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Tag: socializing

A party in the Bay of Dogs

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The townhouse community in which I live is divided into bays.

On my bay — Bay 8 — there are 20 housing units. There are two or three children. And there are 27 dogs.

DSC05942(Let me repeat that for your burglars: There are 27 dogs.)

Every once in a while when the weather gets nice and the neighbors get coordinated, a dog party is scheduled — held at the bay’s dead end, right in front of my house.

Everybody brings beverages and appetizers and lawn chairs and their dogs.

And then the festivities begin.

With only a few exceptions, the dogs behaved exceptionally well.

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One (not mine) got into the apple pie somebody brought. Another (mine) peed in the middle of the seating area. Otherwise, they behaved in an exemplary manner.

The humans did OK, too.

DSC05915The only rowdiness came when a couple of cars pulled up in front of a home recently listed for sale.

Based on their luxury cars, some neighbors assumed they were investors, who would buy the house and rent it. (Owner-occupied homes are preferred.) So there was some talk of sending all the dogs to that house to bark and poop and generally create a bad impression. (The dogs did not oblige.)

There were big dogs and small dogs, puppies and elderly dogs, the vast majority of them having come from shelters and rescues.

At least two of my neighbors have five dogs. They would bring one or two to the party at a time, return them to their houses, and then come back with more.

The plethora of pooches is one of the things that attracted me to the community, and Bay 8 in particular.

DSC06038If ever a neighborhood needed a dog park, it is this one. There’s enough demand that the homeowner’s association recently gave the OK, at least unofficially, to letting people and their dogs use the fenced-in tennis courts, which are seldom used for tennis.

Everybody knows socialization is good for dogs, and good for humans. In communities like mine, where residents can often keep to themselves, dogs are probably the main way that people come together. And — though I’ve only been to one — dogs are far less boring and far more fun than homeowner’s association meetings.

If you’d like to see more photos of the dog party, you can check out the album I posted to the ohmidog! Facebook page.

Will Bear come in from the wild?

After at least five years as a stray, avoiding human contact, surviving in a vacant field and regularly outsmarting animal control officers, a Texas dog named Bear may finally be heading for a home.

And good thing, because construction is expected to begin soon on the field he has called home, which is slated to become a housing development.

Bear is something of a legend in Hutto, a town of about 15,000 people, northeast of Austin. He’s a dog owned by no one, though many residents appreciate him from afar.

But in the past few years, one woman has gotten closer to him than most. Irma Mendoza and her son started bringing him food a couple of years ago, and also built him a dog house on the land.

Now, she is working to find him a home.

“It all started a couple of years ago when my mom found Bear by the block where we live,” said Alfonso Salinas, Irma’s son. ” …After that she just started to feed him and try to take care of him,” he told Fox 7 in Austin

Every day Irma comes to the field to give Bear food. She also gives him his annual medications.

“This dog is pretty much a family member,” Salinas said.

Bear has been seen roaming the neighborhood since 2010. Some think he was left behind when his owners moved.

Over the years, others in the community have pitched in to make sure Bear is taken care of.

“He is a survivor that’s for sure. He’s smart, he stays out of the way, stays out of the street, avoids people, and everybody has grown fond of him,” said Richard Rodriguez, who lives in the neighborhood. “He’s got his own Facebook page so that speaks something to how people like him.”

bearHutto Animal Control officer Wayne Cunningham — one of many who have tried to capture Bear — says Irma is the first person to get close to the dog.

“No one can get close to him but Irma so we haven’t been able to catch him. He’s gotten wise to our dog traps, he recognizes the animal control truck so he’s very leery about new people,” Cunningham said.

Mendoza is now working with Cunningham to help find Bear a permanent place to stay — with a friend who has spent years helping her care for him.

“He deserves to be in a loving home,” said Niroshini Glass. “He would be so spoiled. He would get anything and everything he wanted, when he wanted, how he wanted it. He would be very, very spoiled.”

All this hinges on Bear’s cooperation, of course, but with the progress that Irma has made, the willingness of Glass to provide a home, and the field destined to soon become a construction zone, the time appears ripe to take Bear out of the wild.

Once he is caught, he will be taken to the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter to be evaluated before adoption.

A GoFundMe campaign has started to raise money to help pay Bear’s vet costs, and ongoing care.

The 12 days of Jinjja

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On the first day of Jinjja, he came home in a crate with me, from the Watauga Humane Society.

On the second day of Jinjja, he peed twice in the house, still was very fearful, but otherwise he acted quite friendly.

On the third day of Jinjja, I left him home alone, only for an hour, he didn’t cower, and he didn’t destroy anything.

dsc05557On the fourth day of Jinjja, I gave him his new name. Jinjja’s Korean. It seemed to fit him. That’s where he came from. Translated, it means “Really!”

On the fifth day of Jinjja, he was still shaking his past: Raised on a dog farm, tied up or crated, little human contact, headed for slaughter, and destined to end up as meat.

On the sixth day of Jinjja, he started coming to me, not when I called him, of his own volition, just for affection, maybe a butt scratch, gave me some face licks, and not only when I dangled yummy treats.

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On the seventh day of Jinjja, he faced another test. It was Thanksgiving, I left him for two hours, stuffed myself with turkey, made off with leftovers, came home and found him, despite all my worries, behaving absolutely perfectly.

On the eighth day of Jinjja, I tried once again, to get him in my car. He can’t be lifted, try and he’ll nip ya, bribed him with turkey, made a little headway, he put his front paws there, didn’t make the leap though, still apparently not quite ready.

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On the ninth day of Jinjja, he spent the night in my room. First time he’s done it, not in my bed though, won’t jump there either, or up on sofas, I know he can do it, seen him in in my courtyard, when he thinks I’m not looking, gets up pretty high too, every time he sees or hears a squirrel.

On the tenth day of Jinjja, this Jindo dog of mine, continues to impress me, no inside peeing, tearing up nothing, stopped fearing TV, eating much more neatly, barking somewhat less-ly, mellow for the most part, friendly to strangers, be they dogs or humans, or anything other than squirrels.

On the eleventh day of Jinjja, he’s much better on the leash, much much less tugging, stops when I tell him, still trips me up some, but fewer collisions, and he finally got into my Jeep, with help from a stepstool, and lots more turkey, enjoyed a short ride. It’s a very, very major victory!

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On the twelfth day of Jinjja, as I composed this piece, I realized it goes on … just a little too long … sure the song’s beloved … but the beats a little humdrum … keeps on repeating … makes me quite sleepy … Jinjja, too, I thinky … He’s dozing at my feet, see … Still, there’s a meaning … in this song that I’m singing … about a dog who would’ve been eaten … My point is every day with him’s a gift.

There’s no such thing as a hopeless dog

Six dogs who, with a little help, overcame their horrendous pasts will be featured this weekend in a special Animal Planet program that documents their journeys from frightened canines to forever companions.

The network partnered with the ASPCA to produce “Second Chance Dogs,” a behind-the-scenes look at the ASPCA’s Behavioral Rehabilitation Center at St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison, New Jersey.

The center works to rehabilitate dogs that have been removed from hoarding situations, puppy mills and other atrocious conditions.

“The animals have lived their lives in constant fear and neglect, resulting in extreme distrust of humans and at times complete catatonia,” according to an Animal Planet release. “These conditions make them unsuitable for adoption, and in some cases at risk to be euthanized.”

The program airs at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 16.

Launched in 2013, the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center calls itself the first and only facility dedicated to rehabilitating dogs suffering from severe fear and undersocialization resulting from puppy mills, hoarding cases, and other situations that put them in peril.

“While we can’t yet answer all of the questions associated with rehabilitating at-risk animals, we continue to witness amazing transformations, dogs that conquer their anxiety and fear despite years of behavioral damage,” said Matthew Bershadker, president and CEO of the ASPCA. “These transformations change the trajectory of their lives.”

The ASPCA, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, plans to open a second rehab center next year in North Carolina, The new $9 million, 35,000-square-foot facility will be located at what used to be a cement plant in Weaverville, North Carolina, just north of Asheville.

Getting to (sniff, sniff) know you


Humans need a play stance.

I came to this conclusion yesterday — adding yet another item to the list of things dogs do better than us — as Ace and I arrived for the first time at the only dog park in Winston-Salem proper (and Winston-Salem is pretty proper).

Being new and mostly friendless in the town in which we’ve decided to temporarily base ourselves, we left our quarters in the basement of a mansion and, for a little socialization, headed a couple miles down the road to Washington Park, where dogs can run and play in a fenced-in area.

Of course, Ace hardly romped at all. It being a new scene for him, his first priority was to give all things a good sniffing  – other dogs included. But, on this day, he was more the sniffee than the sniffer.

The second I closed the gate behind us, five other dogs — realizing there was a new face — bounded over for a whiff, following so close behind his rear end that, when he stopped abruptly … well you know the rest.

Butts aside, it’s an intriguing thing to watch, this seeming welcome, and one I noticed often back at Ace’s old park in Baltimore. When a first-timer arrives, all the other dogs come over to give the new guy a sniff. To view that as an act of kindness is, of course, anthropomorphic. But still it’s kind of sweet.

This weekend, Ace — though he was used to being the dean of his old park — was the new kid on the block.

He courteously sniffed those who sniffed him, but was more interested in checking out the space, the water bowl and the humans than in playing with the other dogs. We’d been there a full hour before he even chased another dog — all of whom were playing energetically with each other.

Dee Dee, a beagle, and Bailey, a whippet mix, (both pictured atop this post) had great play stances and used them often: Butts pointed skyward, front legs stretched all the way out, heads lowered. It, in the canine world, is a universal signal, a way of saying “You don’t need to be afraid of me, this is all in good fun, it’s playtime, let’s go.”

I can think of no counterpart when it comes to human body language — no gesture or stance we have that is as easily noticeable and understood. The handshake? No, that’s just standard procedure, basic manners. Perhaps the one that came closest was the peace sign.

Rather than having a universal play stance, we resort to words, which often only make things more confusing. We try to make sense of subtle body language and interpret what we think are queues, neither of which we’re that good at, either.

All that could be resolved if we only had a human play stance — a position we could place our bodies in that signifies we’re open to getting to know a fellow human.

We’ve got the war stance down. We all know the fighting stance, or at least enough to put our dukes up. But there’s no simple gesture or motion we humans can make — at least not without possibility of criminal charges or restraining orders — that sends a signal that peace, harmony and fun are ahead.

We can’t, without repercussions, do the butt-sniffing thing. We can’t, of course, go around peeing on each other’s pee.

But why can’t we come up with a play stance — one that says I’m open to getting to know you better, and perhaps even frolicking a bit?

Because that would be too easy for a species as complex as ours? Too honest? Too direct?

It was easier when we were children. A simple “Wanna play?” sufficed. Somehow, on the way to becoming adults, we started opting instead for far less direct, far stupider comments, like “Do you come here often?” and “What’s your sign?”

Adopting a play stance for the human race, at this point — with all that we have evolved, with how sophisticated and suspicious and manipulative we as a society have become — would be difficult. It might be too late.

Two thumbs up and a grin? Standing with arms outstretched, knees bent, while waving people toward you? Most anything I can come up to signal you are accepting new people into your life would have the exact opposite effect, and send them running.

In the final analysis, being human, maybe we’re stuck with words, and small talk, and being less straightforward, sincere and, quite likely, pure of heart and motive than dogs.

Ace will make friends his way, and I will make friends mine (which is most often with his help). But between him and my conversational skills, I’ll be fine. And by the way, do you come here often?

(Story and photos by John Woestendiek)

Roadside Encounters: Mikey and Soju

Names: Mikey and Soju 

Breeds: Pug and Great Dane 

Encountered: At Riverside Park in Baltimore

Backstory: I got to spend some time with two of my favorite local dogs yesterday — a day whose warm temperatures led both humans and canines to linger at Riverside Park, in no particular hurry to get back home.

Even if it’s not here to stay, the mild weather was welcome — especially to Ace, after a winter of being rushed through the dog walk by an owner hoping to quickly get the “mission” accomplished and himself back indoors …

“C’mon, do your business, my toes are frozen. It’s too cold. Let’s go.”

In retrospect, in this past month, I’ve probably been, in Ace’s eye, a bit of a buzzkill.

Doing his duty, I don’t think, has ever been the foremost mission in Ace’s mind during trips to the park (hence the urging). He sees it as more of a happy hour, or preferably two — a chance to add to his scent portfolio, visit old dog friends, meet some new ones, and track down those folks who, at some point in history, have provided him with a treat.

Yesterday was the kind of visit he likes best — a long one, with good dog friends to play with, new ones to sniff out, and lots of humans to mooch off. (If you have treats in your pocket, Ace will determine which pocket and, should you need prompting, attempt to insert his nose inside it. When it comes to freeloading, I think I have learned some of his skills, and he has picked up some of mine.)

We got to catch up with our old friend Soju — he’s named after the vodka-like (but sweeter) Korean beverage. Soju and Ace are old friends, and they used to wrestle endlessly at Riverside, a true up-on-the-hind-legs, paw-swinging battle of the titans. When one of them went down, you could almost feel the earth shake.

They went at it for a bit yesterday, with Ace, the older of the two, watching as Soju galloped around him in circles, then tackling him like a lazy linebacker when Soju veered close enough.

Mikey stayed out of the fray — a wise choice given he’s not much bigger than a football. Mikey, a therapy dog with one of the more expressive faces you’ll ever see, generally avoids the roughhousing, choosing instead to sit at your feet, looking up at you with big brown bulging eyes until you give him a treat, no matter how long it takes.

Good things, he seems to know, come to those who wait — and spring is one example. Yesterday didn’t mark it’s arrival, but even a false precursor was welcome, and dogs and humans soaked it up. It occurs to me that we should send thank you notes to spring — perhaps that would lead her to stay around a little longer and forestall the inevitable arrival of her evil sister summer, who always comes to early and stays past her welcome.

Speaking of staying past one’s welcome, Ace and I — after a glorious month in a friend’s empty house in Federal Hill — will be hitting the road again next week.

As of now, it appears we will be heading south, where we plan to stay in an undetermined location for an indeterminate period of time. How’s that for a plan?

Once again, we’ll tear ourselves away from Baltimore, where — in addition to promoting my new book — the last month has allowed us to get ourselves organized, experience a semblance of stability, soak in a hot tub on a rooftop deck (just me, not Ace) and savor the pleasures of our old neighborhood.

I’ll miss my corner bar. Ace will miss his favorite park. But, as I think I said nine months ago — when Ace and I first embarked on our journey to discover America, its dogs and the people who love them — there’s one thing we’ll miss most of all:

Friends … big and small.

(To see all our Roadside Encounters, click here.)

Roadside Encounters: Soula

Name: Soula

Breed: Catahoula leopard dog mix

Age: 8 months old

Encountered: At a Starbucks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Backstory: Soula was adopted from a shelter in South Carolina. When we ran into her, she was eager to meet Ace, but got a little upset when her owner started giving Ace whipped cream from her cup.  Soula kept lunging and nipping — gently and only at the air. Ace kept lapping up the whipped cream, as Soula’s owner, working on teaching her to share, held her down with one hand.

The Starbucks served as my home away from while I was visiting Winston-Salem. Like all Starbucks, they welcome dogs outside. More important, I could get a good Internet connection there. As a result, I had too much coffee, and Ace had too much foam. The day after we met Soula, Ace approached another table in hopes of getting treated — and sure enough, he did.

(Roadside Encounters is a regular feature of “Dog’s Country,” the continuing account of one man and one dog spending six months criss-crossing America.)