Monday, January 28, 2013

White Boy Month

I usually try to update this blog about four times per month. Usually, that’s once a week. You may have noticed that this month, I am spectacularly not meeting that goal. That’s because Old Not-Faithful, my lap top, has finally bit the dust but good. Luckily for my, The Voice of Reason, my wonderful husband, bought me a new laptop this week. I’m so glad I married him for money. He’s so glad he married me for my cute butt, so I guess we’re even.

The Voice of Reason (don't worry, he's got a cute butt, too), the new lap top (GREEN!),
and the Little Squish (more about him in a minute).

I hate learning new technology, particularly when there was nothing wrong with the old technology. Except for, you know, the part where it wouldn't turn on anymore. I’m sure there’s a metaphor for dog training in their somewhere, but you’re going to have to find it yourself because I’m too busy swearing at my computer to figure out life metaphors. In the meantime, here’s the stuff we did this month that I should have written actually blog posts about but didn't because I was too busy trying to find the right combination of curses and violence to get my computers to work.

First, George came to stay with us for a long weekend. We *heart* George. He was adopted from ARLP a few years back, and we've always jumped at the chance to have him back in the house. He’s just one of those dogs who is fun to be around. One of the great things about ARLP is that dogs who pass through our program are always part of the family. In addition to continued training support, our program dogs often come back to us for other happy reasons like vacations and education programs and such. It’s such a wonderful feeling when you get to see dogs you helped save being successful in life. 

Jai, Rubi,and George.

In other news, Rubi shares toys. This is kind of a big deal because when I brought her home, Rubi thought walking by her when she had something good was a crime punishable by blood letting. She even lets Jai steal toys from her, which seems like a near miracle to me. Watching her try to steal them back, though, is hilarious. She’s figured out that I won’t let her take things from other dogs unless they give her permission. So she flirts, sending lusty sighs and play bows and butt wiggles to him. When that stopped working, she started making up stuff to be excited about – suddenly freezing, and then running to the door as if someone’s there, then stealing the toy back when Jai goes to see who it is. Jai’s figured this trick out, though, and I can’t wait to see how they try to out smart each other next. Who needs cable when you have dogs like these?

It's a *Goughnut*, people. Get your brains out of the gutter.

Speaking of which, since I have no computer and don’t watch TV, I’ve had to come up with other ways to entertain myself. This usually means training my dogs. So this week, I taught them all to lay in a box. At the same time. Except for Jai. I taught him how to lay in a box and look pathetic. That’s right: I could have done something useful like proofing Rubi’s mat work or doing impulse control with Jai. I chose to teach my dogs to hang out in a box. 

It was a huge success.

In other news, I have officially declared this to be Squishy Faced Dog Celebration Week. Squishy (seriously, that’s his name) is a behind-the-scenes ARLP foster dog, and he’s staying with us for a week while his foster family is on vacation. I’m all ready terribly jealous of whoever gets to adopt this little gem. Of course, that could be in part because he reminds me so much of Jai. Like Jai, Squishy comes from a fairly tragic background and as a result, has a few fear issues. And like Jai, Squishy intensely wants to be a normal dog and to believe that the world is a good, safe place to be. It’s heartbreaking and amazing and fun, and I totally don’t want to give him back when his foster family comes home this weekend. 

As our first official action of Squishy Dog Celebration Week, Big Squish, Little Squish, and I went for a run.
Little Squish thinks this was a Grand Adventure.
Big Squish thinks people who go running in Weather are morons.

While we’re passing by the subject of Fatty McCheesehead, Jai celebrated his first Alive Day on Friday. Alive Day celebrations are a military tradition – the celebrating of having a close brush with death and surviving – and it’s one that has carried across into rescue culture. In Jai’s case, it’s the anniversary of the day I picked him up from St Paul Animal Control. SPAC doesn’t get nearly the publicity of its neighboring shelter, Minneapolis Animal Care and Control, and if the right circumstances hadn’t met the right coincidences with the right karma, Jai would not be here with me today. And of course, I’m always happy for any excuse to celebrate my dogs.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Advocate

Today is Martin Luther King Jr Day. So it seems fitting that last Friday, a few days before the nation celebrates the life of our greatest american civil rights advocates, I was asked to speak to a group of middle schoolers about what it means to be a pit bull advocate. As I sat down a few days before to outline what I was going to talk about, it occurred to me that I've never really given much thought about what it means to be an advocate. Looking at my own journey from middle school the where I am today, the best I could come up with was "I saw something I could help with, so I did." Unfortunately, that's a pretty short speech. Here's what I (with a little help from my friends) came up with instead:

Know your subject. There is a consistent theme in hate and fear: people fear what they do not understand. If a dog is growling at you, that is scary. But if you know that the dog is growling at you because it doesn't want you to take it's bone away from you, and all you have to do to prevent a bite is the leave the dog alone, the situation becomes much less frightening. Most people who are afraid of pit bulls have never met one. All the knowledge they have is from what others have told them. If people start telling others positive stories instead of staying silent and letting the tales of violence spread, then pit bulls become less threatening, less scary, and more like other dogs.

It's no good just to know the positive stories, either. You must know the weaknesses in addition to the strengths. Do pit bulls bite? Of course! All dogs are capable of biting, regardless of breed, age, or sex. Pit bulls are, however, one of the only breeds specifically bred to be tolerant of people while highly aroused. And for every pit bull that bites a person, there are a hundred more that are therapy dogs, service dogs, police dogs, and other outstanding members of society. And for every one of these stellar breed ambassadors, there are thousands more pit bulls that are simply pets and will live out their lives never having so much as lifted a lip against a person.

Be a good example. Not everyone can teach. That's okay. If you have a pit bull, you don't have to say anything. You can let your dog speak for herself. The more people see of pit bulls doing and excelling at ordinary things, the less unusual and exotic the seem. Even something as simple as walking down the street not eating anyone can be amazing to some people.

This doesn't mean your dog needs to be perfect. Play to your dog's strengths. For example, Maus is pretty sure that children are small agents of the devil, and at this point in his life, I don't think I'm going to change that. So I'm careful about situations I place him in where he might come in contact with children. This doesn't mean that he can't be a good example to others. A few months ago, Maus and I were asked to do a nosework demonstration for a group of fifth graders. I had the kids hide Maus's scent objects, and then had them sit in the middle of the room while Maus worked. Maus had fun because he loves scent work and none of the kids were trying to touch him, the kids had a blast watching a pit bull do something amazing. It was a win/win situation, and that's all you really need to be a good example.

Play to your strengths. I'm no good at talking to adults, particularly adults that I think might not agree with me. I mean, there's a reason they put me in the back of the tent with the needles at the Get Your Fix! fairs. But that doesn't mean I'm useless without my dogs. I have a lot to offer. Most people do, if they take the time to think about it. Do you have able hands an a little spare time? There's always rooms for volunteers to help with training classes, adoption days, awareness events, crafting, flyering for shots fairs, socialization parties - all you need to do is say you're available. Good at art? Deviant is coming up in a few months. Paint, draw, photograph, bake cookies (as someone who lacks that skill, I consider cooking an art). Good at computers? Make a website, write a blog, create a better operating system for rescues to use to organize stuff.

Do you have a voice? Tell a story about this awesome pit bull you know to your coworker or kids. Write your insurance agent or landlord or congressman about how wrong it is to judge any living creature on how he or she looks. Never underestimate the power of a simple thank you to those who don't work for money. The support of people who do not own pit bulls and may not have a person stake in the "problem" is a powerful tool.

Be kind. When your most powerful tool is education, the worse thing that can happen is for people to stop listening to you. One of the fastest ways to do that is with two words: "You're wrong." People don't always remember what you said, but they'll remember that not only are pit bulls vicious, but pit bull people are jerks, too. People, much like dogs, are rarely all good or all bad, and I often have to remind myself that just because someone doesn't agree with me doesn't mean they're a bad person. It's okay if I decide not to argue today if it means that I - or another pit bull advocate - have the chance to change their mind tomorrow. There is enough hate and anger out there, and I refuse to intentionally make more of it. After all, there's only this one world and we've all got to live in it, so we just as well be nice to each other.

The pit bull "problem" isn't really a dog problem at all - it's a people problem. People are the ones who want to see the world in black and white then there are so many vibrant and exquisite colors. Pit bulls are not all bad dogs, and people who own pit bulls are not all bad people. What we really need now are advocates who are willing to help open people's eyes and let the light in.

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
                                                                   ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

My Personal Cheerleader

My butt hurts. This is because at the end of November, I decided I was a runner. And if I was a runner, than I had better start running. Seriously, that was my thought process.

I've tried to take up running before, and it’s never stuck. I have asthma and a bum knee and it’s cold out or it’s hot out, and then I realized that dude – I’m not getting any younger here. As I get older, I’m only going to get more decrepit and come up with more excuses, so if I want to cross “run a 5K” off my bucket list, I had better get going.

I've gone running now with each of my dogs, and it turns out that it takes more than a sound body to make a good running partner. All of my dogs are relatively athletic, but Maus, for example, believes that running is for people who can’t walk. Rubi is also a pain in the ass (figuratively, this time) to run with as she has only two speeds: “pee on everything” and “as if we’re being chased by zombie velociraptors with AIDs.”

Photo by Paige

As should shock none of you who know her, Piper Ann is my favorite dog to run with. Piper doesn't get a lot of blog time by virtue of being the Good One. There’s nothing I've asked of her that she hasn't given me everything she’s got and then some. We've done rally, obedience, therapy work, hiking trips - anything I’m interested in, she’s game for. Piper Ann is a reminder to me what I could do with a dog if I could just stop adopting the crazies.

Not that I don’t love my crazies.

But it’s nice to go out with a dog and not have to obsess about people or other dogs or thresholds or weird objects or volume control.

There’s more to it than just good behavior, though; Piper an is an excellent cheerleader. I've been roughly following the Couch-to-5K running program. This program involves doing sets of running where you run for a certain distance and then walk for a certain distance and then run some more and so on. Piper Ann never seems disappointed when we have to walk – she’s spent most of her life walking and hiking with me. But every time we start running, she throws me a party: she play bows, spins in a circle, prances a bit, spins in another circle, and then settles into an easy, happy, trot. 

My favorite treat, though, is those rare occasions when we get to run with Piper off leash. Then when we start running, she bows, spins, and sprints out about forty feet in front of me, nubbin of a tail tucked and nose in the air as if there were a prize for most ridiculous run. She stops and bows, grinning and panting. She freezes, vibrating with excitement, nubbin in the air, until I catch up and bow to her. Piper jumps into the air, spins in a circle, runs in a circle, runs around me, bolts another forty feet, play bows, and waits. Repeat until I forget that my brain is almost as numb as my feet, my knee aches, my butt hurts, and my lungs feel like they've been donkey-kicked by a moose.

There's no moral or metaphor to this post. I thought I would at least strongly dislike running, and it turns out that I don't. It actually makes me feel a little invincible. I mean, if I have the mental fortitude to go jogging when it's four degrees Fahrenheit out, what can't I do? Piper helps me be invincible. She makes me feel like a better person. It's good, you know, when you've got a friend like that.