Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sunshine, my four year old pit bull foster trades her chains for pearls‏

first heard about this little 4 yr old pit bull named Sunshine who was chained on an 8 foot chain in the NC mountains thru Facebook postings that kept circulating and pleading for a foster home. One of my FB friends, Tammy Townsend, kept sending out her story and one weekend in November, it got into the low 30's in my town, and I knew Sunshine was located in the NC mountains, a colder climate by at least 10-15 degrees. This made me very angry, and I quickly posted, "Won't someone let her into their f-ing garage for the night????". The answer was no. The family who had Sunshine also had three other chained dogs as well, who they apparently "loved", but were not willing to share their home with.
It was then that I made the decision. I would foster Sunshine. Mind you, I have three other pit bulls that I own and live with, and there were a mountain of unknowns about this decision....this was a dog I'd never met! Would Sunshine be aggressive after living on a chain her ENTIRE life?...How would I acclimate her to indoor life when all she's ever known is living on the end of a cold metal chain? She's been on a chain every day, 24/7 for her WHOLE would she even know how to behave if she came inside? Where to start? So I decided to think logically about the steps it would take to get this girl ready to live the life of a pit bull princess, which of course is every pit bull's dream...but to go from one extreme to the other....logically how would I do it?
I thought about it, and I thought logically it would make sense to ease her in, little by little, by starting off with her outside as she is used to....I mean, bringing her inside, plopping her into a crate and leaving for work was NOT going to work out....THAT I felt sure of. So I decided to get her a pen. Mind you, I live in downtown Raleigh, where dogs are not kept in pens...that is what people who live in the country do....BUT I was determined to make Sunshine's transition from chains to princess life a gradual one, so as not to freak her out too much. I didn't want to scare her. I wanted to slowly teach her just how great (and comfortable!) life could be when you lived as part of a family...inside! I set out looking for a really nice pen. The one I really liked was for sale new at a farm supply store for $500...but I didn't have $500! I really wanted to borrow a pen....I didn't have any plan to have a dog pen inside my backyard for an extended amount of time. After reading up on pens, I discovered that pit bulls who are determined to escape (and they are known as escape artist dogs) can chew through chain link because it is made of a soft metal. The pen I had found at the store was made of welded wire, and a very heavy gauge, where it would be very unlikely to be escaped. There was even a top piece you could buy for an extra $150 to make it more difficult in case the dog got any ideas about climbing out. Of course I would also need a dog house...she couldn't be expected to just sleep on the exposed ground!
I searched on Craigslist and in no time at all I found the very pen I had seen at the store! It was in good shape, and the people only wanted $250 for it! With the help of FB folks who had been following her story and who donated to her cause, it sounded great to me! A friend offered to drive me out to the country to pick it up with his truck and trailer, and when we got there, the seller offered the top piece thrown in! They even gave me their old dog house. I was so excited for Sunshine! We got it all home and sanded off the rough spots of rust, repainted it and set it up! It was perfect!! NOW I was ready to have Sunshine move in!
Sunshine came to me through a highly choreographed group of five transporters, arranged by Tammy T., who assigned each person a leg of the route to bring Little Miss Sunshine a step closer and closer to me at each handoff. Kathy Carrico was the last person who drove Sunshine to actually hand her off to me. We visited for a few minutes outside the cars and Kathy walked Sunshine while I printed some adoption bios for the very next day's Positive Pit Bull adoption event. Then, after we took a few pictures, me with Sunshine and Kathy with her, I put Sunshine into my car (i had set up a crate but I put her on the front seat to ride beside me) and we went driving back to Raleigh, Sunshine's new temp. home with me! She was apprehensive, and understandably scared. I mean, she had never moved outside of an 8 foot square for all of the four years she'd been alive! It was a big world to her! I drove her through the Mcdonald's drive thru, where I ordered her a cheeseburger. She ate it very delicately, but was obviously excited about the TASTES of being chain-free! She seemed very happy but still very apprehensive, as if she didn't know what to expect next. After her cheeseburger, she settled down and fell asleep in the front seat!
I got her home and let her out in the back yard to explore a little. I put her into her brand new pen, doghouse freshly stuffed with hay to burrow in as well as a kuranda bed outside the doghouse for lounging. She sat on the kuranda bed staring at the back of my house, whining. I decided to go inside for ten minutes, then come back to check on her. She was in the same position, staring and whining. So I brought her in. From the minute Sunshine came inside, it was like she knew all along she was meant to be a princess, only noone ever gave her the chance. She sat on the couch with me immediately, curled up and went to sleep. Only had one accident inside, even though she has been an outdoor girl her whole life. She blended with my dogs beautifully! Of course introductions are best when done slowly, so I let Cricket outside with her to begin with. She showed only a mild interest in Cricket, but no aggression whatsoever! Next, was Rocco and Georgie, same reaction, she pretty much ran around the yard with them, but sniffing and exploring on her own mostly. Perfect! I couldn't have asked for a better progression than this! next, I wanted to see what would happen when I introduced her to the crate. I threw in a HIGH value treat. She looked at it but did not approach. I threw in another, she took a step toward and put one foot in, nose busily sniffing as hard as she could. One more treat and she went in! I quickly shut the door and walked out of the room. I wanted to give her about ten minutes then come back to check on her. She didn't make one peep, even with being in a crate for the first time in her life! When I checked on her, she was SLEEPING in the crate!!
I think Sunshine is just so grateful to be inside, where she isn't freezing constantly, where she has some companionship playing with the other dogs, and some attention from a human who loves her FINALLY, that she just knew what to do to fit in. She is happy to have traded her chains for her new shiny white Pit Bull Pearls she is wearing a lot these days. And my dogs and myself have welcomed her into our lives with open arms, our hearts bursting with love for her.
Sunshine has recently tested positive for heartworms. :( The rescue (Marley's Cat Tales and Dogs Too) who is helping with her medical bills said she would have been dead within three weeks if I hadn't stepped up to take her in. She will receive her first treatment this Saturday, then come home to stay inside her crate 24/7 for a whole month. No worries though, I'll be there to care for her and encourage her through it. It's the least I can do for a dog who has never known real love.
A foster dog can be a lot of things that aren't very attractive: trouble, more effort, sick, needy, dirty, and can seem like more trouble than they're worth sometimes. But if you've never done it, you'll get something out of it that's unexpected and you owe it to yourself to do it once. Your foster dog will teach you more about compassion and love than you ever knew before, and your heart will literally never be the same. The rewards far outweigh the trouble you thought it'd be in the beginning and you will be a better person for it. Noone can really tell you this. You have to just do it once and see for yourself. When that dog eventually does find the forever home he/she is meant to be in, you will feel like dying from your loss, but I'd be willing to bet you'll do it again.
I challenge every person to go to your local shelter and look into the eyes of each dog there. One will speak to you and you'll know that's the one who needs you most. Become a foster for your shelter today and let's work on making the world a NOKILL world!

Monday, June 21, 2010


With the summers in the south getting hotter earlier and lasting longer into the year, pet owners should take precautionary measures for their pets if they must be outside for any length of time. Heat in North Carolina can make it a life or death situation for our animals, so please take the time to ensure your pet's needs are met and they have what they need to survive.

HOT WEATHER: Companion animals should be brought inside. If an animal must be left outside, there must be full shade and plenty of water for him to access. However, when temperatures and humidity soar, as with every day in the North Carolina summers, these precautions are not enough and you will risk the death of your animal by leaving him/her outdoors. If you come home to an outside animal that is rapidly panting, lethargic, is restless and has excessive thirst,he may be experiencing heat exhaustion. Dogs have a very limited ability to sweat to cool themselves, only through the pads of their feet and their mouths. If you notice your dog has these symptoms and has been subjected to the extreme heat, immerse him in a tub of cool water, whether in a baby pool, or inside in your own bathtub. Contact your veterinarian immediately. If you see another dog left outside without proper provisions, call the local animal control or police department.

EXERCISE: Take precautionary measures when exercising your pet during the summer. Limit the amount of time and frequency spent exercising when temps and humidity are high, since pets cannot sweat of perspire like humans. Their body temperature can increase rapidly and if they overdo it, brain damage can or even death can occur. If you want to make sure they get their exercise during the summer months, limit strenuous activity to eaarly morning or late evening hours, and make sure they have plenty of cool water before and after the exercise. Alternately, consider an indoor treadmill that you and your pet can use, but make sure your pet only uses it for five minutes at a time.

CARS AND PETS: Leaving your pet inside a vehicle (while you just run inside for a minute) can prove dangerous or fatal in just a few minutes. Leaving windows open can invite people to steal your dog and other items inside your car. NEVER leave your dog in a car in summer under any circumstances. If you have to run errands and just want to bring your dog along for the ride, please don't. Leave him at home where you know he can be safe. If you see another dog left inside a car in summer, call your local animal control and/or the police.

TOXIC PLANTS: Even chemicals on your lawn can be toxic to your dog. Read labels carefully and make sure to water down your lawn after fertilizing, being sure to let it dry completely before your dog goes out again. Here is a list of plants that may be toxic to your dog:
Poisonous Plants by Category

Why Dogs Chew Things and How to Teach Them What Is and What Is Not Allowed

Dogs love to chew. It's one of the things they do and you might as well get ready for it. Chewing helps puppies ease their pain during teething time and adult dogs ease stress/anxiety. It is our job as dog owners to teach our dogs what items are allowed to be chewed on and which ones are not.
Dogs have no way of knowing that shoes and other items are off limits unless WE teach them.

We want to allow the chewing behavior since it is a natural behavior that they will do, but we want to show them which items are theirs to chew.

Begin by picking up anything that you do not want chewed on: your shoes, pocketbook, clothing items, books, magazines, etc. When your dog pays attention to and begins to chew on an appropriate item, shower him with attention and praise! He will quickly learn that whenever he chews on THIS item, he gets everything he wants...the toy, AND attention from you! Chewing on the right toy is the best thing he could possibly do!

Chewing CAN be a positive thing, when you work WITH your dog, instead of trying to correct him for chewing things YOU left lying around in the first place!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fostering Odie

I visited Best Friends Animal Sanctuary for the first time in April of 2009. What an amazing rescue operation it is, and the biggest in the country! My reason for going was that I was interested in working with some of the Michael Vick dogs...I had followed the story closely and wanted to see first hand how dogs who'd been through such an abusive past would behave after being worked with by trainers for nearly a year. The ones I met and was able to walk still had fear issues and crouched to the ground when we'd walk on a leash. The damage sustained from whatever hell they endured while being owned by Mr. Vick was palpable. It was obvious they'd endured a lot of bad and not enough, if any, good, before arriving at Best Friends Sanctuary.
While I was visiting, I met a little pittie named Odie, who'd been at the sanctuary for awhile. He'd come there as a stray from L.A. and developed a fence running/barrier aggression problem, since there were other big dogs on both sides of his wire fenced area. He looked tired. As a general rule, pit bulls do not fare well in a kennel environment for very long.
Best Friends has a policy that allows visitors to take a dog off the property for an "overnight" if they'd like to. This gives the dog a short break from his kennel life, and allows him to decompress a little and get a taste of living with a human, instead of inside a wire run 24 hrs a day, seven days a week. I decided I wanted to take Odie on an overnight and took him to stay with me in my hotel room. Odie is a white dog, but he was basically tinted a red color from living in the red sand desert at the sanctuary. I wanted to give him a bath so he could feel "new" again, but my room had no tub. I brought him into the bathroom and filled the ice bucket about a million times with warm soapy water that I poured over him in the shower, until he was shining white again. He looked beautiful! I then wrapped him in a blanket and put him up on the bed, thinking, by the time I get out of the shower, he'll have destroyed everything in the room! To my surprise he was in the exact same position asleep on the bed!
When I returned him the next day, I mentioned to Best Friends that I would foster him, honestly not knowing if they did that...I mean the sanctuary is in Utah and I live in NC! They shipped him to me within a couple of months and now he's been with me for about 8 months.
Yesterday I got an email that someone's adoption app went through for Odie and that we'd soon be making arrangements to fly him to Maryland to live in his new home. I cried like a baby when I got this news...because as much as I want him to have his own home with no other male dogs (he's DA with males), I have fallen in love with him at the same time and secretly (and selfishly) want him to stay here.
The new home is actually perfect for Odie. There is only one other dog, and it is a female, which Odie will love! He will be more in the spotlight, where now he is here with my other two dogs that I do therapy work with a lot. He will get to stay out of his crate more, since the husband works from home. He'll get lots of leash walks with his person and new doggie friend.
Alright, the new home IS actually perfect for him. I am feeling somewhat better today after getting my big cry about it over with last night.
I will follow Odie and keep up with how he's doing through his new family and I'll think about him often and about how we bonded while he was with me. I feel great that I could be his "bridge" while he adjusted to living in a home, and waiting for his forever home to come along.
Fostering a dog is a very emotional thing to do, and not for the faint of heart! I'd highly recommend it.