House hunting and moving… with dogs

Note: This post was written before we adopted Ben.

Back in July 2014, my husband and I got the good news: we’d be able to purchase a house the following year. Our lease was up in June (we were able to weasel out as early as April) and so we had plenty of time to figure out where we wanted to live and what kinds of things we wanted in this new house of ours.

You might remember the way I went about adopting a dog with my list of things I had to have, things I absolutely could not deal with, and the things I was willing to bend on. This served me well yet again as we started to list those things we wanted in a house.

Now, plenty of those things had little or nothing to do with our dog (or future dogs). We had to have space for my husband’s books. We had to have a guest room and preferred it on the first floor as his father had trouble with stairs. We really wanted a dishwasher because…well…that one should be obvious! So I won’t say that every single thing about the house was thought of in conjunction with dogs, but there were certainly things that we considered that did have to do with dogs.

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Examples from Trulia. The house we were considering vs. the house we bought. Just look at all that red! Yikes!

1. The neighborhood. There were many questions that we had about the neighborhoods we looked at. At the top of the list was: Is it safe? Obviously this is not just about our dog, but there are certainly reasons why the two are connected. I have to walk her before work, often before it’s even light out. I take her out to pee at night. I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder and being afraid that someone might come after me when out for a walk. My go-to site for crime statistics for particular houses I was looking at was Trulia. Trulia gives you a general idea of how many crimes and what type of crimes have been reported in the area surrounding a particular address. One house we really adored we decided not to look closer at because the area was a higher crime area. And this was driven home rather well when it was discovered that not only was a house fire a few blocks away intentionally set, but that it was set by a man who was literally an ax murderer! The neighborhood we chose was “low” in the crimes list and those crimes that happened were relatively benign (no ax murderers living in our neighborhood, thank you very much!).

In addition to crime, we worried about noise, especially with a Border Collie mix (and future Border Collie) and how busy the neighborhood is. We were moving from a college neighborhood (read: drunken parties until the middle of the night) and wanted something far more peaceful. We found a nice suburban neighborhood that is essentially cut off from other neighborhoods. That means about 99% of the traffic that comes down our street is from people who live in the neighborhood. It’s quiet and not crime-ridden. Exactly what we wanted!

The yard is not pretty (yet!), but it's ours...and it's fenced in!

The yard is not pretty (yet!), but it’s ours…and it’s fenced in!

2. The yard. This one is pretty obvious. For my husband and I, personally, a yard is not a big deal. He wants to plant a small garden. So having a lot of space was not really necessary. But for our dog and for any future dogs? We had two requirements in a yard: (a) A decent sized yard that enabled me to set up some agility equipment and play some good games of fetch, but that was not so large that we would need a riding lawn mower to take care of it and (b) fenced in. The latter was something we could have bent on, but I really didn’t want to. Fencing is expensive. And as we’ve discussed before, many rescues require a fenced in yard, and if they don’t require one, they would really really like you to have one. Having a fenced in yard means there are more rescues we can adopt from.

3. House size and layout. The former was really far more about my husband’s stuff (read: 1000+ books), but the size of the house and the layout of it were fairly important when it came to dogs. Right now we have one dog. In the future we would like to get a second and there were things we took into consideration for future dog. The two most important things for us were (a) space in the bedroom for two dog beds, one on each side of the bed (we got it!) and (b) a comfortable room that we can close one dog up in if necessary. I will admit, I’m not big on crates unless there is a really major reason to use one (e.g. housebreaking, dog is more comfortable in the crate). I like giving Dahlia the run of the house when we’re gone. She’s not destructive (unless we leave some sort of food item out…*ah hem*…butter thief), she’s housebroken, and mostly she just lays around and sleeps all day. If future dog is not destructive and housebroken, then I want future dog to have that same benefit. But I admit, I’m a bit of a nervous nelly. I hate leaving two dogs together because I have constant fears that I’m going to come home to something really horrible and am always relieved when I come home to find them laying around and just chilling. So I can well imagine that I’m going to want to separate them when no one is home, especially at first, just for my own sanity. But I don’t want one dog to have someplace comfortable to lay and the other one be stuck in a tiny room. So that was all taken into consideration when looking at houses. The house we bought has a 240 square foot room that my husband is using as his study. It’s comfortable, has some nice chairs in it and plenty of space. It’s certainly a good place for future dog to hang out in.


 

So what about the actual move? Moving can be really tough on dogs. Everything is being packed up, things are being discarded, their routine is being disrupted. There were a handful of things we kept in mind as we were preparing to move with our dog.

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Not only is the layout of our living room very similar to the old one, but the couch, recliner, dog bed, and rug all made the trip to the new house with us. (The dog did too, of course…you might notice her comfortably lounging on the couch!)

1. Keep something the same. When my parents moved back in 2007, they made one huge mistake. They got rid of everything but their clothes and some kitchen things. And I do mean everything. They got all new living room, bedroom and dining room furniture, all new decorations. They even tossed out their dog’s old bed and bought her a new one. When their dog (Teri) came over to their new house for the first time she was frantic. She spent three days pacing. You could almost feel the panic coming off of her. When are we going home? She did finally settle, but it took longer than my parents would have liked. So when it came time to moving for us, we kept almost everything we owned. We ditched our bed and bought a new one. But our living room and dining room furniture was the same (including the area rug for the living room). And most importantly, we took Dahlia’s old bed and the blanket on top of it. We didn’t even wash it. We wanted it to really smell of her.

We also kept her routine the same. The shape of the house may  differ from the apartment we lived in. We might have had to send her to the living room to eat around a corner instead of straight down a hallway, but the routine of where and when she got fed, where and when she got treats, where she slept, has all basically been kept the same.

She adjusted much quicker than my parent’s dog. Was there stress? Of course. In fact, I’d say that only now, a month or so after the move, has she become completely free of the moving stress. But she was much more comfortable in the house than I think she would have been with all new things.

old apartment

Mom, what’s happening? Dahlia’s last trip to a mostly empty apartment was confusing.

2. Find a safe place for your dog(s) to go during the move. Moving is a lot of hard work. Doors have to be kept open. People are running in and out of the house carrying 40 boxes of books (ok maybe that’s just us). It’s confusing even for the humans involved. The last thing you need is for your dog to escape the house and be lost or for your dog to be injured because she is underfoot. I’d even say that it would be unfair to the dog to crate her in a separate room where she can hear all the noise and then be let out only to find out all her things are gone and nothing looks the same. Imagine how disconcerting that would be to a dog!

We sent Dahlia off with my mother for the day of the move. She trusts my mother (in fact, my Mom came to pick her up and Dahlia didn’t even look back when she got her into the car!). She knows my mother’s house and her dog. She was happy to hang out in her kitchen (we don’t call her “the food lady” for no reason!) and follow her around the house. It made the move far less stressful for us and for her.

Dahlia soaking up the sun in our front yard during my week off.

Dahlia soaking up the sun in our front yard during my week off.

3. Take some time off. I know this probably isn’t possible for everyone. It certainly wasn’t for my husband as we moved in the middle of the school year and he’s a professor. But it was for me and so I scheduled a whole week off of work. We moved on a Saturday and I spent the next week with my dog in and out of the house. That meant she always felt safe because she knew her Mama was there with her. Her Daddy left and always came back to the new house! She got to explore a whole new area and her Mama always took her back to that same place. By the end of that first week, she would turn toward the house as soon as we got near it. She knew it was her house, even if she wasn’t 100% comfortable there just yet.

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The best reward of all, so says Dahlia!

4. A lot of rewards. I’ve never been skimpy with treats for my dog. I make no bones about that (haha bad dog pun…get it?…not that she really gets bones or anything…anyway…). But I gave her even more during those first weeks in the house. You came down stairs? Oh boy, rewards! You headed toward the house after a walk? Oh boy, rewards! You came into the kitchen? REWARDS! I wanted her to associate every room in the house with something awesome. I wanted her to be happy to go into the guest room or the study or our bedroom or even the bathroom (which has now become her safe space during storms).  Dahlia has had threshold issues in the past. In our previous apartment she wouldn’t go past the living room and so we had to coax her into the dining room and the kitchen and our bedroom. This time she had much more confidence but I wanted to make sure everything was as awesome as it could be for her.

Now she’s underfoot.

All the time.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you play your cards right, your dog might quickly look like this!

If you play your cards right, your dog might quickly look like this!

So have at it folks. Have you picked out a house with your dog(s) in mind? How did you acclimate your dog to their new home? Come share your words of wisdom with your fellow Team Unruly readers!

Gorilla Glue: A Cautionary Tale

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.

Not. Good.

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).

Belly full of glue.

Belly full of glue.

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 dog.

This morning he brought me a knife while I was still in bed. I just don’t even..

This is what they removed.

This is what they removed.

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?

Sleeeeepy pit bull.

Sleeeeepy pit bull.

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.

Book Review: Thunder Dog- The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust

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.

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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.

michael_roselle-300x300A tribute to an amazing dog and their harrowing tale of escape, this book is definitely a must-read.

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Why Rescues Decline Long-Distance Adoptions

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?

Foster dog Scarlett (shown here at the vet) had to be reclaimed from a failed adoption in Connecticut — an eight-hour drive each way for the volunteer who went to retrieve her. She was severely underweight, had a bacterial skin infection, had atrophied muscles, and was nearly completely untrained when she was returned. She’s happy and healthy in a good home now, but that was a major endeavor.

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.

Two Years with Julio

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.

Watching daddy out the window

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.

Totally relaxed

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.