Ace and I had a visitor over the holidays — a highly vocal, but not too demanding 12-year-old mutt named Gracie.
My cousin and her husband in Charlotte were headed off on a cruise and they were having problems finding a petsitter for Gracie, who has never been kenneled. So I volunteered.
It wasn’t my first adventure in petsitting. I’d had a handful of canine guests in my home in Baltimore, and served as wrangler for three more while housesitting in Santa Fe. I’d learned, both times, that most issues that come up can be easily worked out, usually by the dogs themselves.
I decided they should eat in separate areas, just to be safe, so I’d fill one bowl, and call one dog. Both, because their names rhymed, came. When I said “stay,” both stayed. When I attached their names to the commands – ”Ace stay, Grace come” — that didn’t work either.
Finally, I got one to the porch, and fed the other inside, confusing them both in the process.
On day two, Gracie stopped eating entirely. Even blobs of liverwurst — in which her pills get hidden — had no appeal to her. Wanting her to get at least a little nutrition, I smeared peanut butter on her nose and let her lick it off.
Eventually, I broke out the most special of my special dog treats, and after a good sniffing, she decided to try one. On day three, she was eating normally again, and I’d figured out that feeding them both at the same time in the same place worked best.
By the second day, I’d noticed Gracie, who spent the first night on an extra dog bed, was eyeing mine. It’s only a foot off the ground, but she just stood by it, put her head on it and looked at it longingly. Being old and arthritic — her, not me – I gave her a boost and she spent almost the whole day there.
I worried that Ace, who likes my bed too, would take offense at her occupation of it, but, once I told him it was OK, he just jumped in and joined her.
If they were positioned right, there was plenty of room for both. With only minor repositioning, I could fit in, too.
For walks, I’d take them both on a short one, then give Ace a longer one. That seemed to suit them fine.
What I never totally figured out was Gracie’s whining/singing. She whines when she’s happy, she whines when she’s not. She whines when she wants something. She whines, I think, when she wants nothing at all, except maybe to hear her own voice.
Ace, puzzled by that behavior, quickly got used to it. At first, he’d rush to her side, but eventually — as I kept saying, “What is it, girl, what do you want?” — she became background music to him.
Just about every worry I had, when it came to the two of them, turned out to not be worth worrying about. As long as I supplied the food, water, walks and love, they’d easily figure out the rest — the less help from me, the better.
It’s us humans who make things complicated.
Posted by jwoestendiek January 8th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, animals, attention, beds, behavior, complications, dog, dogs, elderly, feeding, grace, gracie, guest, humans, old, pet sitting, pets, petsitting, visitor, walks, whining, worries
Volunteering at the Forsyth Humane Society has been a great experience overall. I mean, besides scooping the “bio-waste,” to put it delicately.
I spent most of my time playing with and walking dogs of all energy levels, backgrounds, and breeds.
And I spent some of my time in a costume, serving as the humane society’s mascot at community events.
Fun as it has been, I have also come to two unsettling realizations.
I have also concluded that with age and time since intake, the chances of an animal’s adoption decrease. A dog who has been there two months stands much less chance of finding a home than a new puppy. Puppies come and go quickly, whereas older dogs are often overlooked.Ideally, all dogs would find homes, and everything would be fine. A perfect world where all dogs have a lifelong home from birth probably will never exist. However, isn’t it morally wrong that the ones who have been caged up their whole lives are the ones that don’t get adopted?
Even if you don’t want to get a dog, you can still make a difference. Volunteer at your local Humane Society or shelter and interact with the animals there. You’ll have that warm feeling of having done something to help pets feel secure during a time of need. And aside from that, it can be fun, too.
Here are some of the things I did this summer at the Forsyth Humane Society, in Winston-Salem, N.C:
I walked dogs (picking up after them as I did so). If someone wanted to see what a dog was like, I’d let them walk the dog and I’d just follow and scoop. If they wanted, they could also take a dog into the playpen outside and play with them (as long as a volunteer or staff member was there).
I also did quite a bit of playing myself, tossing tennis balls to the ball-playing dogs, running with the more energetic ones down the trail, and if they were really hyper, I’d do a bit of doggie “bullfighting.” I’d hold a bone or something, and sidestep at the last second and try to avoid having the bone taken for a few minutes, at which point I’d let the dog grab on and it would become tug-of-war. It was great exercise for both me and the dogs, though I usually wound up being the one worn out first. It’s also quite fun, if you don’t mind one or two accidental scratches here or there from a paw.
But then there’s another side to the volunteering. That’s the real reason to go — the difference you can make in a dog’s life. For me, that feeling came while working with dogs like Truvy, a pit bull.I didn’t know anything about her history at the time, so I took her for a walk like I would any other dog. Someone (I can’t remember who) who was walking another dog said it was good that I was walking her because she was afraid of men, likely as a result of having been abused by one. After learning this, I set myself a goal for the day—to get Truvy to not be afraid of me.
I took Truvy to the end of the walking trail, where I sat down, and after about thirty minutes, she did too, but still cowered when I tried to reach out and pet her. When Truvy finally started to feel safe enough to lie down, a sudden boom (likely a truck on the overpass a couple hundred yards away) scared her, and we were back to square one. So we went to the playpen. It took about forty minutes to get her to try to pick up a tennis ball. She dropped it when I approached her and she ran to the corner. When I was told that it was time to put Truvy in back in her cage and let another dog in the playpen, I sat with her in the cage. She curled up in the corner, and I sat down next to her and started petting her. I sat with my arm around her for a while.
By the end of my two-hour shift (at least half an hour of which was in the cage), Truvy had curled up against me with her head on the inside of my elbow. So I wound up completely filled with that warm fuzzy feeling I mentioned earlier—except in my left arm which was numb from the elbow down.
I also enjoyed volunteering at the events like “Pups in the Park,” where dogs can come to the baseball game with you. Before the game, the Forsyth Humane Society bus, ROVER, parks in front of the stadium, and visitors are invited to walk through it and see some of the animals that are up for adoption.
Some of the volunteers walk the dogs around with “Adopt Me” harnesses on, and others hand out bags to people so they can pick up after their dogs. Then there are the people who sell T-shirts to raise money for FHS, and those who run the games that entertain kids while their parents look around.
And finally, there’s the all-important mascot duty. That was my job of choice at events — even though it got a little hot in there. I walked around in a dog costume, sometimes freaking out the real dogs. Lots of them barked at me, some sniffed me, and one grabbed my tail. Humans waved at me, hugged me and took pictures. Best of all, I got into a baseball game for free.
Do you have to go to these extremes or anything to make a difference? No. Volunteering can mean simply playing with a dog for a few minutes or taking it on a walk. These simple things help a dog learn how to interact with humans so that, when he or she does find a home, the transition can be smooth. It’s a fun, rewarding experience for both you and the animal whose life you improve with every minute you spend with them.
Can we have a utopia? Maybe not. However, we can donate an hour or two at a local shelter and make the world a better place — one pet at a time.
Editor’s note: Volunteers are the foundation of most animal shelters — if not the heart and soul, at least the arms and legs. In this new feature, we invite shelter and rescue volunteers to share their thoughts. If you’ve had an experience with a particular dog, or a particular program, if you’ve found new inspirations, learned some lessons or just want to write about the day-to-day work you do with animals, send your story along, with photos if you like, including one of yourself, to email@example.com.
Posted by jwoestendiek June 19th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: adventures in volunteering, animal shelters, animals, dogs, essays, forsyth humane society, guest, guest posts, humane society, joe woestendiek, mascot, pets, posts, rescue, shelter, spca, submissions, volunteer, volunteering, volunteers
In our final days in Baltimore, Ace and I shifted from a house that was empty to one that was very full – of art, and art supplies, and things that, in the homeowner/artist’s view, could, with a little work and imagination, be turned into art someday.
Artist J. Kelly Lane, having an out-of-town house-sitting gig of her own, offered to let Ace and me stay Thursday and Friday in her South Baltimore rowhouse, which, she warned me ahead of time, had its quirks
You know you’re in bigger trouble when, in a house full of art works, you break one of them.
In the wee (literally) hours of the morning, I rose off the downstairs futon to make my way upstairs to the bathroom. I was stepping carefully through the darkness, but my knee hit a stand-up ash tray and knocked it over.
If that alone weren’t bad enough – it’s hard to find ash trays at all these days, let alone the stand up, three-foot high kind — Kelly had apparently applied her artistic skills to this one.
I’m guessing (and hoping) it was a thrift store find –as opposed to a family heirloom — one that, while already the perfect combination of form and function, she saw as being in needed a bit more pizzazz.
Someone, I’m guessing Kelly, had painstakingly painted both its post and the two serpents that make up its handle, which is the part that broke when it fell to the ground.
Now it’s 4 a.m., and I can’t go back to sleep. In addition to the guilt I feel for breaking it in the first place, I’m feeling guiltier yet for what’s popping into my mind:
Blame it on Ace. With a dog as big as him, in a house filled with so much art, an accident is bound to happen. Right?
Staying at Kelly’s house was like spending a night at the museum. Her paintings cover the walls. Walk in the front door and you’re in what looks like a studio. Enter then next room and you’re in what looks like a studio. Keep going back and you enter what appears to be a studio.
She’s applied her flair to the dwelling, too – like the stair rail and stairway risers painted in leopard skin motif. In addition to painting canvases, Kelly paints house interiors, and she’s into a host of other crafts, like hand-made Valentine’s cards and decorating items like the stand-up ashtray whose handle is now broken.
True, I have in the past blamed him for gaseous eruptions that did not originate from him, but that’s different – dogs are more easily forgiven than humans for that.
Then too, blaming him for the mishap would tarnish his image as the perfect dog. In reality, he’s not perfect – and I wouldn’t want him to be – but he comes a lot closer to it than I do. And when it comes right down to it, I – wrong as it might be – probably care more about his image than mine, except when it comes to farts.
Like a lot of dog people, I worry more about my dog – his health, his reputation, his “proper” behavior – than I do about my own self in those regards.
From previous visits, I knew there would be some risks at Kelly’s house – that a wagging tail, or Ace going into rambunctious “let’s play!” mode, could result in serious damage. As it turns out, it was I, in my pre-coffee, bathroom-seeking clumsiness — as Ace soundly slept — that sent things a kilter. And a standalone ash tray, no less – a true antique that harkens back to the days when smoking wasn’t a misdemeanor, and ash trays were respectable enough to be an entire piece of furniture.
I’d gone more than a month in our previous location – also somebody else’s house — without breaking anything. But then, it being an empty house, there was really nothing to break.
Now I must break the news, and somehow make things right.
Then, and only then, will I be able to go back to sleep.
(Postscript: Kelly was very forgiving, and didn’t seem mad at me. To find out more about her art, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Posted by jwoestendiek February 28th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: accident, ace, america, animals, art, artist, ash trays, baltimore, blame, broken, damage, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, freeloading, guest, home, houseguest, housing, kelly lane, museum, painting, pets, road trip, studio, travels with ace, visit