Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Interview Wednesday - Clover of the Beagle Freedom Project

Tani, Erik, and Clover at BFP Event
Today we bring you a special interview with Tani, mom to Clover. Clover was one of 40 Beagles rescued from a lab in Spain by Shannon Keith, founder of Beagle Freedom Project. Prior to his freedom, Clover was used for testing.

Tani was kind enough to share her time, Clover's story, and some pictures with us to help us educate others.

How did you find out about Beagle Freedom Project?
My Erik found out about Beagle Freedom Project while on deployment. Our first dog we had adopted from Helen Woodward. Dexter was an amazing beagle. He had been in a laboratory too, but it was dog food testing and we didn't really know the extent of testing. Erik saw a video of beagles from Spain being rescued. It moved him and he wrote a letter to them. Shannon Keith, the founder of BFP wrote him back. And our friendship began. The amazing story behind the Spain rescue goes sort of like this. Shannon got a call, letting her know their were 78 beagles available, could she take any. She said yes, they said how many. Without hesitation, she said, well ALL OF THEM. She maxed her credit, mortgaged her home and risked her own financial security to save these dogs. She got 40 of them. They all found homes.

How long did it take Clover to adjust to being in your home?
Clover was fostered for a couple of months before we got him by a lovely lady, Shannon Warner. We went to LA to meet him. During our visit, he jumped up on her banquet seats and came up to me, laid down and went to sleep with his head on my leg. He chose me:).

The first time Clover met his Mom

It did not take long for him to adjust. He really figured out the dog door, the other dogs pretty fast. He knew where the beds were, knew what food dish was his, figured out he could sleep on our bed quickly. Not all of them are that easy. One dog was kept somewhere completely different than the other dogs. It took a while for him to feel safe.

Clover, his brother Barney, and sister Annie

Is there anything he seems particularly frightened of?
Loud noises still startle him. I'm not talking about fireworks, but garage doors, a trash can rattle, a cupboard door slammed shut. He also will put himself in a corner, an area where there are 2 walls, like the far corner of a cage when he is feeling frightened. It breaks my heart because I know it is familiar to him from all his years in a cage.

How has having him changed your shopping?
Being a part of BFP and actually knowing what these dogs go through has totally changed my outlook. Most people think of animal testing as rats and mice. They also think it works! I was one of those people. But having Clover, I've educated myself. There are 70,000 dogs being tested on in the US alone. 96% are Beagles, because they are friendly, forgiving, people pleasers- the things making them great pets make them great test subjects. It is horrible. The majority of experiments are done for household products, beauty products, or scientific curiosity. Of the experiments for medical breakthroughs- only 8% make it to human clinical trials and out of that less than 50% make it to market. Even then most are failures. More than 106,000 people were killed by drugs that tested "animal safe" in 2013. So I look for cruelty free. I love Mac. But their parent company decided to sell in china which "requires" animal testing. So I look for different brands. I stopped buying stuff that was tested on animals. It isn't worth it.

Do you have any advice for people looking to shop cruelty free?

My advice to people that want to buy cruelty free? Do not solely look for the leaping bunny. To get that stamp of approval, companies have to pay for it. There are a lot of companies that do not test but haven't paid the bunny. So look for companies that say "not tested on animals or cruelty free." When in doubt, ask. Use your smart phone, google it. I've found great makeup brands (Vincent Longo) that are awesome and don't test on animals. A lot of companies that didn't test on animals get bought by those that do unfortunately. St. Ives got bought by Unilever. So you have to keep track. If a major company buys out a smaller company, write to the company and let them know you like this product because it works and because it wasn't tested on animals.

What about a recipe(s) for homemade cleaners that work just as well as the store bought ones companies test on animals?
One of the absolute best cleaners is vinegar. I use it for almost everything - windows, counters, tile floors. Get a spray bottle, vinegar and water - half and half solution. For glass use 2 tablespoons rubbing alcohol and hot water in a 32 ounce spray bottle. Cover the window first with the alcohol/water solution. The vinegar/ water solution and republic with an absorbent cloth. For dirty grout? Peroxide and baking soda. Scrubs and wipe clean.

Clover and his brother Barney

Tell us about The Beagle Freedom Bill and why it is so important.
The Beagle Freedom Bill is simply a bill that says if taxpayer dollars paid for animal testing, at the end of the testing, the animals used must be given up for adoption rather than euthanized.

It is so important because these animals make great pets. Yes, they might have some issues, but all of the animals that BFP has rescued and placed in forever homes, not one has been returned. The schools (UCLA, for one) will try to say these animals are not viable and were bred for testing. It doesn't matter. These animals are loving, good pets. If someone were to tell me that Clover should have been put to sleep, I (not a violent person by nature) would probably try to kick their ass. It isn't true. These dogs (and cats, pigs, etc.) are kind, forgiving, and just want to be loved and to live. They didn't voluntarily sign up to be tested on. A lot have problems. Rocket, a dog who was part of Clover's rescue, has Cushings, but he is the sweetest dog on earth. They all deserve love. And there are plenty of people who want to foster and care for them.

Someday, we would love to end animal testing. If everyone who cares would go to Beagle Freedom Project ( and let their representatives know that they support the Beagle Freedom Bill, we will take a giant step toward ending testing. You see, Beagles are the lab's dirty little secret. If the public believes labs test on other animals, they don't tend to care. But if they know that the lab is testing on cute dogs and they see those dogs can thrive in a loving home, they'll get mad.

Baby steps. Free those in testing first. One day, stop animal testing completely.

Thank you so much for your time and for sharing Clover's story with us.

If you'd like to follow Clover on Facebook, click here.
To learn more about Beagle Freedom Project, click the link above.




Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Interview Wednesday - The Truth About BATS

I'm excited about this interview for two reasons:

1) I LOVE bats! They're a vital part of our eco-system.

2) Cami was one of the teens in my very first Humane Teen Club. She just graduated from Northern Arizona University with a degree in Wildlife Ecology and Management. (Where did the time go?!)

On to expanding our knowledge about these very important critters!

1) When you hear the word BAT, most people think one of three things: Halloween, vampires, or rabies. What do you think?

·         When I hear bat I think firstly, cute fuzzy small animal that is amazing evolutionarily and morphologically as the only mammal that has developed true flight. Next I think about them eating (hopefully all) mosquitos. And finally, and probably most importantly, I think about the pillar they are in the ecosystem as insect controllers, being of only a select few animals that are nocturnal insectivores. They impact agricultural lands, forested lands, coastal regions, and even urbanized areas in ways that most people don’t know due to the stigma attached to them of being vampires or rabid. But in actuality the majority of bats eat insects, nectar, or fruit. Only three species are actually considered “vampire” bats, all of which occur in Central and South America. They impact such diverse habitats because insects are everywhere and without them a lot of the food we enjoy that are grown in crops would be difficult to produce. These can include wheat fields (the Symbol of Bacardi rum is a bat because bats helped increase the productivity of his crops which lead to a higher production of alcohol for the landowner), fruits, and vegetable crops. This can be both at a large scale ranch or agricultural development and at a small scale community or home garden.

2) How long have you been studying/working with bats?

·         It has been almost two years exactly since I held my first bat. The first year I focused on what kind of roosts they were selecting in a country club in Flagstaff. The second year I focused in on the genetics of that population.

3) What are some of the misconceptions you had that were smashed once you got to know bats?

·         Honestly, going in to this job I had no idea what to expect. I definitely did not think that bats were as cute as I do now having worked closely with them. I also had the misconception that they all looked somewhat similar, but that was smashed on my first few times of handling them. Each species has their own little quirks.

4) Tell us a few FUN facts about these guys!

·         So the Bacardi fact up above is pretty neat! I promote Bacardi now because of that story. Another neat thing is that each genera and sometimes species has a different demeanor; once in a while you may come across individuals that have distinctly different personalities. There are a few species we all love to handle since they are calm and don’t fight and bite so much, these include the Arizona myotis (Myotis occultus; Arizona’s version of the little brown bat; they are very closely related), Mexican free tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis), and the big free tail bat (Nyctinomops macrotis). Others that can be difficult to handle are the hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus), the big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus), and the pallid bat (Antrozous pallidus).

·         Another neat thing is that certain species like the big brown bat, have females who roost in large maternity colonies (can be a few hundred) and communally raise their young. Most bats are only able to have a single pup per breeding season, so having other females who will, sometimes, altruistically help raise another females pup. The fascinating thing about this is that based on biology and the “furthering your own genes” idea, these females should be or were thought to be selecting their roosts and females to help based on kinship (so the female you are helping is your sister, aunt, niece, etc). But with the genetic study we did of these roosts we found that there was no significant genetic structure or relatedness, which suggests that they are not roosting with females that they are related to. This makes what they are doing an altruistic behavior by just helping to help.

5) Why are bats such an important part of our environment?

·         Many species are insect controllers. They eat everything from beetles to moths to mosquitos to scorpions (the pallid bat (Antrozous pallidus) does this), so they control these populations and further crop success.  Other bats a nectivorous, so like hummingbird they have exceptionally long tongues that they use to feed on nectar from plant to plant. So like hummingbirds and bees they act as pollinators.

6) What is the biggest threat to bats right now?

·         The main two are fairly obvious I feel. 1) White-nose syndrome and 2) Urbanization which leads to habitat fragmentation.

·         With white-nose syndrome it’s a difficult issue to find a “fix” or solution to. This is mostly due to the fact that it’s a fungus that does best in wet cold climates; thus why caves are so heavily impacted.

·         Urbanization is the same battle with every species where fragmentation of habitat and overall habitat loss or conversion creates an ecosystem that is impossible for some animals. For bats, certain species are what we call generalists where they will do fairly well in just about any environment from urbanized to forested. Others, however, have a different story where they are specialists and utilize a specific habitat or niche and without that they can have population declines.

7) Do they only come out at night? Or is it more a dusk to dawn in the waning lights life?

·         Most bats are indeed nocturnal and forage at night time. They will usually use day roosts during daytime to sleep and rest before they come out at dusk. They will exit their roosts and then fly around a forage for a while and then use night roosts as places to take a quick power nap before continuing to forage. Of course this is not applicable to every species but in general that is their pattern.

8) Anything else you think we should know or keep in mind about these amazing creatures?

·         Remember that if you like wheat, fruit, and/or vegetables, then you like bats!
Thank you for your time and for sharing the wonder of bats with us, Cami!

What about you, readers? Did you learn something new about bats? Do you like them, love them, or are you scared of them?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Interview Wednesday - Working Long Hours and Having a Dog

 We are very lucky to have landed an interview with The Goldbergs Co-Producer, Sandi Hochman! She took time out of her very busy schedule to answer some questions for us about life with her gorgeous rescue dog, Maddie.

One of the top reasons pets are relinquished to the shelter is: Owner doesn't have enough time for the pet.

Sandi is here to tell us that if a Hollywood producer can make it work, so can YOU! Let's find out how she juggles her schedule with the light of her life (and even manages to foster a senior dog - the woman is nothing short of AMAZING).

      How did you and Maddie meet?
I was looking to adopt a dog from a shelter.  I had gone a couple of times but the dog just wasn’t there.  I knew I’d know her when I found her. (I was looking for a girl)  I woke up one day and realized I hadn’t visited the shelter in a while.  I was looking for a dog who was a year or two old… was not looking for a puppy.  I saw Maddie (who was 10 wks old) and decided I wanted to see her and another, older dog.  They brought Maddie out first.  The other dog never had a chance.  I fell in love with her immediately.  So much so that it was a Saturday and they couldn’t let me adopt her until she was spayed which couldn’t happen until Monday morning.  So, after filling out the paper work, I ended up visiting her two more times at the shelter that day.

What's her personality type - is she laid back California or high energy California? 
She’s definitely high energy.  At 15, she’s still going strong.

What do you love most about her? 
This is impossible to answer.  I love everything about her.  She has the most independent personality and makes me laugh all the time.  Yet, she can be such a little sweetheart if she gets scared.

Where is her favorite spot to sleep? 
She’s always loved going under my bed.  It’s her domain.  But, she has beds all over the house and, of course, my bed is her bed.


Does she have a favorite toy? 
Her favorite toy is a die (single dice) that you fill with treats.  It’s in the bedroom on the 3rd floor and she will go up there on her own and start barking when it gets stuck under something or needs to be filled with treats.

Not enough time/attention for the dog is one of the top reasons given when they are relinquished at a shelter. You work in television production and have a very demanding job that sometimes requires long hours. How do you make it work? 
It truly takes a village to coordinate Maddie’s schedule.  I have been lucky enough to have the same fantastic dog walker/sitter for the past 6 years.  I couldn’t do it without her.  I’ve also used doggie daycare and have dropped her off to spend the day with friends.

Walk us through a day in the life of Sandi and Maddie when you are working. 
Unfortunately, when I’m working, there’s not much life to our day together.  She’s with me when I’m getting ready for work in the morning.  We go for a walk and then I don’t see her for most of the day.

The highlight of my day is walking in and seeing that cute little furry face.


A day in the life when you're on hiatus or a weekend when you're not working. 
That’s another story.  We take a little longer walk in the morning and I spend as much time with her as possible.  I take her on errands if I can and just try to give her as much attention as possible.  When I work from home, it’s sometimes very difficult to get things done. She stares at me and is very distracting :-}


Any final thoughts you would like to share with us? 
I’ve heard a lot of people say that they live in an apartment and don’t have a yard.  I used to feel the same way.  One day I realized that I would rather give a dog a great home without a yard than not give a dog a home.  As long as you love them and take care of them and are able to give them enough exercise, that’s all that matters.  Personally, I don’t think there is anything better in this world than a dog.

Thank you so much for your time, Sandi!
As if being an amazing dog Mom, fostering seniors, and producing a hit tv show isn't enough for one plate, Sandi also has her own business - Lucky Puppy. Click here to shop her adorable clothing line (she donates a percentage of her monthly sales to charity!).


Monday, April 14, 2014

"Teacup" Puppies For Sale

You've seen the advertisements in the papers, online and sometimes in pet store windows: Teacup puppies for sale! The only problem is, there is no such thing as a "teacup". "Teacup" is a term made up by bad breeders and puppy mills to lure impulsive people into buying from them. Breeds like Yorkies, Maltese, Poodles, Chihuahuas are all "Toy" breeds meaning they are already on the tiny side. Words like "teacup", "micro", "mini" are used by bad breeders for dogs that end up being normal size most of the time. They sell the dog at 4 weeks of age (4 weeks younger than is legal in most states) because they look smaller. People are either shocked when their puppy grows to be 3-7 pounds or they don't realize that is standard size and think they have a "teacup" when they don't. You can't tell how big a puppy will be when they are that young. These bad breeders guarantee their puppy will be a certain size as an adult, but that's not a guarantee anyone can make.

"Teacup" is not a size recognized by the AKC. All of the breed clubs now have warnings on their websites about "teacups". There are occassionally runts in the litter that will grow to be less than average size. A good breeder sells these puppies at a LOWER cost than the rest of the litter. I will say that again so that you know it is NOT a typo - a good breeder will sell a runt at a LOWER price than the rest of the litter. Why? It is not up to breed standard. Toy breeds have certain health risks and a runt from those litters stands an even greater chance of suffering major health problems. Toy breeds can live an average of 15 years or more. "Teacups" or runts don't tend to live half that long. In most cases they are so fragile, they don't live more than a few years. The list of genetic and congenital defects in these poor puppies is long:

Open fontanels: soft spot from the cranial bone not forming
Portosystemic shunts: abnormal vessel that allows blood to bypass the liver so the blood is not cleansed as it should be.
Cardiac problems
Collapsing trachea
Luxating patellas
Digestive problems

"Teacup" puppies don't grow properly. Their bones and organs are stunted due to their size. This sets them up for health problems that lead to expensive vet bills or death. Any puppy that does not weigh 2 pounds by 8 weeks is a huge health risk. Most don't live to adulthood. There always rare exceptions to the rule when owners educate themselves about the health risks associated with a dog under 3 pounds. Those dogs are lucky to have owners who did their research and were willing to give up sleep, social lives and money (for vet care) to insure that they reached adulthood.

If your dog weighs 3 pounds or more, you do not have a "teacup." You have a standard size (insert breed here). This is the most common misconception people have. They tell people that their "teacup" is healthy at 4 pounds when they don't actually have a "teacup." They simply paid for a label and got a standard size dog at a more expensive price. Don't be fooled. Good breeders will not label their dogs "teacup", "micro", "miniature", "pocket" or "toy." Toy is already implied in the breed itself.

For more information, you can click on the following links:
Chihuahua Club of America

Yorkshire Terrier Club of America

(NOTE: The Yorkie pictured is purebred and up for adoption through a Fresno rescue group. You can find purebred puppies and dogs in ANY shelter. This one is 10 months old, but shelters and breed rescues across the country get them younger and older than that age. If you do your homework, you can find exactly what you are looking for. Meredith and I are always available to help you in your search.)

Monday, March 31, 2014

Choosing People Over Pets

This is a difficult post to write. I don't want to sound judgmental so if I come off that way, I apologize. I just felt compelled to write something after getting yet another "urgent" email this week regarding another pet being given up because boyfriend/girlfriend doesn't like them.

Pets give loyal, unconditional love. People? Not so much. Over the years, I have yet to see a situation where a pet has been given up for a new boyfriend/girlfriend (or even an old relationship) work out well for the person who is relinquishing the pet. I'm going to give three examples before getting to the one in question today.

I had a friend who had been dating a woman for five years. They got ready to move in together. She decided that she didn't like his 13 year-old cat. At first, he decided to hang tough. After all, the cat had been with him for 13 years. This 5 year relationship had been a bit rough, though they had managed to work through things. She moved in. The cat ended up at the shelter. She was gone less than a year later, but not before bringing home a kitten of her own (and no, that kitten didn't end up leaving with her).

I was volunteering at a local shelter. A young woman was moving in with her boyfriend who didn't like her four year old Shih Tzu. She sobbed while filling out the relinquishment papers. The dog tried his best to comfort her. The boyfriend sat a table away, ignoring her embarrassing display (he was bright red and shooting her disgusted glances while rolling his eyes - that's how we knew he viewed it as embarrassing). Though we all tried to ask her to reconsider, keeping the dog was not an option if she wanted to move forward in her relationship. I will never forget how hard this poor dog tried to calm his owner down. He crawled onto her lap, he licked her tears, he leaned into her as hard as he could. In the end, he came with us and she went on her way. He got a great home. She came back later (I can't remember now if it was a few weeks or a few months) to see if she could get him back. The boyfriend had kicked her out anyway. The dog was not the issue.

I've had several rough emails this week. Too many of them have been: Need to rehome dog/cat because of boyfriend/girlfriend/daughter moving in/moving home. I've had an email trying to rehome an 8 year-old dog because the new girlfriend doesn't like him ("he's too big"). I've had an email trying to rehome the 10 year-old cat because the daughter is having to move back home and doesn't like cats. I can't imagine how confusing that is for a pet to go from a loving home one day to an animal shelter the next - and not have any clue why they are being left in that scary place full of strange sounds and smells. They must pine for their owners, hoping as each new person shuffles through to stare at them that one of them will eventually be their long, lost owner.

In the end, it's rarely ever about the pet. I see it over and over again - like the show, an ultimatum is given: it's ME or the DOG/cat. Sometimes, it's a power struggle. Other times, I don't know what to make of it. I do know that pets are family. I know that they are far more loyal than people. When you adopt a pet, you're making that commitment to take care of them for their lifetime - not until someone you start dating decides that THEY don't want the pet. I just really want people to think before they move forward. Why is this person asking me to give up my dog or cat? Why is that so important to them? And, what am I giving up when I let go of my pet? Your pet doesn't care how you dress, what you weigh, if you want to stay in your pajamas all day and watch "The Walking Dead" marathon. They love you for you. They will never ask you to give up your person. They will always be there for you. Don't we owe it to them to always be there for them?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Interview Wednesday - The Healing Power of Animals

Six years ago, after a lifetime spent dreaming about it, I adopted my first dog.  I had been wanting a dog forever, but apartment living made it difficult with size restrictions (I’ve never been a purse-dog kind of gal).  So after saving and planning, I bought a condo in California for the sole purpose of getting my first dog!  Once I was settled in my condo, I began my search.  The only criteria I had for a dog was that he/she be mellow and good with cats.  Breed was never on my list; I didn't care if it was a Shepherd, a Basset Hound, or a Pit Bull.  I just wanted a nice dog.  I contacted a few rescues inquiring about dogs I saw on Petfinder.  Some had already been spoken for, some I just never heard back on.  Until Emma.  I reached out to Downtown Dog Rescue in Los Angeles, inquiring about their available dogs.  Lori Weise responded quickly and was happy to share with me a dog they just took in that was excellent with cats.  I remember the first thing Lori told me about Emma, that ‘she was a true rescue, in every sense of the word’.   It was a female pit bull that a Good Samaritan found collapsed on a yard in her neighborhood, skinny, tattered and having just given birth (no puppies were ever found). I went down to meet her that week, and couldn't say no to her big brown eyes.  She was mine. 

Emma Before and After!

Tivi (foreground) and Emma (background)
I’d never thought twice about a dog’s breed.  I’ve always thought that every dog is different and has its own personality.  Of course I was aware of the prejudice against pit bulls, but I had no idea how extreme it was until I had this adorable brown pit bull of my own.  Here I am, all 5 feet 4 inches of me, in my pink sweat pants and a pony tail, walking along with my dog in her sparkly pink collar and matching leash.  How on earth could we be threatening?!  Yet people actually did cross the street when they saw us coming, I couldn’t believe it.  I once had a man yell at me when I was out walking her; he screamed at me to “put that thing away!”  I didn’t like it, and I wanted it to change.  I wanted people to see my dog, and every other dog of for that matter, for what she was:  a dog.  Feeling frustrated, and quite honestly a bit heart broken, I needed to vent with other dog owners in the same boat.  I joined an online forum dedicated to all things pit bull.  In addition to commiserating with other folks sharing my dog discrimination plight, I also learned a ton about health issues, training, laws, and most important: dog rescue.  The forum was full of members heavily involved in animal rescue.  It was an excellent place for networking dogs in need of homes.  One such dog was a wrinkly and chubby senior Shar-Pei/Pit Bull mix named Tivoli.  He’d been living at a no kill shelter in Central Oregon for two years.  The thread with his story and efforts to find him a home quickly became one of the most active, with members posting daily; either inquiring about his status, or coordinating donations of supplies, treats and toys.  Like so many members, I was totally smitten with this dog I’d never met.  After several months following his story, I was beyond excited to learn that he was finally adopted in March of 2010!  His new owner, Jonathan, was aware of Tivi’s ‘fan base’ and started a blog about their new adventures together.  I logged on every day to see what adorable photo of Tivi would be posted next.  When Jonathan posted about his upcoming vacation with Tivi to Sunriver Resort in Bend, Oregon, I got an idea.  Every summer I took a road trip with Emma; we drove from California to Washington State to visit my parents.  I always made a pit stop in Bend, so this time I thought, why not stay at Sunriver and meet Tivi?  I got in contact with Jonathan and with our trips coinciding, he welcomed Emma and me to see him and Tivi.  Jonathan and I stayed in contact up until the trip, emailing and connecting over our shared love of dogs.  When July finally came, I was excited to meet not only Tivi, but now Jonathan too.  Jonathan and I hit it off, and we’ve been together ever since. 

Emma and TC
Three years ago I moved from California to Spokane, Washington to care for my parents.  I sold my condo and packed up my car with Emma and my cat, and my new life as a caregiver began.  For the next year and a half I cared for my parents 24/7.  With my mom suffering from Alzheimer’s and my dad having suddenly lost his eyesight, it was often a draining and emotional job. Arranging care for my parents in my absence was a challenge, so visits to Jonathan and Tivi were infrequent.  I didn’t know anyone in Spokane, and aside from volunteering at the Humane Society, I had zero life outside of my caregiving role.  But I had my animals.  And I am certain I would have gone insane without them!  I savored simple things like going for a walk with Emma, and having the cat sleep on my pillow every night.  But I wasn’t the only one to benefit from the amazing comfort these furry creatures provided. 

My dad, deeply depressed by his new affliction that prevented him from doing everything he loved (reading, golfing, daily email banter with his old Navy buddies), now had a reason to get dressed and out of the house:  my dog, Emma.  I’ve never seen a crotchety old man switch from grumpy to giddy so quickly as when Emma would jump onto my mom and dad’s bed every morning to wake them up.  And the highlight of my dad’s day?  A walk around the block with Emma.  Emma’s a bit of a couch potato, so her leisurely pace was quite compatible with an 80-year-old blind man; he was able to hold her leash and his cane and lead our walks.  My dad was now in control again, participating in life.  He was walking this stocky pit bull, with confidence and a smile I hadn’t seen since he’d lost his eyesight.

For my mom, whose world was now filled with confusion, anxiety and fear, Emma was 65 pounds of comfort and kinship.  Not many people could understand my mom as she struggled to string a sentence together, and she often did not understand where she was or what she was doing at any given moment. Alzheimer’s can create a lonely and frustrating existence for those it cruelly strikes.  But with Emma, it didn’t matter what my mom said or how little sense she made.  There was always a pair of big brown eyes staring back at her with what seemed to be an honest understanding.  Emma was a source of peace in my mom’s chaotic mind.  Often my mom would wander into my room at night, confused and paranoid about someone out to get her.  Emma was always my go-to girl for reigning mom back in.  I would interrupt my mom to tell her the dog was begging for her attention.  Emma would roll on her back offering her belly, and my mom would instantly be sucked in, now focused on giving the best belly rub she could.  The villains haunting my mom were gone, and it was just her and Emma.  Even if only for a matter of minutes, it gave her some reprieve from this disease. 

As Alzheimer’s continued to take more and more of my mom away, it became more than I could handle by myself.  And my own sanity was taking a hit.  I needed to get more help for my parents and a life for myself.  So again I packed up my car with the animals and hit the road, only this time it was a bit more crowded, with both my mom and dad crammed in as well.  Together we made the trek down to Oregon, close to my friends and Jonathan and Tivi.  I now had a house for myself where I could start fresh, and a beautiful retirement community for my parents, where I could still care for my mom but could leave at the end of the day! 

Today I get to bring Emma to “work” with me, visiting my parents and bringing her much welcomed source of joy.  And she’s not the only ‘therapy’ dog in my arsenal now.  Tivi has gotten in on the action too.  Always donning a goofy t-shirt to cover his missing and patchy hair, Tivi is an immediate hit when we walk into the retirement home.  Old folks who otherwise ignore me, suddenly approach asking who the handsome dog is!  I can never make it to my parents’ apartment without a good hour visit in the lobby with a crowd of walkers and canes all reaching in to give Tivi a pat on the head.  They all want to know his story, and so many are thrilled to tell me about their own pets, or the good ‘ol dog they had growing up.  I’m not just bringing a dog through the lobby, I’m bringing conversation, laughter, and sometimes memories of dogs past.  It is so much fun to have this four-legged entertainer by my side, and to witness and enjoy the happiness a dog creates.

The last four years have taken me from state to state, and through a drastic career change and living situations.  Emma has been by my side the whole time.  And now with Tivi, I have two wiggly butts welcoming me home at the end of the day.  And when you have that, it doesn’t matter how long or hard the day was.

A HUGE thank you to Jennifer and Emma for sharing their story with us. How gorgeous is Emma? And what a lucky girl to have found Jennifer.
Have you experienced the healing power of an animal in your life?