Sunday, February 28, 2010

A good weekend

Saturday I drove to "occupied" (i.e. northern) Virginia with Zeus. We met a VGSR volunteer who is interested in adopting him. Zeus did well with his female shepherd and a much smaller Jack Russell that lives in the household. The last I heard, things were going well and if that continues, I expect he will be adopted.

Sunday I made the same drive again to VGSR's adoption event. Today I took Duke, Rocky, and Brady, as well as a female shepherd I was just transporting to another foster. Rocky was really just doing a victory lap, he already has a new home. I wanted some of the folks who had supported him and me throughout his treatment to see the new, happy, pain-free Rocky before he heads out to Utah. Brady always enjoys adoption events, he works the crowd and hustles food. He had a good time, but Sparky was very happy when he got back home. The female shepherd I was transporting met her new foster home. It's a home that adopted one of my former fosters so I know she will get everything she needs to find a great new home.

My big project for the day was Duke. He had not been out in public before, and he hadn't been around strangers or strange dogs, so I wasn't sure how he would be. He was terrified of the linoleum floor in the store, but he did his best to keep up with me and he soon learned how to walk on it using just the pads of his feet without trying to use his feet as claws. What I liked best was that he stuck to me like glue and looked to me for reassurance when he encountered new things. He was great with all the people and interacted well with the other dogs although I tried to limit his contact with dogs to those that I knew. He really is a great dog, and oh my, he is handsome. All those teeth he's showing in this picture are just a big smile. He's goofy and playful and will make a very devoted companion. He has Lyme disease, but he's asymptomatic and the treatment just involves twice daily pills that he gobbles right up with his regular food.

The pictures here are of Duke enjoying the snow in the backyard of what I hope will be his new home. We did the adoption contract but I'll sit on it for week or so until they are sure that everything will be all right. The folks are nice and come with the best possible recommendation, but they have two "obstacles to adoption" (children). Ordinarily, I wouldn't have tried it, but like I said, these folks came with a great recommendation, they are dog-savvy and experienced GSD owners, they have a crate and a fenced yard, it's a good household setup for the dog, and they have the time and desire to work with the dog. Duke was said to be good with children, per the prior owner, and he has a great temperament, so I do expect this to work out.

He was so glued to me all day that I felt bad to see him looking out the door at me as I left, but I expect that by this evening I am already a distant memory to him and he has bonded with his new people. He's that kind of dog.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Rocky rocks!

It's been several weeks now since the surgeries. Rocky's recovery is, I think, amazing. Our vet had warned me that immediately after the surgery I might question whether it had been worthwhile. That's because this is considered one of the most painful surgeries a dog can have, and Rocky had it twice. But from the very first, Rocky has seemed relieved and more comfortable than I've ever seen him. He's had pain for so long that the surgical pain was negligible for him; he has relief at last.

His hair is growing back but it has a ways to go, so his head still looks too small for his body. And he is a little overweight, but he's getting more outdoor time now and therefore more exercise.

He's happy, playful, deaf as a post, and sometimes stubborn, but he's easily bribed with food of any kind. Since I'm no longer flushing his ears all the time he's no longer reluctant to come to me, at least if the promise of food is involved. He loves to play with Copper and Teddy, and he doesn't even yelp from having his ears touched in play.

Thanks to the two ladies who solicited donations from their friends, and thanks to many readers of this blog, and others, Rocky's fan club raised over $5,000 to pay for his medical bills. The bill from Virginia Tech alone was over $4,400. We've had some other vet expenses associated with Rocky as well, but our local vet (Old Dominion Animal Hospital in Charlottesville) has been extremely generous with the discount they have given us for his treatment. The organization would have paid the bill without a dime being raised especially for Rocky, but now its funds can be used to help other dogs. Obviously, we can not help every dog with needs like Rocky's without the fundraising help provided by his friends, fans, and supporters.

I hope to take him out to meet his two most devoted local fans sometime soon, and I think we'll go to Sunday's VGSR adoption event in Gainesville so some folks up there can see him as well.

But the best news since his recovery is that Rocky has a new prospective home. The woman from Utah, a former VGSR volunteer, is going to drive out here mid-March and take Rocky home. This picture (left) is Rocky's soon-to-be-sister, Shika, who recently lost her older sister and would like to have a new companion. She will be Rocky's functioning ears. He may not get a break from the snow, but Rocky never minded the snow around here and he will love all the hiking that they do. He will have a wonderful home and excellent care for the rest of his life.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The big snip

Today was Zeus' big day. He got neutered. Not a lot of fun, but a good day nonetheless, because those testicles were all that stood between him and a new life in a new home.

I'm always amazed that I still run into some Neanderthal, invariably a man, who thinks it's wrong to neuter a dog because he wouldn't want that done to him. Curiously, these same people think nothing of keeping a dog on a chain, outdoors, in the dead of winter. They also don't think their dog needs to ever see a vet, needs heartworm prevention, flea and tick protection, or needs to eat anything other than the cheapest dog food available. Apparently all of that is ok as long as the dog still has his balls.

Pity the man whose sex life is so pathetic and he must live vicariously through his dog.

Zeus will be a better companion dog now that it's done. He won't feel the need to take off after the scent of a female in heat. He will have less cancer risk. Although he seems completely non-aggressive, an intact male tends to bring out aggression and challenges in other males, even neutered males, so Zeus will now be a more peace-promoting member of canine society.

He's a very sweet boy and enjoyed all the attention he got at the vet's office today.

Here is Zeus back at home in the dog yard after the surgery, proving that a neutered male can and will still pee like a boy. I know he's a little sore tonight, but he's got some pain killers, a warm comfy crate in my office, and he will start feeling better tomorrow. A day or two of discomfort is a small price to pay for a lifetime of love and comfort in a good home.

I have a prospective home lined up for him and we are going there on Saturday.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A new owner surrender

In most cases, people dump their dogs because they are no longer convenient for them to have. Occasionally, however, people give up their dog because it's the best thing for the dog. My newest foster, Zeus, is such a dog. The owners are a retired couple with three other dogs, all well cared for. Zeus is well cared for too. He's very friendly and greeted me with great interest and enthusiasm. They love the dog and hate to give him up, but unfortunately he has taken to jumping their fence and they live on a very busy and dangerous road. That's a scenario that would not have ended well for the dog. Improving the fence wasn't really an option, and they have some physical limitations so the dog's outdoor activity was pretty much limited to being on a tie out. He's a young dog, and they didn't want to see him live that way for the rest of his life.

So Zeus came home with me and I got some pretty good pictures of him already this afternoon. He's in a kennel adjacent to Duke, but will come inside, along with Duke, this evening. He's accustomed to being crated at night and he's well housetrained. He has lived with two small dogs and one decent sized one, but hasn't been around cats or small children, so my usual adoption limitations will apply.

I had a spay appointment made for a female that I thought was coming, but since that didn't happen I will let this guy take her surgery slot on Thursday. He's a great looking dog, young and healthy, should be a fairly easy foster.

Dakota's new home

Dakota (right) is now called Toby. He has an older brother named Niko, who is apparently quite chewable. They are getting along well and I'm sure that Toby has increased the energy level of the entire household.

I hope that Toby is modeling Niko's more mature behavior rather than picking up Brady's tricks and habits as he was beginning to do when he was here.

Dakota, now Toby, has a great new home. I couldn't be happier for him.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Celia & Dax

Celia was fostered by another VGSR volunteer but the adopter lives in Charlottesville so they met at my place.

She has a really great home and was probably perfectly happy as an only dog, having all of the attention for herself.

I took another dog over there for a visit one time. I don't remember which dog it was, but I think it was one of those crazy, high strung shepherds, it didn't result in a second adoption. Celia continued solo.

I just checked my old email, and the dog I first took over there was Lyka (at right). I couldn't remember her name, but my description of her (crazy, high strung) was spot on. Lyka had a manical look in her eyes and I'm not sure she was all there. But she eventually got adopted by a young man who was crazy about her. The VGSR hotline received one post-adoption phone call from someone who had found Lyka and I was terrified by the thought that she may be coming back. Fortunately, the caller also called the adopter's phone number on the other tag and they were quickly reunited. I wish Lyka the best, but I really hope to never hear of her under those circumstances again. Maybe she has settled down by now, but I have my doubts.

The dog who did hit it off with Celia was Dax. He's a big, goofy, non-alpha type, as friendly as he is handsome. The two of them got along fine. Celia showed him around and made it clear what belonged to her. He knew his place and was just happy to be there. They became good friends. The adopter is a small woman and the two dogs together certainly outweigh her. But she is in charge and I never had a moment's doubt about her ability to handle them. Celia was adopted in 2006, Dax in 2008. She sent me these pictures yesterday. If she ever wants another one, I hope it's one of mine.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The odd couple

Can two single male dogs share a doghouse without driving each other crazy?

They don't really live in that doghouse, but it's Copper's favorite spot to lay outside on a sunny day. Teddy sticks close to him and I think Copper uses him as a hot water bottle or electric blanket. Copper has the shortest coat of any dog we have right now and his pink skin looks cold sometimes so he likes to snuggle with Teddy.
Teddy is a little beagle mix and he's not exactly wooly, but he's warm and cuddly and is pretty nice to snuggle with I guess.

It's a fair trade, because Teddy uses Copper as his security blanket. Teddy is still quite shy but he actually seems to have gained some confidence since buddying up to Copper.

They are a great pair. They sleep together, they play, and they seem to satisfy each other's need for companionship. Copper is still very happy to see me whenever I go out and I think it's rubbing off on Teddy, a little.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The dimming of the day

The good news is that she was feeling good enough that she was wanting to go. She always loved our walks and she headed straight for the van when I took her outside.

I put the harness on her because it's part of our routine, but I think I could have walked her with just the leash and collar without difficulty. She would still take off if she spotted or caught the scent of a deer, although I don't think she'd go too far or be gone too long at this point.

She knew the trail and led the way as always, even with it covered in snow. We saw far more deer tracks than human or canine footprints. I was huffing and puffing and struggling a bit walking through the snow. She is light enough that she didn't break through the crusty surface so she could walk pretty easily, but it was apparent that she didn't have the energy or stamina for the hikes we did last year. I certainly didn't either, so we just did a short loop on the Heritage Trail, probably not more than a quarter mile or so.

Emmy is only eating about once a day now when tempted with something pretty tasty. She's got a fair amount of pain that makes it difficult for her to lie down at times. We are hitting the painkillers fairly hard and she is resting and sleeping comfortably most of the time, at least from what I can tell. Actually, I can read her mood and comfort level pretty well.

I don't know how long we've got, so I wanted to get her back out on the trails for a short walks at least, because I know she loves it.

A patch of green

I'm not about to call this a sign of spring or even a sign of hope, but there is a small patch of grass showing on our property.

Mostly we still have a big glacier covering everything, but the bird traffic under one of my feeding stations has cleared enough snow and ice to allow a little grass to emerge.

I know that when it finally melts we will have nothing but mud, but I'm ready for the snow to go.

News: Diesel and Dakota are both doing well in their new homes. I have an adopter for Rocky, but she is in Utah. If anyone is heading that direction within the next month, or has any other idea for getting a dog out there, let me know.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Diesel & Dakota

Diesel's new parents left their home in NC about 6:00 a.m. Sunday morning and arrived at my place at 9:00. They are great people and were very excited and happy to have him. Apparently he slept all the way home, saving up the necessary energy to spend the rest of the day playing with their other dogs, particularly the young boxer, Vadar. I'm sure there were some very tired dogs in that house last night.

Why did they win the Diesel lottery?
1. Large fenced yard for the dogs to play in, safely and off leash.
2. Demonstrated enthusiastic interest in the dog, e.g. an email in addition to the application, pictures of their other dogs (left), and an offer to come get the dog as soon as they could, vs. "when will you be up this way so I can see the dog at my convenience."

3. A history of good vet care (they already have an appointment scheduled for Diesel).
4. A dog-centered, dog-friendly household, (see pics).
5. No kids. I don't have anything against children, and have placed many dogs in child-rearing homes, but they are often the cause of a failed adoption.
6. Large, fenced yard. I repeat it because it's a huge plus in my book. It's not a necessity for every dog, but I feel that it was for Diesel.

After sending Diesel home, with Clay's help I finally forced myself to read the dozens of emails accumulated in my mailbox about Dakota. I eliminated those one-liners that just said "I found Dakota on Petfinder, send me more information." I eliminated those without a fence and with children no taller than the dog. Then I began kicking myself for possibly missing out on what may be the perfect home:
1. 20+ years of shepherd history. This is a breed where experience matters.
2. Large, fenced yard.
3. No small children.
4. Active, outdoors people who live with their dogs: "We bought our property for the land, we live in the house, not for it."
5. Demonstrated commitment to rescue with prior adopted dogs.
6. Willing to get off their butts to make it happen. They live in Blacksburg and had already driven to North Carolina to meet a dog and were coming to Harrisonburg, VA on Sunday.

Fortunately, their email included their cell phone numbers. I called, apologized for not responding to their emails, and discovered that they were at the VGSR adoption event in Harrisonburg, but were still interested in meeting Dakota. I grabbed the paperwork and the dog and drove out to meet them at a Sheetz gas station off of I-81.

Dakota was a little freaked out by it all. Looking at these pictures makes me realize what we put these dogs through and expect out of them. He had spent the morning like every morning for the past 3 or 4 weeks, playing with Brady. Suddenly I go out with a leash and collar, pull him from his known environment and put him in a car. He stressed out and his breakfast came up, but still he rode nicely for the hour or so drive. Then we get out in a cold, windy, concrete parking lot with a lot of cars and people around, and meet two complete strangers and their dog. Not an ideal meeting environment. He didn't know what was happening and he reacted a little defensively, fur up and a bit of growling at first. But still he walked with them, let them handle him, and did the standard dog greeting with their other dog. I loaded him into their crate and he went home with them.

In spite of the less than ideal beginning, I think this stands a good prospect of success. The people are realistic and know that they will need to take it slow, earn the dog's trust, and let the dogs build a relationship on their own terms. It's a great, great home, and he's an awesome dog, so it was definitely worth a shot.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The adoption process

I'm currently engaged in finding homes for Duke and Dakota. They both have a lot of interested suitors. I want them both to go to good homes, which probably all of them are. The trick is finding the home where the adoption has the best chance of success. That means finding people who don't display too many of the red flags that often signal adoption problems: young children, cats, no fence, too young, too old, too busy, the list goes on. I can get some of this information from the application process and home visit reports. However, the longer I've been doing this, the more convinced I am that the real key to a successful adoption isn't one of these objective variables. It's simply a matter of expectations and committment.

Anyone who expects the perfect dog is a bad adopter. If they rattle off a laundry list of "must haves" I look elsewhere. Perfect dogs are made from years of work, learning, and compromise, by both the person and the dog. I never represent my dogs as being housetrained. For one reason, I really can't because they are larely outside or crated indoors. In most cases, people find that they are, because adult dogs develope toilet habits and it is usually just a matter of adapting their already established habits to a new environment. But if the adopter has to have an already perfectly housetrained dog with guarantees, that tells me they have unrealistic expectations and that they lack the committment necessary for a successful adoption. Some people simply can't take on a dog who may need housetraining. That's fine. It doesn't make them bad people, it just makes them ineligible to adopt one of my dogs, even one that is housetrained, because if it's not housetraining, it will be something else. Then I'll get the call: "I'm sorry, but this dog isn't living up to my expectations, I'd like to return it. Do you have another?" Like I was a freakin Wal-Mart.

I'm not sure how our application process could do a better job of weeding out people. Some of it is trial and error, and there is a large element of pure chance and dumb luck. Being "approved" by the process doesn't mean eligible to adopt in my book and for many dogs I look for adopters who probably would not be approved by the regular process. The application itself doesn't do much beyond eliminate the homeless and those with a proven track record of poor animal care. There is just no substitute for a face-to-face meeting and conversation. I haven't been able to meet anyone with either of these dogs since I got them. The weather and factors in my own life have conspired against that. Hopefully this weekend.

The pictures here are of a dog named Daisy. She lives with two of my favorite repeat adopters. Daisy is a high energy dog, driven to work. I don't suffer from that malady myself, but many dogs do and it makes for a difficult placement. Fortunately, Daisy's home provides an outlet for her needs and is the perfect home for her, even though they would probably not have made it through the VGSR application process.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Winter weather

We were without electricity for the better part of three days. It came back on Sunday night only to go off again Monday morning for most of the day. I eventually got the water system back on as well, so things slowly returned to normal. I am still expecting it to go out any minute, however, so the return from crisis mode mentality is taking even longer. Yesterday's snow/sleet/freezing rain didn't really happen, but it is snowing this morning. Not much is expected, but we are due for strong winds and colder temperatures. I enjoy cooking outside, but I usually do it in better weather. Melting snow to boil water to melt frozen dog water and to flush indoor toilets lost its charm rather quickly. I'm just glad we had someplace to go where we could shower.

We had one canopy collapse entirely. I suspect the frame is bent and is probably useless. The other two canopy tarps will need to be replaced as well, but I'm surprised they held up through this at all. I probably should have taken them all down in the fall, but they offer some protection from wind and rain in the winter time so I hate to remove them. Replacements for the traps are cheap enough to risk it. Right now they are just packed with snow and ice such that it's not even possible to clean them off. The canopy that collapsed is the one where Teddy, Diesel, and Copper were spending time when not in the shed or the dog yard. That means they are moving back inside after their first morning romp.

Diesel, Copper, and Teddy are all bunking together now and having a great time playing together during the day. Rocky plays with them too, particularly with Diesel, but he's also quite content to come inside and curl up in his crate for much of the day. He's deaf as a post but is doing very well otherwise. I can also add our Zachary and Molly to that mix and everyone gets along fine. Fortunately, Dakota and Brady have pretty much taken care of themselves during this entire event. They play constantly, snuggle at night, and yesterday they even managed to get into the food supply to feed themselves.

Sparky and Duke are both a little lonely but I'm pretty sure a meeting of the two wouldn't end well for either of them. With weather and roads the way they are, I don't need an emergency vet visit. So they are being crated at night and kenneled separately during the days. I learned that Duke can sail right over the 4' dog yard fence, but he doesn't attempt the 6' kennel fence.

Diesel, the boxer, is going to his new home this weekend, probably Sunday. He will have a little brother boxer to play with and an older dog as well, who will probably be very happy to have the young ones play with each other and leave him alone. I've got a lot of emails about Duke and Dakota that I need to answer. I am hoping that one application for each dog will rise to the top to help me sort through the pile. If I rule out those with cats and kids and unfenced yards as I'd like to do, I'm not sure I'll have any left.

I should be able to move Duke, Dakota, and Diesel this weekend, weather permitting.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Roughin It

Our power went out Friday night and is still off, with no fix in sight. I'm at Clay's mother's house right now for a shower and water. Heading back home to take care of the kids. Everyone is fine, will post again when power is back.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Afternoon outdoor break

With this many dogs indoors, and at least 3 of them crated, they have to get outside for bio-breaks and exercise even in bad weather. The truth is, most dogs aren't particularly bothered by the snow and even enjoy it, at least in small doses. Because the days are so short, the second outdoor romp has to occur late afternoon. Everyone will get out to pee again before bed, but this was the last big outing of the day. Diesel, the boxer, showed that even short coated dogs enjoy a little romp in the snow. His big square nose makes a great snow shovel. A little snow does a long way when you have no fat and not much fur, however, so he wasn't hard to convince to come back inside.

The dog who wanted to spend the most time outdoors and evaded all attempts to get him back inside, was Rocky. He didn't mind the cold or snow in the least, and he had a great time digging through the snow for buried treasure (trust me, you don't want to know).

I suspect he feels so much better than he has in so long, that everything is wonderful to this guy. He's got a spring in his step, and speed, that I haven't seen before and he's interested in engaging other dogs in play.

The hair on his neck and face is growing back in so he looks less like an accident victim. The harness is working well on him, but I think I need to attach a leash and let him drag it around to increase my chances of catching him.