“He needs someone else.”– this is a long one…

June 2013

Our house feels like a circus. Some days, the furbabies stick to their corners and behave in a perfectly civilized manner. Other days, fur and slobber flies, furniture is rearranged and a playful bark and grumble soundtrack underscores our lives. It’s on those occasions when James and I look at each other, sigh, and break out the bully sticks for time out. Recently, we’ve had a lot of coming-and-going, so routines have been interrupted and no one is particularly on his or her best-est behavior.

But it’s home, and we wouldn’t trade the noise, chaos and drool for anything. They’re good dogs. They look out for us, they protect the fortress of home, and they certainly keep us entertained. We’re lucky to have them. When we’re late getting home from work or we over-schedule ourselves and end up spending less time with the dogs than we’d like, when a week goes by since they’ve been for a walk on-leash because we’re feeling too lazy to adventure beyond the yard, I tell myself it’s ok– they certainly don’t care– and I’m not failing them. Things could have been much worse for them.

A little over two years ago, we brought MJ home. I’ve written about her marking me at the shelter. She was one of 8 puppies dropped off from a litter. The Animal Welfare League of Arlington (AWLA) kept four and sent the rest over to the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria. Two puppies from the Arlington location were snatched up right away. The other two, MJ and Freckles, had some health issues that needed to be addressed. We ended up with MJ, and Freckles found a home, too.

MJ settled into the house, announcing her arrival as princess, alpha and snuggle-bug. She didn’t get as big as we expected, but her strength more than made up for her more-compact stature.

Freckles grew into a 75 lb. goofball. Unfortunately, Freckles was kept outside for the first two years of his life. If he was mistreated further, I don’t know and I honestly don’t want to know. I can’t handle that.  He was surrendered back to the AWLA, which is the best thing anyone could have done for him.

We began following Frankie’s story shortly after the 2012 winter holidays. He’s great with people. Kids? No problem. He’ll sit on your lap or sleep at your feet. This is a pup who needs to be a family dog. For months Freckles looked for a furever home. Late this spring, we sighed in relief when someone came forward and finally adopted Freckles, now Frankie.

A couple of weeks later, he was back at the shelter. I found out about his return to AWLA through Peace, Love & Fostering’s blog. I reached out to the blogger, asking her questions about Frankie. What’s going on? How come he’s back? What’s The Problem?

Maybe we can foster him…

That’s a huge step for us. We felt particularly pulled toward Frankie’s journey since he was right there, round and silly, beside our baby girl when we took her home. I know we could never have handled two puppies, but my head starts down the “but what if…” path. The least we could do is welcome him into our home while he waits for the right person or family. Could I really, truly welcome a new furbaby into my life and give him up when the time came? Would I become a foster-failure?

We were put in contact with a member of AWLA’s staff, who answered our questions. Great with people. Settles well. Basic manners: check. His Big Issue is that he doesn’t always play appropriately with other dogs. He’s not aggressive, he’s just … rude. We scheduled a date to bring MJ and Zozo by to play. If that worked, we’d try an overnight. If that went off without a hitch, Frankie would come hang out with us for a while.

I had visions of the siblings meeting and running towards each other, crashing together with love and sniffs and kisses as they remember the other from their early days. Everything was soft-focus and pastel-ly in this dream.

That’s not how it happened. MJ couldn’t care less about the dog on the other side of the fence. We brought them together in a play yard, and things got a little heated. Frankie tried to play, MJ told him to back the hell up. We did a lap of the yard to let everyone settle. We tried again. Same outcome.

It wasn’t going to work for them.

Out of curiosity, we ran the same drill with Zozo, with absolutely no issue. Zozo was calm enough to let Frankie do what he needed to do to assert his dominance and begin playing.

We agreed with the shelter staff. It wasn’t the right fit. Someone else is out there for him, and he just needs to be a little more patient.

I got a little weepy on the way home from the shelter, shedding tears of frustration and disappointment and heartbreak. I didn’t need to be a hero, but I thought that maybe we could help. We tried. That’s all we could do.

Except I write this blog and, as of June 20, 2013, Frankie still needs a home. He’s wonderful. He’s charming and silly and snuggly. Peace, Love & Fostering has several excellent posts about Frankie and his winning pupsonality. He deserves a great home with a seasoned dog owner who will praise his successes and give him a safe place to learn to work on his impulses. Most likely, he needs to be The Only Dog unless your dog is a pup who just “gets him”.

If you, or anyone you know, is looking for a lap-sitting, adventure-loving sidekick, please contact AWLA and schedule time to meet Frankie.  You won’t regret it.

and now, I humbly descend from my soapbox.


NOTE: The photographs featured in this blog post were taken by Dirty Paw Photography for the Animal Welfare League of Arlington (AWLA). The photos are featured on Frankie’s adoption page on th AWLA website.


May 2013

We’ve finally had nice springtime weather after several days of gross, spritzy rain.  What a fantastic opportunity to run the pups  (and humans) around the yard to burn off some cabin-fever energy.

On May 6, I read a great blog post from celebripup Johnnie Cash’s fostermom, in which we were introduced to quite possibly the greatest yard toy ever imagined: the flirt pole. Our dogs like to run in circles and chase things.  We’ll try it!

James, being the handy hubby that he is, happened to have all of the ingredients (he called them materials) necessary to make our own.  Got some PVC? Rope? Fancy Duct Tape?  Puppy Lure?  You’ve got yourself the makings of a flirt pole.  He toiled long and hard in the garage (35 minutes!), surfacing with a pseudo-fishing rod taller than moi.

So, two dogs, two humans, and one flirt pole bounded out the back door and into the sunlight.  Here we go!

Attempt 1:  MJ saw a squirrel running along the fence.  Squirrels are far more interesting than Daddy today, so she’s off hunting.  Zozo is being a great boy, sitting and waiting to play…(pardon my giggles)

Attempt 2: The little girl catches on.  Zozo still hasn’t quite figured things out yet, but he sure is interested in the tennis ball at the end of the pole.  Again, stupid giggles.

Attempt 3: All in! And more giggles!

Ok, so my laugh is sort of annoying.  My bad.  But here’s what we learned:

1.  Zozo is singularly focused on tennis balls.

2.  Someone shorter than 6′ tall (ahem) may manage the flirt pole, but at the peril of being tackled by an 80lb Pupper-Doodle.  Thankfully, there is no video footage of this pummeling.

3.  MJ is an excellent jumper.  Maybe we’ll try a frisbee.

4. Easy and rather inexpensive to make, the flirt pole will keep even the most ADHD’d dog’s attention (unless there is a squirrel, naturally).

100% worth the effort.  I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a little flirting?



Trainer Tim

I generally shy away from jumping around in chronology in this blog, preferring instead to weave the story of our rescue and early life with Zo as I remember it and as it was chronicled in my emails, conversations and pictures with friends and family.

Today I’m going to break my rule to talk about Trainer Tim.

Tim was the instructor we happened to be assigned to when we took Zozo for a training consultation with Olde Towne School for Dogs (OTSD).  Tall with a very slight Ichabod Crane hunch, Tim had mid-length curly hair that whisped out from under his beanie and a slight under-bite. He favored fleece and fingerless gloves against the damp DC winter.  Zozo took an instant liking to him, and not just because he smelled like liver treats and wool.  There was something very gentle, calm and deliberate in the way he spoke to us, interacted with the pup and moved about the shop.  If I had to pick someone to train Zo, I probably would have picked Tim.  He kind of looked a little like a rescue pup himself.

During the three weeks Zozo spent working with Tim at OTSD, I’m pretty sure our dog fell in love with him.  I know James and I did.  We brought him a dog afraid of the outside world, and Tim outsmarted the boogeyman and returned to us a dog a little more confident and a little less “let’s hide under the bed” every day.  During our family training sessions with him, he quickly read how to deal with us as a couple and individuals, which allowed us to shine.  That immediate understanding of people is an incredibly rare gift, but that’s one of the things that made Tim an absolute delight.  We also learned that Tim could zing the wryest observation, which constantly caught me off guard and left me giggling like a muppet.  I would absolutely recommend Tim to anyone looking for a dog trainer.

After we rescued our second dog in 2011 (who you haven’t met yet, but she’s coming), we wanted her to have the same foundational training as Zozo.  It would afford us a common vocabulary and allow Zo to help train his fur-sister and be the good big brother we know he is.  I called over to OTSD to inquire after their new tuition rates (because rates always go up) and to check Tim’s schedule.  I was put on hold until the phone was retrieved by one of the school’s owners.  They’re looking forward to having our family back, but she had some terrible news: Tim had passed away several months before.  It was quite sudden.

I couldn’t bring myself to ask for details.  I wept into the phone.  I apologized for not knowing (how could I know?).  I kept saying, “He gave us back our dog.” I said it twice, and I’m sure it made no sense to the poor woman on the other end of the phone.  I pulled myself together enough to make arrangements for the new puppy’s training.  I called James and shared the news.  The rest of that day is hazy.

It may be dramatic, but I really do believe that Tim saved our dog.  We were approaching wits-end when we brought Zo in for a consultation.  We don’t have a lot of money, and behaviorists and daily medications for the rest of his life may have been outside the realm of our capabilities.  We had been doing the best we could, but it wasn’t working.  Without Tim, I don’t know what might have happened to our little family dynamic.  I don’t even want to “magic if” that.

I’m sad that we hadn’t made a better effort to remain in touch with Tim after our time at school ended.  For one month in 2009 he was an essential member of our family, but his legacy is with us every day.  On leash, calling cues in the house or calming Zo when it’s neighborhood-noisy, I hear, “gentle, but let him know you’re alpha” in my ear.  I wish he could see how far Doodle has come during these last few years.  I’m curious what he’d offer—what tiny adjustment—that may take Zo three steps closer toward calm.

Thank you for giving us back our dog.