Give Cancer the Paw – In Honour of Jenna the Agility Berner

give cancer the paw buttonWhen I heard The Writer’s Dog and Pooch Smooches were ending the Give Cancer the Paw blog hop after almost a year’s worth of helpful posts full of important information and shared experiences, I had to stop to acknowledge their combined efforts. I’ve never felt I had much to offer this particular Petosphere movement. While I have had a lot of experience with human cancer – haven’t we all – my pets have been lucky. So far. Since I know it won’t always be this way, cancer is a jerk like that, I watched from the sidelines, putting aside as much as I could for later.

Alas, it had to end for the organizers to move on to other, equally vital projects. As an appropriate finish, they are dedicating their final posts to the special pets who have endured this unjust disease. A number far too great for my liking.

At first, I wasn’t sure I would be able to contribute. I don’t know why I thought I was so fortunate as cancer is the demon that haunts us all. It didn’t take me long to remember one extraordinary dog who touched the lives of everyone in my little family for the better. Jenna the Gentle, Jenna the Goof, Jenna the Agility Bernese Mountain Dog.

Jenna the Magnificent is lolling to the far right, beside Shiva the So Whacked in Head She Had to be Held by Her Human

Jenna the Magnificent is lolling to the far right, beside Shiva the So Whacked in Head She Had to be Held by Her Human

Because we moved to Alberta, we haven’t seen this spunky beauty for over a year but we have known her for quite a long time. Jenna took agility classes with us almost from the beginning and as such, she was one of Shiva’s first friends. To be frank, she was Shiva’s first and only friend for a long time. Though she wasn’t the typical canine athlete, Jenna was just as skilled a performer as any of the border collies or shelties with whom she trained. She took the obstacles in her own time, it’s true, but she never lacked in joy or ability. She was always my favourite to watch.

We celebrated a lot of successes together, and sympathised over each other’s failures. Jenna was involved in so many activities; her human never hesitated to sign her up for adventures, undaunted by the thought that Berner’s don’t make for agility superstars. Jenna was there when Shiva finally weaved twelve poles in a row. Shiva was there when Jenna ran through her first full course. It was a connection that still exists today. She will always be our teammate.

Even when we moved into a later class, one of the best parts about agility was getting to see Jenna every Saturday morning. She and her kind owner would always stop to say hello in their way out of the building. I am certain it was the only reason my PH agreed to tag along for so long. Jenna was his one true love. I could hardly feel jealous. I adored her almost as much.

I loved her most in those rare moments of mischievousness. For the most part, she lived up to the nature of her breed: friendly, calm, sweet-tempered. She was the last to get in trouble and seemed to be Shiva’s character foil in every way. But every once in a while, her eyes would sparkle and her butt would swing into the air and this happy growl would emit from her usually silent throat. Jenna in play mode was the happiest dog in the world.

Puppy JennaAt the age of six, Jenna was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. Too aggressive to consider treatment. On the other side of the country, my heart broke for her and her human. It wasn’t fair. How could this happen to a dog so loving, so warmhearted, so amazing as Jenna?

That’s the thing about cancer, it’s an asshole.

Jenna will always have a special place in our memories. It is impossible to forget her. I am so grateful we got to know her as long as we did. Her smile, the wiggling of her butt under my scratching hand, the lean of her body against my legs, these are things I will never forget. She may never have won any agility championships, but she certainly won all of our hears.

Jenna

Join the hop co-hosted by The Writers Dog and Pooch Smooches. Pay tribute to a special dog today…link up with just a picture, or a picture and a few words. For all the pets we’ve loved.

Missing a dog I have never known

DSC07890 My heart is broken for a dog I have never met. His name is Diego. He is a one year old Chihuahua. I saw him once, on Tuesday, or maybe it was Wednesday, evening last week. My first thought was annoyance: another off-leash dog in the ravine. Then my brow furrowed when I realized the wee guy was alone. He was far up the path, at least fifteen metres away. He was chasing a squirrel. I stopped and Shiva stopped with me, though she had spotted him too. He stopped and looked back at us. Telling Shiva to sit and stay, I took a step forward and knelt down. Diego ran in the other direction. For having such short legs, he sure could motor. Shiva and I followed at a distance. I hoped I could trap him somewhere and then Of course, I didn’t have my phone. DSC07892 It wasn’t long before he was too far ahead for me to believe we would catch up. Without a way to contact Animal Services, I wasn’t sure what to do. Several joggers passed him by and didn’t pause. And then a cyclist almost ran him over but after a jerked swerve, he kept on going too. I wanted to call out, I didn’t understand why they didn’t stop. I was too far away and Shiva was too enthusiastic for the little guy to turn back to us. He turned a corner and we followed. By the time we had rounded the bend, Diego was gone. There was a sharp hill on our right but I couldn’t see him scurrying up the side. He wasn’t on the road ahead or in the parking lot. Defeated, all I could do was hope the he had found his human and returned home. I’d completely forgotten about the incident until last night when I saw the poster. My heart dropped. All I keep thinking about is how small he was and how alone he must feel in this hectic city. It is no place for a scared Chihuahua. DSC07891 I wish I had done more. I wish I’d had my phone with me. I wish I’d handled the situation better. I know what it is like to be in Diego’s human’s place. We are so lucky Shiva has come home with us, safe, every single night since we adopted her. I hope this shy baby is home with his people right now. I wish there was something else I could do.

Update: Diego has been found! I received a message from his human yesterday evening, shortly after I posted this. He was returned home safe on Friday evening. It is a huge relief. Thank you so much for your kind comments and support!

In Defence of the Labracockadoodleshihtzu

A letter published in the Montreal Gazette has been making the rounds in dog rescue circles. I originally heard about it from the author of Kobi Pup and am sorry I clicked over to read it myself. I hesitate to share the link here because I don’t think it deserves any more traffic than it has already received but at the same time, I can’t go without saying something.

Mostly, the letter just makes me sad. Sad for the author who seems to have a lot of misplaced anger and sad for the dogs she describes. It’s a shame her experiences – rather, the experiences of some people she knows – have been so negative. It would have been nicer if she could have done her research before putting pen to paper. I’m sorry she felt the need to take out her unhappiness on animal welfare organizations and the dogs they help.

I’m also sorry people in her life have been so judgmental about her choices. In my opinion there is nothing wrong with choosing to purchase a purebred dog from a breeder. It’s not my place to tell anyone where to find the newest member of their family. I’d rather they not meet someone on the side of the highway or make their purchase at a pet store, but nor am I going to write a mean-spirited letter about dogs who come from such places. Dogs don’t get to choose where they are born any more than we do. And I like to think we are all doing the best we can with the information we have.

What makes me feel even sorrier for the letter writer is that she seems to have such disdain for mixed breed dogs. She is missing out on something pretty awesome. Though I’ve never met one, a “labracockadoodleshihtzu” sounds like a pretty awesome companion. I’d adopt one in a second. Just picture it: the energy of a lab, the temperament of a cocker spaniel, the brains of a poodle, and the convenient size of a shih tzu. Sign me up!

I don’t want to get into an argument over which is better, purebreds or mixed breeds, as I don’t feel it needs to be an either/or scenario. All dogs have the capacity for loving and meaningful relationships. Genetics just aren’t a factor for me. It comes down to lifestyle and personal choice. Some people love pugs and others love labracockadoodleshihtzus. Both have a right to live in safe homes full of love. I will never turn up my nose at someone who searches the world for the perfect Sheltie puppy. I’d like to think this same person will grant me the same respect when I head to the shelter to find my next dog.

It’s too bad the writer of the letter has closed her mind to the possibility of a mixed breed dog from the SPCA, or any other organization. When approached with an open heart, the dogs speak for themselves. She is missing out on a life-changing experience. But it’s her choice. And it is one the dogs currently in shelters might be grateful for.

National Pit Bull Awareness Day: “I Am the Majority”

What is a Pit Bull, exactly? It seems the definition changes depending on who you ask. A Pit Bull is in the eye of the beholder. The media certainly seems to use it to mean “dangerous dog”, regardless of the dog’s genetics and often regardless of appearance.

According to Wikipedia, the term is most often used to reference to a number of breeds of dog –  most often, the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and crosses between the two. In writing, the law usually agrees with this estimation. In practice, we see something much different.

Of course, it’s impossible to know heritage just by looking at a dog. Most dogs look alike, after all. Most short-haired, floppy-eared, mixed-breed dogs look even more similar to one another. I don’t know how many times people have told me they are positive Shiva is a Boxer, no a Border Collie, no… A Pointer. Definitely a Pointer.

Many have also told me she looks like a Pit Bull.

This is fine by me. I adopted her from a shelter not having a clue about her past and not really caring. Given how common they are, it’s quite likely she does have a little American Staffordshire Terrier mixed in with everything else. Honestly, I wish she had a little more. Maybe then she would be friendlier with strangers.

But it makes me cautious. I know I have to be more careful with her than I would if I had a golden retriever or a poodle. Owning a dog that could be a pit bull comes with extra responsibility. When out on the street she doesn’t just represent herself and her own foibles, she represents an entire spectrum of dogs with strong shoulder muscles and wide jaws.

That’s why when I saw Animal Farm Foundation’s casting call, I had to sign up. No, Shiva isn’t a Pit Bull, not really, but for some people she is close enough and that’s all that matters. So we join the others in solidarity. The owners who worry about BSL and the dogs with large heads, stocky bodies, and wiggly bums. It’s not about being proud of a certain breed, it’s about letting these dogs speak for themselves.

Pit bull type dogs are ultimately just dogs. They eat, breathe, play, and poop. Some of them are lazy; some of them are a little rough; some are just downright goofy. They are the majority.

Pit bull type dog owners are ultimately just dog owners. We are mothers, uncles, bosses, and teachers. We live next door; we sit next to you on the bus. We struggle to get our dogs to pose with us on the couch. We are the majority.

#BTC4A You Too Can Raise $5,000 for Animal Rescue!

Speaking of making a difference… There is a very easy way you can change the lives of animals right this minute. For every tweet and blog post featuring the #BTC4A hashtag – short for Be the Change for Animals –  from October 22-27, Petco will donate $1 for rescue pets at BarkWorld. This means if we all get together there is a chance we could raise up to $5,0o0 for local, no-kill rescues and shelters across the country!

That’s right. $5,000. For a couple tweets. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

The majority of animal welfare organizations receive little to no government funding. They rely entirely upon public donations and volunteers to offer their much-needed services. While most managers are pretty savvy at finding discounts and finagling deals, everything costs money. From spay and neuter surgeries to a bottle of bleach to clean the dog kennels, their needs often outweigh their capacity. As the demand for shelters and rescues doesn’t seem to be fading, no amount of support is too small.

I am sure you can imagine that $5,000 would be a decent bonus to any organization working to save lives in a tough economy. For example:

$5,000 = 882 bottles of bleach, 58 spay/neuter surgeries, 104 large bags of regular quality dog food, 833 bottles of laundry detergent, and 294 bags of cat litter.*

Here’s how you can help get this money into the hands of those who need it:

– Now through Saturday, October 27th at 11 AM (EST) tweet the following :

“Rescue pets receive $1 from @Petco at @BarkWorldExpo for each #BTC4A tweet from Oct 22-27! Learn more: http://ht.ly/eEls7

– Blog about what rescue means to you, now through Saturday, October 27th at 11 AM (EST). Add #BTC4A to your post title. Add your post link (not just your domain) to the blog hop list below to be counted. (Bonus! Each time your post is tweeted, you’ll earn more money for rescue pets!)

If you are attending BarkWorldnominate your favorite no-kill rescue or shelter at the Petco booth through Friday, October 26th!

Valuable resources for animals in your community are just a few clicks away. Join in and spread the word! There is no reason we can’t reach the goal if we all get our blog on. Let’s do this!

*Prices based on average costs found on various websites.

**All photos in this post are of dogs currently available for adoption at the Nova Scotia SPCA.

The 13 Project – Join Me?

We are all constantly looking for ways to help animals in our communities. Yet, with our high drive lifestyles we don’t often make the time to do as much as we’d like. This is how I feel, anyway. There is so much I want to do. Unfortunately, I usually end up talking about these things a lot more than I actually do them. It all seems a little daunting at times and I find myself questioning my capability. What power can one shy, broke, and inexperienced woman really have?

This is how I felt until I read this post on Sarah Hosick’s blog  and the 13 Project took me by the shoulders and gave me a solid reality shake. I wish I’d found out about it before last week’s Blog the Change event as it fits in perfectly with the theme of creating change without spending a dime. It reminds us all that we as individuals can make a serious difference, one animal or even one blog post, at a time. Though I am definitely late to the party, when I read about the 13 Project as created by Pretty Fluffy I knew I had to sign up.

The 13 Project is all about making a commitment to doing 13 acts of kindness for animals before the end of the year. The goals should all be achievable things one can do with the resources available. We all have different skills that can contribute to the cause, no small how small we think they seem. It’s not about perfection or competition. No one person’s actions are better or more important than anyone else’s. You don’t need to have a lot of money – or any at all. You don’t need to have a network of thousands or be a board member of a large organization. You don’t even need to have any spare time to volunteer.

The only thing required is a desire to help.

When the project began there were exactly 13 weeks left before the end of 2012. Since I discovered it a few weeks in, I have some catching up to do!

Here is my list of goals for the rest of 2012:

1. Share and promote the 13 Project online.

2. Participate in National Pit Bull Awareness Day.

3. Contact my local shelter about becomming a foster home for cats or kittens.

4. Commit to running the 10K in next year’s Bluenose Marathon to raise $1,000 for the Nova Scotia SPCA.

5. Attend BarkWorld Expo and learn new ways to promote the awesomeness of cats.

6. Purchase one of these calendars for my friends and family.

7. Share the photos of adoptable pets on Facebook and Pinterest.

8. On my blog share as many online campaigns I can find that support animal welfare but don’t require cash donations – such as this terrific #BTC4A campaign to raise $5,000 of Petco’s money.

9. Teach my cat a unique trick and share the video to spread awareness that cats are just as much fun as dogs.

10. Write a letter to Jungle Pets, the only store in the HRM that still sells puppies and kittens, to explain why I won’t shop there.

11. Write a letter to Pets Unlimited, a chain that finally stopped selling puppies and kittens, to explain why I now will shop there.

12. Donate pet food to Feed Nova Scotia.

13. Steal some more business cards from my favourite trainers to hand out and promote positive training methods.

I know most of you are involved in many animal welfare related activities and are filled with many ideas of the small ways we can help. If you have any suggestions of easy things we can do to make a difference in the lives of pets in our communities, please chime in!

I know we are all strapped for time, but if you’d like to join the 58 others who have committed to the 13 Project check out the details here. If thirteen goals are too many, you can always aim for five, or even just one! The idea isn’t to see who can do more; it’s just to do something, no effort is too small.

 

Less Adoptable? Maybe. Definitely Not Less Lovable.

For Petfinder’s Adopt a Less Adoptable Pet Week, I’ve done a lot of thinking on what it means to be “less adoptable.” Petfinder itself surveyed shelter and rescue workers who came up with a list of the most common reasons animals are passed over. The results are not exactly surprising. The one thing I did notice is that no one mentioned colour or breed as a central factor in preventing adoption.

 

As you may or may not know, I cam very close this summer to taking home a dog that fit this description. Dawson was a high-energy boy who lived in a shelter environment for over a year. From all appearances, he should have found a home fairly quickly. He was young, healthy, and almost too friendly. If there can be such a thing. Unfortunately, he had picked up some bad habits after being cooped up for so long. And the longer he waited for his forever family, the more obvious these negative behaviours became.

In my opinion, they were all things that could easily be trained. I knew that once he got out of the shelter and into a home environment, he would show off his true fun nature. It was convincing adopters of this that was the problem. A local trainer dedicated many volunteer hours into helping Dawson overcome some of his shelter-borne afflictions. I know I showed this video before but I still am in awe of how quickly he picked up on his training. Shiva would do well to learn a few things from him.

Fortunately, as of two weeks ago, Dawson is now in his new home. Hopefully he stays there. I was lucky enough to see him the day before he left the shelter for good and he was just as spirited as always. It amazed me that even though my heart broke for him as the weeks went by, he never lost his big goofy grin. Behavioural issues aside, does such a happy boy turn away so many people? How was he not adopted months ago?

It baffles me. Maybe it shouldn’t.

Before we adopted Shiva, I’d actually been looking at an older border collie mix named Daisy. She was a good size and had a super-sweet temperament. The day we went to the shelter to fill out an application we found out Daisy had already been taken by someone else. I was horribly disappointed. We returned home with our heads low.

A few weeks later I happened to see Shiva’s picture on Petfinder and we decided to go in the next day to meet her. Upon arrival at the shelter we found out Daisy had been returned.

“Separation anxiety,” said the woman at the front desk.

“Oh,” I said. “Then she wouldn’t be good for us either. We live in a duplex and have elderly neighbours.”

Less than thirty minutes later I signed an agreement to adopt Shiva. A dog who not only suffered from a myriad of fear and frustration-based issues, but who also had a definite case of separation anxiety. The same thing that caused me to turn away from the first dog I wanted. Of course, I had no idea until we brought her home. When it was too late.

I am not saying everyone should rush out to adopt a highly reactive dog or a cat who likes to attack everything that moves, just to see if they can handle the problem. But I am saying that all pets come with baggage, some more and some less than others. Even puppies have personalities and problems of their own. If you are the kind of person willing to take in a pet from a shelter or rescue, there is a pretty good chance that pet will have some behaviours that didn’t show up during her stay in the shelter or foster care. With all the resources available, unless the pet is a danger to others, there is no reason the Dawsons of this world need to hang out in a kennel for so long.

Dog training is intimidating. I get that. But everyone who lives with a dog usually ends up working on some level of canine life skills. There is no such thing as a perfect dog. If you have the energy, why not take a chance on an animal who has waited a little longer than others to find that special family? Why not take in that dog or cat who has been returned to the shelter several times? With the right tools, you may surprise yourself.

Adopting Shiva changed my life. I am not the same person I was over three years ago. I hope Daisy’s eventual family is as grateful as we are.