Dog by Dog chronicles the lives of shelter animals in Baton Rouge, Louisiana as they make their way from the shelter into foster homes, and then loving, forever homes. In 2007, this open-intake animal shelter had to euthanize nearly 11,000 of the dogs and cats that came through its doors. Today, through a variety of initiatives that include a foster care program, off site adoption events and low cost spay/neuter programs, that number has been nearly halved. Still, thousands of friendly, healthy, housetrained, and highly adoptable animals are put down annually simply for lack of space. We are hoping to change that. The name of this blog is a reference to Bird by Bird, an Anne Lamott book on writing. In it, Lamott advises beginning writers to start small, as her father once advised her 10-year-old brother, who was agonizing over a book report on birds: “Just take it bird by bird.” Working in animal rescue can feel so overwhelming at times that I decided the only way I could reasonably help without burning out was to apply Lamott’s advice and take it dog by dog. This blog shares the heartwarming stories of a few good dogs overcoming the worst. With your help, the blog will network these dogs across America and into loving homes.
Ideally our pets are a life long commitment, but I believe there’s no shame in rehoming a pet if life throws more at you than you can handle.
People get evicted, lose jobs, develop allergies, get called for active duty, go into nursing homes and even die unexpectedly (and sometimes their grieving kids are in no position to keep those pets). The sad thing is, most people have no idea how to find a new home for their pet. This is one of many reasons why so many companion animals end up in overcrowded municipal shelters.
Several times each year people call and ask me how to re-home their dog. I used to tell them to post cute pictures and a great ad on Craigslist, screen prospective adopters carefully, meet in a public place, spay or neuter the dog first and be sure to charge a rehoming fee (because free dogs can meet gory ends as bait dogs in dog fighting rings). But not everyone knows how to write a good pet bio, is comfortable collecting a rehoming fee, or is comfortable posting on Craigslist.
Last week I attended the Humane Society of the United States‘ Animal Care Expo in New Orleans and learned about an amazing online service from Adopt-a-pet.com and the Petco Foundation. This service allows individual pet owners to re-home their pets in a safe and relatively easy way (it’s the same service to which only animal shelters and rescues previously had access). Not only that, the service collects a rehoming fee and donates it to the rehomer’s local animal shelter.
Companion Animal Alliance, the municipal shelter where I volunteer in Baton Rouge, took in 56 dogs in three weeks recently, so the need for this is enormous. Here’s the link: https://rehome.adoptapet.com/how-it-works. I hope you’ll share it on social media.
People in animal rescue have been known to get compassion fatigue, burned out by the sheer number of crappy, heartless people out there dumping pets for what seems like no good reason at shelters and by the side of the road. Sure, there are crappy, heartless people. But I have also fostered a rat terrier brought to the shelter because his family, sobbing as they let him go, had lost their home and was on their way to a shelter themselves. I fostered a shepherd mix whose owner got a job working on an offshore oil rig and would have to be gone for days at a time with nobody home . And I fostered a Pomeranian whose owner died. Her husband couldn’t care for the dog, so he dropped him off at the shelter where the dog had a total meltdown. Freaked out in his kennel and and snapping at virtually everyone, the foster coordinator was going to have to euthanize him but first called and asked if I would take him home to see if he would be different outside of the shelter. Fortunately, the dog took a shine to me in her office. A few hours into his stay at our house, he took a shine to everyone. Wouldn’t it have been great if the husband hadn’t had to put him through the stress of being at a shelter at all? Maybe if he’d known about this, he would have made a better choice. Here’s the link again: https://rehome.adoptapet.com/how-it-works
Thanks for loving all the critters out there, like I do.
Long before there was the wildly popular Susie’s Seniors Facebook page, in Baton Rouge Louisiana there was elderly dog advocate, Allie Kummerfeldt.
Five years ago, I met Allie on Facebook when she was a music student at Louisiana State University and we had both begun pulling dogs from the euthanasia list at Companion Animal Alliance. Despite our quarter century age difference, Allie and I became fast friends and dog rescue buddies. It touched me when Allie pulled Sugar, an ancient, white-faced chocolate Lab with a nasty skin condition. How on earth was Allie going to find a home for this dog? In short order, she did it and then quickly became obsessed with fostering labs, huge dogs and old dogs. Her favorite of all: huge old dogs.
Today, Allie is an elementary school music teacher, a teaching artist and a professional oboist. She is married to Ken, a computer programmer, teaching artist and professional trumpet player who shares her obsession with fostering huge old dogs. Together, they have fostered more than 100 dogs, many of them geriatric.
Recently, I spoke with Allie about the old dog thing:
Why old dogs, Allie?
There is something extra special about an old dog. Maybe it is in the cloudy eyes or the grey muzzle. I see these dogs as I see senior citizen humans. They have so much to teach us but just a short amount of time left to do it. The senior humans I know are often smart, opinionated, caring, loving, stubborn, and respectful. Interestingly, the senior dogs we have fostered also shared these qualities. The other good thing about seniors is that almost every senior dog we bring home is already housebroken, crate trained, and used to being in a home environment. I choose to foster old dogs because I can’t stand the thought that a dog that has learned so much about the world and has lived a long previous life may end up spending its last days at a shelter.
Tell me about Sugar, the old lab you pulled from the e-list at CAA.
When I saw Sugar’s intake picture it was just heart breaking. You could tell she had been a gorgeous dog but it had obviously been a while since she’d had some TLC. Sweet Sugar had no hair on her chocolate booty due to an untreated flea her coat was dingy and greasy and her grey muzzle gave away her age. My family always had labs, so seeing her so sad just broke my heart. It was also my second foster dog ever, and I was super surprised that there was a purebred chocolate lab at the shelter. I would later learn that this is very common. I decided to pick her up the same day, just hoping that the age issue wouldn’t be a big deal. I reached out to a local lab rescue (Labs4Rescue) and they offered to let me foster her through them so that they could spread her through their network and give her the best chance of finding a home.
Turns out it was not a big deal at all that she was already 7ish. I was convinced it would take a long time to find this aged pup a home, but after about 3 weeks of being in Labs4Rescue’s system, a wonderful lady in New York saw her picture and description and decided she had to have her.
The rescue transported her up north and she has been living happily in NY ever since. The most recent update I got was about two years ago, when the woman she told me Sugar had helped her through the death of her husband, and that she sleeps with her every single night.
Why would anyone want to adopt a dog they might only get to have for a few months or years?
I ask myself this often. The best answer I can think of is that I believe everything has a purpose in life. Every person has a job to do, or something to achieve while they are on this earth. I believe dogs are the same way. A few of the old dogs we fostered passed away while they were with us and I think each of them taught us something in that time. It might have been a lesson on compassion, humility, love, or even just an understanding of our world through the eyes of another. A person may need a dog for even just a short time in order to teach them something.
Tell me about the people who are willing to adopt an old dog.
These people are amazing. They are all kind. It’s like they have some secret kindness oath that must be taken prior to adopting a senior dog. These folks know full well that the dog they are adopting has already lived the majority of its life with someone else, yet they have a heart so big that they welcome this animal and give them the best forever ending possible. It is magical.
What’s your secret to getting an old dog adopted? Is it different from getting any foster dog adopted or the same? Do you say a special prayer or something?
Wait, you don’t know about the old dog rain dance? It starts with two twirls, then “Oy, my back!” and finishes with a glass of wine. Just kidding. There is no magic wand for get the seniors adopted. The best secret we have found has been getting killer pictures. Old dogs tell you their lives in their eyes and face, and capturing that on camera goes a long way to helping them get a home.
Do you ever worry you’re going to “get stuck” with the dog because no one will want it?
If we take a senior dog, no one will ever be “stuck” with it, including us. Having a senior dog is an honor. For a couple of our dogs, we have been the last stop on their journey. I am not a crier, but I will always lose it when one of our seniors doesn’t make it. We assume when taking a senior, that they are with us until they find a new home, or until the end.
Tell me about your Pack.
Our pack includes Basset mix Mazal, 6, Great Dane Maggie Doo, 7, and Moo (aka: Cat), 8. Cat is
the world’s sweetest, dumbest cat, and he loves our new foster dogs. He greets them when they come home with us and likes to rub himself all over them. Mazal is the resident greeter, and the best dog for helping them adjust to our home. She shows everyone around and helps them gain confidence. Maggie Doo shows our fosters the best places to sleep and the best toys. As a whole, our pack really likes the old dog fosters because our pack is older. They all do a lot of sleeping and the roughhousing is kept at a low level. Overall our house stays pretty quiet and content with senior fosters in it.
How many dogs over the age of 8 have you pulled and placed?
I totally lost count. I would say though that I consider a senior dog any dog over age 6, as lots of breeds, like Great Danes have an average lifespan of 8. We have definitely had over 30 elderly dogs in the last five years and they have been all kinds of breeds though my husband and I have a soft spot for large breeds like labs and danes. In addition to placing many of them locally in Louisiana, we have also found them homes in other states including Mississippi, Alabama Georgia, Maine, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington D.C.
Tell my readers about Sierra, the elderly Great Dane you kept for a family who became homeless after the Louisiana floods last summer.
We took Sierra after seeing her picture on your Facebook Page. She was being held at Lamar Dixon after the flood, and was in a ridiculously hot horse stall with three other danes. She was 11 and struggling in the heat. After you sent me the little paper with the contact info, I called the owners and asked if we could help. Turns out Sierra belonged to a woman with four danes and her house flooded, and her mom’s house flooded, and they were all staying with her brother at his house. Between all of the family dogs, they had nowhere for Sierra to go. We had another senior great dane foster at the time, but after seeing how this dog was struggling in 100 degree heat, we had to help. The owners agreed to let us take Sierra until they could get settled. They were such nice people, and they just needed a hand. We kept Sierra for about 6 weeks, and then were able to reunite her with her family. Through the community and help from my mom in Georgia and her clients, we were also able to send the family home with several big bags of dog food, and gift cards to pet stores and home improvement stores.
Who was your most challenging old dog?
We haven’t had a lot of issues with any of our senior dogs. They are so easygoing! Our most recent foster, Cindy Loo Who, 15, was probably the most challenging because she had bladder control problems, which we thought was going to make her unadoptable. Let’s face it, nobody wants a Pee Pee McGhee in their house. Fortunately, we found out this can be fixed most of the time with medicine the dog will take for the rest of its life and it worked right away on Cindy. She now lives in New Orleans, right next to Audubon Park with her new owners. The absolutely adore her. Bentley, one of our senior great danes was also a bit of a challenge with his intense fear of walking on hard flooring. We had to put rugs all over our house because he was terrified to take a step inside. A very lovely family with a home filled with large area rugs in Lafayette, La adopted him.
If you were allowed to say you had a favorite old dog, which one would it be?
Cindy Loo Who, the former Pee Pee McGhee. Cindy had been found wandering her neighborhood multiple times. At the shelter, they tracked down her owner and the owner said he didn’t want her back. I couldn’t believe how anyone could do that to an old dog! Still don’t get it. We took her home and she owned the place right away; found her bed, and snuggled hardcore with everyone and everything. She has so much spirit left in her for being her age, and we were so happy to have her.
Why do you do this?
Because dogs do not have opposable thumbs – haha — and we want to help those who cannot help themselves. There’s a Jewish concept called Tikkun Olam; acts of loving kindness to help repair the world. Everyone should perform Tikkun Olam in their own way. We do it by helping homeless dogs and bringing them together with the people who need them.
Any advice for people out there thinking of adopting an old dog?
Do it, do it do it! The love from an old dog is so special. They need the love just as much as you do. Don’t pity an old dog, just adopt one.
Any advice for people out there thinking of fostering an old dog?
In my opinion, fostering old dogs is way more fun than fostering young dogs. It basically takes the stress out of fostering. Almost always, these dogs are housebroken, crate trained, and well mannered. That is fostering gold. You never have to worry about things getting torn up, or your dogs getting too excited. Plus the level of love these dogs give is so much deeper than that of a young dog. I highly recommend it!
Anything else you would like me to know?
Yes, I cannot do this without my husband, Ken. I used to do it by myself, and that was dandy. But having Ken’s help and support makes this doable today. He is just as involved in the whole foster process as I am, and is so supportive. I have been known to text him a picture of a dog, say, “I am on my way home!” and he always just rolls with it. He feeds and cares for our fosters as if they were our own dogs, and he shows so much care and compassion for the animals I bring home.
Companion Animal Alliance is building a new, state-of-the-art animal shelter in Baton Rouge on the campus of Louisiana State University near the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine. If you would like to make a contribution to help homeless animals in Baton Rouge enjoy a better life while waiting for their forever homes, please visit my fundraising page : Help CAA Build a State of the Art Animal Shelter. Even the smallest donation helps. Many thanks.
Sometimes you don’t even have to bring a foster dog home from the shelter to find it a home. I love when that happens! A few days ago my friend Jodi was at the shelter helping out and posted a picture of her daughter and this adorable pup that had been there a few weeks.
I couldn’t believe he had been there for weeks. Usually, dogs that look like this are snatched up in a day. But it turns out this poor boy was limping and might need to have a leg amputated.
I thought about taking him home to foster after his surgery, but with upcoming travels, wasn’t sure I could commit to his recovery from an amputation. Still, I wanted to help, and was thinking about how when a woman named Heather sends me this message on Facebook:
I know you foster for CAA and they have dog listed on the lost pets page as in foster care. I visited the shelter last week and met him but was told he was pre-adopted. I left my information for them to call in the event he wasn’t picked up but didn’t hear anything and assumed he was picked up. I should have called! Can you help me find out if he really is in foster care and still available? I would love to adopt him if he is! Thank you for any assistance you can provide!
She attached a picture of a really cute little poodle. I told her I’d look into it and quickly found out the dog had, in fact, been adopted so I wrote her back with the news. I also sent her a picture of the pup above adding that he was currently available. Something wrong with back leg and may need it amputated. He’s only 9 months old and I’ve heard he is sweet as sugar. Needs a foster or adopter…
I figured she was probably pretty focused on the one that got away and wouldn’t be interested in a dog facing a possible amputation. But she wrote back that she would love to meet him. She had just lost her dog, Beau, an older fluffy guy, three weeks earlier and said the house was too quiet. (Beau had been a rescue who came to her with a total of five teeth and had spent his last 18 months in congestive heart failure). Heather said she knew Beau would want her to give another dog a great home.
I reached out to Jodi to find out the scoop on the leg. The shelter, it turns out, was sending the dog to an outside vet for a consultation to see if the leg could be saved. (Shout out to my friend Paula who created the shelter’s Sick and Injured Animals Fund, which often makes things like this possible through donations.) Jodi wanted to foster the dog but asked me if I could take him for a few days while she was out of town. YES! I said. And even better, I think I have an adopter for him.
I connected Jodi and Heather via Facebook group message and Jodi asked Heather if she thought she was ready for a dog who needed to heal. You can heal together, she said, but I totally understand not wanting to commit to an injured animal. Just let me know what I can do for you.
Heather’s response: I’m ready! I can’t wait to meet him!
Have I mentioned that one of my favorite things about helping shelter animals find homes is people like this? WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?!
Heather added that after Beau, she wasn’t phased by much. I’ll do whatever is needed to make sure he’s happy and knows he’s loved.
And so this happened today:
And the best news of all, is that the pup, who Heather has named Bailey, is going to get to keep his leg after all. She picks him up from his surgery tomorrow and will bring him home to recuperate in a soft bed among toys and frozen Kongs stuffed with peanut butter and kibbles to keep him busy while he’s on kennel rest.
That is one lucky little scruffy dog.
A black chow mix about 7 years old, Sugarbear had been picked up by animal control in the summer. Someone had reported a dog chained up outside an abandoned house, baking in the hot sun without food or water. Her matted hair, which hadn’t been groomed in a long time, if ever, had turned to bleached dreadlocks. Here’s what she looked like on intake:
With new dogs coming into the shelter every day that hadn’t had the chance to be adopted, it wasn’t fair to give Sugarbear any more time. She was heart worm positive. She wouldn’t go potty in her kennel and was getting urinary tract infections, possibly from holding it for too long (most shelter dogs are lucky to get one walk per day, and that’s only if staff are free to do it or if volunteers come in regularly). But she was such a love; mellow and sweet. She was like a big Zen teddy bear who hung back and didn’t get off her bed when prospective adopters came to check out dogs. Everyone at the shelter wanted Sugarbear to be adopted and have a Happily Ever After. Early on, a couple of volunteers spent hours cutting mats out of her hair and giving her a bath.
I avoided fostering large female dogs at the time because I was worried my two female dogs, Stella and Luna, would pick fights. But I couldn’t let Sugarbear go down. It just feels horrible when an easy-going dog with a great personality has to be euthanized because the shelter is full.
I didn’t have a plan exactly, and I didn’t tell my husband what I was doing as I left for the shelter after seeing “Last Call” for Sugarbear in a private Facebook group for volunteers. I figured it would work out because what I learned early on is that it always does, one way or another. When I got there, this is what I saw:
Yes, that’s a smiling Zen teddy bear. The assistant shelter director gave me a huge hug and looked like she was going to burst into tears as Sugarbear and I left. As we got out of the car in my driveway, I dreaded the thought of setting her up in our kennel in the shed, which was what became my plan on the drive home. Sugarbear was on the older side and it was on the colder side. Even though we had a safe space heater out there, I didn’t like the thought of it.
But just as I started to head down the driveway, my neighbor from across the street came over to say hello. The next thing I knew, she was going to let Sugarbear have a sleepover at her house. Two fosters and a few months later, a man named George read about Sugarbear’s heartworm status and stepped up to pay for the treatment. What a guy! He couldn’t adopt her, he said, because he had a crazy beagle named Scout who was totally out of hand and George couldn’t manage another dog. But George loved Chow Chows and that’s what Sugarbear looked like. He wanted her to be well and adopted.
One weekend, what seemed like a nice family did adopt Sugarbear. But less than 24 hours later, they decided she wasn’t active enough for them and returned her to the shelter. When I told George, he was very upset. I asked him a few questions about the nature of Scout’s craziness, recommended regular exercise for the dog and a great dog trainer and did my best to sway George into giving Sugarbear a try in his home. It was clear to me that George and Sugarbear were meant to be together, and after an overnight, it was clear to George too. He named her Sugarbear Rose and called her Rosie. Sometimes he called her The Dude, a reference to the laid back stoner character in the film, “The Big Lebowski.” Sugarbear Rose had a lot of fans, but nobody loved her more than George and Scout did.
“For three years and twelve days Rosie was a miracle in my life,” George says.
Sugarbear Rose passed away on Friday, at age 10, from complications related to her years of neglect. “I’ll not expect to see her kind again, animal or person,” George says. “She was the kindest, sweetest thing I have ever encountered. Having Rose was a great privilege.”
Meeting George has been a great privilege for me too. I’m so relieved to know there are people like him out there. Thanks for giving this beautiful being three great years, George! Because of you, she got every shelter dog’s dream.
If you would like to donate to help dogs at Companion Animal Alliance, the open-intake municipal shelter in Baton Rouge where Sugarbear Rose was housed and adored, please click here: http://www.caabr.org/#!donate/ctzx
If you would like to help dogs at Friends of the Animals in Baton Rouge, a rescue organization that holds offsite adoption events that Rose attended and now has an amazing Dog Adoption House in Baton Rouge, please click here: http://friendsoftheanimalsbr.org/donate.html
And if you are looking for a senior dog to call your own, be sure to follow Susie’s Senior dogs on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/susiesseniordogs/
Much time and several wonderful foster dogs have passed through our house since my last entry. Here’s the boy who came to our house next:
When I met this fella at the shelter, his name was Rex. I was there to see the vet with my foster Teddy and while Teddy waited his turn, I cruised the aisles of kennels. If I set my sights on the next dog, I figured, Teddy would find his perfect home sooner. (I’d had him close to four months at the time – and it worked! Or I like to pretend it did.)
The first thing I saw as I walked those dimly lit aisles was an incredible, half blue eye. I walked to the kennel door, and Mssr. BaRu tip-toed up to me and gave my fingers a little lick through the chain link. So gentle. So tender. I picked up the kennel card and read that he had been a stray caught in a trap placed by Animal Control. Just then, a staff member turned the corner and told me Mssr. BaRu had a really sweet personality but was heart worm “smear positive” and didn’t have long there. (Translation: He would be euthanized if not adopted soon).
Let me take a moment to tell you that the staff at Companion Animal Alliance is among the most compassionate of all the people I know. In fact, the person charged with making the euthanasia decisions has 10 dogs of her own and told me when she makes the dreaded weekly list she vomits. Literally.
It’s for this reason that I cannot stand it when people demonize those who work at so-called kill shelters. (Read this fabulous blog on the topic by my friend Abby Knight who works at the shelter.)
The people putting these animals in the line of fire are not those who have to “pull the trigger” so to speak, but rather those who breed dogs for pets, those who choose to buy a pet from a breeder rather than adopt from a shelter, and those who do not spay and neuter those pets, who can unintentionally get out and multiply.
If you fall into any of the above categories, I don’t mean to be a jerk by telling you that. I’m telling you in the hope that you’ll just make a different choice next time, now that you know. I have a dear old friend and a dear new friend who just adopted their first dogs from a shelter rather than buying from a breeder after reading about my experiences here. I would love to hear from them – and anyone else who has recently done the same – in the comments.
But back to Mssr. BaRu, whom I was not able to take home while Teddy was still our foster. Fast forward a few weeks, Teddy had been shipped to his new Mama in Boston, and I was at the shelter choosing my next foster. I headed to the aisle of long timers to make my choice. I had put Mssr. BaRu out of my mind, as I often do when there’s a dog there I like who doesn’t have much time and I can’t take him. But there he was!
I brought Mssr. BaRu home and he was as calm and wonderful as he was beautiful. When I posted his first picture on Facebook, I said, “Look: I found a Border Collie who’s not nuts!”
This is an inside joke for dog people who know that the Border Collie is a working breed. Highly intelligent, focused and intense, if there’s no work to do, a Border Collie will often make his own work. (My friend Laurie was fostering a Border Collie when her iphone went missing. She had turned the house upside down looking for it when she heard a muffled ringing sound and found the phone in her foster dog’s kennel, tucked beneath the dog bed. There wasn’t a scratch on it. The dog had just had a ball stealing, hiding, and now lying atop the phone).
Not long after, I got a private message from Nancy, a Facebook friend I had never met in real life, but who is also a writer and a friend of my cousin’s. Nancy had lost her Belgian Shepherd to cancer a year earlier, was heartbroken, and yet she was really missing having a dog. She was thinking she and her husband Frank might be ready to love again. Could I tell her more about this blue-eyed boy?
Suffice to say, that Mssr. BaRu was the perfect dog for Nancy and her husband. And while his heartworm status concerned her, she later told me that being unable to save her beloved Belgian was so rough that in a weird way adopting a dog with a disease that was curable felt like it would help her heal.
I am truly at a loss for words over the Nancys I have met in this world since I began fostering shelter dogs.
Nancy, who lives in Pittsburgh, wanted to speak with her husband and think about it for a few days. Meanwhile, I asked my Facebook friends if they would be willing to donate to the shelter’s sick and injured animals fund so I could get Mssr. Baru stated on doxycycline, which helps to weaken existing heart worms. I was so grateful to the people who did that, and leftover funds were used to help other dogs at the shelter. And then a very generous Facebook friend who is a friend of my parents’ messaged me saying she would like to pay for the costly immiticide injections that are part of the fast kill heart worm treatment for Rex. I could not believe what was coming together.
A few weeks later, Nancy bought a plane ticket and flew to Baton Rouge to adopt a dog named Rex who Frank would rename Mssr. BaRu (BaRu short for Baton Rouge). I picked up Nancy at the airport with Mssr. BaRu in the car. He sniffed her then wagged, she smiled then patted him. Their first meeting was gentle and sweet, just like both of them. A perfect match, I thought. Then we went to the shelter so Nancy could fill out the paper work and pay the adoption fee. Then we got a glamour shot of Nancy and her new boy:
Nancy spent the night at our house and the next day she picked up her rental car and she and Mssr. BaRu headed home.
From a heart worm riddled Louisiana stray caught in a trap by Animal Control, to a cherished pet living heart worm free in Pittsburgh in just a few months.
How do you like that?
“Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its highest. Live in fragments no longer.”
If you were my student when I was teaching Freshman Comp many years ago, I might have asked you to journal on this. Now I’ll just hurl my interpretation of it at you and then get to a great little rescue story that just happened.
Why are we here? Human love. (And dog love. Cat love. Love, love, love!)
What should we connect? The prose and the passion. (Work and passion! Living and passion! Whatever: Just live in your freaking passion.)
Why shouldn’t we live in fragments? Because our work, our passion and our love may miss the opportunity to be exalted.
So how should we work? Together.
Thanks for indulging me.
Very often, people who work in animal rescue do so because they love animals, but they’re really not crazy about people and sometimes they’re bad at working together. Having good people skills, however, means you will inevitably be able to place more animals in loving homes. First, the public doesn’t want to deal with cranky animal rescuers who make them feel bad about themselves. Second, when people who work with shelter animals get along well with each other, they are able to network animals into many more wonderful, loving homes than they might otherwise.
Meet my friend, Jodi (she’s the one on the right, I’m on the left):
Jodi and I are both Crazy Dog Ladies, Yankees in Louisiana and moms with three kids. We do not share hair type. We do not share politics. We have sparred on Facebook in the past about Big Issues. But we also crack each other up and we have a deep appreciation for each other’s good heart. Jodi and I have each other’s backs — not including the time she almost cut off my finger at the shelter while showing me how to groom a matted Shih Tzu while we sparred about the upcoming Presidential election. We both actually think this is really funny, so we share a twisted sense of humor too.
So when Teddy arrived in Boston a couple of weeks ago and his adopter’s sister fell in love with him and said, “I want a dog like Teddy too!” All I had to do was look at Jodi’s Facebook page to see that she was fostering this guy, Rasta, who had come into the shelter a dreadlocky mess with a terrible cold. The shelter vets fixed him up with meds, the assistant shelter director, Paula Shaw, did a beautiful job on him with the clippers, and he came out like this:
I asked Jodi what his temperament was like and she said calm, sweet and snuggly.
Sounded like Teddy.
Looked enough like Teddy too. Am I right?
I messaged Teddy’s mom, Claire, and shared his info with her. She shared it with her sister. We were honest that Rasta is not yet house trained, but that being recently neutered would help. As would a magical contraption called a “belly band.” Like Claire, her sister is amazing and this was a non-issue for her.
She adopted Rasta by phone. She booked him a trip on the Rescue Road Trips bus. Jodi is going out of town this week and needed help, so Rasta is here at my house for the next 48 hours, and then he’s on his way to New England to be a Yankee who loves Louisiana. Like me. Like Jodi. Screw the fragments. Only connect.
If you would like to donate to help dogs at Companion Animal Alliance, the open-intake municipal shelter in Baton Rouge where Teddy and Rasta once lived, please click here: http://www.caabr.org/#!donate/ctzx
And thank you!
This is the story of a sad little five-year-old Cockapoo named Teddy. Last October, Teddy found himself at an open-intake Baton Rouge shelter called Companion Animal Alliance and yesterday, he got the happy ending he so richly deserved.
These are the things that happened to Teddy:
Yes, this is a lot of reading, but seriously, it’s a good story, so don’t ruin it by reading the ending before you have all the juicy details.
Go get a cup of coffee and we’ll wait for you to get caught up.
Also, if you read these other entries about Teddy already, you might want to refresh your memory. Just a (pushy) suggestion.
Okay, so from where I left off, at “Teddy V,” I was very sad that the lovely older couple didn’t adopt Teddy after his hip surgery, though I did understand. And we were committed to finding him a home and not foster failing.
In the weeks that followed, a slew of people with children wanted to adopt Teddy and that was frustrating. Teddy loves kids, but he wasn’t going off to a home with them. (You read the other blogs, right?).
I took him to adoption event after adoption event, including this one at the Mystic Krewe of Mutts Mardi Gras parade where he had a great time, got a lot of attention and I gave my contact information to more than one interested prospective adopter. But none ever called.
Teddy also spent several days a week at the Friends of the Animals Dog Adoption House, an amazing place open to the public in Baton Rouge, where foster dogs can go for “Doggy Day Care” while they are available for adoption. The Dog Adoption House not only looks like a decorator showroom, dogs there get excellent glamour shots taken by generous volunteer photographers like Holly “Bird” Harris and Cheryl Smith Dispenza, who runs a program called Positive Alternatives to Shelter Surrender (PASS) that helps keep dogs out of the shelter in the first place. Cheryl took these of Teddy in November:
Teddy loved it at the Dog Adoption House. It’s cozy, immaculately clean, and the dogs there are given a lot of love from staff and volunteers who let into play yards hourly and give them treats like Kong toys stuffed with frozen peanut butter in their kennels. The Dog Adoption House adopts out dogs at a rate of 1-2 per day, seven days a week. Several of our fosters have been adopted there, but Teddy was passed up again and again. I just didn’t understand it. Maybe it was my sign on his kennel saying he was sensitive and delicate after hip surgery and he needed to be in a home without kids. Who knows.
And then at the end of January, a month after Teddy’s surgery, I got an adoption application from a woman named Claire who lives in Boston.
I have sent fosters to New York, Maine and Chicago, so I have nothing against shipping dogs thousands of miles away for a great home. But a month out from surgery, Teddy was still occasionally limping around. On very cold nights, he seemed really uncomfortable and would sometimes cry out while getting in and out of his dog bed. And he was taking arthritis medicine that he might possibly need to take for the rest of his life.
On paper, however, this Claire person looked pretty wonderful. And she didn’t have kids. Also, she had gone to college at Tulane and was extra excited when she saw that Teddy was a Louisiana dog. Claire loved Louisiana.
I sent her an email expressing my concern for Teddy’s health in a cold climate, because Boston has been slammed with freezing temps and blizzards all winter. I told her about the arthritis meds and about my concern that if she adopted Teddy and wasn’t happy with him, I couldn’t easily get him back, like I could if he were adopted locally. My biggest fear for Teddy was that he might end up at another shelter.
Claire wrote back, saying the arthritis meds weren’t a problem and assuring me that if she adopted Teddy he would never end up in a shelter. Worst case scenario, she said, she would make sure to get him back to me. We agreed I would ask Dr. Salmon what kind of impact the cold might have on Teddy’s pain, and I said I would call Claire the next day to speak with her further.
I never did.
And I didn’t call her the next day either. Very unlike me, but at that time, I just could not envision it. Plus, a really lovely friend and neighbor was letting me rehab Teddy’s hip in her indoor pool and hot tub and he needed more of that. Doing this at a dog rehab facility would be very expensive. Here is the pool where Teddy and I worked out together:
I apologized and emailed Claire again, saying Teddy needed more free pool rehab time. I also told her about the snapping. He hadn’t done it in a month, but I was concerned if he did it to Claire, she might freak out. I signed off saying if she were still interested, I would touch base with her in a month if he hadn’t been adopted locally. I never expected to hear from her again.
But she was still interested. Oh, did I mention Claire works with children who have special needs? Did I mention when I told her about the snapping-but-not-biting, she said, she worked with kids all day who lashed out at times and she felt confident she could handle it?
Thirty days ticked by and the kind of home I wanted for Teddy still wasn’t coming along in Baton Rouge. In that month, he grew stronger, healthier and happier.
He didn’t cry getting in and out of his bed on cold nights. He no longer needed arthritis meds. He let me massage his hips and gently tug his tail in a game that I instituted which at first he found puzzling and later found hilarious. And after three months of watching my dogs play with each other and never joining in, Teddy started awkwardly trying to roughhouse with our 85 pound Mastiff mix, Crespo. This was previously unimaginable in his formerly delicate state. Crespo obliged, allowing Teddy to pummel him, like he does with our 30 pound Beagle mix, Luna.
By the end of February, Teddy was feeling like a million bucks, and although I was sure Claire probably had adopted another dog, I gave her a call.
She had not adopted another dog. She was waiting for good news about Teddy.
Seriously, one of the best things about fostering dogs for me is getting to meet amazing people like Claire. You think they don’t exist, and yet they keep showing up, again and again, making fostering dogs so addictive.
I asked Claire for two references and called them — they were Perfect and More Perfect.
I made a Skype date with Claire and met her via video-conference — she was lovelier than I had even imagined.
My friend Deborah, who lives in Boston and had adopted my friend, Laurie Lynn Drummond’s CAA foster Sally the previous month, did a home visit at Claire’s house for me.
Deborah’s verdict: Claire is as great in person as she was on the phone, by email and Skype. Claire clearly understood what she was getting herself into. She was planning to take Teddy to obedience school, not for him, she said, but for her. What Deborah liked best about Claire was how she “lit up” when she spoke about Teddy. If a person could fall in love with a dog over the internet, Deborah said, Claire had done that with Teddy.
It was a done deal. I approved Claire for adoption, she booked Teddy a ride north on the Rescue Road Trips truck and paid for it.
Teddy was Beantown Bound.
For moral support, my friend Laurie Lynn drove me to the Love’s truck stop in Port Allen, Louisiana, where Teddy was being picked up at 9 am on a Thursday. I kissed him goodbye in the backseat of her car.
Was I a little nervous that Teddy would be scared or naughty and snappy with his handlers on the bus? A little. Was I worried he wouldn’t want to leave me and get into a tractor-trailer lined with 60 cages of dogs and think he was in a strange moving animal shelter? A little.
But it seems Teddy’s experiences at the Friends of the Animals Dog Adoption House made him see kennels filled with other dogs as happy places. Teddy also loves riding in the car, so when he saw the truck, he started wagging his tail like he was about to go on the best ride of his life. He hopped on board in two elegant leaps and let the driver/owner, Greg, lift him without objection, for a picture.
Over the next 48 hours, Teddy let perfect strangers in Alabama and Pennsylvania walk him. And he got to see his first snow. (Unimpressed with that white stuff…Lemme back into the truck!)
Forty-eight hours later, Claire and her sister drove to get him in Putnam, Connecticut.
I’d be lying if I told you I don’t miss Teddy this morning as I sit on the sofa typing this. He would be pressing his feathery little body into my side trying to get closer than close and encroaching on my keyboard. And if Crespo got too close, he would be turning around and giving him the stink-eye.
But the fact is, although Teddy liked Crespo and Luna well enough, he is more of a People Dog than a Dog Dog. And in all the time he was here, he never gave up his hope that he could one day have me, or any woman, all to himself. I am a foster dog mom though, and no dog is ever going to have me all to himself. After everything Teddy had been through, he deserved a woman all his own.
It took a few months to find her and more than a thousand miles of traveling, but Claire, it turns out, was Teddy’s woman all along.
If you would like to donate to help dogs at Companion Animal Alliance, the open-intake municipal shelter in Baton Rouge where Teddy was housed when I met him, please click here: http://www.caabr.org/#!donate/ctzx
If you would like to help dogs at Friends of the Animals in Baton Rouge, a rescue organization that holds offsite adoption events and has the amazing Dog Adoption House where Teddy spent many happy day time hours over the course of many months, please click here: http://friendsoftheanimalsbr.org/donate.html
Both of these organizations have my heart. Thank you!
When you foster dogs and bring them to adoption events, there are a few things you hear constantly from those who stop by to visit. One is, “If I could take them all, I would.” (Yes, so would we. But we don’t want to get arrested, so instead we do this.)
Another is, “I wish I could foster, but my dog would be jealous.”
Let’s address the latter, because sometimes it’s a legitimate concern. But oftentimes, it’s not. I mean, no dog ever died from being jealous provided he has a strong pack leader in the house.
I’ll start by saying that my dogs were absolutely jealous of foster dogs at first too. Three years ago when we brought home our first Companion Animal Alliance foster, Rosie, we kept her in the backyard and never even let her sniff our two female dogs unless it was through a glass door. Rosie was definitely a dominant dog — I could tell by her growling at my girls through that glass door — and both of my dogs would have fought back if she started something. Fortunately, Rosie was quiet and very easy going in our backyard and there was shelter out there for her and the weather wasn’t cold. When my husband took Stella and Luna out for a walk, I brought Rosie inside and carried her up the steep steps to my office where she spent a few hours a day with me while I worked. When my husband took our dogs outside again later, I brought Rosie back outside to our fenced yard. In two short weeks, Rosie was adopted by this lovely woman:
It wasn’t the ideal foster dog situation, but it all worked out. And Rosie has been living a great life for more than three years now.
As I trotted another 30 or so foster dogs through the house, I realized I needed to hone in on some criteria for who we would foster. This way they wouldn’t all have to stay in the backyard and could be integrated into our home, which makes it possible for me to tell a potential adopter whether a dog is house trained. And that’s a big deal for many adopters.
Unless you have a dangerous, dog-aggressive dog, chances are your dog will do just fine with foster dogs in the house. You just need to establish your criteria for which types of dogs you might foster most easily. Our criteria includes the following:
- A submissive dog
- A dog who will be mostly quiet if left outside
- A dog who can’t or won’t climb our fence
- A dog who is calm and happy in a crate
- A dog who is ideally more than two years old and won’t run laps around our house and tempt our dogs to join in that fun.
- Absolutely no puppies. A lot of people LOVE fostering puppies. We, however, are too cranky and we value our sleep too much.
We will take dogs who are injured or sick, depending on the illness or injury. We will take shy dogs, because our confident dogs often bring a shy dog out of her shell, and shy dogs are usually really low maintenance. We will take pit bulls, because our dogs have never met a pit bull they didn’t like, nor have I. (I won’t take a male Rottweiler because for some reason Crespo wants to pick a fight with every big male Rottie he meets). We will take 100 pound dogs. We will take dogs that we personally think are ugly (and I’ll never, ever tell which) because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Plus, a dog who unveils a beautiful personality very quickly becomes a movie star in our eyes.
We introduce the dogs through a variety of methods. Sometimes I put them in the backyard kennel and bring our dogs down to investigate:
Sometimes I’ll come home from the shelter with a new foster and have my husband meet me out on the street with our dogs leashed. We immediately go for a walk around the block together because dogs hunt in packs and going on a walk together is a dog bonding experience. If there is growling, we correct with a yank on the collar and pick up the pace. After about a half a block, we let them sniff, nose to butt, which seems to be less of an affront than nose-to-nose.
Usually it all works out just fine. Once Bear was back at our house, however, he began to shove my other dogs out of the way to get loved on first. But when Crespo reacted by going after him and pinning Bear to the ground, Bear was so easy-going about it I was able to pull Crespo off, correct him and put him in time out. (He has never bitten any dog, but he will make a big show of his machisimo at times). In fact, it improved my dog’s behavior overall, and I have Bear to thank for that! They got along swimmingly after I made it clear who was the boss: Me.
Sometimes, Luna’s not the most gracious hostess.
We do try to take breaks between foster dogs, and to give our own dogs a lot of individual love and attention too.
Ultimately, working foster dogs into our pack has made them less jealous not more. It has also improved their training, socialization skills and it reminds them of their roots every time I have to refresh their memories and say that they were once foster dogs too.
DISCLAIMER: THIS WEBSITE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL DOG TRAINING CONSULTATION OR MEDICAL ADVICE ABOUT THE PETS YOU BRING INTO YOUR HOME.
One of the things I like most about fostering is that it allows those of us who really like dogs to try out various breeds, sizes, ages and fur types we never thought we would want for our own. Sometimes I take dogs just because I’m not attracted to them; that way I think the temptation to keep them will be less. Other times, I take dogs because I’m so attracted to them it tears me up to leave the shelter without them (See Izzy, below. She looked so much like my beloved dog, Tick who passed away in 2001 I almost couldn’t stand it.)
Here are the dogs from Companion Animal Alliance who lived at our house for a spell last year.
Yogi, a pathologically shy (sweet) guy, was our foster in the spring of 2013. He was returned to me six months later because he was really afraid of men and would submissively urinate inside every time the man of the house tried to put a leash on him. He was adopted one more time in 2013 and returned to me again (another guy problem). He was ALMOST adopted a third time, but he made a break for it from the yard of the prospective adopter on his overnight trial with her which led to a harrowing chase and, well, it didn’t work out. In the interim, Yogi and I became quite attached. He really wanted nothing to do with the men in my house though, and they respected that and didn’t engage him, so it all worked out fine while he was here. At last, in the spring of 2014, his princess came along: An LSU student getting her PhD in psychology. YOGI GOT HIS OWN PERSONAL PSYCHOLOGIST! Seriously, they are so incredibly happy together and I could not be happier that he found the person of his dreams.
Poor Yaya didn’t work out at my house. We fostered her through her spay recovery, but my dog Luna didn’t like her and I was afraid one of them was going to get hurt, so I had to return her to the shelter. That’s always the tough part about fostering for me: If a dog doesn’t work out with my pack, they have to go back. It may sound cold hearted, but with a shelter that houses 300 animals, I can easily find a dog there that does get along with my pack and I can’t endanger my animals or the foster (Luna did bite a foster once and it cost me $100 at the vet to fix that). Fortunately for Yaya, a volunteer named Susanna met her at an adoption event and was very smitten with her. Susanna went back to the shelter after Yaya had been there for several weeks and brought her home as her foster. Yaya is still available for adoption. Susanna is her hero.
Jacy and her litter mates were born under a house, had very little contact with humans and by the time they were brought into the shelter most of them were terrified of people. Translation: Unadoptable. Two of her siblings were euthanized and she was slated to be next. My friend, Jacinta, who works at the shelter begged and pleaded for someone to get her out of there, so I gave it a shot. I wasn’t hopeful, because she was just so shut down and wack-a-doodle when I met her. But after a couple of days at my house she totally came out of her shell and became the normal, spunky puppy she was always meant to be. It was kind of a miracle. I brought her to the Friends of the Animals Dog Adoption House where she was adopted by a lovely young woman after I’d had her for only about a week.
I put in my orders for dogs with my friend, Jacinta who works at the shelter. This time I said, “Kooky (that’s my nick name for her), get me something that’s practically in a coma.” I really don’t have a lot of patience, energy, time, etc. at the moment (or ever). But I do want to help. I just can’t have a dog that’s going to wring me out (or my husband, Ed). That was Louis. You see how he looks in this picture? That’s how he looked at the shelter most of the time. And he was incredibly sweet and well behaved when he managed to wake up. I brought him to a dinner party with me the first night I brought him home because he was so impressive. The hostess, my incredibly big hearted friend, Author Laurie Lynn Drummond, said she would foster him so I could pull another dog from the shelter. I had him a day, Laurie had him a week, and my yoga teacher, Janene, adopted him and he lives happily ever after with her and her husband, Mike and their two other dogs (and so many cats I’m not allowed to tell you the number).
“Hey Jacinta, get me another Louis,” I said. That would be Chip. Both Louis and Chip had languished at the shelter for months. Why? No clue. Both were fantastic. Chip stayed with us a few months. Everybody loved him, but nobody adopted him. Finally, a really nice couple from outside New Orleans saw him on the Friends of the Animals Facebook page and came up to their dog adoption house with their dog to meet him. Their dog was his girl twin. They adopted him and he lives happily ever after. At Christmas, they sent out the cutest picture of the two dogs snuggling like an old husband and wife.
Godiva was also on the long timer list at Companion Animal Alliance. They call it the Lonely Hearts Club. Isn’t that the saddest thing? I was at an adoption event with another dog and she was there on a day trip with a volunteer. She had a squeaky toy in her mouth that she was enjoying very much and I watched another dog reach over and take it away from her. She gave it up so willingly, I knew she would fit in just fine in my house (with our holy terror, Luna). That day, I pulled her from the shelter to foster and later Friends of the Animals took her on as a rescue. Godiva too was with us for several weeks. Again, no clue why it took so long. Is she not the most gorgeous thing? Google “Dutch Shepherd.” That’s what I think she might be. She too was adopted at the Friends of the Animals Dog Adoption House. She lives with a lovely family that includes an old dachshund, an old cat, at teenager and a pre-teen who just worship her — as she deserves.
Noodle and Mattie were short term transport fosters. They were being transferred to a shelter in Virginia Beach and needed a place to stay in the interim to make room for more animals at our shelter. It was only going to be three days, so although I’m pretty adamant about fostering only one dog at a time, I thought it would be fine. They were perfect angels. Mattie would peel her lips back and give me a full blown smile whenever she was excited to see me. She and Noodle liked to perch on my husband’s chair or curl up in his lap while he read on his I-pad. They were adorable. Both were adopted quickly at the Virginia Beach shelter.
You’ve heard enough about my darling Teddy already, haven’t you? Well, for this week anyway.
Like I said, we don’t usually foster more than one dog at a time, but while we had Teddy, I could not resist taking home Izzy too. She looked just like our dog, Tick, who passed away in 2001. She has a hilarious personality and is a hard core snuggler who also likes to burrow. We’d wonder where she was and then find her under a pile unfolded clean laundry. A police officer and security guard at the produce stand where I shop adopted her at the Friends of the Animals Dog Adoption House. Have I mentioned how much I love Companion Animal Alliance’s partner organization, Friends of the Animals? I foster for them as well. (Godiva and Yogi were both Friends of the Animals’ rescues). Izzy now lives in a home with four humans and three other dogs. Her dad reports that she fits right in.
Happy New Year and best wishes for 2015. Raising my water bowl to you and your dog(s)! If you’d like to make a donation to either of these fantastic rescue organizations, both of which could really use the help, please click here their names here: Companion Animal Alliance and Friends of the Animals. I love them equally, and both help so much on the local level.
Please leave a comment and tell us about your rescue dogs. Did you adopt or foster in 2014? I’d love to hear their names and stories, please!