Mia’s Big Girl Condo

Mia’s been doing better when we leave her outside during the day. (I’ve written before about her penchant for eating doors inside.) But pretty soon it’s going to be cold and wet out there, so we renovated our backyard shed for her comfort.

I didn’t take any before pictures, but trust me, there was a lot of crap in there, and the outside was an ugly yellow with white splotches where every nail went in. I’d long thought we should just tear the whole thing down, but it turns out it’s a perfect place for Miss Mia to feel safe and warm and dry, but not confined, when we’re not home. She still sleeps inside and is with us whenever we’re home. I’d take her with me everywhere if I could.

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Rebel without a home



This is Rebel. He’s going to be my date to the Anne Jackson Memorial Walk this weekend. Anne Jackson was a sheriff’s deputy who had been a animal control officer. She was killed in the line of duty when a mentally ill man went on a shooting spree in 2008. She knew the man, and as I understand the story, he shot her when she came to his door to check on him. I didn’t know her, but she sounds like a very compassionate person whose heart would have gone out to the man who became her killer.

I first met Rebel a couple of weeks ago when I drove him to a photo shoot with Rescued Hearts Northwest. Allow me to explain it in this video:

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Would you clone your dog?

When asked who would play us in the movie of Bark and Lunge, it’s easy to cast the roles of me and Rob. Right now, I’m thinking Kristen Bell and Chris Pratt, but I’ve also thrown out Claire Danes and Jennifer Lawrence for me, and Matt Damon and Andrew Garfield for Rob.

The real challenge though, would be casting Isis. Someone suggested we clone her, which actually, is a possibility because we have some of her baby teeth. Think of it … we could shoot the movie throughout her life, just like Boyhood!

It would be a true test of nature versus nurture. I’ve often thought that if we had socialized Isis correctly, if we’d never put a prong collar on her, Isis would not have been a totally different dog. She might have been less fearful or leash-reactive, but she still would have nipped our ankles with her needly puppy teeth, and pulled on the leash, and loved soccer balls and licking ears and lying across my body like a cuddly Isis blanket.

But if we cloned her … if we really could do it all over again, would a dog with Isis’s exact genetic make-up be the same as Isis? Would she be predestined to die young or could we prevent her early death?

I can take the fantasy pretty far. I picture bringing baby Isis into this house, where Leo would be way more accepting of a new puppy than Isis was of him. And she’d have big sister Mia to keep her in line. If Isis had Leo and Mia’s ankles to nibble on, would that make her less likely to nibble ours?

How much would I be willing to pay to create a genetic match? I feel like if I could pay on credit, I’d pay any amount to have four more years with Isis. But that would be selfish. I should spend that money on finding homes for shelter dogs.

Still … I’d do it for science.

Would you?

Snoopy's Dog Blog

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For the first time, I’m also joining the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop!


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WOOF! Traveling with a reactive dog

Whenever I’m preparing for a trip, I get a twisty, angsty feeling in my chest because I hate leaving my dogs behind.

Lots of places in the Pacific Northwest welcome dogs, but they wouldn’t necessarily welcome leash-reactive Leo. Since I don’t consider it socially acceptable to take him on walks where he barks and lunges at our neighbors, I hardly consider it socially acceptable to take him to a crowded dog-friendly campground or motel.

I searched and searched for an appropriate place to take the dogs for the Fourth of July. I was leaning toward tent-camping in the middle of nowhere until I discovered the Chevy Chase Beach Cabins in Port Townsend, Washington:

Chevy Chase Beach Cabins and the adjoining beach is a haven for dogs! We allow dogs at Chevy Chase Beach Cabins because we are dog lovers ourselves and love to vacation with our furry friends!

Dogs are welcome in all seven of the cabins, and the beach is private.

Scout is the resident dog at Chevy Chase. We were lucky to inherit Scout from the previous owners (life is too good for her here, no one could picture her as a city dog!). Scout is very friendly, loves children, tolerates other dogs, and loves meeting and greeting guests. 

My fantasy was that the grounds would be one big dog park situation, where leash-reactivity would not be an issue. Leo is well socialized and plays nicely with other dogs off leash. He only barks and lunges at them when he’s on leash, sees them from afar and can’t get to them. This is called barrier frustration.

We booked an adorable yellow cabin for two nights. No one was around when we first arrived. We strolled downhill to the private beach, which was everything I hoped it would be. I’ve let Leo run free at an uncrowded beach before, dropping his leash and letting it drag. Here, we truly let the dogs off leash and they romped in the water. No joggers or bicycles lured him into temptation.

Back at the cabin, we needed to let the dogs dry off before we let them inside. Mia remained off leash, we tethered Leo to the cabin door with a 30-foot leash, and we sat in the Adirondack chairs on the porch. Total perfection.

Until a landscaping lady, to whom Leo already had been introduced, headed straight for us. Guess who barked at her?

And guess who got anxious when the guests in the other cabins returned? Me. It was me who got anxious. These guests included several small children and no large dogs. When the first little girl raced for the tree swing near our cabin, I hustled Leo inside.

Was that my plan, to run and hide every time another guest went by? No, I remembered. I brought cheese for this very reason.

I took Leo back outside and gave him cheese every time a new person came into view. He smiled, took the cheese calmly, and didn’t bark at any of the strange people. Not even when they ran.

He did, however, bark at people who walked by our cabin when we were inside. And he barked at Scout, the resident Lab mix. I had gotten so excited by the description on Chevy Chase’s website that I glossed over a code word: tolerates. Scout merely tolerates other dogs. She had no interest in playing with Leo and Mia. She lurked in the yard by the main house, as was her right, and every time he saw her, Leo barked his scary bark.

So that wasn’t ideal.

But this weekend away was about the best an owner of a reactive dog can get (without the angsty feeling of leaving the dog behind). Leo got to do fun things like romp off leash on a beach. We sat in the sand and read our books with our dogs beside us. If the worst thing Leo did was startle a few people by barking from inside our cabin as they walked by, I’ll take it!

Why it worked:

  • We found a fairly secluded spot that was exceedingly dog friendly.
  • I used potential triggers as opportunities to counter-condition Leo.

Epilogue: Leo usually wears a Calming Cap in the car, but we took it off him for the long winding island road, not anticipating we would see so many bicycles. I created a secondary reinforcer by saying, each time Leo noticed a bicycle, “Cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, Good boy!” I had no cheese in my hand at the time, but it did have a reassuring effect on him, and now I’ve added that cue when I give him cheese in the presence of bicycles.

Do you have a reactive or fearful dog? Please join us and share your story. The Blog Hop is open through Sunday, August 17, hosted by Oz the Terrier and Wag ‘n Woof Pets.

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A writer writing about writing (about dogs)

My friend Tiffany Pitts, author and mother to an awesome shepherd named Thor Michaelson, invited me to participate in a writerish blog hop. I mention Thor Michaelson because 1) this is a dog blog and 2) Tiffany and I met through Thor.

I’d been following Thor Michaelson on Facebook for several months when I happened to find myself sitting next to Tiffany at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference last summer: “Is your name Tiffany? I’m obsessed with your dog!”

Who says it’s hard to make new friends as an adult?

Tiffany is the author of the hilarious and smart sci-fi novel Double Blind, which is the first in the Thanatos Rising series. I highly recommend it, especially to the cat people among you who will appreciate my favorite character, Toesy.

Blog Hop

Note: I rearranged the order of the questions for the benefit of readers who come here looking for stuff about dogs.

Which part of researching your current novel was most interesting?

My current project is a novel called Fight Like a Lady, about a female mixed martial arts fighter who rescues fighting dogs. I developed an affinity for pit bulls from watching Pit Bulls and Parolees, and despite not having any pit bull friends of my own, created several pit bull characters. Earlier this year, I started volunteering at the Humane Society of Skagit Valley, and discovered that everything I fantasized about rescued pit bulls is true. They’re friendly and cuddly and have huge smiles and most of them let me kiss them on the head. I know I shouldn’t go around kissing dogs I’ve just met on the head, but I can’t help it.

Prior to this experience, I had written a scene at an animal shelter where all the volunteers are old ladies who are afraid of the rescued fighting dogs. I hope that when my friends at the Humane Society read it, they won’t think it’s based on them. I might need to rewrite it.

Where do you like to write?

I have two different writing desks at home, but right now neither is in any condition to foster creativity. The first is in the guest room, which is decorated like a little girl’s bedroom with Disney posters and other artifacts from my Hollywood days. (Note: No little girl has lived there since we bought the house.) We squeezed Rob’s old desk under the window and it is a nice writing space with a view of the rhododendrons, but it’s also hot in the summer, and right now, the room is a complete mess, with piles of clothes I mean to give away, and shoes and purses heaped on the floor. I can’t really even get to the desk, although that is where my laptop rests when she’s charging.

A few years ago, I created a space for myself in our library (which at one point was the only room in the house without a TV). I pushed a balance ball chair up to a sturdy old table of my grandmother’s. But right now the table is piled up with books and papers, and not suitable for writing.

Now that I have a lovely, lightweight MacBook Air, I can write anywhere. I am writing this from a recliner in the TV room.

How important are names to you in your books? How do you choose them?

Rob and I had some trouble coming up with a name for Leo, our second dog, and I recycled some of the vetoed names in Fight Like a Lady. In my memoir, Bark and Lunge, the names mostly were predetermined, but of course, I named the main character, Isis, in real life too. I still think it’s the most beautiful name in the world, and wish it weren’t the acronym for a terrorist organization in the Middle East. Looks like I picked the wrong summer to release a book about a dog named Isis.

I changed some names in the memoir, always with some connective thread that made sense to me. A dog named Belle… like Michelle, My Belle; I renamed her Rita, like Lovely Rita, Meter Maid. Shoot, now I’ve outed Belle.

I named Vicky, the heroine in Fight Like a Lady, based on what her fight nickname would be. She thinks fight promoters will call her “Vicky Victorious,” but instead, they latch onto her last name, Bergman, and call her “The Iceberg.”

Do you read your reviews? How do you respond to the bad reviews (if you get them)?

I understand writers (and actors and directors) who have a policy against reading their reviews, but when I only have ten reviews so far on Amazon, of course I’m going to read them all. (Hey, advance readers… don’t forget, I’m counting on you to post a review!)

I’ve been steeling myself for the inevitable mean reviews, but my feelings haven’t been hurt yet. I got my first one-star review the other day, and totally agree with it. The reader said my book was “How NOT to train a dog.” Yes, as a matter of fact, that’s exactly what my book is. Sorry you didn’t enjoy it or relate to it.

I would never respond to a negative review on Amazon or Goodreads, but one critical reviewer also commented right here on the blog, so I’ve had a conversation with her about some of the things she didn’t like. I understand where she’s coming from.

What are your favorite books to give as gifts?

I give away almost every book that I read. Usually to my mother, or a fellow author, or a fellow dog-lover, depending on what the book is. I’m trying to think of a book that I’ve given more than once. A Dog’s Purpose, I would give that as a gift. Or Robert Crais’ Suspect.

Pam HelbergI hereby tag Pam Helberg, a brilliant writer and friend who’s written beside me in both a fiction and memoir class, and at numerous cafes, conferences and retreats.

Pam Helberg is working on her memoir, an intimate look at what happens when the Perfect Lesbian Family falls apart, a story by turns humorous and heartbreaking. Her essay “Body Language” appeared in the anthology Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religion Seal Press, 2013, and her essay “Don’t Hold My Hand in Pocatello,” will be published in the Ooligan Press anthology Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity in Winter 2015.  Pam is currently working on her master’s degree in mental health counseling at Antioch University in Seattle.

Please visit her at pamelahelberg.com

And then go look at some pictures of dogs and cats.

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