Friday, October 28, 2011

Going to Grammie's

I grew up on Greentree Road, in the farm house where my Dad was raised. Across the street, lived my dad's parents - my Grammie and Pop-pop. Growing up, I saw them several times every week, either for lunch or dinner or just to visit. I spent every Sunday with them at church, every holiday, every birthday, sick days from school, vacation days and every day during the summer.

I learned a lot of things from my Grammie and Pop-Pop. I was the only granddaughter and so I got all my Grammie's attention when it came to crafts. She taught me how to needlepoint, knit and crochet. Every summer I'd have a project and Grammie would help me with it. I remember running errands with her. Even thought it was just a normal day doing regular things, I loved being with her. Pop-Pop came home every day for lunch and we'd sit in the kitchen, watching Action News at noon and he'd drink his grapefruit juice I would cry at the end of the summer when I had to go back to school because I would miss my time with Grammie.

When I was sick, Grammie knew how to make me feel better. When I wanted to go play with my friends for the 5th day in a row, Grammie would make me stay home and told me that I needed to learn to be okay by myself. I watched her take care of everyone we knew, she was the most giving, self-less person I ever knew.

Grammie is really funny and always has great stories about when she was young. I could listen to her all day long. I just like being with her.

For as long as I can remember, Grammie and Pop-Pop would spend some time every winter in Florida. It started as just the month of February and as the years went on, they stayed longer. After Pop-Pop passed away, Grammie bought a place in Sarasota and started spending more time there. Then, a couple years ago, she sold her home in New Jersey and moved to Florida permanently. I always wanted to go visit, but never had. This weekend, after 37 years, I am finally going to visit Grammie in Florida!!

I see Grammie usually about once a year, but its never been at her place in Sarasota. Trevor is staying home to work the store and take care of the pets. I can only be gone for a couple days, so it will be a short trip, but I am so grateful that I get to go.

Last time I saw her was about a year ago at my nephew's 1st birthday.

Grammie is my favorite person and when I am around her I feel better about myself and about the world. I can't wait to pull into her driveway and see her come running out to meet me (that's what she always does - she runs to meet me when we visit - she always has)! I can't wait to see what her life is like now. She is always so busy going and doing new and fun things. She says that when you stop learning, that's when you get old and she's not ready to get old yet. I love her. And so I am thrilled to be able to say that I won't be around this weekend, because I am going to Grammie's!!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lethal White

Our dog, Asha, is a blind and deaf Australian Shepherd. Before we found her at the Humane Society, we had never heard of such a thing. We did some research before we adopted her and have continued doing research since she became part of our family.

At first, we thought it was just a fluke - her blind and deafness. Then we realized that there is actually a term for dogs like her - Lethal Whites - and they are a problem among Australian Shepherd breeders. There are multiple colors of this breed. One of those colors is called Merle. When two Merle color dogs are bred, 25% of the time, the puppies will be blind and deaf or both. These blind/deaf dogs are called Double Merle or Lethal Whites. The term Lethal White can be misleading - you may think the the blind/deaf puppies don't survive long after birth due to genetics. The truth is that most of them don't survive because their breeders kill them when they realize they are blind and deaf.

Keep in mind, that breeders sell dogs for money. Many breeders will not sell "defective" dogs. Responsible breeders would never allow merle to merle breeding. I am not an advocate for breeding at all - there are far too many animals in shelters. But that's not what I am discussing here. Sadly, not all breeders are responsible.

None of this had occurred to us when we went to meet Asha. After we had decided we wanted her to come live with us, we asked the shelter workers how Asha came to be at there. They told us that when her breeder realized the entire litter of puppies was deaf and blind, he started drowning them - one by one. His wife saved Asha and two others - but the shelter could only take one. Asha is only alive because she wasn't the closet one to her breeder when he reached in to grab a puppy to drown. She is only alive because she was the lucky one of the three surviving pups to be taken in at the shelter.

Most people have said to us "what do you do with a blind and deaf dog. If they can't see and hear, what else is there?" Well, there's lots. She lives a very full, fun life and she is amazingly smart. She has only lived with us for three months, but I know we already take for granted the things she does. Here are just a few examples:

-she knows when its bedtime, we let her out to pee, then she comes back in and walks right to the stairs, goes up the stairs, turns left at the top, then turns right into the bedroom without hitting a wall or tripping on a stair.
-when we come home from our walks, she starts lifting her paws higher in anticipation for the front stairs.
-she runs out the back door and slows slightly at the edge of the deck before she launches off it just like our two dogs who can see do.
-every day when I leave home, I put her toys out around the house for her to find. She knows one of my favorite spots to put a toy is on the front couch and she goes right to the couch and looks for a toy when she realizes it is that time.

The list goes on and on. There are a hundred little things that she knows. Some we taught her, others she just knows. She loves to play with Buster and Maggie. She knows where they like to lay and will walk right over to those spots and start to play with them. Sometimes when she is near them, she'll put her paw on their back, just to keep track of where they are. And when we walk them all together, she likes to be between Maggie and Buster so she knows where we are going.

She is anxious and she requires more patience than I have, but she is becoming a really great dog. Having her has allowed my eyes to be opened to so many things. Before, I never wanted to know any details about the sad things that happen to animals. I worried that if I knew what went on in shelters or dog fighting operations, I would never get the images out of my mind. And I was right. I have slowly started to read things, to allow myself to become knowledgeable about what really happens. Many times I cry my eyes out while I am reading, most times it takes days for me to be able to stop thinking about what I have learned. It occurred to me that if I don't know, I won't help. Now that I know, there are things I can do. I can help other people have the courage to know too, because once we all really KNOW what goes on and how awful much of it is, we can change it. I don't want to say "there isn't anything I can do about it so I'd rather now know", anymore.

Here is a quote from a rescue group that I follow in Arizona called Amazing Aussies:

It is estimated that there are something like 4000 of these "Lethal Whites" born in the US every year. Approximately 2500 of these are silently suffocated, drowned, frozen, etc., in the privacy of the breeder's home or facility, and never have a chance. Of the 1500 or so that are dumped alive at the pound, in garbage cans and dumpsters, on the street or offered "for adoption" (sadly many are used as bait for dogfighting) on Craig's list, we are able to bring into the group around 100 a year, save perhaps that many again by assisting with placements in other parts of the country, and adopt out 60 to 80. We fight this fight every day and have done so for nearly 2 decades. It is time that people got outraged about this kind of cruelty, and ask their politicians to step up, regulate animal breeding, and made this kind of inhumane conduct illegal!'

As you read, some of these dogs have a fate worse than an early death. Blind/Deaf Aussies are favorite of people who run dog fighting operations. They find these dogs in shelters or more often on Craig's List and use them as bait because they don't know what's happening and can't fight back. That makes me sick to my stomach everytime I think about it or read about it because I have seen how Asha reacts when one of the other dogs gets annoyed and snaps at her. She gets this confused look on her face because she didn't see or hear the cues that they were annoyed with her. And that's what these sick monsters want.

The rarity of dogs like Asha is why it is so incredibly difficult to find information and help on how to raise her. So we do the best we can and hope that some day in the future, there won't be dogs like Asha and if there are - the people responsible will be punished and the dogs will have a safe, loving home to go to, instead of being drowned, shot or worse. We owe that to Asha's little brothers and sisters.

I encourage you to let yourself know the things you don't think you want to know. Once you do, you will find that you can't turn a blind eye anymore. When that time comes, the world will be a better place.
That's what Asha is dreaming about...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Happy Pitbull Awareness Day

Today is National Pitbull Awareness Day and Maggie wants to celebrate! Her bag says "earth day, every day" but what she really means is "pitbull awareness day, every day"

We adopted Maggie for a local rescue group two years ago. Trevor fell in love with her profile picture. He especially loved her ears. He found her in a search for an Australian Shepherd. He wanted a dog he could run with. Maggie was listed as an Australian Shepherd - Greyhound Mix.

Maggie was 7 months old, she had been born to a stray dog who lived in someone's back yard. The people gave away all the other puppies, but kept Maggie in their back yard. They never named her and they would just throw food out to her - "the cheapest food" was what they put on the Humane Society intake form. Maggie was so scared of everything that she couldn't be kept in the shelter. She was placed in foster care.

Maggie spent a week in Foster care before we met her. When she arrived at her foster home, she wouldn't walk on a leash and she was scared of everything. Her foster family showed her love and patience. They had a big black Rottweiler who took Maggie under her wing and showed her how to be a dog.

At the time, I was working at The Oregonian and Trevor was working one of our stores. He started emailing me pictures of Maggie. We already had two dog and I wasn't really sure why he thought we needed a third. On a Saturday night we were sitting on the couch and Trevor texted me a picture of Maggie. I said "you are acting like I said we can't get her. If you want her, send in an application". So he did and the next day we went to meet Maggie. I knew we'd bring her home with us, we aren't the kind of people who look at a dog and don't fall in love.

When we got to the foster's home, they said "All day long, we've been telling Maggie that her people are coming". That made me want to cry. I sat and visited with Maggie. She was nervous and quiet, didn't really want any attention paid to her. We took her for a walk and then we brought her home. I cried as we pulled away from her Foster Parent's house because I couldn't believe they could let her go. I was so grateful to them for saving her and teaching her the things she needed to know.

She sat on Trevor's lap on the way home, not sure what was going on.
Our other two dogs - Opal and Wookie took right away to Maggie. Well, Opal did. Wookie didn't really care either way. We took them all for a walk so that they'd know she was part of our family now.

Maggie was quite a challenge for us. We hadn't taken into account the fact that she was a puppy. Plus she was scared. When she needed to go outside to go to the bathroom, we had to go with her. She was scared - so we would go stand in the middle of the yard, usually in the pouring rain. We did that for probably a month until she wasn't afraid anymore.

She LOVED to snuggle on the couch with us. She still does - she'll curl up right next to you, bury her head under the blanket and go right to sleep. She went everywhere with us and was very happy to do so.
After about a week, we noticed Maggie had a little bald patch on her paw. We asked our vet about it and the vet said "that's very typical of the pitbull breed." Trevor and I were like "excuse me?" and he said "oh yeah, she's a pitbull". We loved her already so we didn't care, but honestly I did wonder a bit. Pitbulls have a pretty bad reputation. But Maggie didn't have any of the characteristics that you think of when you hear pitbull. She wasn't aggressive or stand off-ish. She was not a fighter, that is for sure.

We didn't think much else about it. Every once in a while, people would be nervous around her. I had a customer and her 4 year old son come into the store one day when Maggie was there with me. Maggie walked over and wanted to meet her son. She got between Maggie and her son and was acting very afraid. I didn't know who was more scared - her or Maggie. That was the first time I realized that people could be afraid of her.

Maggie was very destructive as a puppy. She got into everything and tore it apart, but never any aggression. She was great at the dog park, great with people. We only ever saw any glimpse of dog aggression when she had a toy. She did not want any other dog to take her toy or her treat. When Wookie started to get sick, he didn't want anything to do with Maggie and that made Maggie so sad. All she wanted was to be Wookie's friend. He would growl at her and she would crawl over to him on her belly, get right in his face and roll over on her back while pawing at him. That's not dog aggression. Not even close. She was also very submissive to Opal.

I see so many stories about Pitbulls and how aggressive they are. I see lots of cities making it illegal to own a pitbull. It makes me sad because I don't believe there can be a bad breed of dogs. It has a lot to do with the owner. That goes for any sort of dog. For example, we know that Maggie was get upset when it comes to toys and treats - so we have removed these stimuli from her. We don't give any of our dogs toys when they are all together. It doesn't matter what kind of dog you have, you must know its temperment and act accordingly. There are lots of dogs out there who don't like kids or cats or other dogs. Not just Pitbulls. As a responsible owner, its your job to keep your dog safe. Our dog Opal was very aggressive towards small animals, so we kept her seperated from our cats for her whole life. She was a cattle dog.

I hear people say that pitbulls were bred to fight and that they aren't happy unless they are fighting. This is simply not true. From every dog fighting story I have ever read, the dogs were scared and submissive when they were rescued. Some dogs end up being killed because they won't fight. Most of the dogs who are rescued from these situations carry emotional scarring with them that is far worse than the physical scars.

Having Maggie as a part of our family has allowed my eyes to be opened to all the horrendous things that animals - especially pitbulls - endure. When I hear about these things, I look at Maggie and I think of them happening to her. I often hug her and tell her how sorry I am that humans can be so cruel. Most of the time, Maggie is a super happy dog. I don't know exactly what happened to Maggie before she came to live with us - but she is still, after two years, very nervous about certain things. If I am upstairs and I yell down to Trevor, Maggie cowers. If I kick something, Maggie cowers. If I throw a towel onto the floor, Maggie cowers. She is getting better, but the people who had her for the first 7 months of her life certainly didn't show her any love. We are making up for lost time on that one.
Our family is better because of Maggie. My heart is bigger because of Maggie and my life is full of happiness because of Maggie. I love this dog with everything I have, every piece of my being and I would do anything to keep her safe.

She thinks we should celebrate today. So we will. Maggie....we love you, always have, always will.

Here is great video that shows the history of Pitbulls. I especially love the story of Hector - one of Michael Vick's dogs.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Guest Blogger...Asha

Its been a little more than a month since my last post, so I figured it was time for an update.
here is my last post from September.

I've been living with my family for a little more than 3 months now and things just keep getting better. Honestly, the last time I posted, things were pretty tough around my house. I was a real handful, mom and dad couldn't figure out what I wanted and Maggie was getting pretty annoyed with me too. We were all really frustrated.

Mom and Dad were exhausted because I wouldn't sleep through the night, I wouldn't calm down during the day either. There was no rest for any of us. Mom slept on the bathroom floor with me for about three weeks. I really like the bathroom floor - its hard tile and its really cool. I don't think it felt so good to my mom, but she did it anyway because it made me feel less anxious. She would sit with me, pet me and sing to me while I tried to get to sleep. Then she would lay down just out of reach so that during the night if I woke up, she could reach out and touch me to calm me down. It worked most of the time.

I would have good days and bad days. I wouldn't let mom and dad put me in a kennel during the day like Maggie and Buster. So when they weren't home, I would be all by myself downstairs. Sometimes I'd get really bored. Mom and Dad left me all kinds of treats and toys, but sometimes, the wood molding just tastes good. Mom and Dad never got mad at me, they would just clean up after me and then move things around so I couldn't get to all the good tasting stuff....but I found new stuff to chew on. I'm pretty smart that way.

I don't pee or poop in the house anymore. Well, once in a while, maybe. Last time I posted, I was peeing in the house every day and pooping every now and then. I'm growing up now and big dogs don't do that. I can hold it unless my schedule gets really screwed up.

I was bugging Maggie ALOT back then. She would get really mad at me. Mom and Dad spent a lot of time making sure that Maggie would be behaved around me. It took about a two weeks, but now Maggie lets me do whatever I want. I'm a puppy and I like to play. Maggie is much more playful now and isn't so worried that I'll take her spot on the couch or eat her food. I bet when I grow up, Maggie will be my best friend. I get on her nerves, but I can tell that I'm growing on her. Buster gets mad sometimes too, but I'm bigger than him, so there isn't much he can do.

I was doing alot of barking back then and by alot, I mean all the time. We'd get up in the morning and while Mom, Dad, Buster and Maggie were trying to sit on the couch and have breakfast, I would run and bark. They kept getting up to get me and tried to keep me settled by them, but I couldn't settle down. Then, during the day, when Dad was trying to work at his desk, I'd run and bark. Later in the evening, when mom got home from work, I would wake up and run and bark. I'd usually lay down in the kitchen while everyone else was relaxing on the couch. I was too anxious to go be calm with the rest of the family.

My anxiety got really bad. The vet said my epilepsy can go hand in hand with anxiety. (By the way, I haven't had a seizure since I started taking my epilepsy medicine!) There were a couple nights in a row where I just couldn't relax. I was up all night panting, pacing and barking. Finally, one night, my mom got real worried about me - my heart was racing and I was really upset. None of her normal calming tricks worked. We went all night and hardly slept at all. I started peeing and pooping in the house a lot more. Mom called the vet and I got started on some anti anxiety medicine. Wow. What a difference that has made.

I met a new friend, Mom and Dad say she is our trainer. She comes to the house once a week and works on all kinds of fun stuff with us. I get real excited when she shows up because I always get ALOT of treats when she's there. All I have to do is sit and lay down. Or if I sit nice next to my Mom or Dad, I get some treats then too. I feel like my anti anxiety medicine lets me focus enough to learn new things. Just this week I learned how to sit and lay down without always having a treat. I am learning things by touch. Since I can't see or hear, we use touch signals. A touch on the head means sit, a touch under the chin means lay down. A pat on the side means "good dog". I like that one best. My trainer says that I'll be able to learn all kinds of things like sit, stay, lay down, shake. It makes me feel really proud that she sees all my potential. I am proud that she knows how smart I am, just because I can't see or hear doesn't mean I can't learn. It just means I learn in a different way and I need someone with patience to help teach me.

I've just about mastered bed time. When we first go up to bed, I like to get in bed and look for the kitties. Roxie is my favorite kitty. She's really soft. First I look under the bed for her, then I get up on the bed and look behind the bed. Sometimes she'll show me she loves me by swatting my face. I'll lay between my Mom and Dad - sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for hours. Then I'll get up and my Mom will lead me into the bathroom. Most nights I lay right down, she'll stay there with me for a couple minutes and then she gets back into her bed. I love that I can sleep by myself now. I'm a big girl. I really love that my mom can sleep in her bed and most nights we all sleep ALL night!!!

If I wake up in the middle of the night and think I want outside, I can usually be persuaded to get in bed with Mom and Dad instead. This morning, I woke up around 4 am and my mom guided me over to the bed. I jumped up there and layed down right next to her with my head on her pillow. I should get a pillow for the bathroom floor - the blankets are nice, but a! We slept until about 5:30 and then it was time to get up.

Evening time is when it really shows how I am maturing. (That's what my Dad says). Usually when Mom gets home, I am asleep on the couch. I either wake up on my own or Maggie and Buster wake me up. We go for a long walk and then we do chores to get ready for the next day. I don't run and bark like I used to. I either play with Buster and Maggie or I stay close to my Mom (she gives me treats when I stay right by her like a good girl). When Dad gets home, we all go into the TV room to relax. About a month ago, I started coming into the TV room on my own and laying on the floor. Now I will play with Maggie and Buster for a while and then I'll either settle down on the floor or get up on the couch with Mom or Dad. Then I go to sleep or just rest quietly until bedtime. Its really relaxing for all of us, its my favorite time of day....all the work is done and we get family time.

I am doing better in the mornings too. I like to play when everyone else is still waking up, but eventually I calm down and will sit for a bit while we watch the news. Then, Mom and Dad go away for a while (Maggie tells me they are upstairs in the workout room staying fit) and then we go for a long walk. We get walked twice a day - all the neighbor dogs are jealous - they bark at us when we go by.

Mid day is still an issue for me, I do most of my barking and running around then. I'm working on it and as I get older, I am getting better. Somedays when I am home alone, I don't bother anything, other days I go crazy and once I get my paws on something good, I tear it up. Mom never knows what she'll get when she comes home. In the last week, we've started something called "kennel training". I'm not really sure about it, I just know that I get the most amazing beef bone when we do this. Maggie and Buster tell me how great their kennels are - they love going in there, but I'm not so sure. I don't like to be penned up. I get scared and angry and Mom and Dad say they want to limit those feelings for me. I've been able to stay in my kennel for about an hour at a time. I bet that increases as I start to feel more comfortable. I know it will make my mom worry a lot less if I can be in there when I'm home alone.

I am really getting big. Every time we go to the vet I gain some weight. I'm bigger than Maggie now and I am so fluffy. I'll tell you a secret, the other day, I got poop in my fur. I couldn't get it out so my Mom and Dad gave me a bath and Mom pulled it out of my fur for me. She is the BEST. Who would do that for you except a Mom? My Dad is pretty awesome too. When we go for walks, he'll run with me for a while. I really like that - I feel so free and alive.

Mom and Dad take me places whenever they can. I LOVE to meet people. Everyone is my friend. When I smell someone new, my little tail will wag like crazy until I can find them. Then, when I do, I want to jump up on them and get to their face. We are working on that - not jumping. If I meet a lot of people in one day, I get tired and then I don't jump so much - its just too much work! People always want to know about me, why I look the way I do. Most often they ask if I am albino. Mom and Dad tell them about me and why I am this way. It always shocks people to hear that my breeder drowned my brothers and sisters. I can tell some people wonder how a deaf and blind dog can have any sort of life. Sadly, I think lots of people would probably have put me to sleep. But I show everyone I met that every creature has a purpose and even a blind/deaf/epileptic dog can have a great life. I want people to know that dogs like me deserve a chance.

I know it has taken an amazing amount of patience for us to have gotten this far. I am not an easy dog to deal with. I admit it. I'm still a puppy, for heaven's sake. Sometimes I don't know how we do it. My mom says she's not a patient person and sometimes she isn't, but most of the time, she and my dad are super patient with me. We have some more work to do, that's for sure. Hopefully by the time I blog again next month I will be kennel trained and not destroying so many things. I also really hope that my running and barking will continue to get less and less. I know those two things really make Mom and Dad nuts, so I've got it on my goal sheet. We made a goal sheet to give to our trainer, things we want to work on. Mom left it on the counter and I ate it. So now I just keep mental notes of my goals.

I love my family and I know they love me. My Mom was having a hard time seeing the progress I was making, so she started to keep a journal for me. Now when she feels like things aren't getting better, she can read back in the journal and realize that things are getting lots better. Its all relative. There was a time where she said she would be happy if I would just sleep through the night - most nights I do, then she said she'd be happy if I woulnd't bark when she got home at night - most nights I don't. When I get better, she expects more of me, I guess that's part of growing up! I can't wait to see what kind of progress I make over the next month, I'll be sure to report it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Its decided

Back in September, I posted about our decision to do the Columbia Gorge Marathon. Here is that post.

Shortly after I convinced Trevor to do the marathon, we went on our first long run - 18 miles I believe. About two miles into that run I thought "what have I done?" I was just not feeling it. I was tired and sluggish, I wasn't excited about running any distance, I was tired and sore. I walked most of the last two miles of that run - that is totally not like me, I may slow down, but I rarely walk during a training run. I commented several times to Trevor that we could do the half marathon or we could not do it at all. Trevor kept saying "no, you convinced me to do it, so I"m doing it". I couldn't let him do it alone, that's now how we do things. So I continued on with our training.

We did a half marathon a couple weeks ago and it was great! I felt strong and enjoyed it. It has been years since we did a stand alone half marathon and it was really fun. This made me realize again that I didn't want to do the full marathon.

We kept on training, I needed new shoes, but didn't buy any. I kept putting it off. My body had been aching. I spent three weeks sleeping on the bathroom tile floor with Asha and my back was really hurting. Some days, I could barely stand up straight when I got up in the morning. After our 20 miler, where I felt like I was running barefoot because my shoes were so bad, my feet started to hurt. They hurt in a way that they have never hurt before. It hurt to stand, it hurt to sit, it hurt to walk. It just hurt. We got massages every week for a few weeks and that helped, but man...did they hurt. I got new shoes and that helped, but I just felt crappy. Again, my runs were not fun, I was stressing about this marathon and how bad it was going to hurt.

The last few Sundays have been great. We do our long runs on Saturday and then on Sundays have been spending the day with the dogs. We take them for a long walk, then relax on the couch with a fire going. I REALLY want to do that this Sunday. If we run the marathon, we'll be away from home from 7 am to 3 or 4 pm and when we get home, I'll be tired and sore and we won't get any time with the dogs.

I am going to visit Grammie next weekend and so I want to spend as much time as I can with Trevor and the dogs. Asha is just starting to be a good girl and I want to get as much of that as I can.

So you see...this marathon thing was just seeming to be a really bad idea and I have no one to blame but myself. We haven't signed up yet, so today I was finally able to convince Trevor that we should not do it. I was wrong, I shouldn't have convinced him in the first place. He said "This is a good lesson". Well, I'm sure it is, but for now I am just happy that I get to spend Sunday doing feel good things instead of something hard that will hurt!! Yay for Sunday's at home with the family. The doggies will be so happy to hear about this!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Kennel, Kennel"

I was talking to a friend today and telling him about our Asha and all the mayhem that has ensued since her arrival at our home. As I was telling him, he said "You can't make this shit up". I told him how exhausted we have been, overwhelmed, wondering what the hell we got ourselves into, how we can survive this, is this our new normal? He and his wife had twins about 18 months ago and he said "you just described how I feel every single day". It was good to know that I am not alone. So many times, I feel like the rest of the world has it together and wonder what is wrong with me because I don't.

I read an article about the Mayor of New York and his dogs, how one day, they got out of their gated area in the kitchen and destroyed things. Its nice to hear that even powerful people can't control their dogs all of the time.

When I stop and really think about it, we have made HUGE progress with Asha. She sleeps through the night, doesn't pee and poop so much in the house, is calm in the mornings and in the evenings and is doing pretty well on walks. She still barks uncontrolably during certain times of the day and can be very destructive when we leave her at home alone.

Our other two dogs are crate trained. They LOVE their crates. When its time for bed or for us to leave, we say "kennel, kennel" and they run to go upstairs, go right into their kennels and lay down. I love that about them. I don't have to worry about leaving them alone, they are content to be in their kennels whenever necessary. I know that they are safe there.

Asha, well, she's a different story. When we first brought her home, 3 months ago, we attempted to put her in a kennel. She went nuts. One of the big issues she had in the shelter and in foster care was her anxiety - she would spin in a tight circle and bark like crazy. We worked very hard to break her of that habit. When we put her in the crate or in a smaller room like the bathroom or laundry room, she would start the spinning again. It seemed that any progress we would make with her would go away after she was confined. We decided it would be better to let her roam free than to cause her any more damage. She was also having seizures and the anxiety seemed to be a trigger.

Its been three months and it is really time to get her crate trained. There are several reasons for that - the first is the amount of destruction she has done in our home. Its not her fault, its totally our fault. I know that and it actually makes me feel worse about it. I just didn't know what to do about it. I've talked before about all the things she has done. For about a week she did great, no destruction. Then, last week, the full moon came and it set her off (at least that is what I am blaming). She started chewing on things again. So I sprayed all her favorite spots to chew with bitter apple. That made her angry and so she found new things to chew on. Last night I came home and she had torn the molding off the laundry room door and moved it into the TV room to chew on the ends. It was an 8 foot long piece of wood. I need a camera at home to see how these things happen.

I worry about her safety more than anything. Our stuff is just our stuff, sure I'd prefer it not be destroyed, but I really prefer that Asha stay safe.

We have a dog trainer who comes once a week and today we started to work on crate training. Our trainer believes it should be pretty easy to get Asha comfortable with being in her crate. After our first session today, I believe that too. It will take time, but I feel like it is possible.

Training is actually pretty awesome for Asha. We take a bone, a super yummy special bone and she only gets it when she is in the kennel. That makes the kennel a happy place for her, not a punishment. We put her in there with her bone for 10 or 15 minutes at a time and when she wants out, she gets out. We did that a couple times today and it seemed to work well. I am also hoping that the time spent focused solely on chewing that bone will exhaust her chew muscles and so she won't have to chew on the woodwork, wires, books, picture frames, etc.

Here she is in her spacious kennel, if you look closely you can see she has her bone and the door isn't shut.
These are just the first steps, there's lots more work to do.

I worry about her. Heck, I worry about all of them. I don't want any of our animals to be sad or lonely for even a second. I know that's not realistic, but that's my goal - total happiness. We are getting closer to that, it is just requiring a lot of work. Now that we have asked for help and have a great dog trainer, I believe the progress will come much more quickly. Asha will never be able to hear us say "kennel, kennel" like the other two, but we'll come up with a sign for that and hopefully she'll run to get in her kennel too. To me, that would be a dream come true....

Saturday, October 15, 2011

364 days

364 days....that's how long I have been without my sweet Gussie. Our cat, Gus, died a year ago tomorrow. Not a day has gone by when I haven't thought of him, missed him and longed for one more minute with him.

Its been 18 months since we said goodbye to our dog Wookie and six months since we said goodbye to our other dog Opal. I miss all three of them terribly. I am certainly occupied with our 6 current pets and I love them all tremendously, but that doesn't mean that I don't miss the love and companionship of those original 3.

I've really been missing Gus alot these last couple weeks - knowing that its been just about a year and finding it impossible to believe that much time has passed, I feel like we just said goodbye. I loved that cat more than I think I have ever loved anyone in all my life. He was my family for 11 years and he loved me like no other.

I know that he'd be beside himself with all the activity going on in our house right now. He would HATE Asha because she messes with our sleep and the one thing Gus loved was sleeping on my pillow. He would have given Asha the stink eye, constantly, for disrupting that.

The only good luck that Gus ever had was being adopted by me. His life before me was full of strife and his life with me was full of illness and uncertainty. The one thing that was constant was my love for him. I would have done anything to keep him safe and healthy. Our vet always said that Gus would have died years ago if it weren't for us and our willingness to do what needed to be done in order to give him a great life.

When we were close to making the decision to let him go, I wrote this:

When the time comes, I will make the decision and it will break my heart. I will let him go, but part of me will go with him. I have loved him every minute since I first saw him and I will love him forever.

It was true then, its true now.

Monday, October 10, 2011

3 months with Asha

3 months ago today, Asha came to live with us. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We knew she would have special needs and that our lives would never be the same, but we certainly didn't realize just how exhausting that would be. Somedays I feel like we have made no progress and other days I feel like we've come so far. I felt like I was forgetting things, so I have started to journal Asha's days. That way I can look back and see just what she's been up to.

There is very little help out there for parents of a dog like Asha. I can find some information about blind dogs and some about deaf dogs, but very little about blind AND deaf dogs. Quite honestly, its been a struggle. I've felt hopeless and alone. I've been worried about our future and Asha's future. There is no doubt that we love her and that she loves us. We committed to her when we brought her home and so we owe it to her to do all that we can to give her a great life.

There have been two main issues with Asha. The first is actually the cause of the second. She has extreme anxiety and that results in barking. Lots and lots of barking. We could not figure out how to settle her down and how to quiet the barking. Believe me, we tried just about anything you could think of.

Its actually not just the barking - she runs and barks. So she'll run into the front room and bark or at bedtime, she'll run into the bathroom and bark. I started to leash her up and tie her to me when I'd get home at night - that way she wouldn't run. When she runs, its hard to get a hold of her and settle her down. I figured if she was close to me, she wouldn't need to bark so much.
That worked, for a while....then just like everything else we have stopped working. She'd stay by me but she'd chew through the leash or she'd play tug of war or she would cry.

We tried just letting her bark it out. When we go upstairs in the mornings to workout, she'll bark for a few minutes then settle down. We tried that the rest of the times too. That gets really annoying and once she starts running and barking she just gets wound up.

She was having a really tough time sleeping at night. She'd fall asleep and then wake up, startled, every couple hours. About a month ago, I started to sleep on the bathroom floor with her. I found that if I could touch her as soon as she woke up, she would calm down and go right back to sleep. The last straw with her anxiety came one night when she would not calm down. I was right there with her all night. She was panting really hard, her little heart beating SO fast. She was up all night long, went out a bunch of times to pee, didn't need food or water. She was so upset and I felt really bad for her. The next day, I called our vet and asked about anti- anxiety medication. She suggested something for Asha that could take the edge off while we did some behavior modification therapy. She also commented that kind of stress can have long term affects on a dog's health.

I did lots of reading about the medication she prescribed. Its basically prozac for dogs. There was quite a bit of information about it - people said that it really helped their animals. There were, of course, lots of people who commented that it was wrong to give that kind of medicine to a dog and that owners just needed to spend more time with their pets, give them more attention, love them more. I felt guilty for giving her the medicine. I wondered if we are failing her, if we should be doing something different, if someone else would do better for her.

We started her on the medicine just over two weeks ago. We also started weekly sessions with a dog trainer who comes to our house to work with us and all three dogs. In the past two weeks, we have made significant progress. I am no longer sleeping on the floor with Asha. She has started to sleep through the night. I hear her wake up, she gets up and moves to a different spot, then goes right back to sleep. In the evenings, she'll come into the TV room with us and after she plays with Maggie and Buster (often against their will), she lays down on the floor and relaxes until bedtime. She NEVER did this before. She would either lay down in the kitchen or run and bark ALL evening long.

We were walking her three times a day in an effort to exhaust her and get rid of all that anxious energy. We now walk her two times a day. She is really great on walks. She does try to herd us and nips at our heels, but she isn't nervous or afraid - she never has been - she is SO trusting.

Since she started her medicine, she hasn't peed or pooped in the house while we are away from home. She also isn't chewing on things like she was before. I used to come home to kitchen chairs turned over and chewed on, the kitchen rug balled up in the living room. It was always something. Every night I'd come home after a couple hours away and there would be two or three puddles of pee, a pile or two of poop, remnants of whatever she had chewed to pieces that day and in the middle of it all....a sleeping Asha who would immediately wake up and start barking. We didn't kennel her because she would literally scream when we put her in the kennel.

That was enough to make me feel like I was having a nervous breakdown. The other two dogs go right upstairs into their kennels when we leave home. We are going to work on crate training her with our trainer. I want her to be able to tolerate being in a kennel, that way if she needs to be at the vet or travel in the car she will be okay.

Now, when I get home at night, Asha is asleep or she is just laying down, relaxing.

I let her out and she goes to the bathroom, then comes back and wants to either play with Maggie and Buster or she stays by me while I do my chores. I've started to keep treats in my pocket to keep her close to me. When she sits and is calm, I'll give her a treat. Sometimes she just stands next to me and looks up at me like this....
The trainer has really given me hope that we can make a difference. She has give us homework and we have been doing the homework. Sometimes successfully and sometimes, as in a prior post you may have read, unsuccessfully. But we continue to keep working on it, knowing there will be good days and bad days.

She still does her barking thing in the morning. She hasn't settled down at that time of day yet, but she is still a puppy - just 8 months old. So we really can't expect too much from her!

The dog trainer who comes to our house has a lot of experience with Australian Shepherds. Even though she hasn't worked with a blind/deaf one before, she knows a lot about the breed and she has been doing research on dogs like Asha. We have already been able to use her suggestions on all three of the dogs. We have seen a tremendous improvement in Maggie and some issues we were having with her. Now that Asha is settling down a little, she is able to learn much easier than when she was so panicked.

Sometimes, we still lose our patience with her and we get frustrated. Usually she is also losing her patience with us and frustrated too. Sometimes we get mad, sometimes she gets mad. We don't always know what she wants, sometimes it takes us too long to figure it out. That's one of the reasons I started keeping the journal so that we can keep track of what she does and how we respond so that we can find a pattern of what works and what doesn't work.

Every once in a while, I remember that she cannot see and she cannot hear. I try to imagine how that would be. I ask Buster "what would you do if you couldn't see or hear me?" He looks at me like this...Because he can't imagine that either.

I do my best to be calm and gentle with her, to give her things that will make her mind work, things that will appeal to her other senses of smell and touch. I try to always let her know that its okay and she doesn't need to worry about a thing, that it may be confusing sometimes, but we'll never leave her side and she'll never be alone.

She loves Buster and Maggie - Maggie especially. She looks high and low for that dog and will play with her any chance she gets. When we are on a walk, she wants to walk by Maggie. She wants Maggie to be her best friend, but Maggie already has a best friend - Buster - and she isn't ready to change that. Its an interesting dynamic.

Asha is growing so fast, moving through her puppyhood. The trainer told us that Australian Shepherds usually settle down at about a year or 18 months old, so eventually, she'll have less energy to expend. We look forward to those days!

People always say that we are good people for taking on such a challenge. Trevor and I laugh about that and say that we don't want to be good people, we want peace and quiet, we want to sleep through the night and we want our stuff to remain unchewed. I don't care about being a good person, I care about doing the best I can for this sweet little creature who came into our lives. When things get particularly stressful, Trevor and I will argue about who found Asha and who's idea it was to have her come live with us. I blame him, he blames me. No one wants to take responsibility for the mayhem that has ensued!

The truth is that thinking about Asha sometimes makes me cry. I think about the fate of her brothers and sisters, how they never got a chance at life. I think about the increasing moments of joy that are peppered between the moments of confusion and anxiety. I think of her little tail wagging when she realizes her family is near. I think about how much she loves strangers and treats and toys, how she looks for the cats under the bed when we go upstairs at night. I think of how she looks at me in the light of the laundry room - the only place where she can actually see us - its obvious that the light in that room allows her to make out our shapes and she will just stare. I think of her growing old with Maggie and Buster. I think of how forgiving and loving she is. And I think about the confines of her world and how she goes forward into every day with pure energy. She doesn't know any different. When she is sleeping and I can tell she is dreaming, I always wonder what she dreams about? If you can't see or hear, what do you dream?

I love her. With all of my heart and soul, I love her. Just like I love the others. All I want for her is a safe, healthy, long, calm life. Is that too much to ask? I don't think so and that is what we are building for her and really for all of us.

Portland Marathon spectator's report

Yesterday was the Portland Marathon. Trevor and I like to head downtown and cheer our friends. We did it last year and had a great time. We decided we'd go again this year and take all three dogs with us. Buster and Maggie run with us during the week - usually 5 or 6 miles. We kept telling them how some people would be running 26.2 miles, Maggie kept saying she didn't want to run a marathon. We set her mind at ease and told her we were just going to watch!

We all piled into the car around 8:30. Our first stop was at Starbucks for a coffee. Then we stopped at my favorite Italian Bakery called DiPrima Dolci - I love that place. We got egg sandwiches on hard rolls and lots of cookies. Perfect food to fuel for marathon spectating!

After we ate, we headed down to about mile 21 on the marathon route. We got the dogs all leashed up. Trevor took Maggie and Buster, I had Asha. Maggie gets nervous around crowds, Buster is always on high alert and Asha just basks in the overwhelming amount of new smells.

We walked backwards along the marathon route, looking for people we knew. We'd stop every now and then. Maggie liked to be walking much more than she liked to be stopped. Asha did great - she'd either sit or lay down when we stopped. Its amazing to me that she doesn't get scared of new places.

People wanted to meet the doggies, to pet them. Other doggies wanted to meet our doggies. Asha was the most open to this. Maggie wasn't so sure and neither was Buster, but Asha....she'd get SO excited when she would smell another dog or sense that a person was close. Lots of people asked about her - what kind of dog she was because they've never seen a white Australian Shepherd. Several people asked if she was albino. We got to tell quite a few people her story and I really like that. Asha loves to educate people about bad breeders and to show people that dogs like her can have a life.

There was a little girl, about 4 or 5, who really wanted to meet Asha. I brought Asha over to her and Asha licked her face. The little girl put her hands up to her face and I thought she was crying, but she was giggling so hard. Asha just kept licking her. It was so sweet.

As we kept walking, Asha was nipping at my heels, I put my water bottle down between her and my legs so she would stop. Instead, she grabbed my water bottle and carried it for about 10 minutes. All the runners passing by kept saying to each other "look at the dog carrying the water!" We were so proud of our little girl. She was just so cute. Maggie was happy to have the attention on someone else, she doesn't like to be looked at. Buster just kept his eyes out to be sure we were all safe.

After a couple hours, we were all getting tired and decided to head back to the car. Asha climbed up front onto Trevor's lap for the ride home. She fell asleep there - Buster and Maggie fell asleep in the back. Just the way we like it!

When we got home, we started a fire and all of us took a long afternoon nap. Asha had a really easy time falling asleep at bed time too. We should do a marathon every weekend!!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

1st day of homework gets an F

I was so excited after our meeting with Jamie, the dog trainer, yesterday. Buster did so great when he was learning to walk with a loose leash. Last night, I walked all three dogs together and while Buster still pulled a little, it was no where near as bad as usual. The leash was even loose a couple times. I felt really good about how things were going to progress.

This morning was our first homework assignment. We are supposed to spend 10-20 minutes per day working on the things that the trainer teaches us. Normally in the mornings we walk all three dogs together. This morning, Trevor was going to take Buster and I was going to take Asha and Maggie. That's how we started. Buster went nuts when I was ahead of him with Asha and Maggie. The garbage truck was going through the neighborhood since it was trash day and it was really loud. Trevor decided he would go one way and I'd go another, hoping that Buster would settle down when we were out of his sight.

Maggie wasn't super happy about the pack being split and Asha must have felt that because she started nipping at my feet and barking. I attempted to stop that behavior. I felt like things were falling apart and was really hoping Trevor and Buster were doing well. I came around the corner and there they were. Trevor said he was out of treats and Buster wasn't getting it today.

I took Buster and kept going, Trevor took Maggie and Asha and went the other way. Buster was not having any of it. He pulled on the leash harder than normal and that was REALLY frustrating to me. I could tell that he was confused because yesterday he did so good and we were so proud. Today, we were upset and he surely didn't know why. I finally gave up and realized that it wasn't our day. None of us are ready to train in those conditions. We need to get Buster totally by himself - other dogs not around and no loud trucks constantly making noise. We need to give him a chance to be successful when there are no distractions before he can handle more 'noise'.

I felt like a failure today, like we'll never see progress. I know that's ridiculous, but I guarantee everyone knows that feeling. It should be so easy, right? We're good doggie parents and we want the right things, we why is it so hard. I know its more about me than it is about them. Really what we need to do it train ourselves and the dogs will just follow.

I told Buster that I was really sorry for being frustrated and not being the best dog mom I could be. He licked my face and told me it was okay, he understands and we'll try again tomorrow. If only everyone was so forgiving. If only I was so forgiving.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

First day of school

Today, Buster, Maggie and Asha had their first day of school. We had a dog trainer come to the house to work with us. She'll visit us once a week, probably forever, until we get things running more smoothly in our house.

Our petsitter recommending this trainer to us. Her name is Jamie and we really like her. She came to meet the dogs last week and then real training started today. I sent her a list of our goals and hoped that she would still show up today! She did show up and told us that our goals were realistic. That was a relief.

With three dogs, our lives can be mayhem. We walk all three of them together two times a day. Buster's biggest issue is the walk. Maggie's biggest issue is that she doesn't come when we call her and Asha's biggest issue is her anxiety.

We have alot to work on. Buster pulls on the leash when we walk him. It makes our walk time very unenjoyable some times. He just pulls and pulls ahead of us. We want him to walk with a loose leash and stay by us. We've tried different things on our own, but have never been able to make any sort of progress. Today we practiced walking for about 20 minutes. By the end of the 20 minutes, Buster was walking with a loose leash. We will need to practice this every day, but I was thrilled to see how fast he learned what we wanted him to do. And my little man was SO proud of himself for learning. He kept looking back at us as if to say "look at me, I'm not pulling!!!"

Then it was Asha's turn. Asha is blind and deaf and so any training we do with her needs to be done with hand signals/touch. We talked about what signals we wanted to use and started to work with her on her running and barking. Asha will run around the house in big circles and bark her little head off. We practiced relaxation with her, calming, soothing touches. And rewards - lots of rewards. She'll take far more work than the others, but that's okay. She has been steadily improving over the last week. She goes to sleep much easier at bed time and sleeps more calmly through the night. She has also started to lay with us while we watch TV in the morning or at night. What a difference that makes!

And finally, Maggie....Maggie does something that drives me NUTS. When you call her, she ignores you. In fact, sometimes I will call her to come in from outside - she will walk to the furthest corner of the yard, sit down and just look at me. When I called her for the trainer to see, she commented that she could totally see Maggie's "screw you" attitude! We did some exercises with Maggie and she was really starting to get it.

I felt so good after our hour with Jamie. It really gave me hope that we can see improvement. I do believe that the dogs will be happier when they are better behaved and we will certainly be happier. In the last week, I can tell that Asha is much happier. She is more calm and relaxed. There is nothing better than having all three dogs lay with me at the end of a long day. Before, she would run and bark and be anxious during that time of day and it was tough on us all. The other night, Asha was laying at my feet, Maggie was on the couch next to me and Buster was laying on my lap. I looked down at them all and thought "this is the life". I wanted to cry because I felt so much love.

I am really excited to see what kind of progress we can make. I know that the training is really for me and Trevor. The dogs already know it all!

All my friends take pictures of their kids on the first day of school, so I took pictures of mine...aren't they cute???