Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Short-Lived Victory Dance

We had a grand total of 43 minutes to celebrate after Jack's new family told us they wanted to adopt him.  In those 43 minutes, we danced, we laughed, and we cried. We spent nearly two months working with a dog who, by all accounts, was as good as dead, and matched him up with the absolutely perfect family who will treat him like a king for life. We felt so accomplished—so proud of the partnership between the rescue, ourselves, the family, and Jack.

Then we got an email with the subject line, "Your Next Foster." It began with the qualifier, "only if you say yes." This email was a disheartening reminder—there are millions of Jacks out there. 

But for us, it's one dog at a time. It's one "yes" at a time. And how couldn't we say yes to this face?

Meet Sable. She was found on the side of a road, pregnant, with a broken pelvis after being hit by a car. When a shelter in West Virginia wanted to put her to sleep, a vet stepped in and took Sable into her own home. Once there, Sable gave birth to 6 pups, only one of whom survived. That one pup has since been adopted out; now it's Sable's turn. She's scheduled to join us on Saturday night.

In the mean time, we have a few days off from life with a dog. That means an extra 30 minutes of sleep in the morning, five fewer walks in the freezing cold, and one quiet and lonely household.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Love That Dog

This must be how parents feel. They have their first child and love that child more than they thought their hearts were capable of loving. They have a second child and worry if it’s possible to make room in their hearts to love that child as much as the first. But their hearts grow wider and they do. (Or, in the case of my own parents, they love that second child even more than the first. I kid, Mom and Dad, I kid.) In some cases, the third or fourth (or even more) come along. And their hearts grow and grow.

I’ve found myself in that position. (I realize, of course, that children are not dogs and vice versa.) With Wookiee, it was love at first sight. I fell head-over-heels in love with that fur ball. I was convinced that he was the physical manifestation of love. [And we only had him for one week!] I doubted that another foster dog would come along that I could love like that.

But he did. He was black and white and fuzzy all over, and his name was Jack. And although I’ve called him lots of different variations of that name, I actually called him Boo Bear in our quiet hours. It took a little longer for me to love that dog—to trust each other and to grow accustomed to each other’s idiosyncrasies. It was the logical type of bond that grows slow and deep. I love that dog.

For those of you who live in the world of children’s literature like I do, you probably know Sharon Creech’s book, Love That Dog. It's a series of poems written by a boy who happens to be named Jack. When Jack's teacher tells him to write a poem about a pet, he writes,

So much depends
a blue car splatted with mud
speeding down the road.

As Jack grows as a poet throughout the school year, he opens up about the loss of his dog, Sky, and finds solace in his writing. The book ends up with his poem, Love That Dog.

Love that dog
like a bird loves to fly
I said I love that dog
like a bird loves to fly
Love to call him in the morning
love to call him
“Hey there, Sky.”

This love story is not too different from another one I know by heart.

When Jack's forever family picks him up tomorrow, they'll begin to write their own love story together. And we are so grateful to have been part of it. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Book Review: The Lost Dogs

I have referred to The Lost Dogs in this blog before, but I haven't done it nearly enough justice. Written by Sports Illustrated writer Jim Gorant, The Lost Dogs documents the recovery and rehabilitation of the dogs from the Michael Vick dogfighting case.

This is not a canned "Marley and Me" tale.

This is not a mindless, beach read.

This is not an easy read by any means. In fact, I had to put it down one night because I was literally nauseous.

Above all else, this is a MUST read. It's one that will likely make you question our celebrity-worshipping culture, our justice system, and the stereotypes against pit bulls. More over, it will make you believe in the resilient spirit of animals and the people who work to save their lives on a daily basis.

Within this book you'll find layers and layers of stories—from the details of Vick's dogfighting operation to the heart-wrencing tales of the dogs and their progress. For an overview of some of these stories, watch this PBS segment called, "The Dogs Are Alright."

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

The story that struck me the most was that of Cris Cohen, featured in the above video, who fostered a number of the Vick dogs.

Cohen devoted himself wholeheartedly to rehabilitating one dog aptly named Jonny Justice. Jonny made a lot of progress in Cohen’s care and was moved on to another foster family so that Cohen could work with a more troubled dog from the Vick case. But Cohen struggled when Jonny left.

            “Every time he [Cohen] took on a foster he gave a piece of himself away. It was impossible to do what he did without forming a close bond with the dog. The animal itself was less accepting of training if it didn’t feel a certain closeness and eagerness to please the trainer. In the past, that bond had always faded over time for Cohen. He figured the same thing would happen with Jonny, but it wasn’t. Just the opposite. He felt like he missed Jonny more and more as time went by…
He knew that taking in a second dog full-time meant the end of fostering… He would say, 'Every one I keep is one more that ends up dying in the shelter.' In other words, giving up one gave him the opportunity to save another. Giving up those opportunities to help was itself hard for him to accept.”

Luckily, Cohen found a way to adopt Jonny and still foster another dog simultaneously. In my opinion, it's people like him who deserve the NFL's MVP award this year.

On the day that I finished this book, I did two things. First, I went to the local rescue group and signed up to foster. I knew that, like Cohen said, it would mean giving away a piece of myself. And I liked that idea.

Second, I emailed the author to thank him for sharing this story and to ask for some additional information. I know that the teens who read magazines I write for need to hear this story. They literally NEED to hear it. Some of them may be thinking about dogfighting or, worse yet, may have been involved in dogfighting. Equally as important, some of them are our next generation of Cris Cohens. They need to know that this work matters. It really matters.

 If you haven’t read this book yet, please go buy yourself a copy, download the Kindle edition, listen to the audio book, or find it in your local library. Hell, I'll even lend you my own copy. But I want it back, because it's one of those staples that will remain on my bookshelf for a long, long time.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jack's Outtakes

As we prepare to bid adieu to Jack on Tuesday, I thought we'd take a look back at our time together. (Almost 2 months—can you believe it?) Here are some photos that didn't make it on to the blog or Facebook. They may not be the clearest or brightest, but they surely tell Jack's story from dog of the underworld to pampered pet.

We took Jack to the park on his first day with us. We gave him treats, which he hid on the sides of his mouth, then dug a hole in which to bury them. It took him several weeks to realize that there was no need to hide food for a rainy day. 

It also took him a few weeks to get over his fear of stairs. Now we can't keep him off them!

Jack really got into the Christmas spirit. 

And, a few weeks in, he really nestled a place into our lives. 

Maybe too much nestling. Paws off my fiancé, Jack!

We can only hope that this loving dog who found his way into our lives will bring as much joy to his forever family as he has brought to us.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Jack Hits the Jack-pot.... Again!

On December 1, Kim told you that I, Jack the Great, won the proverbial doggie lottery when I was rescued from an over-crowded shelter. Believe it or not, a month and a half later, I've hit the jackpot... again! What are the chances of that?

Here's how it happened: I went to visit a super nice family today. We went for a walk with their dog, played at the park, played some more in their backyard, then played even more with toys in their house. They gave me treats and pats and then—I hope you're sitting down—they said they want to adopt me!

They're talking about how they want to take me for runs and on hikes and even on a camping trip this summer. I just can't contain my excitement!

And my future big brother. Wow—I've got big paws to grow into! He's an awesome guy and will be a great role model for me. He's even a certified therapy dog who has worked with children with autism. Take a look. Don't we look handsome together?

I'm going to chill at Kim and Jonathan's place for another week, then I'll go to my new home. I just can't wait! This family is all I could ever ask for.  I am so incredibly thankful they came along (...and so are Kim, Jonathan, and the volunteers from the rescue.)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Home Visit Advice?

Great news—a wonderful family has expressed interest in adopting Jack! They came to meet him at adoption day yesterday, along with their current border collie.

We're scheduled to do a home visit tomorrow to see how Jack and the other dog get along at the potential adopter's house. We have limited insight as to how Jack does with other dogs since he's an "only dog" at our place. The shelter told us that he's good with all dogs, but he has sometimes been barky with other dogs at adoption days. It's not really an authentic environment to judge behavior—on leash with dozens of other dogs barking, people all around, etc.

Some of the volunteers at the rescue gave us good advice for the home visit. Have the dogs meet on neutral territory like the sidewalk. Then take the dogs to the backyard before letting them off leash to see how they do together. The last step should be going in to the house.

Do you have any more advice for home visits? We think this family would be a great fit for him, so we want him to succeed!

Friday, January 14, 2011


We made the decision early on not foster puppies. We’re simply not home enough to adequately care for them. I also appreciate the stability and relative predictability of an adult dog.

But don't let this fool you—I go goo-goo ga-ga over puppies. The rescue just took in LOTS of puppies, many of whom will be at adoption day tomorrow. Take a look at PrancerComet, and Dancer. Amy, the foster mom to Prancer and Comet, says she's been very busy with these two pup-squeaks (and, not to mention, her own adult Boxer). She says Comet is full of puppy playfulness and loves to hide under bed. Prancer loves belly rubs and attention.

Could Jack not be their much larger litter mate? It's quite possible I brought home a wicked case of Clifford syndrome...

So what do you think: Should we put Jack in the puppy pen at adoption day, call him Blitzen, and see if anyone bites at our over-sized puppy?


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Progress and Potential

What kind of progress have you made in the last 5 weeks?  Have you finished a semester at school or a project at work? Have you made and stuck to a New Year’s resolution?

Unless you’ve accomplished a herculean feat, it’s safe to say Jack has put us all to shame…collectively.

Five weeks ago, he came to us matted and shy. He cowered in a corner as we brushed out clumps and clumps of dead hair. He scampered away from doors and froze and whimpered at the sights of stairs. He didn’t know where to do his business and wanted nothing to do with a crate. He didn’t even know how to eat a bone—only how to hide it for future use. He neither knew commands nor understood the concept of walking on a leash.  

But boy, he had a willingness to learn and please.

And so he has.

Today, Jack has a beautiful and healthy coat. He’s gregarious and loving with every person he meets. He pushes his way through doors  and sprints up and down the stairs just for the hell of it. He’s both house trained and crate trained.  He chews on bones instead of hiding them. He knows sit, stay, down, and shake and walks politely on a leash. At adoption day this afternoon, a five-year-old boy had Jack responding to commands, and two third-grade girls walked him around the store.

He’s a dog that’s just brimming with trainability potential. In fact, he vaguely reminds me of a border-collie mix named Ollie from this episode of DogTown. Sherry, the trainer, proves that it’s possible to train homeless mutts, such as Ollie, in important service capacities like search and rescue.

We've taken Jack this far; it’s only a matter of time before his forever family comes along and helps him fulfill that potential.

Okay, so we still need to work on some eye-mouth coordination.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Stresses of Adoption Day

Adoption Day is exciting, disappointing, educational, and stressful all at the same time.

Every Saturday, we spend 5 hours at the local Petco with the rescue group. It’s a chance for potential adopters to meet the animals, plus it allows the organization the opportunity to spread information about the humane treatment of animals. It’s so important.

But it’s also stressful. Consider the stressors on the animals. Let’s use dear Jack as an example:

“Oh, car. You want me to get in the car? I barfed in there once, and I don’t want to have to do it again.  Oh well, let’s give it another try. ::hop:: Yeah, yeah. I’m okay back here, Foster Mom. Stop asking if I barfed. Just keep your eyes on the road.

Hey, I remember this place. It’s where the pets go! Huh? Doh! That sliding door gets me every time. So many smells in here. ::sniff, sniff:: Dogs, cats, ferrets, birds, rawhides… RAWHIDES!

Oooh, people are walking through that sliding door. Come pet me, pick me, love me! Oooh, now dogs are coming to sniff me ::ruff, ruff::, little girls are coming to strangle me, and little boys are pulling my ears. Help! Okay, I’m tired. I need some peace and quiet. Can we get back in the car yet, Foster Mom?”

It’s equally as stressful on us humans, too.

First thing in the morning, we pack up Jack’s things that the rescue has given us for him. This must be how contenders on reality TV feel when they have to pack their belongings on the chance they’ll get voted off the proverbial island. On the whim that he gets adopted out that day, I always want to make sure he’ll everything he needs.

[SIDEBAR: These same-day adoptions only happen in rare and special circumstances. Usually, over teh course of several days, references have to be checked and a home visit has to be made. But I pack his bag just in case because of what happened when Wookiee was unexpectedly adopted out that fateful day.]

It’s obviously not just the physical act of packing that’s stressful. It’s not knowing whether or not this animal, who has become engrained in your family and in your life, will be coming home with you in a few hours. 

Once we’re there, it’s always great to see the other dogs. Jack is VERY excited to see them too and tends to bark for their attention [constantly], so we try to keep a reasonable distance.

Then, of course, there are the people who walk through the sliding doors. I always look in anticipation, not knowing if Jack’s family may be walking right on through. Of course, Jack wants to greet each and every one of them personally.  (My back is still aching as a result.) After we’ve spent weeks trying to teach him not to jump, he jumps into the arms of these people, who praise it thinking it’s the cutest thing ever. Granted, it is cute. It’s just not cute when he does it 24/7.

As people approach, we field questions about Jack. Our answers, in order of frequency from greatest to least:
1) He’s a border-collie mix.
2) He’s about 3-4 years old. 
3) He’s neutered.
4) He’s basically housetrained, but he has marked new places on occasion.
5) Yes, he would have otherwise been put to sleep. Yes, a perfectly good dog like him.
6) Yes, he’s been here the past few weeks. No, he didn’t get adopted yet.
7) No, he won’t bite you.
8) Yes, he needs a lot of exercise. He loves playing. He would love agility training.
9) How much does he cost? There's no price tag you could really put on this pooch. The rescue has an adoption fee, which is a tax-deductible donation. It covers his transport, spaying, other medical needs, food, and so on.
10) An application? Huh? You might want to fill out an application for him? Right over here. Oh, you want the puppies instead? Oh, okay—right over there. Thank you for adopting.

For a month now, we’ve left adoption day through the sliding dogs with Jack in tow. We usually come home—all 3 of us—and pass out. The very secret and selfish part of me (you know, the part that shares all of my thoughts with you here) is happy because I know I have another week with this amazing creature. The other part is very disappointed that no one saw what a beautiful animal he is.

It’s a slow time for adoptions now, as people come off the holidays and the deep cold sets in. But we’ll pack our bags again next Saturday and get ready for whatever surprises those sliding doors might bring for all of us.