About The Foster Zoo

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We have decided to blog our adventures again. So much has changed since we last blogged. Bella and Shiloh both went to their forever homes and they are in wonderful families. June Bug got adopted. We quit fostering dogs after those adoptions because Tanker's epilepsy got bad. We quit doing therapy dog work because Tanker's epilepsy got bad. Tanker passed away June 9th, 2013. We adopted a senior border collie named Shania Tankerbelle in his memory. We still have our two cats, Sweet Pea and Little Bit. Wes has started rescuing pitiful bettas from Wal-Mart and we currently have seven. We have a camper. We camp. We have focused on giving our animals the best lives possible. We are The Foster Zoo Crew and we like to have fun.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Dogs and Humans

There are many similarities and many differences in dogs and humans. Through training my dogs, I have learned how similar dogs are to us when it comes to learning. Many people could argue that with me, and I do realize there are vast differences between a dog's brain and ours, but we are all mammals and our very basic functions in life are the same: eat, sleep, reproduce. We both desire to be happy, we both feel pain, we both mourn, we both live for things we enjoy. Humans are capable of higher thinking processes than dogs are. I have read that a well trained dog has the thinking ability of a 3-year-old child. If you think about it, when it comes down to the basics of what we want and what we don't, don't we think at that level too? When you go off to college, you choose a major that feels good to you for whatever reason. If you enjoy helping people, you go into education, nursing, medicine, social work. If you enjoy solving problems, you go into engineering, mathematics, physics. We choose things in life that satisfy us. I don't like learning about history, so I would have never forced myself to be a history major. Dogs are the same way. If they don't like people, they will avoid people. If they love fetch, they will get excited every time they see a ball. You can make a dog who does not like people go up to people and socialize. You can also teach a dog who doesn't like to fetch, to fetch. With the proper training and understanding of dogs, you can teach a dog to do anything whether they like it or not. I could have forced myself to go through college learning about history.

Call me selfish, but I am not going to force myself to do something I despise.

Life is too short to not be happy. Dogs are dogs. Sure, we have two working dogs, but they are volunteers. We don't make a living off what they do or don't do, so why make them do things they do not enjoy? They both love being therapy dogs, but we are learning more and more about them and what areas they like to work in and what specific things they don't enjoy.

Topher and Tanker both love people. We knew Tanker would make a good therapy dog when we found him as a stray in 2006. We never pursued it with him because our other dog at the time, Blondie, was not therapy dog material and we didn't want to leave Blondie at home while Tanker went out and worked. It just didn't seem fair to a dog who already had some separation anxiety and that was madly in love with her owners. We didn't want to play favorites with our dogs. That's how it felt if we left Blondie at home and took Tanker out to have fun.

After Blondie died, we specifically looked for a dog who would make a good therapy dog. Call it luck, God's intervention, call it whatever you will, but we found the perfect dog. As soon as I saw Topher's picture on petfinder.com, I knew he was the one. The look in his eyes and his soft face looked as if he were saying he loved me though the computer. I didn't even have to open his profile to know he was the dog we were going to adopt. When I did open his profile, I saw pictures of two little girls laying all over him. I immediately called his foster mom, scheduled a time to take Tanker to meet Topher and adopt him. We met, Topher and Tanker bonded, I became fast friends with his foster mom, and it's been a happy story ever since.

Within six months, Topher and I had a deep bond that I have never had with any other dog. He laid by my side as I cared for my terminally ill grandmother and he put his head on my lap when she passed away. He traveled up and down the East Coast from Florida to Maryland with me, Wes, and Tanker. He has met several different dogs along the way and he has seen foster dogs come and go out of our house. He has learned commands very quickly. Within six months, he had passed his American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen certification and shortly thereafter he passed his Delta Society Therapy Dog Evaluation. He was calm, predictable, loving, happy, fun, and every dog I could have ever dreamed of. People were always surprised to hear that he was only two years old and that he was a rescue dog. Yes, that's right. Topher was in a very high kill shelter before he was rescued by Georgia Humane Society and we adopted him.

Topher and Tanker have been therapy dogs for eight months now. We have worked them in several different areas: the hospital, the library, cheering on runners at marathons, promotion events, etc. We have mostly worked in psychiatric units. Due to life experiences, I have a passion for people suffering from psychiatric illnesses. I pursued this area of volunteer work for me. Wes was originally a psychology major in college, and he enjoyed helping these people as well. The question now is, do our dogs?

Psychiatric units are unpredictable. Delta Society likes you to test at a Complex rating in order to work in psychiatric units. Tanker and Wes tested as predictable. Topher and I tested as predictable. Tanker and I are the only team that are Complex. (Mainly because we were all new to it when we originally tested and they rarely rate a brand new team as complex.) The psychiatric hospital we volunteer at does not care if you are complex or not, just as long as your dog is comfortable there. Topher and Tanker do really well there. They love the kid's unit, especially. A few weeks ago, Topher had a very stressful experience in the units that I think may have scared him, and he has not been quite the same since. He seems to have lost interest in it.

Because we are more interested in having happy, healthy dogs at home than fearful, stressed out dogs, we are taking a short break. I have been making an effort to spend more time playing and doing fun things with Topher and Tanker and I have really seen their moods lift because of it. Some days, dogs just need to be dogs. We have been going for walks, playing fetch, playing with the hedgehogs, playing wiggle worm, and doing lots of fun things. Topher and Tanker have been happy!

After that incident in the psychiatric units, Topher has been nervous with people in his face. I don't think Topher would ever bite anyone, but I would never suggest anyone getting in the face of a nervous dog. I have been practicing at home with Topher and he has been fine with me. At one point, Topher sneezed when I got in his face. That made me start to think. How cool would it be if I could teach Topher to sneeze when people get in his face? The command would be someone putting their face up to his and the action would be the sneeze. Since he has been leery of people in his face lately, the result of the person backing away would be a reward for him. I called up one of my therapy dog friends and asked her about it and she knew of a dog once who could sneeze on command. This is workable! I am starting to teach this to him a little at a time.

Will we go back to working in the psychiatric units? Time will only tell. It may not be Topher's cup of tea. He loves doing tricks, so we are working more on that. Tanker is good in the psychiatric units. I think Bella and Shiloh would do well in there. I am not sure about Tango. We haven't had her long enough to know yet.

When I started writing this blog, I was not going to write about this. I was going to post pictures of all the dogs and show how well they are doing. All of this has been on my mind a lot lately. When I write, I generally just let my thoughts flow. As a result, you get to hear how I really feel and what I am thinking. It's called passionate writing.

Tango is doing well with "wait." In this picture, Topher, Tango, and Tanker are waiting to eat their food until I tell them they can do so.

Tango has also gotten good at "down."

Tango has been a pleasure to train. Like most cattle dogs, she is smart, fun, and eager to please.

Bella and Shiloh are excellent at wait and stay. I can tell them "wait" or "stay" and run circles around them without them moving. For the first time this week, I was able to put them in a stay and leave the room without them moving. They are doing well at "come" as well.

Tanker and Topher will always be our star dogs.

The entire zoo crew (minus the cats) are cute in a sit and stay together.

Little Bit loves to eat freshly cut up dog treats.

Little Bit loves to lay in her mama's arms.

Tango and Topher like to stay up late with me while waiting on Wes to get off work.

We took Topher and Tango out to Government Island this week to expose Tango to things. Topher did great with other dogs. I put him in a sit and stay every time another dog walked by. He did really well. Tango does not have much interest in other dogs other than the general sniff the air and see who it is.

We watched the beautiful sunset on Government Island.

Wes got a shot of Topher and I watching the sunset together.

Topher and Tango. Topher was watching the sunset and Tango was watching a squirrel. That's the difference between a guy in touch with his emotions and a girl who knows what she wants.

Topher really liked watching the sunset.

Walking on Government Island was a lot of fun and Topher and Tango did really well together.

Bella and Shiloh are watching the Garfield movie and hoping we never get a cat as mischievous Garfield.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Daily Dog Walk

I usually walk dogs by myself while Wes is working. It gives me something to do. Sometimes we walk dogs together on the weekends, but our weekends are usually filled up with volunteer stuff. Plus, Wes is sometimes at work more than he is at home, so he needs to rest at home. Today though, we walked Bella, Shiloh, Tango, and Topher all together before he went to work. We bought leash splitter/divider things from Petsmart to make walking two dogs at once easier. I love them! Tango and Topher do really well together. Bella and Shiloh have yet to master loose leash walking, so they make being on the same leash together a bit difficult. I definitely get a muscle workout when walking them together! If I ever want to accomplish them learning anything, I have to walk them separate. Together, they are BS Adventures! All fun!

Tango is skinny enough to fit into Bella and Shiloh's harness from when we first got them as two month old little puppies! I can't believe that at 11 months old, she can fit into it. The vet says she is a good weight. I think she is a little skinny for a cattle dog. She was 28 pounds when we adopted her. She is now 32 pounds.

Tango likes to pull some, but when attached to Topher, she does really well. Tango is also a bit skittish, but with every walk I take her on with Topher, she is less and less skittish. Topher is really teaching her how to take life in stride.

Topher is my soul-mate of a dog. I have never had a dog who reads me so well. I have never had a dog so attached to me, so in tune with me, or who looks to me for everything. He is a great partner for training puppies.

Wes walked Bella and Shiloh today. He walked behind me and Bella was not happy! Bella is my dog that I have to work hardest with. She is a great dog and is very smart. She learns quick, but she is a thinker and wants to do things her way. She is very headstrong. She wants to be in charge. I need to dedicate more time solo with Bella. Shiloh just goes with the flow. She is happy and content in her own little world.

Bella and Shiloh are going to make great therapy dogs. I read an e-mail recently from a trainer friend who mentioned that temperament is more important than skill level for a therapy dog. Bella and Shiloh maybe in their terrible toddler stage at just almost nine months old, but they love people! They are definitely labs in that aspect.

As you can see, they are now bigger than Topher. They are no longer my little puppies. They are big girls!

After our walk, I took time to do some commands with them and hand feed them their breakfast. Hand feeding my dogs is one way I keep them in check. It lets them know that I am in charge and that they have to look to me for their needs. They don't always get hand fed, but they do always have to do some sort of command before being handed their bowls of food.

Wes and I are going to start taking one puppy and one trained dog up to the stores to walk around and get them exposed to more things. I am excited to see how they progress over the next few weeks.

Peace. Love. Rescue.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Foster Zoo Adventures: October 31st - November 6th

This has been another busy week for us in The Foster Zoo. Wes received his final grade in his World Religion class and passed with an A. He made a 92 on his final research paper. He is now able to apply for graduation through the Community College of the Air Force. He is taking off between now and January to work with our dogs, take a breather, and just have some fun. Of course, that means doing a lot of volunteering with the dogs.

Tanker and Topher volunteered as R.E.A.D. Dogs at the library on Saturday. They both pretty much slept the entire time. Tanker usually sleeps. Topher usually enjoys it and interacts with the kids. He seemed to have no interest on Saturday. I did get him to interact with a boy who read us a book about how to care for cats. The book really geared towards rescuing and adopting cats. I loved hearing it. Topher perked up and laid watching the boy every time he turned the pages to show Topher pictures. I told the boy that we have rescued cats at home and that Topher loves them, so he really enjoyed being read that particular book.

I have begun to wonder if Topher is stressed out, if he is losing interest in his work, or if he is he depressed. Topher had a rough week with a kid a the psychiatric hospital we volunteer at a couple of weeks ago. Topher has not been the same while working since. He has been more withdrawn. I have decided to pull Topher out of doggy therapy for a little while and let him just be a dog and have fun. I talked with some of my therapy dog friends and they have mentioned that they won't take their dogs to the psychiatric hospital because it is too unpredictable and stressful of an environment for their dogs. Topher is a very sensitive dog. He can read my emotions like a book. Maybe the stress at the psychiatric hospital is too much for him. Some weeks are easy weeks and the patients are calm. Some weeks are harder with emotional people or patients who are a little out of control, like the kid that Topher had a stressful experience with. I don't want to ruin Topher. My mom used to work in Special Education in the elementary school before she went into counseling at the high school. She left special education because she needed a break. Maybe Topher needs a break. Sure, he is a great dog, a very well trained dog, and an extremely calm dog, but as my mom reminded me, he has been through a lot since we adopted him a year ago. Wes and I adopted Topher in Georgia right after our dog, Blondie, passed away. I was in Georgia taking care of my terminally ill grandmother. Right after we adopted Topher, Wes left and went back to Virginia. Then my grandmother passed away. There were new people coming and going. Topher went from living at my grandmother's house briefly, to my parents' house, then down to my hometown in Florida where we stayed at my aunt's house for a while, then back to my parents' house, then finally back to Virginia. Once back to Virginia, we started training him to be a therapy dog. We fostered several dogs and a cat. We rescued Bella and Shiloh. Tanker has been in and out of the hospital a couple of times with his epilepsy. Topher has been an excellent dog through it all and not once stressed. However, his life has been very inconsistent since we adopted him. Once he got certified as a therapy dog, we went straight into working in one of the more tougher areas to work from the get go. Maybe Topher needs a change. Maybe Topher needs all fun for a while. He may eventually be able to go back into the psychiatric hospital, but he is only maybe three years old and still has a lot ahead of him. I don't want to ruin him at a young age. Topher is my first responsibility, not the volunteer work.

That being said, Topher and I did not work at the psychiatric hospital on Sunday. Wes and Tanker went in and worked while Topher and I sat out in the car and read a book. It was better that way. Topher was a bit upset when Tanker put on his vest and he didn't get to go. Wes told me that it was a very active day in the units, so it was better off that Topher wasn't in the midst of it all.

After Wes and Tanker finished working, we took the two dogs for a walk along the Rappahannock River. There is a nice walking trail in Fredericksburg that runs alongside the river. We figured it would be good to get them out and walk without puppies. Everybody deserves a nice relaxing stroll every once in a while. We walked six miles total and really enjoyed ourselves.

On our way home, we ran out of gas down the street from our house in the neighborhood. We laughed about it. We called it our BS Adventure without Bella and Shiloh. Life is too short to not laugh at your mishaps.

Someone mentioned to me that maybe the puppies were causing Topher too much stress. Topher is the puppy police with Bella and Shiloh. He plays a lot with them, but he also herds them and keeps them in line. I also cannot have Topher's favorite toys out when Bella and Shiloh are out because they will destroy them. In order to give Topher some fun hedgehog time, I have been taking time to crate Bella and Shiloh and having fun time alone with Topher, Tanker, and Tango. Topher and Tango have really bonded and they enjoy each other. I guess because they are so much alike. They play with Topher's hedgehogs together. Tango does not shred them. They will throw them up in the air together and play fetch with them. Topher and Tango play like herding dogs. I think they speak their own language.

Topher and Tango really have become pals. Not only do they look alike, they also think alike.

Tango is a smart girl. We have an elevated water bowl in our breakfast room. I keep a pitcher on the counter that I use to fill the water bowls with. They were out of water one day, so Tango jumped her front feet onto the counter, grabbed the pitcher by the handle, and carried it over for Wes and I to see. We laughed!

Tango is the only dog small enough to crawl under the bed. She crawled under there and found a giant bone recently! Who knows how long ago Bella or Shiloh hid that under there!

What have Bella and Shiloh been up to? They have been up to their usual selves. Fun, playful, puppy-like selves.

I have been working on doing tricks with Topher. He loves doing tricks! Once I get Tango trained up in basic obedience here at home, Wes and I may take Topher and Tango through a freestyle class. How much fun would it be to have two dancing Cattle Dogs? Patients would love that!

This is Topher's new "beg" trick.

Lastly, we got some free postcards printed up at Staples to hand out at the Jingle Bell Walk/Run in Richmond on December 3rd. We hope to see a lot of our friends there.

Overall, this has just been kind of a down week. We just had fun and did nothing too serious. Wes and I are thinking about cutting back to twice a month at the psychiatric hospital as opposed to every week. Wes worked all night Friday night, did Paws for Reading at the library Saturday morning, and then the psych hospital Sunday morning. Between his work schedule and our volunteer commitments, we don't have a lot of time at home. We can always pick up extra volunteer time in the hospitals during slow weeks. The hospital is a little less stressful on the dogs anyway, so it may be a nice break for them.

Peace. Love. Rescue.

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