A Very Special Day to Remember

Super Denby Dog. An unlikely hero in a red racer cart! Photo Credit: Denise Baker and Denby Dog

This date marks a special anniversary for us every year.  It’s the date that one of our heroes left Earth for the Rainbow Bridge.  That hero was named Denby Dog, and he’s the reason that you’re reading this blog.  I know that some of our readers are thinking, “What?  Who is Denby Dog?  He’s not the reason I’m reading this blog! I’ve never heard of him!”

When I first got acquainted with the online dog community, Corgi Nation in particular, I came across a Blog called “The Daily Corgi.”  I was new to the blog world, but hey, there were photos and stories of really cute Corgis, so I was all in!  And one day, I read about an amazing little dog named Denby Dog!  He couldn’t eat or drink or blink on his own, and he lived in this little red racer wheelchair cart.  Every. Single. Day!!  I had to know more!

Denise always found unique ways to decorate Denby’s Red Racer. He often wore custom license tags. Photo Credit: Denise Baker and Denby Dog.

He had a FaceBook page, so I started to follow him and his adventures.  Every day, I was infused with hope, with love, with a warm fuzzy, and sometimes even a laugh, as his owner, Denise Baker shared his life with her readers.  Every day for me, Denby Dog was a must read.

For various local parades, Denise and one of her talented neighbors, created unique costumes to bring smiles and warm hearts. Photo Credit: Denise Baker and Denby Dog

Even though Rugby James wasn’t a dog with the physical challenges that Denby faced every day, I related to life with a special needs dog.  The needs were just different.  Rugby is a special needs dog as well, but his needs are all emotional ones.  Rugby is a dog who is emotionally fractured, and like Humpty Dumpty, I can’t put the pieces back together.

I love the depth of Rugby’s eyes. He calls them his “sincere eyes” and they just look right into my heart…and I melt!

Oh I’ve tried.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  Over and over and over until I’m blue in the face, I’ve tried.  But like Denise discovered with Denby Dog, Rugby just can’t be fixed.  His emotions are too broken.  The pieces that are needed to fix him are missing, or don’t fit, and I can’t find the puzzle pieces that do fit and work.

For a long time, I just didn’t know what to do with Rugby.  I had never owned a dog like him.  He was such a cute little guy!  He was so smart! His heart was all in on anything and everything that we did together!  And he really did try so very hard!  But, at the end of the day, he was still a very broken little dog.

Rugby loves learning new tricks and playing games and puzzles. He’s so very smart and brain games are always a big hit at my house!

The colleagues that I knew and trusted were at a loss for help.  They were also devoid of hope.  They scratched their heads about how to fix Rugby. Their solutions all included giving up and getting a new dog.  Believe me, on bad days, there was already a little voice inside of me whispering….”He’s a no hoper.  Move on.”

But I just couldn’t bring myself to give up on him.  I couldn’t.  I couldn’t look at my physically healthy puppy….who was all of eight or nine months old when I got him…and tell him that I was giving up like his four previous owners had done.  I just couldn’t.  I couldn’t fail him.  He was so young.  He was so smart.  He deserved a life with a human who believed in him and who wouldn’t give up on him.  No matter what.  I knew that I’d never live with myself for giving up on him.  I had to try.

This is what all of us need: HOPE!! Denby Dog provided a daily dose! Photo Credit: Denise Baker and Denby Dog

I decided that I was going to be that owner who was all in, but hope was something that was elusive and hard to find.  Enter Denby Dog.  So many times when I hit the wall in working through yet another behavioral issue with Rugby, I found hope flying out the window.  I felt all alone, because no one seemed to understand why I loved my  nutty little dog.  There was no one to encourage me or who would whisper, “Don’t give up.  You got this!”

And there was Denise and Denby Dog.

Another one of Denby’s wonderful costumes….dressed as a real life hero! Little did he know how he rescued this dog trainer and Rugby from a crash and burn! Photo Credit: Denise Baker and Denby Dog

Time and again, I saw Denise hit one awful DM (degenerative myelopathy) milestone after another, as Denby continued to lose one function after another.  But instead of sadly marking those moments, Denise always found a way to approach them with courage and with hope and love!  She never focused on what Denby had lost, but she chose to focus on what Denby could still do in life.  And she was focused on giving Denby the best quality of life that she could, for as long as she could.

When Denby lost the ability to pee and poop, Denise fitted him with “Hot Pants” and found a way to make them fun! Photo Credit: Denise Baker and Denby Dog

Denise and Denby Dog were an amazing team.  The trust that they had for one another was incredible.  The fun that they had together always produced a warm fuzzy and a smile for my heart.  When I was lacking in hope on a given day, it never seemed to fail that Denby Dog provided that boost that I needed to be able to take a deep breath and try again.

Young Denby before he lost his eye and before the Red Racer Cart. Denise dealt with lots of drool, because of Denby’s inability to swallow. Photo Credit: Denise Baker and Denby Dog

That’s the reason I started Rugby’s Facebook page and ultimately this blog.  I’m a professional dog trainer.  That’s what I do.  Six days a week, I’m out in the trenches, training wonderful, but naughty dogs day in and day out.

A proud Willie Bear who learned how to get on the kitchen counters all by himself! Photo Credit: Lynn Goodman

I see all kinds of dogs with all kinds of behavior.  Believe me, I know that there are LOTS of nutty dogs just like Rugby James out there, and there are just as many wonderful owners who don’t want to give up on those dogs.  They feel just as lost as I once did, and they’ve often lost hope that anything can change or that anyone will understand their deep and crazy love for a broken dog.

The tube sticking out of Denby’s neck enabled him to eat and drink several times every day. Photo Credit: Denise Baker and Denby Dog.

Because of Rugby James, I get it.  I understand.  I can be that shoulder to cry on.  I can be the professional help that knows how to train through difficult behavior systematically, baby step by baby step.  There just are some dogs who can’t be fixed for whatever reason.  But most of the time, even for the really broken dogs, I can make things better for the dog and owner, just like I have with Rugby James.  I can teach clients how to “Corgi On….Corgi Strong” when things are hard.  I can and do dispense copious amounts of encouragement and HOPE!

“Corgi On Corgi Strong” became Denby’s battle cry because of the courage that he used to face every challenge that came his way in life! Photo Credit: Denise Baker and Denby Dog

Denby Dog and Denise will always and forever be my heroes.  Without even knowing me at the time, they provided the much needed hope, love, encouragement, and the smiles my heart needed to continue on every day with Rugby James.

The world today needs heroes.  It does.  Life is hard.  It’s not fair.  It leaves plenty of broken lives and shattered hearts in its wake.  Being a dog lover in general, and a Corgi lover in particular, it’s no surprise that this hero came to Rugby and I wearing dog fur.  We just needed to know where to look to find him.

This little dog in a red racer cart may always and forever be Denise Baker’s Denby Dog, but believe me….to Rugby James and me, Denise and Denby will always and forever be our heroes.

None of us really know what curves life will throw us. Life is not a straight path at all. But with courage and a good hero, we can find our way. Photo Credit: Denise Baker and Denby Dog.

 

 

 

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Celebrating National Dog Day with Rugby James!

This simple photo was taken one night in 2016 when Rugby and I were just snuggled together on the Big Bed.  He was relaxed and calm, and I asked him for a “High Five.”  This is what he gave me, and I happened to have my phone handy to snap a picture.  I simply love this photo.  I really do.  It’s one of my very favorites.

Not only does it show off Rugby’s beautiful fawn-speckled legs, and his wild paw fur that seems to have a mind of its own, but it says so much more to me.  Volumes, in fact.  Sometimes I get a tear in my eye when I see it, because it’s one of those photos that always finds me staring at it for a good long bit.

I see a big human hand, and a small, trusting paw in that big hand.  I see the size differential, and I think of how scary I must seem to my little twenty two pound dog!  It helps me remember to be less scary and more approachable, because my little dog is really very small and very overwhelmed by the human world.  All of our dogs give us the best that they have to offer, and we all need to remember that!  No matter how large or small that paw is in our hand, we always need to remember that we also hold our dog’s hearts in those hands of ours!

I think of the little puppy left to raise himself, and the five long years of work that he and I did to learn how to trust each other.  I think of how he was shuffled from home to home and from shelter to rescue, and just how terrified he had to feel coming home with me to yet another new home, another new yard, more new rules, another new name, and more new Uprights….and just how brave my little guy really is.  Dogs are so resilient, and this photo represents that resilient little dog that I’m lucky enough to call mine.

This photo is a celebration of all of those things.  It celebrates the innate trust that dogs have, no matter how they get treated by humans.  It represents teamwork which develops when a human decides to share their life with a dog. It celebrates the hours and hours of training that he and I have put in together to create a bond that goes so deeply we are intertwined not only by hand and paw, but heart to heart.

It celebrates humans and dogs….be those dogs purebred or All American Dogs of unknown parentage.

So here’s to the dogs that have captured our hearts lock, stock and barrel!!

Much love, from Rugby James and I!

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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

 

 

 

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

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