Friday, December 28, 2012

About Giffy, Pt. 1: How I started working with dogs

To be honest, I really was a cat person all my life. It wasn’t until I found myself adopting a 5-month-old Pomeranian puppy that I started to explore the world of dogs. That was nearly 20 years ago. And, sadly, Mandy lived a short life for a Pomeranian. She fell down the stairs when she was 8, suffering some “major neurological episode,” and died. I was devastated.

Distraught by the emptiness of my home, I couldn’t stop feeling Mandy’s absence, and then it occurred to me that I needed to do something. Because I decided I wasn’t ready to love another dog just yet, I decided to try fostering, to give another dog a chance in Mandy’s honor; I checked into local rescue groups, and after several people recommended Second Chance Animal Rescue, I contacted them. I think the year was 2000.

At first, my foster dogs were highly-adoptable puppies and small dogs, wriggling bundles of energy and fur. Some of them literally lasted hours before they were adopted, but over time, I developed a reputation as a person who could work with more challenging dogs, and more challenging dogs I got.

It began, innocently enough, with a call from the dog coordinator asking me if I could try working with a dog that had some challenging behaviors. She probably prefaced her comments, “I’m not sure this dog can be saved,” a line that has led many a rescue dog to front door. To be honest, I’m not even sure which dog it was—perhaps the Lhasa Apso whose person had committed suicide or the stray 14-year-old Pekinese with a spinal condition and dry eye or the Pekinese cross that had proptosed its eye squabbling with another, larger dog in its previous foster home. Maybe it was Wally, who lived with his siblings in the walls of a house, completely unsocialized. Or Maude, the Neapolitan mastiff that had been fed carcasses and had to have 18 inch tumor removed from her kidney. I no longer remember which dog started my journey, but I am so grateful for it.

So, I became the difficult dog foster, the person who could handle aggression, shy-fearful behaviors, submissive wetting, separation anxiety. The list became longer over time, and then when I began working with a holistic vet, Dr. Pomeroy, I began to work with allergies, too.

Since 2000, I’ve fostered approximately 170 dogs!

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Miracle Lands in My Lap

On December 3rd, Charles, a 7-pound, 8-month-old, Chihuahua-Pomeranian cross awaiting adoption through Second Chance Animal Rescue escaped from a fenced yard in Hugo, Minnesota. To make matters worse, he was wearing a leash, which would certainly complicate his journey and could cause him to ensnare or strangle himself. During the next 10 days, with temperatures dipping near zero at times and wind chills much lower, nearly a foot of snow fell and created deep drifts in the rural community where he had escaped; his survival was by no means certain.

With the dedicated work of volunteers who trudged through the snow and posted flyers and community members who watched for him or placed food and live traps on their property, especially Applecrest Orchards, we were certain that Charles was still alive, at least through Monday, December 10th, the last time he was spotted by a community member--running in an open field near Hwy 14 and 35E, still dragging the leash. With an already low body weight, predators, snow, temperatures, traffic, and a leash, the deck was stacked against this young dog. Every day was critical, but weather didn't cooperate.

I tried meditating on it; usually, my dog Sarah helps with that, but I couldn’t connect to her. Instead, I felt the presence of two of my dogs who had died, Kunda and Muffin. In my meditation, I asked them to find Charles, wherever he was, to comfort him and guide him toward shelter. The second time I meditated, I saw Charles seeking shelter in an outbuilding, perhaps a barn, with hay scattered on the floor. I doubted myself. Maybe I was seeing what I wanted instead of what was real.

So, yesterday, with no sightings of Charles in several days, I drove to the location where he was last seen with my friend Carol to meet fellow volunteers, Mary and Carl, so we could continue to search. Despite our assignment, it wasn’t an entirely bleak prospect. After all, I was able to spend time with Carol, a lovely person, the kind you want to spend time with; everybody does. On the way, we spoke of miracles and asked one difficult question: At what point should we give up the search?
Ultimately we decided that, as long as Charles was still being spotted, we should continue to look.

When Carol and I met Mary and Carl at the site, we checked the live trap and spoke with the owner of the orchard, who directed us to a nearby abandoned farmhouse. Together we trudged through knee-high snow, and despite our heavy charge, I found myself grateful to be outside on such a beautiful day getting exercise, spending time with warm people, slowing down a bit, seeing nature. In the pristine snow, we noticed mouse tracks first, followed by rabbit tracks, and then a strange disturbance in the snow that Carl suggested had been caused by a raptor; there were no tracks leading to or away from it.

As we made our way across the field, Carol suggested I scout the abandoned farm off to our left. I veered away from the group and cut a second trail through the knee-deep snow. As soon as I entered the yard, I knew Charles had been there--although the tracks clustered around a tree were no longer fresh. The snow had been walked on multiple times by an animal about the size of a small dog, and there was urine in the snow. I was certain that this had been home base.

To my right, a small outbuilding with a couple of walls missing seemed a logical hiding spot as the tracks were clustered very near there. I rounded the corner and looked inside.

And there, staring back at me, was Charles, his leash wrapped around a board and very much alive!

I called out to the others in the group once, twice, three times, “He’s here!” I knew he couldn’t bolt, but he looked so scared. I thought he might die any second, of fear, of cold, I don’t know. He was just so close and still not safe. I needed backup and couldn’t move until it arrived.
After what seemed an eternity, Carol and Mary reached me. They held up a blanket to give Charles the illusion that the building wasn’t wide open, in case he broke free before we reached him. Then Carl rounded the other side of the building, and I was ready to go in. My heart was pounding, as a wrong move on my part could be fatal for Charles. I tried to clear my head, inhaling deeply, and stepped over the boards with nails covering the floor of the shed. He stood near the middle of the building, where he might have found protection in the dusting of hay under the boards if he hadn't been tethered to a board. I called for the others to throw me treats, which I tossed into Charles. He didn’t seem to notice.

He looked weak.

A few moments later, he cautiously stepped toward me, and Carol handed me some pepperoni that she had the forethought to bring along. It worked. In moments, he ate 5-6 slices of it. Someone handed me my mittens, and I grabbed Charles, tucking him close to my body and wrapping his leash around my arm and securing it to my wrist. From there, we began the trek back across the fields to the car.  Carol ran ahead to drive it closer, and Carl and Mary flanked me as I cradled Charles in my arms, his frail body collapsed against me as I tried to provide some small protection from the December air.
Immediately after returning to the car, we rushed Charles to the Life Care Animal Hospital to make sure he didn't have any other major problems. Turns out, although Charles had lost more than 20% of his body weight, some 1 3/4 pounds, he was able to eat and hold down food and water; he had no cuts or frostbite. Painfully thin, his ribs and hips protruding, he was still okay.

In the waiting room we took more pictures, and then Mary, while snapping one of Charles in my lap curled around a Snuggle Puppie that provided him heat, commented that somehow a blur had appeared across the screen although the rest of the pictures were perfectly clear.
Was it a strand of hair, perhaps?
I don't know, but I'd like to think it was some being that had been sent to protect him. One of my dogs, perhaps, providing comfort while Charles warmed himself on my lap? Perhaps it acted as a guardian until he was safe.  
Who knows, but I definitely think it was a day filled with miracles.

Thanks to everyone who helped bring Charles home.


Friday, December 7, 2012

At long last . . . a goal sheet!

I've been wanting to get to this for awhile now, and with the help of my student, Angie, I'm finally able to provide a first draft of a goal sheet. Consistently when I teach New Beginnings courses or coach families, I remind them of the importance of goals.

Of course we all want perfectly-behaved dogs that meld seamlessly with the family, but that takes time and effort. Notice, however, I didn't say "work." That's because I don't view it as work. When I want to build a more mutually satisfying relationship with one of my dogs, I start by looking at the behaviors--the dog's and mine. What is the dog doing that frustrates me? What's getting reinforced?

Let's think of Lucy. She barks (or should I say screeches) at the cat. I don't particularly enjoy that behavior.

So, I might scream, but that won't work, right?

Frankly, when I observe Lucy barking at the cat, I notice her whole body is tense. Step one, I need to help descrease her tension when she sees the cat, redirect her, perhaps, reward her when she doesn't react, possibly prevent Lucy from getting so close to the cat until she becomes more calm (with gates, for example). Little-by-little, I should be able to help Lucy approach cats more calmly, but I can't just make that happen without thinking it through and implementing a plan. To help you with that, I've added a new tab, "Set Goals!"

Let me know what you think won't you?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sneak Peak: Cool short topics sessions at Giffy in December

Now that we're entering the final month of the year, and my team and I have begun to brainstorm the direction for the upcoming year, I thought I'd share with you some of the topics we'll be exploring in workshops throughout December. Here's the list:

"Out and About" -- This 2-hour workshop is intended for dogs that are easily distracted by other dogs and people when they're on walks. Designed with the "bad mannered" dog in mind, we'll be working on confidently handling your dog when s/he encounters distractions. The focus here will be helping your dog relax so you can enjoy your walks a bit more! (Sunday, 12/9, 3:30-5:30)

"Triggers" -- Does your dog "go off" sometimes when you're not expecting it? Perhaps s/he harbors an intense dislike of the vacuum cleaner, storms, high-pitched noises? Does your otherwise calm canine suddently become unable to focus on you when s/he sees another dog with a rawhide or toy?  Or a cat? Or a squirrel? If so, you may want to check out this 2-hour workshop because, as we like to sing at Giffy dog, "The wonderful thing about triggers . . . " (Saturday, 12/15, 6:00-8:00)

"How to Talk Dog" (ages 5-13) -- This workshop is only for young folks (although well-behaved adults are welcome if accompanied by kids). It's intended to help the children in your life learn more about how to understand and respond to different dog behaviors. So, if your children have a little too much down time on their break from school, why not bring them by Doggie Prodigy on Sunday, 12/30, 10:00-2:00 to learn how to communicate more effectively to the dog(s) in their lives? (Limited to 20 students)

And, on 12/8, I'll try running another "EFT for dogs" class at the Doggie Prodigy space, 9:00-11:00. If you'd like to know more about EFT, you might want to check out this site. Of course, if you'd like to know more, and I bet you do, you can always attend this workshop. Check it out!

I'm really excited to try out some of these topics, and I'd love to see some of you there. To reserve your space, please drop me a line at

Monday, October 15, 2012

Tough month at the Giffy dog household

To say I'm writing today with a heavy heart would be an understatement. Not only did my mom and her sister both die of Alzheimer's within one day of one another during the first week of September, but last week, I had to let go of not one, but two, of my beloved pack members, Gizmo and Kunda. 

Gizmo in 2010
The good news is that they both lived long and, I believe, happy lives. Although Gizmo had a rough patch for his first five years living with a hoarder who had 150 animals, he found his way to me and decided to stay. He was the first dog I adopted after I began rescue work in 2000, and he entered my house over my objections. I wanted to wait through Spring before adopting, but he made it very clear that he expected to stay. Gizmo won.

Over the past eight years, he's dealt with a degenerative spinal condition, but somehow managed to walk right up until the end, and although he's become increasingly foggy over the last few years, I believe he was peaceful, sleeping much of the time and fading ever so slowly. At the end, he was losing his ability to stand, and food was becoming too much of a challenge.

Kunda was an 11-year-old mastiff that I adopted as a puppy. Although she suffered from severe allergies during the first four years of her life, we managed to clear them up, and she had seven wonderfully healthy years after that. I credit her with keeping the pack stable and peaceful. She was a firm, but fair, leader, and the dogs respected her.

Kunda in September 2012
courtesy of Barbara O'Brien Photography
In August, I learned that she had degenerative mylopathy. She walked well right up until the end, when her legs started to fail rapidly. It was a painful for me, until I realized how blessed I had been with her longevity and health. I managed to bring her to Barbara O'Brien's farm on September 1st before her condition worsened, and she snapped some lovely pictures of Kunda for me. For that, I will be forever grateful.

And the final journey for Giz, Kunda, me, and the rest of the pack was made so much more comfortable by the sensitive and gentle work of Karen Randall of Solace Veterinary Hospice. She stayed with me for over two hours, explained every step to me so there were no surprises, allowed me to go at my pace, and lovingly wrapped Giz in Kunda in fleece blankets before carrying them to her car.

It was a beautifully peaceful end of our journey together, and I was so grateful to have the option to release them in the comfort of my home surrounded by their pack.

Gizmo and Kunda: Safe journey . . .

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Introducing a new dog or foster dog to resident dogs

Rude greeting
Oftentimes, people, in their enthusiasm, introduce new dogs to their homes rather abruptly. If you've made this mistake, you know how frustrating that may be to your resident dog(s). Here's a softer approach:

To reduce stress for your resident dog(s) and foster/newly adopted dog(s), introduce them to one another gradually in a neutral place that neither dog has been able to claim as its own--ideally off your property. Allow your resident dog to get used to the new dog’s smell before giving it free run of your home, too, and bring the new dog into common spaces slowly. This is not, after all, a race. Taking a little time to introduce them now will lead to a calmer future for everyone, including you.

When you do introduce the dogs, don’t allow them to sniff one another nose-to-nose. (That's rude in dog language!) Instead, follow these steps:

Polite greeting
1. One handler holds a dog in a relaxed, sitting position, giving it treats, and talking quietly to it, all the while focusing the dog’s attention only on the handler.

2. Meanwhile, ask a different handler to walk the other dog around in an arc and allow the walking dog to sniff the sitting dog from behind.

3. Trade places, and complete the preceding steps for each dog.

Doesn't that sound better?

NOTE: Sometimes two handlers won’t be available. In those cases, you may want to to keep the dogs separated in different portions of your home with doors between them until you can introduce them safely.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

What I Do

In addition to offering behavioral consults for rescue dogs, I also work with dog wellness. At the recommendation of a friend, Emmy Vadnais, I call myself a "holistic dog consultant." Since 2008, I've been studying muscle testing (aka applied kinesiology) and EFT (aka Emotional Freedom Technique or tapping), and this past weekend, I was lucky enough to visit my local Vitamin Shoppe to visit with customers about health and dogs. (The folks at that Vitamin Shoppe, by the way are both incredibly friendly and super knowledgeable.)

I love that we're moving toward a model that includes both humans and dogs. In fact, I feed my dogs supplements every single day, and I've been thrilled with the results. They've never been healthier.

So today I'm going to write about one small component of dog wellness that affects a huge percentage of dogs (and people, for that matter): Yeast. You heard it, yeast.

Did you know that dogs can take human supplements? In fact, I've always been a little startled that people package these supplements separately for dogs. My two favorite yeast remedies for dogs are Vitamin Shoppe Acidophilus with Apple Pectin and Probiotic 8, which also comes in a vegetarian formula. In fact, I keep both of them in my refrigerator at all times. After all, yeast is something that so many of us deal with. (And I think it's closely related to the processed, sugary food we eat.) Whenever possible, I muscle test my dogs for the type of acidophillus they need, the quantity, and the duration. Then I break the capsules open on their food. (For the record, most dogs require 2-3 pills per day--in 8-12 hour intervals--for 2-3 weeks.)

If you don't know muscle testing, bring your dogs to someone who does. But you can usually tell if your dog has excess yeast by sniffing her ears. Do they have a sharp pungent odor? I've also noticed that dogs with excess yeast often have dark skin on their belly, kind of like they've been lying on rich, black soil.

So anyhow, why not give it a try? Not only will a dog with a balanced system feel better, he will smell better, too.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A love letter to Lola

Usually, I write my posts, but when Louise sent me the following letter that she wrote in the days before she euthanized Lola, a former foster of mine, I had to share it. Louise's letter so completely captures the agony of letting go--but also the tremendous love she and Lola shared during their time together. It simultaneously breaks my heart and fills me with such peace. Lola was in a beautiful home. Thank you, Louise and family, for loving Lola completely and unconditionally. I am grateful.

Dear Lola~

"Second Chance Rescue's" vet estimated you to be about age 4; that was about 11 years ago when you joined our family. You were found abandoned at a pet hospital in the Battle Creek area of St. Paul. You had animal print collar around your neck connected to a matching leash ..A stranger said your were discovered, walking aimlessly outside the clinic.

Cheryl, Second Chance foster mom, was your first and only respite from an unknown former life. Her time with you was short; her love was abundant. She chose us to be your newfamily.

I think I know why you might have been relinquished..All that endeared me to you might have been too much for your first family...

You are one feisty, strong willed girl. Always have been and continue to your ripe age of 15. You are the alpha; I have given my place in the alphabet to you. And have taken a beta or, better yet, a zeta!..Your charm and sweetness provoked my vulnerability...Like an innocent child with a bouncy, perky, demanding disposition; you have barked the shots...

Forcefully to that of your first family, perhaps. Probably,leaving teeth marks, too. And maybe that is what led you to the place where you were found.

I saw evidence through the years... But never complained. That was you in true form, my little warrior!

I have made excuses for you...defended you, my furry daughter... You did wrong but I could not acknowledge! No training, behavior mod ever made a dent...i accepted you as you were and loved you for the goodness I recognized.

How you tormented your non-biological siblings. especially pudgy Pauline. Maybe not torment...but took total control...stalked, bit, confronted, terrorized Pauline; your stamina was uncontested....always. Pauline out of your control has caused you angst...

I turned you over on your tummy so many times. "Stop it," I repeatedly declared.. You continued your operatic-like growl and gurgle, with continued resistance and focus on Pauline, your loving nemesis...

You don't give up easily my little angel in devil's uniform. Despite your mania, you were a marvelous, loving little companion; always by my side and vigilant in your protection...through the many years that we shared our lives.

Which makes it all the harder...and more painful.

The challenges of old age are upon you, my dear one...Each day is an effort. Neverthess your tail wags. You are strong. Stronger than I.

It's time.
Yet, who knows when it is time?

The live love we have, dog child and mom will soon vanish... I, though, endowed with human attribute of emotion and memory, will keep you tucked safely in my mind and heart.

Rest in peace, my little loved one.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

More big news:

On June 1st, I officially opened up shop with Melissa from Doggie Prodigy, and I couldn't be more pleased. Our shop (978 Front Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55103), the first interactive dog toy store in the country--to my knowledge, is a lovely, welcoming space where dogs and their people can come try out the games in a no-pressure environment. What's more, I'll be there to offer consults and classes. Right now, we're working out the schedule, but it looks like I'll be offering bonding and confidence-building classes along with socialization classes.

Now that we've finished unpacking and setting up--for the most part--I plan to spend more time updating my blog with a schedule. In the meantime, please feel free to drop me a line at:

Thanks for your patience, and I look forward to seeing you at the shop soon!

By the way, our hour are 6:00-9:00 on Mondays and 10:00-2:00 on Saturdays, but we'd love to come down and meet you there anytime. Just give me a call to schedule an appointment: 651 644 1232.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Come see me at Active Dogs Day Out

Okay, everyone, so this will be my first official public appearance. I'll be at Active Dogs Day Out at the Carver Vet Center, 2201 Ventura Drive, in Woodbury--this coming Sunday, May 21st from 1:00-4:00. Not only will you be able to learn about the amazing agility options out there for you and your dog, but you can talk to me about the expansion of my New Beginnings program just down the street at AllBreed Obedience and learn more about new store front Melissa will be opening for Doggie Prodigy.

It will be a great day, so why not bring a dog and visit?

Looking forward to it.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

New Ventures

With the greening of spring (and the ending of my semester), I'm beginning to look forward to new dog-related ventures, about which I am so excited. I've been lucky to teach a bonding class at AllBreed Obedience in Woodbury for the past year. Initially, it began as a rescue dog class, but morphed into a program we're calling "New Beginnings." We've had great success helping dogs build healthy bonds with their people and develop more confidence, all of which has happened through play.

At the time, I'm currently discussing where New Beginnings will go from here. So check back, and I'll let you know.

Also, I'm looking into office space that I'll use with Melissa from Doggie Prodigy! More news to come on that front, as well.

So, although I've been quiet of late, I have been working behind the scenes. I'll let you know when I've got more news.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


I'm finding it hard to write these days when so much of my energy is directed at other things, like my mom, who has late stage Alzheimer's. But then I think that the mortality that I face daily when I look at her is also a part of my daily life with dogs.

Gizmo is sixteen and can barely walk. He's been that way for years. And when I look at him, I realize that his progression very nearly mirrors my mom's. Each day he recognizes me a little less, I think. And yet he's--dare I say it?--happy. I don't think he's suffering.

And that has long struck me as a key difference between our 4-legged and 2-legged families. We are expected to euthanize the former when their quality of life declines. And while we may disagree on when it's responsible to euthanize, most of us seem to agree that it's the right thing to do.

Within the last two weeks, two of my friends have had to make that decision. And I know I'll have to make it myself in the not-too-distant future. But I have the luxury of waiting to make that decision until it's one of compassion. What about the people who euthanize when their dogs are still healthy?

Just last week I stumbled across the story that actor Nick Santino killed himself after euthanizing his healthy dog because neighbors complained. I've read the comments, too--that he could have/should have found a reputable rescue to take the dog, that he could have/should have moved.

The truth is, I grieve for that man. And every day, people across the United States are making similar decisions. Some can no longer afford food; others are losing their homes; still others are divorcing. Does this make them bad people? I don't think so. The fact is, they are agonizing over the decision, and in all too many cases, precious few resources exist to help them keep their pets while they go through periods of transition or challenges themselves.

Not long ago, I did learn of an organization, Foster My Pet, that took in a friend-of-a-friend's cat when she was going through such a transition herself. But she was one of the lucky few who found a solution that allowed her to keep her cat after her life stabilized. But that's not the norm--although I applaud the efforts of Foster My Pet. The truth is, people in rescues across the United States have to turn desperate people away daily, not because they lack compassion, but because they lack the resources and foster homes to take in all of the animals needing homes. Like every person I know in rescue, I've fielded too many desperate phone calls to count, and while I've worked diligently to rescue or rehabilitate as many as possible, I empathize with Nick Santino because I know how difficult it would have been for him to place his dog with a group either temporarily or permanently. He killed himself because he felt he betrayed his dog. And that is tragic.

I do hope that, perhaps his death will illustrate the need to continue to raise awarness about the plight of domesticated animals in the United States. Like the country, they're in crisis. And all too often, it's not because they're sick.