Monday, August 8, 2011

A Bunch of Shelter Dogs

Beatrix again


Skip again
Skip the energetic
a tired and happy Skip

I don't remember this boy's name
I tend to say too much, so today I'm just going to feature a few dogs at the animal shelter. All were adopted and are happy.

The large dogs are the ones I work with, but I cajoled other volunteers to let me take a few photos of the others. In Beatrix's case, her adoptive family requested the photo. They wanted to show her to other family members before adopting her.

I know my design is pretty bad, but it's because I don't yet know how to customize the layout of my blog, or write html. My daughter knows a lot more. Compare with her blog at own  thing needs to be redone by someone who knows what they're doing. No blog ever looked so crude as mine!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sweet Eleanor, the Shelter Pit Bull

A long absence! It was due to a combination of (a) computer problems (after prolonged full scans of hardware and software, no malware or hardware issues were found-- so the problem remained a mystery, but a fresh download of my security suite and web browser seems to have fixed it) and (b) an illness (me, not my dog Shauna).

I've mentioned that I've been volunteering at the county animal shelter for the last two or three years. Unfortunately, that activity has been interrupted from time to time. But I've been thinking about some of the dogs there that had become my favorites before they were (happily) adopted. One was named (by the shelter) Eleanor. She was a pit bull of about three or four years of age, and to those who don't read dog language, she probably appeared, well, scary. She was bulky and strong, and had cropped ears. But Eleanor was one of the sweetest dogs I've known, and she became a favorite of many of the volunteers. She projected a calmness that had a wonderful effect on every dog that happened to be in the exercise yard adjacent to hers. Her tail was always at half-mast, she never reacted to an overly-excited dog displaying a show of aggression, was friendly with everybody, and loved her walks.

Unfortunately, she was adopted and then returned by one family; they reported that their other dog "didn't like a new dog in the house." (My opinion: they didn't understand how to introduce a new dog into a home with another dog.) So she was back. No big deal for Eleanor; she just takes whatever comes, with a magnaminity that people could learn from.

Shortly before my departure for the medical center in L.A., Eleanor was adopted by another family, and it was a successful adoption. Eleanor could be an ambassador for pit bulls, to show that members of this breed are not vicious or unpredictable animals with an innate drive to kill that could boil to the surface at any time. They are simply very strong dogs. And like any strong dog, they are capable of doing a lot of damage if they are not socialized properly and been made to understand that they are not the boss. She could even be a therapy dog, or a reading companion for young children at a local library.


The Chi is a little unsure, but Look at Eleanor's great body language!

Now the little one has been put at ease by Eleanor's demeanor

Thursday, May 19, 2011

When we adopted Shauna, she was already an estimated three years of age. In an earlier blog ("A Sedative for Dogs") I described how I learned to give her strenuous daily exercise by using a mountain bike. I had never had a dog that needed so much exercise, but she taught me how a good exercise program, practiced every day, can act as a sedative for dogs. A welcome side effect: the dog does not try to escape from the yard. A couple of times, we have left the rear gate open and have left the house for several hours, only to find her waiting for us on the front porch. When walking without a leash (in a safe area), and with her running ahead to chase ground squirrels, I can turn and walk in the opposite direction and count the seconds before she notices and comes running after me. It's usually about five seconds. And that's what I want: she must always pay attention to what I'm doing.

I soon learned other things about her. She was extremely agile and quick on her feet, able to jump to the counter-top at our vet's office (when invited) and land cleanly, with no scrambling or skidding, on the one-foot wide granite surface. Like a cat, as the people there put it.. Another characteristic I discovered: she was much more alert to any changes in her environment than any dog I'd ever had. Once, I moved my TV from the living room to the loft upstairs. When I brought her home that evening, she stopped dead in her tracks then entered the living room very carefully. She approached the cabinet where the TV had been, sniffing around. "Something's wrong here!"  She noticed the white cable that now went up the wall in the corner, to the loft above. She sniffed the cable, then stood on her hind legs to reach as high as she could, to figure out this thing. Then she ran upstairs to see it from that end. After that, she never paid any attention to it at all.

I don't claim to be an expert, but I have never measured dog intelligence by the tricks they've been taught. I don't doubt that TV dog performers are very smart, and that lots of dogs could also be trained to follow the hand signals of off-the-camera handlers. But my measure of intelligence is how well the dog figures things out on his own, often things the dog owner wouldn't have even thought of teaching him.

Once I was walking Shauna on a long lead (50 ft.) along a road bordered by a thick hedge and, behind that, an iron fence. She chased a rabbit through the hedge, was blocked by the fence, and ran down along the fence line. When she tried to come back out through the hedge at that point, the lead tightened up as she ran out of slack. She immediately backed up, came back down to where she had first gone through the hedge, and came back out there. To me, that kind of thing is a  true measure of a dog's intelligence. She had a problem, and she solved it in a logical way.

I love my squeaky ball!

Hey, that's my rabbit!

This is so humiliating!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bringing Baxter Home

Baxter with his dog-chew
In 2010 the Animal Care Center needed one of its  volunteers to foster a large, one-year old male mix while he recuperated from surgery. He had been picked up as a stray, and had apparently been hit by a car. His left hind leg had been damaged to the point where he needed an operation to remove the end of the femur and reattach tendons to hold it in place. The county's Animal Care Center believed he would be very adoptable and should be saved if possible. The wonderful, kind-hearted  people there saved him. Even though there may have been no money in the budget to pay for it, and their own veterinary clinic was not equipped for such surgery as this, they  somehow made the arrangements, and a veterinary hospital in another city performed the operation at a greatly reduced rate. Now it was time for his rehab. The Animal Care Center named him "Mack," and the email for a foster home went out.

I showed his picture to my wife, and she did not hesitate: we had to bring him home with us. And so we did.

The first thing we did was rename him "Baxter." Don't quite know why. But it seemed to fit.

Baxter was one of the sweetest dogs we had ever seen. Completely untrained, but a quick learner, easily housebroken within day or two. I worked with him on his leash training, so that he'd walk at my left knee. I like to speed up and slow down when leash training, so the dog learns to put his trust in me and match my pace. I also come to a full stop before crossing any street, and even at irregular times. Sometimes I zig and zag, or do a 180 and change direction completely. And so Baxter learned to always focus on what I'm doing.

He had an endearing habit of lying at our feet (or on top of them!), whether we were in the living room reading or watching TV or in the kitchen fixing a meal (so that we had to step over him between the sink and the stove). It was a big change from our more-aloof Shauna. Whereas Shauna was more wolfish in her behavior, always friendly with everybody but preferring to be alone in another room and not at all cuddly, Baxter was a real dog in every sense of the word. He loved to lie on his back in the grass, legs splayed and a grin on his face.  Whereas Shauna sipped her water carefully and never spilled a drop, Baxter was an enthusiastic drinker, splashing water around his bowl and then dripping it from his muzzle afterward, leaving a trail of water across the kitchen floor. Another endearing habit, to us.

We wanted to adopt Baxter, but with his being only a year old and we being in our sixties (Really? How did that happen?), we were concerned about his long-term care. Of course, everybody shares life's unpredictability, regardless of age. But one's own passing becomes more predictable with age. In the end, after being lucky enough to have had Baxter for three months, and with his recovery from his leg surgery, we reluctantly returned him to the Animal Care Center. But not without printing up an information paper about him: how to continue his training; his habits; his allergy to grains (requiring a limited ingredient dog food-- Natural Balance venison and sweet potato worked great); his exercise program; and other such details. This was made available to any potential adopting family. Two days later, I received an email from the shelter: Baxie had been adopted on the very first day! By a good family, who were serious enough about his care to request his medical records for their own vet.

As my wife put it, Baxter's absence left a hole in her heart. Happy at the storybook ending, but still missing him. It's almost like sending a son or daughter away to college, except that we'll never see Baxie again. Selfish? Selfishness is sometimes the Siamese twin of sadness.

Shauna and Baxter with toy rabbit
Hey, this is my towel!

Hey, this TV show is about dogs!

Ah, this is the life!

If nobody's using this sofa, I'll just stretch out a bit.

What kind of Dog is That?

For several years, we often were asked by pedestrians we passed by what breed of dog was Shauna. We always said she was part collie and part Siberian. She was large for a female Siberian, and had a longer coat. Also, her snout was longer. On the other hand, her snout was not as pointy as a collie's. Her head also wasn't as flat  as a collie's. She had a higher crown. All things considered, though, we thought her to be a Siberian-collie mix.

Often, cars  would stop, the driver would roll down his window, and ask if he could breed her with his Siberian. (They were disappointed when we told them since we had adopted her from the county Animal Care Center, she had been spayed,)

One day a couple of years ago, I was glancing through a magazine at a veterinary clinic and noticed an ad for dog DNA testing. The company was located in Seattle, and claimed to have the DNA profile of over one hundred breeds of dogs (though not the DNA of a wolf). I thought it was worth one hundred bucks to find out if we were right.

Two months later, we received the results: no collie. She was Siberian/malamute. Surprise! But I can see it in her build. Siberians are normally pretty lean-looking. Bred for sprinting. Malamutes have a broader, more muscular back. Bred to haul heavily-loaded dog sleds. And Shauna's build was more like a malamute's. Her ears were more mobile than a Siberian's, too. They always seem to have their ears fully erect and forward-facing.  Shauna's ears can be in any position. When focused on something, they're up and facing ahead. When relaxed, she turns them out to the side and they're not fully upright. When listening to me when I'm behind her, she swivels them around . When greeting someone, she lays them flat against her head. When feeling stress, they're really flat against her head. As with wolves, ears can be an aid in dog-communication.
One ear up, one down. What does this mean?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Sedative for Dogs

Just a day at the beach!
Within a few days after adopting Shauna at the county's Animal Care Center, I knew that this was going to be a challenge. She was like no other dog I had ever had.

The first challenge was leash training. Being a Siberian mix, she was born to pull. And so she did! Of course, all dogs pull until they are leash-trained. But even when I was able to walk her at my side, with the leather leash doubled up to make it short enough to keep her at my pace, it was obvious that a walk, no matter how brisk or how long, didn't begin to satisfy her urge to run. So I thought of my mountain bike, left unused for a long period of time. What would happen if I rode my bike with Shauna on a shortened leash at my side? I decided to give it a try, at first in a parking lot at slow speed. If I were killed, at least I wouldn't be left in the street!

I tentatively hooked her up and settled into the saddle. Riding slowly, we made a loop around the parking lot, several times. There seemed to be no problems. Shauna made the turns precisely, as if we were a unit. She was thinking, "Now this is more like it! Can't we go a little faster though?" Experimental stage over. Time for a road test.

The first couple of blocks were always harrowing. She didn't run, she flew! At top speed on a twenty-one speed bike. I could barely keep up, and I was in fact slowly losing ground until, after that two-block burst, she settled into an easy lope, much like a horse. We went on and on. She only tried to cut in front of me once, and as soon as the front wheel touched her, she corrected herself and never again tried it.

It was an exhilarating feeling for both of us. She was happy, with a relaxed face and jaw, the wind in her face and her nose pulling in the scent of what lay ahead, and with her bushy tail streaming out behind her. "A little more! I'm just getting started!"

Of course, with warm weather coming on, we had to wait until sundown to go out. No danger in  forgetting-- Shauna was always there to remind me: "Hey, it's starting to get dark! The air is cooling! Can't you hurry and finish whatever it is you're doing?" Eager anticipation. Sparkling eyes. Dancing feet. The message was clear. And so we went out every evening for the next eight years (and counting).

We would run on the streets until we left the industrial area of my business (where there was no traffic at night) and entered the busy commercial district. Then we took to the sidewalks. Shauna ran like a dog on a mission. She didn't glance from side to side, or pay any attention to pedestrians (who cautiously gave way when they saw a wolf-like canine rocketing toward them). She looked straight ahead, and never wavered. At street crossings, she waited patiently for the change of light, ignoring the crowd of people also waiting there. She even came to know when it was time to go, when the traffic had stopped, although, when reminded, she waited for me to move before she stepped into the crosswalk.

From there, we ran to the Santa Ana River, which begins many miles inland, in another county, and runs all the way to the Pacific. There is a paved bike trail curving along the river, and we ran north on the trail, often covering ten to twenty miles. By this time, she would settle into a ground-eating fast trot, her legs a blur, still looking straight ahead. She never stopped unless it was my idea, to take a drink of water, look at the wild ducks on the river, and roll in the grass (the dog; not me).

Shauna had an uncanny ability to know which way I was going to turn when running on a street or sidewalk. Still, I thought it best that she should know the relevant commands, and she understood at once that "haw" meant left, "gee" meant right, and "straight ahead" meant, well, straight ahead. I had remembered the commands from my boyhood, when a man with a team of mules came every spring to break the soil for our large vegetable garden, sometimes allowing me to plow a row or two myself. But usually, I didn't feel the need to tell Shauna which way to turn. Only once did she, or rather, we, make a mistake, and it was my fault. A row of trees lined one particular sidewalk, and sometimes we would pass them on the left, other times on the right. One day, for some reason, I just couldn't decide. My brain just locked up. At the last possible microsecond, I veered right. Shauna veered left. But before the leash wrapped around the tree, I dropped it while on the move. We both stopped after passing the first of the trees, I picked up the leash, and we went on our way.

One harmless accident that could have been serious: Shauna had a bad habit of playfully grabbing the leash in her jaws and shaking it as we ran at full tilt. I had read about using an aluminum can with pebbles or hardware in it, to toss at a dog's feet; the unexpected sound startles the dog, and acts as a correction for unwanted behavior. Or so the theory goes. So I decided to give it a try while riding. We were just getting started, and she did her thing with the leash, as a prelude to serious running; I did my thing with the can. Immediately, Shauna came to a full stop, and I flew head first over the handlebars. And, as always, I was not wearing a helmet. All was well, though. I instinctively did a tuck and roll, somersaulting over the handlebars and hitting the pavement, rolling. Not a scratch. Not even any road dirt on my shirt. Lucky. The can went into the recycle bin. And Shauna thought, "He won't do that again!" (She was right.)

Running was a sedative for this dog. Back at home base, she would settle into a sound sleep. Content at last. And so we had found the perfect dog sedative for her.
"This is deep enough. I''m not a lab!"

Our place in Oregon. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Part 2: A Tragic Ending to a Good Dog's Life

Every year, from that first summer in 1957, Lassie developed an eczema that caused her immeasurable suffering, and she scratched and bit herself so badly that she lost hair on her back and her skin was scaly and sometimes bloody. In the fall, after cool weather set in, her hair grew back and she was happy. We, of course, didn't know what the problem was. I was only a boy, and my mom and dad had no experience in canine diseases. One neighborhood man (who raised beagles for field trials and was concerned that the condition might be contagious) declared that it was mange. Dogs with mange were routinely put down. We took her to a vet numerous times, but they had no clue and no cure. Finally, one vet suggested we leave her there to board for a few days, for observation (and tests, or so we thought), which we did. Every day I called the veterinary clinic to check on her, and each time the answer (from an office worker, not the vet) was that she was doing fine. When we picked her after a few days, I could see immediately that she hadn't eaten the entire time, and there was no life in her eyes, only a defeated look of resignation. She had given up the fight. At home, I couldn't interest her in any food, and had to spoon-feed her with broth and water to keep her alive. One day, she ate a small piece of baloney. That was the turning point, and from there she recovered her appetite and her will to live.

We had one more wonderful fall, winter and spring before summer hit us again, taking its annual toll on my dog (maybe this is why I still dislike summers). A decision had to be made: was her extreme suffering in the summers too high a price for her to pay, or for us to make her pay, for her enjoyment of the winters? Were we asking too much of her? The vet recommended euthanasia. In the end, we decided to follow his advice.

It may be hard to believe today, but veterinary science was quite primitive at that time. A vet primarily did spaying/neutering, vaccinations, and occasionally trauma treatment. Euthanasia was the ultimate answer to every serious problem. I still feel resentment toward veterinary science in those days. Today, even I know that she probably had a flea allergy. The only flea treatment available was flea powder, and it wasn't very effective. There may also have been flea shampoos, but since we had never even heard of flea allergies (apparently, neither had the vets), we didn't look in that direction. Maybe they just didn't exist. In any case, My dog had some kind of allergy, or possibly mites, because she ate the same kind of kibble in the winter as in the summer. And now, nearly sixty years later, there are not many days that go by without me thinking about her, and how she was cheated out of what should have been a full and happy life-- the best life a dog could have had, with the environment and the period in which she lived. The sadness for a loved one lost never diminishes. Time does not heal all wounds.