Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mind If I Crash Here Tonight?

Lucky, Our Overnight Guest
Somehow an 85-pound yellow lab-horse mix ended up in our living room last night. It might sound as if he hitch-hiked his way up I-95, knocked on our door, and asked, "Hey guys, mind if I crash here tonight? I hear you like dogs." And, while opening the door, we said, "Sure, Lucky, make yourself at home." But the truth is that it was a little more planned than that.

The dogs with our rescue come primarily from shelters in Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina with the help of a system called Rural Shelter Transports. (In addition to their Facebook page I just linked to, they also have a blog.) I've referred to this process before as the doggie underground railroad.

Here's how it works: Rescues groups commit to pulling certain dogs from shelters in these areas. The dogs just need to hitch a ride. Starting on Saturday morning, volunteers near the shelters drive the dogs about an hour north. They pull over to a rest stop where more volunteers take the dogs and drive them another hour north. These exchanges happen many times over up the East Coast. At different points in the ride, dogs are taken off the transport and are taken into their receiving rescues by volunteers who are waiting at the assigned rest stops.

With the cooperation of MANY people, thousands of dogs are pulled from shelters and sent to rescues each year. To get an idea of just how many people are involved and the logistics behind it, check out this week's "run sheet," as they call it. You'll see how dogs come on and off at given points.

The entire length of this weekend's transport from Lexington, VA to Worcester, MA couldn't be done in one day. (Imagine driving this route yourself and stopping every hour. And imagine the stresses on the animals.) The mid-way stopping point on Saturday night was our exit off the Turnpike. When the transport reached our area, the volunteers pulled over and handed off some animals to receiving rescues. For instance, our rescue took in several dogs at this rest stop. These dogs were then immediately given to their foster homes. But what about the dogs who still have miles to go in the journeys? Well, they just need a place to crash for the night.

Lucky's Luggage
When we volunteered to take a dog last night, we didn't imagine we'd get an 85-pound beast. But it didn't matter how much he weighed. Lucky was a gentle soul and a kind house guest. We could tell someone had taken good care of him in Virginia; he came with his own luggage bag filled with a blankie and stuffed animals. He even knew how to sit and lie down on command! We gave him some dinner, took him for a walk, and put him to bed. At 9am this morning, we took him back to the rest stop where more volunteers were waiting to continue his journey. According to the run list, he should be well on his way to Massachusetts by now. We'd wish him good luck, but we think he has enough of that to go around. :)

Please find Rural Shelter Transports on Facebook and "like" them. They can always use volunteers to drive one leg of the trip or take an overnight guest. It's really a small time commitment, but it's one of those reminders that every little bit counts.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mocha's Happy Tale

Koko (all black) and Mocha (brown and black)
A few weeks ago, another foster with the rescue took in three-month-old Chow Chow mix puppies named Mocha and Koko. Although the sisters were side-lined with kennel cough for a week, they made their appearance at adoption day today.

And thank goodness they did. Their timing couldn't have been better.

About 3 or 4 weeks ago, our next-door neighbors had to put their Chow Chow to sleep. Poor George had a variety of health problems associated with old age. At 110 pounds, he made the case for why rules about dog size limits in condos are pretty silly. (The 20-pound beagle upstairs makes more noise in one hour than George did in his lifetime.)

Mocha, our new puppy neighbor
We didn't know if our neighbors would be ready for a new dog... until they came knocking on our door this week. They said they had been looking online for another Chow. Their house was too lonely without one. They found breed-specific rescues in other regions of the country and a breeder in Canada. Then they checked Petfinder and saw that Mocha and Koko were right in their backyard. Better yet, when they clicked on the rescue's website, they saw that Jack was their proverbial foster brother. They confessed they weren't even sure they were ready, but when they saw Jack's picture's right next to Mocha and Koko's, they knew it was fate.

They came to adoption day today, fell in love with Mocha, and took her home. So while Jack didn't find his forever home this weekend, he helped Mocha find hers. We couldn't be happier!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Canine Stereotyping?

Last summer, Jonathan and I spent more hours than I'd care to count watching episodes of Dogs 101. After awhile, I began to think that the phrase "breed characteristics" was the canine equivalent of "stereotyping." I thought that people might buy into these characteristics a little too much, and dogs lived up to their self-fulfilling prophesies as a result.

But breed characteristics are the real deal. And, for all of the biological reasons involved, they ought to be. 

Before we took Jack in, I knew very little about Border-Collie characteristics. In fact, I knew only what I saw on Dogs 101. Looking back at this episode now, I see that Jack, who is part Border Collie, part who-knows-what, has lived up to every one of these characteristics—good and bad. When I saw this episode during the summer, I remember thinking I never wanted one of those menaces. Now all I want is a farm full of them. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Life Lesson #1: Flexibility (or, Jack Comes Back)

I schedule every minute of my day. It makes me a highly effective worker. It makes me someone you can count on. It also makes me stubborn and inflexible. Flexibility is my not my forte.

We found out late last week that Sable would not be joining us. The vet needs to keep her in West Virginia to work with her some more. As you could imagine, this threw me off a bit. I had a big sticky note with my weekend plans written on it—hour by hour—and picking up Sable was penciled it at 8pm Saturday. But now that wasn’t going to happen. After a few minutes of disappointment, I realized this was probably a positive turn of events. I reasoned that I’d have more time to do the mounds of work I’m currently buried under. Change is good. Be flexible, I told myself, before making a new schedule.

And, within a matter of hours, we got word that the arrangement with Jack and his new family wasn’t working out. So Jack came back to us on Sunday afternoon. What was the first thing I did? I ripped up my schedule into a million pieces.

Huh? Me? What did I do?
To answer your question, yes, I'm disappointed that it didn’t work out. All along we felt like Jack needed a super active family to keep him busy. But it sounds like it might have been too much stimuli for him. The family said he was fixated on chasing squirrels and birds, so much so that he jumped their fence. (This doesn’t surprise me in the least. A dog’s gotta do what a dog’s gotta do, right?) His reactions to dogs were mixed. He got along fine with the family’s other dog, albeit with one or two scuffles over treats, but barked at other dogs in the neighborhood. Again, this is pretty consistent with what we’ve seen at adoption day. His reactions to people completely surprised me, though. The family told us he barked at people on walks and toward visitors in their home. I have not seen anything but love and affection from this dog at adoption day or when we’ve had visitors in to our home. I mean, he can be bossy with us by barking for food or attention or telling us he doesn’t want to do something, but he has never crossed the line to aggression.

So what do you think happened? My trusted dog adviser Amanda thinks these reactions were based out of fear. The new stimuli were too much to take in at once—living with a new dog and family, strange people and dogs approaching him, etc. And that makes sense. It took us several weeks for him to get over his fear of stairs alone. What’s unknown is scary, and when he's scared, he tries to defend himself. Plus, we’ve had him in very structured, predictable environments (save for adoption day) where we’ve kept him on a short leash—figuratively and literally. Maybe this was just overload. 

For those to subscribe to the “pack philosophy,” which trusted dog adviser Amanda says is a bunch of bologna: Was he establishing himself as leader of the pack? (He had nothing but love and kisses for the family members.) Was he trying to find his role and, being that he has a dominant personality, was he showing the family that he would take charge of protecting them?

This experience has served as a reminder that as far as Jack has come, he still has a way to go from being the perfect pet. He needs work, but doesn’t any dog? We’ll try to find some rewarding and less-than-stressful ways to expose him to new experiences. I’ll just have to pencil it into my schedule.