Category Archives: Personal

I have finally accepted the truth

Other doggy parents will feel joy I will never experience.

It is inescapable now. Otto the rescue pitbull does not like bacon.

I was making breakfast for dinner tonight, and fried up some bacon. When it was done I took a piece out to let it cool on a paper towel. 

I gave it to Otto and he, as he always does with any particularly messy food, carried it into the living room to eat on the new rug. I thought nothing of it.

Then I walked into the living room a few minutes later and there it was. Sitting there, untouched on the carpet. Mocking me.

The uneaten bacon.

I tried everything. I desperately offered it to him again as he was sleeping on the sofa. He turned up his nose then looked away.

I pulled out the big guns. I acted like I was eating it, making “nom, nom, nom” sounds and saying “Mmmm, DELICIOUS!” like I do right before he rejects yet another expensive  doggy treat and then eats some poop.

Nothing. He just looked at me, yawned and then licked his rope toy.

A rope toy? Over bacon?

You turn it over in your mind. Where did I go wrong?

There were signs I ignored. He would not take bacon-flavored treats. He did not like Pupperoni.

I should have known. But I was in denial.

Where did I go wrong? Did I love him too much? Did I love him not enough?

What will the other parents at the dog park say?

“His dog does not like bacon. Also he doesn’t use biodegradable waste disposal bags.”

The words ring in my ears.

I don’t want to talk about it.

I will post a vague reference on Facebook to something being wrong and hope nobody takes that extra step of asking, “What happened? Are you OK?”

The world seems off-kilter right now.

A new chew toy!

(Part of an ongoing series of posts about my life as the new daddy of Otto, the rescue pitbull mix.)

What it is about bringing new toys home to your dog that is so enjoyable?

I suppose just the happiness it brings you to see them enjoying themselves.

With Otto it has also been waiting to see whether he would sniff it, taste it and then walk away bored no matter how much you tried to get him to become interested in most toys.

Otto is a bit of toy snob. He just can’t be bothered with balls (boring!) and the kinds of toys for which many dogs go nuts. He won’t chase anything on its own. Throw a ball and he looks the other way.

He likes stuffed toys with squeakers, but has the stuffing and squeaker removed so quickly that I stopped getting them for him.

It is said by many who love them that it is an almost universal trait that pibbles love to play tug-of-war and this is definitely Otto’s favorite game. Whether it’s with a rope or strip of canvas (or his leash when I am trying to walk him) he never tires of any kind of tug of war.

So I keep my eye out for different kinds of rope toys which look solid enough and have some sort of rubber ball or similar object attached with which he can occupy himself.

I ran across this one today which is almost all rope. He loves it. 

Which is great, because you have to keep those doggy minds occupied as much as possible if they are to be happy and out of mischief. It’s also satisfies their need to chew on things that are hopefully not your shoes and furniture

Chewing is one of the major reasons why dogs are given up for adoption or abandoned, so if you can learn to constructively deal with the problem you’ve won a major battle.

I knew this about dogs, but did not realize how central giving them things to chew on (some breeds more than others) is to their well-being and happiness. 

This toy bills itself as virtually indestructible. We’ll see. I’ll give it less than an hour before Otto has it at least partially destroyed. The only thing he never eventually destroys is his rubber Kong.

Such is life with a beloved pibble!

$12.99 at Target! Don’t spend too much on most toys unless they have stellar reviews on, say, Amazon where many people say they last a long time.

Otto with his new toy.

 

Attention-starved

“I think you’ve worked at your desk long enough.”

 

 

Dog mysteries: puddles vs. poo

Some things Otto does make no sense. But they don’t have to because he’s a dog. And we love them anyway, right?

Otto graduates to his harness for walks

Otto in harness
Otto (and his ever-present tongue)  looking great in his red-and-black harness, which he now seems to able to use on walks no problem.

(Another in a series on my life as a first-time owner of a rescue pit bull.)

When I first adopted Otto from Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC), the Chicago municipal shelter, I bought a harness for him and it turned out to be a bit of disaster on walks.

Otto was a problem dog on walks. He was not socialized well. He lunged at everything. Other dogs. Adults. And, most frightfully, little children. He was also a terrible ambassador for pit bulls, only reinforcing in the minds of all we met on his walks that pit bulls were scary dogs. (Any dog can be scary if they are not socialized well, BTW.)

I thought a harness would give me more control and calm him down, but that is not the way the harness worked in the real world. Just as with a plain old collar, Otto pulled and tugged and struggled to get at other people and dogs while wearing a harness. The harness gave me some measure of control over him which exceeded a plain collar, but did not seem to lessen the lunging behavior. Its advantage over a choke collar seemed to be only that: he was not choking himself while lunging. But walks were still a headache for Otto and me, and scary for my neighbors.

Reluctantly, I considered a training collar, which is a collar with (in my case) smooth plastic teeth which face a dog’s neck. So while the collar is designed not to close past a certain point so as to choke a dog, the teeth do dig into a dog’s neck if they pull too hard. Some “dog people” oppose them reflexively. But if you have a dog with whom you lose control because of aggressive behavior, you run the risk of that dog being labeled as vicious (or worse) and the authorities in Chicago will take that dog away.

So I tried a training collar that a friend gave me.

It worked. And it’s been working since I first put it on him. After a short time he adjusted to it and just never pulled past a certain point. Otto started to find his equilibrium on walks. He still pulled, but pulled less all the time. 

Today, five months later, I decided to switch Otto’s training collar for that harness I bought. We went on our longest walk ever.

He was great. Never lunged one time at anyone and walked in the same relaxed, controlled manner that he showed when he had been walking with the training collar.

An added thing to celebrate: when I first adopted Otto he was so skinny! Life in a shelter did not agree with him, I suspect because he was not getting the 24-hour loving he craves so much. The harness I bought was too loose even when it was adjusted to its smallest size.

Today the harness fit perfectly (as you can see from the above photo) and my little voracious eater has grown so much I hadn’t even noticed until I put the formerly too loose harness on him. In fact, I may need to buy a harness a size larger as he is almost to the point of outgrowing this one.

Patience and consistency in training. Those are the keys to life with a happy, loving pit bull. 

Keep at it. Don’t give up. If I can do it, you can, too.

The training collar I used for Otto, given to me by a friend. Click on the pic to go to the page where you can buy one.

Pensive Otto

He listened to them discussing Trump and 25th Amendment on MSNBC. Has been deep in thought about the issue ever since.

A Valentine’s poem

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
You pee on the flowers, 
And poop on my shoe.
 

And I can’t imagine my life without you, buddy!

 Happy Valentine Day, everyone!

Otto, my pitbull rescue dog.

 

 

Jim Goshen RIP

A great light has gone out in the gay community.

James “Jim” Goshen, whom I have known for so many years I lost track, was a great force for good. He died this weekend following heart surgery.

While other people talk about trying to be a better person, Jim seems to have come out of the box a kind and gentle guy who nonetheless was fierce in his insistence on seeing the good in others and protecting the powerless. He was a friend in the best sense of the word to so many.

Jim Goshen, always ready to dive head first into whatever he was doing. Without shame and without judgment.

When I think of Jim I think of two people.

One was the fun-loving person who moved easily between the many different sub-groups who make up our community. In the 80’s Jim was the guy whom you’d run into at a party and he’d always have this wide grin that said he was happy to see you. While many people say, “How are you?” as a throw-away form of hello, Jim was the guy who wanted to know how you were doing. “How ARE you?”

The other Jim was the person who showed up for serious meetings about community services and activism, always probing and wanting to know if the people whom you were supposed to be serving were truly everyone’s top priority. He was the watchdog of the downtrodden.

I always thought Jim was what gay men could become if they set aside their differences and just took life as an adventure of possibilities. The possibility to have fun together no matter our backgrounds. The possibilities of seeing past the superficial to experience one another as we are, without judgment. He was a person to whom we could look up as a role model of what it means to be fully human and humane. 

He made it seem effortless to do so.

But as I have been pondering his life and death, I realize it’s much larger than just gay men. The loving path he walked touched people from all strata of life, but especially the people with whom he worked and his countless friends. It says much about Jim Goshen that they were often the same people.

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, used to say of the world he and his writers created:

We believed that the often ridiculed mass audience is sick of this world’s petty nationalism and all its old ways and old hatreds, and that people are not only willing but anxious to think beyond most petty beliefs that have for so long kept mankind divided.

So you see that the formula, the magic ingredient that many people keep seeking and many of them keep missing is really not in Star Trek.

It is in the audience. There is an intelligent life form out on the other side of that television too.

The whole show was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but to take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms.

I’m not at all religious, but if I were to believe in a religion I have always thought I would prefer one that believed in reincarnation. One where genuinely good people keep coming back as other souls trying to lead by example. 

If reincarnation exists, the Jim Goshen we all know was born too soon for a world where he stood out for simply doing the right things. He belongs in a world without divisions of class and race and gender and the plagues of warfare and greed and subterfuge.

It would be nice to think that if, by some chance humans don’t destroy themselves first, and end up in the utopia envisioned by Star Trek, some form of Jim Goshen will be there to show everyone the way.

He’d be a natural.

That look of guiltocence

Don’t look so innocent at me, Mr. Otto. I just woke up and there are bits of fabric stuffing everywhere and I just can’t figure out where they came from until I’ve had my morning coffee.

ottowhomescaled

With a lot of love and patience, progress with an unruly rescue dog

Otto waits for me in the car as I pump some gas.
Otto waits in the car as I pump some gas.

I adopted my rescue dog Otto on Sept. 26. It’s now nearly two months later.

They had almost no information about him when I did so. It turns out he was a mess of behavioral problems. He lunged at everything, dogs and people. He nipped at people who tried to pet him. He attacked any dog that approached him. He was not housebroken. At all. 

Walks were a draining, frightening  tedium of watching his every move and dragging him away from people and other dogs so much that he was choking.  He almost bit a child. Had I not pulled him back at the last second he would have gotten the hand of my 90-year-old neighbor as he walked by in the hallway.

He took treats and played so aggressively he bit my hands a couple of times so hard he broke the skin. He nipped my legs so hard he left bruises.

It was so bad I had moments where I was not sure I could do it. I love him so much, but I just got out of the hospital after six weeks. Was I risking my health through the stress of constantly dealing with an aggressive, untrained dog?

Were all the negative things they said about pit bulls true?

It turns out the logical things they say about pit bulls are also true: They are how you train and treat them. If they are untrained or not treated properly, they can be as terrible as any other dog,  Or worse because pibbles have such powerful jaws and muscular bodies.

With a lot of love, huge amounts of patience and a few times when I lost my temper and really yelled at Otto, things changed slowly. 

So I thought I would share how this all happened so if you are experiencing a problem dog or are thinking of adopting, my experience might help you.

Aggression toward people and lunging at them

He is much better. Otto can now be walked on a loose leash and mostly ignores strangers when they walk by. As long as they don’t stop and talk to me or him.

Still needs a bit of work on this.  But he is getting there.

Aggression toward other dogs

Better. Good, not great. I’d say about half the time he ignores other dogs unless the dog is very big or barks/growls at us.

Much more work needed.

These two things — aggression toward people and dogs — were partially mastered by treats. It sounds simple, but I read on some respectable web sites that the best way to train was to first teach him a command tied to treats.

We started with “Sit!” 

Once he tied treats with “Sit!” in his mind, every time he showed any aggression toward people or dogs on a walk, I stopped him, gave the command “Sit!” and gave him a treat. By the time he was done munching on the treat, the other dog or person was gone.

Eventually it started working, first needing the command “Sit!” and eventually just ignoring most people and some dogs without any command or treat at all.

It supposedly has something to do with taking the negative connotations in a dog’s mind and replacing them with a positive one.

Housebreaking

Otto being sweet.
Otto being sweet.

This can be maddening, especially if you have an easy gag reflex when cleaning up dog poop. (Like I do.)

No overt punishment when I caught him relieving himself in the house. Just the command “no” and a trip outside. No punishment at all if I didn’t actually see him make a mistake on the floor. That just confuses dogs because they are not quite sure what they are being punished about. No rubbing of his nose in it EVER.  No hitting EVER. Dogs respond best to something they learn makes you happy with them.

Every time he urinated or defecated outside, he was praised profusely and given a treat. This also took time; nearly two months of consistent praise and rewards. It didn’t seem to be working at first, but now every time he poops he sits and looks up at me for a treat. This has the added benefit of him pooping and peeing much faster after we go outside, after which we can concentrate on making the walk more enjoyable for both of us.

Walks were a chore. By the end we were both frustrated. Now he walks on the leash with his head up and tail wagging, This has made a huge difference in our daily routines.

Biting while taking treats

He was so intent on getting the treat that my hand wasn’t even part of his thinking. So instead of offering it in my fingers, I offered it in a completely open palm, which forced him to think about my hand being there. That took care of most of the problem almost immediately.

Now we are concentrating on taking a treat from my fingers. If he lunges for the treat with his mouth, the treat is pulled back and I say, “Gentle.” He doesn’t get the treat until he takes it gently. Or gentle-ish.

Still more work on this. My fingers are scraped by teeth sometimes, but at least they are not bleeding or sore.

Rough play

This has taken the most time. He still starts biting almost immediately if I start to roughhouse with him using my hands, especially outside. So I stopped using my hands. 

No play whatsoever unless I have something in my hands; a stick or a pull rope. Anything but just my hand. If he nips or chews body parts at all under any circumstances now he is given a firm “No bite!” command. He now switches to a lick after a couple of “No Bite!” commands.

The only exception to this is he gently nibbles the tips of my fingers when he needs to go outside.

So there it is. It was tough. It was ugly at times. I felt ashamed the few times I really yelled at him and the only way I could get him to  calm down afterward  was to pick him up and rock him like a baby. 

But now our walks are fun. I actually look forward to them and so does he. 

Inside my apartment I spend less time correcting him and more time bonding. 

Given time and patience and love, you can also have a dog that is a joy to be around.

Be consistent and don’t give up.

Another thing: everyone fancies themselves a dog expert. They are all well-intentioned. Some of them are correct. And some of their advice is downright loony. (I had one guy show me this weird thing he does tying his leash down and over and around a dog’s torso and legs that he swears cures lunging behavior. It was so complicated I thought perhaps he had a rope fetish.)

Do your research online on some respectable web sites and decide on a course of action after you’ve done that.

And, finally, this training dog collar was a miracle. I cannot say enough good things about it. (Thanks, Scotty!)

dog-collar