A Different Sort of Mother’s Love

Mother’s Day has generally always been a tough holiday for me.  All around me I see and hear the sounds of mothers and children having fun-filled celebrations.  The children fuss all over their moms, and the mothers dote on their children.  *Sigh*  Only on a Hallmark Card, or at the very least….someone else’s house, not mine.

My mom and I were never close at all.  We never really shared deep talks or “girly experiences.”  She wasn’t the sort of person I could call up and say, “Let’s go out for lunch.”  It seemed like we had a shallow life together, and I never really felt like we were anything alike.  For most of my life, I tried to distance myself from her.  Visits were something I just “got through,” and I was always glad when I could say, “Gee….look at the time,” and make a graceful exit.

Growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, I was one of the few kids that I knew who had a mother who worked outside of her home.  My grandmother lived with us, so there was no reason for my mother to stay home and care for us kids.  Grandmother could do that.  So my mom worked.  She taught school.  She taught physical education for many years, and then she switched to a classroom once her district deleted physical education from their elementary school staff.  While I was in elementary school, however, my mom was the PE teacher….MY PE teacher. UGH!

As a kid….it was a special level of hell having your mom as the PE teacher….just saying…..

I got teased a lot because my mom was a teacher, and of course, because my mom was a teacher, the other teachers always threatened to rat me out to my mom if I ever misbehaved. I was held to a higher standard in all of my classes because my mom was a teacher, and it was well established that I would be going to college.  In those days, many….if not most of my female classmates married soon after high school, and settled into being wives and mothers.  My mom wasn’t going to have any part of that life for me!  She had my life all planned out in her own mind, and if only I would just cooperate and do everything she wanted me to do!  Even after all of these years, the thought of that makes me throw up a little in my mouth.

When grown ups asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I usually answered a teacher or a nurse, because those were typical, traditonally accepted female roles in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  My mother would always say to me, “You can be a doctor or a lawyer too….don’t you ever forget that.”  While it’s a wonderful thing to help a child dream bigger, my mom seemed unable to let me have freedom to choose my own life.  She made it clear that she was pleased when I followed her “accepted” path for my life, and boy did I hear it when she didn’t like what I was doing.  Hence the distance between us.  In my young adult life, I think I tried to deliberately live a life that was my own…much like any other adolescent.

I didn’t have that mom who made Kool-aid and cookies, and cheerfully brought a pitcher out on a tray wearing pearls and high heels when she wanted to give me a snack.  We didn’t have Kool-aid, because Kool-aid was loaded with sugar and it would rot out my teeth. We had milk, and graham crackers, because those choices were nutritious, and we had to go get our own.  Mom didn’t prepare them for us.  I only got Kool-aid when I went to someone else’s house!  If it wasn’t something either nutritious or educational, you wouldn’t find it at my house!

Our field trips were places like the airport watching planes land and take off, and dreaming about where they were going and what the passengers would do at the other end of their flight.  Some of my most favorite outings were going to the park and feeding the ducks day old bread.  I really loved to feed the ducks.  All  summer long, the University of Illinois would run nature films, which were probably fifty cents to watch, so we got to invite the neighbor kids and off we went to see nature films.

And generally, every summer, we hand raised at least one baby bird.  We had cats, and they often caught babies who were just fledging their nests and really struggling to fly.  I loved raising baby birds.  My mom did very well with Robins, but seed eaters often didn’t make it, because we just weren’t sure what to feed them, and they were also so much smaller and more fragile than Robins. When birds of any kind were injured, we often tried to help them heal when we rescued them.

Rugby rescued this little Tufted Titmouse baby that I raised and released in 2013.

Everyone in our small town knew that our family was “the animal family.”  We took in the rejected, injured, sick pets and animals, and nursed them back to health.  Sometimes we found other suitable homes for them, but sometimes we kept them too, if there was no other safe choice for the animal.  We were the only family I knew that had rescued an injured pigeon who lived in a dog crate in our family room.  We named him “Freebee” because someone had given him to us, and he couldn’t be released to the wild because his injured wing made it impossible for him to ever fly again.  At one time, we had two dogs, five cats, a rabbit, a pigeon, a raccoon, a hamster and a gerbil.  Granted, our house was huge, and most of those pets lived in and out of the house, but I was always tripping over some animal as a kid growing up, and I honestly really loved that.

Gus came to us when he was probably 8-12 weeks when his mom had died in a farming accident. He was one who stayed as he couldn’t be released to the wild once he trusted humans. Now it’s illegal to keep a wild animal, but it wasn’t in those days. (This photo is a random raccoon….not Gus)

One of the things I enjoyed doing almost every day when I was really little, was going into town with my mom to pick up my dad from work.  He often got a last minute phone call or a meeting that ran late, so we generally found ourselves waiting for him for a few minutes.  And while we waited, my mom would make up wonderful stories about Lassie.  She always came up with an amazing story of a last minute rescue of a kitten, or that Lassie had saved a family of raccoons from drowning, or found veterinary help for a fox with a broken leg.  Mom’s stories were always imaginative, and always had happy endings, just like the real Lassie television show that I saw every week.

Every kid wanted a big Collie dog just like Lassie when I was little!

I did grow up and go to college, majoring in pre-law, and attaining a Bachelor of Science degree.  But I couldn’t hack the thought of three more years of college, so I never went to law school, much to my mother’s disappointment. She had always wanted to have at least one of us become an attorney, and since I was the youngest, it was up to me! Instead, I became an insurance underwriter, and I showed Pembroke Welsh Corgis on the weekends.

My homebred Felicity winning Best Puppy in Sweepstakes at the North Texas Specialty

As I’ve aged, I have become much more forgiving of my mom, and while I still don’t like many of my experiences with her, at least now I feel like I can understand who she was and why she did many of the things that were so hard for me.  People can’t give what they don’t have, and I finally understand that.  In my own way, I wanted to put my mom in a box that she didn’t want to be in, much as she had done for me.  The boxes wore different labels, but they were boxes all the same, and walls of any kind tend to keep people separated.

I do not think that my mom intended to create a box for me, but it often felt as if she held out various life boxes with this tag on them!

One thing in life led to another, and I’m now a full time professional dog trainer.  My mom died before I settled into this career, but I know that she would have been thrilled to pieces to see me owning my own business and keeping dogs out of shelters, and helping families have wonderful dog experiences like we had with our dog Lady when I was growing up.

She never knew Rugby James, or heard any stories about him.  She would have loved his charming looks, of course…and the fact that he’s very “Collie-ish” in behavior and appearance.  She would have been so impressed with how smart he is and how many tricks he knows, and how quickly he can work puzzles.  She would have enjoyed the fact that he’s a snuggler and would have sat with him and loved stroking his soft speckled fur.

But I think what she would have loved the most, is that he was a little dog without a chance of making it in the world, and I gave him that chance.  I rescued him, and my mom was big on rescuing animals who had nowhere else to go. My mom had a tender heart for anyone, human or animal, who was a little down on their luck and needed a boost to survive in the world.

Rugby’s first night with me. He was honestly scared, but he tried so hard to be happy and excited about another new place.

For so many years, I didn’t want to be anything like my mom, and I tried so hard to throw off anything that made me think of her.  She wasn’t that “warm fuzzy” mom that we all think of when we think of Mother’s Day.  Emotionally, she always seemed a little detached and distant to me. But she introduced me to a world that included a deep love and compassion for all animals….dogs in particular.

So many times growing up, I remember thinking that my mom was never the mom that I would have chosen for myself.  We just don’t get to choose our moms in life.  And when Rugby first came to live with me, I remember thinking so clearly that he just was not the dog that I would have chosen for myself, had I known who he really was.

However, when I think of the big picture of my life, I can see ways that God used my tough, distant, demanding mom to help me make it in a harsh world that doesn’t offer many breaks to us along the way.  For the path that I would have to walk in my life, I needed a mom who taught me to be tougher than my circumstances, and to be an “I can take it girl” when I got hurt or wanted to give up.

In the same sort of way, God has used my broken, wacky little dog to help me heal the hurt, emotional places in my heart that were shattered by others along the way through life.  When I was looking for Rugby, all I had wanted was a little rescue dog.  I wanted to give a sweet little dog a terrific life and a big world full of fun experiences. Instead, I got a broken, emotional dog who really doesn’t want a big world full of adventures.  He wants a small, predictable world to help him feel safe from that big world outside our front door.  Life with him has been a tightrope of helping shape his wacky behavior, and giving him the freedom to be who he is and who he wants to be as well as accepting that he is giving me all that he has to give, and letting that be enough for me.  He’s no disappointment at all, and I love him to the moon and back.

So I guess at the end of the day, God doesn’t always give us what we want, but He does give us what we need, and that’s what I’m celebrating today.  I had the mom that I needed, and my success and who I am is largely due to the millions of small things that she said and did for me throughout my lifetime.  She showed me how to break the molds that others wanted for my career path, and how to be tougher than I ever thought I could be.  She gave me experiences that she never got when she was a girl growing up.  She always wanted the best for me, and she always wanted more for me.  She taught me to push myself forward, and never to settle for complacency.  But more than anything else, what I think I love most, is that I’m so glad that I have her heart of love for animals and especially for dogs….

My wonderful parents





An Easter Story: Sir Panda Bear

For Christians, Easter has a very special meaning.  Easter is about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and His death and ultimate resurrection.  It’s a story of loss and gain, of sorrow and joy, of despair and hope.  I want to share with you a very special Easter story that has touched me deeply, and I’m not sure that I’ll ever really be the same again.

As a dog trainer, I evaluate dogs prior to training.  I look at all kinds of criteria, but one thing I’m mindful of, is how the dog and owners interact, and whether or not I see trust or responsive behavior from the dog, and whether the dog fits well with the owner’s lifestyle.   Most of the time, I see a good dog, and a good fit, but once in a while, I’ll see that this particular dog in this particular home is like gas on a fire!  If the fit isn’t good, sometimes, training just won’t fix what’s needed.  Sometimes, the dog just needs a home that can supply what he needs in order to be healthy and happy and thrive.

Two weeks ago, I came across a very dangerous situation with folks who wanted to give their four year old the dog that he had been begging for,  and adopted a puppy without regard to breed, temperament, energy level, or leadership needs.  He was an adorable puppy, and he needed a good home.  He was six weeks old, and he came from a friend whose female had become pregnant accidentally.  His puppy Mama had only allowed three humans to ever get near her or touch her.  No one knew who or what breed his puppy Daddy was.  The puppy looked like a Corgi/ Jack Russell Terrier mix, and he was as cute as a button!!  They named him Sir Panda Bear, and brought him home with all of the usual excitement anyone feels when they get a new puppy! His new family had the best of intentions in wanting to give their new puppy a good home and life, but instead, what they got was a ticking time bomb.

Panda at 7 weeks Photo Credit: Barb Carson

At an early routine well puppy checkup, their vet had said, “You need to get this puppy some training!”  At a very early age, the vet was being able to spot a difficult temperament, and troubling behavior.   Not really understanding how serious things were, the owners never got around to seeking help, until things hit critical mass when the puppy was six months old.

Panda had always been a puppy with a lot of rough play and nipping and mouthing behaviors.  But things escalated when he had a couple of nasty bites with the parents over being asked to do something that he didn’t want to do.  Suddenly, they realized that this thirty-two pound, adorable six month old puppy could very seriously injure their son or a guest visiting in their home.  They called me to get some training for him.

Photo Credit: Barb Carson

When I arrived in their home, Panda was outside, sunning himself on a beautiful spring day.  He was a darling puppy, and I fell in love at first glance!  As we walked out into the yard, he came charging at me, barking, with full piloerection from collar to tail in a wide band, with the band of fur across his shoulders, higher and wider.  He stopped just short of me, and warily watched me, skittering a bit nervously when I shifted my weight from one foot to the next.  We went back inside for two to three minutes and tried coming out into the yard again.  This time, he didn’t bark, was calm, and cautiously approached to offer some very polite sniffing.  Once satisfied, he went on his way to explore his yard again.  It was clear that he was pretty scared around strangers, which is not a good behavior to see from a puppy!!

As we sat down to begin the questionnaire, he came running over to his human mom, and began roughly mouthing her with some pretty intense jaw strength.  I was told that this was his predictable behavior from sun up until close to bedtime most days.  Their son came calmly outside and I watched as Panda jumped on him and offered the same rough mouthing and nipping behavior, causing the child to wince, show fear, and pull into himself to withdraw from his puppy.

Photo Credit: Barb Carson

What was really alarming, was when the child began to jump on his enclosed trampoline.  Panda simply seemed to lose his mind over the activity.  He barked furiously from under the trampoline, jumping and nipping at the child’s feet over and over.  Again, lots of full arousal from the puppy, and piloerection across his shoulders and into maybe a third of his back.  When the child was ready to get off the trampoline, Panda was excitedly waiting at the ladder, ready to find success with the nipping and biting that he had not been able to successfully do while under the trampoline.  At his point, I had to  intervene, asking the child to wait and the adults to place the puppy on a leash before the child came down the ladder.  I knew a bite was moments away, and it was time to intervene in the situation before that happened!

Panda’s owners had resorted to using a tie out for him in their fenced yard to keep him away from biting their four year old son when he was playing outside. Photo Credit: Barb Carson

I really thought I had seen most of what I had needed to see about the dog’s negative behavior, and then the owners began to show me their battle scars from the puppy’s aggressive puncture bites.  They started to tell stories of his aggression, so I was all ears at this point.  His behavior went beyond the normal run of the mill puppy play biting, and into a more aggressive rough play all the time.  He produced aggression when pushed into something he didn’t want to do.  When aroused, he couldn’t calm himself, which is dangerous when small children are involved.  This is truly alarming behavior from a six month old puppy!

I knew that this puppy should never have ended up in this home.  The owners were clearly providing excellent physical care of Panda.  He was housebroken, up to date on his shots, neutered, and on monthly heart worm and flea and tick prevention.  He was very clean and at a very good weight.  Once on a leash, it was clear that he had been on a leash before, and he walked nicely with his owner.  But living well with a dog means being able to meet all of the dog’s physical, emotional, and mental needs, and this family simply couldn’t do that.  It was time to be frank and have an honest, open discussion with his owners about re-homing Panda.

Fortunately, they were in complete agreement with me, which was really a big sigh of relief.  I secured a promise from them to let me find a suitable home or rescue within two weeks, which they agreed to do.  They had obvious love for Panda, but his behavior was off the charts and creating a dangerous situation with a small child in the home.  They were quickly losing their patience, and things just simply had to change! I work with aggressive dogs as a dog trainer, but I draw the line at aggression with children in the home!

Before I left them, I gave them very strict requirements for Panda so that I would know that everyone would be safe until I could get him into a suitable new home.  They agreed to do everything I asked them to do.  So, with the time clock ticking, I left their home, knowing I would have to move quickly or this puppy would never make it.  I knew that if he had one more aggressive episode, he would likely be shot or surrendered to a local shelter, where he would have been immediately put down based upon the behavior that I saw in my visit to their home.

Photo Credit: Barb Carson

I knew that if Panda was going to stay realistically alive, it was on my shoulders…..a heavy weight indeed as I came home to stare into the eyes of my own thrown away puppy, Rugby James.  I didn’t want to fail Panda in the same ways that Rugby’s previous owners had failed him.  Panda was a puppy, a mere baby, just trying to figure things out in the human world.  I knew in the right home, this puppy would do well, because he wasn’t inherently a bad or aggressive dog.  He was scared in many situations and that’s what produced the aggressive behavior.  Otherwise, he was just a rowdy puppy with no boundaries for behavior.

I knew that placing Panda would be challenging, because most rescue groups don’t hang out signs saying, “Bring us your edgy or aggressive dogs!”  Rescues so often operate on a shoestring budget, and good foster homes are difficult to find, and fill up quickly with the number of dogs who need to be placed.  Finding a rescue group or foster home for a dog who is producing aggressive behavior when pushed into something he doesn’t want to do, is really tough!  No rescue wants to see any of their very valuable fosters or foster dogs injured by an aggressive dog who is being placed.  Dogs who are scared are more likely to be aggressive, and so safety with dogs like Panda becomes a huge consideration in any type of placement.

Photo Credit: Barb Carson

The honest truth, is that there really isn’t an easy place in the world for dogs who don’t fit a pretty standard mold of behavior.  Dogs like my own Rugby James often are bounced around because no one wants them. Rugby was repeatedly passed back and forth through multiple homes until he finally crossed my path and I chose not to give up on him.  My guess is that previous owners fell in love with how cute he was, but had no idea how to live with him, so out he went!!  With the level of naughty nipping and biting that Panda was already producing, I knew he wouldn’t get more than one chance to make it in the world, and he was just a baby at six months!  I had to find a home that was a good fit, or a rescue who could rehabilitate him, but where to start with a tough dog like Panda?

I contacted a Corgi rescue who told me that they didn’t think there was any Corgi at all from the photos I sent them, and they also had no fosters, yadda, yadda, thank you very much.  However, they were the catalyst in suggesting that I put a post on a Corgi Facebook rescue page, and mentioned key words that would turn heads!  So for a rescue that didn’t think he was a Corgi, they were actually the contacts who helped get the ball rolling for Panda to find his new home, and I’ll always be so very grateful for their help!

Such pretty pants on this boy!!

Once Panda’s post went up on a countrywide Facebook rescue page, within a couple of short hours, I had someone who said, I’ll work with him if you can get him here!  That someone turned out to be Brett Butler from Corgwyn Rehabilitation Sanctuary, and for thirty years, he’s been rehabilitating dogs at his farm in rural Iowa.  He’s fallen in love with Corgis, and they are the breed of dogs he currently works with.  He noticed right away that Panda was just a puppy, and like me, really wanted to see him have a chance at having a great life.

Panda at 12 weeks. Photo Credit Barb Carson

I breathed a huge sigh of relief knowing I had a definite place for Panda to go, but the transport turned out to be far more challenging than I had expected.  I knew of the huge network of drivers who selflessly donate time and hours to drive dogs from point A to point B. The problem was getting Panda from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Iowa, which meant two days of driving, and multiple car and driver changes. I didn’t know how it could happen with an edgy, potentially dangerous puppy who was seriously afraid of strangers!

Photo Credit: Barb Carson

A really fabulous group of Corgi lovers circled me, all having different areas of specialty in the transport process. We all engaged in a Facebook messenger group chat to brainstorm and problem solve. Safety became the issue, and all of us were in agreement that Panda really needed to fly so that he could arrive at Brett’s sanctuary in hours rather than days.

The air transport coordinator began contacting her pilots to see who had time to fly Panda within my two week deadline, which was now under ten days.  Pilots promised to get back to her on it.  Meanwhile, we looked for a possible foster home, but I didn’t hold out much hope. Panda was a tough little nut, and I knew that he would really need to have a home where someone truly understood how to work with his aggressive bent.  As expected, there were no suitable foster homes.  Daily, his owner would faithfully text me for a progress report, and daily I mustered up encouragement about the progress we were making with his transportation.  The truth was, we were hitting one roadblock after another, but I couldn’t tell Panda’s owners about that!  I had to dispense hope, and buy time for Panda!!

Photo Credit: Barb Carson

A week into the process I received a rather frantic text from Panda’s owner saying that Panda had been really spun up that day, and she wasn’t sure that they would be able to wait the extra week. She wanted a foster home until we could arrange his transport.  And she asked the question I had been dreading, ” Did I have anything in place yet?”  My heart sunk, because this was my biggest fear!!

I dreaded the day that I would hear her say that she appreciated my help, but that they had decided that it was best to take him to their local shelter.  I asked her to hang on, reminding her that she had promised to give me two full weeks, and that they had agreed to that!  I reminded her of the safety rules I had put into place before I left their home, reminding her that those rules were going to keep everyone safe during the rehoming process.

Photo Credit: Barb Carson

Panic was rising in me, and I was trying to fight back fear while I waited to hear back about the flight schedule.  The transport team and I came to the conclusion that Panda and the family would be safest if we could put him in a boarding kennel until the transport could be arranged.  Trying to find pilots who were comfortable transporting a scared, edgy puppy who might bite as a major holiday approached proved to be very difficult.  I started researching possible boarding kennels, hoping that they would agree to keep that same scared, edgy puppy who might bite their staff!!  I found two kennels that might work, and contacted Panda’s owner, who shot down my idea.  She just did not want Panda to be boarded, because she knew that he would be scared, and she was worried about the safety of the staff.  So it was back to the drawing board as Panda’s owner reluctantly agreed to try to hang on for the balance of the week.

Photo Credit: Barb Carson

I was starting to really feel fearful for Panda’s safety, because unless we could pull together a fast transport, time was going to run out before I could rescue him.  It was time to post a prayer request for Panda’s transport on Rugby’s Facebook page.  One of his dear friends went to work behind the scenes, and a few hours later, I started to received email after email saying, “You have cash!”  A dear circle of dog lovers had sent me funds to pay for Panda’s transport and rehabilitation costs!  Flying him commercially became a new option, and really, our only shot!

Photo Credit: Barb Carson

Having never flown a dog before, I Googled “How to Fly a Dog on a Commercial Airline.”   I found a commercial business who did all of the work for the owner, and that was exactly what I needed.  Their reviews were really great, so I called them with excitement and hope rising.  In 24 hours, I left three messages and never received a return phone call.  In fact, in the six days since my original phone calls, they have yet to attempt to contact me at all!!  While waiting for them to respond,  I had watched another precious 24 hours slip by with no progress forward.  The clock was ticking, and I was starting to worry!

I truthfully did not know the first thing about flying a dog, but I was about to get a quick education!  The old saying that, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me” rang in my ears as I started the process of contacting the airline to get Panda aboard a plane and on his way to Iowa!  With no other options,  I decided that I was going to have to simply dive in and just sort it out as I went along!  It was now Wednesday.  Tick, tick, tick.  I had until the weekend.

Panda at 4 mos. Photo Credit: Barb Carson

The airline boarding request showed a flight available on Saturday, April 15th….the last day available to get Panda from his home and still be true to my word of keeping my end of the two week deadline!  I submitted the paperwork application online, and waited the airline’s 24 hours for someone to contact me.

As I waited, I knew that Panda would need an airline approved crate with a host of trimmings, so I started doing research while Panda’s owner tried to get reliable measurements from a six month old puppy playfully biting at her and her tape measure!  She sent me her very best guess, and we crossed our paws that the measurements were accurate!

Photo Credit: Barb Carson

Airlines have very particular requirements about the size of the crate and how the dog has to fit inside it!  Not even the tips of a dog’s ears can touch the top of the crate or its sides.  Clearance around the dog is very important, and they refuse to bend on these rules at all.  To be absolutely safe, I ordered a crate that I guessed would be too big, but that I knew would absolutely hold Panda and meet the requirements of the airline.  Thank goodness for two day shipping!  The crate and the extra kit of goodies needed to fly Panda were on their way to his owner!  Things were starting to finally fall into place, but if either of the shipments were late, all bets were off!

By Thursday morning, the airline contacted me about his reservation.  What exactly was Panda’s breed of dog?  Because of the breathing issues some dogs have, the airline restricts some breeds from flying for safety to the dog.  Not really knowing for sure what breeding Panda was, I told them my best guess, and waited again for confirmation.

Photo Credit: Barb Carson

Another email arrived in a few hours telling me that the crate was too large to fly on the jet that they would be using for his flight.  They sent me the maximum crate size that they would allow.  It was the next size smaller, and the one that I had originally thought would work.  However, it was likely going to be close with those cute ears of his!  With a Corgi, honestly, headroom is rarely ever an issue, but if the ears couldn’t touch the top of the crate, we could probably have an inch or less to spare!!  I told the airline that we would use the smaller crate, and waited again to hear back from them.

While I waited, I had to get the smaller crate for him.  However, it was now Thursday, and his flight was leaving  early on Saturday, so I had no time to order anything.  Nowhere could I find a company who could overnight his crate to his owner.  I knew that our only hope would be to call a local pet store and hope that they had exactly what I needed!  His owner told me that if I could find the crate she would pick it up.  Lo and behold, I found exactly what I needed, and they let me pay for it over the phone so Panda’s owner just had to go pick it up.

Photo Credit: Barb Carson

On Friday, the airline sent me an email with the proposed flight schedule, and it looked like all we had to do was wait for Saturday morning to arrive.  I was cautiously optimistic, waiting for the crate supply kit to arrive by the end of the day on Friday.  That supply kit had the required stickers, food and water cups, and metal screws and wing nuts to hold the crate together.  These things were required by the airline, and  I knew that without them, Panda would never leave the ground!  By late afternoon, the kit arrived, and I finally felt as if I could breathe for the first time in two weeks!

On Friday night, something just nagged at me to call the airline one last time, just to make sure that everything was in place for Panda’s flight.  Am I ever glad that I did!!  Somewhere along the way, Panda’s reservation had stalled, and the airline had not completed the final stage of getting things set up.  His reservation had not actually been completed!  Panic hit me in a huge wave,  and fortunately, I had a very kind, very patient ticket agent on the other end of the phone who quickly calmed me by telling me that he could easily complete the reservation for me and that all would be well for the morning.  It took forty-five minutes to an hour to complete, but I got an airbill number, and that was the golden ticket that I needed to get Panda on board.

Photo Credit: Barb Carson

Saturday morning arrived, and I left home at 5:20 am to be able to arrive at the airport by 7:00 am. Hopped up on coffee, I was bright eyed and bushy tailed, full of hope and excitement for Panda to begin a new life with someone who understood who he was and what he would need to rehabilitate him into a great puppy who could get a perfect home someday.

We started the check in process at the ticket window, and things seemed to be progressing without a hitch!  Panda would bark a bit aggressively if any other passengers got too close to him, but fortunately it was very quiet and few people were around.  The paperwork was long and boring, but finally, Panda was given last hugs, and placed into his crate for his big adventure.  The staff carried him into their back room, where he would begin the boarding process.

Panda at his airport check in! He was getting good and angry at this point!

We all smiled, and were just breathing a sigh of relief, when we heard Panda barking, and we knew that he was getting the last word!!  One of the staff members came back to us and told us that she didn’t think that they could take him because he was being very aggressive and she didn’t think the airline handlers would be safe.  I assured her that he was very scared, and that anyone with sense would  keep their fingers out of the crate!  With the nice ridge around the outside of the crate, he could be easily handled safely.  His flight was only five hours, so he didn’t need to be taken out of his crate until he arrived at his new home.  Grudgingly, she agreed, and we dodged one final bullet in getting Panda on his way.

Trying to get a family photo at the airport before Panda was loaded. He was like trying to photograph a flipping and flopping fish!!

After arriving at the sanctuary, Panda had the normal settling in jitters that I fully expected to see.  In less than twenty four hours, Panda was settling in nicely at Brett’s sanctuary.  He has been meeting some of the seventeen dogs who live there, and he is playing with them.  He’s stopped trying to nip at Brett every time Brett engages him, and he is relaxed and much more calm.  This puppy now has hope and a future.

What an absolutely incredible experience this has been for me!  The past two weeks have brought me emotions that were so high and so low that I can’t describe!  When I have thought back on this experience over the past twelve hours, I couldn’t help but think of what an Easter miracle this has been.  So many things had to fall into place at the right time for it to all come together as planned.  And at the very heart of all of it, is sacrifice.

The family is sad that they couldn’t give their puppy the life he needed, and they are sad that Panda couldn’t be the dog that they had dreamed of when they brought him home.  They trusted me, and made a sacrifice to let him go, trusting complete strangers to give their little guy a better life.

So many others have made sacrifices to give something of value to a family and puppy that they didn’t know, and will probably never meet. There were so many people who came together to help me with things I just didn’t know how to do, or really, where to even start!  Some sacrificed time, for others it was their expertise, and others sacrificed financially, but all of us came together to help one family and one dog have a better life.

When things in the world seem so very crazy and upside down, experiences like this renew my hope in life.  Just as the landscape around me is starting to green up and bloom and leaf out, somewhere in Iowa, there is a little puppy who has no idea what any of those sacrifices mean.  He’s just reaping the excitment of his new life, oblivious to the work behind the scenes that came together to make that happen for him.

Good has indeed come from a potentially dangerous situation.  The family’s anger and fear has been replaced with peace.  The panic I felt for much of two weeks has been replaced with calm. Joy reigns supreme over the entire experience, and hope in life has been fully restored.  Anything and everything feels possible once again!

And all I can say is, have a great life Panda!  God has special plans for you, and I can’t wait to watch you soar on new wings!







Mementos of Our Dogs’ Lives

For Christmas this past year I got a really unique and unusual gift from a dear friend who runs an antique store.  It was a box of very old dog tags that date from 1926 to 1950.  It’s a gift that I absolutely treasure!!

I’ve always been a big history enthusiast!  Maybe it stems from growing up in a huge Victorian-era house built in 1910.  It was a marvelous old home, full of history and stories of its previous owners.   I had a big imagination, and I loved to think about what life had been like at the turn of the century for those occupants.  I always wondered about the previous families and the kids who ran up and down the stairs and halls.  Did they get scolded for running in the house or for making too much noise on the wide pine floors?  Did those kids slide down the banisters just like I did?  What secrets or mysteries did the walls and floors of the house hold?

This was my childhood home, built in 1910.

And what about the family pets?  Did the previous owners even have pets? Were they allowed in the house with the family?  Did they enjoy sleeping in front of the fireplace as our Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix had loved to do?

At the turn of the 20th century, most dogs were working dogs and not family pets in the same way that we currently think of a family dog.  They usually worked for their owners and had a specific job.  It was unusual for them to be allowed in the house to live with their families.  Generally only pampered dogs were allowed inside to live with their owners, and that just wasn’t all that common in the early days of the 20th century.  Things changed after WWII, and dogs started to take on the family pet role that we think of today.

Unwrapping the box of dog tags made my mind spin in circles!  As I looked at them carefully laid out in their keepsake box, they almost seemed too precious to handle.  Being a bit sentimental myself, I knew what these tags represented, and I knew the meaning that they would have held for me with my own dogs.  I didn’t touch them for a good long while, and then curiosity got the best of me, and I picked them up, trying to figure out which one was the oldest, and I put them in numerical order.

These tags are little treasures to me, and I absolutely love them!!

I was told that the tags had been purchased online from a museum that had received them as part of an estate that had been donated to them. No other information was known about the dogs that wore them, or the family who had owned the dogs.  The history of the tags themselves was very interesting to me.

Since the tags all came from one Virginia estate, it makes sense to me that these tags likely belonged to one or two dogs, since the years are sequential, and there’s only a three year gap between the first set and the last.  The first set of tags date from 1926 to 1936, and the second set  dates from 1941-1943 and then a lone tag from 1950.  Not knowing the breed of dogs, it’s difficult to know how long they would have lived, but an average dog probably lives 12-14 years, give or take.  Of course, a dog could have died younger, and another replaced it without any skipping sequence in tags, so there could have been more than two dogs.  It’s a mystery with no solution, so my mind is just working likely scenarios.

Most of the tags look like they are made of brass, except for two of the tags.  The one that was issued in 1943 is actually a tag made of pressed paper….a sort of cardboard.  That was a war year, and all of the metals were being saved and used in the war effort, so even dog tags weren’t exempt from WWII!  The tag issued in 1950 seems to be aluminum, just like you would expect to see today.

This tag is made of heavy paper….not quite cardboard, but close.

Some of the tags are so tiny compared to the current dog tags issued in my lifetime.  Each tag states the registration number, the state of Virginia, Male, and the year that the tag was distributed.  Some of the tags state “Male dog” on them.  Most of the tags are in unique shapes and sizes from year to year.  They also each have two holes on them, rather than the single hole that our current tags have.  I suppose that gave the owner the option to affix the tag flat to the collar, instead of having the tag dangling from the collar the way our current dog tags do.  I’m not sure how they were attached, but it makes sense to me that they might have attached them this way.  Perhaps the reason might have to protect the dog from getting them caught on anything, or from losing the tag altogether while he was working.

Many of them were unique shapes, but all of them have two holes drilled into them.


Some of the tags shared identical shapes, but only these two tags, from 1942 and 1943 are the only two identical tags that are sequential in years.

When I was a kid growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, most of the dogs in our small, Midwestern town just ran free.  There was no leash law, and no one had a fence to keep their dog at home in their yards.  Smaller dogs often didn’t leave their yards, but larger dogs just followed their kids around and explored all day.  At night, they came home to their family, and either slept on a porch or in the house, if they were allowed inside.

One of my favorite memories of our family dog, Lady, is that she loved to lay in the middle of the road for an afternoon nap!  We lived on a corner, and the roads were built of rock and tar, so the afternoon sun warmed them up quite nicely.  Lady enjoyed the warmth from the road and sleeping in a nice sunny place, and she often took her naps there.  The kind folks in our town just drove around her if she left them room, or honked to make her move if they didn’t have room to get around her.  They all knew that Lady liked to nap in the road, and it was no big deal.  It was small town living at its finest, and when I think back on those days I have to smile at the kindness of our neighbors!

These old dog tags just fascinate me! I try to imagine the dogs that proudly wore them! It’s impossible to know anything about the dogs, but the fact that the tags survived all of these years tells me volumes anyway.  My parents would have thrown out the old tag when the new one was issued, so it’s hard to imagine why the old tag would have been kept, unless it was for sentimental reasons.

Being a little sentimental myself, I like to keep little tokens like this.  They don’t take up much physical space, but they take up lots of room in my heart.  Looking at a dog tag makes me remember the life of a dog who held a place of honor and importance in my heart.  Long after my dogs run across the Rainbow Bridge, these little tokens of their lives matter.  They prove to me that my dog really did live, and breathe, and play and shed their fur all over my house!

In a day and age where animals in general didn’t have the value placed upon them that we see today, these small tokens from one family are so very special to me!  For these tags to have been saved from one year to the next, I have to think that this family loved their dogs, and wanted something to remember about them.  I want to think that they were crazy in love with their dogs, just as I am about my little Rugby James.  In my heart of hearts, I hope that the dogs’ owners would smile knowing that these small tokens of their dogs’ lives have ended up in the hands of a dog trainer who is crazy about dogs too.  It’s a fitting end, and a sweet remembrance that their dogs mattered and have not been forgotten.


Your Dog Really Does Give You What He Can….

I heard a really profound statement in a podcast earlier this week, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. The speaker said, “Dogs will give you what they can, but sometimes they can’t give you what you really want.”

It made me think back to my early days with Rugby.  It made me remember all of the dreams that I had dreamed for him, and how disappointed I felt when Rugby couldn’t be the dog that I had wanted.  Yes, I said it. When I realized that Rugby would not be the dog that I had dreamed of, I felt very disappointed.  Don’t judge me.  Rugby was not the dog that I wanted.  And since I was at least his fifth home, clearly four other people hadn’t wanted him either.

The day that I met him in his foster home, I was smitten!  I remember driving home with him in my back seat, and dreaming of what a treasure I had sitting in a crate in my back seat.  I felt like the richest dog trainer in the world.  I really did!  He was such a darling puppy, with such a cute personality that clearly shone through as I watched him in his foster home.  I just couldn’t believe that he was all mine!

Puppy Rugby was not only beautiful, but such a sweet soul and a real love sponge!

It’s one thing to dream about life with your dog, and quite another thing to have the honest reality of living with that dog slap you in the face. When I brought Rugby home, I had no idea that he would have the behavior issues that he did.  Cute can only carry a dog so far.  But being a dog trainer, I really, truthfully believed that Rugby could be that dog that I had been dreaming of.

I worked and I trained and I read books and I consulted colleagues to get help in dealing with some of Rugby’s behavior.  I honestly never considered that he couldn’t be the dog that I wanted, because I just knew that I could train and shape his behavior.  It was only behavior, after all, and behavior in a dog who isn’t even a year old…can change.  And truthfully, it did change!  It did get better, little by little.  But we hit a whole lot of roadblocks in the process!

Looking back on it now, the big problem with my plans for Rugby, is that I had forgotten to really consider Rugby in the process.  I assumed that he wanted my dreams for him.  I assumed that he could fulfill my dreams of  being “that” dog in my life.  I didn’t really consider what he might have wanted, or even what he could offer.  Of course, much of what I learned about Rugby’s background was learned many weeks and months later.  In spite of that background, I still had a big set of expectations that my little nineteen pound puppy was supposed to meet for me.  What a heavy burden I placed on his thin, puppy shoulders.  What big shoes I expected him to fill for me.   And really, more than anything, I think of how selfish I was in thinking of what I wanted, and not really thinking about what Rugby might have wanted for his own life.

Rugby is much too small for the big shoes I expected him to fill!

For those of us with special needs dogs, it’s just entirely too easy to get caught up in what’s wrong with our dogs.  We can get super focused on what they can’t do, rather than seeing all of the amazing things that they can offer to us.  Tonight, for example, Rugby stood in the living room and barked incessantly for five minutes.  I timed him.  Why was he barking?  Apparently, because he can.  And while this behavior annoys me to the ends of the earth, I smile when I remember that it used to be thirty minutes!  I have chosen not to let those five minutes of irritation frame my day to day life with Rugby James.

Rugby really does offer me what he can.  He gives me everything that he’s got.  He approaches training with a great attitude of excitement and willingness to work hard.  He loves learning new things, and he is absolutely enthusiastic about figuring things out.  He tries so very hard, and I think anyone who is watching can see that heart in him.  He simply can’t always cope when things overwhelm him, and that’s something that he just can’t seem to figure out no matter how hard I try to help him.

When we work, he has wonderful focus and gives me all he has!!

I believe that the reason that Rugby doesn’t give me what I wanted in a dog is simply that he can’t.  He can’t be the dog that I really wanted when I brought him home on December 1, 2007.  Despite hours and hours of training and socializing, Rugby simply can’t give me that great, social dog who can go places and have fun with me out and about.  He does give me what he can, and that meets some of what I wanted in a dog.  But he’s never going to be the dog that I hoped he would.  He’s just not able to do that.  It’s not for lack of trying on either of our parts.  It just is what it is…and that’s all.  It just is.

An amazing thing happens when you let go of a dream.  Suddenly, you’re making space for another dream to take its place.  I had really always hoped that I would be able to take Rugby with me, just about anywhere that I went.  I wanted his companionship, and I really wanted to give him a big, safe world.  Because he was a rescue, I wanted him to have a really great life with lots of amazing adventures! Rugby, however, had different ideas.

I just could not bring myself to recycle my little dog! He had already been through so much, and I wanted to stop the cycle of recycling him into the next home!

Over time and lots of public failings, I had to reach the painful conclusion that my little guy was never going to be able to enjoy a big world. He really didn’t seem to want one.  He ran to hide when he saw his harness, or thundershirt, and even though he seemed willing enough to go with me once he was all suited up….he quickly morphed into one stressed little pupper, who was a barking hot mess on a simple walk!  He lunged at anything and everything, both sights and sounds, and once he was fired up….there was no calming him down.  When he started becoming aggressive and re-directing his frustration and anxiety into really hard biting at the leash and my shoes and pants legs, I knew he was just way too overstimulated to cope with the environmental changes that happened in our neighborhood on a daily basis.

I have learned over the years that I can occasionally take him to some select, low stress public places, and we both really seem to enjoy the outing. Rugby’s  day to day life is our house and his yard.  We enjoy going to the vet for friendly visits, and he copes really well with their staff, so I can do some great socialization with a scary place all the while that I’m giving him a small, fun adventure.  We walk in a few cemeteries that are large and have wide paved roads.  I also walk him in our driveway, and right in front of our house, during the day when my neighbors are at work. If he hears a squirrel rustle in the leaves on our walks, Rugby comes unglued, thinking that some invisible bogey man is coming after him, and that’s the end of our adventure for the day.  He just can’t handle much, and I understand that it’s just who he is.

Rugby does very well with occasional outings that are wide open spaces and very little activity to cause him to explode with reactivity behaviors.

So instead of me giving him a big world, the biggest surprise for me, is that he’s given me that really big world.   Because of Rugby James, I started a micro blog on Facebook, to help other owners with special needs dogs.  And that Facebook micro blog has grown into a full sized dog blog!!  I wanted to provide the knowledge and support that I never received when I was desperate to help my little dog.  I knew that other owners had their own versions of Rugby at home, carefully hidden away, listening to friends and family who judged them and who told them to “get rid of that dog!”  I knew how deeply a human heart could hold the love of a dog who was healthy, but just wacky and neurotic.  I knew how important it was to laugh every day, and those were things that I really wanted to give to other dog owners, because owning special needs dogs can be a very lonely, scary and overwhelming existence.

Since starting Rugby’s Facebook page, I’ve met people from all over the world.  I have friends on multiple continents, and I’ve even gotten to meet many of them face to face!  While Rugby has been so happy and content to stay home, I’ve been the one who has had adventures in a big world!  I’ve accomplished things I never dreamed of in 2007.  I’ve learned new ways of training dogs that are effective and fun because of Rugby’s learning style.  I’m less fearful of failing, because when you’re a dog trainer and you can’t fix your own dog, there’s not a  failure too much bigger than that.

In Rugby’s doggy wisdom, he showed me that neither one of us were failures at all.  We just needed each other.  We needed to learn to communicate well, and trust each other, and have safe boundaries for life together.  As a result, we make a great team. He’s one of the most amazing dogs that I know, and he really doesn’t even leave home all that often.  His world is small, but he’s such a happy little guy, and I love the way that he enjoys the simple things in life:  chasing squirrels and chipmunks, the smells from a breeze when he’s hanging out on the patio with me, his beloved polka dottie piggies who are always nearby, a good snuggle with someone he loves, an unexpected special snack once in a while, etc.  He keeps me grounded, and focused on the really important things in life that humans so often overlook.

Rugby really loves it when I will work outside on the patio and just hang out with him.

I’m just so very grateful that I’ve learned to accept that he can’t be the dog that I wanted.  Ten years into my relationship with him, that’s really okay with me.  Rugby is enough.  He is who he is, and he gives me what he can.  If you’re the owner of a special needs dog, it’s really okay to be disappointed that your dog can’t give you what you really want from him.  It’s okay to grieve the loss of your dreams and feel some sadness over those things.  But I want to challenge you to let new dreams grow up in place of the old ones.  Dare to dream new dreams….big ones!   And decide to let your dog give you what he can….and decide to let that be enough.