Friday, May 10, 2019

Fiction Friday: I'm a Finalist!

On Tuesday I learned that The Demon Always Wins is a National Readers Choice Awards finalist for Best First Book!

They gave me this very cool medallion to display.

Winners will be announced on July 25th at the RWA National Conference in New York.

If you haven't already bought, read and marveled at (or even better, reviewed) The Demon Always Wins, you can purchase it here on Amazon. Or, if you refuse to help Jeff Bezos in his quest for world domination, you can find it here on Barnes & Noble.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Chronicles of a Rescue Dog: Final Installment

Picking up where the last post in this series left off...

A couple of weeks ago, Kai flipped out when a middle-school girl came by selling candy, barking like a maniac and trying to rush the door. I crated him until she was gone, but it was disheartening, because in the past he's been okay when people came to the door. Welcoming even.

Then, the next day, our next door neighbor came over to help Old Dog install a new microwave oven over our stove.

Since the day Kai arrived, he's been triggered by the people next door. Whenever he sees them he flips out, orbiting the yard at top speed, barking hysterically, and churning the grass along the fence lines into shredded mud.

Because of this aversion, it seemed best to leave him outside while the installation took place.

After the guys got the new microwave set up, the neighbor stayed to have a cup of coffee and chat. Outside, it had started raining, so I let Kai into the basement. He really wanted in the house, though, and he seemed to be okay, so after warning Old Dog, I released the hound.

Kai took one look at the neighbor leaning against the counter and bounced over to sniff his shoes. He seemed intrigued--right up to the instant when he launched himself upward and bit the neighbor in the side, breaking the skin and drawing blood. Old Dog yanked him off and crated him. The neighbor assured us he was okay.

But it wasn't okay.

When I talked to K9 Guy, he said biting someone's torso was bad, a step up in aggression from biting arms or legs or buttocks. A dog that will do that is a far more serious threat than one that just goes after extremities.

And that was it. We finally understood that Kai is more than we can handle.

I asked K9 Guy if he had any suggestions of someone who might take Kai (hoping, to be honest, that he'd volunteer to take Kai himself) but he didn't.

So on Monday I contacted the rescue folks and told them we couldn't keep him, knowing it was almost a foregone conclusion they would euthanize him. And I couldn't blame them. Short of being placed with a professional trainer, he's unlikely to do any better anywhere else. He's beautiful and smart and funny--and kind of a psychopath.

My rescue rep got in touch with the original trainer who had evaluated him. She still felt he could be rehomed. She talked to K9 Guy. He also felt Kai should be rehomed. We made plans to send him back to K9 Guy for a couple more weeks of training while the original trainer tries to locate a permanent placement in a working dog home that will have a job for him.

Last Thursday, I took him to the vet and updated his rabies and bordetella vaccines, which were due at the end of the month. On Friday we went to the gym and walked 12 laps in the parking lot. He was much more attentive than usual, glancing over frequently  to be sure I was right beside him--the acme of good heeling behavior. We came home and played ball in the yard and then I gathered up his toys. I put his puzzles through the dishwasher so they wouldn't be covered in dog spit and packed them up, along with his squeaky snake and a couple of his Chuck-It balls.

Then I took him to a boarding kennel to stay for a couple of weeks until K9 Guy has an opening. The original trainer met me there, along with a lady from a rescue in Cincinnati. I was standing next to the original trainer, who had him on a leash. The rescue lady was standing a couple of feet from the trainer. She didn't move toward Kai. She didn't make eye contact. Without warning, he lunged and bit her arm. (Full disclosure: she had on a sweatshirt with voluminous sleeves, so he didn't actually make contact with her skin.)

On Monday, the original trainer contacted me to say she'd conferred with K9 guy and they  agreed that Kai should be euthanized. His unpredictability--the fact that he bites with no warning--no growling, no barking, no ruffled fur--makes him a danger, even for an experienced trainer. A split second of inattention and someone could get badly hurt.

I am sick over this. As I write this, there's a guy installing a $2000 door we'd planned to use to let Kai out into a secluded part of the yard, to keep him away from the boundary fences and people. It's in my nature to always feel like if I were smarter/kinder/more disciplined/generally a better person, my failures wouldn't occur. This time, I know that's not true. I did everything I could reasonably do to give him a good home, but he was so broken when he got here it just couldn't happen.

K9 guy says some dogs are just mis-wired. After the incident in Cincinnati, he decided Kai fit into the classification.

I keep thinking, "He never seriously hurt anyone. He didn't even make contact with that lady's arm." But the alternative would be to wait until he did hurt someone and that wouldn't be okay.

Sometimes life really sucks.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Chronicles of a Rescue Dog, Part 10: We Interrupt this Honeymoon to Bring You a Dose of Reality

Last week I talked about all the great things Kai learned at boarding school, things that seemed to stick even after we brought him home.

This week we're going to talk about a tough reality underlying that rosy picture.

On Wednesday, I took Kai to the gym with me to walk in the cleared, lighted parking lot. (We don't have a lot of sidewalks in our neighborhood, so it's not ideal for walking, especially before daylight.) The perimeter of the parking lot at the gym is 1/5th of a mile. We walked fifteen laps. It didn't tire him as much as it did me, but it did take his edge off.

I'd call that a win.

The next morning we repeated that process, with a slight difference. On Thursdays I have a yoga class from 7:30 to 8:30, so we did our three miles and then I put him back in the car to hang out while I went to class. My yoga instructor pulled into the lot just as I was getting him squared away. She asked how things were going and I bragged him up.

"Can I see him?"she asked.

"Sure," I said. He'd met her once before and seemed to like her, licking her hand gently.

This time, we repeated the same routine as last time. I opened the car door. She extended her hand. He sniffed it. And then, with no warning whatsoever--no bark, no growl--he bit her, nipping her knuckle hard enough to draw blood and tearing her coat sleeve.

To say we were both shocked would be an understatement. She assured me she was okay and went inside to wash the cut. I closed the car door, profoundly disturbed.

When I got home after class, I texted K9 Guy to say Kai had bitten someone that morning and did he have time to offer his insight? He called me right back, as shocked as I was.

But after I described what happened he said it wasn't that surprising. Kai was in his safe space (the car) and I let a stranger into his space.

He said Kai is not a dog who is ever going to want strangers to pet him. He said as far as Kai is concerned, a universe with just two people in it (Old Dog and me) would be sufficient. He said that when I have Kai out and about, it's my job to make sure people don't touch him, and that after four or five months of that he'll relax and be a little less tense, but he's never going to tolerate being petted by strangers.

K9 Guy recommended buying a yellow bandanna for Kai. In dog circles, a yellow bandanna is apparently an indicator of a dog that is not safe to pet. For good measure, I got him this one:

(In case you can't read it, it says, "Don't Pet Me. I Need Space.")

In most other areas, he's still doing very well. He still comes when he's called. He rarely tries to establish dominance over me. He's only barked and lunged at one passing stranger when we're out walking (I stopped to talk to her instead of moving briskly on past.)

To the ridiculous amount of stuff I've bought Kai since we got him, I'll be adding a basket muzzle that will allow him to sniff and drink, but not bite.

We've fenced off part of the back yard so that he no longer has access to the part of the yard where people walk by and where delivery people drop off packages.

We also had our local utility company install a remotely-readable electric meter so no one has a reason to be in that part of the yard. (In fact, it's only accessible via the house.)

We've done everything I can think of to safeguard him from people and people from him.

And that's the best I can do.

Sorry this isn't an uplift ending. When I started this series of posts, I thought it would be a cute Marley & Me story. Hoping that in the coming months, I'll have more optimistic results to report.

Thanks for listening!

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Chronicles of a Rescue Dog, Part 9: Kai Comes Home From Boarding School

On Sunday, after two and a half weeks of missing Kai, Old Dog and I drove down to Kentucky to pick him up from "boarding school."

As soon as we got there, we could tell things had changed. Kai was in one of the outdoor kennels. He clearly recognized Old Dog's truck, but he didn't bark. He just wagged his stubby little butt so hard it looked like it would shake loose.

K9 Guy let him out and he ran to Old Dog. He started to jump up, but K9 Guy issued a sharp command and he dropped back on four paws. Old Dog praised him for his good behavior and he wagged his butt even harder.

He kept looking sidelong at me, but he didn't come over.

"Why is he ignoring me?"

"Because he's so used to taking advantage of you, he doesn't know how to relate to you now that he knows that's not okay."


Eventually, he did wander over and gave me the same joyous welcome.

Then the real work started.

K9 Guy demonstrated how to call him. He recommended using a two-tone call, like a European ambulance siren: Kai here! He said that two-toned call is easier to hear--that's why they use it for sirens. That up-note reminds me of the beer vendors at our local baseball park: Ice cold beer HERE!"

Kai's recall, which didn't even meet the level of "iffy" before we dropped him off, was flawless. (And now that we've had him home for a few days, it's still very good--even when he'd rather do something else, he almost always comes when he's called, which is huge.)

We spent another twenty minutes working on walking casually, with a loose leash, and in a more controlled way, with a tighter leash. On a controlled walk, Kai kept his gaze pinned on my thigh, ready to anticipate any change of direction I might take. This is one of the things I wanted him to learn in obedience classes.

It was amazing.

Outside, another dog K9 Guy is working with barked at Kai, but he didn't bark back,. He just wandered over to the kennel and gave him a friendly sniff.

Who is this dog and what have you done Kai?

Now that he's home he no longer:
  • Jumps on me when I don't do what he wants me to.
  • Tries to force his way out the door ahead of me (or when he's been told he has to stay)
  • Barks at the neighbors (much)
  • Races up and down the fence line, tearing the grass to shreds
  • Barks and lunges at people when we're out walking

He is, in short, a dog we can live with. We just have to make sure we don't let him slide back into bad habits.

(BTW--K9 Guy donated his services. He said Kai was a great dog who needed a forever family, and that was his contribution. How nice is that?)

Next week: We Interrupt this Honeymoon to Bring You a Dose of Reality

Friday, February 22, 2019

Chronicles of a Rescue Dog, Part 8: School Days

Kai returns from boarding school on Sunday, February 24th.

Check back next week for an update!

In the meantime, here are some pix the K9 guy sent me:

The text that came with the pictures said: "He loves it when I chase him."

Good to know he's not pining away...

Friday, February 15, 2019

Chronicles of a Rescue Dog: Part 7: What the K9 Guy Said

Kai in the truck on the way to boarding school

First, let me say that leaving your dog with a total stranger, even if the dog is kind of a brat and the stranger really seems to get dogs, feels like you're leaving your baby in a basket on someone's doorstep.

Unfortunately, even though Kai's behavior has improved since we committed to keeping him, it's still not good enough to make a comfortable life for the three of us, particularly as Old Dog and I age and  have less ability to physically control him as time goes on. The problems fall into three categories:
  • Aggression toward other dogs.
  • (Less frequent) aggression toward people
  • "Orbiting the yard"--that is, running in circles at full speed and then skidding to a halt, to the point that all the boundary areas of the yard, and some additional paths where he's created cross-town paths, are now rutted mud holes where there used to be lawn. (I once bathed him three times in one day. Not only does it tear up the yard--he comes in slathered in mud.)
So, we loaded him up and took him to a K9 Guy in northern Kentucky, about an hour and a half from where we live.

In the training building, he trotted around, sniffing everything while keeping an eye on where Old Dog and I were, while K9 Guy explained the plan: he would keep Kai for a week, working with him on the problem behaviors. He would also evaluate his potential to become a rescue dog or a drug-sniffing dog. He said only a very tiny percentage of dogs have the capability to do this kind of work and Kai's dog-reactivity issues made him unlikely to be one of them.

K9 Guy said that when people domesticated dogs and took them into their homes, they "humanized" them. He says approximately 80% of all dogs can be humanized. The other 20% make up most of his practice. Kai, he said, was in that 20%.

I noticed, without giving it much thought, that as Kai checked out the training building, he stepped on K9 Guy's foot. Kai is a very athletic dog, who moves with a lot of precision. The first day we had him (before we realized how bad he is with other dogs, we took him to a public agility course. He could do everything there with no previous training that I'm aware of.)

Then he stepped on K9/s guy's foot a second time. I couldn't remember Kai ever doing that to me or Old Dog. He's not a clumsy dog.

"Did you see him step on my boot?" asked K9 Guy.

I nodded.

"That's his way of saying, 'You ain't nothing. I don't even notice that you're here.'"

Yup. That sounded like Kai.

Even though Kai checked out the room like he was just curious, his anxiety  was very clear: he salivated so heavily he was literally (not figuratively) foaming at the mouth.

K9 Guy instructed us to say goodbye and then walk out the door without stopping to pet Kai. I've given that same advice to parents of toddlers when I've worked church nurseries--"Say a cheery goodbye and walk out the door without looking back or lingering--the kids do much better when you do that." Unfortunately, when toddlers are going through that separation anxiety phase, most parents can't seem to do that. Instead, they drag it out and leave me with a screaming toddler whose belief that something awful is happening was just reinforced by his parents' behavior.

So, we ignored the foam on Kai's muzzle and his look of betrayal and hit the road. 

K9 Guy said I could text to check on him as much as I wanted, so when we stopped for dinner a half-hour later, I pulled out my phone. Old Dog gave me a look and I put it back away. I did text when we got home. K9 Guy said Kai was finally laying down and settling in. And, presumably, no longer foaming at the mouth.

Next week: How Kai Did His First Week in Training

Friday, February 8, 2019

Chronicles of a Rescue Dog, Part 6--What the Trainer Did

Kai after the February thaw
(If you want more of the background on this story, please read my previous posts so we don't bore everyone who has been following along.)

We wound up rescheduling the trainer a couple of times due to weather (I hear you, Minnesota. Ohioan are wimps. A little -10 temp mixed with 30 mile an hour winds and we stop going outside.)

Anyway, the trainer came on Saturday after it warmed up a little, bringing a training collar, a shock collar and a couple of her own dogs.

She started out with the training (aka prong) collar by putting it around my wrist and demonstrating what it would feel like when popped gently (barely noticeable, and I bruise/cut really easily) and more firmly (definitely something I'd pay attention to, but with Kai's heavy coat of fur, still no more than uncomfortable).

Then she showed me the shock collar, which I could use to gain control when he's at a distance. Its settings ranged from 0 to 100. Up to 5, I felt only a vibration. At 7, it gave me a little shock, less than what I get when I shake out rugs and then touch the metal door handle. (Note: I haven't invested in one of these and I'm not sure I will.)

We then tried to lure Kai into a behavior that warranted a correction, but even when I set a peanut butter cookie at the edge of the counter, he didn't try to snatch it. You could see him thinking about it, but then he gave us the side-eye and walked away. (Which obliterates his "I didn't know any better" defense, by the way.)

So, we took him for a walk in the neighborhood. He continued to be angelic--right up until we got to the house with the barky little hound dog inside the underground fence. Kai was convinced he was a threat and tried to rush him, giving the trainer a great opportunity to show me a firm correction. I'm not sure how well it worked, because for the first time, the owner of said barky little dog called it into the house.

So, we decided to bring Remi, the trainer's Aussie, into the house to meet Kai on his own turf. Kai had met Remi previously, at the PetSmart near Cincinnati. Their first, face-to-face, encounter there did not go well, but when I turned Remi around and he presented his hindquarters for sniffing, Kai was able to accept him.

So we tried all that again, with not great results. Face-to-face, Kai was very aggressive and only a combination of training collar and shock collar correction finally got him to back off. At the trainer's direction, I turned Remi around so that he didn't present any kind of threat--and Kai bit him on the butt. Only the fact that Remi has an extremely dense coat of fur (the dog looks like a tumbleweed with legs) saved him from being hurt.

In dog world, biting another dog who is presenting his butt is an act of aggression and a breach of basic canine etiquette. It's the human equivalent of shooting an unarmed man. And the spookiest part was that up until the split second before he attacked, Kai appeared to be simply sniffing curiously.

So, I muzzled Kai (which he doesn't love) and we took them out for a walk together. Over the course of the walk, he stopped snarling at Remi--at least until we passed a yard with barking dogs, which got him all riled up again. I was grateful for the muzzle when one of my neighbor's dogs ran out of her yard. If Kai hadn't been muzzled, she might have been hurt.

From now on I will muzzle Kai when he leaves the yard. He hates it, but I can't risk him hurting someone or someone's dog.

In other news, the training academy placement came through. Yesterday, Old Dog and I took Kai to Kentucky for a week of onsite training and evaluaion for his potential to become a working dog with an actual job.

If you're curious about the place, here is a wonderful success story about the place.

Next installment: What the K9 Academy guy said.


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