Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daily dog: unnamed English Pointer

Unnamed English Pointer

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Daily dog: unnamed Poodle

Unnamed Poodle

Friday, August 29, 2008

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Daily dog: Willie, West Highland Terrier

Willie, West Highland Terrier

Sue Sternberg - part 5

Continued from here.

Sue Sternberg started this thing called Lug-Nuts which is a program geared towards communities which are encountering an increase in dangerous dog problems, especially dog fighting. It's a informal weight-pulling competition open to all breeds of dogs with no experience necessary. The dogs wear proper sled harnesses and are encouraged to pull using treats such as hot dogs. The winners get cash prizes which are automatically doubled if the dog is spayed or neutered. A free spaying and neutering program is also offered. These events have been highly successful and shelters across the United States have expressed interest in setting up similar programs locally. There's a great on-line article about it called Don't Be Like Mike.

These community building projects and other events keep Sue pretty busy. Her schedule for the next couple of months is back to back traveling with seminars, training sessions, workshops. For someone who knew she wanted to work with dogs since she was a kid, this seems like an ideal career.

"Yeah, I try to appreciate my life," she says. "My first dog related job, I lived in New York City, when I was fifteen I started my own dog walking, dog sitting service. When I was eighteen, I was going to college part time in Massachusetts and got a job cleaning kennels and I also became the dog control officer for the town I lived in. It was bizarre. The town hadn't had one in a couple of years and no one wanted the job and everyone knew I loved dogs so they asked me if I wanted the job and I said yes and I was sworn in and they asked if I wanted to carry a gun and I said no thanks. But, it was a good job."

She also started her dog training career at around the same time.

"I was an assistant dog trainer when I was eighteen and the woman I learned dog training from was an amazing handler. She could read temperament in dogs like nobody else and I remember she saw way more in dogs than I did at eighteen and I kept asking her "How did you know?" and "How did you see that?" and while she was brilliant at what she did she was never able to say "This is what I know and why." Most people back then in the Eighties and early Nineties - nothing was very described in dogs at all, just gut feeling and experience."

I ask her if her gut feelings now about a dog ever differ from the results she gets from Assess-a-Pet.

"It can be somewhat different. Like sometimes a dog can be a resource guarder and that's not something I feel I can eyeball because, you know, the dog can be really sweet and sociable in every other way but really heinous around food. And the other is ... if I meet a dog in a non-shelter setting, like if I meet a stray dog and I'm just hanging out with the dog, I might think the dog is really easy and fine and doesn't seem aggressive at all and it's a perfectly reasonable dog but then if I have somebody assess the dog, you see that for an average person who's not handling it like a trainer, the dog could be, not totally different, but could be more snappish or much more out of control for someone who doesn't know what they're doing.

"The most common thing I see is that most testers and people who work in shelters really seem to prefer and are drawn to dominant and pushy dogs. A lot of people who test will miss a lot of subtle things because they feel in their gut the dog is fine - because it is fine for them. I've never met a shelter person yet who was testing dogs and failing good ones. The bias is absolutely slanted towards passing dogs that are still pretty dangerous."

I ask her if the assessments have proven to be good predicter of what how a dog will behave after adoption.

"The things where it seems very accurate are in indicating the degree of problem behaviour and owner satisfaction. The more red flag behaviours on the test corelate with more problem behaviours in the home. On the other hand, we see a very low return rate [on dogs which are successful in their assessment] and certainly a very low return rate for any aggression and that's important to us."

Sue says that the percentage of problem dogs entering shelters now is much higher than it was a decade or more ago. She feels a big part of that is due to how successful spay neuter campaigns have worked on dogs belonging to responsible owners but hasn't worked at all on the irresponsible ones who continue to breed and raise problematic dogs.

"In a training class, in public, you tend to see the dogs that are working out but in a shelter system, particularly an open shelter, you tend to see the ones that don't work out. Sometimes they're perfectly great dogs and don't work out because someone's lost their house or lost their job but sometimes they come to the shelter because they are more problematic than the average person can deal with."

Of course what she says is nothing new. It's just not something I hear very often coming from the world of dog rescue. We are so inundated with news and first hand experiences of horrible things that are perpetrated onto dogs that our world view gets skewed. We become like the cops who deal with criminals all the time and pretty soon everyone looks like a criminal. That's not fair nor does it help the situation and so I must remind myself that not all people who owner surrender their dogs are assholes. I just personally haven't met any of the good ones. Assholes, on the other hand ... like just the other day I was at a brunch and overheard a woman talking about her new puppy and when her friend asked what happened to her old dog, the first woman made a cutesy "oops I did something bad" face and explained that she got rid of it because it made too much noise. See what I mean? They're everywhere.

Okay, take a breathe and back to the topic at hand.

When I listen to Sue talking about assessing dogs, she reminds me of a doctor talking about patients: somewhat removed, logical, not dripping with emotion. She reminds me that not all dogs are angels. And I admit, even in my limited experience, which I know is very different from the experience of someone working in an over run American shelter, I've met a couple of dogs I literally wouldn't want to touch with a 3 foot dog catcher's pole and there were a few more I didn't really enjoy spending time with. It's important to acknowledge what these dogs are and the potential for harm these dogs can cause. Whether someone uses Assess-a-Pet or some other behaviour assessment system or just goes by gut feel, an assessment is being done regardless and one can only hope that whatever method is used, it provides a safe and compassionate result.

I leave the last word to Sue ...

"It's important to observe all behaviours and to say that you see them and to record them somewhere because usually it's not one kind of gesture that will make or break a dog, it's obviously a combination of gestures you see from the dog as it travels through the shelter system. But, if you've ever worked in a shelter, every dog isn't just this anonymous dog, it's an important dog and if it's your breed or your type of dog, you're already kind of in love with it and you don't want to say anything bad about it because if you say something bad about it, you worry that your observation may break the camel's back and then someone may take that dog and euthanize it. So in a shelter system it's hard to be an objective observer of dogs because the destiny of the dog is up for grabs.

But it's still important to learn the dog behaviours and to see their gestures because it'll allow you to communicate with whatever dog you're dealing with so that the interaction you have with the dog is less stressful for you and the dog and gives you a much better understanding of every dog you deal with. If you learn to see behaviours, you'll have more questions about what they mean and that's good because if you ask the right questions, eventually the answers will come."

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sue Sternberg - part 4

Continued from here.

In a study by Hennessy, (1996, Physiology and Behavior), it was found that the levels of cortisol, a stress indicating hormone, in a newly arrived shelter dog don't significantly decrease until after 4 days. Even then, they still tend to be at high levels and usually take 10 days before they drop to something closer to normal. Sue recommends waiting at least three days before doing the assessment on a dog. It would be preferable to retest at the 2 week mark but a lot of dogs don't have that long in a shelter.

Assess-a-pet takes about 15 minutes to conduct and ideally involves 2 people for safety as well as to have an extra pair of eyes to observe the dog's responses. At the seminar, Sue went over the first portion of Assess-a-Pet, called Sociability, which takes about 2 minutes and is considered to be the most important part of the whole assessment.

Sociability is done in 4 parts. After bringing the leashed dog to a quiet room, observations are noted as the tester does the following:

1. Stands back and ignores the dog for 60 seconds
2. Three back strokes from base of neck to top of tail
3. Sits in a chair
4. Gives 20 seconds of affection

There are some important subtleties to each section which I won't get into (so please don't use this as a template for the selection of your next dog) but the idea is to see how the dog reacts to each situation. Points are given for "friendly" reactions and red flags are given for an assortment of behaviours which Sue has statistically corelated with displays of aggression either later on in the testing or post adoption. Friendly reactions must involve physical contact and can come in the form of nuzzling, licking, leaning, etc. Red flag behaviours are obvious things like snapping and biting but also include mounting, hard stares, dilated pupils, freezes, etc. There are also different levels of each behaviour so that it isn't always black and white.

One of the more, uh, esoteric behaviours, is the anal swipe which seems to be a relatively recent finding by Sue. This occurs when the dog basically rubs its anus on some part of the tester, say the shoe or pant leg. Sue theorizes this the dog trying to mark it's property (in this case, the tester) with its anal scent glands. Several video examples of this behaviour were shown and well, as Sue said, it's one of those things that once it's pointed out to you, you never forget. Everywhere I go now, I'm on the lookout for the anal swipe some dog might be imposing on its owner. According to Sue, the anal swipe, is corelated to dogs who don't do well in one or more parts of the full assessment.

Here she was quick to add that an anal swipe from a dog directed to a stranger is very different from a dog that likes to plant its butt on the lap of its owner. Different meaning under different context.

While several of the behaviours presented to us at the seminar were obvious, there were some which I couldn't readily discern. Most of these difficult ones were ones based on level of intensity judgments. The dog would either be given a point or a red flag depending on the level of intensity of the behaviour. A dog gently jumping up on a tester is given a point for sociability but if that jump is too rough, it becomes a red flag. Yes there are levels of intensity you can use to describe the jumping but how's one to reliable know the difference between "moderately hard" and "strong and intrusive". This difference won't necessarily pass or fail a dog but still, it introduces an element of inconsistency which depends on the interpretation of the tester.

After Sociability is graded, the rest of the assessment includes sections on dominance aggression, resource guarding, mental sensitivity, response to strangers, response to children, response to pets.

I think Assess-a-Pet can be a very powerful tool in highlighting significant areas of a dog's behaviour profile and I believe that what Sue is doing in developing this tool - and in the process creating a massive video database of dog behaviours, which will eventually be available on-line - is a hugely worthwhile endeavour. My concern is with the expectations such testing might engender. As with any tool, Assess-a-Pet can be misused. Will good dogs be passed over because they don't get top marks? Does this type of assessment reinforce unrealistic expectations on dogs? Are we misleading ourselves in thinking we can wholly quantify something which is ineffable? As with the assessment itself, the answers to these questions are not easy ones.

These types of assessments will always be a reflection of what human society expects of its dogs and thus they are subject to the whims of popular opinion and public opinion doesn't always a have a great moral compass nor is it very consistent. As someone at the seminar mentioned, when she was a child and stuck her hand in the dog food bowl and caused the family dog to snap at her, her mother demanded, "What did you do to the dog?". These days, there's a good chance that type of behaviour would land the dog in a shelter.

Continued here.

Daily dog: unnamed Shih Tzu

This old soul was found blind, pretty much deaf, teeth rotted out, heavily matted and could barely walk. His owners, instead of euthanizing him humanely in the close comfort of his family, abandoned him. Toronto Animal Services euthanized him once his 7 days as a lost dog were over.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sue Sternberg - part 3

Continued from here.

Sue Sternberg and her Assess-a-Pet is the progenitor of most of today's temperament tests, all of which either try to enhance or replace the original, and so the most extreme praise or vitriole is reserved especially for her. It's too bad the argument is so heated because the truth always gets lost when people would rather spend more energy throwing mud than trying to get to the facts. If the effectiveness of her test, or any temperament test, is to be judged fairly, personal attacks are not the way to go.

Temperament tests, behaviour assessments, temperament evaluations - call them what you will - have made big inroads into shelters' adoption programs all across North America. There's the SAFER test by Emily Weiss, there's the test developed by Jean Donaldson at the San Francisco SPCA, the Puppy Aptitude Test by Volhard and there are dozens if not hundreds more out there developed by various experts - some of whom are only experts in their own mind. And maybe that's part of the problem. The reputation of the better researched tests gets sullied by the riff raff.

Here's an excerpt from one test found on wikiHow. Shmarmy comments are mine in square brackets. Sorry, I couldn't resist:

Aggressiveness Test [Oh goodie. No beating around the bush on this one.]

1. Step near the dog. [Uh-oh]

2. Watch. See if he:
Acts like he will bite.
[Good use of the technical term "acts like" because everyone knows what "acts like" looks like]
Bites. [Yes, the best way to test for biting is to get bitten, preferably several times so that you can be sure of the results]
Attacks your clothing or shoes.(Never think this is cute) [It's good to know that stalking shoelaces isn't cute. The next time that Frenchie puppy next door nibbles on mine, I may have to notify Animal Control.]
Jumps on you. (Is curable, but not with other signs of aggression) [So if that Frenchie puppy chews my shoelaces and jumps up on me then I guess it's doomed. I'll break the bad news to its owner, gently.]

3. Also, see if he slinks into the corner. That signals a shy dog. [Or maybe it wants to pee]

Alright, enough of that. There are versions of temperament tests out there that are so ridiculous that anyone using them should be given an "are-you-a-dumbass?" test before being released back into the general public and allowed to procreate.

Another biggie stacked against the notion of temperament testing is the question every dog owner asks oneself, "Would my dog/breed pass that test?" as I'm sure everyone at the seminar asked themselves. To assuage our collective fear, Sue tells us that the temperament test is mostly irrelevant for our dogs because we are all way above average dog owners who know enough to deal with problem behaviours. This sounds a bit like flattery and, in my case, possibly undeserved flattery, with intent to mollify but hey, it works. But still, it doesn't address the issue for the millions of dogs that don't belong to us.

It's a general perception that because temperament testing is a test, there is a pass or fail assigned to each dog. And maybe in some shelters there is but that would be a misinterpretation of what temperament testing is about. Perhaps the word "test" should be taken out of the terminology and replaced with assessment or profile. As a matter of fact, I'll do that right now. It's a behaviour assessment from now on.

Properly used, a behaviour assessment is one tool a shelter can use to match dogs to owners - which is the good news. The bad news is that a behaviour assessment can also be used to determine which, if any, dogs in a given shelter/adoption environment may be considered for euthanasia. I guess it comes down to this. 1. How useful is a behaviour assessment in helping a shelter match a dog with an owner who can take properly care of that dog and 2. if the shelter isn't able to find a match, how long does the shelter keep the dog caged up?

The answer to 2. is easier because it's I don't know. I suspect if I were a dog and I had a discussion with all my doggie friends, some would preach give me freedom or give me death while others would think better fed than dead. I think Sue would agree with that interpretation. She doesn't believe it's humane to keep a dog in a kennel for life but she certainly wouldn't encourage euthanizing a dog if it's kenneling well just because it's been there for "too long".

The answer to 1. is that it seems behaviour assessments are working. Shelters, such as the Animal Humane Society in Minnesota or the Kansas Humane Society, which have implemented behaviour assessments have reported statistically better adopter satisfaction as well as far fewer returns. Kelley Bollen, an animal behaviourist from Massachusetts SPCA has recently completed a study of over 2000 behaviour assessed dogs which show very good corelations between aggression red flags appearing on tests with aggressive behaviour pre and post shelter life (this study is yet to be published). None of this provides a nationwide perspective, so hopefully more studies will be done, but it's a start.

Behaviour assessments, by their artificial nature, will never be a replacement for real life but just because a crash test dummy isn't a real person doesn't mean it can't be used to get useful information. Maybe to humanize it, behaviour assessments need to be tempered by a dose of gut feel and a shot of "I feel sorry for that guy" but to discount them completely is akin to putting on partial blinders and is disadvantageous to both the dog and adopter. After all, wouldn't it make more sense to match a food possessive dog with someone who has no young kids and is willing to work to correct that behaviour than to send the dog home with someone with toddlers who might like to share in the dog's supper?

Continued here.

Daily dog: Maggie, Rhodesian Ridgeback

Maggie, Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sue Sternberg - part 2

Continued from here.

The video shows a 9 week old puppy sniffing around a room. It pays not much heed to any of the people in the room. Sue Sternberg tries to interact with the pup by stroking its back. The pup turns around and mouths Sternberg's hand. Another stroke and the puppy snaps. Another stroke and the puppy bites. Sue notes the difference between a bite and an exploratory nibble. A nibble happens with the front teeth, a bite with the back teeth. When a dog tries to bite at something with its back teeth, like when a person tries to crack a hard nut, it means business and it's going to hurt. A nibble is loose. A bite clamps down. Sue puts the video on slow-mo and freezes it just before the bite. We all clearly see the upper teeth exposed snarl of a furious little puppy.

A puppy several weeks older and twice as large is brought into the room with the first pup. Within seconds, the poor older puppy is being ambushed by the younger one. All snarls and teeth, the younger one is relentless in its obssessive taunting of the older pup. The older pup is removed from the room.

Next, an adult bull type dog is brought into the room. For the first couple of minutes, the puppy stands by the sidelines while the older dog checks out the room and greets the people. It doesn't take long, though, before the puppy starts making run by attacks on the adult dog. The adult dog tries to maintain some sort of discipline but to no effect. The puppy works itself up into full intimidation mode. The adult dog backs up behind someone's legs and looks around hoping for an escape route, looks into the camera as if pleading to be taken out of the room.

I later ask Sue what happened to that puppy.

"I'm assuming he was euthanized. That wasn't my shelter," she responds.

Sue Sternberg has helped rehome thousands of dogs and improved the quality of life of thousands more through community programs like Lug-Nuts and Training Wheels but stories like this one are a constant concern for her. This time the highly destructive dog was flagged and held back but what about the ones that slip through? Several times throughout the seminar, she talks about her rising anxiety level whenever she's recognized in public by someone who knows of a dog from her shelter. It seems her first thought isn't, "Oh good how's it doing?" but "Oh no, what's it done?" One anecdote involves a pre-surgical moment, right after the anesthetic has started to kick in when suddenly the anesthesiologist says to her, "Hey I recognize you. My best friend adopted a dog from you," and to illustrate the feeling of helplessness and worry she experienced, Sternberg brings her fist up to her open mouth and bites. "But it turned out it was a good adoption," she says, relieving the mock tension in the room and we laugh.

There is no doubt that Sue cares about dogs but she also cares about her human clients. "You have to be as concerned for people as you are for the dogs," she says, probably suspecting that the room's biases are more on side with the dogs. "Especially," she continues, "if you adopt out into the community you live in. When I go out on the trails with my dogs, I often encounter dogs [and their owners] which have come from my shelter so it's especially important not to adopt out any aggressive ones."

From all these stories, I start to wonder if she isn't a little too risk averse, erring too much on the side of caution, not taking into account the greater possibilities of success once dog and owner have bonded and stablity is introduced into a dog's life.

"You don't know what it's like to be responsible for wrecking someone's life," she says. "You don't know what it's like seeing a grown man cry because he loves his dog but his dog has done something terrible. It tears families apart."

"There are also the liability and insurance issues," she says. There are only two remaining insurance companies in the U.S. willing to insure dog shelters. If a shelter knowingly adopts out an aggressive dog and the insurer finds out, the shelter could lose its insurance and to get re-insured with the only other company would be prohibitive if not impossible.

Is there anything specific in a dog that would make her decide that it wouldn't be worth trying to fix, that it's unadoptable?

"No, it would be the overall dog. How his sociability tests related to his mental sensitivity? How his teeth exam test related to the stranger test? It's the overall components of the test. It's also related to how he's kenneling. What's his frustration level? How does he respond when other dogs pass by? It's also how many dogs do we currently have in the shelter that are going to need single adult experienced homes, people willing to train and modify behaviour. If we already have ten dogs that require special owners and he's the eleventh that would have us make a different decisions for him than if we only had highly adoptable dogs and no other problem dogs."

A few years ago, I watched a documentary film about Sue Sternberg called "Shelter Dogs" . In it, there was a sequence showing the process involved in deciding to euthanize a dog. It was agonizing to watch. It was also very brave on Sternberg's part to let that process be filmed. I suspect it made her a few enemies.

"Oh yeah, I get hate mail," she says. "I got one recently from someone saying I was a monster and that I'm going to spend eternity in Hell with Hitler."

Continued here.

Daily dog: unnamed Beagle

Unnamed Beagle

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sue Sternberg - part 1

I attended the Sue Sternberg seminar presented by the Oakville Humane Society this past Sunday. For both supporters and critics of her methods, it was a very worthwhile talk. Afterwards, I was going to write up a well organized and coherent report on the day's events but unfortunately that's not going to happen because that would require too much, well, organizing and coherence on my part. Instead, what you're going to get is a rambling account of what she talked about, at least according to my foggy memory and my somewhat vague notes, interspersed with some personal commentary.

It's probably going to take a few posts to get all the details out there. I'm doing this, giving this much blog time to her, because most of the stuff I've read about her and her Assess-a-Pet temperament test turns out to be incorrect or doesn't present the whole picture. Why this misrepresentation? Probably for the usual message muddling deficiencies of any form of media but it may also be because Sternberg's message now is more refined than it was when she first created the test almost fifteen years ago. Back when she first started working in shelters, before all this new fangled assessment stuff existed, when Sternberg asked a shelter worker if a dog was safe to handle and how one could tell, the reply was that one just knows. Many bites later, it became apparent that one didn't always just know. This was the incentive to come up with a more procedural approach to determining the temperament of a dog to replace the rather mystical "one just knows".

The important question now is, as it has always been, does her test do what she says it does? Specifically, does it provide a fairly accurate personality profile of a dog with respect to how that dog deals with people and other dogs so that aggressive dogs can be red flagged while compatible matches can be made between adoptable shelter dogs and their prospective families?

At the risk of ruining a surprise ending, in my opinion, Assess-a-Pet does a pretty good job of painting a personality profile of a dog, relative to other dogs, but, and this is a big but, how you use those results to determine the adaptability of a specific dog may differ substantially from what Sternberg might do. And thus the crux of the controversy may not be so much the test itself but the person wielding the test. The assessment places the dog on a temperament scale. Where the failure cutoff on that scale is located is up to the shelter.

Continued here.

Daily dog: Neo, Neopolitan Mastiff

Neo, Neopolitan Mastiff

Monday, August 18, 2008

Daily dog: Mini, Cane Corso

Mini, Cane Corso

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Daily dog: unnamed Basset Hound

Unnamed Basset Hound

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Daily dog: Baxter, Pointer

Baxter, Pointer pup

Friday, August 15, 2008

Update on Border Collie pup #4

photo by Brian McInnis

from Brian:

The dog is sitting in the back yard and accepting treats from our hand. He's also found his voice and barking at a squirrel. As a bonus he's let us remove the leash and put it back on a few times without going crazy. Getting him back inside the house might be a handful but I genuinely think he's going to be okay in the long run.

Since so many people from Leslieville were involved in the dog's rescue we decided to name him Leslie. Still very nervous on the leash and around loud noises but plays well in the off-leash park and loves other dogs. No separation anxiety when I leave and hasn't had a single indoor accident. He follows us from room to room and sleeps by our side during the day and in the mudroom at night. Amazing progress in 8 days.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

600 Greyhounds

Just received:



After racing their entire lives, now they'll be put to sleep because ..... There's too many of them???? ?? This is unacceptable! These dogs are sooooo sweet natured!!! Maybe some folks up in Canada would be able to take some of them?????

Please circulate across the country. This is a crime. DEADline is August 24th!! Please get the word out BIG TIME ... this will be a monumental task. If you know anyone that would be willing to help one of these retired greyhounds, please read email below. Please crosspost. Here is the number to call if you need more information REGAP can be reached at 816-763-3333 email contact is:

The Woodlands Racetrack in Kansas City is closing August 24th. I have spoken with REGAP (Retired Greyhounds as Pets) here in Kansas City. There are 600 Greyhounds at the track. Greyhound rescue estimates they will be able to get 200 into the rescue network. The Woodlands is one of the last stop race tracks in the Greyhound racing industry, the remaining 400 will be 'returned' to the breeders and likely put-to-sleep. They need as much help as they can get for fosters, adoptions, transports, etc.

PLEASE contact them if you can help and forward to friends you know who may be able to help, as well.

REGAP can be reached at 816-763-3333.


Summer break

Stella: So, the pound's going to be shutting down for a few weeks while the CNE is on.

Rocky: What's the CNE? What's the CNE?

Stella: The CNE is this thing where a bunch of people get together, eat food, go on rides and barf.

Rocky: Oh, I'd like to go to that. Can I go?

Stella: What're you smokin'? Of course not.

Rocky: Buh ... but why?

Stella: Buh ... buh ... because.

Rocky: Are you going?

Stella: Maybe.

Rocky: How come you can go but I can't?

Stella: Well, first of all because I'm a Great Dane and you're just a ... a ... what are you again?

Rocky: A Doberman.

Stella: Oh yes, right. One of those.

Rocky: So?

Stella: Well, you're too small obviously. You can't go in because you're too small.

Rocky: Am not too small.

Stella: Yes, too small. Oh and you don't have a tail. Can't go in without a tail.

Rocky: But someone cut my tail off.

Stella: Not my problem, Stumpy. Those are the rules.

Rocky: Rules suck.

Stella: Tell me about it. See that roast chicken on the table. Rules say that I can't go over there and just grab it and gobble it down.

Rocky: Hmm...

Stella: Hmm indeed ... But never mind about all that. The important thing is that our delinquent owner will be spending more time with us now and no time with those mongrels at the pound.

Rocky: Hey, I'm from the pound.

Stella: Case in point. I say we make sure he lavishes us with the attention we've been lacking these past few months by constantly sticking our noses into his crotch.

Rocky: Good idea.

Stella: Ok, that thinking was hard work. Time for a snooze.

Rocky: Zzzzzzz.

Toronto Animal Services South is situated on the same grounds as the Canadian National Exhibition so during the two and a half weeks the CNE is on, TAS South dog adoption will be closed. That's mainly because the dogs would get too freaked out by the hundreds of people who would end up touring through, banging on their kennel doors, poking fingers at them, throwing cotton candy at them and yelling and laughing at them. The one time TAS dog adoptions stayed open for the Ex, many of the dogs were throwing up from stress by early afternoon.

If there are any remaining adoptable dogs at TAS South by this evening, they will be transfered to another TAS location. All unclaimed strays will be transfered as well. This will give the staff a bit of a break even though they will still be going into work (there will still be cats and other animals there).

This means no volunteering for the rest of the month.

Then, in September, for the first two weeks, I'll be doing some hiking in Austria. If I see any packs of feral mountain dogs there, I'll be sure to report back to the blog via e-mail post or some such thing but I understand that the well-ordered Austrians have tamed all their wild dogs by teaching them calculus, chess, and the do re mi's so it's unlikely there'll be much excitement on that front.

So, for the next month and a bit, blog entries may be cut back to three or four times a week. These will include posts of my favorite dog photos from the past two and a half years. These photos are often the ones that don't make it onto the TAS adoption site because they're not clearly descriptive enough. By that I mean, they may be more interesting visually but they don't show a potential adopter a clean picture of what exactly they're getting. All the photos will be of dogs who have been adopted.

I hope to be back to a more regular schedule in late September.

Shyla, one of those pound mongrels, at the Ex checking out the set up

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Temper, temper

I'm going to go listen to Sue Sternberg speak this weekend at the Oakville and District Humane Society and I'm paying $100 to do it (well, it does include breakfast and lunch). Some might consider this a privilege. Others might think this is akin to aiding the enemy. She's a controversial figure in the dog rescue community mostly because of the temperament testing methods she's created and popularized to determine if a dog is fit for adoption. At best it's saved a lot of people from getting bit; at worst, it's sentenced a lot of distraught dogs to death.

From what I understand, her test goes something like this:

A dog is given a bowl of food and allowed to eat it. The tester takes a rubber hand, the Assess-a-Hand, and sticks it into the bowl of dog food, at first just moving the food around inside the bowl but then actually pulling or pushing the bowl of food away from the dog. If the dog reacts negatively, say by snarling or biting the hand, then it's deemed unadoptable (and probably euthanized).

I have to admit, I fell for it at first. As a matter of fact, I thought it was such a great test that I started using it in my personal life. After all, I figured that since people are more evolved and civilized than dogs, if a dog must pass the test in order to be considered well tempered, a person should be required to pass it with flying colours. I had great success using it to determine whether or not a date was suitable long term relationship material.

Waiter: Here is your salmon, Sir, and here is your bouillabaisse, Madame.

Me: Thanks, looks great.

Marriage Prospect #47: Mmm, that smells divine.

Waiter leaves.

Me: Isn't this a great place? I just love it here. Food's great. Atmosphere's great.

MP#47: You've been here before?

Me: Oh, yeah. They know me here. I know them. You know how it is. You find a place you like and you just don't want to leave. It's commitment, you know what I mean?

MP#47: Most men I know are afraid of commitment.

Me: Not me. My middle name's commitment.

MP#47: Oh really?

Me: Yes, I'm all about commitment. You know, meeting the right person, moving in, settling down, having kids. Yeah, all that stuff. The sooner the better.

MP#47: (getting nervous though I'm not sure why) Heh, heh, well I generally like to take things slow. I guess I've just had too many bad experiences in the past with, you know, weirdos.

Me: Oh yes, weirdos. All over the place. You don't have to tell me about weirdos. Everyone I know is a weirdo, ha, ha.

MP#47: Everyone you know is a weirdo?

Me: What? Oh did I say that? I meant, everyone I know is not a weirdo. Everyone I know is very, uh, not ... weird ... oh ...

MP#47: Well, that's good to ... Hey what are you doing?

Me: What? I'm not doing anything.

MP#47: You're sticking a rubber hand in my soup.

Me: Oh, ho, ho, that, that's nothing just ignore it.

MP#47: (raising her voice) How am I supposed to ignore it? It's a rubber hand in my soup.

Me: No, really, it's nothing. It's not doing anything. It's just in your soup, pushing the shrimp and scallops around a bit that's all. Look ... (I stir her soup a bit with the rubber hand).

MP#47: (Yelling, how embarrassing for her)What the fu ...

Me: Come on, chill, it's just a rubber hand. I mean wait 'til you see what comes next.

MP#47: What?

Me: Yeah, check this out.

I take both my hands and put them into her soup and gather some of the seafood and squish it all up a bit and then I splash some of the soup onto the table and then I pull the dish towards me.

Me: I know I'm supposed to stick with the rubber hand for safety reasons but you don't look that dangerous so I hope you don't mind me improvising.

MP#47: You ... you ... you're nuts. You're a creep job. You're completely insane.

Me: (I yell to her as she leaves) Oh no, I think we both know who failed the temperament test here, lady.

Waiter comes by and starts to clear the table.

Waiter: I assume we're done here.

Me: Oh yeah, totally. Thank God I wasn't ensnared into a relationship with that wack job piece of work. Did you see how she reacted to that rubber hand. Wow. Talk about unstable.

Waiter: Of course, Sir.

But what do I really think about all this? I'm reserving judgment until I hear what Sue Sternberg actually has to say for herself.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Some old grizzled guy comes in with his daughter, only she turns out not to be his daughter but his girlfriend, so the creepo alarms go off. They're looking for a dog. You ask them both some questions but the girl won't talk, mumbles something about not knowing stuff so talk to the guy. What king of dog, you ask. The kind of dog that's in the adoption room, he says. The guy says he knows dogs. Gave one away last month as a matter of fact. It just didn't work out. Girl remains silent. More alarm bells. You explain that the dog in adoption has health problems and that it'll need medical attention. This sets the guy off. He screams at you, "Don't you fuckin' judge me. I've got money. I can take care of a dog." He leaves, pulling girlfriend in tow. She remains silent.

You can't put a Do Not Adopt next to the guy's name because according to the rules, he hasn't broken any of them. So, he and his girlfriend come back in every few days for the next few weeks, asking if you're in and if you are in, he says, "Well, I guess I'm not getting a dog today," and leaves again, but if you're not in, he stays and looks at the dogs available. One day, you're not in and he finds a dog he wants and it's adopted to him. Even if you were in, what could you have done? You can't discriminate based on personal feelings. You can't put "Do Not Adopt because I think this guy is an asshole".

After the adoption, the guy and his girlfriend continue to come in. There are medical questions, food questions, training questions. It's as if he's decided to start hanging out to chat with the staff. His girlfriend, of course, remains silent, although occasionally he tells her to take one of the other dogs in adoption out for test walks. He never talks much about the dog he's already adopted and you're afraid he might be looking for another one. You still can't put Do Not Adopt beside his name. He hasn't broken any rules.

Two weeks later, he sees you and tells you he's going to file a complaint against you and another staffer for the way he's been treated and oh by the way, he's returning the adopted dog. You take the dog back. A rule has been broken. You put Do Not Adopt beside his name.

A few days later you hear he's looking for a cat.

Now in quarantine. Returned after an alleged bite.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A wet dog day afternoon

A neighbourhood event called Dog Day Afternoon was held yesterday in Trinity Bellwoods Park. Gudrun, Elizabeth and I met there in the rain to check out the action. I left Rocky at home because he gets too anxious around strange dogs. Stella doesn't like spending anytime in the rain so she stayed home as well. Gudrun's dog Gretel, had just gotten spayed so she too was absent. We three were dogless at the dog event

At the park, there was a small group of wet people huddled together listening to Dr. Scott Mathison, who happened to be my vet, as he sat in the drizzle talking about when it's necessary to bring a dog to the vet. I didn't hear the whole discussion but in Stella and Rocky's case, that would be about once a month. The staff at my vet's clinic have often suggested that I get a room there. Ha, ha. Next time either Stella or Rocky get sick and are spewing out both ends, I'm bringing them into the clinic and leaving them. We'll see who's laughing then.

Once Scott finished his talk, he looked over and waved hello to me and he said, "And here's a guy who knows everything about dog illnesses ..." and I was about to threaten him with my plan but he got mobbed by a couple of female fans and his attention was diverted. Stethoscopes and a knowledge of pharmaceuticals will always be popular with the ladies.

Next up is disco dogs.

I don't think dogs naturally like disco. I think they must be brainwashed into getting down with those groovy beats. I wonder about their self-esteem. I wonder about their wolf cousins, as they chow down on the torn bloody carcass of some half ton moose they just massacred, and what they must be thinking about dogs who prance around on their hind legs and shake their booties.

Wolf 1: (bloodied maw, chewing loudly through grizzle and bone)Ah, footwork's not bad.

Wolf 2: (gulping down a big wad of meat to later regurgitate for her young 'uns) I think just a bit more outward thrust on the front paws with that second upbeat would give it just the right amount of razzle dazzle.

Ah well, dogs and wolves. What do they know? Disco is dead and they should leave the dead be and not try to dig it up and eat it again.

After the disco dancing dogs, there was a bit of a break. All the people stood around mostly trying to keep dry under their umbrellas and rain gear while their dogs were doing what dogs normally do in the wet and muck, which is run around and get wet and mucky. I don't mind being a human most days but sometimes it seems like it would be a lot more fun being a dog.

Next there was a dog race, though it was more like a scramble. It didn't quite have the same level of grace or determination as an Olympic 100m dash but the dogs liked it. Any excuse to run through muck will do but for faster times and more concerted efforts, I suggest that next year they release some peanut butter covered squirrels.

I met Dora who was there underneath one of the canopies representing Project Pet Rescue which aims to "bring awareness and support to pet rescue organizations and to encourage pet adoption, spaying and neutering, responsible pet ownership and financial support of pet rescue groups". It turned out she was also there in place of Ann and Pete who couldn't make it due to a road closure. And it also turned out that she knows Elizabeth Abbott who helped with the Serbian dogs. And she knows James at Toronto Animal Services. And she knows Lorraine who puts together the Ontario guidebook of dog rescues. If it's a small world, the dog rescue world is microscopic.

I ran into Dorothy Avery who runs a very popular dog school, the one Stella "graduated" from, and she was telling everyone about a lawyer who specializes in cases involving dogs.

I saw Dexter, an ex-TAS dog and met his great new owner.

I talked to about a dozen people I'd not known before and met their happy dogs, many of which had been rescues, and despite the rain and cold and the low turnout, the afternoon was an enjoyable time.

Often on this blog, I write about things that are less than joyful but truth is, dog rescue is more about preserving joy than it is about avoiding sadness. I don't think anyone can last and remain sane if what drives them to work is the imperative to avoid sadness. Sadness cannot be avoided. But, neither can it be the main focus. That would ruin you. Whereas striving to preserve the joy that only a dog's company can bring - that will carry you through the day.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Scenes from a dog park - day 3

There's only one other guy in the dog park. I've seen him once before with his brown Lab but didn't talk to him that last time. Don't know his name, don't even know his dog's name - which is unusual. The Lab is ball obsessed. The guy kicks the ball. The Lab brings it back and drops it at his feet. Repeat.

"I just found out about this last week," he says to me as I near him. "Easy for me to exercise her now. I don't have to walk, just kick."

Stella is watching the Lab. Stella is not a fetcher. Much too strenuous and what's the pay-off? More fetching? Yeah, right.

"How long have you had her for?" I ask.

"Almost a month." The Lab looks about a year old. "I got her from Animal Services."

"I thought she looked familiar." I explain to him about me volunteering there. We talk a bit more. Despite his mirrored, cop sunglasses, he seems decent enough. And his dog looks like it's being well treated.

Then he steps in some shit.

"Fuckin' hell," and he wipes his shoe off in the grass.

"The park's getting messy," I say.

"People don't fuckin' pick up," he says.

"It used to be a lot cleaner but this year ..."

"It's the damn dog walkers. They come in here with 10 or 12 dogs, don't pay attention to what they're doing. I seen one woman come in here, she lets the dogs go and then sits and talks on her cell phone for 10 minutes, rounds the dogs up and leaves."

"Not very long."

"I don't trust those dog walkers. Everyone of them'll rip you off."


"If I ever had to get a dog walker, I'd follow him around for a day, make sure he wasn't just driving around for an hour with my dog picking up other dogs and then dropping my dog off again. They're all fuckin' assholes."

"Uh huh."

"I saw this guy, four days ago, Monday afternoon, five days ago. His van pulls up outside that gate over there. All these dogs jump out and he lets them in here. They're shittin' all over the place. He's not pickin' up half of it. I can see them shittin' and he doesn't even notice. He's fuckin' yelling at the dogs to follow him or something. Marching them like soldiers or something. So I go over to him and I say to him, 'Hey, you got too many dogs with you. You're not picking up their shit,' and he says, 'You gonna make me?' and I say, 'Yeah, I'm gonna make you. I'm gonna come over there and punch you in the fuckin' face if you don't fuckin' pick up your shit.'"


I can't see behind his sunglasses but I imagine his eyes to be seething little pupils behind slivered eyelids.

"Yeah, I wanted to punch that guy in his fuckin' face. Fuckin' knock him out. So, he picks up the shit, calls the dogs back and leaves. He's been here like 15 minutes. That's it. Leaves after 15 minutes. I wonder how much he fuckin' charged for that."

"Yeah, too much."

Stella's made her way half way across to the other side of the park in search of new grass to graze on.

"I have to go," I say pointing to Stella. "Talk to you later."

"Yeah, good to meet you," he says then he calls his dog, pats it on the head, leashes it and leaves the park.

A few months later, in mid-winter when the deep snow narrows the sidewalks to a single pedestrian wide, I see him approaching in the semi-darkness. I'm going home from work and neither of us have our dogs with us. He doesn't recognize me. As we near each other I start to step to the right to let him pass when he snarls at me, "Move to your right," and if I hadn't already taken that step to the right and he had said that to me, I might have just stood there in front of him, blocking him, challenging him. What then?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

News items

Some shelters are getting creative with their spay/neuter awareness campaigns:
Hooters for neuters

More on the woman who cloned her Pit Bull:
Cloned dogs and kidnapping Mormons

Thank you for your support

Re: Politics of the grapevine

Much thanks to all the people who faxed and phoned in support for the adoption program at TAS. Those messages have turned a few heads around and the heat is off. Maybe even something good will come out of this now that city officials know that people watch and care.

Owner search

I get a call at work. It's from Elizabeth.

"Stella's done something bad at the house."

Sounds ominous.


"She ate the box of oat bran off the countertop. It's all gone. Box is empty."

The immediate worry is bloating (because Stella is a Great Dane and they bloat which is life threatening) so I cut my day short and rush back home from work to keep an eye on her. She doesn't bloat but for the rest of the day and the whole night, she keeps making trips into the backyard to let off bran bombs.

"That's it," I say to her. "I'm trading you in."

That doesn't scare her, of course. She knows it's an empty threat. I've never understood the heartlessness someone must possess to abandon a pet of several years over relatively minor inconveniences, and by minor inconveniences I mean mostly anything outside of a sudden death.

Casey is an 8 year old Lab mix. Her teeth are rotten and she's got an uterine infection. Her ex-owner wrote on the form that he was surrendering her because he was leaving the country to get "marrier". I'm not sure if he meant "married" or "merrier" but either way he was looking to improve his lot in life while Casey's got instantly worse. Being an old, and not entirely healthy dog, her chances of getting adopted out of Toronto Animal Services are about nil.

When Casey was first brought in, she was quite despondent. Now, after a week of getting acclimatized, her mood is better. She's a dog who is very eager to please, tail always wagging when she's around people. She loves human company so it's no surprise that she gets visibly distraught whenever she's returned to her kennel but she doesn't bark or whine.

The first day she was taken out for a walk, when she was still uncertain of her new circumstances, she stopped at one point and her tail went into overdrive. She saw someone approaching. He appeared to be coming towards her and her tail wagged all the harder. She was so happy, she could barely contain herself, stepping joyously from foot to foot. But then, as he got close, her tail suddenly stopped wagging, her head drooped down, her body posture slumped and her eyes saddened. She had thought this man might have been her owner come to take her back but she was wrong. He was just a stranger.

When dogs are abandoned, some will owner search for the first few days or weeks, hoping they'll be taken back home. I shouldn't say that only some will owner search. I should say that with some it's more obvious. With Casey, it was obvious she deeply missed her ex-owner. He, unfortunately, didn't miss her as much.

I don't know how long it takes for a dog to get over the loss of owner and home. Because they can't vocalize their sadness, it's easy enough for us to ignore it or pretend it doesn't exist. They're just animals after all and we humans are as arrogant and self-focused about our ability to suffer as we are about everything else.

Casey will be going into Lab rescue as soon as a space opens up for her. How long after that before she gets a new owner she can wag her tail at is anyone's guess.

As for Stella, the next time she eats a box of anything off the countertop, I'm definitely trading her in.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Update on Border Collie pup #5

Ann and Pete have named their Border Collie foster Angus.

Ann told me that Angus' first night was spent with their two very laid back beagles who helped him leave behind the trauma of the car ride up to their shelter. After that he was introduced to their other dogs allowing Angus to learn from their confidence around each other and humans.

One of Angus' problems at TAS was that he would not eat. His eating at Ann and Pete's was slow at first but now he's eating regularly so he should be putting on some much needed weight.

They re-introduced him to a leash in the last few days. The first time, they just hung out around the yard with the leash on. Yesterday, they went on their first leashed walk.

It looks like Angus is going to do just fine.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Recent Comments

Blogger seems to be experiencing some major breakdowns this past week and the most recent one is affecting the posting of some comments. If you've left a comment in the last 2 or 3 days and don't see it up yet, it's not because I didn't like it and sent it off to comment oblivion (all comments so far have been greatly appreciated). It's because of the software. I still have all the missing comments and will get them up as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience.


One of the local vet clinics has generously offered to spay 8 dogs free of charge for Toronto Animal Services' adoption program. Only a very few vet clinics around Toronto are willing to donate or signficantly discount their fees for the program. Adopters are vetted pretty well by TAS so that means that most new owners will be taking their dogs, shortly after the adoption paperwork is done, to a vet for their first check up and wellness tests. That's what? $200 - $300? And of course if there's anything wrong with the dog then that becomes $400 or $500 pretty quickly. I'm not complaining about those prices, after all, it's a business, but doesn't business run on you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours relationships. Any dog that leaves TAS with a new owner is basically a cash register for some vet somewhere and considering the hundreds of rescued dogs that go through TAS every year, you'd think throwing a few spay/neuters their way wouldn't be such a big deal.

Well in a few months, that won't be such a concern anymore. After a recent hefty corporate donation from the charitable wing of Petsmart, as well as much arm twisting of the self-interested OVMA, the GTA will get its first non-profit, high volume spay/neuter clinic, Spay Central Toronto, offering deeply discounted services. Sure a lot of their future clients may not have visited a vet in the first place due to expenses but I'd bet that a significant portion of pet owners will get their spays/neuters done at the clinic basically because they don't want to spend 5 to 6 times more at a regular vet's office. That's unfortunate for all those vets, and that's probably all the vets in the GTA, who now stand to lose a significant portion of their income.

Spay Central Toronto is still looking for donations to help kickstart their "Neuter Scooter" which will be a shuttle bus that will pick up pets from designated locations and drive them to Spay Central Toronto for spaying/neutering and then drop them off again at the same location after the operation. In many U.S. cities, the spaying and neutering is actually done on the bus but apparently that's illegal here. Still a pick-up/drop-off service is pretty good.

These three girls are getting their bits removed before being put up for adoption next week:




Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Scenes from a dog park - day 2

In the late fall, in the afternoon, say around 4:30, say just after a rainstorm, while there are still heavy clouds in the sky but the sun has broken through, while the leaves are shades of yellow and red and are falling or have mostly fallen and sit wet on grass still green, there are about, mmm, maybe five minutes, maybe ten when the light is a thick warm orange and everything that is cast in that light comes alive again for one last breathe before winter takes its due.

Stella is by the edge of the park, along the chain link fencing, grazing, nipping off the tender top growth of the tall grass which the mowers weren't able to reach. Barclay, our Bearded Collie, is still with us and he is walking and stumbling and walking and stumbling. His balance has been deteriorating.

It's called old dog vestibular disease which some think may be like a stroke but no one really knows what causes the attacks. It's not supposed to be reoccuring but reoccur it does in Barclay and he's had four attacks now over the past several months. Each time it comes, he collapses, like a fainting spell, and he lies helpless, paddling his legs in the air, whimpering, scared. The only thing we can do is hold him and once his heart has stopped racing, we carry him around because when he tries to get up, he falls, like he's drunk, but not drunk in a funny way at all but drunk like it's the saddest thing in the world. After a few hours, he might be able to stand. After a day, he might be able to walk a few steps. After a week, he can get around again.

The first time he suffered an episode, it seemed he made a complete recovery and we were relieved. The second time he was left with a slight head tilt and that wasn't too bad. The third time, he was left with a lean. The fourth time he was left with a balance so impaired that the slightest unevenness would send him toppling over, like whenever he tried to cross a sloped driveway or whenever his foot landed on an bumpy patch of grass.

Barclay does well in the park as long as there are no unknown dogs around who might knock him over. All the familiar dogs know well enough to give him room. I don't know if this is done out of kindness or disregard but either way it's fine with Barclay. He can do his own thing, walking and stumbling, and when he does fall, it's a soft landing onto the grass.

Carl is here with Linus. Linus is running laps around the park happily chasing scents rising out of the damp ground. Sometimes, Linus runs up to Stella to see if she'll chase him but she just gives him a what-do-you-want glance and continues to graze.

Carl is talking to me about his latest relationship dilemna: "So here's a typical situation. Two women, one is smart, interested and interesting, financially secure, travels, owns a home, prefers rollerblades over cars, has similar tastes in movies and music, as myself, and lives her leftie politics. She’s a friend and my attraction to her grows as a function of the ever increasing length of time I haven't had sex.

"The other woman is friendly, girlish, has a dog, owns a home, would never ride a bicycle because she thinks they are image detractors though she loves motorcycles because they’re image enhancers, lives her politics insofar as she doesn’t have any politics, unless you include shopping and make-up, and she looks good in tight clothes. My attraction to her also grows as a sex-time function.

"But the situation doesn’t just revolve around sex. It never does, right? Well, not past your teens anyway. There’s companionship, there’s challenge, there’s sanctuary, there’s all these things to look for all in one other person and the thing is, I’m pretty sure neither of these two possible relationships will end in anything more than another footnote in my painfully long history of serial monogamy and I’m really tired of that - so tired that, recently, I’ve just not bothered to date at all or at least tried not to bother but sometimes bothered I still am … and then trouble.

"This time, though, I’ve managed to maintain the monastic life for almost six months and let me tell you, a monk’s heart must be made of stone. No emotional highs, no emotional lows. Not much of anything at all. Stone." Carl says.

"Yeah, I don't know any monks," I say.

I'm not a good conversationalist at the park. Half my attention is always on the dogs, especially today when it seems to be a bad day for Barclay. He's falling more than usual. Maybe the ground's too slippery, I don't know. Maybe it's the low lying sun which seems to be bothering his squinting eyes.

Carl continues, "So last week, into all of this, an ex of mine comes along with a phone call asking me if I’m still single and then she does this pitch to me for a girlfriend of hers who, in my sixth month of this now getting very difficult to maintain controlled celibacy, sounds like the rain which is about to fall on parched lands and so of course I’m listening to her, just like an expectant fool, with my mouth wide open hoping to quench my thirst or at least to catch even a drop of liquid or at the very very least to just get a peak, a tiny glimpse of the oasis even if it turns out to be only a mirage."

"Aren't mirages hallucinations?" I ask keeping an eye on Barclay. Everytime he falls, he gets up again by himself but everytime he falls, I want to run over and pick him up.

"I mean she goes on about this friend of hers, about how she’s got style, a nice figure and personality and single, of course, and then just leaves me waiting. No contact info, no name. She says she has to okay it with her friend first. I mean why did she tell me about her in the first place? Then she just leaves me hanging. She never gets back to me."

When Elizabeth first brought Barclay home from the Ontario SPCA seventeen years ago, she said he was the fastest dog in the park. His hair was long back then and it fluttered and swooped as he ran leaning into his corners and then, coming out of them, accelerated. He used his speed well to chase squirrels. Squirrels were his mortal enemies. He didn't care much for Huskies either because he was beat up by one when he was young. But, Barclay loved his people, especially kids, and was gentle with those he did not know.

"I still haven't heard from her. That's just not right. It's like having a tooth that's just hanging on by a thread of whatever that noodley sinuous nerve ending stuff is that teeth hang onto and not being able to do anything about it. You just sit there waiting for something to happen and you can't do anything about it. I mean, you know what I mean?"

Today, Barclay's top speed is a slow, uncertain walk. His back is slightly arced as if he were holding onto some ache in his spine but his nose is still held up high to the wind. This will be Barclay's last autumn here. What will coming to this place be like without him, I wonder and with that, the clouds gather back and overcome the sun.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Profile: Rocky

Rocky's prospects for adoption are slim. He has been brought in by his owner along with another dog because the owner says he no longer wants to take care of them. The other dog is quickly adopted out but Rocky, with his various health issues, is a hard sell. He is eight years old and has wobblers (a spinal bone disease) as well as hip displasia. He also has to overcome the general perception of Dobermans being dangerously aggressive dogs. Though he isn't well received by the public who walk by his kennel, Rocky quickly becomes a favorite of the staff at Toronto Animal Services. He is a gentle, affectionate old guy who, more than anything, just wants a soft blanket to lie on and good belly rub.

The weeks go by and while there are a couple of potential suitors, no one takes Rocky home. Some dogs unfortunately do not take well to kennel life, especially in a high anxiety environment where there are other unknown dogs constantly barking for attention and strangers wandering in and out. Maybe it's from the stress, maybe it's from the exposure to an abundance of transmittable diseases but Rocky's general health and behaviour start to decline. At one point, near the end of his second month at the pound, he ends up catching whipworm from one of the other strays and has to be put on deworming medication. A few weeks later, just as soon as he gets over that he develops a cough and within a few days it has worsened to the point where he is coughing consistently throughout the day. The kennel cough vaccine he'd been given earlier was ineffective. He sounds like someone with tuberculosis. He's also got an eye infection, hearing problems, a lump in his side. He's a mess. On top of all this, he's also starting to guard his kennel from visitors. With his health degrading so rapidly and no adoption possibilities, a decision is made to euthanize Rocky that afternoon.

I'd already considered fostering Rocky but always felt he'd do better in a single dog family. However, now that the euthanization order is given, he's out of time. I inform TAS that I'll take him home that evening.

Rocky's been with me now for over a year. There have been some significant health issues to overcome but now, except for the occasional stiffness in his hips, his health is otherwise good. And, most importantly, he's found his soft blanket and plenty of belly rubs.

Monday, August 4, 2008

2 Tails

The best thing about waking up in the morning.

Happy Simcoe Day!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Next year, I wanna be the mascot

Usually when I go visit the dogs at TAS on the weekends, it's pretty quiet but not today because it's Caribana weekend, one of the biggest party festivals in Toronto, and the crowds were out along with the noise that 1,000,000 revellers tend to make. Some of the dogs were okay with the noise, others not so much.

A yet unnamed dog, simply called Husky for the time being, didn't seem to mind the noise at all. In fact he was on a mission to check it out. We walked towards the crowds milling around the main parade and Husky was flashing his peepers at everyone and making friends all along the way.

"Oh, look at his beautiful eyes."

"Ohmygawd, his eyes are gorgeous."

"Mommy, look at that dog. It looks like it has ghost eyes."

"Wow, his eyes. Is he friendly?"

Of course, the only thing I was thinking was please please please don't take a dump here. Luckily, he was too busy conversing with his boyz to be thinking about that.

I think it was Husky's intention to actually join in with the parade but I explained to him that we had missed the application deadline so maybe next year. He was disappointed but agreed to let me take his picture anyway.


These two weren't as taken by the crowds and so I did their photos quickly and brought them back inside.



Saturday, August 2, 2008


"Honey, that couch is getting delivered today. You going to be around for that?"

"What time?"

"4 hour window. 2 to 6."

"Hate that. Yeah, should be. I gotta get some more picture hangers but that'll be like 10 minutes."

"Where you going for that?"

"That place, that uh place, you know, Joe's? Jim's? Jack's? Paint and Wallpaper store. At the corner there."

"Do you think they'll have cushions? We need something to accent the couch."

"I knew you were going to say that. See, I told you that couch was too white. We should've gotten the red one."

"It doesn't matter what the colour is, we'd still need something. Maybe a throw."

"Uh, no, people don't do throws anymore. What's that, like 1990?"

"Yeah, whatever. Just if you find anything ... This room's too empty still. It needs more ... stuff."

"I'm not going to find anything at a place called Joe's Paint and Wallpaper store."

"Okay, well, whatever, I gotta go. Come on Solo. Come on Mya."

"You taking the dogs?

"Yeah, I have to drop them off."

"Vets? Something wrong with them?"

"No, I'm dropping them off at the pound. Their nails are scratching the floor."

"Oh, okay, just remember, back before 7. We got that thing."

"I'm so looking forward to that."

"Huh, yeah, no kidding."

Brother and sister labs turned in when owners moved into a new condo and didn't want their floors getting scuffed by their dogs. Adoption info at Toronto Animal Services.

Addendum: Adopted. It's usually very difficult to find homes for bonded pairs so it was wonderfully fortunate that these two were adopted on the same day their profile was put up on the TAS website. Thanks much to the person who took these great dogs home.

Friday, August 1, 2008

5 - part 3

Continued from previous.

Anne and Pete have been running a very commendable dog rescue just north of Toronto for over ten years and they've agreed to foster one of the five border collies but now talking to Pete on the phone, he's expressing some concerns about the anxiety level of the dog around people. They rehabilitate dogs - and from what I've heard, they do a great job of it - but as with any shelter with limited time and funds (which is of course all shelters), taking on a severely troubled dog and dedicating enough resources to it means that other dogs will be denied. Is it worth trying to save the life of the one dog at hand when the lives of two or three others might be lost? An impossible question to answer. Still, they're willing to give the pup a try and provide it with a foster home. I suspect, this decision comes more from the goodness of their hearts than from logic.

My car is parked on the street and I'm getting it ready to transport the pup up to Ann and Pete's. I have the back seat pulled down so that the back area is open to the trunk. I spread out a large piece of thick plastic over the whole section and tape it down. Someone walks by and checks out what I'm doing and I tell her with a smile that it's my turn to move the body tonight but her eyes just go buggy and she moves off.

Later, at Toronto Animal Services, James gives me some additional absorbant blankets to put on top of the plastic and then we head upstairs to the kennels to fetch the pup.

Like its siblings, well, actually somewhat worse than its siblings, this scared young dog flattens to the floor and goes rigid as soon as the leash is attached to its collar. James ends up dragging it a bit but then decides to pick it up, first wrapping the loose leash around its muzzle for safety against a possible bite. When a dog is this frightened, it's best to take some precautions when lifting it up within range of one's face. On the way to the elevator, while in James' arms, the pup poops and the two blobs fall ignominiously onto the floor. Outside, we try to get it pee on the grass (by saying stuff like, "Go pee, nice puppy, go pee" because, like, that works) but the pup just wants to either tear off or flatten against the ground.

James carries the pup into my car and immediately, it scoots into the furthest back corner in the trunk. It stares out at us from the darkness like the frightened wild animal it is.

James discusses directions up to Ann and Pete's while I only half pay attention. The other half is wondering what the plan will be if the pup poops in the car. Oh well, then so it goes.

The drive up is without incident except at one point when I get a whiff of urine but I'm not sure if that's old dried stuff or freshly wet stuff. Oh well, so it goes.

At least the pup seems to be relaxing a bit. It's got its head up and it's looking around. It really is a beautiful young dog.

About a block away from the destination address, I spot a man by the side of the road in a Tilley hat and sunglasses walking two beagles and guess that he's Pete from the on-line photos. I stop to say hello and he directs me to his driveway and says he'll be there shortly.

I park and exit the car and open the back door. Now the pup is tense again. I grab the leash so that it doesn't jump out and flee when I open the trunk. At first, it doesn't want to come out at all and it plays a game of avoidance going from the door to the trunk to the door to the trunk again as I go back and forth trying to coax it out. Eventually, with enough coaxing and much pulling, I get the pup out but instead of trying to bolt, it ducks under the car and squeezes up against the tire.

"That's not good," Pete says as he walks up the drive.

The pup isn't moving from beneath the car.

"Does he have a flat collar on?" Pete asks.

I know what he's going to say. A flat collar, basically a regular collar, will slip off over the head of the pup if it resists enough and it's resisting enough and the flat collar is indeed starting to slip. It's already come over one ear so I release the tension.

"That's going to come off," Pete says.

"Yeah, looks like it," I say.

We stand there surveying the situation. I find it a little funny that now so close to the end of the pup's journey, it manages to lodge itself into a spot where we can't get it out and I'm about to crack some joke but then I look at Pete and he doesn't look so amused. I start doing a little inner prayer that he's still going to take the pup.

Ann comes out to meet us. The instant I see her and hear her speak, I sense a gentleness about her and I know that if anyone can get the pup out it'll be her.

We try a few things. Cooing voices, a broom to push, some dog snacks (which the neighbour brings over), but finally it comes down to Ann getting down and slowly and gently putting a slip collar around the neck of the pup. And then she pulls it out.

Pete lifts the pup up and holds it in his arms. I ask if he'd like something wrapped around it's muzzle but he says that if it was going to bite it would have bit already. Of course he's right. The pup is scared, panting, drooling scared but it's not a biter.

I say goodbye to them as they take the pup away.

After I get home, I open up an e-mail from James. He writes that as he walked back into the facility after having loaded the pup into my car, he smelled poop. He didn't see any on the floor but after checking around a bit, he discovered that a clump of it had fallen into his boots - must've been while he was carrying the pup to the elevator earlier. Of course I had to laugh over this final parting gift given to the guy whose actions had just saved the lives of five Border Collie puppies.