Pearl’s Tale

Long time readers may remember that I work at a low cost spay/neuter clinic in NJ, and that my boss, the vet, runs a dog rescue that rescues, rehabs, and finds adoptive homes for Satos, Puerto Rican street dogs. The rescue continues to grow, and much of my boss’s farm has been transformed into climate-controlled housing for pups in need. With adoptions numbering in the hundreds each year, it is an organization that does an overwhelming amount of good. For the most part, my involvement in the dog rescue is limited despite the fact that I spend three days a week at the clinic, working as a tech.

I do volunteer my photography services to the rescue. When dogs come in, I am the one who takes their adoption photos. It’s a rewarding job because a good photo is often all it takes to find a lead for a homeless dog. It is also a fun job that involves lying in the grass in the sunshine, waving squeaky toys, and getting licked by puppies. Often times, I see the dogs once or twice between when they arrive and when they get adopted out. In fact, many of the puppies have homes lined up before they even fly stateside. Usually, I don’t get names or back stories on any of the dogs. I take the photos, edit them at home, and send out a mass email to all the parties involved in finding forever homes. The files go on my external hard drive and I almost never even look at them again.

Once in a while, however, a dog comes along whose story I can’t ignore. Sometimes, dogs come in extremely sick, and I hold them for diagnostics and treatment. I change blankets and flush IV’s and take temperatures. I snuggle pups whose bodies ache and who need a comforting hand to keep them quiet while they heal. Most of the time, the dogs recover and go off to live happily ever after. I can count on one hand the number of dogs we’ve lost in the four years I’ve been volunteering with the rescue. Still, sick dogs break my heart, and I don’t have the heart to write about their ailments.

This year, a dog came along that was special in a different way. This is Pearl’s story, and it’s a feel-good tale just in time for the holidays.

Meet Pearl:
12096555_10100760299141469_2816486152682750296_nPearl is a chi-weenie, or, at least, that’s our best guess. Like 99% of the dogs we take in, she was found wandering the streets of Puerto Rico. She was emaciated, full of heartworms and other parasites, and very, very pregnant. Pearl had been on her own for so long that she was completely terrified of people. Thanks in part to the fact that she was so incredibly sick and weak, the rescuers in PR were able to wrangle her and get her to safety.

It wasn’t long before Pearl delivered a litter of four teeny, tiny puppies.

The babies were healthy, but mom had given them all she had and was very, very weak. The puppies were supplemented with formula to take some of the strain off of Pearl. She was a good mom; a very good mom. She cleaned and nursed her babies and was very protective of them. Unfortunately, this made socializing her even more of a challenge. She barked and snarled whenever anyone came near her litter, and she even tried to bite on several occasions.

We received this photo with a plea, “Will you guys take these four puppies and their mom?”

11988239_1682675145288089_4447317928649180359_nWe also got this photo of Pearl looking completely mortified at the prospect of meeting more strangers.11988578_1682677018621235_3842343674468044919_n

How could we say no?

As soon as the puppies were old enough to travel, we arranged to have someone to travel with them as carry-on, and Pearl got her “Freedom Flight” to the States.12043216_1684853775070226_2895413968664326285_n

After a plane ride and a car trip, Pearl and her pups arrived safely at the farm, where Pearl began treatment for her heart worm. A few days later, I took adoption photos of her and her pups. I had to stay outside the ex-pen because Pearl would try to kill me any time I got too close to her pups. She was fiercely protective of her babies and tried to bite anyone who tried to come near them, including the doc!

Juggling Pearl and her pups over the next couple of weeks was tough. Of course, the adorable puppies found homes immediately. It was just a matter of waiting for them to be old enough to be weaned. Thankfully, they’d been handled by people since birth and were extremely friendly.

Once the puppies were weaned and adopted, the real work began. Without her motherly instincts kicking in, Pearl stopped being aggressive, which was a relief. However, she was painfully shy. The vet took her inside her house to get her used to cohabiting with people. Pearl started getting used to my boss, but still barked at her son and hid from him. Pearl was quickly getting attached to the doctor, but that wouldn’t help her get adopted.

One day, the vet brought Pearl into the clinic, and informed me that the little dog would be “working” with us every day. It became my personal mission to befriend the terrified chihuahua mix.

It wasn’t easy. Pearl hid from me. She barked at me when she felt cornered. She shook. I tried bribing her with human food and cat treats, tricks that have worked with many dogs over the years, but Pearl’s fear was greater than her appetite. She resisted even the most delicious treats (Dunkin Donuts hash browns!) even when I left them far from myself.

Gradually, however, she started to come around. She started taking food that I left on the floor for her. Then she’d eat it from a few inches away from me. Eventually, she took it from my hand if I sat completely still. After a lot of time and patience, I was able to pet her while she ate, and eventually pick her up.

The weather worked to my advantage. Once the temperatures started to drop, hairless Pearl from the tropics started to realize the benefits of a warm body to cuddle. I would have her sit in my lap while I invoiced and did office work at the end of the day, and it wasn’t long before I caught her following me around the mobile unit as long as I didn’t make eye contact with her. Slowly, she was coming around.



In the mean time, we discovered that Pearl was a great little farm dog. She never strayed far. She came when she was called. She got along with the other dogs and cats on the property. She was quiet, unassuming, and obedient. Gradually, very gradually, she started to come out of her shell. She looked right at home.


The hunt for an adoptive home began in earnest. Where were we going to find someone with the patience and quiet nature this skittish little girl needed? She deserved a home to call her own. A few people came to look at her, among them an elderly couple who wanted a small dog. One after another, they passed Pearl up in favor of the cuter, friendlier, more appealing dogs on the property. The weeks flew by,and still Pearl lived on the farm and hung out in the clinic with me.

Eventually, Pearl adapted enough to go to PetSmart with the other available dogs. There she would gain more exposure to life and people. PetSmart also increased her chances of someone noticing her.

And notice her they did! A family came in who wanted a project dog, someone whose affection they would have to earn. Pearl would be perfect. It was love at first sight!


Next thing we knew, the family had passed the application process and was ready to take her home. Best of all, we got to receive updates on our little friend in her brave, new world. She was probably pretty overwhelmed at the size and newness of it all.


We waited with bated breath to see if the home would stick. It has been five weeks now, and it doesn’t sound like Pearl is coming back to us at all. In fact, we just got this photo of her living the good life in her new home. Doesn’t she look like she owns the place?


Dog’s Best Friend(s)

They say dogs are man’s best friend, but Herbie would like to disagree with that statement. Well, maybe not so much disagree (after all, she and Mike are so close they wear matching outfits), but add onto the sentiment. After all, Herbie’s friends spread across multiple states… and species!

Of course Herbie has other doggy friends. There’s Iko, and Klaus, and Kole. Then there are the countless foster puppies she’s helped raise, including the litter of pit puppies that made my neighbor erroneously exclaim, “Aw, Herbie had puppies!”

Herbie and ‘her’ pups.

Herbie and Klaus

Herbie started breaking the Dog Rules at a young age, when she teamed up with Edison, the resident cat at work. They played chase and wrestled and fell asleep cuddling. Edison always had the upper hand, and I firmly believe that he taught Herbie to have a healthy respect for cats.

Lookit the puppy wrinkles!

Herbie’s approach when meeting new kitties is to lay flat on the ground, completely still, in ‘pancake dog mode‘, wagging just the very end of her tail. In instances when this doesn’t instantly win over the kitty object of her affection, Herbie has been known to leave the room and return with a toy or other ‘peace offering’, which she offers to the cat. It’s pretty stinkin’ cute.

These days, Herbie’s main feline partner in crime is the spay/neuter clinic’s resident tabby, Bob. The two of them are very Milo & Otis. Herbie’s foster puppy mentality has rubbed off on Bob and he has proven to be quite the surrogate mommy, even when he’s outnumbered.

Herbie pays the sentiment forward by being an excellent foster mom for cats and kittens of all ages. It started with the calico kitten in the photo I posted early on. Harley, or Weaselface as her owner calls her, grew up to be a bold and adventurous cat, and I think Herbie played a big part in that.

Herbie and Harley as youngsters.

When I brought home two orphaned kittens to bottle feed until they were strong enough to adopt, Herbie immediately went all surrogate mommy on them. She let them climb all over her, cleaned them, and let them play with her ears, paws, and tail. At one point, I had to explain to her that she couldn’t nurse the kittens because she’s 1. spayed 2. not lactating 3. a DOG.

But Herbie’s friendship instincts span beyond the world of carnivores! She and my bunny, Kodak, happily shared carpet time in the living room. Herbie very quickly learned that sudden movements were not appreciated, and spent her bunny time in ‘army crawl’ position in front of the rabbit. The bunny got to the point where he would hop up to her and clean her muzzle for her.

Snuggle time on the couch.

When Kodak passed away (from old age), Herbie spent hours laying under his hutch in the backyard. Around the same time, my best friend got a young rabbit, named Watson. Watson has free range of their apartment when C and Dev are home, and it wasn’t long before Herbie befriended him too. Watson is a much braver bunny than Kodak was and he seeks Herbie out when she comes over, hopping all over her and hopping onto the couch next to her.

On her mission to befriend the world, Herbie has gone beyond the realm of household pets. I am a horse trainer by trade and Herbie grew up around various stables and farms. Over the years she has met cows, sheep, and goats, but perhaps her most unusual friendship is that with Piggly Wiggly, the one-eared rescue pig. Piggly lives with dogs and sort of thinks she’s one of them. Herbie, on the other hand, learned to fear pigs at an early age when a pot bellied oinker chased her clear across a riding stable. However, Herbie is a forgiving dog, willing to give second chances, and after a brief warm up period, she decided to give Ms. Wiggly a chance. The two run around the pastures together to the point of exhaustion, then wander side by side to the barn, where they fall asleep.

Of course, Herbie has a good relationship with the horses too. She has a healthy respect for their hooves and knows better than to chase or antagonize the horses. She has even gone on a handful of ‘pony rides’.

Herbie in the saddle last week.

But, perhaps most famous of all, is Herbie’s friendship with Jabby, my friend Erin’s horse. The video, which went viral over night, has been featured on WebSoup and tweeted by Ellen.

What can I say? Herbie’s mission in life is to prove that friends come in all shapes and sizes :)

The ‘Kelsey Is Getting A Puppy’ Literary Review, Vol. 1

All of the sudden, my bookshelves have become overrun with puppy books. In my closet right now is a teeny life jacket and an even teenier collar, both of which I saw on sale and could not resist. In my Bow Wow Flix queue, the Silvia Trkman and Jean Donaldson DVDs are now jostling for space with videos about structure and socialization and sport foundations. There’s an old shelf in my laundry room waiting to be turned into an itty-bitty A-frame.

Futurepuppy is coming.

Futurepuppy is still a very theoretical dog: he is not even currently conceived, and once he is, he will not be coming home until April at the earliest. He is, however, an actual plan: his mama is my favorite dog-who-doesn’t-currently-live-in-my-house, his breeder is my favorite breeder, and we are both thrilled about the advent of him and his littermates. Because he’s a plan and not an actual dog yet, of course things could go awry: the breeding might not take, the litter might not have the puppy I want in it, a meteor could land on my town, who knows. But my life is beginning to open up for him, he’s beginning to take up space in my brain as well as real estate on my bookshelf, I’m starting to imagine what my life will feel like with a third dog in it, the part of my brain that enjoys planning for all contingencies is figuring out all the places we’re going to take him for socialization. And that makes him real, or at least realer than “I think I might like to get a puppy someday”, which is where I’ve been for the last few years.

I’m a person who is very committed to rescue and to the adoption of adult dogs; my own two dogs are shelter adoptees who I got as adults, and I cannot imagine loving any dogs more, nor can I imagine finding another dog who is more fascinating and fun than mine. Also, while I am VERY interested in health and temperament, I’ve never been a person who’s cared much about breed; I know that this puts me in the minority of dog people, but I don’t really have any breeds that I’m drawn to above all others. Personality traits? Absolutely. Breed? Eh. So the decision to get a) a puppy, b) a purebred puppy, c) a purebred puppy from a (fabulous, extremely reputable) breeder has not been an easy or a casual one for me. Someday, I will probably write a long and meandering post about how exactly I arrived at the decision, but it’s one that took me quite literally years to make and I still feel….complex about it.

The end result of all my wibbling is that I feel exceptionally responsible for doing well by this dog. If I am going to do this puppy thing, I am going to do it as right as I possibly can. My girls have a great, happy life now, but both were raised, not to put too fine a point on it, crappily, and I want to give my puppy the things that my girls deserved but did not get when they were little. I want Futurepuppy to be beautifully socialized and to grow up into a happy, brave, confident dog who moves through the world without fear. I want him to be strong and healthy and conditioned and comfortable in his body. While I’m doing my best to resist the set of expectations that come with labeling him my ‘performance puppy’, I’d love to compete with him (I have high hopes that he’ll be an agility and a flyball dog, but mostly I just want to do something sportsy with him in a serious way.) Above all, I don’t want to screw it up.

And thus, my bookshelf and my DVD queue and the growing list of Things To Definitely Do With The Puppy that’s beginning to take shape in my head. In the next few months, before Futurepuppy comes home, I want to soak up as much knowledge as I can: I know a fair bit, but there is always more to know, and new, cool books are being written all the time. And then I thought that all of this reading might be able to be more generally helpful, since maybe some of you might also be contemplating a puppy (and maybe you are a little less obsessive and freaked out about it then I am!) To that end, I’m going to start a little series I’m calling the Kelsey Is Getting A Puppy Literary Review: I’m going to read through my growing stack of puppy books, and then I’ll review/talk about them here. Here’s what’s on my agenda right now: Patricia McConnell’s The Puppy Primer, which I’m going to read in tandem with Ian Dunbar’s classics Before/After You Get Your Puppy. Next up, the puppy version of my all-time favorite dog training book: Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed: the Puppy Program. Then, a couple of books on agility foundations, Pat Hastings’ book Structure in Action: The Makings of a Durable Dog, a book on nosework, and by then, I’m sure I’ll have some more on the list (note: experienced puppy people, please feel free to give me your suggestions for puppy lit in the comments!) My plan right now is to read ALL THE THINGS in the next couple of months and then take a couple of months to relax and deprogram so I can enjoy my new buddy’s puppyhood without feeling like I am doing everything wrong all of the time. But for now, I am in Serious Learning Mode. We’ll see how it goes!

Coming up: McConnell: The Puppy Primer, Dunbar: Before/After You Get Your Puppy.

Puppy class: What’s the point?

Tunnels and umbrellas and hats, oh my!


Ah, puppy class. Dog kindergarten. It’s the one class I think people are most likely to take – even dog owners who don’t intend to ever step foot in a dog training classroom ever again dutifully enroll in puppy class for a crash-course in sit/down/come/stay. Some puppy classes teach obedience and submission, others are glorified play groups, and others do some weird stuff with umbrellas and Halloween masks.

What’s the point, though? What makes one puppy class better than another, and what should you look for when you have a puppy of your own?

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Normal Ain’t Easy: How My Dog Got Her CGC

Yesterday an event that has been preoccupying me since, oh, early 2008 finally took place. Yesterday my dog Lucy earned her Canine Good Citizen certification. High five, buddy.

Hello world! I’m a genius!

Now, in the grand array of potential titles available in dogdom, the CGC is actually a pretty minor thing. It’s a test that the AKC runs to test what are essentially basic manners: the question is not so much “is your dog special?”, it’s “is your dog normal?” Can your dog live in the world as it’s currently structured without too much hassle or annoyance to anyone else? While the test is foundational for going on to do therapy work, competitive obedience, etc, it is, on paper, not very hard to get. Many dogs get it right out of the gate, and indeed, at our test last night, there were several confident, sassy little dogs just out of puppyhood who sailed through the test with no apparent problems. For a variety of reasons, my dog was not a dog who was ever destined to sail through it, and in fact, our path to the CGC took the better part of four years. In that time, I have learned a tremendous amount, and what I have learned was not simply how to train my own personal dog to pass a test: I have learned a lot about the complexity of what we ask of modern dogs, the complex stigma that surrounds dogs who, for whatever reason, do not easily adapt to the way we live now and the ways in which we both drastically and subtlety shape the fates of animals whose lives intersect with our own. I have also learned a tremendous amount about fear: how it presents, how to vector it off in the direction of more positive emotions, and how we make it worse. I’ve learned to how to respect the emotional life of a member of another species, and I’ve learned, in a rudimentary way, how to speak another language. And when I look at the little blue and yellow dongle on my dog’s collar, that is what I think about. But more on that in a minute.
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Raising Bean: 11 weeks.

Bean 10 weeksBean is my second puppy. With Steve, my first Border Collie, I had all kinds of grand plans laid out in advance about how I was going to raise him. I read books! I made lists! We did puppy class multiple times a week. I started teaching him to sit and down and stay and hand target the day after he came home. Steve learned a lot of things very young and very quickly.

Bean has been here for three weeks. He knows sit. He mostly knows down. That’s about it.

He’s really good at strategic poopery, digging all the water out of the water bowl, barking at cats, and chewing all the things. Pretty much, he’s an unmitigated monster. You’d think, with three adult dogs pooping in the backyard, that he would think that’s cool, but no. Bean’s the kind of puppy who sets his own standards for cool.

I have him in puppy class once a week, and it’s a pretty nice little puppy class with a good balance of socialization, learning, and playtime. It’s designed for pet owners who don’t know how to train a dog. I have the dog-training skills. We’re there for the socialization, and because puppy class? Is one of the most fun things ever. Last week, though, I was feeling like a bit of a heel during the skill-training section of class because, well, we hadn’t done any of our homework.

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