The Magic Of Fostering A Pet

Curly & Moe

Early Friday evening I bid fond farewell and loving goodbye to our 3 porky little foster kittens, who now at 9 weeks of age were eligible to ‘fly the nest’ to their new adoptive homes. I had collected this particular brood from a ‘house of horrors’ late on a Saturday night just over 6 weeks ago following an emergency phone call from a rescue organisation I foster for. At the time they were cold, stressed, exhausted, filthy, starved and possibly sick. Many people may ask why … why foster?

Fostering a needy pet is a richly rewarding experience. I won’t deny that it can be an emotional and often difficult experience that isn’t for everyone, but for those that can and do … it’s an experience that lives on in your heart time after time. In our case, we take in orphaned, underage kittens as we have a household full of pets who enjoy their quiet, over indulged lifestyle and aren’t terribly keen on having a whirlwind young dog pounce its way into their lives. Some of the orphaned kittens are so young and malnourished that they initially need bottle feeding every 2 to 3 hours. What warm hearted person wouldn’t want a continuous stream of the cutest babies to care for and nurture whilst they grow into adorable and adoptable little munchkins?

Larry

There are thousands of ‘invisible’ pets at shelters around the country. The majority of these shelters are filled to capacity as a result of backyard breeders and irresponsible / uncaring pet owners. Often surrendered or rescued pets that require any attention beyond the basics are euthanised, most often due to time constraints and capacity challenges. Rescued pets that are sick, too young, stressed out or unsocialized aren’t the best candidates for adoption. Pets rescued with behavioural issues resulting from abuse and neglect, are injured, temporary ill or simply orphaned face a bleak outcome without the availability of foster homes that can provide the attention and care required to rehabilitate, treat or wean them, thus transforming them into beautiful adoptable pets in the process.

Fostering makes an immeasurable difference for the pets you provide love, rehabilitation and a temporary home to and also for other lost souls at the shelters that may not have had that space available to take take them in. My fosters come in as sad, confused, malnourished, frightened little waifs and leave with their proud adoptive parents as happy, well adjusted, healthy, chubby kittens. Almost without exception I get feedback and photos from the adoptive families to let me know how their new family members have settled in and are doing in general.

If that isn’t a big enough reward, I don’t know what is.

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Lessons & The Importance of Puppy Socialisation Classes

Steve Jobs died October 5, 2011 and left behind a legacy that we will never forget. Personally the most important thing he gave me was not the technological advancements he made and gadgets he created, but his words. In the face of adversity, he said: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life, because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

CJ in our kitchen

I made a big choice this week, knowing full well that it may fail, perhaps even cause me some heartache and embarrassment in the face of great external expectations, but felt I needed to give it try in order to turn a rather bleak situation into a happy one – or at least try to anyway. The choice I made was to introduce a rescued adolescent 1 year old female Pit Bull mix called CJ that has diabetes into our small pack of two dogs and clowder of five cats (bet you didn’t know a group of cats is called a clowder!?). There aren’t many people who are prepared to adopt rescued Pit Bulls let alone one that is insulin dependent. You may not consider this a big choice, however I don’t take adopting a new pet into the family lightly, as they will remain with us and be part of our family for life.

After considerable research on the subject of diabetes in dogs, CJ’s diabetes didn’t worry me at all, as it’s a manageable condition with her twice daily shots of insulin – far more manageable than our Pit Bull Bruno’s hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and luxating patellas (gammy knees) etc … All the diabetes meant was sticking to a routine of feeding two meals a day at the same time, medication with meals, regular exercise and managing what she eats – all of which we do anyway with Bruno and Kira our female Jack Russell.

The main challenge I saw at the time was going to be with our rescued male Pit Bull Bruno who lacks socialisation skills as he only got the opportunity to start any form of basic training and socialisation from 16 / 17 weeks and is a dominant male. Kira on the other hand is the alpha female in the house and has had the benefit of puppy school from the early age of 8 weeks. I knew from previous experience however that with a bit of patience with Bruno, he would accept and bond with a submissive female – but she would have to be completely submissive for this to have any chance of success. In addition to her being submissive for Bruno and to a lesser degree for Kira, she would need to get along with cats, which included not chasing after them and in the process terrorising them.

The introduction between Kira, Bruno and CJ took place at a local park around the corner from our home. It was immediately obvious who of the 3 had received the benefit of early Puppy Socialisation Classes at this meeting. Kira remained calm, confident and playful through the entire experience. CJ and Bruno however were both tense, resulting in CJ barking loudly at Bruno setting off his trigger. It was not a good start at all. After some time, we decided to move the ‘party’ to the front area of my house and remove me from the equation – therefore taking away any protective instinct Bruno might have to protect me from this ‘intruder’ or simply just act up. The person from the rescue organisation and the animal behaviourist continued to do exercises with Bruno and CJ with me watching from a window. About half an hour later, Bruno was accepting of CJ which was great, however CJ continued to be wary and somewhat reactive towards Bruno, which I could see once I was asked to re-join them.

We later moved to the back garden where things improved further between them and the cats had now introduced themselves to the equation. Whilst CJ initially showed no interest in the cats, as soon as one sprang into action, she gave chase which was not a good sign at all.

CJ and Bruno

That afternoon and into the evening, once everyone had left, there were periods of complete calm with everyone relaxed and others where CJ would occasionally start with a low growl if Bruno came too close to her and then launch herself at him causing him to respond. As to why she took such a distrust or dislike to my boy I don’t think anyone will ever really know. During the evening after their supper he had tried to play with her in his goofy and clumsy way in the garden which again resulted in a brawl when she misinterpreted a rather hard but playful shove he had given her as threatening. Perhaps she had been attacked and bullied by other male Pit Bulls at the place she had been rescued from. We will never truly know for sure. Pit fighting is apparently big business in that region where males are typically used for fighting and females for breeding, so this theory may very well be true. At the time CJ was rescued she was chained to a pole by a thick heavy chain outside her owner’s a shack.

Following the first night, during which everyone thankfully settled and slept soundly, Bruno was miserable about being on the receiving end of CJ’s intermittent attacks without being able to retaliate as I wouldn’t allow it, the cats were stressed and wide eyed because of this new creature that kept jumping at them and giving playful, but determined chase and I was second guessing myself. Had I made the right decision? Would I ever be able to confidently leave Bruno and CJ alone without the risk of CJ turning on Bruno and him potentially killing her in an ensuing fight that I wouldn’t be around to stop? After all Bruno is at least 15kg heavier than CJ. These are individually two delightful and loving dogs whose introduction to life as young puppies was far from ideal which means both lack the finesse and interactive skills that are learnt at puppy socialisation classes.

I emailed the rescue organisation with an update in the morning that things weren’t looking very promising, although I was happy to work with CJ for another few days to see if there was any improvement on which we could continue to build. Integrating CJ into our family was going to be a full time job with risks involved and would also mean that I would be living under siege and on constant guard at home, not being able to leave the house, as the only alternative if I did go out was to separate CJ from my pack and from the cats, leaving her on her own in an unfamiliar environment which wasn’t a healthy situation for her.

A decision was made by the rescue organisation that CJ go back to her foster home. With a heavy heart I said my goodbye to CJ with the recommendation that she be homed where there are preferably no cats and only small to medium sized dogs that are well socialised – an environment in which I believe that she would fit into well and flourish.

The importance of Puppy Socialisation Classes cannot be stressed enough as seen by our experience this week, especially when it comes to having a ‘power’ breed in the home. A puppy’s adult behaviour is shaped during early puppyhood (8 – 16 weeks), during which time their brains absorb the experiences that they are exposed to – both positive and negative, which then become imprinted. Therefore if you want them to be well adjusted, confident, stable and sociable pets that can easily co-exist in the home with the family and other pets, it’s a developmental step that should never be excluded. Puppy Socialisation Classes should be attended once the first inoculation has been administered and during the most important formative period of a dog’s life (starting at 8 weeks to 16 weeks). They learn in a slow paced and fun environment:

  • how to get along with other dogs through lots of positive interactions with them. A dog that misses out on these social interactions can grow up to be fearful or aggressive around other canines.
  • to get used to the hustle and bustle of family life. Most puppy classes will expose your pup to sounds of dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, other pets, cars, hooters etc … basically all the things your puppy will be living with as a family dog. Through this early introduction / desensitization your puppy will be more likely to take all those things in his stride as an adult.

I’m extremely heart broken that CJ took a distrust in / dislike to Bruno and that I wasn’t given more time to work with her. I hope that an understanding and loving home will turn up as she has so much to give despite her diabetes – a condition that I’ve now learnt is easily managed.

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National Pit Bull Month – October

We at PetPickings.com are honouring the Pit Bull breed in the month of October which PetPickings.com Pit Bull Dreamis the birthday month of our very own beloved rescue Pit Bull Bruno. We have taken the liberty of declaring October “National Pit Bull Month”, during which we will be publishing various stories and facts related to Pit Bulls in an attempt to provide a better understanding of this highly misunderstood breed.

 

I’d like to introduce you to our Pit Bull Bruno whose 8th Birthday it is this month. I picked him up as a lost, confused, flea ridden and frightened puppy on 22nd December 2003 from a street in an affluent suburb in Cape Town. As dozens of cars whizzed passed him I couldn’t bear the thought of just leaving him behind as a lost soul in my rear view mirror, so I stopped. As I approached him slowly and talking softly, he looked up at me with hope in his eyes and a wag in his tail, so I scooped him up, put him in the car and that’s where his nightmare ended and my education began.

My initial thought was that he was a large Staffie pup that had perhaps wondered out of someone’s  garden gate that had perhaps been accidentally left open. Judging by his teeth and his clumsy behaviour, the vet estimated he was about 10 weeks old. He was a bit thin and riddled with fleas, but nonetheless I was sure he belonged to someone, so I did the responsible thing and reported him as found to all the animal shelters, vets and community newspapers. His comic antics, soppy kisses and incredibly loving nature had crept into all of our hearts, so two weeks later when I hadn’t received a single phone call, he officially became brother to our 3 year old Jack Russell, two cats, two kittens and an integral part of our family.

With the decision made he was named Bruno, taken for inoculations and enrolled in puppy class at a local training school. Three things became perfectly clear at puppy school A:

  1. Bruno had never been properly socialised before coming to us.
  2. Bruno was a dominant male.
  3. The ‘trainer’, who was a young lass of no more than 20 yrs old, was clearly inexperienced and really had no idea what she was doing.

With my furkid leaping on the other puppies, pinning them down with joyful-sporty – puppy-playfulness whilst they yelped with fright, I decided to intervened by hauling him off and telling him a firm “NO“. The young trainer lass reprimanded me as he was “establishing a pecking order in the ‘pack’ of puppies” … in my view however he was behaving like a tosser, reprobate and social retard – behaviour that I wouldn’t tolerate and didn’t find very ‘sociable’. I’m not sure if he ever tried that sort of thing with our Kira the Jack Russell, I somehow doubt it, although he certainly wouldn’t have got away with it. She had him firmly in a subordinate place and exactly where she wanted him in the relationship dynamics of our house.

So off we went to another training school to enroll in puppy class, by which time Bruno was 14 weeks old, we had already wasted 2 weeks of precious time of rehearsed bad behaviour at the other school and were ready to work with more experienced trainers. It was here at school B that I was greeted with large dish eyes and an exclamation of “you do realise that you have a PIT BULL??”, to which my response was, “Oh, ok … “. I glanced down at my boy who was gleefully looking up at me and wagging his tail at supersonic speed. “Are you sure??”. They were apparently very sure and decided not to allow him near the puppy class without even giving him a glance or chance. So into the first big training class we went for the next two weeks, sans socialization of puppy class, until we had an unfortunate incident with an adult dog aggressively launching himself at Bruno whilst he was minding his own business trying to master the ‘sit’ command. Bruno, who by now was a teenager, snapped out of his concentrated sit and reacted. It all was over in a fraction of a second as we pulled them apart, but … as the ‘Pit Bull’, Bruno was expelled from school … yup expelled. I didn’t know they could expell you from dog school? The other dog who had started the altercation of course was permitted to stay. Our first taste of “Pit discrimination”.

Again I found myself looking for and eventually finding school number 3 that was further away, but had qualified animal behaviourists on board and seemed better suited. By this stage Bruno was 16 weeks old, an angel at home with all the other pets, great out and about … until approached by a strange dog. At school number 3 they determined he was expressing ‘fear aggression’ as a result of his bad experience at the previous school and that due to his breed we would need private lessons first before introducing him to a collective class situation. It was here that I learnt about the Pit Bull breed, general training of potentially lethal dogs (German Shepherds, Dobermans, Rottweilers etc …), Bruno’s responses to certain stimuli and how to handle them through positive reinforcement. Bruno learnt, through clicker training, to become a canine good citizen and went on to become a fully fledged registered therapy dog with his Jack Russell sister Kira.

Are we responsible dog owners? Yes, I believe that we are and have to be. As Bruno had a late and bumpy start in his most formative time as a puppy, I am aware of his limitations and make sure that I never set him up for failure when we go out in public. We always steer well clear of strange dogs and he always remains tethered to me or my husband on a leash. Our job and responsibility as his pet parents is to make sure that we don’t give anyone any negative ammunition, as it is Bruno “the Pit Bull” who will be blamed regardless of who the instigator is of the situation.

Some questions you may ask are:

Is a Pit Bull suited to an inexperienced pet parent? No I wouldn’t recommend it … but then nor is a Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Doberman etc …

Is a Pit Bull dangerous? No … only in the wrong hands … but then so is a Rottweiller, German Shepherd, Doberman etc …

Would I trust him with small children? Most definitely yes. It is our Jack Russel we have to watch around kids!!

Am I glad that we have Bruno in our lives? Without a shadow of a doubt. He is the most intensely loyal and loving dog I have ever had the privilege to know and share my life with. He has enriched our lives enormously and I would go to the ends of the earth for him, as I know he would for me.

 

I hope that you continue to follow us during the month of October and share in our celebration of this wonderful and so sadly misunderstood breed. Please also feel free to share your stories with us – we’d love to hear from you!

 

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PetPickings.com Blog Launch!

Welcome to the new PetPickings.com Blog!

I’m excited about being able to start sharing a whole host of useful information with you pertaining to pets, their joys and challenges through this blog. This is an extension of our existing PetPickings.com Facebook Page through which we have already started to share the progress of our ecommerce website PetPickings.com, run a competition to find a name for our PetPickings.com dog, shared updates and general information.

Whether you share your home with dogs, cats, birds, fish or horses the PetPickings.com Blog is where you will find valuable information to gain new insights into the needs, wants and minds of your pets!

The PetPickings.com Team

Our aim is to help you and your pets live better and more productive lives. The PetPickings.com e-commerce website promises to be the funkiest pet product company on the market providing a broad range of quality products, free valuable information to registered users, loyalty discounts and more! Want to know when PetPickings.com will be launching? We will keep you up to date on the progress of the PetPickings.com website and expected launch date through this blog and our PetPickings.com Facebook Page.

We’re looking forward to sharing our stories, experiences, video clips and progress updates with you. We’re also looking forward to hearing from you, as your opinion is important to us!

Fond regards,

Olga & The PetPickings.com Team

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