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No More (Doorbell) Drama

If your dog goes bonkers every time the doorbell rings, may I suggest this?

Over the weekend I picked up a wireless, plug-in doorbell for $15 at Home Depot. I bought it because our new house has a funky entrance that forces visitors to enter our small, enclosed porch in order to get to our front door. Rather than having strangers half way into the house before they could ring a bell (and startle the pants off of me), we got a wireless doorbell and installed it on the outside of the house. This allows people to stand on our front steps and ring the bell – without entering the porch/house – and gives me a second to tell Boogie to go to his room and chill out while I deal with botherers vistors.

Turns out, this little gadget has a bonus function: my dogs don’t recognize the chime as the doorbell! So when someone rings the new bell, Frick and Frack don’t bark. My mom also has one of these bells and she reports that her dog doesn’t bark at the wireless door chime either – so it’s not a fluke. Two out of two families recommend it.

Granted, desensitizing dogs to the sound of the regular doorbell and teaching them to stay calm is the way to go about this issue. And you can use these battery operated, portable doorbells to do that sort of training. But hey – it’s not such a bad thing that the new bell doesn’t register, in their ears, as a doorbell.  Of course, that will change with time as the dogs make the connection that the ‘new sound’ = people at the door. In the meantime,we’re working with a clean slate.

So, if your dog turns into a hot mess at the sound of the doorbell, this cheap solution just might be what you need to help them make some progress. The kit I bought only had 2 different tones to choose from, but other more expensive kits, give you the option of 8+ chimes to pick from. So in theory, you could keep changing the sound and your dogs will be totally mystified for years.

And for anyone that has a weird front door set up, like me, this is a great, cheap solution because YOU get to decide where visitors stand when they ring the bell. Buy yourself some extra time and put your doorbell somewhere really convenient – like next to a pay phone at the end of your driveway, so visitors can call first and tell you they’re about to ring the door bell. That should give you enough time to tell your dog to “go to his mat”, right?

And if you get one now, it’ll be just in time for all those cute intruders Trick or Treaters!

So go for it – put an end to all that doorbell drama! Mary J. Blige understands, don’t you Mary?

Book Review: Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know

Generally speaking dog humor books never make me laugh. There’s usually a lot of jokes about dogs eating trash and looking guilty and contrary to what the titles may imply, they actually slay my soul. I try to avoid them.

So, when I got asked to review a copy of the book Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know, I wanted to say no, but wound up saying yes for two reasons: there is a quote from Steve Martin on the front and I read an excerpt entitled, “I Can Poop The Second I Start My Walk.”

Steve Martin is one the funniest people of all time. Even if he never actually read this book, just the idea that he may have looked at the cover or tripped over the book, is enough for me. And once I read that “I Can Poop” line, I knew the writers must know something about dogs.



Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know is a collection of stories from eleven fictional dogs who reveal what’s really going on in the minds of dogs. Among others, there’s Orson the Bulldog who has an eating disorder, Tinkerbell the passive aggressive Chihuahua, and my two favorites: Sarge the working GSD who gets fired a lot and Rufus T. the Bloodhound that dreams of making it on Broadway.  It’s a fun crew.

What I enjoyed about this book is that it was really obvious that the writers not only love dogs, but understand dogs and what they’re up against having to live with humans. Without going straight for the teachable moment, the authors wove all kinds of helpful tips, advice, and dog logic into their stories.

The dogs, in telling some really funny stories, subtly teach readers that dogs see the world differently than we do and that they’re  totally justified when they do something “bad”, because it makes total sense. You just have to look at it from the dog’s perspective.

If a couch is made of leather, why would a dog think it’s any different from a rawhide chew toy? Axelrod the Lab tries to explain why so many dogs make this mistake in “Why I Ate the Sofa” and other stories about misunderstandings.



If you have a new dog owner in your life – one that’s trying to figure out how to speak dog – this would be a good gift to give them (along with some Nature’s Miracle). They’ll get the answers to all our burning questions: why do dogs eat grass? jump on us? dig holes? steal our weed?

The book also serves as a reminder to humans that we should never judge a dog by his looks, as in the case of Rufus T. the Bloodhound, a dog with a secret fantasy of making it on Broadway. His people assume he wants nothing more than to go hunting, but  Rufus reveals that when he’s dreaming, those jerky movements and whimpers aren’t from squirrel chasing, he’s dreaming of dancing in the musical Annie. My kind of Bloodhound.

And there are a few story lines that are genuinely touching for any dog lover, like Sophie the Cocker Spaniel, who is at the end of her life and wondering, in stories like “I’m Getting Too Far Ahead” how it came to be that she’s aging faster than the humans in her life. Sophie’s entry is the final chapter and there was a profound little nugget that ended the book.



So here’s what Steve Martin left out when he wrote his blurb “I laughed, my dog howled” for the book cover: the authors behind the stories love dogs and want them to succeed in our crazy world.

Cheers to humor being one of the best teachers.

And yes, if you’re wondering, there is a DINOS in the book. Moonbeam the Mutt writes, “You’re Not in My Pack” and ‘Why I Hate Dogs”, for all the dogs out there that need a little space.

To get your copy or to read some stories, check out the Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know website and Facebook page!


The Map in My Heart

Just the other day I learned that one of the dogs I used to walk, back when I was dog walking in Philadelphia, had passed away over the summer. This is the fourth time this year I’ve gotten this kind of sad long distance news.

It’s been almost five years since I was living in Philadelphia, walking dogs full-time. So it should really come as no surprise to me that many of the dogs I used to walk, who were middle-aged five years ago when I moved to Maine, are now seniors. And now, every few months I get the news that another one of them has left us. I am always a little surprised and always deeply sad.

Many of them are now ten or twelve, and more and more these days, they are gone. But for me, all of the dogs are frozen in time – just as I left them five years ago. They are strong, vibrant, and healthy. They are alive in my memories and they are forever young in my heart.

Not only do these dogs – who I spent day after day with, for many years – occupy a special place in my heart, but I have a lasting connection to Philadelphia through them. I think it might surprise my former clients to know how deeply I identify certain streets, neighborhoods, public art – a total sense of place – with their dogs.

sadly, this mural is long gone too.

Side by side these dogs and I explored every nook and cranny of a certain part of Philadelphia. Together, we took in the murals, the mosaics, the tiny trinity row homes with magical gardens, met the neighbors and the mailmen, and monitored the subtle, daily changes of the city as the seasons shifted.

Even if the dogs moved away – to other neighborhoods, suburbs, states – or passed away, they are permanently linked in my heart and mind with the place where we met up for our adventures, day after day.

I cannot visit certain areas of Philadelphia without seeing the dogs. They’re all there: block by block, imprinted memories on the sidewalks where we walked together.

I don’t think there will ever be a time in my life when I can drive or walk down certain streets in Bella Vista or parks in Queen Village and Pennsport and not immediately think of my old friends. Years after they’re gone, the dogs are still so alive for me, so fully present in the streets of Philadelphia.

This is something different from what I feel with my own dogs. With Boogie and Birdie, I have many memories of lots of different things: waking up with them, going on vacation, the day we brought them home, the daily ins and outs of their care. But with the dogs I walk, it’s super concentrated and very specific. When you spend so many hours, somany weeks and years caring for the same dogs, walking the same routes each day at the same time, it becomes impossible to separate the place from the dogs.

There is no Palumbo Park without Kali. No Christian Street without Roxy. No smell of cookies wafting from Isgros without Pearl. No Earp Street without Chula. No FDR Park without Snick and Snora. No Front Street without Ricky. No Cianfrani Park without Sadie. No snow falling in Mario Lanza Park without Doak. No Tasker Street without Max. No Three Bears Park without Toby. No Old Swedes Church without Lola. No Queen Street without Sophie. And on and on and on and on.

So many excellent friends to explore the city with each day. So many patient teachers and tour guides showing me how to see this place that I had lived in for years in a whole new light. I fell in love with Philadelphia through the dogs that I walked. They taught me how to find treasure, beauty, and magic in everyday places.

And so the dogs and the places are connected, for me, forever. A moment in time that never fully passes. Where every dog, no matter where they are now, never ages.

Every block, a memory, a story of your dogs. They are forever young, teaching me to see the city through their eyes and noses.

They are the map in my heart.

Happy Boogie Day!

Today is Boogie’s Gotcha Day aka the day we adopted him. Well, sort of.

Today is actually the day when I went in to work on my day off,  back when I worked at the shelter, and said, “It’s my birthday, so my husband told me I could bring home any dog I wanted. And I pick Stoli.”  And then I loaded this worried little pit bull into my car and took him home to “foster” for a while. That was four years ago.

Here he is on his first day at home with what I would soon discover is the thing that makes him feel most safe in the world: a ball.

Ball = I’m OK

Back then, Boogie was really afraid of everything: cell phones, cameras, coffee cups, people dancing, the cats, strangers, other dogs…you get the drill. Despite all that, he was (still is) the sweetest, most handsome little man in the world.

And even though he turned out to be a DINOS , Boogie is such an easy dog in all the ways that matter most to us. He didn’t need to be potty trained. He’s gentle with our older dog Birdie. He’s not destructive and doesn’t mind being left home alone. He sweet on our three cats. He’s a couch potato, so he doesn’t need a lot of exercise (even as a youngster). And he’s happy to hang out on his bed, chewing a bone and entertaining himself all evening. All he asks is that we play ball with him for a little while every day.

I know a good deal when I see one, so we stopped “fostering” him and adopted Boogie that fall. Our little gang has been complete ever since.

Boogie is a really happy dog at home. The world he lives in is on the small side, but he’s got Birdie, three cats, and the two of us to love on him every day. Plus two pet sitters that think he’s the bees knees, a gang of friends from all over the East Coast and a Grandma who looks forward to coming to stay with him. Plus lots of naps:

Here’s the thing. One of the reasons we’re all so happy is because Boogie’s world is purposely small.

To be honest, I don’t do a lot of training with Boogie anymore, though there is stuff we’re working on. I’m kind of a slacker and I don’t really enjoy training dogs (I’ll do it, I’d just rather be doing something else). For example, we’re not constantly working on his leash reactivity, like we used to when we lived in a city together. The first couple of years, we got all of our exercise by walking on leash, so leash skills were a priority. But this summer we bought Boogie a two acre yard, so he can chase balls until the sun sets.

We live in the middle of nowhere now. Walks are for pleasure and we can choose when and where we want to go. They’re no longer a part of our daily exercise (that’s where a flirt pole comes in). So I’ve slacked on his leash skills. Yep, that means I’m a dog walker that doesn’t walk my dog every day.

I have no doubt that if I put in more effort, he would be less leash reactive, but on a day-to-day basis, everything is working for our family. I think that’s important for all us: find out what works for you and your dog, so that everyone is enjoying life and each other’s company. Then don’t feel bad about it if it’s not exactly the same as what the next person is doing. Is your dog safe and happy? Is everyone around your dog safe and happy? Then you’re doing something right. Plus, happy people tend to keep their dogs.

Do what you need to do to set your dog up to succeed at his own pace and try not to make yourself miserable either. That might look different depending on your individual dog or the environment you live in. For Boogie, that means he hangs out at home some days, while we take Birdie on more public adventures.  For other dogs, it might mean lots of training classes and regular walks with a social club. Figure out what works for you and your dog.

I don’t have anything to brag about – no titles or certifications. Except that we’re all really happy together and Boogie isn’t stressed out. It’s a simple life for our little man and it works for all of us. And that feels like a success to me.

But just in case you think we lock Boogie in a closet all day: even though we keep things simple at home, it doesn’t mean we don’t have fun together or try new things! We just got back from our summer vacation in the woods.

Last summer we taught Boogie how to swim. He was very scared of the water, but he went in because we were there to cheer him on and…his ball was in the water.  No ball will ever be left behind on Boogie’s watch!

This year, he got really brave and learned to jump off a dock. He was so scared and made such crazy crying noises as he watched his ball float away (it sounded like he had a rubber chicken stuck in his throat), that I thought the entire town was going to call animal control to help him.

Finally, he put his front paws on the top rung of the dock’s ladder and plopped into the lake like a little hippo bull. Next thing we knew, he was running and JUMPING off the dock, faster than we could even throw the ball.

Not every day is a dock diving day for us, but we make small steps, at our own pace, each week in the right direction. These days coffee cups, cameras, and overnight guests don’t scare Boogie. He’s almost five years old now and he’s a good boy. He makes me so happy.

Happy Gotcha Day Boogie. You’ll always be my very best birthday present.

Step by Step, Oh Baby*

Hey! Did you guys know that you can buy an affordable 30 day online pass to read Dr. Sophia Yin’s Low Stress Handling, Restraint, and Behavior Modification of Dogs and Cats?

I didn’t! I’ve been pining over that book and dvd set for months – but at $150 it was a little steep for this needs-a-new-washer-dryer gal to spend. So there I was, sad that I couldn’t read her book, which I was sure would help me to help Boogie feel more at ease at the vet. And little did I know there was an affordable online version. Did anyone else miss this option? Go check it out!

dr. yin

This book is heaven for me because my little man Boogie is a scaredy-dog. Most new stuff, situations, and people freak him out. With a little time and a game of fetch, he’s good to go, but he needs a soft touch, especially at the vet. We’ve been lucky in the past and had a wonderful vet that understood how to approach and examine Boogie. But then she left for maternity leave and we lost her. After that, we had a really unpleasant experience in our search for a new vet for Boogie – despite good recommendations, multiple advance emails and discussions with the new clinic about Boogie’s needs – it was a disaster.

The vet visit last year went something like this: The vet throws Boogie treats for a few minutes while standing near him, stares at him, then, just as he’s starting to relax (sort of), she puts him on a metal rectangle on the ground and flips a switch so the table rises out of the floor. Boogie and I were both shocked. I had thought it was clear that she would examine him on the floor. Instead, she took a scared dog and put him on a moving metal monster. Then, standing behind him, she tried to examine his abdomen. No surprise here: Boogie growled at her, a lot.

I was doing my best to redirect his attention, asking him to look at me and giving him amazing treats, but every time he growled the vet sternly told him “NO” and scared him more. I was so stunned that I was having trouble advocating for Boogie (I still feel bad about that). But I kept trying to work with him, so she could finish the exam and then we could get the hell out of there.

Then this doctor stopped the exam to chastise me – she told me I had to stop rewarding him for growling and start telling him “NO” too. And that’s when I lost it. I told her I would never correct my dog for telling someone he was uncomfortable – that correcting away a growl was dangerous because we’d be taking away his attempt to communicate his fear and that leads to dogs biting without warning. If he’s scared, then the approach needs to change. She told me I was rewarding his bad behavior by treating him. I told her she was going to take him off the table that very second and examine him on the floor. She did. Then we left. I was pissed.

So now it’s time for his annual exam again and we’ve decided to try a vet that does home visits. This is good fit us for a lot of reasons:

1. we have five pets, so we have to go to the vet a lot. It would be nice if someone came to us instead of us schlepping our rag-tag zoo across the state.

2. one of our cats gets disgustingly car sick and poops his pants, then rolls in it in his crate while I drive. So every time I get to the vet, I run in yelling, “I need a room for Gus! He’s covered in poop!” and then I spend 30 minutes trying to clean up my 18 pound cat’s poopy pants.

3. Vet waiting rooms are stressful!

4. Boogie will feel more comfortable at home, where he can meet the vet outside and play ball with him before the exam. To top it off, the vet tech coming over is an old friend of mine who worked with me at the shelter and knew Boogie when he was there on the adoption floor.

In preparation of our upcoming visit, I’ve been doing a few things: getting Boogie more comfortable wearing a muzzle, doing lots of ear, teeth, and paw touching to mimic the exam, and trying to find some detailed help for preparing fearful dogs for exams. I found Dr. Yin’s book, but I couldn’t afford it. Behold my amazement when my speed reading eyeballs slowed down long enough for me to see the tab that said ‘online version’ and realized:

I could buy 30 days of online access to the book, videos, and handouts for just $25.

I couldn’t pay fast enough and spent all night reading the book and watching the videos. If you have a dog (or cat) that is fearful or aggressive at the vet or in any scenario, go do the same. While there is a ton of general advice out there on the interwebs for helping your dog get comfortable at the vet, it’s just that – general advice that’s pretty universal: stop by often, go slowly, lots of treats, etc.

But this book gave me exactly what I need: specific instructions on how I can restrain my dog for various procedures and how to train him, prior to the visit, so that he’s more comfortable getting injections, blood draws, ears cleaned.


Since I’ve worked in shelters, I do know how to restrain and vaccinate dogs. But no one really taught me how to do this – I just learned on the fly. So I wanted detailed instruction on the various holds, all with the goal of making the experience as low stress as possible, while still keeping everyone safe – and this book delivered. The chapter on “difficult dogs” was especially juicy and delicious.

I’ve been talking with my pal the vet tech, so I know that she plans on doing Boogie’s blood draw from his back leg. Wouldn’t you know it? Dr. Yin outlines how to do this exact procedure, specifically on a fearful dog. It involves a wall, my leg, a head harness, and a lot of calm stroking and head rubbing. My husband and I will practice these moves with Boogie prior to the exam. It feels really good to have such clear, easy to understand instructions – with lots of photos – to guide us.

If your dog is stressed at the vet, the groomers, at home during nail trims, or just fearful of things like novel objects or car rides, you’ll want to read this book and watch the videos. It’s just super user-friendly. And I’m pretty sure that even those of you that have a lot of experience with dogs will still pick up a new trick or two for handling dogs and cats – like different ways to roll them on their sides or how to use a gentle leader to control a dog’s head while you examine them by yourself.

I wish more people who work with dogs professionally were required to read and implement these techniques. I don’t know about you guys, but I often encounter vet techs that have great handling skills, but they work with vets that are as graceful and comforting as Dr. Frankenstein:

These vets have all the book smarts, but no bedside manner. That would be fine, just book smarts, if they never had to touch the dogs and the vet techs could do all the handling, but vets have to touch the dogs. So why aren’t more of them taking a few hours here and there to read this book and get educated? Why isn’t it a priority for vets to learn how to properly handle dogs and cats in order to make the experience a positive and safe one for everyone involved? I’m kind of peeved it’s not on everyone’s must read list.

If you work in a shelter and you need to do vet rounds, please ask your boss to buy you this book.


If they won’t, sign up for the 30 day online version. Not only will it help you do the medical tasks you have to do as part of your daily work, but it has great tips for stuff like: entering/existing kennels, how to safely approach and leash fearful dogs at the back of kennels, and how to avoid using a rabies pole. I wish I had this resource a few years ago when I was at the shelter.

And can I just say that I’m even more annoyed at the vet from last year after reading this book? It addresses the exact scenario I encountered: someone who thinks it’s wrong to reward a dog when they are afraid. This video shows how using treats can change the emotional response of the dog, even while they’re growling.

When I emailed the old clinic to ask for Boogie’s records, they wanted to know why I was leaving and if I was unsatisfied with my experience. I was too shaken up last year to say much – I truly felt like I had let Boogie down by allowing him to be handled so badly – but now was my chance to calmly explain why I was unhappy. This is what I wrote:

The vet techs at XYZ were really terrific, but I’m looking for a vet with better behavioral and handling skills.

I prefer a vet that is willing to alter their approach in order to help my dog feel more comfortable – for instance, sitting on the floor with him, rather than putting a terrified dog on a moving table and standing behind him, correcting him loudly with a “no” every time he growled.

Correcting a scared dog with a firm “no” every time he growls, as this vet did and asked me to do, only suppresses the growl, it doesn’t change how the dog is feeling – that they are uncomfortable with how they are being approached. Teaching a dog not to growl is extremely dangerous and leads to biting without warning.

Although I tried to explain that I was treating my dog after asking him to “look” at me, the vet misunderstood that I was rewarding him for growling. I was not. I was rewarding him for redirecting his attention to me (and trying to make the experience positive). I was deeply unhappy that she didn’t understand this and that she insisted I tell him “no” for growling. We have never had such a stressful exam.

I’d suggest she look into Dr. Sophia Yin’s Low Stress Handling Techniques:

Hopefully, this vet will check out Dr. Yin’s resources. More professionals need to make this sort of continuing education a  priority. In the meantime, I’m studying the exercises we need to practice in order to make our home visits at the end of the month a more pleasant experience for Boogie. I’m sure it’ll still be a humdinger of a visit, but we’re going to try our best to make it less stressful for our wee man. Wish us luck and stay tuned for an update in September!

* You bet your sweet tuckus that’s a New Kids on the Block reference. Oh baby, gonna get to you girl.

Goodbye Lucky ‘Biner

We’ve been together for 14 long years, attached at the hip since college. A dozen times a day, I reach down to give you a little pat and make sure you’re still there, always by my side. I never leave the house without you and when I lose sight of you, I panic.

You are my trusty carabiner. Holder of my keys, safety back up for all my dog outings, my loyal companion. I’ll never forget the day I bought you (with my employee discount) from the Ramsey Outdoor Store. I had no idea then, but you were to become one of my luckiest, most favorite tools for working with dogs.

Today, after many weeks of trying to ignore the signs that you were starting to slow down – getting stuck open, not snapping closed fast enough, totally silver with no traces of your old cobalt blue coating – you finally told me it was time to let you go.

For the first time in 14 years, you got stuck slightly open and I lost a set of my client’s house keys. It would have been irresponsible of me to continue making you work.

So, with a heavy heart, I bought a new carabiner and retired you to my desk drawer. This new guy isn’t the same. My keys don’t slide around him smoothly and, every time I have to shake the keys into place, so that I can clip the newbie onto my belt loop, I think of you old pal. No one did it better than you.

Thank you for an awesome 14 years lucky ‘biner. You were a dog walker’s dream.

My Lucky ‘Biner 1998-2012

How I Failed as a Rescuer: Lessons from a Sanctuary

This has been a heavy, heart breaking week in the world of animal welfare. A few days ago a formerly reputable sanctuary in Texas called Spindletop Refuge was raided by authorities. Close to 300 dogs, mostly pit bulls, were discovered living in terrible conditions. It was just one of many failures this week.

The reason why this particular case is so upsetting is that this was supposed to a “good” sanctuary. Rescue groups and families from around the country have been sending their dogs to live there, paying hefty boarding fees, in the hopes that the dogs would have a chance at another life out in Texas. Some dogs were adopted out, others lived at the sanctuary for life.

Apparently on the surface, this place seemed a like a good one. People have come forward to say that they visited Spindletop as recently as the first week of July and were satisfied that it was a safe, clean facility. Turns out they weren’t seeing the whole facility – only a small part of it.

The woman who ran the organization has a long and positive history in animal welfare and at one point, I believe this really was a good place for dogs, mostly pit bulls, that no one else would care for. But something went terribly wrong and the dogs kept coming and now rescues and families are scrambling in panic to get the dogs back.

They must feel beyond guilty for sending the animals that they love into this situation. I know I did.

Years ago in Philly I helped care for a small feral cat colony that had sprung up in a construction site across from the house of one of my dog walking clients. Not having much experience with ferals, I reached out for help and found a woman who would help me trap the cats. The construction site was rapidly tuning over into new luxury homes. The cats couldn’t stay there, so we had no choice but to remove them. The short story is that we trapped the kittens and I adopted them out. But the adult females were a different story. They were truly feral and suffering in the home of the trapper, an experienced feral handler. We came to the agreement that cats were miserable in her house, despite her best efforts, and we had to do something. We couldn’t return them to their former “home” – it was now the foundation of a townhouse. We couldn’t take them to the city shelter. They would be caged, stressed, then killed for being feral. So we looked into a sanctuary and found one in western PA.

The kittens from the feral colony all got adopted, but their moms weren’t so lucky.

We were as diligent as we thought was necessary about checking out a place that was a day’s drive away. I had multiple phone calls with the owner. We spoke to other people who had transported cats out there and seen it in person and they swore it was a safe, clean, enriching place for cats to live out their lives, if they were not adopted out. Desperate not to put these two cats to sleep (one of them now named “Dolce” after me), we arranged for a volunteer to drive them out to the sanctuary.

Those of you in animal welfare might be wondering: Yes, it turned out to be the infamous Tiger Ranch. A few years after we brought our two feral cats there, authorities raided this sanctuary and found dead cats and neglected animals everywhere.

I was sick that I had contributed to this and that’s when I knew: you’re only rescuing an animal if you see it through all the way to the end, whatever that end may be.  I had passed the buck onto someone else. And failed to take full responsibility for the lives I had “saved.”

Even though I was afraid it might be dangerous to send them to a sanctuary (and I knew I wasn’t doing my due diligence inspecting the property personally), I was more afraid to make the other choice – euthanasia.

Here’s what I know now, having worked at a shelter and in rescue: All animals deserve love at the end of their lives. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is to provide a peaceful death. And a peaceful death comes from a human taking full responsibility for the life of that animal. I wish I had done that for those two cats.

Shipping animals off to live in sanctuaries, many of which are not being run particularly well (there are exceptions), is not necessarily saving them. It’s often the beginning of a life sentence. Time and time again, we hear about sanctuaries that started off ok, but due to a variety of circumstances the sanctuary falls apart and the animals suffer. It’s often the case that something like: terminal illness, natural disaster, financial ruin, mental illness etc. pushes the sanctuary over the edge and the animals pay the price.

Before you raise your pitchforks at the owner’s of these sanctuaries to call them monsters, I ask you to look at the whole picture. Where are these animals coming from?

From people like me: everyday people who “rescue” animals and desperately reach out for help once they realize they’re in over their heads. From no-kill rescue groups and shelters that don’t want to euthanize pets they’ve taken into their care, but have run out space or do not have resources for long-term housing. From families that for whatever reason cannot care for their pets.

We all keep pushing down the chain. Individuals reach out to shelters, shelters plead with rescues to pull dogs, rescues can’t place all the dogs, so they board hard-to-place dogs in sanctuaries.  

We’re all begging for someone else to give us the happy ending we so desperately want for the animals we love. If people deny us, we lash out that no one will help. If a shelter isn’t no-kill, we refuse to donate to them. We keep pushing and pushing until someone will take this painful, difficult situation off of our doorstep.

 We all push until we find sanctuaries who say yes.

Can you blame them for saying yes? How long could you say no for, when the world is banging down your door to help just “one more” innocent animal? The pressure on these people to say “yes” is enormous. No doubt about it – they should be responsible and limit their intakes and their behavior, in the case of Tiger Ranch and other similar scenarios, is criminal. But in reality their failure to be responsible comes at the end of a long line of people who failed to make responsible choices. We can’t turn the spotlight on their mismanagement and recklessness, without turning it back on ourselves.

We are so invested in the misunderstood idea of “no kill” that we will do anything to postpone the death of the animals we care for. And so the dogs and cats get shipped out across the country or driven across the state, packed with their paperwork and all of our hopes that there really is a happy ending out there for every single animal. And then they wait. In kennels and cages for months, then years. 23 to 24  hours a day in their kennels. No family to call their own. Warehoused and tucked away from the world.

Alive. But not living. 

We’ve passed the work onto someone else. And then, when those people crumbled under the weight of the pile we have swept upon them, we turn our fingers on them and say they’re the monsters.

I’ve come to think that we’re all just different parts of one dangerously ill body.

One part of this sick body is the public and our expectations of what no-kill sanctuaries can do for our pets. If you own a pet that you feel you cannot keep, please know this: you are your pet’s best resource. Very few people will care more than you about the outcome of your pet’s life than you. Invest your time and energy into properly managing, training, or seeking vet care for your pets. If that does not work, think very hard about whether or not your pet will be able to withstand the intense stressors of life in a lonely kennel, particularly if you are looking at a sanctuary. There are no easy answers or quick fixes out there.

I believe that the most loving thing we can do for animals is to stand with them until the very end. Sometimes the end is providing excellent life-time management, sometimes it’s rehoming them, sometimes it’s finding a good shelter or rescue that has a committed staff or volunteers, but sometimes the end is death. Putting them to sleep, in your arms, can be the greatest act of love you give to your pet. You are giving them an end with dignity. We need to consider this as part of our responsibility to our pets.

Before I go on, I’d like to make this clear: I believe in shelters and rescues and I support the “no kill”  approach as long as it’s done with the quality of an animal’s life in mind. I believe many, many places are doing good, responsible work and that the public should be encouraged to bring their pets to these places, if they cannot care for them any longer, so that the pets have a chance at a new life. I’m not trying to scare anyone away from surrendering a pet to a shelter or rescue. I am not saying that all animals are better off dead than at a shelter. What I’m talking about in this blog is our responsibility to animals, how we all contribute to this mess, and the misunderstood idea that saving an animal means just keeping them alive.

If you are a rescuer: saving an animal doesn’t end at pulling them off the euthanasia list or picking them off the street. If you cannot commit to the process of housing, managing, adopting out, and providing owner support to the pet that  you are “rescuing”, then you need to examine what it means to “save” an animal. The glory of pulling a dog from the “to be killed” list isn’t the end zone. The real success comes when the pet is in a home that you or your group is providing ongoing support for. If you can’t do that, do not point fingers that no one will help you. You committed to caring for this animal, once you saved it, so the animal is now your responsibility. See it through, even if in the end, there is no glory.

Cats and dogs live in the moment. They are not burdened with thinking about the future. That is our load, as humans, to bear for them. Instead of passing their suffering along to someone else, in an attempt to relieve ourselves of the psychological pain of euthanizing an animal or the physical discomfort of having to do the difficult work of management and foster care, I beg you to carry the weight for them. Do the hard work. But, if you cannot place them in another home, if you cannot provide the care they need to stay sane and healthy in a long term, no-kill shelter environment, if you cannot manage them safely around others, if they are suffering, you must take responsibility for their life: Love them until the very last minute and let them go.  

I don’t know what the solution to this huge, complex problem is, but we are all part of this problem: the shelters, the public, the rescues, the animal welfare organizations, the families, the sanctuaries. And we all need to work together to fix it. Every time we save a life, we have to commit to providing a level of care for that animal that makes their life worth living. It takes a lot of work. And a ton of resources. And it might mean saving fewer animals, but we’ll be providing a higher level of care for the ones that we do save. Simply keeping them alive, at any cost, is not a humane solution.

I know the rescues and families that sent dogs to Spindletop are beside themselves with regret and sorrow. And I’m sure this week’s events will have a profound effect on them. My heart is with those folks and the dogs they tried so hard to save.

I’m still so sorry for the suffering that I contributed to when I made the choice to pass the responsibility of the feral cats to someone else. I’ve never done that again. It means I’ve rescued fewer pets, but the ones that I have, I’ve seen through to the end – sometimes it’s been putting them to sleep and sometimes there are happy endings. Either way, I’m committed to taking responsibility for the animals I rescue, no matter what the outcome.

There are worse endings than humane euthanasia. Spindletop, Tiger Ranch, and all the others proved that to be true. May we all find a way to do the hard work, for the sake of the animals.

The Vet’s Office: Waiting Room or Dog Park?

I love going to the doctor. It’s my absolute favorite place to meet new friends.

I especially like meeting new friends at the doctor’s when I feel really sick or have a painful injury. I like to shove the icky, hurty part of my body in stranger’s faces, so they’ll poke at it, while slapping me on the back.

Sometimes I’m just there for an annual check up and I feel fine physically, but I’m nervous. I’m worried that I’m going to sit in the waiting room all day and be late for work. I’m anxious that I’m going to get a mean doctor that will pinch me and talk to me about my BMI again.

When I’m really stressed, that’s when I like to look around to see if there are any people I can make friends with in the waiting room. And when I feel this way, there’s nothing I enjoy more than when other patients run up to me and ask me to do a few Zumba moves with them before it’s my turn to see the doctor.



Yep, I love being sick and nervous, in a tiny space, with no way out, and meeting new friends at the same time.

And see that quiet lady in the corner who’s nervously eating a 100 calorie pack of almonds and trying not to make eye contact with me? I asked her to arm wrestle while I was waiting to pay my bill, but she said “No thank you”.  The nerve!

So you know what I did? I turned to the receptionist and I said, in my best stage whisper, “Some people are so MEAN. I guess that patient’s not friendly, huh?”  I sure showed her how rude she was for telling me no.

SCRREEEEECH! Hold the phone. This is bananaballs, right? No one wants to do group aerobics in the waiting room at the doctor’s. No one goes to the doctor’s to meet a new BFF.

So why are so many people doing this with their dogs in the waiting room at the vet’s office?  If there’s ever a place where dogs need space from each other and the dog owners need to ask permission before their dog approaches another, it’s the vet’s office.

Seriously, why do I have to even explain this? But I do, because this happens constantly, every day, to DINOS owners at the vet.

Lots and lots of people seem to think that socializing at the vet is a good thing and dogs who can’t do that are “bad dogs”. Is it me, or do we have some totally out of whack expectations for dogs when they’re at the vet?

Dogs at the vet are sick, injured, anxious, stressed, or just plain don’t wanna play. Almost every dog at the vet is a DINOS (at least temporarily). It’s not the dog park. It’s a doctor’s office for dogs (and other small animals stuck in their carriers).



Next time you’re at the vet, keep in mind how much you would hate it if every time you went to the doctor’s office, you had to deal with a parade of “friendly” people who invaded your space, touching and poking at you, and talking non-stop. You would hate it and rightly so.

Common sense rules for the vet:

Keep your dog on leash when entering, leaving, waiting, and paying. That’s everything except the exam room.

Lock your flexi-leads. Don’t let dogs wander around, scaring cats and upsetting other dogs.

Ask permission before you allow your dog to approach another dog.

If they say “No”, just accept it.

Don’t call the other dog owner or the dog “mean”.

Don’t passive aggressively whisper about how “unfriendly” that other dog is.

News flash: When you do that, YOU’RE THE MEAN ONE. People go home and cry about how mean you were to them and their struggling dog.

To the staff at the vet’s office: please require and enforce the rule that all dogs must be on leash. Require that all small animals be secured in carriers. Stand up for your clients when other’s treat them badly by reminding everyone that the waiting room is not a dog park and there are sick, injured, and stressed pets in the room – they have a right to their personal space. It’s just safer that way.

And a final note to DINOS families: If you can, wait outside or in the car with your dogs. Ask the staff to let you know when a room is ready, then go directly into the exam room. Ask if there is a back entrance (there usually is) that you can use, so you can avoid the waiting room entirely. Let the staff know ahead of time that your dog needs space – there may be a particular time of the day when it’s slow and you’re less likely to run into crowds.

Fair enough, right? We can do it folks. Respect, compassion, manners – we’ve got that.

Speaking Dog with Photo Lab

I recently got a chance to contribute to a blog series about learning to “speak dog” hosted by my friends over at Photo Lab.

Here’s a little sneak peek of my guest blog, plus the fabulous photo they created to go with my post. You can read the rest over on their blog Tails from the Lab!

I’ve been dog walking for almost ten years…day after day, as I walk my pals, I encounter a real problem for us: many well-meaning people have no control over their dogs (or themselves). People allow their dogs to drag them across the street, forcing nose-to-nose greetings with strange dogs. Or they ignore leash laws and let their dogs run loose in designated on-leash areas.

When I encounter these scenarios I feel like I’m robbed of my ability to do what’s best for the dogs I’m walking. The dogs are telling me what they need – space – but I can’t always get it for them, because people aren’t respecting our boundaries. 

Read the whole post HERE.

DINOS in the House

So things are going to be a wee bit quiet in the land of dog walking and DINOS-loving for the next week or so. The gang and I are up to our wet noses in the insanity that is house hunting. Things are percolating with one house in particular – I don’t wanna say too much, since it’s a sure jinx. 

Things have been a *wee* bit busy. Like I’m under siege.

Anyway, what I wanted to tell you all is that every time I look at a house, I do it with DINOS in mind. How much space will my dogs have to run? How far away are the nearest neighbors? How much time should I spend sitting in my car, stalking this house, to see if there are loose dogs that run around these parts?


Yes, please.


As soon as things chill out, I’ll share how much living with DINOS (both my own and the dogs I walk) has impacted my home search and maybe we’ll spend some quality time talking about fences. Because I. can. not. wait. to have a fenced in yard. Gimme gimme.

Happy dog walking everyone!