Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Therapy Dogs during Finals Week

At Luther College, I am the adviser to a student group called Animal Allies. The students in the group worked hard all semester to get the college to allow a stress relief day with dogs during finals week. Their hard work paid off and this past Sunday (Dec. 12) Luther hosted its first stress relief day with dogs. We had four dogs there --three of them were ours--Paloma (Australian Shepherd), China (American Staffordshire Terrier), and Jack (Pug) and then Bugs (Border Collie)who used to be our dog, but now belongs to a student of ours who has her working daily as a therapy dog for special needs children at an elementary school in Iowa. All of the dogs were a big hit, but everybody was especially attracted to Jack--he's pretty damn cute--he's a Pug afterall.

Many more students participated than we had expected. With them coming and going over a period of about 1 1/2 hours, we must have had upwards of a 100 people. We plan on doing this every semester, but we are definitely going to need more dogs. All of them were absolutely spent by the time the session was over--in fact, the last 20 mins. or so they kept coming over to me with a look that said "it's time to get me out of here."

Dogs really are amazing critters. Whether its companionship, stress relief, therapy, or service work, they have a remarkable ability to impact our lives in meaningful ways.


Monday, December 13, 2010

China and the raccoon

About two months ago I was out walking my dogs on the land behind our house. I had Paloma, Maya, China, and Sula with me. I usually have all of them except China run off-leash. This time was no different, although when we were coming up to a stream I decided to let China loose--she loves going in the water, so I thought I would let her play in it a little without a leash restraining her. This was a BIG mistake. As soon as I let her off she dove right into a pile of brush sending two raccoons up a tree and getting in a fight with a third--the biggest damn raccoon I've ever seen. I'm hearing them growling and snarling at each other and then "boom" I know they are fighting. I see the coon run out of the brush pile with China following and eventually latching on to its back. Now there was no way to call her off--she's an Amstaff for crying out loud--a terrier through and through...but I tried. Paloma wanted to join the fray, but I called her off and had Paloma, Maya, and Sula all lay down while I tried to get China's attention. Oh yeah, did I mention I had Eva, our then 10 month old daughter, in a backpack on my back? So at this point I'm freaking out--I can't get close enough to drag China out of the pile because of Eva(it would have been a stupid idea even if I didn't have her) and I'm thinking that the King Kong of raccoons is tearing my 45lb dog apart--I mean I've heard of coons killing coon dogs and they're pretty tough and a lot bigger than China. So I high tail it back home with the other dogs and Eva. I put the dogs away and as I walked in the house, I handed Eva to Carmen and said, "I'm going upstairs to get my gun."--never in my life before moving to Decorah, Iowa did I ever think I would be uttering those words...so Igot my .22 and headed out the door and as I stepped outside, Carmen said--without skipping a beat--"do you have ammo with you?"--I raised my hand in the air with my clip in it and set out back to China.

Now it turns out I never had to use the gun; the fight was over--I couldn't hear anything anymore and I'm thinking "China's dead." But I called her and out she came from behind the brush pile--her face was covered in blood--the coon's and her own. No sign of the coon, but I suspect she ended up back in her den and probably the worse for it all. China appeared to be okay, but she had bite marks and scratches all over her (thank goodness she is up-to-date on her rabies)--a few days of antibiotics and she was in good shape. Like their cousins the pitbull, and other terriers for that matter, Amstaffs can be very aggressive toward animals they perceive as "varmints"--unfortunately, in their minds "varmints" often include cats and small dogs.

Please, please if you have an Amstaff or a Pitbull be very careful about letting it loose around other animals and please don't take these breeds to the dog park....that can be a disaster. The problem is you never know what might flip that switch in their brains. Don't get me wrong, I love these breeds--all bullies, but especially Amstaffs and Pitbulls, occupy a very special place in my heart. They can be the funniest and most affectionate clowns around, but just as with any breed, people need to remember what they were originally bred to do.