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How Not to be “That Idiot At The Dog Park”

Taking a break from my regular blogging to write this instead. It’s a bit of a rant, but I also realize that a LOT of people don’t know a few very basic rules for being at the dog park. Since I’ve been at the dog park every day for several days I’ve seen a lot of these behaviors, and I thought, well hey, at least I can prevent my internet friends from being That Idiot At The Dog Park.

A no-nonsense PSA!

1. NO LEASHES ON DOGS INSIDE THE PARK. A dog on a leash is a lot more likely to get into a fight than a dog not on a leash. This is because it can feel threatened and lash out since it can’t easily get away if it needs to. Very often, a dog that starts fights on a leash never starts any off leash. Either take the leash off your dog, or don’t bring your dog to the dog park. If you are unsure how the dog will act, you’re not doing it any favors by having it on the leash. Take the leash off, but stay close enough to grab your dog and remove it from the park immediately if necessary. Stay calm, if you’re nervous, the dog will be nervous. NOTE: This can also apply to dogs being held in arms, but it’s not as common as dogs on leashes.

2. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR DOG. Know where he is and what he’s doing at all times. Too often I see people caught up in their book, playing on their phones or talking to other people not noticing their dogs being bullies, starting fights, or taking a giant dump in a high traffic area. STOP IT. The dog park is not your dog sitter. It is a place for your dog to exercise and socialize while you watch it exercise and socialize.

2B. IF YOUR DOG IS CAUSING PROBLEMS, REMOVE IT. Seriously. If your dog starts more than one fight, take him home immediately. If your dog won’t stop barking at other dogs that do anything besides breathe, take him home. If your dog won’t stop humping other dogs, take him home. If your dog is hoarding a toy and causing fights over it, take him home. Don’t be THAT person that can’t admit their dog is ruining the park for everyone else. Also, don’t be that person that takes forever to admit it – 15 minutes of an obnoxious behavior is MORE than enough to know it’s just not going to work out. TAKE. THE DOG. HOME.

3. PICK UP YOUR DOG’S POOP. I mean it. This is not hard, people. Put a plastic sack over your hand, and use it like a glove to pick up the poop. Hold your breath if you have to. Grip the poop in your hand/fist, then take the edge of the bag’s opening, pull it over your hand. Viola! Poop in a bag, and none of it touched you. Tie off the bag and throw it in a trashcan. Most dog parks have bag dispensers all around the park. THERE IS NO EXCUSE. Because trust me, people DO notice, especially when they end up with poop on their shoe, or all over their car because their dog stepped on it. Additionally, it’s gross, but it’s nature: some dogs eat poop. It’s a fact of life. But it’s not healthy for them to eat other dog’s poop. Help out the owners cursed with poop eaters by picking up the poop, K?

4. NO KIDS AT THE DOG PARK. This is not a hard and fast rule, but it should be treated as such because far too many people bring very small children, or older highly active children, neither of which observe proper dog park etiquette and do many no-no things that put them at risk of being injured by a dog. This is not the kid’s fault, nor the dogs’ fault. Neither know any better. Also the dog park is for the dogs and about the dogs – they are there to exercise and socialize with other dogs. They are NOT there to entertain or exercise your child.

4B. Now as I said, “No kids at the dog park” is not a hard and fast rule, so there are exceptions: a few, very few, children are naturals with dogs and know how to act around them; calm, quiet, slow moving, not chasing after, grabbing at, yelling at, or trying to hug the dogs. These children are OK to have at the park. If your child is not a natural but can learn to behave this way and will do so while at the dog park, that’s OK too. Just keep an eye on your children at all times and be ready to remind them of proper behavior when necessary. It could save your child’s life.

4c. Don’t bring your kids to the dog park if you’re not also bringing your dog. That’s just rude. Take your kids to a regular park. For kids. There’s less poop there, anyway.

Spread the word!

How Not to be “That Idiot At The Dog Park”

Love vs. Blame

The local news ran a story yesterday about a lady who lost her wedding ring while going through the security kiosk at the county courthouse, which happens to be in my town. As is quite common for many people, she was very upset by this loss because it was sentimentally important. It was the ring her husband had proposed with. She apparently decided to make use of the news to implore the good people of my town to return her ring to her should anyone find it.

Having been posted to the website and to the news station’s Facebook page, the story reached thousands and thousands of people. 90% of those who commented ripped this poor lady to shreds. “Who cares about your lost ring? 20 children were lost today. You are an example of what is wrong with this world.” Never mind that they probably filmed that segment before news of the shooting had spread, never mind that she is not in control of what stories the news stations choose to run.

Like many others, my heart was broken by news of the shooting. I can’t wrap my head around it and it makes me sick. I have not forgotten about those children for one minute since I learned of the news. Personal circumstance triggered a bad bout of depression for the weekend but the news of the shooting cemented it. I don’t have a relative or know anyone personally affected by the tragedy. I am affected by it because that’s who I am: empathetic, especially towards the helpless ones.

That doesn’t change that my heart also broke for this poor woman, because she lost something so sentimental and because people were hating on her so much. Just because someone else is going through something worse in the world does not mean that her troubles are any less valid. That goes for everyone, not just this poor lady. Suffering is suffering, and there are no rules about what one is allowed to suffer or feel relative to what someone else is suffering or feeling. Someone with a lesser problem is not a lesser person for suffering it or for reaching out for help.

I felt guilty for a while, for being so upset about my personal situation when this tragedy was going on. I was reminded by several wise, loving people that just because what they are going through is worse doesn’t make what I’m going through invalid. Oh the love I felt from those comments, from that sentiment. I love you. That love from you was so healing. So needed.

Why couldn’t people have had that response towards that poor lady? Why did so many people feel it necessary to be so cruel? Why couldn’t they just ignore the story if it bothered them? And it’s not just this story. It’s anything related to the shooting, mental illness, gun control, etc. etc. If anyone says anything, you can be sure people are going to start fighting about something. Why are people debating and arguing with each other so passionately? Why are friendships being broken over these disagreements? Why are jokes being made? Why are people acting this way?

The truth is, what happened could be for any number of reasons and the sad truth is, there may not even be a reason for it. Sometimes things just are. I don’t understand why this most recent shooting happened. I just know it did, and right now, that is all that matters, not the reason why. So why must people fight so hard to find blame somewhere? Why can’t they just sit back and accept it for what it is, and mourn, and hold their loved ones close?

Then I read a post that suggested that people try to find blame as a method of coping, because they need life to make sense. Oh. Now I get it.

After thinking for a while, now I understand why people react the way they have been reacting. They need to be able to file this away as having had a reason and a cause. Because it’s too hard to accept that sometimes horrible things are senseless and have no reason to them. Because if something horrible is senseless, if something horrible doesn’t have a reason, then no peace of mind can be found that it can be prevented from happening again. That causes people to feel vulnerable and fearful to a level beyond what they can accept. And as far as I can understand, that is the reason people are fighting each other, being cruel to each other, rather than just letting it be and mourning with and for all affected by this tragedy and other tragedies. They want to make that awful feeling of vulnerability and fear go away, whatever it takes.

I do understand that the vulnerability people feel is very difficult. I feel it too. But I also understand that such vulnerability is a part of life, and you can’t always find that peace of mind or take action against that vulnerability. Fighting with each other won’t change that. Nothing will. The only thing that will make a difference is to hold each other close, be grateful for the blessings you still have, and do your best to help those who have lost their blessings, no matter how or why those blessings were lost. The only thing that will make a difference is love, and love can be shield and a pillar of strength. That matters far, far more than finding a place for the blame ever will.

Love vs. Blame

Serving With My Heart

“How will you be able to say goodbye after all that time? Won’t it break your heart?”

This and similar questions were asked of me when I first shared with people that I would be fostering dogs again, this time for Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pets. I replied with answers like “Oh, I’ve fostered many dogs before, I’m used to it” and “It’s not that hard since they are leaving for good homes.” But the truth is, like all the other times, I was bluffing. It’d been years since I fostered dogs, but I knew that when the day came to let go, it would hurt. The more you foster dogs, the easier it gets – but it never ceases feeling like an arrow in the heart when the time comes for them to leave, no matter how good the home is they are going to.

How did I end up fostering for Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pets, anyway? Well, like I said, it’s been a few years since I fostered dogs. Back then, I fostered mostly rescue dogs with special behavioral needs that needed lots of attention and energy. So when health problems started to get the better of me, I had to give up my “work” of fostering and rehabilitating those dogs, as well as actual paying jobs. I ended up on assistance, feeling pretty useless and sorry for myself for a number of years. I wanted to contribute somehow, but was always limited by either lack of money or lack of physical resources to donate my time with.

Then I read about Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pets in a newsletter from a rescue group I get email from. I instantly realized that this was something I could do. I could specify that I would need the soldier to provide complete funding for his or her pet, so my lack of finances wouldn’t be an issue. And since these were pets, and not rescue dogs with special needs, they wouldn’t be as much work as the dogs I’d worked with previously. Any behavior issues would likely be minor and easy to work with. I could take care of them at my home. All these dogs really needed was a home to live in and be loved while their soldier served overseas or was otherwise incapacitated. And I have a big yard for them to play in for exercise, as well as a great dog park close to my house. This could work!

And best of all, I would be serving my country in a small way, by giving a soldier peace of mind that their beloved pet would be well cared for, freeing them up to focus on their jobs and stay safe while serving overseas, or healing, or getting their lives back together. Some people, including soldiers, feel that their pets are like their children. I knew that it had to be hard enough to leave them behind with family and friends. I can’t even imagine the pain of those who had no choice but to give their pets up to shelters. So I felt this would be meaningful and make a difference. I signed up right away.

I wasn’t sure they would find a match for me. I was “needy” in terms of what I could foster. I needed a dog that was housebroken, didn’t jump low fences, fully financed, got along well with other dogs and was not prey driven since I have tiny dogs at home. That’s a lot for a coordinator to work with! I did not put a size restriction – I knew that the majority of the dogs needing foster homes would be larger dogs, since family and friends of people who need a temporary home for their dogs are a lot more willing or able to keep smaller dogs than they are the larger dogs.

A few months after I applied to GASP, the coordinator sent me a foster request. She included a picture of the dog, named Ruffus, and some information about him. He was adorable. We exchanged a few more emails in which I asked a few questions to be sure he wouldn’t jump the fence or eat my little dogs, and I accepted. His mom, Jessica and I exchanged emails after that, where I asked her more information about Ruffus and told her a bit about myself, she explained her dog’s needs and routine, and we planned when he would be dropped off. Then I had to “big-dog” proof the house. You know, remove food from the counters, cover the trashcan, clear off the coffee table, chain the fridge doors, that kind of thing. I’m just kidding about the fridge.

I found myself getting very excited about having another dog around. I am the kind of person where, when it comes to dogs, the more the merrier! I couldn’t wait to meet him and Jessica. But I was also nervous. What if Jessica didn’t like me? What if she forgot to leave money for his food and vet care? What if Ruffus didn’t like me? Would he have any behavior issues that would be a lot of work? I use only positive reinforcement methods, but those can take time, so would he pee everywhere or chew things up before I worked it out? What if I bit off more than I can chew and he wears me out? Will my dogs be nice to him? What if he gets sick or breaks a leg, will she fly home and paint my house pink to get revenge? Lots of things went through my head, but in the end I knew that after what I had been through with the rescue dogs, I could work just about anything out.

The day finally arrived, and a very large dog with long yellow fur came bounding through my door, followed by a girl with long yellow hair and behind her, a crate with legs, which turned out to be Jessica’s boyfriend Andy helping to carry Ruffus’s belongings in. We introduced ourselves and talked for a bit while Ruffus explored the house, I showed them around the house and the backyard so they’d know where he’d be living for the next 6 months, and we went through the paperwork and talked for a bit. It was late at night and she still had things to do before flying out the next day, so they didn’t get to stay very long.

As I watched her say goodbye to Roo, I could tell it was hard for her to entrust him to a complete stranger she’d only just met. I am not sure that I could bring myself to do something like that, so I admired her for it. I did my best to assure her that I would treat him as though he were my own and would take very good care of him. I hoped she believed me. I also promised to regularly send her pictures and updates via email about Ruffus was doing, and regular Skype dates. After she left, I expected Ruffus to have some separation anxiety as many dogs do, but he didn’t. He seemed to take to me right away, and just went with the flow. He handled meeting my neurotic dogs better than any dog I’ve ever seen and fit in right away. I could tell this was going to go great.

I ended up creating a Facebook page for Ruffus, because I thought it might make it a little easier for Jessica to access his pictures and updates that way. Well, he got lots of attention and lots of fans, so I started posting as much for them as for Jessica. It was heartwarming to see that so many people cared about Jessica and Ruffus, especially when they left messages of support for Jessica. We also had regular Skype dates, where Jessica got to watch him on webcam for a while and chat with us at the same time. I hoped that helped make her deployment a little easier. I was thankful that she had access to internet to be able to do that!

6 months went by very quickly. Ruffus turned out to be a wonderfully behaved, friendly, loving, clown of a dog, if a bit more energetic then the rest of us combined. He was only a year old after all, so he was still a puppy at heart. He was even still growing a little bit. I started taking him to the dog park nearly every day to help burn off some of that energy, which turned out to be a very fun thing to do for both of us. Every dog and human at the dog park loved Ruffus as much as he loved them. He would greet everyone, whether 2 legs or 4, as though they were old friends and he hadn’t seen them in forever. He quickly became a park favorite and people talked about how friendly and generally awesome he was.

He got along well with my dogs, too. In fact, he became best friends with one of the smallest, Juliet, a Papillon/Chihuahua mix. They adored each other and played together constantly – under supervision of course, because Juliet weighs 5 pounds and Ruffus weighs nearly 70. He can, and frequently did, fit her entire head in his mouth. She has long hair, so she spent most of the 6 months looking like she’d had an accident with a bottle of hair gel. But for the most part he learned to be gentle, with a few spurts of rambunctiousness.

Ruffus has the kind of personality that you can’t help but fall in love with. He’s a big, silly, playful, lovable oaf, but also very sweet and affectionate. My favorite part of his personality is how laid-back he is. Nothing seems to really faze him. Well, he’s not too fond of getting baths, but outside of that he put up with just about everything. At the same time, it was super easy to make him happy and excited. He really was a joy to have around. And I enjoyed the security I felt thanks to his protectiveness along with a big, deep bark. We are pretty sure that twice, he scared away people that were up to no good. All in all, he was a blessing and added to our lives in ways we didn’t expect.

The day finally came to say goodbye. Jessica and I arranged things so that we could completely surprise him – I would go out in the backyard with him when she pulled in the driveway (and get the camera rolling) and she would come right out and greet him before he had time to figure out something was up. It worked! He was so very happy to see her and pretty much went loony over her. She stayed to visit a while more and bought us pizza, and the whole time he barely left her side. It was very heartwarming to see the two of them back together again – you just can’t break that kind of bond. And that right there is the whole reason I decided to do this.

The relationship between a person and their pet is very special and meaningful. Pets are not merely property, but member of the family. For some people, their pets are an extension of themselves and their hearts. A person who serves our country and makes other sacrifices that come with being in the military deserves for that relationship to be respected and preserved. We wouldn’t ask them to give up their relationship with any of their human family, or leave a member of their family in questionable situations, in order to serve the country. Pets should be no different, and they should never be a sacrifice. They need their pets, and their pets need them. What better way to repay them for their service than to ensure their beloved pets are well cared for and will be there for them when they return?

So how can I say goodbye after all that time? Well, the truth is, my heart is full and my life is better for having had this experience, and it was a way for me to serve my country too. And as a bonus, I made a wonderful new human friend. So I’m not saying goodbye. I’m saying “thank you”.

Serving With My Heart