Monday, July 25, 2016

Pretty Flowers and Joining the Mainstream

Well shit. That post was really sad. So I promise, the next few posts will be nothing but pretty flowers, scenic vistas, and happy, playing puppies. 


This post will be a bit philosophical. I miss Marshal and I'm sad about what happened, but I'm not haunted by it the way I thought I would be. 


Every time I go over the events of the past few months, I see that I did do everything possible. 


If I could have had a few months with Marshal, doing TTouch and taking him to reactive dog and confidence building classes,  I think he could have been a good, reliable dog. But for whatever reason something happened in his relations with Fozzie and it was no longer safe to have him.

As far back as I can remember I have always been what you might call a deep ecologist. I believe that the earth and its creatures have intrinsic rights to exist and pursue well-being.









I still am that way, and I think the death penalty is no more appropriate for animals than it is for humans. 



I'd no more choose to get rid of a problem dog that way than I would to relieve myself of the burden of a troublesome relative by killing them. 











But I know now that there are limits. 


It is actually kind of a relief to have my thinking, at least in one department, closer to the culturally accepted norm. 

It's a lot of pressure to be so far outside the mainstream! 













Now I can just do completely normal things like daydream about Fozzie and Dahlia every moment I am away from them, 


spend hours massaging their paws, plan every vacation around their favorite activities, take slow-motion videos of them tongue kissing with Florian, and shop online for better-tasting dog toothpaste so they can improve their breath. 

Feels great to be normal!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

When everything you can do is still not enough

The original title of this post was Marshal's Recovery Diary, and it was going to be a hopeful post about how much TTouch seemed to be helping Marshal. 

It was helping him, I could see how the little circles in his muzzle made him finally relax some of the tension and tightness he always carried around. 

Then yesterday, Marshal and Fozzie got into a terrible fight--redirected aggression again, when they both saw something outside my yard, got excited about it, and lay into each other. I tried to pull them apart, and Marshal just nailed my arm. All the way through the subcutaneous fatty tissue, into the muscle. I called 911, and animal control and an ambulance came. I went to the ER and got 5 stitches, and Marshal went to animal control. 

I have never given up on an animal. Lars bit Florian and was tense with Lamar for many months before he found a fantastic forever family. Star figured out how to open my gate and beat the hell out of a neighbors dog; she is now winning trophies in obedience class with her beloved adopter.






I truly have never believed that any dog couldn't be rehabilitated. I was incredibly stubborn in that belief, and it was the reason why I could never work in a shelter. So I was going to keep Marshal here and work with him, train and TTouch and desensitize, keep him separate from Fozzie and hopefully defuse the anxiety that has seemed to only get worse and worse since I've known him. Even though I could no longer walk him with my dogs, and the anxiety was definitely worse than it was at first, I thought he could still get better.

At first it went so well that I thought I could just keep him. He was such a sweetie and Dahlia and he got along so well. 

Then one fence fight with Fozzie happened, and it was like something switched in him. The fights became more frequent. I still thought he was a good dog who just needed the right place, so I posted him every place I could think of. 

But as you might imagine, no rescue groups would take him and no adopters came forward.











It was an impossible situation and I literally didn't know what I would do. I still couldn't conceive of giving up on him, because that is not something I do. 

Only when I saw Marshal's teeth sink into my arm, and watched Fozzie trying to get away from him, and knew at that moment that it would be impossible and irresponsible to adopt him to another person did that stubborn part of me die. 







I suppose it was an evolution that needed to happen, for me to fully understand and embrace the full spectrum of what it means to be a rescuer.

It sucks though that Marshal didn't have a chance. It sucks that I couldn't set him up for success, and it sucks how mysteriously, things shifted for him somewhere along the way and it just became too difficult. 

We had some really good times and I hope Marshal will bring those memories with him wherever he goes now. It will be a while before I foster again but I have to remember all the animals I did set up for success, all the ones I did save.

Bless your little heart Marshal, I wish I could have saved you.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Fostering Dark Night of the Soul

OK, maybe that's being a little melodramatic. But I got your attention, and that's exactly what I need right now. 

I need help. I am tortured by the fact that when I got Marshal last fall, he was a shy, but happy, silly playful little man who immediately fell in with Fozzie and Dahlia and seemed happy here. 

And then was adopted by a family who said they would never bring a dog back to the shelter, who then not only brought him back to the shelter but said things about him that brought about the dreaded label "unadoptable," which meant he came this close to death. 








And that the shelter, who knew him well and knew me well, chose to take the adopter's word over everything they and I knew about Marshal--even though the adopter afterward strenuously denied saying that Marshal had an aggressive bone in his body. 

And that now, having been through the repeated trauma of abandonment by people he trusted, and going back to the shelter, and perhaps knowing somewhere in his being how close he came to having his life extinguished, he is no longer the happy, silly carefree man, but a man who cannot go on walks with my dogs because he reacts to badly to dogs or people that he snaps anything nearby. 


And a little man who once played and humped and wrestled and was so happy with my Fozzie, has now gotten into several fights with him so bad that he has scars that will forever give him that look you never want your adoptable pit bull to have in his profile shots. 







The last fight was while I was away in Texas, so maybe the dogs were unusually stressed out. In the days since, Marshal and Fozzie are slowly getting more relaxed, less tense around each other, more joyful and playful overall, though not directly with each other.  







But I can't foresee leaving them with anyone else again, so the rest of our summer contains no dog-free vacations. 






I get stressed out thinking of leaving them, and thinking of traveling with all 3 of them. I can't walk all of them together, so I was doing 4 walks some days instead of 2...although Marshal doesn't even want to go on walks anymore, so that lets me off the hook.

I love my little Marshal, love watching him gradually open up and be more affectionate with me and especially with Florian, and love how he and Dahlia are such sweet companions. I love watching his process and thinking about how to help him overcome his shyness, and imagining the dog he can become. I love when he lets me cuddle him, and how he takes comfort in being very physical and close. 

But it is stressful to have 3 dogs whose dynamic is tense, and stressful to know I can't travel. So I've listed Marshal online and looking for a home or a sanctuary for him. 

I know I can find a wonderful adopter, who has a quiet home and another playful dog, and knows how to work with a shy dog, and lives in a place where the dogs can play and have fun and be stress-free. 


I know Marshal can be more happy in a home where there's no tension with the other dog, and I know there are saintly adopters like I found for Lars and Star--two other challenging dogs who found very happy endings. 

This is a tough experience, as I fear for the welfare of a beloved little creature that I believe in, but whom others have abandoned. But I'm going to keep believing in Marshal and working to manifest that perfect home for him. 

Could it be YOURS?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Dog-Free Vacation in...Texas!

Knowing me, as you do, you might not think that McAllen, TX is my ideal dog-free vacation location. But Florian had an offer to teach a dance workshop there for two weeks, so we decided that I would join him for a bit just for fun.

The town itself is pretty much like any other middle-sized American town, except that the strip malls containing the exact same stores owned by the same few corporations are decorated with palm trees. 

The magic happens when you get out of town. As soon as Florian finished his classes on Friday afternoon, we were off to South Padre Island. 











Beautiful, mostly empty beaches, warm water, and pretty big waves! We went in but were scared to go too deep. 

This part of Texas along the Gulf is known for its incredible diversity of birds and butterflies, as it is along a major migratory pathway. 

So of course we went to the World Birding Center, a neat raised walkway through an expanse of brackish wetlands.
We were hoping to see an alligator, but no luck. Just a lot of Great Blue Herons.


We stayed just one night on South Padre then drove out through Port Isabel, and had a veggie sandwich in a little outdoor cafe that definitely felt like it was across the border.











Next stop, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. 

Where we saw a javelina as we were driving in, and where Florian hopped around and swore almost the whole time we were on the narrow trails near the visitor's center, where staff had told us there were often sneeks, I mean snakes. We did not see a single snake, but we did see a beautiful Green jay





and finally some baby alligators. 


After Laguna Atascosa, we continued west along a two-lane highway until we reached Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, also known for its network of trails and fantastic birding. Here too, we were warned about the multitude of snakes so Florian hopped around tightly gripping my arm as we made our way along narrow pathways amidst the spooky, mysterious Spanish moss. 

We walked in the steamy, sweltering heat, close on the heels of a nice family who didn't mind us tagging along behind them so they would be the first to encounter any snakes. Florian was pretty brave though, and we got to walk part of the way well out of reach of any ground-dwelling slithering friends. 


It is magical to be up above the tree canopy and able to look across such a lush tropical forest, and stand among the profusion of bright yellow butterflies as you listen to the trill of cicadas and the screech and cackle of all those birds.


Having completed our trip back to McAllen, Florian had to teach all day Monday so I took the day to explore one more birding and biodiversity hotspot: Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, known as one of the best birding locations in the country. 


It is not far from McAllen, but having gotten there I was not about to be deterred by the fact that the road was blocked off and the trails, once I hiked in along the road, were marked closed due to storm damage. Signs like that are merely invitations, as they promise an even more remote and natural experience. 

Along trails that are completely deserted as they meander through the low, scrubby riparian woodland forest, the only sounds the chatter of insects and birds. 
I must have hiked 6 miles through the scrubland forest, the last vestige of the semitropical forest that once covered the Rio Grande Delta but has been cleared to make room for agriculture--primarily beef production--and sprawl. 

You wouldn't know it from the top of a hawk tower that was also closed, the better to enjoy the silent, steaming expanse of treetops in serenity and solitude.

Didn't see any hawks but did get a view across the Rio Grande, wide and marshy in this part, and the spooky sky and approaching storm. 


Hiked the path all the way to the edge of the Rio Grande, got a bit lost until I realized I was on a loop trail :) The rain was a relief both for a tired hiker and undoubtedly all the critters who make their home here. As I walked back along the road, a company of birds kept calling back and forth to each other across the road but they stayed out of sight, their calls somehow always emanating from the trees on either side of the road just ahead of me. I never did see them fly from tree to tree. 

Sneaky bastards. 

I knew this trip would be good because I knew I needed to reconnect with my beloved Southwest desert and Rio Grande Valley ecosystem. Thanks to the scraps of precious wildland that have been spared conversion to yet another WalMart or Home Depot, and have instead been left for the birds, the critters, and for human sanity, I was not disappointed! 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Marshal-Mitchell-Randall is settling in

Well it's been two months since our beloved little Marshal man re-joined our household.

I've definitely had my moments of, shall we say, less-than-complete buy-in to being the adult responsible for three special-needs dogs. 




Marshal is an anxious man, in many ways ideologically aligned with his buddy Fozzie. 

They are both eager to stick their heads out the car windows, and they are both anxious on walks, noise sensitive, leash reactive, and quick to redirect their anxiety and reactivity. 





In short, a handful. But in the house,  Marshal is a little sweetie. He loves affection and, like Fozzie, he seems really comforted by it--like he needs the reassurance of physical contact.  He's started sleeping with us every nightand there is something so wonderful about having 2 or even 3 canine bodies draped around us, with several choices of creatures to cuddle with should the mood strike either one of us. 


He and Fozzie don't interact a lot but Marshal often goes over to Fozzie just to nuzzle him and wag a bit, like a shy but admiring fan. Marshal and Dahlia, on the other hand, seem to really love each other. 


When they're not playing, they're cuddling up next to each other. 


Their play is sometimes terrifying with Marshal's dinosaur noises, but fortunately Dahlia doesn't know about those. With all their roughhousing, they have never gotten into a fight or even a little scrap. 



Marshal's name strikes me as adorable, but also somewhat ridiculous. It's also hard not to call him other things that are reminiscent of Marshal, like Mitchell (when he's being adorable) or Randall (when he's in trouble).

Poor little dog, no wonder he's anxious. But somehow I think he's going to turn out OK.

How do YOU like to confuse your dogs?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Wet food from Chewy.com

Lots of hungry mouths to feed around here. I think it's time for some Chewy.com snacks. 
On offer this month were some limited ingredient food tubs from Natural Balance. We chose the Whitefish and sweet potato grain-free food.
These limited ingredient diets are great for dogs with sensitive stomachs. While none of my dogs fall into that category, a few of them--and I'm not naming any names--could be categorized as what you might call picky eaters. 

I thought THESE dogs might enjoy some simple, hearty ingredients. 

Or maybe they'd just enjoy the self-important thoughts that come with the knowledge that you are receiving a limited ingredient diet.

Let's see what happens. 

First up, Dahlia. Dahlia is not one of the picky eaters and true to form, she dug right in. 











Now Fozzie. Fozzie's not a bad eater, but he likes the things you'd expect a dog to like. Nothing too fancy or tricked up, and he's not a big fan of his fruits and veggies.

As expected he was a big skeptical of the whitefish and sweet potato concoction at first, but after sniffing around and considering his options a bit, decided to dig right in.  










Now Marshal. Marshal loves food and begs for it every chance he gets. He likes bananas, cashews, and pretty much every dog food he's tried. 


But sometimes, he won't eat. I don't think it's a picky eater issue so much as an anxiety and social pressure issue.










Sometimes I'll give him his meal and he won't eat until everyone else has gone to bed. 

With this particular meal, he just looked at it uncomfortably, and looked at me uncomfortably. He finally ate some when I fed him bits of white fish by hand, but didn't really dig in until later, when no one was paying attention to him. 

Poor little guy. 
So I'd have to say--mixed reviews on the Natural Balance. A good, high-quality food, but not lip-smacking delicious enough to make the anxiety-prone among us forget their anxieties. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Kirsten and Florian's Anxious Dog Sanctuary

It's been a delight having Marshal around. Just watching him have fun with Dahlia and be comfortable with Fozzie, and watching how sweet and loving he is, is so rewarding. I love seeing that in this house, he feels safe and happy. 



In his previous home, he was sleeping in the living room to be with the other dog, who he loved. But he was destroying the carpet overnight, so he must not have felt at ease. 


Here, he sleeps in the living room too--and he just sleeps. Not a peep out of him all night, he just rolls up happily in his crate or on the couch and snoozes til morning. 










Not sure what the difference is! Maybe he feels safe here because we leave our bedroom door open and he knows he can come in anytime, and he can hear us talking to Dahlia and Fozzie.

Whatever it is, we seem to have a situation here that is good for anxious dogs.


So when my sister went away for the weekend, and our friend Francine, who was staying at her house, called to let me know that Sky Princess didn't seem to be that happy and was throwing up everything she ate, 


I went over there just as soon as I was done bringing Uncle Johnny to early vote for Bernie Sanders. 











Francine was busy cleaning up copious amounts of bloody vomit. We decided I would take Sky Princess home and see if she got better, and if not Francine would take her to the emergency vet. 

As soon as I got her home, she literally hit the ground running with Marshal. 

They spent the entire weekend zooming around together, 












with short time-outs for Dahlia to hump Princess like in old times. 

And Princess Sky began eating and stopped vomiting. 

What was most wonderful was how everyone just seemed to get along. 


They all seemed pretty happy to be around each other. I've often thought that since I tend to end up with "difficult" or "unadoptable" dogs, who are with me because they couldn't find a home anywhere else, I'd never be able to have a whole bunch of them around because they'd be too aggressive and unstable. 

So it was just so rewarding and delightful to have a house full of these dogs and watch them just play, hang out, and relax together. I had to remind myself that two of them, Fozzie and Marshal, were actually officially labeled "unadoptable" and were hours away from euthanasia when I picked them up. 

Why?

Because the world is a messed up place, that's why. 

Gotta just keep creating little pockets of sanity, where dogs and people can run around, be themselves, make dinosaur noises and hump and dig and zoom and relax without fear of persecution for being different. 

So that's what I tried to do this weekend. And far from feeling overwhelmed by having 4 dogs, I felt fulfilled. Surrounded by love, happy, and grateful. 

How many dogs is just right for YOU?