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Posts from the ‘love letters’ Category

Once When You Were Trouble: Loving an Old Reactive Dog

I saw the dog coming towards us. Like always, I began to make a quick u-turn to give you some space. But silly me. There’s nothing quick about the way we move these days.

So there we were – me guiding you in what felt like the world’s slowest about-face in the middle of the street.

By the time we were done inching our way around, the other dog was long gone.

You looked confused. What’s with all the fancy foot work?

When the next dog appeared, I guided us to a stop to make some room for them to pass. I held tight to the leash, waiting for you to see the other dog and react.

But you just stood there.

I smiled. Look at you, not caring about the other dog! Way to go old lady!

It only took you 15 years to finally stop giving a shit about every single dog that looks at you.

It’s the moment every person who has ever walked a reactive dog dreams of – my dog stayed calm.

We finally did it!

Then I started to cry.

You didn’t react to the other dog because you’re old.

You’re not being cool about other dogs. You’re losing your vision. And your hearing too.

Did you even see the other dog? I don’t think so.

And if you had?

Then the cancer in your body or the ache in your back would have stopped you from putting that dog on full blast.

Who has the energy for rumbling these days, right?

Loving an old dog who used to be trouble is a bittersweet thing.

I feel relief that we no longer need to hide behind cars or that I can hold your leash lightly and get lost in thought while we stroll.

Then I feel a punch in my chest. It’s my heart breaking.

This new peace comes at such a high price.

This is the last leg of our journey together my old friend.

Lately I find myself reminiscing as we walk, a little slower each day, about the times when we had to cross this very block three times to escape the woman who wanted us to meet her dog.

That dog died years ago.

We’re still here.

But crossing the block three times would take us so long that anyone could catch up to us now.

We used to move so fast! I could barely keep up with you.

Back then you would explode at other dogs. It was a big show and it stopped some people in their tracks. Tsk tsk, they’d say.

I’m longing for those days now that I know they won’t come again.

I cried while we walked today.

What I wouldn’t do to see you at full force again.

What I wouldn’t do to yell at someone to back off so we can make our escape together.

Loving an old dog who used to be trouble is a funny thing.

Here we are, where we desperately wanted to be. All those years when walks were an obstacle course of stress, embarrassment, and near misses.

Not any more.

I’m enjoying how easy it is to be out in the world with you now.

But oh, what I wouldn’t do to see you at peak naughtiness again.

To see you strong and healthy. To hold you back with both hands while you tried to take on the world. To feel exhausted by our walks.

This peace comes at such a high cost.

Now that we finally have it, I don’t want it.

I want the trouble.

I want you to stay.




To Birdie, With Love.

Birdie died this year. We made the decision to let our sweet old girl go on April 4th.

Birdie had kidney disease for months, but in the final week of March the disease finally began taking its toll on her little 15 year old body. We didn’t want her to suffer, so we said goodbye.

Just a month before that, our cat Gus died suddenly of congestive heart failure.

Losing Gus and Birdie back to back was devastating. 2017 was a really hard year.

birdie back porch

I’ve wanted to write a loving tribute to Birdie for months.

Since 2011, I’ve been sharing stories about my life with her on this blog. I felt like I owed it to her to write about her death here. And to write something spectacular, because she deserves that and then some.

I haven’t been able to do it. Writing about her death makes it feel so real. Like losing her again, on another level. Up until now it just hurt too much to do it.

And nothing – NOTHING – I write now feels good enough.

But now the year is coming to an end, I feel like it’s the right time to say goodbye to her here. To wait any longer feels wrong.

Many of you read about Birdie’s experience with physical therapy on this blog and I hear from lots of you through email, asking for updates on how Birdie is doing today.

I haven’t been able to reply to those emails all year. Now you know why.

birdie swims.jpg

Thank you for letting me share my life with Birdie with all of you. Losing her has helped me to realize that it’s time for me to bring my writing here to a close too.

This chapter of my life feels like it’s come to an end. I have loved writing this blog more than you know, even if I haven’t written much here the past couple of years.

I guess I was avoiding this ending too.

But I want to honor my girl and this space with a real goodbye.

I shared a version of what’s written below with friends and family back in April. I thought I could and should write something better for the blog, but I haven’t been able to do that. Maybe I don’t have to.

Birdie was a straightforward dog. Loving her was not complicated.

So I’ll keep it simple and true:

Birdie’s 15 year old body was ready to rest, but we were not ready to let her go. We would gladly take another nine years with her.

Birdie spent the first six years of her life in a shelter in Arkansas and somehow, in this world overflowing with dogs and people, she found her way to our home, just two months after we moved to Maine.

That was almost ten years ago.

Thank you Universe for keeping her safe all of those years until we were ready for her.

Birdie belonged with us.

She was the sweetest, gentlest, old soul.

This is what she loved:

Taking naps in the sun, rolling in the grass, going on vacation with us in the summer, digging holes to lie in and munching on bugs in the dirt, being our co-pilot in the car, taking walks to smell all the smells, meeting little kids, and having her ears rubbed.

Not once did she let me forget when it was time for dinner.

Which was 3pm. On the dot.

If we weren’t home at that time, we’d drive home laughing and shouting up the road, “We’re coming Bird! Dinner is coming!”

Birdie barked once every other year, just so we would know she could.

She mostly snuffled at us. I hope I never forget that sound.

There are so many details about her body, her personality, our life together. I want to share them all as some sort of public declaration and documentation of how much she was loved.

But I know I don’t have to do that.  So I’m going to keep those tiny treasures for myself. 

Birdie was a tough old girl. She lived until the wheels came off her busted little body.

Our hearts have been broken all year with missing her. 

Birdie Dog, we love you.

Thank you for waiting so long for us to find you, so that we could be your family.

Until we meet again sweet girl.

birdie sniffs

Thank you to Almost Home Rescue for bringing Birdie to us. Thank you to her foster family for caring for Birdie. Thank you to the staff at Lone Pine who cared for her for 6 years. Thank you to Gayle for taking care of Birdie’s aches and pains and for holding her head up so she could swim. Thank you to the staff at Pine Point Vet Hospital for taking such good care of Birdie (and me) all the way to the very last moments. Your kindness will never be forgotten. Thank you to everyone who cared about Birdie over the years. Thank you. 

One last note: This is almost it. I have one more blog to write here at NFADW, so I can share where I’m going in 2018 and how we can stay in touch. So I’ll see you again in this spot once more.

Lots of love to all of you in this new year.

–  Jessica

birdie fence

In Gratitude

boogie in the sun

“Gratitude goes beyond the ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness  of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.”

– Henri J. M. Nouwen

Guest Post: A Love Letter to Murphy

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, I asked readers to write a love letter to their DINOS and picked a winning essay.  Throughout February, I’ll be sharing all of the entries.

Here’s what Ingrid  wrote:


A love letter to Murphy, My DINOS

I probably shouldn’t have adopted Murphy when I did, but I needed him – I just didn’t realize then how much I needed him.

I had just let go of my baby, Mickey, a 12 year old Border collie mix who had cancer. He was such a great dog. My mom had helped me raise Mickey.  And then he and my mom both had cancer at the same time. After I lost him, I wanted her to see me happy with another dog, before she was gone too. At the time, I worked at the largest no-kill animal shelter in the world, so seeing adoptable dogs was a daily occurrence for me. My coworker, Tina, told me about a cute pup in the medical ward.

I went over with her and knew instantly what pup she was talking about. I saw Murphy and I was in love. He was about 4 months old and seemed submissive. Boy was that wrong. I brought Murphy into my life when my mom was in end-stage cancer, my sister had an elderly dog and cat, and my boyfriend of 15 years was also in and out of the hospital. I need to take care of someone who wasn’t going to die.

I found out quickly that Murphy was very fearful, especially of men. My boyfriend Tommy couldn’t even pet him. At first he was frustrated, like many people were, and would take it personally, like many people did. But soon Tommy let go of all of that, and he and Murphy had a nice relationship. It was short lived…Tommy passed away unexpectedly less than a year after I adopted Murphy and seven months after my mom passed away. My whole life change in what seemed to be an instant. I was alone…but I still had Murphy.


I had to adjust to being alone, living alone, and grieving the loss of my best friends. And during this time I don’t think I realized the extent of Murphy’s fearful-dominant behavior. I socialized him a lot as I took him to work every Friday. He was much better with dogs than people. He loved my co-worker’s dog, Autumn, and they still have an incredible relationship. I know one day I will find the right dog that will help Murphy the way Autumn did.

Six months after Tommy passed away, I lost my job as a web manager for the shelter. I was devastated. So here I was, me and Murph, trying to figure our way in the world. With Murphy not liking people and acting jerky with dogs he doesn’t know, it has been incredibly difficult. But I wouldn’t trade him for anything in the world.

When I had to sleep alone for the first time in 15 years, there was Murphy, laying his head on the other pillow, looking lovingly at me and comforting me when I needed it. When I needed structure after losing my job, there was Murphy needed walks, playtime, meals. When there were days that I spoke to no other person, there was Murphy, listening intently with his head cocked and giving lots of kisses.

I celebrated any victory with him. When, after at least a year of playing with my neighbor’s two dogs, Murphy finally kissed my neighbor after she gave him some corned beef, we were both ecstatic! When he would let other people pet him, usually when they were sitting, or if he was nice to a strange dog while on out on a walk, I was  beyond thrilled.

One day Tina and Murphy’s favorite girl Autumn came to visit with another friend Michelle. Murphy was always afraid of Michelle at work and barked at her all the time. But now in my house, with Tina and Autumn, both of who he adored, he was really friendly with Michelle, sitting next to her on the couch, standing on his head for a butt rub, I couldn’t believe my eyes and hold onto that picture when I get frustrated with Murphy. Because it makes me realize that it’s possible.

I had a trainer friend who I would ask about Murphy a lot. She would comfort me by telling me, “thank God you got him.” I knew what she meant. With me, Murphy was well-trained, loved and given boundaries. Had someone else adopted him, he would most likely been returned to the shelter for being too aggressive. I understood him, had the time and patience to train him, with agility too, and didn’t have kids, so living with me was the best place for him. This trainer friend also passed away, but things did get better, lest you think my life is a complete Greek tragedy.

Having Murphy is kind of like that cartoon where the construction worker finds the singing frog. And the frog never sings in front of anyone else. Murphy is my singing frog, with me he is affectionate, funny, smart, sweet, silly and adventurous. But few people ever see that.

When I was ready to date again, Murphy also played a huge role. Since he wasn’t too fond of men, it wasn’t easy. He was also quite the c**kblocker, as he was used to it being just me and him! His behavior turned out to be a blessing. When I met Sean, he wasn’t afraid of Murphy and he was really calm, (which is his usual aura) and Murphy really responded to him. He respected my feelings about Murphy and Murphy’s own fears about him and people in general. It was one of many traits that made me realize Sean is a keeper.

We live together now, and while Murphy still is fearful, he is excited when Sean comes home and lets him pet him on his chest, (over the head is still too scary). And he lays his head on Sean’s lap when he wants something. Like I said, I celebrate the little victories.

Murphy has taught me to be calm and live in the moment. I have to learn not to let how he was before, taint how he can be now and in the future. He also keeps me laughing all the time because he is so silly. When he wants something really bad, he pokes me. He steals my socks and slippers, but never ruins them, he just likes things that are soft and smelly. I no longer care what other people think about him or that he isn’t friendly with strange dogs on walks, because Murphy has taught me not to take things personally.

I just love my singing frog!!

Guest Post: A Love Letter to Elmo

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, I asked readers to write a love letter to their DINOS and picked a winning essay.  Throughout February, I’ll be sharing all of the entries.

Here’s what Judy wrote:

My dog is a DINOS.

That fact is something that I have come to not so much love, but respect. I mean, he respects my limitations, fears and quirks, why should I not do the same?

I don’t want to focus on what Elmo can’t do or can’t handle. For a long time, my life revolved around shielding him from the big bad world.  What I do want to tell you about is not the DINOS part of Elmo, but the REAL Elmo.

Almost immediately we noticed that Elmo is an “empath”. He taught us to listen to his intuit before our own gut feelings. He will get a look. The Look. It says “”. AND WE DO.

Mickey is Elmo’s younger fur-brother and he joined us 8 months after Elmo did. Always a little more rambunctious, Mickey found himself getting into pickles more often than not.

Elmo sitting guard over his younger brother, Mickey.

I’m getting ready for work in the morning. Elmo comes flying down the stairs. Nudges me, pokes me with his snout. Makes me look into his face. Something is wrong. “Show me”, I say, and Elmo flies back up the stairs, with me right behind him.  There, laying on our bedroom floor, is Mickey, choking on a piece of a nylabone. “THANK YOU” I tell him, hugging him close.

My dog is a DINOS.

I enrolled Elmo into therapy dog classes and we passed with flying colors! We were assigned to the dementia ward at a long term care facility. Now I have to admit that I was scared. I have no experience with those suffering from forms of dementia and my own lack of knowledge and my apprehension made me wonder if this was going to be a good fit.

Our very first visit. Residents were gathered in a sitting room.  Elmo showed off his tricks and politely went from person to person for pets and loving.  Parked off to the side and not part of the group was an elderly woman who was very obviously in the later stages of her disease. Tied with terry cloth restraints to her wheelchair; in her hands were soft “gripper” pads to help prevent further atrophy of her fingers. She stared off to the ceiling, her mouth hanging open. Elmo and I approached. “Hello”, I said softly. “I’m Judy, and this is my dog, Elmo”. No reaction, not so much as a blink.  I turned around and asked the other residents and aides present if anybody knew her name. I wanted to address her with her name.

“Don’t bother with her, she won’t respond to anything” was the answer I was given.  That hurt me.

I turned back to the woman in the wheelchair.  Elmo was laying on the floor at her feet, resting his head gently on the tops of her shoes.  I looked at the woman’s face and SHE WAS SMILING. I knew we were where we belonged. Every week we went in search of Rose.

My dog is a DINOS.

One of our most favorite activities is to walk the wooded trails at the local dog park when its not too muddy.  One afternoon, we met an older couple walking their PWD.  Three big black dogs all gleefully bounding side to side into the woods back and forth as we walked the trails and chatted. Three black blurs going by over and over.  All of a sudden the woman wasn’t next to me. We were chatting and then she wasn’t next to me.  She had fallen. Her husband and I go to her and she says she cannot get up.  In the meantime there are three black furry blurs still gleefully going back and forth.

And then Elmo stopped.  Panting, he came back to us, stood for a moment taking in the scene. And then, to all of our amazements, he got down on his tummy and crawled up to the woman laying on the ground. Crawled. He crawled up to her and laid in front of her spoon fashion. And didn’t move.

I called for a rescue squad.  When the EMTs arrived, Elmo was still laying there, letting her pet him for comfort while she waited. It was only after I called Elmo to my side that he got up. Once the EMTs were tending to the woman, he went back to the task at hand – gleefully running the trails.

My dog is a DINOS.

We have a boat.  Not a fancy boat, but is had a motor and it works just fine. My husband is proud of his boat, and takes good care of it.  So it’s not uncommon for him to be with his boat in the driveway, puttering at something.

And that’s where he was one summer evening, puttering in his boat in the driveway.  I was in the house, doing “housely” type chores.  All of a sudden Elmo starts to scream. Elmo’s “for real” bark is a scream. He doesn’t usually bark unless its necessary.  And Elmo is screaming.

Looking out the window into the driveway.  The boat is between and behind my husband’s big SUV. I see nothing. “Elmo, nothing’s there, honey”. And I walk away.  Elmo continues to scream.

I looked three or four times thinking there was a stray dog in the yard or driveway.  Nothing. Finally I’m getting frustrated.  “Elmo STOP”. Well, okay, I said shut up. I didn’t listen.

About 10 minutes later my husband comes lumbering into the house, looking like he’s been in a war. “Didn’t you hear Elmo trying to tell you???? Didn’t you hear him barking???”  He had tried to lower his heavy tool box out of the boat, lost his footing, and did a head first tumble onto the driveway. Because of the position of the car, I didn’t see him out there.

“Well, yes”, I said… “I heard him just fine, and I told him to shut up”.  I felt terrible. Listen, Judy. Listen to this dog!!!

So my dog is a DINOS. But he’s so very, very much more!

I love you Elmo.


Guest Post: A Love Letter to Brewster

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, I asked readers to write a love letter to their DINOS and picked a winning essay.  Throughout February, I’ll be sharing all of the entries.

Here’s what Noelle wrote:


A Love Letter to the PuppyButt

Dear Brewster,

Don’t be offended, but when I saw your picture on the PALS Animal Rescue website, I didn’t think you were the dog for me. I wanted a girl dog! A bigger dog! I certainly didn’t want a weird looking little black dog with a startling white mohawk in the middle of his head. Even though I knew you were not the dog for me, I read the description anyway. It said you were a little bit timid and needed a calm, quiet home. “Well,” I thought, “it doesn’t get any quieter than this house.”

Even so, when I went to that PALS meet-and-greet back in December 2009, it was to meet a sweet little girl dog I can’t even remember now. I don’t remember her breed or her name or even her face. I do remember that she was very cute and outgoing and everyone loved her, including me. But as I was leaving, in walked your Foster Momma with you under her arm. All I did was say “Hi,” and your Foster Momma practically shoved you into my arms. (I think she knew a sucker when she saw one.)

I have to tell you, PuppyButt, you did not make a great first impression. Now that I know you well, I know that when you’re in an unfamiliar situation you like to hold perfectly still and pretend you’re invisible, but at the time I thought you might be, well, not all there. You never moved a single muscle. I don’t think you even blinked. You were so still I asked in all seriousness whether you could take walks!

As I held you, a motionless, warm little lump, your Foster Momma told me what she knew about you: that she found you hiding on her front porch during an August thunderstorm; that it took days and days for you to let her touch you, but when you finally decided to trust her, you never looked back. She said the fur on the top half of your body was long and matted and that you had no fur at all on the lower half because you had chewed it all off! Darned fleas! She said you had bugs inside your tummy, too, and it took a good long while to get you healthy again.

I talked to your Foster Momma for a few minutes, and then I politely handed you back and went home to fill out an adoption application for that girl dog. But when I went to the website to download the application, there was your picture. I started thinking that mohawk of yours was pretty unique. I read your description again and thought about what your Foster Momma had said and about how you needed a quiet home with a calm person. I knew it might be hard to find a home for you, that you needed me in a way that the sweet, outgoing little girl dog who would attract lots of adopters didn’t. On the part of the application that asks for a list of “Dogs interested in,” I listed that girl dog’s name. But I listed your name first.

Two years later, you’re taking a snooze and I’m sitting here writing you a love letter while I listen to that whistle-grunt-snore thing you do. I love you because you’ve taught me or led me to learn a whole lot about dog behavior and training that I never would’ve bothered to find out if I’d adopted a dog who wasn’t a DINOS.

But mainly I love you because of the whistle-grunt-snore. And the Snuzzle Game. And how much you hate baths, but love, love, love to rub yourself in the towel to get dry afterward. And the way you learned to keep your treat ball out from under the furniture the very first time you used it, and how it takes you exactly three tries to learn any new skill like “Sit” or “Down” or “Touch.” I love you despite that weird crunchy crud you get in your eyes. I love you because you trot around the backyard like you are on your way to somewhere very important. And I love you because every time you see me, you wag your tail so hard you almost knock yourself over. Most of all, I love you because you are not the dog I expected.


Love Always,

The Lady Who Keeps Smelling Your Head Because She Likes It

You can read more about Brewster’s adventures on Noelle’s blog!


Guest Post: A Love Letter to Kiba and and Pyro

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, I asked readers to write a love letter to their DINOS and picked a winning essay.  Throughout February, I’ll be sharing all of the entries.

Here’s what Elise wrote:

Before I adopted ‘William,’ the large white, emaciated German Shepherd from the shelter, I made sure he met a certain set of standards. I made him walk past the cats, which he ignored. I made him walk past the dogs, which he didn’t care for. I even tugged his ears and tail and he tolerated it. I decided then that he was the one I would take home. I had just turned 18 and always lived with dogs but I wanted one that was all mine, one that I would never give up because we were moving or he had some kind of issue. My family has done this to a few other dogs and I wanted to stop the cycle.

So, I brought him home and changed his name to Shiroi Kiba which means ‘White Fang’ in Japanese. After a few months, his weight went from 60 pounds to a healthy 93 pounds, the scar on his face from a dog bite had healed and his energy level increased, in other words he was healthy. I took him to the dog park often and after a few visits we had an issue. A small terrier nipped him in the face and he grabbed the dog by the back and shook him like a toy. I ran and grabbed his collar and he released the dog; he didn’t harm the dog just wanted to send a clear warning.

I began taking him to training classes at the local PetSmart in order to socialize him. After working with him over the past 2 years, I have learned which dogs will trigger him and which dogs he will sniff and ignore.

I became a trainer at PetSmart and that’s when I met my next DINOS. In came Pyro, a large, white animal, he stopped and stared with his golden eyes right at me. I looked to the owner and asked, “Is that what I think it is?” He said, “Yes, he’s a wolf-hybrid.” I asked to pet him and fell in love. I asked the owner, Chris, for his number so that I could practice socializing Kiba with Pyro.

We met up and after the first meeting realized this would be harder than we thought. The second the boys made eye contact they would jump on each other and fight. So, we walked them at a distance and talked about dog behavior and wolves. After the fourth meeting or so the boys realized that fighting would not be tolerated and that they should learn to like each other. Luckily for us, the boys began to chase each other and play wrestle in no time at all.

Chris and I dated and we decided to move in together. We practiced doggie sleep overs to test it out and it went better than expected. They boys moved in together and now have formed a close bond. Pyro began to look up to Kiba, while Kiba learned the joy of squeaky toys from Pyro. I ended up with two DINOS in my house and I realized early on the hassle of walking two large DINOS, especially when I weigh the same as my dogs. I’ve been working on walking them and now I have people commenting on how amazing it is that I can control these two “horses.”


Life wouldn’t be the same without these two boys. Pyro loves to cuddle, whenever Chris leaves the bed, Pyro comes and makes sure I stay warm. Kiba loves to work, he enjoys keeping a look out on the yard and learning new tricks. When it comes to playtime, Pyro always throws his toys in the air and catches them, something which Kiba now does. While playing, Kiba throws his paws up and looks like a crazy, trotting horse. They each have their own quirks and attitudes which make them more endearing to me.


People always stop and ask me how I can handle living with two big ‘monsters,’ my reply is always the same, “A total headache! But the amount of love that they give back makes it totally worth it.” While Pyro and Kiba have issues of their own I wouldn’t give them up for the world. They will be a work in progress for the rest of their lives and I’m happy to be the one working and living with them.

Guest Post: A Love Letter to Goblin

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, I asked readers to write a love letter to their DINOS and picked a winning essay.  Throughout February, I’ll be sharing all of the entries.

Here’s what Melissa wrote:

A Letter to Goblin (AKA Bunnyface, Mishkin, Monster, Babyshkingu, aka my DINOS)

My dearest love,

I will always remember the first time I saw you. I had been searching for months, scouring websites and skulking through shelters and rescues. I met a few that peaked my interest, but I was still looking for The One. Then I found you. Your picture was striking –  strong jaw, piercing eyes, tall, erect ears. You stared straight into the camera, as if to say “Yes, that’s right, I’m The One.”

And oh, you were perfect. Medium sized, black, shiny, wiggly, everything I wanted. You were thrilled to be pet, to play, to kiss. You were even so nice to that little female dog in the run next to yours. “Oh good,” I thought. “You’re nice to other dogs!”  You met Mike and immediately stuck your tongue down his throat. The volunteer walking you thought we were your old owners! Oh, we were so excited for you. We made lists of names, picked out collars and leashes, bought you a bed. You cuddled, played, responded to commands, paid very close attention to us, and were generally amazing.

Flash forward to our first Valentine’s Day. We took you for a walk in the park. There were many other owners enjoying a brisk romantic stroll with their dogs. Remember, you broke away from us and attacked those two boxers?? Oh, the memories. Looking back, I know I pushed you too far, too fast. There were too many dogs, too close, and they just kept on coming. I am so sorry to put you in that position.

But we learned. We bought Gentle Leaders, attached an extra leash just in case. We stopped going to parks, because there were too many loose dogs. You told us what you needed. I walked you before the sun came up, snuck out again while most people were eating dinner. We took the same safe route, boring though it may be, because we knew where the dogs were.. except when they surprised us! Oh, remember when that off-leash greyhound bounded up to us? You made it very clear you did NOT want her skinny little snout up in YOUR face. That’ll teach her.. or at least maybe her owner will think twice about letting her off leash.

I think my personal favorite of all our off leash encounters (numbering 6 in 2 ½ years, I think my energy spent worrying about it makes it happen), was that tiny terrier who ran out of his house as we walked by. He clearly had something to say and wanted you to hear it. After a brief and noisy scuffle, he started to scream, which confused the hell out of you. You actually stopped making a scene, backed off, and cocked your head at him, like, “WHAT are you doing NOW, strange tiny creature?” Turns out neither of you were hurt in the slightest, despite the 30-pound size difference, which made me feel a little better that the love of my life wasn’t actually a violent monster, just a guy who needed a little space.

We’ve been through a lot together, my love. And things just keep getting better. You have friends now, introduced carefully and happily, who you can play with; we are working on your anxiety level and making it clear you are safe and do not need to protect yourself, or me, from the world.  Despite the vet bills, the worry, and the constant effort, I wouldn’t trade you in for anything. Sometimes I watch you sleep, listen to your piggy sounds, and I cry because you are so beautiful and I am so lucky to have you in my life. I will protect you always. Thank you for being my DINOS.

Love Always and Forever,

Your Mama

AKA Melissa Izzo

Guest Post: A Love Letter to Badger

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, I asked readers to write a love letter to their DINOS and picked a winning essay.  Throughout February, I’ll be sharing all of the entries.

Here’s what Monika wrote:


“There’s something wrong with you.” I would mutter to the 12 week old border collie puppy who lay contorted on his back in the middle of the living room. I had been contemplating this for the past two weeks, since I brought him home from the farm where he was born. I’d think to myself that I would need to take him back, he wasn’t right. As a professional dog trainer, admittedly early on in my career I knew that there was something wrong with my new dog.

“I think you’re… delayed.” I’d tell him.

Despite being an obedience instructor myself I decided to take my problem child, the disinterested and far too independent puppy, who rarely wanted to cast a glance in my direction, to a local obedience class, run by a friend, so we would both have some structure in our relationship. By then he was 8 months old and I was at the end of my rope with a dog that refused to be taught, wandered too far, bolted if he got outside without a leash on, and overall just made me feel like the most undesirable owner on the planet and worst dog trainer ever.

 We had completely failed to bond. I did not like him, and he did not like me.

The first day of that class, however, the dog who I thought could not possibly get worse than he already was, was attacked by a loose dog, four times his size, that injured him badly and made him from that point on a DINOS.

He recovered physically in about two weeks, but emotionally and mentally my dog was shot. Attempts to re-socialize with friendly dogs resulted in bad experience after bad experience. While my little man doesn’t have a mean bone in his body and probably doesn’t even know how to snarl, his immediate belly up and pee himself reaction attracted every bully in the vicinity. He’d be pounced on, bit, grabbed, and once he was so blind with terror when a young mix breed tried to play with him that he ran straight off a cliff and required three people to rescue him, bruised and bloodied, from the bottom.

All his confidence and independence was gone, the shift in his personality was devastating for us both, but it created another shift, one in my personality, for the better.

I had spent months being frustrated with him, angry with him, upset at his lack of willingness to please or work or listen or come or follow… the list goes on. In the months that followed I became patient, calm, gentle and forgiving. I backed off on all the things I was trying to push him into, obedience, flyball, agility, and signed him up as a therapy dog for a seniors’ home instead. 

But when I backed off, he stepped up. He started to run in flyball, he learned to stay without running to the nearest small dark hiding place (sure he was 21 months old by the time he did, but I’ll take it!) and he runs his agility courses with a huge grin on his face, even launching himself to a down on a table with other dogs, posing for a group shot.

We still have our days, he still has his fears. He needs my help with new dogs and I spend a lot of time explaining to people that he’s afraid, but he has learned to run to me when he is afraid instead of off cliffs. Fearful puppy barks are a part of his daily vocabulary despite his adulthood and I find myself questioning what he would have been like had this not happened, had I kept him home and kept him safe? On the other hand I also have to wonder where I would be as a dog trainer had he not happened to me, and this not happened to him. Would I be able to help as many DINOS as I have to date? How many dogs might I have turned away as “hopeless” had I not refused to give up hope with my own?

Of course we have our good and bad days, but he’s become affectionate and would now do anything to please me. Best yet, he has helped other DINOS learn to play. So, to this day, I still look at him and say “I think you’re delayed” but now it is with affection instead of despair, and I would never give him back.

Guest Post: A Love Letter to Parker

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, I asked readers to write a love letter to their DINOS and picked a winning essay.  Throughout February, I’ll be sharing all of the entries.

Here’s what Elly wrote:

Dear Parker,

I have been head over heels in love with you since you were exactly one week old.  On Christmas Eve of 2010, I passed a poster that a woman named Emily had tacked to a bulletin board in the local feed store.  I don’t know quite what I felt that day, but I know that fate had drawn me to that poster.  When I dialed Emily’s number, I was so overwhelmed with joy that my hands were shaking and tears were running down my cheeks.  My puppy, I thought, that’s my puppy.  What a spectacle I must have been!

I always wanted to adopt, you know.  But a mixed puppy from a litter of 7, that may or may not have been unplanned, just wasn’t in my blueprints.  I had just been getting into the swing of things as a groomer, and after a devastating break-up with my fiancé (you wouldn’t have liked him anyway!) I knew that you were everything I had ever needed.

I met you when you were three weeks old.  You had the tiniest little pit bull ears I had ever seen!  I told everybody that you were a hamster.  My beautiful brindle boy.  By three weeks, I had already squeaked all of the toys in Petsmart, sniffed dozens of treat bags, and engraved your first ID tag.  You were all I could think about.  When I held you in my arms on Emily’s apartment floor, you fell asleep nibbling on ears, noses, and fingers.

When she called me at 5 weeks and told me that other people were interested and her vet had cleared the puppies to leave, I was stunned.  I wasn’t ready!  I needed a vet, I hadn’t chosen my puppy food, there was no crate… and I hadn’t figured out how to tell my landlord!  Five weeks is far too early to send puppies away from their littermates, even if Hazlenut had rejected you and your brothers.  I was too afraid to ask her to keep you until 8 weeks.  I had the next 10-15 years of my life planned out around yours, and I wasn’t about to give you up.  I picked you up that day, and I greeted you with a blue blankie that still had its tags on.  To this day, you still sleep with your tongue out, snuggled up in blankets and it will always warm my heart.

You turned 1 not too many weeks ago.  You sure haven’t made it easy!  Even though I raised you by my side in the daycare I groomed for, I can see how desperately you try to please me despite being visibly uncomfortable out in public.  “Leave it” was the first command you ever learned.  Leave that stranger, leave that skateboard, leave that pair of poodles…

For months, you walked around with your hackles up everywhere we went just trying to be brave.  I am so proud of you, big boy.  Just last fall we made our usual rounds at the Farmer’s Market and you strutted past all of those children and dogs like you’ve been doing it forever.

I wish you knew that our neighbors’ hearts are in the right place, and that even if some humans don’t respect your space I would never let anything happen to you.  I wish you looked to me before getting upset, and saw the stony determination in my eyes.  Those dogs on that man’s leash don’t have any manners, Parker, but they won’t be getting past me.  Those twin girls want to pet your big, blocky pit bull head, silly, not perform acts of terrorism behind your back.  But they won’t be getting past me, either.

I am your mother, best friend, drill sergeant, and chauffeur.  But most importantly, I am your rock, sword, and shield.  I am tethered to the other end of your leash, keeping you grounded while you sort out your terror.  I am the warrior who keeps the enemies at bay, constantly scouting for space, and ever maintaining crowd control.  I am the mother who decides when you have had enough, and I take my most honored place between you and your fears.

You have taught me patience, communication, and unconditional love.  You have given me the passion to fight, not only for you but for every fearful dog without a voice.  I love you, Parker, and I always will.  May I always be the kind of person that you think I am.