Sunday, January 30, 2011


Note to self: once Frankendog is finished with his crate confinement (three weeks total!), get back to working on crate-training Bilbo. Despite being initially quite pleased that we'd created this new little cave to hide in before his op (as in "No, I don't need a walk, I can just snooze here all day, thank you very much") Buster is not terribly impressed that he doesn't get to share the human bed at night. Nevertheless, every five minutes I thank our lucky stars that it's Buster we're confining and not one of the other pooches. Bilbo is so unimpressed by being left in his crate in the little room that he will break out of it, open the door and jump over the dog-gate to get out and let you know that was a dirty move and he isn't having it...
If we were trying to confine him to the crate right now he would have broken out and torn his stitches five times by now. So, one more reason to stop being lazy about the dreaded crate-training - a must-do for all dogs!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

All about the dollar bills

Of all the unpleasant things to think about, it's money that's been on my mind this week.
My W-2 appeared today and prompted a quick round-up of 2010 which wasn't terribly gratifying. In between some unpaid leave from work and a mid-year change of living circumstances that greatly increased my monthly expenses I realized that I've definitely let some of my long-term financial goals fall by the wayside. One of those was to increase the percentage of my salary that goes towards charitable contributions. Looking at the 5-year plan I put together a couple of years ago I'm failing miserably there and that's got to change!

Making steps towards that goal, my task for tomorrow is to increase my monthly donations to Millennium Promise, a wonderful organization that is tackling the enormous mission of ending extreme poverty worldwide. I highly recommend co-founder Jeffrey Sachs' book "The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for our Time". Focusing on the world's one billion poorest individuals, he presents realistic solutions to tackle the root of the problem, including sensible investment in development. What I love about the Millennium Promise organization is their holistic approach and a commitment to proving, initially on a smaller scale, that their economic model can be successful and sustainable. It's the "give a man a fish" cliche writ large and I do genuinely believe that my small contribution is going towards a long-term solution.

In other financial news, Buster had his long-awaited leg surgery today. He's been a bit limpy on and off ever since his shelter days but managed to tear his ACL a couple of months ago and the vet recommended surgery. Unfortunately it turns out he's quite a distinguished chap, and the surgeon claimed that of all the knees he's tackled this was one of the worst. Once they got in there, they uncovered some fairly nasty arthritic growth, and, in addition to the ACL injury, a torn meniscus. He had a couple of (benign) tumors removed at the same time so all told the surgery and the next few weeks worth of meds came to $3080. OUCH.

Dogdad is still reeling.

How do I reconcile spending that kind of money on a dog given the abysmal conditions in which many of my fellow human beings live? Well, so far, I haven't managed to do so and I admit that it makes me extremely uncomfortable. The closest I've come to personal justification is to make a rule that I donate money almost solely to charities that assist with human basic needs, and offer only my time to other causes. But then I do put an awful lot of energy into volunteering to better the lot of Chicago-area dogs. I can't help but notice that most of the dogs I know receive better medical care than many Chicago humans (let along those in less-developed countries), and Clover's dad is fond of reminding me that Billy eats better than many people.
I have to admit that it strikes me as strange that in all of the dog-related blogs I've perused, I've never come across an owner, professional or rescue advocate publicly wrestling with the same conundrum. Given that dogs are no doubt here to stay in my life I don't see a resolution to my own conflict any time soon.

In the meantime I take some consolation in the fact that even some of the world's most admirable philosophers have advised us to at least show compassion towards animals.

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated "
- Mahatma Gandhi

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What's in a Name?

Today I joined a team of 80 people at a volunteer day at the Animal Welfare League's Intake Facility. They were touchingly overwhelmed by the show of support and it was encouraging to see so many different people willing to chip in. However, I'd have to say that generally the wonderful staff at this facility have one of the more grueling and thankless jobs in rescue. 5,000 dogs and cats come through this small building every year. This is because they take in any animal that turns up at their door - strays from the street, lost pets, owner surrenders - let me reiterate: they take in any animal that comes through the door. Many Chicago-area rescues and shelters pull animals from this facility (three cheers for Alive Rescue who pulled 6 dogs today!). AWL itself has a facility in Chicago Ridge that houses the largest number of adoptable animals from a non-profit organization in the entire midwest. On top of which they run many invaluable programs, such as clinic services for low-income pet owners, micro-chipping, humane education work and pet food giveaways.

However, as was made clear in our orientation, the best that we could hope for for a number of these, often wonderful, dogs was to give them some love and attention before being euthanized.

I recently read a very thoughtful article regarding the incorrect use of this term in reference to perfectly healthy pets. Part of me agrees with the author's point that we should not use a euphemism to hide an unpalatable fact - that these animals, for the most part, are not put to sleep as an act of mercy but killed because there is nowhere else to put them. The problem is that for the majority of people the natural progression from being disgusted by the act is to vilify those that carry it out. Read through the comments to this article (and others like it) and the emphasis seems to be on the evil shelters who need to step it up and stop killing animals. Take for example, this outraged citizen: "They are killing they don’t like to hear it too bad then try to make your shelter a no kill it can be done but you have to work at it." Well yes, of course they can. Every shelter in the country could turn around tomorrow and say "We shall not put down a single healthy pet". Awesome. Problem solved. 

The American Humane Society estimated that 3.7 million animals were euthanized in the nation's shelters in 2008. Well, my self-righteous friends, as dogs sit in shelter for weeks, months or even years, what's your plan for the remaining animals? How many will you be able to open your home to? I concede that there are many shelters across the country where the staff are considerably less motivated than the kind people I met at AWL today. But it's undeniable that this problem goes beyond bad practice and lazy staff in a few facilities. The problem is a country that has taken a disposable culture to such lengths that now even living creatures can be thrown out as casually as a polystyrene coffee cup. So, if you want things to change, go to the source and do what you can in your own community:

1. Educate. Educate yourself, your kids, your neighbors, your co-workers. There's no need to be parsimonious but don't bite your tongue the next time someone mentions they're looking for a puppy on craigslist. For a harsh wake-up call, read this.
2. Adopt. If you've got the space, the time and the money, bring a shelter pet into your home.
3. Volunteer. Pick a local rescue or a shelter and don't immediately get on your high horse and ignore the "kill" shelters, they might not be as pretty as some facilities but they're often under-staffed, under-funded and on the front line.
4. Free puppy love! If you're not ready for a long-term commitment, foster. Go through a reputable organization and you'll help to save a life with plenty of back-up and without having to worry about whether or not you're able to cover unexpected vet bills or pay for all the pounds of dog food that your hungry rescue wolfs down...

To end on a happier note, I hitched a ride down to AWL with Fifty's mom and one of her colleagues from work. Fifty run's with a three-pack as well so, regardless of temptation, neither of us were in any serious danger of taking home an extra pooch. However, it turns out that our joke of Katie picking up a new pack member was prophetic and an adorable chow/shepherd (?) mix came out of his shell to win her heart. Benson didn't have to head back to his cage tonight and is already making himself right at home on the couch. 

What a difference a day makes!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Big Black Dogs

It's a common assertion in dog rescue that the hardest pets to find a home for are big black dogs. For a number of reasons, they are frequently passed up in favor of lighter-colored dogs of all sizes. The lucky ones can spend years waiting for a forever home while the remainder are euthanized in alarming numbers.

Although he's technically an "only dog", Billy is part of an extended pack of three and spends a lot of time romping and snoozing with his honorary siblings both at home and a few blocks away at Dogdad's house. One member of our pack is a black dog and, at 60lbs, just about sneaks into the "big" category.
Buster's story exemplifies the problems faced by BBDs waiting for homes all over the country. True to form, he wasn't actually the one who originally drew Dogdad to visit this particular shelter. His roommate had adopted a pitbull, Clover, a couple of years earlier and he was looking to add another pitty to the family. A big, brown guy called Biff caught his eye and after calling the rescue and hearing of all the pit mixes they had available, roommates and dog piled into the car (with me riding along for the experience) and made the journey out there. Ultimately of course, the decision was to be Clover's and in this strange, rather exciting environment she was feeling a little snippy. Nevertheless, despite a slew of non-starters, she made a few friends and we all hung out for a while in one of the meeting rooms. None seemed to have quite the right energy level for the group and eventually an adoption counsellor came out to chat in a bit more detail about what exactly we were looking for. "How about Buster?" she suggested. We racked our brains and came up with a vague memory of a dog that the receptionist had already brought out but Clover had not reacted well to. Insisting that the boxer-lab mix was actually very dog friendly, we settled on walking them together in the parking lot rather than pushing Clover with another head-to-head meeting. Sure enough, the dogs met calmly and were quite happy to trot along beside each other. Heading back into the meeting room (it being a chilly, dark, wet November night) Buster began to worm his way into everyone's affections, greeting everyone politely, interacting beautifully with Clover and clambering into my lap to get some cuddles. When Dogdad told the counsellor that he'd like to adopt him she seemed almost surprised, "Are you sure?" She revealed with some trepidation that Buster's original owner had surrendered him claiming that he kept "running away" - based apparently on two occasions on which he'd been left unattended in a yard with an open gate and had wandered off. Undeterred, Dogdad's references were called, application approved and Buster clambered into the car, lay down and snuggled for the whole return journey.

Buster was a staff favorite at the shelter and there were clearly a few tears when he left. He proved to be house-trained from day one, dog-friendly, gentle with people of all ages, didn't chew, bark or whine, loved to play fetch but would happily pass out on the couch for a whole day if given the option, walked well on a leash within a month, quickly became a favorite at the vet's office ... and never showed the slightest inclination to "run away" from his new home.  I like to say that Buster was just waiting for the perfect home. A more contented creature you'll rarely meet and he is very much loved. Dogdad once showed me some photos that the shelter had sent a few weeks after the adoption. They were the petraits photos taken against the familiar grey velvet background that, after spending too much time on adoption sites, I'd come to recognize as a sign of a dog that was having problems finding a home. Nobody wanted Buster.

This gem of a dog sat in a shelter for over three years.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Meet Billy

After a year of torturing myself by scouring petfinder whilst still living in an apartment that didn't allow dogs I finally moved into a pet-friendly house. As a result, this big lug muscled his way into my home on October 6, 2009. It's pretty hard not to adore Billy, he's got that squishy face that you just want to smooch and boy does he looooove people. I was on the hunt for a bigger dog, given that I expected to be walking him alone in the dark a lot once the Chicago winter rolled in, and I have a real soft spot for the bully breeds.  After marching round various shelters (not a fun experience) and putting in applications on a number of dogs online I finally came across this guy through the rescue organization One Tail at a Time:

Update--as of 8/24, Billy is doing fabulously in his foster home. He is just a laid back love bug who wants to snuggle and watch movies in bed with his foster mom (see picture two). Billy is still not a fan of the crate, but when uncrated he just sleeps and lounges around waiting for his foster mom or another friend to come play with him! 
Billy is an extremely handsome, loving, American Bulldog mix who has been waiting for a foster or forever home for months. This sweet gentleman was originally adopted from our organization (by a family with five children!) last year but was returned two months ago when the family's living situation changed due to the housing market/economy. Billy was much loved in his original home and did beautifully with all five children. Sadly, since Billy has come back to our rescue, we have not been able to find a foster or forever home for him so he has been in boarding for the last two months. Thankfully, he still gets lots of attention and is able to play and socialize with the other dogs in boarding so he has definitely maintained his friendly demeanor and sociability. None the less, this patient big lug would love nothing more than a loving foster or forever home of his own.  
Billy does wonderfully with people of all ages and does well with some dogs too. He seems to be better with female dogs and in boarding is actually more socialized with, believe it or not, small dogs! Billy would do best with smaller, more submissive dogs so he will be placed with other dogs on a case-by-case basis. One of his best friends in boarding was a One Tail at a Time alumni, Darcy the pit/lab mix. 

His foster mom brought him round to my place for a meeting and that was that! Well, just about...

We've come a long way since then but of course, a dog like Bilbo isn't the type to make life quite that easy and our first night was an interesting one. Though he was going to be allowed on the furniture, I didn't plan on having him sleep on the bed until he'd settled in a little and set a two week period for him to stick to his dog bed before he'd be invited up. Now, why he should be banished to the floor when there was a whole pile of comfy duvet to sprawl across was something he just wasn't getting his head around and every time the lights went off a big weight would settle across my legs. At which point we'd start the how-far-can-I-push-her bulldog testing process. You see, when a dog with a head as big as Billy's decides to clamp his mouth around your arm, you definitely start to consider letting him have his way. After two and a half hours of back and forward we finally reached a compromise - Billy would sleep on his dog bed on the floor by the couch, and I would sleep on the couch...

I did make it into bed the next night and this time, thanks to a 3 hour walk that evening Billy agreed that his dog bed was a good spot until I said otherwise. And I even managed to restrain myself for almost the full two weeks before I caved and let him jump up.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

And so it begins

This blog could, and probably will, be about many things.

The original idea initially came about as another means to stay in touch with my family, all of whom live thousands of miles away. However, ultimately it's a blog about dogs, a nice tidy catch-all for all my craziness because, as Sticks would say, I'm a dog person. Unfortunately, dog people can get a little wearing in day-to-day life since, surprisingly enough, not everyone is interested in the search for the perfect dog food, or in viewing 3 new photos of "pooch snoozing on couch". In the interest of saving my relationships with the normal people out there (and diversifying my facebook status), this will primarily be the new home for my dog-related mania.

Which is ironic of course because the audience I expect to have - my family - are pretty convinced that I've gone crackers. Not only, in a rather uncharacteristic development, have I moved to the other side of the world, but I've acquired a dog. And not just any dog: a jumping, slobbering, rubbish-bin-trawling,   barking, shoe-chewing, furniture-lounging, supernaturally strong 72lb American Bulldog.

To put that in context, when I was little I didn't even like dogs. My mam is allergic and phobic and the dogs that my friends owned were frankly a bit large, intimidating and noisy for me.

We had budgies and hamsters and goldfish - little, inoffensive creatures that were easily contained and didn't set off my mam's asthma nor my eczema. Which of course neatly leads to the point that I was told I couldn't even have pets. In fact, by the time I was in my late teens,  the doctors told me that for the rest of my life I shouldn't have so much as bird in the house as I was too allergic.

Well, to cut a long story short, it's been 3 years since the first dog nosed her way into my affections, and 15 months since I opened my home to one (and not an itch since, so it just goes to show what doctors know). While I'm sure that I'll digress into craft projects, concerts, cooking disasters, vacations and all of the other bits and bobs that make up my life outside of work - for this is a decidedly office-free zone - the characters that will populate these pages will mostly be furry.
With wet noses.
And wagging tails...
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