Saturday, July 28, 2012

Lifetime Achievement

Ollie finished his USDAA Lifetime Achievement Award Bronze this morning. For those who might not know what that is, it is 150 total qualifying scores (Qs) at the Masters/PIII level with a minimum of 15 Qs in each of the 5 core classes - Standard, Jumpers, Gamblers, Snooker & Relay. Ollie had already finished the 15-in-each-class requirement in the spring of 2011 when he finished his ADCH Bronze. Despite being a little Q-machine who qualifies much more often than not, it took us a little over a year to rack up the remaining 75 Qs (or how ever many we had left at that time since we'd already been chipping away while finishing the 15 each requirement). That's because I don't trial a lot and I've cut back more and more over the past few months. Now I may only enter one or two classes per day or even per trial. I have a couple more goals I like to finish out with him in 2012, but as it stands now, I am planning to "quasi" retire him at the end of the year. Meaning I may still run him in the occasional trial just for fun if the mood strikes me - especially in snooker (our favorite) or if we get asked to do a PVP team. This decision has nothing to do with Ollie himself - he's been running great this year, even better than the last couple. I'm just at a point in my life where I'm ready for new challenges both dog related (e.g. training all 3 dogs for nosework and starting Hokey training for agility) and non-dog related. But it will be good to know that Mr. Reliable will be around when miss running him and want to take him for a spin every now and then.

Since pictures speak louder than words, I put together a little retrospective photo gallery - mostly him posing with big ribbons - highlighting Ollie's bigger accomplishments in USDAA over the past few years.

Sept 2006 - our first USDAA trial. We entered 2 classes: Starters Standard & Gamblers and Q'd in both.

June 2007 - Finished his Agility Dog title

Another picture of Ollie with his AD ribbon and two other class specific titles he finished at the same trial
Spring 2008 - Flying through the last obstacle finishing his Advanced Agility Dog title
Spring 2009 - Master Agility Dog title
August 2009 - Agility Dog Champion (ADCH)

Spring 2011 - ADCH Bronze
December 2011 - Master Performance Dog
Mid-Atlantic Agility Showcase 2012 - believe it or not, this the first time we did a USDAA Regional. I only ran him in team, PGP finals and PIII snooker. We won both team and regular PIII snooker, were 5th overall in team out of 41 total PVP teams, and placed 2nd in the triathlon.

And now, July 2012, Ollie has finished his LAA Bronze and only needs a single Q to finish his PDCH.

This dog who was once in danger of being euthanized in a WV shelter has gone on to become quite an accomplished agility dog and I can't thank him enough for being the best agility partner a person could ask for. I am so grateful for each and every run we've had together and for the time we've had playing together. Most importantly, he has enriched my life so many ways, both in and out of the ring. Good job Buddy! Good job!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Back Up That Booty!

Developing a sense of body awareness is an important skill in the foundation of an agility dog. I play a lot of free shaping clicker games which involve touching targets with different parts of the body or placing themselves in various positions (e.g. 101 Things To Do With A Box). I begin this early in my dogs' training so that by the time they start working obstacles, their proprioception is pretty well-developed. One of my favorite exercises for building rear-end awareness is to teach them to blindly seek out and climb objects behind them using their rear legs. The following videos, starring Ollie and Poppy, show the steps in this process. Just keep in mind that this is done in incremental steps - don't rush it. Dogs learn best when the training session is kept short (in this case, ~5 minutes) and repeated often before moving on to each new step.

First, I teach my dogs to back up so that both their hind feet are touching something flat on the ground. Since it will not see what it is backing onto, the dog will need to be able to feel a distinct difference between a correct position and one that is missing the mark. Therefore, it is important that there be a marked contrast in texture between the target where they will be placing their hind feet and the surrounding area.  Since I'm training on carpet, I use a flat piece of cardboard as my "target". If I were training on a wood, linoleum, or some other smooth surface, I would probably use some kind of non-slip mat as my target. With my use of the cardboard here, ideally I would affix one side with a non-slip surface in order to stabilize it on the carpet so it wouldn't slide around too much. I haven't done so here and you can see it sliding around - especially with Poppy as it goes shooting away from her at the end.

Here is Ollie repeatedly backing onto the cardboard: 

My dogs are already used to playing games where they need to move and place different legs in certain positions, so they know to reach around behind them to find things without me giving them any kind of verbal or visual cues. However, if your dog is not already used to playing body awareness shaping games, you may need to lure them into the correct position the first few times. To do that, have the dog stand directly in front of you with the target lying on the ground just behind the dog. Step toward your dog so that it moves backwards. As soon as BOTH back feet are on the target, click and reward. Repeat this several times. Once your dog seems to "get it" stop stepping toward them and see if they will step back on their own. Click and reward all successes. Once you have had several successful sessions, you can start to build distance so that they need to eventually take 3 or 4 steps back before their hind feet hit the target. Build this distance gradually over a few sessions.

Here is Poppy backing onto the cardboard. Generally, her preferred method of succeeding in this game is to cheat by approaching the target head on and then doing what I call a "swimmers turn maneuver" - kind of a pivoting hand stand where she kicks up her hind legs and swings her rear end around into the correct position. Here, while the target is flat, she is not quite so dramatic, but she does approach the cardboard once head on and then turns around into the correct position. I do not reward her for that.

Once your dog is consistently backing onto the flat target, you can start to add some height. Here I use a low box turned upside-down. Here is Ollie:

And here is Poppy. Notice, once again, that she tries the head-on approach a couple of times and doesn't get rewarded for it.

I did not feel the need to add several videos of the next steps, which basically involve increasing the height of the target. I use gradually increasingly sized boxes. Whatever you use, just make sure it's relatively stable so that it won't move around or be knocked over while your dog pokes his back feet around and hoists himself up.

Eventually you can add a verbal cue or hand signal to tell your dog back. Trick taught. Now go crazy entertaining your friends by having your dog walk backwards up a variety of objects. My dogs will walk their hind legs up just about anything - including people. Here they both are using my standard go to obstacle for this - the sofa:

Have fun & happy training!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Shaping Up - The First Session

Hokey had her very first shaping session today. I particularly love to incorporate the use of shaping into my overall training for two reasons:

1. The dog learns to think through situations and problem-solve. It is allowed to make choices and subsequently learn, through trial-and-error, which ones result in a reward and which don't. I love watching the wheels turn inside my dogs' heads as they try to figure out and work through what it is I want them to do. And it is especially rewarding when the light bulb goes off and the dog starts consistently repeating the desired behavior - you can see them bursting with pride and pure joy.

2. It's FUN! The dogs and I have a blast together when we do shaping exercises. It's a big game where we both win. My dogs can barely contain their excitement and I get so much enjoyment out of watching them experiment and experience a-ha moments. The process helps to cement our bond and makes us better working partners.

That said, I am not a free-shaping purist. I may have an abundance of patience, but still, not quite enough to use shaping as a method to train every little behavior.  I use positive reinforcement lure training in combination with shaping - especially for basic commands such as sit and down.

What I really like to use shaping for best is to help my dogs develop body awareness, to help them learn to interact with objects (i.e. more independence/less handler focus), and to teach new tricks.

Although I've incorporated some shaping into Hokey's basic training, today was our very first session of true shaping for the sole purpose of shaping's sake. Because of her deafness, she tends to be a little more handler-dependent and handler-focused than the average dog. Looking ahead to potentially training her for agility, I want to begin to shift her focus off of me a bit so she can 1) start to build value for interacting with objects/obstacles and 2) develop some independence. Additionally, I want to start building her body awareness.

Normally, when beginning shaping sessions with a dog, I would start by using a box as the object with which they are to interact, as in 101 Things to Do with a Box. However, since I recently started nosework training with Hokey, which involves the use of cardboard boxes, I decided I should try something else as not to confuse her. Since she is small, I felt a plastic frisbee would do the trick. 

Unfortunately, I did not capture the very first steps of her shaping session on video. These involved her getting rewarded for any interaction with the frisbee: nose touch, paw touch, etc. Any kind of acknowledgment. She is a smart cookie and flew through those steps rather quickly, so I decided she was ready to take the plunge and actually learn a new behavior. I wanted to keep it VERY simple, so the behavior I chose was for her to stand with both front feet on the frisbee. Here is a video of our first attempts:

She caught on right away! I let Hokey think things through and never lured. That is the point of the game. Sometimes if one of my dogs gets really stuck while I'm waiting them out, I might move around the room to help "unstick" them, but never in a way that would result in them being lured into the desired position.

After a short break, we were back at it. At first, I was preferably delivering my rewards while she was still in the desired position. However, once she "got" the game, she showed some reluctance to put much distance between herself and the frisbee between repetitions, so I decided it was time to start throwing the treat away from the frisbee to move her off.

With Ollie and Poppy, I either use a clicker or my substitute clicker word, "Yes!". Obviously, with Hokey's deafness, neither of those is an option. Instead I use a hand flash. I may also give her an "OK" sign AFTER the hand flash and treat reward, to let her know how pleased I am. Of course, I want to try to deliver my hand flash, followed by the reward, the split second she performs the behavior (i.e. as soon as both front feet are on the frisbee). This is where there might be a slight disadvantage with her deafness in that,  if she doesn't happen to be looking at me, I am unable to get the timing correct and, therefore, this may result in a delay between the behavior and the hand flash, as shown in the following clip (slowed down) where she is sniffing the carpet as she performs the behavior before she looks up at me.

But, overall, she caught on to the game and I consider it a successful first session.

BTW - I don't know what that silly little move of her putting her head upside-down between her front legs is all about, but I love all my dogs' funny little quirks.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Deaf Dogs Do Bark - Part 2

In Part 1 of my discussion of the latest edition to my pack, Hocus Pocus a deaf Jack Russell Terrier, focused on her just being a normal dog. She is. But when training a deaf dog, there are special considerations to be taken into account, which I will go a little here informed by my short experience working with Hokey.

To reiterate from part 1, deaf dogs are absolutely capable of understanding and learning just like any other dog. I can't emphasize that enough. I had posted this link of my working on training her in my first blog entry, but feel I should share it again here as proof:
 Hokey Training
Most of what she is demonstrating in the video was taught to her within the short time frame of 1 - 2 weeks.  I use hand signals - many of which I just made up. I like to keep things simple and mostly confined to one hand so that my other hand is free. It doesn't matter what you use. Deaf dogs don't inherently know ASL. Like any dog, they just need consistency in communication. And, yes, I am using "clicker training". I'm just substituting a hand flash - fingers spread - for an actual clicker.  In addition to training basic commands, I'm currently laying the foundation for eventual agility training and have also started her in nosework.

In my short personal experience, I've found there are two opposing challenges to working with a deaf dog: getting their attention and hyper-focus. Getting Hokey's attention is rarely a problem for me. Like Poppy, she follows me EVERYWHERE. Everywhere I go, instead of one, there are now TWO white dogs shadowing me and watching my every move.

And, as a side note, let me interject that the most common form of congenital deafness in dogs is linked to white coloration. There are plenty of resources to be found online that provide in-depth discussion on the link between coloration and deafness. Perhaps the question I should be asking is not why Hokey is deaf, but why Poppy is not. Both she and Hokey are white to the point of almost being "pink". Both dogs have a patch of coloration on the left side of their heads. Poppy's is larger and bi-colored, but still doesn't quite extend up to the ear any further than Hokey's does. But I'm pretty positive, due to the motion of the ear reacting to a noise, that Poppy can even hear out of her ear on the non-colored side of her head.

But back to the training discussion - inattention vs. hyperfocus in deaf dogs. Unlike some deaf dogs, I don't have to hang a bell around Hokey's neck or go looking for her. She never wanders off to go sleep somewhere else in the house. Unless she is confined to her crate, wherever I am, she is there too. She even follows me into the bathroom while I take a shower and waits for me on the bathmat. From what I understand, this is not outside the realm normal behavior for some deaf dogs. What is a little unusual, I gather, is that I rarely need to take action to wake Hokey up. It is common for deaf dogs to sleep deeply and for their owners to find ways to gently wake them as to not elicit a startled response. Not so with Hokey. If she's out of her crate and asleep on the bed, sofa, etc. and I get up, she senses it and is instantly awake and ready to follow me. On the rare occasions I've seen her curled up asleep in her crate when I walk into the room (she is almost always awake and alert when I enter), she senses my presence pretty quickly and wakes up on her own. It is never a gradual process; one second she's asleep, the next she is wide awake and ready to go! Only rarely do I need to give her crate a couple of light taps to wake  her and only once or twice, early on, did I find it necessary to open her crate and actually touch her in order to wake her.

Although occasionally when we train, something catches Hokey's eye or nose requiring me to refocus her attention back to me, in general, she is highly attentive.

Two focused dogs - Ollie & Hokey during one of our early introduction sessions after Hokey joined the household
Which brings me to the hyper-focus side of things. She is definitely more handler-focused than my other two dogs. She watches me intently when we work together. This is not a bad thing. It would probably be a more than welcomed behavior in a pet home. However, if I decide I want to train her to do agility, being hyper-focused on me as her handler does present some additional training challenges. She will need to learn to take her eyes off of me to focus on her path and the obstacles in front of her and to be able to work at a distance from me. This will be new territory for me as a trainer. Already I find myself thinking of ways to build value for distance and obstacles. I'm hoping that the nosework we've recently begun will help her learn to work independently. Our first session was rough; she spent most of it standing and staring at me looking for information. However, after a few more sessions, she now "gets" the game and doesn't need to look to me at all. Progress. The other day we had a break-through in targeting. Before, she would only nose-target my hand or something I was holding in my hand. She wanted nothing to do with a stationary target. She just didn't understand the purpose of interacting with such a thing as her expectation is to have all interaction and information come from her handler. After using a ball-on-stick target in hand (as seen on the video), I placed the stick into its wooden base. It took a couple of minutes, but after a couple of successful touches and rewards, the light bulb went off  and she started nose touching the ball over and over again. I was able to take a few steps back and she went to it to touch it. More progress! And just this morning I was able to send her running through my practice tunnel after her tug toy or ball rather than her coming instantly to me after running through to receive a food reward. Another triumph on the path to distance and independence. Soon I plan to start doing some shaping with her interacting with objects to help her learn to think things through for herself rather than constantly looking to me for information.

We are on a roll...
Look out world, here comes Hokey!

Deaf Dogs Do Bark - Part 1

Recently I've had the pleasure of experiencing what it is like to become a foster failure. I had just signed on as a volunteer with Mid-Atlantic Jack Rescue when a urgent cry went out about a deaf jack in a shelter needing a temporary foster home for a few days over the Memorial Day weekend. Without an available place to go, the dog would not be able to be rescued. Her time was up. The shelter was full. With trepidation, due to Ollie's reactivity to other dogs and Poppy being so high-maintenance in general, I decided to answer the call. She had no place else to go and here was a life I could make the difference in saving. A small thing in the big scheme of things, but a huge impact on this little dog - and now on me. 

Her name is Hocus Pocus - I call her Hokey for short. She was found with her owner's body about 2 days after her owner had died and then taken to a shelter. The shelter attempted to contact family members to come get this poor frightened and confused little dog, but no one ever returned any phone calls. Being at the shelter must have been a traumatic situation for her - to be yanked out of her place of warmth and security, away from the one who loved and cared for her and placed in a cage where she got very little attention. Suddenly, she found herself in a strange place full of strange smells, strange vibrations, with unfamiliar sights and routines. A stressful and scary experience to say the least.
Hokey when she was at the shelter
And precarious - in a world where thousands of dogs get put down every day just for no other reason than not having a place to call home, very few people are willing to adopt a dog that is labeled as "special needs" or somehow seen as being more work than the average dog. Not to mention the lingering myths perpetuated even by some professional trainers and vets about deaf dogs - that they are unpredictable time-bombs, they all turn into biters, they can't be trained, etc. You can read more about these myths here:  Deaf Dog Myths. Cute as she is, Hokey's chances of being adopted before her time was up at the shelter were slim to none.

Then MAJR found her and put out the call. I answered. I welcomed this little dog into my home on a temporary basis. Then decided to stay on as her longer-term foster. Then, because I love her personality and because I love new experiences that allow me to stretch myself as a trainer, I decided to become a foster failure and adopt her myself.

My mind has never been weighted down by preconceived notions of what a deaf dog can and can't do. I've never believed the myths. Having trained several dogs with normal hearing, I know the primary means used for us to communicate is not based on what I tell them through use of my voice or other sound, but rather on them picking up cues from my body language. Years and years ago, when I trained my schipperke in obedience work, I often put him through his paces using nothing more than hand signals. Ollie is able to navigate an entire agility course without me ever opening my mouth. Sound is just another tool; it is not a necessary one.

The title of this entry is "Deaf Dogs Do Bark" because one of the most common questions I get from people is "does she bark?". The answer is a resounding yes! She barks when she wants attention from me. She sometimes barks when she's in her crate and wants to be out. She barks at Poppy when they are running around the yard. She barks at certain sights out the window or through the fence. She sometimes barks when she notices the other dogs barking, but, not always understanding what she's supposed to be barking at, she might point herself in the opposite direction from what they are barking at. When she first came to live with me, she would try to solicit food from me by barking at me every time I ate in front of her. I suspect it was bad habit that had been reinforced in her former home. I quickly and easily put an end to the behavior and now she either is in a down/stay or curled up on the sofa while I'm at the table eating. She also quickly learned that the kitchen is forbidden territory during any food prep activity.

The point that I'm trying to make with this entry is not to say "yes, deaf dogs bark". It is to say, a dog is a dog is a dog. Deaf or not. Hokey is a normal dog in every way. I'm able to communicate with her and train her, just as I would any other dog. She barks. She likes to play fetch with balls and other toys.

She likes to play tug. She likes to harass Poppy and/or engage her in a game of chase and wrestle in the yard. She loves food and treats and is eager to work for a reward. She loves nothing more than to curl up in my lap - in fact, that's where she is now as I type this. She is sometimes naughty. And true to her breed, she can be stubborn and sometimes, albeit not often, downright defiant. In other words, she is a normal Jack Russell Terrier. Her deafness is only one component of who she is as an individual, but it does not define her.

In Part 2, I will discuss special considerations that are specific to her training.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Poppy's Injury

Poppy came up injured this week. I have no idea how it happened - we hadn't done anything particularly strenuous for a few days. Tuesday morning I woke up and she was suddenly lame in one of her rear legs. I noticed it was "off" right away, even though she was still bearing some weight on it. Her gait wasn't quite right. Then I had my suspicions confirmed when she ran down the stairs on three legs. I gave her half an aspirin, hoped for the best, and left for work. But, settled in front of my computer at work, my heart and mind were really at home with Poppy. What was going on? Just she just twist something? Did she rupture her cruciate (my worst-case scenario and the one that kept playing through my mind)? Pull her iliopsoas? Was it some form of canine sciatica? Was she feeling better? Was it getting worse? I called my partner Deb with my worries (especially my frets over a cruciate tear) and she offered to run over to my place at noon to check on her. Her report only served the alarm bells to go off louder. Poppy was no longer putting much weight on the leg at all. I thanked her for checking on her and promptly high-tailed home to check her myself and call the vet.

Deb's report was accurate - Poppy wasn't putting any weight on the leg. She was holding it off the ground and slightly out. I wasn't able to pinpoint the origin of the lameness. She seemed very sensitive to pain everywhere on her upper leg from hock to hip, front to back. So I called the vet and left a message and waited...

I recently switched over to a mobile vet, which, with the 3 dogs - one reactive to other dogs, one with anxiety issues, and now the deafie - is a much easier situation for all of us in contrast to loading everyone in the car and dealing with a waiting room full of other animals. Luckily, she was able to swing by in late afternoon. As soon as I went to get Poppy's leash on to take her out to the mobile vet clinic parked out front, Poppy's adrenaline went haywire as it always does when the leash and front door are paired and over-rode her pain receptors. Most of the distance between the front door and the vet's van were traversed with her walking on her hind legs (including the hurt one) out at the end of the leash. I told my vet "I swear all afternoon she hasn't been able to put any weight on that leg." She assured me that she sees that sort of thing all the time.

Once inside the mobile clinic, the lameness became a little more evident, although not nearly as extreme as it had demonstrated itself to be in the hours prior. I held my breath during the exam, steeling myself for the verdict should the cause be determined to be a cruciate tear. Despite the pain she had displayed in the house and especially during my examination of her leg, Poppy remained rather stoic during the vet's exam, only showing some mild discomfort and crying just a little bit at the manipulation of her leg. The vet was unable to give a definitive diagnosis, but had reason to doubt a cruciate rupture, at least a complete one, because she was not able to get much motion in the knee. Cruciate tears usually display a signature "drawer motion" in the knee when manipulated. She did think that Poppy was reacting to pain in the knee, but it was hard for her to tell for sure. The vet prescribed a pain killer and an anti-inflammatory (Rimadyl) and said we'll see how those worked. If she's still having trouble after meds and rest, then we could schedule an appointment to sedate her for a more thorough exam to try to pinpoint the problem.

Since I had given Poppy a little aspirin that morning, I couldn't start her on the Rimadyl until the following morning due to the potential for a reaction. I did give her a dose of the pain killer that evening, but it seemed to have little effect. When I woke up the next morning she was in more pain than ever, whining while shifting around and holding her leg cranked WAY up in the air and a bit out to the side. My heart sank. I hate to see my girl in such pain and I still worried about the possibility of some kind of cruciate injury. She was in way too much pain to allow me to examine her leg well. I gave her another dose of pain killers and her first Rimadyl. I carried her up and down the stairs whenever necessary, thankful that she only weighs 25 lbs. I brought her blanket and an extra dog bed down to the living room/dining room and gated off the stairs before leaving for work.

Considering how much pain she was in, I worried about how she was doing all day. I expected her to be in a similar state when I walked through the door upon my arrival home, but was met by a positive sight. She was running across the floor - on 4 legs! She wasn't bearing a lot of weight on her hurt leg, but some. That was a huge improvement from the state I had left her in that morning. The Rimadyl must have worked some magic.

As of now, she continues to improve. She is bearing weight on the leg and using it fairly normally, although there are still some indicators that it's a little "off" - especially when she sits, she's a little off kilter instead of sitting squarely, clearly favoring the side the hurt leg is on. My biggest challenge is trying to keep her quiet so the leg has a chance to be rested and heal. With my other 2 dogs, this wouldn't be such a problem, but Poppy is a special case. First of all, she panics in confinement, especially in a crate (except in the car for some reason), so crating her is definitely out as it would be counterproductive. I can confine her to the first floor during the day, but that doesn't really restrict her movement much and she still has access to the sofa, which she is jumping on and off of - I can only hope she's keeping it to a minimum. Since she's feeling so much better, it's hard to keep a damper on her Poppy-effervescence. Running around like a lunatic, wrestling with the cat, NOT staying and waiting for me to carry her up and down the stairs, jumping up and down on her hind-legs in her signature Poppy move - I feel like I'm after her and scolding her for all of these things non-stop. Trying to keep a lid on this whirling dervish of a dog while juggling several other things at the same time, including my other dogs, is a monumental, perhaps next to impossible, task. I've come to the conclusion that the only way I'm going to be able to keep her quiet is to wallpaper a section of wall with velcro and then make her a velcro coat and just stick her on the wall, only removing her to eat and go to the bathroom!

We'll see what happens, especially next week when the Rimadyl is stopped. I'm still worried it might be a cruciate related injury, but hoping like heck it is not.
A rare moment of repose

Why I Have Rescue Dogs

I originally posted this on 7/7/12, but decided to scrap that blog and redo it with a new focus, so restoring this post as the first here.

Originally, I was going to dedicate this first "real" post to introducing my dogs. In a sense, I suppose this will still accomplish that goal, but in a very different way that I originally imagined. I watched this short video last night before hitting the hay and it brought me to tears:

AND it got me thinking and waxing philosophical.
First of all, this hit very close to home. I recognize this. The place is slightly different, but the situation is nearly the same. Nearly 10 years ago I was head veterinary technician at a clinic within an animal shelter in Massachusetts. The shelter had partnerships with a rescue group in Puerto Rico and a high kill shelter in southern rural Virginia. The Kentucky shelter in this video and the faces of the dogs shown especially remind me of the situation of that VA shelter. Countless dogs, mostly whole litters of puppies, passed through my hands on their way to better lives. They were dogs that would otherwise would have been euthanized - most before they had the opportunity to truly live as most were puppies between 8 - 14 weeks old. But almost none of them would have ever gotten that opportunity had the partnership with the shelter not been in place to bring them northward toward loving homes where they would become wanted companions. They were the lucky ones that got the opportunity to live and blossom. A multitude of dogs - all worthy of living a full life and experiencing the love and companionship offered by a home and giving back all the love and devotion a dog could possibly offer in return. No less worthy than any purebred destined for the show ring or performance sport or even house pet - although, for some reason, society seems to deem them less worthy. Why? They are just as capable of loving, learning, and demonstrating devotion to their owners as any other dog. The purity of love cannot be, and SHOULD NOT be, determined by the purity of bloodline.

I now have three rescue dogs:

Ollie, my oldest dog, came to me through a program similar to the one shown in the video. He originally ended up in a high kill shelter in WV after being picked up as a stray. He was one of the fortunate ones as he was selected to be brought north to the rescue I eventually adopted him from and has gone on to become a multiple champion in the sport of dog agility. Who would have thought this little hillbilly dog, once in danger of ending up as a casualty of an over-crowded shelter, was capable of shining so brightly? But shine he has!

Poppy. What can I say about this dog I have grown to love so much my heart can't begin to contain it? I have no doubt had I not taken her when I did, she would no longer be here on earth. When I adopted her from the shelter at 6 months of age, she's already been through several homes and shelter situations. She was more than difficult to live with - severe separation anxiety and barrier anxiety, extremely high energy, no clue about being housebroken, constant and annoying attention seeking behaviors. In other words, NOT a dog for the average pet home. That first year living with her was beyond difficult. Yet we both survived and came through with a tight bond. Although she has enormous potential for agility, her ring stress, noise sensitivity and her worry about being "wrong" has proven to be a serious barrier to her reaching her true potential. It does not matter to me. My bond with her looks beyond all my hopes for her agility career. Her greatness lies with who she is as an individual: her crazy personality, the way she can make me laugh like no other dog, and her complete and utter devotion to me. She does everything with intensity - including love. That is far more rewarding than any 50 cent ribbon or acronym appearing after her name.

And then there is my latest edition - Hocus Pocus - who I am still getting to know, but who I've already begun to form a good working bond with. "Hokey" is considered a special needs dog because she is deaf. Breeders often euthanize deaf puppies and deafies are usually at the top of the euthanasia list when they end up in shelters because their "disability" makes them less adoptable. There are a lot of myths out there about deaf dogs - they can't be trained, they are dangerous because they are too easily startled and turn into biters, etc. If people would simply understand how ridiculous that is. Are deaf people unable to learn? Are they inherently dangerous? No. They are simply people like any other. Hokey is no less of a dog than any other just because she can't hear. She acts like any other dog. She is just as capable of being trained, forming a bond, showing love and devotion than any dog that can hear. She is a dog first and foremost. Most people would not realize she is deaf if I didn't tell them. Here is a video I made of us working on training together:
Hokey Training
Why should a dog like this, absolutely capable of achieving great things and, most importantly, being a devoted companion, not be as worthy of life as any other dog?

Three wonderful dogs. But only three. Three out of thousands and thousands of dogs on any particular day who need homes and are in danger of dying merely because they happen to be classified as "unwanted". Too many dogs never get past the "unwanted" category. They never get their chance to shine. The never get to be loved or show all the love they have to offer. That is a real tragedy. I can't understand why people continue to breed dogs and purchase dogs while others go wanting and end up dying simply because there are too many and/or they are not the right "kind". I can't, in good conscious, do that. That is why I have rescue dogs and why I volunteer. Not because of any great feeling of satisfaction I get; it has nothing to do with my ego. It is because the eyes of too many beautiful, wanting, hopeful-until-the-end dogs haunt me and I feel I need to do what little I can to help to give them the opportunity to know what it is to be loved and wanted. It is my wish that you will too.