Species Stories: Life & Love with a Dog Named Mungo

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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

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Ask “Why Dogs Become Dangerous?” Before Writing Policies on ‘Dangerous Dogs’

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A pup in foster care awaits her forever home.

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’?!

SpeciesSpectrum.com
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

HOW TO MAKE CRAIGSLIST WORK FOR PETS

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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.

Thank You,

Jessica McKay Gilmore
speciesspectrum.com

On Getting A Dog (Not) “Just Like the Last One”

getting a dog                       Lilly, enjoys car rides in the front seat on a sleeping bag.
                       Please note: Any resemblance to ‘Andy Warhol Art’ is purely tragic. 
                       If you haven’t visited speciesspectrum.com, please check us out! 

As a species we have a desire for familiarity and sameness. It’s a survival mechanism. It’s fine when that familiarity means ordering fast food on another continent or a trip down memory lane when we hear a certain song. However, it’s a different thing when we expect our future pets to be clones of our last pets (Unless cloning is your thing).

Recently I overheard a conversation of two women discussing a friend’s search for another dog. It was obvious the friend’s beloved dog had gone to what pet lovers term ‘Rainbow Bridge’. One said to the other, “They want to get a dog just like the last dog so they’re going to the same breeder and hopefully…” Just then the conversation drifted out of my ears’ reach.

“Get one just like the last one”; That is the phrase that stuck with me. We don’t say this about ex-lovers, just our dogs. In fact we hope that next fish is the total opposite of that idiot we previously dated. We love the familiar (and the new, once it is familiar). We are creatures of habit. In my cuisine experience, this means I almost always order enchiladas when I get Mexican food. When it comes to dogs, some people get hooked on a certain breed of dog. You know the parents that ‘Have always had Springer Spaniels’. We put bumper stickers on our cars (especially Subaru owners), that tell the world our type of dog is the best. It’s a Eureka! moment. “Chihuahuas Rule”. “Border Collies Rule”. “Labrador’s Rule”. Okay, I love Australian Cattle Dogs and English Mastiffs. There I said it. We also now praise mutts, with” They’re one of a kind” sentiments. This is the truth of every dog, mutts and ‘pure-breds’ alike.

I ended up with a very cool (neurotic) eighty pound mutt (healthy as ever with his mutt genetics) and pushing age twelve this year. He has never been anything like the bomb proof golden retriever I had before.

Once while walking dogs at my local Humane Society, a woman approached me through the fence facing the parking lot. She asked me, “Do you have any small, male dogs available or adoption?”. She then held up her small Sihi-tzu girl dog. “I’m looking for a male dog to breed with her so she can have puppies just like her”. The woman went on, “I want her to have puppies because I would be devastated without ‘Missy'” (random dog name).

I kindly explained to the woman how our shelter dogs were neutered. She genuinely thought adopting a male dog to breed with her dog was the solution to her concerns. I waxed on about dog breeding being very expensive (when done right) and to maybe consider adopting another dog with similar breed heritage as her beloved ‘Missy’.

Some of us really are ‘big dog people’, or ‘labrador people’ or some version of ‘small dog people’. Aside from Labradors and maybe Golden Retrievers, it’s very difficult and dare I say impossible to get another dog just like our last dog. Part of the reason for the popularity of Labradors and Goldens is that predictable, happy-go-lucky-fetch-retrieve-lovable-family-dog thing they have nailed into their DNA. Yet, even all Labradors aren’t the same. Some will go through guide dog training and just not have the personality to be a service dog. They might still, however, make an excellent therapy dog.

Dog genetics are the most manipulated in the world. The percentage of difference that separates the hundreds of dog breeds in the world are minuscule.

I write this on an informal leadership training spree with my boyfriend’s mother’s recently adopted Chihuahua. At first I wished she’d chosen an older, easy-going A-list, golden retriever from a rescue (you know, like my last dog). Instead she brought home a ten-year old Chihuahua. This week Lilly has gone almost everywhere with me. I’m not used to working with such a tiny dog and more accustomed to a bigger, burly dog on the other end of the leash. Yet, in a week’s time, I’ve come to enjoy training and hanging out with a Chihuahua–a breed that stumbled into my life.

Our desire to “Get another dog just like the last dog” reminds me of a book I read, “Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert. Gilbert writes about why we are not the best predictors of our own happiness. This is why we may THINK we want another dog just like the last dog, even if a different dog will be perfect for us. But like friends, no friend is exactly the same as another friend, yet they are both great friends. It is the same with dogs, even if they are the same breed. We may have many dogs in our lifetime and some we will describe years later as ‘the best dog ever’. We assume we won’t feel so sad if we can go get another dog just like the last one. In making this assumption, we might miss out on the next best dog looking for us. Keep your mind and heart open to who your next dog or pet may be. Please consider a shelter or rescue dog and good luck in finding your new best friend!

Jes McKay Gilmore

– speciesspectrum.com

Speciesspectrum.com publishes modern greeting cards for every occasion. Every Species Spectrum design begins with a photograph of a rescue animal. We photograph both wild and domestic animals in shelters, sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers that would otherwise not be seen by the public.
Our goal is to provoke awareness and thus increased responsibility toward how we view animals in society and the wild. Giving back to small organizations helping animals is the beginning. Please shop our site. Thank you for sharing Species Spectrum greeting cards.

 

Loss of Pet: How to Cope

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Bella looks over Enzo’s Grave. Enzo passed away February 24, 2014. He is one of the first Species Spectrum greeting cards. Enzo helped create the best seller, “The real mountain is within you”. He will always be remembered as ‘We need more little dog in the hat”. We love you Enzo.
This sweet photo shows the essence of pet loss. Bella, a one year old rescued German Shepherd looks over Enzo’s grave. Bella was adopted just three months ago where she made friends with Enzo, an adopted Italian Greyhound. When we have beloved pets we are faced with one day losing them.

We are never prepared for this. The grief of pet loss is often  equated with the great pain of losing a human loved one (no offense to people). Our pets are family. Some of us will say the pain is too great and close the door to having another dog, cat or other pet. Grief comes in waves and we all cope differently. Most of us will go get another pet when it is right for us whether that is the next day or the next year. Many will say there is no dog like the dog no longer with us. This is true. No dog will ever be the dog you had before. It will be different, but it will also be great.

I have gone through pet loss many times with my own pets, but also those of friends and people who’s pets I have come to love. Enzo was of of those pets. I’ve been photographing rescue animals and other people’s pets for a long time. Each one has a story and this is what Species Spectrum is about. Enzo was one of the very first greeting cards I designed and published.  He is the basis for essentially the entire Species Spectrum greeting card line and the idea behind it: Showcase rescue animals in a positive way through a product people can share. Enzo has a great story. He was adopted through Greyhound Companions of New Mexico. He was an Italian Greyhound who came from Roswell, NM. Enzo is an example of how many ‘pure bred’ dogs end up needing help in finding a permanent loving home. He definitely found that and spent the remaining six years of his life being treated like the prince of yoga.

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Enzo was a pure bred Italian Greyhound dog adopted from Greyhound Companions of New Mexico

Enzo’s little spirit is missed, but his mission is bigger than the pain of losing him. I am sad he is gone, but at the same time I’m not sad. Here’s why: Enzo lived out his days as well loved dog and died peacefully at home in his fleece dog bed at the age of nearly twelve. Any dog (or pet) that has lived a long life being loved and cared for is lucky. Having worked in animal shelters, I know not every deserving animal is so lucky. This is why I hope that in honoring the loss of your own beloved pet, your grief is tempered by a greater compassion in helping the lives of animals that need someone’s help today.

Enzo, you were one amazing little hound!

Jes McKay Gilmore, speciesspectrum.com

R.I. P Enzo, you are always loved! I wish you lots of Golden Pride Chicken in your next life! Hear Enzo sing! 

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