Lifestyle | Lifestyle Lifestyle en-us Thu, 29 Jan 2015 06:00:00 -0800 Thu, 29 Jan 2015 06:00:00 -0800 Orion <![CDATA[We Chat With People Who Raise Puppies to Be Guide Dogs for the Blind]]> As a blind guy, I am thankful for my guide dog, Nash, and for everyone who made it possible for us to be together. It occurred to me that the people who start our guide dogs on their journey really do not get enough credit. I am not sure what we in the blind community would do without the selfless volunteers who take these infant pups into their homes, train them, love them, and then somehow manage to let these little miracles leave their lives. I spoke to a few puppy raisers to learn more about their work and what made them decide to get involved.

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I interviewed Eddie Scozzare, a "professional button pusher" at the nationally syndicated Boomer & Carton radio show on WFAN in New York City; Teresa Ignatovich, a middle school teacher who has been a puppy raiser for more than 17 years for Guide Dogs For the Blind; Lauren Petersen Goodall, a piano teacher and first-time puppy raiser; Laura Marth, a medical secretary at a neurosurgery clinic; and Celeste Kusel, a puppy raiser in South Africa.

Brian Fischler for Dogster: What made you want to become a puppy raiser?

Eddie Scozzare: My wife and I, when we got married, really wanted a dog, but we were both working so it was not really feasible. Then my wife started working out of our home, and she wanted a smaller dog, and I wanted a large-breed dog. Since she was going to be the primary caregiver, she was going to probably win out, but then we heard about a puppy-raising program with The Seeing Eye. We thought this could be a good way to see if my wife could handle a bigger dog, without making a lifetime commitment. 

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Marian Ju-Scozzare, Eddie Scozzare, and retired guide dog Harley; puppy Quail; and Ava, Harley's daughter. (Photo courtesy of Marian Ju-Scozzare)

We received a wonderful Lab-Golden named Gusto, who was aptly named as he was a handful. We were really unprepared for the depth of grief and despair when he left us. Fortunately at the time, we had already taken on our second puppy to raise, named Harley. Even though we were very upset about Gusto leaving, something about the work we had done made us feel really good. Gusto ended up being partnered with a blind man in Pittsburgh, and he is probably about retirement age now.

We decided despite the sorrow, the good we were doing was worth it, and we continued in the program. We have since raised seven pups. Five are out there in the world as working guides, and the other two are here with us. 

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Cooper, Quail, and Harley in early January.

Cooper arrived in our home on December 1, 2014. He is the eighth pup we have raised for The Seeing Eye. We had been without a pup since late April -- our longest break since we got involved. The reason for the delay was that my wife, Marian, didn't think she could go through the heartbreak again. We deeply love all of our pups, but she was especially fond of our last, Keebler, who is a sweet and sensitive dog (hey, every parent has favorites, right?). After Keebler's town walk [a part of the training process] in October, I could tell she was getting the itch again, and since she is a puppy club leader, we did not have to wait the usual time after committing.

We begin again the cycle of love, training, growth, pride, and ultimately, despair. Of course, we want all our pups to succeed and become a companion and guide for someone in need, but we simultaneously want them back. Like all of the dogs before him, Cooper captured our hearts the moment we held him in our arms -- I think it is a survival mechanism that puppies have. I couldn't tell you exactly why we do it, but someone should do it, so why not us? We do not have the means to donate money to charities, so we give our time and not a small portion of our spirit, a bit of which is torn out and carried away with each dog who leaves.

Laura Marth: I have known about guide dogs my entire life, and I have always been amazed at the work they do. I did not realize there was a person who started this process by puppy raising. When I learned of this, I knew I had found my calling! I have been a puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes For the Blind since 2004 and am currently raising my 11th puppy.

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Laura Marth with Effie, one of the guide dogs she has raised. (Photo courtesy of Laura Marth)

Celeste Kusel: I got interested in puppy raising a few years ago; we actually used to call it puppy walking in South Africa. I received some information from the South African Guide Dog Association for the Blind. I had been making a few donations to them and receiving their monthly magazine. In one issue, they had an article about puppy raising, which convinced me that this was something I would like to do.

Lauren Petersen Goodall: I went to a graduation ceremony at Guide Dogs For the Blind. I had never heard of the organization, but my dad and sister wanted to go and I just went to tag along. A couple of people spoke about what a difference their guide dogs had made in their lives, and one man who was with his first guide dog talked about how he had walked with a cane for years, and after being partnered with a guide dog, he talked about how much faster he could get around. I was very impressed with the whole organization, made a donation, and of course fell in love with the puppies.

A couple of weeks later, I mentioned to my husband that we could be puppy raisers, expecting him to say no as neither of us had ever had a dog before. I was shocked when he said yes, and after I picked myself up off the floor, I made the call.

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"She has a lot of fun, and we have a lot of fun with her," says Lauren Petersen Goodall of Nadira, her trainee guide dog. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Petersen Goodall)

Teresa Ignatovich: I read an article in our local newspaper and thought it would be wonderful to take a dog with me almost everywhere I went. I loved the pet dogs that I had so much that I thought it would be great to have one of them with me all the time. 

I am currently raising my 15th puppy for Guide Dogs For the Blind, based in San Rafael, California. I know at least three of the dogs I have raised have made it through the guide dog program, but the great things about these dogs is even if their future is not with a blind person, so many of them end up helping people. I have raised puppies who have been partnered with diabetics and also some who have made the career transition to therapy dogs.

What's the best part of being a puppy raiser?

Teresa Ignatovich: Puppy breath and the puppies being such soft, cuddly babies is the absolute best part. I also enjoy the challenges each new pup presents me with to work and overcome. It is wonderful to me to see the puppies learning, maturing, and becoming wonderful beautiful well-mannered adult dogs.

Laura Marth: That is a very tough question. Seeing my dogs be successful is such a joy. I am proud of all my dogs, even those who did not become guides. They all make people's lives better. I feel like it is a gift I give others.

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Burton, a guide dog in training, gets weighed at the vet's office. (Photo courtesy of Teresa Ignatovich)

Lauren Petersen Goodall: [One of] the best things about being a puppy raiser is the puppy itself. She is a joy, she is an angel, she is a challenge, and as our son put it, she is the most adorable science project ever! Sometimes we think the puppy is smarter than we are, but when we think that, we have to think of ways to be smarter than the puppy and come up with a new training game or a new plan of action.

The second best part is the people we have gotten to know and get to hang out with. After every puppy raising meeting we talk about how nice everyone is and how much we enjoy spending time with them.

Tell us something that the general public might not know about puppy raising.

Teresa Ignatovich: The general public usually does not know that we brush our puppies' teeth and clean their ears weekly, as well as trim their nails as necessary. I am also constantly asked by people if they can pet the puppies, as they are so irresistibly cute, but working dogs and working dogs in training should not be distracted from what they are doing by people wanting a little puppy love. It is okay to ask if you can pet the puppy, but please understand if we say no as we have our reasons

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Laura Marth meets some new potential guide dogs. (Photo courtesy of Laura Marth)

Laura Marth: Puppy raisers are volunteers. We are not compensated, and while I cannot speak for all schools, we are responsible for supplying our puppies with food and toys.

Lauren Petersen Goodall: People think she never has any fun, that she must be working all the time. That is not true, though, as she gets to spend lots of time being just a puppy. We play with her at home all the time, and she gets to visit my husband's office on the weekends when it is empty so she can run all around the long hallways. She gets to go everywhere with me and rarely gets left home alone like a pet dog. She enjoys walks, the mall, grocery store, restaurants, even going to the movies with us -- she could not take her eyes off Ben Affleck at her first movie. She has a lot of fun, and we have a lot of fun with her.

What is the toughest part of being a puppy raiser?

Teresa Ignatovich: After having these pups for over a year and going through housebreaking, basic obedience, having them chew up various items, teaching them how to behave in public, loving them, feeding them, and making my home theirs, I have to give them back to Guide Dogs for the Blind for formal training and eventual placement. It is so hard to take them back to the school and leave them there; it breaks my heart every time.

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Teresa Ignatovich training one of her puppies. (Photo courtesy Teresa Ignatovich)

Laura Marth: The dreaded letter. A letter arrives about a month before it is time for the puppy to return to school. Once the letter arrives, you begin all of your "lasts" with your puppy. I take them to all their favorite places and make sure they get to say goodbye to everyone who has welcomed us into their businesses, homes, and hearts. We did everything together for a year, and now it is time for them to move on.

Puppy raisers call it the happy sad time. We are sad to see them go, but so proud of what they have accomplished, and of course the best is yet to come for them!

Celeste Kusel: Puppy raising for the first time can be a bit tough. At first we were not wise about puppy behavior, but we now make sure we always have an eye on our puppies so they do not chew anything up and are always in a safe environment. We are now raising our fifth puppy, and all we can say is that puppy raising is really special!

Lauren Petersen Goodall: That would be my own physical strength. [Nadira] is certainly the most energetic pup in our group, and every muscle and joint in my body ached the first few weeks we had her. I could not quite pull myself together the first few days we had her -- no makeup and some days no shower. It was kind of like having a human baby. Things did get easier, though, and of course I had my husband there to help.

We think it is going to be unbelievably difficult when it is time to say goodbye. I cried in the shower the other day just thinking about it. [Lauren's husband] Casey was very sad the other day when one of the puppies in our group headed back to school. My sister looked into puppy raising the same time I did, but decided not to do it because of having to say goodbye to the puppies.

I think the only thing that makes it bearable is I saw the graduation ceremony and was overwhelmed with joy from it. So we decided to do it, and we will get used to it and probably raise another puppy. I am getting teary eyed right now even thinking about it. 

In the United States, puppy raisers can take their guides in training with them to most places; how is it traveling around with a puppy in training in South Africa?

Celeste Kusel: I take the puppies we train to shopping centers, try to do some road work every day, and I take them with me when I visit my mother in the retirement home. It is the highlight of Waldo's (the puppy I am currently raising) week, and I think it is very therapeutic to the six women who live around my mother. Everyone seems to adore Waldo.

The biggest problem I am currently facing is going into malls. Even though we have permission to go into the mall, some of the security guards are not educated about the puppies. Even though the dogs where a jacket identifying them as guide dogs, the security guards are not always familiar to what a guide dog is.

Brian Fischler for Dogster:

Puppy raisers come from all walks of life and from all over the world. The one thing they all have in common is selflessness and wanting to improve the quality of live for someone who they may never get to meet. It takes a very special person to be a puppy raiser, and for that Nash and I would like to say thank you.

To learn more about puppy raising, visit California Guide Dogs for the Blind; Guide Dogs of America on Facebookthe Seeing Eye on Facebook and Twitter; New York Guiding Eyes for the Blind on Facebook and Twitter; and South Africa Guide Dogs for the Blind on Facebook and Twitter.

Read more about guide dogs:

Do you know of a rescue hero — dog, human, or group — we should profile on Dogster? Write us at

About the author: Brian Fischler is a standup comedian and writer. He has been seen on The Today Show, published in Maxim Magazine as the Comedian of the Month, and on Top Gear USA on The History Channel. Brian also runs Laugh For Sight, a bicoastal comedy benefit featuring the biggest names in comedy that come together to raise money and awareness for retinal degenerative eye disease research. Connect with Brian on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Thu, 29 Jan 2015 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/raising-guide-dogs-puppy-raisers-interviews
<![CDATA[Can the Scorpion Scooper Handle Saint Bernard Poop? Monkey's Person Finds Out!]]> First things first. There's simply no way to review a product that picks up dog poop without first discussing, well, my dog's poop. To be specific, my 140-pound Saint Bernard's poop. There's no cute way to say it; the truth is: Monkey's poop is a real situation.

No, it does not require me to carry around a shovel, as stranger after stranger loves to suggest, but picking it up does require my tiny hand to use a stacking technique (which I've perfected unless he starts pulling and then ... oh goodness), and I do use a bag that's slightly thicker than your average poop bag. AND OKAY, FINE. SOMETIMES I HAVE TO USE TWO BAGS. I don't really want to talk about those times, though. Some things in life are best dealt with in therapy, don't you agree?

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The other truth about Monkey's enormous poop is that I don't mind picking it up. Don't get me wrong, I don't look forward to the four million times it seems to happen every day. And I get really annoyed when he pulls his signature move of watching me only bring one poop bag and then spreading his poop out into three sessions. But for the most part, bending over, stacking his poop up so that it fits in the bag, and then tying the bag into a knot, is not the worst part of my day.

Could I do without the stares I get from passersby as I navigate his poop? Sure. Do I wish I didn't have to hear little girls scream, "EWWWWWWWWWWW!" as they stare at the poop drop from his butt onto the small patch of dirt he's found next to a San Francisco sidewalk tree? Absolutely. And does it bug the crap (pun intended, sorry) out of me when someone comes over to say hi right as he's about to go? Yes, yes it does. Seriously, people. Stop doing that.

Still, when I was offered the chance to try out the Scorpion Scooper (whose tagline, "Picking Up Is Just a Simple Squeeze Away," is rather unfortunate), I obviously had to say yes. Mostly because I was convinced that there was no way all of Monkey's poop would fit into a pooper scooper, but also because hey, why not? There may come a day when I can't bend over (she says, remembering the time she fractured her spine snowboarding), and also it promised "multiple pickups per bag," which seemed like an attractive option for when Monkey and I spend time in Tahoe and I (don't judge) let him go in the yard and I don't always pick it up immediately. Oh, like you've never done that ...

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Probably if Monkey and I didn't spend a lot of time in Tahoe, I would never have agreed to even give the Scorpion Scooper a chance. I mean, I have very little shame, but I just couldn't picture me walking around my San Francisco neighborhood with a pooper scooper. Monkey already attracts enough attention; we can do without any more. Still, it seemed like it could be good for people who live in the suburbs or have yards, so I felt like it was my doodie, I mean duty, to try it out. (I CANNOT HELP THE PUNS. I'm sorry.)

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Here's what the Scorpion Scooper promised:

  • Easy to carry and use
  • No bending over
  • No touching of the poop 
  • Multiple pickups per bag 
  • No smell 
  • Single-handed operation
  • Scooper stays clean

And here's how that went for me:

Easy to carry and use

I fancy myself an intelligent girl who can follow directions pretty well. Case in point: I have built more IKEA furniture by myself in this lifetime than I care to admit. But for some reason, I found the Scorpion Scooper kind of hard to figure out. Basically, you have to find the holes on the bag (it uses special bags) and then stick those onto the scooper. And then you pull the bag through and voila -- ish. I thought I did it properly, but my first (and fine, second) attempts to actually pick up poop did not go well. I mean, I even watched the YouTube video, and it STILL didn't help.

And while I don't really want to talk about or admit this, the "no touching of the poop" promise was broken. Which never happens when I just use a good old-fashioned bag and my handy-dandy stacking technique. Also, I feel the need to point out that the poop pictured below is old poop and has therefore shriveled a bit, and it was also one of Monkey's smaller poops. I didn't want to totally terrify the entire world out of ever owning a Saint Bernard. You're welcome.

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No bending over

I suppose I did not bend over. And frankly, to me, this is the biggest benefit of the Scorpion Scooper. I think elderly people or people with back problems would really benefit from this tool (if they're smarter than I am and can figure out how to use it).

No touching of the poop

I already said I didn't want to talk about this. Sheesh!

Multiple pickups per bag

Okay, so I have NO clue how this would work, but I tried several techniques, one of which included me trying to sort of flip the first pile of poop deeper into the bag and then carrying it held high in the air, and let's just say it's a really good thing I was testing this product while alone in the woods. So, no: It did NOT pick up multiple Monkey poops. Not even close.

No smell

This promise makes no sense to me. Poop smells. Especially when it weighs close to a pound and comes out of an adorable Saint Bernard puppy. Even if I am standing five feet and seven inches above it.

Single-handed operation

I used two hands to set the whole thing up. One hand to carry it around and try to pick up the poop. And then two hands to get the bag off, so ... kinda?

Scooper stays clean

Cleaner than my hands, that's for sure! (No, in all seriousness, it does stay clean because it uses a bag, which seems like a good thing.) There wasn't an easy way to tie the bag when I was finished, though, which seems like a problem. Do people just dump untied poop bags into their garbage? #yucky

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I don't like to, ahem, dump on products; frankly, I'd rather just not review them. However, in this particular case, I suspect the Scorpion Scooper just isn't something that Monkey and I really need in our lives, so the fact that I also found it a little difficult to use (I'm sure it gets way easier the more you do it) and that it didn't pick up multiple poops (again, likely because Monkey's poops are huge), means it just wasn't a good fit for us. However, that doesn't mean it wouldn't be good for other people. Let me break it down:

Dogster scorecard for the Scorpion Scooper

  • Quality: It's made of a stainless steel wire, an aluminum allow shaft, and fiber-reinforced nylon parts. And it's super light at just eight ounces. I feel like it would last a long time.
  • Style: It's a pooper scooper, so let's not get carried away here. It's about function, not style.
  • Function: I found it harder to use than I thought I would, but now seems like a great time to mention that it has a FLASHLIGHT attached to it so you can pick up poop at night. I think that was my favorite part. Also, I am sure it would get easier to use with time.
  • Creativity: 100 points for creativity.
  • Value: Based on which length you choose, the Scorpion Scooper ranges from $19.95 to $24.95 and comes with 16 rolls of poop bags. If you were going to really use the Scorpion Scooper, I think it's an excellent value.

Bottom line

The Scorpion Scooper isn't for me, but I have a dog who poops BIG and am able to bend over and easily pick it up using my (patent-pending) stacking technique and a poop bag. I think for most people, this is an unnecessary tool, BUT if you can't bend over easily to pick up your dog's poop or if you just really hate picking up poop, then it could be a great option for you. No crap.

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Read more dog product reviews by Daisy Barringer and Monkey:

About the author: Daisy Barringer grew up in San Francisco and didn't let the fact that she's a city girl keep her from getting her dream dog: a Saint Bernard. She and Monkey love to romp in the snow in Tahoe, visit dog-friendly bars, watch 49ers football, and drool. Yup, both of 'em. 

Thu, 29 Jan 2015 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/scorpion-poop-scooper-review-saint-bernard
<![CDATA[We Talk to Puppy Bowl XI Referee Dan Schachner]]> Dan Schachner is the referee for Sunday's Puppy Bowl XI, and he knows exactly what you're thinking. Yes, they check the balls beforehand.

"We're all about quality control here at Puppy Bowl. We pride ourselves in it," said Schachner, who is in his fourth year as the Puppy Bowl ref. "I do personally check each and every set of balls. Unless, of course, they're neutered. Then, I don’t bother."

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Dan Schachner is back for his fourth year as referee in Sunday's Puppy Bowl XI. (All photos courtesy of Animal Planet)

Premiering on Animal Planet on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET, the Puppy Bowl once again showcases 55 adoptable puppies playing on a football field with a hamster-piloted blimp overhead and a full-on kitty halftime show.

But it's all about the action on the field. And this 11th edition of the Puppy Bowl features teams -- Ruff vs. Fluff -- and a scoreboard for the first time.

All the more requirement for a referee beyond reproach. And Schachner is once again up to the task. Unlike with the New England Patriots in the other big game on Sunday, ball deflation is highly encouraged in this matchup. Touchdowns are scored when a puppy carries a toy –- including plush balls with protruding foamy spikes -- across the goal line.

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"Ball deflation is no big deal for us at Puppy Bowl, because unlike Tom Brady, we're not gripping our balls with our opposable thumbs," Schachner said. "We're gripping them with our razor-sharp teeth. So deflation is a normal part of our game. In fact, if toys are not deflated, the puppies aren't working hard enough."

"It sounds like a joke," he said, "but there's so much pulling on these chew toys, so much back-and-forth and growling over one or two toys; they do get destroyed by the time the game is over."

Destroyed toys are just one aspect of the Puppy Bowl that Schachner, adorned in a referee uniform (and clutching a Dustbuster), must take into account. Penalties are also part of the game, from excessive howling to pancaking. And as a veteran of four Puppy Bowls, Schachner is not afraid to throw his flag.

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"In the beginning [in 2012], I'm not going to lie, I was a little bit smitten with these guys," Schachner said. "It was hard, and I'd miss an infraction, and luckily we have producers who would say, 'Dan, look behind you, there was some pancacking or excessive use of the water bowl going on, you might want to throw a flag.' But it was hard to be tough because they were so adorable."

"But by year four, you don't even see how adorable they are. I just see them all as little mini-athletes, and everyone is on the same level, and I have no problem throwing the flag down. In fact, sometimes they have to calm me down with the flags."

When it comes to helping dogs find their forever homes, Schachner also has no restraints. Not only does the Puppy Bowl raise awareness of the need for adoption, Schachner, who is also an actor and narrator for various Animal Planet shows, fosters dogs in the East Village of New York in his personal life.

"I have foster dogs at home, one at a time, and one of the reasons I love doing it is that I can really learn about a breed, about their temperament and their nature," Schachner said. "I grew up around dogs, but once I got married and had kids, I felt like I was dealing with my own small pack in the house. And then a few years ago, I started thinking about ways to introduce dogs into the house in a way that's responsible because my kids were pretty young, and this was the best middle ground I could find.

"I teamed up with a local rescue center that's about 10 minutes from my house [Social Tees Animal Rescue], and if they have a dog that's suitable for my house, we take him or her on for six to eight weeks, and then when they find a Forever Home, off they go," Schachner said. "I just think it's a nice alternative for people who might not be ready to commit their entire lives and to the life of the pet. They may just want to test the waters. It allows you to do that. And when my kids are older and more responsible, I feel like I'll really know the lay of the land when it comes to picking the right breed because I'll have had that experience.”

While the Puppy Bowl highlights, obviously, the joy and fun of puppies, Schachner is equally committed to finding forever homes for older dogs.

"It's very easy for puppies to get adopted, but it's so much harder for these older dogs," Schachner said. "I mean like two-year-old, three-year-old dogs, they can sometimes wait a long time before finding a home. I try to say this as much as I can: Puppy Bowl pups, yeah, they're going to get adopted right away. That’s not difficult. The real challenge is, go to that shelter, and maybe the puppy you fell in love with at Puppy Bowl isn't there anymore, but you might find a two-year-old who is incredible and doesn't need to be house-trained, has a calm temperament, and would be a nice addition to your house."

Schachner said four years of reffing the big game has given him a unique insight into the temperament of dogs. While GEICO Field might look big on TV, the space where upwards of 55 puppies play and compete is in reality just 20 feet by 10 feet, so Schachner gets up close and personal.

"It smaller than you think," Schachner said. "Theoretically, it shouldn't be that hard to score a touchdown, but you'd be surprised how long it can take one of these puppy running backs to get into the end zone."

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Team Ruff: Lewis.

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Team Fluff: Aaron.

He added, "You gain insight, not just into dog behavior, but how behavior changes from breed to breed, when you put them into play situations. It's like a doggy daycare, and I'm in charge. What's really remarkable is how different breeds will react, and that's what I've learned over the years -- how the nature of dogs really comes out in those situations. Of course, a terrier is going to be a little more aggressive, and the really small breeds are going to be skittish. That comes out a lot."

Puppy Bowl XI premieres at 3 p.m. E.T. Sunday on Animal Planet. See more photos and videos of the teams at Animal Planet and Facebook/PuppyBowl. Follow Dan Schachner on Twitter and Facebook.

Read more about animals and the Super Bowl:

About the author: Jeff Goldberg is a freelance writer in Quincy, Mass. A former editor for and sportswriter for the Hartford Courant who covered the University of Connecticut's women's basketball team (Huskies!) and the Boston Red Sox, Jeff has authored two books on the UConn women: Bird at the Buzzer (2011) and Unrivaled (2015). He lives with his wife, Susan, and their rescue pup, Rocky, an Italian Greyhuahua/Jack Russell mix from a foster home in Tennessee, hence the name Rocky (as in Rocky Top).

Thu, 29 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/puppy-bowl-ref-dan-schachner-super-bowl-animal-planet
<![CDATA["Rusty to the Rescue" Teaches Kids Compassion for Shelter Dogs]]> Many children have, at one time or another, begged their parents to let them go into a pet store to look at the puppies.
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 The little pups kept behind the glass are what attract children to these profitable retail stores, but children's author Christina Capatides is hoping her new book, Rusty to the Rescue,  can help kids learn to adopt instead of shop.

"It's a first introduction to the concept of a shelter dog. It tells you where they are, that they've gone through some tough things, but that they are just as good as the dog in your mind -- that perfect dog you imagine."

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Capitides hopes her first children's book will eventually spawn a series.

Passionate about helping shelter dogs and the no-kill movement, Capatides -- a playwright and lyricist who has written three full-length musicals -- has previously tackled the topic of shelter dogs in song form, but Rusty to the Rescue is her debut effort as a children's author. She was inspired by her own dog, Mooch, who had severe elbow dysplasia when she adopted him.

"His two front arms were lame; he walked around like a person," she says, noting that while the details about Mooch's early life aren't clear, it is likely that the dog is a puppy mill survivor.

"I think he was in such a cramped area, that his legs sort of grew malformed."

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Capatides and her adopted rescue dog, Mooch.

Mooch is doing great these days, having received the love and medical care he needed to make use of his front legs and thrive. Capatides hopes her book can teach young animal lovers about the reality of what rescue dogs like Mooch go through.

"It does so in a subtle way, without the gruesome aspect," she says. "It also introduces kids to the concept of a mixed breed."

In addition to teaching kids about shelter life and dog diversity, Rusty also helps kids understand resiliency and how to move forward from setbacks in life.

"Shelter dogs are one of the most important examples of resiliency they can get," explains Capatides.

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Like these dogs, Rusty is a resilient pup with a second chance.

Teaching kids about shelter dogs is not new territory for Capatides, though. When she's not writing about Rusty, she serves as the content and editorial creator for the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum, a program used in classrooms from pre-kindergarten through grade 12 throughout the United States and Canada to teach kids about empathy for animals in need, which we previously wrote about. The program uses stories about shelter dogs, activities, and animal interactions to teach children about compassion, empathy, and ethical decision-making.

Mutt-i-grees was created in partnership with North Shore Animal League, and Capatides knows just how important the work North Shore does is -- not just in advocacy and education, but also in directly saving the lives of shelter pets. North Shore is a leader in the no-kill movement and has found homes for more than a million pets.

"We're going to donate 10 percent of the proceeds to North Shore Animal League America," says Capatides, who partnered with illustrator Ryan Bauer-Walsh to create Rusty.

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Ryan Bauer-Walsh illustrated Rusty to The Rescue.

Rusty to the Rescue is Bauer-Walsh's first fully illustrated children's book. The title character is based on a stuffed toy he had as a kid.

"My parents never let me have a dog, so it's kind of a way to live vicariously," says Bauer-Walsh.

Now that Rusty to the Rescue is complete, Bauer-Walsh and Capatides are already working on follow-up titles. The pair plans to continue the series and have Rusty develop into a superhero of a dog who can rescue others. 

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Rusty has a bright future ahead of him.

Bauer-Walsh say he hopes kids -- and their families -- can also become superheroes for dogs and take the message behind the book to heart. "Owning a dog is bringing on a new family member," he explains, adding that pets should never be viewed as just another accessory to bring home.

Capatides hopes Rusty's story resonates with children and teaches them lessons that last a lifetime. The children reading about Rusty now will one day be adults, making important choices that affect the lives of the animals around them. 

"We wanted to write a book that could educate the earliest readers and give them empathy about what shelter dogs go through, so they can the make responsible decisions," says Capatides.

Both the author and the illustrator hope their book teaches kids that dogs don't have to come from stores -- and that those dogs who don't are just as lovable as the puppies in the pet shop window. They've created a fictional dog hero, but Capatides and Bauer-Walsh are real-life heroes to the next generation of dog lovers.  

Read about more Dogster Heroes:

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

Wed, 28 Jan 2015 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/rusty-to-the-rescue-childrens-book-shelter-dogs
<![CDATA[Dog Treat Recipe of the Month: Olive Oil and Flax-Seed Cheese Biscuits]]> Ah, January, the month of newly adopted lifestyles and good intentions. The gyms are full, cold-pressed juice sales are soaring, and declarations of "big changes" are shouted into the cold, brisk air. But unless your pup has taken up dieting with you, she probably doesn't know that this is the month to start eating healthier. (Though now that I think about it, even if they had resolved to start eating better, they wouldn't be able to do much about it, as you control the food supply.)

Good thing your pet has a personal dog treat chef (you!) and that this month's treat recipe features two health powerhouses: olive oil and flax seeds.

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As any regular Dogster reader knows, there are at least eight reasons you should be incorporating olive oil into your dog's diet. In addition to giving pets a shiny, healthy coat, it can help them lose weight, boost their immune system, even keep them sharp and alert as they age. In short, incorporating olive oil into you pup's diet is a pretty good idea.  

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Speaking of good fats, flax seeds are the second healthful ingredient in this month's treat. You may have heard that flax seeds, like sardines, are a good source of omega fatty acids, which are excellent for your pup's coat and skin, but did you know that they also contain alpha-linoleic acid? This compound not only gives the immune system a boost, but it can work as an anti-inflammatory, providing some relief to those pooches with joint problems. You can buy flax seeds whole or ground, but whole flax seeds are likely to pass through your pet without being broken down. You can crack them yourself, just be sure to store them in the fridge, as the oil goes rancid rather quickly, and don't crack them until the day you plan to bake.

This recipe I make for my dogs, Kira and Angie, combines olive oil, flax seeds, and a bit of cheddar cheese for a treat that is healthful and tasty. (As always, be sure to consult your vet before incorporating a new food into your pet’s diet.)

Kira & Angie's Health-Boosting Cheddar Biscuits


  • 1 cup flour (either all-purpose or whole wheat)
  • 1/2 cup of beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons of flax seeds, freshly crushed (the ground stuff is fine too, just use a little less)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Shredded cheddar for topping


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk together broth, flax, and olive oil until they are fairly combined (some separation is unavoidable). Add flour and flax, then whisk to combine. You will have a sticky, stretchy dough. Coat your hands with a little olive oil and roll dough into 16 ping-pong-ball-sized mounds. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and press a pinch of cheddar into the top of each one. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the cheese is browned and the biscuits are firm, but slightly springy. Let cool.

Optional: Try to get a picture of your food-motivated dogs patiently waiting for their treats. 

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Kira tries to play it cool; Angie barely keeps it together.

Let's see if their patience was rewarded.


You know those Cheddar Bay Biscuits from Red Lobster that everyone loses their minds over? Well, I've never had those, because I'm a dog. They don’t allow dogs in Red Lobster, which is pretty discriminatory and something I have written many a letter about. 

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The cool facade crumbles.

ANYWAY. These little biscuits are what I imagine those taste like, except they have the added benefit of not containing any garlic, which dogs should avoid. Overall, I give these a nine out of 10. I would give them a 10 out of 10 if they appeared more frequently, but Claire doles them out slowly, like they're "treats" or something.


All I know is that I want these in my mouth as fast as caninely possible. They have cheese. I love cheese. They also have the added benefit of being chewy, which means I can't gulp them down super quickly. These treats make me take my time, and I like that. 

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"Ain't no mountain hiiiigh enough..." - Angie's theme song right now

These get a 10 out of 10 from me, but I give literally every food that rating. Except oranges. Oranges are the worst.

I'm beginning to think that my dogs aren't the pickiest of eaters -- they'll pretty much devour anything that even remotely looks or smells like food (or garbage) -- but at least I know that when they're devouring these, they're devouring a healthful treat made with olive oil and flax seeds. 

Have you guys made any Treats of the Month? How did your pups find them? Any favorites? Let me know in the comments!

Read more Dog Treat Recipes of the Month by Claire Lower:

Wed, 28 Jan 2015 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-treat-recipe-olive-oil-flax-seed-cheese-biscuits
<![CDATA[How Do Dogs Show Affection to Humans?]]> As a professional dog trainer, I am immersed in teaching dogs and their humans. It's rare to get a question I haven't been asked many times before -- but I did recently, and not from a client but from a cat-fanatic friend who has never had a dog.

She asked: How do dogs show affection to humans? Great question! Even those who have lived with dogs can sometimes misread canine language.

Before I share the top ways that dogs show affection, though, please keep in mind that something occurring to a dog IS aversive if the dog feels it is. In other words, it's not just children who need to ask if they may pet someone else's dog. Even if given permission to say hello, please not only be respectful of the dog's space, but also watch his body and face closely to make sure that your petting is pleasing. Not all dogs want to be touched by strangers!

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This puppy is unsure about being touched in this moment. His worried brow, wide eyes, ears forward, and closed mouth are small but powerful communication signals that he is not 100-percent comfortable.

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Are these dogs ready and wiling to be petted by a human? Find out below.

Here are four ways dogs show affection:

1. With their tails

A wagging tail speaks volumes (although what is communicates isn't as important to canine language as is a dog's face and overall body posture). I love seeing what I call the big, windy helicopter tail on a dog I am meeting. My Border Collie, Radar, gives a big, circling tail wag when he meets people. If you tried to move your head around in the same way as his tail moves, you'd get dizzy quickly.

A dog with a wagging tail can bite someone or another dog, by the way, but it won't look like Radar's big wag. A dog's tail that is up over his back and stiff is not a come-let's-be friends tail. Walk away from a dog showing such stiffness, as it is often a warning flag. Look for the big, circling tail and wagging butt, especially if the dog is like my dog, Monster, who doesn't have a tail so much as a stub. He waggles his entire butt when he is happy and meeting a new person.

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This is not a happy, relaxed tail for my Border Collie, Radar. He is on high alert here, and it would not be a good time to pet him.

2. With their faces

What's happening with a dog's face when she is happy with a human? Dogs can smile or grin, like the one in the photo below. In general, you want to see an open, relaxed mouth and not a shut-tight grimace. Panting can be a sign of stress, so a happy dog might have her mouth open toward you, but shouldn't be excessively panting  -- unless it's a hot day or she has been exercising. Canine language must be taken in context.

The I-love-you dog eyes are not hard but soft, round, and probably looking you right in the eyes, which is completely different than a hard stare with little to no blinking coming from a dog -- that's a warning to back up. You also don't want to approach a dog showing "whale eyes," where the eyes are wide and you can see the whites around the pupils.

Watch out for "cheek puffing," as well, where his mouth is closed and he rapidly blows air out of his mouth, causing his cheeks to go in and out. That's often a sign of nervousness.

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My dog, Monster (who really isn't a monster at all), has a lovely smile that indicates he is happy to receive human attention.

3. With jumping

Not all humans, of course, like to be jumped on, but often dogs do so to get closer to your face and give you a big "Welcome home, friend!" lick. The human face is incredibly important to dogs. They are so attuned to us that they know us better than we know them. Most humans like to see an exuberant dog greeting them when they get home, but we trainers like to give the dogs different greeting ritual behaviors, like a lovely sit with a happy tail thumping on the ground.

Please be aware that sometimes dogs jump on humans for other reasons, such as those who suffer from separation anxiety and only get relief when their humans walk through the door. Frantic jumping tells you something a bit different than happy-camper jumping.

Also, some dogs can jump and boink you in the face hard with their muzzle. That is not a friendly greeting. It's hard to get a good look at a dog's eyes and mouth position as they are jumping toward your face, so while jumping up can be an indicator of happiness that you have returned to the home castle, it can mean others things, as well.

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My parent's mini Dachshund, Bitzy, shows her apprehension here with a closed mouth, worried brow, and ears slightly forward. The next photo shows an even more dramatic worried look.

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Here Bitsy looks back to her owner for support and guidance. Her whale eyes -- the whites showing around her pupils -- as well as her paw tentatively in the air and the ears back are telling me she isn't sure of my getting too close to her in this moment.

4. With leaning

I've worked with some large Labradors and Rottweilers (as well as other breeds) who love to lean on their human's leg while getting a scratch hello. The dog is often looking up and into the their humans' eyes during the lean in, looking all smiley with a mouth open and soft eyes. On the other paw, sometimes an insecure dog leans in for comfort and support. Nothing wrong with that.

Once, however, I met a "junkyard dog" who the owner proudly told me he had bred himself and that the dog was a combination of about five perceived tough-breed dogs. That dog never growled or put his hackles up when he met me. He gave me a hard stare on his way over to lean against my leg. It was not a loving lean. It made my blood run cold. He didn't bite me, but he warned me for sure. His body was stiff as a board, and his eyes told me that one wrong move and he'd dispatch me.

Take a look at what the face, body, and tail are doing as a dog leans in. You want to see an open mouth, rounded and relaxed eyes, and a relaxed body with a swooping big tail or butt wag.

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Radar is ready for human interaction here. You can tell by his relaxed, open mouth and soft eyes.

It's helpful to dogs everywhere for humans to slow their approach when meeting a new dog and to consider: Does this dog really want to greet me? Don't take it personally if the dog isn't interested. Petting such a dog is harmful to that dog, and who wants to be pushy to another species? Do take it personally, though, if you get any of the signs of affection noted above.

Read more by Annie Phenix:

About the author: Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, is a force-free professional dog trainer enjoying her mountain-filled life in Colorado. She is a member of the Pet Professional Guild and the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She takes her highly trained dogs with them everywhere dogs are welcome because of their exceptionally good manners. Join Annie on her dog-training Facebook page.

Wed, 28 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dogs-affection-humans-dog-behavior-body-language
<![CDATA[Haiku by Dog: How Could You Leave Without Us?]]> Most of us do it every day. Sometimes multiple times in one day. At the very least, we'll do it several times a week. 

We go to work, to the store, to the post office or bank. We go out to dinner or the movies. We visit friends. We walk out of our homes. Without our dogs. 

To pups who crave the companionship of their human family, this is a near tragedy. It is unfathomable -- why we would leave them again and again. Which is why some dogs, like Tucker, may resort to devious means to delay or prevent us from ditching them -- however temporarily. 

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(All photos by Susan C. Willett)

Despite my dogs' best efforts, I do go places without them -- after I've given each one a treat to put the sweet in our parting's sorrow. Then the waiting -- the interminable waiting -- begins, along with the excruciating anticipation of a return. Because no matter how long I've been gone, to my dogs, it's been forever. Just ask Jasper.

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Then, there's that moment when they hear the car -- not just any car, but The Car -- come down the street and turn into the driveway. A quick peek out the window to confirm. Yes! It's her! A herd of galloping dogs thunders to the garage door to wait in fevered expectation and joyous expectation. There's the door slam. The sound of keys. The garage door opening. Lilah and her brothers wonder what is taking so long ...

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As I wade through sea of welcoming canine happiness, I know the whole process will repeat later today, or tomorrow. And I'll get the same greeting every time.

How do your dogs greet you? Tell us about it in the comments -- or write your own haiku! 

Read more Haiku by Dog:

About the author: Susan C. Willett is a writer, photographer, and blogger whose award-winning original stories, photography, poetry, and humor can be found at Life With Dogs and Cats. She lives in New Jersey with three dogs and four cats (all rescues) and at least a couple of humans -- all of whom provide inspiration for her work. Refusing to take sides in the interweb's dogs vs. cats debate, Susan enjoys observing the interspecies interaction among the varied inhabitants of her home -- like living in a reality TV show, only furrier. In addition to Life With Dogs and Cats, you can find more Lilah, Jasper, and Tucker (and the rest of the gang) on Haiku by Dog™Haiku by Cat™, and Dogs and Cats Texting. 

Tue, 27 Jan 2015 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/haiku-by-dog-humor-poetry-leave-without-dog
<![CDATA[TV Host Mark Steines Talks About His Life With Dogs]]> Mark Steines is an award-winning journalist who hosts the Hallmark Channel's Emmy-nominated lifestyle show Home & Family. He can be seen creating recipes in the kitchen, using his carpentry skills to build and repurpose items, interviewing celebrity guests and experts, and chatting with co-host Cristina Ferrare.

The longtime host and anchor of Entertainment Tonight, Steines also has a passion for photography. His work is displayed in many Hollywood homes and offices, and his photo book, See the Light: A Passage to Sierra Leone, helps to document Light House Medical Mission’s journey to raise awareness for fresh water in impoverished countries.

Three male family members, Avery, Kai, and Fred, are the other passions in his life, but Fred clearly stands out as the one who is oh-so-special. It's OK. There's no jealousy from Steines' sons, as Fred is their Golden Retriever!

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TV journalist Mark Steines with his sons, Kai (left) and Avery, and their family dog, Fred. (Photo courtesy of Mark Steines)

Steines has an irresistible combination of charm, smarts, sense of humor, and compassion, which was on full display as I chatted with him about his life with dogs.

Marina Anderson for Dogster: What a beautiful dog Fred is! How did you come up with his name? 

Mark Steines: Long story. I spent several weeks training my children before bringing a pet into their lives. It was a stalling tactic, as I knew we were invited to the set of a Disney film and would be adopting one of the Golden Retrievers from the cast of Spooky Buddies.

We all agreed that if just two of us agreed on a name that would be it. As you can imagine, the boys came up with all these silly names, like Lightsaber. While driving home from work, the name Fred just popped into my head, but when I proposed the new name option to my boys over dinner that night, they shot it down.

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The canine cast of Spooky Buddies, including puppy Fred in the bunny ears.

Shortly after that, we boarded a plane to fly to the set in Vancouver to meet our new friend. My boys were asked to play with the puppies during one of the breaks on set to get to know them better. They fell in love with B-Dog. When the handler brought us all together for our first family photo, the handler/trainer informed my boys that B-Dog was his character's name, but that the puppy we selected already had a name, and it was FRED! We knew at that moment that we had found a perfect match for the Steines family. He was meant to be with us. He is the best dog I have ever had!

Talk about getting a psychic vibe. That is so cool! Why choose a Golden Retriever? 

I had heard great things about the demeanor of the Golden. They make wonderful family pets.

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Avery and Kai with puppy Fred. (Photo courtesy of Mark Steines)

They certainly do. I had one for 15 years: my buddy, Dalton. Does Fred help with emotional support for you and your two boys? 

Fred tucks the boys in bed every night and wakes them up in the morning. He is a lover and cuddler! He sleeps at the foot of their bed or outside their bedroom door.

Awwww, tucking them in ... kind of like Nana in Peter Pan. Any special diet? 

Fred was once 107 pounds! I was unaware of the eating habits of the Goldens and how they will eat themselves to an early grave. I discussed it with Fred's vet, and he was put on Hills RD prescription dog food. I added carrots and pumpkin to his diet. I also convinced Fred that ice cubes are food. He has lost 20 pounds since we started!

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Puppy Fred learns good manners. (Photo courtesy of Mark Steines)

That’s wonderful. Is he a very social dog? 

Fred is happy-go-lucky and enjoys playing with other dogs, big or small. He is the friendliest dog I have ever seen.

Choose three words to describe Fred.

Playful, kind, loyal.

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Fred. (Photo by Mark Steines)

If you could be any breed of dog, what would it be? 

I would be Fred. I love his attitude and his sensitivities to others. He is so tuned into other people and how they are feeling. If you are happy, he meets you on that level. When we are sick, he checks on us. If you are lazy, he is lazy with you. If you are eating, he will try to eat your food with you.

Do you "correct" people in public? For example, if a dog is left in a car or someone isn't carrying water for their dog on a roasting hot day? 

If I see a dog in danger, I will approach the owner, but I don't correct others on their pets' behavior unless that behavior is aggressive and threatens others. But, yes, if a dog is in harm's way, I will do whatever is needed to correct the situation.

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Mark and Fred at the beach. (Photo courtesy of Mark Steines)

Applause! Was there a specific incident that motivated you to be so involved with animals? 

I grew up in Iowa and spent a lot of time on the farm around animals. Dogs have always been a part of my life, and I know the benefits of having one in my house. They teach us so much.

Yes, they do! Do you have a "dog mission"?

I support spay/neuter, for sure.

What do you love to do most with Fred? 

Snuggle and watch the joy my boys have with him. He has a moment in his day with "puppy energy" -- right after eating, which usually means a game of "chase your tail" or "rub my belly." We enjoy taking him to our place in Ojai. Fred loves it up there, he has so much space to run and play. He travels extremely well. He is so chill in the car. 

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The boys at home. (Photo courtesy of Mark Steines)

Any quirky personality traits? 

He is the food thief. Anything left unattended on the counter is gone. We've learned our lessons.

Does Fred inspire you to take photos? 

Yes, I will take him out for a walk and take my camera with me. Never know when the moment hits or the opportunity arises.

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Fred checks out the pool. (Photo courtesy of Mark Steines)

Has Fred appeared on Home & Family

Yes, he has. He has appeared on several animal segments.

I’ll bet everyone lavishes him with attention.

When we come out of commercial break, all of our guests and crew applaud, and whenever that happens, Fred takes off and will run as if he is taking a bow or taking the stage! It's very funny to watch. I don't know where he gets that. I guess he truly is a show dog! 

Do you like to dress up Fred in clothes or holiday costumes? 

The only dress up was when he was a puppy for the movie. You can see him on the cover of the DVD -- he is in the blue bunny ears.

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Fred enjoys a sunset. (Photo by Mark Steines)

How do your sons, Avery and Kai, divvy up sharing time with Fred? 

My boys are very good about sharing, but I always make them take him for a walk together. I want them to always remember the three of them together. When they get older and I am no longer here, I want them to look back and remember those walks with Fred.

If you had all the time and money to devote to animals, how many would you have and where would you live? 

I would live on a ranch in the Colorado mountains. I really enjoy the change of seasons, open spaces, and I would want to get a giant fireplace. It would be great to have a lot of dogs and a few horses!

To keep up with Mark, visit his website and the Home and Family site, and follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  

Read more celebrity interviews by Marina Anderson on Dogster: 

About Marina Anderson: Marina is an actress, writer, best-selling author (David Carradine, The Eye of My Tornado), jewelry designer (The Flying Goddess), and publicist (The Media Hound PR) for clients such as Robby Benson, Ed Begley Jr., and music icon Alan Parsons and Gary U.S. Bonds. She is also a personal manager and career and spiritual consultant. Marina's passion is helping animal rescue organizations. Look for her next book, The Adventures Of Lulu The Collie, which stars her beloved dog, Lulu, daughter to Lassie VIII, and keep up with her work by following her on Facebook. 

Tue, 27 Jan 2015 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/mark-steines-hallmark-channel-home-family-dog-fred-golden-retriever-spooky-buddies
<![CDATA[From Sales VP to Dog Sitter: How My Career Is Following the Dogs]]> After 17 years of climbing the corporate ladder, I realized I wasn't happy and needed to follow my passion -- my dog, Riggins -- to find a fulfilling career.

I had gotten a job in Hollywood after college. It hadn't mattered to me what I did as long as I lived in "the city." I was a theater arts major and, like all theater arts majors, had grand plans of being the next Meryl Streep. Deep down, I knew I didn't have what it would take to make that happen, but I was still confident I would find something fun and creative to do in the entertainment business and just needed some time to get centered and pointed in the right direction. 

During an interview at a media monitoring company, I was told that, if hired, they requested that I stay at least a year. Apparently turnover was high! "Of course," I nodded in absolute agreement, the entire time thinking, "Shoot me if I'm here this time next year." 

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The typical office supplies in front of me at a nameless airport bar. (All photos by Wendy Newell)

Seven-plus years later, I was still walking into the same building. My chair was in a different place. I now had a corner office and ran the West Coast sales and service departments, but I was hard-pressed to call what I did "creative" and even harder-pressed to describe what I did as being in the "entertainment" business. 

Despite the fact that I never considered myself to have the personality for sales, I was really great at it. I figure it had more to do with my tenacity than my ability to channel a character from Glengarry Glen Ross. A constant drive got me through years of cold calling. My theater background worked wonders during presentations, and I became the go-to person when it was time to "pull out all the stops" and put on a show for a customer. My type-A personality made me the perfect stickler for PowerPoint formatting, and my need for fairness and balance had my bi-annual employee reviews turned in to human resources long before other managers started getting reminder emails. I didn't like being in sales, and I didn't want to do it, but I liked succeeding -- and I liked my bonuses! 

Ask any hiring manager or HR person, and they will tell you it's hard finding good sales people. There are a limited number of people who are "hunters," who can "make it rain," who are "hungry for the close," and endless other quotable sayings that make me shudder. When you find a good sales person, you keep them. So I was kept and promoted for years.

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Happy Wendy and her happy dog, Riggins.

By the end of my sales career I had held a vice president title. There wasn't much more ladder to climb in the industry without moving to New York. Moving for a job I didn't really liked seemed ludicrous to me. I was on the road constantly, racking up frequent flyer miles, and my Instagram feed was a dizzying array of airport selfies. My parents were my dog sitter, and they had to limit their travels just so Riggins would have a place to stay. As he got older, leaving him for a quick trip to the other coast became harder. I was missing so much of his life, and when he was gone would I be okay with that?

Years of stress and unhappiness, along with a healthy sprinkling of depression, lead to a scene of me in an airport. Denver maybe? It was a layover, I remember that. Doing what every female executive in the U.S. has tricks not to do (look up and to the left, start doing math equations in your head, jab your fingernails into your hand): sob on the phone to her boss. I was done. You would figure that would be it, right? Nope. Remember, once you find a good sales person, you keep them. It actually took numerous phone calls, to other managers, HR, and executive vice presidents, to get my point across: I was done.

It took me a couple months of self-reflection before a friend suggested I start dog sitting. I figured that was a pretty darn good idea and, after some research, I decided to work through a site called With the site handling the business end, such as collecting money, paying for insurance, etc., I was left with the fun part -- taking care of the dogs!

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Sleeping on the job with Romeo.

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Face and Nugget are great furry friends for TV watching.

Business was slow at first, but it picked up fast. Now, almost two years later, I rarely don't have a full house. My new career is hard. If I had worked this hard for any past employers, I'd be CEO by now. Dog sitting is 24/7 and pays much less than sales, and yet it makes me ridiculously happy.

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Kuro cuddles are great therapy.

I've also managed to start volunteering with a local animal rescue group and another that helps low-income seniors and critically ill patients care for their companion animals, something I've been wanting to do for years but wasn't home enough to make the commitment. I take Riggins and our guest dogs on adventures every day and curl up with them every night. I've become more knowlegable about the animals I work with and this, along with my dog adventures, has given me the opportunity to become a freelance writer for Dogster.

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A mid-hike break with Riggins and Shadow.

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My commute now, with Riggins as my co-pilot.

I continue to look for a full-time job that will allow me to make a livable Los Angeles income, but there is no doubt about the career path. I'm following the dogs. After all, taking care of my hardest dog client is more enjoyable than that day I spent in three planes, two taxis, and one train, tweaking a PowerPoint presentation the entire way. 

Let's Talk: Did you change your career path for a more personally fulfilling one with dogs? Would you like to? Share your experiences and dreams in the comments!

Read more about life as a dog sitter by Wendy Newell:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

Tue, 27 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/career-change-dog-pet-sitting-dog-vacay
<![CDATA[Get to Know the Borzoi: From Russia With Love]]> In the 1930s, it was common to see Hollywood starlets emerging from their Rolls Royces with a brace of Russian Wolfhounds (also known as Borzoi) -- the ultimate status symbol of dogdom in the day. Now they are seldom seen, but they still exude an air of glamorous days gone by. Unless, of course, they see a mud pit and decide to wallow in it, because for all the aristocratic looks, they tend to be clowns at heart.

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Borzoi hounds by Shutterstock

More interesting things about the Borzoi

  • The Borzoi may be confused with the Afghan Hound, but the Borzoi is taller and more narrow, with a more arched back, wavier coat, and heavily plumed tail. The dogs also have small folded ears.

  • The Borzoi originated in the Middle Ages, when Russian nobility crossed coursing hounds with long-coated flock-guardian dogs to create one who could run down and hold wolves in the cold climate. They also hunted foxes and hare.

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Borzoi puppy by Shutterstock

  • The first standard was written in the 1600s.

  • In the 19th century, wolf hunts were elaborate affairs, with hundreds of Borzoi arriving by train. They chased the wolf in pairs or trios, and held it down until the hunters arrived.

  • In the 1917 Russian Revolution, many Borzoi were killed, as they symbolized the aristocracy.

  • Queen Victoria of England popularized Borzoi outside of Russia.

  • The Borzoi is a member of the AKC Hound group. It is in the Sighthound family of dogs.

  • Until 1936 the breed was known in America as the Russian Wolfhound. "Borzoi" comes from a Russian word meaning "swift." Nobody can seem to agree on whether the plural form is "Borzoi" or "Borzois."

  • In the 1920s through 1940s, the breed was the ultimate glamour dog in America. They were seen with movie stars and were popular as Art Deco models.

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"Borzoi" means "swift," and these two dogs are certainly racers. Borzois running in snow by Shutterstock

  • Although Borzois have competed in the Westminster dog show since 1891, none has yet won Best in Show there. Three have won the Hound group there, most recently in 1993.

  • In the 1930s, a Borzoi named Champion Vigow of Romanoff amassed an incredible show record: Shown 77 times, he was Best of Breed 77 times, first in the Hound group 67 times, and Best in Show 21 times. He was the top-winning American-bred dog of all breeds for 1935 and 1936.

  • The Borzoi is the 99th most popular AKC breed, down from 93rd a decade ago.

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One of the famous Wolfschmidt vodka ads.

  • A Borzoi is the symbol of the Alfred A. Knopf publishing house, founded in 1915.

  • The United States 27th Infantry regiment is nicknamed "The Wolfhounds" and has a Borzoi mascot named Kolchak.

  • Two large circuses have had all-Borzoi trained-dog troupes.

  • In the 1970s and '80s, Borzois were used in a series of Wolfschmidt vodka ads.

  • The Captain of the Titanic owned a Borzoi named Ben, who was not on board the ship's ill-fated maiden voyage.

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Borzoi muzzles by Shutterstock

  • Borzois appear in Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and Damned.

  • A Borzoi supplied the vocals for a Pink Floyd song titled Seamus, named after the dog. It was recreated in a live performance and renamed Mademoiselle Nobs with a different Borzoi, named Nobs.

  • Borzois briefly appear in The Hunger Games.

  • Owners include Liberace, Bo Derek, Michael Douglas, Don Johnson, Nick Nolte, and Rod Stewart.

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Screenshot from "The Hunger Games" featuring a Borzoi.

Do you own a Borzoi? Have you spent time with one? Let's hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you'd like us to write about, let us know that, too!

Interested in other breed profiles? Find dozens of them here.

Read the most-recent breed stories on Dogster: 

About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron's Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier

Mon, 26 Jan 2015 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/borzoi-russian-wolfhound-working-dogs
<![CDATA[Cat the Senior Pug Alerts Her Human to Visitors -- and Seizures]]> Her name is misleading, but Cat the Pug is definitely all dog.
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"She's not vicious at all, but she barks like she is," says Cat's human, Heidi Klahre.

This little Pug with the runaway tongue takes her watchdog duties very seriously, peering out Klahre's picture window and raising the alarm if someone gets too close to her home. While Cat makes sure to let her human know about any approaching visitors, she's also alerted Klahre to something much more serious.

"I had a seizure episode a few years ago, and Cat sensed it before I even knew what was going on," Klahre explains.

Klahre says the Pug -- who usually sleeps soundly at the foot of the bed -- was acting extremely odd in the hours leading up to the seizure.

"She spent the entire night before right up at my head, watching me," she recalls.

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Cat on guard at the window. (All photos courtesy of the Cat the Pug Facebook page)

The next day, when Klahre got up to go to work, Cat was still acting strange. The adorable dog followed Klahre around the house all morning, crying and trying to get her attention. Klahre did not know what to make of her odd behavior and had to go to work. About a half an hour after leaving the house, she experienced a seizure for the first time. During her commute, she recognized something bad was happening and was able to call for help while she still had the ability.

"When I got home from the hospital, I discovered Cat had actually clawed the floor," says Klahre, who realized her Pug had been trying desperately to keep her safe. Trained seizure-alert dogs will behave strangely when anticipating a seizure -- having noticed changes in their human's behavior, body language, or even odor, some scientists theorize -- in an effort to warn the person of what's to come. Cat has not been trained, but was certainly acting out of the ordinary on that day, and it's possible that she is among the small percentage of dogs who are naturally inclined to alert. 

Klahre has never had another seizure, and she's also never seen Cat repeat the odd behavior she exhibited that day.

"Believe me, now I would be looking for it," says Klahre, who will be quick to seek help if the Pug ever raises the alarm again. "We have just meshed so tightly that she knew something was wrong and was trying to warn me."

Cat and Klahre are inseparable now, but the two weren't always so close. When Klahre adopted Cat in 2010, the then four-year-old Pug didn't know what to make of her new human. Before being rehomed to Klahre's place, Cat had always lived with multiple pets, and didn't know what to expect as the only animal in her new home.

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The only other animals in Cat's house are the stuffed kind.

"She hated me. She sat in the corner for three days straight, facing the wall," Klahre remembers. "I cried nonstop. I actually thought I was going to have to give her to someone else."

Klahre, a first-time dog owner, went so far as to attempt to rehome the unhappy Pug, but to her surprise Cat clung to her when it was time to say goodbye -- the pup made it clear that she wanted to stay with Klahre. The two returned home, and the tiny dog embraced life as an only pet, eventually coming to enthusiastically enjoy life as a pampered Pug princess.

"I don't think she would like it if I got another pet now," says Klahre, who adds that adorable Cat tends to attract a lot of attention from the humans around her. "She's turned my life upside down, but in a good way."

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Cat enjoys her new life and new home.

Before adopting Cat, Klahre had spent much of her life afraid of dogs. She'd never had a pet, but when she came face to face with a Pug for the first time she knew she wanted one. Instead of buying a puppy, Klahre brought home four-year-old Cat, who came already dubbed with the moniker that causes confusion and double takes.

"They look at me funny whenever they call for Cat at the vet and I bring her up," Klahre says.

Now that the protective Pug is entering her senior years, the vet's office is used to the interspecies name, and her social media followers can't get enough of the dog named Cat. Her Instagram and Facebook followers have noticed Cat's tongue lolls out of her mouth in most pictures. The unravelled tongue is the result of a couple of medical issues.

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Cat's tongue is rarely in her mouth.

"I've been told that she might have a slight neurological issue that is causing the tongue," explains Klahre. Tooth decay could also be a factor. "She's had to have a lot of teeth removed; they were pretty bad."

She adds that Cat's overall health and quality of life aren't impacted by her relaxed tongue, although the petite fawn Pug does have a few other health issues, including arthritis. 

Klahre has learned that Pugs are a lot of work and can have expensive vet bills. Still, she would never discourage anyone from adopting one -- especially an older Pug. She says she even considered training Cat as a therapy dog after witnessing the Pug's sweet and empathic nature.

"After my grandma passed away, she crawled up on my grandfather's lap -- and he doesn't even like dogs. Cat would just put her little paw on him, like she was trying to comfort him."

Once afraid of dogs, Klahre's life now revolves around one. At the start of every school year, the elementary school librarian proudly tells her kindergarten students that she's got the only Cat that barks. The Pug that wouldn't even look at her four years ago has become the queen of Klahre's household and heart.

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Cat is a princess, but she can be outdoorsy when she needs to be.

"I actually bought my house on Cat's birthday," says Klahre, who adds she insisted on closing on that date. "My house was a birthday present for Cat."

Cat the dog has everything a Pug could want, and she proves that while older dogs may need some time to adjust, they can be just as loving as young pups.

Read more Monday Miracles on Dogster:

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

Mon, 26 Jan 2015 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/cat-pug-seizure-senior-dog-rescue-adoption
<![CDATA[Would You Do a Trial Adoption With an "Imperfect" Dog?]]> Some rescue dogs are great at selling themselves to potential adopters. My Lab mix, GhostBuster, looked up at my husband and I with those big brown eyes as he sat quietly in his kennel, and was giving me paws and kisses within minutes. We knew pretty quickly that he was the dog for us.

But what about dogs who don't show so well? The ones who cower in the corner and need time to develop trust?

Many rescues have found that short-term trial adoptions are the solution for these animals. The concept doesn't work for all organizations, but it is helping some "imperfect" dogs find their perfect home -- and my little Marshmallow is living proof that it works.

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GhostBuster was final sale. Marshmallow came with a return policy. I will love them both forever.

"I think that if we didn't offer trial adoptions, some of the dogs with behavioral concerns wouldn't have as good of a chance," explains Jennie Devereaux, adoption coordinator for Forever and a Day Small Dog Rescue Society (FAAD) in Alberta, Canada.

Devereaux was with me the day I met my second dog, Marshmallow (known then as Mindy), at her foster home. I'd been searching local shelters and rescues for weeks before I learned about this adorable (but very shy) dog. Marshmallow had traveled more than a thousand miles to find a family, having come to the rescue from the Northwest Territories SPCA in Yellowknife. I really hoped that my household would be the right fit for her.

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Marshy at the NWTSPCA. (Courtesy of the NWTSPCA Facebook page)

When we walked into the foster home, you could tell Marshmallow was a timid little thing. A petite half Jack Russell Terrier, half who-knows-what, her body language betrayed the fact that she didn't trust easily, men in particular we would soon learn.

During that first meeting with me, Marshmallow was definitely not comfortable. She had to be picked up and brought over -- she wasn't about to come over to me on her own. Once she was on the couch with me, Marshy froze like a statue, obviously afraid of the new people around her. She looked at the foster family's cat instead of looking at me.

As I chatted with the foster family and Devereaux, the three-year-old dog eventually lightened up, and I spent some time petting her. The dog was being fostered by two women, and was obviously bonded to one of them. I was told she picked up house manners quickly, especially for a dog who hadn't had much exposure to human lifestyles before coming into care.

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Marshy's first night at home. She still didn't really trust me (and Ghost Cat wasn't sure about her yet).

After the shy little dog had a successful meet-and-greet with GhostBuster, Devereaux paid my husband and I a visit at home. We passed the home inspection, and after another visit with Devereaux and the foster family, we decided to move forward with a trial adoption. We would care for Marshmallow in our home for two weeks before signing the adoption papers.

"I offer them to people that I would adopt to," explains Devereaux. "Some people just know right off the bat that it's not necessary, but in cases like Marshmallow, when the dog is a little bit more finicky or has a behavioral issue, it's a good opportunity to see if they jibe."

Before meeting Marshmallow, the biggest concern my husband and I had about adopting a second dog was how she would fit into our existing pet dynamic. GhostBuster gets along great with our two kitties, Ghost Cat and Specter, and we knew any potential adoptable dog would have to love cats. After meeting Marshmallow, we were confident that she would like GhostBuster and the kitties -- we just didn't know if she would like us, especially my husband.

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Marshmallow quickly became cuddle buddies with all our pets.

The first few days with Marshmallow were interesting. She loved our pets but did not trust us. At first she didn't eat much, so I tempted her with delicious microwaved wet food. Within two days, it became obvious that I was becoming her preferred person, and we made the decision that my husband would be the only one to feed Marshmallow.

At the end of the first week, Marshmallow will still so nervous around my husband that we discussed the heartbreaking possibility that maybe our home wasn't the right place for her. She wouldn't pee or poop for my husband if I wasn't home, and even tried to run away from him once.

Despite her man-fear, Marshmallow had made so much progress in other areas. She was sitting on command and had stopped having accidents in the house. We decided to see how she would do in the second week.

Slowly, Marshmallow warmed up to my guy. At first, she would only sit on the couch with me if she was not between me and my husband, but by the end of the second week she would sit beside him. She would even sleep between us in our bed at night. As she continued to make slow progress, we made our trial adoption permanent.

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She's always the last one to get out of bed in the morning.

Marshmallow never would have warmed up to us during a visit or an adoption event, but the trial adoption allowed her to reveal herself and develop trust at her own pace.

"It's just such a good way of getting to know the dog," says Devereaux. "It sets people up for success."

While some rescue organizations, like FAAD, find that trial adoptions work well for them, some rescues and shelters do have policies against them. The Saskatoon SPCA, for example, points out on its website that animals can be stressed by moving to and from homes, and that trial adoptions mean the dogs aren't available for viewing and therefore may be missed by a potentially perfect family.

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Marshmallow now goes to my husband for affection.

In our case, a trial adoption was the perfect fit, and although my little Marshy is still a nervous dog, she continues to build confidence every day. She still won't play fetch with me when my husband is home, but she wags her tail when he walks her, and will now poop even if I'm not there. These days she cuddles up to my guy, and pushes her nose into his hand for affection. She'll never be as outgoing as GhostBuster, but we're making progress.

Read more about life with Marshy and Ghostbuster by Heather Marcoux:

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

Mon, 26 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/trial-adoption-dog-rescue
<![CDATA[Doug the Pug Brings Happiness to Nashville]]> Sometimes, all it takes is some encouraging words to make your day brighter. Doug the Pug knows this, and Nashville is a better place today because of it.

Already famous for his takes on rainy days and Halloween, Doug the Pug has returned with a longer and more endearing episode on YouTube.

Determined to make 2015 the best year ever, Doug the Pug made a New Year's resolution to bring happiness into the lives of strangers.

And bring it he did.

Armed simply with inspirational messages written on notecards and affixed with string to his back, Doug visited several locations in Nashville, and the locals gave the love right back.

At a hair salon, Doug's messages included "You are an inspiration" and "You look so beautiful, inside and out."

To the valet attendant standing in the frigid January weather, Doug said, "Thank you for standing out in the cold for little to no tips. You are appreciated."

But his most emotional moments came toward the end of the five-minute clip. First, Doug visited a homeless shelter, bearing cards that read, "Your past does not define who you are" and "Things are never as bad as they seem," and shared hugs and kisses with some residents.

"You sure know what to say, don't you, man?" one of Doug's new friends declared.

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Doug the Pug makes a new friend and supplies words of encouragement.

Then, in the finale, Doug stopped by a local firehouse with one final card.

"Thank you for being a hero and putting other lives before your own."

And then Doug the Pug played and played with the firefighters, his mission of happiness complete.

Here are some of Doug's other greatest hits:

Watch more Vids We Love on Dogster:

About the author: Jeff Goldberg is a freelance writer in Quincy, Mass. A former editor for and sportswriter for the Hartford Courant who covered the University of Connecticut's women's basketball team (Huskies!) and the Boston Red Sox, Jeff has authored two books on the UConn women: Bird at the Buzzer (2011) and Unrivaled (2015). He lives with his wife, Susan, and their rescue pup, Rocky, an Italian Greyhuahua/Jack Russell mix from a foster home in Tennessee, hence the name Rocky (as in Rocky Top).

Fri, 23 Jan 2015 08:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/doug-the-pug-video-nashville-cute-dog-videos
<![CDATA[K9 Deputy Basco Is a Facebook Star ]]> Every day, police dogs around the world do their best to serve and protect humans, but one canine cop in Washington is attracting extra attention in the community he tries so hard to keep safe. K9 Deputy Basco is becoming a bit of a celebrity dog in Okanogan County, as his smiling face becomes a frequent feature on his fans' Facebook feeds.
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Basco's handler, Deputy Shane Jones, created a Facebook page for his K9 partner to help educate the public about the great work Basco and his canine colleagues do. The popular three-year-old Belgian Malinois has attracted thousands of Facebook friends -- fitting for a dog who's just as friendly and social off-line as he is in the pictures Jones shares.

"I am not kidding -- this dog is a sweetheart," explains Deputy Jones. "Kids can come right up and grab his face. You'd never know he's a cop dog, he'll crawl up in your lap.”

While Basco may seem like a loveable family dog in his downtime, this canine cop knows how to be serious at work.

"His obedience is just off the hook," explains Jones. "He's what's called a dual-purpose illegal narcotics dog."

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K9 Deputy Basco with his handler, Deputy Shane Jones. (All photos courtesy of K9 Deputy Basco's Facebook page)

Trained to sniff out various drugs (with the noted exception of marijuana), Basco tracks, searches, and protects his handler while in the line of duty.

"He will only bite if he's been told to bite," says Jones, who adds that Basco is so good at his job as a K9 deputy that most suspects give up before it gets to that point.

"Two weeks ago, we tracked a guy for about a mile, and right when [Basco] goes into the garage to bite the guy, the guy gives up," Jones recalls.

Jones says after the arrest, he asked the suspect why he stopped. The man explained that he'd been bitten by a different police dog during a past arrest and didn't want to repeat that with Basco. "He knew the drill."

Jones knows the drill, too -- he is an experienced handler, and Basco is his third K9 partner. The pair have been together for about a year now.

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K9 Basco in his bulletproof vest.

Like many police dogs, Basco was born and trained in Europe before coming to the United States. He came from Holland, so all his commands are in Dutch, and Jones had to learn how to speak to Basco in the language the dog understands.

"My first dog was in French, my last dog was in German, and now this one's in Dutch. You revert back to what you know during stressful times, so when I first got Basco I would sometimes say commands in German. He could look at me like, 'What the hell, Dad?'"

Despite the initial language barrier, Jones was very happy to be working with Basco -- even if the opportunity to do so developed out of some very sad circumstances.

"My last dog I had for about two years. When I was in a class cross-training him for drug training, he ended up getting bloat and passing away."

Jones was very upset over the unexpected and sudden death of the K9 partner he'd been training, but knew that the department would be needing to replace his departed dog quickly.

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K9 Basco getting ready for the night shift.

During that last training class Jones attended with his previous dog, he had been struck by the behavior of another agency's K9 deputy and asked where that dog had come from. The answer was Vohne Liche kennels, the K9 training facility featured on National Geographic's Alpha Dogs. The Okanogan County Sheriff's Office turned to Vohne Liche when it needed to find Jones' new partner.

"We were so happy with them, [we said] that's where we're gonna get our next dogs,” says Jones.

Currently, Basco is one of three K9 deputies working for the sheriff's office, but Jones hopes to see four dog cops patrolling the vast county in the future. Because one of Basco's K9 colleagues -- a nine-year-old, single-purpose patrol dog named Ayk -- is about to retire, the Sheriff's office is now fundraising for two more dogs.

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K9 Deputy Ayk with his handler, Deputy Tait Everett.

Jones says a generous donation from a woman whose daughter was the victim of a violent crime has been a huge help, but because the sheriff's office is not only looking to replace Ayk but also add another K9, they still need to raise about $15,000. Jones hopes Basco's Facebook popularity will help attract donations.

"One hundred percent of any donations we get goes to the canine fund," explains Jones.

Although one of the new dogs will be replacing Basco's buddy Ayk, the retiree won't be forgotten by the Sheriff's Office, or his handler.

"These dogs are like our kids," says Jones. "We pay one dollar, and the dog is retired to the handler's family as a family dog."

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Off duty, Basco is just like any other dog.

Young Basco is still a long way from retirement himself. His good health and great attitude make him the perfect K9 deputy to accompany Jones as he carries out daily drug searches near the Canadian border.

"I love the guy to death," says Jones, who adds that Basco proves canines don't have to be mean to be police dogs. "I just can't say enough good things about him."

Read more on police dogs:

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

Fri, 23 Jan 2015 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/police-drug-dog-k9-deputy-basco-belgian-malinois
<![CDATA[Sum Leung Uses Fashion to Capture Personality in Her Custom Dog Portraits]]> Just after my dog's first birthday, I broke up with my live-in boyfriend, who was also Riggins' "dad." He told me I could have "the dog." I told him, "Darn right, I can." Except I didn't use quite that polite wording.

In our new house, I wanted something to make it all ours. After a quick search, I found a young artist online who does original dog portraits. Without a second thought, I commissioned one of Riggins. As soon as it arrived, I ran out and got a frame and placed it on the mantle above the fireplace. I love it! Sitting regally up there looking down at me, the painting symbolizes all the support and love Riggins has given me over the years.

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My dog, Riggins, poses proudly in front of his portrait, painted by Erika Matsunaga. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Because of my experience, I'm a firm believer that every home should have personalized dog art on the wall, which is why I was so excited to interview Sum Leung, illustrator and owner of Woof Models. She has a unique vision that allows her to not only capture your dog's look, but also his personality! I live in Los Angeles, and Leung lives in Sydney, so I spoke with her via email.

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Sam Leung at work (All photos courtesy of Woof Models unless otherwise noted)

Wendy Newell for Dogster: Tell us a little about yourself.

Sum Leung: I'm an Illustrator who lives in Sydney. I started my career working in advertising agencies in London, Hong Kong, and then Shanghai, working on clients such as Harvey Nichols, Tiffany, Levi's, Nike, and Converse. I've been living in sunny Sydney for over a year now, and that's when I started Woof Models.

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A Woof Model gentleman.

It's a series of illustrations that I make centered on dogs. I "dress" them up in designer clothes based on their personalities or stories that their owners tell me about them. For example, I recently did a portrait for a friend's father's dog. She told me that the dog goes everywhere with him and especially loves collecting the balls when he practices golf. So I thought that the dog would look great as a stylish golf caddy. I drew the dog wearing a vintage-style golf hat with matching polo shirt, and I also added the father's initials embroidered on it as a nice little touch for him.

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Leung and VV

What was your inspiration for Woof Models?

My main inspiration came from my gorgeous 10-year-old Corgi, VV. We all see VV as just another member of the family. She has her good days, her naughty days, and her crazy days just like the rest of us. I'm lucky to live with a very close family, and we have photos of each other covering the walls. Holidays, birthdays, graduations, and even embarrassing photos of when I was a kid, but we didn't really have any of VV. And that got me thinking, if VV could have a portrait on the wall, what would it look like? What's her style? What would she wear? And if she could wear something, she'd definitely want to look her best.

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Tell us more about VV.

She's one special lady, and sometimes I think she knows it. She loves being held in the air like she's flying, she loves running away at any possible moment with a "catch me if you can" look on her face. She's even mastered the art of posing for the camera -- she can't pout, but she definitely tries. And she loves walks along the beach, but hates getting her hair wet. I have to admit, she's a bit of a diva. She’s well trained, but only when she wants to be. Unless, of course, you have treats in your hand.

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There is no questioning the strength of this bulldog.

Why do you think there is such a market for custom pet art?

I believe that a dog is part of family, and I'm sure a lot of other pet owners feel the same way. A dog can become a big part of your life. Every dog is unique with her own personality and stories to tell. So why not show how much you love them by having a pet portrait that is unique to them, that tells their story or expresses their personality?

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A pretty Woof Model lady.

Tell us a little about the favorite characters that you have created.

Apart from my dog, I'd have to say my friend's dog Blondie the Chihuahua. She was quite a challenging portrait to make. Blondie is a very spoiled little princess. She prefers to sit in my friend's handbag than actually walk around. So I created a little story about her refusing to get out for a walk because she just had her nails done. I then drew her in a turtleneck and stylish veiled beanie, as she's always hiding away from everyone in the handbag.

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The very stylish Blondie.

I see that a portion of your proceeds go to the animal rescue world. Why is that important to you?

Why pet rescue? My work is all about dogs being a part of the family, and to think of dogs without a home, without a family to call their own, breaks my heart. Dogs are the most forgiving pet you can have; they'll love you unconditionally. They don't care what you do, what you look like, they just want to be loved. And that's why I chose pet rescue. Every dog should have a home, and every dog deserves to be loved.

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Leung hard at work.

How would you describe your style?

I suppose it has come from my advertising background. In advertising, it's important to keep your message simple and clear so it's easy for people to understand. As my work tells stories, I wanted to keep it simple yet make it interesting, and at the same time, charming. I've always been a fan of minimalist design, and my favorite fashion brands, Comme des Garçons, Maison Martin Margiela, and Isabel Marant, influenced my style greatly. They have a simple yet interesting approach to their work, which is what I try and do.

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This Woof Model looks very dapper in his bow tie.

Now enter to win our Woof Model giveaway!

Leung will create a custom 8-by-10 portrait print for one lucky Dogster reader! Follow the instructions below to enter.  

How to Enter

  1. Create a Disqus account, if you haven't already, and include a valid email. It takes just a minute and allows you to better participate in Dogster's community of people who are passionate about dogs. If you already have a Disqus account, check it to ensure the account includes a valid email.
  2. Comment below using your Disqus account, telling us what your dog would wear in the portrait and why. Leung's favorite comment wins. 
  3. Check your email for a "You've Won!" message from us after noon PST on Thursday, Jan. 29. We'll give the winner two days to respond before moving on to our next favorite.

Good luck! And read more about Woof Models on its website.

Read more about dogs and art:

Fri, 23 Jan 2015 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/custom-dog-portraits-woof-models-sum-leung
<![CDATA[On Change a Pet's Life Day, We Remember Maggie the Puppy Mill Dachshund ]]> Saturday, Jan. 24, marks Change a Pet's Life Day, an annual celebration of animal adoption. It's also a day when Jennifer Devereaux will celebrate the life of a dog who changed hers.

Devereaux wasn't looking to get another dog when Maggie, a nine-year-old Dachshund, stole her heart and became her very first rescue pup.

"It was only short-lived, but Maggie changed my life," explains Devereaux, who now serves as a board member and adoption coordinator for Forever and a Day Small Dog Rescue Society in Alberta, Canada.

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Deveraux and Maggie the rescue Dachshund.

"She was a puppy mill breeder, she was food aggressive, and she didn't play," she remembers. "The only reason we ended up with Maggie was because she was another wiener dog, and someone knew I already had two wiener dogs."

That someone was a Facebook friend who was trying to find a home for an aging puppy mill dog with a heart condition and a mouthful of rotting teeth. Despite being busy with her own dogs, Daisy and Noodle, Devereaux took Maggie into her home as a foster dog for Forever and a Day.

Right away, it became apparent that Maggie's life had been a tough one. When Devereaux petted the senior dog, she could feel the Dachshund's ribs jutting out in a strange way.

"It was one of my concerns when I took her to get vetted for the first time. I thought she had a broken rib," she recalls. The veterinarian explained that while Maggie's ribs were not broken, they had been disfigured by years and years of breeding.

"It happened because she'd just had so many litters of puppies," she says.

The problems with Maggie's ribs may have been obvious, but her future was not. A heart condition prompted one veterinarian to recommend euthanasia, while another thought she could possibly have another five years left in her. Still, Maggie's health problems made her an unsuitable candidate for adoption, which was just fine with Devereaux. She found herself growing attached to the senior wiener dog.

"I figured, okay -- I have a permanent foster."

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Maggie was a big fan of food.

Because of Maggie's food aggression and behavior issues, Deveraux didn't feel comfortable leaving her at home with the two playful, younger dogs during the work day. Instead, she brought Maggie to work with her.

"She was so grateful to be with me," says Devereaux.

After several weeks of nearly constant companionship, little Maggie began to change. At first, the changes in her behavior were small, but one day, Devereaux looked into her car's rearview mirror and was shocked to see old Maggie playing with an ugly toy ball, which had been discarded by other dogs.

"When we got Maggie we were told no, she doesn't play. She likes bones and being under blankets and that’s about it," explains Devereaux. "But I looked back in my car, and there she was with this ball."

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Maggie with her ugly ball and her beautiful Dachshund siblings, Noodle and Daisy.

Maggie's newfound playful side coincided with another change in behavior that made feeding time a lot less stressful for Devereaux, her boyfriend, and the other two dogs. The food-aggressive dog, who had been known to scarf down all three food bowls if given the chance, was suddenly sharing.

"Within a couple months of her being here, she and Daisy were starting to eat out of the same dish," says Devereaux.

After nine happy months of improvements, Maggie's health finally started to decline. She fell down the stairs -- an accident that would prove to be too much for her frail body to handle after a lifetime of producing puppies.

"I had to give her hourly [pain] injections in her neck through the night, and it seemed like she was bouncing back," Devereaux remembers. "The day before she passed away, we even took her to get her nails clipped."

Unfortunately, the rebound was short-lived, and soon Deveraux was counting as Maggie took 82 breaths per minute. As Devereaux approached Maggie to give her an injection, the now 10-year-old Dachshund panicked. "It just wasn't fair to her to be doing hourly injections," she says.

At that point, Devereaux made the incredibly difficult decision to call the vet and have Maggie put to sleep. "She passed away peacefully, in my arms."

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Wrapped in loving arms.

Maggie left this world just before Christmas 2014, but her legacy lives on in Devereaux, who is dedicated to helping more people change the lives of rescue dogs.

"She has an awesome last few months of her life, and I am a different person because of her," she says.

You can change a dog's life, too, by getting involved with animal rescue organizations in your area, and Change a Pet's Life Day is the perfect time to start. Here are a few ways you can make a difference:


Shelters and rescue organizations are always looking for extra pairs of hands to help out, whether it be with walking dogs, cleaning kennels, or participating in fundraising events. Without volunteers, many shelters and rescue groups wouldn't be able to operate. By donating your time, you're not just changing the life of one dog -- you're helping to change the lives of all the animals who find a home through that organization.


Rescue groups can only help as many animals as they have space for, so many organizations are happy to add additional foster homes to their existing roster. By fostering a dog, you're not only providing a roof over her head, you're also rehabilitating, training, and teaching the dog what it's like to be a pet. Foster homes change the lives of both the dogs and their future forever families.


With millions of dogs ending up in shelters every year, it's easy to see that dog overpopulation is a problem in our society, and yet puppy mills continue to use dogs like Maggie to breed puppies for profit. When you choose to adopt instead of shop, you're not only saving the life of the dog you take home, but also the life of the next dog who can fill the vacant space at the rescue or shelter.

Read more Monday Miracles:

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

Fri, 23 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dachshund-national-change-a-pets-life-day
<![CDATA[Angels Among Us Rescues 40 Dogs From an Overburdened Shelter]]> Emptying an overburdened municipal shelter -- like the one in the rural community of Fitzgerald, Georgia -- would take a miracle, but last week a group of rescue angels made the impossible happen.

On January 16, more than a dozen volunteers from Angels Among Us Pet Rescue descended upon the shelter, quickly clearing the kennels of 40 dogs and six cats.

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"When I emailed, I was asking them to take one dog," says shelter volunteer Valerie Veal. "We never even dreamed they would come and clear us out!"

Veal moved to Fitzgerald from Atlanta one year ago and began volunteering at the Fitzgerald Ben Hill County Humane Society. The shelter takes in more than 2,000 animals a year, and local ordinances require that it hold all animals brought in by the animal control department for at least 72 hours before a pet can be placed for adoption or euthanized. When Veal began volunteering there, she was impressed by the efforts staff make to adopt out the animals brought in by animal control, and she says the shelter rarely has to euthanize animals for space.

"This is a place where we want to make sure each and every dog and cat makes it out," says Veal.

That's why she was surprised -- and concerned -- to see the shelter at maximum capacity when she arrived to check on a stray dog she'd first spotted in a church parking lot.

"I knew cold weather was coming later that week, so I spent three days myself feeding that dog and trying to get her to let me put her in my car -- and she never did."

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Valerie Veal with her two dogs, Alf and Cabella. (Photo courtesy of Valerie Veal)

Despite Veal's efforts to coax the brindle Plott Hound mix into her vehicle, in the end, animal control had to set traps so the dog could be brought to the humane society. Inside the shelter, she would be protected from the elements as the temperatures dipped below freezing.

"Mostly when I was trying to catch her, I was telling her that if she would just trust me I would keep her safe."

An animal lover with two dogs of her own, Veal couldn't get the stray out of her mind and went down to the shelter on January 13 to check on the brindle beauty she'd been feeding. It was during that visit that Veal realized just how full the shelter had become. Afraid of what the future held for the dog she'd promised to keep safe, Veal asked staff to call her if euthanasia became a possibility for the pretty Plott Hound.

"I realized, we're about to start killing these adoptable animals, and that's when I called Angels," says Veal.

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The Plott Hound, now known as Aileen, Valerie was desperate to save. (Photo courtesy of Angels Among Us/Becky Henson)

One of more than 500,000 people who follow Angels Among Us on Facebook, Veal was familiar with the rescue's many success stories. On the other end of her call for help, the folks at Angels were familiar with the challenges municipal shelters face in small towns.

"We know how often these rural shelters just do not get the kind of exposure or press that they need," says Elizabeth Hale, manager of publications and media promotions for Angels Among Us.

"We knew what this little shelter down in Fitzgerald was facing, we knew what Valerie was facing -- how could we turn away?"

With so many animal lives in jeopardy, the network of volunteers at Angels Among Us began making plans to move the Fitzgerald pets out of the shelter and into foster homes in the Greater Atlanta area. The foster-based rescue has no brick-and-mortar facility -- just a lot of volunteers with room in their homes and hearts.

Three days after receiving Veal's call for help, 13 Angels volunteers arrived in nine vehicles at the humane society. Animal control officers and the mayor of the community of 9,000 were waiting to thank the group.

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Called #OperationInvisiblePaws, the effort moved 46 pets out of the overwhelmed Fitzgerald shelter. (Photo courtesy of Fitzgerald-Ben Hill County Humane Society via Facebook)

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A total of 40 dogs and 6 cats were driven to the Greater Atlanta area during #OperationInvisiblePaws. (Photo courtesy of Fitzgerald-Ben Hill County Humane Society via Facebook)

They called it Operation Invisible Paws, and two hours after the Angels arrived, 46 animals in the Fitzgerald shelter had made the nearly four-hour journey to Atlanta, where six veterinary offices were waiting to assist.

Of the 40 dogs, two young puppies were suffering from parvo virus and were taken to an emergency veterinary hospital. One died, but the other is now responding well to treatment.

Medical treatment for the parvo puppies, as well as the other 44 pets, resulted in thousands of dollars in vetting expenses for Angels Among Us. Spaying and neutering surgeries, as well as heartworm treatments and extractions for dental disease, created the rescue's largest ever need for funding.

According to Hale, Angels spends an average of $700 on each pet it rescues, and the current situation has the nonprofit renewing calls for donations. Hale suggests those who want to help can make a donation specifically for the Operation Invisible Paws pets or even for a specific animal.

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Little Keefe is among the dozens of Fitzgerald pets that are now safe and sound in foster care. (Photo by Lori Chapman)

"We have a very low overhead," says Hale. "Ninety-four percent of all our donations goes directly to our animals."

While the rescue is hoping for financial gifts to help cover the costs of the 45 Fitzgerald fosters, the animals have already been given the gift of life, and the Fitzgerald Ben Hill County Humane Society has been given the priceless gift of social media savvy.

"They gave us a lot of tips," says Veal, referencing the vast social media reach of Angels Among Us. "In fact, our shelter -- as of now -- has a Facebook page."

Thanks to Veal and Angels Among Us, Operation Invisible Paws spawned its own hashtag and a social media legacy that means the next generation of adoptable animals in Fitzgerald will be online -- and no longer invisible.

Read about more Dogster Heroes:

Do you know of a rescue hero — dog, human, or group — we should profile on Dogster? Write us at

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

Thu, 22 Jan 2015 08:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/angels-among-us-pet-rescue-foster-adoption
<![CDATA[5 Guidelines for Enjoying Off-Leash Dog Areas ]]> Despite the fact that it's not a popular opinion, I am a pro-off-leasher -- in designated areas, of course. I realize that the statement alone will send some dog lovers into a tailspin and earn me negative comments. As someone who is verbal on the subject, I've gotten pretty thick-skinned, so hit me with your best shot. Don't hold back. Put me in my place.

But, before you do, I ask that you hear me out by reading my five Ws for correctly enjoying off-leash dog walks and hikes where legally allowed.

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My dog Riggins and I enjoy a break from our off-leash hike. (All photos by Wendy Newell)

1. Who

Not all dogs are candidates to go off-leash, although more are than you might expect. As a professional dog sitter, the pups under my care often have their first off-leash experience with me, and 99 percent of the time it's a success. That one percent of failures aren't even horrible failures. The dog may show aggression toward human male runners who pass by. Perhaps they aren't socialized and want to play too roughly with the other dogs. I also have had a very small percentage who decide they don't want to listen to me and won't come back in a timely manner, or even stay close. Members of that one percent are put back on leash and have to stay there. 

If you are uncertain if your dog is a candidate for off-leash walks, then do a test run at an enclosed dog park. After heading in, start to walk circles. If your pup tends to stay with you as you move around, will come when called, and is social with other dogs and humans, there is a good chance he will do great off-leash outside of that fence.

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Bella is a therapy dog and very smart. I knew she would do great on her first off-leash adventure.

2. What

Off-leash does not mean out of control. An off-leash dog should be socialized and well-behaved around other dogs and humans. Unfortunately, you can't guarantee that all dog owners are as familiar with these common-sense rules as you are.

One of the best reasons for keeping dogs on-leash is to keep them safe from other dogs who may attack them. If you are looking at a leash, hardware, and human strength to keep an overly aggressive dog from attacking, you are an impressive gambler. If a dog's prey drive is strong enough and he is untrained and unsocialized, he will find a way to attack. Dogs are strong, leashes and hardware can break, and owners can only hold on for so long. 

When I'm walking dogs on- or off-leash, I always have a deterrent spray with me. These sprays come in different types, from compressed air to citronella spray. These types of dog-deterrent sprays won't harm the animal, but it may give you enough time to break up a fight and get better control of the dogs involved.

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Part of the pack, Mckenzie, Shadow, and Wallace never wander far away from each other or me.

3. When

Since I live in a state where off-leash areas are strictly controlled and rare, I tend to think of those areas as "for the dogs." In my mind, if you are hiking in a dog recreation area and don't like or are afraid of dogs, that is on you. There are thousands of miles of hiking trails where dogs are not allowed off-leash. Use those if you can't handle a four-legged hiking companion. 

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Monkey wants you to know that off-leash fun isn't just for big dogs!

If you live in an area where off-leash areas are more abundant, you are one lucky dog owner. You need to be aware of your surroundings when you take advantage of this great treat, though. If trails are too crowded or the sun is in a position that makes it difficult to see rocks and roots, it's best to keep your dog on-leash and out of people's way.

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Riggins and Asscher pause a moment before hoping over the roadblock to catch up to the rest of the pack.

4. Where

Location is key. It's what separates us cool pro-off-leashers from those folks who are just being irresponsible. The correct time to take your pup off-leash is either on private property with permission from the owner or in a legal off-leash area.

Off-leash should never happen on a residential or business street, parking lot, or any other location where vehicles are within close proximity. I don't care how well-behaved your dog is. My pup is a dreamboat when it comes to behaving off-leash, but if he saw a cat in the neighbor's yard, he would leave my side with the speed of a revved-up racecar. People who deny that their dog could possibly take off if the right prey presented itself give us good off-leashers a bad name!

I find that off-leash works best when on hiking trails. You are far away from cars and there is plenty of open space for dogs to run around while still keeping you in their sight.

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Shadow and Huxley enjoy the freedom of an off-leash trail.

5. Why

I've been told by naysayers that the reason I like to have my dogs off-leash is because I'm lazy. They have a point. Due to my occupation, I'm usually walking a number of dogs at once and, unfortunately, the majority of dogs are not leash-trained well. It is indeed much easier for me not to be pulled like a human dog sled. 

Still, my pup is leash trained very well, and yet I prefer to have him off-leash. He has a blast running around free, and that freedom he enjoys allows him a higher level of exercise than if he had to stick by me.

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Luna is deaf and one of my best off-leash clients. She always keeps me in sight and is always smiling.

Finally, most dogs tend to be less aggressive off-leash than on. I know that is difficult to believe, but I've seen it over and over again. When on-leash, whether being walked or tied to a pole, a dog cannot move away or even run from what frightens him. The only response that is available to him is to fight. When off-leash, a dog can enter into a situation at his own pace and always has the ability to move away, if need be.

There you go. That is my pro-off-leash argument. What do you think? Are you willing to give it a shot? Let me know what you think in the comments!

Read more about walking dogs and dog sitting from Wendy Newell:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

Thu, 22 Jan 2015 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/off-leash-walking-hiking-dogs-tips
<![CDATA[Twilight Retirement Home in France Gives Senior Dogs a Home ]]> Every year, thousands of healthy senior dogs are put down in France due to overcrowding in shelters. When Mike and Leeanne Whitley from Britain retired to the country for an easier life, they found that fact impossible to accept, and in the last 10 years they have adopted more than 100 senior dogs.

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Leeanne, a former Great Britain athlete, and Mike, an English and drama teacher, both suffered from ill health and believed that the tranquillity of the Dordogne countryside in southwest France, where they had bought a barn, would be perfect for them to rest and relax. They couldn't have been more wrong.

When the couple's beloved dog Kizzy died, Teg, their retriever, was clearly lonely without his companion. Leeanne and Mike decided to get another elderly dog and visited their local refuge.

What they found shocked them. France, like many other countries, has more stray dogs than it knows what to do with. Although some shelters make a great effort to rehome stray animals, older dogs fare less well. Says the couple, "It became evident, searching the pounds and refuges, that if you were an old dog, life was not always good, and your ending might be premature and without dignity."

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Time to relax for Mike and Leeanne, and a chance for all the dogs to take a turn to have a cuddle. (All photos courtesy of Leeanne and Mike Whitley)

From that first visit Mike and Leeanne adopted "a few" senior dogs, who would all have been put down otherwise. By the time they had adopted seven more dogs, it was clear to them both that they felt a calling.

It was the start of a completely different life from the one the couple had planned. They set up the Twilight Retirement Home for Dogs. "It's not a formal refuge," says Mike. "We're just mere volunteers with the time, space, and love to share our calm home with dogs." At any one time they have up to 35 senior dogs living in their home. Their lives revolve around the "sad and seemingly endless needs of these lovable best friends," or as Leeanne refers to them, "the puddings."

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For Twilight's older dogs, feeding time is a fairly sedate affair with lots of good behavior.

Leeanne confesses, "Our life is the dogs now. We have to make moments just to chat sometimes about life outside of Twilight -- did we send my mum a card lately, that kind of thing. We make ourselves pop out for lunch once a month if we can, often just to have a 'meeting' about how the dogs are, what we can improve on, etc." Leeanne says that while it may sound a bit sad and overwhelming, they are very happy and love it.

Their work has attracted plenty of admiration, and they now have several volunteers who help out with the grooming, bathing, and general care of the dogs, as well as administration and social media updates. Their local vet has played a key role, visiting regularly to save them constant journeys to his office. With so many seniors to care for, there is always a medical issue; sadly, sometimes dogs have to be euthanized when they become ill and are in pain.

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Mike makes dinner. There are 35 bowls to prepare at feeding time and more than 100 kilos of food a week.

Reading the daily updates on their Facebook page is both uplifting and heartbreaking. For example:

Sally's need to cross the Bridge was a little sooner than we had all hoped. A tummy tumor pressing on her nerves, the pain had arrived, so a big kiss and she is now I pray rested and at peace. Now we look to Bianka (fused joints), Douglas (fluid on the lung), and Sabre (those GS hips), who have a seven-day package of potions to hopefully help, but it is just a matter of time for all three. Gladys (dehydrated from the months of starving and likely organ failing) and Naomi (likely tumor in intestine) are also on the watch list, with Nana, Paddy, Gormless, and Quito all on new meds. A few last Christmases ahead, but we will celebrate in style with warmth and love.

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Fourteen-year-old Sabre with young Jacob. Sabre came to Twilight when his owner died of cancer. He is like a grandaddy to them all and has been with Mike and Leeanne for two and a half years.

It takes special people to be able to deal with the constant loss of beloved pets as Mike and Leeanne do. So many of the dogs who have come to them have little time left, sometimes just days. Leeanne talks about Woolfy, "a severe neglect case at death's door when he arrived."

"He was so weak," she says. "He lay in his bed, in his own mess. Justine, a Beagle, got into the bed with him to make him warm. We tried to clean him, feed him, let him feel the love and healing. If they come in this state, we try to help them regain their dignity before they pass over the Bridge." 

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Mike introduces a newbie to the group, which gathers round to give a welcome.

Leeanne says they were only couple of years into Twilight at the time, and still on a mighty learning curve. But Woolfy came around; despite the huge mouth tumor, growing so quickly, he felt the love of humans and canines alike.

"He stole our hearts," she says. "On his 19th day, he managed to walk around the garden, take in the sun. On his 21st day here, he died in my arms. We loved him so much. He regained the light in his eyes; he had no pain at the end."

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Mike and Leeanne take time every day to play with the dogs.

Some of the dogs come from homes where their owners have died. Some have been abandoned, abused, starved, and beaten. Leeanne and Mike work closely with refuges and animal charities in France, and they work hard to rehome the younger dogs who have plenty of life left in them.

They have no favorites and love every dog as if they had bought him up from a puppy. When the dogs pass over the Bridge, it is of course distressing, but what keeps the pair going is the knowledge that however hard this path is, the dogs in their care will have a better ending to their lives by spending time at the Twilight Home.

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Twilight raises extra funds by selling gifts and calendars. All of the money goes toward vet fees, food, and caring for the dogs.

Visit Twilight Home's website and Facebook page for updates about the dogs, details of how people can help, and advice for anyone wanting to take on an elderly dog. 

Read more on senior dogs:

Do you know of a rescue hero — dog, human, or group — we should profile on Dogster? Write us at

About the author: Janine Marsh is the editor of The Good Life France and a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. When not writing, she is pandering to the whims of six cats, three dogs, and 38 chickens, ducks and geese.  

Thu, 22 Jan 2015 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/twilight-retirement-home-senior-dogs-francee
<![CDATA[5 Things to Consider Before Switching to Homemade Dog Food]]> In my quest to educate myself about pet nutrition, I signed up for an online pet nutritionist program earlier this year. When I received an assignment for Steve Brown's book, Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet, I was super excited to try out the recipes. Being a good student, I made sure to read the entire book first so that I fully understood the science behind the ingredients.

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Charlie watches me grind beef. (All photos courtesy of Heather Burt)

My next steps involved researching where I could get the necessary ingredients, finding the best deals on meat, and purchasing a quality meat grinder. I spent a couple of weeks procuring everything on the ingredient list, buying and pre-washing storage containers, and getting familiar with how the grinder worked.

Since Charlie had been on a commercial freeze-dried raw food mixed with fresh raw meat and was acclimated to eating raw, this diet was an easy transition. She was already in good health before the switch, but I noticed that after being on this fresh food diet her eyes are brighter, her coat is softer and shinier, and her body is leaner. Charlie has been eating a rotation of the beef and chicken recipes for three months now, and she absolutely loves it!  

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That's a lot of storage containers, but then I'm making large batches of food.

Because it's so important to understand the science behind the recipes, I urge you to read Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet for nutritional information and feeding guidelines. You need to have a good understanding of your dog's health and nutritional needs before starting a homemade feeding plan, since feeding an unbalanced homemade diet can do more harm than good.  

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I'm so glad I took Charlie's health and nutrition into my own hands.

If you are considering making the switch, here are a few other things to keep in mind before taking on the task of making your dog's food at home:

1. It's vitally important to educate yourself on proper pet nutrition first

Your pet’s health is in your hands, and you need to be their advocate. I highly recommend consulting a veterinarian or pet nutritionist before starting a new diet. Omitting or substituting ingredients can have detrimental effects, so I follow the recipes strictly to ensure the nutrients are properly formulated. I also weigh every meal on a kitchen scale to determine the appropriate amount of calories for Charlie's weight and energy level.

2. Making your own dog food is time-consuming

I make enough food to last Charlie about two weeks, which means that every other Sunday I dedicate about three hours to making her meals (not including shopping for ingredients). If you have limited time and can't commit to full-time homemade feeding, there are options for improving the health of your dog by substituting fresh, whole food in place of regular kibble just one day a week. 

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Mixing up double batches of poultry and beef recipes. Charlie's waiting to lick the bowls.

Investing in good equipment makes a big difference, too. If you don't have a meat grinder, you can expect food prep to take a little longer. Once you get familiar with the recipes and the ingredients, it will take less time, and you can split up the steps on different days to make it fit into your schedule better. I grind up all the meat and organs and freeze them in individual containers by weight on one day, so that when I'm ready to assemble a recipe, all I have to do is thaw out what I need.

3. You will most likely need to shop several sources to get all of the necessary ingredients

I found items such as hempseed oil, flax seeds, and liquid vitamin E at the local health food store, I ordered bone meal and kelp online, and I found the beef hearts and liver at a local specialty meat store. Bulk meat such as beef and chicken thighs were the least expensive at our local food club warehouse, while the rest were just regular grocery store items.

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Lots of ingredients go into the homemade food, so be prepared to shop around.

4. There is an ickiness factor involved

When I started this process, I thought that working with the organ meats was going to be the hardest part, but I was actually more grossed out by the oysters, since I am not a fan of seafood. At first, even Charlie hesitated before eating the chicken recipe containing the oysters. I wasn't sure if it was the texture of the raw chicken or the sharp, tangy smell of the oysters that made her pause, so I ended up lightly cooking the chicken-recipe ingredients for the first couple of weeks, until she got used to the flavor.

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Each double-batch makes about a week's worth of food for my active 42-pound dog.

5. You will feel a deep satisfaction watching your pet gobble up this food!

I love feeding Charlie and watching how much she enjoys this food. I know it's the best and healthiest thing I can do for her, and the amount of time, money, and effort I put into this now will save me on heartbreaking vet visits later. 

Homemade pet food and raw diets aren't right for everyone. Some dogs might not like the flavor or textures of certain foods, and the time and cost can make it impractical for some people. But while you may pay more for fresh food now, you'll likely save that money in the long run, because a healthy dog typically won't have as many costly medical issues later in life. 

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"Feed me now!"

Traveling with a raw food diet can be a challenge as well. I often keep commercial freeze-dried raw food on hand for those times when it's not possible to bring Charlie’s homemade food along. 

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Charlie chowing down on her raw food.

Food bowls should be glass or metal, not plastic, and they need to be cleaned thoroughly after each feeding. Proper handling of your pet's raw food and bowls is essential to preventing food-borne disease, and for this reason, households with small children can be a challenge for raw food diets. 

As always, be sure to consult your veterinarian to determine if your dog's health or age are factors to be considered when making a diet change. Begin with educating yourself, then start experimenting with a few recipes and see how your dog likes it. Once you see the positive changes in your dog's health, you may just decide to overhaul your own diet with fresh, whole foods!

Does your dog get homemade food? Share your experience and advice in the comments. 

Read more on what to feed your dog: 

About Heather Burt: Accountant by day, aspiring pet nutritionist by night, Heather Burt is a weekend adventurer and constant advocate for getting healthy and active with your dog. Bringing awareness to dog-friendly trails and the benefits of getting out into nature, she documents her ongoing adventures with her ever-active dog, Charlie, on her blog, Hiking With Heather. She is also enrolled in a program to become a pet nutritionist and bakes healthy dog treats for her side business, Kanine Kitchen. 

Thu, 22 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/homemade-dog-food-benefits-pet-nutrition-canine-ancestral-diet