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Happy Birdie Day!

Today is Birdie’s Gotcha Day aka the day we adopted her.

Because we don’t know her exact date of birth, we celebrate her birthday on March 2nd (many excellent dogs were born on March 2nd, in particular, the fabulous Ms. Lola of the Lola Bean in Philadelphia. Happy Birthday Lola!).

And that means today is Birdie’s 10th birthday! Since we think Birdie Dog is the bees knees and love her to pieces, we always get her a special treat on Birdie Day.

To celebrate she’s doing this right now:

Birdie and Boogie are big fans of the Everlasting Treat line of toys. Some of you have told me your dogs are able to get through these in minutes, but they keep my two buzzards busy for a while.

Boogie, not to be left out of the Gotcha Day fun, is also doing this right now (it’s real loud and slurpy at my house at the moment):

Birdie is already exhausted. It’s not easy being a senior citizen taking on a fireman’s challenge:

Happy Birdie Day Everyone!!

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.



Guest Post: A Love Letter to Shanoa

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 Nicole wrote:

Love.  Devotion.  Enthusiasm. 

My three-year-old Doberman, Shanoa, is a DINOS, and she brings me joy every day.  She came to me as a not-quite-five-month-old puppy, afraid of the whole world.  From day one, I knew that we had a huge challenge ahead of us.  As a young pup Shanoa had no socialization, and didn’t trust anyone or anything.  Walks were a no-go.  New people were a cause for terror.  Kids were scary.  Bicycles and skateboards were monsters.  The only thing she wasn’t afraid of was other Dobermans! 

Luckily, we found help.  It has been (and sometimes continues to be) a huge struggle.  We have used Leslie McDevitt’s “Control Unleashed” methods to help Shanoa with her fears.  Slowly, we were able to help Shanoa with her fears.  We learned techniques to help her feel safe.  We taught her that not only were most things not scary, but most things were awesome (lots of delicious, stinky treats helped!). 


In the nearly three years we’ve lived with Shanoa, she’s been transformed.  My shy, frightened puppy has become a (relatively) normal dog.  The transformation, for us, is nothing short of miraculous.  For the first year and a half that we lived with her, Shanoa never wagged her tail.  I will never forget the first tentative sweeps of her cute little nub as we played outside.  Her nub wags almost non-stop, now.  The most important lesson she’s learned is that she can trust us to protect her. 

Does she appreciate strange dogs in her face?  Absolutely not.  But she knows that I will protect her from them and that she can trust me to make sure she doesn’t need to interact with them.  And that’s my most important job – to protect her.  I do my job, and now she has a job, too. 

Just this past summer, she passed the Delta Therapy Dog evaluation and was registered with the Delta Society as a therapy dog.  She visits hospice patients at various facilities here in Minnesota.  She goes from person to person, giving kisses and wagging her tail, resting her chin on their knees to make sure everyone gets a chance to pet her.


And when we get home, she makes sure to get as close to me as she possibly can, occupying the same space as I am if at all possible, as we relax and watch some TV.  She snuggles with me as much as possible.  She has even figured out how to turn on the electric blanket and get underneath it to stay warm in the Minnesota winter.  Because of her, I’ve gotten involved in our local Doberman rescue, and have been able to help out volunteers with foster dogs who are DINOS. 

Without Shanoa, I wouldn’t be the person I am.  She’s made me a better trainer.  She’s taught me patience.  She’s shown incredible forgiveness for the mistakes I make in training with her.  She approaches everything I ask her to do with enthusiasm, even if it’s something she’d prefer not to do (really?  another down/stay?).  She’s always eager to figure out something new.  She’s made me a better person and she makes me happy every day.

Guest Post: A Love Letter to Scuby

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 some of what Theresa wrote:

To my DINOS Valentine: Scuby ‘don’t touch the hair’ McConville

My DINOS dog and I met quite by accident. I’m paraplegic and diabetic and have had two previous service dogs; one contract trained and the second was a program dog. Both had their joys and their difficulties. When the second dog was lost at 9 years to cancer I was lost to the world. Getting around in a wheelchair requires considerable hand and arm strength and coordination. Wheelchair leash-work requires more hands than I can usually find. Quite literally, without the leash I’d forgotten how to move around. I hated it. I was alone and vulnerable. Not my favorite neighborhood in my head.

My friend needed cat litter and seeing how bummed out I was, insisted that I keep her company on her errand. Soon I found myself in a pet store…on Dog Adoption Day for a foster rescue group. I do love dogs so I had a look around.

Amid the kennels, cages, boxes and x-pens sat a hulk of a collie looking thing. He was quiet and still, ever watchful though calm. His left eye was multicolored and eerie to look at. I introduced my scent, then he laid a gentle glance and a paw reached out, just short of touching my sleeve. I had to know more.

Our first on-lead walk together was in-sync from the very first step. He would not pull, but watched my every move over his shoulder as he picked his way through a retail crowd. I applied as many temperament queries as I could while on the fly and was impressed by his willingness to try anything. I did what I advise others not to do; I decided with my heart and took this gentle spirit home with me. It took me all of 45 minutes to decide.

“Scooby-Doo’s” paperwork listed him as seven years old, recently neutered, Australian Shepherd – St. Bernard mix, cruelty seized and returned by TWO previous adopters because of what the Dumb Friends League referred to as “normal herding behaviors”. There was also a notation written in RED that he should be the only dog in residence!



I’ve been training dogs for decades and have always adjusted the training to suit the dog, so I thought, but after a couple of weeks of settling-in it was apparent my skills weren’t up to the challenge this dog was laying down. He didn’t fit anything I knew. I had to change. The next five years became an evolutionary process for me as a trainer and as it turned out, also as a human being.

Four months with Scuby…he was reactive to everything… And I was suddenly on my own since ‘reactive’ dogs are considered unsuitable by most ‘serious’ trainers. Cowards!

I didn’t understand his fears. I couldn’t make him feel safe, until I made the leap to consider his feelings and offer him better choices. He devised a method of communicating his needs using his stuffed toys. Prancing gaily about with “Bruce” the gray shark in his mouth meant ‘potty’. “Baby” a brown monkey was related to food and “Rudy” the reindeer was for self-soothing from loud noises.

The care-taking role of an alert/service dog seems to morph the human/animal bond and ramps it up to whole different level. Scuby taught me how to reach through fear. There is no greater trust than that.

My bar’s been raised by a dog, again…I will not let anyone forget how this damaged and unsuitable specimen activated the Lifeline device to summon rescue that day I bungled a transfer and knocked myself out in the bathroom.

He’s twelve now. Muscle is retreating from all parts of his body and his senses aren’t as keen. It’s been a couple of weeks since he’s wanted to open the doors for us…The pain of losing him is exquisite simply because he is a DINOS. They’re in our face 24/7 and they need us to be better, softer people. Their very lives depend on it.

I’m afraid that on that day when I venture outside without a leash in my hand, not only will I forget how move my wheelchair again, this time I may forget how to breathe…

 Theresa McConville & Scuby 2012

Guest Post: A Love Letter to Ani

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 Shannon wrote:

Ani has done nothing less than change my life. She has slowed me down to a more healthful pace and expanded my capacity to love. One tiny puppy mill breeder momma crawled into my heart and made it bigger.

Ani is a toy Rat Terrier and was the last of 143 dogs rescued from appallingly squalid conditions. She was considered unadoptable because she couldn’t tolerate the slightest human touch. When I was able to take in another foster dog, I went to get her for New Rattitude Rat Terrier Rescue. She was frozen in fear and kept her eye on me from the crate through every hour of the drive home. I was practically grinning during that drive, I was so happy for the opportunity to rehab her. “Blissfully ignorant,” I believe that’s called.

I had rehabilitated many fearful dogs, but what I didn’t know was a lot. I assumed that Ani would be a challenge to housetrain, but I didn’t know that she was the Jackson Pollock of poop. She would poop on the floor of her exercise pen and happily romp through it on the way around her crate. Stopping inside her crate to scratch around in her blanket, she’d tromp back through the poop to excitedly paw at the wire panels. She’d wag her curled tail, dance around, and fling more poop. I cleaned up a lot of signed originals.

I didn’t know that my softly voiced “it’s okay” would be terrifying to Ani. She would run and tremble, frightened out of her mind at hearing the sounds humans had used when she was held down for medical treatments. I didn’t know that would break my heart into a thousand pieces.

I didn’t know that her initial intense interest in me was mostly hypervigilance. Accustomed to speeding through life with far too many entries on my to-do list, I had to learn to be mindful of every move and every sound I made. Suddenly everything I did mattered to this little dog. It mattered how I removed my socks when changing clothes. It mattered how and where and at what angle I sat on the sofa. It mattered that the fork was carefully placed into the sink. Above all, it mattered that my hands came nowhere near her body.

I do know now what joy one little being can bring into a life. I know well the barely-contained thrill of the first baby steps toward bonding. The first touch of a tiny wet nose on my hand. The first happy, bouncy barkfest upon my return home. The first calm look into my eyes. The first tug on my sleeve to play. The first time Ani let me pet her, tears of happiness quietly rolled down my face.

Ani wants to connect, so she’s figured out a way to do that without involving human hands. She “kisses.” She kisses a lot. She kisses to reconnect for every greeting, every good feeling, and every time she needs reassurance. She snuggles into me and gives kisses when I am lying down. Now I can say, “It’s okay,” and she looks at me like maybe it is. I am in awe of her resilience and ability to trust.

I currently have seven terriers living with me, some my own and some foster dogs, and I love all of them. I’ve always learned so much from dogs. But Ani brought some extra magic with her that made me just a little bit better as a person. A little more patient. A little more kind. A little softer. When I think of her, I always feel her in my heart.

New Rattitude gave me a gift by agreeing to let Ani live with me for the rest of her life. Ani gave me the most precious gift of herself.