5 ways to make a positive impact on homeless dogs

Leo and the tree

You can’t bring them all home, so I’ve got four other ideas.

For this month’s Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, I’ve got 5 ideas for ways you can help out the homeless dogs in your community.

1. Adopt one.

Obviously. But not everyone can do that, so I’ve got four more ideas.

2. Walk them.

I’m lucky to have a local animal shelter that lets me drop in whenever I feel like it and walk as many dogs as I have time for. They have woodsy trails and play yards, and even if I only spend time with one dog, I always feel like I’ve made a difference for that one dog. See if your shelter has a volunteer program.

3. Equip them.

Not enough time to walk dogs, but a little extra cash in your wallet? Make sure your local shelter uses no-pull harnesses on its dogs, instead of choke or prong collars. If they don’t, explain why they should. Donate a few. I like the Freedom Harness. My shelter uses Easy Walk, although they’ve fallen out of favor with me since they were purchased by a company that sells shock collars. I donated my dogs’ old Easy Walks when we upgraded to the Freedom Harness. Other brands include Wonder Walker and Sense-ation.

4. Keep them cozy and warm.

Go through your linen closet. How many of those sheets and blankets do you really use? If you’re like me, some of your sheets have torn corners from that time you tried to sleep in and your dog wasn’t having any of it. And your fleece and woven blankets are already covered in dog hair. Donate them to your local shelter.

5. Make a difference for one.

Have an abundance of compassion, but nothing to donate? Does it make you too sad to scroll through dozens of pictures of sad, homeless animals? Find a picture of one that speaks to you. Ignore all the others. Share the picture of one dog on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram. Write a blog post about it.

It can be overwhelming to think of all the dogs who need homes. We all experience a degree of psychic numbing, thinking there’s no way we can possible save them all. But how many times have you see the story of one dog go viral? It happened with this pretty German shepherd at my shelter. And just happened again with this Cane Corso. If you get people talking about one dog, you’ll find dozens of people who want to fly across the country to rescue that one. Gently remind them that there are lots of homeless dogs in their own communities.

Positive Training

This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Cascadian Nomads,Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. This month’s theme is Giving Back. The hop happens on the first Monday of every month, and is open for a full week – please join us in spreading the word about the rewards of positive training!

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Why Rescue Dogs Need Positive Training

Sometimes I feel like a fraud joining the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop. You see, aside from the String Cheese Counter-Conditioning Protocol (which, don’t get me wrong, definitely counts as Positive Pet Training), I don’t train my dogs.

I just burnt out after Isis. I’ve tried Rally O with Leo, and we have really nice agility equipment in our backyard. Neither he nor Mia have the drive for these things, and we’re more or less happy with their behavior, so nope, no training happening at this house.

But I believe so strongly in Positive Pet Training that I wrote a book about it, so I want to remain part of this club. For me, Positive Pet Training is a philosophy, our way of life, rather than something we actually do.

That will change the next time we get a dog. Obviously, puppies must be trained. We’re even more likely to bring home a mature dog, but what are the chances it will arrive as perfect as Mia did?

Especially since I’m drawn to the shelter dogs with some troubles. Take Henry the shepherd mix, for example. I shot this footage of him a few weeks ago at the Humane Society where I volunteer.

Henry’s a dog who needs a very patient family. He’s been at the shelter for months, and that was the first time I walked him. I talk really fast, but in the video, I’m saying he always looked so scared to me (not scary). He never came up to the door of his kennel when I walked by.

A couple of visits ago, I noticed a sign for staff and volunteers that said “Please remove martingale collars when returning dogs to their kennels.” Then I saw this black dog in a kennel wearing a martingale. I didn’t know it was Henry, because his name card and info sheet weren’t posted. I let myself in, intending to remove his collar. When I reached for his head, he recoiled, and I thought, Whoa. Is this the day I get bit for being an idiot? 

I sat on the kennel floor, thinking the dog would warm up to me and come closer. He did not. I went back out to the front desk, got some treats, and went back in. My plan was to let him eat the treats out of one hand while the other slipped off the martingale. But he wouldn’t eat out of my hand. Not at first. It took a lot of tossing treats to him before I was able to get my hands anywhere near his collar to take it off.

My next visit, I asked if he could be walked. One staff member told me, “Oh yes, he’s better on walks than he is in the kennel.” Another gave me side-eye and said, “Is he okay with you? Because he’s not okay with everyone. I can’t walk him.”

A third staffer went with me to put the harness on him. She handed me the leash and we were off. He’s a great dog, as you can see in the video. If I were dogless and looking, I would bring him home in a second.

But I didn’t post the video right away. I’ve had my heart broken before with great dogs who became unadoptable for reasons not always clear to a volunteer. Is there any hope for a shepherd mix who is so people-selective not all shelter staff can walk him? No coincidence, I’m sure, but the other dogs who became unadoptable were all believed to be at least part bully breed. Based on my experience with my own dogs, though, I can’t imagine any dog could be more challenging (and I’ll be honest: dangerous) than a fearful shepherd.

Then some other volunteers made this video (and created a YouTube page for the shelter).

They’re pretty up front: If you have the time to work with him, Henry could be the dog for you.

It’s not a sexy slogan, but “if you have the time” should be a pre-requisite for adopting any dog.

UPDATE: Henry was adopted Sept. 19!!

Dogs like Henry are the reason I’m so firm in my opposition to prong collars or any aversive techniques. I recently had a conversation on Instagram with an adorable German shepherd about his prong collar. He assured me he only wears it on hikes when he has to be on leash, and he heels perfectly when he wears it. My response to that should be, “Oh, good then, glad you found a tool that works for you.”

Except… For every German shepherd on Instagram that heels fine on a prong collar, there’s a Henry in a shelter somewhere. If the Instagram dog heels great on a prong collar, he probably also would do well with a harness. But an aversive collar can exacerbate behavior problems and escalate aggression in an already fearful dog like Henry. Using physical punishment on a dog who is already afraid is simply inhumane.

In all other cases, it’s like veterinarian Patty Kuhly writes: Why use a jackhammer when a shovel will do?

Don’t you think it’s better to err on the positive side?

Positive TrainingThis post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Cascadian Nomads, Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. The hop happens on the first Monday of every month, and is open for a full week – please join us in spreading the word about the rewards of positive training!

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Blog the Change for Everyone

This news story irritated me this morning (emphasis mine).

A dog described as an American Bulldog was visiting a Temecula home Saturday afternoon when the dog mistook kids playing as aggressive action, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. …

The dog, described by animal control officers as an American Bulldog, was with three children when the attack occurred. …

The dog, described by animal control officers as an American Bulldog, will be held in quarantine for 10 days.

Look at the pictures. It’s pretty obviously an American Bulldog. By saying “described as” every time the breed is mentioned, the story conveys, “They say it’s a bulldog, but since it attacked children, it’s probably a pit bull.”

I agree with the animal control officer quoted in the story who said she’d lock her dog up before leaving him alone unsupervised with children. In my life, being good with children is not a requirement for a companion animal.

I’m working on a novel about rescued pit bulls, and I recently received a critique that said:

I know that there are many defenders of pit bulls as wonderful misunderstood gentle creatures but as I write this another little boy locally had his face ripped off yesterday. Literally. And it was the family dog. It would be a hard sell for many of us to believe there is not a structural problem with that breed and frankly we don’t want to hear about how wonderful they are, especially in the face of their sometimes shocking dangerous behavior.

(I’m familiar with that story, and while the owner insists that dog was a pit bull, it looked an awful lot like an American bulldog to me.)

Pretty harsh words, but they came at the end of an otherwise insightful and helpful critique. This isn’t a fringe opinion I can afford to disregard. Maybe I’ll give her words to a character in the book.

I’m just so tired of prejudice.


I didn’t post anything here at the time of the Charleston church shooting, but here’s what I wrote on Instagram:

Not unspeakable. Not unthinkable.

Unconscionable. Not just on the part of the shooter. But that racism and hate exist to this degree in our country. That guns are ubiquitous. That deranged white killers are given flak jackets and arrested peacefully while black teens are beat up, harassed, and shot in the back by police.

Some people respond to the news of another mass murder in America by saying they have “No Words.” I have a lot of fucking words.

#CharlestonShooting #BlackLivesMatter

Something that broke my heart about the Charleston shooter is that he reportedly almost changed his mind about killing those people because they were so nice to him. That there was a moment where he was like, “Waitaminute, all those things I’ve been taught about black people might not be true.”

The bulldog article above is minor compared to the systemic racism in our country, but it struck me as I tried to think of something to write about for the Blog the Change hop. It’s the same discrepancy that we see in news coverage about dog bites. If a Golden retriever attacks someone, there’s something wrong with that dog or that situation. If a bully breed does, there’s something wrong with the entire breed.

People of color who do bad shit are labeled terrorist and criminals, while the actions of white men are attributed to mental illness or some other factor that isn’t the fault of the entire race.

I don’t know how it happens that people can feel hate toward certain other people because of the color of their skin, or their sexual orientation, or gender identity. I don’t know how we begin to fix that.

Can we start with dogs? Can we convince people who like some dogs but not other dogs, that the dogs they’re afraid of are basically the same as the dogs they love? They have many of the same wonderful qualities. And you know what? Your purebred whatever has a lot of negative qualities too.

I’ve snuggled a lot of pit bulls during the past year. Not one of them acted aggressively toward me. In fact, the worst “bite” I got at the Humane Society came from a black lab who grabbed my wrist with his mouth. It left a bruise, and that dog was adopted within days. At last report, it was a happily ever after situation. I wish my purebred dog would snuggle up against me the way the shelter pit bulls do, instead of hopping off the couch to get away from me when I smother him.

I’ll admit, I love dogs more than I love most people. So for me, it’s a pretty easy leap to love all dogs, no matter what they look like, how they were bred, or whom they bite. While I can’t promise to feel the same way about all people, the best I can do is speak out against racism and injustice when I see it.

This post is part of the Blog the Change for Animals Blog Hop.

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The power of a photo

This post is going to be even less Wordless than usual, but it speaks to the power of a single photo.

This one:

Lovely Linda

Since I started volunteering at an animal shelter, I’ve deliberately not plastered “sad dog” photos all over Facebook. I take dogs on walks and try to get photos of them with my phone that show how fun it would be to bring them home. I don’t like to see sad pictures in my feed and didn’t think anyone else would either. I also felt like people would get tired of seeing these pictures and either tune them out, unfriend or block me.

Last week, I walked two dogs who had been returned to the shelter after living in homes for months. I passed Linda, the German shepherd above, looking so lonesome. Partial as I am to shepherds, I went into her kennel to say hello. She wouldn’t even let me pet her. I sat in the corner hoping she would come over to me. She didn’t, but I snapped a few pictures with my phone.

Later, I posted the picture of one of the returned dogs and almost didn’t post the one of Linda, because it violates my self-imposed rule: Happy dogs only!

But she just broke my heart. She had been surrendered by her owner, who got her as a puppy from a friend, because he was moving and couldn’t take her. She’s only 10 months old.

Of course I don’t know the whole story, and life is unpredictable … but people should not get dogs when they don’t know where they’re going to be in 10 months. The explanation sounds so casual, too. “Got her from a friend.” Who knows? Maybe his friend is the world’s most reputable breeder, but it’s unconscionable for a purebred German shepherd puppy to wind up in a shelter. Any purebred puppy really. If we’re making these dogs on purpose, let’s ensure they have homes to live in.

Plus, she’d already had at least one bad experience, so she is afraid of other dogs, the surrendering party reported. Poorly socialized and now isolated in a kennel.

I posted the picture because I knew someone would want a young shepherd like her.

I was right. The photo came as close as anything I’ve ever posted to “going viral.” I shared with a local German shepherd rescue, the Humane Society reposted it, and a writer for Examiner.com wrote about it. Hundreds of people shared and commented and wanted to adopt Linda. People in Montana and New York asked if she could be transported. (No, but did it occur to you to contact your local animal shelter? They have dogs.)

The shelter got so much interest they had to stop taking applications. They selected a wonderful home for Linda.

What’s the message here? I’ve been posting pictures for a year and this is the first time this has happened. Do people just like German shepherds better than other breeds? Is it because she’s young? Or because the photo tugged on people’s heartstrings?

I think it’s a combination. Being a purebred puppy helped Linda’s case, and the sadness of the photo spoke to people. I was reminded of hearing Joanne McGonagle of The Tiniest Tiger speak at last year’s BarkWorld:

Putting a Face on Your Message: This session discusses the power of one face and how a single image will make your message stick with your readers. You will gain an understanding of psychic numbing and how to avoid turning off your readers when discussing everything from animal adoption to pressing animal welfare issues. You will learn why focusing on positive results and giving a message of hope is important if you want to touch the heart of your reader and motivate them to take action. 

I got that: Psychic Numbing. If I’d posted sad photos of every dog at the shelter, you might have missed Linda. If I’d posted links to every German shepherd rescue in the country, people would think, Oh, there’s too many. We can’t save them all. 

The last part of the blurb is what had me confused. I held back from posting sad pictures because I didn’t want to turn off my audience. But maybe when there’s just one sad dog, people can hold onto hope. If we can find a home for that one sad dog, the problem is not insurmountable.

The next day, Linda had a flood of visitors, and although I wasn’t there, here she is after being plied with hot dogs.

Visiting day

And here’s Abby, a small chocolate lab mix who was brought back to the shelter after several months. Through no fault of her own, she was placed in the wrong home for her. She’s a little reactive to other dogs on leash, but absolutely wonderful to walk, knows what to do with a tennis ball, gives nice kisses, and has a behaviorist’s seal of approval. She deserves another chance.


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Lucky and Ty find families

Two of my long-suffering buddies at the Humane Society of Skagit Valley have been adopted! Lucky, as in L is for Lucky, and Ty, seen here in this photo by Tracey Salazar.


Tracey Salazar Photography

Salazar and another photographer, Lara Grauer, are working with The Dugan Foundation and Pawsitive Alliance to spread the word about dogs who keep getting overlooked in shelters. Both Lucky and Ty were featured recently, and both were adopted within days!

Lucky and Ty also were both sponsored in a newspaper ad that ran after the Humane Society’s Black Cat Auction. At the fundraiser, there were keychains with pictures of all the adoptable dogs and cats for sponsors to choose from. I was torn between Lucky and Ty, and almost went with Lucky, because of his disadvantage as a pit bull type dog, but then I overheard a man say he was looking especially for a pit bull to sponsor, so I handed him Lucky’s keychain and sponsored Ty myself.

2015-04-18 19.29.08

What this tells me is that exposure gets dogs adopted. And great photos are essential. However Ty and Lucky’s new families came to find them … WHOO-HOO!!

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