Read the True Stories of All the Animals shared on our Greeting Cards one design at a time! Follow the Species Spectrum blog. Once upon a time there were two Disc Jockey guinea pigs living in Los Angeles. Well, … Continue reading
Read the True Stories of All the Animals shared on our Greeting Cards one design at a time! Follow the Species Spectrum Blog
Mason was born in the barrio, most likely the result of a Maltese – Poodle mingling. By the time I met him, he was old enough to be a legend. He was the terminator of all dogs with the fur of an angel. Grooming the thin blonde hair that knotted easily in his armpits were the moments he struck. Some dogs just loathe being groomed. Beyond the basic brush, we pulled out the trimming scissors. Mason was fearless even though he only had two teeth left, launching his fangs like a viper he snarled with victory.
After a warm bath, which he tolerated but never enjoyed, Mason shook off the injustice sauntering out of the bathroom and back to the couch. Here he would curl up in a blanket, especially in the winter and once in a while, in times like these, Mason would show affection.
In his younger days, once even for me, he would lay his head on my chest and although I never put my face too close to his teeth, it seemed we had finally bonded. Mason was a step-dog to me. The first time I met him, he was with “the other woman”. Being a dog person, even to a terrier/poodle/what? I knelt down, always able to win over a dog. Mason snapped at the air and kept his gums curled. He was the fluffy type, but did not harbor the cuddle gene except to an elite few and even then, use caution.
Mason was the sort of dog that comes along in life, he was the dog that no one planned for. You know when you’re related to people that treat dogs as an after thought? You think “There’s no way these are my relatives” because to you, dogs are forever, dogs are life. Mason was the cute puppy a distant cousin purportedly adopted from an animal shelter in the remote desert. After a few months the cousin passed off puppy Mason to Grandma Maria because Mason was the proverbial “Old lady’s dog”. After a year of two Grandma Maria could no longer care for Mason. She was after all a centenarian. That’s when the dog loving family members stepped in and said, “I’ll take him”.
We never knew exactly how old Mason was until years later when Uncle and Auntie so-and-so drove up for a visit. Pulling up to the house they were greeted by an ancient dog we called Mason. The sister, a grown woman, stomped her feet in excitement, “Fredo Fredo Fredo! Look! They still have Fredo!” Practically in unison, they said, “I can’t believe he’s still alive!”
Mason tilted his head to one side, half way through a chewy treat. Like a scene out of a Clint Eastwood western, Mason stopped chewing and I could see his brain thinking, “Fredo…It’s been a long time since someone called me that”. It was as if Mason had emerged from a dusty past he wanted to forget.
Just how old was Mason? Uncle Johnny had been the transport that brought Mason to his “Forever Home”. He squinted into his memories searching for what year it was that he delivered Mason into a life of luxury. Uncle Johnny remembered that he was driving a new car that year: “It was a 1999… 2000…no it was a 2001 Mercury Mountaineer and it was brand new”. Adding up the years plus the year or two Mason had lived with the cousin with the new Oakley sunglasses and the year Mason lived with Grandma Maria, he was definitely skirting the seventeen year old dog mark.
Several years before at one of those mediocre Mexican food places by the mall we had enjoyed a family birthday/reunion with my husband’s extended family. People he hadn’t seen in years were there. It was one of those huge Mexican food restaurants branded with that faux “We’re almost in Mexico” Cantina vibe. We’re led to one of the private party rooms with a table that seats twenty four people.
Catching up with distant family, it’s easiest to talk about your dogs. While others spoke of their children’s weddings and the new baby on the way, we talked about our dogs. Pulling out our phones as that distracting saving grace in uncomfortable situations, we swiped for the most striking current photo of Mason dog.
“Here, Look—It’s Mason”. My husband’s aunts peered into the phone and in perfect unison exclaimed “He’s still alive!”. They almost cheered in amazement as if their home team had scored a point on the T.V. in the bar. As if somehow they cared, but really they didn’t. These were people who had never experienced the natural lifespan of a dog. They had never been “dog people”.
We returned that night to the dog that defied science, marveling at the extra-ordinary life he was living. Mason was never a likable dog. Other dogs, big and small detested him. In his early years of life, when Mason lived under the identity, “Fredo” he lived with large dogs that attacked him on several occasions. Mason would always live among other dogs, large and small, but they were never friends. It was more like roommates that drew a line down the living space. Some how even though Mason lacked charisma, there was still something lovable about him. That night, as usual Mason slept with righteous confidence that never wavered, nestled in the armpit of my husband.
Mason topped the scale at almost eighteen pounds, just under the airline weight limit for a carry on pet. For a while we pushed him around in a vintage stroller. In the winter he wore a jacket but sometimes it was a little dangerous reaching for the Velcro strap to secure the jacket. The veterinarian had tagged Mason’s file with a euphemism for, “This dog bites when being examined”. Lucky for everyone, aside from a collapsing trachea, Mason lived a long healthy life.
I shed a tear for Mason, this notorious “non-cuddler” of the dog kingdom. The night before he died, I laid with him on the kitchen floor and he managed to walk over to me. His fur was silky and he stood there stoically. I knew he was saying good bye and that forever I would love what was ferocious and commanding, no matter how scrappy. Mason stood for something and that something was to keep going no matter what.
It was the early morning hours of Christmas Eve 2017 when Mason went to rainbow bridge, where all the great dogs go. It’s where all dogs go because all dogs are great. He’d seen his last horizon in a scabby, worn out dog body and died at home. I knew Mason for nearly ten years of his life and photographed him for two of Species Spectrum’s™ designs.
The day after Mason died, on Christmas Day, my husband and I took our dwindling pack of “two dogs left” for a walk. Coming the other direction was a man and a leashed dog and then trailing behind off leash was “A little Mason dog”. This dog was young and spry, gallivanting and smiling, he trotted off to pee on some weeds. Was it an apparition dog? Somewhere out there in this vast universe, the Mason spirit continues to live well.
Read the True Stories of All the Animals shared on our Greeting Cards one design at a time! Follow the Species Spectrum Blog
Enzo, the wispy, petite and aerodynamic Italian greyhound had the body of a dog god. He was sleek, good looking and enjoyed custom made fleece pajamas. These pajamas were not like the store bought version, they were designed with the shape and needs of the Italian Greyhound in mind, a deep chest and a narrow physique with delicate, yet speedy legs.
When I photographed Enzo, I remember how the sunlight shined through the thin pink skin of his back legs. He brought me to the world of loving small dogs too, not just the big ones. Enzo would sing on command when his owner would say, “Whine like a baby”. Enzo tipped his snout upward and howled in that way that makes people upload YouTube animal videos.
A true sight hound, Enzo could still endear any scent hound in a howling contest. Sometimes Enzo did yoga practice. “Do your yoga” we would say and like a magically trained dog, Enzo lowered his elegant little greyhound body into a perfect downward dog outshining many yogis; hips pulled back, front legs held straight. He often struck this pose while wearing a sweater during the winter months.
I always shared one of Jay Leno’s pet peeves, “People dressing up Animals”. But clearly this was before our pets had their own Instagram accounts and were self-made celebrities. Enzo sure looked cute in a sweater and that’s when the woolen hat made an appearance. If this is truly what therapy in today’s digitally connected world has come to, I’ll accept it. Enzo struck the perfect pose and then came the perfect caption.
I wrote, “The real mountain is within you” and one of the most magnificent blank greeting cards I’ve ever designed was born.
Enzo didn’t always have a sweater. He was born into a puppy mill family somewhere in southern New Mexico. He supposedly spent his youth as “the stud dog”, although he never really struck me as “the stud type”. Maybe it was just that by the time I met Enzo he was already passed Waylon Jennings, “Rough and Rowdy Days”.
Enzo spent most of his life as an only dog, pampered by the finer things in life, in a comfortable condo with two yards and a vegetable garden. In the morning he would lay in the yard to the east where the morning sun would warm up his white fur and nearly hairless chest. Enzo only had to share that tranquil yard with a few turtles and in the winter they hibernated. In the summer Enzo pilfered the turtle’s food at every opportunity.
He was the dog with a basket full of furry toys and even his own backpack. The extra small pack had pockets big enough for a few treats. Enzo strutted his stuff down the street and I took more pictures of one of my favorite little dogs of all time.
One day a nervous German Shepherd girl moved in with Enzo. She didn’t have the confidence that Enzo always had. Enzo showed her how to live and let live. The main thing is to have a comfortable bed and to keep warm in the winter. Enzo liked to be wrapped up tight in his fleece Justin Bieber blanket. The Bieber blanket was a win from a raffle fundraiser to help other greyhound dogs. Enzo didn’t even have to be a “Beliber” to love his fleece blanket.
It’s amazing to know a little dog like Enzo ended up needing a home as a young adult. It was thanks to Greyhound Companions New Mexico that Enzo was given a second chance at life. He really did get the perfect forever home as all dogs should, and even now, across rainbow bridge, he is always remembered and celebrated. We love you Enzo.
“The Real Mountain is Within You”. Thank you Enzo for inspiring me in designing the best animal Greeting Cards that always have heart.
Please Visit SpeciesSpectrum.com
Read the True Stories of All the Animals shared on our Greeting Cards one design at a time! Follow the Species Spectrum Blog.
SPECIES STORIES: CHLOE
It’s one of those first date questions everyone should ask: “Are you a dog or a cat person?” I’m a self-professed dog person in a perpetual multi dog household. I tease my cat loving friends and try to understand how a cat’s distant gaze spells connection. It seemed that the aloofness of a cat could never equate the gleeful bond I shared with my dogs. A cat was unforgiving, but a dog at least feigned remorse and did so well.
Oddly as it sounds to me, there are millions of people in this world who actually prefer the company of cats to dogs. Then there are the people that share their lives with both cats and dogs. It’s true some cat people prefer a pet that prides it’s self on elusiveness and independence. Cat people sometimes have a cat that hides out when a dog person like me comes to visit. It’s as if the cat only exists in the recesses of imagination. They talk about having a cat, but I’ve never seen her.
My cat like “stand-offish-ness” toward cats was probably attributed to the time I pet sat for a calico named Missy. Missy was the hide-under-the-bed-type, although she was probably disturbed by the owner’s electronic security dog bark that went off at the front door when it sensed motion. The speaker emitted a bark suggesting to would be intruders that the firewall of the “electronic dog” was nothing more than a Cocker Spaniel. When the batteries were low the bark slowed and tired.
It was dark when I returned to Missy one evening. I was there to clean the cat box and offer Missy her nightly treat morsels. Missy stood suspiciously near an open coat closet. I knelt down to hand her a treat she leapt onto my back, her claws digging through my jacket. Then she hopped from my back to the top shelf of the coat closet. It wasn’t a Steven King tale after all, yet my view of cats was altered that day.
Once in my life I fell in love with a cat. Her name was Chloe and I spent seven years of my life with her. She was not my own cat, but I was with her often while Chloe’s owner traveled frequently.
Chloe was a small tabby with stubby legs and an authoritative meow. Once a shelter cat, she had been re-homed a second time. This time she settled in for the long haul. She enjoyed snuggling on the couch and sleeping on my bed. She was never the type to hide out for long, mainly because her breakfast was top priority. Her insistent caterwaul began before dawn even on the weekend. When I walked toward the kitchen, she lead the way meowing down the hall way as if she were a trained search and rescue dog, only this was about food.
In my life I was well versed in dogs taking my food, but not cats. Chloe would help herself to anything I left on my plate. Scattering when reprimanded, only to sit a few feet away and lick her paws, her gold eyes blinking at me with indifference.
Sometimes Chloe completely ignored me and hid in the bushes, or behind the plethora of angel statues that landscaped her yard. She would watch me call her inside when it was dark. It was as if she enjoyed that I was searching for her. “Fine” I would say to the darkness. “I’m leaving the door open when you’re ready to come back”. Eventually, I would hear “Meow, meow” as she sauntered slowly back into the house.
Chloe was the most delightful cat I’ve ever known. I loved the way her tummy swayed from side to side. I loved her because she made no apologies. Confidence was her state of being. She did what she wanted, how and when she wanted. She didn’t care what the other cats and dogs thought of her. She was a living example of every quality that makes life colorful.
Chloe’s owner contacted me sometime later letting me know that the long-lived Chloe had gone to rainbow bridge. She died peacefully in her sleep on the full moon after eating a hearty breakfast. I still think of Chloe and how she taught me that even a dog person like me would always love at least one cat.
Koshari the black bear is lounging in a semi winter’s hibernation when I visit him. Sitting on his rump with furry back legs stretched out, he is in that pleasant place between sleep and dreams. His head is held heavy, dozing and snacking away a chilly morning. Looking at him makes me want to curl up for a long winter’s nap too.
Koshari makes his permanent home at Wildlife West in Edgewood, New Mexico. Wildlife West provides refuge to native wildlife of New Mexico that, for one reason or another cannot be returned to the wild.
From a distance, Koshari doesn’t look much bigger than a Newfoundland, yet he holds a mighty and majestic presence. When a mass of black brown fur greets me at the fence, I see up close, how a black bear is as captivating as the wilds he inhabits. Koshari’s head is enormous and his ears look surprisingly similar to a child’s teddy bear. His long snout faces me with the soft gaze of a bear that just woke up.
Koshari arrived at Wildlife West as a yearling bear, now he was one beautiful, big bear. As a youth in northern New Mexico foraging near Navajo Lake he learned about the groceries and goodies kept on the area’s boats. Such curious bear minds naturally see no harm in claiming an easy meal.
Before he was called Koshari (which means “Clown” in Navajo) his reputation was “nuisance bear”. Without a bear’s natural fear and avoidance of humans, Koshari was now considered a threat to campers. For some bears caught between the wild and human encroachment, this has meant a sad fate for what is one of the most spectacular large mammals of North America.
Living in northern New Mexico a bear similar to Koshari once visited my house; a gangly yearling enjoying the fruit trees in the yard. When in drought, food is more challenging to find and the young bear drifted out of the foot hills beyond the mountains.
I made the mistake of telling my British grandma about the bear in the yard. It wasn’t a mistake. I told her because she was forever fascinated with wildlife stories of bears mauling people in the forests, sharks lacerating people in the sea and hikers stumbling onto poisonous snakes.
For years after the bear sighting Grandma called and our conversation would begin: “Any bears on the patio?”
Her British voice was enthralled, delighted by the prospect, the fear, the close encounter, the possibility of a huge wooly bear hovering outside my window.
“No Grandma, no more bears on the patio”.
I am certain that if my Grandma were still alive, she would enjoy watching History Channel’s ‘Alone’. When the night cam reflects the glowing eyes in the trees, I imagine she would shriek in fascinated horror. “Hey, Bear!” the survivalists yell. In the beginning the survivalists speak of their own strength and how “Any bear is gonna have to fight me off”. Then sequestered in their tent, the sound of tree branches cracking in the darkness, all that bravado evaporates.
Venturing into the backcountry the majority of wilderness seekers respect that they are entering the bear’s wilderness. Then again humans can make questionable choices. Consider Werner Herzog’s 2005 documentary “Grizzly Man” as an example.
As a little kid who earned my hiking legs in Yellowstone National Park, I was privy to watch other visitor’s behavior. There were the occasional tourists who would get out of their car or step off the trail and approach a bear, an elk or a wild bison. Somewhere I have a vintage snapshot photo juxtaposing the Yellowstone roadside and a shaggy bear in the same frame. There are the more dramatic vintage photos of bears in Yellowstone climbing onto tourist’s cars looking to be fed. This is really no different than the obese (and probably diabetic) marmots that live off the boardwalks of Yellowstone. The only difference is that a marmot isn’t going to come find you in your tent later that night.
If you are exploring Yellowstone (or another National Park) please do not attempt to pet the wildlife or get closer and definitely do not feed the wildlife. You’re putting not only your life at risk, but the animal’s life as well.
Also when visiting Yellowstone, do not step off the boardwalk and put your hand in one of the geysers to see “if the water really is hot”. I must have been seven years old, but I still remember the tourists who did this.
In short, these are examples of how a nuisance bear is formed in relationship to our behaviors in the wilderness. There is always the possibility of a bear encounter, this is the beauty of the wild. It is our duty to keep bears and other wildlife in the wilderness. When that doesn’t happen, we need to be aware of the animals that end up in a captive environment or worse. Oddly, money plays a part in the survival of a large wild mammal because the question becomes, if this animal is a nuisance bear, where does he go now? Who pays for that?
While Koshari the black bear doesn’t get to live out his days in the wild due to his comfort level around people, he does live in a place that offers him the chance to live as closely to his natural wild home as possible at Wildlife West.
Educate yourselves about the magnificent world of bears. Be prepared. When visiting bear country do everything you can to allow a bear the opportunity to go deeper into the wild undisturbed.
The opportunity to learn about Koshari opens my heart and represents the stories of what I want Species Spectrum to express. This is the story of one bear’s life experience.
I appreciate the wonderful volunteer who took me around one cold morning taking care of all the animals. She was enthusiastic, passionate and ready to get her hands dirty.
I am grateful for having met Roger Alink, founder of Wildlife West, he is truly dedicated to the well being of all wildlife. Please make a visit sometime or send a donation.
Read the True Stories of All the Animals shared on our Greeting Cards one design at a time! Follow the Species Spectrum™ Blog
A dog named Mungo sat in the animal shelter after Christmas, a rangy adolescent. He had big feet and already weighed forty pounds. He wasn’t the small dog a lot of people were looking for and he wasn’t a charming puppy bouncing in the shredded paper. Mungo was my own dog and part of the inspiration in myself starting Species Spectrum™ . He was one of Species Spectrum’s first greeting cards.
I met Mungo on my very first visit to the Santa Fe Animal Shelter, back when the staff wore blue jeans and t-shirts. Mungo sat leaning against the chain link kennel when a volunteer offered me a slip lead to take him out. I hoisted Mungo onto my lap in the courtyard. He was black and tan with floppy ears and a long, curly tail that looked like a cinnamon roll. I told the front desk “This was the dog for me”.
In the old days of animal shelters, the adoption questionnaires were brief. “Where would the dog sleep?” “Would he be kept indoors or outdoors?”
I was a young college student, hell bent on improving the world. It was before I became cynical and before I found my place in the world. No matter what, dogs would always be at my side. I had been the child who flayed on the floor of the dining room whining and begging, “I need a dog, I need a dog” until finally, I got my own dog.
Mungo would not be like Sadie, the golden retriever puppy I had raised as a kid. She was the typical happy go lucky retriever. Everyone was a friend and she hoped everyone would throw her ball, even a burglar. The golden retriever’s only fears were the vacuum cleaner and my pet hedgehog.
Mungo wasn’t the confident type. On his fist night he slept in a tight ball on the bare floor beside the bed I’d bought him. I hiked with him often and volunteered with the Santa Fe Animal Shelter. I spent Monday afternoons at PetSmart with a friendly retired woman who watched Monday night football and always wore a flower in her hair. Sometimes I brought Mungo because she loved him so much. “Oh” she would say, “Mungo is just beautiful”. Mungo always behaved better in public than at home.
Mungo hiked in the slot canyon of Tent Rocks before dogs were banned. He stayed with me on my dog sitting jobs before dog sitting was in vogue and considered to be “A professional occupation”. Mungo only had a few human friends, but he had many dog friends. He loved for other dogs to chase him. He ran and wrestled in the mountains with a German Short Haired pointer called Hank. Mungo triumphed over his apprehension about staircases at a cabin in Glorieta. If Hank could do it, so could he.
Mungo went with me through all the boyfriends of my twenties and he never liked any of them until I found my husband. Mungo typically bellowed when anyone stood in front of him and leaned forward (unless the stranger had a dog to play with).
The first boyfriend was a ‘dog person’ because who would date anyone that was not a self-proclaimed dog person? It still took Mungo months to get to know another human, but only a moment to make friends with another dog.
The second boyfriend said “You’re dog isn’t right, he’s mean and aggressive like you”.
The third boyfriend cooked special meals for Mungo, but both spent the early days suspicious of the other. I have a photo of Mungo giving that boyfriend the “evil eye”.
Mungo spent his geriatric days with the fourth boyfriend, now husband. Mungo never had a problem and the two got along famously. The test of a good man is one that can understand not only you, but you’re dog too. It was obvious when one had entered the human friendship circle of the ‘Mungo Fan Club’ because Mungo would always pick up one of his toys or a shoe and carry it with delight at seeing someone he actually liked.
No one saw Mungo as a dog of high intelligence, but Mungo’s loyalty was steadfast and he had many skills. Mungo enjoyed launching his big paws onto kitchen counters everywhere. He stole many loaves of bread and whatever else he could grab. He was smart enough to pretend that he really was just passing through the kitchen and had no intention of repeating what he knew was wrong. It only took me saying, “I’m sorry Sir, can I help you?” Mungo would look at the floor and keep walking, only to wait for the opportunity to strike again.
Then there was the joy of shredding a trash bag, this pastime ranks high in the world of dog activities. Mungo could bounce the lid off a trash can with his famous nose ‘pop’. Barrier gates and puppy gates were futile from the beginning. Mungo plowed through and I hoped that the smart heeler puppy would never notice that the power of the puppy gate was only illusory. Mungo was like a T-rex when he wanted to open a door; scratch and plow through until you get your way. So much for all that dog training I preach. Leadership, consistency, don’t baby the pooch, don’t affirm unwanted behaviors.
“Woof woof woof”. When I came home, when UPS was at the door, but they were different woofs. One was “I’m so happy”. The other was “I’m scared, I’m booming, don’t call my bluff”. In the car, “Woof, woof, woof”. Translation: “I’m going hiking!” or “There’s a car parked next to us!”
Mungo was happiest at my side. My Uncle once said, “That dog ‘ain’t’ right, I can ‘git’ you a better dog”. It’s true Mungo wasn’t a cowboy’s dog. Mungo slept on blankets and couches. He wasn’t apologetic about loving his basket of plush dog toys. When I rode horseback, my cowboy Uncle gave Mungo one more chance. Mungo was supposed to emulate a working dog. Track. Hunt. Herd. Sleep in the dirt. Mungo could do none of these things. Mungo just wanted to climb up on the horse to be nearer to me. His eyes grew desperate, even as he partially enjoyed running aside the horse.
One day I went swimming and climbed onto a boulder in the middle of a river. Mungo was never a gifted swimmer. Mungo splashed his paws in panic as he swam out to me, all eighty pounds of him clambering for me to keep him afloat when he realized his paws failed to find terra firma.
I had never needed to teach my golden retriever how to swim. She placidly dog paddled, the tips of her ears resting on the glassy surface as she glided effortlessly even in deep water. But Mungo, the whites of his eyes showed, even as he did manage to keep himself afloat, he didn’t believe he could do it.
Mungo bellowed at strangers and couldn’t swim, but he could climb rocks on the hiking trail with zeal until his knee gave out at age six. Sewn back up he ran again for years more with his crazy border collie friends, Rosie & Gracie. They were almost my dogs because I took care of them for seven years all the time. We did the fun stuff together and Mungo was there. Three dog noses sliming my car windows on the way to the trailhead.
We often hiked at dusk until it was dark looking out at the sunset and climbing boulders. Mungo was with me through every important part of my life until this year. He outlived what many would assume to be an old big dog. He had the genetic diversity of a true mutt giving him longevity and health. As Mungo turned gray, I would kiss his face goodnight and lay with him and feel his heart beat. (What husband?)
The new dog in town, Bravo the Blue Heeler was a diligent caretaker of Mungo. Bravo checked on Mungo every night and every morning, licking his face and telling him it was time to wake up. We pitied the predator that would dare break entry because Bravo wouldn’t let anything happen to Mungo.
Mungo wanted to sleep late as he always enjoyed his sleep. At night in the winter Mungo liked to sleep covered with a blanket.
At the vet Mungo was always well behaved and even there he was remembered fondly. I remember the first day I met Mungo, the whites of his eyes showing in a shelter. I remember the last day Mungo looked at me fourteen and half years later. If anyone could share a telepathic conversation with a dog, this was our moment. It had been a good life together. Years, later we both still had our foibles, but it didn’t matter. We were great friends who understand one another’s idiosyncrasies.
I was channeling Walter Brennan’s “Tribute to a Dog”. Even Walter Brennan cried about “Old Shep”. I thought of how many times over the years I’ve told people the grief will pass and that the joy of sharing life with a dog always outweighs the pain of loss. The grief in saying goodbye to Mungo was surreal and yet I felt like my heart was bigger than it had ever been.
When Mungo went to rainbow bridge on a rainy day in May we drove into the mountains, where Mungo used to hike. Bravo the blue heeler ran like the wind diving into the streams. I too felt fearless and alive. It was a reminder that the best places in the world are in the wild with dogs. I’ll always love my Mungo, one day we’ll meet again in a place just like this. -JES
Disclaimer: Hey, it’s America and any information you deem worthy here is applied at your own discretion. If you are new to dogs or have a dog you are unsure about please consult with a professional dog trainer before applying these concepts. These points have helped me with the many dogs in my life, so I am sharing from my personal experience.
Our connection to dogs is one of the most extraordinary cross species bonds that exist. The biggest difference is that we talk things out and dogs use body language, but we love talking to our dogs! So it may come as a bit of a shock that me—a loquacious individual is telling you that by talking less, you can become a more effective dog leader.
I highly recommend reading Patricia McConnell’s book ‘The Other End of the Leash: Why we do what we do Around Dogs. As someone that has worked with many dogs and knows a lot about them, I STILL found her insights very useful.
Here are a few highlights:
1). TURN TO THE SIDE WHEN MEETING A NEW DOG
Dog people make a lot of jokes about butt sniffing, but this inherently dog greeting behavior IS polite canine behavior. Dogs find the way humans greet one another threatening. Look at this from a dog’s perspective. Humans make eye contact and greet each other face to face. We shake hands. This is polite for humans, but a challenge to dogs. Dogs greet from the side to show other dogs they are simply saying a polite ‘Hello!’ and that they are not “Going Medieval” as my Dad likes to say.
In the cross species world of dog people and dog parks, you have probably seen people unknowingly greet new dogs by standing in front of the dog and tilting forward to say ‘Hello’. This makes since to us, but not dogs. Often we are speaking in a happy voice while extending our hand, “Hi cutie!!!”
Most well socialized dogs can handle our ineptness at understanding how dogs communicate. For some dogs, this human logic of standing straight in front and tilting forward can be a little freaky.
This advice has been helpful with one of my now elder shelter dogs. For his entire life, this basic human body posture has been a challenge for him. What helps him is simply turning to the side and sometimes (if your human greeter is willing and able!) having them squat in conjunction with the turn to the side.
This is truly one of the most helpful ways I have learned to interact with new dogs in my life, especially when photographing them. When meeting new dogs it’s extraordinary how much quicker they relate to me simply by turning to the side and squatting. I let them come to me.
2). SAY THE COMMAND ONCE
Let’s begin with SIT. When you ask your dog to perform the command sit, say it ONCE and mean it. How many times have you or someone you know done this:
“Sit Shelly. Shelly Sit. Sit. Can you sit Shelly? Can you sit for mummy?”
It’s NOT a question. If it’s a new dog, say it once and help your pup succeed. Often just a look, or a hand signal or even stepping toward your dog can effectively cause him to sit without saying it. He is reading your body language. Even if you don’t consciously use a hand signal, I notice my dogs know what I mean just by how I stand.
3). STEP INTO YOUR DOG’S SPACE
This is an easy way to show your leadership without words. Claiming space by making your dog back up is an effective way to show you are a confident leader to be respected. When the UPS truck pulls up, I step toward my big dog with hand signals and say, “Go to your bed”. He knows I am taking care of the situation and his job as receptionist is done.
4). USE YOUR ELBOW NOT YOUR HANDS This is for begging dogs at the table or those times when your dog (or dogs) are crowding your space. When a dog is being a nuisance rather than telling them to bug off USE YOUR BODY LANGUAGE INSTEAD – TAKE YOUR ELBOW OUT AND TURN YOUR BODY AWAY. This was great advice in McConnell’s book! It works!
As she states in her book, when you use your hand, you are effectively sending the message that you want to play. Think of your hand as a paw. Dogs initiate play by slapping their paw on the shoulder of another dog and doing a play bow. Your elbow communicates more than being verbal and says, “I’m not interested”.
5). CATCH YOUR DOG BEING GOOD. This is also a great way to teach your dog to come when called. If he shows up next to you, praise him. Never ask him to come if you can’t enforce it. Never call your dog to you to tell him he’s done something wrong. It should always be a positive experience. When you catch your dog being good, you help shape him into a great canine citizen. If he’s one his bed just hanging out, “Hey, good boy.”
This one is a little more advanced, but it’s a good thing when your dog looks at you (This is different than begging at the table). Praise him. Your dog is paying attention and that makes him a lot easier to train! (Of course, if it’s a border collie, he’ll be looking at you constantly, that’s what they do and perhaps part of the reason they are so trainable).
5). THE COUCH & BED Yes, you can still be a good dog leader even if you let your dog on the couch, but start off right. Don’t let your dogs take liberties by jumping on the couch or bed at their leisure. YOU MAKE this decision. Ask them to sit and wait a few moments and then let them. This is one of those latent side affects where you show your dog you are a good leader and that chaos is unacceptable. Just by enforcing this rule you will get more respect and it will affect your dog’s perception of you positively. “Hey, I guess she means that sit thing before jumping up on the couch!, Look, I’m sitting and waiting patiently!”
6). HUMANS AND THEIR ‘AMPING’ IT UP “Are you Ready to Rock?!” THING
When we use our voice—as Cesar Milan points out, with often amp up our dogs, like before a walk. Cesar did a great stand up act on this exact topic of how us humans get ready for a walk with our dog. Too often, we build up a lot of suspense!
“You wanna go for a walk!? Yea! Let’s go for a walk!” Why not just pick up the leash and quietly escort your dog out for the walk without saying anything? Sometimes we just love seeing our dogs go crazy being happy! But if you’re training a new pup, or especially a large breed dog, you want to get out of the house without it being a hyped up dance!
OLD DOGS: WHEN THE RULES DON’T COUNT
When dogs get old, I cut them a lot of slack. We currently live with exclusively geriatric dogs. With our immortal terrier, I confess to humming the Indiana Jones theme song while making his dog breakfast, just to watch him spin around the kitchen. Yes, I amp him up and I’ve SKILLYFULLY turned the Indiana Jone’s theme Song into a perfectly tuned Pavlovian response.
You gotta love your old dogs! They are great nappers, easy to live with and frequently you’ve shared years of history together! What more could you ask for in a best friend!?
Please check out Patricia McConnell’s book! It’s been a few years since I read it, but these points have stuck with me!! I hope they help you too!
In Memory of JUNE, our shelter adopted blue heeler (August 24, 2003 – July 18, 2015), we love you always and had 12 amazing years together! Prepping to pass the torch to a new heeler!
Under the law, Dogs (and other pets) are legally defined as property. ‘Property’ is typically defined as an inanimate object, not a living thing.
By defining dogs as an equal ‘property’ to household ‘things’ means that a dog often must endure dire conditions before the law can intervene. A dog placed into a dangerous environment is far more likely to become dangerous than a socialized, well cared for animal.
Food. Water. Shelter. A dog with such basics is not considered to be in ‘danger’ because according to law his survival needs are being met. While one dog may react differently than another based on the exact same stressful conditions, any animal behaviorist or individual that has dog experience can attest to definable conditions that correlate to a dog becoming ‘dangerous’. Keeping a dog tethered and kept without basic socialization are probably two of the biggest contributors to ‘dangerous dogs’.
We must examine what commonalities ‘dangerous dogs’ share. One progressive ordinance implemented in the city of Albuquerque is a zero tolerance policy for chaining or otherwise tethering dogs. Dogs that are tied up are more at risk to display aggression because they recognize their vulnerability in being unable to get away from a potential threat. Such dogs are not necessarily inherently aggressive, but the act of trying a dog is a big one in contributing to dogs being defined as a ‘dangerous dog’.
‘Dangerous Dog’ policies fail community. The reason being that the law does not ask a critical first question, “Why do dogs become dangerous?” and “What policies can be enacted to minimize the risk of a dog becoming dangerous in the first place?”.
In my state, New Mexico, there are no existing regulations for ‘commercial breeders’. This means a surplus of puppies are easily available without regard to the kind of homes they will have, or how many times they may be ‘re-homed’.
While we cannot regulate, nor legally define morality, communities can and should ask why an issue exists in the first place before addressing treatment.
As long as dogs are legally defined as mere property, there is an inherent disconnect. On one hand dogs are equal to any inanimate object. On the other, their behavior is being regulated.
Cities take the time to define what constitutes a dangerous dog without regard to examining the conditions that create a dog as defined under law as a ‘dangerous dog’.
By regulating commercial breeders (i.e, puppy mills and backyard breeders) communities can take one step forward is curbing the massive surplus of unwanted, abandoned and neglected dogs in their state.
As long as dogs are defined as property, dogs will continue to experience conditions that cause dangerous behaviors. It also places more burdens on animal shelters to find resources to rehabilitate dogs and homes for difficult to place dogs.
We need the law to see dogs as more than property in order to begin the paradigm shift of how dogs are seen in our communities across America. While no law can completely eliminate all ‘dangerous dogs’ or all ‘animal abuse’, such a progressive measure has incredible potential to alleviate the root cause of what causes dogs to become ‘dangerous’.
Let us not confuse idealism with an objective effort to identify the root cause that makes a reactive policy necessary.
As an individual who has worked with many shelter/rescue dogs and witnessed the wholehearted efforts of those working in animal welfare, it is obvious that policies need to empower our community to do more for dogs.
Every person already working to help dogs in need is making a contribution to a kinder world for dogs and all animals. Even if you only help one dog or introduce one person to a new way of thinking about dogs, you have made a difference. All of us must meet the challenge in being more effective stewards to the dogs in our communities.
Next up: How can we change the bad rap of the word ‘activist’?!
Placing Rescue Animals in the Spotlight
We are an animal photography image bank, greeting card line, creator of good cause campaigns and outreach consultant based in Albuquerque, NM
Dear Craig & Craigconnects,
Utilizing your mission for Craigconnects, I want to offer a concept for reducing the number of unwanted pets passing through animal shelters and Craigslist.
Here’s the Problem:
Craigslist has become a mecca for backyard and puppy mill dogs. These dogs aren’t cheap, most selling for several hundred each. It’s not your fault people misuse that whole term ‘re-home’. But, here’s a SIMPLE strategy that could make a world of positive impact:
In your effort to make the world better for animals make Craigslist work for animals by charging a fee for puppy listings under Craigslist > Community > Pets category listings.
Use the fees paid by those who advertise their puppies on Craigslist to support breed rescue and local shelters. In fact, make backyard breeders KNOW how the small fee is used and LET them keep advertising. The point is to make every listing a benefit to animals.
This can be your greatest impact on the world of animals because Craigslist is now truly the epicenter in the USA for advertising the surplus of puppies and quick buck folks.
Help me make this happen.
Jessica McKay Gilmore
I motion for genetically modified dinosaurs to eat the Blackstone bigwigs of Sea World.
More seriously, this summer’s revisit to dinosaur man eating hell could be a boon for helping more people realize how ridiculous Sea World’s entertainment platform has always been. Even those who boohoo supporters of Blackfish will probably go see Jurassic World.
Here’s where where box office hits merge with cause (pardon, the ‘cultural media studies’ vibe). All the voices of the Sea World debate are featured in Jurassic World (although it was a shock that women’s tan pumps are still in vogue).
There’s corporate PR full tilt Claire, “People want more teeth and genetically modified dinos are the wave of future entertainment”. There’s the ‘Dino Whisperer’, Owen, “These animals trust me and they have feelings. Don’t eat me Blue!”. There’s Hoskins, “I’m training these raptors for Military Combat and world domination”. There’s Dr. Henry Wu, “All dinosaurs are genetically modified, this embryo is part Monsanto and named after the company”. There’s Masrani, “You people are up to no good, but I die in a helicopter crash before I can make a difference”.
There’s Barry, “Owen knows best and I know what these animals are capable of, but I am powerless…the woman in the tan pumps makes the decisions”. There’s the stereotypical out to lunch brothers, Gray and Zach. Gray says, “Mommy and Daddy aren’t getting divorced, are they? Hey, that Mega Marine Dino just splashed me! I’m happy again!” Big Brother Zach says, “I totally didn’t want to hang out with you, but now that we bonded over Mega Marine Dino, I’ll always be your brother”.
Suck up the pending divorce Gray and Zach, this is going to take some Animal Rights Activism. Had the boys arrived on Dino Island to free the Dinosaurs, I guess that would have been a completely different movie; one that some would label ‘propaganda’. But for those who believe Blackfish is ‘propaganda’, could we not look at Jurassic World in that very same way? The film does make a complete mockery of that whole ‘Shamu Sea World Splash’ thing. Or are man eating mega dinosaurs enough of a distraction to say the film is purely entertainment?
Jurassic World may be one up from the third sequel where Sam Neil plays a pushover and William H. Macy can’t find that annoying son lost in the jungle. As a mainstream voice immersed in the world of pure air conditioned hot summer entertainment, Jurassic World offers talking points on the morals of animal entertainment and captivity. We can of course dance around that moral circle all night and not reach common ground. Yet, Jurassic World has in affect, raised the question that perhaps being splashed by a magnificent animal in an arena has in fact run it’s course. Just as Claire’s tan pump heels were extremely out of date, so is the paradigm of Sea World entertainment.
These are the “Days of Our Lives” and Orca whales belong in the oceans, not in theme parks. More and more of us are waking up to this. Even Blue the Raptor is on the front lines, “Ocean sanctuary for Tilikum, Lolita, Morgan and all the others!”.