June 23, 2012

Which Wolf Will YOU feed?

A thought occurred to me out of the blue a week or so ago, when I was turning over an oft-said rescue-cliche in my head.

"It should be about the dogs."

Frankly, I have long disagreed with this statement, and didn't even consciously realize it.

But after thinking about all the supportive people I have met over the past few years; all the people who continue to donate toward our foster dogs so we can continue our mission; those who offer their time and gas to transport dogs to their adoptive and foster homes; and those who are simply a soundboard during my hardest days; I have decided that it truly should never be just about the dogs.

As if right on cue with my thoughts, I just finished reading a ground-breaking book, titled Plenty in Life is Free, by world-renowned animal behaviorist Kathy Sdao. This is an incredible piece of literature that challenges the well-intentioned Nothing In Life Is Free philosophy.  Plenty in Life is Free teaches us instead to develop partnerships with our dogs where we are skilled and frequent reinforcers instead of strict leaders that ask dogs to earn every privilege.

Although a riveting book, I never expected it to have anything relevant to the thoughts swirling around in my head about rescue not being just about the dogs.

But on the last page-and-a-half of the book, Kathy Sdao reached right through the pages and she smacked me with her wisdom. She too, once found a similar sentiment of human-loathing humorous: "The more people I meet, the more I like my dog." But like any self-improving person, she adjusted her thinking so she could more successfully reach people, and incidentally, more dogs.

On this last page, she shared a Cherokee parable:

"... a young Cherokee man [was] brought before the tribal elders who were concerned about his aggressive tendencies. One of the elders takes the young man aside and tells him that his anger is understandable, since all humans have within them two wolves. One wolf is generous, humble, and open-hearted. The other is aggressive, arrogant, and selfish. The two wolves are in constant battle with one another, since neither is powerful enough to destroy the other. The young man asks, "But which wolf will win?" The elder replies, the one you feed."

Imagine if each of us chose instead to feed the "generous, humble, and open-hearted" wolf? As rescuers, as dog trainers, as animal professionals in any capacity, we are in an ideal position to reach so many people and in turn, improve the lives of their dogs. Which is more productive - to ask our fellow animal welfare soldiers to constantly earn our accolades and respect (as in NILIF); or to develop mutually beneficial relationships in which we strive to improve each other's well-being (as Sdao's PILIF)?

Improving each other's well being in rescue? How empowering, and yet how simple. Applying positive reinforcement techniques - reinforcing "good" behaviors and ignoring the "bad" behaviors - could potentially will allow us to accomplish so much more.

The dogs we share our lives with are not perfect, but then, - a better, more accurate cliche - neither are we. We all learn through the experiences that "work" for us; the "ah ha!" moments; the instants when all of our hard work has finally paid off and we have achieved something wonderful.

Carolina Care Bullies wants to achieve something wonderful, and those that are "skilled and frequent reinforcers" will continue to be our primary and most successful partners in reaching that goal.

June 11, 2012

Volunteer Spotlight: Megan Davis

Volunteer Spotlight: Megan Davis

I have raised several different wonderful dogs over the course of my 28 yrs, with my family and on my own.  These dogs ranged from Labrador Retriever mixes to golden retriever mixes to a Pomeranian to a cocker spaniel.  However, I always had a soft spot in my heart for these powerful working/family dogs known as Pit Bulls, whom have been so undeservedly misrepresented by so many people.  When I would have the pleasure of encountering a Pit Bull with their responsible family members they would always be so happy to make a new friend and in many instances would try to get in my lap if they could.  Having never had the opportunity to raise a Pit Bull personally, the only opportunity I had prior to my volunteer and fostering experience through CCB, to gain interaction with and credible knowledge of the breed was through personal research and from other responsible pet owners who did have the pleasure of having them in their lives.  I never really knew how to go about finding the best way that I could be productive in my desire to help make a difference.  It was late October 2011 and I was walking through brier creek in Raleigh, NC and CCB happened to be having their final adoption event in that location.  I met Kendall and Chloe, the Kardashian pups, and the wonderful Lt. Dan whom I just fell in love with on the spot.  I also met Amanda and Terry and several other fosters and volunteers that were participating with this event.  I ended up having such a good experience with everyone that I stayed until the event ended and I took a business card home, found the Carolina care bullies Facebook page, and became a fan.  A few weeks later I saw a post stating the immediate need of a crate for a foster dog over the next few days.  I happened to have my crate free during that time, so I contacted CCB and coordinated with current volunteers to get the crate to the person who needed it that same night.  This was my very first experience as an official volunteer with CCB.  Since that night I have had the pleasure of even more opportunities to contribute, participate and learn from others, directly as a foster and indirectly as a volunteer.  I learned how I can be productive and help better the lives of many of the wonderful dogs CCB has had the pleasure of knowing and I have gained the knowledge to educate others about these dogs and how CCB also helps better these dogs’ lives. I have participated in adoption and community education events within my local community and a wonderful community outreach program that CCB conducts each year called Pitt Bulls in the Park.  This event educates and assists as many people as possible that need and want it.  This was one of the most wonderful experiences I have ever been fortunate enough to be a part of.  I have been fortunate enough to have fostered 2 wonderful baby bullies and help them find their families. I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to participate with so many other great people to help make a positive difference in North Carolina for these wonderful furry friends.

June 8, 2012

Featured Happy Ending: Capo

Featured Happy Ending: Capo

     Capo's life didn't start out so great: He was picked up by animal control with his mom and sister, given the number 550 and was destined for a terrible fate.  In fact his mother & sister met that sad fate.  But something was special about Capo.  He was pulled into the Vet Tech program only to be placed back on the euth list a few days later.  That bought him some vital time.  His picture was posted around the foster networks.  A lovely shelter worker named Jenn was trying her best to get him out of there. That one kind act set everything else in to motion... 

     Enter the next angel in Capo's life, Shana Markwis.  Shana is a foster for Carolina Care Bullies and noticed Capo's photograph the night she had given away her last foster to a forever family.  Out of all the dogs flooding her inbox, something about Capo stuck with her.  In his intake photo he looks sad, scared, filthy.  His notes said "animal aggressive, resource guarder, shy."  Shana, always fighting for the underdog couldn't let this guy die because of a few bad marks.  She emailed the shelter worker that night at 11pm, with just a few hours left until he was supposed to die.  
     The shelter gave him his shots, had him neutered, and on February 21, 2012, Capo was free.  But what kind of freedom would this be?  Capo wasn't the super happy-go-lucky, giddy to be out of jail dog.  No...he was broken.  When Shana went to pick him up, he was stiff, unflinching, nervous.  He couldn't let his guard down.  Shana noticed his bottom canine tooth missing a small hole in his tongue....what kind of life had this poor guy had??  But all that changed very quickly. 
      Once Capo settled in to his new home, he was a completely different dog.  A wagging tail that swings like a baseball bat, a goofy wiggle that you cannot help but laugh at no matter how many times you've seen it, a silly personality full of quirks.  Capo opened up.  He began to really LIVE.  Those notes on him became curious to Shana...he was never aggressive towards her two cats, never became possessive over toys or food.  It's interesting that dogs are labeled without thinking about the REASON for their behavior.  If you were shoved into a prison (filled with scary people, sounds and smells) with your mom & sister, wouldn't it be normal for you to become protective? And couldn't that be read as aggression?  Don't let those labels scare you off....take them into consideration, but a dog is much much more than its shelter notes.

      After a month at Shana's, Capo was really thriving....that's when we came in.  Jillian and I had been talking about adopting a pit bull for a while.  We knew their maligned history and we knew what amazing pets they can be.  So we started looking.  And of course if you're in NC looking to adopt a pit bull, you come across Carolina Care Bullies.  As we started looking over the dogs, we knew the number one thing that was important to us: a cat friendly dog.  Jillian has had her cat, Jennifur, for 10 years and nothing can come between her and that kitty.  When we clicked on Capo's profile the first line read in all caps "SUPER CAT FRIENDLY" and of course that made us read further.  Capo seemed perfect.  We emailed CCB and started a correspondence with Shana.  I cannot give her enough credit.  She is an angel on earth for these dogs.  She answered every question I had with thorough and detailed answers....we felt like we already knew Capo before we had even met him!
      The day we went to pick him up we were a bit nervous.  What if he didn't like us?  What if he cried nonstop?  What if he did go after the cat?  All that was cast away as soon as we met him.  He was so excited to meet us and jumped right in the car.  He never whined, never cried.  He just gave Jillian hell in the back seat because he wanted to smell every inch of the car!  We got him home and immediately went into a 2 Week Shutdown (recommended and explained by Shana of course!).  I cannot begin to explain how grateful we are that we did this.  I now tell EVERY new dog owner I know that it is the best thing they can do for themselves and their dog. 

     We've had Capo for about 2 months now and he's changed our lives so much.  I've become a much more patient person since Capo does not respond to a loud voice in a submissive way...he actually gets more excited! If I yell "No!!" his tail starts wagging & he thinks its play time!!  So we've learned that discipline is a quiet process, not a loud one.  We know every bite mark on his head from whatever bad thing took his tooth out.  We know every spot on his wiggly butt.  We know every bark ("Play with me!", "Who's that!!", "Back off!").  The 2 Week Shutdown was invaluable.  We didn't hear him bark for 2 weeks!  Now he definitely let's us know when he's ready to play!  He loves to fetch with tennis balls & bumpers, and when he's tired, he let's us know by lying down & have some grass as a snack.  He wants so badly to be friends with Jennifur, even though every time he tries to gently sniff her she smacks him in the face.  She runs off and he just watches her go with a look on his face that says "Well maybe tomorrow then..."  I can take every toy & every treat/bowl of food away and he patiently waits for me to give it back.  And if I put his toy up, he simply waits as if to say "OK Daddy, what next?"   
     Sometimes he likes to jump up on the recliner with me or on the couch with Jillian and just nap with us.  Other times he likes to climb all over us and lick our ears clean.  At night he likes to lick my feet until I can't stop laughing.  We call that a "pit bull pedicure."  He'll happily lie down with a rawhide or romp around outside and roll in the grass.  He's a fantastic pet with all the energy, quirks, kisses, stubbornness and affection one could expect from ANY dog.  But he's OUR dog.  And we are so lucky to have him.  
     Honestly, when we first adopted Capo, I would look at him & think "That's our PIT BULL".  Now I just think "That's our BIG GOOFY DOG".  I don't even see the breed anymore.  With Capo being as shy as he is, I'm continually amazed by the amount of patience & restraint he shows in stressful situations.  And thanks to the 2 Week Shutdown, he always looks to US before reacting himself.  We are continually learning his motivation & fears.  And he is continually teaching us how to be better people.  
      So thank you Carolina Care Bullies, thank you Shana, thank you Jenn and thank you Capo for enriching our lives in ways we never expected.