Eden: A portrait

Eden was our belated Christmas present to ourselves last year. The day before we left for Christmas vacation, I received a brief, excited email from the vice president of the German shepherd rescue that we fostered for (and from whom we adopted Pyrrha). She knew that we were looking for a friendly, confident young dog to add to the family — as a companion for Pyrrha, who thrives in the company of other dogs, and as a reward for Guion, in a sense, for so patiently abiding with a dog who feared and disliked him, through no fault of his own.

“I think I have a puppy for you,” she wrote, attaching a photo of a smiling 4.5-month-old Edie (then named Eva) sitting between the legs of an older man. We were instantly smitten and told her we’d “foster” the puppy for a few weeks and decide if we wanted to keep her. “Everyone who has met her wants to keep her,” the vice president wrote, “but I want you guys to have first dibs.”

Eden on the deck

30 December 2013. A few days after we got her.

Eden was purchased as a puppy from a Maryland breeder (specializing in West German imports and schutzhund) by a well-to-do young family, with three small children. The family, although they took good care of the puppy, was unprepared for the level of insanity and energy that a working-line German shepherd entailed. Instead of being returned to the breeder (which struck me as a black mark on the breeder’s record), she was surrendered to the rescue.

She was first evaluated to see if she’d be suitable for police work, owing to her immense amounts of energy, but she failed that test, as she lacked focus and would rather jump on and kiss the handlers instead of completing the task at hand.

Cassie, our rescue contact, brought her to meet me at the same Petco where we met Pyrrha, on a very rainy, gross day at the end of December. Eden bolted through the automatic doors and ran right up to me, ready for pets. We sat on the wet floor of the Petco and talked for a while about the puppy’s background. The family who gave her up sent her with a box of expensive toys, deer antlers, high-quality kibble, and a pricey collar.

“She has just one physical defect,” Cassie said, gently opening Eden’s mouth. Panting happily, I quickly saw the issue; this puppy was missing a good chunk of her tongue. “Apparently, they had her in doggy daycare, and she was attacked by an older dog,” she said. “But she doesn’t seem bothered by it at all.” Indeed, she didn’t seem the least bit frightened of other dogs, who kept coming in and out of the Petco as we talked. Eden seemed to see them all as potential playmates.

Settling in nicely

28 December 2013; first night with us.

She got along with Pyrrha easily from the first day. As you can see from the photo above, she was immediately respectful of Pyrrha’s space. But as she got more comfortable in our house, she became more gutsy and bold and started getting testy around her food bowl (when Pyrrha approached, never with us). We started working on that from Day 1, and I’m happy to say that her resource guarding issues are greatly diminished.

Truthfully, the girls are probably not the most ideal pairing of dogs. Don’t get me wrong — they get along beautifully 90% of the time. But they are not in love with each other, like Ruby and Boca, for example. They are both stubborn, strong-willed, and relatively high-strung bitches. But when they play together in the morning, racing in wild loops of tag games and tossing out play bows with abandon, it warms one’s heart considerably.

Eden also likes to kiss Pyrrha’s mouth in the morning, after breakfast. Sometimes, she sticks a good part of her muzzle into Pyrrha’s open jaws, as if hunting for treasure (food remnants, more likely). It seems like a dangerous gambit — someone’s going to lose an eye! — but they enjoy this ritual and observe it regularly.

She LIVES to PLAY. Play is just about the only thing that matters in her universe. She has a devotion to fetching that parallels a retriever’s, and her athletic, acrobatic displays in catching items mid-air have become spectacular.

To keep everyone sane, Guion has been wonderfully faithful about morning Frisbee games with Eden. This, naturally, has made him her favorite human, which was part of the goal in adopting her in the first place, so that poor Guion could have a dog of his own.

If Guion doesn’t move fast enough for her liking in the morning, she begins to emit a series of excitable whines and cries, often seeming to mimic an aboriginal song, with moans and ululations. She prances around him, singing and shrieking, until he pulls his boots on. And then: Silence. GAME FACE.

Eden standing, 6 months old

January 2014 (when she started losing weight).

A few months after we got her, she started dropping weight and not gaining it back, to a dangerous degree. She had dipped to a mere 43 pounds by the end of January. The vet ran all sorts of tests; nothing was conclusive (no worms, no giardia). I was convinced that she had the debilitating disease EPI (exocrine pancreatic insufficiency), which is common in shepherds. But we ran the expensive series of tests for that and those also came back negative. Finally, the vet tried a more intensive version of the giardia test that we’d done earlier, and there we had it: Little babe was riddled with giardia. She then passed it on to Pyrrha, and we spent about two-and-a-half (very expensive) months getting them healthy again. I am happy to report that she is now healthy and stable and weighs in at 56 pounds, which seems just about perfect for her.

Eden is bold with eye contact. She wants to stare deeply into your eyes and hold you there in her gaze, unblinking. Pyrrha cannot handle this kind of intense eye contact, even with me; it is too much for her. But not Edie. She wants to look deep into your soul and learn all of your secrets.

She kills me

7 April 2014.

She loves to bark. To announce her presence! To inform the neighborhood that she is large and in charge! It’s not usually a protective bark. (The protective bark we’ve heard from her a few times, and that is a distinctly different, dangerous timbre. She actually sounds frightening when she pulls that one out.) But her typical bark is far from scary. It’s heraldic, joyful, self-important.

Dogs in May

19 May 2014.

Eden is growing sweeter, I think. Just as a teenager gradually becomes less self-absorbed and starts to recognize the presence of other beings around her.

She is especially docile and cuddly in the evenings. It is my favorite time with her. She is a positive terror in the mornings, so much so that I almost never have a peaceful breakfast, but when the sun goes down, she is ready to be a placid dog. She wants to sit at your feet, or lean against your chair, or hop up on the sofa and put her sweet little head on your shoulder. I think she is saying, Here I am. Right here. Don’t forget to love me.

And so we don’t.

Previously: Pyrrha: A portrait.

Pro-rescue doesn’t have to mean anti-breeding

Lately, I have been thinking about this post on My Rotten Dogs and about the division between the pro-rescue and pro-purebred camps of dog lovers. Can they peaceably coexist?

There are purebred elitists — people who think the only dogs worth having are from registered breeders — and there are rescue elitists — people who judge the purebred elitists and think the only dogs worth having are from rescues.

I am unequivocally pro-rescue. Both of our shepherds were adopted from Southeast German Shepherd Rescue, and we served as a foster home for SGSR pups for about a year (something I’d love to start doing again one day). The beauty and mercy of rescuing a homeless dog is a matchless feeling, and that is a tie that really binds.

But I am not anti-breeding or anti-purebred dogs. Our dogs are both purebred, and I am an advocate for ethical breeders, because I have seen first-hand what irresponsible, negligent breeders can do to dogs, both physically and emotionally.

Laszlo in the evening

Laszlo, our foster puppy, a German shepherd mix.

A Pro-Rescue Person Defends People Who Purchase Purebreds

I will always have a rescue dog in my life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see the serious benefits of raising a purebred puppy from Day One. I believe that Pyrrha, for instance, could have been a totally different dog if we’d met her at 10 weeks of age instead of at 1 year.

Rescue dogs, almost by definition, come with some kind of baggage, or at the very least, an element of mystery. This doesn’t mean that they are going to be screwier than a purebred, by any means, but it just means you know a lot less about their background and heritage.

Anecdotally, the most stable dogs I know are purebreds raised from puppyhood by their current owners. The dogs I know who have the most issues to work through are almost always the rescues, even those that were raised from puppyhood. This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to have a purebred who is a psychopath, or that it’s impossible to have a totally sound, issue-free pound puppy: both definitely exist. But the odds of having a dog with some form of baggage to work through is greater if you’ve got a rescue pup.

Playdate with Josie

A well-bred GSD (Josie, on the left) and a poorly bred GSD (Pyrrha).

I confess that I sometimes get jealous of the people who have carefree, sound, emotionally stable purebred dogs (like Josie, Heath, and Loki). These dogs all came from responsible breeders, and the dogs are a testament of their breeders’ conscientiousness and their owners’ care. Josie, Heath, and Loki can go anywhere and do anything; they have no fear issues or reactivity; they love people, children, and other dogs. I marvel at them sometimes.

Of course, there are also rescues who are essentially bombproof (Roland and Zoe come to mind, of the dogs I know). They do exist. But when a dog-loving person buys a purebred puppy, I put aside my rescue righteousness and think, “I get it. I really do.”

I was talking with Carolyn, Josie’s mom, about this very issue during our recent play-date. Her first German shepherd, Maya, was a rescue, and Maya had some fear issues and reactivity issues with other dogs, among other things. Josie, however, came from a highly respected working-line German shepherd breeder and entered Carolyn’s household as a puppy. Josie is unfazed by most things and is a very smart, stable dog; she was the most laid-back dog at the play-date.

“Maya was my heart dog,” Carolyn said, “and I would never say anything against her, but my life with Josie is so much easier. I almost feel like I have more joy in my relationship with Josie, simply because she has fewer issues.”

That struck a chord with me. I would never trade Pyrrha or Eden for the world, and anxious Pyr is my heart dog, too, but I sometimes dream of a life with less anxious, high-strung dogs.

Support Each Other

If you’re in the rescue camp, support ethical, responsible breeders. I believe people are always going to want purebred dogs, so if we accept that as truth, we should support great breeders. Champion breeders who do their research, who produce the best possible version of a breed, and who care about the mental and physical health of their dogs. The world needs more breeders like this. If you have friends looking for purebred puppies, point them in the right direction to such breeders as these (and not to pet shops or backyard breeders).

If you’re in the purebred camp, support smart, proactive shelters and rescues. Share your knowledge of a particular breed with a breed-specific rescue (like where our girls came from). Volunteer as a foster home or as a dog walker at your local shelter. Get to know your local rescue organizations and learn about their missions and their needs.

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, I am still a person who would tell people to rescue before they bought a purebred puppy, but I will never judge anyone for the decision they make, as only that person knows what kind of dog is best for their family and lifestyle. Even though I think I’ll always have rescues, I still dream about choosing that “perfect” purebred puppy.

When you acquire as much knowledge about a subject as we* have, it’s hard to stop ourselves from becoming unbearably opinionated and judgmental. (*I say “we” because if you’re reading this blog, you probably have a deep, abiding interest in dogs, dog culture, and canine behavior, more than the average person.)

But let’s stop judging each other for our decisions. You bought a purebred puppy from a great, responsible breeder? Good for you! You adopted a mix-breed dog from a shelter? Good for you! Either way, good tidings and blessings in your adventures in dog raising.

Sweet Heath

Heath, a purebred golden retriever.

Do you ever find yourself having to withhold judgment, on one side of the rescue/breeding camp or the other? How do you think rescues and breeders can do a better job supporting each other?

Related Reading:

Vote for Pyrrha to appear in a calendar!

Guilty pageant mom request!

If you’re feeling bored and on Facebook, wanna vote for Pyrrha to appear in the rescue’s calendar?

All you have to do is click “like” on the Facebook page.

The photos with the most “likes” get into the calendar. All calendar proceeds will benefit Southeast German Shepherd Rescue, and calendars can be pre-ordered for US$23.

Even if you don’t want to vote, the entire album is worth looking at; there are so many beautiful, happy, rescued shepherds! They make me so happy.

Thanks, and happy Friday!

Review: The Possibility Dogs

The Possibility Dogs: What a Handful of "Unadoptables" Taught Me About Service, Hope, and Healing

The Possibility Dogs

Since starting this blog and my foray into the World of Dogs two years ago, I have been struck by a particular reality again and again: We do a lot for dogs, but dogs do so much for us.

Nowhere is this truth more evident than in Susannah Charleson’s latest book, The Possibility Dogs.

In The Possibility Dogs, Charleson, a pilot and a search-and-rescue handler, recounts the many stories of dogs serving a more subtle purpose: dogs who act as psychiatric service dogs.

But even the phrase “psychiatric service dog” is relatively new. We’re all familiar with guide dogs for the blind and even therapy dogs who visit hospitals or nursing homes or schools. But a psychiatric service dog? What does that even mean?

Charleson shows us what it means with her truthful and sincere accounts of rescue dogs who showed great potential to serve as daily companions and aides to those with less recognizable issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety attacks, and so on. She works to evaluate rescue dogs who show potential to serve as service dogs for people with a wide range of issues.

Particularly moving is Charleson’s own account of her rescue Jake (the pup shown on the cover; more about him here). Jake was found as an abandoned and starving puppy near Charleson’s home. But through her careful attention and love (and the love shown from Charleson’s other dogs, particularly her golden retriever, Puzzle, who acted as a surrogate mother), the puppy began to grow and thrive — and show remarkable potential for service work. Jake was so clearly motivated to work with and near people. Today, he serves alongside Charleson, who uses him as a “demo dog” for her new nonprofit and for herself, as she has personally suffered symptoms of OCD and debilitating arthritis.

I liked that this book wasn’t all sappy stories. Charleson is a clear, controlled writer, and she plainly shares the ups and downs, both of her own experience and the experiences of others. These service dogs aren’t perfect, and living with and training them isn’t necessarily easy. But is it rewarding? Always.

As briefly mentioned above, Charleson has now also started an organization by the same name as her book, which aims to rescue and train dogs that show aptitude for service work and to serve as their public advocates. Be sure to check out the Possibility Dogs website for more information.

In short, I enjoyed the various narratives and success stories and the great, incomparable work that is being done by these dogs and by the people like Charleson who see so much potential in them. How heartening to be reminded of the enormous potential that exists in so many dogs, many of the dogs, perhaps, whose lonely faces greet ours in countless shelters and rescues. We have the ability to do so much for these dogs, and they clearly have the ability to do so much for us.

You can also follow Charleson on Twitter: @S_Charleson / Buy this book in hardcover or the Kindle version.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of this book by the publisher, but all expressed thoughts and opinions are exclusively my own.

Meet Georgia, Pyrrha’s new aunt!

It is with great delight that I introduce you to Pyrrha’s new “aunt,” Georgia!

Georgia on the porch

My husband’s parents just adopted this precious puppy, their first official “foster failure.” My in-laws are generous, loving advocates of their local lab rescue and they have served as a foster home for labs in need for about a year now.

Georgia

Just about a week ago, however, little miss Georgia came tumbling into their lives and they just couldn’t say no. I mean, could you?? Look at that face!

Sweet baby Georgia

From these photos, I’d guess that Georgia was some kind of golden retriever/spaniel mix. She’s only 7 weeks old right now. What would you guess her lineage is?

We hope to take a trip to see them and meet Georgia very soon. Welcome to the family, little girl. You are one lucky pup!

Pyrrha meets Roland

My friend Sarah called me on Monday night and said, “So… I just adopted a dog.” She was driving back from our local SPCA with this cute little dude in the back of her car:

Photo credit: Sarah Y.

Roland (or Victoire! She hasn’t fully decided on a name yet) is a 1-2 year-old spaniel/hound mix with the sweetest little disposition. He’s probably about 50 lbs. and had been dropped off by his former owner, who said she was sad to give him up but wouldn’t take him with her on her move. Sad for Roland, but happy for Sarah!

Last night, she brought Roland over to my house during small group, to meet friends and Pyrrha.

Their meeting went very well, I thought. Roland was a bit overwhelmed for the first few minutes, and Pyrrha was all up in his grill. It was strange to see her being the overly excited/gregarious one! But after some time, they acclimated to each other and tails started wagging and wrestling commenced.

Here are some terrible, fuzzy pictures of their encounter (dark in the house, plus I didn’t pull out my nicer camera):

Roland charms small group

Roland charming the ladies.

Fuzzy photo of Roland

Checking out the kitchen.

Pyrrha meets Roland

Girl, you are making me a little anxious here…

I was so impressed with how sweet and laid-back he was. There was a lot to take in–seven strange women in a room plus a pushy German shepherd–and he took it all in stride. He did pee on a rug, but you can’t blame him; dude’s only been out of the shelter for a day!

In short, it was a great introduction and I think Pyrrha has found herself a new playmate. I hope we’ll have Roland and Sarah over for a dog romp soon. I also think these two would be great hiking buddies. So, we’ll have to set that up in the future. Happy to welcome a new dog into the community, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Roland continues to grow and develop in Sarah’s care!

Next dog daydreaming…

Beautiful Australian shepherd with a tail. Click for source.

Do you ever daydream about your “next dog”? I admit that I do, every now and then… Disclaimer: Pyrrha is perfect for us right now. I can’t imagine a better dog for us. Seriously. We will not get another dog for a long time, but I’m obsessed, so of course I think about the next canine addition to the pack from time to time.

Here’s my shortlist of dogs I’d consider bringing home, in the distant future:

  • A happy GSD male from Southeast German Shepherd Rescue who was good with small children. (This is probably our most likely second addition, only because I still follow SGSR’s rescue page with avid interest and want every third dog they post…)
  • Any ol’ rescue puppy! Preferably with a shepherd or collie heritage.
  • An English shepherd. I met a photographer here in town who has one and he’s crazy about her; got his puppy from a breeder in North Carolina. They appeal to me because of the way they are bred, their comparative rarity (leading to better health lines), their energy level being a notch down from an Aussie, and the fact that they have tails.
  • An Australian shepherd with a tail. As mentioned above, I’ve come to the conclusion that tails are really important and that it’s unfair to rob a dog of a tail purely for looks, particularly since our future Aussie would not be working cattle. Where do people find Aussies with tails, though??
  • A Large Munsterlander. My husband fell in love with one of these when he was farming in Europe and has been hankering after one ever since. They are rather hard to come by in the U.S., however.
  • An English setter. I’ve always liked the look of English setters, for whatever reason. They’re also apparently becoming rather rare as well. We have friends here who have a very sweet Llewellin setter whom I’m also quite fond of (you could mistake him for an English setter, were it not for his smaller size).
  • A Belgian sheepdog or Belgian tervuren. Are they a little more low-key than the malinois? I don’t actually know. I do know that I could never handle a malinois, but I love the look of these Belgians particularly.

I’ve already decided that I want to rescue some greyhounds when we’re older, too, maybe once our future and non-existent children are out of the house. (In my wildest daydreams, I also have a borzoi, but I don’t think I’d ever actually get one…)

An English shepherd. Click for source.

I am so ridiculous. Does anyone else have a similar “next dog” shortlist?