Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The dark side of beauty

Humans tend to equate beauty with goodness. Pretty people are popular even if they are assholes. I don't know if other species have the same problem, but we humans have the same attitude towards other species as well as our own. Black dogs are considered mean and scary, white dogs are snatched up out of shelters and rescues almost as quick as they come in. At least they get a lot more looks and therefore have a lot more chances than a homely mutt with a black face.

We had a female rottie once, I believe her name was Isabel. She was a sweet, sweet girl, but god love her, it was not a pretty face. Isabel had some grey flecks on her face, disorganized whiskers, and just didn't quite have that handsome rottie look. People were scared of her because of her looks, but she was as friendly and kissy as any rottie I've known. As I recall, she was adopted by a man and his sister. They weren't going to win any beauty contests themselves, but they thought Izzy was beautiful and they gave her a good home.

All of this brings me to Brody. He's a beauty and I've had a lot of people wanting to adopt him. Brody is also a great dog, but he's not perfect and in fact he has a dark side. Although he is generally good with other dogs, he has a rather nasty, and excessive, reaction to any male who displays male dominance behavior towards him.

A nice couple came to visit with their yellow lab. the two boys romped and played for close to an hour without incident until the lab put his head over Brody's neck and back. That's a dominance move, but the lab was just playing with him, trying to get him to chase and continue the game. Brody nailed him. We separated the dogs before anything too bad happened, but it was one time I felt it was necessary to separate male dogs because Brody wasn't going to stop. Even after they were apart, Brody wasn't going to forgive and forget, he wanted a piece of that lab.

The folks who brought Brody to me told me that he had a similar incident with a male dog who tried to mount him. I still like Brody and think that he's a great dog, but that incident really changed my thinking about the type of home he needs. He's sharing kennel space during the day with a female dog and they play nicely. He passes my boys coming and going through the house without a problem, but I keep and eye on them all and I wouldn't put him with Sparky because I know that he has some similar tendencies.

He will need a home with an experienced owner, no other male dogs, a fence, and no kids. What surprises me, I guess, is the fact that no one seems to believe me. We were at an adoption event last weekend and I was besieged by a constant stream of the wrong adopters. I think it would be a very bad idea to put Brody into a home with little kids. Parents of multiple small children can not possibly supervise the dog to the extent necessary. I don't think Brody would be a danger to kids, but if they were in the middle of a dog fight, they would get hurt and the dog would get the blame. Other people's kids aren't really my concern, but a bite history renders a dog pretty much unadoptable and is generally a death sentence, so why would I put my dog at risk like that?

I pissed off a few people, but you can probably guess that I don't care. I'll find a home for him where he will have the best chance of success. Some people don't realize that I'm the dog's advocate, not a used car dealer trying to make a sale.

Being a dog in autumn

There are times when nothing beats having the freedom to just be a dog. Cool, sunny days in spring and fall are such times. I can't give my foster dogs all that they need, or even my own dogs for that matter, but I do give them a chance to experience the joy of just being a dog. I'll shut up and let the pictures do the talking for a change.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Hannah and her brothers

Hannah (left) is the Lynchburg girl I got last week. She's in the big kennel with Rocky and two recent arrivals, Boo and Max. Next Monday she will start her heartworm treatment and will be confined indoors to a crate for a couple of weeks. She will hate leaving those boys unsupervised for all that time.

Boo finally ended his hunger strike and is settling in pretty well. He is great with the other dogs, and is pretty friendly with me. He went to his first adoption event last weekend and was good. He's a little shy and skittish, but I really think he just needs a confident and watchful handler.

The most recent shepherd to arrive is Max. He's big, ugly, and he smells bad too. Max was an owner surrender and he lived indoors, in spite of a raging yeast and bacterial infection on his skin. I didn't pick him up the from owner, but if this dog was living indoors, I shudder to think what their house must have smelled like. Max is just under 100 pounds and when he grows back some hair on his tail and body I think he will be magnificent. He's very friendly and has fit in well with Hannah, Rocky, and Boo. He gets a fistfull of meds with his food twice a day, but it eats them all up and he already smells better. I guess I should try to move him to another foster home. Luckily, he tested negative for heartworm and he had already been neutered by this prior owners.

Hannah is a sweet girl, and although she is the smallest, she is the only female with 3 boys, so she pretty much rules the roost in that crowd. Still, Hannah isn't overly bitchy and would probably get along with other female dogs as well.
These pics were taken during a romp in the dog yard and pasture Sunday afternoon after the Gainesville adoption event. I took Hannah, Rocky, Boo, and Brody and brought them all back home with me too.

Added to my list of an almost automatic "hell no", are suburban adopters looking for a big dog for "protection" for their family. I think they are paranoid. Besides, it's their job to protect the dog, not the other way around. Dogs are companions, not body guards. That type of adopter would dump the dog if they got a security system or if the dog was too friendly, but also if the dog was too aggressive.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Boo Boo is eating, Bruno is loving life

I'm happy to report that the day after I wrote the post about Boo's hunger strike, he started eating again. He's still a little skittish, but he is great with the other dogs and at least now he is eating when he wants to.

The post about Boo brought about an email from the adopters of a former foster, Rocky. (Not the pathetic looking and deaf Rocky that I had recently--I still have him.) This Rocky is a rottie or maybe Swiss Mountain Dog mix, and his new name is Bruno. Bruno is reported to be a smart dog; he knows how to sit, lay down, stay, go to bed, speak, and roll over. Apparently he has learned everything his owners can think to teach him. I expect that if we talked to Bruno, he would have a longer list of things that he has taught this new owners.

Bruno's new family are young, active people and he's obviously very happy. They adopted another dog, Deoji, from a shelter that was relunctant to put him up for adoption because he was so fearful. Fortunately, they saw through that, Bruno told him that he had nothing to fear, and now he's a very lucky dog. Going from a shelter where he had little chance of adoption to this home is like a street person winning the lottery.

I told someone the other day that I was about finished with rescue work, but then an email and pics like these comes along.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The German Shepherd hunger strike

Sometimes when a new foster comes to our place, they go on a hunger strike. Any dog can do it, but around here it's usually a German Shepherd. Rottweilers don't hunger strike. If they don't eat, it's because they are ill. But shepherds are often emotionally sensitive dogs and when a major change happens in their life, they will stop eating.

I brought in two shepherds in the past week. Boo Boo (above, left, and below), is on the hunger strike. He was returned to VGSR four years after having been adopted as a pup. Seems that he's fearful of strangers and yet was routinely exposed to new people and new dogs without adequate control. He developed the unfortunate habit of trying to attack passing dogs and even people, but always from behind--a typical move for a fearful dog. I can see that he's nothing but a scared dog who lacks confidence. He is not aggressive. Not surprisingly, he's refused to eat since his arrival, or at least has refused more than negligible amounts of food.

I always wait out the hunger strike. It's easier for me not to feed them than it is for them not to eat. Sooner or later they always start to eat, even if it's not the right food, served in the right bowl, in the right location, or at the right time of day. Boo obviously doesn't like the change in his life. The poor guy doesn't know what hit him. He had a nice home, a female dog companion, and now he has nothing. But he has another chance because I don't think Boo's problems are Boo's fault. He is getting along fine with two other dogs and he is even warming up to me, ever so relunctantly. Maybe tomorrow I'll give in and mix some canned food in with his dry to get him to eat.

The other dog I took in this past week is Hannah (left), the heartworm dog from Lynchburg. Hannah is rather malnourished and had probably been nursing puppies in that condition. Hannah hasn't had the luxury of engaging in a hunger strike and she eagerly eats anything put into her bowl. She is sharing space with Boo Boo and Rocky, and they all get along fine, but I have to separate everyone at feeding time.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dogs helping dogs

I always love it when a prospective adopter already has a dog. It means that they already know that dogs sometimes have accidents in the house, knock stuff over, chew things up. They commit dietary indiscretions and regurgitate the gastronomical experiment on the rug for all to see and examine. This is especially true if the current dog is still young enough that it hasn't reached sainted status for doing nothing wrong in recent memory. Even if the current dog is perfect, hopefully the people still remember the first few weeks, months, and years.

But the biggest reason I like adopting a second (or third, or fourth) dog into a home is because the current dog will teach the newcomer. The current resident knows the ropes. They know when and where to poop and pee. They model behavior that works for them in that home. A new dog comes in knowing that he has much to learn and it is always easier to learn from someone who speaks the same language. When the hound, Jeep, was adopted he was still extremely shy and fearful of people. He had probably never seen the inside of a house. But he went to a home with a big, goofy, playful chocolate lab and he followed her everywhere sucking up knowledge like a sponge. One might wonder how two dogs sharing a lab's brain could get by, but everything worked out beautifully. He got over his shyness and soon was acting as if he had lived indoors his whole life.

All of the above is a very long introduction to Maggie (brown and white dog in the picture to the right). She stayed with us last week while her people were out of town. Maggie came along with the warning that she was "not good with other dogs." I teamed her up with Teddy, who is great with other dogs, but is shy and scared of people, including me and Clay. They are about the same size and Teddy is completely non-threatening, so I figured he'd be a good choice for Maggie to test her temperament. She started off by telling him "go away and leave me alone", but there was never a real problem. Her biggest problem is just that she doesn't know how to play and interact with other dogs.

Teddy moved into my office for the week in a crate next to Maggie. They did everything together. True to form, Teddy followed her around and soon learned to go upstairs and downstairs and into a crate. He got to the point that he was approachable by us without too much fear. Maggie learned that the other household dogs were not a threat and she would go downstairs and walk among Cabell, Bremo, Zachary, Molly, and Emmylou, all of whom are 2-3 times her size. They didn't quite get to the point of playing together, although Teddy did his best to get her to do so. She thought about it, thought it might be fun, but didn't seem to know what to do.

Maggie went back home yesterday and was very glad to be there, but I hope she will come back. I think the experience was good for her and I know it was good for Teddy.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What if?

This is a female German Shepherd named Hannah. She's with the Lynchburg Humane Society and she has heartworms. I'm going to take her into Virginia German Shepherd Rescue and get her treated. The new director of LHS asked me to take Hannah because they don't have funds to treat her.

Lynchburg isn't far from Charlottesville, but it's an area I avoid like the plague. It's the home of Jerry Falwell and his Liberty University. The answer to every question on every test at Liberty is "Jesus did it," so anyone who graduates from there has a degree that's not quite worth the paper it's printed on. Falwell is recently deceased and was bured somewhere on the grounds at the Liberty clown college. I do plan to make the trip down there one of these days to piss on his grave.

I have driven through Lynchburg when it was impossible to avoid and it is nothing but wall-to-wall southern baptist cult buildings. I have to wonder how life might have been different for Hannah if Falwell had spent his life promoting responsible dog ownership instead of spreading hate and operating as the propoganda arm of the RNC. Even if he had used his ability as huckster to sell used cars, vacuum cleaners, or hair tonic, at least the damaging effects would have been limited to gullible people in a much smaller area.

If there's a god in heaven, Jerry Falwell is burning in hell where he belongs. Hannah is lucky to be getting out of Lynchburg. I'll find her a good home when she's healthy; southern baptists need not apply.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fearsome shepherd

This is Jasper. (He looks a lot like Brody that I have currently.) He came from someone over in the Valley. The volunteers who first met and evaluated this dog weren't too sure about him and said they weren't comfortable placing him with any foster home other than me. When Jasper arrived I immediately understood why.

He was basically insecure and fearful, but Jasper had developed a coping mechanism that worked well for him. He has the biggest, most fearsome bark I have ever heard on a German Shepherd. The bark rivals that of a rottweiler in force and volume, and it has an edge to it that makes you think twice before approaching the dog. When Jasper was scared of something, he would bark at it, and more often than not, it would go away. The bark is used as the first line of defense by most dogs, but Jasper had raised it to the level of a fine art.

I'm not generally scared of shepherds. The old saying "he's more scared of you than you are of him" applies here. In most cases, if you don't show fear and tell them to stop being stupid, you can do whatever you want. Jasper, however, had my respect. We co-existed for a week or two, with me coming into his kennel to clean and feed a couple times a day, but otherwise leaving him alone. Eventually he came to trust me and I could handle him, but I knew that this was not a dog that could be placed with just anyone.

But Cheryl is not just anyone. She's an experienced dog trainer and behavioralist (I took one of her classes), and more importantly, she knows shepherds. She hadn't owned a shepherd in a while and she had a house full of obstacles--including cats, a poodle, and a lot of human and canine visitors. But, I knew that if anyone could handle this dog and overcome his behavioral problems, it was Cheryl.

One big obstacle (her husband's reluctance to take on another dog) had disappeared when a robbery occurred in the store where Cheryl had been working. He heard Jasper's big bark and liked him right away.

Over a year and a half later, Jasper remains a work in progress and probably always will be. But he now barks on command, he has much more confidence and less fear, and mostly he has learned to trust and take direction from his handler. This is one of 3 or 4 placements that I'm most proud of, because the dog and adopter had such perfectly complementary abilities and needs. Oh, there have been no more robberies.

This picture just arrived today. He's now poodle-safe too!

Lyon in Summer

Lyon is a good looking, youngish male. There is some disagreement over whether he's a pure bred shepherd or a mix. The confirmation of his head and body is all shepherd, but the red color is rather unusual. He's a good looking dog, regardless of what he is or isn't.

Lyon's only fault that I saw is his "neediness." That's hardly a rarity with shepherds and his wasn't as bad as some I've seen. He seemed to be best when he was with another dog or two and didn't have the possibility of demanding all of his handler's time and attention.

I took Lyon in from another foster home because Lyon was driving him crazy. Lyon arrived the day before I got home from Kansas and went into an outdoor kennel. When I arrived, I was a stranger and he was clearly scared of me. I couldn't get near him, he would run away and bark, trying to scare me off. He was fine with other dogs, but didn't learn to trust me even though they did. This went on for a couple of weeks without improvement. Clearly, the dog wasn't adoptable; I couldn't even touch him to get a leash on him so taking him to an adoption event wasn't possible.

I don't have a lot of patience with dogs who are scared of me for no reason. I get frustrated, which the dog can always sense, and it makes a bad situation worse. I finally told Clay that we had to get him on a leash and in the house. The two of us went out to his kennel, backed him into a corner, and I slipped a lead over his head. He didn't snap at me; he was obviously scared, but wasn't fear aggressive. As soon as the leash was on, he was a different dog. My status went from "suspicious stranger" to "trusted handler" almost immediately. He came indoors and ran upstairs like he had been here forever. He wasn't crazy about going into a crate, but he didn't fight it and settled down quickly once inside. He then settled right into the household routine.

I took him to an adoption outing last weekend and sent him home with a husband, wife, and their two sons. They had another dog, a female shepherd about the same age, crates for both dogs, and a 6 foot fence. It seemed like a great situation for the dog and he took to them and their other dog right away without fear.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Vet visits

With 6 large breed dogs indoors and at least that many fosters outdoors, our house is not exactly a cat-friendly environment. But we have one named Eleanor. She mostly lives on or under the front porch of our house. She hates me, or is scared of me anyway, probably because I yell at the dogs so much. The only one at our house that she ever really liked was Jack, our first rottie. She would come up to him and rub her head all over him and would snuggle with him.

We had kept everyone safe for 9+ years or so, but one day when I was in Kansas, Eleanor ended up in Gypsy's mouth and was just seconds away from complete disaster. Fortunately, Clay was there and saved her, by prying open Gypsy's jaws to free the cat, who immediately ran under the porch.

We didn't see her for a couple days but the food continued to disappear from the porch. When she did finally show up again she was limping, carrying one of her front legs. That continued for a few more days, so I decided it was time for a vet visit. I borrowed a trap and set it up on the front porch. It was baited with a can of tuna, but still I was surprised to catch her before even going to bed that night. She spent the night in a crate in the van and we went to the vet the next morning. Xrays showed a clean break on one of the arm bones, so she got a splint, some overdue vaccines, and a dog-free, cat-safe place indoors back at home.

She's still not fond of me, but will purr for Clay.

A couple days later, Emmylou turned up lame, carrying her left rear leg.

Our Gypsy must be 12 years old now and Emmylou looks older than that based on her teeth. She didn't have much quality care for much of her life, but she's a shepherd/greyhound mix and she is a lean, wiry, tough old girl. She is also the best hiking companion imaginable.

She and I are both out of shape from lack of hiking this summer, so I suspected a muscle pull because it seemed to happen suddenly when she got up one day. Five days of Rimadyl and bed rest brought no improvement and she even stopped eating. She was walking on three legs and could go downstairs on her own, but I had to carry her up the steps. She was visibly in pain and I couldn't stand to see her like that. First thing Monday morning we went back to the vet.

Xrays showed she has the hips of a six month old, but the knees are extremely arthritic. On top of that, she had a slight fever and showed a slight positive on a test for erlichiosis, a tick-borne illness that causes inflammation and pain in the joints. So, she's back home with meds and an effective pain reliever. She will at least eat the chicken and rice I'm making for her, and sometimes the dog food, and she's resting comfortably now at least. I need to get her back in shape for hiking season this fall and winter. It will be good for both of us.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bud's Story, Part II

This is Bud's Story, Part II. See "Bud, home at last", February 20, 2009, for Part I. To briefly recap:

Bud had belonged to a country boy. The kid grew up, lost interest, and eventually moved away, leaving Bud with his father. He lived in a 10x10 kennel and probably never got out. I took Bud in but soon realized that he didn't like to be touched. However, he was very good with other dogs and was manageable in the kennel as long as I didn't try to touch him.

I got him neutered at the Charlottesville SPCA by a vet who understood big dogs. It wasn't easy, however, and after we had left someone realized that they had not drawn the blood for the heartworm test. They were prepared to do so, but by that time Bud was waking up and I really didn't want to risk that procedure. After that, I just plain forgot about it.

Bud was with us for over a year after that. He came to be friendly with me, affectionate even. I could pet him and love on him, but I never took him to an adoption event or to the vet because he wouldn't tolerate being touched by strangers. That was Bud's situation when he was adopted.

I felt bad about adopting out a dog whose vaccines were not current, but I told the adopters about it and they understood. They have fostered themselves and have been around the rescue world for a while. The vaccines were not a big deal, but when they took Bud in to their vet, they also discovered that he had Lyme disease and worse, heartworms.

They were probably far unhappier than they let on, and understandably so, and I felt like shit, and rightly so. Still, they were committed to treating Bud and getting him through it, although he was not a young dog and probably had had an infestation of heartworms for some time. Bud came through it, thanks to his devoted owners and their vet.

Bud has taken to indoor living like most rotties, happy to layabout unless something interesting is going on:

"We are so proud of Bud … he really is a different dog than when we adopted him seven months ago. He is quite a lazy boy and likes to lie around the house most of the day and also loves to ride in the car."
He has made a lot of progress, is completely comfortable in his home with his owners:

"Bud escorts me from the bedroom every morning by getting behind me, putting his head between my legs and coaxing (pushing) me towards the kitchen. He trusts us completely now and I can handle him like a normal dog."
They have had some rough spots, very rough spots even, but these folks saw the potential in Bud from the start and they have never given up. Bud still generally prefers that strangers look but not touch, but that's ok. Bud doesn't need a lot of friends (unless they have food). He's happy with two dedicated owners and I'm sure he's equally dedicated to them.