Fixing Ruby

We recently decided to take in a couple of dogs from Chilliwack Animal Control. Ruby is the second dog. Ruby was clearly a puppy-making machine. Her vulva is huge and her nipples almost touch the floor. She is small for a Shihtzu so she may be crossed with something. This dog was used up until she was no longer able to have babies. She was then callously discarded. Her teeth were so rotten the infection ate through her jawbone so she doesn’t have one on the bottom. All of her teeth had to come out so her little tongue pokes out. She had been kept in such filthy conditions that she actually has dirt embedded in her skin. She had surgery to fix the hernia and was spayed at the same time.

Love the tongue sticking out!

Ruby is quite independent. She doesn’t need anything from humans except food. She does not seem to have experienced the comfort and joy that dogs get when they interact with people. When I pet any of our dogs they almost immediately roll over for a belly rub. Ruby does not. When I pet Piper or Zoe I get happy dog noises. Ruby doesn’t make these noises. When our dogs are scared they come to us. Ruby goes to her door less crate.[1]

Ruby loves food though! Every time she goes out to pee[2] her entire body starts to vibrate in anticipation of the ‘Beggin’ Strips.’ She comes in and her tail starts to wag furiously and her mouth opens waiting for someone to guide as suitably sized piece of treat to her mouth. Yesterday she tasted ham for the first time. I thought she was going to fall over from the pleasure. Ruby eats with gusto.

Hurry up already and put that in my mouth!

Affection is something different. She really does not expect anything. I have started to give her massages at night. It is really important when introducing physical touch that it be firm and purposeful. Light touch actually annoys dogs. Last night, before going to bed I spent about 10 minutes massaging her and talking to her quietly. Eventually she started to really enjoy it. She gave me her belly for a bit until Piper came over and then she moved. She actually started to make some happy noises. I will do this for the foreseeable future. She will, in time, start to seek out affection.

Finally! What took you so long?

It is dogs like Ruby who break my heart. She should have been someone’s pampered pet not a moneymaking machine for humans. Dogs give us all so much already; I can’t imagine how anyone can think it is ok to breed them over and over again until there is nothing left. Actually, I don’t think there is ever a reason to breed a companion animal. With so many dogs waiting in shelters and rescues all over BC it is preferable to adopt rather than buy.

We will make sure that Ruby knows love. We will make sure she knows that not all humans are evil. She will get to know the life of being a pampered pet and she will, at some point, get excited at the sound of our voices knowing that we will make her feel good. And we will do it all on her terms, respecting her wants, needs and desires.


[1] Ruby loves her crate. She has a nice soft bed in it. We took the door off because she does not need to be contained in it. I wish she didn’t feel like that was her safe place but she does.

[2] She is remarkably house-trained it seems or else we are just putting her out enough.



We always note the ‘firsts’ of all the rescue dogs who come into our lives. Days like their first Christmas or the first Thanksgiving, where they get to eat turkey, are very important. We spoil them rotten. We like to think they are getting something they never had in their previous lives. Now, we could be totally wrong but we do it anyway.

Today was Zoe’s first taste of ice cream. She came too late for the summer Dairy Queen ice cream cones. In the summer we will go and get ice cream for us and bring back two large cones for the dogs to share. It is hilarious! Keifer tries to take the entire thing in his mouth because he can. Clio is an absolute little shark when it comes to ice cream. While others gently lick (Piper and Molly) Clio will try to grab big hunks of the ice cream or the cone. Kirby is pretty good and Madison acts like we are trying to poison her (what else is new).

We get such pleasure when our dogs display outward signs of happiness. It is wonderful to pet Zoe because she makes ‘happy shihtzu noises’ as soon as you reach down to pet her. I know these noises are the result of her pushed in little face but she is so interactive it is easy to believe that she is making those noises for you in appreciation.

Zoe is just about done with her firsts now. She has had pizza, roast beef, ham and chicken. Now she has had ice cream too. She has been here for her first Thanksgiving and Christmas. Now I just hope for lots of repeats!

Zoe flaked out and in need of grooming!



We lost Tucker* today as he had been slowly deteriorating for the last week. He wouldn’t eat or drink. Tucker had been a starved dog so for him not to eat was a major indicator that something was wrong. Tucker was also vomiting and lethargic. It had become clear that he no longer had any quality of life.

One of the hardest decisions when living with old and sick dogs is deciding when the time is right to let them go.I read another blogger who basically said she would rather let them go too soon then to wait too long and have them be in pain. I believe this is a good approach. Still it is very hard to make the ultimate decision. At our house it is generally a consensus approach. Quite often you can tell by looking their eyes. They seem to have a way of communicating what they need. It is very important that we be open and receptive to their message.

I think we timed this really well for Tucker. His pain meds still seemed to be doing the job and up until yesterday he was eating some food with his usual gusto. When Tucker would not take food and didn’t fight when Deb gave him his pills we could see that a lot of him had gone already. So the decision was made that today would be the day.

Helping a dog to pass is the most important thing we can do for them. Making sure they are not alone and that they are not scared is paramount. Holding their heads and stroking them and making sure that they are not scared is crucial. A lot of us who have rescued dogs try to make up for all the things that particular dog did not have in their lives. We are no exceptions. They are loved, they get treats, they go for walks, they sleep in our bed. We do the very best for them that we possibly can – right up until the end.

Happy trails Tuck. I hope that wherever you are you can eat as much as you want and run like a puppy. We loved you.

Tucker waiting for a treat
Tucker at the dikes having a great time.

*More of Tucker’s story here

Starved Dogs

Almost all of the dogs we have were rescued dogs. Some of them were formerly starved dogs. Starved dogs behave differently around food then dogs who have never been starved. Some dogs never get over being starved.

When dogs who have been starved come into a new situation where they get enough food they are never sure where their next meal will come from. They will eat just about anything and may act aggressively if you try and take stuff away from them. There can also be a huge issue with taking treats. It requires a great deal of training to teach them to take treats gently.

We feed raw. This means that our dogs are fed once daily and there may be the odd fast day put into the schedule or a day where the only get a bone to chew. This is very upsetting to a formerly starved dog. Fast days are important in a raw diet as it mimics the pattern they would be subjected to in the wild. When we have a new dog, who has experienced starvation, we generally make sure that they get something on those days.

Over time most of these dogs over come this experience. For those who don’t, a great deal of understanding and patience. You also have to be vigilant around non-food items and foods (like bones) that dogs should not have. Certainly training activities like teaching the dog to ‘drop it’ or ‘off’ are also very useful. Any kind of training which shows the dog that you are ‘alpha’ will help with the starvation issue. Hand-feeding will also help with training the dog to take food nicely from people.

Ultimately, I have yet to see a formerly starved dog completely overcome being starved. There always seems to be a trace of that behaviour remaining. Understanding the roots of the behaviour are imperative to help the dog heal.

You CAN Teach Old Dogs New Tricks!

The old cliché says that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. Over the years fostering and adopting fostered old dogs we have learned that old dogs can indeed learn new things. Generally speaking we do not go out of our way to try and teach our dogs new things beyond the basics. The most basic thing any new dog coming into our house is that aggression is not tolerated. We will put up with most anything here but we must have a peaceful pack. We will work with an aggressive dog and make accommodations as we must but we prefer to have dogs who can get along.

The other thing we do is switch dogs to a raw diet. We have yet to come across an old dog who did not instantly adapt to eating raw.* In fact, the senior dogs dive into the raw like they have never seen food before. Raw food also helps to increase their life spans as it is superior and appropriate nutrition. One of the dogs that we adopted from SAINTS had cancer and lived for much longer than we had anticipated. Mabel loved her raw food! She could eat like no other dog we have ever had.

Now on to the real point of this post – the things that old dogs learn. Zoe came to us as a former puppy mill dog rescued by Turtle Gardens. By all accounts she lived a bleak existence of in the puppy mill churning out litter after litter of pups. One of the saddest things about old formerly abused and neglected dogs is they don’t really know how to play. You know you have gotten through to an old dog when they begin to play. Once they learn to play with toys other types of play follow soon. The frolic and get the zoomies in the yard. Basically they become puppy-like again.

There can be other surprises too. Like Tucker who lived in a pen for 15 years. He was never toilet-trained. When he came to us we had to put him in a belly band with a pad. Over time, he has toilet-trained himself. He asks to go outside all the time. We still have to keep him diapered as he would pee on the furniture. But for the most part he is pretty good and only soils a pad every 4-5 days. I have often said how resilient dogs can be, even when they are old they are not too old to learn new skills and behaviours.

*For more information on raw feeding check out my blog entries here and here.

Resilience in Rescued Dogs

As many of you know we are quite involved in dog rescue. Currently of our 9 dogs, 8 are rescued or former shelter dogs. One of the things I enjoy most about having rescued dogs is watching them as they grow and change and discover that they are safe. Most dogs when they come to us are coming via a rescue. Most of our dogs have come from SAINTS and Turtle Gardens but we also have dogs from shelters too. One of the things most of our rescued dogs have in common is that they have been neglected (some were abused), many have been starved and several of them lived outside. All of these issues impacts the dog as he or she tries to integrate into our family.

A dog who has spent its entire life living outside never learns to hold their bladder. When these dogs first come in it can be very difficult to toilet train them. In some cases, it is more difficult than puppies. These dogs require a great deal of structure and patience to learn to hold their bladders. We find frequent trips outside and the liberal (or would that be ‘liveral’) application of dried liver treats to be very helpful. We also find that crating them at night helps them to learn to hold their bladders which then translates into them being able to hold it for longer and longer periods in the day. We also lean towards supervising them outside and teaching them to pee on command. Of course there will continue to be accidents and these are handled with patience. If we find the dog in ‘the act’ we will generally take them outside to finish the job. Some dogs will never be toilet trained and may require some other kind of incontinence products.

Dogs who have been starved can be especially difficult particularly when it comes to resource guarding. Quite often these dogs never know where there next meal is going to come from and so they can act aggressively with food and treats. It takes a long time to teach them to take the treats nicely. One must also safeguard the other dogs against the aggressiveness of the resource guarding. We try to minimize this kind of aggression by ensuring that there is no food or treats readily available. We feed raw so everyone gets their portions and the resource guarders are separated from the others. Generally this works well but it does require vigilance.

Dogs who have been neglected often do not associate humans with anything good. It takes them a while to begin to trust us and rely on us to provide a comfortable life for them. Once these dogs do begin to attach you can expect that they will have a touch deficit and need a lot of attention. In fact, the revel in the love! As they get more and more attention their confidence soars and they begin to experience positive feelings.

This post has been prompted by something Zoe did yesterday which indicates some of these qualities/behaviours. Deb dropped a package of melba toast in the living room and all of a sudden it was gone. I was down the hall and I saw Zoe strutting down the hall with something in her mouth. Her tail was up and she looked very pleased with herself. Zoe was a starved dog at some point in her life. Right now she is in the touch deficit phase of her recovery. Zoe is also a very resilient dog. She has overcome so much in a very quick time period. She is able to trust us and she is no longer starved. However, she still behaves like a starved dog. Likely she always will. Tucker was also a starved dog and he will literally dive for any food anywhere, any time. It does not matter what it is he will eat it with gusto. Giving him treats is quite difficult because he snaps at your hand. Tucker can be quite dangerous to humans and other dogs when it comes to food.

Adopting a rescued dog can be quite difficult. It does require commitment, a whole lot patience and hopefully wood floors! However the rewards are many and varied. Watching them grow and change is a fulfilling experience. Not all rescued dogs are capable of this resilience. If you are going to welcome a rescued dog into your life it is important not to have any great expectations. The ability of the dog to adapt depends on many things. Length of time the dog has lived in less than ideal circumstances, age, breed, and health status are all factors that can have an impact. Having no pre-set expectations of the dog’s ability to meet your needs will give the dog the space he or she needs to reach their potential.