Confessions | Confessions Confessions en-us Wed, 21 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 Wed, 21 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 Orion <![CDATA[Does Your Dog Like to Hug You?]]> From time to time when I come home after work or shopping, Trucker is so happy to see me that he blocks my way, sits patiently, and puts his front paws up like he's begging.

I stop to acknowledge him, and he places those paws on my thighs as I bend down. He leaves them there, demanding what I have learned is a hug.

I wrap my arms around him and tell him, "I love you." He then bounces on happily fulfilled.

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Trucker gets his requested hug.

I adopted Trucker at age five. This touching act of hugging initially shocked me and brought tears to my eyes. I still wonder if he learned it before he met me or simply developed the action based on how often I hug him. I hug him when he sleeps, when he stands, when he eats, whenever I get the chance.

The first time I cried in his presence, he trotted to me, put his front paws up on me, and sniffed my face wanting to comfort me. I was so touched that I cried harder. I told him, "Thank you. I love you, too."

One evening when I was working at my desk, I sniffed a couple of times, and Trucker, who was lying on my bed in an adjoining room, quickly raised his head and watched me from a distance. I could tell he was assessing if he should come in to comfort me. I waved to him and said, "I love you," and he watched me until he was sure I was okay.

His love and desire to hug doesn't stop with me.

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Trucker likes to hug my friends, too.

A friend visited our home one evening and started to cry over a family situation. Trucker rushed to her, and with his long-legged, long-bodied self, stood on his hind legs and put his front paws on her chest. She embraced him in tears as he embraced her. When he felt she was consoled, he stood beside her.

On a visit to a pet supply store, Trucker began pulling me with his leash. I noticed that a young boy was approaching and Trucker wanted to greet him. He abruptly sat in front of the boy, put his front paws up and rested them on the boy's shoulders. The boy laughed as I told him, "He just wants to hug you." They embraced. The boy laughed, and then they parted. The scene made me tear up.

A neighbor who babysits Trucker has learned to accept his hugs. She is petite, and Trucker's front paws can reach way above her head if he stands on his hind legs in front of her. He's managed to semi-delicately place them on her chest or shoulders as she tells him, "I love you, too." Often he speaks to her over our chain-link fence, his paws towering over the fence top and plopping against her shoulders.

Recently another neighbor stopped to visit as Trucker and I were in our front yard. She owns a little Terrier named Jack who is the same age as Trucker and came from the same shelter.

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Trucker gets a birthday hug.

As she talked to me about a past dog she owned who had died, she started to cry. When her voice faltered, Trucker trotted to her, stood in front of her, and raised up on his hind legs to put his front paws on her chest. A petite senior, she was startled, yet laughed and hugged him back. He left dirty paw prints on her white jacket and went back to playing with Jack.

I recently came across an article about hugging your dog on the Mother Nature Network. In the story, titled "Why dogs don't like to be hugged," a certified applied animal behaviorist noted that dogs, in general, do not like to be hugged and most assuredly would not hug back.

Hugs, the behaviorist said, show assertion of dominance, go against their social instincts as a species, and, in general, on a "hugging like-dislike scale," dogs skews toward "dislike" when it comes to hugs.

An April 24, 2013, story on Dogster by dog behaviorist Melissa Berryman also covered the topic of dogs and hugs. In it, the author stressed that dogs do not say "I love you" with hugs and that we also shouldn't hug them. The story generated more than 150 comments as readers debated the topic.

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Trucker and I are firmly in the pro-hug camp.

While some dogs may shy away from human hugs, Trucker loves to be embraced. Perhaps it's similar to his love for being wrapped in blankets when he sleeps and sometimes an anti-anxiety shirt when it storms.

After being discarded multiple times in his first five years of life, he seems to show thankfulness by returning hugs to people.

For humans, hugs can be healing when it comes to illness, anxiety, stress, loneliness, and depression. The act of hugging builds trust, relaxes muscles, and teaches us about love of self and others.

Trucker seems to know this. Hugging is another mysterious, beautiful, unique aspect of his personality that makes me, and others, smile.

Does your dog like to hug? Tell us about it in the comments!

Read more about life with Trucker by Tracy Ahrens:

About the author: Tracy Ahrens is a veteran journalist, author of Raising My Furry Children, artist, and mom to three rescued cats and one dog. Read more of her work at and

Wed, 21 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/hugging-dogs-dog-behavior
<![CDATA[6 Reasons Big Dogs Are Simply the Best]]> As a dog sitter, I have experienced the love, and wrath, of every size dog you can imagine. My dog, Riggins, is everything to me. I just can't imagine that my big dog would have given me the same amount of comfort over the years if he were small.

It's not that I don't like small dogs. I do. It's no secret that if I had a little dog, I'd take him everywhere with me, tucked away in a giant purse. Poor thing. Just imagine how tortured he would be! Even so, when it comes to hugs, comfort, and overall goofy happiness, I pick big dogs.

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Jax, Huxley, and Hank are examples of sweet big dogs. (All photos by Wendy Newell unless noted)

First, let's define "big dogs." Those who own giant pups who easily tower over their owners when standing on their back legs will mock me for saying my pup is big. I'll give them that. They are at a whole other level of big dog love! For this article, let's define "big dogs" as those pups who are too big to be lap dogs, but usually try to be anyway!

Here is why I think big dogs are the best:

1. Hugs

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My brother-in-law giving his family pup, Captain Shadow, a big ol' hug!

Don't hug a dog. That is one of the top rules of dog-human interaction. Understandably, the dog can see this move as aggressive and react accordingly. 

I ignore this rule daily. I hug my dog, your dog, any dog big enough to take on my snuggle is fair game! Little dogs just don't have the heft to take on a Wendy tackle-hug. I dog sit a gentle giant named Clover. She is half Golden Retriever and half Direwolf. OK, maybe not Direwolf, but something huge, that's for sure. Clover spends a lot of her time lying in my hall, and I usually have to step over her when I go from room to room. Sometimes I just can't control myself and lie down next to her for a snuggle. She is the perfect body pillow!

2. Protection

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Huxley shows you why you shouldn't mess with him! Actually he was just waiting for me to throw a stick.

I live in a not-so-great area of Los Angeles, and yet I never feel unsafe. Why? Because my neighborhood is scared to death of my big black dog. If you come near the house, he will unleash a chesty, deep, earth-moving bark that will make you shake in your boots. We have a delivery man who won't even come close if the front door is open -- I've seen him toss a package and run. Would-be intruders don't need to know that once they make it inside, Riggins will happily let them hang out and even show them to the treat cabinet, just in case that is what they were looking for.  

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Don't mess with me. I'm walking the big dogs!

I have been out walking my black dog, a Pit mix, and a German Shepherd and have received the comment, "No one is going to mess with you." Little did the person know that the dog who would most likely cause them harm was the Chihuahua tucked into the dog carrier over my shoulder.

3. Warmth

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Luna takes being a big-dog lap blanket very seriously.

I don't care how big a dog is, he still thinks he is a lapdog. My pup will sit on the sofa and lay his body across my lap. I have no need for a lap blanket. I have a living, breathing portable heater!

4. Heroes

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Bill Queitsch along with Explosive Detection Dog CWD Carlo and American Humane Association's 2013 Military Hero Dog (yellow lab) and other 4 legged military heros. Photo courtesy of CWD Carlo's Facebook page.

Look at the breeds that we label as "heroes" because of their actions and training. Of the eight finalists in the American Humane Association 2014 Hero Dog Awards, seven are "big dogs." 

The National Association for Search and Rescue says that large dogs in the working and sporting groups are often the best suited for the task of picking up a scent and tracking it over possible harsh terrain. I've hiked with enough small dogs to tell you that most poop out long before their bigger counterparts. Often, when out on a trail, I have to help a small pup up a big rock because it just is too high for little legs to jump over. You don't want your search and rescue dog to be stopped by a boulder! To be fair to small dogs, though, super big dogs aren't great choices for the work, either. Would you like to hoist a 200-pound Mastiff into a helicopter?

5. Personal dietitian

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Asscher shows it's no problem at all to get food and water when she needs it. Even from a horse trough.

Nothing says big dog like having your sandwich disappear off the counter when you turn around to put the mayonnaise back into the refrigerator. I once had two large Subway sandwiches on my counter that I was in the process of wrapping up and placing in a picnic basket, when one disappeared after Riggins strolled into the kitchen. I had to call my folks, who were relying on me for our sandwiches, and tell them we would be splitting a tuna fish salad sandwich three ways, as the turkey sandwich no longer existed. The same can be said about a container of shredded chicken, numerous peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, apple slices, and some yogurt covered raisins that earned my pup a very expensive trip to the vet, just to name a few.

You may be wondering how this is a good thing. If he eats that stuff, then you can't. It's the perfect diet! Once your dog is big enough to table surf, you can consider your diet started!

6. Smiles

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Clover, my personal body pillow, smiles big for the camera.

The bigger the dog, the bigger their smile!

As Parks and Recreation's Ron Swanson eloquently said, "Any dog under 50 pounds is a cat, and cats are useless." Don't get angry with me! He said it.

What about you? Do you love big dogs? Tell us why in the comments!

Read more about Riggins and dog sitting 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 poop, sacrificing her bed, and with other furry 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, 20 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/big-dogs-better-than-little-dogs-large-dog-breeds-
<![CDATA[Has Grief for a Dog Who Died Ever Overwhelmed You?]]> As I buried my face in his thick, furry neck, I felt my dog take his very last breath. Hugo, my beautiful 14-year-old German Shepherd, was gone. Lying with him in his bed, spooning his now motionless body, I sobbed with an intensity that shook me deeply. I realized I was crying harder than I had in years, my grief so intense, it felt as if a part of me had been clawed out and torn away.

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The author with her beloved Hugo.

Hugo was the first dog I'd raised from cradle to grave. I had had other dogs before him, but what I had with Hugo was different. He was born the night my father died, so I somehow imagined he had come into my life to watch over me. Intensely challenging to raise, fear aggressive from an early age, and overly protective of me at times, Hugo forced me to become a more patient, compassionate person, to work with his issues but to also accept him for who he was. He was my baby, and I was his mom. He saw me through some very difficult and tumultuous times, and he was a constant, steady presence in my life, always there to lick away my tears. I adored him, and in return he gave me his undying loyalty and devotion.

But now here I was, holding Hugo's old, crippled body in my arms and showering his grizzled head with tears and kisses, remembering when only 14 years ago I had taken that fuzzy little sable puppy in my arms for the first time and declared, "He's perfect!" Because he was.

As his body began to grow cold and we waited for the pet crematory funeral director to arrive, it dawned on me that the depth of my sadness far surpassed anything I had felt when my human friends had died. In fact, I had just lost a close girlfriend the month before to cancer, yet I had not felt this level of grief. Was there something wrong with me, or was I experiencing something akin to what one might feel when losing a child?

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Young Hugo and his mommy.

Bewildered and curious about this phenomenon, I later consulted my friend Betty Carmack, author of Grieving the Death of a Pet and pet-loss support-group counselor at the San Francisco SPCA, a volunteer position she had recently retired from after 32 years.

No, I wasn't weird, she said. In fact, my feelings were far from uncommon.

"That was a theme I heard consistently in my group, that people were grieving more for their pet than they ever did for their parents, sibling, or friend, that the grief they felt for their animal was like no other grief," Betty said. "That’s because of the relationship we have with our animals -- it's unconditional love, it's deep, and it doesn't carry all the baggage that human relationships carry. Then there's that loving, that mothering, that caregiving that people do for their animals. I heard people say all the time: 'She was like my baby, she was like my child.'"

During the holiday season, I missed Hugo so terribly. I longed to be in his magnificent presence, to laugh at his silly antics, to feel those lion eyes watching my every move. Yes, I had my three other dogs to fawn over and adore, but the house wasn't the same. My husband, friends, and family were so kind and understanding, and I was surrounded by love, compassion, and gestures of caring. Yet I ached.

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Hugo being his silly self.

And then a little nagging thought began to cloud my mind: Had I done everything I could for my boy, who had suffered from terrible, debilitating arthritis in his last year? I thought I had followed every medical, natural, and pharmaceutical protocol known to man, but was there something else I could have done?

Betty assured me that these moments of self-doubt and guilt are also very common for people, especially when their pets have died from illness or old age.

"Some people would come to the group questioning themselves and thinking that maybe they didn't do enough or didn't do as well for their animal as they could have," Betty said. "But when they would tell their story about what they did do for their animal, people would say to them, 'You did so much for him' or 'He was so lucky to have you, that you loved him that much.'"

"To get that kind of feedback and support was so comforting and healing for people going through those kinds of difficult feelings," Betty said.

While I had enough support at home to help me through my grief, I could see the incredible value in joining a group like Betty's to work through the roller coaster of emotions I was experiencing. I felt so grateful for the people my life who understood and could relate to my pain, imagining how terrible it would be that if instead of sympathetic eyes and warm hugs I had been met with blank stares or, even worse, comments like, "Well, can't you just go get another dog?"

What would I have done then?

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The author on a road trip with her dogs, Chloe Bear (left) and Hugo (right).

Betty reminded me that while Western society has definitely come a long way when it comes to acknowledging the significance of losing a pet, there are still those who don't understand how deep and intense that pain can be, and as a result they may trivialize those feelings.

"That can be part of the sadness, when someone negates a relationship that was so vitally important to you," Betty said. "I would always tell people to only put their grief out where they know it's going to be respected and treated tenderly, because it's too private and too personal to let it get trampled on. I would then encourage them to find that one person, that one friend with whom they could share their feelings, someone who would respect and honor their grief."

Here are some other helpful suggestions Betty shared with me for coping with my pain:

  • Be compassionate, loving, and gentle with yourself. You just experienced a major loss and have every right to be upset and to grieve, for as long as it takes to heal.
  • Allow yourself to feel your emotions -- the good, bad, and ugly. Acknowledging your feelings will help you process the loss, so if you're angry about your dog's death, let yourself vent those frustrations.
  • Cherish the warm and funny memories. Remember when your dog did something naughty or silly and let yourself laugh. Laughter can be extremely healing!
  • Memorials, rituals, and tributes are great ways to honor your dog and work through your grief. Put together a photo album or scrapbook, journal about your dog, write poetry and songs, create a memory garden. Many pet crematories and cemeteries offer myriad services and products to help comfort pet owners, including online forums where people can make tributes as well as beautiful urns, keepsakes, and jewelry to hold pet remains.
  • If you're finding it difficult to move through your grief, consider finding a pet loss support group, online chat room, or a counselor. You don't have to go through this alone. There are numerous groups, hotlines, online sites, and books available to help validate your feelings and guide you through your pain.

Two months later, I am still hurting over the loss of my Hugo, but I am finding ways to honor his memory and focus mostly on the good times we shared. I still look for him in the house at times, thinking he's right there next to me, eager to give me kisses and whining for my attention. To me, he was a person in a dog suit, a special being who opened my heart as it has never been opened before. Because of Hugo, I know I am forever changed for the better. 

Have you ever experienced the loss of a pet and felt the way I did? Share your experiences in the comments.

Read more about grieving for pets on Dogster:

About the author: Lisa Plummer Savas is a freelance writer, journalist, devoted dog mom, and animal activist. In an effort to help make the world a more compassionate place for non-human species, she is especially focused on using her writing to spread awareness about controversial animal welfare issues, including the dog and cat meat trade in Asia and Africa. She lives in Atlanta with two spoiled German Shepherds, one very entitled Pug, and a very patient, understanding husband. Read more of her work.

Fri, 16 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/pet-dog-death-loss-grief-mourning-support-groups-pet-memorials
<![CDATA[6 Things I've Gained Through Animal Rescue]]> I recently wrote about the sacrifices I've made through my involvement in animal rescue, but here I'm going to share the things I've gained, which, of course, trump the sacrifices, or else I wouldn't do it.

It wasn't until my mid-30s that I got involved in animal rescue, after a dream I had about a cat, which prompted my first adoption, a kitty named Miko, from Seattle Humane Society. We later adopted a couple of companion kitties for him. Then my teenaged daughter, Zinnia, and I started to volunteer at Regional Animal Services of King County, where we became a foster family. And that led to the adoption of two dogs. And a couple of cats. We are currently fostering a white Pit Bull mix, Crystal. She has leash aggression and can be a bit of a handful when she sees other dogs out in public, which I also recently wrote about.  

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Our foster dog, Crystal. (All photos by Kezia Willingham)

Today, I have a house full of animals and no longer volunteer at the shelter, but my passion for animal rescue has not subsided. Writing for Catster and Dogster is perhaps one of the greatest highlights of becoming involved in rescue -- and something I would never have imagined doing a few years ago.

Now on to what I've gained through animal rescue:

1. My animals provide companionship  

This is the first thing that comes to mind. Inevitably, there is a kitty sitting next to me as I type on my laptop. In fact, I am never truly alone because I have many furry friends to keep me constant company. 

There is something special about the time I spend with my felines -- the quiet camaraderie that is not found anywhere else. I love cats and dogs equally in different ways. I cherish my early morning time with my cats, but one of my favorite things about having dogs is walking them. My dogs love to follow me around wherever I go, and I believe they love their walks as much as I do. My kids and I definitely feel more safe walking, and living, with a dog pack.

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Daisy on her first day at our house.

While my cats will come visit me when the circumstances are just right, my dogs always want to be right next to me. And I can't help but enjoy their eager company. I am thankful for the companionship I feel with both my cats and dogs. 

2. They inspire me 

My animals inspire me to work hard to care for them. I didn't have animals as a kid or young adult, so I've had a steep learning curve over the last few years. I've had to learn everything, from how to feed and groom them to how to crate train. I like learning, and my animals provide me with the opportunity to continuously learn and grow as a person. And trust me, there is NEVER a dull moment when you live with a pack of rescued animals!

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Having so many rescue animals, including May Belle, really inspires me to work hard to give them a great life.

3. My dogs and cats bring me and my kids joy

Perhaps this is one of the quintessential aspects of having companion animals in your life -- such a sense of joy! The pleasure gained from simply gazing at them, sitting with them, and observing their crazy antics! Even better is witnessing my children interact with them lovingly. One of the things that makes me happiest is the connection my children have with our animals. I feel blessed that they get to grow up with animals and learn to feel comfortable with them from an early age (in the case of my son). I was very scared of dogs for most of my life, so I am pleased that my children do not share this fear. Nothing melts my heart more than seeing my kids cuddled up together, surrounded by our animals.

4. They show me what loyalty means 

Friends come and go from your life. Partners may leave. Family members get busy, or maybe they marry people who don't like you so you don't see them as often. But if you bring an animal into your home and provide a loving environment, you will experience no greater sense of loyalty. This is true for both cats and dogs, in my opinion. Felines demonstrate their loyalty more quietly than canines, but both will stay by your side in a way that no human ever will. I was estranged from my father for most of my life. Then he died before we ever got a chance to reconcile. He never met his grandchildren or saw me graduate from college. I'll tell you, there is nothing quite like the pain of never having closure with someone as significant in your life as a parent.  

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My son, Justin, and my daughter, Zinnia, with our dogs Daisy, Lilly, and May Belle.

5. My animals bring me true inner peace

Some people do yoga, meditate, or go to the spa to feel centered. I find my sense of inner peace when I allow myself to relax and enjoy a moment with my cats and dogs. One of my most favorite, peaceful activities is to settle down in bed with my pets around me. Usually when I come home, my dogs get really excited and run around crazily trying to get my attention. But after they get that out of their system, they settle down all around me and my kids. The cats choose to surround me early in the morning when the dogs are still asleep. But every now and then I'll have a couple of cats and all the dogs, and it feels perfect!

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Daisy on the couch.

6. They give me a sense of giving back

When you bring a formerly abused, abandoned, or lost animal into your home, they are initially unsure of their place. But slowly, day after day, they start to learn that they are warm and safe. They learn they will be fed every day. They learn that there are people who enjoy their presence in their lives. 

All of my animals are rescues, but my dog Daisy is the only one who showed obvious signs of past abuse. At first, Daisy winced whenever we tried to reach for her. She did not know how to go to the bathroom like most dogs -- it would just fall out of her. Daisy carried herself as though she was constantly fearful. 

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May Belle loves to curl up with the humans who love her.

A year later, Daisy is the biggest cuddle bug in the entire household. She loves nothing better than to curl up next to you while you watch TV, take a nap, or whatever. She now knows how to go potty outside and also inside on pads. And I love to see her defend herself when May Belle is trying to bully her. There is something to be said for witnessing a living creature gain the confidence she lacked.

Animal rescue requires a lot of work. But it also pays huge dividends. Becoming involved in animal rescue has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life, and for that I am grateful. 

What about you?  What would you add to this list? Tell us what you gained through animal rescue in the comments!

Read more by Kezia Willingham:

About the author: Kezia Willingham is a Breadwinning Laundry Queen who works as a Health Coordinator for Head Start. She is a regular contributor to Catster and Dogster. Her writing has appeared in Literary Mama, The New York Times, The Seattle Times, and multiple anthologies. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, which includes a number of rescued cats and dogs. You can follow her on Twitter.

Wed, 14 Jan 2015 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/animal-rescue-adoption-fostering-benefits
<![CDATA[5 Tips for Walking Your Dog in Wet Weather]]> I live in Southern California and have my entire life, so the fact that I dare to offer advice on how to walk a dog in inclement weather is comical. It's in the mid-50s right now, and I'm writing this while wearing faux-UGGs and a down jacket. My guess is that many people in other parts of the country would be in shorts and flip-flops at this temperature.

I am a professional dog sitter, though. That means during rain, hail, sleet, or snow (but mostly sunny or slightly cloudy days), I'm walking dogs. Recently, Los Angeles has been hit with a couple of systems that dropped wet stuff all over the place. Our local news was on high storm-watch alert (rain around here leads the news). It was raining, and here I was with five energy-filled dogs ready to head out into the storm. So out into the storm we went. In celebration of National Walk Your Dog Month, here's what I learned:

1. Don't do it

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Riggins is perfectly happy staying inside and playing with his toys. (All photos by Wendy Newell unless otherwise noted)

Just don't. There. I believe I have finished writing this story. Stay at home and play games with your pup instead, taking quick potty breaks outside, of course. Hide-and-seek or treat puzzles are a good way to work off extra energy without having to mess up your hair.

2. If you must go out, hit the dog park

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Wet and muddy dog park friends.

It takes me a long time to wear my dogs out on a regular ol' walk. They are used to hiking and running, often off-leash. To limit the time I have to spend out, I swap out a walk for some time at the dog park. The good thing about going to the dog park when it's raining or otherwise miserable out is that you will be one of the only people there. The bad thing is you can almost guarantee your pup is going to get muddy. Bring towels to wipe off as much dirt and water as possible and to keep your car from getting too dirty. When you get home, be ready to do a quick rinse in the backyard before heading inside.

3. Gear up

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Young couple walking a dog in the rain by

The only reason I own galoshes is for walking my dog. I feel like umbrellas are pretty useless when you're trying to walk dogs AND keep the umbrella from becoming a flying projectile and stabbing a neighbor, so I leave mine at home. Instead, I layer up and add a rain poncho draped stylishly over myself.

Riggins, my dog, has a raincoat, which a nice older couple gave us one day when we were out running in the rain. Their pup had recently passed away, and they thought Riggins would like it. They were wrong. Riggins does not like it. I think, if given the ability, almost any dog would tell you that a raincoat is more trouble than it's worth.

If you have a pup who will let you cover him in a raincoat and boots, go for it. If you don't, think about visibility instead and cover yourself and your dog with as many reflective strips and blinky lights as possible. When Riggins was young and we ran daily, I made him a doggie reflective vest out of a human one. If you're fancy, you can just purchase a dog reflective vest instead of crafting your own. Either way, the more visible you can be to traffic and to other humans out and about when the weather is bad, the better.

4. Skip busy streets

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Riggins, Asscher, and Sadie stroll along a park path.

There are two types of dogs: Those who love water and will happily pounce in every puddle they can find, and those who think water is liquid sent by the devil himself. Either way, a car driving by and splashing water or slush on you and your pup is going to cause anxiety for everyone. Try to stay off busy streets. The first time I took Riggins for a walk on the street we live on now (which is busy even for Los Angeles) and water sprayed up at him from a passing car, I had to work hard to keep him calm. He was very close to backing out of his walking halter and taking off. Now our rain walk is another route, where there is little traffic and lots of space.

5. Finish strong

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Run Shadow! We need to get off this hill before the rain starts.

When I'm coming to the end of a wet-weather adventure, all I can think about is the hot bath I will be taking, preferably with a good book and a glass of wine. It's a real bummer when I realize my job isn't over yet and that the "clean and dry" portion of the walk is about to begin. To make this as easy on you as possible, prep your entry area. Inside your door, have a big, washable rug and a basket of dog towels. You may also want to bring the hair dryer into this area. When you get home, get all the cleaning done and the warm-up process started without tracking gunk in to the rest of your home.

But let's face it: If at all possible, just stick to tip No. 1.

What do you do to make a walk in inclement weather more manageable? Let us know in the comments below.

Read more about dog walking:

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.

Mon, 12 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/tips-walking-dog-rain-sleet-snow
<![CDATA[An Open Letter to Jack's Previous Owner on His Last Day Alive]]> Italian Greyhounds are my "heart dog," as cheesy as the phrase sounds. They're that breed you encounter at some point in life and know instantly you can't live without. There's just something about them -- the way they prance, lighter than air. The knack they have for burrowing beneath blankets without needing any help. The way they dance with each other, paws on shoulders, when they meet. The way they are Velcro dogs in every sense of the word and always want you in their sight.

It breaks my heart when I read stories about any dog being abandoned or distressed, but that happens doubly so when an IG is involved. Perhaps because I know how fragile they are, how sweet their dispositions can be. There is a special place in hell for people willing to break that spirit. 

I follow several breed-specific groups online, and through one of them encountered the story of Jack last year. I've been meaning to share it with you for quite some time. I read it with tears in my eyes from the first paragraph onward, and felt it was an incredible reminder that senior dogs -- of all breeds -- need our love. Contrary to the "free dog" posts that hit Craigslist every day, they are NOT trash, and they deserve to go to the bridge knowing they mattered.

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Jack enjoying the sunshine. (All photos courtesy of Heidi Wagner)

Grab a tissue, and please read this note posted by Heidi Wagner, who took Jack in when others would not. She runs Boxer Butts & Other Mutts, a rescue based in North Carolina, and has her hands full, but she still managed to make the end of his life special. The world needs more people like you, Heidi.


To Jack's Previous Owner:

I held your dog today as he took his last breath -- wrapped in his favorite blanket and in his favorite cuddly bed with my tears falling on his little face, reminding him that I will always love him.

His name was Jack, and you dumped him, a 16-year-old blind and deaf dog, at the shelter because he was having accidents in your house. My heart was not ready to take another senior in, but I saw his face and knew I had to help him, as his life had been turned upside-down.

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Sweet Jack.

Did you ever stop to think about how scared he must have been when you left him at that shelter, only able to smell all the terrible smells? We got him out of there the same day you dropped him off. He was scared and confused when I got him, but it did not take him long to realize he was going to be okay.

He was too frail, too skinny, anemic, had a horrible eye infection, and an oral infection around the only tooth he had left, along with terrible arthritis. We treated everything, and while always frail, he enjoyed his cuddle time and the sunshine on his face.

Once he started feeling better, his appetite was great. He would eat at least every two hours and would let you know when he was ready for his food. I would have fed him every two hours for years if that was what he wanted. I was blessed to have him in my life for two months and five days. In that short amount of time, he helped heal my heart.

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Jack cuddling with blankets, as Italian Greyhounds do.

I needed him as much as he needed me. So, though it makes me sad and angry that you could so easily dump your 16-year-old dog at the shelter, I wanted to thank you, because I was beyond blessed to be part of this amazing little dog's life.

Over the past few weeks, he had started to slow down, and today he let me know that he was done fighting and he could no longer get up. With tears in our eyes, my daughter and I took him to the vet's office. We said our goodbyes and held him until he took his last breath. He did not die alone and scared in the shelter that you dumped him at. He lived a life filled with love and comfort and was reminded every day how much his little life mattered and how much he was loved.

Rest in peace, my sweet little Jack. Your little paw prints will forever be etched in my heart.

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Jack outside.

Read related stories on Dogster:

About the author: Janine is your typical annoying Aries overachiever with nine human siblings and a soft spot for sighthounds. She is a tattoo collector, tea drinker, and unabashedly into marshmallows and cheesy musicals. She was formerly editor-in-chief of Dogster and Catster and is now the executive editorial director for their parent company, I-5 Publishing.

Thu, 08 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-rescue-adoption-open-letter-jack-italian-greyhound
<![CDATA[10 Things I've Learned From Watching "Pit Bulls & Parolees"]]> Animal Planet's Pit Bulls & Parolees is one of my favorite TV shows. I'm very into animal rescue, and I like the work that Tia Torres and her family do with the Villalobos Rescue Center. Recently, I realized that I've learned a number of important lessons while watching this series.

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The cast of Pit Bulls & Parolees. (Photo courtesy of Animal Planet.)

1. Life is hard

Okay, I already knew this, but sometimes it's easy to think life is harder for me than for other people. Everyone on Pit Bulls & Parolees has been through difficult things in life. And most of the rescued dogs have been through horrible experiences. This TV show does not avoid the reality that life has very challenging moments.

2. Rescue is best done as a family affair

Torres involves her children -- daughters Tania and Mariah and sons Kanani and Keli'i -- in her rescue work. They are key players in pulling off successful rescues, and each one has different talents and strengths.

3. Rescue is a way of life

There are those who see animal rescue as a way of life, not just a casual occurrence. This is clearly the case on Pit Bulls & Parolees. Tia and her family are working with the animals all day, every day. They carry the supplies they need in their vehicles and are always prepared to help an animal, whenever the situation arises.

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Torres enlists the help of her two daughters, Tania and Mariah, in the rescue work she does. (Photo courtesy of Animal Planet.)

4. Life doesn't always happen as planned

Sometimes I think there is a conspiracy to prevent me from really getting ahead financially. One thing I have seen on this show is that most people face a variety of unexpected challenges.

5. Even if you're famous and do good things, bad things can happen 

The thing that really drove this home for me was when Torres got really excited to move her rescue to Tehachapi, California. It was a special place she wanted to share with her dogs and family. But not long after she got there, her new neighbors objected to the rescue and basically forced them out. It's easy to think that famous people don't have to deal with challenges of this nature. It's not always an accurate assumption, though.

6. Yet, if you keep at it, things work out

Not knowing what else to do, Tia moved her rescue to New Orleans. Villalobos Rescue Center has been very successful in the city and has drawn a lot of attention to the numerous animals in need there. If Torres hadn't been forced out of her dream sanctuary, she would not have found the success she has in New Orleans and helped all of those dogs there.

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Mariah pulls puppies out of an abandoned house covered in mold. (Photo courtesy of Animal Planet.)

7.  Try your hardest every day

I don't doubt that Torres and her family members feel like there's simply too much work to do when they wake up every morning. But we see them working hard and giving it their all on a regular basis, like in the episode where Torres gives CPR to a little puppy who died in her arms as she tried to breathe life into him. As long as you try your hardest, that’s the best you can do. It's always better than doing nothing.

8. It takes many people to make a rescue successful

From those who call in reports of an animal in need, to those who transport animals, to the ones who clean kennels every day, many people are involved in making animal rescue a successful endeavor.

9. I really want Torres to write a memoir

Torres has lived a fascinating life. I hope one day she will write about it. She's raised at least four kids primarily on her own, started a rescue that has become one of the best known in the country, gets to wear a T-shirt and jeans to work every day, and has managed a marriage while her husband is incarcerated. Torres has guts and is not afraid to walk her own path. These are qualities I always admire.

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(Photo courtesy of the Pit Bull & Parolees Facebook page.)

10. Sometimes people -- and dogs -- need second chances

One of my favorite things about Pit Bulls & Parolees is that we get to witness second chances for both animals and people. I was once married to a felon, and I know how hard it can be for them to find legitimate work and housing, even years after a conviction. Torres gives those who need a second chance an opportunity to redeem themselves while doing work that is meaningful. I think one of my favorite moments from the show was seeing Earl become a homeowner. He is one of my favorites, and I have a soft spot in my heart for him. So it was great to see his years of hard work pay off!

Read related stories on Dogster:

About the author: Kezia Willingham is a Breadwinning Laundry Queen who works as a Health Coordinator for Head Start. She is a regular contributor to Catster and Dogster. Her writing has appeared in Literary Mama, The New York Times, The Seattle Times, and multiple anthologies. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, which includes a number of rescued cats and dogs. You can follow her on Twitter.

Wed, 17 Dec 2014 08:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/pitbulls-parolees-animal-planet-tia-torres-animal-dog-rescue-adoption
<![CDATA[Have You Ever Had a Dog With a Hard-to-Explain Quality? ]]> I recently visited my mom. I had not seen her for several months; we have always lived in different parts of the country. I was in her kitchen and was drawn to this amazing piece of artwork on her kitchen wall. It stirred up all kinds of memories.

The tile was painted by a talented artist and friend of our family, Julie Delton, as a gift for my mom. It's a depiction of my brother's dog, Diego, who passed away at age 17 last year. Diego was an unusual dog -- elegant, quirky, serious, and funny, all at once. We all loved him, though it was hard to pinpoint why. He was totally devoted to my brother, Paul, and my mother also adored him.

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A depiction of Diego on a large tile, by Julie Delton.

My brother and his partner adopted Diego from the amazing San Francisco SPCA. I'd been there once and marveled at the facilities. Not much was known about his prior life, though it seemed he had some issues and possible trauma in the past. Paul freely admits that he was attracted by Diego's looks.

When they first spotted the dog, Diego was posed in such an elegant, unusual way that my brother was riveted. Paul is a visual, artistic person. In this shelter, each dog had a room to himself. Diego was inadvertently posing on a settee, with one long leg extending down off the sofa, the other leg crossed. "Such a beauty," said Paul.

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An older Diego under the blanket.

Paul and his partner walked the dog with two shelter volunteers -- a man and a woman -- but Diego seemed more interested in the woman than the other three men in the group. Paul and his partner went away to consider. They returned another day and walked again with Diego and another volunteer. They adopted the dog that day, and the bond between Diego and Paul would grow slowly and deeply over time. Diego was estimated to be two to four years old, though no one was precisely sure about his age. The shelter suspected he was a Greyhound-smooth Collie mix.

Paul discovered that Diego had some good behaviors, and not too many troubling ones. He took advantage of the free basic-training classes that the SFSPCA offered. The thing that became apparent over time was that Diego had a much different relationship with Paul than with anyone else.

He would play with Paul's partner or Paul's friends, but not so much with Paul. If a friend mock-attacked Paul, Diego would bark at Paul and not the friend. (I will be the first to admit that we are not dog experts in my family, so I am not sure what was going on in this case.) But he was extremely tuned into Paul. He always watched Paul intently. If Paul gave one command ("no begging," for example), that was all it took. Diego would do what ever Paul wanted, instantly.

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The beach is the best!

Diego was lucky to live in a dog town like San Francisco. Paul lived a few blocks from a great park, which had a sizable dog area where they could run free and play. I have great memories of visiting my brother and going with him and Diego to the park. There was nothing more joyful than watching Diego run, and he was well trained enough to be trusted off-leash. At any instant, he would come when called.

I think my brother loved Diego precisely because he wasn't a typical dog, whatever that is. In Paul's words, Diego was less a "dog dog" and more a serious "guard dog." He did have a bark that would make you think twice about coming through the door until he recognized you. But once he loved you, that never changed. And that bond was most strong with Paul.

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Smiling Diego.

My mom adored Diego. While Paul was at work, she would take Diego for walks and rides around the city. She loved to take him to Golden Gate Park and have a picnic. Many strangers stopped to admire Diego. I've often had that experience in San Francisco -- there are so many dogs that strangers often stop to admire each other's dogs. The dogs are a social icebreaker and a fun one.

Diego was also absolutely crazy about going to the beach. One whiff of the ocean air, and he was excited to get out of the car and get onto the sand. He made many happy trips to Fort Funston and probably met many dogs there.

Diego had a good long life and was my brother's constant companion. His joints gave him trouble as he aged, and his heart had some problems, too. Paul had to make the tough decision to put him to sleep. We all dreaded it -- Diego was a huge part of all our lives, even though I lived far away and hardly got to see him. But in celebratory fashion, my brother made a last-minute call to friends so they could say goodbye on Diego's last day. Many, many people stopped by to pet Diego, hug Paul, share tears and happiness, and tell Diego what a great dog he was. There was a hole in my heart that day, even though I was several states away.

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Diego had a lot of admirers.

My mom told me about one time she had Diego out in public, at a pet store. Diego, it seemed, would lean into her when he wanted to reassure her. "He's a leaner, not a kisser," remarked a knowledgeable employee to my mom. That phrase perfectly described Diego -- not outwardly affectionate in so many ways, but subtly and strongly loving, and completely devoted to my brother.

Have you ever had a dog with a quality that's hard to describe? Share your stories in the comments.

Join the conversation on other Let's Talk topics:

About the Author: Told that she is funny but doesn't know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr, a fantasy novel, and the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time; the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books; and the author of two short -tory collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots, from the city.

Mon, 01 Dec 2014 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-behavior-leaner-not-kisser
<![CDATA[5 Ways I Take Better Care of My Dog Than Myself]]> I'm a single 40-year-old woman living just outside of Los Angeles. My dog, Riggins, is my friend, protector, roommate, and baby boy. Although I like to say that my level of dog crazy is "normal," all signs point to the fact that I'm slightly crazier than I like to admit. One of the ways this is obvious is how I take better care of Riggins than I do myself. Let me give you a few examples:

1. Medicine

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Riggins, my healthy baby boy. All photos by Wendy Newell.

If Riggins needs medicine, he gets it like clockwork. As a nine-year-old, he gets a joint supplement. We hike, so he needs a flea and tick treatment, emphasis on tick. I don't want him to get heartworms, so he is on that medicine as well. Then there are the times that he has been on antibiotics or ear drops or some medicinal salve. Then, of course, there are the vaccines and boosters: rattlesnake, flu, Bordetella, and rabies, just to name a few. As soon as I get a little postcard from the vet telling me Riggins is due for a checkup, I make an appointment.

Me? I've missed my daily pills more than I care to admit to my doctor or mom. I still haven't rescheduled my dental cleaning that was originally set for three months ago, not to mention my annual eye appointment that I was due for in August. 

2. Emergency care

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Riggins doesn't let a little thing like a body bandage stand in his way of dog-park fun.

Recently, Riggins and I were both victims of rambunctious pups and both sported puncture wounds from two separate incidences. We should have been examined by someone with much more medical training than I have. When I realized that Riggins was hurt -- he has really thick black fur that hid the puncture and blood -- I IMMEDIATELY put him in the back of the car and zoomed off to the fanciest dog emergency room in the area.

Me? It just seemed like a lot of work to head to an ER or urgent care center. Instead, I put some hydrogen peroxide on the wound and called it a day. I have the scar to prove I would have been smarter to go get a stitch or two.

3. Insurance and doctor's offices

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Riggins and me.

Riggins' insurance is so much better than mine it's laughable. Not to mention I know all of the vets at his doctor's office, and everyone there knows him. We are greeted with, "Why is Riggins here today?" each time we come though the door. He is the Norm of Foothill Veterinary.

Me? My insurance changes so often I don't even have a primary care physician at the moment.

4. Food

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Riggins knows he has a tasty treat coming his way.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who heads off to the pet store to purchase a big ol' bag of pricey dog food on a regular basis. You know the one that is rarely on sale when I need it to be and whose label I have analyzed in depth, making sure it has a fish-only protein and no grains. Riggins eats like a king!

Me? If it's not on sale or generic, I have a hard time sticking it in my grocery cart, and I just consumed a pack of mini donuts that I'm sure includes a number of ingredients I am unable to pronounce.

5. Lounging comfort

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Riggins slides into his place on the sofa and my lap.

If I'm watching TV and Riggins wants to come sit up on the sofa, I need to move to allow him his spot of choice. Sometimes this means scooting over so he can sit next to me with half his body on my lap (he is a big dog). Sometimes this means me physically getting up and moving to the other side of the sofa because he wants to sit in the warm spot I've made and put his head on the armrest.

The same is true for the human bed. In general, Riggins sleeps in his bed until the early morning. At that point, he wants to come up. If I'm on his side of the bed, he won't budge. He will just sit there and stare at me like a creepy stalker. I have to get up, let the king take his place with his head on the pillow, and then I can get back in and find space around him to lie down.

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"Just five more minutes," begs Riggins.

Last fourth of July, Riggins and I went to my sister's house to be with her family. I slept in my young niece's room. In the unfamiliar location, Riggins came in and joined me earlier than normal. My niece came in, too, and demanded that Riggins and she sleep together in bed, and told me that I would have to move to the foot of the bed if I wanted to remain in the room. Riggins looked at me as if to say, "You heard what she said. Slide down there." So I did.

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My niece and Riggins, BFFs.

Some dog experts, specifically those whose brand depends on them being the pack leader and "whispering" to dogs, would be horrified at how spoiled my pup is. I don't care! Riggins is my baby, and he deserves the very best that I can give him. 

When Riggins was a puppy, I took him to obedience training. I knew the trainer and I would be the best of friends when he explained that he let his dog eat a steak now and then -- cooked just for the pup. He says his dog has a short life compared to us humans, and he should have a treat now and then if he wants it! 

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Always my baby boy.

I agree! Riggins means so much to me that it only seem fair he gets pampered, along with his own personal space on the sofa.

How do you treat your pup better than you? What does he get that you go without? Tell us in the comments.

Read more stories 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.

Mon, 01 Dec 2014 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/veterinary-care-dog-food-pet-insurance
<![CDATA[I Went on a Charity Walk With My Pug -- and He Drove Me Nuts!]]> Volunteering to raise money for an animal shelter by walking four miles -- that's great, right? Getting out, enjoying the fresh air, bringing along your adorable Pug -- that sounds lovely, am I right? The weather is beautiful, the sun is shining, this is going to be so much fun, AM I RIGHT?

What could possibly go wrong with my amazing plan?

Well, let me tell you.

The starting point

Yay! We are starting! I've been looking forward to this for so long. I've got my walking shoes on, I ate a protein- and carbohydrate-balanced diet, and I've got my adorable little Pug at my side. Yay! So much fun!

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Illustration by Anneli Rufus

Quarter of a mile in

Oh, look. A vendor booth. Yay! They are handing out water bottles to the walkers. I like water bottles! Pens? Sure, I'll take a few. Why not? I like pens. Frisbee? Of course I want a Frisbee. I'm walking this walk and would very much like a free Frisbee. Yay! Free stuff!

Half-mile in

I am so smart. This was the best idea ever. I'm walking the walk, the Pug is getting some much-needed exercise, I've got a bag filled with awesome free stuff, and we are raising money! Best. Idea. Ever. I'm so smart, yay!

Three-quarters of a mile in

Pug stops to pee. Okay, no worries, we will just catch up to our group. 

Seriously, come on. They are trees. Just pick one. 

Seriously, I'm not kidding. Just pick one already. 

No, not pick five, pick one. Our entire group has left us.

Two miles in

I'm not sure where my group is, but who cares because I see another vendor table in the distance and it looks like they are handing out flashlights! Come on, little Puggie, let's run -- momma loves flashlights!

Two miles and one-tenth in

Okay, Pug, I know that it took me a minute to pick out the flashlight of my color choice, but it's time to get up now and start walking.

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Illustration by Anneli Rufus

Seriously, get up.

Like seriously, seriously, get up.

Two miles and one-tenth of a tenth of a mile in

Listen, Pug. I can't actually drag you on this leash because not only might it choke you, but people are staring at us, so like you seriously need to get up. Like now. Like right now.

Want a cookie?

Oh good, you're up.

Two and four-tenths of a mile in

Why are you lying down again? We ran like 20 steps, if even that much. You can't possibly be tired already. 

Why are you making snorting noises that sound like you are dying?

Like seriously, why are you breathing like that?

No, really, I did see a cookie over there, I promise. No, not by the tree, on the sidewalk, like a mile away. Right by that big sign that says "Finish." Let's go there. Now.

Oh, you're peeing again; on 11 different trees. Okay, well, can you even see our group anymore? Because I can't. You're the one with the 360-degree eyeballs -- can you see them?

Two and a half miles in

Seriously, where is everyone? Are we even going the right way anymore? I don't see anyone, and I don't see any street markers.

Why are you lying down again? This is no time for a nap, we are LOST, Puggie! We are lost, and everyone is getting to the vendor tables before ME! I want a free T-shirt, and they are going to be all gone! 


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Illustration by Anneli Rufus

Two miles and three-quarters in

Are you happy? Does this make you happy? I don’t care if you are 11 inches tall -- you are HEAVY. I will give in and carry you, but only until we find our group.

Two and three-quarters and three-tenths of a mile in

Whose idea was it to get this stupid water bottle anyways? It's heavy. You're heavy. Your fur is getting in my mouth, and my back hurts. 

Three miles in

I’m putting you down, and as soon as we get home you are going on a diet. This is ridiculous. Did you know you weighed so much? My back hurts, I have your hair in my eyes, and I'm pretty sure you fell asleep for a few minutes in my arms, which are now numb, thank you very much.

Three miles and one-hundredth of a tenth of a mile in

You are peeing again? You are going to the vet tomorrow. This cannot be normal. 

Are you even actually peeing or are you just pretending to pee on all those trees?

Can we puh-leez just get walking!?

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Pug defacating by Shutterstock

Three miles and one-quarter in

Why are you lying down? Seriously, this is not even cool. I am not even kidding. You and I are about to have relationship issues, buddy. Let's just remember who buys the treats in this family, mmmkay?

Still three miles and one-quarter in, but 10 minutes later

Pleeeease, please, please just get up! Please? I’ll buy you a bully stick or a rawhide or a new squeaky teddy just PUH LEEZE get up!?

Three and a half miles in and now accompanied by a bad attitude

I can't believe you. Seriously, I can't believe this. I give you a good home, a place on the couch, a yard. I put booties on your feet when it snows, and I never leave you out of the family Christmas card, and THIS is how you repay me!? Sure there was that one time with the whole neutering thing, but still!

This is a charity walk for YOUR SPECIES, and I'm CARRYING your lazy butt! 


Three and three-quarters of a mile in, still carrying the Pug, who I’m pretty sure is now sleeping

Another vendor table! Who the hell wants all this junk? No, I do not want a stress ball! DO I LOOK LIKE I NEED A FREE STRESS BALL!? In fact, HERE! I’m going to give you a free Frisbee and a free flashlight because who on earth wants to lug all this crap around with them anyways!

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Illustration by Anneli Rufus

Four miles and at the finish line

Well, there you go, Mr. Pug. I hope you are happy. We made it the entire way. We raised $30.

Oh, look, you’re awake. 

Well, aren't you in a good mood? Tail wagging, tongue hanging out?

Why are you looking at me like that?

Oh, hell no, I'm not taking you for a walk, we are going STRAIGHT to the car, buddy. So glad we had all this bonding time together. Now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to go make an emergency chiropractor appointment that will cost me $150. 

Next year I'm just mailing my donation in.

Read more by Eden Strong:

About the author: Eden Strong is a quirky young woman with a love for most animals with fur. She readily admits to living her life completely devoid of most social graces, and so far she's still alive. More of her crazy antics can be read on her blog, It Is Not My Shame to Bear

Thu, 20 Nov 2014 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/charity-walk-pug-dog-humor
<![CDATA[Have You Ever Had an Unconscious Bias Against Pit Bulls?]]> Once upon a time, I was afraid of dogs. All dogs. And when it came to Pit Bulls, I was downright terrified. These fears came about when I was a kid.

I changed after adopting my first cat in 2012. My late-in-life affection for cats eventually developed into a late-in-life affection for dogs. My daughter, Zinnia, and I would visit the dogs in the shelter every time volunteered weekly with the cats. So I guess it was really Zinnia who got me interested in pups, as she had always wanted one.

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May Belle, Lilly, and Daisy with my son, Justin. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

As time passed, I became more and more comfortable around dogs, even the large power breeds, as I visited them in their kennels. I started to learn more about Pit Bulls and the discrimination they face. I read lots of stories about what great pets they can be, in between stories about them mauling people to death.

It didn't take a whole lot more time for me to fancy Pit Bulls as the underdogs of the dog world. Plus, I learned to like the way they looked, and decided I wanted to have one of my own.

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Me with Lilly. (Photo by Zinnia Willingham)

After adopting my four dogs, I also decided I didn't want to foster anymore because I get attached to many of the animals and have a hard time letting them go.

But last month, Lori, my foster coordinator, sent out an email looking for a foster for a large, female, senior Pit Bull mix with skin issues and a history of neglect; she needed long-term care.

I promptly deleted the email, but I kept thinking about that dog over the weekend. So on Monday, I told Lori I could take my dogs to meet her after work, but warned her that my dogs are female and May Belle, in particular, doesn't really like other dogs. Plus, we have cats. So I wasn't sure we would be the best placement. Lori and I made a plan that if no one else took this white Pittie in, then I would bring in May Belle and see if it would be a go (I was fairly sure it would not).

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My daughter, Zinnia, with Crystal the day we brought her home. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

I wouldn't be writing this story if someone else had offered to take the white dog in. Nor would I be writing it if May Belle had freaked out upon meeting her.

For the purposes of this story, I am going to call the white dog Crystal. Due to her history of neglect, with the county intervening, I have been asked not to reveal many details about her past. And honestly, I don't know a whole lot more, except that the circumstances leading to her confiscation would make any Dogster reader sad.

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Crystal sitting on Zinnia’s lap when we got home. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

But as sad as dog rescue may be, it is also full of as many magical and happy stories fueled by kindhearted people willing to do the dirty work so many others would rather not.

Crystal has now been with us for about a month. Her coming to live with us has led me to confront internalized biases I didn't know I had.

Crystal is a large dog. She weighs about 60 pounds and is very strong. In fact, on one of the first walks we took with her, she saw some small, fenced dogs and ran downhill toward them with such vigor that she almost pulled my 17-year-old daughter out into the street.

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Crystal likes the kitty bed even though it’s not quite the right size. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

I grabbed Crystal's leash, and it took most of my strength to pull her in another direction. Plus, she was shrieking like a banshee. I broke out into a sweat, and the only thing I could focus on was getting her, my kids, and my small dogs home.

It was weird because Crystal was fine in our house. She was calm around our Chihuahuas and showed only mild interest in our cats. She did not bark inside the house unless we put her in a crate. Then she would start screaming like she was an old woman being tortured. She kind of sounded like Chewbacca. So we started to call her Chew-Blanca. And she started sleeping in my daughter's bed so the neighbors wouldn't call the authorities.

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Chew-Blanca, happy not to be in her crate. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

The next few times we took Crystal out for a walk, she also became very reactive, pulling, yelping, barking, and screaming when she saw other dogs. One day I looked up "reactive dog" on Dogster and found a bunch of stories.

It turns out there are some dogs who become so excited upon seeing another dog that they cannot control their energy. I think this is Crystal's issue, as she is not aggressive unless another dog comes at her with aggression.

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Crystal off leash in the dog park, which we only do when no one else is there. She loves it. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

I also learned that as a Pit Bull guardian, I would have to take more responsibility than most other dog owners and to expect to be blamed for any harm that could happen.

This is when I started to get scared. There'd been a recent series of news reports in my local paper about Pit Bulls attacking people and small dogs. Would Crystal attack one of my kids, dogs, or cats?

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Justin giving Crystal some love. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

So far she’s shown no interest in harming any one of us, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the attacks I read about in the news. Would these stories poison even a liberal, benevolent-hearted type who doesn’t believe in stereotypes, such as myself?

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Crystal rides with us when we pick my daughter up after work. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

I didn't really like how I felt and how fear had permeated my unconscious thoughts.

I wished I had a partner to help me with my kids and rescue animals. I also thought about returning Crystal to the shelter. But I don't have a partner, and Crystal's age, skin condition, and leash reactivity wouldn't do much for her if she needed to be adopted. 

So I asked Lori if the shelter would pay for me to take a behavior class. These classes are expensive, so I didn't think they would say yes. But they did!

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Crystal hasn’t let me drop her back at the shelter yet. (Selfie by Kezia Willingham)

The shelter also supplied me with a Gentle Leader head harness, which I picked up a few days ago. I will be bringing Crystal to her first behavior class next week, but for the first session, we had to come without our dogs to meet the other people in the class and pick up some training handouts. It was very helpful just having the chance to talk about leash reactivity with other dog owners dealing with the same thing.

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Crystal and Ruby lounging on Zinnia’s lap. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

We were advised to find a coping strategy to help get us through the period until the first class with our dogs. Avoidance of other dogs has been our primary technique when we walk Crystal. This means we often walk her late at night. We also now know which route to take in our neighborhood in order to avoid yards with dogs in them. It's harder to do than I would have previously expected! And every time we see a dog coming, we change direction, making me feel like I am a kid playing some kind of game. It's hard, but it's working.

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Crystal and Nimbus are pals now, too. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

As far as my fear, I have decided to focus on rational, logical thoughts as opposed to the what-ifs. So far, Crystal has made no aggressive moves toward any beings in my house. And she looks at me with the most soulful eyes.

The problem with focusing on a specific breed when reporting on dog attacks is that it creates an inaccurate bias against these dogs and leads to the false belief that one is always safe in the company of other breeds. I hate to admit it, but my Chihuahuas have bitten other people in my own house. Crystal has not.

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I like bringing Crystal with me when I run errands. She is less anxious than my Chihuahuas. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

I don’t like to admit that I have this bias against certain dogs, but I am proud to be working through it.

What about you, readers? Have you ever been scared of a particular breed or size of dog? Have you ever had a leash-reactive dog? Tell us your experiences in the comments!

Read related stories:

About the author: Kezia Willinghamis a Breadwinning Laundry Queen who works as a Health Coordinator for Head Start. She is a regular contributor to Catster and Dogster. Her writing has appeared in Literary Mama, The New York Times, The Seattle Times, and multiple anthologies. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, which includes a number of rescued cats and dogs.You can follow her on Twitter.

Thu, 13 Nov 2014 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/pit-bull-bias-bsl-dog-fostering-adoption
<![CDATA[What Sacrifices Have You Made to Adopt a Dog?]]> I've done a lot of things in my life to get pets. I spent years wearing down my husband and searching for pet-friendly apartments. I've begged, pleaded, and even slightly bent the rules of a rental agreement. I got a mortgage and bought a house with my pets (current and future) in mind.

Over the last 15 months, my husband and I have gone from having no pets to having three furry family members. The two adorable cats came first, and then in July we adopted GhostBuster the Lab mix.

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This picture of GhostBuster and I was taken just after I signed the adoption papers.

Now, I feel like we're ready for a second dog, and my husband is testing just how far I will go to make it happen.

"I'll make you a deal," he said. "You can get another dog if you start eating meat again."

My husband thought his offer was so outrageous that I would never take him up on it, but he underestimated how far I will go to bring home another dog.

Two days after we shook on the deal, I added some chicken wings to our pizza delivery order and chomped down on four pieces of bird. A few days after that, I ordered prime rib at dinner. 

"As rare as you do it," I told the waitress.

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This is as rare as they do it.

My husband felt confident in making the meat deal because he knows how strongly I felt about not eating animals. After all, he was partially responsible for the vow of vegetarianism I took almost two years ago, long before we had animals of our own. We were standing in the kitchen of our tiny basement apartment in Saskatoon (where the upstairs landlords had pets but forbade us to have any), and my husband was holding his phone up in front of me, showing me a video about the dog meat trade.

When the short clip was over, tears were running down my face and splashing onto the cold linoleum. "I don't think I can eat meat again after seeing that," I told him.

I just couldn't wrap my mind around how I could condemn the dog meat trade but continue to eat other intelligent animals.

My husband said he didn't mind if I swapped our meat for legumes as it would shrink our grocery bill a bit, just as long as I didn't complain if he ordered a steak when we went out to eat. He suffered through my veggie-based cooking for many months, and during that time we adopted our Ghost Cat, then Specter the Kitten, and finally, GhostBuster.

With three pets to fill my home and my heart, I thought I was done. Getting a second dog didn't even occur to me during my first few months with GhostBuster, as we were were busy training him. GhostBuster amazes me every day. As his manners have improved, I've started to wonder if we don't have room in our household for another adoptee.

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GhostBuster loves chilling with other doggies.

GhostBuster absolutely loves playing with other dogs, especially youngsters like himself (he's only two). He will frolic with doggy playmates until he's all tuckered out, and then he'll rally and play some more. I would be lying if I said that his love of other dogs wasn't a factor in my wanting to adopt again.

Before the meat deal was on the table, my husband tried to convince me that GhostBuster already had an in-house animal playmate in our kitty, Ghost Cat.

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GhostBuster and Ghost Cat are pals.

While it’s true that Ghost Cat and GhostBuster do love each other and play together often, it's not the same kind of all-out puppy play that GhostBuster engages in with other dogs. He really enjoys the company of other pups (especially smaller ones), and when I look around at all of the bonded pairs in my extended family, I do wonder if he is missing out.

My parents have two old girls, Rags and Pagan, who've been together for 13 years, and my sister's Bichon/Shih Tzu pair have been married for a decade. My brother has a couple of Miniature Schnauzer litter mates who are never without each other. All of these dynamic duos are happier together than apart.

Despite the fact that my parents have two dogs and a cat, they don’t think that my husband and I should add another dog to our household. My mom and dad were at our house the night I picked those chicken wings clean, and they were sure to play devil's advocate.

"But you already have two cats!" my mom said.

"It's a lot easier to find someone to watch one dog than two dogs," my dad said. "It gets expensive."

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Two of my three fur babies.

Twice the vet bills and more than twice the work -- that's what my family members tell me when I talk about bringing another dog home, but I still think that we could, and should, do it.

Once upon a time, my darling GhostBuster was sitting in a shelter kennel waiting for a forever home, but as I type this he is curled up on our couch with my husband and Ghost Cat. If I have room in my life and my heart for one more dog, how can I deny that?

I called my husband's bluff on the meat deal because I feel more ethically obliged to adopt another dog than I do to avoid meat. I also know that although my husband says I have to eat meat for the lifetime of the second dog, he really can't enforce that part of the deal. I could stop eating meat again as soon as my second dog is in my arms (and I just might).

How far have you gone to get a pet? Let us know in the comments.

Read more about getting a second dog on Dogster:

About the author:  Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten and GhostBuster the dog make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feeds 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, 06 Nov 2014 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-adoption-vegetarianism-give-up
<![CDATA[11 Reasons I Love Being a Dog Sitter]]> At the end of 2012, I made the tough decision to leave a very lucrative job as vice president of sales. I was burned out. I had been in sales my entire working life, and the stress and constant travel had just gotten to be too much. In March of 2013, I decided to do some dog sitting to help pay the bills. Now as 2014 comes to an end, I'm still at it and loving (almost) every minute of it.

How much do I love dog sitting? Let me count the ways.

1. New adventures

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Wendy on a Griffith Park Trail heading to Amir's Garden with Lola Bear and Lulu. All photos by Wendy Newell.

I've been able to go to a number of places I'd never been before. I'm ashamed to say that this Los Angeles native had never been to many of the iconic and wonderful locations this city has to offer! Some of my now-favorite hiking spots with the dogs were new to me, including Elysian Park, home to Dodgers Stadium and brilliant views of the city; Hahamonga Watershed, which leads you up and over Devil Gates Dam and into the upper Rose Bowl trails; and the zillions of Griffith Park trails, including the Old Zoo, Amir’s Garden, Dantes View, and the Bronson Caves, which served as the Batcave entrance for '60s TV show Batman. The list goes on!

2. Exercise

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Shadow, Dragon, Damsel, Riggins, and Asscher enjoy a break from the Griffith Park hike up to 5-Points.

I've known for a while that exercise is the most effective stress reliever for me. With the dogs, I get in an extra workout whether I want to or not. Due to my dog-sitting profile, not to mention my company name, the Active Pack, I tend to get very active dogs. That means everyone hits the trails. The big, the small, the young, the old, the pooped, the energetic -- everyone gets out and about.

3. Companionship

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Wendy and her first official dog client, Bud.

I never ever ever ever pee alone ... ever.

4. Increased patience

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Sadie decides she would much rather walk herself.

Never my strong suit, but when walking four or more dogs at a time, patience is a must. Don't even get me started on the "accidents" in the house.

5. Warmth

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Shirley finds a comfy spot in the human bed.

I have an extra layer of warmth in the form of dogs whenever I'm sitting or sleeping. I'm always very cozy!

6. Knowledge

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Beaux, Damsel, Luna, Bella, and Sadie. So many dogs. So much dog hair.

I had no idea yoga pants had such amazing dog-hair-attraction qualities. It's really fascinating. I think my floor is clean, then I sit on it to put on my shoes, and I get up with enough dog hair on me to knit a sweater.

7. Outdoorsy-ism

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Asscher is happy about being used as a bum screen.

You know all that hiking? Sometimes you have to pee during a hike, and you are on a hill with no one but the dogs around. I've gotten really good at sneaking behind a bush if it is required. A nice big Golden Retriever helps you balance and screens your naked behind. I'm not going to admit I've peed in Batman’s cave ... I'm just going to suggest it is a possibility.

8. Lessons for my pup

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Riggins keeps a watchful eye over his buddies: Romeo, Jack Jack, and Creature.

Riggins is an only child and would often show signs of "only child syndrome." He is still my baby (and he knows it), but he has gotten much better and is now very happy to be a member of a pack. He is actually my go-to babysitter when I have to leave the house and throw a "Riggins is in charge" over my shoulder as I walk out the door.

In fact, just today on our hike we were heading up the hill, and Riggins was falling behind. After calling him a few times, I gave up and just stopped to wait for him (before you start the hate mail, we were at Runyon Canyon, which is a legal leash-free dog park). When he finally came bounding up, he had another hiker and a cute white puppy in tow.

"Your dog was making sure the big dogs down there weren't hurting my puppy," the hiker said. "That's why he didn't come when you were calling him."

That's my sweet boy! Protector of the pack.

9. A tan

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Riggins knows when the big sun hat comes out, it's time to go to the dog park!

From hiking. Sure, I have horrific tan lines in the shape of a tank top and multiple lines on my legs from shorts, crops, and socks, but I've never been this tan in my adult life.

10. Cleanliness

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Sadie knows a bath is in her future.

I have to vacuum every other day or so. I have now used all of the attachments on my vacuum. It's very exciting. How many people can say that?

11. Unconditional love

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My love, Lousy.

It's amazing to me how quickly a dog will attach himself to me. Riggins has always been my companion, there for me through thick and thin. Now that feeling is just multiplied by two, or three, or four ...

As I continue to hunt for a job that will pay me enough money to survive and allow me to breathe freely, I'm thankful for the ability to do this gig, learn so much, and be this happy!

Read related stories on Dogster:

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, 04 Nov 2014 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-sitter-pet-sitter-career
<![CDATA[5 Unexpected Ways Dog Adoption Changed My Life]]> I knew that getting a dog would change my life in many ways -- although some were more predictable than others. Of course I figured I would be busier and my house would be dirtier. Both of those predictions have come true, as GhostBuster goes on four walks per day and his abandoned fur eventually choked our trusty Roomba to death. I’ve accepted that this dog sheds like it's his job, but having a layer of hair on my floor is just one of many ways in which life is different since becoming a dog owner. Here are five unexpected ways in which adopting this dog has altered my daily existence. 

1. I am a professional drool wiper

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He's like an adorable waterfall.

In addition to constantly losing his hair, GhostBuster is also a consistent drooler. My husband jokes that we gave him the wrong name -- he should have been called Slimer. GhostBuster may be genetically predisposed to drooling, but my kitchen floors sure weren't engineered to survive nasty splats of doggy spit. The inexpensive laminate is incredibly sensitive to moisture -- the fake hardwood will bubble up if it gets wet, so we have to be super vigilant about mopping up GhostBuster's drool.

This whole drool thing also makes it really hard to cook in the kitchen because the minute GhostBuster smells something good on the stove, the saliva floodgates open. I guess I shouldn't blame my doggy buddy for appreciating my cooking (my husband sure doesn't).

Since the drooling doesn't just happen in the kitchen, my husband has decided that GhostBuster's bandanas now serve a double purpose as drool bibs. Instead of running to get a paper towel every time the dog's mouth starts leaking, my husband just uses the handy triangle of fabric GhostBuster is wearing. It's gross, but convenient, and it's certainly not something I would have imagined myself tolerating before we got a dog.

2. I have witnessed 1,000 percent more doggy lipsticks

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Not that kind of lipstick.

While the bandana spit bibs gross me out, it's GhostBuster's lipstick that makes my husband feel sick. He pretty much freaks out every time it happens. "Ah, gross! Buster, put it away buddy, put it away!"

I can totally understand why my husband is so repelled by it -- it seriously looks like something out of a horror movie, although I don't have much to compare it to. I can honestly say I never saw many doggy lipsticks before I adopted GhostBuster. Even in the early days after he joined our family, other people kept seeing the lipstick but because I was usually standing right beside GhostBuster -- holding the leash -- I never noticed it.

Now, I see it all the time. Like every day. It happens at the worst times, like when we're meeting a new neighbor and their dog, or while children are around. I find it's best to just ignore it (if possible). That way it disappears within a few seconds and no one has to get all awkward about it.

3. I am overly interested in dog poop

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When a guy's gotta go, he's gotta go.

Of course I knew I would have to pick up dog poop if I adopted a dog, but I never imagined that I would spend this much time analyzing dog droppings. When we first adopted GhostBuster, I couldn't even scoop a poop without gagging, but four months later his waste is a hot topic of conversation in our house.

Whenever my husband or I come home from walking GhostBuster, we give each other a poop report.

"He went three times," I've called out from the back door. "I had to use four bags and a napkin!"

Thankfully, I no longer have to carry extra napkins on our walks, as GhostBuster's digestive health is improving and things are firming up a bit. He still does like to do his business in three piles, though.

4. I’ve completely rearranged my decor -- for the dog

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The living room looks kind of crowded with an extra couch, but GhostBuster is happier.

One of the most exciting parts of moving into our house after years in overpriced (and usually freezing-cold) apartments was finally buying grown-up furniture. Of course, we bought our living room set a few months before we got GhostBuster, so while my lovely, yellow corduroy couches are cat-proof, they're not exactly built for drooling dogs.

From day one, I said GhostBuster would not be allowed on the yellow couches. He was allowed to be on the couches in the basement and the sunroom (the cheap and wipeable ones), but the nice sofas were off-limits. Eventually, my husband started to feel sad for GhostBuster and decided to bring one of the basement couches up into my picture-perfect living room, annihilating my carefully chosen decor in the process. My living room is a bit more cozy now that it houses three couches instead of two, but my dog is happy (and he doesn't even try to go on the yellow couches now).

5. My cats have yet another cuddle buddy to choose over me

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GhostBuster is Ghost Cat's favorite pillow.

As if it isn’t enough that my beloved Ghost Cat chooses my husband's lap over mine, now that the dog is up on the couch, both of my kitties are all about interspecies cuddles. When I adopted GhostBuster, I never imagined my cats would be getting quite so cozy with the lovable Lab. Sometimes all three of them will ignore me entirely and just snuggle in a big animal lump at the other end of the sofa. I would be jealous if it weren't so darn cute. Of all the ways my dog has changed my life, the way he has hijacked my cats' affections has to be the most adorable.

How has your life changed since your dog entered it? Tell your story in the comments. 

Learn more about dogs with Dogster:

About the author:  Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten and GhostBuster the dog make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, bad cook, and 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, 03 Nov 2014 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-adoption-dog-hair-dog-poop-dogs-cats-ghostbuster
<![CDATA[An Adoption Love Story: How We Brought Home a Discount Pit Bull]]> Editor's Note: Tomorrow (Saturday, Oct. 25) is National Pit Bull Awareness Month, a great time to run this story of how two people found and fell in love with a Pit Bull.

“I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”

The immortal words of Will Ferrell as Mugatu escaped my mouth as my husband, Grant, attempted to comfort me. It had been months since our wedding, and I was no closer to adopting a dog than when we started dating six years ago. “After the wedding,” he’d say. “Then we’ll have more time for a dog.”

With the help of the Petfinder app on my phone, I had figured out the main animal rescue organizations in the Washington, D.C., area and narrowed it down to a few to target. I downloaded all of the applications and began filling them out with gusto. The process seemed somewhat similar among all of the organizations: Submit your application, have a phone interview, meet the dog at an adoption event or at a mutually agreeable time with his foster parent, have a home visit, then after an approximately week-long “trial period,” he was yours!

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Doug's pictures via his adoption group.

I tried not to get discouraged as my first few applications went unanswered. Then I had a glimmer of hope, as one rescue contacted me to meet a dog I had applied for at that weekend’s adoption event in a faraway Virginia suburb. Sadly, that hope was soon crushed, as the adoption coordinator emailed me a few days later to say that one dog I had applied for had recently had surgery, and the other had kennel cough, so neither would be attending the event.

And from the other rescues? Crickets. “Maybe they’re just busy, since they’re all run by volunteers,” a friend offered.

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Handsome Doug at home. Photo courtesy Doug's Instagram page

I began searching for breed-specific rescues in the greater D.C. area. Some required a nonrefundable application fee to even be considered -- no guarantees. Others were located in rural Virginia, Maryland or Pennsylvania. I settled upon one breed-specific rescue and set to work on its seven-page adoption application form. How long have you lived in your current place of residence? What would you use to train your dog to walk on a leash? Please provide two references, preferably those who are active in the dog community. Please list two times you worked through a dog behavioral problem, and how it was resolved. Do you have a 9 to 5 job? Whom should we contact to verify your employment?

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We're so proud. Photo courtesy Doug's Instagram page

To its credit, the adoption coordinator reached out to me immediately, with a reading list of three books -- on dog psychology and resources on training philosophies and how to feed a raw diet -- for me to study before our interview. I told Grant we had better download these books on our Kindles to tag-team the studying beforehand. But, the feeling of complete inadequacy under the judgment of others was totally overwhelming. How could I compete with all these other overachieving people in Washington with large backyards, stay-at-home moms and on-call dog psychologists? I was convinced that no D.C. rescue would ever allow us to have a dog.

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Insisting on tummy rubs. Photo courtesy Doug's Instagram page

My frustration level had reached its peak, to the point of desperation. I had begun researching animal shelters in the poorest counties in West Virginia and North Carolina, and starting to plan weekend road trips to try to find a place –- any place -– that would deem us worthy of a dog. I “liked” every animal rescue in the area on Facebook, and compulsively stalked their walls for any news of animal transports from the Carolinas or Puerto Rico to D.C.

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Enjoying a vineyard visit despite his Cone of Shame. Photo courtesy Doug's Instagram page

And yes, I’m ashamed to admit that I researched the American Kennel Club website for any breeders in our area that might be having a litter of pet-grade puppies in the near future. My want of a furry friend outweighed my fear of judgment by my neighbors in the People’s Republic of North Arlington and my guilt of not choosing adoption, and I did seriously consider purchasing a dog. (Yes, responsible breeders do exist.) 

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We're a team, my dog and I. Photo courtesy Doug's Instagram page

I was feeling particularly downtrodden one morning when we set out to the mattress store to find a new bed. (We’d been sleeping on the same Costco bed I’d had since I was an intern.) As we rolled down Lee Highway in Arlington on a sunny morning, we passed a Petco Unleashed that was holding an Adopt-a-thon in the parking lot.

“Let’s go check it out,” Grant said, as he dragged me across the street.

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Photo courtesy Doug's Instagram page

We met senior dogs, Pugs, Dobermans, and dogs with special needs. A small army of volunteers had given their time to sit outside on a hot D.C. day to help these pups find their new homes. We were about to head back over to the mattress store when a cheerful volunteer stopped us to chat. She was holding the leash of a light brown Pit Bull with a red nose and little white socks, who promptly flopped on his back in front of Grant for a belly rub.

“This is Douglas,” she said.

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We met Doug via Adopt Force One, the Washington Humane Society's mobile adoption unit.

Grant hightailed it across the parking lot to fill out the adoption application at the Washington Humane Society’s traveling adoption spaceship, Adopt Force One. A few minutes later, we sat down at a picnic table with a WHS volunteer, with Doug’s leash in my hand.

“Oh, and we’re having a special on adoption fees today. Instead of $170, his fee is only $50 today.”

With a swipe of Grant’s credit card on the adoption coordinator’s iPhone, Doug was ours. No home visit. No background check. No judgment.

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Photo courtesy Doug's Instagram page

These days our lives are filled with happy dog energy and pet hair. The wonderful people of the Washington Humane Society email us back immediately whenever we ask them a question, and some of the volunteers even continue to follow Douglas’ adventures on his Instagram feed.

We go for lots of walks, meet friendly people on the street who proclaim how handsome Doug is, and coordinate his dog-walking appointments. He loves baby carrots, any toy that squeaks and attempting to convince us that he is indeed a 50-pound lap dog (with varying rates of success). I fuss over his dietary habits (I recently baked some homemade Greenies after reading a shock piece online) and Grant keeps him entertained with endless games of fetch and tug-of-war. And yes, we are indeed still sleeping on that old Costco bed -- Douglas does not seem to mind!

Read related stories on Dogster:

Learn more about dogs with Dogster:

About the author: Meilee is the director of operations for a political risk analysis firm in Washington, DC. She lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband and dog. Follow Douglas at ]]>
Fri, 24 Oct 2014 04:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/dog-adoption-love-story-discount-national-pit-bull-awareness-day
<![CDATA[8 Sacrifices Your Dog Sitter Makes for Your Dog]]> Many dog owners are hesitant to board their dog in a kennel. This is especially true for dogs who need extra care, those dogs with separation anxiety and the dogs who need constant activity or just a human to lie on. Luckily, for these owners, there are more options than ever to find a reliable and personable dog sitter. Sites such as and are two that provide a forum for dogs to be matched to their perfect sitters. What that means for you is peace of mind. What that means for your dog is a more fun-filled vacation.

What does that mean for your sitter? I’ve been a dog sitter for almost two years, and I can tell you that a good sitter gives her heart and soul to caring for your pet.

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Asscher steals my hat during my selfie moment with Clover. (Photo courtesy Wendy Newell)

Here are just a few things, pulled from my personal experience, that you may not know your sitter is sacrificing for your baby while you are out sightseeing or lounging by the pool:

1. Physical health

I’m covered in bruises and scratches. I've held onto a collar with a Hulk-like grip and had my arm twisted around just to keep a dog from escaping. I've fallen so many times while hiking with the dogs I can't keep track. I've broken up dog fights with my own body (I don't suggest you do this). I've been a chew toy for puppies and have paw-sized bruises on my torso, arms and legs from being stepped on.

I now have what I call “dog walking shoulder,” which flares up now and then and I’m “forced” to down ibuprofen with a good cabernet (I don’t suggest you do this either). I look like I’ve been through dog war and I didn’t win the fight.

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Dot has no shame in her cone. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

2. Sound sleep

I've slept sideways, diagonally, and at the foot of my own bed so the dogs can be comfy. I've slept on the sofa and on the floor. I've not slept because a dog was sick or I've slept with a dog head in a cone on my chest. I've curled up in a dog bed next to an uneasy dog. I've slept with dogs pushing me off the bed, dogs sharing my pillow, dogs on my head, dogs on my legs, dogs on my stomach.

I once didn’t sleep for more than 24 hours while searching for a runaway dog (it was only after the happy ending that the owners informed he was a flight risk). A full good night's sleep is a distant memory.

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Clover, Bella, Shadow, Riggins, and Asscher cool down post hike. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

3. Mental and physical energy

A pooped dog is a happy dog. That means a lot of dog-related activity.

I take the dogs out on an adventure every day. That usually means we hit the SoCal hiking trails. Sure, you may think this sounds like a blast, and it is -- but it is also exhausting. Try climbing or being pulled up a hill or down a path EVERY DAY for approximately two hours a day, seven days a week. No weekend breaks. I have horrible tan lines.

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Shirley enjoying a lift while we're out hiking. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

4. A clean environment

I am CONSTANTLY cleaning. CONSTANTLY. I guarantee I've cleaned my carpet, floor boards (how do the floor boards get so filthy), walls (dog height), and linens more than anyone else you know. My car is covered in muddy paw prints and smears from dog noses. Filth is everywhere.

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Captain Shadow decides he needs to get slobber and fur on every part of my car. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

5. Human first-aid materials

There is no such thing as human first aid materials at my house. If it is good enough for your dog it’s good enough for me. I’ve sprayed dog wound medicine on my nephew’s forehead. I own dog bandages and yes, I have used them on myself. If your dog is hurt or not feeling well I do everything I can to help. I've picked up dogs from ERs in the middle of the night. I've woken up every X number of hours to administer pills. I’ve taken doggie first aid and carry emergency supplies everywhere the dogs and I go. If you are on a hike and need some Benadryl, give a holla. I got your back.

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Sofa takeover by Nugget, Face, and Shadow. No room for me. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

6. A nice-smelling house

I've purchased enough scented candles to make Target's checkers curious about what is happening in my house. Scented candles cover the smell of wet dog and pee (and wet pee when I clean my carpet).

7. Money

Poop bags, poop bag holders, non-retractable leashes, treats, more poop bags, food, tank tops (I’ve had a number ruined by dogs jumping or eating them), underwear (if you own a dog you know why), more poop bags, pee pads, dog beds, dog tags with my info on them, dog deterrent, dog car restraints, and so much more. I can almost guarantee you did not bring enough of most of these items. Did I mention poop bags?

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Asscher decides my shoe is for eating. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

8. Sanity

Who gets the fish protein food and who gets the one in the giant tub? Luna can’t have red meat protein, while Romeo can only eat his food and treats. Clover is a puller so swap out her walking halter for one of Riggins' no-pull harnesses. Shadow has the short green/read leash while Hanna’s is pink and green (she has two). Lulu has to be held tight around men running or she may try to eat them. Lousy is protective of my human bed. I have labels and a whiteboard and it’s still hard for me to keep everything straight!

A dog sitter’s job is 24/7. There are no breaks. There are no weekends ... and did I mention the bruises? Your dog sitter doesn’t just love dogs. She loves YOUR dog.

Next time you drop off your dog, let the sitter know you appreciate all he or she does to keep your dog happy and safe. If I’m your dog sitter, feel free to bring a bottle of wine as a tip!


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 furry filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures through 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.

Read related stories on Dogster:


Mon, 20 Oct 2014 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/dog-sitter-care-8-sacrifices
<![CDATA[How Long Did You Wait to Adopt a New Dog After Your Dog Died?]]> Dogs are much like children. You have to feed them, put them to bed at a reasonable hour and, of course, you congratulate them when they go No. 2. And just like children, a new addition to the family doesn’t replace the old. Even when your dog passes away and you decide to get another. 

This past summer my Yorkie, Jessy, died unexpectedly. While on vacation for a weekend, I came home to find out she had been in the hospital for four days and was to be put down that day. I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye.

The death of a dog is one of the hardest things to go through. There’s nothing like coming home and expecting a happy face to be waiting for you at the top of the stairs -- tail wagging (a little stump in Jessy’s case), head bobbing and warm and welcoming eyes -- to instead find a cold empty house. 

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My dog Jessy who recently passed.

Jessy lived at my parents’ house, and although I moved out more than two years ago, I still found that loneliness every time I came to visit. When our previous dog Teddy, a West Highland Terrier, had passed away, Jessy was the one who got us through it. Although she wasn’t the most compassionate pooch (she was more of a “let’s play and then cuddle” pup), she kept this brightness in the house that we all needed. When she left, there was no one to fill that loneliness. 

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I've always loved this picture where she almost looks like a cartoon character.

The day that Jessy died, my dad said he didn’t know if they’d ever get another dog. “It’s too hard,” he said. In later weeks, both my mother and father found that living without a dog was even harder. You can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them, eh? Three weeks later they were already looking for another dog. First my mom wanted a Yorkie while we all tried to persuade her against it. “But if it looks like her, it’ll feel like she’s still here with me,” she said one night. At that moment, I made my goal to talk her into a Westie. 

On September 1, my parents brought home Shea Farrell, an adorable, vivacious, yet surprisingly calm, Westie puppy. Although he is the same breed as our first dog (my mother’s allergies makes her options extremely limited), he has a personality all his own. And we do compare him to Jessy now and again -- he doesn’t scarf down his food in a minute flat, he likes to lie beside you on the recliner, and he’s a bit of a scaredy-cat -- but we never feel like he replaced her. In fact, I think about how much she would have loved having a little brother to play with.

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Shea loves playing outside. See a subtle hint of dirt on his lips.

Many have asked us if we got a new dog too soon. “Isn’t that like trying to replace your dog?” My response is always no. Many dog owners may feel they need to mourn for longer, and that’s completely understandable. Getting another dog just a month after his passing may make you resent the new dog. Each person needs to find the right time, when she feels that she is ready to open her heart up fully. My family just so happened to be ready in five weeks. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t mourn her properly or don’t think about her every day. Just like Teddy, who died more than six years ago, I accept that I will still be missing her many years from now.

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She looks like a little piglet here with his long hair.

Shea Farrell has been the one to make each day easier. His unconditional love is a reminder why having a dog is so worth it, even though they’re not with us nearly long enough. Just like Jessy brought us love and happiness when we lost Ted, Shea has been a bundle of joy (he is a baby, after all), and, honestly, a welcome distraction. I forgot just how much work a puppy can be!

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This pup loves attention.

Shea may physically replace Jessy in the sense that he uses her bowls, sleeps in her doggie bed and plays with her toys -- although we stored away her favorites, of course. That aside, he doesn't replace her. He couldn't. A new dog brings new life to a home because no two dogs are the same. That's part of their charm.

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Welcome our new furry friend.

Each new dog that enters your life brings something new to the table. Teddy had this compassion that taught me early in life that the best way to be there for someone was to literally be his or her shoulder to cry on. At 10 pounds, Jessy didn't take anything from anyone. She had a Napoleon complex and she wasn't afraid to show it. And now there's Shea. He's so mildly tempered, he rarely even barks. The runt of his litter, he's meeker than both Jessy and Teddy, but he knows when to make his feelings known. With a crew like that, how can you ever expect to replace one dog for another? 

Have you ever adopted a new dog shortly after one died? How was the experience? Tell us your story in the comments.

Learn more about dogs with Dogster:

About the author: Shannon Farrell is a freelance beauty and fitness writer residing on the Upper East Side of New York City. When she isn’t testing the latest mascara or running through Central Park, she’s dog watching. There isn’t one in Manhattan she hasn’t commented on. #crazydoglady

Wed, 08 Oct 2014 06:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/loss-of-a-dog-pet-death-adoption-how-long-did-you-wait
<![CDATA[In Dog We Trust: The Blessing of the Animals in San Francisco]]> I have a hangover in church.

The day before my friends and I spent the afternoon bumping around my apartment, watching the sky outside turn as the plans we had made evaporated like champagne bubbles. I joke about confessing my headache-inducing sins and my friend -- who works at Grace Cathedral and invited me to join her for the Blessing of the Animals -- quickly corrects me.

"We don't do that here," she says.

At my feet, a King Charles Cavalier with bubble eyes peers up from beneath the pew ahead of me. I train my camera lens. 

"Ssshhh, not during the service," my friend corrects me again. I pout, but then I realize she's just doing her job, and I am stubborn and don't like being told what to do. In this case, I do as I'm told, and pause for reverence.

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A Schnauzer checks things out at the Blessing of the Animals at Grace Cathedral.

Which is justified because this is Grace Cathedral in the middle of San Francisco. One of the priests I meet is gay and my friend says I should check out the Tuesday evening yoga sessions in the church, and today it is the Blessing of the Animals and the celebration of St. Francis, after which the city is named.

You'd think narrow pews of beloved pet friends in a quiet place during a quiet time would be ripe for chaos, but the handful of dogs and couple of cats are well-behaved. I pretend that it is because they, too, feel the spirit moving in them. Incense fills the air with sweet smoke, drifting in slants of kaleidoscope-colored light; from the high ceiling, lengths of bright ribbon drop in starbursts; at the altar the organ heaves a full breath in a minor key, and the voices of the choir boys rise on their delicate notes -- as perfect and as pure as a silver bell chiming. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and maybe it's just because my eyes are bleary, but I almost cry.

My friend whispers, "Will you take Communion? It's real bread on Sundays."

I'm hungry but I shake my head. I am intimidated. The body of Christ or just some good sourdough -- either way, myself and the dog next to me are transfixed, and under the weight of those stained glass windows and the fragrant smoke in my lungs and that chorus of sweet ascending voices, I confess to myself that I know as much as the mutt does. That I live in a world where doors open and doors close, and sure, science built an atom bomb, but I still can't explain why my soul is so restless or how -- exactly -- I ended up here.

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Despite appearances, this fellow has his hands raised in supplication to the iPhone gods -- may his photo require no filter.

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"Are you there, God? It's me -- Liz."

The blessings happen in the courtyard, where priests in colorful robes bend down on their knees and stroke the animals on the heads, and wish them long lives filled with health and happiness. There are, as expected, mostly dogs. One cat clings to his owner's arms, beautiful but severe, hissing at the dogs and never swiping at anyone. The other two cats are surprisingly docile. A couple of the dogs bark nervously, but for the most part, they amble in the courtyard, receiving attention, and refraining from begging for the cookies set out with the after-service coffee.

"Can I take a picture?" I ask of a couple and their dog. My friend explains, "This is Liz. She works for Dogster."

That's how I got here -- to this particular moment, at least. My friend extended the invitation for today because I work for an online dog magazine in a city named after the patron saint of animals.

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Not a happy cat.

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Subdued with back rubs!

I don't know if you remember, but I am still dead set on moving from San Francisco. I'm sick of it. Some days I even hate it. The weather, the people, the latest boom in San Francisco's get-rich-quickly-or-get-kicked-out history -- I can't stay. But even my move to the desert is the result of a confluence of omens.

I do not believe in God. Nor do I believe that there is no God. I believe I am human and part of that is the struggle to synthesize order out of chaos, and so I devised a belief structure that I know means nothing beyond trying to soothe the anxiety of existence. I believe there are two parallel worlds -- one that is magic and one that is a reflection of the magic world, and that sometimes, the magic world seeps in through the cracks and the seams, delivering things like omens that let us know we are following the right paths to our own personal nirvanas. For me, my mystical omen is the dog.

My first encounter with omens was when my childhood dog ran away, granting me my first brush with grief and loss, and what profound pain can feel like for a child who had already experienced too many adult emotions. But out of that pain, I found the thing that would become my sophisticated coping mechanism -- my writing.

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How cute is this photo?

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Dressed in his Sunday best.

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This cat was calm and cuddly.

Many years later, I'd find myself dog-sitting and house-sitting in Malibu. The house was out in the Santa Monica Mountains, luxurious and secluded, and I was free to make what I wanted of my time. I'd wake up early, walk my three dog pack through the trails, sit out on the beach with a book, and then come home and write. When the couple who owned the dogs and house returned, the wife -- who'd been a dog walker in Toronto -- suggested I try my hand at the profession in San Francisco. (You see, at that time, I was dead set on leaving Los Angeles because some days I hated it.)

Which is how Ambrose the black Labrador came into my life exactly when I needed him the most. I moved to San Francisco with a boyfriend who turned out to be a cheater -- and worse, just terribly not self-aware. We broke up and my heart hurt so much it sometimes felt like I couldn't breathe, and if it weren't for my walks with Ambrose, I may have never gotten out of bed. Which is good, because it was one fateful day, after struggling to leave my house, that I would hand deliver the paper resume that got my foot in the door at Dogster.

San Francisco is not my home, but I needed to come here. It is in San Francisco that I have been reborn as one incarnation closer to my personal enlightenment. Before moving here I was lost, placing all my bets on codependent relationships in order to heal a childhood-trauma-sized hole in my heart. I was uncertain, insecure, and not at all ready to receive my destiny. Some days I really hate this city, but most days I am grateful, and while my move to the desert may take longer than anticipated, I am certain it is the right thing to do because a dog, essentially, told me to do it.

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My problem is probably that I am at the center of my own universe.

At the Blessing of the Animals, do the dogs know what consecration surrounds and anoints them? Maybe. Probably not. They know that they have human families with human hands that can open and close doors, feed them, hold them, hurt them. They have a sense that they are at our mercy. Annie, my childhood dog who ran away, remains an ominous figure I will worship in a tragic, chaotic creation myth, but I don't think there is a Rainbow Bridge at which I will be reunited with her. 

One girl has a rabbit in a kennel she has brought to be blessed. The priest obliges. I snap a photo. I still have a hangover and it is a particularly warm day in San Francisco. I am not exactly sure how I ended up here, but I do know -- like all man and beast alike -- where I will end up. So in the meantime, my friend and I decide, after the last of the animals have been blessed, that we should find someplace to eat where we can get a hair of the dog that bit me.

"Maybe that one place with the Bloody Marys," she says. It sounds good to me.

Many thanks to the folks at Grace Cathedral for allowing me to be a part of this.

Read more about rescue on Dogster:

About Liz Acosta: Dogster's former Cuteness Correspondent, Liz still manages the site's daily "Awws," only now she also wrangles Dogster's social media. That's why she wants you to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and -- her personal favorite -- Instagram. See ya there!

Wed, 08 Oct 2014 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/blessing-of-the-animals-san-francisco-grace-cathedral-pictures-photos-spirituality-dogs-enlightenment
<![CDATA[Does Your Dog Have Any Behaviors That Drive You Crazy?]]> Are there some behaviors your beloved dog does that drive you mad? Deep down, we know these are normal behaviors. We love our furry little beasties, but how do we learn to deal with their persistent attachment to habits we don’t like? And what are some tips on training to stop them? This is National Pet Peeve Week, so what better time to consider this question?

1. Chew it, chew it, chew it

Dogs enjoy chewing. Puppies are obsessed. Normal behavior for puppies is to explore their world with their mouths, which may not be a problem until they explore and destroy your favorite objects. Also, the dogs will use chewing for self-soothing when they have teething pain.

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Puppies will test everything with their mouths. Puppy chewing ring by Shutterstock

When my black Poodle, Jasper, was a puppy, I thought I had the house puppy-proofed. I put things where he couldn’t reach them, kept doors closed, did not leave around shoes and socks. But, guess what? The little devil found my one comfortable pair of sandals and made sure they were impossible to wear, chewing off straps. I was not a happy camper. So what to do? 

Rule out nutritional issues. Tummy upsets can trigger chewing. A quick trip to the vet can help rule out any physical reasons for the behavior.

Continue to puppy-proof. Put away shoes, socks, children’s toys, anything tempting. Give your dog chew toys. (Avoid using old shoes for toys, as puppies will not know the difference between old and new shoes.)

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A dog's gotta chew on something -- naughty dog by April Turner / Shutterstock

Block access to certain areas with gates or crates, if you need to leave forbidden items in places they can access. You may have success with taste deterrents like bitter apple. One of the most effective deterrents for many undesirable behaviors is setting up regular playtimes and exercise opportunities. A bored dog will find entertainment any way he can.

2. Can you hear me? Bark bark!

Dogs bark. It’s a fact of life. Our Chihuahua, Sissy, barks at car doors across the street, sounds none of us can hear, a doorbell on television, the door opening. Barking means communication. What is your dog trying to tell you? It’s up to the human to figure out what he is trying to tell you.

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Aggressive barking and biting can't be fixed overnight. Illustration by Nigel Sussman

Barking dogs could be telling you there is danger, or at least perceived danger. Then again, they might be bored. Pent-up energy can trigger barking just for a release. Or they want to talk. Some breeds naturally communicate more with barks, growls, whines and noises. Jasper and Sissy will bark at any doorbell, including the ones on television and the sound of car doors slamming in the neighborhood. They are telling us someone is coming.

Regular, energetic exercise is as important for your dog as yourself. Schedule interactive playtimes like walking, running, chasing toys and plastic discs, or chasing water from a hose or sprinkler in the summer. If you and your pet look forward to playing, walking and having fun a couple of times a day, you will both have a more interesting day. Remain calm yourself. Agitation on your part can trigger more barking and even trigger a barking contest. Call in the professionals if necessary. Take your buddy to obedience school. Never give up.

3. Hump, hump, hump -- it's normal for a dog!

Another normal behavior we hate to see in our pets is one that many people not only find annoying, but downright unacceptable. When we brought our female dog into our household, our male Poodle was fascinated, and he has tried humping behavior more than once. Sissy wants nothing to do with it. Both dogs are fixed, but humping behavior can be seen with males, females, dogs who are spayed or neutered and even those who are not.

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Yes, dogs like to hump -- but we're not entirely sure what's going on here. Photo by toddeemel

While most owners consider humping to be sexual in nature (and dogs do indulge because it simply feels good), it’s also a way to sort out social rank. This behavior may also be used to relieve tension and even get attention -- sometimes the dog wants attention, even if it’s negative. Puppies may also practice mounting one another.What to do?

First, distract and redirect them. Once more, active play, scheduled a couple of times a day, as well as walks and runs, will help steer the dog toward acceptable behavior. Introduce a toy as a distraction, or a pillow or other object. Puzzles with food inside will keep them busy. If the dog has decided you are his object, get up and move and walk away. Lots of exercise and a strict schedule can help. For some dogs, give them privacy a couple of times a day to hump their favorite object. Luckily, a firm no works for Jasper, plus a growl from Sissy.

4. Digging to China

Your yard is now a moonscape. Why? Because your guard dog, companion, and best friend is bored. Or he wants to hide food, find a bone, or smell an animal; or he sees you gardening and wants to mimic the same digging behavior. Possibly he doesn't have enough outdoor toys. 

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Dog digging by Shutterstock.

The Bloodhounds behind our house used to dig and chew through the bottom of the back fence. I think Sparky the hound was bored and lonely and just wanted to come visit Jasper. It took more than one escape into my yard and visits to our neighbor to get measures in place on their side of the fence.

If your dog spends a lot of its time outside, observe her behavior. She could be digging to find a cool spot in the summer. Provide a dog house, fresh water and shaded areas. Redirect the dog's energy with active play, balls and discs. Regular walks help channel desires in a better direction; puzzle-type toys with treats inside can keep a digger busy for a long time. Remember, attention and affection does wonders.

For extreme diggers, keep them inside and only take them out on a leash. Consider providing a safe digging space with a child-size sandbox, loose dirt and some buried toys. Reward the dog for using the safe space.

All of the above behaviors can drive you crazy, but many of them can be greatly improved by making certain your furry buddy has plenty of attention, interaction, exercise and activity. Boredom can escalate any bad behavior, even in humans. Remember, behaviors we label as "bad" may be normal for your pet.

“Instinctive behaviors lose pets their homes every year,” says Amy Shojai, certified animal-behavior consultant and co-author of Strays, the Musical, which she wrote to explain natural pet behaviors and save pet lives. “By understanding what constitutes 'normal,' we can give dogs legal opportunities to do what comes naturally. That saves our relationship, and keeps dogs in their homes where they belong.”  

We love our furry buddies, even though some of their behaviors can threaten to push us over the edge. I’m sure some of our own behaviors don’t thrill them either. Positive reinforcement and giving them the ability to indulge in their instinctive activities without getting them in trouble will make life easier for us and our pets. 

Does your dog have any behaviors that you'd like him to stop? What are your doggy pet peeves? Let us know in the comments. 

Learn more about dogs with Dogster:

Tue, 07 Oct 2014 06:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/dog-behavior-training-tips-drive-crazy-pet-peeves
<![CDATA[How Do You Deal With Your Dog Getting Into the Trash? ]]> I was in my own homemade heaven, soaking in a lavender-oil bath and about to de-stress from a long day at work. I closed my eyes and felt peace. Then suddenly the Zen scene in my bathroom was quickly interrupted by a thud in my kitchen. In a panic, I jumped out of the bath and ran to the kitchen. 

I knew what it was: My dog, Toby, was pillaging the trash can. Sure enough, I turned the corner to find this Poodle-turned-piranha chomping on yesterday’s leftovers. I swooped in and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck before he could swallow anything harmful.

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"I know this is gourmet dog chow, but I'm still going to rampage through the trash later." (Photo by Margot Ahlquist)

Many dog experts say not to scold a dog in this situation for bad behavior. I agree with them and advocate for positive reinforcement. However, on this particular night, my emotions overruled dog-training logic. I yelled at Toby and told him that he was a bad boy. I pointed to the scene of the crime and continued espousing about how wrong it was.

To finish off my scolding, I pleaded with Toby to stop getting into the trash. I asked the dog why he continued to do this. This spur-of-the-moment attempt at training had no effect. All I got in response was a cunning grin from a dog still riding a tasty adrenaline high. I realized I was the one coming unglued in this situation, but couldn’t shake my anger.

Toby loves getting into the trash. It doesn’t matter if he had filet mignon and sweet potatoes for dinner. It doesn’t matter if we went hiking that day. It doesn’t matter if he got to chase bunnies across the yard for hours on end. It doesn’t matter if he got sweet kisses from his girlfriend, Dolce, the Bulldog. It doesn’t matter, because given a chance he will attack the trash can.

I have consulted with vets and trainers alike for advice and tips, and they have recommended that I dog-proof the trash can. I've tried, believe me.

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Taking a selfie with Toby and the trashcan he loves so much. (Photo by Margot Ahlquist)

On this particular night in Toby’s trash-busting career, he hopped up on the kitchen table without the help of chairs (I had removed them to hinder his access) and using his nose knocked the trash can off of the table, which then splayed open from the force of hitting the ground. Is there a dog-proof gizmo that would survive these antics? I am doubtful. 

As I cleaned up the trash, which had sopped into the beige carpet in my rental apartment, the fury continued to boil inside of me. As Toby approached me to cuddle, our typical evening ritual, I shunned him. His sweet face and curly fur was no match for the whirlpool of frustration I was immersed in.

This was the first time I had ever been mad at Toby. Part of me felt guilty, but my anger about the dog’s seemingly endless trash can conquests was in charge. 

My mother called shortly thereafter and I recounted the horror of yet another trash job by Toby. She laughed and told me how he reminded her so much of Marty, my childhood dog, who passed away almost 10 years ago. Toby is very Marty-like in his appearance and personality. My mom recalled how many times we would walk through the door only to find Marty had opened the cabinet door where the trash was stashed and tore through the bag like Godzilla. We used think Marty had hidden thumbs because some of his trouble-making feats seemed impossible for a 22-pound Poodle to complete.

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I can't resist my silly boy or stay mad at him for long. (Photo by Margot Ahlquist)

My mom urged me to give Toby a break and charged me with the mission to tighten up the trash loophole. I knew she was right, but I was still miffed. The avocado stain on the beige carpet kept calling my attention.

I sat on the couch to watch some bad reality television to forget about my long day. For about an hour, I became engrossed in the drama of house flipping and gossip gone awry amongst a bunch of women in California.

When my TV escape was over, I noticed that my heart hurt. Toby had gone to his man cave -- under my bed -- when he saw I was really mad. I ran to my bedroom and kneeled down to see his furry face amongst the darkness. He willingly emerged, looking like a bear coming out of winter hibernation. I scooped him up in my arms and hugged him, and we sat on the couch and cuddled. I told Toby I was sorry for being so angry and shunning him. 

He kissed my cheek and settled in for cuddles, and my anger began to dissipate. I felt like myself again with my dog lying on my feet.

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I can't stay mad at this happy boy for long. (Photo by Margot Ahlquist)

As the night wore on, it hit me that the evening’s trashgate actually was a bonding experience, because I accepted Toby’s flaw and he tolerated my anger tantrum. Anger is a tricky topic in our society and becomes even more complicated when helpless animals are involved. If the anger were still coursing through my body, then I would be blinded by the facts that this dog is incredibly special to me and that I have to be better as a dog parent. 

Now, I have the trash can completely off limits to Toby so he is not tempted to cause havoc. I can finally take lavender baths without anticipating a thud from the kitchen. 

Have you dog-proofed your trash can? Tell me how in the comments! 

Learn more about dogs with Dogster:

Fri, 03 Oct 2014 04:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/dog-behavior-training-trash-advice-anger