Sunday, August 2, 2015

Twilight Promenade

I'm finally feeling physically up to a decent length of dog walk! It's been a physically challenging (and expensive!) year for me. Nicki has not been getting the exercise she deserves or needs. Her Dad isn't one for dog walking. There's nobody else available. I haven't been physically up to it. So Nicki has been a little furry couch potato. The most amazing thing is that this has not resulted in any negative behaviors! What she has wanted more than anything was to simply hang with me in whatever convalescing location the moment presented, and nap. Or cuddle. No cushion chewing, no indoor waste management .... just hangin' with Mom.

While that's a minor miracle, and very helpful from a convalescent standpoint, it's not fair to Nicki. So now that I can walk for longer, we've resumed our neighborhood patrols. The squirrels are no longer safe! Chipmunks doubly so!

It has, however, been beastly hot during the day. Stay-inside-and-in-front-of-the-fan hot. If it's too hot for me to exercise, it's too hot for my girl with the luscious fur coat! If we wait until evening, it's much, MUCH better on all of us. But we have to be careful. The waning sunlight means less visibility on the roads, and we need to be smart about safety. Last year, Nicki won an awesome leash in a contest. It's made by Mountain Dog and we love it!

We got this model in the bright neon yellow!

The thing that I initially loved about this leash was its strength. Although Nicki is small, she is mighty! When she first came to us, she was something of an escape artist. On her freedom ride, she had tried to chew through a leash during a potty stop! When she got here, she would vigorously "buck" on the end of the leash. On two occasions, she was able to slip out of, first, a collar, then a harness! She would also buck on the leash when she saw a squirrel. It was scary! This leash gave me faith that I could protect her until she learned she no longer needed to get away. What I noticed yesterday evening, though, was the colour! It's so bright it almost glowed in the dark! That was exactly why I used it for this twilight walk: visibility in the dusk. You may not have seen me or Nicki, but you'd definitely see that leash!

So we wait for twilight. The world cools down. The light softens. The roar of traffic lulls. Kitchen windows glow. The grass is cool. In that gorgeous, soft evening, we walk. The scents are still there, and some are even fresher as other dogs walk their owners in the dusk. The squirrels have wisely gone to bed, so it's a little more calm, too. Our pace is quick, but not hurried. And by the time we get home, we both have slowed down. We've had our workout, but we're also in no hurry for the evening walk to end. At this time of year, and this time of day, our walks tend to stretch themselves out a little. As the days grow shorter, our walks grow longer. Soon walks will require coats and boots and strategy. But for now - there are fireflies!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Toy Story

 Happy Independence Day!!
We're spending the day distracting ourselves with toys and cuddles. Booms can be so unnerving! "Toys?!" you say? Yup - toys!

By now you've probably seen the video of Nicki finally playing with a toy. If not, here's where you can find it. If you love rescued animals - it'll make your day.

I was initially still hesitant to think that this new joy would carry over to other toys. I had shown Nicki squeaky toys before while shopping at pet supply stores. Her reaction was odd. She seemed almost afraid of the squeakers. She would look at me uncertainly while sort of ducking her head and turning away. Because of that, I figured she didn't care for that type of toy. When my daughter broke down that wall with a squeaky Easter Bunny, I dared to hope that her love of play might just have been temporarily thwarted by the abuse and neglect she had endured. I started buying toys. Lots of toys. I soon learned that her preference is squeaky toys that are furry but don't have tons of robust stuffing. She wants to get that squeaker quickly. This has resulted in the untimely demise of a good number of fuzzy squeaky toys.

Recently, my friend Holly suggested an outing to Runnings with Nicki, me, and her rescued Border Collie, Rue. Rue was one of the Sprakers Border Collies. Google that if you can stand some heartbreak. She was virtually feral when Holly got her. Rue has made so much progress it's just heartwarming! Holly's great with her dogs. All ten of 'em! She's also our groomer and pet sitter! And general guardian angel. She thought (and I agreed) that taking Nicki and Rue into a pet-friendly store during less-busy hours would help both dogs with socialization and being at ease with unfamiliar surroundings. Nicki's mastered this already. Stores mean treats, so she loves everyone in stores! If not treats, stores at least mean lots of people who love dogs. Zero down side here! Hopefully, Nicki's example helped Rue to see that the unfamiliar was no longer something she need fear. It's not a done deal. But Rue was much more comfortable with the idea as the adventure progressed.

At one point, we headed down the pet toy aisle. I saw a likely candidate for Nicki, based on the preferences she had recently shown. I picked out a toy and squeaked it for her, then dandled it above her head. No shirking away! She leapt for the toy! She grabbed it and began playing with it! Right there in the store! I was amazed again! She dropped it and turned away, so I picked it up and put it back on the hook, which was just above floor-level. Nicki saw me take away "her" toy, went over to the hook, grabbed the toy and gently pulled it down from the wall. She didn't disturb anything else, she simply went and got her toy. She then proceeded to carry it around the store!

Of course, I bought the toy and we brought it home. When she stayed with Aunt Holly recently, she came home with the same toy in a different colour scheme!! Aunt Holly loves to spoil this girl! She now has two favourites!! But I'll be ordering bags of replacement squeakers in bulk soon.....and I'll be overjoyed to do it!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The "Pig In A Poke" Factor

It's real. Even I avoided the idea of shelters and rescue when it came time to bring a fur friend into the family, ostensibly for my daughter. I had researched breeds, I knew our family. I believed I had a good fit in mind. I was right. We wanted a Border Collie.

What I didn't know was that there were breed-specific rescues in existence! Knowing what I know now, though, I realize that they would never have allowed me to adopt. Even an animal behaviorist from a local, well-respected and widely known shelter had been refused by Border Collie rescues. Of course they had their reasons, but I have to wonder; when you've rejected more potential adopters than you've accepted, who are you really helping? Especially when a number of those dogs remain unadopted for many months - even years. I know it happens that way. After we adopted Nicki from New Spirit for Aussie Rescue, I checked back at the Border Collie rescues where I had fallen in love with numerous dogs - all of whom were denied to me. I wanted those dogs to go to good homes, even if it couldn't be my home. But there they sat. It broke my heart.

But I digress.

The "pig-in-a-poke" factor kept me from looking at rescues and shelters for our first family dog. I wanted to be "sure" of "what we were getting" - not from a pedigree stance, but from a temperament, intelligence, friendliness, etc. stance. Then one day my young daughter asked me, while lovingly playing with her red BC puppy, "Momma, how do we know she'll be a nice, friendly dog?" And I answered her "Because we'll raise her that way." And I taught both of us a lesson in that moment. Our Daisy had the kindest, sweetest, wouldn't-hurt-a-fly temperament. She was super smart. She was obedient. She was amazingly loving. She was everything we wanted in a dog. Not because we bought her that way, but because we raised her that way. Or perhaps because the way in which we raised her allowed that beautiful, gentle nature to come through in full glory.

Adopting a rescue dog, unless you adopt a puppy - and you can adopt puppies (even pure breds) from rescue - is a different story. You're not raising a dog. One is coming to you with issues from their past. But just the way you overcome the issues of puppyhood, with patience, consistency, and love, you can also overcome a rescue pup's issues. Or at least make them manageable for all of you. Rex might always chew shoes, whether you raise him from a pup or adopt him as an old man. Sometimes Rex is just gonna chew that shoe.

My point being, this blog exists to try to help dispel that "pig-in-a-poke" factor. Dogs are like a box of chocolates .....  You really don't ever know what you're gonna get. It doesn't matter where they begin. What matters is how they end up. A good, loving home makes all the difference.
Don't be afraid to encourage a friend to at least consider rescue and adoption. Point them here if they want to know what they'll get when they take a rescue dog home - but tell them I also said that I realize we got lucky. Nicki clearly hasn't always lived as a refugee. She doesn't have as much damage as some rescue pups do, but hers does still show from time to time. Just the other day she veered wide away from a man out walking, although she'd walked close by his young daughter just one moment before. Nicki has man problems. (Don't we all?) The b@$ta@rd that left her tied to his fence and then moved away was the one she was saved from, but he didn't have her for her entire life. She's too much of a Southern Belle for that. A Southern Belle again, still amidst the magnolias.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

An Easter Miracle

If you've been following Nicki's story, you know a sad truth about chained dogs: they often don't play. Nicki had been chained to a fence for who knows how long, and nobody knows what age that began. When she came to live with us, it became apparent very quickly that she didn't know how to play. Even if I made play bows, she didn't seem to have any idea. Toys were a mystery to her. Her rescuers had told me the same thing. She just didn't play. Having loved every Frisbee and ball-throwing minute of my Border Collie's long life, suddenly having a buddy who didn't get it was deeply disappointing. I tried to teach Nicki to catch a soft ball. She didn't see the point. I tossed Frisbees around the house. She sat by and watched. I played "chase" with soft toys, scooting them over her paws with my hand, trying to awaken her prey drive and channel it into some fun. Nope.

Nicki (and I) are blessed to have some really awesome people in our lives. One of them is Nicki's favourite person in the world. No - it's not me. I've learned to accept that. Nicki loves me, but she loves her big sister (my daughter) more. Nicki's big Sis doesn't even live with us, but the bond between them has always been very strong. Big Sis, in turn, loves Nicki, too. So much so that she made an Easter basket for Nicki! There were lots of little treats and goodies - and a toy. Nicki was having so much fun enjoying big Sister's visit that it didn't occur to me to take the toy out of the basket.

Once everyone went home and the house was quiet again, I noticed the "chocolate" bunny and took it out of the wrapper. Nicki paid attention to it immediately! She didn't take her eyes off of it. Then I tossed it to her - and was completely amazed. She grabbed it, chomped onto it a bit, shook it a bit, got it to squeak, dropped it and took a step back in surprise - then pounced on it!! She picked it up and shook it! She tossed it into the air, then pounced on it again! She was playing!!! We had never seen that before! Her Dad was so excited that he ran to grab the camera, and we did what all proud parents do: we took a video. Here it is. This is our Nicki, finally actually playing. Happy Easter!!

There's a really happy update to this story!! You can read it here!!

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Princess Diaries

We've been pretty much house-bound for the past few months. Between deep snows, bitter cold and some health issues for me, a good walk outside has not been an option.

But Nicki is unfazed.

She seems perfectly happy to be a fluffy couch potato, endlessly soaking up petties and affection. A little TOO happy maybe! I can't feel her ribs - so that probably means all these treats and inactivity are taking their toll on her girlish figure! Well, the weather seems to be breaking somewhat, and I've been able to get out for a short walk several times this week. Nicki is so happy!!! OUTSIDE! It's the best!

A friend came to visit last week. She did some reflexology on me to help me heal. It was wonderful! But apparently, it was stressful for Nicki. My friend, who is a lovely human being but not a pet person, was completely taken aback by Nicki's foot-chewing. Like many dogs, Nicki cleans her paws by licking them and nibbling between her pads. Like many herding dogs, she can be a bit over zealous about it. And like many rescued dogs, she can sometimes use this behavior as a stress reducer.

I didn't want to get into a big explanation about it, so I just explained to my friend that it was like people who bite their nails; a nervous habit. Actually, it's exactly like that, and I know first hand. You can usually tell how stressed I've been by the condition of my cuticles. Apparently, my friend's placement on a foot stool before me, my refusal to allow Nicki into my lap during this, and the friend actually touching me for a prolonged time made Nicki very uneasy. She may have felt that her place with me was threatened. She may have simply been confused. After all, people don't drop by to massage my feet very often! For whatever reason, though, this visit and act of kindness were stressful for Nicki.

That's why it's good to be Princess. When you're Princess, nobody just leaves you to your own devices, then yells at you for getting it wrong. When you're the Princess, people react to you in predictable ways. They reassure you and comfort you if something is upsetting. Or they mark the borders of the situation for you so you know what to do. When you're Princess, dinner time is guaranteed and so is that very comfy bed.

Nicki is a Princess. She has to be. I'm pretty sure she's also a large part of the reason for the improvement in my cuticles........

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Single Digits ?!?!? Cabin fever!

It's cold. Really, really really cold. So cold that Nicki gets perilously close to getting frostbitten paws when she's out to do her business. I've tried putting her boots on, but she seems to be in rebellion this year. Maybe they're just too stiff in this overwhelming cold. For whatever reason, the poor girl often does what she's gotta do while trying to hold at least one paw up during the process. Quite the achievement, I must say!

We're also bored off our gourds. I haven't been up to snuff lately, and I admit to being a Cold Weather Wuss at any rate. A walk in temps well below freezing is never going to be my idea of fun! Nicki would be willing, but I'd wind up carrying her home after a half block! I know this because we did it last year. It was that experience, repeated a few times, that drove me to try to get boots for her. Since commercially made boots didn't fit, I played around with making a pair. That went pretty well! She liked them enough that they wore out! We need to experiment with other materials this year....

But in the meantime, we have some serious cabin fever and limited outlets for healthy puppy play. Nicki doesn't play with toys, unless they contain food. Obviously I can't give her food toys constantly, so I've been trying to come up with other activities. Some days we drive to Petco or PetSmart just to be able to walk around! I buy something, of course, but I walk Nicki up and around every aisle in the store! She gets to smell different things, get out of the house, and get a little physical exercise.

Just as Nicki never learned to play with toys, she also doesn't really know how to play with people - or other dogs. This poor girl must have had a lonely puppyhood...   I do try to run around the house with her, but she clearly doesn't see the point, and soon loses interest. Imagine; I'm willing to run around longer than my dog is!

So - we're trying a bit more training. Some reinforcement, to be sure, but also maybe a few new tricks. Maybe we'll try to harness that "Aussie crawl" on command!

And in the meantime, the game is afoot! I have taken to making every meal a hunt or a different food toy of some sort. Frozen kongs, a giant wobbly kong, a dispensing ball, a dispensing knobbly ball ... and tonight, a scavenger hunt. I closed Nicki in the kitchen and hid her entire dinner a few bits at a time throughout two main rooms. It kept her busy, gave her nose work to do, and kept her moving! It took her about 15 minutes to find everything. She kept looking for more after she'd found what I'd hidden, so there was even some residual exercise!

It's a challenge to keep a dog with limited responses busy and engaged while cooped up. Nonetheless, we're on it! If any of you have suggestions, we'd love to hear them!