Dog Rescue—Not for the Faint of Heart

12310553_769685853160217_3841760361102584602_nToday I received some heartbreaking news. One of my most favorite shelter dogs is no longer with us. This afternoon he was euthanized, hopefully in the arms of his loving foster parents. I wouldn’t know because I wasn’t strong enough to be there to say my final goodbyes.

I’d like to think of myself as strong, as someone who can tamp down the sadness and keep moving forward with a big smile on my face. But sometimes those emotional blinders aren’t airtight.

You see, I’m the cheerful one. I’m the girl who’s always cracking jokes and dressing the poor dogs up in tutus and boas. Nothing gets me down! Well that’s what people see anyway. Today is a different story.

I'm reading this book in Derek's honor.

I’m reading this book in Derek’s honor.

I guess there’s a reason why they call crazy dog people like me “bleeding hearts.” Right now it feels like my heart has been squeezed, resulting in sporadic crying jags and a daylong headache.

It’s a reminder that this work that I do is not easy.

It’s not easy when I say goodnight to my BFF, Spanky, and he looks back at me in total confusion. Night after night, I put him back in his kennel and he offers me a fluffy toy with a look that says, “Where you going? I’m still ready to play!”

It’s not easy when I’m short on time and Miss Mary (a beautiful chocolate lab who has gone overlooked for months) whimpers when I walk by, begging me to take her out just for a quick dip in the lake. I drive home feeling like the biggest creep on earth for not giving in.

It’s not easy when I start to see the effects of shelter life on the dogs that have been there for months—even years.

It’s not easy taking a day off from the shelter knowing that my little buddies are expecting to see me promptly at 7 p.m.

It’s not easy when I’m hustling to get home for dinner and I see a restless dog bouncing and spinning like Tigger on speed.

It’s not easy when it’s 100-plus degrees outside and there’s still a dozen more dogs that need to be walked.

And selflishly, it’s not easy when they get adopted. It’s both wonderful and heartbreaking to say my final goodbyes. This, of course, is the ultimate goal. I want my babies to get adopted, believe me! But it’s still hard letting them go and not having any control over their lives. What if they get left outside in the pouring rain? What if their adopters don’t follow the rules and put them in a dangerous situation? I can drive myself bonkers ruminating about the worst-case scenario, or I can just move on. So that’s what I do.

People outside of my amazing circle of APA friends often ask me how I can spend so much time in such a depressing place. I’m often perplexed when I see visitors with tears in their eyes and then realize that I’ve been desensitized to it all.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t see it as depressing. I think of it as a sleep-away camp for dogs. They’re just here for a short while to make some new friends, learn some skills and play games.

Compared to most other shelters, these dogs are getting out a lot more—on field trips, sleepovers and runs around the lake. They’re even working on their behavioral skills so they’ll be good to go when their adopters come. Derek was my “Behavioral Buddy,” meaning we worked together on some of his problem areas –all stemming from his silliness and ADD. Luckily he was obsessed with treats, so it didn’t take a lot of convincing to get him to mind his manners. That little twerp figured out pretty fast that eye contact would get him treats. So while walking on the crowded trail, he would stare at me the entire time while I popped treats into his mouth. We were the two stooges of Town Lake, making random strangers smile and laugh at the sight of a doofy dog walking sideways.

I have so many good memories of this gorgeous hunk of a dog—costume contests, cuddling sessions, field trips to Sonic—that I will always keep close to my heart. I’m sad that his behavior took a drastic turn for the worst, and it’s frustrating knowing that it was completely out of my control—or the control of his foster parents. Sometimes they are their own worst enemies. There’s only so much we can do to keep them happy and safe. That feeling of powerlessness can be overwhelming.

While the blinders are temporarily down and I let myself give into the tears, I will acknowledge that I’m dealing with some heavy issues. The sadness is there, but it is almost totally eclipsed by the joy those dogs bring into my life. If anything, my mental health has vastly improved thanks to all those wonderful creatures who greet me with smiles and tail wags every night. That goes for my APA friends as well! They are the only ones who truly understand what I’m going through right now. Plus, they are totally cool with being seen with me in public while I’m wearing my crocs and dirty dog clothes…sometimes even a tutu. I love them. I love my APA dogs. And I love who I have become since I began my volunteer work in 2009.

Rest in peace, my sweet Derek. Run free!

Spanky’s Special Guest Post: Flawed Dogs

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6523443Hey guys, Spanky here from Austin Pets Alive. Yep, that’s right, I’m a shelter dog in need of a good home. Know anyone who’d like a handsome young sprig of a dog that likes lap-time cuddles and kissies? I’m available! Anyhoo, my “big sister” asked me to stop by her funny little lady blog to say a few words about my new favorite book Flawed Dogs. I didn’t exactly read it on account of me being a dog and all, but she did give me the highlights and showed me all the hilarious illustrations by some hot-shot comic strip author.

It’s weird, I never met this Berkeley Breathed guy, but somehow it’s like he knows me and my kind at some higher level that humans couldn’t possibly grasp. Is it possible that he could be part dog? Let’s think about this for a moment. What is it with these artists? How come some people have this amazing ability to visualize things in their minds and put it all on paper so perfectly? Clearly this is not an easy task because my sissy can barely draw a sad little stick figure. Are these artists on some different cosmic plane? Could they be extraterrestrials? Whoa…all this deep thinking is making me dizzy.

Big sissy told me not to reveal any spoilers, but I can say that this book will take you on a dog’s heart-wrenching journey to his forever home. I can totally relate to Sam the Lion (the hero of the story) because I’ve been through the ringer too. There’s dog fighting, ugly fur-wearing humans and—worst of all—one evil poodle set on destroying Sam’s chance at happiness with the one human he truly loves. Although this looks like a fun book for the tiny humans, I think it’s more for grown ups who can understand Sam’s plight and take away a few deep thoughts about breed bias and the grim reality of shelter dogs.

Speaking of homeless mutts, this book’s full of them! They may be “flawed” but their so-called shortcomings come in handy when they join forces to take down the Westminster Dog Show. Who knew that a funny little dog with digestive issues could launch himself into the air—all through the almighty power of bad gas?! Me thinks that maybe it’s the flaws that make us unique and special—this goes for humans too! If you ask me, those pure-breds with their fancy papers are rather boring. Don’t even get me started on their owners. Why in the world would you want to spend an entire day primping a dog and prancing it around like a perfectly coifed robot? Humans are strange creatures.

But I digress. There’s so much about this book that my big sissy and I love so very very much. We were in awe of the love story of Sam the Lion and his little soul mate, who in some ways is like the human version of a shelter mutt. They were clearly meant to find each other, and I believe this will happen to me too some day…hopefully soon. Is it possible for dogs to imprint on humans? I’d like to think so. Even though Sam lost his way and was at the mercy of other humans—mostly the bad kind—he never let go of his unconditional love for little Heidi. Even when it looked like he found a new home, he never fully trusted his so-called benefactor. It’s like he knew that the man would ultimately betray him in the worst possible way. Even though what he did was despicable, this makes me think that sometimes people come into our lives for a reason. Whether they’re good or bad, they move us along in this strange journey called life.

I’ll stop prattling on to save you from spoilers–also because I have a peanut-butter kong waiting for me in my kennel!  I will say that this little book is going to stick with me and my sissy forever and always. We absolutely loved everything about it—even the really devastating parts. I was so worried about Sam the Lion, but I knew he would find his way back home. That’s because I’m a dog, and me and my kind are nothing if not hopeful. We know when we’re home. We know to have faith in our soul mates. And most importantly, we know that we were put on this earth to do one thing: Love.

I hope you loved my special guest post! Don’t forget to visit me at the shelter. Here’s my website!

Dog Crazy: A Novel of Love Lost and Found by Meg Donahue

22573873Just look at the cover and tell me how I could possibly refuse to read this book! For 17 years, my little gray-striped pudgeball of a cat, Gizzy, has rocked my world. So when he goes, I know I’m going to need someone like Maggie Brennan to keep me from spiraling down the rabbit hole of despair. But let’s not think about that right now, okay? I’ll cross that rainbow bridge when I get to it.

You see, Maggie is a pet bereavement counselor. Most people who just don’t get it would laugh her off as some kind of quack. But anyone who has ever poured their heart and soul into one four-legged creature would understand that this is a most noble and important profession indeed.

“Love is love,” I told her, as I tell all of my patients who are ashamed to find themselves shattered by the death of a dog. “Loss is loss.”

She’s a total pro, but yet there’s one little catch. She can’t leave her house. After her beloved dog died, all of her pent-up stress came to a head, resulting in full-fledged agoraphobia. Luckily she’s able to work out of her home office and order all of her worldly needs on Amazon. It also helps that her BFF lives right next door. Everything is under control…that is until a distressed teenage client walks through her door.

Unlike her other clients who fill up their allotted time telling stories about their beloved pets, all this girl wants to do is hit the streets and search for her missing dog. Although the dog, Billy, been gone for over a month, she continues to comb the streets in a disheveled mess screaming out his name like a deranged banshee. When she refuses therapy, Maggie takes it upon herself to help her search for Billy–pro bono.

At first I thought it was a little far-fetched for a therapist to take on a case for free, but then it all made sense when I realized that she was also saving herself hundreds—hell, probably thousands of dollars—in exposure therapy bills for her agoraphobia. By helping Anya look for her dog, she had face her demons and step out into the great outdoors.

Keeping her anxiety disorder under wraps, she uses her BFF’s poodle as a “therapy dog,” while out hunting for Billy. The stakes get even higher when she realizes that she might be falling for Anya’s handsome older brother. Yes, ladies, there’s a touch of romance–and even some mystery–in this heart-warming animal story.

Thanks to Maggie’s dogged (pun intended!) persistence, Anya slowly comes around. She even rekindles her love of photography by taking some marketing photos of a dog in desperate need of a forever home. Oh how I love Seymour, the adorably neurotic basset hound/golden retriever mix. I’m not going to spoil anything for you, but I will say that everything worked out exactly how I wanted in the end. I’ll just leave it at that!

I loved the shelter dog marketing aspect of this book because that’s my side job at Austin Pets Alive. So on many levels, this book really hit close to home. Emily Donahue has a remarkable talent for articulating the complexities of emotions that overtake us when we are hopelessly in love with our animals. Throughout the book, her lyrical, heart-wrenching prose sang to me. At various points, I wanted to shout “hallelujah” from the rooftop! If you, like me, get mushy about animals, get ready to cry your bleeding hearts out!

Yes, this is a book about dogs, but it really made me wax poetic about my Gizzy, who has been by my side through so many chapters in my life. I picked him up off the streets when I was a 19-year-old mess. I kid you not, after I brought that scrawny bat-eared creature into my home, my life changed so much for the better. At that, I’ll leave you with my favorite passage from the book.

“I have a theory that you get the right dog, the dog you need, for a particular stage in your life.”