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Letters to the Editor: Issue 58
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A Clarification
A recent article, “Rescue, Doubled” (Oct. ’09), covered the wonderful work that the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) does in training dogs for rescue work. I am writing with a clarification, however. In the article, I was given credit for getting Cody into SDF. This credit should go to the current and former volunteers of Golden Retriever Rescue of WI, who worked as a team to make sure that Cody was accepted. Many volunteers played a vital role in Cody’s placement. Credit must also be given to the people at the shelter who took the first step: making the call that gave Cody a second chance. Thank you for showing what wonderful work these search and rescue dogs do.
—Dawn Christenson
Wisc.

More Ways to Help
Animal lovers in the U.S. can make a difference beyond their borders, as “Volunteer Vacations” (Aug. ’09) made very clear. However, even travelers who don’t have the time to volunteer during their vacation may still be able to provide an important service to organizations overseas.

We at AKI are always looking for people to transport supplies and equipment to our network organizations; rather than pay expensive postage, we rely on people traveling to these countries. Even better, if you are traveling to a less-developed country that has an animal welfare organization, you may wish to gather supplies yourself and transport them. Many of our organizations have so few volunteers and very few or no paid staff. These animal welfare advocates are usually overworked and have few colleagues to share the day-to-day stress. Even a short visit to lift morale is often useful. You’ll be so impressed with all the work these organizations do with so little funding that you may become a lifetime supporter.
—Karen Menczer
Founder, Animal Kind International
Animal-kind.org

Special Needs
Karen London’s column on special needs dogs (“Dogs Like Any Other” Oct. ’09) was great. It took me several months to admit my Noel was blind. Then I felt guilty for not admitting it sooner and not helping her sooner. After overcoming denial, I coped with the frustration of not knowing how to help her.
In her column, London says, “Just decide this dog is going to have a full and happy life!” Ultimately, that is what turned the page for Noel and me. I live to walk and hike with my dogs, and decided that no matter how hard it was or how much patience it required, Noel would learn the joys of walking with me. Many months passed. Slowly, Noel decided walks were not just tolerable but fun, maybe even great. Now Noel walks, hikes, plays ball, does full-on romping with my other dogs and is in every sense having a “full, happy life”!
—Pamela Floyd
Lancaster, Pa.

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Submitted by Zoey | February 15 2010 |

I really feel for the Shar-pei owner who now has a dog who is timid and sometimes aggressive towards small dogs due to lack of understanding by the owners of the small dogs. I've been the owner of two St. Bernards, and fortunately my current one loves everyone and everything on two or four feet, but my late St. Bernard had a phobia about small dogs when I got her (she was a rescue), and I can't help but feel that her situation might have been similar.
What the owners of the small dogs need to realize is that, although their pets might be cute and funny, a larger dog on a leash, no matter how well trained, is no match.
My previous St. Bernard was actually attacked by a neighborhood Parson Russell Terrier, and finally defended herself. We got them separated, but anyone passing by would have determined that my dog had attacked that poor little dog, rather than realizing that the terrier was out of his yard, and had attacked my dog.
No matter what the size or temperament, ALL dogs need proper training and responsible owners.

Submitted by Khánh | February 17 2010 |

I can completely relate to the author of the letter regarding double standards of large and little dogs.

I am blind and I have a dog guide to act as my eyes during my travels. My current guide is a large female German Shepherd who is a little over a year old. When I brought her home last April to begin training, little dogs never bothered her. If anything got too close to me, she would give a protective "woof", but we worked on that and she learned to be reasonably calm around other dogs.

Then one morning in July, we went to our nearby Starbucks and no sooner had we entered the driveway than I heard the loud piercing, yappy bark of a little dog. I quietly told my dog Griet to "leave it", and she did. She took me to the Starbucks door and the little dog continued to bark and bark. I discovered that Starbucks was not open yet, so I decided to wait. The other dog was about ten feet to our right, and other than barking, it didn't lunge or jump at us. It was a great training opportunity for Griet. She sat quietly next to me, and never made a move or a sound.

The barking went on for nearly five minutes and just when I was beginning to wonder who would leave their barky dog alone, a man's voice said: "It doesn't open until 5"30." He made no effort to stop his dog from barking.

When Starbucks finally opened, Griet and I began to walk inside. And that was when the little dog lunged at Griet, growling and snarling.

When I told an employee that a dog on their premises had nearly attacked my dog guide, I was told "Well, your dog is big and mean and scary-looking. That's just a little dog. She won't hurt anyone."

We had several more encounters with the same little dog around the neighborhood; each time, it lunged at my dog's face and each time, the owner did nothing except threaten to kill my dog if she ever hurt his.

The experiences nearly brought our working partnership to an end. For a long time, Griet became very reactive whenever a little dog came too close to her, barking and chasing it away. It did not matter if the dog was on a leash and well-behaved.

It has taken a tremendous amount of work to help her overcome her fear, and she has never fully recovered from those experiences. And for me as a completely blind person, I do not have the advantage of seing to help her get away without causing further injury if she is ever attacked by any dog.

Submitted by Claudia | February 23 2010 |

I've got to ask; if your guide dog acts as your eyes, how do you know this little dog was lunging at your dog's face? And why did you wait outside of Starbucks for 5 minutes listening to a dog bark? Was there no other place to stand while you waited? Seems there is a lot more going on here.

Submitted by Ann | August 20 2010 |

I was just reading these comments and although I am afraid this is so late from their original post dates, I am compelled to send a comment to Khánh. What a wonderful dog you must have to be so tolerant. I am so sorry you have such inconsiderate dog owners living around you. The man who threatened your dog should she ever harm his, should be flogged. All dogs should behave well, no matter what the size. Obnoxious dogs are 100% the fault of their owners! Personally, I spend hours of training and lots of fees to keep my dogs going to all levels of obedience classes with all sorts of dogs. Everyone I have met in my classes are wonderful but of course they wouldn't be there if they didn't want their dogs to behave as well. I am a big dog owner and lover but I love all dogs. For me the training is a joy because I love it when my dogs have eureka moments during training. There is no way to express the thrill of them being so proud of themselves for performing to perfection to please me. Sadly, lazy owners who are ignorant, as in the small dog owner you experienced at Starbuck as well as the stupid employee, will never know this joy. Good luck to you and Griet; you both are winners in my book!

Submitted by Claudia | February 23 2010 |

Many dog owners are clueless and have not spent adequate (if any) time understanding their dogs. With that said, I am the owner of a small, trained, therapy-certified dog; not to be mistaken with "service" dog. Is he perfect? No, he has issues, but who doesn't?

My question to the Shar-Pei owner: you say your dog is "very friendly". Is your dog walking in front of you? Is your dog greeting the small dog before you do? Is your dog greeting the other dog face to face? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, my dog would bark at you and Sophie too. Many of the behaviors I just described are dominant and/or rude, in dog terms. I listed 3 basic behaviors, but there are many more signs that dogs show. Is Sophie staring at the other dog? Is her fur raised? My dog recently growled and barked at a Huskey we met on a walk who was staring at him and being very still. The Huskey owner mentioned something about "yappy little dogs" to my husband, who was politely playing interference with the Huskey while I got far away with our dog. The Huskey owner was clueless that his dog was showing aggression and could attack at any moment. My dog was alerting us (and freaking out) about the aggressive dog. I'm betting at least some of the little dogs in your neighborhood don't think Sophie is very friendly at all.

Are these small dogs on their property? If so, then they are guarding their property. Some level of alerting is their job. We get barked at non-stop by dogs guarding their property.

If you are interested in working on your situation I would ask the little dog owners if they want to go on a structured walk with you (people in front, not dogs). My dog has many walking buddies of all shapes and sizes. This doesn't mean he wants to be best friends, just that he enjoys a good pack walk.

Submitted by anonomous | February 24 2010 |

To Sophie's owner: you describe Sophie as very friendly. This raised an eyebrow. Does Sophie walk in front of you, greeting the little dogs before you do? Is Sophie greeting these dogs face-to-face? Many larger dog owners are willing to put the "blame" on the small, barky dog, failing to see the signals their dog is showing. The behaviors I just described are basic dominant behaviors and would get a good bark going from my small breed dog. You might want to consider starting a structured (person leads, not dog) dog walking group in your neighborhood and invite the small dogs.

To the guide dog owner: gotta ask... How can you see the little dog lunging at your dog? Why did you stay near a barking dog for 5 minutes? That little dog must have been in real distress...

Submitted by Khánh | March 12 2010 |

Claudia:
Apologies for the late reply; I did not see this until now.
I am blind, not deaf. So even though I could not see the other dog lunging at my dog, I could HEAR it. My dog acts as my eyes when I am travelling. This means that she indicates to me changes in elevation by stopping or slowing down, and maneuvers me around obstacles and traffic.

Also, when my dog and I were near the other dog, we were ten feet away from it and the two animals were not close enough to make physical contact. My dog was on leash and in harness and at a sit, her head facing the opposite direction. (And before you ask, I do not need to see to know her body position. I can tell by touching her and through the leash. It was a good training opportunity for my dog to stay calm and focused on me, as she needs to be able to do this in a variety of situations with or without other dogs.

If the other dog was in distress as you say, then it was the owner's responsibility to do something about it--immediately. He merely sat there and did absolutely nothing.

Submitted by Lis | March 7 2010 |

Last summer, on a bright sunny day, I took my little dog--a Chinese Crested--to a local nature reserve where dogs are allowed on leash. I walked my little dog, on leash, up to the most popular vantage point in the park, where we were shortly joined by a family with their off leash Golden Retriever.

My Crested had a couple of bad experiences during her first year, leaving her very nervous of larger dogs, but we'd been working on it with a high degree of success. We still need to manage introductions to larger dogs, but she now does regular therapy visits with both big and little dogs and also cats as partners in the visits, with no problems. When she saw the unfamiliar Golden, she was not happy, but she did not start barking or lunging. On the contrary, she went into a down and tried to look small and unobtrusive when she realized the Golden was looking at her.

And that off-leash Golden bounded over eagerly to say, "Hi!"--scaring my nervous little dog beyond her ability to continue just lying there. She jumped up and started barking a loud, warning, back-off bark. The dumb Golden looked completely astonished, and took a minute or so to actually back off. At no point did my dog do anything other than bark and stand her ground--no attempt to go after the other dog at all.

Of course his owners assured me that he was completely friendly. Heck, it was even true. There was nothing aggressive in that idiot dog's behavior or body language. But he was also, in doggy terms, extremely rude. He barreled right into the personal space of a dog who was giving clear signals of not being ready for such boisterous "friendliness."

But neither his owners nor anyone else noticed that or cared about it. My dog was the one that barked first, so my dog was the Bad Dog. The Yappy, Aggressive Little Monster. The Tasmanian Devil of a dog. The Tasmanian Devil epithet was the most popular and persistent one--even after the idiots and their Golden had left, and two other families arrived, one with a Cavalier and the other with a Lhasa mix. Even as my dog was happily greeting these much more polite dogs--who also, of course, were not six or seven times her size--I was still hearing "Tasmanian Devil" jokes and suggestions that the other families "be careful" of my "aggressive little dog."

Yeah, there's a double standard, for sure.

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