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BREAKING NEWS: This article just won first place in the Nonfiction, Essay by an Adult, Category at the Yamhill County Fair 2011.

I’ve always been an animal lover, so I take it quite personally when an animal gives me the cold shoulder. That happened three times this past winter and spring. Now, it’s like Christmas in July, because the two aloof dogs and horse have warmed up to me enough to permit a touch or two.  I can’t say that I did anything special to earn their trust. I just waited them out. It was an exercise in patience.

NEKOTA

Nekota, a bearded collie from champion lines, is sometimes aloof with newcomers, especially when her owner is not present to offer encouragement.

Nekota, a young  bearded collie from champion lines, was the first to allow me a touch. She came around about two weeks after I started seeing and feeding her twice a day. My friend and Nekota’s owner, Tish, was out of town on dog and family business.  I was pet sitting three of her bearded collies: Nekota, her mother Kiwi, and another female, Bubbles.

The jovial trio always greeted me with enthusiasm and barks of delight. I’d ruffle the long, silky hair of Bubbles and Kiwi; then they’d set off to romp and tumble on the winter-wet green lawns. I wanted to pet and hug Nekota, too. But she kept her distance even when I offered her treats.

After a few days, I was feeling slighted, so I quit pursuing her affections. I stopped trying to make eye contact with Nekota, too.  This wasn’t too hard since bearded collies have long, bushy eyebrow hair that covers their eyes to protect them from stickers and debris when doing the livestock herding for which they were initially bred.

One evening, as I was preparing their dinner in Tish’s kitchen, the three dogs came in from outside and gathered around me. Truth be told, they were more interested in having me throw the raggedy toy they’d dropped at my feet than they were in their meal. Nonchalantly, yet deliberately, I let my hand slowly drop to Nekota’s head — for an instant. She didn’t recoil. I was wowed, making it nearly impossible not to look at her, but I refrained: Doing so might have made her feel challenged, hence retreat.

I repeated similar gestures over the next few days. In time, I could pet Nekota at will and even glance at her while at it. By the time Tish returned home, Nekota was curling at my feet and allowing me to stroke her head and scratch her chin for as long as I liked. I lavished praise on her in a very subdued manner: She didn’t seem to mind that either. She liked me after all.

The new accord between us meant more to me than many other successes in my life. Good Girl, Nekota!! Thanks for considering me a member of  your pack for awhile.

STELLA

Stella, a shy, uncertain mastiff when rescued, has gained confidence while settling in at her new forever home. She's become trusting enough to include some humans among her friends.

I’d known Stella, a shy and aloof rescued mastiff, much longer than I had known Nekota when her stand-offishness  began to ebb. Quite possibly, Stella knew abuse and /or neglect in her past. Once settled in a safe, quiet environment, it still took the big taupe-colored dog months to stop evading me when I visited the farm where she lives with her new owners, Stacy and Russell. She couldn’t be bribed with treats, toys or praise. Cats terrified her, too. She was wary of all that moved – even the wind, it sometimes seemed.

When my husband, son and I have acquired rescue dogs in the past, we’ve been cautioned that it can take as long as a year for a dog to really feel secure with a new place and unfamiliar faces. So I waited on Stella, and waited some more.

It’s all too easy to envision Stella having been cloistered away and used for the single purpose of making  babies in a puppy mill setting. If that was the case, it explains why she’s still afraid to be in dark, tight places. It may also be the reason beneath her demureness: It’s possible she’d never known affection at the hand of man, or woman, prior to her rescue by English mastiff guardian angels Sue and Gary May of McMinnville, Oregon. (The couple founded Mastiff Rescue Oregon and has placed more than 80 of these cougar-size gentle giants in loving, permanent homes.)

For the longest time, when  Stacy and Russell had guests, four-year-old Stella would retreat to a spot where she could rest her chin on her giant paws and observe the movements of all those folks she didn’t know. Her eyebrows seemed  to do a sort of line dance, moving side to side with each quick, constant, wary eye movement. A few other dog-loving friends and I started letting a hand dangle whenever we sat and chatted with our hosts. We hoped our hands would serve as bait for the lonely Stella, who appeared a little braver each  week.

One night, a collection of us were having a group lesson in making pot-stickers. I was preparing to slice and dice celery at the island in Stacy’s kitchen when I felt a cold nose bump the hand I had resting on my hip. (That’s about eye level for big-and-tall Stella.)  Purposefully, I kept talking about chestnuts and pinching pasta and barely acknowledged the now-curious dog. A few visits later, Stella approached me from behind and stood at my side. The next time, she let me stroke her head as I stood talking with Stacy, a coffee mug in my hand.

The encouragement Stella has received in her new forever home has given her the confidence to trust, perhaps for the first time in her adult dog life. She even gives the new kittens clattering about a curious sniff instead of immediately trotting away.

Nowadays, when I arrive at the farm, Stella lopes out to meet my car instead of racing off to hide behind the free-range chickens or miniature pinscher tap-dancing about. Stella’s long tail, no longer tucked between her powerful back legs, is carried more naturally and, most of the time, swings lazily from side to side. If I linger over the new kittens too long, Stella actually nudges her way into our little crowd to claim some petting for herself.

Oh yes, the “min pin,” small enough to be a lap dog, isn’t a snuggler or a cuddler. But loving, lanky Stella is.

BOBBY

It was nearly a year before Bobby, a cutting horse, felt safe enough with me to take treats I offered to him. Photo by Adam Sherman.

Bobby was the last hold-out: He took nearly a year. Bobby is a chestnut-colored, top-performing cutting horse that belongs to the owner of the barn where I stable my horse, Callie. This athletic gelding, too, may have been mishandled in his youth, long before he came to the loving home where he is now the star.

At first it was tempting to think Bobby was stuck-up, even vain; then I remembered those were traits exclusive to humans. He’d move to another part of his stall whenever I entered to clean it or feed him. I didn’t dare try to remove his fly mask at night. He reminded me of a cat. Everything had to be on his terms and in his time. I’d offer Bobby a carrot or apple slice, and he’d turn his head away. I’d never experienced a horse refusing things that were like candy to them. I was flabbergasted and, yes, my feelings were hurt.

“Bobby’s just like that,” his owner assured me. “It’s not you. He’s even more skittish around men.” That would make sense if he’d been corrected too harshly or ridden too hard by a man somewhere along the line; however, I was determined to befriend him. Every time I’d pass Bobby’s stall or paddock on the way to catch Callie, I’d stop to offer him a treat. He’d look me right in the eye, then pivot away. That left me feeling like the wallflower kid who never gets asked to the floor at a junior high school dance.

One afternoon, I offered Bobby a treat on the way back from the pasture with my horse at the end of a lead rope. Instead of shunning  me and turning tail, Bobby remained still. When my horse tried to angle in and snatch the treat for herself, Bobby grabbed it from the palm of my hand! I repeated that approach day in and day out — with varying degrees of success.

Then the farrier arrived ahead of schedule one day.  Bobby’s owner, unable to leave work early, sent me a text message and asked if I would please halter Bobby and bring him to the main barn for his session with the horseshoer.

“Me?” I thought as I responded, “Yes, sure, no problem.” Once inside Bobby’s run, his halter slung over my arm, I talked softly and approached him slowly, but with confidence. Next thing I knew, I was buckling the blue halter alongside his ear, and he stood perfectly calm as I did so!  Since then, he’s taken to following me around his stall, hoping for more of the treats stashed in my pocket. I wouldn’t say were BFFs (best friends forever), but Bobby and I are working on it.

THIS WEEK’S ANIMAL LESSON: Nekota, Stella, Bobby — When they finally befriended me, I was reminded of a slogan 12-step programs use. It goes something like this:   When we try to force solutions, we become irritable and unreasonable without knowing it. As in, I let one dog hurt my feelings; another make me feel unworthy; and I thought of a horse as being a snob. Change takes time, so be patient” The animals are.

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Growing-up Will at play. Size-wise, the twice-orphaned kitten has some catching up to do, but he’s 100 percent healthy, at peace when purring and a most enthusiastic play pouncer.

You may recall the orphaned black kitten that barn cat Lilly mothered for a short while along with her own three babies. (Included in May 15 post on this blog.) The nurturing that Lilly gave that kitten, found mewling in a nearby ditch, probably saved its life. His name came to be Will, because of his strong will to live.

After a few days as nursemaid, Lilly moved Will to a spot in the tack room far away from the rest of the litter. One of my riding pals, Ella Mae, found Will cold to the touch and barely breathing. She worked hard that afternoon and barn owner, Teresa, through the night, keeping  the little guy warm and trying to convince him to nurse from tiny bottles of special mother-cat-like milk.

Cat caregiver, Betty, holds tiny Will, the four-ounce kitten she nursed to health after he was abandoned by his mother, then his proxy mom.

Shortly after that long, worrisome night, Will fell into the good graces of a very competent and generous cat caregiver, Betty. She was experienced with rescue and near-hopeless situations like Will’s seemed at the time: He only weighed four ounces and had to be fed by tube at first. Betty soon had Will on the mend. After several weeks under her watch, tiny Will became stronger, and his larger-than-life personality began to surface.

Will is now at home with Ella Mae’s son, Alan.  Will is still small for his age, but all health

Will at eight weeks with his new favorite person, Alan, the son of one of his rescuers.

and behavior reports are good: Will follows Alan around like a puppy might, hides under the covers and is a perfect apartment-mate, said Ella Mae.

Ya gotta love a happy ending! Especially when a kitten twice left to die well, defies the odds and, lives. Thank you Betty, Ella Mae, Teresa and Alan for serving much as godparents would to little Will.

Lilly’s own kittens are prospering in their new homes, too.  I have a little egg on my face, however. I jumped to the conclusion that the three were sisters; at least two have turned out to be brothers. Oops!

Photos by Ella Mae Hays

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I was moved to tears when I saw this image on a friend’s Facebook page last week with this tagline, “Dog and owner reunion in Japan.” Today I saw the photo on a Yahoo News site with this caption and a Reuters news agency credit,”A woman shares her food with her dog at an evacuation center for pets and their owners near an area devastated.”

It was the chopsticks that got me. When disaster strikes, no matter where in the world it occurs, I’m always reminded of one thing important to people in nearly every culture and country: Pets.

Some would even say pets are essential for humans to retain their humanity.

Still, the elephant in the living room (the thing no one wants to admit is present) is the fate of pets impacted by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan. I admit, finally — and here in black-and-white, that during or following a disaster, my primary concern is the welfare of animals. I suspect that’s blasphemy of some sort in some circles somewhere. But not here on a blog about animals being everything to us.

I know there are thousands of folks right there with me, who believe we need to help the innocent, silent, four-legged victims of the March 11 quake in Japan just as we do the hurting, homeless people there.

In fact, there are extensive relief efforts underway in Japan to rescue and shelter pets. This Yahoo News article is a good place to learn more about how to help the animal rescue crews doing this beyond-hard-and-beyond-sad work on the ground in Japan.

The story title is, “Japan Animal Rescues Rush to Save Pets Affected by Earthquake, Tsunami.” You’ll find it at: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ac/20110319/lf_ac/8095542_japan_animal_rescues_rush_to_save_pets_affected_by_earthquake_tsunami

The grand scale of Japan’s devastation harkened me back to the massive pet rescue operations that followed Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast of America in 2005.  The last account I read estimated that 15,000 pets were rescued, reunited or re-homed in the Katrina aftermath. Approximately 250,000 were not, because they drowned or starved.

Proof that animals are everything to many people: Think about the great many times during the Katrina evacuation that, on TV, we saw or heard people refuse to leave their home and get out of harm’s way unless they could take their beloved dog, cat, bird, fish with them. That, in most cases, was not permitted.

So people stayed, sometimes dying with their pet in their arms.

At least those Katrina pets were not lost for naught. Politicians and lawmakers recognized that saving pets ultimately saves people’s lives. Following the hurricane, the U.S. government passed the Pet Evacuation Transportation Safety (PETS) Act, which states that local governments must include “companion animals” in their disaster planning efforts.

Although this typically applies to dogs and cats, many jurisdictions are making the effort to include a wide variety of animals—including exotics, horses and non-traditional pets—in their disaster plans. However, this varies from locality to locality. (Source http://www.aspca.org)

Schools routinely have drills for staff and students to “walk through” disaster plans. Families are encouraged to practice what to do if disaster strikes their home.

Let’s give our companion animals that level of care: Put a plan in place, practice it WITH your pet and work out the kinks. For example, if your cat won’t go into a cat carrier, train it now, so your feline won’t refuse to do so in an emergency.

You can learn more about animal-related disaster laws and preparations at: Pet Laws for Evacuation | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/list_7488437_pet-laws-evacuation.html#ixzz1HMvkrn1u. For tips on planning ahead in case of  a disaster, visit:  http://www.fema.gov/plan/prepare/animals.shtm#1.dog

 

After barking at approaching reporters, the dog on the left led them to its hurt canine comrade.

Rescue efforts are not limited to people aiding animals. Sometimes, animals help animals. Watch this short news video and see a remarkable instance of one dog’s devotion to another dog, following the earthquake in Japan.

Here’s how the San Francisco Chronicle’s website, SFGate, described the scene: “In the aftermath of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, a tired, muddy and disoriented spaniel emerged from a pile of rubble to lead rescuers to his injured four-legged pal. He had remained steadfast beside his canine compatriot since the disaster leveled their home six days ago.

“The hero hound was housed at a local animal shelter while rescuers took his injured companion for treatment at a veterinarian hospital in nearby Mito.” You can see the video at http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/pets/detail?entry_id=85210#ixzz1HOkyiM3B.

THIS WEEK’S ANIMAL LESSON: “Be part of the solution, not the problem.”

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As much as I love writing about animals, helping animals is an underlying reason for AnimalsOurEVERYTHING!, the blog.

Here’s an easy way we can all help animals waiting for forever homes.  Today, March 15, animal lovers everywhere are uniting to spread the word about how good it is to think “adopt” or “rescue” when searching for a new pet companion. It’s good for the pets, and it’s good for our souls.

Kobe, a chocolate Labrador retriever that came to us four years ago. Finding a new dog was a first order of business when we moved from California to Oregon. We knew our new place wouldn't feel like home until dog hair and paw prints appeared all about.

I am always staggered at the  incomprehensible number of homeless  critters: Petfinder, alone, has a database of 320,000 in-need animals. Many followers of AnimalsOurEVERYTHING! have pooches and kitties brought to them through some form of pet adoption.

We (husband, son and I) currently have two re-homed Labrador retrievers and a cat that adopted us when she was abandoned and pregnant.

Brooke, our black Labrador retriever, was "rehomed" with us two years ago. She is a most exuberant companion for Kobe as well as for us.

Please consider e-mailing and tweeting friends and posting on Facebook and blogs about this Adopt the Internet Campaign.

But first, I hope you’ll take a look at the blog post written by Dr. Nancy Kay, a friend, a vet — and one of the smartest, kindest women I know, about Adopt the Internet. She offers great perspective and first-person accounts of dog adoption.
http://speakingforspot.com/blog/.

(Check out Dr. Kay’s book, “Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life,” while you’re on her blog. Visits to your vet will  never be the same — they’ll be better.)

Thanks and bowwow meow!

—————————————————–

*What It’s All About*
In honor of our 15th birthday <http://www.petfinder.com/info/birthday>,
Petfinder is asking people everywhere to pledge to spread the word online
about adoptable pets on March 15, 2011.

Adopt the Internet

By Nancy Kay, DVM

Please, will you join the “Help Petfinder Adopt the Internet Day” effort on March 15th?  Email your dog loving friends and relatives.  Feel free to share this blog post with them.  Heck, write a blog post of your own! Together we will increase awareness about adopting homeless pets and hopefully create the kinds of happy endings that Quinn and my family have enjoyed.

Do you have your own story about adopting a homeless pet?  We’d love to hear it.   Know of an animal who needs a home?  On March 15th, please post a photo along with adoption contact information on Dr. Kay’s  Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/speakingforspot).

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

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