Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Whoops. I kind of took a little blog vacation there. I didn't intend to, but life has been crazy. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like it will be looking up any time soon. One of my coworkers is out on maternity leave, and I've taken about a third of her caseload. The extra cash will be nice, but it's been crazy busy, and it's only just begun. I do intend to keep blogging through it all, but either the quantity or the quality (or both!) will suffer, so bear with me. 

In the meantime, here's a video from the weekend. Maisy loves to chase/snap at waves. To be honest, I'm not sure if she's just playing, or if there's also some mild OCD/light chasing going on here. I'm not worried about it- she's not compulsive about it- but she does have a history of light chasing, and there are a few moments on the video that make me wonder.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lunch on the Patio

I hope you'll forgive me for posting so many brags lately. It's just that Maisy has become a far more normal dog than I ever expected, and I don't want to take it for granted. A few weeks ago, we did something I never thought would be possible: we ate lunch on a restaurant patio.

Maisy was a little super star. I tethered her to my chair, put a blanket down for her, and she just... laid there. Okay, and she begged a little for food, but I mean... this is Maisy we're talking about, the world's most spoiled dog. Heck, restaurants are for eating, right?

But she also chilled, just hanging out like she'd done this every day of her life. The restaurant patio was actually just on the sidewalk, with no barrier between the tables and the world at large. She watched people walk by, bicyclists speed past, and cars and trucks on the road. She saw other people eating. She flirted with our server. And she was a very good girl.

I have invested a lot in this silly little dog; lots of time and money, plenty of tears and frustration, and... it's all paying off. I am so proud of us both.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Watch Your Thoughts

I’d like to tell you a story today. It’s about a dog named Jeffrey. Jeffrey is a young dog, just barely past adolescence. I don’t know his breed, but that’s not important, because it’s his deeds that matter for this story. You see, Jeffrey is powerful and aggressive, and over the course of the last year or so, he's killed 29 dogs. What’s more, he’s been threatening humans, and it seems inevitable that it’s only a matter of time before he severely injures a person.

I don’t know much about his past. It’s easy to assume that his owners must have done something to create such an unsafe dog. Whether they did or not is immaterial; Jeffrey clearly has a genetic component to his aggression. His brain just isn’t right.

In short, he’s one of those dogs that just can’t be saved. I think it’s safe to say that if he isn’t euthanized, then some very good long-term management (probably a sanctuary of some kind) is in order to keep others safe. Most people who’ve heard about Jeffrey agree. Surprisingly, though, a lot of those people want him to suffer. Put a muzzle on him and let his ears be torn off. Break his legs. Let him be savaged as he savaged others.

Pretty horrifying, right? I hope that you, dear readers, agree with me when I say that doing so would serve no purpose. That Jeffrey is unlikely to learn from the experience, and that despite the terrible things he’s done, he deserves to be treated humanely. After all, whether he was abused or just has a screwed-up brain, he still doesn’t deserve to be betrayed by people like that.

Now, what if I told you that Jeffrey is actually a person?

I ran across Jeffrey's story recently. Please, don’t click on that link. The story is absolutely horrifying, and I really wish I hadn’t read it. I literally felt sick as I read the terrible things this man did. Keep that in mind as you read the rest of this entry, because I am in no way condoning the evil this man has done.

As much as Jeffrey’s acts upset me, the comments on the article upset me even more. While I certainly understand people’s reactions, some of the suggestions are disturbing. There is no question that this man did terrible things, and honestly, I think it’s a pretty natural and instinctive reaction to want others to suffer when they are so intentionally cruel. But that doesn’t make it right. No matter what a person has done, they don’t deserve cruelty in return.

At the very core of my worldview is this: all people are basically good, and that despite the very terrible things they may do, they deserve to be treated kindly. Many religious traditions agree; from the Buddhist concept of ahimsa (do no harm) to the Christian belief that man was created in G-d’s image, there is a long tradition of compassion and forgiveness. When we hear about such unspeakable evil- like this man Jeffrey committed- it is okay to feel sick. It is okay to be angry. It is okay to be outraged. But it is not okay to do evil in response to evil.

It is clear to me that this man’s brain is not normal. It seems unlikely that he could ever live normally in the community. It is imperative that we keep society safe from him. But it’s not okay to torture him. Because if we do, how are we any different than him?

For those of you who would argue that there’s a huge difference between the comments people left and the things Jeffrey did, I’d like you to consider these words from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

He says it far better than I ever could. The distance between thoughts and destiny is not so far. Strive for kindness and compassion in your life. Be as positive with people as you would be with dogs. And above all, my friends, watch your thoughts.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Happy Birthday, Buzz!

My friend Megan's dog Buzz turned 14 this weekend, so we did what normal people do: had a birthday party for him! The party was on Megan's farm, 80 acres of (legal) off-leash goodness. The dogs had a great time tromping around:

Why yes, that is my "reactive" dog hanging out in a big group of dogs. Most of the dogs are ones she'd met before: Buzz the English Springer Spaniel (of course!), his sister Bailey, Lance the Corgi, Vito the Toller, and Trout the North American Yodelhound puppy (also known as Mischief). Dogs she hadn't met before included Piper the boxer and Allister the adorable corgi-mix-thing. I wanted to steal him. Not in the video were Zuma, the fastest dog I've ever met, and Coda, a flat-coat retriever. Maisy had met both of them before, although it had been a long time since she'd seen Coda.

After the huge group hike and playtime in the field, we went back to the house and grilled hot dogs and drank adult beverages and attempted to have a bonfire in the rain. (As it turns out, you can roast marshmallows over a gas stove just as well.) Maisy wandered around, attempting to sucker people out of food. I think she was successful.

Later, the most confusing thing ever happened:

Yup, she fell asleep. She was exhausted after all that fun, I guess, because she fell asleep despite the fact that there were other dogs around and we were in a relatively new environment (she'd been to Megan's once before, but it was over a year ago).

I'm pretty proud of my Maisy. She has come so far in the last few years.

Friday, May 4, 2012

How Stress Affects the Body: A Personal Story

Let me preface today's post by saying that everyone is okay.

On Sunday night, I went to bed like I normally do. I fed the cats, gave Maisy her medication, and set my alarm. Around 2am, I woke up to a loud banging noise. Initially, I thought the cats knocked something over, but the banging noise didn't stop. A quick investigation revealed that someone was pounding on my door, which made me worry that perhaps one of my neighbors needed help.

It wasn't a neighbor. Instead, I found a strange man trying to break into my house.

He was young- late teens or early twenties, maybe- screaming hysterically, and hitting and kicking my front door so hard that it left indentations. He banged on the windows, though thankfully they didn't break. His hands were covered in blood (which was probably the result of shattering our front porch light), and he wanted in.

It was terrifying.

I called 911. Just before the police could get here, the stranger disappeared around the side of the house. We couldn't see where he'd gone, which was actually scarier than when he was right in front of us. We didn't know if he was trying to get in another way, or if was going to escape entirely, free to terrorize us another day.

We later found out that he'd gone to our neighbor's house, broke a window, and crawled into their 8-year-old son's bed. I still can't decide which is worse: being a child and waking up with a blood-covered crazy person in your bed, or being a parent and waking up to discover a blood-covered crazy person in your kid's bed.

After the man was safely contained, the police told us that he was just really, really high, to the point that he was having hallucinations. He thought someone was after him and he was just trying to hide from them.

Like I said, everyone was physically fine, although we were all a bit shaken up. Needless to say, it's incredibly unsettling to have an experience like that, and I think it was possibly the scariest night of my life.

Even though I was exhausted it took me over two hours before I could even think about sleeping again. When I finally tried laying down, my body felt tense, and it was another hour before I finally dozed off. I slept lightly, and jerked awake over every little sound.

The next day- Monday- was terrible. My stomach hurt something awful, and I couldn't eat. I went to work, but had trouble concentrating all day. I felt preoccupied and easily distracted. I'm not sure I got much done. That night was even harder. I had a hard time getting to sleep, and I woke up in the middle of the night, desperately thirsty, but afraid to get out of bed. I know it wasn't logical, but I was worried that if I got up, it might cause a crazy guy to start pounding on my door. I went back to sleep without a drink.

I woke up on Tuesday morning absolutely exhausted. I think I was actually more tired that day than the day before. While it was easier for me to focus on my work, I noticed that I was incredibly irritable. I'm normally quite patient with my most mentally ill and high-maintenance client, but I found it hard to deal with him all day long. That evening, I had to teach a dog training class. My brain was fried, and my co-instructor had to do all the work. By the time I got home, I was on the verge of tears. That night was a little easier. I wasn't afraid to move around my house during the night, although it was really hard to open the back door so Maisy could go potty at bed time.

Wednesday- three days after the initial event- was better, but I still wasn't myself. I was tired and withdrawn, mildly irritable, and a bit teary eyed. I didn't have much trouble sleeping, and I definitely didn't feel as fearful as the previous two nights.

Still, I didn't feel completely normal until Thursday afternoon, which was about 84 hours after I was woken up by the banging on my front door.

Before this week, I thought I knew about stress. I've talked about how stress affects the body. I've told training students how it takes an average of 72 hours for the stress hormones to leave their dogs' bodies after they go over threshold. I've written about how I allow Maisy a week of downtime after a stressful event. But I never really understood what it's like.

Well let me tell you what it's like: it's awful. Even though I was never in any real danger (remember, the stranger was scared himself and was trying to hide), I didn't know that at the time. But even after I knew I was safe, I didn't feel much better. In a way, I was being held hostage by stress hormones.

How much worse must it be for our dogs? They don't know that whatever is scaring them and causing them to react isn't actually dangerous. Everything in their bodies is telling them that death is imminent. What's more, they don't have the language needed for us to be able to tell them that they're okay now. They can only trust that we will keep them safe.

I have a new level of empathy for Maisy and the dogs that I work with now. How awful must it be to live in a world where Sunday night happens multiple times a week? Where the people they must depend on continually thrust them into terrifying situations? And where they are constantly experiencing the restlessness, stomach upset, difficulty concentrating, and irritability that comes along with stress?

One week was bad enough. I can't imagine living life like that.