Welcome to my blog.  To read about my project and book, please see the ABOUT section.  Thank you!

Posting has been delayed due to the seasonal nature of my art business.  I am grateful for all of my customers who choose to commission my personalized postcard artwork as gifts for family and friends.  Tomorrow I’ll be posting about some terrific dog-themed books I’ve had the opportunity to read then write about over the course of this year and provide some helpful information on workshop opportunities offered by the Highlights Foundation for those who write for Young People.

In 1928, Captain Will Judy established National Dog Week not to bring more dogs into the world, but to encourage us to be more enlightened and caring guardians of those that are already here.  In that spirit,  my sister, Manette, David, and Manette’s son, Zac, decided to welcome a homeless dog into their lives last month.  Their inspiring story, told collaboratively, shows how rewarding it can be when thought and action combine to give an “unwanted” pet a second chance…

 Please tell us why you wanted to adopt a dog…We started looking for a puppy after Masha, Zac’s girlfriend, and the owner of Cooper–a pit bull/retriever rescue who we’ve come to love, sent us a link for a pit/lab/hound puppy named Ringo. Throughout the year, we’d thought about adopting a dog and Ringo gelled that thinking into action.  After several discussions about how a dog would impose restrictions on our lives, and how it would affect our day-to-day routine, we decided to move forward. We’d both had dogs growing up; some wonderful—like Gamble, David’s Dalmatian, and a toy poodle named Cocoa Manette had grown up with.  But Zac never had a dog of his own (Tripod, the three-legged cat, Cowboy, the hermit crab, Slippery Slowpoke, the escargot that lived in the shower, Veyda, the cat that jumped on his back and hung around Manette’s neck like a fur collar, and other cats, yes, but no dog) but he had always wanted one. We all love Cooper and imagined our own dog running around the back yard and fetching balls with him in the swimming pool. It was time; we were getting a dog.

Masha, Zac, and Styles

How did you come to choose Styles?  In the meantime, Ringo had been adopted.  We checked out Petfinder, looking for “Cooperesque” candidates.  Zac had a major hand in raising Cooper.  He was also instrumental in raising a former room-mate’s, pit bull, Nina, a sweetheart who we all loved.  We thought about the “bully breed” reputation of pit bulls, and other “bully” breeds.  Our friends, Joyce and Eugene, always had Rottweilers, sweethearts all. We thought of Nina, and Cooper, and for Chrissakes, Petey, from the Little Rascals, was a pit.  We surfed web sites of pit-only trainers and read the articles describing the rehab of Michael Vick’s fighting dogs.  “Bull,” we decided about the “bully breed” myth.  A dog is what you make it, how you train it, how you treat it in the home you give it.  We decided on pit/lab mixes or other pit mixes.  We met Cinnamon, Buster and Ziggy at a Petco-sponsored adoption day for a rescue shelter. Too houndish.  Back to Petfinder, refined to pit bull babies. Rocky and Missy Blue Eyes in South Orange. Truffles in Brick.  Miss Eleven at Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge Inc. (RBARI) in Oakland, NJ looked like a mini-Cooper. But they also had this brindle named Styles that made David laugh.  On a Sunday we visited RBARI. Miss Eleven was adorable, but Styles was sweet, with a shiny, unusual brindle coat, white chest and white front paws like Two-Socks in Dances with Wolves. Undecided, we left to have a family meeting.

A beautiful Profile of Styles

But we talked most about Styles.  The staff at RBARI seems to work hard to match dogs with families.  They thought Miss Eleven might be a better match for us than Styles; as a male pit bull, they saw him as potentially more aggressive with other male dogs. And Manette actually favored Miss Eleven, too, but David and Zac thought she was aloof, less sweet than Styles. They favored Styles, with the only reservation that he played hard and might not socialize well with other dogs. Zac said he’d teach him and live with it if Styles couldn’t learn.  

Zac made it clear; Styles was the dog for him.  At that point, we called Karyn Montuori, Styles’ trainer at RBARI.  She’d fostered him for three weeks, working with him on socialization with her three other dogs, and food-aggression issues (he now eats out of our hand, and makes eye contact with us to wait for his food bowl until we tell him, “Okay”).  “He’s the best dog here,” she’d told us during our first meeting with Styles. Karyn assured us he would be great as a playmate for other dogs, including Cooper, as long as we socialized him early.  We picked up Styles that afternoon. Zac didn’t know until he got home from work.  What a great surprise he got that evening.

How did Styles end up in a shelter? Styles is a true rescue. He was surrendered–left tied up outside–at Bergen County Animal Shelter in Teterboro, New Jersey.  Karyn says sometimes unscrupulous breeders can’t place a pup and if it’s getting too old they give up and ditch it. She thinks that may have been Styles’ case.  Bergen County took him in and cared for him, including vet care.  Karyn saw his potential and had him brought to RBARI.  He fostered in the evenings with Steven, one of the RBARI staff.  He received all his vet care and vaccinations and started his obedience training under RBARI trainers, including Karyn.  He also went once a week to visit special needs kids, where he was a favorite.  After fostering with Karyn for three weeks, we adopted him in mid-November at five months old.

Can you explain Styles’ training program? RBARI requires adopters to keep training their dogs.  We would have anyhow.  We’re continuing to work with Karyn, who comes to our home once a week, and will for the foreseeable future.  Styles loves her (and she him) so it’s a great situation.  We have a big back yard with about 1/4 acre enclosed with a pool fence, so it’s an ideal space to walk, play ball with and train Styles.

How is Styles adapting to his new life? Styles and Cooper are now good friends, often sharing quiet times together, like two donuts curled up next to each other.  At other times, Styles is the instigator of their rough play.  Cooper will chase Styles around the pool, with a clever Styles cheating, still light enough at thirty pounds to cut across the pool cover, Cooper at eighty pounds now forced to run around. But when Cooper catches Styles he pushes him around with his bigger bulk.  Invariably it’s Cooper who can’t wait to leave to get this indefatigable little guy out of his face.  You can just see him thinking, “Enough play, already.  Give it a rest, squirt.”  Recently, Styles was a sensation during his first dog park visit.  When we walked into the gate at Overpeck Park in Leonia, five dogs encircled him, sniffing the new kid.  He did great playing with about fifteen dogs making us all proud with the admiring comments he got from other dog owners.  

Styles and Cooper, new bdff (best dog friends forever)

The most fun we’ve had with him was at McDonald’s.  Karyn said we should take him for a drive-in burger as a good socialization experience–the car, the drive-in window sights and sounds, the staff, ordering and picking up–and a treat of a piece of burger.  The woman taking our order said, “Oh, he’s a cutie.” Manette inched the SUV close and opened the window so he could stand on his front paws and lean out for her to pet him.  When we pulled up the lady deserted her post to run forward to the pick-up window to pet him again.  She wasn’t working on his second visit, but Styles knew exactly where he was as Manette and Zac drove in.

Will Judy wrote, “people own dogs for varied reasons. The reason is of small consequence; the important item is that the owners be worthy of their dogs.”  In their actions and efforts, Manette, David, Zac, Masha, Karyn and all of the nation’s dedicated shelter workers honor Judy’s mission, and they are indeed worthy.  I share in their sentiments that all the other dogs they met and considered find deserving forever homes of their own.  Thanks to all for sharing your story….

Look’s like Styles and Manette are all tired out.