Saturday, July 17, 2010

Pack Walk

It was early in the morning, seven-thirty. Stella and I got there first. There was still some fog that hadn't lifted; it was quiet for a weekday. I parked the car and we got out. Stella sniffed the air and we walked among the headstones for a couple of minutes. A minivan rolled down the long driveway. Stella knew something was up.

Four dogs and two humans piled out. I spoke to the humans and at the same time unclipped the leash from Stella's collar. She looked at me like we just parachuted into Disneyland.

Starting at the top: there's Opie, don't know much about him except he looks like Stella's hippie cousin and he might be her new BFF. There's the blonde, sixteen year old, cancer surviving, skinny and deaf but still going strong (sort of) - Fiona Tina, a Shepherd mix who is very sweet but doesn't always cotton to interlopers. There's Arthur, a three year old Wiemaraner who is shown in the photo parading around with two balls in his mouth, his and Opie's, and Linus, a brown and black Pit Bull mix who's missing from the photos but didn't miss out on any of the fun.

It's the second time we've done it and the second time Stella rode all the way home from this early morning play date, wagging her tail and flirting with people at stop lights. I think I can safely speak for both of us when I say I hope we get to do it again.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Winner winner-Chicken dinner

When I got Stella almost two years ago, what I knew about raising a dog would have fit on the head of a pin. Like everything now that deals with unknown territory, I got online immediately, looking for experts. As many of you know, there is no shortage of dog training advice out there. It comes in all sizes and repeats itself often. There were however, a couple of sites that stood out and managed to hold my attention over the ensuing months.

One was Lindsay Stordahl's blog, That Mutt. As a newbie, I found in Lindsay's tone a comfortable, friendly approach. I liked that she used her very own dog Ace to illustrate her tips and occasional set- backs and I was inspired by the fact that she continued on with her routine through winters in Fargo, North Dakota. We like to cry and whine about the cold winter here in Tennessee, heh.

Another blog I discovered early on was Neil Sattin's Natural Dog Blog. I found this page quite by accident back when I was interrogating people in the park, about how they trained their dogs to walk off leash. I didn't necessarily want to walk Stella off leash but I did want to know how it was possible to teach a dog such a thing. Again, Google returned a list of choices that included someone recommending you "get a really long leash" (see above photo). That was both humorous and hard to ignore. I clicked on the link and found an entirely new way of thinking about dogs and their behavior. It explained a lot and I think I've mentioned before, Stella responded to even the tiniest changes, in a totally positive way, or maybe it was me.

I say all that to say this: One day about three weeks ago, Lindsay gave away a set of Neil's DVD's and I'm happy to report - WE WON!!!!!

The DVD's are excellent and Neil didn't ask me to plug him or his blog, I just thought I'd turn you all on to them in the event someone out there is having problems or looking for a new approach that moves beyond the basics. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ginger Snaps

This is Ginger on the left. Ginger is a lovely Boxer who lives down the block from us with her spirited and much younger boyfriend, Banjo. Like a lot of younger boyfriends, he keeps Ginger young and working hard to stay on her game. Very positive. Now if you happen to be a female dog and you come around batting your big old innocent puppy dog eyes at Banjo, it's a safe bet that sooner or later, Ginger is gonna' pop open a can of Whip Ass.

Enter Stella.

It was six-thirty Sunday morning and beneath the clear summer weather and the early birdsong, I knew better. Most everyone in the neighborhood was still asleep or tending to their hangovers. Stella and I took our time walking down to their house and she was really happy when we turned into the driveway instead of cruising on like we normally do. The lot of us had walked together a few times. I let the dogs out and fed them. Ginger was fine for a few minutes and then Banjo joyfully wedged himself between the two females. Everything after that went in deafening slow motion. Ginger launched herself like a rocket at Stella and Stella tried to run. There was tumbling and a lot of smack talk but very little mouth to body contact. Thank God. Banjo went along for the ride. The second I pulled Ginger off of Stella, it was over and the three of us sat there in the driveway, grass-stained and bleeding (very minor, Ginger scuffed her face on the concrete).

I imagined sleepy people in the houses all around us, getting up and plodding off to their respective bathrooms muttering curse words about a dog fight that might have been a dream.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Lost and Found and Lost

There is nothing happy about this story and I hate to tell it but the hope is that it will stop one person from making a disastrous mistake. Last week a lady pulled over at the curb, handed me a flier. She and her ten year old daughter were out looking for their dogs, missing since the middle of June. There were two of them pictured (a Jack Russell Terrier and a Chihuahua). I promised to watch out for them and call her if I found anything. The next day I went on Nashville Petfinders to see if anyone had found them. There was one post there about a Jack Russell Terrier that seemed possible so I scanned the flier and sent it to the guy who posted. Saturday morning he e-mailed me back and said that the Jack Russell had led him also to a lost Chihuahua (the second dog). He had taken them to Animal Control on the twenty third of June. It was now the second of July and Animal Control was closed for the three day weekend. Both of us called the owners and happily reported that the dogs were there and she could pick them up when they reopened on Tuesday, eight business days after their arrival. Eight.

The owners had gone to Animal Control the day before they were dropped off. There was no one at the intake office who said, "Oh hey there was a woman here yesterday looking for these two dogs.." There wasn't a log book anywhere with her flier or her phone number in it. There was no rogue volunteer out reading messages stapled to telephone poles.

There was only a mom driving a little girl around door-to-door, showing people pictures of her dogs and hoping each new face they encountered would have have the answer; maybe have seen the dogs trotting through a neighbor's yard, just moments ago.

Both dogs passed the behavior test. It was the flaky "mange-like" skin condition that garnered them a death sentence (again - eight business days after their arrival) Before the family was able to get there, the two were killed. Everybody cried.

Here is the lesson:

1. Microchip your dog
2. Never take a dog to a kill shelter (Hint: it isn't shelter if they might kill you)
3. Act quickly and be relentless if your pet disappears
4. Change the law in your area to protect against such things.

Sadly, we've been raised to think that sometimes bad things have to happen for the good of our public welfare, social policy etc. Random euthanasia a.k.a. slaughter of less than perfect pets only happens because we allow it to. Animal Control here in Nashville kills 30-60 animals per day.

5. Spay/neuter your pets.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Kite Flyer

"You don't always get the dog you want,
you get the dog you need."
~Cesar Millan

Occasionally, I tell people she's half Pit Bull and half Carny. It's meant to be funny but it's also true. She's Latina too but I usually leave that part out in case someone were to ask to see her papers. We are in Nashville after all. It's hard to know which of those three groups is more discriminated against. As if just being a dog weren't enough.

This morning we made a trip over to our neighborhood big-box office supply store. Stella's been going there with me for nearly two years. I try to walk her a couple of miles before we go in. She loves it there because the floor is really cool and as soon as I find an aisle I like she can just lie down and soak it up. She doesn't move until I pick up her leash and say "okay". This morning we were approached by an exuberant young man who wondered if I needed any help. Holding up a box of jewel cases, I thanked him and told him I'd already found what I came for. Then he broke down and said what was really on his mind.

"Ummm, Ma'am, is that a service dog?"
He made little circles with his index finger, pointing at Stella.

"No," I said "but she's been in here many, many times."

"No one is allowed to bring dogs into the store unless they're service dogs" he said.

"I got permission from the manager" I said, "before I ever brought her in the first time. She comes in pretty often."

"Well they're clamping down on us now to keep dogs out" he said "and if that isn't a service dog, well'll have to go."

This is the point at which I resisted the urge to ask him if he had some desire to have a middle-aged woman up his ass at nine-thirty in the morning.

"Actually, she is a service dog", I said.

He looked baffled for just a second and then with nowhere to turn, he said "She is?"

"Uh-huh. But thanks for letting us know about the dog policy." I smiled my best smile at him and we walked away.

Now I know that civilized societies have rules and generally speaking, I wouldn't consider myself a rule breaker (you people in the peanut gallery - hush up) but I'm keen to tackle this one since it makes so little sense. Bad dogs rarely show up in public places. Bad dogs are at home, usually on a chain; alone and psychologically neglected (clue: that's why they're bad dogs). Nobody thinks of walking into a retail store with an angry, unpredictable dog and the fact that someone thinks I'd bring that sort of dog into a place of business, where there are strangers and possibly children, is not only an insult to me personally, but a testament to how fearful and litigious and ignorant we've become. [end of rant]

One might also ask (and reasonably so): What's the big deal about taking your dog into a store anyway? Why not just leave him/her at home?

Well, it's simple really.
It's fun having her along, I like her and I believe the people we run into on a daily basis do too. She breaks up their day. For a minute or two she feeds them her energy and they melt and run down into their shoes. They say things like:

"Wow, she's so soft I can hardly believe it." or "Thank God, there's Stella."

They go back to whatever they were doing, somehow refreshed. It's nothing earth shattering or terribly important but it feels good and it's legal. I'm beginning to think it should be mandatory. But, if the big office supply chain wants me to leave her at home well - that's okay. There are lots of places to buy office supplies. We'll just look around for one that embraces diversity and has sense enough to enjoy a good belly rub.

*Kite Flyer is the carnival ride pictured above.

Other Stuff

Nathan's Hot Dogs annual hot dog eating contest - Sunday July 4th - Coney Island.

I hate to say it but there are uglier dogs than this on my street.

Hope everyone has a great holiday. We're dog sitting (for Banjo and Ginger) so that could be a lot of fun.