Archive for the ‘observations’ Category

Lollie, My Buddha


I remember when Lollie was just a pup. She was part of that first litter of puppies we fostered. They arrived just a month after Sadie died, 8 weeks old and dirty. We got 3 of 11 of them, born to a fierce fighter of a mother who scared me down to my toes when I met her at the vet’s office. I didn’t want to keep her. I really didn’t like her much. She was whiny, noisy, cried long and hard whenever she was left alone, and had SO much energy. Mike and I would stay up for hours throwing the ball to her, wondering aloud when she was going to get tired. I remember being afraid of her and for her, remembering her mother and not wanting to have any part of that. When that first family came to view the pups and I saw and heard myself steering them toward her littermate, I knew I was attached. After they left I had to acknowledge that she and I were destine to walk part of this life together. I remember holding her head in my hands, looking into her eyes and saying, “You will be my Buddha.”

I was determined, by willpower alone, to change the course that genetics seemed to lay out for her. I took to socializing her as if it were my job. We went to the dog park nearly every night. I met many kind people there and watched my little baby puppy grow into a lanky teenager, running among the dogs. At about 6 months of age, we stopped going to the dog parks. I dedicated myself to her training, starting her out at 4 months of age and going weekly, every single week, until I decided that she didn’t seem to like it much and I was getting too stressed out. That was about a year ago. If you read my last post, you know I failed to shape her into a different dog than she was. Some things really are destiny.

But I did get some things right: I got a semi-career out of it – I still train dogs on the side. And Lollie has a lot of skills. And I have had an amazing opportunity to learn about myself, life, and for lack of a better word, spirit. You see, Lollie triggers a lot of emotions in a lot of people. Dogs like her will do that. She isn’t an easy or a simple dog. She is fully herself and she has a big self. And she isn’t wall balanced. There is definitely a screw loose in her, a sensitivity, an over-reactive, fear based aggression that comes to the front more times than I would like. Don’t get me wrong – I am not glamorizing her. If I could make her one of those simple dogs who likes every dog she meets I would. In a heartbeat. The one thing, one of the best gifts she has taught me though, is to see what is in front of me.

Hermes and Lollie

So, when she attacked Hermes, I had to get really clear about what I was seeing in front of me. I had to sort through all the fears, the sense of failings, the horror stories my mind was telling me. I had to get as clear as I could to see what was in front of me. For a long time I thought I saw the end of my ability to keep my pack safe. I also thought I saw a potential heartbreak or law suit from her attacking a child. I also thought I saw the slow decline of a dog into doggy madness. Mostly I thought I saw myself failing, afraid. But when I finally settled my mind down I saw this: just Lollie being Lollie. Her “attack” was predictable, not unfounded (if you know dogs and how this particular dog’s mind works) and not intended to be so aggressive. No dog targets another dog’s tongue – that she got his was clearly an accident. And I also saw this: Hermes got over it as soon as the pain receded. Within a day he was eating normally and within two days I saw him happy to finally get to play with her again. Five days after the incident I saw all of my four dogs laying side by side in the sun on the deck. I saw Lollie finally relaxing as I finally relaxed.

Here is my biggest realization – Lollie is a mirror for me. Not always, that’s where good training comes in, but most of her incidents of “aggression” were a way for her to embody the stress of what I was carrying inside me. A lot of you won’t understand this. But those of you who’ve lived with an aggressive dog that you’ve worked hard with may. When I was stressed, she would pick up on it and become more agitated. When I was afraid, her eyes would dilate to nearly black as she also felt fear. When I was frustrated at home, she would turn on one of the other dogs lying innocently in her path. The aggression I was putting out into the world, she was showing up with. And it wasn’t just the aggression I was putting out, it was my perceptions of the world, how it works for me (or against me as was my usual story line) that was coming back to me in her behavior. It wasn’t until I consulted a spiritual adviser, Mary Muncil that I really understood this. She helped me hold a deeply grounded place while I searched for my answers. It soon became clear that this issue had more to do with me and my dissatisfactions, my left over issues from childhood, my fears and worries that I don’t get to be happy or have an easy life, than they do with Lollie. Lollie was simply being Lollie, my very predictable very present Buddha.

Lollie settles

As I got clear with this she settled immediately. She seemed happier and more at ease. She was careful and non reactive around the other dogs. I started taking her out to run more and she liked it. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is no way I think that she is “cured” – she will likely do this again, be reactive with an overly stern level of correction to what she thinks is a slight to her, a disrespect, or a play for a possession she thinks is hers. But it won’t shake me to the core like it did this time. This time things are more clear inside me. Sure I still have an enormous amount of work to do. I am clearly in the middle of this thing with myself – still needing to listen, observe and be brave. But I am no longer afraid. I’m not afraid of her or of my truth. I know I can handle whatever comes my way. The fear was the hardest part for me, because it left me feeling so young, so cut off from myself, so helpless. Now that the fear is gone I have access to all my training, my skills, my intelligence and my instincts. As long as I can keep myself clear, I believe things will be much better. And I also bought a great book (Brenda Aloff’s “Aggression in Dogs”) on working with aggressive dogs, just to make sure my skills were up to snuff!

So, again, as always Lollie has pointed me in a direction that has been about spiritual growth and healing. For that, for her role in my journey, I will be eternally grateful to her.

At a crossroads with Lollie


There is a difficult decision on my mind tonight. One that I hope no one else ever has to make but one that I assume some of you have made before. The decision about when the time is right to euthanize a pet. I’ve made this decision before. I’ve “released” a pet from their pain in old age and in illness. They were difficult decisions made easier by the knowledge that I was, in a twisted way, helping them still. They were suffering, their end was near, I was simply easing their exit.

This decision is different in every single way.

My dog Lollie has been difficult from 6 months of age on. That is when, in pitbull lingo, her “fight turned on.” She began fighting dogs for balls at the dog park. Then it was fighting dogs for getting too close to her. Then it was fighting them for no reason I could figure out. So we stopped going to the dog park. Then she began fighting with friend’s dogs who she had known all her life. Then the dogs in our own pack. But back then I was younger, had more free time, didn’t work outside my home and had an inflated sense of my power and ability to control outcomes. I believed I could “cure” or “save” or “fix” Lollie so I did everything I could to learn all I could about her. I began to be able to anticipate her reactions, nearly all of the time. And I became good at stopping the attacks, nearly all of the time. But it was those times in between, when I wasn’t astute enough or fast enough, that she would harm another dog.

At first, it was mostly noise and spit, just a dominance display, nothing more. I told myself this to calm my fear. I decided that if she ever drew blood, then I would have to do something about it. Then in a few of those exchanges her tooth nicked an ear, a lip and blood was drawn. “She didn’t mean to bite” I told myself, it was just an accident. I became even more vigilant and stopped bringing her around other people’s dogs all together. I told myself that she inhibited her bite. She never tried to really harm a dog, she was just reactive. Then she had an exchange with a dog she knew for years at our dog training club. She appeared to want to greet the dog so badly. She was all wiggles and softness, low to the ground and polite. My friend and I agreed to let them sniff noses – the first contact Lollie had ever had with another dog at the dog club. As soon as Lollie got close enough to sniff, she lunged, with a snarl, and grabbed a hold of the other dog’s muzzle in her teeth and did not let go. I had to yell in her ear “DROP IT” over and over until she finally released the dog. No blood, but still that experience shook me. Clearly there was something going on for her that I did not understand. So we stopped going to the dog training club.

Time went by without anything but a random, unnecessarily intense reaction from her toward our other dogs. I would stop it and although she appeared to “sulk” for a few days it would blow over. It was a relatively peaceful time. Then last year I started working outside the house. The hours I spent away from home increased again this winter as I began training for a marathon. Whereas in the past I would only leave for 2-3 hours, I was gone from the house from 5-7 hours at a time. Then, three months ago, my son begged that we keep one of the dog’s we fostered and I relented. I never thought Lollie would allow him into the pack but somehow she seemed to understand that he was staying and she would have to accept it. We keep them separate and only one slight skirmish has occurred thus far. But things have gotten worse in another way. About a month ago I was getting ready for bed when I heard a terrible sound. At first I thought it was a low flying plane, it was loud and sudden and angry. Then my brain registered it was a bad dog fight. I flew downstairs to see Lollie attacking our dog Bella who was in a crate (she was sleeping in one of the crates where I had removed the door.) She had no way out and Lollie was biting her legs and face. I stopped the attack and as I looked at Bella’s sore face with two puncture wounds, the long scratches on her legs I decided to move the line a bit more. Clearly this was an attack, clearly she did bite, but still, was it that bad? “Ok,” I said to myself, “I will just crate Lollie when I’m gone and keep her separated from Bella at night.” But that attack scared me. It was becoming difficult to predict what would set her off. And even more difficult to rationalize the attacks to myself.

Lollie sleeping

Then just last night the worse attack yet happened. I was out brushing the dogs. It crossed my mind that I should probably put Lollie in the garage and brush her separately, but it was so calm and peaceful out under that tree and I was just enjoying the moment. Lollie wasn’t really even participating, she was off by herself. I called our other dog, Hermes, over to me and as he was approaching Lollie put herself in front of me and turned away from me to face him. I knew that this spelled trouble so I said firmly, “GET” to move her away, and that’s when she lunged at him. It took all of 5 seconds. Five seconds for me to get up and run the three steps over to her and yell “LEAVE IT”. She stopped the attack then but it was clear he was hurt. He was limping and I could see she had bitten him on the legs in several places. But the wounds seemed relatively minor, not even puncture wounds so I brought him inside. But I kept seeing blood. He was licking and licking his legs in various places and blood was covering his legs. However, when I searched his fur I could find nothing. I called the vet and he offered to look at him even though it was two minutes to closing time. By the time I arrived, the ace bandages I had wrapped around Hermes’ legs were soaked with blood. There was blood spattered over the walls of the back of the SUV. It was terrible. I brought him in and we all just looked at him, trying to understand where all this blood was coming from. That’s when the vet said, “Could she have gotten his tongue?” and sure enough, there was a dime sized flap of skin, about a quarter inch thick, hanging on by a tiny bit of skin. It was way back on his tongue, and not obvious. But it was bleeding badly. Thirteen stitches later the bleeding had stopped. I brought him home.

Lollie as a puppy

I had never articulated it directly. Never said, “if this happens then…” but always I had it in the back of my mind that there was a limit to what I would allow from Lollie. I would hear other stories of aggressive dogs wounding resident dogs and think “That I would not accept.” I would hear how the owners would spend hundreds of dollars on stitching up the victim of the attack only to have it happened again. And again. And I thought, “I will never be that sentimental. If I cannot keep my pack safe with Lollie in it, she will have to go.”

So now I stand at that abyss. I see now how much easier it was to say “I will not accept that” than to do anything about it. I understand now more deeply why I kept moving that line in the sand, why I kept tolerating increasingly more dangerous attacks. Who wants to admit that the dog they’ve raised since puppyhood has to go? Who wants to see this perfectly healthy, beautiful dog in the prime of her life killed? Who wants to see all that work, all that love just thrown away? What was it all for? Why? Why has it come to this and is there any way at all to avoid this? She’s the only dog in the pack who understands me when I say, “go find Ryan.” She’s the only dog who listens to me as I guide her to finding the ball. She’s the only dog who plays Frisbee with me in the winter, who will jump and twist for it. She is in so many ways my best trained dog. But there is such a cost for having her. So much anxiety. I am always worried, watching, aware of her and the potential for harm. I am always trying to anticipate and think through and avoid situations that could lead to attacks. And they are getting more and more violent. And harder and harder to anticipate. I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a huge part of me that would be relieved beyond belief if she were no longer with me. But how to get her to not be with me is the question. I have to kill her? Really? It has to come to that? I just can’t figure out how to get from here to there without that happening. I wish I could see into the future. I wish I knew what to do.

And this attacked crossed that line. I find myself trying to find a way around it, a way to rationalize it, but I cannot.

Lollie as a puppy

Our latest foster, 3-year old Buddy


Buddy is a 3 year old Shih TzuPoodle mix that’s been with us a week. He bears an uncanny resemblance to my childhood dog, Ginger. So much so that I have actually been contemplating keeping him. However, Lollie our pitbull mix doesn’t like strange dogs. So far she’s been easy to manage but the reality is that we have to keep them separate. And anyone who has two dogs in their home who don’t get along understands when I say that it is really stressful making sure everyone is safe. I don’t like it. Maybe with work it would work out, but at this point, I don’t think I’m up for that challenge.

BuddySo, for now, we consider Buddy a visitor. He was an owner surrender, directly to H.E.L.P, His previous owners said he was just too much to deal with, given that there were children in the home. You look at his little face and think, “how can that be?” but don’t let his fluffy good looks fool you – inside that cute suit is a type-A, big dog. Knowing what I know now, after just one week, I can see how someone who doesn’t really know dogs, who didn’t really want a big dog, and who didn’t have the time to work with him would find him a nightmare. He literally needs HOURS of exercise each day just to be calm. But today I think we over did it…as I let him out tonight he struggled coming up the stairs. I guess we have found his limit – a three mile walk and 3 hours of fetch is it. That’s good at least.

So, other than his ball obsessiveness and his need for large amounts of exercise for a small dog, he is great!!  Here is Buddy on –  where you can fill out an application to adopt him!

A few more pictures of Buddy: (more…)

Jack arrives full of mats

Jack takes a bath

Jack takes a bath

Well, our newest foster, Jack, arrived on Saturday afternoon. I was shocked by his appearance! He was literally covered in mats.

I tried to give him a bath but it wasn’t possible to get down to his skin, the mats were so tight and close to his body. In the end I just ended up cutting them off, one by one. It took 5 hours, which I spread out over 3 days. He was stressed about it but eventually gave in.

It must have felt so good to get them off of his body – they were pulling on little hairs. Imagine that sensation – little hairs being pulled all over your body – on your belly, arm pits, around your neck, on your legs. He even walked funny because of them. Poor little baby.

pile o' Jack hair

pile o' Jack hair

Greta seems to have enough of mothering

The pups are huge and very advanced! Which is good as Greta seems to have had enough of mothering. I had her outside with me the entire morning (nearly 5 hours) and not once did she seem stressed about being away from her puppies. She ran around joyfully, sniffing and exploring. She tired to get Hermes to play by body slamming into him, but he wasn’t as into being outside as she was. She seemed to thoroughly enjoy herself. In fact, when I returned her to the puppy room I expected her to be happy to see her pups as she hadn’t nursed them at all. However, when I went back into the room a bit later she still hadn’t nursed them! That was at least 7 hours without nursing! And her teats were really taught…I had to rather forcefully “encourage” her to nurse them. Now that she has, she is scratching on the door, desperate to get out again! I think Greta has had enough of mothering.

Feeling the puppies kick

Tonight is the second night of our new mama’s (Honey?) time with us, and she is settling in. She is so young – clearly a puppy still herself. She is so happy, lots of wags and excitement each time she sees us. And she has a surprising amount of energy given her “condition” and her very malnourished state. If she didn’t have whipworms and hookworms she’d be out with my other dogs, romping in the big yard by now. But we need to get her cleaned up inside first (and get rid of her fleas) before letting her interact with my dogs.

She is a funny looking dog! I hope to get some photos that really capture how she looks in 3 dimensions. It’s strange but she looks different from different angles. Sometimes she looks just like a hound, a coon hound or such but then you see her short legs. Tonight she reminded me of our dog, Brandy, who died this spring. Brandy had a similar look to her face, in the eyes and the ears, but normal length legs. This mama looks like she’s been cut off at the knees. I said that to her tonight, “Mama, who took your legs? Someone stole your legs and left you with these little stumps!” But she is unaware of her unusual look, and just radiates love and happiness. I love that about those foster dogs – how adaptable and agreeable they are.

Last night and again tonight I laid my hand on her side and felt the little puppies moving around. They are strong – kicking and squirming. It won’t be long now and we’ll have a whole bunch of little ones running around. Wonder what they will look like?