Wednesday, June 29, 2011

the holy grail

What took you so long?

Jondi - aka Toy Junkie - finally noticed the new wire baskets where freshly scrubbed rubber toys now live. Like a (short) kid in a candy shop, her hopeful eyes have been big as saucers ever since.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Star's Student

Newest barn resident Mr. Jiggs was given a job to do when he came to the barn: He was supposed to help socialize Jondi and Star. Star as you may know, came off a chain at an alleged dog fighter's yard, so we can assume her abuser wasn't big on organizing happy doggy play dates with other well socialized dogs. We move slow with dogs from fighting operations so they have every opportunity to succeed.

The jokes on us though! Star's dog/dog play manners have been great and she's been actively working to help the shy Mr. Jiggs get comfortable with dogs and up to speed on his play. Such a sensitive creature. She seems to know that he's a worrier and does everything she can to entice him to fun without overwhelming him. Wouldn't it figure? These dogs sure like reminding us that they're individuals; full of surprises. Here's a few photos from this morning's pre-rain shower play session.

Viva the Blur ....

two new barn dogs - two heroes

Nearly every dog who comes to us seems to have one or more people in their very recent past who went out of their way to stop their suffering and help them to safety. The barn has hosted a number of dogs attached to just these kinds of heroes. Right now, we're celebrating the fast work of these two ladies: Alicia Pato and Rebecca Yuen.

You may have read about Officer Pato on our facebook page. She brought this puppy in to Antioch Animal Services when he was at death's door then refused to accept a veterinarian's warning that he would likely be dead in the morning. Cold to the touch and unable to lift his head or walk, she kept him going on tiny rations of food and fluids round the clock until the life returned to his dried up shell of a body. It doesn't seem to get much worse that this (photo below) - but don't let yourself get too focused on how bad he looked. That's done.

Instead, look at that brilliantly alert spirit he's broadcasting in the photo above. That's the dog Alicia refused to let go of. Once named Brutus, he's been re-named Mr. Jiggs - or Jiggy for short. He's doing fine, by the way, getting acquainted with barn life and sorting out new games with the girl below. He's a tiny fellow, full of excitable puppy energy. It's going to be a lot of fun having him in our circles.

Mr. Jiggs, Before:

Little Lulu, Before:

The little girl pictured above has an Oakland teenager to thank for saving her life. We learned through an email that Rebecca Yuen has a reputation for helping animals at Skyline High School. When she was asked to take in this stray that wandered on campus, she correctly inventoried the fresh wounds and skin condition and knew the news wasn't good. Experience had shown her that her poor health would likely cost her her life at the local shelter. So she wrote this email that got our attention:

A little voice that needs to be heard.

Hi Donna or Whom it May Concern,
My name is Rebecca and I am 19 years old who can't afford to take in a pocket pittie I found today today at Skyline High School in Oakland, California where teachers spent some time trying to catch her at 5am. They succeeded and was able to keep her in an enclosed area, and that's when my sister who is a student there called me knowing I am a pit bull lover. She looks like she is about a year old, and she is not in good condition. She has an infected right eye, her right ear is all dried and scabby, and she has patches of missing hair through out her body, looks like mange. She also has a few fresh sores on her paws and what not. I do NOT want to take her to Oakland Animal Services, because last time I found a pit bull she got put down. I even took her into my home for a night, fed her, bathe her, and they still put her down so I am scared with what may happen to this little girl. I cannot keep her as I have three dogs of my own, I called rescues who will not take her because they all told me to take her to OAS, and you guys are my last hope even though I know you guys have a bunch of pit bulls of your own to care for. Please, please, please -- I am desperate for help. She is the sweetest little girl and if you guys can't take her in she will have to go to OAS.

Rebecca Yuen

We weren't sure if "the little voice that needs to be heard" belonged to Rebecca or the dog. Maybe both.

Fate sent us another email the same week we heard from Rebecca. This one came from an acquaintance who was offering her home to a new dog -- preferably a small young adult female. Bingo! That kind of luck can't be ignored, so fast forward to today and 'Little Lulu' is now safe in the barn. Her stray hold is up and her wounds and skin are healing nicely (right), and we're happy to say she's a week away from moving to foster care.

While she waits, she and Jiggy are doing what young dogs do best: romping, rolling, wrestling, and generally reminding all of us that they have a whole lotta life to live. With many thanks to Officer Pato, to the teachers of Skyline High and to Rebecca for your brave, determined hearts.

UPDATE: Happy News! Lulu is now named 'Ivie Lu' and is living the good life with her new family. Photos here.

Friday, June 24, 2011

first favorite toy

She hasn't paid much attention to the toys scattered around since she first arrived from "the sad place," where we're fairly certain she didn't have any at all. But this toy is different. It's so special, she lets herself settle right on down with it, which is a hard thing for Star to do. Settle, that is. She forgot all about me and my buzzing around and the dogs coming and going and voices out in the yard. It's just her and her fuzzy green rubber bone that stopped squeaking yesterday. Nothing else. Seeing this girl sink into a quiet moment or three was heaven. Dog bless summer and all the ways it slows time down for us.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

warming down

At the end of a high energy training session, Jondi enjoys a warm-down session with trainee Joanne Osburn. It's hard to know who's happier here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Room with a View

When Star first arrived, she moved into a kennel in the new barn addition. It came with a thrift-shop chair which, since she wasn't fully potty trained, came to be called "Star's Stinky Chair". It finally became so stinky that it was banished from the barn until a cheap second-hand replacement (leather this time) could be purchased or donated. Just temporarily, in came a regular crate. But the crate in Star's kennel has a distinct advantage over the Stinky Chair - check it out.

Yes, Star has a Room with a View. Doncha just love it??

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

sweet tea

Chunk's been hanging out with Tim in his carving studio while his family is away in Wisconsin. He disappeared for awhile today though ... off on some little mini adventure. I didn't worry too much at first. The property is secure and there are lots of places for a black little dog to hole up out of the afternoon heat. But curiosity got the best of me, so eventually I went off to do a quick scan of the cool grasses and shady spots.

It took some time to find him. Where did he go? His little legs carried his little self all the way to the barn. Then, up onto the sofa, kicking off the pillows and settling in to have a quiet conversation with the dogs that live their now. There he was, at peace in his first-ever home in California.

I smiled, took this photo and tip-toed away so as not to disturb him. As pleasant as a sip of sweet tea on this first day of summer.

Nita's sweet brown eyes

More than one Barn Crew member has fallen for our Nita's come-hither look from her beautiful baby browns. Or, perhaps we're all suckers for a pretty face.

The light shining down onto the top of Nita's head is a reflection from her halo, too. (That's what Nita would like everyone to believe anyway.) As Donna said about her, this kinda cute ought to be illegal.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

the weekend

A swirl of activity this weekend! Star and Nita went to class with barn crew trainees (thank you Joanne and Connor!) and Atomic Betty got acquainted with a couple who hope to adopt her. Formerly-Fat Zack had a blind date with BR alum Sophie. It was such a good date that they decided to get engaged, and our smiley boy left for his new home. Yay!

Star had a milestone: One full day with no pee in her kennel. YAY. She's finally getting the hang of things and slowed her busy brain down for some quality chillaxin time. Later, she got to practice her favorite-ever activity and enjoyed nose work fun with Letti and Anita.

Bouncer came by for a visit, and while his mom was signing final adoption papers (yeeah!), he hung out with American Bully cousin Nita. The two stubby legged low riders hit it off immediately.

What's an American Bully? It's a new style of dog recently created by mixing a few different breeds together. Take a look see.

Neither Bouncer nor Nita seem to care that they're not really pit bulls. They're just glad that this crowd of dog lovers are all suckers for a fat head and a pretty face.

Finally, a new dog (still nameless) moved into the barn to spend a week of get-to-know-you-time before she goes to foster care. A sheet went up to help Jondi and the new kid get used to each other. Yep - they can still peek at each other, but the sheet offers some privacy and helps reinforce friendly roommate manners. By encouraging good relations between the dogs, we create an environment that's as stress free as possible while increasing each dog's social skills. We'll unveil the little imp who's hiding behind the curtain very soon.

Above: Owned dogs Lola, Sally, Elliot, Chunk and Honky Tonk watch from a miserable distance as the barn yard buzzes with people, fun, laughter and - gasp! - treats for the orphans-in-training. So. Not. Fair.


Star's Work is Never Done

...and thats just how she wants it.
Star loves to work. She is always looking for new ways to impress us with her smarts and willingness to try new things.
Star took to nose work right away under Catherine's excellent tutelage. When she sees the boxes she runs immediately to the box containing the bait bag full of treats. When challenged with difficult hides Star never gives up and works until she finds the treats and earns her reward.
On her first neighborhood walk, shortly after her arrival from Los Angeles, rather than pulling or being overly distracted by the new universe around her, Star wanted to start learning how to walk politely on leash. It only took her two or three repetitions to learn that she would get a treat for walking in heal position. She was excited to have some freedom to explore and then return to heal for her reward. Here she is checking out the neighborhood squirrels before returning to Anita's side for her praise.
Star gets all her meals in food puzzles, and she hasn't met a puzzle she didn't like and couldn't solve. This morning she enjoyed breakfast in her new purple puzzle toy.
Star sees every day as a new opportunity to learn new tricks and explore her new world. She is working hard to show the barn crew and the new recruits the joy and zest for life that makes victims of cruelty so very special. She truly is a Star.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Welcome to Barn Charm School

While the Bad Rap barn offers its residents a chance to rest and recover after surviving crisis situations, barn dogs also begin the work that will prepare them for life as a family pet. It isn't just obedience training and socialization - even though these darlings have ample natural charm (you've met Zack and Nita already), they also learn how to be...well, civilized.

My parents believed in good old-fashioned home training: saying please and thank you, keeping our elbows off the table, not interrupting adult conversation, using our inside voices and so on. Similarly dogs living at the barn learn basic doggie etiquette. Welcome to “Barn Charm School”!

Barn dogs learn to sit and wait politely before leaving or entering any door. They also learn to sit and wait politely before meals. They get it pretty quickly since it’s the key to getting to the fun stuff and also being fed – really strong motivation. They learn to come when they are called. And eventually, even the most untrained dogs learns to...ahem... relieve themselves outdoors and not in their kennels.

But, just as children sometimes forget their manners, so too do the dogs. Star, a high energy and uber-smart little redhead who lived her previous life on the end of a short chain, had no such training before coming to the barn. This untrained girl took to nose-work as if she was born to it, and problem solves like a little four-legged Hermione Granger. But although she now knows that polite dogs sit and wait, she sometimes jumps up and down in excitement when a barn crew member comes to her kennel. New volunteers like me, learn how to gently and firmly remind forgetful dogs like Star that good etiquette requires a polite sit and wait. Star is whip-smart and usually remembers very quickly, the sheepish expression on her little elfin face saying, “oops, sorry tall lady – I remember now. I’m sitting and waiting nicely now so can I please, please, PLEASE go outside?” This picture shows Star demonstrating her best sit and wait manners at the barn door.

One of Catherine’s earlier posts talked about ways that the barn crew work to lower stress levels. But the dogs themselves contribute to making the environment pleasant and low-stress for all of the residents as well the crew by practicing good doggie etiquette, and it starts with a polite sit and wait. It’s all so very civilized at the "Barn Charm School".

Anita, Barn Crew Trainee

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Oh what to do on those hot days...

Why practice our down-stays on the nice, cool stone patio, of course!

Here's Nita perfecting that down, with a nice "Look" to go along with it.

And here's Anita helping Zack add some finishing touches to his down-stay.

Guess we can practice in the tall grass, too. Here's Anita working with Jondi on her training for the day. And Zack one more time demonstrating what a loooooong down looks like:

The dogs make this look pretty easy. But everyone, dogs and Barn Crew together, worked hard to achieve these beautiful downs. Good work Everyone!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

the boys are back

Barn alum Chunk and homeboy Elliot are together again for a fun week while Chunk's people are out of town. The boys were oh-so-happy to be reunited. Elliot helped Chunk out of his funk when he first arrived from Ohio last summer and they've been good buddies ever since. We sure love dem boys!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Zack's coming out party - helped by a blow up collar!

As we've reported, our man Zack was dog-grumpy when he first came to the barn. He stiffened and snarfed and pulled out his best prize fighter imitation, but it was oh-so-lame. This boy was just socially very awkward and has been out of the dating scene for way too long. Nita did the lion's share of the work getting him used to dogs, and finally it was time to give him a little dog party and invite two steady eddies - Robin and Winnie.

As you can see, they had themselves a good old time and Zack gained some new skills. Oh - you'll see him wearing a blow up bite collar in the video. We left it on on purpose. Even though it was originally meant to stop him from licking his cracked foot pads, it served brilliantly as a "Back Off!" buffer to dogs who might otherwise gnaw at his neck during play. Since Zack's issues with dogs source from fear and inexperience, it was a huge help to his ego that the normally grabby crew was forced to keep just a little bit of a distance during his play. In future play sessions, we'll take it off ... We don't want our big boy getting all power trippy from it.

Don't tell the bite collar people, but we may just have to market their product as a help for select dog/dog intros. Enjoy.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Soothing Feet, and Minds

In a previous posting, Letti described how our barn couple received a healing and soothing paw treatment. If the residents need a spa treatment, so be it. Not only do ministerings like this relieve discomfort, they also relieve stress. And for each and every barn resident, stress relief is part of the plan.

A variety of ways are employed to help the dogs, especially those new to the barn, alleviate stress. One of our crew members loves doing TTouch massage on the dogs whenever they appear a bit too tightly wound. We have soothing music playing in the barn oftentimes to ensure a peaceful atmosphere. Crew members also use the same strategies we would use with our own pets: sitting with them wherever the dogs are most comfortable, taking a leisurely stroll around the yard or the neighborhood, watching the sun set together, standing side-by-side and gazing at the stars, standing together silently and letting the dogs just be while taking in the new scents brought in by the breezes. (Hopefully, the breezes only bring in molecules and not golf balls whizzing by your head. That'll interrupt that quiet moment.)

Here's a demonstration of how to relax and enjoy that quiet moment at the end of the shift after everyone's been exercised, trained and fed:

We also reinforce calm behavior in the dogs, e.g. clicking for quiet and settling. So, the crew will find a variety of ways for the residents, including our new red girl, Jondi, to settle into the new environment, be comfortable, content, and, hopefully, stress-free. Oh yes, doing your shift at the barn is a great way for crew members to relieve their own stress and worries.

Photo of Nita and Zack and Anita.


Dogs come to us from a variety of places: Nita was found outside the Berkeley Shelter as she was struggling to deliver stillborn puppies. Zack, from a family who gave him up when they were unable to secure a pet-friendly home. Star, from a cruelty case in Los Angeles County. Our most recent barn resident came from a story that's as excruciating to tell as it is to consider.

Her name is Jondi and just under two weeks ago, her owner jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. Before she drove to the bridge, she laid a file of info including vet records on her dining room table for her friends to find. In her final two minutes before she jumped, probably while she was standing on the bridge and staring back to Oakland, she sent an email to a mutual friend asking him to please come check in on her dog. We can't begin to imagine the pain that Jondi's owner was feeling as she said good-bye to her life and to her pet, but we do know that she loved her dog very much.

Now homeless, Jondi has accepted life in a barn kennel, surrounded by many of the toys her person left for her. Unfortunately she was not properly socialized to other dogs before she came to us, so we have some work to do to sort out her limits and to help her get on track. This is a work in progress. Because we know her owner, we're experiencing a mix of grief, sadness and of course anger. There are a thousand ways to list "if onlys, " but for now we have to take Jondi's lead, stay in the present and help her as best we can.

We'll post updates as it seems appropriate. For now, please send your best wishes to this little red elf of a dog, and a prayer to her owner.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

i am NOT a barn dog (anymore)

My new people are away this week so I'm vacationing at Elliot's place, but please take note:

I am NOT a barn dog. That is so beneath me.

I have a family now, and no need to sleep with *cough* those barn dogs. I hear they PEE and even POO in their kennels sometimes. Ewww. I'm civilized, y'hear? I made it to the big house. I relax on nice carpets and I practice new ways to sneak onto the humans' gi-nor-mous dog bed.

Yep - I'm a man of the world now. AND I have news ... big, big, BIG news that the people say I can't tell until Thursday.

So I'm counting down 'til Thursday when you will see that not only am I not a barn dog (anymore), I am about to get the biggest happiest best-est present ever ever EVER ... Three days and counting.

Signed, Robin

A Couples Pedicure

This afternoon the two love birds, Zack and Nita, had a couples pedicure. Both pups have sore toes, so first we scrubbed the floors in their kennels while the sweethearts supervised. Their pedicures started with warm soapy water, followed by a cooling rinse with cold water and finished up with a slathering of bag balm to soothe the itch and calm the redness.

Nita enjoyed the attention and loving. She was sweetly happy to let us clean each foot and rub the balm in between her itchy toes. Ana laid a great foundation with the toe nail clippers and Nita felt comfortable with us handling her feet.
After her pampering, Nita distracted Zack during his pedicure. Zack has been licking his toes, so he has to wear the cone until they heal. New barn volunteers Joanne and Connor made the procedure comfortable and rewarding for the rapidly slimming boy.
Both dogs returned to their clean kennels with soothed paws. Hopefully their paws will start healing after the extra love this afternoon.


the pushy princess gets new homework

The barn dogs are at their happiest when they have a few play buddies to keep them occupied. That doesn't always happen. So many dogs are under-socialized when they come to us that one of our bigger jobs is smoothing out dog/dog manners so they can streamline nicely into a new lives. We do that with measured intros using the right play partners at the right time, and then lots of supervised 'practice play' to help the socially awkward gain new skills and comfort with other dogs.

Zack is one of those dogs who came to us feeling very defensive about other dogs. He huffed & puffed and tried his best to scare Nita away. Lucky for us, she had her own ideas about how their friendship should go, and her pushy nature won out.

Now that they're both bff we can't keep them apart. We finally had to put a new note on the volunteer board for our party girl: "Nita needs less Zack-time now and more one-on-one work for better - *ahem* - obedience." Never a dull moment getting the kinks ironed out and the dogs ready for prime time.

Photo credit: Laura Moss

Saturday, June 4, 2011

reinforcements are here: new handlers begin

We're grateful to everyone who replied to our call for applications (below) when we posted our volunteer openings last month. Fifty five people (!) responded, several dozen applicants came to an orientation and nine were ultimately selected for our mentorship program. Even though the positions are now filled, I'm re-posting the ad here since it help explains what we're doing at the barn. THANK YOU to everyone who showed interest in being part of the barn crew team. You give us so much hope for a better day for the dogs!


Barn Crew Expands

... Chunk, Robin, Winnie, Bouncer, Eva Peace, Rosie, Josephine, Ferdi, Camellia, Jimmy Legs, Hypatia, Pepper, Arnie, Fazool, Belinda, Katie Bug, Darla Jane, Tater, Emma, Atomic Betty, Ayse ...

... They're some of the dogs who've spent time in BR's Rescue Barn since we first opened our doors last summer. This modest facility in the Oakland hills serves as a halfway house of sorts for dogs in crisis - specifically, victims of shelter overcrowding, cruelty, foreclosures and emergency medical cases. .The quiet environment and natural setting have been ideal for helping stressed dogs get their bearings and allows them to be healthy, happy dogs again. As they relax, we can learn who they are and design next steps in their transition towards life with permanent families.

The handful of dogs that live here at any given time stay for a week or so until we match them up with foster homes, while others stay on for several weeks until they find their forever families. During that wait they're vetted, trained and socialized to several dogs in regular play sessions. It's like summer school meets summer camp.

Our dog handlers become an important anchor for the dogs during this time at the barn. They serve as the dogs' family and provide everything from clicker training to nose work fun to toenail trims to play parties to plain old fashioned cuddling on the sofa -- all of it is crucial to the dogs' well being and recovery. (Left: Donyale bonds with Winnie, shortly after her arrival from a cruelty case in Gadsden County FL)

In addition to meeting the dogs' daily needs, the BR crew works with potential adopters and visitors who want to learn more about the breed, both at the barn and during our weekends at Berkeley Animal Care Services. They're a wealth of information to a world that is waking up to the joy of the American Pit Bull Terrier and its mixes. Does it sound like I'm bragging? I am. This is a very special group of people who give their heart and soul to the dogs.

It's not all hugs and happies though. Cleaning up dog poo is less than glamorous, and the compassion cases that occasionally come to spend their final days with us tug at all our heartstrings. You have to learn to accept the good with the sad with this work, but the rewards are life changing, to say the least.

Now that this project is humming along, we're ready to expand our team and hope to add up to six new volunteer dog handlers who value this mission. We'll provide the training and you provide a long term commitment to the dogs who land here on their way to new lives. Interested?

LINK: Barn Crew Job Description

Thank you to everyone who applied for these volunteer positions! They've been filled, but we encourage you to see how you can volunteer with your local shelter to help the pit bull type dogs. They're waiting for someone just like you to give them comfort during this difficult time in their lives.