Random Musings on Dogs, Photography, and the Vagaries of Life

Monday, December 6, 2010

Holiday Pet Pics: Creating Memories One Treat at a Time

Let's face it: taking holiday pet pictures can be a challenge. Unless your dog holds obedience awards for sitting, staying, or otherwise posing, you have to expect some chaos and frustration. The levels of both can rise exponentially with the number of extra animals you're working with.

I find that a pocketful of treats--not just plain old dry biscuits, but chewy, aromatic goodies made with such canine pleasers as salmon, lamb, peanut butter, and cheese--are worth their weight in gold. Even immobility-challenged dogs are more likely to sit still for at least a few seconds at a time if confronted with a human supplying such canine "crack."

Unless you have your own studio, you also need to be creative. If you have access to a scenic indoor or outdoor location, use it! I've always thought it would be nice to pose my dogs in front of our lovely red, wreath-hung door, but our front steps approach the stoop from the side, making such an image impossible. So I've commandeered spaces in our house and backyard, using blankets and bedspreads as backdrops and softening edges and modifying textures in Photoshop. I've also made extensive use of props, from stuffed toys and costumes to stockings and wheelbarrows. Whatever works.

I know that I might not get exactly what I want--certainly not right away--but with some patience can capture an image I'm happy with. Because dogs can get bored easily and don't necessarily love being primped and prodded, I always limit the shoot to less than 15 minutes. If necessary, we try again later.

For you cat lovers...you're on your own. My experience with felines is that they are too independent to be "directed," so your best bet is just to set up an environment full of holiday props and colors, and hang out with your cat, capturing moments as they happen.

Oh, and speaking of holidays, my two books (Black is Beautiful: A Celebration of Dark Dogs and A is for Angel: A Dog Lover's Guide to the Alphabet) make great gifts for dog lovers. And because I donate a portion of the sales to animal welfare organizations (your choice or mine), you can feel good about your purchase in more ways than one. To purchase using Paypal, just click on the appropriate Buy Now buttons at right.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Of Horror and Heroism

Those of us involved in animal welfare and rescue encounter horror stories on an all-too-regular basis...stories that depress us and cause us to question the "humanity" of Homo sapiens. Fortunately, we are also exposed to great acts of interspecies kindness, empathy, and selfless generosity that bolster our spirits and strengthen our resolve.

The story of Jimmy D exemplifies both: the horror and the heroism.

Somehow, I missed the initial news reports about Jimmy...how he was discovered in August by a Baltimore, MD, couple with part of his nose and muzzle hacked off. It wasn't until more recently that I discovered a blog devoted to Jimmy D's story--his rescue, his surgeries, and his ongoing recovery. And let me tell you, it's worth a read...right back from the original posts and photos.

It's a story that will infuriate you and inspire you. The kindness and devotion of Jimmy's foster mom and the physical and psychological resilience of this dog are awesome. They're both outstanding "ambassadors" of their respective species.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

When Canine Eyes are Smiling: Encounters with Dogs of the Emerald Isle

Last week I returned from my first trip to Ireland, a two-week journey filled with rolling hills, rugged cliffs, charming villages, fascinating historic sites, warm and friendly people, and...dogs.

As a lifelong dog lover, I am unable to travel anywhere—near or far—without visiting with local residents of the canine persuasion. And Ireland was no different. In between soaking up the verdant beauty of the countryside, touring the odd castle or abbey, and negotiating miles of winding rural roads—on the "wrong" side—I made time to make friends with and photograph a dog or two.

In a country known for woolen goods and the sheep that make them possible, I had expected to see my fair share of border collies. And I did. At Kissane Sheep Farm near Killarney, for example, I met several of these intelligent, hard-working herding dogs, along with four adorable roly-poly six-week-old pups. I witnessed firsthand the amazing bond between human and canine as the farmers demonstrated the teamwork required to herd a flock of sheep—a bond so strong that each dog works its best with only one human. It was obvious that these dogs are more than just four-legged farm employees...they are truly members of the family.

But these quintessential working dogs were just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. My travels were also blessed with encounters with a variety of other purebreds and mixes of all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages.

Some, like English cocker spaniel Honey, golden retriever Jake, and a one-eyed little terrier mix, took the hour-long ferry ride from Doolin to the Aran Island of Inisheer for holidays with their people. Others, like a lovely collie/GSD mix and her “pugalier” companion frolicked on the beach at Derrynane. And still others, including an elderly beagle mix, strolled the pedestrianized shopping district of Galway.

At my last stop, the Castle Lodge B&B at Malahide, I received friendly greetings not only from my human hosts but also from Jackster, the resident 21(!)-year-old JRT, and visiting Clancy, a Shih-tzu who, despite the indignity of a post-neutering megaphone collar, made it his mission to shower me with pre-departure kisses.

Basically, we met dogs everywhere we went. But the seaside village of Kinsale proved to be the canine mother lode. Known for its excellent dining establishments, this County Cork vacation spot also provided a wealth of dog-watching opportunities: Rex, a JRT, reclined regally on the front wall of his home observing passersby; Scampi, the resident canine of the Old Presbytery Guesthouse, greeted guests between breaks in her soft little dog house; a solitary Golden retriever relaxed in the middle of the street; and a pair of lurchers—a breed familiar to me only from the works of James Herriott—relaxed in the sunshine at an outdoor eating area.

All found their way into my digital record, and when I reflect on my Irish journey in years to come, they will be front and center in my mind.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Three Strikes and You're...Home?

Staff at the Humane Society of Kent County (MD) sure hope that's so for Momma. This sweet girl does indeed have three strikes against her: 1) she's black, 2) she's a pit bull terrier, and 3) she's 9 years old. Life for a homeless dog doesn't get much worse, statistically, than that.

First, there's the color thing: Folks in rescue will tell you that black dogs (like black cats) are less likely to be adopted from shelters than their lighter or flashier-colored counterparts. And if they're BIG black dogs, their chances are even smaller. Reasons for this situation, often referred to as "Black Dog Syndrome," range from a link in myth and legend between black dogs and evil and death to their "scary" image in horror movies to the fact that they just aren't as noticeable--especially in poorly-lit shelters--as other dogs.

Age can also be a big factor in an animal's adoptability. People often want the experience of raising a puppy (little realizing the headaches that can involve) and may worry about not having as long a time together with an older pet. But the truth is that older dogs offer many advantages: they almost never require housetraining, are more mellow and less demanding than their younger counterparts, require less vigorous exercise, and are more likely to be content just "chilln'" in your company. And the satisfaction that comes from giving a senior canine a happy home in which to live his or her "golden" years can be incredibly rewarding.

When it comes to breed--pit bull terriers, to be specific--well...don't get me started. Basically, pit bull terriers and pit mixes face extraordinary discrimination...probably more than any other breed of dog. And, yes, there are "bad" pit bulls--the result of intentional breeding for aggressive traits and inhumane, cruel treatment at the hands of people (although I haven't seen any laws "banning" them!).

But it's just as true that not all aggressive dogs are pit bulls. For example, the French face transplant victim was mauled by her Labrador retriever. An elderly Georgia woman was killed by her mixed-breed dogs. A family's briard killed their 8-year-old daughter. And golden retrievers--golden retrievers!-- attacked a 2-year-old in Kansas. The list goes on and on, although such attacks often don't make the headlines.

And just as some pit bull terriers are aggressive, others are gentle, loving, docile dogs. Take Momma for example. This sweet senior is described by shelter staff as "friendly, calm, easy going, and good on a leash." Oh, yes, she also loves hanging out with friends and being scratched behind the ears.

Nevertheless, this good girl has been at the shelter since last November. And although the staff are happy to care for her--and shower her with attention, treats, and "walkies"--for as long as she's in their care, Momma's future is tenuous at best. By law, the Humane Society of Kent County must take in every stray they find or owner-give-up that's turned in to them...limiting the number of animals the shelter can house at any one time.

And that means Momma's luck could run out at any time.

So, please, if you live in Maryland or a nearby state, and have a place in your heart and home for this special dog, call the Humane Society of Kent County at (410) 778-3648 or toll free at (866) 661-7387, or email them at kenthumane@yahoo.com. Shelter staff will even arrange transportation!

Momma thanks you!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Three Dogs, One Home

I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of days recently with my friend Sandy and her canine kids. As with human children (and adults as well, for that matter), dogs have distinct personalities...complete with a unique collection of likes, dislikes, abilities, phobias, obsessions, and accompanying behaviors. In short, they are individuals.

If I had to describe Sandy's furred family members in once sentence, I might say the following:

* Jocey is a gentle, affectionate, water-loving Queen Bee.

* Petey is a slightly neurotic, unpredictable boy who is never voluntarily without his round-shaped "pacifier."

* Oscar is a lover, not a fighter, who likes nothing more than a good cuddle.

I doubt you'll have any trouble matching the descriptions to the dogs' images above.

Monday, July 19, 2010

I Dig Dogs, and Dogs...Dig

Next stop, China! Well, not literally, although given the effort some dogs put into digging holes, we in North America could be forgiven for thinking that China is their ultimate goal. But if destination isn't the motivation, what is? Why, in short, do dogs dig?

According to experts, dogs dig for a variety of reasons ranging from predation to boredom to storing leftovers. Specifically, dogs dig because they are:

Hunting. Let’s face it, dogs are—or were—predators, and the ground is a treasure trove of bugs, mice, voles, and other prey just waiting to be unearthed.

Storing toys or food. In the wild, predators, including dogs, often bury animal remains they don't consume right away. This instinct to bury objects of value for later remains in some dogs.

Keeping comfortable. For some dogs, a hole is the perfect place to chill on a hot summer day or stay warm on cold winter afternoon.

Trying to escape. Faced with an irresistible temptation on the other side of a fence, a dog may dig his way to freedom...and the object of his desire.

Bored. A dog left home all day with no toys and nothing better to do may while away the time by digging a hole...because she can.

And sometimes dogs just like to dig. Soil provides a veritable cornucopia of wonderful (from a dog’s perspective) smells, as well as trash tidbits and smelly dead animals to chew or roll in. The smell of recently fertilized soil, in particular, can be irresistible to some dogs. Some breeds, like terriers and Labradors, are very prone to digging.

From the human point of view, digging can be a less-than-positive trait, and one that leads to a variety of creative attempts to limit the behavior. A former colleague of mine, for example, grew up with a beagle that dug under the fence so often that the family had a three-foot-deep, concrete-filled trench installed around the perimeter of the yard. And my husband’s parents would put a brick in every hole their dog dug the yard. I wonder what later owners of the home thought when they unearthed random bricks when doing yard work.

Our dog Ceiligh has invented her own digging-related game, which she also "taught" to our most recent foster, Ghillie (seen in the photos below). It involves digging a hole, dropping a ball or toy into it, then digging the object out again, repeating the process over...and over...and over again.

So much for our attempts to grow grass this year.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A is for Angel

Meet Angel, the "cover girl" of my current book, A is for Angel: A Dog Lover's Guide to the Alphabet. A former foster puppy of my husband's and mine, Angel was adopted by a wonderful family that adores her.

I thought you might enjoy reading her "story" as it appears in the book:

My son, Andrew, had been asking for a dog for awhile, and my wife and I finally decided the time was right. We thought a dog would give Andrew companionship and, at 12, we felt he was ready to share the responsibility of raising a puppy. Plus, we all wanted to experience what none of us had ever really had...a true pet.

We were looking for a Keeshond or Keeshond mix because of the breed’s temperament, mild nature, and ability to have fun with kids. We also liked the idea of giving an orphaned puppy a home, so Andrew began checking Petfinder. Once he found Angel’s picture, we immediately made plans to meet her.

Angel is just what we were looking for. She is sweet, rarely barks, is always wagging her tail, and seems to love everyone...even the UPS man and the mailman, who both take time to play with her and pet her whenever they come by. She’s also very pretty with a beautiful coat that my wife loves to brush.

Angel’s joys in life are chasing the squirrels and deer that visit our yard, running outside the house with Andrew and his cousins, and especially playing with her furry squeaky toys. She’s particularly fond of one shaped like a bone that’s about 12 inches long and 4 inches wide. When Ava, our toddler, plays with her own squeaky toys or a toy is squeaked during a TV program, Angel rushes around to check if it’s hers!

In addition to knowing how to sit, lie down, and cry to go outside, Angel has discovered that if she taps her water bowl when it’s empty, someone will fill it. Obviously, she has us well trained. All in all, she’s just a super dog to be around. Andrew is always looking out for her and has learned some great "life lessons" thanks to her being part of our family.

She truly is our angel.

--R. Bailey

If you're interested in seeing more photos and reading more stories about some wonderful, loved dogs, you can get a copy of A is for Angel: A Dog Lover's Guide to the Alphabet by sending $17.12 (including shipping in the continental US) to digitaldoggyphotography@gmail.com via Paypal. I donate 50 percent of my direct-sale profits to selected animal rescue and welfare organizations.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Days of Wine and Roses...Uh, Make that Sun and Lilies

I'm one of those people who really hates cold weather. My fingers and toes seem permanently frozen from November to March. I've been known to take two baths a day during the winter months just to thaw out. Friends and family have heard me say repeatedly that I'd rather be hot than cold.

But...this June has caused me to rethink my position. Record heat has left me feeling wilted, lethargic, and downright irritable. I worry about how reliant I am on air conditioning and live in fear of a power outage.

Fortunately, some of Mother Nature's creations seem to be weathering the heat far better. So here's a toast to the lilies of summer, those hardy, heat-resistant blooms that bring a smile to my sweaty face.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Two Tortie Kitties Looking for a Home

Meet Jasmine, an adorable 9-week-old tortoiseshell kitten. This poor white-socked babe ended up at the shelter without mom or siblings when she was only 5 weeks old. Kittens like that have such a small chance of making it, but thanks to excellent veterinary care, this one did. She was later paired with a slightly older lookalike orphan, Jessie (below), and their companionship likely helped pull them both through those rough early weeks.

Jessie and Jasmine are up for adoption from the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George's County and would make lovely additions to any home.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Day at the Zoo

Okay, I admit it...I have mixed feelings about zoos and aquariums. On the one hand, it seems fundamentally wrong to "contain" wild animals for human entertainment. On the other hand, I believe that people care more about things (i.e. people, places, animals, etc.) they've actually seen, smelled, and in some cases, even touched. And as habitat for many of the earth's inhabitants is confiscated by human beings for our own purposes, animals need people that care more than ever. And let's face it, unless we as a species get a handle on the human population issue, zoos may actually become the only places some other species exist anywhere.

So given the important role of zoos with regard to education, research, breeding, and preservation of species, I believe they are obligated to do everything possible to ensure the quality of life of the animals in their care, providing not only food and medical care but also enough space and stimulation that each species can behave as naturally as possible. There's no excuse for tigers pacing back and forth behind bars or great apes sitting in a corner facing the wall.

Fortunately, a growing number of zoos are taking their mission as animal arks seriously. The San Diego Zoo, the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, the Columbus Zoo in Ohio are just a few of the outstanding zoos in the United States alone.

Earlier this week as I strolled around the National Zoo in Washington, DC, I noticed many improvements--for both residents and visitors--since I'd been there more than a decade ago. The Asia Trail wove through exhibits bordered by foliage punctuated by occasional viewing places; this approach offers the animals more privacy and quiet while still allowing controlled visual access by visitors. A learning center for apes allows for regular mental stimulation. And the elephant house is undergoing a much-needed renovation. Educational stations offering comprehensive information abound. And there are even misting stations along the major paths where hot and weary children--and adults--can cool off.

So as I say, I'm still ambivalent. But as I stood by the great cats exhibit, a little boy--he must have been about 5 or 6 years old--on a school trip looked up at me and asked, "Are you a discoverer?"

"Yes, I am," I replied. "And the zoo is a great place to be a discoverer because I love animals."

"Me too!" the child declared enthusiastically.

And I think to myself that if the world's wildlife has a future of any kind it will be because children like this little boy learn to love them. And where better than at a zoo?

Monday, May 17, 2010

In Theory

I should have known better. There's a reason I don't go to the shelter regularly to assess potential dogs for the foster program of the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George's County. It saddens me to see all the animals that end up there--usually through no fault of their own--knowing that many won't make it out. Plus, given the dog-aggressive tendencies of our dog Tango (which means the establishment of complex schedules when there's a foster dog in the house), I'm trying to limit our fostering role. So avoiding the biggest source of temptation seems only prudent.

But a few weeks ago, I threw caution to the wind and volunteered to help choose some dogs for our program. Following a case of Parvo, a serious and highly contagious canine disease, the shelter had instituted containment measures that included limiting the number of dogs any visitor could have contact with to one. More volunteers on site meant more dogs we could evaluate "up close and personal."

Which was all well and good...in theory, at least. Armed with a list of dogs whose time at the shelter was running out, we found several that were good matches for our available foster homes. But...while there, a 6-month-old brindled puppy caught my eye. To be honest, she was hard to miss. She wiggled and wriggled and play-bowed as I paused in front of her kennel, determined to interact with me.

Although I couldn't touch her (I'd already handled my one dog), I knew she was special. Convinced that other shelter visitors would be as captivated as I was, I was certain she'd be adopted quickly. Therefore, I reasoned, there was no harm--at least in theory--in asking shelter staff to let us know if anything happened to jeopardize her future.

But fate has a way of reminding us that nothing in life is certain, and last week the SPCA/HS adoption coordinator received a call that the puppy's application had fallen through and that her holding time at the shelter was running out. Would we take her into our foster program?

Well, it's bad enough to know intellectually that nameless and faceless dogs and cats die in shelters across the country on a regular basis. But it's absolutely unbearable to know that the life of an animal you interacted with, spoke sweet nothings to, and expressed interest in might be snuffed out. I just couldn't let that happen.

So the sweet brindled puppy is now a guest in our home, where she will stay until the right "forever" family turns up. Given her four white feet, I named her Ghillie--the word for Irish dance shoes worn by women in shows such as Riverdance. My husband had suggested Boots, but even though I grew up with a dog with that name, somehow--in an era of dogs named Abby, Sandy, Phoebe, and Jocelyn--that just seemed too pedestrian for a canine of Ghillie's distinctive looks. So Ghillie she is.

And once again, I'm shuttling dogs from inside to outside and one room to another so that Tango's and Ghillie's paths don't intersect. And I'm feeding in shifts (with Ceiligh eating either with Tango or Ghillie). And my life is a bit more complicated, but also greatly enriched. And not just in theory.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Saved from a Life on the Streets: A Special Mother's Day Post

A friend of mine works in construction...building, renovating, and remodeling homes. Her most recent contract took her to a Baltimore neighborhood of rundown, abandoned row houses in sore need of a facelift. During her months on the job site, she befriended, fed, rescued, and found homes for a number of street cats. But one cat in particular captured her heart.

This beautiful medium-haired cat visited the job site almost daily--not only for the food my friend distributed but also for some human interaction. She seemed to crave attention...and the comfort of my friend's truck, where she would spend hours dozing in the front seat or on the dashboard. She even ran after the truck when my friend left for home in the evening.

Given the cat's sociable nature, my friend thought crating her and taking her to a vet would be easy. But she was wrong. Although the cat loved being in the truck, she absolutely freaked when placed in a closed-door crate. In a complete panic, she thrashed about to the point that she scratched and bloodied her face and caused the crate to tip over. Afraid that the cat might get out of the crate in the truck during the drive, my friend reluctantly let her go.

But the cat's situation continued to weigh on her mind...especially as it became apparent that the cat was pregnant. And then the cat disappeared...only to materialize again on my friend's final day at the job site. She showed up for food and then led my friend to the backyard of an empty row house. There in a box of trash under a table, my friend discovered three kittens just two or three weeks old.

The proud mama purred with pleasure and allowed my friend to take the box of kittens back to the job site. With the kittens under her watchful eye, she even deigned to ride in the truck with them...no crate necessary.

Today, mom--now named Biddle for the street on which she was found--and her kittens are safe and sound in my friend's garage in a large crate (with the door always open) full of blankets. They've been seen by a mobile vet and determined to be in good health.

Biddle is a wonderful, doting mom. And she loves sharing her family with visitors--and being petted while she nurses. She purrs constantly (making it difficult for the vet to listen to her heartbeat). Like her kittens, she will make someone a fantastic pet!

All four of them will be made available for adoption once the kittens are weaned and they and Biddle are neutered. In the meantime, they are enjoying their new life of safety and comfort...far from the mean streets.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Appreciating Tango...

...the dog, not the dance, although after years of ballroom dance lessons, I definitely have an appreciation of that as well (and of the people who do it well).

Tango is my canine "problem child." My husband, Mark, and I adopted him along with his sister, Samba, when they were 14 weeks old, and as we celebrate his 11th birthday on May 1, it seems appropriate to reflect on the impact he has had on my life.

I'll be the first to admit that our decision to adopt Tango and Samba was driven by our hearts rather than our heads. We saw them at an adoption show and they looked so much like Boris, our beautiful black Lab/golden retriever who had just died, that they made us cry. And that was that.

I remember sitting with Tango on my lap at the adoption show and thinking what a calm, quiet puppy he was; he hardly moved at all, even though a dog sitting next to me was trying to chew Tango's tail. Wow, I thought, this is going to be one easy-going dog. I was wrong.

Our first clue that Tango had "issues" came several days after he and Samba came home with us. Both puppies were sitting in our TV room with me when my husband walked into the doorway from a dark hallway. Tango jumped up and began barking like a banshee at Mark, and it took several minutes to calm him down. Needless to say, we were startled, never having seen such a reaction in a puppy before.

We soon discovered that Tango was also startled and frightened by Kramer on Seinfeld (okay, I can understand that), the sound of the dishwasher, the automatic ice maker in the refrigerator, umbrellas being opened, unfamiliar people, and even familiar people wearing items of clothing that changed their appearance. He also was terrified of Mark's black briefcase and large black plastic garbage bags. I remember being mortified and embarrassed when Tango backed away, barking, from neighbors during walks. I had never experienced anything like this before.

I asked our vet if he knew 0f any canine behaviorists in Maryland, and he didn't. He suggested that we enroll Tango in obedience classes, which we did. Tango did well in class, although he was obviously uncomfortable in the unfamiliar surroundings. He "graduated" from beginning class and moved on to intermediate, where he easily did 3-minute "sit-stays" and 1-minute "down-stays" with me across the room. The only thing he would not (probably could not is more accurate, given his emotional/psychological make-up) do is "stand for examination," which involves someone--usually, but not always, the teacher--placing a hand on the dog's head and running it down the dog's shoulders and rump. Tango eventually would let our female instructor touch him, but any time she asked a man to assist in the exercise, Tango would back away.

We eventually stopped going to class because around the age of 2 or 3 Tango began displaying dog-aggression tendencies. He would almost always ignore the dogs around him but if one of them broke a sit-stay and came bouncing over, Tango seemed to feel threatened and would respond aggressively. I did my best to keep Tango focused on me and asked other handlers not to let their dogs get in Tango's face. Unfortunately, some people just didn't get it. One older woman with a little Yorkie-type dog would let her dog jump at Tango's face. I told her that Tango didn't like that, and her response was that her dog was just being friendly. I'd explain over and over again that Tango didn't see it that way. Eventually, it just got too stressful.

Over the years, I increased my knowledge of dog behavior issues. I read such books as Bones Would Rain from the Sky: Deepening Relationships with Dogs by Suzanne Clothier; Cautious Canine, Feisty Fido: Help for the Leash Aggressive Dog, and The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell; The Dog Who Loved Too Much by Nicholas Dodman; and Aggression in Dogs: Practical Management, Prevention & Behavior Modification by Brenda Aloff. I attended seminars by Patricia McConnell and Sarah Kalnajs, and worked with trainer Liz Marsden. And I began putting the knowledge I acquired into action with Tango.

The good news is that it's helped. Tango will never be immediately comfortable with new human acquaintances and he will never like other, new dogs. So he will not get to interact with the occasional foster dog that spends time with us on his or her way to a forever home. He will not get to go to dog parks or for "play dates" with our friends' dogs. He will not get to go to "Yappy Hour," "Canines & Cocktails," or any other "dog friendly" events, where humans and their canine companions gather to socialize and enjoy a little "nosh"...often to raise money for a good cause. But...I can take him for walks without him lunging, barking, and growling at other dogs we pass. Thanks to patient, consistent, positive training--and some really yummy treats--I can turn his attention back to me. In fact, when we pass a neighbor's house and their three dogs run along the fence and bark at Tango, he will automatically look up at me instead of them. He also is more trusting of new people...especially if they'll throw a ball--his favorite item and activity in life--instead of trying to pet him. Basically, he seems more comfortable in his own skin.

The bad news is that I could have helped Tango even more if I'd spent more time addressing his issues. But with two other dogs who both had needs of their own, a full-time job (until recently), volunteer work for the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George's County, and other professional and social activities, I just couldn't focus all my attention on Tango. And I have to admit I sometimes feel guilty about that. But, to use a sometimes trite phrase, "it is what it is." I've done--and continue to do--the best by and for Tango that I realistically can.

I've told many people that if my husband and I had known about Tango's "issues" ahead of time, we never would have adopted him. But once he was part of our family, we felt we had made a commitment to him. And I'll never regret that decision.

I have learned more about dog behavior than I could ever have imagined...information that has benefited not only me but also other people who have sought my input on their own dog challenges. And I have met some amazing people who I never would have met otherwise...people who have enriched my life in many ways. And I have seen Tango mature and develop into a wonderful, if flawed, companion. My mother once said, "It's not easy being Tango." I'd like to think that thanks to the love and work we've done with him, that "being Tango" gets easier all the time.

When I think of the number of people who would have given up on him--and given him up--I thank my lucky stars that my husband and I found him at that adoption show 11 years ago. It's been a challenging but enlightening ride...and it's not over yet. Like all of us, Tango is a work in progress...a work that will continue until the day he dies.

Happy birthday Tango!