Confessions | Confessions Confessions en-us Mon, 27 Apr 2015 04:00:00 -0700 Mon, 27 Apr 2015 04:00:00 -0700 Orion <![CDATA[How My Kid and My Dog Learned to Get Along ]]> When my son, Grissom, was born five years ago, I knew my English Springer Spaniel, Charlie, would have an adjustment period. Sure, he might prod me for more attention; jealousy was to be expected. Or maybe he’d act out and perhaps counter-surf more often than normal. Whatever was to come, I could handle it. 

Little Grissom finally came home on that crisp, grey morning in October, swaddled in love and excitement. We settled in, and I knelt down to give my best friend Charlie, then almost two, a peek at the baby. He turned his gaze away from Grissom and said, “Baby? What baby?” 

No, he was not the dog who lay watchful near my son’s crib, nor did he find delight in posing for pictures with my son. Hell, not even food falling from a highchair could bring Charlie to bond with Grissom. Like identical poles of a magnet, Grissom simply repelled Charlie. 

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Grissom as a newborn with Charlie, then almost two years old.

What was the issue? “Well, as far as (Charlie) was concerned, you brought a space alien home,” said Sarah Wilson, dog expert and co-author of Childproofing Your Dog.

OK, I get it. Children toddle around, squeal, and display erratic movement. They smell different and are unpredictable. To make matters worse, Charlie had little-to-no socialization with space aliens, err, young children. Before Grissom was born, he was an only dog with a mom who worked from home. To be more than candid -- I was Charlie’s bitch. Pardon the pun. 

So, my dog’s reaction is understandable when explained by a professional like Wilson. “Charlie is thinking, ‘I don’t want to be anywhere near whatever that is,' and becomes stressed by the toddler or infant and avoids him,” Wilson said. One symptom resulting from the situation can be resource guarding, she added.

Looking to rule out other contributing factors, I had Charlie’s vet run a blood panel, check his thyroid, and conduct a physical. Nothing medically could point to the negative, sudden change in his behavior. 

Still, my darling Springer over the next few years would do his best work to show me the error of my ways. Having a child was my error, mind you. He showed me not in words but in several uncharacteristic, jarring behaviors. 

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Charlie attempts to steal the hat from the head of four-month-old Grissom.

It started gradually -- with socks. If Charlie should find himself in the company of a stray baby sock, he would swallow it. Although I never caught him in the act, evidence of the offense would come days later when I would hear Charlie heaving down the hall. Then I knew I was about to find that one powder blue bootie that went AWOL last week. I stopped putting socks on Grissom. Cold feet versus a costly obstruction surgery? You would’ve done the same thing in my booties! 

Also, bath toys were stolen from the mesh hammock suctioned to the tub wall, and then mutilated. Receiving blankets were lifted from baskets and never seen again. What was the worst? If Grissom was to wear a hat, Charlie had the gall to skulk over and pluck the darn thing right off his head. 

Was it funny? Yes, admittedly I laughed and grabbed my camera, but the fun and games ended shortly thereafter when the dog began hoarding and guarding these aforementioned items, which now included a slew of Grissom’s toys.

The look in his eyes: Uncanny. Pupils dilated, face tense. You could almost hear him whispering “my precious” as a Matchbox car protruded from his muzzle. And if you tried to take the precious from him, he’d growl, maybe snap, and scare the Smeagol right out of you. Maybe he was a fat hobbit in a previous life. 

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The Golitko family -- Raygan, from left, three-year-old Grissom, Matt, and five-year-old Charlie -- enjoy a dog-friendly vacation together in Michigan.

Clearly humor and sarcasm is how I dealt with Charlie’s increasingly frightening behavior, but it was clear that his apathy and frustration with our new addition had turned to dangerous resource guarding and withdrawn behavior.  

I had a decision to make. Charlie was my heart dog, so I never thought of surrendering him, but I can sympathize with families who don’t have a choice. These are the families with dogs who possess true predatory aggression and have far more serious issues than Charlie was displaying. I felt Charlie could be rehabbed, so I worked with a local behaviorist.

He helped me manage the resource guarding, but said we would never "cure it completely." Wilson agreed, and said “the management never ends” nor does the “eagle-eye supervision.”

Small progress was made over the next few years. I educated my son, now five years old, and gave my dog, seven, places and secure crates to seek refuge away from my son. The growling and snapping was virtually eliminated, however the stealing and dilated pupils would remain. 

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Grissom, then four years old, puts Charlie, six years old, in a sit-stay before playing a game of "Find It."

What has helped significantly -- above the training, treats, and trading system advised by the behaviorist -- has been time and growth. My son has matured and grown tall above Charlie’s eyeline. He walks fluidly without flapping his arms. He uses his words as opposed to screaming and squealing.

Today, Grissom can perform basic obedience with Charlie, run him through a level-one agility course, and has Charlie’s cooperation with a few tricks. On rare and oh-so-precious occasions, you can even find Charlie at the foot of Grissom’s bed.  

“As he gets older, Grissom looks more and more like what Charlie considers to be human,” Wilson said. “And it becomes less stressful for him.”

If you ask me, we’re a success story, a happy ending even. However, if you look at most of the animal shelters in the country, 30 to 35 percent of the dogs and cats are there because of conflicts with resident or incoming children, said Colleen Paige, animal behaviorist and founder of National Kids and Pets Day, which was on Sunday, April 26, this year.

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Grissom, now five years old, takes a break from his toys to give Charlie, now seven, a little love.

The mom and avid animal lover launched the holiday to educate the public about safety between children and pets. Her goal is to create a curriculum for elementary schools that teaches children how to respect animals and handle them with care.

“If you teach children to have compassion for animals they will have compassion for each other,” Paige said. “The day also promotes the bond between children and pets. There’s nothing sweeter than the relationship between kids and their pets.”

I agree. The bond between Grissom and Charlie has yet to reach Timmy and Lassie status, but it’s there and growing. Our family has a ton to be grateful for. Like the fact that Grissom can wear socks again. 

Have you brought a baby into your home when you already had a dog? How did you dog handle it? Tell us your tips and suggestions in the comments.

Read more about dogs and kids on Dogster:

About the author: Raygan Swan is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom who loves to write about her adventures raising a young boy and one neurotic, pushy English Springer Spaniel under one roof. In sharing her anecdotes and experiences, Swan hopes to enlighten and educate families who strive for harmony among their two-legged and four-legged children. In addition, she likes to compete in agility trials with her springer as well as kayak and hike. She lives north of Indianapolis and can be found at

Mon, 27 Apr 2015 04:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/how-my-kid-and-my-dog-learned-to-get-along
<![CDATA[Let's Talk About the Dogs in Our Lives -- We'll Go First]]> Last month, Team Dogster shared memories of the childhood dogs who helped shape our lives. Now, in celebration of National Pet Day on April 11, a few of us are introducing you to our current pups. We hope you enjoy reading about them, from their puppyhood to today, and we want to hear about your dogs. Please share your stories and photos in the comments.

Annie Phenix, Dogster resident trainer: Radar and Echo

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Radar and Echo as pups.

After purchasing my first horse at thirtysomething, I embarked on a yearlong search to find ranch land in Texas that still had grass growing on it. One small Central Texas town kept drawing me back to it, although for a horrible reason.

My horse was with a trainer there for a 30-day tune-up. I visited every weekend and got to know the town well. I even looked briefly at some ranches with a real estate agent in the area, but the amount of dog abuse I saw turned me against the town -- puppy mill breeders called it home and kept parent dogs in small, live-animal traps that barely allowed them to turn around.

I never imagined that the cowboy who had my horse was also involved in this cruel business. One weekend, during a riding clinic, his wife walked out to a rundown horse trailer in the middle of a dusty field. She took something out and put it in her basket. The “something” turned out to be six somethings: Border Collie puppies.

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Radar and Echo all grown up.

She only brought them out of the dark horse trailer to meet potential buyers who came for the horse clinics. I didn’t like that these pups were missing out on socialization in their formative first few weeks of life. I had four big dogs at home, and I certainly didn’t need another, but as I watched the puppies being handled, it was clear they were terrified. They could barely stop blinking in bright light of the sun. I said I would take two.

Radar and Echo are now 10 years old. They are way past being frightened and shut down, under-socialized puppies. For years, Echo would not function inside of anywhere except our home. She’d shake, drool, and try to flatten herself to the ground. Today, she is a well-adjusted therapy dog who loves her job. Radar was the same kind of scared little pup. He now has obedience titles and competes in nose-work trials. I marvel at their resiliency.

And I shudder to think of where they could have ended up -- either thrown away or abused because humans ensured they had a very rough start in life. We now live in Colorado, where my two Border Collies and I delight in exploring the gorgeous mountains, abundant snow, and a sweet life free of fear.

Read more from Annie:

Wendy Newell, Dogster writer: Riggins

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Puppy Riggins.

When I brought home the little Puddle -- that’s what I called him, Puddle -- of black and white fur, I was living with my then-boyfriend at the time. He wasn’t as invested in the puppy as I was. In an effort to encourage a bond between the two, I named him Riggins after my now-ex’s favorite football player, John Riggins.

As a puppy, Riggins was a source of never-ending energy, which could not be corralled. Always demanding entertainment and attention, he was the king of the apartment and reigned over it like the charming dictator he was.

Just after he celebrated his first birthday, Riggins and I moved out. During the very painful breakup, he was my everything: friend, confidant, social activity chair, therapist, and protector.

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Senior Riggins.

Riggins is now nine years old and has slowed down considerably. I no longer have to throw a ball down the hall nonstop while I watch TV, as he is happy to curl up next to me and nap. He still gets me up at 6:30 a.m. each day, but now will happily head back to bed for a few zzz's after breakfast. When we are at the dog park, he no longer engages in his favorite boyhood activity of nonstop doggie wrestling.

I cried when he got to the age at which he should no longer run with me every day. I cried when I took him to his first “senior dog” checkup. It’s no fair that dogs age faster than humans, but no matter how old he gets, he will always be my baby boy!

Read more by Wendy:

Lisa Plummer Savas, Dogster writer: Gizmo

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Gizmo as a puppy.

I’d always wanted a Pug. There’s something completely irresistible about the breed -- the funny personality, sweet roll-shaped tail, smashed-in mug, and big, soulful eyes. So, at 36 years old, I finally got my wish.

Gizmo was the last boy in the litter, and when I knelt down to pick him up, he practically flung himself into my arms. “Take me home!” he demanded, showering my face with puppy kisses. So I did, and I named him Gizmo because he looked like a wind-up toy. Almost 12 years later, I can’t imagine life without him. We just “get” each other. I take care of him, and he makes me happy. I call him my Puggy antidepressant.

Gizmo has always been a calm, centered dog with a mischievous, playful side, but as his face has grown grayer, he’s become more serious and less interested in anything other than his main passions: food, naps, people, food, car rides, belly rubs, food, and me. He used to like the dog park, but now can’t be bothered with other dogs, unless they’re Pugs. He basically just goes there for the people -- they might have snacks!

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Gizmo the old man.

Some believe that Pugs are not as intelligent as other breeds, but behind Gizmo’s seal-pup eyes is a thoughtful, emotional, sentient being. He was brought up with German Shepherds, and I think that must have raised his IQ a few points because he’s definitely smarter than the average Pug.

Though he’s still pretty strong and healthy, my little man is slowing down. His elbows bother him, he has a chronic bronchial disorder, and I practically have to force him to go on walks nowadays. But instead of worrying about losing him, I try to follow my dog’s example by living in the moment and appreciating every precious day that we have together. I have so much to be grateful for, and yet it’s so easy to forget. I just need my Gizmo to remind me.

Read more by Lisa:

Jeff Goldberg, Dogster writer: Rocky

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Rocky at 10 weeks.

When I was a small boy growing up in West Hartford, Connecticut, a big dog in our neighborhood knocked me over and menaced over me. It was a scarring experience, and I lived in fear and distrust of dogs into my 40s.

But in 2011, my wife, Susan, after much urging, finally convinced me to let her adopt a small dog. For her, I agreed. However, grudgingly and privately Susan worried that I would never truly accept our new pet.

Then we adopted Rocky.

Within seconds of picking him up off the transport from his foster home in Tennessee, Rocky had stolen my heart. A 10-week-old Italian Greyhuahua/Jack Russell mix, Rocky put his “Velcro dog” personality into immediate effect, and Susan and I quickly learned all the ins and outs of dog ownership.

Rocky breezed through obedience school and even learned to ring a jingle bell on the back doorknob to let us know he needed a bathroom break. He also figured out very quickly what faces to make and poses to take to guilt his bleeding-heart parents into giving him his favorite treats. Works every time.

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Rocky, so mature now.

And the more I played with Rocky and his toys, the more he gleefully accepted treats from my hand, the more he curled up at my side, especially as I recovered from knee surgery shortly after his arrival, the deeper our bond grew and the faster my life changed.

Soon, I found myself encouraging neighborhood dogs to sniff my hand and lick my face when I took Rocky for walks. I looked forward to viewing pictures of Rocky and his puppy pals when his daycare provider put photos up on its Facebook page. I even enthusiastically agreed to dog-sit a friend’s pup last summer when she went away on a long business trip.

Because of Rocky, I became a full-fledged dog lover. I even write about them now on Dogster.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Read more by Jeff:

Melvin Pena, Dogster writer: Idris

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Idris at six months.

In early April, 2014, I lost my dog of nine years. I was bereft; it wasn't even two weeks before I ached to fill the dog-shaped hole in my life. Like anyone rushing from one long-term relationship into another, I found that one does not simply plug one living being directly into the space once occupied by another. Especially with a puppy who had already gone through the upheavals of being weaned, placed in a shelter, adopted, and then put up for adoption again within her first six months of life.

Within a day of bringing her home, I'd renamed her Idris, but the name, like our friendship, seemed slow to take. I realized I hadn't raised a puppy since elementary school, and had forgotten what a challenge it could be. She'd start biting at my arms or elbows while we were crossing a busy street, or want to wrestle when we got home from our daily walks, even though I was already worn out from trying to manage her surprising strength and power. As we struggled to develop a new routine, I'd all but given up on calling her by the name on record at the vet's office.

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13-month-old Idris.

I started calling her Baby, partly as an affectionate nickname, but more importantly, to teach myself patience. The profound relationship I'd had with my last dog was the work of a lifetime; the process of bringing up Baby would be as well. Now, more than six months later, my Baby is a beautiful, healthy, and good dog. We learn more about each other every day. I no longer have my early doubts or fears about whether I am right for her, nor she for me. With every day of training and every hour we spend together, we are growing better for each other.

Read more by Melvin: 

Daisy Barringer, Dogster writer: Monkey

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Monkey, one big puppy.

“Are you sure you want to get a puppy?” everyone asked. After all, I was 36 years old, and this was going to be my very first dog ever. The masses were worried I had no idea what I was in for. They warned me about how much work it would be, how I would lose sleep, how he would make a mess, and how if I didn’t train him properly right away, he’d make my life hell. But I was determined. And so I brought Monkey, a Saint Bernard puppy, home when he was eight-and-a-half weeks old.

The masses were right. Monkey was a handful. He took months longer to potty train than I expected. He chewed my armchair. And my couch. And then my other couch. He pulled on his leash. And kept pulling on his leash even as he catapulted from 14 pounds to 140 by his first birthday. He got diarrhea. And then an ear infection. And then more diarrhea. He was stubborn like his mama, and “sitting” just wasn’t his thing, no matter how many treats I offered.

The thing is, though ... I didn’t mind any of it. (Okay, fine: maybe the couch chewing if I’m being perfectly honest.) Because Monkey was a family member. And just a baby. And it only took me that first day to love him more than I’d ever loved almost anyone. (Sorry ex-boyfriends!) And even more than that, Monkey taught me something new every day.

First: patience. Ohmygosh, so much patience. But it was good. Turned out, that was something in my life I needed to learn. Then, he taught me how to chill out and let things go. That material possessions were just material possessions. And that my home didn’t have to be spotless every single second of every single day. And it turns out that was also something in my life I needed to learn.

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Monkey, one big adult.

Then he taught me how to see the world in a new way. To look up at the sky on our walks. To notice details that had been in front of me for years, but that I’d never taken the time to see. And, waddya know? That, too, was something it turns out I needed to learn. Then he taught me how to be silly again. To run in the snow and frolic in the grass. Yup: also something I needed to learn. Or at least remember. He also made me get out of the house and showed me how to appreciate being alone. To go on long hikes. Meander on walks. Hang out by the lake. Although, I suppose, it’s hardly being alone when I’ve got Monkey by my side.

Mostly, though (and you probably know where I’m going with this one): He taught me what it was like to love unconditionally. We had our moments, sure. No one likes to come home to an apartment covered with sofa stuffing and poop. But no matter what, we got past them. Because this dog of mine, this appropriately named Monkey, he’s a good one. He’s loyal and affectionate and, sure, he snores louder than a 90-year-old fat man, but he’s a good dog. A great dog. I’m so incredibly lucky to have him in my life. And even though his facial expression is naturally sad most of the time, I’m pretty sure he feels the same way about me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some slobber to wipe off of the wall.

Read more from Daisy: 

Lori Malm, Dogster Community Manager: Hank

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I adopted Hank three months ago from the Humane Society of the North Bay in Vallejo, California. She is a 13 month-old bully mutt, part Pit Bull, part Bulldog. Hank was found wandering the streets with a mite infestation and a terrible infection on her face, the latter likely as a result of foxtails.

Since bringing Hank home, I have asked myself several times: “Why would anyone get a puppy?” It is all about Hank, all of the time; caring for and training Hank is an around-the-clock job! I cried twice during the first week. Hank had very little training or socializing when she came to live with me, and she was not house trained. Fortunately, though, I work from home a couple of days a week, and when I go into the office, I can bring her with me.

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Hank also gets to go to the beach with me.

Every morning, I am up before the sun to take her outside. After she eats, we go for an hour walk in the park. We practice sit, stay, down, come, and place throughout the day. I used the Umbilical Cord Method to house train Hank, so when she wasn't in her crate, or outside in the backyard playing fetch, she was tethered to me. I am delighted to say that except for a few accidents a week (usually my fault), she now goes outside to potty! YAY!

Hank completed "Basics 1" training at the SFSPCA, and will start "Basics 2" next month. Having a puppy is a huge responsibility, but I am confident that with consistent training and socialization, a stable home, and lots of love, Hank is going to be a wonderful companion. I am happily up for the challenge, and don’t regret adopting Hank one bit; she amazes me with her progress every day.

Good dog Hank!

Now it's your turn, readers. Tell us about your dogs in the comments -- and we'd love to see photos, too!

Fri, 10 Apr 2015 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/national-pet-day-dogster-dog-rescue-adoption
<![CDATA[Do You Let Your Pet Rocks Sleep in the Human Bed? All of Them? ]]> Editor’s note: Simply put, rocks are the new dogs. To meet the needs of this growing population of pet parents, we are switching our focus to become your source for all things rock related. Rockster will deliver the latest care info from experts in the mineralogy field, the best training advice from leading rock behaviorists, and the most helpful tips from our team of rock lovers, who will help you navigate life with a not-so-furry friend. Also look for inspiring stories of rock rescue and adoption, as well as profiles of Rockster Heroes. And be sure to create a page in our Community area -- we want to see your pets, pebbles and boulders alike! We hope you enjoy Rockster. -- Pamela Mitchell, Senior Rockster Editor

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It started with one small rock in the bed. But then my husband said he felt bad for the big rock. Now, I’m sleeping with two rocks, two cats, and -- sometimes -- no husband.

Looking back, the gradual mineral takeover of our human bed really began with the adoption of our second rock, a cute little sedimentary mix we call Marshmallow. Our new rock spent her first night in the house down on the floor beside our big rock, who’d been sleeping in our room since his very first night with us.

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There's not a lot of room left for humans in the bed these days.

“Why would we take a rock out of a quarry just to make him sleep alone at night?” my husband said, protesting my original plan to keep the bedroom a rock-free zone.

Instead, our new rescue rock spent his inaugural night in our room on a pile of guest bedding my husband arranged into a nest for him.

It seemed like our lovely limestone boy was doing well down on the floor, but when our second adoptee came into the picture, I worried about our new little rock and kept getting out of bed to make sure she wasn’t too cold.

My husband would probably deny having ever said this now, but after about a week of constant temperature checks, he turned to me one night and said, “Why don’t you just bring her in bed with us?”

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My little rock stays warm all night now, wrapped up tight in the human bed.

I went out to the carport and grabbed a jack out of the trunk of my sedan, and with my husband’s help, I was able to get our quiet little girl up on to the bed without much damage to my back.

The new sleeping arrangement certainly warmed up our new addition, but we couldn’t have our little rock in the human bed while keeping our big rock on the floor -- it just didn’t seem fair. Our big rock spent the next few nights just staring at us with his beautiful, hand-drawn eyes, pleading silently to be included in the family bed.

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Who could say no to those black dots?

After two nights, my husband and I couldn’t stand it anymore, so we rented a forklift and got our limestone love up onto the covers. I was so happy to have everyone together in one bed -- until a week later when my husband announced he was moving to the guest room.

He says our bed is just too small to share with our adorable boulders, and says he has bruises from rolling into them at night. I’m now alone with my rocks, but sleeping without my husband seems totally unsustainable.

It seems like there is only one option here that is fair to both rocks, my husband, and myself -- we need to get a king-sized bed.

Read more about pet rocks on Rockster:

Read more about letting pets in the human bed:

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the rock duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow 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 feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

Wed, 01 Apr 2015 04:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/rocks-dogs-human-bed-sleeping-with-rocks-dogs
<![CDATA[How Do You Know When Your Dog Is Happy?]]> It’s no secret that dogs make humans happier. Their sweet little faces can make even the crankiest people soften. But do we ever stop to think about how we make our furry friends happy in return?

With March 20 being International Happiness Day, I started thinking about how my dog makes me happy every day of the week (most weeks, that is) and how confident I am that I return the favor on the regular. Granted, people always say that Finley looks "so serious" and "intently focused," and that she doesn't "smile" the way some dogs do.

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Finley usually has a look of intent on her face, but that doesn't mean she isn't happy.

To be honest, I see their point. Finley is no jokester. She has a long and prominent snout, giving her the appearance of having high cheekbones. This is paired with deeply expressive brows and penetrating eyes. Unlike some dogs whose faces are mostly hidden behind crazy curls or fluffy fur, Finley’s expressions are strikingly visible. And instead of a lolling tongue like many pooches have, she keeps her mouth tightly shut (and free of slobber) for the most part.

No, my dog certainly isn’t the goofiest tail-wagger on the block. In fact, most casual observers comment that she looks rather stately or regal (which I quickly take as a compliment). While she’s typically bursting with energy, she also has a way of neatly sitting on command and arching her neck to look you straight in the eye -- especially if you have a bit of cheese for her. In other words, she can be a bit of a crowd pleaser.

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My dog will arch her neck to look you straight in the eye. It's intense, but filled with love.

The only non-serious part about my Vizsla is her floppy ears. But even those frequently strike onlookers as tenacious, since they’re typically sailing proudly through the air as she runs at full speed. But despite Finley’s more determined and earnest physical characteristics, I know for a fact that she is simply the happiest dog in the world. Here's how:

1. She slow-blinks when massaged

While she's not the type to roll on her back and offer up a soft belly for some scratches, Finley will always sit perfectly still for a little massage time. She could be zipping around the house like Speedy Gonzales a moment beforehand, but as soon as I sit down and reach out a hand, she stops on a dime and ponies up to her personal masseuse. Be it behind her ears, on the shoulders, or by her haunches, Finley absolutely loves a little rub to soothe those sore muscles. And she goes into a sort of deep trance when she's being massaged: Her eyelids start to flutter and she slow-blinks like a Zen master.

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If you give her a massage, she'll start to slow-blink in utter bliss.

2. She cuddles super closely

There's nothing Finley loves more than body contact. She craves touch more than any dog or human I know. I know she's happiest when she's sandwiched between my husband and me because she literally doesn't move. After squeezing herself between us as tightly as physically possible, she's set for hours. It's the only time she's happy to just be.

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Finley is happiest when she's cuddled up between two people, especially my husband and me.

3. She makes a lot of eye contact

I never knew that a canine could make such consistent eye contact before Finley. I've heard it's the equivalent of a dog giving you a hug, and I'm inclined to believe that. Whenever she gets the chance, Finley looks deep into my eyes and holds my gaze. I can tell she relishes the attention; she's never the first to look away.

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This pup loves making eye contact, with or without glasses.

4. Her tail wags furiously whenever I approach her

Drumming a rhythm against the carpet or her doggy bed, Finley's tail could whip cream if given the chance. Even if we suspect she's quietly sleeping, whenever anyone walks up to her, she immediately perks up -- tail first.

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Her tail is always wagging, especially if you get close to her.

5. She wants to play

This probably goes for most dogs, but for Finley, it seems pretty exaggerated. Upon walking in the door, she immediately grabs a nearby toy and brings it to you, ready to play. And at the end of a long day, even when she's conked out on the floor, if you so much as walk by with something resembling a stuffed animal or rope toy, it's game on.

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A common occurence: Finley wants to play. A rare ocurrence: Finley looks like she's smiling.

So, no, Finley doesn't grin like some dogs or make silly faces worthy of YouTube or Instagram, but I know she's happier than any show-stopping Fido made famous for his laugh-out-loud party tricks. And that, in and of itself, makes me happy, too.

In what ways do you know your dog is truly happy? Let us know in the comments!

Read more by Whitney C. Harris:

About the author: Whitney C. Harris is a New York-based freelance writer for websites including StrollerTraffic, Birchbox, and A former book and magazine editor, she enjoys running (with Finley), watching movies (also with Finley), and cooking meatless meals (usually with Finley watching close by).

Thu, 19 Mar 2015 15:51:00 -0700 /lifestyle/signs-dog-happiness-vizsla-international-happiness-day
<![CDATA[Do Certain Songs Remind You of a Dearly Departed Dog?]]> In April of 2014, I lost Tina, my dog of nine years, to a sudden and rapidly degenerative condition, the cause of which remains a mystery. It was heartbreaking, and I'm still not over it. Shortly after she passed, I pitched a piece to Dogster about her decline and passing, but still haven't managed to find the strength to write it. I've had this other idea for an essay about my five favorite songs about dogs on the ledger for a while, too. Today, it occurred to me to bring the two together.

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Tina as I'll always remember her: happy and full of life. (Photo by Melvin Peña)

If there's anything I love as much as dogs, it has to be music. I'm listening to something pretty much every hour I'm awake. When I'm writing about dogs, I'm listening to ambient, electronic, or classical music. When Tina and I went on our daily walks through the forest, I always had headphones on. Rather than putting together a list of random works about or related to dogs, I thought I'd honor Tina by compiling a list of songs that I associate with her memory.

1. Annuals, Brother

Annuals was one of the first North Carolina-based bands that I got into when still living in the Chicago area. Brother, the lead track on their first full album, Be He Me (2006), always evokes memories of Tina. It starts with contemplative lines, "Me and my brother hiking / me and my brother might find a turtle / or just have some fun. / Me and my brother playing / with our dog / two mighty men with a wolf / who drinks from the gulf."

Visiting my family in North Carolina during Thanksgiving of 2007, that exact scenario played out. Walking with my brother and Tina through the woods, my dog stopped on the trail, having unearthed a sun-bleached turtle shell. The song came up on my computer later that evening and was forever seared into my memory.

2. Patrick Swayze, She's Like the Wind

December 30, 2011: I went to karaoke at the Pinhook, my favorite bar in Durham. I took the stage and performed, in all humility, an outstanding rendition of Patrick Swayze's eternal hit She's Like The Wind (1987). When I finished, I crow-hopped off the stage -- not trying to do a rock-star leap or anything so extreme -- and when I landed, I felt a sharp pain in my right knee. As it turns out, I'd torn my ACL, which required surgery and a year of physical therapy. That night, I managed to get home about an hour later, and something extraordinary happened.

I'd just cracked the door open and started struggling to shuffle my injured leg out of the car when I heard my dog emit this long, plaintive howl. It was a noise I'd never heard her make before, nor ever again. Somehow, Tina sensed that I had suffered a major injury and howled in sympathy. Easily the worst part of surgery and the first couple of months of recovery was not being able to take Tina for her daily walk. Once my knee was fully mobile again, we didn't miss a day of walking for the rest of her life.

3. Hiss Golden Messenger, Drummer Down

North Carolina's M.C. Taylor fronts one of my favorite musical projects, Hiss Golden Messenger. Drummer Down, a track from 2012's Poor Moon, is, to me, a song about seeking stability in a world fraught with impermanence. We've all had bad days and tough times, and we've all come home to have a dog greet us with boundless joy. This song mirrors that experience for me. As it reaches its conclusion, the music fades to the sound of a dog barking in the distance.

Taylor tells me it was drummer Terry Lonergan's dog, Millie, who wandered in during a taped rehearsal. "I had to ride / such a long, long time / and here I am another drummer down," Taylor sings, and the last aching chorus gives way to that welcoming, even redemptive, dog barking. As time passes, the song and the sound bring Tina's face right back to me. It's become a great comfort.

4. Mount Moriah, The Letting Go

Tina was born and lived her entire life in North Carolina, so it's no surprise that there are a number of local artists linked with my memories of her. Mount Moriah is another North Carolina group, and another favorite of mine. Heather McEntire, Mount Moriah's lead singer and songwriter, is a great dog lover herself. Fitting then that you may recognize the piano-driven intro of The Letting Go from its inclusion in this Subaru commercial.

Within the span of 30 seconds, you see this guy go through a full lifetime of adventures with his dog. I can't watch this advertisement these days without bursting into tears. It was the last song Tina and I listened to together on our trip to the veterinarian's office on April 1, 2014, the day she was put to sleep. Here it is in full:

I'd known and loved the song since the first time I heard it in 2010. It is only since Tina passed, however, that the song, the commercial, and the memories became inextricably linked in my mind.

5. Murray Gold, Madame de Pompadour

Just after I had Tina euthanized, I placed her body in the back of my car. I was taking her back home to bury her. The only thing I love as much as dogs and music is the British science-fantasy show Doctor Who. Murray Gold's instrumental piece, Madame de Pompadour, from one my favorite episodes, Series 2's "The Girl in the Fireplace," was the first song to play when i turned the car on.

This music plays over the episode's last scene. The Doctor returns to 18th-century France to take Madame de Pompadour on a promised adventure, only to find that, in his absence, she has passed away. I recognized the theme, set the song to repeat, and just wept all the way home. I couldn't listen to it again until today, when it again prompted the tears to flow immediately.

Do certain songs remind you of a dearly departed dog? Or one still with you?

It seems entirely likely that as long as humans have shared their lives with dogs, they've written songs about or involving their beloved canine companions. Then there are those songs that through experience become forever associated with our dogs. These are the five songs that remind me most of Tina. What songs remind you of your dogs?

Read more about remembering dogs on Dogster:

About the author: Melvin Peña trained as a scholar and teacher of 18th-century British literature before turning his research and writing skills to puppies and kittens. He enjoys making art, hiking, and concert-going, as well as dazzling crowds with operatic karaoke performances. He has a one-year-old female Bluetick Coonhound mix named Idris, and his online life is conveniently encapsulated here.

Wed, 18 Mar 2015 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/songs-about-dogs-music-annuals-patrick-swayze-hiss-golden-messenger-mount-moriah-doctor-who
<![CDATA[Did a Childhood Dog Help Shape Your Life?]]> Simply put: We love dogs. The entire team at Dogster -- writers, editors, and community managers -- have this in common. Some of us fell in love as adults, and others grew up with pups by our side. With the latter in mind, we decided to share memories of our childhood dogs. We hope you enjoy reading about them, and we want to hear about yours. Please share your stories and photos in the comments.

Pamela Mitchell, Dogster senior editor: SMIDGEN

My constant companion as a kid was a sweet Boston Terrier mix named Smidgen. I remember curling up with her on the floor of my closet, a favorite place to read. She tagged along as I solved mysteries with Nancy Drew and explored the fantastical world of Narnia.

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Look at those posters on my wall! I was in training to be a Dogster writer and editor even back then.

The most vivid memory I have of Smidgen, though, involves returning home from a family vacation and not being able to pick her up from the vet’s office, where she stayed, because it was Sunday. I had missed her while we were gone, but was downright miserable knowing she was just a few miles away, sleeping in a cage instead of at the foot of my bed. Monday couldn’t come soon enough.

When I decided to get my first dog as an adult, it was a given that the breed would be Boston Terrier. First came Dolly, then Spot. They have been by my side now for almost 13 and 11 years, respectively, and are members of our family. Smidgen made that possible by showing me how strong the bond could be between a dog and her human. So many years later, I still think of her and thank her for that.

Annie Phenix, Dogster resident trainer: CRICKET

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Yelling at each other was something of a sport in my family, and we were gold medal winners in it. The only calm constant was my dog, Cricket. He saved me.

I grew up in the ‘70s, and no one neutered or spayed or fenced or leashed their dogs in our neighborhood. Cricket just showed up one day, and after it seemed as though he had always been there.

Cricket looked like a German Shepherd in his coloring, but his body was kind of like a hunting dog, with a houndy tail that went up over his back.

He followed my bus to middle school. At each stop, Cricket would try to board the bus -- his eyes asking the bus driver politely, “May I board?” At each stop, the driver yelled at him. At each stop, I called to him from my seat, sometimes fighting with a window that would not easily come down.

Cricket followed my bus all the way to school. He’d then wait outside until recess, when he would come find me and we’d sit together under a tree. My arms wrapped around him, I thanked him for loving me when no one else seemed to.

Every bus trip to and from school required him to navigate a four-lane highway. I was sick with worry twice a day, but Cricket always made his way safely. The joy that dog brought me at recess kept me invested in living.

One Thanksgiving, his back legs gave way. I spent the entire holiday outside on the back porch with him because he wasn’t allowed in the house. We lived in the South, so Cricket and I weren’t cold -- at least not from the weather. I warmed him, and he warmed me.

He didn’t pity himself, and I learned much from his acceptance of what was happening. To this day, when I feel put upon by the world or by my dysfunctional human family, I think of Cricket and his stoic demeanor. I think of his unconditional love, and I try to live up to his love for me.

Melvin Pena, Dogster writer: VIOLET

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We got Violet when I was in elementary school, and she lived until my junior year of college. She was the only dog our family ever had.

My childhood home had a spacious backyard, which my dad and I fenced in ourselves. Within this self-contained idyll, Violet rarely knew a leash or any other kind of restraint, living a long life filled with ease, peace, and love. She was named for one of the principal characters in Pound Puppies, a mid-‘80s animated TV series and film. Particulars of the story have long faded, but my memories of the dog who took that name remain vibrant to this day.

She wasn’t sprightly or energetic, and I know she never received a moment of structured training. In spite of the latter, Violet was a kind, gentle, pushover of a dog. She didn’t really require any pushing, though -- if you got within three feet, she would just flop over, cheerfully and patiently waiting for a belly rub.

Violet was content to sit with me in the driveway, on the deck, or in the backyard for endless stretches of time during every phase of our lives. Whether I was recounting the events of the elementary school day, telling her about the first girl I had a crush on in middle school, or explaining why I had to go across the country to continue my education, she would just sit there and wag her tail happily.

I never knew, nor cared, what breed she was; she was always just Violet to me. Though it’s been nearly 20 years since she passed away, there is an essential part of the person I am now that was defined by my experiences with that beautiful and excellent dog.

Wendy Newell, Dogster writer: RAMBO

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Wendy Newell, right, with sister Christy and Rambo.

When I was about 12 years old, my dad told my sister and I that we were going to work with him. He was a real estate agent, and that had never happened before, but we were up for the adventure. When we got to our destination -- surprise! -- there was a litter of Terrier-mix puppies. I don’t remember being told we were getting a dog, but I do remember sitting down in the middle of them and being ridiculously excited.

Figuring out a name for the sweet boy we eventually brought home was tough in a family in which dad was regularly outvoted by two daughters and a wife. I’m convinced one of the reasons he steered us toward a male dog and to his name, in particular, was to help even the odds in our house.

Any name we threw out, my dad put to the test by chanting the following sequence. Take the name Fuzzy: “Fuzzy. Come here, Fuzzy. F.U.Z.Z.Y. Fuzzy.” That name and many others were followed by a “Nope, don’t like it,” from my dad. When somebody suggested Rambo, it passed my dad’s name test and satisfied the entire family.

It was the perfect name for the little mutt who resembled a skinnier, less photogenic Toto from The Wizard of Oz. In those days, you didn’t use the term "mix" or combine breed names, you just proudly said, “Mutt.” Rambo was our mutt!

If you threw the ball for him, which he loved, and tossed it over the bushes, Rambo would leap, seeming to hover in a Superdog pose. It was his thing. He would show off his powers of flight for visitors, too.

Rambo was an outdoor dog, so not much of a cuddler, but he was easy to love -- and I loved him with my whole heart.

John D. Williams, Dogster customer service manager: PAL

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John D. Williams, left, with brother Gary, sister Merilyn, and Pal.

What does it mean to have a dog while growing up? I’ve written about my childhood dog, Pal, a number of times, but I don’t know if I’ve ever fully answered that question. Perhaps I came closest to doing so in the stories I told about Pal surviving being hit by a car and saving a petting zoo. I’ve also documented how Pal spent a good deal of his life chained up out back, which still haunts me to this day.

I often felt misunderstood growing up. More than likely, I would have tested positive for ADD, a disorder that didn’t match up too well with a stern, disciplined father. Maybe that’s why Pal and I got along so well. We were both filled with energy that all too often spilled out at the wrong moment. Pal’s energy got him tied up out back, and my energy got my backside tied up with ... well, let’s just say I was a disciplined child and leave it at that.

Did having a dog make a difference in my life? Most definitely! Pal kept me company while I burned the trash in the big drum close to his doghouse, and he helped me burn off a lot of the energy that seemed to get me into trouble more often than not. Who knows how many lickings I was spared because Pal had helped me get the wiggles out?

We know that giving a puppy to a child just because the puppy is cute is the cause of all too many older, unwanted dogs being dropped off at shelters. That being said, when the right dog is matched up with the right child, you have a growth partner that teaches a child lessons in three key areas of life: laughter, loyalty, and love.

Pal nurtured my love of laughter with his funny antics; he taught me what it means to stay true to someone even when they have let you down; and, greatest of all, Pal showed me that for love to be unconditional, you really have to drop the conditions. He greeted me with the same joy whether I had spent five hours or five minutes with him the previous day. All Pal cared about was that I was with him in that moment, and he loved me completely. How much better the world would be if we treated each other the way Pal treated me?

Laughter, loyalty, and love. Three mighty big lessons taught by a little dog with a big heart.

Teresa Tobat, Dogster writer: PRINCESS

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Growing up, my life revolved around three dogs: Spot, a spunky black-and-white Terrier mix; Penny, a sweet brown Toy Poodle; and Princess, an apricot-colored Poodle whom my family referred to as the “mama dog.” She earned this nickname partially because of her size -- she was bigger than the other two -- but also because she was caring, mostly toward her partner in crime, Penny.

When my family went to the shelter to meet adoptable dogs, Princess cowered in the corner. Until Penny entered the room. She then transformed into a playful dog with boundless energy. There was no way we could just take one of them home. In fifth grade, I remember writing that rescuing Penny and Princess was the best thing to happen all year.

From the beginning, Princess was the true heart and soul of our dog pack. She was authoritative without ever being aggressive. She was the most confident dog I have ever known. But that doesn’t mean Princess didn’t have a sweet side. If you called her name repeatedly, she’d paw the air over her face -- like a bashful star in front of the paparazzi. I snuggled with her often.

It was no surprise to me that she was the last of the three dogs to pass away, two summers ago. Her death in so many ways was the end of an era. It meant a very firm goodbye to my childhood and one of the first dogs I ever loved.

So many things come and go. But Princess was always a steady source of companionship, from elementary school through to my very first job. Even though my life is now different, I love and still miss her. Princess, thank you for being my anchor. Thank you.

Heather Marcoux, Dogster writer: POGO

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Heather Marcoux with Marshmallow, left, and GhostBuster.

Pogo the Scottish Terrier was adorable, with fluffy black fur and sweet dark eyes. He was the kind of dog every kid wanted -- a bundle of awesome Terrier energy, pounding through the snow as if his paws were springs (hence the name).

One day, Pogo got hit by a car in front of our house. I remember being so worried for him. My mom put his bed in the living room and took care of him there until he was better. Eventually, Pogo was back to playing with us in the yard.

It’s been more than 20 years since I’ve seen that dog. I can see Pogo clearly in my mind, but these memories are the only images I have of the pup who sat on the back porch with my siblings and me as we ate mustard sandwiches.

Back in the '90s, we didn't document our lives the way we do now -- film was expensive, and so were cameras. I don't have a picture of Pogo to share, but I do have about a million of my two current dogs, GhostBuster and Marshmallow.

Now it's your turn, readers. Tell us about your childhood dogs in the comments -- and we'd love to see photos, too! 

Read more about childhood dogs:

Wed, 11 Mar 2015 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/growing-up-with-dogs-children-kids-pets
<![CDATA[Are There Certain People Your Dog Just Doesn't Trust?]]> Riggins loves people, and they feel the same way about him. When we go to the dog park, he marches up to other owners and asks for affection. As soon as he gets it, Riggins shoots me a grin that says, "Everyone loves me. You know it's true." I roll my eyes and wait until he's had enough before throwing his ball toward the next soon-to-be adoring fan.

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Making friends with a stranger at the dog park (All photos by Wendy Newell unless otherwise noted)

It might be more accurate to say, though, that Riggins loves most people. I've learned that there are a few he just does not trust. When I had an office job, I'd take him for a walk in our neighborhood every morning before heading to work. We regularly passed a man walking down our street to the bus stop. Riggins HATED the guy and would react as if he were going to eat him for breakfast. The first few times I was horrified and apologized for my dog's horrific behavior, then I decided there must be a good reason why the man bothered him. I never discovered what that reason was, but I have since identified a few folks he generally distrusts. 

1. Smelly people

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Man smelling by

If you smell, Riggins wants nothing to do with you. Of course, it doesn't go both ways. While out on the trials, Riggins can flop down on a dead bird, roll around in the rotting flesh, and finish off our hike with his head held high and proud. If YOU haven't showered in the past 48 hours, forget it. Being a stinky human is NOT okay with him. It usually leads to him walking around the offending person in a defensive position and with a low growl that obviously means, "Back up and use some soap, buddy!"

2. Children

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Riggins with my nephew. Riggins has to like him. He's blood.

It's really not Riggins fault that he isn't good with kids -- he wasn't given an opportunity to grow up around the two-legged little monsters. Years ago, I had a house-warming party and my good friend brought over her son. The child was just old enough to plop down in a chair and sit there starring out at the world. Riggins disliked him the second the kid's diaper hit the seat. Growling, barking, and overwhelming grumpiness is what the poor child had to live with. I kept telling Riggins that the kid had done nothing to him, but he wasn't listening to logic. The small human was not to be trusted!

3. Anyone off-trail

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Riggins and his friend, Asscher, patrol the trail.

We hike almost every day, and Riggins is one of the best park rangers California has ever known. I once had to physically pull him forward on a trail because he was obsessed with a mylar balloon that had gotten stuck on a bush across the canyon. All Riggins knew was that the shiny object did not belong there and he was going to make sure everyone understood that.

Where we hike, it is good manners, common sense, and sometimes the law to stay on the trails, and yet some hikers are adventurous and push out beyond the boarders of the path. Riggins is NOT OKAY with that. Sure, in the legal off-leash areas, his friends and he run beyond the trail, jumping over bushes and ducking under branches, but just because the four-legged creatures can do it, that doesn't mean humans should. I've had to tell people as they come back onto a trail that my dog doesn't like such wandering and that perhaps they should wait until we pass them.

4. Bad singers

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Woman singing by

If you're going to sing around Riggins, you had better be in pitch. While on the trails, we sometimes walk by a fellow hiker singing at the top of his lungs. I'm sure in his ear cocoon of wonderful mushy headphones, he sounds like Justin Timberlake bringing sexy back, but out in the real world he sounds like someone nearing death, and Riggins reacts accordingly.

5. Anyone using wheels

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Elderly man in wheelchair pets therapy dog by

I once had a dream of Riggins becoming a therapy dog who visited hospitals and retirement homes, spreading joy and happiness among the residents. This dream was crushed as soon as I realized Riggins distrusts anything with wheels. If you require a chair that is mobile, Riggins is not going to be your friend. 

Of course none of this is logical, but in Riggins' mind the only person worse than someone in a wheelchair is a person on horseback. He just can't figure out why any human would want to straddle the animal he believes was spawned by the devil himself!

What about your pup? Who doesn't your dog trust? Let us know in the comments.

Read related 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 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.

Mon, 09 Mar 2015 04:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/people-my-dog-does-not-trust-dogs-fear-kids-wheels
<![CDATA[My Ongoing Search for the Cause of My Dog's Allergies]]> Luna has had allergies for as long as I can remember. Back in Denver, the vet took her off grains, then off chicken, onto pills, then off them. But we never quite had it under control.

Then I moved to Europe. Luna and I sunned ourselves in Spain, zipped along the beaches of southern France, hiked the Alps in Switzerland -- and from time to time allergies reared their ugly heads, making her itchy or lethargic and sometimes covered in hives.

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Luna's allergies (and the scratching that comes with them) mean that she's almost always in a sweater.

I carried Benadryl in my purse all the time. We switched her food again and again. I stopped giving her treats for a while, afraid that they were the culprit.

And finally, this year, after a year of living in the Alps -- an official American expat and expat dog -- the allergies reached a fever pitch, with almost daily hives, itching until she bled, and terrifying intestinal upset.

In October, I returned from a conference and rushed her to the vet, where they put her on an IV for dehydration. And that was the last straw.

We weren't sure if the dehydration (which was a side effect of the intestinal issues) was related to the allergies or not, but I had a sneaking suspicion ... and I was frustrated with all the years of trying to solve the problem but getting her no relief.

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Another allergy side-effect: sleepiness.

So October became the month to throw more money at the problem.

First, they did a blood test. In less than a week, the results were in. Nothing. Nada. Big fat goose egg.

The vet explained that while most allergies show up on blood tests, on the rare occasion they just don’t. Luna was this rare occasion.

The next step was a skin test. They gave her a sleeping injection, and I held her while she drifted off (this is something the Swiss do that I love: Instead of taking your dog away from you and into the back room, they have you hold her while she drifts into dreamland; "It's nicer for her," the vet tells me -- and I 100 percent agree).

Once she was good and asleep, the vet put some drops in her eyes to keep them moist, then took two skin samples and gave her a few stitches where he'd taken the skin. He cleaned the areas and then, with her still completely passed out, the vet and I worked together to slip her into a full-body cat suit that would keep her from licking or scratching the stitches. 

This was the worst part of our allergy quest because when Luna woke up, she was upset. She cried and tried to get up and felt woozy and wanted to be held. She looked at her belly, where some of the stitches were, and looked mournfully up at me.

The heartbreak of not being to explain that everything we were doing was so that she can live a better life was acute. I cried on the way home.

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Luna snuggled up.

A week or two later, I waited anxiously for the results ... only to find that they showed nothing. Again, negative. Again, a zero.

And again the vet explained that there are rare cases in which dogs do have allergies and they don't show up on the test results. We had, he said, come full circle. Before the testing, we'd been trying to tackle her allergies with food. Now we were going to do that again -- only more aggressively this time.

The vet explained that sometimes very allergic dogs develop allergies over time. So the food that used to work for her may be causing her problems now. I'd had her on grain-free, fish-based food. He suggested we move to an unusual protein and an unusual carb. Choices included things like reindeer and horse.

"Give it six weeks," he said.

So I bought two bags and switched her to the new food.

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Luna and me.

At first, she seemed to do well. I celebrated a little. And then a few weeks into it, she started scratching again, licking her paws, and seeming generally uncomfortable.

After six weeks, with her still scratching and licking up a storm, the vet told me we had a few options. We could try another protein. We could do a raw/bone diet (which sounded complicated). Or I could make her food myself.

If I made her food myself, I would know exactly what was in it.

Honestly, that's something I'd wanted to do for a long time anyway. I liked the idea of cooking for her. I liked the idea of knowing exactly what she was getting. And she loved it when I'd put carrots or broccoli or a little tuna in her food.

And so the vet gave me some direction, and I started to cook. It's been two or three weeks now, so it's too soon to tell for sure, but I think we're starting to work this thing out.

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These days, I'm serving her a vet-approved mix of fish (salmon and tuna), a vegetable medley (broccoli, carrots, and green beans), and rice. And as time goes on, we'll be tweaking the recipe for both optimal nutrition and any allergic reactions.

Feeding her this way has already yielded more results than any of the efforts we made in these past five years. I fed her oats for a day, and she immediately broke out in hives and hid under the covers (so the original vet was right, it seems; Luna can't do wheat). I've also noticed that she gets a little itchy if I used canned veggies instead of fresh -- so perhaps she's reacting to preservatives or something.

The bottom line is that this diet is letting me do what none have before -- identify individual offending ingredients and work around them.

We're still on our quest for a completely allergy-free life. But these days, I'm cautiously optimistic that we're going to figure it out. And Luna is just thrilled that tuna is in and dog food is out.

Read more about dog allergies:

Gigi Griffis is a world-traveling entrepreneur and writer with a special love for inspiring stories, new places, and living in the moment. In May 2012, she sold her stuff and took to the road with a growing business and a pint-sized pooch. You can follow her adventures at or friend her on Facebook.

Thu, 05 Mar 2015 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-allergies-hives-itching-blood-skin-test-food-elimination-diet
<![CDATA[Do You Let Your Dogs Sleep in the Human Bed? All of Them?]]> It started with one little dog in the bed. But then my husband said he felt bad for the big dog. Now, I'm sleeping with two dogs, two cats, and sometimes no husband. I need to figure out how to take our bed back -- and how I lost it in the first place.

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They say you shouldn't bring your smart phone to bed, and I'm pretty sure Kongs don't belong in my bed either.

Looking back, the gradual animal takeover of the human bed began with the adoption of our second dog, Marshmallow. Tiny and timid, Marshmallow spent her first night in our house curled up beside our first dog, GhostBuster, on the big dog bed beside our bed. Having a dog bed in our room was never part of the plan when we adopted GhostBuster, but my husband caved the very first night we had him.

"Why would we take a dog out of a shelter just to make him sleep alone in a cage at night?" my husband said when I suggested we stick to the plan and have GhostBuster sleep in his crate downstairs.

Instead, GhostBuster spent his first night in our room on a pile of guest bedding my husband arranged into a nest for him. The bedding was soon replaced with the big round dog bed he would eventually share with Marshmallow during her first night with us.

Unfortunately, sometime during Marshmallow's inaugural night in our room, she got up off the dog bed and silently chewed through a phone charging cable. We decided to bring a crate into our room for her the next night -- an arrangement that didn't last long after Marshmallow's noisy night terrors began.

First she would make those frightened little barks that dreaming dogs make, and then she would wake up with a start, jumping to her feet and knocking her body against the side of the rattling crate. Next, Marshmallow would attempt to shake off her nightmare like a dog shakes off water -- making her collar jiggle. My husband would probably deny having ever said this now, but after about a week he turned to me one night and said, "Why don't you just bring her in bed with us?"

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My little angel, Marshmallow, wrapped in a cozy cloud on my bed.

I knew it was wrong, but I jumped at the chance to sleep with my little cuddle bug. Marshmallow's noisy nights ended right then -- now she's the most quiet of all our pets during sleeping hours, curling up beside me like a furry little angel. Having Marshy sleep with us humans also helped our timid little terrier to become more comfortable with my husband, as she had some issues with men when we adopted her.

The new sleeping arrangement was great for Marshmallow's confidence, but having her in the bed didn't seem fair to GhostBuster, who had never even considered jumping up until he saw Marshy do it. A few days after we brought the little one in, GhostBuster made his first attempt -- a spontaneous and ungainly leap up onto my husband's blanket-covered legs, which was quickly thwarted. While my husband and I discussed GhostBuster's sudden bed ambition, our beautiful boy approached the bed again and rested his head on the edge of the mattress. It was clear that he would do anything to be included, even if that meant sitting up all night with just his head on the bed.

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"Please, Mom. I'm so lonely down here!"

"It's really not fair to GhostBuster that Marshy gets to sleep in the bed and he doesn't," my husband told me.

I was so happy that my husband had come to that conclusion without me having to press for it. Despite having originally been against having dogs in the bedroom, after six months with GhostBuster I was more than willing to let our wonderful buddy share our bed (despite the fact that we knew our dog likes to sleep with his limbs as far away from his body as possible).

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GhostBuster's favorite sleeping position. This guy does not make a good bedmate unless you give him room.

GhostBuster was invited to sleep near the bottom of the bed, but over the course of several nights he inched his way up the mattress and wedged himself between my husband and me. I was paw-punched several times while GhostBuster thrashed through dreams I can only assume were about kickboxing. Then one night, my husband caught a particularly hard paw to the face, and GhostBuster was promptly demoted back down to the dog bed.

It seemed so unfair to GhostBuster that he should have to sleep on the floor alone, but I was afraid that if I kicked fearful little Marshmallow out of the big bed to join him it might undo all the progress she'd been making, so I let her stay and be my little furry spoon.

That's when GhostBuster's night slurping noises got worse.

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He now believes this is where he belongs.

Oh, the slurping noises. It's this thing GhostBuster does to soothe himself to sleep. It sounds like he's licking imaginary peanut butter off the roof of his mouth. He used to do it as we fell asleep, but after he got kicked out of the family bed he started doing it all night long. The noises actually got so bad that my husband started sleeping alone in the guest room four nights a week, his nights before work, so that GhostBuster's slurping wouldn't wake him up every hour.

On the nights when my husband sleeps in the guest room, there’s plenty of room for GhostBuster and Marshmallow to both join me in bed -- so much room that I don't even get pawed in the face at all. Our two kitties, Ghost Cat and Specter, also come in to sleep on my legs while the dogs lie on either side of me.

I love cuddling with my pets, but sleeping without my own husband for half of every week seems totally unsustainable. I don't like our current sleeping situation, but I don't have a fair solution yet. Even if I kick GhostBuster out of bed and keep Marshmallow cuddled up, it will still be inequitable to the dogs and GhostBuster's sleep slurps will still be waking up my husband.

It seems like there is only one option here fair to both dogs, my husband, and myself -- we need to get a king-sized bed! And maybe a white-noise machine. 

Let's hear from you, readers. Do your dogs sleep in the human bed? How do you deal with their bed-hogging and night noises? Share your experiences and advice in the comments!

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

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

Wed, 04 Mar 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/sleep-with-dogs-bed-ghostbuster-marshmallow
<![CDATA[My Saluki and I Were in the Westminster Dog Show! ]]> Until recently, even getting entered into the Westminster Kennel Club dog show was a challenge. With the entries capped at 2,500 dogs, many more dogs were submitted than could be accepted. Early on, the club limited entries to AKC Champions only, but even the No. 1 dogs in their breed often had their submissions declined (it happened to me in the '90s). So they decided to invite the top five dogs based on breed points as of October of the previous year, so that the top dogs wouldn't be turned away. My Saluki, Pepe, received an invitation for last year's show, but the money part of the equation had us regretfully staying home.

Pepe finished 2014 in the Top 5, but he wasn't there at the October deadline, so I sent in his entry and crossed my fingers he would be chosen in the random draw. This happens more easily these days, as all dog show entries have declined, even to the point that Westminster now allows non-Champions to be entered once again. But you never know. So I held my breath until a golden envelope arrived in the mail in mid-December -- his entry acceptance!

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Pepe enjoys one last Frisbee game before we load up for the trip to New York this year. (Photo by Caroline Coile)

The hard part: Getting there

I live in rural north Florida, and New York City is about as familiar as Mars. Salukis are big dogs, so if Pepe flew he'd have to go as excess baggage in the cargo hold. I know dogs fly like this all the time, but the worry is not worth the win for me. And yes, I know all I would have to do would be to slip a fake service dog vest on him, but I bristle at this. I know lots of show dogs travel this way, even some of my competition. We've run an honest show campaign, and I don't intend to sully it. So, we drive!

Fortunately, my friend Torie was game to go with us, along with her Tibetan Spaniel, Gibbs, who also received a golden ticket. Gibbs and Pepe have traveled together before and get along well.

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Out for a walk with Luna, Pepe, and Prophet.

Just about everybody stays at the Hotel Pennsylvania across from Madison Square Garden -- and it's where the Dog Writers' Association dinner is held, where I'm accepting an award. At $250 a night -- and I realize it's not even not five-star accommodations for the city -- it has me gulping and looking for alternatives.

But on to more important matters: What to wear?

Show clothes for Westminster are tricky. If you win Best of Breed and make it to groups, you're expected to wear something somewhat formal or glitzy. I've seen more than a few handlers in group who I just have to assume didn't expect to win so they didn't bring a change of clothes.

Breed judging is earlier in the day and less fancy. If you show up wearing sequins and formal attire, you either look very confident or very overdressed. Men can wear a nice suit and be okay either way. For women, it's trickier. Sure, I could wear the woman handler's "uniform" of a black skirt, or a skirt-suit, with a jacket, but after watching the admittedly I-should-not-be-laughing-at-this video below, I am not overly excited about being in this group.

(And in the name of equal opportunity, here's the Westminster White Working Men in Suits Group):

I search the consignment shops and find a jacket subdued enough for breed judging, but fancy enough just in case -- and it's not a knee-length suit! I'll be wearing pants, something that's just not done at Westminster, but it's a very nice outfit, so I buck tradition. Total cost: $17. And a Google search discloses it sells new for more than $800!

Oh, and then there's the little matter of the DOG! Are his teeth clean? Could he lose a pound or two? (Me too, but ...) What about nails? Final grooming will wait until right before we leave.

The judging program arrives in mid-January. There are 18 Salukis entered, all champions. Pepe is assigned catalog No. 11. Numbers start at 7, with males assigned odd numbers and females even, so Pepe is probably going to be third in line, just where I like to be. Too far up front, and it's hard to get settled for your individual exam; too far back, and it's like being at the end of a traffic jam, slower and slower when trying to move around the ring as a group. He will be shown at 10:30 Monday morning, which will give us plenty of time to get settled and ready. The packet also contains an exhibitor admittance ticket, contact information that must go on his crate, a link to go to the media center and upload information about my dog, his benching assignment, and a staggering number of rules and instructions. I can even hire a security guard to watch my dog in six-hour blocks. 

What to pack? 

I'll need a crate for the car. Another for the bench at the show. What about the hotel room? That's a lot of crates! Warm soft bedding. Pepe is a good sport, but other than traveling and at shows, he never spends time in a crate. So I need to make sure he's comfy. 

It's almost a thousand miles there, and then there's the benching. All entered dogs must be on their bench (which translates to being in their crate or next to it) from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with only short breaks for showing and going to the bathroom. Since we show even earlier, we'll end up being there about 8 a.m. 

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Pepe is ready to go. (Photo by Caroline Coile)

A coat for Pepe -- maybe a sweater, too? He's never seen snow. More stuff: food, bowls, bottled water, snood, dog-show bag, leash, collar, laser light toy, and cooler; plus human snacks and drinks, warm clothing, warmer clothing, gloves, hat, muffler, leggings, boots -- did I mention I don't do cold weather?

The week before the show

It's time to make a decision about the hotel, when to leave and what to take, when to get Pepe groomed. The more expensive Hotel Penn wins out because it's just too difficult and nerve-wracking to leave the dogs across the river in Secaucus while we do the banquet in NYC Sunday night and watch the groups at Madison Square Garden Monday night. Note: This assumes we both lose. Were one of us to actually win, staying across the river would be a huge problem, as one dog would need to go to Madison Square Garden, but the other wouldn't be allowed in. Of course, if BOTH of us were to win our breeds ... OK, back to reality, we'd better stay in the city.

I end up with a suitcase for my stuff and an only slightly smaller one for Pepe's. One extra crate. A dolly. Hanging clothes. A cooler. Check the tire pressure. Make a little sign with Pepe's name for his crate top so people will realize they are in the presence of a celebrity. Last-minute shopping; among my purchases, some small artificial plants. The "celebrity" only poops around greenery, and maybe I can fool him with these. Pepe has jumped in the car every chance he's had. He likes to travel, but if he knew how far we were going, he wouldn't be so eager.

Friday, Feb. 13: We leave when Torie gets off work. Monkey wrench time: Another of my dogs, Lucky, came in season the day before, meaning my mom's dogsitting job has now gotten a lot harder. But fortunately the worst part won't happen until I return. Had she come in a week earlier -- disaster! And Luna has an infected toe. Where did that come from?

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Torie with Gibbs and Pepe at South of the Border. (Photo by Caroline Coile)

Last-minute medications and bandaging, more instructions for mom. We hear from a friend who is already there that the hotel is charging $20 (on top of the $100 pet fee) to use the doggy bathroom facilities in the basement, which are a major lure for showgoers. I hope that's per stay and not per poop!

Finally it's time to wash Pepe (he seems miffed about how thorough the bath is), do the last-minute stuff, and hit the road.

On the road to Westminster

On Friday afternoon, we make it to Torie's house in Jacksonville, 90 miles away, but spend an hour in traffic getting there and more delays getting away. But we still make about 300 miles before stopping in South Carolina for the night. On Saturday, we have an early start but make it to northern New Jersey uneventfully and check into a motel. The plan is to go into the city early, check into our hotel there, unload our stuff, and then I can write something profound for an acceptance speech I have to give. Only ... it's starting to snow. A lot. 

Will we be snowed in 30 miles from our destination? A snow-savvy friend tells me to brush the snow off the car before it freezes hard and that it's illegal to drive with snow on your car. I am pretty sure she's making this up just so she can laugh at me when I come back in, but she swears it is the truth. So I do. I still have my suspicions.

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Pepe is not impressed by his first encounter with snow. (Photo by Caroline Coile)

Sunday: Pepe sees snow for the first time

Pepe doesn't like snow. By the time we get back to the room, he is limping from it. Oh great, a lame dog for Westminster! But he recovers, and we jump in the car and go.

Turns out, A) our GPS is on crack, and B) there is a secret to cleaning salt off your windshield so you can see through it. We don't know the secret. The wiper fluid holes are frozen shut, and I end up touring NYC peering through a peephole as I drive. We finally find the Hotel Penn, get our stuff inside, stand in line, and get checked in. Dogs are everywhere!

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I check in with Pepe at the hotel. Brrr, it's cold! (Photo by Torie Marks)

While in line, I'm approached by somebody from The New York Times, who asks us to do a photo shoot upstairs. So we head there, and are then intercepted by a team from Vogue who also wants us for a shoot! I always knew I was destined to be a Vogue model ... oh, they just want Pepe. Sigh.

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Pepe enjoying his "Vogue" photo shoot. (Photo by Torie Marks)

The shoots drag on, and we still have to take our crates to the Piers, where day judging is. So we take the dogs to the indoor potty area in the basement. Pepe is appalled but finally consents to peeing on a fake fire hydrant. I explain they just need to put a nice sofa in there, and then all the dogs would have no problem peeing on it.

By the time we leave, the check-in line in the lobby snakes all the way to the door, at least a hundred or more in it, most with dogs. I'm glad we got there early.

Waiting around

We take a shuttle to the Piers, unload our stuff, wait for the shuttle to take us back ... and wait and wait. Turns out it's stuck at Madison Square Garden because they've blocked off streets for the president, who might be attending some big NBA event. Doesn't he know there's a dog show in town? It's 4:45 p.m. and my dinner starts at 5. We hike a few blocks and find a cab, get a great race car driver, and arrive back at the hotel around 5:30. Now I just have to get dressed up, walk Pepe again, write my acceptance speech, and find the ballroom before the actual dinner starts at 6.

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Not to be outdone, Gibbs got to be in the "Vogue" photo shoot too. (Photo by Torie Marks)

I show up in time for my award: I'm inducted into the Dog Writers Association of America Hall of Fame!  My speech consists of telling them I have no speech, but that it was going to be a cool one if I had finished it, then some other stuff that turned out better than anything I would have written. I squirm through the awards fretting about Pepe in the room, rush back as soon as it's over. He's fine. Do some last-minute grooming, get ready for the big day ...

Monday: The big day

Up at 6 a.m., feed Pepe a light breakfast. I wash and blow dry the feathering on his ears, tail, legs, and feet, which takes about a half hour. Then the big test: Down to the potty area with our fake plant arrangement. It works! A huge worry of him not showing well because he has to poop is lifted from me.

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Pepe learns to use the dogwalking machine at our hotel. (Photo by Torie Marks)

I get dressed, grab our grooming bag, and grab a place on the shuttle. Pepe has never been on a bus, but he climbs right in, grabs a seat, puts his feet on my lap, and decides to snooze. We sit by a popular dog show judge, who provides interesting conversation.

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We're not entirely sure what breed this dog was. (Photo by Torie Marks)

At the Piers, Pepe's ID papers are checked, and I take him to his crate. Then I have to go to another Pier to get an ID bracelet that allows me into exhibitor-only aisles. These are areas ringside so the dogs have breathing room without being overwhelmed by spectators. 

We greet Saluki friends we seldom get to see, Pepe flirts with some Saluki girls, and I do some last-minute touchups on his grooming. BIG mistake. The more I comb his ears, the more they get static and the worse they look. A friend gives me dryer sheets to cut the static, but they don't help. Another suggests I try a bit of oil on them. Now they are both greasy and fly-away. He looks like I never even washed him. 

I'm upset -- all this way, and he is essentially ungroomed. My hopes are dashed. In Florida, static isn't a problem, so I don't know how to deal with it.

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Pepe hangs out in his crate at the show. (Photo by Torie Marks)

There are 20 minutes left before ring time. I find Anna Stromberg, a Long Island native who's been showing top Afghan Hounds for decades, and ask her advice. She sends me to her bench and tells me to use all her grooming equipment. Dog people rock! I quickly wash Pepe's ears with her rinse-free shampoo, rinse them anyway, borrow a small blow dryer, and 10 minutes later he has decent ears.

We rush ringside and pick up our armband. But the judge is running late. Very late. So I put Pepe back in his crate and wait. And wait. 

Finally, it's time!

We end up fourth in line because the judge leaves them in catalog order, dogs and bitches intermingled. Pepe is in a great mood and wants to move out, so I need to leave a lot of room between us and the dog in front so I don't have to pull him up. 

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It's our turn in the ring! (Photo by Torie Marks)

After all the dogs circle the ring, each is examined individually by the judge. Pepe does great, as usual. Then each dog gets one last go-round. As Pepe does his, the judge is distracted and neglects to watch him, so I turn around and go back and ask if she'd like to see him this time, and we do it again. The judge pulls out her favorite, the big winning dog with big money behind him, then her favorite of the opposite sex to the first one, so that will be her Best of Breed and Best of Opposite Sex.

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Pepe's moment in the spotlight is here. (Photo by Torie Marks)

Then Pepe is chosen for Select Dog, which is second-choice male, and his friend Lulu for Select Bitch. Finally two more entrants are given Awards of Merit.

We wait for photos -- dog show win photos are customary. A friend helps get Pepe's attention for the picture. Then we rush back to his crate -- we've been away for two hours now. Officials check on dogs to make sure they are in their crates except for brief potty periods and while being shown.

I rush to the other building to watch Torie show Gibbs and arrive just in time to see them in the ring. Then it's back to our bench where I have an appointment to be interviewed by Megan Blake for her Super Smiley Adventure radio program. But first a visit to the potty pen. Interview over, grab lunch, do a quick circuit of the vendors, return to sit with Pepe, perched on the four inches that his crate doesn't take up on his bench. No chairs are allowed.

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Pepe on the livestream broadcast. (Photo courtesy Caroline Coile.)

Pepe prefers hanging out and having his picture taken, so we chat with spectators and the other Saluki folk. I feed Pepe his dinner that I've brought, plus the rest of his treats and snacks.

Finally 5 p.m. approaches, and we fold down the crate, try to consolidate all our stuff, and I realize I can't possibly get it all on the shuttle by myself. The line to leave stretches the length of the building, so we wait for it to die down. About an hour later, we get in line and reach the door, where we must present Pepe's paperwork to take him out.

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Yep, the shuttle was a nightmare. (Photo by Caroline Coile)

Outside, it's a madhouse as people try to squeeze on shuttles with towers of crates and dogs. There's no way I can get Pepe, two heavy bags of stuff, and a crate with a dolly on by myself. I am saved by Pat Raymond, a spectator from New Jersey, who volunteers to help. We crowd on the shuttle, sharing our back section with a German Shepherd, Bluetick Coonhound, Chinese Crested, Toy Manchester, Otterhound, and a couple of others. Pepe sits in my lap, rests his head on Pat's arm, and falls dead asleep. 

Pat helps us off and into our hotel, we say goodbye, Pepe flings himself to the lobby carpet and rolls around gratefully, and I look around and gradually figure out we're in the wrong hotel. Story of my life. 

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Snuggling up on the shuttle. (Photo courtesy of Hrafna Icelandic Sheepdogs)

Finally find our hotel, our room, and it's almost time for groups across the street at Madison Square Garden. I use my press pass to gain access to the press area upstairs, write my Dogster results article, grab some fast food dinner, and fall into bed at almost 2 a.m.

Tuesday: Awake to news of ice storms potentially blocking our way home

Since Pepe's group was judged yesterday, he can't go back to the show today. Only dogs being shown today can be there. So we lounge around, take a walk around the city, and when we come back we're tagged for yet another New York Times photo shoot! Pepe has apparently missed his calling.

While we're at it, we arrange for a photo shoot with Wild Coyote Studio, which has a temporary studio set up off the hotel lobby. Pepe once again proves he is a born model; we order some gorgeous shots for ourselves and are told he will be appearing on its website. Then it's off to watch the groups, write my results articles, and get ready to head home tomorrow!

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Pepe works his magic for the camera one last time during our Westminster adventure. (Photo courtesy of Wild Coyote Studio)


Read more about the 2015 Westminster Kennel Club dog show:  

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

Thu, 19 Feb 2015 08:40:00 -0800 /lifestyle/westminster-dog-show-diary-caroline-coile-saluki
<![CDATA[5 Steps to Get Reliable Recall in a Multi-Dog Household]]> It can be no easy feat getting just one dog to come back, but getting four to return all at once can be close to a miracle.

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One member of my pack, Otis, and me.

Just standing still and yelling my dogs' names in tandem with the word "come" and crossing my fingers wasn't cutting it. Sometimes I'd get one dog, sometimes three, but never all of them at once. Sometimes I'd get someone else's dog. Then I'd be left standing there wondering if one of my dogs was missing.

You've likely been to a dog park or at least in an area where your dogs can have some safe, well-deserved off-leash time. If you're like I once was, when that leash comes off, your dogs' listening skills seem to completely disappear. It's like those furry ears turn to stone. As a completely blind person with four dogs as beloved members of my household, recall is something that is even more so of a necessity for me.

So, how do you get multiple dogs to reliably come back all at once, even with distractions? Here are steps to take based on experience training my pack.

1. Gather your supplies

If you have any experience training your dogs, you know that the first thing to figure out is what they consider a highly desired reward. For most dogs, a nice, smelly treat broken into bite-sized pieces is perfect. For my dogs, I use dehydrated beef liver. You are also going to need a whistle. It really doesn't matter what kind of whistle, but make sure it's small enough to fit in a pocket or on a key ring and that it can be heard from a distance.

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Can't you see I'm busy here?

2. Plan training sessions

Next, set aside some time to train with your dogs in a non-distracting environment, like your living room. Two to five minutes is plenty of time. You will want to work with each dog individually at first. Add dogs into the mix as the concept of "whistle equals treat" starts to sink in.

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Still busy.

3. Load the whistle and treat!

With your treats, whistle, and dog all ready, the training can begin. If you have read about or done any clicker training, this will be easy for you. Even if you haven't done any clicker training, don't worry -- this will still be easy. The idea is to "load" the whistle. In plain English, that means you want the dog to associate the sound of the whistle with getting a treat from you. Instead of clicking and treating, you are going to toot the whistle and treat. Repeat this whistle tooting and treat feeding until you are out of treats. It's that simple. Each dog will learn at a different pace, so be patient. My black Lab, Roscoe, who is my retired guide dog, for example, only needed one loading session, whereas, Otis, my French Bulldog, needed about five.

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Did you call?

4. Reinforce the training

The key to this exercise is to gradually up the distraction level of the environment. A fun and easy way to practice inside is at feeding time. Put your dog in a sit-stay and walk away with the food. Place the bowl in front of you and blow the whistle. Watch your dog tear toward you, and dinner, the exact thing you want to have happen when you are at a dog park. Once your dog comes back to you in the house off-leash, move the training outside on a regular-length leash. Eventually the dog will learn that "toot" means treat, and the situational deafness will subside.

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Did someone blow a whistle?!

5. Up the stakes

Now you know that your dog will come back to you in the house, and you've loaded the whistle outside. Now it's time to really test your dog. As I'm sure you've heard from dog trainers, you want to set your dog up for success. If you think returning to the whistle outside when completely free might be too much of a challenge at first, put your dog on a lunge line, a much longer leash, and practice from various distances. Start with a couple of feet and slowly give your dog more room. If you are consistent and put in the time, this technique should work.

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This recall stuff is hard work.

Some trainers say that eventually you can stop treating your dog, but I prefer the interval approach instead. This means that when the dogs are returning reliably, only give them a treat every second or third return. This will keep the dogs guessing as to when a treat will be delivered. For me, recall is so important that giving out an extra few treats to ensure the game stays fun is okay with me. Gone are the days of "Nala, Roscoe, Otis, Hermione ... come" and having no response.

Also gone are the days of standing there helplessly, feeling like an idiot while my dogs did whatever it was they were doing. Now when I take my dogs out for off-leash fun, I feel confident that I can keep track of them even though I can't see them. The whistle recall has brought back a yellow Lab-Golden Retriever who was determined to jump into a muddy pond. It has pulled a French Bulldog out of play with other dogs, and it has even brought back a black Lab from a pile of bread he was about to eat. There's no other feeling like blowing your whistle and having four dogs, large and small, stop on a dime and come thundering back toward you, ears flapping and tongues lolling. It's not just about pride, though. It's about safety as well.

Do your dogs have good recall? How did you accomplish it? Tell us your techniques in the comments!

Read more dog-training stories on Dogster:

About the author: Jessica Hodges, a full time Masters of Social Work student, lives with her husband, four dogs, and two rescue cats. Her first puppy, a yellow Labrador given to her at age six, sparked her love of dogs. Not only does she have the joy of sharing her home with four unique and loving pups, but she also has the privilege of traveling through life with a Golden Retriever Lab mix named Nala as her constant companion and eyes. Upon graduation, Jessica hopes to incorporate Animal Assisted Therapy into her practice and make the world a better place, one tail wag at a time.

Fri, 06 Feb 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/reliable-recall-multiple-dogs-dog-training
<![CDATA[I Was Accused of Larceny When I Rescued a Lost Dog]]> A few weeks ago on a Sunday, I was on my way to a pet supply store with my daughter, Zinnia, to buy treats for a training class with my foster dog, Crystal. As we drove down a very busy five-lane boulevard in Burien, Washington, I saw two Pit Bull mixes darting in and out of traffic. There was no visible owner. Neither appeared to have tags on their collars.

I pulled over and called 911. I was scared the dogs would be hit by a car, and I didn’t know what else to do. Zinnia and I got out of our van and pursued the pups. They split up, so she went after the female and I went after the male. Nobody else stopped to help.

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The male dog was running around in the traffic. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

Several people were on the sidewalks, and others were waiting for buses, but no one was doing anything -- except for a homeless man and his dog. We teamed up to try and help the male dog, who continued to trot away, clearly spooked. I asked a family grilling on their porch for a hot dog or something to lure the dog with. 

Soon a police car arrived. The first thing the officer said was, "This is an animal control issue." The homeless man shouted, "These dogs are gonna die if you don't do something about 'em!"

Another officer arrived, and they went after the dog we had been trying to assist. I went back to Zinnia, who was sitting across the street from our car with the female dog -- our foster Pit Bull was in the car, and we weren't sure how she would react to the other dog. 

A man came out of an apartment complex nearby. I asked him whether she was his dog, and he said no. Nor did he know who her owner was. "I've never seen that dog before," he said. "She's cute, though. What are you going to name her?”

Zinnia and I knew we could get the dog to safety, but the plan was no more detailed than that. Our veterinary clinic takes in lost and stray dogs and has animal control pick them up, so we introduced her to Crystal and began loading them into our car.

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The female dog sitting in my daughter's lap. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

A man with a red hat, whom I'll refer to as Man B, said something to Man A. Suddenly Man A said, "I know whose dog that is! Give her to me, and I will take her over there."

"No, I am going to take her," I told him firmly. "These dogs shouldn't be running out in the street. We'll deal with it."

"Then I'm going to write your license plate down and call the police!"

Whatever, I thought.

We dropped the lost dog at my house, placed her in a crate, and then drove to our training class at the Seattle Humane Society. As I pulled up, I received a phone call. It was the police, asking me to bring the dog back to Burien -- the owner had reported that I had stolen her. 

I explained that I was at a training class and would drop her at my vet clinic afterward, but the officer asked me to return the dog to the owner at his residence. I said I was not comfortable with that and wouldn't even know who the owner was, as I had never seen him before. I agreed to drop the dog at my vet clinic before the end of the day.

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Such a sweet girl. (Photo by Zinnia Willingham)

A few minutes later, the officer called back and accused me of larceny and told me to make returning the dog a priority. I was frustrated because I would have to miss my training class and I didn't like being accused of committing a crime when I had simply helped a lost dog. But I agreed to meet at the Burien Police Department as soon as I could.

In the meantime, I called Seattle Animal Control to ask if I could just drop the dog off there since I am a Seattle resident. "No, because you found the dog in Burien," was the reply. Burien Animal Control was closed on Sundays, so that was not an option.

When I arrived at the Burien Police Department, no one was there. As in, not a single soul. Or if there was someone there, they were not visible and did not answer the after-hours bell when I rang it, repeatedly.

If I was frustrated before, I was even more so now. I had canceled my plans, and I was bending my day around someone whose dogs had gotten loose and was demanding that I return his dog. 

Not knowing what else to do, I called 911 to report that I was at the police station, waiting.

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Nobody was at the police department when we got there. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

Then I stood there with Zinnia and the dog. 

I had no idea who the true owner of the dog was. How did I know that Man A hadn't just changed his mind and decided he wanted the dog for himself? The dog had no tags. I felt it would be best for animal control or a vet to be the middleman.

A police officer pulled up in his patrol car. I assumed he was the one who had asked me to make returning the dog a priority. He wasn’t. 

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We just stood there at the police department, waiting. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

"I am sorry, officer, but I am going to emotionally unload on you," I told him. After explaining the whole thing, I asked him to stay with us and witness the return of the dog. When a man pulled up and emerged from his car with a chain leash hanging off his neck, I was quite grateful for the presence of the officer.

The officer was very kind and assured me that he would look into the situation the next day when animal control was open. I thanked him and went home.

After the whole thing was over, I looked up the legal definition of larceny. It must meet two criteria: The object of value must be taken by trespass and one must not have the intent to return it. Neither applied in my case, but I was still uncomfortable about it. 

The next day I told my foster coordinator, Lori, about it and asked about the proper legal steps to take in such a situation. She connected with me with Sgt. Tim Anderson of King County Animal Control, who was kind enough to answer questions regarding how things work in his jurisdiction. Laws and procedures may vary widely by city, county, and state, so it is always best to be aware of the rules of the community in which you find a lost or stray dog.

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The dog we rescued. (Photo by Zinnia Willingham)

What to do when you rescue a lost or stray dog 

  • Call the local animal control and report that you found a dog. 
  • Then take the dog to animal control in the jurisdiction where you found him or her. You can also provide a description and keep the dog at your residence for 72 hours (the length of time may vary in other municipalities).
  • You are obligated by law to try and return the animal to the owner, even if the dog has no tags or collar.
  • Don't call 911 unless there is a true emergency involving the animal or it's your last resort.

I didn't realize before this how complicated rescuing an animal off the street could be. I've rescued a number over the last few years and never been accused of stealing one. 

I now know that the police officer who accused me of larceny was incorrect, but I guess he was trying to get quick closure to a situation that he may not have known how to properly handle.

I don't know what happened to the dog after she was returned to her owner. I do know she wagged her tail when he arrived to pick her up.  

The last thing I expected when I stopped to help these two dogs was that I would be accused of committing a crime, and I did not appreciate that, at all. The only thing I would do differently in the future is to take the dog directly to a shelter or vet clinic. That way, you know the dog will be in a safe place while they look for the owner. They have access to microchip scanners and are familiar with the process of returning lost and stray animals. I don't regret helping these dogs, and I learned something from the experience.

What about you? Have you ever had any legal trouble while performing a rescue? Tell us in the comments!

Read more about lost dogs:

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.

Thu, 05 Feb 2015 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/how-to-rescue-stray-dog-legal-issues
<![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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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