Friday, January 30, 2009


Brady went home today on a trial with current rottie owners and former adopters. It's one of the best of all possible homes, so I'm hoping that it works out. He's a nice boy, he just needs some training and civilization. He will have two older female rotties as role models, so that should help. These pictures are from his first day in his new home. He looks so serious in the pic above, but those big ears look a little goofy. He's a sweet boy, but he was just running wild with Betty and Philly around here, so getting into a home is a very good thing for him.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"L" is for Loser

This post doesn't have anything to do with dogs and I'd recommend skipping it, if I even post it. I'm just writing it for myself. It's dark and ugly, self-indulgent, but fuck it, it's my blog.

I started a new job today. It's a humbling experience to realize that you are worth nothing more than the federally mandated minimum wage in today's economy. Part-time job, no benefits. The good news is that I can quit if anything better comes along. The other good news is that I'm on my feet all day instead of sitting on my ass. I will stay busy, it's not difficult, and I actually rather enjoyed it. That's where the good news ends.

The sobering part of the day was the realization that I barely earned enough today to cover the McDonald's meal and the bag of cat food that I bought on the way home.

All the bad career choices I've made throughout my life came together today and they feel like a crushing weight sitting on the center of my chest.

Now, I am not destitute. Our stomachs and cupboards are full; we are not in danger of losing our home. Some people are in that position, and I can not even imagine how they must feel. It's a wonder that more of them don't "go postal", or climb up water towers with automatic weapons. I can understand the feelings of fear, frustration, desperation, and plain anger that lead to those kinds of actions. I can understand the Wall Street guys who jump out of windows or step in front of trains. Those with more to lose may feel the loss the most. People who have always lived on the edge of poverty are tougher and they probably deal with it better than the middle class, middle aged, white guys who thought they would always be able to earn a comfortable living.

I do not really mean to complain. Nothing terrible has happened. This is a part time, temporary gig and it fills a void until I get things straightened out. It will also light a fire under me and make me realize that I've got to get my butt in gear and doing something about my life. I've never looked down on other people for the kind of work they do. I always figure that they are doing what they can, what they have to do, to make ends meet. There is nothing wrong with that and I respect them for it. I feel different about myself, however. I'm a huge disappointment, wasted potential, a big fucking loser.

I can't scream, yell, or cry to purge myself of these feelings. Writing about them is the best non-pharmaceutical remedy I can manage. It is fortuitous then that the following poem arrived my mailbox as I was writing this. It makes the posting at least somewhat dog related again.


There are times when only a dog will do
For a friend---when you’re beaten, sick and blue,
And the world’s all wrong; for he won’t care
If you break and cry, or grouch and swear;
For he’ll let you know as he licks your hands
That he’s downright sorry---and understands.

Don Blanding
American Author (1894-1957)

It's a good thing I've got so many dogs around here now.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Running with dogs

Monday's email brought a nice surprise from the adopter of a former shepherd foster named Virginia. This dog was adopted this past summer and I don't believe I had her very long. She's not a big girl, but apparently she is quite fast.

Virginia's adopter is a runner and he participated in the SECOND ANNUAL TREAD LIGHTLY CANINE 5K RUN/WALK in Charlottesville on Jan 24th. Jim and Virginia placed second in the race, and Jim gives credit where credit is due, saying:

Virginia deserves much of the credit. Once she figured out it was her job to run the race and not harass the other dogs, I felt like I was tethered to a four-legged heat seeking missile that was not going let obstacles or terrain get in the way of her pursuit of the lead dog. We might not have caught the lead team, but we sure left the rest of the group in the dust.
Anyone who thinks they need a large, long-legged male dog as a running companion has never tried to keep pace with a small but determined female shepherd. Congrats to Jim and Virginia. I couldn't be happier for them both. (The pictures here are from this summer when Virginia was with me as a foster.)

Weekend Update

This was a weekend with two trips to northern Virginia, so it was a lot of driving. Saturday was the VGSR annual meeting and I was re-elected as a director for another year. Two and a half hours each way for a two and a half hour meeting, but at least the meeting was any longer and I still got home at a decent time.

Sunday I was back on the road going to a VGSR adoption event in Gainesville. I took 5 dogs: Score, Lyka, Philly, Betty, and Brady (the rottie pup formerly known as Braden). And I brought them all home again. Lyka was good for about the first hour and a half and then spent the rest of the time in the van. Philly was actually scared and refused to walk inside with another volunteer until I led the way with Score. Betty loves the entire world and assumes that it loves her back. She got a lot of looks and interest, but not from anyone I was interested in. The best news of the day was that Brady may have met his new mom. (She's still thinking about it.)

Here is Brady with Sable. Sable is one of my former fosters. Sable is afflicted with perianal fistulas. It's a chronic condition that requires quite a bit of management, but she's in the best possible home for it. If these folks hadn't come along, I don't know who would have adopted Sable because few people are willing or able to take on a dog with any kind of medical problem and rottweiler adopters are hard to come by anyway. Brady (or any other dog) will be one lucky little pup if he gets adopted there.

It was great to see Sable again. She may have remembered me, I'm not sure, but she only has eyes for her new dad and she is completely devoted to him. It's a level of devotion that makes German Shepherds look like slackers.

Here is handsome Score with Sable too. And Sable's pretty face. There is nothing like a rottweiler. They have the most expressive faces I've ever seen on a dog. I swear they can read our minds, and with a little effort, it's not difficult to understand what they want.

Once Philly got in the store and saw what was going on, she settled down and enjoyed herself. They all were ready to leave before the three hours were up, and no one made a noise on the entire trip home.

While we were in Gainesville, another rottweiler arrived at our house from West Virginia. We thought his name was Strider, but apparently it is actually Bear, so we have two Bears at the house now until the shepherd gets adopted, maybe this next weekend. He's a great looking rottie, bigger than I thought, probably 90+ pounds, but he seems very friendly. He met 3 of the other fosters today and got along fine. More to come on him soon.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Tug is a boxer/bulldog combo, I think. Smaller than a boxer, not quite as stout as a bulldog. He is also one of the cutest and sweetest dogs we've ever fostered. It took a while for that face to grow on me, but it did. He's small for my taste in dogs, but if there had been an open spot in our home when Tug came through, he probably would have stayed here.

As it happened, he got adopted by a young woman who lives near Richmond. She has a little pug named Tia, so Tug has a playmate, and quite a tenacious one at that.

We had Tug for quite a while, in part because he would react very aggressively towards very large men. Clay is 6'4" or so, and that wasn't enough to trigger it. It was some combination of height and weight, obviously brought on by a very bad experience with such a person in Tug's past. In his new home, it was manifested as a protectiveness towards his new mom, but she has dealt with it beautifully and Tug is very much at home there.

Anyway, I just received an email from the adopter saying that Tug was doing well and that they would be moving soon from their apartment into their first house. Tug and Tia will have a large fenced back yard to romp and roll in for the first time.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A warm winter day

Today was sunny, warm, and beautiful. I needed to do a good long walk because Saturday is the VGSR annual meeting and Sunday is a VGSR adoption event. I'll be on the road a lot both days and won't get any walking in. Lyka was today's lucky hiking partner and we put in a good solid two hours on the trails at a very good pace. The Fluvanna Heritage Trail is a 3 mile hiking trail along the Rivanna River on a piece of county-owned property called Pleasant Grove. There are also many miles of horse trails that intersect the Heritage trail so it is possible to construct a walk of any length with little or no double tracking on the trail. I think Lyka is the cause of the tendinitis I've had in my left elbow recently, so I mostly held the leash in my right hand and worked on keeping her from pulling so hard.

Lyka is a good walking partner, absolutely tireless, and she is excited and enthusiastic about being out there. We weren't alone on the trails like we usually are in the winter. We passed two people on horseback, one hiker, one runner, and a guy riding a trail bike. None of them had a dog with them, such a waste. We heard a deer but never spotted it. Lyka went into her manic phase after the horses passed, following the trail intently as if they were up ahead, apparently not realizing that the trail she was following was the horses that had just passed, going in opposite direction. Still, it was a good walk and I think I've finally built a pretty comprehensive mental map of the trail system.

By the way, Holiday is doing well today, not even limping any more. She's is one tough old gal. Fortunately, she eats her pills when mixed up with a bit of canned food, which I think has been a part of her diet in the past. Bear had his neuter surgery today. He was cryptorchid, meaning that he had only one descended testicle. Consequently, his neuter surgery was much more involved than usual because they had to do an abdominal incision to go inside to find and remove the undescended testicle. Ouch. He is recuperating in a crate here in my office, although he wanted to go back out with Bud and Chance. I guess he had stories to tell and a cool incision with lots of stitches to show off.

Facebook friends

I have a personal Facebook page,, although I don't go there often to check it out. I should, because I had a few friend requests that I had not acted upon, and I don't like people to think I've been ignoring them. By the way, my Facebook picture isn't me, or even one of our dogs, it's Harlan, the best looking foster shepherd I ever had. His name is now Barth and he lives in North Carolina, I believe. Harlan sleeps on his back with all four feet in the air and his favorite toy is a stuffed bunny (with the appendages removed).

Anyway, when checking Facebook, I found a friend request from the folks who adopted Hercules from me several months ago. Herc was an owner surrender from a young guy in Charlottesville who was going to Iraq. (This is the major reason why I don't normally adopt to military people). Actually, Herc would probably have been given up regardless, because was insanely jealous and protective of his dad. Herc's owner had a girlfriend, and Herc did not see the need for her in their relationship. He was a bit unpredictable to say the least, and he needed to go to an experienced home for the safety of everyone concerned.

I didn't take him to adoption outings very often, because he was unpredictable and tended to attach himself to whoever held his leash and considered everyone else to interlopers. But Herc is a gorgeous dog and he got lots of inquiries over the internet. Finally one came along from some folks in the Tidewater area. They had experience with a difficult dog and definitely knew what they were doing. I met them in Williamsburg one day (someone else had done the home visit), and we did the adoption. Herc tested them severely in the beginning. To say it was a rocky start would be an understatement, but their love, patience, and training prevailed, and Herc is now a full fledged member of the family. My hat is off to these folks, and to everyone who takes in difficult, old, sick, or otherwise less than "perfect" dogs. In my experience, it is not those dogs who get returned. It's the ones who appear perfect and appeal to perfect looking families, who are then disillusioned when they discover that the dog has needs beyond what they are prepared to provide. What's the Statue of Liberty's line? "Give your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." It doesn't say, "Give me those who don't need anything from me." Rescue dogs seeking new homes are like immigrants: homeless, needy, and carrying some baggage. But open the door and they will enrich your life. Hercules and his new owners have struck gold.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Holiday's Unwelcome Surprise & Welcome to Braden

Holiday is the female shepherd I got from the Orange County shelter a couple weeks ago. She was found to be already spayed and she was obviously a house dog in the past. She's been living upstairs in my office, content in her crate or on a bed outside the crate, for the past week or so. Several days ago I had her out in the dog yard in the evening with 5 of our own dogs when a fight broke out. I would bet that Holiday gave one of her little warning growls and Molly lit into her, quickly joined by Cabell and Bremo too, a very formidable trio. I got out there and broke it up. Holiday seemed basically OK, but was limping a bit. She wasn't bleeding and I thought she got off pretty easy, but have been concerned that she was still limping several days later, so today we went to the vet.

It turns out that she has a couple of deep puncture wounds in the chest, and a stress fracture in the leg. The xrays also revealed a lot of buckshot in her, which is not uncommon for a country dog. It will all heal up, but she's going to be on a couple of powerful antibiotics for several weeks and won't be up for adoption anytime soon. She's a tough old girl, though. Seemed perfectly fine except the limp and even that wasn't all that bad. She still walked on it, did the stairs, and would even play a bit when she felt like it. I'm sure glad I took her in though.

My other destination in town today was the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA to meet a young rottie mix named Braden. As you can see from the pictures, he came home with me. Braden was apparently food aggressive in his temperament test, to the point of biting the artificial hand they use to stick in his food dish as he was eating. But come on, he's part rottie and he's just a pup (5 months old). I held his food dish when I fed him this evening and I will make a point of sticking my hand in his food dish when he eats. I really don't think we will have a problem, not more than once anyway. He will learn to eat with the other fosters. They may have bad table manners, but they don't fight and certainly won't bite me. He has already met Jeep, Score, Lyka, Julie, Betty, and Philly, and is having a great time. Betty, in particular, seems to think that he was brought in as her own personal play toy. I'm not crazy about the name, though. We may have to come up with a new one.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The big boys at play

Everyone's heard of the stages of grief: anger, denial, acceptance, whatever. They are most commonly talked about in relation to coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. Grief over a loss comes in many forms, and I think they apply pretty well to the loss of a job as well. I do not mean to equate the loss of a job to the loss of a family member, be it human or canine. However, a loss is a loss, and a job is a big part of our lives, as a matter of necessity. Even if I don't regret the loss of the job itself, I do regret the inevitable loss of a lifestyle that it made possible. Anyway, I've gone through a few of the classic stages of grief in the last couple of weeks, and today landed on acceptance.

Acceptance proved to a more productive stage than anger and depression, and so Chance and I went out for a good long hike in the woods this afternoon after applying for a couple of jobs. Exercise alone is said to be a good mood elevator, and walking in the woods with a dog is probably the best thing I can do to improve my outlook on life. Everything still sucks, but I was better able to deal with it.

Chance walks nicely on a leash now, and when we got back home he joined Bud (the rottie) and Bear (the shepherd) for the rest of the afternoon in the big dog yard. Last winter I built the two platforms shown in the picture. My thinking was that dogs need play things as much or more than they need open space. In a big open area, they tend to just run along the boundary. Put something in there that is interesting and they do something other than run the fence line. The low platform is about 8'x8' and about 3' high. The taller one is 6'x6' and 6' high. Only Molly goes to the top of the high platform, where she can survey her kingdom and eat her food unchallenged. Quite a few of the fosters like the lower platform, however, including Bear and Chance. Bud is a ground-based rottweiler and rarely even stands up against the fence. That is a good thing.

Chance's idea of playing is attempting to hump Bud. Bud doesn't much care for that game, but he shows great restraint in handling Chance. Bud really is a lover, not a fighter, but that massive head, huge mouth, and intimidating growl does give one pause.
Bear is ball crazy. He always has one in his mouth and he is quite good about bringing it back and even giving it up for another throw.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Meeting cats

Inauguration day should have been a happy one. I'm thrilled that we finally have a president who believes in science, who can speak without embarassing himself, and who isn't in the pocket of the religious reich. I finally have something good to say about George W.--he's gone.

And yet I had a rather "down" day. The fact of unemployment is sinking in, along with the realization that underemployment is probably the best I can hope for. It was cold and windy, and I didn't feel like walking. Late this afternoon I finally got it together to take Betty and Holiday in to the SPCA to meet cats. There are cats in "cat condos" in the downstairs lobby, and Sammy the test cat lives in the conference room upstairs.
I really thought that Holiday might be good with cats. She's middle aged, very mellow, never seems to have an unkind word or thought for another creature. But cats are the exception. Her ears perked up and zeroed in on the cats like radar. She puffed up, stiffened, and wagged the tail with an excited and nervous energy. I am not an expert at reading dogs' body language, but Sammy the test cat is. All I had to do was watch him. He stood his ground, but he clearly found her to be a threat, and he retreated under a desk when it was possible to do so in a dignified manner. She barked, pulled on the leash, all the signs were against her being cat-friendly. At least now I know.

Next I tried Betty. She is such a pup. She was interested in the downstairs cats, but no more than she was interested in all the people we met, or the trash cans, desk tops, or everything else she could see or smell. We went upstairs to meet Sammy and she did her standard greeting, touching him with her nose to find out what he was. He recognized her for what she was, a large and ignorant puppy. He told her to get away and she did, somewhat taken aback that he didn't want to be her friend.
We met several people who gave her more positive feedback and then went back to try Sammy again. She didn't want to have anything to do with him, but she did approach again when I encouraged her to do so. He hissed and swatted, but wasn't going to be bothered moving away. She thought that maybe it was a game, but if his swats had connected with her nose, she would have found out otherwise. Basically just puppy behavior, and it would be trainable, but my experience is that people will not put in the time and effort required, so I'm going to say "no cats" for her potential homes as well.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Amy update

There is something particularly special and gratifying about placing an older dog. Think about all the people in nursing homes that people either don't want or can't take care of. It's much worse for dogs, their fate is generally euthanasia. So it is a real victory to find those special people who will take in, love, and care for a senior dog, even though they know their time may be limited.

Now, this is an email that I like to get:


I hope that you and all of your dogs are doing well.
I just wanted to email you and let you know how Amy/Amisha is doing. She had her vet appointment on Saturday. She does not like my car but we will work on it:) Her coat looks great and the Rymadil is working wonders. We got a refill. She is also on glucosamine and come summer I may try to wean her off the Rymandil and see how that works just for the warmer months. Her blood work was good and her eyes look well also. She and Jasper are getting along great. She is not too fond of the cats but we just keep them separated. She loves coming in at night and she loves her bed. She acts like a puppy now and she 'smiles' a lot. We got her microchipped. She and I are learning to communicate with hand signals. She likes the vet but let me know when she had had enough. Thanks for trusting her in my care and I expect many great years with her. Take care and I wish you the best.
The only thing I can add to that is "amen."

Saturday, January 17, 2009


It's cold. We don't get a lot of weather with temps down to zero in central Virginia, and I can't say that I'm sorry. We are really only having about two nights of this really cold stuff, so I shouldn't complain too much, but it is enough. It is tough on the dogs who aren't used to it. The outside fosters eat three times a day in cold weather, because food is fuel for their internal furnace. They've all got heated water tanks or buckets. Chance has lived outside for a couple of years without much of dog house even, so this is no big deal for him. He's got the shed to go into and a crate covered in heavy carpeting and full of blankets so he must think he's in heaven. Bud is used to that too, and Bear is coping with it quite well.

Holiday has obviously been a house dog and she was not keen on the cold weather, although she has the thickest coat and more body flesh than any other dog here. She got the best of me last night, however, and came inside to the office, while she will probably remain until she's adopted. She's in a crate next to Betty, who has no weight or coat to spare and who just had surgery last week.

That still leaves Jeep, Lyca, Score, Julie, and Philly outside in the other shed at night. In that shed I've built what I call nest boxes. It's basically a long box divided in three sections, each with a separate opening. The top forms a work bench. Each box is big enough for at least two dogs to sleep comfortably but cozily. I fill them with straw, which is a great insulator. They are small enough that the dogs' body heat can warm them up such that the dogs are comfortable even in very cold weather. Jeep will climb in with Score if he wants to; Julie and Philly pretty much always snuggle together.

None of it is ideal, but it's temporary, and in most cases, it's better accomodations than they've had in their prior homes. And fortunately, it's supposed to warm up tomorrow. I hope it does, because the water tanks need to be refilled and that's not easy with a frozen hose.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Gretel's 12th Birthday

I was sitting around wondering what I was going to write about today when an unexpected gift arrived in my email inbox this evening--two pictures of a former foster, Gretel, taken on her 12th birthday.

Gretel came to us when her former owner was dying. That's a sad but not uncommon scenario. As I recall, the woman had been a breeder of German Shepherds and had slowly placed her dogs with various people or groups as she aged and became ill. She kept two or three dogs to the end, her favorites, including Gretel. If the date stamps on my photos are to be believed, this was in August of 2006.

Gretel was not a young dog then, and senior dogs can be very difficult to place. Gretel was a wonderful dog, however, impeccable manners, and she had lived with humans long enough to have us all figured out. She transitioned smoothly, even though life in foster care was not as comfy as she had enjoyed and deserved.

I don't know if Gretel had always lived a charmed life, but luck was certainly on her side when she needed it. Along came a couple who wanted a calm, smart, settled, senior dog. They adopted Gretel and have given her the most wonderful home I can imagine for any dog, but especially for a senior girl. I wish I could clone them. They live down near Roanoke and I did the home visit myself. An idyllic setting, where much thought and focus is given to Gretel's care and comfort.

This evening's email contained these two new pictures of Gretel, who has just turned 12 years old. She is still beautiful and still going strong. Gretel goes on business trips when possible, greets her dad at the bed every morning, and still plays ball and chases squirrels. And Gretel is even learning to fly. Her dad pilots his own Cessna aircraft and Gretel has specially made googles and ear protection. She always tries to climb into the plane and clearly wants to go along. This dog is so devoted to and so trusting of her people that she will follow them anywhere. Few people are worthy of that kind of trust and devotion. Gretel is lucky to have found two who are.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Chance destruction

Chance is getting along well enough with his kennel mates, Bud and Bear, and he has more space and more to do than he's had in a long time, but still Chance is bored. Bored dogs are destructive dogs and being a large dog, Chance's destruction is large scale. I had been told that he had destroyed a kennel in his prior home. The kennel he's in at our place is our "hardened" kennel. There is a row of concrete block buried on the inside perimiter. There is a 2' strip of heavy fencing along the bottom edge of the kennel, and one section of the kennel has a top on it to prevent jumpers and climbers from escaping. We call that side the "Lexy Kennel", named after the dog for whom it was constructed.

He tore down a string of (non-working) rope lights. Fine, they didn't work anyway. He chewed up the end of an extension cord that was along the top edge of the 6' kennel. Fine, I can replace the plug, the cord is probably still ok. He's made the water bucket into a play toy. Very creative. However, he also tore up the canopy that provides shade and rain protection for the kennel, and worse yet, he tore down the upper window sash on the shed window. He didn't really intend to tear out the window, but I had nailed a rug to the bottom of the upper sash to create a flap closure for the window that the dogs use to jump in and out of the shed. Chance started pulling on the rug and pulled the entire window out of its frame.

With the cold weather approaching, I needed to make that shed cozy tonight, so I went to Lowes today and got a sheet of exterior plywood, cut it to size, and cut out a corner to allow the dogs to go through. It is securely screwed to the window frame (I hope), and the shed is pretty cozy again tonight. Bud figured it out very quickly (rotties are smart) and the other two followed. Obviously Chance needs still more exercise and stimulation. All three enjoy a good chew, so I'll have to stock up on rawhides. I didn't get Chance out for a walk today, but the three boys and Lyka have had a good time playing in the dog yard this evening.