Last Friday I woke up to the insistent beeping of my alarm clock… and a young pit bull covered in Gorilla Glue. He had it all over his face, all over his front paws, across the top of his head, on his scrotum, and all over my carpet.
Gorilla glue is a great product, but when it contacts moisture, it expands tremendously. Guess what’s nice and moist? The inside of a dog. Even a small amount of ingested glue can expand far enough to cause a blockage, and the only solution is surgery.
So, in went Trek to work.
A quick xray confirmed it (and a belly full of kibble because I was stupid and not awake yet and fed him. Surgeon not amused).
So off to surgery he went. After they scooped out all his breakfast (I’m sorry I really am), they removed several large hard spongy sections of glue. Thankfully the glue doesn’t stick to the stomach and all of it was still in the stomach, so it was a “simple” foreign body removal. With a big incision. For big mistakes.
This morning he brought me a knife while I was still in bed. I just don’t even..
Off he went to recovery where he slept off his drugs. The surgery team was nice enough to scrape all the glue off his tongue and the inside of his mouth, as well as his muzzle. I sat and pulled the glue off his feet. It was like he was wearing casts, it was so hard. It left angry skin underneath, but what are you going to do?
He did fine after surgery. The surgeon warned me that it was not a sterile surgery because of all the food they had to take out and he might spike a fever and have to deal with some infection, so he went home on antibiotics as well as pain medication, but he never seemed any worse for the wear. The jerk.
We spent the weekend camping out at a flyball tournament and he was as obnoxious as if he had never had major abdominal surgery. And he ate his way out of my tent in the middle of the night.
Oh Trek. You are such an adventure.
As a guide dog puppy raiser (for the school Roselle came from, no less) I always intrigued by the story of guide dog handler Michael Hingson and his guide dog Roselle. For those that don’t know about this famous duo, Mr. Hingson and Roselle were on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 when the planes struck the twin towers.
In his memoir of the event, titled Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust, Mr. Hingson writes about the fateful day that his guide dog saved his life- jumping up from under his desk when the plane struck his tower, and guiding him down 78 flights of stairs over the course of several hours while fires blazed above them and jet fuel fumes choked the air of the stairwell. Emerging from the tower just moments before it fell, Roselle guided them both through what must have been sheer terror, to safety in an underground subway station.
The book is peppered with flashbacks of Mr. Hinson growing up as a blind child, his trials and tribulations from school, to college, to life with his first and subsequent guide dogs. The tales are humorous, inspiring, and set the stage for their harrowing escape from the tower. The flashbacks give you insight into how Mr. Hingson learns to navigate the sighted world with the help of adaptive technologies and establishes the trust and teamwork needed between him and his guides. Without those two things, the pair would never have escaped the tower.
If you’re looking for a feel-good book that doesn’t take too long to read, this is a great one to pick up. Mr. Hingson talks about events that led him to be in the World Trade Center that day, talks about puppy raising and training of Roselle and his previous guide dogs, and explains how she really outperformed herself getting them out of the tower, and then later that night, out of Manhattan.
Recently the rescue organization that I volunteer with changed its policy so that long-distance adoptions (which were previously allowed if the adopters were willing to arrange transport on their own) are no longer permitted. Since I have the wonderful and joyous job of fielding general inquiry emails for the organization, this has meant that I’ve had to repeatedly dash the hopes of prospective adopters who fell in love with a pup on the Internet only to discover that they’re outside our newly shrunk adoption range. Quite often, people are disappointed to be told that they can’t have a dog even before they were given any chance to apply, which is totally understandable.
Because it’s a fairly common scenario — my rescue is hardly the only one to restrict its adoptions to a limited area — and because I think it might alleviate the disappointment if people had a clearer picture of how rescue works and why some organizations choose to have these policies (it’s not personal, I promise!), I figured I’d set down a few thoughts on the subject here.
As a preface, I want to note that I don’t have any inherent objection to long-distance adoptions. Quite the opposite, actually. Long-distance adoptions have been some of my most successful placements. I’ve adopted my own personal fosters out to homes all across the country — and will continue to do so when it comes to my own fosters. I’ve sent them out on planes, trains, and automobiles (well, okay, not literally any trains), and every one of them has gotten an awesome, fantastic home. I’d do it again in a heartbeat for every one of those dogs. I couldn’t be happier about where each of them landed.
But I can also understand why rescues might choose to make a different decision for their dogs. Here’s why:
Responsible rescues commit to their dogs.
That’s it. That is the core principle from which everything else flows. Responsible rescues stand behind their dogs. If one of their dogs loses its home for any reason, the rescue steps up and takes the animal back.
Most of the time, adoptions fail because adopters have unrealistic expectations and don’t realize how much work it is to train and socialize a dog. ANY dog is going to need time and energy and sustained attention, and some people aren’t prepared for that. This is the primary reason that long-distance adoptions fail, just like it’s the primary reason all adoptions fail.
The problem that I often run into is that prospective adopters immediately and reflexively want to counter with “well, I would never do that, and it’s not fair for you to judge me before you’ve even looked at my application!” That’s a totally normal response, and most of the time I believe that it’s true. Most adopters do, in fact, provide good and responsible homes for their dogs.
But not all adoptions fail due to irresponsible adopters. What happens if the dog proves to be a bad fit for that home? What if it starts fighting with resident pets, scaring the children, or annoying the neighbors? What if the owner suddenly loses a job or suffers an emotional crisis that renders them financially or mentally unable to care for the animal? What if there’s an unexpected accident or illness that leaves the owner physically unable to care for the dog?
In those situations — which are unforeseeable, and which are nobody’s fault, and all of which have happened to my rescue group at one time or another — the rescue is morally obligated to step in and take care of the dog. It is much, much harder to honor that responsibility if the home is far away. It costs gas money and volunteer time and a lot of logistical coordination to retrieve a dog from a failed long-distance adoption.
Done right, rescue is a constant money sink. Nobody makes money in a small or mid-sized private rescue. At best the organization breaks even, more often the volunteers end up paying out of own pocket to cover at least some of the costs (or, in my case, all of them). There is no government funding, no animal control contract, no major trust set aside to defray costs for years to come. Every penny comes in through donations or adoption fees, and there’s never enough to cover the costs of rescue even when everything goes smoothly.
There definitely isn’t enough money — or enough volunteer manpower — to send people on daylong trips to retrieve dogs from failed adoptions. Not on top of medical care and boarding costs and the routine cost of feeding and housing the “easy” animals. Although most adopters are indeed responsible, and most adoptions go smoothly, it only takes one or two of these trips per month to seriously strain a rescue’s finances.
And in almost all cases, the rescue does have to send somebody out to get the dog, because the adopter won’t or can’t do it. Most often, by the time the adoption fails, the adopter is just exasperated with the animal and unwilling to make a 6- or 8-hour drive to return it. Other times, however, the adopter is frightened of driving that long with an aggressive or unpredictable dog, or doesn’t have the money to make the trip after falling into dire financial straits, or can’t handle the physical or emotional toll of a long-distance journey anymore. There are reasons beyond simple unwillingness that leave people unable to follow through with commitments that they honestly intended to keep.
So the rescue has to do it, and that creates a burden that some rescues are not in a position to carry.
A secondary factor here is that most of the time, the dogs that are in demand with long-distance adopters are also in demand with local adopters. Very rarely do we get inquiries from long-distance adopters who want rowdy adolescent pit mixes (and if we did, well, that might be a special enough occasion to warrant bending the usual rule). Most of the time, if an adopter is reaching out across several states for a dog, it’s because that particular dog has a combination of highly desirable traits — which means that the dog very likely also has a number of excellent local homes interested in adopting.
It’s not hard to place Golden Retriever puppies. It’s not hard to place healthy, sweet-tempered nonshedding dogs. These dogs always get floods of applications as soon as they’re listed, and therefore it’s not necessary for the rescue to take the greater risk inherent in a long-distance adoption. That dog will find a perfectly nice home in its local area within a week of hitting Petfinder. There’s just no reason to gamble on sending the animal farther away.
When rescues do routinely approve long-distance adoptions, it’s usually because they’re having difficulty placing animals in their local areas. Either the animal is of a type that’s in less demand (again: if you want to adopt a rowdy adolescent pit bull who’s been sitting in foster care for six months, even a “local only” rescue might be willing to make an exception), or the rescue is situated in an area where local adoptions aren’t high enough to offset their intakes. But if neither of those things is true, then it’s quite likely that a small-to-midsize volunteer-run rescue might have a geographical restriction on its adoptions.
It’s absolutely not personal. It is purely a numbers game: even with the best possible screening, some percentage of adoptions will fail, so the rescue can either make a calculation that it’s worth eating the cost of those failed adoptions to get the percentage of successful adoptions, or that the cost of failures is greater than it can absorb. If a rescue has a “local adoptions only” policy, all it means is that the organization ran the numbers and concluded that it was not able to sustain the costs. It’s not a judgment on any individual applicant — quite the opposite! — and it is my hope that this post has helped explain why.
July 7th was Julio’s two year anniversary here with us. It’s hard to believe he’s three years old already! The time certainly flies. Celebrating his ‘birthday’ gave me a chance to reflect over our time together, and it made me realize that he has really made great strides in his time with us.
When we first got Julio he was a hot mess. He was probably a Christmas puppy who lost his ‘cute factor’ quickly as he grew to be almost 80 pounds. Our best guess is that he was largely ignored before he was abandoned at the boat launch. As I discussed on his one year anniversary, Julio came with lots of issues.
It has been a long, slow road, but this year, I can honestly say that most of those problems are now a thing of the past. I don’t think Julio will ever be 100% trustworthy, but he definitely knows his place in our lives (and that that niche isn’t going anywhere).
Thanks to crate training, Julio has gotten over his separation anxiety. He eagerly goes to his crate as soon as he hears me putting my shoes on. Now that Mike and I have our own place, we were able to start working on leaving Julio loose in the house more and more often.
We started off by leaving him on the balcony while we fed the horses in the yard. He could see us for part of the time, and couldn’t get into trouble otherwise.
Eventually, we started leaving the balcony door open and started finding Julio sleeping on the couch when we came inside.
The next step was to leave Julio loose in the house while we got in the car and went somewhere. We started off with a five minute drive around the block, then worked up to a half hour run to the store, then worked up to an afternoon away. Slowly, slowly, slowly. These days, we can leave Julio loose in the house for six hours at a time and not worry about coming home to a shredded couch or shoes with tooth marks in them or missing laundry.
Being here has also forced us to work on Julio’s tendency to get distracted and wander off. He has a decent recall for a dog who was never trained as a puppy, but it doesn’t take much to call his attention away. Other dogs, deer, or something shiny in the woods; it’s all enough to hold his attention just a little longer than I’d like. Since our yard is not fenced in, there’s little room for error. Sure, our road is of the quiet, country variety, but the speed limit is high and the visibility isn’t great.
With the help of a drag line, Julio has really started to learn the boundaries of the property, and has started to call off of even the most delicious and/or interesting distractions. He even came back to me when the neighbor’s cat was taunting him from behind the barn!
This new found liberty has allowed us to exercise Julio more freely. Games of fetch and tug and zoom are all possibilities in our big, open yard now.
Of course, it helps that Julio has a good role model. He has bonded with Herbie deeply, and seems to adore his ‘big’ sister. Since Herbie knows and obeys the rules, and Julio mimics Herbie’s actions, he has gotten closer and closer to being the type of dog I would have raised myself.
Best of all, Julio’s improved behavior has meant that we’ve gotten to take both dogs with us on our grand adventures. Rather than leaving them home with our (excellent) dog sitter while we go away to endurance rides and camping trips, we are now able to pack the dogs in the car with our gear and go away for days on end. Julio taught Herbie to lie down and relax in the back seat of the car. Herbie taught Julio that tents make for great sleeping (except when there are Weird Noises that… that’s when our Big Black Dog turns into a watchdog extraordinaire).
In fact, this weekend we’re going away to a lake house in the Adirondacks and the dogs get to come with us!
Julio seems to have forgotten that he was ever abandoned. His initial fear of getting in a car has dissipated, and has, instead, turned into an adoration of road trips and car rides. If there’s an open car door, you can’t keep him out of it.
Similarly, his distrust of strange men has gone away. He greets all people with enthusiasm and trust, just like Herbie always has.
In some ways, it feels like just yesterday when this scared, oversized dog appeared in our yard. The time flies and I can’t believe how long it has been. In other ways, it feels like Julio has always been here, a member of the family. I cannot imagine my life without two pitties trailing me everywhere I go.
Julio has definitely become our Pet Dog.
More often than not lately my photography focuses on dogs running agility. I still take plenty of photos of my own dog when we’re out and about, but when I’m asked to take pictures, about 99% of the time it’s for agility photos.
Disclaimer: I am not a professional photographer, just someone who loves the hobby and spends too much time thinking about it.
Disclaimer, part 2: I love taking photos of agility dogs.
Agility photography is fun, no doubt about it it. But there are plenty of challenging aspects to photographing these dogs. For one, they’re fast. Sometimes really fast. And they’re somewhat unpredictable at times. Dogs speed up. Dogs slow down. Handlers direct them to the wrong obstacle and they veer away from where you expect them to be. Unless you know the specific dog in question, you don’t know if you’re looking at a dog who is going to race through the course at Mach-10 or if the dog is going to just trot through it with a ridiculously stupid grin on her face while making everyone laugh (Dahlia, I’m looking at you). And honestly, the way they come out to the field is not always indicative of what you’re going to see. There’s a dog in our class who trots out slowly with his handler. But then when she releases him watch out! He’s one of the fast dogs I know.
So there’s a lot to think about in regards to taking photos of these crazy dogs in action. If you do it wrong, at best your photo will be a little blurry and at worst you’ll completely miss the moment. And there’s no do-overs in agility, especially in trial situations. So you have to be fast. You have to be accurate. And you have to know what you’re looking for.
Let’s address equipment issues first. I’m going to be honest here. Agility photography without a DSLR is really really difficult. I know because I’ve been there. When I first started classes in 2010, I still had a point and shoot camera. A fancy one to be sure, but it still wasn’t a DSLR. I took a handful of pictures once and managed to get a couple that weren’t overly blurry, but still weren’t good quality. They definitely weren’t what I wanted. And they’re probably not what you want either.
So what do you want?
If you’re going to take photos outside at a fun match or a trial, any DSLR will do, really. I took my first agility photos at a trial back in 2011 using a Sony A230. It was a small, lightweight camera, and an entry-level DSLR. It’s not the best of the best, certainly, but it was more than adequate for outdoor agility photography.
However, a camera like the A230 is going to fail you if you want to take indoor agility photographs. Which is most of what I do these days.
A camera upgrade was definitely warranted! These days I use a Sony A580. It’s a great low-light camera and we’ll get into why that is in a little bit!
So now that you’ve got a decent camera, let’s talk lenses. Lenses can get ridiculously expensive. Anyone who is into photography learns that lesson pretty quickly. Do you need an expensive lens? Not necessarily and especially not if you’re at an outside event. The first photo I posted was taken using a Tamron 75-300mm lens, which I got for about $150 in 2011 (that lens is now discontinued, but the Tamron 70-300mm is only $165). It’s a little tougher using a cheap lens. They’re not very fast. They’re a little bit clunky. You have to get really good with timing your shots because the lens doesn’t react quickly. But it’s certainly doable. So if you have an entry-level DSLR and a cheap zoom lens, have at it!
Now, that being said, if you want to take indoor agility photos, the lenses are out there for that. In this case, you truly do want a very fast lens.
What is a fast lens? A fast lens has a large aperture (generally f/2.8 or lower), which allows a lot more light in. Why is this important? Because the more light you let into the lens, the faster your shutter speed can be. And when you’re talking dogs moving as fast as some of these agility dogs do, you need a pretty speedy shutter to freeze the moment. A “fast” lens also autofocuses fast. The problem with the Tamron lens above is that it often hunts for focus and so sometimes you just don’t catch the moment. With a faster lens, it can autofocus almost instantly, catching the moment as you see it coming.
In addition to wanting a fast lens, you’re going to want a lens with a bit of reach. There are some great fast lenses at the 28mm and 50mm range, but that’s going to generally put you far too away from the action you’ll end up seeing far more of the course and far less of the dog than you want to. Favorites of agility photographers generally are in the range of 70-200mm.
My current favorite lens for agility photography is a Minolta 135mm f/2.8. Yes, it’s a prime lens, which means any “zooming” has to be done by my feet or by cropping the photo (both of which I use quite frequently!). It’s extremely lightweight, it’s very fast, and it lets in a lot of light. And because it’s a prime, it tends to be very sharp. The other lens I use on occasion is a Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8. This lens produces some great quality pictures, but has some drawbacks. It’s extremely heavy (the lens itself weighs 2.5 pounds!) and not nearly as fast as the prime lens. It gives me a little more (and less) reach, but I find myself reaching for the Minolta far more often because the Tamron is hard to handhold for extended periods of time.
Ultimate suggestion for agility photography: A mid-level DSLR and a lens that goes down to f/2.8 for aperture and gives you a bit of reach.
Now, Dom has explained an awful lot about camera settings for dog photography here. I’d definitely suggest re-reading that if you’re unfamiliar with the terminology or want a quick refresher. On the technical camera side of things, all photography can be seen as a combination of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.
These can combine in many different ways, but here’s how I see it for agility:
I need a fast shutter speed. That is Priority #1. Fast-moving dogs require a fast shutter speed. I never shoot slower than 1/500 and if I can I shoot at 1/1000 or faster. In brighter light where I can make use of it, I’m often up around 1/2000 or even higher. The faster I can go for shutter speed, the faster the dog I can capture.
To get that fast shutter speed, especially in lower light conditions it means doing two things:
(1) Lowering aperture. At indoor shoots, unless there is some ambient light from outside, I tend to shoot as wide as I can (generally f/2.8, though I have had the rare opportunity to use my 50mm f/1.7 lens in class situations). The wide-open aperture often means that photos are likely to be a little soft (which means they’re not quite as sharp when viewing the full size photo), but it’s a compromise I make to get a higher shutter speed and a photo that’s in focus. Since most people these days aren’t making huge prints of their photos, this isn’t a massive deal. But it’s something to be aware of. And as Dom points out, less of the photo will be on focus.
(2) Raising ISO. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the digital processor is to light. So it seems to make sense to bump this up as high as you can go. But…(you knew that was coming, right?)…there is a caveat. The higher the ISO, the more grainy (or “noise”) there is to the photo. And some cameras simply cannot handle an ISO above 800. The “camera fail” photo above was taken at 3200. The Sony A230 is really not designed to take low-light/high-ISO photos. This was my main reason for switching to the Sony A580. While there is still some noise at higher ISOs, it is much less severe. I have shot as high as 6400 at an indoor shoot at night.
Ultimately, what works best is completely dependent on the lighting conditions that are present. In the agility barn during the day, I like to keep to ISO 800-1600, and at least 1/640 shutter speed. Aperture is almost always at f/2.8. That combination allows me to get a fast enough shutter speed to catch photos like this one.
For outdoor agility photos? This is so dependent on the lighting conditions (which can change from one moment to the next, making outdoor photography occasionally even more challenging) that it’s hard to say. In bright sunlight, I aim for 1/1000 to 1/2000 for a shutter speed, try to stick to no higher than 200 for ISO, and bump up my aperture to sharpen the images.
Setting up your shots
Here are a few recommendations from my experiences in shooting agility:
(1) If this is a trial situation, be very careful of where you are. Do not sit too close and make sure that you’re not interfering with the hired photographer, if there is one. You may even want to introduce yourself to the photographer during a down time and let them know you’re just there for some practice.
(2) Watch everyone walk the course or get yourself a course map. You’ll want to pick one spot to stand and be able to catch a couple obstacles. You will not be able to get everything. So situate yourself where you can catch something toward the beginning and something toward the end. Remember that these dogs move fast. Sometimes they finish an entire course in under 25 seconds! That means you don’t have much time to think. So get yourself in there, find your spot, and stick to it!
(3) Watch the sun if you’re outside. The last thing you want to do is pick a spot and find out that the jump you wanted to photograph has the sun directly behind it.
(4) Make sure you are far enough away that you don’t interfere with the dogs on the course. The first agility trial I ever went to, I found a spot toward the end of the weaves to photograph. I was about 10 feet back from the ring so not right up against it, but still, someone came over and informed that where I sat was a huge distraction and a dog was going for their MACH (Master Agility Championship title) that day. I moved. It was the polite thing to do. Now, granted, that dog should have been able to ignore anything by that point, but they wanted to give him his best shot at finishing that all important agility title (he did) and I understood entirely.
(5) Use “continuous” mode shooting. I make this mistake more often than I’d like to. I take some portraits and then head off for an agility shoot and it often takes me about 30-40 photos to realize that my camera is set to the wrong mode. Most cameras have three modes for shooting: Single-shot (you press the shutter down halfway, the focus locks on that particular thing and you can move the camera to recompose your shot; handy for portraits but not for agility!), Automatic (if you lock the focus on a stationary object and it starts to move, the camera will continue to focus on it; this can be handy for agility, especially if you “track” the dog as it’s heading toward a jump); and Continuous (the camera is constantly focusing without ever locking down; definitely handy for agility). I prefer the latter only because dogs are so fast that sometimes tracking them in automatic doesn’t work as well as you might think.
(6) Don’t be afraid of using the burst mode of shooting on your camera. In the burst mode, your camera will continue to take pictures while you hold the shutter down. My camera has a few different modes for this, but I generally choose the “low” option, which allows the camera to focus between shots, but still can take up to 3 photos per second. This means that sometimes I can start taking photos just before the jump and finish just after the jump. I might get 6-10 photos in that short bit of time and one of them might be at the right moment. I don’t use this nearly as much as I did in the beginning as I’ve gotten pretty good at timing the photos based on the dog’s speed. But when it comes to a particularly fast dog or a tricky spot, I still make use of it!
Phew! There’s a lot to agility photography as you can see. Feel free to offer more tips in the comments. And if you’re reading this and thinking “Wow I never thought about everything that goes into that awesome photo of Fluffy I bought last year,” then go thank that photographer! They’ve put a lot of work into their craft to get that photo for you.