I'm not Dog-gone mad anymore...

I adopted Aspen, our 2 yr old Staffordshire Terrier who joined us this winter, because she's done with having puppies and I'm done with having kids (so at least we have a connection).... I also got Sherlock, my 18 week Cardigan Welsh Corgi, to have a fresh start in pet ownership and hopefully accomplish all those dreams of dog agility and dog shows that are unfulfilled. And Leo the obnoxious cat comes to dinner every once in a while.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A-Venting I shall go!

I love animals. I always have. And I knew, since I could have a sense of reason, that I will always have a pet... or want a pet...

But it doesn't mean I judge or have a problem with people who don't own pets.  For whatever reason. I don't have a problem with non-dog or non-cat people asking me to kennel my dogs, or put away my cat, when they come visit.  I don't get upset with people who choose to not have pets.  Because pets are not a requirement.  They are a responsibility.  And if you own one, you have to be 100% committed to them or its better not to have any.

I would say that it should be the same way with kids, but with so many irresponsible parenting... It would hurt this argument. So I won't.

Pets (and children too), require time, energy, love, money, patience, discipline... They will stretch you.  They will want you to take them outside to go potty at 5am in below 20 F weather... and you have to be as consistent with a pet as you do a child you are potty training and you need to take that toddler to the toilet for the 5th time this hour.

A pet is the toddler that never grows up and goes to college - it grows old and dies. On your watch. It's the child you expect to out-live. And most dogs will be like toddlers (mentally) until the day when their body is too old to get into mischief - and then you are looking into a whole 'nother series of concerns, although maybe not necessarily behavioral.

And you sign up for it 100% voluntarily.  You do NOT have to keep that pet - don't give me that "I rescued it!" excuse.  You can re-home. You can call Animal Control. You can surrender it to a rescue organization.  You don't have to keep every animal that falls on your lap if you can't provide this level of commitment   You shouldn't be "rescuing" pets on your own if you can't financially afford to provide for all of the pet's medical needs.  You shouldn't have more pets than you can provide emotional love, time and support for (would you have 9 toddlers? 10? Why in the world would you have 10 animals then?!).  There is a line between a rescuer and a hoarder and I see it in my line of work daily.  Having all those animals and no money for their exams doesn't make the veterinary clinic sorry for you - it just makes us realize that you have mental issues that need professional help... even if we would never say it to your face.

That pet will need annual exam and vaccines.  Unlike kids, who get a series of vaccines and at some point you are done, pets are not done. They will need preventative care labwork and diagnostics.  They may also need orthopedic surgery, or care from eye, internal medicine, or other specialists.  They may get diabetic, or develop Cushing's, or Addison's, or have renal failure - all of which will require plenty of time and MONEY to medicate the pet so that it is comfortable and healthy under it's circumstances.  It may get hit by a car or fracture a leg in some unfortunate and sudden incident and LIVE to need YOUR help.  And it is your moral responsibility to pay for the pet's medical needs to the same level of care as you would your own child.  I know children have health insurance, either from your job or from the state.  You can insure your pet.  And either way, it's your responsibility to get your pet taken care of medically, whether you have the money or not.  If these circumstances may stretch you to an unreasonable amount of financial distress... guess what... you shouldn't have a pet! Or 4, or 7... or breed...

Pets need time.  Time to train so they behave appropriately in all social circumstances.  Because if your dog bites another dog, or another person, or runs into someone's yard, or is a monster on a leash... its' YOUR fault.  And it's YOUR job to fix it - get a trainer, read a book, make an effort... it's your moral responsibility to make your pet a good citizen.

Pets need your patience and love.  You wouldn't drop your kid off at the orphanage because at 4 years old he still wets the bed.  You can't do that with your dog either!  It takes time for them to learn, they may still screw up, and that's no reason to drop off the dog at the pound.  If your dog is not potty trained, it's YOUR fault.  If your dog chews up furniture, it's YOUR fault.  If your dog eats the trash... it's YOUR fault.  If you don't want to address these issues for the REST OF YOUR DOG'S LIFE... don't get one in the first place.

If you read this far and are offended or hurt, please keep reading.  To my facebook friends, I love you and respect you - YOU are not the target of my blog.  I know that things happen, that all of my facebook friends LOVE their pets and are good pet owners.  I've seen friends short on cash ask for help for their pets.  I've seen friends take in dogs, rescues, who aren't good citizens but we are willing to work with their pet and be inconvenienced by that pet for the rest of it's life.  I'm not hating on you in any way.  If you were not a good pet owner, or irresponsible in the care of animals, to the best of my knowledge - you would not be my facebook friend... or probably my real-life friend.  Because as a Christian I can be friends with people who are gay, or pro-choice, or pagan but I CANNOT respect a person who is irresponsible with their animals... Irresponsibility is cruelty.  Like a human toddler, that animal cannot do anything for itself and depends entirely on YOU for it's LIFE.

So what would possess me to write such a blog?

Because I have seen (across 2 veterinary clinics and a grooming job, during the past 4 years or so of my life):
- People who breed their dog in their back-yard, hopping to make $300-400 bucks a pup, but the mom has never been vaccinated, doesn't have established a patient/vet relationship, and can't afford to bring the momma dog in when it's been in labor for 24 hours without producing pups, and has decomposing pup fetuses in her uterus.  Then they are hoping for a payment arrangement when the dog has pyometria and it's on death's door, and blame the vet clinic when payment is due in full.
- Dogs, under 3 years of age, get dropped off at Animal Control... then the pound notices that the dog is limping, they start doing some research as to why the animal is so unsocial, so uncomfortable... only to find out that the dog had ruptured a cruciate and it has been left un-medicated and untreated.  Realizing that orthopedic surgery can easily run up to $4000 or higher, and that pain medications alone can cost you $120 a month, they decide to dump it at the pound and pay the $25 surrender fee instead - but don't have the moral fiber to let the pound know that pet needs medical treatment... And that poor dog, in excruciating pain, has been dragged on a leash across hard floors and has been sleeping on a cold floor.  How would you like to have busted a knee cap and be left to sleep on the floor?
- Cats who have jumped up on the counter while owners were cooking, burning their paws on the stove.  After fur and skin is falling off the paw pad in pieces and the cat is not bearing any weight on it, owners decide to put neosporin on it and wait for it to heal instead of taking it to the Vet.  If one of my kids burned their hand like that and I didn't take it to a doctor, I'd have child protective services called on me.  I'd like there to be such a thing for pets, truthfully.
- Long-haired dogs that haven't been brushed a day in their lives.  By the time they need a grooming they are dangerous to grooming staff, so they have to get dropped off at a veterinarian for full sedation.  More fussing over how it's so expensive just to "wash and shave a dog", and why would it cost so much money to get it cleaned up... when the dog is so matted that when it pees the urine stays trapped against the skin and does not hit the floor - eating the underbelly area raw, and the dog physically cannot poop... has been constipated for 3 days.... From the matts around the butt.
- Just this week I saw someone come in for a euthanasia for a dog that to me looked ok.  After speaking with the owners a while I found out the reason for euthanasia is that the dog was losing weight and urinating inappropriately.  The dog was tail wagging, running and jumping, taking treats, and cuddling with me.  I spoke to the veterinarian and said that I was willing to be entirely responsible for the dog if they would choose to surrender it to me instead of euthanizing, and I was willing to pay for the labwork to find the cause for these issues first, and willing to pay for the treatment until the dog was adopted by someone who was willing to do the same for the rest of it's life.  Between you and me, the dog was probably diabetic.  It needed medical attention, but it wasn't dying.  Owners declined surrendering the pet and requested the euthanasia anyways.  So legally it's what we had to do.  But they didn't even have the moral fiber to be present with the pet, they just dropped it off and paid their bill.  That dog gave those people a good 10 years of it's life and in it's final moments, it received comfort and love from people it had only known for about 15 minutes.
- A pet with an eye issue so bad the eye needed to be surgically removed.  If you can picture an animal with a bloody red eyeball, no color to the iris whatsoever, bulging a good 1/2 inch out of the eye socket, about twice the size of the other eye.  It goes without saying that it is painful.  They refuse the surgery.  Not for a second opinion, they didn't even say it was due to finances.  Just because.
- The 9 year old small breed dog with mammary cancer, among other health issues, that owners still want to breed to show their children "the miracle of life".

So when at check out, I see the moron behind the counter tell me how he's going to breed is "champion quality" baby, I want to punch him in the throat... but I say, "Thank you!" and hand him his receipt instead.  For all the hicks out there that want to breed their pets, I will say that you need to be prepared for the financial and emotional responsibility of ALL OF THE ABOVE SCENARIOS not just for the momma dog, but for all the puppies in every litter.  Because you brought those puppies (or kittens) into the world.  And responsible breeders will pull the pups from their litters from the pound, and make sure you spay/neuter/microchip your pet if you are not showing it. If your bitch has 8 puppies and you can't find a home for all 8 puppies, are you prepared to feed, support, provide, and train all 9 dogs for the rest of their lives?!  And don't cross-breed. It's pathetic.  Your chorkie-morkie-schnoodle ends up at the pound as a mutt, when it's 4-7 years old and no longer cute, and no one wants it.  Maybe a rescue organization will pull the pet.  Maybe someone will come and adopt it.  Chances are it will be euthanized, and it's YOUR fault for breeding that little creature in the first place.  And I pray to God to all these backyard breeders that the bloodshed and abuse they are responsible for, in exchange for the few hundred bucks they made, will catch up with their conscience one day and keep them from sleeping.

And when I see pets suffering, but owners who don't want to cough up the money for what it needs... because "we are unreasonably expensive".... who obviously don't do without much themselves judging by their cars, their jewelry, their tattoos, and their I-phone...I would prefer people didn't have pets in the first place.  I want to tell these people, "Can you then at least cough up the few hundred dollars to humanely euthanize your pet so that it stops suffering and you can go on your merry way?"

I wouldn't dream of having 2 dogs if I didn't work at a veterinary clinic where I can get employee discounts.  I know it's not expensive. My dogs get fed, are up to date on vaccines, get labwork done regularly, are never in any kind of illness for more than 12 hours.  And I take care of them without sacrificing the financial health of my family as a whole - my children and husband don't do without either.  And I've had dogs with behavioral issues... dogs involved in dog fights, regrettably... Dogs that are a nuisance in public.  Dogs that are rescue and only ONE from a breeder, my little buddy.  My cat is very well taken care of too.  I've had the dogs that I've put up with EVERYTHING and the dogs I've had to let go and put down.  I've washed bloody diarrhea from the carpet for weekends straight, chased the cat around the house with semi-dead rodents in its mouth, walked around the block in knee deep snow and slick ice twice to bring them back home, re-homed some for their well-being, held others close to my chest as they drew their final breaths.  I'm not judging just from my side of the counter.

Making the decision to euthanize Max made sense, because he was miserable.  Making the decision to euthanize Pepper was probably the toughest choice I ever faced, and I'm STILL not 100% sure it was the right choice... but I'm at peace with it because I was with her, holding her in my arms, till the end. I apologized to her because I couldn't do better.  I told her she was a great dog.  I let her know I was doing this so she wouldn't hurt herself any more or feel any more fear.  I let her know she lived a better year with me than most other pets.  And I told her I was thankful to God she fell into my lap as opposed to staying in the shelter, or ending up with someone else that would've euthanized her sooner and not given her the love and patience she deserved.  I told her that between the vets, Alaska Dog and Puppy Rescue, and Dog Tired Day Care (yes, I paid for day care for my dog), she had a great team of people that loved her and she made smile.  So even if I will never know whether or not she needed to be euthanized that day, or if there were other options, I can live with myself because I faced that valley with her and my conscience is clear.

If you can't take all this and be emotionally, physically, and financially prepared for it - or at least, have the team work and the support in place for it - then don't own a pet.  I've seen clients go through not only one, but three major surgeries... and counting... whatever it takes for their family member.  In a world with no commitments, and animals being so helpless, get your "puppy" or "kitten" fix by fostering or volunteering with a local rescue group, and then leave them be to find a good home... Have the awareness to realize YOU may not be a good home.  Or BE that good home.  But you have to be all-in, 100% invested in the decision because that poor animal you bring home is 100% invested in you.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Dogs, Shows, and More...

I participated in my first dog show last week.  Stoked, because that was on my bucket list.  Now I actually want to win.  That is next!  In the mean time, getting Sherlock ready is easier said than done.

He needs to be able to walk around the ring in a very handsome manner, with his head held high, in a good-lookin' strut.  What he does, instead, is run around like a vacuum cleaner and inhale the floor as he goes around the ring.  At least it's not a flop and refuse to walk like he was doing during training.  But I have a hard time baiting him to look up, to be interested in me or at least the treat in my hand - he's a little scavenger!  And well, I named him Sherlock.  It suits him considering he likes to inspect and investigate everything with his best sensory faculties; his nose!

I got a stand/wait down ok, his stacking up could look better, but that comes with practice and handling. I'm so slow and clumsy - it all feels unnatural to me.  I have a lot to learn too.

But if I don't give it a shot, then how do I expect to learn?  Nobody is ever going to walk up and give me an opportunity. No one ever has.  Not a lot of people have confidence in me, most of them wonder what the heck I'm doing to begin with. I'm thankful for the breeder and my friends in the dog-show world who take the time to show me and welcome me there.

So I have a couple of "show-and-gos" to take Sherlock to so we can practice, as well as some leash work at home.  I'm sure it'll be natural to him in no time.

On the other hand, Aspen is being a pretty good girl.  She's listening more, less dog apprehensive, and more of a cuddle-bug (if that's even possible).  She can also catch treats in the air and it's one of her favorite tricks!  She is a master at sit, and recently I've been able to coax her to a down position with a treat - something she refused to do before!  She is so patient with the kiddos, specially when Caleb pulls up her lip to look at her teeth - though I deter him from doing that, he's now fascinated by incisors since his just came in... and he noticed Aspen has them too (but hers are bigger)!

Of course, it's not fun when both dogs got into something and they have an upset stomach... and I'm cleaning up the kennel. Not fun at all.  And it's not fun to walk them in the winter when I'm waiting for them to go potty and it's 25 degrees.  And I'm freezing.  And the poor dogs get bored and want to play outside but I can't stand being out there as long as they want to be and I don't leave my dogs (or my kids, for that matter) out in the yard unsupervised.  That's where it takes work.

On a more personal note, I am working on-line towards my AS in Veterinary Technology (with a National Veterinary Technician Certification), so that I can then go on towards my BS.  But I'm just starting, just done with taking reading and math assessments, transferring credits, and doing my introductory course work. I have a lot of reading to do. Then some exams to take, some of which I need to find a proctor for. THEN sometime between January and October of next year I have to do a certain number of practicum hours as a Veterinary Assistant, on top of my actual job as a receptionist, and find the energy and the time (and the boss' approval) for that.  And this is just Semester 1 out of 4, which I'm paying about $1300/year for.  Well worth it I suppose; I don't want to just be a receptionist for the rest of my life.  And I worry that should something happen I won't be marketable for more than $12/hour or so.  I need a skill and a certification to make me good at something and worth something.  It's in the best interest of the kids and of my household!

However, finding the quiet time and energy to STUDY without interruption runs thin between time with the dogs and time with the kids, and housework, and actual work, and fish... etc, etc... so it's usually some Sunday afternoons when Paul is home, as well as after 10pm at night on weekends once the kids go to bed.

So now it's the challenge of finding balance.  And it's tough because I can't work with Sherlock if he feels me tense; he knows I'm agitated and anything I do or say scares him more than encourages him.  It's AMAZING how dogs can sense your blood pressure and even if you fake it with a smile, they are not fooled. At all.

In fact, the other day Anakin (my oldest son) was in trouble for misbehaving at school.  And after he was disciplined he was laying on the sofa, completely dejected.  Aspen zoned in on him like a hawk!  She was next to him, licking his face, rubbing her head into him... and Anakin was too upset to notice, but she knew there was something wrong with him a mile away.

Or the way Sherlock will jump into my lap when I plop on the recliner and I don't feel good.  And he lays down and looks at me with these adorable brown eyes and these huge ears that say, "It's ok! We love you! It'll be ok!"

And my kids do it too.  But they have the gift of language and can articulate their emotions.  I find it awesome when the dogs can pick up on our emotions and share their emotions with us - notice the slightest change in our facial expression, tone of our voice, or beating of our heart.

But I love it! I wouldn't have it any other way.  It is part of who I am.  It's in my DNA.  Ask my parents!  My earliest memories involve dogs and cats and birds and lizards and all sorts of animals that I cared for, played with, and rehabilitated.  I just stopped pushing it aside and embraced it.  It will be ok.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Doggy Storm Preparedness

In light of the high winds we may be having tonight, and with the storm on the way, I'm trying to keep the kids and the dogs busy. And safe.

We stocked up on food and drinking water - dogs included.  I let them out to play early enough so they have a chance to use their energy. I have kennels ready so they don't panic during the storm.

I also read up on a little common sense doggy safety; not to let the dogs off-leash after the storm until you've cleaned up the yard and verified that all the fences are up and there are no power lines down.

But in the mean time they are just playing around - Aspen versus Sherlock.  They are proving their mastery by fighting over a rope toy - although there's more than one... it seems they have something to prove to each other.  And they are happy... tail wagging, cuddling, licking happy.

Aspen has made the tremendous progress of letting us trim her nails without much resistance.  And she's a tad bit more obedient, although her dog-to-dog skills need some work.  Either way, we're happy, because we are able to work with her more - and she's a joy to live with! She cuddles with the kiddos, rough houses w/ the older one, and is otherwise a 50 lb lap dog of pure muscle.

Sherlock hasn't had any accidents this week - appears to be housebroken.  Did pretty good in the first puppy class; he can sit and stay on command, knows down, stay, and walks nicely on a leash.  Now I have the task of getting him show-ready - I need to teach him to "stand" and stay, but he's so butt-heavy he plops his bottom at the first sign of a treat.  I also need to leash train him for show purposes.  That's our next step!  And I'm so excited.  Knowing how to show dogs has been on my bucket list. I nearly can't wait!

There is otherwise nothing really to report, day in and day out.  We took as many hikes as we could this summer, some with Aspen, some without.  She did ok and enjoyed the walk, although she would much rather be off-leash - but unfortunately she's not reliable.  The one time we decided to leave her at home so that we could focus a bit more on the kiddos, I was relieved to do so... the trail was very narrow, and pretty treacherous... that plus 3 kiddos in tow (including my 2 year old), it would've been too much for us.  Sherlock was nimble to do just fine on that one though; he just hopped from rock to rock.
It's sad that summer is gone and fall is almost over.  And we haven't had much of a hiking, wonderful fall. It's been winds of up to 100 mph, rain, and plain ickiness.  The one day that it was sunny I cleaned the yard all day just because I didn't want to be indoors on what might've been our last day of sunshine.  The dogs handle it pretty well as the climate is getting colder though, they still love going outside to play - completely undeterred.  Their favorite time is when they go to meet Anakin at the bus stop when he comes home from school.  They are excited to see their boy and all the other boys and girls that get off the bus and give them attention.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Summer came and went...

I didn't realize I haven't blogged in the past 3 months or so.  I feel bad because I've been a bit of a zombie lately.  But it's ok because my dogs love me anyways :)

Aspen is starting to show her true colors.  She's getting ornery.  For one thing, she has made it explicitly clear that she does not like the neighbor dogs, and 2 nasty encounters later she is no longer allowed off-leash or outside at the same time they are.  It stinks because we can't even trust her in the yard off leash, due to the fact that I can't guarantee my neighbors will look before they let their dogs out.  They open the door and the dogs charge ahead of them and run straight for the fence - at Aspen.  But Aspen is the staffie so it's all her fault.

On another note, she loves to play tag, and there's nothing she enjoys more than running around with her toy in her mouth.  She frolics!  She will hop like a little bunny too.  Fun to watch.

She learned how to catch treats in the air, and how to sit.  She still tries to pull your arm off when on the leash unless she has her gentle-lead on.  She tolerates Sherlock, the new puppy, real well.  And loves to cuddle with the kids and watch TV - I think that's her favorite.  We're still working on teaching her that jumping on people is not appropriate.

And she looks pitiful all the time, but don't let that fool you: She gets affection.  A lot.  She's no longer that deprived, sad little rescue she was late last year.  That's just her facial expression now; she learned to play you like a fiddle!

She's been camping and hiking with us.  And we all survived to tell about it.  She likes to swim and catch minnows.  She has no kind of recall what so ever so she can't be allowed off-leash.

She loves Paul.  Paul can get her to sit still for a nail trim.  Paul can put eye drops in her eyes.  She'll do anything for Paul; just melts for him.  He's the man of her heart.  I'm ok with that!  She is 50 lbs of rock solid muscle and strong enough to drag me around, so I'm definitely glad she will submit to someone in this household!

I also acquired Sherlock.  He's a purebred Cardigan Welsh Corgi from a real good litter that one of our vets delivered at the clinic I work at.  Darn that sucker is cute!  And he's still just a baby (less than 5 months old), but doing pretty good.  We got the kennel thing down, he's going to dog school, he can hike and play fetch with the rest of us, and he's active enough to keep up.  A bit obnoxious when it comes to constantly playing and constantly investigating... But that's age appropriate.  He has his cuddle bug moments when he'll sit on my lap and get loved on, but more than that he loves going for walks.  So he's keeping me on my toes.  I'm hoping to show him and finally learn to show (scratch that from my bucket list!).  I think he'd also do good at flyball or agility.  He is so smart!  Unfortunately he's also a bit of a butt-head sometimes, trying to get his way instead of listening to you.

We'll see where this road takes us.  To successful dog ownership or bust.  

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Something new...

 I was convinced Aspen was bored to tears.  I started doing random things with her to break the routine.

Like on some days, I take her to work with me so we can go for a walk on my lunch break.  Other days I come home and let her out to the back yard to run off-leash (she is not a very obedient dog - more headstrong than anything! So she hasn't proven reliable to be off-leash yet).

Yesterday we went for a long hike along the coastal trail here in Anchorage.  She got to sniff about 2.5 miles worth of land, trees, pine cones, etc.  It wasn't a dog-social event, which is where she needs work.  But we all got out, got sunlight, smelled fresh air, stretched our legs... Much needed.

I must confess I miss walking with Pepper, she was the perfect dog on hikes, and very reliable off-leash.  Aspen gave me a work out.  She likes to pull a lot, and I have misplaced her gentle lead, so we were back to the basics; stopping, pulling her back, not going anywhere until she decides to heel.  In the mean time though, my arms were killing me, although as the walk progressed she got the point and stayed relatively close.

I also am working with her because she likes to jump on people to say hi... but with her weight and her nails, it's painful.  So I am teaching her to sit next to you when she wants your affection.  The problem is she'll do it with ME now but not anybody else.  Still working on it.

Otherwise, I have to say Aspen is not a bad dog at all.  She loves the kids; her face lights up when she sees them.  She'll go right up to Anakin and roll on her back, wag her tail, to get some of his attention.  She's housebroken and does not bark much - even her habit of running to the glass door to bark at dogs outside has decreased tremendously (we don't allow her to do that at all, and she's getting the point).

She's learning the doggy rules, although she still looks a little confused.  She's smart enough to where she understands what they are, it's just at times what SHE wants to do seems more important to her than listening to us.  But I understand that we've only been her family for the past 4 months or so.  She wasn't properly socialized as a younger dog, specially a dog of this particular breed (with such a powerful body! She's so small and yet she can bring Paul to the ground if she tried!).  Our upper-hand is in her sweet nature (towards people anyhow), her willingness to learn, and her desire to please.

I talk to her a lot, and give her plenty of affection, as well as everyone in the house, but I have to confess that I don't have as close of a bond with her as I have other dogs in the past.  I also understand that she is a unique and different pet and so our relationship will be unique and I can't compare that to what I had with other dogs.  There was something in Pepper that I connected with, because there were ways I was learning from her... I saw a lot of myself in her, so there was a much stronger emotional bond.  Aspen is more of a pet I'm taking care of, one that I love... not quite my sidekick though, but she's a buddy to the family and that's important to me.  My kids have a closer connection with her than they ever did with Pepper and I'm seeing them express themselves with Aspen... maybe they have that bond now? And so, it doesn't matter much to me that Aspen and I aren't close-knit buddies because the emotional maturity of my 3 children is just as important as well.  If Aspen is a blessing to them, she's a blessing to me!

She is one lucky gal though.  She's in a good home, one that will keep her out of trouble.  If left to her own devices she would be a mess in her people skills and dangerously dog aggressive.  And yet, even though she ACTS like she doesn't like our neighbor dogs when she's inside the house, I've seen her romp and play and be very friendly to these same dogs when we're all in the yard.  But we don't let her just do as she pleases, which may sound harsh to other pet owners... however, we are bearing the weight of a 50 lb animal strong enough to bring a moose down, stubborn as can be, and with an already bad reputation just because of her breed.  We are responsible for her and everything she does.  So it's for her own good that we set the standard so high.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

I know it's supposed to be spring, but with as much slipping and sliding, and snow every where, this is a very appropriate title.

I realized that my experience with Aspen is something very important to blog about. Specially with all the issues that have come to my attention with owning a Staffordshire Terrier. I look back to the flight restrictions on American Airlines, the McDonald's radio commercial controversy, and I can't help but wonder if maybe sharing what this particular dog is like it may help with some of the stereo-types that people have against dogs with such square faces and broad chests.

I get upset because Aspen is such a good dog! It makes me angry that my dog can't fly with us to Florida on American Airlines simply because of the way she looks, when she is less likely to bite a stranger than some of the smaller breeds that are allowed to fly in the cabin!

I was also a little... perturbed with the looks I got walking her at the dog park. People who were just strollin' about suddenly put their dogs on the leash and rush past us, instructing their dogs to leave my dog alone the whole way they are crossing us, only because Aspen is not a lab or an australian shepherd.

The more frustrating thing is that as a dog she can sometimes show some signs of aggression - whether in fear or just as her way of saying, "no". It's dog language; it's how they let other dogs know they don't like it. I'm not talking about a lunging, growling beast that wants to tear up every dog in sight. I'm talking about a snarl, a warning snap, when dogs are too close or they are invading her personal space in a way that isn't comfortable to her. Never mind the fact that I've seen dogs act inappropriate in what the owners think is "friendly" behavior; humping, jumping on her, wanting to tackle her. So because Aspen doesn't like this kind of forwardness, and shows it to the other dog (and the other dog has not been taught to approach dogs in an appropriate manner), Aspen is now in trouble: She's of that "breed" that is "dangerous". After all, don't they use these dogs to fight?

I wish people would understand, truly understand, the amount of cruelty that a pit bull terrier has to go through to be turned into a fighting dog because it goes entirely against their nature to be that aggressive. And yes, Terriers are protective - from the pit bull to the Jack Russell. And I've known some dogs that don't really like other dogs simply based on genetics and personality types; one pit bull, a few german shepherds, and a couple of boxers, actually.

And then there are the idiots who get pit bulls because they look cool, have their ear crops so they scare people away from their yards, and let the animal overpower and dominate everything so that the person holding the leash has no control, the animal has no behavior training, and society has a problem on their hands. I have to be honest, when these clients come into the clinic that I work at, I get very frustrated. And while I will never show them any disrespect, from the bottom of my heart I want to tell them: "Do you realize that your ignorance in handling the dog you have on the other end of the leash is the reason why MY dog is not allowed in a lot of the homes and apartments I would apply to rent at? Why MY dog can't board a plane with American Airlines? And why any child or other dog is in serious danger around your pit bull, but people are afraid of MY dog for no good reason!?"

I want to share with people that the scratches and scars on my arms from Aspen are because I failed to trim her nails and she tackled me to the ground with kisses during our play time. That my kids sleep on her during nap time. That she helped me take care of a deaf french bulldog puppy of only about 10 weeks of age.

The best I can do is keep socializing her, keep training her, and keep exposing her. I take her to the dog park at least once a week. She gets lots of praise for being relaxed when sniffing other dogs. I keep the introductions short and painless so that she has more positive experiences and less scary ones. There are some dogs she wants to chase and play with, a lot of dogs she likes to sniff. Others she approaches very stiffly and I know it's time to go.

For example, today she was snapping at a German Shepherd that was running around her. She was not happy. As soon as I could, I put her back on the leash (I had to climb up this hill with melting snow and wasn't doing too good at it). Less than a minute later, a golden retriever approached her, tail wagging. She was still pretty stiff. The retriever cowered up to her, and when they were nose to nose, dropped on his back and showed her his belly! She sniffed him, wagged her tail a bit, and moved on. She does great with smaller breed dogs - loves pomeranians and boston terriers as far as I've seen. And she has been pretty playful with some of the older, more gentle big dogs. Truthfully, Aspen goes to the dog park more interested in the PEOPLE than in the dogs. She'll follow children and introduce her self to every stranger she sees.

My favorite dog park interaction thus far has been when I was walking with my friend Jenna and her Pomeranian, Pomegranate. We were approached by a growling, chasing miniature aussie that was off leash, really going after Pom. Aspen stood over Pom, planted her feet, and growled at the aussie in Pom's defense it seems. It gave Jenna the chance to pick Pom up (oh the joys of owning a small breed dog!), and we were able to walk by and keep moving without any further altercations. Everyone was happy and back to running in the snow. I will add here that Aspen, running full speed in the snow, has the potential to break your shins in half if she can't stop right in front of you and slides into you like a bowling ball knocking a pin over. It's the biggest hazard in owning her that I've experienced so far, LOL.

But nobody takes a glance at the miniature aussie and react with fear for their dogs.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New Breath, New Blog

I had to close down "Dog-Gone Mad" because it was about Pepper. And Pepper passed away. It didn't feel right writing about another dog when I had blogged for a year about her.

I was missing Pepper, and reading over the blog, and seeing how many "lessons" or "moral to the story" there was weaved through out my experience with her. She taught me so much about courage and submission (and what happens when we don't!).

And as I type there is a 50 lbs little Staffie snoring away happily between my kids, and I realize how much she needs my love and attention. And I thought that I needed to build a relationship with her, to put my efforts into making her the best dog she could be. She has the temperament of a therapy dog - she loves everyone! And all she wants to do is cuddle on your lap.

Aspen doesn't even know how to play with toys. But she knows how to give you dog kisses and lay on you, which is good enough from her. Aspen was dropped off at the pound in Wasilla one cold November morning, heavily pregnant. She was pulled from the pound and brought in to the rescue only to find she had this amazing desire to be loved by people. Her foster family reported that she refused to whelp in her box unless they sat beside her and pet her; she would follow them around the house as inconvenient as it was with her huge belly. Eight puppies later (who all coincidentally look just like her - or I'm being blissfully ignorant to the cruelty of backyard breeding) it was plain to tell she wasn't interested in being a Mom; she was craving to be a companion.

I was drawn to her as I read update after update. I could relate; I had three children back-to-back due to ineffective birth control. And while I love my kids, I feel like I was pregnant/nursing from 2005 through 2009. And my life right now is "on hold" because of this call to parenting, but there's so much more about me than the fact that I am a Mom... So many other passions I have besides taking care of my children (and I LOVE my children!). I felt ready to explore these other dynamics to being me this year; my love for dogs, for singing, for helping people, for blogging. I've always wanted to have a therapy dog that could visit abused children or children in foster care and help these children express love and affection where they sometimes have a challenge doing so with other people.

And if there's any dog that could pull that off, it's Aspen!

So we bring her home, and she seldom barks, and is mostly housebroken and crate trained. In fact, Aspen will do whatever you ask her to do with a face that says, "I love you and I'm so thankful I have a home!". All the time. She's not fond of the kennel when there's people that she could be licking, but she still bears that same expression of love and gratitude.

She doesn't know what to do with toys. But she does play with the kids. Right now the game is called, "Tackle with affection!" The kids will jump on her and pet her and give her kisses... then it's her turn! She will pin them down and hold them down with all of her weight and then lick their ears silly, even more so as the kiddos explode with laughter and try to turn their faces away from her. The wrestling match leaves them all exhausted, and they pretty much fall asleep on the spot.

Any progress to be made has been put on hold by this horrible process of moving. Just after we adopted her, we moved from a 1-bedroom unit to a 3-bedroom place. There are boxes EVERYWHERE. We still haven't sorted out where to put everything. Aspen just watched patiently from inside her kennel. But now that there is a trail from the kennel to the front door, and around the kitchen, there are a couple of things on my "to-do" list as it pertains to her:
1.- Obedience training. Hopefully dog school at AK Dog Sports, when finances allow and time opens up. She likes to move around and she's athletic, but I don't know how she would do for agility. We'll see, I guess.
2.- BATH! She needs to be groomed. I was waiting for her to recover from the spay, and that is done.
3.- Canine Good Citizen - important in her defense. Her pitbull face is two out of three strikes against her, but even amidst all the breed misconception you can't deny the argument that a well behaved dog makes.
4.- Therapy certification? One day.
5.- FOOD - I'm feeding her Pepper's left-overs and I'm not sure that's the best diet for her. She gets these awful red stains around her lips, ears, and in the wrinkles and folds of her body. Which is my cue to go grain-free and protein-based, probably with higher quality proteins too.
6.- Dog Day Care. Pepper loved it and I know she would too. She's a little rough, and oddly enough responds aggressively when dogs bigger then her try to play rough with her. But she'll chase our neighbor's sheltie all around the yard. I'm afraid of the bull-dozing effect she'll have if she actually catches up to said sheltie.

And now I'm blogging to keep myself accountable to working on all these things this year and getting involved with her care. As much as it hurts when it's time to let go, I can't enter this relationship half-heartedly. Oh will I ever learn...