28 June 2011

Toni's report: How I Spent my Summer Vacation

How I Spent my Summer Vacation

This summer I went to Michigan with my mom, my dad, 
my two human sisters and one of their husbands. 
We had a lot of adventures, but my favorite things included:

Visiting farmer's markets—especially the one where I got to play dress-up. I don't actually like asparagus, but I liked pretending to be one.

Going to the beach every day. I love the beach—I love chasing seagulls and finding driftwood in the waves and I especially love all of the crazy new smells!
Visiting my friends Bob and Butch at the farm they live on. They introduced me to this guy—his head is even bigger than mine!

I hope I get to go on a summer vacation again next year!

The End.

15 June 2011

Who will teach them?

We all stand against the inhumane treatment of animals. That's easy—it doesn't take much more than a drop of compassion to understand what's wrong with deliberate animal cruelty. 

We also lament the inadequate care provided by those who may be battling mental health issues or who simply may not know any better. This is a harder conversation, I think. For as much as we do stand against what happens to animals in these situations, the perpetrators may not be able to do a better job than they are doing. In the case of hoarders, the law must intervene when mental health affects the lives of animals who cannot help themselves. But what about those who don't know any better? What about the people who don't look at a bucket full of dirty rain water and think, "I wouldn't drink that; neither should my dog." Or the people who think, "Well, dogs come from wolves and wolves can take care of themselves, so I'm sure my dog who got out of my yard in Chicago is doing just fine. If he doesn't come home, I'll just get another one." Or the people whose approach is, "My dog is being bad on purpose. She chewed my shoes to get back at me, so I'll give her a beating so she'll know she was bad." If these are the lessons that parents teach their children by example or by direct conversation, then where will these children learn otherwise? And what will happen to the animals they bring home when they become adults themselves?

I was fortunate enough to volunteer as part of a program aimed at teaching sixth graders about humane animal treatment, most specifically that dog fighting is not only inhumane, it is also a felony in all 50 states. We had interactive learning games that centered around the damage that dog fighting does not just to the animals, but to the families and communities involved. This is where I learned that it is possible to have pets, to love your pets and to still have to be taught that your pets have feelings: love, fear, concern, happiness, anger, joy. No one had taught these children that their pets had feelings, so the wagging tails, lolling tongues, play bows, curled lips and so on meant nothing beyond the actions. Once we got across the lesson that animals have feelings, the other conversations seemed to mean more to the students—and hopefully made a lasting impression.

This year I was asked to put together an ad hoc program for freshman in a Chicago public high school. The sessions, maybe four or five of them, would be voluntary after school events that would last about an hour. I assumed that the conversations would have a heavy dog fighting focus, given the demographic and age of the students. I made a rough outline, planning to start with animal cruelty facts and figures; move on to dog fighting; bring Téa in to demonstrate a what a well behaved pit bull is like and use that session to talk about dog care. After that, the students were to put together a project, which I thought maybe they would present back to me as a wrap-up so I could figure out which points I made well and which I should pound a little more if we decided to do the program again.

So the first day I went in my stats:
  • 6-8 million animals go into animal shelters each year just in the US. Of these, half are placed in homes and the other half are killed.
  • We do not use the word euthanized...can anyone give me a definition for euthanasia? We do not use the word euthanized in this case because we are not talking about the animals that are sick, suffering or have been abused to the point that they are miserable. We're talking about 3-4 million animals that could have lived a happy life in a home, if only there were enough homes for them.
  • Over 70 percent of people who abuse animals also abuse people in their lives, usually women, children and the elderly. What does this tell you about people who abuse animals?
  • All 50 states have laws against dog fighting and 46 states have felony provisions against animal cruelty in general. In Illinois specifically, it is a felony simply to watch a dog fight...even if you're trying hard not to watch because it makes you uncomfortable. If you're there, you're responsible.
I could have gone on for hours (possibly days) along these lines. There are plenty of shocking facts out there just waiting to be shared. Luckily, I do sometimes remember to check in with my audience to ensure they're still along for the ride. So the teacher for the class collected questions for me after I left that day. Here is what I learned (and should have known already): Just because no one has taught you what is right, doesn't mean that you don't wish you knew what the right thing is.

I didn't get questions about dog fighting, or laws, or punishments and fines. I got a lot of questions about animal welfare and what constitutes animal cruelty:
  • How many dogs have been abused in the past year? I think a lot of people would like to know the answer to this question. The truth is, it’s impossible to know. So many animals live and die each day in horrible, inhumane conditions that we never even know about. This can be because no one knows the animal is there. It could be because the people around the animal don’t understand that what’s happening to the animal is abuse. It could be that someone knows the animal is abused, but doesn’t know what to do about it or is afraid to get involved. So we just don't know.
  • Why do people have dogs if they do cruel things to them? That’s a very good question. Sometimes people don’t know any better. Sometimes people don’t have a good handle on their anger or maybe they’re just plain lazy. I think often it is because people don’t understand dogs. They don’t think about it as a living creature that has thoughts and needs and feelings. When we can empathize with an animal, it becomes very easy to do the right things for it.
  • Who are the most common people to hurt a dog? Anyone can be cruel to a dog. Anyone at all.
  • How often are dogs abused? Dogs are abused every single day. And dogs that are abused are probably abused every single day. That is no way to go through life.
But I got even more questions about animal care and training:
  • Is it unhealthy to give dogs food that we would eat during the day? Can dogs eat all human food? 
  • What should you feed dogs? What food should you give the dogs? What food should we avoid giving them?
  • If you give your dog a beer, is that animal cruelty?
  • How can you take care of a dog? (Of course, how does a person even begin to answer a question like that in such a small amount of time? I tried to keep it simple and memorable: There are only four things that our dogs need from us: 1) Proper food and shelter, including shelter from the elements and from having to take care of themselves; 2) Discipline;  3) Exercise; 4) Affection.)
  • How do I adopt a dog?
  • How do I teach a dog to stop being hyper? 
  • Why might a dog turn on a person?
  • How do I teach my dog tricks?
  • Why is my dog afraid of storms?
  • What do I do if my dog gets lost?
  • How much water does a dog need?
And on and on and on. Two students in particular will stay with me for a long time. The first, Vincent, was a huge, tall, quiet boy. His grandmother had a small dog who hated everyone, but seemed to taking a shine to Vincent. His grandmother told him that if he learned to work with the dog, he could have it. I brought him pages and pages of handouts and stayed late nearly every week to talk to him about how to help the dog feel more comfortable and find out how he was doing with the dog. We also talked about his neighbor's dog who had a broken leg that was never set—he wanted to know what to tell him neighbor to do so the dog would be more comfortable. The second boy waited patiently each week until I had finished with Vincent. He would inch over as I was packing up my papers talk to me about how to handle his dog when his dog showed aggression on walks (this was a new issue for him, as his dog had previously been well behaved on walks). We talked about leash aggression and I brought handouts for him as well. I learned that his father was the only other family member who cared about the dog or was comfortable around it, so we talked about how he and his father could work together with the dog to properly socialize, train and manage the dog and its issues. These boys loved the dogs in their lives, they just had no idea how to go about caring for or interacting with the dogs. And no one in their world had the resources to help them.

I have a lot of ideas for next year's program. We'll still start with animal cruelty and neglect facts as I did this year, but from there I think we'll focus on the fun side of the animal issue: how to care for our dogs, how to understand our dogs, how to give our dogs what they need, how to allow our dogs to be our friends and our family rather than our pets. It's time to give these kids the information they need to change the cycle.

This photo has nothing to do with this story. It's just gratuitous pit bull cuteness.

24 May 2011

Spring, please forgive us

I don't know what we've done here in Chicago to offend Spring so, but clearly we have. Otherwise, it would not keep blowing off the plans we had together for gardening, biking, hiking and all of the other activities that kept our hopes alive during the dead of winter. This year, Spring keeps standing us up. We wait and wait, margarita mix and blender ready to go on the kitchen counter, sunscreen stationed hopefully near the back door, sunglasses polished and perched on our heads. But Spring has been a no-show...or worse, a "gotta run, I have an early meeting" kind of date.

However, it looks like Spring is finally ready to forgive us. Phew! Whatever it was, I hope we don't do it again. I never get these silly pit bull grins on rainy days when we're stuck inside.

"I'm never going inside again."

"Pass the sunscreen, please."

20 May 2011

My hiatus

I haven't had a chance to post in a while, though I have lots of things to post about, because I was focused on planning and hosting a silent auction for one of our favorite rescue groups, Project Rescue Chicago

I'm happy to say it was even more successful than we had hoped, thanks in large part to a lot of really amazing people who contributed their time, talent and sweat. You can read the full overview and connect to a few sneak peek photos on PRC's Canine Chronicles.

26 April 2011

The strange conversations we have - Part IV

T2 and I were out in the yard this weekend as I tried to get a leg up on our garden before the flowering weeds (known as wildflowers to some) begin their treacherous assault on the flowers and herbs I actually like. We did not own our house last spring, so this is our first opportunity to make some sense of what's there, what gets to stay (nice flowers that don't irritate my allergies, herbs, rose bushes) and what must be relocated to the trash bin before it has a chance to turn on us (about 75 percent of what's growing there).

I was up to my elbows in dirt and phlox while T2 worked on their tans on the deck. We have a bit of privacy from the street, so people on the sidewalk, though they have a clear view of the deck, cannot see me as I work in some parts of the garden. Because if they could have seen me, the woman walking by with her husband, two small children and a set of grandparents would have had more sense and manners (I hope) than to say, "Oohhh, look at them. They look mean." 

Now, I imagine that at some point in my life it would not have ever occurred to me that anyone could say anything disparaging about the people or animals I love so dearly. At some point. But I have pit bulls now and I am always ready with a polite response when misguided, ill-mannered people say horrible things to my face about the clearly loved-and-cared-for dogs at the end of the leashes in my hand. So of course, I knew this woman was talking about my sweet girls and I knew it didn't occur to her that they would never be left out in the yard unattended (who worries about their vicious dogs being stolen, right?).

Up I popped like a marionette. I felt ridiculous even as I was doing it. I could not stop myself and yet in my head I thought, "Well, that's it. You've become that woman. There's no turning back now."

"Nope," I said, as if I were already a part of their conversation. "Not mean at all. In fact, they go to daycare each week to play with other dogs and they're great with children. Actually, they're the most affectionate, well-behaved dogs we've ever had." I could see the grandparents smirking a little, though I am not sure if it was at me for being a crazy dog lady or at the woman for being called out in her remarks.

"Oh. Um. Are they pit bulls?" 

"Yes they are. Really stellar family pets when given the opportunity to live in a loving home. No different than people."

"We have a friend who has a pit bull. It's a really nice dog."

"Right. So you know what I mean, then. Have a good day."

That's what I said, because that's how I have chosen to handle people's rude behavior toward my girls—with a chipper voice, a big smile and a firmly positive message.

In my heart, though, the conversation goes more like this:

"Oohhh, look at them. They look mean." 

"Huh. Your kids look stupid. I guess we're even."

19 April 2011

What's better than one pit bull pup?

I recently had an opportunity to attend a "pittie party" at the Chicago Animal Care & Control (CACC) facility. I went willingly, if apprehensively, as a volunteer with Project Rescue Chicago

I'm all for attending any number of outings, events or meetings that will help educate people about the many stellar and admirable qualities pit bulls bring to the table. But I also knew that there would be many, many sad, confused and frightened faces looking out from the kennels. I knew the conditions, though a step up in quality for some of those sweet pups, would not be up to my hopes and expectations for basic decency. And I knew that the signs of abuse and neglect would be far too plentiful and far too obvious. 

Still, you cannot love pit bulls without also addressing what is happening to them in the current social and political climate. To be a truly strong advocate for all of the pit bull breeds currently victimized by criminals as well as misinformed, misguided upright citizens, it is critical to be painfully aware of what is happening to pit bulls who are not in loving homes. This is why I went willingly, though apprehensively, to the pittie party.

I had the good fortune, however, to know that we would not leave CACC empty-handed. Two Pitties in the City had written about Shy, a diabetic pit bull who had been saved from euthanasia. In addition to needing a home and a family to call her own, Shy also desperately needed cataract surgery, so Two Pitties began a fundraising campaign. And although Shy did find her forever family as well as a new name (Khloe), and although Two Pitties was able to raise a substantial amount of money to cover the costs of her surgery, little Shy/Khloe passed away unexpectedly one night from unknown causes. Two Pitties offered to return all donations to her cause, but the many generous contributors were set on doing a good deed, even if it could no longer be to Shy/Khloe's benefit. "Luckily" cataract surgery is quite expensive, so I happened to know that there was a good chance that we would leave CACC that day with not just one but two lucky (if temporarily broken) pit bulls who might otherwise be overlooked due to medical conditions.

I won't lie. It was hard walking through the facility. There were so many beautiful dogs there. Some were as happy as if they were hanging out in someone's backyard, but most were resigned or, harder to see, depressed. There was one handsome white pit bull/boxer mix with brindle spots who still puts a lump in my throat when I think about him. He sat in the middle of his crate shaking, shrinking into himself from sheer misery. When I reached out to him, hoping to give him a little comfort, the most he could do in response was lift the tip of his tail off of the ground, drop his eyes and lower his head. I never saw Toni in her crate at the shelter from which we adopted her, but I've seen her in confined spaces. This boy was Toni—except his hell was just beginning (he'd been there just one day), whereas we work hard every day to ensure that her hell is far in her past. People need to know that this is the reality of unwanted animals. They need to know because it's hard, not even though it's hard.

For the broken dogs—dogs with illnesses, injuries, unattractive yet treatable ailments—the likelihood of making it through the system and into a home is even smaller. For these dogs, there is a better chance that they will be killed in the near future than there is that they will find a home. So walking through all of that misery was a little more bearable knowing that we were changing the odds that day. And we not only changed them, we multiplied them by two. Because really, if there's anything better than one pit bull pup, it's two pit bull pups!

"I think everything's gonna be okay now!"

Follow their journey through Project Rescue Chicago's program by reading their stories on the Two Pitties in the City blog, starting with this introduction.

12 April 2011

Sweet Georgia on my mind: The happy ending

This is the flier we put together to help publicize Georgia, her adorable charms and talents, and her need for a home—pronto. It reads:

Hi. My name is Georgia. I am about 10 months old. I used to live in a building in the hallway. No one fed me very much or paid much attention to me. But some guys in the building gave me to some nice people who are supposed to help me. I am very affectionate and happy, even though I have no idea what’s going on right now. I know how to sit and shake and am learning how to stay and lie down already. I am housetrained, too! I’m not crate trained yet, but I’m a quick learner and am very food motivated so I think with a little more training I will really learn to like my crate (so far I think it’s just for eating and I don’t mind it then).

Unfortunately, the people who are helping me right now have two other female pit bulls, and that seems like a lot of ladies all in one condo, even to me. So they can’t come home until I find a new place to stay, either for a while or forever.

If you can help out, please call XXX.

If I were writing that flier today, I think I would include something about how when she ran down the hallway of our condo building after a ball, she looked like a miniature deer bounding through a forest clearing. I would maybe throw something in about how she was a dainty and well-mannered eater, despite the fact that she probably had more food in the week she was with us than she had in the whole month prior to that. I might add that the little lamb in the photo above was in serious danger of drowning in dog saliva, but that it might remain intact for years since she was not a stuffie slayer. I would still not include the part about how she was definitely condo trained (as in, she did not have accidents in our condo) but that she was having trouble getting the hang of building trained (as in, she sometimes confused outside of the condo with the real outside, though in her defense she was experiencing about 12,000 new things that week and a mistake here and there was entirely understandable). I would also not mention how tempting it was for us to fall for her, for fear of discouraging a potential adopter.

"Hi,it's Ymelda...from the vet. I was off yesterday, but I'm wondering if you still have Georgia."

As a matter of fact I did have Georgia, right at the other end of the leash in my hand. She and I were just getting ready to take food rations over to Toni and Téa. As it happens, the vet was exactly halfway between the condo we lived in and our dog sleepover camp. Would, um, right now be a good time to stop by so Ymelda and Georgia could meet?

"You want to meet me. You know you do."

This exact moment is the beginning of the end of my part of Georgia, sweet Georgia's story, but it's really just the beginning of her story. Because it turns out that Ymelda, whom I have always liked, loved Georgia. She was moving to a dog-friendly building in just two weeks. Her friend and co-worker, Jackie, would live just downstairs and they were already sorting out joint dog walking schedules. Ymelda was even pre-approved as an adopter through Chicagoland Bully Breed Rescue, which is the group we worked through to begin some sort of paperwork and accountability for her welfare. 

"My friend Lucy is kind of fluffy, but I love her anyway."

I sometimes see Georgia when I am at the vet. She and Ymelda walk to work together when the weather suits—a canine version of Take Your Daughter to Work Day. She met Toni and Téa once. As expected, Toni liked Georgia just fine but Téa felt that perhaps she wasn't really a dog we wanted to hang out with, effective immediately. (Téa can be very particular about who she wants as a friend, even though it means she misses out on meeting some very cool dogs.) I got to hear about Georgia's reaction to the Great Blizzard of 2011 (pro-snow but not a big fan of snowbanks—thank goodness she had a new winter coat!). I know that, like Téa, she can be particular when choosing friends. And I heard that she just celebrated a birthday, complete with her very own cake:

"If I can just get my paws on that cake, all of my wishes will have come true!"

We are grateful that our friend took Georgia when a stranger offered her up, even though our friend had nowhere to keep her. We're grateful that we were able to play a small part in helping sweet Georgia along the way. We're grateful for the timing, mishaps and dumb luck that brought Georgia and Ymelda together. But I think we are most grateful every time we hear a Georgia story from Ymelda because it is clear that she is loved and protected in a way she might never have known otherwise.

Many thanks to Ymelda for contributing the photos included in this post and for opening her heart and her home to sweet Georgia.

05 April 2011

Sweet Georgia on my mind: The middle

Having just been given a bundle of pit bull in need of some rescuing and learning that our two favorite rescues were full-up, we found ourselves lacking a clear vision for next steps. Additionally, since this had come up a bit suddenly (as in, "I'm on my way with a dog I need to give you. Where are you?"), we hadn't even eaten our lunch and I was getting a bit testy due to the hunger pangs. So we headed home.

As we walked into our condo, I mentioned that we might do well to at least give poor Smelly (as we were temporarily calling her) a bit of food. I was certain she had gone a long while since her last meal and wouldn't turn her nose up at anything we had to offer. Chris announced that while that he thought that was a good idea, he was giving her a bath first—no arguments. We were only going to have her around for another hour or so, but it could at least be a more pleasant hour. 

Chris has a whole routine that he goes through with T2 and baths. Lots of talking and finger massaging and "good, good girl" comments are included. The canine lady on the receiving end gets a lift in (whether she wants it or not) then gets wrapped in a warm, fluffy towel at the end and lifted back out again to commence the zoomy, air-drying portion of the process. I wish I had thought to take a photo of this little girl's bath (most likely her first bath ever). You could just see in her face that while she might not entirely understand what was going on or why, she was willing to let us do what we needed to do and be a good sport about it.

After a little running around when she was finished, she came over (smelling delightful!) to the kitchen area of our loft where I was putting together a little kibble and ground chicken for her. Not enough to make her sick, since who knew what or when she had last eaten, but enough to stop the grumble in her belly and buy a little more affection from her. I set the food down and watched her wander up to it for a sniff. I'm not sure she entirely understood what I was putting on the floor. She was just beginning to realize that it was food and that the whole bowl was for her when she heard Chris coming toward us, having finished cleaning the tub. Bless her heart if she didn't completely abandoned that bowl of food immediately, prance over to check on him and give his hand a little lick before finishing her meal.

"What luck—someone has left a fluffy bunny for me to nibble on!"

Somewhere in the process, I texted a friend who had a connection with one of the larger shelters here in Chicago. I was hoping she had insight into their policies on taking strays. She did. Without going into the gory and disappointing details here, I'll cut to the chase: The shelter publicly states an open policy for animal drop-offs and relinquishing. The catch is that if the animal brought in is a stray, it goes immediately to Animal Care & Control. I have yet to see that fact in any of their literature—and believe me, I've looked. So that was the end of that option.

Apparently this next step in the process was going to take a little more thinking than we had anticipated.

The next day seemed to bring no further ideas, insight or options other than the acknowledgement that T2 would be staying for an indefinite time at sleepover camp. As the owner of our daycare/sleepover camp facility put it, "Three bitches in one home is too many." (We later revised that to "Four bitches in one home is too many," which I continue to quote every once in a while when the occasion suits.) The other realization that came was that we couldn't, if she was staying for more than a few hours, continue to call her Smelly. This is how she came to be known as Georgia...sweet Georgia on my mind.

The next several days were a whirl of activity and stress. I took little Georgia with me every time I walked out the door, extolling her virtues and need for a home to anyone within listening distance. We posted on Facebook. We made flyers and tacked them up at Starbuck's, pet stores, the lobby of our building. We drove to our daycare/sleepover camp each day to drop off a day's worth of food for Toni and Téa. (Yes, I know it would have been easier to take it over in bulk, but I felt like I wanted to do something for my own girls every day as well and taking them food was about all I could come up with.)

"I just met a cat! I am pretty sure it didn't want to be my friend—even though I think I would have liked it. Exhausting!"

As you may remember, we love our vet and our vet loves us. I just knew if I took Georgia to the vet with me to post a flyer, someone there would click with her, either adopting her themselves or sending a friend or family member our way who would fall in love with her. As I was pulling up, I got a call from a potential adoptive family (actually, the friend who gave me the down-low on the shelter process I mentioned above). They had fallen for sweet Georgia, but well-meaning friends/volunteers (from the shelter mentioned above) got involved. My friend felt compelled to explain (aka, drag out in great length in the hopes that she would feel better delivering this difficult and unfounded message) her explanation for what we suspected from the minute the well-meaning volunteers laid eyes on sweet Georgia: She seemed fantastic, but gosh, you just never know with a pit bull so there was no way the friends/volunteers could give their approval of her...since she wasn't part of their program. So the recommendation was, if this friend wanted a pit bull, skip Georgia (apparently now known in their minds as The Loose Cannon) and take one of the shelter pit bulls. (For the record, it has taken me a long time to tell this story because of this particular part of it. While this family may not have been the right family for Georgia, neither she nor we deserved the behind-the-back treatment and excuses aimed at her pit-bull-ness that the volunteers brought to the situation.)

With that on my mind, I walked into the vet's office with my "dog available" flyer...and stopped dead. No one I knew was at the desk (I basically thought I knew everyone). So I hemmed and hawed and stammered out my story and handed over my flyer to the new person. And then I just stood there. I was done. I had no more ideas, no other places I hadn't paraded her sweet face and posted a flyer, nowhere to take her little self except back to our homewhile our girls remained in sleepover camp purgatory (comfortably so, of course, but Glenda the Good Witch had it right when she said to Dorothy, "There's no place like home.").

So I did what I am certain anyone in my position would have done. I took Georgia back to the car, had a good cry and then drove her home. 

30 March 2011

Sweet Georgia on my mind: The beginning

As I've mentioned before, we have a friend who seems to stumble onto pit bulls in need all of the time. We appreciate the good intentions and we certainly appreciate anyone who's advocating on behalf of pit bulls, particularly in such a hands-on way, so we try to be supportive.... And by "be supportive," we initially intended that to mean, "Yay you, friend! You did a great thing here for this dog! You saved it's life! Let us buy you a pint!"

It turns out that our support was required in a much more active manner. We were sitting in a restaurant one Saturday afternoon waiting for our lunch when Chris' phone rang: "Okay, you're where? You have the dog? We're in Andersonville.... Uh, okay sure. Call us when you get closer." Our well-intentioned friend lives in a decidedly non-pet building. Apparently we were her back-up plan...or possibly her Plan A. It's hard to know for sure.

Fast-forward 20 minutes. Our lunch was in our car in to-go boxes. Rescues-of-choice one and two had already responded that they were full-up. We were definitely in brainstorming mode, though not quite in panic mode. At least T2 were at sleepover camp for the night since we had a party to co-host that evening—that gave us one less pair of things to worry about.

Our friend pulled up and rushed around the car to open the door. I couldn't even see a dog from where I was standing four feet away. When Chris reached in to lift out the petite bag of bones that was curled up on the seat, I felt my heart break a little on her behalf. Sweet, sweet girl with no meat on her, no understanding of what was going on, no idea whether we were good people or bad people—and still her little tail gave the teeniest hopeful beat and her tongue flicked out in the most hesitant way toward Chris' chin to show that she came in friendship. 

And then the smell hit me. It's entirely possible that 50 percent of her body weight that day was the accumulation of every bit of dirt and stench that she had ever come across.

This photo is not from the day we took her home (though the woeful expression captures the moment we met her). She came to us as naked and tagless as the day she was born. Of course.

We got the back story: Someone had stopped our friend on the street because he had seen her walking a neighborhood pit bull. There was a dog in his building who had been kicked out of the apartment her "family" lived in and she was now living in the hallway. He had checked with the owners; they wanted nothing to do with her. Did our friend have any interest in taking the pit bull with her? Hell yes, she did! 

As she handed us the bag of dog treats she had picked up at a convenience store, she asked what our plan was. We were forced to admit that we would have to get back to her on that, but not to worry—we would figure something out. And then Smelly* and I snuggled up together in the backseat of the car, Chris got behind the wheel and off we went.

* Smelly was not the name we gave her, just for the record. But at this point, it was the only moniker that suited her.

17 March 2011

She's a barfer

I was going to write a little story around this photo entitled Monkey See, Monkey Do. 

"I know how to sit still, too!"

I would have told you about how popular Toni is at the vet, in part due to her good looks but in greater part due to her entirely chill attitude. She can hunker down on that cool tile floor like it's a feather bed, following the action around her just by moving eyes. Despite the poking, prodding and other intrusive behavior, she always appears to be just one blink away from falling fast asleep. Téa, of course and on the other hand, is a pacer, a squealer, a bouncer and a hopper (once all the way over the reception desk to take a look at our bill). She is essentially a vision of all things inappropriate when we're in the waiting room at the vet (though in the end she is a model patient). But today, for some reason, she decided it was time for a game of Monkey See, Monkey Do and was her most relaxed, most well-behaved, most non-dramatic self, which of course gave me hope that our future together will involve less drama on her part.

Instead, I can only shake my head, sigh and say that it's hard to tell from this photo that in mere moments, Téa would throw up much of her breakfast and all of the peanut butter she had just eaten...onto Toni's head. In typical Toni fashion, she just wagged her tail limply and gave us a doleful Eeyore look while she waited for us to wipe her down.

04 March 2011

Illinois readers: Call to action by 8 March

Thanks to Sirius Cooks in Oak Park (and Facebook) I made a quick and easy phone call this morning to state legislator Lisa Dugan (217-782-5981). My only message, which was presumably recorded along with my name and city by the person who answered the phone, was to request a no vote to House Bill 1080. This proposed change to Illinois law would remove the state-wide ban on breed specific legislation (BSL). 

Illinois is one of the most animal-friendly states in our nation. We do not support or allow BSL. We allow for a felony classification for animal abuse and do on occasion (not often enough, of course) hold people accountable to that degree. It has made me proud to call Illinois my home for the last 11 years and has given me (apparently a false) sense of security knowing that our dogs, at least, would be safe.

As a resident of Illinois; caretaker to two loving and lovable pit bulls; and a firm believer in addressing the cause of a problem not the result, I cannot let this vote be taken without having my voice heard. You must take one minute, 60 seconds, between now and Monday to do the same. Lisa Dugan (217-782-5981): "No to HB 1080."

For a more extensive, thoughtfully written article, refer to this one in the News-Gazette. (And good luck finding coverage elsewhere - I couldn't find a Tribune or Sun Times article on this topic anywhere online.)

02 March 2011

Free toy zone once again

Toni is not a sharer by nature. She's not really greedy nor is she particularly interested in whatever it is that attracts Téa's attention. Like many alpha dogs, she just believes it's her right and her job to maintain control of all things interesting or of value.

We do not particularly find this character trait endearing, as you can imagine. A toy management dispute is what led to Toni knocking out a tooth on Téa's head the first week Téa lived with us. This was the beginning of a long line of discussions over who's in charge of toy management. 

"I don't understand what the problem is. I gave her that bit of tennis ball that I was finished with. What more could she possibly want?"

We've learned to get Toni engaged in dismembering something (a squeaky toy, a rope-ball contraption, an Extreme Kong) before roughhousing with Téa. Even so, we have developed a sixth sense for Toni's inevitable attempt to squash all things fun. She lowers her head like a bull facing a matador and then barrels toward us in her own funny sideways run, picking up speed as she goes. We are ready to deflect her now, but it adds a little stress to play time if you're constantly on the lookout for the neighborhood bully.

"These are my puzzle balls. Mine. Mine. Mine. Even if I don't want them."

So for nearly two years, we have been a declared restricted toy zone. The toy bin has been closely managed - kept on a top shelf or behind a door. Toys were only available when someone had the time and attention span to stand alert, ready to break up potential scuffles over a squeaky penguin or a rope with tennis balls at either end or whatever the toy du jour happened to be. 

But frankly, that's just not fun for any of us.

So, after some serious observation and practice sharing, we are proud to announce that we are once again a free toy zone. This is not to be interpreted as "free toys for all who enter," but rather as a "toys roam freely on our premises" sort of categorization. As hoped, Toni is generally unconcerned about these free-roaming toys, leaving them to their business for the most part. As expected, Téa is ecstatic. 

"First I will nibble this pink one. Then I will fling the green thing onto my back again; and then I will give the brown and pink one a shake. Then I think I'll start again from the beginning."

At any moment, she is able to fling a furry frog, romp with a twisted rope or battle with a puzzle ball. Sometimes, we find, she attempts all three simultaneously.

"One...two..three...six...174! I had no idea we had so many toys!"

16 February 2011

Couch—Release II

We do love a good game of Couch around here. It provides hours of fun for the whole family. But since we've had to modify the game to ensure that Toni is always "it," it seems that she's not always up for playing. That seems fair—I don't want to play games in which I'm always "it" either.

So apparently we're now playing Release II, also known as Name That Furniture.

03 February 2011

Memory Lane

Ah yes, the great blizzard of twenty-eleven. I remember it like it was yesterday....
Wait. Never mind.

"Please, please, please let a dog come by!" A dog never came by—they were all inside trying to stay warm.

Go, Téa, go! Never mind that the snow is about six inches deeper than you are tall.

"Gack! No one told me it was going to be like running through frozen bath water! I hate the bath!"

Which is why Toni prefers the deck.

29 January 2011

When nothing else works

Toni had an accident this past week. She slipped on some ice. It seemed like nothing important at the time, but by the end of the day she was in pretty bad shape. We're still not exactly sure what the damage is—maybe sprains in both hips, maybe a torn ligament, maybe something else. What we do know is that it is the first time we've ever heard her yelp in pain. And she yelped a lot on the day of the accident. It continues even through the weekend, though not as much, thankfully.

There's something really horrible about seeing someone (even, or maybe especially, a furry someone) who is normally stoic and steady reduced to the desperation and confusion that pain causes. It added a whole level of panic to my end of the situation as caretaker that is not usually present, as I tried desperately to reach beyond my usual measures to try to find a solution for this ailment that was beyond the usual.

Even Téa is unsure how to help, and offers up the only thing she can think of, the thing that makes her feel best when she is not well (though truth be told it makes her feel best even when she's already feeling pretty good): love.

"I will be your personal blanket, teddy bear and hot water bottle until you feel better."

21 January 2011

Too damned cold

We thought the weather in December was a little miserable, what with the buckets of snow and the declining hours of sunlight (at least at the beginning of December). We had forgotten, as we do every year, that January is December's meaner, more temperamental, less forgiving twin.

And though T2 are snuggled up literally like bugs in rugs indoors, their hearts and legs long for a good run up and down the yard and a trot around the neighborhood. That is, they long for those things until faced with the reality of what that means in Chicago in January. And then, no matter how much their butts wiggled as we put on their coats and no matter how recently I've applied Musher's Secret to their paws, the misery sets in almost instantaneously. Just as I right myself from a near header into the icebank (no longer a snowbank these days) in front of our house, they're balanced not-so-delicately on two or three paws, with the salt- or snow- or cold-burdened ones dangling helplessly in the air as they give me that look that says, "All I've ever done is love you (except for that time I [insert naughty activity here]) and now you're trying to kill me one chunk of salt/snow/cold at a time. How can you forsake me so?!?"

Add to that the fact that we (at least the canine portion of we) are recovering from a bout of bad stomachs this week...so no treats. This means none of the usual practice runs through tricks (for what is a trick if not a means to a treat, in their minds). It means all of our food puzzle games are boring (like Monopoly without any pieces, cards or money). And since we can't leave toys out without supervision (Toni is a bit selfish about toys), it means we're running out of entertainment; and we all know bored dogs are naughty dogs.

Luckily, Chris brought back canine Christmas stockings from the UK this year. They included two kinds of treats (not allowed this week), unnaturally colored rawhide twisted or pressed into holiday shapes (not allowed this week) and a rubber Christmas cracker (saved!). This is how we spent today:

Of note: Téa's cracker is still in mint condition. If she were a little girl, she wouldn't have even gotten it apart to claim the paper crown or toy inside. All 2,074 pieces of Toni's cracker have already been picked up and sent to the trash bin. I am sure we'll continue to find the remaining 312 pieces over the next several months.

13 January 2011

DIY doggie style

We have never been the sort to divide household chores along traditional gender lines. Whoever cooks (usually me, but only because I love to cook), is excused from dish duty. If I take on dusting on a Saturday morning, Chris takes the floors. Trash duty belongs to whoever is headed outside when it needs to go. I even mowed my first lawn this past summer—and liked it. (Though I admit, I always like chores that provide immediate gratification: "Look what I just did! It was long grass and now it's short grass!! I'm amazing!")

But it never occurred to us that we might also be able to split chores and DIY projects in our new home along human/canine lines as well. Truth be told, we assumed that the absence of opposable thumbs would really limit our dogs' abilities to assist in most chores and projects. Apparently it's a common misconception. Since purchasing our fixer-upper, we've learned that Téa has very definite opinions about decorating. We've also discovered a variety of unexpected tasks at which T2 excel, including but not limited to:

kitchen renovation,
"I'm telling you, fuchsia has never, ever been the fashion for cabinetry. Work with me on this, please."

closet organization,
"Nope. If you put a shoe rack in here there will definitely not be enough space leftover in which to nap. So that's a no on the shoe rack."

"It's righty-tighty, Dad, righty-tighty. You're going the wrong way! Here, let me do it."

"All right. Enough horsing around with that camera. We've got a lot of work to get through today and I can't hold this paint brush on my own, you know."

and project management.

"Break time's over there, missy. Chop chop—back to work."

So the good news is, we ought to get this place in tip-top shape much more quickly than we had anticipated!

10 January 2011

A thoughtful reply

By now I think everyone has heard about President Obama's careless compliments to the Philadelphia Eagles and their decision to offer Michael Vick an opportunity to use his talents for legal entertainment purposes (as opposed to the vicious, sadistic, sociopathic purposes he lent them to during his tenure as Bad Newz Kennel's owner, financier and Director of Torture and Death Operations). 

It can be hard to know where to direct complaints or voice concerns in these instances of appalling misjudgment. We could ring the White House directly, but I don't imagine there is much satisfaction in leaving an irate message with an operator or intern. We can post to our blogs, knowing that we have a like-minded audience in our readers. We can rant over cocktails to our friends or the bartender at our favorite local. We can bring it up with an Eagles fan over lunch, savoring the opportunity to jab our fingers and raise our voices to someone who simply, for whatever reason, doesn't get it. But none of these efforts really addresses the issue with the person who matters the most in this particular instance. None of these efforts bends the ear and enlightens the mind of the man who made these thoughtless comments, a man whose comments receive more attention and publicity globally than anyone else alive. Which is why, when I read Bad Rap's blog post on the subject (A Worthy White House Literacy Project), I felt a sense of relief at finding a practical, satisfying outlet for my feelings on the subject. 

At Bad Rap's suggestion, we've sent a copy of Jim Gorant's The Lost Dogs to the White House. We included photos and a brief introduction to Toni and Téa. And while I do know that it is unlikely that my note and photos will make it to the President's desk, I also know that the receipt of hundreds of copies of the same book will be noticed and that some of the notes and photos will make their way up the chain of command. And if someone in the White House (ideally its most powerful resident) takes the time to educate himself on what Michael Vick is really capable of, when the cameras aren't flashing, when the cheering has quieted (which someday it will, as his arm and his legs age and his talent fades), when the stadium is quiet and he needs to make himself feel like a big man at the expense of other living creatures; if someone learns what dog fighting is really about and the brutality that men and women visit on these dogs who are so eager to please them that they will sacrifice their lives in that effort; if someone can remember that athletic prowess is no synonym for heroism and no substitute for morality; if someone takes a moment to tap into their own humanity and compassion, then perhaps the President will think more carefully about where he directs his compliments and why. 

If you want to make your voice heard, you can send a letter and/or a copy of The Lost Dogs to: 

   Mr. President and First Lady Obama
   The White House
   1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
   Washington, DC 20500

Photo from http://badrap-blog.blogspot.com/.

It's up to us to speak for the victims who cannot speak for themselves. I hope you'll take a moment to make yourself heard.

This last is taken directly from the Bad Rap blog: "More people than we ever imagined sent books to the White House after this blog post went live. A casual count tallied a minimum of 200 books sent. It seems that the large number reached critical mass a few days ago, and while the first few arrivals were signed for and accepted by WH staff (we're not sure how many), they are now turning others away. Mission Accomplished! Now what to do with all the books that are returning to their purchasers? We have a few ideas and will post asap. Thank you ALL for jumping both feet into this action."

Hopefully, at least one more mind has been enlightened.