Saturday, November 29, 2008

An Evening with Bandit

Playing tug with Phoebe.

Sharing a spoon with Phoebe.

Nylabone break. Bandit with a nylaring, Phoebe with a galileo, and Boomer with a durable dinosaur. Nylabone rocks!

Two handsome boys.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Return of Bandit

In case nobody noticed, Bandit came back to us a few days ago. The people said he was destructive while they were at work full-time. I won't comment on that right now.

It's not uncommon for dogs to be returned to us unfortunately. In fact, I've been calling 2008 the Year of Returns because virtually every dog we fostered this year was a return. Some were returned for understandable reasons, most in my opinion weren't. Usually, if a dog is returned, they are returned within the first few weeks as unexpected issues arise that the people are unwilling or unequipped to deal with. Anybody who's read any of the adoption ads I've written know I tend give too much info. I write everything I can think of about the dog, and even append it with the blog. I want people to know what they are getting, good and bad, and I don't want there to be any surprises because surprises usually equal returns.

But it's impossible for me to foresee how any dog will react to their new environment. They are treated differently, the interactions are different as is the routine. So to some extent, there will always be surprises in store for the new owners.

When I adopt a dog out to someone, it is with the expectation that they will care for the dog enough to work through these surprises, barring extreme unforeseen changes in circumstances. I would never give a dog to anyone who I suspected would not. But it's hard to really know that about a person. After all, they are virtual strangers to me when I first meet them, even with a fairly intensive screening process, and I usually see them only at their very best. Sometimes I think it would be more useful if I could see them at their very worst.

People think that the hardest part about fostering a dog is dealing with the sadness of adopting them out. Nuh uh. For severely undersocialized and fearful dogs, the hardest part is knowing that they will once again feel fear, fear of the new people, fear of a new place, confusion and uncertainty of having their world completely changed again, after they had already begun to feel safe with us. For all other dogs, the hardest part by far is trusting that they are being placed in good hands. Every dog has a place in my heart and even when they go off to live in their forever home, or at least what is supposed to be their forever home, I still consider them ultimately my responsibility. For whatever reason, at whatever time, I will always take that dog back. There will always be an unbreakable bond between us.

There is invariably an emptiness when a foster dog is adopted, but it is surpassed by the satisfaction and joy in knowing that the dog has finally found his Forever Place. Except by now, I know there's always the possibility that it turns out not to be his Forever Place, so that even what is supposed to be joy is surpassed by fear and worry. After all, I don't really know the people I have placed my trust in, in many ways the greatest trust I could possibly give to a person. I am gifting to them somebody I love dearly, somebody who will rely completely on them for his or her well-being. It's a scary thing.

And by that token, it's not the worst thing in the world for a dog to be returned to me. I can think of so many worst things. At least when they come back to me, I know they will be safe and cared for. So in a way, I can thank my lucky stars for that.

It's unfortunate that it didn't work out for Bandit, but I am thrilled to have him back. The entire time we had him, he was recuperating from surgery so we never actually got to see him being free and 100% Bandit. We never had a chance to see him play like crazy or run without restraint. It's wonderful to see him now--even though I'm still not used to his leg being all healed and sometimes cringe when I see him tumbling or leaping.

He and Popeye took off right where they left off.

And this time around, Boomer and Phoebe are getting along better with Bandit because they are free to play together rather than hearing me yell at Bandit to stop trying to play with his injured leg.

Of course, Bandit hasn't been perfect. See these patches I sewed on the dog bed?

And this electric tape my father put round the lamp cord to connect the 2 detached ends?

Guess who we can thank for that?

And he did it right under my nose. So what was his punishment?

New chew toys.

And my reward?

Tired dogs.

Tyler's Thanksgiving Creations



Veggies I actually want to eat.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

How It All Began

My sister and I grew up near downtown San Francisco, a very urban environment. We mostly lived in apartment buildings. Yards were unheard of, parks very rare. We never did what a lot of other kids did--we never learned to ride a bike or to roller skate, never played ball outside or hung out on a swing set. There simply wasn't anywhere to do so. And we certainly never had any interaction with dogs.

None of my close friends, from elementary all the way up to high school, had a dog. Where we lived, we rarely even saw one. I remember once, when we had just moved to a new apartment that had a small side run, I think I was about 8 or 9, my father casually remarked that the side run would be a good place for a dog. I remember looking at my sister, making a face, and both of us saying with disdain, "We don't want a dog."

I also remember asking myself the question, "What do I want to be when I grow up?" throughout my school years. It alternated a dozen times, depending on what phase I was in. Teacher (doesn't every young girl want to become a teacher at some point in her life?), interior designer, florist, auto mechanic. I wasn't really interested in any of these things, I just thought they sounded cool.

I think even at a young age, despite the hipper-sounding occupations I would toss around, I kind of realized that I wouldn't end up with a spectacular job or even one that was particularly interesting. I think by the time I was in 7th grade, I pretty much knew I was going to be an accountant.

Why accounting? I can still clearly remember my rationale. I distinctly remember thinking, "There's nothing I feel passionate about. There's nothing I really want to be." And what was left for somebody who wasn't really interested in anything but still wanted a highly stable, secure, and good paying job? Accounting, of course. Certified Public Accounting to be specific. Talk about precocious.

So I aced all my classes (not because I was particularly smart, but because I was super nerdy and studious), except for that stupid B I always got in gym, received a scholarship to UC Berkeley, graduated with high honors from the Haas School of Business, and started my public accounting career in a high-rise building in downtown San Francisco.

But somewhere along the line, something changed. One day, during my sophomore year if I remember correctly (I am horrible with any reference to dates), my parents came home, without any prior warning or discussion, with 2 german shepherd puppies. We lived in a pretty shady part of Oakland at the time, and my parents' intention was for the pups to become guard dogs for the house. I didn't think much about that at the time, not really knowing anything at all about dogs, but I fell in love immediately. How can you not fall in love with 3 month old puppies?

My sister named the tan one Samson because she had just been reading the story of Samson and Delilah for school. Samson, they biblical figure, had special powers that stemmed from his hair (at least according to my memory of a movie I once watched on TV as a kid loosely based on the story), and Sammy the dog had a white patch of hair on his head and the very tip of his tail. I named the black one Jasper because I was reading a regency novel by Georgette Heyer at the time and the hero's name was Jasper.

I remember Samson used to fall asleep curled up on my lap. And tucking both little pups in a big cardboard box filled with blankets for bedtime. And the incessant puppy barking that would invariably happen every morning while I was still asleep.

But what did any of us know about dogs? Nothing. Literally. I knew so little that the thought of learning more never even crossed my mind until many many years later. And I am sure that Jassy & Sammy suffered because of our ignorance. I loved them, more than anything in my life, and took care of them as best as I knew how, but they undoubtedly were deprived of many happy opportunities because we just didn't know better.

As I mentioned, they came into my life when I was a sophomore in college. I never would have comprehended the impact they would have on my life eventually. At the time, and for several years after, my path continued in the same vein as before--with the exception that I now had 2 dogs that I loved dearly.

But very slowly, they began to influence the path I was taking. Whereas before, I didn't mind working 60 hour weeks because I had nowhere better to be, now I would rather be with the dogs. Before, my climb up the corporate ladder was just the natural order. Now, I couldn't care less. I gradually decreased my work hours.

During the off season in the public accounting world, there is very little work to be done. It wasn't uncommon to be sitting at your desk for 8 hours with nothing to do. I opted to stay at home instead during those periods and just didn't get paid. But after a while, the company thought it awkward for me not to be in the office "just in case" one of the clients I had worked on called. I wasn't high up enough for many clients to call and request to speak with me. I felt it was a waste of time to go work every day just to sit there for 8 hours for the 1 or 2 phone calls I might get a week, if that. I'd rather stay home and not get paid. So I quit.

I was about 24 when Tyler and I decided to buy a house together. I was still living at home (it's an Asian thing) and Tyler was renting a house with roommates. A big part of my decision to buy a house was because of Jasper and Samson. They were purely outside dogs at my parents' house, my mother of the opinion that dogs were dirty (another common Asian thing). When my parents weren't home, I would sometimes sneak them upstairs inside the house--and got in trouble for it plenty of times because of the tell-tale dog hair and scratches in the wax of the hardwood floor. Even though they started out as my parents' dogs, they really became mine in every sense that counted.

I wanted the dogs to have a home. A real home, where they could live inside and be part of the family for once in their lives. We picked Antioch, despite its less than convenient location, because it was cheap but had newer homes with large yards. I remember visiting house after house and the first thing we would always look at was the backyard. If the backyard wasn't adequate, the house was out of the question. If the backyard was adequate, we were willing to be very flexible on the rest of the house.

Thank god we saw the house we did eventually get. It is perfect for us and the dogs in every way and we feel a huge debt of gratitude to the owners of the first 2 houses we bid on for rejecting our offer. I think Jasper and Samson were about 7 years old by this time.

I got a new job in Walnut Creek with a very small accounting firm. The position was lower, the pay was less, but the hours were flexible and the people easy to work with so I was content. Over the next couple of years, as the dogs aged, I decreased my hours even more, at least during the off season. When they were each diagnosed with cancer, Sammy with hemangiosarcoma, Jassy lymphoma, I quit my job altogether to spend every remaining minute I could with them.

Sammy died first, on December 10, 2004. Jassy died on May 31, 2005.

To think that I would never be able to touch them again was almost incomprehensible to me. To say that my heart was broken would be an understatement. They were my life and I had never ever hurt so much before. The single thing that got me beyond the intense pain in my heart was a promise I had made many years ago.

Jasper was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was 2. His seizures were few because of his medication, but they were intense and life-threatening. He ended up at the emergency vet every time. During those nights, when he stayed at the hospital, the thought of losing him was unbearable and I would break down and cry. But it wasn't only during those nights.

Almost every night during my entire life with them, as I lay in bed about to fall asleep, I would clasp my hands together and thank God (and I'm not a particularly religious person) for having brought them into my life. And because the concept of death was not new to me, the possibility always present whenever Jassy had a seizure, I would think about a time when I would no longer have them in my life. I would wonder, how could I possibly bear it? The pain was overwhelming just thinking about it, how could I possibly bear it when it actually happened?

I can't remember exactly when my love for Jasper and Samson became love of all dogs. It was early on. I would get excited whenever I saw any dog and for a time, volunteered at the shelter. I remember wishing I could help in some bigger, more involved capacity. I remember wishing I could foster. But Jassy and Sammy were not well-socialized to other dogs (just one of the several mistakes we made) so it wasn't an option then.

That was it. At some point, I figured out that that was how I was going to bear the pain of losing them. Take something tragic and heartbreaking, something so utterly final, and turn it into a beginning, the birth of a new purpose, an inspiration. I realized years before Jassy and Sammy died that only way losing them would not totally devastate me would be if it opened the door for me to help other dogs. Because in that way, it wouldn't be all bad. Good would come of it. And even if it started out being senseless, in the end, I could give at least some kind of meaning to it.

The very next day after Jasper died, I took in my first foster dog sight unseen. It was the manifestation, finally, of a purpose that had never faltered in my heart even after years. Having a new dog to focus on not only defused the heaviness of losing Jasper and Samson, it ended up making feel closer to them than I think I would have had we not welcomed a new dog into our home. I felt that the new dog, and it didn't really matter who that dog was, continued the bond I shared with Jassy and Sammy. He was my link to them. By caring for him, providing him with a haven, I was remembering Jasper and Samson, paying tribute to them in the truest way. That I love dogs so much now was directly borne out of the love I had for them.

And also, I feel a responsibility to right the wrongs I made in caring for them. There were just so many things I didn't know. And yes, times when I neglected them when I shouldn't have during the earlier years when I was still overly self-absorbed. There is a sense of obligation. In helping these dogs, I am also making reparations.

It's been over 3 years since we started fostering. We've made a difference in the lives of many dogs, and I feel more fulfilled than I would have imagined ever being back when I was a kid wondering what I wanted to be when I grew up. Never in my wildest dreams back then could I have imagined that I was capable of such passion. And it all started with the seeds that Jasper and Samson planted in the garden of my heart. And it continues to bloom with every new dog.

Away for the Weekend

We humans go away for the weekend, and the dogs take over the house.

That's 7 dogs there, a record for the most dogs we've had at our house at 1 time. (Yes, I keep track.)

I rarely am away from home, because I don't like to leave the dogs. Although, I think that even if we didn't have any dogs, I wouldn't enjoy traveling anyway. But sometimes you just can't get around it. This time, we were visiting Tyler's family in Illinois.

Usually, leaving the dogs is very stressful to me. I generally have had to rely on non-dog people to watch them. But this time Sugar and her mom, Karen, offered to dogsit for us. All 3 of our dogs! At first I wasn't sure if Karen really knew what she was offering. Watching 4 dogs, including Sugar, and 1 of them paralyzed & incontinent? But I should have known that Karen was more than up for it.

Better yet, she even offered to dogsit the dogs at our house! It was the first time I have ever left the dogs and not worried nonstop over them while I was gone. Tyler said there were even moments when he totally forgot to think about them.

You can read more about the doggie happenings while we were gone on Sugar's blog.

Isis, her brother Otie, and their mom Jen even came over for a slumber party. They, in turn, were dogsitting Bandit for me, so he was there too.

I think the dogs had more fun with us away than they usually have when we're home.

While at the airport for our return flight, we saw a police dog that at first I thought was a Taiwan dog. She was lean and narrow, with long legs, long ears, and a long snout. And when I first spotted her, she was laying down with her front legs daintily crossed over like I have seen so many Taiwan dogs do. She actually reminded me a lot of Sugar and Popeye.

She turned out to be a Belgian Malinois. Now I wonder if Popeye has any of that in him.

The trip to IL and back was uneventful, and it was so good to be back home. It was the first time I had seen Bandit in a long time. When we got out of the car, his was the first face peering out the window to see us.

Not only were the dogs doing great, but Karen had done the dogs' laundry and had stocked us up with food. We had more food in our kitchen when we came back than when we left! Like the workings of a food fairy.

Tyler said that Karen is a saint for having agreed to housesit and watch our dogs, and Jen as well for having taken Bandit while we were gone on extremely short notice. I totally agree. I think Boomer, Phoebe, Popeye, and Bandit are glad we are back, but I don't think they'd mind too much if we left again as long as they had Karen & Jen.

Furry Bedfellows


Monday, November 24, 2008


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Tug, Man

Popeye's favorite form of play in the whole wide world: tug. He will bring the toy right up to your hand. (Here he is sporting the latest mermaid sack, made from a bed sheet and Cordura outer lining.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Popeye in the Middle

Whenever I lay some fabric on the floor to cut, Popeye never ever fails to get right in the middle of it.