Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bad Luck Flows Downhill

My neighbor’s dog, Bluto rarely leaves the fenced yard even without a gate; although last year he left home for a few days to romance Snow White.

Recently Bluto began showing up in our yard. Stormy is never happy with other males being around his spot, but Storm and Owl know Bluto. They are after all neighbors.

Why would a home boy like Bluto begin to stray? It’s a dog question, of course I needed an answer. You know how they say the simple answer is best; it applies here. The family moved out.

Lock, stock and left the dog. They gave a local family member money to feed Bluto. Okay, so Bluto is lonely. I can jump up and down telling you about a dog needing more than kibble thrown in a dish to nurture them. Or I can say he hasn’t been abandoned, he’s being fed.

It would be easy to get pissed off about this, but…

The man’s handsome virile brother was paralyzed early last year. Cutting down trees can be tricky. The tragedy took a toll. The man spent much time back in the states helping his brother, who shriveled into a sad lump in a wheel chair. The family pulled together as families do in hard times. They were adjusting to the new reality.

In January I saw the man’s daughter, a pretty woman in her thirties. Holy smoke, she had dark circles under her eyes. Her gaunt face peered out the window, only a serious illness or drugs could cause a young woman to deteriorate like this. Unable to contemplate a debilitating illness in one so young, I prayed she overcome drug abuse.

Today I found out that the family rushed their Corazon (heart) to the states for cancer treatment and hospice. How much can you take?

Word is the family is not coming back. For now Bluto is being fed. He’ll hang out with the three already here, then what?
I’m exploring my way in a new land; keep you posted on Bluto. He really is a pretty cool dog.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Missing You

All snuggled up on the sofa with Shaker and Mikki; thinking about Blondie, Stormy and Owl. I feel like such a canine chippie.

Running a kennel is not rocket science, but it is a million details. I’ve been back in Illinois handling all the little things that make a place run well or not. It’s been cold and crappy.

Carrvilla is exquisite in spring, summer and fall. I just don’t appreciate winter anymore. Dogs frolicking in snow leave me cold.

How dogs respond to their human’s absence is an issue I’ve been exploring. My last trip to Puerto Rico was the second time I’ve been away from Shaker for a couple of months. When I came back he was very clingy. My goal is to minimize the negative impact on him.

Shaker and Mikki love to be in the kennel for day care, so they go to day care all week. I have the staff feed them out there. The relationship isn’t all about food, but I felt the consistency of being feed in the kennel gave them one less thing to stress about.

Mikki has been through a few homes, so she seems less affected. In fact when she’s ready to go back inside, she goes to the kennel door. When I want her to come to the house, I have to call her. Shaker still heads to the house.

We become so important to our dogs that they miss us intensely. Dr. Dodman’s book about The Dog Who Loved Too Much shows us the extreme of separation anxiety. While it’s nice to be missed, I prefer my dogs to be well adjusted and happy.

I am way less important in the lives of the street dogs, still they each show how much they miss me in their individual ways.

Stormy holds a grudge, so we’ll see how he reacts my next return. The last time, it took six weeks for him to open up to me.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My First Sato

An abandoned adolescent dog showed up a couple of weeks before we moved into our home overlooking Lake Guajataca. For days he followed Immanuel, a sweet seven year old to the bus stop. Soon the dog walked him home after school. The neighbor boy couldn’t keep him, so the dog slept in the bushes.

The little border collie mix was scarfing up leftovers and protecting the homes of his benefactors by the time we arrived.

A couple of days into our new home; surprise, there’s a dog living in the bushes at the bottom of our driveway. Recovering from surgery, in no condition to approach him I sat on the veranda watching him chase cars like a southern preacher after Satan.

One afternoon the little dog came up on our porch to get out of the tropical torrent. That’s the day we met Stormy, our first street dog.

My journey studying the street dogs of Puerto Rico began with falling in love with this clever critter.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Handling the Lonely Dog In the Kennel

As a kennel owner, I teach my staff to be sensitive to when a dog seems “blue”.

Beginner level: shaking, continued barking, hiding in the corner are all obvious symptoms of a scared, lonely, stressed pooch. The number of kennels I’ve been in where these behaviors are handled as “normal” dismays me.

As part of training for kennel workers, we need to teach staff to notice these behaviors. It surprised me to learn how many people think that is just the way dogs are away from home.

We cannot take it for granted that our dog loving staff sees the stressed out behavior or knows what to do. In my book, once I’ve trained you to recognize and respond to the dog’s needs, if you don’t; you will want to work elsewhere.

Beginner level action: sit in the yard with a scared dog until the dog trusts you enough to approach you. When singing or talking to a dog, watch the dog’s response. The more you watch, your preconceived notions become dispelled.

Newcomers to dogs all think they know everything based on experience with a handful of dogs. It always takes a few teachable moments before people become open to really listening. The sooner a new hire realizes that they don’t know as much as they think they do; the quicker real training can begin.

During this phase it’s best to ask the newbie questions to stimulate their observational skills. “What position was the dog’s tail in?” always gets a, “Huh?” “Which dog controlled that exchange?” frequently gets, “What do you mean?”

Your superior skill at handling dogs is no guarantee that a newbie will follow your advice. My mouth flew open, when I heard a girl say, “When I’ve done this as long as you, I’ll be able to do that.” She wasn’t listening while I was trying to teach her something, so I don’t know how she thought improvement would come.

It takes those aha moments before we are ready to learn. I find that asking questions is more productive with most newbies. It seems to open the mind quicker.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Animal Control is Not One Size Fits All

What does a street dog do? How do they survive? Do they have any quality of life or are they just poor suffering creatures best put out of their misery?

As I got to know a few satos/ Puerto Rican street dogs, I discovered how much motivation and opportunity the feral dogs have to improve their communication skills.

When I got past being shocked and appalled at dogs not having homes with full food dishes and pillows, I looked to see what they do have.

Gradually I began to understand the social structure of a neighborhood of free ranging dogs. Their lives are humble and often harsh, but they find time to run and play. Unless they are sick or injured, we don’t do them a kindness by killing them. I mean putting them to sleep.

So I am terribly at odds with those who collect and euthanize the island dogs.

If you want to know how a dog thinks, you look at what they do. Dog lovers all talk about the things our dogs do, how clever or how silly. Do we shade our impressions with our own thoughts or beliefs? Of course! And don’t you think that our dogs pick up behaviors because of us? Hah, every time I hear the dog in the kennel giving a death scream, I know the answer to that one.

At times I’ve felt selfish because watching dogs go about their lives without our guidance intrigues me completely. The premise of my dog training school has been to improve our relationship with dogs. It’s not enough to have a bag of tricks on how to control the dog’s behavior. When I show people what the dog is saying, they pick up on it. The street dogs have taught me to be a good canine interpreter. I pray to learn Spanish as well.

In the course of studying the satos, I’ve learned how important they are to the ecology. Do you know how fast rats breed? It’s like bunnies on steroids. Do you know what rats eat? Everything! People tell me that they pick their fruit green to get it before the rats.

So if you don’t think Puerto Rico has a rat problem; thank a sato. If you do think we have a rat problem, perhaps we should talk about an island approach to animal control.

I welcome your thoughts and opinions. Thanks, Tricia

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dog Update

Since my return to Illinois, Shaker wants to go everywhere with me. He is one sweet golden boy. Mikki tries to give in to my leadership. This rottie girl struggles to do what I ask. When she’s at the window barking like a mad dog, I’ve been misting her with lavender. She calms and walks away from the window. I’ll let you know if this helps her get a grip long term. We live next door to a kennel. She needs to discriminate when she should alert and what is normal activity. In my opinion, my dog should not wake me up because my neighbor has company. She came so hyper excitable; this is taking a little time.

While I’ve been enjoying the dogs these two, the kennel has a couple of beautiful border collies. Borders can make up great games. Border collie watching is better than tv.

Kirt tells me about what the satos are doing. He’s getting to know when the dogs have been out hunting. Owl and Blondie came back home this morning all wet and covered in burrs. They hardly touched their kibble; these are signs of a successful hunt. As much as rats freak me out, I am so comforted that the dogs are dealing with them.

Blondie and Owl killed a young mongoose last week. Kirt said that they ripped the shit out of it, but made no attempt to eat it. Enemies or competitors, I have no idea. These dogs leave the cats and chickens alone. Well, they do like to chase the cats, but it’s halfhearted. We have some lovely small birds, so I hope the dogs are able to handle the imports before they get the birds.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Not Goodbye, See ya later!

It’s so difficult to leave our pets. People frequently wait until the last minute to drop them at the kennel. Some folks cry, and then get embarrassed. All dog lovers know that momentary pang we get in the heart, when it’s time to say good bye.

How deeply is that pang felt by our dogs? How long does this little misery last for them? How do they feel about us, when we leave them?

Kennel operators know about how kenneled dogs behave. We all know how our pets respond as we prepare to leave and when we come home.

In the last few years I’ve left my own dogs for extended periods. How the street dogs react to my absence gives a new dimension to the depth of a dog’s feelings. Their behavior has helped me see more clearly how the dogs in the kennel are doing.

I’m back in Illinois with my dear Shaker and Mikki. My commitments require me to be back in Puerto Rico by the end of the month. My last stay in PR it took six weeks for Stormy to trust me again.

My next few posts will explore the dimensions of being an absentee dog ma. Now, I have to get to the dentist to fix my broken cap.

Later, Tricia

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Let’s Take Another Look at The Street Dog Problem

The satos/street dogs and gatos/cats of Puerto Rico protect the island from frantic procreation by rats. The dogs attach themselves to households, where they get table scraps. As an added bonus, the satos escort late night walkers through their territory, barking all the way.

For some families satos provide the benefits of having a dog without the responsibility of ownership. Many senior citizens have friendly relationships with street dogs, but can’t afford their own care, so the satos rarely get much more than leftovers. Some people own dogs, which they feed kibble. Scraps still go to the satos. This is a fairly healthy symbiotic relationship.

Beaches in the more heavily populated parts of the island are dumping grounds for unwanted pets. Pathetic pooches have little chance of learning the ways of the satos because experienced satos are picked up with the pets. The dumped dogs know nothing about living on the street; without role models to teach them to hunt they don’t have much of a chance. There is nothing healthy about this situation.

Big hearted animal lovers run around rescuing as many dogs as they can; others round up sick and healthy strays to be euthanized. Without any controls on procreation this is a cycle doomed to repeat itself forever.

After interviewing people across the island, my conclusion is that people are basically unaware that the satos and gatos help to control the rodent population. Perhaps a fresh look at the problem is in order?

The island does not have the rodent predators like we do on the continent. The U.S. model of animal control is not appropriate for the island. Before anyone suggests importing more predators, please, remember the mongoose.