I want to save them all

Note: I would love it if the following story ended with me bringing Misty home, but, spoiler, that hasn’t happened. My hands go up to everyone who’s ever rescued a dog, and for those who rescue animals every day.

My heart won’t stop bleeding for all the homeless dogs. Perhaps I need to block all the dog rescues I follow on Facebook and Twitter.

After last week’s puppy visit, I felt at peace with our status as a two-dog family… until I saw a listing last night on Old Dog Haven for a 10-year-old German shepherd, described as “very broken down.” The Facebook post had no photo and I couldn’t find one on Petfinder or the shelter’s website. I thought of asking for a photo, but then thought, Does it matter what she looks like?

I said to Rob, “There’s this dog at the shelter in Everett. Says she’s been there a while and led a very rough life before that…”

As the words came out of my mouth, I felt ridiculous. A senior dog? A female? Not part of our plan. Our next dog is supposed to be a pit bull, remember?

Still … the shelter is only a half hour from my office, and I knew I’d have some down time today.

This morning, a new Facebook post included Misty’s photo.

1209132_10151915260581614_729939638_n

My heart ached as I drove to the shelter, trying to convince myself that I’m not crazy. I’m not committing to anything. I just want to see the dog. Get a new picture of her. See if she’s in any better shape since this photo was taken. The description said she likes being outside during the day. She could be much easier than a puppy to care for. She could lie beside Mia in the backyard … assuming Mia tolerates having another female in the house.

If we fed her a diet of raw meat and grain-free kibble, I bet her coat and skin would clear right up.

It took longer than a half hour to get to the shelter. There were road closures. When I walked in, I asked the lady if she had a shepherd named Misty.

“For adoption? No.”

“You don’t have a dog named Misty?”

“Not for adoption.”

“I saw her on Old Dog Haven.”

“For fostering? You need to go through Old Dog Haven.”

“I can’t even see her?”

“You need to go through Old Dog Haven.”

I called Old Dog Haven from the car and got voice mail. I could do nothing but drive away feeling heartsick, wondering if I should have pressed the issue. Poor Misty, not only is she in jail, but she’s not even allowed visitors? But shelters have rules for a reason. Maybe I’d jumped the gun.

Later I saw on Facebook that several other people had called or stopped by and been told the same thing, but the shelter is all straightened out now, and Misty is available for adoption. I was angry that I was denied the opportunity to see her, but encouraged because so many other people expressed interest in her. A few people have put in applications already.

That’s the beauty of social media: in just a few hours, Misty’s story touched tons of people. My heart’s still bleeding, though, thinking about all the dogs in shelters who don’t have Facebook pages and Twitter feeds broadcasting their stories to the masses.

Take, for example, all the dogs at the shelter that I didn’t even bother to look at today, because I was so focused on Misty.

UPDATE: Misty was adopted on Sept. 10. Later that night, she showed signs of bloat, possibly from an enlarged spleen or tumor that caused her stomach to twist. She was euthanized in her new owner’s arms. Very sad, but as Old Dog Haven and her new owner point out, it’s also a success story. The purpose of Old Dog Haven and similar rescues is to prevent senior dogs from dying alone in shelters.

Separation anxiety (mine) and the canine oxytocin connection

While in Atlanta for BarkWorld, I missed my doggies like crazy. More than usual, probably because I was thinking about dogs and surrounded by dog-lovers all weekend.

The highlight of the social “petworking” conference for me was meeting Victoria Stilwell. As a fan of her television show, I already knew that she is a champion of positive reinforcement training, but I did not realize the depth of her passion for educating dog owners and old-school trainers that force-free methods are the only humane way to work with animals. Her talk at BarkWorld was inspirational.

On the flight home, I began reading her book, Train Your Dog Positively, appreciating its well-written, scientifically backed explanation of dog psychology mixed with anecdotes about her own dogs and client dogs.

On page 51, I had to nudge Rob to take off his earphones and listen to this:

When we pet a dog lovingly, for example, the warmth and happiness we feel comes from a release into the bloodstream of oxytocin — a “bonding” hormone that has a powerful effect on dogs and humans. Dr. Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg, a doctor and professor of physiology and a pioneer in the study of oxytocin, studied this hormone release by taking blood samples from dogs and their owners before and during a petting session. When owners stroked their dogs, they had a release of oxytocin similar to what mothers experience while nursing babies.

Interestingly, petting also triggered a burst of oxytocin in the dogs themselves. Miho Nagasawah, of the Department of Animal Science and Biotechnology at Azabu University in Japan, showed that even eye contact between a dog and human causes an increase in oxytocin. This interaction between our two species has a powerful physiological effect on both of us, promoting feelings of love and attachment while lowering blood pressure and heart rate, soothing pain, and lessening stress.

Oh my god, yes. Forget eye contact, I feel releases of oxytocin just by saying my dogs’ names.

Here’s a scenario that played out in about a dozen variations throughout the weekend: Rob would mention one of the dogs, let’s say Mia. I would moan, “Meeeeeeyaa. I miss her so muuuuch.” Then I might chant her name, “Mia, Mia, Mia,” or sing the song Rob made up about her resemblance to a bear, then autotuned and used as the soundtrack to this montage of photos:

 

The Leo version often included some form of his nickname: Leo Bug or DJ Leo Bug, which I then abbreviated to DJ LB, realizing that LB also stands for Little Boy. Little Boy Leo Bug.

I know. I’m completely insane.

But saying their names, thinking about them, looking at their pictures in my Facebook albums — all of these fill me with a warmth and happiness reminiscent of petting them and kissing their soft heads.

Naturally since we’ve been home, I’ve been on an oxytocin bender. Every time I leave the house, I look forward to my next opportunity to revel in our scientifically proven bonding ritual.

Our dog sitters (Grandma and Grandpa) reported that Mia seemed anxious while we were gone, but Leo was his normal self. Maybe he wasn’t distraught by our absence, but I can tell by the smile on his face that he’s sure happy we’re back.

Leo sports his new bandanna, courtesy of Unleashed by Petco

Leo sports his new bandanna, courtesy of Unleashed by Petco

My “normal” dog

The magic of Mia is that I can take her anywhere. Truly. She doesn’t even need a leash; she sticks right by me. Even on a leash, she doesn’t bark and lunge at any of the usual suspects.

My original plan for the Festival of the River was to take Mia with me both days, but then I decided to leave her at home the first day while I set up the booth and got a feel for things. As last year, I watched dogs walk by all day long and looked forward to having my buddy with me the next day.

When Rob and the doggies joined me that evening, we left Leo in the car while we picked up a few items I’d left at my booth. After we set up our tent in the woods, I took Mia on a second trip into the crowd to get a slice of pizza. Both times, she was an exemplary ambassador for the German shepherd breed, accepting oohs and aahs of admirers with a quiet grace and politely greeting other leashed canines large and small.

mia tent

The next morning, as we walked Leo and Rob back to their car, I said, “I’m so proud of Leo. I consider this weekend to be a complete success. Of course, now that I said that, probably Mia will have a complete meltdown. Ha ha ha.”

At the booth, I tethered Mia’s leash to a table as I rearranged my display boards and put out brochures, stickers and temporary tattoos. I set out a bowl of food and water. Early arrivals strolled between the booths, and before I even noticed the white pit bull and its owner, Mia barked at it.

Oh, no. No no no.

A few minutes later, another pair of dogs sparked the same reaction. A biologist working a booth across from me called out, “Kari, I don’t think your dog likes pit bulls.”

True, one of the pair was a pit bull, but I knew this wasn’t a breed-specific reaction.

“If she’s going to bark at every dog that passes by, this is going to be a long day. Ha ha ha,” I said. But I was thinking, If Mia barks at every dog that passes by, no one with a dog is going to stop at my booth, and people who are afraid of German shepherds aren’t going to stop here either. This was a really bad idea.

What am I going to do now? I can’t leave her in the car. I can’t just leave the festival. I have no cell phone reception, so it’s not like I can easily call Rob to come get her.

I had these thoughts because I have a history of owning reactive dogs. Leo’s barrier frustration makes him bark at passing dogs. If he were off leash and allowed to run up to every dog he saw, he would be perfectly friendly. I think. But because he is a redirected biter, I will not test this hypothesis.

Mia is not reactive. I knew she didn’t mean any harm by her barks, but her intent was irrelevant. I could not have a barking German shepherd at my booth.

Mia was unconcerned about other dogs on leash the night before, so what was the difference? Being tethered to a table?

Maybe I’ll just undo her leash and let her roam around my booth. Mia walked to the edge of the booth, nearly touching a vendor of geode wind chimes, and peered behind my vinyl curtain. The geode vendor gave me the stink-eye, so I leashed her back up.

I kicked myself for leaving Mia’s rubber Chuck-It ball in the car that Rob drove home. I tossed her an apple-shaped stress ball in hopes that she’d occupy herself with tearing it up for the next twenty minutes. She sniffed and ignored it.

Think, Kari, think. You know how to solve this problem.

Positive reinforcement. I filled a poop bag with treats and stuck it in my pocket. The next time I saw a dog approach, I gave Mia treats. My initial strategy was to get her to associate treats with the passing dogs, but Mia is so food-motivated that she was distracted enough to seem not even to notice the other dog.

An airedale, the same one we saw tethered to an RV earlier that day, lingered with its owner at a neighboring booth. Mia noticed her and barked a few times. I redirected her gaze in the other direction and wondered, Am I going to have to do this all day?

As it turned out, no, I didn’t have to do it all day. Either the positive reinforcement worked, or Mia just got used to the idea that other dogs were going to walk by. (Or both.) I gave her treats every time I saw another dog coming, but I also worked my booth, meaning I put temporary tattoo application and fish consumption rate explaining above Mia management. One guy entered my booth as I was treating Mia and I thought she might bark at the approaching dog as soon as I took my attention away from her, but she didn’t make a sound, and when I finished with the other guy, the dog was long gone.

While Mia may have driven off a dog-fearing festival-goer or two, she was a major attraction for many, many more people. Far more people asked, “Can I pet your dog?” than asked me to explain the importance of raising the state’s fish consumption rate, although you can bet I used Mia as an opening.

Here, Mia proved to be the bomb-proof dog I know her to be. At one point, I was concerned briefly she might frighten a toddler mid-pet by barking at a passing dog, but she did not. Perhaps strokes from a toddler are as positively reinforcing (and/or distracting) as a handful of treats. Other children cuddled her, rolled on top of her, and even put their sunglasses on her. (I wish I’d gotten a photo of that one.)

Mia and I both relaxed and I was so happy to have her with me. Her presence brightened my day. Gave me someone to talk to during the slow stretches in the afternoon.

As much joy as she brought me, and as much as I know she loves being by my side, it occurred to me that Mia might not actually be having the best time ever.

I had a similar feeling the night before, blissfully snuggled with Rob and the doggies in our tent. Rob had gotten stuck in horrible traffic on the way into the festival, and nettles scraped his legs as we set up camp.

“Are you having fun?” I asked.

“I’m just trying to get through it,” he said, perfectly amiably. I love that about Rob. The outing didn’t meet his expectations, but he didn’t punish me for it. Like Mia, he was there for me, making sure that I had a better time than I would have alone, but not getting all that much out of it himself.

That’s what our dogs do for us. If you asked Mia, she’d tell you she’d rather go with me anywhere than get left at home. But as the responsible adult, I recognize that bringing Mia to the festival was more fun for me than it was for her.

She was bored, lying on the grass beside me for hours on end, with the occasional break to walk to the port-a-potties. Worse, the constant assaults from strangers took a toll. Late in the day, a man asked if he could pet her and Mia barely raised her head to him before letting out an exhausted sigh. Sure, whatever, I’m here for your amusement.

My last post illuminated what I learned last weekend about managing my barrier-frustrated dog, Leo. I also learned a lesson about my perfect, normal, senior dog, Mia. Next year, I won’t force her to work the festival with me. (And Rob doesn’t have to drive down to camp out with me. Unless he changes his mind.)

Sleep tight, Mia Bear, you worked hard.

This post is part of a Senior Pet Awareness blog hop, brought to you by BlogPaws.

senior pet

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Leo wants to do fun things, too

I have a T-shirt from Dog is Good that reads: “To my dog, this I promise you: I will love you unconditionally; for who you are, not who I’d like you to be. I will protect you and keep you safe. Always.”

I love this sentiment so much that I bought the shirt despite the who/whom error. It beautifully expresses the takeaway from my memoir about Isis.

This promise nagged at me when I couldn’t fall asleep Friday night. I was scheduled to work all day Saturday and Sunday at the NWIFC booth at the Stillaguamish Festival of the River in Arlington. The festival is awesome for a variety of reasons, not least being that dogs are allowed. Last year, they paraded past me for two days, and a couple of enormous Great Danes even stopped for a spell in the shade of my booth. Next year, I thought at the time, if it’s not too hot, I’ll bring Mia.

We planned for Rob and the doggies to drive down Saturday night and take advantage of my vendor’s perk: overnight camping. We like to sleep in a tent exactly one night a year, usually after a strenuous hike. This year’s lack of a strenuous hike was what I most looked forward to.

As I lay in bed on Friday, eyes wide open and mind racing, I worried about Leo. Barrier frustrated Leo. He gets along with everyone at the dog park, barely noticing the people. A bike can ride past and he doesn’t care. If he’s off leash. But, like Isis before him, he barks and lunges at so many things while on leash. Which causes him to turn his head and bite whatever’s closest. Usually Mia’s head or Rob’s thigh. Mia can handle these redirected bites, but human skin is more sensitive. His redirected bites have broken the skin. By accident of course. He’d never bite a person. Oh no, he’s friendly. But if I’ve learned nothing else, I recognize that Leo is not reliable in uncontrolled situations.

So what was I thinking, bringing Leo to a festival that attracts 6,000 people a day, where he would have to be on a leash around other dogs? I was thinking that he did just fine on-leash at Dog Days of Summer last year. I was thinking, worse case scenario, he sleeps in the car.

I was thinking that I wanted a dog I could take camping. It wouldn’t be fair to leave Leo at home while Mia went to the festival. I wanted Leo to be able to do fun things too.

I couldn’t sleep Friday night because of that promise I’d made Leo. I will protect you and keep you safe. Always.

Was I breaking that promise to put him in a situation where he might not feel safe? Where he might bark and lunge and scare people, or worse, hurt someone?

(I also might have been feeling some social anxiety about having to set up and staff a booth by myself for eight hours two days in a row.)

When I got to the festival Saturday morning, I found a shaded parking spot near an available tent site removed from the festival grounds. See? It’s going to be fine, I told myself. We’ll just keep Leo away from the crowds.

Unfortunately, someone else stole our tent spot during the day, so when Rob and the dogs arrived, we headed deeper into the woods, scratching our legs on nettles to get to a secluded spot for the four of us to snuggle into our three-person tent. We tethered Leo to a tree when he wasn’t inside our tent. Mia, of course, was allowed to wander free, since she never went far.

I was so proud of my boy. Sure he barked at a couple of people who passed by, but we kept him safe by setting up camp far enough away from the trail. I had my best night of sleep yet in that tent. I think Leo did too.

In the morning, we fed the dogs their breakfast beside the car. We didn’t push Leo over threshold by forcing him to encounter hundreds of people, but we did expose him to a dozen or so strangers in the parking area. He blithely ignored an Airedale tethered to an RV about a hundred feet away, and walked parallel to a couple of yippy dogs without incident.

Before Rob and Leo left for the day, we took the dogs down to a little river nook, where we let him off leash. Yes, we ran the risk that he would get the zoomies and escape from us, as Isis did once at the Port Townsend ferry terminal, but here at least Leo was far from vehicle traffic, and we assured ourselves that he’s perfectly friendly off leash. 

My pulse quickened when he raced up the steep stairs carved into the bank, but he came right back, and I was happy to give him those few minutes of freedom to romp and splash in the river. You can see on his face how much he enjoyed it.

leo splash

With Leo, I have to strike a balance. The back of my shirt says, “We will do enjoyable things together every day. I will guide you through this world. But above all, we are a team. I will do my best to be worthy of your love and trust.”

This weekend reminded me that my guidance and his trust in me are absolutely the key to doing enjoyable things together every day.

In my next post, I’ll tell you how Mia enjoyed working the booth with me all day Sunday.

Companion piece to Bark and Lunge

Leo reads Mia a story

Leo reads Mia a story about a brave German shepherd named Maggie.

Just finished Suspect, Robert Crais’ best work!

Obviously, I’m biased, because it’s about a German shepherd.

My mom introduced me to Crais’ Elvis Cole detective novels many moons ago. I’ve read them all and the standalones as well. They’re terrific.

This one really spoke to me. Not just because it’s about a dog. I’ve read a loooot of books about dogs the past several years. I have extremely high standards for dog books.

Suspect is the yin to the yang of my memoir about Isis.

bedtime story2

Remember the other day when I said I should be reading stuff that contributes to my growth as a writer? I was all set to read Dora: A Headcase when I got a box of books from my mom in the mail.

Both my mom and my stepmom told me I’d love Suspect, because it’s about a dog, so I thought I’d just whip through it before I got back to my “serious” reading.

Remember the other day when I said that whatever I’m reading is what I’m meant to be reading?

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.

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. (I know, because Isis told me.) He also depicts so 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.

Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are an extremely entertaining and compelling pair of detectives, but I can’t say that I relate to either of them. Cole is the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Detective,” after all.  He’s a trifle cocky. And as much as I love Pike, he’s kind of a sociopath. So it was refreshing to read about inexperienced K9 Officer Scott James.

I didn’t think this book would have anything to do with my work revising Bark and Lunge, but oh, how it does!

Do you ever read a book and think, “That character is so totally me, if I had superpowers”? Or “if I were a princess” … or “if I were a spy”?

Maggie, the German shepherd in Suspect, is so totally Isis if Isis had gone into the service. All of the things that Isis did that were scary, we see Maggie do as part of her job. I loved reading another author – a  suspense author – describe a German shepherd barking and lunging at a suspicious person, and how it feels to be on the human end of a German shepherd’s leash.

Crais also 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. (Also, I just imagined her looking like a cross between Isis and Mia).

bedtime story3

What a tribute to German shepherds. I hope this is the first in a series of Scott and Maggie books.

Lap dog

mia (37)

A few weeks ago, I was revising a scene about an intense encounter between Isis and Leo. As I read it aloud to myself, Mia put both front paws on my thighs like she wanted to crawl up onto my lap. In the nearly two years we’ve had her, she has never crawled onto a lap, and by the way, she weighs about 85 pounds.

Naturally, I assumed this meant that I am such an amazing writer that Mia felt the tension in the scene, and either meant to reassure me, or sought my reassurance that everything would be okay.

Later, Mia climbed up onto my lap on the couch while I watched TV.

“What’s with you today, Mia? You’re being very needy.”

Rob’s car alarm keychain, low on batteries, beeped from the foyer table.

Mia started to quiver. Leo stood and looked furtively around the room.

“Rob, you need to change the batteries in your keychain. It’s freaking the dogs out.”

Rob’s keychain had been beeping for hours. Perhaps Mia’s earlier lapdogginess had nothing to do with my writing.

This morning, during a Today Show segment about children sleeping through smoke alarms, Mia put her paws on my lap and quivered when the smoke alarm beeped on the television. Clearly she has a negative association with beeping. What I don’t know is whether something about the frequency merely is irritating/frightening, or if this is a conditioned response to something from her past.

Either way, I muted the TV and snuggled with her until the segment was over.

From the Leo Archives #WordlessWednesday (Who am I kidding?)

Last night when I got home from Zumba, Leo followed me around the house (like he usually does). The sensation of his soft warm face nuzzling against my legs brought me such joy I cannot tell you. I knelt down, wrapped my arms around him (like I do about 37 times a day), smothered his head with kisses, and told him, “You have no idea how much you mean to me.”

Sorry, it’s not in my nature to be wordless, but when I stumbled across these photos taken of Leo at a golden retriever’s first birthday party in the summer of 2011, I decided to participate in my first ever (Who am I kidding?) Wordless Wednesday.

leo coy

love bug


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Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss

One of these weeks, I’m going to take a picture especially for the Weekly Photo Challenge. But for each of the three weeks I’ve participated, I’ve already had the perfect picture:

isis kisses rob

Isis kisses Rob

When I first took this picture (in November 2008, according to the metadata), I asked my mom if she thought it was too intimate to post on Facebook. She said, “I think so.”

Well, guess what? I’m writing a memoir I plan to have published, so we better get used to sharing intimate moments publicly. I asked Rob if I could post it, he said I could.

 

Everybody pees

I saw more than one ridiculous commercial this morning about an app to help you reward your child for using the potty. One even depicted a fantastical “first flush party.” People do this? (Evidently they do.)

Reminded me of some criticism I’ve gotten for talking too much about peeing in my memoir. Fair criticism, I’ll admit. I’ve found places where I don’t need to mention that I also peed when I let Isis out to pee in the middle of the night. I deleted the scene* when I stop the car after driving exactly one block to make sure that my whining puppy wasn’t trying to tell me she had to pee.

Witness Isis, 8 weeks old, not peeing.

Witness Isis, 8 weeks old, not peeing.

Recently, a writer buddy commented that she is not interested in reading about dogs peeing, just as she is not interested in stories of human potty training, unless something really exceptional happens. While I can’t say that I’m dying to read about the trials and tribulations leading to a fantastical first flush fiesta, I would sort of expect a mommy memoir to touch on some of the associated issues of teaching a child to use the toilet.

Besides, owners of new puppies are sort of obsessed with when our pups are going to pee, aren’t we? You don’t want to miss an opportunity to encourage the peeing to happen in the designated area. Nor do you want to clean pee off the floor, or worse, carpet. You need to figure out what the signs are and watch for them, developing a prophetic pee sense.

I’m sorry, parents of newborns, but you have it easier than parents of new puppies in this arena (oh yeah, I said it), because newborn humans wear diapers, so it doesn’t really matter when they pee. They can pee any damn time they want, and you don’t even have to clean it up right away.

All that other human parenting stuff, yeah, I’m sure that’s all way harder.

* Deleted scene:

The snow stayed on the ground all weekend, and the temperature dropped so the roads were icy by Monday morning. The news people kept saying, “If you don’t have to leave the house, don’t.”

I crept along my street, testing my four-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes. Isis howled her favorite song, the one she sang during her first bath and whenever we crated her.

Where are you taking me?

“Silly, you’ve been in this car before. You’re fine.”

At the end of the block, I thought I better make sure her cries didn’t mean she had to go potty. I pulled into a cul-de-sac and got out of the car, my boots sliding on the icy sidewalk.

“Come on, baby.” I scooped her up and set her down on a crunchy patch of snow. “There’s grass under there. You can pee on it.”

Isis just sat there and looked at me.

“Okay, guess you don’t have to go.”

Never accuse me of being so in love with my deathless prose that I’m not willing to leave it on the cutting room floor.

The Accidental Teacher Dog

Mia is perfectly happy entertaining herself, thank you very much.

Mia is perfectly happy entertaining herself, thank you very much.

Mia and I helped socialize an 11-month-old Great Dane today.

Back when Leo was a puppy and needed lots of stimulation, I sometimes took him to a large ball field at lunchtime hoping to find like-minded dog parents with suitable playmates for him. We also took him to doggie socials on weekends, but since he couldn’t play with Isis at home, and there were no dog parks near my work, this was my best weekday option.

A handful of times we found dogs to play with. The rest of the time, I threw tennis balls to him with a Chuck-It.

Now that Leo is a big boy, and NSFW, I take Mia to that ball field when the weather’s mild. We don’t care if there are dogs to play with or not, and she doesn’t even let me throw her the ball much. I chuck it once, then she runs around with it in her mouth while I eat my lunch. Maybe she’ll drop it while she poops and I can get another throw or two in there, but the point is, she likes the fresh air and chomping on the rubber ball. (We stopped using tennis balls since they became single-use items – she’d destroy them with one chomp).

Sometimes we see another dog way on the other side of the field, but Mia doesn’t run away from me to greet them, not the way Leo would. I’m aware in a shift in my attitude. I would rather not have strange dogs or their people approach me to play. I don’t know their dogs, Mia doesn’t need the socialization, and I have far too much experience with volatile dog interactions.

Today, I saw a man walking a large black dog in my direction. Mia was off doing what she does and wouldn’t even have noticed if the dog hadn’t come within 15 feet of her. As they got close, Mia trotted up to the dog, which I could tell was a Great Dane and not very old.

I delivered my expected, cliched, yet meaningless line of dialogue, “Is your dog friendly?”

The man said, “Yes. I just wanted to come up to talk to you first in case she runs up to your dog, which she probably will.”

And I’m thinking, please just unhook your dog’s leash from her awful prong collar, because the dogs are sniffing each other, and Mia’s starting to dance around and bark. I recognize this as play behavior, but I don’t know his dog, and really, I haven’t seen Mia play with very many other dogs besides Leo, and certainly none restricted by a leash. Who knows what could happen?

I call Mia to me, and she complies, having dropped her orange ball right next to where the man and dog are standing, so I can’t even throw it to her.

After he unleashes his dog, the pair go off and running. Mia’s barking, and her hackles rise a little. I’m not sure how much fun she’s having.

“She doesn’t really know her boundaries,” the man says of his dog.

And I think, well, Mia will certainly let her know if she oversteps them.

I retrieve the ball and throw it and both dogs run after it. Mia wins. Then she drops it and the Great Dane grabs it and runs circles around the ball field, reminding me quite a bit of Leo, gleefully frolicking after winning the toy.

The man and his lady friend say, Wow, that’s the first time she’s ever shown interest in a ball. And I worry that Mia won’t find the Great Dane’s victory lap as adorable as I do, so I get a blue ball from the car.

Now each dog has a ball, and the Great Dane is really gnawing at hers. Granted, Mia’s jaw power probably exceeds the Dane puppy’s by about a million, and she hasn’t caused any damage to the orange one after multiple uses, but I start to worry that this strange dog will destroy the blue ball I very kindly lent her.

A few times, the Dane gets too close to Mia, and Mia lets her know with the snarl/bark (snark) that I recognize from hearing it directed at Leo on a regular basis. It means, “Back off, buddy. This is my ball.”

The Dane snarks back once, but then does then back off, respecting Mia’s boundaries. The couple seems troubled. “Oh, that’s not good.”

I’m not sure if they were concerned about their own dog’s behavior, or if they were worried by Mia’s possessiveness over the ball, or if they were just ready to go, but they moved on a few minutes later.

All in all, I thought the experience was completely positive and educational for the other dog. For a puppy who “doesn’t really know her boundaries,” she just learned how to interact with a mature, dominant female who didn’t want to share her ball. You’re welcome.

No matter what they thought about me and Mia, I related to this couple looking for a way to exercise and stimulate their puppy. There are no clear rules of engagement for people or dogs in off-leash situations, and even if there were, most people would either be ignorant of them or ignore them on purpose. I was sad to read The Fur Mom’s blog post about the decline of the charmingly named Strawberry Fields For Rover dog park in Marysville. It’s so hard to trust other dog owners, never mind their dogs!