28 September 2010

The strange conversations we have - Part II

There are dog people...and then there are people who have dogs. I've heard there are other sorts of people as well, people who are not defined in relation to any sort of canine factor at all, but I'm not sure if they actually exist or if it's just a rumor.

We are dog people. Even if we we didn't have dogs in our homes for a long time (until we became a family), Chris and I have always been dog people.

People who have dogs seem to like the idea of dogs, but don't really seem to have any understanding of dogs. Dogs have needs, personalities and quirks. Sometimes dogs' needs are inconvenient (dogs need to go outside on a regular basis to relieve themselves; sick dogs throw up on things...or worse; dogs should see their vet on a regular basis; etc.). Sometimes these needs are time consuming (dogs don't need to just run to the nearest tree and then hustle back in to lie down; dogs need to be mentally and physically stimulated to distract them from finding their own means of entertainment—quite possibly in the form of the nearest shoe or couch; dogs need rules; even dogs who appear healthy should receive vaccines and check-ups; etc.). People who have dogs but are not dog people often assume the dog can operate on the basis of what is convenient to their schedules. They often have poorly mannered dogs, destructive dogs, dogs who are seeking to instill order in the chaos of their home. Generally, people who have dogs but are not dog people seem disconnected from their dogs—probably because they are.

In our old condo building, there was one particular guy who had a dog but who was clearly not a dog person. His dog was small-ish, maybe 25 pounds, with fawn and black coloring, a thick coat and a curled-up tail. It wasn't a particularly adorable dog, nor was it unattractive. I never once saw this guy take his dog beyond the perimeter of our building; and while our building did take up a full city block it wasn't nearly big enough to fully exercise even this small-ish dog. I also never saw this guy pay any attention whatsoever to his dog when they were out together. He was either on his mobile phone,smoking a cigarette or chatting up some woman who I have come to assume was his girlfriend. 

His dog had horrific mannerssnarling viciously and barking at dogs who were still as far as half a block away or more. This used to scare the bejeezus out of Toni (no matter that she could have eaten his little head in a single bite, if so inclined). If we ran into the guy and his little Tasmanian Devil on the stairs, things were even worse. The dog was even more hysterical in close proximity and the guy seemed to have no idea that standing stock still and hoping it wasn't happening was really not the right response. We usually had to retreat back up to our floor and wait until we heard the fire door close behind him went he went to his floor.

When we brought Téa home, it didn't take us long to figure out that she had her own issues with leash aggression. We opted for a different approach to the guy's: we actually contacted a trainer and learned to help her manage her issues better so that every walk wasn't a nightmare. One day after we'd gotten the aggression issue in hand, I was out with T2 when we saw the guy and Taz approaching. We weren't able to cross a street nor could we turn back the way we came (too many dogs everywhere), so we decided to stop and sit on the corner, waiting for him to pass. Surely he wouldn't exacerbate the situation by coming close or stopping to talk, right? Wrong.

The guy walked straight toward us. His dog, not surprisingly, began its beast-from-hell impersonation, which escalated in direct proportion to how close we were to him. Téa was trying to be good, she really was. But she likes to engage. She's not a "turn the other cheek" kind of girl. She's more of a "what the f*** did you just say to me, jerkoff?!" kind of girl. The guy stopped about seven feet from us (which was good, since everyone on our team was on a six-foot leash) and then he just stared. His psychotic, slathering, fixated furball was desperately trying to twist its way out of his control, which he probably didn't notice since it was a small-ish psychotic, slathering, fixated furball and he was a big-ish guy. First he stared at Toni, who dutifully pretended none of this was happening. Then he started at Téa. In the eyes. For a long time. And just when I was about to ask him to move it along, please, there was nothing here to see, he finally opened his mouth to share this little tidbit of wisdom: "That one (nodding his chin at Téa) is really intense. Really intense." 

And then he walked away, psychotic, slathering, fixated furball dragging after him like a mitten on a string.

23 September 2010

Temp for Hire

I do the home office thing. In fact, I haven’t been to my company’s offices (any of them—we have two in Chicago’s Loop and nearly two hundred around the globe) in nearly three years. I’m not complaining, believe me. 

But sometimes it’s hard to really feel connected with my colleagues. We talk on the phone frequently. We instant message each other and exchange emails 24 hours a day, depending on where in the world everyone is. (For the record, when we’re all at our home bases we have one senior manager in Florida, one part-timer in the UK, two plus design team members in South Africa and me in Chicago.) When someone new joins our team, we share PowerPoint introductions of ourselves to put some personality behind the voices on the phone.

Of course, in addition to the rest of my life (and I do have one, I swear) some of the things I talk about besides work are the antics and activities of T2. I tend to refer to T2 as my officemates. They do actually fill a role similar to that of work friends, minus rehashing the latest television show—which I’m never up to date on anyway. When I need to step away from my computer for a breather, instead of going for coffee, we go for a walk. If I have to run one of them to the vet, I book it into my calendar just like I would any other meeting. When the weather is nice, we even “go to lunch” together, which essentially consists of me eating outside with a book while they work on their tans or their squirrel alert program.

When we brought Téa home, I introduced her to the team as our new temporary assistant. Later I upgraded her to a temp-to-perm position and finally sent out the official note welcoming her to the home team on a permanent basis. Last winter, we had an emergency foster situation with a sweet little pit we named Georgia. She was the fill-in while T2 were on PTO (paid time off, for those of you outside of the corporate, acronym-laden world). They spent their PTO at sleepover camp (as we like to call our boarding facility); three large females in one small condo is akin to too many cooks in the kitchen…on steroids. Most recently, we had little Scooby on the home office team—our intern.

I thought T2 weren’t really listening, and that even if they were listening it didn’t much matter since I am certain they only speak a little English (“dinner,” “walkies,” “sit,” “off,” to name a few). However, I’m starting to think that maybe they’re paying more attention than I realized….

Téa learns about social networking.

Isn't it break time yet? Coffee? Chicken jerky?

Management supervises.

15 September 2010

The story I was going to write...

 I was going to post the story below under the title T2 + W = A new adventure:

Taking a cue from their blog heroes, Ms. M and Mr. B., T2 have agreed to welcome in a fellow pit bull who's down on his luck at the moment.

With his mush muzz and sweet personality, Willis probably won't be with Project Rescue for long before finding his forever home. While he waits, he'll be joining us at our home for a little pampering and TLC (and probably a little bullying from the two sweetest, bulliest bullies I know).

As T2 and I waited for our first introduction, we had a chat: 

      • No terrorizing the new guy.
      • If you feel you must run him through an initiation ritual, you may not re-enact the one in which Toni knocks a tooth out on Téa's head. In fact, no initiation rituals involving the vet are allowed.
      • Rudeness will not be tolerated.
      • Sharing is encouraged (including squirrel duty in the yard, couch time in the evenings and treats). There's enough for everyone.
      • Just because we have a guest, this does not mean the usual rules and regulations go out the window. If we're going to help Willis, we're going to start by setting a good example for him.
      • Please keep in mind who is the alpha dog at our house. (No, it's not you.) (No, it's not you either.)
I think we're on the same page, as the "neutral ground" intro went without incident...despite Téa's best efforts to show him that she's a bit rude and bossy. 

More to come.... 

Instead, I am happy to report that we seem to have become some sort of quirky good luck charm for foster dogs. Willis is the third of three pit bulls who were slated to stay with us as fosters but who instead went on to their forever homes before they even came for a visit. 

We're better than rabbits feet—and more humane!

08 September 2010

I could be wrong, but...

I'm fairly certain this isn't what my great-grandmother had in mind when she lovingly and painstakingly needlepointed this chair.

07 September 2010

Le dîner avec nos chiens

Chris and I invited a couple we are friends with over for dinner last evening. We were sure that they accepted our invitation in order to enjoy a good meal, catch up over a few cocktails and generally relax.... Toni and Téa seemed certain that our friends had specifically been invited over to enjoy their company, particularly as they arrived bearing a fresh supply of Wishbones Dog Treats (which can also be purchased in person at Woolly Mammouth Antiques, Oddities & Resale at 1513 W. Foster Avenue in Chicago). 

I'm starting to think T2 might have called this one correctly:

05 September 2010

Peace, love and understanding

One of the most satisfying programs I volunteer with is sponsored by, in my opinion, the most unlikely organization.

We’re all, by now, well aware of the US Humane Society’s (USHS) support of convicted dog fighter Michael Vick. Most of us, a few Philadelphia Eagles fans excepted, are also aware that while Vick talks the reform talk, he has yet to publicly prove that he feels remorse for the treatment of the dogs in his “care” at his Bad Newz Kennels and that he comprehends the inhumanity of his actions. (We do understand that he’s very sorry for the impact his actions have had on his wealth and his career, but that’s an entirely different sort of regret.) Throughout Vick’s continued failure to show true remorse for his actions, the USHS continues to tap into Vick’s status as a professional athlete and continues to hope that he will come through for them in terms of PR opps more often than he fails them. It makes it hard to take them seriously as a true animal advocacy group.

And yet it is through a little grassroots, community-run program that I am able to participate in one of the more compelling programs I’ve come across in Chicago. USHS’s End Dogfighting campaign is run out of a community center in a neighborhood with few resources, plenty of room for improvement and endless opportunities for good people to make bad decisions about their own lives and the lives of those they care about (humans and canines alike). End Dogfighting includes a Pit Bull Training Team program that teaches owners (often young men—the most likely demographic to participate in dog fighting) to interact in a positive, healthy way to show off their dogs’ strengths and assets. Many of the people who work for the program are reformed dog fighters themselves, not in a Vick talk-the-talk way but in a genuine, honest way. These men understand why people make the decision to fight their dogs and know firsthand what can motivate those same people to make a change, having made it themselves. One former fighter I know will tell you that he now cooks each of his pit bulls a full roast chicken each day, among other luxuries. Another took a vacation to the middle of nowhere America last summer and had tears in his eyes as he told me about the people he met who fought their dogs simply because they didn’t know anything else to do with them. They didn’t even bet, unlike Chicago fighters who are often earning money to put food on the table or to buy gas to get their kids to school. He spent his vacation building agility runs and introducing the people he met to the basics of dog training.

I spend my time with the program in the classroom. Targeted toward seventh graders over the course of eight weeks, the curriculum takes a hard look at dog fighting; helps the students see the wider effects of dog fighting beyond just the dogs (as we know, over 70 percent of dogfighters are also connected directly to other criminal activity); strips down pro-dog fighting media and replaces it with alternative messages; and introduces students to the idea that dogs deserve our care and protection. Kids are funny at that age. They’re on the verge of being too cool to listen, but take them to an animal shelter or put the lesson into an interactive game and all of a sudden you have a willing audience.

This year I wasn’t able to be as hands-on with the program as I had in the past, but was asked if I might be able to bring Téa in to a few classrooms (actually, five classrooms at two schools for 45 minutes each—enough even to wear out Téa, it turns out). We could hardly wait! 

A lot of kids screamed and scrambled when they came into their classroom and saw a pit bull (even though Téa’s tail was wagging and she had on her goofy pit grin the whole time). We made a deal—Téa and I would stay for a whole 45 minutes if they could help her behave by behaving themselves. (I’m always happy to bribe people get what I want—in this case, well-behaved seventh graders.) I talked about T2, passed photos and explained why Toni wasn’t with us in the classroom (treated badly in the past, she gets very nervous in new situations; it just wouldn’t be kind). No, we do not fight our dogs and no we do not worry that they will just decide to kill each other one day. In fact, our dogs go to dog daycare just so they can play with other dogs. No, we also do not worry that they might kill us one day. No, we did not crop their ears; we would not have liked it if our parents had decided one day to cut our own ears off so we would never do that to our dogs. Pit bulls with no ears are harder to place in homes, which is why we open our home to pits with cropped ears. No, we don’t yell at our dogs and we don’t hit them to make them behave. If someone yelled at me or hit me every time they wanted me to do something or to not do it, I would eventually be very irritated by it…and then I might behave badly. Dogs are not very different. We treat our dogs as we want to be treated: we use calm voices to ask them to do things; we say thank you by giving them a biscuit.

Téa and I showed them some of her tricks. We invited two students from each class to come up and do a trick each with Téa. Even the kids who had screamed earlier were waving their hands to have a chance. We took more questions. Yes, they both know more tricks than just the ones we did here. Yes, they love to be around small children. In fact, pit bulls were once called nanny dogs because they are so good with children. Dog food, they eat dog food. They sleep in our bedroom on their own beds on the floor.

In one class, a student shared with us that her uncle was in jail because he had strung his pit bull up in their tree and beat it to death. We used that as a conversation about humane behavior and consequences.

To wrap things up for each session, everyone who wanted to pet Téa was invited to line up single file and quietly for a pet before we left. Even in the last class, when I was tired of my own stories and ready for a nap, Téa was ready with a butt wiggle and an occasional back roll for every single student and teacher who wanted her attention.

I think Elvis Costello got it right: “As I walk through this wicked world searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity…there's one thing I wanna know: What's so funny ‘bout peace, love and understanding?”
Exhausted after a long day of promoting peace for pit bulls!