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Registration is Open for My New Compassion Fatigue Class!

Just in case you missed the announcement in my latest e-letter

My class, Compassion in Balance, is now open for registration!

 

I created Compassion in Balance, a unique six week online program, because I want animal care workers to have access to the tools and resources that will help them to be well, while they do good work.

This is the class I wish I’d had, back when I was working at the animal shelter!

Class kicks off on Monday, February 9th, 2015. And enrollment is now open!

You can participate in the class wherever you are. You can do it at home, any time of day, and you don’t even need to get out of your pajamas to join in. The course is all online and accessible 24-7.

You can read much more about CiB, including who this class is for, what we’ll cover each week, and my answers to your FAQs right here.

To celebrate the launch of Compassion in Balance I’m offering the class for $99. The regular price for future sessions will be $149. So it’s more than 30% off right now. Holla!

And, because I want to keep this class a safe, supportive environment, I’m limiting enrollment to just 30 students. Almost half of those spots are taken already!

Want to be one of those 30 people?

 

Visit this page to read more about the class, think about it, and then enroll. I don’t want you to rush into signing up for the class without really knowing what you’re getting into!

As I explain on my site, the class is focused on building self-awareness and doing personal work that is reflective and honest. It can be emotionally challenging at times. So before you hit “yes, please!”, take five minutes to read my detailed class description over here and decide if it’s the right fit for you.

Here’s what Lauren, an animal shelter worker who just finished up the class, had to say about CiB:

“When I first started this course, I would rush through my 10-hour shifts in a tizzy, feeling like I couldn’t catch my breath and getting so wrapped up in the panic of “I have to do all of this right this minute!” that I’d completely lost sight of why I wanted to work at a shelter in the first place. I wasn’t connecting with the animals, I resented my coworkers, and I was just plain depleted and depressed.

Compassion in Balance offers a fantastic step-by-step approach to help you figure out where you need to give yourself a little more love and support, how to exercise self-compassion on a daily basis (even when you really don’t want to), why self-care is so very crucial in the animal welfare world, and ways to integrate good self-care into your daily routine so that it becomes a habit.

There are still stressful moments at work, but now I give myself space to breathe, which enables me to prioritize really being there for each animal I work with. I check in with myself regularly to see what’s going well and where I need a little boost, and it’s been amazing to see that I can still accomplish everything I had been doing before but with a sense of ease and connection rather than a sense of frustration and ‘never enough’.”

This made my heart burst when I read it because this is why I built the class. I want this for all of you.

Ok, now go on and take a look at CiB to see if it’s right for you!

Beyond Daily Dog Walks: Uba’s Story

We do it every day (or at least we’re told we should be doing it every day), but do you ever stop to think about why we walk our dogs and if it’s really benefiting them?

As a professional dog walker, I can come up with tons of good reasons to take dogs for daily walks: for exercise, to go to the bathroom, to train them and teach them leash manners, to help them socialize with other dogs and people, to expose them to new things and environments, and to spend time enjoying their company.

But the truth is, for some dogs, going on walks isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And if that’s the case, there are lots of ways to meet the varying needs of dogs beyond the typical daily walk.

Last year at the BAD RAP Rescue Jam, I had the chance to meet Letti de Little, owner of former Vick dog, Uba. Word on the street was that her little survivor was a card carrying member of Team DINOS and wasn’t a big fan of going for walks in public.

I talked with Letti about how she fully supports Uba’s needs, without relying on a daily dog walking routine. These two are a great example of how thinking outside of the box (or walk in this case) might benefit some dogs. I think y’all will dig our conversation!

 

Jessica: Can you tell everyone a little bit about yourself and Uba?

Letti: Uba is one of the dogs rescued from football player Michael Vick’s dog fighting operation in 2007. He was quite young when seized, probably under six months old, and he was held in custody in a small kennel with no enrichment from April until October 2007. He did not have bedding, toys, walks or any of the other stimulation that is so important in a young dog’s development.

It was assumed while he was in custody that he and all the other dogs rescued in the Vick case would be euthanized once the case was over, as was the general rule for dogs rescued from fighting operations at the time.

Luckily, the Federal investigators, the prosecutors, and the judge in the case were willing to explore the option of saving the dogs and Uba and his extended family were given a chance at real life.

uba letti

When he arrived in California he showed everyone that he was a huge character. He had a very vertical approach to the world and would jump around rather than walk or run. After a wind storm he decided to collect the fallen sticks from the yard and fill his crate up with branches and twigs. Later he learned to unlatch crates and he would let himself out and then break in to other dog’s crates so he could borrow their toys.

Balancing out all this silly, ridiculous behavior were his worries about the big world. At home he was a party boy, but out in the world he was very anxious and would ‘pancake’ – shut down, freeze and be unable to recover.

I had been a BAD RAP volunteer for about a year and a half when the Vick dogs were evaluated for placement and I offered to foster one of the dogs. As soon as I met Uba I knew I’d keep him and I’m so glad I did.

I’ve learned so much from my funny, energetic, intelligent, sweet and worried little dude. I’ve fostered at least ten dogs and he is the highest energy dog I have ever lived with. It’s not always easy to meet his needs while keeping up with my sometimes demanding career, but we’ve muddled through it and I think we have done OK.


What were those early dog walks like for him? And why did you choose to stop taking him for traditional daily walks?

Uba made it clear from the start that he needed a lot of exercise. As a city dwelling dog owner my answer to that was lots of long walks.

Uba really didn’t have much of an idea about leash walking, let alone cars, buses, pedestrians and all the other sites and sounds of city living. He accepted some things, like garbage trucks, without question. Other city events, like groups of pedestrians, made him collapse in fear.

We would go on long walks and he would enjoy the parts of the walks in quiet and natural areas, but would shut down and ‘pancake’ in busy areas. Living in San Francisco, most parks are full of off leash dogs, and, although he’s not particularly dog reactive, it was difficult to find places to walk him where he was comfortable and we wouldn’t be accosted by MDIFs.

[Note from Jessica: MDIF stands for people who shout “My Dog is Friendly!” and let their dogs approach yours without permission. How rude! You can read more about them here.]

I used to have a roommate who is a psychologist working with combat veterans and she noted that his physical reaction on walks was very similar to her patients suffering from PTSD. Uba scans for trouble, shakes, and can’t focus on anything other than his fear. Once Uba is triggered into his scary place there is no talking him out of it. He won’t take treats or toys; even super high value treats like steak don’t distract him from his fear.

uba

I moved to Oakland after about three years with Uba, and my neighborhood is still pretty urban, although I have a much bigger back yard than in San Francisco. He had a hard time adjusting to the neighborhood and did not enjoy his walks at all.

After much debate and discussion with BAD RAP’s Tim Racer, I decided that we should re-set and not go for neighborhood walks for a month. We still went on weekend walks in places he enjoyed, where there is nature and limited MDIFs, but I didn’t make him go into the neighborhood at all.

In that month I found that he became more relaxed and our relationship improved when I wasn’t making him face his worst fears every day.


Instead of dog walks, how do you provide Uba with exercise, enrichment, socialization, and time outside?

Since Uba was so energetic as a youngster I started using a dog treadmill for exercise soon after he came to me. The first time I put him on the Grand Carpet Mill he was hooked. I didn’t have to teach him what to do, he just hopped on, let me hook up his harness and he ran as fast as he could with a huge smile on his face.

I also use a flirt pole and a spring pole. The flirt pole is nice as it can also give an opportunity for working on impulse control (not Uba’s strong suit) and other basic training. I have a spring pole set up near my treadmill and some days Uba runs to that instead of the treadmill when its time to work out. The tugging lets him use different muscles and makes him just as tired. He gets really excited when I say “treadmill” or “spring pole”, just like some dogs get excited when you pick up their leash.

Uba has always loved training and learning, so I have tried a few different activities with him. Vick dog Audie’s owner, Linda Chwistek, introduced me to K9 Nose Work as it was just developing as a sport and Uba loves it.

Nose work has built Uba’s confidence like nothing else. Before nose work, new environments and new people were very difficult and Uba would shake and pancake to avoid the new experience. Now, Uba can walk in to a new place and he wants to see if he can find a target odor, even if that’s not at all why we’re there. We take nose work classes at least once a week and he loves seeing all his friends as much as he loves searching.

uba and jamie

For socialization I have almost constantly fostered well-matched playmates for Uba and many of them have also been rescued from dog fighting busts. We stay in touch with former foster dogs and other friends he’s made along the way and meet in his comfortable spaces for walks and have play dates at home. Uba sometimes accompanies me to the BAD RAP Pit Ed training classes I teach to “supervise” and see his human friends (including his number one hero, Tim).


There’s a lot of pressure on dog owners to walk their dogs every day. Do you have any advice for dog owners who may be feeling like these walks aren’t benefiting their dogs?

We all need down time. I don’t feel like going out and facing the world every single day, and neither do some dogs.

I think we should be focusing on “all dogs need regular exercise” instead of “dogs should be walked daily”.

Yes! That’s really well said Letti! 

Exercise is not opening the back door and letting your dog wander the yard, though. If you’re not walking your dog you need to consider how to keep yourself and your dog engaged in a healthy and happy relationship. If she loves fetch, that’s wonderful, but make sure you play other games too. Take that hour you would be walking and spend it with your dog – not on the phone or computer - but actively engaging with your dog. Learn a new trick or find a new game to play.

Remember that mental stimulation can be just as tiring as physical exercise, so find ways to combine both and see how pleased your dog is. Training classes of any kind are great ways to get your dog exercise, mental stimulation and socialization opportunities while working on useful and fun skills.


On the flip side, there are lots of dogs that could really benefit from more walks! But because they’re reactive or are lacking in basic manners, their owners avoid walking them.

You work with families like this in your training classes. Is there a difference between what they’re experiencing and what you experienced with Uba? Any advice for these folks to help them feel more comfortable walking their dogs?

I should be clear that Uba is not particularly dog reactive. He is a DINOS because I want to protect him from bad experiences that could make his phobias even worse or push him to be reactive. He collapses in fear rather than screaming at the end of his leash.

If your dog lacks manners, get to a training class! If you are too far from training classes or can’t afford them, You Tube has some great resources and examples of how to work on leash skills. Or hire a trainer for one on one help. I truly believe that any dog can be well mannered in public if their owner puts in the time and effort and effectively manages the situations the dog is in.

If the dog simply needs to get out for exercise right now, do some research and find places that are safe to walk. Be willing to take a short drive to your walking places if needed. Think outside the box about where to walk and try different routes. Just walking on a different side of the street can dramatically change the walk for your dog. Your neighborhood may be packed with challenges for your dog, but what about other areas nearby? What about the outside perimeter of a public park, golf course or a cemetery? Is there a downtown business district that’s super quiet on the weekend?

I advise people to stop worrying about what other people think. You are your dog’s only advocate. Speak up and protect your dog from MDIFs and mean people. If you encounter people who criticize you for something you’re doing or not doing, shrug it off. Don’t worry if your dog doesn’t conform to some general theory of what dogs should be and help your dog be the best dog she can be. So what if that means walks at midnight or running on a treadmill?

I also highly recommend nose work classes as therapy for the dogs and as a place to find solidarity with other owners of DINOS.


How’s Uba doing today?

Uba is still not a big fan of neighborhood walks. He will go with me once in a while and enjoy himself, but I don’t force the issue. More often we’ll hop in the car and drive to a cemetery that allows leashed dogs or one of the parks where leashes are required.

This means that in the winter when it’s dark after work he really only gets walked on weekends. During the week we go to nose work class, run on the treadmill and play at home.

He is getting a little calmer now that he’s eight, but he’s still more energetic than most dogs half his age, and I think he gets a good amount of exercise, is appropriately mentally challenged and gets out to see his friends regularly.

uba walk

We still have little moments of victory over his worry – just this morning we went on a very pleasant neighborhood walk. He sniffed things, peed on a million things and worked through his “oh shit!!” moments. I think he enjoyed it.

Earlier on, I came to realize that in my desire to have a walking companion I was ignoring Uba’s needs. I have learned to respect what my dog is telling me and now I really accept Uba for who he is and not who I’d like him to be. We are both happier and more relaxed and our relationship is much more fun for both of us.


Great advice Letti and thank you for sharing Uba with us!

 

 

My 2015 Word of the Year

Are you guys seeing all of those posts about picking a word for the new year? For the past handful of new years, I’ve noticed some writers and teachers posting about picking a word or mantra as a guidepost for the new year. Basically the idea is to use this word you’ve chosen as a reminder of your intention for the year.

I always want to do it, but then I look up and it’s already July and I figure that means my mantra for that year should just be something forgiving like:

Image credit: Maine Artist Jess LeClair

Image credit: Maine Artist Jess LeClair

 

This year I took 2 weeks off of Facebook/Twitter/Instagram in a desperate attempt to grab some actual real deal downtime. I’ve only broken my Facebook fast once so far and it was to post a link on the DINOS page.

This short time away from social media has been sweet. And good grief does it free up some serious thinking and doing time.

As you may of noticed, I haven’t been writing here very much these past few months. To say that I have been busy is like saying the Queen of England kind of likes Corgis.

Which is to say, I’ve been really, really overwhelmed. This year I went back to school to get my Masters in Adult Education and launched a new business teaching online and in person classes on compassion fatigue (and built a new website to hold all that fun).

Here’s the thing: I added a ton of awesomeness, but I didn’t stop doing anything. So I’m still dog walking part-time, still working for an animal welfare non-profit part-time, still managing the DINOS website.

I pretty much love everything I do and I feel awfully lucky that I get to spend my days doing things like teaching online, scratching dogs, and writing about it.

But because of all the stuff I’m doing, Notes from a Dog Walker and the DINOS Facebook page have been pretty quiet. It’s not that I don’t have a million things I want to share with y’all. I just don’t have enough hours in the day or functioning brain cells left to write it all down.

Back to the word for 2015.

I’ve been sitting with this one all day and I think my word for 2015 might be: Integrate

Integrate means to bring together or incorporate (parts) into a whole. And the Latin roots of integrate mean to renew or restore.

I can get down with that.

Integrating all the different things I’m doing, so that I’m not spread thin and dropping the ball all over the place, sounds smart.

I’m just not sure what that actually means.

It might mean that I stop blogging here on NFADW and only write on my other blog over on my new website. That makes sense because I really don’t need two blogs. I’m just one person, with two hands (one wearing a poop bag as a glove), and a single, half-functioning brain after all.

So maybe I need to integrate and have one main blog. That seems like what a normal person with a good media plan would do.

But can I tell you something? I love NFADW. It’s me in all my goofy cheerleading, poop scooping, non-glory. I’m not sure my other blog – where I focus primarily on compassion fatigue, self-care, and resiliency ideas – is the right place to also talk about the time I shook out a dog blanket and an old turd fell on my head.

Or is it?

I don’t know.

Should I really discuss transforming our relationship with compassion fatigue-related stress AND crack jokes about nearly breaking my toe kicking a frozen #2 out of the snow on the same blog?

Uh, I’m not so sure.

But it does seems nuts for me to have two blogs. Especially since that means I’ll post on each of them less frequently than I’d like to, since I’ll be cheating on one by posting on the other half the time.

Oh god, am I one of those weird middle aged men that isn’t very attractive, but still manages to have two wives and two families who live across the country from each other and only find out about one another when one of his 11 kids discovers Dad’s receipt from a family dinner at Crackerbarrel in Ohio when he was supposed to be in Florida “on business”?

Does having two blogs mean I’m living two separate lives like one of those dudes? Someone call Dateline.

Besides possibly scoring a special on a Primetime news magazine program, here’s the real reason I’m writing this post: because I love this blog, even if I can’t spend as much time here as I’d like to these days. I don’t feel like ending it quite yet. Even if it would make me more integrated in 2015.

And the fact that you all read it makes me feel like this:

I Heart Bob's Burgers

I Heart Bob’s Burgers

 

So I guess I just wanted to share a little “behind the scenes” look at how wacky things have gotten this year with the full admission that they won’t get any less bonkers in 2015.

I’m not sure what my next move is. But I do really appreciate you all and am eternally grateful that I have this tiny sliver of the interwebz to talk with you.

If you like hearing from me, can I ask you a favor in the spirit of the Word of the Year? Will you subscribe to my monthly-ish e-letter?

It really is the most simple way I could think of to share all my stuff in one spot: DINOS, NFADW, and the compassion fatigue project. Plus I write stuff there that you can’t find anywhere else. Last month I shared my favorite simple ways to treat yourself (it included podcasts and an aromatherapy diffuser, if you must know).

If you don’t want to, I still heart you. Maybe your 2015 word is: Boundaries.

That’s my word of the day, every day. Love that one. Highly recommend it.

Anwayz, that’s why integrate might be my word for 2015. Except I’m starting to think that my fragmented, messy life is what makes me…me.

I am a dog walker/writer/teacher/non-profit content wrangler/student/cat puke cleaner upper. And all the websites and blogs and classes I take and create all come out of that jumble that I’ve already integrated.

So maybe my word should be something else – something so simple that doesn’t make me feel like I’m bungling it, like: Nap.

Or, judging by the word I used the most in the blog post: Poop.

Perhaps something celebratory like: Ta-dah!

Oy. This is too hard. Forget this whole 2015 word trend. I’m just gonna stick with what works for me every year:

Don’t Panic.

 

Happy New Year Everyone!

 

 

The Incomplete Book of Dog Names

When I saw this little treasure in a bookstore in Chatham, New York I had to buy it. It’s got four of my favorite things in one wee package:

Books

Dogs

Tininess

Quotes

 

Behold, the letterpress miniature book The Incomplete Book of Dog Names:

dog names

 

This 3.25″ x 4.5″ nugget is a “…collection from actual creatures now living either in the flesh or in memory.”

There are pages of dog names, most of which fell off the Top 10 Most Popular list long ago. Many of the names are historical and literary in nature, which I dig.

Personally, I’m putting Ms. Marple on my Names-for-Future-Dogs list (right next to Hoagie, which currently has the #1 spot). You guys have a list like that too, right?

 

dog book inside

 

A few quotes about dogs are sprinkled through the list of names. My two favorites:

 

quotes Incomplete Dog Names

You can purchase your own tiny copy here.

 

p.s. for those of you who work or volunteer with animals, I’ve been writing about the emotional side of our work over on my new blog. If you want one easy place to find everything I’m writing about, you might like to subscribe to my monthly(ish) e-letter. I’ll be sending one out next week!

 

 

On Ambassadors and Advocating For (Your) Pit Bull Dogs

Here’s some stuff I’ve been thinking about lately:

1. Why is it so hard to find the perfect black hoodie? You know, not too baggy, not too tight, not too lightweight, not too heavy.

2. What is Terminus and how will I survive waiting another year for the new season of The Walking Dead to come out on dvd? No spoilers or I’ll stalk you when I turn.

3. What gets in the way of responsible people making smart choices for their dogs?

 

Since this isn’t a blog about zombies (yet), let’s look at #3:

We already know that it’s our job to stand up for our dogs and be assertive in protecting our dog’s physical and mental health, as well as the safety of those around them. Right?

We know that what gets in the way of us doing that is we often don’t want to be perceived as rude or “bitchy.” Not sure what I’m talking about? See one of my most popular posts of all time: Stop Caring What Others Think and Stand Up For Your Dogs.

But in addition to the regular worries about what other people think about us when we are standing up for our dogs, there’s this other thing that affects a really big group of dog owners that I love dearly and belong to myself. I’m talking about my pit bull peeps.

Many people who own pit bull dogs are concerned about how our dog’s behavior (or our own actions) will influence public opinion about all the other dogs out there that look like ours. It’s not just internal pressure. We’re generally encouraged to make our dogs into “ambassadors.” But here’s the thing:

Wanting your dog to be an ambassador can sometimes get in the way of you being a good advocate (for your actual dog).

 

For those of you who get to go about your daily business without ever spending a second thinking about your dog being an ambassador, please let me explain what that means:

Those of us who share our lives with pit bulls would love to bust stereotypes and change minds about our misunderstood dogs. We know that a positive, real-life interaction with our nice dogs can go a long way in undoing the myths that surround pit bulls. So we’re extra sensitive to how our dog’s behavior in public might either mistakenly confirm peoples’ fears or cause them to have a change of heart about pit bulls. We work hard for the latter. Every time we leave the house.

There’s a lot of pressure on our dogs to be “ambassadors” for all the other pit bulls and that’s a heavy load for the average dog to bear, because guess what?

Pit bulls are just dogs.

And dogs aren’t pre-programmed ambassador robots.

Dogs are, well, dogs. Even the very best behaved dog – no matter what their shape, size, breed, or political orientation – have boundaries that need to be respected. For example, few dogs (even very social ones) enjoy rude, uninvited greetings from out of control dogs and grabby kids.

The point is to say that even dogs that are excellent ambassadors still have needs. It’s our job to pay attention to them and speak up when they need us to, so they stay healthy and safe. We’re our dog’s everyday advocates.

And yet: our desire to change public perceptions of our dogs sometimes means that we ignore what our dogs need, because we’re afraid that if we speak up, that other people will think our dogs aren’t friendly or that we’re mean and that will reflect badly on all the other pit bulls out there.

Look, if you’re ever feeling icky about speaking up for your dog, here’s the deal:

Never put your desire to change public perceptions of pit bulls before your own dog’s needs.

 

Don’t do anything that will cause them to have a training set back or damage their own social tolerance of other dogs or make them uncomfortable or allow them to get hurt because you’re hesitant to speak up for their needs for fear that it will give people a bad impression of pit bulls.

That’s not your problem. Your dog’s needs come first.

problem

 

If your dog seems uncomfortable meeting a new person or dog or is uneasy at an event, please walk away. Don’t stick around because you want people to meet your nice dog and have an a-ha moment about pit bulls.

When someone wants to just “say hi!” but it’s not a good match for your dog, don’t agree to it because you’re afraid the other person will think that all pit bull dogs and their owners are unfriendly if you say “no thanks”.

It’s awesome when our well behaved, outgoing pit bulls are enjoying themselves in public and change some opinions in the process. I love when that happens and I’m super grateful to all the pit bull owners out there who are making a real difference through their public appearances and awards, therapy dog work, sporting events, and parade dance parties.

But our desire to have our dogs be ambassadors should never come at our dogs’ expense. All dogs, even UN World Happiness Ambassadogs have boundaries and emotions that need to be respected. Never put the needs of the “movement” before advocating for your individual dog’s needs, ok?

And for those of you who have pit bulls that you know are not “ambassadors” because they’re reactive, fearful, anxious, or whatever other common dog behavior issue you may be dealing with, listen up.

Please don’t hide at home because you’re afraid that if your dog has a meltdown on a walk that it will make people think bad things about pit bulls. Go on and walk them in public (if that’s what works for them) and practice their training, just like any other dog owner would do. Don’t deny your dog a chance to work on their leash skills or do some counter conditioning work because you’re afraid of showing the world a not-perfect pit bull.

You are not responsible for everyone else’s opinions about pit bulls.

You are responsible for properly managing and training your dog, as well as protecting their well-being. Just like all the other dog owners out there.

 

Focus on that. Do right by your dog and you do us all proud.

Side bar: If you need to muzzle your dog, just do it. Don’t get hung up on what other people will think about pit bulls because your dog is wearing one.

It took me a minute to be ok with the fact that Boogie, my sensitive, sometimes leash reactive, and fearful pit bull, was not going to be an ambassador. But I realized life is hard enough for him. I didn’t need to put any more pressure on Boogie by asking him to represent every other dog that looks like him.

boogie sun

Sweet Boogie seen here impressing the wilderness beyond the porch with his polite behavior.

 

My job is to be Boogie’s advocate. That means that sometimes people will shout out “Can my dog/kid say hi? Is your dog friendly?” and I have to say “No! Sorry!” and I’m dying a little because I want to say is:

“My dog is so sweet and he lives with another dog and three cats peacefully, but strange dogs and random kids scare him, so he needs his personal space respected. But please don’t think that pit bulls are aggressive or mean because my dog can’t say hi to you guys right now. He’s only representing Boogie. It has nothing to do with his breed. Thanks! Also, do you like the Walking Dead? Do you know what Terminus is? Wait, wait, don’t tell me!”

But there’s no time to say that, so I just say “No!” And I let them think whatever they’re going to think about my dog. Or make whatever generalizations they’ll make about pit bulls and short women with New Jersey accents, because we hustled to get away.

Just in case you’re wondering, I’m not saying you shouldn’t train your dog and help give them the skills they need to be better behaved or more comfortable out in the world. Or that you shouldn’t want your pit bull to be an ambassador. By all means, help them learn how to navigate the world with grace and if you can, change some hearts and minds along the way if they’re comfortable doing so.

But I am saying:

It’s not fair when our desire to make a good impression or change public opinion comes at the expense of our own dog’s needs or their safety.

 

When we do that we wind up setting up our dogs to, at best, have a rotten time, and at worst, force them to make a choice that could get them in a lot of trouble.

Being a good advocate for pit bulls (and all other dogs) means that we make choices based on what our individual dogs need to succeed in our crazy world. Even if that means leaving our advocacy work at our desks when we take our dogs for a walk. Your dog is counting on you to stand up for them, not just on the big issues, but in life’s everyday occurrences. Be your pit bull’s hero and advocate for them first.

 

 

 

I Heart Boundaries: Compassion Fatigue Education

Earlier this summer I met the coolest bunch of rescue and shelter workers at BAD Rap’s Rescue Jam. There were 70+ people at this unique weekend-long event and they were all stoked to get to work using the new tools, ideas, and connections picked up during their time in Oakland.

I was there to give two presentations: one for DINOS and another on compassion fatigue. My compassion fatigue talk was a way to remind them, before they jumped back into work at home, that their most important tool – the one that is capable of making the biggest impact and doing the most good – is themselves. We are our most important tool and yet, we rarely take time to care for ourselves.

As far as our Make-A-Difference-Toolbox goes, nothing trumps the tool of people when it comes to making things better for dogs and their peeps. But generally speaking, our field doesn’t spend a whole lot of time, energy, or resources addressing the needs of the people who dedicate themselves to the difficult work of making a difference for animals.

So that’s why I’m hanging out in hot tents talking about compassion fatigue these days. At the Jam I shared strategies for managing compassion fatigue related stress. There are many, but setting boundaries is an important one. In fact, it’s critical.

Setting boundaries and taking care of ourselves allows us to engage in sustainable, effective, and ethical work.

 

jessica dolce

You can score “I heart boundaries” gear here  | photo credit: Maggie McDowell

 

I wasn’t the only one talking about setting healthy boundaries at the Jam. It’s such an significant topic that many of the other speakers touched on the importance taking care of ourselves and setting limits too. It’s the only way to stay in the game long term and do good work.

Ironically, I had “I heart boundaries” t-shirts made for DINOS a few years ago because I want people to respect the personal space of dogs. Turns out this tee is made for compassion fatigue work and was a big hit at the Jam.

So this brings me to my announcement: I’ve got a whole new website and new blog! 

The site is still a work in progress, but you can check out the new compassion fatigue resources I’m offering here:

FINAL_jd_web_header_950x250

 

Just in case you’re wondering, Notes From a Dog Walker and DINOS aren’t going anywhere! I just needed a separate space for all my compassion fatigue offerings, which are aimed at helping animal care workers, to live.

So, let me tell you a little about why this work is super important to me:

1. No one talked to me about compassion fatigue, stress, or self-care while I was working at the shelter. When I had trouble dealing with the work, I thought I was crazy and weak. Now I know I was having a normal reaction to the stress of constantly providing care for people and animals in need and that there are things I could have done to help myself.

2. Our industry has a very high turnover rate. When we invest in training an employee, only to lose them to stress and trauma (the pay isn’t anything to write home about either), we lose their knowledge and skills too. If we want to make progress, we need people to stick around long enough to make a difference.

3. I respect the hell out of animal care workers: animal control officers, shelter workers, foster families, vet techs. If they’re working hard at making things better for animals and their people, then they’re my heroes. I want to do what I can to support them. This is a way for me to give to others what I wish I had had for myself.

I believe that compassion fatigue education and self-care practices need to be made a priority in our field. We can’t do effective, ethical work if we’re depleted, stressed, traumatized, and burned out.

We need to be well to do good.

 

So that’s why I’m dedicating so much of my time to compassion fatigue education these days. I’ll be travelling to a few organizations this fall, but in between my live workshops, I’m whipping up what I think will be my best offering to date:

A multi-week online class for animal care professionals and volunteers called Compassion In Balance:

compassion in balance online class photo

 

The class will be a way for anyone who works with animals to easily access the resources they need to better understand and manage compassion fatigue. It’s going to be a safe online community where we can support each other each week, as we build our self-care toolbox and practice new strategies for being well, while we’re doing good. No one else is offering anything quite like it.

I’m finishing up the class design now and will be beta testing it this fall on a group of animal welfare bad asses. We’re gonna let them deal with all the first-run kinks. The class should be ready to launch this winter.

My goal is to get the class running for animal care workers and then later offer a modified version for people who own dogs with serious behavior or medical issues. Those of you who live with dogs like this may be suffering from compassion fatigue and you bet I want to support you too!

I still have a few months to go before I can roll out the classes, but if you’re interested in finding out more or just hearing from me every once in a while, may I suggest that you:

Sign up for my brand new e-letter!

 

Starting in September I’ll be sending out a monthly(ish) e-letter with news and notes on what’s shaking in relation to compassion fatigue and self care, plus highlights from DINOS and Notes From a Dog Walker too. It’s the best way for me to stay in touch about everything I’m working on, share the resources I think you guys will find helpful, and offer you special deals when the classes are ready to launch.

So that’s what I’ve been up to this summer and what I’ll be buried in this fall! I’m so excited to offer this to you guys – nothing makes me happier than connecting you all to life-changing resources that will support and empower you in your important work with animals.

So get psyched:

Boundaries are the new black y’all.

Roots, Rescue, and The Jam: Lessons from BAD RAP

The other week I got to attend BAD RAP’s 2nd Annual Rescue Jam in Oakland, CA. The Jam was the JAMMIEST. 

It was one hot weekend, filled with good people, powerful presentations, and complex questions about rescue work. We covered legal issues and contracts, the rising epidemic of hoarding and failed rescues, effective advocacy and community building, harm reduction as a model for pet owner support, media training, and so much more.  I’m taking some time to process it, so expect to hear more from me about these topics in the coming months.

Anywhoozle, I was there for two reasons. One was to talk about Compassion Fatigue and the non-negotiable self-care all rescue and shelter workers need to engage in pronto. I’ll cover that in a separate post.

photo credit: Maggie McDowell

BAD RAP Rescue Jam | photo credit: Maggie McDowell

 

The other reason I was invited to the Jam was to talk about my project DINOS: Dogs in Need of Space.

And so, my first DINOS PowerPoint was born. It was heavy on the silly and filled with cartoons (is it just me or does anyone else believe that single panel cartoonists are the truthsayers of our day?). I got to read My Dog is Friendly: A Public Service Announcement out loud which was super fun – we all shouted “My Dog is Friendly!” together a bunch of times. Very cathartic.

After that, I told the rescue groups about the message of DINOS and what they could do to support us. Specifically, I asked that, as animal care experts, they share dog walking safety tips with their community and adopters, so that being respectful of a dog’s need for space becomes common knowledge.

I also told them that you guys are AWESOME.

Team DINOS is one of the smartest, most compassionate, respectful, and helpful online communities in the whole interwebz. I shared that it’s my privilege to be able to crowd source Team DINOS and curate the knowledge that you’ve earned the hard way, so that others (like their adopters) can benefit from what you’ve been through.

photo credit: Maggie McDowell

Me at the Jam (am I giving myself a fist bump here? perhaps.) | photo credit: Maggie McDowell

 

It was a good time all around and I met tons of inspiring people from all over the country. There were lots of Team DINOS members at the Jam and meeting them in person was super cool for a Maine-based hermit like me.

Fact: It was a huge honor to speak at a BAD RAP event.

 

Gang, these guys are my teachers. Over the years, Donna and Tim (co-founders of BAD RAP) have had a tremendous influence on the work that I do. Truth is, I’m not sure that DINOS would exist without BAD RAP. For serious.

So it was a real trip to be in their house, sharing what I know and my message, when so much of it is rooted in BAD RAP’s work!

Let me explain how they’ve influenced what I do. Here are a few things I’ve learned from BAD RAP:

A dog’s social tolerance of other dogs is a fluid thing. Their dog tolerance level information was a light bulb learning moment for me years ago – giving me the language to explain what I had been experiencing as dog walker. They taught me how to better understand and talk about the individual social needs of dogs and the important role we have in protecting our dogs from rude, rushed dog-dog greetings. They taught me to stand up for my dogs.

Learning how to walk politely on leash can be a matter of life and death for many dogs. Their Pit Ed classes, where they run multiple dog training classes at the same time (we’re talking 60+ dogs/handlers!) are a joy to watch.  Many of the dogs attending class are reactive shelter dogs who have not yet been adopted and are there to learn the leash manners they desperately need, so that they can make it out of crowded, urban shelters alive. The volunteer handlers are dedicated to changing the outcome for these dogs in the limited amount of time they have to make a difference for the dogs. This taught me that smoothing out reactive leash behaviors can be the difference between leaving the shelter through the front or the back door.

Working with reactive dogs can be super fun. By watching and participating in these classes, I learned to find the joy in working with a variety of reactive dogs – especially the large, strong, and fearless ones. BAD RAP taught me how to appreciate their sass. To be fully present to the dogs and mindful of my own body as I moved with them. To reward the dogs generously with treats and praise. To not let my own fears of looking stupid prevent me from engaging and being enthusiastic with the dogs. To brush it off quickly when I bomb and keep trying. They taught me how to build better relationships (complete with soulful eye contact) with the naughty clowns dogs in my life.

Positive, long lasting, meaningful change doesn’t grow out of polarized, judgmental, either-or thinking. Five years ago I attended a BAD RAP community event serving low income families who, if judged by the standards of many of us in animal welfare, would not be considered ideal dog owners. Rather than chastise them, I saw how BAD RAP chose to connect and collaborate with the crowds of people lined up for help. They met them respectfully, as equals, offering care for beloved family pets without conditions. They taught me to look for the common ground – the love we all have for our dogs – even if it that love looks different on the outside. And to celebrate what people are already doing right, while offering assistance. Through their continuing owner support work, they’ve taught me the power of compassionate action and a positive approach with people (in real life and online).

BR will be out this weekend in Oakland making their corner of the world a better place.

BR will be out this weekend in Oakland making their corner of the world a better place for families who love their dogs.

 

BAD RAP has most definitely shaped my work. They’ve helped me to think about the big picture issues, but also to remember the needs of the people and dogs who are right in front of me.

Donna and Tim have been doing this hard work for a long time and are generous about sharing what they know. Getting to spend time with BAD RAP isn’t just fun, it’s an education in the history of our field for newbies like me who have only been around 2, 5, or 10 years.

I find it kind of odd – disorienting, really – to be in a business where there is so little discussion of our lineage as animal welfare workers: the origins of our field, the people who have stood before us, and the mistakes and subsequent hard lessons that have been learned along the way. I wonder if we’d be stronger and more effective as a community if we saw more clearly whose shoulders we were standing on, whose footsteps we follow in, and the work we are building upon every time we rise up to push for more change.

The deeper the roots, the stronger the tree, you know?

I consider BAD RAP to be a significant part of my lineage as an animal care worker and educator. I’m still working to understand the paradoxes and profound truths of our work with dogs and people. It’s a slow and winding road, this education. But BAD RAP makes the journey all the richer for being ahead of me.

So here’s a cheers to BR for all the lessons and the laughs. And to all the work they’ve inspired me and so many others to do. I know that 70+ people left the Jam last week excited to make a difference for pets and people back in their hometowns. We’re all mighty lucky to have these compassionate, smart rescuers among us. Thanks to all of you!

 

Up next: Compassion Fatigue at the Jam and an announcement…

 

 

Look Ma, No Hands! [contest]

Last week, I told you about a sweet deal Fit For A Pit is offering you guys: $10 off any purchase of $20+ through 7/31/14. See that blog for details + promo code to get your deal. 

Pretty swell me thinks!

But when it comes to you guys, I go for all the freebies I can get. So this week lovely Heather, owner of  Fit For a Pit, is giving one of you a FREE Squishy Face Studio Hands Free Dog Leash Belt.

squishy face belt

oooh, pretty.

Want to win one? Contest details are at the end of the blog. First, let me tell you about the belt, so you can decide if you want one.

Jessica, owner of Squishy Face Studios (another awesome small business) sent me a belt to test out last year before they were made available to the public. I got the belt for free in exchange for giving them my feedback on their new product. Guess what? In my opinion, they didn’t need to make changes because they got it 100% right.

This is not me or my dog, but they're both cute, right?

This is not me or my dog, but they’re both cute, right?

 

3 Reasons The Squishy Face Hands-Free Belt Rocks:

  • It’s super strong. Jessica shared that the belt had been tested with three dogs at once and they’d done a 165lb strength test.
  • It’s really comfortable. The belt is 2″ wide, so it doesn’t cut into your chub (not that any of you have any chub, but if you did, it wouldn’t bother you). And, it’s pretty darn cute.
  • It’s simple to use. You put on the belt. You open the colored nylon strap via the quick release buckle. You loop the handle of your dog’s regular leash handle in there and snap the buckle shut. It works with any leash.

Here’s how it works:   Simply put the belt is: Easy, Comfortable, and Safe.

8 Reasons to Give a Hands-Free Belt a Try:

  • You aren’t holding the leash, so you won’t be sending your tension down the line to your dog.
  • Your hands are free to give your dogs treats, wipe ice melt off their paws, scoop poop, or pull chicken bones out of their mouths (city dog walkers I know you feel me on that last one).
  • They make it easy to obey leash laws while doing whatever you want to do with your dog – hiking, running, snow shoeing, biking, pushing a stroller, or yoga. No excuses, yo.
  • Instead of dislocating your arm, your dog is attached at a spot lower on your body, closer to your center of gravity, where you are stronger and more stable.
  • If you’re teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash, this will help because you won’t be pulling and jerking the leash.
  • You can use this with a new dog in the house when then aren’t crated. Back when I fostered dogs, I would attach the newbie to my waist for the first few days to help them avoid making naughty choices around the house (like tasting my cats).
  • If you take your dog to a picnic, eat too much macaroni salad and fall asleep under a tree, your dog will remain attached to your waist until you wake up and get your act together. Not that any of you would ever do that.
  • Here’s the #1 best thing: You don’t have to worry about dropping the leash. This is a big one for any of us that are anxious about walking our reactive dogs. With a hands-free belt, you don’t have to worry that the leash will be ripped out of your hand because you were relaxed (for once!) while walking your dog, when — BOOM! another dog sneaks up and your dog goes bonkers and you drop the leash. Yeah, you won’t have to worry about that.

BTW, If you want to, you can still hold the leash in your hands while it’s attached to the belt. Whatever floats your dog walking boat.

leash-belt-standardi-dog

Dog (and lovely small waist) not included.

 

The contest has ended. Booo.

Congratulations to Sarabeth Tolbert  who won the prize!

Here’s the CONTEST!   

Leave me a comment answering the question below and one lucky person will be chosen to win a Squishy Face Hands Free Belt from Fit For A Pit!

A movie about your dog is about to hit the big screen. What’s the title?

Share your answer in the comment section between now and Thursday, July 10th at Midnight EST. One entry per person please (you can name as many movie titles in your comment as you’d like though!). One comment will be chosen at random and the winner will be announced here and on the DINOS Facebook page on Friday, July 11th.

You know, you’re already all winners because with that special offer from Fit For a Pit, you can take $10 off any purchase of $20+ this month (including this belt)! See this blog for your promo code + offer details.

(p.s. My dog Birdie’s movie would be called “The Moderately Paced and The Curious” – kind of like The Fast and The Furious, only with an old Beagle – and Boogie’s would be “Romancing the Ball.”)

I’m Busy, You Win! [A Special Offer From Fit For A Pit]

Hiya! It’s been a while, huh?

Here’s the scoop: I’m juggling 2 bazillion projects this year (some of which you’ll be hearing about soon) and I’m so overwhelmed this summer that it’s a tiny miracle that I’m able to wrangle enough brain cells to write this at all.

Quick story: I donated blood the other week and during the rigorous interview to make sure I was safe to give up a pint of blood, I got so confused that the tech and I started joking that I was going to be turned away from donating because I was just too dumb. Really, my brain is that compromised from multitasking related-stress. Don’t worry. In the end they took me and my befuddled blood. And I enjoyed getting to lie down for a few minutes. Plus, free cookies! I highly recommend donating blood if you need a break from work.

Here’s the thing, stuff is only getting busier for the next two months, so despite the fact that I’m dying to write stuff here, I just CAN’T. Grad school, presentations for work, dog #2 in physical rehab (yep, it’s Boogie this time – more on that later), and a sorta secret project will do that to a gal.

These days I’m working at finding the positive – noticing the pear, if you will-  so I want to tell you what I CAN do:

Give you stuff!

 

That’s right. To celebrate my inability to write a substantial blog post, I’ve got a deal just for you! I’ve been feeling bad about not hanging out here with you guys, so I asked my friend Heather who own Fit For A Pit if she could hook y’all up with a deal. Heather, Champion of Generosity that she is, said “Hells Yeah I can do that!” and thus the DINOS discount was born.

 

fit for pit

This dog is super psyched that you’re getting a sweet deal.

 

Shop for anything your heart desires over at Fit For A Pit and:

Take $10 off any purchase of $20+ now through July 31st!*

All you have to do is use the coupon code: DINOS  

*Limit one per customer (because we don’t want to put Heather out of business)

 

Despite the name of her store, Fit For a Pit carries stuff that ALL dogs love. But if you do happen to have a blocky-headed, chesty, bull of a dog, they carry products that fit. My dog Birdie – not a pit bull – can’t fit into anything because she’s really busty (she got that from me), but that’s no problemo here!

Let’s do some window shopping together, before you head over to grab your discounted loot, ok? Here are just a few of my favorite products that Fit For a Pit carries:

 

The Flirt Pole (read my blog on them here):

 

flirt_pole_4__82304.1394318267.1280.1280

Dog Tees – that really fit:

fit for a pit tees

Goughnuts and other durable toys (read my blog on them here):

GoughNuts_01

 

Books from Patricia McConnell and Ken Foster (I like him):

good dog

And everyone’s favorite dog walking accessory Spray Shield! (I mention that one all the time):

spray-shield

 

There’s tons more cool, high quality stuff, like Doggles, backpacks, Chilly Dog sweaters, sunscreen, and even the Freedom No-Pull Harness. You can take $10 off on all of this stuff! Frankly the chance to get a flirt pole on the cheap or restock your Spray Shield at a discount is enough to head on over there and get clickin’, ammirite?

Heather carries just about everything I’ve been sharing with you all these years, so I’m genuinely happy to be connecting all of you to her store. You may be wondering, savvy consumers that you all are, is this an affiliate partnership? Why yes it is smarty! If you’re counting, I now have two affiliate partnerships: this one and Your End of the Lead.

When Heather started accepting affiliates, I asked to join her program. I want to shop from a small family business like Heather’s (instead of big anonymous drone-loving Amazon) when I can and I’m happier when I can link to small businesses here too. Heather has been involved in dog rescue for years and goes out of her way to support animal welfare groups, so I’m super proud to be working with her and supporting her business.

If you use the links in this blog to visit the store, I make a buck or two. But guess what, if you’re not into that, you can visit the store without using my links and you still get the $10 off with the DINOS code. Wheee!

Wait, a sec….now what was I talking about?  I believe that we will win! Where are my pants?

Oh yeah, you guys get $10 off this month. Say what?! That’s really generous of you Heather. Thanks pal!

 

But hold on, that’s not all. Next week come on back to look for a secret giveaway here on the blog. One of you is going to win one of my favorite new products…

Okay okay, you beat the secret giveaway right out of me: it’s a hands-free belt from Squishy Face. Next week I’ll share my experience testing the belt out on my dog walks and you can enter to win one!

See, life is good for you guys when I feel guilty about not writing anything new. My loss (of sanity) is your gain. Hip hip hooray!

 

Walking and Reading: 6|13|14

It's lupine time in Maine.

It’s lupine time in Maine. Not too shabby.

 

For the Humans:

I just discovered Evernote  (I know, I’m kinda late to the party). It is flat out rocking my world.

One of my oldest friends, photographer Ryan McGinley, just gave a fabulous commencement speech at Parsons. If you’re an artist, you’ll want to watch it. If you’re not, watch it anyway.

“Don’t compete. Find what’s uniquely yours. Identify what that thing is and do it.” – Ryan

 

For the Dogs:

It’s that time of year here in Maine: bug bites, rashes, and other dog boo boos abound. Bad Rap’s classic post has some good advice. 

Dogs Out Loud reminds us to catch our dogs doing something good. Amen to that.

Did you know dogs used to (literally) rule? Meet the Dog Kings.

 

For the Laugh:

Finally, I have a pro wrestling persona (I bet a few of you can relate)!

 

And Offline:

I just listened to the audio version of Into Thin Air, which had me running to Netflix to watch the IMAX Everest movie. And I’m currently laughing my way through Sister, Mother, Husband, Dog  by Delia Ephron. What about you?

 

 

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