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!


IT’S A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT (LITERALLY)

Last Fall I found myself in the worst fitness shape I’d been in since college. I was busy, I didn’t have room in my budget for a gym membership, and in my little bits of free time I prioritized seeing my friends over exercising. I never thought of myself as someone who would “fall off the wagon” when it came to taking care of myself – but I had, and it was bad.

Then one day I decided to attend a workout put on by a free fitness movement called the November Project. Despite it being 6:30 am on a Friday, I really enjoyed the workout. The group meets three times a week, and I showed up the following Monday, then the following Wednesday, and even the next Friday. Today I am happy to say that I consistently attend those 6:30 workouts three times a week all over the city (which is going to produce a whole post on motivating a learner to increase behavior!). I am in the best shape I’ve been in since college!

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While I have come a very long way since the day I started, I still find myself discounting my progress. I watch the friends I’ve made, many of whom started around the same time I did, getting faster and faster, while I feel like my pace is staying the same. I beat myself up when I struggle during the workouts because these shouldn’t be this hard anymore. I wonder how the heck I am ever going to complete the marathon I’m signed up for in October. I get frustrated and angry when I can’t keep up with my peers. I’m used to being someone who stays positive and motivated by progress, so these doubts can be really discouraging.

Then I think back to something my mama brought up one time I had a conflict that I needed help managing (because moms always know best). She asked, “Well, what would you tell your clients to do in this situation?” This might sound funny, because dog training and someone’s personal life aren’t really the same, right? Actually, you’d be surprised at the overlap (or maybe you’re not surprised because you’ve been reading his blog, ha!).

In this instance, I remembered all those times I told my clients – or maybe adopters, or first time foster parents, or just any dog owner – to manage their expectations as they work towards their goal. “Don’t let one bad experience ruin the loads of progress you’ve made,” I tell them. “You’ve come too far to let this small step back keep you from being proud of your accomplishments.”

My heart breaks when my clients come to a session discouraged because their reactive dog had an outburst yesterday, after so many weeks of doing so well! So we talk about what their dog was like on day one. We reminisce about how every walk was a nightmare, how they were at their wits’ end, how their household was full of stress. Then we look back at the most recent incident – the dog barked, maybe lunged a bit, and the owner stayed calm, got the dog’s attention back, kept moving, and everyone recovered quickly. It’s like night and day from where they started, even though in the moment it didn’t feel like it.

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Progress doesn’t happen overnight. It also doesn’t go away overnight. Journeys like working with a reactive dog, or conquering separation anxiety, or improving your mile time, are all works in progress that have their ups and downs. When I start to doubt myself and my fitness progress, I remind myself of how far I’ve come. Then I give myself some good old positive reinforcement to keep myself motivated, and I head out for my next run – just like the dog owner who grabs the treat pouch and heads out for their next walk.

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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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Guess Who’s Here!

I have a house guest for the week! Does this big guy look familiar?

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That’s right. Otie is hangin’ with us for the week while his dad is out of town. He’ll be bouncing back and forth between my house downtown and my parents house in the ‘burbs since it’s a lot of work to hide him from my landlord keep track of him while I’m running around all weekend. I was pretty nervous bringing him to my house because he can be barky and anxious and I didn’t want to drive my roommates nuts, but he’s actually done really well! And my roommates are enjoying having a dog around.

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It’s nice having him around again. I missed him! He’s also still perfect when I bring him to work (whew!). photo 05 photo 04

I’ll tell you guys about how the week goes. We have some adventures planned for this weekend (shocking)!


City Livin’: Here Goes Nothing

I’ve never considered myself a “city girl.” You’ll notice from this blog that I absolutely love the outdoors, the woods, wide open spaces, nature, etc. I don’t necessarily hate the city, I’ve just never envisioned myself going out of my way to live in one. That is, until the stars aligned and an opportunity arose that I just couldn’t pass up.

Upon getting my new job in Arlington, I assumed I’d find housing with some of my closest girlfriends who already lived there in Virginia. When that didn’t work out, a room opened up in one of my other good friend’s house downtown. At first I didn’t think much of it because why would I ever live in DC, right? But then I got to considering: did it actually sort of make sense for me to live in the city? Sharing a house with five other girls, that could be fun. I’d be downtown living the young, not-many-obligations lifestyle that was only practical at this age and that I’d secretly been jealous of others living while I was stuck in the suburbs. I’d be close to Mark, who just moved to DC from VA. I’d be only fifteen minutes from both my jobs. Wait, this is starting to make sense.

Fast forward two months, and I’ve made the move! I can say I have absolutely fallen in love with it; with everything. My new house, my new neighborhood, my new routine, my new running paths, my new easy access to the metro, me new food options at every turn, my new night life, my new culture, my new neighbors, my new mode of transportation (walking), and my even my new DC driver’s license.

At first I reserved this post to show you guys how I brought a little piece of my fosters into my new room, but after Yellow Brick Home’s recent digital house tour, I’m inspired to show you a bit more! Please excuse the poor photo quality. I used my fish eye lens to try and give you a better sense of the whole space, and the lighting was pretty bad – so they’re not my best pictures. But they’ll have to do!

The new house is a gorgeous row home located smack in the middle of three great DC neighborhoods. We have some great architecture features of a house built in the early 1900’s, including stunning dark wood, high archways and creaky, spiraling staircases. The house has so much character.

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My favorite area is the living room. It faces the street and has insane amounts of natural light, but there are so many plants in front of the windows that it still feels private. In the rare times when we’re all home at the same time, you can usually find us crowded on the couches around the tv watching some trashy show.  Oh, and those gorgeous sunflowers are compliments of the local Farmer’s Market – another city living perk.

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Our kitchen is just as compact and adorable as you’d expect it to be. It’s nothing special, but thanks to the extra pantry space and double fridges, we fit just fine. It leads out to an awesome deck and backyard, but there were too many mosquitoes for me to go outside and get great pictures. Our backyard is on our to-do list to fix up, anyway. Right now it is entirely under-utilized. Maybe I’ll post about it again as we make improvements.

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I live on the second floor (out of three). I have the smallest room in the house, and I don’t mind a bit. I can fit everything I want/need to, and, especially after decorating, it feels nice and cozy.

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So, here’s the thing. In the course of all my falling in love with the city, I’ve still really been feeling the lack of foster dogs. You never realize how much those happy bundles of fur impact your life until they’re not around at all. With so much change (albeit, good change – but still), I needed a way to have constant reminders of those little paws that stole my heart. I knew I wanted to make my fosters a big part of my room décor. But I am on a budget (helloooo, rent payments!), so I couldn’t do anything extreme or very creative (okay, let’s be honest, I couldn’t do anything creative because I am just not creative).  I did what I know best: printed some of my photos out at Target and stuck ‘em up on my wall.

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This is similar to the foster wall I made at my parents’ house, but without the frames. I also included pictures of my fosters with me instead of just by themselves, as well as pictures of even my temporary fosters like Joanie, Charlie and Sinclair. I specifically chose my favorite picture(s) of each dog, trying to use ones that really showed their personalities. I absolutely love it. Plus, with each dog looking so unique and the fact that I had them all throughout different times of the year, the wall adds so much color to the room. It ended up being just what I wanted.

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My room actually has a balcony attached to it, which Mark spent lots of time decking out in lights. It will be the perfect place to enjoy a cool summer evening with a class of wine and a good book.

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So, that’s my new digs. Thanks for coming along for the tour! I’m sure I’ll update you with other DC happenings over the next year considering this is all so new (and exciting!) to me. Stay tuned!


City Dogs: Meet Max!

How perfect that I was asked to photograph Jasmine’s House adoptable Max downtown around the same time that I move to the city! I knew this would be a fun shoot as soon as I heard he lived with his foster mom on Capitol Hill. I spent all weekend moving in (more on that later!) and just as I settled in, I hopped on the metro to photograph Max Sunday evening.

If you live in the area you know that pretty much any day and time are vulnerable to thunderstorms this time of year. It’s been a hot, humid and wet start to the summer. Sunday was no different. For the whole day on Sunday Sam, Max’s foster mom, and I went back and forth about whether to brave the looming storms and do the shoot. We decided to go for it last minute – just as a storm passed through – and it actually ended up in our favor! The storms drove all the tourists away and for about thirty minutes we literally had the city to ourselves. I was in photo shoot heaven with the dark skies, empty streets and awesome DC landmarks in the background.

Max was a total sweetheart. He was happy to calmly walk up and greet me when I first met him and Sam. He lives as an only pet in his foster mom’s apartment, and, while he’s only about two years old, he is very low key in the house. She said he loves his long walks and just snoozing on the couch. He was full of personality during the shoot! We got some awesome shots thanks to how cooperative he was.

0301 05 1014 13 He is just a big goofball! He even won over DC’s finest:

12With such good looks and a personality to match, adopters should be fighting over this guy! I mean really, how can you resist this face or hunkin’ bod?

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Max and I agree – we love this city!

08To adopt Max the City Dog, fill out an application on the Jasmine’s House website.


Johnnie the Miss Social

Johnnie’s taught me a lot of things in the past three weeks, but one big lesson I owe her is the realization that having an uber social dog is awesome! Not that Baxter or Otis were extremely shy or fearful, but they could get a little nervous in large social settings – a totally normal reaction for even the most good-natured dogs. Lots of new people can be overwhelming and scary. But not for Johnnie Cash!

I brought her with me to my girlfriend’s house for a dinner party get together this past weekend. When we walked in and saw all the people – about a dozen or so – my friend asked me, “Is it going to be too much for her?” and I was happy to reply, “Nope, she’s going to love it!” Johnnie is truly a social butterfly and loves meeting strangers. She immediately made her rounds to everyone at the party with her full body wag going a million miles a minute. An instant hit with everyone, Johnnie settled right in.

The nice thing about bringing Johnnie around is that she’s the perfect blend of independent yet focused. Unlike some dogs I’ve had in the past, Johnnie is not attached to my hip when we do new things – in fact, she’d probably prefer anyone else’s lap just as much as, if not more than, mine. But despite her love for making friends, I was able to keep her in check all night by always bringing her focus back to me. I had her on leash the whole time since we were eating dinner and because I haven’t gotten the jumping under wraps yet, and that helped me keep her out of everyone’s way. We were constantly practicing sit, down and touch to keep her engaged with me instead of others’ meals.

I was proud of how she calmed down pretty much right after we got there (after her initial exuberant greetings of course) and how she even let me eat my dinner without trying to beg for food the entire time. After dinner Johnnie decided she’d had so much fun socializing that she was ready for bed and immediately snuggled up with a few of us. I must say that tiring your dog out via social events with your friends is pretty awesome!

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To adopt your own social butterfly Johnnie Cash, email peacelovefoster@gmail.com.