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

Sunday, December 9, 2012

To Dress or Not to Dress

I recently caused a virtual firestorm when I posted a photo of a dog with reindeer antlers on the facebook page of the rescue organization I work for. Although more than 120 people "liked" the photo and made such comments as "cute" and "adorable," one individual expressed her opinion that it was "exploitative and frankly--wrong--to subject any animal, let alone a rescue animal, to having a band put on its head. And for what good purpose, marketing? Entertainment? Dress up?! This is indefensible for an animal welfare entity."

 Wow! I have to admit I didn't see that coming.

 As a canine pet parent who has photographed my own dogs in costumes for more than 20 years, I've never considered it wrong. But because I care for animals--and not just my own--the comments made me reexamine my opinion. I began by asking myself several questions:

Do my dogs enjoy being dressed up? Not necessarily, although one female, Samba, seemed completely comfortable in whatever accessory I put on her head, around her neck, or over her back. And they all definitively enjoy the treats they get as part of every photo session.

Do my dogs mind being dressed up? They don't seem to...as long as I don't make them wear anything out of the ordinary for any length of time. Again, however, it depends on the dog. Ceiligh, my 32-pound dalmation/JRT/Labrador mix will prance around in a velvet red-and-white dress long after her photo has been snapped. And, as I mentioned above, the treats are always a big hit.

Do my dogs trust me not to do anything that would cause them pain or discomfort? Yes. 

Are my dogs in any way damaged, physically or psychologically, by the experience of being dressed up for photographs? No.

 After undergoing this internal assessment, I continue to believe that there's nothing inherently wrong with photographing animals in costumes. Now, personally, I have to admit that I'm not "into" dressing my dogs up on a regular basis. But I don't believe, either, that everyone who dresses their dogs in clothing considers their dogs as accessories. As one friend pointed out to me, her Chinese hairless cresteds would be miserably cold in the winter without coats.

But I digress.

When it comes to photographing shelter animals, I have one or more--positive--goals in mind: capture people's attention, make them aware of the organization's existence (and/or particular adoption or fundraising events), and increase the animals' chances of getting adopted. Let's face it, when it comes to animals, a picture really is worth a thousand words. Many people come to a shelter specifically to see a particular dog or cat because there was something about the animal's photo on Petfinder.com or the shelter's website that "called" to them. Costumes, accessories, and props can add to the attraction, making a viewer pay more attention to the photo; they also can make intimidating- or less-attractive-looking animals appear cuter, more appealing...and more "adoptable."

Because I care deeply about our shelter residents, I go out of my way to make the process of photographing them as pleasant as possible...whether or not costumes or props are involved. I spend a lot of time getting to know the "models"...not just because it facilitates my work but because I like spending time with them. In fact, I hang out with dogs in their dens on an almost daily basis, giving them treats and scratching their tummies, even if I have no particular intentions of photographing them.

When I do photograph the animals, dogs in particular, I take their background, temperament, and comfort level into consideration. With timid or frightened dogs, like puppy mill survivors, for example, I never use a flash because it scares them...which is the last thing their fragile psyches need. I also limit the length of the sessions and take as few shots as I need to get something usable because a camera lens can look to some dogs like the giant eye of a potential predator, which can be pretty scary. Basically, I tailor each photo shoot to the animal involved.

And when it comes to photographing animals in costumes, I'd like to point out that I--and the organization I work for--are far from alone. The homepage of the ASPCA currently includes a photo of a dog in antlers. The American Humane Association is offering a variety of holiday cards featuring  puppies in Santa Claus hats for sale. The Houston SPCA, of "Animal Cops" fame, is selling antlers and Christmas ruffs for dogs on their website. And that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. A quick glance at the facebook postings of shelters and rescue organizations throughout the DC-area, and across the country, reveals photos of dogs of all sizes, shapes, ages, and breeds decked out in holiday dress. I readily admit to sharing many of them (they were too cute not to)...and wish I could take photographic credit for them.

Here's hoping these animals, and all the rest sharing shelter space with them, find homes soon!

And best wishes for a joyous holiday season from our home to yours.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Puppy Mills Hurt People Too

I hate puppy mills, and have for as long as I’ve been aware of their existence…at least in theory. The idea that anyone, much less thousands of people, would treat man’s best friend as nothing more than a crop or a widget to be mass produced on as large a scale as possible is almost beyond my comprehension. And images captured by undercover photographers of crates or cages stacked one on top of another, with the parents—or “breeding stock”—of those cute little puppies destined for pet stores around the country sitting in abject misery, their urine and feces dripping unheeded on the bodies of those below are burned forever in my brain. It’s hard to believe that anyone could look at such images and deny that puppy mills breed misery for those dogs.

But the misery doesn’t stop there.

Puppy mills hurt people as well as dogs. They hurt the people who, in their innocence or ignorance, have paid hundreds or even thousands of dollars for an “AKC registered” puppy they believe is healthy and sound only to discover their little bundle of joy suffers from a congenital or genetic medical problem.  Rife with inbreeding and with profit as the only goal, puppy mills are breeding grounds for all manner of diseases and other medical conditions…conditions that can cost thousands of dollars to treat and may even end in the death of the puppy.


But the misery doesn’t stop there.

Puppy mills hurt those of us involved in animal rescue and welfare because we’re the people who have to clean up the “mess” they create. We end up taking in, caring for, and trying to rehabilitate the victims of this vicious system. We try our best to treat the eye, ear, and skin infections; pull the abscessed and rotten teeth; remove the untreated injured eyes; amputate the damaged, deformed limbs; and try to cure any other diseases. Sadly, our best sometimes isn’t enough.

The shelter I work at is all too frequently asked to rescue, rehabilitate, and rehome victims of the puppy mill system. Recently, we took in 20 adult Chihuahuas and 4 Shar-Peis rescued from an Ohio puppy mill. In addition to the physical ailments described above, virtually all the dogs displayed behaviors characteristic of dogs who have been confined to small spaces and received little to no positive human interaction. They circled endlessly even in large dens, cowered at the back of their dens, or growled when approached. Even those that seemed interested in people didn’t seem to understand how to engage in normal interspecies fashion.

Given time—lots of it—behavioral intervention, and love, most of these dogs will settle into lives far better than anything they’ve ever known. But, sadly, not all of them will get the chance.

A few of the dogs who walked—or were carried—through our door were beyond our ability to help. One, a 6-year-old female Shar-Pei, will haunt me forever. She arrived emaciated and suffering from mange …a walking, hairless bag of bones. And beyond all that, an untreatable autoimmune disease was systematically killing off her red blood cells. The only act of kindness we could give her was a humane, peaceful end to a miserable existence.

Several of my colleagues and I sat with her, stroking her patchy fur and telling her what a good girl she was while a veterinarian injected the sedative that allowed her to drift easily asleep before administering the shot that stopped her heart.

Afterwards, I returned to my office and wept.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Not for the Faint of Heart

I work for an amazing animal welfare organization that operates an outstanding shelter and a state-of-the-art medical center. We are not contracted by a municipality, which means we aren't required by law to take in every stray off the street. Instead, in addition to assisting national organizations like the ASPCA and HSUS by taking in animals from hoarding situations, puppy mills, and natural disasters, we have the "luxury" of rescuing animals from neighboring "open" shelters that sadly run out of space for the never-ending population of homeless dogs and cats.

While we often take in dogs and cats with serious medical conditions and provide them with treatment that other shelters cannot, we regretfully but consciously pass over those whose temperaments make them, upon initial assessment, unadoptable or even downright dangerous. Our goal is to place as many homeless animals as possible...and for every animal who passes through our doors to find a loving forever home.

And that's what almost always happens. "Almost" always.

Every once in a while, animals--usually dogs--turn out to have "issues" that, despite considerable efforts by trained behavioral staff and volunteers, make them "unadoptable." The stories vary...from a starved, emaciated giant breed dog, who because of weakness and ill health initially seems sweet and submissive but after a regular diet and good medical care becomes dangerously aggressive, to a young stray who goes from smart, dominant, high-energy pup to smart, dominant, high-energy adult who despite daily exercise and interaction with staff and volunteers develops more and more inappropriate and risky behaviors as shelter life wears away at her psychological core. But the result is the same.

Believing that quality of life is of paramount importance, a committee including  the shelter director and representatives of the adoptions, behavioral, and medical staff meets regularly to discuss our animals. If this caring and committed group of people--who know the animals well--decide that an animal is unsafe to place in a home and that continued life in the shelter would in itself be a form of cruelty, they make the incredibly difficult decision to humanely euthanize that animal. This decision is never, ever, made lightly. But it is always made with the animal's well being as the compass point and the sincere belief that as blogger Jessica Dolce wrote, "there are worse things than humane euthanasia."

I have come to know--and have photographed--animals that ended up being euthanized. Although I understand--and usually agree with--the decisions, I still feel a profound sense of grief at each animal's passing because I so want each and every shelter resident to get that second chance...to find their happily ever after. Sadly, unlike in fairy tales, such happy endings aren't universal.

The faces of these animals still haunt me, sometimes when I dream, sometimes at odd moments like when I'm driving down the highway...and I suspect they always will. I am often tempted to delete their images from my hard drive because they are painful to look at it. But that would do these animals a disservice. And, in a way, they are reminders of the enormity of the challenges facing us every day.

The world of animal rescue is not for the faint of heart. But it is a world worth living in--and being strong for--at least for me.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Celebrating the Summer Garden

Some years ago, a neighbor commented that my husband, Mark, and I had a "spring" garden. Now, I'll  admit our garden looks lovely in the spring, thanks to the beautiful red, pink, white,and purple blossoms of dogwood trees, azaleas, rhododenderons, and camelias...punctuated by the yellows, oranges, and whites of hundreds of daffodils.

But in my mind, spring is only the first act, followed by the equally stunning blooms of summer...the asiatic and day lillies, the roses, the clematis, the hybiscus, the petunias, the impatiens, the butterfly bush, the crepe myrtles, and more.

So, yes, we have a spring garden. But I'd say we have a summer garden too. What about you?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

There's Just Somethin' 'Bout a Hound Dog

Often, when I hear Elvis Presley’s rock-and-roll classic, “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog,” playing on the radio, I find myself substituting the words, “There’s just somethin’ ‘bout a hound dog,” in my mind.

Because to me, there truly is just something about a hound dog, although to be honest, I’m not quite sure why.

As a group, hounds aren’t known for their brilliance, and might even be considered the doofuses of the canine world. Think Goofy, Droopy Dog, Huckleberry Hound, Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy, caped crusader Underdog, and Garfield’s arch nemesis, Odie. Hounds are as likely to follow their noses as any commands you issue. And follow and follow and follow. They’re also pretty vocal, with voices that carry with operatic power.

But…there’s just somethin’ ‘bout a hound dog.

From the familiar beagles, bassets, and bloodhounds to the more exotic Plott hounds and treeing walker coonhounds, I just find hounds incredibly appealing. Certainly, their looks have something to do with it. With their long, heavy, floppy ears and their placid, soulful—and sometimes sad-looking—eyes, hounds definitely exude a certain physical charm.

But it’s more than that.

Hounds may not be the brightest bulbs in the proverbial box, but they are usually blessed with happy, fun-loving, easy-going temperaments. They tend to enjoy company—human and canine—and play well—and joyfully—with others. Basically, they’re just fun to be around.

It seems to me that if more people had qualities like that, the world would be a nicer place.

Although I don’t share my home with any hound dogs, I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know quite a few of them through my work as a photographer. Many of them have passed through the halls of the Washington Animal Rescue League (WARL)or the foster homes of the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George’s County on their way to loving forever homes where I’m sure they’re brightening the lives of those they live with. I know mine is brighter for having met them.

My current hound buddy is Mack, a four-year-old brindled boy from West Virginia. It’s obvious that Mack, thought to be a hound/GSD mix, has lived a life of neglect. He arrived at WARL underweight and suffering from Demodex mange and a secondary yeast skin infection, which together make his fur look like a moth-eaten rug. His paws are oversized and swollen, probably from his skin maladies.

Nevertheless, Mack is as sweet as a sunny morning, and I decided that I would invite him to spend time in my office every day I’m at work. But getting Mack to accept that invitation was easier said than done. Although he willingly went outside with me and took care of business (he seems to be housetrained), he was extremely reluctant to climb the stairs to my office…despite the use of treats. I suspect he’d never seen stairs before.

It took two days—and a bowl of wet food—to finally coax him up two short flights to my second floor office. And on the third day, although he went willingly up the first flight, he still had issues with the second. He got two or three steps from the top several times before losing his confidence and stumbling back down to the landing. We went through this several times until the shelter director offered bits of her lunch hot dogs as incentive.

Once in my office, Mack rummaged through a box of dog toys and photography props, happily pulling out one item after another and tossing them around gleefully before eventually settling down with a rawhide and a stuffed Angry Birds ball. His joy and contentment were tangible.

I really love Mack and so enjoy sharing time with him, but I can’t wait for the day that some lucky person sees the same qualities in him that I see and asks to take him home for good.

Here’s to Mack and all the hounds!

Note: If you live in the DC/MD/VA area and are interested in learning more about Mack, go to warl.org or email adoptions@warl.org.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Under the Tuscan Sun: Reflections of a Broad Abroad

Let me confess up front, I’m a committed Anglophile. I love castles, cathedrals, and country cottages. So virtually all my international travels—with the exception of short visits to Paris and Helsinki when my husband had business there—have focused on Great Britain.

And although I took advantage of an opportunity to visit Ireland two summers ago, it wasn’t exactly a giant leap for me…although I discovered that the Emerald Isle definitely has a charm and beauty all its own.

Recently I decided it was time to broaden my cultural horizons. So a friend and I packed our bags, left our husbands, dogs, and—in her case—teenage sons, at home and headed to Italy.

Rather than try to cram lots of sites and sights into 9 short days, we decided to limit ourselves to “just” Tuscany. Rome, Venice, Milan, and the Amalfi coast would have to wait for other trips.

Why Tuscany? Well, first, there’s the stunning countryside characterized by vineyards, groves of olive trees, and hillsides punctuated by tall, narrow cypress trees; think Diane Lane in “Under the Tuscan Sun.”

Then there’s the art. Florence, in particular, is an art lover’s paradise, with museums, cathedrals, and public buildings designed by—or chock full of works by—Leonardo, Michelangelo, Titian, Lippi and other “names” studied by college students the world over.

And of course there’s the food and wine. Photos in Gourmet and Bon Appetit fueled images of meals from which memories are made.

But I’ll admit I was just the slightest bit apprehensive. After all, I don’t speak Italian (although I did make a point of learning some phrases and cultural practices in order to improve communications and avoid giving offense). Plus, we’d heard about amorous Italian men pinching the bottoms of female tourists. And, upon hearing that we were renting a car, many people had responded with an incredulous, “You’re driving in Italy? Are you crazy?”

So what did we find? A place of beauty and contrasts that fulfilled both our expectations and, to a lesser extent, our fears.

The countryside—with its famous hill towns—was indeed stunning…although the famous Tuscan sun remained hidden behind clouds for the first couple of days. And Florence WAS full of amazing art, both inside and out, with incredible sights around every corner.

With regard to food, let me just say, “pasta,” “gelato,” “tiramisu,” “cappuccino,” and “burrata mozzarella”! And the wine was just as good, especially the vernaccia di San Gimignano, a refreshing white wine made with grapes grown in the San Gimignano area. My taste buds were happy every day. In fact, the only mediocre meal we had was a slice of pizza at a touristy dive near the Ponte Vecchio.

Language—specifically, our inability to speak more than the most basic of Italian—turned out not to be the obstacle we thought it would be. Most Italians we met spoke at least some English…and some of them spoke it quite fluently. And bilingual or not, almost everyone was friendly and tried to be helpful.

We were never pinched or hassled in any way…although a salesman did ask my friend if she had a lover. When she explained that she had a husband in the U.S., he suggested she could also have a lover in Italy.

And we did find the stereotype of aggressive Italian drivers to be fairly accurate. Seriously, a car that was just a speck in our rearview mirror one moment could be in our trunk the next! We found the best way to minimize our stress was to stay in the right lane on major highways and to pull off to the side when possible to allow faster drivers to pass. Eventually, we also decided not to worry what other drivers thought of us, sticking to the speed limits and not worrying if drivers behind us were annoyed.

The only type of on-road experience that seriously scared us was when cars or, more often, motorcycles, would pass us on roads with one lane each way…even when another vehicle was approaching from the other direction. The drivers seemed to trust that we and the oncoming truck or car would each move slightly to the right, in effect creating an informal third lane in between. We uttered a few expletives when that happened…and treated ourselves to some well-deserved wine when we got safely to our destination.

In addition to the fear, food, and visual feasts, it was the people we met that I’ll remember most:

The leather salesman who warned us about competitors who would “squeeze you like a lemon!” by trying to sell us overpriced merchandise…while trying to convince my friend to buy a $1500 leather jacket.

The older female British ex-pat or tourist who accosted us on the sidewalk, demanding, “Why must you Americans always be shouting?” And repeating, as we stood there in stupefied silence, “You’re ALWAYS shouting,” before striding away.

The charming—and handsome—Florence hotel manager who explained that it was the fault of police that speeding is a way of life in Italy because if the police gave more tickets, people would drive more slowly.

The lovely English couple on holiday with whom we exchanged travel experiences and impressions of various destinations while enjoying a glass of wine on the hotel terrace.

The woman from London on a business trip we met on a guided walking tour and with whom we shared a cappuccino in an outdoor café.

The nice Americans we met in a café because they overheard us talking about dogs and proudly share photos of their dog.

The off-duty taxi driver, who helped us find our hotel when we got hopelessly lost in Florence.

The gardener at Villa Cicolina, who, no words required, made a point of showing me some of the beauties of the property when he noticed me taking photographs one morning.

And, of course, the people with canine companions in tow…a fact that will come as no surprise to those who know me…or read my blog.


And for those of you planning a trip to Tuscany, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the following places:
Villa Cicolina 
Hotel Silla
Hotel L'Antico Pozzo
La Posta Vecchia

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

MD Pit Bull Ruling: A Crying Shame

Having grown up in New Jersey, the state butt of many jokes, I never thought I’d ever feel ashamed of my adopted state of Maryland. But today I am.

The Maryland Court of Appeals has taken discrimination to a new level, ruling that some dogs—by virtue of their genetic heritage alone—are “inherently vicious,” “aggressive,” and “dangerous.”

Discrimination against pit bull terriers is nothing new. They are already banned in municipalities (including mine) throughout the United States. Although established with the best of intentions—to protect the public—such bans are misguided, costly, and infective; and respected animal welfare organizations have been working, in some cases successfully, to have them overturned.

In my home county of Prince George’s, we have yet to achieve this goal. And now, instead of Prince George’s taking a step forward, the state of Maryland has taken a step back.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those diehard pit bull lovers who think all pit bulls are—or could be—great dogs. I believe there are pit bulls that because of neglect, mistreatment, or just plain bad genetics cannot safely live in a home environment. But I also believe such dogs exist among the ranks of every breed.

More importantly, I also know from personal experience that there are many wonderful, even-tempered, genetically sound pit bulls who are—or could be if given the chance—extraordinary, loyal, loving companions. Through my work and volunteer activities, I have had the opportunity to meet and interact with many such dogs. Some, including Asha (above)—who was used as “bait” to train fighting dogs and required more than 100 stitches to close her wounds—have suffered greatly at the hands of humans, but have managed to hold onto their faith or learned to trust once again. I’m not sure most people could overcome the odds these dogs have.

But this ruling ignores the existence of such dogs. In a society that, at least in theory, values justice so highly, it provides for none…for pit bull owners, landlords who rent to pit bull owners, the shelters and animal welfare organizations that work tirelessly to find homes for all good dogs in their care…or pit bulls, themselves.

I’m all for personal responsibility and laws that hold people accountable for their actions…and for the actions of their animals. Strong, enforceable dangerous dog laws are useful tools in the public safety arsenal. But breed specific legislation, which by its very nature assumes that some breeds of dogs are “bad,” plain and simple, are not.

If Maryland’s high court ruling stands, homeowners will lose their insurance, renters will lose their homes, pit bull owners will give up their beloved dogs, shelters will fill with pit bulls no one wants…and good dogs—like those below—will die.

And that would be a crying shame.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Elegy for Iris

Last week was a difficult one for my friend Denni. She had to make the heartbraking decision to end the life of Iris, her miniature Daschshund. Iris was diagnosed with a neurological cancer back in the early summer. Although treatment extended the duration and quality of her life, Iris eventually succumbed to the effects of this deadly disease. And when it became apparent to Denni that life brought Iris no joy, she gave her beloved companion the final--and most difficult--gift a human can give a canine companion.

Atlhough I can't ease Denni's pain or fill the void left by Iris's death, I can pay tribute to this little dog's life by sharing her story as Denni wrote it for my book A is for Angel: A Dog Lover's Guide to the Alphabet. It expresses better than I ever could the impact Iris had on her human mom's life.

I is for Iris

Iris came into our life with her sister, Lily, her constant companion and protector. In 2000 I was asked by Hearts United for Animals to foster two miniature dachshunds from an abuse case in Pennsylvania. The two sisters had been starved, beaten, and locked in a basement and left to die. They’d then been held at a shelter for two months as evidence in a cruelty case and were relinquished when the abuser was convicted. Of course I said yes. My heart hurt just looking at the tiny dogs, trying to imagine their horrible first two years. I wondered if my daughter, Kelly, and I would be able to help them overcome the pain of their past. But we knew we had to try.

When I took Lily and Iris in, I never asked myself, “What if we fall in love with them?” much less “What happens WHEN we fall in love with them?” But as applications began to come in, I realized that I'd grown to love these “damaged” Doxies a lot; they were such sponges for affection and they gave it back doubled. I was so ambivalent. I worried about handing them over even to a great new home and wondered if anyone else would love them as much as I already did and if they’d be allowed to sleep in their new owner’s bed. Kelly and I already knew they needed to stay together and I felt we could provide the love and attention they so badly needed. So we became “failed” fosters…and a five-dog family!

Despite, or maybe because of, her tough first years, Iris is an upbeat, happy-go-lucky soul. We often watch her wandering the backyard and laugh about “Iris in La La Land.” Her nicknames are Boo (for Yogi Bear’s sidekick, Boo Boo) and Stinker (when she hides under the sofa to escape going outside). Her favorite activities include licking you until you just can’t take anymore, sleeping inside pillowcases, hanging out with Lily, and sitting in the sun. It’s a quiet life—with an occasional outbreak of infectious barking—but she seems happy. Her special skill, according to Kelly, is, “knowing how to make you smile even when you’re upset.”

When Iris was four, she ruptured a disk (a fairly common Doxie problem) and required surgery. When I told friends how much her operation was going to cost, several told me I was crazy, but I just thought about how young Iris was and how big a part of my daughter’s and my life she was. After the surgery, I took her to an acupuncturist. (Now all my friends were sure I was nuts). Just two sessions later, she’d regained her normal sunny disposition and once again wandered—albeit with a little hitch in her gait—in La La Land.

Despite the occasional chaos of a multi-dog household, neither Kelly nor I regret making Iris and Lily part of our family. Both girls have the ability to make us smile even when we’re upset, and, according to Kelly, “Iris has shown me that even in the face of hardship, pain, and suffering, you can pull through and still be an amazingly loving and caring creature.”


Friday, January 13, 2012

Love Song to Sweet Baby Ray

Working and volunteering for animal rescue and welfare organizations, I meet a lot of animals, particularly dogs. Virtually all of them are nice, highly adoptable animals, destined to make some lucky people great canine companions.

But every once in a while there’s a dog that has that “something extra”…at least as far as I’m concerned. Maybe it’s the way they cock their head or a certain look in their eyes or the cute way they place their paw on my hand; whatever the reason, these special canines just strike a special chord in me. I find myself caring deeply about their future. And if circumstances allowed, I’d readily welcome any one of them as permanent members of our “pack.”

Take Sweet Baby Ray, for example. This 5-year-old treeing Walker coonhound is one of 10 hunting dogs rescued from a rural property in Virginia during an investigation into illegal moonshine production and placed into the care of the Washington Animal Rescue League.

Like his canine companions, Baby Ray bears the physical and psychological scars of an unsocialized, neglectful life. The edges of his ears are rough and ragged, he’s missing a couple of teeth, his muzzle and paws are scarred from running through brush. He’s timid and uncertain about the world around him; ascending and descending a flight of stairs yesterday took a fair bit of gentle but enthusiastic encouragement…probably because he’d never seen stairs before. He doesn’t understand toys; no surprise since he’s probably never had one before.

But in my eyes, Baby Ray is beautiful.

Those big, brindled, raggedy ears are soft as velvet, and as I stroke them, he tilts his head back and turns his big brown eyes—eyes that can look surprised, interested, or soulful—upward in an expression of quiet ecstasy. A scratch along his back elicits a similar pose as he stands completely still…as if afraid to break the spell of pleasure. And when I sit or lie on the floor and encourage him, he curls his long-legged body like a corkscrew, head downward, until he rolls onto his side for a tummy rub and places a scarred paw gently on my arm.

Like I said, beautiful, both inside and out.

I’m not quite sure why Sweet Baby Ray has not yet been adopted. All that means, however, is that you still have a chance to make this special boy your very own canine companion. Come meet him at the Washington Animal Rescue League.

Update: Sweet Baby Ray was adopted on 1/20/12!