me at peacelovefoster@gmail.com.


KISS ME Kenya!

Look at this cutie! Doesn’t she sort of remind you of Nala from The Lion King?

kenya3This princess is waiting for her forever home! Her name is Kenya. She’s a gentle girl – so gentle that the kennel staff have to carry her from her cage when they clean in the morning because she doesn’t want to get out of bed! She loves people though.  When she got outside and started moving around she hopped right up on this bench to hang out with my coworker, get some loving and of course give KISSES!

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So cute! Kenya would love a home of her own to get snuggles and kisses galore. She’s about a year and a half and got a STELLAR evaluation! “Sweet, reserved, affectionate”. . . doesn’t get much better than that!

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Want to add Kenya to your family? Email peacelovefoster@gmail.com!


Happy Tail Update: Rojo!

Nothing makes me happier than posting positive updates about dogs who were recently rescued and are now doing awesome in their new home. A few weeks ago I did update posts on shelter dogs Patrice, Peanut and Kobe with emails I received from their new families or fosters. This time, I’m here to report on an adorable dog who was adopted from my shelter by my next door neighbors: Rojo!

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Because I live next door, I get to see first hand how Rojo (pronounced Ro-ho) is settling into his new life.  We’ve had a few fence line chats with him and my various temporary fosters, but the other night I headed over there to babysit his human siblings and I got to see just how great his digs really are.  His family has toys and kongs and beds and LOTS of love for him, and he seems like one seriously happy pup!

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In my post introducing Rojo I asked for advice about his excitable wetting. I am happy to report that his family says he is doing much better with that since they have been keeping arrivals very low key. He didn’t do it when I – an exciting new person – showed up, so that was a great sign (he did it last time I met him).

He’s also been attending classes at Your Dog’s Friend. YDF is my favorite training group in Montgomery County whose mission is to help keep dogs out of the shelter by offering affordable positive training classes ranging from basic obedience to agility to nose work, as well as free seminars and workshops about all things dog related. Rojo excelled in his first level of classes, and now does a fabulous “sit” and “touch” – both of which he likes to practice with his two sibs.

Speaking of, I think my favorite part of Rojo’s new life is his relationship with his human sister and brother. Not only do they adore him, but he tolerates all their kid antics (which are few and far between; they are fabulous around dogs). On the night I watched them, they prepared his bed for him so we could all watch movies together, as well as a kong treat for when the humans had ice cream.

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His family is still learning the ropes, like making sure his counter surfing skills don’t get too perfected and helping him keep his cool around other dogs (their next class at YDF is actually one that I am helping coach – which I will write about later – but that was a fun coincidence!), and they seem to love him even with all he has to learn.

Seeing Rojo as such a loved family dog was so rewarding. I don’t like to focus on an adopted dog’s past, but it’s crazy to think that just months ago Rojo was living as a stray without a bed or consistent food or anyone to love him. And look at where he is now! He’s a family member – a happy, happy dog.

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