Confessions | Confessions Confessions en-us Thu, 05 Mar 2015 04:00:00 -0800 Thu, 05 Mar 2015 04:00:00 -0800 Orion <![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.

Read more about dog walking:

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

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

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

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

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

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


To Jack's Previous Owner:

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

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

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Sweet Jack.

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

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

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

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Jack cuddling with blankets, as Italian Greyhounds do.

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

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

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

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Jack outside.

Read related stories on Dogster:

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

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

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

1. Life is hard

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

2. Rescue is best done as a family affair

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

3. Rescue is a way of life

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

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

4. Life doesn't always happen as planned

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.  Try your hardest every day

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

8. It takes many people to make a rescue successful

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

9. I really want Torres to write a memoir

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

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

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

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

Read related stories on Dogster:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An older Diego under the blanket.

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

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

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

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The beach is the best!

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

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

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Smiling Diego.

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

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

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

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Diego had a lot of admirers.

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

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

Join the conversation on other Let's Talk topics:

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

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

1. Medicine

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

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

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

2. Emergency care

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

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

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

3. Insurance and doctor's offices

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Riggins and me.

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

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

4. Food

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Riggins knows he has a tasty treat coming his way.

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

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

5. Lounging comfort

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

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

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

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"Just five more minutes," begs Riggins.

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

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My niece and Riggins, BFFs.

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

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

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Always my baby boy.

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

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

Read more stories by Wendy Newell:

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

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

What could possibly go wrong with my amazing plan?

Well, let me tell you.

The starting point

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

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Illustration by Anneli Rufus

Quarter of a mile in

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

Half-mile in

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

Three-quarters of a mile in

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

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

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

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

Two miles in

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

Two miles and one-tenth in

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

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Illustration by Anneli Rufus

Seriously, get up.

Like seriously, seriously, get up.

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

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

Want a cookie?

Oh good, you're up.

Two and four-tenths of a mile in

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

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

Like seriously, why are you breathing like that?

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

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

Two and a half miles in

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

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


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Illustration by Anneli Rufus

Two miles and three-quarters in

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

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

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

Three miles in

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

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

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

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

Can we puh-leez just get walking!?

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Pug defacating by Shutterstock

Three miles and one-quarter in

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Illustration by Anneli Rufus

Four miles and at the finish line

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

Oh, look, you’re awake. 

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

Why are you looking at me like that?

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

Next year I'm just mailing my donation in.

Read more by Eden Strong:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Me with Lilly. (Photo by Zinnia Willingham)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read related stories:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This is as rare as they do it.

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

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

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

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

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

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GhostBuster loves chilling with other doggies.

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

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

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GhostBuster and Ghost Cat are pals.

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

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

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

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

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

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Two of my three fur babies.

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

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

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

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

Read more about getting a second dog on Dogster:

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

Thu, 06 Nov 2014 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-adoption-vegetarianism-give-up
<![CDATA[11 Reasons I Love Being a Dog Sitter]]> At the end of 2012, I made the tough decision to leave a very lucrative job as vice president of sales. I was burned out. I had been in sales my entire working life, and the stress and constant travel had just gotten to be too much. In March of 2013, I decided to do some dog sitting to help pay the bills. Now as 2014 comes to an end, I'm still at it and loving (almost) every minute of it.

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

1. New adventures

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

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

2. Exercise

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

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

3. Companionship

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Wendy and her first official dog client, Bud.

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

4. Increased patience

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Sadie decides she would much rather walk herself.

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

5. Warmth

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Shirley finds a comfy spot in the human bed.

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

6. Knowledge

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

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

7. Outdoorsy-ism

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Asscher is happy about being used as a bum screen.

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

8. Lessons for my pup

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

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

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

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

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

9. A tan

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

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

10. Cleanliness

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Sadie knows a bath is in her future.

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

11. Unconditional love

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My love, Lousy.

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

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

Read related stories on Dogster:

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

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

1. I am a professional drool wiper

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He's like an adorable waterfall.

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

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

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

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

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Not that kind of lipstick.

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

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

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

3. I am overly interested in dog poop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GhostBuster is Ghost Cat's favorite pillow.

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

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

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

Mon, 03 Nov 2014 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-adoption-dog-hair-dog-poop-dogs-cats-ghostbuster
<![CDATA[An Adoption Love Story: How We Brought Home a Discount Pit Bull]]> Editor's Note: Tomorrow (Saturday, Oct. 25) is National Pit Bull Awareness Month, a great time to run this story of how two people found and fell in love with a Pit Bull.

“I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”

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

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

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Doug's pictures via his adoption group.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo courtesy Doug's Instagram page

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

“This is Douglas,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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Photo courtesy Doug's Instagram page

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

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

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About the author: Meilee is the director of operations for a political risk analysis firm in Washington, DC. She lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband and dog. Follow Douglas at ]]>
Fri, 24 Oct 2014 04:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/dog-adoption-love-story-discount-national-pit-bull-awareness-day