Julia Kamysz Lane

Julia Kamysz Lane, owner of Spot On K9 Sports and contributing editor at The Bark, is the author of multiple New Orleans travel guides, including Frommer’s New Orleans Day by Day (3rd Edition). Her work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets and Writers and Publishers Weekly.

News: Guest Posts
I Love My Pit Bull
National Pit Bull Day celebrates this misunderstood breed

I don't think of myself as particularly political or controversial. Yet the “I love my Pit Bull” magnet on my minivan makes some people see red. I've heard everything from, "Do you really have one?" to "Those dogs are horrible and should be banned." I wish I could say these words were spat out by complete strangers, but in fact, they were friendly acquaintances, which meant I had to keep listening to them instead of shrugging it off as the senseless mutterings of a crazy person. Truly, it was one of those do-you-not-know-me-at-all moments.

Hi, my name is Julia Lane and I love a Pit Bull. Her name is Shelby. She is the most beautiful reddish-orange color, which is why her nicknames are “Fawn” or “Honey Bear.” We also call her “Pup-A-Lup,” “Luppy, “ “Lupness” and any other Lup variations I can sneak into her favorite song, “Shelby Is My Pup-A-Lup.” This song is reserved for belly rub time after I’ve amused myself by shouting, “Get the pit! Now the other pit!” as I vigorously scratch under her arm pits. 

October 22 is National Pit Bull Awareness Day. It’s an opportunity to get to know this much maligned and misunderstood dog that was once a popular family pet. Did you know that Pit Bulls are not a breed, but rather a type of dog? Those infamous “locking jaws” are a myth; Shelby is a tough chewer, but it was my late Catahoula, Desoto, who managed to destroy the black Kong in three bites. According to the American Temperament Test Society,  pits are not more aggressive than other dogs. In your face, sensational headlines!

Hundreds of organizations including Best Friends, Bad Rap, Stubby Dog, Chicagoland Bully Breed Rescue and The Sula Foundation are hosting special events  to educate the public. If you don’t know a Pit Bull, go to your local shelter and you’re guaranteed to meet one. Approximately one million Pit Bulls are euthanized in shelters every year. And that doesn’t even count the dogs who are abused and discarded by fighting rings. Whoever said ignorance is bliss is dead wrong.

When I think of pits and second chances, there is always an extraordinary individual who made it possible, who saw past the stereotypes and in an appropriate turn, fought for their dog. Andrew Yori has written extensively about his two amazing pit bulls, Wallace, a national disc dog champion, and Hector,  a former Vick dog who is certified as a Therapy Dog. Wallace was brought to the local shelter as a puppy, and slated for euthanasia. In his new documentary, “Wallace: The Rise of An Underdog,” Yori shares the incredible story of how a seemingly uncontrollable Pit Bull defied the odds to “change minds one disc at a time.”   

Chris Hughes saw potential in Gremlin, a Pit Bull who, as a bait dog, was literally left for dead. By the time Odessa Second Chance Rescue and Rehabilitation pulled her from the shelter, she faced enormous challenges, all because of humans. Both of her back legs had been broken on purpose, and a bat had been rammed down her throat, causing ruptured vocal cords. After two years of rehabilitation, including hydrotherapy, Gremlin was able to walk normally. She went on to earn her Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certification and become a Therapy Dog. Together with Hughes, she makes weekly visits to Aristacrat Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for people who are mentally unstable. She also attends Avon East Elementary School, bringing joy to kids in the special education class. As Hughes puts it, “To have a dog that came from a fighting situation that is now a children’s therapy dog says a lot.”

Shelby is not a champion or certified in anything except Bellyrubology. But she is my Lup and I love her. Countless other Pit Bulls do the same for their people. They love. 

News: Guest Posts
What Do Barks, Whines & Yips Mean?
Test your dogspeak skills with this fun game

You'd think dog owners would ace this test: can you correctly identify all six dog barks? According to the study, even people who don't have dogs could interpret dogspeak for stranger alert and on the attack. But many dog owners (myself included) had a tougher time differentiating between barks for "let's go for a walk" and "give me that ball." How did you fare? Does your dog's communication correlate with the barks demonstrated here?

News: Guest Posts
Crooked Dog Blog
Only 14 weeks old, Johnny has license to "drive"
johnny crooked dog blog pit bull puppy rescue

I'm in love with Johnny. Please don't tell my husband. Or my four dogs. They're liable to get jealous, and for good reason. This is not a typical case of puppy fever. Few people can resist a cute puppy, and those who can are clearly evil. To my knowledge, not even evil puppy-haters can resist 14-week-old Johnny's charms.

He had a rougher start in life than most puppies. Johnny, his four siblings, and his mom, Violet, were found in an abandoned home in southern Louisiana this past June. No one knows for sure how or exactly when, but at some point during his first four weeks of life, Johnny’s back was broken. So was a rear leg. That was strike one. Strike two is that he’s a Pit Bull. ’Nuff said.

Who would take him in?

The rescue found a perfect match in foster mom Jessica Funderburk. She chronicles Johnny’s adventures on The Crooked Dog Blog, complete with heart-melting photos and videos. Her entire family loves Bullies; they have a beautiful, three-legged Pittie named Bella. Jessica was determined to give this little guy every opportunity to not only live, but to have a quality life. Husband Jason built him his first set of wheels. Seeing Johnny try them out for the first time is so uplifting you’ll either bawl your eyes out, stand and applaud wildly, or hug the animal (dog or human) closest to you.

Donations are welcome to help with Johnny’s extensive medical bills. Please contact LSU School of Veterinary Medicine at (225) 578-9559. Ask that your donation be applied to: Jessica Funderburk chart #113221. Thank you.

News: Guest Posts
A Canadian No-Kill Model
Promoting an end to euthanasia
dog adoptable adopt organization rescue animals

"You can't save them all." That's a familiar refrain among animal rescuers and shelter staff, including Toronto Animal Services, whose programs are in jeopardy. Bill Bruce, director of Calgary Animal Services, will argue that not only can you save more animals, but it can be done at no cost to the taxpayer. This Friday, September 30, from 7 to 9 pm, the Organization for the Rescue of Animals (ORA) sponsors his thought-provoking lecture, "The Calgary Model: Providing solutions to reduce euthanasia and end pet homelessness," at the Intercontinental Hotel (220 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON).

“Nobody ever thought of Animal Control Services as leaders in animal welfare, but Bill Bruce’s accomplishments in Calgary have changed our perspectives on the matter," says ORA chair Claudia Vecchio. "Our organization is proud to host Bill Bruce’s event and we invite any person involved in animal care as well as animal advocates to attend. This can be a great opportunity to create the premise for a reform of Animal Services across the Greater Toronto Area for the benefit of the animals and of the community.” Tickets are $11.30 per person; call (416) 726-5762 for more information.

News: Guest Posts
The Messiest, Most Miserable Walk Ever
Poop bag mishaps

I was prepared. I had stuffed two poop bags in my pocket. You’d think that the magic number was two because I was walking two dogs, Shelby and Ginger Peach. But you know what they say when one assumes …

After years of observing my dogs’ on-leash habits in the wilds of semi-rural suburbia (yes, there are cows, goats and chickens along our route, but there’s also a Starbucks “in town”), I’d bet my life on Shelby pooping twice and GP marking every grass blade before pooping in public. Two large bags would be plenty, even if Shelby went for a triple.

Within the first quarter mile, both girls had taken care of business, or as my husband and I call it “Number three.” (Dog lovers will know how to do the math.) Not only was this a speed record, but it made me a little anxious. Shelby was guaranteed to repeat, and here I was bagless. At least she created neat piles of small, round pellets, like a giant rabbit. They’re easy to pick up, even with the tail end of a pre-used bag. When it comes to poop pick up, I’m MacGyver, I can make two leaves work!

Not this time.

Halfway through our walk, GP squatted again, and the soft serve consistency was such that no dog owner would even think of scooping. I mean, the idea was truly laughable! We could just continue on our merry way. It was then that I noticed a pick-up truck idling near us, no doubt the homeowner angrily observing my dog’s lovely decoration on his beautiful green lawn. I had to at least try to pick it up.

First I sprinkled some leaves over the top, then stretching the least full bag out as best I could, placed it over the pile. While I did my best to grab whatever I could without getting anything on my hands, Shelby and GP excitedly wagged their tails at the truck driver. After what seemed like hours, I had bagged barely anything and mostly managed to coat my fingers in brown goo, which I felt the ridiculous need to wave at the homeowner as we made our hasty exit.

Once we were out of sight of any people, I maniacally brushed my hands against the grass, in a futile attempt to clean them. Instead, I managed to get some poop on the leashes as I transferred them from one hand to the other. The dogs sniffed this with interest. (Did they actually understand the four-letter expletive I muttered, indicating it to me like their ball?) I gestured for them to keep moving forward, and accidentally dabbed the top of Shelby’s head in the process.

Normally, our route is quiet on weekday afternoons, but we passed by several neighbors who seemed eager for me to stop and chit chat. I did my best not to fling poop at them as we rushed by, hoping my brown hands were camouflaged by my brown dogs and their brown leather leashes.

Finally, we made it home without further incident. I thought the worst was over, till my husband pointed out that I had what appeared to be something brown in my hair.

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Build the bond with the newest dog sport

Like most dog people, I do not live on a farm, nor do I have l ivestock, unless you count the chipmunks squatting in our garage. This is one of the great disappointments of my dog Ginger Peach’s life. She’ll herd anything — people, other dogs, Jolly Balls, even the cats. Our friends in law enforcement insist she’s a Dutch Shepherd mix. No doubt she’d love to be out rounding up bad guys.

Short on both sheep and criminals, I eagerly signed us up for a Treibball (pronounced “try ball”) workshop at Wiggles ‘n’ Wags in Lombard, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. A new sport, Treibball is best described as urban herding: from varying distances, you direct your dog to move large exercise balls into a goal, like herding sheep into a pen. All dogs are welcome to play, regardless of breed or age. While the distance skills and verbal cues are similar to those used in agility, Treibball makes almost no physical demands on the handler, and so people of any age and athletic ability can play.

Treibball, also known as drive-ball, originated in Germany six years ago when Dutch dog trainer Jan Nijboer watched his Australian Cattle Dogs push their rubber water dishes around the field after finishing herding lessons. The dogs, who clearly still had energy to spare, had created their own game. He wondered if they would also push large exercise balls, and found that they easily took to the new “sheep.” After Nijboer introduced the game to his herding students, it quickly spread across Europe and then to the United States. In 2007, Sweden hosted the inaugural international Treibball competition.

American Treibball Association (ATA) founder Dianna Stearns first saw drive-ball videos in 2009. As a positive-reinforcement trainer, she appreciated Nijboer’s emphasis on a respectful relationship between dog and handler. “I could see it being used as a positive teaching tool,” says Stearns. “[It’s] fun, fosters a stronger bond without corrections or punishment, [and] improves communication skills and enhances a dog’s off-leash reliability.

“As a trainer and behavior consultant, a lot of the behavior problems I’m asked to address stem from the sad effects of dogs who are bored … who are expected to simply lie [around] while their owners watch TV,” says Stearns. “Most dogs are problem solvers. They need an outlet for their intelligence and energy before it gets funneled into destructive chewing, digging, barking and fence running.”

Stearns enjoys the challenge of Treibball with her own four dogs: Terry, a still-feisty 13-year-old Westie; Chance, a nine-year-old Black Lab/German Shorthaired Pointer mix and demo dog extraordinaire; Huerro, a sweet, sixyear- old yellow Lab; and Fin, a one-yearold Border Collie/Aussie mix who, she jokes, is “currently suffering from teenage brain.” (Watch Stearns and Fin in action at youtube.com/americantreibball.)

“Chance and Fin have different approaches to the balls and to the game,” says Stearns. “I’ve had to adapt my training to each of their different learning styles. Because Treibball is a problem-solving game [in which the handler directs] the dog to go after a specific ball depending on where that ball rolls, both handler and dog must continually correct their positioning. It’s been a major problem-solving exercise in creative thinking and teaching.”

That was certainly the case when Ginger Peach (GP) and I followed our Treibball instructor’s directions. Since we have competitive agility and discdog backgrounds, the verbal and physical cues I used were different than those suggested in class. I made some adjustments and decided how to match up cues GP already knew with the various Treibball maneuvers. GP took it all in stride, eager to work on “sends” to her mat from 15 feet away and down on command at varying distances, and to target various objects — even a toy dump truck! — in preparation for our first ball.

We both pouted when we realized we wouldn’t get a ball right away, but like any canine sport, it’s important to master foundation skills first. Also, GP habitually retrieves her Jolly Balls with her mouth, which is frowned upon in Treibball. A dog who bites the ball will be eliminated; driving must be done with the nose only.

Through the ATA, Stearns hopes to offer a solution for high-energy dogs whose owners cannot match their activity level. “Our sedentary lifestyles are often at odds with what our dogs were bred or have evolved to do,” she says. “Most dogs need a job, and a thinking job or game that increases their bond with their owner in a nonaversive manner is a natural.”

The ATA, a young organization, is in the process of training Treibball instructors to increase the number of classes being offered around the country. Members are also drafting official rules for competition, which Stearns says will likely debut in early 2012. And Treibball enthusiasts will soon be able to register their dogs and earn points toward titles.

Ideally, GP’s and my skills will have progressed so that we’ll be ready to compete. Some of our classmates plan to play just for fun. Whether you pursue Treibball competitively or recreationally, suburban and city dogs will enjoy the physical and mental stimulation of tending to their inflatable ball flock.

News: Guest Posts
“Preloved” Dogs For Sale
Are these private individuals or puppy mills?

I belong to the Dalmatian Lovers! group on Facebook, where those of us smitten by spots share photos, videos and stories of our Dallys. A few days ago, one concerned member posted a “Preloved” classified ad for a six-month-old deaf female Dalmatian in the UK. The accompanying photo showed a neglected dog in a filthy outdoor kennel. A local good samaritan inquired about her and was horrified to learn that the seller had many other dogs in similar straits for sale.

The next day, she picked up the Dalmatian, who in person, was clearly a mix and an adult. The owner said he had gotten her from a friend, and that she had never received vaccinations. Also, she was not deaf—simply independent and untrained!

While I'm glad that this spot is safe, I worry about the other dogs in this man's care and how easily the public can be fooled. The ad claimed that the Dalmatian needed to be rehomed due to a baby, but a description of the premises sounds more like a puppy mill than a private individual's residence. Should online ads be regulated to ensure puppy mills are not selling dogs under false pretenses? If you bought a dog via an online classified ad, did you receive the dog as advertised?

News: Guest Posts
Vet Care Nightmare
Why we spent $6,500 this month … and counting

For the month of August, my husband and I have spent $6,500 on veterinary care for two of our four dogs. What I find particularly maddening is how we have done everything possible to ensure our dogs stay healthy, and yet, do we really know if it made a difference? I naively thought that by giving my dogs the best of everything—a raw diet, vitamins, supplements, holistic treats, mentally stimulating toys, daily exercise—they would remain immune to illness or injury.

Shelby had been acting strange for five months. My senior Pit Bull mix spent more time apart from the rest of the pack. Though never much of a food hound, she always came running for meals. This had changed; she’d either come at a walk or not at all. Eventually, she preferred to eat her meals outside instead of her usual spot in the kitchen. When I offered a treat, she’d gingerly pick it up out of my hand, then drop it to the floor before tentatively mouthing it. At nearly 10 years old, we suspected hearing loss and tooth decay, but it was neither. She had cancer.

My seven-year-old Dalmatian, Jolie, should’ve been at her healthiest. Between agility, Rally obedience, and hikes along the river, she was a compact, muscled 38 pounds. But for eight months, she suffered chronic lower back pain. Chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, massage and laser treatments helped ease the pain, and she returned to normal activity. Two weeks ago, she woke up unable to move her head to the left. When she attempted to lay down, her high-pitched cries brought me to tears. A neurosurgeon solved the mystery: She had a bulging disc that required immediate back surgery.

After months of speculation and worry, we’re relieved to know what exactly is wrong with Shelby and Jolie. But now a new anxiety grows, like a storm cloud. Will they survive their respective journeys to wellness? How do we know that the decisions we make will improve their quality of life? Would we have been better off feeding a premium kibble, skipping the vitamins and supplements, and taking fewer agility or Rally classes so we had more money to feed these insatiable vet bills?

News: Guest Posts
How Do You Treat Your Dog?
A plain old biscuit just doesn't cut it.
treat dog ice cream vanilla custard catahoula rescue

Desoto was a fast food fiend. It started out innocently enough. Years ago, after each obedience class, my late Catahoula and I would take a trip through the McDonald's drive-through where he would receive his own small fries. I savored watching him enjoy them almost as much as he enjoyed devouring them. As he graduated to more advanced sports and skills, his treats became more varied, including a Dairy Queen soft serve cone and the sausage from my breakfast sandwich.

Last weekend, my mix, Ginger Peach, earned a vanilla custard cup from Culver's after a good day of agility showing. Of course, I got a treat, too, a chocolate concrete with Nestlé crunch. During the week, when I take my dogs on errands, they often receive complimentary treats: crunchy biscuits from the bank teller, Puppaccinos compliments of the Starbucks barista, and drool-worthy Pup Cups at a local custard shop.

How do you treat your dog? Where is the most surprising place for your dog to get treats?

News: Guest Posts
Dog (Price) Tag: $230K
One man's dog cost more than a house
german shepherd dog foster breed rescue help shelter adoption fee

The most I paid for any of my dogs was $75. That was the shelter pull fee for my late Catahoula, Desoto, from the Louisiana SPCA in New Orleans. Needless to say, he was priceless.

As a breed rescue volunteer in the Chicago area, I have seen adoption fees range from $200–$350. This includes spay/neuter, vaccinations, one month of heartworm and flea/tick preventative, and basic obedience training in the foster home. Yet some prospective adopters protested what they perceived to be as an exhorbitant fee for a secondhand dog.

Some of my dog training clients purchased purebred and designer puppies from a chain pet store, paying upwards of $1,500. One of them paid for her Cocker Spaniel puppy in monthly installments.

Agility friends of mine have paid $1,200–$1,800 for the performance puppy of their dreams. They diligently researched pedigrees and breeders, and felt fortunate to get on a waiting list that could last one to two years.

Minnesota businessman John Johnson paid $230,000 for his three-year-old German Shepherd, Julia. Granted, this beautiful “executive protection dog” offers an exemplary pedigree and proven Schutzhund skills. She certainly sounds exceptional, but I would argue that my $75 Catahoula protected me just as well. 

How much did you pay for your dog?