Friday, May 29, 2009

Wanted: Volunteer opportunity for a girl and her dogs

Last fall, I took Scout through the Canine Good Citizen class in the hopes of having him approved for Lollypop Farm's pet therapy program. I'd hoped to get involved in the Kids Read To Dogs program, where kids with reading problems are paired with a dog that they can read to. Since the dog can't critique or criticize, and really doesn't care how well a child reads, it gives the child a chance to practice reading in a safe environment.

Even though Scout is a well behaved dog and has had training, after the first K9 class, I knew he wouldn't be a good candidate for the program, because they don't always go to the same place every week, and Scout's not great with new situations. Once he's settled in, he's fine, but he wouldn't be of use to anyone in a new environment week after week.

Well, that, and the fact that he failed the test. He's noise sensitive, and the portion of the test where Bob the trainer throws a metal bowl against the wall did him in.

I've been looking for a volunteer opportunity that I can do with my dog - and now dogs. Even though Scout didn't pass the Good Citizen test doesn't mean he's not a good dog. He's anxious and quirky, sure, and he's not the best dog to walk on a leash because he has only one goal in mind: let's get to the park to play ball. But he's also very gentle. This is the dog that won't eat the hamster if she's crawling around the floor; you can put your steak dinner on the floor and walk away and he'll sniff but he won't eat. If someone needed to throw a ball for an hour or so and have the dog return it, Scout's your boy. And I don't know that he still wouldn't be a good Kids Read to Dogs dog; as long as it was the same kid and it wasn't in a place where people were throwing metal bowls against the wall, he'd still be pretty good.

And now I have Bandit, the devil dog. Where Scout is nervous and anxious, Bandit is confident and obedient. His fault? He's a herding dog through and through, so he's prone to nipping heels to get attention. He's also the dog that will eat off your plate while your fork is in your mouth. But at just 5 months old, he'll play, lie down and chew a bone while someone reads, fetch a ball, and he loves to be pet. He's great walking on a leash.

And then there's me. I'm looking for something we can do a couple of hours a week. I'm not picky; I'll serve food, sort clothes, play with kids, do creative writing, sweep floors, give talks on everything from writing to Christian living. But I'd really, really like to find something to do with the dogs. And it doesn't have to be both dogs at the same time.

I guess as I read that, we're a pretty motley crew. But who knows, maybe we're just what your classroom, ministry or organization is looking for? If so, drop me an email at

On the menu: flip flops, stuffed animals and plastic squeakers

On Wednesday, Bandit at the plastic straps off a pair of cheap flip flops. Yesterday morning at 5 am, he barfed up a decent portion of the plastic, but I was watching all day to make sure the rest of it ... er, came out ... so he didn't end up with a clog in his intestines. Our vet says that he often has to perform surgery on dogs who eat stuff that gets stuck in their digestive tract and then causes a blockage that could be fatal.

Bandit pooped out the rest of the flip flop later yesterday afternoon - and then went on to eat part of a stuffed racoon toy, including the entire plastic squeaker. The whole sqeaker, except one teeny, tiny, almost microscopic piece.

He had been chewing a Kong bone while I lay on the couch reading a book; I dozed off for about a 1/2 hour and I woke up to him coughing up the tiny piece of the plastic squeaker. Can't believe I didn't hear him eating the rest of it.

I watched him the rest of the day to see if any of that plastic and material would come out, but right on time, at 5 am this morning he barfed up a huge wad of material, about the size of 1/2 a hot dog. What a relief. But before I could reach into his crate to clean it, he ate it. He ate the material again! Now I have to watch him the rest of the day to make sure it all comes out ... somehow.

I'm reminded of Proverbs 26:11: "As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly"; it's a good illustration of how we continue to return to our sinful behavior, regardless of how bad - and sometimes dangerous - it can be.

So now we wait to make sure the material and squeaker plastic comes out - again.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dog Training is Cheaper Than Therapy

Last night at dog training, Bob Minchella our trainer said something that hit home with me. He was talking to another dog owner, but earlier he and I had had a long conversation about Scout's anxiety and my guilt in bringing another dog into the house.

Bob said that when you have two dogs, you need to make sure that you do stuff with them separately so they develop their own identities. Otherwise, you end up with dogs that rely on each other too much.

To be honest, I needed to hear that, because it gives me permission to love each dog separately. I've been feeling very guilty if I do something with one dog and not the other. More than that, enjoying doing something more with one than the other.

See, I have a lot of emotion attached to Scout. I got him a week after we put down our 14-year-old Border collie Natasha, an extremely emotional event for our whole family. That our daughter was in Florida at the time, and called me repeatedly to tell me I was a dog murderer, didn't help. Scout had some anxiety issues to begin with, but a month later, just about the time Cassie decided to come home, Scout broke his leg (and it was my fault). So I ended up with a 20-week-old puppy in a cast and a daughter struggling to sort out some of her own growing up stuff (leaving her on a bit of an emotional roller coaster). I was drained, sad, frustrated, distraught, and not a little bit depressed.

My own emotional issues certainly played a big part in amplifying Scout's anxiety issues, to the point that I'm constantly feeling guilty whenever I think he's being slighted. When Bandit takes Scout's toy, I feel guilty. When Bandit bites Scout while they're playing, I feel guilty. When Bandit crawls up on the couch with me while I watch TV, and Scout goes upstairs to lie on the bed, I feel guilty. (Even though Scout never really liked to lie on the couch with me.)

So maybe the problems I'm seeing with the two dogs are really my own problems coming to the surface. That Bob said the dogs need to do things separately actually reminds me that what might feel guilty for me is actually good for the dogs. That's it's not only OK to take them to the park separately, or to crawl on the couch with one and play frisbee with the other, it's good for us all.

Dog training. Cheaper than therapy.

Related posts:
Natasha The Wonder Dog: The Final Update
Posts about Scout

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Random musing on having two dogs & one heart

When we decided to add another dog to our family, I knew that there would be some adjustments. I knew Scout would be frustrated with a new puppy, and I knew he and Bandit would have to work things out.

And for the most part, that's what's happening. For the first couple of weeks, there was a lot of wrestling, and Bandit was, for the most part, a big giant pain in the arse 20 out of 24 hours a day. But over time, they've started to settle in. In fact, as I write, they're both sound asleep in different parts of the house; the cat is in my office window, and he hasn't been mauled yet today. All in all, peace is reigning for the moment.

But I have to confess that there are some things that I'm still struggling with. Bandit is a really good dog. He's taking to training very quickly. He walks calmly on a leash. So far, he hasn't really chewed anything of significance (although he has developed a taste for paperback books and the mail).

He is, however, a bit of a bully. Yesterday I gave him and Scout their Kong bones and they settled into their beds - one in the living room, one in the dining room - to chew and relax. But when Bandit was done, he walked over to Scout, gave him the Border collie stare and whined, until Scout got up and surrendered not only his bone but his bed. I pulled Bandit out and gave Scout back his bone, but he kind of looked at me as if to say, "No, that's OK. I'm good." And he went upstairs to lay on the bed.

That's pretty much how they operate. Scout has something Bandit wants, so Bandit stares him down, or chases him down, or bites him until Scout gives it up. Sometimes when they wrestle, Scout fights back, especially when he's done playing, but when it comes to toys, treats and food, he relinquishes his goodies without a fuss.

Scout has always been a bit aloof. We joke often that he'd go home with anyone who had a hamburger, and as long as you were willing to throw a ball for hours on end, he'd stay as long as you'd have him.

But for a while at least he was attached to me. When David had to sleep in the spare bed because of his back problems (our old bed was the worst), or when he stayed in there during hunting season because he got up before dawn and didn't want to wake me, Scout slept with me. Not just slept with me, slept right next to me. When we got our new bed, though, Scout started sleeping in the spare room by himself.

During the day, though, he was still my shadow. He slept under my feet at my desk, was in the kitchen when I was cooking, slept behind David's recliner when we watched TV. (If the TV was too loud, he'd go upstairs; he's noise sensitive.)

Since Bandit's come, Scout kind of become like a ghost in the house. He can't play with any of his toys because Bandit steals them. He doesn't like to come into my office much because he's afraid of the gate I had to put up to keep Bandit out.

And then yesterday, he ran away. It wasn't a "I'm leaving to join the circus" kind of running away. It was more a "I really do not want to go in the car with you so while you put Bandit in, I'm going to the park." He's never done that before.

So I'm feeling guilty for adding another dog. I don't know if Scout has the cognitive reasoning skills to feel abandoned or ticked off or cheated. Maybe I'm feeling like I'm abandoning him or am ticked off when Bandit's a pain or I'm cheating Scout. Either way, I cried today because I just feel bad for Scout.

I suppose we're still in the adjustment phase and Scout will eventually work this all out. Last night, for example, we played water dog - I spray the hose and Scout chases it. Bandit hates the hose, so this was definitely a mommy and Scout time. By the time we were done, both of us were wet and muddy. And today, after separate walks, both dogs seem less competitive.

So probably I'm the one who needs some counseling to sort out my feelings, huh?

Friday, May 22, 2009

I'm Not A Pet Parent

Can someone please explain this latest fad in calling people who own pets "pet parents?" Once upon a time - in my lifetime, no less - people bought cats and dogs and hamsters and birds and kept them in their house for their pleasure and amusement. They loved and cared for God's creatures, but it was commonly understood that people owned pets and parented children.
I can tell you that from experience that owning a dog and parenting a child are two completely different things.

Yes, I have an inherent responsibility to look out for the physical and emotional well being of both child and dog. Yes, I have a relationship with both that involves love and emotion.

But at the risk of stating the obvious, parenting is a lot more difficult than owning.

Parenting a child generally works like this. You go to a hospital and come home with a squirming little human that everyone coos over. You potty train the child, you teach him the proper way to eat and to speak to adults, how to achieve his goals and to be a responsible member of society. You instill moral values and give spiritual guidance. You worry every minute of the day that he's in danger, in trouble, or both.

Your child, on the other hand, tries to either subvert your efforts or blatantly disregard your every word. He does what he wants, when he wants, and even when he appears to be subscribing to the rules of your game he’s just biding his time until he can get out on his own and prove how stupid you really are.

Owning a dog generally works like this: You find a cute puppy and you bring it home, where everyone coos over it. You spend the next several months trying to teach the puppy that the whole wide outdoors is its personal toilet. You play with the puppy and cuddle the puppy, and as he grows you hopefully teach him some basic commands, like “Sit,” “Stay,” and “Don’t eat the cat.”

Regardless of whether the puppy subscribes to your basic spiritual or philosophical beliefs, he will at least attempt to do what you want, simply because he recognizes that you control the dog food. While there is debate about how much cognitive thinking a dog is capable of, it’s generally agreed that your dog doesn’t spend hours trying to think of ways to subvert your efforts. He operates on a very basic principle: you’re the leader of the pack and as long as you keep the Milk Bones coming he’s happy to keep it that way.

But the whole "pet parent" movement has created pet owners who indulge their little critters the way some parents indulge their children, overfeeding them, coddling them, and refusing to train or issue commands for fear they hurt their little psyches. The result? Dogs who are disobedient, untrained, overweight, and generally a giant nuisance to society.

Wait, maybe pet and child parenting really are alike.

I'm not sure why I'm so bothered by this whole "pet parent" movement. Maybe it stems from my belief that God created everything in the world and then created man in His own image.Nothing else in creation was created in God's image. Nothing else in creation has the ability to reason, to know and understand right from wrong, and choose one over the other. Nothing else in creation has been given the opportunity to be a mirror image of the Creator.
God gave us dominion over the animals, not to dominate but to love and care for them. And that requires boundaries and guidelines and rules. Someone has to be in charge, and it can't be the animals.

And so I parent my daughter and own my dog. And that's the way it should be.

(This column originally appeared in the Christian Voice Magazine. (c) 2008 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Can I love two dogs?

I confess that lately I've been feeling a little guilty about loving my new puppy as much as I do.

For three years, Scout has been my companion, and in my own head, at least, a faithful and loyal companion. But there have been more than a few times when I've wanted to snuggle, or to take him for a happy car ride, or even a nice walk and been disappointed because he doesn't really like to be pet, is anxious in the car (even though he's good) and only likes to walk if we're going to the p-a-r-k to play b-a-l-l.

Compare that to Bandit the devil dog, who loves to be pet, rides in the car like he's the king of the world, and walks on a leash better than any dog should be expected.

Last summer, I wanted to take road trip with Scout, but in the end I just couldn't put him through that anxiety. Sure, he'll go anywhere with me, but that doesn't mean he'll like it. In the car, he pants, ducks every time a truck goes by, and completely freaks if I put the windows down.

David and I joked this week that Bandit might end up being my road trip dog.

And for that, I feel guilty.

I've never had two dogs at the same time before. As an adult, I've always had multiple pets - a cat, dog and hamster, sometimes parakeets, often a fish. Each pet had it's own job, and for the most part no one's job description overlapped the other.

But I'm confused by how I feel about two dogs. Is it OK to love them both the same? Am I being selfish if one dog satisfies a need the other can't? In the end, does the other share with me things only he can? And have I done harm to Scout by bringing Bandit into the picture?

The truth is that Scout is my play dog. He likes to run around the agility course, and play catch till the cows come home. He sits under my desk while I work and he sits next to me while I eat; he never begs or jumps on the table. He doesn't bite or snap and I can trust him not to get into the garbage. He knows when I'm sad and gives me as many kisses as I can stand. He's a good dog, a little anxious and nervous, but dependable and calm at home. I feel better when Scout is in the house with me, especially when I'm home alone.

Bandit, on the other hand, can't be trusted to stay off the counter - while I'm making dinner. He's in the garbage, on the stove, eating from your plate while your fork is in your mouth. When he wants your attention, he gets it by nipping at your heels or your hands. He also gets me up early in the morning and has kept me hopping the past month, mentally and physically.

So both dogs satisfy me in different ways, bringing me joy and a little bit of trouble. Both love me and keep me company. They protect me from the meter reader. They warm the bed (just not at the same time).

I've often wondered how God can love all of us equally, despite our differences. But I guess it's a lot like my dogs. We're all part of the body of Christ, and we all have different gifts and talents and quirks and needs and things to offer to each other and the world.

But I have to go. Scout is here to let me know that Bandit has stolen my sneakers again and Murphy is on the stove. Where would I be without Deputy Scout?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My Dogvotional Gallery at

Scout's famous! My gallery, 10 Lessons I Learned From My Dog, is up now at
That's Scout, in the very first picture, all dirty from our backyard.