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Posts from the ‘love letters’ Category

Guest Post: A Love Letter to Skye

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

Here’s what Abby wrote:


The Skye’s the Limit: A Love Story about my DINOS

August 2006 our journey began. I was 15 years old and we were driving to Ohio to pick up my very own puppy. He was my life long dream. I had been saving for a Border Collie of my very own. I had huge plans for us. We would compete in agility, he would be a therapy dog, he would know tons of tricks, he would wow everyone he met.

He was an awesome puppy. He never destroyed a thing and got along GREAT with our Golden. He loved our cat (who didn’t always love him back). He loved all the kids we babysat at the time. Tennis Balls are his all time favorite toy of choice.

Then he started puppy classes. That’s where things got tricky. He would go after the other puppies if they tried to play with him. He didn’t like everything going on. It was still very manageable though. He even pretty much grew out of it for a while. He went to work with me at the kennel, around other dogs and everything.

When he was around a year old we moved. That’s when my dreams got shattered. We started classes for agility. The first night I left in tears. While he did the agility part well. He bit my hands so many times that one night. from reacting to other dogs, I was ready to not go back.


We did though. We switched classes and were blessed with an AMAZING trainer who never ever gave up on us. We worked for almost a year. Slowly we saw him be able to handle being around other dogs. Not without MANY tears from me though. As a 16 year old at the time, people say I handled it with greater poise than most adults would.  However, I had my days when I felt like giving up. I had people constantly telling me to give up and let him go. Nothing would ever change, he will never compete, he will never be able to see another dog.

Skye is almost 6 now. He now has 6 agility titles and working on more. Last year he completed his CGC evaluation with FLYING colors. He is commonly mistaken for a service dog when taken out he is so well-behaved. We even added another dog to the house with few problems.  It was a long road, but we made it.

He amazes me everyday. He is the reason I get up in the morning and the reason I can sleep at night. He never lets anything get him down.

We still have our moments but we make it through. People say I am the reason we are able to be the team that we are now. But it’s not me, it’s him. I couldn’t have done it without his undying love for me or his willingness to keep trying. Whether we are on the agility field making people say “wow, what a team” or just walking on the street he is everything to me.

So if you are out there and think there is no hope for you to do anything,  just keep going.  Believe in what you CAN do. Not what people say you CAN’T.

 Abby and Ammardans Skyes the Limit NA OA AX NAJ NF OF CGC Skye


The Winning Essay: A Love Letter to Dutch

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, I asked readers to write a love letter to their DINOS.

Every single one of your essays moved me deeply.  I think you guys will love reading them as much as I did, so over the next two weeks I’ll share all of the essays right here on my blog.

But back to the contest…It was very difficult to choose a winner. You did a wonderful job at capturing the sweet, funny, frustrations of living with DINOS. I read each essay many times, until I realized that one story in particular kept grabbing at my heart.

I kept returning, over and over, to Dutch’s story, written by Rebecca Barocas.

Her essay, chronicling the challenges and the joys of her life with Dutch, captured how DINOS live at the very center of our lives. Their needs demand our attention, protection, and dedication. And so, when they’re gone, the hole they leave in our lives is enormous.  And our hearts are bigger for having let our DINOS live there.

Reading this particular essay reminded me that, while the days and the years go by quickly, our DINOS  remain forever in our hearts.

Here’s the winning entry by Rebecca Barocas.

A Love Letter to My DINOS ~ Dutch

February 5th will be a year since I lost my beloved DINOS Dutch. I think that by the end, she was more of a reformed DINOS, although those early days were very challenging.

I remember those early days – you were fresh from rescue and my gosh you were a handful. You seemed determined to fight all the dogs on the earth, in small groups if need be, with one paw tied behind your back. You were my Warrior Princess: isolated, separate, proud, bold, infuriating.

You dragged me belly down through the mud, flailing like an injured pterodactyl, after some distant dog that annoyed you by its very presence in the same zip code.  I remember all those obedience classes in the park, or as you liked to call them, a target-rich environment. I remember all the times I sat in the car and pounded on the steering wheel in frustration.

You were not a dumb dog. In fact, you were brilliant and sneaky and wicked smart and wicked and someone had taught you the wrong rules and made you “difficult”.

I hope you remember how proud I was of you the day you held a sit-stay as all those other dogs swirled around you. And the day you held a down-stay, when that other dog broke and ran, my heart leapt with joy.  I hope you remember how proud I was the day that you came in second in your first Obedience Match and then when you passed your Canine Good Citizen test.

At the end of that day, as you lay on the grass in the park and the approaching twilight bathed your coat in golden light, you scented the air and looked at me and smiled, and that was it. Despite the mud and the frustration and the tears, right at that moment, I was feeling the joy and the pride – I knew that I had been blessed.

Someone had trusted me with you.

Remember Bo? The neighbor’s dog that visited one night and you weren’t having any part of him in YOUR house? I remember how surprised you were when he didn’t want to fight you and walked away. You looked shocked and I giggled. You were being schooled by a master in the one thing I couldn’t teach you – dog body language.

I still have that video I shot of you and Bo, in that narrow gap between the couch and the coffee table, playing bite-y feet and you’re both smiling.

Then there was the hound pack that invited us for a walk at the leash-optional beach and I got so nervous because we were running late.  You started whining with nervous anticipation because you picked up on exactly how I was feeling –  What if you marked up the show dogs after they were so nice to invite us? And then I realized, in that moment, how much my emotions were rubbing off on you and how, if I wanted you to be a “good” dog, I had to already believe it.

You were a good dog.

I hope you carry with you all those runs on the beach with Francis and China and Floyd and a rotating cast of newcomers and visitors you met. I remember the first time you gave another dog an appropriate correction for putting his feet on your back, and on your own, you didn’t escalate. And the time that little blind dog went after you, because you got too close, and you turned and walked away on your own.

I wept joyful tears.

After your cancer diagnosis, your oncologist said that when the other dogs woke up from their radiation treatment an attendant would walk them up and down the hallway, before returning them to their owners. But even with all those other dogs lying in the hallway, the doctor told me that you got up on your own and walked up and down the hallway all by yourself, until you were ready to go.  You went to the door and waited. And any dog that snarked at you, you just walked away,  so the staff just let you be. They didn’t know about your past, so they didn’t know to be worried. They just knew you were a good dog and a fantastic patient.

I wish you had stayed longer. That we had more time.

The biggest lessons you taught me, my furry angel, were patience and trust. With equal helpings of both, you became a good dog. A really good dog.

My beautiful Dutch. I miss you every day more than words can express.

Rebecca is donating the winning prize, a $50 gift card, to German Shepherd Rescue of Los Angeles, where she adopted Dutch.


You can read all of the Love Letters here. 


Foster-Dog-In-Hiding: A DINOS Adoption Story

I’ve spent the last few days reading your touching Valentine’s Day Essay Contest entries and I have to say – you guys have not let me down in the crying and laughing department. Your love letters to your dogs got me thinking about a past foster dog of mine, also a DINOS.  After a few years of being out of touch, I just reconnected with his mom and I thought I’d share his story.

This is Buddie. He was my foster dog. I called him The Skipper back then.


When I found him roaming around South Philly he had this collar on. It was zip tied closed and there was a piece of a heavy chain, broken, dangling from the ring. The Skipper had busted loose and into my life.

My landlord didn’t allow dogs, but the Philadelphia shelter system is a tough place for a dog to survive, especially back then, so I just picked him up and drove him home. I filed a “found” report, but with no family stepping forward to claim him, Skip became our foster-dog-in-hiding.

My husband Brian (then boyfriend) and our three cats were not impressed (but not surprised either) by Skip’s arrival. Being a dog walker in Philadelphia meant that I was constantly running into stray dogs and stumbling onto little feral cat colonies. I often brought dogs home for a few hours until I could reunite them with their owners.  And our basement had a secret back room that I used as the Feral Kitten Underground Railroad.

So no one (not even my cats – who started off in that basement room), was shocked that Skip moved in. But they were a little taken aback  when he pooped in our tub that first day, couldn’t be crated, and kept asking to taste the kitties.

My little family sucked it up, so the Skipper could be safe.  Cleaned up and neutered, Skip was pretty awesome and we hoped he’d get scooped up quickly.  But no one came. The ‘Adopt Me’ fliers I posted all over Queen Village showed off his magic ear, but still no callers. Skip remained our foster-dog-in-hiding.  I was terrified that my landlord would discover Skip before I could find him a safe home.

Not long into our time together, I was walking Skip and we bumped into a woman and her dog on the corner. She thought his ear was indeed magic and wanted to know more about him. As we stood talking, I realized that Skip was letting out a long, low growl. And then a bark and lunge at the other dog. It wasn’t over the top, but it was rude and a surprise, so off we went.

I hadn’t made up the name for it then, but my foster-dog-in-hiding was a DINOS.

In those days I walked a few reactive dogs, I read Patricia McConnell’s Feisty Fido a lot, and strictly obeyed leash laws, but I didn’t really get leash reactivity the way I do now. Back then, it was a real surprise that Skip wasn’t cool with other dogs being close by and I quickly realized that finding a family was going to be even tougher than I had imagined.

In a city as densely populated as Philly, with only a few dog parks available for off leash exercise, everyone walks their dogs in close quarters. Leash reactive DINOS are challenging for all of us, but for those that live in cities without backyards or lots of open spaces, they can be really tough. I worried: Who would want to adopt a DINOS in packed city?

Kerry. That’s who. One day Kerry heard about Skip and saw his magic ear and sly, bedroom eyes and emailed me.

If you’ve ever been a foster family, then you know what it feels like when you meet a potential adopter that you think might be a great match. You really hope they’ll like your foster dog and not get freaked out by his behavioral issues. You desperately want them to see all the good things that you see in your foster dog.

But, because you want the match to be the right one, you also want to lay out the more challenging bits, so they understand what they’re committing to take on if they adopt him.  You want them to see the whole picture and be as smitten with the good, the bad, and the bathtub poop as you are.

So, the potential adopter arrives and you’re totally excited and you want to rave and gush and lay out all the problems all at once. Basically, you want to vomit information at them, while gesturing wildly with a scary smile on your face.  That’s what you feel like on the inside, but on the outside you just. try. to. stay. cool.

Like it’s no big thang. Yo, lady, it’s nice if you like him, but no worries if you don’t. No pressure or used car salesman techniques from this foster broad. Love ’em or leave him. Who me, worried? Nah, I’m just chilling with my foster-dog-in-hiding, not worried at all that he might eat my cats or that I’m going to get evicted.

Oh, you like him? And you want to adopt him even though I’m just some weird gal that you’ve never met before and I scooped up this stray dog off Washington Ave? And you heard me when I said he’s not that into other dogs? And you’re really responsible and loving and actually filled out my home-made adoption application with thoughtful answers?

Yes, you can have him. Now excuse me while I burst into tears. Please help me from drowning in my own snot.

Meeting Kerry went something like that.

So Skip went to live with Kerry and became Buddie. And they went running through the city together and worked on his leash reactivity and even let me come visit them sometimes. Buddie made friends with Kerry’s mom’s dog and they sent me photos. It was a good adoption. I can’t tell you how lucky I was and am that this worked out for Skip/Bud.  In a city with that many dogs, happy endings are hard-won, especially for DINOS.

It’s been about six years since then. I moved to Maine and eventually lost touch with Kerry, but never forgot them.  And I often wondered, after hundreds of adoptions since that one (through my work in a shelter): Does Kerry still have him? What are the chances that this was a lifetime adoption? After you do enough of them, you learn that even the best adoptions don’t always stick  and dogs you never thought you’d see again, show up back at the shelter for another turn on the kennel floor. I hoped that Buddie was ok.

And then, out of the blue the other day, I got an email from Kerry.  And it turned out that all my fears, that this DINOS adoption wouldn’t last, were for nothing.  Here’s what she wrote:

“He is such a huge blessing, Jessica.  He is still a bit anxious when I leave and in the car, but much better than the beginning. He has gotten to the point where he can tolerate other dogs nearby…he still goes crazy over cats and squirrels, can leap over 6-foot fences and has that lovable one-ear trick! He’s the same dog you rescued – so loyal, playful, caring and sweet. I just adore him and can’t imagine my life without him. I really do think about you often and feel grateful for you and the fact you brought this extraordinary friend into my life. “

This is a foster mom’s dream for her foster-dog-in-hiding.

Thank you Kerry. Thank you for loving Buddie as much as I had dreamed someone might, if only we were lucky enough to find them. Thank you for helping Buddie to beat the odds and make it into a family that loves him for who he is. Thank you for rushing him to the ER to have life-saving surgery last year. Thank you for giving him the family he was hoping to find on that day he busted his chain and went in search of something better.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

And for anyone out there that is fostering or caring for a DINOS in a shelter, I want you to know: There are good people out there that will love these dogs, despite their quirks. For all the sad stuff, the returns over tiny issues, the adoptions that don’t work out, there are dedicated, loving families that will do the work. There are DINOS-friendly families out there.  To everyone caring for a Foster-Adoptable-DINOS, keep your head up! There just might be a Kerry right around the corner.

I love you Buddie-out-in-the-open. 


Big Red Ball: A Love Story

Throughout the years, there has only been one toy Boogie hasn’t eventually destroyed. Today we’re sad to report that this toy, the Almost Indestructible Ball, is no longer available at most stores.  We’re tipping our forties in its honor.

Luckily,  he doesn’t need a new one just yet, since they last Boogie a few years, but one day it’ll be so beat up that he’ll need a replacement. Sigh. Then we’ll have to go in search of a new lover ball.

There’s the front runner: the Jolly Ball (just make sure you get the one without the handle: Boogie ate that right off). And a couple of others to try, like the Boomer Ball (good enough for hippos at the zoo!) and a new Indestructible Ball. But it won’t be the same to Boogie.

He’s feeling kind of blue about this, so he wrote a poem.


Ode to My Big Red Ball

By Boogie “The Nudge” Dolce


Today it snowed.

Mom will release you

from your Home Depot Bucket.

The one with the lid

I cannot get off.


They hide you from me because

I forget to poop when you are near me.

No matter how long I am outside

I don’t go.

I would never leave your side

To make a stinky number two.


There you are

Big Red Ball!



My chest bumps you along the ground.


I slam you into the deck.


I crack you against the trees.



My paws try to pull you closer,

then they spaz

out of control,

Pushing you away.

I didn’t mean it –

Come back!


Mom calls me inside,

I cannot hear her

over my love for thee.

You make me squeal

like a crazy chicken-piglet.



I want to lie down and

chew you into pieces so bad.

But you taught me the meaning of

Tough love.

My Almost Indestructible Ball.