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Coming this Summer: Attack of the Atomic Cat Turds!

Well, hello there. It’s been awhile, huh?

The past few months I’ve been doing all kinds of serious stuff like: attending conferences and trainings, creating and teaching a new compassion fatigue class for UFL, and going to grad school.

But that’s not what I want to tell you about. After all these months of total silence on the blog, I’m back to tell you about:

Cat turds.

C’mon, you know you love it.

So, here’s the story. Our cat Penelope (pronounced Peena-loupe, like cantaloupe) was diagnosed with hyperthyroid disease this year. Normally, I’m bummed when our pets whip up new and expensive diseases for us to treat, but it was actually a huge relief to find out that Penelope was sick.

For months prior to her diagnosis Penelope had dialed up the My-Cat-Is-A-Dick dial to eleven. For those of you who don’t use Spinal Tap as a reference guide to life, eleven is as high as it goes.

Always a trouble maker, Penelope had upped her game to the max. Her move: sprinting around the house at top speed and launching herself at all of us. And by all of us I mean the other cats, the dogs, friends and family, houseplants, the walls, the windows, the furniture, and all the spaces in between.

She attacked our furniture with so much passion (and by passion I mean a certain, er, how do you say, psychotic, single-minded obsession with demon-spawn-like focus) that it not only destroyed a chair, but it nearly drove Boogie out of his sensitive mind.

Here’s the thing: I am not happy when Penelope scratches the furniture. Boogie is not happy when I am not happy. Therefore, when Penelope creeps up next to a chair and just starts thinking about scratching it, Boogie starts whining.

And if she scratches, he runs over and gives her a nose-butt. Boogie does not enjoy this. He’s not cut out to be a Sheriff. Or any other form of full time law enforcement. Maybe a constable on a small island with a population of 19 in the winter. Maaayyybe.

Penelope attacking the furniture all day, as if her very existence depended on it, was driving Boogie bananas. Which meant it was driving me bananas. I couldn’t get any work done between the cat scratching and the dog whining and the constant reading of Miranda rights.

So when I found out that Penelope had hyperthyroid and that being a professional asshole is actually a symptom of this disease, I was relieved. It meant the Penelope I’d known and loved for the past 12 years might still be in there somewhere.

The only problem was that I could’t get her to take her new medication. Not in pill pockets. Not in wet food. Not as a compounded chicken flavored chewable treat. Not as a compounded chicken flavor liquid poured over and mixed into organic cat food with prayers from me to Judy Garland who, for no good reason, I imagine to be the Patron Saint of Crazy Cat Ladies, that Penelope would just eat it because omg, I have so much work to do and I can’t spend another minute of my life doing the Methimazole Shuffle to get my cat to take her meds.

This happened twice a day.

judy cat

FYI: Judy starred in “Gay Purr-ee”, an animated movie about cats, which you can see here.

 

After collapsing from feline-induced-stress and near bankruptcy from starting a world-class collection of unswallowed Methimazole, we decided to take out a 2nd mortgage on our house and spring for Radioactive Iodine treatment. Basically it’s an expensive injection (over $1k) of iodine that emits radiation to destroy overactive tumor cells and cures cats of hyperthyroid. Medication treats it, this ends it.

And by Garland, I needed this to end.

But here’s the best part. After she got the injection, Penelope was radioactive.

After getting the injections, it’s illegal to take your cat home until their levels of radioactivity drop below a certain level. This can take a week or two. So Penelope spent 10 days with the best vet tech in Maine (Hi Kathi!) and we all spent 10 days at home enjoying peace in the living room for the first time in 2015. I mean, er, we missed her a lot and were so, so, so sad she was away.

Finally I got the call that Penelope was only a little radioactive and legally I was now allowed to take her home.

But you can’t just take a radioactive cat home. There are RULES and PROTOCOLS.

1. Do not allow your radioactive cat to sleep in your bed.

2. Wash your hands after you pet your radioactive cat.

3. Try not to fall asleep on the couch with your radioactive cat lying on your chest because you’re not supposed to touch them for more than 20 minutes at a time and that nap was definitely an hour and you might grow a third boob where your radioactive cat was lying.

4. Do not throw out your radioactive cat’s RADIOACTIVE POOP.

atomic attack

 

For two weeks, you will be required to scoop your radioactive cat’s turds twice a day into a double bag, while wearing rubber gloves and holding your breath. You should also avert your eyes, just in case one of the nuclear turds tries to make eye contact with you.

The poop must not be stored in your home. Instead, you take the atomic cat turds and dispose of them in a plastic tote, such as a Rubbermaid container, with a locking lid that is lined with a heavy duty garbage bag.

Note: “This tote should be stored outside and away from small children, other pets, and wild animals.”

I don’t know where that magical no-living-things, not even small wild children, might be on your property, but we settled for a random spot on our patio in our back yard.

After this two week poop quarantine is over (which you know because now you are the kind of person who has “Poop Quarantine Ends Today” in your Day Planner), then you add the litter boxes and scoop to the Toxic Tote of Doom. Finally, seal this poop package in three hundred yards of duct tape.

And then you wait. For 80 days.

Legally, you cannot dispose of the Atomic Cat Turds for 80 more days. Because they’re emitting radioactive poop particles.

So you’ll drag yourself back to your Day Planner, the one that you had hoped to one day write things in like: “10 hour massage today” and “8pm – meet Tina, Mindy, and the Amys for margarita night”, and instead you flip to the end of September and mark:

“Throw Out Turds Today.”

Because that’s your life.

Note: all of this is because you have a private septic system. If you’re lucky enough to live with a public sewer system, there’s still some atomic turd gymnastics you’ll have to do, but it’s not nearly as intense. Amateur stuff really. 

And if you’re like me, then you kinda love all of it, because despite having a nuclear kitty, a schedule that revolves around crap, and an empty bank account, after a few weeks you’ll get your old cat back.

Today, Penelope has returned her former self, the one that I love. The one that does not give my pit bull acid reflux or destroy furniture in a single swipe. She still makes direct eye contact with me – to make sure I’m watching – then knocks framed photos right of the wall. But that just means she’s healthy. Praise Judy.

 

 

 

Surprise! I Made a Book: The Official Guide to Living with DINOS

Shut the front door. I made a book! The Official Guide to Living with DINOS is on sale. Right now.

WHAT?! Yeah girl, it is. Look at how pretty:

DINOS book cover

This tiny book took me so long to get done that I thought it would never happen. But let’s be honest.  It once took me an entire year to make a tri-fold pamphlet.. I’m nothing if not slow moving.

Weighing in at just over 60 pages, my book is technically a booklet. I think the let makes it sounds more mysterious. Like it’s a French woman who, unlike me, knows how to wear a scarf the right way.

The booklet is a collection of ten lessons I’ve put together to help anyone who is living with DINOS for the very first time. Some lessons are brand new. Some are old favorites from the blog. But they’re all in one place now, so that the next time you come across someone who is new to living with DINOS and they’re having a panic attack, you can say,

“Breathe into this paper bag, then check out Jessica’s booklet The Official Guide to Living with DINOS. It won’t teach you how to wear a scarf, but it will make life with your dog way easier.”

And no, the book isn’t about dog training. It won’t tell you how to fix your dog’s problems (I’ll leave that up to the experts). The guide is all about how to make it through the day with a dog that needs space. It’s a 60 page pep talk with practical tips.

I know you guys with fearful and reactive dogs are the ones struggling the most, so you were at the front of my thoughts as I wrote this. I’m hoping that dog trainers, dog walkers, and shelter workers who have clients that are feeling really down about their fearful and reactive dogs can offer up the booklet as support. So instead of feeling isolated and overwhelmed, the newbies will feel empowered and excited about living with their not-so-perfect dogs.

Here’s a look at the Table of Contents so you can get a feel for what’s inside:

contents

I was definitely writing the booklet for people who are brand new to the DINOS scene, but I think some of you who have been around since day one will really enjoy this too.

Jenny Williams, Team DINOS member and creator of the 66 Dogs Project, has been reading my ramblings for years. I was truly lucky that she gifted me her brilliant editing skills for the book and after reading an earlier draft, this is what she wrote about it:

“Reading this I laughed, I cried, and I took snuggle breaks with my dog to remind myself of how lucky I am to have him in my life, in spite of (and because of) his challenges.”

 

Crying! Laughing! Snuggling! What more can you ask for from a booklet, right? Seriously though, Jenny’s feedback was the kindest and I hope – down to my toes – that you all feel the same when you read it.

You can pick up a print copy or ebook on Amazon.

Or you can buy a print copy straight from Createspace.

Finally, a big fat thank you to Jenny for the editing and feedback, Nat and Bill for the gorgeous cover design, and my mom for the encouragement, proofreading, and for pointing out that using the term “stewardess” in the book was old fashioned and kind of sexist and, uh, maybe I should use “flight attendant” instead. Good call. Thanks mom.

But, wait. There’s more!

Want to win a free print copy of The Official Guide to Living with DINOS?

Here’s what you have to do:

1. In the comments tell me: Your dog just published their first book. What’s the title?

For example: Birdie’s would be This Beagle Don’t Bark: A Memoir 

And Boogie’s would be How to Touch Your Butt to Your Forehead: Maximizing Your Unique Talents and Creating the Life You Want*

*He’s into self-help books.

2. The deadline to leave your comment is Monday 4/27/15 at midnight EST.

3. One comment will be chosen using randomizer. On Tuesday 4/28 I’ll announce the winner here and on Facebook. I’ll also contact the winner via email to get their mailing address, so I can send out the book!

So go, one tell me: What’s the title of your dog’s book?

 

4/28/15: The winner was just drawn….Congratulations goes to Hannah of Eriesistibull! Thanks to everyone who commented. Your creative answers always make me laugh!!

You’re Not Alone: The Difficult Pet Support Group

When I found about the The Difficult Pet Support Group created by fellow dog walker and pet sitter, Rachel Bow of Ruff Mutts, I couldn’t wait to learn more about this Portland, OR resource.

As many of you have experienced, living with a pet who has behavioral or medical issues can be challenging, and is often exhausting and isolating. So I’m thrilled to see that pet owner support groups which focus on supporting families with “difficult” pets are becoming more widespread. I asked Rachel to tell me more about her group and here’s what she had to say:

 

Jessica: Can you start off by sharing a bit about the group? 

Rachel: Sure! The Difficult Pet Support Group is a monthly peer-to-peer support group for people loving and living with a difficult pet in Portland, OR. Enid Traisman, the Director of the DoveLewis Pet Loss Support Group and who’s been working in the field for over 25 years, facilitates the group with me. We’re also very lucky to have DoveLewis donate space each month for us to run the group. Dr. Christopher Pachel of the Animal Behavior Clinic was kind enough to give us free support and advice as we were getting the group off the ground.

The group has a few goals. The first is to provide a safe, supportive space for people with difficult pets to vent and brainstorm about management techniques. The second is to make these people feel worthy of being a pet guardian. We’ve found just being around others who understand one’s plight is so helpful in not feeling alone and this makes people who fall in this demographic feel empowered in their relationship with their pet. All of this leads into our final goal, which is to strengthen the bond between people and their pets and therefore keep pets in their homes.

We talk a lot about what our pets actually need to be healthy and happy versus imposed beliefs. It’s important for good guardians to feel like they are good guardians. I loved reading Uba’s story. Uba’s guardian has such a healthy perspective on Uba’s needs and while their lifestyle might not be conventional, it sounds like they are both very happy living their way.

 

How did you get started?

The group was started just from seeing there was a need. Ruff Mutts provides pet care for difficult pets and I’ve run into many guardians along the way who I felt would benefit from a group like this. I ran the idea past Enid who is also a client of mine and we got the ball rolling.

rachel bow

 

Was there a special animal in your life – past or present – or a particular experience that inspired you to do this work?

I had a pit-mix named Bowie who was particularly difficult when I was in my 20s. Bowie inspired Ruff Mutts and Ruff Mutts work inspired the group. Once I saw there were many people going through all the turmoil and emotions I had, I knew that the group was needed.

 

I see a lot of parallels with your group and DINOS. For example, my intention with DINOS was never to be a dog training site, even though I sometimes share training resources. It’s always been about connecting people, so they feel less isolated, less frustrated, and more supported in what can be a really challenging experience.

I often write that our dogs want us to be happy, because happy people keep their pets. That’s the shelter worker in me talking! So I’d love to hear from you: Why is it important to have a place where the owner’s emotions are the main focus?

Yes! I see a lot of parallels between our ideas, too. I think guardians of difficult pets deserve a lot of support and praise for all the hard work, dedication, and compassion they exercise daily. There is a strange idea in the dog world right now that people with difficult dogs are absolutely-to-blame-no-matter-what for aggressive or bad behavior but often enough, that just isn’t the case.

Everyone who has ever attended one of our meetings has worked with a trainer and often more than one trainer. These are very responsible and dedicated guardians who are sticking with their crazy beast through thick and thin – an admiral quality that we should condone, not condemn. I, too, want to keep pets in their homes and my belief is that people who feel they’re capable of providing a good home for their pet will feel good about keeping their pet even if their lifestyle looks a little different than what we think of as a normal life for a dog. I also believe that pets are happier when they’re with happy people.

On another note, I don’t think there are enough resources out there for difficult dogs! The industry focuses so much on changing difficult dogs but what happens to these people and their pets if this isn’t possible?

I totally believe in training, don’t get me wrong, but at a point, we need to see dogs as individuals, accept them for their faults, and manage them in a way that still allows them to be healthy and happy.

 

Without compromising the confidentiality of the group, are you able to share any stories of how the group is having a positive affect on the pet owners who are attending?

It seems that people are getting a lot from having other understanding, non-judgmental people really listen to their stories. People go through a range of emotions while we’re in session. There are tears often followed by laughter. It’s a ride for sure and people appreciate not having to be on it alone.

worried dog

 

Do you have any advice or tips for anyone that’s considered starting a similar support group in their area?

Yes! Reach out to others in the community who might know people who would benefit from a group like this, such as dog trainers, pet care providers, doggie daycares, and veterinarians to get the word out. If you’re providing a community service, people will want you to succeed. People can contact me directly for more information about getting a group going and I’m happy to help.

I’ve had the privilege of helping the awesome Kristin Buller get her group going in Chicago and Dr. Meredith Stepita of Veterinary Behavior Specialists get her group off the ground in the San Francisco bay area.

 

What one’s thing you wish every owner of a “difficult” pet knew?

I just wish that they knew in their heart that they are probably doing a great job! And if I could say one more thing about it, I’d say that they are definitely not alone.

 

So true. Thank you for the work you do and for talking with us Rachel!

 

Note from Jessica: Wishing there was more support in your area? I’ll continue to update the DINOS support group page, so if you know of a group that’s not listed there, please contact me.

Later this year, I’ll be offering a 4 week online class for DINOS families focusing on reducing caregiver stress and helping you see to your dogs in a whole new light. And, there’s a Living with DINOS booklet/ebook coming out in just a couple of weeks. It’s designed to help all of you living with DINOS, especially the newbies,  feel more supported and less alone (also: there are poop jokes). So stay tuned…more help is on the way for Team DINOS!

 

 

Life With Cats: How I Saved My Furniture from Total Destruction

Two and half years ago my husband and I bought our first house. Over those last couple of years we’ve slowly been replacing our hand-me-down furniture with new stuff. As if we’re real grown ups or something.

At a rate of one purchase a year, we’ve brought home a brand spanking new tiny sectional couch and a pretty Mission-style chair. Next week, our last big purchase for a while, a sleeper sofa chair, arrives. Why am I telling you this? Because having new furniture kind of sucks when you have 5 pets, three of which are cats.

Our cats are like fresh upholstery seeking puke missiles. If there is a tiny sliver of couch that is not covered by a quilt, their radar starts whooping and off they run, heaving as they go, to make their deposit right on that spot. We have wood floors and I would pay them to puke there, but nooooooo...the cats assure me that they’d be kicked out of their feline terrorist cell if they made it that easy for me to clean up. That’s why they puked down the side of a wicker basket the other morning. Wicker. Woven. So awful.

Before you email me to tell me that my cats shouldn’t be puking this much – I know. Turns out that one of our cats, Penelope (pronounced Peenaloupe), the vomit ring leader, has Hyperthyroidism and throwing up is a symptom. This medical condition went undiagnosed for about 6 months. And those six months were torture because another symptom of Hyperthyroidism is that cats act like high energy assholes, attacking curtains and crank calling old ladies.

PSA time: If your pet’s behavior changes, go to the vet. 

I waited way too long to get my cat checked out. We were more than aware that her really annoying behavior had taken a sharp upturn these last few months, but Penelope has always been a real ball buster, so we figure she was having some sort of midlife crisis. It wasn’t until she showed us some other symptoms that we realized that for 6 months she’d been acting like a meathead because of a medical condition. Whoops. I feel real bad about that one.

I spend most of my day with Penelope inched away from my face.

I spend most of my day with Penelope inches away from my face.

Sometimes, when behavior changes are subtle  and build slowly over time, which is what happened in this case, it’s hard to recognize what’s really going on. But if your pets are suddenly acting like jerks, take them to the vet and find out if there is an underlying cause to the bad behavior.

Back to the furniture. During this time period our brand new furniture was under round-the-clock siege by our cat. Besides the puking, Penelope was attacking the furniture as if her life depending on it. Our poor dog Boogie was having a mental breakdown trying to police her away from the scratching the furniture.

So what to do? I hate putting on Soft Claws, those sticky stickers don’t work, two hundred scratchers and Feliway didn’t help. But one thing did and now we have it all over every single new piece of furniture we own.

Meet the Cat Scratch Guard. Cheap, easy to use, barely noticeable, and totally effective furniture protectors:

Not my couch.

Not my couch.

They’re just simple, flexible vinyl panels (they come in a few sizes) that you attach to your furniture with these clear pins that they provide. We have them on our couch sides, on the back of the new chair, and once we even wrapped them around the trunk of an indoor tree that she wouldn’t leave alone.

If your stuff is being destroyed by your cat, you should check these out. They’ve worked so well for us that I keep a spare set around, just in case Penelope finds something new to bother in the house. As soon as I put a set of these guards on, it’s Game Over.

Now we’re just waiting for her new meds to kick in and help her feel better. It’s a bummer we didn’t realize she needed medical attention sooner, but now that we understand what’s really going on, we’re feeling much more patient and forgiving of her behavior.

Except for that wicker basket number. Blech.

p.s. I’ve received no compensation for writing about this product. I just really like these a lot and wanted y’all to know about it.

[CONTEST] Your Mutt the Muse: Pet Portraits 101

Last year many of you met Jenny Williams, my friend and fellow Team DINOS member, here on my blog when she gave the world her brilliant “Should I Leash My Dog?” flowchart. But you may not know that Jenny is also the brains and talent behind the generous and gorgeous 66 Dogs Project.

For the past year, Jenny has been drawing portraits of long term shelter and rescue dogs. Her portraits show off the special, individual qualities of these dogs and the images help their organizations market the dogs in a whole new way.

Here’s one of my favorites (the portrait AND the dog’s name):

66 dogs

 

Lucky us: Jenny just launched a new Skillshare class, Your Mutt The Muse, so that all of us can learn how to draw pet portraits too!

In her class, which is offered on-demand so you can do the work at your own pace, she covers some general tips and tricks for drawing dogs, but the main focus of the class is to walk us through the creation of a portrait step by step, with the goal of creating a unique line of portraits that are thematically connected.  The portraits are different than her 66 Dogs style, but equally beautiful.

Take a look:

Web

 

So here’s the scoop! You can sign up for a free 2 week trial on Skillshare and take Jenny’s class at no charge for 14 days, which is plenty of time to do all the lessons.

After the 2 weeks, it’s 10 bucks a month to be a member of Skillshare (you can cancel any time – even before your free 2 weeks are up so you don’t get charged).  If you’re ready to get started: go here now!

But for funsies:

I’ve got 5 FREE passes for Your Mutt The Muse to give away this weekend!

 

The winners will get free access to Jenny’s class for life – there’s no expiration date on the free enrollment.

I don’t know about you, but I’m trapped under 2 bajillion feet of snow right now, so drawing sounds like the only way I’ll survive the rest of this winter. I’ve already signed up!

If you want a chance to win a freebie pass to join me in Jenny’s class, here’s what you have to do:

 

1. In the comments tell me: Your dog just had their portrait painted. What is the title of this masterpiece?

For example:

Boogie’s would be Still Life With Shredded Orange Balls.

While Birdie’s would be Portrait of a Lunch Licker. 

2. The deadline to leave your comment is Sunday 2/8/15 at midnight EST.

3. On Monday 2/9 I’ll announce the 5 winners (winners will be chosen using a randomizer) who will receive a special link to enter the class for free, for life!

 

So go, one tell me: What is the title of your dog’s portrait?

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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