Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hard Luck for Gremlin Dog

Last Friday we handed Annie the Gremlin Dog back to the rescue organization so that she could participate in a big adoption event. (It was an afternoon event and I was working, or I'd have offered to go along and help.) Afterward, Gremlin was supposed to go out to New Jersey to run around in the cool green grass with some other rescued mutts.

Alas, Lady Luck is no friend to gremlins. Not only did Gremlin fail to land a home over the weekend, but she managed to catch a doggy cold while on vacation and had to take a quick trip to the vet. Nothing serious, happily, but it kept her out of commission for a couple of days.

She'll be coming back to us tomorrow. Here's hoping she catches someone's eye (and heart) soon.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Annie the Gremlin Dog

This is Annie, aka Gremlin Dog.

I wrote about her a little in my previous post, but quick recap: she comes from Brevard, North Carolina, where she was at risk of being put down because her gremliny little face didn't appeal to potential adopters. Volunteers helped her get to Philly, where she found a foster home with us. We've had her for a few days now. I've been calling her "Gremlin" rather than Annie, because it strikes me as an appropriate name (just look at that face!), and it makes her stand out to the people she meets. Everyone remembers the little dog named Gremlin.

Gremlin's first hours with us were fairly dramatic. She arrived around 10 pm after a long day of travel and meeting new people, so I figured she'd be pretty tired and bundled her off to her crate with some clean bedding and a tasty stuffed Kong.

Well, she loved the Kong, but she did not love her crate. Not too surprisingly for an ex-stray who hasn't had a lot of security in her life, Gremlin has some separation issues. She doesn't mind being in the crate if she can see a person nearby, and she doesn't mind being alone if she can snooze in the dog bed, but the combination of crating and having no one in sight seems to trigger a big flashing ABANDONMENT!! ABANDONMENT!! RED ALERT!! in her head.

And when she thinks she's being abandoned, Gremlin howls. Loud and long and with great woe. Her sheer vocal range would almost be funny if we didn't have so many neighbors in close proximity who really need their sleep. But we do, and a yodeling foster dog is not a good way to endear yourself to them, especially since a) technically we're violating the condo bylaws by having two furry animals in our place (of course, so does everyone else, but still...); and b) Gremlin got one of the downstairs neighbors' dogs to sing along with her, literally doubling the problem overnight.

So this is where I sleep now. And this is where I will continue to sleep until we work past that particular problem.

Other than the crating issue -- which I'm pretty confident we can work through, and which wouldn't even be an issue if Pongu weren't such a brat that we have to keep the dogs separated for their own safety overnight -- Gremlin has proven to be an easy keeper. She walks beautifully on the leash, barely ever barks (it's more of a muted little "whuff," and even that's rare), and is almost perfect on housetraining, with just one accident in the time we've had her. She has very good manners at the dog park, playing enthusiastically but appropriately with dogs of all sizes. In the home, she can get snappy if another dog tries to steal something out from under her nose, but that's mostly Pongu being a jerkface and probably wouldn't be an issue with a more polite dog.

Overall, Gremlin is an inquisitive, fearless, quick-learning little mutt. I'd characterize her as "medium energy" -- she loves to play, and she sometimes has a few zoomies when she first gets out of her crate in the morning, but after a brisk 10-minute walk she's pretty pooped out. Sometimes on the way home she'll stop cold on the second-floor landing and give me this despairing look that says, very clearly, "oh god you mean I have to go up MORE STAIRS to get home? I can't do this, kill me now." This is definitely not a dog who'll want to run marathons with you.

As far as obedience training goes, she has an excellent Sit, seems to be vaguely acquainted with Stay, and has no idea what that whole Down thing is all about. We're working on learning the new concepts and reinforcing the old ones; Gremlin has proven to be very willing to work for cut-up hot dogs (although she only likes them hot out of the microwave and turns her nose up at cold leftover pieces). She will also work for praise and petting; while she isn't pushy about it, Gremlin soaks up affection.

Things that need work: besides learning to sleep quietly in her crate when no one's around, Gremlin can be a little impolite in her greetings. She gets very excited to see people, and then she likes to jump up and mouth them while flailing her little paws around like the world's drunkest boxer. This is a very common issue, and Gremlin's been making good progress even in the short time we've had her, but prospective adopters should expect to continue training on that point.

And that, so far, is Annie the Gremlin Dog. I'm hoping we can get her adopted fairly quickly, as there's another group of dogs coming up soon that will need foster homes, and it would be nice if we could offer one of them a space. But first this little gremlin has to find a family, so that's what we're focused on now.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What's the Value of a Pretty Face?

For a homeless dog, it can mean the difference between adoption and death.

Most people, whether they realize it or not, are looking for an idealized image of a dog as they walk along the shelter rows. Some are drawn to animals that resemble beloved childhood pets, some to ones that look like the furry stars of TV shows and movies, and some to any cute puppy whose wide hopeful eyes, peering through the bars of its enclosure, catches at their heartstrings.

There's no malice in this. There's often not even any conscious choice. It's just human nature to be drawn to adorable puppies and handsome adults. But it also means that good dogs -- stable, sweet-tempered, loving dogs who would make ideal companions -- get overlooked, even killed, because they don't fit that skin-deep ideal. The graying, the scarred, and the superficially imperfect are at a real disadvantage in the race for homes. Big black dogs infamously have it worst: no matter how great their personalities might be, many potential adopters just pass them by without a second glance.

If it happens long enough, a dog can give up hope. A shelter, even a good one, is a very stressful environment for a dog. After prolonged periods of confinement, dogs can become frustrated or depressed. Some begin spinning in endless circles, barking constantly, or chewing off their own fur. Some stop eating. While many of these problems can be reversed once the dog gets out of the shelter and into a patient, caring home, there may be no such home on the horizon for a particular dog. Thus, when a dog begins to show these psychological problems (commonly known as "kennel stress" or "kennel crazy"), shelter staff must make a difficult decision about that dog's fate. Especially if there are other animals coming in that need the space, a dog that is undergoing severe kennel stress often gets euthanized.

Annie, our next foster dog, might have met that fate... but thanks to some dedicated rescuers, she got a second chance.

Originally from Brevard, North Carolina, Annie is a pint-sized mutt with a funny little underbite. It gives her an extra-exuberant grin, but it also turned off some potential adopters, who thought the thrust of her chin looked too pugnacious. No one seemed likely to take her, and for a while her chances looked grim.

Fortunately, Annie captured the hearts of some rescuers who saw past her Popeye scowl and recognized that she was an exceptional dog. They couldn't give her a home themselves, but they could get her on the road to find someone who could. One by one, people stepped up to help, and soon Annie was well on her way, extra-big smile and all.

She'll be coming to our house next week. We can't wait to meet her -- and help her find a loving home with someone who's looking for more than just a pretty face.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Nuts and Bolts: Kongs, Glorious Kongs

I love Kongs.

If I ruled the world, every dog would own at least one Kong. The miraculous distraction powers of those tough little rubber beehives may not be literally magical, but they aren't far from it. They serve simultaneously as treats, chew toys, puzzles and bouncing balls, and I have never known a dog who didn't love them (although I've certainly met dogs who needed a little help figuring out what to do with them at first!). Kongs should be showered with glory and hosannas... especially if you're a foster parent.

A Kong is a hollow, bumpy-surfaced toy made of super tough rubber -- the same kind used to make airplane tires, I'm told. The basic concept is simple: stuff food inside and let the dog try to get it out by licking, chewing, and dropping the toy. Simple as it is, however, it can keep a dog entertained for hours.

They're not kidding about the "world's best dog toy."
Because Kongs are so durable, they're probably the best value-for-money to be found in the world of dog toys. Most dogs can't damage a Kong, no matter how hard they chew, and there are extra-tough Kong Extremes for the rare ones who can. You can use a Kong over and over again (the regular ones are dishwasher safe, and it's pretty easy to scrub out any errant food bits with an old toothbrush and some soapy water), and by changing up what you stuff inside, you can keep them constantly new and exciting.

When a dog is first being introduced to Kongs, it's a good idea to use smelly food that's relatively easy to get, and to put it near the mouth of the toy so the dog can reach it immediately. Kibble bits loosely stuck to smears of peanut butter, dog biscuits just barely wedged in there, and other easy-to-get treats are good for beginners.

As the dog becomes more adept with working food out of Kongs, you can start really jamming the food into those things. Two of my favorite techniques are frozen Kongs and jerky Kongs.

Frozen Kongs are awesome. Stuff a Kong with a mixture of wet food (I use homemade "dog stew," but canned food is fine too) and kibble, stick it in the freezer overnight, and in the morning you will have one of the finest dog toys known to humankind. It takes Pongu about 20 minutes to empty a medium Kong filled with frozen dog food and up to 30 minutes to empty a large one. Rawhide chews only last half as long. Pig ears are gone in a paltry three or four minutes, and with less nutrition and more calories to boot. The clear winner: frozen Kongs.

Our freezer pretty much always looks like this.

I love frozen Kongs so much that I feed foster dogs almost all their meals from frozen Kongs in crates. This prevents squabbling over food (since the foster's in a crate, Pongu can't steal its dinner) and helps the foster dog learn to think of its crate as a place where it gets delicious meals served in spiffy toys. Also, because the frozen Kong keeps the dog totally absorbed for a solid half hour, I can sneak away to take a bath or get dressed for work without worrying that the mutt puppies will get into trouble while I'm not looking.

Only slightly less awesome is the jerky Kong, a fine alternative to use when you don't have six hours to wait for a freshly packed Kong to freeze or just don't think your dog needs that much extra food. I like to use Plato Wise Treats jerky strips, which are conveniently cut into just the right size and shape to wedge into a medium Kong (some of them are a little too thin to use alone, but if you stuff two of those in together, you've got a well-packed Kong).

Jerky Kongs, in my experience, last longer than peanut butter Kongs (unless they're frozen) or biscuit-stuffed Kongs. This is because as the dog chews and licks at the jerky stuffed inside the Kong, the dried meat absorbs moisture and swells, thereby becoming even more tightly wedged inside the toy. The dog can taste the meat, which encourages him to keep working, but it usually takes a good long time before he can actually wiggle the jerky out.

"...almost got it... almost got it..."
You can stuff just about anything you want into a Kong: cream cheese, peanut butter, kibble soaked in chicken broth, dog biscuits. If it's sticky enough to adhere to the sides or hard enough to be wedged inside and put up some resistance to tugging, it'll work. And your dog will thank you... or, like Pongu, drop his empty Kong meaningfully on your feet every morning.