It’s Not Cute, Damn it.

Yep, it’s another month, another installment of “Better Humaning Through Dogs.”

Generally, I try to write about the positive elements of dog companionship – or at least, the interesting ones. And generally, people who love or work with dogs understand the psychology of these animals, or are willing to learn.

But sometimes, I swear to dog, er, god, media makes education difficult, and I just have to scream.

Recently I saw a People magazine article, one of those clickbait headlines squibs, about a puppy so protective of a new family member, it wouldn’t even let the baby‘s mama touch baby. And it was, as these things always are reported, done up in a sweetly twee, isn’t it cute! tone.  Isn’t that a good dog?

No, it’s not cute. At that level, it’s called resource guarding, and it’s not something you should be encouraging in your dogs, OK? (Or your cats, for that matter.)  Yes, dogs are excellent guardians, and are often very careful and watchful around the younger members of their pack, four or two-legged.

But when the family dog gets upset when anyone else comes near the baby, to the point of growling or showing teeth, Rover or Fluffy isn’t being protective over your offspring. Rover or Fluffy is claiming them as their property, their territory.  That’s a version of resource guarding, and it’s not a healthy situation, much less “cute.”

Resource guarding, within context, isn’t a bad thing.  Between dogs, it’s annoyingly common – I’ve seen this play out more times than I like, working with shelter dogs, with friend’s dogs, with my own dog. Between dogs, its a way of laying down boundaries: this is mine and I will share it, this is mine and I will not. Most dogs will recognize and accept those boundaries, and back down (when they don’t, that’s when you get dog fights).

But humans, for the most part, are clueless about the warning signs, and very bad about backing off.  And no, you can’t count on your dog recognizing you, and knowing that you are to be trusted.  Not in the instant of reaction, anyway.  To the resource guarding dog’s mind, everything is a potential threat to their possession of the beloved object.  Even another pack member, maybe even alpha pack members.  And they’re not going to sit back and rationally think it out; they’re going to respond the way they’re designed to, quickly, efficiently, and potentially bloodily.

And a dog’s idea of defensive behavior?  Involves teeth.

That means anyone attempting to reach for the child, in the case of this article, or a person in need of medical care, or even a partner attempting to show affection, risks getting bitten.  Maybe badly.

So yeah, articles like the one I saw are the worst kind of narrative, assigning emotions and motives inaccurately, and making it seem like a good thing. A trained guard dog does not behave that way. An untrained guarding dog is a danger to everybody. Including that dog. Because you know what too-often happens to dogs that bite. Even if they’re not at fault.

So yeah, please, please.  If you have a dog that is showing signs of resource guarding against humans, particularly if they’re resource guarding another human, get them (and you) professional help to stop it.

The life you save may be theirs.

for more information, I’d suggest starting here.

Too Many Dogs

Wait, what, you may be thinking – Laura Anne saying “too many dogs?”  Is she all right? Has she been replaced by a canid-hating alien?

No, it’s still me.  But my fellow humans have once again tipped the scale and made me rant.

I admit it: I am in many ways the quintessential, stereotypical PNW dog owner: I see no reason why my dog should not accompany me pretty much anywhere and everywhere.  Within reason, okay, and not to get up in the face of people who don’t like dogs. I get it.  I mean, I don’t  GET it, but I respect their dislike, whatever the reason for it.

Now, I’ve got some reason for my feelings: Max is (for the most part) a well-trained dog who understands how to behave in public spaces.  And there’s little pleases me more than seeing other well-trained dogs sharing public spaces.  People, mostly, are happier when dogs are around.  Lord knows, this world needs more happiness.

Last week, however, I had to reevaluate my position on, “dogs, yay!”

Because of a change in my schedule, I went to a different farmers market than I usually attend. This one was slightly smaller, and it was all packed into one street. Which was a complication, but they’d laid out the pedestrian traffic lanes pretty well. 

But because of the location, and perhaps because of the neighborhood it was situated in, they were a number of people with small children, and dogs — and occasionally small children and dogs. They were also, because of the location, a great number of people sitting at café tables outside of restaurants and stores, watching the crowds go by.

This was a little problematic for me, for reasons of Covid and crowd trauma.  But it was outdoors, people were mostly-masked, it was fine.

But.

There were too damn many dogs.

These were good dogs, as far as I could tell.  They seemed to be well-behaved, and completely under their owner’s control. Normally I would consider it an excellent example of why dogs and humans should be allowed to interact.

But.

There were just too damn many of them for one already-crowded street.  Every step, another dog, every turn, another dog.  Dogs under a barrage of noises and smells, including the doubtless distracting smells from the food booths.

And people being careless about where their dog was poking their nose.  Yeah, your dog may be the friendliest thing that ever wagged.  But you still need to pay attention to what’s going on.

So there I am, being hyper alert, and I could feel Max starting to stress, partially because she could sense I was worried, but also partially because she wanted to play with a lot of the dogs, and they wanted to play with her, but she knows that market time is not playtime.  Probably a lot of other dogs had the same tug-of-war going on behind their big brown eyes.

There’s only so much you can ask a dog’s brain, and its desire to please you, before something’s gotta give. And when something gives in a dog, you get stress, and when you get stress you get barking, and occasionally you get biting.

So we did our shopping and got the hell out of there.  And I won’t be going back.  Because hell yes, I’m leery of crowds these days.  But sometimes it’s not trauma.  Sometimes it’s just knowing the odds.

So fellow dog owners, real talk: our dogs don’t have to go everywhere with us.  Honest.  And if you just gotta take them with you to the weekend market, deputize someone to wait with them outside the market while you wander in and out of the booths.

The disaster you avert may be your own.

Max, getting a little too excited….

A slightly saltier version of this post originally appeared at my Patreon.

Have Dog, Will Hike? The First Adventure

When I first started thinking about getting a dog, I knew that I wanted a companion who could come along with me on hikes.  I thought a lot about the physical characteristics I’d want – and kinda overlooked the mental elements.

Most healthy dogs will take a long walk with you. Not every dog is cut out to be a camping buddy, with its discomforts, intrusions by other people – and wildlife – and often unpredictable weather.I knew Max had the legs and stamina to keep up with me on a camping trip.  But would she enjoy it?

Continue reading “Have Dog, Will Hike? The First Adventure”

A Different Kind of Fostering

Previous posts have been about fostering dogs.  This one is too.  Just not in the same way.

My friend B. was one of the first people to welcome me to the neighborhood clique of dog-people, the two of us bonding over dog names (her little pup is Minnie, my gangly beast is Maxi).  

Minnie is a recent adoption.  Her previous dog died recently, at an advanced age, and she waited a while before getting another.  They’d only been together a few months when Minnie started acting off.  They ran tests, and everything came back clear…. until this month it didn’t.

Minnie has lymphoma.

We walk along the curving path through the park, as she tells me the diagnosis, Max and Minnie trotting just ahead of us. They’ve put Minnie on prednisone, and it’s drastically improved her mood and behavior.  She’s not in pain any more.  But it’s only buying time. Continue reading “A Different Kind of Fostering”

I Can Stop Any Time… I just Don’t Want To. Mostly.

My last post, I talked about fostering a puppy (who has since gone on to his furever home, huzzah!).  And I thought, “okay, I’m going to take a break from all that, for a while.”

And then an email landed from the other shelter I volunteer with, and without hesitation I said, “I can take Bella.”

Bella is a six-year-old Pomeranian mix, a delicate little lady with the spine of a dragon (when a friend’s Great Dane pup got too close, she opened her little mouth and showed her little teeth, and told him to get fucked.  He backed down.).  We call her the cat-dog, because all she really wants is to cuddle, ideally and preferably in my lap, but she is perfectly happy to trot alongside Max for nearly an hour on our walks.

(and then she demands to be carried, like the princess she is).

It hasn’t been all snuggles and walks, though.  Her first few days, her tummy was stress-upset, and I spent a lot of time washing shit out of her fur.  Her housebreaking broke (also due to stress) and I spent a lot of time cleaning carpets. And recleaning carpets.  And throwing out soiled pee pads (and keeping Max from eating the fresh ones).  Sweet Bella is demanding of my time, to the point where Max started to get cranky about it.  And god help you when you tried to crate her at night!  Her place was on the bed with you, thank you very much.

(Once she regained her house training, she got to sleep on the bed, yes).

And then she had to have dental surgery, and I spent four days trying to convince her that yes, she did need to take all her meds….  Trying to get a tiny dog to swallow a pill is not like pilling a larger dog.  Their mouths are so tiny and you feel guilty AF for even trying.

But she’s still the sweetest bundle of fierce fluff, and I love her dearly.

I said that in conversation recently, and  got another round of the usual, “I don’t know how you can bear to foster, and then let them go.  I’d end up adopting all of them.”

As I said to that friend: no, you really wouldn’t.  And no, we’re not saints for doing this.  I joke that having a third animal in the house for a short period of time is how I remind myself that one dog and one cat is the perfect balance for this household.  More than that, and chaos is set loose.  Chaos, and exhaustion.  But more than that, the truth is that with animals, as with people, loving someone doesn’t always mean you want to keep them. 

As you read this, I’m bringing her back to the shelter to meet with prospective adopters.  I have all my fingers and toes crossed that they will be a perfect match, and Bella will be going to her furever home, to spend the rest of her life loved and comforted and allowed to sleep on the bed.

And then I’m going to take a break from fostering for a while.

And this time I mean it!

EtA: Bella did in fact charm her potential humans, and their resident dog, and went home with them this evening. <3.

The 13th Month of 2020

This month has been a hell of a year. It would take me all of my space for this post to recount everything that has happened in the past 29 days, and honestly there’s no need, you were there too.

And you know what?  I’m taking it personally.  I started off the year thinking that this year I would hit all of my deadlines, got everything in early not just on time, got seven hours of sleep every night, and actually made dinner regularly. Oh, and I was also going to have enough time to make myself lunch ahead of time. Raise your hand if you think that lasted more than a week.

I see none of you took that sucker bet.

There’s been a thought in the back of my head, that has moved to the front of my head this week. How long do we give ourselves a free pass, by saying, “well it’s 2020.” Or, the 13th month of 2020. At what point do we know, it’s over, everyone has to get back to being competent again?

OK, whatever level of competence we had before *waves hands* all this started.

The answer is, depressingly, we’re not going to know.  Not until we look backward and say, “oh yeah, around X, that’s when things started to get better.” And even then, we’re not going to suddenly discover that our focus has come back, our energy returned, our depressions lifted.

Trauma is never that goddamned considerate, or communicative.

So when I got the call from one of the shelters I volunteer with, asking if I’d be able to take in a six-week-old puppy, part of a litter that had been pulled from a bad situation and needed a fast home, I said, yes.  Because hey, if you’re already drowning, why not dive?

This, like so many of my decisions in the past 13 months, was both horrible, and brilliant.  Horrible, because six-week-old puppies need constant attention, and by that I mean, you’re up every hour and half, all night, to take them out and encourage them to pee and poo, hopefully but not always on the pad provided for that action.  And if not, you clean it up, put them back in their kennel, and try to get 85 minutes of sleep before the next round.  And then you do that all day, too, only without the sleep

Brilliant, because there is nothing like holding a small bundle of fur and heartbeat, and knowina dog and a small puppy, playing tug with a length of red ropeg that you are its entire world.

(okay, me, and Max.  Max turned out to be a pawsome big foster-sister.)

But also brilliant, because when I handed him off at the end of his fostering – and took a two hour nap – I suddenly realized that I had so much more energy and time to accomplish things than I’d had just a week before!  Suddenly, everything was still painful, but manageable.

Of course it’s a mirage.  Shhhhh.  Don’t let my brain know.

Everyone Hold Hands, All Together Now

Is it the last Friday of the month already?  Shit. It is.  The holiday season is in full stride, Hanukah in the rear view window, Christmas heading out the back door, and Kwanzaa upon us, and yep, there’s New Year’s Eve waving from the end of the driveway.

It’s inevitable that in this Year of Covid, we’ve been looking toward, if not anxiously anticipating, New Year’s Eve.  And, more specifically, New Year’s Day.  Goodbye 2020, PLEASE let the door hit you on the way out, hello, 2021.

God knows, that’s true for me:  2020 began, literally, with a call to tell me that my mother had died, and is ending as I recover from a concussion.  In-between…well, we know what happened in-between, worldwide and locally.  A few bright spots, a few not-inconsiderable wins, but overall… yeah.  And the veil of plausible deniability was pulled away from the arrogantly deadly stupidity of too many people, some of them people we respected, trusted, or loved. We’re going to be cleaning up after this year for a long time.  So it’s entirely reasonable and expected for people to start with the year-end chants of, “next year is gonna be better.”

And I cringe, as I do ever time I hear it.  Not because I think we’re jinxing ourselves, although, that, yeah.  But because if the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that what’s coming doesn’t HAVE to be better. And it won’t be, in and of itself. The universe bends toward the least amount of effort, and it takes effort for good things to happen (don’t ask me Why, that leads to theological and thermodynamical questions I don’t have the stamina for, because 2020).

But I do believe that we need to be optimistic.  First and foremost because if we don’t have the belief that there is better coming, the urge to stay in bed and let other people deal with shit becomes overwhelming, until we’re all in bed and nobody actually is dealing with shit (or, if they are, they’re not the people you want left in charge of anything, see: 2020).  But secondly and just as importantly, because it’s been my observation that sustained effort is driven by equal parts optimism and irritation, the kind of attitude that doesn’t say “it will magically get better” but rather “fuck you, universe, I’m going to make it better.”

This year – every year –  be punk-ass optimistic.  Be annoyingly punk-ass optimistic, because nothing annoys naysayers and doomfuckers like optimism.  But… maybe this year we don’t shout it from the rooftops.  Keep it quiet in your breast, and warm in your hands, and hidden from Fate.  Or, as a caution appeared in my social media scroll this week:Nobody claim 2021 as "your year." We're all going to walk in real slow. Be good. Be quiet. Don't. Touch. Anything.

Everyone, hold hands (virtually, for now) and on the count of three, step forward.

Oh yeah – and Happy New Year!

Finding Thanksgiving

It’s Friday, November 27th.  Traditionally known in America as Black Friday. The Day After Thanksgiving. Food Coma Recovery Day.  Raise your hand if you shouldn’t have eaten that last [fill in the blank].

*raises hand*

The past few weeks here in the States, most of the conversation not dominated by Things Political  has been focused on the War on Thanksgiving, aka  “Life with Covid-19.”  Medical authorities and science-aware politicians have asked – begged – people to stay home, telling us that it’s better to miss this one Thanksgiving than to miss all the ones to come, and other words of caution.

Too many people, feeling either that they know more than medical professionals or simply not caring, ignored the warnings.  We’ll see, in a few weeks, if they’ve cost us lives, and the winter holidays, too.

Those of us who heeded the warnings may have gone into the holiday feeling like we did, in fact, “miss” Thanksgiving.  I certainly felt that way – not only was I not able to fly back east to see my family for the first time since my mother’s funeral in January, I couldn’t even gather with local friends.  And hey, those feelings were valid.  2020 has been, you should pardon my language, a shittastic fuckery of a year.  Even if you didn’t start the past twelve months with major surgery and the hanging sword of cancer like I did, it’s not like 2019 was anything to write home about either, and WHAM hello Covid-19, like the shitty kicker to the Trump regime.  Losing Thanksgiving was pouring salt into the wound of insult added to injury, and it was entirely reasonable to be grumpy, if not downright angry.

But something funny happened, at least here.  As we cooked, and baked, and plotted zoom sessions, and arranged for drop-offs and pick-ups of food; as we teased each other about not getting out of our pajamas all day, or having to clean the house for company, we also had time to look around, and see, in the shadows of what we’re missing, the light of what we have.

Caring.  Connections.  Community.

We didn’t miss Thanksgiving.  It was right here, waiting for us to notice it again. Not the whitewashed historical story we were fed as children, but something better.  Thanks. Giving.  Taking a breath to be thoughtful, thankful, and mindful not just of what we have, but what we’re able to give.

And maybe next year, when we gather with our loved ones without fear of pandemic, we’ll be able to remember some of that, and build on it.

Maybe.  That’s up to us.

Who Am I and What Have I Done with Me?

Close readers may have noted that I missed last month’s slot.  Close readers may also remember that the month before that, I had just taken in a foster puppy.

Yes, those two things are related.  And I am here to tell you that writing a book, maintaining a Patreon, holding down a part-time office gig, dealing with a pandemic, fighting for democracy AND housebreaking a puppy is exhausting.

But – as everyone expected – I foster-failed, and now the household of two has officially and legally become a household of three. The puppy is four months old and (mostly) housebroken, and Castiel the Cat has learned that if he hisses and swats at her nose, she will stop trying to Make Him Love Her.  So all is well, and I can get back to writing and righting all the wrongs, right?

hey, whatcha doing?

*insert hollow laughter here*
Continue reading “Who Am I and What Have I Done with Me?”

There’s a Space in the Office…

I grew up in a household where, at any given time, there were a handful of cats and possibly a dog, and some fish, and maybe a few hand-raised rodents.  Households had critters, that’s just how it was.  As an adult, and a writer, it always seemed essential to me to have a cat (or two), for office companionship.  But I haven’t had a dog, one that was mine, since college.  My life – travel and housing – really didn’t support it.

Until, a few years ago, it did.

It’s not as though I didn’t have opportunities since then to adopt. For the past several years, I’ve been volunteering at my local animal shelter, and my friends started taking bets on when I would end up bringing a dog home with me.  But other than the occasional week-long fostering, I resisted – mainly because I had two cats at home already, one of whom was older and in ill health.

We lost that elder cat a few months ago, and I thought that – between Covid-19 and moving from a rental to my own place, maybe I should just wait before thinking about getting a new animal.  Maybe my remaining cat would like being an Only for a while, after all.

Well, no.  He really doesn’t, if the way he keeps going to the door and demanding to be let out so he can look for his missing buddy is any indication.  And when I took in a foster pup for a week…the door-demanding stopped.  Only to return again once the foster pup was adopted.

Okay then.  I mean, the cat’s insisting, right?

Continue reading “There’s a Space in the Office…”