Sunday, July 31, 2011

garden gnome: in charge of smiles

Bouncer came by to help with a fun project at the barn yesterday. His new mom Jaime is designing a garden for the space, and the first step was getting the ground ready. It was hard work... pulling weeds, turning the soil, breaking up clay balls, hauling heavy bags of soil into place.

Here he is looking very pleased with himself. After all, he DID supervise!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

new favorite toy ...


here's hoping Star's someday home is growing lots of 'em right now just for her.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Grinning from ear to ear

Joanne and I wanted to get some new photos of the dogs on our shift together. We finally got a few with a little coaxing, some attention-grabbing noises, treats, of course, and the promise to leave the dogs alone as soon as we got a couple of decent shots.

And the result was... What do all of you think? Who has the widest, happiest grin?

Silly Mr Jiggs with his sparkly eyes and pearly white teeth? And we know this boy deserves to be smiling.

Or perhaps one of our resident redheads? With all of the toys she's accumulated from all of her fans and smitten barn crew members, yeah, Jondi's got one or two things to smile about also.

Or maybe our other redhead, Star. Unfortunately, she was having none of the "pretty please, let us take your picture just this once." So she kept tight hold of her ball and gave us a raspberry instead, "Thpppf!" At least she caught a little sun on her face until returning her attention to more interesting matters.

These guys may have come from far less than ideal circumstances, but they have plenty to grin about now.

and now, Nita and Jondi

Mature female Nita and once-terribly-unsocialized Jondi have been getting used to each other's presence and even offering nice greets at the fence over the past couple of weeks, so it was time to do a few brief (2-5 minute) intros. We've had to take it slow because Nita tends to be bossy and we knew Jondi would so not appreciate that. Their get-to-know-you sessions have been very loud and exciting with some rude pushiness from Nita, some stern, dramatic corrections from Jondi, and even a flash of "let's play" moments initiated by both. So much fun for us - We love this part of dog work!

We don't expect the two girls to be BFF, but they're both learning important lessons about communicating with other dogs and following their people's cues in spicey situations. For now, we're happy to see them both agree to be around each other and even try out some clumsy attempts at a friendship. Baby steps. We'll string together video clips of the action soon so you can enjoy their progress.

Photo above: Taking a break from their awkward greets, both girls are getting what they really want ... Rewards from their human friends for doing such a good job.

Monday, July 25, 2011

no such thing as an open kennel

Barn alum Arnie hopscotched from a vacation stint in the barn to his new home this week (happy photo). We love the very temporary feeling of having an open kennel. It gives everyone a chance to breathe for a second until a new dog bursts onto the scene. Breeeeathe.

Breathing only lasted a lousy 40 minutes though. No sooner did Arnie drive away with his family than a stray pit bull popped up during a dog walk around the neighborhood. Oh noooooo. Is there no rest for the wicked?

So we lured the shy guy with treats, popped him into the kennel and assessed his situation: Young, healthy and handsome ... intact... no tags ... definitely not a house dog ... very social with people but severely lacking experience with other dogs ... probably wouldn't survive the local shelter due to his color and lack of dog manners ... Sigh. We put word out to the masses, got ready to file a found dog report at our shelter and asked the barn crew to treat him like family, which of course they did. He was very popular with sweet Inga and he told us all about the happy, albeit dog-isolated life he's been living.

Happy day! In a couple of days, his owner was located!

... He's a young guy who's still working out the kinks in owning a young energetic, fence climbing dog. Tim was lining up to spill his best sage advice when the dog owner blurted out, "Do you know where I can get him neutered?" Oh sweet jeebus, that's music to any rescuer's ears. So Mr. Pup - whose name is Ikel by the way - will be joining us at our first East Oakland on-site surgery and training event next month. Huzzah. We can't wait to see him there.

I'm staring at that empty kennel again, but now it's lookin' way sweeter than it did before our stray pup took up temporary residence.

let there be light

One of Jondi's favorite hours is after the loud and rowdy morning breakfast and exercise routine. Right when the sun is streaming in through the skylight above her kennel onto her doggy bed. Nice breeze coming in from the open windows; sounds of dogs sighing and licking their lips into coziness. It's so much easier to leave the barn to other errands when they're finally lazing like this. Shhhhh.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Make a Wish

Its not a shooting star, its a flying Star.
Today she taught new barn volunteer Joanne the flirt pole game.
Star loves getting air. When she's playing with the flirt pole we can all enjoy her high flying style and she clearly relishes the opportunity to be praised for her jumping skills.
I'm pretty sure Star feels like all her wishes have come true now she's a barn dog. Imagine how happy she will be when she has her very own family, and hopefully her very own flirt pole.
What a beauty!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Arnie Time

Arnie got to hang out with us this week while his family vacationed. While he was here, he earned his kibble by romping around and entertaining all the other dogs, and he gave the team some good flirt pole practice. Flirt pole fun is the best game ever for Mister-I-Want-to-Chase-Squirrels, because it teaches him the importance of dis-engaging from his obsession when he'd really really rather not.

We've been singing the praises of the flirt on our "other" blog and facebook page. In case you missed it, here 'tis.

I know the dogs here will miss Arnie when he leaves, and the squirrels might even miss him too. We think they had fun watching him practice his manners from their perch on the trees. They might've been laughing a little, too ...

"HA-HA! Silly dog chases stick toy and forgets we're here. Pfffffft!"

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

yes, we believe in magic

Our rescue barn is one year old this month. Woot! More to come on what we've learned so far.

Back when it was just a pile of wood, contractor scribbles, city inspection sign offs and nervous energy (ours) we decided we needed to invoke some good magic to ensure good juju for this space. So we called the group together for a ceremony of sorts.

Everyone brought something that held special meaning to serve as a good luck charm for the barn. There was a dog whistle from Cris Cohen's youth. Dog tags from Holly's departed love, Yoda. An angel from Sheri. A patron saint charm from Kerry. A box of worry dolls from long distance friend Dina. A turkey feather from the resident natives, recently evicted from this space (So sorry, guys). So many sentimental offerings that we took turns getting choked up as we called out our contributions.

Kim burned sage and said prayers of protection. Just as we called out a special amulet - a bone from dear friend Jane Berkey's muse dog Petal - we nearly jumped out of our skins ... **POP!**... The champagne just exploded, and unseen paws sent the cork flying into space. We laughed like hyenas. Of course Petal would want us to get on with the dramatics already and have ourselves a drink of bubbly. Pit bulls have better sense than to drag on with ritual.

Simon - who is Elliot's predecessor - laid himself right down and smiled like a goober as Tim placed the items underneath what would be the center of the barn. Little did we know that he'd follow Petal's footsteps and pass on before the barn was completed.

To hold him near, Simon is now buried under the front porch, just steps from my desk. Sometimes new-guy Elliot stretches out on top of him and gazes off at the sky, perfectly content with this little universe and his work here.

Yep, lotsa magic in the bones of this place.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Relaxing has been an acquired skill for Star, who used to move Non. Stop. Living so many years on a chain will do that to some dogs, especially higher drive dogs, as their brain & body work to sort out the stimulation of a new world and the pent up energy that's been bottled up for so long. What do you do with all that energy and how can you possibly relax when you might miss something wonderful? These are Star's lessons from the weekend...

iCuddle. This is so so new - a work in progress. Yay!


And I try really really hard to follow role model Elliot dog's example and sit pretty and not jump up on the table where the delicious delicious delicious food is waiting for me to eat it ALL.

Oops. Trying my very best...

iRelax. Yes I do, I really do!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Barn Lessons

Much has been written here about the lessons the dogs learn during their time at the barn. Manners. Basic obedience. Socialization skills.

But while the Barn residents have been learning their lessons, they have been teaching some lessons as well. Lessons that help dogs who do not live at the Barn.

I have seen it over and over again. No matter how un-ideal their beginnings are or how they got here - the dogs here blossom into the companions they were meant to be, thanks to the consistency, patience and love provided by the Barn Crew.

It is not magic, no matter how magical a sunrise at the barn may be.

This is the lesson the dogs have taught me.

This lesson learned has recently allowed me to open my home to a shelter dog in distress. A dog with health issues and unknown personality. How was I able to say "yes"? I have the example of the Barn to follow. So, although Molly does not live at the Barn, those Barn residents past, present and future are helping her.

Molly says "thank you"

My hope is that the lessons from the Barn reach out to every corner wherever there is a dog who needs a helping hand to reach their potential.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Girls and their playthings

Jondi, our resident toy fanatic, shows off a couple of her other prized possessions (in addition to the jolly ball, pillows, Cuz toys and Mr Jiggs).

The toys certainly provide fun and entertainment (and probably stress relief) for her, but they also serve as important training tools. Jondi's been working on the cue "drop it" in preparation for some rile and recovery work. So she too can have flirt pole fun, like Sally and Elliot and Star.

"Drop it" isn't only useful for flirt pole work; it also comes in pretty handy if your dog has grabbed something he or she shouldn't have. You know, like when you've dropped an entire hot dog you intended to use for training and you don't want your dog to swallow it whole. Or for those times your dog has found her way over to the cat's litter box and pulled out something (a frequent occurence in our house). Or maybe she's grabbed your bra, or other undergarment, and is headed out the door. Well, you can see how "drop it" could prevent a possible medical emergency, or at least some embarrassment to you.

When a dog so enamored with her toys like Jondi
is reliably releasing a favored object when you say "Drop it," you've certainly done your work, and have taught your pal a behavior that can keep her safe and your pride intact.
(Thanks to our supporters for providing toys that help us do our work.)

the Sofa Pit

Somewhere south of here, several counties away, there was a place where a guy set up a pit where Star's family would be pushed into fighting for his entertainment. Her job was to make him pups, after proving her worth by defending herself in a quick fight called a "roll." The scars from that roll are fading as fast as those memories, though.

Here in Oakland, we do things a little different. We set up a leather sofa and are entirely entertained by Star's happiness. Her happiness is ours. The best fun money can buy.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Monday, July 11, 2011

long days

summer time brings those blessed long days and sunset cuddles on the picnic table as we grab up the last of the day's rays. dogs like Jondi are alllllll about it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Jolly Ball

The new favorite toy at the barn is a big red jolly ball.
Mr. Jiggs is a big fan of the jolly ball and was gracious enough to pose with his prize.
Jondi loves the jolly ball even more that Jiggs does. The big red ball is a dream come true for this toy maniac. She spent some time this evening showing us how to properly enjoy a toy.
Star is not impressed by the jolly ball. She preferred her favorite stick today.
Play sessions with favorite toys are an important part of the barn dogs' lives. Play allows the dogs to let loose, gain confidence and show us their personalities. Jiggs is a silly puppy, Jondi takes her fun seriously and Star is finally learning how to relax.
After a good play the barn pups are all happy to relax quietly in their kennels.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"They call me Mr Jiggs."

It's always a delight getting acquainted with the new barn residents, especially when they're packed with personality (and a little mischief) like our new boy, Jiggs. So on our first shift together, Mr Jiggs showed me just who he is and what gets him going.

Here he is being thoughtful and patient.

Here's Jiggs showing he has a fondness for toys, and the ability to launch himself in a nano second.

And here.... Well, he's just a wild man here. You've never seen anyone so overjoyed with being able to run like the wind and enjoy just being.

He's not always wild and crazy though. Jiggs can be serious when needed. Here he is listening attentively to what he'll be asked to do next. And maybe thinking about launching himself into some more zoomies.

I wonder what side of himself Mr Jiggs will show me next week?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Importance of the Barn Project

Recently, within a span of 6 days, my own pit bulls and a neighbor's pit bull have been the targets of prejudiced and undeserved comments. Shocking to me as in all of the almost 8 years we've lived in this quiet, sleepy East Bay suburb, I recall one similar incident. I honestly thought our neighbors were pretty enlightened about the evils of breed prejudice.

Unfortunately, some people have yet to see the light, probably because they've closed up their minds pretty tightly when it comes to seeing the overwhelming positive results of dogs being judged as individuals and not on where they came from or their body type.

When people make comments like these under their breath: "How could you own a pit bull?" or "Please walk your pit bull on the other side of the path so he doesn't get too close to my dogs," or "Keep your pit bulls off my grass," it's pretty evident there is still work to be done. That's where the Barn Project and its residents come in. Especially for dogs like Star and Chunk who came from dog fighting operations, people still need convincing it's what on the inside that matters.

The Barn Crew and the barn residents will continue to work their hardest to dispel myths, educate the misinformed, and fight prejudice, to remind people individuals need to be treated as individuals. This includes all of the barn residents, current and former, my own girl, and pit bulls everywhere.

Hopefully, people will let go of their unfounded fears and not recoil when they see me and my girl (who literally proved she wouldn't hurt a fly in a nose work class) walking in our neighborhood, or when any other pit bull owner happens to be out enjoying one of life's simple pleasures that all other dog owners are able to enjoy.

When life hands you lemons.... blog about it; then go hug your dog.

photo of catherine's pal Tulip

Powered by Funk - A milestone intro

Because these four-legged radio receivers we call dogs are aces at picking up on our vibes, it's always best to wait and do dog/dog intros when you're in a happy, casually confident mood - especially when one or both dogs have had issues with dogs in the past. So after a night pounding the dance floor under the spell of Parliament and King of Funk George Clinton, we decided our brains were locked into a good enough place to finally do an off-leash session with Jondi and Jiggs.

Jondi's had a history of bad dog funk in her former home(s) so we've been working to reprogram her little mind, and have been coasting into this moment at a snail slow pace. She's been kenneled next to dogs for about six weeks of close proximity 'flooding' and lavished with positives for any kind of calm, appropriate behavior towards her barn mates. Also, the team's been doing a lot of obedience training to help her learn to follow our lead and our verbal prompts.

Finally - today. First a walk with both dogs to check body language, then some major praise for casual butt sniffing along the way, then back to the yard to do some full contact. Powered by Atomic Dog in our heads, we dropped Jondi's leash. Then, we dropped Jigg's leash. Woo hooooo!

The P-Funk Mothership that landed in Oakland this week didn't let us down, and the good vibes it broadcast seeped all the way up to our little barn. The moment was as smooth as we could hope. Granted, Jondi didn't actually say "I like you" to Jiggs. It was more of a "You're cool little man. Just don't bug me or I might nail you" moment. Fine. We'll take it.

Thankfully, Jiggs is low enough on the totem pole to respect Jondi's self-proclaimed Queendom, so we expect they'll build up to some fun and slowly (emphasis: slowly) work out some impressive dance moves together. More info here on the beauty of snail slow intros. For now: YAY!

Atomic thanks to George Clinton and Parliament for bringing funk to our world, way back then and right here today when we needed it most.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sunday, July 3, 2011


who knew the girls would be so thick so soon into their friendship? Lulu will be leaving for the next phase of her life this coming Tuesday when she moves to a foster/adopt home, and we're sure Star is going to miss fun times with her new buddy.

until they part, the girls are cramming in as much as they can and sharing the best days of their lives so far together. best. ever.

The Dog Days of Summer

What do barn dogs do on a hot summer's day? Why, find nice shady spots to hang out, of course!

But wait - that's not toy-junkie Jondi under the picnic table!

Gasp! That's hard-working Star REALLY enjoying playing with a toy - oh my!

And when even the shady spots outside ain't cutting it, then it's back into the cool of the barn. Star and Jiggy hope y'all stay cool too.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

princess toes

Nita's been on "medical leave" from the barn. Her sensitive little toes were reacting so badly to the grasses, prickles and pollens of the barn yard that we moved her into Tim's art studio so they could get a break.

Elliot is just thrilled to have a live-in playmate and now it's the hardwood floors that are taking a beating as they thunder around like crazed roller derby babies. Here she is helping me try out my new camera. Say Cheese, Nita!