Walking Shelter Dogs: Year in Review

About a year ago, I was surfing the Pet Ads thinking about adding a pit bull to my collection. Charmed by a photo of a brindle boy named Hugo at a nearby Humane Society, the synapses connected and I signed up to volunteer walking shelter dogs.

I’ve walked lots of dogs during the past year (see all their pictures here), and pretty much fantasize about adopting each one. As I work my way up the mile-long trail, I imagine how they would fit in with Mia and Leo. I tend to call all girl dogs “Princess” and all boy dogs “Buddy,” but sometimes I think of what I might rename them if they were mine. One sweet Dutch shepherd didn’t have a name on her kennel, but on our walk she became Heidi. At the time, the shelter was having a promotion where you could pay $5 to name a dog. I got quite excited about naming her, but it turned out she’d already been named Arlene. By my next visit, she’d been adopted.

I make an effort to walk dogs that have been there a while, not the easy dogs that everyone loves to walk. Those dogs get adopted quickly anyway. A lot of the dogs I walk can only go to homes with no other pets, which is a problem, because most experienced dog owners already have dogs, and the dogs that can’t be around other dogs often have other challenges requiring an experienced owner.

Whenever I hear of one of the dogs getting adopted, I note it in my Facebook album. Unfortunately, I don’t hear about every adoption, and even more unfortunately, not every dog is adoptable. The first dog who broke my heart was Maverick. I could tell he was losing it. After our walks, he wouldn’t let me leave his kennel. I’d go in with him to take off his harness, and he jumped and grabbed my arm in his mouth and blocked the door, trying to make a break for it as I attempted to exit. I wasn’t surprised to hear that he bit a staffer and had to be moved to the old building. What happens there we don’t like to talk about, but that’s the reality of dog rescue. Not every dog can be saved. Some dogs go “kennel crazy,” becoming less and less adoptable the longer they’re confined to the kennel.



Part of me wanted to say, Wait, wait, I’ll take Maverick. But I didn’t even know if Maverick was house-trained. He lifted his leg and peed in the corners of the shelter halls as I walked him outside. I hadn’t been able to clicker-train him to sit. I had to stand on his leash to keep him from jumping up and head-butting me. He also sat in my lap and kissed my face. I loved him.

But animal rescues have a responsibility not to adopt out dogs who might be dangerous. A woman in Tacoma has come under fire for her efforts to save all the dogs.

That’s something I’ve had to come to terms with. A few other dogs I’ve loved have gone to the old building. Some of them I think I could have adopted if I didn’t already have dogs. The other day as I walked a one-year-old girl they’re calling Sassafras but I’ve decided to call Kiki, a song started running through my head: Katy Perry’s The One that Got Away.

In another life, I would be your girl.


In another life, I could save them all.

The good news is that most of them do find wonderful homes. I’d pretty much lost hope for a heeler mix named Evan, who bounced off the walls of his kennel when I walked by, and a Lab-Dane named Clarkson, who’d been returned twice and had been there almost a year. Evan and Clarkson both got adopted on the same day in September.

So I will not lose hope again. There is a home for every dog!

Walking shelter dogs is one small thing that I can do every week to make a difference in the lives of homeless pets. It hurts too much to think of all the dogs that don’t find homes, and sometimes I feel guilty because I can only walk, at most, three or four dogs each time I volunteer. I can’t bear to look at the big picture, so I think of the Starfish Story, and know that I made a difference that day for those three or four dogs.

It made a difference for that one.

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Positive outlook for the new year

His shit-eating grin says, "I may have lost my off-leash privileges, but it was so fun I'd do it again."

His grin says, “I may have lost my off-leash privileges, but that was so fun I’d do it again.”

I’ve taken the dogs to the above secluded beach a few times where they’ve romped happily off leash. There’s a short cliff leading to a road above, and Leo made my worst fear come true for about two minutes on New Year’s Eve, when he raced up to the road and ran back and forth along it. Here I am releashing him after he ran back:

It had been really cold leading up to New Year’s, and I wanted to take them somewhere nice during the day, while I still had time off.

The good thing about bad weather is that it makes walking a leash-reactive dog easier. Fewer people are out and about when it’s cold and dark. Rob and I have been dutifully walking the pooches in the evening hours, sometimes as late as 9 or 10 o’clock.

Most of the time, we have a perfect walk and don’t even see another person, dog, or bicycle. Or, better yet, we see a person, dog, or bicycle, and I say, “cheesy,” prompting Leo to turn his head to me and nibble the string cheese in my hand.

We do best if I carry the cheese in my hand the whole walk. Several times, a stimulus has approached, and I’ve been too slow to get the cheese from my pocket to Leo’s face.

When I have the cheese at the ready, amazingly, it has prevented reactions. Maybe I’m teaching him something after all! I’d pretty much given up on de-reactivating Leo, thinking there would never be a time that he could withstand a bicycle whizzing by us. But he’s done it!! He takes the cheese really hard, scraping his teeth against my fingers (though he hasn’t drawn blood the way Isis used to). But he doesn’t bark. As long as I have the cheese in my hand.

On our walk last night, I told Rob about the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop and said that I didn’t know what to write about. “I have our success with string cheese, and I have Leo’s little romp on New Year’s Eve, but those two things don’t really make a whole blog post.”

I also had Leo’s little escapade a couple of weeks ago when Leo slipped past Grandma out the front door and raced around the front yard for a few minutes. At the time, and again on New Year’s, Rob asked if I was going to blog about the security breach. “No,” I said. “It’s not really a story. My worst fear, yes, but short-lived.”

THEN… I saw a person on the sidewalk ahead of us. We crossed the street and I prepared to cheese Leo. I noticed the person was actually a pair of people, and they had a dog. Mia crouched to poop. “We don’t have time to stop,” I told Rob (on the other end of Mia’s leash) as I hustled Leo along. The dog across the street saw Leo. Leo saw him. Leo barked. The other dog barked. Mia barked.

Honestly, this was low on the reaction scale. Just dogs saying hello, as far as I’m concerned. Not super-aggressive strings of barks, just a woof back and forth. The other dog owner said, and this has never happened in the history of our conscientiously crossing the street to avoid collisions, “Thank you.”

Rob and I felt just swell about this exchange, although we had left the poop behind, and I have a strict no poop left behind policy.

The area where Mia pooped was grassy, not sidewalk, and shaded by bamboo. On the way back, I asked, “Are you going to cross the street with me to find that poop?” Rob didn’t want to, but I said, “If someone else had failed to pick up their dog poop on that stretch of grass, we would have stepped in it tonight!”

I didn’t need his permission, because when Leo and I started to cross the street, Mia came along with. Rob didn’t have much choice in the matter. Directing my headlamp on the grass, I scanned for poop, hoping Rob wouldn’t step in it before I spotted it.

“Mia, where did you poop?” It seemed like we had walked too far. Had we missed it?

Rob asked, “Do you recognize these cars?”

“What?” I looked up at him.


Yep. I stepped in it. As I bent down to baggie the poop off my shoe, Leo alerted to a man and his dog across the street. I had a bag of poop in my hand, not a piece of string cheese. So he barked at the other dog. A lot.

These things happen. But at least I had something to write about.

Speaking of poop! I almost forgot to shout out where a shout out is due! Notice my accessory in the above photos? Not the pink thing, that’s Mia’s harness. The roundish black thing, sort of turned around so you can’t see the paw print design, is my PoopPac, recommended by Cascadian Nomads, one of the hosts of this blog hop.

Hey, here’s some big news! My book Bark and Lunge is free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers right now! And the Kindle version will be free to everyone Feb. 1-3. Mark your calendars.

This post is part of the First Mondays Positive Pet Training Blog Hop hosted by Cascadian Nomads, Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days.

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Christmas Mia

They know if you’ve been bad or good

Two hours after I left to go to LA for a few days, Rob sent me a photo of Leo pouting by the front door, either waiting for my return, or longing to relive his romp from the previous day, when he slipped past Grandma and raced around the front yard for a few minutes before we cornered him and made him come inside.

Sad Leo

My heart was, of course, broken, because I hate to be away from my pups, but the next day, Rob took them both on a great walk and sent this picture of Leo looking not so much forlorn, but kinda pissed that I wasn’t home yet.

Leo and the reindeer
The following day, he took Mia to work and took lots of gorgeous pictures of her, so at least I know she’s having a good time.

Christmas Mia

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Top 10 Books for Dog Lovers

Top 10 books for dog lovers

It goes without saying that the greatest gift you can give any dog lover this Christmas is my book, Bark and Lunge, but I’ll assume because you’re reading my blog that you already know that.

Here are ten more books to give the dog lover in your life. I have extremely high standards for dog books, so inclusion on this list is high praise indeed. I’m not like those reviewers on Amazon who say, “I love any book that has a dog in it.”

From left to right, my recommendations are:


1) Suspect by Robert Crais (fiction)

Suspect is about a cop who lost his partner in a shootout, and a military dog who lost her handler to an explosion in Afghanistan. I’ve read all of Crais’ books and this is officially my favorite. Some of the chapters are written from the dog’s point of view, but not in a cutesy way. Crais nails the way German shepherds feel about their people. He also depicts accurately what it is like to live with a German shepherd, what it’s like to drive with one sitting astride the console between the seats, scanning the view out the front windshield.

Crais does a masterful job conveying Maggie’s body language and how she alerts to smells. Early on, I wished there were pictures. I wanted to see Maggie beyond the silhouette on the cover. Turned out, I didn’t need photos, because she is written so well. What a tribute to German shepherds. I hope this is the first in a series of Scott and Maggie books.

dog inc

2) Dog, Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend by John Woestendiek (non-fiction)

I never gave much though to what actually happens in order to clone a dog, and to be honest, I was more interested in the emotional ramifications when a dog is cloned. What’s it like for the humans? For the clone?

Woestendiek does a fairly good, if repetitive, job explaining the science. First, an egg must be harvested from a dog, and then a surrogate dog must carry the embryo. Probably dozens of times in this book, Woestendiek writes that the DNA of the cloned animal is put into the egg and then zapped with electricity. Hundreds of dogs have been experimented on, and hundreds of mutant puppies born and killed in the quest to bring dead pets back to life. It’s a gruesome business, and sure, maybe acceptable if the end goal is curing cancer, but not for our amusement. I recommend this book to anyone who’s ever wondered about the ethics of cloning pets.


3) A Wolf Called Romeo by Nick Jans (non-fiction/memoir)

A Wolf Called Romeo mixes non-fiction narrative with straight-up encyclopedic non-fiction about wolf behavior. In general, I prefer story, but perhaps one must understand wolves in general to truly appreciate how extraordinary it was for this black wolf, Romeo, to spend multiple winters fraternizing with the citizens of Juneau and their dogs.

Most dog owners will appreciate the interplay between Romeo and domesticated dogs, and enjoy learning about the differences/similarities between these evolutionary cousins.

I hadn’t realized how rare it is for a human to be injured or killed by a wolf. As reported here, there have only been TWO human fatalities believed to have been caused by wolves in North America.


4) Part Wild: A Memoir of One Woman’s Journey with a Creature Caught Between the Worlds of Wolves and Dogs by Ceiridwen Terrill (non-fiction/memoir)

Another book that is part memoir, part wolf encyclopedia, Part Wild is more emotionally involving than A Wolf Called Romeo. It is about a woman raising a companion wolfdog. Terrill makes a lot of the same mistakes naive dog owners make, only the stakes are higher because Inyo is more volatile and more aggressive than your average canine.

This is also the story of Terrill’s emotional health and interpersonal relationships. It’s a cautionary and heartbreaking tale about bringing a wild animal into your home and your heart.

Hit by a Flying Wolf

5) Hit By a Flying Wolf: True Tales of Rescue, Rehabilitation and Real Life with Dogs and Wolves by Nicole Wilde  (memoir)

As a fan of Nicole Wilde’s blog about dog behavior, I didn’t expect Hit by a Flying Wolf to so closely echo my own experiences. How reassuring to learn that an expert has struggled with a dog as much as I have!

The first half of the book contains stories about four of the dogs Wilde has lived with, and the second half concerns wolf rescue. The first dog, a long-haired German shepherd, had the same fear of high-pitched noises that my dog Mia has. Mojo, her “soul dog,” was the crossover dog who helped her learn that positive reinforcement training is more effective than using old-fashioned choke collars. I have a special affinity for Bodhi, who came from a shelter and shared my dog Leo’s penchant for doing things like “grabbing a trailing hand and chomping down, or jumping up in front of me and placing teeth around my arm, exerting a disturbing amount of pressure.” Bodhi’s story hit home the most for me, because it illustrates how much dedication is needed sometimes to get through to a troubled dog, and shows that it’s worth it.

A major highlight of this book are the color photographs. It bums me out when photos in dog books are grainy and black and white, or worse, when there are no photos at all. I want to see the dogs! Wilde is an accomplished photographer. Not only are the animals described vividly in prose, but the images of the dogs and wolves also are stunning.

Wallace6) Wallace: The Underdog Who Conquered a Sport, Saved a Marriage, and Championed Pit Bulls by Jim Gorant (non-fiction)

I think “The Underdog Who Conquered a Sport, Saved a Marriage, and Championed Pit Bulls — One Flying Disc” is probably the best subtitle of all time, but it doesn’t address the aspect of Wallace’s story that I most relate to. Wallace started out dog aggressive. Maybe he was just experiencing barrier frustration when he lashed out at other dogs while in the shelter, but he was in danger of being euthanized. Lucky for Wallace, Roo and Clara Yori stood up for him.

By channeling Wallace’s drive into flying disc, Roo Yori effectively gave his dog a “job,” something trainers will tell you dogs need to keep them from developing bad habits and behavior problems. From that point on, Wallace seems never to have another aggressive episode. Another aspect of Wallace’s story that resonated with me is that even when it seemed like the sport was rough on Wallace’s body, Yori kept playing disc with him. Yori recognized that Wallace’s love of/drive for the disc was so strong, that Wallace would play long after the lights at the park went out

tulip7) My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley (memoir)

I saw the cover of this book on a poster at my local bookstore and read it long before I was a dog author. It’s a completely charming account of a man and his dog. Any writer who is in love with his dog wants to put into words how beautiful the animal is, and do justice to every expression and behavior, and Ackerley achieves this.

A lot of the book is about Ackerley’s efforts to mate Tulip, not because he wants to raise puppies, but because that is what nature intends for female dogs in heat. At the very least, the book is an education in the mating of dogs in captivity.

Originally published in 1956 and set in England, it’s also interesting to read about the attitudes toward companion animals at the time.

tuesday8) Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him by Luis Carlos Montalván (memoir)

I didn’t warm up to this book right away, I think because it begins with a description of Tuesday’s training, before the author knew him. Tuesday didn’t come alive as a character to me until later in the book, when Montalván describes their strengthening relationship. Then, I was completely won over by scenes of illicit games of fetch after dark in a closed Brooklyn park.

Honestly, I don’t know how anyone comes back from war without serious psychological damage, and in Montalvan’s case, he struggled with physical injuries as well. The healing power of his relationship with Tuesday is nothing short of miraculous. The book is heartwarming and makes me wish every returning veteran could have a service dog.

dogs_purpose_sm dogs_journey_sm9) A Dog’s Purpose and A Dog’s Journey by W. Bruce Cameron (fiction)

Okay, this is a two-fer, because A Dog’s Journey concludes the story begun in A Dog’s Purpose. Something about books written from the dog’s point of view get me * right here * (points to heart).

Cameron takes us inside the mind of a dog who reincarnates a few times until he discovers what his purpose is in this world. Having the narrator die and come back created suspense. As he lived his life as golden retriever Bailey, I was very afraid something terrible would happen to him.

During each of his lives, the dog is a completely believable character. I loved his view of the world and his affection for his people. I was completely charmed by this story. One of my top five dog tales.

The Dogs of Babel

10) The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst (fiction)

This is my number one favorite book. I read it years ago, and I still think of it nearly every day when I refill my dogs’ water dish. See, the main character, Paul, wants to teach his dog, a Rhodesian ridgeback named Lorelei, to talk so she can tell him how his wife, Lexy, died. He starts by trying to get Lorelei to say “water,” and in doing so, he takes a drink from her water dish and thinks, “I should use soap more often when I clean this bowl.”

That’s an extremely small part of what stuck with me. The novel accurately depicts depression (both the husband’s and the wife’s) and grief, and the role a dog can play in a family. My heart broke for the dog when she searched the house for her dead owner. I also love the subplot about the wife’s mask-making. I finished the book with tears streaming down my face, which I promptly buried in Isis’s chest.

Okay, so technically, I’ve given you a list of 12 books, if you include the sequel to A Dog’s Purpose and my own book. Consider that my Christmas gift to you.

In case this is your first time here, this is my book:


Did your favorite dog book make the list? What did I miss?

December so soon?

Christmas family

This is our family tradition. Every year, we go to the same lot with our dog(s) and pose in front of our tree(s) before Rob chops them down. We get two trees: one for the house and one for the martial arts studio. We’ve been going to the same lot since before we had dogs, but I think we went to a different one the first Christmas we had Isis.

We call this Isis's "Muppet Baby" phase.

Christmas 2006. We call this Isis’s “Muppet Baby” phase.

We’ve really gotten it down to a science. For the family portraits, we use a tripod and set the camera’s timer to take 10 pictures in a row.

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