Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tag Your Dog

A few days ago, I received an email from my sister, Carolyn. It's always nice to hear from her. But the one word in the subject line struck fear in my heart: "Rose." I really, really didn't want to open that email.

Rose is a 10 year old Brittany who jumped into my niece's car one day about eight years ago. The owner couldn't be found. Life being what it is, Carolyn and her husband eventually became Rose's guardians.

A canine companion cuter and funnier than Rose would be hard to find. I opened the email with trepidation.

Here's the story.

While Carolyn was out running errands, Rose and Chanel--a rescued miniature poodle--stayed home. Nothing strange or unusual about that. But when Carolyn returned home, Chanel would not stop whining and Rose was nowhere to be found. Eventually, Carolyn discovered the problem--a broken bedroom window. The best guess was that the old window had given way as Rose was expressing her opinion about a dog passing by the house.

A loose, missing dog. One of the worst fears of any dog owner.

But when Carolyn went to the phone, there was a message. Rose had found her way to an elementary school two miles away. They called Carolyn, because in addition to her license, Rose has a name-tag with her home phone number on it.

Now there might have been a "happy" ending to this story even if Rose had been wearing only a license. The school secretary would have called the authorities. Rose would have been taken to a shelter, and either the shelter would have contacted my sister, or my sister would have contacted the shelter and a reunion would eventually have happened.

But such a scenario would have taken hours or days to play out. And the entire episode would have been far more traumatic for both Rose and her family.

Trauma like that is stressful for any dog and the people who love it. But for a ten year old dog with advanced arthritis, the situation would have been serious. Proper identification brought an unpleasant, unhappy incident to a close in the fastest way possible.

When we adopt dogs from Greyhound Adoption Center, we not only agree to keep license and Greyhound Adoption Center I.D. tags on the dogs, we also agree to give them a personalized name tag with their name and our phone number on it. It makes for a lot of "jingling" as they move around the house. (Interestingly, because of their different gaits, I can tell which dog is moving around just by the sound of their tags.)

If a dog is loose, nothing can guarantee its safe return. Rose crossed two very busy streets during her wanderings. Cars remain the biggest threat to lost dogs. But if you love your dog, do everything you can to help it get back home asap if it accidentally gets loose.

Tag your dog.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Six Months With Magic

Six months ago today, Magic came to live with us. She was reserved, easily startled, and obviously missing her foster home. She was particularly reluctant to have anything to do with men. I've always thought that the six month mark is the most important milestone in a rescued dog's adjustment to a new home. Magic gave her own confirmation of that belief yesterday evening. For the first time, she permitted John to put on her harness and leash while he was standing--always before, she insisted that he sit before she would permit him to do that. She is learning a new level of trust, and I want to thank John for his loving patience and understanding which has helped Magic unlearn some of the cruel lessons inflicted upon her by her initial human contact.

For people accustomed to small dogs, it will seem strange, but, I think of Magic as "little" and "delicate". At 75 pounds, she is the smallest sight hound we have had in our home. She can curl up into a tiny ball, and her gait is a delicate trot.

This morning, Bingley got to the love seat in my study first and she had to settle for the cushion on the floor. But Bingley is easily distracted. When he went to investigate something, Magic took the preferred place on the love seat. She is resting now, her head on the bolster cushion, looking as if she never knew what it was like to be confined in an outdoor cage without shelter from severe heat or cold.

If you've ever taken a rescued dog into your home, you understand the joy that sight brings to me this morning.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Some People Should Not Have Dogs II

I suppose I must be overdue for a rant. This past week has provided me with three examples to fuel one.

First Example: Last week, a woman called a volunteer dog rescue line that I answer one day a week. She wanted to know who to call about the disappearance of a chipped dog. She seemed not to understand that unless a dog is found and scanned, a missing chipped dog is not different from a missing unchipped dog. Unless, of course, she had paid for an extra alert service along with the chip. But even so, a chip is not a GPS.

She then explained the situation further. She had two dogs: A Pit Bull and a Silky Terrier. She has repeatedly left these dogs out alone at night--in a semi-rural community! They've gone missing before, but have always "turned up" in the morning.

But this time, the Pit Bull returned, lathered and panting--evidently from running. But the Silky was nowhere to be seen. The woman was certain that her "valuable, papered, chipped" Silky had been stolen.

It took all my patience and restraint to suggest that 1. No dog should be left outside unattended at night where coyotes, owls and hawks might be expected to be hunting. 2. A toy dog belongs IN THE HOUSE except for needed, brief potty breaks under human supervision.

I encouraged her to post as many notices as possible and organize search parties. But I did suggest that there was evidence that her little dog had met foul play. I didn't say that the original foul play had been hers.

Example Two: A couple whose work involves constant travel, and who want their home to be spotlessly clean and orderly when they return to it, purchased an English Toy Spaniel from a pet store, in spite of being urged not to do so by a knowledgeable "dog person."

The ETS is now two years old, not reliably house trained, and is destructive of furniture and other household items.

Surprise, surprise, surprise.

A little research would have told them that even under ideal conditions, toy breeds--with the possible exception of Toy Poodles--are slow and difficult to house train. Think about it. These tiny creatures can duck behind a chair, scoot under a table, do the deed--which results in a small product, not immediately detectable--and walk away looking as innocent as the day they were born. And a lot cuter.

Add to that the fact that these breeds were developed for one purpose and one purpose only: human companionship.

What happens when a dog's purpose is totally frustrated?


Now. If this couple had consulted a reputable breeder, they would have been further warned about the breed's characteristics. And if they had purchased from a reputable breeder, there would have been follow-up, and probably a gentle conversation resulting in the return of the poor dog to the breeder. But no such safety net is available for dogs purchased at pet stores.

Will there, can there be a happy ending for this little dog? I don't know. In my opinion, the only hope is for a rescue intervention. But, these are tough times for rescues of breeds with grooming requirements. (Yes. Brody STILL needs a forever home.) And there is always a question of even very unhappy, frustrated owners giving custody of a dog to a rescue when they have paid a thousand or more dollars for a dog.

Hint: You do NOT save money buying a dog from a pet store.

All paws are crossed.

Example Three: While on a quick trip to the vet's, I overheard a conversation between a man who had brought in his dog for treatment and the long-suffering receptionist who was responsible for receiving payment for said treatment.

One clue that he was not the most educated of dog owners was that he referred to his dog as an English Bull Dog. There are French Bull Dogs. But the breed commonly called English Bull Dog is actually named Bull Dog. If I had paid the going rate for a Bull Dog, I would be sure to call it by its proper name. But, perhaps, I'm being a little picky.

If the man had done research on Bull Dogs before acquiring one, he would have been forewarned that the breed is subject to physical problems requiring veterinary attention. I am sentimentally attracted to Bull Dogs, and if others in my family had shared my attraction, a Bull Dog might very well have become our family dog. But I know for a fact that it does not take much "due diligence" to discover that Bull Dogs can be costly to maintain in good health.

If I had been quoted the amount that the man was disputing, I would have been relieved. I felt sorry for the receptionist who was having to politely insist that the very reasonable charges did have to be paid.

Hint: If you are unwilling to sacrifice to maintain your dog in good health, you shouldn't get a dog. Before you acquire a pure bred dog, do adequate research. The AKC has a wonderful website with all sorts of resources and contacts for prospective dog owners. The internet is chuck full of breed-specific information.

There is an abundance of research confirming that having a dog in your life will make you healthier and happier. Your dog is totally dependent on you for all of its needs. If you can't or won't be a responsible dog guardian, Don't Get A Dog!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Walking Dogs

I have never been athletic. In elementary school, I was unfailingly the last person to be chosen for the kick ball team. And that suited me just fine. I was assigned to the outfield, where I daydreamed and chatted with the next-to-the-last chosen player on my team until the true athletes managed to get the other side out or the recess bell mercifully rang. My one kick ball injury was when a kicked ball hit me on the head while I was chatting it up with the center-fielder.

Later on I did ice skate and I enjoy swimming. But, even though I've spent my adult years in Southern California, I've never lived in a house with a swimming pool, and I haven't laced on a pair of skates since leaving the East Coast--a very long time ago.

However, I passed my last physical with flying colors. If you examine my picture on the right hand side of the blog, (I'm the short one in the bonnet) you will not need dynamite math skills to determine that I am no youngster. Indeed, I am of an age where nearly all my friends and acquaintances take multiple prescription pills every day. I don't take one.

My secret? I am a dog walker. Not a professional, just a dog person whose canine companions wake me every morning in anticipation of their favorite treat of the day--their early morning walk.

Dogs love routine and they memorize every tiny signal associated with events that they love. For John and me, the clock radio coming on at 4:30 am means "You Must Get Up Out of Your Cozy Bed and Face Another Day!" For Bingley and Magic, the clock radio coming on means "Walkies! Walkies! Walkies! Our Favorite Thing in the Whole Wide World!" (I understand that for some dogs "Yummies! Yummies! Yummies!" is their Favorite Thing in the Whole Wide World, but it's just my luck to have had dogs who prefer Walkies!)

So we stagger into our clothes trying not to fall over enthusiastic hounds, hook up harnesses and leashes, check for poop bags, pepper spray, and flashlight, and set out on our morning trek behind two eager creatures who radiate happiness and vigor.

Rain or shine, we walk the dogs.

It didn't have to be this way. We could have been "smart" and just let them out in the backyard for their early morning outing. Then the day would have taken over and a walk would have been "optional."

Or, we could, even now, steel ourselves against the enthusiastic anticipation of Bingley and Magic and re-train them not to expect to begin their day with a walk.

But that would take sterner stuff than I am made of. And that's what makes it work so well for my health.

If I had a human walking partner, I could explain to them that I was tired, coming down with a cold, feeling the pain of the leg injury I acquired hiking out of the tube in London, or present any other of dozens of excuses that my fertile brain could manufacture.

You might try to give those excuses to two eager, trusting sight hounds. I couldn't. They would never understand and the disappointment in their eyes would haunt me all day long.

So. John and I walk the dogs. Every Morning. Rain or Shine.

No one will ever win an Olympic Medal in Dog Walking. That's ok. The rewards for Dog Walking are built in.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Rescues and Rescuers: Greyhound Adoption Center

In the Untied States, hundreds of thousands of dogs are homeless, or for other reasons, are in need of rescue. The story of any one of these dogs is heartbreaking. In some general way, I think most people hope that homes can be found for needy dogs. But the actual work involved in rescuing, rehabilitating and providing for the medical and routine needs of the lucky dogs who actually are received into a rescue is demanding--both emotionally and physically.

Every rescue has its story. And every rescuer has his or her story. I hope to tell many of these stories. But, since I am currently the guardian of two alumni of Greyhound Adoption Center, I decided to speak first with Marilyn, a volunteer with Greyhound Adoption Center, (GAC).

Portia's Mom: How long have you been associated with Greyhound Adoption Center?

Marilyn: I have been associated with Greyhound Adoption Center since 2001 when I adopted my first greyhound, Ariel (GAC's Ariel). Six months later, we adopted our second greyhound, Franklin (GAC's Bacardi) as a companion to Ariel after the death of our last cat.

PM: What got you interested in the plight of Greyhounds?

M: There was a very large, hugely handsome, red fawn, greyhound named BD (short for Bill's Dog) who graced our neighborhood for five years. BD's dad was retired and they walked faithfully, four times a day, rain or shine. Bill was my neighbor through whom I gained my initial insight into the plight of the racing greyhound. I was also very interested in pug rescue at the time, as another neighbor and a co-worker were heavily involved and there were several pugs in my neighborhood as well. My son was 17 at the time, my grandson 12. When the time was right to finally adopt, the boys vetoed the pug and having visited several humane societies and shelters, they thought we should adopt an Am Staff or Mastiff or a Lab or any mix thereof, because there were just so many such large dogs at each shelter. They were deeply saddened by this fact. However, when all was said and done, we decided to visit GAC's shelter and the rest is history. We were smitten.

PM: Did you have dogs or other pets as a child?

M: I did not have a dog as a child. I was raised in a very small farming community in Minnesota during the 1950's and early 60's. At that time, in a rural and small town setting, most of the dogs I knew were not pets; they were working dogs on farms. Very few people in town seemed to have a dog as a pet - cats were more prevalent, and cats were my childhood pets. I remember one very cute Boston Terrier running around the town every summer for several years. My dad owned a small grocery store and this little dog would come by asking for scraps. Dad said no, but my brother and I always fed him on the sly. From there my love of dogs began. And, witnessing the hard life of the farm dog, especially in the frigid winter, my heart was burdened, even as a small child. From that, my compassion for animals in need grew.

PM: What keeps you motivated?

M: Knowing there are still greyhounds numbering in the 10's of thousands that will need rescuing in years to come as the racing industry winds down, and knowing what happens to the greyhounds who are not on the lucky end when the rescue vans come calling, I am committed and movitated more than ever to do my share to help. Some of the work is hard and physically demanding, such as volunteering at the kennel for turn-out. Our rescue kennel houses 36 greyhounds in various stages of being readied for adoption. The dogs are turned out four times a day. Beds are straightened, soiled laundry is done, meals are prepared and served, medications are administered, floors and walls are scrubbed, and the cement turn-out areas outside are scrubbed and sanitized. Some dogs need lifting in and out of their crates. Dog food bags weigh 44 pounds. Most of the dogs are powerful and strong and pull when being escorted from their beds to the turn-out areas and back again, out the door and up ramps. But, the opportunity to work directly with the rescues from the time they arrive until adoption is a thrill beyond explanation. Some are very shy and watching them adjust and trust is just the best. Some come in with badly broken limbs, and assisting them as they recover, and taking them for their first walks after their legs heal, is beyond wonderful. Some are ill and nursing them back to health is indescribable. And, then being part of the adoption process is the icing on the cake, as I'm able to watch as they leave for their forever homes knowing in some small way, I was able to make a difference in their lives during their stay with us. Other volunteer opportunities, like participating in Show & Tells with our own greyhounds, and spreading the word, is just plain FUN!

PM: What is the most important thing you would like to tell people about Greyhounds? Greyhound rescue?

M: I would like people to know that the rescued, retired ex-racer is not the breed for everyone. I would like everyone interested in adopting one of these gentle, amazing dogs, to do their homework. Read everything available and make an informed decision. These are sighthounds with several thousand years of genetics bred into them involving hunting and chasing. Racing is a recent phenomenon - the instinct to run and chase is powerful. One may think if their greyhound does well in obedience training, and responds well to commands, including recall, that they may be trusted off-leash. Not so. Every adopter must be committed to maintaining the safety of their cherished adoptee for the life of the hound. That said, having completed their homework and coming to an informed decision that the greyhound is indeed the breed for them, come on in! For most of us who share our homes with an ex-racer, or greyhound mix, there is no going back. They are gentle, quiet, clean, funny souls who quickly race their way into our hearts and homes. They are generally a healthy breed; no inbreeding in the racers attributes to this factor.

Every dog in every shelter, regardless of pedigree, deserves a home. However, the plight of the greyhound is just a little different, in that excess dogs are intentionally over bred in an attempt to get a few good money makers. To the racing industry, the greyhound is nothing more than a commodity, a throw-away if you will, once racing out of the money. Mandatory retirement age is five, but puppies are culled and many racers are retired early because they get hurt, they are too easily distracted, or they are not fast enough. The rescue organizations worldwide do what they can, but the problem is just way too huge. Thus, thousands of these gentle dogs are disposed of each year, and not always by the most humane methods, through no fault of their own.

Thank you, Marilyn, for taking time to answer these questions. And thank you, especially, for all you have done to ameliorate the plight of the Greyhounds.

For further information about Greyhounds, a good place to start is the website of Greyhound Adoption Center