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Posts from the ‘dog walking’ Category

Use It Or Lose It

Spring. It’s right around the corner. At least, that’s what the calendar tells me. We just got a bunch of snow yesterday. But before that, I saw a patch of grass. And we had a bunch of 40 degree + days here in Maine.

You know what happens when it gets even a little bit nicer out, right? All the dogs come out.  All. Of. Them.

I don’t know where these dogs come from. All winter long, I’m out walking the same dogs, along the same quiet streets. It’s just us, the mailmen, and a few manic speed walkers on their lunch breaks.  We see other dogs too, but it’s the same crew every day. Then spring hits and a tsunami of new dogs hits every neighborhood.

Where are all of these dogs for months and months? Do their people train them to poop in a bucket in the basement until its warm enough for them to go outside again?  Do they all have one of these?

I don’t how it works, but it’s the same every year.  The temperature goes up just a little bit and suddenly my afternoon walks go from being calm and routine to a game of Donkey Kong.

All of the dogs I walk are reactive to some degree. Many of them have some solid training under their belts and are able to stay relatively calm when we pass by dogs on the street (as long as we have some space). Our walks are pretty laid back all winter and we get to be on autopilot.

But when spring comes and the number of dogs they need to deal with is suddenly 1 billion times higher than what they’ve been dealing with all winter, they struggle a bit. They need a little time to acclimate to the deluge.

And I can see the same thing happening for all the basement bucket poopers too. They’re out and about for the first time in months and, while they might normally be very cool on leash, they’re a hot mess at the beginning of spring.

In my experience, the ability to stay calm on leash around other dogs is like a muscle:  If they don’t use it, they lose it. This goes double for reactive dogs.


useit


A lot of people I know are surprised by this. They think that if they take their reactive dogs to a class or two and their dogs improve, then they’re set for life. But in reality, it takes regular practice. You have to keep working at it.

We wouldn’t go to the gym every day for a month, never go back again, but still expect our bodies to stay in shape forever. I have tried this so, so many times and, I swear, it never works. We have to exercise consistently in order to maintain and build our muscles.

“What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”

Gretchen Rubin


That’s why so many reactive dog owners keep going to classes, join group walks, and do other structured activities around other dogs. It allows them to practice in a safe, structured environment around other dogs. It keeps other dogs from becoming a total novelty (aka a really big deal!) to their dogs. And that helps their dogs stay “fit” so that when they’re out taking a walk in a more hectic environment, their dogs are better equipped to handle the challenges that pop up.

If your reactive dog made huge strides for a while, but then you kept them inside most of the winter (that polar vortex was NO JOKE), then you might experience this sort of “muscle atrophy” when you start going for walks again this spring.

Your dogs haven’t flexed their “I totally know what to do when I see another dog and it is NOT to fling my turds at them” muscle for a while. Every dog they see is a novelty and they’re having trouble remembering the game plan. Don’t panic. Your dogs are  just out of shape.

No judgement. It happens to all of us.

Same goes for the dogs that have been walking all winter. If they’re anything like the dogs I walk, then they’ve been using those muscles, but at the same low level for months. When springtime hits, it’s like jumping up a few levels on the old stair climber. The dogs need some time to gently reacclimate their muscles to this increased challenge.

So if you and your dogs are a little rusty – for whatever reason – don’t freak out. Spring might be a good time to take a training class to ease back into hanging out with other people and dogs again. Or take a few walks with your friends and their dogs. Or if your dog would be up for it, try a structured group walk. Add some sort of regular practice into your routine.

And don’t forget to bring more treats on your walks for a while. There are at least a gazillion and half more dogs out there, plus joggers, that you’ll want to reward your dog for staying cool around. Be sure your pockets are well stocked. No one said we can’t have a snack while we’re working out. So go ahead: Use it, reward it, keep it.  

In the comments tell me: Has this happened with your dogs in the spring or after a dog walking sabbatical? How have you helped them?

The Dog Walker’s Guide To Choosing A Dog Walker

The Whole Dog Journal just published a handy article on stuff you should know about hiring a dog walker. Since anyone can call themselves a dog walker (just like anyone can call themselves a dog trainer), you gotta know how to pick a qualified person if you’re going to hire one. WDJ recommends asking smart questions, such as:

  • If your company has multiple employees, who will actually be the person walking my dog?
  • How many dogs do you walk at once? How do you choose which dogs walk with each other?
  • What kind of training do you have to walk multiple dogs at a time?
  • What happens when you can’t make it? What kind of experience do you have with dogs?
  • Where will you go on your walks? Will you be taking my dog to the dog park?

These are all good. Please ask these questions. Since I’m a pro street walker myself, I wanted to share some other tips to help you in your search.

How to find a dog walker: 

You can always start with a search on the interwebz. Companies with multiple employees should have a website. That being said, some of the best, most reliable and skilled dog walkers I know aren’t necessarily advertising their services. So always ask around.

Ask your vet tech, your groomer, your trainer, your local pet store owner, or your rescue and shelter workers for recommendations. Who do they hire for their own dogs? Who are their clients (with dogs that are similar to yours) using?

New Yorker Cartoon By Edward Frascino

New Yorker Cartoon By Edward Frascino

There are some very skilled dog walkers that are flying under the radar, working part-time as vet techs, groomers, and in animal shelters (or in my case, as part time writers), who might be an excellent fit for your dogs.

Go with someone that does this for a living (part or full time), rather than someone who is a student or retiree or a kid that loves dogs.  It’s a huge commitment to show up at someone’s home every single day for months and years. You want a pro – someone who is internally motivated to hold themselves accountable to the job they’ve committed to doing, no matter how cold it is outside.

People often ask me if they should hire a solo dog walking artiste, such as myself, or a larger dog walking service. I wish I could say that one is a more reliable bet than the other. In my experience, there is an equal risk with both that your dog might spend 30 minutes every afternoon wearing a sombrero and busking for change in the park.

So, start with yourself: what kind of relationship do you want and what kind of service does your schedule require? To generalize in a big, big way:

Solo dog walkers are like shopping at a small, locally owned store: highly personal relationships, flexible service, but with individual quirks and varying availability.

Dog walking companies are more like shopping at a large store: increased convenience, more accountability, but with more rules and less personalized service.

Overall, they’re both fine. You just have to pick which works best for you.  And remember: there is little to no oversight in dog walking. The bosses rarely see their employees in action. So ultimately, the person who is walking your dog – whether or not they are self-employed or working for a service – is alone with your dogs almost all of the time.

I’m not trying to scare you. I just want you to understand that this is a weird job. Other than the folks at the dog park or that old Italian lady that’s always peeking out her window trying to catch us letting dogs pee on her curb so she can chase us away with a broom, no one is watching us walk your dogs. So you have to do your homework during the hiring process.

Let’s say you’ve found a few people/companies that look pretty good. Here are some tips for meeting with a potential dog walker:

1. There should be a free consultation at your home, with no obligation to hire the dog walker. This is the meet and greet. With larger companies, sometimes only the boss comes to meet you. Ask that whomever will actually be walking your dog – the primary walker – comes with them too.

2. Watch them interact with your dogs during this initial meeting. Unless your dog is fearful, they should pretty much love the dog walker right away. Dog walkers stink of other dogs and have meat dust leaking out of every pore.  Dogs should react accordingly. And the dog walker? You should see pure joy on their faces. Meeting new dogs is FUN for us.

2a. If your dog is fearful with new people, watch how the dog walker handles this. Are they forcing themselves on your dog, insisting that they interact? Or are they hanging back, sitting on the floor, and calmly talking to you while your dog launches a covert exploration of their coat?

If your dog is uber-shy or has other serious quirks, it’s ok to ask for a second meeting. You’ll probably have to pay for it this time, but it will be helpful to have the dog walker meet your dog with you there again. Then, if you see that a little progress has been made and/or you trust that the dog walker is a good one, go for it. Sometimes shy dogs are less shy when you’re not home. Which leads to…

2b. Remember that dogs are different when you’re not around. I have a friend with three big, loud-ass dogs that go bananas when someone comes to the door. She assumed that when I came to walk them that they would make an insane racket – enough to scare off a dozen intruders. Turns out, all three of her dogs were mute when I walked in the door. So much for her security system.

This kind of thing happens a lot. Your dogs may be bolder or shyer in your presence. Friendly dogs might charge the door, growling and barking, when they are alone in the house and a stranger walks in. Shy dogs might be emboldened to go for a walk with the meat-dusted stranger, now that mom isn’t looking. At some point, if you like the dog walker, you just have to let them show up alone and see what happens.

3. Ask them to go on a walk with you and your dogs. If your dog is cool with it, ask to do this step during the initial meeting. Unless your dog is a robot (or super easy going) then you’ll want to see the dog walker handling them. Have the dog walker put on their harness/collar/leash and go for a short walk together.

If your dog is reactive, you don’t want to skip this part. Anyone can talk a good game, but that doesn’t mean they can stay cool when your reactive dog starts a break dancing competition with the neighbor’s dog. Go for a group walk and see them interact with your dog.

New Yorker Cartoon by Lee Lorenz

New Yorker Cartoon by Lee Lorenz

4. If your dog has medical or behavioral issues, talk about them honestly. You want to know if the dog walker has the skills to work with your dog and they need to be able to make an informed decision. A good dog walker knows their limits. It’s ok for them to tell you they aren’t skilled enough to work with your aggressive dog. In fact, it’s the responsible thing to do. So don’t hide anything from them.

And don’t try to sugarcoat your dog’s issues so they’ll want to work for you. It’s not fair and it’s not safe. If you hire them, they will have to walk into your home – alone – and it can be dangerous if you fail to mention that your 110 pound dog will be loose in the house and has been known to pin strangers to the wall (I still love you Mo!).  This is the time to be honest. Come up with a management plan for future visits, so that the dog walker can enter your home safely with minimal stress for them and your dogs.  For instance, if your dog is fearful, you can plan to leave their harness on, so that the dog walker doesn’t have to touch them too much on the first visit. Or if your dog is a nutter with strangers, you can plan to crate or gate them away from the door. This is a good time to start talking about this stuff.

Also, the more you share, the more you can get a feel for their experience and skill level. Let’s say you tell them your dog is reactive. A dog walker that’s any good will have many follow up questions for you, so that the can better understand what your dog’s triggers are, what walking routes are safest, and what your training plans are, etc. If they say, “Oh, I know how to walk reactive dogs,” but they don’t care to hear about your individual reactive dog’s needs or have any questions, move on.

5. Find out how you’ll know that they were there. I leave a note after every walk. My clients have affectionately dubbed these “The Poop Diaries” and I’m proud to say that after more than ten years of leaving these notes each day for multiple clients, I’ve written the dog walker’s equivalent of War and Peace. But, I’m willing to concede that writing a note takes a minute or two away from your dogs and the average dog walker isn’t as excited as I am about finding a thousand different ways to say, “Your dog made a sizable deposit at the turd bank today.”

Many dog walkers will do cool stuff like get little post-it-sized checklists that are pre-printed, so they can leave you a quick report:

Poop – check

Pee – check

Butt Scritches – check

If they don’t leave notes, ask them how you’ll know they’ve been there each day. This company does all kinds of stuff to prove they’re doing their jobs. Don’t be obnoxious about it, but it’s totally fine to ask for some sort of proof your dog walker showed up.

6. They should have their professional goods on hand to show you. Dog walkers should have liability insurance, references, a detailed service contract, and clear, written policies and rates. No matter who they work for or if they’re self-employed, all dog walkers should have this stuff. Before you hire them, you’ll want to know: what’s their cancellation policy? What are your daily and weekly rates and what forms of payment do you accept? What window of time will you be coming each day? Who pays the vet bills if my dog gets hurt at the dog park? Who will pay my dry cleaning bills if I catch you wearing my evening gowns? This stuff should be in writing.

Then at some point, you’ll have to just cross your heart, lock up grandma’s diamonds, and give them the keys to your house. It’s scary to trust a stranger with your dog and your home. I’m always amazed at how many people have given me the keys to their houses within 30 minutes of meeting me over the years. Quite frankly, it’s an honor to be trusted that way. Good dog walkers understand this and do everything they can to make you feel comfortable and confident in them.

In the end, go with your gut  and choose the person your dogs and you really dig.

In the comments, tell me about your dog walkers. Are they good, bad, weirdos, life-savers? I wanna know. 

p.s. You think you wanna be a dog walker, huh punk? It’s hard and there is epic poop involved. Read all about here. 

7 Wishes For Families With Dogs In Need Of Space

Ah, 2014. Here she comes! A new year always gets me thinking about what I want for myself in the coming months, but this year I thought: What do I want for all of YOU? For the most part, I’m wishing that you guys are happy, healthy, and discover a river of gold nugget speckled peanut butter running under your property.

But, if I ever do manage to trap a real life Genie, here’s a few other things I’d wish for DINOS families (and all the other dogs too):

1. A veterinarian that uses low-stress handling techniques and treats you and your dog with compassion. I wish this for all of us. Having a skilled, empathetic vet and vet tech that you trust to handle your dog is a huge. HUGE. Here are some leads on vets that might fit that bill.

Also, while we’re wishing, let’s ask for a vet practice with an amazing front desk staff that will make you feel like a movie star (instead of gargoyle with a troll dog) when you use the back door to get into the clinic.

2. That no one gives your dog Henrietta the Chicken. I wish that no one has to hear the sound this toy makes. It’s hysterical, but listening to Henrietta squawk for more than 45 seconds is considered a legal form of torture in at least a dozen countries. A couple of years ago, I worked in a pet store that sold these by the tub full and listened to children squeezing them. All. Day. Long. I sincerely apologize to everyone I ever gave this to as a gift (which is most of my dog walking clients).

henrietta

One squeeze of Henrietta can bring even the toughest man to his knees.


3. A vacation from your dogs. If you have a dog with behavior or medical issues then you’re probably working harder than you even realize to take care of them each day. I wish that all of you are able to take a day or seven off from caring for your dogs. Getting a little time away from your dogs (and allowing yourselves to enjoy it) can be restorative and help you hang in with them for the long haul.

Which leads to…

4. Someone you trust to pitch in. I wish that all of you are able to find a pet sitter, a boarding facility, or a friend that you can trust to help you care for your dog. Whether it’s a friend that can watch your dogs while you go away for a week or a dog walker that can provide some mid-day relief, my wish is that all of you eventually find someone you can lean on, so that you aren’t the only one who can care for your dogs.

5. At least one route to walk your dogs that is predictably safe. I wish that all of you find at least one dog walking route that you can enjoy without fear of being chased by loose dogs.  If you do find one, don’t worry about variety. Find and walk the safe route. You can spice up your dog’s life in other ways, like going Cosmic Bowling or taking a Zumba class together (or playing training games, going for group walks, and doing Noseworks).

Which leads to…

6. A magic belt to defend against rogue people and dogs. I wish all of you a set of gadgets, like the ones Data from Goonies had, that will keep loose dogs at a distance, block invasive people from petting your dogs, help you escape from a tight spot, and let you outwit Mama and her thieving sons so you get to One-Eyed Willy’s treasure first. Maybe this one is a stretch. But it’s my wish for you. You can’t stop me.

data

Respect my boundaries or you’ll get booty trapped.

7. Enough good times to counterbalance the challenges. Before January is over I want you to do this: List ten things you really love about your dog.

They can be big things:

He’s an award winning polka dance champion.

He’s totally house trained.

He never chases the cats.

He used to “debate” every dog he saw, but now he only starts rowdy philosophical discussions on Wednesdays.


Or small things:

He smells like cotton candy even when I forget to give him a bath for a year.

He sleeps in on the weekends.

He takes treats gently.

He does not have a Henrietta.

Or whatever it is that you love about your dog.

Now put this list in your drawer. The next time you have a terrible dog walk and you’re secretly thinking that it might be time to  “donate” your dog to charity: Read your list.


Ok, that’s my seven wishes, but I do have others, like: the ability to freeze time, a coat pocket that generates a never ending supply of stinky treats, and a magical dog park that only you know about. But until I find that Genie, I’ll just wish all of you happiness, health, and peanut butter gold riches in 2014!

Should I Leash My Dog? [Flowchart]

Ever wonder when it’s ok to let your dog off leash?

Check out this handy flowchart created by the fabulous Jenny Williams. In just a few text bubbles (and with a sense of humor) it’ll help you make a responsible, respectful, safe choice!

Download and print the pdf here to share! Note: this is not available for commercial use. Jenny Williams gets all the props for this one. Please be sure to give her credit when you share it. And check out her site: ShouldILeashMyDog.com for more!

Download and print the pdf to share! Note: this is not available for commercial use. Jenny Williams gets all the props for this one. Please be sure to give her credit and check out her site: ShouldILeashMyDog.com for more!


Hate charts? Here’s the super short version: if there’s a leash law, the answer is “leash your dog.”

And just in case you’re wondering, you are not exempt from leash laws, even if you are*:

• The owner of a Lab
• A board member of an animal shelter
• A middle age white man without a criminal record
• The owner of a friendly dog
• In a parking lot near hiking trails
• A donor to your local humane society

*Yes, these are all real excuses used by real people. To my face.

Listen, let’s save some time: don’t bother with the rationalizing. It’s the law. Just like stop lights, it’s in everyone’s best interests if we obey these laws, rather than justifying why we’re the exception. Can you imagine if we all decided we were the exception to obeying red stop lights because we thought it was a dumb law and we’re better drivers than everyone else?! Crash, Bang, Blam-o.

Leash laws exist to keep all of us safe, including our dogs. They help create public spaces that are safe and welcoming to everyone, including the elderly, children, and the disabled.

There are a lot of us that don’t want to interact with loose dogs or are afraid of them. We rely on leash laws  and purposely choose to visit areas where they exist, with the expectation that dogs will not be loose. When you let your dogs loose in areas with leash laws, you take away our right to choose. Not cool.

Here’s something you may not have considered:

Simply seeing a dog that is not leashed, even when that dog is very well behaved, can cause panic for some people.

While you may know that your dog won’t cause any trouble, the other person is freaking out about what might potentially occur. They’re afraid that without the leash, your dog might suddenly approach them.

Why would they be afraid of my friendly dog? I clearly have him under voice control!

Here’s why: Many of us have had frightening encounters with dogs just seconds after their owners swore to us that their dogs were under control/friendly. We understand that not all dogs are the same, but one bitten, twice shy, you know? It just scares the pants off of us to take a gamble with another dog that may or may not be as well behaved as their owner promises us. It’s not personal.

Plus, there are these reasons people might be afraid of a potential interaction with your dog:

• They have a physical limitation, such as poor balance or lack of mobility.
• They’re senior citizens.
• They’re children.
• They rely on Service Dogs that must not be distracted or harmed.
• They (or their dogs) have been bitten or attacked in the past.
• They own dogs who are injured, sick, or otherwise unable to safely interact with other dogs.
• They have a phobia of dogs. Remember, phobias like the ones lots of us have of spiders, snakes, or of heights, are irrational. But that doesn’t make it less debilitating (this guy died trying to flee a friendly dog).


For these folks, a leash functions as a visual signal, as much as a physical restraint.

The leash says to the concerned party: “Don’t worry. My dog won’t suddenly run over, knock you off your crutches, and eat your baby.” Seeing the leash prevents the internal panic-show from starting. Please have compassion for people and use that leash. You’ll be someone’s hero, without even knowing it!

Beyond those reasons, leash laws exist because we all have different ideas and standards for what constitutes a “well trained, friendly” dog. This simple management tool provides a baseline of safety for all kinds of dogs to be out in public, even if the handler is new to dog training (we were all new at some point!). Leashes are not perfect or foolproof – learn how to use a retractable here and leash etiquette here - but with one you’re covering the bases and being responsible.

With more cars, more people, and more dogs, crammed into less space than ever before, we all need to have our dogs under our full control. Leashes keep dogs safe and out of trouble. Dogs aren’t robots. Even good, well trained dogs make not-so-great choices sometimes. A leash can keep your dog from chasing a ball in front of bus, getting spooked by gunfire and taking off into the woods, accidentally scratching a kid and bringing on a lawsuit, French kissing a porcupine, or chasing a herd of deer across a park and making you a YouTube star.

Look, just because we want you to leash your dog in certain public areas, doesn’t mean we’re scrooges. Lots of us like watching dogs run off leash. The truth is that the perfect complement to areas with leash laws are designated, accessible, and welcoming off-leash areas. This allows everyone to enjoy public recreation with their dogs, in whatever environment – on or off leash – that suits them best. When both on and off leash areas exist, it gives everyone a choice and prevents responsible dog owners who prefer off leash recreation from being unfairly marginalized. If you or someone you know is interested in increasing off-leash areas, please see the following article from Bark Magazine.

In the end, that’s what all of us want: to choose what is best for us and our dogs, to be treated with common courtesy, and to be provided with safe options for recreation in our communities. Also, some of us want free ice cream cones every Friday. But since we can’t get everything we want, we’ll settle for dog owners who obey leash laws.

Be responsible, respectful, safe!

Searching for Answers: Turkeys, Soft Poop, and Underage Dog Walkers

One of my most favorite things about having a blog (other than getting to hang out with you guys – seriously, thank you for being here gang!) is reading the search terms that lead people to my blog. For those of you who have better things to do with your time than hang out on the back end of a blog, search terms are the words that people plug into Google or other search engines. Sometimes the terms trigger my blog to pop up in the search results and then those poor innocent people are directed to my posts.


For example, here are a couple of common search terms that bring people to my blog:

“How to make flirt pole” or “Toy on a string for my dog” 

Then they get directed to this post. 

Makes sense right?


Here’s where the fun comes in: people plug in all kinds of oddball search terms that lead them to my blog, even though they’re clearly hoping for something non-dog related. Like:

“How much space do I give my girlfriend?” or “Tell that bitch to back off.” 


Then I get some that make me want to cry, like:

“My dog was killed by a loose dog” or “My dog got hit by a car and died in my arms.”  

These slay me.


But I also get a ton of questions in my search term results. It turns out that, in addition to typing in questions like:

“How do I get my dog to stop pulling?”

We’re also typing in our deep, dark, vulnerable questions, hoping that the Universe (aka Google) will guide us to the answers.


Questions like:

“Am I bad dog owner?” and “Does my dog hate me?”

And much more, much worse. Trust me.


Except it’s not Google/Universe getting the questions, it’s me. And every other blogger out there.

If you click on the blogs that pop up in your search results, then we’re the ones who see you in your most freaked out, desperate-for-answers moments.

Hi.


So I thought: What if I just answered the (anonymous) questions that lead people to my blog?

I feel like these questions and search engine terms deserve their moment in the sun. I’m gonna give it to them.



Here we go. Let’s start with a couple of funny search terms that have led people to my blog this week:


“Turkey Harness”

Do people walk their turkeys? It never occurred to me that they did. Are there TINOS out there? Do I need to start another website?

I don’t know where you get a turkey harness, but I do know that if a dog can get out of a harness, so can a turkey. So, to all you turkey wranglers out there, always use a carabiner for back up. Safety (gobble) first.

Why bother with a harness when turkeys can clearly drive themselves to town? (source)

Why bother with a harness when turkeys wearing cool headgear can drive themselves to town? (source)


“Don’t get mad when a girl cares too much. Worry when she stops caring.”

True that.  Except if caring too much means pulling a bunny boiler ala Fatal Attraction. In that case, go ahead and worry. Go ahead and call the cops actually.


And here are a couple of questions that people have plugged into the interwebz, hoping for answers:


“I have begun a dog walking business. But will people be surprised that I am a kid?”

Maybe. How young are we talking here? When you roll up to a new client’s house, how many wheels are on your bike? Do you have enough facial hair to convince them you’re not a 7th grader?

Depending on how slick your website is, some people will be really surprised that you’re not an adult. If, on the other hand, you made homemade fliers with construction paper and glitter, people might not be so shocked that you’re 10. And they might be fine with hiring a kid to walk their dog. Sometimes kids can be OK dog walkers. And they’re cheap too.

However, lots of families want to hire an adult that is a real pro and for good reason. You’re too young and too full of magic unicorn dust to understand liability issues, but sadly adults are not. Due to stuff like liability, geezers like us may prefer to hire someone that considers dog walking a full time profession and has significant dog handling experience under their belts.

They should know in advance that you’re not an adult.

I'd be surprised if this kid showed up to walk my dog. I'd also be time travelling. (source)

I’d be surprised if this kid showed up to walk my dog. I’d also be time travelling. (source)

Going forward, make it clear how old you are in your advertisements. It’s a waste of your time and theirs for you to show up for your first meeting and have them discover then that you’re 6. Plus, it’s gonna be super awkward. Especially when you have to excuse yourself mid-consultation to have a juice box and take a nap.

Also, be upfront about your handling skills when you’re talking to potential clients. Don’t overstate your skill level. Being a good dog walker – at any age – means recognizing how much people are relying on you being honest and trustworthy. Don’t get a relationship started in a lie (of omission). Admit your newbie-ness and get your feet wet by walking easy, laid back dogs. Or stuffed dogs on wheels.

Please recognize your limits kiddo, even if your clients do not. No one under 18 should be handling other people’s dogs who are fearful, aggressive, or reactive. If something goes wrong (it will) you need to be experienced, insured, and have access to a car or cab to get to a vet asap. Or be able to get yourself to the ER. There are some dogs that really are adults-only when it comes to taking them out in public.

Good luck in your new business. Be proud of who you are – you’re a hardworking kid that digs animals and wants to earn money providing a valiant (if not poop covered) service.  That’s exactly what some folks are looking for, so don’t be afraid to strut your wee stuff.

 

“How come my poop came out like soft serve yogurt?”

Dude. I know why it happens to your dogs (see this), but I’m so sorry you wound up on my blog when what you really need is WebMD or some other site that deals with human #2.  I want to help you, but after reading this page with one eye closed (just in case there were photos), I’m going to throw this one back at you and Google/Universe.



There are hundreds more. I purposely left out the sad ones this first time, but I’ll come back around and answer them sometime in the future. It seems like the people who are throwing those painful questions out into the universe are most in need of a little anonymous support.

Until then, keep asking questions. One day, you might just get an answer!

Dog Walker’s Hair Goes Gray Overnight: Says Invisible Fences Are to Blame

I’ve been trying to write a funny take on how ridiculously stressful it is to walk past yard after yard of dogs that are behind invisible, underground fences and charge me as I walk by. It’s like the ultimate game of dog walker chicken. The dogs are running towards me – there might be a fence to stop them, but maybe not – do I keep passing by or retreat?

Obviously I retreat, full of anxiety as I wonder if the dogs are going to chase us down the street. I age a year every time this happens. After years of playing dog walker chicken I look like Cloris Leachman’s older sister.

So, yeah, this was going to be funny, but then a dog I love got hurt this week. One of my clients was walking her dog when they passed by a house with a large dog and owner playing ball in the yard. The large dog saw my client and ran at them, slamming hard into her dog and grabbing a mouthful of fur.

Where was the other dog owner? Hiding behind a bush in her front lawn.  That my friends, is a whole different blog.

Why did the owner allow the dog to run loose? She didn’t. The aggressing dog was in his yard behind an invisible fence when my client walked by. He busted right through the “fence”, happily taking the shock in order to get to my friend.

My dog pal has spent the last week with a swollen shoulder. She’s unable to shake her head or be touched on her left side without yelping. It could have been worse. Oh wait. It was. She’s reactive around some dogs. Thanks to this encounter, we’ve likely moved back a step or two.

Nothing funny about that.

I’m super tired of walking by these fences. How about you?

Every time I walk past a yard where I see dogs charging across their lawns towards me and my dogs I have to think: Do they have an invisible fence? If so will it stop the dogs? I quickly scan for little white flags. Sometimes the flags are there, but sometimes they’re not. Are they not there because there is no fence or because the owners took the flags down? Are those pesticide signs? The clock is ticking. The dogs are charging. Twenty more of my hairs turn gray, my stomach flips, and I do an Emergency U-turn.

Playing dog walker chicken with overstimulated, unsupervised dogs just isn’t my steez.

white fence flags


There’s already so much written about these fences, but in case it needs to be said again: Invisible fences are not REAL fences. Traditional fences are designed to keeps dogs in, keep others out, and they provide a clear visual barrier so people passing by know the dogs on the other side are contained.

Hit pause: I understand that these fences work for some of you. I’m not calling you a bad dog owner for using them. But these fences scare me and my friend just got hurt, so I’m gonna call out some problems with them. Nothing personal, ok? You know I love you guys.

Ok, so while no option is perfect, these invisible fences fail the average dog owner in many ways. Allow me to elaborate based on my experiences with these fences (as a dog walker and shelter worker where I was a frequent host to stray dogs with failed underground fence collars):


They fail to keep some dogs in:

  • Plenty of dogs are happy to take the shocks in order to get to whatever high value item is on the other side. This happens a lot. A dog sees: squirrels, turkeys, dogs they want to play with, a dog they want to chase away, a kid on bike, an ice cream truck, the Philly Phantic, etc. and they’re motivated enough to take a few shocks in order to get to it. See also: my friend this week.
  •  Some of those dogs will leave the yard, but won’t take the shock to come back IN the yard. It’s not fun taking the pain just to go back and sit in your yard.  So now your dog is loose.
  • There are dogs that figure out that the batteries in their collars are dead (no warning beeps) or their collars are loose enough not to feel the shock. So off they go to explore the world!
  • When snow banks are high enough, dogs can walk right over where the invisible fence line reaches. And off they go again!
  • Some dogs will bolt when they are scared – thunderstorms, fireworks, etc. – and they don’t care about taking the shock if they think it’ll help them escape what’s frightening them.

 

They fail to keep others (animals and people) out:

  • It doesn’t prevent anything or anyone from entering your yard.  These fences don’t keep anything OUT.
  • Some dogs are perfectly happy to stay in the yards, dead batteries in their collars and all, but they are surprised to find other dogs have entered their yards.  Or wild animals, unwelcome people, or aggressive dogs that got loose from someone else’s house. Your dog will get shocked if they try to escape the yard/the threat.


They can cause behavior issues:

  • Some dogs are so frightened by the shocks they receive that they don’t want to go outside anymore. Like for days.
  • When dogs charge the boundaries of their yards every time they see a dog/bike/person and get a shock, this can cause behavior issues. Some dogs will associate the pain they feel with what they see. This can potentially lead to aggression or reactivity.
  • Some dogs won’t leave their yards for fear of a shock, even when they’re not wearing their collar. I knew a dog that had to be driven down the driveway, past the fence line, in order to leave the property for a leashed walk.
  •  Some dogs become afraid of beeping. Because their collars beep as a warning before they receive a shock, the dogs become fearful whenever they hear a similar beep. Like from the microwave.

 

They frighten people passing by who can’t tell if the dogs are really contained or not:

  • See: playing dog walker chicken. Also: delivery guy chicken, young children and senior citizens out strolling chicken, and jogger chicken.


Look, there are no absolutes in this world, so I’ll be the first to admit that some of these things can happen no matter how you contain (or don’t contain) your dogs. Dogs dig under wood fences, jump chain link, gates swing open.

And despite how much I can’t stand underground fences, I’ll acknowledge that there are two ways that these fences might not be totally unreasonable options for some families, provided the owners do the proper boundary training, have excellent recalls, and do not leave their dogs unattended in their yards:

  • As a secondary containment system for escape artists. If you have a dog that is able to scale or dig out of traditional fences, using an electric fences as a backup system, might be worth exploring.
  • As a containment system for rural properties with many acres. If you have acreage that can’t be fenced in because it is so large, using an electric fence at the far boundaries may be worth exploring.


And to keep the conversation rolling, here are two of the common reasons that responsible, dog-loving people I know pick Invisible Fencing:

  • Cost
  • Housing Associations


For cost: Underground fences range from $100 (for a DIY kit) to a couple thousand bucks. There are some affordable alternatives out there. Like these fence kits. My choice for affordable AND sturdy is farm fencing. I know because that’s what we choose for our yard. It’s comparable in price to a professionally installed electric fence. You can build it 4-8 feet high. You can bury part of it below ground if you have diggers. It doesn’t obstruct views and you can fence in just part of your yard if you have many acres.

We waited and saved for 5 years until we could put up a fence. This was Birdie's first run in her new, fenced-in yard!

We waited and saved for 5 years until we could put up a fence. Until then, we relied on leash walks and supervised time on tie-outs in the yard. This was Birdie’s first run in her new, fenced-in yard!


For housing associations: please talk with them. Nothing will change if no one challenges the rules. Ask if you are allowed to fence in part of your property (maybe just the back yard). Discuss different types of fencing options. Can you put up a low physical fence, perhaps with Invisible Fence as a back-up if your dog can jump it? Can you fence in a portion of the yard with non-privacy fencing, like the options above? I know it’s not likely to work, but please try!


In the end, if you do choose a hidden electric fence please: Go with a professionally installed product, preferably the Invisible Fence brand, rather than a DIY job. Do the boundary training, slowly and as positively as you can. Make sure your dog has an excellent recall. Never leave your dog unattended. You need to know if your dog leaves the yard. You need to know if another dog enters your property.  And know your own dogs. This just isn’t the right fit for every dog. For some dogs it won’t keep them in, for other dogs it has the potential to cause serious issues. Never use them with dogs who have a history of reactivity, fear, phobias, or aggression.


And for all of our sakes, can those of you with invisible fences (or no fences at all) stop leaving your dogs unattended in your yards? It’s crazy frightening to see dogs charging you at top speed, white flags or not. And if you think your friendly dog would never do such a thing, I invite you to nanny-cam your yard.

Betchya a five spot lots of your dogs are having a blast playing dog walker chicken while you’re gone.


More on fences and fence problem-solving coming to the blog soon!

10 Signs The Other Person’s Just Not That Into You (or Your Dog)

It’s Dog Bite Prevention Week again and lots of good lessons about understanding dog body language are being shared. We all need to learn dog body language.  Life would be grand if everyone understood and respected what dogs are trying to tell us.

But have you noticed that some humans pretty much stink at understanding human body language…or even spoken language (aka “language-language”)? Maybe we’re expecting a lot of  those folks to ask that they become fluent in dog body language. For them, we might need to start with some same-species tips. This one is for them:

Hello humans. Many of you love meeting new dogs and people while you’re out walking the dog. That’s neat!

But here’s the thing: some people just aren’t that into meeting you or your dog. It really doesn’t have anything to do with you. You’re awesome. It’s just that some of us prefer solo time when we’re out walking. Not every dog can socialize on walks. Some dogs need a little space to stay safe and healthy and don’t want to be approached.

In other words: there are people who don’t want to say hi, even if you and your dogs are super friendly.

But how will you know who’s down for a jam session with you and your pup? All you have to do is pay attention to the person holding the leash. They’ll let you know.

Here are 10 clues that the other person’s just not that into you or your dog:


Clue #1:  A furrowed brow (also known as the “11”) in between the eyebrows. This indicates annoyance. Or that your brights are on.

Bonus Clue: There are some people who can’t warn you off this way because of Botox. Tricky, right? 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/emerycophoto/3092372870/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Photo credit: Emery Co Photo (Some rights reserved: Share Alike, Attribution)



Clue #2: Eyes that are wide open are a sign of fear or shock. The only time a person is shocked in a good way is when they find money. Are you a bag o’ cash? Then keep on going.

Also, notice the open mouth.

Are words coming out? If so, listen to them. They may be saying something important such as, “Please stop. My dog needs space.”

http://www.flickr.com/photos/chaparral/1217286092/

Photo credit: Chapendra (some rights reserved: attribution, non-commercial)



Clue #3: If you heard words, but are still not sure what they mean, look at their face again. People who are horrified that you’re not listening to them may look like they accidentally got wet cat litter in their mouths.

If you think this expression means, “Let’s get a man-pedi on Friday after work!” you are mistaken.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/seandreilinger/527326068/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Photo credit: Sean Dreilinger (Some rights reserved: share alike, attribution, non-commercial)



Clue #4: Nope. Still not psyched to see you and your dog.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jenna77/458620318/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Photo credit: CapturingJenna (some rights reserved: share alike, attribution, non-commercial)



Clue #5: Words spoken at a normal volume are often misinterpreted. Is that other person making a joke? Is it Opposite Day? No. 

If ignored, many humans will shout. Do you see the fillings in their back molars? This is a sign to retreat. You may compliment them on their dental work, but only from a distance.

Buster Benson: http://www.flickr.com/photos/erikbenson/490822943/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Photo credit: Buster Benson (some rights reserved: share alike, attribution)

 


Clue #6: Still not sure if they want to hang out or not? That’s when a good detective of human body language looks at the person’s hands. 

When a person’s requests are ignored and they feel trapped, some humans may go nuts and start to pull out their hair. Or punch you in the crotch.  

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bcymet/3292063588/

Photo Credit: B. Cymet (some rights reserved: attribution, non-commercial)



Clue #7: Wait, there’s more! Keep looking at their hands. Do you see a palm? If the other person raises their hands, showing a flat open palm, it means “Stop!”

It does not mean “How long is my life line?”

http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevensnodgrass/3570379993/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Photo credit: Steven Snodgrass (some rights reserved: attribution)



Clue #8: Finally, if you’re looking at the back of a person they are now ignoring you. They can still hear you. They aren’t turning around because they don’t wanna. 

If you see a person’s back while they are running away, do not follow them no matter how friendly you and your dog may be. 

Accept that this fleeing human is not your new BFF. 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/thestarmama/69575028/sizes/z/in/photostream/

Photo Credit: StarMama (some rights reserved: attribution)



Clue #9: Let’s put it all together now. This person’s body language says, “Leave me and my dog alone!”

Or possibly, “Do you know who got eliminated on The Voice last night? I’m rooting for Team Shakira!”

credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bo47/6087907898/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Photo Credit: Bo47 (Some rights reserved: share alike, attribution, non-commercial)



Clue #10: Don’t worry nice folks with dogs! There are plenty of people that want to hang with you and your dogs. Like these dudes. This is the loose body language of people who want you to know that they give out free hugs. So bring it on in, nice and close. These are your people.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/peterbaldes/3908166694/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Photo credit: PJ Baldes (some rights reserved: attribution, non-commercial)


Want some real thoughts on how to prevent dog bites and make our communities safe and enjoyable for everyone? Check out my real PSA: Ask First! and learn more about how being respectful and responsible is super cool. Really, all the cool kids are being polite these days.

p.s. If you’d like a little help telling the world that your dog needs space, there are all kinds of nifty items to check out here. 

How Steve Martin Helps Me Deal With People Who Walk + Text

A couple of years ago I started encountering a new obstacle while I was out dog walking: people who walk right into me while they’re looking at their cell phones.

I don’t mean talking on their cells. I mean they’re looking down at their phones, texting, for entire block lengths. Maybe even miles. Not only are they not looking where they’re going, but people who are tweeting highlights from Teen Mom 2: The Reunion Special tend to weave a lot too. They’re hard to navigate around.

I’m not the only one who has noticed this new walking hazard. It’s gotten to be so bad that talking and walking and/or texting and walking made an appearance in the book “On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes” in the chapter dedicated to taking a city walk with a blind woman (in order to experience the city through senses other than sight). Author Alexandra Horowitz writes, “I saw examples of cell-phone walkers weaving, violating the time-honored stay-to-the-right street rules. Most critically, they were not checking: they did not look up.”  Horowitz’s blind walking companion shared that she had been in a number of full body collisions with cell phone users who did not look up in time to see her walking nearby (with her white cane!).

 


So back to my dogs walks: There I am, walking towards the phone-focused with my dogs and trying to avoid a collision by moving from one end of the sidewalk to the other. The weaving is all kinds of awkward, not to mention I look like I pounded a six pack of Zima in between dog walks.

Finally, I came up with a new, more effective approach. I just stop and stand still.

I wait until the person on the cell phone is a few steps away from bulldozing me and then I say, loudly, “LOOK UP!

Which they do, because I just startled them so bad that their butt cheeks seized up.

Of course I only do this with dogs that are super people-friendly and with people who look like they’re not armed. If the dogs aren’t comfortable watching someone jump out of their flops, we just step right off the sidewalk and escape the cell phone zombies by walking in the street (with people who are doing the same thing with their phones, only they’re in cars**).

But I really do love the “Look Up!” moment and try to squeeze it in whenever I can. Just for funsies.

Not only is it effective, but every single time I do it, I think of Steve Martin in this scene from The Three Amigos and I laugh, laugh, laugh.

Please enjoy it here:


Almost everything I know about dog walking, I’ve learned from Steve Martin.

OK, maybe just this one thing.

**On a serious note: Today while dog walking I watched a woman driving the wrong way down a one way street in front of a hospital. She weaved around the cars coming straight at her, while I waved at her in an attempt to point out the huge “DO NOT ENTER” sign that she was passing. She didn’t notice. She was too busy looking down and texting.

We all need to stop texting and driving. In the past few years I’ve had to alter the way I dog walk because so many drivers are totally unaware of me and the dogs walking in crosswalks. People are driving with their heads in their laps. Most of us are guilty of doing this. We all need to stop thinking we’re the exception to the rule and can text and drive safely. We can’t. No one can. And we could wind up killing someone. Werner Herzog’s short file “From One Second to the Next” is a hard look at the consequences of our bad behavior.

Please be safe out there everyone. Look up!

 

 

The Secret Life of Dog Catchers

When I came across the book, The Secret Life of Dog Catchers: An Animal Control Officers Passion to Make a Difference, I wasted no time in reaching out to the author Shirley Zindler to ask if she’d like to send me a copy for review. She generously did and when I got it, I gulped the book down in three fast sittings.

cover book

Shirley is an animal control officer in Northern California, and in addition to her demanding job, her family has fostered and rehomed more than 400 dogs. Wow-wee. She blogs for Bark Magazine, has competed in obedience, agility, conformation and lure coursing, and has done pet therapy. Shirley is one busy woman.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with a few fantastic Animal Control Officers (ACOs). In addition to their incredible skills (with animals and people), bravery, and professionalism, these good eggs have all had two things in common: endless compassion and a wicked sense of humor. Shirley has both in spades. In her book, she shares stories from the field and her home life that will make you tear up, bust out laughing, get angry and frustrated, and then get inspired. I suspect that Shirley feels all those things in the course of just a single day, judging by her heavy and varied case load.

Through it all – from comical calls in the middle of the night to heart breaking neglect cases and frightening stand-offs with criminals –  Shirley’s stories reveal she’s one of those rare people that can stay positive despite the never-ending challenges that she faces. When the rest of us would be throwing in the towel, Shirley keeps going, and then writes about her experiences so that we get to walk in her capable shoes for a while. You’ll happily go along for the ride as she investigates hoarders, raids a cock fight, rescues wildlife, and works with the coroner’s office.

If you’ve worked as an ACO or in a shelter, this book will be the perfect combination of the surprising and familiar. You’ll see some of your experiences reflected in her validating vignettes.  But whether or not you’ve worked in animal welfare, readers will be rooting for Shirley every time she steps up to the plate, trying to make her corner of the world a better place for animals.

After I finished the book, I was left wishing I could take Shirley out for a margarita. I have no doubt she has so many more great stories to tell!  Since we couldn’t meet for drinks, Shirley was kind enough to answer a few questions for me  about The Secret Life of Dog Catchers and her work:

shirley and her pets

Photo credit: Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat


Jessica: There are a lot of misconceptions about what an ACO does and what they have the power to do. From some of the stories in the book, it’s safe to say much of the public thinks that if a pet is in less than ideal conditions, ACOs can swoop in and remove the animals immediately. What would you like the public to understand about your ability to intervene?

Shirley: I often have to tell the public that I can only enforce the law. I try to educate people, but I can’t make them care for the animal the way the concerned party, or I, want it cared for, only the minimum that the law requires. I do everything I can to make a difference, but I often lose sleep about the things I can’t change.


J: In your work you have to enforce the law and hold owners accountable, yet in many of the stories you write about working to provide resources, education, and support to families who want to do better, but need assistance. How do you determine when it’s the right time to provide education vs. punishment?

Shirley: I almost always try and help if the person is willing to work with me to improve the animals conditions. Many people want to care for their animals, but lack the knowledge or finances to do it right. I can sometimes provide the things they need to make things better. It might be management, training or nutrition advice, help finding a new home or occasionally, money out of my own pocket. I don’t want to seize their animal, I just want them to take better care of it. If the situation is severe, or if the person is unwilling to work with me, then I may seize or prosecute or usually both.

 

J: Have you found that when people know better or have access to affordable resources, they do better?

 

Shirley: Many people do just need educating or help and I’ve seen things greatly improved plenty of times. Some people have no interest in doing anything different, so we use the law where needed to provide compliance.


J: In the book, I was really struck by how the calls you receive often seem to be so subjective: reports of attacks, abuse, and grave injuries often turned out to be really minor, almost comically so – for example, a dog attack turns out to be a loose, but happy Mastiff. Or a dog dying from being hit by a car turns out to be a dog with a broken toe nail found by the road. In many cases the public’s perception of what they’re experiencing doesn’t match reality! How does that have an impact on your work?

Shirley: We get so many calls that are misinterpreted that sometimes we forget how serious a call can actually be! Its important to stay alert to the dangers and to the possibility of serious neglect or abuse.

 

shirley zindler

Pelican rescue: All in a day’s work for Shirley!


J: Leash laws are a hot topic with Team DINOS. Many of us live in communities with leash laws, but they’re not enforced, making it difficult for us to safely walk our dogs in public spaces. Do you have any thoughts on the effectiveness of leash laws?

Shirley: Our leash law fine is around $250, so that gets peoples attention, but we don’t have the staff to patrol every problem area all the time. Our community has lots of great dog parks and one amazing dog beach so I always try and direct the off-leash people there. I will cite people who are repeat offenders, but often verbal warnings and making a show of presence in problem areas is helpful.

I spent many years taking my dogs to dog parks almost daily and had almost no problems. I presently hit an off leash beach several times a month with my four dogs ranging from 18 pounds to 120 pounds. My dogs absolutely love it and its a great way for me to blow of work stress, just watching a bunch of loved dogs running free and playing with each other. My dogs (mostly rescues from bad situations) have always been very well trained and well socialized, but of course some dogs don’t appreciate strange dogs regardless of their history.

I have seen problems with off leash dogs charging up to leashed dogs who are not comfortable with it, and some fights have resulted. I do what I can to get people to follow the law and be more respectful of others, but some just don’t care. And of course many of the dogs are completely out of control and the owners have no idea how to fix it.


J: I’d love to hear your thoughts on dealing with loose dogs. We all run into them while we’re out walking our dogs and it puts gray hairs on our heads! What are some of your tips for safely evading loose dogs? How can we work with our neighbors and ACOs to get folks to properly contain their dogs?

Shirley: As a teen I had two large aggressive dogs run out of their yard as I was passing by and attack my small dog and nearly kill him. Even the owner could barely get his dogs off and it took a long time. They just hung on and pulled from each end. Truly horrifying. There probably wasn’t much I could have done in that case except maybe pepper spray, if I had had it.

Most cases are not nearly so severe but a few times when confronted with a truly aggressive dog I have removed my dogs leashes to use as a weapon, also freeing my dog to do  normal greeting behaviors, or possibly outrun the other dog if needed. I do think it’s important to stay calm and keep a loose lead if at all possible. I often see people getting hysterical and yanking their dog away from an approaching dog, causing an increase in agitation, disruption of normal greeting behaviors, and sometimes resulting in a fight that could have been prevented.

Teaching appropriate behavior to your own dog is helpful too. When a dog is lunging and snarling on leash, it may bring a fight from an off leash dog that might not have happened if the dog was taught to walk calmly. Thankfully my dogs all enjoy meeting new dogs and are very smooth with great social skills so they rarely have issues. I have had dogs in the past that didn’t like being approached by strange dogs, so I’m sensitive to those concerns.

Repeated polite calls to animal control can sometimes be helpful in bringing more enforcement. Sometimes it takes just the right person, timing, luck, or officer to make a difference. Many departments are understaffed and some ACOs have very little training. It’s important to try to work together rather than just berating the department for a lack of response. There are some uncaring ACOs out there, but most are doing the best they can with limited resources. In some cases, we cannot pursue an issue without written statements, but no one is willing to provide them.


J: Your work often brings you into contact with dogs that are terrified and/or injured, which manifests as aggression. How do you stay calm and safely work with dogs in those scenarios?

Shirley: Some of my most rewarding calls are dogs that are aggressing because of fear (or pain, or both), but respond well to cookies and sweet talk. Most aggression is fear based. The dog is afraid so he charges, or even attacks to make you go away.  I have spent my life working with dogs and I have learned something from every single one. I love dogs, and respect them and do everything I can to make things less stressful for them. Dogs are far more predicable than people in most cases. Patience, knowledge and cookies go a long way in this business. For those few dogs who can’t be convinced, I usually have the skills and tools to confine them safely and humanely.  Often once you have a hold of them and haven’t hurt them, they come around anyway.


J: Dog Bite Prevention Week is almost here, do you mind sharing any advice for how the public can avoid dog bites?

Shirley:  Here’s a link to a blog I did last year for Bark Magazine regarding dog bites. I investigate so many preventable dog bites each year and it’s unfortunate that dogs and children most often suffer the consequences of our lack of knowledge or understanding of canine behavior.


shirley after the raid


J: I think many animal welfare workers (myself included) really struggle with compassion fatigue and/or feeling overwhelmed. How do you keep from burning out?

Shirley: I have my days where I can hardly bear the sadness and hurt that people wreak on their fellow people and animals. Dealing with the broken and neglected day after day takes a toll on the heart. Still, I feel like I’m making a difference. The smallest success is so encouraging.

I had some young teen girls call recently about a bird with thread tangled around its leg and then tangled in tree branches. I had one of them hold the bird while I spent about 5 minutes unraveling the thread and then let her release it. It was so great to see how helpful and kind they were, and so rewarding to watch the bird fly away unencumbered. It’s critical in this business to focus on the positive.

I can go a long way on the good stuff: One good rescue, finding someone’s lost pet, removing an animal from a neglectful situation and finding a great home for it, those are the things that keep me going. I could (and sometimes do) torture myself with the ones I can’t help, but it doesn’t do any good and its harmful to me, so I try and focus on the areas where I can make a difference and work really hard on them. It’s helpful to have supportive friends and family. My husband of 22 years does a great job of helping me keep things in perspective and my kids, although pretty much grown, are terrific as well.

I get a lot of joy in fostering needy dogs (along with cats, wildlife and other animals). I’ve taken in dogs with health or behavior issues, moms with underage pups and orphaned pups. I stopped counting at 400 dog and puppy fosters over the last 25 years or so. In all but a very few cases, they have gone on to wonderful homes and lives. A few came back and were re-homed successfully and a very tiny number couldn’t be saved, but I get so much satisfaction from seeing them living the life they deserve.


Thank you Shirley!

Order your copy of the Secret Lives of Of Dog Catchers here and help Shirley reach her goal of selling 1,000 books. When she hits that goal, she’ll donate $500 to the Love Me Fix Me spay/neuter program.  

Shirley shared that several people have also pledged to donate to the program as soon as she reaches her goal, including an additional $1000 donation.  A good read and a good cause! Follow Shirley on Facebook to cheer her on as she reaches her goal.

Ask First! Around the World with DINOS

Thanks to all of you, the Ask First! Poster  has been spreading around North America this past month, making its way into vet offices, pet stores, and training centers from coast to coast. If you haven’t bought your copy or printed a freebie flyer  yet, please do and help spread this friendly reminder that we all need to be responsible, respectful, and safe.

Now that we have that covered, it’s time to spread the message internationally!

Here are a few translations of the Ask First! poster to get you started. There are more coming, including a Japanese version, so stay tuned for more.

The posters are available to download for FREE from Flickr (follow the links below to the Flickr images, then right click the image, save it, and you can print 8×10 flyers to share).

GERMAN

DINOS_PSA_poster_German

SPANISH

DINOS_PSA_poster_Spanish

ITALIAN

DINOS_PSA_poster_Italian

More translations coming soon here!

Special thanks to Natalia Martinez, Cora Hartwig, and Francesca Villa for translating the posters!

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