When I hear the word orphanage, it conjures up images of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist asking for “more” from the sadistic Mr. Bumble. Did you know that in the United States, orphanages have become obsolete? They have been replaced by foster care programs and private adoption agencies. Also, the availability of education on responsible parenting and child care has increased significantly. The days of institutionalizing children are over, but not so much for dogs. For them orphanages, a k a shelters, still exist.
Having worked with many animal shelters during my professional career, and being the former director of operations for the four branch shelters of the Pennsylvania SPCA, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. I have seen shelters that have been “killing factories,” and I have seen shelters where people work like the dickens to find a home for each and every animal there.
The difference between these shelters lies in their basic attitudes, assumptions and culture; their respective dogmas. The shelters that succeed in helping animals in their community know that their job is not to rescue the dogs and cats, but to be a temporary way station until their real rescuer comes for them. Then the shelters facilitate that rescue with every resource available to them. These shelter workers truly believe that every animal deserves a home, and they have enough faith and determination to make that a reality. They scoff at those who claim that a dog is “unadoptable”. While it’s true that some dogs are more difficult to place than others, with hard work and dedication successful matches can be made. I have seen this time and time again. Continue reading “Animal Shelters Don’t Rescue Animals … People Do”
Is your dog a Sun Dog or a Moon Dog, and what is the difference?
With the solar eclipse happening over North America Monday, I began thinking about the differences between the sun and the moon, and how they are great metaphors for our dogs. For me, I much prefer a Sun Dog to a Moon Dog. Here are the characteristics of the sun and the moon, and how they apply to our dogs:
In the blink of an eye he was gone. My friend of 12 years. Although I knew this day would be coming for some time now, when it arrived it hit me with the suddenness and impact of an earthquake. My friend Cosmo was gone, and my world was shaken to its core. Where did the time go? There was so much more we needed to do together; so much more I needed to learn from him. It’s been over a year that he’s gone and I still miss the way he looked at me, the feel and scent of his fur, and the friendship that we shared.
Our dogs are with us for only brief a time, yet they leave the most profound mark on our lives. Our dogs make us whole and fully human, yet, they leave us way too soon. On average a dog has only one-sixth the lifespan of humans, a mere fraction of the time we have.
“The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”, said Lao Tzu, and how brightly our dogs shine during their short time here on Earth.
I often question why this is so. Why do dogs live so briefly compared to us? After all, we are connected at the deepest levels – evolutionary, biologically, culturally, and, I would strongly argue, spiritually. So why are we together for so short a time? I have several thoughts on this, and although none are very comforting, they help to satisfy me in a small way. Continue reading “In the Blink of an Eye…”
Sometimes I feel like shouting from the rooftops: “Stop training your dog!!”
There is way too much emphasis on controlling dogs rather than allowing them to grow to their fullest potential. The need for control is sometimes self-serving, and does nothing for the well being or personal growth of the dog and just feeds our own egos. I have even seen social media posts on how well “trained” dogs are by demonstrating how the dog won’t touch a morsel of food until the “okay” is given, or that the dog will take single steps at a time under the strict control of their owner shouting the order. Is this supposed to impress? Obedience and other training competitions measure levels of control one has over their dog. Yes, I was an enthusiastic participant of that scene once upon a time, competing heavily in Schutzhund and French Ring with my dogs. Thankfully, I have grown since then.
Your thoughts about control will depend on how you feel about your dog and the relationship you have with him. Is your dog a vehicle in which you place all your desires and ambitions? Are you living vicariously through your dog? Or do you feel as if your dog is an accessory in your life? I know that in legal terms, dogs are considered “chattel”, but can one living organism really own another? Continue reading “Cultivate Growth – Not Control.”
The above list should be the code of conduct for humans as well as dogs in all public places and places of business. Let me explain:
My dogs are my friends, and I take them with me almost everywhere I go. I believe this is important for the emotional and psychological health of my dogs. Being exposed to many different situations inoculates them against stress and prepares them for life. However, this often limits me to where I am able to go. Many stores and restaurants prohibit dogs so I patronize the establishments that are dog friendly and avoid those that discriminate against dogs. Recently, my wife and I visited the Seneca Lake wine country with our dogs, and found that although many wineries welcomed our dogs, there were still some that banned them. Yes, believe it or not in this day and age there are still establishments that discriminate based on species.
Although this way of thinking is gradually changing, for as long as I can remember, dogs have gotten the “short end of the leash” when it comes to shopping and entertainment. “No Dogs Allowed” is posted on the windows and doors of many retail and business organizations. So, I ask the question, “Why??” Continue reading “No Dogs Allowed.”
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” ~ Helen Keller
Someone called me the other day and asked, “Do you work with German shepherds?”
“Of course!” I said, “I work with all dogs.”
“But shepherds are different,” she insisted.
This woman was falling into the trap of thinking only about names and labels, and failed to really know her particular dog. She was under the assumption that all German shepherds were exactly same, as if they had been mass produced in a factory with strict quality control guidelines. She wasn’t able to see beyond the packaging and the labels and get to understand the individuality of her own dog.
This is a trap many of us fall into. We spend endless hours reading and researching and we love to categorize, compartmentalize and label behaviors such as “aggressive,” “shy,” “fearful,” “alpha.” I could go on and on with the list of nouns I have heard people, even dog professionals, use to describe their dogs. Although this labeling system can be a useful tool, often it is misused. This is lazy and disrespectful to your dog. It puts him or her in a box where there is no escape. Your dog is much more than a word; a noun. If all you know about your dog is a list of nouns, then you don’t truly know your dog at all. Continue reading “How Well Do You Really Know Your Dog?”
People often ask me, “Should I bring my dog to a dog park?” This is a topic of some debate and I think that there are too many variables under consideration to say anything absolute. I usually answer with a definite “maybe.” On the one hand, dog parks can be a great place for your dog to run free, interact with her own species and learn important social skills; a venerable “Shangri-La.” On the other hand, they can sometimes be hot beds of disease and hostile environments: the “Wild West.” It all depends on the park you choose, and if it’s a good fit for your dog. Continue reading “The Truth About Dog Parks”
Many people have a dysfunctional relationship with their dog and frankly are not even aware of it. Our relationships can be off-balance and unequal. This inequality creates conflicts between us and can actually build a barrier that prevents us from achieving a true friendship. Kenzoku, the Japanese word for ultimate harmonious and empowering friendship, can only occur between two fully functioning, equal individuals. True friendship can never grow on uneven ground.
I know that the basic assumption of everyone who owns a dog is that we (humans) need to be in charge. This is so ingrained into our culture that to speak otherwise borders on blasphemy. It goes against the grain of everything we’ve learned.
Bodhi, a Pit/hound mix, didn’t have a great first six months of life. Although I will never know the full story, I do know that he developed a belief that life is a dangerous place. Lucky for him, a great rescue organization pulled him from a high-kill shelter and placed him in a foster […]
Bodhi, a pit/hound mix, didn’t have a great first six months of life. Although I will never know the full story, I do know that he developed a belief that the world is a dangerous place. Lucky for him, a great rescue organization pulled him from a high-kill shelter and placed him in a foster home, where he spent the next six months. It was a loving home and it helped Bodhi gain some confidence. He was, however, still very fearful and would shy away from new people. When I first met him, he went into a panic when I held his leash. I knew had my work cut out for me. I wanted to help him learn to self-soothe, especially since he was already equipped with the skill set to find peace of mind. You see, dogs are constant practitioners of mindfulness. That’s how they live their lives – one moment at a time. It’s their natural state of consciousness.
I loved Cosmo from the moment I met him, but it wasn’t until he became ill that I realized my love was self-serving. I had discovered, shamefully, that I was a bad friend.
Cosmo was a European import German Shepherd with a pedigree that would make any dog jealous. He was the quintessential working dog; the dog I had always wanted. In my early years as a trainer and behaviorist, I had worked with many German Shepherds in Schutzhund, police work, and search and rescue, but I’d never had one of my own. When Cosmo unexpectedly came into my life, I was excited to work with him. Although I loved him, a true friendship would not happen for the first six years of his life. Those years were spent training and shaping him into my “demo” dog. In other words, I had made him into my “trophy” dog; one that I could show off. From his majestic and imposing looks to his precision obedience, GPS-like tracking, and hard-hitting protection skills, Cosmo had it all. That all changed suddenly right before his seventh birthday. Continue reading “PALS STICK TOGETHER: My Promise to Cosmo”