Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Goofy Berners

Last night was Lemon's first obedience class. She is just starting the beginner's class, the same one that Jackson started a little over a year ago. Strangely enough, there are 3 Berners in her class! There are also 3 shelties and 1 malamute. Last night was mainly a talking night while our teacher gave us information and a what to expect chat. Looking around the room, I was almost in stitches laughing. All three Berners were in a class Berner pose, lying on their backs, back legs spread wide open, front legs flopped over to the side... making themselves right at home in class.

Lemon was a good girl for the most part. She was very flirty with the boys, but at the time of year that can hardly be helped. She also was a bit of distraction during the overview chat as she kept doing her somersault (I just realized I have no idea how to spell that) thing she does into my lap. She looks like she is stretching with her elbows on the grounds, butt in the air, head in my lap. Then the butt starts wiggling and it gets higher and higher until she flips it over, landing on her back, facing the wrong direction, often stuck in frustrating positions that are difficult for her to manuever out of. I'll have to video it sometime. Anyways, a good trick to show everyone her first night of obedience!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Temperment Testing

So grateful for our Hilga-girl. Tonight Lizzy needed to be tested to see if she could go to a home with other dogs. I figure if a dog doesn't like Hilga, they pretty much won't like any other dog. Hilga is slow moving, calm, happy to see another dog but not desperate to approach, a little weary of growling, but still wagging. Couldn't ask for a better helper in figuring out our fosters and their personalities.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Our House Guest, Miss Lizzy

We recently started fostering for Animal Haven, and Lizzy is our first foster through that organization. I picked her up last Saturday, and hopefully she will be in her forever home by the beginning of next week. She was a puppy mill mama, so it is slow going with socialization issues. But, she is an absolute darling, loves to snuggle and get loved on. She is considered a "big girl" at 20lbs. Its fun having a tiny little dog around the house for a while.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Training Lessons

Lemon starts beginners obedience at the end of September. I slacked off with her as a puppy to focus on conformation, trying to avoid lessons in sitting, laying down, etc... in hopes of having a dog that was easy to handle in the conformation ring. Low and behold, I learned my lesson with Jackson that the better trained your dog is in all aspects of obedience, the better they understand what you want from them, and the better the conformation dog they are.

Jackson is now out of the conformation ring (for the most part), and getting ready to very, very seriously focus on getting his first obedience title. Lemon is also working on getting ready for her beginners obedience class. Techinically, she doesn't have to know anything before we go in. But, I think it is very helpful if she at least understands the basics... sit, down, stay, come.

What was really fun tonight was training with both dogs using the dumbbell. Jackson and I have worked (not hard enough as it is the most difficult task for him and therefore the least fun) for a year on dumbbell retrieving and he barely will hold it in his mouth still. Lemon is my little toy/retriever girl, so while we started small (her holding it), in her first training session she was already picking it up off the ground and placing it in my hand. To make those strides in the first lesson (versus the first year) is just a reminder of how some dogs have different strengths.

But, after taking that teaching approach with her, I decided to try something different with Jackson. I decided that maybe trying to get him to just hold it wasn't challenging enough or didn't convey the purpose (what I wanted him to do) sufficiently for him to understand. So we took a big step. It involved me and him sitting on the floor together, me rolling the dumbbell a few feet away, coaching him towards the "get it", and surprise, surprise... Jackson can retrieve the dumbbell too. It was just a reminder that when you do something over and over again, sometimes it is best to step back and try a different approach.

Monday, September 13, 2010

CH Classique's Original Moonwalker RN

As of September 11, 2010. Love our boy so much and have had so much fun getting that CH in front of his name.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Eccentricities of a Rescue Dog

There are many different qualities about my relationship with Hilga (joined our family at 3 yrs) and my relationship with Jack and Lemon (raised from puppies). There are many times when Chris and I are befuddled by Hilga's quirky actions, whereas we typically know or can determine the source of Jack and Lemon's quirkiness. Even three years into our life together, Hilga continues to retain tendencies that are bizarre to us, and that over time, we've come to accept as just a part of who she is.

#1. Bedtime

When Chris and I went on a week long spring break, we got an email from our friend, Kate, who was watching the girls and the house. She asked, "is there some kind of word or command that you use at night to get Hilga on the bed?" I responded, "there isn't, but if you figure one out, please let us know."

Hilga loves to snuggle, and she sleeps on the bed EVERY single night, and she has since she's lived here. However, every night it is like a brand new, anxiety-worthy endeavor. Chris and I get into bed, occasionally Jack or Lemon will jump up and settle in, and Hilga starts the pacing. She pants heavily, running from one side to the other, sometimes for 20 minutes, before jumping gracefully and gently on the bed. She then sneaks up to either my pillow or Chris's and gives a few sniffs, just to make sure she is in the right bed. How embarassing if she were to fall asleep in the wrong bed? (Not that there are any other beds with people in them here). After she makes sure that it is us in the bed, she lays down, calming immediately and goes to sleep.

Chris and I have speculated to great extents what this is all about. For monthes, we tried to sweetly convince her to just jump on up. She won't do it. We tried teaching her a command. She won't do it. We worried that maybe it was painful for her to jump up (but we catch her on the bed all day long). We've finally settled on the idea that perhaps in her former home, she wasn't allowed on the bed. If you know Hilga and what a good girl she is, and how important being a good girl is to her, then it is easy to imagine that even three years later, that idea is still so deeply set within her that it is a moral struggle for her to get on the bed at night.

So, every night, for 20 minutes, Hilga runs side to side around the bed. Chris and I ignore her. She eventually jumps up and settles in. Sometimes it is what it is and it is just easiest for everyone involved to let her do it her way.

#2. Fear of Pillows

This dog is terrified of pillows. Picking it up and moving it will send her scurrying from the room. Adjusting one beneath your head will get you a very wide-eyed look. Did her previous home torment her with pillows? Who knows, but being careful with pillows is one of those adjustments we've made in our lives that we do now without even thinking about it.

I'll have to finish the rest of the list later. We love our Fishy-Dishy, and it is intriguing to wonder what she went through in her first three years that shaped her into the beautiful, gentle, sweet girl (not without her quirks) that came to live with us three years ago. But now, off to finish packing for Des Moines dog show!


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Swimming Lessons

Swimming lessons this summer were exciting to say the least. Of our three dogs, Jackson LOVES the water. He likes to wade and he likes the excitement of swimming, but oh my goodness is he bad at it. At the lake, he paddles with his front feet above water (shallow enough he likely can still touch), making this horrible face, and it is all just a panicky frenzy. But like I said, he loves it. Lemon LOVES water, chasing the sprinkler and hose, getting in the shower, but she doesn't like to get in the lake or pools. Hilga... once, we picked her up in her life jacket, set her up to her elbows in the lake and she froze like a statute, the tide slowly started to carry her out and she never moved, just floated needless to say we've given up hope on her.

The first thing we do with swim lessons (thanks to my parents for pool usage), is get them to calm down in the water. Frenzied swimming is never good. So we hold them up against us until the thrashing stops, then they get to swim a little bit. The pool helps us see the problem... that they don't paddle their back legs... at all. Their rears just sink to the bottom while their front feet splash above the water. So Chris will hold onto their front legs while they paddle with their back ones (think little kids doing kicking exercises at swim class).

All of this really doesn't help that much, but maybe it helps a little bit. And it is certainly fun to participate in (albeit slightly dangerous...I usually leave covered in scratches with possible tears in my swimsuit) and fun to watch. I should have prefaced all of this with the fact that Berners don't know how to swim naturally... they have to be taught (for the most part). That has certainly been our experience. Even after swim lessons... I'm thinking they will probably still have to wear their life jackets in lake water where they can't touch.

Rescue Heartache (with a good ending for one guy)

This is a blog I've been procrastinating writing. Chris and I do what we can to volunteer with the HBMDC rescue (occasional transport, foster), but in all honesty, it isn't like there are hundreds of Berners pouring into the rescue every year. This is a testiment both to good judgment on part of breeders and Berner rescuers, and more significantly, a breed that isn't that common. As the breed becomes more common, as they are more often on sale in pet stores and byb, rescue numbers will inevitably climb.

Chris and I have had tough fosters before (Polo and Hannah come to mind), but those dogs have been physically healthy (at least healthy enough) when they came to us, just REALLY fearful from lack of socialization. The dog pictured below we didn't foster, all I did was drive him from Wichita to North KC. I spent about 3 hours with this dog, but he is the one that is lingering with me, making me lose sleep at night, motivating me to do more... not because of him necessarily (he gets a happy ending), but because of the class of dogs he represents and how hopeless the situation appears for that class of dogs.

His story... Brute (now Sirius) lived with a woman in TN. This woman never treated her dogs very well, and rescuers had pulled dogs from her before that were starving. It begs the quesiton why some people even get dogs? Anyways, woman decides to move, and "asks" her son to come take care of Sirius until he can find him a new home. Son does not do this. Sirius is left tied up in woman's yard, uncared for (except just enough to survive on from neighbors) for the majority of the summer (think how hot it was).

Good hearted dog people who also do rescue take him from the yard and he is in horrible condition. Emaciated, COVERED in ticks (handfulls of black tick soot or whatever it is called...unbelievable amounts), but still sweet as can be. They take him home to OK for 2 days, contact HBMDC rescue who is willing to take him. I am taking my bar exam, but follow the emails, volunteer to go pick him up the day after and take him from Wichita to North KC.

We did the transfer in Wichita, and I was shocked to see what he looked like. I've never seen a dog in that bad of shape in person. He clung to either car (not picky) to soak up the A/C. When we walked him, he calmly clung to our legs, wagged his tail... to be perfectly honest, I think his temperment was more solid/friendly than any of my 3 dogs who would not be thrilled about getting in a car with a stranger (except for Lemon who would be crazy).

On the ride from Wichita to North KC, he laid in the back floor of the truck and didn't move for the whole trip. He never once stood up, didn't look out the window... just laid in the same position, sleeping off and on. Throughout the trip I would reach back and poke him a little, just to make sure he was still with me. When we got to North KC (met a transfer who would take him the rest of the way to Des Moines) and I got him out of the car for a potty break, I was shocked all over again to see what he really looked like. But again, he clung to me while we walked around the grass, and was as sweet as you could ever hope he would be. I was afraid someone would call the police while we were there, but no one did... Hopefully the reason was it was obvious he was on transport, not that people didn't care.

The pictures below show how thin he was. But there was something about touching his coat that really brought home just what bad shape he was in. His coat was coarse to the touch, sunburned red, and you couldn't touch his coat without feeling the handfulls of grit and dirt, caused by fleas and ticks. However, Sirius was taken to the vet who runs the HBMDC rescue, got healthy, and ended up in a wonderful home.

Unfortunately, after leaving Sirius in North KC with the vet tech, my day did not end. Chris and I drove to rural MO that evening to pick up the motor home (which had been broken down a few weeks back, different story) from a tow yard. The tow yard was at a man's house, the man wasn't there yet. Chris and I step out of the car, and don't make it more than a few feet before we start hearing dogs barking. I walk to the outside kennel and see two labs in separate runs. They are thankfully well fed and have water, but their runs are filled with feces and... they live in runs. After spending the day with Sirius, I shake my head but remind myself that at least they seem healthy enough.

About an hour later, a cat comes limping out from the tow yard ("must have been bit by something"), with a foot that has obviously been flattened by something. The cat is yowling every step it takes, and I'm looking at this guy telling him he needs to get the cat to the vet. He dismissively says he will... a certain kind of rural mentality. At that point, I'm looking around and off into the distance at his neighbors in rural Missouri... wondering how far away I am from the closest Sirius, tied up and slowly starving to death, how far I am from the closest puppy mill... 20 mile radius? 10? 5? 1? Probably.

I don't think the people are bad people by any means, but they have a mentaltiy about their animals that I don't agree with and that I hope will change in the future. I'm not surprised by that... my folks grew up in rural Missouri, and while their perspectives have certainly evolved throughout their lives, when remembering visits to grandparents as a child, it is easy to see that the people in their community continue to have a different perspective on animals.

I read a line in a book recently that stuck out to me, so much that I just flipped back through the book to find it, and then was surprised at how unremarkable it actually is. But the quote is from a vet in a fictional book, "This is Maine. We have people who still think that taking care of a dog means chaining it up in the backyard and throwing food to it once a day." I don't know anything about Maine, but I do think that expresses the problem. People lack compassion for dogs and their needs, which are both physical and mental, because they don't see dogs as thinking, feeling beings. Those of us who have close relationships with our dogs understand that not to be the case and have a very different understanding of how deeply they feel.

I'm not saying you can never have an outside dog. I don't think it is ideal for the dog as they won't be getting the necessary socialization, however I think an outside dog that recieves daily attention, clean living space, clean food and water and vet attention is okay, and certainly in a better situation than most. I understand that some dogs enjoy living outside. Some dogs are true working dogs, not pets/companions, and so they live outside. If they are being used in the way that they were bred for and are being challenged and mentally satisfied through their work, then I think that is ok.

I'm not quite sure where this blog is going, other than to get out all the frustrations of the past few weeks. But, I'll end with this story and my response. The Berner-L was up in arms a few weeks ago because a man drove to the mall, left his golden mix and chihuahua mix in the car, they over heated and the golden died. By up in arms, I mean there were threats of a planned seige upon his home... really enraged by what he did. I never responded, but here is what I wanted to say...

Granted, he made a stupid mistake... perhaps didn't know how quickly cars heated? But I strongly doubt he maliciously brought his dogs to the mall, then left them in the car so they could die a slow death in which they would draw attention to other mall-goers at which point he would be arrested and charged with animal cruelty. The more likely scenario is that he brought his dogs along for a car ride, didn't understand how quickly cars heat up, then was shocked/grieved to find out what happened. At the end of the day, my feeling was that while of course you shouldn't leave a dog in a hot car, at least he cared enough about his dogs to bring them along for the ride. Its a little bit of a sad and jaded place to be (especially since I'm not really the jaded type), but at some point you start to measure people's bad acts towards animals against each other... saying this is really bad, this is kinda bad, this isn't perfect but better than kinda bad, etc... and the whole situation is really overwhelming. It is getting more difficult for me to think about the individuals rather than the situation as a whole, which is much more disheartening.

But enough negative blogging for the day. Remember that for Sirius, all is well, and that sometimes it is important to look at the individual cases. Even one less dog sitting in that type of situation is nothing but a success. On a happier note, next blog with be swimming lesson pictures!